Film Review - Revealer


It’s difficult to make a movie about the end of the world when there’s very little budget to power the production. “Revealer” is the latest attempt to highlight an apocalyptic event without actually showing much of anything, with director Luke Boyce basically sticking to two sets while the screenplay (by Michael Moreci and Tim Seely) suggests a major event is happening around the globe, forcing viewers to use their imagination as a much smaller dramatic event unfolds indoors. The chance to go big with the endeavor isn’t possible, but Boyce looks to do something with a very little he has to work with, investing in cinematographic ideas and terrific casting to bring this strange take on the chaos of the Rapture to life. “Revealer” doesn’t add up to much, but it retains effective moments of conflict and mystery to get the feature through some slower patches of limp exposition. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Black Phone


Careers can be a strange thing. Director Scott Derrickson was last seen on screen with 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” offered a chance to do something different with the MCU, tasked with introducing one of their most challenging characters. And he did an excellent job doing so, bringing the Master of the Mystic Arts to life with a wonderfully cinematic and mercifully approachable origin tale that also represented his biggest box office success to date. Derrickson didn’t capitalize on the moment and now, six years later, there’s “The Black Phone,” which doesn’t find the helmer building on his “Doctor Strange” triumph, but returning to horror itches last scratched in 2012’s “Sinister” and 2014’s “Deliver Us from Evil.” It’s a small-scale creeper, an adaptation of a Joe Hill short story, which puts pressure on the production to develop enough material to fill a feature-length run time. “The Black Phone” has a few sharper points of potential, but Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill don’t have enough here to bring this supernatural story to a full boil. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gatlopp


“Gatlopp” is very clearly modeled after “Jumanji,” with both pictures focusing on the hellraising unleashed when a mysterious board game is discovered, and eager players are ready to spend some time in heavy competition. “Jumanji” offered animal stampedes, life or death situations of survival, and constant pressure from the unknown force driving the dark magic. “Gatlopp” has heavy drinking, an enormous amount of improvisation, and pace-killing dramatics. Screenwriter/co-star Jim Mahoney (“Klaus,” “The Main Event”) tries to make something meaningful about friendship with the material, laboring to blend gameplay horrors with a serious examination of relationships. The blend doesn’t gel, leaving the feature frustratingly uneven and wildly overacted. It’s a movie about a malevolent board game, but the fun factor is severely limited by material that refuses to snowball into a madcap, constantly surprisingly good time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Dirty O'Neil


Lewis Teague is credited as the co-director of "Dirty O'Neil," making his professional debut with a low-budget sexploitation/thriller offering before embarking on a career that included work on "Alligator," "Cujo," and "The Jewel of the Nile." People have to start somewhere, and Teague is tasked (joined by co-helmer Leon Capetanos) to create something similar to a romp about a small-town cop who enjoys dealing with criminals and local women during his daily rounds. "Dirty O'Neil" is drive-in fodder, with barely a plot and the thinnest of characterization, offering an episodic exploration of bad behavior with a few detours into supercop cinema. It's all fun and games until the production grows incredibly dark, which is the wrong creative decision to make when the material is basically shapeless, adding disturbing severity to a simplistic weekend distraction. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Night Creatures


1962's "Night Creatures" was originally titled "Captain Clegg," while the film is a loose adaptation of the "Doctor Syn" books, created by Russell Thorndike. The material goes by many names, but this hardly matters to Hammer Films, who attempts to transform the story of a pirate captain in hiding into a modest adventure with some mild horror elements, turning to trustworthy star Peter Cushing to capture the essence of a secretive rogue. "Night Creatures" (the American title) is mostly supported by Cushing's wonderful work, giving the picture a sense of life as the writing struggles to make a tale of smuggling seem exciting, with Hammer laboring to stretch meager antagonisms into a feature-length endeavor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Backwoods Marcy


1999's "Backwoods Marcy" is trying to do something different with the horror genre. After decades of demeaning victim roles for women, writer/director/star Dawn Murphy wants to change things up, taking command of a movie that places a male character in jeopardy, with the female presence in the production a malevolent one. For that, credit is paid to the helmer, who's actively attempting to subvert cliché with the concept, creating a slightly different exploitation endeavor. Appreciating "Backwoods Marcy" is one thing, but actually sitting through the shot-on-video effort requires tremendous patience with Murphy's amateur approach, which often favors real-time screen movement and lifeless moments of suspense. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hellaware


Before he took on the world of performance art in 2019's "Project Space 13," writer/director Michael M. Bilandic took aim at the world of contemporary art in 2013's "Hellaware." The helmer is clearly disturbed by the New York City art scene, using his career to satirize the pretentious and the ridiculous, this time examining a young artist's desperation to separate himself from the competition, working with the strange darkness of an Insane Clown Posse-like rap group to inspire his latest effort to make a name for himself. "Hellaware" has a premise with potential, but Bilandic likes to keep his commentary minimal and humor bone-dry, making for a short but disappointingly slack viewing experience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - On the 3rd Day


