About carlosdev

I am a graduate of Loyola Marymount University, a former rock and film critic and have also worked in the computer and financial industries. This is an outgrowth of our podcast Friday Night Movie Bunch which is currently on hiatus.

Meander (Meandre)


Not for the claustrophobic.

(2021) Sci-Fi Horror (Gravitas) Gaia Weiss, Peter Franzen, Romane Libert, Frédéric Franchitti, Corneliu Draomirescu, Eva Niewdanski, Cari Laforét, Henri Benard, Fabien Houssaye, Olympe Turi. Directed by Matthieu Turi

 

Great loss can leave us in such pain that life itself becomes wearisome. Our reason for living seems as tenuous and inconsequential as the mist; we stare off into the deep blue something and wait to die.

Lisa (Weiss), a French ex-pat working as a waitress somewhere in the West, knows that pain all too well. Her daughter (Libert) passed away and today would have been her ninth birthday. Lisa is alone lying on a lonely road, hoping for someone to come along and put her out of her misery. And someone does; Adam (Franzen), a night watchman who works nights because “I hate people,” He doesn’t run Lisa over but he offers her a ride in his truck which, after some hesitation, she accepts. They chat and he does get Lisa to open up somewhat. “I don’t want to die,” she informs Adam, “I just want to see my daughter again.”

Just about then a news report comes on the truck radio warning about a serial killer who can be recognized by a cross tattoo on the killer’s wrist. And damn if Adam doesn’t have such a tattoo on his wrist…for Lisa, it’s fade to black.

When she wakes up, she’s in a bizarre high tech tunnel. She’s wearing a neoprene jumpsuit and a wrist bracelet with a bright glowing light and a timer counting down from eleven minutes. She soon figures out that she has to navigate each section of the tunnels – which turn out to be a maze – in those eleven minutes or face a particularly nasty death, whether being fricasseed by flamethrowers, drowned in a murky pool, dissolved in an acid bath, or mauled by an alien creature that stalks the maze. There’s also a skull-like creature with a mechanical eye that seems sympathetic, repairing her injuries. There are also a few grisly corpses to remind her about the penalty of failure.

At first, the movie seems to be unrelenting, pointless torture of an attractive female character and I have to admit, I was thinking “Here we go again.” But strangely, and happily, Turi soon begins feeding us clues as to what’s really going on, and it isn’t what you think.

The production design here is impressive and the film suitably claustrophobic. Lisa is forced to crawl through most of the maze, often barely able to fit through the tight spaces. Turi gives us a sense of that closed in space without being defined by it; you feel Lisa’s pain and fear and frustration largely because Weiss gives us a strong performance as the heroine. She is deeply wounded, missing her little girl and wanting nothing more than to be reunited with her again. And that possibility does come up, in maybe one of the more emotional moments you’ll ever see in a horror film.

The movie doesn’t always sustain the level of tension that it needs to, and there is a bit of sameness to some of the traps, but overall this is an impressive and imaginative film that genre fans might find intriguing.

REASONS TO SEE: Nifty production design. A claustrophobic thriller.
REASONS TO AVOID: At times seems to be pointlessly cruel.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence, gore, some disturbing images and scenes of terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The walls all display the dots and dashes of Morse code and each wall says something in French; for example, the first room code spells Vite, which means “quickly.”
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/31/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews; Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Cube
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Enemies of the State (2021)

New Releases for the Week of July 30, 2021


JUNGLE CRUISE

(Disney) Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemmons, Paul Giamatti. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Based on a beloved Disney parks ride (which were themselves loosely inspired by The African Queen), a plucky young researcher hires a wise-cracking riverboat captain to help her find a mystical tree deep in the heart of the jungle that may change the face of medicine forever. This will be simultaneously available on Disney Plus premium – subscribers will pay an additional cost of $29.99.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for adventure violence)

Broken Diamonds

(FilmRise) Lynda Boyd, Yvette Nicole Brown, Ben Platt, Lola Kirke. A writer’s dream of moving to Paris is temporarily put on hold when, following his father’s unexpected death, he is given the task of caring for his wildly predictable mentally ill sister.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian On-Demand
Rating: PG-13 (for a crude gesture and thematic elements)

Charlatan

(Strand) Ivan Trojan, Josef Trojan, Juraj Loj, Jaroslava Pokorná. The story of Jan Mikolásek, a Czech herbal healer whose seeming miracle cures hid a dark side that came to life during the repressive totalitarian Fifties behind the Iron Curtain.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian On-Demand
Rating: NR

