Film Review - The Expendables 4


“The Expendables” franchise has always catered to a specific taste in action cinema, offering fans of the genre a chance to see some big names return to screen glory, having fun with over-the-top violence and male posturing. 2010’s “The Expendables” and 2012’s “The Expendables 2” understood the assignment, with Sylvester Stallone leading the charge with R-rated, testosterone-laden ridiculousness, putting on a big show for loyal viewers. 2014’s “The Expendables 3” was a more divisive chapter for some (muting the roughness to a PG-13 rating didn’t help the cause), but it remained invested in the mood of the saga and its dedication to stunt casting. Box office returns took a hit with the last installment, but the brand name is back for “The Expendables 4” (or “Expend4bles,” but we can all pretend that’s not the official title), which looks to restart the series with a mix of young and old faces, definitely out to create new action heroes instead of finding classic ones (sorry, Jeff Speakman), while the screenplay remains weirdly flat, unable to cook up exciting sequences for the crew as they slowly assemble to take on a generic enemy in a sequel that’s nowhere near as entertaining as previous adventures. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shaky Shivers


A longtime actor, Sung Kang is best known as one of the stars of the “Fast & Furious” franchise. He portrays Han, a member of the “family” who has managed to evade death and significant weight gain from an enormous calorie intake. Fans love Han, but Kang is trying to figure out other avenues to his career, turning to direction for his debut, “Shaky Shivers.” The picture is out to charm with its broad displays of dark comedy, looking to merge wackiness with a few frights, but providing chills isn’t a priority to the production. Kung has a tiny budget to bring “Shaky Shivers” to life, and the effort is aided by his leads, Brooke Markham and VyVy Nguyen, who deliver big charm and appealing enthusiasm for the material, which definitely needs their spirit as the screenplay by Andrew McAllister and Aaron Strongoni takes a few extended breathers between on-screen incidents. Read the rest at

Film Review - Relax, I’m from the Future


Time travel is a topic covered by many movies, and “Relax, I’m from the Future” is no different, once again exploring the strangeness of a mystery man who emerges from another time, desperate to deal with issues in the present to secure a brighter tomorrow, or for him, yesterday. The premise began life as a short film, and writer/director Luke Higginson attempts to turn it into a feature, and one with the particularly strong opening that merges comedy and itchy energy, slowly developing the bewildering situation for a cast of characters. “Relax, I’m from the Future” doesn’t sustain initial oddity, offering exposition instead of following surprises, which adds unnecessary weight to the picture. Still, there’s star Rhys Darby, who brings his natural charm to the endeavor, providing a bright, amusing performance in an effort that’s much better with the actor on the move. Read the rest at

Film Review - Condition of Return


“Condition of Return” features elements of church, God and the Devil, and the deep guilt of Catholic sin. One might think they’re sitting down with a faith-based film, but the screenplay by John E. Spare doesn’t head in a more spiritual direction. Instead of being illuminated by heavenly light, “Condition of Return” is more of a Tyler Perry-style offering of campy melodrama, with Spare setting up a punishment routine for the main character while director Tommy Stovall cranks up the ridiculousness of it all, triggering many unintended (I think) laughs during the viewing experience. The movie begins with a severe act of violence, but the rest of the picture gets wild in a hurry, taking viewers on a ride of punishment and insanity. It should be fun, but it isn’t, and those coming to the endeavor expecting a kumbaya experience should prepare to sit through something far wackier than expected. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dark Asset


There is a moment in “Dark Asset” where a character sitting in front of a screen openly wonders, “What is this?” There were many moments while watching the film where I wondered the very same thing. Writer/director Michael Winnick looks to confuse his audience with this endeavor, which plays with time and allegiance in the hope to come off as sophisticated spy game entertainment. “Dark Asset” doesn’t reach many highs concerning matters of smarts and survival, with the entire feature heading in the wrong direction when it comes time to deliver a shot of thriller cinema. The material is strangely talky for a picture about conflict, and action beats are lukewarm, with the helmer barely putting up a fight against his own movie’s inertia. With a plot that involves brain chips, assassinations, and double crosses, there should really be more of a pulse to this thing than what Winnick manages to deliver. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Retirement Plan


Writer/director Tim Brown has a film in mind with “The Retirement Plan,” only his execution is too knotted to sustain a fun factor. It’s a B-movie from the helmer, who’s mostly dealing with villainous and violent happenings, tasking star Nicolas Cage to carry the endeavor with his typical enthusiasm for eccentric acting opportunities. He plays a former government assassin coming into contact with his past in “The Retirement Plan,” and Brown is trying to bring out the lighter side of this dark comedy, keeping Cage twitchy and the players on the move as the hunt for a special hard drive tries to intensify in the middle of paradise. Brown has a lot to do with this material, and he only gets halfway there, with the picture far better with set-ups than payoffs, resulting an increasingly crowded offering of half-speed action cinema. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Endangered Species


Robert Urich was primarily known as a television personality, with Hollywood working very hard to make him a household name, keeping him employed as much as possible during the 1970s and '80s. There were hit shows such as "Vega$" and "Spenser: For Hire," with Urich showcasing a rugged screen presence that helped to define masculine characters for the small screen during this era of T.V. entertainment. The actor attempted to jump to the big screen along the way, with 1982's "Endangered Species" one of his earliest leading roles, bringing his leathery ways to a film co- written and directed by Alan Rudolph, a helmer known for more nuanced offerings of character and tone. The pair go to work with something of a character actor convention in the picture, which strives to set an eerie tone concerning cattle death, shadowy military plans, and small-town tensions. "Endangered Species" is a paranoid thriller from the 1970s trying to find an audience in the 1980s, with Rudolph attempting to make as strange a movie as possible while still dealing with storytelling formula. It works for most of the run time, with the production generally capable when it comes to providing an unusual viewing experience that's also quite cliched, making heads spin while eyes roll. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Attack of the Demons


2019's "Attack of the Demons" is an animated production, with director Eric Power using cardstock art to create a loving ode to monster movies. The picture resembles "South Park," but it carries a much different energy, with Power endeavoring to transfer the concerns and attitudes of twentysomethings to genre entertainment, joined by screenwriter Andreas Petersen. "Attack of the Demons" looks great, with a wonderful homegrown vibe to the effort, which keeps Power busy cooking up terrific visuals for the feature. As a monster-killing genre exercise, there's not much momentum to the film, which isn't the most pulse-pounding or humorous offering of horror. Still, there's fun to be had with all of the art and carnage, as Power and Petersen clearly have great affection for the premise, working to build up some insanity while retaining a drier sense of humor and heart. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Gina (1975)


1975's "Gina" offers marketing that suggests the feature is a hard-edged crime story featuring brutal acts of violence and cool-blooded characters. There's more to the picture than grindhouse interests, with respected director Denys Arcand ("Jesus of Montreal," "The Decline of the American Empire") trying to mix together various moods with the work, tempting viewers with rough business while actually delivering a fascinating study of corporate exploitation and working-class misery, also taking a long look at the strange ways of rural Canada. "Gina" isn't forceful, but it's a wild sit, with Arcand taking the material in all sorts of directions, occasionally finding his way back to criminal dealings. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Tale of Tsar Saltan


Co-writer/director Aleksandr Ptushko continues his exploration of fairy tales with 1966's "The Tale of Tsar Saltan," which is an adaptation of a poem by Alexander Pushkin. Once again, the helmer puts on a wholly impressive show of filmmaking force, creating a fantasy realm that deals with the demands of love, family, and heroism, with the Russian epic taking time to build a wild vision of unreality as the details of such cinematic embellishment are carefully handled by Ptushko and his marvelous adoration for moviemaking imagination. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dumb Money


