“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” begins in the same manner as the six films that have preceded it in the series, with the opening line, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” followed by a written narrative bringing viewers up to the present state of the Star Wars universe. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone into hiding, and although the rebels who fought so hard to establish the Republic by wresting power from the Galactic Empire did achieve those ends, thirty years hence, evil has been re-born with the emergence of the First Order. Led by Supreme Leader Snoke – a character voiced by BAFTA nominee, Andy Serkis (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) – whose ultimate desire is to crush the resistance fighters of the Republic, and once again establish galactic tyranny in the form of a new Empire. Aiding Snoke in his efforts are: General Hux, played by Domhnall Gleeson (Brooklyn); “Game of Thrones” Gwendoline Christie who portrays Captain Phasma; and most importantly, the main antagonist of the film, three time Emmy nominee, Adam Driver’s (Girls) character, Kylo Ren. The masked, darkly attired warrior, Ren, in whom the force is exceptionally strong, carries a red, crossguard lightsaber, and like his predecessor, Darth Vader, speaks in a foreboding voice. Kylo Ren is consumed with inner confliction, which leads to manifestations of intense rage when he loses his temper. While carrying out the mission of the First Order, he is equally driven to hunt down Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi, and his former master. Backing up the aforementioned is an army of subordinates, and a seemingly countless number of stormtroopers, one of whom, BAFTA nominee, John Boyega (Attack the Block) has suffered a crisis of conscience and wants to flee the First Order.

SWTFA Pic 1At the start of the film, resistance fighter, and skilled pilot, Poe Dameron, played by Golden Globe winner, Oscar Isaac (Show Me a Hero), is meeting on the planet of Jakku with Lor San Tekka, who is portrayed by two time Oscar nominee, Max von Sydow (Dreamscape). The purpose of their meeting is for Dameron to get a map showing the location of Luke Skywalker. Lor San Tekka expresses his feelings to Dameron, that without the Jedi in the universe there can be no balance. Their conversation is cut short, with the arrival of the First Order. Poe attempts to flee Jakku, but his X-wing ship is destroyed; knowing that he is in imminent danger, and the dire consequences that could arise if the First Order gets the map, he gives it to his droid BB-8. Poe instructs the orange and white, spherical shaped droid, to get as far away from their location as possible. A short time later, while attempting to save Lor San Tekka’s life, Poe is taken into custody. During the melee, while the stormtroppers are killing the villagers of Jakku, Boyega’s character, known at the start as FN-2187, later to be re-named Finn, decides he can’t pull the trigger of his blaster, and kill innocent people. (As an aside: Not only is Boyega’s character arc, that of a stormtrooper who has rebelled against what he has been trained to do since he was a little boy, one of the most interesting of the new film, but Finn in general, is a very likable addition to the franchise, and someone who offers some well-timed comic relief).

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The Force Awakens’ main female protagonist Rey, played by Daisy Ridley (Scrawl), is a compelling new character to the Star Wars universe. She is a scrap-metal scavenger who lives a lonely existence on Jakku, as she waits for the return of her family who left her there when she was a young child. Rey is a confident and resilient person, who is quick thinking, a capable fighter, and as will be demonstrated to the viewer, while flying the iconic Millennium Falcon, an excellent pilot. Additionally, she is shown to the viewer to be powerful with the force. For those of you who have not yet seen the film, I will let you learn for yourself why I make that statement. Through a chance encounter, Rey rescues BB-8 from a fellow desert scavenger, Teedo (Kiran Shah), who has ensnared the droid in a net. While almost trading him to Unkar Platt, an alien character voiced by Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), for a heaping amount of food, she changes her mind, and keeps the droid.

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SWTFA Pic 5Not long after Rey decides she won’t part with BB-8, Finn enters her life. After helping Poe to escape the First Order, in a stolen TIE Fighter, their ship is hit by gunfire and hurtles back down to the planet of Jakku. While Finn survives the crash, miraculously unharmed, all he finds of Poe Dameron is his jacket. Trudging his way on foot through the brutally hot, barren desert, he eventually spots a village. Desperately needing water, which no kind hearted citizen wants to give him, he resorts to sticking his face in a trough that a large creature is drinking from. After being knocked away by the being, Finn is spotted by BB-8, whose series of beeps alerts Rey to the fact that Finn is wearing his former owner’s jacket. Not pausing to ask questions, with her staff weapon in hand, she goes into attack mode, and chases Finn through the village, eventually knocking him down, but decides to give him a chance to tell her, and BB-8, who he is, and what he is all about. It doesn’t take long for the First Order to arrive back on Jakku, in pursuit of their rogue stormtrooper, and that is where things for both Finn and Rey begin to become life changing.

SWTFA Pic 6One of the most welcomed aspects of the film was the return of familiar characters. Oscar nominee, Harrison Ford (Witness) reprises his role as Han Solo, who is considerably older, but no less captivating. The mighty Wookie, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), as always, is by his side. BAFTA nominee, Carrie Fisher (Soapdish) – who I couldn’t recall seeing in anything other than a “Sex and the City” episode from 2000 – is back as Princess Leia Organa, who prefers to be referred to as General Organa. She is once again determined to do what she must in order to thwart evil. Also in the movie is Mark Hamill, reprising his role as Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi, who, well, I can’t really say why he’s in the movie. I don’t want to ruin it for those of you who haven’t watched the film yet. Additionally, Anthony Daniels returns as C-3PO. The usually, all gold-plated robot, has been given a bit of color to his exterior this time round. C-3PO’s wisecracking sidekick, R2-D2 does appear in the film, but is given minimal screentime. The same goes for Admiral Ackbar (Tim Rose / Erik Bauersfeld) and Nien Nunb (Mike Quinn / Kipsang Rotich). Oscar winner, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), voices the character of kind-hearted, alien, Maz Kanata, who can look into the eyes of people and see what they are truly made of. Her presence helps to advance the narrative when Rey discovers she has been holding on to an important object. Furthermore, Greg Grunberg (Heroes), Warwick Davis (Willow), and Ken Leung (Lost), also appear briefly.

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The film was directed by Emmy winner J.J. Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness), who co-wrote the screenplay with BAFTA winner and four time Oscar nominee, Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark), and Oscar winner, Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine). The film premiered on December 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The movie which has a runtime of 135 minutes, is comprised of the action, adventure, fantasy, and Sci-Fi genres. Returning to compose a new score, while also incorporating music that has grown to iconic status over the years, since the original trilogy, is five time Oscar winner, John Williams (Schindler’s List). Overall, “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” is a visually dazzling film that brings a new energy to the franchise that was never fully present in the prequels. While J.J. Abrams respects and pays homage by including aspects of Star Wars mythos that worked well in the past, he delivers on rebooting the franchise in a positive way, and gives the fan base the film they’ve been craving since 1999.
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“The Loved Ones – Not Your Average Prom”

Directed and written by Sean Byrne (The Secret), “The Loved Ones” is an eighty-four minute horror film from Australia, which mixes in doses of dark humor and crime. The movie begins in a tame enough manner with high school senior Brent, in a strong performance by Xavier Samuel, driving a car with his dad as his passenger; he has just received his driver’s license. While driving, the two are engaging in light conversation, but almost immediately things spin out of control when Brent momentarily takes his eyes off the road, because once he looks back up, he sees a half naked and bloodied man walking in the middle of the road. Brent makes an effort to avoid hitting the man with the car which results in a crash.

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Flash forwarding six months later, the viewer learns that the accident not only, sadly claimed the life of Brent’s father, but the guilt of the death has put him on a path of destructive behavior; Brent’s coping mechanisms involve self-mutilation and drugs. His mother is an emotional wreck sorting through her own grief, but he does have as a source of salvation – his caring and supportive girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). Brent has agreed to attend their high school prom together, but the only problem is when she arrives to pick him up for the evening, he is nowhere to be found. Where is he? Is he passed out somewhere having overdosed on drugs? Did he finally succumb to his feelings of guilt and end his own existence? Neither is the case.

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Earlier in the day, Brent was asked by Lola (Robin McLeavy) to attend the prom with her. He politely turns her down and one would think, especially since he has a girlfriend, that the rejection would be the end of things. Not by a long shot. Unbeknownst to Brent, Lola is not exactly the most stable girl in the world and to make matters worse, she has the sort of father, superbly acted by John Brumpton, who just can’t say no to his baby daughter’s demented requests. He is the epitome of an inappropriate parent. A father, who goes to extreme measures to please Lola, who he refers to as ‘Princess,’ he winds up knocking Brent unconscious with a hard whack to the skull and kidnapping him, so that his daughter will get her prom date.

