Film Review

Film Review - Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman


“Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is the second film about the serial killer that’s been unleashed this month (or the third, if you’re including the Blu-ray release of 1978’s “Killer’s Delight). There have been numerous movies made about the murderous ways of Bundy, but this one is written and directed by Daniel Farrands, a helmer with a deep affection for horror pictures from the 1980s. He’s been trying to transform real-world crimes into slasher entertainment, recently hitting Ten Worst lists with “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson” and “The Haunting of Sharon Tate.” This is the only kind of feature Farrands makes, and he’s back to his routine with “American Boogeyman,” which not only doesn’t understand the definition of “boogeyman,” but reaches a new low of tastelessness, transforming Bundy’s barbaric ways with female victims into bottom-shelf schlock, reveling in the violence the serial killer lived to cause, while the writing makes a ghastly last-minute attempt to turn crass exploitation into a celebration of police procedure and survival instinct. Read the rest at

Film Review - We Need to Do Something


“We Need to Do Something” is based on a novella by Max Booth III, who also provides the screenplay for the feature adaptation. He’s not here to deliver a thundering offering of horror, preferring to use a claustrophobic situation to monitor a family breaking down into madness, toying with thinning patience and long-simmering hostilities. “We Need to Do Something” occasionally teases outbreaks of “Evil Dead”-style goodness, but Booth III and director Sean King O’Grady don’t go all the way with their more macabre ideas, preferring to make a puzzle instead, and one that deals with black magic, self-harm, and frayed family ties. The picture is a slow-burn endeavor, which periodically works against the production, but there’s a minor sense of doom brewing in the effort, which keeps it involving, and blasts of gruesomeness certainly help the cause. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zone 414

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“Zone 414” is for viewers either looking to huff some “Blade Runner” fumes or are searching for similar material that’s simplified, without all the pesky artistry that often competed with the core detective story. The production doesn’t hide its love for “Blade Runner” (or its sequel), but it also doesn’t have enough imagination to find its own way, with screenwriter Bryan Edward Hill coming up short as he cooks up a character study that’s wrapped in a futureworld mystery, and one that’s loaded with synthetic humans, corporate overlords, and questions concerning what it means to be alive. A lot is missing from “Zone 414,” including excitement, with the picture more about head games played by uninteresting characters, and there’s not enough money in the budget to really go wild with locations and technology. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mogul Mowgli


In a case of strange release timing, “Mogul Mowgli” hits screen less than a year after the debut of “Sound of Metal,” a feature about the primal need for musical release hitting the cruelty of physical impairment, forcing the artist to understand a different future for himself. The picture offered actor Riz Ahmed the role of a lifetime, giving his all to the part, and he was rewarded with critical accolades and a trip around the awards circuit. Now there’s “Mogul Mowgli,” which also examines the burning frustrations of a musician trying to make sense of his life when everything he’s worked for is suddenly stopped by illness. The films are remarkably similar, which might create a feeling of déjà vu for some, but the emotional volatility contained within both endeavors can’t be denied, with “Mogul Mowgli” offering more attention to trials of family and faith to go along with its understanding of bodily submission. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Gateway


Co-writer/director Michele Civetta almost finds a dramatic path worth taking in “The Gateway.” It’s hard out there for low-budget movies, and almost all of them turn to action and crime to capture the attention of potential audiences. Sadly, “The Gateway” follows suit, but it also strives to understand difficult character histories and behaviors, at times getting dark with its study of a decent man fighting his demons and the world around him. Civetta commits to a certain level of understanding in the writing, but he doesn’t take it all the way, turning down the potential of a gritty drama, diluting the endeavor with criminal antics involving drugs, gangs, and bad dudes. Perhaps there isn’t much to the effort, but in a sea of similar underworld examinations, this feature has certain scenes that promise a more sincere and realistic tale to come, but Civette doesn’t try hard enough to preserve the human aspects of the screenplay. Read the rest at

