ECLECTIC ARTS

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

ACCEPTED Film Review Tribeca At Home 2021 Eclectic Arts June 16, 2021


Accepted

Tribeca (At Home)
Reviewed: 6/16/2021

Rating: 4 / 5





(Tribeca 2021)



The new documentary “Accepted” was too good to be true. I’ll just leave it at that.


The film follows the controversial prep school T M Landry in Louisiana. A school that at one time had a 100% acceptance rate into college for it’s graduates. And as if that wasn’t enough, at least 30% of its graduates were getting accepted into ivy league universities.


The film is incredibly engrossing. As the story shifts and turns, it becomes apparent that, based on what is presented in the film (clearly there is much more to this story), those who suffered the most were the students.


Having been on both sides of the education fence professionally, I’ve seen how broken the public education system can be, and the education system as a whole.


It’s clear that when some young people are led by charismatic adult leaders, they will do almost anything they ask. They will get caught up in the proceedings and go along for the ride. It is not their fault.


The adults, however, have to check themselves.


The methods used by the prep school were unorthodox and that can be okay. But if all you're looking at is the end result, the path to get there will unfortunately be overlooked and therein lies the real issue here.


It seems the school had some ways of working and fostering the community that worked well with their students. It also appears that the “do whatever it takes to make it” approach backfired once the New York Times piece came out.


There are serious allegations against the school to the point where a federal investigation is still going on. And in one particular student case - a very serious issue was brought to the authorities.


“Accepted” as a film is a recommended viewing. After you finish it you will most definitely have an opinion about the school and what the film portrayed.


As for the school itself, it is still running today. For better. For worse.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!


SHAPELESS Film Review Tribeca At Home 2021 June 16, 2021 Eclectic Arts


Shapeless

Tribeca (At Home)
Reviewed: 6/16/2021

Rating: 4 / 5


PURCHASE TICKETS!


(Tribeca 2021)



One of the pleasures of reviewing films for the various film festivals this year is that I get a chance to not only see some films make their world premieres but I also get to explore the vastness and range of cinema styles.


“Shapeless” is an intriguing film.


The story centers around a jazz singer who works in a cleaners to pay the bills. But she is struggling with an issue that is all too real. As always I subscribe to the no spoilers here club in my reviews.


Kelly Murtagh plays the main character Ivy (and she is also credited as story by) and is superb. Here is yet another film where the main character actor either rises to the challenge or walks away. Ms. Murtagh is captivating, raw, and extremely believable as Ivy.


Yes, there are some horror elements in this film but they are really few and far between. This is not a horror film in my eyes (having seen a ton of them since VHS was first introduced). It is a film about an issue many people face and the horrors that come along with it.


We don’t see this issue in the headlines right now nor have we really ever. We know it’s there. We know it exists. But for many of us, that’s where it ends. But for others, who are dealing with the issue or have dealt with it, they know all too well what “Shapeless” refers to.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!

INDIA SWEETS AND SPICES Film Review Tribeca At Home 2021 June 16, 2021 Eclectic Arts


India Sweets and Spices

Tribeca (At Home)
Reviewed: 6/16/2021

Rating: 4.5 / 5




(Tribeca Festival 2021)



It was with great anticipation that I sat down and viewed the brand new film “India Sweets and Spices” from Geeta Malik. A coming of age story that many audience members will connect with, the movie explores class, age, and cultural differences with humor and drama.


I’ve had the privilege of speaking with many film industry folks over the last year or so via the livestream interviews for my media outlet. One item that has been brought up more than once, even as recently as last Friday, is the issue of representation.


Yes, we all know that it’s become a forefront issue (rightfully so), particularly since last year’s societal outcries. But it’s good to remember - we’re not just talking about race. We’re talking about gender identity. We’re talking about age discrimination. We’re talking about class discrimination as well.


What I’m getting at is I really want creatives to express themselves and their artistry as they see it, the stories they want to tell. Geeta Malik does just that.


It’s far too easy to nitpick and compare this film to other films that had strong diverse representation. I’ve already seen other reviews do just that and it tells me many in the media world have learned basically nothing in the last year.


The story told by Geeta Malik should be taken in my opinion as a tale from her creative mind as not only a filmmaker but as


A woman.


A BIPOC woman.


A BIPOC woman in a CIS caucasian male dominated industry.


“India Sweets and Spices” is an entertaining film. But it also brings a different perspective to what some may see as another coming of age story. It’s so much more than that.


Sophia Ali is captivating throughout her performance. She is basically in every scene and the film rises or falls on her shoulders. And rise it does.


