Review: ‘PARADISE HILLS’ is a stunningly beautiful sci-fi with feminist punch.

SYNOPSIS: On an isolated island, Uma (Emma Roberts) wakes up to find herself at Paradise Hills, a facility where high-class families send their daughters to become perfect versions of themselves. The facility is run by the mysterious Duchess (Milla Jovovich) where calibrated treatments including etiquette classes, vocal lessons, beauty treatments, gymnastics and restricted diets, revolve all physical and emotional shortcomings within two months. The outspoken Uma finds solace and friendship in other Paradise Hills residents — Chloe (Danielle McDonald), Yu (Awkwafina) and Mexican popstar Amarna (Eiza Gonzalez). Uma soon realizes that lurking behind all this beauty is a sinister secret. It’s a race against the clock as Uma and her friends try to escape Paradise Hills before it consumes them all.

Vibrant costumes and sets envelop the audience immediately. The island on which these young women are being housed would seem like a dream if they weren’t being held against their wills and reprogrammed. Paradise Hills has a cast that is mind-blowing. Emma Roberts, Awkwafina, Danielle Macdonald, Eiza González, Milla Jovovich headline this twisted tale of turning societal “bad girls” into Stepford wives to the nth degree. Their surroundings look good enough to eat, Versailles in actual cake form. It has a solid feminist message of finding your own voice. The cool sci-fi script is a great story for fans of Suzanne Collins and Hunger Games nostalgia. This will also resonate with Handmaid’s Tale lovers. We need more young females challenging the patriarchal structure set against creative backdrops. While the third act explanation of Jovovich’s character feels like a completely different story to tell, the rest is very solid. The performances are all impressive. Paradise Hills is as beautiful to watch as it is intriguing.

**World Premiere – Sundance Film Festival 2019**

**Official Selection – Fantasia Film Festival 2019**

**Official Selection – Sitges Film Festival 2019**

Samuel Goldwyn Films will release the fantasy/sci-fi/thriller PARADISE HILLS in theaters October 25, 2019 and on digital and on-demand November 1, 2019.

PARADISE HILLS is Spanish fashion creative and photographer Alice Waddington’s feature debut. The film features an ensemble cast including Emma Roberts (“American Horror Story,” “Scream Queens”), Danielle Macdonald (DumplinPatti Cake$), Awkwafina (The Farewell, Crazy Rich Asians), Jeremy Irvine (Billionaire Boys Club, War Horse), Arnaud Valois (BPM (Beats Per Minute), The Girl on the Train), Eiza Gonzalez (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Baby Driver) and Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil seriesThe Fifth Element). The film was co-written by Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal, V/H/S Viral) and Brian DeLeeuw (Daniel Isn’t Real, Some Kind of Hate.)

Review: ‘Depraved’ reminds us who the real monsters are.

The legend of Frankenstein gets a provocative modern update in the stylishly disturbing new film from indie horror master Larry Fessenden. Suffering from PTSD following his stint as an army medic, Henry (David Call) now works feverishly in his Brooklyn laboratory to forget the death he witnessed overseas by creating life in the form of a man cobbled together from body parts. After procuring a brain from an unwitting victim, his creation—Adam (Alex Breaux)—is born. But it soon seems that giving life to Adam was the easy part; teaching him how to live in a dark and troubled world may be perilous. A complex, emotionally shattering tale about what it means to be human, Depraved brings Mary Shelley’s immortal fable fully into the 21st century.

 

Like Mary Shelley‘s novel, as you watch Depraved, you immediately realize that our Dr. Frankenstein character is the monster and not his creation. The emotional connection in this script is what engrosses you from the very beginning. It explores the good, the bad, and definitely the ugly of the human condition.

Performances are out of this world. David Call as Henry is exceedingly ambitious. He easily flips from hopeful excitement to an underlying irrational rage, fueled by military PTSD. As a mother, it’s like watching myself teaching my toddlers, especially when I’ve reached my mental and emotional limits. Joshua Leonard as Polidori is the diabolical shit starter that propels the insanity to the next level. Alex Breaux as Adam is captivating. His vulnerability is literally a head to toe performance. These men give us a complex dynamic that is undeniably intense and brilliant. Director Larry Fessenden has created something spectacular in every way. Depraved is easily one of my favorite films of 2019.

