Review: ‘SURGE’ is a portrait of human implosion and an awards vehicle for Ben Whishaw.

SURGE

Joseph (Ben Whishaw, PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER, the upcoming James Bond film NO TIME TO DIE) is trapped in a soulless job, living a life devoid of emotion and meaning. After an impulsive act of rebellion, Joseph unleashes a wilder version of himself. He is propelled on a reckless journey through London, ultimately experiencing what it feels like to be alive. Whishaw won the Special Jury Award for his role in the film at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.


SURGE feels like watching a powder keg about to explode. For a film that might seem to begin with inane tasks, the simmering tension becomes consuming. Once that fuse is lit, SURGE is a relentless display of emotional pyrotechnics. The handheld camera work is dizzying, placing the audience in Joseph’s physical frenzy. There are entire scenes without cuts. This is what a master class in performance looks like. Director Aneil Karia, cinematographer Stuart Bentley, and Ben Whishaw had to have established absolute trust to pull this off.

There is underlying violence that feels inevitable as Joseph begins to break. There may be a suggestion of hidden trauma. Ben Whishaw plays every beat with his whole body. His minute idiosyncrasies create an entire backstory. Compounding micro-aggressions lead to ticks, and then ultimately, a total breakdown in civilized behavior. He becomes manic. This is the epitome of base instinct. Whishaw will have you teetering on the brink of terror and awe. He is sensational.

Your heart will be your throat, unable to comprehend how this film could get any more intense. And yet, the stakes just keep getting higher. It felt like a panic attack. The end of the film is only cathartic in the physical sense. A mysterious sadness still hangs over Joseph’s fate. It’s such a bold choice. The combination of this script, Ben Whishaw’s performance, and Karia’s direction make SURGE an unstoppable force.


Debuts September 24th In Theaters
On-Demand Everywhere October 25th

Director: Aneil Karia
Written by: Rita Kalnejais, Rupert Jones
Story by: Rita Kalnejais, Aneil Karia, Rupert Jones
Produced by: Julia Godzinskaya, Sophie Vickers
Co-Producer: Scott O’Donnell
Director of Photography: Stuart Bentley, B.S.C.
Editor: Amanda James
Genre: Thriller
TRT: 105 minutes


 

Review: ‘BORIS KARLOFF: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER’ – a legendary and inspiring enigma.


BORIS KARLOFF: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER


Beginning just before his debut as Frankenstein’s creation, “Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster” compellingly explores the life and legacy of a cinema legend, presenting a perceptive history of the genre he personified. His films were long derided as hokum and attacked by censors. But his phenomenal popularity and pervasive influence endures, inspiring some of our greatest actors and directors into the 21st Century – among them Guillermo Del Toro, Ron Perlman, Roger Corman & John Landis all of whom and many more contribute their personal insights and anecdotes.


Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster ultimately provides a compelling, yet frustrating dive into the life of the man forever associated with the Frankenstein mythology. This iconic role and Karloff’s 60-year career in the film is explored in-depth across Thomas Hamilton’s loving and thorough documentary. I left Hamilton’s film with a clear appreciation for two things: the vastness of Karloff’s legacy, and how difficult it must have been to assemble the disparate pieces of this documentary.

Karloff is one of the few stars who successfully built momentum and success from the silent film era into the “talkies”. He brought such understated emotion and gravity to his portrayal of Frankenstein’s Monster that his performance remains the gold standard 90 years later. I remember Karloff well from Universal Horror classics such as “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy”, but Hamilton’s film moves quickly, but comprehensively through some of the lesser-known slots on Karloff’s resume.

Featured clips span generations, directors, and co-stars. Karloff’s prodigious work ethic seemed to rival Alexander Hamilton’s, only they weren’t all winners worthy of a musical.  It sure felt like a stretch to watch contemporary directors compliment Karloff’s 1932 portrayal of Fu Manchu, a deeply racist film I’ve only run into at the $5 bin at Target. But there are gems to be found even in these lesser-known films – I was stunned and a little charmed to see a young Jack Nicholson co-starring with Karloff in 1963’s “The Terror” (all of Karloff’s scenes were filmed in 2 days).

I wish the same thorough approach had been applied to Karloff’s personal life. I was surprised a film titled The Man Behind the Monster didn’t feature more detail on, well, Boris Karloff. Interviews with Karloff’s daughter were insightful but sparse. The complexities of his racial background are hinted at, but never explored in detail. Sadly, there are no juicy stories from his many marriages (six!)

Ultimately, this film was successful in that I left with a deeper understanding of Karloff, and a strong desire to revisit more of his films. I just wish I had gotten a longer peek at who was under all that monster makeup.


Shout! Studios will be released theatrically by Abramorama on September 17th and features the original song “Frankenstein’s Lament” by famed jazz bassist Jay Leonhart.


Directed by: Thomas Hamilton (Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave A Damn)

Co-Written by: Thomas Hamilton, Ron MacCloskey

Co-Produced by: Thomas Hamilton, Ron MacCloskey

Featuring interviews with:

 Guillermo Del Toro

John Landis

Roger Corman

 Ron Perlman

Sara Karloff

Peter Bogdanovich

Christopher Plummer

Stefanie Powers

Lee Grant

Sir Christopher Frayling

And

 Kevin Brownlow


Review: Justin Long and Christian Long’s directorial debut, ‘LADY OF THE MANOR’ is a spirited good time.

Past and present collide in this supernaturally funny buddy comedy when stoner-slacker Hannah (Melanie Lynskey) is hired to portray Lady Wadsworth (Judy Greer), a Southern belle who died in 1875, in a tour at Wadsworth Manor. Hannah, a hot mess, figures she can fake it —until the ghost of Lady Wadsworth appears! Lady Wadsworth tells Hannah it’s time to change her wild ways — and she’ll haunt her until she does — in this hilarious movie co-starring Justin Long and Ryan Phillippe.


Lady Of The Manor is devilishly fun. It’s an easy watch that never takes itself too seriously. The film is the directorial debut for brothers Justin Long and Christain Long, who also co-wrote the screenplay. You have to imagine that with a cast of this comedic caliber, there must have been a fair amount of improvisation on set. Ryan Phillippe is such a douche as Tanner Wadsworth. Also, how is it fair that he looks like he’s in his late 20s, after all this time? Although, I cannot be angry at strong genetics. He’s truly loathsome in this role. He’s the kind of rich kid that probably marched in Charlottesville. He’s got that kind of underlying energy, and it is perfect. Justin Long wears yet another hat playing Dr. Max Plum; Hannah’s accidental ghost expelling, history correcting, potential love connection. Long is always charming and effortlessly funny. I know he and Lynsky are friends, as with most of the cast. I’m a fan of his and Christian’s podcast Life Is Short, and I’m pretty sure they’ve all been guests. This mix of actors creates stellar chemistry.

