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.

 

Film Review: “When I Consume You”

Starring: Libby Ewing and Evan
Directed by: Perry Blackshear
Rated: NR
Running Time: 90 minutes
1091 Pictures

Siblings Daphne (Ewing) and Wilson (Dumouchel) are each struggling in their own ways. They appear to both live in squalor and there are hints that both also struggle with drugs. They provide support for each other in the face of unspeakable entities and shadows that have haunted their lives, while Daphne and Wilson within their own sibling relationship are appearing to keep secrets from one another. “When I Consume You” opens up Daphne and Wilson’s closets and asks you to start searching for the skeletons.

Skeletons range from crime, drugs, family and abuse. The phrase, “the universe is random and cruel,” is a perfect descriptor for Daphne and Wilson’s struggles, but Daphne isn’t so sure. While my overall experience with the film was positive, something kind of nagged at me. I  watched “When I Consume You” at Panic Fest, but it didn’t necessarily stick out to me as much as other films. It may or may not be the reason I find myself on the fence. For perspective, I watched around two dozen and a half films as a part of Panic Fest. When you push yourself through a proverbial gauntlet of horror, films have to be unique to stick out. Either that or my mind isn’t what it used to be. So while “When I Consume You” is slightly unique and visually haunting, it almost gets a bit lost in itself.

There are all these interesting set pieces, sometimes taking place in the past, while others may just be a figment of imagination. Trying to figure that out is sometimes amusing since the film provides a lot of visuals for the audience to munch on. Regardless of the context, what is revealed inside sometimes feels demonic, Satanic, cryptic, or as if someone or something is pulling the strings of misery. Other times, the revelations are all too real, at least for those who’ve dealt with trauma and the lacking support structure that sometimes accompanies that.

“When I Consume You” is a puzzle, forcing audiences to put it together as the film goes along. That may sell or kill whoever watches it while someone like me just may end up indifferent, constantly thinking about negatives for every positive thought I had about the film. The acting is spot-on, yet the actors sometimes seem like they have nothing to work with in terms of clues towards the ultimate answer. Hopefully you find that answer when you turn this movie on.

Film Review: “The Day the Music Died – the Story of Don McLean’s AMERICAN PIE”

 

 

  • THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED – THE STORY OF DON McLEAN’S “AMERICAN PIE”
  • Starring:  Don McLean, Garth Brooks and “Weird” Al Yankovic
  • Directed by:  Mark Moorman
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 34 mins
  • Paramount +

 

It’s one of the most popular and recognized songs in the world.  An 8-minute epic about the end of rock of roll, chronicling February 3, 1959.  The day the music died.  That song?  Don McLean’s masterpiece, “American Pie.” 

 

I’ve been in bars all over the world, from the good old USA to Europe, and I’ve never heard this song played without everyone in the place singing along.  The chorus is infective and the verses memorable.  But what was the impetus for the song?  And why is it even more popular today then the day it was released over 50 years ago?

 

“The Day the Music Died” gives an amazing insight into the mind of a songwriter so gifted that he was the inspiration for Roberta Flack’s Grammy Award winning song “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”  As a sidenote, I should mention that the tale of how that song came to be is worthy of a documentary film of its own.  Like many singer/songwriters of the late 1960s, McLean would spend  hours putting pen to paper, trying to put his thoughts to music.  A chance remembering of his time as a paperboy kindled a spark that has yet to be extinguished.  As the verses poured out of his mind, it only took McLean an hour to write the heart of the song, going back – as many songwriters do – to fine tune the verses until they sounded perfect.

 

 

Not only does the film take an inside look at the composition of the song, but also gives a glance back, and a nod to, a simpler time in rock and roll.  The three young musicians whose death registered so strongly with McLean – J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), Ritchie Valens and McLean’s musical idol, the great Buddy Holly – get their due here, climaxed by McLean’s meeting with Valens’ sister, Connie, whose heartfelt thanks to McLean for helping to immortalize her brother is genuine and moving.

 

I was 11-years old when “American Pie” was released, and I can still remember the local Chicago radio station playing it over and over.  I also remember one Sunday edition of the Chicago “Tribune” that included an in-depth look at the song, line by line, in an attempt to decipher the meaning behind the words.  Who was the Jester?  Was he talking about Vladmir Lenin or John Lennon?  And what exactly was a dirge?  Who knew, but they were being sung in the dark.

 

As I mentioned above, the song was over 8-minutes long (8:42 to be exact) and it was originally released as a two-sided single.  Though radio stations initially played just one side of the 45 rpm disc, listener requests caused them to play the entire song.  If you don’t count streaming sales (sorry Taylor Swift – anyone can download a song from a computer – in my day you had to leave the house and buy the record), “American Pie” remains the longest running song to hit #1 on the Billboard charts.  

 

 

As an added bonus, McLean explains the song’s title.  In the past 50-years I’ve heard all kinds of stories, among them that the plane that crashed, killing Holly and the others, was called “American Pie.”  Incorrect.  To my knowledge, the plane had no name.  In early 1995, famed disc jockey Wolfman Jack was promoting an upcoming appearance in Baltimore and taking listener’s calls.  I got in and asked him if he knew where the song got its title.  He said he did and would reveal the truth at his appearance.  Sadly he passed away before he could – if I’d had my way – whisper it in my ear.  Now I know.  I’d tell you, but then you’d be missing out on one hell of a story!

Film Review: “Bullet Train”

 

  • BULLET TRAIN
  • Starring:  Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron-Taylor Johnson
  • Directed by:  David Leitch
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 6 mins
  • Columbia Pictures

 

A train rushing through Japan at speeds in excess of 200 mph.  A mysterious briefcase.  Characters with colorful names like “the Wolf,”

“Lemon” and “the Hornet.”  Put them all together and you get a rapid-fire, action packed adventure.

 

Moving at a pace almost faster than the title implies, “Bullet Train” is a mashup of genre’s that can best be described as Guy Ritchie meets “Kill Bill.”

 

The plot revolves around the much desired briefcase and the people who are sent to protect it versus the people who are sent to steal it.  Pitt is one of the thieves, a man with a lot of talent when it comes to killing, but also a lot of issues.  He is in close contact with his handler, Maria (no spoiler here, sorry), whose soothing voice and sound advice keeps him in a mellow mindset. 

 

The other main characters are Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and his “brother,” Tangerine (an un-recognizable Aaron-Taylor Johnson.  Yes, the guy who played Kick Ass and John Lennon).  They spend the majority of their trip dealing with all of the issues that come with trying to protect your boss’ son – and when your boss is known as “White Death” you need to be on your “A” game – and keeping a who’s who of baddies from taking your prized briefcase.

 

The action is pretty much non-stop, with occasional moments of laugh-out-loud humor.  Whether it’s a brutal fight to the death in a designated “QUIET” car – loud noises quickly draw a “shush” from

an elderly passenger – or having to shoot your way around and oversized Anime’ character, the situations are preposterously absurd but amazing to watch unfold.

 

The cast seems to be having fun with their characters, only going over the top when the situation calls for it.  Otherwise things are handled with a deadly seriousness that should be afforded anyone dealing with someone known as “White Death.”

 

The film is beautifully photographed and the musical score helps set whatever mood is needed at any particular time.  This is definitely the“Train” to catch this weekend.    

Film Review: “Prey”

Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers and Dan DiLiegro
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Rated: R
Running Time: 99 minutes
Hulu

Just like the “Alien” franchise, I’m always a little surprised when another “Predator” movie comes out. It’s not that I don’t like the “Predator” franchise, (I’m actually a little bit too forgiving on its weaker elements) but I’ve always struggled to find other people who’ve watched the films or even enjoyed the films. It’s not hard to find people who’ve watched and treasured the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but now I feel a new generation is about to watch and treasure 2022’s “Prey.”

For “Predator” fans, the first question is going to be: “So is “Prey” a sequel, prequel or what?” The answer is uncertainty. The film takes place in 1717 in the northern Great Plains (Montana? Canada?), about 250 years before Scharzenegger and his crew of macho men gets torn apart by an unseen creature in the jungle. Naru (Midthunder) is an aspiring Comanche hunter, despite the eye rolling done by her fellow tribesmen, hunters and even her Comanche hunter sibling. All that’s about to change with the arrival of an invisible extraterrestrial who’s made Earth its hunting ground.

Just like the first “Predator,” “Prey” spends the first third of the movie building up our hero’s backstory and arc while showing us flashes of the invisible to the naked eye space monster slashing and shooting his way through wildlife. As previous “Predator” films have established, this isn’t just a bloodthirsty creature, it’s a being that enjoys the hunt; much like Naru. So, throughout the film, there is this anticipation and build-up towards these two fighting to the death. Until then, we have some interesting character development…and a lot of blood and gore to get through.

If there’s been one complaint about each film in the franchise, it’s the humans; never the trophy hunting creature. Thankfully the humans aren’t obnoxiously flawed sacks of meat or overstay their welcome, or in the case of 2018’s “The Predator,” has a subplot where autism is a superpower. Naru not only moves and flows with her tribe, but she encounters French fur trappers who are about as likable as a wasp in summer time. So, their deaths are ultimately enjoyable and welcome. In that regard, “Predator” and “Prey” are similar in that the humans we like remain alive while the disposable flesh and blood is given to the least likable of the bunch.

That being said, this is the first time the protagonist has been a woman, but you’d never know it from the way the movie ebbs and flows. Instead of calling attention to itself or virtue signaling, the film uses Predator mythos to explain why Naru is the perfect match for this galaxy traveling warrior. It also helps that she plays into the film trope of, “We can’t believe what the woman/child says or sees, right?” It also helps that she immediately recognizes the danger while each man in the film puffs his chest and charges ahead before being ripped apart, stabbed, shot or any other myriad of horrific ways to die. It reminds me a lot of Linda Hamilton’s work in the “Terminator” films. Not only do Naru and Sarah Connor radiate confidence, but they both prove their intellect and action-movie badassness each time they encounter their foe.

The one thing that’s kind of always fascinated me about the franchise, even in its highs and lows, is how much the directors and writers stay true to the creature itself, rarely rolling the dice on a bizarre character development, but instead attempting new things within the realm of logic for this fictionalized species. Director Dan Trachtenberg proves that he can provide an equal balance of substance and style, hopefully breathing life into a franchise that was nearly left for dead by director/writer Shane Black four years ago. Not only does Trachtenberg give us a neat origin story about the first Predator hunting expedition on Earth, but gives us hope that maybe, for once in this franchise, we’ll start to have a string of decent Predator films.

Film Review: “DC League of Super-Pets”

 

  • DC LEAGUE OF SUPER-PETS
  • Starring the voices of:  Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Keanu Reeves
  • Directed by:  Jared Stern and Sam Levine
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 46 mins
  • Warner Bros.

 

It’s a story we all know.  As the Planet Krypton reaches it’s last moment, Jor-El puts his infant son in a ship, hoping to send the boy to safety.  As the ship prepares to take off, a puppy hops into the ship and joins the boy on his amazing journey.  OK, the puppy part you may not have known.  Until now.

 

It’s another day in Metropolis.  Krypto (Johnson) wants to go for a walk.  However, when your master is Superman (John Krasinski), it’s not as easy as it sounds.  Further complicating things for the Super-Dog is Supes on-going relationship with Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde).  Still, compared to what’s going on at the local animal shelter, things aren’t too bad.

 

Well-acted, with a very clever script, “Super-Pets” is a fun adventure with an important message, but one that doesn’t hit you over the head.  In the aforementioned animal shelter, we are introduced to a group of pets longing to be loved.  They are led by Ace (Hart) a hound who keeps his fellow animals feeling positive by promising them that, should any of Ace’s escape plans work, he will take them all to “the farm,” a place where all animals are loved.  Among his pals are PB the Pig (Vanessa Bryer), Chip, an unusually odd squirrel (Diego Luna) and Merton (Natasha Lyonne), an older, and very nearsighted, turtle.   Their lives change when Krypto is brought to their shelter.

 

 

I loved the vocal performances of the cast.  In the past two decades, animated movies are no longer looked at as “just a gig” by actors.  The actors here give strong, layered performances, which lend themselves to the story being told. 

 

The script is full of DC in-jokes, many of them involving Batman (an excellent Reeves),  Whether he is justifying label of “superhero” – he actually has no super powers – or worrying if a toy in his image is actually licensed, the Dark Knight is a hoot.  Other Justice League members show up as well, and you almost hope that the next Justice Leage movie is animated with the same vocal talents.

 

In the end, it’s a story about believing In yourself, and your friends.  Or, in this case, your Super-Friends. 

 

 

Film Review: NOPE

 

  • NOPE
  • Starring:  Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Keith David
  • Directed by:  Jordan Peele
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 11 mins
  • Universal    

 

There was a time when, if I thought about Jordan Peele, I always thought of Raffi Benitez, the overzealous baseball player who, whenever the opportunity would arise, would smack his teammates on their posteriors while exclaiming “Slap Ass!”  Then he made “Get Out,” an amazing film that earned Peele an Academy Award for his script.  His sophomore film, “Us,” was nothing short of, as I described it, “a new horror masterpiece.”  Needless to say, I was more than excited to see his latest film, “NOPE.”

 

A rancher (David) and his son, OJ – short for Otis Junior (Kaluuya) – are chatting outside a coral when they begin being pelted by objects falling from the sky.  The rancher is knocked off his horse.  What are these mysterious objects?  What’s the story with that weird cloud that’s hovering overhead?  And where did they come from?

 

A white-knuckled adventure into what may really be “out there,” NOPE is a film that has so many things going on you may want to see it multiple times.  As I left my screening, I overheard several people commenting on what they had just watched, or at least thought they had just watched, but not in an “I’m confused” way.  There are so many pieces to the puzzle that is NOPE that a second viewing may be needed to fully get the scope of the plot.

 

Besides OJ and his father, we meet his sister, Emerald (Palmer), a one-time child star – with a tragic past – who now fronts a Wild West show (Steven Yeun), and a couple of filmmakers looking to film the ultimate experience.  Oh, and horses.  Lots of horses.  As Robert Shaw often said in “The Sting”…”ya follow?”

As in his previous films, Peele has assembled an amazing cast, led by his “Get Out” leading man, and Oscar winner, Kaluuya.  He is supported strongly by Palmer and Yeun, whose own stories intertwine with OJ’s.  Peele’s script is full of twists and turns, and the cast maneuver their way through them smoothly.

 

With everything going on the film could appear to drag but, thanks to Peele’s steady direction, the story flows, meshing the past and present day smoothly.  The story is enhanced by a musical score that at times reminds you of “The Magnificent Seven” at one point only to meld into a true suspense score moments later. 

 

Jordan Peele is no longer Raffi Benitez to me.  Now when I hear his name I think about the cinema’s new master of suspense.  If I met him, I’d shake his hand…and “Slap Ass!” 

Film Review: “THOR: Love and Thunder”

 

  • THOR:  LOVE AND THUNDER
  • Starring:  Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Christian Bale
  • Directed by:  Taika Waititi
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 59 mins
  • Walt Disney Pictures

 

I love me some Taika Waititi!  The Oscar-winning filmmaker has a perfect touch when balancing drama and humor.  And that touch is on full display in “THOR: Love and Thunder.”

 

A man (an unrecognizable Bale) wanders in the desert, trying his best to protect his young daughter from the elements.  He comes across a beautiful, lush paradise only to realize that the god he has worshipped has no use for him.  Realizing he has been forsaken, he declares, “All gods must die!”

 

“THOR: Love and Thunder” reintroduces the audience to the “THOR” saga via the fine performers in the local theater in New Asgard.  We learn of his adventures as well as his heartaches, most notably Doctor Jane Foster (Portman), the one true love of Thor’s life.  As word of the “god butcher” spreads, Thor enlists King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to help end the slaughter.  And, thanks to Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir – I finally know who to pronounce it – Jane joins them.  My comic book loving friends are going to hate me but, for lack of a better name, the hammer turns Jane into Lady Thor/She Thor (tho I believe she is just Thor in the comics).  The return of Mjölnir makes Thor (original Thor) happy., but it also causes some friction between Thor and his axe, Stormbreaker, one of the great comic touches in a very dramatic film.

 

As with all of the films in the MCU, the cast here is pitch-perfect.  Hemsworth and Portman have great chemistry, making their romance quite believable.  Christian Bale is tragic as a man whose faith – and life – has been shattered by the gods.  Supporting performances by Thompson, director Waititi and Russell Crowe are just as solid.  The visual effects are, of course, top notch, and the soundtrack cranks up the rock and roll!

 

A powerful and emotional rollercoaster, “THOR: Love and Thunder” is a must see this summer!

Film Review: “Minions: the Rise of Gru”

 

  • MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU
  • Staring the voices of:  Steve Carell, Alan Arkin and Julie Andrews
  • Directed by:  Kyle Balda, Brad, Ableson and Jonathan del Val
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 27 mns
  • Universal

 

Ah, the Minions.  Since their debut in “Despicable Me,” they have brought joy to moviegoers all over the world.  They have also multiplied in my inflatable Christmas yard display each year.  But where did they come from?  And how did Gru become such a bad guy – albeit one with a big heart?

 

If you’ve wanted to be an evil genius since you were a boy, who do you admire?  In the case of Gru (Carell), it’s a highly publicized group of villains so popular they have their own toy line.  Of course you have to be evil…correction…EVIL, to even get an invitation to join and Gru, accompanied by Minions Bob, Stuart, Kevin and Otto, will stop at nothing to be recognized.   The prank I personally enjoyed most was setting off a stink bomb during a sold out showing of “Jaws,” causing the theatre to empty and leaving our quintet their choice of seats and refreshments.  When a vacancy opens up on the Villain Squad, Gru feels he’s a shoe-in to fill the seat.  But not all evil is judged the same.

A fun treat for the whole family, “Minions: the Rise of Gru” is another in a string of successful and well made animated films starring these Twinkie-looking oddities and their hook-nosed leader.  It’s great to hear Carell back as Gru, and the film lets us in on how he met some of his closest associates, including Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand).The main Minions are a joy to watch…like a yellow version of the Three Stooges.  If the film has one drawback, it may be that it’s too busy, an unusual feeling from a film that’s under 90 minutes long.

 

Still, the animation is top notch and reason enough to see this film.

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