Friday, October 29, 2010

Tiny Furniture Movie Review

Tiny Furniture Movie Review

Title: Tiny Furniture

Directed by: Lena Dunham

Starring: Lena Dunham (The Innkeepers), Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham and Jemima Kirke.

Not everyone has the courage to write a satirical comedy movie based partly on their own narcissistic, self-serving lives, and then ask their family and friends to show their support by starring alongside them in it. But Lena Dunham, a young, up-and-coming screenwriter, director and actress, proved her talent by recruiting her mother, sister and several friends to star in her latest independent movie, ‘Tiny Furniture.’ Dunham shows that unlike her self-pitying, immature character Aura, there are young adults who strive to do their best and can achieve their dreams.

‘Tiny Furniture’ follows Aura (played by Dunham), as she moves back into her mother Siri’s (portrayed by Dunham’s real life mother, Laurie Simmons) Tribeca loft after graduating from a liberal arts college in Ohio. Having earned a degree in film theory, Aura is unsure of what kind of job she wants to get. She struggles with her desire to be as successful as her mother, who photographs miniature things. She also feels that she can’t compete with her over-achieving 17-year-old sister Nadine (played by Dunham’s real life sister, Grace Dunham), and thinks that Siri and Nadine are constantly ganging up against her.

Aura reconnects with her old childhood friend Charlotte (portrayed by Dunham’s real life friend Jemima Kirke), who lives off her father. Charlotte tries to give Aura confidence by helping her get a dead-end job as a daytime hostess at the cafe she used to work at. While working there, Aura is attracted to the stand-offish chef Keith (played by David Call). However, Keith is already living with his girlfriend, and Aura is casually dating Jed (portrayed by Alex Karpovsky), a TV director from Chicago who is in New York for a few weeks “on business.”

As the film’s director, Dunham definitely made the right decision in casting her family and friends alongside her. They all compliment each other on-screen, as they understand each other’s real-life fears and insecurities. The cast was also able to flawlessly and effortlessly take on their characters’ traits; since Dunham wrote the script, and based it on her life, they were more easily able to understand how she wanted them to portray their characters. Since the movie is more character-based, as opposed to plot-driven, featuring actors who understand the screenwriter-director’s mindset definitely helped make the characters believable and relatable.

While ‘Tiny Furniture’ is really supposed to showcase Dunham’s talents as an actress as well, Kirke easily stole the spotlight from her in every scene she’s in. While Charlotte is arrogant and self-centered, Kirke was still able to make her likeable, as she didn’t take herself too seriously. She readily admits that she feels entitled, and doesn’t feel any shame about it, to the point where she, and the audience, can laugh about it. Kirke naturally brings humor to her character, which balances Aura’s serious, helpless side. The audience will almost definitely wish Charlotte had a bigger role, to forget about Aura constantly feeling belittled. The movie’s studio, IFC Fims, definitely got it right when it described Charlotte’s “constant attention and indulgent lifestyle…addictive.”

‘Tiny Furniture’s semi-autobiographical take on Dunham’s own life, including her desire to become a successful screenwriter and director, will definitely resonate with recent college graduates. It accurately portrays the fear of failure of every recent college graduate who doesn’t have a job in their chosen field. While Aura’s whining gets to be a bit excessive, college graduates will understand her need to not only be accepted by her professional and social peers, but their successful parents and over-achieving siblings as well.

While the movie only takes place over a few weeks, most viewers will likely want to see Aura start to mature and take on more responsibility. The fact that she doesn’t feel the need to change, and is quick to blame everyone for what’s wrong in her life, proves that she’s still naive. Being a character-driven film, it would have been nice to see Aura initiate change in, or at least want to change, her current circumstances.

The comedy definitely deserved to win the Jury Prize for Best Narrative after premiering at the SXSW Film Festival in March 2010. ‘Tiny Furniture’ is only Dunham’s second full-length feature, and is the first time she worked with professional producers and a paid crew. Dunham proved she what a great director, writer and actress she already is by feeling comfortable enough to parody herself on screen. ‘Tiny Furniture’ is definitely one of the top independent movies to look for this year.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Stone Movie Review

Stone Movie Review

Title: Stone

Directed by: John Curran

Starring: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich and Frances Conroy.

Often, those people who society judge the most are the ones who are locked behind prison bars. However, in the new Overture drama ‘Stone,’ starring Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton and Milla Jovovich, the misconception that prisoners deserve to be judged the harshest is quickly revealed and proven to be wrong. The movie also shows that those people who are the first to point out other people’s faults are often the ones who have something to hide.

‘Stone’s very simplistic plot follows convicted felon Gerald “Stone” Creeson (played by Norton), who is up for parole after serving eight years of a 10-15 year sentence for accessory to murder and arson. In an effort to get released, he tries to convince correctional officer Jack Mabrey (portrayed by DeNiro) that he’s become a spiritual person, and has changed his ways. Stone even has his wife Lucetta (played by Jovovich) seduce Jack, despite the fact that Jack has been married to his wife Madylyn (portrayed by Frances Conroy) for 43 years.

As in all of his roles, DeNiro proves what a committed actor he is by throwing himself into the role. Despite the fact that Jack attends church every week, reads the Bible with Madylyn and seeks advice from one of the bishops at his church, DeNiro still makes the character despicable. Viewers will more than likely loathe Jack, despite his protests to Stone, Lucetta and Madylyn that he is a good person. He constantly judges people and controls those around him, especially his wife, and doesn’t understand why people become upset with him. While Stone is the prisoner and doesn’t always know right from wrong, he at least admits when he knows he’s made mistakes; Jack is definitely the more hated character in the film, as he does whatever he pleases, and doesn’t care who he hurts in the process.

