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.

CD Review: Lamb of God “Lamb of God”

“Lamb of God”

Lamb of God

Epic

Producer: Josh Wilbur

Tracks: 10

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

After a five year lapse veteran Virginia Metallers Lamb of God return with a brand new studio album simply titled “Lamb of God”. The ten track release which was produced by Josh Wilbur and is being released via Epic Records is the follow up to the bands critically acclaimed 2005 album “VII: Sturm und Drang”. “Lamb of God” is the first studio release to feature drummer Art Cruz who replaced Chris Adler after his departure from the group in 2019.   

Lamb of God wastes no time getting to the point with their latest self titled studio offering. The albums opening track “Momento Mori” features a haunting spoken lyric passage courtesy of Lead singer Randy Blythes while an equally eerie rolling guitar riff plays in the back background moments before giving way to a full on bombastic assault of your senses. “Momento Mori” is also the longest track of on the album clocking in at just under six minutes giving you ample time to get comfortable for the remaining nine tracks all of which pack an equally aggressive punch. Tracks like “Check Mate”, “New Colossal Hate” and “Resurrection Man” feature impressive dueling guitar work by Willie Adler and Mark Morton. The two players really complement one another in their attack giving each track a killer mix of equal parts shredding and chugging. Drummer Art Cruz is equally impressive across the board as his playing fits in seamlessly with that of bassist John Campbell providing a thunderous attack of low end thunder. “Lamb of God” also features a couple guest spots courtesy of Hatebreed front-man Jamey Jasta on the song “Poison Dream” and Chuck Billy of Testament on “Routes”. I highly recommend checking out both of those tracks as each of the guest performers spots add a little something special to an already impressive canvas.      

From front to back “Lamb of God” is a full on knock to your senses. Josh Wilbur hit it out of the park with the overall production of the album as it sounds great no matter if it’s played through ear buds or on large speakers. Each member’s performance seems to have been carefully crafted to insure it tied into the next without issue. Art Cruz undoubtedly had some big shoes to fill in his new full time role and he more than delivered as the band has never sounded tighter. Well worth the price of admission “Lamb of God” is a fitting soundtrack to this chaotic and uncertain time.   

Track Listing:

1.) Momento Mori

2.) Check Mate

3.) Gears

4.) Reality Bath

5.) New Colossal Hate

6.) Resurrection Man

7.) Poison Dream (feat. Jamey Jasta)

8.) Routes (feat. Chuck Billy)

9.) Bloodshot Eyes

10.) On The Hook

Be sure to check out our exclusive interview with Lamb of God Bassist John Campbell here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.  

DVD/Blu-ray Ripper Software Review

DVD/Blu-ray ripper software is very essential for those who are passionate about collecting DVD and Blu-ray discs. In order to save space, keep discs from scratches and watch DVD/Blu-ray movies easily on PC or smart phone, it’s time to rip DVD/Blu-ray to hard drive or convert them to MP4, MKV, AVI, etc. So in this article, I will introduce lots of safe DVD/Blu-ray ripping software to help you rip DVD/Blu-ray free and fast.

  • DVDFab DVD/Blu-ray Ripper

When you plan to rip DVD to MP4 or other digital formats, DVDFab DVD Ripper is the best free DVD ripping software you are looking for. It works on both Windows and Mac, able to decrypt all kinds of DVD copy protection like 99-title, CSS, UOP, APS, Region Code, etc., in collaboration with DVDFab Passkey for DVD. You can use it to rip and convert a DVD to any mainstream audio/video formats 10 times faster than the normal speed and without any quality loss. Meanwhile, it also enables you to upscale video by 300% up to 1080p.

If you want to convert Bluray to digital formats such as MP4, MKV, AVI, M2TS, TS, WMV, and play them on various devices like iPhone, Sumsung, DVDFab Blu-ray Ripper is your best choice. This free Bluray ripping software is capable to remove Bluray copy protection like AACS, BD+ and Cinavia. And similar to DVDFab DVD Ripper, its “Enlarger AI” tool can help you improve video quality to 4K.

  • Mac DVDRipper Pro

As a DVD ripping program, DVDRipper Pro is compatible with Mac. You can use it to read scratched and broken DVDs up to 5 in free version. But it only burns a main movie, so you have no choice about which part of DVD videos to be backed up.

