‘Feast of the Seven Fishes’
In the early 2000s, the accomplished fantasy and horror writer, director and producer Robert Tinnell turned his memories of growing up in a West Virginia Italian American neighborhood into the comic strip and graphic novel, “Feast of the Seven Fishes” — a combination coming-of-age comedy and Christmas cookbook.
Now, Tinnell has stepped outside his usual genres of expertise to write and direct a charming and heartfelt movie version of “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” giving the picture the familial warmth of a holiday classic, the aching earnestness of a teen rom-com, and the well-observed specificity of a good regional film.
Skyler Gisondo plays Tony, an aspiring artist from a working-class background, who during Christmas break in 1983 meets Beth (Madison Iseman), an upper-crust Ivy Leaguer he wants to get to know better. But Tony has obligations at home, needing to do his part to prepare and serve an elaborate dinner alongside his colorful family, whose big personalities could drive the more reserved Beth away.
Tinnell gets terrific performances up and down the cast: from the talented up-and-coming youngsters like Gisondo to veteran character actors like Joe Pantoliano, Paul Ben-Victor and Lynn Cohen.
But the real strength of “Feast of the Seven Fishes” is the attention to detail Tinnell brings to the wintry West Virginia setting: from the blue chill of the outdoors to the welcoming bustle of the bars, kitchens and churches. The Tony/Beth love story is pretty pro forma. But Tinnell shades it with his own experiences, and makes it special.
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 15, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills
‘Line of Duty’
There’s scarcely a minute of the amped-up action movie “Line of Duty” that isn’t absolutely ridiculous … and scarcely a minute that isn’t mindlessly entertaining. Thanks to director Steven C. Miller’s zippy pace — and thanks to star Aaron Eckhart’s winning performance as a beaten-down beat cop — this film is generally as fun as it is dumb.
The movie’s plot and characters skew broad. Giancarlo Esposito plays the stern police chief who keeps Eckhart’s loose cannon Frank Penny on a short leash until he needs his most reckless officer to rescue his kidnapped daughter. Ben McKenzie plays a super-criminal on the loose. And Courtney Eaton is a woke citizen journalist who follows Frank around with her camera (and gets offended by the sexist way he talks to his GPS).
Nothing about “Line of Duty” has any relation to reality. But the company’s agreeable and the ride moves relatively quickly. As ride-along police stories go, this one’s inessential, yet oddly watchable.
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 15, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD
In the slice-of-life police drama “Crown Vic,” Thomas Jane brings depth and dimensionality to an overused character type: the hardened veteran cop who shocks his younger partner with his callous attitude and his willingness to bend the law.
In the movie, Jane’s LAPD patrolman Ray Mandel spends an eventful evening breaking in a by-the-book rookie, Nick Holland (Luke Kleintank). While the two men deal with routine domestic disturbance calls, they also search for a missing girl, track a couple of cop-killing bank-robbers, and keep an eye on two maverick plainclothes detectives (played by Josh Hopkins and David Krumholtz) who seem determined to exact street justice on a suspect acquitted in court.
Writer-director Joel Souza balances the mundane with the intensely dramatic, in ways that make “Crown Vic” play like an extended episode of a mature cable TV procedural. By and large, the movie’s smaller human moments are more memorable than any of the more predictably pulpy, over-the-top confrontations.
But while Jane’s cynical, seen-it-all officer doesn’t say anything about life on the job that hasn’t been said by similar characters in similar pictures — hundreds of times — the actor keeps it all relatively fresh. Souza and his cast explore a familiar milieu, and though they fall short of saying anything startlingly insightful about it, they do a fine job of making it feel real, and even vital.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 15, Laemmle Glendale, Glendale; Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; also on VOD
The survivalist thriller “Radioflash” opens with a scene so impressively imaginative and tense, it’s too bad that it’s unrepresentative of the rest of the film. A resourceful teenager named Reese (Brighton Sharbino) tries to solve a puzzle involving four walls covered in telephones, in a room rapidly filling with water. The room, it turns out, is a virtual reality simulator. And the movie? Well, it has nothing to do with VR.
Instead, “Radioflash” is about an electromagnetic pulse which nullifies technology for hundreds of miles, sending Reese and her dad, Chris (Dominic Monaghan), racing to take shelter with Reese’s off-the-grid grandfather (Will Patton). The farther into the woods they go, the more the family encounters not-so-nice folks, including Maw (Fionnula Flanagan), the cruel matriarch of a dark cult. A series of narrow wilderness escapes ensues.
The primary connection between how “Radioflash” begins and where it ends is Reese, who can manage complicated problems with or without cell phones and computers. She’s a marvelous character, well-played by Sharbino.
But given how visually inventive and unusual the film’s first five minutes are, it’s disappointing that, by its last half hour, it essentially turns into one undistinguished chase scene after another. A heroine as strong as Reese deserves a more consistently exciting plot.
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 15, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD
Part angsty teen melodrama, part gore-soaked vampire film, the offbeat horror picture “The Shed” should appeal to anyone who likes their genre stories imbued with personal feeling. Writer-director Frank Sabatella falls back on a few too many high school and monster movie clichés; but a good young cast and a strong sense of purpose compensate for most of the shortcomings.
Jay Jay Warren plays Stan, a troubled youngster living with his mean grandfather (Timothy Bottoms) in an inhospitable small town, where Stan and his best friend Dommer (Cody Kostro) are violently bullied daily. When a vampire takes up residence in Grampa’s backyard tool shed — devouring anyone who approaches — Dommer starts concocting a plan to trap their tormentors.
Sabatella comes up with a few fun twists, which change the tone and direction of “The Shed” roughly every 20 minutes. While the characters are pretty stock (the misfit, the girl he secretly loves, and the rapacious bloodsucker who will destroy them all), Sabatella and his two leads add emotional richness, in a film about how people who feel cornered tend to find ways to strike back.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 15, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; also on VOD