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Upon waking, Brent discovers that he is not only tied to a chair in Lola’s house, but also the unwilling guest at Lola’s own private prom. In fact, he is the king of the prom to Lola’s queen. And the house has been decorated to give the appearance of an actual dance, replete with a mirrored disco ball, glitter, and banners. In addition to Brent, Lola, and daddy, also attending the macabre dance is another guest called Bright Eyes (Anne Scott Pendlebury), an adult woman who is in a catatonic state. Who she is will be revealed to the viewer later on in the film. If Brent knows what’s good for him, especially his physical well being, he will pretend to be into the deranged Lola. Does he do just that as he calculates a plan of escape? I am not going to answer that, but I will say that hammer and nails, a power drill, and a syringe are harmful objects that will come into play throughout the remainder of the movie’s runtime. In addition, if you haven’t seen the film yet, start taking guesses as to who or what lurks in the cellar below the house. Will Brent wind up down there? That’s for you to find out.

A special mention must be pointed out regarding the outstanding performance given by Robin McLeavy. The portrayal she gives of the, at first, shy girl who works up the courage to ask Brent to the prom before brilliantly metamorphosing into the psychotic, pink dress wearing, sadistic minded Lola, could have easily been turned into a one dimensional performance. McLeavy handles the material with the deftness of a veteran actress as she goes about attempting to exact her depraved sense of revenge on the teenage boy who she feels wronged her.

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There is also a sub-plot that takes place during the film that at first doesn’t exactly seem worth watching. Brent’s best friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) is a dorky teen who manages to land a date to the prom with Mia (Jessica McNamee). She is an attractive, detached teen with a Goth style, who is dealing with her own set of issues. In the end, Byrne ties together all the different characters that, at first don’t seem to fit, other than being filler to take up screen time. In doing so, he lets the viewer know that Lola’s madness has been active for quite some time. In addition, the film features excellent cinematography by Simon Chapman, (Griff the Invisible) and original music from Ollie Olsen, a Norwegian born, popular underground musician based in Melbourne, Australia.

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The tense, horrifying, and warped movie, which originally premiered on September 13, 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival, is by no means for everyone, but is a must see for fans of the genre. Xavier Samuel will have you rooting hard for his character of Brent and McLeavy’s Lola is a villain that you will not soon forget.

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“Tommy”

Captain Walker, portrayed by BAFTA nominated actor, Robert Powell (Mahler), is a man who is presumed to have perished fighting in World War II. One evening, he inexplicably appears in his young son Tommy’s (Barry Winch) room. After looking at Tommy, Walker leaves his son, and heads toward his wife Nora’s bedroom. Thinking that her husband died in battle, Nora who is played by Emmy & Golden Globe winner, Ann-Margret (Carnal Knowledge) has remarried. Nora’s new husband, the duplicitous, Frank, in a role completely embodied by BAFTA nominee, Oliver Reed (Women in Love), is shocked out of sleep by Captain Walker’s arrival. The irate Walker, who is screaming at the newlyweds, is struck by Frank, who uses the bedside lamp as a weapon. The entire event has been witnessed by Tommy. As if seeing his father killed before his eyes wasn’t traumatic enough, Nora and Frank repeatedly tell him that he didn’t see or hear anything, and that he will never speak about the incident, thus rendering Tommy, deaf, dumb, and blind. This scene is the catalyst which sets in motion the remainder of the psychedelic, movie musical.

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Years later, grown up, Tommy, who is portrayed for the majority of the film by “Who” lead singer, Roger Daltrey, is still suffering with his disabilities. In order to reverse the damage they caused Tommy, Nora and Frank do everything they can in an attempt to cure him. While on his journey to try and regain his hearing, sight, and vocal ability, Tommy crosses paths with an eclectic group of individuals which provides the movie with a wealth of cameos. Those cameos include, but are not limited to: Eric Clapton as a guitar wielding evangelist, whose church disciples genuflect at the altar of iconic actress, Marilyn Monroe; there is also Tina Turner in the role of the Acid Queen – she is someone who Frank hopes will be able to cure Tommy of his problems through her offerings of sex and drugs; in addition, three time Oscar winning actor, Jack Nicholson (As Good as it Gets), plays the role of ‘The Specialist,’ who through a series of tests can’t find any discernible reason for Tommy’s disabilities to exist; last, but not least, is Sir Elton John in the role of a pinball champion, which I’ll discuss further in the next paragraph.

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Through the years, Frank and Nora would find Tommy, even though he couldn’t see, staring into mirrors. Unbeknownst to the two of them, who are unaware that Tommy’s condition is psychosomatic, he is able to see his reflection. It is during one of these trippy, staring sessions, where his reflection, seemingly takes it upon itself to leave the house and travel to a junk yard, where there is an old, pinball machine. The police discover Tommy in the junk yard, and alert Frank and Nora. Once Franks arrives, and learns what Tommy had been doing, he senses a money making opportunity, which he immediately goes about setting in motion. In the end, in front of a live television audience, Tommy will square off in a showdown for pinball playing supremacy against Elton John’s character of the Pinball Wizard; it is a rollicking scene, in which Tommy will ultimately prevail. After winning the game, Tommy’s life is transformed in a profound way. Additionally, an accident caused by his overwrought mother, that destroys the mirror which led him to the discovery of his new found talent, transcends Tommy from a popular champion of the young to that of the level of a messianic figure.

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Trivia buffs take note: David Bowie, who sadly passed away on January 10, 2016, was the original choice to play the Acid Queen. As a matter of fact, several roles in the film were originally intended for other actors. Peter Sellers and Christopher Lee were both considered for the part of ‘The Specialist.’ The song “Pinball Wizard” sung by Elton John, is, so far, the only cover of a “Who” song to break into the top ten. Rod Stewart, who had played the role of the pinball champion in a London stage production was originally cast to play the role in the film; apparently Elton John talked Stewart out of taking the part. In addition, George Lucas (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) was first given the opportunity to direct “Tommy,” but turned it down because he was working on “American Graffiti” at the time.

The screenplay for “Tommy” was written, and the film was directed by, Academy Award nominee Ken Russell (The Music Lovers). The source material for the movie, and most importantly the music, was taken from the rock opera written by “Who” guitarist, Pete Townshend. The songs were collectively written by “The Who” band as part of their 1969 concept album, and additional material was provided by “Who” bassist, John Entwistle, and drummer, Keith Moon. The film which has a runtime of 111 minutes, was released in the UK on March 26, 1975. The film garnered two Oscar nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Ann-Margret and Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and or Adaptation for Pete Townshend. While Ann-Margret lost at the 1976 Oscars for Best Actress to Louise Fletcher, who won for her role in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” she did take home the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress – Musical / Comedy. Additionally, “The Who” lead singer, Roger Daltrey, also was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture.

Unfortunately for Tommy, his regaining of his senses, and his new found devotional fame, don’t keep his money hungry parents, especially, his step-father Frank, from exploiting the situation. A retreat camp is built on the pretext that it will be a place where all are welcome to come and live in comfort, and want for nothing. Furthermore, those seeking to follow in Tommy’s footsteps, and be put on a path toward their own enlightenment, willingly subject themselves to the disabling conditions he lived with for years. Tommy’s followers are given earmuffs, blindfolded, and instructed to put a bottle cork in their mouths, before being led by a camp volunteer to a pinball machine to start on their journey.

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How will it end? Will Tommy’s followers become enriched from their experience, and set out to spread a message of peace and love to the rest of the world? Do his followers revolt? Do they come to the realization that no one path is the correct one for all of humanity? What will become of Frank and Nora? What will Tommy do if he is abandoned by those who view him as a God-like figure? For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, and love musicals with a rocking sound track, just let your imagination take over for the under two hours it takes to watch the film, and enjoy.

 

 

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“Karla – Starring Laura Prepon From Orange Is The New Black”

Controversy and film are no strangers to one another. There have been numerous movies over the years, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” and “Faces of Death” are just two examples of such films which, upon release, caused a public outcry that cinema had surpassed an expected semblance of decency. “Karla” is a film based on the real life crimes committed by Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo. Before a single frame of the film had even been shot, the movie caused outrage among Canadian citizens, where the media-dubbed ‘Ken and Barbie killers’ perpetrated their vile crimes. Those crimes included kidnapping, torture, rape and murder. In fact, Ontario’s Premier, Dalton McGuinty, asked the citizens of Ontario, and all Canadians, for that matter, to boycott the film upon its release. In addition, lawyer Tim Danson, who represents the families of victims Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, insisted that the producers allow him to view the movie before its release date, in order to determine if legal action should be taken in an attempt to block its being shown. In the end, no legal action was carried out, and the girls real names were kept out of the movie.

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Nothing that is revealed in “Karla” comes anywhere near the sort of gratuitous, graphic, violence featured, for instance, in the movies in the “Saw” franchise. Nor, for that matter, does it scratch the surface of the well written and filmed, blood soaked cinema of a Quentin Tarantino helmed project. With that being said, considering what is transpiring is not the fictional scenarios dreamed up by a script writer, but based on actual events, does lend the heinous actions, which are more implied than shown, an extra potency.

“Karla” which is parts crime, drama, and thriller was released on January 20, 2006. The film was directed by Joel Bender (The Amazing Race), who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael D. Sellers (Eye of the Dolphin), and Manette Rosen (Bella Mia). The 99 minute movie, which is told from Karla’s point-of-view, begins with a montage of fake home video clips featuring Prepon’s character, and Misha Collins (Supernatural), who plays the deplorable, Paul Bernardo. After the opening credits finish, Karla begins her interview with a court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Arnold (Patrick Bauchau). He has come to the prison she is being held in, to evaluate whether or not he should recommend that she be granted parole.

At the start, Dr. Arnold gives Karla a photo album filled with pictures of her and Paul. As she flips through the pages of the album, she begins to wax poetic about how she initially felt about her husband, who had dreams of being a musician and filmmaker. The questions Dr. Arnold asks provide the narrative framework for the film, which primarily unfolds via flashback. The catalyst which starts the memories, shows the first time Karla and Paul met, in a hotel restaurant, in Toronto. Karla and her friend Peggy (Emilie Jacobs) were there attending a veterinary conference. Unbeknownst to Karla at the time, Paul had already begun his criminal activities. He had been raping women, and was known as the Scarborough Rapist. Years before Paul was caught, and incarcerated for the crimes he and Karla committed, a sketch of him appeared on the front page of a Toronto newspaper. The resemblance to Paul prompted several phone calls to detectives investigating the case alerting them to Bernardo’s presence. He was called in for questioning, admitted that the sketch did bear a resemblance to the way he looked, but charmed the police into believing he couldn’t be the one responsible for such actions. In addition, Bernardo agreed to provide a DNA sample, but nothing, came of it at that time.

While Karla and Peggy are sitting in the restaurant having drinks, Paul arrives with his friend, Nick (Alex Boyd). The two guys immediately come up to Karla’s and Peggy’s table, and after a few brief, corny, pick up lines are spoken by Paul, he asks if he and Nick can join the women. The attraction Karla has for Paul is instantaneous. After having known him for a few hours, they go up to her hotel room, and in front of Peggy and Nick, give in to their lust, during which time, the viewer hears Karla tell Paul that she loves him. The love she feels for Paul, and the levels she will go to prove that love to him are depicted through the rest of the film. It is a love that will lead to dire consequences for three teenage girls – included among those victims was Karla’s teenage sister, Tammy (Cherilyn Hayres). The wicked Karla, is shown as a willing participant in an evening of drinking, drugs, and rape involving Tammy; a night that would end in the overdose and death of the young girl.

Misha Collins delivers a strong performance in the role of Paul Bernardo. He effortlessly shifts from portraying the sinister side of the character when committing crimes, to that of an outwardly, well rounded human being. Likewise, Laura Prepon does a believable job with her restrained portrayal of Karla. My overall problem with the film is not the acting, the leads especially, did the best they could with what they had to work with; it’s the rest of the production that I felt was sub-par. The dialogue was poorly written, and sometimes comes across as laughable. The film contains little to no sense of pacing which builds toward any kind of tension that can grip the viewer. In addition, the soundtrack, and what is shown on screen don’t mix well. (As an aside: Misha Collins has strong feelings toward the film, and has stated in interviews that he intensely disliked his experience working on the movie, and hopes that his fans will not watch it).

After she was arrested, Karla blamed Paul for the crimes, claiming that she only went along with what he did, because she was afraid for her life. Lending some credence to her story at the time, was the fact that among Bernardo’s many undesirable traits, he frequently engaged in spousal abuse. Before his arrest, he had beaten Karla something awful, which ultimately helped her to strike a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for her testimony against Paul, Karla was permitted to plead to manslaughter, and would serve no more than twelve years in prison. Only after the deal had been struck, did videotapes, which Karla’s original lawyer hid from prosecutors, come out. The videos, which were filmed by Paul, documented the actions the couple took against the girls. The tapes, which were deemed too graphic to show to the jury, were only played for sound, and they shed light on the fact that Karla wasn’t such an innocent bystander, who was in fear for her life.

After she was paroled, Karla Homolka eventually wound up living under the assumed name Leanne Bordelais in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean; during the years since her release, she has gotten married and has had three children. Recently, Karla moved back to Canada, and now resides in Quebec. For those interested in what I consider, minus Prepon’s and Collins’ acting, to be a waste of time, the movie is available for streaming on Netflix.

 

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“Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films”

“We must beat – Beat Street”

Those words were spoken by Menahem Golan, when he was told that “Beat Street,” another break dance movie, would be released around the same time as Cannon Films “Breakin,” which premiered on May 3, 1984 in Australia. Golan, who ran Cannon Films with his fellow Israeli, and cousin, Yoram Globus, did in fact get his wish, as “Breakin” went on to gross fifty-six million dollars on an approximately one million dollar budget. Unfortunately, in an effort to cash in on the success of “Breakin,” Cannon Films fast tracked distribution of a sequel, “Breakin ‘2: Electric Boogaloo,” that is often referred to as cartoonish and subpar. Decisions like that seemed to be the Cannon Films way, according to a majority of the interviews that are shown during the 106 minute runtime of the documentary.

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Throughout the film, viewers are treated to archival footage, film clips from various movies that were produced by Cannon Films, behind the scenes insight, and candid interviews with those who worked for the ostentatious Golan and Globus. Amongst those who commented, some of the more notable were: Emmy winning director, John Frankenheimer (Andersonville); Oscar nominee, Robert Forster (Jackie Brown); director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre); Frank Yablans the former President of Paramount Pictures; and Golden Globe winner, Richard Chamberlain (The Thorn Birds).

Grievances from those who worked for Cannon Films varied from, screenwriters complaining that their scripts were radically altered once filming began, to actors bemoaning the choice of director to helm a certain project. For example, Alex Winter (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) rips into the sadistic type of person he felt director Michael Winner (Death Wish) truly was, and his experience working with him. Bo Derek (10) recalls being angered, and rightfully so, over the fact that personal photographs that she didn’t authorize to be shared with the public were used by Cannon to promote the film “Bolero.” There also those who point out questionable casting choices, such as Sylvia Kristel having been given the lead role in “Mata Hari.” According to those who worked on the film, Kristel was frequently drunk, and by that point in her career a known drug user, also her acting for the most part was wooden.

For all of the negativity directed toward Cannon Films, and Golan and Globus, there are many who had positive things to say about the cousins. In addition, to the director’s credit, he doesn’t make the case pro or con for Cannon Films. Furthermore, he points out instances where Cannon was striving for respect and legitimacy, when they worked with, among others: Oscar and Golden Globe nominee, John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence); Golden Globe winner, Robert Altman (Gosford Park); BAFTA winner, Franco Zeffirelli (Otello); and Academy Award winning director, Jean Luc-Godard (Vivre Sa Vie). For every critical and commercial success Cannon had, as well as low budget films like “Cyborg,” which turned a tremendous profit, they produced a greater number of box office failures; chief among those were “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,” “Masters of the Universe,” as well as the “Captain America” film that was released in 1990. The superhero movie cost Cannon, an estimated ten million dollars to make, but only recouped a bit over ten thousand dollars in tickets sales. Making matters worse, was the rumored salary of twelve million dollars they paid Sylvester Stallone (Creed) for the 1987 arm wrestling themed movie “Over the Top.” In 1994, after turning out too many big budgeted films that didn’t turn a profit, as well as an investigation against Cannon regarding questionable business practices, the company filed for bankruptcy.

The film was written and directed by Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!). Premiering in Australia on August 2, 2014 at the Melbourne International Film Festival, it can currently be seen via instant streaming on Netflix. The director asked Golan and Globus to appear in the film, and provide commentary, but the cousins refused. Instead, in typical Cannon Films fashion, they put together their own documentary on the history of Cannon called “The Go-Go Boys.” Their movie wound up preceding Hartley’s, and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2014.

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“Santa’s Little Helper”

“Santa’s Little Helper” is a direct to DVD film produced by WWE Studios (World Wrestling Entertainment Studios). No, it’s not a wrestling themed movie, although two of the company’s wrestlers, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin (The Marine 4: Moving Target) and WWE Diva, Paige, in her screen debut, are in the movie. The film is a pleasant, silly, family oriented comedy, that parents can watch with their children and not have to worry about covering eyes and ears from any inappropriate scenes. (As an aside: former WWE Diva, Maryse Ouellet, who is the real life wife of Mizanin, makes a cameo appearance in the film).

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At the start of the film Dax ‘The Ax,’ played by Mizanin, is a business man who is interested in only one thing – making money. He doesn’t care who he has to step on, or in the case of the Hope Springs Youth Center, that he delivers foreclosure papers to, whose dreams he has to crush, in order to advance in his own career. Dax has a fast sports car, a brand new house, and is in line for a promotion that will further elevate his financial standing. The only problem is, after dropping off the foreclosure papers, when he returns to his office, he is told by his boss, Lane, (Ben Wilkinson) that he is being fired. The reason being, there is another equally driven employee in the office, who can not only do their own job, but states they can do Dax’s work as well, for the same pay. Lane also lets Dax know that he isn’t exactly the most popular person around the office. The news doesn’t sit well with Dax, who pleads his case, and uses the same “but it’s almost Christmas” line that the woman who runs the youth center (Karen Holness) gave him, which he, earlier, easily dismissed. Lane is not moved, and after a confrontation, Dax is not merely escorted, but thrown out of the office.

In less than an hour Dax has no job, his company car gets repossessed, and Tonya, his girlfriend, who was only with him because of his money, leaves him, as soon as she finds out he was fired. He makes phone calls to other companies, but nobody is interested in even meeting with him, let alone giving him a job. What is Dax going to do? His opportunity to get his life back on track, will come, unbeknownst, at first to him, from the most unlikely source, Santa Claus, portrayed by Eric Keenleyside (Once Upon A Time). Kris Kringle needs a new second in command, and for reasons that are not made clear to the viewer at the start, thinks Dax is up to the task. Standing in his way, however, will not only be a series of tests, that are administered by AnnaLynne McCord’s (90210) character Billie, but also Paige, who plays Eleanor the Elf. Eleanor’s father has had the job for the past two hundred years and is looking to retire. She thinks the position is rightfully hers for the taking.

A short while later, Dax’s hears a consistent knocking on his front door; when he opens it, standing before him is Harvey (Tom McLaren) from True National Mortgage. He is there to inform Dax that unless he pays the past due amount on his mortgage, the bank is going to immediately foreclose on his house, it is just a matter of getting the paper work finished. Returning to his living room, Dax again hears knocking on his door. Thinking it is Harvey, returning to deliver more bad news, Dax is pleasantly surprised when he opens the door to find McCord’s character, Billie. She doesn’t come right out and tell Dax that it is Santa Claus who is interested in hiring him. Instead she is ambiguous, stating that she represents a high profile individual who needs to immediately fill an important position. She is there on the employer’s behalf to see if Dax has what it takes to get the job. For Dax, who considers himself a lone-wolf, and is a self-centered individual, proving that he has what Santa is looking for: someone who possess humility, a level headed temper for conflict resolution, a person who can inspire others, a kind soul, and a cooperative nature, isn’t going to be easy. Will Dax pass the tests and get to travel back to the North Pole to secure the position as Santa’s second in command? Even if he does, what will Eleanor do in order to keep that from becoming a reality?

