Xenophobia


Why is it that aliens always get the pretty girls?

(2019) Science Fiction (VisionKristen Renton, Manu Intraymi, Rachel Sterling, Brinke Stevens, Angie Stevenson, Kelly Lynn Reiter, Alexander Kane, Alan Maxson, Nick Principe, Dilynn Fawn Harvey, Mark Hoadley, Karlee Perez, Keavy Bradley, Jed Rowen, Baker Chase Powell, Shaun Blayer, Scott King, John Karyus, Jack McCord, Douglas Epps, Sheila Brandon Allen. Directed by Thomas J. Churchill, Steven J. Escobar and Joe Castro

 

Sometimes, a filmmaker’s reach exceeds their grasp. That’s just the way things go sometimes; someone comes up with a good idea but doesn’t have the expertise or the budget (or both) to pull it off. As a critic, those are the most disappointing movies of all. You might think that we critics get off on ripping a bad movie a new one but speaking for myself, that’s simply not the case. Truthfully, I want every movie to be a home run. Sometimes they strike out swinging, though.

A support group for alien abduction victims meet to tell their tales of woe. The members are at turns terrified and hostile, paranoid and sympathetic. They’ve all been through hell and are trying to help one another make it through to the other side, but what could be waiting there might well be worse than what they’ve already been through.

This is told anthology-style with each abduction tale getting a different director, so there are tonal shifts from segment to segment. The segments include a photographer who gets abducted and probed while taking pictures in the desert, a group of young women who have a captive audience, a camping trip that turns deadly when an alien artifact is discovered, and a house in which a dog-sized alien stalks a babysitter.

Despite the presence of one of my all-time favorite Scream Queens in Brinke Stevens (who plays the mother of an abduction victim here), the acting is almost uniformly bad. The digital effects look like something you might see on an early PlayStation games, but much of the effects are practical and even though the aliens look a little bit on the rubbery side, the aliens are still nifty enough (some of them Gigeresque) to be enjoyable.

The trio of directors also wrote the film and they could use some work on their dialogue; much of it is written like nobody bothered to actually speak any of it out loud before giving it to the actors to read. It sounds thoroughly unconvincing and not at all the way people actually speak to each other.

I wanted to like Xenophobia a lot more than I did and I will have to confess that my score is probably a bit generous but I hate to thoroughly eviscerate a movie like this one. Clearly there  was some pride and passion put into the finished film but this was certainly a case where ambition overrode realism.

REASONS TO SEE: The aliens are fairly nifty in a B-Movie kind of way.
REASONS TO AVOID: The acting is subpar. The story is disjointed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity as well as violence and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Veteran Scream Queen Brinke Stevens originally got a Masters in Marine Biology and briefly worked as an environmental consultant for a nuclear power plant before venturing into modeling and acting.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/18/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Communion
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Perception

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New Releases for the Week of July 5, 2019


SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

(Columbia/Marvel) Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jake Gyllenhaal, JB Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau. Directed by Jon Watts

The first post-Snap Marvel Cinematic Universe movie sees Spider-Man going on a school trip to Europe where he is recruited by SHIELD to face an interdimensional threat.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi violence, some language and brief suggestive moments)

Midsommar

(A24) Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgran. A grieving young American couple head to Sweden with a group of friends to take place in a once-in-a-lifetime summer festival in a remote Swedish village near the Arctic circle. But when the festivities get underway in a land of non-stop sunlight, something malignant and evil is plainly afoot.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for disturbing ritualistic violence and grisly images, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

The 16th Episode
Framing John DeLorean
Oh Baby

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Framing John DeLorean
In the Aisles
My Days of Mercy
Oh Baby
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
Wild Rose

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Breaker
Oh Baby

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Oh Baby

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Midsommar
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Wild Rose

Parallel Love: The Story of a Band Called Luxury


A true band of holy joy.

(2018) Music Documentary (AbramoramaLee Bozeman, Chris Foley, Jamey Bozeman, Glenn Black, Matt Hinton, Amy Bozeman, Wayne Everett, Matt Goldman, David Vanderpoel, Jeff Wickes, Brandon Ebel, J. Edward Keyes, Carrie Foley, Sheila Aldridge, Taylor Muse, Doug Andrews, Nick Purdy, Alex Johns, Andy Prickett, Josh Jackson, Reid Davis, Kate Bozeman, Jessica Inman. Directed by Matt Hinton

The world is full of great bands. Some manage to find that connection, the one where millions of people find themselves able to relate to the songs and voilà, a star is born. Most of the time, these bands toil in obscurity until they collapse out of frustration or lack of inertia.

