Friday, September 10, 2021

Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou (2021)

Movie Name/Year: Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou (2021)
Genre: Documentary
Length: 70 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Director: Seth Breedlove
Writer: Heather Moser, Seth Breedlove
Actors: Lyle Blackburn, Santino Vitale, Amy Davies, Grayden Nance, Adrienne Breedlove
Blurb: For centuries, stories have persisted throughout the southern swamps of something truly otherworldly: a terrifying, hirsute creature known by locals as the Rougarou. These legends predate the first immigrant settlers who made their way into the murky waters and dark forests of the south, yet the Rougarou has only recently made its way into pop culture via appearances in horror films, a regional festival and even a roller coaster ride.

Selina’s Point of View:
Any of our consistent readers know that I’m not a documentary person. I watch movies for entertainment value. If I want to learn about something, I prefer to pick up a book. So, why would I voluntarily choose a film like Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou?
My interest in all things werewolf simply outweighs my distaste for documentaries. Between that and Cat’s interest in a subject that affects her home state of Louisiana – watching this was always in the cards.
I’ve opted not to give it a number score, though Cat will be reviewing it normally. I’m going to operate on a pass/fail kind of mentality. A number score coming from me just wouldn’t be fair to the project. It would be like a vegetarian judging a piece of steak.
That said, let’s jump into it.
It wasn’t what I expected it to be.

From the promotional info, I thought the documentary would be laying out an argument on the existence of the Rougarou. Instead, it was almost an anthropological look at the importance, and cultural impact, of the stories that have been told. I have to say, that actually worked out better for me.
I’m from NYC – home of the eternal skeptic. It would have been a hard sell to get me to believe in any kind of Rougarou reality. The fact that the documentary didn’t even try to go that route, meant that I wound up much more engaged than I would have been.
Instead, there were interesting stories told about Louisiana and its people, the etymology of the Rougarou word, history of the legend, and some engaging visuals that went hand-in-hand with recreations. I also couldn’t ignore that the voice of the narrator reminded me of the Natural History Museum and some of its exhibits.
Would I choose to watch Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou again? No. It didn’t change my opinion of documentaries. Would I recommend it to people who DO like the genre? That I would.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Louisiana cryptid known as the Rougarou, you will be able to rent/purchase Skinwalker: The Howl of the Rougarou on most streaming platforms Sept 14th.

Cat’s Point of View:
We’re stepping a little bit outside of our usual box with today’s review. We were given the opportunity to view a screener for an upcoming documentary focusing on a bit of lore from my home state of Louisiana. I realize that anyone familiar with our monthly trailer-viewing stream, which preps for our Top 20 Movies article, will likely be a bit surprised. We don’t generally cover documentaries unless they really grab our attention. Skinwalker: Howl of the Rougarou did just that.
Rougarou are creatures of folklore primarily in South Louisiana, where swamps, bayous, and marshland abound. They’re akin to werewolves but with a twist.
I have lived all but one year of my life within the state of Louisiana, yet I’d really only heard of the Rougarou in passing. This particular cryptid doesn’t make appearances up here in the northern part of the state where I am. You find tales and sightings far down at the other end of ‘the boot’. We’re talking rural areas, at the level of New Orleans or below.
All the same, I’m absolutely fascinated with this sort of thing and am down for learning more about it, so this documentary checks all the boxes.
Now to the nitty-gritty.
I’d have to say that this was a fairly solid offering for the documentary genre. I could have done without some of the shaky-cam swamp scenes used as transitions or the filters used to create an old-timey film reel visual. It didn’t really need those extra bells and whistles.

I consider a documentary a success if you learn something from it, or it calls attention to something that needs more awareness. Skinwalker: Howl of the Rougarou did both.
We’re offered some history on both the Cajun people’s arrival in southern Louisiana and also the Native American tribes of that area. I learned about some things that my school classes on Louisiana History didn’t cover. That’s always a bonus.
There are often unexplained sightings attributed to this elusive cryptid, as well. Skinwalker: Howl of the Rougarou gives us some tales of harrowing encounters with the beast via witness interviews. Of course, there’s a historian’s perspective provided also. I found listening to the tales fascinating. My maternal grandmother’s family comes from South Louisiana and some of the people interviewed had accents that reminded me of listening to my great aunt when she came to visit.
I appreciate that members of our Native American tribes and their stories were represented, as well.
One of the most important features of the Skinwalker: Howl of the Rougarou documentary is the attention it brings to the coastal land erosion in southern Louisiana. Every year, swaths of Louisiana simply erode away to be lost to the Gulf of Mexico. Saltwater intrusion creeps in and decimates freshwater ecosystems. As sea levels rise, this is something that will only worsen in the future.
All told, Skinwalker: Howl of the Rougarou is a nice slice of Louisiana folklore with a generous helping of environmental awareness.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – None
Trust the Dice: Selina’s RatingPass
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating3/5
Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: PG-13
Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Martyrs Lane (2021)

Streaming Service: Shudder
Movie Name/Year: Martyrs Lane (2021)
Genre: Horror
Length: 96 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: British Film Institute, Ipso Facto Productions, Sharp House, LevelK, Shudder
Director: Ruth Platt
Writer: Ruth Platt
Actors: Anastasia Hille, Catherine Terris, Charlie Rix, Denise Gough, Donna Banya, Hannah Rae, Julie Barclay, Kiera Thompson, Lianne Harvey, Sienna Sayer, Steven Cree
Blurb from IMDb:  Leah, 10, lives in a large vicarage, full of lost souls and the needy. In the day the house is bustling with people; at night it is dark, empty, a space for Leah's nightmares to creep into. A small, nightly visitor brings Leah comfort, but soon she will realise that her little visitor offers knowledge that might be very, very dangerous.

Cat’s Point of View:
If a reference volume, listing shining examples of genre films, is ever published, Martyrs Lane is a shoo-in. It's a masterfully crafted, and understated, ghost story.
My only issue with Martyrs Lane really isn’t even that big of a deal. The pacing seems a hair slower than necessary in some places, but honestly, it could be intentional just to draw out the suspense. That’s it. The entirety of this movie is executed with subtlety and nuance. It’s not often you find that with films involving young actors of the age range we see here.

Ruth Platt’s (The Pianist, The Lesson, The Black Forest) skillful writing and directing of this film belie her short list of credits on IMDb for those roles. I adore the puzzle-building process that we see in Martyrs Lane. Platt gives us just a small piece at a time as the story unfolds. We start to see a framework and then things really start falling into place.
Can we pause for a moment to also appreciate that Martyrs Lane provides tension and suspense laced with thrills without the need for gore and carnage? I would say that this horror movie is an example of a minimalist’s usage of all things bloody. If you are craving a splatter-fest, this isn’t the movie for you. If you’re looking for the visual embodiment of an excellent campfire tale, you are where you belong.

I am not often this impressed with performances from child actors. Kiera Thompson (3 Sleeps, The Salisbury Poisonings, The Emily Atack Show) absolutely nailed it. I bought her health issues, her anxiety, and how over-it she was with the dynamic in her household. I could just see myself in her shoes and I felt her emotional journey. That’s quite a feat when many scenes involve no dialogue and require an actor to silently emote.
Of course, the rest of Martyrs Lane’s cast deserves kudos, also. They skillfully painted the picture of a loving family brought to dysfunction by a hidden tragedy in the past. It’s easy to get swept into the chaos of their daily lives in the shadow of their duty to their parish, where the family’s patriarch is the vicar.

I could rattle on forever about the ambiance woven by sound and visuals, but I’ll spare you the details - save for one. It is going to be hard for me to get the sound of the crinkly breathing out of my head. That came through with eerie and haunting realism, no pun intended.
It’s finally time for the seasons to change, and with fall comes the ushering-in of all things spooky. If you’re looking for a spellbinding story of specters for a night of hot cocoa to chase the chills, Martyrs Lane may be just the movie for you.
Martyrs Lane releases on Shudder Thursday, September 9th.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 89%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 6.9/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4/5
Trust the Dice Parental Advisory Rating – PG-13
Movie Trailer:

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Failure of Critics: Cinderella (2021)

Streaming Services: Amazon Prime
Movie Name/Year: Cinderella (2021)
Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Musical
Length: 113 minutes
Rating: PG
Production/Distribution: Columbia Pictures, DMG Entertainment, Fulwell 73, Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Amazon Prime Video, Sony Pictures Releasing, Amazon Studios
Director: Kay Cannon
Writer: Kay Cannon
Actors: Billy Porter, Camila Cabello, Nicholas Galitzine, Charlotte Spencer, Idina Menzel, Minnie Driver, Pierce Brosnan, Tallulah Grieve, James Corden, John Mulaney, Maddie Baillio, Romesh Ranganathan, Ben Smith, Luke Latchman, Jenet Le Lacheur, Fra Fee
Blurb from IMDb:  A modern movie musical with a bold take on the classic fairy tale. Our ambitious heroine has big dreams and with the help of her fab Godmother, she perseveres to make them come true.

Selina’s Point of View:
Critics never fail to disappoint me. Why did they start reviewing movies, I wonder? I started to give my opinions out of love.
I LOVE movies. I grew up on them. Throughout a rough childhood, films were my go-to escape. If anything, I started the blog in order to have a reason to watch as many movies as I could possibly get my hands on. Naively, I believed that most critics probably started the same way.
I’m not so sure now.
Now, I believe many of them probably started because they love to tear things down. They like to nit-pick. They need to be the most pretentious voice in the whole fucking room or they’ll wither away and die.
It’s easiest to see my perspective when it comes to films like Cinderella.
Cinderella is an entertaining rehash of a dated story set to a jukebox soundtrack. I had a feeling it might be cute, but it was so much more than that. It was endlessly entertaining. The songs were worked into the script with ease – and even when they didn’t seem to flow at first, they did by the end of the scene. Insanely talented voices, such as Camila Cabello and Idina Menzel, belted out popular song after popular song.
Honestly, the only thing standing between Cinderella being compared to something like Hamilton is a stage, a true story, and some original lyrics.
There were no flaws in the setting, the acting, or the choreography. If you read the reviews by critics, you’ll see that a lot of them seem to think this film is the product of a classic story getting a remake it didn’t need. You see gems like “…misguided musical fails to convince us this oft-told tale needed to be spun again” and “…the list of Cinderella adaptations I have seen, none comes close to this level of badness.”
(That second quote had little to do with what I’m getting at right now and more to do with how awful the wording is coming from someone looking to judge someone else harshly.)

Do I think Cinderella really needed a retelling? YES.
Of COURSE it needed updating. The original Disney version of Cinderella, that the majority of Hollywood has been copy-catting off of, was about a girl who could not rescue herself and needed a man to come and fix all her problems. I re-watched it recently, and was shocked to realize that the titular character was almost a side-note in her own film. She was upstaged by mice and men.
In this new version of the Cinderella story, Cinderella is an actual person. She’s not just sitting in her room singing to bird about how much she believes love with rescue her. She actually has a dream. Is it the deepest thing in the world? No. It still make her feel more real.
The worst part is what the majority of critics missed. They completely ignored the basic entertainment value.
The average movie goer does not give a single fuck about the structure of a script or the fact that the lead is more well-known as a singer than as an actor. Far as I’ve seen, most audiences only care if the flick is entertaining.
Cinderella was exactly that. It was updated to show a more relatable titular character, it threw in a badass Billy Porter as the fairy godmother, and had a soundtrack with choreography that was unignorable. What the hell else can anyone expect from a remake of anything?
The reviews weren’t all bad, though. The audience knew where it was at. Although critics gave Cinderella a lackluster 44%, the audience has it sitting at 77%. I will always remind our readers that when there’s a discrepancy of that much on Rotten Tomatoes, ALWAYS side with the number that comes from people who are not being paid to be mean. Even when I don’t agree with the audience for that specific film, I still stand by my recommendation: always listen to the audience score over the actual tomatometer.
Cat’s already reviewed Cinderella. She did it on her own because I was covering a film festival at the time. Still, I had to write something, because I got fired up after reading the ridiculous reviews.
Grab some friends, grab some popcorn, turn up the sound, and get ready to sing along. Cinderella is absolutely worth your time.

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating – 4.5/5
Movie Trailer:

Monday, September 6, 2021

Witches of Blackwood (2021)

Movie Name/Year: Witches of Blackwood (2021)
Genre: Thriller
Length: 78 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Director: Kate Whitbread
Writer: Darren Markey     
Actors: Cassandra Magrath, Kevin Hofbauer, Lee Mason, John Voce, Nicholas Denton, Susan Vasiljevic, Francesca Waters, Nikola Dubois, Maddy Vasiljevic, Gigi Vasiljevic
Blurb from IMDb: A supernatural thriller with a witchy theme, starring Cassandra Magrath

Selina’s Point of View:
Staying awake during Witches of Blackwood was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do for this blog.
By a half hour in, nothing had happened. The story was so slow that I still hadn’t been made to care. In fact, the first scene that mattered to me, even a little, happened around the 40-minute mark. Worse than that, the scene was only about 3-minutes long.
Even near the end, when the climax should have picked everything up… it was so predictable that it just didn’t work. I remained underwhelmed.
The company that promoted this movie worked really hard to connect it to Wolf Creek (2005). In every advertisement it was stressed that Wolf Creek’s Cassandra Magrath (Ali’s Wedding, The Dustwalker, 36 Questions) was in this flick. The cult classic’s title even came before the name of this flick in the fliers. I get it. That was a great way to gain attention for Witches of Blackwood… but I think it hurt the film’s chances.

By advertising that way, it caused me to view Witches of Blackwood and Wolf Creek as part of the same category, and they couldn’t be further apart.
The way a movie is promoted matters. I’m not saying I would have suddenly fallen in love with it if it had been served to me differently, but I would have gone into it with different expectations that might have been easier to meet.
I was really looking forward to Witches of Blackwood, and I’m beyond disappointed.
I wouldn’t re-watch this film, but who knows? Maybe it’s just not for me. Maybe there’s someone out there who would appreciate this kind of super-slow mild thriller. If you think it might be for you, Witches of Blackwood will be available on DVD, and digitally, September 7.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – None
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating1.5/5
Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: R
Movie Trailer: