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Leelo Tungal is one of Estonia’s most beloved authors. Moonika Siimets’ film The Little Comrade is based on two of Tungal’s autobiographical novels: Seltsimees laps ja suured inimesed (Comrade Kid and the Grown-Ups) and Samet ja saepuru (Velvet and Sawdust), which are based on memories from her childhood in Stalinist Estonia.

In the midst of 1950’s Stalinist fear and oppression, six-year-old Leelo’s (Helena Maria Reisner) mother Makajeva (Maria Avdjushko) is sent to a prison camp. Leelo has little understanding of the politics or the perils of her time. When her mother tells her to be a good kid while she’s gone, Leelo takes this to heart to become the best Stalinist she can. Her father Feliks (Tambet Tuisk) calls her “little comrade.”

It is fascinating that tyranny is rarely very creative, generally expressed in the same type of control by fear wherever it rises up. The differences in the situation come from the character of the people dealing with it. Estonia was a free, independent, and neutral country until 1939 when Hitler and Stalin made an agreement to carve up Eastern Europe, giving Stalin control over Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. The soviet regime embarked on a program of executions and prison camps for anyone deemed a threat.

“…Leelo has little understanding of the politics or the perils of her time…“

Leelo’s mother is a teacher who showed a bit too much Estonian pride in a time when anyone with an ax to grind could turn their neighbors in, she gave offense to the wrong small minded person who reported her. A search of her belongings turns up too many Estonian nationalist artifacts, and she is taken.

Feliks does his best to keep life and limb together to provide Leelo a childhood under the shadow of her mother’s imprisonment, never certain when or if Makajeva will return.

Incredibly gifted child actor Helena Maria Reisner gives a moving performance as Leelo. Siimets directs the film artfully, with great respect for the material. The countryside of Estonia is beautiful, and yet again film transports us to a time and place removed from our own experience we otherwise would never know.

The Little Comrade (2019) Written and directed by Moonika Siimets. Starring Tambet Tuisk, Helena Maria Reisner, Yuliya Aug. The Little Comrade screened at the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival.

9 out of 10

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In Spring of 1999, NATO began a bombing campaign against the already war-torn country of Yugoslavia in an attempt to stifle the Kosovo War, another in a series of uprisings in the dissolving country. The action killed around 500 civilians and obliterated the region’s infrastructure. As the war raged on, people went about their lives out of sheer necessity. Writer/director Ognjen Glavonic uses this setting as the backdrop to his startling narrative, The Load.

“…a truck driver hauling mysterious loads from Kosovo to Belgrade.”

Vlada (Leon Lucev) works as a truck driver hauling mysterious loads from Kosovo to Belgrade. He doesn’t know what he’s hauling or why, and he’s not allowed to ask. On this current route, a bridge has been knocked out, forcing him to take a detour which brings him in contact with several colorful characters, including a stowaway teenager, before finally arriving at his destination, a quiet military base that serves no purpose other than to dig a large hole in the ground. He humbly collects his pay and returns home, but discovers the truth about his haul along the way and is faced with what it means for his family and his homeland.

While nowhere near the stark brutality of Srdjan Spasojevic’s 2010 visual assault A Serbian Film, Glavonic gives a beautifully bleak portrayal of the people whose lives were affected by constant turmoil in their country. Rather than focus on the bloodshed, he tells us what happened behind the scenes, to the people just trying to go about their daily lives. Most interestingly, when a new character is introduced, he lingers in their lives for a while, recalling the constant story fluctuations of Richard Linklater’s Slacker.

“…a slow unraveling of layers and even a bit of skepticism toward what’s happening…”

Lucev plays Vlada with subtle intensity. He’s supposed to do his job and only that, but of course he’s human, not a robot or a monster. The things he sees and the people he encounters make an impact on his life, but he reveals this through a slow unraveling of layers and even a bit of skepticism toward what’s happening around him. The rest of the cast is equally on point, exuding emotion through stoic personalities.