Film Review - He's All That


It was a small Miramax release crafted expressly for teen audiences, released over the Super Bowl weekend. 1999’s “She’s All That” wasn’t meant to be much, but it found success with its “TRL”-approved casting, a lay-up premise involving young love, and a soundtrack that made “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer a staple of school dances and pop radio countdowns. The feature isn’t a classic, but it’s remembered fondly by those who were there in the moment and rented the picture a thousand times afterwards, reconnecting with its cartoon highs and lows. A remake has taken a surprisingly long time to surface, but “He’s All That” is here to revive tingly feelings, though it’s designed for a generation that’s probably never even heard of the original film, once again working through the saga of a cruel wager that turns into attraction, with the production strictly aiming this thing at social media-obsessed pre-teens. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vacation Friends


“Vacation Friends” follows marketplace trends, emerging as yet another comedy that’s trying to be as crude as possible to inspire laughs. The screenplay (credited to five people) doesn’t aim high, comfortable with formula and simple characterization, trying to remain as digestible as possible while still loaded with rough language and shock humor, keeping up with R-rated interests. And yet, while there’s nothing original about it, “Vacation Friends” manages to sneak in plenty of charm from its engaged cast, and co-writer/director Clay Tarver launches a few clever sight gags, trying to have as much fun as possible with dreary writing. There’s nothing here that’s revelatory, but this isn’t a mean-spirited endeavor, remaining cheery and occasionally strange enough to engage. Read the rest at

Film Review - Candyman (2021)


“Candyman” began life in a Clive Barker short story, which was adapted by writer/director Bernard Rose in 1992, who expanded on the author’s ideas and conjured a delicious gothic mood, landing a minor hit with horror audiences. Sequels followed, but few viewers cared to follow the exploits of the eponymous ghost, leaving the brand name dormant for decades. “Candyman” has been resurrected by co-writer/producer Jordan Peele and co-writer/director Nia DaCosta, who hunt for way to return the nightmare to screens, but with a more defined take on racial injustice. They’re making a direct sequel to the first film, and one that’s more interested in feeling the brutality of the black experience than providing genuine scares. DaCosta makes a handsome picture, and Peele’s social concerns are present, but Rose offered a special level of cinematic pressure with his initial offering of Candyman, which this follow-up lacks. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mosquito State


A full sensorial immersion appears to the be the creative goal of “Mosquito State.” Co-writer/director Filip Jan Rymsza creates an itchy nightmare realm for the feature, filling it was insects and insanity, using claustrophobic audio and visual elements to make sure viewers are pushed all the way back into their seat. The material is unusual (think a cross between David Cronenberg and Adam McKay), presenting horrors of mind, body, and the American financial system with a distinct lean toward the mysteries of unreality. “Mosquito State” offers a fascinating look at various forms of control and the mental illness such command inspires, and while it doesn’t offer frights, there’s a level of unease to the work that’s keeps it involving, even when Rymsza gets a little carried away trying to make an art-house version of a disaster movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rushed


Siobhan Fallon Hogan has been acting for decades, perhaps best known for her stint on “Saturday Night Live” and movies such as “Men in Black,” where she played a highly confused farmer’s wife dealing with a sugar-swilling alien. Along the way, Hogan made contact with Lars von Trier and his Zentropa Films, opening the door to a semi-dramatic career in offbeat and sometimes violent features. Channeling that energy for her screenwriting debut, Hogan reteams with Zentropa for “Rushed,” which takes a look at deadly hazing practices at U.S. fraternities, using headline news to provide inspiration for a unique take on a mother’s anguish. The European backing for the endeavor immediately conjures expectations for a stark exploitation effort with screaming participants and bladed weapons, and while Hogan eventually gets raw, she doesn’t start there, managing a more emotional odyssey for the writing, offering an original take on the mourning process. Read the rest at

Film Review - No Man of God


Filmmakers have repeatedly returned to the story of Ted Bundy, a serial killer executed in 1989. Bundy presents a particular psychological puzzle to dramatize, emerging with a cool demeanor of superiority, only to contain a burning sense of madness within. “No Man of God” is the first of two Ted Bundy movies released this month, and director Amber Sealey and writer Kit Lesser (a pseudonym for C. Robert Cargill, who’s taken his name off the picture) try to make a respectable, dramatic offering of character examination, using the true story of Bundy’s interactions with F.B.I. profiler Bill Hagmaier to inspire a theatrical two-hander concerning the monster’s denial and eventual confrontation of his heinous acts of savagery. “No Man of God” is not a thriller, sticking with conversations and confrontations as years pass, making the endeavor about fine acting as it struggles with sluggish pacing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Together


“Together” joins a growing number of movies that dramatize the experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, presenting viewers with a reminder of the way things were and how they are now, but with help from the sharpness of screenwriting and power of performance. What screenwriter Dennis Kelly basically offers here is a theatrical experience, using the two-hander format to analyze the changing mood of society and the growing medical emergency as a couple manages their flailing relationship smack dab in the middle of a hellish event. “Together” is a simple staging of anxieties and hostilities, but Kelly brings depth to impossible feelings of frustration and grief, also having an enjoyable time dreaming up arguments for actors Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy to play with as they go head-to-head for 90 minutes of screen time. It’s an outstandingly acted offering of confessional fury, but it’s difficult to understand who the audience is for this cathartic endeavor, and why it’s being produced now, when this global battle for stability is far from over. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Show


To many, Alan Moore is a legend in the comic book business. He’s been the driving force behind such famous works as “Watchmen,” “Batman: The Killing Joke,” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” His contributions to the art form and his deconstruction of the superhero experience has inspired generations of artists, but he’s been very outspoken about the movies adapted from his own material. Critical of “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta,” Moore is more than happy to share his opinion about way the film industry treats his material, but “The Show” provides a rare opportunity to watch him manufacture an original tale for the big screen. Moore isn’t straying far from what he knows about corrupt and troubled human beings, but he also doesn’t have the budget to do much of anything with “The Show,” which is basically a T.V. pilot for an English version of “Twin Peaks,” dealing with eccentrics, lunatics, and the puzzling ways of dreamscapes. Moore is no David Lynch, leaving the picture quite an endurance test for those who don’t worship the comics industry deity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


For the 25th movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the company looks to one of its lesser-known characters to help take the brand name forward. Not that Shang-Chi is an obscure superhero, but he doesn’t quite have the marquee value of previous avengers, presenting a challenge for the production to deliver a memorable introduction for a wide audience. And “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” does just that, presenting an interesting new face on the scene, and the urban and mystical realms he inhabits. Television star Simu Liu gets a critical career at-bat with the eponymous role, and he makes a strong impression, becoming a compelling focal point for the feature while producers fill supporting parts with screen legends, familiar Marvel faces, and comedians, working extra hard to make sure the launch of Shang-Chi goes down smooth with comic book maniacs and the people who love them. Read the rest at

Film Review - Reminiscence

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Lisa Joy is best known for her television work, producing shows such as “Westworld” and “Burn Notice,” dealing with gritty tales of detective work and future technology. Joy makes her debut as a writer/director with “Reminiscence,” which examines the sci-fi concept of living memories and works them into a hard-boiled tale of sleuthing, but with a more emotional push of lovesickness driving the story. The production offers viewers a new vision of American disaster, with wars destroying society and rising coastal waters increasing desperation, but Joy is also trying to pay tribute to the detective stories of old with “Reminiscence,” and she often fails spectacularly. It’s not easy to craft a twisty plot full of deceptive characters, but the helmer gets lost in her detailed visuals, failing to craft at least a passably compelling mystery for the main character, who’s put through the wringer in the name of love, but it’s difficult to work up the energy to care about any of it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sweet Girl


The first half of “Sweet Girl” is as close to a Charles Bronson-starring, 1983 Cannon Films release as we’re bound to get these days. Jason Momoa takes a break from superhero duty to star as a husband and father raging against the cruel business practices of Big Pharma, who hold the key to survival for many sick people, electing to exploit such weakness for maximum profit. It’s a timely subject, sure to keep viewers interested in the beatings to come, but writers Gregg Hurwitz, Will Staples, and Philip Eisner don’t trust the simplicity of such a fight. The trio attempts to transform “Sweet Girl” into something more psychologically unexpected, hoping to challenge cliché while fully indulging in the sticky stuff. There’s fun to be had with the endeavor, but it’s not the head-slapper the screenplay imagines itself to be, doing much better in attack mode, digging into the frustrations of personal loss at the hands of greedy moneymen. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Protege


Martin Campbell isn’t a director with a particular style, and his commitment to storytelling hasn’t always been stellar. But he’s managed to bang out a career as a man of action, occasionally hitting greatness, including his well-regarded work on the James Bond adventures “GoldenEye” and “Casino Royale.” Still trying to regain his industry footing after the 2011 bomb, “Green Lantern,” Campbell reunites with at least some of his old timing in “The Protégé,” which is an assassin film that doesn’t always want to be an assassin film, periodically working on ways to come at the audience from unexpected directions. Campbell has his set pieces and explosions, but he also has a cast willing to play around with the material, with Maggie Q, Michael Keaton, and Samuel L. Jackson doing something worthwhile while the feature occasionally struggles to pull itself out of exposition dumps and needlessly twisty plotting. Read the rest at

Film Review - PAW Patrol: The Movie


“PAW Patrol” has been a very big deal in the lives of young children since its television debut in 2013. It’s never been one of those pop culture dominating brands, but to a certain audience of a certain age, the show is everything. It’s a little surprising to see it’s taken so long for the producers to take the exploits of the canine rescue team to the big screen, but “PAW Patrol: The Movie” is finally here, and director Cal Brunker isn’t about to waste an opportunity to thrill on a grander cinematic scale, offering an action-packed feature that’s all about the dogs in motion, working to solve problems and save people. The target demographic for this picture will be delighted with every frame of the adventure, but “PAW Patrol: The Movie” isn’t hard on parents and guardians, offering some humor, heart, and enough calamity to engage. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Matinee


We haven’t had a slasher film that deals with panic inside a movie theater in some time, making “The Last Matinee” a treat for those who miss such a setting for all kinds of hellraising. A South American production, the picture aims to revive an Italian feel for screen hostility and dark comedy, with co-writer/director Maximiliano Contenti trying to summon the great gods of giallo cinema to help inspire this wonderfully nasty horror offering, which isn’t afraid to spill blood and, well, do a lot more bodily harm during the run time. Contenti doesn’t have much money to create an epic, but he does exceptionally well with a simple chiller concerning a bad night for curious moviegoers in Uruguay. Genre fans should get a kick out of the effort’s grisliness and love for the exhibition business, working with the location to deliver a compelling nightmare. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Night House


“The Night House” is the latest directorial effort from David Bruckner, who’s no stranger to enigmatic tales of suspense and horror, previously helming “The Signal” and “The Ritual.” Bruckner doesn’t stray far from his genre interests for his latest endeavor, delivering a journey into supernatural suspicion with “The Night House,” which combines domestic disturbance cinema with a ghost story of a more reserved nature, handing Bruckner eerie mood to manage. While it initially promises to become an exciting riff on spousal paranoia cinema, the picture only covers a few ideas concerning marital strife before enigmatic events come to claim the viewing experience. Still, Bruckner achieves career-best work here, establishing spookiness and palpable pressure on the lead character, who connects to several brutal realities in this effective chiller. Read the rest at