Despite its tried and true formula and undeniable star power, “Cry Macho” falls far below expectations
A washed-up has-been, played by a seasoned veteran of the silver screen, teaches a young boy in the midst of a family crisis what it really means to be a man, and hilarious shenanigans ensue amidst heartwarming emotional development. Sounds like an instant classic, right? After all, the formula worked for Secondhand Lions, and similar story lines have served as the basis for countless other successful Hollywood flicks. With a star like Clint Eastwood serving as director and lead actor, you’d think that not much could go wrong. Unfortunately, however, the creative team behind Cry Macho relied a bit too much on Eastwood’s star power. The lighthearted western / road trip comedy may entertain a few Eastwood fans who have nothing better to watch, but overall, the flick leaves much to be desired.
“Hellbender” shows off one family’s filmmaking talents but falls flat under the weight of its poorly developed plot and dialogue. [Fantasia International Film Festival]
From Rosemary’s Baby to False Positive, Psycho to Mommie Dearest, motherhood and the horror genre are a match made in heaven. The labyrinth of psycho-socio-political issues surrounding motherhood, pregnancy, and the mother-child relationship has truly found its home in horror cinema. One of the horror flicks showing at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, Hellbender, is not only about motherhood, but also stars a real-life mother-daughter duo. In fact, Hellbender was written, directed, shot, edited, scored, and produced by the four members of the Adams/Poser family: John Adams, Toby Poser and their two daughters, Lulu and Zelda Adams. All four family members also make an appearance in this occult horror film, with Zelda and Toby taking the lead roles. The family filmmaking feat is incredibly impressive, and Hellbender’s high production value showcases the family’s talents and creativity. Unfortunately, however, one little filmmaking misstep can bring a movie crashing down. In this case, that one misstep is the dialogue. While Hellbender is otherwise horrifically beautiful, the script and plot development leave much to be desired.
“Small Engine Repair” fires on all cylinders with breathtaking performances and nuanced thematic development
Scotch, steaks, and a small-engine repair shop - the perfect recipe for an evening of male comradery and boyish banter. When single-father Frankie (John Pollono) invites two of his lifelong buddies to watch a pay-per-view fight in his shop, his pals have no idea that he’s actually recruiting them for his mad and dangerous plan to help his daughter, Crystal (Ciara Bravo). John Pollono’s deceptively simple Small Engine Repair is packed with tension and suspense, and it provides a subtle yet thorough investigation of modern masculinity. Pollono wrote, directed, and starred in the film, which is based on his award-winning play of the same name. Small Engine Repair was accepted to the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, but the release was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting this Friday, September 10, 2021, you can catch this pleasantly surprising dark comedy / thriller on the big screen.
“Follow The Light (Hikariwooikakete)” paints a beautiful picture of adolescence with romance, family drama… and a crop circle [Fantasia International Film Festival]
For most people, the teen years come with a myriad of confusing emotions, drastic life changes, and embarrassing incidents. For Akira and Maki, the young protagonists of Yoichi Narita’s Follow The Light, those formative years also bring a number of upsetting changes to their small farming community, including a UFO and crop circle. These bizarre occurrences not only set them on intersecting paths, but symbolically carry the weight of their strange and explosive teenage emotions. Follow the Light, an official selection at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, is a wistful romance that ponders the many conflicts and emotions of adolescence.
You may want to leave a few lights on to watch “The Last Thing Mary Saw,” a visually petrifying feature debut from writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti. [Fantasia International Film Festival]
You don’t necessarily need complex characters or ingenious plot twists to write an engaging story. With strong imagery and a clear, palpable tone that physically affects your audience, you can transform the most overdone plot into a memorable tale. Writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti demonstrates that kind of storytelling craftsmanship in his feature debut, The Last Thing Mary Saw, which premiered at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Every aspect of this suffocatingly dark period drama, including its characters and plot, takes a backseat to its tone and mood. As a result, The Last Thing Mary Saw is bursting with palpable dread that will chill you to the bone.
Explore the wonders of “Strawberry Mansion,” a love letter to the films that first sparked the imaginations of an entire generation of fantasy fans [Fantasia International Film Festival]
You don’t need a degree in film studies to make an educated guess about when a movie was made, or to at least place it within the right decade. It’s easy to recognize specific cinematic styles and themes from each decade of big-budget filmmaking, and it’s also fairly easy to date a movie based on its special effects. Innovative filmmakers have spent millions of dollars and years of their careers trying to make movies look “better” than those of yesteryear, particularly movies in the sci-fi, fantasy, action, and adventure genres. After all that work, it might seem counterintuitive for a filmmaker to purposely make a movie that looks like it was shot thirty or forty years ago. But co-writers and directors Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley did just that with their fantasy masterpiece Strawberry Mansion, a selection at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Strawberry Mansion fully embraces the visual style and effects of charming fantasy flicks from days past like The NeverEnding Story (1984) and Labyrinth (1986). It reminds us of a time when “special effects” and “set design” in a fantasy movie didn’t just mean CGI, bringing back fond memories of the worn-out VHS tapes that defined our idea of adventure.
UFO researchers Seth Breedlove and Shannon LeGro take their investigations to West Virginia in “On the Trail of UFOs: Dark Sky.”
When we talk about strange and mysterious subjects that we’re nowhere close to understanding, like unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) and the possibility of extraterrestrial life, it’s more useful to pose open-ended questions than to try and pinpoint definite answers. Asking broad questions about strange lights in the sky and creepy experiences allows us to consider a vast array of possible explanations and eventually land on an interesting theory. After investigating eyewitness accounts of UFOs in West Virginia, paranormal researchers Seth Breedlove and Shannon LeGro didn’t have any more answers than when they started. However, they did land on a useful question that could lead to further research: Is there a connection between UAPs and energy sources like coal mines? In On the Trail of UFOs: Dark Sky, Breedlove and LeGro share the eyewitness accounts and stories from their West Virginia investigations and ask intriguing questions about the connection between extraterrestrial sightings and energy sources. Although their questions are a useful piece of the UFO puzzle, they unfortunately don’t make for the most engaging documentary. Dark Sky is clearly a labor of love, but the final product is a loose musing rather than a structured and informative documentary.
Relive your angsty teen years with “Shoplifters of the World,” a cinematic tribute to The Smiths from director Stephen Kijak.
When you’re a teenager, every little upset feels like the end of the world. Failing a test, losing the big game, watching your crush take someone else to prom, or even finding out that your favorite band broke up can send you to bed in tears. In fact, in 1987, one teen was so moved by the music of The Smiths that, after the band broke up, he plotted to break into a local radio station and force the DJ to play nothing but Smiths tracks at gunpoint. In real life, the young man turned himself in before going through with his plan. But in Shoplifters of the World, a cinematic tribute to The Smiths, writer/ director Stephen Kijak imagines a different outcome to the story. Although The Smiths may be long broken up, you can relive the mood and culture they inspired with a DVD or Blu-ray copy of Shoplifters of the World from RLJE Films.
Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” is packed with thrilling twists and turns, recreating classic adventure flicks for a new generation of young cinemagoers.
If you’ve ever stood in an hour-long line just to take your kids on a 10-minute amusement park ride, you’re probably wondering how anyone could transform the brief thrills of that attraction into an engaging feature-length movie. But, in 2003, Disney did it as only Disney can, releasing the first of five Pirates of the Caribbean movies that, together, would bring in billions at the box office. Disney has taken another stab at theme park-inspired films with Jungle Cruise, which is based on the Disneyland attraction of the same name. The ride itself was inspired by Disney’s “True Life Adventure” documentaries and has been around since the park opened in 1955. Decades later, Disney now gives the “jungle cruise” concept a new twist under the direction of Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows, 2016; Run All Night 2015).
Before she was saving the world with Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, and Captain America, founding Avenger and kick-ass spy Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanoff) was…well, what was she doing? It’s a question that Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) fans have been asking since Black Widow made her franchise debut in Iron Man 2 (2010). Her past was shrouded in mystery, making her the ideal character for a solo spin off movie, and Scarlett Johansson brought such strength and emotional depth to the character that we couldn’t help but ask for more. A Black Widow movie couldn’t just be an exposition on the character’s past. It needed to give her the chance to stand in the spotlight and get some much-deserved screen time. It needed to be unique, action-packed, and emotionally satisfying. It needed to add meaning to the character and allow fans to appreciate Black Widow’s role in other MCU movies even more. As fans waited years for such a movie, these expectations only grew. After one extra year of waiting due to the pandemic, MCU fans will finally get what they’ve been waiting for on July 9, 2021. The question is, does Black Widow live up to years of fan expectations?
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."