Review: There is ‘No Escape’ from your own demons.

SYNOPSIS: A social media star travels with his friends to Moscow to capture new content for his successful VLOG. Always pushing the limits and catering to a growing audience, he and his friends enter a cold world of mystery, excess, and danger. As the line between real life and social media is blurred, the group must fight to escape and survive.

NO ESCAPE puts a modern, social media-driven twist on the ultimate adventure seeker. Think Hostel (2005) meets The Game (1997) as Youtube influencer Cole (Keegan Allen) and his friends fly to Moscow to experience what they think is a one-of-a-kind escape room. Once they arrive, they’re wined and dined by a local rich kid before being led to their final destination. But not all is what it seems. As an avid watcher of all things horror, the setup rightfully lulls you into a false sense of fun with its club scene music, lighting, and awesome camera work. Then the other shoe drops, calling out Cole’s obsession with his stats over his own reality. His cocky persona is knocked down several pegs when he realizes his friends’ lives are in actual danger.

The film is written and directed by Will Wernick (Escape Room, which was fantastic), will easily tap into the younger generation who has literally grown up with social media. At 40, I was around for the birth of chat rooms in 8th grade. As someone who is at the mercy of social media in my work now, I understand the importance and the danger of such platforms. The internet is a weird place. One of the most effective pieces of the script is the ever-rolling comment section of Cole’s videos. It’s a fantastic insight into an audience “in real-time.” While the entire cast does a great job and has believable chemistry, Keegan Allen’s performance leads this film to success. Having been a fan since Pretty Little Liars, then watching his award-worthy skills in King Cobra, No Escape highlights his ability to change from beat to beat. The over-the-top influencer voice throughout much of the film falls away when fear takes hold. The ending of this film relies completely on his reaction, and it is warranted. No Escape, while hitting some familiar notes, is still a solidly acted, practical fx gorefest for genre fans. The emotional trauma goes both ways and it’s one hell of social commentary. Hot Tip: Keep watching once the credits start to roll.

Vertical Entertainment will release the horror/thriller film NO ESCAPE on Digital and On Demand on September 18, 2020. 

NO ESCAPE stars the ensemble cast of Keegan Allen (“Pretty Little Liars,” Palo Alto), Holland Roden (“Teen Wolf”, “Channel Zero”), Denzel Whitaker (“The Purge”, Black Panther), Ronen Rubinstein (“911: Lone Star” Some Kind of Hate)Pasha Lychnikoff (“Deadwood”,”Shameless”, A Good Day to Die Hard), George Janko (“NCIS: Los Angeles,” Millennial Mafia) and Siya (The First Purge). The film is written and directed by Will Wernick (Escape Room).

Review: ‘Robin’s Wish’ becomes our own in this new doc from Tylor Norwood.

SYNOPSIS:Robin’s Wishtells the powerful true story of actor/comedian Robin Williams’ final days. For the first time, Robin’s fight against a deadly neurodegenerative disorder, known as Lewy Body Dementia, is shown in stunning detail. Through a gripping journalistic lens, this incredible story sheds entirely new light on the tragedy, beauty, and power behind the mind of one of the greatest entertainers of all time.

The name Robin Williams is a household name. From his early standup days to his iconic voiceover work for Genie in Aladdin to perhaps one of his most quotable film Mrs. Doubtfire, we all desperately miss this talented man and his gentle heart. We felt like we knew him. We understood that if he was booked as a guest on a late-night show, there was no script. The host might as well put their requisite question cards down because Robin was going to take the segment so far off the rails, there was little point in preparing. He could make us belly laugh but also mesmerize us with his ability to master heavier roles like Dead Poets Society and his Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting. He was a god. He wore his heart on his sleeve, always. What we didn’t get to see in private was more than we can imagine.