  • Riplt

Riplt DVD ripping software can rip a DVD on Mac. It keeps your movies, subtitles and alternate tracks intact. But it may take a long time up to 1.5 hours. So if you have enough patience, just download and install this DVD ripper and played ripped movies in iTunes, iPad, etc.

  • DVDSmith

DVDSmith is qualified DVD ripping software working on Windows operating system. No matter what kinds of DVD protection embedded in your disc like Region Code, CSS, ArccOS, UOPs, it is able to decrypt. You can use it rip DVD to MP4, AVI, HTML5 and play files on iPhone, Sumsung, etc.

  • MakeMKV

MakeMKV is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux. This DVD ripping software not only works on DVD converting, but handles Blurays as well. It can decrypt AACS, BD+ and Region Code. But ripping DVD/Bluray to MKV only forces you to find an MKV player to play your videos, since not all media players support this format of file.

  • HandBrake

Similar to MakeMKV, it is also compatible with the three operating systems. But better than MakeMKV, HandBrake allows you to rip DVD and Bluray to MKV and MP4 formats. So when MKV file is not playable on your devices, rip DVD to MP4 instead.

  • DVD-Cloner

DVD-Cloner helps you rip DVD and Bluray files on both Windows and Mac. You can use it free for 7 days. During this free trial, you can convert any DVD and Bluray to MKV and AVI formats. And it helps to get rid of some copy protection why may exist in your disc.

Conclusion

Have you had a full picture of how to rip DVD and Bluray discs? Choose the best free software such as DVDFab DVD Ripper to back up your files. Then tons of discs will be saved in your computer eternally and you can enjoy them any time and anywhere.

Television/Streaming Review: ESPN 30 for 30: BE WATER

I’m old enough to remember watching Bruce Lee as Kato on television’s “The Green Hornet” when it originally aired on ABC. T o me he was just a cool guy who wore a mask and kicked ass. But there was a lot more to Lee, as both an actor and a person, and those remarkable qualities are revealed in the latest ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, BE WATER.

We first meet Lee as he is completing a screen test in 1964. He is quite and soft spoken but, when he is asked to demonstrate some of his martial arts skills, he is a tornado. Even in these few minutes of film, you can see the legend that lie ahead.

Born in San Francisco (his father was a popular Chinese actor and opera performer), Lee’s family returned to Hong Kong shortly after his birth. Like most children, Lee had a mischievous side and his father allowed him to begin acting in films as a child in hopes of curbing his rambunctious attitudes. Finding his idea unsuccessful, his father sends him to Seattle to attend college. It is there that he begins the journey that most fans know. But there is also a lot they don’t and that is revealed here in Lee’s own words. Using archival interviews and quoting his letters, read by his daughter, Shannon, we learn that Lee was a very philosophical man who yearned to bridge the racial prejudice felt in America. He wanted to be able to share and express his culture and was tired of seeing such actors as Mickey Rooney, Marlon Brando and John Wayne portraying Asian characters on screen, usually in ridiculous make up.

Lee’s short-lived small screen stardom begins to fade and he is hopeful for the lead in an upcoming program to be called “Kung Fu.” When he is passed over for the role in favor of David Carradine – we hear the show’s producer proclaim that he could not find an Asian actor he felt could handle the role, he takes his family to Hong Kong,, where he will soon make film history.

BE WATER gets it’s title from a philosophy that Lee often shared in interviews. Water, he notes, is the softest substance on Earth, yet it is strong enough to penetrate rock. It takes the shape of whatever vessel it finds itself in. The film is full of amazing archival footage and the story is told through conversations with not only Lee’s daughter and widow, Linda, but various friends and former students, including Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

On July 20, 1973, Bruce Lee died. 10 days later, “Enter the Dragon” was released, making him an international superstar, ironically a term Lee disliked. His impact on pop culture and racial acceptance is still being felt today. With the current situation the nation, and the world, finds itself in, we could use a man like him today.

BE WATER airs this Sunday night at 9:00 pm EST on ESPN. It will stream afterwards on ESPN+. Don’t miss it!

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

CD Review: Iggy Pop “Lust For Life” Deluxe Edition

“Lust For Life” Deluxe Edition

Iggy pop

Virgin

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Included as part of the upcoming “The Bowie Years” 7 disc set exploring Iggy Pop’s Berlin-era releases “Lust For Life” The Deluxe Edition will also be made available separately and includes the original release of “Lust For Life” along with a second disc “TV Eye” which is a live album featuring rare outtakes and alternate mixes. Also included is a 40 page book of lyrics, photos and interviews housed in special multi-fold packaging,

More than 40 years after its initial release Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” remains as one of the most influential albums ever made as to this day it continues to inspire and influence artists of all genres both past and present. Disc 1 feature’s a newly mastered version of 1977’s “Lust For Life” courtesy of Tony Dixon. Each of the 9 tracks sounded great with the new mastering as there is just enough freshness added to make it the release shine on any of today’s audio format while still staying true to the albums original sound. Personally I really enjoyed tracks such as “The Passenger” and “Neighborhood Threat” as they just sounded so good blasting through my speakers that I had to listen to them multiple times.

Disc two of the release titled “TV Eye: 1977 Live” is a collection of liver performances from the year of the album’s release. Not a bad collection however, The audio does vary from song to song given not all the live recordings are from the same concert or appearance. A couple EQ tweaks took care of this fairly quickly making for a decent addition to the set.

If you don’t already own this release I highly recommend the Deluxe Edition as you will surely enjoy the new mastering and the other bonus material included in this package. If you are a long time Iggy fan there may not be enough here to warrant a repurchase however if you are live recording fan then you will need this for your collection you also get the 40 page booklet and alternate packaging which is pretty cool on its own. Both this title and “The Idiot” are available now or if you want to wait until the end of June and get the complete 7 disc “Bowie Years” Collection both new versions of “Lust For Life” and “The Idiot” are a part of that set.

Disc 1: “Lust For Life”

1.) Lust For Life

2.) Sixteen

3.) Some Weird Sin

4.) The Passenger

5.) Tonight

6.) Success

7.) Turn Blue

8.) Neighborhood Threat

9.) Fall In Love With Me

Disc 2: “T.V. Eye: 1977 Live”

1.) T.V. Eye

2.) Funtime

3.) Sixteen

4.) I Got A Right

5.) Lust For Life

6.) Dirt

7.) Nightclubbing

8.) I Wanna Be Your Dog

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!

Television/Streaming Review: ESPN 30 for 30 – LANCE

In 2008 I was driving through downtown Kansas City when I was amazed at the sight of a seven-story banner of Lance Armstrong hanging from the building where my wife worked.  I called her and asked about it and she informed me that her company – an investment management firm – had partnered with Armstrong to promote his LIVESTRONG investments.  Hearing this, I asked her “and what happens when it finally comes out that he was a cheater?”  “Hopefully that isn’t true,” she replied.

LANCE, the latest episode in ESPN’s brilliant “30 for 30” documentary series, is a two part look at the rise and the fall of one of the most celebrated athletes in American history.  Episode one begins with Armstrong telling director Marina Zenovich how he knows there are many people that, upon seeing him, just want to scream out “F**k you, Lance,” but seldom do.  He also recounts how, once when a group heading into a restaurant did just that, he called the restaurant, informed the manager that he would pay for their dinner and asked the manager to inform the party that “Lance loves you.”  Unfortunately, Lance also loves himself.

We are introduced to the young man that would go on to “win” seven consecutive Tour de France bicycle races, the most prestigious race in the world.  He played several sports as a kid but didn’t excel in any of them.  He tried swimming and developed a passion.  Entering triathlons introduced him to competitive cycling, which is where he found his calling.  Then, his life was dealt a blow when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.  Beating major odds, Armstrong not only survived his ordeal but returned to competitive cycling.  He also returned to a dark secret he had been hiding – taking performance enhancing doses of such banned (in competitive sports) substances as EPO and Andrial.  He admits this rather non-chalantly, falling back often on the old “everyone else was doing it” excuse.

However, in Episode two, which airs this Sunday night on ESPN (and will be available afterwards on ESPN+) the true Armstrong comes through.  Like many athletes, Armstrong was set on winning at any cost, allegedly going so far as to inform the anti-doping agency that a rival cyclist was juicing.  Like many people in denial, Armstrong was like a pit bull in his defense of his reputation.  Whether using his cancer as a sympathy ploy or slandering his accusers (while testifying in an inquiry he calls one woman who filed a deposition alleging his cheating a whore) or using his status and power to destroy other riders, he comes off as a man who still feels that he’s done nothing wrong.

