Film Review - What Men Want


“What Men Want” is a remake of a 2000 Nancy Meyers comedy, which tried to make something silly and mushy out of Mel Gibson, back when that was still a possibility. It was a PG-13 production, as vanilla as it gets, with Meyers overseeing a mild battle of the sexes premise that shifted from frivolity to a deadly serious conclusion that touched on suicide. It was typical of Meyers’s uneven work, and the screenplay was certainly ripe for a do-over. Enter Adam Shankman, a crude helmer of terrible movies (“The Pacifier,” “Rock of Ages”), who has the bright idea to play “What Men Want” as broadly as possible, stuck between his desire to craft a hard R-rated version of the tale and the perceived demands of the mainstream audience, with sincerity trying to worm its way into a film that has no use for it. Shankman doesn’t know what he’s doing with the feature, so he does nothing, coasting on painfully inept jokes and sporadic ugliness to complete the job. Read the rest at

Film Review - Everybody Knows


Writer/director Asghar Farhadi is primarily known for his Iranian dramas, scoring major critical successes with efforts such as “The Salesman,” “A Separation,” and “About Elly.” Ready for more global awareness, the helmer takes baby steps toward the mainstream with “Everybody Knows,” which utilizes a sampling of star power to nab attention, finding Farhadi teaming with actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem to help carry a kidnapping mystery. However, “Everybody Knows” is not a nail-biter with chases and whiplash turns of fate. It remains in line with Farhadi’s previous work, with primary attention placed on the internal churn of decision-making and the troubles that come with longtime relationships and secretive connections. Those expecting something more explosive from the filmmaker this time out might be disappointed, but slow-burn tension is there, realized through accomplished performances from the entire ensemble. Read the rest at

Film Review - Untogether


Making her debut as a writer/director is Emma Forrest, who chooses an L.A. tale of mismanaged love in “Untogether,” making use of a large ensemble to create tight spaces of relationship woes. As career launches go, Forrest doesn’t select the most original route for her storytelling journey, dealing with broken people making terrible decisions, but there’s an effort found in select scenes to resist cliché, to find the real impulses behind sexual unions that are clearly masking other needs. “Untogether” drops sharpness and nerve as it goes along, eventually ending up a puddle of feelings and ideas in search of a more prepared filmmaker, as Forrest loses her way early and never gets back to the core display of confusion she begins with. Read the rest at

Film Review - St. Agatha


Director Darren Lynn Bousman was introduced to the world as a horror moviemaker, proving his speed with low-budget hits in “Saw II,” “Saw III,” and “Saw IV,” playing his part in the continuation of a series that wasn’t big on variation to begin with. Bousman remained with fright films, some imbued with musical numbers, determined to make his mark on the genre, despite ample evidence that perhaps the conjuring of screen violence just isn’t his forte. After dragging along with tedious work in “Abattoir” and “The Barrens,” Bousman keeps his dream alive with “St. Agatha,” which turns to evil nuns to bring on the nightmare fuel. Of course, other helmers have beaten him to the punch when it comes to the secretive ways of religious servants, and “St. Agatha,” which strives to be stylish, has nothing interesting to share on the state of Catholic imprisonment, with Bousman returning to his old bag of tricks to emphasize an agonizing situation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Under the Eiffel Tower


Matt Walsh is a comedic actor who’s been pushing his way into bigger and better roles over the last decade. He’s been in a lot of things, often portraying uptight characters, playing into his naturally submissive presence, and he’s managed to amass an impressively detailed filmography. With “Under the Eiffel Tower,” Walsh graduates to leading man status, taking command of a “Sideways”-style tale of a man’s mental breakdown while visiting what many would consider paradise. Co-writer/director Archie Borders puts a lot of faith in Walsh, whose job here is to create a dimensional character with peaks and valleys of fallibility but still remain approachable, even understandable. Walsh does fine in the part, but “Under the Eiffel Tower” has a problem with likeability, which becomes an issue with a movie that’s hoping to make a warm impression on viewers. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Amityville Murders