The Green Knight

(A24) Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Santa Choudhury. Sir Gawain, a Knight of the Round Table, is tasked with facing the Green Knight, an emerald-skinned giant. His quest will have him face all manner of challenges and supernatural creatures as he struggles to prove his worth to his family, his King and ultimately, himself.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for graphic nudity, violence and some sexuality)

Masquerade

(Shout!) Bella Throne, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Mircea Monroe, Skyler Samuels. An eleven-year-old girl faces off against a group of thieves who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the priceless collection of artwork that hangs in her home.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Stillwater

(Focus) Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, Abigail Breslin, Lilou Siauvaud. A blue-collar man from Oklahoma travels to France to try and prove his estranged daughter did not commit the murder she has been imprisoned for.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for language)

Twist

(Saban) Michael Caine, Lena Headey, Franz Drameh, Jade Alleyne. A modern take on the Dickens classic Oliver Twist.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for some violence and language)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

A Savage Nature (Tuesday)
Enemies of the State
The Exchange
Fireboys
(Tuesday)
Fully Realized Humans
Hum
(Tuesday)
The Last Mercenary
Lorelei
Mondo Hollywoodland
(Tuesday)
On the Trail of UFOs: Dark Sky
(Tuesday)
Pooling to Paradise
(Tuesday)
Ride the Eagle
Tailgate

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Enemies of the State
Fireboys
The Green Knight
Jungle Cruise
The Last Mercenary
Masquerade
Pooling to Paradise
Stillwater

Till Death


Some men see women as little more than ornaments.

(2021) Thriller (Screen Media) Megan Fox, Eoin Macken, Callan Mulvey, Jack Roth, Ami Ameen, Stefanie Rozhko, Julian Belahurov, Lili Rich, Teodora Djuric. Directed by S.K. Dale

 

We all know the traditional wedding vows; to love and cherish, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, till death do us part. With a 50% divorce rate (or thereabouts), the final part isn’t so much of a factor anymore but for some it still holds true.

You would think Emma (Fox) has The Life. Married to a handsome, wealthy and connected lawyer named Mark (Macken), she was a photographer who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and became collateral damage in a botched robbery attempt. Mark was the lawyer who represented her, and eventually the two married. Bad idea.

It turns out Mark was far from the white knight Emma thought he was. He is a control freak of the highest order, and sees his wife as a reflection of his own manhood and power. He wants her to look a certain way, act a certain way. It’s no wonder that she has taken part in an extramarital affair with Tom (Ameen), a colleague of her husband’s. However, she decides to call things off with Tom, using the fact that its her wedding anniversary as a reason.

Mark appears to be completely ignorant of the affair, showering Emma with gifts and a surprise; blindfolding her and driving her out to their lake house, even though it is the middle of winter. After a night of romance and wine, she wakes up to a cold house and handcuffed to her husband. Then comes a shocking event – and everything in her world has suddenly become a life-or-death survival situation. And to make matters worse, Mark has invited a few other guests to the party.

The plot doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but then again, it is at least kept pretty simple. The real surprise is Fox. She has always been known more for her beauty than her acting ability, but slap my britches and call me Sally, she actually does a commendable job here. While her performance here is occasionally erratic (as in line delivery mainly), for the most part she does a great job as a woman who has been intimidated and emotionally abused into numbness, who is then placed into a situation where she must fight or die.

It was less believable that Emma, wearing a flimsy nightie and no shoes, seemed to not be that affected by the cold, even when out in the snow and on the frozen lake. You would think that she might shiver, a little. But that might just be chalked up to Hollywood shorthand; Emma is strong enough to stand up to Mark and the two hit men (Mulvey, Roth) he’s sent out to finish her off, a little chill isn’t going to bother her much.

In fact it’s when the two hit men (who have a connection to the story that’s a little far-fetched) arrive in the movie that things really begin to take off and the movie really hits its stride. Dale shows a deft hand with some of these sequels and might well have a future in bigger budget action/thriller films down the line. As far as now goes, however, he’s brewed up a nifty little film that you might keep an eye out for – even if you’re not particularly fond of Megan Fox, as I was not. This might just change your mind about her.

