RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT (2021, doc)

June 17, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. There she sits. Rita Moreno looks directly into the camera as she tells her own story. And what a story it is. She talks about the good times and bad. She recalls the challenges of being a Puerto Rican immigrant in a predominantly white industry. Documentarian Mariem Perez Riera understands there is no one who can tell Rita’s story better than Ms. Moreno herself, yet knows the story becomes even more powerful with the insight of others.

We get the background on her childhood, and what stands out is Rita’s admission that she was born to be a performer and danced professionally at age 6 (made her Broadway debut at age 13). It’s heart-breaking to hear her talk of breaking into movies, stating, there’s nobody “like me” up there. Forced to take “exotic” roles and speak with a heavy accent while wearing makeup “the color of mud”, Rita initially took every role she could. The prestige projects finally started to come: SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952), THE KING AND I (1956), and yes, WEST SIDE STORY (1961). Her role as Anita in the latter won her an Oscar, which shockingly, did not lead to more quality film roles.

It’s stunning to find out that she went seven years without making a movie, but Rita is never shy about her personal life … which includes being raped by her agent, and having a 7 year affair with Marlon Brando that resulted in an abortion and a suicide attempt. Rita is matter-of-fact about the low points, and positively glowing about the good stuff: her work and music on “The Electric Company” (with Morgan Freeman) earned her a Grammy, her stage performance in “The Ritz” won her a Tony, and “The Muppet Show” and “The Rockford Files” won her Emmys. If you are keeping score, that places Rita Moreno in rarified air – she’s an EGOT.

Two of the film’s producers, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Norman Lear also provide their own perspective, as do Rita’s daughter, fellow EGOT Whoopi Goldberg, her WEST SIDE STORY co-star George Chikiris, Mitzi Gaynor, and other Latinos who pay their respects, including Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, and Hector Elizondo. This is a profile and tribute to a woman who turns 90 this year and is still hard at work. Some of her recent work includes playing a nun on “Oz”, being a regular on “One Day at a Time”, and an upcoming role in the Steven Spielberg remake of WEST SIDE STORY … now that is what’s called “Full Circle”!

The American Dream didn’t come easy for Rita Moreno, but her commitment to her profession took her to the top not just an as EGOT, but also her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Kennedy Center Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She’s an energetic woman with amazing talent, and director Mariem Perez Riera includes some of Moreno’s work on the Civil Rights Movement and political issues. The film is part of the American Masters series on PBS, and I’ll leave you with this: “Hey, you guys!” … watch this movie!

In theaters June 18, 2021

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RISE AGAIN: TULSA AND THE RED SUMMER (2021, doc)

June 17, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s inexplicable how so much hate-based violence was ignored by the mainstream media for so long. Documentarian Dawn Porter is here to correct some of that. The film opens as a backhoe breaks ground in search of a mass grave site in Tulsa. If you watch or read the news, you have seen the current day reporting of the 100 year old massacre that occurred in 1921 in Greenwood, the “Black Wall Street” area of Tulsa. Over two days, an angry white mob killed hundreds of blacks, destroyed buildings and homes, looted valuables, and displaced thousands.

Details of the Tulsa massacre have finally been brought to light, but Ms. Porter, working in conjunction with “Washington Post” reporter DeNeen Brown, also pulls back the cloak of secrecy on how the Red Summer actually began in 1919 with tragic and violent events that led up to Tulsa. These events occurred in East St Louis, Omaha, Washington DC, and Chicago. We learn that Elaine, Arkansas still refuses to search for what might be one of the largest mass grave sites in U.S. history. Of course, the connection to the modern era is easily traced to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and too many other events to list here.

The film is well-researched and well-documented. Reporter Brown acknowledges picking up the torch left by Ida B Wells, whose courageous reporting and research were instrumental in leading to these stories getting published – even if it’s decades later than it should have been. Historians and academic leaders are given a platform to discuss how the media previously ignored these stories, and the 1990s interviews with survivors of the Tulsa massacre are especially poignant.

Tulsa’s mayor, GT Bynum, and Reverend Dr Robert Turner, are both working in their own way to find justice for those impacted. Bynum’s directive for mass graves is: location, excavation, and identification, so that names will be known. Turner is pushing for reparations as the main form of justice. The talk of reparations and the importance of the Black Press are provided substantial emphasis in the film, and the inclusion of D.W. Griffith’s racist 1915 film, THE BIRTH OF A NATION, allows for familiar and distinctive visuals to reinforce the points being made. The old saying is that there are two sides to every story, but in this case, the hatred on one side deserves no attention, while the stifling of the victims’ stories has gone on for too long. Dawn Porter’s film ensures the story doesn’t remain buried.

Premieres on NatGeo and Hulu on June 18, 2021

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THE SPARKS BROTHERS (2021, doc)

June 17, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Over the past 5 decades, the number of bands that have broken up is, well, almost all of them. For two brothers to write songs and perform together over that span, and still be at it in their 70’s is remarkable. Sparks is made up of Ron Mael and younger brother Russell. They’ve published 25 albums with 300 songs, and performed thousands of concerts. Somehow they still like each other, respect each other, and work well together. As unusual as their music is and as strange as their stage show can be, it seems only fitting that their cinematic profile would be directed by Edgar Wright, who is best known for SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2002) and BABY DRIVER (2017). This is his first documentary.

Mr. Wright establishes the necessary unconventional start by having Sparks perform the opening credits. Not a song to open the film, but rather they actually perform the opening credits. We are then introduced to Ron and Russell, and we get some childhood family photos and an explanation about how their artist father taking them to the movies would later influence their work. And other than learning that Ron has a massive snow globe collection, that’s the end of the insight into their personal lives. Normally that would be a mistake, but there is nothing normal about Sparks.

Instead of personal profiles, director Wright opts for a chronological discography – a walk through the band’s timeline of recordings. Each step is punctuated with insight from fellow musicians or celebrities, and clips of the band performing their music from each era. The interviews are filmed in black & white so that the color of the stage performances really pop on screen. Some of those interviewed include producer Todd Rundgren, Jane Wiedlin (The Go-Go’s), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Pamela Des Barres (a musician and, umm, certain other skills), and other musicians who played with Sparks over the years.

Often thought of as a novelty act, Sparks music and shows are filled with humor, but are not a joke. The two brothers have stayed committed to the music and the performances. To cover an extended gap in their career, director Wright utilizes 6 years of “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve”, but more impactful is finding out that they worked on the music every day during those 6 years. The Mael brothers define persistence. The brothers’ desire to break into film music fizzled a couple of times due to Jacques Tati and Tim Burton, but they do appear in the 1977 thriller ROLLERCOASTER.

Songwriter Ron is the brother with the Hitler/Chaplin mustache, while singer Russell was the matinee idol in the early years. They are referred to as the “Best British group to come out of America”, and their musical influence can be traced to many more popular bands. A collaboration with Franz Ferdinand pushed their creativity, but it’s an outlandish 21 shows in a row, each featuring a different album performed live that may best define their love of music and performance (and stamina). So while Mr. Wright offers zip in regards to their personal lives, the abundance of live performance clips and the quite funny Sparks “Facts” over the closing credits make this a documentary worth watching (even with its 140 minute run time).

In theaters June 18, 2021

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THE BIRTHDAY CAKE (2021)

June 17, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. All it took was one look at the cast for me to agree to watch and review this mob film. It’s the first feature film from writer-director Jimmy Giannopoulos, and he co-wrote the screenplay with Diomedes Raul Bermudez and Shiloh Fernandez (who also stars). Most will agree the world never really needs another mob movie, but gosh, when they work, they are quite fun to watch. Filmmakers Guy Ritchie and Martin Scorsese have figured this out.

And then there are those that try hard, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t quite click. Sometimes too many characters are crammed in to execute (pun intended) as many familiar mob movie tropes as possible. Director Giannopoulos opens his film with a flashback scene from 10 years ago. The rest of the movie takes place in one evening – one that goes better for some than others. Gio (co-writer Shiloh Fernandez) is dressed in his suit as this is the night “the family” celebrates the death of his father 10 years prior. Gio’s mother (Lorraine Bracco) has baked the titular cake, as she has done each of the previous years. She tells Gio she does this “for your father.” Gio then sets out to walk the streets of Brooklyn in order to bring the cake to his Uncle Angelo’s house for the celebration.

Gio is good-natured and prefers talking and smiling his way through confrontations, rather than the violent tendencies of those around him. Most of the movie revolves around his interactions along the way – with some friendlies and some not-so-friendlies. It seems his chocolate allergy comes up in conversation enough times that we know it will come into play at some point. If it’s not his food allergy, then it’s the whereabouts of his Cousin Leo (Emery Cohen) that makes up most of the conversations we hear. Leo is recently out of prison, but hasn’t contacted his mother yet … a real no-no in the family. Leo had previously crossed a Puerto Rican gang and now he’s missing – hence all the questions.

If you come for the story, you’ll likely be disappointed. This is more a series of vignettes featuring familiar faces such as Luis Guzman as a concerned Uber driver, William Fichtner as a man with a violent nature, and John Magaro, Aldis Hodge, Ashley Benson, Vincent Pastore (of course), Penn Badgley, Jeremy Allen White, and even Marla Maples (yes, the former Mrs. Trump). Once at the party, Gio meets with an ailing Uncle Carmine played by Paul Sorvino, and best of all, Uncle Angelo played by Val Kilmer. If you have not heard, Mr. Kilmer had throat cancer and now speaks through a voice box. Subtitles are utilized to assist viewers. Watching him act with his eyes and body language is a pleasure, and it’s great to have him back on the big screen. The final big name to appear in the film is Ewan McGregor as Father Kelly, who has an early scene with David Mazouz (“Gotham”) as young Gio, and a later scene with modern day Gio and his mother.

We follow Gio in his strange, messy night … think AFTER HOURS (1985) … only mob-related, and lacking most of the dark comedic touches. Other than Fernandez, most of the actors are only in a scene or two, so there’s a novelty effect that doesn’t seem quite right for this genre. Paul Sorvino has only a solitary two-word line of dialogue that starts with an F and ends with you. Still a well-executed crescendo of death and getting to see so many familiar faces in one film makes it worth sticking till the end.

In theaters and On Demand June 18, 2021

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MY NAME IS BULGER (2021, doc)

June 17, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Even those of us who aren’t “Southies” know the name James “Whitey” Bulger. Johnny Depp portrayed him in BLACK MASS (2015) and Jack Nicholson’s character was inspired by him in THE DEPARTED (2006). Of course, that’s just cinema taking the legend and running with it. In the real world, we recall seeing the televised clips of the FBI capturing Bulger in California in 2011, after 16 years on the lam and being a fixture on the FBI’s Most Wanted list … and then seeing the reports of his being beaten to death at age 89 in a West Virginia prison mere hours after his transfer. Very suspicious – but who weeps for the mobster? Well, documentarian Brendan J Byrne offers some insight. It turns out, even mobsters have brothers and sisters and kin folk.

It’s the family … one brother in particular … that is the focus of this documentary. Whitey’s younger brother Bill, was the President of the Massachusetts Senate for 18 years, after which he became President of the University of Massachusetts. To hear multiple people, including two former Governors describe Bill Bulger as principled and smart is a bit disconcerting. Is it possible for one family to have a brother so devoted to public service and another brother who is a criminal mastermind that murders people? It’s beyond debate that Bill Bulger was an enormously popular politician. However, the question remains – and will likely never be answered – is whether Bill was able to keep his political decisions separate from his brother.

The film begins with a family photo and we learn the faces and names of the Bulger clan, some who are interviewed in this film. When family loyalty is discussed, one says it shouldn’t be tossed aside because one falters. Most of us would likely consider Whitey’s criminal record as more extreme than a misstep or faltering, but the point is one to which most of us can relate.

Bill Bulger, now 87 years old, and his wife Mary have been married for more than 60 years. They have 9 children and 33 grandchildren. Many of the kids participated in the film hoping to salvage the family legacy created by Bill as opposed to the more headline-grabbing exploits of Whitey, described as “just another Uncle”. In addition to family members, interviews are conducted with Catherine Greig, Whitey’s longtime partner (she was captured with him in California, and served her own prison sentence), a juror from Whitey’s trial, a journalist and author – where the difference between Bill and Whitey is described as visible versus invisible, and former Massachusetts Governors Michael Dukakis and Bill Weld, both of whom had their own candidacies for President of the United States. These two men speak highly of Bill’s character and political astuteness, despite his ongoing rivalry with “The Boston Globe”.

Bill is now retired and living a quiet life. There are still those in the family who claim his brother Whitey is “not the monster he was made out to be”, although Bill’s public statements seem to infer otherwise. Whitey’s former Winter Hill Gang members were shocked at allegations that he had been an FBI informant, and the “Where’s Whitey” manhunt is one that will likely be studied for years to come. Filmmaker Byrne does seem to have success in making the case that South Boston loyalty can co-exist with a family split by the polarized work of two members – brothers Bill and Whitey. It’s quite fascinating to see how these contrasting elements fit together.

Exclusively on Discover+ beginning June 17, 2021

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LADY BOSS: THE JACKIE COLLINS STORY (2021, doc)

June 11, 2021

Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. What’s it like to grow up in the shadow of a successful older sibling? What if that sibling is the famous actress Joan Collins? Documentarian Laura Fairrie profiles Joan’s younger sister, Jackie, who overcame challenges to become one of the few novelists to sell more than 500 million books, with 32 New York Times best-sellers. But Jackie’s impact isn’t limited to book sales, as her work empowered women in society and in the bedroom.

Jackie wasn’t always known for her big hair and leopard prints and risqué writing. In fact, she wasn’t known at all before she visited Los Angeles for the first time in 1956, during which she was referred to as Joan’s little sister. Ms. Fairrie spends some time with Jackie’s childhood and family life, and then takes us through both of her marriages, the career, and her illness. Much of the source work is provided from Jackie’s lifelong habit of writing in her diaries, and although much of what is read doesn’t dig too deeply into Jackie’s psyche, we do get the gist of her focus on observing people and turning those observations into stories that millions loved to read.

In addition to the diaries, there are interviews with Jackie’s daughters, her brother, her long time literary agent, her business manager, her personal assistant, and her sister Joan. Some of her (“best”) friends also offer insight, including Barbara Davis, widow of oil man and former owner of 20th Century Fox, Marvin Davis. Some segments feature these folks reading passages directly from Jackie’s books, but it’s their personal recollections that come closest to adding substance.

Therein lies the biggest hurdle with the film. It succeeds in tracking Jackie’s rise to the top as an author, but it doesn’t go deep enough into her books’ influence on society, and we get even less about Jackie’s personal makeup. She was a woman succeeding in a man’s world, and she carefully crafted and cultivated a public image that included plastic surgery, so that what they read is what they see. One of her daughters states there were “two sides to this mom”, but even that doesn’t result in the breakthrough we hope for.

Husband number 2, Oscar Lerman, encouraged Jackie to write her first book, “The World is Full of Married Men”, and that was the start of an incredible writing career. Sister Joan’s interviews are in line with the rest of the film in never going too deep, but she does make the comparison of “a marriage” to her relationship with Jackie, and maybe the best insight is the difference in how Joan describes their father to how Jackie’s diary entries do. By assembling the bits and pieces we do understand Jackie had significant insecurities behind her public façade.

Clearly there were times a sisterly rivalry was in play, and that’s somewhat offset by the fact that Joan starred in two movies based on books written by sister Jackie (“The Stud” and “The Bitch”). In the 1980’s Joan’s career got a huge boost playing Alexis in “Dynasty”, while at the same time, Jackie was enjoying the success of one of her biggest sellers, “Hollywood Wives”. As a ground-breaking author, Jackie Collins deserves this documentary profile, and towards the conclusion, there is a segment where she faces a live audience in a televised talk show sometime in the 1990’s. The audience is vicious in their attacks on Jackie’s writing, but she remains strong in the face of adversity … a trait that was every bit as important as her book sales.

The film had its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival and will air on CNN Films in late June and on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer later this year.

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12 MIGHTY ORPHANS (2021)

June 10, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Ty Roberts is a native Texan and Austin-based director committed to bringing Texas tales to the big screen. His previous film was THE IRON ORCHARD (2018) on wildcatting, and this time he tackles the 2007 Jim Dent novel, “Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites who Ruled Texas Football”. The film is inspired by the true events of a legendary Texas coach and his development of a football program at an orphanage, the Masonic Home and School in Fort Worth. Set in 1938 as the nation is still rebounding from the Great Depression and the area has earned the label, “the Dust Bowl”, the film opens at halftime of the state championship game, as the Mighty Mites limp into the locker room, battered from the first half.

The film immediately flashes back to 6 months earlier as Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson) and his wife Juanita (Vinessa Shaw) arrive at the orphanage. Both are teachers and Rusty is also tasked with starting a football program from scratch. “Scratch” may be too nice of description, as the home has no field and none of the boys have ever played the sport. If that’s not enough challenge, there is also Frank Wynn (Wayne Knight), the abusive director of the orphanage who undermines Rusty at every turn and uses his wooden paddle as a demented form of discipline. This was a different era, and it’s heartbreaking to see how orphans were treated not just as castaways from society, but also as free labor so Wynn could personally profit.

Rusty Russell’s commitment is a key to the story, and although he suffers from post-war PTSD (with flashbacks), he brings structure and humanity and teamwork to a group of boys who had none. We learn that Rusty was also an orphan, and this helps us understand why this mission was so important to him and Juanita. Martin Sheen appears to be having fun co-starring as Doc Hall, an alcoholic who not only serves as Rusty’s assistant, but who also served the home for 30 years without ever taking a paycheck. It’s Doc Hall who was responsible for luring Rusty to the home, and he’s very supportive of building the program for the boys.

The sports movie clichés are numerous, but this is the kind of story and movie that we desperately want to like – an inspirational story with clearly defined good people and villains. Boys stigmatized by society goes beyond the underdogs against-all-odds. Although they had some success on the field, the real message here is self-respect and education for those who felt superior. Co-writer Lane Garrison plays the arrogant coach of the powerhouse Polytechnic, and though the performance is a bit of a caricature, his attitude speaks volumes about the mentality of the times. Oscar winner Robert Duvall (now 90 years old) makes a brief appearance as a Freemason, who was also an orphan.

Historical significance resonates here as “Fort Worth Star-Telegram” publisher (and early Fort Worth mover and shaker) Amon Carter (played here by Treat Williams) was so enamored with the “Mighty Mites” that he got President Franklin Roosevelt to intercede on behalf of the boys when controversy struck. The Masonic home closed in 2005, but its impact remains today. One of the featured players on the team was Hardy Brown (Jake Austin Walker) who went on to serve in the Marines, and later play professional football. Rusty Russell went on to coach at SMU, and became a legend thanks to his creation of the “spread offense”.

The film was co-written by director Ty Roberts, Lane Garrison, and Kevin Meyer, and the script takes some liberties with history and the source material from author Jim Dent. Mr. Dent also wrote the 1999 book “The Junction Boys”, and spent many years as a sportswriter covering the Dallas Cowboys. On a personal level, he faced serious consequences from his run-in with the law over his many DWI convictions, and remains incarcerated today. The post-credit sequence features actual photographs and a real life update of each of the players and the key people involved. Sure, some of the acting is a bit stilted, the dialogue often unnatural, and the football sequence heavily edited, but we do find the story uplifting at a time when such stories are quite welcome.

The film opens in Texas on June 11, 2021 and then on June 18 nationwide.

***NOTE: Former Texas Longhorns defensive standout Breckyn Hager appears in the film, and thanks to one of my favorite Austinites for the heads-up

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HOLLER (2021)

June 10, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Life in the Midwest rustbelt is often portrayed in movies, but rarely with the authenticity displayed in the first feature film from writer-director Nicole Riegel. These are hard-working folks who maintain hope and keep pushing through the challenges brought on by the collapse of the factory world that left generations in its wake. It’s a spinoff of Ms. Riegel’s own 2015 short film of the same name, and the story is inspired by her own upbringing in Ohio.

Jessica Barden stars as Ruth, a very bright high school senior who is struggling along with her dropout older brother Blaze (Gus Halper) to make ends meet while mom (Pamela Adlon, the voice of Bobby on “King of the Hill”) is in jail due to opioids. Dad is out of the picture. As smart as she is, Ruth is teetering on the line of graduation since she misses so much school time while hustling the streets with her brother looking for aluminum cans to redeem, or any other way to make a few bucks. Despite their lack of funds, Blaze submitted a college application for Ruth without her knowing, and now that she’s been accepted, money becomes the focus.

Desperation leads to poor decisions, and soon Ruth and Blaze are working for Hark (Austin Amelio, “The Walking Dead”) the owner of a local metal scrap yard. At night, brother and sister join the crew for illegal scrapping at closed factories. It’s dangerous work, but the pay is good. The dynamic between older brother Blaze and younger sister Ruth is interesting. He realizes his future looks something like what he’s doing now – scratching and clawing for everything. But he sees that Ruth has a path to a brighter future and he strives to keep her focused on that.

Family is key here, and Ruth struggles with how best to deal with her mother. It takes Aunt Linda (Becky Ann Baker, A SIMPLE PLAN, 1998) to explain how Ruth’s mother is a victim of the medical profession over-prescribing the pain killers that caused the downfall. In a town that’s slowly dying (plants closing), and folks fighting to stay out of poverty, this situation is all too common.

Jessica Barden is memorable from her turn as the friend in HANNA (2011) and from THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD (2017), but this could be a star-making role for her. She is outstanding in much the way Jennifer Lawrence was in WINTER’S BONE (2010), although this movie isn’t quite at that level. It’s a star turn for Ms. Barden and an impressive debut for director Riegel, who shot in 16mm film – a rarity for indie films. The story and characters are never quite as bleak as what we expect, though the ending is a bit too predictable … and we are happy for it. You might want to see this one if for no other reason than it’s a likely career turning point for both Jessica Barden and Nicole Riegel.

OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON DEMAND/DIGITAL ON FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 2021

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CENSOR (2021)

June 10, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Will Hayes is likely the only film censor most movie buffs can name, and it’s been more than ninety years since the “Hays Code” first went into effect. Despite the relative obscurity of the profession, the first feature film from Prano Bailey-Bond, places censor Enid Baines (Niamh Algar, WRATH OF MAN, 2021) at the forefront of a prime midnight movie … a horror film about horror films. Ms. Bailey-Bond has adapted her own short film NASTY (2015) with the help of co-writer Anthony Fletcher, and for the most part, the changes work quite well.

The story is set in 1985 when “video nasties”, the U.K. label for slasher films, were at the peak of their popularity thanks to the convenience of VHS tapes. Many argued these films, typically independent and low budget productions, were influential in allowing sadistic violence to seep into society. As a film censor, Enid (an excellent Algar), who dresses and carries herself like a 1950’s librarian, is responsible for making sure the fictional violence on screen doesn’t cross the line of what’s acceptable and clearly fictional. Enid takes her job extremely seriously and is annoyed when people mistakenly assume she is in “entertainment”. For Enid, it’s all about protecting the public.

Bailey-Bond jams a lot into 84 minutes … much more than most horror films attempt. Enid’s backstory, and really the driving force for the film, involves her sister’s disappearance when they were kids. It remains an unsolved mystery, and Enid often suffers flashbacks and dream sequences – none more vivid than when one of the movies she’s watching triggers hope of resolution and a mash-up of fiction and reality. This kicks the movie into a different gear, as we are no longer caught up in Enid’s stress censoring movies, but rather in her desperate search to solve the mystery of her sister.

Multiple sub-plots (or at least story lines) exist, including Enid’s strained relationship with her parents – with an underlying theme of blame – and a real world tragic event that may implicate Enid’s work. At play throughout is the existence of violence against women, and Michael Smiley (FREE FIRE, 2016) portrays a sleazy producer whose actions are likely similar to many in the mid-80’s. Much of the third act is surreal as Enid crosses over onto the set of director Frederick North’s (Adrian Schiller) latest movie after she sees a possible connection to her sister in North’s previous film “Don’t Go in the Church”. The production design by Paulina Rzeszowska (SAINT MAUD) and the cinematography of Annika Summerston are noteworthy. With Enid wielding both a pen and an axe, the film is a bit deranged and disorienting, but a nice fit for the midnight movie crowd.

In theaters June 11, 2021

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INFINITE (2021)

June 10, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. At one time or another, we’ve all been awed by a cinematic special effect. Some remarkable work is being done by the specialists in the industry, adding previously unimaginable elements to movies. As with most good things, too much of it can be detrimental to a cause. The latest greatest example of this is with Antoine Fuqua’s (TRAINING DAY, 2001) current film, INFINITE. In a mind-bending science fiction thriller (think THE MATRIX), we expect special effects to play a role. What we get is a tidal wave of CGI that leaves us shaking our heads and wondering why no one recognized the extreme level of ridiculous reached here. The goal seems to have been to go above and beyond any “Fast and Furious” movie so that a comparison can’t be found.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Evan Michaels, a diagnosed schizophrenic with violent tendencies when he’s not on medication. Evan is haunted regularly with hallucinations and dreams that seem real, and he’s blessed with knowledge and skills that he’s never learned and memories of places he’s never been. As it turns out, Evan is part of a group called “Infinites”. This group is divided in half: the good guy “believers” and the let’s-end-the-world nihilists. These infinites are able to carry their memories from one life/body into the next as they are reincarnated. It’s a terrific concept based on the novel “The Reincarnationalist Papers” by D. Eric Maikranz. Responsible for adapting the story for the screen are Ian Shorr and Todd Stein.

One of the believers, played by Sophie Cookson (GREED, 2019), works with Evan in an attempt to access a specific memory for the location of a device (“the egg”) in hopes that they can save the world. Simultaneously, the nihilists and their powerful leader played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 YEARS A SLAVE, 2013) are trying to access that same memory in order to use the device to destroy the world. The story really boils down to good versus evil and trying to save the world instead of destroying it. Not overly complicated, which is a good thing in a Wahlberg film.

Mr. Wahlberg, who looks increasingly like John Cena’s little brother, does get to flash his biceps and abs multiple times, including a sequence as a blacksmith forging a samurai sword using ancient techniques. In addition to his typical physicality and always furrowed brow, Wahlberg’s interjected wisecracks – the ones that work in his simple comedies – are lame and simply out of place here. Mr. Ejiofor, a previous Oscar nominee, goes all out in his outlandish portrayal of the super villain – it’s quite a contrast to his more usual subdued dramatic performances and actually fun to watch.

The supporting cast is solid and includes Dylan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, Wallis Day, Toby Jones, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, and Liz Carr. As you might expect, given that the memories cover multiple centuries, the film’s geographic locations are varied, and the characters bounce from Mexico to New York City to Scotland to Indonesia. Wahlberg and director Fuqua previously collaborated on SHOOTER (2007), but as mentioned previously, the special effects are just too far over the top here. The opening car chase scene is exhausting, and since we don’t know why it’s happening or who to pull for, it’s mostly just noise without reason. Later, there is a stunt (teased in the trailer) that ensures anyone trying to give the benefit of doubt to the film will instantly surrender. A few attempts are made to trick viewers into believing some deep philosophical thoughts are at work here, and that life is bigger than all of us, but mostly we are left wondering … why the absurdity?

Premieres on Paramount+ on June 10, 2021

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