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!

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” Comes to Digital On July 19th

Burbank, CA, June 27, 2022  – The age of heroes is upon us when the Warner Bros. Pictures and DC full-length HBO Max Original feature film “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” comes to Digital on July 19. The screenplay is by Chris Terrio, story by Chris Terrio & Zack Snyder and Will Beall, based on characters from DC, Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The film’s producers are Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, with executive producers Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Wesley Coller, Jim Rowe, Curtis Kanemoto, Chris Terrio and Ben Affleck.

In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”,determined to ensure Superman’s (Henry Cavill) ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) aligns forces with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions. The task proves more difficult than Bruce imagined, as each of the recruits must face the demons of their own pasts to transcend that which has held them back, allowing them to come together, finally forming an unprecedented league of heroes. Now united, Batman (Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) may be too late to save the planet from Steppenwolf, DeSaad and Darkseid and their dreadful intentions.

On July 19, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” will be available to own digitally in high definition and standard definition from participating digital retailers where you purchase movies.  Additionally, a Trilogy bundle will also be available on Digital on July 19.  The three-film collection includes Man of SteelBatman v Superman Ultimate Edition, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

DIGITAL ELEMENTS

Zack Snyder’s Justice League Digital contains the following special features:  

  • Building a Scene – A thrilling look at how the films most incredible scenes were brought to life*. RT: 6:00
  • Road To Justice League – Director Zack Snyder reflects on his trilogy of films  in the DC Universe*. RT: 24:30
  • “Justice is Gray”*  – Director Zack Snyder’s black and white version of the film. 

RT: 242 minutes

*Special features available with select digital retailers 

ABOUT DIGITAL

Digital movies or TV episodes allow fans to watch a digital version of their movie or TV show anywhere, on their favorite devices. Digital movies or TV episodes are included with the purchase of specially marked Blu-ray discs. With digital, consumers are able to instantly stream and download movies and TV shows to TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones through retail services. For more information on compatible devices and services go to wb.com/digitalmoviefaq. Consult a digital retailer for details and requirements and for a list of digital-compatible devices.

BASICS

Digital Street Date: July 19, 2022

Rating: Rated R for violence and some language

Runtime: 242 Minutes

THE CREDITS

About “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”

The “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” screenplay is by Chris Terrio, story by Chris Terrio & Zack Snyder and Will Beall, based on characters from DC, Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The film’s producers are Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, with executive producers Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Wesley Coller, Jim Rowe, Curtis Kanemoto, Chris Terrio and Ben Affleck.

About DC

DC, a WarnerMedia Company, creates iconic characters, enduring stories, and immersive experiences that inspire and entertain audiences of every generation around the world and is one of the world’s largest publishers of comics and graphic novels. As a creative division, DC is charged with strategically integrating its stories and characters across film, television, consumer products, home entertainment, interactive games, DC UNIVERSE INFINITE digital subscription service and community engagement portal. For more information visit dccomics.com anddcuniverseinfinite.com.

About Warner Bros. Discovery 

Warner Bros. Discovery (NASDAQ: WBD) is a leading global media and entertainment company that creates and distributes the world’s most differentiated and complete portfolio of content and brands across television, film and streaming. Available in more than  220 countries and territories and 50 languages, Warner Bros. Discovery inspires, informs and entertains audiences worldwide through its iconic brands and products including: Discovery Channel, discovery+, CNN, DC, Eurosport, HBO, HBO Max, HGTV, Food Network, OWN, Investigation Discovery, TLC, Magnolia Network, TNT, TBS, truTV, Travel Channel, MotorTrend, Animal Planet, Science Channel, Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Television, WB Games, New Line Cinema, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Turner Classic Movies, Discovery en Español, Hogar de HGTV and others. For more information, please visit www.wbd.com.

Film Review: “Jerry and Marge Go Large”

 

  • JERRY AND MARGE GO LARGE
  • Starring:  Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening
  • Directed by:  David Frankel
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 36 mins
  • Paramount +

 

We have a lottery pool at work but, except for the occasional $4 win or free ticket, we’re pretty much throwing our money away on a chance of winning the big prize.  It’s actually a 1 in 292,331,208 chance but come one, nothing is a sure thing.  Unless you live in a small town in Michigan and your neighbors are Jerry and Marge Selbee.

Based on a true story, “Jerry and Marge Go Large” is a sweet, well-acted tale of two people that figured out – Larry is a math wiz – that the more you played a certain lottery game the better your chances of winning.  But the Selbees aren’t in it for their own gains.  They are trying to raise money for their small community and actually get their neighbors involved in the game.  Things get tough when the game is cancelled in Michigan and the closest place to play is Massachusetts.  While their plan seems foolproof, it is not without sacrifice.  Mostly time.  From their initial purchase of a few thousand dollars worth of tickets, through week’s when they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, each ticket must be printed individually.  This means long days (and nights) standing at the local liquor store and just buying ticket after ticket after ticket after ticket…..you get the picture.

 

This is such a fun film to watch, from the premise to the cast.  Cranston and Bening will go down as two of the best actors of their generation, and it’s a treat to see them play off each other so well.  And it’s always a treat to see Rainn Wilson and Michael McKean on screen.  The script is sharp and the direction well-paced.  This film is an early summer treat for viewers not into dinosaurs and super heroes.

Streaming/Film Review: “Boys From County Hell”

  • BOYS FROM COUNTY HELL
  • Starring:  Jack Rowan, Fra Fee, Louisa Harland
  • Directed by:  Chris Baugh
  • Rated:  Unrated
  • Running time:  1 hr 30 mins
  • Shudder


“You gonna tell us to ‘Stay off the moors’?”

“This is Ireland, lad… there aren’t any moors.”


Eugene (Jack Rowan) and  William (Fra Fee) have been busy spending their days surviving unwanted construction work, racking up hearty pub tabs and swindling cash and beer from tourists at the grave site of Abhartach – a legendary Irish vampire who may have inspired Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula novel. After wrangling a duo of cash-rich Canadian Dracula-enthusiasts, Eugene alerts them to the local disdain for the infamous fictional character… insisting the pub from which they just departed ‘The Stoker’ is only named so to monetize the fact that Stoker pillaged their town and stole their local legend and reaped the fame and fortune.


     The undead are inadvertently invited to join the drinking festivities once again when the boys’ construction crew accidentally disrupts Abhartach’s grave and  a monstrous infection starts to spread through town, leaving the locals to face and overnight battle with the ORIGINAL legends. 

“Boys From County Hell” is a perfect cocktail of horror and comedy from start to finish.  A brief visit to sleepy, small-town Ireland where you’ll immediately want to open a tab and grab a pint with our misguided heroes even if their call to action means fighting vampires. Horror enthusiasts will immediately feel American Werewolf in London’s  Slaughtered Lamb vibes from  County Hell’s tourist-tailored watering hole but make no mistake, vampires are back and doing something entirely new and bringing a disarming level of gnarly gore out to play. These aren’t vampires that sparkle or seduce — these vamps are nightmare fuel and this film is simply delightful.


     A reminder to research the origins of monster legends: lest you find yourself fleeing bloodsuckers armed with dangerous misinformation.  “This is important shit to know.”


     “Boys From County Hell” will stream exclusively to Shudder on April 22nd in the US and Canada, as well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle where available.

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

.
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.

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