Review: ‘The Birthday Cake’ is a slice of revenge.

The Birthday Cake

Gio brings a cake to a memorial celebration for the 10th anniversary of his father’s mysterious death, hosted by his uncle (Kilmer), a Brooklyn mafia boss. His life begins to change as he pieces together what really happened to his father.

Everyone in the city seems to know Gio’s name. He hears it from every street corner as he walks about Brooklyn, from virtually every kind of person imaginable – hipster bar owners and priests, mentors and murderers. If Gio (Shiloh Fernandez) always seems surprised to hear his name, it’s because the objective of his walk is pretty intense: bringing a birthday cake to a party thrown by his mob boss uncle (Val Kilmer) to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Gio’s father.

If Gio himself is unknown to us, the archetype of his story certainly is more familiar. First-time director Jimmy Giannopoulos is acutely aware of the weight mob movies hold, especially in New York City. Every aspect of the production seems to shine with reverence for mob movie history: a crooning Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons open the film; Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino appear in supporting roles that nod vigorously to their past magic in Goodfellas. Moves like these make us feel at home in the story, nostalgic for its themes even though the setting is modern.

Shiloh’s Gio is friendly, but reserved – an earnest blank canvas. Robbed of his father at an early age, he relies on his cousin Leo (Emory Cohen) and the kindly priest Father Kelly (Ewan McGregor). On paper, it’s hard to find two more polarizing father figures than a priest and a mobster, but just wait – the film doesn’t take the easy way out.

Giannopoulos’s background in music videos is well served – music anchors complements and drives the narrative forward at all times. The early joyous do-wop tracks gradually give way to modern rock and rap as the night goes on and Gio gets himself in more and more trouble. It’s supposed to be  Christmastime, but the soundtrack makes clear there is barely any Christmas cheer to speak of. I was impressed by the way Giannopoulos’ camera mirrored this descent, gradually taking the audience from bright Bensonhurst streets into a perverse night of neon bakeries and bars.

If The Birthday Cake has one major weakness, it is its inability to fully leverage its broad, talented cast. Aldis Hodge flits on and off the screen so fast you wonder if he stumbled onto the set by accident. Though they seem to represent Gio’s moral compass, Leo and Father Kelly barely cobble together 15 minutes of combined screen time. Only Luis Guzman truly capitalizes on his short cameo, driving a spark of pure comedy into an otherwise dark narrative.

Adult men in the world of The Birthday Cake seemed to be defined by their absence, their silence, by time cut short. Gio’s cousin Leo spends the majority of the film off-screen, his presence only hinted at through phone calls or text messages. Even fearsome Angelo, hobbled by a past shooting, is unable to truly speak, with a raspy squeak the only trace of what must have once been a fearsome roar. Over it all hangs the specter of Gio’s absent father.

I wish the film had done some heavier lifting to build on that central theme for a story so preoccupied with memory. I left the film wishing I had been given the opportunity to see more of these men, these memories, through Gio’s eyes. Instead, I left feeling like I’d seen a film that still had more to say.

In Theaters and On-Demand on June 18, 2021

Directed by: Jimmy Giannopoulos
Written by: Jimmy Giannopoulos, Diomedes Raul Bermudez, and Shiloh Fernandez
Director of Photography: Sean Price Williams (Good TimeThe Color Wheel)

Starring:
Shiloh Fernandez (Evil Dead, Red Riding Hood)
Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!, Trainspotting, August: Osage County)
Val Kilmer (The Doors, The Saint, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
Lorraine Bracco (Goodfellas, “The Sopranos,” Medicine Man)
Ashley Benson (Spring Breakers, “Pretty Little Liars,” Her Smell)
 Aldis Hodge (One Night in MiamiHidden Figures, Straight Outta Compton)
 Penn Badgley (“Gossip Girl,” “You”, Margin Call)
Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines, “The OA”)
Vincent Pastore (“The Sopranos,” Revolver, Shark Tale)
Jeremy Allen White (“Shameless,” Movie 43, The Rental)

Review: ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ ultimately travels well.

Take Me Somewhere Nice

On the edge of adulthood, Alma leaves her mother’s home in the Netherlands and travels to her native Bosnia to visit the father she’s never met. But from the start, nothing goes as planned.

If I’m being honest, when the screen faded to black I genuinely abhorred protagonist Alma. Let me explain. Alma travels to see her estranged and hospitalized father. Upon arrival to her homeland of Bosnia, it is nothing but one mishap after another. As a young woman on her own in an unknown land, Alma chooses to dawdle aimlessly until her cousin can drive her to the hospital. The lack of urgency she displays throughout the film is confusing. Through distasteful encounters with men, young and old, she often uses her sexuality to advance her pace. The fact that she was left at a bus station, sans luggage or money, and didn’t end up dead is a baffling miracle in my view. Through the bizarre kindness of mostly strangers along the way to the hospital, she is eventually able to navigate to her father’s location only to be let down once more. Although, “let down” feels inaccurate. The nonchalance displayed by Alma is jarring. Whether it’s brazen sexual encounters or finding drugs in a suitcase, she is cool as a cucumber. It felt like this road movie was more of a waking dream.