War isn’t just about the soldiers on the battlefield. In fact, that’s probably the smallest part of it. It’s really about the people whose lives are permanently changed by what’s going on around them. Ognjen Glavonic has made that abundantly clear in The Load.

The Load (2018) Directed by Ognjen Glavonic. Written by Ognjen Glavonic. Starring Leon Lucev, Pavle Cemerikic, Tamara Krcunovic, Ivan Lucev, Igor Bencina.

9 out of 10 stars

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British director Suzie Halewood takes indie sci-fi to a new level with Division 19. In a future that seems oddly familiar, we enter a world obsessed with views and social media, turning prisons into entertainment channels where subscribers vote on the fates of inmates. Suzie talks parkour stunts, low budget effects and our black mirror-obsessed culture.

We love when you subscribe to the Film Threat Podcast! Hear it on your favorite podcast listening platform, here are just some of them. 

   

Division 19 - SoundCloud
(2482 secs long, 3 plays)Play in SoundCloud

DIVISION 19 | Official HD Trailer (2019) | SCI-FI | Film Threat Trailers - YouTube

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I’ve always been drawn to anything counter-culture. Anything humorous or clever that calls out the pretentiousness of the mainstream, I’m there. Our self-righteous culture inflates our ego, and eventually, the pin comes along to deflate your head a size or two. And thus my current home at Film Threat.

Arguably, the most colorful form of counter-culture came out of the 60’s and in his documentary Pigheaded, director John Kinhart pieces together the colorful life of the subversive, satirical artist Skip Williamson, who passed away not long ago in 2017. While his colleagues were angry and brooding in their commentary, Skip was known as being fun and funny.

Skip is most known as the founding member of the Underground Comix Movement. Its members included Williamson, Jay Lynch, and Robert Crumb. The three they lived together in Chicago in 1968. Their office overlooked the famed protests at the Democratic National Convention. While Jay and Robert looked from above, Skip inserts himself in the middle of the protest and riots. From the plumes of police tear gas rose their first and longest running title, Bijou Funnies, and a movement was born.

“…the founding member of the Underground Comix Movement. Its members included Williamson, Jay Lynch, and Robert Crumb.”

Williamson’s life is split in two in Pigheaded, and these two threads are interwoven throughout the documentary. The first is an extensive review of Skip’s infamous career during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Commenting on the Chicago riots, the Vietnam War protests, and the fall and resignation of President Nixon, Williamson comes across as this larger-than-life, somewhat jovial person, whose most significant act of rebellion was becoming a cartoonist against the wishes of his intellectual professor father.

He had a way at poking fun at the establishment regardless of what side of the aisle you sit. The Underground crew went as far as to have a real pig named Pigasus, announce its run for President. The publicity caused such a commotion; the Chicago police had Pigasus arrested, never to be seen again. Williamson suspects a BBQ would become Pigasus’ ultimate demise.

We then move on to Williamson’s career as a professional illustrator after the demise of Underground Comix. He would work for Gallery, Hustler, and finally, Playboy and rub shoulders with some of the great icons of that time like Abbie Hoffman and Shel Silverstein. His work would also influence the next generation of cartoonists and illustrators. But with time and the move toward digital, the magazine industry would change drastically, and many artists like Skip would have to adapt to the changes. It was not easy for Skip.

“…while it offers an extensive history of Williamson’s career, instead Kinart truly paints a portrait of the man.”

The second part of the film looks at Skip’s life starting in June 2008. Director Kinart would film Williamson’s personal life for the next eight years. That’s an admirable dedication to a single subject. Here Williamson is an artist from the 60s trying to survive in an industry that has passed him by. We meet Skip and his ex-wife Harriet and find a couple who have great admiration for one another and are still best of friends. Skip chose to live in seclusion and not to go the comic convention route like his contemporaries to sustain a living. One thing about Skip is he didn’t throw things away as we see him going through his archives/basement and reminiscing about his career.

What I like most about John Kinart’s Pigheaded is that while it offers an extensive history of Williamson’s career, instead Kinart truly paints a portrait of the man. Skip is someone you’d want to get to know, a guy to get high with and at the same time blow your mind with his thoughts on politics and society.

Pigheaded (2019) Directed by John Kinart. Featuring Skip Williamson.

7.5 out of 10 stars

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Do you ever get the sense, that if you put a panic room in your home, you’re just inviting trouble to rear its ugly head? This is true for young Ana (Gianna-Marie) in Tim Earnheart’s short film, Ricochet. After a long night of partying in her father’s man-cave, Ana opens up the panic room and discovers a young girl (Corrie Fleming) bound and gagged. Once free, the girl utters the warning “they’re here.”

On cue, three thugs in really cool masks (the short is worth watching for these masks alone) storm through the front door guns a blazing. Ana quickly moves upstairs to take on the shooters, when she is caught by surprise and a bullet is dispatched through her skull.

” After a long night of partying…Ana opens up the panic room and discovers a young girl bound and gagged.”

We cut to Ana’s right arm with a tattoo of an infinity symbol on it. As it glows, the young girl touches the symbol with her similar tattoo and Ana is alive again. While we’re asking ourselves, what happened, who are these thugs, and what’s the deal with the kid, we’re treated to a nice series of hand-to-hand fighting and gunplay.

Earnheart’s Ricochet is a slick production. It’s weird to say, but he effectively uses high-definition cameras in both lighting and tone. The action is cool to watch, the digital effects work within the confines of the short’s budget, and I love those masks on the baddies. Time and detail were put into the masks and very much appreciated.

From a story standpoint, it’s clear Ricochet is a teaser for a bigger film or series. Earnheart has put himself together a competent cast and crew and they’re headed in the right career direction given more opportunities to hone their craft. Would I invest in a bigger Ricochet project? I don’t know, but this little short film is worth checking out in the meantime.

Ricochet (2019) Written and directed by Tim Earnheart. Starring Gianna-Marie, Corrie Fleming, Katelyn Downing, Ayuba Audu, S. Joe Downing.

7 out of 10 stars

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When the Taliban puts a bounty on Afghan director Hassan Fazili’s head, he is forced to flee with his wife and two young daughters. Capturing their uncertain journey, Fazili shows firsthand the dangers facing refugees seeking asylum and the love shared between a family on the run.

Every once in a while, a searing cinematic achievement comes by that may just represent the flap of a butterfly’s wing which leads to a global paradigm shift. Midnight Traveler is such a film. With the current refugee crisis rapidly getting more extreme, Hassan Fazili’s documentary couldn’t be more timely, not just reminding but immersing us into the hell that the majority of us witnesses fleetingly on the news, from afar. Fazili captures all the heartache and terror of seeking asylum in an increasingly hostile world.

Filmmakers and café owners, Hassan and his wife Fatima – along with their young daughters Nargis and Zahra – have to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban put out a call for Hassan’s death. They seek refuge in Tajikistan, but after “14 months of asylum applications, no one has agreed to help the family to safety.” Failing to find any semblance of peace back at home, they decide to seek safety in Europe, by way of Iran and Turkey – a grueling, 3,500-mile journey. “Wherever we can go, that’s where we’re going,” Fatima states flatly.

“…Hassan and his wife Fatima – along with their young daughters – have to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban put out a call for Hassan’s death.”

“Grueling” barely does justice to their ordeals. They ride in a dilapidated, crowded minivan. They stay in the tiniest of apartments in Istanbul. They climb over dangerous mountains into Bulgaria, where they find temporary solace in a safe house – emphasis on “temporary,” considering the daughters are soon threatened with kidnapping. They sleep outside in a freezing cold forest, then in an abandoned building, and eventually a miserable camp. After almost 600 days of travel, the Fazilis finally end up in Hungary, where they wait for their case to be heard. Hassan resolutely films it all, at one point plunging into the midst of a violent Nationalist Party revolt.