Does the Amityville name mean anything to horror fans these days? It’s been 45 years since the original family murder spree committed by Ronald DeFeo Jr., and 40 years since the ghastly incident was turned into “The Amityville Horror,” a dim production that turned into one of the highest-grossing features of 1979. People were once insatiable when it came to all things Amityville, but the hunger for new versions of old violence diminished long ago, especially after a sustained wave of sequels, remakes, and spin-offs, with 20 movies in all trying to squeeze the true-crime teat dry. Faced with impossible odds for success, writer/director Daniel Farrands tries his luck with DeFeo misery, offering “The Amityville Murders,” a prequel of sorts to “The Amityville Horror,” going back to the scene of the crime to understand the motivation behind the killings that shocked a nation and punished entire generations of genre fans. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Blood Harvest


A fright film doesn't need much more than the simple image of Tiny Tim in clown make-up staring into the camera, but director Bill Rebane ("The Giant Spider Invasion") thinks he can do better in 1987's "Blood Harvest," which has the distinction of being an offering of regional horror from Wisconsin, combining slasher entanglements with farmland events. Representing Tiny Tim's lone starring vehicle, "Blood Harvest" has the challenge of finding things stranger than the actor, who portrays a broken man obsessed with the circus, giving the "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" singer a chance to display more than just his famous falsetto (although that appears as well). Rebane has the vision for a proper genre offering, even giving the material an appealingly remote location, but his execution fails to congeal, often so consumed with exploitation interests, he forgets to make the movie scary, or at least menacing enough to give viewers a reasonable jolt. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - Trilogy of Terror


After scoring ratings gold with 1972's "The Night Stalker" and 1973's "The Night Strangler," director Dan Curtis decided to return to television with a new vision for horror entertainment on ABC, going the anthology route with 1975's "Trilogy of Terror." Trading the detective world of Kolchak for an extended freak-out with star Karen Black, Curtis reunites with writer Richard Matheson for tales of disturbing sexuality, mental fractures, and the menace of an African doll, coming up with a surprisingly bland stew of panicky encounters that aren't particularly vivid, only surging with violent energy in small amounts. "Trilogy of Terror" is largely remembered by fans for its final chapter, and for good reason, as the other two are basically filler for a production that's attempting to bring perversion and shock to network TV, not quite understanding how difficult it is to support nightmare fuel when dealing with commercial breaks and material that's decidedly more tell than show. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Slave of the Cannibal God


The killer cannibal subgenre receives another workout with 1978's "Slave of the Cannibal God," but director Sergio Martino has a tad more to share with the audience than a routine of ugliness and suffering. There's decent acting for a change in the picture, with Stacy Keach leading co-stars Ursula Andress and Claudio Cassinelli into the thick of Sri Lanka locations to sell the stuffing out of a jungle adventure that periodically stops to watch horrible things happen to animals and humans. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Giallo in Venice


In perhaps one of the weirdest movie openings I've ever encountered, 1979's "Giallo in Venice" commences with a brutal murder (a man getting stabbed in the stomach repeatedly with scissors), a reveal of two dead bodies, and the use of big band music to score the immediate nightmare. It's the first sign that director Mario Landi isn't exactly paying close attention to the mood of severe scenes, but there's a certain loopy charm in the feature's absurdity, at least until it reaches unimaginable acts of violence that not only sober the picture up, but puts it down a point of no return. "Giallo in Venice" is a lot of things, but tonally balanced is not one of them. Read the rest at

Film Review - Miss Bala


It’s been difficult to take director Catherine Hardwicke seriously, as she’s built a filmography made up of misfires and mediocrity (“Twilight,” “Red Riding Hood,” “Miss You Already”), always finding her way into overkill, even with delicate material. Her aggressive style seems like a fine fit for “Miss Bala,” which is a remake of a 2011 Mexican thriller, giving the helmer a template for panic and scenes of intimidation, as the story covers kidnappings, across-the-border drug running, and acts of revenge. And yet, Hardwicke manages to turn it all into a mushy pile of cliches and noise, treating “Miss Bala” as her ticket into the Michael Bay School of Fetishistic Violence. Star Gina Rodriguez seems bewildered by it all, trying to keep up with Hardwicke’s excesses and limited interest in dramatic support, in need of a moviemaker with more patience and taste to successfully execute the unfolding nightmare presented here. Read the rest at 

Film Review - How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World


The “How to Train Your Dragon” series has become big business for Dreamworks Animation, who’ve gone beyond movies to deliver video games, books, and multiple television shows that detail the epic fantasy world where humans and dragons are learning to live with each other, often heroically. That’s all well and good, but the real magic of the franchise is found on the big screen (the biggest, of you can find it), with “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” the most awe-inspiring and thrilling of a trilogy that began in 2010. Closing out the saga of Hiccup and his pal Toothless, writer/director Dean DeBlois gets a little sentimental with the second sequel, but his aim is to end things as excitingly as possible, delivering a healthy amount of action and discovery, along with plenty of Viking tomfoolery. While lacking the sweep of the last chapter, “The Hidden World” makes up for the loss in other ways, with DeBlois crafting a divinely animated, supremely felt effort. Read the rest at 

Film Review - Velvet Buzzsaw


“Velvet Buzzsaw” has an initial stance of satire. Writer/director Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler,” “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”) picks a rather easy target for mockery, the modern art scene, and showcases the lives of pretentious people trying to make their mark on a cutthroat world and collect a fortune in the process, wielding weapons of judgment and pettiness. Gilroy definitely has his moments of exaggeration, but he’s using the setting and the participants to create a horror film, delving into the genre with welcome strangeness and specificity. “Velvet Buzzsaw” doesn’t have many left turns, just a gradual tonal shift from art world commentary to blood-spurting terror, and Gilroy gets what he needs from the picture, though some viewers might come away disappointed that he doesn’t remain with the artists and their battle to survive social and professional tests of empathy. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part


2014’s “The Lego Movie” enjoyed the element of surprise. Little was expected of the project, which was initially believed to be a lengthy commercial for Lego merchandise. However, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller didn’t simply want their film to be a highlight reel of available products, but a sharp animated comedy that used the brick-flinging spirit of Lego to develop a world of heroes and villains, ending up with a tale of bonding between a distracted father and his son. It was a wonderfully strange feature with incredible comedic speed and lust for satiric jabs at superhero formula and character. Instead of jumping right back into the flow of things for a sequel, other projects were developed, including “The Lego Batman Movie” and “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” with both pictures failing to offer the same creative mayhem and emotional hook. Finally, there’s now a follow-up, but “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” can’t always shake a feeling of staleness, finding the screenplay trying a bit too hard to be strange when it should be focusing the same level of humor that made the original effort such a treat. Read the rest at

Film Review - Granddaddy Day Care


In 2003, there was “Daddy Day Care,” which was part of the softening of Eddie Murphy for family audiences, with the comedian hoping for a career rejuvenation by playing to children (and their fatigued parents) with slapstick antics. A sequel (“Daddy Day Camp”) popped up in 2007, with Cuba Gooding Jr. taking over the lead role from Murphy, submitting himself for kid judgment, with the picture failing to make much money despite having brand recognition. Now striking while the iron is ice cold, hungry producers have returned to the franchise with “Granddaddy Day Camp,” which tries to mount a spin-off for an older crowd, but still retaining the same juvenile sense of humor. Perhaps seniors might get a kick out of seeing their daily misery played out on screen, and there are certainly talented actors involved, but “Granddaddy Day Care” wasn’t a good idea to begin with, attaching itself to series that nobody really liked in the first place, arriving with only a few ideas for jokes and one tone-deaf lunge for pathos. Read the rest at