While DeNiro gave another great performance, Norton is the one to watch in ‘Stone.’ While Stone gives Jack an “I don’t care what you do to me” attitude when he first meets him, Norton is able to convincingly turn his character’s personality around. He makes the audience believe that Stone truly wants to better himself, and has become spiritual in the process. While Stone wants Lucetta to constantly harass Jack to get him to expedite his case, Norton is able to turn Stone’s priorities around as the plot goes on.

Jovovich also shines in her role as Lucetta, creating the perfect femme fatale. Not only is she able to convince Stone that she still loves him, even after he spends eight years in jail, she also uses her hidden sexual charm to lure Jack in to help her. Lucetta is also able to lead Jack into compromising situations at work by bringing him presents, and enters into a dangerous personal relationship with him that affects his marriage. While Jovovich doesn’t have many scenes with Norton, when they are on screen together, viewers are left thinking Lucetta really does love Stone. But when Jovovich is next to DeNiro, that belief totally turns around, and viewers are left thinking Lucetta wants to be with Jack.

While Stone and Lucetta’s drive to convince Jack to recommend he be released from prison is the driving force behind the plot, Overture relies more heavily on the actor’s portrayals of their characters to sell the movie. DeNiro, Norton and Jovovich act well off of each other, and really give tension to their relationships. Fans of any of these three actors will surely like this thriller, directed by John Curran, which is now in a limited theatrical release.

Written by: Karen Benardello

'Welcome to the Rileys' Movie Review

'Welcome to the Rileys' Movie Review

Title: Welcome to the Rileys

Directed By: Jake Scott

Starring: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1), Melissa Leo

It’s often difficult for people to venture into territories unknown for them. But if they try hard enough, they’ll surprise themselves and those who know them, and come out having accomplished something they never thought they could. This is certainly the case for the characters, the actors and the director of the new independent film ‘Welcome to the Rileys.’

The movie, which debuted at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, follows Doug Riley (played by James Gandolfini) and his wife Lois (portrayed by Melissa Leo) as they continue to try to deal with the death of their 15-year-old daughter Emily eight years after she died. After Vivian (played by Eisa Davis), a waitress Doug was having an affair with to cope with Emily’s death, dies suddenly of a heart attack, he travels to New Orleans on a business trip. He decides to stay there even after his convention is over, as he’s stricken a relationship with a 16-year-old runaway stripper, Mallory (portrayed by Kristen Stewart), who reminds him of Emily.

‘Welcome to the Rileys’ starts off to a slow start, as it just shows Doug and Lois struggling to keep their nearly 30-year marriage afloat, despite the pain they are both feeling. Nothing is revealed about what caused the strain on the relationship, and viewers are left questioning why they should care about these two characters. It isn’t until Doug travels to New Orleans, and he and Lois are separated, that the film’s momentum picks up, and viewers get to see who they really are. Both Gandolfini and Leo were able to truly show how hurt their respective characters were when they were several states apart.

Director Jake Scott, who is the son of famed director and producer of Ridley Scott and the nephew of director Tony Scott, proved he is just as good as his family members in the movie business by casting Gandolfini, Leo and Stewart. While Gandolfini and Leo both were able to portray grief-stricken parents, unable to deal with letting the memory of their daughter go, Stewart proves that she’s at her best in smaller, independent movies. Much like her other independent drama released this year, ‘The Yellow Handkerchief,’ Stewart proves she can truly develop a role that isn’t based on a popular book character, like Bella from ‘The Twilight Saga,’ and expectations to play her a certain way. She made Mallory relatable by showing her pain of being out on her own, struggling to survive.

While ‘Welcome to the Rileys’ was focused on the relationships between Doug and Lois and Doug and Mallory and on their character development, Gandolfini and Stewart’s chemistry was what really drove the story. Gandolfini was able to completely transform Doug’s character throughout the 110-minute film, proving he could truly care about another person again, instead of just wallowing in his own misery. Meanwhile, Stewart initially portrayed Mallory as needing to sleep with men to validate her self-worth, but after developing a relationship with Doug, she realized there are other ways she can get people to like her.

The only downfall of the movie was that Doug and Lois never really seemed to get truly comfortable with each other. While Gandolfini and Leo were able to truly connect to their characters, they never truly seemed to connect with each other. Since their marriage is the only other main relationship in the story, besides Doug and Mallory’s, it seemed logical that their deposition towards each other would improve after they learned to deal with their grief, but it seemed to stay the same.

‘Welcome to the Rileys’ has a great script from screenwriter Ken Hixon, and will surely push Scott to the forefront of the movie directing world. Known mostly for directing music videos, Scott was able to prove with his second movie that he knows how to create and build characters and their relationships with others. He also proved that he knows how to pick the right cast, as both Ganolfini and Stewart perfected roles that are out of their comfort zones. Though only scheduled for a limited theatrical release, ‘Welcome to the Rileys’ will surely surprise and please many people who see it.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 Movie Review

Paranormal Activity 2 Movie Review

Title: Paranormal Activity 2

Directed by: Tod Williams (Wings Over the Rockies, The Door in the Floor)

Starring: Katie Featherston (Paranormal Activity, Walking Distance)

Great demonic horror films, such as ‘The Exorcist,’ provide developed characters and thorough back-stories in an effort to get the audience to relate to the possessed character’s pain. While no film rivals the 1973 classic, last year’s critical and box-office hit ‘Paranormal Activity’ was extremely close. The thriller was so successful because the main character, Katie, believed she had a ghostly presence following her around since childhood, something a multitude of people around the world claim they can relate to. Paramount Pictures decided to try to replicate the movie’s success by releasing ‘Paranormal Activity 2,’ but its efforts to reveal more details about Katie’s possession failed to raise up as many scares.

