Blu-ray Review - Queen of Earth


Writer/director Alex Ross Perry doesn't make easy movies. For 2014's "Listen Up Philip," he submitted one of the most unpleasant lead characters of the film year. For "Queen of Earth," he explores the abyss of mental illness. He's not the cheery type, but Perry has a way of making these dramatic explorations worthwhile, with periodic blips of profundity. Carried by a wonderfully ragged lead performance from Elisabeth Moss, "Queen of Earth" steps away from a clinical understanding of depression to go semi-Polanski, treating the fractured experience of a complete unraveling with a full immersion into paranoia and hopelessness, emerging with a secure study of friendship and phobia that feels organically communicated yet sharply cinematic. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - King on Screen


Since the release of "Carrie" in 1976, adaptations of Stephen King novels and short stories have become almost a regular event. Such tales of horror and heartbreak have become catnip to filmmakers, especially those raised on the author's work in print form, finally receiving a chance to do something with King's vast imagination. "King on Screen" is a documentary about the writer and his experiences with filmed entertainment, and while he doesn't appear in interview form, King's presence is felt throughout the endeavor, which seeks to identify just what about his writing often results in cinematic magic. Director Daphne Baiwir doesn't provide a comprehensive examination of the subject, but she chooses her topics wisely, delivering an interesting ride back into King Country, sitting down with many of the men responsible for translating these pages into occasionally terrific movies. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Skateboard


1978's "Skateboard" (a.k.a. "Skateboard: The Movie") is a production trying to capitalize on a trend. The world of skateboarding is explored here, with co-writer/director George Gage bringing viewers to Los Angeles, where the kids are showing off their moves on four wheels, while a desperate man with an enormous debt hopes to exploit such talent for his own financial gain. "Skateboard" is a quickie production, offering a threadbare plot and sketchily drawn characters, but it's not meant to be much more than a showcase for the sport, captured here during its 1970s heyday, with subculture superstar Tony Alva claiming a supporting role. Skateboarding footage is key here, adding a sense of excitement and showmanship to the endeavor, which noticeably struggles with anything that isn't about following sporting accomplishments. It's not the most electric offering of drama, with Gage and co-writer Richard A. Wolf (the future king of television, Dick Wolf, making his professional debut) struggling to pour some foundation for a feature that's best with pure physical activity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Showdown at the Grand


Writer/director Orson Oblowitz has a deep love for film exhibition, pouring his heart into the creation of "Showdown at the Grand," which investigates the days of an indie theater operator getting in touch with his big screen fantasies as his life is threatened by an evil land developer. It's a passion for the old ways that keeps the endeavor inviting, but Oblowitz doesn't have much in the way of a budget, getting stuck with limited coin as he stages an action movie about action movies and all the daydreams they inspire. "Showdown at the Grand" isn't a pulse-pounding thriller, but it scores with its love of the game, showing respect for the weird ways of theater owners and their dedication to a business that doesn't always love them back. It's a loose viewing experience, but Oblowitz has his moments, presenting a bruised valentine to the escape movie theaters provide. Read the rest at

Film Review - Poolman


Chris Pine has been hammering out an acting career for the last two decades, but he takes on more creative power with “Poolman,” credited as the writer and director, as well as claiming leading man duties. Perhaps it classifies as a vanity project, with Pine making himself the center of attention in this Southern California detective story, portraying a man who lives in his own world suddenly facing the corruption and violence of the real world. It could be promising as a psychological study of a shut-in lightly fried by his Los Angeles experience, but Pine wants to make a comedy, merging noir and silliness for this mild mystery. Unfortunately, while the creator has tremendous enthusiasm for the material (co-written by Ian Gotler), such brightness of spirit can’t lift a mostly comatose endeavor. “Poolman” just isn’t the good time Pine wants it to be, though support from seasoned actors do help the cause. Read the rest at

Film Review - Not Another Church Movie


Madea made her cinematic debut in 2005’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” It was the beginning of something for creator Tyler Perry, who has spent the last 19 years building a media empire on the back of his most popular creation. It’s amazing that there hasn’t been many Madea parodies in circulation, but perhaps broad comedy can’t match Perry’s cartoon character. Writer/co-director Johnny Mack takes a shot at the king with “Not Another Church Movie,” which attempts to give the “Airplane!” treatment to Perry’s oeuvre, going wild and wacky with all the elements of storytelling the filmmaker has been abusing for most of his career. “Not Another Church Movie” is extremely late to the party, and it’s quite the amateurish production, with Mack determined to generate a no-budget pantsing of material that’s already self-aware. And yet, while Mack’s picture is downright horrible at times, it’s still funnier than most of Perry’s offerings. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mother of the Bride (2024)


“Mother of the Bride” is written by Robin Bernheim Burger, a longtime industry player who’s worked on many television and movie projects, recently scripting “The Princess Switch,” “The Princess Switch: Switched Again,” and “The Princess Switch 3.” Bernheim Burger remains in her churn-em-out comfort zone with her latest endeavor, which explores a destination wedding filled with all sorts of unresolved feelings and slapstick antics, laboring to summon a sitcom-like atmosphere for the film, which has no interest in stimulating its audience. “Mother of the Bride” is meant to be comfy sweater cinema for streaming audiences, and this generic quality isn’t challenged by director Mark Waters (“He’s All That,” “Bad Santa 2”), who delivers a highly routine study of misunderstandings and communication problems while the production enjoys paradise. I’m sure the cast and crew of the picture had a ball making the feature, but sitting through it is surprisingly difficult at times. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes


The story of Caesar and his critical position in the arc of a revolution was completed in 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.” It was a fitting conclusion to a new trilogy of tremendous visual achievements and gripping storytelling, smartly reworking the concept of “Planet of the Apes” for a fresh generation of moviegoers. However, true closure has been an illusion, with Disney looking to keep a good thing going, reviving the series with “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” which is a continuation of the Caesar saga set “many generations” after the character’s exit. The feature is perhaps unnecessary, but it certainly isn’t a quickie, offering outstanding visual effects and mo-cap performance work to bring the animal characters to life. The cinematic appeal of “Kingdom” is plentiful, but director Wes Ball struggles with the tempo and gravity of the film, which has its moments of power, but clearly battles with pacing issues as the longest chapter of the entire “Planet of the Apes” franchise. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Stop in Yuma County


With “The Last Stop in Yuma County,” writer/director/editor Francis Galluppi presents a slow-burn story of crime and conversation in the blazing heat of Arizona. It’s the feature-length helming debut for Galluppi and it’s quite the tale of suspense in a single location. The screenplay provides a varied cast of characters stuck in a hostage situation, using the inherent tension of the showdown to create numerous opportunities for confrontations and peril. While it has some overt Quentin Tarantino-esque touches, the endeavor has a terrific sense of escalation and a bit of a mean streak, with Galluppi not afraid to get a little ugly with the nasty business of violence and untested criminals. “The Last Stop in Yuma County” is sharp and straightforward, with Galluppi trimming most of the fat to deliver surges of screen tension and flavorful performances in this excellent picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lazareth


There’s been plenty of doom and gloom in cinema these days, and “Lazareth” is no different. Writer/director Alec Tibaldi creates a post-virus world that’s similar to the one we exist in today, using that reality to inspire a look at the extremes of parental protection when facing the newly empowered dangers of others. It’s a story of isolation and curiosity, with Tibaldi adding elements of home invasion cinema to amplify a fairly interesting take on a coming-of-age tale set during an alarming time of disease and predatory behavior. “Lazareth” isn’t a true nail-biter as it moves over to physical threats, locating more provocative dramatics in the natural ways of inquisitiveness and the power of the unknown. It creates uneasy moods as the characters confront certain cruel realities and learn to appreciate the protection of fantasy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Force of Nature: The Dry 2


A modest adaptation of a Jane Harper novel, 2020’s “The Dry” managed to find an audience during pandemic times, emerging as a box office hit while restoring some faith in the acting talents of star Eric Bana. Taking on the role of Detective Aaron Falk, Bana handled the complex emotions of the character with skill, also finding his place in co-writer/director Robert Connolly’s atmospheric approach, exploring the ways of small town life, especially when stained by past mistakes. Aaron returns in “Force of Nature: The Dry 2,” once again facing potential mistakes and memories from a time long ago, with Bana offering a study of pain and restlessness, newly joined by a supporting cast of personalities all dealing with secrets and lies. “Force of Nature” is more of a mystery and a survival film, but Connolly (who also scripts) commits to finding some raw relationships and psychological wounds to examine, again following Harper’s lead as he tracks various subplots during the run time. Read the rest at

Film Review - Aisha


Writer/director Frank Berry examines the experience of asylum seekers in “Aisha,” a drama that doesn’t sugarcoat the endurance trial of the process. Instead of making a documentary about the subject, Berry looks to go dramatic, following one Nigerian woman’s journey into various living spaces around Ireland and legal entanglements involving her case, often dealing with a system that doesn’t exactly know what to do with her. There’s time for tenderness as well, though the feature isn’t interested in romance. It’s more about companionship and support during an extended waiting period, with Berry exploring all the turbulent feelings and frustration in play. “Aisha” doesn’t offer big swings of drama, electing to remain muted and real, allowing star Letitia Wright to find her way through troubling developments and cruel realities involved in the main character’s case. Read the rest at

Film Review - KillRoy Was Here


“KillRoy Was Here” is an attempt from co-writer/director Kevin Smith to create his own movie maniac. In this case, he takes inspiration from a famous offering of graffiti art from World War II (identified in the effort as “the first meme”), turning a doodle into a dangerous individual, and one who has a special relationship with children, often protecting them from harm. KillRoy in history and popular culture makes sense. “KillRoy Was Here” often doesn’t. It’s an anthology feature that feels unfinished, delivering four tales of terror(?) involving various predators doing their worst in Florida, with prey looking to the fury of a monster to help right all the wrongs. Smith and co-writer Andrew McElfresh (“White Chicks”) have an idea for the creature, but they don’t have a picture to back it up, with the endeavor’s short run time (63 minutes) turning into a long slog of half-baked chapters and no-budget filmmaking. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Last Man Standing


Building a directorial career with features about hard men finding themselves in deep trouble, Walter Hill enjoyed industry growth throughout the 1970s and early '80s. He favored western-style storytelling with elements of psychological strain and physical violence, winning audiences with efforts such as "48 Hrs." and "The Warriors." This approach began to lose its potency in the late-1980s, but the next decade was especially rough on Hill, who struggled to blend his helming interests with studio projects, striking out at the box office with "Geronimo: An American Legend" and "Wild Bill." 1996's "Last Man Standing" represents something of a last gasp from Hill, handed money and star Bruce Willis to help transform a remake of Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" into a major action event, turning samurais into prohibition-era gangsters for noir-ish growling and posing. For the opening two acts, the production is on to something, with Hill offering confident direction and command of mood, creating something interestingly mean with the material. The picture eventually loses its way, limping to an abrupt finale, but there's enough here to pass, identifying Hill's gifts with leathery moviemaking before his big-league career was permanently derailed. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Killing of Bobby Greene


1994's "The Killing of Bobby Greene" plays like an adaptation of a YA novel. It deals with the rising violence of a teenager fearing he has no future, turning to crime to solve his problems while pulling his friends into a dangerous scheme. Writer/director/actor Mick McCleery hopes to put some real dramatic energy into the shot-on-video endeavor, but he only gets through the first act. There's something of a story to enjoy with early scenes in the feature, which explore a plot of revenge with a mild degree of interesting turns, but "The Killing of Bobby Greene" eventually runs out of steam, finding McCleery battling to find his way to a feature-length run time as dramatic repetition sets in, hurting a picture that hopes to deliver a snowballing sense of paranoia and threat. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Shredder Orpheus


