Film Review - Dark Phoenix


We already did this back in 2006. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg (along with Zak Penn) attempted to bring elements of the “The Dark Phoenix Saga” to “X-Men: The Last Stand,” trying to do something with a major character arc from the comics, which found Jean Grey in command of awesome powers, making her the most powerful mutant of them all. In 2019, Kinberg returns the source material for “Dark Phoenix,” making another pass at beloved material, using the opportunity to craft his directorial debut after having a hand in scripting three previous chapters of the “X-Men” saga. Perhaps Kinberg should’ve selected a more modest picture to helm, as he’s clearly out of his league with “Dark Phoenix,” showing limited authority with performances and action staging. He’s striving to summon ultimate power with the endeavor, but there’s mostly noise and a cruelly half-baked vision for Jean Grey’s ultimate test as a mutant. Read the rest at

Film Review - Always Be My Maybe


“Always Be My Maybe” pairs comedian Ali Wong with actor Randall Park, giving the duo a romantic comedy premise to play with where the characters aren’t always interested in each other. Park and Wong co-script with Michael Golamco, creating a cinematic space to showcase their gifts, with both performers graduating to lead status with the effort, and they look like two people determined to make every moment in the feature count. Their labor pays off in “Always Be My Maybe,” which delivers big laughs and sizable heart as something of an anti-rom-com. The writing doesn’t bother to dispose of cliché, but it manages to preserve a bright spirit strong enough to break the sleeper hold of predictability, supporting an engaging study of near-misses and awkward situations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Katie Says Goodbye


It hasn’t been an easy road to release for “Katie Says Goodbye.” Shot over three years ago, the feature has remained on the shelf after a lukewarm fest festival debut. In fact, it’s been delayed so long, write/director Wayne Roberts managed to make another movie in the interim, releasing “The Professor” (starring Johnny Depp) last month to largely negative reviews. It’s interesting to see how the two pictures share a morbid curiosity with disaster, with “The Professor” charting the slow decline of a man diagnosed with cancer, while “Katie Says Goodbye” follows a young woman’s road to ruin as a small town prostitute. Perhaps Roberts has some undiagnosed depression he needs to see someone about, with therapy more meaningful than filmmaking, as his latest endeavor (or his first, technically) is an unrewarding slide into hopelessness, asking the audience to endure painful acts of violence and humiliation in the name of characterization that’s never truly there. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Secret Life of Pets 2


2016’s “The Secret Life of Pets” was a troubling movie. Harmless, sure, but the story was basically a remake of “Toy Story” while the overall feature reveled in cartoon mayhem, hitting the target demo with noise instead of trying to win their hearts. It made a ton of money, as such simple entertainment tends to do, inspiring “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” which does make a noticeable attempt to calm down and enjoy the view, at least for the first two acts, with director Chris Renaud (joined by Jonathan del Val) rethinking all the yelling and collisions, but the poop and pee jokes remain. “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is an improvement over the previous picture, which is a good thing, but this madcap overview of animals and their idiosyncrasies (and bathroom habits) isn’t exactly the finest example of animated storytelling, offering a brief (75 minutes) and basic continuation that doesn’t stray far from the formula that made the original film such a hit. Read the rest at

Film Review - Changeland


Seth Green has been in the entertainment business for 35 years, but “Changeland” marks his feature-length directorial debut (also credited with the screenplay). It’s not a bold career leap for the actor, but it does provide him with some control, putting himself in charge of a tiny indie production that takes a long trip to Thailand to examine one man’s descent into depression. Green isn’t making this one for audiences, preferring to document some type of vacation with a collection of dear friends, loved ones, and his spouse, taking a page from the Adam Sandler playbook, cooking up a mild crisis to support what’s really a travelogue, and one that’s not nearly as profound about the ways of a broken heart as Green would like to believe. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Real McCoy


It's easy why 1993's "The Real McCoy" was made. It's based on a novel Desmond Lowden and offers actors meaty parts concerning the anxieties of economic and criminal entanglements, unfolding with Georgian thickness as a battle of wits plays out during the preparation and execution of a bank robbery. It's also a heist movie, which are traditionally easy sells, gifting audiences a chance to spend time with master thieves as they figure out ways to separate piles of cash from their vault home. However, "The Real McCoy" doesn't have much in the way of dramatic firepower, handing the lead role to Kim Basinger, who's never been one to project on-screen authority, and the director is Russell Mulcahy, then a mere two years past his nearly career-ending work on "Highlander II: The Quickening." The puzzle makes sense, but the pieces don't fit in the picture, which spends more time laboring through tedious confrontations than it does with snappy acts of thievery. It's clear the feature is trying to do something with its collection of irritable characters and personal connections, but Mulcahy doesn't get the effort out of first gear, settling on flatness when the material deserves more excitement. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Four Weddings and a Funeral


In 1994, "Four Weddings and a Funeral" wasn't meant to be much. It was a low-budget British production with a largely unknown cast, with Andie MacDowell offered up as the most defined star of the group, bringing a little bit of Hollywood to the effort. It was the second produced screenplay from Richard Curtis, who wasn't a brand name just yet, also providing work for director Mike Newell, who watched his 1992 feature, "Into the West," bomb at the box office. There wasn't a single distinguishing mark on the picture, and yet, through the miracle of word-of-mouth, the film managed to become one of the biggest sleeper hits of the 1990s, charming audiences with its offering of silliness and sincerity. Taking a long look at the rituals and camaraderie of social gatherings, Curtis strives to blend character-based shenanigans and longing with more chipper romantic comedy happenings, while Newell brings in Hugh Grant as his secret weapon, with the actor's charisma leading the charge, stammering his way into the hearts of millions. It's impossible to deny the hold "Four Weddings and a Funeral" had on audiences back in the day, managing to marinate in pop culture attention over the last 25 years. Is it a good movie? Yes and no, but in 2019, the endeavor's magic hasn't dissipated for many. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Rituals


"Rituals" aims to be a Canadian version of "Deliverance," only with a bit more emphasis on a malevolent force from the shadows shorting the lives of regular men embarking on an adventure in the deep woods. The screenplay by Ian Sutherland has an idea, moving away from typical terror to something character-based, with the players making trouble for themselves while being stalked by a mysterious stranger. "Rituals" has the direction but no real feeling of movement, with argumentative behavior often dominating the feature, making the central crisis more about bickering than heated situations of survival. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Queen of the Stardust Ballroom


Originally broadcast on CBS in 1975, "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom" is unlike many television movies. It certainly has the outside appearance of familiarity, with a plot that concerns a widow trying to figure out the next chapter of her life. However, writer Jerome Kass takes the material down some unusual avenues of self-expression, joining director Sam O'Steen as they mount what becomes a musical in the most casual manner, with characters not breaking out in song, but slipping into it, finding matters of the heart best expressed through lyrics and, as the title suggests, plenty of dancing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Godzilla: King of the Monsters


In this day and age, five years to wait for a sequel is an eternity. The success of 2014’s “Godzilla” wasn’t entirely a surprise, but the pump was primed for a continuation, building on the foundation poured by director Gareth Edwards, who made a specific creative choice to hold back some when it came to giant monster battles. The film was released, and then nothing. Well, at least until 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island,” which introduced the potential of Legendary Pictures and their “MonsterVerse,” creating a franchise battle plan for large things that smash. Finally, there’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” which isn’t an improvement on the 2014 effort, but more of a direct response to criticisms of the previous movie. Co-writer/director Michael Dougherty (“Krampus”) has been ordered to lose Edwards’s restraints, mounting a more ferocious, action-packed continuation that dials up the noise and the property destruction to give fans the viewing experience they want. And in this feature, titans unleashed is always preferable to humans talking. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Ma

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After winning an Oscar in 2012 (for “The Help”), Octavia Spencer has struggled some while trying to figure out how to capitalize on such major exposure. She’s managed to find bit parts in money gigs and participate in some quality work along the way (including 2016’s “Hidden Figures,” which presented her with an Academy Award nomination), but “Ma” feels like the first time Spencer’s been unleased as a star, with “The Help” director Tate Taylor putting his faith in the actress to carry her own horror project. And boy, does she ever. Wildly ridiculous but also appealingly demented, “Ma” is appetizing junk food for the multiplex, with Spencer making it her personal mission to become a cult nightmare figure for genre fanatics, delivering a wonderfully unhinged performance that Tate returns to whenever he runs into storytelling trouble. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Late Night


There’s a lot “Late Night” wants to say about the state of the world today. It’s a story about the changing tides of the entertainment industry, diversity, and workplace representation. Somewhere buried underneath all its ambition is a tale about a stony television legend learning to be something better to a world that wants her back in top form. Mindy Kaling’s screenplay feels like it was filled with complete ideas at one point during the picture’s development, but the final cut of “Late Night” is unnervingly incomplete, with missing pieces, sloppy editing, and characterization that’s missing a real sense of fullness. There’s much to like here, with the lead performance from Emma Thompson enjoyably ragged and impatient, but the feature doesn’t reach many of its goals, often going vanilla when Kaling seems ready to provide necessary poison. Read the rest at

Film Review - Domino


For various reasons, it’s been seven years since a Brian De Palma film has hit screens, with 2012’s “Passion” his last endeavor. Such a break represents the longest delay between projects in the helmer’s career, but it hasn’t been easy for De Palma to find his place in the business these days, with his signature style and interest in melodrama having a hard time matching the proper material to let his imagination flourish. “Domino” initially appears to be a return to form for the moviemaker, put in charge of a revenge story with various players and interest in the horrors of Islamic terrorism, and there’s genuine greatness wedged in here at times, with De Palma getting up to speed with a few terrific set pieces. Overall, “Domino” is messy, feeling as though it was slapped together instead of properly edited, as character beats come and go, and the central story of madman hunting isn’t provided enough concentration to matter. Read the rest at

Film Review - Meeting Gorbachev


A lauded documentarian, Werner Herzog often brings his idiosyncratic point of view to his subjects, with a habit of making himself part of the informational approach, securing a defined personality when it comes to the examination of faraway places, future technology, and strange individuals. Herzog isn’t one to make a defiantly confrontational feature, but he’s not big on tongue baths either, with “Meeting Gorbachev” a rare shot of sunshine from the helmer, even while assessing the dark history of Soviet politics. Offered three chances to sit down with the former U.S.S.R. leader, and Herzog tries to remain on task with questions concerning the highs and lows of Gorbachev’s time in power, but he can’t help but feel for the subject’s unusual position as a man who sought clarity in the midst of Communist confusion. “Meeting Gorbachev” takes it easy on Mikhail Gorbachev, but that’s the idea, with Herzog most interested in identifying accomplishments and mourning a lost vision for sanity in an increasingly hostile world. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Poison Rose


“The Poison Rose” is meant to be throwback entertainment, restoring an interest in noir entanglements that haven’t been a staple of big screen entertainment in quite some time. The production isn’t shy about its fondness for the genre, with the lead character living above a movie theater showing “The Maltese Falcon,” while a cat is named Raymond and a character is branded Chandler. I’m sure there are more references to be found, and perhaps finding these touches is more entertaining than the actual film. Loaded with characters and motivations, “The Poison Rose” is a buffet of dangerous activity from untrustworthy characters, but director George Gallo doesn’t show much enthusiasm for the construction of suspense, keeping the feature fatigued and overly expository, turning the central mystery into homework, unable to create a delicious cinematic stranglehold. The production wants the audience to know it understands the basics of classic noir, but it shows limited interest in becoming one. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Perfection


It’s difficult to assemble an B-movie experience these days, as self-awareness and nostalgia tends to dominate the viewing experience, with most filmmakers striving to celebrate the ugly side of storytelling, without truly grasping the needs of such entertainment. Richard Shepard (“The Matador,” “Dom Hemingway”) almost finds a way to resurrect the exploitation experience with “The Perfection,” creating a seductive feature that’s initially about one thing before changing entirely, only to reset one more time, making a neck brace readjustment a requirement for all act breaks. It’s a sinister picture, and Shepard wins points for taking his endeavor to the extreme, but the aggression of “The Perfection” grows tiring in a hurry, with small grotesqueries more effective than the gonzo avenues the production is a lip-licking hurry to explore. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Poison Ivy: The Secret Society


After three "Poison Ivy" adventures that tried to, in some small way, connect the films in one big erotic thriller saga, 2008's "Poison Ivy: The Secret Society" elects to break from the team, taking on its own vision for lusty young things causing all types of trouble for horndog men. However, instead of a passably cinematic touch, the franchise is turned into a Lifetime production, and one with tacked on sex scenes to give the product an afterlife on home video. It's all very sketchy (Catherine Hicks is the biggest name here, and I'm sure she had no idea what type of movie she was making), poorly acted, absurdly plotted, and randomly sexualized, with the end result landing somewhere between a WB pilot and a lukewarm parody of the "Poison Ivy" pictures. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Poison Ivy: The New Seduction


Trying to keep a profitable business motoring along, New Line Cinema returns to an unlikely franchise with 1997's "Poison Ivy: The New Seduction." There's actually an effort made to connect the sequel to the series, but the third installment of the franchise is mostly interested in doing its own thing, with director Kurt Voss realizing that aiming for any sort of realism when it comes to an assessment of trauma is pointless at this point, moving ahead with a fairly basic revenge movie that fulfills most erotic thriller needs. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Poison Ivy 2: Lily


Much like Drew Barrymore, Alyssa Milano was hunting for a different image during the 1990s, working to lose the brightness of her "Who's the Boss?" years, entering the seemly world of B-movie entertainment to redirect her career. 1996's "Poison Ivy II: Lily" wasn't offering an acting challenge, but it did gift Milano an opportunity to continue her work in seductive endeavors, picking up the "Poison Ivy" brand for a spiritual sequel that attempts to be a little more sympathetic to the ways of sexual gamesmanship and the creation of identity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Poison Ivy


Trying to shed her image of youthful innocence shaped in films such as "E.T." and "Babes in Toyland," Drew Barrymore entered the 1990s on a personal crusade to show Hollywood just how much she's aged. For 1992's "Poison Ivy," Barrymore tries jailbait seductress on for size, participating in a sensual chiller from the helmer of "Stripped to Kill." Mercifully, there's more going on in "Poison Ivy" than simple acts of thrusting, with co- writer/director Katt Shea fighting the potential salaciousness of the plot, trying to dig deeper into character psychology and moody gamesmanship. Shea almost gets there with her noticeable effort, but the feature's Skinemax absurdities tend to overwhelm whatever grit manages to find its way to the screen. Read the rest at