Film Review: “This Is Our Home”

THIS IS OUR HOME

Starring: Simone Policano, Jeff Ayars, Drew Beckas
Directed by: Omri Dorani
Rated: Not Rated
Running time: 1 hr 13 mins
Uncork’d Entertainment

  We meet Reina (Simone Policano) and Cory (Jeff Ayars) in what could be one of the most memorable moments of their relationship. Reina eagerly fidgets while trying to share the news that she’s pregnant. The next scene is something most parents will find touching and familiar… our couple, intertwined, in a playful and intimate baby-naming brainstorming session. Things are going well and we’re optimistic for these people who seem like a nice team. The next scene shares a fleeting and incredibly terrifying and intimate moment where you begin to watch the process of mourning that child. This moment alone will decide what how the rest of this film is received depending on the audience’s personal experience.    

Reina and Cory head upstate to her family vacation home, secluded in the woods. A relaxing few days, of which we can only assume is intended to serve as a last-ditch effort relationship repair. Scene after scene they become more unbearable to observe together and then an unexpected third party joins them, a child who has seemingly emerged from the woods claiming to be their son. Drew Beckas, who portrays Zeke, brings a remarkable set of eccentricities to his new family unit. His arrival, received by his “parents” in violently varying ways, is agonizing to watch. His age, mannerisms, vocal cadence or the toddler-like prance that doesn’t match his adolescent body all make the second half of the film unsettling and strangely efficient.       

After their initial agreement to call the authorities about his arrival, Zeke separates the couple for one on one time, finding Reina submitting to her maternal instincts (and grief) and Cory growing increasingly more agitated and threatened. Both drawn into different corners of madness, the story commits to serving as a psychological thriller when layers of their relationship are peeled back and you start to question how much of what you’re viewing is actually happening, where it’s happening and why?

     “This is Our Home” is the equivalent to being a guest at a highly dysfunctional family dinner. You go home, glad you’re not related to these people but with a great story to discuss with others. It’s 73 minute run time falls just short of feeling complete. An early sequence involving the couple’s interaction with some backwoods-y motorists feels wedged in to an otherwise claustrophobic story. There’s additionally several unnecessary lingering shots that unnecessarily pad the film’s short runtime for style’s sake. Director Omri Dorani still makes a very worthwhile attempt at constructing a very horrific study of the demolition of a relationship. His storytelling commits to trusting his audience to piece together their own interpretation warranted a few days digestion and earned a second viewing dissection where it proved even more effective.  

Our Favorite Classic Film Slots

People spend hours trying to choose an online casino that works for them, but there are plenty of decisions to make. Do you trust the site and do they provide the best games? With your mind at ease knowing you can play online gambling games safely at Paddy Power, the selection of games is your next task.

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Jurassic Park

Dinosaurs have been popular among all age groups for generations. Whether you’re a young child learning about the Tyrannosaurus Rex or a palaeontology enthusiast. Perhaps you always dreamed of discovering a dinosaur on an archaeological dig. In reality, these animals are extinct, but in the film Jurassic Park, ground-breaking technology has brought these creatures back to life.

In the film, billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) invites palaeontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) to his island which is populated by genetically produced dinosaurs. Although security is said to be tight, it proves to be useless when predators break out and start hunting their human prey. In total, there are five Jurassic films in the franchise with Jurassic World 3 set to be released in 2021.

The Jurassic Park Slot is as exciting as the film and will have you on the edge of your seat. It’s a five-reel game with 243 pay-lines and the background depicts the same jungle setting as the film. The symbols include all the main characters as well as dinosaurs, with the infamous T-Rex as a wild symbol.

Planet of the Apes

Another film where animals come face-to-face with humanity is Planet of the Apes. There have been many Planet of the Apes films throughout the years, but the Slot is based on more recent versions; Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

In the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we meet Caesar, a baby chimpanzee who becomes an orphan after his mother, Bright Eyes, is shot in a testing lab. Will Rodman (James Franco), the biologist who was running the testing programme, feels responsible for the death of Bright Eyes so decides to look after the young chimp. As his intelligence grows, he becomes a bigger concern to neighbours. After an incident occurs, Caesar moves into a primate facility for everyone’s safety.

In the Slot, there are two playing areas, one for the 2011 film and one for the 2014 sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The game has five-reels and 20 fixed pay-lines, stacked with free spins, wild substitutions and bonus features. There is a dual symbol feature which can trigger on any spin potentially winning you up to 1,000 times your bet.

Although there are plenty of other film Slots out there, these classics will be around for a long time, much like the films they were based on.

Film Review: “21 Bridges”

  • 21 BRIDGES
  • Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller
  • Directed by: Brian Kirk
  • Rated: Rated R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 39 mins
  • STX Entertainment 

Perhaps the greatest consequence of watching the crime drama “21 Bridges” is how much it makes you appreciate actual great movies. Some of the words that come to mind while reflecting upon 99 minutes of what were presumably good intentions to make a quality film are predictable, stereotypical and cliched. Despite having a bankable star in the form of Chadwick Bosman (“Black Panther”) in the lead role, Irish-born director Brian Kirk (“Game of Thrones,” “Boardwalk Empire”) fails to make much of an impression with his first foray into feature-length films. 

