The Farewell


A happy family portrait.

(2019) Dramedy (A24) Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Shuzhen Zhou, Diana Lin, Jim Liu, Han Chen, Aoi Mizuhara, Yongbo Jiang, X-Mayo, Hong Lu, Gil Perez-Abraham, Becca Khalil, Ines Laimins. Directed by Lulu Wang

 

It is inevitable as we journey through our lives that we will lose loved ones. The natural order of things is that we age, grow old and die so those who were put on this Earth before us finish their cycles before we do. We have to come to grips with their mortality and in doing so, our own. It is hardest sometimes for those who are young to truly understand that those around them are neither invincible nor immortal.

Billi (Awkwafina) is an underachieving Chinese-American writer whose parents emigrated to this country when she was a little girl, tearing her away from the culture she knew and the family she loved, in particular her grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhou). Even as a grown woman, she still telephones her grandmother regularly and remains close even though she hasn’t seen her in years.

One day while home doing laundry, she discovers her father (Ma) disconsolate in his bedroom and demands to know what’s wrong. It turns out Nai Nai – his mother – has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and doesn’t have long to live, maybe only weeks. Billi is devastated of course but she is further thrown for a loop when she discovers that Nai Nai hasn’t been told the truth about her condition – a Chinese tradition in which the family takes on the burden of knowing and worrying about the impending mortality of a loved one.

The marriage of a hapless cousin, Hao Hao (Chen) to a Japanese girl, Aiko (Mizuhara) is used as an excuse to bring the family to Changchun where Nai Nai lives. Billi is eager to go to say farewell to her grandmother but her mother (Lin) is adamant; Nai Nai must remain ignorant about her condition and Billi is sure to give away her grief, being an emotional sort.

Naturally Billi goes anyway and Nai Nai is absolutely delighted. She’s totally in her element, planning everything having to do with the ceremony and the reception, arguing with the caterers over whether crab or lobster is to be served. Billi agrees to hold her tongue but it’s hard not for her to be melancholy from time to time. It’s the rest of the family though that has trouble keeping their emotions in check.

Billi has issues regarding the move to America. China has changed to an incredible degree and isn’t a country she recognizes. Her connection with Nai Nai is her connection to her heritage and it is part of her identity. The Farewell allows us – and director Lulu Wang, whose life and experiences this is based on – to explore the tightrope that Chinese-Americans must often walk to reconcile the cultures of their background and of their present circumstances.

Awkwafina, a rapper who started out as comic relief in films like Oceans 8 and Crazy Rich Asians is absolutely devastating here. This is the kind of performance that establishes careers and can net an actress plum roles. Billi is a nuanced individual, caught between two cultures and not really sure which one she identifies with most. Her self-worth has taken a beating, mostly due to her overbearing hyper-critical mother. She believes strongly that her Nai Nai should be told the truth about her condition and she has trouble justifying the lie, yet she keeps a big secret of her own. At the end Billi embraces both sides of her identity and it is beautiful to see. Zhou and Ma give Awkwafina some great support and the onscreen relationships feel totally real.

It is no secret how much the Chinese culture values family above all else and for those Westerners who don’t understand that, the difference between East and West is succinctly explained here. Even so, there is a universal aspect to families; we all have members of our family we treasure and others we see only on rare occasions (and that’s just fine with us) while there are still others we barely know. I think you’ll find that the family gathering here will seem very familiar in a lot of ways to most of you, even if there are some cultural differences – like karaoke. Just don’t try to make sense of all the cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends.

This is a movie that has heart and comes by its emotional responses honestly. You don’t get a sense of being manipulated here; nonetheless this will resonate, particularly with those who have lost a beloved grandparent. I was very much reminded of the last time I saw my grandmother alive in Winnipeg. I did get a chance to say goodbye to her which was a very good thing even though she wasn’t in a terminal stage yet. I’ve never forgotten my Baba and how warm and loved she made me feel. Grandmothers are like that, you know.

