It’s All in the Delivery

The Long Night

by Brandon Thomas

Writer/director Rich Ragsdale clearly has a fondness for horror. His feature, The Long Night, is chock full of the genre’s greatest hits: a couple alone in a farmhouse, robed assailants, ample gore and moody music. What The Long Night may lack in originality, it more than makes up for in execution.

Grace (Scout Taylor-Compton of Rob Zombie’s Halloween & Halloween 2) and her boyfriend, Jack (Nolan Gerard Funk of The Flight Attendant), travel to the deep south to try and unravel the mystery of Grace’s parents. Grace never knew them and a man she’s made contact with claims to have answers.

Once Grace and Jack arrive at the isolated farmhouse, they find themselves under siege by a sadistic cult and its maniacal leader (Deborah Unger of The Game and Cronenberg’s Crash).

A story like the one in The Long Night could’ve gone tongue-in-cheek and still delivered something mildly entertaining. However, Ragsdale has something a little more classy on his mind, and the result is a film much more methodical and patient. There’s no real rush to overdue the slow reveal around the film’s core mystery. Ragsdale and co-writer Mark Young twist every little bit of tension out of Grace and Jack’s experience throughout the night.

The film’s visual approach is just as patient and measured. Ragsdale keeps his camera locked down – rarely going handheld, even during the film’s more chaotic scenes. The stillness of the cinematography only adds to the unease. 

The haunting score by Sherri Chung is a standout in an already aesthetically pleasing film. Chung delivers a gothic score that is modern yet wouldn’t feel entirely out of place in a classic Hammer film.

Next to the fan-fiction level scripts, Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies also get routinely beat up in the acting department. One of the few actors to make it out of those films relatively unscathed was Scout Taylor-Compton. Now well over a decade removed from Zombie’s Halloween 2, Taylor-Compton gives a grounded portrayal as Grace. This isn’t a character with a ton of nuance, but Taylor-Compton instills her with a sense of relatability. She’s “Every Girl U.S.A.” without the overall blandness. 

Character actor royalty Jeff Fahey shows up for a criminally short part halfway through the film. Fahey’s genre bonafides are strong with Grindhouse, Machete, TV’s Lost and the underrated Psycho III. Fahey’s role doesn’t add much to the film other than a fun bit of “Hey, it’s that guy!” from the audience, but any Fahey is good Fahey in my book.

The Long Night isn’t likely to end up on any “Best Of” lists at the end of the year. It is, however, a fun way to spend a Friday night.

Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon

The Worst Person in the World

by George Wolf

The older you get, four years can pass in what seems like a whirlwind weekend. But to a twentysomething like Julie (Renate Reinsve), that same slice of life can end up being monumental in shaping the course of her life.

For The Worst Person in the World (Verdens verste menneske), Norwegian writer/director Joachim Trier uses understated insight and a revelatory performance from Reinsve to effectively fuse coming-of-age sensibilities with romantic drama. 

In that pivotal 4-year time span, we see Julie move through multiple career choices and two long-term relationships. Despite a 15 year age gap with established comic book artist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), Julie moves in with him while adamantly proclaiming she doesn’t want children.

As the relationship begins to grow stale, Julie’s head is turned by the younger, more impulsive Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), who is also in a committed relationship.

Choices will be made and harsh realities will be dealt, all in a poignant, surprisingly funny and quietly engrossing package that strikes a fine balance between finding romance and finding yourself.

Even when Julie is at her most selfish, naive or indecisive, Reinsve makes sure she’s always sympathetic and, above all, relatable. Her performance delivers a wonderfully layered reminder that most of us surely recognize this road Julie is traveling.

As one woman navigates what she wants in a career, in a relationship, and ultimately what she wants out of life, Trier and Reinsve craft small, indelible moments that bind together for a refreshingly honest look at how, as John Lennon once said, life happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Brotherly Love


by Hope Madden

Abuse is easy to confuse with a complicated form of love, especially if you’re a child. For the feature length expansion of his 2018 short Slapface, writer/director Jeremiah Kipp complicates his tale of grief and rage with these confusing notions of abuse.

He relies mainly on the unexpected bond between Lucas (August Maturo, exceptional) and a monster sometimes called the Virago Witch (Lukas Hassel, reprising his role from the short). Lucas lost his parents in a car accident and grieves deeply for his mother. He lives just off the woods with his older brother Tom (Mike Manning, who also produces).

Tom’s new girlfriend Anna (Libe Barer) is concerned about the way the siblings live. The only other companionship Lucas has is a trio of bullies. One of those bullies, Moriah (Mirabelle Lee) is willing to be Lucas’s girlfriend as long as he keeps it secret.

