Nature is Healing. The EVILs of Industry are Destructive. “The Great Movement” reviewed! (Sovreign Films / Digital Screener)



A group of out of work Huanuni miners march into the capital of La Paz to protest forced labor shortages.  Young miners Gallo, Gato, and Elder roam around La Paz to rummage up piecemeal work to live.  When they find work as commodity runners at an outside market, the job is labor intensive, pays very little, and they must sleep outside with other runners and vendors with essentially everything they own on their back.  The job takes a toll on Elder who is suffering a strange illness that cases fever, coughing, shortness of breath, and fatigue that hurts his pockets when he can’t run product in a timely manner.  Elder comes under the wing of a mysterious earthy, old woman who thinks Elder is her godson and she enlists the holistic medicine of a clairvoyant herbalist, living off the mountainous land just outside the city, to extract the unnatural elements that plague him.

Every so often, diving into a dramatic piece of filmic art, with hints of nightmarish surrealism to satisfy the horror element (or, in this case, the EVIL), is worth cracking into and peering into dependent the writher’s personal taste and the influencing environment surrounding.  In this instance, Kiro Russo’s “The Great Movement” spoke to the interests of this reviewer for not only the urban growth is death, nature is life social commentary but also my intimate connection to Bolivia because of my second-generation wife whose mother was born and raised in the South American country before migrating to the U.S.  “The Great Movement,” aka “El Gran Movimiento,” is the first native Bolivian film I’ve ever seen and that, too, sparked a curiosity in the Bolivian film industry that was virtually thought of as nonexistent.  Russo writes-and-directs the film produced by an international conglomerate of production companies with Altamar Films (“Killing the Dead”), Bord Cadre Films (“The Untamed”) and the La Paz based Socavón Cine as well as Sovereign Films who also distributes the film.

“The Great Movement” is a continuation of Elder Mamani’s story in this follow-up film from Russo’s 2016 “Dark Skull” where Elder’s moves in with his grandmother after his father’s death.  Living in a mining town, Elder pickups a miner job which leads to unearthed secrets about his father.  Julio César Ticona reprises his role as Elder, marching from the mines to the capital in protest for work only to be stricken by an illness insinuated from his dirty work at the mines.  Only a little of the previous “Dark Skull” story works itself way into the next chapter revolving around Elder’s suffering from various forms of urban reaping toxicity and also a clairvoyant old man living off the adjacent wilderness.  Max Bautista Uchasara, in his performance debut or at least as stated on IMDB, plays…well…Max, the well-loved, if not hard-loved, and dirty-cladded mystic that sees visions of La Paz in ruins.  Elder and Max cross paths because of Elder’s unexplainable sickness, without hardly a word spoken between them, to eradicate his illness and heal the young man’s failing body.  The connection between them is an old urbanite woman Mama Pancha (Francisa Arce de Aro) who thinks Elder is her godson but Elder, taking advantage of her kindness and generosity, doesn’t know this random person and, in the grand scheme of mysticism, Mama Pancha, which translates loosely to Mother Earth, is a symbolic representation of a forgiving planet lending a hand to an ore reaping miner by introducing a natural healer.  “The Great Movement” rounds out with a cast in Gustavo Milán Ticona, Israel Hurtado, Armando Ochoa, and Richard Aguilera. 

Through Russo’s use of cityscape and natural soundscape compositions, the sound design injects a creeping presence, enveloping the characters either insidiously or soothingly in their respective surroundings. The overwhelming arsenal of concrete jungle noise pollution becomes the harsh soundtrack that contributes to Elder’s environmentally unfriendly downfall. Every car horn, every construction machinery, every hustle and bustle of foot traffic is a spike through the head as Russo wants to make sure you can feel the audible image. In contrast, Max experiences virtually little noise, aside from streams, wind, and the rustle of greenery, in his detachment from clustered society when roaming the mountainous wilderness. Max’s elder ways grant him inexplicable aptitude that allows him to essentially speak to nature, live amongst the trees, and use the land for beneficial properties without waste and destruction. This encourages Pancha Mama, aka Mother Earth impression, to ask Max to heal her godson, aka an Earth child. This is Kiro Russo’s linchpin theme for “The Great Movement” that showcases a distinct dissonance between urbanization and nature. Being a nationality outsider going into Bolivia, that distinction is immensely obvious seeing firsthand the lack of organization, resources, and care for the city I travelled to that has been turned into a comprehensively polluted, dry dust-riddled, population on top of a population where one has trouble simply inhaling a breath of fresh air and struggling with the annoyance of a bloody nose. Now, I’m not singling out or epitomizing this one area of Bolivia I journeyed to as the worst of the worst, much of the same can be said about New York City sans the dust, but once you escape the city limits and step into Bolivia’s lush jungle, the air is noticeably cleaner with an almost healing effect on the body – no more bloody nose! My experiences greatly make visible and nail in Russo’s message as we accompany Elder through his deterioration, hearing about inhaling dust as a miner, drinking nothing but strong alcohol, and being worked literally to death with backbreaking labor. Modern medicine can’t locate or explain his symptoms, diagnosing Elder with psychological manifestation of physical problems. Russo’s “The Great Movement” is powerful and invokes soul-searching about reconnecting and healing with Mother Nature.

