Blu-ray Review - Commando Ninja


We've watched as Canadian and American filmmakers have created valentines to the old-school world of action cinema from the 1980s, but 2018's "Commando Ninja" comes from France, with writer/director Benjamin Combes trying his hardest to funnel his adoration for everything from that decade and beyond into 68 minutes of silly fun. Blood flows and references fly in the feature, which barely has a plot or a point, simply summoning some mild conflict to help launch a series of inside jokes and cinematic tributes, primarily to the Arnold Schwarzenegger years of baddie-bustin', muscle-pumping mayhem. "Commando Ninja" is no gem, but there's appeal in its goofiness, watching Combes labor to fit something recognizable into every frame of this picture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Vigil


"The Vigil" tracks the experiences of a shomer hired to watch over the body of a recently deceased man. The production explains what a shomer is at the beginning of the movie, helping those unfamiliar with Orthodox Jewish rituals to better understand the position, which carries immense importance when protecting the dead from evil spirits looking to claim them. There's a distinct religious angle to writer/director Keith Thomas's picture, but there's just as much pure genre filmmaking in play. "The Vigil" is a ghost story, exploring spooky encounters and darkly lit rooms, and it's a highly effective one, well-crafted on a low budget. Thomas wants a little more from the event than simple frights, weaving in elements of guilt and shame to supercharge the haunting that brings the lead character to the edge of sanity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - WNUF Halloween Special


2013's "WNUF Halloween Special" is an offering of strangeness from director Chris LaMartina. Inspired by the business of local television in the 1980s, LaMartina has elected to recreate the viewing experience, using unknown actors and large amounts of stock footage to manufacture a holiday special involving a reporter and his quest to get to the bottom of a murder case by visiting a haunted house. And most of the picture plays out with a great level of realism, exposing LaMartina's quest to trick casual viewers and delight those with fond memories of small-time television production and numerous commercial breaks. "WNUF Halloween Special" is an inspired gem that doesn't offer much more than immersion into a bygone world of evening news and station personalities, with the endeavor toying with the specifics of the business while gradually creating a tale of Halloween horror. It's found footage with purpose, securing knowing laughs and a few blasts of nostalgia while aiming to be weird and real without ruining the whole thing with excessive winks. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Matrix Resurrections


1999’s “The Matrix” was a true cinematic journey. It delivered on its “Alice in Wonderland” promise, creating a sci-fi world of action and intrigue, with Neo taking viewers on a hunt for power and purpose as writer/directors The Wachowskis turned the movie business upside down with their vision for rebellion and use of cutting-edge visual effects. “The Matrix” became pop culture for the next few years, and sequels were ordered into production, with 2003’s “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” ambitious projects missing Neo as the audience surrogate, now transformed into the God-like figure. The follow-ups were flawed but undeniably exciting at times, with The Wachowskis focused on expanding their central idea into an epic war between the humans and machines, creating a massive conclusion to a saga that began with a simple question of identity. The franchise was put to bed, but nothing this profitable stays asleep forever, with “The Matrix Resurrections” arriving 18 years later to restart the cycle all over again, though this new chapter is definitely not as exploratory as “The Matrix,” instead serving as a continuation of “Reloaded” and “Revolutions.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The Tragedy of Macbeth


The Coen Brothers are no more. A filmmaking team since 1984’s “Blood Simple,” Joel and Ethan Coen have generated a richly varied and respected career, delivering a few masterpieces along the way. Having worked together on titles such as “The Big Lebowski,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Raising Arizona,” and their last collaboration, 2018’s “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” the Coen Brothers have now gone their separate ways, ending a tremendous run. Joel Coen remains interested in the work, and he returns to screens with “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” which he writes and directs, emerging as a solo act with this adaptation of the William Shakespeare play, “Macbeth.” Coen doesn’t come empty handed, helping his creative success with lead performances from Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, and there’s renewed artistry with technical credits, which give the picture a stage-bound feel that dips into Bergman-esque visuals, yet feels entirely fresh for the dramatic challenge. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is striking and powerful, with Coen finding his own way with the feature, which emphasizes the madness and violence of the play, joined by a newfound level of claustrophobia. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Girls School Screamers


Hoping to make his dreaming of film direction come true, John P. Finnegan elected to try his luck with genre moviemaking in the mid-1980s, hoping to ride a trend of spooky tales aimed at young audiences. His initial offering is 1985's "Girls School Screamers," which isn't nearly as relentlessly icky as similar features, aiming to dial down grotesqueries to play up suspense elements of the screenplay (which he wrote). There's a vague sense of Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock in play during "Girls School Screamers," which gets off to a relatively strong start, doing well with character introductions and storytelling, getting things up and running with decent efficiency and personality. Finnegan doesn't maintain early momentum, leading to an underwhelming second half of simplistic scares and kooky gross-outs, but he shows some life with parts of the endeavor, and that's good enough to please when it comes to this style of entertainment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Percy


1971's "Percy" is an adaptation of a novel by Raymond Hitchcock, and let's all be thankful for that. The story of a man who undergoes a penis transplant, emerging from the surgery with a desire to find the original member donor, isn't something that would likely pair well with an original screenplay, as the premise leaves itself wide open for raunchy antics and crude comedy. With some literary guidance, the screenplay (credited to Hugh Leonard, with uncredited work from Terence Feely and Michael Palin, which explains a distinct Monty Python reference early in the picture) actually remains relatively calm considering the weirdness of the story, trying to find emotions to work with, not broad antics involving the cravings of fresh genitals. That's not to suggest "Percy" is a particularly satisfying movie, but it's definitely not the wild ride initial scenes promise it to be. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fool for Love


1985's "Fool for Love" is a continuation of director Robert Altman's interest in theatrical projects, allowing him to keep creating movies that favor his artistic strengths, including his work with actors. Teaming with Cannon Films (in a rare non-Chuck Norris production), Altman turns to a play written by Sam Shepard for inspiration, persuading the playwright to appear in a leading role, co-starring with Kim Basinger and Harry Dean Stanton in this story of an impossible relationship and all the psychological disease contained within it. Read the rest at

4K UHD Review - Deadlock (1970)


1971's "Deadlock" is writer/director Roland Klick's version of a spaghetti western, with the German production heading to Israel to deal with rising tensions among three men looking to take possession of a suitcase filled with cash. However, Leone-esque swells are few and far between in the release, as Klick is pursuing more of a slow-burn endeavor, reveling in extended scenes of intimidation and cruelty. It's not a freak-out from the helmer, but a movie that requires patience it doesn't always earn, finding Klick getting lost in the process of making "Deadlock" instead of working to generate tension within his story. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fantasm Comes Again


1976's "Fantasm" was a small movie that made big money, reaching its intended audience with its collection of softcore titillation. 1977's "Fantasm Comes Again" isn't a continuation of the original feature, which tried to sell itself as a psychological experience, but more of a rehash, with director Colin Eggleston ("Long Weekend") and writer Ross Dimsey trying to get away with the same viewing experience, armed with a larger budget and room to experiment with vignettes concerning forbidden desires. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fantasm


While Richard Franklin went on to achieve some career success with hits such as "Patrick," "Road Games," and "Psycho II," he started small, exploring a world of softcore entertainment in 1976's "Fantasm." A playful take on the rise of adult cinema in the 1970s, "Fantasm" isn't meant to be heavy, with Franklin (credited here as "Richard Bruce") and writer Ross Dimsey trying to explore the world of female fantasies without reaching the depths of perversion, offering vignettes that detail possible sexual adventures and necessary distractions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Licorice Pizza


For nearly two decades, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson went to a dark place. He dealt with corrosive, perverse characters in “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master,” “Inherent Vice,” and “Phantom Thread,” presenting grim conduct and bleak situations of domestic and psychological endurance. Anderson is back in a bubbly mood for “Licorice Pizza,” his return to the ways of idiosyncratic love and strange events, connecting to his time on “Punch-Drunk Love,” analyzing the weird ways of attraction and maturity. “Licorice Pizza” contains its fair share of oddity, as the helmer approaches the central relationship between a 15-year-old hustler and his 25-year-old object of desire from a variety of perspectives and tonal changes, detailing the craziness of impetuous behavior during the early 1970s. Anderson is attentive to the shaping of personalities, but his old impish ways make a return to the screen, delivering another cinematic triumph in a career that’s full of them. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fortress (2021)


“Fortress” is many things, but “good” isn’t one of them. It’s the newest release from producers Randall Emmett and George Furla (continuing their mission to resurrect the Cannon Films legacy), and it’s the second directorial undertaking in 2021 from James Cullen Bressack (“Survive the Game”), who’s more about quantity than quality. Also having a busy year is star Bruce Willis, with his latest offering of sit-in-chair acting his seventh of the year, making sure to say yes to anything that meets his quote. There’s nothing in “Fortress” that’s different than most VOD entertainment offerings, once again setting up a basic conflict between good and bad guys, with the film’s location someone’s backyard, offering open spaces for actors to run around and pretend to shoot one another. There’s a set and a hallway, and Bressack stays out of the way when it comes to performances, keeping the endeavor hideously overacted and absolutely ridiculous, simply here to make his days and move on to the next bottom shelf project. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mother/Android


