South of Heaven

Written by Alexander Reams

79/100

Jason Sudeikis is primarily known for his comedy. From his tenure at SNL and countless comedies including, but not limited to, We’re the Millers, The Change-Up, and Horrible Bosses. However for a time now, Sudeikis has been doing smaller, indie films that show off his dramatic side (Colossal, where he plays a wonderfully dark metaphor on alcoholism’s hold on a person and a toxic, manipulative relationship, and Race). Now mixing the two with his truly breathtaking eponymous role in Ted Lasso. (aka the best thing to hit TV screens since we first heard “Woke Up This Morning” on a certain New Jersey-centered show). Now he culminates this run of indie films with a film with a lot of big names, but still small at heart. 

Following a 12-year prison sentence, Jason Sudeikis’ Jimmy Ray is released from prison and has one goal; spend the next year with his girlfriend/fiancee/sweetheart, Annie, played wonderfully by Evangeline Lily. This plan seemingly goes off without a hitch, sans the gorgeous Shea Wigham as a less-than morally sound parole officer, Schmidt, who hangs over Jimmy like his sins of the past. Eventually convinces the parolee to do a “favor” for Schmidt, which ends up spiraling Jimmy, and ends with him reverting to old habits. These old habits attract the attention from the mysterious and impeccably dressed Whit Price, portrayed serviceably by Mike Colter. 

These preceding actions are impeccably written, clearly understanding their lead actors, supporting, not as much. As much as I love Mike Colter, I’m not sure he was the best choice to play Whit, and Shea Whigham feels like he is playing the same character he has in countless other films. Sudeikis is given so much meat to work with, and he takes advantage of this, chewing up the scenery every chance he gets, with one standout being a scene with a kid over a turkey sandwich. This scene particularly is my personal favorite, giving a break between all the chaos that has been occurring, and allowing the audience to breathe. 

Standing with Sudeikis is a serivacably written Evangeline Lily and Mike Colter. While they do the best they can, the script just doesn’t hold up to muster. Which is unfortunate because the score, David Fleming channeling old school westerns in a modern world and the cinematography by Mike Mitchell, gorgeously captures the small town world that these characters occupy. I could not get past the writing that undercut Whigham, Lily, and Colter, a tragedy really, when you have such quality actors, but give them bare-bones to work with. Thankfully after all of this we are left with a truly world class turn by Sudeikis, who, by the end of this, has to answer the question “How far would you go for love?”

South of Heaven Trailer

South of Heaven is currently playing in limited theatrical release and is available to rent on VOD through limited providers.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Written by Alexander Reams

80/100

“Fuck this guy.” 

Venom always knows what to say. No matter the situation he always seems to have a one-liner cocked and ready to go. Following the massive and surprising success despite a universal critical panning of its 2018 predecessor, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, is a sequel that knows exactly what it is. A breath of fresh air in the heavily inundated superhero film culture. Bringing on a director like Andy Serkis, who has possibly the most experience in motion capture performance of any actor, was not only the next logical step but the smartest decision Sony could’ve made. A director like Ruben Fleischer was a decent choice to introduce the character of Venom, but Serkis takes the foundation laid and elevates it to an insane level of zaniness and glee. 

Following the events of the first film, Eddie Brock and Venom are the odd couple with a capital “O”. Their relationship is strenuous at best, and at worst a force that can destroy Eddie’s apartment, including a bit involving Eddie’s relationship with a television. All the while, Cletus Kassidy (Woody Harrelson, going full Woody in all the best ways) is about to be executed for his mile-long list of crimes, events transpire, and he becomes the symbiote known as Carnage. Filling out the rest of the cast is Naomie Harris as Shriek, Michelle Williams and Reid Scott returning as Anne Weying and Dan Lewis respectively. 

Nowadays, superhero films are always so serious, and the tone of this film spits in the face of all of those films. Trading serious for silly on every level and everyone knows it, and the film works even more because of this. The first film wanted to be serious and turned silly, continuing that trajectory helped solidify the future of Eddie Brock

P.S. The post-credit scene truly does change the forefront of Eddie/Venom’s story and the forefront for the Sony Marvel characters.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage Trailer

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

VIFF 2021 Review: Three Sisters

Written by Alexander Reams

55/100

Family ties us all together. Even with a strenuous relationship, family is always going to be a part of your life. Such is the case in Lee Seung-Woo’s Three Sisters. The eponymous three sisters gather on their father’s birthday. All of them carry scars and memories from their upbringing and the different lives they lead now. The only person keeping them from having a “normal” day is their little brother, who always seemed a bit “off” to them. He goes on to unravel their secretive past, which ends up amounting to nothing. 