The movie acts mainly as a prequel, detailing the events of how Katie was exposed to the demonic presence that haunted her and Micah’s house in the original ‘Paranormal Activity.’ Katie’s sister Kristi and her husband Dan bring their newborn son Hunter home from the hospital, and unexplainable things immediately begin happening. For instance, there was what looked to be a break-in in the beginning of the movie; however, nothing was actually stolen except for a necklace Katie made for Kristi. Dan then decides to install six cameras throughout the house in case another break-in occurred.

The family’s nanny, Martine, tries to cleanse the house of its evil spirits, and to usher in good spirits. Dan, however, doesn’t believe in ghosts and spirits, and doesn’t believe anyone’s claims that the house is haunted, even his daughter Ali.

When Paramount Pictures announced that they were planning on releasing a follow-up, it seemed as though they wanted to cash in on one of the most successful films of all time. Released around Halloween last year, ‘Paranormal Activity’ was released as a pseudo-documentary, much like the simiarly-themed ‘Blair Witch Project,’ and earned $193,355,800 worldwide off of a $15,000 budget. The ending showed a possessed Katie killing Micah, with a title card saying that while police found his body in their house, she was never found. Since the entire point of the movie was to show the couple trying to fight off the demonic presence, there didn’t seem much left for screenwriter and director Oren Peli to touch on. Much like other horror sequels, ‘Paranormal Activity 2′ seemed destined to exploit the title and just feature another possessed couple.

But when Paramount revealed they were creating a prequel to Katie and Micah’s story, expectations for ‘Paranormal Activity 2′ deservingly increased. Audiences were excited to find out why exactly demons were currently pursing Katie, and why they always went after her and Kristi. The new screenwriters Paramount hired for the movie, Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon and Tom Pabst, deserve some recognition for subtly including a simple reason why, without focusing the entire plot on it. That way, viewers are able to connect with Kristi and her family, much like they did with Katie and Micah in the first film.

But what made the original so scary was the fact that everything Katie and Micah did was in some part influenced by the demonic presence, and what they could do to get rid of it. In ‘Paranormal Activity 2,’ for the most part, the characters don’t seem all that scared by the demons, much less believe they’re there. They just carry on with their everyday lives, as if nothing’s really wrong.

The movie also gained attention when director Tod Williams was hired by Paramount to replace ‘Saw VI’ director Kevin Greutert. While Greutert was originally supposed to take the reins from Peli, Lions Gate exercised a clause in his contract and demanded he helm the final ‘Saw’ movie instead of ‘Paranormal Activity 2.’ While this behind-the-camera shake-up kept people interested in the prequel, Williams failed to live up to expectations. He showed his inexperience in directing (having only helmed two other movies since 1998) with slow pacing. While audiences don’t want an exact replica of the first film, ‘Paranormal Activity 2′ should have followed its predecessor’s lead and showed the deeper effects the demons’ presence in Kristi’s life had on her and her family.

Overall, ‘Paranormal Activity 2′ proved that unlike most horror sequels/prequels, it could indeed provide answers and a more thorough back-story that were left out of the original. However, its rapid five-month production, post-production and advertising period proved that when a studio is too quick to provide a follow-up to a successful film, the magic that made the first movie so great is often lacking.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Conflict of Interest Party Concert Review

Conflict of Interest Party Concert Review

A music festival has finally arrived in the Big Apple that all young New Yorkers will appreciate. The CMJ Music Marathon kicked off its week-long celebration of music with an energetic, diversified night of free music fused with comedy on October 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the mid-town Manhattan club Rebel NYC. The party, which was put together by The Syndicate and was sponsored in part by such media outlets as Comedy Central and the music blog Consequence of Sound, once again put together an unforgettable night of sound.

Hailing from Los Angeles, indie musical group Kitten was the first act to hit the stage. Having the difficult task of setting the mood for the entire event and performing for a still-filling venue, all while promoting its new EP, ‘Sunday School,’ the group’s Japanese-inspired concrete music seemed to fall to the expected fate of not grabbing everyone’s attention as they were coming through the door. While Kitten deserves credit for wanting to showcase its catchy songs, including ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Kill the Light,’ and 16-year-old lead singer Chloe Chaidez looked comfortable on stage, the group don’t have a big enough following yet to capture the attention of on-the-go New Yorkers. Given time, however, the band will develop a unique on-stage musical sound.

Nanna Fabricius, who goes by the stage name of Oh Land, gave the second performance of the night. At 25-years-old, she has found her place in elecontric music, and was able to capture and hold the audience’s attention in the first fantastic set of the night. Truly making music and not just loud noise, the audience was captured but not only her voice, but her drum skills and soundscapes, which include pots and pans and buzzing flies, as well. She also gave a great visual show, as the drums were set up to LED lights and balloons that featured video projections. Oh Lands’s self-titled EP, which features the song ‘Son of a Gun,’ is sure to become a hit in dance clubs across New York.

After Oh Land, the audience seemed skeptical of the next performer, comedian-singer Bo Burnham. Since many people attend the CMJ Music Festival to see indie music groups, the prospect of watching a 20-year-old comedian during the middle of the Conflict of Interest Party seemed to bore the crowd at first. Many people walked away from the stage, but as soon as Burnham came on, he immediately proved he deserved to be there. Having appeared with numerous comedic greats in last year’s ‘Funny People,’ including Adam Sandler, Burnham proved he could work the crowd with his impromptu dancing, poems and card tricks. He even connected with music-lovers by performing a few songs at the end of the set. Burnham’s willingness to have fun on stage in front of a mostly-older audience and his fearlessness to poke fun at serious, political subjects prove why his YouTube videos have received over 60 million hits.

Up-and-coming pop and folklore band Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. was the next group to hit the stage, in their first of seven shows of the week. The audience seemed intrigued by the duo, who wore their typical NASCAR Racing Suits, in honor of their namesake, race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. The group seemed at home on stage, singing songs from their new EP ‘Horse Power.’

Seattle-based comedian and singer Reggie Watts performed next, and paved the way for Conflict of Interest headliners Nada Surf. Watts had the crowd laughing with his usual fare of improved stand-up comedy, which was mixed with a cappella rap numbers.

