Tribeca Film Festival 2022 review: ‘Of Medicine and Miracles’ provides a balanced look at the potential and problems of modern medicine.

OF MEDICINE AND MIRACLES

You cannot help but be moved by Of Medicine and Miracles. This is an in-depth documentary of a thrilling achievement: an attempt to cure cancer by using cutting-edge medical science.  This story is told through the prism of one patient, young Emily Whitehead, who was diagnosed with leukemia when she was only 6 years old. When the standard course of treatment fails Emily, her health quickly worsens. Out of options, she is given the chance to enroll in a promising, but risky clinical trial.

The documentary benefits from direct interviews with Emily’s parents. Their emotional re-telling of events is incredibly moving. Their urgency and desperation are palpable. The audience also peers behind the curtain at the vast medical infrastructure supporting Emily’s treatment – the researchers, physicians, nurses, regulators, and the extended care team. The expression “it takes a village” will truly resonate differently for you after viewing this documentary.

You will be inspired, yes, but also frustrated. Of Medicine and Miracles also provides a clear-eyed perspective on the dysfunction plaguing the medical system. While the documentary takes great pains to showcase the innovation at the core of Emily’s treatment, it is equally clear that her life was often in the balance due to incredibly frustrating circumstances. Emily’s local care center does not recommend she seek out a clinical trial – it is only because her family shows the courage to solicit a second opinion from a leading pediatric facility (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) that Emily is even offered a chance at a new treatment. Not everyone has the luxury of such a facility within driving distance. A critical last-minute care decision is shown to be possible only because members of Emily’s care team have read the right medical journal articles. This documentary shows us a miracle, yes, but also demonstrates that this miracle finds the light thanks to a foundation of privilege and luck.

Ross Kauffman’s documentary is an impressively balanced effort. It provides an incredibly intimate look at a family undergoing an incredible challenge, and the way this family is at times equally supported and challenged by our country’s medical structure.  I left it both inspired and enraged.


Available Starting

Tue June 14 – 6:00 PM

At Home

DIRECTOR
Ross Kauffman
PRODUCER
Robin Honan, Nicole Galovski
CINEMATOGRAPHERS
Ross Kauffman, Henry Roosevelt, Naiti Gamez
COMPOSER
Amie Doherty
EDITOR
Hypatia Porter
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS
Sean Parker, Lessing Stern, Babbie Lester, Pam Williams, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Randall Gebhardt, Christopher Gebhardt, Eric Esrailian, Regina Scully, Jamie Wolf, Rusty Robertson
ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS
Gabriela Figueredo, Minoo Allen, Zada Clarke

Tribeca Film Festival 2022 review: ‘VENGEANCE’ is an impressive directorial debut.

VENGEANCE

If you haven’t checked in on B.J. Novak since The Office, you’ll be surprised by the pitch-black tone of his directorial film debut, Vengeance. There are great laughs aplenty here, but the film presents an overall bleak view of humanity as it relates to our ability to connect and communicate. This is a stellar premier film.

Novak pulls triple duty as the film’s writer, director, and star. He brings the perfect mix of smug arrogance and bewildered empathy to Ben Manalowitz, a New York writer (and aspiring podcaster) who is coasting through every moment. Ben’s catchphrase is “100 percent”, but the audience quickly comes to see that Ben isn’t really giving 100 percent to anything. His life is all surface, no depth. He believes he’s having deep conversations about his work and the meaning of society, but he’s looking at his phone the whole time. His relationships are nothing but informal hookups.

Then Ben gets a fateful call from West Texas – his former girlfriend (well, they had hooked up a few times), Abilene Shaw, has died of a drug overdose. Abilene’s family are under the impression that she and Ben were a real couple, and invite him to the funeral. Ben shows up in West Texas out of pity, but quickly decides to stay for more selfish reasons: Abilene’s family suspects foul play, and Ben can’t turn down a chance to tackle the “holy grail” of podcasting: a dead white girl. Ben’s editor mails him some fancy podcasting equipment faster than you can say “true crime”, and he’s off to discover the truth about Abilene (and hopefully make himself famous in the process.)

I’m still in awe of this supporting cast. Boyd Holbrook somehow manages to balance sincerity and absurdity as Ty, Abilene’s revenge-crazed brother. Could this be Ashton Kutcher’s best work since Dude, Where’s My Car? (don’t get it twisted, I mean that as a sincere compliment!) Kutcher’s Quintin Sellers is complex and layered. As a small-town record producer, Quintin is equally opportunistic and charismatic. Quintin provides a twisted country-fried contrast to Novak’s Ben, and their few scenes together are some of the strongest of the film. The female characters are unfortunately more thinly written, and mostly function to help us better understand the men.

