Ghost Light

Ghost Light is a clever take on theatre superstitions. You must never say the name of Shakespeare’s haunting play Macbeth in a theatre because it holds a curse. Instead, refer to it as “The Scottish Play.” Also, you must always leave a light burning in an empty theatre—a “ghost light.” The idea of the Macbeth curse came from rumors that a coven of witches objected to Shakespeare using real incantations so they placed a hex on the play and every production thereafter.

John Stimpson’s quirky horror-comedy takes place in the fields of Massachusetts where a group of ragtag summer stock actors will be performing Macbeth in a barn. Their production turns ghostly when one of them unleashes the fabled curse.

Ghost Light boasts a stellar cast of characters (and some who are Broadway legends) as recognizable theatre tropes: Carol Kane is a kooky, washed-up actress, Roger Bart is the frazzled director, and the hilarious Cary Elwes is a pompous and hammy actor who casts himself as Macbeth because he is a benefactor.

Shannyn Sossamon stands out the most as the actress who plays Lady Macbeth dealing with her own personal problems: she is dating Elwes’ character and cheating on him with Thomas (Tom Riley) who plays Banquo but covets the lead role. Sossamon conveys Liz Beth’s ennui and descent into madness with an alluring intensity. When her devious role on stage and off stage real life starts to converge, she starts to see blood on her hands like in the famous “Out, damned spot!” monologue.

The special effects used to bring the uncanny final production of Macbeth to life are excellent; they have a strange beauty and are quite well-made for a smaller-budget film. Ghost Light accurately depicts the camaraderie and minutiae of the thespian lifestyle. This offbeat tale of life imitating art puts a unique twist on theatre folklore. Stimpson interweaves supernatural eeriness and eccentric comedy with finesse.

The Issue With Elvis

The Issue With Elvis is another tale of an unlikely friendship between an adult and child. The gentle drama centers on Dr. Mercer, a scientist who lives alone in the mountains and comes across a boy named Elvis in the woods that lives in a rusty bus near an abandoned amusement park. Mercer brings the boy to his home and tries to help him. He has gotten used to his hermetic lifestyle, but there’s something about Elvis’ mysterious innocence that makes solitude seem less unappealing.

What sets The Issue With Elvis apart from other similar films is the relationship between the filmmakers. Charlotte Wincott directs with an intimate, loose style that brings out the innate chemistry of her husband and son as the lead roles; their interactions, which carry the entire film, are dynamic and visually interesting. Their pre-established familial connection combined with the on-location shooting in the sprawling woods lends the film a singular authenticity and raw feeling. Charlotte Wincott’s cozy interiors express Elvis’ growing comfort with Mercer.

Jeff Wincott has a measured warmth beneath his curt, logical surface as the isolated biologist. He’s exactly the kind of benevolent presence that Elvis needs in his life. As Elvis, Wincott’s son Wolfgang does not necessarily deliver a polished performance, nor would it be considered one of the greatest from a young performer; there are moments where he has a very flat affect and trouble finding words (or remembering lines?) but in a way, it works for his role as a traumatized child.

It’s also nice to see in this film a young person being so inquisitive about the outdoors instead of wanting to be inside playing video games all day. Elvis reinvigorates Mercer’s inner teacher and he happily lectures him on the machinations of the outdoors in his pleasant, robust voice. The only other characters in The Issue With Elvis are in stilted voiceovers over the phone.

The Issue With Elvis is a sweet character study that encourages viewers to have empathy for those with mental illness. As a story of a fractured family finding one another, it has familiar beats, but its good-hearted simplicity and roughness are charming.

Crabs!

Pierce Berolzheimer’s Crabs! is a rollicking creature feature that would make Ed Wood proud. It’s endearing to see a film completely revel in its lewd goofiness, which is immediately felt in the opening scene. A young couple has enthusiastic cowgirl-style sex on the beach before the boyfriend has his face eaten off by a giant horseshoe crab, Alien-style. We learn that these creatures have been mutated by a nuclear powerplant collapse.

It’s up to Phillip (the charming Dylan Riley Snyder), a teenage inventor who uses a wheelchair and is working on making an exoskeleton to walk again, and his best friend/crush Allie (Maddy Menrath in a bubbly performance) to save their peaceful seaside town of Mendocino, which seems like a tumbledown version Amity Island from Jaws. It’s nice to see a person with a disability framed as heroic, as well as a positive inter-abled romantic relationship. Although the actors seemed older and it comes as a surprise that the characters are in high school, it’s not too distracting.

Philip’s older brother, Hunter (Bryce Durfee), is the local sheriff’s deputy who loves to smoke weed and play video games. He falls for Allie’s mother Annalise (Jessica Morris), a strong-willed and flirtatious science teacher. She’s impossibly young-looking and has no qualms about dating a former student.

Rounding out the cast is Radu (Chase Padgett), a foreign exchange student who sounds like Borat. It’s a dated concept to use cultural differences for laughs, but Padgett is so committed and outrageous that it’s difficult not to be amused.

Everything descends into gory madness at the school dance, like a science-fiction version of Carrie. Then, the film culminates in a gleefully cheesy robot vs. kaiju face-off. The special effects are cheap and ridiculously phony, but that is part of their hilarious charm. Instead of being so-bad-it’s-good, like Birdemic or Troll 2, Crabs! KNOWS it’s bad, and that’s what makes it so good.

Crabs! is the work of a true cinephile, inspired by classic tropes and narrative ideas to create an exciting new horror-comedy. Supported by a peppy soundtrack and vivid cinematography, Berolzheimer’s wacky monster movie is a whole lot of fun. Crabs! is a delightful romp sure to become a viewing party staple.

Three Corners of Deception

Dr. Meleeka Clary writes, directs, and stars in Three Corners of Deception, a true passion project The fiery film explores a whirlwind romance that descends into an acrimonious divorce and custody battle. Clary uses the cathartic medium of cinema to criticize her ex and the unfair Hamilton County legal system. As such, it’s difficult to discern what is factual and what is colored by Clary’s heated emotional state. Much of it appears to be Clary’s attempt to rewrite her own personal history.

On a technical level, it’s a bit of a mess with hard-to-hear sound mixing and bizarre cinematography — but these can be chalked off to a first-time filmmaker and budget constraints. What’s more important is Clary’s zeal, which helps the film transcend these blemishes. Amongst an amateurish ensemble, Clary stands out the most with her unapologetic chutzpah.

Three Corners of Deception attacks the people who have wronged Clary — her ex-husband, a number of judges, a doctor, and a court-appointed psychologist she calls “Dr. Liar.” She uses the playful device of having different actors portray the various personalities of her ex: Deceptive Melvin, Angry Melvin, Cheating Melvin, Mischievous Melvin, Suave Melvin, Romantic Melvin. At first, it is slightly confusing, but it ends up being a creative way to illustrate the frustrations of being with an untrustworthy partner.

This is a deeply personal film with a singular vision. Clary uses Three Corners of Deception — all 139 minutes of it — to exorcise and hopefully make peace with her demons. It may have some rough edges, but at its core, Three Corners of Deception is a hot-blooded film that is truly unique.

Lust Life Love

Lust Life Love is a kinkier, modernized version of Sex and City that follows Veronica (Stephanie Sellers), a blogger who shares her exploits as a bisexual polyamorist who frequently participates in threesomes, BDSM, and sex parties. Although Veronica enjoys her lifestyle, she must navigate society’s expectations for monogamy and her own jealousies that make open relationships difficult — especially when she meets Daniel (an endearing Jake Choi), an aspiring chef who excitedly dives into polyamory for the first time while his marriage crumbles.

Veronica starts to question the emotional stakes of her sexually fluid way of life when she becomes the subject of a documentary and her feelings for Daniel deepen, even more so when they add another partner, Maya (the magnetic Makeda Declet), who Daniel grows more attached to.

Stephanie Sellars is luminescent in the role with her serene disposition, soothing voice, and steady confidence. Sellars writes the script based on her autobiographical column in the New York Press and she directs alongside Benjamin Feuer. Since Sellars draws from her own experiences, the sexual scenes are titillating without being explorative. The filmmakers present the alternative subculture with careful thoughtfulness. In a cinematic landscape overwhelmed with sexless superheroes, it’s refreshing to see a film that deals with the adult issues of physical intimacy in such a frank manner.

Lust Life Love is a compelling depiction of a romantic life that is not typically seen on film, one that is told from the perspective of someone who has actually lived it. This lends an empathetic authenticity to the film that fascinates the viewer. It’s empowering to see a woman who unapologetically enjoys sex, particularly sex outside traditionalist boundaries. Sellars’ film is a bewitching, sex-positive delight.