“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.
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.
Originally published on Elements of Madness.
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.
John Berardo’s horror flick, “Initiation,” will make you too paranoid to leave your phone on silent.
If you’re thinking that a horror movie called Initiation must be about pledge week, you’d be correct. In his first feature as solo director, John Berardo focuses on the horrors of frat culture, social media, and monetary corruption within universities. He co-wrote Initiation with Brian Frager and Lindsay LaVanchy, who also stars as Initiation’s heroine. The writing team borrows stylistic conventions from years of teen thrillers to create a horror flick that is decidedly about the social media generation. Berardo's love for and knowledge of the horror genre is evident throughout Initiation, which neatly pays tribute to horror classics of the past in both style and form. While it's an entertaining flick with standout technical elements, Initiation struggles to strike the right tone as it juggles important themes without fully unpacking them.
Action/adventure flick “Burn It All” trips and stumbles over its stiff dialogue, making it difficult to take the story seriously.
Originally published on Elements of Madness.
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.
“Tell Me Your Secrets” is an emotional whirlwind that eventually runs itself into a wall with Freudian sexual tension
Content Warning: Tell Me Your Secrets involves heavy subject matters that may be triggering to some viewers, including violence and rape. These issues are briefly discussed in the following review.
Available now on Amazon Prime, Tell Me Your Secrets is a mystery/thriller series revolving around two women who have little in common except their unfortunate connection to a convicted serial killer. While it’s not the most original or nuanced thriller, I’d be lying if I said the show wasn’t engaging. The 10 episodes that make up season 1 are so jam-packed with explosive emotions that it almost watches like a desperate attempt to snag viewer attention with drama and shock value amidst the insane amount of streaming content that’s now being produced. One you start watching, you’ll no doubt want to stick around until the end to find out how everything fits together. But you might find yourself rolling your eyes along the way.
Originally published on Elements of Madness
Although the Fantasia International Film Festival was held virtually this year, it still featured an incredible lineup of wild and visceral films that celebrated everything gory and horrific. Many of the featured titles were loud and boastful with their colorful characters and wacky situations, offering a whirlwind of both dreamy and nightmarish images. On the other hand, some of the films were softer with their style, offering up slow-burning, tense narratives and minimalist imagery that hit with just as strong of an impact. Among this second category of films is the feature debut of director Jeanette Nordahl, Wildland. A tense hybrid of family drama and crime thriller, Wildland is captivating from start to finish, despite its more subdued style.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."