Film Review: “Eo”

Starring: Sandra Drzymalska, Lorenzo Zurzolo and Isabelle Huppert
Directed by: Jerzy Skolimowski
Rated: NR
Running Time: 88 minutes
Janus Films

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

You hang around animals long enough, you begin to notice things like expressions in their face and how much personality they have. Despite the obvious language/species barrier, it’s fascinating that animals and humans alike are able to understand certain aspects of each other whether that’s happiness or fear. We’re also able to recognize each other’s body language when we’re angry, depressed or joyful. You’d think we’d get along better, but a film like “Eo” shows how that bond is at times oceans apart or beautifully close.

“Eo” is pretty straightforward. It’s about a donkey named Eo, who is a circus donkey when we first meet him. He has a loving owner and doesn’t seem to mind the outdated spectacle, but some animal rights activists are about to “free” him. There’s something comical about watching Eo quietly roaming around amongst angry humans yelling for it to be free, even though the concept of freedom is probably alien to Eo. After being “freed,” we see the folly of the animal rights activists who believe their job is done and let Eo roam freely to potentially be harmed or maimed. The rest of the film serves as a journey that’s heartwarming, tear-jerking, thoughtful, sad and ultimate meditation about life.

Despite being a donkey, Eo should have probably earned an Oscar nomination for delivering a world of emotion through his eyes. At times the camera hovers just inches from Eo’s eyes and we see thousands of words etched into them as he encounters friends, foes and the utterly bizarre, like a soccer match where Eo becomes the focal point through no actions of his own. The film is brief which helps with a lot of the moments where the camera simply follows Eo on his voiceless journey in Europe.

I found myself entranced by Eo’s journey even though there wasn’t anything specifically thrilling about it. It is just a donkey, after all, but Eo is more than that. He represents that soft spot that all humans have for animals. Even when we don’t like a specific creature, we still don’t necessarily wish them harm or want to see harm come their way. I think that’s what makes Eo so fascinating to watch and that’s because his encounters would tell you no person is safe, but all humans you encounter could be potentially safe. Eo sometimes feels like a representation of humanity, going through the motions, encountering adventures that may or may not be the best thing for our soul. We blindly go through life hoping everyone and everything we encounter is good-natured, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.

“Eo” is a film I thought about for days after watching. Personally I know it’s because I attempt to view humanity through these kinds of films. I feel like there’s poor ways of conveying the importance of creatures and the bond we share with them, like “A Dog’s Purpose,” but films like “Babe” help ground us in the reality of coexisting with creatures on this blue marble. “Eo” goes way deeper than I thought. What does coexistence mean when one side mistreats the other? What does life mean when sometimes a singular purpose for one’s existence is ultimately the consumption of the other? What does coexistence mean when we attach ourselves to them in toxic ways? Sure, some animals that aren’t donkeys have a poor temperament and just aren’t cuddly or loveable, but neither are all humans. “Eo” will make you smile, cry and ponder what exactly is going on in this crazy world and you’ll be a better person after all of it. Good donkey.

Film Review: “Women Talking”

Starring: Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley and Rooney Mara
Directed by: Sarah Polley
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 104 minutes
United Artists Releasing

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

George Carlin once said, “There’s no such thing as rights. They’re imaginary. We made ’em up. Like the boogie man.” I open my review with that quote for two reasons. First being that 2022 was the year that women experienced the loss of their body autonomy rights. Second being that the women in “Women Talking,” never had rights because of the boogie man.

“Women Talking” opens with a group of women in an unnamed religious colony discussing the revelation over the prior days/weeks that ghosts or Satan aren’t behind the drugging and raping they’re experiencing. Nope. It’s the men who live among them. Their friends, their neighbors, their fathers, their spouses, etc. For years, those men have been the ones who have been drugging the women so that they can sneak in at night and rape them only to tell them the next day it’s the boogie man. With this revelation, something has to happen, right? The men are caught and arrested, but the rapists post bail and are on their way back home as if nothing happened. The women at this discussion represent different houses of thought on what to do before the rapists return. Some women believe they should do nothing and continue to be the subservient class in this community. Others believe it’s time to stay and get their fists and noses bloodied. A good portion believe that it’s simply time to leave.

Unfortunately the above scenario is not the work of Hollywood, it is based on a book written by Miriam Toews, a former Mennonite girl who fled her Canadian Mennonite community when she turned 18. “Women Talking” isn’t looking to bash one of the more peculiar sects of Christianity though. Outside of showing the horrific reality that women are still second-class citizens in portions of the world, “Women Talking” also examines a very key question in trauma, “What now?” The three options above spur fascinating on-screen discussions that cross the proverbial universe of these women. The revelations are handled differently, with some women still drinking the flavor aid that the best option is to ignore the crimes because…God’s “wishes?” Other women want to leave, but then wonder if that means taking their children. Some of their children are boys, does that mean their boys will grow up to become rapist monsters? Do they leave the boys? Can any man be trusted? If the women stay and fight, how will the community as a whole react? What will stop the men from banding together and retaliating if it’s a war between the sexes?