The overall editing of Depraved is a masterclass unto itself. Utilization of flashbacks fills in the backstory gaps. The visual overlays of synapses firing are truly effective. We become Adam. It is damn near perfect. The special effects make-up is striking. The sound editing is hypnotizing and the score is breathtaking. Fessenden has given us a complex character study that subtly shines a light on issues from big pharma to the treatment of our veterans and beyond. It is a story about moral corruptibility at its finest. You will be left in awe. Depraved is a modern-day, movie monster masterpiece.

 In Theaters September 13

Directed and Written by Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter, Until Dawn, Habit)
Starring David Call (“The Sinner”), Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project), Alex Breaux (“When They See Us”), Addison Timlin (Odd Thomas, Fallen), Maria Dizzia (“Orange Is The New Black,” “13 Reasons Why”)

Review: ‘Satanic Panic’ reaches (oc)cult classic status.

presents

SATANIC PANIC

SYNOPSIS:

Sam’s first day as a pizza delivery driver is not going according to plan. At the end of a long day and not enough tips, her last delivery turns out to be for a group of Satanists looking for someone to sacrifice. Now in a fight for her life, Sam must fend off witches, evil spells and demonic creatures, all while trying to keep her body – and soul – intact.

Poor Satanists, just trying to sacrifice a virgin to bring a hell beast to walk the earth. But that darn virgin keeps getting away! Satanic Panic has practical effects that are an awesome combination of mildly silly and completely, on-point disgusting. The sets and costumes absolutely rock. But, it’s the performances and writing that kick major ass. Rebecca Romijn is goddamn spectacular. Her commitment to physical comedy is pure genius and her timelessly gorgeous face is a delight to watch on-screen. Ruby Modine gets the best, rapid-fire dialogue in the film. She’s so nonchalant you’ll be fully immersed into the wacky plot- which actually has this unexpected emotionally redemptive element involved. It is classic occult set up at its finest with extra surprising moments sprinkles in. Haley Griffith as our ingenue Sam is refreshingly innocent. She is the representation of loyalty and street smarts. Seamlessly mixed into entertaining genre goodness, the film also takes aim at generational headbutting and classism. Director Chelsea Stardust guides Satanic Panic into the cult genre with humor and a bit of magic storytelling from Grady Hendrix and Ted Geoghegan.

RLJE Films will release the horror film SATANIC PANIC in Theaters, On Demand and Digital on September 6, 2019.

SATANIC PANIC stars Hayley Griffith (“The Loudest Voice”, “The Mysteries of Laura”), Ruby Modine (“Shameless”, Happy Death Day franchise), Rebecca Romijn (X-Men franchise, “Star Trek: Discovery”), Arden Myrin (“Insatiable”, “Shameless”) and Jerry O’Connell (Stand By Me, “Billions”). The film was written by popular horror author Grady Hendrix (“We Sold Our Souls,”  “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”) and directed by up-and-coming director Chelsea Stardust (“Into The Dark”, Seeing Green).

World Premiere at the 2019 Overlook Film Festival 

Official Selection of 2019 Fantasia Film Festival 

Review: ‘TONE-DEAF’ kills it in these brutal times.

 

After losing her job and imploding her latest dysfunctional relationship, Olive (Amanda Crew) flees the city for the weekend, escaping to the countryside for some peace and self-reflection.  She rents an ornate country house from an eccentric widower named Harvey (Robert Patrick).  Soon two generations collide with terrifying results as Olive awakens Harvey’s homicidal tendencies and is plunged into a blood-soaked fight for her life.  More than your average slasher film, TONE-DEAF provides a dark critique of the bizarre cultural and political climate that currently exists.

This spectacularly weird and wonderful film has some of the most biting humor and solid scares. Tone-Deaf is left vs. right, generational romp through madness. The music is in your face and perfect. The script is frankly, shocking. I did not see many of the twists coming and damn, is that refreshing. The hyper Millenial stereotypes show up as modern art fever dreams for our terrifying antagonist, Harvey. Elaborate sets and repeat framing create the illusion that you will be able to predict certain tropes, but you’re dead wrong.

Amanda Crew as Olive is absolutely hilarious in her sense of entitlement and charm. She delivers this dialogue like one who has had to sit through brunch surrounded by girls whose Instagram is life. She is fabulous. Robert Patrick, who always brings to mind a bit of evil from his iconic T2 role, is balls to the wall amazing as the Baby Boomer off his proverbial rocker. As much blood as we see in this film, honest to God, the most startling thing is when Patrick’s character breaks the fourth wall. I was unsure at first if I was seeing what I was seeing, but the monologue lasts long enough for you to realize your perception as a viewer has been skewered. I was genuinely uncomfortable and dammit, I’m a Gen Xer. Writer/Director Richard Bates, Jr. has not only nailed the eccentricities of these two generations but lights a fire under the ass of the audience with quippy dialogue and carefully placed gore (yes, that’s a thing).  Tone-Deaf is undeniably fun and fresh.

Saban Films will release TONE-DEAF in theaters and On Demand on August 23, 2019.

TONE-DEAF is written and directed by Richard Bates, Jr. (Trash Fire, Suburban Gothic), and stars Robert Patrick (“Scorpion,” Terminator 2: Judgment Day), Amanda Crew (“Silicon Valley,” The Age of Adaline), Kim Delaney (“Chicago Fire,” “NYPD Blue”), AnnaLynne McCord (Fired Up!, “90210”), Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Game of Thrones,” Whale Rider), Hayley Marie Norman (I Am the Night, “Lonely and Horny”), and Ray Wise (“Fresh Off the Boat,” “Twin Peaks”).

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: Let us all worship at the altar of ‘THE DIVINE FURY’.

The Divine Fury

After losing his father at a young age in a terrible accident, Yong-hu (Park Seo-jun) abandons his Christian faith and chooses to only believe in himself. Now as an adult, Yong-hu is a champion fighter and has everything he has ever wanted, that is until mysterious wounds appear in the palms of his hands. He solicits help from a local priest Father Ahn (Ahn Sung-ki), hoping the priest can help relieve him of the painful markings, only to find himself in the middle of a dangerous fight against otherworldly evil forces seeking to wreak havoc on the human world.

Set against the neon lights of Seoul, The Divine Fury utilizes incredibly effective special fx mixed with a dynamic plot of good vs evil. Roman Catholic use of exorcism is rare and must be approved by the Vatican. As a former Catholic school kid and genre fans since the age of 2, I know this to be fact… At least as factual as one can attribute to organized religion in general. All that aside, The Divine Fury adds an extra supernatural element by giving an MMA fighter a demon expelling stigmata superpower. It takes faith into a genre-bending underworld and it is fascinating. From the very first shot with its heightened sound editing, you know you’re in for a ride. There is never a dull moment during its 2-hour runtime. The fight choreography is outstanding and meticulously specific to this unique plot (Think MMA meets demon streetfighter goodness). As a “lapsed Catholic” viewer, it does a brilliant job of melding together religion and otherworldly lore for one hell of an entertaining storyline. I cannot express how truly fun this film is. As the closing film of Fantasia International Film Festival 2019, The Divine Fury puts this year’s selections over the top.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: ‘HARPOON’ is a wild ride of deceit on the high seas.