A film like this doesn’t work without a rock-solid script, and this one delivers. Good comedy writing ensures that the pace of the film is maintained; great comedy writing is concerned with showing us deeper truths about character that may produce a smile, but also a sting. The soundtrack is also self-aware – I’ve never laughed so hard at a Lana Del Rey song.

Vengeance is a dual threat – a legitimately funny comedy that also lands sincere dramatic moments. It left me excited for whatever Novak has coming next (hopefully a podcast.)


DIRECTOR
B.J. Novak
PRODUCER
Jason Blum, Adam Hendricks, Greg Gilreath
SCREENWRITER
B.J. Novak
CINEMATOGRAPHER
Lyn Moncrief
EDITOR
Andy Canny, Hilda Rasula, Plummy Tucker
CAST
B.J. Novak, Issa Rae, Ashton Kutcher, Boyd Holbrook, J. Smith-Cameron, Dove Cameron, Isabella Amara


Tribeca Film Festival 2022 review: ‘The Integrity of Joseph Chambers’ sparks conversation about machismo and firearms.

The Integrity of Joseph Chambers

I’ve only shot a gun once in my life. I’ll remember it forever. It was 2008, a hot summer day in Idaho. We were on one of those aimless teenage road trips, far from San Francisco and still without any real responsibilities, so when one of our group had a local friend who was willing to take us shooting – well, then hey, why not?! I remember the giddy feeling as we drove out to a dusty side road, and that the pistol I picked up had the Punisher logo carved onto the grip. I couldn’t quite make out the targets we were to aim for, so I gestured with the pistol, seeking confirmation. Suddenly, the fingers of this local friend were clamped vice-like on my wrist, his voice like fire in my ear. “Don’t point. Not a toy.” That giddy feeling? Gone.

This teenage memory caused me to sympathize deeply with The Integrity of Joseph Chambers, which also centers on a goofy man who is both overwhelmed and armed with a deadly weapon. Joe (Clayne Crawford) is an insurance salesman who envisions himself as a survivalist. He leaves his wife and children at dawn to hunt deer. Time to bring home the bacon (or, well, venison.)

The problem is, the emperor has no clothes. Joe is a total fraud. He is basically performing the character of a hunter – shaving his beard into a macho mustache, dressing up in an outfit straight out of a hunting catalog, and trading his shiny BMW in for a mud-flecked truck. The fact that Joe is also hunting on a friend’s private land only adds to the charade. He uses his rifle as a makeshift machete to clear a path through the underbrush. We are not surprised when things go wrong.

Despite what might seem like low stakes, I’m happy to report that The Integrity of Joseph Chambers is one creepy movie! Cinematographer Oscar Ignacio Jiménez and sound designer Peter Albrechtsen deserve tremendous credit for creating this uncomfortable atmosphere, and for sustaining it during the long middle stretch of the film where Crawford is the only human onscreen.

This is the second collaboration between Clayne Crawford and director Robert Machoian (following 2020’s The Killing of Two Lovers.) That collaborative familiarity provides the foundation for a wonderful Clayne Crawford performance. Joe is alone most of the film; the supporting characters are mostly thin after-thoughts. Crawford shines conveying his inner desires and struggles. I loved how deliberate he was with his movements, and the way he ensures Joe often serves as a visual gag against the background of the woods. We manage to learn a lot about Joe despite not knowing him very well by the end of the film.

It is impossible to consider The Integrity of Joseph Chambers without acknowledging the national tragedies and anxieties surrounding the topic of gun control. Here we are presented with a family man whose life is twisted in knots over the course of a single day. Surely, it is not the fault of his rifle? This is not an anti-gun film, but it speaks loudly regarding the power these weapons hold over the male psyche.


DIRECTOR
Robert Machoian
PRODUCER
Clayne Crawford, Kiki Crawford, Robert Machoian
SCREENWRITER
Robert Machoian
CINEMATOGRAPHER
Oscar Ignacio Jiménez
EDITOR
Yvette M. Amirian, ACE
COMPOSER
William Ryan Fritch
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Bo Clancey, Zareh Amirian, John Foss, Kris Towns, Sara Towns, Nancie Plaia, Sammy Plaia
CO-PRODUCER
Laura Heberton
CAST
Clayne Crawford, Jordana Brewster, Jeffrey Dean Morgan


Available Starting

Sat June 11 – 6:00 PM

At Home

Tribeca Film Festival 2022 review: Lighthearted comedy ‘Four Samosas’ mashes up Wes Anderson and heist films.

FOUR SAMOSAS

The first hour of Ravi Kapoor’s Four Samosas is a cheerful, gorgeous delight. The film follows 4 wayward teens across a few days in Artesia, California. Vinny (Venk Potula), an unmotivated amateur rapper going nowhere fast, is the de-facto leader and protagonist. When his ex-girlfriend, Rina,  becomes engaged to his greatest rival (a game, but over the top Karan Soni), Vinny decides to spring into action. Unfortunately, his brilliant plan is to steal Rina’s wedding diamonds from her father’s grocery store, reasoning that the loss of dowry would dissolve the engagement (great plan, no notes!) To execute the heist, Vinny enlists his Bollywood-hopeful best friend, Zak (Nirvan Patnaik). Local reporter Anjali (Sharmita Bhattacharya) and snack-crazed safe cracker Paru (Sonal Shah), round out the squad.

Intentionally or not, there is quite a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson on display here. Certainly in the absurdity of the plot. Think Rushmore meets Ocean’s Eleven vibes. This inspiration is even more present in the strength of the cinematography: color, camerawork, and framing are central to driving the film’s plot. This strength means that relatively few filming locations (a shop, a garage, a street on Pioneer Boulevard, a grassy park) can be leveraged into a true sense of place. These visuals bring Artesia, California, and the lives of the few residents who make up this story, to lush life. This is a film that nails so many of the little details.

The heist scenes particularly benefit from this and are worth the price of admission. Rather than take the Michael Bay approach, Four Samosas relies on characters’ expressions (vs explosions) to convey suspense and comedy. Kudos to the costume designer for some of the biggest laughs.

The script is where the Four Samosas comes up a little short. Every interaction feels like a mix of absurdity and broad exposition. In the early going, this balance holds up (the approach is particularly effective during the heist planning scenes.) After the first hour of the film, the rinse-and-repeat nature of these interactions begins to show through. The scenes between the heist and the film’s conclusion totally lack urgency. This is the rare 80-minute feature that drags.

Kapoor nevertheless manages to land the plane effectively with a sincere conclusion. Overall, Four Samosas is a charming ride. This is a warm, love letter to a community that will leave you smiling.


CAST & CREDITS

Directed by Ravi Kapoor

Ravi Kapoor is a director-writer-actor originally from the UK and now based in LA. His first feature, Miss India America, a coming-of-age comedy, played at various festivals and won a number of awards before landing on Netflix and other streamers.

DIRECTOR
Ravi Kapoor
PRODUCER
Ravi Kapoor, Venk Potula, Rajiv Maikhuri, Craig Stovel
SCREENWRITER
Ravi Kapoor
CINEMATOGRAPHER
Aakash Raj
COMPOSER
Sagar Desai
EDITOR
Anisha Acharya
PRODUCTION DESIGNER
Caia Diepenrock
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Utkarsh Ambudkar, Karan Soni, Sanjay Sharma, Milan Chakraborty, Kathrin Hamilton, Matthew Young
CO-PRODUCER
Zeena Dhalla, TiE SoCal Angels
CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Moses Israel Guerrero, Smita Bagla
CAST

Venk Potula, Sonal Shah, Sharmita Bhattacharya, Nirvan Patnaik, Karan Soni, Summer Bishil, Meera Simhan


To find out more about Tribeca Fest 2022 click here!


Review: ‘THE POLICEMAN’S LINEAGE’ sends ‘Parasite’ stars deep-undercover.

THE POLICEMAN’S LINEAGE

SYNOPSIS: Parasite’s Woo-sik Choi stars as Choi Min-Jae, a rookie police officer and a man of principle, who teams up with Park Gang-Yoon, the chief of an investigation team that has an unrivaled arrest record but includes corrupt methods. Together, the two very different policemen dive deep into a massive case that shakes the police force upside down.


The Policeman’s Lineage is a straightforward cop thriller that manages to keep its head above water despite a reliance on some overused genre themes. To be fair, there have been so many variations of the undercover cop film that innovation is practically impossible.  Director Kyu-mann Lee wisely leans into two key strengths: fresh-faced lead Choi Woo-shik (flush from the success and recognition of the brilliant Parasite), and the theme of paternal mentorship that drives the film’s best moments.

Choi Woo-shik stars as Choi Min Jae, a young, 3rd generation cop with strong morals. He is shown early on to prioritize what he believes to be right above all else, which does not endear him to his fellow officers. Facing bleak career prospects, he is given the opportunity to go (you guessed it) undercover to investigate a special unit touting a top arrest record. Sounds like a great promotion, right? Well, the Internal Affairs chief planning the operation (a steely, understated Park Hee-soon) believes the unit has crossed over the line in its pursuit of justice. It isn’t hard to be suspicious of the unit’s chief, Detective Park (Cho Jin-woong.) Park drives around in a shiny Mercedes, wears designer clothes, and flashes the cash at high-stakes poker tables. Must have a great financial planner!

Choi agrees to go undercover partly out of principle, and partly in exchange for information about his deceased father, who died years ago under mysterious circumstances while working with Detective Park. Detective Park’s team is surprisingly keen to welcome Choi into the fold despite his reputation as a straight-laced, scrupulous officer.

What follows is a mash-up of Point Break meets Platoon, as Choi’s resolve wobbles under the dueling influences of his two opposing supervisors.  Will he stick to his morals and Internal Affairs, or will he grow to sympathize and understand Detective Park’s take-no-prisoners approach to justice? All 3 leads bring compelling performances to the table. Choi Woo-shik is the film’s center of gravity, and he does admirable work digesting all of the necessary plot exposition on behalf of the audience. He continues to be a talent to watch.  Cho Jin-woong has the toughest job of the 3, shouldered with making Detective Park believably warm while simultaneously steely and terrifying. He mostly manages, but countless scenes of him gifting Choi clothes or taking the rookie for a ride on his big boat make it harder to buy in when he has to switch gears over to “bad cop”. I wish there had been more scenes between Detective Park and Internal Affairs.

The film drags a bit at nearly 2 hours in length – especially in the final 20 minutes, where too many twists are introduced too late. Ultimately, The Policeman’s Lineage represents an appropriate addition to the cop thriller genre, even if it doesn’t reinvent the wheel.


The Policeman’s Lineage will be on digital, VOD and cable* June 7, 2022 from Echelon Studios.


CAST: Woo-sik Choi (Parasite), Cho Jin-woong (The Handmaiden), Park Myeong-hoon (Parasite), and Hee-soon Park (Apple TV+’s Dr. Brain)

CREDIT: The Policeman’s Lineage is directed by Kyu-mann Lee (Wide Awake), produced by Han-seung Lee (The Tower), and executed produced by Hyun-joo Jung (The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil). The production team includes production designer Chae Kyoung-sun (Squid Game), editor Nam Na-young (Squid Game) costume designer Kyeong-mi Kim (Okja), composer Young-gyu Jang (Train to Busan), and makeup artists Hyo-kyun Hwang & Tae-Yong Kwak (Parasite)


The Policeman’s Lineage will be available on:

*Cable and Digital Transactional Video On Demand including:

Comcast

Charter-Spectrum

Directv

iTunes

Cox Cable

Dish Network

Sling TV

Google Play

Verizon Fios

Fandango / VUDU

InDemand

Vubiquity

Rogers

Vimeo on Demand


 

Review: ‘BALONEY’- Joshua Guerci’s documentary about San Francisco’s only Gay All-Male burlesque troupe is magnetic, intimate, and hilarious.

Baloney follows San Francisco’s wildly popular Gay All-Male Burlesque show over 18 months as the group rehearses for New Year’s Eve 2020. Told through the eyes of the group’s co-founders, as well as the larger ensemble, the film contemplates the struggles that come with being a performing artist in San Francisco, the most expensive city in North America. Through a mix of interviews, rehearsal footage, and filmed performances, Baloney captures the group’s unique combination of humor, confession, and sex positivity in ways that directly reflect the private fantasies of people who come to the show. It’s also a story of the people who choose to perform in Baloney who, like their audience, find themselves in a world that constantly silences kinky, queer, and gender non-conforming people. Finally, it spotlights that real failure in life is often not doing that thing you know you need to do or being the person you know you need to be. Even if that thing is daring to be an artist!


Equal parts sincerity, sexuality, and soul – Baloney takes a deep look behind the scenes of San Francisco’s only Gay All-Male burlesque troupe. Joshua Guerci’s documentary follows this scrappy team as they plan, practice, and perform. Led by co-creators and real-life partners Michael Phillis and Rory Davis, the troop crafts performances that delight their audiences while offering insights across the wide spectrum that is the gay and queer male experience.

I marveled at the editing of this documentary (75 minutes!) Guerci’s team seamlessly transitions from practice to performance in a way that energizes the audience while still giving a deep appreciation for the vision and artists involved.

This documentary leaves you asking a lot of questions. Some are likely to be practical and hilarious (like, how do you wash beans out of your hair, or, did you maybe miss all the queer innuendos in Star Trek?) But others are more serious. I left Baloney with one question at the forefront of my mind: what does it mean to really suffer for your art?

Nearly every member of Baloney has a substantial day job. Everyone talks about their passion for the arts and the power of this burlesque troupe and wishes that they could make Baloney their sole focus, if only they could afford it. Now, plenty of people want to quit their day jobs and take off for Broadway or the hills of Hollywood. The context here is important. Baloney’s performance venues are shown to be sold-out, sure, but always humble in size and scale. They even have a great song poking fun at themselves on this. The energy and community of the shows seem to draw the performers back, just as much as it does for the audience members. 

The performers making up the troupe are magnetic. Guerci’s candid style further breaks down walls and makes the interviews feel intimate and informal. He speaks with them as they prepare breakfast or while they lounge together in bed. I particularly loved Andrew Slade, who leverages his past education in animation and video game design to hilarious burlesque effect.

Michael and Rory, who on paper have captured that elusive dream-job as day-job balance, are still shown to wobble. They are, at once, a producer, casting expert, director, and performer. They even provide rehearsal space out of their San Francisco apartment. There is a tragic irony that San Francisco proudly celebrates its queer and artistic legacy while simultaneously making it nearly impossible for those communities to endure and thrive within its borders.

Watch Baloney, and you’ll see some flat-out great burlesque numbers. But there’s much more here that will keep you thinking long after the final curtain call.


Baloney (2021) – Official Trailer from Joshua Guerci on Vimeo.

Baloney debuts June 7 across North America and will be available on a number of digital and cable platforms, including iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, Spectrum, and inDemand.


Los Angeles, CA – 13th Gen and Gravitas Ventures are proud to present Baloney, Joshua Guerci’s no-holds-barred documentary chronicling 18 months in the life of Baloney, a mostly male, mostly naked, very erotic San Francisco burlesque troupe. The clothing-optional documentary made its world premiere at Frameline and went on to inspire audiences at Outfest Los Angeles, Seattle Queer Film Festival, Cinema Diverse Palm Springs, Winnipeg Reel Pride Film Festival, TLVFest: Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival, Boston Wicked Queer LGBTQ+ Film Festival, and Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. At RuPaul’s DragCon Los Angeles, the film is nominated for Best Documentary.


 

Review: HBO Documentary Film: ‘TONY HAWK: UNTIL THE WHEELS FALL OFF’

TONY HAWK: UNTIL THE WHEELS FALL OFF

Centering around intimate new interviews with Tony Hawk himself, the film is an all-encompassing look at the skateboarder’s life, legendary career, and relationship with the sport with which he’s been synonymous for decades. Hawk, a pioneer of modern vertical skating who is still pushing his limits at the age of 53, remains one of the most influential skateboarders of all time.


Tony Hawk kicks off his big HBO documentary by falling down. A lot. Like, 5 solid minutes of eating it all over the ramp. It’s a bold, remarkably human way to start a documentary about a 53-year-old icon who many in the non-skating community would still consider the most famous skateboarder of all time (this reviewer raises his hand). Heck, my wife knows more about Tony Hawk than I do.

The complete list of things I knew about Tony Hawk before watching this documentary:

  • He was (probably) the most prominent skater in the world
  • He was the first skater to land a 900 (a crazy trick where you shoot off a ramp and spin 2.5 times in the air before landing)  I also learned this from his video game series, Tony Hawk Pro Skater
  • He has a hilarious Twitter feed

And yet, I left Sam Jones’ Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off feeling pretty invested in skateboarding. Jones’ documentary benefits not only from extensive access to Hawk and his skating peers but also from a wealth of archival footage and clips that help these interview recollections resonate. Sure, you learn about Hawk’s upbringing in San Diego, and his dynamic with his strict father – but what really resonates is the sense of purpose uniting these passionate young skateboarders. You really get the spirit of the community. Tricks and success in this sport are the product of individual inspiration, yes, but also due to watching and learning from both your rivals and teammates. Hawks’ contemporaries are real unique characters, too. I particularly loved hearing from Rodney Mullen, who applies the principles of Nietzsche to the act of launching yourself off a skate ramp without a hint of irony.

I also appreciated the documentary’s balanced romanticism surrounding skateboarding. There are the obligatory skating montages, but there’s also a blunt assessment of the risks (and honestly, the near foolishness) of Hawk refusing to set aside his board at 53 years old. We’re talking about guys for whom broken bones and near-constant concussions seem to always be part of the deal – it takes a lot to make these folks nervous. Hawks’ peers speak frankly and graphically about the risks he’s taking on. Given Hawks’ prominent association with this documentary, I was surprised he didn’t push to edit some of those comments out of the final product. I appreciated that Jones included them.

Ultimately, this feels to be an honest portrait of a complicated legend who became a pro athlete before he had his learner’s permit. It strives to connect viewers to the deep connection skaters have with their art, it clues you in on Tony Hawk’s countless contributions to the sport, and acknowledges that most guys in their 50s shouldn’t be on fast-moving, narrow objects.

You see Tony Hawk falling down a lot. But he also executes tricks that seem to scratch the surface of immortality. Unless you’ve skated a mile in his shoes, can you really pass judgment? One thing’s for sure – after seeing this documentary, I’ll be firing up my wife’s copy of Pro Skater.


Debuts Tuesday, April 5 on HBO and will be available

to stream on HBO Max

Director: Sam Jones

Executive Producers: Mel Eslyn, Jay Duplass, and Mark Duplass


ABOUT SAM JONES
Sam Jones is a director of documentary films and narrative television. He most recently directed an episode of “Ted Lasso” and a film in post-production: “Running With Our Eyes Closed, A Film about Jason Isbell,” which is being co-produced by the Duplass Brothers and Jones.

Jones is the creator and host of the documentary series “Off Camera with Sam Jones,” which had a 219 episode run on DirecTV’s Audience Network from 2013-2020. Jones is also an acclaimed commercial director and recently wrote and directed a series of commercials for OnePlus featuring Robert Downey Jr. He directed the Showtime series “Roadies,” created by Cameron Crowe, and also directed and produced the feature-length Showtime documentary “Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued,” a film that reexamines Bob Dylan’s “The Basement Tapes.” In 2002, Jones started his documentary career with “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” which chronicles beloved indie-rock band Wilco’s tumultuous recording of their acclaimed fourth album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” Rolling Stone named “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” one of the best rock films of all time.

Jones began his career as a photographer and quickly gained acclaim for his seminal portraits of cultural icons. His work has appeared on the covers of Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, Time, and many others, and he has had several books published. Jones lives in Los Angeles with his daughters and still loves to skateboard.


 

Review: ‘TOPSIDE’ asks ambitious questions about society and parenthood.

TOPSIDE

SYNOPSIS- Underneath the streets of New York City, a five-year-old girl and her mother live among a community that has claimed long-abandoned subway tunnels as home. When the pair is forced to flee above ground into a cold winter night, mother and daughter are plunged into a challenging world of chaos and tragedy that makes their uncertain underground life seem idyllic in comparison. TOPSIDE deftly weaves escalating suspense with sharp bursts of humanity in a nocturnal urban tangle.


TOPSIDE is a dark and dispiriting portal into the literal underbelly of New York City. The film follows a suburban community hidden amongst the subway tunnels of the city, and the struggles a mother and daughter face when they are suddenly evicted from this home. They are forced to venture up onto the city streets, but even there, there’s no real light to be found. Powerful but stomach-turning, this stuff is bleak with a capital B.

Logan George and Celine Held’s vision is unflinching and brutal. In addition to directing, Held also acts in the film as Nikki.  Zhaila Farmer (in an amazing, subdued performance) co-stars as her daughter, Little; the first half of the film is told largely from Little’s perspective. We know little about Nikki and the other adults in the tunnel, and we aren’t meant to.  Through Little’s eyes, life in the tunnels is magical. The first shot of the film lingers on particles of dust dancing in a sunbeam – the kind of simple beauty we all forget to appreciate as we age into job searches, mortgages, and all the other pleasures of adult life.

By contrast, Little’s first experience in the sunlight is traumatic and saturated with new noises and fears. The narrative moves behind Nikki, and here the film began to lose me.  Where Little’s view is full of naïve wonder, Nikki’s is laid low by the crushing reality of her circumstances. However wonderful life in the tunnels may seem to Little, there’s no romancing Nikki’s reality. But it also quickly becomes clear that those dark, dirty tunnels below Manhattan are in fact far safer than what lies ahead.

I couldn’t look away during the film’s final coda. TOPSIDE asks ambitious questions about society and parenthood. At times, I found it to be brutal and uncaring. I was repulsed by several of Nikki’s choices. But I am grateful to have watched it, and for the questions I’ve asked myself since.


RELEASE DATE
March 25, 2022

In Select Theaters and On Demand


Review: ‘MEASURE OF REVENGE’ is a genre-bending thriller with theatrical roots.

MEASURE OF REVENGE

“Measure of Revenge” is a taut throwback revenge thriller. This film is equal parts Shakespearian tragedy, family melodrama, and neo-noir mystery. Despite being set in modern-day New York, the themes of the film root it alongside the pulpy classics of the 70s. Through this lens, the city remains dark and dangerous even in the daylight.

Melissa Leo stars as Lillian Cooper, a veteran stage actress who happens to be the mother of a rock star. When her son, Curtis (“Animal Kingdom”’s Jake Weary), and his fiancé are found dead during Lillian’s final on-stage performance, she immediately suspects foul play. Despite the death being ruled an accidental overdose, she sets off to get her own answers. This journey draws her to the mysterious Taz (Bella Thorne), who happens to conveniently be both Curtis’ ex-lover as well as his drug dealer (don’t you hate it when that happens?). Lillian also increasingly relies on ghostly apparitions of her own previous Shakespearian roles. These visions (or are they merely hallucinations?) inspire and propel her forward in her quest for clarity and vengeance.

I appreciated the way the film leaned into its theater roots without becoming too highbrow. There’s clearly a linkage between Lilian’s decisions and her performances of Hamlet and Lady Macbeth, but you also don’t leave the film feeling like you need to get a Ph.D. in Shakespeare. Leo does justice to Lillian’s trauma and sorrow, but she also imbues her with a winking charm. This film features one of the best-planned alibis I’ve seen in a thriller, and some of the methods Lillian employs for revenge were positively refreshing in today’s age of shoot-em-up thrillers. When a gun goes off in this film, it means something.

Thorne is a welcome presence as Taz, but I wish she had been a little more utilized. She has good chemistry with Leo, but so much of this film hinges on her previous relationship with Curtis. I would have loved a flashback of their interaction, even if it provided the audience with more questions than answers.

Leo and Thorne are backed by an excellent supporting cast. Weary sure looks the part of a rock star, but I couldn’t get over how obviously dubbed his singing was during musical scenes. He and Leo have a beautiful soft dynamic together. I could watch Adrian Martinez in anything, and he provides a necessary bit of levity as the body count rises. I especially appreciated the way that Michael Potts’ Detective Eaton evolved over the course of the film. His final exchange with Leo sends the film off on a high note.

Shakespeare wrote in Merchant of Venice: “Truth will come to sight; murder cannot be hid long.” A simple statement, but it has generated countless stories over the years. Maybe “Measure of Revenge” is just another one of these stories, but Shakespeare would be happy to see they gave him his share of the credit.


In Theaters, on Digital and On Demand March 18th, 2022


DIRECTED BY: Peyfa

STARRING: Melissa Leo, Bella Thorne, Jake Weary

RUN TIME: 92 minutes

RATING: NR

GENRE: Thriller


 

Valentine’s Day Special: Our favorite films about love and loss, make-outs and breakups. Here’s a few movies to binge this weekend…

Valentine’s Day Special 2022

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is coming. Whether you expect to get roses and chocolates, booze and pizza, spend it with a significant other, or all by your beautiful self, Valentine’s Day brings up A LOT of emotions. So, to ease you into whatever kind of weekend you’re planning (or not planning) on having, here are a handful of our suggestions for films that highlight the greatest make-outs and hideous breakups from years gone by.


Liz’s Picks:

Can’t Buy Me Love

Nerdy high schooler Ronald Miller (Patrick Dempsey) rescues cheerleader Cindy Mancini (Amanda Peterson) from parental punishment after she accidentally destroys her mother’s designer clothes. Ronald agrees to pay for the $1,000 outfit on one condition: that she will act as though they’re a couple for an entire month. As the days pass, however, Cindy grows fond of Ronald, making him popular. But when Ronald’s former best friend gets left behind, he realizes that social success isn’t everything.

I saw this film at my very first teenage sleepover. I was 13 and the night consisted of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Life of Brian, and Can’t Buy Me Love. Before McDreamy was on millions of small screens, he was Ronald Miller to me. This was a twist on the classic girl gets makeover lands boy plot I’d been pumped with. It was a pivotal moment in my continued adoration for the nerdy guy.


Only Lovers Left Alive

Artistic, sophisticated and centuries old, two vampire lovers (Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston) ponder their ultimate place in modern society.

Jim Jarmusch, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, (the late and eternally extraordinary) Anton Yelchin. The names alone should get you to run to this film. Gloriously shot and deliciously acted, why wouldn’t you watch a film about a depressed rockstar vamp and his ultra-cool wife getting disrupted in their centuries-long affair by her younger sister’s shenanigans? This film is sexy and romantic. Trust me when I say it will be on the list of top films you force your friends to watch.


The Notebook

A poor yet passionate young man falls in love with a rich young woman, giving her a sense of freedom, but they are soon separated because of their social differences.

“If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.” Noah and Allie’s complicated and oftentimes volatile love story is one that has become a household name. In fact, it was my husband’s first pick when it came to Valentine’s Day films. We watched the onscreen couple become real-life couple Ryan Goslin and Rachel McAdams and followed along as they dated, broke up, became engaged, and finally parted ways. I’m not going to lie, I still pine for those two to end up together, however irrational it might be.


Marriage Story

A stage director and his actor wife struggle through a gruelling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.

If you’re looking for an award-worthy performance from Adam Driver, look no further than Marriage Story. The complexities of this script are far beyond anything you’re prepared for. I was lucky enough to speak with writer-director Noah Baumbach and the cast in 2019 when the film premiered at NYFF. If you’re a Broadway buff, you’ll find the gravity of the numbers from COMPANY particularly poignant. Marriage Story is a Netflix film.


Fatal Attraction

For Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), life is good. He is on the rise at his New York law firm, is happily married to his wife, Beth (Anne Archer), and has a loving daughter. But, after a casual fling with a sultry book editor named Alex (Glenn Close), everything changes. Jilted by Dan, Alex becomes unstable, her behavior escalating from aggressive pursuit to obsessive stalking. Dan realizes that his main problem is not hiding his affair, but rather saving himself and his family.

This film has inspired so many copycats since it premiered in 1987. A woman spurned is taken to new heights in one of the scariest and most intense reactions from being ignored. If you haven’t seen this classic breakup film, a little warning; Don’t get too attached to the family rabbit.


Blue Is The Warmest Color

A French teen (Adèle Exarchopoulos) forms a deep emotional and sexual connection with an older art student (Léa Seydoux) she met in a lesbian bar.

