Film Review: “Antebellum”

  • ANTEBELLUM
  • Starring: Janelle Monáe, Jena Malone
  • Directed by: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz
  • Rated: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins
  • Lionsgate 

Kansas City native Janelle Monáe (“Moonlight,” “Hidden Figures”) gets an overdue opportunity to be a headline star in the alleged horror flick “Antebellum.” While Monáe burns brightly on the silver screen as a successful sociologist in present day and as a slave on a cotton plantation, “Antebellum” is such a meandering, sluggish work of cinema that you want to scream out, “Get on with it!” Furthermore, placing this film in the horror genre is a fallacy because while the story itself is horrific on every level imaginable, it is not necessarily a “horror” film like recent classics as “Us” and “Get Out.” 

We first meet Eden (Monáe) after Confederate officer Captain Jasper (Jack Huston, “Fargo” the TV series) executes a female slave as she tries to escape a Louisiana plantation during the Civil War. Eden is subsequently branded with a hot iron by a disgusting Confederate general who claims her as his own personal property. Despite the failure of the escape attempt, current and newly arrived slaves look to Eden as someone who can lead them to freedom. However, Eden tells anyone who approaches her to keep their eyes down and follow the Captain’s rules about not speaking unless spoken to. 

After being raped by the General, Eden dreams of being renowned sociologist and author Veronica Henley in modern day America. A woman who has found a balance between being a wife/mother and having a successful career, Veronica is often sought after for interviews and speaking engagements. One of whom is a mysterious southern-speaking woman named Elizabeth (Jena Malone in an almost maniacal performance), who bears a striking resemblance to the plantation’s white matriarch. After celebrating with friends, Veronica takes an Uber ride to her hotel, but discovers that Elizabeth, whom she only met via an awkward online conversation, is driving and Veronica is subsequently knocked out with a blow to the head. 

“Antebellum” does have an interesting twist, but there are so many glaring breadcrumbs that it is almost expected. Additionally, just to get to the “surprise” it takes as long to get there as it does to walk across the Sahara Desert. The supposed climax is a little clumsy and not as rewarding as one might hope it to be. Monáe is a delight to watch, though, as she infuses both of her characters with grace and an inner strength that is almost tangible. With superb skill, she contrasts these elements with a sense of sheer terror and tremendous pain when called upon to do so. 

Overall, “Antebellum” does have an intriguing premise with a talented star, but it fails to deliver on almost every level, and unfortunately, Monáe is left to carry the load as her supporting cast is largely forgettable. Much like the film.

Film Review: “Murder in the Woods”

  • MURDER IN THE WOODS
  • Starring: José Julián, Jeanette Samano and Danny Trejo
  • Directed by: Luis Iga Garza
  • Rated: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 30 minutes
  • REZINATE entertainment

This is an equation we’re all familiar with. Woodsy atmosphere plus amply endowed and oversexed girls plus alcohol, minus clothing divided by a grim anniversary equals amateur orgy meets bloodbath.

“Murder in the Woods,” from writer/director Luis Iga Garza, pulls a lot of familiar notes together with a Latina influence to deliver a safe but enjoyably brisk slash-y adventure. The film features a cast full of Latino actors intended for mainstream English speaking audiences. The absence of cultural stereotypes is refreshing and, frankly, demanded in 2020. It’s interesting to see how this story pulls cues from, essentially, an entire decade of slasher tropes whilst turning that genre on it’s head.

Pressing forward as audiences increasingly support (and insist on) elevating voices of creators of color it can be assumed that this will become more the norm. That said, I can only help that titles like this will prove to be a gateway for more original storytelling to highlight spooky delights from new ancestral wells. It’s imperative that if this route is important to you that you demand it with your support of projects like this. It may very well be the first American slasher featuring exclusively actors of color and that is very much an achievement of note.

That being said, “Murder in the Woods” is rather aggressively force feeding a large helping of nostalgic nods so your enjoyment of this film is going to be largely dependent on if throwbacks are still your jam or not. Although refreshingly diverse, this circle of youths is here to remind us that, no matter their skin color, entitled suburbanites can only behave so progressively.

The trusted roles of smart virgin, loose popular girl and frat-bros are still going strong here. Spooky local sheriff? They made sure Danny Trejo was strong-armed in for that quota too. So again, if the punishment of badly behaved teens via plentiful gore is still in your wheelhouse then this one is a go for you – and face it, sometimes that’s the comfort food that all horror fans crave. After a stint at drive-ins last month, MURDER is coming to VOD on September 18th and I think this might be a perfect title to recreate the drive-in atmosphere in your backyard via projector if that’s plausible. Some popcorn and an outdoor ambiance with flashlights and friends might be all you need to let this one headline a solid night of jump scares and fun. 