REASONS TO SEE: Fox shows some range.
REASONS TO AVOID: Stretches believability to the breaking point.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of profanity, gruesome violence and some grisly images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Dale’s feature film debut; previously he has only directed short films.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/27/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews; Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gerald’s Game
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Meander

Joe Bell


Some roads are harder than others.

(2021) Biographical Drama (Roadside Attractions) Mark Wahlberg, Reid Miller, Connie Britton, Maxwell Jenkins, Gary Sinese, Morgan Lily, Blaine Maye, Igby Rigney, Coral Chambers, Scout Smith, David H. Stevens, Blake Barlow, Charles Halford, Jayne Luke, Juan Antonio, Kenadee Clark, Ash Santos, Cassie Beck, Christina Thurmond, Raquel Horton, Jason Cozmo, Christina Torriente. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green

 

Humans tend to fear the different, and that is particularly true of white straight males, or at least, so it seems sometimes. In a conservative town like La Grange, Oregon, a town that prides itself on “American values,” bullying young gay teens seems to have been accepted as adhering to those values.

Joe Bell (Wahlberg) is embarking on a quest; he is walking from La Grange to New York City to put a spotlight on bullying. His son Jadin (Miller) was viciously bullied after coming out, with people leaving messages on his social media profile urging him to off himself. Nevertheless, Jadin became the only male on the cheerleading squad and seemed to be almost defiantly queer, but all was not well. His dad supported him only superficially, so long as his son didn’t embarrass him. Possessed of a hair-trigger temper, Joe often grew enraged over petty things, and at every opportunity he had to show support for his son, he turned away.

But when Jadin takes his own life, Joe is driven by grief (and perhaps guilt) to make his quest, talking up his message to whoever will listen, or at least that’s what he sets out to do. The brutal truth is that Joe isn’t much of a public speaker and when ordering food in a diner, he overhears some other men making ugly homophobic remarks. Instead of confronting them, he hands them a card and leaves, which Jadin rightfully chides him for. You see, even though Jadin is gone, his spirit is walking alongside Joe every step of the way, alternately cheering him on and questioning his methods and motives.

There are no heroes in this movie except for maybe Jadin, and often Jadin is made out to be a stereotype, a martyr of teen bullying. Joe is self-centered, truly a product of a conservative rural town in which men are in charge, women are there for support and those who don’t fit in are to be humiliated, shunned and driven away. Joe acts the way he does because he doesn’t know any better, and in that sense he is a tragic figure; tragic because he doesn’t see that his lack of support, his refusal to stand beside his son instead of sweeping him under the carpet as much as possible has left Jadin feeling alone and with nowhere to turn, which we see in a powerful scene that announces that Miller is a talent to be reckoned with.

As far as Wahlberg goes, this is not a movie that relies on his natural charisma and easy-going charm. Joe is rough around the edges and often says or does the wrong thing. He alienates his long-suffering wife Lola (Britton) and his other son Joseph (Jenkins) at a time when both are hurting, but Joe only sees his own grief. There’s a scene early on where he is addressing a noisy high school assembly about bullying and it’s almost painful to watch as Joe literally fumbles his way through, saying nothing of any depth and concludes with a lame “Any questions?” when he has given them nothing to analyze. It’s brilliant in the sense that you wouldn’t expect a blue collar dad from rural Oregon to suddenly turn into a brilliant orator. Grief isn’t always enough.

The writing, from the Oscar winning duo of Diana Ossana and the late Larry McMurtry who previously collaborated on the far superior Brokeback Mountain, is solid throughout, although to be honest it’s kind of hard to make something interesting of a movie that’s essentially about a guy walking down the side of the road. At times, the movie seems a bit maudlin, and it does feel like a movie that was meant for woke audiences rather than those who really need to see it  I must say, however, that it was nice to see Gary Sinese on the big screen, although his role shows up late in the film as a sympathetic sheriff.

This is another movie whose heart is in the right place but could have used a bit of sprucing up to make it truly marvelous, but we’ll have to make do with memorable performances by Wahlberg and Miller which isn’t really a bad thing.

REASONS TO SEE: Heartfelt messaging. Wahlberg is solid in unfamiliar territory, and Miller is a breakout star.
REASONS TO AVOID: Preaches to the choir somewhat and maudlin in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity including offensive slurs and disturbing thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Jadin is depicted to have died immediately in his suicide attempt, in reality he was still alive when he was discovered and hung on for 15 more days before being taken off life support and passing away.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/25/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 37% positive reviews; Metacritic: 54/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Laramie Project
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Till Death

Settlers


Is this what a Martian will look like?