A film like “Women Talking,” which thankfully spares the audience the visuals of the rapes, relies heavily on its actors and script, and both are a cannon shot across the bow. Not only are the perpetrators called out in the story, but the real world is called into question by these discussions. I could break down the stellar performances and moments, but “Women Talking” is truly a film that demands attention and silences you with the power of words. At times the film is an emotional wrecking ball, making the words of these women more powerful than any scene featuring the crimes themselves. The casting is truly spotless because even the lone man (played by Ben Wishaw) in the community, who is helping the women by keeping record of their discussions and chiming in when called upon, adds emotional layers to the women debating something they’ve probably never debated or even discussed before.

In a lot of ways, “Women Talking” plants its feet in the past and in the present day. In some regards you can view the film as a historic look at how women finally release themselves from the shackles of their oppressors to give rise to a movement and help create the birth of a new society, one in which both sexes are equal. You can also see the modern commentary hidden in the tearful debates between our characters. Either that or the old idiom is true, history is doomed to repeat itself. Foy, Buckley and Mara lead the way for this ensemble cast tasked with not only conveying a powerful message, but doing it in a riveting way where the viewer will either find themselves teary eyed, aghast or silent. For some viewers, those who have already seen the movie, “Women Talking” bookended a rough 2022 for women in America, and for some viewers, this film is your rallying cry in 2023.

Film Review: “The Whale”

 

 

  • THE WHALE
  • Starring:  Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink and Hong Chau
  • Directed by:  Darren Aronofsky
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 57 mins
  • A24

 

And the Oscar goes to…..  Brendan Fraser.  That is all.

 

OK, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here.

 

An online class is in progress.  The main screen is filled with the faces of all of the students.  The only black frame belongs to the instructor, who informs the others that the camera on his laptop is broken.  But it isn’t. He’s just afraid of being seen.

 

Driven by Brendan Fraser, who gives a performance that is both brilliant and emotional, “The Whale” tells the story of a man whose life has spiraled downward as his waistline has increased.  Charlie (Fraser) was once a happy man with a wife and daughter.  A college professor, he was able to share his love of literature and of writing.  But Charlie had a secret and that secret destroyed not only his life, but the lives of those that loved him.  Now it is only through food that Charlie can achieve any semblance of happiness, finding consolation in a bucket of chicken or a couple of giant meatball and cheese subs.  He is looked after by his friend, Liz (Chau), who drops by often offering dinner and some companionship.  Liz knows that Charlie is slowly killing himself, but he refuses to seek medical help.  Only after receiving a couple of unexpected visitors does Charlie begin to think of happiness.  But not for himself.

 

I’m a big guy.  I can always afford to lose a few pounds.  And I can admit here that I have had people refer to me as fat.  But I’m Audrey Hepburn compared to Charlie.  Usually, a large person is played for laughs on screen.  Think Eddie Murphy in “The Nutty Professor,” Martin Lawrence in “Big Momma’s House” or the final scene in “Dodgeball” where a very hefty Ben Stiller makes a self-depreciating joke and remarks to the audience, “Are you happy?  Fatty made a funny.”  But with “The Whale” you have no desire to laugh at Charlie.  You sympathize with him.  When he struggles to take a few steps, you feel his exhaustion.  And when he strains to pick something up off the floor, you can feel your fingers reaching out as well.  But Charlie doesn’t want your sympathy.  He just wants to be.

 

I have always been a fan of Brendan Fraser.  From “School Ties” to the “Mummy” series to the underappreciated baseball comedy “The Scout,” he has always appeared genuine on screen.  His performance here is no different.  You feel sad for Charlie.  Not because he’s heavy but because he’s a human being.  It doesn’t matter if Charlie weighs 400 pounds or a buck twenty-five, the hurt he feels is evident in his eyes.  And the ability to express such emotion with only a glance is the hallmark of a great actor. 

 

Fraser is supported ably by his co-stars, including Ms. Chau, Sadie Sink as Charlie’s estranged daughter and Ty Simpkins as a man literally on a mission who knocks on Charlie’s door.  There is not a false performance in this film.

 

As a filmmaker, director Darren Aronofsky can be very hit or miss.  On one side of the spectrum, he created a masterpiece with “Requiem for a Dream.”  On the other hand, I give you “The Fountain.”  “The Whale” is another fine achievement and one that should be seen and appreciated. 

Film Review: “The Fablemans”

 

  • THE FABLEMANS
  • Starring:  Michelle Williams, Gabriel LaBelle and Judd Hirsch
  • Directed by:  Steven Spielberg
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 31 mins
  • Universal

 

A young boy goes to the movies.  What he see’s has such an impression on him that he makes film a major part of his life.  That young boy could never have known that 2 hours in the dark would change his life forever.  I should point out here that the young boy in question is me and the movie in question was “Jaws.”

 

New Jersey.  1952.  Young Sammy Fableman (LaBelle) is taken to the movies to see “The Greatest Show on Earth” by his parents, Mitzi (Williams, in an Oscar-worthy performance) and Burt (Paul Dano).  Burt is a scientific engineer, so instead of explaining movies in terms of enjoyment he spouts off about how the film runs 24 frames per second, giving still images the illusion of movement.  Despite his father’s description, Sam is mesmerized by the film, especially the famous train crash (oops, SPOILER ALERT!).  He plays the scene over and over in his head when he gets home.  When he receives a train set for Hanukkah you can see the wheels turning in his head.  Especially when he picks up his fathers 8mm movie camera. 