Judy Greer, as Lady Elizabeth, is hilarious. The huffy delivery of her over-the-top dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny. The chemistry between her and Lynsky is magic. Her arch is increasingly delicious. Greer gives into the joy of the role. Melanie Lynskey, ladies, and gentlemen. This is a wildly fun performance. She will induce fits of giggles. She’s crass and sloppy and I loved every second. Justin and Christian’s script lets these two actresses be playful and ridiculous. I cannot imagine a better duo.

One of the funniest running gags has to be Hannah’s awkward run-ins with Marcus, another employee, and resident of Wadsworth Manor. This gives actor Wallace Jean solid moments to shine. You’ll remember those scenes. You get a little bit of everything in this script. It’s a stoner comedy, it’s a mystery, and it’s a unique relationship film. When I say relationship, I mean between our two female protagonists. They learn to cooperate and break down barriers in communication in silly and honest ways. Lady Of The Manor is goofy fun, and you can’t go wrong with it this weekend.


Lionsgate will release the comedy LADY OF THE MANOR in Select Theaters, on Apple TV and Everywhere You Rent Movies on September 17th!

Available on Blu-ray and DVD on September 21st!


 

LADY OF THE MANOR stars an ensemble cast of Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures), Judy Greer (Halloween Kills), Justin Long (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story), Luis Guzmán (“Shameless”), and Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions). The film is the feature directorial debut by Justin Long and Christian Long (A Case of You) which they also co-wrote.


Review: ‘BEST SELLERS’ shares the beauty between truth and fiction.

BEST SELLERS

Lucy Standbridge (Aubrey Plaza) has inherited her father’s publishing house, and the ambitious would-be editor has nearly sunk it with failing titles. She discovers she is owed a book by Harris Shaw (Michael Caine), a reclusive, cantankerous, booze-addled author who originally put the company on the map decades earlier. In a last-ditch effort to save the company, Lucy and Harris release his new book and embark on a book tour from hell that changes them both in ways they didn’t expect.


Aubrey Plaza plays against type as Lucy. She’s a type-A editor on the verge of bankruptcy. She’s got a lot to prove. On the surface, this is the least brooding role she’s ever played. Unsurprisingly, that’s all a rouse, and Plaza is up for the challenge. Lucy is given a beautiful arch. Her backstory, like Harris’, is slowly revealed. This allows us to fall in love with both of these characters. Sir Michael Caine gives one of his career’s best performances. As curmudgeonly and reclusive writer Hariss Shaw, he has settled into a lifetime of secrets and sadness. At times, Caine is raucous and crass. Others, he is docile and pensive. The chemistry between Plaza and Caine feels like an honest-to-God mentorship onscreen. This is generational genius, and we are the witnesses.

Voracious readers will connect with this script. The film flows like a novel with its complex characters and ever-evolving nuance. The screenplay unfolds in three distinct chapters, befitting the subjects and full story. Both Lucy and Harris straddle the line between saving face and redemption. The passages from Harris’ fictional work touched my soul. I could feel my chest well up hearing them read by average folks along the book tour. By the finale of Best Sellers, I was in full tears. The totality of Anthony Greico‘s award-winning script has so much heart. It’s incredibly cathartic. These two people were meant to change each other. The messaging of identity and grief are undeniable. In the words of Harris Shaw himself, “Be brief, be brave, be truthful. ” Director Lina Roessler has done just that. Best Sellers is not to be missed.


Available In Theaters & On-Demand
This Friday, September 17, 2021


Starring:
Sir Michael Caine (The Dark Knight, The Prestige)
Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed, “Parks and Rec”)
Ellen Wong (Scott Pilgrim vs the World, “GLOW”)
Scott Speedman (Underworld, The Strangers)
Cary Elwes (“Stranger Things”, The Princess Bride)

Directed by Lina Roessler (Little Whispers: The Vow, Mustard Seed)

Written by Anthony Greico the screenplay won a 2015 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting Award

Gala Presentation – 2021 Berlinale Film Festival


Review: ‘PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND’ sees Nic Cage paired up with director Sion Sono in some fantastic weirdness.

PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND

PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND is set in the treacherous frontier city of Samurai Town where a ruthless bank robber (Cage) is sprung from jail by wealthy warlord The Governor (Moseley), whose adopted granddaughter Bernice (Boutella) has gone missing. The Governor offers the prisoner his freedom in exchange for retrieving the runaway. Strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct within three days, the bandit sets off on a journey to find the young woman—and his own path to redemption.


Is this another out-of-this-world Nic Cage movie? Duh. Is it like watching a graphic novel and an episode of MST3K, all at once?! Yup. Overall, the screenplay features the smallest bit of backstory, and perhaps an homage to films like Return To Oz, Mad Max, and even The Wiz. There is so much happening in this wild story. I would not be angry if sequels popped up sooner rather than later. I have so many questions about this world that I’d even love a prequel! Give me all the whacked-out colorful silliness that is Prisoners of The Ghostland. I demand a franchise.

Bill Moseley is a genre giant. While my favorite role happens to be from Repo! The Genetic Opera, he’s undeniably awesome as The Governor. It is no surprise that his iconic voice makes for an entrancing watch. I love everything about this man. Sofia Boutella, who was fantastic in Settlers, absolutely holds her own against the chaos of the film and Cage. Her presence is glowing, and this performance is phenomenal. How is Nic Cage so effortlessly cool? This is one of life’s great mysteries. He’s in his element among the strange that is Prisoners of The Ghostland. This might as well be a double feature with Willy’s Wonderland. Hell, it could be the same character in an alternate dimension. You’re either a fan of Cage, or you’re wrong.

This film’s visual is all about vibrant color. Your eyes dart everywhere in an attempt to take in every detail. Joseph Trapanese’s score is gorgeous. You will not be able to ignore it. The costumes are wild, and the set dressing is bewildering. Prisoners of The Ghostland is a genre-defying spectacle. It’s captivating in its eccentricity. It deserves to be viewed on the largest possible screen. You’ve never seen anything like this film. The story is completely disjointed at times, but that’s not a reason to write this off. Will I watch this again because it’s destined to be a cult favorite? You know it.


RLJE Films will release PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND on September 17, 2021, in theaters, on VOD, and Digital.

The film made its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.


Directed by the acclaimed Japanese director, Sion Sono (Why Don’t You Play in Hell), the film was written by Aaron Hendry and Rexa Sixo Safai (Western Wonderland).  The film stars Nicolas Cage (Mandy), Sofia Boutella (The Mummy), Nick Cassavetes (Face/Off), Bill Moseley (Texas Chainsaw Franchise), Tak Sakaguchi (Tokyo Tribe), and Yuzuka Nakaya (The Forest of Love). Joseph Trapanese (Tron: Legacy, The Raid: Redemption, The Greatest Showman) composed the original score.


vhjv bleeper

GRIMMFEST turns lucky 13 for this year’s hybrid addition. Here are some of the films we’re screaming about.

GRIMMFEST 2021

It’s no secret that the most buzz-worthy films come through only a handful of genre festivals. GRIMMFEST is on that shortlist. The festival turns a lucky 13 this year and it’s ready to rock audiences’ socks with a plethora of titles for every single viewer. After being completely virtual last year, a hybrid platform is back in action with a mix of in-person screenings from October 7th to 10th and online from October 14th to 17th. I can say that this year’s lineup is filled with everything from gore to absurdity, thrills to purest moments of wow. These are the films that will be on everyone’s lips. You can find out about tickets and schedules at https://grimmfest.com/

Do yourself a favor and mark your calendars now. There’s a lot to see.


THE BETA TEST

A Hollywood agent, engaged to be married in a few weeks, receives a mysterious letter inviting him for an anonymous sexual encounter and thus becomes ensnared in a sinister world of lying, infidelity, and digital data.

This genre-shattering film takes aim at Hollywood, toxic masculinity, horror, satire, all with co-writer-director Jim Cummings playing a sharp lead. His last film, The Wolf Of Snow Hollow, has a legit cult following now. Cummings has a distinct voice and I cannot wait to see if The Beta Test becomes another calling card on his resume.


THE RIGHTEOUS

A burdened man feels the wrath of a vengeful God after he and his wife are visited by a mysterious stranger…

There is something so striking about modern black & white cinematography. in The Righteous, writer-director Mark O’Brien also stars as the mysterious stranger in question. This horror film is filled with symbolism and will give any god-fearing viewer the vapers.


WHEN THE SCREAMING STARTS

When the Screaming Starts is a comedy-horror mockumentary about an inept, aspiring serial killer at the beginning of his “career” and a fledgling filmmaker willing to do anything to achieve his ambition.

A little bit of Vicious Fun meets Satanic Panic, I cannot wait to laugh and gag. Horror and comedy pair so well together and since everyone is a true-crime connoisseur who thinks they could commit the perfect murder, I am delighted to consume this one.


THE SPORE

The lives of ten strangers intersect through a terrifying chain of events as a mutating fungus begins to spread through a small town wiping out everyone that comes into contact with it.

Will this film be a little too close to home considering we’re still experiencing a global pandemic? I guess we’ll find out when we’re forced to look through the lens of writer-director D.M Cunningham.


HOTEL POSEIDON

Dave inherited the dingy and dilapidated Hotel Poseidon from his late father. He lives there and works as manager, and rarely seems to leave the place. The days and nights all bleed together. His existence is a hopeless one. When a young woman knocks at the hotel’s doors one night looking for a room, and his best friend shows up wanting to throw a party in the backroom, Dave’s world starts to spiral out of control, and his sense of reality starts to be shaken by recurring nightmares.

I have seen the title sequence for this film and it is hands down one of the coolest in all of cinematic history. I said what I said. If the rest of the film lives up to the initial visual, Hotel Poseidon will wow Grimmfest audiences.


ALONE WITH YOU

As a young woman painstakingly prepares a romantic homecoming for her girlfriend, their apartment begins to feel more like a tomb when voices, shadows, and hallucinations reveal a truth she has been unwilling to face.

Listen, you tell me Barbara Crampton is in a film and I’m watching it. Add on Emily Bennett who was fantastic in King Of Knives last year and I’m sold. Not only does she star, but she co-wrote and co-directed the film. Give me an all-female horror film every day of the year.



FULL VIRTUAL FESTIVAL LINE UP:

● FOR ROGER (Aaron Bartuska, USA)

● FATHER OF FLIES (Ben Charles-Edwards UK / USA)

● SLAPFACE (Jeremiah Kipp, USA)

● THE NIGHTS BELONG TO THE MONSTERS (Sebastian Perillo, Argentina)

● HAPPY TIMES (Michael Mayer, Israel / USA)

● NIGHT AT THE EAGLE INN (Erik Bloomquist, USA)

● VAL (Aaron Fradkin, USA, 77 min)

● THE SPORE (D.M. Cunningham, USA)

● THE PIZZAGATE MASSACRE (John Valley, USA)

● MOTHERLY (Craig David Wallace, Canada)

● SHOT IN THE DARK (Keene McRae, USA)

● NIGHT DRIVE (Brad Baruh, USA)

● MIDNIGHT (Oh-seung Kwon, South Korea)

● FACELESS (Marcel Sarmiento, USA)

● WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR (Jane Schoenbrun, USA)

● THE FREE FALL (Adam Stillwell, USA)

● ON THE THIRD DAY (Daniel de la Vega, Argentina)

● THE GUEST ROOM (Stefano Lodovichi, Italy)

● HOTEL POSEIDON (Stefan Lernous, Belgium)

● FORGIVENESS (Alex Kahuam, Mexico)

● TWO WITCHES (Pierre Tsigaridis, USA)

● KING KNIGHT (Richard Bates Jnr, USA)

● TARUMAMA / LLANTO MALDITO (Andres Beltran, Colombia)

● THE RIGHTEOUS (Mark O’Brien, Canada)


 

Passes and tickets can be purchased from www.grimmfest.com.

Review: ‘Small Engine Repair’ Explores Toxic Masculinity with Thrilling Effect.

Featured

SMALL ENGINE REPAIR

Frankie (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Wigham) are lifelong friends who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars, and Frankie’s teenaged daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo). But when Frankie invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control. Based on Pollono’s award-winning play, Small Engine Repair is a pitch-black comedic drama with a wicked twist and a powerful exploration of brotherhood, class struggle, and toxic masculinity.


Frankie (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Whigham) are working-class men that share a friendship bond going back to childhood. That bond is strengthened further by their co-parenting of Frankie’s beloved daughter Crystal, who has spent a lifetime being raised by a loving– if raucous– male collective. This sets the scene for a fascinating character study of a group of men raised in a culture steeped in toxic masculinity who struggle to push back against it but often fall incredibly short. 

At first, Small Engine Repair seems like a dark family drama with a comedic edge. However, it is not until the second act that the viewer realizes that they are in the midst of a thriller. Complex performances by the entire cast gradually build tension through sharp looks, quick words, and complicated histories until the atmosphere on screen is so thick with menace that suddenly, every word and movement is a threat. It is hard to say more without giving away the shocking twists that a seemingly ordinary whiskey-fueled night in a garage would unleash. So instead, I will say that the tightly directed and brilliantly acted Small Engine Repair had me holding my breath through the finale.


In Theaters September 10, 2021


Written and Directed by

John Pollono

Starring: Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro, John Pollono, Ciara Bravo, Spencer House


Dances With Films LA 2021 review: Brooke Trantor’s short film ‘Oh, Baby!’ really nails impending motherhood.

OH, BABY!

Oh Baby! a comedic narrative short done by Brooke Trantor and Kate Morgan Chadwick, and T.J. Linnard (Good Trouble) that follows Jane: a thirty-something pregnant woman having a baby on her own. Empowered, single, and horny AF she is determined to get what she wants tonight: sex, chalupas, and no strings attached. Enter Ben, a promising find from the world of online dating – will he be able to deliver the goods…and then some?


This hilariously honest short film about love, sex, and impending motherhood is ripe for development. Having been pregnant twice, I understand how uncomfortable it can be. The cravings, both food and otherwise, can dictate every aspect of your day. What little control you have over your own time is about to run out permanently. Director Brooke Trantor co-writes the script with lead actress Kate Morgan Chadwick. Trantor understands how important the camera becomes as the intimate moments begin. Jack Lawrence Mayer‘s editing is just as important here. Trantor and Chadwick easily capture the humor and anxiety that come along with dating, in general. Heightening that concept with impending childbirth gives Oh, Baby! a modern twist. Kate Morgan Chadwick and T.J. Linnard have impeccable chemistry. I was completely enamored by them as the credits rolled. Charming and relatable, they are the perfect pair. I would love to see this story expanded into a feature. Dances With Films LA 2021 audiences will undoubtedly adore it, as well.



Dances With Films LA 2021 audiences can see Oh, Baby! September 4, 2021, at 1:30 PM

Review: The an action-packed, visual feast ‘YAKUZA PRINCESS’ is in theatres tomorrow!

YAKUZA PRINCESS

Based on the acclaimed graphic novel “Samurai Shiro” by Danilo Beyruth and set in the expansive Japanese community of Sao Paulo, Brazil — the largest Japanese diaspora in the world — YAKUZA PRINCESS follows orphan Akemi (played by pop star MASUMI), who, upon turning 21, discovers that she is the heiress to half of Japan’s expansive Yakuza crime syndicate. After forging an uneasy alliance with an amnesiac stranger (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, History Channel’s The Vikings) who believes an ancient sword binds their two fates, Akemi unleashes war against the other half of the syndicate who wants her dead.


Part girl power, part crime drama, all revenge thriller, Vicente Amorim‘s Yakuza Princess has something for everyone. Action-packed with spectacular fight choreography, the pacing is super satisfying. Yakuza Princess is just cool. This ensemble cast is phenomenal. I want to see more of every actor, but I’ll focus on our two primary leads. MASUMI as Akemi is a spitfire. Her nonchalant power is striking. Then there is Jonathan Rhys Meyers (who never seems to age) playing the mysterious Shiro. He is such a brilliant foil for MASUMI. His ability to own the screen with but a glance is always magic. Together, their chemistry is ripe for a franchise.

Visually speaking, it’s a neon-soaked feast for the eyes. The use of light in this film is hypnotizing. It’s insanely thoughtful. Films like this are the reason we go to the movies. A LOT is going on in Yakuza Princess. This story is an epic journey. A complex family dynamic, murder, amnesia, kidnapping, a mysterious ancient sword all come into play in major ways. I would also have been delighted to watch this as a limited series. The drama! The plot twists! I was there for it all! It makes me want to run out and buy the graphic novel that is its source material. I demand its sequel, immediately. Pretty, please?


YAKUZA PRINCESS opens in U.S. theatres and virtual cinemas on Friday, September 3rd.

Review: ‘Rust Belt Driller’ opens Midnight series at Dances With Films.

DWF21

headling the Midnight series is

Rust Belt Driller

Renn Maxwell seems to have everything going for him. He has a manager that cares, he’s good enough at his craft (visual art) to have private gallery screenings. He seems to live in a nice looking house and he has a committed, streetwise, and beautiful partner in Carol. But Renn has been followed all his life by something dark. And now with the chaos of the modern world, and his own inner horrors, that evil has finally gotten close enough to reach out and touch. What follows in the next few days will pain the city of Buffalo, NY a whole new canvas, mostly flowing red.


Rust Belt Driller is the epitome of a midnight movie. It’s a celebration of gross practical FX, borderline annoying and meta infomercials, and a bent reality between art and life. The editing is jarring as hell. Be prepared to jump from the varying levels in audio decibels. There’s some really solid camera work, as well. The saturation levels in the color correction throw your brain off-kilter. But this stylistic decision makes an impact. There are definitely moments that could use editing for time. A few stares that last too long would benefit from hitting the cutting room floor.

Of all the performances, I have to mention one standout from the crowd. Mary Coleman as The Homeless Woman was really great. As I watched her short monologue, I audibly said, “Wow, she’s really good.” So, shout out to Miss Coleman. Screenwriter and star Aaron Krygier as Renn is pretty spectacular. His commitment is what sells this entire idea. Am I suggesting you watch this while on some sort of drug? I’m not not suggesting that. Rust Belt Driller is a psychosexual horror from some seriously disturbed minds. While I may not exactly understand the ending, I have to applaud the ingenuity and unadulterated balls it took to make this film.


Rust Belt Driller is a feature Horror film that is headlining the Midnight series on August 27, 2021, at 11:55 PM at Dances with Films at the Mann Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Dances With Films LA runs from August 26th to September 12th. You can find out more info at https://danceswithfilms.com/home-2021/

2021 Dances with Film review: Love, religion, and identity collide in ‘OVER MY DEAD BODY’.

OVER MY DEAD BODY

 
Synopsis:

Isfahan, a Persian-Jewish woman in Los Angeles, is considered, at thirty-one, to be well past marrying age. So her conservative parents are relieved when she announces her engagement to her younger boyfriend, Kambiz. Until they learn he is Muslim. Her father immediately vetoes the marriage, her mother calls the siblings over, and Kambiz gets kicked out of the house. The situation escalates into an all-out confrontation between Isfahan and her family. As she defends her love, the family defends their traditions, demanding that she honor their religion and old-world values. This intergenerational struggle forces Isfahan to make a decision that will define the rest of her life.


At an impasse of religion and love, the title of this thought-provoking short film suggests that it’s a horror film. While not touted as such, what unfolds in 25 minutes between family members is absolutely horrific. To fully appreciate the nuance in Over My Dead Body takes an open mind. Often, we place ourselves in the shoes of the characters on screen. Here, depending on your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), the complexities are unsurpassed. Having religion forced upon me as a child backfired at the age of about 14. In a world filled with volatility caused by media corporations, conflicting gods, and traditions, Over My Dead Body hits harder in modern times. Our families are supposed to love us unconditionally. What happens when that isn’t true? The cinematography is smart and takes advantage of the lush sets and costumes. Performances from this true ensemble cast are magnetic. You know this family. It resembles your own in more ways than you might realize at first watch. With an ending that will leave you breathless, the impact of this short should echo loudly.


Meital Cohen Navarro’s OVER MY DEAD BODY, a devastating short film
about a family at war over love versus religious tradition
screens in competition at 2021 Dances with Films

Screening Information:
WHERE:                       TCL Chinese 6 Theatres (6801 Hollywood Blvd.)
WHEN:                         Saturday, August 28 at 1:30 PM


 

Review: ‘BEHEMOTH’ is a visual stunner that would make Faust proud.

BEHEMOTH

In Peter Sefchik‘s directorial debut, BEHEMOTH, we find Josh in dire straights. A whistleblower for his former chemical company, he is convinced the corporation has made his daughter critically ill. In a last-ditch effort to make them come clean, he kidnaps his former boss in hopes that he’ll admit to wrongdoing. The plan quickly spirals out of control when Josh gets shot and begins to see things that may or may not be drug-induced. What happens when you sell your soul to the highest bidder? Josh is about to find out.

Sefchik’s visual work is nothing short of stunning. This should come as no surprise given his extensive career as a digital artist with the likes of George Lucas and James Cameron. The details are immaculate. While the performances from our dedicated cast veer into the amateur lane at times, their brightest moments come when interacting with what isn’t actually there. That’s more impressive than it sounds. Sefchik also co-wrote the script with producer Derrick Ligas. Social commentary is smartly placed inside a horror film. Themes of environmental destruction, media, and capitalism soak this story in realism. Using personal fears to goad our players into darkness is a brilliant touch. When greed rules, evil prevails. The fact that this entire film was made for $65,000 is mindblowing. Any indie filmmaker can attest to that. BEHEMOTH is a win in its script and most certainly in Sefchik’s mesmerizing VFX. If this is his first foray into feature storytelling, I cannot wait to see, quite literally, what comes next.


BEHEMOTH opens on digital platforms next Friday, August 27th.


BEHEMOTH is the stunning, VFX-heavy directorial debut of digital artist Peter Sefchik, whose lengthy career began at George Lucas‘ legendary Skywalker Ranch. His most notable past projects include AVATAR and the HARRY POTTER, SHREK, and STAR WARS franchises. He also serves as BEHEMOTH‘s Co-writer, Producer, and VFX Supervisor. The film’s cast includes Josh Eisenberg, Paul Statman, Jennifer Churchich, Richard Wagner, and Whitney Nielsen.

Color
English Language
88 minutes
Not Rated


Review: ‘CONFETTI’ Raises Awareness with Heart & Charm 

CONFETTI

How far would a mother go to reverse her child’s fate? Based on writer/director Ann Hu’s story, that’s the question facing Lan (ZHU ZHU), who travels with her 9-year-old daughter Meimei (HARMONIE HE) from their small town in China to New York City.

Inflicted with a learning disability, Meimei is considered a strange and dumb girl, an outcast in her school and community. What no one recognizes, however, is that she possesses a gift waiting to be unlocked. The world seen through her eyes is unique and filled with magic. When her mother learns that Meimei suffers from dyslexia, as do 1 in 10 people worldwide, she will stop at nothing to help her, including leaving her life in China behind and venturing alone with Meimei to New York City, braving a place she knows nothing about and speaking not a word of English.


Confetti is a heartfelt film that aims to tackle complicated issues of immigration, dyslexia, and the barriers that parents will overcome to provide a better life for their children. 

While the story centers on a dedicated mother (Zhu Zhu) leaving her small town in China on a quest to find the best education for her daughter (Harmonie He) with learning disabilities, it morphs into an analysis about social norms, expectations, and conformity. What is the likely fate for a child who is different? What if the standard model of education shouldn’t be “one size fits all”? In Confetti, tenacity and radically good luck make all the difference. But what about children that are even less fortunate? 

Confetti is a refreshing insight into the Asian American immigrant experience that is not frequently centered. Director Ann Hu should be commended for elevating complex intersectional stories like this one, even if some plot points feel a bit disjointed or unfinished. Charming performances by Zhu Zhu and Harmonie He animate a touching story of perseverance and sacrifice. 

The film will be released in theaters on August 20, 2021, and stars Zhu Zhu (Cloud Atlas, Marco Polo), Amy Irving (Crossing Delancey, Yentl)Helen Slater (Supergirl), and Harmonie He.


Writer, producer, and director Ann Hu’s 35mm debut Shadow Magic was one of the top box office hits in China and won both the Chinese Academy Award and Presidential Award in China for Best Film among other international prizes. The film premiered at the 2000 Sundance film Festival and was released by Sony Classics in 2001. Following the success of Shadow Magic, Ann Hu directed and produced Beauty Remains.  After a successful festival run, the film was released theatrically by Emerging Pictures in 2005 and was also a top performer in China.

Zhu Zhu is an acclaimed and award-winning Chinese actress who is up-and-coming in the US. Zhu Zhu made her U.S. theatrical debut in the Wachowski’s film CLOUD ATLAS, appearing opposite Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, and can also be seen in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS opposite Russell Crowe. She then went on the play the female lead in Netflix’s original series MARCO POLO and starred in the Indian film TUBELIGHT directed by Kabir Khan alongside India’s most popular actor Salman Khan, which made her the first Chinese actress to star in a Bollywood film. She also recently appeared in box office hit, PACIFIC RIM UPRISING.


Review: ‘VAL’ takes a long, complicated look in the mirror.

presents

Val Kilmer, one of Hollywood’s most mercurial actors has been documenting his life and craft through film. He has amassed thousands of hours of footage, from home movies made with his brothers, to time spent in iconic roles for blockbuster films like Top Gun & Batman. This raw and wildly original documentary reveals a life lived to extremes and a heart-filled look at what it means to be an artist.


Let’s start with a confession – I’ll always think of Val Kilmer as my Batman. 1995’s Batman Forever was the first superhero film I ever saw, and that impression was deep and lasting. The car! The suit! Nicole Kidman! That is not to indicate that I am incapable of evaluating Kilmer fairly, but only to say this image of him at the likely mountain-top of his fame has left a lasting impression.

Kilmer’s legacy is evaluated and deepened in Ting Poo and Leo Scott’s new documentary Val (in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime) which showcases Kilmer’s life, legacy, and his ongoing recovery after a battle with throat cancer. Kilmer’s contribution to the film is quite intimate: the narrative relies heavily on his collection of home videos and memorabilia. The quality and comprehensiveness of these past archives are shocking – there really seemed to be a behind-the-scenes moment for every milestone of his life. We see everything from home movies of Kilmer and his late brother all the way up to behind-the-scenes footage from Top Gun and (yes) Batman Forever. Kilmer’s energy and enthusiasm, tangible even when he’s behind the camera, is the common thread through it all, conveying if nothing else an authentic love for one’s craft.

Due to Kilmer’s condition, his son Jack provides the film’s narration. This is the film’s strongest choice, and it provides nuance and momentum across the entire narrative. It provides special poignance during moments of self-evaluation, such as when Kilmer must decide whether to financially support his father after a costly real estate venture.

VAL, Val Kilmer, 2021. © Amazon Studios /Courtesy Everett Collection

While Val has extensive insight into Kilmer’s personal archives, it is also uninterested in interrogating these vignettes from a critical lens. The film is not positioned as a confessional device. Kilmer’s reputation as a “difficult actor” is hinted at, but never fully challenged or justified. Nor is his deep religious commitment as a Christian Scientist fully explored, along with any influence this may have had in his cancer treatment and journey.

Rather, the thorough picture of the past serves as a mirror to better understand Kilmer’s present. Speaking through a tracheostomy tube, Kilmer’s voice is raspy and thin, and he moves wearily across the screen. We can see the frustration in his face when he has to take a lengthy pause – he has more to say, but his body won’t cooperate. This appears to be Kilmer’s core struggle: he resists defining himself solely by his past work, but his present limitations pull him towards an endless cycle of replaying his greatest hits.

Val reminded me of the 2014 documentary Life Itselfwhich chronicled the legacy of film critic Roger Ebert, as well as his struggles after losing his lower jaw to cancer. Both films showcase subjects whose brilliance and intellect remain sharp, but are otherwise challenged by physical limitations. Both subjects were energetic, frantic collaborators in their respective projects –conveying the urgency of being understood, of seizing the opportunity to fully articulate one’s legacy. While Ebert tragically perished before his film could be completed, Kilmer has the opportunity to carry on. Val left me not only with an appreciation for Kilmer’s complicated journey but also excited to hopefully see him press forward and continue the next chapter.


Steaming now on Prime Video and showing in select theaters


Forty years of never-before-seen footage chronicling the life of Val Kilmer.
Release date: July 23, 2021 (USA)
Directors: Ting Poo, Leo Scott
Distributed by: Amazon Studios
Music composed by: Garth Stevenson
Producers: Val Kilmer, Ting Poo, Leo Scott, Andrew Fried, Jordan Wynn, Brad Koepenick, Dane Lillegard, Ali Alborzi


Review: ‘Not Going Quietly’ Documents the Hope, Grit, and Sacrifice of Activism

NOT GOING QUIETLY

A rising star in progressive politics and a new father, 32-year-old Ady Barkan’s life is upended when he is diagnosed with ALS. But after a chance encounter with powerful Senator Jeff Flake on an airplane goes viral, catapulting him to national fame, Ady and a motley crew of activists ignite a once-in-a-generation movement for healthcare justice. Launching the Be A Hero campaign, Barkan travels across the country educating and empowering others to confront elected officials with emotional, personal stories intended to directly impact legislation. Continuing today to inspire others to use the time they are given and speak truth to power, Barkan continues to fight for a brighter and more just world for his son to inherit. He was featured as one of the 100 Most influential people of 2020 and has most recently been credited with pressuring President Biden to make the recent decision to waive the COVID-19 vaccine patent. Barkan is referred to as “The Most Powerful Activist in America,” because when he speaks, people listen.


A special kind of courage is required to devote your life to a cause and lead an activist movement, particularly in an era when it is easy to be cynical about politics. In “Not Going Quietly,” filmmaker Nicholas Bruckman takes us behind the scenes of the “Be a Hero” campaign for healthcare justice in America and wrestles with the question, “What are you willing to give for a cause?” 

The film’s heartbeat is an intimate portrait of political activist Ady Barkan, who leads the campaign effort even while grappling with increasingly advanced stages of ALS. Barkan came to prominence in a viral video of a chance encounter with former Senator Jeff Flake on a plane, where he passionately advocated for healthcare protections for himself and others. Forcing elected representatives to confront the consequences of the laws they support would become the cornerstone strategy of the “Be a Hero” campaign. Activists hope to push past glib political narratives and force a reckoning that will change hearts and votes– or at the very least, record the interaction and make sure the hostile indifference of Congressional Members and Aides is on public display.

The film excels at telling the story of this kind of work by juxtaposing powerful political rallies– including a cameo from Bernie Sanders– with the harsh realities of ALS and heartwarming scenes with Barkan’s supportive wife and young son. In addition, moments of humor and fun with the campaign’s inner circle present another side of the fight– the deep friendships that bind people working for a cause greater than themselves. 

Within the first fifteen minutes, it becomes clear why “Not Going Quietly” won the Audience Award and Special Jury Recognition for Humanity in Social Action at SXSW. This film is guaranteed to pull at all of your emotions. So what is it that moves you? I am confident this documentary has it in spades.


