The Voices (2020)

After visiting her father’s grave, Lilly (Valerie Jane Parker, the 2021 version of Wrong Turn) and her mother get into a car accident that leaves her blind and an orphan. As she struggles with the loss of her sight, she starts to hear voices and just thinks that it’s some form of synesthesia. The truth is that these voices are souls stuck in limbo looking for a way back into our world. And that way? Years later, it becomes Lily’s unborn child.

Voices is the first full-length film by director Nathaniel Nuon, working with writer Daniel Hathcock (they also have a film called Paralyzed in production). They also have some known faces in this film, like Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism), Jordan Ladd (Cabin Fever) and Leslie Easterbrook (Sgt. Callahan from the Police Academy series).

Somewhere in this film is a great idea and a good film, but it struggles to emerge. The central conceit of a blind girl rising past a rough childhood and the voices that helped her deal with the loss of her sight becoming either demonic or cold cases left behind is a fantastic storytelling engine that a lot can be done with. Instead, this movie is never sure what movie it wants to be. Is it a drama with bits of the supernatural? Is it a false memory story? An exploration of growing up with a handicap? Or is it all of these things at the same time and unsure of itself?

I wanted to like this movie more than I did, so I’ll keep an eye out for Paralyzed and hope that the filmmakers will use this film — which trust me, has some worthwhile moments — as a learning experience. Judicious editing of twenty minutes or so would have gone a long way, too.

The Voices is now available online. You can learn more at the official site.

SON OF KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Notzilla (2020)

As Japanese troops destroy two giant monsters, a young paleontologist rescues the offspring, taking it to Cincinnati, Ohio where he promptly flushes the unhatched egg down the toilet, just in time for Dr. Richard Blowheart and the scientists of SNUGI (Secret Nuclear Underground Government Installation) to blast the Ohio River with nuclear energy. That said, there are no real worries. The egg has a small creature named a Notzillasaurus Partiontilldon and as long as it doesn’t get near beer, the world will be safe.

You can figure out what happens next.

Notzilla is a goofball movie that Mitch Teemley spent decades writing and planning. I mean, the film has a kaiju with a giant zipper over his chest — it should be on his back — so obviously it’s out to have as much fun as possible.

I loved how the soldiers were all obviously toys, but this is the kind of movie that works better as a fake trailer than an actual movie. However, the idea of pouring beer on a kaiju egg to make it hatch appeals to me.

There’s room for making fun of the kaiju genre, but for some reason, I didn’t feel that this movie was laughing with the films it is trying to be, but instead at them. That doesn’t play well around here.

You can watch this on Tubi.

The Stylist (2020)

Based on Jill Gevargizian’s award-winning short of the same name, The Stylist reunites the director with actress Najarra Townsend. She stars as Claire, a hairstylist who becomes obsessed beyond with her clients. One of them, Olivia (Brea Grant), is a bride with has made the horrible mistake of hiring Claire for her big day.

Let me sell this movie in the best way that I can: Becca hates nearly every modern horror movie that we watch together and she liked this because of how dark and strange that it was.

Claire styles hair by day and at night, she kills and takes the scalps of her victims, becoming them for a short time. She becomes obsessed with Olivia’s perfect life as she becomes more of a friend than just a stylist and tries to hide her collection of scalps and stop killing. But can she change who she is as easily as she puts on new bloody masses of hair?

Be warned: my wife also has an incredibly strong stomach when it comes to slashers and there were moments in this film that nearly upset her. The scalping scenes are on par with Maniac for their bloodletting, which is pretty much as high as I can praise a film.

It’s astounding that a modern film can synthesize the slasher with the color theories of the giallo while not playing the story for laughs at all. It allows us to sympathize with a character that we should despise. It also has a female point of view about a woman attempting to navigating her way through the world and the issues she faces as a female by, you know, murdering nearly every woman she gets close to. It’s one of my favorite movies that I’ve watched so far this year and definitely recommend it with that caveat — there is a fair amount of blood. But hey — you need it for an ending this in your face.

The Stylist is streaming exclusively on the ARROW platform in the US, Canada and the UK.

If you’d like to see the short that this was based on, you can watch it on YouTube.

Vanguard (2020)

How did it take this long for a Jackie Chan movie to wind up on our site?

Here, he plays Tang, CEO of the covert security company Vanguard, who must protect an accountant and his family are targeted by the world’s deadliest mercenary organization.

I kind of dug how this movie flies all over the world —  London, Zambia, India, an Arabian desert, Dubai — and feels like Jackie leading a G.I. Joe-like team. That said, he still appears in several great stunts sequences without stealing the spotlight too much.

This is the sixth movie Chang has made with Stanley Tong, including Rumble in the Bronx Police Story 3: Super Cop Police Story 4: First StrikeThe Myth and Kung Fu Yoga.

Chan almost drowned during the jet ski sequence, as a rock had him underwater. When he finally surfaced, Tong — who often would do any stunt he asked of an actor before they did it — burst into tears.

This isn’t a perfect Jackie movie — go for Project ADrunken Master and Armor of God if you want that — but even a lower-tier Jackie Chan movie is better than nearly anything else you’ll see this year.

Vanguard is available on demand, on DVD and on blu ray from LionsGate, who were kind enough to send us a review copy.

LUZ (2020)

Ruben and Carlos (Ernesto Reyes and Jesse Tayeh) are two men who have met in prison. Ruben is there because of an accident, which causes him problems with the cartel he works for and the family he comes from. Within the walls of the jail, the two men find comfort, stability and what seems like love with one another. But is it real? Or is it just a port in a storm?

Director and writer Jon Garcia tells an intriguing story here. While not a movie I would look for on my own, I grew to appreciate the love between the two men despite the very macho world that they both come from. LUZ does not shy away from showing every aspect of their story, with some very well-shot love scenes.

You can see this movie in select theaters on March 19 and on demand and on DVD April 6 from Dark Star Pictures.

Sacrilege (2020)

You know, if someone tells you that you need to go to a solstice party, I hope that movies have taught you to avoid them. Not the protagonists of this film, who have gone from trying to get to a music festival and end up being sacrificed to a pagan goddess who can sense their greatest fears and make them true. As The Verve once sang, “Now the drugs don’t work. They just make you worse.”

Written and directed by David Creed, this has the kind of running time we like — 74 minutes — and plenty of gore, which we also appreciate.

I wish there was more originality here. It’s professionally made, has a same sex couple without making a big deal about it and moves quickly enough. But it left me wanting more. Then again, it’s Creed’s first full-length film, so here’s hoping he learns and grows from this and makes his next attempt something truly great.

Eddie (2020)

Director Fred Sciretta’s Eddie is the story of Eddie Sutton, who coached the basketball teams of the Universities of Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State. During his college coaching career, Sutton is one of only eight NCAA Division I coaches to have had more than 800 career wins. And for 28 years, his teams only missed one NCAA tournament.

Yet this movie is about more than just the game, more than the conference championships and trips to the Final Four, but also addiction, the devastating 2001 Oklahoma State basketball team plane crash and the relationships Sutton had with his sons Sean, who served him as an assistant coach before taking over his job, and Scott, who played for him before becoming a coach.

Telling the tale of Eddie are some notable figures from the sports world and beyond, like former President of the United States Bill Clinton, NBA player Rex Chapman, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, University of Kansas head coach and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Bill Self, ESPN sportscaster and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Dick Vitale, and basketball analyst and radio host Doug Gottlieb.

I know nothing about basketball, but the human story here had me really interested. You’ll take away a lot here learning what makes a high functioning coach stay a winner and even discover something from the bad decisions he made along the way.

You can learn more at the official siteEddie is now available on demand from Lionsgate, who were kind enough to send us a review copy.

Feels Good Man (2020)

“My Pepe philosophy is simple: Feels good man. It is based on the meaning of the word Pepe: To go Pepe. I find complete joy in physically, emotionally and spiritually serving Pepe and his friends through comics. Each comic is sacred, and the compassion of my readers transcends any differences, the pain, and fear of feeling good.” – Matt Furie

What do you do when the art you create is taken out of your hands and used in a way you never intended? That’s the story of this 2020 documentary, in which Matt Furie’s comic book character, Pepe the Frog, goes from MS Paint goofball silliness — it’s a frog that likes to urinate on things — and somehow becomes a symbol of hatred.

As Pepe becomes a meme, he becomes more than what his creator intended him for. To some, he’s an icon of the far right and white supremacists. Why would they start using a cartoon frog? Who can say? In 2016,the Anti-Defamation League listed Pepe in its hate symbol database and that’s when Furie started suing people who used his creation against the spirit he was created in.

Pepe was also used by protesters in the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, a stance that its creator can agree with.

I know that we’ve forgotten so much about the last five or six years, but it was a big deal when white supremacist Richard B. Spencer got punched in the face. Remember that? He was trying to explain his Pepe pin when that happened.

Director Arthur Jones and his editing team of Aaron Wickenden, Drew Blatman and Katrina Taylor have assembled a truly wonderful film here, a story that is at once cautionary and affirming while pretty upsetting and depressing as well. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and pretty much the only happy ending — for now — is Trump’s social decline, if only because he was blocked from so many platforms.

This doc is definitely recommended, no matter where your politics may lie — you can read mine really easily throughout this — if only to show how art has power beyond its initial creation.

Jasper Mall (2020)

A lot of the YouTube videos that Becca and I watch are either trips to dead malls or videos of the past glories of malls. We were excited to see Jasper Mall, which is the story of one year in the life of one of those former shopping destinations and while it starts strong, it seems to hang on way too long, which is…well, a lot like a dead mall.

Directed by Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb (who worked together on GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and The Rock-afire Explosion), I do have to say that I enjoyed a lot of the people within the film, like Mike McClelland, the custodian of the mall who was once a zookeeper. Also, I have no idea what accent Mike has, which sounds British at times, Southern others and then by the end, it comes and goes. It’s baffling!

I really wish this movie was about twenty minutes or so shorter. There are some magical moments here, like the Jewelry Doctor rocking out before he closes his store and the camaraderie of the old men that play dominoes.

Jasper Mall is still open, amazingly, after watching this film. I can’t say the same for places like the Towne Mall — yes, I realize there are a few shops still there — or Century 3. There was a time when my entire non-school existence was spent at the mall, buying music and movies, seeing the latest releases and expanding my pop culture knowledge at Waldenbooks. This movie brings back those feelings and more. It’s not perfect, but there’s some heart here.

Rain Beau’s End (2020)

Progressive lesbian couple Hannah Driver (Janelle Snow) and Jules Paradise (Amanda Powell) have added a child into their busy lives. However, Beau’s arrival has thrown everything they’ve built into an ever-growing storm.

That’s because their son has been diagnosed with 47, XYY which is when there is an extra copy of the Y chromosome in each of a male’s cells. For some, this means that they have learning disabilities, speech delay, low muscle tone (hypotonia) and may be quite tall. However, it was also once thought to be a reason why young men were more aggressive, but that has been ruled out.

However, this movie takes place from the 1990’s to today, a time when nobody understood 47, XXY or behavioral issues. Now, the dream of being a family may tear Hannah and Jules apart.

This film has a great cast, including Ed Asner as Hannah’s father Gunny, Sean Young (it’s been too long since I’ve seen her in a film!) as Hannah’s business partner Nat, Christian Stolte as the principal, Melanie Candra as Hannah’s campaign manager and Kirk Kellykahn as Hannah’s law partner.

The most important role is one that is not cast. We only hear Beau’s voice at the end of the film, but he looms large over every single moment in this story. It’s an incredibly brave choice and speaks to the abilities of both director Tracy Wren and writer Jennifer Cooley.

Rain Beau’s End is now available on global video-on-demand (VOD) service LesFlicks. You can learn more at the film’s official site.