All You Ever Wanted


by George Wolf

Even if you’ve never taken the tour at Graceland, the bare feet on shag carpeting that Sofia Coppola uses to open Priscilla should serve as a proper metaphor for the biography to come.

Welcome to a world you could never imagine being a part of. Tread lightly.

Priscilla Beaulieu (Cailee Spaeny) was just a ninth grader when she met Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi) on the West German Air Force base where her stepfather was stationed. They eventually married in 1967, had daughter Lisa Marie, and divorced in 1973.

Like most stories about Elvis, this one is pretty familiar. But this point of view is not. That’s likely what interested Coppola, and she adapts Priscilla’s 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me” as a lush, compelling, and often heartbreaking portrait of the woman at the heart of a uniquely American love story.

As Priscilla enters Elvis’s world, she’s a stranger in a strange land, wide eyed and wondering what this older man wants from her. It’s a theme that calls to mind Coppola’s Lost in Translation, but this young girl is much more at the mercy of Elvis than Scarlett Johansson ever was to Bill Murray.

And Spaeny (On the Basis of Sex, Bad Times at the El Royale) gives a breakout performance that is utterly transfixing. With grace and ease, she is able to take Priscilla from the shy schoolgirl hiding a big secret behind her knowing smile, to a woman no longer willing to sacrifice her life to the whims of an icon.

Just last year, Baz Luhrmann used Colonel Tom Parker as a fresh window into the legend of the King. But as entertaining as it was, Luhrmann’s film suffered from its one-note treatment of Elvis, the man. For Coppola, this is an area of strength.

Here, he’s a gaslighting, manipulative ass with a God complex, Mommy issues and weird ideas about sex. And Elordi (Euphoria) embodies it all through a strong performance that captures the charisma and complexities without leaning toward comic impersonation (and with Elvis, that is not easy).

Coppola’s pace and construction are reliably assured and more easily identifiable than anything she’s done since The Beguiled. The production design and time stamp are both detailed and gorgeous, wrapped in a dreamlike haze that slowly fades when reality starts chipping away at Priscilla’s youthful naivete.

And if you’re expecting a hit parade of Elvis classics, you’ve forgotten whose story this is. Coppola’s soundtrack choices are on point, right down to the way she incorporates the few moments of recognizable Elvis hits that we do hear. We only see that side of Priscilla’s husband the way she saw it: as a mythical creature she couldn’t pry loose from the man that always promised he’d make more time for her.

Boy Coloring Outside the Lines

Story Ave

by Christie Robb

The debut feature film from director/co-writer Aristotle Torres feels familiar. Talented young Black man in New York City, paused for a moment at one of life’s crossroads. One road heads toward safety and higher education, another leads into gang life and violence. But, we need a continuous supply of coming-of-age stories ’cause…well, kids just keep coming of age.

In Story Ave, talented teenage artist Kadir Grayson (Asante Blackk, This Is Us) is a wreck. His brother recently died in an accident for which Kadir blames himself. His mom is lashing out and looking for someone to blame. He escapes into the found family of his graffiti gang led by the mercurial Skemes (Melvin Gregg). But he can only gain full membership by bringing back some cash. So, armed with Skemes’s gun, he hits the streets. It is during an attempted mugging that he meets Luis (Luis Guzmán), an MTA worker that acts like the world’s chillest alcoholic guardian angel.

While the story might be familiar, Torres’s movie is a visual delight, which makes sense given his background directing music videos. Often bathed in neon primary shades or strobing color fluorescing in blacklight, the shot composition echoes the poppy style of the bubble letters the characters are applying to the sides of buildings.

Asante Blackk is just a gift. His performance is perfectly understated. He manages to show the complex range of Kadir’s shifting emotions, but he keeps them on a tight leash, avoiding the histrionics and sentimentality that the script could have easily lead him into. Guzmán, too, is good. But he’s given less to work with. One look at him wincing and holding his side and you know exactly how his character arc is going to end.

The ending of the film, too, feels predictable and like it comes too easily. It is wrapped up neatly in a college application essay voiceover that feels as if tacked on in postproduction. But as this is Torres’s first feature, I’m excited to see more from him as he comes of age as a feature director.

Fright Club: Nightmares Film Festival New Distribution Panel

In this bonus episode recorded live at Nightmares Film Festival from Gateway Film Center, the fest’s panel on what distribution looks like in 2023 for independent horror filmmakers.

This year Hope got to join a panel with Justin Seaman of Nevermore Production Film (and filmmaker behind The Barn & The Barn 2), Cicely Enriquez of The Owens Group, and Scott Donley of Good Deed/Cranked Up Films. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Poor Career Choice

Five Nights at Freddy’s

by Hope Madden

Two years ago, director Kevin Lewis essentially made the live action horror film based on the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s. He did not have a license, but he did have Nicolas Cage. Lewis’s 2021 flick Willy’s Wonderland is an eccentric lock-in with one silent janitor (Cage), and a bunch of Chuck E. Cheese style animatronics out for blood.

It’s not very good. But Cage is very Cage in it – kicking animatronic ass, taking regular breaks to rest up and play some pinball, and uttering not a single word.

Director Emma Tammi (The Wind) does have the rights to the video game IP. But she does not have Cage.

What Five Nights at Freddy’s misses more than anything is the sense of macabre humor that seems a requirement for a film about, essentially, a blood thirsty Country Bears Jamboree.

Josh Hutcherson is a down-on-his-luck big brother. He needs a job, or his wicked aunt (Mary Stuart Masterson) is going to take custody of his little sister, Abby (Piper Rubio). So, he’s desperate. Just desperate enough to take an offer from a sketchy career counselor (Matthew Lillard) for security detail at the long-shuttered kids’ entertainment pizzeria.

Though Masterson’s storyline is predicably moustache-twirling evil, she’s fun. Lillard is reliably, weirdly creepy and his every moment onscreen is a twisted delight.

I like Hutcherson. He was a hoot in Tyler McIntyre’s 2017 gem Tragedy Girls. He has no opportunity to do anything with Mike the Forlorn. Hutcherson grimaces and looks pained for 90 minutes.

Tammi – who’s horror Western The Wind delivered a spare, spooky descent into madness – cannot land on a tone for this one. The script she co-wrote with Seth Cuddeback is a plodding predictable dirge. Game writer Scott Cawthon gets a credit as well, but it’s unclear how much he might have contributed to the screenplay.

The film builds no momentum, most scenes cut short in favor of an emotional flashback, a contrived family moment, or a dream sequence that can’t conjure the eeriness needed to push the film into horror territory.

There’s meanness in the kills, but certainly no blood, and no macabre delight, either.

Willy’s Wonderland was a weak, predictable, dumb film but at least it had Nicolas Cage.

Hip to Not Care

The Killer

by George Wolf

It’s been over twenty years since American Psycho personified the soulless self-interest of the Reagan 80s with bloody, hilarious precision.

Around the same time, the French duo of writer Alexis “Matz” Nolent and illustrator Luc Jacamon published the first of their graphic novels centered around the life of “Le Tueur” a ruthless, unnamed assassin.

Now, writer/director David Fincher gives us The Killer as a Patrick Bateman for a new generation. And while his film is not as outwardly comedic as Mary Harron’s classic, Fincher manages some dark fun as he probes our descent into cold, violent narcissism.

After some brisk and stylish opening credits, Fincher and star Michael Fassbender slow the pace to a crawl, and the opening chapter of their character study begins in France, with the quiet assessing of a target.

The Killer (Fassbender) is an ex-law student turned assassin for hire, and his years of completed assignments have earned him big targets and big rewards. The Killer has iron clad rules for success in work and in life, and Fassbender’s voiceover narration puts them on repeat.

“Keep calm. Keep moving.”

“Empathy is weakness. Weakness is vulnerability.”

“What’s in it for me?”

But when The Killer’s aim fails him on that Paris job, he is the one who is suddenly hunted. Things get nasty, and The Killer sets off on a multi-national manhunt for vengeance, buoyed by another effectively moody, pulsating score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

There are no business cards involved, but passports with increasingly funny aliases (brush up on your classic sitcoms) provide levity as scores are settled with inventive bloodshed and impressive fight choreography. And through it all, The Killer keeps preaching his mantra as a MAGA Bond, unwavering in his devotion to self and the perpetual need to feel aggrieved.

