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FILM SHOWCASE

Review Blog​

Review Blog


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THE LAST DUEL review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on October 12, 2021 at 3:30 AM

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes

Release date: October 15, 2021

Genre: Drama, Historical, and Adaptation

Distributor: 20th Century Studios

MPAA Rating: R


In a screen adaptation of novelist Eric Jager's book The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medievil France, comes a historical tale of a knight Jean de Carrouges who challenges his friend squire Jacques Le Gris to a duel after Carrouges's wife, Marguerite, accuses Le Gris of raping her.


The setting is 1386 France, during the devasting Hundred Years War between France and England, as enemy troops pillage the land, madness haunts the French court, the Great Schism splits the Church, Muslim armies threaten Christendom, and rebellion, treachery, and plague turn the lives into toys of fortune.


At the heart of this true story is Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), a knight who returns from combat to find his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer), accusing squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), her husband's old friend and fellow courtier, of brutally raping her. Jean de Carrouges knows that the claim would be halted if he addressed the Count Pierre d' Alencon (Ben Affleck), who has always been Le Gris' ally in demeaning the De Carrouges family.  Knight de Carrouges takes his cause before the teenage King Charles VI (Alex Lawther), the higheset judge in France.


The backstory of this provocative movie interweaves with an aggressive and treacherous Le Gris, brilliantly portrayed by Adam Driver, who manuevers his way into the graces of the court by befriending Count d' Alencon, in a poorly casted Ben Affleck.  It is a movie showcasing crisp pace battle scenes which opened an exciting and stimulating plot.  The performances between Adam Driver and Matt Damon are powerful and sparks great chemistry.  So does the formidable portrayal of Marguerite by Jodie Comer and Mattt Damon.  The multi-dimensional platform and structure of the film adds many ways to examine the characterization. 


Amid Le Gris's vociferous claims of innocence and doubts about the now pregnant Marguerite's charges (and about the paternity of her child), the deadlocked court decrees a "trial by combat" that leaves her fate, too, in the balance.  For if her and champion loses the duel, she will be put to death as a false accuser.


As in most epic/historical dramas, the period piece cinematography is usually outstanding.  It often covers a large expanse of time set against a vast and elaborate panoramic backdrop.  It is an extravagant production, mythic in nature with lavish costumes, and accompanied with grandeur and spectacle, dramatic scope, and high production values. 


The Last Duel brings to life a colorful, turbulent age and three unforgettable characters caught in a fatal triangle of crime, scandal, and revenge.


FILM RATING (B-)    


NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL - 59 coverage & reviews by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on October 10, 2021 at 4:30 AM

                                            THE 59th NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL

                                                    September 24th - October 10th, 2021


This year's Main Slate showcases film produced in 31 different countries, featuring new titles from renowned auteurs, exceptional work from directors making their NYFF debuts, and celebrated films from festivals worldwide, including Cannes prizewinners Julia Ducourau's Titane, Nadav Luid's Ahed's Knee, Apichatong Weerasethakul's Memoria, and Joachim Trier's The Worst Person in the World.  Main Slate documentary selections include Todd Hayne's archival cinematic collage, The Velvet Underground; and Jonas Poher Rasmussen's animated Flee.


The NYFF59 Opening Night selection is Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth, Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog is the Centerpiece, and Pedro Almodovar's Parallel Mothers will close the festival.


                                                      Selective Film Reviews & Capsules


The Tragedy of Macbeth

Directed by: Joel Coen

Running time: 105 minutes in B&W

Release date: December 25, 2021 Limited

Genre: Drama, Period Piece, and Adaptation

Distributor: A24

MPAA Rating: R


Based on the tragedy of the same name by William Shakespeare, is the first film directed by one the Coen brothers without th other's involvement.  The film stars Denzel Washington as Lord Macbeth, Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, and Cory Hawkins as Macduff.


The premise of this story is about the power hungry sets his sights on the Scottish throne after receiving a prophecy from three witches.  The tragedy  is caused by the hunger for power and the inability to see the consequences of a violent, evil deed.  Lord Macbeth (Washington), spurred on byhis wife Lady Macbeth (McDormand), just has to be king, once he hears the witchess prophecy.  The idea, although it was not his goal beforehand, takes over his entire being.


It's the classic tragedy in that its protagonist travels down a dark path of treachery and violence that inevitably leads to his own downfall and death.  This all leads to the nine elements of Shakespeare's tragedy plays which are; A tragic hero, Good against Evil, Hamartia, Tragic waste, Conflict, The supernatural, Catharsis, and Lack of poetic justice.


In this brilliant adaptation the performances are bold and fierce in its delivery.  However, Shakespeare's Macbeth bears little resemblance to the real 11th century Scottish king.  As history has it, in 1040 Macbeth beecame king and ruled for 14 years equably, imposing law and order and encouraging Christianity.  In 1057, he went to war and was killed at the Battle of Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire.


The supporting cast members of Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan, Harry Melling as Malcolm, Moses Ingram as Lady Macduff, and Kathryn Hunter as the three witches all gave outstanding performances to anchor the impeccable performances by the three lead characters.  The text interpretation transforms brilliantly to a cinematic format.


FILM RATING (A+)




Dune: Part One

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes

Release date: October 22, 2021

Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Action/Adventure, Remake, and Adaptation

MPAA Rating: PG-13


In a screenplay by Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth, is the first of a two-part adaptation of the 1965 novel by the same name by Frank Herbert, primarily covering the first half of the book.  It is also, a formidable remake of the $48 million budget 1984 movie (same title) box office flop.


The futuristic plot is set on the universe Arrakis in the year 10191, whereas the planet Dune within this universe, is the story of the boy Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the ducial heir of House Atreides, along with his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and concubine to his father Duke Ledo (Oscar Isaac) bestowed with the stewardship of Arrakis are ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the "spice" melange.  This special drug/spice is capable of extending life, enhancing human conscienceness and makes faster-than-light travel practical - coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for, especially to the former steward of Arrakis the House of Harkonnen, the enemy of House Atreides.