Wealthy Richard (Christopher Gray) is prone to fits of violent anger, particularly when he believes his girlfriend Sasha (Emily Tyra) is cheating on him with his best friend Jonah (Munro Chambers) — who’s been having worse luck than even his Biblical namesake. Once they reassure him that his fears are unfounded, Richard invites Sasha and Jonah on an excursion aboard his yacht The Naughty Buoy to make amends. What starts out as a pleasure cruise becomes a fateful trip when festering suspicions and resentments bubble to the surface, and the trio become stranded on the open sea with a dead motor, extremely limited food and water, and one of them grievously injured. Unconsciously violating any number of maritime superstitions, they are soon at the mercy not so much of the elements, but of each other.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 has had some instant hits this year. Saturday night was no exception as HARPOON wowed audiences at its Quebec premiere. From the incredible opening shot, this film comes at you like a rabid animal. Amazing, quippy, profanity-laced dialogue kicks off a ride we are are now ready for. This love triangle at sea plays off a classic dynamic of a wealthy asshole, girlfriend, and third wheel best friend where suspicion fuels jealousy. The script utilizes literary references, voiceover narration by Brett Gelman, and the kind of honest intimacy in dialogue that you only find between best friends. But, secrets are the one thing that can be a real friendship killer, even for those not stuck out in the middle of the ocean. Our three cast members are phenomenal. I completely buy these performances. Each is funny, vulnerable, and kind of dickheaded in their own unique way. The practical fx are gruesome and awesome. Writer-director Rob Grant has given us a goddamn indie gem. It’s got a twisted ending you will never “sea” coming. What’s a little murder between friends, after all? Fantasia International Film Festival fans will go overboard for Harpoon.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: “Culture Shock’ takes fake news to task with genre realness.

CULTURE SHOCK

The White House and their white nationalist propaganda make for great resistance in art these days. Hulu’s Blumhouse Into the Dark series is now streaming Culture Shock to its subscribers. Using real-life scenarios as a jumping-off point, this film takes illegal immigration beyond the hell we’re currently seeing at our border and brings it into true sci-fi territory. Our leading lady wakes up in a Valley Of the Dolls nightmare with its sweater vests and pastel coordinated everything and begins to lose time and all sense of rea Something about this “American Dream” is way off. Once she cracks the code, nothing can stop her from escaping.

Performances are eerie and amazing. Genre legend and timelord extraordinaire, Barbara Crampton plays a motherly figure looking after Marisol and her newborn baby. She sets the tone for the remainder of the film with her saccharine-sweet smile and creepy overbearing politeness. She is outstanding. Martha Higareda is the real wow factor. You are rooting for her the entire way and hope she gets everything she seeks. Her IDGAF survival attitude is pure magic. The script is edgy and brings a major creep factor that gets under your skin. The enhanced audio editing is a fantastic tool that heightens the inevitably squirming you’ll do while you watch. The story is one that will resonate with so many people living their own version of what is looking more and more like the American nightmare. This is a stunning debut feature for director Gigi Saul Guerrero and I know the industry, as well as Fantasia International Film Festival fans, can be excited for whatever comes next.

CULTURE SHOCK

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: ‘The Art Of Self-Defense’

Jesse Eisenberg has mastered playing the quirky, whipsmart, douchebag. In The Art of Self-Defense, he plays genuinely sweet, pushover Casey looking to stand up for himself after a brutal attack. He gets a lot more than he bargains for when he signs up for karate lessons. The film is an unapologetic look at toxic masculinity.  It’s over the top dark comedy is a political blowtorch. If you can’t laugh at this film you need the stick removed from your ass. The snark factor is so high that even Casey’s answering machine is kind of a dick. Imogen Poots is equally impactful with both her physical and emotional performance. The humor lies in the absolute seriousness in which the cast says their lines. The film appears to take place sometime in the ’80s by the look of technology and funny enough, the misogynistic dialogue is most likely insanely accurate. Eisenberg is undeniably incredible. He is vulnerable and fearless and funny as hell. The Art of Self-Defense absolutely belongs at Fantasia International Film Festival 2019. The timing of the film is sheer perfection and this fest has the right audience.

THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: ‘The Incredible Shrinking Wknd’ is insightful genre bender.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WKND

Alba is losing time. A mysterious place in the woods has caused her days to take a true Groundhog Day turn but with an added twist. Each repetitive day during an overnight trip with her friends is one less hour than the day before. The only consistent thing is the clothing she ends her day with is the clothing she restarts in… and any bodily damage such as injuries or hangovers. Alba must decide how she’ll handle each repetition. How will she change her fate and those of her fellow cabin mates before the final hour runs out? This film doesn’t immediately reveal its deeper meaning. It takes it time and in a smart fashion. It’s much more introspective than at first glance. Abla takes risks to challenge her surroundings and presumptions about her predicament. All while finding buried childhood treasures around the property. Oh, that’s the only other thing that carries through. The film is not only a scavenger hunt for her past but her present as well. Iria del Río as Alba is amazing. She is raw and untethered. The Incredible Shrinking Wknd keeps the audience on its toes with its ” what would you do” scenario. It challenges the viewer to think about how selfish we are and how little we actually care for the people in our circle. The writing is truly engrossing and the performances are all extraordinarily solid. The very specific visual framing is a trick that I didn’t even catch until about midway through the film. Brilliance. Huge congrats to writer-director Jon Mikel Caballero. Fantasia International Film Festival is a delightful venue for this feature that is a relationship film wrapped in science fiction.

Review: ‘Astronaut’ soars.

ASTRONAUT

Starring Academy Award Winner Richard Dreyfuss

Richard Dreyfuss plays Angus, a grandfather who’s family has made him feel like a burden.  Forced into a home and with failing health, Angus and his grandson see a competition held by a billionaire entrepreneur calling for applications for the first civilian flight into space. Slowly drowning in a sea of the sad and lonely old folks residents, Angus takes a leap of faith and applies under false pretense with only seconds to spare. Could this 75-year-old civil engineer make it to space, with all the odds stacked against him? Not before making waves, of course.

Astronaut isn’t just about space. It’s about humanity at best and at it’s worst. It’s about joy and loss and time. It’s about family and sacrifice. It addresses ageism is a smart way. Dreyfuss is as endearing and brilliant as ever. His ability to connect through the screen has not waned from American Graffiti to now. His genuine and grounded performance is a masterclass in technique from head to toe. It taps into the curiosity of the unknown stokes in all of us. The idea that we’re not alone. And not just with respect to space. Astronaut explores the idea that we’re somehow all connected and the need to feel seen and heard. Elegantly scored, beautifully written and directed by Shelagh McLeod, Astronaut will touch your soul.

Quiver Distribution will release the heartwarming family drama ASTRONAUT in theaters and On Demand and Digital on July 26, 2019The film will release timely to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing (7/20/1969).

ASTRONAUT stars Academy Award Winner Richard Dreyfuss (The Goodbye GirlJaws), Lyriq Bent (“She’s Gotta Have It”, Acrimony), Krista Bridges (Land of the Dead, “Schitt’s Creek”), Graham Greene (The Green MileDancing with Wolves), Richie Lawrence (“Odd Squad”, “Heroes: Reborn”) and Colm Feore (ChicagoThor).

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: ‘Black Magic For White Boys’ spells it out in dark humor.

BLACK MAGIC FOR WHITE BOYSOnur Tukel is truly one of a kind in his IFGAF honesty and deliciously bizarre approach to storytelling. (There I go again with the tasty metaphors. This all started with Applesauce.) At this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, Tukel has given us another smart indie with Black Magic for White Boys. The film uses the power of magic to heighten the toxic masculinity, racism, and misogyny of white men. Tukel brilliantly plays Oscar, a manchild with an inheritance who thinks he can command the uterus of his new girlfriend. Jamie Block plays real estate mogul, Jamie, trying to undercut and oust his rent-controlled tenants. Ronald Guttman as French magician Larry, in desperate need of ticket sales, utilizes a book of ancient spells to the benefit of all three men. Black Magic for White Boys is a not so subtle metaphor for the gentrification of New York City and perhaps the state of our country during this truly hideous period of our history. Every great/disastrous recent newsworthy story is integrated shamelessly (a total compliment) into the dialogue. The modern-day Greek chorus of bus riders making social observations is perfection. Performances across the board are nuanced and raw, funny and wild, in your face and effed up. Shout outs to Franck Raharinosy, Brendan Miller, Colin Buckingham, and Eva Dorrepaal specifically.  Therein lies the cinematic magic of Tukel. Putting himself in each of his films is also essentially my favorite thing. Watching him transform from role to role only reminds me our how insanely talented he is as a writer, director, and actor. Ultimately, like each of Tukel’s films, this stands as a unique experience packed with insight, bold ideas, humor, and a grab ’em by the balls mentality. No surprise, I loved it.

