Film Review - Knives and Skin


While David Lynch recently organized a return trip to “Twin Peaks,” writer/director Jennifer Reeder wants to keep the celebration going with “Knives and Skin.” While not directly an ode to Lynch’s exploration of the damned, Reeder certainly pays tribute to the helmer’s ways with garmonbozia, manufacturing her own take on the twisted residents of a seemingly normal town, where the death of a young girl begins to unravel everything. Reeder likes to keep matters tangled and unreal at times, and her stab at a screen mystery is attempted with dull storytelling skills. She’s better with the weird stuff, but just barely, as “Knives and Skin” quickly loses itself to strained idiosyncrasy, often showing its work when it comes to conjuring screen oddity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Terror Train


Created in the wake of the massive success of 1978's "Halloween," "Terror Train" (released in 1980) tries to replicate slasher-style encounters inside the cramped areas of a moving locomotive. While trains have been used many times for cinematic suspense purposes, "Terror Train" tries to play by then-current trends, pitting young college students against a masked killer who enjoys slicing and dicing its victims, picking them off one at a time. "Terror Train" doesn't win awards for originality, and there's not a lot of tension in the picture as well, with director Roger Spottiswoode ("Turner & Hooch") sweating to make tight spaces seem electric. In fact, the killings are perhaps the least interesting element in the effort, finding performances generally more compelling than the overall fear factor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" premiered in 1993, and it was never meant to be a sure thing. Issued while "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was ascending to beloved status, the third series in the franchise universe also elected to avoid intergalactic travel, containing action and drama to the confines of a space station, which offered little visual variance and warp-speed pacing. Not helping the cause was fan assessment, with many finding the show too limited in scope and dark in tone to delight Trekkers used to boldly going from one corner of the universe to the other. And yet, despite many shortcomings, "Deep Space Nine" managed to find an audience, with producers Michael Piller and Ira Steven Behr eager to challenge predictability and formula with their program, giving their slice of the "Trek" pie unusual intimacy, with hopes to make something different. "What We Left Behind' is Behr's (and co-director David Zappone) attempt to grasp the final product, returning to the cast and crew who helped to put it together, and the fans that remained with the show. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Vice Squad


Director Gary Sherman is hoping to make something incredibly gritty and real with 1982's "Vice Squad." It's a film about the seedy underbelly of Hollywood Boulevard during the early 1980s, where the police struggle to maintain order as pimps and prostitutes take over the streets, offering services to a never-ending stream of disturbed johns. The feature even promises authenticity with an opening card that identifies cooperation with the LAPD, making it clear all the details in the picture are accurate. Sherman's push to make something heavy with "Vice Squad" is commendable and frequently effective, but he's not above constructing a cartoon for mass acceptance, making sure co-star Wings Hauser goes hog wild as the villain of the piece, keeping the effort in a cops-n-crooks mood while it surveys an oppressive parade of sin. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Charlie Says


As 2019 becomes the year of Charles Manson and the revival of interest in all the chaos he created, "Charlie Says" (the second of three movies about the man this year) makes an effort to move away from some of the famous imagery and characterization that usually inhabits tales about the cult leader. The focus here is on the women in his life, with special attention on the ways of Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins. Reteaming after their collaborations on "American Psycho" and "The Notorious Bettie Page," director Mary Harron and screenwriter Guinevere Turner endeavor to humanize those involved in barbaric crimes, striving to understand the brainwashed drive of three women who were caught up in something they didn't completely understand, chasing emotional needs to macabre extremes. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tiger Milk


2003's "Thirteen" was an American production that tried to convey the feral experience of being new to the teenage world of temptation and surging emotions. It made adolescence looks scary. "Tiger Milk" is a German production that basically explores the same obstacle course of juvenile mayhem, but it plays a lot lighter while delving into darker areas of experimentation. It's an adaptation of author Stefanie Muhlhan's novel, with writer/director Ute Wieland trying desperately to find focus and momentum with a sprawling saga of maturation, deportation, and murder. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid


For this third picture, writer/director Philip Kaufman takes a trip into American legend with 1972's "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid," examining the thin line between fact and fiction concerning the exploits of Jesse James and Cole Younger. The feature surveys the winding ways of the James- Younger Gang as they cross the country on a mission to collect a fortune from a small town bank, but Kaufman isn't making a matinee distraction. Instead, he works his way into troubling personalities and tempers, highlighting the power of reputation and the reality of poisoned behaviors, making a bank robbery movie that's more about psychological disease than straightforward horse-riding, guns blazing theatrics. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Play Dead


"Play Dead" is part of the killer dog subgenre, but it isn't a tale of a frenzied beast prowling the streets on the hunt for human prey. It's more of a slasher picture in design, with the central pooch executing complex schemes to terminate targets, with a demonic force helping to motivate the canine into acts of murder. It's all fantastically ridiculous, but director Peter Wittman doesn't push for any sort of reality, creating a campy romp with a four-legged star who's very skilled at making life miserable for the lead character. "Play Dead" has a lot of laughs, most unintentional, but the entertainment value of the feature is high, with Wittman not terribly concerned with throttling foolishness, sticking closely to Lothrop W. Jordan's script as they merge the mystery of Satanism with the craziness of a Rottweiler who's capable of covering up her own murder scenes. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Irishman


While forever interested in the working parts of crime and punishment, Martin Scorsese is perhaps best known for his command of gangster cinema, but hasn’t made a true mafia effort since 1995’s “Casino.” The “Goodfellas” helmer returns to the well with “The Irishman” (titled “I Hear You Paint Houses” on the film), but now he’s an older man, with less interest in the slam-bang steps of an underworld awakening. With Steven Zaillian adapting a 2004 book on the life of hitman Frank Sheeran, Scorsese delivers all sorts of charged encounters and deadly showdowns, but he also preserves the bleakness of the material, which studies the rise of an enforcer, but also the aftermath of a life misspent. “The Irishman” runs an impossibly long 209 minutes, but Scorsese is endeavoring to treat Sheeran’s saga as an epic, and one that goes beneath the gloss of the lifestyle to expose the true price paid for devoted criminal service. Read the rest at

Film Review - Knives Out


Writer/director Rian Johnson took a bit of a beating with his last picture, 2017’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Endeavoring to generate a few surprises to make his space opera sequel stand out, Johnson ended up with a passably engaging but deeply flawed “Star Wars” adventure, and a portion of the fanbase was extremely vocal with their disappointment. He’s back with “Knives Out,” which plays like the clearing of creative pipes, moving away from Reylo and Green Milk to play a game of “Clue” with a cast of eager actors. As with every Johnson endeavor, attempts at wit are pronounced, making cutesiness the co-star of the show here, but he does have a certain hunger to reclaim filmmaking mojo, enjoying the reliability and shock value of the murder mystery genre, baking himself an Agatha Christie cake to share with like-minded folks. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Courier


Olga Kurylenko has participated in a number of action films (“Quantum of Solace,” “Centurion”), but she’s never been offered the opportunity to be the main attraction in bruiser entertainment. Kurylenko’s wish is granted with “The Courier,” which tracks a game of survival for a woman caught in a dangerous international incident. The actress is clearly the best thing in the production, displaying admirable commitment to all sorts of physical entanglements and bloody makeup. The rest of “The Courier” can’t live up to her energy level, with co-writer/director Zackary Adler stumbling with a poorly plotted endeavor that plays into most VOD cliches, including the hiring of a major actor (in this case, Gary Oldman) to stand around, bark a few lines, and collect a fat paycheck. Read the rest at

Film Review - Queen & Slim


Screenwriter Lena Waithe takes on the enormity of racially charged police shootings with “Queen & Slim.” It’s a vital topic for analysis, and Waithe has all the passion in the world to bring to the material, striving to tap into the fear and frustration of being black in America these days. There’s a lot going on in the picture, which does manage to introduce interesting points about influence and power. However, while “Queen & Slim” initially gives off the impression of complexity, it quickly becomes clear that Waithe only wants to paint with primary colors while creating her portrait of social disorder. The movie can’t be dismissed for being so simplistic at times, but it’s difficult to watch the feature become afraid to challenge itself, truly finding a way to address these hostilities and maintain its flow as a film. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Critters Attack!


What a time to be alive. Last November, Shout Factory released "The Critters Collection" on Blu-ray, bringing the original four-part Krite saga from the 1980s and '90s to fans clamoring for an HD franchise festival, stuffing the set with terrific supplements. Last spring saw the release of "Critters: A New Binge," a streaming series consisting of eight short chapters that played like a single film, returning the Krites to screens after being away for 17 years. And now, mere months later, there's "Critters Attack," which also seeks to return the brand name to pop culture awareness, even hiring Dee Wallace to return to the series after appearing in the first movie. It's been a "Critters" bonanza this past year, and while such interest is welcome, "Critters Attack" suffers from a serious lack of energy and creature feature imagination. It's not as cringe-worthy as "A New Binge," which was always chasing terrible jokes, but director Bobby Miller has a real opportunity to create something bonkers with the DTV endeavor, and he goes flat with it, unable to generate the type of gnarly nonsense the fanbase deserves. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hellmaster