The true highlight of the night was alternative rock group Nada Surf, which formed in New York in 1992 and actually held their first rehearsal at the Rebel. The crowd continuously commented all night that they were excited to see the show’s headlining members on stage, including singer Matthew Caws, bassist Daniel Lorca and drummer Ira Elliot, to relive their glory days. The band rose to fame after their debut album, ‘Hi/Low,’ was released in 1996, and their most popular song to date, ‘Popular,’ hit the airwaves the same year. The group played Conflict of Interest to promote their new album, ‘If I Had a Hi-Fi,’ which features covers of their 12 favorite songs. Even though Nada Surf didn’t hit the stage until midnight, it was definitely worth the wait to see them play a 90-minute set, featuring all their best songs, including ‘Hi-Speed Soul,’ ‘Love and Anger’ and ‘Always Love.’

The Syndicate definitely made the right decision to host the 12th Annual Pre-CMJ Conflict of Interest Party. Hosted by TV personality/music journalist Allison Hagendorf, the attendees at the completely packed Rebel NYC will definitely remember the fantastic indie music and comedic fest for a long time to come.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Link to my Interview With the 'Welcome to The Rileys' Cast and Director

Here's the link to my interview with 'Welcome to The Rileys' stars Kristen Stewart, James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo, as well as the director, Jake Scott:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Links to my interviews with the cast and crew of 'Tamara Drewe'

Here are the links to my interviews with the cast and crew of 'Tamara Drewe':

-Lead Actress Gemma Arterton:

-Actor Dominic Cooper:

-Actor Luke Evans:

-Director Stephen Frears:

Links to my 'I Spit On Your Grave (2010)' interviews

Here are the links to my 'I Spit On Your Grave (2010)' interviews:

-Executive Producer and Director of the 1978 original movie Meir Zarchi:

-Lead Actress Sarah Butler, who plays Jennifer Hill

It's Kind of a Funny Story Movie Review

It's Kind of a Funny Story Movie Review

Title: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Dana DeVestern, Lauren Graham and Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover 2)

Sometimes movies have the perfect setup to be the next great American icon that will leave audiences talking about them for years to come. ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ seemed like it would be one of those movies, as it stars such famous actors as Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis and Lauren Graham. Plus, it’s based on the 2006 novel of the same name, which itself was inspired by author Ned Vizzini’s own experiences after hospitalized for depression in late 2004.

Unfortunately, the film adaptation, which was written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, failed to live up to the hype surrounding it after premiering at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie follows 16-year-old Craig (played by Keir Gilchrist) after he checks himself into a psychiatric hospital following a bout of depression. Craig is placed in the adult ward for five days, where he is guided and protected by Bobby (portrayed by Galifianakis), who himself is struggling with being institutionalized on his daughter’s eighth birthday.

Craig also finds himself attracted to Noelle (played by Roberts), another 16-year-old who is in the adult ward. Not only does Noelle help Craig get through his stay at the hospital, but so does Dr. Minerva (portrayed by Davis), the adult ward’s staff psychiatrist. She coaxes him to discuss his school work and friends at Executive Pre-Professional High School, as well as his family, in an effort to understand why he’s been depressed.

Focus Features, the studio that released the movie, seemed to make the right choice at first by hiring Gilchrist, a relative unkown to most movie audiences, but who previously rose to fame on Showtime’s ‘United States of Tara.’ The role of Craig needed to be portrayed by an actor with whom most people don’t know much about, so they would more easily believe he has had real teen experiences and understand what it’s like to be depressed. Since teens are often faced with dealing with stress related to school, family and friends, it also seemed safe to assume that Gilchrist would be able to portray that, since he didn’t grow up being a big child movie star.

However, Gilchrist didn’t seem to really care about being in character, and instead just enjoyed being on screen, having fun. While ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is a comedy-drama, it’s supposed to have both comedic and dramatic elements to it, but Gilchrist didn’t bring anything dramatic to the role.

Casting Galifianakis as the fun-loving Bobby also seemed like a wise decision at first, since he has garnered attention for his similarly-themed comedic performances in such movies as ‘The Hangover,’ ‘Youth in Revolt’ and ‘Dinner for Schmucks.’ Having perfected the funny character with underlying issues in these roles, Galifianakis did bring some laughs and cut the tension in several scenes in ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story.’ However, he didn’t bring as much charm and charisma to the role of Bobby as he has to his other roles, and audiences will certainly be left wondering where his continuous comedic relief is in this movie.

Since the topic of patients’ lives in psychiatric hospitals has been covered multiple times in movies before, ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ needed to bring something new to the subject to draw attention to itself. However, even casting fan favorite Galifianakis and relative newcomer Gilchrist to the two main roles in an attempt to add comedic relief and character believability didn’t compensate for the script’s lack of originality.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Friday, October 15, 2010

Link to my interview with actress Jolene Purdy

Here's the link to my interview with Jolene Purdy of TeenNick's New Show, 'Gigantic':

Chain Letter Movie Review

Chain Letter Movie Review

Title: Chain Letter

Directed by: Deon Taylor (Terminated)

Starring: Nikki Reed (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1), Noah Segan, Keith David, Brad Dourif (Deadwood), and Michael B. Smith

There are people today who believe technology will be the downfall of humanity, and New Films International’s newest horror film, ‘Chain Letter,’ happily plays on that fear. Lead by popular horror actress Nikki Reed of ‘Twilight’ fame, ‘Chain Letter’ aims to scare some respect of other people’s privacy and anger towards the evolution of technology into its audience. But trying to push such a moral lesson onto audiences through a horror movie seemed to have backfired.

