Previous month:
March 2022
Next month:
May 2022

April 2022

Blu-ray Review - Live or Let Die


People love "The Walking Dead." The comic book series and the long-running television series has done its part in bringing back a love of horror that involves a plague of zombies. The undead are big business, and the subgenre has inspired co-writers Manuel Urbaneck and Jan Bohlenschmidt to conjure their own backyard battlefield with slumping, growling enemies. It's the end of the world (yet again) in "Live or Let Die," which attempts to deliver gory, ugly violence while dealing with the same old business involving decaying enemies. Urbaneck and Bohlenschmidt have their fandom, and that's about it in this production, which doesn't bring anything new to the table, and often plays like a student production. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Midnight Swim


2014's "The Midnight Swim" is a found footage production (or "POV cinema," as some like to refer to it these days) that tries to present more dramatic interests while still dealing with genre interests in the supernatural. Writer/director Sarah Adina Smith aims to move away from the norm when it comes to expectations for a chiller, eager to connect with audiences on a more emotional level, especially when handling a growing situation of unrest concerning three half-sisters and their shared interest in their late mother's life and strange death. "The Midnight Swim" isn't big on suspense, and that it tries to be unsettling at all seems like a misguided creative choice, as Smith has much more success with lived-in relationship issues. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Koko-Di Koko-Da


If Lars Von Trier made "Groundhog Day," it would probably resemble much of "Koko-Di Koko-Da." It's a story about grief, focusing on the loss of a child, but writer/director Johannes Nyholm doesn't approach the topic head-on. He plays with ideas on suffering and communication blockage between a pained couple, using a time loop premise to generate a horror film to help keep viewers in a state of suspense while the writing explores emotional damage from a unique perspective. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fortress: Sniper's Eye


There’s a special requirement for viewers sitting down to watch “Fortress: Sniper’s Eye.” It’s a challenge unlike anything I’ve come into contact with before, and I hope innocent souls out there don’t have to experience what I have been through. That’s right, I was forced to recall exactly what happened in the original “Fortress.” The feature came out five months ago, and from all accounts, it was universally rejected by audiences, at least those who took the time to sit through an unbearable display of bad acting and worse direction (credited to James Cullen Bressack). There was barely a story, and characterization was even less important to the production, which was mostly interested in showcasing dreary conflicts between blank personalities. “Fortress” was awful, and now it has a twin, with “Fortress: Sniper’s Eye” essentially a remake of the original picture, offering fans(?) another slow ride into pure tedium. Read the rest at

Film Review - Crush (2022)


Screenwriters Kirsten King and Casey Rackham make their professional debut with “Crush,” which seeks to update the classic American teen comedy for 2022, getting some help on matters of adolescent mishaps from co-producers Chris and Paul Weitz, who, a very long time ago, also worked over the subgenre with “American Pie.” “Crush” strives to make things a bit more current and positive with its depiction of romantic entanglements and sexuality, looking to reach an older teenage audience with some sweetness and silliness, tracking the lead character’s efforts to attract her object of desire’s attention while stumbling into various sticky situations along the way. King and Rackham keep the endeavor mild but appealing, trying to secure the heart of the story to the best of their ability. Director Sammi Cohen offers breezy work, out to preserve sensitivities and comedy, with the latter proving to be a bit of a challenge to the production as melodrama becomes more compelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hatching

HATCHING - Still 2

“Hatching” is the feature-length directorial debut for Hanna Bergholm, who establishes her creative strengths with an unflinching look at the strange ways of a girl breaking under the pressure of her everyday life. Screenwriter Ilja Rautsi creates a realm of extreme stress to explore the main character’s evolution, using horror to help reach viewers with ideas on the toxicity of social media and parental expectations. There’s also a monster loose in the picture, giving the endeavor a good amount of suspense and weirdness as it details a potent psychological profile. “Hatching” is odd and effective, providing all the gruesomeness one wants from genre entertainment, but it also possesses an appealing dark side that touches on the reality of today’s world, and all the faux perfection it requires. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Aviary


“The Aviary” was produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering small production demands to writer/directors Jennifer Raite and Chris Cullari, who create a tale that’s performed by a handful of actors, shot mostly with exteriors positioned far away from the general public. Scale isn’t the goal here, with the screenplay aiming to provide an intense psychological study of frayed characters confronting their mental decline, hoping for liberation as they’re pulled into possible insanity. “The Aviary” analyzes the ways of cult control, and it’s a fascinating topic, but Raite and Cullari don’t have a feature-length concept to develop here. They have a short film instead, noticeably struggling to dream up conflicts and turns of plot that gets the endeavor to a 90-minute run time. Leads Malin Akerman (also one of 21 producers on the project) and Lorenza Izzo try to work themselves into a frenzy, but the effort’s thinness and lack of juicy surprises keep the picture middling at best. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fortress of Amerikkka


1989's "Fortress of Amerikkka" initially presents itself as a considered understanding of divisiveness and American values, offering an introduction that details the central crisis between those who choose to live in the country and those who seek to control it under the guise of patriotism. There's a moment when the feature seems like a prescient look at the world we live in today, offering a brutal but accurate understanding of armed wackos and the hyper-masculine, Rambo-loving world they live in. Alas, this is a Troma Entertainment production, so hope for a nuanced understanding of militia activity and thinking isn't a priority. To loosely quote T'Challa, Troma "don't do that here." Instead of a blistering critique of American life, writer/director Eric Louzil ("Bikini Beach Race," "Class of Nuke 'Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown") is out to make an exploitation movie filled with dim-witted characters, loud gunplay, and topless women. That's the basic shape of "Fortress of Amerikkka," which vacillates between graphic, mean-spirited violence and goofball antics with broad performances. There's some entertainment value in the absurdity of Louzil's screenplay, but the endeavor falls short of its potential, missing a chance to give Troma a real politicized offering to help them break free of their low-budget formula. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Master of the World


It wasn't exactly a blockbuster, but 1981's "Quest for Fire" became a major hit against all odds. It offered a serious take on prehistoric adventuring, with director Jean-Jacques Annaud pushing to challenge audiences with a film that was rich with atmosphere and passed on English dialogue, laboring to immerse viewers into this world of danger and mystery. It wasn't exact science, but it provided a few dramatic jolts, and "Quest for Fire" was a strange enough offering to encourage ticket-buyers to take a chance on a rare storytelling leap of faith. The feature made money, inspiring others to attempt to recreate such an epic viewing experience, but on a much lower budget and without the polish of a refined helmer. 1983's "Master of the World" steps up as part of a new wave of "stone age" offerings, with the Italian production attempting to recreate the appeal of Annaud's endeavor. Writer/director Alberto Cavallone gets a bit gruesome with his version of early man rampaging, but there's a certain spark of insanity to the effort, which earnestly attempts to deliver event film majesty while dealing with B-movie interests. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Girlfriend from Hell


1989's "Girlfriend from Hell" is a high camp take on multiple genres. Writer/director Daniel Peterson has a list of tones and acts of exaggeration he wants to cover, concocting a tale about a battle between good and evil that's being waged in the middle of a birthday party. There's religion, horror, action, comedy, and some sci-fi. Sex and violence are present, along with wildly broad performances. It's a bit of John Waters and a dash of Mel Brooks, but mostly remains an oddball collection of ideas in search of some level of restraint. "Girlfriend from Hell" doesn't become the romp Peterson envisions, but it certainly tries to be, presenting a hyperactive (at times) assortment of bigness that seems tailor-made to entertain attendees at high school drama department parties. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - El Planeta


Making her feature-length directorial debut, Amalia Ulman presents "El Planeta," which is a vaguely biographical study of a young woman's experiences with love, life, and family while spending time in Spain. Also scripting the movie, Ulman doesn't reach for the stars with the endeavor, which remains small in scale and compellingly intimate, sharing acting duties with her real-life mother, Ale Ulman. "El Planeta" is something of a comedy, with touches of drama, landing somewhere between playful and lived-in, and it remains impressive work from Ulman, who offers assured work with the picture, establishing herself as a talent to watch. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Slumber Party Massacre


1982's "The Slumber Party Massacre" has a cult following, but it's never been celebrated as a shining example of the slasher subgenre. It enjoyed popularity on home video (can't beat that title) and spawned a few sequels, but it failed to become an iconic offering of horror, mostly due to the limited artistic reach of the original movie. And now there's a remake, or a reimagining, with writer Suzanne Keilly ("Leprechaun Returns") working to bring fresh perspective to an old premise, turning the tables on the male gaze with "Slumber Party Massacre," which tries to provide a more female- centric take on the first film, which was already celebrated for delivering a smattering of feminist ideas. Unfortunately, the SyFy Original do-over is also decidedly comedic, with director Danishka Esterhazy ("The Banana Splits Movie") turning a horror concept into high camp, playing most of the picture as silliness, which instantly eliminates any potential fear factor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Monster of Camp Sunshine


The world of nudie-cuties is highlighted in 1964's "The Monster of Camp Sunshine" (full title: "The Monster of Camp Sunshine or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Nature"), which provides the thinnest of plots to help reach its creative goal: the display of naked bodies. Added to the mix is a subplot concerning the eponymous threat, which introduces a horror element to a picture that's largely about getting female characters out of their clothes. It's a strange combo of easygoing nudism and madman terror, but that very oddness is what makes "The Monster of Camp Sunshine" a passably compelling sit, offering elements of the unexpected as a more pronounced mission of titillation is pursued. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Morvern Callar


Lynn Ramsay's "Morvern Callar" isn't a story of a young woman's mourning period, nor is it a tale of the pain that remains when a loved one dies. The film is more impressionistic than that, using environments and silent atmosphere to piece together a journey of self for the eponymous character as she evolves from a meek girlfriend and minimum-wage slave to a woman finding a life of her own. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Northman


Director Robert Eggers enjoys making bleak films about the madness and magic of the world. With “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse,” Eggers was able to bring his vision to the screen with the help of small-scale productions, keeping budgets and expectations low. For “The Northman,” the helmer is offered significant resources to make his dream of a Viking epic come true, enjoying the visuals big money can buy, along with colorful casting. However, Eggers doesn’t stray far from his cinematic interests, returning to the muck and blood of heightened conflict. He sets out to craft a period picture that respects elements of history and embraces the fury of mythology, working with co-writer Sjon to make “The Northman” a major moviegoing event, but on his terms (to the best of his ability). It’s violent, loud, and unafraid to get ugly, trying to remain in a state of psychological unrest for 135 minutes, which is a task that taxes Eggers as he labors to shape a brutalizing viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Bad Guys


“The Bad Guys” is a children’s book series created by Aaron Blabey, who’s managed to transform his original idea into a wildly popular franchise, with 2022 welcoming the 15th installment of the series. Blabey brings an enjoyable sense of humor to his work, and now DreamWorks Animation tries their luck transferring good-natured silliness to the big screen. “The Bad Guys” is directed by Pierre Perifel (making his helming debut) and scripted by Etan Coen (“Get Hard,” “Holmes & Watson”), and while they don’t put a lot of thought into the story, the filmmakers do capture an engaging energy to the endeavor, which speeds along for its first hour before formula kicks in, slowing things down. It’s a spirited feature at times, offering interesting visuals and strong voice work, trying to reach the fan base with a colorful caper that respects the literary characters and their complicated relationship with goodness. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent


Nicolas Cage’s career has been weird for a long time now. He’s been working almost non-stop for the last decade, participating in projects that promise a big payday for a limited time commitment, churning out some rather dismal pictures in the process. There have been a few gems as well, such as last year’s “Pig” and “Willy’s Wonderland,” but Cage’s overall taste in screenplays hasn’t inspired his usual magic. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” challenges Cage to play himself, albeit a slightly more amplified version of the real man, who’s newly stuck in a troubling situation when a money gig in Spain goes wrong on multiple levels. Co-writer/director Tom Gormican has a deep love for Nicolas Cage, and he’s ready to share it with the world in “Massive Talent,” but he stops just short of making a farce with the endeavor, which stops just short of becoming an exuberant celebration of Cage’s special ways with comedy, action, and self-loathing. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Duke


Director Roger Michell enjoyed a lengthy career filled with critical darlings (“Venus,” “The Mother,” “Enduring Love”) and a genuine smash hit (“Notting Hill”). He passed away last year, and his final film, “The Duke,” showcases his strengths as a helmer, managing character lives and tremendous performances in an unexpectedly spirited movie about an extraordinary situation orchestrated by a charismatic man. “The Duke” is based on a true story, but Michell gives it a jazzier sense of dramatic engagement, offering mild comedy and strange moments of suspense while putting his faith in leads Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, who give the material a rich sense of emotional life, helping to deepen a tale of thievery that, in other hands, could’ve been played for simple laughs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Unplugging


“Unplugging” is a timely tale about a couple drifting apart, getting more comfortable with their devices than with each other. There’s a dramatic version of this story to be made, but screenwriters Brad Morris and Matt Walsh (who also stars) attempt a comedic take on the problem of excessive screen time, hoping to find humor in the efforts of two people trying to remain connected everywhere they go. It’s a small-scale offering of domestic disturbance from director Debra Neil-Fisher (a longtime editor, with credits including “Dr. Giggles,” “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and “Fried Green Tomatoes”), who tries to make something happen with very little from the writers, who are more interested in creating personalities than cinematic events. “Unplugging” is amusing, with a few laugh-out-loud moments, and I’m sure some viewers will be able to relate to at least a few of its ideas. Consistency is punted away in the third act, but there’s an hour of enjoyable mildness with performances aiming to please, meeting the production’s modest creative goals. Read the rest at

Film Review - 9 Bullets


“9 Bullets” is being marketed as a tough action picture, focusing on characters with guns drawn, narrowly escaping danger at every turn. It’s not an accurate representation of the actual viewing experience, which is more in line with a slightly more violent Hallmark Channel production, concentrating on melodramatic acts of human connection. The occasional act of pursuit finds its way into the endeavor, but writer/director Gigi Gaston keeps things painfully uneventful in “9 Bullets,” which stumbles through emotional exchanges with banal characters, brought to life through dreadful performances. It’s a difficult sit, with Gaston making a weird creative decision to blend Disney-style storytelling with moldy B-movie cliches, ending up with a messy snoozer that often plays like there wasn’t a completed screenplay during filming. Read the rest at