Film Review: “Animal Among Us”

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

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


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


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

Film Review: “Frozen II”

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

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

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

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

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

Toy Review: Playmobil “Dragons”

“Dragons”

Hiccup and Toothless w/ Baby Dragon & Light Fury w/ Baby Dragon and Children

Playmobil

Our Score 3.5 out of 5 stars

Just in time for the holiday season Playmobil has added several new figures to their “Dragons” line which is based on characters from the film “How To Train Your Dragon 3”. Children and Adults of all ages can now act out all of their favorite scenes from the movie and beyond with the help of newly added characters like “Light Fury”, “Hiccup” and “Deathgripper”. These highly detailed and fully articulate figures are sure to provide fun and enjoyment time and time again and feature solid construction which will hold up for years to come.

Having recently seen some of the “Dragons” toys at this year’s New York Comic Con our in house toy tester Ian was very anxious to get his hands on some of these really great looking figures. From a parents stand point I was pleasantly surprised by the easy to open packaging and minimal assembly that both of these sets required. The last thing any parent wants is an overzealous youngster repeatedly asking if they are done putting a toy together while also trying to manage multiple bags of pieces and highly detailed instructions. Aside from having to use a little extra muscle to get both Light Fury and Hiccup’s wings in place that’s really all there was to it with these sets. Hiccup does require a screwdriver for battery installation for the light up back fin. Aside from that no other tools are needed and you can get your youngster playing fairly quick. Ian really enjoyed the details of each of the dragons which include textured skin on both main figures (Hiccup/Light Fury) and some really cool and intricate paint work. This was a feature I also thought was very well done especially on the Light Fury and Toothless figures which are painted with an iridescent paint that gives off a shiny yellow glow when the light hits it.

Each set along with the main larger dragon comes with a handful of smaller toys as well. The Light Fury set includes a Baby Dragon and two children figures while the Hiccup set includes Toothless as well as its own Baby Dragon figure. Both larger dragon figures feature projectile shooting action which Ian also enjoyed (what kid doesn’t love shooting things at their sibling or parent). Thankfully Playmobil opted for less powerful springs as the smaller sized projectiles can quickly become lost if they went shooting too far. On that note parents of smaller children may want to take caution as most of the accessories are quite small and Playmobil does a solid job making buyers aware of this and with their recommendation of these being for ages 4 and up.

From price point to play Playmobil continues to do a solid job and their latest additions to the “Dragons” line are no different. Even after a couple of weeks of hard play each of the figures still look new and are working as they should. Yes some of the tiny pieces caused a bit of frustration when they inevitably went missing but, it only caused a momentary pause in the play and thankfully did not hurt any of the functions so If you have a youngster on your list this holiday season we definitely recommend checking out Playmobil’s “Dragons” line as they are sure to put a smile on that loved ones face Christmas morning.         

CD Review: Agnostic Front “Get Loud”

“Get Loud”

Agnostic Front

Nuclear Blast Records

Tracks: 14

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Agnostic Front is back with a brand new studio album simply titled “Get Loud”. The album which is being released via Nuclear Blast Records features 14 gut crushing tracks that are nothing short of classic hardcore. Picking up where 2015’s “The American Dream Died” left off “Get Loud” comes in hard and fast leaving a giant sized boot print on your senses.

Written after the release of Ian McFarland’s 2017 Documentary “The God Fathers of Hardcore” which depicts members of the band recounting there nearly 40 year career. “Get Loud” could serve as the perfect soundtrack to that film by solidifying where the band is today in 2019. Tracks like “Spray Painted Walls”, “Dead Silence” and “In My Blood” showcase a more modern metal/hardcore sound while tracks like “Anti Social”, “Attention” and “Pull The Trigger” contain that classic hardcore sound which blasted out of places like CBGB’s and the A7 during the gritty pre-Giuliani era New York City. Easily my favorite track of the album is “I Remember” which details the bond between front-man Roger Miret and guitarist Vinnie Stigma. The band recently released a really cool video for this song as well that’s packed with lots a vintage footage and photos.  

Clocking in at a swift thirty minutes, “Get Loud” wastes no time getting in and out. From a performance stand point each member of Agnostic Front brings their A game which smacks you upside the head leaving a mark on your senses. “Get Loud” offers something for the old school and new school hardcore fans making for a solid edition to your music collection.

