Film Review: “The Pod Generation”

Starring: Emilia Clarke, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rosalie Craig
Directed by: Sophie Barthes
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 109 minutes

Our Score: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

The word AI is beginning to permeate the landscape as humanity navigates an exciting, yet dangerous future. “The Pod Generation” has arrived at the near perfect time to comment on the machine learning phenomenon we’re all experiencing. The film is about NYC couple Rachel (Emilia Clarke) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Rachel works for an AI company that makes little eyeball products that are like some kind of 22nd century nightmare version of Alexa or Siri. Alvy on the other hand, is a botanist that teaches at a nearby college.

They’re polar opposites in their careers, whereas Rachel sees a bright digitized future, Alvy seems to yearn for a return to nature. This style clashes when the Womb Center, exactly what you think it is, says that they have a limited number of spaces for couples to have their baby in their pod-shaped incubator. Rachel is eager to sign-up, while Alvy is a bit hesitant. They both want children, but disagree on the path forward. Rachel eventually wins out, mainly signing up behind Alvy’s back, but Alvy warms to the idea when he watches the artificial insemination process. This is all fascinating and interesting, but that fades as the movie progresses.

The biggest issue in “The Pod Generation” is that it’s too long and only has surface level commentary that approaches the story like a shotgun blast of ideas instead of a sniper rifle of wit. While the film could have simply honed in on technology versus humans’ animalistic need to procreate, the film seems to throw every idea at us without rhyme or reason. For instance, we see women protesting the Womb Center, but never hear their counterpoint or why. We see these eyeball products everywhere, but never get a full idea of how intrusive they are. We see an entirely robot run school, but never get an idea if it’s beneficial to the children in it. We hear about how there’s a serotonin bliss meter being monitored by the government, but that’s about it. All these neat sci-fi ideas are just vomited on us without any kind of idea or point behind them.

Unfortunately, this continues for over 100 minutes, which begins to make your mind wander during the film. Which meant I began to poke holes in the various sci-fi tropes it’s utilizing. For instance, at one point, Rachel and Alvy begin seeing a marriage counselor that’s just another big AI eyeball that talks to them. You’re telling me that in this future, the human brain has been unlocked to the point that AI can articulately offer psychological advice, yet there’s still a need for human botanists to teach college kids? At one point the couple are watching “March of the Penguins” on a 32-inch TV and I had to wonder, because this is in the 22nd century supposedly, why is a couple watching a 100-plus year-old movie on what’s most likely a very tiny TV at this point in technological evolution? Also, we never made TV’s better than standard definition? I wouldn’t be having these nitpicky thoughts if I wasn’t so bored by its lack of in-depth philosophical ideas and unnecessary runtime. Then there are just scenes of Rachel dreaming like it’s an episode of “Black Mirror,” which just made me want to open Netflix.

I would hate this movie more if it wasn’t for the performances by Clarke and Ejiofor. They really ham it up in some scenes, even if I never believe that these two people are in an actual relationship, much less banging. I can’t help but wonder if this kind of plot and idea would have been better served in a “Black Mirror” episode with a twinge of despair or horror. I say that because the movie just kind of ends without any kind of climax of note. We’re just kind of left wondering, “That’s it?” In a contemporary world begging for AI satire, “The Pod Generation” may have actually benefited from an AI editor.

Blu-ray Review: “Knights of the Zodiac”

Live-action adaptations of animated films and series have succeeded in Japan, but few have overcome the transition to Hollywood. For every Alita Battle Angel there is Ghost in the Shell, Dragon Ball Evolution, and Death Note. The cultural barrier aside, there has never been the right balance between ambition and execution. Sony’s Knights of the Zodiac is a valiant attempt to bring the Saint Seiya animation to life with a modest budget and recognizable actors just below the A-list. The result is a visually impressive movie with some franchise potential that ends up being squandered by a bland screenplay that barely scratches the surface of the vast mythology from the long-running Saint Seiya manga and animation series.

While the original manga consisted of 28 volumes published over four years, the Saint Seiya animated franchise is comprised of 315 episodes across seven series along with six feature films released from 1986 through 2022. Knights of the Zodiac is the first live-action take on the series in any language which means this film is highly anticipated internationally. Filmed entirely in English with an international cast from across the globe, Knights of the Zodiac streamlines the vast storylines from the animated and manga into an origin story that attempts to simplify the concept into a digestible scale. In Knights of the Zodiac, Seiya is played by Mackenyu (the son of the legendary Sonny Chiba). Seiya makes ends meet as a low level fighter for Cassios (Nick Stahl) when he is pulled away by Alman Kiddo (Sean Bean), a scientist who explains about the impending reincarnation of the goddess Athena. Currently dormant in the body of Sienna (Madison Iseman), Athena must be protected by powerful knights and Kiddo belieces Seiya is the Pegasus Knight. Kiddo needs Seiya to protect Sienna from the evil Guraad (Famke Janssen) who wants her dead. Reluctantly, Seiya agrees and begins to unlock his gifts and abilities.

Within minutes, Knights of the Zodiac defines its tone with tedious dialogue that does not match the abilities or presence of the actors delivering it. In their first sequence together, Nich Stahl and Mackenyu give steely-eyed stares at each other and engage in a solid fight sequence choreographed by Andy Cheng. Cheng gives the numerous fight scenes a balance of ethereal power reminiscent of wuxia movies along with the expected tracers, shadows, and glowing energy from animated fare. The combination makes for action that varies from living cartoon to cartoonish and silly. When Knights of the Zodiac is heavy in martial arts and battles, it looks great. When it slows down to a crawl with exposition-heavy moments, the film drags and cannot overcome the weakness of the dialogue. With references to Greek dieties and the film’s silly name for powers (“Cosmos”), Knights of the Zodiac cannot quite reach the suspension of disbelief we offer Marvel and DC adaptations.

Of the cast, everyone is bought into the silliness of the material, but some carry it better than others. Mackenyu makes for a decent leading man, but his line delivery is often wooden and dull. Similarly, Madison Iseman makes for a more energetic performance as Sienna/Athena, but she is mired in scenes of her sitting around convulsing or wearing one of multiple over-the-top wigs. Nick Stahl does his best as a secondary villain with wasted screen time while Diego Tinoco is meant to be the primary antagonist but his delivery is often laughable. Of the veteran performers, Sean Bean has the least to do and is included more for exposition than anything. Mark Dacascos is underused as well but his placement hints at more should sequels get made. Caitlin Hutson delivers a solid, masked performance as Marin the Eagle Knight. Famke Janssen (whom I personally have a slight crush on) is the best aspect of this adaptation as Guraad, the villain and one of the sole characters of the cast to get a complete arc through the movie.

Director Tomek Baginski, whose credits are primarily on animated shorts and video game intros, does his best with what he is given, but much of this film looks like a cutscene from any number of Playstation video games. The green screen is obvious through the entire final act which is supposed to be the set-piece this movie is built around. While the training scenes and dream sequences benefit from the special effect work, the finale is mired in so many computer generated effects that it undermines the action itself. The cinematography by Tomasz Naumiuk replicates the slow motion and sharp angles of anime films but falls prey to overuse as the film plods through its two hour run time. Even the music by Yoshihiro Ike, which at times is quite stirring, feels out of place and drowns out some dialogue and ruins the rhythym. There is so much set up in this film that is designed to support further sequels that they didn’t manage to give this movie a heart of its own.

Knights of the Zodiac ultimately does not leverage the vast potential of the Saint Seiya source material despite a willing cast and a serviceable budget. While the actions sequences are well choreographed and special effects start out strong, the movie fails to capture enough energy or charisma from the main characters. When your villain has more presence than your hero, your story is in trouble. Had this movie invested in being an animated epic come to life, like the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer, it may have worked. Otherwise, it should have gone as gritty as Robert Rodriguez did with Alita Battle Angel. As it stands, Knights of the Zodiac looks and feels like a compromise designed to kickstart a franchise that seems unlikely to happen.

Finally let’s discuss the video performance, which is very good. Blu Ray picture is bright and sharp. There are plenty of visual effects to show off the strength of Blu Ray. Sound is amazing as the disc encompasses at Dolby 5.1 mix with plenty of LFE (subwoofer) activity. I’d be interested in checking out a 4K copy (not really sure if it really exists). In short, Knights of the Zodiac will give your system a great workout. 

Film Review: “The Baker”

  • Starring:  Ron Perlman, Emma Ho and Harvey Keitel
  • Directed by:  Jonathan Sobol
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 44 mins
  • Darius Films


While sitting in his car in a parking garage a man witnesses a brutal fight between a group of men that ends with everyone dead.  As he begins to call 911 he sees a large canvas bag.  He grabs the bag and runs.  Big mistake.


A film that shares a lot of movie DNa with “The History of Violence” and “Nobody,” “The Baker” tells the story of a man who is forced to return to a part of his life he thought he had left behind in order to protect his family.  Here the man (Lan always excellent Perelman) is a simple baker, quietly making rolls in his kitchen when his son unexpectedly drops by.  Also unexpected?  A granddaughter he never knew existed.  The son asks his father to watch the girl for a short while as he takes care of some business.  Reluctant to do so, but understanding the bond of family, the man agrees.  What’s the girl’s name, he asks?  Delphi.


Packed with action and bolstered by the performances of the cast, “The Baker” rises above the standard “anything for my family” tropes by exploring both the amotional baggage of the Baker and Delphi (Ho).  We learn that the girl hasn’t spoken since the passing of her mother, silently chronicling all she sees with a small camera.  Even without words, the bond between grandfather and granddaughter grow.


I have been a fan of Ron Perelman’s since “Quest for Fire” and he has turned in some fine performances in film as diverse as “The Name of the Rose” and the “Hellboy” series.  As a young boy my son loved watching the television series “Beauty and the Beast,” even though he thought it was called “Beauty and the Priest.”  I once metl Perelman in New York and he signed a photo to my son, writing “the Priest” below his signature after I told him my son’s perception of the title.


Also standing out on screen, young Ms. Ho, who conveys more with her eyes then most actors can with an entire monologue.  And it’s always fun to see Harvey Keitel on screen, here chewing scenery as the bad guy behind the film’s opening brutality.


As summer winds down, and you are overwhelmed by all of the “Barbieheimer” social media posts, I recommend taking the time to seek out “The Baker.”  It “rises” to the occasion.


“The Baker” receives three and a half our of five stars.

Film Review: “Til Death Do Us Part”

Starring: Natalie Burn, Ser’Darius Blain and Cam Gigandet
Directed by: Shane Dax Taylor
Rated: NR
Running Time: 109 minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

In a previous critic’s life, I reviewed blu-rays for action movies you’ve never heard of. You’ve never heard of them because they usually utilized 80s action stars in their twilight years for a few minutes, just so they could get Bruce Willis or Jean Claude van Damme on their cover art. The movies were notoriously rough because of their hairbrained scripts, wooden acting, CGI blood and explosions, and incompetent use of 80s tropes. Thankfully though, the low-budget action movies I watch now are directed or written by those with a deep understanding of what made 80s action great. Brutal violence, spurts of fake, but realistic looking blood, schlocky dialogue bordering on unintentionally funny, and stories that have you rooting for the good guy; Or in the case of “Til Death Do Us Part,” the good bride.

When we first meet the bride (Natalie Burn) and groom (Ser’Darius Blain), they seem like they’re madly in love. In fact if you didn’t know this was an action movie, you’d think that you’re stuck watching a third-rate Hallmark rom-com in the first several minutes. The bride is happy, the groom is yucking it up with his seven groomsmen, and all seems well. But suddenly, the bride bails because, as we find out, her hubby-to-be is a professional assassin. That doesn’t sit well with the groom who sics his groomsmen, who are all mercenaries, after her.

“Til Death Do Us Part” is like if “Kill Bill” and “Scott Pilgrim” had a one night stand that led to pregnancy. The violence is joyous as each groomsmen meets a brutal end at the hands of a woman scorned. Each groomsman attempts to bring his own pizzazz to the battle, only to have the bride find another unique way to dispose of them. While the kills and fight scenes are not as highly choreographed as the two films I mentioned above, “Til Death Do Us Part” makes up for it in pure tongue-in-cheek brutality. Very rarely does Burn make the bride more than a revenge driven killer and very rarely do any of the groomsmen evolve above one note bastards looking to do the bidding of the groom.

If I had a complaint about “Til Death Do Us Part,” it’d be the runtime and the attempt to make the world bigger than it seems. I won’t reveal the specifics, but “Til Death Do Us Part” seems to play with the notion that there’s more to explore in this world. While that may be, the writer seems to want to take this in a semi-serious direction, which actually works against what makes this film enjoyable. During most of its runtime, I don’t have to worry about putting too much thought into what I’m watching and can simply enjoy the slicing and dicing. It also needs an editor, as evident by the runtime that pushes us well past the 80-to-90-minute mark. Simply put, this film would have knocked it out of the park if there was less talking and more groomsmen to kill.

“Til Death Do Us Part” mainly works because of its cast, which is ready and willing to get covered in blood. Burn plays the bride with enough sympathy and grit that we can’t help but smile as she goes on a relentless killing spree as geysers of blood coat her face and pristine white wedding dress. The best man, played by Cam Gigandet, gets to gnaw on the wedding scenery as he dispatches groomsman after groomsman while speaking philosophically as if he’s Socrates in ancient Rome. Even if you’re watching “Til Death Do Us Part” by yourself, you’ll find plenty to smile about as the body count piles up and the bride’s white wedding dress becomes a blood soaked badge of revenge.

Film Review “The Haunted Mansion (2023)”

Directed by: Justin Simien
Starring: LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Dan Levy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 123 minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Having visited three Haunted Mansion rides at Disney World, Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, this movie really gets the attraction down! I wasn’t sure what to expect from “The Haunted Mansion” but I walked out of the theater with a smile on my face.

Official Premise: Inspired by the classic theme park attraction, “Haunted Mansion” is about a woman and her son who enlist a motley crew of so-called spiritual experts to help rid their home of supernatural squatters. 

LaKeith Stanfield’s character brings the believability to the story. Owen Wilson just played Owen Wilson, the same character. Danny Devito was my personal favorite, simply hilarious… and I didn’t expect that either. I wish Dan Levy was in it longer, and same goes for Jared Leto.

I really enjoyed the darker side of the story. The PG-13 rating really gave it a chance to go deeper into love, loss and finding oneself. But don’t let ’em fool you, the beginning had a good portion of excellent jump scares. The ending also catches you off guard, which I enjoyed quite a bit!

The visual effects were impressive but felt a little cartoony at the end due to the Hat Box ghost appearance. But overall, I think “The Haunted Mansion” did a great job representing the attractions. But just a warning to parents, it is a solid PG-13, so little ones might be left scared.

Film Review: “Oppenheimer”


  • Starring: Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt
  • Directed by: Christopher Nolan
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 3 hrs
  • Universal Pictures


The Academy Awards ceremony is several months away, but a serious contender is already in theaters now – Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” Based upon the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2005 biography “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer” by American novelist Kai Bird and the late historian Martin J. Sherwin, “Oppenheimer” is an important work of cinema about a figure most Americans don’t know. Led by a fantastic performance by Cillian Murphy (“Inception”), seamless direction by Nolan, and a three-hour story that doesn’t waste a second of our time, “Oppenheimer” is a diligent drama that also manages to generate some suspense.


The story takes us back to 1929 when Oppenheimer was just a young, anxiety-riddled physics student. After earning his physics doctorate in Germany, he returns to the U.S. to teach quantum physics, initially in California. It is during those pre-war years that Oppenheimer develops ties to the Communist Party via an on-and-off relationship with a female party member and later his future wife, Katherine (Emily Blunt) an ex-Communist herself. Despite these associations, which were dangerous to have in America at the time, Oppenheimer is recruited by U.S. Army General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to lead the Manhattan Project, a top-secret initiative to build an atom bomb before the Nazis.



Once he sees the destruction wrought by the dropping two atom bombs on Imperial Japan, Oppenheimer becomes a vehement opponent of a nuclear arms race. His past interactions with the Communist Party, and his personal dalliances make good cannon fodder for slighted U.S. Atomic Energy Commission member Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey, Jr.) to go after when he seeks out to ruin the “father of the atomic bomb.”


Nolan, who adapted the novel into screenplay form, does not waste a moment of our time with a fairly accurate story that is always moving forward. The pacing never wavers, and Nolan keeps it basic without a lot of special effects. Even though we know how the experiment is going to turn out, it is still terrifying, for example, when Oppenheimer and his crew realize there is a slim chance that their bomb may spark cataclysmic destruction on a global scale.


Murphy delivers a complex performance of a man who raised to the pinnacle of fame only to see himself crashing to earth. Blunt as his alcoholic wife shares some good moments with him with Downey, Jr. arguably delivering the best performance of his career.


Overall, “Oppenheimer” is a satisfying movie that is educational, enlightening, and entertaining.


“Oppenheimer” receives four stars out of five.

Film Review: “Mother, May I?”

Starring: Holland Roden, Kyle Gallner and Chris Mulkey
Directed by: Laurence Vannicelli
Rated: NR
Running Time: 99 minutes
Dark Sky Films

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When death occurs, it leaves a scar. Not only the loss of a loved one, but the words that will never be said. The emotions that will now never be conveyed or felt. The questions that will now go on unanswered. I won’t bother looking up who said it because it’s a universal truth, but the only sure thing in life is death. In “Mother, May I?,” death is really the only sure thing.

Emmett’s (Kyle Gallner) mother, who abandoned him, has recently passed. Understandably, he wants to go to her house, get in, get out and move on with his life. Emmett’s fiance, Anya (Holland Roden), is in tow as emotional support, but that support seems a little flawed. At least from my vantage point. In an effort to help alleviate the pain of the experience of being in her house, Anya recommends they take psilocybin mushrooms. I have yet to try this method, but seeing people on mushrooms without having to deal with trauma tells me…I won’t. While tripping, Emmett and Anya decide to play a little roleplaying game where Anya is Emmett’s mother. It’s weird, oddly sexual and freaks Emmett out a bit. However, the troubles continue when he wakes up the next day and Anya is still pretending to be his mother. Or is she?

“Mother, May I?” is the definition of unsettling. As the film progresses, we begin to wonder if something supernatural is happening. Anya, who professes to not know how to swim, begins to swim whilst continuing to “be” Emmett’s mother. She also begins to exhibit ticks that Emmett knows his mother had, but has never told Anya. The emptiness of the house they’re in, compounded by the callousness of Emmett’s mom in flashbacks, allows the film to creep slowly under your skin, wriggling around when tensions come to a boil. When things explode between the two, it’s like a therapy session in hell.

Since most of “Mother, May I?” is filled with our two leads, so much of the film’s emotional weight is carried by Gallner and Roden who do spot-on jobs when their characters are hurt, vengeful, remorseful and horny. Rarely does the film relent, seemingly putting its foot down on the emotional accelerator. At some points you have to wonder who’s attempting to inflict emotional damage and who’s using brutal honesty to progress their own self-reflected feelings forward.

So what exactly is going on with Anya? Is she possessed or is she creating a cruel new form of psychotherapy? Or better yet, what’s going on with Emmett? Is he truly disturbed and upset or is he a unique byproduct of a broken mother-son relationship that would have Sigmund Freud licking his lips? Since the film leaves every question unanswered, the film in of itself is like death. As the credits roll, we’re left wondering what if and why.


Sean Gullette reflects on the 25th anniversary of Pi, working with Darren Aronofsky and directing!

Sean Gullette is known for his role of Max Cohen in the 1998 film, Pi, directed by Darren Aronofsky. Sean also has stepped before the directors chair himself with films like, Traitors from 2013. Media Mikes had a chance to chat about the 25th anniversary of Pi and his work directing.

Roddy Bogawa talks about co-directing Have You Got it Yet?: The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd

Roddy Bogawa is known for his work with Storm Thorgerson on, Taken Storm: The Art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis, back in 2011. This new project, Have You Got it Yet?: The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd, with Storm was shot before his death in 2013 and they Roddy finished it. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Roddy and discuss his love for Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett and his stories about Storm Thorgerson.

Greg Sestero talks about new film Forbidden Sky & the 20th anniversary of The Room

Greg Sestero is known best for his role of Mark in the cult classic THE ROOM, from Tommy Wiseau. Greg also stepped into the world of directing himself with his film, Miracle Valley and his upcoming film Forbidden Sky, which just recently funded on Kickstarter.

Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Greg about the 20th anniversary of The Room, his role in the upcoming remake, The Room Returns! and talks about writing and directing his new film called “Forbidden Sky”.

Film Review: “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One” (Review #2)



  • Starring: Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell
  • Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 43 mins
  • Paramount Pictures

Unlike other tired movie franchises that never seem to end, think “Transformers” and “Fast and Furious,” the “Mission Impossible” series, which began way back in 1996, has bucked the trend and has continued to not only stay fresh with each passing installment, but it has managed to find a way to get better. “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One,” the seventh installment involving secret agent Ethan Hunt, more than lives up to the hype with lots of great action, tremendous stunts, suspense, and a solid storyline that provides a cautionary tale about the dangers artificial intelligence could hypothetically pose to humanity.


The seemingly ageless Tom Cruise, in the wake of the wildly successful “Top Gun: Maverick,” is in top form as IMF secret agent Ethan Hunt, who is tasked with a new mission if he chooses to accept it. This time, he is asked to retrieve half of a key from his ally, sometimes romantic interest, and former British agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). He soon learns that both halves of the key are desired by every nation on Earth as it could possibly lead to controlling an artificial intelligence called Entity, which has gone rogue much to the detriment of every network on the planet.


Ethan believes Entity is uncontrollable and vows to destroy it. To do this, he assembles his team including Ilsa, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). A highly skilled pickpocket and thief named Grace (Hayley Atwell, “Captain America: The First Avenger”) stumbles upon Ethan and gets pulled into their high stakes’ gambit. Ethan’s principal opponent, besides the George Orwell-type A.I., is an old nemesis of his named Gabriel (Esai Morales, “La Bamba”) who once played a pivotal role in Ethan becoming an IMF agent and is now aligned with Entity.


Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (“Mission Impossible: Fallout,” “Jack Reacher,” “The Way of the Gun”), who’s no stranger to Cruise, has crafted a wild roller coaster ride that is absolutely perfect for summertime entertainment. McQuarrie’s craftmanship leaves us wanting more, which is a good thing since “Dead Reckoning” is split into two parts with the second half to be released next year.


Cruise once again shows that he is arguably the last true movie star. The kind of star that harkens back to a bygone era when one name across the top of the movie poster could ensure its success. His skills as an actor have never been better as he seems to elevate the rest of the cast that surrounds him. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the film’s brilliant story taps into the fears of what an A.I., that doesn’t value human life, could be capable of.


Overall, “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One” is one of the two best movies of the summer season (the other being “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3”).


“Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One” receives four stars out of five.


Jack O’Halloran chats about working on Superman II & with Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris + more

Jack O’Halloran is known best for playing the role of Non in Superman and Superman II. He has acted against the likes of Marlon Brando, Chuck Norris and even Sylvester Stallone.

Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Jack to discuss his work with all of them throughout his amazing career.

Film Review: “Tiger Within”

  • Starring:  Ed Asner and and Margot Josefsohn
  • Directed by:  Rafal Zielinski
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 38 mins
  • Menemsha Films


I didn’t have to move to the Kansas City area to understand the power of the late Ed Asner.  A local boy from the Kansas side of the state line, Asner went on to an amazing acting  career, earning (7) Emmy Awards (tied for third place in most acting wins with his “Mary Tyler Moore Show” co-star Mary Tyler Moore).

I grew up watching him on such long-running shows as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (Emmy) and “Lou Grant” (Emmy) as well as such mini-series’ as “Rich Man, Poor Man” (Emmy) and “Roots” (Emmy).  On a more personal note, I had the amazing opportunity to interview him once and he loved the fact that I felt his best role was as Axel Jordache in “Rich Man, Poor Man,” especially because he felt the same way.  And even more personal, he is only the second celebrity who asked my permission to give my wife a kiss on the cheek – the other being Jay Osmond.   So when I learned that one of his final films was being released I jumped at the chance to see it.

Casey (Josefsohn) is the new girl in class.  No sooner does she sit down at her desk when, thanks to an obnoxious classmate, she is sent to the principal’s office.  Returning to the home she shares with her mother and abusive boyfriend, Casey feels the time has come to leave Ohio and visit her father in Los Angeles.  Soon she finds that things aren’t always sunny on the West coast.  Until she meets Samuel.

A true coming of age story, “Tiger Within” is the story of a girl who refuses to conform to anyone’s perception of who she should be.  Realizing that her father and his new family aren’t really excited at her arrival, Casey decides to strike out on her own in the big city, sleeping wherever she can find space, including a local cemetery that Samuel (Asner) visits often.  Concerned for the young girl, he offers to buy her lunch and let her clean up at his apartment.  As time goes by, the two develop a true kinship, one that allows Casey to conquer her fears and embrace the tiger within.

The film works in many ways, but the key are the performances of Asner and Josefsohn.  Samuel is a Jew who last most of his family during the Holocaust.  He is appalled that Casey has a swastika on her jacket and even more appalled that she not only thinks of it as just a way to say “F-you” but that she has been taught that the Holocaust was false.  The film is eye opening in this way, tackling other social issues, including sex trafficking.

The script is well written, with the occasional bit of humor to bring some levity to some serious issues.   The film moves smoothly and takes advantage of the fact that Casey is always drawing in her notebook by using animated versions of Casey’s art to denote scene transitions.

Though the film is not rated, it does deal with some serious issues.  But it is the handling of those issues, and Asner’s performance, that make this film a must see!

On a scale of zero to five I give “Tiger Within” four stars.  

Film Review: “Mad Heidi”

Starring: Alice Lucy, David Schofield and Casper Van Dien
Directed by: Johannes Hartmann and Sandro Klopfstein
Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 92 minutes
Raven Banner

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

One of my favorite movie going experiences was 2007’s “Grindhouse,” by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Not so much the Tarantino portion, but the Rodriguez portion. After convincing several friends to drop money on a three-plus hour film, we were immediately rewarded as blood, guts, mayhem and tongue-in-cheek comedy took center stage. Even though there were only a handful of us in a mostly empty theater, there were times we could barely hear the movie over our own laughter at every exploding zombie head and intentionally bad scene. I sometimes wonder why more modern exploitation films aren’t made. Regardless, I’m glad someone did this year.

Heidi (Alice Lucy), of “Mad Heidi,” lives in the Swiss Alps with her grandfather, occasionally spending time (i.e. sex) with her lover, Goat Peter (Kel Matsena). Goat Peter, though, is quickly executed in the film by the fascist Swiss government in this alternate reality. Goat Peter’s crime? Selling illegal dairy products. In this cartoonish dystopia, Swiss Dictator Meili (Casper Van Dien) has outlawed lactose intolerance, conquered every inch of the dairy market, and is creating a cheese that forces the populace to be subservient Swiss patriots. After Goat Peter’s execution, Heidi is imprisoned, sending her on a trashy path towards vengeance.

“Mad Heidi” is what happens when you take an 1881’s children’s book, and smash softcore porn nudity, over-the-top violence, and out-of-date trashy storytelling in between the book’s pages. To say “Mad Heidi” is not for everyone, is like saying Jaegermeister is an “acquired” taste. Even the people watching, cheering and laughing during “Mad Heidi,” recognize it’s intentionally offensive humor, second rate CGI blood spurts and gore, and 80s action one-liners for what it is. Ridiculously amusing and oddly charming. The charm switch gets flipped on because of Lucy’s double sided performance of Heidi, a sweet relatable country girl who has to become a warrior badass. It helps that her nemesis is played by Van Dien, who may as well have eaten a spoonful of fondue before every cheesy line delivery.

The winks at other genre films is endless; all the way back to the sleaze of films like “Caged Women” to modern schlocky action-comedy like “Kung Fury.” With Van Dien on cast, the movie wastes no time in referencing “Starship Troopers,” and the references never get old as the film goes on. If I was to knock “Mad Heidi” for anything, it’d be that it’s a smidge too long and it doesn’t quite live up to the wall-to-wall insanity in other modern exploitation films like “Hobo with a Shotgun” or “Black Dynamite.” That being said, modern exploitation feels like an incredibly hard genre to pull off because exploitation is now the internet, and it’s hard to match the ferociousness of real violence broadcast into our eyeballs every day. “Mad Heidi” also has to tow this line of intentionally offensive stereotypes that are funny without upsetting modern sensibilities.

The great thing about modern exploitation and “Mad Heidi,” is that uptight people looking for the next thing to be outraged and shocked over won’t be watching the trailer for this film or looking at the poster and thinking, “I gotta check this out.” In a surprising way, it’s refreshing to watch something so politically incorrect, that you either have to hold your nose or roll with the offensive punches. I chose the latter. I relished every brutal bloody battle, every gruesome kill, every uncomfortable moment and all the little moments of absurd world building. For fans of any of the films I’ve mentioned above, or fans of B-movies with hyperviolence and immoral sexuality, “Mad Heidi” is a must. Also, someone find Tarantino and Rodriguez, and let them know another pupil of trash cinema has arrived.

Blu-ray Review: “The Pope’s Exorcist”

Starring Russel Crowe, “The Pope’s Exorcist” casts out tone and horror surprises. Instead of jump scares and body distortion, this film relies on psychological horror keeping things grounded rather than providing action beats every few minutes. The result is something special with a fantastic performance from Crowe. This 1080p HD transfer looks stunning in the darkness and the DTS-HD 5.1 audio mis sounds even better. So, wait until night and turn off all the lights because this horror film is a stunner. 

The number of demonic possession films is staggering these days. Ever since “The Exorcist” was released in theaters in 1973, many filmmakers have tried to capitalize on both the financial and critical success it conjured up fifty years ago. Some have stood the test of time and others haven’t. One thing is for sure though, the recent possession movies were more related to showcasing jump scares and strange body movements for cheap audience reactions. While some of those work, most are immediately forgotten with a laugh and an eye roll. This is not the case with “The Pope’s Exorcist,” which takes its cues from the original “Exorcist” film in terms of its tone and grounded character work. Like “The Exorcist,” this particular movie draws from real experiences, particularly a real-life Catholic priest named Father Gabriele Amorth who was the Chief Exorcist of the Vatican. Russell Crowe plays the role of Amorth with such class and vigor during those climactic moments that it proves that Crowe has not lost one step in his perfected craft over the years. This priest is a charismatic man who must save a young boy who is possessed and is being hidden from the church to prevent mass hysteria. Again,  “The Pope’s Exorcist” doesn’t mess about with a possessed person climbing the walls like an insect or contorting their bodies into unnatural positions. This focuses more on the back and forth between the human and the demon, while each sits down and verbally fights trying to outsmart the other. Being a demon though, allows for certain hidden truths to appear within Amorth and the boy’s family, which ultimately try and tear a banded team of God from completing the exorcism – something that was shown in the original Exorcist. These scenes are terrifyingly brutal and breathtaking all at the same time. For horror fans though,  “The Pope’s Exorcist” is a breath of fresh air where jump scares and those usual suspected elements don’t creep up to bring the film to a downgraded action romp. This is character driven with some elements of horror to keep things on pace. Crowe is delightful and the psychological horror of his relationship to this demon and to the church is poignant and relates to how the church might act today if something of this caliber were to go down. It’s a horrifying story, one that is true that the filmmakers kept their class telling it correctly without all the hoopla of a modern-day action horror flick. It’s grounded and scary and should satisfy those horror buffs out there. 

In closing, “The Pope’s Exorcist” is a surprisingly great and  grounded horror film which relies on character development and the psychological horror of the narrative rather than jump scares. The 1080p HD image looks great in its low light filters and the DTS-HD 5.1 audio sounds amazing

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