As I had a few days to sit on Take Me Somewhere Nice, I was hit with a surprising epiphany. I was exactly like Alma in my youth! The careless way I used my sexual power, the reckless abandon I took with almost everything in my life. I was once fearless. At 41, I look at Alma with the eyes of 20 years of mistakes and growth. Writer-director Ena Sendijarević honestly gets everything right. Take Me Somewhere Nice is about a sheltered girl out in the world alone for the first time. It all makes sense now, even if her choice of her sexual partners makes me cringe. Taking a step back allowed me to appreciate her mindset in an entirely new light. Newcomer Sara Luna Zorić perfectly captures this generation’s bold nature. Watching her adapt to her surroundings is infuriating, awkward, and ultimately inspiring. I cannot leave this review without giving a standing ovation to the breathtaking cinematography. The colors, landscape, and smart camerawork are enthralling.

Take Me Somewhere Nice opens in theatres and virtual cinemas nationwide today.

The film opens in theatres and virtual cinemas nationwide this Friday, June 11th, 2021.

TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE is written and directed by Ena Sendijarević and stars Sara Luna Zorić, Ernad Prnjavorac, and Lazar Dragojević.

Bosnian, Dutch, and English Language with English Subtitles
91 minutes
Not Rated

Review: ‘Two Lottery Tickets’ wins big.

TWO LOTTERY TICKETS

After two petty criminals jack his fanny-pack and the winning ticket, the three guys spend what little money they have tracking down the thieves. Although all three guys are easy marks with zero talent for sleuthing, their wild goose chase around Dinel’s apartment complex precedes a road trip to Bucharest, where the two thugs might be about to cash in on the €6 million jackpot.

Romania’s hit film Two Lottery Tickets is the most enjoyable buffoonery you can think of. In his second feature, writer/director Paul Negoescu takes a story from writer Ion Luca Caragiale and sends us on a €6 million fool’s errand. Local pushover Dinel’s wife fled to Italy with her boss two years ago. He is depressed and going broke trying to raise enough money to bring her back home. Drinking buddy Sile, a womanizing gambler, convinces him to spend his last few euros on a lotto ticket. Against all logic, Dinel’s idiotic chosen numbers end up being the winner. After two thugs steal his bum bag with the ticket inside, Dinel, Sile, and local conspiracy theorist Pompiliu must follow the clues by annoying neighbors, evading the police, and generally being ridiculous. It’s the sincerity of these three men simply being themselves that makes Two Lottery Tickets both loveable and hilarious. Actors Dorian Boguță, Dragoș Bucur, and Alexandru Papadopol all deliver lines in a way that makes you smirk and cringe. This is a film that has such comic ease to it. Once in a while, you come across a film that is like a cinematic hygge (because that’s a thing I just made up but you totally know what I mean, so whatever). Two Lottery Tickets has all the makings of that film you want to tell your friends about. Negoescu and cast have given viewers such relatable characters. In fact, if you watch it in a group setting, someone in the room is probably a Dinel, a Sile, or a Pompiliu. It is truly that delightful.

TWO LOTTERY TICKETS opens in U.S. theatres and virtual cinemas on Friday, May 21st, 2021. Check out the trailer below.

TWO LOTTERY TICKETS is written and directed by Paul Negoescu and stars Dorian Boguță, Dragoș Bucur, and Alexandru Papadopol.
Color
Romanian Language with English Subtitles
86 minutes
Not Rated

Review: ‘DEMENTIA PART II’ is gag-inducing awesomeness.

DEMENTIA II

SYNOPSIS: Wendell (Matt Mercer) receives a threatening phone call from his parole officer Reggie (Graham Skipper)… if he doesn’t find a job immediately, he will face serious legal repercussions.  Wendell wrangles some home maintenance work for a seemingly benign older woman, Suzanne (Suzanne Voss), who persists in giving him increasingly absurd tasks to complete around the house.  As the workday progresses, Wendell is thrown into an ever-escalating nightmare, and comes face to face with an unexpected evil.  Suzanne hides a dark secret.  And it’s up to Wendell and Suzanne’s daughter, Sheila (Najarra Townsend) to put an end to her madness.

Wendell is an ex-con whose parole officer enjoys berating him over the phone. When a new handyman job brings him to the door of Suzanne, a quirky woman with dementia, he’s in for more than unclogging her pipes. The set-up gets weirder and weirder. Secrets and lies live in this house, but not for long. Wendell’s path to freedom is dean on arrival. Do not get comfortable for a single minute of Dementia Part II.

Graham Skipper plays such an asshole. It’s incredible to watch. Najarra Townsend, who was phenomenal in The Stylist, plays a completely different role here as Suzanne’s “daughter” and a total badass. Matt Mercer holds his own in every scene with Voss. That’s saying A LOT. He is the audience. His reactions to his wacky predicament walk the line of humane and hustler. Suzanne Voss‘s ability to seamlessly switch beats, sometimes in the same is a thing to behold. From helpless to maniacal, enraptured to enraged, and everywhere in between is a masterclass in purposeful performance. Having watched a loved one deteriorate from dementia, it’s frightening and heartbreaking. At times it’s an out-of-body experience for all parties. Voss is fearless. I’m formally requesting a Part III with Voss.

Shout out to Matt Mercer and Mike Testin for normalizing a runtime of 1 hour and 5 minutes. Good storytelling doesn’t need to be overstuffed with unnecessary nonsense. The dark comedy of Dementia Part II mixed with the very serious underlying mental health issues makes this film ripe for midnight screenings. I can already hear the audience yelling out Wendell’s many alternative names, making lewd gestures with pipes, and throwing $100 bills at the screen. You cannot go wrong with its vomit-inducing practical fx and outstanding performances from the entire cast.

Dark Star Pictures and Bloody Disgusting will release the midnight horror film DEMENTIA PART II in theaters on May 21, 2021, and on VOD, Digital HD, and DVD on June 1, 2021.

Review: ‘DRUNK BUS’ challenges life’s direction in an unlikely and perfect buddy comedy.

DRUNK BUS

Michael (Charlie Tahan) is a recent graduate whose post-college plan is derailed when his girlfriend leaves him for a job in New York City. Stuck in Ohio without a new plan of his own, Michael finds himself caught in the endless loop of driving the “drunk bus,” the debaucherous late-night campus shuttle that ferries drunk college students from parties to the dorms and back. When the bus service hires a security guard to watch over the night shift, Michael comes face to tattooed face with Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa), a larger-than-life Samoan American who challenges him with a kick in the ass to break from the loop and start living or risk driving in circles forever.

Transitioning from your college bubble to adulthood is hard enough. Add a breakup and no sense of direction and you’ve got yourself a basic outline for a film. Based on a story by screenwriter Chris Molinaro and directors Brandon LaGanke and John Carlucci, DRUNK BUS gives us a coming-of-age buddy comedy that you won’t see coming. This film is unexpectedly guffaw-inducing. I was knocked off my feet watching the chemistry of this cast. This film is about overcoming fear, anxiety, latent rage, guilt, you name it. DRUNK BUS has it all without ever getting too heavy.

Will Forte’s voice can be heard over the bus’s PA system, both encouraging and agitating Michael. Your ear immediately perks ups as Forte’s familiar timbre gives Michael the hokiest advice but it’s clear he also genuinely cares for him. Even though he has the least amount of screentime, he seamlessly even more laughter to an already hilarious plot. Notable performances also come from Kara Hayward and Zach Cherry. Hayward grounds the film with her honesty. Cherry leaves a lasting impression in every single scene.

Pineapple Tangaroa is the perfect foil for Tahan. He’s is incredibly funny. You will not be able to control your smirk. He was born to do this. I hope writers create all the things for him because he’s a star. Charlie Tahan has been on my radar since Super Dark Times and Ozark. His ability to be both accessible and to possess a natural comic timing makes him so alluring on-screen. There’s something visceral about his energy. That’s a rare quality.

DRUNK BUS challenges our insecurities. It asks us to take a chance. If there was ever a time to gt to bat for an indie film, this is it. You will not be disappointed. You can watch DRUNK BUS today in select theaters and On Demand. Check out the trailer below.

Cast: Charlie Tahan, Kara Hayward, Pineapple Tangaroa, Tonatiuh, Will Forte, Zach Cherry, Sarah Mezzanotte, Dave Hill, Jay Devore, Martin Pfefferkorn
Directors: John Carlucci, Brandon LaGanke
Screenplay by: Chris Molinaro
Based on a Story by: Chris Molinaro, Brandon LaGanke, John Carlucci
Executive Produced by: Executive Producers Ian Tarbert, Edward Nash, Michael Carroll, and Tom Gordon
Produced by: Eric Hollenbeck, Grant Franklin Fitch, Steven Ilous
Co-Producer: Benjamin Bradford
TRT: 100 minutes

Review: Be careful what you wish for in ‘The Djinn’.

The Djinn

THE DJINN follows a mute twelve-year-old, Dylan Jacobs, as he discovers a mysterious book of spells inside his new apartment. Grieving the loss of his mother, and feeling isolated from everyone except for his father, Dylan performs a ritual that promises to deliver his heart’s desire: to have a voice. But he soon discovers that every gift has a toll when a sinister djinn arrives to collect his soul. Now trapped in his new home with nowhere to hide, Dylan must find a way to survive until the stroke of midnight or pay the ultimate price.

