ReelAbilities Film Festival 2020: BEDLAM

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

The issue of mental healthcare has been a heated and controversial subject of discussion for the past couple of decades, with a rise of public shootings and other types of homeland terrorism in the United States. It even has become a rather contentious issue in the Austin, Travis County area, as mental illness has led to a rise in homelessness and public camping. Director Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, a mental healthcare professional, offers an informative and astute look at the mental healthcare crisis with his compelling documentary Bedlam. Rosenberg utilizes both his professional experience and his personal insight to present an intelligent and somewhat emotional portrait of the crisis and uses it as a call for reform and change.

This mostly well put together film flashes back between modern day problems and the history of Western mental healthcare to show exactly how the profession has evolved, devolved, and nearly become a cyclical exercise in futility. Though the treatment of mental health disorders have improved since the beginning and medical science has gained a better understanding of various mental illnesses, the system has stagnated since the late 20th Century. The result has been a tug of war of sorts between various strategies by the differing opinions of politicians, leaders, and medical professionals who all cannot seem to get on the same page.

Rosenberg also presents different facets of mental healthcare by profiling an assortment of doctors and patients struggling to find the right medications and strategies for treating mental illnesses. As someone who works in healthcare, I found Rosenberg's documentary to be both educational and affecting. Rosenberg hits most of the right emotional beats in presenting the heartbreaking stories of real people struggling with mental illness. The portrait are mostly well-rounded, as the audience gets to witness these people at their worst and best, and these differences are almost always strikingly antithetical.

This is a documentary I must highly recommend mostly to people not involved in mental healthcare or have limited to no experience with mental healthcare. Most healthcare professionals probably won't learn any thing that they don't already know, however. I feel it is also an imperative film for politicians and leaders to see in order to galvanize some much needed change and reform because nothing has improved in such a long time and things can only get worse.

ReelAbilities Film Festival 2020: CODE OF THE FREAKS

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

My festival coverage continues with an insightful documentary that examines Hollywood's obsession with the disabled. Featuring candid interviews with intelligent disabled people, director Salome Chasnoff takes a good, hard look at disabled tropes in cinema, some of the various formulaic stories that are often told and retold, and how real people with various disabilities feel about these movies. The film not only serves as a history lesson of cinema involving disabled characters, it offers a smart, but biting commentary on the exploitative and often insulting ways, movies portray such characters.

The movie's title is inspired by Tod Browning's 1932 horror film Freaks. Though the movie was derided when it was initially released, it has actually found some respect decades later and is considered a historical and culturally significant piece of cinema. In Code of the Freaks, it is rather compelling to hear the responses of various disabled people with different afflictions and disadvantages to so many films often considered acceptable and worthy of accolades. Salome Chasnoff definitely presents some convincing arguments, commentary and criticism towards the Hollywood filmmakers and actors guilty of perpetuating stereotypes, rehashing tiresome cliches, and for simply insulting the intelligence and sensibilities of the real disabled. It is an educational and revelatory documentary I highly recommend for cinephiles, filmmakers, and storytellers.

SXSW 2020 Review: CAT IN THE WALL

By Mark Saldana

Rating 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Among the few SXSW 2020 narrative features available for streaming now, this European import makes for an interesting, though not thoroughly satisfying, watch. Writers/directors Vezela Kazakova and Mina Milena hope to shed much light upon the Bulgarian immigration experience in London while presenting and critiquing the political and xenophobic climate. Though both filmmakers show proficiency when it comes to the visualization of real life scenarios, the lack of a more focused script takes much away from the overall impact.

Irina Atanasova stars as single mother Irina. She, her brother Vladimir (Angel Genov), and her young child Jojo (Orlin Asenov) have emigrated from Bulgaria to the U.K. seeking more employment opportunities and an overall better life. Though things are better in London, than they are back home, both Irina and Vladimir work very hard and struggle to make ends meet. In addition to their money troubles, the Bulgarian family slowly falls victim to the changes occurring in both their neighborhood and in their new country. And to make things even more stressful, strained relations with some of their neighbors reveal a prevalence of racism.

Though I found some moments of the film compelling, charming, and disturbing, I feel that Kazakova and Milena's movie is a bit too chaotic and all over the place. The filmmakers use a cinema verite style that actually works well at times, while it dulls the intended effects in others. The actors perform mostly well throughout the movie, but the writing and lack of tighter direction often take away from their performances. The overall result is a mixed bag of monotony with some dramatic crescendos sprinkled throughout.

I will say that I did connect with the Irina character and identified with some of her troubles and that is the main reason I felt compelled to see this movie through to the end. Ultimately, I was disappointed as a whole and wanted more from it. I cannot strongly recommend this movie as a must-see selection, but if one still feels compelled to watch it, go to Amazon and do a search for the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection where Cat in the Wall will remain available for streaming until May 7, 2020.

SXSW 2020 Review: MY DARLING VIVIAN

By Mark Saldana

Rating 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

For multiple decades, much has been said about the oft romanticized relationship between Johnny Cash and June Carter. James Mangold's Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line, portrays the love affair as a fairy tale romance. Even I have to admit that I became a sentimental "sucker" for that love story after first watching the movie. There is one major problem, however, and that problem has to do with the way Cash's ex-wife, and mother of his four daughters, Vivian Liberto is portrayed in the film.

Directed by Matt Middlehoover, My Darling Vivian sets the record straight Vivian Liberto, and offers a thorough and poignant look at her life, her marriage to Johnny Cash (during both good times and bad), and the even lesser-known years after her divorce. The film features intimate interviews with Vivian's four daughters Rosanne, Tara, Kathy, and Cindy Cash, the ladies who knew their mother the best. Middlehoover's lovely and occasionally heartbreaking documentary serves as a heartfelt tribute to the wife who deserved better from her husband, the strong, but also vulnerable mother who struggled through stress, loneliness and sorrow to care for her four girls, and the private and humble lady who got her life together following her painful divorce from her husband.

This is a film I must highly recommend for fans of Johnny Cash and especially fans of the movie Walk the Line. That is not to say that My Darling Vivian totally disparages Mangold's movie, but it does offer.a more accurate and fully realized portrait of Vivian Liberto. The film is currently available for streaming via Amazon and will remain as such until May 7, 2020. To find this documentary or any of the other SXSW 2020 titles available for viewing, somple do a search for the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection.

Entertainment News: GRACE AND FRANKIE

Entertainment News: GRACE AND FRANKIE

Rise up for the penultimate season. Grace and Frankie Season 6premieres globally on Netflix  January 15, 2020. Source: Netflix In Grace and Frankie, Jane Fonda (“Grace”) and Lily Tomlin (“Frankie”) star as two women whose lives are turned upside down when...

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Austin Screening Pass Giveaway: BLOW THE MAN DOWN

Austin Screening Pass Giveaway: BLOW THE MAN DOWN

Source: Amazon

TVR is giving away passes to an advance screening of this movie in Austin, TX, scheduled for Thursday, March 12 at 7:00 p.m.  NO PURCHASE IS NECESSARY. Must be 18 or older to enter. See this movie early and free of charge in a theater before it streams on Amazon!

Welcome to Easter Cove, a salty fishing village on the far reaches of Maine’s rocky coast. Grieving the loss of their mother and facing an uncertain future, Mary Beth & Priscilla Connolly cover up a gruesome run-in with a dangerous man. To conceal their crime, the sisters must go deeper into Easter Cove’s underbelly and uncover the town matriarchs’ darkest secrets. 

Go to http://amazonscreenings.com/BTMDTrueViewReviews to claim your passes. Be sure to print the passes and bring them with you to the screening. Do not hesitate as there may be a limited amount of passes available. Arrive early to the theater as seating is not guaranteed and done on a first come, first serve basis. Please spread the word!

SUZI Q

SUZI Q

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Prior to viewing this documentary, my knowledge about Suzi Quatro was mostly limited to the small series of appearances she made on television’s Happy Days durting the 1970s. I was also aware that she was a rock musician and singer, but I honestly had no idea that was the first female bass player to become a successful rock star. The problem is that, while Quatro was a huge success in Europe and Asia, she struggled to make a true name for herself in the United States. Director Liam Firmager tells Suzi’s life story in this fascinating and highly enjoyable documentary titled Suzi Q.

In the doc, Firmager allows Suzi to talk about her life and career, in addition to interviews with her family members, closest loved ones and ardent admirers. Some of these admirers are major players in their own rights too. People like Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Deborah Harry were inspired and influenced by Quatro. Men who knew her or worked with her like Alice Cooper and Henry Winkler have nothing but praises for Suzi. Suzi may have had a large impact on women aspiring to be rockers and was certainly a trailblazer. However, the rock and roll lifestyle is a grueling one.

Still, Suzi Quatro had the strength and determination to thrive and persevere. Even when it came time to scale things down for the sake of raising a child. Liam Firmager has done an exceptional job in telling Quatro’s inspirational story in this film. It is a documentary I highly recommend for rock fanatics, especially young women interested in becoming future rock musicians.

Utopia Distribution is hosing a Suzi Q virtual event on July 1st featuring the film and an exclusive Q&A featuring Suzi Quatro and Special Guests TBA (available for 24 hours only) in advance of the film’s traditional release on VOD and DVD on July 3rd. To buy your ticket for the July 1st event powered by Altavod, visit: 
https://www.altavod.com/movies/suzi-q

7500

7500

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

“Just when you thought it was safer to take a flight,” could have easily been a corny tagline for this hijacking movie. It would’ve been appropriately corny, given that there have been plenty of entries already in this thriller subgenre. Still, I have to give some credit to the filmmakers of 7500. They have taken a simple, no-frills approach that limits the settings and relies mostly on the power of the script and the tremendous performances by the cast, particularly lead actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Though material is formulaic and the choice of villains is tired and problematic, the movie does make for 92 minutes of intense drama, and nail-biting suspense.

Gordon-Levitt stars as Tobias Ellis, an American First Officer/Co-pilot for a commercial German airline. On one fateful night Ellis and his captain Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger) have the controls of a night flight from Berlin to Paris. Their take off goes well; however, a small group of terrorists on-board attack the cockpit leaving Ellis moderately injured, and Lutzmann incapacitated. Nevertheless, Tobias manages to take control of the situation and lockdown the cockpit once again. Though injured and shaken, Ellis does his best to follow standard procedure by keeping the cockpit secure and the plane headed to an emergency landing. Unfortunately, however, the hijackers then threaten to begin killing the passengers, including someone very close to Tobias.

Written and directed by Patrick Vollrath, who co-wrote the story with Senad Halilbasic, 7500 will definitely keep its audiences on edge and thrilled, but doesn’t offer any story material that is much different to what they’ve seen previously. For one thing, the terrorists portrayed in this movie are once again of the Muslim faith. I know that the Islam religion does have its problematic extremist offshoots, but I feel that picking on this religion has grown tiresome and old. To the story’s benefit, one of the hijackers gets better character development than in other films, and doesn’t get the more offensive caricaturesque treatment.

Another positive element that benefits the movie is the filmmakers’ decision to limit the movie mostly to the cockpit and the area just outside of it. This gives it a more tense and claustrophobic feel that allows cast to utilize the script well and deliver superb work. Though all of the supporting cast performs well, actor Omid Memar who portrays hijacker Vedat gives a phenomenal performance. He shares some amazing scenes with star Joseph Gordon-Levitt who gives a fantastic performance as well.