Film Review - Then Came You


Teen melodramas are big business these days, with Netflix finding ratings gold with tales of sad but snappy kids in problematic relationships, trying make sense of the world they’re inheriting. “Then Came You” joins the pack, presenting two characters handed the challenge of cancer survival to help complicate their still-forming lives, trying to capture the essence of youth while dealing with the crushing realities of mortality. Writer Fergal Rock isn’t breaking fresh ground with “Then Came You,” but he’s not trying to avoid formula either, presenting a clichéd take on friendship, longing, and loss, trusting the warmth and quirk of the endeavor will be enough to capture interest in the characters. He needs more than familiarity to get by, as the movie never rises above mediocrity, unwilling to put in the effort to make something special out of working parts already on view in dozens of other films. Read the rest at

Film Review - Benchwarmers 2: Breaking Balls


A film critic typically receives only one viewing to formulate a review. It’s a time when assessment is made with care and experience (hopefully), though sometimes a simple in-the-moment reaction is recorded, with certain pictures triggering a gut reaction, going against a reasonable response. 2006’s “The Benchwarmers” wasn’t a particularly well-made movie, and its cast was largely filled with unpleasant actors who really have no business in the world of comedy. But as a mild diversion with plenty of baseball action, its stupidity wasn’t as soul-crushing as expected, managing to be dumb fun with a long list of bad ideas. 13 years later, there’s a sequel, but “Benchwarmers 2: Breaking Balls” only invites one cast member to return to duty, giving the rest of this DTV production over to a new set of thespians who shouldn’t be near funny business in a continuation that’s late to the party, with little to add to what’s now the “Benchwarmers” Cinematic Universe. Whatever embarrassing pushover tingles I felt in 2006 are long gone in 2019. Read the rest at

Film Review - Piercing


A few ago, writer/director Nicolas Pesce made his filmmaking debut with “The Eyes of My Mother,” which display the helmer’s command of style and mood, along with his fascination with prolonged violent encounters. Instead of trying something different for his follow-up, Pesce returns to the land of grime and bloody with “Piercing,” attempting to adapt a 2008 novel by Ryu Murakami. Once again, Pesce doesn’t take it easy on his audience, delivering a picture that savors suffering and observes madness as its leaks out of the characters, often at the worst possible moments. “Piercing” boasts fine technical credits, but the feature’s quest for atmosphere is often more interesting than the actual story unfolding in slow-motion, finding Pesce too wrapped up in the particulars of Murakami’s world, keeping the viewing experience more about shiny surfaces and gaping wounds than macabre drama. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Night Strangler


There wasn't a person around who expected the January, 1972 airing of "The Night Stalker" on ABC to produce record ratings, but when the movie collected a massive audience to watch a newspaper reporter take on the creatures of the night, the money men wanted another instalment. A quickie production, airing a year later, "The Night Strangler" returns to the world of Carl Kolchak and his uncanny ability to be present when supernatural evil rises up to claim lives. For the first installment of the series, a vampire was up to no good, but for "The Night Strangler," the perpetrator is something a bit more complicated, with writer Richard Matheson making some attempt to shake up expectations for the second go-around. Originality isn't big with the sequel, but it retains McGavin and his ability to huff and mug his way through the dullest of scenes, giving his second time with Kolchak needed agitation for a production that's stuck in full rehash mode. Read the rest at 

Blu-ray Review - The Night Stalker


There was once a time when a television movie could bring the nation together. In 1972, the event was "The Night Stalker," a low-budget production meant to act as entertaining filler for ABC's weekly schedule in January, only to pique the curiosity of almost the entire viewing audience. It was a hit, a massive success for the network and producer Dan Curtis (who created "Dark Shadows"), who found an immediate response to something as potentially frivolous as a detective tale featuring the hunt for a vampire. While certainly a case could be made that sheer oddity made people stay home the evening "The Night Stalker" aired, there's something a little more than just shock value here, with director John Llewellyn Moxey finding a proper investigative tone to keep the short (75 minutes) feature on the move, while screenwriter Richard Matheson (adapting an unpublished book by Jeffrey Grant Rice) fills the effort with idiosyncrasy and discovery, rewarding viewer attention with a propulsive genre offering that knows what it wants to accomplish, ditching complexity for a solid offering of chills and Las Vegas exploration. Read the rest at