In an intricate trap set by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen the Baron of House Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), Duke Ledo takes his family and trusted advisors to Arrakis to take control of spice mining melange, although Duke Ledo's weapons master and Paul's mentor Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) fears treachery.  However, the inhabitants of planet Dune, known to be Fremen and survivors of the underground giant sandworms that plagued the planet by killing any and everything that walks on the planet's desert floor, come to bond with the surviving House Atreides.


The Dune: Part One plot is primarily an epic story of the perilous journey of Paul and his mother.  It also, introduces a woman Fremen known as Chani (Zendaya), who soon becomes Paul's love interest.  Other cast members such as veteran actress Charlotte Rampling is Gaius Helen Mohiam, a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother and Emperor's Truthsayer; Javier Bordem as Stilgar, the leader of the Fremen tribe; and a host of many other characters that add imaginitive content to futuristic settings, science and technology, space travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life.  The plot creates situations of how new discoveries affect the human element and developments it will have on humanity in the future.


Dune: Part One tells a science fiction story about a future intergalactic society with sometimes drastically changed humans confronting ecological, social and biological conflicts and how they can survive, while adding a coming of age scenario to its dynamics in multi-layers.


FILM RATING (A+)



**More coverage to follow****





CANDYMAN review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on August 25, 2021 at 12:00 AM

Directed by: Nia DaCosta

Running time: 91 minutes

Release date: August 27, 2021

Genre: Horror, Thriller, and Sequel

Distributor: Universal Pictures


In a supernatural slasher film, a direct sequel to the 1992 film of the same title and the fourth film in the Candyman film series, based on the short story "The Forbidden" by Clive Barker, comes fear of death horror addition to the dark franchise.


The film stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy aka the new 21st century Candyman, a visual artist who becomes obsessed with the Candyman legend; Teyonah Parris as Brianna "Bri" Cartwright, Anthony's girlfriend and an art gallery director (Hannah Jones as young Brianna); Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Troy Cartwright, Brianna's brother; and Colman Domingo as William "Billy" Burke, a Chicago Cabrini-Green public housing resident who tells Anthony about the Candyman legend (Rodney L. Jones as young Billy), along with Tony Dodd as Daniel Robitaille the original Candyman, a vengeful spirit who was killed as the result of an interracial love affair during the 19th and resurrected in the 20th century with Sherman Fields (played by Michael Hargrove, a hooked-handed man killed by racist police in 1977) and Vanessa Estelle Williams as Anne-Marie McCoy, Anthony's estranged mother who believed in the original Candyman legend while living in the old Cabrini-Green public housing reprise their roles from the original 1992 film.


The backstory leads the audience by describing how for as long the residents can remember, the housing projects of Cabrini-Green was terrorized by the word-of-mouth ghost story about the supernatural killer Daniel Robitaille aka Candyman, easily summoned by daring to repeat his name five times into a mirror.  However, in the present day, the Cabrini-Green housing is torn down due regentrification and the middle-class along with affluent people move in.  This gives a lifestyle to artists such as Anthony McCoy and his girlfriend Brianna.  The dynamics of this film is a socio-political and a racial theme as Anthony's painting career is on the brink of stalling until he has an encounter with an old-timer who exposes him to horrific nature of the true story behind Candyman.


As the film takes on a wild and scary ride of absurdity, the suspense involvement creates anticipation that something bad will happen, but not knowing when it will happen.  This is the ultimate fear, both existentially and psychologically, as scary places such as old dark houses where evil things can hide and suddenly come out.  The thriller elements of suspense, tension and excitement heavily stimulates the moods giving the audience a high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expection, uncertainty, surprise, anxiety and terror as Anthony is transformed into a menacing spirit while trying to keep his love interest Brianna involved in his life.


With the many interesting layers to the movie, this $25 million budget film proves to be a worthy investment in this ongoing franchise. 


FILM RATING (B+)   



 


   

THE NIGHT HOUSE review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on August 20, 2021 at 7:10 AM

Directed by: David Bruckner

Running time: 107 minutes

Release date: August 20, 2021

Genre: Horror and Thriller

Distributor: Searchlight Pictures

MPAA Rating: R


Horror films are designed to frighten and invoke our hidden worst fears and phobias.  Based on an original screenplay by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, this film using both existential and psychological fear of death to drive its point of focus.


The premise of this scary tale begins when Beth (Rebecca Hall) is reeling from the unexpected death of her husband.  She is left alone in the lakeside home he built for her, as she tries to keep it together - but nightmares occur.  Disturbing visions of a presence in the house call to her, beckoning with a ghostly allure.  In one haunting scene after another in the house, the suspense creates mounting anticipation that something bad will happen, but not knowing what is the question.  Beth's best friend Claire (Sarah Goldberg) advises her to move on with her life and leave the house, but like all scary movies, that is not the solution.  With the use of various flashback scenes, Beth decides to go through her late husbands belongings and get answers to many questionable things concerning his suicide.


From the earliest silent Nosferatu classic, to today's CGI monsters and deranged humans, the elements of horror movies still find a way to scare.  In this film the setting adds the overtone, by the use of shock sounds, eerie noises, and satanic worshipping.  However, this does not take away from a stellar performance by Rebecca Hall as Beth.  Her portrayal of a determined woman seeking answers to a complex marriage goes beyond an exaggerated statement of a domestic problem, but to a fear of the unusual - in other words the plot is making the usual, unusual.  What the movie does is takes the audience on a ride of something that seems to be normally not scary (such as a beautiful lakeside house and property) and make it into a feared object and location.


However, what is not made clear is how Beth, an intelligent young woman, married a man whose spotty past left her in a relation with far too many questions as they shared their life?  This is a man who would leave her for brief peiods of time and had noticable demons haunting him.  To have time for another woman and worship satanic idols, is something I could not digest while watching this movie.  Yet, the plot did fill in with continuity and structure, as the the storyline did not suffer from poor execution.    


With supporting cast members Vondie Curtis Hall as the good neighbor Mel, and Stacy Martin as Madelyn, the other woman well known for her bad deeds, the dramatic source is enhanced.  The conflict element developed between the characters only strenghthens the mystery and Beth's own inner demons.  The clash between these three characters set the stage for a formidable outset. 


By using very good psychological dramatic energy on screen, the cast led by Rebecca Hall carries on with shocking yet mesmerizing scenes you won't be able to take your eyes from.  Overall, this is pretty good stuff!


FILM RATING ( B-)



        

SNAKE EYES review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on July 23, 2021 at 5:10 PM

Directed by: Robert Schwentke

Running time: 2 hours 1 minute

Release date: July 23, 2021

Genre: Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Thriller

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG-13


This full throttle American Superhero film is also subtitle as Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.  It is a reboot movie based on Hasbro's G.I. toy, comic, and media franchise, and serves as an origin story for title character Snake Eyes.


Henry Golding stars as Snake Eyes, replacing Ray Park who portrayed him in the previous films in this third installment in the G.I. Joe film series.  In this addition, a mysterious lone fighter, known as "Snake Eyes", is recruited into a secretive Clan Arashikage.  The events of the film portray the character prior to becoming the heroic masked G.I.Joe recruit.  He is welcomed into and trained by the ancient Japanese ninja clan, but finds his loyalties being tested when secrets from his past are revealed, as he eventually goes on the path to become the famous G.I. Joe hero.  He becomes close friends and brother in arms with Tommy Arashikage / Storm Shadow (Andrew Koji), a skilled member and heir of the Arashikage and Snake Eyes, who will eventually become his archenemy.  Scarlett (Samara Weaving) is an agent of both G.I. Joe and Clan Arashikage, while Hard Master (Iko Uwais) is the formidable leader of the Clan Arashikage and the uncle of Storm Shadow.  Another leader of the clan is Blind Master (Peter Mensah) who portrays a spiritual wise man, who guides everyone without eyesight.  This includes Akiko (Haruka Abe), a trainee with deep ties to both Snakes Eyes and Storm Shadow.


The enemy o the Clan Arashikage is the terrorist organization Cobra.  An elite operative, second to Cobra Commander is Baroness (Ursula Corbero), who gives orders to Kenta (Takehiro Hira) for gun running schemes and steal the special power sacret jewel from Clan Arashikage.  With many double-crossings between the clan, Snake Eyes, and Cobra, along with the revenge subplot of Snake Eyes finding the killer of his father when he was a child makes this a multi-layered story.


It is difficult to figure out who is the good guy from the bad guy, but with the great martial arts choreography and adrenaline fueled fight scenes keeps the audiences blood pumping.  The unbelievable stunts are special, adding non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and pacing.  This epic film romp covering a large expanse of time set against a vast panoramic backdrop of Los Angeles and Tokyo is a wild cinematic ride.


Kudos to an ensemble cast that is formidable and engaging.


FILM RATING (B+)



LANSKY review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on June 25, 2021 at 6:00 AM

Directed by: Eytan Rockaway

Running time: 1 hour 59 minutes

Release date: June 25, 2021

Genre: Drama, Crime, and Biography

Distributor: Vertical Entertainment


In an interdependent in tendency and development corresponding in the same element storyline, comes a biographical and similar analogue thriller.  It is an engaging tale of the man known as the "Mob's Accountant", Meyer Lansky.  Once, a major American organized crime figure who, along with his associate Charles "Lucky" Luciano, was instrumental in the development of the National Crime Syndicate in the United States.  The parallel plot is connected with a contemporary theme of a renowned but down on his luck writer given an opportunity to write aging Lansky's memoirs.  The emerging narratives merge in a dimensional layered plot exposing each protagonist's dilemma.


In 1981 Miami, the struggling writer is David Stone (Sam Worthington), who is asked by the aging mobster Meyer Lansky (Harvey Keitel) to first hand write his biography.  For decades, law enforcement authorities have been trying to locate Lansky's alleged over $300 million hidden bank accounts, and the plot intertwines with contemporary FBI agents investigating this case.  Meanwhile, David Stone a man with domestic problems is attempting to patch things together with his family.  However, the FBI is putting the squeeze on David Stone for information on Lansky.


The structure of this film is layered with many chronological flashbacks of Lansky starting with his early life as Meier Suchowlanski (John Magaro).  The narrative tells how he (born July 4, 1902) from Grodno, Russian Empire (now Belarus), to a Polish-Jewish family who experienced antisemitism and pogroms from Imperial authorities emigrated in 1911 to the United States with his family and settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York.  This is when and where young Lansky meets young Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and become lifelong  friends.  Meyer Lansky reflects and tells writer David Stone how he and Siegel partnered in the "Roaring 20s" bootlegging trade, and together managed the Bugs and Meyer Mob, with its reputation as one of the most violent Prohibition gangs.  The reinactments of this violent era really depict sinister actions of criminals and mobsters, underworld figures, and ruthless hoodlums.


On the other plane of the structure narrative layer, is the character study of David Stone, brilliantly portrayed by Sam Worthington dealing with life situations involving intense character interaction with fierce law enforcement officers pressuring him for information on Lansky, along with frustrating family entanglements.  He struggles with telling Lansky that he has been approached by law enforcement, but Lansky is always one step ahead in knowing of the legal shadowing.  Will trust between the two men be in trouble and cause David not to get his opportunity to write the book?  This is also a thrilling layer of the film.


The film goes to great length to have the retired gangster Lansky, formidably performed by veteran actor Harvey Keitel, tell his life story through the 1920s Luciano (Shane McRae) vision of an Italian, Jewish, and Irish national crime syndicate, to his 1930s Florida, New Orleans, and Cuba gambling operations, to his 1940s Bugsy Seigel inspired Las Vegas casino operations, and to the 1950s and 60s Cuban exile of organized crime.    All the time, the quick witted mobster was opening bank accounts around the world in planning a protective life for his family, specifically for his handicapped son.  While globally fleeing the American legal system, he gives David Stone his account of how heartbreakly Israel refused him citizenship. 


While the film gives a great biography, the ride is emotionally impacting.  The dramatic scope is engrossing and fascinating.  The pacing is crisp and moves with a determined force as Harvey Keitel hits his mark.  Lansky will leave you in a positive controversial state, much like the persona of the late gangster.  It's a film filled with fearless cinematic surrealism.


FILM RATING (B+)          

WRATH OF GOD review by GeraldWright

Posted by Gerald Wright on May 7, 2021 at 7:55 AM

Directed by: Guy Richie

Running time: 119 minutes

Release date: May 7, 2021

Genre: Crime, Drama, Action, and Thriller

Distributor: Miramax, United Artists, & MGM

MPAA Rating: R


In an action thrilling mob mayhem crime drama by acclaimed filmmaker Guy Richie, from a script he co-wrote with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davis, and is based on the 2004 French film Cash Truck by Nicolas Boukhrief, comes a quirky heist revenge tale starring Jason Statham.


Notable director Guy Richie of Hatfield, Hertfordshire, U.K., once stated after watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) as a child, realized that what he wanted to do was to make films.  He is well known for his work in Lock, Stock and Two Smokin' Barrels in 1998, Snatch in 2000, Sherlock Holmes in 2009, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in 2015.  His filmography work consist of writer, director, actor, producer, and casting director.  His trademark of his films often feature characters who seem unstoppable, and nearly indestructable.


In this film Guy Richie does not stray from his trademark theme, as a mysterious and wild-eyed new cash truck security guard Patrick "H" Hill (Jason Statham) surprises his co-workers during a heist.  "H", is responsible for moving hundreds of millions of dollars around Los Angeles each week.  During one such job, the truck gets held up at gunpoint and "H" single-handely deals with the robbers, only as Jason Statham is always type-cast in the majority of his films, showcasing advanced combat skills and training.  Secretly, "H" is hunting for the people who murdered his son during a similar robbery, and plans to use his new position to set traps for everyone he believes is responsible.


With a cast of mobsters, underworld figures, and ruthless hoodlums all with sinister thoughts operating outside of the law, the action is non-stop in the revenge theme presented.  The characters are labeled with names such as, Bullet (Holt McCallany), Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan), and Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett) to name a few, as FBI Agent Hubbard (Josh Cowdery) and "H"'s girl friday Kirsty (Lyne Renee) are involved in the twisted structured plot.  As the unsolved crimes grow, so does the hard-boiled "H" protagonist/antagonist character's detective challenges, as he meets various adventures in a methodical pursuit of the criminals and the solution to resolve his revenge.


To say that this is a typical Guy Richie crime film, is to be correct.  It is of course, neo-noir, exclusively with primary moods of melancholy, aleination, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, morral corruption, evil, guilt and paranoia.  The desolate film is gritty, yet harsh, and as a necessity, the lead character "H" is a cynical loner in a seedy big city.


FILM RATING (C+)            




USED AND BORROWED TIME review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on May 7, 2021 at 7:50 AM

Directed by: Sophia Romma

Running time: 3 hour 36 minutes

Release date: May 7, 2021 (World Premiere - NYC Quad Theater)

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Social Issues, and Romance

Distributor: Garden of the Avant-Garde in association with Revel Film (Estonia)


In a film written and directed by Sophia Romma, a playwright, poet and director of theater, and civil rights attorney comes an apocalyptic parable on racial hatred.  This non-conformist thriller is a psychological drama phantasma in which an interracial couple's idyllic love rises above hatred in segregated 1960s Alabama.


The setting is modern-day Birmingham, Alabama on All Saints Day, when an elderly blind Jewish actress from New York City Eva Gold (Cam Kornman) accompanied by her granddaughter Sonia visit a country fair.  Eva meets Kitty O'Neill (Alice Bahlke), a culinary vendor whose pie recipe has magical powers.  After being ridiculed by bigotted vendors Eva decides to sample the pies and it sends her into a trance magically transforming her to 1965 to relive her (young Eva - Emily Seibert) romance with her African American civil rights advocate boyfriend Steadboy Johnson (Clas Duncan).


Reliving the past is not a pleasant as Eva wants, she is reliving the tyranny unleashed upon her and Steadboy by the merciless white supremacist Wood family.  The racist Wood family led by matriarch Blanche (Maureen O'Coonor) includes her brother Wade (Grant Morenz), son Jed (Gavin Rohrer), and daughter Lorna (Alice Bahlke).  Once Eva and Steadboy are captured and kidnapped by the demonic racist Wood family their lives are in question.  Raging bigot vengeance is the tone expressed on screen by emerging performances.  With the use of multi-dimensional film structuring urban fantasy elements takes the audience on a supernatural trip.  This story has strong tropes, such as gritty action and a noir feel, along with an outstanding music score of original songs by Queen Ilise and Her Four-Piece Band.  Filmmaker Romma's poetic and rhythmatic style dialogue adds a unique feel to cinema, which she labels Drama Phantasma in Verse. 


The flashback scenes are mystical for the audience's eyes - much like "eye candy".  However, the content of racial discrimination and violence is surreal and tense.  The tension revolves around anticipation and suspense, which highlights noir and promoting moods of melancholy, alienation, bleakness, pessimism, moral corruption, evil, guilt, and paranoia.  Shocking yet mesmerizing, the emotionally impacting story borders dark comedy specifically that related to death and hate, and treated in an unusually humorous or satirical manner while retaining the seriousness, often for the audience to experience both laughter and discomfort, sometimes simultaneously.


This overall ensemble performance is brilliant and hits its mark.  The impeccable staging on screen shows that the actors throw themselves into their roles.  This is a unique means in cinema production, as it is a plot-driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction.  However, there is a sense of this being epic by way of its historical value as it covers an expanse of time. 


The crisp pacing won't let you take our eyes away and remedies the lengthy running time.  As the supporting cast members that include Marshall Bonny, Manana Gitana, Seth Hendricksen, and Ox King enhance this powerful narrative, Used and Borrowed Time is a relevant and poignant cinematic production depicting a moral and political plague that still ravages America mindset on racial and ethnic discrimination.


FILM RATING (B+)


    

GODZILLA vs. KONG review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 31, 2021 at 12:00 AM

Directed by: Adam Wingard

Running time: 113 minutes

Release date: March 31, 2021 and April 2021 HBO streaming platforms

Genre: Monster, Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller, and Sequel

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures


In a sequel to both Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Kong: Skull Island (2017), is the fourth film in Legenday's MonsterVerse.  This is also the 36th film in the Godzilla franchise, the 12th film in the King Kong franchise.  It is a epic film that stars Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eliza Gonzalez, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, and Demian Bichir that witnesses King Kong do battle with Godzilla as they retrieve an energy source.


The setting is Hollow Earth where prehistoric creatures lurk and scientific installations perform dastardly experiments by humans.  


Five years after Godzilla defeated King Ghidorah, Kong is monitored by the Monarch Organization within a giant dome on Skull Island.  Kong has a close relationship with Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a young deaf orphan girl of Iwa roots and is the adopted daughter of Monarch's anthropologist Dr. Irene Andrews (Rebecca Hall).  Meanwhile, in Pensacola, Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir) CEO and Founder of Apex Cybermetrics, a tech organization invested in trying to solve the Earth's "Titan problem", is secretly creating Mechagodzilla to exterminate them.  Walter Simmons is a visionary entrpreneur and billionaire who wants to help humanity and make the world a safer place.  However, he has a villainous way of getting this done, as he competes with the Monarch Organization.  As these characters occupy the screen briefly, an ex-employee Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree) of Apex and host of an underground podcast of Titan conspiracy theories extracts data suggesting sinister activities at the Apex facility.  Bernie is accompanied by Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) to investigate the erratic behavior of Godzilla.  This activity (by some way I don't understand) triggers Godzilla to attack the facilty and cause havoc.  I guess he is in search of some sort of energy source?  In this very confusing narrative, Walter Simmons recruits Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard), a Monarch geologist and chief cartographer to engage Dr. Irene Andrews to chart a mission into Hollow Earth via an outpost in Antartica with the help of Kong and Jia who sign-language communicates with him.


The human characterzation is superficial and poorly performed, but this is not to be an impactful element to enhance this film.  It is actually an unnecessary element of this movie.  It is un-innovative and the interwining narratives complicates a simple monster movie.  What drives this "popcorn flick" is the two monsters.  These two iconic monsters takes the audience on a wild ride of non-stop action and visual effect "eye candy" on the screen.  As in most monster flicks the film focuses on a group of human characters struggling to survive attacks by one or more antagonistic monsters, but in this storyline who cares, because the human characters are poorly underwritten.  Yet, the imaginative content such as futuristic settings, technology, parallel universes, and monsters fighting, is explosive to watch.  It is a complete audience escapism movie. 


This is a high-energy, big-budget film that offers great physical stunts and chases, with rescues, battles, fights, escapes, destructive crises (floods, explosions, natural disasters, fires, etc.), non-stop motion, spectacular rhythm and rapid pacing.  The late Toho, the creator of Godzilla, along with the creators Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper of King Kong would give director Adam Wingard and screenplay writers Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, along with story by Terry Rossio, Michael Douherty, and Zach Shields kudos for a fun-fill film.


FILM RATING (B+)    



MINARI review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on February 12, 2021 at 11:40 PM

Directed by: Lee Isaac Chung

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes

Release date: February 12, 2021

Genre: Drama in English and Korean with subtitles

Distributor: A24

MPAA Rating: PG-13


Based on the filmmakers' actual family life as a Korean American male child David (Alan S. Kim) with an older sister Anne (Noel Cho), mother Monica (Yeri Han), father Jacob (Steven Yeun), and grandmother Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung) in 1980s rural Arkansas.  This period-piece domestic character study drama is a life journey into how the Yi family moves from California to a 50 acre Arkansas land plot.  However, this is not the "promise land" patriarch David invisioned.  His reluctant wife Monica is not fully satisfied with this relocation decision and lets him know her feelings.  The environment is plagued with tornadoes and lacks waterways for fertilization.  David finds himself determined to dig for water in this draught land.


Will Patton plays a roving spiritual handyman named Paul who gives advice and assistance to David in making the land fertile.  He becomes friends with the Yi family in an agricultural dream of growing Korean vegetables and bringing these crops to market. 


This is an American dream narrative, but the fact that the Yi family is of an ethnic minority attempting assimilation into a dominant culture and society.  The key takeaways is that immigrant assimilation is one of the most common forms of assimilation and is a very complex process.  Social scientistss rely on four  primary benchmarks to assess immigrant assimilation: socioeconomic status, grographic distribution, second language attainment, and intermarriage.


As this serious plot driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations involving intense character development and interaction, fiesty grandmother Soonja moves into the houseold.  With her old world culture impacting the household, she mesmerizes young David.  Yet, it would impose a conflict of new world versus old world.


The focus of all of the performers' energies are memorizing, as they interchange tension and conflict to move the plot.  This dramatic timing of movements and gestures makes the rhythm and pacing go smoothly, while creating deliberate contrast  in the scenes.  It also, adds and engages a mood or tone of feelings linked with everyday life such as pity, anger, desire, and frustration.  What makes this a formidable narrative is the use of language.  The choice of language is crucial, as it is a major form and means of brilliantly communicating the story of the drama to the audience. 


