Review: Despite Obvious Faults, Money Plane Is Still A Wacky, Entertaining Heist Flick

by Kylie Hemmert

Review: Despite Obvious Faults, ‘Money Plane’ Is Still A Wacky, Entertaining Heist Flick

Review: Despite Obvious Faults, Money Plane Is Still A Wacky, Entertaining Heist Flick

WrestleZone’s Bill Pritchard shares his review for Quiver Distribution’s action film Money Plane, featuring WWE Superstar Adam “Edge” Copeland. Available to order now, you can check out Pritchard’s review for the movie below (via WZ)!

Money Plane sees a far-fetched story about a group of thieves pulling off the ultimate heist by robbing a futuristic airborne casino to pay back a $40 million debt and saving their leader’s family in the process.

Out now on video-on-demand services like Amazon, Adam Copeland (aka WWE’s Edge) plays Jack Reese, a high-level thief attempting to leave the business after one last score. It sounds easy enough for a master criminal, but as we find out a few minutes into the film (a prologue, if you will), the ‘one last job’ doesn’t go as planned and it leaves Reese in debt to Darius Emmanuel Grouch (Kelsey Grammer), a notorious crime boss nicknamed ‘The Rumble.’

With a movie and premise like Money Plane, you should go into it expecting an over-the-top and (as Copeland’s Reese puts it) “bat-shit crazy” plot, similar to Snakes On A Plane but not as crazy as the Sharknado films. It’s still a heist film and the idea that there’s a top-secret flying casino filled with gangsters is absurd, but not as much as some of the names and character stereotypes.

Darius “The Rumble” Grouch just seems like a mafia trope at times, as does Matthew Lawrence’s Texan character, The Cowboy. The latter does provide a great ‘punchline’ to a gag in the film, but the rootin’-tootin’ Cowboy is just one of a few typecasted roles that seem out of place in a ‘serious’ movie. Andrew Lawrence, the youngest of the acting brothers, directs the film and also appears on-screen as part of Copeland’s crew and Joey Lawrence (Whoa!) also sees some screen time as a game host or concierge, drawing some comparisons to Lance Reddick’s Charon in the John Wick series. The cast is rounded out with some big names like Denise Richards, who plays Reese’s wife, and Thomas Jane, who ends coming into play later in the film (and really should have been used much more than he was).

Money Plane’s biggest problem is that it struggles to find its identity and switches things up too much to maintain that balance. It starts as a serious heist film and flip-flops between campy action flick and high-tech thriller as it progresses. It’s well cast, but every character outside of Reese and his team vary from threatening villain to outright goofy as the film moves on. It doesn’t help that the score is also very cheesy at times, some tracks sounding like it’s stock and others that are very obviously a rip-off of some other popular song. There’s one scene, in particular, that was very awkward as it tried to add a “cool” vibe in the form of a very obvious rip-off of New Order’s “Blue Monday” during a poker game. There are a few other instances where this happens and it really takes away from some otherwise great action scenes and fights.

Despite the issues with the score and theme, Money Plane is still a fun watch if you don’t take it too seriously. The titular “futuristic airborne casino” isn’t very futuristic as much as it is an exclusive club for the criminal underworld, but there are some good one-liners, fight scenes and Copeland is well-cast as the straight man to all of the wackiness going on around him, with Jane also providing some strong scenes.

One of the first things Money Plane lays out is the rules of a job well done and its three critical parts.

  • Have a great team
  • Have a proper diversion
  • Have a backup plan

All three come into play towards the end of the film and based on those points, Money Plane is successful. Reese and his team are likable and competent, and the diversion and back-up provide a couple of good twists at the end of the film.

It has a solid resolution—but it also leaves a little room for a sequel if the studio was planning that. With that in mind, Money Plane could work if it was more balanced. Whether it’s zany or serious, it should lean more towards one than the other and not bounce back and forth throughout the film. Money Plane has its faults, but it’s still an entertaining movie with a solid cast and some good gags and fight scenes.

Palm Springs Review: A Breathtaking Twist on the Rom-Com Genre

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

9.5/10

Cast:

Andy Samberg as Nyles

Cristin Milioti as Sarah

J. K. Simmons as Roy

Camila Mendes as Tala

Tyler Hoechlin as Abe

Meredith Hagner as Misty

Dale Dickey as Darla

Chris Pang as Trevor

Peter Gallagher as Howard

June Squibb as Nana Schlieffen

Directed by Max Barbakow; Written by Andy Siara

Palm Springs Review:

The time loop genre has seen an incredible comeback in the past few years thanks to thrilling new takes on the concept with films including the sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow and slasher comedy Happy Death Day. While there has been a minor resurgence in quality romantic comedies, the genre is still one begging for more fresh offerings and Andy Siara and Max Barbakow have found the best of both genres in their electrifying and outstanding new film Palm Springs.

As reluctant maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti) finds herself trying to get through her sister’s Palm Springs wedding, she has a chance encounter with Nyles (Andy Samberg), a carefree partier and boyfriend to one of the bridesmaids. But after a wild night in the desert together away from the craziness of the wedding, they find a mysterious cavern and wake up on the day of the wedding again and realize they are trapped in a time loop, unable to escape the venue, themselves or each other.

There have been a few comedic attempts at the time loop concept in the past, the most notable of course being the Bill Murray-led Groundhog Day, but rarely have past efforts actually taken the time to offer both an interesting setup AND realistic explanation for their cyclical story and Barbakow and Siara have found a way to do both. Sure leaving the reason behind the loop ambiguous is often more fun and allows the film a chance to focus on its characters and their antics, but the duo expertly balance both as we’re still kept in the dark on many of the details regarding the loop while also offered a unique and reasonable answer for why these characters are being put through the temporal ringer.

When the film isn’t reveling in its more fantastical element, it delivers a very moving and hilarious character study on two very real people suffering from easy-to-connect-to problems and their budding romance. Romantic comedies always seem to want to pit two characters against each other to eventually fall in love or throw some obstacle in the way of them clearly being head-over-heels for each other, but the setup for Sarah and Nyles feels fresh and far more interesting than most, making for a much easier to connect to and enjoyable development of their feelings for one another.

It also certainly helps that the script allows the romance to naturally flow from their situation and experiences with one another rather than forcing some cheesy series of pick up lines and cutesy dates onto the characters. The comedy also benefits greatly from this natural character development, and the core concept driving the plot, as the characters react in thoroughly believable ways to every hurdle and obstacle thrown their way, from their individual experiences in the loop to time spent together.

The brilliant script is only further elevated by the outstanding performances from Samberg and Milioti, who unsurprisingly shine in their individual performances while also displaying incredible comic chemistry together. Though we’ve seen Samberg take on more care-free and outrageous characters in the past, his performance here feels unique and shows an extra bit of versatility in his range, marking one of his best turns yet. Milioti has delivered plenty of great performances over the year, but this feels like her chance to truly shine in a more lead capacity and in a role that gives her just as much agency and compelling development as her male counterpart.

The only real flaw in the film lies in some of its more predictable formula points for its respective genres, from the impassioned speech by a total stranger for the guy to chase after the girl to a few revelations in each character that we’ve seen before. This walk down familiar lane isn’t enough to truly take away from Palm Springs‘ overall originality or irreverent take on the Groundhog Day concept, but keeps it just one step from soaring into the territory of a perfect rom-com, landing in the near-perfect realm and proving to be a moving, hilarious and breathtaking work.

Relic Review: Poignant Terror Albeit Uneven Script

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

8.5/10

Cast:

Emily Mortimer as Kay

Robyn Nevin as Edna

Bella Heathcote as Sam

Chris Bunton as Jamie

Jeremy Stanford as Alex

Steve Rodgers as Constable Mike Adler

Co-written and directed by Natalie Erika James; Co-written by Christian White

Rent your copy of the movie now!

Relic Review:

The horror genre is one rife with potential to cover more dramatic topics in powerful fashion and some have done so with flying colors, such as both of Ari Aster’s previous works and Robert Eggers’ The Witch, while some have faltered at one or the other in balancing the terror with the story’s themes. Though Natalie Erika James’ Relic features some solid terror and powerful storytelling, its script can’t quite find the proper balance between the two.

When elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) inexplicably vanishes, her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) rush to their family’s decaying country home, finding clues of her increasing dementia scattered around the house in her absence. After Edna returns just as mysteriously as she disappeared, Kay’s concern that her mother seems unwilling or unable to say where she’s been clashes with Sam’s unabashed enthusiasm to have her grandma back. As Edna’s behavior turns increasingly volatile, both begin to sense that an insidious presence in the house might be taking control of her. 

The pacing of the film is nothing short of a tense, slow-burning affair that nicely offers a look into this multi-generational dysfunction, spotlighting all three women and their various inner struggles in life. As things get worse, the pace may not ramp up in any extreme fashion, but it’s not necessarily a negative for the film, because even in some of its more terrifying moments the reason behind the sinister nature of things isn’t something so devastating like a demonic presence that it requires a faster pace.

The story is certainly a topic previously touched upon in other films, namely in the chilling found footage project The Taking of Deborah Logan, but it’s handled in a much more poignant and haunting fashion in Relic than in most other efforts. James and White’s script does a brilliant job of introducing audiences to Kay and Sam and the former’s troublesome relationship with Edna, making it immediately clear the struggle she has with her desire to unconditionally love her while also having a problem with forgiving her for their past without endless lines of dialogue or scenes dumping exposition on everyone’s motives.

When the sinister presence in the home slowly begins to make itself known via the moldy walls, odd behavior and bumps in the middle of the night, this character development is unfortunately thrown to the wayside in favor of trying to tap into some of the genre’s best haunted house/possession tropes, and though it expertly brings some of them to life, it just feels so imbalanced with what came before. With Eggers’ Witch, the film always put the drama before the horror while also finding ways to meld the horror in, but the problem here is that it can’t seem to find a natural and organic segue between the two, kind of feeling like a jarring shift in tone and genre in many moments.

