Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Love Flower Review: Relationship Yoga That You Warm Up To

Release date: July 31, 2019 (Digital August 3, 2020)
Running time: 89 minutes
Starring: Will David, Anna Irving, Ben Lynch 

Joshua's life is unraveling. His girlfriend has a wandering eye, his boss makes him stay late every day, he's caught up in a holistic health scam and his old pal Bucky just showed up with bad news. But things aren't always as they seem.

Love Flower is a movie that starts off a little bit of a mess but gets better as you watch it.  I was seriously contemplating skipping it after about 30 minutes, but kept going and am glad I did.  The characters are all very quirky, with Joshua being more of a boring guy.  His girlfriend is fun, but is definitely wandering away from him.  But the real crux is when we are introduced to Bucky (Sahm McGlynn).  His character is a personality that was grating and slightly creepy at first but grew on me into more of an odd duck as the movie went on.  Gus (Brian Bedford) who plays a dual role as Joshua's boss and a yoga instructor, is also a funny character that was grating at first but grew on me as the yoga part came out. 

Like the characters, the story of Love Flower starts off sour but slowly grows on you as well.  The move has a lot of character progression at the end and some interesting twists that happen, which explains a lot that happens in the earlier parts of the film.  Which makes this a movie that you will have to stick with to really appreciate.  The dialog has some really great lines, but can also feel forced at times.  But again, this gets better as the movie goes on and there are some really impactful and memorable line towards the end of the film.  Overall, Love Flower feels like two movies that happen back to back, and I just wish that the later part of the movie had been the full one.  

Love Flower is a movie with quirky characters and a story that really gets good as the film goes on.  

Rent it.
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Interview: Bérénice Marlohe from Valley of the Gods

We had the privilege of having an email discussion with Bérénice Marlohe, who plays Karen in the new movie Valley of the Gods.  She shared some great insights into why she chose this movie, what it was like to physically transform for this role, what types of things she looks fro in the movies she selects, and what similarities two projects she has worked on--Twin Peaks and Valley of the Gods--share.  Please give the review a read and thank you Bérénice for the opportunity to chat!  For more information about Valley of the Gods, check out our review here.

This movie seems to be a little different than some of your previous roles. What drew you to it?

The fact that it is radically different from what we are used to seeing nowadays.  I love old movies, from the 20’s to the 90’s, with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, technicolor three strip, etc... This one reminded me of the magic that older movies had, while being unique. It seems to me that this movie has “soul.”  Lech Majewski is a poet, a sculptor, a composer, he has a point of view and feeling about creativity.

The originality of the script. Now that I have seen the movie, it felt like an organic creature with a life of its own. A lot is said within the silences, the invisible, for whoever is receptive to those things. The editing is superb, the photography, the fact that it doesn’t follow any formula.

Did you do anything different to prepare for this role versus your previous ones?

It’s always different for each movie or role, since I use a lot of my imagination and I am evolving day after day and the requirements for each role are different. I try to create a different character each time, while staying connected to my own inner life, and not be too focused on technique or stuck on a preconceived idea of what the character “should be.”  Just trying to go with my intuition each time.

Karen (your character) has a tragic backstory in this film, how did you prepare for that?

Sure, but her backstory is common to a lot of people as well. I believe experience and challenges are ultimately a treasure for evolution and growth, granted one is interested in such things. I always had my furry companions in mind to create the feeling of love and the fear of losing it in a plausible way ;).

This movie is set in the Valley of the Gods, a beautiful Utah region. Had you been before? What was it like seeing this for the first time (if this was your first time)?

I didn’t go there but it is incredible from what I have seen. I’ve always been very drawn to deserts. Ever since I was kid. Wild deserted spaces, nature, the majesty and magic of nature in general. Nature makes me feel the timeless dimension of things, like an echo to the earthly paradise.

Your character goes through a physical transformation in the movie, what was that like?

Very fun. I love to play with the physical aspect of the character as well for a movie, and i look forward to transform even more in my future projects.

This movie has such a serious, artistic tone. What was it like to film?

Yes it does. I really love that. To me, movies, like paintings or music, should be the extension of a unique individual that allows himself to follow his intuition, not to copy something else.