Between the performances by Gordon-Levitt and Memar and the intense way the story is presented, this movie is definitely watchable and moderately memorable. Still, I feel that the filmmakers should have made some more interesting and atypical choices when it came to the villains. The movie will be available for streaming on Amazon starting Thursday, June 18, 2020. It isn’t a movie I’d strongly recommend, but one that I would softly recommend. It is pretty good, but not amazing.

THE VAST OF NIGHT

THE VAST OF NIGHT

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Retro sci fi meets indie, character/dialogue-driven drama in this exciting and riveting thriller. Though that might sound like an unusual mix to some people, cinephiles and science fiction enthusiasts should already know that some of the best genre movies and shows have exceptional writing and compelling character development. Some of the better examples of character-driven genre entries probably come from the 1950s and 1960s when filmmakers were limited by technology and budget constraints. Well, director Andrew Patterson definitely takes a mostly low fi/no frills approach to his feature film debut, The Vast of Night, a thoroughly exciting and utterly creepy science fiction thriller. Patterson draws much inspiration from science fiction anthology shows like The Twilight Zone and blends it with skillfully executed indie film stylings that alow the actors to shine and give outstanding, though demanding, performances. 

The movie begins on what otherwise be just another night in the small town of Cauuga, New Mexico. The era is the late 1950s a time whem both the “red scare” and the space race are fueling the imaginations and fears of the people. Teen friends DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) work their respective jobs as radio host and switchboard operator. Through their night begins mundanely as usual, a bizarre audio frequency not only gives the kids an exciting diversion, it forever changes their lives.

Written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, The Vast of Night delivers sci fi thrills and chills, but keeps its focus mostly on the interactions and dialogues between the two leads and their reactions to the strange happenings and discoveries they make on that fateful night. The character development and dialogues between Everett and Fay could actually be reworked into an entertaining and powerful stage play. The material is that good. However, director Andrew Patterson, cinematographer M.I. Littin-Menz, and editor Junius Tully do some outstanding work to keep the scenes from remaining too static. The filmmakers composed, executed and seamlessly put together sequences of extended takes and shots with a clever and enjoyable framing device. Even though the movie wears its inspirations obviously and proudly, it also stands apart as a remarkable mix of these inspirations.

It is this style of filmmaking and storytelling that allows actors the room to give tremendous performances and I must say that both Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz step up wonderfully. McCormick portrays the sweet wallflower Fay Crocker, a girl who craves a more exciting and fulfilling life outside of New Mexico. She has a bit of a crush on brash and witty classmate Everett, a teen whose life isn’t much mote exciting, but at least enjoys his night job as local radio dee jay. Actor Jake Horowitz has a natural charisma and screen presence mixed with the vocal abilities of a voice talented and the comedic and dramatic chops his character requires here. Speaking of voicework, the movie has a truly amazing vocal turn by Bruce Davis in addition to an emotionally charged and unnerving cameo by actor Gail Cronauer.

The Vast of Night played Slamdance and other film festivals last year where it earned much critical acclaim and created a discernible buzz among science fiction enthusiasts. The film will be available for streaming via Amazon on Friday, May 29, 2020. It is a movie I definitely recommend especially for fans of mysterious and spooky science fiction thrillers.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release: THE WAY BACK

Blu-Ray/DVD Release: THE WAY BACK

Source: Warner Bros Home Entertainment Burbank, CA– Follow the road to redemption when “The Way Back” arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on May 19. Academy Award winner Ben Affleck (“Argo,” “The Accountant”) stars in “The Way Back,” directed by Gavin O’Connor (“The...

Multiplatform Video Release: LILYANA

Multiplatform Video Release: LILYANA

Source: ABRAMORAMA LIYANA is a genre-defying documentary that tells the story of five children in the Kingdom of Eswatini who turn past trauma into an original fable about a girl named Liyana who embarks on a perilous quest to save her young twin brothers. The...

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