Film Review - The Power of the Dog


Jane Campion hasn’t directed a feature since 2009’s largely forgotten “Bright Star,” keeping busy with critically lauded television projects (“Top of the Lake”). With “The Power of the Dog,” Campion returns to screens with an adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, playing to her strengths of character exploration and unsteady relationships, almost emerging as a companion piece to her career triumph, 1993’s “The Piano.” “The Power of the Dog” is a highly reserved look at inner thoughts and desires, also playing a larger game of manipulation and torment, with the American west becoming a battleground for emotionally wounded people toying with power. Campion doesn’t get the endeavor to a completely satisfying close, but she’s strong with actors and composition, presenting an unnerving presentation of masculinity and desperation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Extinct


The creative team behind “Extinct” certainly puts the feature in a slam-dunk position. Director David Silverman and writers Joel H. Coen, John Frink, and Rob LaZebnik are all longtime veterans of “The Simpsons,” spending years on the iconic television show, responsible for delivering big laughs every week. Silverman even helmed “The Simpsons Movie,” along with many of the shorts, including the Oscar-nominated, “The Longest Daycare.” These are talented men, and their combined effort to create a different animated comedy is exciting, giving the team a new world to develop with their sharp senses of humor. Unfortunately, “Extinct” isn’t the triumph one is hoping for, dealing with pedestrian storytelling and a strange sci-fi concept, while the production’s Chinese backing keeps the endeavor away from a wilder appreciation for an adventure through time with a pair of extinct animals. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zeros and Ones


“Zeros and Ones” is only notable due to its strangeness. It’s the latest from writer/director Able Ferrara, who’s been working steadily over the last decade, making movies few have seen, and usually joined by Willem Dafoe. Ferrara doesn’t aim for a wider audience with his new picture, but he does hire Ethan Hawke as his lead actor, and he talks the star into contributing a video conference intro to the picture. This is a highly unusual idea, but “Zeros and Ones” isn’t here to please anyone. Hawke details his excitement over a chance to make cinema with Ferrara, responding to the artistry of the helmer’s previous endeavors. It’s a calculated move to explain what the feature is and what kind of character he’s playing, as Hawke’s brief offering of illumination is the last bit of light to be found in this lifeless, pointless commentary on the state of politics, art, and religion. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Feast


Writer Roger Williams and director Lee Haven Jones assess the state of the ecological world with “The Feast.” It’s a horror feature that’s about a slow-burn as they come, with the filmmakers looking to create a creeping mood of dread via a dinner party scenario, taking their time with character interactions and acts of savagery. There’s not a lot of excitement to be found in the movie, but it does go somewhere, working itself up into a frenzy with a payoff that’s not quite worth the extended time to get there. “The Feast” is atmospheric and cryptic, and Jones doesn’t extend an invitation to the viewer with the endeavor, keeping the effort distanced, and not in a way that welcomes closer attention to screen details. It’s certainly vicious, but it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for the picture’s glacial ways. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Chamber of Horrors


1966's "Chamber of Horrors" was originally intended to be the start of a television series, with the pilot exploring the detective skills of two men who run a Baltimore house of wax, remaining close to the ways of evil. When the show was deemed too dark for network T.V., a theatrical release was cooked up, necessitating the addition of a William Castle-style gimmick to help encourage curious customers to purchase a ticket. With the "Horror Horn" and the "Fear Flasher," audiences were offered a chance to avoid promised on-screen violence, provided with warnings to get around the ghastly events making up the "Four Supreme Fright Points." As with many of these superbly marketed B-movies, there isn't really anything upsetting about "Chamber of Horrors," but what's refreshing about the endeavor is how well it's put together. While it's obviously intended for television, the film creates an engrossing tale of murder, revenge, and sleuthing with unusual participants, offering procedural elements and macabre ideas to secure interest in the ways of wax museum employees and the killer creep they're hunting down. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - State and Main


Trying to expand his range and take on a different type of storytelling challenge, writer/director David Mamet made "The Winslow Boy" in 1999. It was his first and last G-rated endeavor, focusing on a mild period drama about family, law, and society. The art house release didn't attract much attention, inspiring Mamet to return to his old stomping grounds, making a new R-rated feature about troubled people caught in a multitude of problems. 2000's "State and Main" finds the helmer in a cheeky mood, mounting a satire of the filmmaking process and Hollywood politics, managing fears, leers, and moral uncertainty while paying tribute to classic comedy timing and hectic screen activity. Mamet has the inspiration and the subject, but laughs aren't plentiful in "State and Main," which tries a little too hard to be cutesy instead of merciless as the material surveys a collision of corrupt "movie people" and weird small-town folk. A grand escalation of madness seems to be the idea here, but Mamet has difficulty getting to a point of insanity with a lukewarm sense of humor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Endangered Species


Last year, co-writer/director M.J. Bassett crafted "Rogue," using African locations to detail an action story with a strong anti-poaching message, using genre filmmaking to reach an audience unaccustomed to such lessons about nature. The plan didn't work, as Bassett wasn't committed to thrills, casting choices were decidedly underwhelming, and incredibly crude CGI undermined efforts to explore a tale about the preciousness of animal life. Apparently refusing to give up on her dream of message-minded moviemaking, Bassett returns to (or perhaps she never left) Africa for "Endangered Species," which is being marketed as a horror-tinged survival story, but it's more of dysfunctional family study, spending more time with domestic concerns than deadly encounters. Bassett once again labors to make the material meaningful, returning to the grisliness of poaching and the destruction of the natural world. Perhaps a straight-up documentary should be her next creative endeavor, as the challenge of conjuring suspense and proper CGI animals is clearly too much for Bassett to handle. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - For Those Who Think Young


1964's "For Those Who Think Young" was marketed as a Beach Party event, with the studio hoping to play into marketplace trends of the day with a trailer that sold the sun-and-sand excitement of California life. Trouble is, the movie isn't really about catching waves, with just a small portion of the feature devoted to antics near the water. The rest of "For Those Who Think Young" is primarily about selling Woody Woodbury's comedic abilities, with the older performer offered an enormous amount of screen time to showcase his crowd work club act. There's something of a "young people" romance going on in the effort, but someone, somewhere found Woodbury to be an irresistible talent, making sure to let the whole world know just how great he was in this endeavor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mail Order Murder: The Story of W.A.V.E. Productions


"Mail Order Murder: The Story of W.A.V.E. Productions" initially seems like a standard offering of geek love to a filmmaking subculture, with the world of video moviemaking the subject for the documentary. Directors William Hellfire and Ross Snyder are quick to deliver their valentine to the ways of no-budget productions, asking writers and enthusiasts to recall their interactions with such bottom shelf entertainment, finding most impressed that something so awful could feel so right. And then "Mail Order Murder" finally focuses on what W.A.V.E. Productions actually achieved during their run, which takes the endeavor into a strange direction, examining the questionable ways of the company and their eventual quest to capture any sort of fetish for any sort of customer. No questions asked. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Silk Road


There have been multiple T.V. shows and documentaries created about Silk Road, a darknet market website that made it easy to purchase illegal drugs over the internet. The idea was hatched by Ross Ulbricht, and his story is a fascinating exploration of millennial ego, business opportunity, and online exploitation, making it irresistible to filmmakers. Dramatizing the events of Ulbricht's build-up and breakdown is "Silk Road," with writer/director Tiller Russell adapting a magazine article to get inside the mind of the main character, while the screenplay focuses on the operation of the website and the battle to bring Ulbricht down. Russell goes to David Fincher's "The Social Network" for some of his inspiration, and while it's rough around the edges, "Silk Road" connects as a study of corruption and temptation, dealing with the new frontier of online accessibility. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago


The highest grossing movie in the “Rocky” series, 1985’s “Rocky IV” was writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone’s attempt to turn The Italian Stallion into a Cold War superhero, pitting the lovable American boxer against a seemingly indestructible opponent from the Soviet Union. Stallone had incredible timing on his side, with audiences aching to loathe a Russian villain, and he was inspired by the evolution of MTV-style filmmaking, packing the feature with montages while simplifying its story to a basic game of revenge. And it worked, with many “Rocky” fans listing the third sequel as the best of the bunch, appreciating an ultra-slick ride of broad emotions and power pop songs, while the boxing was appealingly brutal. After 35 years, “Rocky IV” has returned, with Stallone playing with the footage to create a more mature take on the original material, reworking the dramatic potential of the blockbuster to help connect it to the more personal tales of life and love found in previous installments. Read the rest at

Film Review - Apex


Last year, Edward Drake co-wrote a terrible Bruce Willis VOD actioner, “Breach,” and this year he graduated to directing a bad Bruce Willis VOD actioner with “Cosmic Sin.” Sticking close to the star, Drake returns eight months later with “Apex,” which is…a wretched Bruce Willis actioner. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in Willis’s life that’s compelling him to burn off his thespian credibility with these low-budget, brain-dead endeavors, but he’s determined to do it, collecting fat paychecks (I’m guessing) for no noticeable effort, this time emerging from a nap to participate in the umpteenth riff on “The Most Dangerous Game.” Drake and co-writer Corey Large don’t offer much to viewers with “Apex,” which doesn’t have any tension or compelling acts of violence. It’s DOA entertainment, with Willis as tuned out of the work as he’s ever been. Read the rest at

Film Review - Home Sweet Home Alone


“Home Alone” isn’t much without John Hughes. The much-missed writer tapped into a kid POV with the 1990 holiday smash, combining the tenderness of Christmas with the blunt force trauma of cartoon violence, ending up with the biggest hit of his career. Hughes understood the mind of a child and the panic of parental exhaustion, delivering a tight, humorous screenplay for a film that managed to become a holiday viewing staple, amassing a huge fanbase. Hughes would go back to the well for two sequels, and the studio suppled two more offerings of body-breaking high jinks, eventually squeezing the teat dry as numbing repetition set in. The franchise has been dormant for nearly a decade, inspiring a new follow-up, “Home Sweet Home Alone,” which has the advantage of reaching a new generation perhaps unfamiliar with the Kevin McCallister years. “Saturday Night Live” writers Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell try to shake a few elements up in the formula, but there’s not enough subversive thinking with this endeavor, which eventually settles into the same old ultraviolent battle between intrusive adults and a wiseacre kid left behind by his vacationing family. Read the rest at

Film Review - Clifford the Big Red Dog


“Clifford the Big Red Dog” began life as a children’s book series, with author Norman Bridwell delighting young readers for decades with his vision for adventure and mischief featuring a gargantuan canine and his bottomless love for his human pal, Emily Elizabeth. There were 80 books dedicated to Clifford’s curiosity and heroism, eventually inspiring a hit animated series with John Ritter as the voice of the eponymous pooch. There’s been a lot of Clifford over the years, and the brand name is newly reenergized by “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” a live-action adaptation of Bridwell’s creation, which brings the character to life through CGI, unleashing his chaos in a family comedy that’s attempting to establish a new direction for all things Clifford. There’s nothing here that’s unexpected, but the picture is an agreeable endeavor that will certainly please viewers raised on Bridwell’s simple stories. Read the rest at

Film Review - Belfast


Director Kenneth Branagh has been working recently to up his career profile, taking on larger productions such as “Murder on the Orient Express” (and its sequel, “Death on the Nile,” which is due in 2022) and “Artemis Fowl.” These have been large-budget offerings meant reach a global audience, and “Belfast” feels like a response to that sort of professional pressure. Instead of grand mysteries and CGI-laden adventuring, Branagh goes small with his latest feature, which is a semi-autobiographical tale of growing up in Ireland during the late 1960s. For “Belfast,” coming-of-age ideas are paired with real-world horror, as the writing examines the growing troubles of Northern Ireland during this era, from the perspective of a pre-teen boy trying to make sense of all the change that surrounds him. Branagh has the clarity of memory on his side for this effort, but his editorial control isn’t nearly as focused, finding the picture a scattered series of dramatic entanglements and political content that never gels in a poetic manner. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Eight Legged Freaks


The 1950s were a fertile period in horror, introducing audiences to the simple pleasures of Atomic Age nightmares, which included a subgenre involving "big bug" pictures. These efforts turned everyday critters into city-smashing threats, eventually inspiring generations of filmmakers to try their luck at reviving the big screen experience. In 2002, producers Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich aimed to recreate B-movie mayhem from a bygone era with "Eight Legged Freaks," a decidedly high-tech version of monster mayhem, with copious amounts of CGI used to bring a giant spider invasion to life. Director Ellory Elkayem makes his helming debut with the feature (also co-scripting with Jesse Alexander), and he's never exactly sure what kind of endeavor "Eight Legged Freaks" is. There's an uneasy blend of frights and funny business to process, with jokes lacking definition and terror muted by attempts at zaniness. There's some fun to be had with the premise, but the production ultimately doesn't know what it wants to be, resulting in a mediocre attempt to revive big bug thrills and chills. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The House of Usher


For director Alan Birkinshaw, the job of adapting Edgar Allan Poe stories was his primary career focus in the late 1980s, with "The Masque of the Red Death" following his time on 1989's "The House of Usher." Of course, these are loose versions of the original stories, but Birkinshaw is hoping to conjure something spooky and B-movie baroque with the features, finding "The House of Usher" the more inspired production, delivering a mild Hammer Films vibe as actors Oliver Reed and Donald Pleasance do their best to ham it up while the story details horrible things happening to a young woman stuck in a dangerous situation of obsession. The endeavor isn't sharp, but it has some degree of enthusiasm for broad antics, making for an amusing sit as Birkinshaw tries to create something savage with his low budget and game cast. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Brotherhood of the Wolf


A period mystery collides with horror and action in 2001's "Brotherhood of the Wolf," which represents co-writer/director Christophe Gans's attempt to change the course of the French film industry, adding a little violent genre excitement for the masses. It's a valiant mission to deliver bigger thrills, and the premise is loaded with strangeness, blending magic, myth, the French Revolution, and some sexual power, with Gans using all he can to summon a bizarre adventure that occasionally packs quite a punch as Hong Kong choreography crashes into a stately European endeavor. It's an excessively long feature, but "Brotherhood of the Wolf" holds attention for most of its run time, finding Gans eager to please with his usual mix of fantasy visuals and charged encounters. Read the rest at