Should the two have found a better way to complement each other, the terror would’ve felt much more amplified and the drama much more heightened, but instead the feeling that viewers will be left with in a number of scenes is one of trying to figure out whether they should be saddened by what they’re seeing or horrified or both. Additionally, a lot of the story starts to become very convoluted and hard to connect to as things go on, with its subtle messages becoming a little too obvious and its answers becoming fewer and fewer. Keeping audiences in the dark on answers is certainly a great thing when it comes to horror, but there’s not even any hinting of what’s terrorizing the family, creating a sense of general confusion about the events and hauntings that have occurred leading up to its ending.

Even if the story falters in its tonal balance, the performances from Mortimer, Heathcote, and Nevin prove magnetic across its near-90 minute runtime, keeping audiences compelled to continue watching the characters as they come to terms with a potentially very real and disturbing situation. James’ direction also proves to be stellar, with cinematographer Charlie Sarroff helping deliver an elegant and artful look to the whole affair, making even the mismatched storytelling interesting to watch.

Relic is certainly a chilling film and one full of heartbreaking explorations of humanity, aging and dementia, with moving central performances and skillful direction, but much of its script can’t quite find the right balance between its terror and drama.

The Beach House Review: A Tense & Chilling Lovecraftian Quarantine

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

8.5/10

Cast:

Liana Liberato as Emily

Noah Le Gros as Randall

Jake Weber as Mitch

Maryann Nagel as Jane

Written & Directed by Jeffrey A. Brown

Click here to watch The Beach House on Shudder!

The Beach House Review:

It seems easy enough now to look at any film that deals with horrors in the ocean or the cosmic nature of things as purely Lovecraftian but when a film can one-up those elements and become something more disturbing and nerve-wracking, both in tone and sights, that’s when it shows it has the possibility of breaking free of its genre conventions and Jeffrey A. Brown’s The Beach House definitely takes multiple steps in that original direction.

Escaping to his family’s beach house to reconnect, Emily and Randall find their off-season trip interrupted by Mitch and Jane Turner, an older couple acquainted with Randall’s estranged father. Unexpected bonds form as the couples let loose and enjoy the isolation, but it all takes an ominous turn as increasingly strange environmental phenomena begin to warp their peaceful evening. As the effects of an infection become evident, Emily struggles to make sense of the contagion before it’s too late.

Though we’ve seen variations on the central character tropes in other films before, there’s a certain sense of originality regarding their relationships with one another, especially in Emily and Randall. Very rarely does a film, especially in the horror genre, see its twenty-something young characters actually having meaningful lives or problematic relationships, typically showing them as endlessly horny and party-seeking airheads, but Emily and Randall feel like well-written and nicely unique personas for their demographic. The two are not very lovey dovey with each other, noting a few times they’ve been estranged following Randall’s sudden departure from college, even when things get bad they show care for one another, but not in an affectionate sense and more just trying to help their fellow human being survive.

Mitch and Jane are, unfortunately, two of the weaker characters in the film as though they help ramp up the tension in a number of scenes, the writing for them is not nearly as fresh or original as Emily and Randall. The two feel like every out-of-date older person whose eyes got big and whose jaws drop when the prospect of trying edible marijuana is floated to them by the couple they were just drinking wine and eating dinner with moments prior. Jane especially feels too similar to the “aging old white woman” trope on display in far too many horror films of late, simply feeling like her sole existence is to confuse the younger characters as to whether her strange behavior is a side effect of her 200 pill bottles or something far more sinister. While Natalie Erika James’ Relic found a poignant thematic reason to utilize this trope, here it feels like a miscalculated and fairly unoriginal effort.

Minor character criticisms aside, the tension and atmosphere Brown brings to the screen is incredibly palpable, even from the opening moments of the couple silently driving up to the titular locale to the final seconds before cutting to the credits. Though Roly Porter’s score is a nice and chilling affair, Brown expertly keeps it an an underlying element to the film rather than one that scenes are reliant upon to amp up the tension, proving them to be plenty creepy and terrifying on their own.

The scares themselves are a work of art thanks to Brown’s magnetic direction alongside the chilling practical effect work for both the fully-transformed beings and those suffering early on. Though what is seen is not something known to exist, the effects work put into the various organisms feels so unique and authentic it’s as though the filmmakers truly discovered these beings and plucked them from the ocean to terrify the actors. Speaking of actors, the performers all do a relatively good job of keeping their characters as believable and grounded as possible, with Liberato proving to be a plenty compelling and enjoyable protagonist, whose craftiness and ingenuity harken back to that of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.

While some of its characters may feel a little unoriginal, The Beach House finds a way to magnificently balance Lovecraftian terror with Lynchian body horror and tense quarantine thrills to create a shocking and mesmerizing outing that also proves Brown to be a talent to watch after this impressive feature debut.

Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo Review

by Jeff Ames

Rating:

9.5

Starring:

Danny Trejo
Michelle Rodriguez
Cheech Marin
Donal Logue
Robert Rodriguez
Craig Balkham
Jhonnie Harris
Max Martinez
Danielle Trejo
Gilbert Trejo

Written by Scott Dodds and Brett Harvey
Directed by Brett Harvey

Synopsis:

Having spent much of his early life in prison, actor Danny Trejo discusses his career and how he has overcome a life of crime and addiction (via IMDB).

Purchase Inmate 1: The Rise Of Danny Trejo

Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo Review

Danny Trejo has lived an extraordinary life. The man started out as a criminal who terrorized Pacoima, California, pushed drugs, incited violence, and did hard time in high-security prisons like San Quentin. And yet, despite his problematic background, Trejo managed to turn his life into something meaningful; and in so doing morphed into not only a cinematic icon, but a celebrated hero amongst the Latino community.

Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo examines the actor in intimate detail and sheds light on the rugged, leathery, tattoo-laden exterior that has popped up in at least 135 films.

We follow Trejo around his old stomping grounds where he recalls the difficulties of living in the San Fernando Valley as a young Hispanic American. “You could be a laborer or a criminal in my neighborhood,” he says with a chuckle. “There weren’t a lot of doctors or lawyers.” There was plenty of TV, though, and Trejo grew up cheering on the likes of John Wayne whilst simultaneously getting swept up in the whirlwind of drugs and violence. He took his first hit of heroin at age 12, commenced robbing local stores shortly after using a sawed-off shotgun as his weapon of choice, and was in and out of jail for a majority of his youth. “Drugs take care of a lot of things,” he says. “Every feeling you got.”

Eventually, his actions landed him in San Quentin where he learned to survive with his boxing skills and take-no-shit attitude. “You have to control [that anger],” he says about prison life. “Because, if you start getting paranoid, people get paranoid of you.” In prison, size and strength mean nothing. And so, Trejo learned to be an alpha — the guy that would clock somebody in the head the second they looked at him funny. He earned respect, won a few boxing titles and, more importantly, stayed alive.

Trejo recalls his life in prison with harrowing detail, including the murders that took place over silly games of dominoes and the manner in which his fellow inmates laughed off such atrocities. And the actor discusses the moment in which he realized he no longer put much stock in human life and vowed to change his ways for the better.

He began attending AA meetings, swore off drugs and alcohol, and got a job.

Then, one day, one of his AA buddies invited him to the movie set of a film called Runaway Train starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. The director of that picture, Andrei Konchalovsky, took one look at Trejo and decided to cast him as an extra. This in turn led to a job as Roberts’ personal boxing trainer, and the rest is history.

Since his discovery, Trejo has worked alongside the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann, and Robert Rodriguez. He has played silent assassins in films such as El Mariachi, lovable tough guys in family fare like Spy Kids, and charismatic badasses in cult classics like Machete. Through it all, Trejo has remained humble. He continues to visit inmates in prisons across the country and uses his fame to inspire good.

Hell, the town that he terrorized in his youth painted a mural in his honor!

Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo tells the story of a man who cleaned up his life, learned to love and respect others, and became a cultural icon to boot. Like Trejo, the documentary is rough, rugged, and undeniably fascinating.

Followed Review

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

7.5/10

Cast:

Matthew Solomon as DropTheMike

John Savage as Wallace Fleischer

Sam Valentine as Danni

Tim Drier as Chris

Kelsey Griswold as Jess

Christopher Martin as Security Guard

Directed by Antoine Le; Written by Todd Klick

Followed Review:

It’s been a few years since the found-footage horror genre last saw a quality effort in Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch rebootquel, with the whole subgenre effectively being replaced by the Screenlife format the Unfriended franchise made popular. This new genre is still a thrill and had yet to find a way to merge the two formats until now with Antoine Le’s Followed, which proves to be a thrilling and chilling, if a bit familiar, affair with some decent social commentary.

When aspiring social media influencer “DropTheMike” is offered a lucrative sponsorship to grow his channel, he’s joined by his video crew on a visit to one of the most haunted hotels in America, where he’ll give his audience a horrific night of thrill-seeking the likes of which they have never seen before. What begins as a fun investigative challenge including the infamous Elevator Ritual quickly descends into a personal hell of true evil, begging the timely question: how far would you go to pursue internet fame?

The concept of a group of fame-hungry young adults with cameras entering a truly haunted area is certainly nothing new, going all the way back to the first Blair Witch film and even being revitalized briefly with the expert Grave Encounters, a spoof on a number of ghost-hunting reality series on the air at the time of the film’s release, but much like the Vicious Brothers’ haunting effort, Followed finds a media craze and targets it mostly effectively: social media influencers.