For as many times as children accidentally come upon The Book of Shadows (or any ancient text with a pentagram on the cover), I’m beginning to wonder if I should teach my 4 and 5-year-olds to stay away. Yet again, I don’t want to stifle their inevitable love of all things horror-centric. As a mother of a child on the spectrum, I understand the importance of communication. The frustration and longing to be heard are endless. If we could change our circumstances, wouldn’t we try? David Charbonier and Justin Powell‘s new film The Djinn combines the themes of grief, trauma, and a mysterious legend to create a story that will both terrify and tear your heart out.

The score immediately reminded me of The Goonies. It is a perfect mix of ominous and whimsical. Dylan’s reading voice is costar Rob Brownstein’s voice.  As a mute boy, Dylan’s internal vocal reference would most certainly be that of his father. This moment of specificity from Charbonier and Powell is magic. The entire film’s sound design is award-worthy. Dylan’s hearing is likely acutely sharp due to developmental adaptation. The audio is jarring in a way that places the viewer in his constant state of hyper-awareness. His panic is our panic and it is palpable.

It’s a fresh take on the legend and more shudder-inducing than you’d expect. The pacing is perfection. All the tropes are there but with a hell of a twist. The Djinn‘s main conflict plays out within an hour, making the stakes feel higher as we count down the minutes alongside Dylan. Speaking of our leading young man, Ezra Dewey is a star. His chemistry with Rob Brownstein is charming and genuine. Dewey’s ability to own this entire film sans dialogue is the stuff of dreams. Mark my words, he will be everywhere. The Djinn is a very scary bedtime story warning us all to be careful what we wish for.

THE DJINN will be in THEATERS, DIGITAL, and VOD NEXT FRIDAY, MAY 14TH

Review: ’15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot’ brings big laughs and great filmmaking.

15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot

In 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot, Brian and his producer/cameraman Zach want to get into the serious news business. Brian loathes his job and he’s jaded as hell. When he gets assigned a story about Bigfoot, things get weirder than anyone expected. Vice meets Netflix’s American Vandal, 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot is a larger-than-life, tongue-in-cheek satire about clickbait journalism. Listen, like millions of others, I love me some BuzzFeed, but I know why I’m ultimately there. It’s for the pop culture lists, cheap dupe clothing links, and videos of dudes trying “lady-centric” stuff. I am in no way there for actual news. In 15 Things, Brian feels trapped in covering the fluff pieces we love/hate click on daily. Begrudgingly, he and Zach follow a local Bigfoot expert, a lead that will put them in the path of a much larger and deadlier story.

The mockumentary style is unbelievably hilarious. Every single cast member is a damn laugh riot. I don’t know how much of this film is improvised and how much is scripted, either way, you will be entertained from start to finish. Handheld camera work and snarky voiceovers push 15 Things to some next-level hilarity, but also a legit gorgeous looking movie. The editing and cinematography are ridiculously stunning. If you put it on mute, you’d never know the difference between this and Vice. It’s scary good. Is this the first of a franchise for these guys? I would not be mad at that. 15 You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot is now available In Theaters + on VOD. 

Directed by Zach Lamplugh

Written by Brian Emond & Zach Lamplugh

Produced by Tim Reis, Zach Lamplugh, Brian Emond

Starring Brian Emond, Jeffrey Stephenson, Zach Lamplugh, Derick Marchel, Dexter Fugerson, Jenna Kannell, Tevin Williams, Chris Mayers, Virginia Kirby, Nick Gibbons

2021 · Paranormal Comedy · 84 MIN

Review: ‘Eat Wheaties!’ is deliciously charming.

Eat Wheaties!

Sid Straw (Tony Hale) leads a dull life until he accidentally stalks famous college friend, Elizabeth Banks, on social media. With each failed attempt to prove he knows her, he rediscovers more of himself and the true meaning of friendship.

In the new film  EAT WHEATIES!, Sid Straw is the co-worker, family member, or neighbor that means well but always seems to get on someone’s nerves. His well-intentioned messaging to Elizabeth Banks create a downward spiral in his life that goes from silly to devastating. Blow after blow, Sid knows that his authentic self is good enough. This film is deliciously charming. Social media is a monster that can easily swallow its users whole. Sid Straw is misunderstood. He’s smart, thoughtful, quirky, and technologically behind the times.

Tony Hale knocks it out of the park.  EAT WHEATIES! allows him to hit every emotional high and low. You will fall in love with him. We’ve all known those social media newbies. The signing off on posts with their names, the public messages meant to be private, always makes me giggle. This character just captures your heart as he faces an enormous uphill battle against the media. Hale breathes life into a role that could easily become a caricature of a person. Alongside an amazing cast of familiar faces, Hale is a joy to watch as he navigates the complexities and ripple effects of a social media misstep. EAT WHEATIES! will make you laugh, cringe, cry, and then some. It a delight. PS, Stick around for the credits. Trust me.