“An emotional avalanche of mourning and celebration” is perhaps the best way to describe the viewing experience. Director Tylor Norwood has mixed intimate sit down interviews with neighbors, friends, and Robin’s wife Susan, with television appearances, personal photographs, and most notably to the subject at hand, Robin’s doctors. As someone who’s grandmother recently passed from the same disorder, this hurt just a bit more. To have an inside view of the pain and fear and confusion that Williams (and his loved ones) must have been feeling, it makes this all the sadder. His doctors agree that his high level of cognitive function, much higher than the average person, is most likely what made the diagnosis so elusive. The man was nothing short of brilliant. Weaved into the film is his love story with Susan. She has become an advocate for the disorder. When you think of soulmates, these two are it. It is beautiful to watch. For the cinephile, Robin’s Wish is also a fantastic insight into his work and mindset from some of his most iconic career moments. But it is the personal asides, the conversations with injured troops from his USO tour days that will solidify him as one of the most treasured human beings of our time. To see him celebrated properly and more fully understood feels like vindication from the tabloid mess that initially ensued following his death. It was not deserved. It was shameful. This film is both a tribute and an education for so many suffering in silence. Robin’s Wish can come true in this documentary.

“I want to help people be less afraid.”  ~ Robin Williams

 

 

Vertical Entertainment will release the documentary film ROBIN’S WISH on Demand and Digital on September 1, 2020.

OFFICIAL WEBSITEhttps://www.robinswishfilm.com/

ROBIN’S WISH features interviews with Susan Schneider WilliamsShawn LevyJohn R. Montgomery, Rick Overton, and David E. Kelly. The film is directed by Tylor Norwood (directorial feature debut) who co-wrote the film with Scott Fitzloff (The United States of Detroit).

SUSAN SCHNEIDER WILLIAMS STATEMENT:

When my husband Robin Williams died, the whole world grieved. It’s enough to grieve personally over this type of loss, and then to have the entire world grieving with you—that pushed it into a different realm altogether. Robin was one of the most beloved artists in the world, a comic genius, whose mind functioned on a mighty level. Yet in the end, it was a little known disease in his beautifully gifted brain that became his greatest and final battle.

During the last year of his life, Robin was confronted with anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, scary altered realities and a roller coaster of hope and despair. With our medical team’s care we chased a relentless parade of symptoms but with very little gain. It wasn’t until after Robin’s passing, in autopsy, that the source of his terror was revealed: he had diffuse Lewy body disease. It was one of the worst cases medical professionals had seen.

Armed with the name of a brain disease I’d never heard of, I set out on a mission to understand it, and that led me down my unchosen path of advocacy. With invaluable help from leading medical experts, I saw that what Robin and I had gone through, finally made sense — our experience matched up with the science. And what I discovered along the way was bigger than me, and bigger than Robin. The full story was revealed during the making of this film and it holds the truth that Robin and I had been searching for.

Robin’s Wish is Robin’s story, it’s our story, and in some ways it’s a universal one — as we all understand what it means to search for answers, to experience love and loss and the power of healing that keeps us going.

Finally, a note about the film title: Robin wanted to help all of us be less afraid. That was Robin’s wish. We had been discussing what we wanted our legacies to be in life; when it was our time to go, how we wanted to have made people feel. Without missing a beat, Robin said, “I want to help people be less afraid.”

 

DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT: 

Robin’s Wish is the retelling of an ending to a story that was never done the justice it deserved. Robin Williams was very much an influence on my life and so when he passed with such violence and general uncertainty it affected me deeply. However, like most people, I quickly buried that uncertainty as I went about my life, too busy with my day to day affairs to treat the questions around Robin’s passing as much more than a place I’d rather not go — telling myself instead that I would remember him only as the man who made me laugh and feel so much in my life. This process of denial of Robin as a man instead of a string of characters was interrupted when his widow, Susan, reached out to me to ask if I’d have any interest in making a science documentary about a neurological disease I’d never heard of — Lewy body dementia. I told her no, and that it would take years until we’d be sitting in a theater and watching any movie I agreed to make, so I asked her what would sustain her in that. She began telling me about herself and Robin, and what they went through in the last year and a half of his life. I told her if that was the film, I was in.

What followed was years of tracking down the facts of Robin’s case from his friends, neighbors, co-workers, widow and medical professionals that gave me a clear view of a compelling story I’d never heard before about one of the greatest entertainers to ever live. In the end I think we’ve done the work of restoring a legacy that had been tainted by a fundamental misunderstanding. It was in the spirit of completing the record, and honoring Robin with giving the world the truth of what took him from us that I think this film shines, and can serve as a moment for the world to look deeper into this beautiful man’s story. It is a moment for us to understand the pain he felt as his talents and faculties rapidly slipped away, and moreover how in the face of that terrifying reality, he was more heroic, more compassionate than any character he ever played in any of his movies. So I hope this film rights a wrong that was done to him, and takes away a cloud that has unjustly hung over his legacy for far too long.

Review: ‘Archive’ will make you question life and death decisions.

SYNOPSIS:2038: George Almore is working on a true human-equivalent AI. His latest prototype is almost ready. This sensitive phase is also the riskiest. Especially as he has a goal that must be hidden at all costs:being reunited with his dead wife.

Archive is a visual dream for fans of A.I. related storytelling. The production design team has taken pages from sci-fi films of old while also giving the audience a completely original aesthetic. It’s almost the birth of Westworld’s technology. You cannot miss the nods to Space Odessey, Alien, and Blade Runner.

Performances are incredibly grounded. The physical isolation mixed with grief makes for a somber and ominous setup. The nuanced relationships are brilliant to watch as they evolve. You will find yourself empathizing with all the A.I. entities. Theo James gives us every beat in total honesty. Stacy Martin is a superstar in 3 very different roles. Quite impressive.

There is a lot of intrigue in this script. Moral ambiguity is a huge part of the plot. Writer-director Gavin Rothery begs the question, “How far would you be willing to go for love?” There are clues dropped in the dialogue and recalls in scenes providing clever juxtaposition that will challenge the viewer. You cannot look away. Blink and you’ll miss something that might be more important than you realize. Brimming with emotional complexity, Archive challenges what life and death will continue to mean as technology upgrades in the future.

ARCHIVE is releasing on July 10, 2020 on Virtual Cinema Screenings, on Demand and Digital.

Review: ‘Banana Split’ is the sweet treat we all need right now.

SYNOPSIS: April (Hannah Marks) has spent the last two years of high school in a relationship with Nick (Dylan Sprouse), from first frantic make-out session to final tear-stained breakup. In the aimless summer between graduation and college, the newly single April mends her heartbreak by striking up an unexpected friendship with an unlikely candidate: Nick’s new girlfriend, Clara (Liana Liberato).

Writers Hannah Marks and Joey Power have treated us to a genuine and hilarious look at female relationships. Minus the obvious current technology, this is a story that easily spans any generational gap. The dialogue is quippy and whip-smart. Somewhere between Dawson’s Creek and any John Hughes film. (Clearly, I’m dating myself here.) It’s laugh out loud funny the entire time. It reminded me of last year’s Booksmart. Same intoxicating energy.

Dylan Sprouse is back, ladies and gentlemen. This role allows him to prove that he (and not just his brother Cole) is the teen heartthrob of the moment. His innate ability to both seduce you and put you at ease with his nonchalance is the stuff of gold. Luke Spencer Roberts as Ben is awesome. You might think he’s going to be the sidekick but he is the sanity seeker with a wicked sense of comic timing. More of him everywhere, please.

Liana Liberato as Clara is every cool, confident girl we wanted to be in high school, but really nice. Her free-spiritedness is an awesome foil for April’s darker, sardonic tendencies. But she is equally as sharp. Hannah Marks, as April, is the quirky, indie girl we also wanted to be or actually were but didn’t know it until now. Bravo for her ability to successfully tackle the trifecta of executive producer, star, and writer. I cannot wait to see what she does next.

The chemistry between Liberato and Marks is magic. It’s that feeling we all have with our best friend; that rapid-fire back and forth that is way funnier when brimming with inside jokes. The most interesting part of this script is watching the pure development of a female relationship that mirrors the ups and downs of a romantic one. The soundtrack is fantastic, mixed with some fun countdown animation, Banana Split is hands down one of the best comedies of 2020.

 

Vertical Entertainment will release the comedy, BANANA SPLIT in Theaters, On Digital and On-Demand on March 27, 2020.

  BANANA SPLIT stars Hannah Marks (After Everything, “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”), Liana Liberato (If I Stay, “Light As A Feather”), Dylan Sprouse (“The Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” Big Daddy) and Addison Riecke (Nickelodeon’s “The Thundermans,” The Beguiled). The film marks the feature directorial debut of indie cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke (Safety Not Guaranteed, Laggies.) Marks co-wrote the film alongside Joey Power (After Everything) who were both executive producers on the film as well.

Review: ‘Blood On Her Name’- a killer neo-noir brimming with tension.

SYNOPSIS: The dead body lies at her feet, its blood still draining onto the floor. It was an accident, borne of self-defense, but its discovery could have devastating consequences for local garage owner Leigh Tiller and her son.

Feat. Bethany Anne Lind (REPRISAL, OZARK), Will Patton, (REMEMBER THE TITANS, ARMAGEDDON) and Elizabeth Röhm (AMERICAN HUSTLE, JOY)

There is a heavy and devastating state of dread that occurs as you experience Blood On Her Name. The film occurs in what feels like real-time pacing making the tension truly palpable. As details of a haunting past slowly leak into view, karma’s long-arm feels destined to right the universe. This story is nothing short of tragic. Leigh simply wants to make a better life for her son but circumstances will not release her from childhood trauma and poor current choices. As a mother, I immediately put myself in her shoes. The fear and panic were overwhelming. It was an actual experience sitting through this film.

Bethany Anne Lind is a force to be reckoned with. She has an extraordinary ability to own the screen and pull you along her emotional journey. She is the heart of this film. Frankly, the other members of the cast could have been played by anyone. Don’t get me wrong, the chemistry among everyone else is spot on. What I mean is, Lind is so captivating that it’s her performance alone that remains seared into your psyche. Blood On Her Name is a triumphant feature debut for director Matthew Pope and co-writer and producer Don Thompson. It opens in select cinemas (Today) Feb. 28th and on VOD.

BLOOD ON HER NAME will expand nationwide in the coming weeks.

Review: Based on the children’s novel, ‘Waiting For Anya’ comes to theaters tomorrow.

Adapted from the novel by the author of War Horse, Waiting for Anya follows Jo Lalande (Noah Schnapp), a thirteen-year-old shepherd boy, and reclusive widow Horcada (Anjelica Huston), who come together with their village to help smuggle Jewish children into Spain during the harrows of WWII.

This powerhouse cast gives earnest performances. That being said, some things are amiss with Waiting For Anya. Something about the cinematography combined with this particular score gives the film a made for TV feel about it. It’s all in the details. The costumes, while beautiful, are a bit too clean for the time period and terrain.

The plot does delve into the nuances of humanity. I mean it is about Nazis after all. Noah Schnapp, whose breakout performance in Stranger Things is nothing less than award-worthy, feels off here. Knowing what he is capable of, I have to think this has something to do with direction choices. Same with the iconic Anjelica Huston. It’s as if I were watching a film on UP, where the actors are being told to mug for the camera intentionally. Waiting For Anya‘s running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes also does not help. Understanding that this film is based on a children’s novel of the same name (by Michael Morpurgo) does make the choices feel more appropriate. Although the tragic but completely telegraphed (and seemingly plucked right out of M. Night Shyamalan‘s The Village) death of an ancillary character near the end was incredibly difficult.  In truth, it is straight from the book itself. As a special needs mom, it hit a little too close to home, so take that opinion with a grain of salt.

The trailer looks absolutely gorgeous but the quality in the actual feature is inconsistent. Wide sweeping shots that are simply gorgeous are the undercut with a few poorly placed greenscreen shots. It has all the makings of a sweeping historical drama but lands in a holocaust family drama, if that’s even a thing. After all that nitpicking, I would still recommend this film as a mother. Certainly as a history lesson for my children when they reach middle school age. Until then, I believe I’ll start with the novel.

Vertical Entertainment will release WAITING FOR ANYA in theaters, on demand and digital February 7, 2020.

WAITING FOR ANYA stars Noah Schnapp (“Stranger Things”, The Peanuts Movie), Academy Award winner Anjelica Huston (The Witches, The Addams Family), Jean Reno (Leon: The Professional, The Big Blue). The film was written and directed by Ben Cookson (Almost Married).

Review: ‘The Operative’ deserves a pace that matches its performances.

SYNOPSIS:
“The Operative” is a taut psychological thriller about a young Western woman (Diane Kruger) recruited by the Mossad to go undercover in Tehran where she becomes entangled in a complex triangle with her handler (Martin Freeman) and her subject (Cas Anvar).
New thriller, based on Yiftach R. Atir‘s book, The English Teacher, The Operative shines when Martin Freeman‘s voiceovers guide the narrative along and when we actually see operations play out. You can feel the anxiety of the missions in real-time. Before I knew this was based upon the novel, the film brought a recognizably literary feel to its structure. Though you could easily cut 20 mins from this film’s first half without altering the intent or style. The story truly revolves around the protection of two people. Its emotional complexity is beguiling and that’s what keeps you watching.
Diane Kruger delivers a nuanced performance. The gears are turning in those quiet moments and you know there is much more going on from the very beginning. She is vulnerable and a bit mysterious. Martin Freeman is a star. He absolutely owns this role. A fan since Hitchhiker’s Guide and Sherlock, it’s incredible to see him in more and more lead roles that show is ever-expansive range. Cas Anvar is charming and powerful. He’s a real delight to watch. The Operative has a great overall plot. Intimately shot and superbly acted, it’s a solid spy thriller.

THE OPERATIVE
DISTRIBUTOR:
 Vertical Entertainment
THEATRICAL RELEASE DATE: August 2, 2019
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Yuval Adler
STARRING: Diane Kruger, Martin Freeman, and Cas Anvar
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
RATING: not yet rated

Review: ‘Astral’ is out of the normal realm.

Coming to terms with the explanation of his mother’s untimely death, Alex turns to spiritual contact after the relationship with his father breaks down. As a student of metaphysics, Alex learns of the “scientific” premise of astral projection—the ability to project your spirit into an unseen spatial dimension. Attempting to astral project, Alex becomes plagued by shadow spirits—malevolent entities vying to enter his body to access our world. Alex soon learns that he is not the only member of his family to have been besieged by such beings, as his mother’s dark past is brought to his attention.

The pace of the film is a mystery. By that I mean, it has the feel of a slow and steady burn but in reality, the time passes really quickly. Which is sort of ironic when you consider the editing of a few scenes. You’ll have to watch to see what I mean by that. I was fully engrossed the entire run. Admittedly, the plot went in an entirely different direction than I was expecting which is always refreshing. At first, I thought it was going to be a typical setup of students and professor engaging in some private and shady experiments outside of the classroom but it has none of that. Then you think, well maybe it will a bit Flatliners inspired. Wrong again. Bravo for not falling into any of those traps. With Astral, there is very specific CG and used rather sparingly throughout the majority of the film. The effectiveness of the CG is impactful and it’s all that’s needed to build up the suspense. The film’s believability rests solely with our leading man, Frank Dillane. He happens to be my favorite actor from Fear The Walking Dead and he does not disappoint here. His natural ability to make you feel comfortable is pretty astounding. You genuinely root for him. Astral does an amazing job at making you feel on edge. The ending is worth the wait and the familiar occult historical references give it nicely grounded feel. Is astral projection the new Ouija board? Maybe.

ASTRAL was co-written by Chris and Michael Mul and is Chris Mul’s directorial debut.  The film has a running time of 83 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.

Vertical Entertainment will release ASTRAL in a multi-city theatrical release with markets including LA and NY among others on November 23. The film will also be made available on digital platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Fandango Now, Direct TV, Dish Network and through local cable providers