“Santa’s Little Helper”  has a runtime of 91 minutes, and was released on November 17, 2015. The film was directed by Emmy nominee, Gil Junger (Ellen). The script for the movie was written by James Robert Johnston (The Howling: Reborn) and Bennett Yellin (Dumb & Dumber). All in all, it is a film, as I stated at the beginning, that parents can watch with their children, or won’t have to worry about leaving the room, so their children can watch it by themselves. The movie provides an alternative to those who have already had their fill of the traditional Christmas classics such as Rudolph, Frosty, and the Grinch, or who are just looking for something new, that is light-hearted to watch this holiday season.

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“The Wolfpack – Truth Is Sometimes Stranger Than Fiction”

For many years, the six Angulo brothers – Bhagavan, Govinda, Jagadisa, Krsna, Mukunda, and Narayana lived in an apartment in a housing project on the Lower East Side in New York City. The brothers, who all sported waist-long jet black hair, were, for all intents and purposes, isolated from the outside world, confined exclusively to the living space they shared with their parents and sister. Certain years they would get to go outside less than ten times for the entire year, other years they didn’t get to go out at all. Even their educational needs were attended to by their mother, Susanne, a mid-western, former hippie, who homeschooled them. This allowed her to collect a check from the state of New York, and in turn, permitted their quasi, Hare Krishna worshiping father, Oscar, to imbibe in his alcohol consumption, and delusional thinking that he was somebody special.

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Throughout the years, Oscar kept the door to the apartment locked at all times, so as to keep his children from venturing out onto the streets, where he felt they would immediately fall victim to crime and drugs; even Susanne was only permitted to leave the apartments on certain occasions. Oscar, who was Peruvian born, originally wanted to move his family to Scandinavia, but a lack of finances, and his own un-willingness to work, relying instead on handouts, kept that aspiration from becoming a reality. The brothers’ sister, Vishnu, was born with Turner syndrome, a developmental disorder that affects females. She only appears a handful of times throughout the film, and never speaks on camera.

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One of the few passions the brothers were able to partake in was watching films, which, with the exception of a window that looked down upon the streets of their New York City neighborhood, became their primary access to the outside world. The boys, however, took their love for film a step further. They wouldn’t just watch one of the movies they had in their vast DVD collection, but instead would reenact them, incorporating as much detail as possible, which included memorizing dialogue, as well as making props and costumes, out of items such as cereal boxes and tin foil. Short snippets of the Angulo brothers acting out scenes from films such as “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” are interspersed between spoken commentary. Additional scenes in the documentary highlight outings that the brothers take, for example: a day at the beach, and a trip one evening to watch a movie in a theater on the big screen, which was a first for the brothers.

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The documentary was directed by Crystal Moselle, who discovered the Angulo brothers by chance, during one of their few trips out walking together on the streets of Manhattan in 2010. If she hadn’t, the 90 minute film, which premiered on January 25, 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival where it received the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary, more than likely would not have been made. Moselle first approached the brothers with questions, and a friendship soon began to form between her and the brothers over their mutual love of film. Prior to that encounter, if Mukunda hadn’t taken the initiative to leave the apartment on his own, when his father was out one day food shopping, the Angulo brothers might still be living in isolation, unless one of his other siblings, had taken the same chance at a later date.

Putting on a homemade mask, styled after horror icon Michael Myers, that the silent stalker is seen wearing throughout the Halloween film franchise, Mukunda left the apartment. He began walking around his immediate neighborhood, but it not being Halloween, the actions of the teenager aroused suspicion from those whose stores he went in and out of, eventually prompting the owner of a bodega to call the police. Mukunda was taken by authorities to Bellevue Hospital, where he was held for a week, during which time he was psychologically evaluated to determine if he was mentally ill. Afterward, the New York City Administration for Children’s Services investigated the living situation of all the Angulo children. A determination was made by child services that the three youngest brothers needed to meet with a psychologist, for a period of one year, at a non-profit facility located in their neighborhood. Mukunda’s act of defiance against his father’s rigid rules, prompted his other siblings to want to venture outside, and actually begin to live life for a change, not just vicariously experience it through film. The rest, as they say, is history, or in this case, visually documented history.

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