An insomniac nightmare that’s haunting in Russo’s solemn vision and full of delirium, “The Great Movement” is an arduous detox from the overdevelopment’s intoxicating prospect. Sovreign Films will release Kiro Russo’s 85-minute disenchanting and revival tale in UK cinemas on April 15th, 2022. With the limitations of a digital screener, I am unable to entirely comment on the audio and video quality, but the film is shot in the faint speckle of super 16mm and is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio to get the full spectrum of the cinematographer Pablo Paniagua shot Bolivia from the market busy streets to the monolithic stone and mountain structures on delineated outskirts of the capital. Paniagua employs the vibrancy of daylight and the scarcity of night light for tenebrous effect already poorly rendered by the 16mm grain. Miguel Llanques’s score is often overshadowed by the conspicuous soundscape, but the impromptu synth-flash mob dream sequence broke up the feverish trajectory at midpoint with catchy beat and dance seemingly out of nowhere. There are no bonus scenes during or after the credits. “The Great Movement” is just as raw with the foreboding circumstances in the rest the world civilization as it is with Bolivia in Kiro Russo’s film that shepherds the overlooked denizens in need for growth back to a natural world of healing.

EVIL Ditches Satan, Picks Up a Camcorder. “Midnight 2: Sex, Death, and Videotape” reviewed! (SRS Cinema / DVD)

“Midnight 2:  Sex, Death, and Videotape” now available on DVD!

The sole survivor of the murderous, devil-worshipping cult family, Abraham Barnes, continues to kill under a new outward show as amateur videophile recording everything and everyone to gain their trust.   Instead of harboring his mother’s dark intentions of eternal life, Abraham simply thirsts for killing, documenting his premeditated methods using a camcorder.  When his latest victim goes missing, her friend initiates an investigation with a police detective, but Abraham is always recording, always one step ahead of them both, always on the hunt.  With the trap set and the play button pressed, the blood-lusting survivor of the maniacal, serial killing Barnes family preserves a lineage legacy of death. 

Screenshot from AGFA

Ten years after releasing his moderately successful All-American shocker, “Midnight,” John Russo returns with the Barnes family.  Well, at least one of them in the 1993 release of “Midnight 2:  Sex, Death, and Videotape.”  Also known as simply just “Midnight 2,” the secondary title references the widely popular 1989 Steven Soderbergh film of sexual testimonial video-tales in “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” starring James Spader and Andie MacDowell.  The sequel gives way to a new motive and theme that’s very different from the satanic panic aspect of the original.  “Midnight 2” enters the mind of a serial murderer with every calculated and cold thought and whim that crosses the killer’s mind laid out in detail to paint a compulsive picture. Behind the scenes, conjuring up resources to make the sequel exist as it stands today, is “Dead Next Door” and “Robot Ninja’s” J.R. Bookwalter, the head-honcho in production and distribution of his own created company banner, Tempe Entertainment. Bookwalter, who also wears the director of photography and editor hat on this film amongst others, produces the Russo sequel that was shot on location in Bookwalter’s home city of Akron, Ohio.

If you’re expecting or anticipating seeing John Amplas (“Martin,” “Day of the Dead”) return to the Abraham role 10 years later, be prepared to be severely let down as Amplas does not return for “Midnight 2.” Instead, profound schlock horror screenwriter and composer, Matthew Jason Walsh, brings a whole new peculiarity to Abraham Barnes and I’m not just talking about his face or mannerisms. Walsh, who penned such David DeCoteau C-list gems as “Witchouse,” “Young Blood, Fresh Meat,” and “The Killer Eye,” goes face-to-face with the camera in a hybrid performance as lead actor and lead narrator of his own exposition into his own executions. Being a sociopath is never fleeting from Walsh who can sink into the sardonicism of the Abraham character naturally as one of the two only traits to carryover from the original film with the other being a killer. Aside from a boat load of archival footage and a verbal recap of nearly the entire first film, the whole Devil-worshipping aspect of the Barness family is dropped in favor of a more undisclosed truth in the hidden agenda of a person who thrives off the hunt and the kill. Abraham goes through verbatim his daily, stalking routine in a publicized manner of videorecording everything and everyone to capture as much detail as possible as well as capture their last moments. Russo does throw in escape clause caveat for Abraham in that if he meets the right girl, the love for her will be strong enough to break him away from killing and possibly start a family and while Russo plays into that tangent a little with Jane (“Killer Nerd’s” Lori Scarlett), nothing much more materializes significantly as a romantic conflict that circles back to that subtheme. Russo ultimately gives in to a more cat-and-mouse game with Jane’s worried friend Rebecca (“Chickboxer’s” Jo Norcia) and the detective who rather slip into Rebecca’s pants than actually solve the case in a stiffer than roadkill performance by Chuck Pierce Jr. (“The Legend of Boggy Creek”).

Screencap from AGFA

I wonder how much ‘Midnight 2″ is actually from the mind of John Russo or if it’s more of the J.R. Bookwalter show in calling the shots from the producer’s director’s chair as the film feels very much like Bookwalter’s usual fare, a SOV, DIY, home brew production of local Ohioan talent. “Midnight 2” also goes from the backwoods suburbia of Pittsburgh to the concrete structures of Akron, leaving behind any remnants of Abraham’s satanic past in the ground along with his dead siblings, but the sequel very dutifully leans into us with a heavy archival footage recap with Walsh narrating the entire damn thing. I kid you not, the recap is approx. a third of the runtime and so essentially, “Midnight 2” is a two for one straight-to-video special. Granted, the archival footage remains in its untouched up state so don’t expect the Severin grade video quality. In one way “Midnight 2” is discerned to be more of a Russo film is the very hesitancy of graphic, blood-shedding violence. Bookwalter’s a bit of gorehound in making some gruesome grisliness out of the singles from a Podunk stripper’s Kmart thong. There’s none of that imaginative ingenuity here with a surprising severe lack of that adored shot-on-video nastiness common of its era, especially from the likes of John Russo in filing a rated 13 release according to the DVD back cover, enervating “Midnight 2” as a inferior sequel that tries on a new pair of shoes but ends up limping with a lame gait.

Screencap from AGFA

Russo might always be remembered for his contribution to the start of the “Living Dead” franchise. The cult legendary filmmaker surely found modest success with his first directorial run with “Midnight.” Yet, “Midnight 2” will have a tough time keeping out of the celebrated shadows of Russo’s credits, but the indie, underground horror label SRS Cinema pulls back the shrouding curtain with a newly released, MVD Visual distributed DVD featuring two cuts of the film. Fitted with a retro look and ghastly illustrated cover art, a superb upgrade from the VHS cover, the region free DVD is presented shot-on-video in a 4:3 aspect ratio on both cuts. Essentially, both cuts are the same with reworked scenes and narration with the except of the 90-minute rough cut having extended archival footage of the first film. The main version runs slimmer at 72-minutes. The lossy image quality abides within both versions with a flat color palette that, at times, had a singularity about its choice of unflattering hue, compression macroblocks consistently flare up, and dimly discernable innate tracking lines with video recording destabilize the image. The anemic English Language single channel mono mix is a bottom of the barrel budget sound design and that was to be expected. Dialogue does come over clear enough but lacks vigor and crispness as there is just too much electrical interference shushing in the background. Depth’s a bit awkward too with the actors conversing in the background but have foreground decibel levels. Aside from the two cuts of the feature, the only other bonus content is the theatrical trailer and other SRS home video trailers. “Midnight 2” works as a standalone in a different shot-on-video horror light but is crammed with unnecessary recapping on a story built around the destined, convoluted conjecture of a homicidal narcissist and his videotape addiction.

“Midnight 2:  Sex, Death, and Videotape” now available on DVD!

Meir Zarchi Returns With Another Round of EVIL Exploitation! “I Spit On Your Grave Deja Vu” reviewed! (Ronin Flix / Blu-ray)

Forty long years have passed since the sexual assaulting atrocities of Johnny Stillman and his gang were committed on the young and beautiful Jennifer Hills.  Empowered by her horrific tale of survival with the release of a new tell all book of how she outwitted and took homicidal revenge on her rapists by luring them in with her sexual persuasions, Hills finds herself back in familiar terrorizing territory being kidnapped by Johnny’s devoutly vindictive widow and three living relatives of the gang that once ganged raped and brutally beat her, but she’s not alone.  Captive with her as collateral damage is her famous supermodel daughter, Christy.  Both are caught up in an eye-for-an-eye revenge plot where being lethal is the only means of survival and with a long history of resentment, rooted deep inside Johnny’s kin, fighting back will take every ounce of resilience and strength against a community of hellbent sociopaths. 

Circa 2005-2006 is around the time I first bared witness to Meir Zarchi’s 1978 controversial exploitation shocker, “I Spit on Your Grave.”  Popping in the DVD popped open my eyes to the world of graphic vengeance and the submission to primal, carnal whims inside the human-on-human violence context.  Before Zarchi’s film, which is also known as “Day of the Woman,” and even Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left,” this neophyte’s description and knowledge of horror was limited to the stymies of broadcast television that only aired edited and censored slashers like the “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween” series or supernatural presences of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Poltergeist.”  Never has the likes of “I Spit on Your Grave” been a red pill option into the vast horror matrix for this then college kid who glazed over with the façade of sleeping through studies and worrying over trivial matters involving the opposite sex.  In a way, Zarchi was a kind of Morpheus to me when I started purchasing physical media that opened my eyes and my mind to the rape and revenge facet in horror hidden behind the commercial veil.  In 2010, a Zarchi produced reboot saw more light in the commerciality and spawned two sequels in its wake, but not until 2019 did Zarchi get back to writing and sit back in his director’s chair to helm an official, yet less commercial, sequel entitled “I Spit On Your Grave Déjà Vu” or “Day of the Woman Déjà vu” that was produced by his limited company banner, Déjà Vu LLC with son Terry Zarchi and Jan O’Connell producing.

The long-awaited sequel reteamed Zarchi with original lead actress, and also ex-wife, Camille Keaton, distant relative of the famed comedy and stunt actor, Buster Keaton.  Camille Keaton, who looks phenomenal in her 70s during production, steps back into the infamous Jennifer Mills role that made her a household name amongst grindhouse-horror community.  Though completely nude for most of the 1978 film, that part of her performance takes a step back for a new actress to pave a new path in the saga.  Obscure indie scream queen Jamie Bernadette (“Axeman,” “The Bunnyman Massacre”) is ceremoniously passed the torched as the new riches to ragdoll as the Jennifer Mill’s unhappy supermodel daughter, Christy, who becomes haplessly snagged into her mother’s unforgotten past.  Bernadette offers a variable beauty and a diverse poise that doesn’t make Christy a carbon copy of Jennifer Hills, but the actresses deliver the same apathetic venom of a woman scorn.  More of a carbon copy is the four backwoods bumpkins fuming over Jennifer Mills’ vindictive dissecting of their dead relatives.  The gang is spearheaded by Beck, played by Maria Olsen who, like Bernadette, has made a name for herself in low-budget horror having roles in films such as “To Jennifer,” “Starry Eyes,” and “Gore Orphanage.”  Olsen projects Becky as the gas station attendant from Hell, someone you don’t want to interact too long with as you’re pumping gas in the middle of nowhere, but Becky is not a woman of a few words who constantly has to remind us, to the blistering point of annoying, that she must avenge her late husband’s sinful murderess.  The rest of the gang didn’t impress much after that.  Jonathan Peacy has a chance to shine from out of the extra and bit part shadows as the crazed and hyperactive Kevin, brother of Stanley from the original film, and while Peacy channels his best Al Leong look, Kevin is ultimate a big detrimental goof with small dog syndrome than actual menace.    The last two aren’t any better with a lackluster act by Jeremy Ferdman as Andy’s cousin and “Tales of Frankenstein’s” Jim Tavaré’s rather befuddling downplay of Matthew’s mentally disordered father, Herman, who teeters back and forth between morals with a jumbled underlay of piety.  There are not many sane performances in a rather loose and unbridled Zarchi follow up with a cast that rounds out with Alexandra Kenworthy, Roy Allen III, and Holgie Forrester.

Performances aside, “I Spit on Your Grave Déjà vu” is also a cacophony of yelling as the script, from paper to pronunciation, reaches top of the lung levels with every bit of dialogue from every player in this tussle of who’s right and who’s wrong when it comes down to justifications of killing.  Zarchi’s sequel lacks the tact his first film achieves so delicately with Mills post-assault softer approach to lay waste her assailants.  “Déjà vu” satisfies its own revenge kicks with little subtly in trying to be outrageous, outlandish, and off its rocker as the confrontation between Christy and the gang becomes a rancorous grudge match.  What concerns me most about “Déjà vu” is the year in which this sequel takes place.  Between the 1978 original and the 2019 follow up, 40 years have passed, but the characters don’t fit any of Father Time’s natural aging characteristics on the surface.  Becky looks okay as an early to mid-60s woman despite Maria Olsen’s actual age being early 50s at the time of filming and release.  Herman is another one that sneaks into fathomable constructs as a character living a farmer’s life in the latter half of middle age, but I question whether Kevin and Scotty were even born yet.  The two youngsters barely seem to be out of their 30s and the same can be said for Christy where much more of her life is revealed as the story progresses.   If following the script logic, I would assume the story takes place in the 90s, but certain technologic advances, like modern day touchscreen phones, suggests no earlier than late 2000s.  As a whole, time and space don’t appear to exist on any reasonable plane for the film with characters able to bump into each at random intervals despite being a densely wooded and rural location and, for all you cinematographers out there, if your location is supposed to be rural, don’t shoot in at a cemetery with a massive grave footprint with a stream of cars speeding down a busy suburban street.  You instantly lose the illusion.  Zarchi’s intentions were clear to only echo the original while allowing for individuality with a brasher onslaught of right versus wrong, eye for an eye, and misguided righteousness for injustice, but the execution crumbles with excruciating results, never reaching the same poetic justice the first film accomplishes so graphically grafted. 

As far as rape and revenge exploitation is considered, “I Spit on Your Grave Déjà vu” gets about as down and dirty and ugly as they come.  Cult movie curator, Ronin Flix, delivers the Meir Zarchi sequel onto Blu-ray home video, presented in 1080p, full high definition, with a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  A+ for natural lighting, skin tones, and overall appeal, Pedja Radenkovic’s cinematography is about as uninspiring as they come artistically, but, as a personal preference, the shots are more organic, raw, and less distracting from the content that’s much more abrasive and interesting.  A more natural framework also more time for Russell FX’s practical effects to be showcased without enhanced imagery.  As long as the details are there (they are), no damage is concerning (there wasn’t), and the framing made sense (for the most part), “Déjà vu” can be considered a win for Radenkovic.  The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack for “Déjà vu” is a blessing and a curse.  Dialogue clarity is excellent and there’s a wide range to exploit, forgive the punned term, each channel with great balance, but remember what I said about all the character yelling?  Also, with the higher bitrate DTS, the quality is too good for some of the applied ambient effects like the exhaust sputtering of an old Ford pickup that sounds way too fake and way too close despite its positioning in the scene. The region A, not rated Blu-ray is stored on a BD50 due in part to the film’s massive 148 runtime and the inclusion of special features that include a new audio commentary with film critic and “The Last Drive-In” host Joe Bob Briggs, select cast interviews, the making of the film, behind the scenes footage from producer Terry Zarchi, and the theatrical trailer. Is “I Spit on Your Grave Deja Vu” the long-awaited sequel to Meir Zarchi’s first film? I’d say they’re two totally different exploitation entities cut from the same cloth with ties only in names and some flashbacks alone, but both films would make for a great double bill that starts with a harrowing, nothing-to-lose, woebegone toned, revenge thriller complimented with a lukewarm and unfocused follow up to help come down off the original’s gripping ultra-violence high.

Ronin Flix’s “I Spit on Your Grave Deja Vu” Blu-ray available at Amazon.com!

Next Gen to Regain What EVIL Took. “The Walking Dead: World Beyond” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

Ten years after the sky fell and the undead walked the Earthed, a new generation of survivors live comfortably behind gated walls at the Nebraska University campus.  Sisters Iris and Hope sometimes counteract each other’s position on campus hardly see eye-to-eye and, especially when dealing with the clandestine Civic Republic Military who has recruited their scientific father to do research in New York, but when secret messages about their father’s safety in potential jeopardy, Iris and Hope come together, along with campus outcasts Elton and Silas, to trek East on foot through the hordes of undead and the dangerous obstacles that separate them from their father.  The first generation to grow up in the apocalypse must learn to survive in the ravaged world of today and battle not only the dead and evad the mighty Civic Republic Military but also confront their individual haunting pasts. 

“The Walking Dead” executive showrunners Scott Gimple, Robert Kirkman, Brian Bockrath, Matthew Negrete and David Alpert envision a vast Walking Dead universe filled with endless storylines searing with undead mayhem on the precipice a human emotional depth charge explosion.  In 2020, a new and limited two-season spinoff series of AMC’s “The Walked Dead” lumbered forward with “The Walking Dead:  World Beyond” that aimed to explore the untapped emotive locomotive with teenagers having grown up naïve of usual adolescent behavior while also learning how to survive the outside world having been safe behind guarded walls most of their young lives living inside a smaller-scale social structure and guidelines like pre-apocalypse.  While “The Walked Dead” focused on the mid-Atlantic, stretching from George to West Virginia, and “Fear of the Walking Dead” went to the West Coast in Cali, down the border to Mexico, and finally landing near the Gulf coast, “World Beyond” takes the Pacific Northwest beginning inside Nebraska then stretching our main character’s journey to New York state, through the upper areas of what’s left of the country, but filming is actually shot in yours truly home state of Virginia surrounding the capital Richmond area.  Based not off the popular graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman, albeit with a few minor connections, “World Beyond” is a production of AMC, Idiot Box, Skybound Entertainment, Circle of Confusion, and Valhalla Entertainment.

A younger, fresher cast of faces grace “The Walking Dead:  World Beyond” with an innocence facade and juvenile decision making that lifts the series into that rite of passage in adolescent-hood where the children of the apocalypse must explore their own needs and desires as if the evolutionary behavior of growing up has never changed.  Only this time, someone’s trying to bite your face off or actually steal everything you possess off your back.  Aliyah Royale and “Unfriended: Dark Web’s” Alexa Mansour play the contrasting adopted sisters Iris and Hope with an underlining bond that’ll blossom sluggishly forward to season one’s conclusion.  Iris has always conformed to safe living behind the campus walls, but takes a page out of Hope’s book of radical ideas to venture out against policy to find their CRM recruited, and possibly distressed, father.  Through the series, I found Royale to be slightly unauthentically preachy in her delivery that never fastens an emotional connection to her saintly-turned-intrepid persona.  Hope has more complexity turmoil tinned up inside of her pulled and worked very delicately by Mansour in becoming the wild card amongst the group.  “Nine Perfect Strangers’s” Hal Cumpston and voice actor Nicolas Cantu join Iris and Hope as the reserved Silas and the ever hopeful pessimistic Elton, searching for a fresh start and answers to their philosophical questions.  Silas and Elton add more dramatic complications than friendly assistance on the journey with personal violent demons resurging out form Silas’s past to the death of Elton’s mother in which Hope hesitant disclosure of her involvement in the killing of his mother back during the first days of apocalypse sets the tension for a good portion of their travels.  As supporting characters, Silas and Elton also provide sub-storylines “The Walking Dead” thrives on along with two more characters, a pair of campus security details in Nico Tortorella (“Scream 4”) and Annet Mahendru (“The Americans”) playing close friends and colleagues Felix and Huck venturing out to rescue the four inexperienced youngsters from a fate far worse than being a gnawed on scrap of undead jerky. Mahendru’s pulled up hair, facial scar, and widely inflated draw is quite a far cry from her dolled up and partial nudity espionage performance in “The Americans,” a performance that makes her nearly unrecognizable, while Tortorella shoulders a lot of personal baggage in self worth and difficult promises to his makeshift family built on friendship – a regular theme throughout not just with Felix but with the youth group searching for answers.  “World Beyond” rounds out the cast with Ted Sutherland (“Fear Street:  Part Two” and “Part Three”), Natalie Gold (“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”)), Joe Holt, Jelani Alladin, and Julia Ormond (“Inland Empire”) as the CRM spearheading a covert operation.

The enormity of the “TWD” universe and with end in sight of the undead not working the Earth would inevitably bring up the question of how young children would grow up and face old world teenager issues.  Their not-so-normal childhood forged when the sky fell, as phrase that use to describe the day the dead risen, has ultimately molded who they are when we meet the characters 10 years after that doomed day, but the series dives into backstories on the regular with flashes back, turning every episode of the 10 episode series into a non-linear segment, something that strays, but is not completely foreign, to the “TWD” universe.  Another aspect that’s different, and is terribly detrimental, is the lack of graphic bloody violence, especially against the living.  “World Beyond” tries very hard to shield the viewers from gruesome dispatching of the undead by offscreen kills to implied deaths and not until the latter half of the season does “World Beyond” begin to ooze out of it’s conservative shell as the story becomes more complicated and into more adult themes from lies and betrayals to violence and loss, a parallel of the passage from childhood to adulthood when reality of the real world hits you in the face.  What does stay true to it’s origins us the same is the overgrown sets, the detailed decay, and same beautiful morbid imagery that really compliments to effort in production value and budget.  My only gripe is that many of the actors look fresh out of the shower with perfect hair and loads of makeup in a scenario that would harried and haggard any individual. The story also connects to it’s more fierce bigger brothers with a broader introduction of the Civic Republic Military whose symbol shows up in “The Walking Dead” when whisking Rick Grimes away in one of their helicopters and also in “Fear of the Walking Dead” in the troops who were the bite impervious suits, sleek black helmets, and the assault rifles with dual piercing bayonets. “World Beyond” builds upon their mysterious nature by giving an wider, longer look into their enigmatic, cavillation building window.

With the series finale, aka season two, in full swing this fall at AMC, Acorn Media International concurrently delivers the first season onto an UK 2-disc Blu-ray. The region 2, PAL encoded, BD50s are presented in a televised widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a total runtime of 453 minutes. Not discernable issues with the digital image that renders virtually the same veracious tone as the other two “Walking Dead” series with “World Beyond” being a tinge bit more colorful as if the saturation provided more youthful characteristics. There really is some nice imagery happening in certain episodes, such as in episodes “Brave” and “The Blaze of Gory,” that work the dead into being connected with the surrounded elements as if the dead are now the more natural bond with Earth. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio channels with clarity and equally amongst the five points. Dialogue is clean and unobstructed with a balanced breadth of depth and range amongst the various scenarios of death and deception they stumble into. English subtitles are also optional. Bonus features include A Look at the Series that dives into what “World Beyond” aims to accomplish with a fresh young cast, A Meet the Character segment that, obliviously, dives into the actors going over their character profiles, and the Making of Season 1, split into two parts with one on each disc, with the cast and creators provided a deeper understanding of character headspaces. “World Beyond” is rated 15 for the violence, some language, and some gore. Diluted decimation of the dead with a softer complexion in an overall comparison, “The Walking Dead: World Beyond” is the naïve little brother of two juggernauting series macheting a path of blood and guts for the less traumatic to have a spot in the world. Yet, the sluggish first few episodes clears out for a much more palatable and gripping series that we’ve come to expect from a universe built on rotting corpses and collective violence.

Catch Up on “The Walking Dead: World Beyond” season 1.  Purchase the Blu-ray/DVD here!

Creepy. Kooky. Mysterious. Spooky. All Together EVIL! “The Addams Family 2” reviewed (MGM and United Artists Releasing / Digital Screener)

RENT “THE ADDAMS FAMILY 2” ON PRIME VIDEO

Morticia and Gomez Addams have lived dangerously head on for all their grotesque lives and loving every second to the fullest with their strange family.  Nothing scares the macabre mother and father of Wednesday and Pugsley until their children begin to display the adversarial and angsty signs of growing up, creating a distancing wedge between them.  As Morticia and Gomez are missing the hideous and fright-filled family time once shared morosely and adventurously between them and the children, a zany road trip is planned across the deepest, darkest parts of the country to rekindle again that kooky Addams family bond, but when the threat of possibility that Wednesday may not truly be an Addams comes to light, Morticia, Gomez, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Thing, and even hairy cousin IT, will do anything, kill anyone, to prove Wednesday is a full-blooded Addams.

For over 80 years, Charles Addams’ creepy-crawly and spookily quirky family has been entertaining the masses with their avidity for danger and the deranged.  Now, one of America’s favorite bizarre families is back on the big screen with the animated sequel, “The Addams Family 2.”  Returning directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon delivered an origin story in 2019 that developed the who and how the demented Addams came to be one as one of the most lavishly and lovable lamentable families we all grew up with in popular culture.  The Canadian-American filmmaking twosome take the Addams’s on a road trip into a whole new direction with a standalone story separate from the first’s that revolved around inclusion and not judging a book by its cover.  “The Addams Family 2” is a production of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and Cinesite Animation and presented by BRON Creative, a Jackal Group/Glickmania production, with Conrad Vernon, Gail Berman, Jason Cloth, Aaron L. Gilbert, Kevin Miserocchi, Andrew Mittman, Alison O’Brien, and Danielle Sterling return as producers and executive producers. 

The sequel reteams the loaned voice talents of “Dune’s” Oscar Isaac as Gomez, “Prometheus’s” Charlize Theron as Morticia, “Suspiria’s” Chloë Grace Moretz as Wednesday, “Big Mouth’s” Nick Kroll as Uncle Fester, and “Hocus Pocus’s Bette Midler as Grandma, picking up almost entirely where they left from the first film, voicing the core characters with twisted, haphazardly happy soul that keeps aligned the original concept with room for originality.  Hip-Hop and gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg also returns as the manipulated high-pitched voice of Cousin IT and lending his more vocational vocals on a couple original songs for the soundtrack, including “It Ain’t Nothin’.”  However, one original film voice doesn’t make an encore.  “Stranger Things” and the upcoming “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” star Finn Wolfhard is replaced by feature film newcomer Javon “Wanna” Walton as Pugsley Addams due to, supposedly, Wolfhard’s pubescent changes in his voice.  To circumvent an obviously different sounding Pugsley, Tiernan and Vernon reduces Pugsley amount of dialogue to nearly zilch with only an exclamation or two as Pugsley becomes more of the running gag, punching bag trope for Wednesday’s diversely ingenious methods to off a die hard Pugsley.  Also new is Wallace Shawn (“The Princess Bride”), who always manages to be typecast in animation as a pygmy, shrewd character – see “Incredibles,” “Toy Story,” and “Happily N’Ever After” for reference – playing a hired hand to “It’s” Bill Hader, who comes aboard as chief antagonist, Cyrus, with a master plan to make a lot of money off Wednesday’s unmatched smarts. 

Cinesite’s animation continues to be a tribute to Charles Addams’s original comic strip characters in appearance and keeping the action cutting edge with a variety of textures and fluorescent lighting to sustain a tightly spooky, yet still toon like, veneer without being chunky or plastic in appearance.  Frequent collaborators Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit are joined by “Cars’” screenwriter Ben Queen and “The Spy Who Dumped Me’s” Susanna Fogel with a script that hones in on the mad dash, madcap hallmarks of sword fighting, axe-throwing, flame shooting, and monster brawling that makes the Addams family THE Addams family.  The script keeps the action moving as the family traverses across the nation, evading Cyrus’s dissimilar henchmen, while the two Addams children find their place in pre-adolescence with Wednesday battles alienation and Pugsley attempts at wooing the opposite sex, but absent from the script is landed comedy.  Chock-full with slapstick humor, many of the jokes will go over the head of PG youngsters who won’t understanding Pugsley wanting dating advise from a Cousin It’s pimp-like status or the overabundant morbid humor that crosses the line, even for the Addams, with a Donner Party joke and one of the characters actually being killed off by Wednesday.  Considering the PG rating, the two latter bits really stick in the mind of an adult with children.  Also, the script honestly lacks something else, an important staple in Addams grim culture that can be challenging to apprehend if not present, and that is the Addams’s house.  Family and house are separated for nearly the entire duration, leaving the diabolical funhouse as an omitted character lost to the whims of Grandma’s large house party which is scarcely and sorely revisited.  Instead, Thing, who has an eyeball on the wrist by the way (never knew Thing had any sort of optics), and Uncle Fester, with a side-story of him metamorphizing into an octopus as a result Wednesday’s story-opening grandiose (mad) science fair project, drive an ostentatious camper that pales in comparison as the house substitute.

Hitting U.S. theaters nationwide today, October 1st, “The Addams Family 2” is a solid kickstart to the beginning of the Halloween season as a United Artists and MGM distributed release.  The sequel will also be available to rent through the following platforms:  Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube, Vudu, DirectTV, Spectrum, Xfinity, and among other digital outlets and pay TV operators.  Aforementioned, the 93 minute, animated feature is rated PG for macabre and rude humor, violence and language with much of the more grave content flying over children’s heads.  Trust me, my 7-year-old and 4-year-old either didn’t understand the references or didn’t catch the intent.   Seeing the kooky antics of the Addams family back in the spotlight keeps the lovable ghoulish characters alive for generations to come, but with “The Addams Family 2” borders being insipid with a trying-to-impress out of the box and unconventional Addams road trip narrative that nearly creates the unthinkable to happen – making the adventurous Addams family a dull bunch.