Review: Malin Akerman and Lorenza Izzo star in the taut thriller ‘THE AVIARY.’


SYNOPSIS: Malin Akerman and Chris Messina star in the twisted journey of two women’s desperate flee to escape the clutches of Skylight, an insidious cult. Lured in by the promise of “freedom” in the isolated desert campus called “The Aviary”, Jillian (Akerman) and Blair (Lorenzo Izzo) join forces to escape in hopes of real freedom. Consumed by fear and paranoia, they can’t shake the feeling that they are being followed by the cult’s leader, Seth (Messina), a man as seductive as he is controlling. The more distance the pair gains from the cult, the more Seth holds control of their minds. With supplies dwindling and their senses failing, Jillian and Blair are faced with a horrifying question: how do you run from an enemy who lives inside your head?

Two women attempt to escape a cult by hiking through the desert. When plans go awry, deception, confusion, and brainwashing pit them against one another. 

While we only see Chris Messina as cult leader Seth in brief moments, they are undoubtedly impactful. With his calm yet persuasive demeanor, it is easy to see why these characters fell under his spell from the very beginning. Lorenza Izzo plays Blair with unbridled, vibrating energy that is captivating. You clock every single beat in her eyes. Malin Akerman‘s confidence as Jillian makes her a perfect foil for Izzo. Akerman walks a fine line between vulnerable and secretive. She’s frighteningly good. 

The screenplay’s wordplay, score, and scene blocking heightened every moment. There was never a dull moment. The endless mindfuckery rubbed my nerves raw. I found I had left fingernail impressions on my palms without realizing it. The paranoia and tension in the dialogue had my head spinning. Are these women gaslighting one another, is one of them a villain and is this even real? These are some of the questions I had while sorting through the madness that is The Aviary

You cannot ignore the comparisons with Scientology and Rajneeshees. The final 20 minutes had me on the edge of my seat. If you think you know where this story is going, think again. The Aviary is a whirlwind of manipulative tactics. It’s fantastic. 

In Theaters, on Digital, and On Demand April 29, 2022

WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY: Chris Cullari & Jennifer Raite

STARRING: Malin Akerman, Lorenza Izzo, Chris Messina, Sandrine Holt

RUN TIME: 96 minutes

RATING: Rated R for language and some violent content.

GENRE: Thriller


NEW YORK CITY – Cinema Village

LOS ANGELES – Lumiere Cinema


ATLANTA – Studio Movie Grill Marietta

CLEVELAND – Atlas Diamond Center

DETROIT – Emagine Royal Oak

HOUSTON – Studio Movie Grill Pearland

MINNEAPOLIS – Emagine Eagan

ORLANDO – Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk

PHILADELPHIA – Westown Movies

TAMPA – Studio Movie Grill Seminole

Review: ‘The True Adventures of Wolfboy’ is a whimsical lesson in life and self acceptance.


Paul lives an isolated life with his father in upstate New York. He finds making friends impossible due to a rare condition he has known as congenital hypertrichosis – an affliction that causes an abnormal amount of hair growth all over his face and body. On his 13th birthday, Paul receives a mysterious gift that compels him to run away and seek out the mother he has never known.

The True Adventures of Wolfboy will tap into something deep down inside the viewer. This film manages to be both one of the most emotionally impactful and one of the most whimsical films of the year. Told in chapters like a 19th-century fairytale epic, Paul is our flawed and fragile hero. While tortured for his hypertrichosis, a condition that causes uncontrollable facial hair growth, Paul is battling a father that tries desperately to build his confidence, a mother who abandoned him, on top of unfathomable cruelty from his peers. In an act of defiance and peak frustration, he leaves his home on a journey that will shape the way he perceives himself and those around for the rest of his life. Encountering a number of other misfits, all with a story and past that teaches Paul bravery, acceptance, boldness, and compassion.  The chase between police and Paul is on. The shenanigans along the way will amaze you. The True Adventures of Wolfboy is pure delight.

John Turturro as Mr. Silk is a masterclass. Like every one of his roles, he is a chameleon. He is slyly one of the evilest characters we’ve seen in quite some time. It’s the nuance that makes this performance so incredible. He is a representation of all that is negative and manipulative about the real world. Chris Messina as Paul’s father is a beautiful anchor. His care for this role is evident from the very beginning. Eve Hewson is a firecracker. Her shocking energy makes you smile wider than you thought possible. Sophie Giannamore is a wonder. She is the very person Paul needed to meet for innumerable reasons. Her chemistry with Jaeden Martell is electric. The ease with which she handles the dramatic and lovely nature of her character is perfection. Jaeden Martell is Paul. His quiet strength and vulnerable nature let us live in his shoes. I’ve seen every one of his roles and he is a star. His ability to breathe life into Paul allows the audience to sit back and let Martell take their anxiety and run with it. He represents the outsider we all felt like we were in some form or another.