Fassbender is perfection as this meticulous, emotionless killbot, and the great Tilda Swinton’s late stage cameo brings the film more star power, plus one genuinely hilarious and insightful moment.

It’s a fascinating film, and one that feels like a new kind of Fincher. Recalling not only American Psycho, but also his own Fight Club and Anton Corbijn’s assassin creed The American, The Killer succeeds both as a surface-level thriller, and as a deeper illustration of another empty era.

The Beast of Walton St.

by Brandon Thomas

A good creature feature is hard to do on an indie budget. Many filmmakers have tried – and failed spectacularly – to bring monsters to life with little money and even worse, little imagination. The Beast of Walton Street bucks that trend by delivering thrilling monster mayhem and a steady supply of wit and heart. 

In a nameless Ohio town, a beast is roaming the Christmas decorated streets and picking off the most vulnerable: the unhoused. Friends Constance (Athena Murzda) and Sketch (Mia Jones) live on the fringes of society – barely scraping by and living in an abandoned auto repair shop. As the two notice more and more of the city’s at-risk residents disappearing, they decide to take matters into their own hands and defend their town from the ravenous beast. 

There’s a palpable level of energy that flows through the entirety of The Beast of Walton Street. Director Dusty Austen’s competency behind the camera is evident and admirable. The level of care and skill shown toward the craft of filmmaking is immediately recognizable in the editing, blocking, lighting, and shot composition. Craft is something that unfortunately falls to the wayside in many indie films, but in The Beast of Walton Street it’s on full display.

Austen is wisely economical when it comes to showing the titular beast (which is actually a werewolf). How Austen chose to shoot and edit around the beast is truly impressive. This reviewer was reminded of Ridley Scott’s Alien on more than one occasion. The ferocity of the werewolf is never lost on the viewer and so much of that is due to Austen’s confident handling of craft.

On the flip-side, the human element of Beast of Walton Street is just as impressive. While Murzda carries the film as the lead, both she and Jones have a delightfully charming chemistry that makes the beast-less scenes just as fun. While neither actor has a long resume (yet!), their comfort and flexibility in front of the camera is evident. 

The Beast of Walton Street doesn’t reinvent the werewolf wheel, but what it does is offer up an Amblin-esque punk rock creature feature, and that is more than enough for me.



by George Wolf

You get the sense early on that the German thriller Trunk may have some pleasant surprises in store.

Malina (Sina Martens, terrific in a physically demanding role) wakes up to find herself badly injured and confined to the trunk of a car. The trunk is ajar, and before the driver returns to shut her inside, Malina is able to retrieve her cell phone.

And lemme guess, the phone’s almost dead, right?


Okay, then, here we go! Dialing a series of well-chosen contacts, Malina has to 1) stay alive, and 2) piece together what’s happening while she looks for an escape route.

Writer/director Marc Schießer proves a solid triple threat here, also handling the editing duties with a deft hand and solid instincts for pacing and tension.

The cinematography is on point, as well. And while this particular trunk seems unusually roomy, Scheiber consistently lands precisely the type of claustrophobic camera angles and POV shots that Liam Nesson’s recent car-centric thriller Retribution tried in vain to achieve.

You may end up sniffing out some the mystery at play, but even so, Schießer’s finale will be no less satisfying. Trunk is a tense, crowd-pleasing thriller, one that adds enough detours to a well-traveled road until it’s fun again.

So climb in, and enjoy the ride.

The Choice

The Choice

by George Wolf

Writer/director Igor Federov crafts a terrific debut with The Choice, a tense, taut and well-executed mystery thriller.

Taking inspiration from both the societal impact and creative restrictions of the pandemic, Federov is able to mine impressive payoffs from an almost one-man show in a nearly one-room setting.

The one man is Matvey (Elijah Khodyrev), and the room is where he is set up as a nighttime call center operator for Russia’s Frount Bank. It is the near future, when massive unemployment and numerous bank failures have spawned a new government via coup, but little relief for the struggling.

Matvey is accustomed to angry and irate callers, but the calmly menacing Daniel (Vladislav Demchenko) is a different animal. Daniel is watching Matvey at work, he’s watching Matvey’s family at home, and he has a laser target pointed squarely at Matvey’s head.

The demand? Right old wrongs by transferring money from the account of a V.I.P client.

The setup doesn’t exactly blaze new trails, but the ways Federov consistently rises to its inherent challenges make the film an engaging and satisfying treat. The action here is all tech and talk, but through creative shot selection, crisp editing and precise sound design, Federov builds palpable tension around headsets, computer screens, digital switchboards, and voices on the line.

And, as Matvey tries to buy time and seek help, Federov’s script reveals secrets that slyly shift the balance of power while deepening our investment in predator as well as prey.

At just 77 minutes, The Choice might seem a bit brisk, but the story never feels slight. Federov resists the urge for padding he doesn’t need, cementing a debut feature that reaps plenty of benefits from the instincts of a smart new talent.

Hundreds of Beavers

by Daniel Baldwin

Earlier this year, quirky auteur Wes Anderson gifted us Asteroid City, which is probably best described as “What if Looney Tunes did its own take on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and then poured it through a theatre kid filter?” Some folks found that off-putting, as though Wes Anderson had gone a bit too Wes Anderson for them. Others, like me, found it to be an utter delight. Such a movie was one I never pictured myself needing, yet when it was finally presented to me, I could no longer picture myself living without it.

What does this have to do with Mike Cheslik’s Hundreds of Beavers? Nothing, and yet also everything. This is not Asteroid City, nor should it be. What it is, however, is the answer to the question “What if Looney Tunes did its own take on Jeremiah Johnson and then poured it through a silent movie filter?” I’m not sure who – outside of those who made it – asked for this movie. But I’m glad they did, because for the second time this year, I have been gifted an absolutely lunatic slice of cinema that I never knew I desperately needed.

Not everyone is built to appreciate a movie where a buffoon wanders around a cartoonish wilderness landscape full of animals that are portrayed either by people in mascot suits or puppets. Similarly, not everyone is built to appreciate such lunacy when it feels like it was made by mad scientists who Frankenstein’d together a plushy beast composed of parts from Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Buster Keaton, Terry Gilliam, and the Keystone Cops. This is darkly violent, yet deeply comedic work that blends a love for classic cartoons and early cinema history together into an inspired near-masterpiece of a film. I say near only because it becomes a bit too indulgent during some of its lengthier set pieces, causing the pace to sag a bit at times. Well, that and maybe utilizing an anvil at some point would have also been nice!

Hundreds of Beavers is a gift. It’s one that some might want to return, but by God Bugs Bunny, it’s one that just as many are bound to cherish for the rest of their lives. This lunatic included.

Murder Ballads: How to Make It in Rock ‘n’ Roll

by Daniel Baldwin

Rock music and horror have always gone together like peanut butter and jelly. Given that both are considered outsider artforms, it’s just a natural pairing. After all, rock (and metal or punk) music tends to be aggressive and there is no genre of film more aggressive than horror. Even action cinema tends to be less brutal.

Comedy is another genre that fits well with both horror and rock. Both artforms love to roll about in camp on occasion, cutting loose with over-the-top subject matter and black humor. Murder Ballads knows all of this and revels in it, while also mixing doses of British crime into the mix as well. What results is an offbeat concoction that feels like someone dumped elements of ‘90s slacker comedies, music biopics, and ‘90s crime comedies into a blender. The trappings are lo-fi due to its indie budget, but the throwback sentiments remain intact.

The story follows a struggling British rock band in desperate need of a new image – including a new member – and a new hit song. If they cannot swing either one, their label is going to give them the boot. Desperate times call for desperate measures and those desperate measures end up involving theft, deception, and murder, among other things. If that weren’t enough, most of the band members also happen to be morons. Given that morons are prone to making mistakes and mistakes are the last thing one should be making when committing crimes, well, you can see why things inevitably get out of control.

Writer/director Mitchell Tolliday has crafted a fun little film here about the darkly comedic and supremely chaotic rise and fall of a British rock ‘n’ roll band. The performances are pitched properly to the film’s playful tone, the faux documentary cutaways to actor Simon Callow are amusing, and the segues between sections are cute and inventive. Aside from some occasional pacing issues, this is a fun time.