Directed by Scott Abramovitch, Screen Media will release EAT WHEATIES! in theaters and on-demand on April 30.

Starring Tony Hale, with Paul Walter Hauser, Danielle Brooks, Lamorne Morris, Robbie Amell, David Walton, Sarah Burns, Elisha Cuthbert, Sarah Chalke, Sarah Goldberg, and Alan Tudyk

Review: Political allegory ‘The County’ milks it for all it’s worth.

presents

The County

After the global success of his Un Certain Regard winner RAMS, director Grímur Hákonarson returns to his native Iceland with another humanist farmland fable. Bitterly funny and deeply affecting, THE COUNTY plays out a timely political allegory against a jaw-dropping natural landscape, aided by a brainy, tenacious anti-heroine and Hákonarson’s dry Nordic humor.

Inja is left in the lurch with a nearly bankrupt dairy farm after the sudden and suspicious death of her husband. Under the thumb of the local Co-op, she discovers the shady dealings of those in charge and the effects on her fellow farmers. As she pushes back on social media, life gets more complicated. Inja becomes the Co-op’s target. Once our leading lady has had enough of patriarchal monopoly, her response is so satisfying you’ll be unable to repress a smirk. She must convince her neighbors there’s a better way than living in fear. The County is cinematically stunning. The script is brimming with unexpected moments. It’s one we can cheer for.

What I loved about this film was watching the tenacity of a woman pushed past the breaking point. Using wit and pure gumption, Inga helps a community that’s being taken advantage of. Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir‘s performance is out of this world. She is funny, powerful, gutsy, and yet completely vulnerable and grounded. The film doesn’t simply rely on the natural cinematic landscape but smartly uses its scope to tell this story. The script has a beautiful flow to it.  The ending is celebratory in a refreshing way. The County perfectly portrays the passion of a woman in her pursuit of doing what’s right.

THE COUNTY is written and directed by Grímur Hákonarson, and stars Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, and Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson.

THE COUNTY opens in theatres and virtual cinemas nationwide Friday, April 30th, 2021.

Review: “BLOODTHIRSTY’ overflows with music and metaphor.

BLOODTHIRSTY

Grey, an indie singer, whose first album was a smash hit, gets an invitation to work with notorious music producer Vaughn Daniels at his remote studio in the woods. Together with her girlfriend/lover Charlie, they arrive at his mansion, and the work begins. But Grey is having visions that she is a wolf, and as her work with the emotionally demanding Vaughn deepens, the vegan singer begins to hunger for meat and the hunt. As Grey starts to transform into a werewolf, she begins to find out who she really is, and begins to discover the family she never knew. What will it take to become a great artist and at what cost to her humanity?

The music is not only a major plot point but a character of its own. Lauren Beatty brings Lowell’s songs to life with an honest folk/pop vibe. They are haunting. Combined with the string-heavy score, the soundtrack enters bone-chilling territory. Wow. Now that most of us have watched Framing Britney Spears we understand the mental health pressure of pop stardom. To see that explored in Bloodthirsty on a more literal level was incredibly intriguing. A controlling father figure, isolation, and a strict diet all enhanced by horror make this story ceaselessly engrossing. Separately, there is a family and loyalty dynamic. It’s a brilliant combination of genres.

Greg Bryk as Vaughn is scary. His manipulation skills are daunting. He’s very punchable and I do mean that as a compliment. He infuriated me and made me so uncomfortable. I guess that means he’s done his job well.  Lauren Beatty, who was phenomenal in Bleed With Me (also directed by Amelia Moses), gives us a vulnerability that is consuming, pun fully intended. She’s got genre darling potential in spades. Here, she is allowed to challenge the audience’s perception of reality. What would you sacrifice for your art? Bloodthirsty will have you questioning the creative process long after the credits roll. 

 

 

Website: http://www.brainmedia.com/films/bloodthirsty

Directed by Amelia Moses (Bleed With Me), conceived and written by mother-daughter duo Wendy Hill-Tout and singer-songwriter Lowell, and featuring the original music of Lowell, BLOODTHIRSTY stars Lauren Beatty (Bleed With Me) and Greg Bryk (The Handmaid’s Tale). The film premiered at Fantastic Fest 2020 and opens In Select Theaters and On-Demand on April 23.

 

Review: ‘STREET GANG: How We Got To Sesame Street’ is a nostalgic hug of legacy and love.

STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET

STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET reintroduces this visionary “gang” of mission-driven artists, writers, and educators that audaciously interpreted radical changes in society and created one of  the most influential and impactful television programs in history.

This eclectic documentary traverses from the inception to the nuance of programming this iconic television show. Everything from the production design to intimate interviews with the actors, from the musical guests to the writers’ room is in this film. It hits on the social, racial, and educational impact of the show. The show’s schedule was one of the most intense I’ve ever heard of. 100 episodes per year filled to the brim with original sketches (both muppet and street scenes), animation, and original songs, Sesame Street has changed the lives of countless families across the globe.

John Stone isn’t a household name in the way that Jim Henson and even Frank Oz are. Stone was the director chosen by television executive Joan Ganz Cooney. His passion and work ethic combined with an extraordinary group of artists made Sesame Street the beloved program we know today. Street Gang doesn’t sugarcoat the naysayers. It does not ignore the internal conflict. It’s an honest look at bringing it to life. The conversations between the curriculum creators and the writers were key to reaching the audience, making learning both fun and engaging.

Some of the most charming bits in the film are the blooper reels. The genius, off-the-cuff moments between cast members staying in muppet character will slay you. One very poignant time in the show’s history was anything but unscripted. The death of Mr. Hooper was a carefully curated scene. It sticks with me still today. In 1990, when Jim Henson passed at the age of 53, the world mourned alongside the cast and crew of Sesame Street. Caroll Spinney as Big Bird singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green” at Jim’s funeral is heartbreaking and eternal.

I grew up with this show. As a 40-year-old moth of a 4 and 5-year-old, my children are now growing up with this show. I’m not ashamed to say I sit and watch with them. I’m just as enthralled with Sesame Street as I ever was. Their ability to grow with the times is what keeps them relevant and brilliant. Each scene in Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street held me with its nostalgia as it peeked behind the curtain. It left me with the hope that the show will continue its legacy long after we’re gone.

THE CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED DOCUMENTARY WILL OPEN IN THEATERS ON APRIL 23, 2021, AND ON-DEMAND MAY 7, 2021

Directed by Marilyn Agrelo (Mad Hot Ballroom) and produced by Trevor Crafts (Experimenter 2015) and Ellen Scherer Crafts, the documentary chronicles the improbable origins and expansion of the groundbreaking show that not only changed children’s television programming, but had real-world effects on equality, education, and representation worldwide. The film is inspired by Michael Davis’ New York Times best-selling book of the same name.

About Screen Media Ventures, LLC

Screen Media Ventures, LLC, a Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (Nasdaq: CSSE) company, acquires the rights to high-quality, independent television series and feature films. Screen Media Ventures acquires worldwide rights for distribution through theatrical, home video, pay-per-view, free, cable and pay television, video-on-demand, and new digital media platforms. The company acquires AVOD rights for third-party networks and is the main supplier of content for Crackle Plus and other Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment properties. With a library of over 1,500 television series and motion pictures, Screen Media Ventures is one of the largest independent suppliers of high-quality tv series and motion pictures to U.S. and international broadcast markets, cable networks, home video outlets, and new media venues. For more information, visit: www.screenmedia.net

About Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment

Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, Inc. (Nasdaq: CSSE) operates streaming video-on-demand networks (VOD). The company owns Crackle Plus which owns and operates a variety of ad-supported and subscription-based VOD networks including Crackle, Popcornflix, Popcornflix Kids, Truli, Pivotshare, Españolflix, and FrightPix. The company also acquires and distributes video content through its Screen Media subsidiary and produces original long and short-form content through Landmark Studio Group, its Chicken Soup for the Soul Originals division, and APlus.com. Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment is a subsidiary of Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC, which publishes the famous book series and produces super-premium pet food under the Chicken Soup for the Soul brand name.

 About Macrocosm Entertainment

Trevor Crafts and Ellen Scherer Crafts created Macrocosm to bring dynamic engaging content to global audiences by building and showcasing unique worlds. Films include Sundance Film Festival World Premiere Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street (2021), 7 Splinters in Time (2018) Manson Family Vacation (Netflix, SXSW 2015 premier), and Experimenter (Magnolia, Sundance 2015 premier). In publishing, they created Lantern City, one of UPROXX Top Ten Comics of 2015, and The Not-So-Secret Society (2017) the first original children’s graphic novel for KaBOOM! an imprint of BOOM! Studios. For more information visit: www.macrocosm.tv.

Review: ‘VOYAGERS’

Set in the near future, the film chronicles the odyssey of 30 young men and women who are sent deep into space on a multi-generational mission in search of a new home. The mission descends into madness, as the crew reverts to its most primal state, not knowing if the real threat they face is what’s outside the ship or who they’re becoming inside it.

What could go wrong with attempting to play God? Only everything. Instincts suppressed lead to one dangerous boiling pot of hormonal and phenomenally intelligent young people. It’s all one big morality question. Putting these unsuspecting kids in this position to save the entirety of the human race is a lot to ask. Then to lie to them, control them, use them without allowing them to be fully human themselves is cruel. And yet it’s not that simple. Limited resources forced this scenario. The likelihood of its success already feels like an uphill battle. All hell breaks loose when something attacks Richard, the only adult on board. Will these 30 young people fight their instincts or one another?

Colin Farrell as Richard is remarkable. He is the father figure. Loving, protective, and genuinely wanting these kids to succeed. Lily-Rose Depp as Sela is astonishing. She walks the perfect line of innocence and strength. Her journey, like Sheridan’s, is fascinating to watch evolve. Fionn Whitehead plays Zac with terrifying aggression. His portrayal of unhinged, pure testosterone-driven rage is all too familiar in the best way possible. Tye Sheridan plays Christopher with a curiosity and a growing intensity that makes him the perfect protagonist. He is levelheaded, kind, and determined to survive. Sheridan easily owns his leading man status.

Voyagers becomes a near-future version of Lord Of The Flies. It’s chaos created and chaos inevitable. The set is cool as hell. It feels immense and claustrophobic all at once. Trevor Gureckis‘ score is gorgeous. Writer-director Neil Burger has given audiences a heart-pounding and brilliant film. This one will stick with you long after the credits roll.

U.S. Release Date:          April 9, 2021, in theatres
Running Time:               108min    

Review: ‘The Toll’ plays upon familiar fears.

 

THE TOLL

Synopsis: Supernatural terror and spine-tingling suspense highlight this gripping journey into fear. When Cami orders a taxi service to take her to her father’s country home, she’s hoping for a quiet and uneventful ride. But a wrong turn by Spencer, her chatty driver, results in the car stalling on a dark and remote road. After several threatening and inexplicable occurrences, Cami and Spencer realize they are being watched—by an unseen presence that sees them as trespassers, and is ready to exact a deadly toll.
Writer-director Michael Nader sets up The Toll in a marvelous way. It plays upon the very real fears of ride-sharing. My heart was already in my throat minutes in. The writing is sharp and relatable. A woman alone in a car with a male driver, perhaps a tad too chatty for the hour and length of the drive. The pitch-black atmosphere, barely illuminated by headlights and dashboard glow adds to the fear factor. Ramp up the terror with a backwoods legend and this film settles into one extremely unsettling watch. Do your eyes a favor and watch it in the dark.
The first half and the finale of The Toll are hugely successful. My misgivings arrive in the middle of the film with a sudden tonal shift. It feels like Nader took a handful of horror DVDs, tossed them into the air, and used the plots/visuals from whichever films landed inside a circle on the ground. The trauma and the gaslighting aspect are the most intriguing. Credit where credit is due, the final twist is brilliant. While The Toll has a lot to explore with solid performances and a genuinely scary emotional build-up, I’m not sure if it works as a whole.
Saban Films’ THE TOLL opens In Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on Friday, March 26.
Writer/Director: Michael Nader
Cast: Jordan Hayes, Max Topplin, James McGowan, Rosemary Dunsmore
Producers: Max Topplin, Jordan Hayes, William Day Frank
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Run Time: 80 mins
Rating: R for Language Throughout and Some Violence
Distributor: Saban Films

IFC Midnight review: ‘COME TRUE’

COME TRUE

High school student Sarah (Stone) is at her lowest point yet when she runs away from home and finds herself with no one to rely on and struggling with recurring nightmares. She chances upon a university sleep study that offers the promise of safety and money and brings her an unexpected friend and confidant in the overseeing scientist Jeremy (Liboiron). But there’s something curious about proceedings and being under observation seems to make Sarah’s disturbing dreams even worse. As the darkness begins to close in, it’s soon clear that Sarah has unknowingly become the conduit to a horrifying, new discovery…

Come True is best described as visceral nightmares. The wearer of all the hats, writer-director-DP-editor Anthony Scott Burns has given audiences a sci-fi head trip so stunningly beautiful it will overwhelm you. The film has a dark “Through the Looking Glass” feel. Visually akin to The Cell or What Dreams May Come, specifically the purgatory scenes. There’s a frightening beauty to Sarah’s dreams. This cast is amazing. The vulnerability of every single actor should be recognized. Our leading lady, Julia Sarah Stone is astonishing. Her physicality creates a false sense that her character is fragile. Stone owns each frame, sometimes with nothing but her eyes.

The visual progression of horrifying imagery is stunning. The sleep experiment costumes have a Tron meets Captain EO vibe and I really dig them. The script is solidly disturbing. In all honesty, I was locked in until the very final scene which for me stepped into “Huh?” territory. I’ve now watched this film twice. The second viewing was a lot more telling. I have new theories. That being said, the rest of the film is so powerful, Come True is completely worth your attention. Thoroughly engrossing original visuals and storytelling are ramped up by Electric Youth and Pilotpriest’s synth score. It manages to wrap itself around you and immerse you in fear. Each of these elements creates an experience making Come True its own entity. It may give you your own new set of nightmares.

COME TRUE will open in select theaters, digital platforms, and cable VOD on March 12, 2021.

Review: ‘Keep An Eye Out (Au Poste!) is an uproarious meta masterpiece.

KEEP AN EYE OUT (Au Poste!)

Belgian funnyman Benoît Poelvoorde (Man Bites Dog) is Commissaire Buran, a good, bad cop interrogating Fugain, (Grégoire Ludig), an average Joe who discovered a dead body outside his apartment building. As the film begins, Fugain must, on an empty stomach, explain how and why he happened to leave home seven times in one night before coming across a corpse in a puddle of blood. Since he’s the investigation’s only suspect, Fugain’s anxiety is already sky-high when Buran leaves him alone with Philippe, a one-eyed rookie cop with bizarre speech patterns and a few minutes to live.

The 110% commitment to the absolute absurd is what makes Keep An Eye Out (Au Poste!) so phenomenal. It has an authentic Monty Python level of rapid-fire, totally ridiculous tone to the dialogue. You’re just smirking the entire time. Whatever these guys were selling I was buying. I gutturally laughed out through the entire 73-minute run. Also, can we please normalize these kinds of runtimes? Great, concise storytelling. I’m here for it.

Chief Inspector played by Benoît Poelvoorde is a real prick but in the best way possible. The perfect foil for Ludig. He isn’t really listening to anyone and meanders between genius and complete moron. His presence is commanding. Grégoire Ludig plays the completely unsuspecting Fugain. His character goes on the journey of a lifetime. Ludig is the “straight man” of the cast, which isn’t saying much. In an American version, he’d be played by Paul Rudd; genuine comic timing in an everyman sort of way. His charming panic becomes our panic. It’s a true testament not only to his talents but the magnificent script. The nonchalance of the entire thing will floor you. Enter Philippe, the underling assigned to watch Fugain when the Chief is called away. Actor Marc Fraize was honestly my favorite thing about the entire film. I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him with me. His loveable, quirky oaf delivery was something unto itself. He really completed the circle of greatness for me, personally.

The storytelling style is a mix of interrogation and creative recreations of Fugain’s official statement. All while attempting to hide another matter in plain sight. The cinematography is beautiful; something akin to a Wes Anderson film with its very distinct color palette. The visual gags are to die for. You will not know which end is up. It’s dizzying and meta, and once it takes off it doesn’t let up for a minute. It’s like watching a tennis match of wit and weirdness. I could not recommend KEEP AN EYE OUT more.

KEEP AN EYE OUT (Au Poste!) opens tomorrow in theatres and virtual cinemas nationwide.

A list of theatres and virtual cinemas can be found HERE.

Apple TV+ review: ‘CHERRY’ has Tom Holland spiralling.

CHERRY

The wild journey of a disenfranchised young man from Ohio who meets the love of his life, only to risk losing her through a series of bad decisions and challenging life circumstances.

Tom Holland plays the titular role in Cherry. The character feels like what might have happened to a modern-day Holden Caufield after the end of Catcher In The Rye. Cherry is classified as an American crime drama, but for me, it’s a genre-bending film that flows similarly to the Nico Walker novel it’s based on. Presented in parts, prologue and epilogue included, the screenplay moves at a rapid pace so you never have time to get too settled. Color is an important part of the structure, as red indicates each chapter shift. The lighting choices are smart and help create the overall mood of the film. There is a palpable heaviness to the story. The camera work is fantastic. Closeups are intentional and amazing. The score is also a huge highlight.

There’s an intense charm about Tom Holland. He commands the screen with his ability to both put you at ease and surprise you. You just believe him. If that’s not the very definition of great acting, I’m not sure what is. His narration controls the overall atmosphere of the film from the get-go. While Holland gets to explore the dark humor in it all, you’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop for Cherry. The military PTSD exacerbates his already existing sadness which inevitably leads to addiction… Which leads to a string of bank robberies.

Cherry is a self-destructive story of a young man with no sense of direction, controlled by impulse rather than logic. It could just as easily been an entire series. There’s a lot jammed into its two hour and twenty-minute run. If I’m being perfectly honest, it’s almost too much. With 30 minutes left, I had to pause and come back later. To clarify it was very engaged it was just a lot to ingest in one sitting. Had this played in theaters, I worry an audience wouldn’t be able to stick with the length. Outside of that one concern, Cherry is highly entertaining thanks to Holland’s full commitment to Jessica Goldberg, and Angela Russo-Otstot‘s phenomenal screenplay, and the stylistic choices of The Russo Brothers’ overall aesthetic choices.

Apple will release the movie in theaters on February 26 then on Apple TV+ on March 12. Customers can view Apple TV+ on any Apple device, recent smart TVs, set-top boxes, or on the web.

 

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: ‘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: ‘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