We meet Andre Davis (Bosman) when he is a little kid attending the funeral of his father, a NYPD officer who is described with such sappy, glowing prose that it is easy to feel like you are being hit over the head with a radioactive mallet. Unsurprisingly, when we fast forward 19 years, we see that Andre has grown up to become a driven NYPD detective with a history of fatally shooting his suspects. Some credit is due to Kirk because at least he tries to provide a glimmer of insight into Det. Andre’s motivations, but it is so fast-paced that neither he nor Bosman are able to turn the lead character into someone that is more than just a cliché cop. 

Kirk does grab our attention for a bit when two military veterans – Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch, “John Carter”) and Michael Trujillo (Stephan James, “Race”) – pull a late-night heist that goes completely sideways. It goes so wrong that eight NYPD officers are gunned down. Of course, who is the first person called in to lead the investigation? You guessed it, the most famous detective in all of New York City. Everyone believes he will track down the two thugs and shoot them dead without any questions being asked. However, Det. Andre has some questions of his own as he begins all-night investigation the requires all twenty-one bridges leading into Manhattan to be shut down, thereby preventing the two gunmen’s escape.

 Shockingly, Det. Andre doesn’t like having partners, but he is saddled with narcotics Det. Frankie Burns (a bland Sienna Miller) who often acts as a cheerleader as she roots for their prey to be shot down like dogs. The vice squeezes tighter on the cop killers as they try to figure out both a way out and how they ended up in the situation they are in. (We are left to wonder how they never seem to run out of bullets.) It all leads to a giant conspiracy that is so blatantly obvious that it would cause Sherlock Holmes to turn over in his grave, if such a thing is possible for a fictional character.

 Kirk is consistent as he maintains his swift storytelling from beginning to end, which does occasionally give an artificial sense of suspense. His lone bright spot is Bosman, whose presence is about the only thing that makes “21 Bridges” watchable. Bosman does the best he can with material that should have had a team of writers to rework to prevent it from being something less than satisfactory. Oh, and Oscar-winning actor J.K. Simmons is in it but his character in the Farmers Insurance commercials is far more multi-dimensional and interesting.

Film Review: “Animal Among Us”

ANIMAL AMONG US
Starring: Larisa Oleynik, Erin Daniels and Heather Tom
Directed by: John Woodruff
Not Rated
Running time: 1 hr 30 mins
Uncork’d Entertainment

“This is a movie about a monster.” Author Roland Baumgarner’s (Christian Oliver) first and only successful writing venture found him fame by exploiting the mysterious deaths of two young girls at the family owned Camp Merrymaker. His novel helped to simultaneously draw curious and fanatical Sasquatch hunters to the area and cause the camp to shut down. Years later, Roland is living his own personal blasé-suburban nightmare and, without a sophomore success to his name, has resigned himself to teaching creative writing to a group of uninspired young writers.

     When Roland receives a strange fan letter in the mail – inviting him to return to  Camp Merrymaker for it’s grand reopening – he jumps at the opportunity to use the event to get his creative juices flowing. However, upon his arrival, he quickly realizes the proprietors of the camp, sisters Anita and Poppy (Larisa Oleynik and Christine Donlon), shouldn’t rush to open their gates to guests just yet. As hidden agendas and bloodied Sasquatch investigators emerge from the depths of the woods, Roland finds himself spiraling into the kind of real life terror that, incidentally, would make for a great book.


      Director John Woodruff is a lifelong genre fan and has crafted his first feature film with his bleeding monster kid heart on his sleeve. It’s filled with loving nods to a variety of classic horror films with all the key players of a traditional summer camp slasher present: the foreboding, woodsy atmosphere, creative special effects, the short shorts, the badly behaved counselors and the looming ever-present threat of death but “Animal Among Us” finds its own unique and emotionally honest voice by weaving in themes of obsession and revenge. It’s never exploitative or gratuitous, explores marital relationships with refreshing albeit uncomfortable honesty and stands out by utilizing every minute of its ninety minute run time to expand a creature feature into a multi-layer monster movie that will really keep you guessing who you’re rooting for.

Film Review: “Frozen II”

FROZEN II
Starring:  Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel and Josh Gad
Directed by: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Rated:  PG
Running time:  1 hr 43 mins
Walt Disney

Call me Nostradamus.  In 2015, in a book I published, I commented on the proliferation of sequels in today’s Hollywood.  I also noted that, as the original “Frozen” was such a big hit, you can rest assured there will be a “Frozen II.”  And now there is.  And it’s pretty darn good.

The film begins with a flashback of the two young princesses being told the story of how their kingdom was founded by their father.  It’s not a pretty tale and their mother calms them down with a lullaby.  Jump to the present.  We join our Princesses (Anna – voiced by Ms. Bell and Elsa – voiced by the Marvelous Ms. Menzel) as they enjoy a nice day outside with their snowman pal Olaf (Gad).  Apparently Olaf has been “permafrosted” so the sun no longer bothers him.  The story takes a turn when Elsa vanishes, having left to discover the secret behind her power (for the uninformed, she has the ability to conjure up snow and ice at will).  Adventure, and several songs, ensue.