(2021) Science Fiction (IFC Midnight) Sofia Boutella, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Brooklynn Prince, Nell Tiger Free, Jonny Lee Miller, Matthew Van Leeve, Natalie Walsh. Directed by Wyatt Rockefeller

 

The pioneers of the American west learned brutal self-sufficiency out of necessity. There was nobody close by to help if they got into trouble; they had to learn to do for themselves. So it was then; so it will be when the time comes to colonize Mars.

Reza (Miller) and Ilsa (Boutella) are eking out a life on a desolate Martian plane. Earth, as Reza explains to their young daughter Remmy (Prince), is not what it used to be. In the meantime, they go on feeding their pigs, raising what vegetables they can in a small hydroponic garden. They entertain themselves with word games and singalongs. It isn’t much of a life, but it’s a life.

Then one morning they awake to the pigs squealing in terror. On one of their windows the word “LEAVE” is written in bold red paint. Remmy’s reports that there were strangers nearby, which her mom and dad had discounted, suddenly seems much more likely. Then comes Jerry (Cordova), a soldier who claims that the land was his and that Reza and Ilsa are squatters living in the home that is rightfully his. The couple are ready to defend their home with knives and guns; it doesn’t end well for them as Jerry kills Reza in a shoot-out.

Reza moves in, allowing Ilsa and Remmy to stay and at first it seems that he is trying to make a better life for them, much to Remmy’s anger. Ilsa seems more inclined to accept the presence of Jerry than her daughter, although at first, she is just as wary. But as Remmy grows into becoming a young woman (Free), Jerry begins to look at her much differently.

This is a different kind of sci-fi movies. There is an elegiac feel here, a feeling that humanity is on its last legs, but there is also a sense of realism; these are the obstacles that colonists on the Red Planet would face; this is what a Martian farm would look like. The production design, Noam Piper, does a bang-up job here.

Rockefeller does a credible job here, but the story is a bit long-winded and the movie a touch too long. One gets the sense that Rockefeller is trying to make a point about colonialism, but I’m not sure if he’s successful on that front. Mostly, this is a movie about relationships, about loneliness, about doing what one has to in order to survive. Jerry seems to genuinely trying his best to be fair and kind, but he’s no saint and towards the end of the movie a darker side is revealed.

The problem here is that the pacing is very turgid, to the point where it seems like nothing of note goes on for ten, fifteen minutes at a time. Living on a Martian colony is, no doubt, hard. Watching a movie about it shouldn’t be. However, Rockefeller gets points for trying to do something a little bit different, and while we watch billionaires like Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos heading off into space to promote their own commercial ventures there, it reminds us that when actual colonization comes, it won’t be the wealthy feeding their own egos that will accomplish the feat; it will be ordinary men and women who will give everything, to struggle and die far away from out ancestral home, who will make our first footholds on other planets actually stick.

REASONS TO SEE: Impressive production values.
REASONS TO AVOID: Well-intentioned, but ultimately dull.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed in South Africa’s Namaqualand desert, subbing for Mars.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/18/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews; Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Martian
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Joe Bell

Luca


Where’s Aquaman?

(2021) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saiverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Peter Sohn, Lorenzo Crisci, Marina Massironi, Gino La Monica, Sandy Martin, Giacomo Gianniotti, Elisa Gabrielli, Mimi Maynard, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jonathan Nichols, Francesca Fanti. Directed by Enrico Casarosa

 
Different scares us. Different makes us suspicious. Human beings don’t handle “different” very well. We never have.

They don’t get much more different than Luca (Tremblay). You see, Luca is actually a sea monster, living in the Mediterranean just off the coast of Italy. But he’s not exactly thrilled about it; he finds life under the sea repetitive and boring (I’m sure most human kids his age would snort “join the club”). He longs for a different kind of existence and when he asks where boats come from, his overprotective Mom (Rudolph) and Dad (Gaffigan) try to deflect his interest in another direction.

But like most boys, Luca has a curiosity that just won’t take no for an answer. When he meets fellow sea monster Alberto (Grazer), a much more free-spirited sort than Luca, he learns that once their kind leaves the water they magically transform into human beings. It’s only when they become wet that their true nature is revealed.