Minari is a very emotionally moving narrative and a heartfelt life story.  All of the performances pull at the heart.  It is an adventurous saga of familiar.  It is full of charm, pitfalls, and love, along with a breakthrough performance by young Alan S. Kim as David.  However, the film is highlighted by grandmother Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung) in an award-winning performance.  This is an excellent movie.


FILM RATING (A+)     


MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on December 16, 2020 at 6:40 AM

Directed by: George C. Wolfe

Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes

Release date: December 18, 2020 and various wide platform releasing in January 2021

Genre: Drama, Music, and Adaptation

Distributor: Netflix

MPAA Rating: R


Adapted from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson's play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom celebrates the transformative power of the blues and the artists who refuse to let society's prejudices dictate their worth.  It 's a fictional story based on true events that highlights the powerful personality of the iconic real life Gertrude "Ma" Rainey and an inventive characterization of supporting members of her life.  


Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1927 Chicago as a band of musicians await trailblazing performer, the legendary "Mother of the Blues", Ma Rainey (Academy Award winner Viola Davis).  Late to arrive at the session, the fearless, fiery Ma Rainey engages in a battle of wills and wits with her white manager and producer over the control of her music, known to society as "race music".  As the band waits in the studio's claustrophobic rehearsal room, ambitious cornet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) - who has an eye for Ma's girlfriend Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige) and is determined to stake his own claim on the reluctant music industry - spurs his fellow musicians Cutler, Toledo, and Slow Drag (Coleman Domingo, Glynn Turman, and Michael Potts) into an eruption of harsh stories revealing pain staking truths that will forever change and end the course of their lives.


The late Chadwick Boseman co-stars as Levee, a character who represents the history of Black music appropriation in America and is inspired by real musicians.  His performance is brilliant as he emotionally expresses the agonizing persona of a Black musician being exploited by white men of the industry.  While the titular singer Ma Rainey is the center of the film, Viola Davis' is powerful in her portrayal of this controversial woman.


Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (born Gertrude Pridgett, 1882 or 1886 - December 22, 1939 in Colubus, Georgia or in Russell County, Alabama) was one of the earliest African American professional blues singers and one of the first generation of blues singers to record.  The "Mother of the Blues", she bridged earlier vaudeville and authentic expression of southern blues, infuencing a generation of blues singers, such as, at that time a young Bessie Smith.  Her early career as a performer depicted in the film as a backstory shows her acts in Black roadhouses.  Actually, at the age of 12 to 14 years old she was a member of the First African Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia and began performing in Black minstrel shows.  She later became exposed to blues music around 1900 when she formed the Alabama Fun Makers Company with her husband, Will "Pa"  Rainey.  Later from 1906 to 1910 they both joined Pat Chappelle's larger and more popular Rabbit's Foot Company - she was described as "Mrs. Gertrude Rainey, our coon shouter".  She later found Blues music when she started singing sad songs about a man leaving a woman.  Traveling to New Orleans in 1914 she met and recorded with numerous musicians, including Joe "King" Oliver, Louis "Sachmo" Armstrong, and Pop Foster.  As the "roaring twenties" rolled in she set out on her own after she separated from her husband Will "Pa" Rainey, and had a reputation for being one of the most dynamic performers in the United States due in large part to her songwriting, showmanship and voice, doubling the revenue of her contemporary rival Bessie Smith.  This rivalry became a romantic relationship in nature.  In the 1930s Rainey returned home to Columbus, Georgia, where she ran a few theatres until her death of a heart attack in 1939.


This film adaptation is terrific and a must see film.


FILM RATING (A+)     

GIVIING VOICE review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on December 10, 2020 at 7:45 PM

Directed by: James D. Stern and Fernando Villena

Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes

Release date: December 11, 2020

Genre: Documentary

Distributor: Netflix

MPAA Rating: PG-13


In a film honoring young performing artists, Giving Voice examines inspiring high school students in their journey to find and express themselves through theatre.  The vehicle which is celebrated with the National August Wilson Monologue Competition, conceived in honor of the late August Wilson (Frederick August Kittle, Jr., April 27, 1945 - October 2, 2005).  August Wilson was an American playwright/author of German and African-American decent, yet raised solely by his African-American mother Daisy Wilson in Brooklyn, New York. This is competitive legacy program enacted after his death to ensure that his series of ten plays collectively called the American Century Cycle, which chronicle the experiences and heritage of the common day African-American community in the 20th century.  Plays in the series each set in a different decade include Fences, The Piano Lesson (both won Pulitzer Prize for Drama), Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and Joe Turner's Come and Gone.


Executive producer of Giving Voice Viola Davis, along with Fences co-star Denzel Washington, share the impact that August Wilson's timeless artistry and legacy has had on their careers and their hopes for the young talented people carrying it forward.  The National August Wilson Monologue Competition was founded in 2007 by True Colors' then Artistic Director Kenny Leon and then Associate Artistic Director Todd Kreidler, who both worked very closely with the late August Wilson. 


The film follows high schoolers who enter the competition for the opportunity to perform on Broadway.  Their individual journeys are displayed on screen with determined attitudes that is measured with altitudes of determination.  The journey begins with inquisitiveness as to what are the skills for acting?  They learn being an actor requires several skills such as: Creativity; Good understanding of emotions, scenes, and acting techniques; The ability to memorize lines; The capacity to engage with the audience; The experience to understand a character.  They also come to understand what responsibilities an actor must have - which is: Actors must express a character through different behavioral expressions, movements, and activities; Actors must use their body, voice, and language to play a character; Most actors have to work with other actors under the direction of a director, who coordinates the scene and how the actors interact with one another; While some actors may do well with improvisational work, most work from a script.  But remember, these are not adults, but youngsters from underpriviledge circumstances.


In this documentary, the flow is much in order of a narrative as the individual youngsters learn to pay attention as an internal process.  A character study, each probe around inside themselves as they also become good observers of human nature.  They search for truth with the need to take a look at how people actually operate.  Reading literary text (not tweets) to engage imagination and draw into carefully crafted and keen emotional dense world filled observations about human behavior.  Listening to what thoughts, images, and emotions these sounds create in themselves.  These young people are most of all, fans of performaning arts while living their own lives as a guide to coming of age and finding their place in the world.  Their young lives often collaborates with the characters they audition for in the competition. 


As a result, the best way to stand out in a ridiculously overcrowded field during the competition is to bring their whole self into the game.  This comes from simply observing and absorbing meaningful experiences from their individual cultures and identities, and then recreating them in the rooms or stage. 


In Giving Voice, the brilliant August Wilson would be amazed and proud of the future in these formidably talented young performances.  I know, I was!!


FILM RATING (A-) 



 

THE CROODS: A NEW AGE review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on November 24, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Directed by: Joel Crawford

Running time: 95 minutes

Release date: November 25, 2020

Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, and Sequel

Distributor: Universal Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG


This is a DreamWorks Animation Production and a sequel to the 2013 film The Croods.  It stars the returning voices of Nicolas Cage as Grug Crood, Emma Stone as Eep Crood, Ryan Reynolds as Guy, Catherine Keener as Uggar Crood, Clark Duke as Thunk Crood, and Cloris Leachman as Gran, with new cast members including Peter Dinklage as Phil Betterman, Leslie Mann as Hope Betterman, and Kelly Marie Tran as Dawn Betterman.


The film uses a dual narrative structure to merge major characterizations to form a terrific opening storyline, as a very young Guy is orphaned due to the catastrophic dissolvement of the Ice-Age.  With the last words of his dying mother to follow the light in the sky, Guy escapes a death threatening situation and ventures off by himself.  On the other side of this dual opening structure is the Croods family led by Grug, the patriarch, who after leaving their cave in the first film aimlessly wanders.  In a remarkable and extremely manner, Guy (now a teenager) meets Eep Crood (Grug's oldest daughter), and it's love at first sight.  The Crood family, consisting of Grug's wife Ugga, teen son Thunk, baby daughter Sandy, and grandmother Gran take Guy into the family.  However, Guy is from a more evolved human form - he's intelligent and this opens a new way of thought to the Croods.  Their interaction is a novelty and sparks a romantic relationship between Guy and Eep.


It should be acknowledged and given gratitude to the Hanna-Barbera Production Company for their 1960s of The Flinstones.  The show was set in a comical version of the Stone Age, but has added features and technologies that resembled mid-20th-century suburban America.  The plots deliberately resembled the sitcoms of the era, with the caveman Fred, Wilma, and Pebbles Flinstone and Barney, Betty, and Bam Bam Rubble families getting into minor conflicts characteristic of modern life.  The plot(s) used Nonavian dinosaurs, saber-toothed cats, and wooly mammoths animals to co-exist during the time of cavemen.


In this case, DreamWorks Animation has shown through their filmology of Shrek (2001), Madagascar (2005), Over The Hedge (2006), Kung Fu Panda of 2008,  Monsters vs. Aliens (2009), How To Train Your Dragon (2010), Rise of the Guardians (2012), The Croods (2013), Trolls (2013), and The Boss Baby (2017) to draw humor in part from creative uses of anachronisms.  This main theme of placing of a "modern" 21st century society in prehistory.  The look of realism in computer animation can mean making each frame look photorealistic, in the sense that the scene is rendered to resemble a photograph or make the characters' animation believable and lifelike.  The realistic modeling of human facial features is both one of the most challenging and sought after elements in computer-generated imagery.


As this fun-filled family film progresses, Guy and the Croods family venture on, and they encounter their biggest threat since leaving the cave: another family called the Bettermans.  Phil Betterman, the patriarch is a "snob", Hope Betterman, the matriarch is loving yet wants her daughter Dawn (only child) to pair up with Guy.  Guy is a long lost neighbor from his childhood.  However, this might cause a conflict with his girlfriend Eep.  But Dawn and Eep seem to be best-girlfriends.  The personalities seem to conflict as Grug finds Phil obnoxious, while Ugga finds Hope's new lifestyle enjoyable.  Meanwhile, Thunk and Sandy Crood find things great.  And of course, Gran Crood is getting spoiled in this modernized prehistoric setting.


The action comes along with the final scenes when Eep and Dawn find perils, and a rescue prevails.  In light of giving more action and adventure to this narrative, the story takes on high energy chases, escapes, non-stop motion, battles, and rescues.  The spectacular rhythm and pacing enhances the film with an exciting adventurous theme - all designed for pure audience escapism.


For a good time at the movies - this film is the family-friendly one to take in.



FILM RATING (B+)       

LET HIM GO review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on November 6, 2020 at 4:05 AM

Directed by: Thomas Bezucha

Running time: 114 minutes

Release date: November 6, 2020

Genre: Drama, Western, and Adaptation

Distributor: Focus Features

MPAA Rating: R


In a period piece dramatic film adapted from the 2013 novel of the same name by North Dakota author Larry Watson of the novels IN A DARK TIME; MONTANA 1948; WHITE CROSSES; LAURA; ORCHARD; SUNDOWN, YELLOW MOON; AMERICAN BOY; AS GOOD AS GONE; the fiction collection JUSTICE; the chapbook of poetry LEAVING DAKOTA; and the poetry collection, LATE ASSIGNMENTS comes a riveting tale of familial love and its unexpected consequences under the craftmanship of director/screenwriter Thomas Bezucha.  Thomas Bezucha wrote and directed the films BIG EDEN (2000), THE FAMILY STONE (2005), and  MONTE CARLO (2011).  His breakthrough came when he wrote the screenplay BIG EDEN and was able to find a supportive producer, and then being selected as one of Variety's "10 to Watch" Screenwiters in 2000.


This formidable story of grandparenting begins in 1950s Montana as retired sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) suffer the loss of their married adult son James (Ryan Bruce) to a horse riding accident on their family ranch.  This leaving James' wife Lorna (Kayli Carter), a young widow, with a toddler son, little Jimmie.  The characterization of this scenario is structurally set immediately as it relates to the grandmother Margaret's dominant arrangement and relationship to her grandson and lack of to her daughter in-law Lorna.  It is an opening in the plot to invoke a matriarch lead for this film and giving Diane Lane a platform to unleash her acting talent. 


The film takes off when Margaret sees her newly remarried daughter in-law new husband Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) smear ice cream in her grandson's face to teach him a lesson for dropping his ice cream cone and physically assaulting Lorna.  Soon after, concerned Margaret finds out Lorna unexpectedly moves away with her only grandson, along with her new husband Donnie.  With information gathered to where they might have relocated to, Margaret decides she is going to get her grandson back and away from an abusive situation.  A somewhat reluctant to follow grandfather George Blackledge, decides he will go to the ends of the earth to please his wife Margaret and go on a roadtrip to find their grandson.


This roadtrip takes on an outstanding cinematic view of the northwest landscape offering the audience "eye candy" to the great outdoors of America.  This part of the film serves as a complimentary asset and enhances the storytelling, but doesn't cause undo attention to itself by use of great camera angles/movement/composition lighting and color.  Kudos to the cinematographer Guy Godfree.


Using crisp pacing and useful flashback scenes in a suspenseful thriller, the narrative brings on a surreal overtone to the unforgotten illegal pursecution and containment of the Native American, as Margaret and George meet a friendly horse-loving native boy Peter Dragswolf (Booboo Stewart) in North Dakota during their search.  However, as they proceed they find the Weboy family clan via shady Bill Weboy (Jeffrey Donovan) - who are devious and dangerous people.  This sinister clan is led by their grandmother matriarch Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville).  The focus in this drama is now set on the portrayals of the two matriarchs Margaret and Blanche channeling their performance energy as they project realistic characters, settings, life situations, and individual stories involving intense character development and interaction in a combatant atmosphere in freeing Lorna and little Jimmie from a hostile family setting.  The play-up and outcome to this engagement between these two families is at times shockingly dangerous, yet mostly mesmerizing - desolate, gritty and harsh.  The development of tension parallels the advancement of the plot, leading to a crisis and climax.  This tension is closely linked with the timing in the performances' movements and gestures, thus setting the mood (feeling and tone of performances).  This emotionally impacting aura and ambience is the dramatic source that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats while watching this film.


Let Him Go is one of the best films of 2020. It is a very poignant period piece western drama that takes on a meaningful storyline and delivers impeccable performances by the two matriarchs Diane Lane and Lesley Manville.  And of course, Kevin Costner brilliantly hits his mark and the supporting cast members are exceptional.  The delivery and execution of their characterization is memorable and lasting.  This highly impressive film's structure is constantly evolving and is monumental in its fearce statement.  A must see movie!


FILM RATING (A+)


      



SNO BABIES review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on September 28, 2020 at 6:55 AM

Directed by: Bridget Smith

Running time: 1 hour 49 miutes

Release date: September 29, 2020 on VOD and Digital Platforms

Genre: Drama

Distributor: Better Noise Films/Philly Born Films (US)

MPAA Rating: Not rated


In a screenplay written by Michael Walsh, and directed by Bridget Smith comes a challenging and controversial narrative of how substance abuse and drug addiction attacks the youth, families, and community of a middle-class suburban environment.  It is a riverting coming of age tale that takes its audience through the understanding of addiction and the recovery journey.


Sno Babies is a serious, plot-driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, and life situations of contemporary issues pertaining to the plague of addiction.  Kristen (Katie Kelly) and Hannah (Paola Andino) are teenage best friends.  Both young ladies are high school seniors preparing for their college selections.  They are from the norm of upper middle-class suburbia and find themselves in a coming of age scenario of enjoying their peers with wild parties and newly sexual relationships.  As curiousity is a stage of maturity, Hannah introduces Kristen to heroin, but not before Kristen herself tampers with the opioid oxycodone.  Drugs are introduced to Kristen, whose family consisting of hard working professional parents Clare (Shannon Wilson) and Bill McKuster (Ken Arnold) along with 10 year sister Maddie (Abbey Hafer) are unaware of the situation.  When Kristen finds out that she is pregnant from a date rape, the emerging narrative takes on a poignant task of empathy.     


The story gives a formidable overtone, but it also introduces a parallel story of Mattt (Michael Lombardi) and  Anna (Jane Stiles), a couple desperate to get pregnant.  However, he is stuck with a failing family business left to him by dead father.  In the layer of the film, Matt is trying to deal with an older sister who wants to sell the company.  This idea is economically advantageous for Matt so he could afford a beautiful new house  Kristen's aggressive real estate agent mother Clare is trying to sell.  This connection to the main storyline is made, but I could not find the real continuity as the narrative flowed.  


As the plot evolves with more emphasis on Kristen and Hannah's addiction to heroin, the film graphically shows the young women injecting themselves, thus giving the audience the realism of the deplorable world of addiction.  These are stories involving intense character development and interaction by impeccable performances by Katie Kelly and Paola Andino.  Supporting cast members add substance to the plot, but not very much on credibility.


The message of drug addiction and recovery is more relevant than the troublesome coming of age storyline in the privelege environment of suburbia.  The tone and theme is set for the state of addiction and the journey it entails.  The state of denial, confused, and feeling ashamed, along with the myth of choice of using or not.  When truth steps in as Kristen takes her first step towards treatment, she finds recovery.  But in recovery, the slogan is of the addict is to remove themselves from "people, places, and things" related to their past drug habits.  Managing the disease is just as important as recognizing the one has a drug habit, and derailing from the ongoing "people, places, and things" attitudes will cause a relapse. 


However, the film moves its theme to a faith statement with the exploitive scenes religious order, oppose to the degradated collateral damage which once carried the narrative.  The audience will understand the full value of drug addiction and its connection to how it affects family and community, but the final act is penalized for poor execution and delivery.


FILM RATING (C+) 


   


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