This looks to become a major indie hit for A24 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get a wider release than it is already enjoying. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the film got some recognition come Oscar nomination time, particularly for Awkwafina but maybe for Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Zhou) and Best Picture. Cinephiles should make a beeline to the box office for this one as should anyone who has ever loved their grandmother, particularly if that grandmother is still alive. You definitely need to appreciate her while she’s still around.

REASONS TO SEE: The story struck a huge chord in me. Awkwafina is absolutely amazing here. This is not a tourist version of China but a peek into the everyday lives of Chinese people.
REASONS TO AVOID: Got a little bit hard to figure out who was who in terms of the relatives.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of profanity as well as some serious adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When the film made its limited release debut on July 12, it beat out Avengers: Endgame for the largest per-screen average of the year to date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/31/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 90/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Departures
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Lamp Light

Method of Murder


In the desert where you can bury your bodies …or not.

(2017) Documentary (Vision) Jacky Rom, Tommy McDonald, Junior Rubio, Arianna Black, Mason Pollack, Jamie Wilson, Sarah Cass, Cash Kasper, Norm Thom, Derek Stevens, John Fiato, Jenny Brown, Vivien Karp, Joseph Charfauros, Sandy Karp, Larry Hess Lyle Rivero, Marco Antonio, Keith Evans, Kristin Whittemore, Isabelle Mondelaers. Directed by Elliot Manarin

 

How do you kill a person and get away with it? In this era of forensic experts, security cameras and digital footprints, it’s harder than ever – and it was never easy. For most of us, it’s an academic question, something that leads us to watching TV crime shows or reading murder mysteries.

For British crime novelist Jacky Rom however, it’s a whole lot more than idle speculation – it’s a living. The author of best-selling novel From Makeup to Murder, she was hard at work on the follow-up From Vegas to Villainy and needed some ideas on how to do the deed, so to speak. Being the kind of plucky sort who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, she heads out to Los Angeles and Las Vegas to figure out how she was going to commit the perfect crime – in a literary sense.

In this hour-long documentary, Rom interviews tattoo artists, photographers, magicians, make-up specialists, lion tamers, archers, casino security experts and firearm specialists. For the most part everything is handled in a fun, lighthearted manner. Rom is endlessly cheerful and comes off like a Brit combining work and vacation, but there are some serious moments. She is visibly affected when she fires a handgun; the recoil establishes just how powerful a weapon it is and just how easy it is to kill someone with it. For a few moments, the crime author seems to be empathizing more with the victims than the investigators.

She seems to have an inventive mind as one of the methods she devises is pure genius if impractical. However, sadly, most of the methods she investigates are pretty run-of-the-mill – I suppose she wanted to keep her best ideas for her book and I could hardly blame her. As it turns out, having lions dispose of the remains of her victim turns out to be a bad idea. When she looks into burying a body in the desert, she discovers it is a whole lot harder than it sounds.

I don’t think this is going to give anyone with criminal intent any nefarious ideas but it is a bit of a lark, even if it moves slowly occasionally. Rom is an engaging personality and I wouldn’t mind spending an hour with her normally but after awhile this begins to feel like one of those British travel documentaries that has an offbeat, morbid bent.

REASONS TO SEE: The concept is fascinating albeit morbid.
REASONS TO AVOID: The movie is fairly vanilla and unimaginative.
FAMILY VALUES: Although presented in a lighthearted manner, some of the subject here is adult in nature thematically speaking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In addition to being a crime novelist, Rom also is a radio hostess in the UK.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Microsoft, Vimeo, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: How to Commit the Perfect Murder
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
The Farewell

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom


From the frying pan into the proverbial fire.

(2018) Adventure (Universal) Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Jeff Goldblum, BD Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, Isabella Sermon, Robert Emms, Peter Jason, John Schwab, Sam Redford, Charlie Rawes, Patrick Crowley, Alex Dower, Honey Holmes, Neil Bishop, Philippa Thomas. Directed by J.A. Bayona

 

In the fifth movie of the franchise overall and the second in the Jurassic World trilogy, I think it’s safe to say that most film audiences have gotten over the wonder and awe of seeing realistic-looking dinosaurs in the movies. It is therefore incumbent upon the filmmakers a good story to surround the cinematic lizards with.

Isla Nublar, where the doomed theme park once stood, is in danger but not from dinos; no, it’s the impending volcanic apocalypse that is putting every dinosaur on the island at risk. Congress is debating whether or not to save the resurrected critters; Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) in the worst utilization of Jeff Goldblum in a film ever, argues against it. He wins.

Former publicist and current activist Claire Dearing (Howard) wants to save the dinosaurs she once sold as entertainment and also ran in terror from. She is approached by Benjamin Lockwood (Cromwell), the former partner of the late John Hammond, to rescue the creatures on the down/low. To do it, she’ll need the services of ex-boyfriend Owen Grady (Pratt), the velociraptor whisperer who is busy building himself a shack on the beach. And of course, despite his reluctance, he agrees to go. But that’s only the beginning. There’s a conspiracy of Lockwood’s assistant (Spall) to auction off the creatures to billionaire industrialists which might just be the worst idea ever, as later events will confirm.

This feels less like a movie and more of a pastiche of bits and pieces from previous films in the franchise. There are some political barbs (one of the baddies calls one of the heroes “A nasty woman”) and some food for thought – do we have the right to destroy a species, even one we created? Do we have the right to exploit animals? Does our treatment of the natural world determine our fitness to survive? All very important questions and really worth tackling in a much less lighthearted manner.

This might be the most disappointing entry in the Jurassic franchise, even exceeding the two sequels of Jurassic Park. Sure, the visuals are as you’d expect top of the line, and there are some thrilling sequences but nearly half of the movie takes place inside a house which really take the bigger dinosaurs literally out of the picture and the big reveal near the end of the movie shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. Hopefully the next installment of the franchise will wrap up this trilogy with a bang instead of a whimper.

REASONS TO SEE: The tone is a little darker than previous JP/JW films.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too many clichés sink this ship.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The T-Rex in both of the Jurassic World movies is the same one that appeared in the Jurassic Park films, according to screenwriter Colin Trevorrow.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Fios, Frontier, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/28/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 48% positive reviews: Metacritic: 51/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Godzilla
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Method of Murder

Offside


Coaching resting face.

(2019) Sports Documentary (Green Box EuropeNatalia Baginska, Joanna Patusiak, Joanna Pres, Kinga Szymanska, Martyna Brodzik, Aleksandra Sudyk, Marta Fil, Patrycja Michalczyk, Natalia Grib, Patrycja Trzcinska, Aleksandra Witczak, Roksana Rataczyk, Natalia Oleszkiewicz, Kornelia Grosicka, Lukasz Haliniarz, Martyna Iwanek, Weronika Szymaszek, Beata Niesterowicz. Directed by Miguel Gaudėncio

 

While we in the States tend to think of soccer (called by everybody else football) is a painfully slow and less athletic sport than the manly sport of American football, that’s just plain wrong, wrong, wrong. Football (the non-American kind) requires stamina, skill and intestinal fortitude to push beyond your limits when you are sure you couldn’t possibly run even one more step.

The ladies of the Olimpia Szczecin squad possess that kind of fortitude and much of it is largely due to their coach, Natalia Baginska. Her job is to motivate the women to push themselves higher and harder than they ever have. She is a stern taskmaster and keeps her charges busy as the club, sidelined for the off-season, prepares for the oncoming season with practices, scrimmages and practice games, called “friendlies” in the parlance.

Gaudėncio, a native of Portugal now based in Szczecin, has established a particular style for better or for worse, that is essentially cinema verité along the lines of an Errol Morris. He’s also fond of black and white, which worked nicely for the boxing documentary Down But Not Out but was a tactical error her; Soccer is a sport of color from the rich green of the pitch to the colors of the uniforms. It makes the film more drab than it has to be.

What really disappointed me about the movie though was once again he gives virtually no context about what we’re seeing. Why did he choose this team to follow? What happened with their season? He also doesn’t identify which player is which and we mostly see them in workouts without uniforms so we can’t even figure out the numbers. The games he does show often we get no sense of the flow of the game; there are some bits and pieces of the team on offense, other bits and pieces of the team on defense and occasionally celebrating a goal. We have no idea who they are playing.

We do get a sense that the players work hard and that the coach is a combination therapist and motivational speaker as well as a tactician although we get no particulars about the latter role. We do get plenty of scenes of various body parts on the players getting massaged which I suppose communicates the muscular aches and pains the ladies have to endure but it’s a point that seems to be getting made a bit too repetitively.

Of the three documentaries I’ve seen from Gaudėncio this is by far the one I’ve enjoyed the least. By halfway through the short documentary I was checking the time, praying for the film to end. By the time it did, I felt like I hadn’t gotten to know the coach all that well and the players even less. Not being all that well-schooled in the game of soccer, I can’t even tell you if the team improved over the course of the film.

However, the movie does have the advantage of being timely, released as the United States women’s team was capturing its most recent World Cup title so there might be some interest from that angle. I think it would be a good film for aspiring soccer players both male and female to see what is involved with becoming a top-level player. However cinema buffs may find the film to be a little too disjointed to be all that enjoyable.

REASONS TO SEE: Gives a sense of how hard these athletes work.
REASONS TO AVOID: Lacks any sort of context whatsoever.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sports action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Two of the partners in Green Box Europe are originally from Florida but now live in Poland.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes, Vimeo
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/27/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Down, But Not Out
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

New Releases for the Week of July 25, 2019


ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

(Columbia) Leonardo di Caprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Luke Perry, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Bruce Dern. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

In 1969 the world was undergoing a radical change and so was Hollywood. For action star Rick Dalton and his longtime stunt double Cliff, those changes are getting increasingly hard to navigate. Rick has an ace up his sleeve though – a very famous next door neighbor whose career is just taking off. A young star by the name of Sharon Tate.

See the trailer, clips, video featurettes and promos here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references

The Farewell

(A24) Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Shuzhen Zhao. A Chinese-American family returns to China, ostensibly to attend a wedding but really to spend time with their grandmother who has a short time to live but following Chinese tradition hasn’t been told the truth about her condition. The adult daughter of the family has an especially hard time concealing the truth from her beloved Nai Nai in this acclaimed indie comedy from visionary director Lulu Wang.

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: PG (for thematic material, brief language and some smoking)

Sea of Shadows

(National Geographic) Marc Davis, Andrea Crosta, Carlos Loret de Mola, Cynthia Smith. When a group of Chinese and Mexican criminals’ over-the-top methods of poaching fish in the Sea of Cortez threaten one of the most endangered species of whales in the world, a team of journalists, activists and undercover agents take on the syndicates to protect the whales and bring the perpetrators to justice.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Above the Shadows
Clarita
Dear Comrade
iSmart Shankar
Sword of Trust

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Asako I & II
Astronaut
Dancing Elephant
Dear Comrade
iSmart Shankar
Judgementall Hai Kya
Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love
The Other Story
Yuli

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Dead Water
Dear Comrade
Judgementall Hai Kya
The Raft
See You Soon
Skin
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Dear Comrade

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Farewell
Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood

Magic Molecule


A notice of judicial ignorance.

(2018) Documentary (RandomEric Sterling, Ricky Williams, “Freeway” Ricky Ross, Jade Jerger, Lelah Jerger, Mauro Lara, Joshua Camp, Rebecca O’Krent, Steven Figueroa, Dr. Tim Shaw, Matt Herpel, Chris Conte, Cheyenne Popplewell, Steve Gordon, Matt Chapman, Jesse Danwoody, Jim Tomes, Angel Mack, Ashlyn Scott, Zac Hudson, Heather Jackson   Directed by Dylan Avery

 

When people think of cannabis, they think of getting stoned for the most part. They think of midnight munchies and that mellow feeling that weed can bring. However, what they’re really thinking of is THC, the oil in cannabis that is psychoreactive. Not all marijuana has that property.

Hemp is a form of marijuana that is actually far more useful than recreation. Its fibers make an excellent building material; it also contains an oil called CBD that is proving to have some amazing medicinal uses, from controlling seizures to shrinking tumors to relieving chronic pain.

In an era where Big Pharma seems to have a stranglehold on modern medicine, CBD oil has shown to be almost a miracle drug, helping all sorts of people in all sorts of places. However, the stigma of marijuana being a recreational drug has created obstacles to the acceptance of CBD as a legitimate medicinal drug.

There is a lot of ignorance out there about what CBD oil is, and a lot of it is at a legislative and legal level. Even states where the sale and possession of CBD oil is legal (like Tennessee, so long as there is less than 3% THC) have seen raids by law enforcement, shutting down 23 businesses in Franklin County alone for selling something that is absolutely legal in the state of Tennessee.

This documentary presents a parade of anecdotal evidence as to the efficacy of CBD oil. It also presents cases like the Jerger family of Indiana, who were threatened with having their child taken away from them because they were using CBD oil to treat her illness, even to the point where they forced the two-year-old child to have blood draws regularly to make sure that she was taking the pills that she had been prescribed rather than the CBD oil which worked better. Even after the Indiana legislature stepped in, the harassment continued to the point where the family felt compelled to move to Colorado in order to continue the treatment that there daughter needed.

There are a few interviews with experts like Eric Sterling, who helped formulate drug policy back in the “Just Say No” era of Nancy Reagan and who is now an advocate and activist for legalization. There’s also former NFL quarterback Ricky Williams, who used the oil to assist with injuries incurred during his pro football career and who now advocates meditation and yoga along with CBD for athletes and injuries.

The movie is essentially a one hour advertisement for the benefits of CBD oil and in all honesty there’s nothing wrong with that. You won’t find a whole lot of objectivity here. While the film does admit there hasn’t been much study of the properties of CBD oil – and shows at least one grower’s attempts to create a lab in order to do just that – there really isn’t a lot of dissent here; there aren’t any folks who have used CBD oil with little or no effect. Everyone who is onscreen has a miraculous story to tell and frankly folks, it doesn’t work for everyone quite that way. Still in all, the film does offer a lot of anecdotal information, so much that it is hard to ignore. It also, sadly, reiterates that while great strides are being made in reassessing our attitudes towards marijuana both recreationally and medicinally, there are still those in power who have yet to catch up.

REASONS TO SEE: Shows that although attitudes towards CBD is changing, there’s still a lot of misinformation out there.
REASONS TO AVOID: Way too many talking heads for a one-hour documentary and a bit on the hagiographic side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some peril and one difficult scene in which one of the men is forced to put an alpaca out of its suffering.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Avery is best known for his 2011 documentary Loose Change.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/24/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Weed the People
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Offside

Cajun Navy


A little bit more than a three hour tour.

(2019) Documentary (DiscoveryJon Bridgers, Carlton Boudreaux, Ben Husser, Allen Lenard, Kip Coltrin, Brayton Boudreaux, Laurie Bridgers, John Able, Chief Ashley Blackburn, Mitch Collier, Katherine Floyd, Lisa Boudreaux   Directed by James Newton

 

Often when we watch footage of hurricanes and floods on television, we feel sympathy for those affected but it’s quite a different thing when it happens in your own backyard. Being a Floridian, I’ve lived through several and have been fortunate enough to escape with little or no damage to my home, and none to myself or any family or friends.

Most people in New Orleans weren’t quite so lucky when Hurricane Katrina roared through in 2008. The local government was overwhelmed and they got little assistance from the feds. With people in immediate danger of their lives, a call went out for all boat owners to assist with the rescue of those trapped in or on their homes. Thus, the Cajun Navy was born.

So-named because many of those who responded were from Cajun Country – southern Louisiana – they have since remained a loose confederation of men mostly from Louisiana who answer the call when major storms cause flooding. Not only do they act as a kind of ad hoc rescue organization, they also serve to deliver supplies to areas cut off by flood waters and to assist local agencies and the National Guard, although their help isn’t always welcome.

The group doesn’t receive any significant funding and subsists on donations. The men involved are not compensated and have to take time away from their own lives, businesses, jobs and families to mount these rescue operations. It’s dangerous work; although there isn’t any record of any serious injury or death in the Cajun Navy, often the floodwaters are tricky and hard to navigate; some rescue operations also require them to put themselves into harm’s way.

This documentary, airing on the Discovery Channel tonight with available on their online streaming service Discovery Go thereafter (also available in app form on most mobile systems), follows members of the Navy as they head to Wilmington, NC in the wake of the massive 2018 Hurricane Florence. As one of the men notes, they aren’t needed to rescue people from country club estates’ it’s those who are poor, or suffering from mobility issues who are most at risk. Some don’t have the wherewithal to relocate even for a few nights; some lack the ability. There are always a few who simply don’t take the warnings seriously, or refuse to leave their homes even if they do.

These guys are all salt of the earth sorts, men who work the land, who work with their hands and who hunt and fish as a way of life. Sometimes we tend to think of Southern men as ignorant MAGA-hat wearing hicks who are racist and misogynist. While we don’t get into the political inclinations of these men (I’d be willing to bet there are some Trump voters among their numbers), they really do put the “good” back into good ol’ boys and they might change a few stereotypes along the way. Their creed is that they rescue anyone or anything that needs it, regardless of whether they have money, the color of their skins or who they voted for. They even help rescue livestock; a life, as one man puts it, is a life.

One of the more poignant and anger-inducing segments involves a rescue set at a nursing home where the administrator refused to let those in his charge leave even as the flood waters were rising. He told the Navy volunteers they didn’t have the authority; that meant nothing to them. People like that administrator are consigned to a special place in hell, putting money ahead of the lives of the elderly in their care. He’s lucky a family member didn’t show up later and beat him senseless.

Some of the footage here is nothing short of incredible. Most of it is suitable for all ages, although there is a segment in which Carlton Boudreaux, one of the original members of the Navy, is rescuing some livestock in rural North Carolina. An alpaca has ingested too much flood water and despite the best efforts of the ranch owner the animal who is clearly suffering has to be put down. Although the mercy killing takes place off-camera, that may be a little tough for the kids to watch.

It isn’t often that we see documentaries that show us this kind of sense of community. Navy founder Jon Bridgers points out that it’s easy to say “it’s just stuff; you can always replace it” until it’s your stuff. In an era where neighborhoods have disintegrated and people live in places surrounded by people they don’t take the time to know or interact with, it’s somehow comforting to know that there are people who take the word “neighbor” seriously and are willing to look out for those in need. The world needs more people like the Cajun Navy and they might just change your mind about the South.

REASONS TO SEE: This might change a few stereotypes about Southern men.
REASONS TO AVOID: Lacks any commentary from civic authorities who might have a different viewpoint about the Cajun Navy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some peril and one difficult scene in which one of the men is forced to put an alpaca out of its suffering.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although estranged at the time of filming, Carlton and Lisa Boudreaux have since reconciled.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/23/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The White Helmets
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Miracle Molecule

Apostle


The fire whisperer.

(2018) Horror (Netflix) Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones, Kristine Froseth, Sharon Morgan, Sebastian McCheyne, Gareth John Bale, Elen Rhys, Richard Elfyn, Paul Higgins, Bill Milner, Catrin Aron, Gareth Pierce, Rhys Meredith, John Norton, Ioan Hefin, Rhian Morgan, Owain Gwynn, Annes Elwy, Helena Dennis. Directed by Gareth Evans

 

Thomas Richardson (Stevens) is the scion of a wealthy family who has been through hell and has the laudanum addiction to prove it. When his beloved sister Jennifer (Rhys) is kidnapped, he is sent to pay the ransom. Not to a London-based criminal but to a bizarre cult living on a remote Welsh island. There he finds that the followers of the dumpy cult leader Malcolm Howe (Sheen) are hiding a secret that is more terrifying than he could have imagined. Probably not more terrifying than you or I could imagine, however; we’ve got pretty sick minds, after all.

The 1905 setting gives the film a kind of period unease present in films like The Wind or The Nightingale. The isolation of the island further contributes to the air of unease. Evans, veteran director of the two Raid films, opts for a tone that is creepy rather than outright scary. There aren’t really many outright frights although most of the real nasty stuff is man’s own inhumanity to man; the cultist, led by a rather brutal right-hand man to Howe named Quinn (Jones), has all manner of tortures available for those who disobey the rules which are many.

