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.

Film Review: “Blow the Man Down”

  • BLOW THE MAN DOWN
  • Starring: Sophie Lowe, Morgan Saylor
  • Directed by: Bridget Savage Cole & Danielle Krudy
  • Rated: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins
  • Amazon Prime Video

 With a title borrowed from a classic English sea shanty, “Blow the Man Down” is an average, yet entertaining mystery/drama with a multitude of secrets that emanates a “Fargo”-like vibe. First-time feature length directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, who also co-wrote the film that debuted on Amazon Prime, have crafted a smooth-paced work of cinema with a few flashes of well-timed suspense. 

Set in the small, picturesque fishing village of Easter Cove, Maine, “Blow the Man Down” begins with the Catholic wake of one Mary Margaret Connolly. Her two daughters – Priscilla (Sophie Lowe, “The Beautiful Lie”) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor, “Homeland”) – are naturally saddened by the loss of their mother, whom they had to care for in recent times. The girls, though, seem surprised to hear tales from their mother’s three closest friends – Susie Gallagher (Academy Award nominee June Squibb, “Nebraska”), Gail Maguire (Academy Award nominee Annette O’Toole, “A Mighty Wind”) and Doreen Burke (Marceline Hugot, “The Messenger”) – of how Mary had saved their bacon on several occasions. 

Interspersed within this sadness is a scene in which a nameless woman frantically jumps out of a car and runs screaming from an angry man who eventually tackles her. All the while a woman we come to know as Enid Nora Devlin (Margo Martindale, “August: Osage County”) watches silently from a second story window. We get the sense she may approve of the violence that is transpiring and thus has no interest in helping the woman. It’s brief but it’s an important nugget of things to come.

 Back at Mary’s house, the younger Mary Beth is dismayed to learn from Priscilla that their mother has left them with nothing. Mary Beth leaves in an explosion of anger and ends up at a dive bar where she latches onto a man who proves to be far more dangerous than she had ever considered. This is followed by a killing and cover-up that leads the sisters down a rabbit hole of secrets and lies involving prostitution, bribery, murder and a police force that either looks the other way or is incompetent. 

Even with a solid story, “Blow the Man Down” does contain some mystery clichés so don’t expect anything fresh when watching it. Additionally, the two leads are fine enough in their roles, but they are overshadowed greatly by the much older, supporting female cast. Squibb, O’Toole and Hugot are a hoot as a trio and they excel at making us feel like there is something more to their characters without giving too much away too quickly. 

Overall, the real star is Martindale who is simply a delight to watch. A woman with a ton of secrets and a hardened, mean streak a mile wide and a mile deep, Enid is someone that proves to be a perfect antagonist. Martindale also infuses her character with a level of complexity that the other cast members are not quite able to achieve. 

Call it a poor man’s version of “Knives Out,” “Blow the Man Down” is a nice way to spend 90 minutes in front of a screen at home.

Film Review: “The Way Back”

THE WAY BACK
Starring: Ben Affleck, Janina Gavankar
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hr 48 mins
Warner Bros. 

Having its release date delayed several months was not a good sign for the new sports drama “The Way Back” starring Ben Affleck. However, instead of just being another piece of cinematic rubbish that is typically released at the beginning of each year, “The Way Back” proves to be one of the greatest cinematic surprises in recent memory. With one of Affleck’s finest performances to date, this sports drama about an alcoholic who becomes a high school basketball coach ranks among the pantheon of such classics as “Hoosiers” and “Bull Durham.”

 The life of construction worker Jack Cunningham (Affleck) has boiled down to this: wake up and have a beer while showering; drive to work while having another beer; work all day while drinking some more; drive back home while drinking; and then either drink a case of beer in his run-down apartment or drink himself into a stupor at a local bar. It’s a tragic life as he is clearly on a path to drinking himself to death. 

One day, Jack receives a coaching offer from the priest who oversees his alma mater – a private Catholic school that is experiencing some hard times thanks to diminishing enrollment. We learn that once upon a time, Jack was a high school basketball phenom and was recruited by NCAA Division I programs. However, Jack walked away from basketball after high school and never looked back. 

Reluctantly, Jack takes on the role, but he soon discovers that his team is less than stellar and his assistant coach (Al Madrigal, “The Daily Show”) is a math teacher with no real experience. There are some predictable things that subsequently occur, but for the most part, the story evolves beyond general sports clichés, which typically dominate this subgenre, and deals with real life issues, thus giving “The Way Back” substance over style. 

Whether he likes it or not, Jack becomes a mentor to his players, particularly so for the team’s lone standout. Yet his newfound lease on life is shaky at best because of the underlying issues that remain, which are brought to the forefront again when his estranged wife, Angela (Janina Gavankar, “True Blood”) reaches out to him. Inevitably, Jack hits rock bottom in a painful and sad way. 

Once upon a time, yours truly was offered a position as a basketball coach at a private high school. Strictly basketball speaking, Affleck nails the evolution of Jack’s growth as a rookie coach and as a mentor to young men, notwithstanding his profane tirades. Director Gavin O’Connor (“The Accountant”) also brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the little gymnasiums that these schools play in as well as bringing an authenticity to the depiction of games played. 

Affleck has been open about his own battle with alcoholism in recent years and it is easy to see that he gave everything he had to the role. As the lone “star” of the film, Affleck lives up to the challenge with a fantastic performance as a man in great pain that is raw and authentic. In the end, like a Steph Curry jump shot, “The Way Back” is nothing but net.

Film Review: “Ordinary Love”

ORDINARY LOVE
Starring: Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville
Directed by: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hr 32 mins
Bleecker Street Media 

Nearly everyone has been affected by cancer in some way. Whether you have had to battle it yourself or had a family member, friend or acquaintance to be diagnosed with it, cancer, as we all know too well, is non-discriminatory as to who it invades. In the somber British drama “Ordinary Love,” this hideous disease inflicts a toll on the relationship of a devoted married couple still haunted by a tragic loss. The ups and downs they experience during one long year are portrayed with absolute brilliance and humanity by Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”). 

By the time we meet Tom (Neeson) and Joan (Manville), their relationship has developed into one that feels like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers. There is a tangible ease about how they interact with each other, punctuated by wonderful chemistry between the two leads. Initially, they have all the appearances of carefree empty nesters enjoying the autumn period of their lives. However, when Joan discovers a lump in her breast, we learn that underneath the pleasant exterior of their marriage is a scar that runs deep in their souls.

 Somehow, their marriage endured the death of their daughter long ago, but cancer threatens to put them through an altogether different ordeal. Despite trying to maintain a stiff upper lip about her diagnosis, Joan is racked with fear of the unknown while Tom swims in denial while trying to do his best to be supportive. What unfolds over the course of a year are challenges they meet with a variety of emotions, ranging from gut-wrenching despair to laughter to anger born from frustration. Through it all there is a grace which carries them through. 

“Ordinary Love,” which had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, is a serious work of cinematic art that will leave its mark on you. It is raw and unfiltered. Neeson and Manville are terrific at making us feel the painful intensity of their characters’ emotions. For her part, Manville, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in 2017’s “Phantom Thread,” delivers a gut-wrenching performance as a woman trying to endure a disease that takes its toll on the mind, body and spirit. 

The film’s brevity, at just over an hour-and-a-half, means less time the story can explore the medical/hospital elements of Joan’s cancer. As such, these moments seem rushed and too abbreviated, thus lessening how truly impactful “Ordinary Love” could have been. Some elements are also predictable, yet this can be overlooked as a negative because of the overall emotional potency within the film. “Ordinary Love” is certainly not ordinary and will hit close to home for anyone who has been touched by cancer. 

Film Review: “Onward”

ONWARD
Starring the voices of:  Tom Holland and Chris Pratt
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Rated:  PG
Running time:  1 hr 42 mins
Walt Disney

Fathers and sons.  As a father (and a son) I can tell you there is nothing like the bond shared between the two.  Films dealing with this special relationship have been around since time immortal.  From “The Godfather” to “The Lion King,”… from “Field of Dreams” to “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” the celebration of that bond is timeless.  So, if you had only 24 hours to discover that bond, wouldn’t you do ANYTHING to achieve it?

Ian Lightfoot (Holland) is turning 16 but he doesn’t seem to pleased.  His mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) wants him to invite his friends over for a party but, with the exception of a few of his classmates, he really doesn’t have any.  Ian lives with his mom and his older brother, Barley (Pratt).  Ian’s father passed away before Ian was born and today, to honor his pop, Ian is wearing his dad’s favorite college sweatshirt.  A random meeting with a former classmate of his dad gives Ian a new insight into him.  To make things even more exciting, his mother gives Ian a present that dad intended to give him on this special day.  It seems that dad was a fan of wizardry and has bequeathed Ian his staff.  He has also given him a spell that will allow Ian to bring his father back for one day.  A day that Ian will remember forever.

I’ll have to admit that I went into this film not expecting much.  Obviously, as it was from PIXAR, I knew that visually it would be amazing (and I was right) but from the previews I didn’t think the story would hold my attention.  WRONG!  Helped by the strong vocal performances from the cast, “Onward” is a fine addition to the proud line up of films the company has produced.  It hits all of the emotional notes and, if you’ve ever been a child who longed for a few extra moments alone with your dad, it brings tears to your eyes.

Like most animated films these days, the cast is top notch.  Holland brings his youthful exuberance to the role while Pratt is all blustery bravado.  Both actors inhabit their characters.  Louis-Dreyfuss, Octavia Spencer and the rest of the cast do likewise.  Visually, the film is gorgeous.  Brightly colored and stunningly rendered, this is a film that can stand proudly next to such recent fare as “Toy Story 4” and “UP” as a can’t miss hit for the entire family to enjoy!