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Disturbingly realistic and true to life.
It's not often that a film comes along that accurately captures the incredibly bleak and painful world of heroin addiction. Critically acclaimed films like Trainspotting and Requiem For a Dream are quick to come to mind, but fifteen long years have past since the subject has been hit so emotionally and true to life. David Dastmalchian, the film's writer and lead actor opposite of Kim Shaw, has taken his own past experience and personal struggles with addiction and used it to create a film that captures the day to day struggle an addict faces in a fashion that is second to none.
I've been on methadone maintenance successfully for eleven years and over that time I've forgotten the horror's of my past or maybe buried would be a better term. So this film was real on a very personal level to me, it was as if I was reliving past experiences as events unfolded within the film. I've read that Dastmalchian worked with director Collin Schiffli for a number of years on this project and their devotion to the film shows in its execution. While it's not quite as artistic and visually spectacular as Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream, it held its own and it didn't romanticize the subject like certain films do. This film is just a small slice out of the life of an addict, what you see here is perfectly normal and it's a cycle of hell that just repeats itself daily. Nothing is stable, you're never ahead of tomorrow. It's nice to see that Dastmalchian has been one of the rare few who has escaped the trappings of addiction and went on to much better things in life. In this case writing his first script and taking the lead in Animals, a film that is certainly worth a look.
Straight Outta Tompkins (2015)
My unbiased 2¢
I watched this completely unaware that the lead was also the writer/director/producer, having learned that info after definitely increased my appreciation for the film. It wasn't a perfect film, but it's obvious that there is a lot of potential in Zephyr Benson. His script wasn't perfect and his acting isn't exactly Oscar worthy, but it was the way the subject matter was captured that was really inspiring. He presented a common story of just how many of us can so quickly go from a life of immense potential and unlimited choices to a life of deep regret that's seemingly beyond redemption. All of which is usually resulting from a few small missteps at a very critical time in life, which here is in the later high school/mid to late teenage years.
While this doesn't come across as a masterpiece, this debut does definitely warrant some extra appreciation due to the fact that it was all created by such a young filmmaker on what I'm sure was a very constraining budget. It more than succeeded in entertaining and does have a clear underlying message woven within making it worth a look.
I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013)
Vengeance is a real bitch! ◆≈≈6/10≈≈◆
It's a title that sends instant recollections of one of the most brutal & torturous horror films ever made, a title that is infamous to all horror junkies alike. I still remember from when I was a child, pulling down the original I Spit on Your Grave (1978) VHS tape from atop the entertainment center where it was poorly hidden from me. Those visions that were burned into my young mind still remain fresh almost three decades later, it was one of the most unflinchingly dark, utterly disturbing, nightmarish and uncomfortable films of the century. I would have to say the rape portrayed within is as nasty and uncomfortable enough to match any other film I've ever seen. I can only imagine the reaction of some of the audience members during screenings of Meir Zarchi's cult classic in its theatrical release in 1978.
When Steven R. Monroe decided on the remake in 2010, my curiosity was unparalleled and my expectations were high to see the difference of interpretation of the times, considering how much the horror genre has evolved and changed over all these years, sort of building up a mainstream tolerance with the addition of more and more films in the vein of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Saw and Hostel. Audiences have become well accustomed to the level of violence, somewhat similar to the original "I Spit". That said, Monroe blew the doors off theaters with his masterful remake in 2010 which very much lived up to it's predecessor and in some ways even far surpassing it, much of the success lied on the shoulders of the superb performance of young Sarah Butler, certainly her breakthrough performance.
Taking all of that into account, it's a safe bet that most viewer's expectations going into "I Spit 2" are going to be set pretty high considering Steve Monroe is again in the director's chair. There is one thing worth noting here and it's the fact that unlike the original film written by Meir Zarchi and it's remake which was essentially a carbon copy of Zarchi's script with Stuart Morse's name attached, I Spit On Your Grave 2 is a completely fresh reboot from writers Thomas Fenton (SAW IV) and Neil Elman, a producer with a few Sy-Fy channel scripts under his belt. These changes are definitely noticeable as the "I Spit 2" sequel serves up slightly less graphic rape scenery and to some extent lacks the very sharp uncomfortable edge that the first two films leave you straddling. In no way am I saying it doesn't deliver the expected smörgåsbord of graphically violent and downright uncomfortable scenes, it did, but it failed to affect me mentally like other films of this kind often do. It didn't quite fully enrage me during the rape scenes, possibly because I wasn't able to fully connect with Katie's character. Not that this makes this a bad film, but it did play a large role on how emotionally charged I was at times during the film and seems to leave the audience too unattached to receive the kind of emotional payout that its predecessors delivered on.
As the story goes, Katie (Jemma Dallender) a very beautiful young woman looking to break into the modeling business ends up with a phone number of a photographer Ivan (Joe Absolom) and after a quick call she agrees to come downtown for a photo shoot free of charge. When Katie shows up, things don't go as planned when they insist she pose nude, she abruptly leaves, but not before getting the attention of Ivan's brother Georgie, who becomes obsessed with Katie. Later that night, Georgie (Yavor Baharov) , who got Katie's home address from the release form she had turned in at the beginning of the shoot, ends up at her door with a handful of pics that were taken before the nudity issue arose. Katie reluctantly takes the pics and after some urging finally gets Georgie to leave, only to awaken in the middle of the night to see Georgie sitting in her dark bedroom filming her. They immediately struggle violently and in the process, make enough noise to draw the attention of a neighbor/boyfriend Jayson (Michael Dixon). After stabbing Jayson, he binds and rapes Katie while her boyfriend lies watching on the floor bleeding out. When Georgie calls his brothers for help, Katie ends up being smuggled out of the country and sold out for further sexual abuse and torture by some seriously sick-minded individuals. Left for dead, badly beaten, battered, bruised, and broken, a stroke of luck gives her the chance to regain herself and take brutal vengeance upon all who harmed her, torturing each of them similar to the way in which they abused her, only she's so, so much more motivated.
Everything else was all pretty tight, production values, cinematography and score were all befitting for the making of a solid horror flick, but in the end it's just not on the same level as the remake. It's worth a look for horror fans just as long as it's clear that "I Spit 2" is going to be a decent step down from the revenge masterpiece that preceded it.
Gong jeong sa hoe (2012)
Good acting and excellent directing debut by Lee ◆≈≈7/10≈≈◆
It seems Ji-seung Lee has been taking notes in his many years spent on the producing end of the film business. Here he delivers a relatively short, but powerful film tackling some very sensitive issues. He walks the viewer through one of the most heinous of crimes possible, sexual assault against a child. As serious of a crime as that is, Lee chooses to expose another evil, one not so easily identified, one of which as shown here in the film, is seemingly just as unconscionable-The indifference of the very people we as society so delicately entrust to deal with these sensitive criminal matters. With his unique eye Lee exposes the evil that law enforcement and everyday people can commit by choosing not to see what is squarely in front of them, choosing to ignore the plight of the woman, something that reaches more into the climate of social female prejudice, which is strongly represented throughout the film as Yoon is dismissed time after time by the males that are in charge of her case.
Making the move from strictly producing as he has done in the past, Lee's unique way of dividing up the narrative took what could have been a fairly simple story and found subtle ways for drawing in the viewer to feel Yoon's (Young-nam Jang) pain and frustration as she desperately seeks the proper attention from police. Do note in the film Yoon is constantly referred to as Azooma, a condescending form of address for an older married woman in Korea, serving as yet another form of prejudice toward Yoon.
