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Movie Review: “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a Powerful and Raw Character Study

It’s a tough film to swallow, but it’s an unforgettable watch.

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” follows Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), a teenage girl from Pennsylvania, who unexpectedly finds herself pregnant. We aren’t sure who knocked her up, but we are sure she does not want to go through with the pregnancy. Unable to tell her mother or her mother’s ass of a boyfriend, she confides in her best friend/ cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder). From there, the two head to New York on what is supposed to be a mission to take care of Autumn’s situation; but ends up being a journey of discovery and a difficult life lesson.

There is a lot to admire with director/writer Eliza Hittman’s (Beach Rats) third film. For starters, the support from all the women in the movie. They are shown as comforting and caring characters. Autumn’s mom is a bit clueless; but she does love her daughter, and shows a tender side in the brief moments we see her. The female workers at both the clinics Autumn visits, are understanding, non-judgmental, and genuinely try to help the lost young lady. But it’s the bond between Autumn and Skylar that shows a true example of a selfless and giving friendship. Both actresses do a wonderful job in the film, but it’s Flanigan who shines in her debut performance by playing her character with such grace and honesty.

However, the men in this movie are not painted in the same light. They are shown as dismissive, threatening, or perverted. When the girls come across Jasper (Theodore Pellerin) on their bus ride to the city, he appears eager but harmless. Clearly interested in Skylar, she reluctantly gives him her cell number which ends up being a resourceful tool. But as you’d imagine, he’s not as innocent as he seems.

Hittman’s raw and painfully realistic dialogue is what’s so captivating. All of Autumns conversations are incredibly natural. And the emotions hit hard when she’s at her final destination in Brooklyn answering a questionnaire given by the counselor there. She must answer a series of questions relating to her sexual history with the responses of either “never, rarely, sometimes, or always.” Hittman’s screenplay is harrowing and thought-provoking.

There are some burning questions that are left up to interpretation; and the film does drag a bit in the second act, but those are my only qualms.

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is not an easy watch, especially during our current ordeal; but it is well worth your time.

Rating: 3.5/5

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is available to rent On Demand on April 3 through any of these platforms…Amazon, Apple, Comcast, DirecTV, Vudu, Google/YouTube, Charter, Verizon, Microsoft, Dish, Fandango, Sony, Cox, Altice, Vubiquity, AMC On Demand, Redbox 

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Movie Review: “The Other Lamb” Needs more Meat

Lots of intrigue from the start, only to fall flat in the end. “The Other Lamb” fails to seek it’s full potential.

“The Other Lamb” begins with two young girls eerily sitting by a waterfall. It is clear there is something off with them. When they return home, it is to one man and a bunch of different women; some who may have been conceived out of incest. Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones) plays the cult leader who goes by Shepard. He has taken in weak and vulnerable women, brought them into a secluded forest to brainwash and isolate them from the modern world. The film follows, Selah (Raffey Cassidy), a young girl who is questioning the Shepard’s teachings.

The only real storyline is Selah’s slow realization that the women’s treatment is not right and what she discovers about her mother’s death. Director Malgorzata Szumowska and writer C.S. McMullen opt to give more of a visual telling over a compelling narrative. This allows the audience to stay interested in the movie, but not invested in the story or its characters.

Though we gain some sort of background from Selah, it’s not enough to really know how she ended up here in the first place? Who was her mother? What led to her meeting the Shepard? How did any of these women get sucked into this warped reality? These questions and much more are left unanswered. The film even shys away from showing the extent of the Shepard’s cruelty. We’re aware of his sexual and violent acts, but being able to witness just one horrendous action would strike more anger and empathy for these women.

However, not all is lost. The cinematography by Michal Englert successfully utilizes graphic shots of mangled animals to parallel Selah’s growing body and her inner conflicts. The film is beautifully shot and at times leads you to believe something bigger is going to happen here.

The film relies too much on it’s visuals and score (Rafael Leloup & Pawel Mykieytn) to make up for it’s lack of content. The performances are decent, but that actors aren’t given enough meat to chew. Cassidy has her moments, but even the talents of Huisman are under utilized.

The slow-burn intensity of “The Other Lamb” mildly entertains, but ultimately leaves you unsatisfied.

Rating: 2.5/5

“The Other Lamb” is available on VOD and other digital platforms on April 3

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Movie Review: “The Hunt”, “The Invisible Man”, & “Emma”

In this time of Pandemic, diversions help keep us sane. Now, more than ever, we need the cinema. But we need a new cinema, a safe cinema, a Shelter-at-Home cinema; and so streaming comes of age. Watch my review of “The Hunt” and recommendations of two other new films available for home viewing now: “The Invisible Man” and “Emma”. Will anyone trade some popcorn for this fine half-roll of paper towels? Anyone?

“The Hunt”, “The Invisible Man”, & “Emma” are available on Amazon, Apple, YouTube, and other various On Demand platforms at a starting price of $19.99.

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Movie Review/Interview: Set Designer Carlos Felipe Leon talks “Onward”

“Onward” is the first MUST-SEE movie of 2020. The film follows two teenage elf brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt), who are on a quest to finish a spell that will allow them to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him.

I sat down with set designer, Carlos Felipe Leon, to discuss the bonds with our siblings, which film’s setting/world he’d like to spend 24 hours in and more about the movie! Check out the interview w/ Carlos AND my full ICTN review of the film below!

“Onward” opens in theaters March 6.

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Movie Review: “A Simple Wedding” is a Joyous Occasion

Growing up, I watched so many rom-coms and admired actresses like Meg Ryan, Molly Ringwald, Sandra Bullock, and so many other women playing characters looking for love. To an extent I could relate to them and their awkward/quirky personalities, but I never really saw myself. It might be part of the reason why I never thought I’d get that kind of romance in my life (I was wrong).

In these last couple of years, Hollywood has revived romantic comedies by bringing other cultures to light (i.e. Crazy, Rich, Asians & The Big Sick). Even Netflix has stepped it up with To The Boys I Loved Before and Always Be My Maybe. And just by watching these films with ethnic leads, I have felt slightly more represented. Because, as an Iranian-American, this is as close as it’s going to get. Luckily, that’s not true.

Director/writer, Sara Zandieh brings us, A Simple Wedding. The film follows Nousha (Tara Grammy), a thirty-something woman trying to avoid the pressures of marriage by her traditional Persian family. After purposely sabotaging her latest engagement, she unexpectedly locks eyes with a bisexual, artist named Alex (Christopher O’Shea) while at her friend’s protest. Their connection is instant. And after a passionate first date, the two become inseparable and eventually move in together.

However, Nousha’s family has no idea Alex exists. That is until they see him half-naked during a facetime chat. This leaves them no choice but to have Alex finally meet Nousha’s mom (Shohreh Aghdashloo), dad (Houshang Touzie), and grandma (Jaleh Modjallel). They are less than thrilled that he’s not a Persian doctor, and even more bothered by the fact that they are living together; and they can’t have their daughter living in sin. Within minutes of their first meeting, Nousha’s family has somehow gotten the couple engaged, and are planning a quick and “simple” wedding. An already complicated situation becomes more complicated when Alex’s family comes into the picture, and the two cultures collide.

The creators of My Big Fat Greek Wedding bring us a similar formula, but different ingredients. There’s insight into the Persian culture/wedding traditions, and a fair amount of focus on both set of parents. This time producer, Rita Wilson is in front of the screen as Alex’s divorced mom who can’t stand being around her ex (Peter McKenzie) and his hubby (James Eckhouse). Yet, she does like spending time around Nousha’s uncle, Saman (Maz Jobrani).

All the family members do a wonderful job portraying loving, yet at times hilariously selfish parents. O’Shea effortlessly plays a true, free spirit who loves whole-heartedly; not seeing race or religion. But at its core, the film thrives on Grammy’s endearing performance. She doesn’t play a woman who seeks love and feels lonely. She’s smart, independent, has great friends, and a good job. She’s not this loser girl that finally got a guy to notice her. She just finally noticed the guy, and wants to continue the relationship without any expectations.

I know I’m gushing quite a bit about this film, and I am sure I’m being bias given the subject matter. With the news lately, it’s nice to see Persians presented in a more positive perspective. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Everyone deserves to be represented, no matter your race, orientation, size, etc. And no matter who you are, you can relate to the message this film offers about how love requires “sacrifice, understanding, and forgiveness.”

This movie has its flaws, but it’s sincere. And if you still enjoy the simple romantic comedies we used to indulge in back in the 80’s & 90’s, then allow yourself to enjoy A Simple Wedding. It’s a sweet date night flick, and an all-around fun time.

Rating: 4/5

A Simple Wedding opens in theaters and On Demand (Including Amazon and iTunes) February 14, 2020.

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Movie Review: “Underwater” Sinks

Kristen Stewart stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Underwater”.

Well, I should have known a film released in January was not going to stand a chance. But, “Underwater” had no business being made.

This film is basically a knock off underwater version of “Alien”. Its completely derivative script offers nothing new or worth watching. Even their semi all-star cast featuring Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, and Vincent Cassel can’t save this sinking ship.

The film is set seven miles beneath the ocean’s surface. Down there, aquatic researchers who work for a rich mining drill company are forced to reach the surface after an unexpected earthquake destroys their rig and somehow unleashes unspecified creatures with intent to kill. See, it already sounds lame.

Our protagonist is Norah (Stewart), the mechanical engineer. Aka the Ripley. She is a badass and she manages to do a lot of her heavy lifting in just a sports bra and undies. But, don’t discredit K-Stews performance. She has grown a lot as an actress these past few years and she was honestly my favorite part of the film.

The same can’t be said about T.J. Miller’s character Paul. What was intended to be comic relief, became an awkward dude with a stuffed animal who told bad jokes. As for the rest of the cast, they were forgettable due to a script that gave no real background or depth to its characters.

The visuals were solid, but the CGI of the underwater monsters were mediocre. At times the sandy water made it hard to see them when we really needed to see them. And don’t get me started on that damn audio. I’m not sure if it was the loud score or the water, but it’s difficult to understand the cast members about 50% of the time.

I’ll give the film points on its production design and even some creative direction by William Eubank. He does make an effort to try and intensify the situation through his unique and startling shots. However, none of his endearing camera work makes up for the disaster that is “Underwater.”

Save your money and just go watch any of the current, award nominated movies.

Rating: 2/5

“Underwater” opens in theaters January 10.

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Movie Review: “1917” is a Thrilling Cinematic Experience

Do you remember the 2017 war film, “Dunkirk”? It was a chaotic mess that left us wondering “who were those characters we just met?” Well, Sam Mendes’ (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) new war/drama is the exact opposite of that.

In “1917” we follow two young British privates, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) during the First World War. They are given the impossible mission to deliver a message across enemy lines to stop 1,600 men from walking into a deadly trap. Among those men is Blake’s brother, which makes the journey to get there that much more intense.

The two soldiers make their way through seemingly empty trenches, tunnels, and bombed-out towns with no one but each other to rely on. Along the way, they encounter other men who have clearly been through their own struggles, a woman hiding in a basement, and some not so friendly Germans. But every new face is a mere acquaintance as the boys are on a ticking clock.

There’s tension between the pair, but also a sense of purpose. Scholfield is unhappy to have been chosen by Blake to tag along on this mission, yet they both know this is for a worthy and life-saving cause.

