Review: ‘SHATTERED’ mixes ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Misery’ into a thriller for the tech era.

SHATTERED

In the tradition of Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct comes this dazzling action-thriller starring Academy Award® nominee John Malkovich (RED) and Frank Grillo (Avengers: Endgame). After lonely tech millionaire Chris (Cameron Monaghan, “Shameless”) encounters charming, sexy Sky (Lilly Krug), passion grows between them – and when he’s injured, she quickly steps in as his nurse. But Sky’s odd behavior makes Chris suspect that she has more sinister intentions, especially when Sky’s roommate is found dead from mysterious causes.


Tale as old as time: Boy is lonely, boy meets girl, girl is bad for him. At first, that’s hot. Later, it’s not. Michael Douglass and Glenn Close taught us these dance moves in 1987’s Fatal Attraction. Prieto’s Shattered takes this formula, adds a helping of 1990’s Misery (James Cann plays an injured writer, and Kathy Bates is the nurse who happens to be an obsessed fan. Great movie – don’t watch if you’re squeamish about ankle torture) and gives it all a glossy high-tech setting.

Chris Decker (Shameless’ Cameron Monaghan) is our lonely boy this time around. Chris created and sold a high-tech security app while he was at MIT. Now’s he’s flush with cash, but he’s also peaked too early. That’s how he finds himself divorced, bored, and lonely in his massive Montana home. His only solace seems to be an impressive wine collection. During a late-night bottle run, he meets the mysterious and sexy Sky (Lilly Krug). She looks like trouble, but she needs a ride home, and she likes his taste in wine. What’s a guy to do?

Things get hot and heavy fast and then go wrong even faster. As in, deliriously bonkers fast. This movie is not interested in slow-burning anything – it turns the gas all the way up. Sky, of course, is not who she claims to be, and Chris finds himself in grave danger. Some films would tease this uncertainty out over many scenes, but Shattered stamps down on the gas pedal. This film burns through the plot faster than it can produce it. There’s probably another version of this film where Chris uses his own security app to slowly turn the tables on Sky – a nuanced vision of cat and mouse for the App generation. I would have also loved exploring more of the film’s snowy Montana setting.

But that film probably would have been a whole lot less visceral fun! Lilly Krug struggles a bit with the good-girl half of the film, but gamely brings Sky’s more psychopathic tendencies to life. Decker is dealt a tough hand here, his character reserved and introverted when he’s not being actively tortured. There are hints of past trauma and obsessive paranoia that I wish the film had spent more time drawing out. John Malkovich, playing a greedy landlord dressed exclusively in pastel ski jackets, chews scenery like he just finished a hunger strike.

Coming in at a tight 92 minutes, the pacing and pleasures of Shattered are more than enough to make up for any glitches in its application. You’ll double-check your password security after watching this one.


CHECK OUT THE RED BAND TRAILER: 

Lionsgate will release the thriller film SHATTERED in Select Theaters and On Demand on January 14th! Available on Blu-ray and DVD on February 22nd!

SHATTERED stars an ensemble cast of Academy Award® nominee John Malkovich (RED), Cameron Monaghan (Shameless), Frank Grillo (Avengers: Endgame)Sasha Luss (Anna), and Lilly Krug (Every Breath You Take). The film is directed by Luis Prieto (Kidnap) and was written by David Loughery (Fatale).


 

Review: Family sci-fi ‘PORTAL RUNNERS’ is now Streaming & On Demand worldwide.

When 15-year-old Nolan (Siegel) discovers a secreted family legacy and a portal that enables him to travel to parallel worlds, it’s a young boy’s dream come true … until it becomes a nightmare when he realizes he’s being pursued across the ages by an evil force. When he becomes stranded on Christmas in an alternate timeline with his quirky family and a rebellious and petulant older sister he’s never met before, he realizes Mae (Eberle) may be the key to defeating his adversary and must enlist her help fast … before it’s too late for them all.


Science fiction and Christmas are an odd pair (more Machine Gun Kelly / Megan Fox than Meg Ryan / Tom Hanks), but Cornelia Duryée’s Portal Runner is out to prove they can be a match made in movie heaven. If you were a child of the 90s, this film has everything that could possibly be on your Christmas list: multiple dimensions, a plucky young hero pursued by a shadowy evil force, a missing father figure, and booby traps (can I get a “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal?”) There’s even sibling rivalry and some Y2K references for extra yuletide cheer. Mix it all together and you’ve got fun for the whole family.