At Alberto’s urging, the two boys decide to investigate the coastal fishing village of Portorosso (Miyazaki fans will appreciate the reference) where they meet Giulia (Berman), a young girl who is also high-spirited, and dreams of winning an annual competition in which a *gasp* Vespa is the top prize, but local bully Ercole (Raimondo) who has a shiny Vespa of his own stands in her way. She dreams of winning the Vespa and the boys know that the iconic Italian scooter is their ticket to exploring this great big new world they’ve discovered. However, they have to be very careful not to reveal their secret to the townspeople who are superstitious and frightened of the “monsters” and would be very happy to put a harpoon into the both of them if they ever found out the truth.

This is another movie that was meant to be released theatrically but the privations of the pandemic exiled it to a streaming service instead, and in some ways that’s a shame because the animation here is absolutely gorgeous and would look OUTSTANDING on a big theater screen.

The problem is that the story really feels like it’s been done before – and to be honest, it has. Honestly, I could hear Ariel bursting into “Part of Their World” at various times during the movie. That’s not the only thing that brings a sense of Déjà vu though; the characters look a bit like the stop-motion characters in Aardman films (except for Massimo who’s a dead ringer for the Dad in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), and the detailed background art? Pure Miyazaki.

I can see the anti-Italian defamation league (assuming there is one) getting hot under the collar here; almost all of the male Italian characters have some sort of bushy moustache (not unlike a cartoon pizzeria owner) including the cat Machiavelli. The villagers or Porto Rossi subsist on a diet of pasta, gelato and perhaps fish. All they were missing was a Mafia turf war.

That’s not to say there isn’t some worthwhile stuff here; the movie has a few genuine moments here and there and if the humor is a bit infantile, I get the sense the movie was also meant for a younger audience than other Pixar classics. Still in all, this was a Pixar effort that didn’t quite hit all the notes that they usually do. It’s not quite as bad as anthropomorphic automobiles, but it’s not one of their prouder moments either

REASONS TO SEE: Wonderful animation, as we have come to expect from Pixar.
REASONS TO AVOID: A pedestrian story and characters who are overly familiar.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some rude humor, mild profanity, some cartoon violence and mature themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Portorosso is based on Cinque Terre, where director Enrico Casarosa spent his summers as a boy.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Disney Plus
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/23/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews; Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Little Mermaid
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Settlers

New Releases for the Week of July 23, 2021


SNAKE EYES

(Paramount) Henry Golding, Samara Weaving, Iko Uwais, Andrew Koji, Peter Mensah, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Eri Ishida. Directed by Robert Schwentke

After saving the life of the heir apparent of an ancient Japanese plan, a confirmed loner is welcomed into their ranks. However, when secrets from his past surface, his loyalty will be tested. This is an origin story for the G.I. Joe character of the same name.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of strong violence and brief strong language)

Joe Bell

(Roadside Attractions) Mark Wahlberg, Reid Miller, Connie Britton, Gary Sinese. A father goes on a quest to walk from his Oregon home to New York City to bring attention to bullying in an effort to honor his son.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Avenue 16, AMC Disney Springs, CMX Daytona Beach, CMX Merritt Square, Epic Theaters of Clermont, Premiere Melbourne Oaks
Rating: R (for teen partying, some disturbing moments and offensive slurs)

Old

(Universal) Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff. A relaxing trip to a secluded beach turns a family vacation into a day of horror when they find out that the beach is somehow aging them rapidly so that their lifespan is reduced to a single day.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing images, brief strong language, partial nudity, strong violence and suggestive content)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

Batman: The Long Halloween Part II (Tuesday)
Broken Diamonds
Hail to the Deadites
(Tuesday)
Jolt
The Last Letter from Your Lover
Mama Weed
Mandibles
Midnight in the Switchgrass
Settlers

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Joe Bell
Jolt
Mandibles
Old
Settlers
Snake Eyes


Fin


Which is the predator and which is the prey?

(2021) Nature Documentary (Discovery Plus) Eli Roth, Boris Worm, Regina Domingo, Neil Hammerschlag, Gary Stokes, Alison Kock, Chue Lam, Ocean Ramsey, Peter Hammerstadt, Guy Medan, Lashanti Jupp, Michael Muller, Alex Hofford. Directed by Eli Roth

Like millions of others, Eli Roth saw Jaws in his formative years and was scared spitless. He developed a pathological fear of sharks that haunted him whenever he went to the beach. His fears would go on to lead him to become a director of horror films that include Hostel and The Green Inferno.

But he never got over his fear of sharks – that is, until he began to realize that far from the killing machines they were portrayed as in the movies, sharks actually attack humans extremely rarely and generally when they do, they break off the attack immediately when they realize that the human isn’t food. In fact, humans are far more dangerous to sharks than vice versa, to the tune of nearly a billion sharks estimated to have been illegally fished in the last decade alone.

It is one of the largest massacres of a single species in history. There are several reasons for it. Sharks often get caught in gill nets that are meant for other species of fish (they are illegal in most countries); shark liver oil is also used extensively in skin care products, including lotions, sunscreen, lip balm, lip gloss and lipstick – despite the availability of plant-based alternatives. However, one of the largest reasons is the popularity of shark fin soup, a delicacy in parts of Asia. Sharks are often butchered just for their fins, which command a high price. Hong Kong, by itself, processes 17,000 tons of shark fins every year. Often the fins are left to dry on street curbs, sitting in discarded cigarette butts, dog poop and swarms of flies. It’s enough to put you off eating for a week.

You would think that removing sharks from the ecological equation would be a boon for the food chain (or those below sharks anyway) but it is actually not. Areas in which sharks have been all but eradicated shortly become barren of all life. That’s because sharks help maintain ecological balance, acting as marine cops – keeping certain species away from where they don’t belong.

Roth, channeling his newfound respect – and even love – for sharks, decided to make a documentary and with the aid of actor/activists Leonardo di Caprio and Nina Dobrev (acting as executive producers), he traveled the world to see the slaughter in action, partnering with organizations like OceansAsia and Sea Shepherd to find solutions for the problem. He boards a notorious illegal fishing vessel with Sea Shepherd, showing without flinching the horrifying reality of the shark slaughter. The images are pretty graphic and should be viewed with discretion.

Roth has the passion of the convert, and that enthusiasm comes through in every word he utters. At times, the director who has portrayed scenes of people being disemboweled and eaten alive exclaims “That is the worst thing I’ve ever seen” when a shark is clubbed to death in front of him. But already his film is paying dividends; one of the largest shark fishing competitions in the United States was canceled this year, likely due to pressure put on from the film, and Congress is considering legislation that would make the sale of shark fins illegal in the United States.

There are woke reviewers who are criticizing the messenger and throwing out the message because of Roth’s history as a horror director. One sniffed, “He widely condemns women who wear cosmetics which can be made with shark liver oil. These words – coming from a director who helped coin “torture porn” and whose fiction work consistently and degradingly compares makeup-caked bombshells to animals – feel disingenuous at best.” For the record, Roth condemns makeup manufacturers, not the women who wear their products. He urges them to buy shark-free products. And incidentally, his movies tend to be just as degrading to men as well.

If there are some actual knocks for the film it could be that much of the information shared here can be seen in other documentaries, notably the two Sharkwater docs from the late conservationist Rob Stewart, but the footage of the industrial fishing vessels is unforgettable, and Roth’s earnest passion make this a worthy successor to Blackfish.

REASONS TO SEE: Roth is an engaging host. Sobering and sad.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be troubling for the sensitive.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Over 100 million sharks are killed in the wild every year (estimated).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Discovery Plus
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/21/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sharkwater Extinction
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Luca

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain


Sometimes, having it all isn’t enough.

(2021) Documentary (Focus) Anthony Bourdain, Ottavia Busia Bourdain, David Chang, Helen M. Cho, Josh Homme, Eric Ripert, John Lurie, David Choe, Morgan Fallon, Doug Quint, Lydia Tenaglia, Christopher Collins, Tom Vitale, Philippe Lajunie, Alison Mosshart. Directed by Morgan Neville

 

It is not unusual that we feel we know those television personalities whose career give us an idea of their temperament and style. We spend hours and hours with them; isn’t that a form of knowing them? Not always. I’ve read many comments by people who viewed this documentary about the late travel/food program host, former chef and bestselling author Anthony Bourdain that “Tony would have liked this,” or “Tony would have approved of that,” despite the fact that they didn’t know him and likely never stood face to face with the guy. This, even after those who DID know him say at least a couple of times during the film that television Tony was a different person than off-camera Tony.

