In Theaters

Following our passion is something most of us dream about. But how many of us are able to see it through? Unfortunately, life often seems to get in the way. And sometimes we get in our own way, too. Clearing away the clutter, making a plan and working up the gumption to move forward all factor into the process, but how adept are we at these tasks? These are some of the challenges that a pair of would-be professional musicians face in the heartfelt new comedy-drama, “Hearts Beat Loud” (web site, trailer).

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) is restless. A onetime musician who’s now approaching middle age, Frank spends his days running a vintage vinyl store in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, a business that’s slowly going under, something that he’s not entirely sorry to see. While Frank definitely possesses an encyclopedic knowledge about records of every stripe, he nevertheless itches to make music of his own again. Thankfully, he’s got an outlet for that with his teenage daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), a bright, talented musician in her own right. Like a kid on Christmas morning, he gleefully looks forward to their jam sessions together.

But, despite the joy and fulfillment these sessions provide, as soon as they’re over, Frank quickly feels the weight of reality crashing down on him. For instance, as talented as Sam is musically, she has her heart set on attending UCLA, where she’s been accepted into the pre-med program. Frank can’t help but wonder whether she’s tossing her talents aside (not to mention the fact that he feels her decision to leave him behind is like someone stealing his favorite toy). And, if that weren’t bad enough, he also has to contend with the responsibilities of being a single parent, caring for an aging mother (Blythe Danner) with a penchant for shoplifting and winding up the affairs of a failing business.

To cope, Frank seeks solace at the neighborhood tavern, bouncing ideas off the resident bartender, Dave (Ted Danson), a quirky, carefree sort with a unique wisdom. He also enjoys spending time with Leslie (Toni Collette), the landlady who owns his storefront property, a kind-hearted soul who seems to have his best interests at heart, even though the exact nature of their relationship is somewhat ambiguous. But, such support aside, Frank still spends much of his time trying to figure out things on his own.

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman, left) and his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons, right), make great music together in the feel good new comedy-drama, “Hearts Beat Loud.” Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.

In many ways, Sam is just as perplexed as her dad. She believes UCLA is her destiny. But, in the weeks leading up to her departure for school, the waters become muddied, especially when she and Frank record a song that makes its way to Spotify and starts drawing attention from fans and music industry professionals. Her heart strings also get sufficiently tugged when she meets and falls for a new romantic interest, Rose (Sasha Lane). As time grows short, she’s faced with the dilemma musically immortalized by the Clash, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.”

Through the experiences of Frank and Sam, viewers witness the hard choices that artists of all kinds must address in developing their careers: How hungry are we? Are we truly willing to make an all-out effort to pursue our craft? Or are we going to let other interests and everyday considerations get in the way, potentially derailing our shot at artistic success? “Hearts Beat Loud” examines what it means to wrestle with these ideas. The choices involved in these decisions may not be easy ones, but the power to make them is clearly in our hands, and that’s something we must never lose sight of.

Director Brett Haley’s touching, fun-filled feel good movie genuinely inspires the artist within each of us. By no means does it sugarcoat what’s involved in pursuing such dreams, but its uplifting outlook and joyful approach to its subject matter definitely fill us with a desire to make the effort at realizing our aspirations. Offerman and Clemons have a great chemistry together, coming across as totally natural and convincing, not just in their character portrayals but also in their fine musical performances. Admittedly, some aspects of the story aren’t as fully developed as they might have been, but that’s a rather small shortcoming in light of everything else this delightful independent release has to offer.

Reaching for the top can be quite an undertaking, one filled with a curious mix of excitement and trepidation. But, when one considers the rewards, both creatively and otherwise, it’s hard to imagine not taking the chance to see it realized. Thankfully, “Hearts Beat Loud” provides a thorough, honest and entertaining take on what it’s like to pursue one’s own artistic odyssey.  Rock on, everybody!

A complete review is available by clicking here.

The Perils of Free Thought

We all like to think we’re masters of our own destiny. But are we? It’s really quite astonishing how readily many of us will capitulate when faced with the pressures placed on us by those in positions of authority. So how do we cope? That’s the central question raised in the thrilling new smart horror flick, “Await Further Instructions” (web site, Facebook page).

Christmas is supposed to be a festive time of year, full of good times and good cheer, especially in the company of loved ones. As many of us know, however, that’s not always the case, especially when we spend time in the company of family members. So it is with the Milgrams, who are getting together as a group for the first time in years – not that everyone wants that, though.

The family member dreading the occasion the most is Nick (Sam Gittins), who’s seeing his relatives for the first time after a prolonged estrangement. He’s bringing his Indian girlfriend, Annji (Neerja Naik), with him in hopes that it will make the experience more bearable. However, given the less-than-veiled prejudicial attitudes of Nick’s other family members, such as his insincerely effusive mum, Beth (Abigail Cruttenden), his dimwitted pregnant sister, Kate (Holly Weston), and his surly granddad (David Bailey), perhaps asking Annji to join him wasn’t the best move. Then there’s Nick’s dad, Tony (Grant Masters), a self-important, hardline Christian fundamentalist with a Napoleonic complex, an overcompensating trait designed to conceal his nagging insecurity at never having made more of himself (a fact that granddad continually goads him about). Rounding out the festivities is Kate’s husband, Scott (Kris Saddler), an often-clueless sort who seems to have ample trouble thinking for himself. And so, set against this backdrop, the fun and games begin. But, before long, the Milgram family finds itself in the midst of a holiday get-together they never would have imagined.

The Milgram family (from left, David Bradley, Neerja Naik, Kris Saddler, Grant Masters, Holly Weston, Abigail Cruttenden) assembles for Christmas dinner amidst trying circumstances in the chilling new smart horror film, “Await Further Instructions.” Photo courtesy of Goldfinch Studios and Shudder Films.

As festivities ramp up, the family members witness a series of troubling TV news reports about power outages, suspected terrorist attacks and other strange phenomena. But that’s nothing compared to what they wake up to on Christmas morning. The Milgrams find their home completely encased in a durable black, strand-like substance. They have no view of the outside world through windows or doors. And though they still have electricity, they don’t have phone, cable TV or internet service. Their only connection to what’s beyond their walls is a cryptic message on their TV screen, which reads “Stay indoors. Await further instructions.” So now what?

In no time, those further instructions begin coming through, each one more ominous than what preceded it. Without giving too much away, those messages ask the family members to perform progressively more demanding tasks, some of which prompt them into taking drastic actions and questioning the home’s fellow inhabitants. Paranoia sets in, and danger comes as much from the inside as it apparently does from the outside. Such circumstances raise the question, “Can they survive the holidays?” That’s something many of us do already, but this time the stakes are much higher.

As the story plays out, the Milgrams are asked to deal with some heady questions: Is it indeed acceptable to question authority, be it from government, organized religion, the medical community and even the media? When is it permissible to cast aside the dictates of such sources and think for oneself? What does it mean to question one’s peers, including those we think we know? How do we keep prejudices from getting the better of us? And what do we do if we work up the nerve to pursue our own beliefs? Even though these notions are presented in a horror film context, it’s easy to see how these considerations are just as applicable to the conditions of everyday life that we all face today.

Nick Milgram (Sam Gittins, right) and his girlfriend, Annji (Neerja Naik, left), hold on for dear life in director Johnny Kevorkian’s excellent new smart horror film, “Await Further Instructions.” Photo courtesy of Goldfinch Studios and Shudder Films.

The film also raises numerous questions about technology and the media. How much faith should we place in them? When do we cross a line where we allow them to control us rather than the other way around? And can we always trust what these devices and outlets are telling us? While these ideas are presented largely symbolically, they’re nevertheless easy to spot and definitely represent concerns that we must all contend with – perhaps more than we feel comfortable with, too.

It may take a little effort to find this film at present. I screened its world premiere at the Cinepocalypse Film Festival at Chicago’s Music Box Theater, and, for the near future, it’s slated to play only at other such events. However, according to the filmmakers, it appears distribution agreements are in the works, with a possible release date of this fall. When it receives the green light, I strongly recommend that interested viewers go see it. It’s that good.

Chicago’s Music Box Theater, home of the Cinepocalypse Film Festival, which recently featured the world premiere of the new smart horror film, “Await Further Instructions.” Photos by Brent Marchant.

Director Johnny Kevorkian and screenwriter Gavin Williams have put together an excellent production, yet another fine offering in the smart horror genre. “Await Further Instructions” combines poignant social commentary, ample humor and plenty of suspense, all without going over the top and descending into an endless gore fest, a combination that made “Get Out” (2017) such a huge hit. There’s much to ponder, a lot to laugh at and chills aplenty in this riveting, richly layered British offering, with influences from such diverse sources as Japanese cinema, classic horror films, Alfred Hitchcock and even TV’s “Twilight Zone” (particularly classic episodes like “The Shelter” and “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”). It packs quite a punch, one that will leave viewers with much to discuss when they walk out of the theater.

In an age where many of us may feel like we’re losing ourselves, it’s important that we have films like “Await Further Instructions” to remind us of our humanity – and the need to hold on to it at all costs. Should we ever lose sight of that – and there’s a frighteningly increased risk of that these days – we could find ourselves in perilous circumstances from which there would be no recovery. Consider ourselves warned. 

A complete review will be available soon by clicking here.

Check out

As an entrant in the 2018 Best Book Awards competition, I’m pleased to announce that my latest title, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies, is now listed in the New Age Non-Fiction section of the web site! The listing includes the book’s cover and description, as well as a link to the title’s listing on This post will be available for the next five months until the announcement of the winners in November. Wish me luck! In the meantime, check out the listing by clicking here.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.