Luxury was an improbable band from the get-go. They came together in the Northeast Georgia town of Toccoa – more specifically at Toccoa Falls College, a Christian institution of higher learning. The initial band members – vocalist Lee Bozeman, drummer Glenn Black, guitarist Jamey Bozeman and bass player Chris Foley – wanted to play loud rock, music along the lines of DC punk icons Fugazi and A Minor Threat. Lee Bozeman was more of a Smiths fan and became almost instantly a compelling frontman, with sweet high-pitched vocals, intelligent lyrics, and almost effeminate movements onstage. The band was often described as “sensitive” and fans of other bands in the Athens scene (where this band basically cut their teeth) ruefully remember that the really gorgeous women tended to attend Luxury shows.

The band began to attract a whole lot of notice for their live shows which were described as wild and passionate. They were signed to indie distributor Tooth & Nail records, whose clients have included MxPx, Starflyer 59, The Juliana Theory and Underoath. The distributor mostly moved their albums through Christian bookstores and although the music wasn’t overtly Christian (although all four members identified as Christian), the marketing went on as if it was. The lyrics often had content that could be construed as referring to gay sex which certainly didn’t endear them to the Christian community. Nonetheless, the band had a huge buzz about it and many thought they would be the next big thing.

That literally came to a crashing halt when on the way home from a gig at the Cornerstone Christian Music Festival their van crashed, leaving three of the four members hospitalized. Members of the band Piltdown Man were also travelling with them and while there were thankfully no fatalities, given that three people involved in the crash ended up with broken necks it was a minor miracle none of them wound up paralyzed.

The band’s next albums showed a deeper, more reflective bent than their earlier music; there was also a tendency to more musical complexity. Dissatisfaction with the way Tooth & Nail was handling their promotions led to the band not renewing their contract with them; they made another album on the Bulletproof label before breaking up in 2005. They have since reunited for an album slated to come out in June of 2019.

Interestingly, three members of the band (Foley and the Bozeman brothers) went on to become ordained priests in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In a lot of ways, the band has come full circle. The excerpts of songs from their forthcoming album sounds like the band hasn’t lost any of their edge or their stark beauty.

Hinton tackles the film from an insider’s perspective; he became the band’s second guitarist in 1999. Much of the footage is home movies here both of shows and of studio time. There are some overt music videos from the era as well. Hinton animates the lyrics which aren’t super helpful – Lee has a clear voice that is easily understood – but still is gratefully received.

The two main questions about the band – why didn’t they succeed and why did 3/5 of the band become priests – are teased at but not really answered. If anything, Hinton is a bit coy about it, essentially saying that the latter situation was essentially inevitable but being in a band that likes to, as Jamey Bozeman put it “take the piss” from the Christian right, well, there just seems to be a story to be told there.

The music is amazing and it certainly led me to run right out and buy some – okay, buy some online which entailed no running whatsoever – an I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of you reading this are motivated to do the same. This is a band that in some ways did everything they could to keep from being big but in some ways that isn’t a bad thing. It gave them the opportunity to pursue their calling and at the same time pursue their muse. Not many get to do both.

REASONS TO SEE: The story of another great band you’ve never heard of. Their story is a most unusual one.
REASONS TO AVOID: Most viewers won’t know what to make of this band.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The band was originally known as The Shroud and didn’t change their name until just before their debut album on Tooth & Nail came out.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/17/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Trial by Fire

The Nightingale


When seeking revenge, first dig two graves.

(2018) Drama (IFC) Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie, Charlie Shotwell, Michael Sheasby, Nathaniel Dean, Matthew Sunderland, Luke Carroll, Sam Smith, Ben McIvor, Magnolia Maymuru, Dallas Mugarra, Zachary Gorman, Terrence Perdjert, Keith Melpi Jabinee, Claire Jones. Directed by Jennifer Kent

 

Back in 1825, Tasmania was known as Van Dieman’s Land. This is where Irish convicts were sent to live out sentences for crimes serious and petty. Clare (Franciosi) was convicted of the latter, stealing to survive on the mean streets of Dublin. Sentenced to seven years for theft, she serves out her sentence in prison where she meets and marries fellow Irishman Aidan (Sheasby). The two have a baby together.

Clare is taken from prison early by Lt. Hawkins (Claflin) for which she is initially grateful but it turns out to be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire. Hawkins turns out to be an absolute monster who forces Clare to sing for his drunken men who are little better than the criminals in their charge, then rewards her performance by raping her. She asks again and again for the papers that prove she’s served her sentence and allow her free movement in the country with which she and her husband would live on their own, away from the British settlement. When she gets insistent, the bad-humored Hawkins, stinging from the rebuke of a superior officer who tells him flat-out that the promotion he’s angling for will never be his, commits a foul and heinous act against Clare and her family before leaving to Launceston to get there ahead of his superior and perhaps cajole his way to that promotion himself.

Clare, bereft and enraged at the injustice given her, goes on the hunt for Hawkins and his cohorts Ruse (Herriman) and Jago (Greenwood). A friend begs her to take a native tracker with her and while she resists at first, she reluctantly allows Billy (Ganambarr) to accompany her. Together the two make their way through the heavily wooded terrain distrustful of each other, both with their reasons to hate the man they chase. Eventually the two develop a grudging respect, and then an uneasy trust followed by a dependence on one another. Can all this lead to the vengeance they both seek?

Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to the sensational 2014 horror film The Babadook is a very different film. This is a much bloodier and grim film, one that will likely stay with you for longer than you might imagine. Franciosi plays the often unlikable Clare whose own prejudices are as virulent as those directed against her. She is fixated on her mission to exact revenge on Hawkins and his men and will not rest nor give quarter until that mission is accomplished. Ganambarr is the soul of the film, the only character with any sort of lightheartedness. He was coached by an aboriginal cultural expert on the language, music, ritual dances and cultural mores of the time. While he too desires vengeance for reasons very similar to Clare, he is horrified at the lengths that she will go although in some ways one can’t blame her.

The movie suffers from overindulgence on the part of its director; many of the scenes drag on far too long and some of the points are drummed in with a sledgehammer rather than a ballpeen. Nonetheless this is compelling where it needs to be and it certainly should be one to keep an eye out for when it debuts on a limited theatrical run later this year.

REASONS TO SEE: Ganambarr and Franciosi deliver compelling performances.
REASONS TO AVOID: The film could have used much more judicious editing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of violence, rape and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival last year.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/6/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews: Metacritic: 78/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Outlaw Josie Wales
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
 Shadow

Trouble in Cinema365 Central


We have some bad news to report. My brand new laptop, from which I do all my writing, research and archiving, was accidentally dropped and the screen was broken. A replacement screen has been ordered and the laptop should be back to working order sometime next week. In the meantime there will be delays in posting and there may be some days where I will be unable to post anything at all. Please bear with me while we overcome this technical challenge and the site will be back up and running again before you know it. Until then I will try to reconstruct my remaining Miami Film Festival reviews as well as other backlogged reviews as best I can and will attempt to post when possible. Thanks in advance for your patience and support!

Dead Pigs


Old Wang comes charging to the rescue!

(2018) Dramedy (China Lion) Vivian Wu, Haoyu Yang, Mason Lee, Zazie Beetz, David Rysdahl, Meng Li, McColl Cowan. Directed by Cathy Yan

 

In the “that’s something you don’t see every day” department, thousands of dead pigs were discovered floating in the waterways near Shanghai back in 2013. That was enough to give Chinese-American director Cathy Yan plenty of inspiration.

Old Wang (Yang) is a pig farmer who lives well beyond his means. While he happily supplies the insatiable need for pork in the city, he discovers all the money which he has invested in the stock market has been absconded with by his broker. Suddenly broke and in debt to loan sharks, he first visits his sister Candy Wang (Wu), the successful owner of a beauty salon for the dough. She’s having issues of her own however; a big development company is putting together a new multi-use complex and her property is the last one not to sell. All the others have been bulldozed so there is no neighborhood left but Candy stubbornly clings to the old, creaking and falling-apart house. Her brother begs her to sell so they can split the proceeds but Candy refuses.

Next Old Wang heads to his son Zhen (Lee) who he believes is a successful businessman. However, Zhen has been hiding the truth from his father; he’s merely a waiter at a suckling pig restaurant. He has also developed a crush on poor little rich girl Xia Xia (Li) who is diffidently going through life from one party to the next, sure her friends love her and shocked when she finds out that they don’t really care. Sean Landry (Rysdahl) is the ex-pat American architect for Golden Happiness which is heading the development threatening Candy’s home – ironically it is to be a recreation of a Spanish village. Sean has some skeletons in his closet of his own – he might have overstated his qualifications on his resume just a tad. He’s hoping this project will leapfrog him to the wealth, power and happiness he’s been chasing. Chasing Sean is Angie (Beetz) who runs a kind of dating service for affluent foreigners in Shanghai.

All will come to a head as the five entwined stories come together. The story ends on kind of a Hollywood-type ending that most film buffs will sniff out a mile away but that doesn’t take away from the pleasantly quirky debut that Yan has concocted with her feature debut. Veteran actress Wu steals the show, being the conscience of the film and despite her sometimes acerbic and grumpy persona, she has genuine reasons for taking the hopeless stand she does. Young Mason Lee, son of director Ang, shows some promise as the young besotted waiter and fills the screen with a kind of quiet decency that bodes well for a leading man future. Beetz who has begun a pretty solid climb to stardom herself is solid in little more than a cameo.

The film is nicely photographed by Federico Cesca and utilizes its Shanghai location nicely from the futuristic but largely sterile cityscapes to the much of the rural pig farms to the stark landscape of the bulldozed development-to-be. Antiseptic office spaces, kinetic nightclubs and fashionable restaurants also look dazzling under the watchful eye of Cesca.

This is what I would consider a twisted comedy with black accents but with enough heart to allow the flaws to be overlooked. It is certainly apropos and a parable of modern Chinese life – socioeconomic gaps, the loss of tradition in the rush to modernize, and the importance of family. This is definitely a solid debut and Yan a talent to keep an eye on.

REASONS TO SEE: It’s a very quirky film in all the right places. The cinematography is very nice.
REASONS TO AVOID: The ending is a little bit on the Hollywood side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Zhangke Jia, who directed Ash is Purest White which is also playing the Miami Film Festival, executive produced this film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/6/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kung Fu Hustle
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Nightingale

Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel


They keep their heads covered to show their devotion to God.

(2018) Sports Documentary (Menemsha) Ike Davis, Sam Fuld, Ryan Lavarnway, Josh Zeid, Scott Buchan, Ty Kelly, Cody Baker, Jason Marquis, Jerry Weinstein, Cody Decker, Peter Kurz, Jon Moscot, Jeremy Bleich, Danny Valencia, Jonathan Mayo, Margo Sugarman. Directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger

 

As underdogs go, there are few more under than the Israeli national baseball team. Even back in the 80s, the spoof Airplane! Joked about handing out a tiny pamphlet sized book called Great Jewish Athletes to passengers looking for a little light reading. Baseball has had a few great Jewish players including Hank Greenberg and most notably, legendary Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax. Sadly, while Koufax is fawned over in the film, Greenberg who was one of the great sluggers of the game back in the day gets nary a mention.

Most of the players for the Israeli team that was fielded for the 2017 World Baseball Classic – a kind of World Cup for baseball – were American Jews who have at least one Jewish parent or grandparent which qualifies them under the Heritage Rule which allows players of a different national descent to play for that team rather than the country they are actually citizens of.

For the most part Team Israel was made up of players who were career minor leaguers or had just a cup of coffee in the majors. One big exception was Ike Davis, a slugger for the New York Mets and later the Pirates, A’s and Yankees. Injuries had shortened his career, but he was hoping to make a comeback when he agreed to play with Team Israel.

The team was ranked 41st in the world and were derided by the press as “has-beens and never-will-bes” but that only served as motivation for the team who beat the heavily favored Great Britain team in Brooklyn to qualify for the 16-team tournament. Placed in Pool A, they would be playing in Seoul, South Korea.

Many of the players weren’t really practicing Jews and almost none of them had been to Israel. Billionaire Sheldon Adelson arranged to fly the team there in his own private jet, beginning a spiritual and personal journey for the team who began to appreciate their Jewishness more. A terrorist attack that occurred while they were touring the country further cemented their connection to their heritage.

Once the tournament starts, the team captures the imagination of the world, becoming the Cinderella story of the tournament. The film doesn’t really cover the individual games in more than a cursory fashion but then again, the movie isn’t about the games themselves.

One of the quirks the team was known for was their mascot, Mensch on the Bench. Sharp Shark Tank viewers may recognize it from an episode of that show, a light-hearted parody of Elf on a Shelf. Well, Team Israel had a life-sized version who accompanied the team to most media events and games. That was indicative of the light-hearted spirit that the team possessed as a whole.

The bonding of the team isn’t particularly unusual; most teams bond in some fashion and Team Israel was no exception. The 2017 team hoped to win the WBC but not for the reasons you might think. They wanted the future of Team Israel to be populated less by American players but with Israeli-born players. A disgruntled Cuban at a press conference excoriated the self-described “Jew Crew” because of this, but that doesn’t hold a whole lot of water – the Cuban team could certainly have recruited players of Cuban descent from other countries had they chosen to.

At the end of the day underdog movies are pretty much a lifeblood for sports documentaries and this one, while occasionally inspiring, really doesn’t add much to the picture except for one item – the awakening of the players to their Jewish heritage. Those scenes in which the players react to Jewish traditions and ceremonies are among the most compelling in the film. Clearly the players grow a connection to Israel and those are the moments that make the movie satisfying. Unfortunately, the standard sports clichés that litter the baseball sequences keep the movie achieving all-star status.

REASONS TO GO: This is a heartwarming and occasionally inspiring documentary.
REASONS TO STAY: The film loses some steam towards the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The three directors are childhood friends and met Mayo through a Jewish summer camp.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/9/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Cecil