Nowadays, too many people are willing to throw their lives on the line and their morals to the wind in an effort to go viral on social media platforms and they’ve been targeted for critique in numerous films and series over the years, but there’s something about this film’s attempts that feels a little more authentic than past efforts. From the story’s stylings as daily vlogs in DropTheMike’s investigation full of kitschy on-screen graphics and editing to the characters’ avoidance of crystal-clear warnings from informed people, this feels more elevated than a typical “teens don’t listen to scary story” because this is something we see all the time on the internet, namely with certain Swedish and American YouTubers who will do anything to appease their fans, even if it infuriates the rest of the world.

That being said, this nice bit of social commentary is unfortunately where most of its story’s originality points come to a halt, as the rest of the film’s proceedings feel all-too-familiar to the films mentioned in previous paragraphs and also becomes a bit too convoluted by the final moments of the film. Recreating rituals despite being advised against doing so and blindly following the group leader until tragedy strikes, the film follows its haunted house investigation formula to the tee that results in plenty of fun scares but does result in feelings of predictability.

The scares themselves are mostly effective, expertly utilizing the handheld cameras and computer screens to help build the tension in every scene while also leaving enough of the sights themselves to the audiences’ imaginations to create as much of a psychological terror as a jump scare-fest. Many of the visuals, both practical and computer-generated, prove to be rather chilling and a nice homage to classics of horror past, including the demonic head shake made famous by Jacob’s Ladder, which arrives in one of the most unsettling moments in the film.

The performances in the film are relatively strong and believable that helps keep the film feeling grounded, namely Matthew Solomon as DropTheMike. Every leader of a group of paranormal investigators has to have a good balance of likability and nastiness for the audience to want to root against them, and though he leans more into the latter than the former, Solomon brings his vlogger to life in solid fashion that makes him a compelling enough lead to help drive the story.

Followed may not be the most original affair in its respective genres, and it may be a little surface level with its exploration of the homelessness issues in Los Angeles, but thanks to a unique blend of the Screenlife and found footage formats, a nice critique of the dangers of social media and some effective scares, it proves to be a plenty fun outing.

John Lewis: Good Trouble Review

by Jeff Ames

Rating:

7.5/10

Cast

John Lewis as Himself

Directed by Dawn Porter

Synopsis

The film explores Georgia representatives, 60-plus years of social activism and legislative action on civil rights, voting rights, gun control, health care reform, and immigration.

Rent your copy of the documentary here, or pre-order the DVD here!

John Lewis: Good Trouble Review

Documentaries are a tricky genre to tackle from a critical perspective. Particularly those about an individual, who is painted either in a righteous or disturbing light depending on the goals of the filmmaker. It’s remarkable how much different a subject can look when you position the camera at another angle.

That’s not a condemnation of John Lewis: Good Trouble, Dawn Porter’s latest documentary that details the life of the famed Georgia representative who stood against racism and played a vital role in the Civil Rights movement. Except to say, this particular biopic stops just short of becoming one of those cheesy campaign ads we typically see running during daytime soap operas. The only thing lacking is the counter — you know, the bit where the screen turns black and white, and ominous music plays over degrading shots of the opposition while a scary voice-over outlines all their flaws? — and a bold call to action at the end.

The documentary is still an interesting watch mainly because of how eerily it seems to speak to our current political climate. It’s crazy to see protestors from the 1960s battling police officers in a manner similar to those on the news today; and the media moguls lapping up the coverage. Such moments beg the question: has anything really changed in our country? Or did we merely sweep a majority of our issues under the rug?

Despite vehement oppression from the public and media during those turbulent times, Lewis preached peace and urged his fellow man not to follow the violent nature of their aggressors. Seek to be as “loving and forgiving in any situation,” Lewis says at one point, followed by a bizarre scene of protestors-in-training — they are told to stand idle while actors verbally abuse them. That’s certainly something I’ve never seen before, and it made me sad that anyone would have to undergo such abuse in order to prepare to stand for something they believed in.

Tellingly, the best moments of Good Trouble involve those featuring Lewis standing alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. during historical moments such as the Selma March. This guy interacted with some of the greats, including MLK and Bobby Kennedy, and changed our country for the better. Last night I played The Last of Us Part II … if anything, Good Trouble told me I should probably get off my ass and do a lot more than I’m doing. Men like Lewis put their lives on the line for the betterment of mankind: he was arrested over 40 times during the Civil Rights movement; and another five times during his time as a House member. What did you do today?

There are other aspects of the film I enjoyed. I liked the behind-the-scenes glances of Lewis prepping for House meetings and his team’s reaction to the live voting results. I was also moved by the section in which Lewis reflects on his wife, who passed away in 2012. I wanted more of these moments.

As is, John Lewis: Good Trouble often feels more like political propaganda than a biography. There’s even a lengthy section devoted to urging people to vote juxtaposed with interviews with democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

I wanted to hear more about Lewis’ exploits in the 60s; and more about the 1963 March on Washington, as well as his personal relationship with MLK and Kennedy. Lewis worked hard and continues to work hard to inspire change in this country — we could all learn a thing or two from his life story.

Manchild: The Schea Cotton Story Review

by Jeff Ames

Rating:

8.5/10

Starring:

Schea Cotton
Elton Brand
Stephen Jackson
Randy Moss
Metta World Peace
Paul Pierce
Earl Watson

Written by Eric “Ptah” Herbert and Michael Landers
Directed by Eric “Ptah” Herbert

Click here to rent or own your copy of Manchild: The Schea Cotton Story!

Summary:

Manchild is a documentary about a Los Angeles basketball legend by the name of Schea Cotton. There have been many stories told about Schea, and all of the ones about what he did on the court are true. This time though Schea and the people closest to him tell the story about what REALLY happened. A star studded documentary featuring Scoop Jackson, Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Ron Artest, Tyson Chandler, Jason Hart, Stephen Jackson and Elton Brand to name a few. There is no such thing as a “lock” for the NBA because if that were the case Schea Cotton would be there, no doubt. (IMDB)

Manchild: The Schea Cotton Story Review

Schea Cotton is a name many might vaguely recall, but few will actually remember. At a young age, the kid was anointed the NBA’s next big thing. Heir apparent to Michael Jordan. The LeBron before the LeBron. As a high schooler, he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. He dominated opponents and wrecked the likes of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett during youth camps in the mid-90s. He had a friggin’ shoe contract with Nike when he was a teenager!

At 6-foot-6, Cotton had the body of LeBron James, the shooting skills of Kevin Durant and the dunking power of Vince Carter. He was the whole package. NBA scouts salivated at his potential. In his sophomore season at Mater Dei High School, he averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds per game. The Monarchs went 36-1 that season and scooped up a state title to boot.

The list goes on and on. Awards. Accolades. Press. Media. Everything. Cotton should have his own signature brand, a number of NBA championship rings, some Olympic gold medals; and rank among those enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Except, the fame stopped just as quickly as it arrived.

Manchild: The Schea Cotton Story explores the life of a superstar talent who devoted his heart, body and mind to the game of basketball and was ultimately cast aside by the same media moguls who spent so much ink propping him up. It’s the classic rags to riches to rags story, except it’s true. And heartbreaking.

Directed by Eric “Ptah” Herbert, and featuring the likes of Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Metta World Peace and Elton Brand, Manchild dives into the story behind the would-be legend of Schea Cotton and explores his meteoric rise to stardom; and his quick demise that befell him after a freak shoulder injury, poor test scores (mostly related to an illness known as testing anxiety) and a series of questionable allegations directed at him and his family. The documentary shows the grueling, grinding world of the professional athlete in which young people devote their entire body, mind and soul in the hopes of achieving superstardom. If anything, Manchild reveals just how good (and lucky) these professional basketball players are to land a career in an empire as vast an unforgiving as the NBA.

At one point, Cotton’s mother exclaims through tears, “This sport destroys a lot of people.”

Cotton reveals the torment he felt as he waited for his name to be called in the NBA Draft. He expected to go top 10 — 11 at the very least. His name was never called. Instead, Cotton, the once mighty prospect, played overseas and never made it to the NBA. “I didn’t get the breaks Kobe got,” he says mournfully.

His situation reached an apex when he pressed a gun to his head and came close to pulling the trigger. Except, he held back and decided to turn all of the negatives of his life into positives. He has since devoted his life to helping others; and served as a key inspiration — and, perhaps, a warning — to aspiring athletes.

Manchild is as engrossing a docudrama as you’ll ever see. Pieced together via archived footage and interviews with Cotton’s family, as well as a slew of professional athletes, the film gradually builds towards the inevitable tragedy, but shifts into a surprisingly positive reaffirmation of life in its closing minutes. No, it doesn’t break the mold in a manner like, say, Hoop Dreams, but Manchild provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes peak at the exciting but ultimately cuthroat world of professional sports.

As a society we too often focus on the success stories whilst negating the ones that never made it. Cotton never became a superstar, but he overcame a lot to become a great man. His story is worth your time.

The Last of Us Part II Review

by Jeff Ames

Rating:

8.5/10

Cast:

Troy Baker as Joel
Ashley Johnson as Ellie
Laura Bailey as Abby
Jeffrey Pierce as Tommy
Stephan A. Chang as Jesse
Ashley Scott as Maria
Patrick Fugit as Owen
Derek Phillips as Jerry

Written by Neil Druckmann and Halley Wegryn Gross
Directed by Neil Druckmann, Kurt Margenau, and Anthony Newman

Click here to order The Last of Us Part II!

Click here to order the Collector’s Edition!

Click here to order the Ellie Edition!

The Last of Us Part II Review

[Warning: Spoilers!]

Revenge is the name of the game for Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II, a wicked, though somber, shoot-em-up that can succinctly be described as the morbid, bastard-stepchild to Uncharted. Where Drake’s adventures reveled in brightly lit environments, wild action scenes and sharp-witted dialogue, The Last of Us thrusts players into a nightmarish world filled with monsters, violence, and reclusive folk who would just as soon slice your throat as strum a guitar.