Part two also looks at Armstrong’s effect on those close to him.  His son, who played college football, is asked if he would ever use performance drugs.  His reply – that he only wants to succeed through his own hard work – is heartfelt and honest.  That’s what all athletes want to do.  Asked if he still considers himself relevant, Armstrong declares, “I AM relevant.”  He also refers to former U.S. Postal Service team mate Floyd Landis – who was the rider that finally outed Armstrong’s doping – as a “piece of s**t.”  Other team members relate that Lance was fine with them as long as they kept his secret but, at the slightest hint of disloyalty they were gone.

On the positive side, the film also takes a look at the magnificent work that the Lance Armstrong Foundation and LIVESTRONG have done in support of cancer patients everywhere.  Thanks to Armstrong’s popularity hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised for these organizations (I’ll admit that I bought a LIVESTRONG bracelet when they came out).  And this achievement allows Armstrong to ask if the ends justify the means.  Would this money have been raised if not for him?

In the end, you come away with a man who still doesn’t accept responsibility for anything (except his divorce).  He also laments the hardship he endured having to date such celebrities as Cheryl Crow and Kate Hudson.  Wahh!

I’m not sure if I’ll ever run into Lance Armstrong on the street so let me just say here, for the record, “Hey Lance – F**k you!”

TFF 2020 Shorts: LOL

Among the sections I most look forward to each year at the Tribeca Film Festival are the comedy shorts. This year the lineup, titled collectively under “LOL” were presented online in lieu of the postponed festival. Here are my thoughts on this year’s program:

Personal Favorite: I Can Change!

Jim Jenkins’s plays with time travel creatively and with perfect deployment of brief special effects. John Hoogenakker stars as a groom who is gifted the ability to stop time and uses it ostensibly to “better” himself for his bride-to-bride. How? Well he freezes his bride and their friends in time at their wedding chapel while he disappears to the outside world for a blink of an eye and returns a whole new man having spent the time, for example, training to be a doctor. The simplistic way the “time travel” is achieved recalls some of the clever shortcuts something like Bill & Ted used–ie just stating their time travel intent means we immediately get to the consequences, sparing us the time trip. The pacing of the escalation in Hoogenakker’s jumps until the film taps into a big sci-fi finale is really fun.

Second Fave: Query

Jay and Alex spend nine minutes mulling over sexuality–both their own and its larger place in society–as they hang out. It’s nothing Earth shattering, but the natural rapport between the two leads (Justice Smith and Graham Patrick Martin) is really charming and it’s nice to see a pair of young guys just delving into their thoughts on the matter not in some overwrought or homophobic manner, but just chilling, and with enough friendly mocking to keep things funny. And to bolster this strong duo, you also get a brief run in with Call Me By Your Name’s Armie Hammer!

Overlong: John Bronco

Walton Goggins stars as a disgraced cowboy car pitchman John Bronco in a star-studded, but overlong mockumentary. I was excited for this one, generally always glad to see Goggins get to play over the top, but the film gets to the core of what the joke is with John Bronco relatively early and hammers on it over and over instead of advancing the plot. It’s 36 minute runtime could have been halved and achieve the same beats, though I understand why the filmmakers may have been reticent to cut any of the big cameos they got. Kudos for getting the MicroMachines pitchman (John Moschitta Jr) back on screen with his rapid-fire speech patterns though!

Additional program titles included the clever meet cute of One Last Heist–a romcom wrapped in a robbery from Canada, A Piece of Cake starring “Glow’s” Rich Sommer as a desperate dad and Egg which takes viewers from a simple diner and spirals it into a grand adventure.

Note: Though the 2020 Festival was officially postponed due to ongoing pandemic precautions, online screeners and the fest’s press library mean we can still offer coverage of this year’s selections while looking forward to getting back to the fest in the future!
Check out all our TFF 2020 coverage HERE

Blu-ray Review: “The Invisible Man” (2020)

DIrected by: Leigh Whannell
Starring:  Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Distributed by: Universal Home Video
Running time: 124 minutes

  • Film: 4 out of 5 stars
  • A/V: 5 out of 5 stars
  • Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

There’s a great joke I first heard in the eighth grade that deals with a mishap involving Superman, Wonder Woman and the Invisible Man.  I can’t relate it hear but believe me, the punchline is killer.  So is the latest incarnation of the Invisible Man.

We open on a couple in bed.  As Adrian (Jackson-Cohen) sleeps, Cecilia (Moss) gets up, gathers some things and makes her way quietly out of the state of the art house.  Doing her best to avoid cameras and not set off alarms, she makes her way to the road, where a ride is waiting.  But she will soon find out that you can’t run away from some things, no matter how hard you try.

Genuinely terrifying, with a tour-de-force performance by Ms. Moss, “The Invisible Man” starts off slowly and clumsy.  20-minutes in I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to see a rehash of “Sleeping with the Enemy,” only with a Patrick Bergin that I couldn’t see.  But just as that thought came into my head, writer/director Whannell flipped the switch, taking the film into directions I never would have imagined.

There have been many attempts at filming H.G. Wells’ story of a man with the power of invisibility, from the 1933 Universal Horror Classic “The Invisible Man” starring Claude Rains to the 2000 Kevin Bacon-starrer “Hollow Man.”  Heck, even Kurt Russell and Chevy Chase have taken comedic shots at the story.  But here, the main theme is terror, especially to an audience who is on the edge of their seats, intently staring at the screen and looking for the slightest hint the bad guy is there.

Moss is a revelation here.  Best known for her television and streaming work (“Mad Men,” “The Handmaids Tale”) and a strong supporting turn in last year’s Jordan Peele horror masterpiece, “Us,” she has the unenviable job of basically interacting with a character that the audience never sees.  Whether arguing, pleading or physically fighting with our villain, it’s just her on the screen, yet you feel her terror, especially when she is violently struggling with an entity that she (nor the audience) can see.  Mr. Whannell, no stranger to horror thanks to his involvement in the “Saw” and “Insidious” film series, keeps the pace moving (after the first half-hour) and uses his camera as an almost additional character.  The musical score, by Benjamin Wallfisch (“IT,” “Bladerunner: 2049), helps set the mood as well.  The result is the most terrifying film since the aforementioned “Us.”  If you’re a fan of horror, you definitely need this one in your collection.

Lucky Number Slevin – Review

Once upon a time, there lived a simple guy named Slevin (Josh Hartnett). At some point, the white streak of his life changed to black, and Slevin began such troubles that he even took a shovel and started digging in. It all started with the fact that he lost his job. Then they decided to demolish his house because of some new variety of termites. Well, it all ended up that Slevin found his girlfriend in a pose in which the phrase: “This is not what you think” – it seems extremely stupid. And then Slevin decided to fly to New York to his friend Nick Fisher, who said that he had found a job for him.

However, the Big Apple also did not meet Slevin with a white stripe. At first, when he left the airport, he was attacked by some drug addict, broke his nose and took his wallet. Then, when Slevin came to Nick’s apartment, in which Nick himself wasn’t there, he was seized by some rude guys, not even having to put on his pants after a shower, and brought to a cool authority named Boss (Morgan Freeman). The Boss took Slevin for Nick, who, as it turned out, owed the Boss 96 thousand dollars. And even though the Boss is kindly ready to round up the amount to 90 thousand, to Slevin, this figure seems unbearable. However, the Boss, still kindly, offers Slevin to forgive the debt. But on one condition: Slevin must kill the son of the old foe Boss – also a criminal authority named Rabbi (Ben Kingsley). Recently, the Boss’s son was killed, and he longs for revenge.

But the situation didn’t end there either since further rude Jews appeared behind Slevin, who brought him to the Rabbi. It turned out that Nick and the Rabbi owed money and a lot. And now Slevin, who can find himself at the wrong time in the wrong place, needs to get out somehow. The situation is complicated by the fact that a professional killer named Goodkat (Bruce Willis) revolves around Boss and the Rabbi, who also has some complaints about Slevin.

Actually, the movie features fixed horse racing, and throughout the movie, you will understand why that matters. It plays a pivotal role. It was very interesting for the director to choose horse racing because it is one of the first sports where people placed bets. One of the Canadian actors in the movie, Peter Outerbridge, portraying Detective Dumbrowski who alongside Detective Brikowski is involved in the investigation, became so interested in betting after the plot of the movie that he supposedly started searching casino bonuses in Canada to improve his earnings. Both detectives in the movie are very important, yet Detective Brikowski more, but that does not change the pace of the movie.

If I were told that Guy Ritchie made this film, I would quite believe it. Many of the moments in the film are very similar to Ritchie’s style, and the well-chosen music that accompanies the appearance of either black or Jewish fighters is a direct borrowing from Snatch. However, Ritchie was carried away by the sea together with a completely slurred revolver, so the Lucky Number of Slevin did not belong to him at all, but Paul McGuigan made this film, whose previous works were in a slightly different style.

Ritchie’s imitations in this film are not at all annoying. Because it is all done competently and efficiently. After all, what difference does it make who shot it? If only the movie looked good. But it looks, in general, quite good.

Lucky Number Slevin is a crime detective with a slight bias in a black-comedy comedy, the plot of which is twisted pretty dashingly. All the events in the film have their clear background, and the audience will be able to compose the full picture of what is happening only at the end of the film (except for, of course, those who managed to guess everything even before the explanation).

One could expect that Bruce Willis would bring the ironic component in this film – a master of criminal irony. However, this did not happen. Here, Willis plays a murderously serious killer (a pun came out quite by accident), and his role is quite episodic. However, it played well, although gloomy for a similar genre. But purely scenic much in this character has remained unsaid. For example, it is completely unknown why he was suddenly called Goodkat, but we did not receive an answer.

Of all the acting, the most pleasant impression was made by two authorities – Boss and the Rabbi performed by Morgan Freeman and Sir Ben Kingsley. This is power, and these are characters! The Rabbi there generally gives out magnificent phrases with an incredibly impressive appearance. It is a pity that their roles are not at all the main ones.

Lucy Liu in the film played the role of the neighbour Nick, who starts up tricks with Slevin. She played well. The scene was especially tender and romantic when Slevin lost a towel in the eyes of a neighbour, and such a gamut of feelings was reflected in these eyes.

In general, in my opinion, it is quite a decent movie. I watched it with pleasure, considering the presence in the film of Josh Hartnett, and even in the title role. Since Guy Ritchie does not want to please the audience with such films, let it be Paul McGuigan. In the end, it doesn’t matter to us who directs this. The result is important.

CD Review: Behemoth “A Forest” EP

“A Forest”

Behemoth

Metal Blade Records

Tracks: 4

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

On May 29th Polish death metal legends Behemoth will release a new EP titled “A Forest” via Metal Blade Records. Dark and demonic, the EP consist of four unique tracks which instantly pull you away from the ongoing chaos of 2020 and is a welcomed taste of new Behemoth music.

The title track “A Forest” is very little like The Cure song you may be accustomed to. The phantom spirit of the original is still there, however Behemoth have managed to lace it with their own brand of black metal infused energy. Along with the help of Shining front-man and recognizable demon caller, Niklas Kvarforth, the songs very much stands on its own and fits right in to the bands catalog. 

The live version of “A Forest” is from the Merry Christless 2018 show in Warsaw, Poland and again features Niklas Kvarforth. Though not a bad inclusion there is nothing really different from the studio recording, besides a small dose of Behemoth’s live energy. The remaining two tracks are unreleased songs from the “I Loved You At Your Darkest” album sessions. “Shadows ov Ea Cast Upon Golgotha” is probably my favorite track on the EP and better than some songs on ILYAYD. Inferno’s drumming is relentless from the beginning and adds fist-pumping adrenaline to the otherwise less extreme release. “Evoe” is more akin to other tracks on ILYAYD and probably would have felt repetitive if included on that album. It works well here, but reminiscent of other more recent Behemoth offerings.

“A Forest” certainly is different, yet classic Behemoth at the same time. Niklas Kvarforth’s vocals on the title track and live version help make this release something truly unique while the other two new songs are worthy additions even if they do echo the band’s last album. Overall a great EP which is very much appreciated during this crazy time in history. It’s reassuring to know we can count on Behemoth to make things a little crazier for us all.

Track Listing:

1.) A Forest (The Cure Cover)

2.) A Forest (The Cure Cover) [Live from Merry Christless Warsaw Poland December 2018]

3.) Shadows ov Ea Cast Upon Golgotha

4.) Evoe

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.