Stevens proves to be an adept leading man, able to be the brooding hunk one moment and a man of action the next. I would have preferred that the jumps between the two weren’t quite so jarring but I think that his use of violence was meant to be shocking but years of seeing too many horror and action movies has inured me to that kind of surprise.

The filmmakers make good use of their environment, from the creepy woods of the island to the homespun charm of the town which is a billboard ad for “Life isn’t easy ‘round these parts” and that it isn’t. There is a supernatural element that the film builds to but still feels as if it could have used more fleshing out; it’s more confusing than scary. Still, if you are in need of an atmospheric horror film set in the past that has elements of dangerous cults and a touch of torture porn to it, Netflix has the right film for you.

REASONS TO SEE: The cinematography is gorgeous. Dan Stevens is an excellent leading man.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit too long for the kind of film that it is.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and some disturbing horrific images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Thomas shares a name with an apostle who like the cinematic Thomas has doubts; the Thomas here in his faith, the apostle Thomas in the resurrection of Christ.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/22/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews: Metacritic: 62/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Midsommar
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Cajun Navy

Rondo


See no evil.

(2018) Sex Thriller (Artsploitation) Brenna Otts, Luke Sorge, Jazz Copeland, Gena Shaw, Reggie De Morton, Michael Vasicek, G. C. Clark, Kevin Sean Ryan, Iva Nora, Meagan Kiefel, Steve Van Beckum (narrator), Joseph M. Veals, Ashley Gagnon. Directed by Drew Barnhardt

 

Not many who are reading this will remember the golden era of grindhouse films. Those were the days when movies that were full of graphic violence, plenty of (female) nudity and lots of sex. But the 70s came and went and gradually those types of films fell out of favor. However, they influenced dozens of modern directors, not the least of whom are Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.

Rondo director Drew Barnhardt is evidently another one so influenced. His latest would feel right at home in Times Square circa 1977. It’s got elements of slasher films, black comedies, psychological thrillers, a revenge epic and even grindhouse porn.

Paul (Sorge) is recently returned from Afghanistan and like many veterans, has returned with a case of severe PTSD. To cope, he has turned to self-medicating with alcohol. He’s hit rock bottom, losing his job and his apartment. Reduced to sleeping on his sister Jill’s (Otts) couch, she finally confronts him after catching him drinking – and sends him to a therapist named Cassie Wright (Shaw) whom she recently met.

With nothing left to lose, he heads to Cassie’s office where she basically tells him that the key to beating his addictions is simply to get laid. She gives him an address to go to for a kinky party, and the password for entry: Rondo. After some soul searching, he decides to go. There he enters a miasma of sex and murder, one that will drag his sister and father (Vasicek) into the middle of.

Like many grindhouse films of that era, Rondo doesn’t have much of a budget. The effects are practical albeit some occasionally over the top – whoever planted the squibs for the final confrontation had a field day. Therefore, a film like this has to rely on a decent plot – which it has. It also has to rely on decent performances and there we get a little bit dicey as the acting tends to be stiff, perhaps by design. It also has to rely on graphic sex and violence – and the film gets full marks for that. Barnhardt is obviously not afraid to push the envelope on that score.

The dialogue is fairly noir and has a few gems in it, such as “If you’re gonna live in the swamp, you’d better make friends with the gators.” There is voiceover narration which is done in kind of a “tough guy” noir tone. Unfortunately, the tone is a bit off; the voiceover narration in the cult TV show Pushing Daisies utilizes a stuffy British tone and it works as comedy, but the narration here ends up being annoying and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing but it’s inconsistent; at times during the movie every little event is commented on but then long stretches go by without any narration.

The soundtrack is pretty nifty, retaining elements of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and working really well in enhancing the action. Speaking of action, the denouement featuring a beautiful woman in bra and panties wielding a machine gun which has to be the wet dream of an NRA card carrier, and works as black comedy here. In fact, there are sly comic overtones throughout although sometimes you kind of have to look for them.

Fans of exploitation films will get a kick out of this one. Fans of the directors who utilize those influences in their work may also find this entertaining. However, if you find those sorts of films distasteful, this really isn’t the movie for you.

REASONS TO SEE: Catchy dialogue and nifty score.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the performances were on the wooden side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, graphic violence, gore, graphic nudity, graphic sex – pretty much graphic everything.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the film was shot in the Washington Park and LoDo districts in Denver.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Google Play,  iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Eyes Wide Shut
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Apostle

Captain Black


Are you talkin’ to me?

(2017) Dramedy (Random) Jeffrey S. S. Johnson, Linara Washington, Georgia Norman, Charley Koontz, Joaquin Camilo, Kirsten Roeters, Liesel Kopp, Mackenzie Astin, Michael Marc Friedman, Reece Rios, Nico David, Carla Tassara, Robert Maffia, Lauren Campedelli, Dylan Lawson, Parvesh Cheena, Scott Krinsky, Ashley Dowling, Katherine King. Directed by Jeffrey S.S. Johnson

 

Superheroes occupy a unique place in our society. They represent the best within us, the desire for justice and goodness, the noblest aspects of our beings and the achievement of the impossible. We mostly all aspire to be heroic in some way, shape or form – and some of us aspire to the super-powered aspect of heroism.

Mike (Johnson) is a manager at a suburban chain restaurant that has a Mexican theme. It’s the kind of place that whenever a patron has a birthday, the staff gather to sing their own version of “Happy Birthday” in a way that people like me cringe at. You’ve probably been to several just like it.

Although Mike seems to be a pretty decent guy, it would be a stretch to say that there’s anything particularly noble or heroic about him. When an obnoxious customer confronts him, he backs down rather than standing up for what’s right. While he’s aware that his neighbor (Kopp) is being abused by her husband, he doesn’t act on it, allowing the abuse to continue even as he bonds with her son (David). He mourns the loss of both his parents but remains estranged from his sister Brie (Roeters).

One night one of his waiters (Camilo) eaves a bag of comic books behind. Intrigued by the four-color covers, he brings them home and becomes immersed in the world of Captain Black, a kind of Batman style of hero, as well as his super sexy partner Kitt Vixen who in one of the movie’s better joke sequences, Mike discovers that there is a porn site dedicated to the character. Still, the mild-mannered restaurant manager begins to find some self-confidence especially as he repeats the Captain’s axiom: “Life is precious. Life is fragile. Be your own ally!” Mike can particularly relate to this given everything happening around him.

For a Halloween party he is inspired to create a homemade Captain Black costume. There he meets a young woman (Norman) wearing a Kitt Vixen costume. The two find a mutual attraction and head out to the garage for a quick, frantic coupling. This seemingly innocent act would turn out to have a profound effect on Mike’s life.

The movie starts off with kind of a suburban vibe, fairly laid back but takes an unexpected turn towards the serious. Johnson, who wrote, directed and starred in the movie, handles both sides of the equation fairly well, giving Mike a good deal of heart but also having him grapple with issues that are very real and very rough. I don’t want to give too much away but suffice to say that the movie will come off as a bit of a warning about one-night stands and the damage that can result from them.

Movies like this have to walk a very fine line; on the one hand it has to deal with a sensitive subject without diluting the impact of that subject but on the other hand, it has to be light enough that the film doesn’t end up drowning in darkness which it could have easily done. The topic is an extremely emotional one and it is handled with emotion, with that emotion given the respect it deserves. It’s a very fine work particularly given that it is the first feature Johnson has done.

I won’t say I was blown away by this film completely; the ending is a bit of a letdown at least for me and some of the supporting characters could have used a bit more depth, but the relationship between Mike and his friend Kris (Washington) is a special, realistic one that enhances the movie rather than detracting from it. It makes me wonder if Washington and Johnson had a friendship outside the movie prior to filming. This is the kind of movie that flies under the radar for no good reason but the lucky ones among us who are willing to take chances may well discover a quality gem. Seek this one out for sure.

REASONS TO SEE: The film starts out unassuming and quiet but turns grim and strange towards the end. Johnson delivers a really good performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: The ending was a bit off-note.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a scene of sexuality and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Johnson is best-known for being the voice in the T-Mobile commercials for the past six years.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Google Play, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/20/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Super
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Rondo