As Ellie, the thrifty heroine from the first chapter who discovered she was immune to a horrific virus that causes people to mutate into the monsters from Stranger Things, players clamber about the rain-drenched city of Seattle battling masses of faceless baddies in pursuit of Abby, a complex baddie with a tragic past and enormous, Schwarzenegger-sized arms.

That’s essentially the plot. And while the results are a tad predictable, there are still a few shocking twists and turns offered up by writers Neil Druckmann and Halley Gross to ensure players are engaged in the storyline from start to finish.

Controversy has surrounded this title for some time now. Plot leaks revealed the game’s biggest surprise months before its release; and fans were none too happy. That’s understandable. Anticipation is a bitch.

For those unaware, in the first hour or so of the game, after a few playful snowball fights and some weed-filled sex scenes, the aforementioned Abby bumps into Joel Miller, the quasi-hero from the first game who made the decision to save Ellie rather than sacrifice her life to find a cure, and proceeds to beat the holy cuss out of the man with a golf club with predictably bloody results. Oh, and Ellie forcibly watches the whole grisly scene at gun point — just in case the moment wasn’t dramatic enough.

Conversely, the sequence was reminiscent of Glenn’s gruesome death in the opening episode to Season 7 of The Walking Dead in that it feels more gratuitous than necessary and a tad exploitative.

A few questions about Joel’s death: did he really need to die for Ellie to grow? Did the character deserve such a horrific fate? Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to explore Joel and Ellie’s relationship post hospital-crusade — and not just during dinosaur museum-filled flashbacks? People will debate such questions for years, which is probably the point. Suffice to say, subverting expectations doesn’t always equate to smart writing.

In any case, Joel’s death drives Ellie to Rambo up and march straight into Hell to exact bloody vengeance on Negan Abby; and, in so doing, manages to bite off more than she’s prepared to chew — pregnant women and all.

A comment on one of our Facebook posts suggested that Ellie, not Abby, was the game’s main antagonist. Honestly, that claim makes a lot of sense. The story does indeed take the time to warm players to Abby whilst simultaneously transforming Ellie into something of a cold-blooded, remorseless killer, which is interesting from a narrative perspective. Abby, we eventually learn, works hard to protect those closest to her after witnessing the brutal murder of her father at Joel’s hand. Ellie runs amok in Seattle like Juno on crack and kills practically everything in sight; and works the holy hell out of the numerous machetes, shotguns, arrows, explosives, and knives she carries about her person. She is ruthless, cunning and — admittedly — something of a badass. Except, a lot of people die by her hand.

No, really. A ridiculous amount of people die in this game. For a story that takes itself as seriously as The Last of Us Part II, you’d think the makers might have decreased the body count to add to the realism. Does it really matter if Ellie kills Abby after all the bloodshed?

Regardless of your feelings on such matters, or the plot in general, The Last of Us Part II succeeds in delivering an intense, nail biting gaming experience. Players traverse gorgeously rendered maps occupied by massive skyscrapers and eye-popping locales (including The Clink for you Seahawks fans); and engage in savage, stealth-filled combat using a wide range of guns and hand-crafted weapons. Environments are easy to navigate and typically provide the necessary means of cover for Ellie to operate from; even if the throngs of baddies often prove too impossible to thwart with the limited ammo at your disposal. In that case, the only option is to run like hell and hope you reach the next checkpoint before a bullet or arrow finds its way into Ellie’s back.

A word about the violence. In one sequence, I crawled under a bed after luring some bad guys to my location and proceeded to wipe them out with a pump-action shotgun. The gun blew their legs clean off and left them screaming and hollering in a manner that made me feel more guilty than pleased.

Therein lies one of the game’s true flaws. For all its visual splendor and amazing gameplay, The Last of Us Part II feels less like an adventure than an advert for depression. Characters mope about and converse in overtly melodramatic dialogue; and the vast number of vicious confrontations are almost too realistic to enjoy. When Ellie shoots bad guys, their body parts — read: arms, legs, heads — are strewn about in ghastly fashion and covered in blood and entrails. Yikes!

The episodes involving the mutant zombie people things are just as grim. It doesn’t help that as Ellie (and later Abby) players must sneak up behind the damned things and slice open their throats again and again and again … it’s pretty damned gross and quite unsettling.

RELATED: CS Plays: The Last of Us Part II Walkthrough Video Part 1

Yeah, yeah. The apocalypse isn’t supposed to be fun. But this is still a video game, right? The Last of Us Part II strikes a deadly serious tone early on and never relents. And while the game still packs a wallop, it’s also about as “entertaining” as Schindler’s List. More dramatic thriller than fun-filled adventure.

Such nitpicks obviously stem from personal preference more than anything. To some, The Last of Us Part II will be a godsend. And why not? Naughty Dog has crafted a video game that transports players into a fully realized world filled with flesh eating mutants that smash through walls and mutate like that thing in John Carpenter’s The Thing; complex villains, and extreme, blood-soaked carnage. In other words, if these types of games float your boat you won’t be disappointed, even if the experience often feels more like a souped up chapter of the never-ending Resident Evil series than a truly groundbreaking milestone.

Performances deserve a round of applause. Ashley Johnson lends Ellie an aura of innocence and naivete during her downward spiral into darkness. Troy Baker does wonders with Joel in limited screen time. As Abby, Laura Bailey strikes the perfect blend of machismo and raw emotion.

Controls are fluid, once you get the hang of them. An auto-switch between guns would have been nice, especially considering the lack of ammo provided by the game. Even so, players are given a number of strategical advantages over enemies so long as they remain patient. Don’t run (unless you have to). Move slowly. You’ll be fine. Even the crafting works much better here than the recent Resident Evil 3 remake; and additional details, such as when Ellie disassembles and reassembles her weapons during upgrade sessions, add to the cool factor.

Environments and maps are indescribably beautiful. In one extended sequence, Ellie speeds through rapids in a tiny motorboat while a thunderstorm rages in the distance. Later, as Abby, players go toe-to-toe with a hammer-wielding zombie in a wild smackdown amidst a raging inferno. The dank, crumbled ruins lurking beneath Seattle are just as exciting, but their details are often lost in darkness and ultimately trivial during exacerbated skirmishes with those damned infected.

The technical craft in The Last of Us Part II is dazzling to behold and ranks up there with 2018’s God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 as one of the more memorable visual spectacles in recent memory.

Next time, can we lighten the mood just a smidge?

Belzebuth Review

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

6.5/10

Cast:

Tobin Bell as Vasilio Canetti

Joaquín Cosio as Emmanuel Ritter

Tate Ellington as Ivan Franco

Giovanna Zacarías as Leonor

Aurora Gill as Marina Ritter

Aida López as Elena

Yunuen Pardo as Beatríz

José Sefami as Demetrio

Co-written and Directed by Emilio Portes; Co-written by Luis Carlos Fuentes

Click here to rent or purchase Belzebuth!

Belzebuth Review:

The concept of possession has been one of the longest-lasting and most exhilarating of the horror genre when executed correctly and though motivations have mostly been left as a mystery in the past, there are a handful of films that see explanations given, some smart, others lackluster, and while Emilio Portes’ Belzebuth offers a fairly interesting justification for its events and scares, some of the dialogue and plotting can’t quite live up to its efforts.

Special Agent Emmanuel Ritter is enjoying the arrival of his newborn baby with his wife, but before she can be discharged from the hospital, a monumental tragedy strikes that leads to him losing both and heading towards a personal downward spiral. He is put on the case of a series of shocking massacres in his area, in which he comes across a paranormal forensic investigation team led by a Vatican priest and learns of a dark being responsible for the murders and must search for an excommunicated priest who may have knowledge on how to bring the madness to an end.

The opening minutes of the film may be a bit tonally imbalanced and over-the-top, with Tobin Bell’s narration feeling very mismatched with the happier moments of Ritter’s wife giving birth and the two preparing for a happy future, but its transition into its tragedy is smooth and incredibly effective, resulting in quite the jaw-dropping start for the events to come. As events unfold and more massacres occur, the character development of Ritter feels interesting and compelling, with the crime scenes themselves all proving visceral and shocking, though what it’s setting up feels very reminiscent of the Denzel Washington-starrer Fallen. Though there are some plot elements that many will not see coming as the film progresses, the clear connection of “an evil entity is driving these deaths” kind of makes it clear where some character arcs are heading and takes away from some of the originality on display.

The mood of the film finds a nice balance of working to keep its story grounded in reality while also delivering a number of solid scares, even if a number of the scares themselves prove predictable or expose some of the weaker dialogue and acting from its cast. One notable scene comes near the middle of the film as Ritter and Tate Ellington’s Ivan Franco investigate a seemingly abandoned church and are confronted by a form of the titular demon inhabiting a porcelain figure of Jesus on the cross. It’s a well-shot scene, keeping the more haunting elements in the dark and creating a highly-tense scene, but the dialogue from Franco in the scene does kind of suck the tension away as it becomes cyclical and pad the scene rather than just allow Ritter to “peacefully” interact with the demonic presence.

That scene aside, however, the majority of the scenes find a great way to deliver chills and scares that, even if seen before, still prove to be a thrill ride for genre fans. From unique takes on classic exorcism scenes to great practical effects work, the horror in the film is mostly enough of a joy ride to put aside some of its more lackluster writing and uninteresting performances. It’s not that the actors don’t appear to be trying, with Cosio delivering one of the better performances in the film, but even decent performances can’t quite seem to elevate some of the material.

