When Evil Calls, Don’t Pick Up! “Close Calls” reviewed!


Spoiled brat Morgan MacKenzie indulges in the good life under the roof of her wealthy father; perhaps, the party girl indulges a little too much when her father catches her and her boyfriend in a sexual act by the backyard pool. Her continuos snarking, cantankerous attitude, and sexual delights force her father to ground her before going out on a date night. With a box full of miscellaneous hard drugs and a house all to herself, her sole responsibility is to supply her deteriorating grandmother imperative medication, but when obscene phone calls place Morgan on edge, paranoia rocks Morgan’s lucid tate of mind through occurrences with her horny, drug pushing boyfriend, a vile and deranged grandma, and a stranger at the doorstep on a rainy night that instigates nebulous effects, rendering her trapped, scared, and questioning everything about life as she knows it.

A visually colorful feast of mind-warping fear is Richard Stringham’s psychological horror-thriller, “Close Calls.” The 2017 feature that bares a undeniable resemblance to the 1970’s Italian giallo films with stark, dreamlike color lighting keenly favors an admiring homage of a bygone genre. Writer-director Richard Stringham, contributing product of “10/31” and it’s sequel, shepherds the film through S and Drive Cinema on a production that’s near entirely shot on one set location and in a handful of built sets to purposefully thrust an empathetic viewer trapped alongside, hip-to-hip, the snooty,scared, and smack-tripping Morgan and the script, which has been a work in progress for some time prior to release, finally saw completion when, supposedly, Stringham was tripping on drugs himself – that backstory alone should ensue a viewership.

“Close Calls” introduces horror fans to Jordan Phipps as Morgan MacKenzie, the tortured receptor of the obscene calls and whose nerves are buckling under a bombardment of uppers, downers, and many, many hallucinogens. To really stomp hard on the fact that “Close Calls” is indeed a horror film and to add upon the slight separation of the normal circumstances, the unearthly busty Phipps performs in her underwear and bare feet through the entire film and its comically written against the character to undress Morgan in not a literal sense, but works toward a natural teen prerogative that Phipps courageously pulls off dutifully. Because of the very fact that “Close Calls” is the actress’s debut feature told in her character’s entire point of view, I expect Phipps to be on the casting radar as an array of talent and as one who can go unscathed in the daunting course of leading lady. Morgan has exchanges with a couple of interesting characters to note from “10/31’s” Greg Fallon as Barry Cone, a colleague of Morgan’s father with sexual deviancies and callous intentions, and “The Phone in the Attic’s” Janis Duley portraying Morgan’s mentally unstable grandmother with takes dumps in the closet. Fallon and Duley hone in on their respective roles with uninhibited momentum that viciously contributes to Morgan’s spiraling home alone situation and creepily loom a visceral presence under a disturbing guise. Carmen Patterson (“The Boo”), Kristof Waltermire, and Landen Matt round out the cast.

On a parallel plane with the losing one’s mind from a heavy dose of drugs, trauma, and spoiled entitlement, the psycho-sexual narrative of “Close Calls” shouldn’t be ignored and is fringed with totalitarian perversion. The extremely saturated provocative and mainly lewd discourse calls an uneasiness to the moral senses that undercuts the congenial desires for Morgan. Like aforesaid, Morgan struts in her underwear thoroughly through the story and Stringham elaborately showcases her assets with some fine tuned camera work and angles, but Morgan’s drug use topples her sexual stability, leaving her vulnerable against predators that also include her douchy boyfriend, but it’s co-star Greg Fallon that takes the sexual deviance to misogynistic heights as a blunt force object with a high-level stalker obsession toward Morgan. Fallon exacts a persona that’s explained to have watched Morgan from afar in the shadows and schemed plots to infiltrate her by any means necessary, even if that means killing her when he’s done. As Barry Cone, Fallon manufactures to perfection a middle aged man’s grimy malaise toward young teen women and Cone is so vile that he can even starkly contrast Morgan in a better light despite her explicable flaws.

S and Drive Cinema production of Richard Stringham’s “Close Calls” dials up onto DVD home video from Scream Team Releasing presenting the film in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, full of colorfully vibrant lighting familiar to the old Italian thriller while sustaining a complimentary cinematography with a flat vintage definition image. The stimulating combinational pops of color and lighting were the collaborative efforts of the director of photography Graig Wynn and the late colorist, Omar Godinez (“I Spit On Your Grave” remake), who died of heart failure before the film was finished. The English language PCM DTS-HD Master Audio mix has little to fear with a robust, slasheresque-score by “The Barn’s” Rocky Gray, but the dialogue track can be soft at times where the score overpowers and nearly drowns out the actors. There are also gag-like foley effects, such as when Morgan rubs cocaine onto her gums and the squeegee sound effect sounds more like something out of a Leslie Nielsen parody. With the exception of a static menu, only a single DVD bonus feature included with an audio commentary by writer, director, and produce, Richard Stringham. Loaded with psycho-sexual themes and psychedelic-contorting deconstructs, “Close Calls” is not only a 128 minutes of rabid affections for Jordan Phipps, but also a trip down the uninviting rabbit hole of collusion, murder, and an endless supply of suspense.

Purchase “Close Calls” on DVD! Click the DVD cover!

EVIL is in the Eye of the Beholder! “Perception” reviewed!


When developer project manager Daniel, on the verge of a lucrative deal in flattening an old rental property , meets Nina, a clairvoyant who rents space on the property, an mystifying, and on the house, psychic reading opens up old wounds of Daniel’s previous life involving the death of his beloved artist wife, Maggie. The successful developer becomes frantically obsessed with reaching Maggie from the other side, believing he is paying Nina handsomely to be a vessel conduit, but as a single mother on the verge of losing everything, Nina exploits Daniel’s fixation on the past that’s more dangerous than initially presumed. Daniel and Nina become sexually and spiritually entangled on two false pretense fronts while behind the scenes, a malevolent presence orchestrates a sinister campaign of perverse revenge.

In her fiction feature film debut, Ilana Rein writes and directs “Perception,” a 2018 suspense thriller aimed unsheathe and reactivate the agonizing secrets and those who reap the benefits from them. Rein, who previously helmed documentaries that includes the award winning Battlestar Galatica fandom documentary, “We Are All Cyclons, pivots from non-fiction into creative invention alongside producer and writing partner Brian Smith. “Perception” tackles various themes from severe mental illness, to dangerous obsession, to how we initially and naively perceive individuals without knowing exactly who they really are, especially when they’re in the white collar, high dollar, social category. Rein focuses on rooting out psychotic and sociopathic qualities through the power of flashbacks while chucking in a scornful spirit into the background for good climatic measure.

“Perception” perceives hard bodies and chiseled faces over a few recognizable ones, which typically isn’t a bad aspect of filmmaking but may not draw a wide viewership. Though in the entertainment industry for some time, Wes Ramsey is one of those fresh faces, headlining as Daniel, the successful developer with an unhealthy mania for his deceased wife. Ramsey has seen more roles in television than in feature films, but the “Brotherhood of Blood” and “Dracula’s Guest” actor pockets horror theatrics here and there and uses his tall, dark, and handsome charm to be a good source for Daniel as the presumptuous, if not stereotypical, good guy. Opposite Ramsey is Meera Rohit Kumbhani, an Indian American actress with beautiful big and round eyes, to star as the clairvoyant Nina. Kumbhani has solid onscreen sincerity and a sexiness to match, but as Ninia’s has a principle crises, Kumbhani is able to sell practically a RickRolls performance that fools us all as uncertainty clouds judgement about her ethics when it’s whether to exploit a desperate widow or pay for her troubled young son’s educational necessities. Together, Ramsey and Kumbhani contently compliment each other’s performances and when you mixed the specter playing Chaitlin Mehner in flashback sequences, an out-of-body love triangle experience ensues. Rounding out the cast is Max Jenkins, J Ro, Vee Kumari, and J. Barrett Cooper as the only face I recognize more recently from Nathan Thomas Millinar’s “A Wish for the Dead.”

The depth of the story, especially with main characters Daniel and Nina, really hinders judgement on the outputted result. Not enough vivid and harrowing memories of Daniel and Maggie’s rocky relationship stir very little toward a stroppy receipt for disaster. Their coupling went from casual to 120 mph in two scenes flat never laying down a sturdy foundation on why viewers should put stock into their story if there’s no stock to really sell. Same can be said for Nina and her son’s simmering obtuse relationship where Nina believes all is hunky-dory, despite her son’s suddenly mute stature, and her unmotherly attentiveness to his disturbingly illustrated clues to his inner demons. Stronger supporting characters saw through the boy’s facade, such as Nina’s friend J Ro (who plays himself, by the way) and her mother; both of whom are on the polar opposite sides of the clairvoyant spectrum. Those underwhelming characters flaws suck the energy out from the main arteries in Daniel and Nina’s carnal exploits and meddling to thwart the very fiber of “Perception’s” thrilling suspense.

Ilana Rein’s “Perception” comes to DVD home video courtesy of Gravitas Ventures and presented into a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ration. Image quality is obvious clean as with all digitally shot, yet the hues are a slightly warm, favoring more of a yellowish tint into every scene, and while maintaining solid definition, some scenes bask in a softer glow at times. Stylistically, not much to report as the film follows conventional strides. The English language 5.1 surround sound has strong, dialogue favoring, and balanced with depth and range. There is also a dual channel track available, but not really needed, as enough dramatics flare up to tip into the five channel. As bonus features go, there are none. Ilana Rein’s debut into the feature film market could have been worse, but “Perception” is a strong entry into the horror-thriller market with some Hitchcockian undertones. Definitely sexy and psychotic, “Perception” puts onto a pedastal humanity’s worst when the sheep’s clothing has finally shed and that’s worth reviewing.

You Shouldn’t Pick On Evil! “All American Bully” review!

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Three high school friends live in an online gaming and comic book world making them easy targets for sinister bullies. When one of them, Devon (Alexander Fraser), becomes the victim of extreme bullying, the gaming friends are forced to come together and cope with the brutal and aggravated assault laid upon their friend Devon. Becky (Alicia Rose), whose had a long lasting love for Devon, plans the ultimate revenge by teasing to expose a hidden secret on the world wide web about Devon’s bully neighbor John Brooks (Daren Ackerman). The circle of violence and secrets wildly spirals out of control to an extremely car-crash of a finale that will put Devon, Becky, and John in a trio of devastating destruction.
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“All American Bully,” formally titled “The Innocent,” serves as not the typical bully-revenge film we’re aware of in such films as Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” or Jason Buxton’s “Blackbird” and that creates a misleading film title, but doesn’t necessarily hurt the film’s integrity. Director-writer John Hawkins intentionally creates an unexpected twist that’ll take the film into a totally different direction. With the help of the elusive, yet recently fan-revived cult “Friday the 13th” heroine Andrienne King and the superb acting by Daren Ackerman who portrays complex character John Brooks, “All American Bully” becomes a unique hybrid with a cultural and social timeliness that will surely strike the core like a bully punching you in the gut and kicking you while you’re down all for just your lunch money.
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The John Hawkins film is not solely about high school bullying, but also about mental illness and childhood abuse to which all comes to the forefront to bring the house down at the end. The repercussions from years of bullying results in kidnapping, rape, and murder. Actor Daren Ackerman’s has a wide range playing the disturbing character John Brooks by never backing down from the character’s various stages. Ackerman complete shadows his peers such as Alexander Fraser who can’t strain from a monotone tone, Alicia Rose who has range but just not enough girth, and even Adrienne King who, I felt, played an overacting Principal.
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There seems to be a side story that goes unexplained to which we have to make our own conclusion. Adrienne’s Principal Kane doesn’t trust her employed teacher Mr. Taylor that’s somehow related to her son being gay. I concluded that Mr. Taylor and her son had some kind of relationship that’s not being explicitly explained and this drives Principal King unhinged, but her breakdown doesn’t feel connected to the story, feeling separate from the body and not bring the film to closure. Perhaps Principal Kane’s mental break parallel’s the psychotic break that John Brooks suffers, displaying and defining two various scenarios of pain.
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Speaking of homosexuality, Hawkins hits many gay undertones and not only with Principal Kane’s son and Mr. Taylor. There’s also a past relationship, even if only one sided, between Devon and John when they were tiny kids playing army in the woods. The overuse of the word fag becomes repulsive and that might be intended to reveal the true ugliness of the word. I had always thought fag might have faded into oblivion, especially in the film industry, but I guess in independent ventures the word still thrives to bring out the tensions and angers out of the viewers. Lastly on the topic, John becomes the plaything to all his mother’s friends and some of them being men, creating more taboo and disturbing qualities that make me think Hawkins is one warped individual. When Becky, played by an absolute beauty named Alicia Rose, and Devon actually have a heterosexual scene together, the mood becomes ruined when John gets a hold of them, to punish them, almost for being happy because his life turned out tragic and hopeless.
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Forget the misleading title “All American Bully” (as I believe “The Innocent” works better) and the misleading Wild Eye Releasing DVD cover where a person gripping a firearm at their side in a student filled hallway; instead, focus on the film as a whole where the acting is solid and the direction tells a stunning story of various facets of bullying. Check out this Wild Eye Releasing DVD and also take a gander at the cast interviews as you’ll learn more about the actors backstory and how their take on bullying motivated them to create this film.
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