Tag Archives: film

An offer you can’t refuse by Kent Hill

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I’m guilty of not reading Carl Nicita’s book which kicked this whole thing off…but I plan to remedy that as soon as humanly possible. Because, from the campaign art (pictured above), I thought I might be in for the stock standard gangster offering. I’d already swallowed the hook, ’cause like director Rickey Bird Jr. told me, “That’s a great title,” and indeed it is. Still, as is often the case with the gigantic strides being taken in the field of low budget film-making nowadays, like Transformers, they are increasingly becoming more than meets the eye.

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What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas. So when Jack King (Joe Raffa, “Portal”, “Dark Harbor”) decides to try his luck at a blackjack tournament – with a little somethin’ on the side to handle for his mob boss Uncle Vinny, Vincent Pastore (HBO’s “The Sopranos”) , this tale transforms into a vodka martini shaken by an earthquake and stirred by a maelstrom. Jack’s Vegas weekend descends from one hell to the next when he is targeted by the mob after his girlfriend witnesses a murder

Booze, Broads and Blackjack, received a release on Amazon Prime Video on July 24th, 2020 in the United States and United Kingdom after racking up several awards despite being sidelined by COVID-19. The mob thriller, nominated for Best Picture in both the Los Angeles and New York Film Awards, won Best Crime Film in both festivals. In the Actors Awards Los Angeles 2020 competition – Pastore was nominated as Best in the ‘Fest and garnered Best Actor in a Crime Film. Co-star Sarah French (“Rootwood”) won Best Actress in a Crime Film.

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The film was produced by a joint venture between Film Regions International (FRI) the company behind the acclaimed groundbreaking documentary “My Amityville Horror” Hectic Films Productions, best known for “Machine Gun Baby” and Good Knight Productions.

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In addition to Pastore, Raffa and French, the film also stars Felissa Rose (“Sleepaway Camp”), Vincent M. Ward (AMC’s “The Walking Dead”) and James Duval (“Independence Day”, “Donnie Darko”).

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The film is available on Amazon Prime Video for rental or purchase and will also receive subsequent VOD platforms to follow in the near future.

RICKEY BIRD JR.

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CARL NICITA

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Not a circuit short by Kent Hill

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We have to go back to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to find the roots of Garo Setian’s AUTOMATION. A machine, a construct, built in man’s image. It will walk like him, talk like him . . . but can it feel? Can an artificial intelligence handle all of the the complexities of a human? If you prick it, it will not bleed, but it can simulate pain. If you tickle it, it will not laugh, but it could simulate laughter. RoboCop and Short Circuit are in part, about machines dealing with that veritable head full of bad wiring we call the human condition. We have the built-in propensity to be all right and all wrong in the same sentence. So if a machine were to feel the betrayal of a lie, be heartbroken by the bitterness of a romantic rejection; if we wrong it . . . will it not revenge?

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Setian’s film packs an enormous subtext for an independent production, but the small budget hasn’t stopped this cast and crew from firing on all cylinders. A workplace robot, AUTO, transforms into a killing machine when he discovers he will be replaced by a more efficient model. AUTO fears being terminated and will stop at nothing to prevent his own destruction. The human employees must band together to stop him before it’s too late.

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A few words from the Director:

It seems every day there is another news story or article concerning the threat of machines replacing people in the workplace.  We are also seeing stories about the development of robots that can learn to behave more human by observing human behavior.
So what would happen when a robot with this ability to learn, replaces humans in the workplace, but then faces the prospect of being replaced by more advanced technology?  Our movie AUTOMATION is a cheeky take on this concept.
Our goal was to tell an interesting and timely story with characters the audience cares about.  So despite the film being a satire of corporate cost cutting and planned obsolescence, there is a true heart to the movie in the relationship between Auto and Jenny.
We are so grateful to our talented cast and crew of pros who came together out of love for this script, and the desire to make something fun. We hope the audience finds AUTOMATION an entertaining 91 minutes that is funny, exciting, has a few surprises and is ultimately kind of moving.
 
Thanks for watching!
Garo Setian
Writer /Director/Producer/Editor –
Automation
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And now the director and cast…

GARO SETIAN

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PARRY SHEN

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JEFF J. KNIGHT

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KH: You join a great tradition of suit performers, like Anthony Daniels and Doug Jones; is that a mantle you aspire to?

JK: ABSOLUTELY! The performances that Doug Jones manages to portray through all those layers of special effects make up is just unmatched. There is something to having your character be presented as real as it possibly can be.  I love C3-PO, and would love to have met Mr. Daniels but we were in the strong capable technical hands of @evilted_smith, master at what he does, prop armor, weapons, helmets, guns.

 KH: What was your first impression upon reading the script?

JK: It really felt like a winner right off the bat, but then they kept adding layers to the characters and back stories which only enhanced the emotional center of the movie. This movie really does have a heart of gold. 

KH: Garo, the director, has come from a prolific career as an editor, how do you feel carried over to his directing style?

JK: He wasn’t an asshole at all! Just Kidding …. he was open to suggestions, and worked great with his first AD And DOP. He had a vision for scenes and how they would cut together and he really brought all that to life on the screen. 

KH: Actors infuse their own life experience into the characters they play; what did the part you played bring out of your own personality and in turn, what did you find the role demanded of you?

JK: Before starting onset I took some intense acting classes at the Clu Gulager school of acting here in LA. Clu is literally an old time cowboy (Gunsmoke, Bonanza)  and really told me how it was and didn’t sugar coat anything. His advice on how to present the robot to the world and how he would interact back was some of the coolest memories I have in almost 5 years of Acting and Cosplay here in LA. 

KH: Do you think the world is truly ready for a machine with the complexities of human emotions?

JK: GOD NO, we can barely keep our own emotions under wraps. Let’s work on becoming better people ourselves before we try and perfect the human being in a robot form. 

KH: If you were to wake up one morning to find all that you are transferred into a robotic body….what would you do?

JK: Not shower or shave…. for like, a while.
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KH: Tell us a little of your journey leading up to AUTOMATION?
SK: I had been filming a lot of strictly horror films and was really excited to shoot something that was also mixed with syfy elements.  I’ve known Garo as well as Esther for quite sometime and I was really stoked that the right project had come up for us to finally work together.  
KH: What was your first impression upon reading the script?
SK: I actually really fell in love with Auto and loved his relationship with Jenny (Elissa Dowling).  As much as the script was fun and quirky I really appreciated that bigger questions were being presented in the story about future A.I. and how companies are facing a lot of conflicts on saving money versus employing humans.  I was a little thrown off by Susan because I’m used to playing villains in horror but I really didn’t want to play Susan as a villain.  There’s a rule in acting of not judging your characters.  I really wanted to find humor in Susan as well. I thought that there was a lot of fear of failure in Susan which is why she had so many guards up.  I don’t want to give anything away but I really wanted the audience to forgive her and be able to root for her as well.  What I loved about the script was that it had a lot of quick jokes and was a fun ride too.  It’s a gift when you’re doing an indie film and they don’t take themselves too seriously.  I think that’s what makes a B movie really worth watching and kinda anoints it into an instant classic.    
KH: Garo, the director, has come from a prolific career as an editor, how do you feel carried over to his directing style?
SK: Knowing Garo as a friend and how excited he was about directing carried over in his enthusiasm about the project.  As an editor I think it was hard for the cast at first to understand how carefully the film was already edited in his head.  I won’t say that’s a bad thing when someone has the amount of editing experience Garo does. It’s just a different style as an actor you kinda have to take that in but not allow your work to be results based.  Garo is an extremely kind, somewhat careful, super respectful human- he goes out of his way to be a nice guy.  I felt like he was open to all our ideas about our characters.  But, there’s a point as the director where they sometimes have to kind of take the wheel and drive.  Sometimes, especially on shoots that have limited days it means not always being the nice guy.  It was exciting to watch Garo grow in a short time into a director who knew what he wanted and trusted that.  They say a movie is made three times; first writing the script, then shooting and again while editing.  Sometimes you work with a director who you think is amazing on set and then you see the film and you’re like oh no!  They don’t understand pacing or the overall tone of the story.  Watching the final cut; I was blown away by the finished film.  His attention to detail was just lovely and the movie is consistent in tone- that’s not always an easy thing when your film is a mix of genres. 
KH: Actors infuse their own life experience into the characters they play; what did the part you played bring out of your own personality and in turn, what did you find the role demanded of you?
SK: I related to Susan because I’m naturally a pretty nervous person but I can be pretty relentless in getting what I want.  I touched on this before but I thought Susan should have a little vulnerability. I love the idea of people showing who they really are in stressful situations.     
KH: Do you think the world is truly ready for a machine with the complexities of human emotions?
SK: I’m giving myself away here but I graduated highschool right as the internet was becoming available for everyone.  I personally don’t believe we were really ready for that kinda barrage of information.  So, the idea of a machine able to generate emotions is terrifying to me.  I think the purpose of technology should be to bring people closer and make life easier but I don’t think it should ever be a substitute for real human interaction.  The biggest problem is relationships are all about compromise and fear of rejection.  I’m afraid that robots would be a one way compromise from the robots- when to grow as people we both have to be willing to risk rejection and also to learn from it. 
KH: If you were to wake up one morning to find all that you are transferred into a robotic body….what would you do?
SK: Find a very high bridge and jump.
Here is a link where you can see where AUTOMATION is available to view or purchase…
 