In this way, Kipp layers his original tale of grief with conflicting emotional baggage. It’s to his credit, and the endless benefit of his film, that the filmmaker never tidies up these emotional storylines. In fact, it is Lucas’s confusion over the characters who seem to both love and harm him that creates his greatest turmoil.

The monster becomes a remedy of sorts to this internal conflict. The larger-than-life, terrifying presence works much the way that the monster in J.A. Bayona’s 2016 treasure A Monster Calls works. The beast allows Lucas to process the complicated reasons for his pain.

Kipp’s film trades in Bayona’s melancholy magic for something more brutal. But Hassel and Maturo find sincere tenderness in their time together onscreen, which makes the horror even more heartbreaking.

Not every performance is as strong, but Kipp’s ensemble finds nuance in characters that help the film compel more than just terror.

Forever Is a Long Time

Jackass Forever

by George Wolf



How does that hit you? Like a promise, or a threat?

Your answer is really all you’ll need to decide whether this sixth big screen installment of the Jackass franchise is for you.

After opening with a fairly inspired monster movie spoof that features a penis, Johnny Knoxville, his crew (Steve-O, Wee Man, Chris, Jeff, etc.) and celebrity guests (Machine Gun Kelly, Eric Andre, Tony Hawk) settle into what they do best: a parade of pranks, stunts, and hidden camera gags that also frequently involve the male nether regions and/or bodily fluids from both man and beast.

And oh, yes, some of their antics go straight to the funny bone.

One of the best, entitled Silence of the Lambs, throws some dudes into a pitch dark room with a venomous snake while giving us the Buffalo-Bill-with-heat-vision-goggle-eye view of how they react.

Hey is that a naked guy tucking his sack back? Maybe.

Other segments, like Knoxville adopting his Bad Grandpa makeup to check out a big sale on furniture, seem to wrap up just when you want them to amp up. The hits and the misses keep coming, equally likely to leave you laughing, wincing, or checking your watch.

But you can’t deny the bonds of friendship are still strong among these idiots, and after twenty-some odd years of insanity, a distinct whiff of sentimentality is in the air.

Or maybe that’s the dump someone just took in a store showroom. Hard to tell.

Made in the Shade


by Hope Madden

Usually, when you try to avoid giving any plot synopsis it’s because so much happens in a film that you don’t want to spoil any surprises.

That’s sort of why it’s nearly impossible to describe Michel Franco’s latest drama Sundown. And yet, it’s also kind of the opposite.

The film in its entirety is a sleight of hand. In a way, it’s as if you’re watching a dysfunctional family drama, then an international thriller, but always from the perspective of someone barely involved in what’s going on. The result is simultaneously frustrating and mesmerizing.

Tim Roth provides a slyly empathetic turn as Neil. He and Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) plus two young adult kids are on a pricy vacation. Franco lingers for about 25 minutes on pools and vistas, private beaches and ridiculous accommodations. The dialog—what there is of it—amounts to background noise. The point is there’s love here, a bit of distance, and an absolutely insane amount of money.

Then a tragedy calls the family home, cutting short their holiday. From here the show belongs to Roth. Franco trusts the actor to carry the full weight of this character and this film with no exposition at all, next to no emotion and bursts of action withheld until the last half hour of the film.

Roth delivers. A blend of tenderness and resignation, he fascinates and the less he explains the more confoundingly intriguing he becomes. Neil is the mystery, his every action a surprise delivered in the lowest of keys.

Gainsbourg’s tumult of emotion offers a brash counterpoint, while Iazua Larios balances that drama with something raw and sometimes sweet.  

It’s almost amazing how much happens in a film that feels so meandering and lethargic. Sundown defies expectations, but it’s all the better for it.

Dogs and Cats Living Together…

The Wolf and the Lion

by Christie Robb and Emmy Clifton

Gilles de Maistre’s Mia and the White Lion is a stunt. According to RivieraBuzz, it was born out of a conversation between the director and two animal wranglers in which the three realized that there had never been a film featuring a wolf and a lion. So they raised some pups and cubs in front of a camera and developed a script.

The story revolves around Alma, who returns to her family’s private island in rural northern Canada following the death of her only living relative, the grandfather who raised her. After the funeral, a plane carrying a circus-bound lion cub crashes on her property. Luckily for the lion, the grandfather had befriended a mother wolf who is happy to nurse the cub as well as her own pup.

Once the mother wolf is captured by a group of scientists looking to start a breeding program geared toward releasing more wolves into the wild, the fate of the young wolf and lion is debated.

Where do they belong?

To provide a well-rounded perspective of this film, I’ve asked my 8-year-old daughter and animal enthusiast, Emmy, to contribute her thoughts.

Mom says…

I respect the guts of lead actor Molly Kunz. There are many scenes in which she had to get up close and personal with the animals, in some instances picking them up or lying down between them. It’s nuts. Somehow she manages work with the animals while radiating confidence and serenity and looking like a cover model for Faerie Magazine.

Props also need to go to animal coordinator Andrew Simpson and his team for keeping everyone safe.

Serge Desrosiers’s cinematography is glorious. He captures the four seasons of the forest in such sweeping, breathtaking shots that they made me long to book a vacation. The set design for Alma’s lakeside home is peak cottagecore—cozy, romantic, and nostalgic.

The movie, however, seems to suffer from a lack of self-reflection. It explicitly ponders the question of where these animals belong and celebrates the animals’ unlikely friendship amid the wacky circumstances in which it developed (as these two species do not naturally coexist). The use of animals as entertainment in the circus is clearly coded as monstrous.

Alma even gives a big speech to this effect at the end to sum up the film.

Although they love each other like brothers, it’s only because as babies they were deprived of their liberty by human beings…They managed to be happy in spite of us.


The filmmakers here deliberately manufactured a situation in which the cubs and pups were raised artificially and made to interact with each other for the entrainment of an audience. How is this functionally different than the circus the movie vilifies?

Pure cognitive dissonance.

The humans really are the weak link in this film. The acting isn’t great and the story is a bit random with logical inconsistencies, stakes that evaporate, and character traits that are dropped suddenly in dialogue because the plot demands it (apparently the lion is afraid of water because…reasons).

Some of this was no doubt caused by script revisions necessitated by what the developing animals were willing to do on camera as well as production delays caused by COVID.

Ultimately, to me, the film was kind of a beautiful mess.

Kid says…

I think it was good, but it was kind of confusing cause some of the timeline of events was unclear.

I liked the fact that it was really realistic and adorable. Watching a wolf and a lion interact was really cute. The wolf reminded me of one of my favorite kinds of dogs—a husky—and the lion reminded me of my cats Tormund and Pumpkin.

Some parts are scary, like when the lion didn’t go into the water and there were guns. But the ending wasn’t devastating.

Mom’s Verdict:

Kid’s Verdict:

Still Punk After All These Years

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché

by Rachel Willis

Director Celeste Bell helps uncover her mother, X-Ray Spex singer and punk legend Poly Styrene, in the documentary, Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché

Co-directed with Paul Sng, Bell dives deep into the circumstances that steered her mother from “an ordinary kid from an ordinary street” to punk rock icon.

Born Marianne Elliott, the alter-ego Poly Styrene came from Elliott’s desire to connect the superfluity of pop stars with the culture’s increasing obsession with disposable commodities.     

Ruth Negga (Passing) lends her voice to read Poly’s diary entries and poems, which helps convey the emotions in the icon’s words. Bell’s own narration, memories of her mother, and a collection of memorabilia help us discover the woman behind the image.

Numerous interviews with rock icons such as Thurston Moore, X-Ray Spex members Lora Logic and Paul Dean, writer Vivien Goldman and others, dig deeper into what Poly stood for as a commentator on the culture.

The documentary maintains a strong emphasis on Poly herself. Interviews happen as voiceovers while images onscreen portray the world in which Poly offered her strongest analysis and criticisms. Footage from concerts and interviews with Poly herself dictate the film’s focus.

However, this is more than a simple rock doc, as the film finds numerous ways to cement Poly’s story as larger commentary on contemporary society. Bruno Wizard lays it out best when he says: “She was a woman of color working with an industry full of middle class men that had it all their own way.” The pressure on Poly, as it is on women (especially women of color), was enormous.

Like many of Poly’s songs, the film illuminates the culture’s uglier realities, including the ways it tries to exclude people like Poly. In many ways, the punk scene was a natural fit, “full of people nobody else wanted.”

As the film dives deeper into Poly’s life story, her struggles with mental health are partially documented. While not the first woman to be misdiagnosed, it’s further critique on the systems in place that frequently fail to help women.

The third act falters as it shifts away from its strongest themes and relies on a more formulaic approach. The overarching criticism is neglected for a timeline of events in Poly’s life.

Despite the disappointing turn, the documentary is a lot like Poly herself: vulnerable, observant, and resilient. Like mother, like daughter one might say.