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Fresh Kills (2024) – Movie Review

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Fresh Kills (2024) – Movie Review

Fresh Kills, 2024.

Written and Directed by Jennifer Esposito.
Starring Emily Bader, Odessa A’zion, Jennifer Esposito, Domenick Lombardozzi, Annabella Sciorra, Nicholas Cirillo, Ava DeMary, Stelio Savante, Franco Maicas, David Iacono, Anastasia Veronica Lee, Taylor Madeline Hand, Maya Moravec, Nicole Ehinger, Luciana VanDette, Amanda Corday, Annie Pisapia, Camryn Adele Portagallo, Colleen Kelly, Beatrice Pelliccia, Charlie Reina, and Bettina Skye.

SYNOPSIS:

Follows the story of the loyal women of an organized crime family that dominated some of the boroughs of New York City in the late 20th century.

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A film for anyone who wonders about the specifics of what goes on in the lives of the mothers, daughters, and granddaughters part of a mobster family household, writer/director/producer/star Jennifer Esposito’s Fresh Kills, for all its clunky pacing and overreaching ambition, is fresh and packs a cumulative punch about this inescapable lifestyle.

Spanning several points in time across the 1980s and 1990s while primarily fixated on tightknit sisters Rose and Connie, Fresh Kills homes in on how these girls, especially as they grow up, couldn’t be any more different from one another, especially when it comes to the privilege of wealth and the expectations of being born into a family dynamic where the women stay at home while the men are involved in the Staten Island Mafia.

Played by Anastasia Veronica Lee and Taylor Madeline Hand as young girls before turning things over to Emily Bader and Odessa A’zion upon growing up, the former, Rose, is the quiet one (you would be forgiven if you assumed she was mute during the first 15 minutes or so) whereas Connie is upbeat and playful. Connie is seen encouraging Rose to “fly” by spreading apart her hands while being boosted on top of her knees. It’s a silly game they play in front of their new home, still innocent of what their father, Joe Larusso (Domenick Lombardozzi), does for a living. Moments later, an unnerving dialogue exchange is overheard in the garage, somewhat clueing them int to different extents. Little do the girls know, it seems no women born into this type of toxic family dynamic truly get to fly, at least independently.

Then there is the matriarch Francine (Jennifer Esposito), aware and horrified by much of her husband’s actions. At one point, in hysterics, she exclaims that she needs to get away. Yet, much like Connie when she ages, she sticks up for this spoiled lifestyle, whether from fashion, a spacious home or simply being blessed with a healthy family. Once upon a time, she did dream of being something more, apparently approached to get into modeling, yet instead ended up around the arm of Joe. Naturally, Connie becomes her favorite since she is the one to embrace and carry on the more traditional roles, whereas Rose finds herself talked down to over having goals beyond marriage and motherhood.

There is the instinct to label Francine a bad mother for trying to enforce such a status quo, and even the screenplay from Jennifer Esposito never fully gets around fleshing out all of the multidimensional characters; she comes across as a complex figure. She is someone who gave up on her dreams and has not chosen to actively go against a daughter trying to make something of herself (Rose is interested in beauty just like her mother was) and escapes something that she knows has been dysfunctional, hostile, unhealthy, and traumatic for quite some time.

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The performances from Emily Bader and Odessa A’zion are also rich, going beyond playing two characters gradually transitioning into opposites. Connie is played with such tornado-like ferocity, preaching family first and asserting that she has made the right choice in getting married and having a child, one suspects that she is trying to convince herself just as much as she is verbally tearing her sister down. Meanwhile, Rose gradually tries to come out of her shell and embark on a different path, but at every turn, she is devastatingly and tragically reminded of what she has been born into and might never escape. Naturally, Domenick Lombardozzi is wisely kept off to the side (this is not a mobster movie about the crimes themselves), but is also part of an emotional scene with Rose that ends on such a powerful note you can’t help but pity him. It’s a vicious, towering toxic masculinity takedown.

As mentioned, the pacing in Fresh Kills is sometimes off, with jumps forward in time frustratingly undercutting other developing character dynamics. One also wishes Jennifer Esposito felt more confident as a filmmaker, doing away with unnecessary needle-drops to heighten the importance of certain moments. However, she does find cohesive, full-throttle momentum for her passion project in its third act, which is riveting, heartbreaking, and empowering, retroactively shading in more depth to what comes before.  

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/playlist

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Movie Reviews

Clear Cut (2024) – Movie Review

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Clear Cut (2024) – Movie Review

Clear Cut, 2024.

Directed by Brian Skiba.
Starring Clive Standen, Tom Welling, Stephen Dorff, Alec Baldwin, Jesse Metcalfe, Lochlyn Munro, Lucy Martin, Chelsey Reist, Tom Stevens, and Mike Dopud.

SYNOPSIS:

A team of loggers discover a meth cook site in the middle of the forest and are forced to fight for their lives while being hunted by a drug cartel.

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With a title such as Clear Cut, one might think director Brian Skiba is trying to be cutely vague and intentionally jumbling since his narrative distractingly jumps back and forth in time with no grace. The reality is that what the film is trying to do with its story is fairly obvious after roughly the second flashback, executed with such outright poor editing technique (Skiba also performs those duties) that one sits there in shock at the ineptitude when it cuts back to a scene with Alec Baldwin who was recently killed at the beginning.

Dead characters appearing in flashbacks is inherently fine, but watching it play out here is baffling; you could reconfigure the scenes chronologically, and this already lousy film might play better. Alec Baldwin isn’t a recurring presence after that; the movie is just pointlessly like this. At the very least, the not-so-smooth attempt at (I think?) trying to trick the audience regarding what is happening with its central plot could have been avoided. It’s hard to tell since the editing makes everything come across as more confusing than the story is. Furthermore, the fact that I have so many questions about the filmmaker’s intent mostly already proves whatever he was trying to do with structure didn’t pan out. That’s an understatement.

The story itself concerns Clive Standen’s Jack, taking on logging work en route to a job site with his superior and mentor (Alec Baldwin.) Now, if reading this brings about some interest that there might be some positive and earnest deforestation messaging at the heart of the action, let me remind readers that this is one of those super cheaply made Lionsgate VOD entities that somehow slides its way into a few theaters across America. Jack is seeking revenge on some criminals running a meth operation out here in the woods, which also brings up several questions of logistics that the film never bothers to take a stab at answering.

Unsurprisingly, the one cooking up the meth gives the zaniest performance, which basically means Lochlyn Munro is playing clichéd psychopathic redneck running around with a crossbow, murdering anyone who might throw his shady business out of whack. Bringing an inexplicably large amount of money to a deal where the one cooking up the meth lives in a camper, presumably in the middle of nowhere, the leader of the buyers conveniently leaves the money in the back of a truck for Jack to steal and run off with. Stephen Dorff also plays a Park Ranger who gets involved in the two battling sides. The less said about the women who pop up in this movie is probably for the better.

For as much as Clive Standen gives a passable performance regarding both the emotional toll recent tragic events have taken on him and the close-quarters action, it’s also undermined by the film (written by Joe Perruccio) concocting scenarios that tastelessly ramp up that drama. Regarding the direction, nothing here stands out aside from one or two moments toward the end of Clive Standen letting loose some of that bottled-up anger and sadness. There’s a chance that if you show someone the final 10 minutes of Clear Cut, they will wrongly assume you just watched a decent movie. Fortunately, what is clear-cut is that this is anything but worth checking out.

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Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/playlist

 

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Movie Reviews

Movie Review: 'Twisters' – Catholic Review

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Movie Review: 'Twisters' – Catholic Review

NEW YORK (OSV News) – Back in the early days of the Ford administration, disaster movies were all the rage. A capsized cruise ship, a skyscraper aflame, airplanes imperiled — the genre ran the gamut of mishaps before fading away at the end of the 1970s.

Two decades later, advances in computer capabilities led to something of a revival, one product of which was 1996’s “Twister.” Director Jan de Bont’s film had separated spouses Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton working through their marital tensions while trying to make a breakthrough in early storm warning.

Flash forward nearly 30 years and a standalone sequel, “Twisters” (Universal), looms on the horizon. While moviegoers need not take shelter from this long-distance follow-up — which is only loosely connected to its predecessor — neither will it transport them over the rainbow.

The main flaw in the production, helmed by Lee Isaac Chung, is its consistent air of Hollywood phoniness. Its main asset is the mostly appealing antagonism-turns-to-love tale that unfolds amid the rising winds.

Haunted by an experiment during a tornado that went fatally wrong, meteorologist Kate Carter (Daisy Edgar-Jones) has spent the ensuing half-decade practicing her craft from the safety of a desk. She’s reluctantly drawn back to storm chasing, however, when her old friend Javi (Anthony Ramos) suddenly appears on the scene seeking her help.

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Javi is out to launch a potentially beneficial new technology. But he’s convinced he can only succeed with the aid of Kate’s expertise and intuition.

Once back on the plains, Kate — who quickly becomes the guiding force of Javi’s team — crosses paths with a squad of apparently reckless thrill seekers led by cocky self-proclaimed “tornado wrangler” Tyler Owens (Glen Powell). Kate and Tyler initially clash, then develop a relationship of mutual respect that eventually deepens into a romance.

Like the burgeoning bond between the principals, the hairbreadth escapes chronicled in screenwriter Mark L. Smith’s script are entirely predictable, the sacrifice of the odd extra notwithstanding. So much so, that viewers may emerge from the Cineplex humming that old standard, “Just in Time.”

“Twisters” does promote compassion for catastrophe victims, making concern for them the moral standard by which its characters are to be judged. And objectionable ingredients are mostly kept out of the mix, so mature adolescents may be given the go-ahead to reap the whirlwind.

Yet human interaction comes in a poor second throughout the proceedings, which are focused instead on the wizardry of special effects. So audience reaction to the picture will largely depend on each patron’s interest in large-scale displays of Mother Nature’s fury.

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The film contains some medical gore, several mild oaths, occasional crude language and a couple of crass terms. The OSV News classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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Movie Reviews

Movie Review| ‘Despicable Me 4’

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Movie Review| ‘Despicable Me 4’

In the last 14 years, Gru has certainly been through a lot. The reformed super villain put aside his dastardly ways to become a family man, and now sits pretty with three “gworls”, a wife, and a bouncing baby boy. Life couldn’t be better for the bald-headed former bad guy, but some habits die hard. Such as the desire to embarrass his villain school rival causing said rival to swear revenge against Gru and his entire family, forcing them into their most frightening challenge yet: Life in the suburbs.

Taking the socially awkward Gru and placing him in scenarios where he has to act like a bumbling sitcom dad is a fine premise for the fourth instalment in the Despicable Me franchise. Unfortunately the movie compounds the conceit by adding Gru’s desire to connect with his newborn, as well as turning the moronic minions into superheroes. There’s also the neighbour’s daughter, whom Gru takes under his wing to teach her his ways of thievery and deception.

Too much story spoils the cinematic experience, especially when the film grinds to a halt just to give the minions an opportunity to spout mindless jabber and engage in antics. It can’t be understated what a blight the minions are to the senses, but credit where credit is due: their newfound abilities give the movie a chance to showcase some slick animation and, admittedly, laughs. However, this doesn’t change the fact that Despicable Me 4 lacks a sense of necessity. Nothing that occurs in the film feels very consequential, and despite seemingly taking the characters in new directions, it ultimately feels like more of the same.

I can’t say I would ever watch this film of my own volition, but I must admit it’s not exactly made with me in mind. For the intended audience, they’re sure to be pleased paying full price, or at least asking their parents to. For myself, there’s enough to enjoy to warrant seeing it in the cinema, but only at a discount. A few roller coaster sequences are genuinely entertaining, and for the target audience of kids in 4DX cinema, it was a thoroughly engaging experience from start to finish.

Rating: Half Price

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Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies. entertainment@gleanerjm.com

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