1992's "Hellmaster" (titled "Them" on the Blu-ray) has a very ambitious story to sell, but not a lot of production time is devoted to really emphasize just what exactly is happening during most scenes. It's a convoluted picture from director Douglas Schulze, but he has a visual plan for the effort, working with cinematographer Michael Goi to make the endeavor as striking as a low-budget movie can possibly be. "Hellmaster" has a lot of problems, but it's engaging as horror eye candy, giving fans plenty of blood and strange sights to hold their attention as Schulze fights to explore a lukewarm plot. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Pink Ladies


"The Pink Ladies" is a film about fantasies. It's lighthearted work from director Roger Watkins, who's not normally associated with upbeat cinema (previously helming the bleak "Her Name Was Lisa"), making something of a farce with the feature, working through episodes of characters plunging deep into their own minds to find sexual satisfaction. It's a weird picture, but that's part of its charm, as Watkins has no real plot to work with, turning the effort into something more episodic, with a few scenes slipping into the surreal. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mascara


1983's "Mascara" attempts to address the wilds of fantasy, emerging as something of a female empowerment picture that's only slightly attentive to the inner fires of the lead character. Co-directors Henri Pachard and Roberta Findlay show more interest in kink, with the feature surveying the specialty of human sexuality as it dips into private areas of submission and control. "Mascara" isn't quite the French art film the production wants to be, but it does have a little more on its mind than other adult titles, emerging as an odyssey into the thick of wants and needs during the hustle and bustle of New York City in the 1980s. Read the rest at

Film Review - Parasite


Steadily building a career making unusual tales of survival, director Bong Joon-ho reached a new height of oddity with his last effort, the “super pig” adventure, “Okja.” Returning to reality, the helmer takes on class divide in Korea, with the haves attacked by the ingenuity of the have nots, with “Parasite” a wickedly clever chiller that provides a distinct reflection of a global society to come. However, Bong isn’t making an overtly political movie, using his sense of humor and appreciation for horror to come up with a crackerjack endeavor that’s packed with surprises. “Parasite” even rivals the superbly managed insanity of Bong’s “Snowpiercer,” trading the extremes of a dead Earth for the unnerving intimacy of a luxury home, finding a more humanized look at the damage people inflict on one another. Read the rest at

Film Review - 21 Bridges


Chadwick Boseman has spent the last few years playing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, doing his duty as T’Challa, king of Wakanda in “Black Panther” and the last two “Avengers” blockbusters. Typically drawn to playing powerful men, Boseman makes a move for the supercop genre with “21 Bridges,” which returns the actor to the realm of the real, at least this appears to be the original intent of the project. Screenwriters Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan aim to deliver a gritty police actioner, using the confines of Manhattan as a playground for agonized characters and heavy violence. What ultimately makes it to the screen isn’t as defined, with the writing lunging for any cliché it can find, while Boseman is trying to summon the presence of Sidney Poitier with his performance, only to be stuck striking poses in an incredibly limp thriller. Read the rest at

Film Review - Synonyms


The only person to truly appreciate the wily ways of “Synonyms” is writer/director Nadav Lapid. He’s using a cinematic space to explore the inner turmoil of a character stuck between cultures, and Lapid also provides commentary on political and military behavior as it factors into the history and future of France and Israel. There’s much to study with “Synonyms,” but Lapid has no interest in a straightforward understanding of a polluted headspace. He’s making a performance art piece with star Tom Mercier, chasing every whim to make the effort as unpredictable as possible. In that respect, the feature is an incredible success. However, without any triggering emotional involvement or showing interest in storytelling, Lapid has basically turned his therapy sessions into a two-hour experimental film, and not one that encourages viewer response. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Mad Doctor of Market Street


1942's "The Mad Doctor of Market Street" doesn't remain at the titular location for very long. In fact, it doesn't really remain anywhere for an extended amount of time, with the first act making promises for horror and suspense the rest of the movie doesn't keep. Screenwriter Al Martin has a fine idea for encouraging chills with a tale of a deranged doctor (Lionel Atwill) who pushes his research on suspended animation into death, only to turn the feature into a chase that reaches a luxury ship bound for New Zealand. And then, even with a large setting to work with, the film eventually makes its way to a South Seas island. "The Mad Doctor of Market Street" is a restless picture, always in a hurry to trade decent ideas for bad ones. Read the rest at