It was interesting to film. I sometimes didn’t know where we were headed and that is a wonderful feeling. As long as its “conductor” has a feeling of where he wants to go ...

Any funny moments from filming?

Sometimes we would shoot with green screens that got a lot of us lost. One day Keir Dullea suddenly started walking in an intentionally robotic fashion which had nothing to do with the scene while trying to follow his marks on the floor, it was hilarious.

Any good stories from filming?

A funny anecdote that didn’t happen on set but during the shoot. I had a couple of pigeons—lovers, husband and wife—come into my bedroom at the hotel where we stayed and started nesting in the corner of my hotel room :) I cohabited with them for the whole stay. Very poetic.

What was it like working with director Lech Majewski?

Lovely. Any opportunity to collaborate with those real, rare, artists today with a real vision of art and creativity is a treat.

How about your co-stars? I’m jealous you got to work with Josh Hartnett, Jaime Ray Newman, and John Malkovich!

Haha the cast is great. I worked with Josh and John, wonderful actors but what I respect even more is their career choices. Feels to me like the quality of the movies one chooses to participate in is more important that being seen or pursuing an illusionary fame.  Keir Dullea, what a lovely charismatic gentleman with magically soulful eyes.

I didn’t get to meet the rest of the cast but got to see them on screen, including the scenes in the valley of the gods. Beautiful job they did. Good to see a movie paying tribute to the Indian civilization.

When I saw this movie, I thought that the style had many similarities to David Lynch’s work. You were in new episodes of Twin Peaks, did you also get a similar feel?  If so, was that something that appealed to you about this role?

I didn’t think about that but now that you are saying it, it is certain that Twin Peaks and Valley of the Gods both have in common that they are the products of rich, unique, highly imaginative and elevated minds. The result is that you have in front of you a piece of art that is “alive”, that has to do with the world of dreams too, that is rich and inhabited with more than just what meets the eyes. I remember when I saw the new episodes of Twin Peaks, it was a magical experience as well ... Very contrasted universe one cannot put in any kind of box.

So in a way yes, absolutely. I am looking for those very rare movies that have soul and uniqueness to them.

Thank you so much for your time. What is next for you?

I have a project bound to be filmed in march, that will take place in the 40’s and another one that will be very unique, experimental and poetic as well that is still looking for full financing. The kind of movies I am attracted to usually take more time to be done, which to me is a good sign regarding their quality :)

Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story Review: A Revolutionary Cartoon That Created A Lot of Joy and a Lot of Pain

Release date: August 14, 2020
Running time: 104 minutes

Happy Happy Joy Joy is a documentary that explores the rise and fall of The Ren & Stimpy Show and its controversial creator, John Kricfalusi.  Ren & Stimpy was a revelation for many kids who wanted to see something different from animation.  It was vulger, out there, and something that just resonated with a lot of people.  In the early 90s, the Ren & Stimpy show went on to be a commercial and cultural success before flaring out.  However, the genius that created this show was flawed in many ways and this documentary explores that and more.  It is fitting that this documentary comes out at the same time that Comedy Central announced a reboot of the show.  Although it is doubtful that the reboot will capture the same magic, hopefully it will avoid some of the pitfalls that befell the original series.  

The first thing that strikes you about this documentary is the fantastic style of it.  It captures a lot of the classic, Americana feel of Ren & Stimpy in its presentation.  For example, a lot of the show scenes are played on an old style television that would look perfect in the show.  Drawings, clips, and animation stills are used throughout the documentary to convey the story behind Ren & Stimpy, and to remind viewers exactly why it was so groundbreaking.  One thing that struck me watching this documentary is that the show clips still feel edgy even now, which makes how revolutionary it was back in the 90s pretty hard to understate.  It had such a unique style, both in its animation and its storytelling, that it couldn't help but affect you.  The documentary is essentially set up in two acts, with one chronicling the rise and the next chronicling the fall.  The first part is an amazing story about some very talented and rebellious artists.  It gives a good look at what caused this show to come to life and the personalities that were responsible for it.  And it goes in depth on the animation style, some of the most influential episodes, and why Ren & Stimpy was so revolutionary for the time.  And this is all bolstered by interviews with the people who made the show and caused it to come alive, as well as famous comedians and performers who remembered and were inspired by the show.  It really is a nostalgic kick for someone who loved this series.  But even in this build up, there are hints of what caused the eventual decline.  

And then the documentary moves to the fall, and chronicles the collapse of the show and the creator, John K.  This is also an interesting endeavor, and one I knew nothing about.  I loved this show growing up but didn't follow the behind the scenes and the reasons for Ren & Stimpy's relatively short life.  I also didn't follow the creator after the fact.  It was fascinating to see the kind of culture that bred such genius but also led to a hostile work environment.  And when the documentary really explored some of the dark flaws of John K, my mind was blown.  I was actually shocked that John K agreed to be interviewed for this, especially with some of the things that came out in the time after the show, but I guess that is one part courage and another part pure narcissism.  The whole documentary is created with such love, such care that you can't help but enjoy it even if the subject is hard to watch at times.  And you can tell the filmmakers and all involved in Happy Happy Joy Joy did love this show, as did we all, and felt the need to tell its whole story in all its unfiltered glory.

Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story is an insightful documentary about a show that changed all of animation, its rise and fall, and the genius and dark flaws of its creator through the unfiltered insights of those who worked on it. 

Watch it.

For additional information about the film and to rent / buy it, check it out at the links below.
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Monday, August 10, 2020

Samurai Marathon Review: A Historical Sprint With Brutal Swordplay

Release date: May 12, 2020
Running time: 103 minutes
Starring:  Takeru Satoh, Nana Komatsu, Mirai Moriyama

In 1855, a daimyo (Japanese lord) sends his men on a grueling marathon to discover if they're tough enough to face the newly arrived Americans. Misunderstanding his intent, the Shogun dispatches assassins.  Now the spy who sent the wrong information must run for his life to make sure that this town and its lord are not wiped out.  And while he is doing this, the daimyo's samurai are all running for their own reason, jostling for position, and trying to stay alive in this grueling endurance test.

Samurai Marathon has an interesting premise.  The race itself is the main event, but there is so much going on in the background as well.  There is intrigue within the daimyo's family, with a daughter who wants ot be free despite Japan's very limited opportunities for women.  There are several members of the Annaka clan who are vying for increased status and position by winning the race.  The way that they jostle for position and scheme are interesting to watch and provide some additional layers to this complicated race.  And on top of all of this, there is a plot by the assassins themselves as they try and quell this supposed uprising.  And as is typical of Japanese movies, there are also a few characters thrown in for comic relief.  The whole cast of Samurai Marathon are enjoyable.  Even the backstabbers are well acted and interesting.  Additionally, although he makes a limited appearance, it has the always enjoyable Danny Huston as Commodore Perry; a limited role but still one that is fun to see.  

Samurai Marathon has some great shots, sets, and costumes.  Everything in this film looks authentic.  It really transports you back to old Japan, with samurai, lords, and plenty of culture.  It really is remarkable and makes you feel like you are watching a truly historical film.  And although this movie bills itself as based on an historical event, it seems like it is just loosely based on it.  From what I could tell, the race itself happened but the intrigue was added on.  However, the fact that this period piece is set up so well despite the limited historical connection to the actual event is a testament to the filmmakers.  On top of the great sets, the sound in this film is decidedly epic.  It does a good job of setting the time period and accentuating the exciting scenes, of which there are plenty.  And one more thing about this film that I really appreciated was the swordplay and fighting scenes.  They are so brutal and visceral, and at the same time seem fairly accurate for what swordplay would be.  It is fast, sometimes messy, and always savage.  It is not choreographed stylistic swordplay like in other films; the fighting here serves a purposes and that purpose is killing the other combatant.

If there are criticisms of this film, it is that the movie introduces so many characters and story lines at the start that it was tough to follow.  I had to go back and rewatch the opening after I finished the film to try and put everyone where they belonged.  And the tone of this film, though sometimes serious, maintains a not quite serious not quite humorous tone.  It strikes an interesting balance but that might be a turnoff for many.  For example, any time the Americans are on screen or the characters are using American technology, "Yankee Doodle" plays.  And finally, this film seems very loosely based on history in that there was a race, but that is it.  But don't let these minor criticisms turn you off from his film.  It is an exciting, interesting, and wonderfully done period piece that is easy to enjoy.

Samurai Marathon starts off at a sprint, but for those that can keep up you will find a stylized period piece with amazing sets and costumes along with brutal swordplay.

Watch it.

For additional information about the film and to rent / buy it, check it out at the links below.
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Valley of the Gods Review: An Art House Film With Lynchian Vibes

Release date: August 11, 2020
Running time: 126 minutes
Starring:  Josh Hartnett, Bérénice Marlohe, Jaime Ray Newman, John Malkovich

Valley of the Gods contrasts abundance and poverty through three separate storylines, featuring a middle-class writer (Hartnett), an eccentric trillionaire (Malkovich), and a struggling Navajo community. Post-divorce, copywriter John Ecas (Hartnett) undertakes the biography of the richest man on earth, who is dead-set on mining sacred lands for uranium. When modern advance runs afoul of long-dormant guardians from ancient legend, even the most unimaginable wealth may soon meet its match.

The first thing that hits you about Valley of the Gods is the wonderful cinematography.  The movie is set in the Valley of the Gods, Utah, and that comes with some striking images of natural beauty.  The nature scenes are just stunning and you will be in awe of just how wonderful they look.  The scenes look very impressive at day or at night, and there is just some stunning shot choice.  This corresponds to some of the imagery shown in the film.  There is a scene early on where a bunch of perfectly manicured suburban houses are show right after this majestic nature view.  Some of the central themes really sink in and it is wonderful to see.  The next thing that you will notice is that this movie has some phenomenal acting.  It was great to see Josh Hartnett back on the big screen, and his conflicted, tragic, but personable character was a main draw of the film.  He really is the heart of this film as he struggles to write while dealing with plenty of personal issues.  John Malkovich is amazing, as usual, and his eccentric billionaire character is interesting.  Bérénice Marlohe is another tragic character we get to meet; she has some powerful scenes, but she is in the movie far too briefly.

However, Valley of the Gods will not be for everyone.  The story of the film is told from three main storylines, the eccentric trillionaire, the tortured writer, and the Navajo people.  These stories weave in and out and aren't necessarily distinct.  You can have characters meet, some scenes happen out of time, and some scenes will play out with little context.  Particularly, there seemed to be a decent amount of Native American lore worked into the movie, but not much is given to the viewer if they are unfamiliar.  So it can lead to some scenes being tough to follow or just looking out of place.  Additionally, director Lech Majewski has a lot of similarities with David Lynch, including a focus on lore and nature, very quirky exaggerated characters, some odd human movements and obsessions, imagery that is built into his movie, and a lack of explanation in some of the scenes.  These aspects will be hit or miss for people and does make the story tough to follow unless you really appreciate that kind of story telling.  And some of these stylistic choices cause some of the lines to feel forced and some of the characters to just be off putting.  But, if you appreciate the film for what it shows and says, then Valley of the Gods has a lot to like.

Valley of the Gods will not be for everyone and some of the amazing positives are contrasted with some quirks and off putting choices.  However, the central message of this film is about contrast: rich vs. poor, tradition vs. progress, nature vs. urban life, so perhaps this is simply another grand contrast in the film.  Valley of the Gods has some beautiful cinematography, fantastic use of lighting, quirky characters, and a David Lynchian feel in this complicated story about nature and tradition.  

Rent it.
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Tribal: Get Out Alive Review: Martial Arts Action Meets Zombie Horror . . . With A Fist

Release date: August 10, 2020
Running time: 86 minutes
Starring: Zara Phythian, Ross O'Hennessy, Rachel Warren

Elite military operative Caitlin Ross (Phythian) retires from service after suffering from PTSD. Along with former team member and close friend Brad Johnson (O'Hennessy), they opted for the "easy life" and now run a small security firm. The company are hired by young, troublesome millionaire Richard Kenning (Thomas Dodd) to clear and secure the land and property he has recently inherited. Rumours and stories surrounding the land and buildings are dismissed until people start disappearing and the team end up locked in with no escape. It soon becomes apparent they are being hunted and the race is on to get out alive.
I didn't really know what to expect but given the inclusion of Phythian and O'Hennessy, I figured this movie would be an out and out action fest.  And although the action is quite good, this movie is first and foremost a horror thriller.  The film has a few action scenes at the start, but when it really gets moving, the film is slowly paced to build the suspense.  Details are revealed gradually and characters disappear as you try and figure out what is going on. All this setup lets you get a chance to learn about the various characters in the film.  And one thing you will notice about this is the great diversity in the cast.  This seems to be something that Evolutionary Films does very well and Tribal Get Out Alive is no different.  
The main character (and best fighter) is a female and you have several prominent female and minority characters round out the cast.  It really is nice to see movies (including the fun I Am Vengeance: Retaliation) that aren't afraid to give females prominent roles, and make them badass fighters as well.  

Tribal is equal parts horror at the start and action after.  The film starts off as a horror movie, establishing a good sense of dread and introducing enough scenarios to break up a fairly large team.  But the beauty of this film is that this horror turns to action as the team finds out more about what is going on.  And when the action does start, it is quite good.  As expected from a director who has a background in stunts, the film does a great job creating believable and varied fight sequences.  This mix of horror and action is reminiscent of Resident Evil, except Tribal did a better job of establishing the horror side of it.  However, although Tribal has a lot going on, there are a few nits about the movie.  There is inconsistent acting in the film.  The leads are believable and surprisingly good actors, but some of the teammembers are more difficult to find convincing.  And along with that, there is inconsistent emotion.  In one scene a person dies and no one bats an eye, then later a person dies and one of the team members is devastated.  But overall, Tribal is a movie that knows what it wants to do.  It sets up a suspenseful super enemy, then piles on the action to resolve it.  It is a fun film to check out during quarantine.  If a movie with equal parts action and horror sounds intriguing to you, then make sure to check this one out.  

Tribal is equal parts action and horror, with a tough, diverse cast of characters in some seriously entertaining fights.  Don't get out, stay in and watch this enjoyable film!

Rent it.
For additional information about the film and to rent / buy it, check it out at the links below.
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Friday, August 7, 2020

What to Watch This Weekend: August 7, 2020

Emotional Korean Slice of Life Drama - House of Hummingbird (Physical and Digital)
House of Hummingbird is like life.  It is a complicated, layered film but at the same time a simple exploration of a family in the midst of cultural change.  Like life, there is so much going on but Kim's amazing shot choice lets you just stop and appreciate what is happening in the now.  It is like family: messy, rough, emotional, but also beautiful.  For more information, check out our review!

Beautiful Anime About Climate Change And Youth - Weathering With You (Digital)
Weathering With You is an absolutely stunning film with amazing animation, incredible weather effects, and moving music that combine to tell a beautiful, heartfelt story.  For more information, check out our review!

Relatable Story About Life and Success - I Used To Go Here (Digital)
I Used To Go Here is a wonderfully personal story, with an emotional performance by Gillian Jacobs, a quirky, funny cast, and a heartfelt message about life and success.  For more information, check out our review!

Creepy Horror Movie With Historical Context - La Llorona (Shudder)
La Llorona's strong cast, fantastic cinematography and sound design, and the important historical context of this film make it one that should not be missed.  For more information, check out our review!

Powerful Performance And Tense Drama - A Good Woman Is Hard To Find (Digital)
Sarah Bolger's great performance, the interesting story, and the pumping soundtrack make A Good Woman Is Hard To Find an easy movie to appreciate.  For more information, check out our review!

Beautiful Cinematography In This Period Drama - Carmilla (Digital)
Carmilla is a beautiful piece of cinema, with fantastic cinematography, a moving, weighty soundtrack, and interesting, conflicted characters.  For more information, check out our review!

Unfiltered Look At Money And Politics - The Swamp (HBO)
The Swamp gives an unfiltered, in depth look into some charismatic Congressmen and the inner workings of Congress during a pivotal time in politics.  For more information, check out our review!

Insightful Teen Comedy - Banana Split (Netflix)
The movie starring co-writer Hannah Marks serves up a sweet comedic dish in banana split.  It is certified fresh and receives praise for its casting, dialogue, and insightful look into female relationships. 

Intriguing Atmospheric Horror Movie - You Should Have Left (Netflix)
An all star cast of Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried and some intriguing elements make this a creepy set up that just doesn't come together.  However, if you are looking for a new horror experience, then this might be for you.