Manisha Koirala plays Sheila (Ali’s mom) and is a character you love to hate at the beginning of the film. But once her past is revealed (no spoilers here), and her character shift happens later in the film, she shows just how far her range goes as an actor.


Deepti Gupta (as Bhairavi Dutta) brings heart and warmth to the picture. Her character's working class background, honest and loving relationship with her husband and son, really bring the first half and the second half of the storyline together. In lesser hands, this character study could have also sunk the proverbial ship but in Ms. Gupta’s capable hands - the film only gets stronger and rises above the ordinary and ventures into the lands of greatness.


Do yourself a favor and check out this film. Watch it for what it is - but also watch it from the lens of the creatives involved with it - and perhaps you’ll applaud their efforts much like I did.


Recommended.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!

Sunday, June 13, 2021

POSER Film Review Tribeca At Home 2021 June 13, 2021 Eclectic Arts


Poser

Tribeca (At Home)
Reviewed: 6/13/2021

Rating: 4.5 / 5







The world premiere of the film, “Poser'' was on June 10th at Tribeca. I was fortunate enough to see it once it debuted on Tribeca At Home - the virtual companion to this year’s 20th Tribeca festival.


The film is incredibly engaging. It’s been pitched as a indie music thriller about Lennon, a socially awkward young woman, that is infatuated with the indie music scene. She starts up a podcast and interviews the various artists that she sees around town.


Lennon starts a friendship with an indie pop duo Bobbi Kitten. It’s here that Lennon starts to find herself but at the same time, loses herself in a scene she thought she knew.


I don’t want to say much more than that.


Being a music nerd myself, and having worked in the media scene at shows for a number of years now, the subject matter was an instant plus for me. But that didn’t prepare me for the methodical and hypnotizing narrative that followed once I pushed play.


“Poser” in my eyes really isn’t a thriller at all. Yes, there’s an element of that genre but the film as a whole stands on it’s own legs just fine by being an indie music drama.


This film will find a home very soon, if it hasn’t already. Recommended.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!

THE GREAT WAR OF ARCHIMEDES Film Review June 13, 2021 Eclectic Arts


The Great War of Archimedes

Well Go USA
Reviewed: 6/13/2021
Rating: 3.5 / 5


Debuts on Digital, Blu-ray™ & DVD June 15 with an All-New English Dub


(Well Go USA)



The film, “The Great War of Archimedes” tells the tale of the pre WWII Japanese supership “Yamato”.


The opening scene really teases a lot of action which isn’t necessarily true. The film is more of a drama with conspiracy sprinkled throughout the narrative.


In some ways, Toho, the company behind the legendary Godzilla films, could have taken a cue from their early franchise films, and started this off with the drama narrative, building up to the epic battle scene.



(Well Go USA)



Instead, the drama gets long at some points during the movie. I think if the action had been raised up a few notches, and the drama turned down an equal amount, this film would have been gold.


“The Great War of Archimedes” is an interesting film, with solid performances, but it could have been even better.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!




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SEATTLE OPERA "TOSCA" Premiere's June 4th and runs through June 27th Eclectic Arts review - June 13, 2021


SEATTLE OPERA
Tosca

Premieres June 4th at 7pm
Available through June 27th



(Phillip Newton photo)



What can I say about this season for the Seattle Opera? It’s been filled with as many emotions as those that run throughout the final season ending digital performance of “Tosca”. Joy, sorrow, pain, suffering, resiliency, determination, and triumph all have a place at the table of this pandemic stricken season.


And yet the Seattle Opera has produced some of the most engaging content I’ve seen (or been a part of since I, too, have been riding the virtual wave with my own media work for the last year and some change).


It’s been a road of the familiar that eventually ventured into the new and intriguing. Of course I want to be back at McCaw Hall in-person but the feat the Seattle Opera has pulled off during this trying time has been nothing short of spectacular.



(Alexandra LoBianco (Tosca). Philip Newton photo)



Seeing a production of “Tosca” staged at an actual cathedral here in Seattle, WA is pure genius. Much like the production of “Flight” earlier this year, the onsite location for “Tosca” brings a whole other element to the proceedings.


The Seattle Opera really dug in deep and created a production worthy of the big screen. I love the fact that instead of scaling things back or taking the easier approach, the company grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns and just flat out went for it with this production.


The source material is already much beloved and strong as a rock. The foundation was already set for the company to tackle this opera in a new and unique way in 2021.