It was an incident that occurred by chance, one day Yoon was running late from a business meeting to pick up her ten year old daughter from school. Unfortunately, a serial pedophile was lurking nearby, his sights set firmly on the young girl. As she started down the sidewalk, the predator, identified only as "man"(Taekwang Hwang), quickly rolls up along side her, explaining he knew her mom and to come with him in the car. It was later that night that the child's raped and wounded body was found in a trash pile. With no witnesses and since the man had taken every precaution possible not to leave any trace evidence, the police take little to no action to track down the offender and have no patience for Yoon's constant demands for action. The specific actions of Detective Ma (Ma Dong Seok) are so indifferent and unconscionable that certain scenes involving him interacting with both mother and daughter are infuriating to watch. Even after Yoon tracks down the attacker physically, the police that respond are easily outwitted into thinking that Yoon was just some "Azooma".
To throw in extra complication, the father of the child, Yoon's ex- husband Dr. Lee, is some form of a celebrity there in Korea. So he uses whatever influence he has to hinder and ultimately close the investigation. All the while the camera is fixed on Yoon and she does a superb job showing the myriad of emotional transitions that her character goes through. In all it was a very satisfying Korean film that gets under your skin and leaves you with a strong semblance justice has been had, while certainly not delivered in a conventional means, it's a violent, but fitting resolution indeed.
Cottage Country (2013)
Labine is funny vs evil and being evil◆≈≈7/10≈≈◆
From the producers of "Hobo With a Shotgun", comes a great new dark comedy by the name of "Cottage Country". The film's lead being Tyline Labine, who you will probably recognize from the film "Tucker and Dale vs Evil", a film where he both figuratively & literally killed it in the role as Dale.
Here Labine plays the somewhat more refined role of Todd Chipowski, a man who has planned out the perfect week long getaway at his parent's lake house with his longtime girlfriend Cammie(Malin Akerman). Todd has planned a bit more than just the vacation, he and Cammie have plans to paddle out to the lake's remote island and find the perfect spot for Todd to pop the question. Before they even get settled in, Todd's rowdy, obnoxious brother Salinger(Dan Petronijevic) shows up with his sleazy girlfriend Masha in tow(Lucy Punch). When Todd tells Sal to hit the road they end up in a scuffle which ends up with the better part of an ax head buried into his Sal's neck. When Cammie hears the news, she decides nothing is gonna stop their engagement and they continue with their plans on the island. Little do they know that Sal has invited all his friends over for a big bash that very night and they return to find a house full of strangers and a whole lot of explaining to do as to where Sal is, and why his car is in the driveway.
I know you're probably thinking all of this is nothing new & that you've likely seen a similar film with a strong resemblance to what I've just laid out and you're right. It has been done before effectively in numerous dark comedies, but this film has a fresh feel and will have you laughing all throughout. One great surprise for me was the effective zig-zag in the film's final minutes, it does something unpredictable and leaves you with a certain upbeat sense of karma. This wasn't quite Tucker & Dale vs Evil funny, but it's still a fine choice for some good laughs which I recommend if that's what you're in the mood for. Let's just hope it gets a distribution deal soon, from what I could gather it's been in film limbo for far too long.
The Colony (2013)
A flawed script yes, but good enough for a VOD grab for sci-fi fans◆≈≈5.6/10≈≈◆
Looking at director Jeff Renfroe, he's a capable and talented director who I know from his intriguing feature film debut "One Point O" in 2004, which was followed by the more widely known "Civic Duty" about two years later, also well received. After a long period out of the spotlight, I was delighted to see his name attached to "The Colony", a film with a seemingly sufficient budget of $16 million and an experienced, capable cast. I love these type of genre blends, the elements of overcoming not just nature, but humanity in order to survive extinction. When you've seen as many of these films as I have you come to expect familiar elements and a plot that is far from original, we're in an area now where nothing is new, where everything is borrowing from one film or another. For me the success of this film will undoubtedly depend on it's script, acting and effects, when all are done brilliantly, the plot originality can be somewhat sacrificed, unfortunately this film was eons away from brilliant. As we have seen many times before it's all about us versus them, against the elements of nature.