The movie follows several teen friends, including Jessie Campbell (played by Reed); Dante (portrayed by Noah Segan of ‘Cabin Fever 2′); and Rachel Conners (played by Cherilyn Wilson, who appeared in ‘The Social Network’) and her brother Neil (portrayed by Cody Kasch of ‘Desperate Housewives’ fame), who fight to stay alive after Neil received a chain letter while playing an internet video game. After Rachel follows the letter ’s instructions and sends it to five other people, those who deleted it without passing it along themselves start dying. Detective Jim Crenshaw (played by Keith David) and Sergeant Hamill (portrayed by Besty Russell from the ‘Saw’ series) look into the teens ‘ brutal murders, and start to question if they were the work of one man or of a group that hates technology, as the teens are tracked through their cell phones.

‘Chain Letter’ starts off to a redundant start, lacking in any original backstory or character development. Taking cues from other horror movies about the downfalls of technology, including 2006’s ‘Pulse,’ as well as the numerous torture-porn films that have risen to popularity during the last decade, including the aforementioned ‘Saw’ series, ‘Chain Letter’ simply fuses the two together. While fans of gore will be happy to see that three of the teens are killed right away, one after the other, many viewers will find it hard to empathize with the remaining characters ‘ grief, as not much is revealed about anyone.

It’s also questionable why director Deon Taylor, who also co-wrote the movie with Diana Erwin and Michael J. Pagin, followed typical high school-themed movies and didn’t feature the teens’ parents, except briefly in a couple of scenes. While most high school students try to stay away from their parents as often as they can, it seems logical that the parents would want to keep their children safe at home to protect them while a mass murderer is on the loose. It’s questionable why Taylor didn’t include that aspect.

However, the suspense does start to pick up around the mid-way point of the 85-minute film, when Jessie and Detective Crenshaw start to really look into if the murders are related to the chain letter. Not only will the audience start to feel that Detective Crenshaw is really serious in linking the letter to the murders and wants to find out who the killer is, Taylor made another right decision to show Jessie’s pain and determination to protect the rest of her friends who are still alive. At this point, audiences will surely forget that they ‘re watching Rosalie from the ‘Twilight Saga’ on the screen, and instead focus on Jessie ’s fight for survival.

While ‘Chain Letter’ isn’t the most thought-provoking, original horror movie ever made, its wide release was unfortunately scraped, after it opened in limited release on October 1 in such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Detroit and Atlanta. The movie opened at number 34, raking in only $138,788 on 402 theaters against a $3 million budget. Even though it’s rated R for strong bloody sadistic violence throughout, language and brief nudity and would likely appeal to numerous horror fans, ‘Chain Letter’ won’t be passed on and seen by many more people during its theatrical release.

Written by: Karen Benardello

The Dead Matter Movie Review

The Dead Matter Movie Review

Title: The Dead Matter

Directed by: Edward Douglas

Starring: Andrew Divoff, Jason Carter and Tom Savini

Is this another example of a musician following in the footsteps of Rob Zombie? Composer and Midnight Syndicate music group creator Edward Douglas has taken the leap into the horror film genre by co-writing and directing the new movie ‘The Dead Matter.’ The film, which is now available on DVD and stars Tom Savini, Andrew Divoff and Jason Carter, combines the two biggest sub-genres of horror today, vampires and zombies in an interesting plot of good vs. evil.

The movie follows two vampire lords, Sebed (played by Savini) and Vellich (portrayed by Divoff), as they fight each other to be the first to find a powerful relic, the scarab, which can control the dead. They both want the scarab because they both have sinister plans for it. However, vampire hunter Ian McCallister (played by Carter) is also searching for the scarab, as he plans on destroying it.

Meanwhile, Gretchen (portrayed by Sean Serino) convinces her boyfriend Mike (played by Tom Nagel) to go into the woods with her to perform a séance in an effort to contact her dead brother Sean (portrayed by Kenyatta Foster). Their friends Jill (played by CB Spencer) and Frank (portrayed by Chris Robichaud) go with them, and Frank accidentally finds the scarab. Gretchen uses it to contact Sean, and soon realizes that she can control the dead with it.

As Sebed and Vellich continue to search for the scarab, Gretchen and Mike discover they can continuously control a zombie named Mark. While Mike and Jill want nothing to do with him, Gretchen keeps on using the scarab, thinking if she can control Mark, she can bring Sean back.

‘The Dead Matter’ starts off with an interesting concept, as it combines the two horror genres into one storyline. Not only does it show Sebed and Vellich wanting to control vampires and the dead, but the plot also has characters who want to perform scientific experiment on the zombies, like ‘Day of the Dead.’

However, as a result, Douglas, who co-wrote the film with Tony Demci, was not able to fully develop the characters, as there were so many of them. For example, while the viewers will understand why Gretchen wants to use the scarab to bring Sean back, nothing more is revealed about them. The audience is left wondering what their relationship was like, the circumstances of his death, etc.

Not much background is revealed about Sebed, Vellich and Ian either, and they are the other major characters in the film. It was also never fully and clearly explained why Sebed and Villich wanted the scarab, and how Ian planned to stop them. It would have been interesting to see what the two vampire lords had planned for the scarab, and how they would control the dead. Considering ‘The Dead Matter’ was only one hour and 37 minutes long, Douglas can have added this information without making the movie too long or drawn out.

But Douglas was skillfully able to interweave a subtle moral into the story, which is unusual for a horror film. With Gretchen’s heartache over losing her brother, Douglas was able to show that people have to deal with their grief. No one can be brought back from the dead (in real life; in the movie’s world, zombies are nothing like their old selves), and the living have to learn how to move on with their lives.

Douglas, was also able to draw on his musical experience with Midnight Syndicate, a goth group whose music is primarily featured during the Halloween season in haunted attractions, to include a score in the film that adds an eerie ambiance. Viewers will undoubtedly feel as though they are in the woods with Gretchen and her friends, in the library when she is doing research on the scarab, in Sebed’s vampire lair, etc., just by the subtle instruments heard in the background.

Being distributed on DVD by Midnight Syndicate Films, in association with Precinct 13 Entertainment, ‘The Dead Matter’ is a must-see for fans of the music group and the horror genre in general. Not only does the movie expose horror fans who may have never heard Midnight Syndicate’s songs before to similarly-themed music, it also showcases Douglas’ creativity and knack for writing.

Written by: Karen Benardello

My Name is Jerry Movie Review

My Name is Jerry Movie Review

Directed by: Morgan Mead

Starring: Doug Jones, Allison Scagliotti and Catherine Hicks

Sometimes all it takes is stopping at a wrong party to realize that your entire life is full of mistakes. The new dramatic comedy ‘My Name is Jerry’ builds on that concept, and aims to show viewers that anyone can turn their life around by having a few positive chance encounters. The 96-minute film, which stars Doug Jones in the title role, proves in a non-preaching way that just because people reach a certain age, it doesn’t mean that their lives have to stop all together.

The film, which is based on an original story by Andrew Janoch and its director Morgan Mead, follows the life of salesman Jerry Arthur. As a middle-aged divorcee who is working in a dead-end job at the book publishing company Milton Hill, he is unsure of what his future holds for him. But Jerry’s self-esteem picks when he reconnects with his estranged daughter, Trisha (portrayed by Allison Scagliotti), who moves in with him after her mother dies. His co-worker and friend at Milton Hill, David (played by Don Stark), also sets up an interview for a position at Daemtech.

Jerry’s life also turns around when he meets several young adults, including the leader of the group, punk musician Jordan (portrayed by Katlyn Carlson), when he arrives at their house by accident. The musicians are so full of energy and eager to see what their future holds for them that they make Jerry realize he can move forward with his life.

Screenwriter David Hamilton was able to effortlessly translate Mead and Janoch’s idea and message onto the screen. In the opening sequence of the movie, when Jerry is going door-to-door, trying to sell books for Milton Hill, the audience is able to understand his pain. He constantly gets doors slammed in his face, and viewers immediately know Jerry is down-on-his-luck.

Mead also made a good decision not to give ‘My Name is Jerry’ a completely serious tone, so that viewers will realize that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Jerry. While the moral of the story is quite simple, that chance encounters can dramatically improve a person’s life, the audience will ultimately root Jerry on and want him to succeed.

Despite his clumsiness at maintaining his life, Jerry’s character transforms dramatically throughout the movie, as he tries to land the new job, takes Trisha in to improve their relationship and makes friends half his age. The carefully understated boost in confidence allows the audience to stay connected to Jerry throughout the entire movie.

Mead also made the right decision to cast Jones as Jerry. Choosing an actor who may not recognizable to many people, and who looks like the average American, further allows viewers to connect with him and understand his pain. By the end of the movie, viewers will even feel so connected to Jerry that they will start to wish that they could hang out with him.

Jones also provides much-needed comedic relief to a serious subject. For instance, in the scene where he goes to the bar where Jordan works to see her friend Chaz (played by Steven Yuen) play with his band Satan’s TP, Jerry starts dancing with everyone else in the crowd. He doesn’t seem to notice that he’s not on the same beat with everyone else.

Jones also has great chemistry with Carlson, even though they really do have a 23-year age difference in real life. Carlson portrays Jordan as being a care-free person, while deep-down she really is concerned with Jerry’s well-being. The two are able to play the characters as having an admiration for each other, and can make the audience forget they have such a big age difference.

‘My Name is Jerry,’ which is being released on DVD and Blu-Ray on October 19 by Ball State University, Jones’ alma matter, in conjunction with Mead’s production company Clothespin Films, will definitely resonate with anyone who feels their life is redundant and you can try new things to improve it.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Monday, October 4, 2010

'You Again' Movie Review

'You Again' Movie Review

The new romantic comedy ‘You Again’ is all about rivalries: not only are the lead women characters out for revenge on each other, but it’s also premiering against another major star-driven film, the Oliver Stone-directed sequel to the hit Academy Award-winning movie ‘Wall Street.’ While ‘Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps’ showcases the economic hardships Americans are facing today, a problem many Americans want to forget about while at the movies, ‘You Again,’ which stars Kristen Bell, Odette Yustman, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver and Betty White, highlights the fact that petty high school rivalries plague women long after they graduated. While meant for fun, laughs and a good time, ‘You Again’ still seems destined to thwarted by its ‘Wall Street 2’ competition.

The movie starts off with Marni Young (played by Bell), now a prominent vice president of a large Los Angeles public relations company, giving an inspirational speech to the junior officers in her company. She relives her high school days, during which she was branded a “loser” by the popular crowd, but states that making it through those tough days only helped make her who she is today. Later, while traveling home to her hometown of Ridgewood, California, for the wedding of her older brother Will (portrayed by James Wolk of TV’s ‘Lone Star’), Marni discovers that the bride-to-be is her high school archenemy, Joanna (played by Yustman).

While the Young family adores the new, nicer Joanna, Marni tries to protect her brother by plotting to stop the wedding. Their mother, Gail (portrayed by Curtis), tells Marni that she should get over her differences with Joanna for Will’s sake. However, Gail’s outlook on mending old differences quickly changes when she meets Joanna’s Aunt Romona (played by Weaver), who was her high school rival.

The title of the movie, ‘You Again,’ sums up the fact that the film doesn’t set itself apart from other movies about petty high school rivalries. While screenwriter Moe Jelline tries to showcase the comedic acting talents of the lead actresses, including Bell, Yustman, Curtis, Weaver and Betty White, who plays Marni’s grandmother, the plotline seems as though it would work better for a half-hour sitcom than a full-length movie. While there were some comedic moments, such as Curtis and Weaver fighting in a pool after the rehearsal dinner and White showing off her moves during a dance rehearsal, Jelline didn’t include much substance in the plot. Viewers can tell right away that Marni and Joanna and Gail and Romona are old enemies struggling to make it through the wedding, so Jelline should have included a sub-plot to keep the audience entertained.

