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.
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Psychological thriller “The Night” masters the familiar haunted hotel setting with technical excellence.
Originally published on Elements of Madness
Kourosh Ahari’s psychological thriller, The Night, is a stellar example of a film that may not have the next best original ideas within its genre, but is so well done that it is nonetheless entertaining and worthwhile. Despite a handful of predictable plot points and stereotypical gendered conflicts, The Night’s talented cast and distinct style create a spine-chilling, mind-bending, what-did-I-just-watch experience that reminds us why the horror genre is so exciting.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."