Film Review: “TENET”

  • TENET
  • Starring:  John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Kenneth Branagh
  • Directed by: Christopher Nolan
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 30 mins
  • Warner Bros

It’s rare when you can go to a film, notice an actor’s performance and make a mental note that “this person is going to be great someday.”  I made such a note in 1981 when I saw a little comedy called “Carbon Copy,” which was the story of a white man (George Segal) who discovers he has a black son.  The actor portraying the son was so natural on screen…so assured, and I walked out of the theatre thinking I had to keep an eye out for this guy.  Four decades later he is a nine-time Oscar nominee – and winner of two Academy Awards – we all know named Denzel Washington.  I made that same mental note a couple of years ago after seeing Spike Lee’s Oscar-winning film “BlacKKKlansman.”  The actor in question here was John David Washington.  Denzel’s son.  The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, as John David proves with his performance in Christopher Nolan’s latest epic, “Tenet.”

Like another of Nolan’s previous films, “Inception,” it is hard to talk about “Tenet” without spoiling the fun of the movie-going experience.  I think I can get away with saying that it is an espionage-themed thriller with an amazing time bending premise that I really couldn’t discuss if I wanted to because I still haven’t figured everything out.  Nolan has created an incredible storyline that takes the viewer literally all over the world in search of something that, if not located, can have repercussions the world over.

The story is propelled by some amazing on-screen performances.  Mr. Washington takes hold of the screen in every scene he’s in, holding his own against other amazingly talented actors.  Not only is he powerful on screen but he exudes a strong self-confidence.  In fact, may I be the first to suggest that, if Idris Elba doesn’t become the next James Bond, the producers give Mr. Washington a call.  Pattinson, who with recent strong performances in films like “The Lighthouse” and “Highlife,” has left the stigma of the ‘Twilight” series in the rearview mirror.  His character here has a sly air about him, enough so that I feel much better about his being cast to be the next Batman.  As a Russian villain (are there any other kind) Branagh is downright frightening.  As his long suffering wife, Elizabeth Debecki is both heart-breaking and beautiful.

Technically the film is a masterpiece.  The production design is first rate and the various locations jump off the screen like three-dimensional postcards.  The film is reminiscent of the Bond films of the late 70s and early 80s, chock full of brutal fights and hair raising car chases.  The soundtrack literally knocks you back in your seat, so this is a film to pay close attention to less you miss something on screen.

Before the film started, one of my fellow critics asked the following question:  If you are going to recommend people see this movie, are you going to tell them it’s all right to go back into movie theatres?  An excellent question.  I actually did that – suggested putting on a mask and going to the movies – in my review of “Unhinged” last week.  But really that is something only you, the reader, can decide for yourself.  I will say that if ever a movie deserved to be seen on the biggest screen possible it is “Tenet.”

I am confident in saying that if you go to see it you will not be disappointed. 

Film Review: “Unhinged”

UNHINGED
Starring:  Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius and Gabriel Bateman
Directed by: Derrick Borte
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hur 38 mins
Solstice Studios

It’s happened to everyone.  I know it’s happened to me.  You’re behind someone at a red light and, when the light turns green, they don’t move.  Usually I’ll give them a couple of seconds and give them a courtesy tap
on the horn.  How about you?

On a dark rainy night, Tom Cooper (a beefy and never better Crowe) sits in his truck outside a darkened house.  He removes his wedding ring and tosses it behind him.  After striking a match and letting it burn down to his fingers he grabs a hatchet and a gasoline can and makes his way to the front door.  Soon, the occupants of the house are dead and the home is in flames.  Tom, it seems, is having a bad day.

Rachel (Pistorius) is awakened by a call from her attorney.  Her soon-to-be-ex-husband is asking for more in the settlement.  Realizing she is running late, she needs to take her son, Kyle (Bateman) to school and has a business appointment, she hurries out the door.  Making good time she finds herself behind a truck at a red light.  Rather than giving a courtesy tap on the horn, she blares her impatience.  Then she does it again.  As the light begin to change to red she speeds around the still unmoving vehicle.  Rachel is about to have an even badder day.

A thrill-ride of a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat, “Unhinged” displays its opening credits over images of social unrest and images of people acting out angrily while snippets of newscasts decrying the current situation in the world are broadcast.  Though obviously filmed some time ago, the film could easily be set today.  Tom tracks Rachel down on the road and asks for an apology.  She refuses, informing him that she is having a bad day.  This triggers the bottled rage in Tom (we learn later that he too has been divorced) and what could have been settled with a sincere “I’m Sorry” soon becomes a tragic story with innocent bodies left it its wake. 

I was introduced to Russell Crowe through his performance as the nasty skinhead Hando in the film “Romper Stomper.”  Other roles, like the quick tempered Bud White in “L.A. Confidential” and his Academy Award winning performance as Maximus in “Gladiator” pretty much cement him in my mind as the one guy in Hollywood you would never want to piss off.  Tom Cooper is no exception.  With his soft spoken manner and quiet tone, the rage built up in Tom seeps through his eyes, making him one scary guy.  As Rachel, Ms. Pistorius has a quiet toughness that allows her to stand up to the physical and emotional torment she is being put through.  Young Mr. Bateman is equally strong, portraying a real teen-ager who is both frightened and resourceful.

Director Borte, who directed and co-wrote 2018’s outstanding “American Dreamers” keeps the action moving and doesn’t miss a beat in building up the audience’s suspense.

As theatres begin to open up again, I strongly recommend putting on a mask and heading to see “Unhinged.” 

Film Review: Babyteeth”

BABYTEETH
Starring: Eliza Scanlen, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Shannon Murphy
Rated: Rated MA-17
Running Time: 1 hr 58 mins
IFC Films 

The tragic teen love story about a girl or boy who is terminally ill yet finds true love with minutes left on the clock is the poster child for cliched storylines. At first glance, “Babyteeth” appears to be nothing more than just that. However, with a quartet of interesting, complex characters trying to find their way in the shadow of a young girl’s terminal cancer, “Babyteeth” becomes something quite unexpected – pure cinematic art. The kind of art that provokes a deep, emotional reaction which will stay with you long after the final credits had disappeared off the screen. 

Based upon the stage play by Rita Kalnejais, who also wrote the screenplay for the film version, and directed by Shannon Murphy (“On the Ropes,” “Rake”), “Babyteeth” starts us at a train station where Milla (Eliza Scanlen, “Little Women,” “Sharp Objects”), bedecked in her high school uniform, stands gazing at the tracks in a way that suggests she is pondering death. This is when Moses (Toby Wallace, “Boys in the Trees”), a rat-tailed young man a few years her senior, bumps into her. When her nose starts to bleed, Moses, who may be high on something and possibly homeless, bends over backwards to help her, and from that point on Milla is smitten with him.

 Scanlen draws us in with a profound sense of innocence, despair and longing all rolled into one. There is an air of tragedy about her so thick that it is hard to breathe. Still, a visible spark is ignited within her and Scanlen plays it masterfully as Milla’s passion to live life is reawakened by what will become her first and only love. Wallace, the recipient of the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress at the 76th Venice International Film Festival for this very role, is damaged goods himself. He longs to have a relationship with his estranged mother, but Moses would rather play the tough, street thug card. On the surface, his character seems stereotypical, yet Wallace manages to subtly infuse several degrees of complexity into his role that is both surprising and rewarding. 

Rounding off the quartet is Milla’s psychiatrist father, Henry (Ben Mendelsohn, “Ready Player One,” “Rogue One”) and her pill-popping, former classical pianist mother, Anna (Essie Davis, “True History of the Kelly Gang,” “Assassin’s Creed”). With his daughter’s terminal diagnosis looming over him, the pressure on Henry to get through each day keeps growing. It eventually pushes him to make a pass at his pregnant, much younger next-door neighbor, who symbolizes a way out to a more normal or at least alternative existence for him. All the while, Anna takes a wide array of pills as her way to escape from a reality that she knows deep down will not include her daughter for much longer. 

Mendelsohn and Davis share a great onscreen chemistry with one another as they face any parents’ worst nightmare. There are times when, especially towards the end of Milla’s life, they press on with a sense of grace that tightens their bond. They are even able to laugh at the craziness of letting Anna date a small time drug dealer in Moses who even breaks into their house at one point to steal Anna’s pills. However, how can they deny her the experience of a first love? Especially one which serves as a means for Moses to transform himself. 

We know how “Babyteeth” is going to end. It is clear as day. The brilliance of Murphy’s direction is that when we do reach the end, we are still emotionally moved to the point of tears.

Film Review: “The King of Staten Island”

THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND
Starring:  Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei and Steve Buscemi
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Rated:  R
Running time:  2 hrs 16 mins
Universal

Scott Carlin (Davidson) sits on the couch with some friends, enjoying their company.  One of them notices a tattoo on Scott’s arm and asks him the significance.  His attitude seems to change as he informs the questioner that the ink commemorates the day his father died.  Upset that she made have upset Scott, she begins to apologize, to which Scott and the others burst into laughter as if it’s no big deal.  “Knock, knock,” one of them says.  “Who’s there,” Scott queries.  “Not your dad!”

A dark comedy featuring an unexpectedly powerful performance from Pete Davidson, “The King of Staten Island” takes a look at a young man who is still struggling to understand the eternal question, “why?”  Based in part on Davidson’s own family experience – his father bravely died while attempting to rescue people inside the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel on September 11, 2001 – the film, which Davidson also co-wrote with director Apatow and Dave Sirus, is an often funny, sometimes tragic look at a life forever changed in a single tragic moment.

Scott, age 24, still lives at home with his mother, Margie (an excellent Tomei) and pretty much spends his days hanging out with his friends, smoking weed and trying to get a job as a tattoo artist.  Scott’s own body is covered in tats, some professional and others not-so professional.  Things change when, while partying with his friends in the woods a young boy wanders by.  He’s encouraged to join the group and even agrees for Scott to give him a tattoo.  Of course, as soon as the needle touches his skin he jumps up and runs away.  Soon the young man and his father are on Scott’s doorstep.  Dad is not angry.  Marcie tries to intervene but the man continues yelling.  When he asks to speak to Scott’s father he is informed that he is dead and this softens the man a bit.  When he returns later to apologize he asks Marcie out.  After 17 years Marcie has begun to live for herself again.  Scott is unhappy with the situation and even more so when he learns that Marcie’s new friend is a fireman.

As I noted earlier, “The King of Staten Island” rests squarely on the narrow shoulders of Pete Davidson.  I’ve found him funny on “Saturday Night Live” – though I can’t help but cringe when he tells 9/11 jokes – and expected him to be funny here.  But it’s the emotional journey Davidson takes that impresses.  Scott has a lot of pent up feelings – as I’m sure Davidson does – and when they are released the feeling is both terrifying and a relief.  Tomei, who appears to be aging in reverse like Benjamin Button, is also well cast here.  And I want to mention a great supporting turn by Steve Buscemi who plays a wizened fireman.  Buscemi was a New York City fireman before becoming an actor and, after 9/11, returned to his old firehouse to assist in searching the rubble at Ground Zero.

It’s mid-June and, even though Hollywood has slowed down a bit in light of the current world situation, there are still films that need to be seen.  “The King of Staten Island” is one of them!  “The King of Staten Island” is now available through Video on Demand.  

Film Review “Becky”

“Becky” is a film I normally would have never thought to watch but with the stunning cast, I figured it would be worth a try. Lulu Wilson (The Haunting of Hill House) delivers a kick-ass brutal performance. Kevin James plays a Neo-Nazi villain…yes! He plays the villain and really knocks it out the park. James is one nasty son-bitch and his is performance is fantastic. We even have a dramatic take from funnyman Joel McHale. This film is mega gory, fast paced and is a blast to watch.

Official Premise: Spunky and rebellious, Becky (Lulu Wilson) is brought to a weekend getaway at a lake house by her father Jeff (Joel McHale) in an effort to try to reconnect. The trip immediately takes a turn for the worse when a group of convicts on the run, led by the merciless Dominick (Kevin James), suddenly invade the lake house.

You can call this film an ultra-violent take on Home Alone. That is all I kept thinking when watching. Becky is one tough and creative girl in the film. The kills in the film are so creative and wicked gory that you will have to turn and look the other way. Literally, I was blown away by this film. I can’t wait to watch it again. The film will be released in select theater, drive-in, on demand and digital on June 5th. “Becky” is definitely a film to see with an audience, I would love to hear the reactions from others while watching it.

BECKY WILL SCREEN AT THE BELOW THEATERS & DRIVE-INS ON JUNE 5TH:

IOWA: Superior 71 Drive-In, Blue Grass Drive-In
INDIANA: Garrett Drive-In, Tri Way 4 Drive-In
KENTUCKY: Regency 8
MASSACHUSETTS: Mendon Twin Drive-In
MINNESOTA: Long Drive-In
NORTH CAROLINA: Hounds Drive-In, Raleigh Road Drive-In, Badin Road Drive-In, Eden Drive-In
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Milford Drive-In 2
NEW JERSEY: Delsea Drive-In
NEW YORK: Transit Drive-In, Silver Lakes Drive-In, Sunset 3 Drive-In, Vintage Drive-In, Delevan Twin Drive-In
OHIO: Mayfield Road Drive-In, Skyway Drive-In, South Drive-In Twin, Tiffin Drive-In, Starview Drive-In, Springmill Drive-In, Magic City Twin Drive-In, Van-Del Drive-In, Dixie Drive-In, Aut-O-Rama Twin Drive-In, Elm Road Triple Drive-In, Field of Dreams Drive-In
OKLAHOMA: Tower Drive-In
PENNSYLVANIA: Garden Drive-In, Circle Drive-In, Comet Twin Drive-In, Kane Family Drive-In, Riverside Drive-In, Silver Drive-In, Skyview Twin Drive-In
SOUTH CAROLINA: Hi-Way 21 Drive-In
TENNESSEE: Stardust Drive-In
WISCONSIN: Stardust Drive-In

Film Review “You Don’t Nomi”

I remember wanting to see “Showgirls” back in 1995 but since it was rated NC-17, I couldn’t get in. I was only 13 years old at the time. But I do remember renting it at Blockbuster once it was on video and I remember falling in love. Yes, I know how bad the movie is but at the same time it is also so good. That is what this documentary, YOU DON’T NOMI, is about. It focuses on the legacy of “Showgirls” and how it has become a cult classic over the last 25 years. Yes, it’s crazy to think that it is 25 years old already.

Official Premise: In YOU DONT NOMI, a chorus of film critics and fervent devotees explore the complicated afterlife of 1995s biggest film flop, Paul Verhoeven’s SHOWGIRLS, from disastrous release to cult adoration and extraordinary redemption. The films features Adam Nayman (Vice Guide to Film), April Kidwell (I, Nomi) and Peaches Christ (Milk). 

Even though the main topic of “You Don’t Nomi” is “Showgirls”, the film is also a retrospective of Verhoeven’s directing career from “RoboCop”, “Total Recall”, “Basic Instinct”, “Starship Troopers” and “Elle”, among others. It showcases the themes that unite his films. Verhoeven definitely is a unique director as well as a controversial figure all at the same time. All of Verhoeven’s films have pushed the limits with sexuality and violence.

The documentary is extremely interesting to watch whether you are a fan of “Showgirls” and Verhoeven or not. It features great interviews discusses the fandom around “Showgirls” and how people love this film so much. What is cool about this documentary is that you don’t even need to be a fan of this film to enjoy it. It talks about how people actually have hated it but it grew on them over the years. Whether you believe it or no, this film despite being called trash during it’s release is a piece of art.

“You Don’t Nomi” will be available On Demand and Digital on June 9. I highly recommend checking it out to get an in depth look at the film that was a box office bomb but has since become a huge cult classic.

MediaMikes posted an additional review for the streaming release here!

Pandemic Film Review: “Contagion”, and How Do I Rip Contagion and Other DVDs

Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, Sanaa Lathan

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 106 minutes

The COVID-19 is raging around the world, which has stimulated people’s interest in pandemic movies. As a result, some pandemic-themed movies, such as “Contagion”, make them back into the top movie charts of iTunes and other streaming services. “Contagion” is a 2011 release directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and it gets a strong cast including Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Matt Damonm, Kate Winslet, and more.

Years ago I’ve already watched this film on DVD. Since it offers a parallel to current coronavirus outbreak, our family decides to watch it again. My DVD player cannot function properly, so I digitized my “Contagion” DVD to MP4 with a DVD ripper. I’ve attached the guide on how to rip a movie DVD to digital file after my movie review part, in case someone also needs to rip or backup his/her own DVD collection for fair use. I saved the digital copy to my USB flash drive and then watched it on my TV with my family. 

My review of “Contagion”

In the current context of the noval coronavirus epidemic, “Contagion” is like a documentary. The film depicts a virus called MEV-1, transmitted from bat to pig to human. It spreads around the world and destroys tens of millions of humans in a very short time.

This movie shows multiple story lines, but the main line is clear. The director uses very precise details and deliberate control, and a very restrained lens language to describe a very real end-time scene. Humanity is vulnerable and very real. There are no lone heroes or government conspiracy theories which we always see in American movies. Everyone is an ordinary person. This constitutes a world that is not dramatic, but is also most dramatic and close to the real world.

The film doesn’t make people feel too long. Instead, there are too many parts that are just mentioned briefly yet appropriately, such as the betrayal of the dead wife, the bureaucracy of Chinese officials trying to hide the truth, the game between the U.S. government and the media, the sacrifice of political struggle, the real address of Hong Kong street, and the most popular mobile phone in Japan, etc. The CDC official played by Kate Winslet has no special ups and downs, and dies. The human body is extremely fragile in front of the mysterious nature.

As the story unfolds, the director takes us peeling off both the truths of the virus and human nature. Some people seem to be an apathetic government mouthpiece, but they will become ordinary people with blood and flesh in the face of their families. Some people show up in masks of heroes and are eventually found despicable like villains. All characters in the film are vivid and real.

There are no earth-shattering stories in this movie, no heroes born out of nowhere, no sensational screams, no heartbreaking separation. There is no miracle. There is no compassion. Everything is carried out in order, as indifferent as this plague that it comes with no reason and will eventually leave.

How to Rip a DVD?

First of all, we need to download a piece of DVD ripping software, because it is almost impossible to rip a commercial DVD simply by copying and pasting. There are many choices. After reading so many reviews and comparisons, I choose cost-effective WinX DVD Ripper Platinum and it doesn’t disappoint me.

Why I choose WinX DVD Ripper Platinum?

1. It supports different kinds of video DVDs, including old and new movies, TV shows, fitness videos, and more DVDs. It even helps me handle a scratched DVD successfully.

2. It allows me to make 1:1 DVD backup (DVD to ISO file/DVD folder) as well as movie-only ripping (DVD to MP4, H.264, AVI, WMV, iPhone, iPad, Android device, game console…).

3. It can maintain the original image and audio quality while compressing a few gigabytes data to around 1GB only.

4. It works fast, probably taking a few minutes only to rip a DVD, by taking the advantage of multi-core processors, hardware acceleration, and other technologies.

So my guide is based on WinX DVD Ripper Platinum.  

Step 1. Insert your DVD into DVD drive. After that, open the DVD ripper and click DVD Disc button to import the DVD. I really love the feature that it can detect the correct main movie title automatically, even if there are some fake titles in a 99-title DVD.

Step 2. Choose an output format according to your own needs from the Output Profile panel where over 350 profiles are provided.

Step 3. Hit RUN to begin ripping DVD.

Charles Bronson Look-alike Robert Bronzi talks about new film “Cry Havoc”

If you passed Robert Bronzi on the street you would definitely do a double take thinking that you have just passed the late actor Charles Bronson. Bronzi has taken Hollywood by storm recently and has starred in films like “Death Kiss”, Once Upon a Time in Deadwood” and most recently the horror film “Cry Havoc”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with the Bronson doppelganger to discuss his films and likeness to Charles Bronson.

Mike Gencarelli: How does it feel to be called “The Hungarian Charles Bronson”?

Robert Bronzi: In my home town people know me as Robert or Bronzi because that is my stage name. Also, when I’m traveling in the country a lot of people want to take a photo with me, they congratulate me and wish me luck. I have to say it’s a very good feeling.

MG: When did you first get confronted about your likeness to Charles Bronson?

RB: As young man, pretty much  my whole life. So I cut my hair and moustache like Bronson. Many years ago in Hungary I worked as a horse breeder and horse trainer. At the horse breeding center we had a lot of   visitors every day, people told me “hey boy ! you know you look like Charles Bronson? ” I worked with my very good friend Peter, he would always say that I looked like him and he began  to call me Bronzi. So he gave me my nick name . After that everyone called me Bronzi and it became my artist name.

MG: Give us some background on your life before you started making movies in Hollywood?

RB: I’m an actor, musician and stuntman. I have done a lot of different and interesting things in my life. I worked in Hungary as a horse breeder and horse trainer. I performed at western shows in Hungary and Spain in different pieces. I’m an accordionist, I played music in bars, at festivals, weddings and private parties.

MG: Tell us what was it like filming in Western Leone, near Almeria, Spain, which was the site of much of the filming of the famous Sergio Leone/Charles Bronson western ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST?

RB: Well, I really enjoyed filming in Almeria as I worked there for quite a few years in the western village of TEXAS HOLLYWOOD TABERNAS as a stunt performer. There I met some of my acquaintances, my old colleagues, and a few of them are also featured in the film, and my acting partners are also wonderful and talented people. Every time I go to Almeria I feel like if I am going home. I really like that place and Spain too.

MG: How was it going from a revenge western to a horror movie like CRY HAVOC?

RB: My first western style movie was shot some years ago, also with Rene Perez . The name of the film was From Hell To The Wild West .This is a western movie with horror elements. CRY HAVOC is a horror and action movie without western elements. For me that was a new challenge, a new role what I tried to do with my best ability as an actor.

MG: You have worked with director Rene Perez on four films now; tell us about how this collaboration started?

RB: Rene Perez saw my photo on the Saloon wall in Spain in the western village where I worked as a stunt performer. He thought it was a photo of Charles Bronson years  ago hand asked the owner about the photo. When Rene found out it wasn’t Bronson, it was me, he told the owner, “I want to meet this guy”.

MG: I read you train in judo and Muay Thai; tell us about how you keep in shape?

RB: I work hard to keep my body in shape. In Hungary I have some good friends that help me get ready for the movies. They teach me martial arts such as judo and Thai boxing, and three times a week I visit the gym.

MG: What do you do when you are not acting?

RB: I have got some preferred hobbies. For example: Riding, archery, fishing, playing on my accordion and walking in the forest. I would also like to mention that I ‘m a member of a traditional preservation team in Hungary. When I have time I go with them to attend the traditional festivals where I use my sword, my replica firearms and of course my bow in the live show. Also I have different costumes from the very old times.

MG: What films do you have planned upcoming after CRY HAVOC?

RB: Currently I’m working on a few new projects. I can’t say much but in the near future you will see a lot of Bronzi action films .

Film Review “Valley Girl (2020)”

Who knew that we needed a remake of the 1983 Nicolas Cage starred cult classic “Valley Girl”, let alone a musical remake of it…but very glad we did. This long delayed film which was originally scheduled to be released in 2018 finally gets a release date available in select Drive-Ins and on Digital on May 8, 2020. Packed with 80’s nostalgia, great songs and a solid cast, this film definitely did not disappoint.

Official Premise: Julie (Jessica Rothe) is the ultimate ’80s Valley Girl. A creative free spirit; Julie’s time is spent with her best friends shopping at the Galleria mall and making plans for senior prom. That is, until she falls hard for Randy (Joshua Whitehouse), a Sunset Strip punk rocker, who challenges everything the Valley and Julie stand for. Despite push-back from friends and family, Julie must break out of the safety of her world to follow her heart and discover what it really means to be a Valley Girl.  

Jessica Rothe, known best for the “Happy Death Day” horror franchise, stars in this musical remake. She does have musical experience after co-starring in “La La Land” and definitely can sing. Also co-starring singer/actress Chloe Bennett (“Marvel’s Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and even Alicia Silverstone (“Clueless”) makes an appearance in a “Princess Bride” story-telling role. Wrapping up the cast, Judy Greer (“Jurassic World”) and Rob Huebel (“Children’s Hospital”) play Julie’s parents.

The songs in the film include Queen “Under Pressure”, a-ha “Take on Me”, The Go-Go’s “We Got The Beat” and Cyndi Lauper “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” just to name a few. They are backed by fun all-out dance sequences with choreography by none other than Mandy Moore (“This is Us”, “Tangled”). The music is so fun, fresh and gets you re-living the 80’s.

Film Review: “The Other Lamb”

THE OTHER LAMB
Starring: Raffey Cassidy, Michiel Huisman
Directed by: Malgorzata Szumowska
Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 1 hr 37 mins
IFC Films 

Officially, it is listed as a “drama/horror” film. However, “The Other Lamb,” currently streaming on-demand, is neither dramatic nor horrific. While it does have an interesting concept involving a mysterious cult leader and his all-female flock, “The Other Lamb” misfires on nearly every single level imaginable. In a remote section of forest dwells a small commune of women, ranging in approximate age from eight to thirty-somethings, who are held together by a man only referred to as the Shepherd (Michiel Huisman, “The Age of Adaline”). While doing his best to resemble the Caucasian version of Jesus Christ, the Shepherd exudes an inexplicable magnetism that his multiple wives are captivated by. 

There is a noticeable “Handmaids Tale” look to it all with the stark contrast of red and blue uniforms the Shepherd’s wives and daughters are forced wear against the often bleak, natural landscape around them. Unfortunately, “The Other Lamb” does not provide any background for the female characters other than the hint that they were once all “broken” women. Only his daughter, Selah (Raffey Cassidy, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) and a wife, Sarah (Denise Gough, “’71”) who has become disillusioned with the Shepherd, are given anything resembling depth. It is akin to looking at a coloring book without any colors filled in.

 We also never glean much about the Shepherd either, whether it be his past or how he can wield such control over the women. As a result, there is a psychological dynamic that is missing. All we see is him standing around looking stoic and telling the women how if they behave, they will have his grace, which they scream hysterically over like he was Elvis Presley.

 The director, Malgorzata Szumowska (“Mug”) inserts symbolic imagery throughout the film to explain what is going on in Selah’s head as she begins to spiral down into her own rabbit hole. Some of the images are intended as an allusion to Selah becoming a woman, yet, it often comes across as a boring, gimmicky acid trip. 

There is a bit of a mystery as to what happens to baby boys born in the Shepherd’s flock, something that is eventually answered in a memorable way as they trek to find a new home in the wilderness. It is also a turning point for Selah as she becomes increasingly revolted by the Shepherd whose actions turn more heinous, including incest. 

Overall, “The Other Lamb” is a rambling mess that wanders aimlessly across the screen until it reaches a conclusion that is meant to be unsettling but is unsatisfying.

Film Review: “The Girls of Summer”

THE GIRLS OF SUMMER
Starring:  Tori Titmas, Jeff Puckett and Nathan Hosner
Directed by: John D. Hancock
Rated:  Not Rated
Running time:  1 hr 33 mins
Indie Rights

It’s a beautiful day in Indiana.  Working on their family sod field, the Taylor sisters are looking forward to the coming evening with both joy and sadness.  Soon two of them will be leaving home to pursue other endeavors but first, for the last time, tonight The Girls of Summer will take the stage.

Beautifully photographed and smoothly paced, “The Girls of Summer” follows oldest sister Maren (Tori Titmas, who also wrote the screenplay) as she embarks on the journey of life.   A chance meeting at their last gig with former country star Luke Thomas (Hosner) offers her the opportunity to join his touring band – he’s on the comeback trail, an opportunity she originally turns down to stay home and care for her father (Puckett), still grieving for his late wife and now heavily dependent on drugs and alcohol to get through the day.  Dad convinces her to follow her dreams.  But, as with many dreams, they don’t always come true.

I think what made this film so enjoyable to me is that it is the finished product of a “Community Project.”  As with his previous films, “The Looking Glass” and “A Piece of Eden,” director Hancock and crew prove that not all the talent in the world resides in Hollywood.  From his headquarters in Indiana he has put together some amazing local talent and their freshness and enthusiasm fill the screen.  The performances are strong, the songs are catchy and the countryside is beautiful.  Hancock has always been at his best when tackling “real life.”  His camera seems to give you a look into the hearts of the characters, giving the viewer an emotional attachment to what they are seeing. 

This time of year usually signals the beginning to the upcoming summer movie season, filling theatres with loud, multi-million dollar extravaganzas.  “The Girls of Summer” is a welcome respite from those films.

