TIFF 2021 review: ‘ALL MY PUNY SORROWS’ is a soulful navigation of familial darkness.

ALL MY PUNY SORROWS

Based on the international best-selling novel by Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows is the poignant story of two sisters-one a concert pianist obsessed with ending her life, the other, a writer, who in wrestling with this decision, makes profound discoveries about her herself.


Depression, religion, and feminism uniquely intersect in All My Puny Sorrows. Flooded with grief and emotion, two sisters are forced to confront their devastating past and come to terms with the inevitable future. Yoli is a writer steeped in her own perceived mediocrity and exists in the shadow of her renowned concert pianist sister. Elf has money, a supportive husband, and fame. Not yet recovered from their father’s suicide, she is determined to take her own life, with or without Yoli’s assistance. Two different paths emerge from the same childhood experiences. Is it too late to save each other?

Director Michael McGowan‘s screenplay pays full tribute to novelist Miriam Toews‘ original text by keeping these characters unapologetically demonstrative and smart. The film swiftly takes an ax to the patriarchal religious structure. That’s really the smallest part of deconstructing preconceived notions in this story. All My Puny Sorrows is about the reclamation of power and what that looks and feels like for each of the Von Riesen family members: dad included. Well-read audiences may connect on a different level. Ironically, the heavy literary aspect might also be the film’s downfall, with some viewers unable to discern between quotes and original dialogue. It will either win or lose audiences in its verbosity. I’m hoping that’s not the case, as those moments are akin to poetry.

Amybeth McNulty, who I adored as the titular character in Netflix’s Anna With an E, shows us a completely different side of her nature. She plays Yoli’s unfiltered teen daughter. She’s an exceptional scene partner for Alison Pill. Mare Winningham, as matriarch Lottie, is a spark plug. The no-nonsense, tongue-in-cheek way of communicating is refreshing and funny. Sarah Gadon, as Elf, is determined to convince Yoli to assist in her suicide. Gadon is soft, resolute, and somehow totally powerful. Alison Pill plays Yoli with the fierceness she deserves. She’s a writer with grand notions of rescue, and yet also a pragmatic understanding of the familial darkness. Her sporadic narration gives us insight into their Mennonite upbringing. Pill’s vulnerability and volatility make All My Puny Sorrows a massive success. The nuance of this performance is captivating. Gadon and Pill’s scenes are electric. There is a palpable sense of sadness and honesty in this film that will surely be a gut-punch for many. People will be talking about this one.


You can find out more about TIFF 2021 at

https://www.tiff.net/

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


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.

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: ‘The Reason I Jump’ is a megaphone for nonverbal autism.

The Reason I Jump

Based on the best-selling book by Naoki Higashida, translated into English by author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas), The Reason I Jump is an immersive cinematic exploration of neurodiversity through the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people from around the world. The film blends Higashida’s revelatory insights into autism, written when he was just 13, with intimate portraits of five remarkable young people. It opens a window into a sensory universe that guides audiences to Naoki’s core message: not being able to speak does not mean there is nothing to say.

Based on the book of the same name by Naoki Higashida, The Reason I Jump is an emotional rollercoaster. I was already welling up listening to the opening monologue. The echolalia, the sensory overstimulation, the hand flapping, and ear covering all punched me in the gut when presented on screen. I’m a lucky Mom. At 5 years old, my child is now very verbal, he’s hyperlexic which means he’s been reading since he was two. He loves hugs, sleep, and eats well. On the autism spectrum, he would be closer to Asperger’s, if that were a diagnosis recognized nowadays. None of these facts lessen the fear, frustration, exhaustion, and pure elation in raising an exceptional human being. The Reason I Jump is tailor-made from the words of a nonverbal 13-year-old boy’s experiences from the inside out. In film form, it’s simply triumphant.

In the doc, we are introduced to 5 unique young people with autism.

Amrit (India)
Her mother realized she was using art to communicate. Her paintings are extraordinary, some visually akin to continuous line drawings. It took time for everyone to realize they are snapshots of her day.

Joss -(UK)
His anxiety is palpable. His impulses and tendency to meltdown are understandably unpredictable. Joss’s ability to show unadulterated joy is magic. His parents break down their own existence in the most relatable ways, both the highs and the lows.

Ben & Emma – US
These two have learned to spell with letterboards and keyboards to communicate. Best friends since very early childhood, what they have to say will shock you.

Jestina – Sierra Leone
With Jestina, we tackle stimming and perception by others. Stimming a sensory-driven repetition of behavior like rocking or flapping to self soothe. Sometimes it’s a visual stim, sometimes watching wheels turn or glitter shine. Culturally, her mother and other parents in her autistic adjacent community are told their children are possessed. It destroys the spirits of entire families.

The narrated excerpts from the book directly correlate with whichever child is being highlighted at that time. Voiced by Jordan O’Donegan, they have a poetic feel to their profundity. Naoki writes, “Making sounds with your mouth isn’t the same as communication.” That quote did me in. When you hear that, truly hear it, you will be taken aback. Jestina, Ben, Emma, Joss, and Amrit all communicate in a different way, we just had to learn how to listen. The heightened sound design immerses you into the world of an autistic person. We do not understand what it is like to be utterly overwhelmed not being able to be fully understood. The cinematography is breathtaking. Quick cuts, predominantly in close-up form combined with a gorgeous soundtrack put you in an alternate headspace. The editing takes all these elements and blends them into a viscerally stunning documentary.

As a mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I feel like I can see I want to broadcast this film to the world so that neurotypical individuals can understand my son and every other person on the spectrum. The label of autism, whether people realize it or not, creates implicit bias. We are missing out on the potential and impact of an entire faction of our society. It is our duty to meet each other in the middle. The Reason I Jump is a captivating peek behind the autism curtain. Don’t look away now. Thank you Naoki Higashida for writing this book. Thank you David Mitchell for translating it for your son. Thank you Jerry Rothwell for directing such an important film. Thank you to the families that shared their lives. Watch this film, then choose to listen and learn in a new way.

The Reason I Jump will be in theaters and virtual cinemas Friday, Jan 8th

**WINNER – Audience Award, World Cinema Documentary –
Sundance Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – AFI Docs 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – BFI London Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Chicago International Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Hot Docs Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – SXSW Film Festival 2020**
**OFFICIAL SELECTION – WINNER’S CIRCLE – DOC NYC 2020**

Fathom Events review: Movie musical ‘STAND!’ only in theaters tonight, December 1st.

STAND!

In Theaters Only on December 1, 2020

Directed by: Robert Adetuyi (Stomp The YardBring It On: Worldwide #Cheersmack)

1919. Stefan and his father Mike fled Ukraine for the New World, where they struggle to earn enough to reunite the family. Stefan is instantly smitten with the Jewish suffragette neighbour, Rebecca – but Rebecca’s brother Moishe and Mike oppose the would-be Romeo and Juliet. Returned soldiers, angry at the lack of jobs after the war, violently threaten the city’s immigrants, including Emma, the refugee from racist violence in Oklahoma. When a movement develops for workers to leave their jobs in protest, AJ Anderson, a wealthy lawyer, pits all against each other in a dramatic and inspirational final stand.

The potential in this story is obvious. Catchy numbers and an intriguing premise based on a true story. Unfortunately, it needs to stage to fully bloom. As someone who graduated from a musical theatre conservatory in Manhattan, I recognize the over-the-top gesture and intonation that is needed to reach the back row. But because the audience is experiencing it from a screen, it comes off as forced at times. The energy is lost in translation and it feels uneven. Theater broadcasting LIVE in a movie theater is different. Here, it’s actually the camera that ruins that genuine connection. Performances are outstanding so they deserve that give and take electric feeling. It also lacks in one major area where most musicals thrive; choreography. With a large and varied immigrant ensemble, this was a lost opportunity leading to momentary lulls in pacing. I kept hoping something was coming, some big number highlighting the different facets of people coming together. The moments definitely presented themselves over and over and not a single number. I think it could have pushed STAND! across the finish line.

The issues in the stage play turned screenplay is still incredibly relevant. This is the most successful aspect. Taking pages from Ragtime, Newsies, Parade, and Hamilton, stories of immigrants, race, religious persecution, classism, and the right to strike are all still ripe for vibrant storytelling in 2020. STAND! shines brightest when it sings. By far the best numbers belong to Lisa Bell. Get this girl on Broadway the minute it’s officially back. The Romeo and Juliet aspect between Rebecca and Stefan is charming enough but not as powerful as Emma or Mike Sokolowski’s emotional journey, whom the original stageplay STRIKE! is based upon. STAND! needs an Off-Broadway run and a workshop. But be the first movie theater audience to get chills while Lisa Bell belts out the theme in the final moments of the film, for sure. It’s worth the ticket price.

Music, Lyrics and Score: Danny Schur (Made In Winnipeg: The Terry Sawchuk Origin Story)

Featuring Lisa Bell’s show-stopping performance of the protest song Stand!

Starring:
Marshall Williams (“Glee”, “How to Build a Better Boy”)
Laura Wiggins (“Shameless”, 20th Century Women)
Lisa Bell (No Time Like Christmas, “Canadian Idol”)
Gregg Henry (“Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Scandal”)
Erik Athavale (Fractured, Breakthrough)
Paul Essiembre (“Covert Affairs”, “Silver Surfer”)
Hayley Sales (Deadpool 2, “The Good Doctor”)

Tickets and a list of participating theater locations will be available at www.FathomEvents.com.

RT: 110 Minutes

Review: ‘Disclosure’ is an emotional nail biter that warrants discussion.

From writer/director Michael Bentham, a film that hammers home the notion that “there are two sides to every story, and then there is the truth.” DISCLOSURE follows two couples who go to war over an allegation of child-on-child abuse. Australian documentary maker Emily, and her journalist husband, Danny, are reeling from an allegation of abuse their 4-year-old daughter Natasha has made against a local politician’s 9-year-old son, Ethan. Ethan’s parents, Joel and Bek, arrive unannounced at Emily and Danny’s house intent on convincing the couple that Natasha’s allegation is a fabrication. Accusations, arguments, and the ultimate search for leverage turn their civil conversation into a vicious confrontation.

Couple Vs couple tangling over abuse allegations between their children is one of the most visceral watches of the year, especially as a parent and former teacher myself. Disclosure boasts glorious performances and incredibly effective editing. Geraldine Hakewill, Mark Leonard Winter, Tom Wren, and Matilda Ridgway are simply outstanding and the use of a stationary camera allows the focus to remain on the nuanced beats within each scene. Long takes add to the tension and push a voyeuristic, “How long have you been standing there?” type of position for the audience. The dialogue is so weighty that you cannot separate your feelings from the characters. That’s great storytelling. We also explore the dynamics of gender roles, political fallout, past trauma, and marriage. One of the most intriguing is the way men communicate and the way women do. The avoidance, passive-aggressiveness, versus directness, is fascinating. At one point all bets are off and these couples will do anything to protect both their children and their own self-interest. Whose side will you be on? The fact that this is based upon a true story makes the entire thing all the more horrific. This is a lose-lose scenario no one wants to be a part of, but it does beg a larger discussion in the #MeeToo era: believing victims, victim shaming, trauma treatment, and all that comes with it. Writer-Director Michael Bentham gives us a bold film that deserves your attention. The film makes its North American debut tomorrow. Take a look at the trailer for a peek at what the audience is in store for.

DISCLOSURE arrives on VOD on 6/30 and DVD  7/7

Review: ‘How To Build A Girl’ is a a coming-of-age film that rocks.

How To Build A Girl illustrates the rise and fall of cool in search of self-actualization. Authenticity is the name of the game. The social climb from nobody to somebody inevitably comes with a lot of bad decisions. Why be yourself when you can be someone completely different? Beanie Feldstein is a damn treat, as usual, in this film based on Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Set in the early ’90s during the blossoming of an awkward, literature obsessed 16-year-old, we are treated to a glow-up of her own making. In an attempt to be seen, feel relevant, and pay the bills for her financially struggling family, she takes her first real criticism and rackets up the mean. But fame and risky behavior come with a price. What is the real price for selling your soul?

Beanie Feldstein‘s physical commitment to this role is sheer perfection. The unabashed, emotionally driven weirdness we all possessed at 16 is right there on the screen. You will fall in love with the beautiful mess she portrays. It’s the romanticism she believes in that will capture and keep your heart. If you didn’t already realize it, Beanie Feldstein is a star, ladies and gentleman. Thankfully, for fans of the original novel, the screenplay is adapted by Moran and with direction from Cory Giedroyc, the film will not only serve to a YA audience but pretty much everyone. The cameos in the film are beyond impressive. The laughs are plenty but the true undertones of the film are universal. That first taste of freedom and feigned adulthood oftentimes backfire. Who can’t relate to those themes? Some of us (most of us) are still trying to figure that all out.

Available today ON DEMAND!

 

Review: ‘Three Christs’ brings heavenly performances.

In 1959, psychiatrist Dr. Alan Stone (Richard Gere) arrives at a mental hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan armed with the radical belief that schizophrenic patients should be treated not with confinement and electroshock therapy but with empathy and understanding. As his first study, he takes on the particularly challenging case of three men—Joseph (Peter Dinklage), Leon (Walton Goggins), and Clyde (Bradley Whitford)—each of whom believes they are Jesus Christ. Hoping that by getting them together in the same room to confront their delusions he can break through to them, Dr. Stone begins a risky, unprecedented experiment that will push the boundaries of psychiatric medicine and leave everyone involved—including Dr. Stone himself—profoundly changed. Based on a remarkable true story, Three Christs is a fascinating and moving look at one man’s journey into the deepest mysteries of the human mind.

This impeccable cast leaves their hearts on the screen. Gere, Dinklage, Goggins, Whitford, and Pollak are at their best. Based on true events in the 1950’s, when shock therapy was the most common treatment for a schizophrenic outburst, Dr. Stone introduces psychotherapy as a means of potentially curing this diagnosis.

Gere as Dr. Stone is as reliable as ever. It’s a solid and compassionate performance. Peter Dinklage as Joseph (or Jesus #1) has all the elegance of an eccentric European professor. An opera aria and letter writing are his means of self-expression. Dinklage is nothing short of riveting. Bradley Whitford plays Clyde (#2). Carrying a tattered cardboard box and responding in oxymoronic rhetoric, he is charming and genuine.

Walton Goggins is Leon (JC #3). Intuitive and emotionally stunning, his performance is truly award-worthy. Charlotte Hope as Dr. Stone’s research assistant gives an innocent and inquisitive tone to her character Becky. Kevin Pollak is Dr. Orbus. He is a power-wielding man whose true nature is slow to emerge. Unscrupulous in his selfishness, Pollak plays him in such a way that while you loathe him, he is essential as a foil for Gere. I would be remiss if I did not mention James Monroe Iglehart as Benny, the group’s orderly. He is the perfect balance between professional and personal. He could be the very representation of the film’s viewer.

The film has highs and lows in pacing. It’s simple but precisely shot. Ultimately, this film shines in its high caliber performances. Three Christs is an important story in the larger scheme of discussing mental illness across the spectrum. Not labeling individuals but treating them with compassion. It tackles healing through human connection and not the for-profit approach to medicine.

IFC Films will release THREE CHRISTS in theaters, On Digital and On Demand on Friday, January 10, 2020.

THREE CHRISTS is directed by award-winning filmmaker Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes) from a script co-written by Avnet and Eric Nazarian.  The film is based on Milton Rokeach’s groundbreaking and controversial experiment chronicled in his book The Three Christs Of YpsilantiTHREE CHRISTS features an all-star cast including Richard Gere (Chicago, Pretty Woman), Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones” Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Walton Goggins (“Justified,” Them That Follow), Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing,” Get Out), Charlotte Hope(Allied, Les Miserables), and Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife,” “ER”).

Review: ‘OPHELIA’ is beautifully new madness.

 PRESENTS
Hamlet Through Her Eyes

Set in the 14th Century but spoken in a contemporary voice, OPHELIA is a dynamic re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) takes center stage as Queen Gertrude’s (Naomi Watts) most trusted lady-in-waiting. Beautiful and intelligent, she soon captures the attention of the handsome Prince Hamlet (George MacKay) and a forbidden love blossoms. As war brews, lust and betrayal are tearing Elsinore Castle apart from within and Ophelia must decide between her true love or her own life in order to protect a very dangerous secret.

Lust, betrayal, vanity, adultery; the reimagining of Hamlet through the eyes of Ophelia is an entirely different story. Based on the novel by Lisa Klein and in the vein of films like Ever After and perhaps even Disney’s live-action Cinderella, our leading lady is no shrinking violet. Daisy Ridley is a far cry from her role in the new Star Wars installments. As the titular character, she is inquisitive, bold, and yet her innocence plunges her headlong into the tragedy that Shakespeare writes for her. With a star-studded cast including Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, and Tom Felton, the story begins with how she became to be part of the court. Along the way, it addresses the fragility of the male egos as well as the female. It is still a story of love and honor but told from a young woman’s perspective and a few other key ladies surrounding her. The entire cast is brilliant. The costumes and sets are gorgeous. The new dialogue is ripe for this era. The added drama and intrigue is downright delicious. You cannot help but be drawn into the secrets. Ophelia’s fate makes more sense with a backstory we can experience in a visceral way. The film has everything a fairytale and period cinema lover needs to immerse themselves. But this film goes above and beyond. This new rendition is completely unexpected. It gives power back to the women in this story making Ophelia more magical than ever before. As someone great once said, “Well behaved women seldom make history.”

IFC Films will release OPHELIA  in theaters on June 28, 2019, and on digital / demand July 3, 2019.

OPHELIA stars Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force AwakensStar Wars: The Last Jedi), Naomi Watts (Mulholland DriveKing Kong), Clive Owen (CloserChildren of Men), George Mackay (Peter PanCaptain Fantastic), and Tom Felton (Harry PotterRise of the Planet of the Apes).

Review: ‘We Have Always Lived In The Castle’ in theaters and VOD today.

WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE 

A film by Stacie Passon
based on the book “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson

Starring Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, 
Sebastian Stan, and Crispin Glover

SYNOPSIS: Merricat lives with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. The trio are survivors of an arsenic poisoning that killed everyone else in the family five years prior. Merricat is bold and imaginative, and protects the property with “spells”. Despite being hated by the townspeople, the sisters live an idyllic life, until cousin Charles arrives. Charles offers to help around the house, and inquires about the family’s finances. Constance is charmed by Charles, and Merricat resents Charles’ intrusion. As Charles and Merricat battle for control, tragedy threatens to strike again.

There is a heavily literary feel to the structure, script, and performances. If you consider yourself a reader, these aspects will delight you. This all makes perfect sense since it’s based on Shirley Jackson‘s novel. Taissa Farmiga has given us a gorgeous portrayal of Mary Catherine. The specificity of her facial expressions, her physicality, and her tone is a master class in character acting. Sebastian Stan is entirely unlikable in his charm and clearly underlying intentions. His strong presence will make you squirm just as it does the other Blackwood family members. Alexandra Daddario is as elegant and she is uneasy with her plastered on smile. Obviously hiding true emotion on the outside, it’s the moments when the stare lingers a touch too long in which we are suspicious and fearful of her truth. Crispin Glover, who ages at a snail’s pace, is a complex, almost ancillary uncle character with what seems like bouts of early onset dementia. As the only other survivor of their dark tragedy, his idea of a memoir drives his protection of his nieces and the family legacy. This story is filled to the brim with mystery. There are so many assumptions and unanswered backstory questions, but that didn’t stop me in any way from enjoying the hell out of it. It’s the darkness that keeps your interest. The music, costumes, and sets are delicious. With elements of magic, superstition, and greed, We Have Always Lived In The Castle is stylistically engrossing.

In theaters and VOD on May 17 

Review: ‘The Public’ gives truth to the phrase “knowledge is power”.

THE PUBLIC

In “The Public” an unusually bitter Arctic blast has made its way to downtown Cincinnati and the front doors of the public library where the action of the film takes place. At odds with library officials over how to handle the extreme weather event, some homeless patrons turn the building into a shelter for the night by staging an “Occupy” sit in. What begins as an act of civil disobedience becomes a stand-off with police and a rush-to-judgment media constantly speculating about what’s really happening. This David versus Goliath story tackles some of our nation’s most challenging issues, homelessness and mental illness and sets the drama inside one of the last bastions of democracy-in-action: your public library.

 

This star-studded film follows the lives of the people who come in and out of a Cincinnati Public Library. Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, each character is fully fleshed out and complex even if they aren’t on-screen for very long. It’s carefully edited. You get a real sense of relationships and circumstance from the solid writing and stellar performances from this massive ensemble cast including Emilio Estevez, Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, Taylor Schilling, Gabrielle Union, Michael K Williams, Christian Slater, Che “Rhymefest” Smith, and Jeffrey Wright. The film is about knowledge and power in the larger sense. It’s a thoughtful commentary on the socioeconomic dynamics of the homeless, the manipulative perceptions created by the media, and the politicians and law enforcement that allow it to happen. It’s filled with humor and heartbreak from beat to beat, and the twists are surprising and impactful. The Public has amazing storytelling and a truly poignant look at class warfare.

THE PUBLIC features veteran actors Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock,” The Departed, It’s Complicated), Emilio Estevez (The Way, Bobby, The Breakfast Club), Jena Malone (The Hunger Games” series, The Neon Demon, Inherent Vice)Taylor Schilling (“Orange is the New Black,” The Lucky One, Argo), Christian Slater (“Mr. Robot,” The Wife, True Romance), Gabrielle Union (“Being Mary Jane”, Bad Boys II, Bring It On), Michael KWilliams (12 Years A Slave, “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Wire”), Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld,” “O.G.,” The Hunger Games” series), and Che “Rhymefest” Smith (co-writer and performer of “Glory” from Selma, “Jesus Walks” from Four Brothers, “Make Noise” and “Weaponized” from The Public, theatrical acting debut).

Universal Pictures Content Group will release THE PUBLIC in Theaters on April 5, 2019.

Review: ‘SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES’

Two Jesuit priests perform forensic work to solve the mystery revolving around the murders of young boys in one of Metro Manila’s biggest slum areas. While dealing with the systematic corruption of the government, church and the elite, the two priests delve into criminal profiling, crime scene investigation and forensic analysis to solve the killings, and eventually, find the murderer.

Based on the award-winning novel by Filipino author F.H. Batacan, SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES illustrates the best and worst of human nature: the antiseptic and dirty, the sublime and rotten, the hellish and divine.

With an unusual premise of having priests specialize in forensics, Smaller and Smaller Circles opens with haunting music and a disturbing image. Setting the stage for a mystery no one wants to delve further into. It addresses corruption in every corner of the church. Driven by greed and in the interest of reputation over the safety of the community’s young boys, we are witness to evil in many forms. A moody tone is set, eerily similar to the feeling Season 1 of True Detective gave us. The film could have easily been a mini-series. The final scene leads me to believe that this story isn’t over, in a sense. At the very least, our leading  characters have more work they can do. I, for one, would be invested in another film if not a redeveloped series, altogether. There are more details, I can only assume, the novel addresses. The story feels incomplete, only in the sense that I wanted more. Ultimately, this is a compliment to the intricacy of the storyline. The forensics aspects are intensely graphic but profoundly effective. The acting from ancillary characters is a bit spotty. It feels as if locals without experience were used to fill those roles. Though, I must give credit to each lead. Fully fleshed out backstories were felt even if we didn’t see them. This is yet another reason I would watch an expanded version. Smaller and Smaller Circles is undeniably engrossing.

SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES was directed by Raya Martin and written by Raymond Lee and Ria Limjap.  The film features both English and Filipino language.  It has a running time of 111 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.

Uncork’d Entertainment will release the film in Los Angeles and additional select markets on March 1.  It will then be released digitally on March 19 (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, Fandango Now, Xbox and local Cable).

Review: ‘PIERCING’ is a kink roller coaster ride.

UNIVERSAL PICTURES CONTENT GROUP

presents

SYNOPSIS:In this twisted love story, a man seeks out an unsuspecting stranger to help him purge the dark torments of his past. His plan goes awry when he encounters a woman with plans of her own. A playful psycho-thriller game of cat-and-mouse based on Ryû Murakami’s novel.

A premeditated murder plays out in an elaborate rehearsal, sound effects and all. A brunette escorts in vegas is the target of a clearly unhinged family man looking to complete his meticulous fantasy of violence. Piercing is a highly stylized and totally insane romp into madness.

Chris Abbott and Mia Wasikowska both play two distinct personalities. To go into any more detail would spoil the battle royale of bizarre that rolls out. Both are brilliant. Piercing is visually jarring and unapologetic in the surprises. Nothing goes right and it gets weirder and weirder by the minute. The tension is pretty palpable between a feeling of dread, “what the hell is happening?”, and routing for a potential villain. As the dominoes fall, and you pick your jaw up off the floor, you’ll laugh at the absurdity but go along for the ride, happily. Piercing possesses a grindhouse vibe from the titles to the music, to the very specific, almost Hitchcock-esque, shots into detailed miniatures. The fact that it’s based on a Ryû Murakami novel makes me want to read it immediately to see if the book is as messed up as the film. Because this version is nothing short of a complete mindfuck.

Universal Pictures Content Group will release the horror-suspense mystery film PIERCING in Theaters, On Demand and Digital HD on February 1, 2019.

Review: ‘GALVESTON’ impresses with its story and star, Ben Foster.

SYNOPSIS: Roy (Foster) is a heavy-drinking criminal enforcer and mob hit man whose boss set him up in a double-cross scheme. After killing his would-be assassins before they could kill him, Roy discovers Rocky (Fanning), a young woman being held captive, and reluctantly takes her with him on his escape. Determined to find safety and sanctuary in Galveston, Roy must find a way to stop his boss from pursuing them while trying to outrun the demons from his and Rocky’s pasts.

Just when I think Ben Foster can’t get better, well, I should know better by now. His fearless choices in roles continue in the new film Galveston. A man double-crossed and doing a good deed for a captive young girl (played spectacularly by Elle Tanning), Foster once again transforms voice, physicality, and persona to become a hero. His powerful on-screen presence is undeniable and one day, sooner rather than later, we will see him with a much deserved Oscar in his hands. His chemistry with Fanning is delicate and honest as the reality of their dilemma unfolds. The film is a tour de force of intensity from the get-go. It only becomes darker as the story rolls on. Galveston is as heartbreaking as it is triumphant.

RLJE Films will release the thriller / drama GALVESTON in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD on October 19, 2018.

Based on the novel by the creator of “True Detective,” GALVESTON stars Ben Foster (Hell or High Water), Elle Fanning (The Beguiled), Beau Bridges (The Mountain Between Us), Lili Reinhart (“Riverdale”), and Robert Aramayo (Nocturnal Animals). The film made its world premiere at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival and was directed by Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) from a script by Jim Hammett.

 

Review: ‘SONGWRITER’ gives birth to Ed Sheeran’s best album yet.

I feel like if you don’t like Ed Sheeran‘s music you may be a bit of a sociopath. His songs are the ones you here over and over on the radio and either find yourself singing or waxing philosophically about. In the new doc by Murray Cummings, Songwriter, we get to go behind the magical creativity that becomes an Ed Sheeran album. Specifically, his third (and latest) album, “Divide”. One gorgeous hit after another is created by Ed, producer Benny Blanco, and a slew of family, friends, and fellow songwriters. The songs come in waves and sometimes tsunamis. Cummings, who just so happens to also be Sheeran’s cousin, has real-time studio, tour, and vacation footage mixed with childhood films of Ed. We’re even treated to his very first recording session, something altogether different from the songs we’ve fallen in love with. I often wonder how many babies exist in the world because of his melodies. Sheeran’s passion and talent permeate the screen. He is as charming and genuine offstage as he is on. Songwriter deserves to be watched on a device with superior speakers. Sheeran and his cohorts let us peek behind the curtain of their process. It is honest, funny, emotionally indulgent, and damn near perfect. Sheeran is something akin to a modern-day Shakespeare, in a word of 140 characters of all too often vitriol. So, if music be the food of love, play on Ed Sheeran, play on.

In Theaters on August 17th in NY and August 24th in LA and exclusively on Apple Music August 28th

Songwriter is an intimate and personal look into the writing process of one of the world’s leading artists – Ed Sheeran. Songwriter details the creation of Ed’s third studio album “Divide” and gives an authentic insight into Ed’s life through never before seen home videos. Witness firsthand the creativity, from the very first chord to the finishing touch – as the sounds become the songs.

Review: ‘SIBERIA’ left us out in the cold.

Keanu Reeves

in

SIBERIA

When a business deal in Russia goes south, a U.S. diamond merchant (Keanu Reeves) and his lover (Ana Ularu) are caught in a lethal crossfire between the buyer and federal intelligence service.

Sometimes I forget how talented Keanu Reeves truly is. He can take a pretty lifeless role and make it into something we weren’t expecting. That being said, these talents are really wasted in Siberia. It’s a poor man’s John Wick. The pace is often excruciating. When it is on, it’s vastly entertaining. The potential lies within the higher stakes, action-oriented scenes, but since they are few and what feels like far between it’s tough to stay on the train. 50 minutes into the 1:44 minute run it finally feels like,”Ok now we’re getting somewhere!” Alas, it will be 15 more minutes until something relatively interesting occurs. The script really takes it damn time getting to the point.

The performances are strong. Ana Ularu is vastly underutilized opposite Reeves. There is so much going on behind that tough girl veneer, a sadness that you want to fix. She has a brilliant presence but has been diminished to sex doll with a heart of gold. Someone write her a juicy role, please.  Molly Ringwald appears for what is tantamount to a cameo, speaking of underutilized. Her performance in this year’s Tribeca selection,  All These Small Moments is proof we need her back in our lives on a more permanent basis. Reeves, as Lucas Hill, diamond dealer trapped in a lackluster marriage and put in a shady work position, is the only saving grace. The problem being, you can feel the pained longing to kick some real ass. Ultimately, Siberia ends up being a midlife crisis cry for help, more than anything else. It left me cold and a bit empty.

Saban Films will release the romantic crime thriller SIBERIA in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD on July 13, 2018

SIBERA stars Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, Speed, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), Molly Ringwald (“Riverdale,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” Sixteen Candles), and Ana Ularu (Outbound, Inferno). The film is directed by Matthew Ross (Frank & Lola) from a script by Oscar nominated novelist/screenwriter Scott B Smith (The Ruins, A Simple Plan) and producer/screenwriter Stephen Hamel (Passengers, Henry’s Crime).

Review: ‘The Catcher Was A Spy’ is crackerjack film.

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/4c67cfe4821e202e2c118979b/images/ac0f2924-cbd6-47f6-a3eb-a5f768479998.png
Presents
THE CATCHER WAS A SPY
*Official Selection of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival*

In Theaters and On Demand June 22, 2018

The Catcher Was a Spy tells the true story of Morris “Moe” Berg (Paul Rudd), the Major League Baseball player, Ivy League graduate, attorney and top-secret spy who helped the U.S. defeat Nazi Germany in the race to build the atomic bomb.

Paul Rudd gives a stunning performance as the real-life and incredibly enigmatic “Moe” Berg. A former catcher for The Boston Red Sox, a Princeton grad, and all-around genius of a man, Berg speaks 7 languages and has the guts to take on a mission to save the world. Rudd, someone who has a natural talent for improvisation and making us laugh until we pee ourselves, carries this dramatic film like a true movie star. While his Ant-Man training certainly came in handy for this particular role, playing Berg is further proof that Rudd is underutilized outside his typical comedic fare. More dramatic roles could boost him into award season regular status. The complexities of this man are not lost in the complicated narrative of history. Three cheers to the writers on that front. The superb editing heightens the action and intrigue that leaves the viewer fully engrossed. The film easily captures what might seem like a crazy premise, use a former baseball player as a spy, until you are let into the eccentric and bold mind of Moe Berg. With striking sets and costumes and alongside a massively hard-hitting cast (the likes of Jeff Daniels, Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti, Hiroyuki Sanada)The Catcher Was A Spy is an exciting historical period drama that delves into one of the most unique stories of the WWII era.

Starring
Paul Rudd, Jeff Daniels, Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, 
Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti, Hiroyuki Sanada

Directed by Ben Lewin (The Sessions)
Written by Robert Rodat (Academy Award Nominee, Saving Private Ryan)
Score by Howard Shore (Academy Award Winner, Lord of the Ring series, Hugo)

Tribeca Film Festival Reviews: ‘Cargo’ & ‘The Night Eats The World’ breathe new life into the zombie genre.

Cargo

Director: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke

Writer: Yolanda Ramke

Producers: Samantha Jennings, Kristina Ceyton, Russell Ackerman, John Schoenfelder, Mark Patterson

Cast: Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter

Stranded in rural Australia in the aftermath of a violent pandemic, an infected father desperately seeks a new home for his infant child, and a means to protect her from his own changing nature.

 

Cargo, starring Martin Freeman will undoubtedly rip your heart out if you are a parent. It’s a race against time form the very first scene. It contains an intriguing bit of cannon with respect to this particular zombie outbreak. I’m always curious how this will be addressed in the genre and in Cargo, it’s very different from what we’re used to seeing. This film has a wonderful pace. It is dark with a constant feeling of dread looming. Freeman plays a believably loving and caring father of his infant daughter. The action and terror are unrelenting. In the genre what more can you really ask for? The film will be coming to Netflix next Friday, May 18th!


The Night Eats The World

Directed by

Dominique Rocher

Writing Credits (in alphabetical order)

Pit Agarmen (novel)
Jérémie Guez (screenplay) (adaptation) (dialogue)
Guillaume Lemans (screenplay) (adaptation) (dialogue)
Dominique Rocher (screenplay) (adaptation) (dialogue)

The morning after a party, a young man wakes up to find Paris invaded by zombies.

The Night Eats The World is all about isolation. Sam is alone in his ex’s apartment, walls splattered with blood, and the other floors are not much better. Realizing the outside is even less safe, he begins to use his wits by gathering what he can find, little by little, staying organized but perhaps not sane. Actor Anders Danielsen Lie is in every single scene of the film. His performance is so engrossing that I almost missed his complete physical transformation along the way. He must remain as calm as possible, which is pretty difficult considering the circumstances. An interesting element to his character is that he is a musician. This becomes both an advantage and a misstep in the plot. We’ve all watched The Walking Dead for years now but off the top of my head, I’m not sure I would be as methodic in my solitary survival as Sam. While we don’t get any information about the outbreak specifically, it never stopped me from enjoying the film, rooting for Sam to stay alive. Sometimes you don’t need it all spelled out for you, sometimes great storytelling is more than enough. 

Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘Tully’ is the perfect movie to see this weekend.

Diablo Cody, Jason Reitman, and Charlize Theron have managed to capture the very essence of what Motherhood feels like on a primal level. Wrapped in wit and honesty, Tully encapsulates the sheer exhaustion, frustration, elation, confusion, anger, pride, adoration and everything in between. It’s in the film’s specificity that creates a sense of, “Oh, my God, yes. Finally, someone gets it!” Spilled breastmilk, changing diapers, juggling schedules, sleep deprivation, the feeling of complete isolation. As a mother of a 1 and 2-year-old, while portions of the premiere audience laughed, I teared up and nodded because while it was indeed hilarious, it was also so true. I have experienced every single moment Theron’s character does in some form or fashion. We are living the same truth. Cody has a knack for turning the ordinary into extraordinary with her scripts. Theron is as real and charismatic as ever. The film is an opportunity for Mothers to feel seen and heard. It is an opportunity for their partners to peer behind the ever-cracking facades of messy buns, leggings, and maybe a little mascara and chapstick if you’re lucky. Mother’s Day is this weekend. Go see this film and call your Mom, Wife, or Sister, and say, “Thank you, now how can I help?”