 

An obviously very personal film for Steven Spielberg, “The Fablemans” could easily be compared to Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” – without the naked women, of course.  It is rare for any filmmaker to give such an inside look at his life, and while this isn’t a true bio-pic, there are many similarities between Sam and Steven.  His mother was a very talented pianist and his father instrumental in the development of the computer.  Williams even wears her hair in the same style as Leah Spielberg.  But there are enough little changes in the story to make the audience wonder “did that really happen?”

 

 

The film is buoyed by an amazing cast, all at the top of their game.  Williams is stellar as a woman who has put her own creativity on hold to encourage her husband.  Dano excels as a man who truly loves his wife but can’t see the proverbial forest through the trees.  He constantly refers to Sam’s passion as a “hobby” and it’s obvious he doesn’t understand.  Supporting work by Seth Rogen and Judd Hirsch helps flesh out the story.  And special praise indeed for young Mr. LaBelle, who just turned 20 this past weekend.  It would be nerve wracking enough to have your second major film directed by Steven Spielberg but to ALSO be playing the director…Yikes!  LaBelle approaches the role with the same wonder that Spielberg must have had as a young man.  It’s a beautiful performance.

 

With all Spielberg films, the production values are first rate.  And it’s so nice to once again see a Spielberg film accompanied by a beautiful musical score by the great John Williams.  Spielberg and Williams.  Takes me back to “Jaws.”

 

Like Spielberg, I made short films throughout high school but that’s pretty much all we have in common.  Though I did notice that he’s #22 on the Internet Movie Data Base STAR METER while I’m listed as #965,422.  Close. 

Film Review: Journey to Royal – A WWII Rescue Mission

HARRISBURG, PA — This documentary directed by Christopher Johnson of Misty Falls Motion Picture Company, and produced by Mariana Tosca, p.g.a. is a remarkable and effective piece of documentary filmmaking that chronicles the incredible stories of the 4th Emergency Rescue Squadron rescue team during World War II.

This film tells the story about Lt. Royal A. Stratton and the rescue mission he flew to save the lives of nine downed B-29 bomber airmen adrift in the dangerous Japanese waters after their aircraft was hit by flak that started a fire in the rear of the plane.

I had never heard about Lt. Royal Stratton before, so for me, the film shines a new light on unsung heroes from World War II that we are forever indebted to.

The story, or rather stories, takes us right into the action with the feature narrative portion to start us off before we jump into the documentary section of the film. The editing is smart and successful which plunges us right into the stressful situation. The documentary portion is not only informative but educational and adds to our understanding of rescue efforts in the Pacific.

The documentary is an effective piece of cinema that informs and educates. Overall, this documentary is a very well-made and incredibly effective piece of filmmaking that is immersive cinematography with gripping action, mixed with firsthand accounts and historical images, showcasing the valor of the squadron who faced overwhelming odds to bring their brothers home.

Highly recommended for those interested in military history and in accounts of bravery in the face of overwhelming odds.

Dr. Zapotoczny is an author, historian, and professor of history. He can be reached at mail@wzaponline.com and his website is http://www.wzaponline.com.

Film Review: “The Menu”

 

 

  • THE MENU
  • Starring:  Ralph Fiennes, Nicolas Hoult and Anna Taylor-Joy
  • Directed by:  Mark Mylod
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 46 mins
  • Searchlight Pictures

 

I must admit before I continue that I do not consider myself a “foodie.”  If you know me you know I enjoy eating but I’ve never understood the high price restaurants that serve tiny portions on tiny plates made up of things I’ve never heard of.  One example in my lifetime:  I went to Washington D.C. to conduct an interview for my book on “Jaws 2,” offering to take the couple I was speaking with to dinner near my hotel.  While I was thinking something casual, like Houlihan’s or a similar establishment they gave me the name of a little place a block away from where I was staying.  The company, and the conversation, was amazing.  The food was…meh.  $260 later, after we said our goodbyes, I stopped at Subway on my way back to my hotel. 

 

Tyler (Hoult) is excitedly pacing back on forth on a dock.  He explains to Margot (Taylor-Joy) that he has been waiting seemingly forever for this night to come.  A night on an isolated island tasting food created by the most famous chef on the planet, Chef Slowick (Fiennes).  As they board the boat neither Tyler, no the other guests, can contemplate what will be on the menu.

 

 

A film that is both dark and funny, “The Menu” benefits from the combination of a smartly written script and some excellent performances.  If you’ve ever watched a reality cooking show, you know that the chef’s featured often have an overstated sense of importance.  That is true here with Chef Slowick, whose single clap of a hand can bring his entire kitchen staff to attention.  Fiennes is perfect in this role, going from stern taskmaster to sarcastic joker seamlessly.  The guest list is quite eclectic, with everyone from a well known food critic (Janet McTeer) to a once famous actor (John Leguizamo) who now tells people his career is in “the presenter phase.”  Each “course” is presented as a great surprise, though not all of the surprises are good ones.

 

The film is beautifully shot, with each course its own individual piece of art.  I may never eat pickled cucumber balls or slurp down some fancy oysters but they certainly do look good.  So does this film.

Film Review: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

BLACK PANTHER:  WAKANDA FOREVER
Starring:  Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and Angela Bassett
Directed by:  Ryan Coogler
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  2 hrs 41 mins
Marvel Studios
 
 
There are very few film franchises that can boast as many quality films as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The majority of these films have been embraced by both fans and critics alike.  Even so, there are a few films that miss the mark.  “Iron Man 2.”  “Thor: the Dark World.”  And now, “Black Panther:  Wakanda Forever.”
 
A year after the death of King T’Challa, the country of Wakanda is still in turmoil.  Countries all over the world seek the rare vibranium that is found in Wakanda, without success.  When it appears that the rare element has been found in the Atlantic Ocean, the attempt to harvest it is foiled by an aquatic group under the leadership of a man called Namor.  Cue the action!
 
I can only imagine the difficulty it took to devise a sequel to the Oscar nominated “Black Panther” after the unexpected passing of actor Chadwick Boseman.  And while “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has many of the elements that fans love it is missing one main ingredient.  Heart.  Instead of emotion, the film is an ongoing barrage of action scenes, with characters traveling all over the world to track down Namor (Tenoch Huerta).  Every familiar character, from Queen Ramona (the amazing Bassett) to her daughter, Princess Shuri (Wright) to the leader of Wakanda’s army, General Nakita (Nyong’o) battle the bad guys, with small bits of Martin Freeman and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss thrown in for some minor levity. 
 
A major problem with the film is the pacing.  Director Coogler has put together a film that is at least 30 minutes too long, as if he really didn’t know where to end it.  Also, the musical score sounds as if it were written for an entirely different film, with no subtlety in the quieter scenes while blaring in others, as if to say to the audience “hey, this is important!”  It feels like the producers weren’t sure about financing a stand-alone Submariner film so they kind of blended Namor’s story into this one. 
 
On the positive side, the performances are strong and the visual effects are outstanding.  But great effects do not always a great movie make – I’m looking at you, “Avatar” – and the humanity that Mr. Boseman brought to the title character is greatly missed.   

Film Review: “Terrifier 2”

If you enjoyed Damien Leone’s original “Terrifier” – then you’re in luck! “Terrifier 2” is the type of sequel where it feels like the director knows exactly what worked and didn’t work within their original film, and decides to double down on all the best parts. While “Terrifier 2” certainly has its fair share of bad performances and feels about ten minute over-long, it feels like an actual improvement over the first film in so many different ways. For starters, the original “Terrifier” is a perfectly enjoyable horror flick that is (rightfully, in my opinion) criticized for being completely light on plot and too reliant on its gnarly kills. Within the first twenty minutes of “Terrifier 2,” it’s apparent that Leone heard the criticisms and delivers a genuinely engaging protagonist within Sienna (Lauren LaVera) with a moderately compelling, emotional arc at her core. This won’t necessarily win any Oscars, but it’s nice to actually care about the characters this time around!

The film opens nearly exactly where its predecessor left off, with Art the Clown (played by the incredibly committed David Howard Thornton) terrorizing the coroner in a morgue. He soon sets off on a new quest for terrorizing more victims on Halloween, as Sienna and her brother (Elliot Fullam) are caught in the middle of all the carnage. The first thirty minutes are spent almost entirely setting up all the various supporting characters surrounded by the two leads, and the rest of the 138 minutes are a blood-bath that makes the first film seem tame in comparison. “Terrifier 2” is an acquired taste that still won’t satisfy all horror fans as it leans even further into torture-porn category than the original did, but you have to admire Leone’s commitment to furthering both his narrative and the extremes he can go-to with the kills Art the Clown can pull-off.

Another vast improvement here is the visual style and production design on display. The original “Terrifier” looked fine for a film of its budget, but one of the most striking things to me as this one began is that the cinematography is genuinely pretty impressive from the get-go. This is all due in-credit to DP Geroge Steuber, who also shot the first film. This advancement in style and change of pace within a more sporadic, popping production design and sets make for the horror to be all the more creative and creepy. Specifically, there’s a dream sequence near the beginning of the film where Art the Clown appears in Sienna’s dreams that is really impressive to watch and one of the more creative horror sequences that I’ve seen this year.

The original film was completely reliant on Art the Clown as a character and wasn’t focused on delivering much else, and it’s understandable as David Howard Thornton is absolutely magnetic and terrifying (no pun intended) in the role. But it is a refreshing change of pace to see him go against Sienna in this, who makes for a more than worthy adversary for Art. Lauren LaVera completely owns this role, and I could see her becoming an iconic final girl for the midnight-horror movie crowd as this is destined to become something of a cult-classic. The final set-piece that pits the two of them together made me desperately wish I saw this with a crowd! 

While “Terrifier 2” is far from the best horror movie I’ve seen this year, it’s easily the grossest and gnarliest – and I’m not easily squeamish. This type of horror usually isn’t my bag, but I have to admire its pure lunacy and commitment to grossing you out at every turn. It’s vastly entertaining, with a true vision behind the camera – and it makes me so happy to be a horror fan nowadays, being able to witness the renaissance we’re currently going through; creatives are truly expressing themselves in wild ways, and Damien Leone is no exception to this as he delivers an absolutely bonkers sequel that improves on the original in just about every way imaginable. And without spoiling it, make sure to watch throughout the credits to see a peak at how he plans to expand the “Terrifier” mythology even further! 