In Theaters on August 13, 2021

Directed by: Nicholas Bruckman (La americana)

Co-Written by: Nicholas Bruckman, Amanda Roddy

Produced by: Amanda Roddy

Executive Producer: Bradley Whitford (Get Out, “The West Wing”), Jay Duplass (“Transparent”), Mark Duplass (Creep, Safety Not Guaranteed), Mel Eslyn (The One I Love, Horse Girl), Sam Bisbee (The Truffle Hunters, Farewell Amor), Nina Tassler, Joan Boorstein, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Wendy Kelman Neu, Nicholas Bruckman, Ryder Haske

Featuring: Ady Barkan (co-founder of the Be a Hero PAC, organizer for the Center for Popular Democracy), Rachael King, Liz Jaff, Nate Smith, Tracey Corder, Ana Maria Archila, Helen Brosnan

With special appearances from:
Vice President  Kamala Harris
Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Elizabeth Warren
Senator Cory Booker
United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg


Review: ‘John and The Hole’ is a dark look at adolescence and parenting.

In this enigmatic and unsettling meditation on adolescent angst, 13-year-old John (Charlie Shotwell) discovers an unfinished bunker while exploring the neighboring woods — a deep hole in the ground. Seemingly without provocation, he drugs his affluent parents (Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle) and older sister (Taissa Farmiga), holding them captive within the bunker. As they anxiously wait for John to free them from the hole, the boy returns home, where he can finally enjoy and explore newfound independence.

As a former teacher and current parent, I am wondering if my reaction to John and The Hole is in any way different from my colleagues. This is a film I cannot shake. Brilliantly performed, tightly directed by Pascual Sisto, and with glorious cinematography, John and The Hole is not to be missed. Charlie Shotwell plays the psychopathic John. The performance falls somewhere between age-appropriate and terrifying. This role should make him a household name. Michael C. Hall plays John’s father. He’s doting in gifts and a touch too nonchalant in actual parenting. Jennifer Ehle is fantastic as Mom. The ability to reflect goes beyond motherly instinct. Taissa Farmiga‘s older sister role hits the nail on the head. Mostly minding her own business until John’s behavior annoys her is pretty synonymous with being an older sibling. She has some of the most profound moments in the film. The Children’s ISA helps parents to save money for their children so when they grow  they can use it for their studies or buying their first home.

Drugging his family and holding them captive in a bunker aside, toxic masculinity is smartly displayed throughout John’s journey. It appears in a spit fight, inappropriate conversations, and almost drowning a friend. The culmination of these moments keeps you tense and extremely uncomfortable. John and The Hole is unpredictable. I believe the most disturbing aspect of Nicolás Giacobone‘s screenplay is actually the final scene. Not wanting to spoil anything for the reader, I was horrified. The reasons are a complex mix of socioeconomics and Giacobone’s understanding our how the world functions. John and The Hole begs a larger conversation about aggression, pressure, and parenting. Do not miss this film.

IFC Films is pleased to present the psychological coming-of-age thriller JOHN AND THE HOLE, directed by visual artist Pascual Sisto — one of Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch” of 2021 — in his feature debut. A selection of the canceled 2020 Cannes Film Festival and featured in the 2021 Sundance Film Festival (in competition), JOHN AND THE HOLE will open on Friday, August 6 in select theaters and everywhere films are rented.

Review: ‘RIDE THE EAGLE’ is endlessly charming, authentic, and funny.

RIDE THE EAGLE

When Leif’s (Jake Johnson) estranged mother Honey (Susan Sarandon) dies she leaves him a ‘conditional inheritance’. Before he can move into her picturesque Yosemite cabin, he has to complete her elaborate, and sometimes dubious, to-do list. Leif and Nora, his canine BFF, step into Honey’s wild world as she tries to make amends from beyond the grave in this hilarious and heartfelt comedy.


Ride The Eagle is a one-of-a-kind film. The script is written by director Trent O’Donnell and star Jake Johnson. Tackling regret, forgiveness, and everything in between, there’s an honesty that stings and inspires. Mostly, Ride The Eagle makes you smile.

The script is filled with quirky characters. J.K. Simmons is fantastic in his manic energy. His delivery makes you involuntarily grin. Susan Sarandon, who we only see in her videotape to Leif, gives us warmth, and wisdom, and a boatload of snark. Her dialogue is yet another example of the care taken by O’Donnell and Johnson in their writing. There is a specificity that allows us to sit in Leif’s emotional shoes.

I want D’arcy Carden to be my new best friend. The scenes between her and Johnson are pure gold. Their chemistry is off the charts. Made even more impressive by the fact that they speak exclusively over the phone. It’s like watching a masterclass in scene partnering. Their report nudges the script into rom-com territory. But, in truth, Ride The Eagle is consistently genre-defying. Jake Johnson owns every frame he appears in. He has this innate ability to put you at ease while simultaneously making you giggle. He keeps you on your toes, always making you wonder what is scripted and what might be improvised. He’s just that talented.

The score is vibrant and incredibly thoughtful. Ride the Eagle shines with heart and charm. It has a palpable vulnerability that makes it undeniably relatable. Of the nearly 200 films I’ve seen in 2021, Ride The Eagle easily soars onto my top 10 list.

DECAL will release comedy RIDE THE EAGLE In Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on July 30, 2021. 

RIDE THE EAGLE is directed by Trent O’Donnell (“New Girl,” “No Activity”) with a screenplay by O’Donnell and Jake Johnson (“New Girl,” Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse), who also stars alongside Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise, Dead Man Walking), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Juno) and D’Arcy Carden (“The Good Place,” “Barry”).


Review: ‘Enemies of the State’ takes the courtroom drama into the digital age.

ENEMIES OF THE STATE

ENEMIES OF THE STATE is a documentary thriller that investigates the strange case of Matt DeHart, an alleged hacker and whistleblower, and his former Cold War spy parents who believe they are at the center of a government conspiracy and are ready to do anything to save their son from prison. This stranger-than-fiction story takes audiences on a wild ride of unexpected plot twists and bizarre discoveries in an artistic and cinematic documentary that blurs the line between reality and paranoia. With extraordinary access to all lead characters and key sources, this film presents many contradicting viewpoints as it attempts to solve a mystery that has kept attorneys, activists and journalists occupied for over a decade.


If an innocent man was sitting in front of you, would you even know it? This is a question I asked myself several times throughout Enemies of the State, Sonia Kennebeck’s propulsive new documentary. Years ago, movies made these kinds of questions easy on us: there’s that old western stereotype of the gunslinging hero wearing the white hat, staring down a villain dressed in black. These days, our digital lives have complicated that confrontation. In a world where stories of hackers, deep fakes, and police corruption flood the headlines, who can truly be trusted?

Enemies of the State’s subject is Matt DeHart. Through one lens he is an online activist, presumed hacker, whistleblower, and WikiLeaks courier. Through another, he is a convicted felon, guilty of soliciting child pornography from multiple victims. We will meet Matt’s supporters – family, friends, and online activists who all suggest these charges amount to little more than a government cover-up. We also see the case from law enforcement and hear the testimonials of the alleged victims. Who to believe?  This is Law and Order meets Mr. Robot.

In a film where nothing is certain, Kennebeck’s balanced direction is welcomed. Pains are taken to give equal air time to protagonists on each side of the conflict, to keep the viewer in check. I naturally found myself empathizing with DeHart’s family early in the film. In the immediate next scene, the camera lingers on the variety of medals on Detective Brett Kniss’ walls – as if to say, “You don’t want to believe this guy? He’s an Eagle Scout!”

I found the re-enactment scenes, featuring actors supported by authentic audio clips, robotic and less compelling. While robotic may indeed have been Kennebeck’s intention, sections in which the audio played simply over a black background were more resonant and unsettling.

Ultimately, the question of DeHart’s guilt or innocence depends on trust. Do you trust Matt’s family, his friends, or the FBI? Enemies of the State doesn’t take it easy on you – that answer is probably going to change a few times over the course of 103 minutes. I won’t give away where I landed – I’ll just say the image of the empty chair at the end of this film stuck with me long after the screen faded to black. Don’t understand? Just trust me.


In Theaters and On-Demand
July 30, 2021

Directed by: Sonia Kennebeck (National BirdUnited States vs. Reality Winner)
Produced by: Ines Hofmann Kanna, Sonia Kennebeck
Executive Produced by: Errol Morris


*OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2020 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL*
*OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2020 DOC NYC*

*OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL*


Review: ‘The Exchange’ is hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt.

THE EXCHANGE

In THE EXCHANGE, a socially awkward but highly enterprising teenager decides to acquire a “mail order best friend”; a sophisticated exchange student from France. Instead, he ends up importing his personal nightmare, a cologne-soaked, chain-smoking, sex-obsessed youth who quickly becomes the hero of his new community.

A unique fish out of water story, The Exchange is much more than a face value, raunchy comedy. In reality, it’s a complex look at small-town small-mindedness. It just so happens to be hilarious. Being set in Canada in the 80s brings an added notch of funny and relevance, using era politics and humor. One big-hearted young man, with some serious panache, can affect everyone around him. But don’t get too conformable with the formula; this film will surprise you in the best way possible.

The entire cast induces belly laughs. But you’ll definitely hone in on a few specific players. Justin Hartley plays the epitome of a narcissistic misogynist. Gary is the gym teacher and part-time local law enforcement. He’s completely ridiculous and you’ll love him for it. Jayli Wolf plays Brenda. She’s spunky and downright lovable in her adoration for an oblivious Tim. Her biggest quirk is one I can relate to. She makes up songs about literally nothing and everything. It’s ceaselessly amusing. Ed Oxenbould as Tim is everything we need him to be. His outward detestation for his life is palpable. He’s a social outcast, loathed for his love of cinema and general lack of trying to fit in. Avan Jogia as Stephan is sheer perfection. He is so likable in his commitment to this over-the-top character. He oozes a genuine charm that makes you fall in love with him. He’s an absolute star.

The soundtrack is magic. The Cure, The Smiths, Run DMC, and Phil Collins, play around an upbeat synth score. The script, by the actual Tim Long, has honest John Hughes vibes. It’s immensely fun. The Exchange is universally entertaining in its messaging and its heart.


THE EXCHANGE releases In Theaters, On Digital, and On Demand July 30, 2021.

Written by Tim Long (“The Simpsons,” “Late Show with David Letterman”), the film was directed by Dan Mazer (Dirty Grandpa). THE EXCHANGE stars Ed Oxenbould (The Visit), Avan Jogia (Zombieland: Double Tap) and Justin Hartley (“This Is Us”).


Review: ‘Midnight in the Switchgrass’ squandered series potential.

Two FBI agents cross paths with Crawford, a Florida cop who’s investigating a string of murders that appear to be related. When an undercover sting goes horribly wrong, Crawford soon finds himself in a twisted game of cat and mouse with the killer.

This story might have fared better as a miniseries. In fact, I know it would have. With all the makings of a True Detective style, cliffhanger-filled crime-thriller, nothing quite pans out in a completely satisfying manner. Even at just shy of an hour and 40-minute runtime, there is a ton of missed opportunity and information that would have pushed Midnight in the Switchgrass into greatness territory. As it stands, it’s a bit of a rushed and disconnected mess.

The soundtrack does not help. It feels forced and somehow creates a hokey feel. The editing, particularly surrounding Emile Hirsch‘s flashes, creates a perception that you’re missing some greater storyline. It’s simply unnecessary. There are moments when the acting is so over the top it’s nonsensical. Each character needed more time to develop. We hear about their pasts only briefly. This is yet another example of where further serial development would benefit the entire narrative.

Bruce Willis is underutilized. He could have been any actor playing that role. Megan Fox wavers between totally believable and taken for granted. It’s her stunts that read fake, which is a tad baffling because we know she’s capable of action stardom. I’m not sure who to blame here. In her most recent film, Till Death, 50% of the performance is based on physicality and she owned that role. Emile Hirsch is genuinely fantastic. This is the second time this month he’s played a cop, the first being Son. That role suits him well. Lukas Haas is as terrifying as we need him to be. He, too, deserved more backstory. This is a character that’s so disturbing, but we merely get glimpses of how his mind works. He’s so strong, I would watch an entirely separate prequel going through his origin story. Midnight in the Switchgrass succeeds in Hirsch and Haas.

Lionsgate will release the thriller MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS in Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on July 23, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27, 2021.

MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS stars Megan Fox (Transformers franchise), Bruce Willis (Glass), Emile Hirsch (Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood), Lukas Haas (Inception), Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) (The Dirt), Caitlin Carmichael (Life Itself) and Sistine Stallone (47 Meters Down: Uncaged). The film is the directorial debut of Randall Emmett (Producer of The Irishman) and the screenwriting debut of writer Alan Horsnail.