The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic era, where the remainder of Earth's inhabitants have been driven underground due to sustained sub- zero temperatures. The surface has become a frozen wasteland void of life. Out of the few that did survive, many died due to overcrowding, starvation and sickness. The film revolves around an underground colony of survivors whose numbers are dwindling because of rampant flu, consisting of roughly forty people responsible for growing food and storing seeds in hopes that the surface will again someday be capable of growing crops. It's a last ditch effort to preserve humanity against all odds, some of which they are not prepared to face, a new evil, far more dangerous than the frozen surface or flu.
The leader of colony seven is Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) , after receiving a distress call from colony five, he picks one member out of the group Sam (Kevin Zegers) to accompany him and another member Graydon (Atticus Dean Mitchell) volunteers to accompany them. What they find there is not at all what they expected. It's inhabitants have been decimated by a rogue group and as the film swiftly shifts into higher gears, it's no longer clear who, if anyone, will be able to survive what is coming.
The first thing that many may be quick to criticize will be the script, the lack of detail & explanation. Worse yet after the extended period of time it takes to inject any real fear or excitement into the story it has completely failed to engage the viewer by an utter lack of character development even after forty long minutes in. When the pace quickens the viewer becomes easily detached by the chaos that ensues, leaving the question behind "who should I be caring for & why". Personally I didn't mind the slow crawl in the film's beginning, it successfully laid down a solid foundation for the second half to launch from and it did with sustained intensity. It was in that intensity where the film seemed to lose its identity to some degree within the onslaught of the attack. Another thing that may put off some viewer's was a major lack of explanation as to how exactly humanity ended up in the ridiculous spot they were holding up in. Again many weak points in the script to be found all throughout the film. Nonetheless, there were some solid performances given by the cast and the cinematography was superb, having an actual decommissioned NORAD base to use as a set made for an absolutely perfect backdrop. Despite the aforementioned problems, the film still holds decent entertaining value, enough to meet my initial expectations for a direct to disc sci-fi flick. The end wasn't very reassuring, I would have preferred something less in the grey area. Although, as a whole, it was light years ahead of other recent more expansive films like "After Earth". Again, it had it's problems but it's still worth a VOD or Redbox pick for fans of the genre .
Alpha Girls (2013)
Good enough to work as a viable low-budget horror flick fix ◆≈≈5/10≈≈◆
Alpha Girls is the bloody good film debut driven forth from the depths of hell by way of Johnny Zito and Tony Trov, who each played an equal part in the film's production, writing and direction. A horror film from the bloody beginning where viewers are treated to a satanic ritual from the year 1896, the time of the Sorority's dark origination. A scene any horror hound will undoubtedly appreciate, serving up a nice dose of blood and skin. The film of course is of low budget decent and at times even uses it to advantage, ripe with moments of camp and twisted humor.
The opening scene aside, the film begins in present day, introducing the newest Alpha pledge hottie Morgan (Falon Joslyn) as she becomes acquainted with the snooty house members and the chapter's house mother Ms. Grace (Victoria Guthrie) . Morgan soon butts heads with Veronica (Nikki Bell) the house president and is sent to join the other three young pledges in their tortuous pledge hazing. While first being at odds with one another, the pledges soon find solace in each other by plotting against their house tormentors. It's then that pledge Cassidy (Beverly Rivera) uses her gypsy background to perform a ritual between pledges where each is to receive the one thing they most want in life, but what is received does not always come without a cost. Cassidy has tapped into something much more powerful than her own manifestations, something that is deeply rooted into the cultish history of the house. All hell soon breaks loose, sisters begin to die, it seems no one is safe from the evil power awakened from within the Alpha-Beta house.
The film, despite it's novice creators and restrictive budget, manages to pull off some pretty entertaining scenes continuing throughout the runtime. It's full of beautiful women that fulfill their parts without anything cringe-worthy and that's a lot to be said for this type of film. The effects were minimal, scenes of blood mostly with little actual gore, not lacking but not overkill. They even throw in Ron Jeremy for a cameo as a confessional priest, although I was hoping for a glory hole gag that didn't happen, oh well. Overall, this film accomplishes what it intended, it was a decent B-horror flick with some good entertainment value.
The Conspiracy (2012)
A thought provoking and chilling film ◆≈≈8/10≈≈◆
This proved to be one of the most surprisingly effective thrillers I have seen in recent memory. At a glance we have an unknown first time writer/director in Christopher MacBride matched with a relatively small budget of just under $1.2 million. Maybe I'm wired a bit different than the average film addict, but when I come upon a new indie film like this my anticipation for the result is much greater than say your average Hollywood blockbuster. Finding greatness in the unknown is what drives me as a fan, while it doesn't always pan out, nothing beats when it does, as this film proves to.
The Conspiracy starts off at a somewhat slow pace as we are introduced to the main characters Jim (James Gilbert) and Aaron (Aaron Poole), two documentary filmmakers who are out to make a film not unlike many you may already be aware of. It's theme based on the age old conspiracy of a worldwide secret society of powerful, wealthy individuals behind such things as staging events to start wars such as WWI, Vietnam and 9/11 Iraq. They become interested not so much into the truth of such conspiracies, but in the people who so adamantly and wholeheartedly believe in them. They find Terrance (Alan C. Peterson) through an internet link, a man who is exactly one of those people. His house is covered in news articles connecting everything and anything that could possibly be evidence in his search for his desired truth. After Terrence goes missing and his landlord is disposing of his possessions, Jim and Aaron take Terrence's research from his apartment walls and begin their own quest to find truth within the mountain of information. After finding the existence of a secret group called Tarsus, they make contact with one of it's members Mark Tucker (Bruce Clayton) , who later gives them access and a chance at finding and filming one of their secret rituals.
The first half of "The Conspiracy" can appear deceptively mundane. Do not make the assumption that this is just another propaganda film filled with unconfirmed speculations. The last act is the real deal, it's as chilling as it gets. The score pulls you into the scenes as the true reality of the events is slowly revealed to each of the characters. Their mini spy cams give off a perspective from their eyes that really pays off. For a small budget indie film from a first time writer/director it was an extremely original, effective thriller which I would surely recommend. One thing I should note though, while listed as a thriller/horror film it stays mainly within the confines of a thriller, replacing needless gore instead with a very sinister atmosphere, which proves to be a worthwhile trade.
Banshee lets the good times roll 10★'s
Looking back at season one of Cinemax's Banshee many great things come to mind. It's unique uber-violent theme, adrenaline pumping pace, graphic sex scenes usually closely matched with it's abundantly violent, murder when it suits you theme. Banshee is an exercise in the overindulgence in many evils. One thing to keep in mind is that, while this show is currently produced by Cinemax, a station noted for little more than it's weekly soft core pornography flicks, this show, while very graphic in nature, is nothing of the sort. This is a very smart, well written, fast paced show that can be very, very addictive. If you happen to be a newcomer, you'll have the option of watching season one back to back, an option many will find enticing after catching the pilot.
After completing his 15 year prison sentence, an ex-con (Antony Starr) tracks down his former partner, now known as Carrie Hopewell (Ivana Milicevic), residing now in Banshee County, Pennsylvania. When the ex- con arrives, his first stop is at Sugar's Bar, rightly named after it's owner Sugar Bates (Frankie Faison) who also did his share of prison time. It's there where he meets the county's new Sheriff, Lucas Hood, who has literally just arrived in town and has yet to meet anyone. When Hood is killed during an attempted robbery, the ex-con kills the robbers and saves Sugar's life in the process, the two strike a deal to bury what has happened, both literally and figuratively, leaving the ex-con to assume the identity of the town's new sheriff. The town's youthful mayor wanted to bring in an outsider as Sheriff to deal with their local power broker/mafia boss, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen) , who seems to have everyone else in his pocket, with business dealings on both sides of the law.