“Frozen II” sticks to the Disney tradition of the sequel – familiar characters doing different things.  The story (and songs) aren’t as strong as the original, but it is enjoyable.  I may be unfair in doing this comparison, but the songs here are not as strong as in the first film.  “Let It Go” was a powerhouse of a song, deservedly earning the Academy Award for Best Original Song.  The best number here is “Into the Unknown,” which is delivered in full throat by Ms. Menzel.  As someone who would pay to hear Idina Menzel sing the phone book, her range and power on this tune is breathtaking.  Great for me, but it kind of takes the wind out of the sails of the other numbers.  The cast is in great form (and voice), with both Bell and Menzel giving life to their characters while Josh Gad is at his best comic timing as Olaf.

Visually, the film is perfect.  When I think back to the hand-drawn animation of my youth I can’t believe the progression that has been made up until today.  Directors Buck and Lee, who took home the Oscar for “Frozen,” return and keep the story moving, always a good thing when your target audience is youngsters.  They have delivered an early holiday present to princesses’ everywhere.

Film Review: “Dolemite is My Name”

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
Starring:  Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key and Wesley Snipes
Directed by: Craig Brewer
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hr 57 mins
NETFLIX

If.  If pigs had wings, they would fly.  If a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass.  And if Eddie Murphy made better career choices he’d already have an Oscar.  He may have that opportunity soon thanks to his performance as Rudy Ray Moore in “Dolemite is My Name.”

Rudy is a hustler with big dreams.  He left his Fort Smith, Arkansas home and headed for California, knowing he would be a star someday.  When we meet him, that day hasn’t yet happened.  It’s the 1970s and Rudy manages a record shop while MC-ing at the local jazz joint, telling stale jokes and trying to get discovered.  Things begin to improve when he overhears a homeless man telling outrageous stories about a character named Dolemite.  He pays the man to share his tales and, donning an afro wig and sporting a look that could only be described as “pimp-sheik,” he takes the stage and begins telling the old man’s stories in a fresh new way.  A lot of jive and “F” bombs.  Suddenly he’s a hit!  A few successful comedy albums later Rudy decides to take his character to the big screen.  And the story begins.

Featuring an amazing cast, led by Eddie Murphy, “Dolemite is My Name” is an intriguing look behind the scenes of one of the most influential genres in film, the Blaxploitation film.  This genre spawned movies like “Shaft,” “Black Caesar,” “Blackula” and so many more.  It is also a look at true guerilla filmmaking.  Rudy knows nothing about making movies, yet he’s not intimidated at the prospect either.  He can’t be.  He knows what his goal is and he’s determined to reach it.  He is assisted on screen by some well known actors including Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key and, in one of his best performances in many years, Wesley Snipes, who stars as real-life actor D’Urville Martin, whose friendship with Fred Williamson led to some great roles in many of “the Hammer’s” action films.  Martin thinks of himself as more than a Blaxploitation star, commenting that he’s worked with Roman Polanski (he’s the Dakota’s elevator operator in “Rosemary’s Baby.”  And, for some extra trivia, he was cast as Lionel Jefferson in the two pilots for “All in the Family,” though lost the role to Mike Evans when the series finally aired.)  Martin feels he’s above a low-budget film like “Dolemite” until Rudy offers him the chance to direct.  NOW he’s an auteur! 

The script is sharp and funny, which I’ve come to expect from writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who have given us such great bio-pics as “Ed Wood,” “The People vs Larry Flynt,” “Man on the Moon” and “Big Eyes.”  Director Brewer (“Hustle and Flow,” the upcoming “Coming to America 2” keeps the film moving smoothly, letting the humor build while still telling an interesting story.

Eddie Murphy should have been an Academy Award nominee for the first “Nutty Professor” film, and he should have won the award outright when he was nominated for his performance as Jimmy Early in “Dreamgirls.”  As long as he doesn’t have “Norbit 2” on the horizon, he may finally take him the prize.

Film Review: “Ford v Ferrari”

FORD v FERRARI
Starring:  Matt Damon, Christian Bale and Jon Bernthal
Directed by: James Mangold
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  2 hrs 32 mins
Warner Bros.

There have only been a handful of movies dealing with auto racing that give the audience the feel of being behind the wheel.  In the 1960s, as the sport was gaining notoriety, films like “Winning,” “Le Mans” and “Grand Prix” fueled the audiences’ appetites.  Later on, “Days of Thunder” and Ron Howard’s “Rush” helped convey the feeling of going around in a circle at 200 miles per hour.  This week, that list is joined by the latest film from director James Mangold, “Ford v Ferrari.”

In 1959, Carroll Shelby (Damon) did what no American had ever accomplished by winning the 24 hour Le Mans auto race, held annually in France.  Shortly after his victory Shelby left the driving to others and began selling sports cars to the rich.  But he wanted more. And one day, that “more” – in the form of Ford Motor Company’s Lee Iacoca (Bernthal) – walks into his showroom with an offer he can’t refuse.