Nolan (Sloane Morgan Siegel) is the Portal Runner, your average normal 15-year-old. Oh, except he can use mirrors to travel between dimensions. And he’s being chased by an otherworldly monster that murdered his whole family. Just in time for Christmas, Nolan finally finds what he believes to be a safe dimension. Only, in this dimension, Nolan suddenly has a sister (Elise Eberle).

At this point, you might be asking yourself… is this really a kid’s movie? Duryée wisely spoons out the action in small doses. Most of the narrative is wisely focused on Nolan adjusting to his new sibling dynamic with Eberle’s Mae. Their dynamic is fresh and easygoing, and by the end of the film, you believe the lengths they would go to protect each other.

The film also gets as much juice as possible out of its 1999 setting. I loved the infomercials playing in the background of many scenes, and the Y2K-fearing Uncle Boon (Brian Lewis) steals scene after scene. You’ll never take your dishwasher for granted again.

While moments of Portal Runner may indeed be too dark for younger children, its compelling themes of family and bravery make it well worth adding to your Christmas watching list.



  A nail-biting, action-packed, sci-fi adventure for the entire family, Portal Runner begins streaming and is available On Demand Dec. 10 from Kairos Productions and Terror Films.

Portal Runner can be seen worldwide on Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play, Kings of Horror, TubiTV, Roku, Film Freaks, Microsoft Movies & TV, and Jungo+.

Starring Elise Eberle (Mae), Shameless, Salem, The Last Tycoon, Tiger Eyes, Lemonade Mouth, The Astronaut Farmer; Sloane Morgan Siegel (Nolan), Dwight in Shining Armor, The Call, Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, Partners and as the voice of Time Drake/Robin in the Gotham Knights video game; Carol Roscoe (Mom/Klara), Language Arts, If There’s a Hell Below, West of Redemption, The Dark Horse and Joanna in The Gamers trilogy; and Brian S. Lewis (Uncle Boon), The Gamers series, Dwight in Shining Armor, JourneyQuest.

Portal Runner was directed by Cornelia Duryée (Language Arts, West of Redemption, The Dark Horse, Camilla Dickinson) from a screenplay by Tallis Moore (JourneyQuest, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising), based on a story by J.D. Henning.


Review: Ethan Hawke stars in ‘Zeroes and Ones,’ a creatively shot political thriller.

presents

ZEROES AND ONES

Called to Rome to stop an imminent terrorist bombing, a soldier desperately seeks news of his imprisoned brother — a rebel with knowledge that could thwart the attack. Navigating the capital’s darkened streets, he races to a series of ominous encounters to keep the Vatican from being blown to bits.


Zeros and Ones is a surrealistic mash-up from Abel Ferrara – a political and pandemic thriller that is simultaneously thoughtful and baffling. This is a film that invites the viewer in while still keeping them at a distance. The film is bookended by two videos featuring start Ethan Hawke, who speaks candidly to the audience about his excitement and experience relating to the film. Hawke freely admits that he didn’t understand Ferrara’s script when he received it, but that he really liked it. Having just finished “Zeros and Ones”, Hawke’s point resonated.

The film’s achievements are especially impressive given it was filmed in Rome during a rigid COVID lockdown. By nature of these restrictions, the majority of the action is restricted. The camera is limited to claustrophobic rooms and empty nighttime streets, but cinematographer Sean Price Williams makes the most of it. The outdoor scenes, in particular, are quite striking: sanitation workers clad in PPE decontaminating a subway car, mist mingling with the glow of the street lights.

Our protagonist (Ethan Hawke’s “J.J.”) is an enigmatic military man, his face hidden beneath a black mask even when he’s in plain sight. He’s on a journey through Rome, but his objectives (and destination) are murky. He’s trying to locate his twin brother (also Hawke), an imprisoned revolutionary who may hold the key to thwarting a terrorist plot on the Vatican. While this may sound like the plot of a multi-million dollar action film, Ferrara’s vision is wisely more conservative. He is more interested in backroom deals and shadowy government priorities than big explosions.

Hawke offers a game performance in the dual role – although he seems to have far more fun playing the revolutionary brother than the military one (after all, who doesn’t want to spit lines like, “Why is nobody setting themselves on fire?!”)

J.J.’s encounters with other characters throughout the film are always one layer removed – he’s always speaking to them through a phone screen, from behind a layer of glass, or filming them using his own camera. It’s a strong artistic choice, but also puts much more emphasis on the dialogue to drive the action of the film, and contributed to an overall lack of visceral connection to the material.

Ultimately, Zeros and Ones is a wonderful example of artistic vision flourishing under restrictive circumstances. One has to wonder how we will look back historically and evaluate these films against history once the pandemic finally recedes (fingers crossed.) I’m glad Hawke and Ferrara were still willing to act up despite having to mask up.


Zeros and Ones – In Select Theaters, On Demand and Digital on November 19, 2021. Ethan Hawke, Valerio Mastandrea, Cristina Chiriac.


Review: The kids are not alright. In fact, in Jesse P. Pollack’s ‘THE ACID KING’, the kids are very screwed up.

Dan Jones and Jesse Pollack’s powerful The Acid King, the story of Ricky Kasso, an American teenager who murdered his friend, Gary Lauwers, in an alleged “Satanic sacrifice” during the summer of 1984, premieres On Demand.


Pollack’s gritty documentary takes the viewer through the story of Ricky Kasso, a disaffected teen who took the media by storm in 1984 when he stabbed a friend to death in an alleged “satanic sacrifice.”

You can see why the media sniffed around. The few glances of Kasso the viewer gets are thoroughly terrifying – he’s got a wide-eyed stared frazzled by drugs and years of neglect. Add in some heavy metal, debts, and even more drugs? You’ve got a recipe for a sensational murder that added fuel to the “satanic panic” bonfire of anxiety that plagued the Regan-era suburbs.

Pollack seeks to paint with a broad brush; interviews range from friends and acquaintances to artists who were later inspired by Kasso’s story. While this shows how influential and far-reaching this tragedy became, it also results in an incoherent narrative.

The documentary can’t decide if it’s about a kid who was repeatedly failed by his parents, about mental illness, or about the start of the satanic panic. It gives you a little bit of everything. Rather than bringing a voice to the victim behind this story, it focuses much more on the myth and legacy of Ricky Kasso. This documentary makes clear that the satanic elements of the case were sensationalized but simultaneously give a platform to some interviewees to further perpetuate these very myths.

The Acid King definitely reinforces the twisted legacy of Ricky Kasso, as well as giving some insights into the tragedies that may have supported his downward spiral. I just wish it had gone a little further, been a little more decisive, and left me with a few more answers.


On Demand November 9 from Wild Eye Releasing.


Brooklyn Horror Film Festival (2021) review: ‘What Josiah Saw’ is a familial collision course.

 

WHAT JOSIAH SAW


What Josiah Saw the new indie feature from Vincent Grashaw, is one twisted picture. In some ways, I wish the feature had been split up into a 3 episode limited series to slowly spoon-feed the viewer its multiple moments of trauma and dread. Instead, it hits you in a 1 hour 56-minute wallop –  I left the film feeling dispirited and numb, my emotions frayed. This reaction is also a testament to many of the film’s characters, and my desire to spend more time learning about them before they are plunged into terrifying and tragic circumstances.

The film is roughly divided into 3 parts, each following one of the Graham children. The troubled youngest child, Thomas (Scott Haze) still lives on the family farm with his father, Josiah (a sickly-looking but still magnificently creepy Robert Patrick). Part 2 follows older brother Eli (Nick Stahl) is an addict who has been forced into a criminal style. In the final chapter, we meet sister Mary (Kelli Garner), who has married and moved away but still bears obvious trauma and scars from her childhood. When a group of developers tries to buy the farm, the film inevitably sets these 3 siblings and their father on a dramatic collision course.

Each segment of the film has a very different tone. The early scenes on the farm (where, years earlier, Josiah’s wife mysteriously committed suicide) are filled with eerie unease. Josiah and Thomas’ relationship is tense and cold. It feels very much like a haunted house film. I feel like Robert Patrick has been playing supremely creepy characters for my whole lifetime – he slips into these roles without even trying. There’s a scene where Josiah gives Thomas some fatherly advice that is some of Patrick’s most squirm-inducing work to date.

This tone drastically shifts in the second segment, which focuses on Eli trying to steal a trunk of gold from a traveling group of Romani. You read that right. This section works even though it represents a drastic tonal departure from the early plot. It’s the lightest section of the narrative and the only part of the film where the audience gets to have a little fun. Stahl gives an incredibly versatile performance in this film, imbuing Eli with equal parts charisma and self-doubt. They could have made a whole movie focusing on this segment alone.

Mary’s introduction is rushed, and the film’s final chapter is mostly concerned with reuniting the siblings on the family farm. And that’s when things really get weird. The film’s finale is powerful and brutal. It left my head spinning. I can’t say I want to watch this film again, but I know I’ll be thinking about its implications for a long time.


You can read Liz’s #BHFF2021 review of What Josiah Saw here


Indie Memphis Film Festival (2021) review: ‘KILLER’ is a fresh, fun horror from A.D. Smith.

KILLER

KILLER (Dir. A.D. Smith, 90 min) 
After a pandemic strikes the nation, ten friends decide to quarantine under the same roof. Unfortunately, one of them is a killer.
2021, Horror, Theater/Virtual


Neon tubes give the room a slanted, eerie glow. 10 figures, all wearing hoodies and masks are seated in a circle. There are instructions on a whiteboard giving instructions for a game. The game is Killer, a party game where one player tries to stealthily eliminate their enemies without being discovered. Each round, the rest of the players vote to nominate their prime suspect. Only in this game, these 10 figures are tied to their chairs. And when they nominate a suspect each round, someone really dies.

A.D. Smith‘s new independent feature, Killer plays like a COVID-era, black-box theater mash-up of the “Big Chill” and “Saw” In the face of the pandemic, 10 friends have gathered in one house to quarantine together. As what was supposed to be a simple 2-week quarantine (I remember those days…) stretches on, tempers flare, friendships are tested, and relationships are revealed. Oh, and one of them is a serial killer. Finally, a film that asks the hard question: can you really trust the people in your pandemic pod?

The hook is irresistible, and the image of the killer’s surgical mask smeared with a bloody smile will stick with me for a few nights. Unfortunately, the overall plot can’t quite keep up. The narrative dances back and forth between quarantine flashbacks and the harsh reality facing the players trapped in the deadly game. I love a tight 90-minute feature, but this is one film where I wished we had a little bit more exposition.

The player introductions in particular are rushed  – you remember them more as archetypes than people. There’s Brandon, the host. Sam, the loveable idiot. Cindy, the girlfriend. Tiara, the troublemaker. Kelly, the sad girl who just lost her mother. Will, the standard asshole boyfriend, and so on.  I wish more time had been spent fleshing out these quarantine flashbacks, to complicate some of these initial presentations. This cast is diverse, fresh, and worth lingering on individually for a few more minutes. The film subverts some of these core character tropes by the end of the film, but others are dispatched so quickly you almost don’t realize they’re gone.

Despite these character flaws, the game sections of the film have a propulsive quality that just won’t be denied. I loved the retro video-game feel of the kill sequences, and the neon lighting scheme proves that sometimes the simplest choice is the scariest. Killer brings horror into the pandemic in a way that is fresh, fun, and leaves you asking some complicated questions. Don’t wait until the next pandemic to check it out.



Watch now online…

Brooklyn Horror Film Festival (2021) shorts program review: ‘HEAD TRIP’- 9 drastically different shorts #BHFF21

HEAD TRIP shorts program

Head Trip” is a series of 9 ingenious shorts featured at this week’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. They range from deeply dark to laugh-out-loud funny.


Lips, dir. Nicole Tegelaar (Netherlands, Belgium)

Talk about body horror. This short is laser-focused on a particular body part. A young woman awakens in a mysterious clinic. She’s been injured and requires surgery. This one kept me guessing as to who was the bigger danger: the staff or the other patients.


The Departure, dir. Nico van den Brink (Netherlands)

A melancholy, beautiful piece from the Netherlands. The principal characters create immediate rapport despite the short run time, and the cinematography was top-notch. A tragic and thoughtful journey into loss and longing that had me wishing for more.


A Tale Best Forgotten, dir. Tomas Stark (Sweden)

Adapted from a Helen Adam ballade, this is one killer tune.


Sudden Light, dir. Sophie Littman (UK)

My favorite short of the group is a dreamlike countryside odyssey into doubt and fear. Mia (Esme Creed-Miles) and Squeeze (Millie) are walking their dog home, and take a fateful shortcut through a field. I loved the way this short fully harnesses its countryside setting – mud, branches, and smoke all combine into an overwhelming rush. The caliber of talent involved makes you wish for a feature-length narrative.


Tropaion, dir. Kjersti Helen Rasmussen (Norway)

A testament to the power of the wilderness, this short contains barely any dialogue. Stark images are the sole driver of the narrative. The child performers, in particular, are excellent.


The Faraway Man, dir. Megan Gilbert, Jill Hogan (USA)

A powerful narrative on the way evil can manifest itself. A young woman is haunted by the figure of a man, dressed in black, watching from distance. A great example of how blurred the line can be between horror and tragedy. Another short that could easily be stretched to a feature.


Man or Tree, dir. Varun Raman, Tom Hancock (UK)

A breath of fresh air. Imagine you partied too hard and woke up transformed into a tree. I guess you could say this is the rare short that focuses on the trees instead of the whole forest.


Playing With Spiders, dir. Rylan Rafferty (USA)

A disturbing glance behind the curtain of a small cult that worships, you guessed it, spiders. The night before a fateful ritual, Lydia (Kelly Curran) begins to ask some big questions of her peers and leaders. Is she a skeptic, or the only true believer? Even though this had a comedic tone at times, it got the biggest jump scare of the night.


A Puff Before Dying, dir. Mike Pinkney, Michael Reich (USA)

An absolute gut-buster of a short. Like “Team America: World Police” on acid. When 3 teen girls (who are also marionettes) hit the road for a night out, the devil’s lettuce quickly rears its tempestuous head. Will they have the willpower to resist, or will the night end in tragedy?


Today is the final day of BHFF 2021. You can still get tickets to the CLOSING NIGHT film

THE SADNESS

by clicking this LINK.

Fair warning, it is not for the faint of heart.


Review: ‘Halloween Kills’ is all slice and no soul.

HALLOWEEN KILLS

Minutes after Laurie Strode (Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) left masked monster Michael Myers caged and burning in Laurie’s basement, Laurie is rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, believing she finally killed her lifelong tormentor. But when Michael manages to free himself from Laurie’s trap, his ritual bloodbath resumes. As Laurie fights her pain and prepares to defend herself against him, she inspires all of Haddonfield to rise up against their unstoppable monster. The Strode women join a group of other survivors of Michael’s first rampage who decide to take matters into their own hands, forming a vigilante mob that sets out to hunt Michael down, once and for all. Evil dies tonight.


*Warning – this review contains light spoilers*

 

Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees are foundational to the horror genre – when it comes to recipes for other killer movies, they are basically salt, pepper, and butter. It’s interesting that in this age of reboots and resets, there hasn’t been a new Freddy movie since 2010, or a Jason one since 2009. But while Freddy and Jason have stayed home sharpening their weapons, Michael’s kept slashing right through the decade.

In 2018, David Gordon Green’s quasi-reboot Halloween executed a welcome return to form for the series. 2018’s Halloween represented a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s original classic – it cut out bloated plot details and re-framed the film around the core battle between Myers and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). It brilliantly merged classic slasher tropes with new twists and underscored it all with a thoughtful feminist attitude anchored by Curtis’ full-throttle performance. The final images of the film were nearly perfect: Myers is cleverly caged within a burning house and the 3 generations of Strode women who disarmed and defeated him ride into the sunrise united and triumphant. They’ve literally taken away his knife, and figuratively taken back their lives.

Woof. That finale would have been tough for any sequel to top, but I was comforted by the fact that many of the same players that made 2018’s entry so successful had returned for 2021’s Halloween Kills (the 2nd entry in a planned trilogy, with Halloween Ends already penciled in for next year.) And, for the first 15 minutes, Halloween Kills is up to the challenge. It doesn’t take us back to Michael in that burning building but instead flashes back to the original night of carnage back in 1978. Here, Green mirrors much of the visual norms of Carpenter’s original film to great effect. It’s a shot of nostalgic adrenaline.

But the film eventually has to come back to that burning building, and Michael, of course, has to somehow escape and get back to killing. So, what’s the problem? Like my high-school physics teacher always told me, the problem’s not what you did, but more the way you did it.

