My Brother Jack – film review

I first caught wind of My Brother Jack at The New England Underground Film Festival in Hartford it was the feature and to put it simple I was floored. Stephen Dest a resident from New Haven, or as we locals like to say “A guy from the neighborhood” directed a truly cinematic suspense thriller. The film centers around two brothers Jack (Malcolm Madera) and Vince (Jon Thorndike), trying to figure out who killed their parents on Christmas Day when they were children. Fast forward to several years later, the man convicted of the murder is released from prison and gets killed at a bar. Vince is the prime suspect and a detective which happens to be a childhood friend, is hot on his trail. My first initial thought was this reminds of an Alfred Hitchcock or Brian Depalma film, because of the constant build up of suspense through the entire movie.
A really good film keeps you engaged through the entire experience and My Brother Jack does just that. From the very opening shot the movie pulls you in, enticing and grabbing at your psyche trying to figure out who the killer is. I particularly liked the fact that Stephen used the city so well, including landmark shots of iconic New Haven establishments. The cinematography is beautiful and the acting is brilliant, also a compelling soundtrack. Malcolm Madera and Jon Thorndike’s chemistry together on screen is excellent, a really convincing performance. A very interesting story-glad to see filmed in New Haven.

Neal Damiano



Brilliant Mistakes – film review

Every year I attend Connecticut Film Festival and usually come across a film I think about long after the festival is over. Brilliant Mistakes is one of those rare films, where you can empathize with every character. A deeply textured and emotional layer enriched within each person we come across in this heart felt drama.
Marcus Wright (Daniel Dambroff) is an english teacher at a prestigious prep school in Connecticut, madly in love with his longtime girlfriend Gaby (Elise McNamara). Marcus plans on asking her hand in marriage, but tragedy strikes and she is involved in a car accident, leaving her in a coma. We do not see what or who caused the accident. Marcus struggles as he comes to the realization that she may never speak again. At a grief meeting he befriends Elliot, (Christopher Clawson) a free-spirited writer, who makes Marcus feel alive again. They create a strong bond through hardship, each not knowing just how close a connection they share.
What I particularly enjoyed about Brilliant Mistakes is the unpredictability of the story. The connections we watch unfold seem real, not forced at all. The acting is amazing and the cinematography filmed throughout rural Connecticut is quite beautiful. A very well written film about learning to accept tragedy and growing through the process.

Neal Damiano


Top 10 Disturbing Films

Prepare to be disturbed! Have you got a sofa to hide behind? Neal Damiano takes a look at a selection of unsettling independent films which have stood the test of time…

10. Blue Velvet (Lynch, 1986)
Blue Velvet remains one of the most complex and fascinating films to date, due mainly to Dennis Hopper’s character Frank Booth. What makes this film so disturbing, you ask, well simple, his behavior is so over the top and outrageous. Booth conducts his life without any regard for another human being and his main function is pure self gratification. How can you argue with someone of that nature and expect to win.

9. Happiness (Solondz, 1998)
A very dark drama about a strange family. The story reads like a checklist of disturbing things – pedophilia, rape, suicide and murder. The biggest thing that makes Happiness so shocking is the characters have no redeeming values but are shown as rounded people with good qualities.

8. Elephant (Van Sant, 2003)
Gus Van Sant’s film takes us on a ride through a day in the life of two high school outsiders in suburban America. It touches on themes of homosexuality but it’s never revealed if they’re gay. What’s so fascinating and truly disturbing about Elephant: it can happen in any city at any high school. The main characters were not devil worshippers or serial killers, they just didn’t fit in or relate to any group, which makes it even more unsettling. The end result: a lot of high school students dead.

7. Seven (Fincher, 1995)
A psychological thriller by David Fincher, about a sadistic sociopath (Kevin Spacey), who kills his victims in quite a creative but truly disturbing fashion, by way of The Seven Deadly Sins. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play detectives on the trail of this sick individual. Perhaps the most creepy thing about Seven is the relentless cat and mouse game Spacey plays with the detectives, leaving clues and taunting them with every move. The most shocking moment? That has to be the ending!

6. Requiem For A Dream (Aronofsky, 2000)
Addiction is a bitch and in Requiem For A Dream it follows four characters, each going down a long path to rock bottom. Jennifer Connelly’s character is particularly upsetting. Connelly meets a pimp who gives her drugs in exchange for performing sex acts. The most unnerving thing about Requiem For A Dream is the lengths each character will go to score their next fix or high.

5. I Spit On Your Grave (Zarchi, 1978)
The ultimate feminist revenge flick, I Spit On Your Grave was banned due to its graphic torture scenes. A writer retreats to the woods to simply complete her latest novel. Lots of blood and gore ensue with the relentless raping and torture from a gang of drifters. She finally gets her revenge and doesn’t hold back at all, essentially becoming as sick as the men who attacked her.

4. The Boys Next Door (Spheeris, 1985)
Directed by Penelope Spheeris, The Boys Next Door is a suburban nightmare about two kids Ray (Max Caulfield) and Bo (Charlie Sheen) who are about to graduate from high school and dreadfully awaiting their dead-end existence working in a factory. Both alienated and desperate for something more, they take a road trip across Los Angeles. Things soon spiral out of control and their journey turns into a cold blooded murder spree. One particular scene put the hairs up on my back as Ray confides to Bo about these bad feelings he has inside. The most unsettling thing about it: Ray and Bo look like every other unassuming and all-American male.

3. Man Bites Dog (Poelvoorde, Belvaux, Bonzel, 1992)
A film crew follows a serial killer named Ben around the streets of Belgium as he kills random people. Man Bites Dog truly is a bizarre and frightening look through the eyes of a sociopath. Ben is witty and charismatic, often singing and reciting poetry as the crew continues to film his gruesome, ultra violent slayings. Towards the end the crew actually helps Ben kill some of his victims. The film is a mockumentary, but I found it to be quite disturbing.

2. Last House On The Left (Craven, 1972)
Wes Craven directed one of the most disturbing and tormenting films in cinema history. On the eve of her birthday, Mari Collingwood and friend set out to the city to see a rock concert. Along the way they get lured into an apartment with hopes of scoring some pot. What they find is a group of savage convicts who rape, drug, and torture the two girls relentlessly. They eventually drag the girls into the woods to finish killing them. What makes Last House On The Left so insane is the deeply perverse ways the criminals torture them. For example, forcing the girls to perform lesbian acts, having them urinate on themselves, and pointing a gun in their face while laughing. The parents getting retribution at the end really makes the film over the top, including a castration by teeth and a chainsaw. The film was banned in theaters and later released on video.

1. Kids (Clark, 1995)
Kids truly is a frightening look at a group of city kids that care about nothing but getting high, causing trouble, and having sex. This is not the first time we’ve witnessed such behaviour, however, Larry Clark’s naturalistic vision is so disturbing because it seems so real. The film is shot in a documentary style, making you feel like you’re along for the ride with the careless youth. Perhaps the most sickening thing about Kids is the main character has open sex with several girls in his inner circle while having AIDS. The rape scene is particularly unwatchable! Til this day it affected me in a negative way more than any other film. I left the theater feeling empty and sick inside.

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.