Fearless, sexy, raw, captivating, in 2013 I sat in the fullest theatre at NYFF and experienced this film with a hushed audience. While there has since been much controversy surrounding the sex scenes and the treatment of the leading ladies during filming, there is no denying the life they breathe into this film. Know your audience. Do Not Watch with children or your parents in the room.



Melissa’s Picks:

War of the Roses

After 17 years of marriage, Barbara (Kathleen Turner) and Oliver Rose (Michael Douglas) want out. The trouble is, neither one wants to part with their opulent home. So begins a long war between husband and wife, reaching farcical heights that leave much of the house — not to mention their lives — in shambles. The couple’s children (Sean Astin, Heather Fairfield) watch in horror while lawyer Gavin D’Amato (Danny DeVito) tries his best to stem the bloodshed.

Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas were an “it” couple of the 80s which was great on its own, but then once you add in Danny DeVito, you get something special. The three of them blended well in Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile, but by War of the Roses, Danny DeVito started directing and had just finished Matilda. His style is subtle but unbelievably purposeful. From camera angles thanks to technology like the drones from Droneuncover to choreography, he toes the line of comedy/drama/horror with a story where you yearn for them to get back together while at the same time anxiously looking forward to the bigger jab.


She-Devil

A surprisingly resourceful housewife vows revenge on her husband when he begins an affair with a wealthy romance novelist.

“Don’t get mad, get revenge” is taken to new levels when Ruth (Roseanne Barr) decides to turn the tables on her husband (Ed Begley, Jr) when he leaves her after an affair (Meryl Streep). This time capsule of a movie gives you “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” Sally Jesse Raphael, and stories in People magazine, all following this love train. At times, grotesque, you’ll get lost in the 80s clothes, decor, and the slang. Like, totally.


Presumed Innocent

Prosecuting attorney Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy) assigns his chief deputy, the taciturn Rusty Sabitch (Harrison Ford), to investigate the rape and murder of colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi), unaware of their torrid affair. When evidence implicates Rusty, Horgan’s political enemies demand his arrest, devastating Rusty’s wife, Barbara (Bonnie Bedelia). In desperation, Rusty turns to crafty defense attorney Sandy Stein (Raul Julia), only to be stunned by his trial’s revelations.

This made an impression on me as the first movie I saw with Harrison Ford in a dramatic role. I was so thrown and hanging on every moment. It’s classic crime and trial drama ala Law & Order. It’s so full of twists and turns, it was easy to get lost and get that pow of the final twist. Love. It’s quite something.


Britni’s Picks:

The Best Man

After writing a soon-to-be bestselling novel, writer and committed bachelor Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) attempts to hide the fact that his saucy new book is loosely based on the lives and loves of his tight-knit group of friends. Harper is set to be best man at his friend Lance’s (Morris Chestnut) wedding, and all his friends will be in attendance. When an advance copy of the book makes its way into the hands of his ex-flame, Jordan Armstrong (Nia Long), Harper attempts to keep it under wraps.

  • The Best Man + Best Man Holiday – 5 stars for both


You’ve Got Mail

Struggling boutique bookseller Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) hates Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), the owner of a corporate Foxbooks chain store that just moved in across the street. When they meet online, however, they begin an intense and anonymous Internet romance, oblivious of each other’s true identity. Eventually Joe learns that the enchanting woman he’s involved with is actually his business rival. He must now struggle to reconcile his real-life dislike for her with the cyber love he’s come to feel.

Perfect rom-com! Meg Ryan is honestly living my best life with her cute independent book store and also gigantic Manhattan apartment.


What Lies Beneath

It had been a year since Dr. Norman Spencer (Harrison Ford) betrayed his beautiful wife Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer). But with Claire oblivious to the truth, Norman’s life and marriage seem so perfect that when Claire tells him of hearing mysterious voices and seeing a young woman’s image in their home, he dismisses her terror as delusion. Claire moves closer to the truth and it becomes clear that this apparition will not be dismissed, and has come back for Dr. Spencer and his beautiful wife.

A bit of a wild card, but I think we can categorize it as a breakup!


The First Wives Club

Despondent over the marriage of her ex-husband to a younger woman, a middle-aged divorcée plunges to her death from her penthouse. At the woman’s funeral, her former college friends (Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton) reunite for the first time in nearly 30 years. When the three discover the reason for their friend’s suicide, they realize that all of their ex-husbands have taken them for granted — and deciding it’s time for revenge, they make a pact to get back at their exes.

Ultimate breakup film.


Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Struggling musician Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) is better-known as the boyfriend of TV star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). After she unceremoniously dumps him, he feels lost and alone but makes a last-ditch bid to get over it by going to Hawaii. However, she and her new boyfriend (Russell Brand) are there in the same hotel.

I feel like this should be a classic but no one talks about it!


 

 

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