Film Review: Deadstream

Starring: Joseph Winter, Melanie Stone and Jason K. Wixom
Directed by: Joseph and Vanessa Winter
Rated: R
Running time: 87 minutes
Shudder

Up until recently I’ve shrugged off the found footage genre. During the 2000s I was blasted with advertisements of audiences watching the latest found footage film shrieking in terror with the ad assuring me that it’s the scariest film ever. While I can chalk that up to obnoxious and misleading advertising, the genre also suffered from several other things. For instance, screen distortions for cutaways, bothersome shaky cameras, predictable jump scares and flawed storytelling issues like, “Why is this being filmed? Why are they still recording?” My negative assumptions about the genre were thrown into an open grave in 2022 because of films like the surprisingly terrifying “Outwaters” and the journey into insanity, “Masking Threshold.” Now “Deadstream” has arrived with a shovel.

When we meet Shawn Ruddy (Winter), the host of the wildly popular Youtube show “Wrath of Shawn,” he’s attempting a comeback after being canceled. The practical joker, like a lot of real-life Youtubers, enjoys putting himself and others through crazy stunts like dog sledding in his underwear or crossing the Mexican border illegally in a trunk. The stunt that got him canceled though, he’s not upfront about. The stunt he’s going to do to put the woke mob at ease will be staying the night by himself in an abandoned Utah home known for paranormal activity simply referred to as the “Murder Manor.”

Shawn is ready to film and impress though. He has various cameras in tow that he sets up around the house, he removes spark plugs from his vehicle and locks himself in the house, and quite literally throws the key away. This is all to prevent himself, a self-professed scaredy cat, from escaping. I know you’re already thinking back to the first paragraph where I complained about found footage logic. But alas, “Deadstream” has a fantastic reason why Shawn is staying the night in a building with murder in it’s name. Money. To keep his few remaining advertisers happy, he is setting rules like investigating every ghostly sound or sight he encounters and allowing his advertisers to drop him like a sack of potatoes if he flees the premises.

Money aside, Shawn isn’t smart and is a legitimate coward. You think locking yourself in a home would be enough, but to completely immobilize your transportation to a home in remote Utah? Also, while deathly afraid of the unknown, he certainly doesn’t have any issues doing or saying things that might antagonize a ghost. He walks around with creepy Halloween music to play while he narrates the surroundings and stories about what haunts the Murder Manor. All that being said, Shawn is a real scummy individual, prioritizing profits and followers over his own well-being and those around him. So when the ghosts come out to play, we don’t necessarily feel sorry.

However, Winter, who not only plays Shawn, but directs and wrote the film with his wife, crafts Shawn to be oddly likable. His girly cries of terror made me laugh every time it happened and he manages to have a few agreeable jabs at the woke audience that has forced his hand. Given the circumstance, he does seem to channel the thoughts and reactions of an individual exploring the abandoned house of death. As someone who explores abandoned buildings on occasion, I’ve never explored a building that has death in its nickname, nor would I do it alone. It’s also obvious that the reason Shawn was canceled in the first place, continues to weigh on him consciously.

“Deadstream ” is what happens when the “Blair Witch Project” and “Evil Dead II” design a haunted house. The first third of the film has plenty of creepy moments and the inevitable jump scares that are more fun than annoying (he shrieks like a Kindergartener on a playground). The brisk first half of the film helps give way to a nightmarish funhouse bathed in blood and body parts as Shawn scrambles, fights and cries for safety. Funny moments range from the macabre ghouls that attack Shawn to Shawn interacting with the audience that’s watching on the livestream. Not only do they bait him into doing stupider things, but also remind him of his own fallacies as he begins to realize the direness of his situation. “Deadstream” is a fun found footage film that will make you laugh and cheer at the follies of an attention seeking Zoomer douchebag who deserves every ounce of terribleness heading his way.

Film Review: “The Munsters”

Starring: Jeff Daniels Phillips, Sheri Moon Zombie and Daniel Roebuck
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Running Time: 109 minutes
Rated: PG
Netflix

Growing up in the 90s I would watch Nickelodeon. For me and most people I knew at school, we would watch all the cartoons until the clock struck 7 p.m. and then we would keep watching, but it wasn’t cartoons that Nickelodeon would be showing at night. Nick at Nite, the counter kid programming, would air reruns of beloved classic sitcoms like “I Love Lucy,” “The Jeffersons,” “Gilligan’s Island,” and “The Munsters.”It would not surprise me if I ended up watching every single episode of those shows as a kid, and the astounding thing is my memory of all those shows is fond, but gray. The specifics of the shows, like individual plot lines, is fuzzy, but I remember the characters, their house, their catchphrases and all the other things that delighted audiences during their original run and those kids in the 90s that grew up on them. It’s fascinating when adoration for something churns about cinematic abortions like “The Munsters.”

I struggle writing this review because I do like Rob Zombie, as a musician and director, but more as a musician. Just like kids in the 90s my first taste of Zombie was playing “Twisted Metal” games and through that I would end up interested in buying some of his albums and would sometimes play “Twisted Metal” ad nauseum just to hear “Dragula” one more time. I’ve also seen Zombie live at least half a dozen times and I always recommend seeing him to fellow rockers and metalheads because he’s a very theatrical and explosive performer. As for his movies, I have a soft spot for “Devil’s Rejects” and “The Haunted World of El-Superbeasto,” and I don’t necessarily hate him like some horror fans do for rebooting “Halloween.” I can respect his vision and see what it was he envisioned, and appreciate it. That being said, “The Munsters” is still a cinematic abortion.

The 2022 film serves as a prequel, but don’t expect to learn how a Frankenstein’s monster and vampire ended up with a werewolf son. Dr. Wolfgang (Richard Brake) is putting together his perfect creation, but slip-ups along the way create Hermann (Phillips), who has the body of a giant lumbering oaf with the brain of a failed comedian. Hermann garners the attention of Lily (Moon Zombie), despite the objections of her father, the Count (Roebuck). It’s actually not a bad idea for a prequel, but the storytelling problems pop-up early before they become frequently obvious and annoying. While the material is faithful to the original, on the surface, it misses the point entirely. The black and white TV show featuring monsters on the outside, but a loving family on the inside has been rebooted into a 70s cartoon looking universe with characters that feel more like fan fiction bastardizations than they do actual representations of the originals. It brings to mind other failed films that missed the point of the original TV entirely, like “Wild, Wild West” and “Inspector Gadget;” similar cinematic abortions I might add.

The characters, who feel more like caricatures as opposed to living, breathing people monsters, are stuck in the proverbial “old country” for the first hour of the film and we’re never given a reason to care about their lives or the meaningless conflicts that arise. It’s impressive watching Zombie drag the wedding almost into the second hour of the film when we all know that’s the inevitable point that needs to be reached. The first hour of this film could have been whittled down to 20 minutes in capable hands, but instead we’re treated to bad jokes, odd montages, and scenes that just don’t fit, like Hermann being in a punk rock band. All of this adds up to an unenjoyable experience that makes you question every single moment as if you’re being fed a lie.

I hate to fault the acting, but I have to. At a certain point I wonder if Phillips and Moon Zombie recognized they were doing poor performances. They’re both talented, but in this film they’re barely able to move past being one dimensional characters. If you were to ask me about my impression of their attempts at recreating iconic TV show characters, I’d tell you that Phillips needs to sound less prepubescent when delivering Hermann’s lines and that Moon Zombie says “Hermy” so much I began to wonder if she was channeling Ms. Piggy saying “Kermy” more than anything.

I want to tear apart nearly everything I witnessed, but I don’t want to do that because I don’t believe it’s fair. This movie is obviously low budget and when listening to Zombie, you can tell that this vision came from a great place of adoration. That being said, I think it’s fair to ultimately place the blame for this trainwreck of a film at the feet of Zombie. I think he’s still an incredible talent, but it’s clear that “The Munsters” is his rock bottom as a director. The creativity on display, mainly in cameos and set designs, is overshadowed by lapses in creativity, like lumpy dialogue, jokes that feel more like aliens attempting human humor, bizarre misplaced acting and a plot that insults basic human intelligence. Let’s hope this is the last time someone attempts to resurrect a dead piece of entertainment property. I’m now left wondering if this is how all those “Halloween” fans felt back in 2007.

Film Reeview: “Potato Dreams of America”

 

 

 

  • POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA
  • Starring:  Dan Lauria, Sara Barbieri and Tyler Bocock
  • Directed by:  Wes Hurley
  • Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 37 mins
  • Darkstar Pictures

 

Potato (Hersh Powers) is a little Soviet-era boy in love with American movies.  He enjoys these films so much that, when his mother Lena (Barbieri) is being beaten by one of her boyfriends, he forms his hands into a viewfinder and watches the incident unfold as if it was on the big screen.  An odd boy, Potato accepts his mother’s current, abusive boyfriend because he has a color television…much nicer then their old black and white model.  Still, he has very few friends.  Unless, that is, you count Jesus Christ (Jonathan Bennett), who drops by often.  It is a very oppressive society that portrays anything different as evil.  Among the presumed evils – homosexuality.  Potato is taught that everyone in the West is a homosexual.  Except Freddie Mercury, who is much too talented.    Wanting to be free of the chains of their country, Potato and his mother are overjoyed when she is chosen by a man in America as a mail order bride.  Soon things will be different in the glorious USA.  Right?

 

 

An unusual film, based on the life of writer/director Hurley (who was born in Russia), “Potato Dreams of America” is almost two different films.  Where the Russian act is very bleak visually, it is filled with some great humor.  Yet when the setting moves to America, things begin to get quite serious.  It’s also unusual in that the main characters are portrayed by different actors during the second act.  Potato is now played by Tyler Bocock while Lena is now portrayed by Marya Sea Kaminski.  All four actors embrace their characters, as does Dan Lauria, the American husband with secrets of his own.

 

 

Hurley’s script is quite funny, especially in the first act, where Potato and Lena do their best to tolerate those who are intolerable among them.  And while the film is not rated, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the second act deals with some very adult subject matter, so be advised.  That being said, “Potato Dreams of America” is a charming film that deserves an audience.

Film Review: “To the Moon”

Starring: Will Brill, Madeleine Morgenweck and Scott Fiend
Directed by: Scott Fiend
Rated: NR
Running Time: 82 minutes
1091 Pictures

Dennis (Fiend) and Mia (Morgenweck) are having problems. The couple is dealing with a tragic loss as well as Dennis’ substance abuse issues. Instead of breaking up or attending a marriage counselor, the duo head to Dennis’ family cabin to repair their broken marriage. Not too long after their arrival, a third wheel arrives. Roger (Brill), Dennis’ estranged and “out there” brother, has been vacant from the couple’s life, but seems ready to insert himself into it because he believes he can help them overcome the losses they’ve experienced and the quarrels they’re having. Well, depending on who you believe or what scenes you believe are real, the answer is difficult to find.