Granted now that's just the pilot, it ends leaving you starving for more, but it also leaves you eager to see exactly how a newly released ex-con could possibly pull it off, fooling everyone. Keeping his identity a secret is an issue dealt with in a variety of ways in just about every episode of the first season and it damn sure looks to be even more of an issue in the teaser for the second season. Both the townspeople & the viewers come to find out that, since a new sheriff has come to Banshee, there suddenly isn't a dull moment in a once corrupted, but relatively quiet Pennsylvania town. Whatever you do, don't walk away from Banshee thinking "that concept could never work" or that "there won't be enough material" to expand upon. Lucas's adversary Kai Proctor becomes a very well liked bad guy, his charisma in his acting makes it hard not to like the guy. There also is the issue of the missing $10 million in diamonds that Lucas & Carrie made off with before Lucas went to prison. An extremely evil & powerful man by the name of Mr. Rabbit (Ben Cross) is hot on the trail of the diamonds and he'll stop at nothing to get vengeance on the two people he trusted most in life, his daughter and the man who he raised like his own son. Rabbit is the kind of man who has no problem killing his own or anyone who betrays him.
In closing, it's hard to think of another show quite like Banshee, it's celebration of excess and it's comic book roots do weave some outrageous plot lines, but damned if it's not one of the most fun, sexy and entertaining crime/action TV shows I've ever been fortunate to lay eyes on.
The Rise (2012)
Surprisingly good take on an old theme. ◆≈≈8/10≈≈◆
If by chance you happen to have read the plot summary prior to this review and also kept up with the latest British crime flicks, then please believe me when I say this. Although at first look, this may look to be yet another in a long line of dodgy Uk crime yarns. This film, "Wasteland" , is in fact, the real deal. Being an American, ever since back in 98' when "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" exploded onto the scene, I've been catching everything related to the genre and the locale. In that span of time there has been many brilliant films, but unfortunately there has also been a number of cheap knock offs made for the singular purpose of making a quick buck, again not the case here. First time writer/director Rowan Athale has delivered a fresh, smartly written screenplay and directed it in a slick, exciting manner. As the summary suggests, this formula has been delivered in the past in a variety of techniques. Despite this, Athale has taken his vision, skillfully applied it, combined it with a most capable cast, making for one fun and very engaging film experience.
So as "Wasteland" begins, it introduces Harvey (Luke Treadaway), in a bloody and bruised state, sitting in police custody, across the table from D I West (Timothy Spall). The interrogation by West is just in the beginning stages, we here Harvey is just a fews weeks out of prison after serving a year for innocently taking the fall for a local dealer which for all intensive purposes destroyed his life. Much worse, he's now being held on charges of attempted murder of local businessman Steven Roper, the man responsible for the sinister act that put him in prison in the first place. Before we get to hear much more of the story, the film then rewinds back to when Harvey was picked up from prison by his mate Dempsey, (Iwan Rheon). We are shown the brother like bond he shares with his best mates and the deep set loyalty they have for one another. The group comes up with an ingenious plan to set the record straight once and for all. In the meantime Harvey tries to reconnect with his previous girlfriend Nicola, the stunning (Vanessa Kirby) . What unfolds here is a sometimes funny, exciting, suspenseful and truly engaging story.
This is where I normally would criticize any lows the film may have possessed, such as acting that wasn't believable or up to par, production values that felt low and cinematography or editing that could have been better, but after just catching it again for a second time, I just cannot find any inferior qualities that this film possessed. Instead, I will commend other elements that had a positive affect, one being the sound department, while much of the film was relatively quiet, in the instances where it was used, it managed to provoke emotion and produce a feeling of connection to the film and it's characters. Again, much respect due to Rowan Athale, if this was his first you can count me in for any of his future ventures.