Belzebuth may have quite a bit of dull dialogue and predictable plotting, but thanks to some skillful scares and a few points of originality, this is a chilling enough affair to strike fear in the hearts of the easier-to-frighten at the least, if not genre fans.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga Review

by Jeff Ames

Rating:

7.5/10

Cast:

Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong
Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir
Pierce Brosnan as Erick Erickssong
Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as Neils Brongus
Melissanthi Mahut as Mita Xenakis
Joi Johannsson as Jorn
Björn Hlynur Haraldsson as Policeman – Arnar
Graham Norton as Graham Norton

Written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele
Directed by David Dobkin

Click here to watch the Eurovision movie on Netflix right now!

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga Review

There’s a scene in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga in which Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, who play Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir (probably not related), dressed in angel wings, jump on stage to perform their big musical number in front of the world. Because it’s a comedy, the situation goes awry and ends with Lars toppling to the stage in one of Ferrell’s patented fits.

Your enjoyment of David Dobkin’s new Netflix comedy depends on your reaction to that specific sequence. Either you still get a kick out of watching a scantily clad Ferrell shout hysterically while performing pratfalls, or you’ve moved on.

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed Ferrell’s antics. And so, I enjoyed this goofy adventure even if it felt a little overlong and never reached the heights of the comedian’s best work, namely Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy or Blades of Glory.

Eurovision follows a similar path to the latter in that it begins with a child yearning to perform in a ridiculous competition; and follows his crazy path to stardom. In this case, Lars and Sigrit, two Icelandic friends, long to take center stage and win the Eurovision Song Contest. Of course, neither is very good at singing nor performing as evidenced by an early scene in which the duo performs a ballad on a Casio piano in Lars’ basement, much to the chagrin of Lars’ father Erick (Pierce Brosnan, who never ages). But each is ignorant/innocent enough to believe they have what it takes to really soar.

When a chance opportunity presents itself — a person on the Eurovision committee literally closes his eyes and points at their names — Lars and Sigrit travel to the big show and incur the usual plot beats found in other films of this ilk — i.e., asshole producers, horny groupies, and token villains who want to see the would-be couple fail.

It’s all in good fun, of course, but far too routine. We’ve seen this same song and dance numerous times before in better films. If anything, the production, like a lot of Ferrell’s recent endeavors, feels lazy. As though the producers decided that dropping the actor into another outrageous scenario would naturally produce fireworks, even with a relatively weak script (co-written by Ferrell) that takes zero chances.

Still, there are fun moments scattered about, such as the bit where Lars and Sigrit shout “Shit” so loudly it causes an avalanche. Lars and Sigrit’s second performance on stage also results in some big laughs — again, depending on whether you think this whole situation is funny. And the big musical numbers (of which there are many) that hilariously riff on those stupid “America’s Got Talent” shows are well designed and executed.

I also enjoyed Rachel McAdams, who has long demonstrated her comedic chops in films like Wedding Crashers and Game Night. The actress goes full-on comedy here and fits the material well. Whether someone of her caliber deserves to be dragged around on stage and thrown to the floor in violent fashion is up for debate.

This type of high concept comedy is tricky to pull off. Blades of Glory pulled off the endeavor better than most and managed to take the concept of two male ice skaters and turn it into a consistently hilarious comedy that went far and above its basic premise. Eurovision attempts the same feat, but can’t decided where to go with its topic of choice. As a brief SNL sketch, the concept works. As a two-plus hour film? Eh … it works in droves.

Overall, if you’re a fan of Ferrell, you’ll likely enjoy Eurovision’s outlandish theatrics. It doesn’t rank up there with the actor’s best, but it’s certainly better than the likes of Holmes & Watson.

Irresistible Review

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

6.5/10

Cast:

Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer

Rose Byrne as Faith Brewster

Chris Cooper as Marine Colonel Jack Hastings

Mackenzie Davis as Diana Hastings

Topher Grace as Kurt Farlander

Natasha Lyonne as Janet De Tessant

Will Sasso as Nick Farlander

C.J. Wilson as Lowell

Brent Sexton as Mayor Braun

Alan Aisenberg as Evan

Debra Messing as Babs Garnett

Christian Adam as Michael Garnett

Will McLaughlin as Captain Ortiz

Written and Directed by Jon Stewart

Click here to rent Irresistible on Premium VOD now!

Irresistible Review:

Jon Stewart was one of the most prolific and informative voices in the political world for over 15 years as the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and after making his directorial debut with the thrilling and powerful Rosewater, he’s back in his original comedic wheelhouse with the timely but unfortunately only mildly funny political satire Irresistible.

After the Democratic National Committee’s top strategist Gary (Steve Carell) sees a video of a retired Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) standing up for the rights of his town’s undocumented workers, Gary believes he has found the key to winning back the Heartland. However, the Republican National Committee counters him by sending in his brilliant nemesis Faith (Rose Byrne) and a local race quickly becomes a fight for the soul of America.

The film’s setup is brilliant and well-timed as America prepares itself for another divisive presidential election and while Stewart and his successor Trevor Noah are well-known for reacting with plenty of energy and well-researched retorts to headlines, the 57-year-old writer/director reins it in with this project and it initially works. In portraying both sides of the aisle, no one is safe from his pointed insight, from democratic elite talking down to a demographic they so clearly need and republican strategists unafraid to alter facts as needed to win a campaign.

This satire initially proves genius and relatively funny, but as the film progresses, it finds itself waning and unable to blend its attempts at more audience-friendly humor, with Carrell’s fish-out-of-water Gary revisiting a number of tropes his character type has previously been used for in better fashion. That’s not to say that all of this humor is uninteresting, as some of it works and even some of the weaker material still warrants a smile or a chuckle, but in trying to rein in his anger towards the Republican party and the presidency of Donald Trump, there’s no real edge to it. The closest viewers get to some sharp humor is crass barbs between Gary and Faith which, while generally funny, comes nowhere close to properly using their genre gifts, instead relying on loud arguments and bets over sexual favors before returning to its serious-natured satire.

RELATED: CS Video: Irresistible Interview with Chris Cooper & Mackenzie Davis!

Despite clearly having done additional research on everything from political strategists to the easily corruptible nature of political action committees, the story can’t quite find any interesting path to take this important information. Chris Cooper’s Jack Hastings giving a speech on the government’s broken system of trying to prevent voter fraud with undocumented workers without giving them an appropriate system to become documented citizens is moving and incredibly timely, especially given the current president’s claims of voter fraud leading up to and after his election, but it feels like the only really interesting story thread. Middle and rural America is an area not often explored when diving into politics and Stewart attempts to properly spotlight it and show their more progressive way of thinking, and though he occasionally taps into this goal nicely, it’s an effort that still overall falls flat.

Where some of the film’s humor and storytelling falters, it is frequently saved by the performances of its thoroughly talented ensemble, namely Cooper in a role we’ve frequently seen him take on but yet he shines in every time. The 68-year-old Oscar and Golden Globe winner has always been great at tapping into the soul of the American midwest, but in the role of Jack Hastings, it feels like an angle not previously seen from him. He brings to life a new form of the heart of America, one which seeks to bridge the gap between the often-conservative generation of the past and the more-liberal generation of the future, and it results in one of the warmest and most charming performances of his career.

Irresistible could’ve benefitted from some more rage from its writer/director in its scripting and humor and figuring a better path for some of its political satire than its late-in-the-game plot twist, but thanks to warm direction, generally charming performances and some rich humor, it proves to be a mildly entertaining affair.

Babyteeth Review

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

8/10

Cast:

Eliza Scanlen as Milla Finlay

Toby Wallace as Moses

Emily Barclay as Toby

Eugene Gilfedder as Gidon

Essie Davis as Anna Finlay

Ben Mendelsohn as Henry Finlay

Andrea Demetriades as Jenny

Edward Lau as Tin Wah

Zach Grech as Isaac

Georgina Symes as Polly

Michelle Lotters as Scarlett

Directed by Shannon Murphy; Written by Rita Kalnejais

Click here to digitally rent or purchase Babyteeth!

Babyteeth Review:

The coming-of-age dramedy genre is littered with everything from kindhearted and poignant affairs to exploitative and emotion-manipulating efforts, namely when it comes to a terminally ill character, and in order to set themselves apart from the pack, one must have a unique or original story to tell and though the latter may not be true about Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, it is most certainly the former.

When seriously ill teenager Milla falls madly in love with small-time drug dealer Moses, it’s her parents’ worst nightmare. But as Milla’s first brush with love brings her a renewed lust for life, traditional morals go out the window, leaving her parents wanting to hold tighter to their little girl. Milla soon teaches everyone in her orbit – her parents, Moses, a sensitive music teacher, a budding child violinist, and a disarmingly honest, pregnant neighbor – how to live like you have nothing to lose. What might have been a disaster for the Finlay family instead leads to letting go and finding grace in the glorious chaos of life.

A terminally ill teenager falling in love has been the subject of far too many clichéd films in the past decade, but with Babyteeth, written by Rita Kalnejais and based on her stage play of the same name, we’re treated to an actually interesting and different take on the genre and on the characters involved. The way Milla is depicted, both in marketing and in the film, doesn’t hardly openly advertise her sickness, which feels like a nice creative decision as we as viewers get to actually meet and learn about who she is as a person rather than let her sickness define her. So often in film when meeting a terminally ill character, we start with their illness and expand outwards in learning their unique traits and personalities, forcing that pathos down audiences’ throats as the film nears its end and heartbreak looms in the background.

But with Milla, Kalnejais throws this convention out the window and instead chooses to introduce us to the sweet, bizarre and funny character that she is before eventually revealing she is in fact dealing with a life-threatening illness. The rest of characters featured in the film also prove to be something of an unheard of nature, featuring a pill-popping mother, possibly adulterous father and small-time drug dealer with proper morals who truly cares for the protagonist. Some of the story arcs become a bit bizarre and unresolved as the film progresses, but Kalnejais and Murphy keep things grounded just enough and throw in plenty of dark comedy so as to not alienate audiences and keep it all believable, even if it means stepping into some familiar and unremarkable territories.

Even when the film finds itself wading in some formulaic waters, it’s always kept afloat thanks to the phenomenal performances of each of its leads. Though Milla is not an inherently unlikable character, she has moments that are hard to connect to but Scanlan brings these moments to life brilliantly, proving herself a truly powerful lead. Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn have yet to deliver a bad performance and this is certainly not a bump in the road for either of them, as both prove to be thoroughly compelling and truly embrace their roles.

Babyteeth may play a few formulaic notes and ends predictably, but thanks to Kalnejai’s powerful and funny script, Murphy’s tender direction and compelling performances from its cast, it sets itself apart from most other films in the coming-of-age dramedy genre.

Infamous Review

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

2.5/10

Cast:

Bella Thorne as Arielle Summers

Jake Manley as Dean Taylor

Amber Riley as Elle

Michael Sirow as Kyle

Marisa Coughlan as Janet

Written and Directed by Joshua Caldwell

You can order your copy of Infamous here!

Infamous Review:

At some point in every Disney kid’s career, they feel the need to try and break free from their family-friendly image into more mature material. Some stars, such as Cole Sprouse, Vanessa Hudgens, and Brenda Song, were able to find this path while others are still struggling to make that transition and the past few years has seen Bella Thorne try her hand, with her latest effort coming in the form of Joshua Caldwell’s new thriller Infamous. However, much like some of her unfortunate fellow House of Mouse graduates, she still has yet to find the one project to help propel her to mature stardom, as this modern-day take on Bonnie and Clyde proves to be a real snoozefest from start to finish.

Infamous is the story of two young lovers who rob their way across the southland. Arielle (Bella Thorne) is a down on her luck dreamer who longs for popularity. Dean (Jake Manley) is an ex-con working for his abusive father. The two have an instant connection, and after the accidental death of Dean’s father, they are forced on the run. In an attempt to gain social media clout, Arielle livestreams their exploits and robberies, gaining them viral fame but ultimately leading them towards a tragic ending.

The film doesn’t start off on an interesting or wholly original note, with the moody Arielle lashing out at her absentee mother and her disgusting boyfriend and finding a connection in fellow outcast Dean. One finds herself ridiculed by her friends and family for her promiscuity while the other is ostracized by the whole town for his criminal past and while the latter shows interest in bettering his life and staying on the straight and narrow, he’s pulled into a dangerous world by the former. While the script flips the gender norm on its head of the woman being seduced by the life of crime and initially presents Arielle as a more sympathetic character, it quickly loses this steam as the two embark on their journey.

Similar to the 2012 crime thriller Spring Breakers, the film has some important themes of the dangers of modern-day superficiality and over-attachment to social media, and though it has a more set endgame for its characters than the Harmony Korine-helmed hit, it still feels similar in its style and handling of these themes. Even if audiences didn’t connect to the characters in the opening act before they begin their crime spree, we’re still meant to enjoy their robberies as they’re glorified on-screen with upbeat pop music and plenty of slow-motion editing during robberies, but this feels very counteractive to its messages. Unlike Natural Born Killers, which glorified its couple’s crimes to an uncomfortable degree, this film never takes off or escalates in a way in which we want to fully stand with or against them, only glorifying them without meaning.

The chemistry between Thorne and Jake Manley is certainly there and in some scenes, it radiates accordingly, but the majority of the film still finds Manley trying hard to ape the cool bad boys of the past, from Nicolas Cage’s turns in both Wild at Heart and Valley Girl to John Travolta in Grease. Give him some gel-slicked hair and more leather attire and he’s no different from any tough guy of the ’50s and sadly his performance doesn’t help break this stereotype or set his character apart.

Thorne is certainly proving herself a capable artist in less family-friendly fare and though her character is mostly full of stereotypes and unlikable, she does a better job of bringing her to life than her male costar. In some of her warmer and comedy-skewing moments, she proves to be a charming lead, but for the majority of the film, she just proves to be a medium-lit bulb at the bottom of a 100-foot-deep well.

With a plot clearly taking from countless Bonnie and Clyde interpretations and 2012’s Spring Breakers and a cast of wholly uninteresting and unoriginal characters, Infamous leaves audiences begging the question of why this film exists and why Caldwell didn’t strive for a better balance of thematic storytelling and slick style.

You Should Have Left Review

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

3/10

Cast:

Kevin Bacon as Theo Conroy

Amanda Seyfried as Susanna

Avery Essex as Ella

Geoff Bell as Angus

Written and Directed by David Koepp

Click here to rent You Should Have Left on Premium VOD!

You Should Have Left Review:

David Koepp may be best known for his work in the field of blockbusters, helping introduce audiences to the majesty of Jurassic Park, the thrills of Mission: Impossible and the webslinging world of Spider-Man, but he has explored the world of psychological horror in the masterful Stir of Echoes and solid Secret Window adaptation. The 57-year-old screenwriter/director is trying his hand again at the genre with a film adaptation of Daniel Kehlmann’s 2017 novel You Should Have Left and unfortunately it doesn’t quite live up to his past work.

Theo Conroy is a successful middle-aged man whose marriage to his much younger actress wife, Susanna is shredding at the seams, frayed by her secretiveness, his jealousy and the shadow of his past. In an effort to repair their relationship, Theo and Susanna book a vacation at a stunning, remote modern home in the Welsh countryside for themselves and their six-year-old daughter, Ella. What at first seems like a perfect retreat distorts into a perfect nightmare when Theo’s grasp on reality begins to unravel and he suspects that a sinister force within the house knows more than he or Susanna have revealed, even to each other.

The film’s source material is certainly full of similarities to Stephen King’s iconic 1977 novel The Shining but thanks to a story that blurs the line between reality and hallucination and keeping many of its answers in the dark, it proved to be an intriguing venture and though the film keeps some of the story threads, it loses a lot of these quality elements. There are a few aspects of the novella that could’ve proven hard to bring to life on screen or too vague for general audiences, but what we’re given instead is a script full of unlikable characters and over-explanation that proves uninteresting.

Unlike the source material’s characters of a screenwriter, his wife and daughter heading to the home for a working vacation for the father, audiences are instead given this melodramatic mystery of an ambiguously wealthy guy married to a much younger actress who may or may not have killed his first wife. With attempts at meta commentary on sex scenes, followed by sex scenes with incredibly cringeworthy dialogue, and trying to blend in a relationship drama into the mix, the script feels really uninteresting and unoriginal.

There is a nice moodiness to the film’s build-up to its terror and mind-bending madness, but the problem is that’s all the film really proves to be. The scares are few and far between, and aren’t really very effective, with all of the mind games becoming numbing and predictable. A good psychological thriller makes audiences question what’s real and what isn’t and Koepp proved in the Johnny Depp-starring adaptation of Stephen King’s 1990 novella he knew how to tap into that balance, but here every hallucination and nightmare feels so straightforward it might as well be an entry in Wes Craven’s long-running slasher franchise.

Despite Bacon and Seyfried being two talented stars, the performances they deliver in the film just reek of the duo lacking any real connection or interest to the material. I can’t quite say Bacon gives it his all, because his all is actually typically powerful or compelling stuff, but he finds this weird realm in between of trying to elevate the material while simultaneously giving up halfway through and just making it through the production. Seyfried’s character isn’t one with a lot of agency or even a relatively interesting arc and it shows in her performance as the 34-year-old star seems uncaring in her work in the role.

You Should Have Left was a novella with loads of potential for a thrilling and intriguing psychological thriller and David Koepp has delivered a number of thrilling films over the years, but his latest effort proves to be a lackluster, dull and thoroughly clichéd affair with poor performances, resulting as another misfire for Bacon and Blumhouse.

You Should Have Left

Miss Juneteenth Review

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

8.5/10

Cast:

Nicole Beharie as Turquoise Jones

Kendrick Sampson as Ronnie

Alexis Chikaeze as Kai Jones

Liz Mikel as Betty Ray

Written and Directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples

Click here to digitally rent or purchase Miss Juneteenth!

Miss Juneteenth Review:

The pageant culture in America is a long-standing and diverse area that has been covered in everything from the darkly comedic Little Miss Sunshine to the star-making Miss Congeniality, but rarely has it been covered with such heart and culture as Channing Godfrey Peoples’ Miss Juneteenth.

Turquoise Jones is a single mom who holds down a household, a rebellious teenager, and pretty much everything that goes down at Wayman’s BBQ & Lounge. Turquoise is also a bona fide beauty queen—she was once crowned Miss Juneteenth, a title commemorating the day slaves in Texas were freed–two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Life didn’t turn out as beautifully as the title promised, but Turquoise, determined to right her wrongs, is cultivating her daughter, Kai, to become Miss Juneteenth, even if Kai wants something else.

Countless films over the years have taken to illustrating a character such as Turquoise with a more outlandish and goofy brushstroke, someone tied to the past and seeing themselves as high and mighty in comparison to everyone else, but the way she’s written and brought to life is nothing short of original and breathtaking. She may have some of these qualities, but Peoples has crafted a real character dealing with real struggles in the most authentic of ways, from references to having stripped in the past to feed her and Kai to a complicated marriage to Kai’s father, Ronnie.

The way Peoples develops both Turquoise and the story around her, we’re never meant to feel sorry for her or pity her, but meant to root for her and to see the resilience she exudes at everything life throws in her way. By creating an character audiences can empathize with rather than sympathize, we get the feeling we’re neither being talked down to or that we’re being given a simplified version of this tale, but instead a raw and honest portrayal of real women in America.

In addition to the way Turquoise is crafted as an individual, the relationship between her and Kai does feel authentic and moving, if at times a little unoriginal. It’s obviously hard not to portray every teen as wanting to rebel against their parents, especially in a situation where one has a sole goal in mind for their kid, but Peoples mostly succeeds in overcoming some formula points for this topic. Even as the two argue with each other and Turquoise tries to steer Kai towards her own goal, there’s not a feeling of growing animosity or resentment in the teen dreamer but one that’s hopeful and supportive as we know the young mother will help her daughter achieve her dreams after completing the pageant.

The exploration of the simultaneously dark and celebratory nature of the titular holiday and its roots in the story’s southern area was a very compelling and rich part of the film’s cultural recipe. It doesn’t feel like it’s pandering or trying to exploit its topic, but rather illustrate some of the ways black communities in the south have taken the official Texas holiday and transformed it from a mournful reminder of a dark time in America’s past to a joyful celebration of some of what has followed over the years. From the pageant itself to a local museum offering a look back at the original Juneteenth and locals taking the opportunity to enjoy local food and partying with one another, Peoples uses her past having grown up in Fort Worth to charming and compelling heights, letting the camera linger on powerful mementos from the past and the loving community of the present.

Peoples’ script and direction are supported by a fantastic turn from Nicole Beharie, who has shined plenty in the past with her supporting performances in the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 and co-leading Fox’s Sleepy Hollow but finds herself in award-worthy territory here. There’s no screaming matches between Kai and Turquoise or the latter and Ronnie, even when it feels like there should be, nor does she allow her character to be a blubbering mess or caricature, but instead keeps her grounded, raw and resilient. She shows so much grace and strength in her facial performance of delivering stern warnings to Kai and her boyfriend as well as deep affection for the former, excelling wonderfully without even requiring much dialogue.

Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze prove compelling and Peoples delivers a rich, moving and thoroughly authentic tale in her feature debut that helps carry Miss Juneteenth past some of its trope familiarities into a mostly original affair.

Scare Package Review

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

8.5/10

Cast:

Jeremy King as Chad Buckley

Noah Segan as Husband

Toni Trucks as Franchesca

Chase Williamson as Pete

Baron Vaughn as Varron Bonn

Johnathan Fernandez as Bartender

Jocelyn DeBoer as Wife

Dustin Rhodes as Devil’s Lake Impaler

Gabrielle Maiden as Jamie

Zoe Graham as Jessie

Hawn Tran as Hawn

Co-created by Aaron Koontz and Cameron Burns

“Girls’ Night Out of Body” Co-written and Co-directed by Courtney & Hillary Andujar; “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill” Co-written and Directed by Anthony Cousins; “Cold Open” Written and directed by Emily Hagins; “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium, Horror Hypothesis” Co-written and Directed by Aaron Koontz; “One Time In The Woods” Written and Directed by Chris McInroy; “M.I.S.T.,E.R” Co-written and Directed by Noah Segan; “So Much To Do” Written and Directed by Baron Vaughn

Click here to watch Scare Package on Shudder right now!

Scare Package Review:

The horror anthology genre is one of the most potential-filled areas of film that has seen some successful outings, namely the first two installments in the V/H/S franchise as well as the original Creepshow film and recent revival series and 2015’s Southbound, but it has also seen a lot films crumble under pressure. The money heads behind the horror-focused streaming service Shudder have proven to be one of the most innovative with their streaming library and the latest venture, Scare Package, has set itself up as one of the most thrilling and entertaining efforts in the horror anthology genre to date.

Chad Buckley is the owner of Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium, one of the last-standing video rental shops with a heavy focus on its titular genre, and is very protective of who he hires and allows access behind the scenes of his business. After hiring new employee Hawn, he recounts a series of bone-chilling, blood-splattered tales to illustrate the rules of the horror genre to the prodigy, before eventually learning Hawn himself may not be who he appears.

Every good anthology film needs some sort of through line to help drive the introduction of each individual segment to keep it from appearing as a generic sketch series or The Twilight Zone knock-off, and the idea of setting the overarching plot in a horror emporium is a brilliant setup for what’s to come in each story. Many horror anthologies of the past have seen writers and directors elect to take a more serious approach to their tales, and while many have succeeded, it feels like a true breath of fresh air to see the diverse roster of filmmakers here choose the self-aware and frequently darkly comedic paths.

The “One Time in the Woods'” segment’s fast-paced introduction of a number of characters, including a melting man whose transformation can only be stopped with a pair of silver handcuffs offered by a slasher hiding amongst a group of horny young adult campers, is one of the most gut-busting and exhilarating in the film. The number of tropes it touches upon is very akin to that of campy ’80s classics, but rather than put those films down or attempt to genuinely terrify audiences, it plants its tongue firmly in its cheek and revels in the bloody and nauseating special effects madness it conjures up.

The film also sees the directorial debuts of typically comedic Baron Vaughn and frequent Rian Johnson star Noah Segan with the possession-centric “So Much to Do” and the toxic masculinity-skewering “M.I.S.T.,E.R.” and the two prove themselves naturals behind the lens and in the world of horror. Vaughn’s tale of a woman fighting against a possession and spoilers begins mysterious and haunting and transitions into its more comedic elements with grace, leaving audiences hanging with an ending that would spin-off into an interesting movie all on its own.

Segan’s “M.I.S.T.,E.R.” is a much more serious venture from the 36-year-old co-writer/director than Vaughn’s, but not so much that it stands out tonally with the rest of the self-aware anthology. Featuring subtle nods of everything from David Fincher’s Fight Club to Mike Nichols’ Wolf, Segan keeps audiences on the edge with his slow-burning, modern noir-esque tale and smartly explores the ever-timely issue of toxic masculinity and once the action gets underway, reveals his eye for style.

While every segment in the film is entertaining to some degree, there is one or two that find themselves standing out in less of a positive manner and more of an underwhelming affair, namely “The Night He Came Back!” and “Girls’ Night Out of Body.” The former is a funny breakdown of the horror genre’s tropes of slashers seemingly surviving whatever pain is thrown their way, but as the segment goes on and the slasher isn’t the only to die, it starts to lose some of its luster and become too reliant on its central gag that everything around it pales in comparison. The latter begins with a decent setup, a group of girls looking to party and stealing a mysterious looking lollipop from a store that was encased in a “Not For Sale” box while some mysterious stalker follows their every move. But as the night progresses and becomes more sinister, it begins to raise questions of the meaning behind any of it and proves not nearly as compelling as its start.

Whether it be a fantastic or lackluster segment, however, the film as a whole is comprised of a number of great performances from its talented ensemble, with everyone from mainstream performers Segan and Vaughn shining in their segments alongside strong turns from indie horror mainstay Chase Williamson of John Dies at the End fame, Jeremy King, Toni Trucks, Zoe Graham, Allan McLeod, Frank Garcia-Hejl and Jocelyn DeBoer.

Scare Package may occasionally get a little too meta for its own good and has a mismatched segment or two but thanks to a talented ensemble of filmmakers and stars, frequently hilarious and tongue-in-cheek tales subverting horror tropes and a gleeful abundance of gory practical effects, it sets itself apart as one of the best anthology film efforts in years and a thrill ride for genre enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

7500 Review

by Grant Hermanns

Rating: 

7.5/10

Cast:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tobias Ellis

Aylin Tezel as Gökce

Aurélie Thépaut as Nathalie

Carlo Kitzlinger as Michael

Paul Wollin as Daniel

Written and Directed by Patrick Vollrath

Click here to watch 7500 on Amazon Prime right now!

7500 Review:

Following the tragedy of 9/11 in America, films focused on aircraft hijackings have been few and far between and have been a jumble of everything from nail biters to snooze fests, with the latter struggling to find ways to keep action interesting without being able to change locations. Feature debuting writer/director Patrick Vollrath is trying his hand at the genre with 7500 starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and though it touches on a number of tropes typical of the genre, it’s nonetheless a strong first outing from the German filmmaker.

7500 stars Gordon-Levitt as Tobias, a soft-spoken young American co-pilot on a flight from Berlin to Paris. Shortly after takeoff, terrorists armed with makeshift knives suddenly storm the cockpit, seriously wounding the pilot and slashing Tobias’ arm. Temporarily managing to fend off the attackers, a terrified Tobias contacts ground control to plan an emergency landing. But when the hijackers kill a passenger and threaten to murder more innocent people if he doesn’t let them back into the cockpit, this ordinary man faces an excruciating test.

The film’s opening credits rolling over the group’s entrance into the airport and journey through security is a fitting and stylish setup for the tone audiences can expect from the rest of the film, a quiet and tense affair with no music to outshine the film’s ongoings and leaving just enough mystery as to the motivations and planning of the hijackers.

As we enter the plane with Tobias, the film finds its first bit of pacing problems as the camera lingers in the cockpit and we watch him and the pilot Michael go through their checklists and get the plane ready for takeoff. It’s not an inherently bad introduction to our protagonist, showing his competency at his job and devotion to his stewardess wife and his inability to speak German, but the extended lengths of showing the two note each knob turn and step becomes a bit dull after the first ten minutes.

Once the action picks up and Tobias find themselves fighting off the hijackers, it starts to slip into cliché territory, but not in a way that takes away from the high-octane energy of what’s transpiring. Rather than putting the camera into the fuselage with the chaos, as films like Executive Decision and Non-Stop have, Vollrath makes the smart choice to keep the viewers in the cockpit with Tobias while all of the action goes on over the security camera.

The sole cockpit setting helps really drive up the tension in the plot and creates some of the most nail-biting moments in the film, from one hijacker actually making it into the cockpit to a plane full of passengers being used as hostages for the rest of the antagonists to get in. The dialogue does tend to feel a bit rote during these exchanges, Tobias making demands to the hijackers they won’t reasonably make good on and the latter talking in circles to try and get what they want.

The characters themselves aren’t the most unique or even interestingly painted, with Tobias honestly coming off as kind of a boring character at the start and Omid Memar’s Vedat coming off as a typical younger radical hesitant about the cause, but Gordon-Levitt and Memar’s performances help elevate the material. The Looper and Snowden star delivers a thoroughly powerful performance from start to finish and Memar helps truly sell his character’s semi-likability, but even as the latter shows some character development into a more nuanced role, the script never lets the former grow into anything more.

Gordon-Levitt and Memar give it their all and deliver strong performances and Vollrath proves to be a stylish director upon his debut, but the nail-biting tension and thrill of the story aren’t quite enough to minimize the flaws of its clichéd script, adding up to a thrilling but derivative affair.

CS Retrospective Review: Pretty in Pink

by Jeff Ames

CS Retrospective Review: Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink tells the simple tale of a young, poor-ish girl who falls for a rich kid. Their worlds clash. All the poor-ish kids have hearts of gold. All the rich kids suck. And that’s the gist of John Hughes’ screenplay, which, compared to his other, more distinguished films about teenage angst — namely, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club and even Sixteen Candles — feels relatively tame; and surprisingly shallow.

Click here to purchase the new Pretty in Pink Blu-ray!

Yet, the classic film still works as a trite bit of pop culture entertainment mainly due to its overabundance of talent. Molly Ringwald shines like a star in what would be her last collaboration with Hughes and displays wonderful chemistry with a perfectly cast Andrew McCarthy; James Spader slithers about in the background as a (what else?) stuck up, sneering snob; and Annie Potts and Harry Dean Stanton bring warmth and humor to their respective parenting roles.

The real MVP of the pic is Jon Cryer, whose Duckie, a plucky fella forever stuck in the friend zone with Ringwald’s Andie, bounces from scene to scene with infectious energy — sometimes too much. He rocks the halls of John Marshall High School adorned in funky attire, and spouts silly lines to the ladies, like, “There’s a good chance I can make you girls pregnant by the holidays,” that usually result in a slap to the face. The poor kid has a passion for life, love, and Otis Redding songs, but frequently gets rejected by everyone including Andie, perhaps because he’s too goofy, doesn’t have money, and refuses to dance to the rhythms of the world.

Andie, like most women, would rather go with Blane, a permanently smiling chap who dresses in fancy suits and feels awkward around “average” people. Since the movie was released over 30 years ago, I assume it’s not a spoiler to say the two end up together at the end. Though, I doubt such a pair would last long enough to contemplate marriage. Their lifestyles contrast too sharply; and it would probably take a horrific tragedy, like, say, the sinking of an ocean liner, to permanently forge the two sides together.

Even so, director Howard Deutch milks the most from Hughes’ screenplay by focusing less on the social distance between Andie and Blane and more on the supporting players around them. The rapport between Andie and her father elicits real emotion; and the scenes between Andie and her boss, Iona, who is forever adapting to the men in her life, feel genuine and real. But my favorite bits have always been those involving Andie and Duckie, who behave like an old married couple in that they argue, mostly enjoy one another’s company, and have no sex life. These two probably belong together, but their relationship wasn’t built on desire or passion, but, rather, acceptance of each other — the ingredients needed to forge a lasting relationship. But who the hell wants that in a movie?

Rom coms only work because we never see the end result. Movies like Pretty in Pink, Sleepless in Seattle and Sixteen Candles explore the perilous journey of romance, but then cut to the end credits just as our characters come together. A more interesting movie might focus on what happens after our heroes kiss. Do they simply discard their friends? Would Duckie be content as the third wheel? Would Blane want Duckie creeping around Andie’s room every night? Would Blane’s parents welcome Andie’s dad? Would Andie be content to let her dad live in an old rickety house by himself while she lived with Blane in a mansion on the other side of the tracks? Would Blane buy Andie’s dad a house, even if the old guy continued to neglect his job duties? Would a rich Andie eventually become one of the hoity toity women she vehemently despised? If Blane and Andie broke up, would she willingly go back to her old life?

As a teen, I was perfectly content to bypass these questions. Now, as a wiser-ish man, I find myself gravitating towards Hughes’ original ending in which Andie and Duckie embrace one another — as friends — in the middle of that posh prom dance floor as a middle finger to high society. That feels like the natural finale this film deserved.

That said, Pretty in Pink still evokes plenty of laughs and serves as a solid conclusion to the Molly Ringwald-John Hughes trilogy. The themes explored here are old fashioned, but decidedly more mature than those drummed up in Sixteen Candles and Ferris Beuller, even if they are only casually touched upon. It’s still a got darned classic and a healthy reminder of what movies once were — dare I say, magical? As an adult, I enjoyed it as a companion piece to earlier Hughes films, and as a fun throwback to my youth, but found the narrative derivative and overtly simplistic when compared to other comedies of its ilk I have since come to appreciate — Moonstruck, When Harry Met Sally, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jerry Maguire, or Punch-Drunk-Love, for example. Those films presented characters who truly experienced a journey and arrived at a more appropriate, authentic conclusion.

Pretty in Pink presents a million reasons for its heroine to kick that snotty rich asshole to the curb, but wobbles at the knees the minute he flashes that smile.

The King of Staten Island Review #2

by Kylie Hemmert

Rating: 

9.5/10

Cast:

Pete Davidson as Scott Carlin

Marisa Tomei as Margie Carlin

Bill Burr as Ray Bishop

Bel Powley as Kelsey

Maude Apatow as Claire Carlin

Steve Buscemi as Papa

Pamela Adlon as Gina

Ricky Velez as Oscar

Moises Arias as Igor

Lou Wilson as Richie

Directed by Judd Apatow

Written by Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson & Dave Sirus

Order your copy of The King of Staten Island here!

Summary:

Scott (Davidson) has been a case of arrested development ever since his firefighter father died when he was seven. He’s now reached his mid-20s having achieved little, chasing a dream of becoming a tattoo artist that seems far out of reach. As his ambitious younger sister (Apatow) heads off to college, Scott is still living with his exhausted ER nurse mother (Tomei) and spends his days smoking weed, hanging with the guys—Oscar (Velez), Igor (Arias) and Richie (Wilson)—and secretly hooking up with his childhood friend Kelsey (Powley).

But when his mother starts dating a loudmouth firefighter named Ray (Burr), it sets off a chain of events that will force Scott to grapple with his grief and take his first tentative steps toward moving forward in life.

The film also stars Buscemi as Papa, a veteran firefighter who takes Scott under his wing, and Adlon as Ray’s ex-wife, Gina.

Review:

The King of Staten Island is a semi-autobiographical film inspired by star and co-writer Davidson’s life (the character of Scott was raised in Staten Island like Davidson and was also seven when his father died on the job, the same age Davidson was in real-life when he lost his firefighter father during 9/11). Even if you didn’t know about Davidson’s background and history in relation to the story, though, you can still feel how personal and profound the entire movie is thanks to Davidson’s stellar work on and offscreen, supported by a solid cast, script, and Apatow’s direction.

The King of Staten Island embodies how humor can help ease pain, which is very relatable. We all deal with grief and unresolved issues in our own ways, but a common tool that helps many is finding a way to laugh. But laughter can only take us so far, and eventually, all of that pain has to be addressed. Following the death of his father at such a young age, Scott has been stuck in a dark place of mourning ever since. The first time we meet Scott, he is driving recklessly by squeezing his eyes shut and pressing on the gas, narrowly avoiding a serious accident. He then begins to repeat “I’m sorry” over and over again as he puts on his seatbelt. Scott’s risk-taking behavior makes a couple of things clear to the audience immediately: Scott is struggling and this movie is so much more than a comedy.

Make no mistake, though; The King of Staten Island is very, very funny and features some of the most unexpectedly amusing bits of dialogue that catches you off guard in the best ways. You can count on any scene with Scott and his stoner pals to provide plenty of levity (or really, Scott with anyone). Yet, even then, when they’re all hanging out in the basement watching movies instead of going out, Scott defends staying inside by commenting, “I like it here, it’s safe.” Comedy rides front-and-center in the film, but the movie’s heart is its most essential component.

The comedic beats and touching moments would not hit as hard without Davidson being surrounded by such a talented cast. Burr especially makes a case for being able to do more than just be loud and funny, and Tomei, Maude Apatow, Powley, Adlon, and the others all play their parts perfectly. Plus, we could all use a person like Buscemi’s Papa in our lives. Besides witnessing Scott’s (and Davidson’s) journey through unresolved grief and depression before reaching out for help in an effort to begin healing, the most special moments are the ones that are brutally honest and private. For example, when Kelsey tells Scott she feels bad that Scott doesn’t think he’s great, or when Scott is alone with his father’s things lamenting his sister’s graduation and her going away to college, or when Scott admits that he doesn’t know how to express himself but that he is more than meets the eye.

For anyone who has ever lost someone, or has ever been stuck in a rut, or who lives with mental health issues, has ever done some dumb shit with friends or has ever felt threatened by or struggled with change — this movie will resonate with you. And even if none of those things apply to your own life experience, you will still find yourself laughing out loud unexpectedly at one moment and feeling submerged with empathy for Scott in the next.

The movie may feel a little long for some viewers, but the time given to flesh out not only Scott’s character but those connected to him helps to avoid feeling like the story was too rushed. Apatow, Davidson, and the other writers struck gold with The King of Staten Island by creating a genuinely hilarious movie that is full of character and life. I’m a fan of much of Apatow’s previous work, but this might be the most special project he’s ever helped put on screen and I am endlessly impressed by Davidson’s performance as the actor is able to confront and cope with his own real-life loss as Scott starts the next chapter of his life.

The King of Staten Island
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