Track Listing:

1.) Spray Painted Walls

2.) Anti Social

3.) Get Loud

4.) Conquer And Divide

5.) I Remember

6.) Dead Silence

7.) AF Stomp

8.) Urban Decay

9.) Snitches Get Stitches

10.) Isolated

11.) In My Blood

12.) Attention

13.) Pull the Trigger

14.) Devastated

Concert Review: “From the Screen to Your Stereo” Tour

“From the Screen to Your Stereo Tour 2019”

New Found Glory, Hawthorne Heights, Free Throw, Jetty Bones

Friday, November 15th, 2019

Anthology, Rochester, NY

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Long time pop-punk mainstays New Found Glory made a stop in the flour city on November 15th for a sold out show at the intimate Anthology music venue. Now in its second leg the “From the Screen to Your Stereo” tour billing also included Hawthorne Heights, Free Throw and Jetty Bones. The night was an energetic mix of early 2000’s nostalgia and a slew of entertaining covers from some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.

As the snaking line of concert goers quickly made their way out of the brisk Upstate New York weather and into the quaint concert venue known as Anthology, Ohio natives Jetty Bones took the stage to help warm everyone up. Lead vocalist Kelc Galluzzo and her band laid down a brief but effective 25 minute set packed with emotion and energy that set the bar high right out of the gate. Next to the stage were post-punk rockers Free Throw. The band led by vocalist/guitarist Cory Castro wasted little time as they performed a handful of tracks off their most recent studio “What’s Past Is Prologue” including “The Coroner’s Dilemma” and the melodic “Tail Whip, Struggle” which had the capacity crowd swaying back and fourth in unison. Hawthorne Heights would follow laying down an impressively tight set made up of songs from their newest studio album “Bad Frequencies” along with song from their impressive back catalog including  “Niki FM” and “Pens and Needles” before closing out their 30 minute set with the always formidable “Ohio Is For Lovers”.

Tour headliners New Found Glory would take the stage as if they were fired out of cannon opening their 22 song with their rendition of “This Is Me” from the third installment of their “From The Screen to Your Stereo” trilogy. Front-man Jordan Pundik despite sporting a large cast on his arms was in constant motion along with the rest of the band as they performed songs from their 20+ year career. Songs like “All Down Hill From Here” and “Dressed to Kill” brought back great memories and fit perfectly between covers of “Accidentally in Love” and “Let It Go” which was sung by Elsa herself. Ok maybe it wasn’t the real Elsa but Jordan still did an ok job. The band closed out the core of their set with the song “Hit or Miss” a track they have been performing live since as early as 1998. After a brief pause the band returned to the stage for a three set encore which consisted of the Huey Lewis hit “The Power of Love” along with NFG hits “Head On Collision” and “My Friends Over You”.

New Found Glory have been coming to Rochester since the late nineties heyday of the Water Street Music Hall and the cavernous Harro East Ballroom. The band has always put on solid performances leaving the audiences exhausted and this evening’s show was no exception. Even injuries and frigid weather couldn’t keep the band down as they played to the sold out crowd like the season pro’s they are. The addition of former Yellowcard front-man Ryan Key on guitars and keyboards has been a great addition to the band giving them an extra sonic edge that had been missing for a brief period. With just a few shows left remaining on this tour run you will definitely want to catch the show if it is coming to your area.  

Free Throw Set List:

1.) The Coroner’s Dilemma

2.) Good Job Champ

3.) Randy, I Am the Liquor

4.) Tail Whip, Struggle

5.) Tongue Tied

6.) Better Have Burn Heal

7.) Two Beers In  

Hawthorne Heights Set List:

1.) Niki FM

2.) Where Can I Stab Myself in the Ears?

3.) Crimson Sand

4.) Pens and Needles

5.) The Transition

6.) Saying Sorry

7.) Just Another Ghost

8.) Ohio Is For Lovers

New Found Glory Set List:

1.) This Is Me

2.) Understatement

3.) Truth of My Youth

4.) Accidentally in Love

5.) All Downhill From Here

6.) Better off Dead

7.) Forget My Name

8.) Listen to Your Friends

9.) Let it Go

10.) Something I Call Personality

11.) King of Wishful Thinking

12.) At Least I’m Known for Something

13.) Kiss Me

14.) A Thousand Years

15.) Failure’s Not Flattering

16.) Dressed to Kill

17.) Vicious Love

18.) Iris

19.) Hit or Miss

Encore:

20.) The Power of Love

21.) Head On Collision

22.) My Friends Over You  

Toy Review: ReAction Figures “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

Leonardo, Raphael, Bebop, Rocksteady

ReAction Figures

Super 7

Our Score 3.5 out of 5 stars

Within the past few years the toy makers at Super 7 have brought to market some really cool products which have helped establish the brand as one of today’s top retro toy companies. Their 3.75” ReAction Figures especially has been a continued growing line for the San Diego, CA based company and now includes over a dozen licenses including “Aliens”, “Universal Monsters” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. Our in house toy tester Ian had the chance to check out the first four figures from the “TMNT” line (Raphael, Leonardo, Bebop and Rocksteady) and put them through the paces to see just how well they could handle the rigorous play of an active 7 year old.

Prior to turning them over to Ian I had the chance to check out the really nice artwork that adorns each package. The artwork is all new however it stays true to the original Kenner blister packaging of the early/mid 1980’s. On the back you get a witty bio of each figure along with a picture of the full line in that series. I should point out that these figures do have a 14 and up label on them as they are intended more as an adult collectible. That’s not to say someone younger can’t play with them but the figures do include small pieces some of which are quite pointy and sharp.

Each of the figures looked just as good out of the packaging as they do in it as Super 7 did a great really nailing the details despite the figures smaller size. The four figures all feature 5 points of articulation and come with between 2 and three accessories which can be placed in the hands of each figure. Though Ian is a huge turtle’s fan he seemed to have more interest in Bebop and Rocksteady partially because of their off the wall look and “cool weapons” as he put it. Raphael and Leonardo still got plenty of play but in our house it is hard to compete with a punk rock warthog and rhino.

With the Holidays quickly approaching we highly recommend checking out the Super 7 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” Reaction figures. All four figures we checked out are available now and in the coming months more figures including Donatello, Michelangelo and Shredder are set to become available so help that collector on your list expand his or her collection this season with the latest offerings from Super 7.     

Album Review: “Motorhead ’79”

Motörhead ‘79”

Motörhead

BMG

7 LP’s/ 1-45

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The “Motörhead ’79” campaign celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the incredible Overkill and Bomber albums with fantastic new deluxe editions, both as hardbound book-packs in two CD and triple LP format; featuring previously unheard concerts from the ’79 tours, interviews and many unseen photos created with the full cooperation and involvement of the estates of Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, “Fast” Eddie Clarke and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor.

Over the past few years there have been a number of Motörhead releases honoring the career of “The Worlds Loudest Band”. The latest and possibly largest to date pays homage to the year 1979 when the band released not one but two studio albums “Overkill” and “Bomber”. To recognize this rare accomplishment BMG have compiled a box set like no other. The LP version of the release comes housed in a black biker jacket box which houses both 1979 studio albums, 2 never before heard live albums titled “Good and Loud” Live at Aylesbury Friars and “Sharpshooter” Live at Le Mans, a10 song LP of 1979 outtakes/B-sides and rarities titled “The Rest of ‘79”.

That’s not all though! You also get a reproduction 40 page magazine of corresponding photos of from the era, a reproduction “Bomber” tour program, an “Overkill” Sheet Music book, a 5 pin badge set and if that’s still not enough a “No Class” seven-inch complete with gatefold art. Each LP sounds great as they all have been pressed on 180-gram vinyl and with the reissued “Overkill” and “Bomber” albums being mastered at half speed directly from the original tape. There was just so much to look at and listen to as I merely scratched the surface on my first handful of listens. From studio tracks like “Overkill”, “Damage Case”, “Metropolis”, “Stone Dead Forever” and “Bomber” to live versions of “Motörhead”, “White Line Fever” and “Train Kept A-Rollin” it was impossible to appreciate everything without devoting several or more hours to this package.

I love when bands and labels put together packages that not only are appealing sonically but visually as well. No expense seemed to be spared with “Motörhead ‘79”. From the heavy grade vinyl and rich sound production to the beautifully recreated photos and artwork that adorn not only the album sleeves but the included books, pins and packaging everything you get in this release is top notch. With the holidays right around the corner this is the perfect gift for the music lover on your list. Be prepared though as this thing is heavy both literally and figuratively!

“Overkill” Track listing

1.) Overkill

2.) Stay Clean

3.) (I Won’t) Pay Your Price

4.) I’ll Be Your Sister

5.) Capricorn

6.) No Class

7.) Damage Case

8.) Tear Ya Down

9.) Metropolis

10.) Limb From Limb

“Bomber” Track Listing

1.) Dead Men Tell No Tales

2.) Lawman

3.) Sweet Revenge

4.) Sharpshooter

5.) Poison

6.) Stone Dead Forever

7.) All The Aces

8.) Step Down

9.) Talking Head

10.) Bomber

“Good ‘n’ Loud” Track Listing

1.) Overkill

2.) Stay Clean

3.) Keep Us On The Road

4.) No Class

5.) Leaving Here

6.) Iron Horse/Born to Lose

7.) Metropolis

8.) The Watcher

9.) Damage Case

10.) (I Won’t) Pay Your Price

11.) Capricorn

12.) Too Late, Too Late

13.) I’ll Be Your Sister

14.) I’m Your Witchdoctor

15.) Train Kept A-Rollin’

16.)  White Line Fever

17.) Motörhead

“Sharpshooter” Track Listing

1.) Overkill

2.) Stay Clean

3.) No Class

4.) Metropolis

5.) All The Aces

6.) Dead Men Tell No Tales

7.) I’ll Be Your Sister

8.) Lawman

9.) Too Late, Too Late

10.) Poison

11.) (I Won’t) Pay Your Price

12.) Sharpshooter

13.) Capricorn

14.) Train Kept A-Rollin’

15.) Bomber

16.) Limb From Limb

17.) White Line Fever

18.) Motörhead

“B-Sides, Rarities & Outtakes” Track Listing

1.) Too Late, Too Late

2.) Like A Nightmare

3.) Over The Top

4.) Stone Dead Forever

5.) Sharpshooter

6.) Bomber

7.) Step Down

8.) Fun On The Farm

9.) Treat Me Nice

10.) You Ain’t Gonna Live Forever

“No Class” Track Listing

1.) No Class

2.) Like A Nightmare

Film Review: “Dolemite is My Name”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film Review: “Ford v Ferrari”

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

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

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

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

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

Film Review: “The Tokoloshe”

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

Review by Becki Reiner

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

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

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

Film Review: “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theatre Review “Escape to Margaritaville – The Jimmy Buffett Musical” @ Walt Disney Theatre – Orlando, FL

Escape to Margaritaville is a musical that was first performed in 2017 in New Orleans and premiered on Broadway in 2018. The show features music and lyrics by legendary singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and is based on a book of the same name by Emmy Award® winner Greg Garcia (My Name is Earl, Raising Hope) and Emmy Award® nominee Mike O’Malley (Survivors Remorse, Shameless). The show features both original songs and Jimmy Buffett classics, including “Fins,” “Volcano,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, “A Pirate Looks at Forty” and many more.

The show focuses on Tully Mars, who works as a singer at run down hotel on a small island in the Caribbean called Margaritaville. He is always meeting new girls but never has any intention of keeping relationships after the tourists leave…that is until he meets Rachel. She comes onto the island with her friend for a Bachelorette party and a mind focused on her career. With the help of Tully, Rachel lands on island time and the two fall in love…but what happens after her trip comes to an end. Can the couple stay together or is it just another week long fling?

FAIRWINDS Broadway in Orlando Presents Escape to Margaritaville – The Jimmy Buffett Musical is playing at the Walt Disney Theatre at the Dr. Phillips Center from November 12-17, 2019. This is a show that I have been waiting to see since it first premiered in New Orleans in 2017…and I was not disappointed. I consider myself a Parrothead and I have seen Jimmy Buffett live as often as I can. There were a few of us “crazies” in the audience tonight, I caught eye of a lady dressed in a cheeseburger costume. This is not your typical play audience. The songs screams to be sang along to and the the music makes you move around in your seats. It should not be taken seriously. It is cheesy, dumb and self aware of how silly it is in certain parts. I had a lot of fun with this show and it is definitely a fun time to be had.

I want to point out that the sound at the Dr. Phillips Center was on point and the music was perfectly balanced. I remember seeing shows on the Bob Carr Theater and if you were too far back it was very hard to hear. The sets were simple but definitely delivered the vibe of Jimmy Buffett and his lifestyle. The bar set was my favorite. I loved the new originals songs as well. They blended well with the classics. If you are a Jimmy Buffett fan, this is a must see for any Parrothead. But don’t worry even if you are never heard half these songs before, like my fiance, you could still enjoy the show. My fiance is new to the music of Jimmy Buffett music and she still enjoyed the show just as much as I did. So if you can don’t miss this show. Grab a margarita and kick back and relax!

Act I
“License to Chill”
“Fins”
“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”
“Ragtop Day”
“It’s My Job”
“Why Don’t We Get Drunk”
“Three Chords”
“We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About/The Natives Are Restless”
“Son of a Son of a Sailor”
“My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don’t Love Jesus”
“Medley: Coconut Telegraph/Last Mango in Paris/Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”
“Margaritaville”

Act II
“Volcano”
“Grapefruit—Juicy Fruit”
“He Went to Paris”
“Cheeseburger in Paradise”
“Tin Cup Chalice”
“Love and Luck”
“Come Monday”
“A Pirate Looks at Forty”
“One Particular Harbor”

Book Review: “A Long Time Ago In a Cutting Room Far, Far Away”

  • A LONG TIME AGO IN A CUTTING ROOM FAR, FAR AWAY
  • Author:  Paul Hirsch
  • Hardcover
  • 384 pages
  • Published by Chicago Review Press Fo

A few years ago I had the pleasure of hosting a test screening for director John Hancock’s film, “The Looking Glass.”  After the film, as I drove John, his wife Dorothy Tristan (the film’s star and co-writer) and film editor Dennis O’Connor back to their hotel, I was amazed by the conversation between the director and editor.  They discussed certain scenes in the film, curious whether they had gone a beat too long or perhaps not long enough.  What impressed me the most was that even the suggestion of removing ONE FRAME of film – 1/24th of a second – could have a true impact in how the film was presented.

Armed with this very limited knowledge, I was eager to read the new book “A Long Time Ago In a Cutting Room Far, Far Away,” written by Academy Award winning film editor Paul Hirsch.  Where to begin?

The book is a rare inside glimpse into the careers, and minds, of three of the most acclaimed filmmakers of their time:  Brian De Palma, George Lucas and John Hughes. 

Mr. Hirsch got his start with De Palma, editing the director’s first five features, including “Phantom of the Paradise,” “Obsession” and “Carrie.”  It is while editing “Carrie” that he is shown photographs from a currently-in-production space opera called “Star Wars.”  Impressed with what he’s seen, Mr. Hirsch secretly wishes he could work on “Star Wars.”  His wish is granted when Lucas invites him to help edit the film alongside co-editors Marcia Lucas (George’s wife) and Richard Chew.  Soon Mr. Hirsch realizes it’s just him on the project and his stories about the finalization of the film, right down to the color of Darth Vader’s light sabre, are amazing. For his work on “Star Wars,” Mr. Hirsch, Mr. Chew and Ms. Lucas were awarded the Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

The book is written in a very simple style.  Not a lot of technical jargon, just great stories told to you as if Mr. Hirsch was sharing them over dinner.  There are many chapters devoted solely to one film, including “Carrie” (we learn about De Palma’s love for the split-screen), “Star Wars,” “The Fury,” “Blow Out,” “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “Ray” and so many more.  A veritable journey down the Yellow Brick Road to revisit some of the most popular and influential films of the past four decades.

If you’ve always wondered about how a film is put together, or just want to learn some behind the scenes secrets of your favorite films, then this is the book for you!  You can order “A Long Time Ago In a Cutting Room Far, Far Away,” which will be released on November 5th, by clicking HERE.   

Film Review: “Motherless Brooklyn”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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