GREEN GHOST AND THE MASTERS OF STONE (2022)

June 30, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Next up in this prime era for Superheroes comes “Green Ghost”, a struggling south Texas car dealer who moonlights as a Lucha Libre wrestler with untapped mystical powers linked to the Mayan Apocalypse! Does that sound preposterous? Sure it does. But really, is it any more ridiculous than Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet? With an overall budget that was likely less than that AVENGERS powerful glove prop, writer-director Michael D Olmos and co-writers Charlie Clark and Brian Douglas deliver their version of a gently comical, semi-serious genre film saturated with martial arts moments and finding meaning in life. While certainly no cinematic masterpiece, what’s obvious about the film is that it was a labor of love … a true passion project.

Charlie Clark stars as Charlie Clark, aka “Gringo”, aka “Green Ghost” (the latter two make for an easy to decipher play on words). The real Charlie Clark is a car dealer in Brownsville, Texas. He’s also the star, producer, and co-writer of this project, so obviously it is very personal to him. This movie is not meant to be compared to big budget productions. In fact, it feels more like a bucket list item for Mr. Clark, and he was fortunate enough and committed enough to fulfill his own wish of making a movie (very) loosely based on his life. In real life, Clark was raised in the Mexican culture by his Nana … photos are shown over the closing credits. This plays as a tribute to her and his upbringing.

In the film, Charlie’s dealership is floundering, mostly because he’s quick to shirk his duties and head to the latest underground wresting match for his adoptive brother, Marco (Kuno Becker). Charlie supports Marco by donning his Green Ghost spandex costume – one that the crowd loves to jeer, and that causes fellow wrestlers to cringe. At a very high level (and low bar), the story involves a plan by evil forces led by Drake (Marko Zarar), the son of Nana’s sister, to obtain the magical and mystical emerald and rule humanity. The defenders of humanity are the trio nicknamed, El Trio de la Luz, and it consists of Marco, his sister Karina (Sofia Pernas), and to his surprise, Charlie. The group’s leader is Nana (screen veteran Renee Victor, who voiced Abuelita in COCO). To prepare for battle, Nana arranges a training program featuring Master Kane (MMA fighter Cain Velasquez), Master Hung (renowned stunt coordinator Andy Chang, “Rush Hour” films), and, best of all, Master Gin, played by the always great Danny Trejo … who even gets a “Machete” punchline. A “Rocky” montage technique is utilized, replete with a Spanish version of “Eye of the Tiger” performed by (director) Robert Rodriguez’s band.

An inordinately high percentage of scenes involve martial arts fighting, and some of the stunt work is much better than we’d expect. And then there are the moments that are meant to ensure we understand the filmmakers are in on the joke … like the flinging of tortillas, and a protective force field negated by fancy eyewear. We are never really sure how all of the mystical powers fit together, but the issue of corruption by power is pretty obvious, even within a family. The film’s best line is, “Every family’s not perfect, Charlie. Sometimes, we just have to make our own.” While watching, a few other films came to mind. This includes Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM, and Jack Black’s NACHO LIBRE. Perhaps that will help you find the right mindset for this one.


available VOD beginning June 28, 2022

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JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION (2022)

June 8, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been almost 30 years since Steve Spielberg captivated us, and John Hammond (the late Sir Richard Attenborough) “spared no expense” in stunning Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) with our first look at dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK (1993). Best-selling author Michael Crichton’s original characters and ideas have since spun off into THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997), JURASSIC PARK III (2001), JURASSIC WORLD (2015), and JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018). We now have this latest franchise entry to cap off the second dinosaur trilogy, and it finds director Colin Trevorrow back at the helm. He also wrote the story and screenplay with Derek Connolly and Emily Carmichael.

The big news here (other than the dinosaurs) is the 4-doctor reunion of Dr. Alan Grant (Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), and Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong). It’s the first time all of these characters have reunited since the original, and those of us who hold a special place in our movie heart for the transformative 1993 film, are most appreciative of the nostalgic touch. However, the hopes for a magical finale to conclude the franchise are dashed in the film’s opening segment … a cringe-worthy “news” report designed to catch us up four years after the destruction of Isla Numbar, and set the stage for what’s to come.

You might assume that dinosaurs roaming our planet would be the headliner, but somehow locusts get the nod. Well, they are genetically modified locusts threatening the world’s non-Biosyn food supply. See, Biosyn is the evil corporation run by twitchy CEO Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) that is attempting to control dinosaurs, the food supply, and even human cloning via DNA manipulation. It’s that last part that brings Maisie Lockwood (an excellent Isabella Sermon) into the fold, and the DNA-mix also provides an easy punchline to Trevorrow’s approach to this final film (blending DNA from the two trilogies). Maisie has been living deep in the Sierra Nevada forest with Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). When poachers nab both the offspring of Owen’s favorite raptor and his quasi-offspring Maisie, the hunt is on. The only question remaining is how are they going to finesse this so that the old crew (Grant and Ellie) collides with the new crew (Owen and Claire)?

A stop in Malta to confront smuggler Santos (an impeccably dressed Dichen Lachman) results in the film’s most frenetic action sequence. As Owen eludes trained killer-raptors while zipping his motorcycle across streets, alleys, and stairwells, Claire is sprinting (not in high heels) across rooftops like she’s Jason Bourne or James Bond. While Owen and Claire deliver the heart-pounding action, Ellie has tracked down Grant on a dig in New Mexico, where he’s “educating” a group of teenagers who remain glued to their mobile devices. Ellie convinces Grant to help in her mission to expose Biosyn, but we get the feeling he’s making the trip for her, not to save humanity. With an assist from ice-cold pilot-for-hire Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), everyone ends in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains at Biosyn’s stunning headquarters. Slowly the connections become apparent, as it’s Malcolm (Goldblum) who is the resident philosopher (all evil corps need one), and the one who has been feeding intel to Ellie.

The rest of the movie exists so that all of these characters, along with Biosyn whistleblower Ramsay (Mamoudou Athie) can get in and out of trouble and dodge various stages of peril. The callbacks and nods to previous ‘Jurassic’ films are numerous. Some work and some don’t. Malcolm’s sardonic quips are mostly in tune, Grant’s grumping and knowledge are spot on, and Ellie has remarkably little to do for someone who is responsible for one of the two main plot lines. Owen and Claire spend the bulk of their non-Malta time consistently recreating the facial expressions that have become all too familiar, though of course, Owen does get to hold out his palm in an attempt at controlling dinosaurs. There is a well-timed small dose of John Williams’ iconic score from 1993, but it’s the musical work of composer Michael Giacchino who mostly guides us along the way.

Credit goes to director Trevorrow for the multiple location shoots around the globe, which helps minimize the set pieces … most of which disappoint. Especially surprising was the weak CGI effort in the mines as some of the characters end up where they shouldn’t be. DNA manipulation run amok is perhaps the underlying theme, but we have to ask why this is … all we really desire are cool dinosaurs and a story that makes sense. Despite the film’s best shot coming at the end – a Mosasaurus underwater – we do hope that, in regards to continuing the franchise, Hollywood doesn’t find a way.

Opens in theaters on June 10, 2022

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EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (2022)

April 5, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s bonkers, I tell ya’! Co-writers and co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively (by their choice) as “Daniels”, follow up their ‘farting corpse movie’ SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) with one that is somehow more bizarre, more audacious, and more fun. It’s one of the most innovative films I’ve seen in a while, and although I can point out influences, I’ve yet to come up with a movie comparison that seems just or fair.

Every small business owner can relate to the stress Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is under as she attempts to organize her documents in preparation for an IRS audit of the laundromat she owns with her husband Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan). As if that’s not enough, her father is scheduled to arrive the same day. She knows Gong Gong (James Hong) is disappointed in his daughter for the husband and life she chose. And while being crushed with those two events, Evelyn’s strained relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) continues to fracture as Evelyn wants to keep Joy’s girlfriend status with Becky (Tallie Medel) a secret from dear old conservative dad/grandfather.

That’s just about the end of the “normal” part of the story, other than Waymond has had divorce papers prepared, not for the purpose of ending the marriage, but with the hope that the threat might force Evelyn to have a real conversation with him about their relationship. Things start to get weird even before they head to the IRS meeting with an agent played with gusto by Jamie Lee Curtis, but while there, we get our first real taste of the fantastical trip we (and Evelyn) are about to take. Of course, I can’t really offer any description of the action that occurs, but nothing is spoiled if I tell you that some characters cross multiple dimensions and universes in an attempt to ‘save the world’. While doing this, they mix in some acrobatic martial arts that would make Jackie Chan envious.

It’s the rare film where the frenetic pace of dialogue keeps pace with breakneck action sequences. A fanny pack, trophies with an unfortunate shape, and blue-tooth type devices all play unusual roles here, and this film challenges everyone from the actors to the directors to the editors to the fight coordinators. You’ll likely recognize Evelyn’s husband as the grown-up version of the child actor who played Short Round in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984), and daughter Joy is portrayed by Stephanie Hsu (a contributor to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), who gets to cover just about the widest range of character we’ve likely ever seen on screen. The estimable James Hong is a riot as Gong Gong. Mr. Hong is now 93 years old with an incredible canon of 450 credits in his 8 decades of work. His presence is quite crucial to the film. It should also be noted that, as we would expect, Jenny Slate shines in her brief role as “Big Nose”, a regular customer at the laundromat.

As terrific as the cast is, this is really a chance for Michelle Yeoh to bring her full arsenal to the role of Evelyn. She’s angry, frustrated, scared, courageous, and even adds her comic timing. Ms. Yeoh flashes her CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON fighting skills, while also brining a regal presence to a film that requires a strong core. It’s no mystery that family and love can solve many of the world’s issues, and Daniels have delivered a wild ride that defies simple description. It’s a long one at 139 minutes, but you’ll thank me later for not saying much more than … it’s bonkers!

Opens in select markets on March 25 and April 1, 2022 and nationwide on April 8, 2022

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MORBIUS (2022)

April 1, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Trust the science, they said. Dr. Michael Morbius is a brilliant doctor/scientist who has devoted his life to formulating a cure for the rare and crippling blood disease he and his friend Milo were born with. This is an origin story pulled from the Marvel comic book characters created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. The film is directed by Daniel Espinosa (LIFE 2017, SAFE HOUSE 2012) with a script adapted by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who previously collaborated on DRACULA UNTOLD (2014) THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015) and GODS OF EGYPT (2016). Sometimes past work tells you what you need to know.

An opening sequence features the always cool shots of a helicopter zipping around the water and cliffs of Costa Rica, before landing at the mouth of a cave that houses zillions (I counted) of vampire bats. The brilliant Dr. Morbius (Jared Leto) plans to blend vampire at blood with human blood in his latest try at finding a cure. All of his work is funded by the ultra-rich and equally suffering Milo, both men desperate for relief from their deteriorating bodies. We flashback 25 years to a clinic in Greece where young Michael (Charlie Shotwell, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, 2016) and Milo (Joseph Esson) first meet as they are being treated with regular blood transfusions by Dr. Nikolis (Jared Harris, “Mad Men”).

Jared Leto stars as Dr. Michael Morbius, who is known in Marvel comics as “The Living Vampire”, so we kinda know where things are headed. It’s a surprisingly subdued performance by an actor renowned for his characterizations that are anything but. His grown-up friend Milo is played by the always entertaining Matt Smith, and Morbius’ love interest and research partner is Dr. Martine Bancroft (an excellent Adria Ariona). You’ve probably guessed that the blood blend works … right up until it turns Morbius into a blood thirsty killing machine. This puts FBI agents played by Tyrese Gibson and (master of wisecracks) Al Madrigal on his trail. And yes, we know this is headed to the high noon (or midnight) showdown between childhood blood buddies and it’s the do-the-right-thing Morbius versus the ‘hey, I like this superhuman power’ Milo.

The first segment of the film does a terrific job of setting the stage, but the story, the characters, and the execution let us down for the final two acts. The fight scenes feature some of the worst special effects I’ve seen in years. Sure, the film’s release has been delayed a couple of years, but that’s no excuse for what we see. On the bright side, some of the effects do work, and Matt Smith is fun to watch in a couple of his scenes. We do wish for more of Martine’s story, and for a better story overall (after the intro). The film is part of the SSU (Sony Spider-man Universe) and perhaps its best comparison is VENOM, sans the chuckles. It’s clear this film’s mission was to set the stage for a sequel, and that becomes even more obvious in the mid-credit scenes. Normally, I wouldn’t mention this, but since the director has already discussed, and an appearance was made in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, I believe it’s fair game. The great Michael Keaton pops in as Adrian Toomes (aka Vulture), giving us an indication where the sequel is headed.

Opening in theaters April 1, 2022

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TURNING RED (2022)

March 10, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. If only the transformation brought on by puberty were half as soft and cuddly as the giant Red Panda in this latest from Pixar, imagine the reduction in slammed doors and the increase in dinner table conversations between parents and young teenagers. Writer-director Domee Shi won an Oscar for her excellent animated short film BAO (2018), and has collaborated with co-writer Julia Cho for the director’s first feature. It seems reasonable to assume that much of what we see on screen is taken from their own adolescent experiences, as well as those of countless others.

Meilin (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) is a 13-year-old 8th grader who fancies herself as a free-spirited teenager basking in her independence. However, the real story is that she’s a straight-A student obediently following the highly structured life constructed by her mother. Mei’s responsibilities include helping her mother clean the temple the family manages … the oldest temple in Toronto. It not only serves the local Chinese community by paying homage to the Gods, but it also holds a sacred place for Mei’s ancestors. Mei’s mother keeps her so duty-bound, that she’s unable to find time to karaoke with her friends.

One morning, after a particularly vivid and emotional dream, Mei is transformed into a giant Red Panda … well she pops in and out of Panda state. Her mother Ming (Sandra Oh) quickly reacts assuming her daughter’s “change” is the beginning of a menstrual cycle. But things change drastically when Ming finds out about the Red Panda. Her family has considered this a spell from the Gods, one that has followed the women for multiple generations. Mei discovers this when her grandmother and a slew of Aunts show up for the Red Moon ritual – the only way to rid Mei of the Red Panda.

Mei soon realizes her emotional outbursts are what cause the transformation. When she’s overly excited or agitated, the Red Panda appears. It’s mostly when she’s calm and at ease around her friends that she’s her ‘normal’ self. In fact, the friendships are the key to this story. Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), and Abby (Hyein Park) immediately rally to Mei’s defense and accept these startling changes. They even find a way to use it to their advantage, focusing on an upcoming concert by 4-Town, a 5 member (yep) boy band that the girls are gaga about. The music for 4-Town is co-written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, and is humorously in line with what we’d expect (and remember) from a 2002 boy band.

We watch as Mei struggles with the emotional rollercoaster that brings out the Red Panda. It’s refreshing to see such a portrait of friendship, and also acknowledge that overbearing parents can cause stress, no matter how caring they might be. Mei learns that by letting go of the perfect kid syndrome and wallowing in her messy self, she can truly discover who she is as a young person. It’s a Pixar movie, so we fully expect life lessons and psychology to play a role. And that’s also part of the problem here. Being a Pixar film means you get compared to other Pixar films, and that’s a crazy high standard. This one doesn’t come close to the best work from the studio, although we welcome the rare look at female adolescence and friendship, as well as the impact a mother-daughter relationship can have on multiple generations.

Available exclusively on Disney+ beginning March 11, 2022

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THE BATMAN (2022)

February 28, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Riddle me this: does “The Bat, The Cat, and The Rat” sound more like an opening line to a joke or the title of a Dr. Seuss book? In fact, those are three core elements of this new, COVID-delayed, and highly anticipated film from writer-director Matt Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig. I’ll confess to being a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy (that concluded 10 years ago), and being a bit skeptical to a new version featuring Robert Pattinson in the titular role (I’m choosing to totally ignore the in-between portrayals in the “Justice League” movies). Knowing full well how important it is for fans to watch these films with fresh eyes and a clear head, this review is purposefully vague on what will surely prove to be some of the more popular and contentious discussion points.

Let’s start with a general description and the setup. The film is dark and gloomy and gritty and grimy. Gotham is a cesspool of corruption and crime, and we get no glimpse into the other side, assuming there is one. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) is still in his second year as the Batman, often referred to as “Vengeance”. There is substantial backstory for Mr. Wayne, who lives in relative seclusion with his trusty manservant Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), while the Batman prowls at night in his efforts to clean up the city. Of course he is unable to keep pace with crime and corruption, even with the close alliance he has built with good cop, Police Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). It takes Batman’s Poirot-like detective skills to solve a riddle left as a clue in a particularly high-profile murder case. Soon it’s obvious a serial killer is at work and he has purposefully drawn the Batman into his game.

The caped crusader proceeds to cross paths with Selena Kyle/Catwoman (a terrific Zoe Kravitz), Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), District Attorney Gil Golson (Peter Sarsgaard), and crime lord Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). As city VIPs begin showing up dead, it’s a masked Edward Nashton/Riddler (Paul Dano) who always seems a step ahead. All of the above receive their chance to shine on screen, and while none let us down, it’s not until the mask is ripped from Riddler, and Dano really shines, that we are left wanting more. It should be noted that Farrell (with his facial prosthetics and fat suit) is kind of a second fiddle here, but it’s surely intentional and meant to set the stage for more Penguin antics down the road.

Pattinson will certainly receive the most scrutiny. I found him to be an excellent Batman, with black eye makeup smeared by sweat under his cowl, maintaining the grungy tone. His whispery voice differs from Christian Bale’s gravely growl, but works for the character’s withdrawn nature and preference for detective work over than fighting. Staying true to the premise that this is only his second year, there is a significant shortage of “wonderful toys”, and the batmobile is less rocket ship and more souped-up coupe. The contrast to these is a batsuit that seems quite advanced (and looks cool). It’s Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne that didn’t work for me. I respect the reclusive billionaire aspect, but he mostly looks like someone on their way to a Nirvana gig, leaving us wondering how the heck could anyone not connect the dots between a creepy rich guy and a nearly identical creepy guy in a bat suit. It’s a minor complaint, but one that stuck with me.

Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino (UP, 2009) takes a more classical approach than the dramatics of predecessors Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. Giacchino has been a frequent Pixar contributor, and scored some well-known blockbusters in franchises like ‘Jurassic World’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘Planet of the Apes’, ‘Mission Impossible’, ‘Spider-man’, and ‘Star Wars’. His work fits nicely here. Adapting characters and stories originated by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Matt Reeves and Peter Craig have found a way to put their own stamp on the work. Mr. Craig is Oscar winner Sally Field’s son, and his previous scripts include THE TOWN (2010), parts 1 and 2 of THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, and upcoming high-profile projects in TOP GUN: MAVERICK and GLADIATOR 2. Director Reeves has previously helmed the excellent horror film LET ME IN (2010), as well as DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017).

This marks the first in a planned Batman trilogy, and a couple of the last scenes seemingly set the stage for what’s to come. Although this is an odd movie, here’s hoping the franchise maintains this tone and avoids the typical Marvel/DC overblown CGI approach. After all, the Batman is but one man, not a God of superpowers. This film is an unusual blend of noir-horror-detective-action-psychological thriller wrapped in a gray box with a black bow, and though it will likely be divisive among fans (isn’t everything?), this 3-hour epic leaves us anticipating the next ‘bat time’ and ‘bat channel’.

Opens wide in theaters on March 4, 2022

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I’M YOUR MAN (2021, Germany)

February 9, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. The thing about humans is that we are always looking towards the future to see how we can make things easier, better, or more exciting. This is often with an eye towards more fuel-efficient cars, smaller and more powerful computers, and more effective medical treatments. Writer-director Maria Schrader and co-writer Jan Schomburg have adapted the short story from Emma Braslavsky and turn the lens to relationships and love. Is it possible to advance inter-personal relations to the point of perfection? Would that even be desirable or preferable to the messiness that’s gone on since the beginning of time?

It’s actually the film’s premise that impresses most. Maren Eggert stars as Alma, an Anthropologist who has dedicated years of her life to leading a team documenting the earliest human use of poetry. Alma is a serious and determined woman, and one who bears the scars of a recent breakup. She’s drawn into an extraordinary experiment that blends high-tech with sociology. Advanced robots have been developed to become the “perfect” mate, and are programmed specifically for one person. Alma has agreed to the three-week trial, and her robot is Tom (played well by Dan Stevens, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, 2017).

Their initial interactions are quite awkward as Alma is skeptical and Tom is programmed to constantly and quickly learn and evolve based on Alma’s reactions. Despite Alma’s hope for companionship and recognition of her own biological clock, she seems to catch herself anytime she begins to feel a bit of joy. She never imagined that her pursuit of happiness would be dependent on advanced robotics. To monitor the progress, the program’s director, played by Sandra Huller (TONI ERDMANN, 2016) periodically checks in. And yes, she holds her own secrets.

This is a clever film that delves a bit deeper into human emotions than we originally anticipate. It also contains quite a bit of humor – the initial dance club introductions are pretty funny, as is Tom’s facial expression each time he’s tweaking his algorithms. We do learn flirting is “difficult to program”, although in today’s society, that’s a treacherous path anyway. Of course, Alma slowly comes around to the idea of an artificial relationship – one that by definition can never be real. The film is not at the level of EX MACHINA (2014), although it’s less about technological advances and more about self-realization. Ms. Schrader’s film is plenty entertaining to watch and one that slyly points out many flaws of us human beings, while delivering an unexpected ending.

Available for streaming on multiple platforms

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KILLING THE EUNUCH KHAN (2022)

February 6, 2022

Slamdance Film Festival 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s best not to take the film or its synopsis at face value. This bears no resemblance to a conventional film and the synopsis would have you thinking this is a traditional crime thriller. Iranian writer-director Abed Abest makes no effort to formulate an easy-to-follow story, and instead gives us a glimpse at war atrocities – here based during the Iran-Iraq War. Though it’s not a straightforward story to follow, the film is visually stunning and reminiscent (at times) of Jodorowsky and Kubrick.

A teenage girl and her young sister are collecting items in the yard of their large, sparsely decorated home. As they go back inside to display the reflective items, simultaneously a bombing mission is carried out. Due to storm, things don’t go according to plan. Filmmaker Abest delivers an artistic aftermath of the bombing, and we see the girls’ father return home to the tragic scene. What follows is a surreal, dreamlike depiction of the grieving father’s visions. Time, people, and events are blurred, and the visuals take over the emotional aspect.

Outside of one interrogation scene, there is very little dialogue … but plenty of walking. Much of what we see is left to our interpretation, and the imagery provided by cinematographer Hamid Khozoule Abyane is nothing short of stellar. The camera often seems to float above those we are following and red/blood flows throughout the city. Viewers who try to make sense of every scene or assemble the pieces will surely be frustrated, but the best approach is to take in the visuals and process in your own time.

**Slamdance Film Festival embodies its mantra: By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers. Though Slamdance has greatly evolved since the early years, its mission and organization remain the same. Slamdance serves new and emerging artists, filmmakers, and storytellers from around the world. Slamdance programmers gravitate towards films that embody the true spirit of DIY guerilla filmmaking.


THE KING’S DAUGHTER (2022)

January 21, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It happens sometimes where the most memorable part of a movie is its setting. Plenty of non-descript westerns (and also some really good ones) took place in Monument Valley. MAMMA MIA! was fine, but that Greek isle of Skopelos was dreamy. Even those who aren’t big fans of Wes Anderson movies would likely agree that his sets and filming locations are something to behold. Somehow, director Sean McNamara surpasses all of these by filming inside and on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, a truly gorgeous and historical setting.

As for the movie, the 1997 novel “The Moon and the Sun” by Vonda N McIntire has been adapted for the screen by a list of screenwriters including Ronald Bass, Barry Berman, Laura Harrington, and James Schamus. Since it’s told in a storybook format, with narration from the great Julie Andrews, one must fight the urge to label this as ‘heavy-borrowing’ from the 1987 classic, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, and instead view it as a historical-adventure-fantasy attempting to appeal to most everyone, while likely not satisfying any particular demographic … despite some worthy elements.

Pierce Brosnan stars as King Louis XIV (who became the longest ruling monarch between 1638-1715), known as The Sun King. He has just returned from a victorious battle when an assassin’s bullet reminds him of his own mortality, spurring a plan from the weirdo royal doctor, Dr. Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber). The plan involves sacrificing a mermaid during a lunar eclipse in order to capture the “light” from her heart and provide immortality to the King … for the good of France, of course. So the King sends dashing Captain Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE KILLER, 2012) to find the lost City of Atlantis and capture one of the famed mermaids.

At the same time, the King has sent for his illegitimate daughter Marie-Josephe (Kaya Scoderlario, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, 2017). She has lived her life in a nunnery, and now is to use her musical talent to takeover as the royal composer – whilst not knowing who her father is. Adding to the confusion is the King’s ulterior motive. The kingdom is in dire financial straits, and in addition to his own immortality, he also plans to have his daughter marry the son (Ben Lloyd Hughes, DIVERGENT, 2014) of the richest merchant in France. A dandy plan were it not for the independent-minded non-Princess falling hard for the swashbuckling Yves. Another complication arises when Marie-Josephe befriends the captive mermaid (Bingbing Fan), pitting the daughter against the father … a scenario many parents have experienced (only not typically with mermaids).

It’s only fair when discussing this movie to mention its own history. Filmed in 2014, the reasons for a delayed release are many and varied. No need to go into the studio and distributor issues, but you may have heard about Bingbing Fan’s (the mermaid) saga. She’s the biggest star in China, and in 2018 she disappeared for a few months after a tax evasion scandal. Fortunately, she’s back working. Another oddity, is that co-stars Kaya Scoderlario and Benjamin Walker met on this set, married a year later and now have two children. That’s how long ago this was filmed! Oscar winner William Hurt adds a touch of class as Father La Chaise, and the talented Rachel Griffiths makes a brief appearance as the Abbess. The film is plenty watchable, yet nothing really stands out as distinctive or memorable … of course, other than the breathtaking sights of the Palace of Versailles, including the stunning Hall of Mirrors.

Opening nationwide in theaters on January 21, 2022

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HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA: TRANSFORMANIA (2022, animation)

January 13, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. There is nothing wrong with delivering exactly what’s expected for kids’ movies. It’s a bit bewildering that so many fall short. This is the fourth (and final) film in the hugely successful “Transylvania” animated movie franchise, although it’s the first not directed by Genndy Tartakovsky (credited here as co-writer and Executive Producer). Also missing this time are Adam Sandler and Kevin James, who previously voiced Dracula and Frankenstein, respectively. The character voices have been replaced by Brian Hull and Brad Abrell, and rest assured, the vast majority of young fans will never notice. The film is co-directed by Derek Drymon (one of the creative forces behind the ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ franchise – including video games and movies) and Jennifer Kluska (the main director in the ‘Wild Kratts’ series). What they’ve done is deliver exactly what’s expected … a fun time for kids.

It’s been 10 years since the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (2012) and nearly four years since the most recent, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3: SUMMER VACATION (2018). As this one begins, Dracula is throwing a party to celebrate the hotel’s 125th anniversary. It opens with Dracula and his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) dancing to “Just the Two of Us”. The sweet moment soon morphs into “Just the Three of Us” as her husband Johnny (Andy Samberg) joins in. This is the first, but certainly not the last, transformation – as you’ve probably guessed by the title.

The characters and visuals are the key elements for most kids, and ‘Transylvania’ is here to serve. What’s interesting this time is that Johnny and Mavis are the key players. Thanks to a special ray gun that transforms (there’s that word again) humans to monsters and monsters to humans, the big kick here is that Johnny is zapped and becomes a colorful and zany dragon that is sure to generate laughs. Cellar-bound Van Helsing (a returning Jim Gaffigan) is the developer of the ray gun. After a series of mishaps result with the party punch turning most of the monsters into human form, the whole crew sets off on a South American adventure to locate a replacement crystal so the ray gun can return them to their natural monster state.

Since most kids’ movies include a life lesson or moral, you can probably guess what happens to the characters on that journey. Being transformed gives them a different perspective and appreciation of the “other” side. That said, the comedy here leans towards the slapstick and pratfalls of classic cartoons, especially Looney Toons. Kids are sure to enjoy the ‘physical’ comedy, in particular that of Johnny as an eager-to-please dragon.

Many of the voices are returning actors, and include Fran Drescher (Eunice, the Bride of Frankenstein), Steve Buscemi (Wayne the Werewolf), David Spade (Griffin the Invisible Man), and Keegan-Michael Key (Murray the Mummy). There is a humorous recurring gag for grown-ups with Frankenstein and how much he admires his human looks, a startling visual of BB the guinea pig, and a reminder of why momma always told you to keep an eye on your drink at parties. Those familiar with the Transylvania franchise should be satisfied, and any new viewers should be entertained … exactly what’s expected.

Premieres on Amazon Prime Video this Friday, January 14, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER