Film Review - Ladies in Black


Charm is a big asset to “Ladies in Black,” which is an adaptation of a 1993 novel by Madeleine St. John. Co-writer/director Bruce Beresford is smart to keep the feature as appealing as it can be, using brightness of spirit to combat some peculiar turns of plot and sketchy romantic ideals. It’s a tale of personal growth set inside a Sydney department store during the 1959 holiday season, and while initial scenes give off a distinct “Mr. Selfridge” vibe of daily commerce and employee troublemaking, Beresford doesn’t head in an overly melodramatic direction, finding a comfortable balance of predictability and oddity. “Ladies in Black” doesn’t aim to overwhelm, and it achieves most of the small goals it sets for itself, doing period Australia with interest in character desires and future plans. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Munchie


There are many great mysteries of filmmaking. What did Bill Murray whisper to Scarlett Johansson at the end of "Lost in Translation"? Is Deckard a replicant in the "Blade Runner" universe? And why is "Munchie" considered a sequel to "Munchies"? Only producer Roger Corman knows for sure, with his New Concorde studio needing something, anything to help support this family film offering from a company that typically specializes in more aggressive entertainment. 1992's "Munchie" has nothing to do with 1987's "Munchies," from tech credits to creature design, with co-writer/director Jim Wynorski tasked with engineering his own take on the genie in a bottle premise, making a cinematic mess with a three-foot-tall monster voiced by Dom DeLuise. The helmer isn't out to scare with this supposed second chapter in Corman's "Gremlins" rip-off universe, and he mercifully avoids trying to build on what came before, preferring to craft his own B-movie distraction that's admittedly painful to watch at times, but also offers periodic inspiration, emerging in the form of wisecracks, casting, and general impishness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Munchies


In 1987, every video store in America had a poster for "Munchies" displayed somewhere. It was the VHS-era version of a Hidden Mickey, with the provocative image of a tiny monster looking up a model's skirt becoming a spotting game for some, giving producer Roger Corman the kind of title exposure he craves. It's not entirely surprising to learn that the film doesn't quite live up to the promise of its one-sheet, but that was Corman's thing during the 1980s, making promises with artwork that the features could never live up to (e.g. "Barbarian Queen," "Galaxy of Terror"). "Munchies" was created to cash-in on the global success of 1984's "Gremlins," with Corman alum Joe Dante using his B-movie education to create a summer triumph, skillfully merging horror and comedy into an irresistible multiplex event. The knock-off wasn't as fortunate, though it does have Tina Hirsch making her directorial debut, fresh off her time editing "Gremlins," giving her the upper hand when masterminding a low-budget replication. Hirsch strives to craft her own vision for hellraising creatures up to no good, but there are limits to Corman-financed magic, and they are found quickly in this mediocre endeavor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Scarlet Letter


While it seems like such a distant memory in 2019, there was a time in Hollywood when Demi Moore was the biggest actress around. She scored hits with "Indecent Proposal," "A Few Good Men," and "Disclosure," showcasing her ability to portray power onscreen with natural authority, and she rode such industry interests into major paydays with empowered characters found in "G.I. Jane" and "Striptease," but box office returns didn't follow her career explosion, and somewhere in the middle of all the press coverage and numerous film releases (including six credited parts in 1996), there was "The Scarlet Letter." Putting her faith into the creative instincts of director Roland Joffe, Moore set out to play the iconic character of Hester Prynne, the center figure of Puritan disturbance in Nathaniel Hawthorne's celebrated 1850 novel. She was trying to expand her range, offered a rare shot at a costume drama part, and while Moore strives to put in her best effort, she's often restrained by Joffe's bizarre creative choices, which turns a tale of moral and social decay and mob rule into a Harlequin romance novel, with screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart ("The Boy in the Plastic Bubble," "The Blue Lagoon") electing to expand on Hawthorne's ideas instead of strictly adapt them. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - When Harry Met Sally...


Considering the mediocre quality of work he issues today (including "Shock and Awe," "And So It Goes," and "LBJ"), it's amazing to reflect on the career run director Rob Reiner enjoyed during the 1980s and the very early 1990s. He was on fire, creating classics with alarming regularity, including "This Is Spinal Tap," "Princess Bride," and "Stand by Me." And then there was 1989's "When Harry Met Sally...," a modest romantic comedy released during an event movie-heavy summer season that managed to become the sleeper hit of the year, also bringing Reiner's helming powers to a new level, teaming up with screenwriter Nora Ephron to deliver an examination of gender relationships as they're complicated by emotional ties and physical attraction. "When Harry Met Sally..." is hilarious, one the finest funny films of the decade, but Reiner manages to craft something silly and sincere, paying close attention to the wilds of human behavior and discomfort while tending to superb mischief, primarily engineered by co-star Billy Crystal. It's a gem, and one made from the heart, giving Reiner one last gasp of perfection before his filmography gradually headed toward the wall. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution


Revolution comes in many shapes and sizes, but the music world tends to favor movements that show the most promise for profit, forcing those seeking representation to create their own rebellion, often using obscurity for security. "Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution" details such an effort to make something out of nothing, with director Yony Leyser adventuring into the world of Homocore/Queercore, using visual evidence and interviews with founding members of the new dawn to track the rise of gay participation and invention when it came to the choppy cultural waters of the punk scene of the 1980s and '90s. "Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution" is greatly informative, providing an eye-opening look at a subculture that was born out of frustration and developed into a monster of conformity requiring members of the uprising to return to the source, ultimately trying to destroy it. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Best of Enemies


“The Best of Enemies” has the best intentions in the world to communicate something basic about the human experience. It’s here to heal, showcasing an unlikely thawing of hostilities between a Ku Klux Klan leader and a black activist in North Carolina during the summer of 1971. The connection is inspiring, but the movie is not. Writer/director Robin Bissell takes the true story of C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater’s meeting and pours on the syrup, making a distinct effort to avoid as much real-world grit and emotion as possible to create something huggable, which is the wrong path to take for a tale concerning institutionalized racism and community violence. “The Best of Enemies” endeavors to stay warm and approachable, but it ends up insulting, with Bissell doing his best to keep the story as cartoonish as possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Public


Emilio Estevez doesn’t make many movies these days, but when he does, he’s looking for material that examines the human experience, braiding social and personal issues into fascinating character studies, with his last two efforts, 2010’s “The Way” and 2006’s “Bobby,” achieving a sense of illumination through acts of contemplation and understanding. He’s never been too preachy with his work, and once again touches on community concerns with “The Public,” which addresses the role of the library as a place of research and education, while such safe spaces are being increasingly used as shelter facilities for the homeless and the mentally ill. As with “Bobby,” “The Public” is an ensemble piece, and a frequently terrific one, placing attention on a growing issue in urban areas, and it works as a drama highlighting the concerns of many while situated in a single, and unusual, location. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pet Sematary


30 years ago, there was “Pet Sematary,” the first attempt to bring Stephen King’s popular 1983 novel to the screen. The picture was a success, offering audiences a wacko take on death and resurrection, with director Mary Lambert leaning into the perversity of it all, striving to find the nightmare of loss at the core of King’s work. It’s amazing that it’s taken this long for Hollywood to try their luck with the material again (let’s pretend a 1992 sequel never happened), with “Pet Sematary” a second adaptation that tries to distinguish itself by changing certain elements of the plot, hoping to refresh known events for hardcore fans. While the ’89 effort had its issues, the ’19 take is uncomfortably flat and unadventurous when it comes to the madness of Ludlow, Maine, with directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (“Starry Eyes”) playing it safe with “Pet Sematary,” going more for slasher atmosphere than utter psychological ruin. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Chaperone


Julian Fellowes was able to conquer television with six years of “Downton Abbey,” guiding the hit show through creative ups and downs, maintaining a loyal audience who remained with the series for its colorful characterizations, wish-fulfillment aspects of posh life, and period setting, with the 1920s the primary years of inspection. It seems Fellowes doesn’t exactly want to leave such success behind, with “The Chaperone” returning the writer to the Jazz Age, only this time bringing focus to America, highlighting the development of future film star Louise Brooks as she enjoys her first taste of popularity during a key trip to New York City. Fellowes even brings in “Downton Abbey” vet Elizabeth McGovern to star in the picture, which inspires one of the best performances from the actress, who really digs in deep here while the rest of “The Chaperone” isn’t all that committed to emotional depth. Read the rest at

Film Review - Unicorn Store


After winning an Academy Award for her performance in 2015’s “Room,” Brie Larson was suddenly faced with a career that could go anywhere. And it did, in a way, with the actress participating in heavy dramas (“The Glass Castle”), violent weirdness (“Free Fire”), and blockbusters (“Kong: Skull Island”). However, right before she embarked on her Marvel Cinematic Universe mission with the stunning success of March’s “Captain Marvel,” Larson decided to mount her own directorial debut, taking command of “Unicorn Store,” a quirky, searching fantasy from writer Samantha McIntyre. Larson showcases a cinematic vision with the endeavor, which delivers color and attention to personality on a limited budget, and while “Unicorn Store” doesn’t make it all the way to the finish line, it’s a promising offering of contorted whimsy from Larson, who clearly shows skill behind the camera and interest in creating strange little worlds. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Haunting of Sharon Tate


Two months ago, writer/director Daniel Farrands revisited the true crime tale of Ronald DeFeo Jr., hoping to squeeze a little more misery out of “The Amityville Horror” franchise with “The Amityville Murders.” It was a dud, but a strange one, turning to the supernatural as a way to explain mental illness and moral dissolve, with Farrands attempting to make a ghost story in a way, with hopes to approach well-worn material from a different, fictional perspective. Feeling good about his creative choices, Farrands does the same thing for the Tate Murders, reimagining a mass murder as some type of elongated descent into nightmares and premonitions, depicting Sharon Tate as somewhat aware of her horrible fate. Distasteful doesn’t even begin to describe “The Haunting of Sharon Tate,” with Farrands going the B-movie route with a delicate situation of death, toying with the details of the case to manufacture yet another crime tale situated deep in the cartoony unknown. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Brink


The 2019 political climate being what it is, who really needs a documentary on the life and times of Stephen Bannon? The hasty answer is no one, but director Alison Klayman (“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”) appears to understand the difficult position she’s in with this subject and this year, putting in a concentrated effort to dial down the filth and the fury when it comes to the man who claims he was the singular reason why Donald Trump won the 2016 Unites States presidential election. “The Brink” isn’t an easy sell to either side of the political spectrum, but it’s an engrossing documentary about a controversial figure who knows he’s a controversial figure. Klayman slips behind the subject’s defense mechanisms and spotlights his casual personality, which helps to understand his professional behavior, and that alone is a reason to remain with the picture as it tracks Bannon’s last two years of campaigning activity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Division 19


For “Division 19,” writer/director S.A. Halewood tries to extrapolate out current woes with celebrity and surveillance, taking viewers to the futureworld of 2039, where, according to the opening of the film, anonymity is a crime. We’re immersed in a society where everything is available for study, with consent or not, making daily life a commitment to voyeurism, which has turned into the national pastime. Halewood doesn’t go cute with the material, imagining a bleak community of submissive people and the rebellion that’s taking shape in the shadows. She has plenty there for a reasonably engrossing examination of government-branded consumerism and class divide, but “Division 19” doesn’t carry enough screen energy to bring such condemnation over the top. While primed for action, the feature isn’t interested in a visceral display of revolutionary interests, remaining talky with lukewarm dramatics. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Silent Scream


1979's "Silent Scream" makes a game attempt to replicate the work of Alfred Hitchcock, most notably "Psycho," offering a macabre tale of a house of horrors and a momma's boy, and all the murder that goes along with it. Director Denny Harris is no Hitchcock, and that's evident throughout the endeavor, which often struggles with stasis, trying to find some level of fear from characters investigating multiple rooms and engaging in sexual relationships. Horror isn't actually much of a priority for "Silent Scream," but Harris has moments of workable atmosphere, exploring spooky areas of an unnerving dwelling while young people go about their daily business of making bad decisions around obvious danger. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Izzy Gets the F*** Across Town


With a title like "Izzy Gets the F*** Across Town," one would expect an energetic, take-no-prisoners viewing experience with a defined punk rock edge. What writer/director Christian Papierniak ultimately offers is a tame assessment of maturation and self-preservation found in the clouds of impulsive behavior. It's only a road movie in the briefest of moments, as Papierniak promises a farce but tries to get by on tedious characterization and a lack of successful humor. "Izzy" doesn't live up to its initial promise of chaos, finding the material far too meandering to make an impression, despite lead Mackenzie Davis's game attempt to make something sizable out of a rapidly deflating endeavor. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation


Kim Hinkel scripted the original "Texas Chain Saw Massacre," watching as the little southern horror movie developed into a behemoth at the box office, becoming a sensation at the time and, eventually, a classic. Hinkel was shut out of the two sequels that followed, but resurfaced in 1994 with renewed interest to reclaim his original creation. "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation" is Hinkel's ship and he's content to steer it into murky storytelling waters, hoping the brand name might cover for many issues with the screenplay and filmmaking. Henkel aims for reverence with a semi-remake, but he comes up short in the imagination department, finding the highlights of "The Next Generation" ones that simply recycle Hooper's ferocity and rural Texas madness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Atomic Cafe


"Funny" is a word that's often associated with 1982's "The Atomic Café." Such promise of humor is stamped all over the promotion of the picture, with nervous distributors trying to lure viewers who wouldn't normally be interested in an 87-minute-long summary of American leaders lying to the public about the true destructive possibilities of an atomic bomb blast. Funny this movie most certainly isn't, but I suppose the actual toxicity of this darkness is subjective, with "The Atomic Café" more of a skillful assembly of footage than a knee-slapper. Directors Jayne Loader and Kevin and Pierce Rafferty spent years stitching together a look at the development of American paranoia and hubris, and they end up with an eye-opening examination of Atomic Age denial and experimentation, delivering, without narration, an extraordinary view of military power and those tasked with deflecting attention away from surefire dangers during a time of reckless experimentation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Beach Bum


In the 1990s, writer/director Harmony Korine was an appealing disaster, feeling out the far reaches of his imagination to summon depictions of poverty, cruelty, and poetry, making arresting indie film messes. With 2012’s “Spring Breakers,” Korine made something nobody, including the helmer, saw coming: a hit movie. While failing to grow out of his mischievous urges, Korine crafted a polished picture for a change, taking in the wonders of Florida through the eyes of deranged and broken people. It was sun-drenched burlesque and borderline insufferable, but it found an audience, with “Spring Breakers” the career boost Korine was waiting for. So, how does he follow up his only profitable venture? By doing it all over again. “The Beach Bum” isn’t a sequel to his previous endeavor, but it’s close enough, this time highlighting Matthew McConaughey in Florida-funk mode, and the actor seems to adore this ride to nowhere, having a ball smoking weed and fondling extras while Korine pretends he’s making some sort of comedy. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Dragged Across Concrete


While he doesn’t make audience-friendly movies, writer/director S. Craig Zahler has managed to find his footing as a filmmaker. The man adores meaty male characters, preferably chewing on hard-boiled dialogue, and his latest, “Dragged Across Concrete,” delivers true submersion into neo-noir atmosphere, with sharp, cruel violence erupting periodically. While it’s not as precise as “Bone Tomahawk” and “Brawl in Cell Block 99,” “Dragged Across Concrete” does retain Zahler’s fascination with blunt force trauma and the sacrifice of characters who put themselves in harm’s way. It’s accomplished work from the developing helmer, and while Zahler gets a little crazy with a 160 minute run time, he does find ways to fill it, bringing in stars Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson to guide the viewing experience with steely, verbose performances to support an extended journey into criminal behavior. Read the rest at