Review: ‘WRONG TURN’ is an incredibly smart reboot you won’t see coming.

WRONG TURN

SYNOPSIS: Backwoods terror and never-jangling suspense meet when Jen (Charlotte Vega) and a group of friends set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. Despite warnings to stick to the trail, the hikers stray off course—and cross into land inhabited by The Foundation, a hidden community of mountain dwellers who use deadly means to protect their way of life. Suddenly under siege, Jen and her friends seem headed to the point of no return— unless Jen’s father (Golden Globe® nominee Matthew Modine) can reach them in time.

The reboot (and the seventh installment of the franchise) of Wrong Turn starts with another group of successful 20 somethings hiking the Appalachian Trail. When the local Virginians get aggravated by their presence, and they veer from the trail, things get deadly but not for the reasons you think. This script is completely different than the original, which is the greatest bait and switch from the clever set-up in the beginning. That’s the difference between a remake and a reboot. This cast is diverse and cool. They get to take their initial instigators to task, at least verbally. All the tropes are there but they’re used smartly. The first kill is so brutal you’ll both gasp and respect the decision to go all-in so early. From that moment on, the violence and gore are used for shock value that is carefully intentional in forwarding the plot.

Matthew Modine plays Jennifer’s father who comes searching for her 6 weeks after she goes missing. He is great. He walks this fantastic balance between modern man and totally self-sufficient badass that just feels incredibly believable. This is the updated father figure that will resonate with a large genre audience. It’s yet another successful aspect of screenwriter Alan B. McElroy’s reboot of the franchise. Bill Sage is a nice familiar face. He always lives in whatever role he tackles. This is no exception. Even with a runtime of one hour and fifty minutes, I would have been pleased to see more of him on screen. Charlotte Vega as Jen is outstanding. She has a genuine presence that grows stronger with each scene. There is an unexplainable accessibility to her character. Hollywood should continue to take note of this talent. Also, audiences should keep an ear open for Modine’s daughter Ruby as she sings the film’s final song. Stunning performance.

The score is classic staccato string work. Combined with the handheld camerawork and quick-cut editing, the terror is firmly in high gear. This is a totally fresh take of new world versus the old. The complexity of the script will throw you off-kilter. It challenges the viewers’ sense of morality. Who are the true villains? It’s about intrusion and disrespect of cultural differences on a multitude of levels. It’s quite brilliant in a time a faux “wokeness”. The nuance will knock you off your feet. You will not know where this plot is going. It’s twist after twist. That. Ending. Pure perfection.

Saban Films will release the horror film On-Demand, Digital, Blu-ray, and DVD on February 23, 2021. 

THEATRICAL RELEASE: January 26, 2021

ON DEMAND, DIGITAL, DVD, and BLU-RAY: February 23, 2021

DIRECTOR: Mike P. Nelson

WRITER: Alan B. McElroy

CAST: Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Bill Sage, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Daisy Head, Tim DeZarn, and Matthew Modine.

RUN TIME: 109 minutes

RATING: R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, and pervasive language.

GENRE: Horror

DISTRIBUTOR:  Saban Films

Review: Will HBO docuseries ‘ALLEN v. FARROW’ finally lead to accountability?

ALLEN v. FARROW

The four-part documentary series Allen v. Farrow, from award-winning investigative filmmakers Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy, goes behind the years of sensational headlines to reveal the private story of one Hollywood’s most notorious and public scandals: the accusation of sexual abuse against Woody Allen involving Dylan, his then 7-year-old daughter with Mia Farrow; their subsequent custody trial, the revelation of Allen’s relationship with Farrow’s daughter, Soon-Yi; and the controversial aftermath in the years that followed.

There is a chilling feeling while watching this series. As a critic, I long fell into the same category as the journalists featured at the beginning of the episode. You grow up with the notion that Woodey Allen represented the quintessential essence of what New York City culture was. You’re enamored with it all. While inarguably furthering the early careers of actresses Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, and Mia Farrow (they made 12 films during their relationship), the pattern of behavior and theme of his obsession with young women run through his scripts. Woody Allen has somehow been allowed to continue to work mostly unscathed, even after the world knew about his relationship with Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi, even after the #MeToo movement continues to rain hell down on abusers. Allegations swirled about the sexual abuse of adopted daughter Dylan. This is the first time that Dylan gets to tell her story in earnest. This doc utilized Allen’s own words against him as excerpts of him narrating his 2020 memoir play in between intimate sitdown interviews with Mia, Dylan, Ronan, family, and friends of the once power couple. Mia took endless hours of home videos for years, adding to the amount of readily available footage from the media. Finally hearing all the details from the source is brutal. It’s a visceral watch.  As a parent, it is next-level painful. Watching the cycle of emotional abuse Mia endured from one man to the next, all while unconditionally loving her children adds another complex layer to this situation. This series will undoubtedly be controversial. It will be interesting to see the apologists come out loud and proud. There’s an enormous amount of evidence to digest. You will be shocked, sickened, furious, heartbroken. All this just at the end of the first of four episodes. ALLEN v. FARROW has to potential to reopen old wounds for a lot of trauma survivors. It also has the potential to knock another man off the pedestal we’ve kept him on for far too long.

The remaining episodes of ALLEN v. FARROW will air over the next subsequent Sunday nights on HBO at 9 pm.

Review: Watch with glee as Nicolas Cage battles evil animatronics in ‘Willy’s Wonderland’

WILLY’S WONDERLAND

When his car breaks down, a quiet loner agrees to clean an abandoned family fun center in exchange for repairs. He soon finds himself waging war against possessed animatronic mascots while trapped inside Willy’s Wonderland.

So we can all agree that Nicolas Cage is now firmly his own genre, right? I can’t believe this is the same guy from Raising Arizona and National Treasure. He is a force of nature. When you’ve reached this cool of a status you can pretty much pick whatever project you want. Bless Nic Cage for providing the masses with his particular set of skills on screen. WILLY’S WONDERLAND is the perfect place for us to experience this latest chapter of “Cage rage’ with some popcorn on our couches.  As “The Janitor”, Cage’s combination of nonchalance and violence is pure badass. This is a dude comprised of mystery and soda. But for a significant part of the film, we’re actually watching him clean this place. This Academy Award-winning actor clean urinals. It’s the weirdest bit of intrigue to witness but talk about commitment. Alongside a vat filled with horror tropes, all used masterfully, this film is sure to be a cult classic. Dare I say, even franchise potential for his character? With a ragtag group of teens, townspeople in on the rouse, evil possession a la Child’s Play, WILLY’S WONDERLAND is a damn good time. The cast is so committed to this story you just get to sit back and watch with giddy energy as the mayhem ensues. The final third of the film is relentless chaos, highlighted by a 3-minute interlude of Cage improvising at a pinball machine. It’s pure magic. This is why we watch movies.

G. O. Parsons‘ screenplay is so batshit it works. A possessed weasel, a fairy, a turtle, an alligator, a chameleon, a gorilla, a knight, and an Ostrich provide us with hilarious and gruesome kills and calamity. The Janitor’s mission of cleaning this damn place will not be deterred. There will undoubtedly be comparisons to the Five Nights at Freddy’s games and The Banana Splits movie but who cares. WILLY’S WONDERLAND has execution that is out of this world. The creature, set, and prop builds are wild. Attention to detail is award-worthy. My mother used to work at a Chuck E. Cheese. The atmosphere built for Cage and company to exist in is spot on. The handheld camerawork is dizzying and fantastic. The lighting is often enhanced with a black light hue that is simply delicious. It’s a funhouse of horrors. This is a genre fan’s dream watch. The practical FX are bloodsoaked and brutal. The soundtrack is epic. You will be singing Willy’s theme over and over because it balances on the edge of maniacal, weird, and wonderful. Where can I buy that and an official Willy’s Wonderland t-shirt? I’m as deadly serious as The Janitor.

WILLY’S WONDERLAND is now available on VOD platforms

Amazon Prime series: Twisted and dark ‘Tell Me Your Secrets’ Season 1 is available today!

TELL ME YOUR SECRETS

An intense, morally complex thriller revolving around a trio of characters, each with a mysterious and troubling past: Emma (Rabe) is a young woman who once looked into the eyes of a dangerous killer, John (Linklater) is a former serial predator desperate to find redemption, and Mary (Brenneman) is a grieving mother obsessed with finding her missing daughter, Theresa (Baker). As each of them is pushed to the edge, the truth about their pasts and motives grows ever murkier, blurring the lines between victim and perpetrator.

Emma Hall is a new woman, or at least she hopes to be. Recently released from prison, she is the former girlfriend of a notorious serial rapist and murderer. With a new identity and the help of a mysterious man, she attempts to start over in a small Louisiana town where no one knows who she is or what she’s done, including Emma. All we know is that she claims to have memory gaps when it comes to her boyfriend’s crimes. Mary lost her daughter 7 years ago and is convinced Emma holds the key to her disappearance. When reformed rapist John is denied a volunteer position at her foundation, Mary emotionally blackmails into tracking Emma down. The audience is in for one hell of a mystery.

With multiple timelines, you aren’t sure what to believe. Tell Me Your Secrets is loaded and dizzying. The end of episode one had me catching my breath. I need to know what happened to Theresa and how Emma is connected. I can tell as a Mother, this story intrigues me. As a true crime fan, I’m invested. As a critic, I am impressed at the storytelling style. If this is just the introduction to this series, I’m hooked.

The cast is top-notch. Amy Breneman‘s woman in the edge performance is terrifying. Hamish Linklater‘s anxiety-driven reformed act gives me pause. I’m dying to see more from him already. Lily Rabe‘s perfect balancing act of darkness and trauma makes Tell Me Your Secrets as captivating as it is. If you’re a fan of The Killing or True Detective, this could be your new binge.

All 10 episodes of Season 1 of TELL ME YOUR SECRETS are now available on Prime Video

Shudder original review: ‘SHOOK’ is a satisfying comeuppance.

SHOOK

When Mia, a social media star, becomes the target of an online terror campaign, she has to solve a series of tests to prevent people she cares about from getting murdered. But is it real? Or is it just a game at her expense?

Shudder continues to kill it with its original content. SHOOK pokes fun at the people we love to hate but cannot get enough of; Influencers. In a world where every minute detail is curated for an audience, i.e. for-profit, losing control is the biggest fear.

The colors in the film are striking and very on-brand for influencers. Bright pink and blue hues establish a cohesive theme. The editing is incredibly creative, mixing screen views, live streams, projections, and most thought-provokingly Mia’s anxiety manifested imagery. The backstory is an emotional stronghold and the introduction of a local serial dog killer is sort of the most ridiculous but perfect setup. By now we all know killing animals is a sign of a sociopath so we have an idea that even outside the influencer angle Shook has crazy potential, very much pun intended. The terror factor comes in the form of psychological trauma to the nth degree.

Daisye Tutor as Mia strikes a fantastic balance between self-absorbed and vulnerable. You’re rooting for her despite her hideous tendencies. Fans of Scream, Saw, CAM, and most recently Eugene Kotlyareno‘s Spree will love SHOOK. Writer/director Jennifer Harrington‘s screenplay is driven by fear, guilt, denial, and revenge. There’s an unexpected complexity tied to the plot. If you think you know how this ultimately plays out, you’re dead wrong.

Shook will premiere and debut exclusively to Shudder on February 18th in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle where available.

Written and directed by Jennifer Harrington and starring Daisye Tutor (Guest House), Emily Goss (Snapshots), Nicola Posener (The Bold and the Beautiful), Octavius J. Johnson (Sleepless), Stephanie Simbari (Here and Now), Grant Rosenmeyer (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and real-life make-up and social media influencer Genelle Seldon.

SHOOK

Genre: Horror

Country: USA

Runtime: 89 min

Year: 2021

Rated: NA

Slamdance 2021 review: ‘WORKHORSE QUEEN’ the good, the bad, and the drag.

WORKHORSE QUEEN

By day, Ed Popil worked as a telemarketer in Rochester, New York for 18 years. By night, he transformed into drag queen Mrs. Kasha Davis, a 1960’s era housewife trying to liberate herself from domestic toil through performing at night in secret –an homage to Ed’s mother. After seven years of auditioning to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ed Popil was finally cast onto the tv show and thrust into a full-time entertainment career at the late age of 44. Workhorse Queen explores the complexities of reality television’s impact on queer performance culture by focusing on the growing divide between members of a small-town drag community – those who have been on television, and those who have not.

I was 19 years old in my freshman year at college in New York City when I entered a multileveled club in borrowed pleather pants and hair I had dyed blonde (without stripping first) when I found my way to a restroom after dancing my little suburban grown heart out. While washing my hands someone was next to me checking their lipstick in the mirror and casually asked me for the time. I glanced over to tell them, and without skipping a beat I told them 12:16. They thanked me and exited the bathroom. I had encountered my first live drag performer and I could not wait to tell my friends how much cooler I now was for it. After that, I regularly attended drag brunch, drag bingo, had a standing table at Lucky Cheng’s, and have sung on stage at Don’t Tell Mama. When RuPaul’s Drag Race began, I thought, “Yes! Now the world can experience what I’ve been so enamored with as a theater kid for so long.” To me, drag was and still is art. As for many a performance artist, the craft requires sacrifice, thankless long hours, and money for costumes, makeup, and hair sometimes just for the chance to be seen but always for the chance to live out your dream. Drag is performance at a showstopping level. And while Drag Race has certainly widened the platform, that same platform only has room enough for a small number of girls (and guys).

Slamdance 2021 audiences get to peek behind the curtain of what drag is really like. In its world premiere, WORKHORSE QUEEN gives Mrs. Kasha Davis her own time to shine, with and without the glitter and fanfare. This doc is about Ed Popil, the man under the wig and magic. His story is one that will most likely ring true for many individuals trying to find out who they are, told they are too much, and yet not enough. There is such an intriguing dynamic in this doc. Family is front and center. Not just Ed Popil’s husband and kids but his drag family. Mrs. Kasha Davis and Ed are genuinely loving and kind; everything you want and need them to be. Ed exposes his childhood trauma at the hands and words of his father, the decaying relationship with the mother he idolized, and his alcohol addiction. When you’re a queen with a catchphrase, “There’s always time for a cocktail,” how does your career survive rehab? The doc isn’t shy about the inequities faced by performers with lower profiles both on social media and among fellow performers. Drag Race is a competition, life should not be. WORKHORSE QUEEN is triumphant in its honesty. There is so much deliciousness packed into its hour and 27-minute runtime. It’s raw, celebratory, passionate, and revelatory. It honors living your true authentic self and how one person impacts people’s lives in ways you never thought possible.

WORKHORSE QUEEN
Directed by Angela Washko
USA I 2021 I Documentary I 88 minutes
SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021
Virtual Screening Information
Friday, Feb. 12
For Festival Passes, click here
Please Note: Audience caps may affect film accessibility

Review: ‘I BLAME SOCIETY’ is weird, smart, and dark as hell. I’m obsessed.

I BLAME SOCIETY

Synopsis
Gillian (Gillian Wallace Horvat) is one of those many struggling filmmakers in L.A. who just can’tseem to get the money for their first feature. Feeling like her friends and her partner (Keith Poulson) are losing faith in her abilities, she decides to resurrect her abandoned documentary based on a pseudo-compliment she once received that she would make a good murderer. But while she documents what makes “the perfect murder” a hitherto unseen dark side of Gillian emerges and grows. Furthermore the problem with being a successful serial killer, she discovers, is keeping the whole thing stealth, denying her the recognition that she craves… and that unhinges her even more. After accidentally-ish killing her best friend (Chase Williamson), Gillian goes on a killing spree culminating with a final bloody act that nobody would dare deny her credit for.

There is no female equivalent for the phrase “Ballsy”. What would that even look like? Lippy? I BLAME SOCIETY is extra lippy. Starring as a version of herself, filmmaker Gillian Wallace Horvat says all the quiet parts out loud. Then she acts on them just to make a point. And goddamnit, virtual high five from me. This script is unapologetic, bold, and genuinely hilarious. It’s the “die for your art” meets “tell me I can’t and see what happens” mashup I didn’t know I wanted. Highlighting the ridiculously misogynistic side of the industry in the smartest ways. When the phrases, “This is a really big opportunity for you!” “You’re like the female him!” “We need an ally on your side!” I died laughing and I died inside. But the film also tackles social media, communication, and ambition all inside a twisted presentation of Dexter-esque mayhem.

The pace leading to murderous activities works so well to build up a tense WTF feeling. It’s just so imaginative and absolutely terrifying. You get to a point where you stop thinking it’s funny and start genuinely worrying about everyone she encounters. Wallace Horvat is awesome. I wanna hang out with her in real-life and make fun of everything that she makes fun of in this film. She knows exactly what she’s doing even as she leads you to believe otherwise. She has an overtly narcissistic sociopath nuance to “Gillian” and nothing short of that would have worked as well. When she references makeover sequences, I laughed out loud and then immediately gasped exclaiming, “Holy Shit! That’s her actual hair!” When you see it you’ll fully understand.

The DIY look of the camerawork makes it even more relatable, especially after last week’s Twitter battle claiming “you can’t make a film with just an iPhone.” I BLAME SOCIETY is a giant middle finger to still male-dominated and faux #MeToo accountability in Hollywood. And not just the film industry. I’ve been on the other end of these conversations, yes in writing rooms and screening rooms, but also retail jobs, teaching jobs, do I need to go on? Even outside that theme, I BLAME SOCIETY is for every single person obsessed with true crime yelling at the TV, “The Husband did it,” or “You know what I would have done…” We get to sit back, relax, and watch someone else live out our darkest fantasies and that’s satisfying and entertaining.