“To the Moon” makes us a question who to trust throughout it’s runtime. Whether we can trust the new-age, peculiar tag-a-long, Roger, or the disturbed and not all there, Dennis. Both have their flaws and both seem to be willing and ready to throw the other under the bus. The brothers, even if they never admit it, are very much the same in this psychological thriller despite the differences in how they’re approaching this bizarre scenario. Both of them appear to be manipulating Mia when they discuss one another or themselves, slipping half-truths in between regular truths without ever saying anything that is an outright lie.

Outside the personal drama, there are several things that create this aura of doom. Roger seems to have too much fun, sometimes at others expense and keeps crafting a special tea for his brother that seems more nefarious each time he goes out to the woods to forage for berries. Dennis, despite having some of his flaws laid out to be picked at, is never upfront. What drug or drugs is he recovering from and why are some of his waking nightmares so in tune with his moods and emotions?

At a brisk 82 minutes, the trio never outstay their welcome, nor do they run out of things to squabble, bicker and hate each other over. While all three manage to gnaw and thrash amongst the gloomy scenery, the audience attempts to piece together the final truth before the film closes out. That being said, the film’s premise eventually pays off, but not without lingering questions. At least the questions it leaves unanswered allow us to plug in the gaps of the madness that just unfolded on-screen. Even those who have a bad time might walk away with a nagging curiosity.

Film Review: “Beautiful Blue Eyes”

 

 

  • BEAUTIFUL BLUE EYES
  • Starring:  Roy Scheider, Scott Cohen and Alexander Newton
  • Directed by:  Joshua Newton
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 30 mins
  • MovieFarm

 

When Roy Scheider passed away on February 10, 2008 he was in the process of completing a film he was working on called “Iron Cross.”  Though the film played some festivals, it was never released.  Earlier this year it was announced that the film, now titled “Beautiful Blue Eyes,” (a title suggested to the producers by Scheider) would finally hit theatres, opening this past weekend. 

 

Joseph (Alexander Newton) is a young man living in Nazi-occupied Poland.  Even though he is Jewish, he has a non-Jewish girlfriend, who he often visits at night.  One morning, after a night with his lover, Joseph returns to his home to find his family being taken away.  He goes with them but, when the opportunity arises, runs off, the sound of his family being executed behind him ringing in his ears.

 

  1. Nuremburg, Germany. Joseph (Scheider) has traveled all the way from New York City in hopes of making amends with his son, Ronnie (Cohen) he hasn’t seen in years.  Recently retired from the NYPD – Scheider excelled at playing cops – he visits the apartment building his son and family live in, where he meets his daughter-in-law, Anna (Calita Rainford) and his young grandson.  When Joseph and his son decide to go out, they pass an elderly man on the stairs.  Joseph is stunned as he is sure the man on the stairs (Berger) was a monster from his past.

 

Where to start?   I know when Scheider passed it was announced that there was still some of “Iron Cross” that needed to be filmed.  I’m not sure if that was ever done, or to what effect those scenes may have had on the finished film.  The film wants to be a thriller but is so jumbled in images and plot points that it is, sadly, sometimes hard to understand.  We have no idea what kind of cop Joseph was.  We get an occasional flash-back to his witnessing atrocities in Poland, only to have a quick cut to what appears to be a similar situation in New York.  But we don’t know if this means that Joseph was a brutal cop or just that occasionally something at work would trigger a memory.

 

Another thing that I really found odd was the entire reason that Joseph and Ronnie were estranged.  Joseph wanted Ronnie to follow in his footsteps as a cop, and Ronnie decided to move to Germany.  However, he is currently an actor PLAYING a cop on a television program so when he decides to help Joseph investigate his neighbor, he is fully trained in the art of surveillance and investigating.  I am a big fan of “NYPD BLUE,” but if I really need a cop, I’m not calling Dennis Franz.

 

Also confusing is the film’s use of subtitles.  Sometimes when the characters are speaking German, their dialogue is accompanied by subtitles.  But sometimes, it isn’t.  And it seems like there is another actor doing some of Scheider’s dialogue, especially in voice overs.  Again, I’m aware that the film as planned was never finished, and I’ve read that “Beautiful Blue Eyes” is approximately 30-minutes shorter then the version of “Iron Cross” that was shown.  Those edits may have helped to continuity of the story and made the film less puzzling.

 

Still, this film gives Scheider’s fans an opportunity to see him on the big screen one more time.  His performance is strong, a testament to the man who once told me that his most important role is the one he is currently working on.  His final performance was no exception.

 

Film Review: Clerks III

Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Rated: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Lionsgate

Just like Kevin Smith, I can vividly remember the mundaneness of every menial customer service job I’ve ever had, whether it was stocking shelves with products, cashiering in a store by myself for hours on end or helping customers with useless commercial products that I could care less they bought or not. Maybe that’s why the “Clerks” franchise resonates so much with me and others. Not only because it feels like such a spot on representation of the minimum wage rage in America, but because we sympathize more realistically with Dante (O’Halloran) and Randall (Anderson) more than we do Tony Stark or Shrek.