BLACK MAGIC FOR WHITE BOYS

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: ‘Ode To Nothing’ is everything a cinephile wants.

Synopsis:

“Sonya, an old maid is about to give up on herself until one day, she meets a corpse in her family’s embalming business that changes her life.”

Another North American premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 is that of Ode To Nothing. The slow burn of creepy factor launches this film into skin-crawling territory. The setting alone is horror movie gold. A family mortuary? Besides My Girl, when does anything fun and happy occur? Hell, even with a mostly delightful plot, the end of My Girl still makes me bawl my eyes out every damn time I watch it! “He needs his glasses! He can’t see without his glasses!” *Cue ugly cry* Anyhow, Ode To Nothing takes the family business and infuses humor as it transitions to the unsettling. As Sonya runs the business, the mystery body becomes her confidant. The reality of her loneliness becomes next level when she takes this unknown woman’s body and treats it as her own personal best friend. I don’t know if it’s sadder or more upsetting. Imagine you find a lost dog and take it in and begin to love it. You treat it like it’s your own knowing full well that at anytime the owner could show up to claim their dog. Now replace the dog in that scenario with a dead body. Yeah, it’s just as weird as you’re picturing. The audience is unsure if it’s supposed to laugh at the lunacy or cringe at fact that both father and daughter act like this is totally normal. Therein lies the brilliance of Ode To Nothing. The film’s framing feels reminiscent of a vacation slide. We often peer through a window, a door, or watch a scene in the reflection of the mirror. It’s simply beautiful. The dialogue is unexpected in its intimacy. If you can separate yourself from the odd, the number of monologues that Marietta Subong has are stunningly performed and wonderfully honest. As the body decays, this family’s life blossoms. Ode To Nothing is something special in its eccentricity.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 review: DREADOUT plays well on the big screen.

Jessica, Beni, Dian, Alex, Erik, and Linda want to increase their popularity through recording their adventures to upload to their social media accounts. They chose to go to an abandoned apartment famous for its awesomeness. Linda manages to persuade Kang Heri, security guard, to enter the apartment. Linda and friends found one apartment unit which is given a police line. Encouraged by curiosity, they brake down the door of the apartment unit. When they are researching the room, they find an old parchment, which only Linda could read. After Linda reads the writing on the parchment, suddenly a portal open. Inadvertently Linda and her friends have opened the door to the magical world and anger the portal guardian supernatural creatures.

Those crazy teenagers. Always opening the gates to other worlds. DREADOUT had its North American premiere last night at Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 and audiences were not disappointed. The film begins with all the buildup of suspense and visual feel of playing the DreadOut video games. The framing feels sharp and the character dynamics are as fresh as Cabin In The Woods. As the audience peers through the cell phone lense of the group’s live stream, it has an amazing effect on how the lighting is filtered and you find yourself glancing at the viewership every so often. But mostly, it forces your attention to the mysterious surroundings even more intensely. This is simply the introduction to this film’s plot. 30 mins in, some creative and fresh hell awaits our ingenue Linda (Caitlin Halderman). She must explore her new otherworldly environment and figure out why she’s there and how to escape. The film’s location bounces between realms keeping the audience on its toes and the pace moving. The sets are incredibly intricate and the film really never ceases to entertain. Now, I’ve never played the game but it is reminiscent of Silent Hill and I have played that for years. The best shots recall first player gameplay with pointed POV camera work that’s impossible to miss. I do wish that had not completely disappeared. If I’m being honest, I could have used a bit more otherworldly background, perhaps flashes just as the gang is discovering the storyline. As someone who has not played the game, I feel like this was a missed opportunity.  As a whole, I was fully engrossed. DREADOUT has all the elements of a great horror adventure. Genre fans should be nothing but pleased.

DREADOUT