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The road to DOOMED: An Interview with Adrian Milnes by Kent Hill

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Here I give you, dear listeners, a success story in close proximity to me. A few hours east of the old ranch lives a screenwriter who has recently exploded on the scene as part of an exciting batch of cinema, emanating from a dynamic producing duo with a lucrative business model who have created a haven from bold genre movies.

Adrian, like most of us born with the creative itch (further exacerbated once bitten by the movie bug) knows, all too well, that the road from script to screen can be perilous. Anxious waiting, exhaustive rewrites, all part and parcel of this business we’re in. All the turmoil, all the hours of doubt and disharmony can however, be washed away in the instant the house lights fade into darkness and those long nights of many words come alive on screen. The journey at an end, and the audience entertained.

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He traveled from the old empire, through Asia, till at last coming to settle here in the colonies. And it was here, in the sun-burnt land of Down Under that the distant stars and the bright lights of Hollywood glisten in the eyes of the dreamers, their twinkling transformed into a siren song, biding the likes of Adrian (and the rest of us) to take his place among them.

But it is no longer a mere wish upon a star for Mr Milnes. His hard work, determination and dedication to learning how the tricks of the trade blend with the troupes of the industry. All artists chiefly need a patron, and if you put yourself where the lightning strikes, as Adrian has, you might find yourself with green light and a go-picture.

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Due to a recent technical misadventure, unfortunately, my recording of our chat was lost. Thankfully Adrian has been a good sport and we have the interview to present in the written form below. The tale of the local lad who made good with his BRIDGE OF THE DOOMED, and the currently in post, BLOODTHIRST. The world is about to receive a healthy dose of the cinematic musings of the man who never gave up, turning what can potentially be a road to doom into victory lane.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you, Adrian Milnes

KH: Tell us a little about your love of cinema that has endured and seen you pursue this dream to write for the screen?

AM: I’ve always watched any movie I could find. When I was a kid in England the BBC used to show lots of old movies, and I watched as many as I could . The first movie that truly terrified me was an old Basil Rathbone movie, The Pearl Of Death. I was only nine, but I can still remember Rondo Hatton’s scenes. Later on, living in Hong Kong I developed a love for 90s Hong Kong movies. A lot of them were very small scale stories that could have happened two streets over, and you would never have known about it. The more you live in Hong Kong, the more you see and hear about things that most people don’t notice. A friend of mine was married to a Police Officer, and she really opened my eyes to a lot of things that happened there.

KH: Did you learn (undertake academic study) or was it picked up piecemeal as you progressed in your quest to master the screenplay?

AM: I just taught myself. I made a lot of mistakes in the early days that a course would have steered me away from.

KH: There are significantly more avenues today for emerging screenwriters to parade their talent; can you tell us about your early experiences in attempting to showcase your work?

AM: There are plenty of opportunities now for screenwriters, but they all cost money, and a lot of them aren’t worth it. There are so many competitions, coverage services and hosting sites, not all of them reputable. Ink Tip obviously worked out for me. It also allows you to post loglines for short scripts, which is a great way for new screenwriters to start. Sending out emails to producers can occasionally work, but they’re deluged with emails, and if you’ve got no credits it can be hard to stand out.

KH: You are two movies in as a scribe for the rapidly expansive might of the Mahal Empire, a radically successful crowd funded production company. Tell us about Bridge of the Doomed, the evolution of the screenplay and working with this dynamic producing duo?

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AM: Michael Mahal read my script on Ink Tip, and straight away knew he could make it. Most producers option a script for a year, and see if they can get any interest from a director, then actors, and finally investors. He was so confident he bought the script outright, and the audition call went out a couple of weeks later. He was right to be confident, as straight away there was an incredible amount of interest from investors. When they had raised enough money Michael suggested starting the story earlier at the army camp, and having Robert LaSardo as the General. Later on they were able to afford Michael Pare as well. My original script had eight speaking parts, and we ended up with over sixty. Naturally this meant a lot of rewriting, but it was worth it. I never would have written it like this, as the budget would have been way too high for most indie producers.

KH: They say the more you write makes you a better writer; what has your journey leading up to this break, and since then having written through two successful productions now altered what you thought you knew about screenwriting?

AM: I started off writing Science Fiction, then later moved on to Crime Fiction. I sold a few short stories then gave up. At that point I really didn’t think I could write movies, it just seemed so far out of reach. Having written a lot of screenplays I can now instinctively get things like pacing and structure correct. I re-read my first ever screenplay recently, thinking I might be able to tidy it up and sell it. Of course it was dreadful.

KH: Even guys who have been at this game at the highest levels say it never gets easier; has this jump into the professional ranks made it easier (in your opinion) to present specs to potential elements to possibly mount production?

AM: Once again I’ve been lucky. Since Bloodthirst, I’ve written four scripts for Massimiliano Cerchi, the originator of that movie. The first of them is going to be filmed in October with Louis Mandylor, Michael Pare and Robert LaSardo. Having that first credit definitely helps in being considered, but it’s still no guarantee. There are plenty of professional writers with huge gaps in their IMDb listing. They’ve probably sold scripts in that time that didn’t get made, but it gives an indication of what it’s like.

KH: A young guy approaches you and tells you he wants to be a screenwriter. What do you tell him?

AM: Plan your life as though you’ll never make a cent from writing. Most writers don’t sell anything, and those that do rarely make enough to live off. The middle of the market has been contracting for a long time, it’s mostly $100 million or micro budget movies now. Even if they do sell a script, it might only be for $1k. All the good things I’ve achieved in my life came through working as an electronics technician. Every writer needs to know what producers are looking for, the market is constantly changing. Right now the big thing is having scripts that can be filmed in a Covid safe way, and producers are always looking for single location scripts with just a few characters. Those types of stories are really hard to do well, but it’s great training just to try.

KH: A major Hollywood studio, out of the blue, calls you up and says they are going to spend whatever it takes to produce your next screenplay….but it has to be a remake?

AM: Some classics shouldn’t be remade, but there are plenty of near-forgotten movies that are ripe for a remake. Truth is though, if there was a lot of money involved, I wouldn’t turn anything down.

There you have it folks. Hollywood dreams are more than attainable, you just have to want it more than the next person, be willing to fail, be willing to fight, but most importantly be adventurous, and ready to write…

The Day of Reckoning: An Interview with Andrew David Barker by Kent Hill (Part 2)

 

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Three years ago I sat down with Andrew David Barker as his labor of love, A RECKONING, was beginning to emerge. The talented writer/director/novelist told me of the arduous journey, up until and including the making of the movie.