While Bell was the main actress and was able to show Marni’s disdain for Joanna and the pain she still felt from the torture she suffered in high school, Yustman was really the one that stood out. While she’s most remembered for starring in the horror movies ‘The Unborn’ and ‘Cloverfield,’ Yustman proved in ‘You Again’ that she can be a successful comedic actress as well. One minute Yustman portrayed Joanna as mean and vindictive towards Marni when she threatened to tell Will and the rest of her family about how she treated her in high school, and the next she was sweet and concerned for the welfare of others, when working to become an RN.

Among the older cast of women, White definitely once again stole every scene she was in, just like she did in ‘The Proposal.’ While Weaver and Curtis didn’t bring anything new to their characters that audiences haven’t already seen from them, White used physical comedy and one-liners to prove that even though she’s an older woman, she doesn’t want to be taken seriously.

‘You Again’ will definitely bring some light-hearted laughs to viewers, and is definitely appropriate for mothers and daughters to see together, as it was rated PG for brief mild language and rude behavior. But the lack of an in-depth plot and some immature antics by taken by numerous characters won’t be leaving Paramount Pictures, the movie’s distributor, with another blockbuster, award-winning film.

Written by: Karen Benardello

'Easy A' Movie Review

'Easy A' Movie Review

Every generation of American teens needs at least one romantic comedy driven by the day’s biggest actors that also relays their angst and frustrations. The 1980s had the multiple movies directed by John Hughes, including ‘The Breakfast Club,’ ‘Pretty in Pink’ and ‘Sixteen Candles,’ while the late ‘90s and early 2000s had the original ‘American Pie’ trilogy. Screen Gems’ answer to these films for this decade is the new low-budget ensemble movie ‘Easy A,’ starring new teen favorites Penn Badgley (of ‘Gossip Girl’ fame), Amanda Bynes, Cam Gigandet (remembered most for ‘Twilight’), Alyson Michalka (from TV’s ‘Hellcats’), Dan Byrd (most recently seen in TV’s ‘Cougar Town) and Emma Stone (from ‘The House Bunny’) in her breakout film role.

While having the misfortune of opening against the already critically acclaimed second movie from director Ben Affleck, ‘The Town,’ ‘Easy A’ picked up momentum and gained attention when Bynes announced in mid-June that the film would be her last. The 24-year-old former child star posted on her Twitter account that she knows she’s very young to retire, but she didn’t find acting fun anymore. However, just a month later, Bynes took to her Twitter account again, retracting her statement, saying she would like to take more acting jobs as they come along.

Even though ‘Easy A’ will face tough competition at the box office from ‘The Town’ during its opening weekend, it didn’t need Bynes’ big announcements to draw attention to it. It perfectly pinpoints the downfall and pettiness of high school as it follows smart, but socially non-existent student Olive Penderghast (played by Stone) as her reputation undergoes a makeover. Lying to her friend Rhiannon (portrayed by Michalka) about losing her virginity as a way to explain why she didn’t go camping with her, Olive’s world turns upside down.

Their Christian classmate Marianne (played by Bynes) spreads the rumor to the entire school that quiet Olive lost her virginity, and her life starts to resemble the book they’re reading in their English class, The Scarlet Letter. In order to uphold her new reputation and as a way to make money, Olive says she partook in sexual encounters with otherwise socially awkward boys. But as her reputation starts to go downhill, Olive tries to find a way to restore it.

Director Will Gluck’s decision to cast Stone, the most relatively unknown younger lead actor in the movie, as Olive was a smart decision. Like with her classmates with Olive at the beginning of the movie, the audience knows they’ve seen Stone somewhere else before, but they’re not exactly sure from what. But by the end of the movie, they both proved themselves to be worthy of knowing and remembering in the future. Stone showed that she understood Olive’s desire of wanting to move up in life, and is the breakout star of ‘Easy A.’

The movie also stands out for describing youth’s problems with society in a creative way. Instead of just having Olive complaining to Rhiannon about her ruined reputation or having her write in a diary, screenwriter Bert V. Royal had her discuss what went wrong with her plan in an internet video blog, which she broadcast to everyone in the school. Royal also showed that it’s perfectly fine for teens to stand up for themselves and go against what’s popular in an effort to make themselves feel better.

While teens may go to see ‘Easy A’ for the sexual content, they will most likely walk away from it, having learned an important lesson. While they may not realize that Screen Gems and Gluck were trying to show them that standing up for themselves is the ‘in’ thing to do, they will eventually come to realize that not going against their morals is more important than fitting in.

Written by: Karen Benardello

'Case 39' Movie Review

'Case 39' Movie Review

The Halloween season always draws out the craziness in people’s personalities. This is certainly the case in several aspects relating to the new horror movie ‘Case 39,’ the newest film trying to capitalize on the genre of demons possessing young girls. Starring Renée Zellweger, Bradley Cooper and featuring up-and-coming horror actress Jodelle Ferland, ‘Case 39’ not only relays the craziness of several of the main characters, but also the Academy Award-winning actress’ decision to star in the film.

Paramount Vantage, the studio behind ‘Case 39,’ even seemed to lack faith in the suspense thriller before its release. Shot in fall 2006, the movie was originally scheduled for release in winter 2008, and was then pushed back to that summer. Its release was delayed again to spring 2009, and it finally made it into theaters in the U.S. on October 1, 2010. Opening on this day makes ‘Case 39’s failure almost a certainty, as it debuted against the highly-anticipated ‘Let Me In,’ the remake of the Swedish vampire horror movie ‘Let The Right Ones In.’ ‘Case 39’ also opened against the highly-acclaimed and early Oscar contender ‘The Social Network,’ which details the rise of social networking empire Facebook.

