Movie Review: Kids (1995)

drama, Movie Reviews

kids_1995_1

20 years ago, a movie was released which the New York Times described as ”a wake up call to the modern world.”  However, not all critics were as moved by Larry Clark’s harrowing depiction of street youth culture, with the Washington Post even going as far to call it ”child pornography disguised as a cautionary documentary.”  Needless to say, ”Kids” was a divisive movie upon its release, and remains as such to this day.

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Adopting the style of a quasi-documentary, ”Kids” is not a movie that was made to be enjoyable or entertaining; Larry Clark’s intention was to make ”the Great American Teenage Movie”; a looking glass of American youth at its most honest.  In order to achieve his goal, Clark enlisted Harmony Korine to help write the screenplay, who was only 19 years old at the time. While doing research himself, Clark would hang out with young skaters, building relationships and learning their habits, before convincing them to take part in the film.

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Of course, ”Kids” was not an accurate depiction of all American teenagers, but it was representative of a large contingent; one of which many people would not be aware of, or maybe even choose to ignore.  Here, every single character is driven by sex, drugs and drinking – with their days spent seeking only these things.  Telly, played by Leo Fitzpatrick, is as obnoxious as a teenager can be; a self-proclaimed ”virgin surgeon”, he spends most of his time deflowering young girls then laughing about it with his friends afterwards.  It could be argued that ”Kids” presents young people at their very worst: a deliberately bleak portrayal of a culture painted ugly. Telly, as a character, is the kid who gives parents nightmares – and Fitzpatrick’s performance is so natural and raw you sometimes forget that it’s an actor playing a fictional person.  He has no moral compass – neither do his friends, and it makes for uncomfortable viewing.

The use of an untrained, first time cast is used to great effect, as the film feels very authentic and true-to-life, much like a documentary.  While containing a plot and structured narrative like a movie, the cast evoke sincere realism.  The way they dress and speak, do and say feels so natural you feel like you’re watching days in the lives of real people.  With his intention, Clark succeeded effectively in that regard.

I couldn’t blame anybody for hating a film like ”Kids”; it’s an uncomfortable experience that will instill uneasiness and trepidation in even the most jaded viewer.  However, to dismiss it as ”exploitation” – like many critics did – is missing the point entirely.  Furthermore, it is not a movie that was made to make the culture it was showcasing look bad.  It was created as a wake-up call to highlight topics such as social injustice, disillusionment and the dangers of unsafe sex.  In fact, if you ask me, ”Kids” would be an effective film to show teenagers to encourage them to be cautious.  Even those with privileged, sheltered upbringings could suffer the same fates to those in Larry Clark’s depiction of a world that does exist.

”Kids” is not a movie I can recommend to the casual viewer, but if you can appreciate challenging cinema then it’s not to be missed.  Love it or hate it, there’s no denying it’s unique.  And the type of movie we might never see again.  10/10.

Directed By:

Larry Clark

Written By:

Larry Clark, Harmony Korine & Jim Lewis

Starring:

Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson

Genre:

Drama

Running Time:

91 min

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Movie Review: The Sky Has Fallen (2009)

Action, drama, Horror, Movie Reviews

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The zombie sub-genre, for me, got stale very fast.  While I enjoy a good zombie flick, my motivation for seeking out new ones out is pretty low at this point.  However, The Sky Has Fallen isn’t just another throwaway zombie film; there’s a lot more going on here than basic survival in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the undead, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Winner of Best Feature at the 2009 Freak Show Horror Film Festival and Best Horror Feature at the 2009 Indie Gathering Film Festival, as well as  nominated for Best FX at the 2012 Maverick Movie Awards, Doug Roos’ The Sky Has Fallen is a feature deserving of its accolades.  Furthermore, the fact that it’s all practical effects is sure to make it even more appealing to horror fans.  However, as good as the practical effects are (and believe me, they’re good), The Sky Has Fallen’s main strengths lie in its characters and story; both of which are well-developed and interesting.

