Independent Movie Review: The Haunting of the Murder House

I am proud to report that for the 5th time in the history of this blog, which started almost 8 years ago, I have been asked to review an Independently produced movie “The Haunting of the Murder House”.

For all aspiring movie directors, actors, and screenwriters, the dream for all of us is to win an Oscar. To one day be one of the very lucky few who are standing on the Oscar stage after years of impossible and unlikely struggles to finally realize a dream that for all of us, seems so far away. As a screenwriter, how can someone even get an agent, because, without an agent, you cannot even submit a screenplay to any producer? As an actor, how many rejections and auditions will it take to get that lucky break, that first part that just maybe be the one that starts your acting career. As for writers and actors, your career is in the ever-changing and very often inaccurate opinions of other people, who somehow found themselves in a career in show business ahead of you. For a director, sometimes the only way to break into this impossible field is to start your own production company, spend your own money and produce your own movies. This is the essential idea behind Independent “Indy” film productions.

I have always had great admiration for all of the 5 producers who have asked me to review and promote their films. This respect and admiration come from the work it takes to write and direct any new movie and the financial risk it takes to produce a movie on your own. Independent filmmaking represents great risk against little chance of reward in almost all cases. Behind all of this is someone who is willing to pay the dues it takes to break into what many of us believe is just about the best industry to work in.

Unfortunately, this film (see Vimeo link below) represents the harsh reality of trying to write, produce and direct any movie with little budget. The actors in this horror film all look like they have never acted before with on-the-nose dialogue throughout this entire production. The constant dialogue of WTF and Holy S – are used far too often at a level I have never seen before. It seems the idea behind this film was to achieve some kind of a “Blair Witch Project” concept that unfortunately fails because of too many flaws in the acting, dialogue, and overall story.

I do recommend this film for all those are appreciate those to are in the movie trenches, trying to achieve their dreams in the only way possible – by taking risks and forever trying by continuing to create, act and write.

The Haunting of the Murder House

Hulu Series Review: Mike

The most remarkable thing about the new 8-part Hulu series “Mike” is how dead-on accurate the actor who plays Mike Tyson, Trevante Rhodes, is in this role. Rhodes mirrored Tyson’s speaking style, his mannerisms, physique, even his hand movements while he talks. This performance is so good, it should receive an Emmy award nomination.

This entire 8-part series follows the entire life of Mike Tyson, using flashbacks to show Mike Tyson’s performances for the Broadway play, “Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth”, produced and directed by Spike Lee play, released in 2012. When this play was released in 2012, I was most impressed that any former boxer could stand in front of an audience and give a 2-hour speech in front of a large audience. It is one thing to perform in front of many people when boxing and another thing to travel around the country and perform in a one-man play.

The story of Mike Tyson’s life is an extremely tragic one. He had no father, he was constantly bullied by the criminal element during his childhood and he and his mother traveled to different abandoned buildings in Brooklyn just to find shelter, for most of his childhood. By a series of extremely unlikely events after being arrested over 20 times, Mike Tyson found himself being trained by one of the best boxing trainers in the world, Cus D’Amato. Were it not for Cus D’Amato not only training Tyson but even adopting him, Mike Tyson would never rose to the top of the boxing world as the youngest world champion. When D’Amato died in 1985, understandably, Tyson started a downward spiral that included marrying the wrong woman, Robin Givens, massive spending, drug use and unfortunately suffering his first loss as a boxer to Buster Douglas in 1990. All of this was self-destructive behavior due to the combination of the loss of D’Amato who meant everything to him and the fact that Tyson always hated himself and deep down never thought he was deserving of so much money and Worldwide fame.

Much of this is hard to watch, especially the part when Tyson spent 3 years in jail for the rape of Desiree Washington played very well by Li Eubanks. Unfortunately for Mike Tyson himself, this series does not paint a good picture to support his version of events that led to his 3 years in jail.

The biting of Evander Holyfield’s ear is also a major part of this well-told story and from Mike Tyson’s perspective Holyfield’s head butting into Tyson’s face in both fights (not clear whether this was intentional or by accident) does give some support to Tyson flying into a rage during the second fight. The comment Tyson made during the fight, “if he is going to fight dirty, then I am going to fight dirty” is an important moment in this series. Very clearly, the referees did a horrible job controlling Holyfield’s head butting, that should have included disqualifying him. Instead, Holyfield did not even lose points for the rounds where he headbutted Tyson, that in the first fight resulted Tyson almost knocked out in the second round. None of this is an excuse for what Tyson did, but if the referees did their jobs correctly, then Tyson would not have gone crazy from desperation.

I thought this series was extremely well produced and acted and once again I am not surprised that the critics are so wrong on Rotten Tomatoes, giving this very impressive series only a 42% rating. My rating is a solid 85% and a strong recommendation.

Past Movie Review: Running on Empty

In my movie-going experience, I have never seen a film like “Running on Empty” about a family on the run because the parents, Annie and Arthur Pope, played by Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsh, planted a bomb to protest the Vietnam war in that they thought was an empty Napom factory. Unfortunately, a janitor was badly injured while in the building. For close to 15 years Annie and Arthur have been on the run from the FBI and at the time of this story, they have two sons. Their lives are all about looking over their shoulder and extreme paranoia – all the time. While watching this very good movie, first released in 1988, you quickly realize that life constantly running and hiding is barely worth living.

The one major caveat in this story is about Danny Pope, played very well by the late River Phoenix, is an extremely talented Julliard-level concert pianist. If Danny ever left his family to go to college or even Julliard he would never be able to see them again. This is the main idea behind this very well-constructed screenplay. When is constantly running for your life, become too much, when it can ruin the future of your own children?

There are several scenes in this movie that are extremely well acted and emotional. The best is the meeting with Annie and her father Donald, played by the late Steven Hill, after 14 years. Her father’s emotions when his daughter left him after their meeting, realizing that he may never see her again, is some of the best acting I have ever seen. Danny and his girlfriend played by Martha Plimpton also have some extremely powerful moments, especially when Danny tells his girlfriend the story of his family, potentially risking her life along with his family. Both Judd Hirsh and Christine Lahti are outstanding in their roles, with Hirsh probably giving his best movie performance since “Ordinary People”, released in 1980. The ending of this movie is also brilliant and contains a highly emotional ending scene.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for Running on Empty are too low 81% with my rating at 95% for the great story and acting. This movie marks one of the last movies of River Phoenix who died in 1993 at only age of 23 due to drug overdose at a nightclub in Los Angeles. Running on Empty is a must-see film.