Time Travel to Stop EVIL via Astral Projection: Part II! “Mandao Returns” reviewed! (Indie Rights / Digital Screener)

With his powerful ability to astral project, along with the help of a motley entourage of friends and family, Jay Mandao saved multiple lives, some who are close to him, from his blood thirsty ex-girlfriend on Halloween night.  Two months later, days before Christmas, and now living in the scheming medium Cousin Andy’s townhome after his unrelated cousin Jackson set fire to his apartment, Mandao and Jackson float through life, sleeping in Cousin Andy’s living room and barely off the royalties of Mandoa’s father breakfast cereal line.   Dreams of his father, Raymond Mandoa, urging him to stop astral projecting as dark entities will discover him are reluctantly ignored when Cousin Andy connives a get-rich-quick opportunity to contact the recently deceased Aura Garcia, a well-known B-movie actress having died a few nights ago after a drug overdose, but as soon as the spiritual and time planes are disturbed, sinister plans of murder, from the living and the dead, deck the halls with a blood red Christmas.  

Mandao is back!  Or rather returns in a new scouring the astral plane misadventure entitled “Mandao Returns.”  When we last reviewed the Scott Dunn 2019 comedy-horror sleeper hit, “Mandao of the Dead,” an open ending left us salivating with a possible sequel under, what we know now to be a working title, “Mandao of the Damned” that promised exploring the nonphysical and paranormal realm’s mysteries and secrets that threatened Jay Mandao’s whole grain boxed-in existence, at least according to Mandao’s father, Raymond with a foreboding sign of inexplicable things to come.  The Kickstarter.com, crowdfunded modern cult favorite raised more than $26,000, doubling the first film’s budget, from approx. 250+ generous likeminded supporters within two weeks time that brought back four core characters essential to “Mandao of the Dead’s” grim, but lighthearted success to battle half-cocked the supernatural forces of evil.  Instead of a blood drinking cultist, a by-midnight death ceremony concretes stardom and greatness, but not if Jay Mandao has something to say about it.  “Mandao Returns” is a production of Scott Dunn’s Dunnit Films and distributed by Indie Rights.

Returning, obviously as stated in the title, to ensure the safety and well-being of those who incessantly annoy yet deep down care for him on a daily level is the hapless Jay Mandao, the titular hero played by writer, director, and story creator, Scott Dunn, along with Dunn’s wife, Gina Gomez Dunn, who steps back into a co-producer role for the sequel as well as stepping back into the shrewdly wild shoes of Fer, a close but no cigar Mandao love interest continuing to become mixed up in Mandao’s spiritual shenanigans while being a private driver for the Uber-equivalent Bum Rides.  Though blood is thicker than water, Mandao’s cousin-by-marriage Jackson oozes with dense innocence as Sean McBride reprises the daft role to another perfect tune of witless naivety.  Together, Mandao and Jackson arouse a likeable dynamic duo that becomes the keystone to both films’ success because without McBride’s timely childlike disposition, Mandao would just be a snippy and angsty loner and without Dunn’s subtly serious tone, Jackson would overrun the comedy-horror with one-sided gullibility.  With any sequel aiming to top its predecessor, the buddy comedy needed to be bigger and by adding the fourth returning character, Cousin Andy, as an important ingredient to the mix, Sean Liang adds a grounding hoodwinking conspirator that thrusts Mandao and Jackson into action on the astral plane field when the no-good antagonist, Aura Garcia, played by newcomer Jenny Lorenzo, becomes scorned in the spiritual world and takes heinous vengeance that not only involves Mandao, Cousin Andy, Jackson, and Fer, but also Garcia’s talent manager, Ted (Jim O’Doherty), in a sacrificial ritual gone terribly wrong. 

“Mandao Returns” is a smartly written script from creator Scott Dunn whose able to mold fallibly fascinating characters into unlikely heroes juxtaposed against a monumental occurrence much greater than themselves with the vast possibilities in the spacetime continuum.  Of course, the cinema flair to decorate the otherworldly dimensions with accessible ease and gloomy aesthetics faces speculation of existential questions of mindpower and life after death and the challenges the mechanics of the theory of metaphysics, but all that abstract mumbo-jumbo is pushed aside in order to make the “Mandao” films entertaining and for a good reason because when the script has colorful characters and a working narrative, “Mandao Returns” allows audiences to turn off rationality for approx. 71 minutes to enjoy a modestly produced Sci-fi comedy-thriller with a cast accurately in sync with each other’s methods.  The one thing I will say about “Mandao Returns” that I found to be a sore spot, despite still immensely enjoying, is that the story echoes eerily to “Mandao of the Dead.”  With a slight tweak to Mandao’s astral projection powers and trading in a different breed of villain, from point A to point B, from dynamics to outcome, everything seemed nearly identical to “Mandao of the Dead’s” narrative, delivering nothing distinctively new to the table to elevate the character’s fate and circumstances into unique, un-before-seen horizons.  Dunn comes close to challenging and upgrading the prior narrative by hinting something lurking within the spirit world was on the verge of closing in on Jay Mandao if he continues blindly using astral projection by the forewarning words of his father, Raymond Mandao, but slips out of that digressional stream to pit Mandao versus greenhorn cult acolytes looking for glam and glory by way of the gory and that, done in the Dunnit Films’ essence, is okay too.

As a quirky, out-of-body sci-fi thriller experience, “Mandao Returns” succeeds in succeeding as the sequel that brings the thrills and the laughter of far-fetched heroes ready to tear into the fabric of time to stop evil once again. The film comes to you from distributor Indie Rights and is available now streaming only on Amazon Prime so get your pandemic pants on aka comfy, stretchy pants, grab some movie style popcorn, and recline back to watch “Mandao Returns.” Experience the vibrant and wraithy-visioned glow cinematography of A.J. Young, returning from “Mandao of the Dead” as well as Dunn’s first film “Schlep” and another camping trip horror film, “Camp 139.” Young stays true to the films atmospherics with hard lighting a variety of hues and creating a story through the presence of shadows, working movie magic creating an opulent visual experience when really only working with about 25 grand. There were no bonus features nor extended credit scenes with this digital screener. One day, I’d like to see Scott Dunn and his Dunnit Films team work with a good chunk of budget cash and push the limits beyond the simplicities of the “Mandao” films, but until then, “Mandao Returns’ is disseminated with a whimsical awareness and fervent macabre that’s intent to please.

Watch “Mandao Returns” on Prime Video. Click the Poster!

Uncalcified Penal Glands and Designer Drugs are an EVIL Around-the-Clock Cocktail. “Synchronic” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Well Go USA Entertainment)

A new over-the-counter designer drug called Synchronic has been at the center of a string gruesome deaths in New Orleans.  Simultaneously, two best friend paramedics, Steve and Dennis, individually battle their own life-altering personal problems while responding to the grisly emergency calls.  With each horrific scene of Synchronic’s doing, Steve decides to take matters into his own hands by purchasing the remaining supply in all of New Orleans after Dennis’ teenage daughter mysteriously disappears after ingesting the drug.  With no leads on the missing girl’s whereabouts and after being visited by the time abstract ramblings of the chemist responsible for creating the drug, Synchronic’s harmful hallucinogenic properties have more tangible dangers than what meets the eye leaving Steve no choice but to pop one of the pills to understand where, or when, his friend’s daughter may have disappeared to.

I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are visionary filmmakers with a penchant for the larger-than-life and otherworldly terrors.  From their directorial of a mind-bending death cult in “The Endless” to their producing hand in Jeremy Gardner’s lost love and creature feature, “After Midnight,” and Amy Seimetz deathly contagious, “She Dies Tomorrow,” under Rustic Films, the ambitiously talented duo returns with “Synchronic,” an anything but plain spoken, time-winding, Sci-Fi tale revolving around themes of redemptive purpose and grateful circumstances stitched by the uncanny temporal effects of artificial illicit drugs.  Lying somewhere between the cognitive warping psychedelic drug and feeling disconnected from the environment of a dissociative drug, “Synchronic” sojourns random grooves with the needle of time in a culminating enlightenment that now, the present, is a gift worth enjoying.     Along with Moorhead and Benson’s Rustic Films, Patriot Pictures, and XYZ Films bring to fruition the filmmakers’ biggest production yet. 

Like most of us during pandemic times, but not quite exactly like us who are working stressfully from home, is Anthony Mackie acting comfortably in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana.  The “Captain America” star temporarily hangs up Falcon’s wing harness to play lonely paramedic Steve frequented by his tragic past that has led him down a path of casual flings and an inability to attach to anyone romantically.  Opposite Mackie is Irish actor and “Fifty Shades of Grey” star Jamie Dornan as Dennis, a man kicking himself hard for marrying and starting a family too early in life that’s created a bizarre Prince and the Pauper dynamic where Steve and Dennis are envious on each other’s life.  Mackie is pitch perfect in the timing of a seemingly tailored-to-Mackie script that is funny as it is engrossing and thought-provoking.  “Synchronic” is truly the Mackie show with Dornan playing second fiddle as a compliment to Mackie’s more clandestinely troubled character who aims to upend and mend many wrongs in his life, including those of his best friend, and weaves in and out through the fabrics of time with Katie Aselton (“She Dies Tomorrow”), Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monself, and Bill Oberst Jr (“DIS”).

Time travelling is a finnicky concept.  Lots of variables have to be ironed out in order to break the planes of chronological, set-in-stone, thinking and construe time as an infinite recording always available for repeat and playback.  Time travel is perhaps science fiction’s most powerhouse model, producing some of the most influential and staple films of the genre in our time that include “The Time Machine,” “The Terminator,” and “Back to the Future” that have carried out repeated viewings of admiration, a franchise legacy, and been the source of inspiration and remakes.  Plot holes and flaws in these films go without saying and are considered expected, but if filmmakers can get away with convincing audiences otherwise, then expect a blast from the past, present, and future.  Moorhead and Benson’s “Synchronic” has a gripping and cosmically vast story done in only one small corner of the world, the historically rich and diverse culture of New Orleans, and that isolating effect pressed upon by the distant and ominous unknown, a supremely niche and bracing style from the directors.  “Synchronic,” like time jumping films before it, has the anticipated plot holes in the mechanics of the designer drug’s side effects that are seemingly straight forward to the experimenting character only after attempting a handful of pill-popping jumps.  There are also no adverse butterfly effects stemmed from any of the Synchronic’s users.  You’ll find yourself lost in time over these questions that routinely shoot up other films to smithereens in the ole inconsistency corral thanks to Moorhead and Benson, along with the riveting and hilarious performance from Anthony Mackie, who suck you in with their relatable and humanizing story premised around Steve and Dennis’ life regrets mended by an eye-opening slight tear in the fabric of time to understand what you have now could have been a lot worse then.

 

“Synchronic” is stylish, Sci-Fi craftsmanship coming to you onto Blu-ray home video from Well Go USA Entertainment. The film is also available on DVD and digitally. Presented in 16:9 widescreen format, “Synchronic” barrages with a somber and slick, yet almost alien, plating over the Creole and double gallery architectures in a mesh of robust multicultural with the grimy slums, envisioned by director of photography, Aaron Moorhead, who, in part with Ariel Vida, the production designer, is able to capture era slithers native to Louisiana lineage. The Blu-ray comes with an English language DTS-HD master audio 5.1 surround sound that’s crisply makes distinct every track element defined by individual scenes. Jimmy Lavalle returns to collaborate with Moorhead and Benson once again to compose an unique compositional score that can only be described as driving nails into your soul while also being powerfully moving without being an echo out of inspiration. The release is rated R with a runtime of 101 minutes and comes with a fair amount of bonus features including commentary with Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, a making of featurette, a previsualization (a fancy word here for live-action storyboarding with a camera phone), a VFX breakdown (which is touched upon a lot in the making of featurette), a deleted scene, and an alternate ending that will doggone blow your mind! “Synchronic” is intense medication to repair a kindred friendship falling into disrepair in this literal mind-boggling must see it to believe it thriller. Expect more great things from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson to come!

Order “Synchornic” on Blu-ray by clicking the poster above!

Time Travel to an Evil Future! “Counter Clockwise” review!

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Ethan Walker is a brilliant scientific engineer, though he doesn’t look it with his long fire-hued beard and pot-belly midsection, but Walker, along with his colleague, believe to have accomplished the impossible: teleportation. When Walker decides to try his machine on himself, the realization of something terribly wrong overwhelms him. Walker didn’t invent a teleporter, he accidentally constructed a time machine, sending himself six months into a grim future where his wife and sister have been brutally murdered and he’s the sole prime suspect. The only way to make sense of the future and to solve the crime against him is to travel back to the past multiple times to unravel a sinister plot and stop the murder of those close to him.
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To simply and conventionally tagline “Counter Clockwise,” George Moise’s 2015 directorial debut can easily be described as Terry Gilliam meets David Fincher. Part sci-fi thriller part dark comedy, the adventure of Ethan’s misadventures ingeniously signifies a harsh outlook on the saltiness of our predetermined universe while encountering outrageous and weird characters along the time warp. Ethan, no matter what he does or how he does it, has to use the accidental time machine to thwart the brutal death of his wife and sister and while his reasoning sounds fairly comical being the groundwork of what Albert Einstein calls madness, on-screen it’s rather heartbreaking and tragic to see this guy, an everyday looking joe, desperately attempt to deconstruct, from the unsolicited help of his future selves, a dastardly plot that will destroy everything he holds dear.
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Penned also by George Moise, based off a story by brother Walter Moise, along with the film’s lead star, Ethan himself, Michael Kopelow, “Counter Clockwise” will change the way critics will perceive time travel storylines by not as a means of zipping back only once to change the forsaken past, but as a respawning Shakespearean tale of tragedy in order to continue to amend a hapless situation. A respawned Super Mario had more luck saving Princess Peach through the thicket of Koopa Troopas and the fire breathing Bowser. Though the character Ethan repeats his voyage, the way “Counter Clockwise” is written doesn’t convolute itself in the repetition, staging clues as a window into beyond the present and generating eerie and problematic, if seriously disturbed, episodes that doesn’t give Ethan a minute from tirelessly being objective. Combine those elements with George Moise’s neurotic direction and the result seizes to capture not only science fiction aficionados, but movie enthusiasts of every category in this genre-breaking feature. From the first moment of the opening scene, a strong familiar inkling of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” washes over you; the subtle hum of machinery, the slow panning from side-to-side, the very soft touch George Moise applies is uncanny and so endearingly respectful that the direction doesn’t feel like an absolute rip of Scott’s 1979 space horror classic.
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Kopelow is the centerpiece that glues the story whole. As Ethan, Kopelow’s gentle giant approach is such a stark contrast to the surrounding darkness that has embodied nearly every other location and character, even his lip flapping, hard loving mother. Extreme opposite on the polar spectrum is voice actor Frank Simms as Roman, head of major corporation aiming to steal pioneered technology from Ethan at any cost. Simms’ talent has two settings in this film, hot and cold; his sound binary method works to composite a character so reasonably rational that when Roman snaps, a trickle of pee squeezes out and runs down your leg at his abrupt and menacing counter personality. The rest of the cast follows suit with pinpoint precision on their coinciding characters and even the eccentric cameo performances were otherworldly good from Chris Hampton’s relishing water fountain patron to Marty Vites one-eyed creepy landlord. Ethan’s landed in bizarre world that hums a very familiar tune in Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” while the amount of downbeat content spurs moments of gritty David Fincher thrillers, especially in one particular scene with the brawny New Jersey native Bruno Amato being the ultimate bad guy henchman by raping a dead woman for spite and for pleasure. The cast fills out with Devon Ogden, Kerry Knuppe, Joy Rinaldi, Alice Rietveld, and Caleb Brown.
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The Sex Scene Crew production, “Counter Clockwise,” is not an effects driven project. The indie sci-fi film relies on the trio of coordination efforts in refined editing, camera angles, and practical effects to deliver the intended message. Like I said before, George Moise is neurotic, providing the attention and detail to every scene as if a climatic money shot. Value is placed in the story and in the direction rather than diluting and cheapening with overrated, big budget computer generated special effects that can snap a film’s heart and soul like a thin twig. The biggest effect comes in the form of a composite, placing two Ethans in the same scene and working action off each other. Even the time traveling sequences are a basic edit that’s well timed with simple lighting techniques, gentrifying low budget films more toward a respectable level of filmmaking.
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Artsploitation Films’ DVD release of “Counter Clockwise” is an edgy rip in space time continuum sci-fi thriller presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio option. Image quality pars well with modern releases and the same can be said about the audio, especially with the prevalent dialogue. Aside from conventional specs, Moise adds a sensory surplus to stimulate sight and sound hell-bent to strike an unnerving chord strummed simultaneously with providing an awesomely surreal effect. The DVD contains bonus features include “The Making of Counter Clockwise featurette, going behind the scenes of pre-production, production, and post-production. There are also five deleted scenes with commentary and a trio of commentary tracks that include the director, director and editor, and director and co-writer. “Counter Clockwise” is 91 minutes of time hopping suspense, packed with adversity and pitch black humor from start to finish and finish to start.

Click Above to Time Travel to Amazon and Buy this Title Today! (And not six months from now…)

Changing the Past Could Lead to Evil Outcomes. “The Man of the Future” review!

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Joao, a brilliant university physicist, lives in a suffering life of depression, anger, and vengeance for the last twenty-years. Back in November of ‘91, the love of Joao’s life, the beautiful Helena, betrays him and humiliates him in front of a large crowd of his peers, leaving him with nothing and bestowing upon him the name “Zero” to forever imprint on him his worth. In 2011, he channels all his hate to develop a cost saving energy to show everybody that he’s not a zero, but when he locks himself in the chamber of his machine in a show of defiance, his machine creates a black hole in which he’s sucked into and brought back to the past to the very same day he’s humiliated by Helena. Joao is determined to change the past to make a better life for himself, but his actions cause an unforeseen butterfly effect to which causes him to return back to the past over-and-over again.
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A powerhouse Brazilian sci-fi comedy from a conglomerate of production and distribution companies such as Conspiração Filmes and Globo Filmes from production and Paramount Pictures and Simply Media handling the distribution across a worldwide realm. “The Man of the Future” is directed by Cláudio Torres and stars “Elite Squad” and “Elysium” star Wagner Moura as Joao. Moura’s physical comedy in this role spawns a likable and zany character whose constantly an underdog fighting and clawing his way back up to the top by any means possible. The film’s very similar to Ashton Kutcher’s 2004’s “The Butterfly Effect” sans the comedy, but similar in the sense of Joao’s life drastically changing with each trip to the past.
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Moura’s costars compliment Moura’s Joao and the rest of the story. Former model Alinne Moras has a stunning beauty compared to the an average joe looks of Moura and her performance adds a bit of sassiness much needed in a comedy such as “The Man of the Future.” Moras delivers the sexiness and the female energy needed to keep up with Moura. A more subtle character is Joao’s good friend Otávio played by Fernando Ceylão. Ceylão dilutes the overzealousness in order to keep the zaniness in check and welcomes a change of pace. Moura and Ceylão’s only interact very briefly and don’t have the chemistry to the likes of perhaps Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, but when together, they’re solidly funny. Lastly, Maria Luisa Mendonça brings the wild card to Joao’s dilemma though her role as Sandra promises more of being a capital venturist looking to be all business and bossy. Mendonça scenes show more range than first thought and complete the main characters in good fashion.
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Though heart-felt, entertaining, and delivers a message of hope, the story creates it’s very own black holes, zipping the story past what feels like crucial points in the film. With each trip to the past, less and less of the story is conveyed and while the understanding that some scenes are omitted because they would just be rehashed, other scenes needed to be restaged to build upon Joao’s and Helena’s momentum toward a happier future. With any film about time traveling, there will be plot holes, inconsistency, and improbabilities and “The Man of the Future” is not invincible from these time traveling complications.
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“The Man of the Future” is a science fiction film with solid computer generated effects especially being a product of Brazil. Since the disc provided to this reviewer was a DVD-R, diving into the presentation wouldn’t be appropriate. However, the production value doesn’t appear shoddy. The only gripe to state stems from the English subtitles that seem to come and go from the scene in a flash, leaving hardly any time to read the text before the next piece of dialogue. There is such rapid fire dialogue that, in my opinion, the subtitles can’t keep up. Aside from that, I wouldn’t disregard this sci-fi comedy and would recommend this South American native film without a second thought.