Mattson Tomlin had a successful 2020. The screenwriter made an impression with two features, going the superhero route with “Project Power,” while “Little Fish” offered a prescient look at the world’s ruinous reaction to a public health crisis. Tomlin graduates to directorial duties for “Mother/Android,” which returns to the ways of a troubled planet, with the story exploring a new future that’s ruled by vicious robots on a mission to destroy humankind. It sounds like a wild ride of danger and destruction, but Tomlin’s writing connects to his “Little Fish” ideas, offering a moody, meditative understanding of dystopia and the power of love during the bleakest of times. “Mother/Android” is not a fan of pacing, often taking its sweet time to get where it’s going, but the production successfully updates the zombie genre with a new, metallic enemy, and the ultimate dramatic destination for the tale is satisfying, rewarding the sometimes extraordinary amounts of patience required to sit through the movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spider-Man: No Way Home


2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” did a sensational job creating excitement for the world of the eponymous superhero. Director Jon Watts found ways to freshen up the Marvel Cinematic Universe routine, making the character feel like a real teenager as Peter Parker juggles the demands of adolescence and bravery, with the two pictures generating a rich collection of personalities and action set pieces, making time with the wall-crawler irresistible. Such vibrancy of spirit is slightly diminished for “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which doesn’t choose to remain with Parker’s quest for identity, instead aiming to create “Avengers”-style event cinema with the ways of the “multiverse,” and all the chaos and franchise surprises it contains. “No Way Home” is definitely a big screen ride, out to delight hardcore fans of Spider-Man’s cinematic adventures, but after the sugar rush of “Homecoming” and “Far From Home,” the new installment is decidedly heavier in tone and ambition, trying to create colossal challenges that tend to distract from the core appeal of the earlier chapters. Read the rest at

Film Review - The King's Man


Creative progress was made in 2017’s “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” with co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn learning from mistakes made in 2015’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” which often indulged his worst habits as a filmmaker. The sequel sharpened his vision, bringing out the cinematic thrills of the premise, with the spy game creating some crazy moments, but packed into a more consistent endeavor. Instead of moving forward, Vaughn goes the prequel way with “The King’s Man,” which explores the formation of the intelligence service during the dark times of World War I. Instead of being explicitly comic book in style, “The King’s Man” tries to be a bit more historical, playing with the political gamesmanship of the era to inspire a point of origin for the well-dressed team, though Vaughn, in his excitement, often fails to create a balanced picture, offering an occasionally rough ride of tonal highs and lows. Read the rest at

Film Review - Swan Song


“Swan Song” is about death, though it’s also about life. The screenplay by Benjamin Cleary (who also directs) has the quality of a sci-fi short story, offering a level of futurism as the writer explores the human experience from a fantasy point of view. Cleary doesn’t delve too deeply into matters of the unreal, simply using it to understand universal ideas on love and loss, working very deliberately with the slow-burn tale. “Swan Song” is heartfelt and heartbreaking, offering an ideal space for actor Mahershala Ali to showcase his gifts, tasked with bringing to life two characters who share the same body and mind, only divided by their mission to bring comfort to others. Cleary avoids cliché as much as possible with the picture, hoping to reach complex feelings instead with this challenging but engrossing endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Minamata


Johnny Depp is known for fully inhabiting the characters he portrays. It’s been his obsession since the 1990s, and it’s largely worked for him, turning in some amazing performances and a few uncomfortably showy ones along the way. For “Minamata,” the actor seeks to step inside the life of photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, a respected but troubled professional who provided coverage of “Minamata disease” in the early 1970s, with mercury pollution destroying lives around a Japanese village located near a chemical plant. Depp tries to hide himself once again, and he successfully communicates the strange ways of Smith, who was a man of guilt and little self-control, but he had a gift with a camera, using it to provide the world with visions of life and hardships, with this particular case of unimaginable suffering allowing co-writer/director Andrew Levitas (“Lullaby”) to detail a greater understanding of industrial pollution and corporate malice. Depp is strong in “Minamata,” but it’s the larger story of suffering that’s most gripping. Read the rest at