Mendes gives audiences an immersive cinematic experience, supported by cinematography from Roger Deakins, through the one-take display. It makes you truly feel as if you are right there with the soldiers walking behind every step they take. And as you hold your breath till the final scene, you yourself hope you will make it out alive.

Though the film is exciting and will keep you on the edge of your seat at times, this more of a technical achievement. This is far from an original story; it’s pretty basic. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The filmmakers have taken a simple premise and gone with a “less is more” tactic. This allows for more focus on a beautifully shot film, and a highlight on the actors who give their all emotionally and physically in their spectacular performances. This also gives us the courtesy of understanding who we’re following and character development.

“1917” isn’t a groundbreaking war film, but it is a good one. It’s one you can appreciate and hooks you in from the start. Be sure to watch this one on the big screen!

Rating: 4/5

“1917” opens in Dallas and Plano on Christmas Day and opens in wide release on January 10, 2020.

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Movie Review: “Pet Sematary”

 

The horrors keep on coming! The past two months we’ve been treated to two highly anticipated “scary movies”. Pet Sematary that might have been better left dead, but there are still a few scares. Check out my ICTN review of the film, along with Jordan Peele’s box office smash, “Us”.

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Movie Review: “Captain Marvel” & “Fighting with My Family”

Just in time for International Women’s Day, Marvel takes us back to the 90s with “Captain Marvel,” the origin story of its first female superhero. And – in a one/two punch, girls rule again in “Fighting with My Family,” based on the true story of WWE wrestler Paige, the youngest winner of the Divas Championship. It’s time to get to the movies, ladies!

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Blu-ray & DVD Release

You can now purchase “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD and Digital HD!

Picking up where “The Force Awakens” left off,  Rey (Daisy Ridley) has located Skywalker and hopes to learn Jedi skills from him. Skywalker is extremely reluctant to train Rey in the ways of The Force because of his past experience with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

While this drama and back story are unfolding, we have another story in another galaxy far, far away, where the rebels are under attack by forces led by the evil Snoke, Kylo Ren and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). Ace fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leads a daring attack on a First Order dreadnought, against the orders of Leia (Carrie Fisher). Weakened, the rebels must retreat under close pursuit by the First Order fleet.

Finn (John Boyega) wakes up and immediately gets into trouble after several desperate plans cooked up by him, Rose Tico  (Kelly Marie Tran) are attempted. Another interesting new character is DJ (Benicio Del Toro) a devious hacker and thief. Laura Dern puts in a memorable performance as heroic fleet admiral Holdo.

With all that’s going on, the movie sounds like it’s all over the place, but the story is compelling and there are some solid characters to follow on this journey through many twists and turns. The acting is solid, and of course, great visual effects.

Relive the adventure in the comfort of your own home along with tons of additional content!

Bonus features include:

The Director and the Jedi – Go deep behind the scenes with writer-director Rian Johnson on an intimate and personal journey through the production of the movie—and experience what it’s like to helm a global franchise and cultural phenomenon.

Balance of the Force – Explore the mythology of the Force and why Rian Johnson chose to interpret its role in such a unique way.

Scene Breakdowns

  • Lighting the Spark: Creating the Space Battle – Get a close-up look at the epic space battle, from the sounds that help propel the action, through the practical and visual effects, to the characters who bring it all to life.
  • Snoke and Mirrors – Motion capture and Star Wars collide as the filmmakers take us through the detailed process of creating the movie’s malevolent master villain.
  • Showdown on Crait – Break down everything that went into creating the stunning world seen in the movie’s final confrontation, including the interplay between real-word locations and visual effects, reimagining the walkers, designing the crystal foxes, and much more.

Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only) – Writer-director Rian Johnson presents two exclusive sequences from the movie featuring Andy Serkis’ riveting, raw on-set performance before his digital makeover into Snoke.

Deleted Scenes – With an introduction and optional commentary by writer-director Rian Johnson.

Audio Commentary – View the movie with in-depth feature audio commentary by writer-director Rian Johnson.