The movie, from Oscar-winning documentary auteur Morgan Neville, chronicles his rise from a dishwasher in New York to a cook to a chef who was convinced by the wife of a friend who worked for a publishing firm that his writing style would sell a lot of books. Thus came Kitchen Confidential, a trailblazing non-fiction look at what goes on in the kitchen of high-end New York brasserie. Bourdain, who had managed to kick a heroin habit, but merely transferred his addiction from one thing to another.

When TV producers Christopher Collins and Lydia Tenaglia heard that Bourdain was planning a follow-up book in which he would travel the globe, experiencing new cuisines and new cultures, they knew it would make a great TV show and so it did, and A Cook’s Tour became a hit. This led to No Reservations on the Travel Channel, and then his final show, Parts Unknown on CNN. We see how quickly Bourdain took to Vietnam, falling in love with the country and its food, joined on that episode by his old Les Halles boss Philippe Lajunie. We see him exploring the France of his boyhood with his brother, and later with his close friend Eric Ripert. We see how affected he was by conditions in pre-earthquake Haiti, and the amazing episode in Beirut that was interrupted by the beginning of a war that devastated the capital.

We also see the darker side of Bourdain; his relentless personality, the tantrums he throws when things aren’t going the way he thinks they should be, his occasional dark moods. We also hear from Bourdain himself that he yearns for a “normal” family life which he briefly had with his second wife Ottavia and his daughter Arielle, but his brutal travel schedule made that all but impossible. As his relationship with Ottavia ended, he took up with actress/director Asia Argento (daughter of horror legend Dario), and his addiction seemed to transfer to Asia. When she came out as a victim of Harvey Weinstein, Bourdain went all-in with #MeToo, ending some long-term friendships over things that had been said or done decades earlier (the film doesn’t mention that Argento herself was accused of sexual assault shortly after Bourdain passed away).

If there is a villain in this piece, it is Argento, at least in the eyes of those close to Bourdain and Neville. She directs some episodes of Parts Unknown and disagreements with her leads to the dismissal of a long-time camera operator for Bourdain, an action very out of character for the notoriously loyal host. But tabloid reports of Argento carrying on with another man, leading Bourdain to explode to one of his producers, “A little discretion, maybe?” in disgust days before Bourdain hung himself in a hotel room in Alsace, his body discovered by Ripert who doesn’t talk publicly about the incident.

Bourdain is barely a presence in the last half hour of the movie. We see a thousand yard stare, Bourdain glowering at the camera. Mostly, that portion of the movie is about his friends and family who break down, the wound still fresh two years (three as the film is released) after his death on June 8, 2018. Having had a close friend who took their own life, I can say that even a decade after she passed I still feel her absence keenly.

For some portions of the film, Neville recreated Bourdain’s voice using a Deepfake A.I. program. In those instances, the A.I. was using e-mails and other sources of Bourdain’s written correspondence, but still some found it to be skirting the line ethically. Bourdain’s widow, Ottavia Busia, firmly denies having given Neville permission to re-create her late husband’s voice after Neville told GQ magazine that he had received permission from her. Some have looked at this as a blurry ethical line; I suppose it’s no worse than staging a scene for a documentary, but at least those dramatic re-creations tend to be announced in the credits, which is something Neville should have done here.

The movie doesn’t dwell on the suicide so much as on the way Bourdain changed the lives of those who knew him, and on how all of those who watched his shows viewed travel. If there’s one thing Bourdain taught me, it was the importance of experiencing things as immersively as possible. When you go to a place, don’t limit yourself to all the tourist locations, the chain restaurants. Truly see a place, how the locals live, and eat what they eat. Travel, as Bourdain has said many times, changes us.

I don’t claim to have known Bourdain at all, other than what I saw of him on TV – and I did watch his shows, as a travel junkie and a foodie. I loved his acerbic wit, his self-deprecating snarkiness and his brilliantly descriptive narration. He was unlike anyone else on TV in that he didn’t seem to give a crap about what he was supposed to be like. He just did things the way he thought they ought to be done. Sadly, he had demons that haunted him throughout his life – I wouldn’t be surprised if he was undiagnosed bipolar, frankly – and never seemed to find the happiness that he yearned for. Maybe that’s the real tragedy of Anthony Bourdain.

REASONS TO SEE: Lots of amazing footage. Clearly an emotional subject for his friends two years after his death.
REASONS TO AVOID: Towards the end of the film, Bourdain is less of a presence.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity and some drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The title of the film comes from a Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers song.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/20/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews; Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Fin

The Green Sea


Simone is serving up a knuckle sandwich.

