Film Review

Film Review - Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

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In 2006, 20th Century Fox worked extremely hard to make “Borat” something special in the marketplace. They screened the feature like crazy and kept star/creator Sacha Baron Cohen on a relentless publicity tour, laboring to sell an odd character from a cult television show to the masses. The blood, sweat, and tears actually worked, with “Borat” generating enormous word-of-mouth praise and substantial pre-release curiosity, ultimately making a fortune for the studio and turning Cohen into a star, despite his preference for being a chameleon-like performer. Borat impressions were plentiful, DVD sales were astronomical, and Cohen tried his best to burn off his newfound fame with a more pointed exercise in shock value: 2009’s “Bruno.” Now, 14 years later, Cohen returns to his most famous creation (sorry Ali G) for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” with the most famous Kazakhstan reporter returning to duty to achieve a better understanding of 2020 and all the chaos it’s provided. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Witches (2020)

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This isn’t the first trip to the screen for Roald Dahl’s 1983 book, “The Witches.” In 1990, director Nicolas Roeg and co-producer Jim Henson had their way with the source material, combing nutty Euro filmmaking sensibilities with glorious Henson-y practical magic for their take on evildoing inside a luxury hotel, with mice making life difficult for dangerous witches. It was a very strange adaptation of a very strange book, and now 30 years later director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Guillermo del Toro try their luck with a second adaptation, and one that’s strictly CGI-heavy in execution. While the thrill of puppetry and makeup effects is gone, the new version of “The Witches” doesn’t take it easy when it comes to the demented activities found in Dahl’s work, and while the endeavor is more adrenalized with chases and near-misses, it remains an entertaining sit for brave young audiences. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Synchronic

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Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead won accolades for their tiny 2017 effort, “The Endless,” which the helmers pushed through the system with a DIY attitude, even taking the starring roles. The partners graduate to a more pressurized professional situation with “Synchronic,” a production that offers a little more money for the pair to work with, while luring stars Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan into the main roles. They also return to their brain-bleeding interests in psychedelic cinema, this time exploring the miracle of time travel as found in the formula of a dangerous synthetic drug. “Synchronic” tries to be a visual feast, and it’s most successful there, offering the audience a threatening ride through the bowels of New Orleans and the dangers of the past, with Benson and Moorhead more assured with camerawork than storytelling as the picture periodically loses its way. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Friendsgiving

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Holiday movies emerge every year, all questing to be the one chosen for classic status, becoming a perennial choice for viewers in the mood to conjure seasonal feelings via the magic of filmmaking. “Friendsgiving” fails to become anything of note, but it does offer a Thanksgiving atmosphere filled with lots of characters, dysfunction, and slowly eroding patience. Writer/director Nicol Paone goes the improvisational route for her helming debut, and it’s not the best choice, permitting the feature to go slack while it hunts for jokes, abandoning a prime opportunity to sort through emotional baggage and the various anxieties that come with large social gatherings. I’m sure “Friendsgiving” was a hoot to make, putting a collection of actors together to see what sticks, but the fun factor of this production is alarmingly low. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Rebecca (2020)

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“Rebecca” is an adaptation of a 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier, but real ownership of the material tends to belong to Alfred Hitchcock. In 1940, the director delivered a premiere interpretation of the book, finding style and suspense with a movie that went on to collect an Oscar for Best Picture and cement itself as one of the helmer’s finest efforts. Of course, others have had their way with du Maurier’s story, with “Rebecca” enjoying life on stage, television, in song, and the tale has even been expanded in literary sequels. There’s no shortage of visions when it comes this psychological study, which returns to screens courtesy of director Ben Wheatley, who’s not known for his subtle ways with refined horror. If there’s a reason to revisit “Rebecca,” it’s lost in the new version, which puts on a fine display of technical achievements, but offers little life behind the routine of suspicion and torment. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Honest Thief

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The Liam Neeson Thriller managed a short break over the last year, with the actor flexing some dramatic muscles again in offerings such as “Ordinary Love” and “Made in Italy.” And he was terrific in those pictures, showcasing renewed interest in playing human beings in various stages of reflection and distress. Neeson returns to paycheck duties for “Honest Thief,” putting him back behind the wheel of a mild actioner involving stolen money, rotten FBI agents, and true love, giving his core demographic a periodically exciting and highly implausible ride. Screenwriters Steve Allrich and Mark Williams (who also directs) try to reinforce the personalities involved in the maze of motivations, and the effort is appealing, adding some spirit to an otherwise generic but easily digestible endeavor. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Love and Monsters

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Brian Duffield (who recently served as writer/director of “Spontaneous”) and Matthew Robinson are credited as screenwriters on “Love and Monsters,” but the project has the feel of a graphic novel adaption. The features merges heartsickness felt by the lead character with his quest to cross a dangerous land populated with mutated creatures, using the power of love as the wind in his sails as he endures all types of challenges to his personal safety. The screenplay doesn’t actually have a literary origin, which might’ve come in handy, as “Love and Monsters” eventually loses its way when trying to give audiences a satisfying ending. Thankfully, the first half of the effort does a successful job managing tonal changes and visualizing threat, with director Michael Matthews getting the adventure up on its feet with personality and lively enemy attacks, offing just enough enthusiasm to sustain the viewing experience. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Evil Eye

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“Welcome to the Blumhouse” makes another attempt to turn Blumhouse Productions into a household name for horror. Partnering with Amazon Studios, Blumhouse delivers four films for streaming distribution, looking to clear out a few older titles from the company closet. The fourth offering of the series is “Evil Eye,” another television endeavor that deals with low-wattage scariness, delivering more of a heightened melodrama with a distinct cultural fingerprint. With such an ominous title, one might expect plenty of hellraising in “Evil Eye,” but the picture isn’t interested in overkill, dealing with familial issues that play into ideas on parental concern and Indian mysticism. Directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani aren’t here to pound on viewers, electing to guide a more restrained, slow-burn look at motherly paranoia, filling the effort with superb performances. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Nocturne

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“Welcome to the Blumhouse” makes another attempt to turn Blumhouse Productions into a household name for horror. Partnering with Amazon Studios, Blumhouse delivers four films for streaming distribution, looking to clear out a few older titles from the company closet. The third title out of the gate is “Nocturne,” a television movie that attempts to make classical piano playing not exactly terrifying, but at least unnerving. Writer/director Zu Quirke (making her feature-length debut) channels the unease of Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” for “Nocturne,” creating a competition picture that deals mostly with hallucinatory imagery and sisterly bitterness, stuffing in some Deal with the Devil business to keep up with genre demands. It’s not an especially striking effort from Quirke, but she has a decent command of evil influence to keep the endeavor reasonably alert. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Opening Act

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“The Opening Act” comes from writer/director Steve Byrne, a longtime stand-up comedian. Ready to put his early experiences on film, Byrne concocts a small-scale ode the pains of the profession with the feature, calling in every favor possible to fill the endeavor with familiar faces from the scene. Such a lived-in quality helps “The Opening Act” greatly, with Byrne keeping to simple goals of character and mishaps, striving to give the viewer a larger understanding of what the stand-up comedy system is like for a newcomer who hasn’t found their voice yet. Stage time is plentiful in the effort, as are laughs, but the real appeal of the movie is its love for awkward situations, with Byrne creating a positive story about failure. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Shithouse

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“Shithouse” is Cooper Raiff’s debut feature as a writer/director/actor, going the triple threat route to secure as much creative control as possible. He has a lot to learn about editing, characterization, and the power of a good, approachable title that welcomes interest from a wide range of potential viewers. However, for his first at-bat, Raiff does understand unsettled feelings when it comes to a young person’s initial encounter with adulthood, with all the fear and worry that goes along with the journey, especially on a college campus. “Shithouse” (oof) might initially seem coarse and unpleasant, but Raiff is quick to establish a lived-in sensitivity to the endeavor, finding a semi-original take on loneliness and human connection that gives the effort deeper feeling as the story develops. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Devil Has a Name

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Edward James Olmos is a respected actor who’s enjoyed a lengthy career in the industry, winning tremendous praise and a few awards for his efforts. As a director, he made a splash with 1992’s “American Me,” a controversial look at gang life in Los Angeles, which gifted him attention and mild box office, but follow-ups were sparse. Olmos turned in a few television productions over the years, but nothing quite recaptured the electricity of “American Me.” Back on the big screen, Olmos steers “The Devil Has a Name,” which examines the state of pollution and corporate intimidation in California, underlining the true power of greed. It’s a noble endeavor with something to share about corruption and environmental ruin, but Olmos doesn’t connect in full with the screenplay (credited to Robert McEveety), shooting for a quirky take on legal and planetary horror when the subject matter deserves a more sobering approach. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Alone (2020)

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It’s a bit risky to debut a pandemic horror movie in the midst of an actual pandemic, but it appears the producers of “Alone” (not to be confused with the other “Alone,” released a few weeks ago) are probably counting on morbid curiosity to fuel VOD purchases. It’s not a feature rooted in reality, with screenwriter Matt Naylor taking the material into genre territory, inspired by films such as “28 Days Later” and Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake. It’s a zombie movie more than a viral outbreak thriller, and after a shaky introduction from director Johnny Martin (“Hangman,” “Delirium”) that highlights awkward acting and trendy editorial ideas, the feature actually finds an appealing balance of human concern and monster attacks, becoming the rare endeavor that actually improves as it goes. There’s very little real-world illness in “Alone,” and while its release timing is suspect, the finished product is more than happy to be junk food for the masses. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The War with Grandpa

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For “The War with Grandpa” to work as a movie, one has to have some comfort with the outrageous behavior exhibited by a troubled 12-year-old boy, who wants nothing more than to seek revenge on his ailing grandfather, who’s taken over his room after moving in due to mobility issues. There needs to be something friendly about the child to help enjoy his increasingly hostile pranks, giving viewers an understanding that the main character isn’t actually trying to murder his peepaw. Such insight into the juvenile mind isn’t presented by screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, who tend to focus on the allegedly lighthearted antics of the material, which originated in a 1984 Robert Kimmel Smith book. Unfortunately, “The War with Grandpa” isn’t amusing either, working through dismal high jinks with seemingly capable actors who push extra hard to make the film resemble the good time it desperately wants to be. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Vampires vs. the Bronx

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A veteran of comedy television and the digital shorts of “Saturday Night Live,” Oz Rodriguez jumped to film direction with 2016’s highly amusing “Brother Nature,” sharing credit with creative partner Matt Villines, who passed away that same year. Rodriguez returns to screens with “Vampires vs. the Bronx,” keeping up his interest in comedic mischief with the Halloween release, which pits the residents of a forgotten New York City block against the arrival of monsters who do their worst through the business of gentrification. There’s a body count and some bared fangs, but the screenplay by Blaise Hemingway (“Playmobil: The Movie”) tries to keep things light and East Coast with the endeavor, which offers a sharp sense of location while enjoying some big laughs and a fair amount of excitement. Rodriguez maintains his sense of humor, keeping matters quite playful, going for a genre ride instead of a bleak overview of horror happenings, with “Vampires vs. the Bronx” coming through as a wildly entertaining romp. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Hubie Halloween

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There was a brief, beautiful moment late last year, when the release of “Uncut Gems” delivered the best Adam Sandler performance of his career. It was a risk for the Happy Madison honcho too, working with indie filmmakers asking him to play a morally corrupt character. Sandler was fantastic in a masterful picture, but such a career victory wasn’t meant to last for very long. Less than a year later, Sandler returns with “Hubie Halloween,” heading right back to the warmth and softness of his professional wooby of bodily function jokes, friends and family employment, and a near absence of screenwriting. It’s an awful feature from start to finish, made all the worse by the distant memory of “Uncut Gems” and its magnificent use of Sandler’s unique screen presence. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Wolf of Snow Hollow

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Writer/director Jim Cummings won critical raves and cult viewership with his last endeavor, 2018’s “Thunder Road,” and he’s back two years later with “The Wolf of Snow Hollow.” Continuing his interest in the wilds of mental illness, parenthood, and law enforcement, Cummings tries on a genre film for size, examining the pressures felt by a man on the edge who’s dealing with family failures, police mishaps, and the possible existence of a wolfman on the loose. The helmer brings a darkly comic edge to the effort, which introduces a wonderfully strong sense of danger with monstrous happenings, only to gradually drift away from such a compelling source of danger and grisly mystery. Cummings is after something a bit more nuanced and dramatically probing with “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” which might disappoint horror hounds, but the reward is a feature that’s unexpected and unpredictable. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Trial of the Chicago 7

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There have been many documentary deconstructions and dramatic interpretations of the Chicago Seven, with all sorts of filmmakers digging into the madness of the judicial and political system experienced by seven (originally eight) men on trial for their part in the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in Illinois. It seems 2020 is an ideal time to revisit elements of the trial and its idiosyncratic defendants, with the case examining abuses of power at a law enforcement and Presidential level, capturing the restlessness of a country inching toward chaos. The event is also catnip to writer/director Aaron Sorkin, with the collection of personalities and confrontations gifting him a chance to present a loquacious reexamination of the facts through fiction, generating a high-energy overview of courtroom maneuvering and injustice, also dissecting the behind-the-scenes legal chess game. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” may be a bit too familiar and user friendly at times, but if there was ever a moment to take it all in again, it would be now. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Doorman

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There have be a great number of films that’ve chased the cinematic high 1988’s “Die Hard” provided viewers. The knockoffs have been varied in premise and tone, and it’s wild they’re still being churned out to this day. “The Doorman” is the next offering of one-person-army action in a single setting, only instead of paying tribute to the John McTiernan masterpiece, screenwriters Lior Chefetz and Joe Swanson basically remake the feature with their vision of multi-floor antagonism inside an apartment building. The similarities are alarming (let’s hope the lawyers aren’t watching), but try as they might, the writers can’t capture that singular viewing experience with this low-budget effort, which pits diminutive Ruby Rose against an army of thieves, using every John McClane trick the production can repurpose to provide some cheap thrills to viewers who, hopefully, haven’t seen “Die Hard.” Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Lie

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“Welcome to the Blumhouse” makes another attempt to turn Blumhouse Productions into a household name for horror. Partnering with Amazon Studios, Blumhouse delivers four films for streaming distribution, looking to clear out a few older titles from the company closet. The second offering of the series is “The Lie,” which is a remake of a 2015 German production, with writer/director Veena Sub transferring austere European storytelling to snowbound Canada, hoping to get a little more atmospheric mileage out of the premise. “The Lie” asks some compelling questions about the evil nature of children and the reverberating destruction caused by a parental breakup, but Sub only has ridiculous answers to offer viewers with her remake. Instead of challenging her audience, the helmer manages to trigger major eye-rolls with the writing, destroying a picture with a provocative introduction. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com