Considering vampires and Facebook are all the rage in today’s society, ‘Case 39,’ seems to parallel the evil daughter theme seen in last year’s semi-successful drama ‘Orphan,’ which opened to mixed reviews. While fans may not currently want to embrace another evil child movie just yet, Ferland deserves credit for her portrayal of Lillith Sullivan in ‘Case 39,’ much like Isabelle Fuhrman did for her role as Esther in ‘Orphan.’

While Zellweger is credited as the main actress in ‘Case 39’ for her role of Emily Jenkins, the movie relies heavily on Ferland’s performance. The film follows Lillith after her parents are institutionalized for trying to kill her. Emily, a social worker, wants to protect Lillith and agrees to take her in until a permanent foster family is found. While the arrangement works at first, Emily grows suspicious of who, or what, Lillith really is after strange, unexplained things start happening to her friends, her co-workers, the families whose cases she’s working on and herself.

‘Case 39’ did have a promising start, as it made viewers question whether or not Lillith’s parents were, in fact, crazy, or if she was doing something to them that created the need for them to defend themselves. Director Christian Alvart made the right decision to focus on the strained relationship between Lillith and her parents in the beginning, and the reawakened hope for her future when Emily took her in. But as the story continued, Alvart took too long to introduce the possibility that Lillith was possessed, leaving the audiences to question if Emily was also going crazy while around the young girl. Isolated from her friends, co-workers and family, it seemed as though Emily was just suffering from the stress of caring for a ten-year-old girl.

Zellweger was also miscast as Emily, as she didn’t seem to be emotionally connected to her. The only other notable horror movie she has appeared in was 1994’s ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation,’ the third sequel to the hit 1974 original. After a delayed release, Zellweger even tried to stop that movie being shown to the public, as she was rising to fame in the hit Academy Award-winning movie ‘Jerry Maguire.’ She later garnered notoriety appearing in both comedies and dramas, and her performance in ‘Case 39’ proves why she should stir clear of horror movies in the future.

Contrastingly, Ferland, who was 12-year-old when the movie was filmed, has since risen to fame in the horror genre, having appeared in the 2006 adaptation of the video game ‘Silent Hill’ and this summer’s ‘Twilight Saga: Eclipse’ as Bree Tanner. She stole the spotlight from Zellweger in ‘Case 39,’ showing that girls really do want love and attention from their parents and loved ones, one of the themes of the movie, and will do anything to get it. Her role as Lillith proves that she’s perfected the art of appearing as an innocent protagonist, while all the while really being a sinister antagonist.

While rated R for violence and terror including disturbing images, the only disturbing thing about ‘Case 39’ was how well Ferland portrayed Lillith. While this movie will solidify Ferland’s presence in the horror genre, it will also reiterate Zellweger’s status as a comedic and dramatic actress, and the fact that she should quickly move onto her next case.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fantasia Releases Third Album, 'Back To Me,' After Personal Struggles

Will Fantasia’s New Record ‘Back To Me’ Resurrect Her As a Singing Sensation?
The Former ‘American Idol’ Winner Hopes Her Third Album Will Make Fans Forget About Her Recent Personal Problems

Written by: Karen Benardello

Fantasia Barrino is trying to break back into the music scene with her third album, ‘Back To Me,’ released by J Records on August 24. But after the former ‘American Idol’ winner’s recent personal troubles, watching her kick off her promotional tour for the record can easily make both fans and critics question if she’s ready to get back to work.

Citing a renewed commitment to her music career and fans, Fantasia confirmed that she will visit a variety of talk shows, including past appearances on ‘Good Morning America,’ the day the CD was released and ‘Lopez Tonight,’ the following day. Her upcoming appearances include ‘106 & Park’ on September 8th; ‘Regis & Kelly’ the next day; and finally, ‘The Wendy Williams Show’ on the 10th. added that several critics have given ‘Back To Me’ good reviews, including The New York Daily News and Billboard. But the album surprisingly includes the song ‘I’m Here’ as a bonus track. ‘I’m Here’ is Fantasia’s well-known song from her time starring in the lead role of Celie in the Broadway play ‘The Color Purple.’

But including ‘I’m Here’ is just a reminder to fans that the innocent girl everyone was rooting for on ‘American Idol’ to turn her life around had suddenly become not so innocent anymore. Deciding to star in ‘The Color Purple’ was the downfall of Fantasia’s music career; instead of focusing on her records, she surprised everyone by instead taking on a Broadway show.

Despite earning critical acclaim when she first took on the role, Fantasia had to cut her time with the Broadway show short. She missed 50 performances, and producers had to refund thousands of dollars to disappointed fans. They had to scramble to find a quick replacement for her moments before the show was set to begin several times.

Fantasia missed the shows because she was ill, but since she didn’t disclose that to the public, it looked like she was just abandoning her responsibilities. ‘The Color Purple’ closed less than three weeks after her contract ended on January 6, 2008, despite having other big name stars, including Chaka Khan, BeBe Winans and another ‘American Idol’ contestant, LaKisha Jones, step in. The following September, Fantasia finally revealed to Sister 2 Sister magazine that she developed a tumor on her throat that left her feeling drained and too exhausted to keep performing every night.

Then came the speculation that Fantasia was having an affair with Antwaun Cook, a married man, and rumors began swirling the two had made a sex tape. After Cook’s wife Paula filed for divorce earlier this month and also began alleging the two made the tape, Fantasia tried to commit suicide by overdosing on pills.

While Fantasia’s fans will surely be excited that she’s finally releasing new music, the timing seems rushed. It seems as though J Records wants to push the fact that she is still making records, and make the public forget about her personal problems. Hopefully her music will help her get through the healing process, and Fantasia will only make headlines for her music and not her personal life in the future.