(2021) Mystery (Reel 2 Reel) Katharine Isabelle, Hazel Doupe, Dermot Ward, Amy-Joyce Hastings, Jenny Dixon, Elena Tully, Zeb Moore, Ciaron Davies, Michael Parle, Eric Branden, Audrey Hamilton, Darren Killeen, Ava Kealy, Conor Marren, Darren Travers, Ed King, Peter Broderick, Graham Ward, Jonathan Caffrey, John Carey, Peter Lynch. Directed by Randal Plunkett

 

There is a tendency among young filmmakers who have a whole lot of ideas rattling around in their heads to try and get them all down on celluloid. The problem with that is it often makes a film feel less focused; generally, keeping things simple and honing in on the story above all things is the best way to go – but not always. Making films is funny that way – there are no hard and fast rules.

If we want to talk about rules, Simone (Isabelle) doesn’t really follow any. An American author living in a somewhat dilapidated mansion in a small Irish village, she was once a heavy metal musician who went by the name Sim Chaos, although her band never really progressed beyond cult status. So, she decided to write a book and it turned out to be a bestseller. Now she is trying to churn out a follow-up, but it has been six long years since her last one and her agent has lost patience with her.

But Simone has a lot going on, none of it good. She lives alone, after her marriage failed and her daughter…well, stick around and see. But she’s by herself, drinking herself into oblivion night after night, struggling to bang out a few pages on her typewriter, then tossing them into the fireplace in disgust. She keeps to herself and when she ventures into the village to get supplies, she is surly and rude, responding to a pleasantry to have a nice day with a pointed “F*ck off.” The only thing she seems to care about – besides her vodka – is her Jeep, which like her home has seen better days.

While returning home one evening after a particularly frustrating day in which she had a mechanical breakdown and was told it would be less expensive to buy a new car than to repair the old one, she runs into a young girl (Doupe) who is incongruously in the middle of the road in the middle of nowhere. Knowing that she has already had too much to drink and could be thrown in jail if she reports the incident, she instead takes the young girl home and feeds her, giving her a place to stay during the night. The girl, whose name Simone doesn’t want to bother to learn and whom she refers to only as “Kid,” starts cleaning up the place. Still, Simone wants her gone and gets hysterical at the thought of the Kid touching her belongings. However, she recognizes that the Kid could be useful, so she allows her to stay in exchange for cleaning up the place.

Things start to look up for Simone; she even dates a hero-worshipping auto mechanic (D. Ward) from town. But there is someone looking for the Kid, a smiling man (Parle) in a bowler hat and dark glasses whose apparent good humor makes him seem all the more sinister, and the Kid seems to bear a striking resemblance to a character Simone is writing about. Who is the Kid, and what does she want with Simone?

The movie starts out with an almost Gothic, brooding air (in an almost Brontë-like sense) but slowly adds elements of horror, thrillers and the supernatural into the mix. Some of these elements work better than others, and one must give first-time feature filmmaker Plunkett (who also wrote the screenplay) full marks for ingenuity, but at times the movie feels a bit lost in terms of its own identity.

But one thing that works really well is the chemistry between the two leads. One of the things I really liked about it is that the two women are constantly changing their dynamic; one moment, it’s almost sisterly; the next, it feels more like mother-daughter (and the roles of mother and daughter often reverse between Simone and the Kid) and at other moments, they’re like besties. Mix in some beautiful cinematography from Philipp Morozov and you have a good strong foundation here.

But still, Simone has her armor up so thoroughly that even the audience can’t really see through it and it takes Plunkett an hour to address the whys of Simone’s behavior, although astute viewers might be able to figure it out before then. The upshot is that it makes Simone a difficult character to relate to and get behind, although once you understand what drives her it becomes much easier. I’m all for filmmakers who make their audience earn understanding, but some viewers might give up on the movie before they really should, and that would be a shame. The payoff isn’t what you expect it to be, and that might be off-putting too, but I tend to prefer movies that err on the side of imagination rather than movies that stick to established formulas. This isn’t always an easy film to love, but it gets under your skin unexpectedly nonetheless.

REASONS TO SEE: Really strong chemistry between Isabelle and Doupe.
REASONS TO AVOID: The ending is a little bit out there.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, sexual references and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Isabelle may be familiar to American audiences from her work in the film Ginger Snaps.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/19/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Secret Window
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain