REVIEW: FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES (2018)

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FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES (2018)

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Holiday flick takes place in 1983 in a predominately Italian working-class area of Pennsylvania. It follows aspiring artist Tony (Skyler Gisondo) as he has just broken up with girlfriend Katie (Addison Timlin) and his family is preparing for the annual Christmas Eve “Feast of the Seven Fishes”, an Italian Catholic tradition. When hanging out one night with friends Angelo (Andrew Schultz) and Sarah (Jessica Darrow), Tony is introduced to Beth (Madison Iseman), a Protestant college girl from the wealthier part of town. Tony and Beth start to fall for each other, and he invites her over for the Christmas Eve feast. With his wacky Catholic family, Katie wanting him back and Beth’s mother (Lisa Velten-Smith) not liking her hanging out on the wrong side of the tracks, will these two ever find holiday romance?

Holiday romantic comedy is filled with old-school charm thanks to writer/director Robert Tinnell knowing to downplay the over-the-top bombasity that ruins most holiday flicks. The film has loads of atmosphere, both for the Yuletide season and from being steeped in old-fashioned Italian tradition. The 1983 setting adds to the charm, but Tanell never lets it become the focus over his well-written characters. Fishes follows many traditions of holiday romantic comedies, such as two people from different worlds meeting on a special night yet avoids the clichés and overblown melodrama of the bigger Hollywood holiday flicks. That’s what makes this work so well, it’s subtle presentation of its story. It seems far more real and far less fabricated than its big studio counterparts, which prefer big, overcooked set pieces to the down-to-earth human interaction that we get here. It feels like you’re watching real people and not something manufactured. The characters themselves are traditional, yet not stereotypes and the cast wonderfully fill the roles of real people types, despite playing familiar/classic roles.

As for that cast, it’s what really makes this movie fire on all Yule logs. Skyler Gisondo leads an excellent ensemble of actors. He’s likable, charming, but very understated. A very down to earth performance that makes Tony very realistic and endearing. Madison Iseman once again proves she’s an actress to keep an eye on. She makes Beth far more than the stereotypical rich girl that she could have been. Instead, we get a young woman who wants to live her life her way. She’s sweet and very likable and she and Gisondo have some really nice subtle chemistry that makes their romance down-to-earth and relatable. Addison Timlin is also good as Katie. Another role that could have been cliché, but script and actress make you feel sympathy for a young woman who hasn’t quite found herself, or her happiness, yet. We like Katie and hope she does find what she’s looking for someday. Supporting cast is very impressive. We get veteran Paul Ben-Victor as Johnny, the host of the feast and a man who will defend his Baccala to the end. Lynn Cohen is wonderful as Tony’s old-school Catholic grandmother who, at first, doesn’t approve of Protestant Beth. Again, a character avoiding stereotype with some subtlety and depth. Nonnie might surprise you. Rounding out are flavorful performances from Ray Abruzzo as Uncle Carmine, the legendary Joe Pantoliano as Uncle Frankie, Jessica Darrow as Sarah, Andrew Shultz as Angelo and Josh Helman () as Juke. A great cast.

In conclusion this is a wonderfully charming and refreshingly subtle and atmospheric Christmas romance. It’s steeped in the flavor of old school tradition and contains classic characters that avoid being stereotypes, thanks to down-to-earth portrayals and a heartfelt script. Writer/director Robert Tinnell avoids the overblown dramatics and bombastic set pieces that weigh down the big budget Hollywood holiday fare, to give us an old-fashioned Christmas tale of two kids from opposite sides of town meeting and falling in love under the glow of Christmas lights and some salty Baccala. An absolute delight and maybe a new Christmas classic if given the attention it deserves!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Christmas trees.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE FINAL TERROR (1983)

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THE FINAL TERROR (1983)

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The Final Terror is a fairly entertaining 80s slasher that follows the formula closely and is probably more renown for the talent involved, who would go on to bigger and better things. The story finds a group of forest rangers (including future stars Rachel Ward and Daryl Hannah) going on a trip to a remote part of a dense wooded area to clear some streams of debris. They are warned by creepy bus driver Eggar (another future star, Joe Pantoliano) not to…and it turns out for a good reason. Someone…or something…is lurking in those woods and starts to claim the lives of the young forest rangers, one by one. Now it’s a fight for survival against an unseen foe who wants them all dead!

Film is written by three people (including Alien co-scribe Ron Shusett) and directed well by Andrew Davis who would achieve success directing high-profile action flicks like Under Siege and The Fugitive. There is a moderate pace, which was normal for films of this era and Davis achieves a nice atmosphere of foreboding and some decent suspense. He also gives the film a nice visual style, multi-tasking by doing the cinematography as well. There is also an atmospheric and very 80s electronic score by Susan Justin, who did the score for Corman’s 1982 Forbidden World. There is some generous bloodshed, though nothing overly gory, nor is the body count all that high. This flick was filmed in 1981 before body count and outrageous kills became the status quo and took two years to find distribution. Like most of the slashers of this era, the story has a character with an unstable past being our prime suspect, with a disturbing reveal in the last act…though one we’re not completely shocked by. It’s a nice combination of slasher and wilderness survival flick that may not be a true classic, but may be a bit better, with the added nostalgia, than initially given credit for.

The cast is a mix of future stars and familiar faces. The performances are all adequate, but none indicate that some of our rangers will hone their craft well in future projects. Aside from outright soon-to-be stars like Ward, Hannah and Joe Pantoliano, we also have familiar faces like Mark Metcalf (Animal House, TV’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer), T.J. Hooker’s Adrian Zmed, Lewis Smith (Buckaroo Banzai) and John Friedrich who worked prolifically on TV. Again, no one really stands out here, but some of them went on to successful careers after, including the director. It gives the film an added nostalgic element like the similar The Burning, which had it’s own future stars in it’s cast.

Overall, it’s not a great movie or an outright classic horror, but it is an entertaining 80s slasher and one that would yield quite a few talents that would garner future fame or notoriety in other films or TV. It has some nice atmosphere and some decent kills and combines a traditional slasher with a wilderness survival flick. It is very 80s and would probably make a nice double feature with Don Coscarelli’s Survival Quest or the before mentioned The Burning.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) blades.

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