Streaming/Television Review: TINA

  • TINA
  • Starring:  Tina Turner, Angela Bassett and Oprah Winfrey
  • Directed by:  Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin
  • Rating:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 58 mins
  • HBO Documentary Films

I have a confession to make.  And before I fill you in, let me assure you that my wife already knows.  I have loved Tina Turner since 1975 when I saw her as the Acid Queen in “Tommy.”  When the 80s hit, and I became a young adult, her music and her talent made my crush seem all the more worthwhile.  Of course, thanks to her best-selling autobiography and the film “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”, the world knows that Ms. Turner’s life wasn’t all singing and dancing.  And who better to tell the story of that life then the legend herself.

“TINA,” premiering on HBO and HBOMax this Saturday night, March 27, tells the amazing story of Tina Turner in five parts.  First up is the story of IKE and TINA.  By all accounts, Ike Turner was a terrible person, but while saying that I also must note that he was a very talented musician who is widely credited for helping create the very first rock and roll song, “Rocket 88.”  A chance meeting with Ike Turner by Ms. Anna Mae Bullock of Nutbush, Tennessee led to one of the most popular musical groups of the 1960s, the Ike and Tina Turner review.  Here we learn how Ike actually gave Anna Mae the name Tina, without her knowing it,  We learn of the music and the popularity and we also learn about the horrible way Ike treated her.  A lot of the film consists of a recording of an interview Tina did with “People” magazine in 1981, as well as current conversations recorded with Tina in 2019.  I won’t belabor mentioning the abuse Tina suffered (in fact, this is something she is tired of talking about, as she tells more than one reporter) but to hear the stories in her own voice is heartbreaking. 

The other four parts of the film follow the path that Tina Turner took to get to where she is now, the unchallenged Queen of Rock and Roll.  And all along that path there were setbacks.  Her first single, “River Deep, Mountain High” didn’t achieve the success it deserved.  Her divorce from Ike left her with nothing but her name, something she had put in the divorce decree.  Stuck doing Vegas-type shows, she yearned to fill stadium with pure rock and roll.  You know how the story ends, but to see and hear it told by the lady herself is a grip worth taking.

Full of amazing interviews and even more amazing vintage footage, TINA is a must see!   

Streaming Film Review: “Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on ‘The Exorcist'”

  • LEAP OF FAITH:  WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON “THE EXORCIST”
  • Starring:  William Friedkin
  • Directed by: Alexandre O. Philippe
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 44 mins
  • Exhibit A Pictures

What is a perfect film?  To me, it is a film that, when you’ve watched it and absorbed what you’ve seen, you can’t find any fault with it.  Not a false note, not a frame you would change.  Perfect films are rare and the list is short.  “Citizen Kane…”  “The Godfather…”  “Chinatown…” and the most terrifying film I’ve seen in my 60 years on Earth, William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.”  The new documentary, “Leap of Faith: William Friendkin on ‘The Exorcist’,” which airs exclusively beginning November 19 on the Shudder streaming service, takes you on an amazing journey into the making of the film, with the film’s director as your tour guide.

In Mr. Friedkin’s opinion, the majority of religious-themed films from Hollywood  were “sappy.”  Films like “The Ten Commandments”  and “King of Kings” treated God as being “magic.”  To Friedkin, only the 1955 Dutch film “Ordet” really approached religion – the mystery of faith” – in a truthful way.  Friedkin also believe it was fate that put together all of the pieces that became “The Exorcist.” 

We learn how he came to read the novel and how he worked with the book’s author, William Peter Blatty, to bring the book he wrote to the screen.  Friedkin remarks that Blatty’s script for the film omitted key parts in the novel that Friedkin felt were essential to the story.  Friedkin also reveals that several directors, including Stanley Kubrick and Arthur Penn, turned the film down before he was offered the job.  And while I knew that several actors, including Roy Scheider, had begged for the pivotal role of Father Damien Karras, Stacy Keach was actually hired for the part until Jason Miller pleaded with Friedkin for a chance to test for the role.  As much as I love Stacy Keach, when you watch “The Exorcist” now can you see anyone else in the role of Father Karras? 

Director Friedkin confers on-set with Jason Miller and Ellen Burstyn.

“Leap of Faith” contains some amazing archival footage, including footage featuring a possessed Linda Blair speaking with her own voice.  It’s disturbing enough  to hear a 12-year old girl utter the vile dialogue in the gravelly voice of a demon but when you hear those words uttered in Blair’s own soft voice it’s downright chilling.

As “Leap of Faith” progresses you can’t help but think that this is what it must be like to have Da Vinci describe how he created the Mona Lisa.  Nothing is left unmentioned, including a discussion on the many conclusions that moviegoers and critics have drawn from the ending of the film.  To Friedkin, the ending is the film’s only flaw, one he feels he did not fully explain.  Flaw?  Not in my mind.  It’s perfect!

Film Review: “RECON”

  • RECON
  • Starring: Alexander Ludwig, Franco Nero
  • Directed by: Robert David Port
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins

Available on VOD, including Apple TV, Prime Video and FandangoNOW 

While it may lack traditional star power on the marquee or an expansive budget that is more than what a small country spends in a year, the World War II flick “RECON” is nevertheless an intense, historical drama ripped from the horrors of combat. Based upon the 2008 novel “Peace” by American author Richard Bausch, who received the W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction from the American Library Association, “RECON” is a well-written work with a standout lead performance by Alexander Ludwig (“Vikings,” “The Hunger Games”).

 Inspired by true events, the story takes place near the mountainous area of Cassino, Italy during one long day in the winter of 1944. It begins with a punch to the face as an American squad encounters a Nazi officer trying to hide in a villager’s cart. Gunshots are exchanged. Two Americans and the Nazi officer lay dead in the road. But that is not the end. The squad’s sergeant mercilessly slaughters the Nazi officer’s unarmed wife, much to the horror of his men. 

When the sergeant realizes he may be ratted out, he orders four potential troublemakers – Corporal Marson (Ludwig) and Privates Heisman (RJ Fetherstonhaugh, “21 Thunder”), Hopwell (Mitch Ainley, “Heaven is For Real”) and Asch (Chris Brochu, “The Vampire Diaries”) – to follow an elderly villager named Angelo (Franco Nero, “John Wick: Chapter 2”) on a reconnaissance mission to find Germans. 

Up a lonely, snow and ice-covered mountain the four dysfunctional American GIs follow the mysterious Angelo, who is supposedly taking them to a German position. However, as they march on, the four gradually see that their sergeant was sending them on a suicide mission. Their resolve to turn the sergeant only grows but so do the dangers around them – the Germans, the weather, the terrain, and themselves. 

Director Robert David Port, who co-won an Oscar for the 2003 documentary “Twin Towers,” does a brilliant job at capturing the horrors of war with a no punches pulled approach. There is nothing glorious. It is tragic, terrible and at times difficult to watch. The main American characters are a little stereotypical and generic, and most moments designed to be red herrings or genuine surprise are predictable.

 Ludwig is superb with his role as a soldier on edge just wanting to somehow survive so he can return to his wife and young child back home. His emotional range and depth help with moving the story along and keeps our attention on the screen.

 Overall, “RECON” may be a small tale, yet one that is worthy of the greatest generation. 

Film Review: “Where She Lies”

  • WHERE SHE LIES
  • Documentary
  • Directed by: Zach Marion
  • Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 41 mins
  • Gravitas Ventures

As an adult who was adopted as a baby I’m always keen when a film that tackles the subject comes around.  They are usually feel good stories that leave you smiling and happy when they end.  That being said, “Where She Lies” took me on an emotional rollercoaster I am still recovering from.

Meet Peggy Phillips.  In 1961, at the age of 19, the unmarried Peggy found herself pregnant.  The father of the child was a married man who had told Peggy he was separated from his wife.  Anticipating the family embarrassment that such a situation would bring in this time period, she is sent to live with her aunt.  Her obstetrician urges her to give the baby up for adoption, as it will always be labeled a “bastard,” while her father tells her that if she keeps the baby she will always be known as a whore.  He gives her an ultimatum – she can come home after the birth but only without the child.  The problem seems to solve itself when Peggy is informed that the child, a girl, died shortly after birth.  But did she?

A puzzle that has you scrambling to put the pieces together right up until the end, “Where She Lies” is not only one of the best documentaries I have seen this year, but one of the best films as well.  Intrigued by reading a story about Peggy and her daughter, director Marion contacts her and informs her that he would like to help her solve the mystery and film the efforts.  What mystery, you ask?  It seems that, on her deathbed, Peggy’s mother informed her that her baby didn’t die.  Instead she was adopted by a doctor and his wife who lived near the aunt she stayed with when she was pregnant.  Peggy discovers the doctor and his wife DID adopt a baby girl 6 months to the day after Peggy gave birth.  The daughter has become a habitual criminal, spending the past 30 years in and out of prison.  But is SHE the daughter of Peggy Phillips?

Peggy Phillips celebrates her birthday with director Zach Marion

In putting together the pieces of this puzzle – director Marion illustrates his film and chapter breaks with scattered jigsaw puzzle pieces – the filmmaker leaves no stone unturned, interviewing everyone from the cousin who swears the baby was alive and in good shape to the widow of the man that impregnated Peggy.  Everyone has their own opinion and somehow they all make sense.  Until they don’t.

Again, as a child of adoption I pay close attention to how the children are portrayed.  I found it incredulous that the convict daughter blames her being adopted for her drug issues, saying that all adopted children crave their real mother and unconditional love.  Bullshit!  I never for one moment doubted my adopted parents’ love.  When I attempted to find my birth family – with my adopted parents’ knowledge and approval – I did so not out of a sense of something missing but more out of curiosity, especially as I was getting to an age where the doctors would constantly ask me if there was a history of “insert a disease here” in my family.  I was 45 when I found them – I just turned 60 – and thought I love them all – I found 6 brothers and 4 sisters – I don’t love my adopted parents any less. 

“Where She Lies” is now available on all major Video On Demand platforms.

Film Review: “Tremors: Shrieker Island”

NOTE: Hello readers – Mike Smith here. My apologies for the late posting of this review. It should have been posted over a week ago and I completely skipped over it.

  • TREMORS: SHRIEKER ISLAND
  • Starring: Michael Gross, Jon Heder
  • Directed by: Don Michael Paul
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Running time: 1hr 43 mins
  • Universal 1440 Entertainment


      No one could’ve predicted in 1990 that TREMORS,  a box office flop that was essentially a rip-off of JAWS about sandworms would still be birthing sequels thirty years later. Yet, here we are in 2020 with the seventh installment in the franchise and a cult following that mostly doesn’t find the need to pass judgment no matter how bad the CGI gets nor how crazy the plotlines get. That fact will remain true beyond the release of Tremors: Shrieker Island. You either celebrate Burt Gummer or you’ll never voluntarily watch this film.

     In this latest adventure with underground monsters, a billionaire hunter (Richard Brake) has begun shipping Graboids out to a private island for a group of wealthy outdoorsmen, a twisted spin on The Most Dangerous  Game. When things inevitably go wrong, Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) is once again called in to save the day.

     If you were a fan of the original Tremors and have been put off by the direct to video vibes the franchise have given, I may suggest now is the time to return for maximum time investment payoff. Although missing still are the charming practical effects of earlier installments, Shrieker Island is a hard divergence from the lighter atmosphere of Burt’s more recent battles with these monsters.

      Frequently referential of Jurassic Park and Predator and, I can’t believe I’m writing this, Jaws: The Revenge… Shrieker Island borrows the dark bits and pieces of a lot of familiars and delivers a solidly entertaining adventure. Yes, you’ll need to suspend disbelief. Yes, this might be senseless cash grab. No, you’re not getting any side character development.  Yes, Burt Gummer is still one of the greatest heroes ever and so no, you won’t care about any of the above. 

 The Tremors universe has gifted us with a bevy of wild creatures beyond the 1990 film’s original Graboid.  Here you’ll get the biggest and messiest of them, with more modifications and maybe a score to settle?  While his casting announcement initially prompted eye rolls from many, “Napoleon Dynamite” star Jon Heder aides in grooming a surprisingly nice dynamic alongside Michael Gross who is as outrageous as ever and, sometimes, surprisingly emotional. 

Tremors: Shrieker Island will be available on Digital, Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand on October 20th 2020.

Film Review: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

  • BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM:  DELIVERY OF PRODIGIOUBRIBE TO AMERICAN REGIME FOR MAKE BENEFIT ONCE GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN  (whew!) 
  • Starring:  Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova and Rudy Giuliani
  • Directed by: Jason Woliner
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 35 mins
  • AMAZON Studios

2006 was definitely the year of BORAT.  The film, featuring the amazing Sacha Baron Cohen as a foreign journalist sent to America to report on what the country is like, was like nothing ever seen before.  As the presumed “fish out of water” Borat was invited into some very unusual places in our society, sadly (for those caught on camera) revealing the darker, prejudiced side of America.  The questions is:  could he (and, more importantly) should he try it again?

We find Borat (Cohen) doing hard labor, his punishment for having embarrassed his beloved country of Kasakhstan.  However, many things have changed since Borat’s last trip.  There is a new “premier” in charge of America.  One that has the ability of making friends with presumed enemies.  Borat is given his freedom if he will agree to take the country’s most famous celebrity, Johnny the Monkey, to the states and offer him as a bribe to President Trump.  Borat agrees but a wrench is thrown into his plans when, after opening the crate that was supposed to contain Johnny the Money he instead finds his long neglected 15 year old daughter (Bakalova) who claims that Johnny sadly ate himself during the voyage.  The girl has spent many years in her cage watching the animated fairy tale of the refugee woman Melania, who is now a princess.  Deciding to offer his daughter to Trump, Borat begins his journey.  And the hijinks begin!

You would think that EVERYONE in America would recognize Cohen/Borat as he makes his way across the country.  In 2006 you couldn’t go anywhere without anyone mimicking “That nice,” his best known catch-phrase.  And, in the beginning, that is true.  People stop him on the street stop him or try to high five him.  Which means Borat must disguise himself in order to set his plans in motion.  Along the way he learns about Qanon, spends some time with some good old boys – during their time together they write a song about Barack Obama with the chorus “Inject him with the Wuhan Flu” – and infiltrates a conference where Vice President Mike Pence is the featured speaker.  And then there’s Rudy Giuliani.  More about him later. 

  The film also has a sub-plot, where Borat’s daughter, who he introduces as Sandra Jessica Parker Drummond, is taught how to be a lady in our society.  She also is encouraged to get breast implants and constantly refers to a Kazakhstanian “handbook” that informs her of life’s lessons, including one that maintains her “vagine” has teeth and will eat her arm if she ever touches herself “down there.” 

Where I felt the first film was mostly spontaneous, this one is about 50/50 spontaneous and scripted.  Both versions are hilarious, though one is rather disturbing.  You may have seen the many reports detailing Rudy Giuliani’s interaction with Sandra Jessica Parker Drummond, who poses as a journalist (her life dream) and somehow finagles an interview with the former NYC mayor.  If you’ve seen Cohen’s work as Ali G or in various guises on his Showtime show “Who is America,” you know that there will be some questions asked to which the interviewer will reveal his ill-suited answers.  However, things go from whacky to creepy when Giuliani becomes overly friendly with the girl.  That’s all I’m going to say here.  I don’t want to spoil the “big reveal” but I will say that the first thing I asked Alexa after the film was “is Rudy Giuliani married?”

At this time in history the entire world can use a good laugh.  And there are plenty to go around here.  And, with the US Presidential Election less than three weeks away, a lot of food for thought.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” – the truncated title – premieres October 23 exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. 

Streaming Review: “Welcome to the Blumhouse Presents ‘Evil Eye'”

  • EVIL EYE
  • Starring: stars Sunita Mani, Sarita Choudhury, Omar Maskati
  • Directed by: Elan Dassani , Rajeev Dassani
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Running time: 1hr 30 mins
  • Blumhouse Productions

Rounding out the initial four films released at part of Amazon’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” package is twin-brothers Elan and Rajeev Dassani directed “Evil Eye.” Blumhouse once again delivering projects supporting diverse creators with inclusive casts, “Evil Eye” explores a culturally specific thriller that at first glance might seem centered around a practice that a majority of audiences won’t be able to identify with: arranged marriages – but the deeper theme here is one that unfortunately all too many will have experience with… making “Evil Eye” a film that feminists may champion

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Exploring spiritual concepts of reincarnation and karma inject fascinating albeit culturally specific supernatural elements into what’s basically a story of an overprotective mother constantly attempting to virtually connect and intervene in her daughter’s love life in efforts to redirect her perceived fate. Pallavi (Sunita Mani) is a young Indian woman living a modern Americanized lifestyle after her parents return to their home in Delhi, India.  Her superstitious and paranoid mother, Usha (Sarita Choudhury) is in frequent contact and constantly in need of status updates on her daughter’s love life. Concerned that if she doesn’t find a husband before thirty her daughter will be alone forever, Usha goes to great lengths and frequent astrological consultations to attempt matchmaking for Pallavi. When Pallavi finally meets a promising young Indian man, Usha’s husband and family feels she should finally be content but we quickly learn that Usha’s past has forecasted the return of evil doing, taken form in Pallavi’s new love interest, Sandeep (Omar Maskati). 

Usha’s paranoia is soon understood by audiences: she was the victim of long term emotional and physical domestic abuse. Secretly responsible for bringing her abuser to his death, Usha suggests that he has returned, reincarnated as Sandeep.  Observing from across the ocean how he uses his charms, passively controlling and using his resources to convince Pallavi to relocate and quit her job, Usha sees must act quickly to save her daughter when no one believes in her visions.

“Evil Eye” is another installment of “Welcome to the Blumhouse” that’s hard to quantify as horror. While the heart of this film is assuredly one of the greatest horrors for so many people, especially females and parents of females, it is better to go in with appropriate genre expectations for this thriller which has only momentary touches of the supernatural but still succeeds in entertaining as tense and relevant horror-adjacent storytelling.

Streaming Review: “Welcome to the Blumhouse Presents ‘Nocturne'”

  • NOCTURNE
  • Starring: stars Sydney Sweeney, Madison Iseman, Jacques Colimon
  • Directed by: Zu Quirke
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Running time: 1hr 30 mins
  • Blumhouse Productions

After tragedy strikes the student body of a prestigious boarding school, a pair of talented twin musicians return home to visit their parents. Whilst entertaining guests you learn that one of their classmates has died by suicide and, via their parents’ snobby friends inquiries,  that the twins will be going separate ways the following school year. Shy and inexperienced Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) has to hustle to keep up with her more accomplished sister Vivian (Madison Iseman), whom everything seems to come naturally and more abundantly for — multiple suitors, praise from family and teaching staff and, most importantly, a coveted spot at Juilliard. 

When the girls return to school, it is announced that the recently deceased student has opened a highly contested slot at the Senior Concert. Rumors fly that perhaps Juilliard will send scouts and both sisters decide to audition but during her preparation, Juliet finds a notebook left behind by their former classmate, billowing with dark scrawlings and chilling sketches. 

After taking ownership of the notebook, a series of highly uncharacteristic social misadventures reveals that Juliet has seemingly made somewhat of a Faustian deal to propel her musical career towards stardom.

 With a backdrop of unlikable adult figures insisting on managing expectations, railing against the social media narratives of achievable stardom for all, Juliet retorts that she doesn’t even have social media and should be removed from being lumped in with her generation’s  sense of entitlement. But will she be able to resist the temptation as the world starts coming to her oh-so-much more freely?Sydney Sweeney shines here, giving a truly emotional performance.

Despite the supernatural elements at play, there is still very much a reminder of the pain and traumas that so many young girls have to survive while navigating the social hierarchy of high school. Even amongst a very specialized niche population, that “Mean Girls” chapter plays a hard hand between these sisters. I very much enjoyed Nocturne and won’t do it the disservice of suggesting anyone seriously compare it Argento’s “Suspiria” or Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining of it but horror fans would be hard pressed to not notice some at least basic themes pulled from there and I can easily offer it up as a modern companion to the 70s giallo classic.

Win Passes to the Virtual Premiere of “Welcome to the Blumhouse – ‘Nocturne'”

Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at Amazon Studios to give (5) random readers and a guest the chance to attend the virtual premiere of the latest film in the WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE series – “Nocturne.”

The premiere will be held on Monday, October 12th.

To win, just let us know in the comments below that you would like to “attend” the premiere. (5) random comments will be chosen and will receive (2) passes to the virtual premiere. GOOD LUCK!

NOCTURNE

Premieres on Amazon Prime October 13, 2020

Synopsis:

When a virtuoso music student commits suicide days before an important concert, her death unleashes a supernatural force in Nocturne, an unsettling tale of sibling rivalry set at a prestigious arts academy. Having grown up in the shadow of her more talented twin sister, shy piano student Juliet Lowe (Sydney Sweeney) is used to always being second-best when it comes to music. But when she finds a mysterious notebook that belonged to the school’s recently deceased star soloist,her playing miraculously begins to improve and she soon eclipses her sister Vivian (Madison Iseman) as the academy’s top student. Along with her newfound abilities, however, comes a series of frightening premonitions. As Juliet’s visions grow more nightmarish, she discovers the true cost of achieving artistic perfection. 

Written and directed by: Zu Quirke

Starring: Sydney Sweeney, Madison Iseman, Jacques Colimon, and Ivan Shaw

Executive produced by: Jason Blum, Lisa Bruce, Marci Wiseman, Jeremy Gold, Matthew Myers and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly.

Streaming Review: “Welcome to the Blumhouse Presents ‘Black Box'”

  • BLACK BOX
  • Starring: Mamoudou Argue, Amanda Christine, Phylicia Rashad
  • Directed by: Emmanuel Osei-Kuff
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Running time: 1 hr 40 mins
  • Blumhouse Productions


Giving a solid swing into the horror universe as part of the first installment of WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE films streaming on Amazon Prime is Director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour’s “Black Box.”  

When you meet Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) you immediately feel his struggle. He’s a young, widowed father who has lost not only his wife but a majority of crucial memories sustained from the car accident that killed her. It has also seemingly took his “eye” from his successful photography career… which has added just one more stressor to the pile of problems he’s facing in his new life. He routinely forgets to pick up his daughter, Ava (Amanda Christine), from school, traditions they have together and simply struggles to safely and efficiently navigate their daily schedule. 

Becoming emotionally exhausted and worried about the effect it’s having on Ava, Nolan is looking for help to fill in the missing pieces. When Ava’s school threatens to call Protective Services after he forgets to pick her up for a third time, Nolan’s search becomes, simply, an act of desperation.


Reluctantly volunteering to participate in an experimental treatment, Nolan comes to know Dr. Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad). The experiment uses a device they call the Black Box which allows the patient to recapture lost memories by submersing themselves in their own memories of adjacent experiences, hoping they will allow the missing pieces to fill themselves in. The visual process in which you arrive to these adjacent memories will not be unfamiliar to horror fans. Very briefly pulling atmospheric vibes a la Get Out’s The Sunken Place, but to be clear… the similarities end there. Not surprisingly, Nolan’s procedure isn’t without negative side effects and conceptually, I think most adult viewers will have an understood fear of the notion of memory loss, the mechanics involved in medical science should doctors ever want to play around in your brain for who knows what selfish reasons and most of all, imagining the desperation required to make a choice to participate in the above willingly.

Simply put, Black Box feels like a high concept story that might have best been left as an episode of Black Mirror. Or maybe it would’ve faired better expanded into an anthology; Nolan’s story alone doesn’t feel like it properly fills out 100 minutes and simultaneously feels like maybe there’s more behind the lab that viewers would be interested in seeing. Still, the acting is solid, especially from Osei-Kuffour. Atmospherically, this will tick off several boxes if you’re looking for new October horror stories — most notably some amazing physical acting from contortionist Troy James. Remember that with theaters closed, it’s our responsibility as viewers to set the scene and let these films do their job. Phones put away, lights off. Let the quiet and darkness replicate the scares that a movie theater can enhance… for now, at home. 

Streaming Review: “Welcome to the Blumhouse Presents – ‘The Lie'”

  • THE LIE
  • Starring: Joey King, Mireille Enos, Peter Sarsgaard
  • Directed by: Veena Sud
  • Rated: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 37 mins
  • Blumhouse Productions


Amazon’s new series WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE is dropping a series of genre films starting this week. Amongst them is the Parental Horror “The Lie” directed by Veena Sud. 

 
Carefully straddling the lines between horror/thriller and Lifetime drama, “The Lie” explores the limits that two parents push in order to protect their only child after she confesses to a horrible crime.


Recently divorced Rebecca (Mireille Enos) and Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) are trying to find peace and balance in their new separate lives co-parenting fifteen year old, Kayla (Joey King). When Rebecca insists that defiant Kayla attend a weekend ballet retreat, Jay agrees to make the trek through the icy, frigid terrain to get her there. En route, in the middle of nowhere, they find Kayla’s friend Brittany waiting at a bus stop who reveals she’s also headed to the retreat although her dad refused to drive her and has left her to wait for a ride in the  harsh winter air. 


Brittany asks Jay to drive her but almost immediately begins inappropriately flirting with him, causing the girls to reveal their true “frenemy” relationship. Brittany also immediately demands Jay pull over, still very much in the middle of nowhere, so she can pee in the woods. Kayla accompanies her and when they don’t return, Jay starts to become concerned and then hears a scream. 


After finding Kayla sitting alone on the railing of  a rapid-covering bridge, she reveals in a panic that the two had fought and she pushed Brittany over the ledge in a fit of rage. Jay searches the area with no success other than finding her phone and coaches Kayla through the beginning of series of lies that spiral quickly way out of their control.When they return to Rebecca’s she initially resists in corroborating their story but is roped in anyway when Brittany’s father comes over looking for her. 


The hours and days that follow are impossible to look away from. Kayla’s icy, sociopathic behavior is unnerving and infuriating, Jay and Rebecca’s frenzy of lies becomes the proverbial car wreck that you guiltily cannot take your eyes from. This familial trio guides you through the unbearable questions that no parent ever wants to have to ask themselves. 


“The Lie” offers no jump scares, gore or autumnal markings but the terror is very much present. This was a highly worthwhile welcoming to The Blumhouse that will resonate with the over thirty crowd, perhaps enough to question whether the present climate will allow you to handle the anxiety that it delivers.

Digital Review “You Should Have Left”

“You Should Have Left” had the chance to be epic. Kevin Bacon was reuniting with the writer/director David Koepp, they last teamed up on 1999’s “Stir of Echoes”. Throw in one of my Hollywood crushes, Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again“, “Les Misérables”), and you have a winner…right?! Sorry, this slow burn thriller-at best (not horror) doesn’t pay off in the end. Performances from Bacon and Seyfried were OK, no issues there. Well, maybe all except for Seyfried’s over-the-top orgasm (during an off-camera sex scene). The house in the film definitely interested me more than the movie itself.
 
Official Premise: In this psychological thriller from Blumhouse Productions and legendary screenwriter Koepp, Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried star as a couple seeking a restful vacation in a remote home in the Welsh countryside. What at first seems like a perfect retreat distorts into a terrifying nightmare when reality begins to unravel, dark episodes from the past resurface, and a sinister force in the house refuses to let them leave.

I give them credit for attempting to get to where they were trying to get to, since they never quite make it fully. The idea of the haunted house was kinda neat but I would have loved to seen it fleshed more. A little less mystery. Honestly, though if that house is on AirBNB someone tell me because its gorgeous! There are no extra content included with the digital code.

Film Review: “Fisherman’s Friends”

FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS
Directed By: Chris Foggin
Starring: Daniel Mays, James Purefoy, David Hayman, Sam Swainsbury, Tuppence Middleton
Runtime: 112 mins.
Samuel Goldwyn Films

A hot shot London music agent named Danny (Mays) becomes entangled with some seaside villagers when he is ditched by his stag party buddies in Chris Foggin’s Fisherman’s Friends. Loosely based on a true story, the Fisherman’s Friends are a group of local musicians that Danny discovers singing sea shanties. Under peer pressure from his pals, Danny decides to ingratiate himself with the band in order to secure a record deal to take home. Along the way, he strikes up a romance with one of the group’s daughters and entrenches himself in local politics. With its picturesque setting, its city folk-country folk clashes and its romcom meet cute, Fisherman’s Friends has all the hallmarks of well, a Hallmark movie! Without the pesky Christmas baggage. Whether you’re on board with this style depends upon whether you’re up to this level of coziness and predictability.

The flimsy setup to get city boy Danny stranded in Cornwall happens after his clique’s bachelor party yachting excursion falls through. Once it becomes clear they won’t be embraced by the locals after their drunken paddle boarding lands them in need of rescuing from the town’s fishermen, the trio of Londoners hightail it out of there leaving Danny stuck as a joke. It’s a pretty drastic prank but seeing as it passes the movie over from a carload of annoying bro caricatures and into the wonderfully capable and more weathered hands of cast like James Purefoy and David Hayman, the brevity is welcome.

There is a real warmth to the Cornwall setting and Foggin loads his soundtrack up with the Fisherman’s Friends sea shanties to keep everything pleasantly humming along. Sam Swainsbury as Rowan, the youngest member of the band, particularly shines in some of his solos as well as in playing the owner of the town’s financially struggling pub. His plot line gives the movie some needed stakes where the Fisherman’s Friends’ musical dealings are concerned. Meanwhile, the less defined village characters all manage to get their quippy jabs in at Danny in ways that are sure to wring a smile or pleasant chuckle from most viewers. It’s also nice to see Daniel Mays take a turn at a contemporary leading role seeing as I’m primarily used to seeing him pop in and out of so many period blockbusters.

When the film veers from the musical talent into Danny’s romantic relationship with Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), the daughter of Purefoy’s character, you do lose some of that momentum while awaiting the fate of the titular band. Not least of all because one senses this movie will inevitably end happily so the requisite romcom roadblocks feel all the more rote. That said, even if you find yourself drifting somewhat, the kernel of the real life underdog musicians’ tale is compelling enough and the soundtrack is buoyant enough to keep it all afloat.

Television/Streaming Review: ESPN 30 for 30 – “Long Gone Summer’

On September 8, 1998 my son Phillip, his friend Bobby and I drove from Kansas City to St. Louis to take in that evening’s Cardinals/Cubs match-up. We witnessed baseball history when J.D. Drew hit his first career home run. I’ve told this story for over two decades.

Most people know Todd MacFarlane as the creator of the popular SPAWN comics and his amazing toys. He is also a huge baseball fan. We learn that as the film begins with McFarlane bidding almost $3 million to purchase a baseball. But not any baseball. This is the ball hit by Mark McGwire for his 70th home run, at the time a new record. The summer of 1998 was a big one for baseball. After the players strike in 1994 caused the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in history, the game began to draw fans back in 1995 when Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2131st consecutive game. But the summer of 1998 is the one that drew fans, old and new, to the game. It was the summer McGwire and Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa swung their way into the history books.

“Long Gone Summer” not only chronicles both players assault on Roger Maris’ then-record of 61 home runs in a season, but the effect the challenge had on America. People that had sworn off baseball after the strike left a bitter taste in their mouth began to pay attention to the game again, while people who had never shown interest began to watch. Having been in Camden Yards when Ripken set his milestone I was already a fan so I followed the exploits of McGwire and Sosa daily, ensuring that ESPN’s SPORTCENTER was a must-see every night.

As the film follows McGwire, Sosa and, for a time, Ken Griffey, Jr, it also talks with some baseball fans who are household names, among them Bob Costas and George Will. Also interviewed are Roger Maris’ sons, as well as Cardinal’s broadcasters Jack Buck (though archival footage) and Mike Shannon. The race had a personal feel to Shannon, who had been a Cardinal teammate of Roger Maris in the mid 1960s.

But the big voices here belong to the two players themselves. McGwire explains his lifelong desire to hit the ball far while Sosa talks about the fun he had. What they don’t talk about are the accusations that both were using performance enhancing drugs. In fact, in a show that runs almost 1 3/4 hours, PED’s are not mentioned until the 45 minute mark, when a container of Androstenedione is spotted in McGwire’s locker. He brushes the questions off, noting that Andro is available over the counter. It’s almost another 45 minutes before the subject comes up again.

Of the two players, McGwire comes off the best. He is insightful in looking back at what he describes as both the best, and worst, time of his life. Sosa, speaking perfect English – when he testified before Congress he had to have his attorney read his statement, as he felt his English wasn’t strong -is more concerned with relaying the fun times he had that summer. Archival interviews with both – again with Sosa speaking English like a native – gives a look into the love and respect Big Mac and Slammin’ Sammy had for each other. As the season ends, McGwire finishes with 70 home runs, Sosa with 66. Sosa would hit 63 the next year and Baroid Bonds would hit 73 in 2001. By then, the PED cat was out of the bag and, in the almost 20 years since Bonds, no one has hit 60 home runs in a season.

Given an opportunity to confirm whether or not he juiced, Sosa will only say that “Everybody was doing them.” After years of denial, in 2010 McGwire admitted to using PED’s. His admission and apology seemed sincere to me. So much so that I can tell you that, on September 8, 1998, my son Phillip, his friend Bobby and I drove from Kansas City to St. Louis to take in that evening’s Cardinals/Cubs match-up. We witnessed baseball history when Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run of the season over the left field fence, directly below where we were sitting. No disrespect to J.D. Drew, but this story is more exciting.

“Long Gone Summer” airs this Sunday night at 8:00 pm EST on ESPN and will stream directly afterwards on ESPN+.

Streaming Review: “You Don’t Nomi”

YOU DON’T NOMI
Directed By: Jeffrey McHale
Starring: Elizabeth Berkley, Paul Verhoeven, Adam Nayman, April Kidwell
Runtime: 92 mins.
RLJE Films

My introduction to Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls was definitely by accident on some random childhood afternoon on a local network because my memories are of a hazy mishmash of ‘why does Jesse-from-Saved by the Bell looked Like That?’ and laughing at the crude 90s tech that they used to ‘paint’ dodgy cgi bras over very naked chests. So in tackling McHale’s documentary You Don’t Nomi, I knew I’d have to take another look. I don’t regret it as such but I was not converted into the cult that this doc’s trailer alluded to. That doesn’t mean You Don’t Nomi isn’t worth a look for the uninitiated. On its surface, You Don’t Nomi may appear a puff piece on something so-bad-it’s-good but it puts in a surprising amount of work to show not only Showgirls’s second life as a camp crowdpleaser but also how a critically reviled film evolves over time–even in the eyes of its filmmakers.

There is no better way to describe the 1995 critical reception to Showgirls than dog pile. It was brutal in that way that it becomes a sport unto itself to find the snarkiest pull quotes. It tanked Elizabeth Berkley’s transition from sitcom actress to the big screen and took the sexual thriller momentum that Verhoeven had in the US off of 1992’s Basic Instinct and sent him back to the more marketable sci-fi with Starship Troopers (Instinct was preceded by Total Recall and Robocop). The doc delves deep into Verhoeven’s career and finds parallels and themes that connect Showgirls back into his work in Europe before he escaped to Hollywood. Unfortunately the documentary did not manage to include modern interviews with any of the creative forces on the film but again, in diving into archived footage, the documentary exposes how Verhoeven and Berkeley in particular have decided over time to try and sell that they knew all along that their film was camp. As one of the speakers in the doc says, camp is “failed seriousness,” so I don’t really buy their attempt to control that narrative but as a storyline in the documentary, it’s very amusing.

Despite the box office flopping, Showgirls found a second life in midnight screenings, drag shows and an off-broadway musical. For me, Nomi hits its stride by zeroing in on the experience that the actress who played Nomi in the musical parody had and the difference it made in her life. Watching her account, as well as those of the drag hosts of sold out midnight showings I kept thinking about that speech from Pixar’s Ratatouille where critic Anton Ego says “the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” -Hey if McHale can take a campy stripper movie seriously, I can defer to the wisdom of the cartoon rat movie. Even though I couldn’t relate to their obsession, I can certainly pinpoint pop culture hills I will die on and on that level I enjoyed hearing from such a well researched niche.

You Don’t Nomi is now streaming On Demand and digital, an additional review by Mike Gencarelli was posted earlier here

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