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.

Killing the Shepherd

Ta Opre’s Killing the Shepherd is an illuminating glimpse into a remote Zambian community dealing with starvation, poverty, and loss of wildlife. Opre explains in his booming narration that the African country was once overflowing with leopards, elephants, lions, and more. The documentary observes how members of a small village participate in poaching—not because of a machiavellian desire to slaughter innocent animals, but out of desperation to feed their families. This is a perspective on the polarizing subject that is rarely seen. 

It is humbling to get a firsthand look at a native community that does not have the technology or comfort that we take for granted, such as the ability to get food on an app with the swipe of a finger. Opre draws comparisons between the Zambians and ancient man in a beautiful sequence with cave drawings lit by a blazing fire that depict humanity’s prehistoric relationship with hunting wild animals for food. 

Killing the Shepherd is also a fascinating portrait of a strong female leader (America should take notes). A quiet yet mighty tribal chief strives to save her damaged community where there is impoverishment, no education, alcoholic men, and girls as young as fourteen impregnated and married to older men. The villagers’ candid interviews reveal the challenges and differences of those who live in the African wilds. 

Opre also focuses on the company Makasa Safaris and its wealthy white owners, the Norton family. On the surface, their relationship with the chief fulfills the typical white savior narrative that only rich, white outsiders can reform tribal communities. But Makasa does provide schools, clinics, and loans for the Zambians to start a business; they also show fishermen new techniques to catch more fish and stop over-harvesting. All of these efforts help feed the village and revitalize the once-thriving flora and fauna. 

Opre’s film combines standard talking heads with gorgeous cinematography of the rugged African plains and villagers working the earth. These stunning, slow-motion visuals underline humanity’s harmony with nature—its simplistic beauty and the effort it takes to survive by living off the land. Killing the Shepherd is an exquisitely shot documentary that tackles a controversial subject with gripping honesty and gives audiences a fascinating inside look at a vastly different culture. 

Born on the Fourth of July: A Dangerous Mother

Born on the Fourth of July is an adaptation of Ron Kovic’s autobiography. Kovic begins as a patriotic high school wrestling superstar who enthusiastically enlists in the Marines. During his second tour in Vietnam, he accidentally kills a solider and later becomes permanently paralyzed from the waist down. The poor conditions of the Veterans Administration hospital and his recognition of the war’s futility lead him to become a prolific anti-war movement leader. The film’s roots in Ron Kovic’s memoirs leave little room for the subjectivity of other characters. Ron serves as the film’s orbit, and the women revolve around him as clichés.

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In line with Ron’s harsh Catholic upbringing, Born on the Fourth of July egregiously mobilizes moral oppositions. In other words, it starkly draws the lines between good and evil. This moral schema extends to the key female character in the film—Ron’s mother, Mrs. Kovic. We have little sense of her motivations outside of her patriarchal and jingoistic values. Mrs. Kovic’s obsession with fighting Communism (“It’s God’s will you go!”) and strict enforcement of oppressive puritanical Catholicism lead to her son’s psychological trauma, thus positioning her as a villain.

The narrative does not construct her as an ideological victim, or in other words, a character confined by the constrictions of 1950s gender roles. Rather, she embraces the values of and her position within the 1950s American nuclear family  Ron’s mother is the one to victimize her son with certain toxic ideologies that motivate his suffering, such as individualism, male dominance, and xenophobia. Overall, the narrative excludes women by limiting their voice to clichés.

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Ron’s disabled body and disillusioned spirit destroy Mrs. Kovic’s pre-Vietnam innocent and romanticized vision of him. It is in her rejection and discounting of Ron, I argue, that causes him to seek maternal comfort, approval, and a sense of love from other female figures in the narrative. Director Oliver Stone presents a highly saccharine portrait of Mrs. Kovic’s refuge (pre-Vietnam society) as the ultimate space of innocence He envisions 1950s America as an idyllic land of parades, home runs at baseball games, parental adoration, Kennedy’s rhetoric, and young, innocent love.

To match this sentimental vision, Ron’s mother first appears as an angel, shrouded in the heavenly glow of the film’s white tint. This moment contrasts with her final scene with Ron. When Ron returns home inebriated, soothing his rejection from his former prom date, we view Mrs. Kovic from his POV: a slight, high-angle shot in low-key lighting that renders her as an oppressive and frightening figure.

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Ron’s tirade against the values Mrs. Kovic had instilled in him—pride in his country and belief in God—defines the scene. It becomes clear that he has developed a psychological complex about sexuality that will last throughout the remainder of the film. Ron feels Catholic guilt for wanting sexual satisfaction coupled with a frustration that he no longer has the ability to soothe these desires due to his disabled state. He fears remaining infantilized, as he had not lost his virginity before becoming paralyzed. Ron pulls out his catheter as he mourns his “dead penis” lost in the jungles of Vietnam. He cries, “The church, they say it’s a sin if you play with your penis but I sure wish I could.”

Ron’s mother screams and covers her ears because she cannot bear to hear these impure thoughts. In the culmination of their heated fight, Ron accuses his mother of forcing him to go to Vietnam, a corrupted war that made him kill women and children. After he denounces God and country, Mrs. Kovic declares Ron blasphemous and bans him from the house. Although Mrs. Kovic appears only in a few scenes, it is clear the psychological damage she inflicts her son is great.