: Halloween Kills (2021) R Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) thought she had finally killed Michael Myers, but she soon discovers that Michael is back and heading home. What I loved about the 2018 Halloween film was that while the body count was much higher and the death’s much bloodier, the film captured the essence of the first film, and we had our hero in Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), who had been waiting for the day when Michael returned. I can’t say the same for this film. This is schlocky horror porn at its worst, with each killing giving us a close-up of the blood and gore. The film contains a horrible storyline that is patched together to showcase one gruesome death after another with no point or meaning to add to the story. The film tries to piece a patchwork tale of mob violence (maybe pointing back to the Jan. 6th takeover of the capital?) and attempts at redemption, but the film is so poorly made with what seems to be almost no effort to tie this film in with the Halloween storyline other than having a bunch of the original cast make appearances in this film to die one at a time. Fans of the series will be greatly disappointed, and Laurie is merely window dressing for this film, adding nothing to the story, just giving us a bridge from the 2018 film to this mess. With an ending that promises a sequel in the worst way, this film is a horrible excuse for a horror film, much less for a classic series that had a fantastic comeback in 2018. Go back and watch the first two Halloween films and the 2018 film and forget that this was ever a movie. My Rating: You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again Halloween Kills Website The film is playing in theaters nationwide and on the Peacock platform.: The Last Duel (2021) R In 1386, Marguerite di Carrouges (Jodie Comer) claims that she has been raped by her husband’s best friend, squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver). King Charles VI (Alex Lawther) declares that Knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) can settle his dispute with his squire by challenging him to a trial by combat, a duel that would be the last legally sanctioned duel in France’s history. The story is told from three different perspectives; Jean de Carrouge's, Jacques Le Gris’s, and from the subject of the rape, the Lady Marguerite. When watching this film, I kept thinking about a similar plot device that the great Japanese filmmaker used in the classic film Rashomon (1950), on how a story can change from one person telling it to another. Your feelings about the characters change as the story, and the perspectives change. It helps that you have a contrast between the two knights involved. Driver’s character, Jacques Le Gris, is good-looking, intelligent, and charismatic, all of which make his character seems like the hero of the story early on. In contrast, is Jean de Carrouges, Matt Damon’s character, a man who is bull-headed, rough, slightly dull-witted, and someone who we see is not quite the love match would we would make for the fetching Marguerite. All this makes for a film that has quite to say about how we see our heroes and how quickly we judge people from appearances. Add in the fact that this is a story about the rape of a woman who is seen as not an equal of the men in the tale but is considered property of the male who marries her. I thought the two male leads were perfect in their roles, with Damon adding on the pounds and the scars (along with a horrible mullet haircut) to make his character unappealing. Driver uses all his flair and charisma to make his character seem too good to be true and the envy of other knights. Jodie Comer is what makes this film work, giving us a character that keeps us guessing on just who she is or how she feels until we see her story from her perspective. It’s a magical performance that gives this film life and one where even with Damon and Driver on the screen, you still focus on her. I did have a bit of trouble with the casting of Ben Affleck as Count Piere d’Alencon, a flashy noble who, from the start of the film, despises Jean de Carrouges and adores Jacques Le Gris and his winning ways. With his bright blonde dye job and his almost mugging for the camera, I was very aware that this was Ben Affleck playing a part in a film and not being able to see him as the character himself. I think the film would have been better served with someone not as notable or commanding in the role. Nevertheless, I still believe this is a film worthy of praise, telling a story in a way that made it compelling until its end. My Rating: Full Price The Last Duel Website Now playing in theatres nationwide.
Indiefest: Needle in the Timestack (2021) R Nick and Janine (Leslie Odom, Jr. and Cynthia Erivo) are married and in love, a love that will always last. That is until Janine’s ex-husband (Orlando Bloom) uses a time warp to try to tear them apart. Nick's memories of his wife will soon disappear, and he must decide what he’s willing to sacrifice to hold on to or let go of the one he loves. This is a film that creates a premise that if you have only one true love during your lifetime, will you find that true love even if everything, including time, has set up roadblocks to keep you from it. Unfortunately, I was let down by the film, which never did give me the emotional connection that I needed to the characters to care if the two lovers ever found their way back to each other. The film spends quite a bit of time setting up the premise of that in the near future (we know this because of the cool, slightly futuristic phones that everyone uses), time travel is possible, but at a cost, it creates a ripple where pieces of the past, memories, can vanish in an instant. The film wants us to believe that the love between Nick and Janine is so strong, even if their memories of each other have been erased, the two will still, somehow, and someway find each other. The film spends too much time and effort on Nick, a man that I ended up not liking very much, and that’s a problem when the film want’s you to root for him. I would have liked the film to have given us more of both sides of the story, but instead, we only get Nick’s journey and not Janine’s, much to the detriment of a storyline that takes too long to move along and doesn’t give us enough to care if the lovers ever get back together. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Needle in a Timestack Website Now playing in select theatres and available On Demand.
Indiefest: The Velvet Underground (2021) R Documentary about the legendary rock band The Velvet Underground. The band, founded in 1964, was led by singer/guitarist Lou Reed and comprised of John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Moe Tucker, and film star Nico. They were a part of the Andy Warhol scene in NYC until it all started to fall apart. While not a huge commercial success during their existence, they are now recognized as one of the most influential bands in the rock scene and groundbreaking muscians that had a lasting effect on the music world. I have never been a fan of The Velvet Underground, finding their music a little too out there for my tastes, but I do understand how much they influenced other musicians, especially those in the punk and new wave scenes of the 70s and 80s. The film gives us a very detailed history of the band, focusing mainly on the two leaders of the band, Lou Reed and John Cale. Intertwined with the band was Andy Warhol, an artist who became the center of the modern art world in New York City and was able to hold onto the world’s attention until his death in the late 80s. The film uses that Warhol influence in its storytelling of the band, taking film that Warhol shot of the band to make up a central part of the film’s story about the band. It’s a visually stunning film using the techniques of the Warhol bag of tricks to make us understand and experience the music scene of the band. The film creatively uses both past interviews and current ones to create a tale of a band that was ever-changing, just as was the music scene of the 60s was. The Velvet Underground is one of the most creative documentaries that I have ever seen, perfectly capturing a time and place which created a band and its music, a music which is still influencing long after most of its creators have gone. My Rating: Full Price The Velvet Underground Info Now playing in select theatres and streaming on the Apple TV+ platform.
Indiefest: Hard Luck Love Song (2020) R Jessie (Michael Dorman) is a down-and-out Troubadour who now makes his living hustling pool in dive bars and living in seedy motels. He has a chance encounter with an old flame, Carla (Sophia Bush), but before long, their shared past and current troubles catch up with them. This is one of those films that could have used a 2nd or third re-write, as there is too much filler (lots of time spent with Jessie singing to himself or to/with Carla) and not enough character building to make this film drag, sometimes for what seems like forever. We soon discover that Jessie, while at times is a good guy (we know this because he shares his good fortune with a homeless guy) but is also a hustler, a master at getting people to fall for his bait and switch pool hallways. In walks Carla, a flame from Jessie’s past, a past that Jessie blew up due to his hustler way of life. The scenes between Carla and Jessie are almost painful to watch, as their flirting takes forever to move the story along, and their eventual blowup takes such a quick turn that I got whiplash from the abrupt storyline change. By the end of Hard Luck Love Song, I was tired of Jessie and his songs, much like a song on the radio that has been played one too many times. My Rating: Cable Hard Luck Love Song Website Now playing in select theatres
My View: The Rescue (2021) PG Documentary on an incredible story that transfixed the world: the attempted rescue of a group of twelve boys and their coach stuck deep inside a cave in Northern Thailand, a recovery that would defy the odds. This is one of those true stories that if you saw it as a fictional film, you wouldn’t have believed it, that it was too unbelievable and not based in reality to be real, but this happened, and the story is told by the people who carried out this remarkable rescue. The incident became one of those stories that captivated a world, a group of boys, out on a fun outing, get trapped in a cave due to fast-rising water filling a cave system due to torrential rains that came earlier than expected. The film does a fantastic job of building the story, as there seems to be little hope that the boys and their coach will survive such a long time in the cave, and that’s even if the rescue teams can even find them through the miles of caverns which make of the cave system they are stuck in. In come two of the most unlikely heroes of any story ever told, two English mid-fifties amateur cave divers that, through incredible guts, courage, and a little luck, pull off a rescue that you will not believe is true. I will warn you that some of the footage is reconstructed (primarily due to the incredibly rough conditions that the divers had to travel in, camera equipment was the least of their worries), but that reconstruction was done with all the participates in the rescue. The Rescue is an outstanding documentary that has as many twists and turns in its story as the best Hollywood film, but it’s all real, which makes it one taut and remarkable story that will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end and keep the tissues handy. You will need them more than once. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again The Rescue Website Now playing in select theatres and soon on the National Geographic channel.
Indiefest: Wife of a Spy (2020) Yusaku (Issey Takahashi) and Satoko (Yû Aoi) are a happily married couple living in 1940 Japan. Yusaku, a local merchant and amateur filmmaker, takes a trip to Manchuria, where he witnesses something horrible and comes back a changed man, determined to right the wrong he saw. Now his wife is being torn between the love of her husband and her country. Filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa is best known for his work in thrillers, crime films, and horror. Kurosawa uses his skills as a filmmaker to make suspense out of both big and small moments. This film about a silk merchant's wife slowly masterfully builds the film's suspense, making those small moments feel significant incredibly important. The cinematography of this film is lush and creates the right feel for a country on the brink of a world war. Yusaku, played with a calm reserve by Issey Takahashi, is a gifted amateur filmmaker, making short films staring his wife to the delight of his friends and employees. His wife is happily married and loves the life they lead. All comes crashing down when Satoko discovers that her husband is involved with something that will endanger not only their life together but the lives of others. The film does a masterful job of building the suspense as it pits Satoko in the horrible choice of choosing between the love of her country and the love of her husband. Wife of a Spy takes a while to develop, but it’s worth the wait. My Rating; Full Price Wife of a Spy Website Now playing in select theatres and on virtual cinemas.
Indiefest: Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini (2019) Documentary about one of the greatest special effects technician who worked in a time when effects were done without CGI. While in college, a magazine started up called Fangoria, a magazine about horror and sci-fi films and the people who made them. At that same time, a master of special effects was making a name for himself, Tom Savini, whose work on films such as Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th started the rise of horror films that astounded and delighted fans with their special effects and makeup. I have always loved horror films and thoroughly enjoyed the masters of makeup like Dick Smith (The Exorcist, Altered States) and Savini, who took gruesome deaths on the screen to a new art form. This documentary is best seen as a fan film, as it is a little rough around the edges (some of the production pieces are a little amateurish) and is a little slow to start up as we get a lot of Savini’s childhood and younger life before films. For horror fans of cinema of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the film's second half is a treasure trove of information and stories from a time when special effects meant physical work with pulleys, lots of makeup, and even more fake blood. If you ever wanted to know how special effects were done on those great, blood-soaked horror films of the 70s and 80s, this is a good primer, much like the glory days of Fangoria magazine. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Smoke and Mirrors Info Now in select theaters and available On Demand
Forgotten Film: Nixon (1995) R The story of former U.S. President Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins), from his days as a young congressman struggling to find a voice (and finding it as an anti-communist), his turbulent rise to power as a Vice-President overshadowed by a legend and then his rise and fall as President of the United States, the one thing he wanted most and had to leave in scandal and shame. I am not a huge fan of Oliver Stone. I just never have quite connected with Stone’s heavy-handed filmmaking. Stone isn’t the reason to see this film, nor is it Hopkins as the iconic Nixon. No, it's Joan Allen’s portrayal as Pat Nixon, the long-suffering wife of Richard. Allen gives a complex, moving performance of a woman that few knew much about, as Pat was always seen as the supporting, loving wife in the background. Allen gives us such an incredible I wish the film had been centered around Pat instead of Richard Nixon. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Nixon Info
Weird Credits: From the credits of The Last Duel: Castle Cleaning Service
Coming Soon to a Screen Near You: The Harder They Fall (2021) R When outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) finds out that his mortal enemy Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) has been broken out of a jail transport by Trudy Smith (Regina King), Nat rounds up his gang to track Rufus down and seek revenge for a killing that Rufus did long ago. Written and directed by Jaymes Samuel (They Die by Dawn) and includes a cast with Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield, Edi Gathegi, and Delroy Lindo, this will be a different kind of western, and I am down for that. The Harder They Fall Website