This time, we take a look back at the fates and fortunes of the intervening years; the roads high and low which make up the battlefield any and all face whilst engaged in a quest toward one’s ideal form of creative and personal expression.

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The novelist and filmmaker’s directorial debut has finally hit Amazon Prime Video in the United States. Film Regions International (FRI), the production company behind the groundbreaking documentary “My Amityville Horror” has licensed the film for video-on-demand platforms in the American territory. FRI had also been an early supporter of the film after its initial release in 2010 when the film had received a great deal of critical acclaim, however disappointingly, the film ended up being shelved for the better part of the last ten years.

Now that the film has finally received the light of day, it is very fitting and poignant considering the atmosphere with recent world events. The film tells the story of a lone man (featuring a powerful performance by Leslie Simpson, of Dog Soldiers and The Descent), trapped and imprisoned in a barren, desolate landscape. His only companions are a village of straw people with which he converses with as neighbors and friends; he even teaches straw children at the local school. Yet, this anchor, this way of habitual living, is about to become unraveled in frightening and disturbing ways.

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Director’s Statement:

“I’ve always been drawn to end of the world stories, right from an early age. The thought that all we’ve achieved, all we’ve created as a species, could go away is something that has never left me. And I’m not alone. The 20th century is littered with post-apocalyptic fiction, from George R. Stewart’s 1949 novel Earth Abides, to I Am Legend, through to Mad Max, visions of what this world will be like once civilization falls, once the power has gone out and the thin veneer of society is torn away, are rich and plentiful. The end of the world has always been a preoccupation of mankind. I wanted to create a film that added to the long list of titles that depicted what life will be like After.”

“A Reckoning is a (post!) modern day Robinson Crusoe, my ode to human spirit and all its dark recesses. This film is as micro-budget as you can get, yet, I had a large vision for it: I wanted the wide open spaces, and the decay and dirt, and the extreme weather to give what is essentially an internal, human story, a large cinematic canvas. This is my lament for our species, a tale of how the fabric of our day to day existence, the trivialities that we take for granted, could (and possibly would) haunt us in a world emptied. This film has had a long, hard road to see the light, but now, in 2020, I think A Reckoning feels more relevant than ever. This truly is the right time for our little film. Worryingly.”   –   Andrew David Barker, July, 2020. 

The film is currently available for rental or purchase on Amazon Prime Video and subsequent VOD platforms will follow soon.

Andy is a great gentlemen and his story is fascinating. We all dream, but not all of us have what it takes to see those dreams realized. Here is one man who did…and one who continues.

Playing with G.I. Joes: The Next Level by Kent Hill

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George Miller long ago professed his love of pure cinema, or cinema as visual music. His celluloid illustrations of this stance have not only influenced their genre, but the entire cinematic experience itself. So when watching Rene Perez’s foray in this arena, Dr. George’s words again filtered to my ear.

Perez having a natural aptitude and mastery of music applies Miller’s methodology with his Snake Eyes tribute; the essence of the real power of the movies, functioning entirely without dialogue. Of course, to the casual viewer, I can appreciate this experience may be jarring. But for those with a wider appreciation and deep passion for the motion picture know, all too well, that before the advent of sound…this is what movies where like. The skill of the filmmaker on center stage, showing the audience everything they need; forcing participation on some level.

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Miller’s Fury Road is an absolute masterclass in action movie making, and here, Rene Perez, the Robert Rodriguez of Redding, showcases (in a similar fashion) not only his action storytelling chops, but what is possible today on a small scale; a petite though triumphant piece of film-making, boxing above its weight class in terms of the size of the production to what one experiences as the picture unfolds.

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Perez shines consistently with his fluid camera work and editing style, set against the backdrop of the glorious vistas at his disposal. The mixture of these elements with the age old story of a man on a mission makes this a work of depth, not short-changing the viewer in terms of suspense and intrigue, considering the genre. Patterned after his beloved G.I. Joe (America’s highly trained special mission force), Perez winks back across the years at Joe-lovin’ youngster he used to be: “G.I. Joe were my favorite action figures and comic books when I was a kid. I always had Snake Eyes version 1 or 2, in my pocket when I was little,” Perez remarked.

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Rene makes films about characters driven by strong ideals. They overcome imposing odds to secure, not merely internal peace or the slaying of an old demon, but to also make amends for an old hurt; leaving nothing left unsaid, leaving no deed undone. “In these fight scenes in particular, I wanted to show that Snake Eyes has a code of honour when fighting hand to hand, that he is also a tactical thinker when it comes to using firearms.”

Teaming up once again with producer Joseph Camillari, Perez’s collaborator on The Insurrection and the (currently in production) western Righteous Blood, together with a cast that includes Beauty Queen Miss Nevada 2020, Victoria Olona (as Snake Eyes’ wife), and seventh-degree black belt Juan Manuel Olmedo as the title character.

We all enjoyed (at least I did) grabbing a handful of G.I. Joes and going all Stephen Sommers (long before that sort of thing was popular) in Mum’s garden beds. Anything went, as the cinema of our mind’s eye focused as we led brave soldiers in their never-ending fight against Cobra, the ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

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After the dust settles on the great conjunction of unfortunate events that is 2020, we shall slowly witness the emergence of the work that those with the ability to harness their creativity and the tools afforded them have made. Rene Perez made a blinding, kick-ass action valentine to his favorite of the Joes – code name: Snake Eyes.

WATCH IT NOW!!!

He’ll love you to DEATH! by Kent Hill

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When an extremely pesky poltergeist has himself a bad case of rejection, goes a little too Glenn Close and starts boiling bunnies, the sum total is Alex T. Hwang’s PARANORMAL ATTRACTION, a gleeful mixture of the psycho/sexual thriller, an intriguing social study, a ghost story and some enjoyable splashes of comedy that make this an enticing cocktail of the genre.

There are interesting twists and subversion which diverge from the numerous films with ‘paranormal’ in the title, but their unexpected nature builds to a climax which enhances the experience and makes the film linger longer in one’s memory, leaving behind it’s peers which remain content to concede to the formulaic approach.

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Paranormal Attraction tells the dark and sinister tale of a young woman, Sara Myer (Brooklyn Haley), who moves into an abandoned house with a tragic and mysterious past.  As Sarah begins to purge the house of the previous owner’s belongings, she begins to uncover its deadly secrets. Rookie police officer Evelyn Bennett (Nicole Cinaglia) helps her investigate the mysterious happenings and captures Sara’s heart. Will they learn the secrets of the house or will the house claim Sara’s soul? 

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Director’s Alex T. Hwang’s Statement:

“I have loved movies since I was a kid growing up in Korea. I remember my mom taking me to see American movies like Star Wars and Superman in theaters.  When my family moved to the United States, I found a group of friends who were as passionate about movies as I was. I made my first short film on Super 8 and 16mm camera when I was 16 with my brothers and friends, and it fueled my passion for film making even more.  Classic horror films like, Jaws, Psycho, The Exorcist and The Shinning, have driven me to make horror films.  

My wife, Katie, encouraged me to pursue my dreams and make the films that I love. I’ve always admired directors like Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, Sergio Leone, Stanley Kubrick, and Steven Spielberg.  They are masters at what they do, and they can manipulate an audience’s emotions and take them to another place for a couple of hours. I hope I have achieved that with Paranormal Attraction. Paranormal Attraction is the third feature film I have directed and produced. I had the vision for Paranormal Attraction for a while and was so happy that I had a great script to work with. The cast was able to embrace their roles and give life to the words written on the page. I am grateful to everyone who played a part in helping to complete this film. I hope to entertain and scare all horror film fans but I believe that even if you don’t like horror films you will certainly enjoy Paranormal Attraction.”  

Paranormal Attraction is an official selection of the AOF (Action on Film) Film Festival and will be premiering at AOF Film Festival on Sept 5, 2020 @ 4PM in Las Vegas. 

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For a well crafted, creepy-good time at the movies, PARANORMAL ATTRACTION delivers the thrills, spills, laughter and chills in this fresh take on the fatal side of lust, from beyond the grave.

Now enjoy my chats with the director and cast…

ALEX T. HWANG

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BROOKLYN HALEY

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NICOLE CINAGLIA

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EDEN SHEA BECK

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Actor’s Spotlight with Joshua Burge, Vol. I

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We’re pleased to bring you the first volume of our chat with the remarkable actor Joshua Burge. Josh dives deep in the first installment of our extensive interview, talking about his beginnings as an actor, to his relationship with filmmaker and friend Joel Potrykus and working on BUZZARD to being cast in THE REVENANT. More to come in our second installment! You can currently see Josh in THE CURRENT OCCUPANT which is now streaming exclusively on Hulu.

Simon Wincer’s The Phantom

I love big, bold, colourful feature film updates of vintage 1930’s pulp comic books or radio plays and Simon Wincer’s The Phantom is just an absolute blast of escapism that’ll put a smile on your face no matter what. These days Billy Zane has become kind of a forgotten comedic totem but people forget what genuine charisma and star power he once had, and he rocks it here as Kit Walker aka The Phantom, a jungle born superhero descended from a long line of Phantoms before him, thus creating the reputation of being immortal, at least in his enemy’s eyes. Clad in a swanky purple suit with dual colt pistols and joined by a horse and a trusty wolf named ‘Devil’ at his side, he’s probably one of the most aesthetic superheroes I’ve ever seen in a film and I wish this led to sequels. Here he must protect three sacred skulls with supernatural power from power mad, psychopathic NYC tycoon Xander Drax (Treat Williams), fighting side by side with intrepid reporter Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson) through a series of exciting adventure set pieces in incredibly exotic, gorgeous locations around the world. Zane is terrific and gives The Phantom just the right mixture of cavalier attitude, genuine empathy and swashbuckling magnetism, plus he rocks that suit solidly, which given this suit, not all actors could do and be taken seriously at it. Williams is a hammy hoot as Drax but his thunder is ever so slightly stolen by two terrific secondary villains: James Remar as Quill, a sort of evil doppelgänger version of Indiana Jones and Catherine Zeta Jones as Sala, an impossibly bad tempered femme fatale who has the hots for the Phantom and goes through a hilariously conflicted meltdown mid-film. The supporting roster is excellent and includes Bill Smitrovitch, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Leon Russom, Jon Tenney, David Proval, John Capodice and the great Patrick McGoohan as the ghost of Phantom’s father who appears to him as voice of counsel and occasionally wingman. I thought this was just a brilliant good time, a solid, beautifully retro old school adventure flick and I was disappointed to read that it was a box office flop. It’s like the Lone Rangers, the Indiana Joenses, The Rocketeers, the Sky Captains, just this rollicking old world American pulp hero aesthetic that translates so well into action adventure in cinema. Oh and watch for a sly reference to William Friedkin’s Sorcerer. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Bo Welch’s The Cat In The Hat

The Cat In The Hat is one of those movies that probably shouldn’t have been made, but it did get made and, well, it just kind of sits there nursing incisively negative reviews, nonexistent box office attention and quietly fading into obscurity. The problem is simply that Dr. Seuss’s material is so singularly, specifically eccentric that any attempts to adapt it into a faithful and successful film fail by default, like trying to accurately describe a dream in non-abstract terms hours after you’ve woken from it. The vernacular, the drawings, the poetry, it’s just not made for cinema other than the incredibly literal animated shorts they did narrated by Boris Karloff (The Grinch has one that imparted eons more in like ten minutes than the feature length Jim Carrey version could). It’s like your Roald Dahls, your Maurice Sendaks, your E.B. Whites etc.. Big Hollywood can just never seem to nail the transition. Mike Meyers hasn’t had the best luck in character work outside Austin Powers and Wayne’s World and unfortunately he strikes out here, mugging, contorting, quipping, creeping, crawling as the famed feline home invader, to little effect. The fleeting, surreal whimsy of Seuss’s book is lost on a Fisher Price phantasmagoria of admittedly elaborate and impressive yet ultimately hollow and cornea splitting production design. Dakota Fanning and Spencer Breslin try their best as the two kids but just kind of come across as awkward in a story that’s reduced from a quick, lighthearted parable into a cacophonous jumble of hijinks that posses neither rhyme nor reason, dual qualities that were abundant in Seuss’s volumes. Alec Baldwin is there for some reason, debasing himself as an oafish slob. I’m only really reviewing this for Kelly Preston and she’s lovely as the kid’s mom, but not in it nearly enough and forced to share most of her scenes with the tone deaf, excruciating Sean Hayes. I don’t want to shred Dr. Seuss Hollywood adaptations too viciously because they don’t all miss the mark completely (check out The Lorax for one that’s actually half decent) but the magic from his books will never be recreated onscreen, it’s just not a tangible, realistic alchemy. And I gotta say, this one has to be bottom of the barrel in terms of them all, it’s an embarrassment to the book.

-Nate Hill

Kevin McDonald’s How I Live Now

It still amazes me that Kevin McDonald’s How I Live Now didn’t endure to become a more widely known or appreciated film, because it’s one of my favourites and in my mind one of the strongest, most affecting pieces of work in recent decades. I guess it kind of comes across as this Young Adult Book adaptation if you check out the cover and trailer but the film therein is extremely honest, disarmingly disturbing and very, very brutally frank about how widespread disaster may hit any region and those who live within it. It’s not without poetry, authentic romance, beauty or hope though and there’s this beautiful, life affirming balance between light and dark that makes for the perfect mixture.

The always exceptional Saoirse Ronan stars as Daisy, an American girl who suffers from severe anxiety and feelings of alienation, sent overseas to rural UK to live with an aunt and a whole pile of cousins she’s never even met. Slowly, bit by bit she comes out of her shell and warms up to this family, especially local boy Eddie (George MacKay) who she begins to fall in love with. Gradually the place she’s in and the people she’s with start to feel like home… until something unspeakable happens. Hundreds of miles away in London, a nuclear bomb goes off, cataclysm sets in and oppressive foreign forces slowly invade across the land. Her Aunt is gone doing humanitarian crisis work and so herself and Eddie, the closest thing the family has to leaders, must embark on a cross country odyssey fraught with dread, misery, peril and bleakness everywhere they turn.

This film hits me hard because of how real the danger and horrific aspects feel, how potent and believable the acting and relationships are and how brisk yet dense, heavy yet wistful and dark yet light the story ultimately feels. This is not a children’s film and it is most definitely *not* one geared solely towards teenagers either, there’s scenes of abject horror (it’s got an R rating that it more than earns), children thrown into impossibly complex and harrowing situations beyond their comprehension and is steeped in the harsh reality that in life things can go horribly wrong and if you find something anywhere near a happy ending you’re incredibly lucky rather than owed one by a pandering narrative. Ronan and MacKay are incredibly heartfelt and genuine, their romance and resilience anchoring the whole family as well as the film. Few films with children and young adults in the forefront have the bravery and honesty to show that the world can be just as harsh to them as to any adult protagonist, and show in the same token how said youngsters can have a tremendous amount of survivalism, intuition, spirit and courage to overcome adversity and do the best in an unforgiving world. This film is light and dark to me; the womb-like, sun dappled meadows and rivers of the English countryside where these children play and begin to grow up and then the blackened, nuclear poisoned land they venture out into and must find their way back to the light from. Light and dark. The blossoming romance between Daisy and Eddie, a force of great light in the face of encroaching evil and callous destruction approaching them, and the decision to use that love as a weapon in order to get them through, no matter how it might change either of them. In this film, the light wins and I watch it whenever I need a reminder of that. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill