Film Review - Every Breath You Take


The semi-erotic psychological thriller was a major box office draw in the 1980s and early 1990s, as audiences were in the mood to watch damaged people deal with manipulators and murderers, with occasional trips to the bedroom to work on different urges. There’s really no place for the subgenre now, but that’s not going to stop “Every Breath You Take,” which plays like something Richard Gere would’ve made during his heyday. The screenplay by David Murray (making his professional debut) doesn’t offer an original approach to the pains of a family ripped apart by a malevolent outsider, and it’s not inspired work, presenting a sluggish take on dangerous mistakes and mental chess, also lacking a level of sexuality that usually fuels cheap thrills. It’s just dull, and director Vaughn Stein does little to energize the endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Tunnel


While Hollywood remains obsessed with producing big-budget superhero entertainment, Norway has been taking care of disaster movies since 2015, finding creative success with “The Wave” and “The Quake.” The films were trying to bring a little American noise to Norwegian audiences, but the writing aimed to be more human, constructing a realistic level of danger and sacrifice while still playing up the big screen appeal of mass destruction. And now there’s “The Tunnel,” which isn’t connected to the previous two pictures, and features a great deal less violence. The idea here is helplessness in the middle of a claustrophobic setting, with director Pal Oie searching for suspense in survival and rescue efforts highlighting characters dealing with the immediate danger and the gradual suffocation of a tunnel fire. “The Tunnel” isn’t chaotic, but it’s suspenseful, with Oie carefully escalating the central crisis, paying attention to personal relationships, not visual effects, along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Honeydew


Devereaux Milburn makes his feature-length directorial debut with “Honeydew,” and boy howdy, he’s eager to show his stuff with the movie. Blending the backwoods horror and appetites of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” with modern trends in mannered terror, Milburn offers a familiar tale of a lost couple looking for shelter where they shouldn’t, working to generate a fright experience that’s primarily sold through specific cinematography and excessive editing. “Honeydew” is as self-conscious a filmmaking introduction as they come, offering viewers a tedious examination of style and stillness, while the writing asks the audience to spend time with two main characters who, even by genre standards, have no working brains, happily marching into obvious danger because Milburn needs them to. The helmer’s trying to throw a ghoulish party with this endeavor, but the showiness of it all is wearying. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hollow Point


Daniel Zirilli likes to direct movies, and he’s made a large amount of them in recent years, with nondescript titles such as “Acceleration,” “Invincible,” and “The Asian Connection.” He’s a VOD helmer trying to make a career out of action endeavors, with his latest being “Hollow Point,” which intends to offer viewers a critical look at the police and justice system of Los Angeles, but primarily offers quickie fight choreography and shootouts around the empty spaces of the city. It’s not without some low-wattage thrills, but “Hollow Point” isn’t the intellectual exercise it initially positions itself to be, finding the screenplay inching away from challenging ideas on law and order, more comfortable with snoozy scenes of confrontation. It’s an offering of vigilante cinema, but certainly not gonzo enough to make a lasting impression. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Power (2021)


“The Power” initially presents itself as a ghost story with a unique time period and location, taking viewers to East London, 1974, where the city is enduring evening blackouts, making the first night on the job for a young nurse most difficult. The feature isn’t simply about low-lit frights, with writer/director Corinna Faith trying to develop the material as something more than just a parade of things that go bump in the night. She’s successful for the most part, but “The Power” is overly concerned about reaching a 90-minute-long run time, with Faith adding an enormous amount of padding to the effort, which throttles overall pace. There’s atmosphere to enjoy here, and performances capably summon a fear factor, but the slow-burn approach sometime puts the movie into park, leaving the viewing experience uneven despite obvious production accomplishments. Read the rest at

UHD 4K Review - Deadly Games


1989's "Deadly Games" (also known as "36.15 code Pere Noel" or "Dial Code Santa Claus") offers a roughhouse take on the kid-defends-castle subgenre, which found worldwide popularity with 1990's "Home Alone." There was a point in his life where writer/director Rene Manzor wasn't happy with the John Hughes production, believing it lifted more than a few elements from his picture. Who knows the truth, but the reality is "Deadly Games" isn't "Home Alone" in story or tone, with Manzor going deeper into the darkness with the endeavor, offering a lighthearted first act before things turn serious for a boy hero, who's forced to confront some bitter realities about life while taking on violent home invader. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Last Rites


1988's "Last Rites" has the title and aura of a picture that takes the trials of priesthood seriously, suggesting a tight character study of a man of the cloth caught up in an unwinnable situation that tests his faith and his life. Instead of introspection, the effort announces its true intent in the opening scene, where a philandering man had his penis shot off by his vengeful wife. "Last Rites" emerges from the mind of writer/director Donald P. Bellisario, and it's exactly the type of film that comes from the man who created "Airwolf," "NCIS," and "Magnum, P.I." There's no room for subtlety in Bellisario's world, giving his big feature helming debut all the depth of a trashy novel, pitting a conflicted priest against his desires, allowing the desires to win. It's probably not the best movie night choice for die-hard Catholics, but the awfulness of the endeavor manages to transcend religion, becoming a grand test of patience for all. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - I Start Counting


The ways of the teenage heart take a few disturbing directions in 1969's "I Start Counting." An adaptation of a novel by Audrey Erskine-Lindop, the story concerns a young girl coming into contact with her maturity and sexuality growing fixated on an elusive man during a time of serial murder in the community. It's a tale that covers a lot of psychological ground during its run time, and director David Greene ("Rich Man, Poor Man," "Fatal Vision") seems ready to explore it all with the endeavor. It's a tonal tightrope walk Greene gracefully navigates, offering more adventurous viewers a touch of a whodunit to go with offerings of juvenile obsession. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shiva Baby


Emma Seligman makes an impressive filmmaking debut with “Shiva Baby,” managing to tap into a mounting sense of panic in a way that rivals seasoned helmers. The writer/director doesn’t go big for his first feature, taking viewers into the pressure cooker environment of a funeral gathering, with Jewish families coming together to mourn, but also catch up on gossip and personal achievements, leaving the central character to manage all sorts of judgmental attitudes while dealing with a potentially life-changing reveal of her secretive employment. Offered a house filled with itchy personalities, and Seligman transforms “Shiva Baby” (an adaptation of her 2018 short) into a remarkable suspense picture that’s loaded with amazing performances and turns of plot, keeping the endeavor riveting and also darkly comedic. Seligman does a lot with very little here, showcasing a gift for subtle behaviors and broad confrontations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Assault on VA-33


The “Die Hard” formula still has life in it, but it requires the leadership of filmmakers willing to put in the effort to create a suspenseful ride of askew heroism, keeping the story moving, allowing for plenty of action to command attention. “Assault on VA-33” is the latest subgenre offering, and it underwhelms in a major way, taking the showdown to a Buffalo, New York veterans affairs medical center, which is an unusual location for this type of VOD mayhem. Director Christopher Ray and screenwriter Scott Thomas Reynolds (who last collaborated on “2nd Chance for Christmas,” which starred Vivica A. Fox, Jonathan Lipnicki, Tara Reid and Mark McGrath – more of a warning than a cast list) don’t push hard enough to generate a thrill ride with the feature, showing more interest in dreary plot specifics and drab supporting characters as the movie gradually slows to a full stop. The “Die Hard”-ness of the material is missing, replaced with a steady stream of tedious conversations and a half-baked plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - French Exit


It takes a special viewer curiosity to find the mood of “French Exit,” which is intended to be a dark comedy about powerful feelings. Actually, it’s more of an endurance test, but an intermittently flavorful one from director Azazel Jacobs (“The Lovers,” “Terri”), who’s constructing something mannered to best support the material’s sense of humor and mystery. Jacobs creates a pretty picture, enjoying the sights and sounds of European living, but his effort to decode Patrick deWitt’s screenplay (an adaptation of his own 2018 book) isn’t entirely successful, finding the feature cold to the touch. “French Exit” definitely has moments of psychological clarity to keep it passably compelling, but every time the endeavor starts to dabble in eccentricity, it stumbles, laboring to find its footing again. Read the rest at

Film Review - Godzilla vs. Kong


It’s taken a little time to reach this point. The MonsterVerse began with a great deal of hope in 2014’s “Godzilla,” which found a sizable audience hungry for a big-budget take on the famous kaiju. Attempts to turn the hit picture into something grander and interconnected continued in 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island” and 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” with the producers gradually working their way to a big screen showdown between cinema’s most famous towering beasts of destruction. And now there’s “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which is meant to be a payoff for such blockbuster patience, finally delivering on a massive showdown, giving the monsters time to rumble after years spent establishing backstory and motivation. And director Adam Wingard delivers a major event with “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which isn’t just the best chapter of the MonsterVerse, it also delivers on expectations, with plenty of smashmouth sequences featuring the titular opponents, while the human element manages to remain appealing and sparingly used, leaving enough room for a main event meant to fuel playground debates for years to come. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Twins


"Twins" is a 1988 endeavor from director Ivan Reitman, and it's the king of high concept comedies. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito play twin brothers. Boom, done. One doesn't need much more than that to sell the picture to the masses, but the screenplay (credited to four writers) is certainly in the mood to provide a full buffet of tones and gags to help support the display of sheer star power. What initially appears to be a gentle offering of brotherly love somehow turns into semi-violent study of crime, blended with something of a love story and frosted with parental concern. "Twins" is all over the place, but it remains a charming offering from Reitman, who understands that all he really needs is time with Schwarzenegger and DeVito, with their natural screen presence and different thespian skills making a little magic for the helmer. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - I Spit on Your Grave


"I Spit on Your Grave" has spent the last 40 years growing into a divisive film for genre admirers and critics, sustaining a remarkable hold on film history. It's an offering of ultraviolence from writer/director Meir Zarchi, who details the undoing and rebirth of a woman brought to the edge of sanity by vicious (and ridiculously cartoonish) Connecticut goons who spend a day sexually assaulting her. It's rough content with rougher technical achievements, finding Zarchi limited by a tiny budget and his own lack of helming finesse. "I Spit on Your Grave" isn't pleasant, but that appears to be the idea, at least for a small stretch of the endeavor. The rest delights in the possibilities of drive-in entertainment, stroking revenge cinema highlights to best revive a traumatized audience. Your mileage may vary with this title, but the cult longevity of Zarchi's Z-movie is impressive. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Marona's Fantastic Tales


There was a persistent run of dogsploitation movies in American theaters for a few years a short time ago, with Hollywood trying to deliver sappy stories of canine misery and redemption for audiences hungry to cry over cute pooch antics. Mercifully, "Marona's Fantastic Tales" doesn't join the trend, with director Anca Damian attempting to avoid maudlin impulses, presenting an animation examination of a dog's POV as it experiences life with multiple owners. There's sadness here, of course, but Damian is more interested is capturing the world as a canine sees it, using screen artistry to develop a wonderland of exploration for viewers to study. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk


Unlike many documentaries about filmmakers, "Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk" offers extraordinarily little biographical information about the subject. Director Kuba Mikurda has limited interest in the life and times of the Polish director (who passed away in 2006), preferring to provide more of a grasp on his artistic interests, featuring interviews with collaborators and admirers. "Love Express" remains elusive, but that's the idea, with Mikurda turning his movie into a Borowczyk production in many ways, delivering an idiosyncratic look at an avant-garde mind, supplying a general understanding of the man's professional demands and his textured appreciation of screen eroticism, especially when offered an opportunity to take his vision wherever it needed to go. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Valley Girl (2020)


When is a remake not exactly a remake? I give you "Valley Girl," which is a reworking of the 1983 cult hit. What was once a gentle but textured look at a developing romance between opposites in L.A. (a riff on "Romeo and Juliet") has now been turned into a jukebox musical that's all about soundtrack hits, candied cinematography, and broad performances. To bring "Valley Girl" back to the screen, the producers have made several changes to the tone and approach of the original film, aiming to reach a much younger audience with a simplified tale of love as it works through cultural and social challenges, and is frequently expressed through song. Director Rachel Lee Goldenberg (a veteran of schlock-meisters The Asylum) isn't trying to find dramatic grit with her vision, she's striving to generate a party atmosphere for sleepover audiences, delivering a pleasingly fluffy, high-energy offering of teen exuberance. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bad Trip


Mockumentaries, or prank films, aren’t a new addition to the cinematic landscape. However, after the success of “Borat” and “Bad Grandpa,” a different form of mischief has been popularized, with productions trying to offer some level of storytelling to go with all the shenanigans. Last year, “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” endeavored to share a hybrid viewing experience, and now there’s “Bad Trip,” which brings basic cable troublemaker Eric Andre to screens, offering his wildly divisive sense of humor to the masses. Helping the cause is “Bad Grandpa” co-creator Jeff Tremaine, who joins the effort as a producer, using his expertise to help Andre and director Kitao Sakurai manage a feature-length demonstration of the comedian’s appeal, sending him into the wild with co-star Lil Rey Howery to test the patience of the American public with a series of strange and shocking antics that supplement a threadbare road trip picture. Read the rest at