The future belongs to skateboarders. That's the general idea driving 1990's "Shredder Orpheus," which is a punky update of the Orpheus and Eurydice story, with writer/director/actor Robert McGinley bringing the Greek legend down to a more manageable, underground cinema size. It's an ambitious undertaking with an extremely low budget, but McGinley is determined to do something with his idea, offering a surreal adventure that's filled with music, challenges, and skateboarding. The scale of the feature is impressive, especially with the limited resources available to McGinley, making production appreciation easy. Sitting through "Shredder Orpheus" is much more difficult. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - What Happens Later


Meg Ryan doesn't act much anymore, and when she does, she's been using her star power to support her directorial endeavors. In 2015, there was the little seen "Ithica," and now there's "What Happens Later," which returns Ryan to the screen in a major part, also handling scripting duties with Kirk Lynn and Steven Dietz, adapting his 2008 play, "Shooting Star." Ryan's playing to her strengths with the effort, which returns the actress to the romantic comedy subgenre that boosted her career over 30 years ago, but general sweetness is limited here. The material is more interested in the ways of aging and soured relationships, getting into the unfinished business between two people who loved each other long ago, reuniting for a night during an airport layover. "What Happens Later" isn't big on tingles, but it does have Ryan and co-star David Duchovny, who share decent chemistry in this tale of regret, helping to bring an otherwise static but deeply felt picture to life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Prom Dates (2024)


“Prom Dates” is a teen comedy that’s like many teen comedies. Screenwriter D.J. Mausner has a to-do list of cliches to follow while creating the usual in situations of humiliation and conflict. What could be here is an effort to veer off course just a little bit, either in silliness or heart, giving viewers a taste of freshness to go with all the familiar antics. But that doesn’t happen in the film, which follows a nightmare evening of exposure as two high school seniors scramble to find prom dates at the very last minute. “Prom Dates” initially wants to be a farce, albeit a crude one, and some offerings of high-speed tomfoolery are welcome, but Mausner doesn’t color outside the lines with this one, and director Kim O. Nguyen struggles to find the right balance between silliness and sincerity, doing little to alleviate the sameness of this mediocre endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Unfrosted


In 2007, stand-up comic and television star Jerry Seinfeld decided to try his luck in the film business, overseeing the creation of “Bee Movie.” It was an odd offering of family entertainment, and rarely was it laugh-out-loud funny, remaining a curious creative choice. Seinfeld is back on screen with “Unfrosted,” reteaming with his “Bee Movie” writers (Spike Feresten, Barry Marder, and Andy Robin) to make a farce out of breakfast food history, screwing around with the details concerning the development of Pop-Tarts. It’s a battle of industry titans, with the material attempting to turn the war between Kellogg’s and Post into a zany affair packed with cameos and visual reminders of the 1960s. And, again, rarely is it laugh-out-loud funny. Seinfeld takes a starring role in the endeavor, also directing “Unfrosted,” giving him almost full control of the picture, which tries hard to be wacky and snappy, but the silliness of it all is mostly mild. At least until it turns borderline tasteless. Much like the toaster pastries celebrated in the feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tarot (2024)


Directors Spenser Cohen (co-writer of “Moonfall”) and Anna Halberg make their feature-length debut with “Tarot,” following a path of industry introduction traversed by many, going the low-budget horror route to generate a first impression. An adaptation of a 1992 YA novel (titled “Horrorscope”), the picture plays it safe to appeal to a teenage demographic, exploring the escalation of doom that arrives when a pack of college kids elect to mess around with a cursed tarot card deck. It’s slasher cinema working with a dull knife, but there are some technical achievements worth a look in the film, especially when more violent experiences arrive in the story. “Tarot” is very familiar, putting young people in peril, while supernatural forces provide Cohen and Halberg with opportunities to stage shock imagery and arrange sequences of torment. Seasoned genre vets will be well ahead of the endeavor, which is primarily meant to spook younger viewers. Read the rest at