A common theme in Seung-Woo’s film, grand ideas and a longing to be profound, but juvenility and its flair for the pedantic weigh on this film like an anchor, not letting it move anywhere. The plot is the most intriguing part of the film, and that outstayed its welcome within the opening minutes of the film. Moon So-ri, Kim Sun-young, and Jang Yoon-ju do their best with what little they are given, I would love to see them given something far meatier and see how they elevate it. Their work here should be greatly commended, and at the same time condemn Seung-woo for not given these fantastic actors enough to work with. 

Even the gorgeous cinematography, combined with the fantastic trio of So-ri, Sun-young, and Yoon-ju, and the melancholic score by Park Ki-heon are not enough to make Three Sisters worth a watch. I wish it was, I was very much looking forward to seeing this and it let me down. I wanted to love this film, I wanted to sing its praises, it seemed so interesting and cool. Unfortunately what I was given was a pedantic, childish film that has big aspirations and snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.

Three Sisters Trailer

Three Sisters was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Fantastic Fest 2021 Review: Mad God

Written by Alexander Reams

76/100

Stop motion animation has always been my favorite medium within animated storytelling. There’s a level of passion that is shown throughout stop motion animation that I appreciate above all else. From Wes Anderson’s entries in this genre to the Laika films, sans the occasional miss, stop motion has always always connected with me, including this film. Before this feature was released, director Phil Tippett released three shorts that cover roughly the first half of this film. These shorts were only a glimpse at the wonderful world that Tippett had crafted. 

This world is very reminiscent of The Dark Crystal combined with Lord of the Rings. Explored by characters that do not speak, but words are not needed. The visual storytelling crafted is worth more than any words could conjure. You feel every speck of dirt, every footstep in the ground, the entire journey is felt. Which elevates it and adds an emotional core, all without speaking a word. A testament to Tippett’s mastery of his craft. 

The film is not perfect though, the runtime of the film is relatively short, but it does begin to outstay its welcome. If 15-30 minutes were taken off the film it would be perfect. However, these moments that extend the runtime of the film are unnecessary to the story, such as the overextended opening take showing the world, I feel as though it would’ve been smarter to show the world as the assassin goes through the world as well. He is played as if this is his first time experiencing it and yet we feel as though we know more, instead, it should be the other way around. Even still, this is another fantastic stop-motion film and it was a joy to watch it.

Mad God Trailer

Mad God was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Fantastic Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

The Many Saints of Newark

Written by Alexander Reams

85/100

14 years ago one of the most acclaimed TV shows of all time ended. A time when all TV audiences expected catharsis for the characters they’d grown to know before the end. David Chase instead decided to fade to black not giving that final closure to Tony Soprano. Something that has haunted audiences since its air date. Chase returns to the Soprano’s world 30 years prior to it’s first season. Focusing on who was in power before Tony Soprano ever took over.

Dickie Moltisanti. Moltisanti, translates to Many Saints in English, of Newark. While also attempting to tackle the 1967 Newark race riots, and provide a backstory for Tony Soprano. Sounds like a lot to cover in a 120-minute film? That’s because it is. 

Rarely will a film fall into the issue of being too short, more often than not it’s an issue of being too long. Many Saints is too short. The film has so much it wants to cover and gives itself far too little time to cover each of these events. This could have easily been a 150-165-minute film and it likely would’ve worked even better and been decidedly more effective. Unfortunately, David Chase’s hubris wouldn’t let him make a longer film. A tragedy for sure, because once the film began I never wanted it to end. 

Chase’s new leading man is an actor that I have long loved, and have waited for him to get his big break. Something Chase and I have a shared sentiment about. The brilliant Alessandro Nivola. He has not only been good for years, he is frequently the standout in films where he is relegated to supporting roles. In The Many Saints of Newark Nivola is leading the biggest film of his career and he takes advantage of it. He embodies this mythological god that is Gentlemen Dickie Moltisanti (the father of future Tony Soprano victim Christopher Moltisanti) with such class and brutality that even Tony Soprano would be frightened. 

Filling out the rest of this world is Corey Stoll as a hilarious Uncle Junior, Vera Farmiga as the wonderful asshole Livia Soprano, Jon Bernthal as a somewhat forgettable Johnny Boy Soprano, Leslie Odom Jr. as a gleefully angered Harold McBrayer, Ray Liotta pulling double duty as Hollywood Dick Moltisanti and Salvatore Moltisanti (I was just as surprised as you when I saw this for the first time.), Michaela de Rossi as Giuseppina Moltisanti, Hollywood Dick’s wife, and Gentlemen Dickie’s “goomar” (don’t ask, it just makes it even weirder.). Billy Magnussen as a pitch-perfect Paulie Walnuts, John Magaro doing his best Steven Van Zandt impression with Silvio Dante, and Samson Moeakiokla as Big Pussy. Finally, Michael Gandolfini, son of James Gandolfini, is a younger version of his father’s iconic turn as Tony Soprano.

From the get-go, we are introduced to this world with a level of respect to the audience. Chase expects you to have seen at least part of the show, if not all of it. While it is difficult to talk about the film without spoiling some fantastic reveals, I will say that watching Nivola chew up every scene he is in is a great pleasure to watch, and his, brief bits with Gandolfini are nothing short of electric, though rushed. An issue that hangs over this film like the FBI watching Tony’s house. Calling it “the formative years of Tony Soprano” is more than a bit misleading. The film treats it as an afterthought, instead of the main plot. For which the blame falls on Chase. 

The time jumps in the film are not surprising but continue this overarching issue of being rushed. However in those time jumps we still are gifted with wonderful dialogue between everyone, something Chase can do brilliantly along with strong cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau. Even with all of these strengths in the film, I can’t let go of the fact that it is just too short. It needed to be longer, I think somewhere in Chase’s head he knew that, and if we get another film in this time period, he will hopefully rectify it. The final note he leaves us with is a perfect way to set up another film, while also being a great ending if he doesn’t wish to return to this world, something Christopher Moltisanti wished he could do before it was too late, but Chase will have to do it for him.

The Many Saints of Newark Trailer

The Many Saints of Newark is currently streaming on HBO Max and in wide theatrical release.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Fantastic Fest 2021 Review: Devil Story (Il était une fois le diable)

Written by Alexander Reams

60/100

Serene. This is the only possible way I can describe the beginning of 1986’s classic zombie horror film Devil Story (Devil Story: Il était une fois le diable) what is to come. A peaceful morning, birds chirping, and a cool morning breeze. The following 75 minutes play out like a gonzo commercial you would see before a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse warning people not to talk or text. A figure continuously terrorizes people. A zombie (we assume) is terrorizing a community in France, oh and they just happen to be dressed in a SS uniform. Yes. A Nazi uniform, I don’t understand it either.

Fantastic Fest 2021

The figure is not only one of deformity, but also antisemitism. Metaphorically representing the continued disdain that the Germans had towards the rest of the world at this time. He is dressed in a Nazi uniform… why? We don’t know. He could’ve picked it up along his travels, or died in it. Either way, it is his attire now. Which unfortunately plays as a shock for shock value. A common mistake I’ve found in French horror, they assume the audiences want to see gore and death for that very reason. Instead of providing any form of reason to why we are seeing what is happening. 

Thankfully, the zaniness presented is something out of my dreams. I loved the cheesiness of the violence. Every blood spatter looks like a Dollar Tree Halloween blood bottle. Every step is accompanied to a over-the-top score that borders on intrusive. There is more style than substance, which is truly unfortunate. I’ve always been a proponent of directors having a style to their films, it’s exactly what separates those films from standard fare. However it is a fine line to walk, as well as a difficult one that was not balanced well by Bernard Launois that ultimately takes away from the entire film.

Devil Story Trailer

Devil Story was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Fantastic Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Capsule Review: Shark

Written by Alexander Reams

63/100

Ever since Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, no one has looked at a body of water the same. That impending fear in the back of our minds that at any moment a shark can come and eat us always keeps us on our toes. In Nash Edgerton’s Shark, it’s not as physical as a metaphorical shark in the form of a jokester. Like its animalistic partner, jokesters are always lying in the shadows, waiting for the climax of their latest bit. Here, Edgerton is joined by Rose Byrne, whose comedic tendencies mesh well with the writer-director-actor-producer Edgerton. Byrne and Edgerton meet, fall in love, and after Byrne conducts a frightening prank on Edgerton’s “Jack”, he asks her to marry him, to which she says yes. That is the kickoff into the honeymoon, where they are going to swim in the ocean (clearly they didn’t take Jaws as a warning sign). Everything from here on is filled with surprises, shock, and dark humor. These are all things that can work well together if taken seriously. In there lies the issue with Edgerton’s latest. The film never takes itself seriously for its benefit and negative. By never taking itself seriously, there is no way to actually be shocked (besides visually, but the shock leaves hilariously quick). I digress, this was still a fun film that made me want to watch the previous entries in the story of “Jack” and see what other pranks he manages to screw up and still pull off.