I BLAME SOCIETY Debuts February 12th on VOD
For More Info Visit HERE

Review: ‘The Mimic’ is like nothing else you’ve seen or heard.

THE MIMIC

mimic: noun mim∙ic <\‘mi-mik \>

: a person who copies the behavior or speech of other people

: a person who mirrors other people

: an animal that naturally looks like something else

Based on a true story, this clever, intriguing, and hyperbolic comedy follows the main character – ‘the Narrator’ (Thomas Sadoski) who is befriended by his young new neighbor ‘the Kid’ (Jake Robinson), after he joins the local newspaper team.

Obsessed with the idea that the Kid may be a sociopath, the Narrator goes to extreme lengths to uncover the truth about him and his wife, a woman he ultimately begins to fancy. Between long walks down the street, a twisted dinner date, and a car drive gone terribly wrong, the Narrator gets closer and closer to the truth about the Kid. But the truth, as he finds, is anything but what he expected.

With a genuine laugh out loud, “Who’s On First?” meets  Adaptation (2002) energy, THE MIMIC so damn quirky you’re sort of hypnotized by its rhythm. It hums like a David Sedaris story that he’s narrating himself. The back and forth, rapid-fire dialogue is a bit dizzying but it certainly leaves you perched on the edge of your seat trying to keep up with the antics of these two gentlemen. You are so invested in them and their dynamic, you get swept up in this completely unexpected and magnetic film. I’m not exactly sure why there’s essentially a Febreze commercial halfway through the script but at that point you sort of just shrug and say, “Sure, why not.” We also experience a very meta scene, not including the moment when The Narrator turns to look straight into the camera. I was obsessed with it. Writer/Director Thomas F. Mazziotti’s screenplay has a rich theatrical feel. There is no doubt this could be an award-winning stage production. I would buy tickets to watch this live over and over just to feel the electricity between two actors up close and personal.

The ancillary cast of The Mimic is truly unreal. But the main focus is on our two leads; Thomas Sadoski and Jake Robinson. Sadoski’s mix of morose and obsessive behavior barrels the plot forward. Robinson’s overtly sunny disposition is so cringe-worthy (especially to this New Yorker critic) that you’re immediately placed in The Narrator’s (and Sadoski’s) mindset that something is off with The Kid. I first fell in love with Thomas Sadoski on The Newsroom. He’s just so goddamn good at what he does. He lives in a character’s skin with what looks like such ease. In The Mimic, you can see it all in his pained facial expressions. The Kid must be a sociopath. Jake Robinson looks like an ad for toothpaste from the 1950s. He’s got this classically handsome, old Hollywood charm that’s infectious, which is exactly why he was the perfect choice for this role. His comic timing is magic. The chemistry between these two men at odds is like a ticking time bomb. I was mesmerized by their report.

There is just something about this film that makes it special. I think it will garner a bit of a cult following. I can hear it being quoted in the same way Swingers still gets quoted among a certain age group of cinephiles. It’s got that same buzz about it. The Mimic will not be replicated and that’s what makes it so fantastic.

THE MIMIC will be screening in select theaters, and available on VOD beginning Friday, February 5, 2021.

Review: Jill Sixx Gevargizian’s ‘THE STYLIST’ has a look to die for.

THE STYLIST

Everyone dreams of being someone else, but for Claire, that dream goes from an obsession to a living nightmare. Her job as a hairstylist allows her to move in and out of other people’s worlds and is about to seamlessly pursue her disturbing predilection. Her lonely life, gruesome hobby, and shocking secrets are suddenly thrown into turmoil when her regular client, Olivia, asks her to style her hair for her wedding. Could she have made a true friend?

Back in 2016, I saw a disturbing and memorable short called The Stylist. Some of those images are still burnt into my brain. It’s not often I say that about a short. Now, writer/director/ producer Jill Sixx Gevargizian has developed that very short into a feature. That’s the funny thing about hairstylists. We totally end up telling them all about ourselves. It’s this unspoken, universal rule. We trust them with our hair and our secrets. Returning in the titular role is Najarra Townsend. She has this timeless look, with her gorgeous red hair and her vintage wardrobe. Signature colors people. Bravo to the costume department here. She has incredibly low self-esteem and social anxiety. Also, she’s a serial killer. This woman hates herself and craves connection. Gevargizian’s expertise as a real-life hairstylist shines through the opening scenes. She clearly guided Townsend’s hands to perfect the realism.

Brea Grant, who can do no wrong in my book, shines as Olivia, magazine exec, bride-to-be, and the unique object of Claire’s affection. She’s a firecracker. Her energy is the perfect foil for Najarra’s (mostly) quiet demeanor. Townsend has an amazing presence. Even when the focus is supposed to be on Olivia, her silhouette looms like a ghost in the background. She lives in the complexity of Gevargizian ‘s screenplay. She is both unsettling and mesmerizing.

We have to talk about the audio. The sound editing will make you cringe. The original score will throw your brain off-kilter and feels like an ode to 70’s horror classics. The editing is smart with side by side frames showing us Claire and Olivia as they navigate what seems mundane. The more we see them together, the more we realize how different these two women are. This script is built on the need for acceptance. There was a bit of a Single White Female (1992) meets May (2002) thing happening and I was all in. The Stylist is visually striking. You are enveloped in the lighting and overall color choices. The cinematic elements combined with stellar performances and an intense script creates a wildly successful atmospheric film dripping in nuance. Your heart is in your throat, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a very uncomfortable and bone-chilling watch. That. Final. Shot. And Cut.

See THE STYLIST first, on March 1st 2021, exclusively on ARROW.

Distributor: Arrow Video
Release date: 1st March, 2020
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Netflix Original Documentary review: ‘STRIP DOWN, RISE UP’ is raw and revelatory film on the power of pole dance.

