Film Review - Mandibles


“Mandibles” presents the return of writer/director Quentin Dupieux, who’s been busy lately, with recent releases including “Deerskin” and “Keep an Eye Out.” The “Rubber” and “Reality” helmer is a blissfully mischievous moviemaker, and his latest is just as bizarre and silly as the rest of his work. “Mandibles” tells the story of two halfwits who discover a giant fly in the truck of their stolen car, learning to live with the creature, with hopes to train it. One might think the tale is meant to represent some type of political commentary or social statement, but no, it’s really about two dudes and their pet fly, which is about the size of a dog. As with anything Dupieux makes, a certain level of surrender is required, and he rewards viewers with several surprises and a dry sense of humor that triggers laughs throughout. Read the rest at

Film Review - Broken Diamonds


The concerns of sibling relationships are complicated by the presence of mental illness in “Broken Diamonds.” It’s the latest from “Camp X-Ray” director Peter Sattler, who’s joined by screenwriter Steve Waverly to help illuminate a feeling of powerlessness felt by the lead characters, who experience the world around them in different ways. It’s not a pounding drama about life and death, but the daily struggle of balance, with Waverly finding a few comedic beats while primarily creating an emotional story about the ties that bind, sometimes to a point of strangulation. “Broken Diamonds” isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it does carry a credible sense of pressure and pain, with stars Lola Kirke and Ben Platt putting in terrific performances that generate a sense of behavioral authenticity, which aids digestion of a somewhat formulaic plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - Settlers


Viewer expectations need to be adjusted when sitting down to watch “Settlers.” It’s being sold as a sort-of sci-fi experience, with the story taking place on Mars, using such isolation to inspire a futureworld tale of human struggle. Making his helming debut is Wyatt Rockefeller (who also scripts), and he works extremely hard to create an atmosphere of threat and mystery with the picture, not interested in the genre potential of the premise. “Settlers” is almost a filmed play, concentrating on behaviors and troubling decisions, with the far away setting not especially important to the material. Those coming to the endeavor looking for an amped-up study of Martian survival are not going to be pleased with the feature, which remains a static viewing experience, with lots of pregnant pauses and hard stares. Rockefeller hopes to detail his dramatics in the dead air of this effort, coming up with something just short of interesting, though technical achievements are outstanding for an obviously low-budget offering. Read the rest at

Film Review - Midnight in the Switchgrass


“Midnight in the Switchgrass” marks the directorial debut for Randall Emmett. If you’ve been wondering who’s behind the gradual rise of VOD productions that basically all have the same titles and feature one or two former stars collecting a big paycheck, it’s Randall Emmett, who, along with partner George Furla, are responsible for productions like “Survive the Night,” “Force of Nature,” “10 Minutes Gone,” and “Out of Death.” Emmett apparently wanted to try filmmaking on for size, and he picks a real bummer of a project with “Midnight in the Switchgrass,” which plays like a particularly clueless “Silence of the Lambs” riff, mixing law enforcement procedural scenes with a developing tale of a serial killer’s love for tormenting women. There’s a whole lot of nothing going on in the movie, which barely puts in the effort to create psychological profiles for its characters, with Emmett getting more of a charge out of terrible dialogue and flat performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Joe Bell


“Joe Bell” dramatizes the heartbreaking story of Jadin Bell, a teen boy who was bullied mercilessly in small-town Oregon, with his enemies targeting his homosexuality as a reason to destroy him. His father, Joe, eventually took on the challenge of a cross-country walk to attract media attention to the subject of harassment, embarking on an arduous journey of self-inspection and physical exhaustion to feel something during an incredibly dark period of his parental experience. It’s a horrifying tale for many reasons, perhaps not meant for a big screen treatment, but screenwriter Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (“Brokeback Mountain”) strive to find some meaning in the bottomless abyss of grief, getting the endeavor a certain distance before formula and miscastings ultimately confuse the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Jeremy


In 1973, the state of the teen movies was still being defined. After time with juvenile delinquent and party time endeavors, the subgenre enjoyed a major evolution in the 1970s, with "Jeremy" part of a movement to make pictures for younger audiences about the highs and low of being young. Writer/director Arthur Barron looks to create something intimate with the endeavor, using his experience in documentary filmmaking to capture the nuances of new love as it develops over a few weeks, marrying such excitement with the bustle of life in the center of New York City. Barron's efforts are helped by his eye for casting, with Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor providing startlingly unaffected performances, capturing raw emotion the helmer is hoping to communicate. "Jeremy" is simple, comfortable in its limited storytelling goals, with Barron looking to replicate a specific feeling of awakening hormones and new encounters, and he manages to do so with unsettling authenticity at times. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hitcher in the Dark


While credited as "Humphrey Humbert," 1989's "Hitcher in the Dark" is the work of Umberto Lenzi, the man who gave the world "Cannibal Ferox," "Ghosthouse," and "Spasmo." A helmer who always favored quantity over quality, Lenzi liked to move fast and collect whatever footage he could, and that professional drive is most apparent in "Hitcher in the Dark," which plays like a community theater workshop session, only with more lurid writing to power hysterical performances. The general idea here is to offer a serial killer story with deep psychological grooves, turning an encounter between predator and prey into an extended dance of insanity. Lenzi isn't a refined moviemaker, happy to make something goofy as long as it's finished, and that's what happens here, gifting viewers a wild ride of the unsavory and the unintentionally hilarious. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Crazy Desires of a Murderer


Vinegar Syndrome hopes to do the world of B-movies some good by offering 1977's "Crazy Desires of a Murderer" to larger Blu-ray audience, pulling the feature out of obscurity after it was denied distribution in North America for decades. Now that it's here, the picture provides a weird ride of tonal changes, with director Filippo Walter Ratti trying to develop a murder mystery with sexploitation asides, also working in some extreme gore and mild perversion. There's a lot to unpack with the endeavor, which never finds true storytelling stability, but there's just enough oddity to enjoy as Ratti tends to try everything to see what sticks in his film. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Autopsy


1975's "Autopsy" is engineered to capture audience attention right away. The first 15 minutes of the movie offer strange visuals and gruesome events, with director Armando Crispino refusing to delay his vision for horror, commencing the endeavor with multiple suicides, vicious acts of sexual harassment/assault, and the procedural particulars of a morgue. Good luck finishing your popcorn with this initially brutal effort, which eventually settles down into a more palatable mystery, providing its most outrageous actions in the first reel. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Murder Mansion


Why introduce individual characters when they can all join the picture at the same time? That's the general vibe of 1972's "Murder Mansion," which is an Agatha Christie-esque take on the dangers of suspicious people staying inside a spooky dwelling that's also home to a murderer. Director Francisco Lara Polop isn't trying to reinvent the wheel with "Murder Mansion," which offers a routine set-up of evil events and a slow-burn fear factor. The helmer tries to win audiences over with some sense of style, fighting the inherent inertia of the production with a few effective suspense sequences. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Money Plane


Unlike a lot of bottom shelf actioners, "Money Plane" actually has a promising premise. It takes viewers to a casino in the sky where anything goes involving the worst people on Earth, giving them a free space to indulge their awfulness in games of skill and chance. Writers Tim Schaaf and Andrew Lawrence (who also directs) provide a solid reason to track such unrepentant ugliness, which retains a delicious camp factor, but they're mostly interested in following heist movie formula, aiming for suspense that never emerges. There's a circus there for the taking, but "Money Plane" plays it safe, delivering familiar beats of intimidation and brutality, trying to wow viewers with twists and turns when they might be better off with a blunt study of evildoers taking to the sky to make a fortune. Read the rest at

Film Review - Out of Death


“Out of Death” is a nonsensical title for a lazy film, and nobody stops to explain what exactly “Out of Death” means, as the movie is actually quite filled with death. The endeavor is the latest stop on the “Is Bruce Willis okay?” tour of VOD cinema, with the once mighty actor apparently offering the production a single day to complete his work on the picture. And what a day that must’ve been. Making his directorial debut is Mike Burns, who’s previously worked as a music supervisor on these immediately forgettable low-budget offerings, now finally offered a chance to make his own nonsense, with Willis popping up on occasion while an obvious body double does the rest of the work. “Out of Death” hopes to be a scrappy backwoods thriller, but Burns can’t make magic happen, basically reducing the feature to a series of shots of actors running through the woods, periodically stopping for ridiculous exposition dumps and, as the title wrongly states, death. Read the rest at

Film Review - Space Jam: A New Legacy


“Space Jam” was released in 1996, where it did okay at the box office, unleashed on audiences who didn’t quite understand what it was meant to be. Inspired by a commercial and turned into an acting vehicle for basketball star Michael Jordan, “Space Jam” found its groove on home video, where it developed a cult following, reaching viewers capable of looking past the endeavor’s creative shortcomings. It certainly took some time, but “Space Jam: A New Legacy” has finally found its way into theaters, with the feature not really a sequel, but more of a remake, with another basketball star, LeBron James, taking over the Jordan role. The Looney Tunes gang returns to duty as well, adding their animation commotion to the production, which strives to strike the same balance of heartfelt human concerns and cartoon pandemonium, this time enjoying a larger scale and sharp technical achievements. But is it funny? Not really. Read the rest at

Film Review - Die in a Gunfight


Two years ago, director Collin Schiffli made a positive impression with his work on “All Creatures Here Below,” creating a world of cruelty and grittiness that felt authentic, putting in the time to establish characters and the world around them. He’s after something far glossier with “Die in a Gunfight,” which has the unfortunate mission of trying to update “Romeo and Juliet,” endeavoring to reignite an oft-told tale. Screenwriters Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari (“Ant-Man and the Wasp”) handle the family drama and the power of love, but there’s not a vision in play, with the production trying to mirror a Baz Luhrmann-like approach when the helmer already made his mark on the William Shakespeare tragedy. “Die in a Gunfight” hopes to put on a grand display of showy acting and bursts of violence, but it’s mostly an uninspired drag, and perhaps the first “Romeo and Juliet” adaptation where viewers will side with the exasperated parental characters. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pig


“Pig” isn’t an easy film to sell to the public, and marketing materials have tried to push the feature as a revenge picture, with a “John Wick”-esque concept of a reclusive man returning to a world he left behind for the love of an animal. In this case, it’s a truffle pig, with Nicolas Cage tasked with portrayed a deadened man on the hunt for his best pal. Writer/director Michael Sarnoski doesn’t deliver a high-octane offering of action cinema with the movie. He goes deeply dramatic instead, ignoring the potential absurdity of the premise to take the whole mission as seriously as possible, digging into troubled characters carrying their own body weight in grief. “Pig” is an odd picture, but that’s the idea, with Sarnoski trying to approach human emotions from different angles, finding fresh ways to deal with primal hurt, with the endeavor more of a “Ratatouille” riff than a vicious Keanu Reeves bruiser. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gunpowder Milkshake


In 2013, director Navot Papushado made a strong impression with the excellent revenge thriller, “Big Bad Wolves,” co-helming the effort with Aharon Keshales. The feature was a violent endeavor, loaded with intensity, and now Papushado is trying to make a go of it in Hollywood alone, taking control of “Gunpowder Milkshake,” co-scripting the picture with Ehud Lavski. Returning to an aggressive attitude when it comes to screen horror, Papushado presents a more stylish offering this time around, taking advantage of a bigger budget and CGI tools to create another slice of vengeance, this time exploring a graphic novel-like playground of super-assassins and the secretive and surprising world they inhabit. It’s all very “John Wick”-ian, but “Gunpowder Milkshake” has its own highlights and bursts of insanity, with the production gifting interested audiences an enormous amount of cinematic hostility, sold well by Papushado, who bathes the film in blood while the writing aims to rethink a universe (and genre) controlled by male power. Read the rest at

Film Review - Great White


The interesting thing about shark movies is how, no matter the quality of the material, they usually find an audience. There’s something about sharks that grabs viewers, tapping into a primal fear about deep waters and the dangers contain within. There have been plenty of aquatic duds rewarded with decent box office, but it’s doubtful “Great White” can compete, as the latest offering of shark-based horror is an incredibly sluggish understanding of oceanic survival. Director Martin Wilson and writer Michael Boughen have all the opportunity in the world to craft a lively chiller about a group effort to escape the wrath of hungry predators -- something simple but effective. The filmmakers don’t offer much enthusiasm for anything, keeping costs down by keep the endeavor inert, saving the big shark show for the final act. Up to that point, it’s a whole lot of waiting for nothing to happen. Read the rest at

Film Review - How to Deter a Robber


Home invasion stories typically venture into thriller territory, following the fight between criminals and innocents caught up in a dangerous cat and mouse situation. Making her directorial debut, Maria Bissell tries for something quirkier with “How to Deter a Robber,” which provides some level of tension featuring villains breaking into a home, but primarily prefers a more casual understanding of conflict. Bissell also provides a screenplay for the endeavor, focusing on the itchiness of relationships and maturity, laboring to merge the struggles of oncoming adulthood with the immediacy of gun-to-the-face violence. “How to Deter a Robber” is unusual, which works in its favor, but Bissell occasionally fumbles the tone of the feature, mixing silliness and sincerity, which doesn’t have the impact the helmer is hunting for. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fin


Director Eli Roth has managed to create a career in the horror business, using his deep love for the genre to inspire ghastly features that explore inhumanity in different forms. Creatively, Roth hasn’t been the most inspired helmer, but he’s been determined to make his mark, returning time and again to provide disturbing images and deranged characters from the safety of fictional storytelling. With “Fin,” Roth moves over to documentary filmmaking, turning his attention to the plight of sharks, with their dwindling numbers and cruel treatment becoming a cause for the moviemaker. Taking on the barbarity of humankind, Roth comes up with his most terrifying picture in “Fin,” which sends the host around the world to get a sense of illegal fishing and deadly “finning,” finding his curiosity about the butchery involved with shark fin soup opening the doors to a grim understanding of a business that shows no mercy for a rapidly depleting population of ocean creatures. Read the rest at