“Dumb Money” dips back into recent history, examining the story of the GameStop Meme Stock scandal of 2021, where Reddit users and their indefatigable love of insanity worked to make a mess of an already corrupt Wall Street system. Director Craig Gillespie, joined by screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, strive to replicate the atmosphere found in Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” and David Fincher’s “The Social Network” (the film adapts Ben Mezrich’s book, “The Antisocial Network,” and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are listed as executive producers), looking to gift viewers some understanding of financial world scheming while replicating waves of hysteria found in the original event. There’s entertainment value in “Dumb Money,” but Gillespie is occasionally stuck between trying to be funny with the subject matter and hoping to reinforce a sobering level of fraud involving a community of characters. Such indecision doesn’t always make for an inspired take on the central crisis. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Million Miles Away


“A Million Miles Away” tells the story of Jose M. Hernandez, who worked his way through systems of migrant farmwork and government employment to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut for NASA. It’s the kind of story Hollywood loves, using elements of underdog cinema and “based on a true story” screenwriting to provide a heartwarming understanding of personal drive and the power of family. Against all odds, the feature works, wonderfully at times, with the Disneyfication of the material handled well by the screenplay, and director Alejandra Marquez Abella offers a graceful understanding of time, setting, and especially actors, with star Michael Pena delivering the finest performance of his career in this lovely picture. “A Million Miles Away” makes familiar moves when it comes to depicting the roadblocks to success, but Abella crafts an engrossing study of achievement and support, helping to avoid the roughness of cliché. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Haunting in Venice


After the lukewarm box office reception for 2022’s “Death on the Nile” (which struggled with a mid-COVID-19 moviegoing reluctance), it seemed as though Kenneth Branagh’s reign as Hercule Poirot was over. However, reports of the master detective’s death were premature, with the director/star permitted another shot at the part with “A Haunting in Venice,” which is an adaptation of “Hallowe’en Party,” an Agatha Christie novel from 1969. Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green have their way with the source material, but they conjure a compelling genre adventure for Poirot, with the endeavor trading the opulence of “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile” for something scrappier and within the realm of scary. Instead of a straight detective story, there’s more spookiness to sort through with this murder mystery, giving the production a chance to play with unreality and haunted house tours, making for a livelier sit, while Branagh’s central take on Poirot’s brilliance and arrogance remains the highlight of the series. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Inventor


Writer Jim Capobianco has been involved in animation for nearly three decades, creating an impressive resume in the process. He’s been involved in story development for Walt Disney Animation and Pixar, contributing to “The Lion King,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and “Ratatouille,” also bringing imagery to life for “Mary Poppins Returns.” He’s been a part of giant hits and colorful creations, but his first love appears to be the world of Leonardo da Vinci. There was a short film, “Leonardo,” in 2009, and now there’s “The Inventor,” with Capobianco (joined by co-director Pierre-Luc Granjon) offering a feature-length study of Da Vinci’s experience with brainstorms and visions, struggling to realize his ideas in the shadow of religious and royal oppression. Making use of traditional and stop-motion animation, “The Inventor” is a gorgeous movie, with strong displays of artistry running throughout the endeavor. It’s also an interesting introduction to da Vinci’s life for younger viewers, with Capobianco keeping things playful and stirring while exploring elements of the man’s twilight years. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rebel


A directing duo, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah were once Belgium-born filmmakers making small movies for local audiences. They were eventually brought to Hollywood, tasked with doing something with “Bad Boys for Life” after the troubled production had difficulty getting off the ground. The pair created a hit, and the industry asked for more, with El Arbi and Fallah soon put in charge of the superhero picture, “Batgirl,” which was eventually shelved due to reasons that will probably never be crystal clear. The helmers are back in business with another “Bad Boys” sequel for 2024, but before they return to big-budget extravaganzas, they revive their indie spirit with “Rebel.” Taking on the psychological and physical destruction of Syrian warfare, El Arbi and Fallah (who also co-script with Kevin Meul and Jan van Dyck) make a deeply personal feature that explores the horrors of Islamic State and the influence of radicalization in Europe, mixing raw emotions with unexpected blasts of artful expression that keeps viewers invested in material that would otherwise be extraordinarily difficult to watch. Read the rest at

Film Review - Love at First Sight


“Love at First Sight” is an adaptation of a 2011 book by Jennifer E. Smith, which carried a slightly more unwieldly title: “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.” As to be expected from either title, the story is meant to be a warm one, dealing with all the strange timing and turns of the day facing two young people connecting over a 24-hour period. Screenwriter Katie Lovejoy (“To All the Boys: Always and Forever”) and director Vanessa Caswill (making her feature-length debut) have the challenge of taking a potential gimmick and turning it into something human. They succeed against all odds, working to keep “Love at First Sight” interesting with layered characterizations and muted formula, allowing for real romantic ways to develop between two characters going through quite a lot in their lives. It’s gentle work, with charm and a slight dusting of movie magic, surprising with its restraint and commitment to a deeper study of emotional ache. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inspector Sun and the Curse of the Black Widow


Mystery is back this autumn, which welcomes the return of Hercule Poirot in “A Haunting in Venice,” giving adults an option when it comes to their filmgoing choices. For the kids, there’s “Inspector Sun and the Curse of the Black Widow,” which is also a whodunit, albeit one with more cartoon interests to help please a specific demographic. Screenwriter Rocco Pucillo takes inspiration from the “Pink Panther” movies for the work, creating Inspector Sun, a bold but slightly clumsy detective who always seems to find himself in the middle of trouble wherever he goes. The feature is “A Bug’s Life” with a body count, and director Julio Soto Gurpide keeps things relatively breezy during the short run time, cooking up pursuit sequences and sleuthing challenges, which bring some snap to the effort before it succumbs to family film formula. Read the rest at

Film Review - Outlaw Johnny Black


One of the great moviegoing surprises of 2009 was the release of “Black Dynamite.” Directed by Scott Sanders, the picture successfully pants the blaxploitation subgenre, doing so with a great imagination for satire and silliness. There were big laughs in “Black Dynamite,” along with an impressively committed lead performance from co-writer Michael Jai White, who did his best to bring a “Shaft”-y screen hero to life, wisely staying steely while delightful nonsense was set up around him. The feature also had the advantage of being 86 minutes long. White (without Sanders) doesn’t go for a straight sequel with “Outlaw Johnny Black,” but he looks to work with a similar level of wackiness for this parody of spaghetti westerns, unafraid to play in the same sandbox as Mel Brooks’s “Blazing Saddles.” Those expecting a return to the inspired goofballery of before are likely to be greatly disappointed in “Outlaw Johnny Black,” which isn’t as well-written or energized as “Black Dynamite,” caught up in a strange desire to be earnest instead of farcical. It also has the disadvantage of being 136 minutes long, which is an insane run time for a project like this, making the whole film feel leaden, despite the cast working hard to sell mediocre foolishness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Satanic Hispanics


Horror anthology entertainment offers a more Latin perspective with “Satanic Hispanics,” which collects five tales of survival and terror from an assortment of filmmakers. It’s the “Creepshow” routine, only here there’s more of an interest in comedy and cultural representation, with the helmers aiming to add their own spin on grim stories of doom. “Satanic Hispanics” isn’t big on brevity, but there’s some interesting idiosyncrasy to enjoy here, especially when the moviemakers focus on the essentials of tension, creating strange conflicts that score some laughs and jolts during the viewing experience. The picture doesn’t overwhelm with creativity, but there’s enough here to satisfy, especially for Halloween viewing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - At the Video Store


2019's "At the Video Store" is a valentine to the way things were in the home video business, with director James Westby taking a nostalgic look at the experience of being inside a building dedicated to movie rentals, exploring walls covered with posters, aisles filled with different selections, and meeting patrons and employees who share a love of cinema, with this intensity varying greatly. It's a snapshot of an era when homegrown businesses could thrive, creating a deep connection between the owner and the customer, establishing a relationship that could carry on for years, possibly even generations. For those in a mood to simply bathe in the warm waters of memory, "At the Video Store" does the trick, with Westby providing a sense of time and place with the documentary, offering thoughts from a decent variety of people involved in the industry or simply in awe of it. Structure and depth is more elusive with the endeavor, as the helmer goes for more of a scattergun approach when it comes to telling this tale, with the film lacking depth and patience as it speeds from one moment to the next. Read the rest at