For "On the 3rd Day," director Daniel de la Vega looks to transform the material into a Dario Argento-style shocker, with the Argentinian production hoping to resemble an Italian genre offering. The screenplay (credited to Alberto Fasce and Gonzalo Ventura) aims to create confusion as a way to inspire the central mystery. It's an approach that only works when the writing is top-notch, skillfully scrambling the pieces of the tale before a solution is eventually provided. "On the 3rd Day" isn't up to the challenge, keeping viewers in the dark as de la Vega pays more attention to showmanship than storytelling. He makes a stylish feature at times, but he offers nothing more than shot construction, leaving the viewing experience disappointingly empty. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Long Walk


"The Long Walk" is an unusual feature from director Mattie Do ("Dearest Sister") and screenwriter Christopher Larsen. The story plays with time, establishing two experiences for the same character as he deals with life as he knows it and life as it once was, 50 years ago. It's a genre picture, but suspense isn't immediately identified, as Do takes the title to heart, enjoying the slow-burn nature of the tale, which is meant to sneak up on viewers. "The Long Walk" isn't ultimately effective as a chiller, but Do conjures some terrific atmosphere with the endeavor, and she has actor Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy, who delivers outstanding work in the lead role. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Stop-Zemlia


"Stop-Zemlia" is a 2021 Ukrainian production that explores the world of teenagers facing the end of their adolescent experience. They're about to enter adulthood and all the confusion that inspires, still working out the finer points of communication and relationships as they endure days at school and nights of social gatherings. Writer/director Kateryna Gornostai departs from the usual routine of melodrama when it comes to the aching hearts of young people, arranging a docudrama feel to the endeavor, hoping to give it a more active sense of psychological inspection. Hallway aches and pains are present, but "Stop-Zemlia" offers different dramatic moves than most teen-centric offerings, setting a quieter mood of reflection and consideration as Gornostai hopes to make something human. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lightyear


As everyone knows, Buzz Lightyear is a character from the “Toy Story” franchise, with his stern, slightly clueless militaristic style acting as a perfect foil for his cowboy pal, Woody. “Lightyear” isn’t a solo picture for the Space Ranger, and it’s not a prequel to “Toy Story.” Opening information positions this endeavor as the film Andy saw in 1995 that made him go crazy for the toy, giving him a movie adventure to trigger his imagination and tax his mother’s bank account. It’s an incredibly odd way to set-up a semi-origin story for the character, but this weirdness is just the taste of the bizarre happenings in the effort, which turns to time travel as a way to complicate Buzz’s experience with exploration and rescue. “Lightyear” remains in step with Pixar Animation storytelling formula, but they make some unexpectedly knotted choices with the screenplay, potentially keeping it just out of reach for younger audiences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Official Competition


Two titans of the Spanish film industry, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas haven’t spent much time together in front of a camera. In fact, in 2019’s “Pain and Glory,” writer/director Pedro Almodovar used time to keep them apart, creating a divide as generations worked out the troubles in their lives. For “Official Competition,” Banderas and Cruz are face-to-face, joined by co-star Oscar Martinez in this comedy about the insanity of movie actors and directors and their ludicrous requirements when it comes to preparing a feature for production. It’s a send-up of egos and irritation, but writer/directors Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat don’t go broad with the material, trying to be sneaky with their sense of humor, going sly when it comes to making fun of the process. “Official Competition” is hilarious and refreshingly simple, giving the cast room to play as they inhabit insufferable people trying to make magic for the camera, learning to loathe one another during the ramp-up to the first day of shooting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spiderhead


Director Joseph Kosinski has exclusively made large-scale movies during his career. He’s taken on the Grid (“Tron: Legacy”), dealt with the future (“Oblivion”), celebrated firefighting heroism (“Only The Brave”), and recently restored the world’s need for speed (“Top Gun: Maverick”). He has an eye for spectacle, but his latest, “Spiderhead,” doesn’t carry the potential for explosive visuals. It’s a chiller and character study that largely takes place inside a single building, with writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese adapting a short story about the pressures of manipulation and submission inside a prison engaging in chemical modifications of human behaviors. The feature is mostly about disturbing mind games and quieter moments of connection, and Kosinski handles it exceptionally well, carefully constructing a suspenseful and fascinating examination of control, putting his faith into casting to summon a heavy level of unease. Read the rest at

Film Review - Father of the Bride (2022)


“Father of the Bride” was originally a 1949 novel by Edward Streeter, but it’s much better known as a 1950 film adaptation starring Spencer Tracy. There was a 1991 version of the original story as well, with Steve Martin hired to play a dad trapped between duties tied to his daughter nuptials and his true feelings about the whole affair, caught up in the whirlwind of spending and planning. Both features did quite well with the central concept, finding humor in different ways as they dealt with separate eras of parenthood. It worked twice, so why not again, with the new “Father of the Bride” stripping away everything but the basic concept of paternal panic, with Andy Garcia tasked to portray the eponymous character, who faces slightly different challenges of stability in this cozy, amusing third at-bat for the brand name. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Phantom of the Open


“The Phantom of the Open” explores the true story of Maurice Flitcroft, who experienced a vocational epiphany in 1975, looking to become a professional golfer in his mid-40s, despite never having played the game before. It was an obsession that brought him to the qualifying round of the 1976 British Open, where he shot a score of 121, with many labeling him the worst golfer in the history of the sport. The material (an adaptation of a 2010 biography by Scott Murray and Simon Farnaby, who also provides the screenplay) is ripe for a mockumentary-type of approach, but director Craig Roberts (“Just Jim,” “Eternal Beauty”) doesn’t take the bait, preferring to be sincere with this study of tattered dreams, blending inherent comedy concerning Maurice’s lack of natural talent with a more heartwarming understanding of his family life, ultimately working towards sweetness, which is unexpected and not always welcome in this entertaining study of determination and delusion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cha Cha Real Smooth


Two years ago, Cooper Raiff made his feature-length directing debut with “Shithouse.” It was an awful title slapped on a sensitive story of loneliness and human connection, identifying the young filmmaker as someone to watch. Raiff has returned with “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” which continues his career interest in bad titles for decent movies, providing a puzzling label for an intimate tale of a twentysomething man trying to figure out the world at a most emotionally complex time in his life. Raiff has a way with the softer side of characterization and interactions, endeavoring to create a study of confusion and defense mechanisms slowly lowered by the sheer power of attraction. “Cha Cha Real Smooth” isn’t anything too distinct, but it carries itself with confidence and Raiff has a troubling-yet-wonderful way of steering his writing right into cliché, only to dodge disaster at the last second, adding a few surprises along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brian and Charles


“Brian and Charles” was initially introduced to movie fans in 2017, with director Jim Archer and screenwriters David Earl and Chris Hayward creating a short film about a lonely Welsh man who constructs a robot out of household items to become his companion, though the relationship quickly transforms into something more parental. There was potential to develop the production, and now there’s a feature-length endeavor from the trio, who work to give “Brian and Charles” a fresh start on the big screen. It’s an oddball concept, but well cared for in the hands of Earl and Hayward, who also star as the eponymous duo, bringing a special life to the effort, which is sold as something goofy in the first act, only to reveal an unexpected sweetness, along with a terrific sense of humor. Archer pumps the picture full of charm and maintains timing, making it a rare success when translating a small idea into something bigger, without losing its inherent appeal. Read the rest at

Film Review - Good Luck to You, Leo Grande


Movies rarely detail the lives of women of a certain age, and sexuality seems to be strictly off-limits unless used in a cartoonish way or deployed as a cruel punchline. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” hopes to change this perception in some small way, presenting a story of a woman trying to work past decades of insecurity and fear, hoping to embark on a carnal adventure with a younger man capable of providing an hour or two of excitement, which she has never experienced before. Screenwriter Katy Brand goes to places few other productions go, looking to be sensitive yet open about the mysteries of behavior and doubt when dealing with the business of pleasure, using a potentially uncomfortable situation between a prostitute and client to explore raw emotions as games of conversation commence. “Leo Grande” isn’t exactly captivating, as director Sophie Hyde is basically making a filmed play, but there’s vulnerability presented here that’s remarkable to behold at times. Read the rest at

Film Review - Abandoned


Screenwriters Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott (“Another Cinderella Story,” “Deep Blue Sea 2”) make a very specific choice to use the experience of postpartum depression to inspire their horror endeavor, “Abandoned.” It’s nothing new for the genre to pull elements of real-world despair to fuel a cinematic experience about the feeling of hopelessness, but it takes a truly gifted storyteller to pull off such a tonal high-wire act. Patterson and Scott aren’t the pair to generate a deep understanding of pain while creating opportunities for frights, making “Abandoned” a troubling picture to watch in ways its creators likely didn’t intend. A genuine fear factor isn’t conjured during the excessive run time, with most of the effort devoted to scenes of distress, while the central mystery is a fairly bland understanding of supernatural influence. The project has a potent idea for an honest study of pain, but the production isn’t brave enough to do something different with all the crushing darkness it collects. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Slaughterhouse Rock


"Slaughterhouse Rock" is an unusual title for a picture that offers very little music and spends limited time inside of a prison. However, it's catchy, and acquiring attention in any form is the goal of the production, with director Dimitri Logothetis ("Pretty Smart" and the recent Nicolas Cage actioner, "Jiu Jitsu") hoping to participate in the horror boom of the 1980s with this monster movie. "Slaughterhouse Rock" is the rare genre offering to open with some imagination and visual gusto before sliding into stasis during its second half, finding all the creature feature material less interesting than the nightmare realms Logothetis arranges for his introductions. The endeavor generally does away with clarity as it unfolds, but it manages to grab attention right away, which is enough to support the uneven viewing experience. Read the rest at