“Clerks III” more or less picks up after “Clerks II,” even if it is a decade and a half later in the real world and fictitious View Askew Universe. Nothing has seemingly changed as Dante still runs the Quick Stop with Randall. When we last saw Randall in “Clerks II,” he was ready to reopen the video rental portion of the incredibly short strip mall, but the RST Video is now a dispensary run by Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). Jay and Silent Bob, who are now legal drug dealers, are more soft spoken and less zany, whereas Dante continues to seem lost in life and Randall simply mocks life. Of course, not everything stays the same as Randall suffers a near fatal heart attack. That reality check has Randall focusing on his own mortality and he gets the idea to film a movie about his and Dante’s life at the Quick Stop.

“Clerks III” is for fans of Kevin Smith, more or less. I wouldn’t expect a lot of filmgoers who haven’t seen the first two films to get much, if anything, out of this third helping. It’d be like hopping on board the Star Wars fan train at “Return of the Jedi” and asking everyone what a Chewie is. So since the film is solely for fans, I do believe you’d be hard pressed to find a fan who doesn’t leave “Clerks III” with a smile on their face and a tear in their eye. Not only because of how much we’ve watched these characters grow, but because in a lot of ways we’ve grown with these characters.

For those who don’t know, Kevin Smith has always been a writer/director who wears his emotions on his sleeve and in 2018, suffered his own nearly fatal heart attack. It’s safe to say “Clerks III” is a reflection of that incident, but it’s more than that. “Clerks III” is a lot of different things rolled into one doughy, but delicious mess. It’s sometimes a self-referential retelling as well as a nod, wink and jab to the ribs of viewers. Not all of the scenes work or make logical sense sometimes, but that’s the warped view we’ve become accustomed to over the year in Smith’s films. At moments it is so all over the place, you forget that the fun eventually has to come to an end in the final act.

I don’t want to spoil too much of a film that I believe will be a surprise to most fans who give it a watch. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about going into “Clerks III.” I worried that these two slackers discussing nerdy pop culture and ridiculing others would out stay it’s welcome and ruin the good will built up by Smith himself. I’m glad I was wrong. “Clerks III” establishes the emotional stakes early on, laying visual and conversational groundwork for the film’s, and this trilogy’s, final act. Thank you Smith and crew, I didn’t know I needed more Clerks in my life and it’s been a blast.

Film Review: Glorious

Starring: J.K. Simmons, Ryan Kwanten and Tordy Clark
Directed by: Rebekah McKendry
Rated: R
Running Time: 79 minutes
Shudder

Wes (Kwanten) is hungover. Pantless and puking in a rest stop bathroom is probably not how he imagined ever meeting someone, but he does. As Wes tries to wash out puke from his mouth in the sink, he hears a disembodied voice (Simmons) coming from the stall in the corner. In that pitch black area we can only see the outline of the stall, but see no feet nor hear any kind of shuffling; just the voice. To talk back with the voice, Wes goes to the stall next to the disembodied voice’s stall and (no joke) communicates with him through a glory hole. “Glorious” is weird, funny, haunting…and kind of glorious.

I’m not sure if it’s a product of the pandemic or the declining budgets for films across the board, but “Glorious” is a bottle show that works better than its premise promises. In a lot of ways it reminds me of “Tales from the Crypt” where the setting is seedy and at times pornographic while the horror is cosmic and comedic. Despite spending most of the time with Wes and the glory hole, the film makes a lot of great use out of the surroundings of the cramped shitter. If the premise and setting isn’t enough to keep you thoroughly entertained, then you can always rely on Simmons’ powerful, yet comforting deep voice to guide you through this rest stop maze of madness.

So ultimately the question becomes what is happening to Wes? Before his hangover, Wes torches remnants of a romantic relationship outside the rest stop with a bottle of booze in hand. He’s clearly attempting to wipe the memories of something and those memories don’t seem to be a factor in his bathroom predicament. As for the bathroom predicament, is the talking glory hole an intergalactic creature torturing Wes? Is it God? Satan? Thankfully it all comes together in the end, so I will avoid any more plot point discussion since the movie delightfully reveals more and more about Wes and the glory hole with each passing minute.

One big key element to “Glorious” is its comedy, which barely skips a beat and finds the perfect punchline in every scene, even in the most tense of moments. Wes and glory hole manage to poke, pry and joke with each other even as the stakes of the scenario continue to increase with the drama simmering with rage in the background. I’m actually kind of surprised this isn’t getting a theatrical release of sorts (although it did premiere at Fantastia Fest) because the comedy that’s baked into the plot would work better with a crowd as opposed to my experience in my recliner in my living room.

“Glorious” isn’t perfect. The runtime, which is brisk, hints at the lack of enough set pieces or the inability to expand upon a lot of philosophical discussions within the confinement. I also think the ending works, but not as well as the film thinks it does. Overall I’m not upset that films like this are made. I love films that push the boundaries of expectations within their own genre. For horror, you expect to be rattled and rocked, and instead, “Glorious” manages to jar and joke with its audience. “Glorious” isn’t a film that lingers with you, but instead has a beer and some fun with you while discussing pathological darkness and the cosmos. Just ignore the bathroom smell.

 

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