To begin with, this film is grotesquely violent. I’m no shrinking violet (and the 2018 film is far from clean), but Halloween Kills goes to such an extreme that it appears out of character for Myers. Across 10 films, Michael Myers sure has sliced and diced, but he’s never truly been sadistic. In Halloween Kills, Green seems newly obsessed with the trauma the human body can take before it expires. Heads are smashed relentlessly into walls, eyes are constantly gouged out, and blood flows like water.  If I had a quarter for every shot of glass or wood impaling a character’s throat in Halloween Kills, I could buy myself a nice sandwich.

What I don’t understand about this tone shift is why Green would abandon the core tenants of what made his previous film so successful. Maybe he was bored by the previous film’s pacing? Maybe he fell victim to studio pressures to continue to amp things up for a sequel. Whatever the rationale, it was a mistake.

The second, more critical issue, is the framing. Laurie is hospitalized for nearly this entire film, and she and Michael don’t even interact throughout this entry. I can’t help but feel that this film is just treading water until we get to Laurie and Michael’s final confrontation in next year’s Halloween Ends. With Laurie on the sidelines, her daughter Karen (the always magnificent Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) have to do more of the plot’s heavy lifting. I’m always happy for Greer to get more screen-time, but this narrative choice splinters the power of that feminist trinity from the 2018 entry. You miss it, and I hope there’s a chance to get that back in 2022.

Halloween Kills has some good moments but ultimately fails to meaningfully advance the plot (or the stakes) of the franchise. Worse, it wastes the goodwill it so carefully built in 2018. I’ll still be first in line for Halloween Ends, but I’ll be scared sitting in that seat – and not for the right reasons.


 

Halloween Kills is now in theaters and on Paramount+

Universal Pictures, Miramax, Blumhouse Productions and Trancas International Films present Halloween Kills, co-starring Will Patton as Officer Frank Hawkins, Thomas Mann (Kong: Skull Island) and Anthony Michael Hall (The Dark Knight). From the returning filmmaking team responsible for the 2018 global phenomenon, Halloween Kills is written by Scott Teems (SundanceTV’s Rectify) and Danny McBride and David Gordon Green based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. The film is directed by David Gordon Green and produced by Malek Akkad, Jason Blum and Bill Block. The executive producers are John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green, and Ryan Freimann.


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


BORIS KARLOFF: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Co-Written by: Thomas Hamilton, Ron MacCloskey

Co-Produced by: Thomas Hamilton, Ron MacCloskey

Featuring interviews with:

 Guillermo Del Toro

John Landis

Roger Corman

 Ron Perlman

Sara Karloff

Peter Bogdanovich

Christopher Plummer

Stefanie Powers

Lee Grant

Sir Christopher Frayling

And

 Kevin Brownlow


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

presents

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Steaming now on Prime Video and showing in select theaters


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


Netflix review: ‘Misha and The Wolves’ documentary reveals victim and villain.

presents

Misha and The Wolves

Misha and the Wolves is the dramatic tale of a woman whose holocaust memoir took the world by storm, but a fallout with her publisher – who turned detective – revealed an audacious deception created to hide a darker truth.


I’ve never trusted wolves. You could argue this is because I’ve always been raised around ultra-docile dogs, but I think my 20+ years of watching movies are really to blame. The ratio just doesn’t hold water. For every domesticated wolf acting as Kevin Costner’s sidekick, there are countless more stalking our hero through a snowy tundra, howls echoing through the night.

So you could imagine my skepticism when faced with the story of Misha Defonseca. Here is the supposedly true story of a young Jewish girl who evaded the Nazis in the woods of Europe during WW2 by falling in with a pack of wolves. In Netflix’s stirring documentary, we hear Misha describe being taken in as a Mowgli-esque family member – traveling with the wolves and surviving on scraps from their hunts. It’s one of those “you have to hear it to believe it” type stories – I mean, these are wolves we are talking about!  It’s crazy to believe that Misha would be seen as family instead of a feast.

And yet, aren’t all stories of Holocaust survival are to some degree impossible? At their core, they are all linked by showcasing the triumph of the human spirit against overwhelming circumstances.  So it is not surprising that we are swept up in Misha’s story, just as the world was in the early 1990s. A book deal, publicity tour, and movie option are a natural fit for such a fantastical tale.

Sam Hobkinson’s smooth direction compels the audience forward. There’s a charming and particularly modern manner to the way that Hobkinson features key figures in Misha’s journey to stardom – their whole essence summarized into a single characteristic (“The Publisher”, “The Journalist”) We are not really meant to get to know these people (although “The Survivor” radiates winking humor with deep emotion in her few minutes of screen-time) – they are here to feed us the facts we need to drive the narrative forward, to build momentum towards the film’s core question. Which is, of course, can we believe Misha?

If you want to play detective, you’ll find the answers to Misha and the Wolves questions pretty quickly. A quick Google search will do the trick. The affirming or refuting of Misha’s story is only one part of the equation. Hobkinson’s film stumbles slightly on this follow-through: the film concludes with finality on the situation but left me wanting more on the motivations beneath the surface. A more rigorous interrogation would have been appreciated, but it is also fair to acknowledge that it might not have been possible.

Whether it be based on truth or lies, this is ultimately a story of family, legacy, and survival. Philipp Larkin once summed this story up a little more quickly:

“They f*ck you up, your mom and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.”

Larkin was more to the point, but there weren’t any wolves.


 *Streaming on Netflix on August 11th*

Written and Directed by Sam Hobkinson

*Official Selection Sundance Film Festival 2021*

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

ENEMIES OF THE STATE

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


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

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

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

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

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


In Theaters and On-Demand
July 30, 2021

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


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

*OFFICIAL SELECTION – 2021 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL*


Review: ‘The 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: Part One of Ja Morant original series ‘PROMISELAND’ premieres today exclusively on Crackle.

PROMISELAND

PROMISELAND takes a fresh, visceral approach to exploring the intimate journey and personal evolution of Ja Morant, a remarkable athlete who comes of age during his rookie season in the NBA. The story unfolds in real-time, shining a spotlight on the evolution of an extraordinary young man working hard to achieve his dreams of basketball superstardom. A small-town kid is thrust into a brave new world, made up of big business, power players, a small-market NBA franchise and a ravenous public spotlight, all while the radically unprecedented twists and turns of the 2019-2020 season come into focus.

Nowadays, it seems like every athlete has a documentary crew following them around.  The definition of “behind the scenes” has broadened, and what once was novel or surprising now can feel like table stakes. What makes the journey of budding NBA superstar Ja Morant in Promiseland unique is that the narrative is almost exclusively articulated via Ja’s network of family, friends, and mentors. The first installment follows Ja from humble beginnings in Sumnter, South Carolina to the bright spotlights of the 2019 NBA draft, where the Memphis Grizzlies select him as the #2 pick.  Through it all, Promiseland’stop priority isn’t to dazzle you with basketball highlights (although it has plenty of those) but to root you in the places and people that motivate Ja daily.

 Dexton Deboree’s focused direction prioritizes small human elements that ground you in Ja’s reality. It’s the hum of cicadas as Tee Morant coaches his son through a difficult drill. The camera lingers on friends, family, and empty chairs acting as phantom opponents as Ja grunts and weaves across his makeshift concrete court. These striking sounds and images paint a portrait of the daily effort and strong foundation of support Ja has needed to reach his current heights. It isn’t flashy – but the grind is approachable, relatable, and ultimately inspirational.

Promiseland unfolds in real-time, so we already know the challenges lying in Ja’s future: an uphill climb towards the NBA playoffs, a brutal pandemic, and the harsh realities of systemic racism. Watching Promiseland, you understand why this young superstar is ready to meet the moment.

PART ONE OF THIS ORIGINAL SERIES
PREMIERES JUNE 3 EXCLUSIVELY ON CRACKLE
PART TWO PREMIERES JUNE 17

Created and directed by Dexton Deboree (Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1)

PROMISELAND features interviews with:
Ja Morant, NBA star for the Memphis Grizzlies, 2020 Rookie of the Year
Carmelo Anthony, NBA All-Star
A’ja Wilson, WNBA MVP
Tee Morant, Ja Morant’s father
Jamie Morant, Ja Morant’s mother
Teniya Morant, Ja Morant’s sister
Phil Morant, Ja Morant’s uncle, and manager
Taylor Jenkins, Memphis Grizzlies head basketball coach
Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies NBA star
Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies NBA star
Matt McMahon, Murray State head basketball coach
Moneybagg Yo, Rapper
and more

Produced by DLP Media Group (30 for 30’s Lance, Rodman: For Better or Worse),
Falkon Entertainment, RTG Features, Interscope Films, and Waffle Iron Entertainment
Soundtrack from Interscope Records, Original score from Steve “Swiff D” Thornton