STRIP DOWN, RISE UP

STRIP DOWN, RISE UP is a cinema verité film about women from different walks of life—all ages and ethnic backgrounds—who shed trauma, body image shame, sexual abuse, and other issues locked in their bodies to reclaim their sensuality and sense of self through sensual movement and pole dance. While pole has the stigmas of being a strip club activity, and more recently, an exercise fad, the film tells deeply transformative stories of women within this little-known, supportive community who embark on a journey to heal themselves.

Did I think I would be weeping while watching a documentary about pole dancing? Absolutely not. Strip Down, Rise Up is one of the most personally impactful docs I’ve ever seen. As a dancer, a competitor, a choreographer, a performer, a wife, a mother, a sexual trauma survivor, a film critic, this movie is a therapy session and motherf*cking triumphant scream into the abyss. The stigma that pole dancing carries were created by, everyone say it with me, “Patriarchal Structure!” When I say this, I don’t just mean men. When someone tells you that a particular thing “isn’t feminine” they are part of the problem. Suggesting a stripper is a whore, that’s definitely part of the problem. These are just two examples of how we’ve all been trained to toe the line in outdated gender normative behavior. Take your bullshit standards and eat them. Strip Down, Rise Up is empowerment to the nth degree.

Actress Sheila Kelley began The S Factor after doing research for a role. After falling in love with the art and sport and strength of pole she decided to start a studio. This movement is about the reclamation of our bodies. The power, both physically and emotionally it takes to do pole is beyond most of our basic understanding. The women profiled in the film come from every background, are every age and shape. One is a widow, one a victim of Dr. Larry Nassar. Another is a cancer patient, another a first-time mother. Then there’s the lawyer, pole competitor, and studio owner. And that’s just a few of the unique individuals spotlighted here Through pole exploration, these women are allowed to feel sexy, build strength, and reclaim their bodies. Too often they are sexual assault survivors. The fear and disconnection spread so much further than I ever thought, even after the #MeToo movement kicked off. The amount of trauma is both shocking and not. Which is a scary commentary unto itself. There is so much complexity built into the intimate stories of these women. Director Michèle Ohayon has given every viewer a gift. Throw your expectations out the window. Burn them to the ground. Strip Down, Rise Up will free you.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Michèle Ohayon‘s new doc feature, STRIP DOWN, RISE UP, is now on Netflix.

Final Girls Berlin 2021 review: ‘Time Of Moulting’ (Fellwechselzeit) will take patience.

TIME OF MOULTING

In a small town in 1970s West Germany, Stephanie is an intelligent and lively child living an insular life with her parents. She senses that something is wrong in her family, something that cannot be put into words, and she pushes against it where she can. Unspoken maladies lurk beneath the surface of everyday life and insidiously seeps into who she is. Neither she nor her parents have contact with others, and she falls into a symbiotic relationship with her mentally unstable mother Sybille. Sybille has never really left her own childhood behind and lives a life amidst objects and shadows of the past. Stephanie’s father offers neither support, love, nor normalcy. Stephanie withdraws more and more into herself and the passing years bring only ageing, but no future with them. Stephanie flees early from her life’s narrowness and hopelessness into an inner world of dark fantasies, which are nourished by traces of the past. Fellwechselzeit is a heavily atmospheric and harrowing portrait of the ways in which oppressive and repressed family dynamics can influence and infect the lives of younger generations– not tangible, not namable, but inexorable. Inner abysses form the only escape route for an undernourished soul.

You have to stick with filmmaker Sabrina Mertens‘ style choice here. TIME OF MOULTING is one of the most intentional slow-burn films establishing the cyclical nature of mental illness I’ve ever seen outside of a documentary. As the camera sits and watches these drawn-out, often silent scenes, we get a small peek inside the world of a family that has chosen isolation. The film does a 10-year time jump only to find our young protagonist worse off than before. She has been simmering in the childhood of her mother and is acting out with self-harm and increasingly violent drawings and fantasies. This film is not for everyone. You have to have the patience to make it to the end. The visual impact of Time of Moulting is massive. We hear over and over that the family cat has urinated on the furniture. We see each room accumulate more garbage/objects. Stephanie’s fascination with her grandfather’s slaughterhouse tools will make you so uncomfortable you will feel it on your bones. Performances are outstanding. This film challenges the audience to its breaking point.

DIRECTED BY SABRINA MERTENS, GERMANY, 2020

Starring Zelda Espenschied and Miriam Schiweck

Final Girls Berlin 2021 review: ‘DARKNESS’ will make your skin crawl.

DARKNESS

Stella, 17-year-old, and her younger sisters, Luce and Aria, are locked inside their house with bars on the windows. Outside is the Apocalypse: two-thirds of humanity is dead since sunlight has become too strong and only men can go outside. Their claustrophobic life is brightened up by some special games, such as the air party. But their father gets angry: he would like them to completely erase the past. The girls stay locked in their house, alone, with no food until things begin to break down and puncture the delicate shell of their cloistered existence.

Eerily the perfect film at this moment in our history, three girls wait in locked down isolation as their father scavenges for food in an uninhabitable world outside. The sisters pass the time with make-believe skits, attending to a strict schedule that revolves around their hyper-aggressive dad and reminiscing about their dead mother. But something else is very wrong here. Very, very wrong. Due to the current global pandemic, a phrase I am still not used to writing 11 months in, Darkness will resonate on a personal level, especially for parents. The film also has a similar circumstantial setup as ONLY one of my favorite films from Tribeca Film Festival 2019. But perhaps ends up more reminiscent of a certain M. Night Shyamalan film. All three young actresses giving stunning performances and they have a great screenplay to work with. If I’m being nitpicky, the runtime could be cut by 10-15 minutes as Stella pushes past her physical boundaries. The camera work puts you in the shoes of the sisters. Sometimes claustrophobic, other times disorienting. The full picture slowly reveals itself to be far more disturbing than you might think. There are clues sprinkled throughout but at the heart of it, Darkness is about emotional manipulation and physical abuse. It’s absolutely chilling. This film would easily garner a larger audience on any of the genre centric platforms. I’m excited to see where it ends up landing.

DIRECTED BY EMANUELA ROSI, ITALY, 2019

Starring Denise Tantucci, Valerio Binasco, Gaia Bocci, Olimpia Tosatto
German Premiere

Review: ‘The Reckoning’ – The good, the bad, and the terrifying.

The Reckoning

SYNOPSIS: Set against the backdrop of the Great Plague and subsequent witch-hunts against women, Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk) must grapple with the tragic untimely death of her husband Joseph (Joe Anderson) in a society completely consumed by fear and death. Because she rejects her landlord Squire Pendleton’s (Steven Waddington) advances, she is falsely accused of being a witch and thrown in jail for a crime she didn’t commit. Grace must endure physical persecution at the hands of England’s most ruthless witch-hunter Judge Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) and face her own inner demons as the Devil himself starts to work his way into her mind.

The Reckoning shines brightest in its performances and the attention to historic details. Firstly, without a doubt, the best aspect of this entire film is Sean Pertwee. His commitment to righteousness and torture without apology is what makes The Reckoning worth your time. Every second he is onscreen, he owns it. Watching him work is a masterclass. Charlotte Kirk does all the right things. But now for the bad… The amount of makeup on a person of her character’s social standing is completely unrealistic. It’s an unnatural amount for anyone outside of a royal court. It was genuinely distracting. This detail is a letdown considering the overall look of the film. One thing that is very clear is the amount of research that Kirk and Neil Marshall did to make The Reckoning as fact-based as possible. Kirk is stunning enough without a full face, so I am a bit baffled at the choice.

Now, the scary. This is a double-edged sword for me. While the creature makeup of The Devil is one of the most successful parts of the film visually, the ways in which he is utilized felt cheap. For me, it was a reason to exploit Kirk. It makes zero sense to have her fornicate (probably the first time I’ve used that word in earnest) with The Devil, without that being a major plot point that comes to fruition. It takes away from the overall feminist narrative of the film. I absolutely loved being terrified by the appearance of The Devil. Those moments stick in my head for their fright factor but make me cringe when used tom over sexual a character who is already sexually harrassed over and over for her appearance. This film might fair better if those scenes are cut altogether. The climax is most certainly unexpected and incredibly satisfying. Although with a runtime of 1 hour and 51 minutes, The Reckoning could lose a good 30 mins. Neil Marshall and Charlotte Kirk set out to highlight the atrocities committed against women in a time of fear, sickness, and paranoia. They are able to tell this story through the experiences of Grace and even a few ancillary characters associated with her. The real-life horrors are enough.

WATCH THE TRAILER:

RLJE Films and Shudder will release the action / horror THE RECKONING In Theaters, On Demand and Digital February 5, 2021. 

THE RECKONING stars Charlotte Kirk (Ocean’s 8, How To Be Single), Joe Anderson (Across The Universe, The Crazies), Steven Waddington (The Imitation Game, “The Tudors”) and Sean Pertwee (Dog SoldiersEquilibrium). The film was directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent), who co-wrote the film alongside Charlotte Kirk, making her feature screenwriting debut, and Edward Evers-Swindell (Dark Signal).

Review: ‘The Right One’ oozes with charm, laughs, and hidden complexity.

The Right One

 

SYNOPSIS: In this heartfelt and hilarious rom-com, Sara, a novelist struggling with writer’s block, needs inspiration — and finds it when she serendipitously meets Godfrey, a down-on-his-luck oddball who constantly changes personas and alter egos in order to cope with his past and avoid reality. Just as Godfrey begins to open up to Sara, he discovers that she’s been using him as inspiration for her next novel, and he vanishes from her life. Did Sara just lose the man of her dreams, or will she be able to find him and make things right?

Procrastinating romance novelist Sarah is attempting to finish her third book after breaking up with a longtime boyfriend. It’s not going well. Her agent Kelly forces her out into the dating scene causing her to repeatedly stumble upon a mystery man with many different personalities. Can she figure out who he is and in return also discover her true self? The Right One is laugh out loud funny from beginning to end. Though it’s not simply a rom-com, it’s much more complex. The script is rightfully presented in three clean acts. It allows the characters to develop naturally. 35 minutes in we get our first clue to Godfrey’s past and it is unexpectedly dark. While the funny doesn’t stop, it lets the cast explore the underlying messages in writer Ken Mok‘s directorial debut.

Iliza Shlesinger is basically playing her standup self and I mean that as a compliment. Her aggressive manner is pure magic for this role as Sarah’s literary agent. But don’t let her fool you, there’s a softer side hiding in there even if just a little bit. I can see her acting career turning out to be akin to Kathryn Hahn‘s. I would put money on it. Cleopatra Coleman as Sarah is exactly who we need. Solid romcom sweetness with an edge. I could watch an entire series of her being quirky. She’s a damn delight. Nick Thune has a total Bill Murray/ Steve Martin energy. It was like watching an incredibly curated improv show. He is charming as hell. His chemistry with Coleman is fun and natural. I was first introduced to his amazing abilities in the fantastically weird and wonderful indie, Dave Made A Maze. Can we please cast him in all the things?

The Right One taps into a lot of very real fears that dating and relationships bring. Opening up yourself to potential hurt but also actual love and acceptance. We see abandonment issues and self-doubt, jealousy, and trauma. . You’ll laugh and be forced to look at some of your own flaws along the way.

Lionsgate and Grindstone Entertainment Group, a Lionsgate Company, will release the romantic comedy film THE RIGHT ONE on Digital and On Demand on February 5, 2021 Worldwide and on Blu-Ray and DVD on February 9, 2021 in the U.S.

THE RIGHT ONE stars Nick Thune (Dave Made A Maze), Cleopatra Coleman (“The Last Man on Earth”), Iliza Shlesinger (Pieces of a Woman) and David Koechner (Anchorman series)The film is written and directed by Golden Globe and Emmy nominated Ken Mok making his feature film directorial debut. Mok is the Creator and Executive Producer of “America’s Next Top Model,” Producer of Joy starring Jennifer Lawrence and Invincible starring Mark Wahlberg.

Review: ‘The Funeral Home’ is a creepy place to live.

THE FUNERAL HOME

Bernardo is an undertaker. He and his dysfunctional family lives amongst coffins, wreaths and mischievous supernatural entities that visit daily. They attribute the paranormal manifestations to the dead bodies from their mortuary work. Finding the real source of all this madness will be their quest, but they might find a terrifying truth. Luis Machín, Celeste Gerez, Camila Vaccarini, Susana Varela, and Hugo Arana star.

 

The nonchalance of this tattered family living in a severely haunted funeral home is astounding. The audience goes in blind as we see a boundary of scorched earth not only in their yard but eventually, we discover it’s inside the house itself. The cinematography of The Funeral Home is eye-catching. The set dressing is filled with clues while the spectral lighting is just downright cool. The mood is heavy and frightening from the very first shot. That’s an uneasy feeling that never lets up. Performances from everyone are outstanding. There is a sadness and anger that hangs about each of the characters. The script is about betrayal and pure anguish. It has a Sinister-esque feel about it. The visual scares are jarring as hell. It’s clear that someone has made a deal with the devil, so to speak. I do mean that for more than one person. I have so many questions remaining, the revelations that do come our way are shocking and terrifying in a human way. There is so much potential in this film, I would love to see it developed into an entire series. There is a lot to unpack inside The Funeral Home and I desperately want to know more.

 

Mauro Iván Ojeda’s chilling supernatural thriller The Funeral Home comes to select virtual theaters on January 29 and digital on Feb 2.

Review: ‘Happy Cleaners’ is a gem.

HAPPY CLEANERS

Members of the Choi family navigate personal struggles, cultural clashes and inner angst while trying to keep their dry cleaning business open in Queens, N.Y.

Hands down the most engaging character is Mom. Hyanghwa Lim owns every single minute of screentime. She is a fireball. The way she interacts with her family members is magic. Each relationship is specifically curated. She makes some of the best choices, performance-wise, in Happy Cleaners. They are honest and funny and ultimately filled with love. The film tackles a bunch of relatable topics; generation gaps, cultural expectations, pride, the changing times, and food, glorious food. There aren’t enough Korean American stories being told right now, so Happy Cleaners has the honor to stand out a little extra. If you don’t fall in love with the Choi family, I’ll be shocked. Directors Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee has given audiences a fresh perspective on modern family dynamics and very real discrimination living right here in NYC. Happy Cleaners pushes past cliche and honors tradition.

IN THEATERS
Feb 5-11, 2021

ON DEMAND
Feb 12, 2021

 

 

Review: ‘The Wanting Mare’- more than just a pretty face?

The Wanting Mare

In the world of ANMAERE, north of the city of Whithren, wild horses run through the moorlands and up the coast.

These horses are the city’s most valuable export. They are are hunted and trapped, shipped and sold across the sea once a year.

In a small house just north of the city, a line of women pass a single dream through the generations. They inherit it from mother to daughter; a memory of a time where magic and myth were alive in the world.

This stunningly gorgeous sci-fi film has so much potential. What drags it down is the amount of information we’re missing. A lot of the backstory is buried inside writer/director Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s mind. It’s juicy, no doubt. Uniquely told. It would be glorious as a stage play. There’s enough intrigue in The Wanting Mare to indeed sustain a series of films, as is the intention. The audience has to commit themselves to what they are given. It’s a lot of trust to put in the viewer. What is abundantly clear is that there is a cyclical nature to the female characters and that these elusive tickets put a target on your back. This script is filled with people lying to each other, either to protect someone or keep them from leaving. It’s an interesting concept. The horses are treated similarly to unicorns in Legend. A commodity, yes, but also they must be protected at all costs.

Performances, across the board, are excellent. While there are a lot of characters to track, there is not a single actor who lets you down. Each beat is curated. This cast left it all on the screen. I want to know how these characters got here. What was it like in the constantly referenced “Before?” Frankly, I’m dying for a prequel. I think you need it. Having sat o the film for a day or two now, I think it would only benefit a potential Amnaere franchise. Visually, you are immersed in this mysterious land.  Would I continue to watch films made in this universe? Yes. Do I think a general audience will stick with an entire series? That remains to be seen. The one thing I do know for sure, The Wanting Mare is breathtaking to look at. People will be talking about this film in one way or another.

Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s THE WANTING MARE, which opens in select cinemas and on video-on-demand Friday, February 5th, from Gravitas Ventures.

 

Written & Directed by: Nicholas Ashe Bateman

Director of Photography: David A. Ross

Production Design: Cassandra Louise Baker

Gaffer: Z. Scott Schaefer

Art Direction: Duncan Bindbeutel

Sundance 2021 review: ‘Luzzu’ shines in its authenticity.

LUZZU

Jesmark, a Maltese fisherman, contends with a newfound leak in his wooden luzzu boat. Barely getting by, he sees his livelihood—and a family tradition from generations before him—imperiled by diminishing harvests, a ruthless fishing industry, and a stagnating ecosystem. Desperate to provide for his wife and their newborn son, whose growth impediment requires treatment, Jesmark gradually slips into an illicit black-market fishing operation.

I have actually spent a few days on the island of Malta. When I met my husband he told me that his heritage was Scottish, Irish, and Maltese. I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. I’m half Italian and was completely unaware of the small, bustling island off the coast of Italy. Even with my little experience in the area, I can attest to the authenticity you get in LUZZU. Pre-pandemic, it was filled with tourists taking ferry boats from Sicily or to the smaller island of Gozo, where they actually filmed some of Game Of Thrones. It boasts crystal blue waters and ancient architecture. It also contains kind, hardworking locals that have been thriving in the fishing industry for a long, long, time. Now, things are changing and everyone is being forced to adapt. LUZZU takes all that local beauty and then gives us a weighty story we can sink our teeth into.

Jes is down on his luck in every way possible. He’s not catching anything that he can sell. His new son is not growing as he should. His mother-in-law doesn’t respect him. Jes dives headfirst into the black market fishing industry. While he fixes his luzzu (which is his wooden fishing boat) by hand, he snatches up any side hustle that comes his way. It’s heartwrenching to watch him struggle. You just want him to make it. As the danger grows, so do the emotional consequences.

Alex Camilleri- Maltese America filmmaker of LUZZU

To think this cast isn’t filled with professional actors is mind-blowing. They are beyond phenomenal. Jesmark Scicluna as Jes will tear at your soul. He leaves his heart in the ocean along with his family’s history. Combined with the handheld camerawork, Luzzu is immediately grounded and compelling. It puts us right alongside Jes. This story is universally relatable as the stress and anxiety that comes with being a parent, especially one with special needs, is oftentimes overwhelming. Add in circumstances beyond your control and you will do anything to protect them. The issues of identity are far more than surface level. The ending may destroy you. It felt devastating but incredibly honest. Sundance audiences will respect writer/director Alex Camilleri‘s choice to be bold in his storytelling. I cannot wait to see what comes next, especially since his upcoming film will also be set in Malta. If Luzzu is any indication, we’re just getting started.

Review: ‘PVT CHAT’ is a raw look at sex and money.

PVT CHAT

 
Jack is a lonely internet gambler living in New York City. He quickly becomes fixated on Scarlet – a cam girl from San Francisco. As Jack learns more about Scarlet, he discovers her unrealized talent as a painter and begins to fall hard for her. His obsession reaches a boiling point when fantasy materializes in reality and Jack sees Scarlet on a rainy street in NYC Chinatown. While Scarlet is clearly hiding her whole truth, milking Jack’s wallet in the process, she also seems to develop genuine feelings for him. Jack has to find out – is their emotional connection real or is he just being taken for a ride?
This is a fearless film. There is nothing shy about it. Writer/director/editor/DP Ben Hozie has given us an unapologetic look at sexual impulse, gratification, and all the complex feelings that come along with it. It’s not often we see an actor do full-frontal nudity. Leading man Peter Vack is not just full-frontal but masturbates (a lot) in PVT CHAT. And so he should. His character Jack has zero stability in his life with the exception of his need to connect with other humans. This is mostly achieved through cam sessions. While sexual gratification is s short-term goal, he’s really looking for companionship. He’s a great online gambler, that’s how he survives monetarily. At the heart of it, he has fallen in love with a girl he doesn’t completely know is real. Vack is excellent. His vulnerability pours off the screen. His portrayal of a seriously flawed and real human being is stunning.
Scarlet, played beautifully by Julia Fox, gives an equally nuanced performance. She brings power and presence to the screen, especially in cam-girl mode. Slowly, Scarlet’s walls tumble to reveal a sad and used woman. Fox’s gives us everything we need from her. The role also required her to perform sexual acts. She does so with abandon. It’s bold of both our leads to take such a risk and I applaud them for it. The overall aesthetic of the film is very Clerks; gritty, low-budget, 90s feel, from the sets to the costumes. We get to focus on the dialogue and Scarlet and Jack and that’s exactly what this story needs. That final scene sums it all up. And while what happens after the screen goes black remains a bit ambiguous, that’s entirely the point. Love is messy and complicated and I respect that. The relationship between love, money, sex, and emotional abuse are fine lines. It’s all explored in PVT CHAT. It’s a film worthy of your time and intellect.
Darkstar Pictures will release the psycho-sexual thriller PVT CHAT in Theaters February 5, 2021 and On Demand & Digital on February 9, 2021.
PVT CHAT is written and directed by Ben Hozie (The Lion’s Den, Annunciation) and stars Peter Vack (HBO Max’s “Love Life”), Julia Fox (Uncut Gems, Puppet), Buddy Duress (Good Time, Beware of Dog), Keith Poulson (Mercury Plains, Little Sister), Kevin Moccia (Unbound, Snitches), David J. White (This Side of Heaven, Required Field).

HBO documentary series review: ‘The Lady and The Dale’ tells the unbelievably true story of a transgender entrepreneur.

The Lady and The Dale

This four-part documentary series from Emmy®-winning producers Mark and Jay Duplass (“Room 104”) traces the audacious story of Elizabeth Carmichael, a larger-than-life entrepreneur who took the world by storm with her promotion of a fuel-efficient, three-wheeled car known as The Dale in the middle of the 1970s oil crisis. Liz’s promotional zeal thrust her into fierce public and media scrutiny which uncovered a web of mystery and suspicion about the car’s technology and her own checkered past.

This HBO docu-series about a mad genius who happened to be a trans woman, The Lady and The Dale comes from Emmy-winning Mark and Jay Duplass and is co-directed by Nick Cammilleri and Zackery Drucker. Who is Elizabeth Dean Carmichael? Perhaps the first question should be, “Who is Jerry Dean Michael?” Smart, fearless, and loyal, Jerry might as well be the subject of Catch Me If You Can. Then everything changes as entrepreneur Liz arrives on the scene. She would be the one to rule. Using eye-catching 2D animation and archival footage to illustrate intimate sit-down interviews, it’s insanely engaging. The way this family was brought up sounds like it cannot be true but boy, is it entertaining. The FBI, the mob, the police, the media all wanted a piece of Jerry or Liz… or both. And this is only the first episode of this docu-series! To think this is merely a set-up for what is coming in Liz’s story is surreal. Last night, The Lady and The Dale debuted with back to back episodes. They are explosive and completely unreal. If you’re not completely hooked a few minutes into episode 1, I would be flabbergasted. The amount of information thrown at the audience is massive and completely intriguing. How do one woman and a three-wheeled car make history? Just you wait and see. This is a captivating story of a woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Elizabeth Carmichael would take on the auto industry and the world, for better or for worse. The final two episodes of The Lady and The Dale will air over the next two Sundays and will be available to stream on HBO Max.