Shark was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Oscar Reflection | Best Picture & Best Director from the 81st Academy Awards

Written by Alexander Reams

65/100

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire 

Best Director: Danny Boyle; Slumdog Millionaire

In these retrospectives, Alexander will be going through the Best Picture and Best Director winners for the Academy Awards, discussing the history, the films as a whole, and adding some hindsight to the (almost always) outdated Academy.

We’ve all imagined being on those afternoon game shows where people win massive amounts of money. Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire explores what would happen if we won , while also being a surprise in the director’s filmography, given his past films at the time included Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and The Beach. A feel-good movie about someone from the slums who finds success in the unlikeliest of places didn’t seem like a logical next step for Boyle.

The Academy expanded to up to 10 Best Picture nominees, which many including myself have theorized was because of The Dark Knight being snubbed from the Best Picture lineup. This forever changed The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Expanding from what had been the standard for the past 81 years of Oscars. This change was one that was near-universally praised, The Dark Knight being snubbed when it was generally considered to be the best film of 2008 was a shock to everyone and proved a rumor that had been floating around for a while. There is a stigma against comic books & superhero films. I say “is” because while superhero films have taken the populace by storm, there are those who still critique them and can’t find any enjoyment with them. Only in the past 3 years have these popular films broken through to The Academy, with nominations for Black Panther and Joker.

Slumdog Millionaire’s competition was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, and The Reader. All of these films are traditional Oscar fare. Frost/Nixon, Milk, and The Reader are all historical dramas that deal with politics in some shape or form. Something that The Academy has a history of loving (All the President’s Men, The Insider, among a slew of others). The enigma here is Benjamin Button, while it is an epic film, with grand scale, The Academy had been moving away from that genre of film, add in the unusual aspect of the film, and David Fincher’s style (which has proven to be a hit or miss with The Academy), and you have the biggest enigma of the lineup.

First, a bit of history. In 2008 the world had been taken by storm by films like Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight, and Gran Torino. With The Dark Knight seeming to be a frontrunner for a Best Picture and Best Director nomination. But come Oscar nomination day, the only film of the three to receive a nomination was the eventual winner, Slumdog Millionaire. When looking at the plot, you really can’t be surprised. An underdog story is something The Academy has constantly gone for in entries like Forrest Gump, Driving Miss Daisy, Gandhi, and Rocky to name a few. What sets this apart is its location, Mumbai, India, at this point we were four years removed from the tsunami that hit India. This tragedy was a truly brief glimpse at India, filtered through the American media. It was another step towards the Academy honoring international features with Best Picture and Best Director. This would culminate at the 92nd Academy Awards with Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite taking home Best Picture and Director. Even though it is a British production, much of the film is in Mumbai’s native language.

Like its narrative, the journey for Slumdog Millionaire’s night at the Oscars was a long and arduous one. Beginning at the 2008 Telluride and Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, to the initiated). It premiered at TIFF where it became known as a TIFF classic and won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. This was the jumping-off point for excitement for the film and its Oscar campaign. There was no doubt in its merit for Oscar chances, where it began to snowball and garner universal acclaim. The underdog of Oscar season. Battling it out with heavy favorites The Dark Knight and Gran Torino.

We first meet Jamal (Dev Patel) as he is about to win 20 million rupees. His nervousness and fear are conveyed brilliantly by the future The Last Airbender actor. Patel was a very new voice in acting, with his previous credit being the British soap opera Skins. As he is close to answering the final question, he flashbacks to show us how he got this far in the game, and in life. Unfortunately, all intrigue is lost after this brilliant opening. Everything after this intense opening is seemingly inconsequential to the rest of the film.

The film as a whole was underwhelming. Compared to its numerous stellar reviews. I had expected an exquisite film that has stood the test of time since its release. I found no emotional connection to any of the characters, which in my estimation is due entirely to a poor script by Simon Beaufoy. Characters are frequently introduced, especially in the first act, and we are expected to care about them just because they are children. For example, Latika as a toddler and a teenager, there is no emotional connection other than the fact that she is a child. That is a very cloying move by the writer to add emotional complexity to the story.  While they can be a trope and set up for guilt-tripping, there is a way to do it with class, such as Sunny Pawar in Lion. He conveys the fear and despair of a child having lost their parents and siblings, but does so that it never feels oversentimental and desperate, thanks to the brilliant writing, direction, cinematography, film editing, and music. Here, instead of all of these departments firing on all cylinders, the cinematography and score are intrusive, the writing is poor, and the child actors or doing base emotions at best. And at worst the kids appear as they are reading cards right behind the camera. Having child characters in a film does not mean that we will immediately care about them, and I never did. The scenes with Dev Patel show the promise that’s come to be delivered in his career but do not show off his talent. Instead, Patel looks like he is in a constant state of confusion, during the interrogation scenes, the game show scenes, even in the dance finale, he looks like he does not know what is going on. Which made me feel frustrated throughout, not only about the film but also for Patel as he could have elevated the material if the script was not as bare-bones around its central character. There was more character development for Anil Kapoor’s character “Prem”.

With a crew filled with future first-time Oscar nominees (Film Editor Chris Dickens, Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, and Composer A.R. Rahman) and 2 previous nominees, Danny Boyle (Best Adapted Screenplay for Trainspotting) and Simon Beaufoy (Best Original Screenplay for The Full Monty), you would expect a much higher production value and final product.

By the end of the film, my feelings that had been marinating for the previous 110 minutes had still not changed. When looking back at what was nominated the only nominee that I would even be ok with winning would be David Fincher winning Best Director for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, as well as for Best Picture. However, of all the films of 2008, the 2 Best Pictures were not even nominated, Gran Torino and The Dark Knight. If Gran Torino and The Dark Knight were nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, like they were predicted to be, then Gran Torino for Best Picture and Christopher Nolan for Best Director for The Dark Knight. After the ceremony, The Academy expanded to up to 10 Best Picture nominees, which many including myself have theorized was because of The Dark Knight being snubbed from the Best Picture lineup. After 13 years Slumdog Millionaire did not hold up to the expectations set up and  Sometimes history looks favorably on the underdogs, unfortunately, this is not one of those times.

Slumdog Millionaire Trailer

Slumdog Millionaire is currently available to stream on Hulu and Paramount+ or to rent on purchase on most VOD platforms.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Fantastic Fest 2021 Review: The Exorcism of God

Written by Alexander Reams

54/100

Religious horror has been a niche genre since the birth of horror. The idea of mixing the idea of God (religion) with Satan (horror) is one of my favorite genres across all of film. I still remember seeing The VVitch and Apostle for the first time and those films being my gateway into this genre of horror filled with a huge variety of religious iconography. The Exorcism of God is no different, the religious influences are clear, the vision, not as much.

Alejandro Hidalgo’s The Exorcism of God is another interesting entry into this niche. Clearly inspired by one of the greatest horror films of all time, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Instead of following the possessed girl, we follow the priest who performs the exorcism on her. Played masterfully by Will Beinbrink, who commits an egregious act during the exorcism that he is able to hide for nearly 2 decades before it begins to weigh heavily on his soul. Playing off Beinbrink for most of the film is Joseph Marcell’s Father Lewis, while not on the level of Beinbrink he still does a serviceable job.

Fantastic Fest 2021

The film also takes a fresh approach, instead of trying to mock or poke fun at religion, or people’s beliefs, and instead choosing to attack the people within it and their own hypocrisy. It has been long public of the misdeeds of the Catholic Church and their predatory behavior towards minors. This take feels fresh, despite the horrendous and irreprehensible act that happens in the opening scene.

Hidalgo is not only directing but also co-writing with Santiago Fernandez Calvete. Pulling near double duty here clearly took his focus off each position. The film constantly feels unfocused from its narrative, instead chose to utilize traditional horror tropes (high violin pitches, jump scares) to try to mask the fact that the film just doesn’t have substance to it. Any semblance of the theme is watered down to it’s dull exposition. There is so much promise here, from the fantastic performance by Beinbrink to the gorgeous macabre cinematography by Gerard Uzcategui, and all of that promise is wasted on a script that could’ve used a few more drafts, and far less jump scares.

The Exorcism of God was screened as part of the 2021 edition of Fantastic Fest.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Capsule Review: The Lovers

Written by Alexander Reams

75/100

Love is deaf, dumb, and blind. That feeling of care, admiration, and joy is infamous for taking away all logic in someone’s mind, and what takes over is this chemical reaction in your mind. Such is the case in The Lovers, however this is taken to an extreme, blinding not only the leads, but also the viewer. Now evolved from a saying into a tried and true trope in film. While writer/director Avra Fox-Lerner does employ this in her film, she takes this cliche and makes it her own. Adding a style in both camerawork and dialogue that is very unique, but does not take away from the actors. The plot is simple, a roommate, and possible lover, is stuck in a codependent cycle, but there is more beneath the surface than I expected. I won’t reveal any twists, but I was daftly surprised at the confidence and energy that seeped through the film, and that was exuded by the cast. I constantly felt the blindness that our leads feel when with each other and it helps build fantastic moments of tension, while also letting me think I knew what would happen, then genuinely manage to surprise me. The care and love they had for this project are clear throughout and the final shot is one that stuck with me long after the credits rolled.

The Lovers was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Fantasia Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.