Blu-ray Review - Rust Creek


"Rust Creek" pulls a bit of a switcheroo on its audience. It's being marketed as a nail-biter, offered up as a chilling tale of survival in the deep woods of the American south. There are sections of the picture devoted to such irresistible thrills, but the endeavor is content to leave the nerve-shredding stuff behind for long stretches of screen time. The screenplay (credited to Julie Lipson and Stu Pollard) is more interested in character-based entanglements than straight scares, which gives "Rust Creek" a more intriguing dramatic pull, juggling the needs of genre entertainment with a deep psychological inspection of the crisis at hand. It's not a tightly constructed endeavor, which hurts it in the long run, but the movie has a vision for something different while still tending to expectations. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Between Worlds


Writer/director Maria Pulera is trying to make a brain-bleeder with "Between Worlds," attempting to blur the line of reality with a spirit-hopping story that, in some ways, looks to emulate a David Lynch film, even bringing in "Twin Peaks" composer Angelo Badalamenti to compose a theme for the endeavor. Pulera has the right idea with the casting of Nicolas Cage, who can turn anything into a mind-scrambler with the sheer force of his acting, but little else comes together in Pulera's feature, which possesses the ambition to bend space and time, but has the production value of a late night Cinemax movie. "Between Worlds" is weird but not polished, which doesn't encourage full immersion into the depths of this oddity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Paradise Alley


1978 was a critical year in the career of Sylvester Stallone. In 1976, Stallone became a major Hollywood player with "Rocky," which he scripted, finding himself a primary participant in the highest-grossing film of year, which would go on to collect a Best Picture Oscar in 1977. Previously dealing with poverty and powerlessness in the business, Stallone could suddenly call his own shots, allowed to take his future wherever he wanted it to go. Two years after "Rocky," Stallone tried to tighten his dramatic chops in Norman Jewison's "F.I.S.T." -- a pairing that didn't win over audiences. And then there was "Paradise Alley," which gifted the star a chance to command his own vision, making his directorial debut with the effort. Stallone's intent with the movie isn't difficult to decode, setting out to replicate a melodrama from the 1950s, but the shadow of "Rocky" remains on the endeavor, which labors to find a comfortable middle ground between underdog cinema manipulation and a gritty, unsentimental study of broken people and shattered dreams in the harsh reality of life in the big city. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Brain


A 1988 production from Canada, "The Brain" depicts a fantasy world where the population is controlled by a dangerous con man on television who wants to control the world via mental manipulation. Okay, maybe the premise isn't sci-fi at all, especially with today's glut of television programming, but "The Brain" does have a horror angle as it transforms into a monster movie, with the titular creature making multiple appearances to give the endeavor jolts of the macabre to keep it alert. Screenwriter Barry Pearson is on a mission to supply commentary on trash T.V., while director Ed Hunt labors to make the picture exciting, collaborating on a diverting B-movie that's competently assembled, finely shaded with humor, and gung-ho with creature feature exploitation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blinded by the Light


In a summer season that’s already celebrated the music of The Beatles through fantasy (in June’s “Yesterday”), it seems only natural to make way for Bruce Springsteen and his working class perspective for “Blinded by the Light,” a tale of fandom in the 1980s and something of a bio-pic for writer Sarfraz Manzoor, whose book, “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll,” has inspired the screenplay. The film isn’t explicitly a jukebox musical working through Springsteen’s ample discography, but it certainly threatens to become one. Co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) is making a coming-of-age drama, but guitar spirit often takes command of the feature, which is even more of an audience-pleaser than “Yesterday,” even while working with far more sobering tunes. “Blinded by the Light” doesn’t know when to quit, but it’s loaded with charm and always attentive to heart, offering viewers the ride of life in motion, backed by the rock poetry of The Boss. Read the rest at 

Film Review - The Angry Birds Movie 2


Three years ago, there was “The Angry Birds Movie.” It was a film nobody asked for, meant to cash in on a brand that was on the decline, and it managed to do some business during the summer season. Not exactly Disney numbers, but enough to keep the Rovio Entertainment corporate dream alive for a few more years. And now there’s “The Angry Birds Movie 2,” which doesn’t have a prime summer release date, but seems more energized to make sure audiences walk away from the picture satisfied with frenzied cartoon antics. The reality is the sequel is an improvement on the uninspired original effort, but that doesn’t automatically turn it into quality entertainment. The approach has been tightened, challenges are easily identified, and animation is more elastic, but 90 minutes of noise is still 90 minutes of noise, even when it’s brightly decorated and supported by celebrity voices. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Vanishing


Gerard Butler hasn't enjoyed the most artistically satisfying career in recent years. In fact, he's toplined a lot of garbage, with such titles as "Gods of Egypt," "Geostorm," and "Hunter Killer" tarnishing what remains of his star power. He's never had the best taste in screenplays, but Butler finally locates material that fits him well in "The Vanishing," a Scottish dramatization of the Flannan Isles Mystery, where three lighthouse keepers vanished in 1900 during their six-week stint on the island. While Butler is asked to play up his natural burliness, there's also emotional darkness to manage, becoming part of a hauntingly performed psychological study. It's some of his best work, finally focusing on something more than Hollywood domination. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Backtrace


We've already dealt with the VOD filmmaking stylings of director Brian A. Miller this past year. His last picture, "Reprisal," was released back in August, adding another dud to his growing filmography of forgettable cinema, which includes "Vice," "The Outsider," and "The Prince." Keeping up his interests in B-movies with nondescript titles, Miller issues "Backtrace," which doesn't deviate at all from his formula of limited locations, amateur supporting actors, and enough money in the budget to entice one big star. Bruce Willis slept through "Reprisal," and now it's Sylvester Stallone's turn to pick up a paycheck, giving a few days out of his busy schedule to pretend to act interested in a dreary thriller concerning soggy memories and a stashed bag of cash. "Backtrace" has no creative fingerprints, with Miller rehashing all his low-budget helming tricks to arrange yet another tedious rodeo of cliches. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Prospect


Looking to make their mark on the sci-fi genre, writer/directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl merge their original vision for "Prospect" with tributes to the features they admire. It's a striking endeavor finding ways to work with a low budget but not be restrained by one, delivering a futureworld vision for space travel and alien landscapes. The seams are difficult to find here, with the helmers paying close attention to frame details and design elements, working to make sure the film is as distinct as possible with the money available. Such a technical accomplishment is worthy of celebration. It's the rest of "Prospect" that's difficult to digest, as Caldwell and Zeek are often so wrapped up in positioning creative achievements, they forget to construct a more involving screenplay, which works very hard to create a language of professional and personal experience that's difficult to appreciate. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dora and the Lost City of Gold


In 2000, “Dora the Explorer” made its debut on Nickelodeon. The show was aimed at preschoolers just getting their bearings with language, with the titular host offering mild look-and-find adventures with help from her monkey pal Boots, various items of survival gear, and Spanish. Perhaps trying to age up the material to reunite with the original generation of viewers, “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” brings the character into her teenager years, replacing simple tasks with more sophisticated adventure puzzles and real-world struggles of acceptance. Dora’s pluckiness hasn’t been sacrificed in the transition, with star Isabela Moner delivering a pitch-perfect performance as the grown-up version of the animated character, helping to secure the lively, silly spirit constructed by director James Bobin (“The Muppets”), who does an impressive job redefining Dora for older audiences. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Light of My Life


“Light of My Life” does have an issue with derivativeness, resembling Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” in more ways than one. Call it influence or homage, but writer/director Casey Affleck is clearly aiming for the same sense of unfolding countrywide illness with his feature, his first helming effort since 2010’s “I’m Still Here.” Similarities aren’t a problem for Affleck, as he’s very respectful towards “The Road” and its nearly overwhelming grimness, shooting for a more intimate study of parenthood as it exists in a post-apocalyptic setting. “Light of My Life” has its charged moments of conflict and paranoia, but it’s a small-scale affair that’s more invested in the lives of a father and his daughter than the evil facing them. It’s certainly not in a hurry to get anywhere, but Affleck has a vision for guardianship that’s realistic and heartbreaking, remaining on the little trials of communication as the world falls apart. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nekrotronic


In 2015, “Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead” found a U.S. release. The Australian production was nuts, but in a good way, delivering a blend of “Evil Dead” and “Mad Max,” with writers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner dedicated to offering as much mayhem and gore as possible, turning their endeavor into a proper genre extravaganza. The sugar rush of macabre events helped to keep “Wyrmwood” moving along at top speed, and the siblings try to tap into that same energy with “Nekrotronic,” which represents their effort to merge “Ghostbusters” with “The Matrix.” The duo (Kiah is assigned directorial duties) have no shortage of enthusiasm for their supercharged look at the ultimate battle between necromancers and a surging demon plague, but instead of supplying constant thrills, “Nekrotronic” feels like homework, with the final cut roughly 80% exposition and 20% ultraviolence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark


“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” were a series of popular books from the 1980s, with author Alvin Schwartz doing his best to traumatize young readers and raise the ire of parental groups in a ban-happy mood. They predate the “Goosebumps” series by a decade, but the film adaptation is only materializing now, taking its time to hit screens. The delay doesn’t exactly help the production, as the two “Goosebumps” movies basically offered the same idea of literary monsters coming to life, only those pictures were meant for a family audience. “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” aims more for sinister business, with co-producer Guillermo del Toro keeping the endeavor in line with his previous works, protecting director Andre Ovredal as he attempts to realize tales of horror that are largely celebrated for their descriptive power. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Kitchen


“The Kitchen” is an adaptation of a DC Vertigo comic book from a few years ago, bringing an adult-oriented crime story to highly artful pages detailing a female perspective to a typical 1970s organized crime tale. In the original creation, there was time to develop ideas and perfect visuals. The film version has trouble making sense out of mostly everything it presents. Screenwriter Andrea Berloff (“Straight Outta Compton,” “Blood Father”) makes her directorial debut with “The Kitchen,” and I’m sure somewhere in the WB vaults there’s a hard drive with a three-hour-long cut of the feature. In its current state, Berloff only has 100 minutes to work through a saga that involves dozens of characters and takes place over the course of two years. Intermittent scenes come to life, but the rest of “The Kitchen” feels gutted and frustratingly random. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Art of Racing in the Rain


For the latest offering of dogsploitation in 2019 (following “A Dog’s Journey” and “A Dog’s Way Home”), “The Art of Racing in the Rain” attempts to merge cute pooch shenanigans and wizened canine authority with a television melodrama, hoping to hit viewers right in the sweet spot with its assembly of manipulation and fantasy. We’ve been here before, especially when the material starts discussing the possibilities of dog reincarnation, but director Simon Curtis (“Goodbye Christopher Robin”) doesn’t seem to mind, moving forward with material that has no connection to human behavior. It’s a tear-jerker, and not an especially effective one, as this adaptation of Garth Stein’s 2008 novel loves to play by its own rules of interpersonal relationships, coming up with a broad approximation of drama, not an incisive understanding of one pet’s journey of observation. As with many of these coarse, clumsy endeavors: not every book needs to be a movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ode to Joy


Currently in theaters is “The Farewell,” which was inspired by a story on the radio program, “This American Life,” and now there’s “Ode to Joy,” which is also pulled from the catalog of tales on the Ira Glass-produced show. The summer of 2019 is slowly forming the “This American Life” Extended Universe, with Glass its Nick Fury figure, bringing oddball tales of family and relationships to art houses everywhere. “Ode to Joy” isn’t as measured as “The Farewell,” but the features share quirks and curiosity about human behavior, only the former is a bit more sitcom-ish in delivery, with director Jason Winer endeavoring to protect the picture’s approachability while it deals with serious medical challenges. It’s not a particularly compelling movie, but it does have certain charms, with the cast working very hard to keep the effort bright and amusing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mike Wallace Is Here


There have been many retrospectives about the life and times of Mike Wallace, but director Avi Belkin submits “Mike Wallace Is Here” during a very provocative time in American journalism. The timing of the documentary is no accident, talking a reasonably extensive look at Wallace’s career in television and his commitment to the producing of news pieces and interviews that went above and beyond the norm to offer audiences true insight into his subjects. It’s certainly a glossy endeavor, but Belkin manages to cut a little deeper than most, endeavoring to understand what drove Wallace to become a revered and feared reporter, isolating his intensity but also his vulnerability, examining many of the tragedies and doubts that fueled his rise to international fame, bringing real news to the world, with a customary dash of tightly-suited showmanship. Read the rest at

Film Review - Otherhood


Just in time for…Labor Day(?) comes “Otherhood,” a Mother’s Day comedy meant to celebrate the unheralded work women put into child-rearing. It’s an adaptation of a 2008 William Sutcliffe novel, but it plays like a sitcom from the 1990s, with stars Angela Bassett, Patricia Arquette, and Felicity Huffman participating in one-dimensional antics as their characters learn a thing or two about life, love, and the wonders of urban distractions. Director Cindy Chupack is a veteran of “Sex and the City” and it shows here, delivering a similar experience of escapism and heartache with tedious, self-involved personalities, while attention to genuine humor is missing from the endeavor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Jungle Holocaust


In 1980, director Ruggero Deodato created "Cannibal Holocaust," perhaps the most notorious offering in the cannibal subgenre, where real-world legal proceedings were summoned to deal with a highly fictitious film. However, before he took command of the cult classic, Deodato went through a rehearsal of sorts with 1977's "Jungle Holocaust" (titled "Last Cannibal World" on the Blu-ray), constructing a familiar descent into the unclaimed world, where the tribal locals don't take kindly to strangers, and Italian producers get off on animal cruelty. Art wasn't the primary focus of "Cannibal Holocaust," and it's even less of a concern for "Jungle Holocaust," which isn't burdened by the demands of storytelling, instead moving ahead as a grindhouse carnival ride of lurid scenes and bodily harm, tossing whatever it can at the screen to inspire a horrified reaction from the viewer. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Permanent Green Light


On the cover of "Permanent Green Light" is press quote that claims the movie is "One of John Waters' Top Films of 2018." That's a fine stamp of approval from a cultured film scholar, but also acts as a bit of a warning to those coming in cold to the picture. Writer/directors Dennis Cooper and Zac Farley try to tap into teen angst with the material, taking such concern to France, following the journey of a boy who wants to die via a large explosion. "Permanent Green Light" plays fairly seriously, but there's evidence that perhaps it's meant to be taken as darkly comedic. Either way, the feature isn't something that necessarily commands attention, happy to exist in its own little realm of self-analysis and secret pain. Read the rest at