We’ve all had at least one bad family road trip. Maybe it was the time your toddler threw up all over your new car, or maybe it was the time you had to sit squished between your least favorite cousins for several hours with no AC. But those experiences seem like dream vacations compared to the nightmarish family road trip that unfolds in Coming Home in the Dark. In this tense thriller directed by James Ashcroft, schoolteacher “Hoaggie” (Erik Thomson) and his wife Jill (Miriama McDowell) undergo chilling physical and psychological trials during a hiking trip with their two sons (Billy Paratene and Frankie Paratene). The movie is based on a short story by Owen Marshall and skillfully adapted for the screen by James Ashcroft and Eli Kent. After an impressive festival run, Coming Home in the Dark will be available on VOD and in select theaters starting October 1, 2021.
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.
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.
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).
"Black Widow" brings the action, talent, drama and laughs… as all Marvel movies do.
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?
Michael Bryce and Darius Kincaid are back, marking the return of summer action and adventure at the movies.
One unexpected side effect of quarantine (for me, at least) was content fatigue - specifically, streaming content fatigue. At first, I was excited to use my newfound free time to catch up on all the movies and shows I had missed. But once I finished Tiger King, I just couldn’t seem to commit to anything new. I was so overwhelmed by the number of choices that I ended up watching the same things over and over again. With new movies and shows coming out every day, there’s pretty much an infinite number of choices. It’s now more difficult than ever for filmmakers to get us interested in their projects (not to mention, getting us to sit through a feature-length movie). But if there’s one technique that’s still a sure-fire way to gain attention from a mass audience, it’s star power. There are certain names that are sure to get millions of clicks on a streaming site - and now that theaters are opening again, those names can also get us out of the house and into a theater seat. An all-star cast can give a formulaic sequel like The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard the leg up it needs to attract a crowd, even if that crowd probably won’t come back for a second viewing.
Ran Slavin’s feature debut, “Call for Dreams,” is “A Page of Madness” for the 21st century.
According to the press notes for Call for Dreams, Israeli director Ran Slavin started the project in pursuit of a “new cinematic form.” Slavin began with the idea to collect dreams from strangers that he could use as inspiration for his film and he ended up incorporating this idea into the plot of the film itself. Call for Dreams revolves around a young woman named Eko (Mami Shimazaki) who posts a “Call for Dreams” advertisement in a Tokyo newspaper. Strangers can describe their dreams to Eko by leaving a message on her answering machine, and if she approves of the dream, she’ll visit the customer and act out their dream for a fee. Meanwhile, an investigator in Tel Aviv (Yehezkel Lazarov) listens to old tapes on Eko’s machine as he investigates a murder. The two stories overlap in abstract ways that blur the lines between dreams, memories, and reality. Although the film flew under the radar for its international streaming release in late 2020, Call for Dreams is an intriguing film that deserves praise and critical attention.
Action/adventure flick “Burn It All” trips and stumbles over its stiff dialogue, making it difficult to take the story seriously.
Like a well-choreographed action sequence, movies have a lot of moving parts. While certain aspects of a film might not fall into place, the film may do so well in other areas that it turns out alright in the end. With so many different elements at play, movies can usually balance out or even cover up their weak spots. However, Brady Hall’s Burn It All gets so tripped up by its own dialogue that it never quite finds its balance. While there’s clearly a talented team at work behind the camera and in post-production, their talents can’t quite make up for the movie’s cringe-worthy speech.
If you go into "The Courier" expecting a feel-good historical drama, you won’t be disappointed.
As literature and media consumers, we’re accustomed to reading stories that fit neatly into one of a few familiar narrative templates. Regardless of genre, even the most unique original screenplays can be reduced down to a basic plot formula that we’ve already encountered a million times (according to author Christopher Booker, there are in fact 7 basic plots, hence the title of his 2004 book). The hero’s journey, for one, is proven cinematic gold, as we’ve seen with the Marvel franchise’s takeover of 21st century cinema. This plot structure not only provides us with a thrilling adventure, but it allows us to indulge in the possibility that we, too, could one day be a hero. With social media personalities plastered all over our screens, it’s nice to escape into a fantasy world where the most ordinary people get the chance to prove their moral strengths. This is the kind of fantasy that screenwriter Tom O'Connor created in his Cold War espionage thriller, The Courier. Working with director Dominic Cooke, O'Connor pulls together a variety of historical sources to craft a classic based-on-true-events story that reminds us why we keep going back to the movies.
Outside of a few unfortunate parallels to current events, “Rams” is a quaint comedy/drama with a delightful cast.
Originally published on Elements of Madness
Director Jeremy Sims brings together the talents of Sam Neill, Michael Caton, and Miranda Richardson in Rams, his English-language remake of the 2015 Icelandic film, Hrútar. Rams centers around feuding brothers Colin and Les Grimurson (Neill and Caton, respectively), who have been engaged in a silent-treatment standoff for decades as they keep separate flocks of sheep on opposite sides of their family land. After Les wins the local ram judging contest, Colin and the local vet, Kat (Richardson), make a life-altering discovery. Les’s prize-winning ram is infected with Ovine Johne’s disease, a deadly bacterial disease that could easily wipe out all the local herds. The community’s agricultural department orders all farmers in the area to eliminate their flocks and undergo extreme decontamination procedures, effectively destroying the town’s main source of income. While Les responds by lashing out in drunken rages, Colin devises a secret plan to hold on to his family’s specially bred sheep for a little while longer. At the risk of losing the things they love most, Colin and Les must figure out how to reconcile their differences in the face of unexpected changes and grief.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."