With an exhilarating pace that belies its 2 ½ hour run time, “Ford v Ferrari” is a testament to the wills and friendships of two very different people.  While Shelby know cars he also knows who needs to be driving them.  That would be one Ken Miles (Bale, actually getting the chance to employ his very real British accent), a top driver who has a bit of a temper.  It’s this temper that his held Ken back and he knows he needs to become a “team player” if he wants to race the new car that Shelby has created.  Miles has a loving wife and a doting son, both of who support him in the good times and bad.  If Ford hopes to beat perennial champion motor company Ferrari at the upcoming Le Mans race, the good times need to outweigh all other.

I’ve always been a fan of James Mangold.  From the cop drama “Copland” to the R-rated Wolverine epic “Logan,” he has always entertained me with smart films that show a master’s touch in storytelling.  Here that touch is put together with two of the best actors working today, making for a nice combination.  Throw in plenty of race footage and you’ve got a film that takes the checkered flag.

Film Review: “The Tokoloshe”

  • THE TOKOLOSHE
  • Starring: Petronella Tshuma, Kwande Nkosi and Dawid Minnaar
  • Directed by: Jerome Pikwane
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Running time: 1 hr 32 mins
  • Uncork’d Entertainment

Review by Becki Reiner

Director Jerome Pikwane’s debut feature film, “The Tokoloshe,” explores South African mythology and real-life terror residing parallel to patriarchal rule. Busi (Tshuma), in her escape from a scarred upbringing of poverty and abuse, has come to Johannesburg and is forced to take a job cleaning at a rundown hospital managed by a sexual predator. The persistent grime and shadowy barren corridors alone thrusts audiences into immediate anxiety and familiarity with Busi’s crawl through her hostile universe. Stacked atop her personal present and repressed traumas, Busi connects with a young female patient who has suffered her own experiences with abuse. The young girl shares her fears of the Tokoloshe, a frequently utilized South African folklore creature who is terrorizing the hospital wings.      

The creature, rarely seen in the film, is eventually revealed in a form that will surely feel familiar to horror fans but surprisingly not out of place. The journey to unmasking the Tokoloshe’s true form is filled with multiple sequences of gorgeously frightening atmosphere, a bedroom entity assault that will instinctively pull you back to your childhood nightmares (and lovingly lend a nod to “A Nightmare on Elm Street”), and an intelligently character-led march into terror that genuinely trusts the audience to submerge themselves in a supernatural pursuit instead of insulting them with superficial modern Hollywood jump-scares.      

Pikwane’s “The Tokoloshe” serves as a needed depiction of the most marginalized of humanity suffering at the hands of society and Ms. Tshuma, as Busi, easily wins the film and carries the story as a refreshingly non-traditional final girl with her dynamic presence and fearless, maternal heroics. “The Tokoloshe” is a promising first feature that is a strong hybrid of uniquely South African folklore and generational notable terror. It squelches the notion of “tribal” or “urban” legends, as the underlying monster here transcends boundaries that will make you itch to shelve the copies of your favorite familiar suburban horrors and explore other regionally specific storytelling and monsters from all the darkest corners of the globe.

Film Review: “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi”

THE WARRIOR QUEEN OF JHANSI
Starring: Devika Bhise, Rupert Everett
Directed by: Swati Bhise
Rated: Rated R
Running Time: 1hr 42 mins
Roadside Attractions 

Held in as high regard in India as Joan of Arc in France, Rani Lakshmibai (1828-58) became a heroic martyr during the 1857 Indian Rebellion against the despotic British East India Company. While the British were successful in putting the revolt down, it placed India on a 90-year path to independence and Rani’s actions served as an inspiration then and now to generations of Indians. “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi” is based upon Rani’s story of rising from being a commoner to leading an army against the world’s lone superpower of the day. Sadly, this heavy-handed historical drama is not a fitting tribute to Rani’s legend as it fails to generate any sense of suspense; its acting and direction is stilted; its dialogue is often cliché; and it plays loose and fast with the facts. 

Our heroine of the story narrates some historical background at the beginning by telling how she was born on the banks of the Ganges River. Rani (Devika Bhise, “Mosaic”) then vaguely describes how the British East India Company gradually seized more and more power in India over the decades. The story then flashes through her early years like a streak of lightning complete with nauseatingly stiff dialogue. If you don’t blink, you learn that as a teenager, Rani married the ruler of the state of Jhansi. After a son dies in infancy, the couple adopts a nephew as their own to become the male heir. 

In the meantime, Indian soldiers forced to serve the British East India Company revolt in vengeful fashion after their rifle Enfield cartridges are coated in pig fat, an insult to both Muslims and Hindus. Back in England, Queen Victoria (Jodhi May, “Defiance”), with her Indian Muslim advisor by her side, the story of which was detailed in 2017’s “Victoria & Abdul,” wants cooler heads to prevail while her British advisor (Derek Jacobi) is consumed with hubris and is quick to crush the revolt with brutal force. This is a problem because the British army in Jhansi, commanded by experienced officer Sir Hugh Rose (Rupert Everett) but ordered around by East India Company representative Sir Robert Hamilton (Nathaniel Parker, “The Perfect Host”), has become bogged down by cholera. 

Now a widow, Rani trains her people how to use swords, bows, running obstacle courses, and fighting from horseback. Since any real backstory is nonexistent and there is a lack of character development, it is incomprehensible, without any explanation, that Rani is suddenly an expert military trainer and commander. There are a couple of vague references to her combat experience later, but that is perfunctory at best. Moreover, the discombobulated story continually skips across time while Rani’s adopted son seems to never age. It all comes across as ridiculous and unbelievable without any emotional impact on the viewer besides confusion and boredom. 

Eventually, Rose’s force attacks Rani’s well-fortified palace in Jhansi and the ensuing action resembles the often silly, overly exaggerated fight sequences from the brilliant comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It goes without saying that there is no real suspense to the final battle scene, which is poorly choreographed and not representative of historical events. It doesn’t help that in the buildup there are sappy lines like, “She’s an idea. And ideas cannot be captured or owned. She belongs to her people, and not the East India Company.”

 Rani of Jhansi was a hero for the ages, but this film about her life should be shot off into space and lost to the ages.

Film Review: “Motherless Brooklyn”

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN
Starring: Edward Norton, Alec Baldwin
Directed by: Edward NortonRated: Rated R
Running Time: 2 hrs 24 mins
Warner Bros. 

While “Joker” has strokes of genius, namely Joaquin Phoenix, the new crime drama “Motherless Brooklyn” is a triumph of cinematic art and deserves to be an Oscar contender in multiple categories. Adapted from the 1999, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel of the same name by American novelist Jonathan Lethem, “Motherless Brooklyn,” written and directed by Edward Norton, is a brilliant, throwback detective story with an all-star cast that delivers the goods. It mirrors early 1950s Brooklyn in such a palpable way that it makes you feel like you are there. Despite its arguably long, two-hour plus running time, the puzzle-like central story is so engrossing with its twists and turns that you can end up losing yourself in it. 

“Motherless Brooklyn” revolves around Lionel Essrog (Norton), a gumshoe with Tourette’s syndrome, which is a neurological disorder consisting of involuntary tics, utterances and sometimes profane outbursts. One of a few misfits under the employ of WWII vet and longtime private detective Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), it is Lionel’s photographic memory which proves useful in his line of work. On the day we meet him, Frank needs Lionel and another detective to provide backup during a secret meeting in case something goes wrong. Unfortunately for Frank, this is exactly what happens and despite Lionel’s best efforts, he is unable to save his boss who leaves him a solitary word as a clue as to who is responsible. 

Like a string he cannot stop pulling on, Lionel obsessively follows in Frank’s footsteps to find out not only who killed him but why. The trail leads him down a path that puts him in physical jeopardy on multiple occasions as well as a woman named Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Belle”), whom Frank had discovered was the key to unlocking a dark secret that certain powerful people want to keep buried. Eventually, Lionel must find all the puzzle pieces and put them together before a looming deadline arrives. 

“Motherless Brooklyn” may well be Norton’s greatest accomplishment of his career as he succeeds pulling off the rare feat of wearing all three hats (writer/director/lead actor). His adaptation, which has been 20 years in the making from the time he first read the novel, brilliantly captures the essence of Lethem’s work while his direction is even-handed throughout the film. The latter is reflected in its tension-filled pacing, camera work, and his cast’s general success with disappearing into their roles. This includes Alec Baldwin as a power-hungry politician, Willem Dafoe as an eccentric genius, and Rose who is more than just a damsel in distress.

 The icing on the cake for Norton’s detailed film is its terrific costume designs, vintage cars, music, and overall early 1950s vibe he creates. It all adds up to a work that gives you a lot to chew on and to pay attention to. Overall, “Motherless Brooklyn” is simply one of 2019’s best films thus far.

Film Review: “The Current War” – Director’s Cut

THE CURRENT WAR – Director’s Cut
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon
Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr 42 mins
101 Studios 

Electricity. We take it for granted much like air and water. It is almost hard to imagine how human civilization ever functioned, much less survived without it. In the totality of human history, it was just a blink of an eye ago, circa the beginning of the 1880s, when electricity was delivered unto the masses by two extraordinary men – Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. The struggle between these two icons of invention over AC and DC current is dramatized in “The Current War,” a film that made its debut two years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival and languished in limbo until now. With engaging performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon, and an interesting script, “The Current War” is a quick-paced historical work that is indubitably watchable. 

It all begins in 1882 when Edison (Cumberbatch) demonstrates the power of DC current by lighting up a small section of Manhattan, New York. After being snubbed by Edison, rich financier and inventor Westinghouse (Shannon) pursues the possibilities of AC current with equal passion. A war between the two gradually heats up with casualties along the way. 

Edison’s sometimes blind, cutthroat ambition, causes him to often make empty promises to his young children and losing out on time with his wife who dies tragically. He refuses to see any possibilities beyond DC current, which takes more power stations and heavier wire. Even a young and eccentric Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult, “Dark Phoenix”) cannot convince him otherwise. 

Westinghouse tries to stick to his moral principles by avoiding the use of dirty propaganda that Edison often employs. However, he lets a little envy creep in over Edison’s abundant fame and so he pushes harder to win with the more dangerous AC current, which can run longer distances via thinner wire. A close associate pays a high price for it and Westinghouse, who is dubiously portrayed as being haunted by a harrowing Civil War experience, resorts to similar tactics as those of Edison while forming a partnership with the scorned Tesla, who’s relegated to more of a sideshow within the story. 

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) “The Current War” was originally under the Weinstein Company’s umbrella, but it’s release was sidetracked after Harvey Weinstein’s fall from power. Thankfully, Gomez-Rejon, with the help of executive producer Martin Scorsese, was able to get the film back and did some reshoots. His final product is a rapid-paced, enjoyable work with good cinematography and solid costume designs.

 “The Current War” provides a keen look into this likely forgotten period of American history that changed the world forever. Cumberbatch and Shannon dominate the screen with as-expected impressive performances the bring to life these two titans of electrical ingenuity.

How to go about setting up an indie film business

For those who love film, it’s the dream to set up a project that lets you develop and create a movie all of your own. Indie filmmakers, as they are known, attempt to operate outside the world of Hollywood and the big box office movie worlds. Perhaps they choose to focus on a theme or topic that they think isn’t being covered by the mainstream film establishment. Or maybe they decide to employ a more diverse cast, or work from a lower budget in order to focus on the passion and skill of the actors rather than name recognition.

However, nobody is under any illusions: indie filmmaking is far easier said than done, and there are all kinds of barriers ranging from lack of knowledge to a world in which support can seem scarce. There are some ways to mitigate these problems, however, and to surge ahead in the indie film world. This article will explore what these solutions might be, and how a budding indie filmmaker can make themselves as ready as possible to do a great job.

Get some experience first

There are plenty of budding indie filmmakers out there. If you want to do it, you can guarantee that many others have had the same idea – and this means that you’re likely to face some competition when it comes to securing funding, finding the best scriptwriters, and getting picked up by festivals. For that reason, a better strategic goal might be to ensure that you get some experience in the industry before pressing ahead. Why not consider, for example, taking a job as an assistant on a camera crew? Before you find a professional NY camera crew for your own film, taking one of the many camera crew jobs in NY will not only give you an insight into the whole supply chain, but will also ensure that your skills are high and that you have some cash as you develop your idea.

Do your reading

Some indie filmmakers get gripped by their idea as soon as it is born, and can then barely think of anything else while they’re getting set up. While this sort of burning creativity can be good, it can also be damaging. It can lead to you pressing ahead before you’re ready – and producing something that, in the long term, might turn out to just be substandard. However, by reading up on the state of the indie film scene, you’ll quickly be able to find out whether or not it’s right for you and whether or not your idea could fly. There are all kinds of resources available on the internet, such as forums for filmmakers. Don’t worry too much about others stealing your idea: provided you are vague enough to get the advice you need, it’s possible for these sorts of circles to be mutually supportive places in which you can get what you need and then fly with it.

Find some support

When an indie film is made, there are always all kinds of people involved. As mentioned above, a camera crew is essential – but so are producers, directors, lighting specialists, marketers and many more. Before starting your project and casting roles, you need to be sure that you have the assistance you need – especially if, as many indie film projects are, you’re strapped for cash. Would people be willing to work on your project as volunteers, for example? Would people be happy to work part-time so that they can keep space for other jobs? These are all tough issues that you as an indie filmmaker will need to iron out – and if you don’t do it early enough, then your hard work could go to waste in the long run.

Working as an indie filmmaker here in the US is not easy, despite there being many cities that are so welcoming to amateur filmmakers. Money is a big problem, and you’ll need to be sure that you’ve got a good support network around you who can keep the lights on while you’re being creative. As this article has shown, there’s a lot of research to do before you can get to the top, and you’ll need a lot of patience. But by persevering, biding your time and keeping yourself well informed about everything pertaining to your industry, there’s no reason why you can’t eventually produce an indie film that gets played at a festival and becomes widely known and even critically acclaimed.

Film Review: “Lucy in the Sky”

LUCY IN THE SKY
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm
Directed by: Noah HawleyRated:
Rated R
Running Time: 2 hrs 4 mins
Fox Searchlight

Like most North Korean missile tests, the disastrous melodrama “Lucy in the Sky” fails to achieve full lift-off and explodes into a million fiery pieces. Although we are told the story is inspired by real-life events, in truth it bears little resemblance to the bizarre 2007 actions of disgraced NASA astronaut Lisa Novak. Natalie Portman tackles her lead role with sheer abandon, but this turns into heavy-handed acting, resulting in an inability to take her seriously. First-time feature film director and co-writer Noah Hawley, whose previous directorial efforts have been limited to TV episodes of “Fargo” and “Legion,” has no sense of pacing as it veers aimlessly while making us feel like we just spent 40 days in the wilderness when it is over, which is the best part of the film. 

Pushed by an alcoholic mother (Ellen Burstyn) to be better than everyone else, astronaut Lucy Cola (Portman) achieves a career pinnacle by spending two weeks on the International Space Station. Like a wide-eyed Major Tom, Lucy loses herself as she gazes at Earth during a spacewalk outside the station’s confines. (Lucy should go blind during this opening sequence because she stares at the sun without having her gold, protective lens down, but who cares about science?)

 Upon her return to Earth, the childless Lucy immediately begins having problems readjusting to life with gravity. This includes her ever-increasing, distant relationship with her doting, religious husband, Drew Cola (Dan Stevens, TV series “Legion”), who seems to have been based upon Ned Flanders from “The Simpsons.” To her credit, Lucy does try to be a mentor to her teenage niece, Blue Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson, TV series “Legion”), who looks up to her aunt as an inspiration. 

Routine family life doesn’t cut it for Lucy as she becomes determined to go back into space, and along the way she starts an affair with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Hamm). She views him as one of only a select few who understands her, but Mark is a playboy. So, when Lucy runs off the rails, he steps away from her and turns his attention to up-and-coming astronaut Erin Eccles (Zazie Beetz, “Deadpool 2,” “Joker”). The idea of losing Mark to another woman, who is also her competition for a seat on the next mission, pushes Lucy over the edge. Naturally, she hatches a plot to do a dirty deed dirt cheap while enlisting her impressionable niece as her help.

 We are supposed to feel sympathy for Lucy as she struggles with her sanity, even after the story’s bizarre climax. However, this is a far-fetched idea by Hawley considering that if her plan succeeded someone would have probably died a violent death. As for the real facts, without spoiling too much and keeping it to a nutshell, Novak was married with three children during her approximately two-year affair with astronaut William Oefelein.

She was arrested in 2007 in Orlando for attempting to kidnap a U.S. Air Force Captain who had become romantically involved with Oefelien. Lastly, Hawley’s fumbling attempts at exploring existentialism throughout “Lucy in the Sky” are too muted to accrue any depth. He also under-utilizes Eccles and simply lets the film drag on far too long. 

Oscar Winning Film Editor Paul Hirsch Talks About His Career and His New Book

Oscar winning film editor Paul Hirsch has been fortunate in that he has worked numerous times with two of Hollywood’s best known filmmakers, Brian DePalma and John Hughes.  He also won an Academy Award for his work (along with Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew) on one of the most popular films of all time, “Star Wars.”  With a book highlighting his career about to be released, Mr. Hirsch took the time to answer some questions about his lengthy career.

 

MIKE SMITH:  What drew you to become a film editor?

 

PAUL HIRSCH:  A number of things.  I was fascinated when I first saw a Moviola.  I was blown away by a festival of Orson Welles films.  I liked working with my hands, and was drawn to the tools.  I loved movies.

 

MS:  Other film editors I’ve interviewed had mentors they admired.  I recently spoke with Arthur Schmidt and he told me that he learned under Dede Allen and Neil Travis.  Did you have someone whose work you admired and/or who took you under their wing?

 

PH:  Brian DePalma was my mentor.  He encouraged me, empowered me, validated my work and deeply influenced me.  I was cutting his films from the age of 23, and so never worked under a professional feature film editor.  I learned by doing and studying how films I admired were cut.  I was sort of like the art students you see in museums, copying the masters.

 

MS:   How did you come to edit “Hi Mom” for Brian DePalma?

 

I had cut the trailer for “Greetings,” thanks to my brother.  When they got the money to do a sequel, titled “Son of Greetings,” Brian hired me to cut it.

 

MS:   Five or your first six films were with DePalma.  He is well known – and often criticized – for his use of split-screen (the prom from “Carrie” being a great example).  Was that something you discussed in the editing room or was that his original vision?

An example of the split screen process used in “Carrie”

PH:  Split screen is Brian’s thing.  I can’t take credit for it, but I do love and appreciate the tension that can result from juxtaposing images on the screen, even if, or rather, especially if, the screen isn’t actually split.  I’m referring to deep focus shots, which have become a lost art, where you have a near object on one side, and a distant one on the other.  Brian did that a lot, using split diopters, with tremendous success.

 

MS:   A lot of the young filmmakers in the 70s (DePalma, Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas) were very close with each other.  Is that how you were hired for “Star Wars?”

 

PH:  Yes.  Brian screened the final cut of “Carrie” for George and Marcia Lucas on their return from principal photography on”Star Wars” in England.  They needed help, and turned to me.

 

MS:  How difficult was it editing a film where you sometimes had to wait months for a finished special effects shot?

 

PH:  We had ways around that.  We would cut in place-holders or a piece of leader that we estimated was the right length.

 

MS:  You, along with Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew, received the Academy Award for your work on “Star Wars.”  Where do you keep your Oscar?

Richard Chew, Marcia Lucas and Paul Hirsch hoist their Oscars with presenter Farrah Fawcett

PH:  It’s on a bookshelf in my office.

 

MS:  You’ve done eleven films with DePalma but, surprisingly, not ‘The Untouchables.”  Was there a reason you didn’t cut that picture?

 

PH: I moved to the West Coast after “Blow Out.”  I didn’t cut a picture for Brian in the ensuing ten years.  We next worked together on “Raising Cain,” when he was living in California.

 

MS:  You also worked a lot with John Hughes.  How was he to work with and were there any major differences in the way he and DePalma approached a film?

 

PH:  John was a lot of fun to work with until he wasn’t.  He was a brilliant artist, but had mercurial moods.  But I had a great time working with him.  John was a writer, primarily, and his medium was words, by and large. Brian is a great visualist.  His ideas are primarily graphic, both in terms of camera movement, which no one does better, and in terms of visual story-telling, that is to say, how scenes can be constructed in the editing room.

 

MS:   Hal Ashby was a great film editor who went on to become a fine director.  Have you ever wanted to direct?

 

PH:  I did want to for a while, and then the fever broke.  I like working all the time, and editing afforded me that.  To me, directing was like perpetually running for office.  I’m more of an introvert, and editing suits me just fine.

 

MS:   Your most recent film was the Tom Cruise version of “The Mummy.”  What is the biggest difference between cutting a film now and forty-plus years ago?

 

PH:  There’s a lot more reliance on vfx now, which consumes a lot of time and energy.  And when I started out, directors were given much more discretion.  The director was the key creative figure in the package, often with final cut.  That happens less these days.  If a director had a hit back then, the studio would ask, “What do you want to do next?”  Today, the projects are developed by the studio, and the director is “cast” the same way you would choose an actor for a role.  Producers and studio executives are much more involved in the editing process these days.

 

MS:  What can you tell us about your new book?

Mr. Hirsch’s book will be released on November 1st and is currently available to order now on Amazon.com and other sites.

PH:  It’s an account of my adventures in Movie-land, my experiences of the last fifty years and what I learned during that time.  I write about the various projects I worked on, and the fascinating people I encountered.  I share some of the insights I picked up along the way as I made my way into the industry.  It’s not a how-to book, which I consider boring.  And it’s not a gossipy tell-all where I get revenge on the jerks I met along the way, which really weren’t that many when I think about it.  The people I got along with are much more interesting.  I meant it to be entertaining above all.  I hope people will read it for pleasure. I’ve had a number of friends read it.  Editors in particular seem to like it, but I think anyone who is curious about what goes on behind the scenes in our business will find it fun to read.

 

MS:  Are you working on anything new?

 

PH:  I’ve been working on the book for many years, first writing it, and then editing it.  I only just recently finished going over the page proofs.  I’m going to take my time now, reading scripts, and will see if anything pings my interest.  I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

Film Review: “Judy”

 

 

  • JUDY
  • Starring:  Renee Zellwegger, Finn Wittrock and Rufus Sewell
  • Directed by: Rupert Goold
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 58 mins
  • Roadside Attractions

 

When you mention the name Judy Garland to most people, their first thought is usually of Dorothy Gale, the Kansas farm girl who traveled the Yellow Brick Road in “The Wizard of Oz.”  They may not know that she was a singular talent with an amazing singing voice, or that she was also a fine actress, earning two Academy Award nominations and criminally losing Best Actress for “A Star is Born” to Grace Kelly.  They may remember her as Liza Minelli’s mother.  But very few will know that she led a troubled life.  Multiple marriages.  Being fired from films (she was originally scheduled to star in “Annie Get Your Gun” but was replaced by Betty Hutton).  Alcohol and drugs.  It all contributed to her death at the very young age of 47.  There will never be another Judy Garland.  But I must say, Renee Zellwegger in the new film “Judy” comes awfully close.

 

The film highlights two periods of Garland’s life.  As a child actress (Darci Shaw), presumably during the filming of “The Wizard of Oz” and towards the end of her life when she undertook a tour of London.  Both are harrowing.  Despite all of the smiles and staged fun, Garland is treated like an indentured servant by everyone from MGM head L.B. Mayer to the studio hack hired to make sure she doesn’t take a bite of a hamburger during a photo shoot for fear she’ll gain weight.  In London, Garland (Zellwegger) must deal with her personal issues, which include showing up on stage intoxicated.  Things begin to get better when she meets Mickey Deens (Wittrock) at a party.  Though he is much younger then she is, the two begin a relationship which seems to life Judy up.  But can she remain on top?

 

I always go into films like this with a little trepidation.  It is rare when you find an actor or actress that is able to embody a character you are so familiar with.  Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) and Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) pulled it off and were rewarded with Oscars.  Zellwegger may join them next year.  Hers is not a caricature of Garland but an actual channeling.  Her appearance…her mannerisms…everything says “Judy Garland” on film.  And, while she doesn’t sound like Garland when she does (and to be honest, no one can) she pays homage to some of the great tunes Garland was famous for.  In between concert scenes, which are well presented, the little looks into the life of this legend keep the film grounded, solidly anchored by Zellwegger’s award-worthy performance.

 

“The Wizard of Oz” is regarded as a classic.  So was Judy Garland.  50 years after her death, and 80 years after the film debuted, it’s good to see her getting her due.

 

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