It’s visually splendid, from the circus colors, the lush costumes, each character having a stand out color pop. And then, there are the chapter illustrations. They are gasp-worthy gorgeous. The brilliant combination of Olivia Dufault’s screenplay, DP Andrew Droz Palermo‘s camera work, Aaron Osborne’s production design, Donna Zakowska‘s thoughtful costumes, and director Martin Krejcí overall vision make for a stunning and important lesson in 2020. Not only does it serve as a lesson, but it endlessly entertaining. The True Adventures of Wolfboy is a film we can all get behind right now.

Available On-Demand & Digital Friday, October 30

Directed by:

Martin Krejcí

Written by:

Olivia Dufault

Produced by:

Kimberly Steward, Josh Godfrey, Lauren Beck, Declan Baldwin, Benjamin Blake


Jaeden Martell, Chris Messina, Eve Hewson, Michelle Wilson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sophie Giannamore, Chloë Sevigny, John Turturro



Run Time:

88 Minutes

Review: ‘Live By Night’- An American Crime Drama from Ben Affleck

Oscar winner Ben Affleck (Argo) directs and stars in Live By Night, an American crime drama about a young man from Boston and his desire for revenge. The film is based on the award-winning best-seller by Dennis Lehane and is written for the screen by Affleck himself. A film that starts with a lot of promise but quickly loses steam and struggles to make it to the finish.

Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is the son of a Boston Police Deputy Superintendent, a WWI vet, and an outlaw. He’s a man with a good heart who seems destined for a better path, but it’s his anti-establishment ways that keep him in business for himself. Joe works with a loyal crew including Dion (Chris Messina), a close friend who’s got Joe’s back under any condition. Joe falls for Emma (Sienna Miller), the girlfriend of Irish gangster Albert White (Robert Glenister) and the two have a secret love affair, but when the gangster finds out, it forces Joe to make some life changing decisions. Driven by a need to right the wrongs committed against him, Joe accepts an alliance with the Italian mob and a move to Tampa with his crew to run the rum business there. But every decision comes at a cost as does the price of revenge, and Joe is about to find out just how much.

Live By Night, on the surface, is an enjoyable enough gangster film. An all star cast including Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson and Elle Fanning do their best to provide insight into their personal piece of the elaborate puzzle, and each actor does an admirable job to help bring their character arc to fulfillment, but Ben Affleck tries to navigate thru the myriad of storylines he’s created and ultimately leaves the story winded and the characters unfulfilling.

Overall, the film sets out to tell a gangster story and it does just that, but the journey is long and tiresome and loses it’s muster about halfway thru. Should you see it? Sure, but don’t expect the next Godfather, for that it is not.


3 out of 5

After Credit Scene?



Jeremy’s Review/Interview: Mary Elizabeth Winstead Is Outstanding in Chris Messina’s Lovely Directorial Debut ‘Alex of Venice’ + interview with Mary herself(!)

Alex of Venice - Poster Living in Middle America, I sometimes miss seeing films until way after their release. It’s part of my lot in life and I have learned to accept this. Films that appear at festivals sometime don’t get picked up for distribution and are lost in cinematic purgatory. Lucky for me, as well as all of you out there who weren’t lucky enough to make it to Tribeca last April, Chris Messina‘s directorial debut Alex of Venice was picked up and is now about to hit theaters and VOD this weekend. Featuring an absolutely stunning performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead along with a solid supporting cast including Don Johnson, Derek Luke, Katie Nehra and Messina as well, Alex of Venice should be on your radar.

AOV mewPerhaps the best thing about this film is that the story is one we’ve seen a ton before – a young couple splits because one of them, in this case Alex (Winstead) is shirking her wifely, motherly and daughterly responsibilities because of her devotion to her job (in this case a lwayer for an environmental activism group). Why is this a good thing , you ask? Well, let me tell you…because what happens after the split occurs. The focal point is Alex (as you might guess from the title of the film) and her search for who she is, who she really is. She got pregnant and had a baby when she was 19 with her now husband George (Messina). But something is clearly missing, the fact that she was never able to have the life of a young adult since she was busy being a mother and wife.

AOV 2When George, who was a stay-at-home dad, leaves, Alex has to step up with her son Dakota (Skyler Gaertner) as well as her aging father (Don Johnson) who might have a touch of Alzheimer’s. Couple all of this with the fact that she has a huge case she is working on for her job and she is in over her head. Lucky for her, her sister Lily (Katie Nehra, also one of the screenwriters of the film) happens to show up just when needed. Lily injects some adrenaline into a stagnant family giving it some life, some good and some bad. As Alex starts getting her feet under her without George around, she unexpectedly starts a fling with the man (Derek Luke) whom she is litigating against in the big case at work. So everything really teeters in the balance with Alex as she tries to figure out who she is now without deep-sixing everyone around her.


As I stated above, this crown jewel of this film is Mary Elizabeth Winstead‘s performance as Alex. Pitch perfect, she has really stepped up her game lately. This film comes on the heels of another stunning performance in Faults (see my review here), so we are getting her at what seems to be her best right now, so even keeled and relatable that it’s nearly impossible not to identify with the characters she inhabits. And as good as she is, the other actors in the film were spot-on as well, mainly Don Johnson, who really surprised me in his role as a former TV actor trying to get back in the game by being in a stage production of Chekov‘s The Cherry Orchard. The delicate way he illuminates his character’s struggles with memory loss is impressive. I never thought he had it in him. Likewise, Katie Nehra brings a much needed sense of comedy and carefree nature to a story that hits pretty hard in spots.

AOV 3 nehra

I think that one of the strengths of the script is that it doesn’t lollygag when it comes to getting right into the story. George leaves in nearly the opening scene of the film. As the title suggests, this is a film about Alex, so if we had to slog through messy sequences about the decline of the relationship, it would take away from her journey. I think the strongest scene in the film happens when George finally reappears at a time of especially high need for Alex and as their encounter extends into the next day, they both get closure as they officially breaks things off. While that doesn’t seem important at its base, it’s the tender way that it was handled both in the writing and the direction of the scene. It’s little things like these that can make these smaller movies so damn memorable and it seems obvious that all parties were clicking on the same cylinder here.

Alex of Venice is wonderful film and I think there’s something in it for everyone. So instead of trudging out to see films like Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 this weekend, take a chance and check this one out. It is quite delightful.

And speaking of delightful, I was incredibly fortunate to snag a few minutes with Ms. Winstead herself to talk about the film and a few other trifles. Here’s what I felt like I looked like when I was interviewing her:

me as scoot pilgrim

And here’s what she had to say:

I really liked your chemistry with Katie Nehra as sisters. What was there, if any, as far as a rehearsal schedule? Was it an asset having her in the film with you since she was part of the writing team?

We didn’t have a lot of time together before shooting. I  had one rehearsal with Chris and Don and we played some of the scenes. The dynamic [between Katie and I] came about organically. Chris created a great atmosphere on set. The whole experience was incredibly collaborative. The vibe on set was one where everyone had a voice. My ideas were very welcome because of this. I love working that way. I love having the ability to lend my voice.

The affair with Derek Luke’s character struck me as quite odd for Alex. Here she is, totally dedicated to her job enough that she (maybe) neglects her husband, father and son. Would she really take a risk like this, especially if it could cost her her job at a time when she is most vulnerable? It seemed quite impetuous to me. Or do you think that openness of her world without George there alleviated some sort of pressure that had built up in the years they were together after she got pregnant?

I think a lot of her decisions cause her to regress to the time when she was a single person. She was stunted. She got pregnant and never had the chance to become a real person, to grow emotionally. She makes brash decisions which make sense given the circumstances of what she’s gone through. She doesn’t really know who she is.

Did you have any trepidation about working with a first time director in Chris Messina? Obviously he’s an accomplished actor, and I think the film turned out great. Curious what your thoughts were going into production.

I had never met him before, but I was a fan of his as an actor and in that sense, he had a taste level in roles that was high. He comes from theater background and these were all pretty good signs. I was excited about working with an actor. One of the problems of working with directors [that aren’t actors] is that they don’t understand how to work with actors. There’s a different grammar and vocabulary. He and I like to work the same way – make every moment real and authentic so it was a good collaboration.

I was curious about the part where George comes to get Alex after she and Lily have had the fight about Dakota missing school for a week while she’s on ecstasy. At first, I thought what Alex was going through was imagined, part of the trip she was on. That clearly wasn’t the case as the scene played out. Was there ever any discussion about the scene maybe going that way?

That’s interesting. That scene took a lot of different shapes. It was improved in so many different ways. Chris was shouting out different things for me to do and to say. Several shots were made that weren’t used. At one point, Chris shouted at me to start singing something and that’s what I did. I think it turned out perfectly.

This is a perfect segway into another aside, but I really love your record, Got a Girl, that you did with Dan the Automator. You have an unreal voice. I was curious why we aren’t hearing you on the soundtracks to the films you make. I know Brie Larson sang on the Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World soundtrack. I think this is something that we need.

(laughs) Thank you! I would love to do that. We’ll see…

You seem to toe the line between small dramas like this one and more specific genre fare (Final Destination 3, the Die Hard movies, Scott Pilgrim, etc.). Do you feel like you have a home in one area or do you feel like you have to do the moneymakers so you can do the passion projects like Alex of Venice?

I just like to do films that teach me, excite me and I want to work with people that are interesting and that I walk away from each project better than I was before it. I need to inhabit characters that will challenge me. I would love to do more comedy. I’m drawn to characters that have a little bit of everything going on. Be funny one minute and tragic another.

So that’s that. I want to give a big shout out to Mary for taking time to talk to me as I was huddled in my basement during a tornado warning (no joke). I wish her nothing but the best of luck in her career, both acting and in music (please, please make more records – the world needs them).

Be sure to catch Alex of Venice in theaters this weekend. Here’s the list of theaters where it is playing. It will also be available through VOD as well.