Their home country crumbles, the Taliban is after them, and they have nowhere to stay, yet the Fazilis maintain a sense of humor. “You can tell by his face that he’s Taliban-ier than Taliban,” Fatima states at one point. She later disastrously attempts to learn how to ride a bike. Nargis is a constant source of comic relief, both innocent and surprisingly mature. “This is a story of a journey to the edge of hell,” she says early on; yet both her and Zahra are so happy with the tiniest of conveniences. Tiny moments of joy resonate amidst the terror, such as Nargis in awe of the ocean, or playing with a fan, or building a snowman, or stealing plums, or just dancing – notably – to Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us.”

While those scenes of humor are welcome, it’s the family’s prevailing, palpable, unbreakable bond and kindness that buoy the film. No matter how dire the circumstances become – such as an abhorrent police officer treating them like trash for no apparent reason – they persevere, their gentle souls able to withstand torment. “They’re living beings,” Hassan says, referring to… ants. “They deserve a right to live and breathe.” His tragic story of a best friend, Hussain Hashemi, enlisted by the Taliban, is bound to send that lump rolling up your throat. Hassan’s piercing soliloquy on his obsession with cinema and the fragile barrier between art and exploitation similarly resonates.

“Shooting on iPhones these days is a nifty gimmick if done right…but in Midnight Traveler it’s no gimmick – it’s Hassan’s only choice.”

Shooting on iPhones these days is a nifty gimmick if done right – see Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane or Sean Baker’s Tangerine – but in Midnight Traveler it’s no gimmick – it’s Hassan’s only choice. Luckily, this eliminates any traces of gloss or bias, the filmmaker capturing every grimy detail – but also some desolate, stunning shots of barren, peach sunsets and mosques that seem to signify death.

Yes, Fazili’s documentary may contain stylistic flourishes – ominous music, somber voiceover narration, prolonged montages and shots of static – which are unnecessary, considering the inherently compelling nature of its story. It’s a minor flaw in an otherwise-stellar film, which by turns punches you in the gut and gives you the warmest of embraces. A call to action, a sobering first-hand look at the grueling ordeals refugees face, a story of love persevering against all odds, and a visceral, real-life thriller, Midnight Traveler is a unique cinematic experience that will hopefully snap us all to reality.

Midnight Traveler (2019) Directed by Hassan Fazili. Starring Hassan Fazili, Nargis Fazili, Zahra Fazili, Fatima Hossaini. Midnight Traveler screened at the 2019 San Francisco Film Festival.

9 out of 10

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In filmmaker Ana Katz’s Florianópolis Dream, she tells the story of an Argentinian family’s vacation in Florianópolis, Brazil. The film opens with parents Pedro (Gustavo Garzón) and Lucrecia (Mercedes Morán) and their two children trying to survive a very bumpy car trip. Their car runs out of gas, and while Pedro hitches a ride to a local station, Lucrecia and the kids are rescued by a Brazilian couple, Marco (Marco Ricca) and Larisa (Andrea Beltrão). They tell Lucrecia that they run an Airbnb and should stay with them. After seeing their already booked crappy vacation home, they take Marco and Larisa up on their offer.

After meeting Marco by the beach, he takes them on a very long hike to his home. Marco is one of those aggressively-friendly type of person. He can talk you into doing almost anything. When Pedro and Lucrecia arrive at the house, they insist on unpacking and resting, but Marco talks them into heading to the beach for some fun. During a community dinner, it is revealed that while Marco and Larisa are living together, they are divorced. Then Pedro and Lucrecia respond in kind by revealing they are separated but working things out.

“…when the two couples discover their relationships are romantically non-existent, this sets up a flirtation between Marco and Lucrecia…”

It’s here that I begin to wonder, what exactly is this film about? It’s definitely not a horror film, because no one comes close to being in any real danger. It’s not a comedy, because there are no jokes; humorous situations maybe. It’s kind of a drama, but there are weird notes that play, that ultimately makes you wonder if this is a comedy…I don’t know. My head is spinning.

The best way I can describe Florianópolis Dream is an alternative drama about a family vacation. Alternative in the sense that strange and wacky things happen to Pedro and Lucrecia, but the level of strangeness never rises to the point of being comedic. For example, when the two couples discover their relationships are romantically non-existent, this sets up a flirtation between Marco and Lucrecia, and it doesn’t take long before they hook up. Later Pedro tells Lucrecia, he’s going to head out with Larisa, because this may be his only shot to sleep with her. Pedro reminds her that he didn’t say anything about her and Marco’s overnight sleepover.

“Alternative in the sense that strange and wacky things happen…but the level of strangeness never rises to the point of being comedic…”

The main thread of the story is on Lucrecia, played wonderfully by Mercedes Morán. This is her story for the most part, and as the members of her family wander off to do their own thing, she finally has the time to figure out what she wants from her family and life in general.

While I found the story interesting, it glides at an overly medium pace and stays there. The film’s conflict and drama rarely rise high enough to be exciting or compelling. It’s like watching an average family during a mild midlife crisis and ultimately eeks its way to a recommendation.

Florianópolis Dream (2019) Directed Ana Katz. Written by Ana Katz, Daniel Katz. Starring Gustavo Garzón, Mercedes Morán, Andrea Beltrão, Marco Ricca. Florianópolis Dream screened at the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival.

6.5 out of 10 stars

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At a time when automation has the fate of truck drivers in limbo, A Dark Place, directed by Simon Fellows, comes along to suggest the private investigator business as an alternative career. If you don’t have any experience in criminal justice, don’t worry about it. All you have to do is get in the faces of some strangers and ask a few straightforward questions. Before long, you’ll be swimming in conspiracies, cover-ups, extramarital affairs, and all sorts of small town chicanery.

“Donald takes it upon himself to question the locals and find out what happened to the boy.”

Or so A Dark Place would have you believe. It follows Donald (Andrew Scott), a garbage truck driver who’s not the sharpest object in the euphemism. He spends his days picking up trash, taking care of his aging mother, and visiting his daughter. This modest routine is disrupted when a local boy goes missing. With motivations that aren’t immediately clear, Donald takes it upon himself to question the locals and find out what happened to the boy. If I had to guess, I’d say Donald is driven by an unadulterated sense of morality that comes as a result of his idiocy. After all, the problem with smart people is how good they are at rationalizing their weaknesses, particularly cowardice.

Once introductions are over, the movie does little to separate itself from the crowd of bargain bin whodunits. The plot moves forward, and questions are answered, but to what end? The act of presenting a problem and then solving it is worthless if there’s no emotional or intellectual context. Donald’s character is as close as the movie gets to producing such a context, but even that is tainted. Scott, channeling young, nasally Pacino, plays Donald in an appropriately pathetic way, naturally earning your sympathy without begging for it. Then, at other times, the melodrama hits the red, and everything becomes unbearably stagy.  

“…channeling young, nasally Pacino, plays Donald in an appropriately pathetic way…”

With the general mediocrity out of the way, here’s a couple of grievances. There’s been talk of how cell phones have thrown a wrench into storytelling, but social media may be worse. Not only is it a lazy way to have the lead character learn valuable information, but not a single filmmaker has found a way to make browsing the internet cinematic. I’ve seen instant coffee commercials that do more to earn my attention. In the soundtrack department, the ambient, swelling synths need to go. I don’t know if it’s because they’re cheap, easy to make, or both, but they’re a blight on indie dramas everywhere.   

Screenplays like A Dark Place only get made because they’re familiar. They present intrigue and drama in a way that doesn’t challenge the audience but reinforces their belief of what a movie like this should be. This conformist methodology might make the movie palatable—and marketable—but it doesn’t make it any good.

A Dark Place (2019) Directed by Simon Fellows. Written by Brendan Higgins. Starring Andrew Scott, Bronagh Waugh, Denise Gough, Michael Rose, Sandra Lafferty, Christa Campbell, Eric Mendenhall, Andrew Masset, Christian Finlayson, Kate Forbes, Jason Davis, J.D. Evermore, Becky Wahlstrom.

5 out of 10 stars

A DARK PLACE | Official HD Trailer (2019) | ANDREW SCOTT | Film Threat Trailers - YouTube

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Drowning Echo (also called Nereus), directed by Georges Padey, offers a promising beginning with its opening scene announcing something akin to a sexy slasher movie that soon dissipates into something closer to a murder mystery with mystical elements borrowed from the Greek mythology.

The film opens with a stereotypical youthfully attractive woman getting violently dragged in a swimming pool while trying to get out and not be “possessed” by an evil force at night. Drowning Echo takes place in an apartment complex in Florida where Sara (Itziar Martinez), a New Yorker still recovering from the loss of her family, is spending a few days. She is invited to take her mind off sad things and to relax under the sun by her concerned childhood best friend, Will (Sean Ormond). Will’s wife, Lindsay (Natalie Blackman), has just left for a business trip overseas after receiving a mysterious book.

At a small neighborhood gathering around the residence pool, Sara meets Zac (Dennis Mencia), a despicable playboy model, Kate (Josephine Phoenix), a warmhearted nurse, and Alex (Raul Walder), a taciturn anxious “emo-looking” young man covered with “foretelling” tattoos and chewing a stick like a “bad boy”. (One might be right to ask what’s the deal with characters/guys still chewing sticks in movies in 2019!)

At some point, Alex, who is obviously a bit of an outcast, takes Sara aside to warn her that she is in danger, she should leave the party and go back to New York. She is puzzled but ignores his advice. After spending the evening partying in the pool, she goes back to the apartment and gets ready to sleep. Suddenly she feels ill, her body convulses, and she sees herself back in the deep end of the pool, suffocating, unable to come up as if controlled by a malicious force. This vision of drowning in the water will haunt her as she will relive this terrifying moment, or variants of it, many times that night.

“…a stereotypical youthfully attractive woman getting violently dragged in a swimming pool while trying to get out and not be “possessed” by an evil force at night.”

The day after, shocked and in a terrible state, Sara asks for help convinced that she is now in danger. She goes to see a medium who confirms her biggest fear: there is a supernatural entity in the water, and if she doesn’t act soon many will die. On top of that, Alex, who seems to be the only one aware of this “problem”, witnessed the horrifying disappearance of a woman from the pool not long ago (the one from the opening scene) but he did not mention it to anyone or the police as no one would ever believe him. Everybody, including Lyndsay in Greece, will start digging for clues and searching for a solution to prevent their inevitable deaths from this mysterious and wicked water-bound creature.

Drowning Echo has a couple of twists leading to its final reveal incorporating in a desultory manner (too) many ideas, from psychic power, group hysteria, to ancient tales and even monks! By trying to achieve too much, the movie ends up being uneven in all aspects. Shots of varying qualities from angles to angles are quite apparent, with the outcome being: ¼ of the film looking fairly good, ¼ looking very poorly shot, and the ½ left looking pretty standard. So that makes for an average looking film in an unremarkable kind of way.

Although the story is at least original and the filmmakers evidently strove for something more than a cheap-thrill horror movie, the plot is regrettably overstuffed with awkward or unclear setups that could confuse viewers — mainly in the first act.

Drowning Echo is also very lengthy and could have benefited from more than a couple of cuts. Scenes, where characters coming out of nowhere are stiffly introduced only to die in the next scene, seem unnecessary. Also, consider people running around in a monastery (obviously in the dead of night!) are getting scared again and again for 10 minutes too long, or people browsing the web indefinitely with the usual accompanying voice-over. To say the least, all these redundancies are truly unnecessary and only stretched the film past the point of being acceptable.

“…is at least original and the filmmakers evidently strove for something more than a cheap-thrill horror movie…”

They also overdid “The Blair Witch Project / found footage” inspired scenes, and although it was interesting in the beginning, it quickly became annoying to watch and detrimental to the rest of the story.

Drowning Echo showcases numerous actors from a Latino / Spanish-speaking background which is novel or a rare occurrence among films of these genres. The performances are not bad despite the fact that the editing — or direction — made everybody looked like they were trying a bit too hard to appear scared (for too long). This acting style and many other aspects of the film, particularly the “over-dramatic” score, gave the feature, for better or worse, a CW dark fantasy show vibe a la The Vampire Diaries & co.”

To be fair, Drowning Echo is probably conventional for a supposedly low-budget horror movie. It also features some decent VFX bringing to mind The Secret World of Alex Mack water effects, but sadly this might not be enough to prevent one from drowning in boredom or losing interest. It was, in the end, frustratingly slow and ineffective in its scares.

As mentioned before, viewers should know not to expect a slasher and if they are looking for a mythical movie, they should look away as Drowning Echo truly watered-down this connection. Moral of this story: When a creepy dude tells you that you are in danger, at least ask him why!? And also, if there is a creature possibly lurking in the water, then do not get in the pool!

Drowning Echo (2019) Directed by Georges Padey. Written by Georges Padey and Itziar Martinez. Starring Itziar Martinez, Dennis Mencia, Raul Walder, Sean Ormond, Josephine Phoenix, Natalie Blackman.

4/10

DROWNING ECHO | Official HD Trailer (2019) | NAME | Film Threat Trailers - YouTube

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Rocky was a movie that propelled actor Sylvester Stallone to superstar status and captured the hearts of audiences with its exploration of the human spirit. So much so, it was rewarded with Oscars for best picture, best director and best film editing. We take a look at what luck and self-belief had to do with the movie and the actor’s success.

Rags to riches

The movie wants you to believe that anything is possible if you put in hard work and dedication. It also extols the virtues of will power and self-belief in the face of adversity. But like many rags to riches stories, the protagonist needs a little bit of luck along the way. In Rocky’s case, he gets a shot at a title fight after the original fighter drops out. But even then, it’s thanks to the PR appeal of his self-penned “Italian Stallion” nickname that he gets in the frame. As his rival points out in the film: “Apollo Creed vs. the Italian Stallion. Sounds like a damn monster movie”. Maybe, it’s more a case of making his own luck.

Going the distance

The fact that a relatively unknown Stallone penned the screenplay to the movie in less than three days, then managed to convince a major production company to not only make the film but also to let him star in it, is a testament to the movie’s message.

From that seed grew a franchise of eight movies that spanned a period of 42 years (2018’s Creed II is the final installment). Like many blockbuster movies, Rocky also spawned a range of merchandise including dolls, clothing, and video games. Today, you can test your own luck with a Rocky Scratch card online by matching the champ against a choice of opponents and then watching them battle it out in real film footage, for an instant win. Or you can visit Sly Stallone’s shop and kit yourself out in a range of Rocky gear. Who knows? Investing a replica Rocky bathrobe might just bring you some good luck of your own.

Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact Stallone created not one but two cult hero characters that became multi-million dollar franchises and ran side-by-side for years. The actor co-wrote the screenplay and starred in the first Rambo film, First Blood, in 1982 and filmed the fifth instalment 37 years later in 2019.

Overcoming adversity

And like Rocky, Stallone had to overcome adversity to break into the industry. Having grown up with a speech impediment after an accident at birth left him paralyzed down one side of his face, acting probably was not the natural career choice for the New York-born star. But like the character he created, he believed in himself when everyone else had him beat.

Remarkably, Stallone is about to start filming the fourth Expendables movie in which he will reprise the role of Barney Ross. The character might not have the appeal of Rocky or Rambo but the fact he has made it to a third sequel highlights the continuing box office draw of Stallone, who just happens to have co-written the screenplays to all the Expendables films released so far. What’s more, he has just finished the third Escape Plan movie in which he plays security expert Ray Breslin and is about to direct and star in a movie about the life of soldier Travis Mills, who became a quadruple amputee while serving in Afghanistan. Luck goes a long way, whether it’s in starting a career or winning on a scratch card. But ultimately, Stallone and Rocky are proof that there’s a lot to be said for believing in yourself and giving it your all, too.

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