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May 2022

4K UHD Review - Phenomena


Few filmmakers have enjoyed a creative streak like Dario Argento, who found his footing with 1975's "Deep Red" and tore through a series of murder mysteries, supernatural horror, and surreal freak-outs for the next 12 years, creating movies with incredible visual power and genre authority. 1985's "Phenomena" arrives just before Argento lost his way, acting a potent reminder of his talents during his heyday, merging growing Americanization with his Italian filmmaking instincts, coming up with a completely bizarre but terrifically nutso chiller that somehow incorporates insect friendship, heavy metal, family woes, and a knife-wielding chimpanzee without falling apart. It's the Argento way, and he scores with this intensely atmospheric and brazenly bananas serial killer story. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - The Sword and the Sorcerer


When 1982's "The Sword and the Sorcerer" went into production, the plan was to put the film together quickly, on a mission to beat "Conan the Barbarian" to theaters, hoping to siphon some ticket sales from the big Universal release. The scheme worked, helping the picture achieve box office glory in a way few could've imagined, making it the 18th highest grossing feature of the year (just below, wait for it, "Conan the Barbarian"), doing its part to make the sword and sorcery subgenre a powerful draw at theaters, at least for a brief period of time. The actual quality of "The Sword and the Sorcerer" is debatable, as co-writer/director Albert Pyun tries to keep his low-budget endeavor together for most of the run time, managing monetary limitations and storytelling disappointments as he attempts to make a grimy swashbuckler that often takes on more than it can handle. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The American Scream


1988's "The American Scream" is frequently compared to "Troll 2" by horror fans, with the pictures sharing a love for…well, production completion. Logic isn't a guest at this table, and while "Troll 2" conjures its own sense of insanity, "The American Scream" barely comes together as a complete idea. Writer/director Mitchell Linden wanted to make a genre film, and he has one with the endeavor, but he forgets to add important things like coherency and pacing to the effort, which often plays like collection of R-rated ideas thrown together without much in the way of planning. Linden has gore, nudity, and characters in dangerous situations, but it's difficult to find the rhythm of the film, which is loaded with filler and whiplash-inducing tonal changes. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - We Await


Co-writer/director Charles Pinion made a weird movie in 1993's "Red Spirit Lake," paying passable attention to storytelling needs as he worked in many fetishes and freak-outs, hoping to pay his respects to the great gods of underground cinema. 1996's "We Await" mostly does away with a traditional plot to keep viewers in the toxic sludge of mental illness, with Pinion striving to melt a few brains with this endeavor, which combines the power of crystals, the wonders of cannibalism, and penis torture in a surprisingly sluggish 54-minute-long run time. And there's a giant, obese Jesus attacking a car worked into the mix, because why not? Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Red Spirit Lake


Co-writer/director Charles Pinion attempts to conjure a special sinister mood with 1993's "Red Spirit Lake." It's an offering of underground cinema that's captured on video, with Pinion striving to create a disturbing viewing experience involving elements of evil in a rural setting. It's not exactly a fresh take on the same old hellraising, but the helmer hopes to darken the endeavor with grisly acts of violence and focus on torture, sold with surreal touches and defined moments of shock value. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Le Bijou D'Amour


While 1976's "Draguse" was more of a random viewing experience from director Patrice Rhomm, 1978's "Le Bijou D'Amour" delivers a more consistent tale of sexuality and horror to follow. The feature details a reporter's encounter with a cursed ring from Casanova, giving him seductive powers as his encounters the sinister ways of succubi living in a rural area. It's more than just swinging adventures for the main character, who's pulled into something more dangerous than initially believed, permitting Rhomm a chance to showcase his love of fetish play during fantasy encounters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Draguse


1976's "Draguse" is an episodic exploration of fetishes and desires involving Parisian characters, and there's something of a horror element to the endeavor, giving it a different tone than most adult efforts of the era. Director Patrice Rhomm doesn't have a game plan for the feature, but there's the vague shape of a story, tracking the determination of an author working through a case of writer's block, tasked with creating erotica, which brings him to a remote house inhabited by a seductive and potentially evil presence. Throughout the movie, elements of sex, tourism, and Naziploitation are offered screen time, giving viewers an unexpectedly unsteady ride of carnal and commerce delights. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dinner in America


“Dinner in America” premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it received mostly positive reviews and viewer appreciation. It’s now ready for release over two years after its first screening, and it’s easy to see why a distributor would have some reluctance to launch the feature, which isn’t an audience-pleasing type of movie. Writer/director Adam Carter Rehmeier is attempting to create a character study about unlikable people going through stressful times, and such a venture requires a fine touch when it comes to comedy and heart. “Dinner in America” uses a sledgehammer to bang out some type of tone, which results in a confusing endeavor where nothing is really amusing and personalities are mostly uninteresting. A few performances bring some life to the effort, but the picture plays like a private joke for Rehmeier, who’s not pursuing a story here, just an extended run of idiosyncrasy. Read the rest at

Film Review - There Are No Saints


“There Are No Saints” comes from the mind of Paul Schrader, who’s certainly capable of making terrible pictures (“The Canyons,” “Dog Eat Dog”), and this is most definitely one of them. It’s Schrader’s version of a revenge movie, and one that teases elements of culture and religion while trying to compete in the marketplace with select action sequences. The feature doesn’t want to be generic, but it can’t fight fate, with director Alfonso Pineda Ulloa basically making an episode of a bad television show here, trapped by weak writing and vague characterization. “There Are No Saints” tries to be ruthless, butching up with salty language and rough treatment of women and children, but as a “Taken”-esque ride of violent interactions, it falls woefully short of VOD cinema standards, offering a steady display of tension-free scenes and flimsy filmmaking. Read the rest at

Film Review - Montana Story


Directors Scott McGhee and David Siegel haven’t made many films over the course of their career, with “Montana Story” their sixth production since 1993. They’ve taken their time when developing projects, and the endeavors typically focus on human behavior during challenging times of familial strife or relationship fractures. Through titles such as “Bee Season” and “What Maisie Knew,” McGhee and Siegel have proved their commitment to telling stories about intimate connections and unresolved feelings, and “Montana Story” is no different, with the helmers using the wide-open spaces of the state to examine internalized pain, offering a tale of sibling communication after years spent apart. As with other McGhee/Siegel efforts, their latest is in no hurry to get anywhere, offering a slow flow of feelings and developing conflicts that doesn’t always translate into compelling cinema. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Delta Space Mission


1984's "Delta Space Mission" is a Romanian animated film that attempts to rework elements of "Star Trek" for a young audience. It's more in line with classic Saturday morning television programming, offering a deep space adventure with a cast of heroes as they encounter a series of alien and A.I. entanglements, forced to fight their way out of dangerous situations. It's an episodic feature, beginning in the middle of chaos like a matinee serial, but it's immense fun to watch, especially when the production gets a little ambitious with its style, playing with movement and angles to spice up an offering of cartoon escapism with a super space team. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Wolfpack


"Wolfpack" is from 1987, but it definitely plays much more interestingly in 2022. Screenwriters Fred E. Sharkey and William Milling (who also directs) use drama at a New Jersey high school to explore the rituals and dangers of fascism, where lessons from Nazi Germany are being utilized by the football team to generate a form of control over the student body and staff. It's analysis of power that's eerily reminiscent of the world we live in today, with the writing using the trials of adolescence to detail the ways of the Big Lie, highlighting the ease of its return and the influence it carries. "Wolfpack" is a teen movie that's quite different from the competition, and while it still deals with the ways of love and acceptance, Sharkey and Milling attempt to subvert subgenre expectations, providing a slightly more muscular intellectual exercise. The production hopes to hit impressionable minds with the work, providing a look at the ease of influence and submission when the seductive ways of deception take command of the masses. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sister Sister


There's probably a book to be written about the career of writer/director Bill Condon, which has enjoyed such extreme turns of fate and opportunity since he began his rise in the industry. There's the man who helmed "Dreamgirls," "Kinsey," and "Gods and Monsters." And there's the man who made "Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh," "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn" and the live-action version of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." It's been a wild ride for Condon, but he officially stepped behind the camera for the first time with 1987's "Sister Sister," in charge of creating an atmospheric southern gothic thriller focusing on violence in the bayou, adding bits of eroticism along the way. As debuts go, "Sister Sister" is a bit of a narrative mess, but Condon has surrounded himself with talented cast and crew, making him look capable as he struggles to tell a dark tale of Louisiana murder and mystery, which always looks and sounds great, but slowly loses its initial appeal. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Madman


Created during a fertile period in slasher film distribution, 1982's "Madman" takes a slightly different route than the average kill-all-the-campers genre offering. Rooted in urban legend idolatry and executed with the slow-burn build of a campfire tale, the feature hopes to creep out audiences with prolonged silences and extended stalking sequences. Patience levels are periodically tested during the run time, but as the effort unfolds, there's an appreciation for frights and atmosphere that keeps the picture interesting when it stops being engaging. Perhaps it doesn't reach the iconic highs of "Friday the 13th," but "Madman" has its simple pleasures, including attention to character and an unusual interest in music to help secure its creepy intent. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blood on Her Name


2019's "Blood on Her Name" begins with a compelling mix of violence and shock, establishing a visceral thriller to come concerning one woman's decision-making process when involved in a deadly act. Co-writer/director Matthew Pope gets about 15 minutes into the feature before he gradually moves away from the potential of the premise, more interested in making a psychological study with "Blood on Her Name," which isn't nearly as interesting as the pulpy chiller it initially promises to become. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ham on Rye


"Ham on Rye" is film about the moment when adolescence transforms into adulthood, with some enjoying an adventure into the unknown of future possibilities, while others remain where they are, continuing their existence without opportunities or interest in growth. Co-writer/director Tyler Taormina doesn't prepare a story for "Ham on Rye," instead working with atmosphere to summon a sense of malaise involving teenagers on the precipice of great change. The helmer is dealing with the traditions of teen cinema, but he refuses to submit to formula, endeavoring to creating a more abstract viewing experience concerning universal feelings of fear and melancholy. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hypnosis


"Hypnosis" is a Russian production from 2020, and it's largely being sold as a thriller, exploring the charged relationship between a hypnotherapist and his latest patient, a 16-year-old boy struggling with sleepwalking issues. There's certainly the potential for a more explosive study of a seemingly manipulative relationship, but "Hypnosis" doesn't pursue candied chills. Director Valey Todorovsky elects to make more of a psychological study with coming-of-age elements, settling on a slowly paced examination of control, which doesn't always command attention, despite some strong performances and a vague sense of illness the helmer works up the energy to toy with on occasion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Good Mourning


Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) and Mod Sun (aka Derek Ryan Smith) are musicians attempting to transition into filmmakers. The men have made music videos, even collaborating on a long-form endeavor, 2021’s “Downfalls High,” but “Good Mourning” is their feature-length debut, and to ensure they have some type of hit on their resume, they’ve elected to make a stoner comedy, which always seem to end up profitable no matter the quality. They aim to create a new “Up in Smoke,” but they end up with another “How High 2,” and their lack of practice when dealing with the nuances of a big screen comedy is abundantly clear during the run time (about 85 minutes, but it feels three times as long). “Good Mourning” has no tricks or treats, marching forward as a dumb guy experience with dismal improvisation and generic plotting, putting a lot of faith in Baker and Mod Sun’s fans to be patient enough to sit through what’s essentially a joke-free endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Top Gun: Maverick


Producers certainly tried to pull together a continuation over the last 36 years, but it remains awfully strange that a “Top Gun” sequel didn’t materialize right after the release of the 1986 film. After all, the original was a monster box office success, becoming the highest grossing feature of its release year, and the picture became a pop culture phenomenon, launching a hit soundtrack, creating a sunglasses craze, and it even became a potent recruitment tool for the military. “Top Gun” was massive, but star Tom Cruise kept his distance from a follow-up, finally returning to his high-flying ways with “Top Gun: Maverick,” which picks up the saga of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell as he returns to the scars of his past while tasked with training the next generation of fighter pilots. Director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy,” “Oblivion”) takes command of the endeavor, which is acutely aware of audience expectations, forcing the production to ride the line between nostalgia and high-tech thrills, presenting a movie that’s incredibly successful as an offering of entertainment, with barely tolerable levels of corniness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Downton Abbey: A New Era


2019’s “Downton Abbey” wasn’t a financial risk, but it provided a clear creative challenge for writer Julian Fellowes, who was tasked with bringing his hit television show to the big screen without losing the small-screen essentials of the show. Melodrama remained, but Fellowes attempted to upgrade character tensions and aristocratic stakes, coming up with a very comfortable and appealing victory lap for his creation, gathering the cast for another go-around with wealth, class, and British matters of heart and manners. The film turned out to be a huge hit, forcing Fellowes to rethink finality, returning to the franchise with “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” which offers another reunion of familiar faces and places, with the new picture out to give the fanbase what they’ve come for, but also move the story forward in a way that could inspire additional sequels now that the Crawley gang have proved their theatrical appeal. Read the rest at