“The Girls of Summer” is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Film Review: “Trolls World Tour”

TROLLS WORLD TOUR
Starring the voices of:  Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake and Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Walt Dohrn and David P. Smith
Rated:  PG
Running time:  1 hr 31 mins
Universal

FINALLY!!

The situation in the world today has kept some studios from releasing anything “major” this past month but this week Universal is giving us the new animated film “Trolls World Tour.”  And, while you aren’t going to be able to see it in a theatre any time soon, it’s a brightly colored musical spectacular that I heartily recommend.

In the Techno Kingdom the DJ is spinning some fresh beats – like my “kids” lingo? – When his set is interrupted by the arrival of an ominous ship.  Descending from the gangplank is the tough looking Queen Barb (Rachael Bloom) wielding an impressive guitar.  She plays a few chords of hard rock, captivating those in attendance then demands their String!

Meet Poppy (Kendrick) and Branch (Timberlake).  They are best friends and live in a kingdom where Poppy is the queen.  A kingdom of smiles and laughter and, most of all, music.  Pop music to be specific.  A messenger bat arrives with a note from Queen Barb, demanding Queen Poppy give up their String. Confused Poppy turns to her father who explains that there are more Troll kingdoms in the world. Originally it was one kingdom filled with all kinds of music but in fighting caused the lyre that held the stings to break, and each group took a string with them:  Pop, Rock, Classical, Country, Techno and Funk. Poppy’s dad stresses that different Trolls should be shunned but Poppy believes in inclusion and sets of to meet with Barb. She will soon learn that differences do matter.

If you’re a fan of music in general you will really enjoy this film. Fun renditions of classic songs from all genre’s fill the soundtrack, accompanied by the bright colors and sharp animation you’d expect from Dreamworks.  The script is cleverly written, giving props to such sub-genre as Smooth Jazz and Hip-Hop while slyly playing on the assumed stereotypes of that music and their fans.  The vocal performances are fine across the board with work from such performers as George Clinton, Kelly Clarkson and Mary J. Blige keeping the music going.  Special shout out to Ozzie Osborne who plays Barb’s hard to understand father, King Thrash.

If you like this movie Personalized By Kate sells rock, pop  and other music gifts. “Trolls World Tour” is available on several streaming services, including Amazon and iTunes.

Film Review: “Resistance”

  • RESISTANCE
  • Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Clémence Poésy
  • Directed by: Jonathan Jakubowicz
  • Rated: R
  • Running Time: 2 hrs
  • IFC Films 

The name Marcel Marceau (1923-2007) is synonymous with mime artistry as he was the godfather of the silent artform. While his name conjures white face paint and silent, comedic stagecraft influenced by Charlie Chaplin, there was a tremendous heroism behind the façade that had started to dim with time. However, the new war drama, “Resistance” seeks to remind us of the incredible actions Marceau undertook as a member of the French Resistance against Nazi occupation. 

An attempt to create a tone for “Resistance” is set during its opening scene, which takes place on the infamous night of November 9, 1938 in Munich, Nazi Germany. Known ever since as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, German Jews were targeted by Nazi paramilitary forces throughout the country. Thousands of businesses and hundreds of synagogues were destroyed while thousands of Jewish men were arrested. Writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz (“Hands of Stone”) gives us a harrowing depiction of this horrific event through the eyes of a young girl who watches helplessly as her parents are murdered in the street during the assault. It’s a powerful sequence meant to grab our attention, but that momentum is quickly dissipated. 

We are suddenly transported to 1945 in Nuremberg, Germany where Gen. George S. Patton (Ed Harris) addresses troops under his command at a former Nazi rallying point. Harris does not capture the emotional spirit of Patton as he stoically tells his men about a resistance fighter who made their sacrifice worth it. It is then that we are whiplashed back to Strasbourg, France shortly after Kristallnacht. Marcel (Jesse Eisenberg), whose real last name was Mangel, is a self-absorbed, wannabe thespian whose disapproving Jewish father would rather see him become a butcher. 

Marcel’s life is forever changed when he is brought in by his cousin, Georges Loinger (Géza Röhrig, “The Chaperone”) to entertain over 100 German Jewish children, who were left orphaned after Kristallnacht, when they are brought over to France. Marcel becomes emboldened to join the French Resistance and finds an inner strength in the process as he and his fellow resistance members try to save Jewish children by crossing the Alps into neutral Switzerland. 

Eisenberg is at his best when he is portraying Marcel doing mime, particularly when it is in front of American troops. Even so, his overall performance fails to get us too deeply invested on an emotional level with his real-life character. This is representative of the entire film as it does not leave a lasting impression as say other titles like “Schindler’s List,” “The Pianist,” or “Son of Saul.” For lack of a better word, “Resistance” is generic. There are moments of darkness and terror, punctuated by scenes involving Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer, “100 Things”) who is a little overplayed. 

Despite its subpar quality, “Resistance” is still an important film to be watched as it sheds light again on a true hero plus, it reminds us all again that we should never forget what happened to the Holocaust’s six million Jewish victims.