THE BENGALI (2022, doc)

September 16, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. We don’t often get tales in documentaries, but that’s the interesting approach documentarian Kavery Kaul takes here. Rather than reporting only the results, Ms. Kaul travels with Fatima Shaik as she pursues answers to the questions of her family’s roots.

Ms. Shaik is an African-American writer from New Orleans, and she’s on a quest to find out if all the stories she heard growing up are true. The only way to know is for her to travel to the village in India where her grandfather, Shaik Mohamed Musa, lived prior to emigrating to the United States in the very late 19th century. She carries one photo of him.

Fatima is friendly enough as she works her way through the village, but it’s fascinating to see how the locals treat her. First, they have never seen an African-American, and her skin color is a topic of discussion. But more importantly, they are clearly suspicious of her, and even say, she “doesn’t belong here.” The language barrier causes some issues, but mostly they view Fatima as a threat – someone attempting to reclaim land owned by her ancestors. Further distrust occurs because Fatima is a Christian, and the Catholic Church is not trusted here.

Her encounters with the villages are interesting, and it provides a case study in how humans react to those who look and talk differently … it’s not a reaction limited to white Americans. For the most part, director Kaul’s travelogue approach works, and Fatima gets the results she was seeking. Perhaps the time with the locals could have gone deeper, but the 70-minute run time feels just about right.

The film opened at the Quad in NY on September 9, 2022 and will open at the Laemmle Royal in LA on September 16, 2022

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BARBARIAN (2022)

September 9, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s a dark, stormy night. If that’s not scary enough, Tess is in Detroit. She hops out of her car and dashes to the front door only to find the key is missing from the lockbox. Her Airbnb has been double-booked and a confused and sleepy man answers the door. When Tess agrees to ‘come in’, we veterans of the horror genre know exactly where this movie is headed. The only problem with our theory is that writer-director Zach Cregger has made it his mission to mess with our heads – and the genre – by confounding us at every turn.

Georgina Campbell (“Broadchurch”) plays Tess and Bill Skarsgard (Pennywise in IT, 2017) is Keith, the settled Airbnb tenant. The two actors are superb during their awkward encounter, as Tess comes across as an intelligent and cautious woman, fully aware of the red flags in this situation. Keith is a bit shy, yet polite and accommodating – and also aware of what might make Tess uncomfortable. But Keith looks exactly like the guy who played Pennywise, so Skarsgard’s look results in the perfect contrast with this character’s demeanor … keeping us viewers (and Tess) on our toes.  

It’s really the structure of the storytelling that gives this one a creative punch. Cregger serves up 3 different perspectives and then tries to wrap things up in a final act. I actually found all three puzzle pieces well done and interesting, leaving only the wrap-up a bit lacking. In addition to Tess and Keith, we get Justin Long as a cocky actor named AJ cruising along the California coast in his convertible, singing along at full pitch. A phone call abruptly shifts the tone and soon AJ is on a flight leading him to the front porch of a rental property he owns in Detroit. Yep, the same Airbnb Keith and Tess double-booked. Thirdly, there is a flashback to well-kept homes with perfectly manicured lawns. Right again … the same house a few decades earlier before blight took over the neighborhood. It’s in this stage where we note the homeowner (played by Richard Brake) follows a young woman home from the store and gains entrance under false pretenses.

If this seems like a lot to tie into one horror film, that’s because it is. We’d like to know more about Tess. We welcome AJ’s natural sarcasm, and Brake’s early years could have been the creepiest of the bunch. Cregger excels at atmospheric tension and disorienting camera angles, especially in the always dreaded dank basement with hidden hallways and secret rooms. He’s also clever with his misdirection and inclusion of contemporary issues like immediate ramifications of accusations, and the defensive mode that women must maintain when deciding to accept a cup of tea. I certainly enjoyed the jolting cuts from one storyline to the next. However, I will admit to feeling frustration that Tess was set up as such an intelligent person, only to make multiple decisions that force us to suspend disbelief … a trait of far too many horror films.

Opens in theaters on September 9, 2022

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MEDIEVAL (2022)

September 9, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. There are some actors I follow simply because I admire their work. Ben Foster earned that loyalty with his performances in such films as LEAVE NO TRACE (2018), HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016), and 3:10 TO YUMA (2007). Here he is cast as Jan Zizka, the legendary 15th century Czech icon whom historians have pegged as having never lost a battle. At the helm is Czech writer-director Petr Jakl whose previous films did not come close to this scale. The list of credited screenwriters includes director Jakl, his father Petr Jakl Sr, Marek Dobes, Michal Petrus, Kevin Bernhardt, and Petr Bok. I don’t pretend to know which of these writers had the greatest impact, but what I can report is that the film looks great and includes some of the best battle scenes you’ll find in any film set in the Middle Ages.

Tyranny.” The narrator opens the film with that word, followed by an explanation of the ongoing battle for the power and control of the Catholic Church. That narrator is Lord Boresh, played by 2-time Oscar winner Michael Caine, who has paid Jan Zizka and his band of rebels to protect him from assassination attempts. Director Jakl doesn’t make us wait long for the first skirmish, and it gives us a taste of what’s to come. These are no-holds-barred battles where bones and faces are crushed, and horses toppled into rivers. This is Italy 1402.

After the battle, Zizka heads to Prague to reunite with his brother, and while he’s there, the political maneuvering and power-brokering is occurring. Those involved include Lord Boresh, the King of Bohemia (Karel Roden, ROCKNROLLA, 2008), his half-brother, the King of Hungary (Matthew Goode, THE IMITATION GAME, 2014), and nobleman Rosenberg (Til Schweiger, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, 2009). When Rosenberg refuses to cooperate, a plan is hatched to kidnap his fiancé Katherine (Sophie Lowe, so good in BLOW THE MAN DOWN, 2019), who also happens to be the niece of the King of France. It may seem challenging to keep the political alliances straight, but fear not, double-crossing and backstabbing adds to the fun.

Katherine is in fact kidnapped. And then kidnapped from the kidnappers. And then rescued … well, you get the idea. It seems her own allegiance transitions as she discovers the true character of her fiancé. Plus, it seems she walks at least 42 miles during all of this. What really makes this one worth watching are the battle scenes, including a face-off between Zizka and his mentor, the intimidating Torak (Roland Moller, ATOMIC BLONDE, 2017). The fights are bloody and gruesome and violent. The brutality is as realistic as you could want, while cinematographer Jesper Toffner captures these scenes in the most visceral manner possible … we are not let off the hook from the damage caused by swords, axes, maces, and mauls.

Director Jakl highlights Zizka as a military strategist and tactician, and not just a brute. It’s this part of the personality that best fits Foster’s talent. It’s difficult to know how much of this true story is accurate and how much is legend (always print the legend!), but the push for religious and political power and control seems a common topic regardless of century.

Opening in theaters on September 9, 2022

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PINOCCHIO (2022)

September 8, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Once upon a time … in 1880 (or so) … writer Carlo Collodi (aka Lorenzini) had his original “Story of a Marionette” published. The story of his character Pinocchio has since been told to countless children through just about every possible form of media. The classic Disney animated feature film from 1940 won two Oscars (song, score) and the recent 2019 Italian film version received two Oscar nominations. So why is it that we continue to find new ways to tell the story? Well, because the messages are crucial for kids to understand: pay attention to your conscience, beware of temptations, and decisions have consequences. Of course, anytime a filmmaker re-imagines a classic, folks will line up to shout about how unnecessary it is. However, with a kids’ movie, we must recognize that expectations and tastes have shifted. It’s a bit more challenging to get today’s kids to pay attention for 90 minutes.

This version comes to us from Disney as a Live Action film enhanced with computer animation. No, Pinocchio isn’t played by a real person, and in fact, there are only a few real actors on screen – the most important being Oscar winner Tom Hanks as Geppetto. However, the computer-generated Pinocchio (looking almost identical to the 1940 animated version) interacts with both human actors and other computer-generated characters, almost always in a seamless manner.

The film opens as our narrator (Jiminy Cricket) explains that we are in for a “humdinger of a tale.” We soon see low-talking Geppetto (Oscar winner Tom Hanks) in his shop of ‘Toys, Clocks, and Oddments.” He’s busy crafting, and talking to, a wooden puppet meant to fill the void that has left Geppetto a grieving man. His fantastical wall of cuckoo clocks features beloved Disney characters, including the instantly recognizable Jessica Rabbit from WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988). That film, as well as this one, were directed by Robert Zemeckis (an Oscar winner for FORREST GUMP, 1994). Mr. Zemeckis was also one of the screenwriters along with Chris Weitz and Simon Farnaby.

Most everyone on the planet knows the story of Pinocchio. The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) tasks Jiminy Cricket (voiced perfectly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to be the conscience of the ‘almost real boy’ and sets the ground rules for becoming real: Pinocchio must be brave, truthful, and unselfish. As with all of us, Pinocchio immediately faces temptation and danger. His comes in the forms of Stromboli, Pleasure Island, and ultimately, Monstro the giant sea creature. Tension is elevated when Geppetto and Pinocchio are separated, and a great adventure follows. Much of this follows the original storyline, with contemporary flourishes included … not all of which are positive additions.

Benjamin Evans Ainsworth (TV mini-series “The Haunting of Bly Manor”) voices Pinocchio, and of course, Mr. Hanks is spot on as Geppetto. Other voice and live acting is delivered by Angus Wright, Keegan-Michael Key, Kyanne Lamaya, Luke Evans (as The Coachman), and Lorraine Bracco (voicing new character Sofia the Seagull). Alan Silvestri composed the film’s score and Don Burgess was the Director of Photography. Ms. Erivo serves up a “big” version of “When You Wish Upon a Star” in a key most kids won’t come close to, but other than a few moments too dark for the youngest of kids, this should make for enjoyable family viewing … which may not be the case when Guillermo del Toro releases his stop-motion animated version later this year for Netflix.

Premieres on DISNEY+ on September 8, 2022

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HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL (2022)

September 2, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Welcome to the Greater Paths Baptist Church. Or what’s left of it. Writer-director Adammo Ebo has expanded her 2018 short story (same title) into a feature film that serves up a satirical look at the proliferation of mega churches and all that entails – ego, greed, self-absorption. Her best move was casting Regina Hall and Sterling K Brown in the crucial lead roles.

In the faux-archival footage, we see Pastor Lee-Curtis Brown (Sterling K Brown) eloquently and passionately sermonizing to the massive congregation. At its peak, his church had 26,000 members who filled the offering plates each Sunday. We know this because this pastor is not shy about flashing his designer label clothes or collectible cars, or mentioning the private jets and helicopters. He uses these glitzy material goods to reinforce what good Christians each member is. But that was then, and this is now. The church has been closed due to a very public scandal involving Pastor Lee-Curtis and his inappropriate behavior with teenage boys.

The story here involves the pastor and his first lady wife Trinitie (Regina Hall) as they strategize about creating excitement for the grand re-opening of their church. The scandal is clearly the biggest hurdle; but so is Heaven’s House, a local church run by ‘Pastor Sumpter and Pastor Sumpter’, a husband and wife team played by Conphidance and Nicole Beharie (so good in BREAKING, 2022). After the scandal, Heaven’s House welcomed many transferring members and is now in the process of growing their church to a new level.

This is a mockumentary and the “documentary” filmmakers follow Lee-Curtis and Trinitie around most of the day, sometimes even when they aren’t particularly welcome. Because of this, we see Lee-Curtis as a narcissist mostly devoid of any semblance of reasonable perception of how others view him. He may seek the road to redemption, but that trust has been broken. Trinitie stood by her man through the hard times, and it seems clear they are both desperate to regain the power and privilege that is now lost.

Sterling K Brown and Regina Hall are both fully committed to these roles. Brown’s intensity, no matter how displaced his character feels, absolutely works. And Regina Hall’s performance is even more fun to watch. She’s especially effective at showing Trinitie’s inner turmoil of maintaining dignity versus the desire for the power lifestyle. She excels at biting her tongue and struggles to avoid letting her true feelings show … she’s a pillar of loyalty behind a cheerleader’s fake smile. She also delivers the perfect final shot.

This mockumentary isn’t funny in the Christopher Guest way, but rather with a bleak commentary on power-hungry people and megachurches, with a few exceptions. What once was a congregation over 20,000 is now only the “Devout Five”. We get the best ever pinkie toe joke, and Ms. Hall and Mr. Brown go all in on their rendition of Crime Mob’s “Knuck You if You Buck” while driving. It’s a bit confusing that the faux-doc doesn’t fully follow the idea of only showing what the camera crew captures, but the description of “EGO” as ‘edging God out’, and a marketing plan seemingly tied to a glittery handheld sign and statue of Jesus give us some idea about these two. In TOMBSTONE, Doc Holiday states, “My hypocrisy knows no bounds”, and that’s so true for Lee-Curtis and Trinitie. While there are flashes of brilliant satire, unfortunately the target is just too easy, and the filmmaker chooses to remain on the surface rather than dig deep for the juicy part.

Opens in theaters on September 2, 2022

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EXPLORER (2022, doc)

September 2, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Not so long ago, it was a compliment to be called “a man’s man.” It was a term of endearment and respect that meant a man was strong, quiet, adventurous, and trustworthy. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, born Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, fit the bill. He refused the royal title saying being born into it is not the same as earning it. The man-the myth-the legend is cousin to actors Joseph and Ralph Fiennes, and has been better labeled as “the greatest living explorer”, and documentarian Matthew Dyas wants us to know all about him.

An astonishing list of ‘Ran’s’ (as he prefers to be called) exploits, adventures, and records scrolls over the film’s opening. We don’t even have time to absorb what we’re being fed, but the first thought is … no one man could have done all of this. Director Dyas takes us through Ran’s childhood and his service in the Army. Turns out, he was always one to push boundaries. A significant portion of the film is spent detailing the long-time relationship between Ran and his first wife, Ginny. She was his biggest supporter, and the love of his life. We learn this, and much more, through the fantastic archival footage, photographs, and audio recordings, the latter of which are used instead of the customary talking heads posed for the camera.

This is a man who traversed the planet through both poles. Ran takes us through the process of cutting off the tips of his own frostbite-damaged fingers on his left hand by using a hacksaw and having Ginny assist. We learn about his heart attack, which caused him to ‘take it easy’ as he ran 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents (known as the World Marathon Challenge). When Ginny was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2004, she encouraged him to re-marry. He did so to Louisa, with whom he fathered his only child. After the wedding, Ran headed back to Mount Everest, and at age 65, was successful on what was his third attempt. He also self-treats his Parkinson’s with frigid sea water.

Perhaps “a man’s man” is not so fitting for Ranulph Fiennes. With this being a partial list of what he’s done in his life, there can be no other man who belongs to his club. Of course, he has his detractors, and director Dyas allows those to have their say. But the actual video footage and recollections of those who knew him are simply too amazing to disparage. He’s now 78 years old and still has his adventure goals. Learning about Ranulph Fiennes is likely to humble you and hopefully inspire a few to push those boundaries.

Available on Digital and On Demand beginning August 30, 2022

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THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING (2022)

August 25, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. I should start by admitting I would purchase a ticket to watch Tilda Swinton jaywalk on a country road or sit in a corner reading quietly to herself or carefully slice the crust off a PBJ. In other words, I find her to be a fascinating performer who takes risks and whose characters and movies are consistently worthy of attention. This film is directed by Oscar winner George Miller and he adapted the script with co-writer August Gore (Mr. Miller’s daughter) from the 1994 short story, “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by AS Byatt. This is Mr. Miller’s first film since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) and fits into his diverse filmography that also includes the original MAD MAX (1979), THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987), LORENZO’S OIL (1992), BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (1998), and HAPPY FEET (2006). This is a filmmaker who chooses his own projects.

Oscar winner Tilda Swinton stars as Dr. Alithea Binnie, a narratologist and literary scholar who describes herself as “a solitary creature by nature.” She’s in Istanbul to present at a conference ‘to tell stories about telling stories.’ Alithea preaches that science can explain all, even as she’s experiencing vivid visions that she herself cannot explain. After purchasing a handcrafted bottle, she returns to her hotel (in the Agatha Christie room) and cleans it with her electric toothbrush. When a Djinn swooshes from the bottle in a plume of purple smoke, she’s beyond skeptical of making that first wish – all too aware of the legendary tales around just such circumstances. But this giant Djinn is played by Idris Elba and he’s quite persuasive.

The Djinn explains the rules of her 3 wishes, and then regales Alithea with four tales of his escapades, most of which involve love and betrayal, and all of which resulted in him being trapped in a bottle. The first story involves the Queen of Sheba (a stunning Aamito Lagum) and how the Djinn was in love until a sly King Solomon messed it up and banished him to the ocean floor. All of the tales are played out in vibrant colors and fascinating detail, with the Djinn explaining that in order to gain his freedom, he must grant Alithea “her heart’s desire.”

Reminding me a bit of Tarsem Singh’s THE FALL (2006), each of the four tales told by the Djinn explode in color from a different era. Even the Djinn and his Spock ears begins too large for the screen, and certainly too large for the hotel room. And oh, that hotel room. For the vast majority of their time together Alithea and the Djinn are stuck in a bland – mostly white – room that contrasts with the stories he tells, but gives Ms. Swinton little to work with. Each of the stories is beautifully told, though a bit more humor would have been beneficial, and it should be noted that this one takes some definite “buy in” from the viewer. However, there is certainly no reason to complain as we are treated to two stellar actors and multiple stories of love and fate.

Opens in theaters on August 26, 2022

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BREAKING (2022)

August 25, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Bank robbers are commonplace in movies, and some focus on the planning stage, while others look to the actual robbery or the escape. Writer-director Abi Damaris Corbin and co-writer Kwame Kwei-Armah tell the true story of a man who went into a bank, made a bomb threat, and took hostages … all while having no intention of stealing the bank’s money. A former Marine went to this extreme to make a very visible point about how veterans are mistreated, especially by the VA.

John Boyega (Finn from “Star Wars” franchise) stars as Brian Brown-Easley, a veteran struggling in a day-to-day existence, when a clerical error at the VA results in his latest disability check being withheld. This leaves Brian homeless, and the only assistance the VA offers is a brochure. Brian chats lovingly with his young daughter Kiah (London Covington), but their conversation is cut short because he can’t afford to add more minutes to his phone. Brian is so disturbed by the situation that he builds what appears to be a bomb and heads down to the local Marietta Wells Fargo branch.

The tension escalates quickly when Brian drops the handwritten note at the teller window, “I have a bomb.” Rosa (Selenis Leyva) tries to stay cool, but, Estel (Nicole Beharie), the Branch Manager, notices the panic in her eyes and quickly ushers out as many customers and employees as she can. Brian allows everyone to leave except Rosa and Estel, and he encourages them to call 911. It turns out he wants all law enforcement and media to show up so he can tell his story and relay the lack of respect from the VA.

Soon, Brian is chatting with a local TV news producer (Connie Britton), and then, after a delay, the hostage negotiator (the final big screen appearance of the great Michael Kenneth Williams). Brian and the negotiator form a quick human connection that is contrasted with the macho SWAT team leader played by Jeffrey Donovan and his world class condescending smirk. Brian is likely the most sympathetic stick-up man you’ll ever see. What we quickly realize is that the movie is a bit manipulative in making its point that the VA is the villain here, but some tremendous work by the actors keeps us engaged and caring about Brian. His interactions with Rosa and Estel are terrific, and the chats with Williams’ negotiator are even better. All four actors go above the material, and Ms. Beharie is a standout. Additionally, this is one final reminder of how Michael Kenneth Williams made every role his own, and every show and movie just a bit better.

Opening in theaters on August 26, 2022

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BEAST (2022)

August 18, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Movies featuring man versus beast date back to at least 1933 with KING KONG, and have proven to be fan favorites many times since, likely peaking with JAWS in 1975. Of course, this sub-genre has also produced too many flops to count as low-budget filmmakers have attempted to capitalize with the cheap-thrills approach to entertainment. Director Baltasar Kormakur has previously flashed his skill with nature thrillers ADRIFT (2018) and EVEREST (2015), and here he’s working from a script and story by Ryan Engle (NON-STOP, 2014) and Jaime Premak Sullivan (BREAKING IN, 2018). It’s tempting to call this one ‘Cujo as a lion’, as a tip of the cap to the 1983 adaptation of Stephen King’s horror-novel, but there are many reasons not to do so.

Idris Elba plays Dr Nate Samuels, a man taking his daughters to the African savannah area where he met their mother many years prior. The mom recently passed away from the effects of cancer, and since mom and dad had separated the year before, there is tension between dad and daughters, especially the eldest, Meredith (“call me Mere”), who holds him responsible for not being there for mom. Mere is played by Iyana Halley, and younger sister Norah is played by Leah Jeffries. We quickly learn these are smart girls, spoiled by privilege and dumbfounded at the lack of Wi-Fi and cell phone coverage miles from nowhere.

Nate’s old buddy Martin (Sharlto Copley) manages the protection of local wildlife and will act as their guide. One of the first sequences we see is poachers wiping out a pride of lions. However, they missed the alpha male and he is now out for revenge against all poachers … only he, like so many these days, can’t tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. This puts Nate and the girls in danger, especially after Martin is seriously injured. Director Kormakur pulls the old “Jaws” trick by keeping the lion out of sight for a while, building suspense. Once he begins attacking, the lion is in full view for much of the film. Of course, lions are wild animals and cannot be trained to act, so what we really see are computer-generated lions with terrific growling sound effects.

The lion attacks are ferocious and do provide a certain level of fun tension with numerous jump-scares, and many will find this sufficient for movie entertainment. However, for those who want a bit more, the plot, dialogue and character decisions are often absurd and ludicrous – generating laughter where they shouldn’t. Despite much of this being computer-generated, the work of Oscar winning cinematographer Phillippe Rousselot (A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, 1992) should be noted … it looks and feels like we are in the wild bush. The four main actors are fine, although Mr. Elba’s contemplative physician transforming into quasi-superhero is a bit difficult to take. Mere’s donning a JURASSIC PARK t-shirt is a nice try, but this one has more in common with Liam Neeson fighting off wolves in THE GREY (2017).

Opens in theaters on August 19, 2022

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THE RUNNER (2022)

August 18, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Drugs continue to destroy lives despite this being 40 years past when Nancy Reagan first counselled folks to ‘Just say no’. Not surprisingly, an ad campaign had little effect in the war against illicit drugs that immediately made people feel better (regardless of the long-term impact). Before and since that era, there have been countless films with storylines depicting the negative side of drugs – violence, gang activity, broken families, shattered dreams, failing health, and death. The drug stories that work best are those that narrow the focus and zero in on a personal story, and that’s what director Michelle Danner and screenwriter Jason Chase Tyrrell have done here.

French-Finnish actor Edouard Philipponnat (HOUSE OF GUCCI, 2021) stars as Aiden, a high school student riding high (yes, that’s a pun) thanks to the drug business he and his buddy Blake (Nadji Jeter) have carved out on campus. Aiden charms his way through school hallways mingling just long enough for business with students and even teachers. Aiden doesn’t exactly maintain a low profile by hopping in his $100k Mercedes SUV or skipping classes or showing up late and high to track practice.

Aiden’s mom (Elisabeth Rohm, AMERICAN HUSTLE, 2013) arranges to have local Detective Wall (Cameron Douglas) put a scare into him by threatening arrest. Aiden’s belligerent attitude forces an arrest, and Detective Wall offers him a deal … wear a wire for a sting on big time dealer and supplier ‘Local Legend’ (Eric Balfour), and Aiden won’t be tried as an adult. Even though he is furious at his mother, she admits this was “for his own good” and she “didn’t know what else to do.” In addition to this, Aiden is carrying the burden of an incident with his ex-girlfriend, Layla (Kerri Medders). Bottom line, Aiden is living a harrowing life and he’s on a downward spiral. He reacts by turning more to the drugs he peddles.

The crescendo occurs at a house party Aiden throws while his mom is traveling on business, although we wonder why this very nice house doesn’t have security cameras so mom can keep an eye on things. The evening doesn’t go as planned for Aiden, Local Legend, or the cops, but we do get an unexpected ending with a nice touch – and a flash of the Norman Rockwell painting, “Runaway.”

Director Michelle Danner has built a reputation as a top acting coach (and for her work on stage) and she coaxes a nice performance out of up-and-comer Philipponnat, who reminds of another actor in his age group, Charlie Plummer from LEAN ON PETE (2017). Philipponnat will next appear in Ridley Scott’s film NAPOLEON, scheduled for release in 2023. Cameron Douglas, who plays high-strung Detective Wall, is the son of Oscar winner Michael Douglas, although his mannerisms are more similar to his grandfather, legendary actor Kirk Douglas. The film breaks one of my pet peeves which is casting actors much too old for high schoolers; however, the subject matter here calls for some flexibility. Ms. Danner’s direction and Mr. Philipponnat’s performance move them both into the ‘keep an eye on’ category.

On a fun note: If you happen to be looking for a new drinking game, try the one for each time Philipponnat’s Aiden runs his fingers through his hair due to the stress of the moment.

Releasing in theaters on August 19, 2022 and on digital and On Demand on August 23, 2022

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