A post-apocalyptic love story which is heavy on both drama and horror, The Sky Has Fallen follows Lance (Carey McLaren) and Rachel (Laurel Kemper); 2 strangers who meet through unfortunate circumstance, who must battle their way through the wilderness against swarms of the undead. Sound too familiar?  Well, it isn’t.  These zombies are merely puppets used for killing by a more sinister force – a mysterious clan of shadowy figures with extraordinary abilities, which happen to include raising the dead and controlling them at their whim.

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The Sky Has Fallen is a beautifully haunting story, aided by a fantastic original score which enhances its emotional impact.  Of course, without characters to root, there would be no emotional impact whatsoever, and Kemper and McLaren do a great job playing the protagonists, while possessing an on-screen chemistry which makes their relationship and quest for survival one worth rooting for – and gives the story a very human core.  If that sounds off-putting to horror fans looking for blood and guts then fear not; the best thing about this movie is how refreshingly original it is, but it never shy’s away from being gruesome when the opportunity arises.  And it’s glorious.

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By stripping things back, The Sky Has Fallen goes far.  It’s a low-budget, character driven story, rich in texture and ambitious in its storytelling.  It applies the ethos of classic Kurowasa samurai movies to modern post-Apocalyptic horror to create a haunting, yet compelling story of mystery, violence, action, loss and love – with plenty of zombies, mysterious horrors and red stuff thrown in for good measure. This is a great piece of independent filmmaking I urge you all to support. You can find a copy HERE.  8/10

Written & Directed By:

Doug Roos

Starring:

Carey MacLaren, Laurel Kemper, Corey Knisely

Genre:

Horror, Drama, Action

Running Time:

73 min

Movie Review: Stoic (2009)

Crime, drama, Movie Reviews

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Any time a reviewer goes to post their thoughts on a good Uwe Boll movie, they feel the need to address his previous critically panned movies that gave him the reputation as one of the worst directors ever.  Unfortunately, this will always be a stigma attached to his name, due to the thousands upon thousands of film fans who dislike him on a personal level and are quick to bash his work before they’ve even given it a chance to prove them wrong.  However, Uwe Boll is not a bad filmmaker; although he’ll never get the credit he deserves for his intelligence and talent, he’s a director who has made mostly good features throughout career, with only a few duds that have overshadowed them to earn him his the undeserved reputation of that of a hack.  But those duds tend to still be entertaining.

That being said, if Uwe’s movies were judged on the merit of each film alone, most of them would still divide opinion due to uncompromising execution of controversial subject matter.  Take a movie like Auschwitz (2011), which was both praised and reviled for its unrelenting portrayal of Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust; or Attack on Darfur (2009) and 1968 Tunnel Rats (2008) for their cruel realistic depictions of war.  Back in 2002, Heart of America bravely explored the subject of high school shootings with delicacy, honesty and grace to create a thought provoking, harrowing piece of brilliant filmmaking.  Critics have been kinder to Rampage (2009) and its sequel Capital Punishment (2014) with its radical socio-political themes and mean spirited, darkly humorous, violent content, but it does have its detractors.  Assault On Wall Street (2013) is another controversial feature which further proves Boll is a capable director; albeit one who isn’t out to please everybody, instead choosing to make statements about the state of the world.  My point is: Boll is a talented filmmaker, but some of his movies are so bleak, nihilistic, honest, and at times – vicious, that they would never appeal to a mass audience.  That’s a logical reason to dislike his movies; not the false assumption that they’re incompetent trash.  This is the only time I’ll address Uwe’s negative reputation, because I feel he’s more than paid his dues.

Stoic falls into the category of impressive, but polarizing; based on the true story of an event which happened in a German prison in 2006, where 3 inmates tortured their cellmate and forced him to hang himself, this a movie which addresses prison brutality in such an honest way it’s unsettling to sit through and disturbing to watch.  The film begins with 4 young prisoners – Harry (Edward Furlong), Mitch (Shaun Sipos), Peter (Sam Levinson) and Jack (Steffen Mennekes) – as they play poker and share fun stories.  Mitch then makes a bet where he’ll eat toothpaste if he loses the next hand; unfortunately for him that’s just what happens.  Afterwards, he tries to back out of the bet, which angers his 3 cellmates.  First they force him to eat the toothpaste, then things gradually grow worse until they spiral out of control.

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If you’re going in to Stoic expecting entertainment then you’ll find it sorely lacking; there is no safety blanket to protect us from the horrible acts as they transpire.  If you choose to stick around, Stoic will punish you without mercy.  It’s a cruel picture with believable performances from the actors, all of whom play characters whose only characteristics are loathsome or tragic.  Furthermore, it’s not a pleasant film to look at, with its dimly lit rooms and dungeon-esque cinematography, it gives off a sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness.  Here we are, watching the events leading up to a forced suicide we know is coming, endurance our only ally.

Stoic is not an enjoyable movie, but it’s a powerful one that will reward you if you can see it through.  It’s cinematic cruelty where each atrocity will make you want to turn away from the screen.  Horror films have become so disposable that violence is just as throwaway and forgettable – at times even ”fun.”  Stoic’s violence isn’t explicit, but it’s so psychologically hard hitting that you’ll feel sorry for the victim and despise his tormentors. Coming from a guy who didn’t react to August Underground and found A Serbian Film funny at times, take that for what it’s worth.  9/10

Written & Directed By: 

Uwe Boll

Starring:

Edward Furlong, Shaun Sipos, Sam Levinson, Steffen Mennekes

Genre:

Drama, Crime

Running Time:

91 mins

Movie Review: Maggie (2015)

drama, Horror, Movie Reviews

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What’s this?  An Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie movie, you say?  Well it’s about damn time the greatest action star the world has ever known picked up his gun and blasted through swarms of the undead, equipped with bullets, one-liners and enough macho bravado to turn a teen girl sleepover into a beer and arm wrestling contest.  Unfortunately, Maggie isn’t such a zombie movie.  In fact, Maggie isn’t like any zombie movie that’s ever been made before until now.  The Walking Dead might have popularized the trend of a zombie apocalypse around human drama, but not until Maggie has it ever felt so human.  It’s a change of pace for Arnie, and it’s bound to make for the most surprising turn of the year.

Wade (Arnie) commands respect from the community; it’s a small town where everybody knows everybody; police and doctors treat Wade with respect due to their long storied history together.  History, although never mentioned, would suggest that Wade is a good man who’s well liked, which is why he’s allowed to take care of Maggie (Abigail Breslin) until she’s about to turn.  However, when the time comes he’s faced with 2 choices: send her to quarantine, or take care of it himself.  But like any loving father would, he refuses to give up on her.

Maggie uses the the zombie transformation as a framework for a family facing loss from terminal illness and a fathers failure to come to terms with it: from the outset we know Maggie is doomed to face the inevitable; there is no hope on the horizon or a cure being discovered.  Tragedy is inevitable and all we can do is watch as everything begins to shatter.  As good as Arnie is in his role, it’s Abigail Breslin who stands out as a teenage girl seeing out her final days; her relationship with her father is natural, sweet and one of the reasons her situation is hard hitting – but that also extends to the relationship she has with her friends she must bid farewell to.

Maggie boasts stunningly dreary cinematography; the Midwestern backdrop is always cloudy and grey, setting a mood throughout that’s always one of sadness; sometimes there’s moments of beauty within the sadness and the setting, the score and atmosphere are poignantly fitting to the descent into heartbreak we have to endure.

Arnie’s speaking parts are limited; his emotions are conveyed through his expressions and actions; these range from walking through the fields as the suns starts to set and staring aimlessly into bonfires at night.  He spends his moments away from caring for Maggie alone – struggling and contemplating – and it’s all evident on his withered facial expressions.  It’s a somber performance; undoubtedly this is the best he’s ever acted in his career, even if it’s not his best movie as a whole.

The horror in Maggie is lacking, but not non-existant; there are one or 2 scenes that provide some tension, but if you go into it expecting a horror film you might be disappointed.  It’s an indie drama about family and loss – but it’s one of the freshest takes on the zombie sub-genre in recent memory, and certainly one of the best.

Maggie is a change of pace for an iconic actor we’ve grown to know and love for being typecast; it’s a change of pace for a horror film because it’s lacking in traditional scares – although the fear of losing someone you love is scarier than any monster.  If you’re prepared to go in with an open mind then you might just find yourself captivated by a beautiful, tragic story that reminds us what it really means to be human.  8/10.

Directed By:

Henry Hobson

Written By:

John Scott 3

Starring:

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson

Genre:

Drama, Horror

Running Time:

95 min

Movie Review: Toad Road (2012)

Arthouse, drama, Horror, Movie Reviews

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Toad Road is an urban legend of American folklore, about a road in Hellam Township, Pennsylvania, where the Seven Gates of Hell are said to reside in a wooded area.  If one passes through all seven gates, they are said to enter Hell itself.  In Jason Bankers movie Toad Road, it serves as a metaphor for the plight of drug addiction for a young group of friends.  It follows a group of slackers (played by a group of real life friends the director found on Myspace) as they float through life bored and without purpose; they spend their days and nights abusing alcohol and drugs without any signs of direction apart from down.  When James meets Sara, he tries to warn her of the side effects of drugs and the life she’s getting herself into, but Sara disregards his warnings and becomes addicted and obsessed with embarking on a journey through Toad Road to find Hell; to Sara, she believes finding Hell would equal peace and sanctuary, and after persuading James and the gang, they drop acid and set out on the road.  As they pass through each gate, the lines between reality and what’s in their minds become a blur as months go by.

The lead actress, Sara Anne Jones, who played the titular character of the same name died of a drug overdose shortly after the film was complete; the characters here play authentic versions of themselves, molded to fit the story.  The scenes of drug use are 100% real, as are their interactions.  It’s a loose documentary in a way, but Bankers still manages to create a story and narrative that’s coherent and raw.

The journey into Hell is a variety of things: the first is the physical place they set out to find at the end of the road; another Sara’s nihilistic goal to either find something greater, or the peace of escaping the world she knows.  The third is the downward spiral into the self-destruction brought on by addiction; Sara describes each gate through narration and the feelings of guilt, shame and hope they bestow on her.  It’s a surreal fairytale about seeking something otherworldly, but ultimately finding death: a metaphor for how drugs are a quest for a transcendental high at the risk of a harrowing reality.

Toad Road is hallucinogenic and it gets more surreal as it progresses; reality and fantasy become one; the supernatural and reality are too vague to differentiate.  In summary: it’s a mind fuck.  The story plays out like a documentary, a mumblecore drama and a campfire fairytale, but it’s a movie that’s more about the message – which is the dangers of drug addiction without being preachy.

This is one of the most haunting, harrowing and honest movies you’ll ever see, but it’s not for everyone. The actors involved were a real group of friends doing real drugs in the movie, yet director Jason Banker managed to mold their real personas into autobiographical characters to create a fairytale about self-destruction and a journey to find something better and otherworldly. It’s a strange movie, it’s nihilistic and it’s an essential document of disenchanted youth culture.  9/10

Written & Directed By:

Jason Banker

Starring:

James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Whitley Higuera

Genre: 

Drama, Horror

Movie Review: Lost River (2014)

drama, fantasy, Movie Review

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Ryan Gosling has forged quite the career from marching to the beat of his own drum; his acting roles are picked based on what interests him as opposed to coasting on his looks and charms all the way to the bank, and now, with his first directorial feature, he’s created a bamboozling piece of arthouse cinema in the vein of his mentor Nicolas Refn, and idols like David Lynch, Dario Argento and Gaspar Noe.  Film buffs are sure to have a ball playing spot the influence; Gosling proudly wears Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive on his sleeve, through the lens of Only God Forgives.  Like his acting roles, this isn’t concerned about pleasing the mainstream; in fact, judging by its Cannes reaction and Rotten Tomatoes score it isn’t pleasing anybody.  Critics are writing it off as a collage of influences on a canvas with no originality of its own; and while it is a collage of influences, to write it off as nothing more is lazy journalism.  Whilst displaying images reminiscent of its idols, it contains enough of its own symbolism and messages to warrant some respect in regards to its originality.

Gosling tackles issues like small town life, poverty, bullying, family, coming of age, and the environment in his first outing; Christina Hendricks plays the mother who goes to desperate lengths to support her family, leading her into a dark underworld overseen by Ben Mendelsohn’s Dave, a sleazy Luciferian-like scumbag with a fondness for karaoke.  Saoirse Ronan plays Rat, the young love interest of Bones (Iain De Caestecker), who spend their time ducking bullies led by the appropriately named Bully, played by Doctor Who himself, Matt Smith, in  career best performance thus far.  Their town is decaying as a result of the economic crisis, and the setting makes for a desolate urban fairytale.

Water plays an important part in Lost River; in a town where water is hard to come by, all the characters still seem to be drowning in one way or another.  Social commentary is playfully used to suggest that industrial and commercial growth has replaced reservoirs to the point nobody knows what they are any more, despite being necessary in order to survive.

Lost River does come off as a love letter to avant-garde cinema Gosling is inspired by, but to dismiss it as only that is unfair; although viewed through the lens of Refn, with the imagery of Lynch, Mallick, Noe and Argento splashed across the screen throughout, this urban fairytale has strong characters and enough moral, societal and self-empowering messages to stand on its own 2 legs.  Overall, it’s a visually striking treat that could suck you in based on that alone, but Gosling is a director with a voice who shows great promise, even if he does need a little confidence to speak louder without his influences whispering in his ear.  7/10

Written & Directed By:

Ryan Gosling

Starring:

Christina Hendricks, Ben Mendelsohn, Saoirse Ronan, Matt Smith

Genre:

Fantasy, Drama

Running Time:

95 mins

Movie Review: Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla (2014)

Comedy, drama, Movie Reviews

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The mentally fractured loner reaching breaking point isn’t a new concept in the annals of cinema, but Stuart Simpson’s dark pyschological dramedy Strawberry Chocolate Vanilla ranks among the best of them.  A movie about an ice cream man who’s addicted to a soap opera to the point of delusion might sound silly on paper; but thanks to a great script and a master class performance by Glenn Maynard, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla is a powerful movie that’ll stay in your mind long after the end credits roll.  It’s also yet another absolute gem from Australia; further reaffirming that their cinema is the best in the world.

 Glenn Maynard stars as Warren Thompson, an ice cream truck vendor who oscillates between living in fiction and reality.  Warren is tormented by bullies in his daily life and has spent the majority of his years alienated; his only solace comes in the form of a soap opera which he watches for the beautiful Katey George (Kyrie Capri).  Then one day, Katey starts to visit his ice cream van and the line between daydreams and reality becomes a blur.

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The film opens with our protagonist as a sobbing mess, having just accidentally run over his own cat.  Immediately we’re made aware of just how tragic his situation is, and it makes for uncomfortable viewing watching Warren project such heartfelt grief over the loss of his beloved pet; but there is some darkly comical humour to be found and it sets the tone for the rest of the film, which balances offbeat humour with disturbing and tragic psychological drama.

The supporting cast are comprised of characters who are mostly obnoxious, vile human beings: there’s a pimp who stands under a bridge who spends every scene he’s in with Warren abusing him either verbally or physically, for a start.  The pimps girlfriend’s son also just happens to be a thieving little bastard whose crimes come back to haunt Warren.  Furthermore, the neighbourhood teenagers poke fun at the way he walks.  To put it bluntly: you want to see these people get their comeuppance.  However, Warren does have one friend in the girl who works at the store, and their interactions make for some shy pleasantries in an otherwise unpleasant series of interactions.

On top of soap operas, Warren’s other love is westerns.  There’s a scene where he imagines himself as a heroic Man With No Name-like figure; in real life he’s pushed around daily, but in his fantasies he’s a bad ass of the Old West.

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I can’t praise Glenn Maynard’s performance with words that’ll do it justice; this is a case of it having to be seen to believe it.  Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla might not ever be held in as high regard as Taxi Driver, but Warren, in his own right, is a character who’s as powerful as Travis Bickle.  In some respects, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla is a lot like Taxi Driver by way of James Gunn’s Super (2010).  They all share fractured central characters, but here we see an offbeat quality similar to the latter that really screws with your emotions.  Will you laugh?  Yes.  Will you feel chills ripple down your spine?  Yes.  Will you hit a mild depression?  Probably.  But the beauty of this movie is that it plays so many cards, evokes every emotion and seamlessly shifts between gears without ever losing tonal balance or comprising its narrative.

This definitely isn’t a movie for everyone, but, for me, it catered to my tastes.  I thoroughly recommend it if you want something a little bit left of the norm.  It’s a fearless film; a dark, oft-hilarious character study that’s impossible to pigeon-hole.  As funny as it is harrowing, I felt it to be very moving and bittersweet as well; loneliness is more often than not a tragic theme to explore, and Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla delves into how it can affect mental health.  Unlike other similar movies of its kind, this one stands out by having restraint, and it makes the pay-off that little bit more satisfying.

And now I have another director and actor on my radar to look forward to in future.

Directed By:

Stuart Simpson

Written By:

Addison Heath

Starring:

Glenn Maynard, Kyrie Capri, Aston Elliot

Genre:

Comedy, Drama

Running Time:

85 mins

Movie Review: Mall (2014)

drama, Movie Reviews

mall-a-day-to-kill-movie

I’m not the world’s biggest Linkin Park fan, but when I found that their jockey of discs, Joe Hahn, directed a thriller about one of my favourite movie subjects (mass murder) I just had to check it out immediately.  Mall massacres, school shootings and other unfortunate tragedies have become too common of an occurrence in the real world in recent memory, but I have to admit that I love movies that deal with these issues.  Mall deals with the events leading up to and after the events of a massacre; we follow a group of characters as they go through the motions of their existences, witnessing how they’re all connected and how the aftermath of the events affected them.  The protagonist is a socially awkward pseudo-intellectual who thinks he has it all figured out; but through the ashes of the tragedy the night takes him on a journey of self-discovery which might just mark the first day of the rest of his life.

Mall opens on a sinister note as we witness a young man shoot his mother dead in cold blood before setting their trailer alight and making his way to the mall with a bag full of guns.  Elsewhere, Jeff (Cameron Monaghan) is trying to woo aspiring teenage model, Adelle (India Menuez), with his brains; but she just wants the dick and some fries.  After bumping into some friends, he drops some ecstasy and luckily avoids being shot.  What ensues after the shooting is a series of events for each character as their true natures are revealed: Adelle is basically an emotionally desolate bitch who likes beating off perverts in handcuffs; the killer is hiding out in a nearby forest trying to as the police hunt him down; and Jeff makes his way to a bar where he meets a woman that triggers a series of weird occurrences for him throughout the night.

The central theme of Mall is emptiness and it’s evident in every characters personality: Jeff identifies himself as a wolf, based on a book and it’s not until a chance encounter with the killer that he eventually starts to find his own identity.  Adelle is promiscuous and her existence is only validated through helping guys get off.  The killer is an angry person of course, but he certainly left his mark on the world through his mass murdering antics, so power to the guy, I say.

Joe Hahn’s direction is gritty, but he does incorporate his music video past to great effect to enhance storytelling and convey drug trippiness.  I’m eagerly anticipating his next project – whatever it may be – and I hope he considers directing movies for future consistent artistic output.  Sure, there are a few minor flaws here and there: the characters backstories could have been fleshed out some more, for instance, but overall I found it to be a wonderful piece of cinema that was strangely uplifting.  8/10

Directed By:

Joe Hahn

Written By:

Sam Bisbee (screenplay) & Eric Bugosian (novel)

Starring:

James Frecheville, Cameron Monaghan, India Menuez

Genre:

Drama

Running Time:

88 min