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March 2022

Film Review - Morbius


In their quest to develop comic book films without the participation of major superheroes, Sony returns to the darker side of the Marvel universe with “Morbius,” which joins “Venom” and its 2021 sequel as Spider-Man-less pictures about the world of Spider-Man. Originally created as an enemy of the web-slinger, a “living vampire,” Morbius is now a hero for his big screen debut, albeit one who struggles with his deep thirst for human blood. The complexity of the character appears to be there for the writers, but Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (“Dracula Untold,” “Gods of Egypt”) peel away many potentially interesting problems. They prefer to focus on Morbius’s origin story and his battle against an equally powerful villain, keeping “Morbius” dramatically thin as director Daniel Espinosa puts on a visual display of flying creatures, echolocation, and shirtless posing from stars Jared Leto and Matt Smith. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Contractor


“The Contractor” appears intended to become a Jason Bourne-style series for star Chris Pine, handed a role that demands a balance of one-man-army action interests and a more substantial dramatic effort. He’s playing a character struggling with the world around him, forced to deal with the demands of life once a sense of stability is taken away from him. It’s a juicy role for Pine, who gives the part a thorough itchiness to best capture the feelings of a silently frustrated man. Screenwriter J.P. Davis is interested examining such private horrors, also attentive to threat levels in play as a simple assignment goes all kinds of wrong. “The Contractor” is familiar in many ways, but Pine’s nuanced take on matters of trust and disappointment helps the material find its way to recognizable human moments, and while director Tarik Saleh (“The Nile Hilton Incident”) is a bit clumsy with the rough stuff, he still handles suspense reasonably well in this occasionally absorbing thriller. Read the rest at

Film Review - Apollo 10 ½


In writer/director Richard Linklater’s varied career, “Apollo 10 ½” almost plays like a greatest hits complication from the helmer. The feature returns to the rotoscoped animation approach of “Waking Life,” touches on similar wonders of childhood ideas found in “Boyhood,” and carries a deep affection for years gone by, also found in “Dazed and Confused.” Linklater is playing to his strengths with the effort, which is intent on producing some cool waves of nostalgia during heated times of global and political conflict. It’s escapism in a way only Linklater could produce, bringing viewers back to the late 1960s to assess the state of the kid union as space adventures escalated, planting seeds in the imaginations of young minds everywhere while they dealt with all sorts of challenges to their safety. “Apollo 10 ½” isn’t a completely formed idea, but it’s a riveting stroll down memory lane. Read the rest at

Film Review - You Won’t Be Alone


“You Won’t Be Alone” is being sold as a horror experience, but it’s not exactly that. It’s more Brothers Grimm than terrifying, with writer/director Goran Stolevski attempting to rework the tensions of a dark fairy tale, focusing on an uneasy tone of discovery mixed with visual and aural poetry commonly found in a Terrence Malick endeavor. There are twisted events that occur in the feature, but Stolevski appears to be on the hunt for clarity in cruel experiences, detailing the odyssey of a cursed woman as she takes on many forms, trying to wrap her mind around the essence of life itself. “You Won’t Be Alone” is unusual and atmospheric, and it finds a fresh way to approach the dangers of evil, offering an episodic understanding of a strange education, where barbarity and beauty coexist in the weirdest ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boon


“Boon” is a sequel. There’s no mention of this on the marketing materials, and I wasn’t made aware of it before I sat down to watch it. However, there was previous movie, “Red Stone,” which was released last year and established the world of Boon and his history of violence. Director Derek Presley hopes to turn his initial idea into a franchise for star Neal McDonough, who co-writes the follow-up, which brings the lead character to a new town, where he encounters a fresh problem he initially wants nothing to do with. “Boon” teases major conflicts and aggressive actions, but Presley can’t knock the airlessness out of the feature, which doesn’t have much enthusiasm for the one-man-army subgenre. The writers are looking to westerns as their influence, but when the budget is this low and the star power this minimal, it’s best to go crazy with action, which this picture tries to avoid until the final act. Read the rest at

Film Review - Everything Everywhere All at Once


The multiverse is big business these days, with superhero cinema in the midst of exploring the mysterious ways of alternate timelines and different lives. The art house version of this idea is found in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which comes from writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (credited as “Daniels”), who previously helmed the 2016 comedy “Swiss Army Man.” The gentlemen love the weird stuff, and they’ve accelerated their fantasies and fixations for their latest project, which takes the long way around when examining a middle-aged Chinese woman and all the relationships she’s neglected to deal with. However, Daniels doesn’t have a drama in mind, going the fantastical route instead, with “Everything Everywhere All at Once” an explosion of feelings, fighting, and oddity. It’s a whole lot of everything, which is now an official Daniels fetish, taking audiences on a 139-minute-long ride into confusion as a way of detailing their own philosophies and amplifying their filmmaking interests. Read the rest at

Film Review - Better Nate Than Ever


With Broadway struggling to find its footing again during the COVID-19 pandemic, a story like “Better Nate Than Ever” might be the thing to shoo away the blues as the theater industry pieces itself back together. Writer/director Tim Federle oversees an adaptation of his own 2013 novel, which follows the determination of a young musical theater fanatic as he goes for his dream in New York City, looking to sneak into an audition for an upcoming production. “Better Nate Then Ever” isn’t a major achievement in entertainment, but there’s some charm in the material, which offer a palatable tale of dream-seeking and family ties, and Federle gets to scratch a few itches when it comes to staging song and dance numbers. It’s a cute film, but that’s about as far as it gets for anyone who doesn’t eat, sleep, and breathe Broadway. Read the rest at

Film Review - Barbarians


It takes a considerable amount of patience to remain interested in “Barbarians.” It’s not an especially menacing thriller, with writer/director Charles Dorfman keeping away from violence for the majority of the feature. He’s more interested in mental challenges involving land deals, a dinner party, and all sorts of secrets that won’t stay hidden. It take most of the run time to get anywhere visceral, with most of “Barbarians” dealing with characterization and conversation, which isn’t as riveting as Dorfman assumes it will be. Perhaps there’s something in the more physical conclusion worth waiting for, but escalation isn’t a priority for the production, which aims for a more slow-burn sense of agitation, but even that’s debatable as Dorfman gradually finds his way to an unsatisfying conclusion. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Kindred


The co-writers/co-directors of "The Dorm That Dripped Blood" and "The Power," Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow, make a third attempt to do something vicious and mysterious in the horror genre with 1987's "The Kindred." They go the monster movie route, creating a bizarre but compelling tale of genetic experimentation and scientific mistakes, aiming to pull viewers in with elements of exploration before unleashing their true creature feature intent. "The Kindred" doesn't have the sharpest acting or screenwriting, but it does make a noticeable effort to deliver gruesome encounters with the central monstrosity, and the helmers are committed to a brisk pace for the endeavor, giving it speed when overall polish sometimes eludes them. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Dead Pit


If you were a certain age at a certain time, there were two VHS boxes at the local video store that stood out from the pack. The first was "Frankenhooker," which featured a sound button that chirped "Wanna date?" when firmly pressed. It was fun. The film was not. 1989's "The Dead Pit" also successfully worked a bottom shelf gimmick, offering a button that activated flashing green eyes on the cover's lead zombie, attracting attention to an otherwise forgettable release. The green lights aren't around anymore, but "The Dead Pit" has remained, with co-writer/director Brett Leonard ("The Lawnmower Man," "Virtuosity") trying to make the most of his helming debut, looking to use some Romero-esque undead action to fuel an extremely low-budget genre offering of terror. There's gore and panic, but Leonard isn't committed to a tighter edit of the endeavor, allowing padding to become the star of the show, not frightening situations of survival. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Slow Dancing in the Big City


In 1977, director John G. Avildsen was experiencing a major career triumph, soaking up the success of 1976's "Rocky," which became a box office success and an Oscar-winning film, with Avildsen picking up a trophy for his work. He had his pick of projects after the boxing blockbuster, but strange creative instability, which led him to being fired from the making of "Saturday Night Fever," recovering with 1978's "Slow Dancing in the Big City," which doesn't stray far from the "Rocky" formula. Avildsen plays it safe with the picture, making a bland endeavor that's not strong enough to carry its romantic or dramatic intentions. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - 1974: La Posesion de Altair


There's not a lot of room to do something different with the found footage subgenre. These films basically share the same moves, working to create some level of realism while teasing elements of horror or mystery before being whipped into a frenzy for the finale. 2016's "1974: La Posesion de Altair" is no different, with writer/director Victor Dryere taking his tale to the decade of 8mm home movies, tracking the decline of a young woman in touch with dark forces, while her husband captures her grim awakening with his new camera. Dryere has some atmosphere and a dramatic destination he wants to reach, but there's not a lot of suspense in "1974," which sticks close to the found footage playbook. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Collingswood Story


Shot in 1999, "The Collingswood Story" takes credit as the first "screenlife" feature, with writer/director Michael Costanza inventing a type of dial-up phone cam connection between two characters, who spend their time discussing separate lives and dealing with the Other Side as a mystery involving cult happenings in New Jersey develops. The gimmick is well-executed for a no-budget feature, but it's difficult to generate much enthusiasm for a project that clearly should've been a short film. Costanza doesn't have enough dramatic material to carry 82 minutes of screentime, and while there's fine idea for internet-age chills in play, "The Collingswood Story" doesn't get wild enough to rattle the senses. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Her Smell


Writer/director Alex Ross Perry specializes in off-beat character examinations, and he's done depressive downfall with actress Elisabeth Moss before, in 2015's "Queen of Earth." Their collaboration was powerful then and remains vibrantly poisonous in "Her Smell," with Perry taking his fixation with mental illness to the alternative rock realm, dialing back the clock to the mid-1990s to examine the complete and utter erosion of a music star. Perry doesn't pull punches here, creating a deep sea dive into madness, with Moss going for broke in a turn that runs exclusively on pain and shame. "Her Smell" demands an audience with the ability to remain in the vortex of a nervous breakdown for 135 minutes, and those with the proper preparation are rewarded with a raw, often thrilling display of behavioral excess. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Spencer


"Spencer" is not a bio-pic of Diana, Princess of Wales. It's a chamber piece about the haunted woman, offering more of a psychological profile than a tour of exact details concerning her personal history. The feature is directed by Pablo Larrain, who attempted a similar study of unimaginable stress brewing inside a delicate mind with 2016's "Jackie," seemingly drawn to these types of cinematic inspections. "Jackie" was a hypnotic, funereal viewing experience, while "Spencer" aims to be more abstract and artful, with Larrain intentionally getting away from expectations during his examination of Diana's fragile state of panic. Larrain aims to get inside Diana's head and remain there for two hours, which is good for some striking images of struggle, but the picture isn't exactly satisfying, with its addiction to elusiveness throttling dramatic potential. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lost City


Sandra Bullock has spent the last few years making different kinds of movies, focusing on drama (“The Unforgivable”) and suspense (“Bird Box”). She’s stepped away from her usual frothy screen personality, but the vacation from more interesting acting ends with “The Lost City,” which returns Bullock to a comedic part, trying to make magic with co-star Channing Tatum. Actual jokes are hard to find in the feature, which basically mixes mild action with riff-happy performances, with the production trying to remake 1984’s “Romancing the Stone” for a new generation. Laughs are scarce here, along with charm from Bullock and Tatum, who embark on a tedious journey into improvisation while the supporting cast steps up to become the most appealing element in this bland adventure, which seriously lacks excitement. Read the rest at

Film Review - Infinite Storm


Naomi Watts has always gravitated toward roles that require sometimes extreme physicality. She worked through the devastation of a tsunami in “The Impossible,” spent nearly an entire movie in motion in “The Desperate Hour,” and devoted plenty of time to thrillers that demanded a full-body response to oncoming dangers. She’s back in full pain mode with “Infinite Storm,” which is based on an article (“High Places: Footprints in the Snow Lead to an Emotional Rescue” by Ty Gagne) exploring an especially arduous situation of survival and partnership high atop Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Director Malgorzata Szumowska has harsh conditions and deep psychological scars to explore for over 90 minutes, and she prefers to slow the feature down to best examine the steps of self-preservation. “Infinite Storm” gets periodically lost in its own real-time approach, but there’s something buried in Joshua Rollins’s screenplay worth waiting for, as a story of endurance gradually becomes one about loss, packing quite an emotional punch when the film needs it the most. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mothering Sunday


“Mothering Sunday” is an adaptation of a 2016 novel by Graham Swift, which takes a look at the comfort of intimacy and the devastation of personal loss, with the author creating something of a puzzle when dealing with time periods and hidden feelings. The writing doesn’t appear to be a natural fit for a cinematic interpretation, but writer Alice Birch and director Eva Husson give it a shot with their vision for the material, endeavoring to retain the sensuality of certain subplots while sustaining the overwhelming sadness of the story. “Mothering Sunday” tries to cut a little deeper than most British period pictures, and it has several outstanding technical achievements, making it something to see. As something to sit through, the effort isn’t in a hurry to get anywhere, finding Husson paying close attention to textures and fluids, but not pacing, unable to locate the deep feelings and private horrors of the tale as she takes this cinematic journey one frame at a time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Going Berserk


In 1983, John Candy already appeared in many movies, making an impression in "The Blues Brothers" and "1941," and he stole scenes in 1981's "Stripes," establishing a big screen career for the "SCTV" performer. "Going Berserk" attempted to promote Candy to leading man status, with the Canadian comedy giving the actor room to show some range and display his love of silliness. To help the cause, the producers also bring in "SCTV" vets Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty to support Candy, perhaps trusting such television gold might translate to a cinematic success. "Going Berserk" is an interesting failure, as it tries to latch on to a plot about the assassination of a congressman, but co-writer/director David Steinberg is an easily distracted man, endeavoring to work in as many skits and asides as possible, hoping to make something supremely wacky when the effort is, at best, mildly amusing. Candy works extremely hard to sell the mediocrity here, and it's always fun to see the late, great comedian onscreen. It's the starring vehicle that fails him, attacking funny business without a clear plan for story or character. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Wolfwalkers


While major animated releases from studios such as Pixar and Dreamworks manage to dominate the box office and command critical conversation, some of the finest examples of the medium have been produced by Cartoon Saloon over the last decade. They've churned out magnificent efforts such as "Song of the Sea," "The Secret of Kells," and "The Breadwinner," invested in the art of challenging audiences with unusual tales of resilience and wonder, digging into extremes of fantasy and reality to inspire their stories. The artistry and integrity of this company is astounding, and for 2020, they offer "Wolfwalkers," once again crafting a story that welcomes hearty emotion and real suspense for family audiences, also delivering a visual feast of 2D animation that supplies some of the most striking imagery of the film year. "Wolfwalkers" is stunning and sincere, preserving Cartoon Saloon's position as the most exciting animation studio working today. Read the rest at