(Alexandra LoBianco (Tosca). Philip Newton photo)



I’ve had the privilege to watch and review many live-streams over the last fifteen months. From basic one camera live-streams to multi camera, pre-recorded, gems - the artistic community around the globe has really stepped up to the pandemic plate and swung for the fences. Not every stream was a homerun but trust me - there were a few - and the Seattle Opera’s “Tosca” is one of them.


As the drama played out, and the songs echoed throughout the cathedral, there were moments I felt like I was watching a top notch Hollywood film. Tremendous thanks and well wishes to the entire artistic company for pulling this production off with an exclamation point to the season!


I can’t wait to see you all in-person in October 2021 at McCaw Hall. Until then - stay safe and enjoy “Tosca”.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!



ELLI BERLIN Interview June 13, 2021 (in English) Eclectic Arts (Seattle, WA USA)

(All Photos:  (c) Michael Roob)


Greetings,

Elli Berlin from Null Positv fame has a solo release "Lieb Mich" coming out on June 18th, 2021.  Elli took a few minutes to catch us up on the new record.

Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links

* * *

Eclectic Arts:  Hi Elli. What prompted you to record and release a solo album?

Elli Berlin:  Since we can't tour at the moment, I just used the time to write new songs. In addition to a new record for Null Positiv, there is also an Elli Berlin production which is very valuable, especially in today's world. Many nibble on the circumstances, with existential fears, become depressed and all the more need their moments to look forward to, culture and hope. That's what I write for.


EA:  What was the timeline for writing the songs and recording them?

EB:  I did them as fast and as well as possible.  I was not under pressure because you can't force creativity.


EA:  How do the songs on your solo album differ from Null Positiv?

EB:  The Elli Berlin songs are a bit more rock compared to the typical Null Positiv metal sound. More singing with lyrics that are a bit more remote from this world and yet in keeping with the spirit of the times. There is even a little story about the titles in the booklet.


EA:  “Lieb Mich” was recently released as the first music video from the album. Where and when did you record the video? What is the story behind it?

EB:  We shot the video near Berlin at the beginning of the year. I came up with the text because I have a lot of fans who give me their love on Instagram and Facebook, sometimes as subordinates. I found that exciting! What motivates a person to want to be someone's slave? I asked and got an honest, poignant answer. From this came "Lieb Mich"





EA:  You’ve recorded a few solo covers in 2020. Was this one of the ways you stayed creative during the lockdown pandemic?

EB:  The lockdown made it very difficult for me to get together with my band and so I was still able to sing for my fans and keep myself alive.  I can't exist without singing ;-)


EA:  What takeaways have you learned from putting out your solo album (things you learned that went well or things you would do differently next time)?

EB:  Once again I am fortunate to have a another great, creative person in my life, Benjamin Schwenen. I produced these songs with him, which is a tremendous enrichment. What did I learn from it? Nothing I didn't know beforehand, but you are perfecting yourself from album to album. It would be bad if not. ;-)


EA:  What advice would you give a young aspiring musician?

EB:  Do!!! No excuses, no "I can't", no tomorrow, NOW !!! Have something to say, believe in yourself and do it! Of course there are a lot of bands and great artists out there but there is only you once. Invent yourself, find your uniqueness, and make it your strength!






EA:  What’s coming up next? Will there be another music video? Any chance of any live shows or live-streams?

EB:  In any case, there will be more music videos. Of course I hope that it will start LIVE again soon. We plan and we will be there as soon as we can.


EA:  What do you think the future of music will look like in 2022 and beyond?

EB:  We are planning on a tour in May in 2022 and I hope the circumstances allow this to happen.  Thanks so much for the interview!




ELLI BERLIN "Lieb Mich" Official M/V

Saturday, June 12, 2021

PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET REP 6 June 10 - June 14, 2021 Eclectic Arts

PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET

Rep 6

6/10/2021 - 6/16/2021



It goes without saying that this digital season has been something of a miracle for the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Where some other ballet companies floundered during the pandemic lockdown period, PNB put their collective artistic heads together to create art during the most trying of times. And my goodness did they succeed.


Rep 6 is here and it features two world premieres in this last performance for the digital season.


It’s interesting for the novice (which I still very much consider myself to be) viewer/reviewer to have something like in-person and virtual performance to compare. Clearly I would much rather be at McCaw Hall watching the grace, power, and storytelling of the PNB dancers in person. However, the virtual stage presents a different perspective on any given performance as well.


Being a fan of the classical full length ballets, the mixed bills have been at times harder to consume. The more time I invested in the high art that is ballet, the more I slowly started to understand what was going on at any given performance pre-pandemic.


During this digital season I’ve found myself either much more entertained by any given piece or the opposite - my attention span began to wander. Perhaps it’s the ease of hitting the pause button or munching on a loud and messy snack that normally would never happen at McCaw Hall. I’ll never really know until I’m back at an in-person performance so I can compare and contrast again.


It’s so nice (as of today) to be able to say in-person performance. I know I, like many, will not take certain things for granted moving forward. I also know I’ve come to appreciate more things in my life and I’m intentionally ready to improve in other areas of it.


Rep 6 reminded me of the feelings I had at the end of the PNB season in 2019. A bit nostalgic, tremendously grateful for the media opportunities, and hopeful and excited about the upcoming 2019-2020 season. I was finally going to be experiencing my first full PNB season. And we all know what happened to half of that season.


Watching the Tisserands (Jerome and Laura) dance one last time for PNB was truly beautiful and emotional. Seeing other PNB dancers like Leta Biasucci that I’ve come to learn and appreciate was like seeing your favorite extended family member again after a long unplanned break. And the newer PNB talent showed that there is much to look forward to with the return of in-person performances in September 2021.


Similar to the feeling one gets when graduating from high school or college, Rep 6 of the digital season for the Pacific Northwest Ballet has been a joyful yet tearful reminder of just how much the PNB accomplished this season.


Bravo!


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!


Rep 6 is available to purchase through Monday June 14th.  Visit:  https://www.pnb.org/season/rep6/

Monday, June 7, 2021

UNDERCOVER PUNCH & GUN Film Review June 7, 2021 Eclectic Arts


Undercover Punch & Gun

Well Go USA
Reviewed: 6/7/2021
Rating: 3.5  / 5

Available on Digital, Blu-ray™ & DVD June 8 with an All-New English Dub



(Well Go USA)



The new film, “Undercover Punch & Gun” delivers an interesting mix of new and old style martial arts action.


The story leaves something to be desired but with a film like this, it’s the action that makes or breaks it. And for the most part - it makes it.


Philip Ng stars and also serves as the action director. His style of choreography is modern and fast paced. I would have liked a few more long shots with less editing but overall he is an effective action director.


(Well Go USA)



The comedic aspects of most Chinese based films is lost on me but that’s nothing new. It’s been like that since the 80’s and 90’s films I used to watch. It may just be a cultural difference. What’s funny to some isn’t funny to others.


The movie arrives on Tuesday June 8th on Digital, Blu-ray, and DVD from Well Go USA.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!



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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

SPARE PARTS Film Review June 1, 2021 Eclectic Arts


Spare Parts

RLJE Films
Reviewed: 6/1/2021
Rating: 2 / 5


(RLJE Films)



The film, “Spare Parts” seemed right up my alley. A midnight movie tale wrapped up with a dash of horror and action ala Road Warrior. Unfortunately, the movie came up short for me.


The basic plot centers around a punk band called Ms. 45 whose members are captured, sedated, and transformed (one hand is replaced with a weapon) so they can fight for spectators.



(RLJE Films)



The story is flimsy at best and the acting is about what you would think for a film like this. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a bad film can be a “good” bad film.


The gore elements after a kill were the highlight of the film for me. The rest of it was just a waste of what could have been a cult level film.


Maybe you’ll think differently after you watch it.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

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DEADLY ILLUSIONS Film Review June 1st, 2021 Eclectic Arts


Deadly Illusions

Dark Star Pictures
Reviewed: 6/1/2021
Rating: 4 / 5


AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS ON JUNE 1



(Dark Star Pictures)



The new erotic thriller, “Deadly Illusions” will please some and perhaps confuse others. It is a throwback to a storytelling technique of leaving things to the imagination. For those with creative minds, this will delight and enrich the viewing experience. For others who take things quite literally like black and white, well, it may be too much to break down in one review.



Mary (played by Kristin Davis) is a best selling author living a supposedly dream life with her husband and two children. When she is asked to write a new novel that she isn’t quite comfortable with, she encounters writer’s block, and at the suggestion of a friend - hires a nanny Grace (played by Greer Grammer) to help her with the children.


A relationship develops between Mary and Grace that is explored throughout the film and things take more than a few twists and turns.


What I liked about the film was that it not only held my interest but it kept me guessing as to what was really going on in the film. Is this real? Is this all a figment of Mary’s imagination (she is a writer after all)? The film allowed, again, the creative minded to fill in the gaps and it was almost like a choose your adventure type film (or book if you remember those).


Eroticism in film is always going to be subjective. What titliates one viewer may disgust the other. While the film definitely has the allure and the build up in certain scenes, director Anna Elizabeth James never goes into the flesh for flesh sakes arena. Instead, she handles the eroticism with restraint when needed but also lets the temperature rise as well. A very nice balance.



(Greer Grammer as Grace in "Deadly Illusions".)



Greer Grammer absolutely shines in her role as Grace. Without any spoilers let’s just say her range is really something to behold in this film.


Kristin Davis is the savvy veteran on screen and makes the difficult look easy. It was also nice to see Dermot Mulroney as Mary’s husband.


If you’re the type of viewer that only notices plot holes but can’t fill them in on your own then this film will be a challenge for you in my opinion. For the rest of you, like myself, you’ll enjoy the deadly ride.

The film was released earlier this year via Netflix and is now heading to digital on June 1st.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!





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Monday, May 31, 2021

JULIA SCOTTI: Funny That Way Film Review May 31, 2021 Eclectic Arts


Julia Scotti: Funny That Way

1091 Pictures
Reviewed: 5/31/2021
Rating: 4.5 / 5


(1091 Pictures)



The film, “Julia Scotti: Funny That Way” is a really interesting documentary about comedian Julia Scotti who is an openly trans woman. She started off her career as Rick Scotti, married, had two children, etc. But she never felt comfortable in her own skin or as the father in the family dynamic.


She tells her story in an amusing yet endearing way. It’s eye opening to also see a story of a person that came out so to speak later in life. The effect on her wife and children is explored, with interviews with her now grown children as well.



(1091 Pictures)



Health scares and her career comeback on America’s Got Talent really makes for one heck of a funny but more importantly educational film.


I wish it had been a bit longer but that’s a minor quibble. A thoroughly enjoyable film. And a very necessary one as well.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

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1091 Pictures Official Site



Monday, May 24, 2021

WALKING WHILE BLACK: L.O.V.E. Is The Answer Film Review May 24, 2021 Eclectic Arts


Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is The Answer

Magnetbox Films
Reviewed: 5/24/2021

Rating: 5 / 5





The documentary from A.J. Ali is compelling from beginning to end. The film interviews different community members, law enforcement of course, and activists about the ongoing issue of the divide between the African American community and the police.  It also shows the difference between the community police patrols (and their mission) and those in other departments.


Of course this film is (well, unfortunately due to 2020’s events) timely and I wish I could say that we’ve come far from the copyright on this film of 2017 to now. We all know, regardless of where you stand on this important issue, that we have a lot of work to do and there are many viewpoints to the issue.


I won’t hijack it by yet another voice but the film itself does a really superb job of not sugar coating anything without being preachy at the same time.



 

The acronym L.O.V.E. is the answer is fundamentally correct. Learn. Open. Volunteer. Empower. Those are the key words from the definition of L.O.V.E. but there is much more to each action.


And, again, as we’ve seen from the events of 2020, we have a long way to go before the foundation of systematic racism and the role law enforcement plays in that begins to crack.


Recommended.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!


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PORT AUTHORITY Film Review May 24, 2021 Eclectic Arts

Port Authority

Momentum Pictures
Reviewed: 5/24/2021

Rating: 4 / 5


PORT AUTHORITY is available in select theaters May 28th and On Demand and Digital June 1, 2021.


(Momentum Pictures)


The film “Port Authority” is an interesting tale of a young man Paul (Fionn Whitehead) moving to New York from Pittsburgh, PA. He runs into trouble on the way there. His new home with his half sister falls through and he finds himself working as an immigration eviction enforcer to make a few dollars.


While in New York, he becomes infatuated with a young woman he sees on the streets Wye (Leyna Bloom). Eventually they meet up and become friends (and then more than friends).


Paul in trying to keep his relationship with Wye a secret, leads something of a double life where his friends/co-workers don’t know about his affair with Wye - who is openly trans.



((L-R) Leyna Bloom as Wye and Fionn Whitehead as Paul in the drama PORT AUTHORITY, a Momentum Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures.)



“Port Authority” held my interest and the tone was gritty, desperate, and put you right into Paul’s world immediately. The relationship between Paul and Wye was believable and well done.


It’s wonderful to see an openly trans woman in a leading role in a U.S. motion picture. It’s about damn time.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!


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DELIVER US FROM EVIL Film Review May 24, 2021 Eclectic Arts



Deliver Us From Evil

Well Go USA
Reviewed: 5/24/2021

Rating: 4 / 5


DELIVER US FROM EVIL debuts on digital & Blu-ray May 25!


(Well Go USA)



The new film, “Deliver Us From Evil” centers around a cat and mouse gangster game in South Korea and Thailand. Featuring two of my favorite actors Hwang Jung-min and Lee Jung-jae (from many South Korean films including “New World” - also from Well Go USA), the film is an action thriller that keeps the narrative moving consistently throughout the movie.


While the storyline gets a bit jumbled at times, it is clear that each lead actor is in a race against the other to find the young girl who went missing (no spoilers here).



(Well Go USA)



It was interesting to see Lee Jung-jae in a villainous role which he pulls off well. Hwang Jung-min also shows his range as a hero in the film.


My only minor gripe was the consistent use of a sepia type tone throughout the film. I understand when filmmakers want to show a distinct variance between locations (or in this case countries), but, after a while it dulls the screen in my opinion. I would much rather see everything in a clear color palette.


Overall, “Deliver Us From Evil” delivered solid movie entertainment.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!




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Monday, May 17, 2021

MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 May 17, 2021 Eclectic Arts


MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL

May 6- May 20th, 2021

Part I







The pandemic of 2020 (and the first part of 2021 thus far) has forced many film festivals to either skip a year (which many did in 2020) and/or look at a virtual experience for 2021. The Milwaukee Film Festival went virtual this year which for someone like myself in Seattle was a welcome shift as I could now “attend” the festival virtually.


Having covered two other virtual film festivals earlier this year, I decided to take the same approach with the Milwaukee Film Festival. Instead of reading the “must watch” lists and other recommendations, I looked through the program each night and decided what caught my attention is what I would view. Sometimes a mood dictated the pick while other times the subject matter or genre influenced my viewing.


Here in no particular order are the films I viewed so far and capsule reviews of each.


“STRAY”
5 out of 5


I love a good documentary film. I was interested in “Stray” back in February of this year when Magnolia Pictures started airing the trailer on social media. I was fortunate enough to be able to view the film a few days before the festival officially opened.


Elizabeth Lo (director/writer/producer/editor) really brings the audience into the world of a dog in Istanbul Turkey. The randomness at times may take some getting used to but once you do, the narrative is quite layered with themes of class society, other living things, and how some countries get it right, and some countries get it wrong.


Watch my interview live-stream with Elizabeth Lo here:

5/17/2021


“REZ METAL”
5 out of 5


I am a metalhead. I saw a different mini documentary a few years back about metal on the Rez and it was an interesting watch. This film was a no brainer for me to check out. And I’m glad I did.


The documentary follows one band I Don’t Konform around as they fight to get known. They manage to get Flemming Rassumusen (well known Danish producer of the early Metallica albums) interested in their project and that’s really the crux of the film. The other storylines revolve around life on the Rez, the impact that the Rez life has had on the musicians living there (either country or metal it seems), and what lays ahead.


You do not need to be a metal fan to enjoy “Rez Metal”. The human interest and historical perspective will educate any cinephile.




“BEANS”
4 out of 5



I wanted to see this film during its run with the SIFF but I couldn’t find the time. Luckily, it was available through the Milwaukee Film Festival. Based on true events in the early 1990’s in Montreal Canada, the film centers around young “Beans” (a family nickname) who is a middle school aged student trying to fit in. She excels in school but like many teens starts seeking the approval of her peers instead of the adults in her life.


The Native and political issues of the time come to a heated clash where Beans and her family are forced to take sides.


The hatred and bigotry featured in the film was hard to watch but oh so necessary. Even though the film was depicting events from thirty years ago, it was extremely relevant to what’s going on today in 2021.




“COWBOYS”
3.5 out of 5



This film starting Steve Zahn started off strong but then started to meander a bit for my liking. The story follows mom and son who is transgender. Mom is in denial while estranged dad is more understanding. Dad takes son away and they go on a venture toward Canada. As you can guess the themes are many and very topical. The execution works some of the time but misses the mark other times.




“THE DJINN”
4 out of 5


A thriller/horror film about a mute son and his father, “The Djinn” really sets everything up nicely. The viewer isn’t exactly sure what’s going on, what happened to the boy’s mother, and what the evil is that’s inside the home.


There is a twist that works in a tragic but understandable way. It’s very much a case of careful what you wish for.


 

“TRY HARDER”
5 out of 5


This documentary was very well done as it focuses on one high school in California that is known for being a high achieving school - and a public school at that.


It has a high Asian student body and the focus is on the college exams for many of the top schools in the country and world.


The film was honest and direct yet the human interest element was prevalent throughout which made it easy to watch and relate to the high school students as they stressed about scores, grades, their families expectations, and everything else that comes with high school top students.




“GUNDA”
3.5 out of 5



A Norwegian documentary about a mother pig and her piglets, a one legged chicken, and a cow, this film was interesting at the start but about half way through it became redundant. I think if it had been edited down 15 minutes or so, it would have had more of a cinematic punch.


The final scenes were dramatic and definitely carried a message, though.




“LUCHADORAS”
4 out of 5

“Blackfeet Boxing: Not Invisible”
5 out of 5



The missing and murdered indiginous women issue is no longer in the background in American society. The short film “Blackfeet Boxing: Not Invisible” takes a look at the issue but also one man’s approach to training the young women (and men) on the Rez how to defend themselves.


The film is direct and unapologetic. I would love to see a feature length documentary tackling this subject by the same very capable creative team.


“Luchadoras” focuses on three different luchadoras in Mexico. It follows their day to day struggles and their love of lucha. It, too, address the domestic violence or femme violence toward women in Mexico. Both films are worth watching.





“POLY STYRENE: I AM A CLICHE’ “
4 out of 5


A music documentary about Poly Styrene (X Ray Specs and her solo work), a bi racial punk pioneer, the film was interesting and absolutely educational. Her mental health battles as well as her inspiring music as narrated by her daughter were something I was not aware of before. The documentary flowed nicely and definitely kept my interest.




“BABY”
5 out of 5


I was in the mood for a fictional film and this one really surprised me. A feature from Spain, there is no spoken dialogue, only the occasional laugh or scream. The premise centers around a drug addict that has a newborn baby. She is no condition to care for it and one episode while passed out, her landlord writes a phone number on her hand.


She calls it and ends up giving up her baby for adoption. Having some regrets, she journey’s to find her baby and get it back. That’s when things take a creepy turn as the house where her baby is located looks like something straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

“Baby” is unique and unlike any film I’ve seen recently. Recommended.




“POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA”
4 out of 5



An autobiographical feature written and directed by the subject: Wes Hurley. The film follows young Wes and his mom and grandmother while living in the former Soviet Union. Mom and son are invited to live in Seattle, WA by a man who finds her in a mail order bride catalog.


All along the other issue at hand is Potato (Wes Hurley’s nickname) coming to the realization that he is a gay man.


The film comes across like a theatre production with a light tone and plenty of comedic scenes. The subject matter could have taken the film into a very dramatic area but instead tells the story fully without becoming overly preachy.




“NO ORDINARY MAN”
4 out of 5


A fascinating documentary about the great musician Billy Tipton. After his passing it was discovered by the mainstream media that he was born/assigned a female. The film has several interviews with family and friends as well as narration of Billy’s own words.


The film shows just how far we’ve come for trans-rights from Billy’s days to now. But, it also shows just how much work there is left to be done.



 
***


I thoroughly enjoyed the 2021 Milwaukee Film Festival. Thank you so much to the organization for allowing me to partake in the festival virtually.


I hope many of the film festivals consider a hybrid model in 2022. While I understand that local theaters need all of our support, I also see the business side of things where a virtual program (even a partial one) can not only get the word out about the festivals and the films themselves but also generate some additional revenue from viewers around the country (if not the world depending on region restrictions).


Well done MFF21!


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Connect with Eclectic Arts:  Social Media Links Here!

AMITYVILLE POLTERGEIST Film Review May 17, 2021 Eclectic Arts


Amityville Poltergeist

Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed: 5/17/2021

Rating: 2.5 / 5


Arriving May 18 on DVD and VOD from Breaking Glass Pictures



(Breaking Glass Pictures)



The film, “Amityville Poltergeist” uses the very familiar name to basically cash in on a horror franchise with a sub par movie.


I grew up and love horror films of all types. So, low budgets, questionable acting, flimsy plots, etc. don’t bother me like it may some reviewers. But, even I have my limits.


If you took a creature that looked like something from “Ringu” or “Ju On'', then you’d have the poltergeist in this film. The acting was quite poor across the board. I hate to say something like that (of other creative types) but unfortunately it’s true.



(Breaking Glass Pictures)
 


The scares were minimal at best and that’s never a good thing for a horror film.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

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DEMENTIA PART II Film Review May 17, 2021 Eclectic Arts


Dementia Part II


Dark Star Pictures and Bloody Disgusting
Reviewed: 5/17/2021

Rating: 3.5 / 5





The film, “Dementia Part II” is a quirky horror film that took five weeks to produce. The film was reminiscent of a theatre play gone wrong.


The use of black and white film instead of color doesn’t really distract from the movie. The performances of the two lead actors Matt Mercer (who is also one of the creative team behind the film) and Suzanne Voss really kept the film from going off the rails. Well, by the end of the film, things are off the rails but in a good way for a horror film with some black comedy thrown in.


“Dementia Part II” shows how a group of creatives can put a movie together that can hold their own with the best of the other films in their genre.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

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SEANCE Film Review May 17, 2021 Eclectic Arts


Seance

RLJE Films / Shudder
Reviewed: 5/17/2021

Rating: 4 / 5


SEANCE is In Theaters and On Digital and On Demand May 21, 2021.


(RLJE FILMS/Shudder)



The new film, “Seance” centers around a group of high school students at a private elite school. A student falls to her death and then the real horror mystery begins.


A new student enrolls and moves into the room where the deceased student once lived. The body count starts to increase as a mysterious killer is on the loose, terrorizing the campus.


“Seance” definitely held my interest throughout. It is shot and directed well and the performances from the cast were solid throughout the film.



((L-R] Stephanie Sy as Yvonne, Inanna Sarkis as Alice, Madisen Beaty as Bethany, Djouliet Amara as Rosalind, Suki Waterhouse as Camille, and Ella-Rae Smith as Helina in the horror SEANCE, an RLJE Films and Shudder release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder.)



The ending “explanation” was a bit convoluted but it did pack a well deserved punch for the audience. My only complaint during the finale was the soundscape used - it was incredibly jarring and not in a good way. It actually distracted from the impact of the scenes. Having worked as an audio engineer with sound placement, I couldn’t help but notice this.


Outside of that, “Seance” was a notch above some of the other recent horror offerings.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

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TAKE OUT GIRL Film Review Eclectic Arts May 17, 2021


Take Out Girl

1091 Pictures
Reviewed: 5/17/2021

Rating: 4 / 5


(1091 Pictures)



The new film, “Take Out Girl” focuses on a few different themes such as diversity, drug culture, stereotypes, and urban communities. The film was directed by Hisonni Johnson and co-written by Hisonni Johnson and Hedy Wong.


The lead character Tera Wong (played by Hedy Wong) works for her family's restaurant delivering take out orders. She starts hustling by moving drug products via the food delivery system.


There is a sense of authenticity to the film which was refreshing to see. I chalk that up to the two co-writers tackling stereotypes that are pervasive in American film - particularly that of Asians and Asian Americans.


 
(1091 Pictures)



The narrative, while promising, started to fade just a bit for me further into the film. It’s one of those cases where perhaps more time and most likely more funding would have helped strengthen the vision of the creators.


“Take Out Girl” is a solid film that really gives a glimpse into the future of these bright new talents.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

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Monday, May 10, 2021

HIGH GROUND Film Review May 10, 2021 Eclectic Arts


High Ground

Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed: 5/10/2021

Rating: 4 / 5


HIGH GROUND is On Digital and On Demand May 14, 2021.


(Samuel Goldwyn Films)



The new film, “High Ground” is a very interesting film. It tells the story of the 1800’s version of Australia and the indigenous people. A specific tale of one young boy that is raised by white settlers who eventually grows up to hunt his own family member.


For those of us here in the U.S. I don’t think we’ve seen enough about the indigenous people of Australia. Depending on your age bracket, you probably think back to films like “Crocodile Dundee, which was a comedy and not a drama like “High Ground”.



(A still from the adventure/drama film, HIGH GROUND, a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.)



I enjoyed the fact that both parties had equal screen time. This isn’t a film that is skewed one way or the other. It tells a story that is both interesting and educational. The drama is realistic and heartbreaking at times.


The actors all put in fine performances and the direction is tight and to the point.


I hope more films tell the stories of the indigenous people from countries from all over the world.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

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MORGUE Film Review May 10, 2021 Eclectic Arts


Morgue

Well Go USA
Reviewed: 5/10/2021

Rating: 3 / 5


MORGUE Hits Digital and Blu-Ray on Tuesday 5/11!


(Well Go USA)



I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. If you’re making a horror film, and your story is fairly basic, you either have to load the film with scares, gore, or both. You can’t rely on a story that isn’t really there to carry it.


Unfortunately, “Morgue” started really promising. And the ending does tie the story together nicely. But the rest of the film just needed to commit to a vision of horror and stick with it.



(Well Go USA)



You can pretty much guess what’s going to happen inside a morgue where a security officer is stuck all night. But, then again, maybe you’d guess wrong.


The film sets everything up right but then fails to deliver a horror film to the audience. It is by no means a bad film. It just seems more like a wasted opportunity for a cool scenario to scare the shit out of the viewers and/or to gross them out.


Best,
Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

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