Catch .44


Now, that's what I call a catch!

Now, that’s what I call a catch!

(2011) Action/Suspense (Anchor Bay) Malin Akerman, Nikki Reed, Deborah Ann Woll, Forest Whitaker, Bruce Willis, Shea Whigham, Jimmy Lee Jr., Brad Dourif, Jill Stokesberry, P.J. Marshall, Dan Silver, Michael Rosenbaum, Edrick Browne, Christopher Alan Weaver, Amanda Bosley, Ivory Dortch, Kevin Beard, Shelby Schneider, Nikita Kahn. Directed by Aaron Harvey

Some movies look like a good idea on paper. However, once the finished product gets out there, it doesn’t quite measure up. I suspect Catch .44 was something like that.

How else do you explain the outstanding cast for what turned out to be a direct-to-video turkey? The premise, which might have caught Quentin Tarantino’s eye once upon a time before he decided to reinvent the Western involves three gorgeous girls straight out of a Russ Meyers grindhouse movie, three badass chicks in a diner who have a mission for the man they’re employed by – Mel (Willis), an utter irredeemable lowlife drug dealer.

Things go South in a hurry, bullets fly and bodies drop. Whitaker shows up as a hit man to turn the Mexican standoff into a three-way. Who will walk out of the diner alive? Will anybody care which one does? The answer to the latter is likely “no.”

The oddball thing is that the main action of the movie occurs in the first five or ten minutes, then the rest of the movie is essentially a flashback to tell you how all the characters got there which, half an hour in, you’ll slowly begin to realize that rather than using the flashback as a means of giving the characters depth, there’s just a lot of pointless meandering going on and by that time you’ll likely want to switch the DVD player off. Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs utilized much the same kind of format but was much more successful at utilizing it than Catch .44 did.

Harvey has a pretty decent visual sense – the movie looks good and he clearly was able to line up a top of the line cast. What he didn’t do was motivate them to perform up to their level of stardom. Whitaker is an Oscar winner and Willis one of the most charismatic stars of the last 20 years, but both of them seem to be sleepwalking. Whitaker affects a nearly indecipherable Spanish/Cajun accent and Willis essentially plays the standard Bruce Willis character, although there’s a surreal moment when someone plays “Respect” from his 80s attempt at rock and roll stardom, The Return of Bruno.

I did like Akerman in the lead role, and to a lesser extent Reed and Woll; Reed’s turn is a bit more sexual than the other two but frankly the script gives us little hint as to who these women are. That doesn’t give us a whole lot of incentive to identify with any of them.

I like the idea of three badass girls in a diner dealing with a deal gone wrong. We need movies like that, but we need good movies like that. Tarantino could have made a masterpiece out of this, as could a number of like-minded directors; Robert Rodriguez, for example. Sadly, this is just a forgettable bit of action fluff that starts out promising, goes nowhere and ends up in the dollar bin at Wal*Mart quicker than you can say “Is that all there is?”

WHY RENT THIS: Three beautiful girls. Nice premise. Great-looking, cinematically speaking..
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit clumsy in its execution. Most of the cast looks like they’re just there for the paycheck. Confusing storytelling.
FAMILY VALUES: A goodly amount of violence and foul language as well as a bit of sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Kate Mara and Lizzy Caplan were both originally cast but both dropped out of the movie, to be replaced by Reed and Woll, respectively.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Unknown box office on a $12M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Flixster
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Killing Jar
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: In Bruges

13


This is one gun club you don't want to be a member of.

This is one gun club you don’t want to be a member of.

(2009) Action (Anchor Bay) Jason Statham, Sam Riley, Alice Barrett Mitchell, Gaby Hoffman, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Beach, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Michael Shannon, Michael Berry Jr., Ray Winstone, Alexander Skarsgard, Starla Benford, Mike D’Onofrio, Daisy Tahan, Carlos Reig-Plaza, Forrest Griffin, Ed Bergtold, John Hoffman, David Zayas, Ben Gazzara, 50 Cent, Ashlie Atkinson. Directed by Gela Babluani

Some movies shouldn’t be remade by Hollywood. Not because the original is perfect as it was, but because there is a misunderstanding by Hollywood sorts of why the movie worked in the first place. That gets clouded when the director of the original also directs the remake.

13 Tzameti is not the perfect movie but it is a very good one. A French production set in France and in Georgia (the Russian one), it tells its story in black and white, lending a gritty quality that is largely absent here. While the story is nearly identical here, it is more fleshed out not only in backstory but also in palette – this movie is in color, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Vince Ferro (Riley) is a down on his luck laborer with a good heart. He is desperately in need of money – a lot of it – but the prospects of that are slim given his skill sets in life. While doing a job, one of the residents of the home he’s working in dies of a drug overdose. He overhears talk that the dead man was going to start a job that paid extraordinarily well. There are instructions for the job in an envelope which Vince, figuring the deceased wouldn’t need anymore, takes for himself.

 

He ends up taking a train to Chicago and is driven from there to a secluded dilapidated house where he is ordered to strip. His boot heels are cut off as the organizers look for electronic devices. To Vince’s horror, he is issued a gun and a single bullet, and a shirt with the number 13 on it. Other men, with other numbers on their shirts are also issued the same. They are made to stand in a circle and to load the gun with the bullet. The participants then spin the chambers until they are told to stop. They all aim the gun at the head of the man ahead of them. When a light bulb goes on, the master of ceremonies (Shannon) tells them, they are to pull the trigger. Those that don’t will be shot. Ferro is reluctant but knowing he will be killed for certain if he doesn’t, he participates.

Survivors of the first round will be issued two bullets in the second and those that survive the second round will be issued three bullets in the third round. At that point there are only five participants left, including Ferro. Two of the five are selected for a final duel – Ferro and Ronald Lynn Bagges (Winstone).

All this is done for the entertainment of a group of wealthy men, who bet heavily on the outcome of each round. Each of the participants has a wealthy sponsor, in Ferro’s case an elderly man (Gazzara) and in Bagges’ case his own brother Jasper (Statham). Should Ferro survive he will get a healthy payday, one that will allow him to live in luxury the rest of his life. But the odds are long, a dogged police detective (Zayas) is getting closer to busting the game and even if Ferro wins he will have to be on his toes to escape both the vengeful Jasper and the cops.

 

The newer movie is much more detailed than the first which took place more in the immediate moment which added to the overall tension. Here we get more of the backstory to the various characters, both the participants in the game and the rich men betting on it. It also must be said that in some ways this is a better looking movie, although in the end result I don’t think that the gloss did the film any favors. The original succeeded largely because of its grim noir-ish look and because we are so locked into the horror of the situation we don’t have time to think of anything else.

Certainly the acting is better here and there’s something to be said for that. However, with all the added backstory the movie tends to take detours that we really don’t want to be on. While the suspense is still relatively high, it still doesn’t compete with the first movie in that department.

So it’s safe to say that this is one of those movies that is a lot better if you see it before seeing the movie it’s based on. If you see 13 Tzameti first this will suffer a great deal by comparison. In that sense, maybe having the same director worked against this film; he was given a bigger budget and name actors like Statham, Rourke and Winstone. Of course he’d want to make a bigger movie. However in this case, bigger isn’t better.

WHY RENT THIS: Gut-wrenching suspense. Makes a nice companion piece to the original.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t always hold up to the original. Meanders a bit. Needs more grit and less gloss.

FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly disturbing violence, a bit of foul language and some brief drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ray Liotta was originally cast in the part of Detective Mullane but had to bow out due to a scheduling conflict; David Zayas ended up in the role.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Surviving the Game

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Beowulf

The Wicker Tree


Brittania Nicol is one hot chick.

Brittania Nicol is one hot chick.

(2011) Horror (Anchor Bay) Graham McTavish, Jacqueline Leonard, Henry Garrett, Brittania Nicol, Honeysuckle Weeks, Christopher Lee, Clive Russell, Prue Clarke, Lesley Mackie, David Plimmer, Astrid Azurdia, James Mapes, Allidh Mackay, John Paul McGilvray, Bill Murdoch, Keith Warsick, Iain Stuart Robertson, Kristin Murray, Keira McMillan. Directed by Robin Hardy

Some may well remember a movie by the name of The Wicker Man that came out back in 1973. It has become something of a cult classic, well regarded both by film buffs and horror fans alike (a rare occasion indeed) and certainly one of the finest examples of atmospheric horror ever. Then along came 2006 and the Nicolas Cage version of The Wicker Man does its level best to wipe out any good will the original film engendered. So the director of the original decides to make a sequel of sorts based on his own novel Cowboys for Christ. Does it regain that good will?

Born-again Christian pop star Beth Boothby (Nicol) and her boyfriend Steve (Garrett) have been on a mission to Scotland to bring those heathen Scots back to the fold of God. She is performing well-attended concerts, he’s been rockin’ his cowboy hat and sideburns. Ayup.

They arrive in the small town of Tressock, invited by Sir Lachlan Morrison (McTavish) and his wife Lady Della (Leonard). The town has a festival coming up shortly and Beth expects to be performing, although she would never guess how she’s intended to perform.

This is a failure on so many levels. although it at least has more restrained acting performances. Like the 2006 Wicker Man there is a plot that meanders from place to place, stopping to view different scenes which end up being apropos to nothing. They even trot out poor old Christopher Lee for a cameo with some of the most horrible green screen you will ever see on a professional production. I mean c’mon, the guy’s old not daft.

Weeks plays Lolly, a very sexy lady who sleeps with all sorts of people including the frustrated Steve who is tired of waiting for the virtuous Beth to commit to a physical and emotional relationship as well as the spiritual one. Beth, whose history had some sordid sexy music videos (by her standards) though is in no hurry to change things up, particularly while she’s on this mission. Weeks, much more than the somewhat stiff Nicol, is something of a force of nature here and makes the deepest impression of any actor in the movie.

One of the things that made the original Wicker Man so outstanding was the atmosphere that it created that looked bucolic on the surface but from the get go you just felt something wasn’t quite right. You can tell that Hardy went for that feeling again but perhaps it was lightning in a bottle the first time because instead of that just off feeling, you get a sense of a village inhabited by nuts and oddballs being visited by a couple of wing nuts. What makes this especially heinous is that they had the perfect opportunity to make some sort of insight into the religious obsession of Americans but instead boiled it down to caricatures and recycled stereotypes. Absolutely there is plenty of target space on the religious right but I would have expected at least a little bit of a different perspective, particularly from someone whose most famous work examines the difference between Christianity and paganism. Although it might well be said that his view of paganism was a lot more violent and spooky than it actually is. Then again, that would have made for a more boring film.

Self-arguments aside, this is a disappointing work that never comes close to achieving what the original Wicker Man did. What Hardy intended remains unclear, whether to remake his most famous work or update it or merely reference it here but at the end of the day this comes off as a wicker mess.

WHY RENT THIS: Weeks is appropriately sexy.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A hot mess. Incoherent script. Lacks atmosphere.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of sexuality and nudity, as well as some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lee was originally supposed to play the pivotal role of Sir Lachlan Morrison but was injured while filming The Resident. McTavish, who was originally supposed to play Beame, was then switched to the role of Sir Lachlan and Joan Collins, who was originally playing Lady Morrison was replaced by Leonard whose age was closer to the much younger McTavish than Collins.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blood on Satan’s Claw

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Baby Mama

All is Bright (Almost Christmas)


Paul Giamatti has taken the Beatles "I Am the Walrus" too much to heart.

Paul Giamatti has taken the Beatles “I Am the Walrus” too much to heart.

(2013) Comedy (Anchor Bay) Paul Giamatti, Phil Rudd, Sally Hawkins, Peter Hermann, Hailey Feiffer, Michael Drayer, Amy Landecker, Curtiss Cook, Colman Domingo, Tatyana Richaud, Adam Phillips, Nikki M. James, Gordon Joseph Weiss, Darren Goldstein, Rob Munk, Morgan Spector, Marcia Haufrecht, Gracie Lopez, Liza Colon-Zayas. Directed by Phil Morrison

hollynquill-2013

It is part of the human condition that we all need love. Not just to love something but to be loved back in return. I guess it has something with the urge to perpetuate the species but it has become much more complicated than that over time.

Dennis (Giamatti) is a criminal in rural Quebec who has spent four years in prison for a robbery. His partner, Rene (Rudd) didn’t show up when he was supposed to, leaving Dennis to hold the bag and do the time. While Dennis was in the slam, Rene was stealing away Dennis’ wife Therese (Landecker) who has told their daughter Michi (Richaud) that her dad died of cancer. Nice.

Dennis goes to see Rene and you would think it would be to open up a can of whoop ass but Dennis has other needs. He desires to go straight but he is out of cash, can’t get a job and is one step shy of being homeless. Rene has a job – he is delivering and selling Christmas Trees in New York. Dennis persuades Rene that he owes Dennis a job and Rene reluctantly agrees. Of course, Dennis is on parole and isn’t supposed to leave town but Dennis has another motive – he promised to buy Michi a piano and he means to keep his promise, even though Michi won’t know her dad is alive.

Easier said than done though. Dennis and Rene aren’t exactly experienced salesmen and they choose a rat-infested vacant lot to sell their trees. Moreover a slick operation from Vermont sets up shop across the street and before long the two criminals from Quebec are staring at a holiday season with no trees sold in the face. Dennis is befriended by Olga (Hawkins), a Russian dental assistant house sitting her employers’ home for the holidays after he sells her a tree and installs it for her but it takes some old fashioned intimidation to get their spot to themselves.

Dennis and Rene bicker but it looks like things are turning the corner. However, guys like this never can get a break and something occurs that threatens to send them home empty-handed and for Dennis that idea is absolutely intolerable as it is for Rene – who means to marry Therese. At least, just as soon as his own divorce is final.

Morrison last directed a feature eight years ago but that was the acclaimed Junebug which started Amy Adams’ career with an Oscar nominated performance. Like that film, the characters here are quirky and complex and not in an indie-cute kind of way but more in a depth of field kind of way. These are characters with a topography.

Giamatti despite a very unfortunate facial hair situation commands attention here. Dennis is temperamental and prone to flying off into rages at a moment’s notice. He still loves his wife despite her betrayal and his daughter beyond measure. He even has a soft spot for Rene, although that is sorely tested. Dennis tries very hard but occasionally can’t help his criminal behavior which has been engrained in him. Giamatti gives Dennis all that and a soul too.

Rudd is a very likable actor but he translates that likability to blandness here. Rene is a compulsive talker who quickly gets on Dennis’ nerves (and ours) and always seems to do the wrong thing with the best of intentions. He isn’t terribly bright but he is likable. Granted, this is kind of a hard role to play but Rudd doesn’t give it a lot of life.

I blow hot and cold about Sally Hawkins. She can be very irritating (Happy-Go-Lucky) and very compelling (Made in Dagenham). Here she has an over-the-top Russian accent and a kind of Natasha Fatale attitude. I actually kind of liked her here but I think the part would have been better served to keep her English background and let her be a little bit more natural. That’s just me though.

The Christmas vibe here isn’t as overwhelming as other movies we review this time of year. It isn’t a Christmas movie per se in that the film isn’t about the holiday – it just takes place during the holiday a la Home Alone. The good news is that the themes of friendship, needing to be love, forgiveness and sacrifice all have a place in the holiday spirit and so this kind of squeaks by.

I liked that the movie lets the audience mull those themes over without being overt about them – that Dennis finds a way to co-exist with someone he was so thoroughly wronged by is nothing short of miraculous (and unlikely) but I think that at the end of the day he does so not only for his own ends but so he can deliver on a promise made to his child. You can’t get any more Christmas-y than that.

REASONS TO GO: Paul Giamatti. Quirky in a good way. Thought-provoking.

REASONS TO STAY: Paul Giamatti’s facial hair. A bit aimless.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of bad language and some brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie played the Tribeca Film Festival under the title Almost Christmas but changed names for its theatrical release.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/22/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bad Santa

The Bleeding


If Vampires were in charge of American Idol, it would look something like this.

If Vampires were in charge of American Idol, it would look something like this.

(2009) Horror (Anchor Bay) Michael Matthias, Vinnie Jones, Michael Madsen, Kat Von D, Armand Assante, DMX, William McNamara, Pittsburgh Slim, Rachelle Leah, Sindy Espitia, Madison Moss, Janine Lorraine, Tony Schienna, Joe Montanti, Vanessa Vander Pluym, Kathy Sue Holtorf, Terence J. Rotolo, Nancy Young, Crystal Lonneberg, Krista Ayne, Monique Zordan, Jana Allen. Directed by Charles Picerni

6 Days of Darkness 2013

What happens when everything you love, everything you hold dear is taken from you? Your family, your home, your future – all gone in the wink of an eye. Sometimes, all you have left is vengeance.

Shawn Black (Matthias), an Army Ranger now discharged from duty, returns home to find his parents murdered and his brother missing. Nobody seems to know what happened – so he decides to find out for himself. He finds the answer soon enough – vampires.

With a cowboy hat-wearing, hard-drinking priest named Father Roy (Madsen) and a detective with an unusual knowledge about the occult (DMX) to aid him, he sets out to track down the vampire coven responsible. It turns out that Shawn is a Slayer – sort of like Buffy, only less into indie rock and more into throbbing, pulsating metal.

He discovers the coven holed up in a former factory turned nightclub where the King of the Coven (Jones) has lured young women in to grow his vampire army by leaps and bounds. Escaping from this fate is Lena (Leah) who hooks up with Shawn in more than one way. Shawn also discovers his brother’s fate and takes on the coven in a final, climactic battle in which only Shawn or the Coven King will survive.

When you look at the cast list up above, you can’t help but be hopeful that the movie will be a bit better than the average direct-to-home-video fare. Unfortunately, this isn’t. The pace is kind of sludgy and despite the short running time of 72 minutes it feels like it drags on and on, which can be fatal for a film as action-heavy as this one is.

There are missteps throughout, including relying so much on Matthias’ voice-over narration. Make this more of a noir vampire thriller and it might work but this isn’t that sort of genre; Shawn also talks a great deal during the movie and the dialogue is kind of clunky. Add that all up and you have to wish that the filmmakers had let their images and action sequences do more of the talking.

And that’s where the movie shines, particularly in the climactic battle which borrows a lot from The Road Warrior but hey, it worked then and there and it works here and now. Picerni also can thank his casting director for putting a lot of gorgeous women into the cast. This is a film clearly aimed at the adolescent/twenty-something metal crowd which is heavily male and when you are going that route, you have to give the people what they want which is (not to put too fine a point on it) boobs in this case. There are some fine ones on display, so those who bang their heads will salute no doubt.

There are a few kickass female characters here as well, with reality TV star Von D as a tattooed vampire bitch and MMA ring girl Leah as Shawn’s love interest. A point can be made that these sorts of films are largely misogynistic but I think that Picerni in this case at least made an effort to portray some of the women as strong.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite live up to the expectations given the cast and while there are some things that work well they are inevitably lost in the overly intrusive narration, Matthias’ less-than-scintillating performance and the kind of mishmash-y quality to the story. The opening credit sequence uses animation and actually this would have worked quite well as a graphic novel. What this needed was a firmer hand on the reins and a more charismatic actor in the lead. Ironically, both Madsen and Assante in their younger days would have rocked the part. What they needed was a Vin Diesel or perhaps a Triple H to carry the film.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific cast. Lots of gorgeous chicks. Not a half-bad ending.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too much voice-over. Matthias doesn’t quite carry the film as much as he should have. Too cliché in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of violence, some occasional swearing and a bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Producers Ed Cunningham and Seth Gordon were previously responsible for the documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: An interesting featurette on the practical make-up effects and particularly, Kat Von D’s squeamish reaction to getting squibs placed on her.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not Available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: John Carpenter’s Los Muertos

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: Day 3 of Six Days of Darkness 2013!

The Son of No One


Acting 101 is now in session with Professor Pacino.

Acting 101 is now in session with Professor Pacino.

(2011) Thriller (Anchor Bay) Channing Tatum, Al Pacino, Tracy Morgan, Katie Holmes, Ray Liotta, Juliette Binoche, James Ransone, Jake Cherry, Ursula Parker, Brian Gilbert, Peter Tambakis, Simone Jones, Lemon Anderson, Ralph Rodriguez, Roger Guenveur Smith, Sean Cregan, Karen Christie-Ward, Pat Klernan, Gisella Marengo. Directed by Dito Montiel

New York City is a place of dreams. It is also a place of nightmares, of unrelenting grime and corruption. At least, that is how the movies have portrayed it – on the one hand the center of the universe, a place where romance magically happens. On the other, a hopeless cesspool of brutality, corrupt cops and junkies.

Jonathan White (Tatum) grew up in the projects of Long Island City. Like his departed dad, he has chosen to be a cop and lives with his wife Kerry (Holmes) and his epileptic daughter Charlie (Parker) on Staten Island, where he plies his trade.

He is less than thrilled to be re-assigned to his old neighborhood. Soon after he arrives, anonymous letters are being sent to Loren Bridges (Binoche), the crusading editor of a storefront newspaper resurrecting a decades-old pair of murders and alleging that the police have covered up that the crimes were committed by a cop. This is particularly distressing to Jonathan since it was he that was responsible for those killings, although he wasn’t a cop at the time. In fact, he was just a kid (Cherry) who was defending his own life from a pair of violent junkies. His best friend Vinnie (Gilbert) witnessed the crimes and Jonathan thinks that he is likely the source of those letters. Vinnie has grown up (Morgan) into a mentally unstable man who can’t escape his own demons, many of them conjured up when the very same junkies molested him as a child.

These letters are making Captain Mathers (Liotta) who happens to be Jonathan’s boss more than a little nervous. In post-9/11 New York the cops need all the good will they can get and this is the kind of scandal that might set the public against the force. Mathers – who knows about the cover-up since he and Detective Stanford (Pacino) who was the partner of Jonathan’s late father helped cover up the evidence and made the case go away – wants Jonathan to kill Vinnie and Jonathan is considering it.

Things start to get much tenser for Jonathan when the reporter is murdered after meeting with Jonathan. Jonathan’s psychotic partner Prudenti (Ransone) lets Jonathan know that if he doesn’t take care of the situation, Jonathan will be framed for the murder of the reporter as well as the original murders years ago. With his situation deteriorating and Jonathan beginning to fall apart, the likelihood of an explosive confrontation becomes more and more likely.

Montiel directed the autobiographical A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints which was actually a very good film. He has shown great promise, particularly in regards to his obvious love-hate relationship with New York. One might say that these are honest warts-and-all depictions but while it is clear he bears a deep affection for the Big Apple, he seems to have a feeling of revulsion towards its less glamorous side.

He has assembled an amazing cast but unfortunately they don’t really rise above the material which you might expect. Pacino almost phones it in and you get the sense that he was interested more in the paycheck than the performance. Binoche, one of the world’s most marvelous actresses, is an odd casting choice. She gamely soldiers on as you might expect she would but one gets the sense she really doesn’t know what to do with the part. Morgan on the other hand is best known as a comic actor; he is surprisingly adept at this dramatic role and has some of the best moments in the film.

Tatum, who has finally shown some signs that he is more than just a pretty face (like Montiel, he is an ex-model) although this was filmed during the period when his acting style might best be summed up as wooden. We don’t get a sense of Jonathan’s wracking guilt or his inner turmoil although the commentary track by Montiel alludes to it. Sadly, he doesn’t show much more tension than a high school honors student approaching a mid-term algebra quiz.

There is a good deal of ugliness here although there are some moments that are surprisingly powerful (the final scene between Jonathan and Vinnie for example) they are outnumbered by those which don’t make sense. For example, the murders were clearly a matter of self-defense committed by a minor. Jonathan committed no crime; there was therefore no need to cover anything up. If anything, the only crime that was committed was the act of covering up.

Montiel is a terrific director and writer but this is certainly a misstep. I’d recommend his previous two films ahead of this. I hope this is just a one-time setback and not an indication that his creative well has run dry.

WHY RENT THIS: A chance to watch a fine cast slumming.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit confusing. Lacks logical sense.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of violence and bad language and some brief sexuality of the disturbing kind.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Robert De Niro was originally cast as Detective Stanford but he had to drop out of the production and Pacino was cast instead.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $30,680 on a $15M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Copland

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Don Jon

Mother’s Day (2010)


Mother always knows best, especially when she's packing heat.

Mother always knows best, especially when she’s packing heat.

(2010) Suspense (Anchor Bay) Jaimie King, Patrick Flueger, Rebecca De Mornay, Warren Kole, Deborah Ann Woll, Matt O’Leary, Briana Evigan, Frank Grillo, Lisa Marcos, Lyriq Bent, Tony Nappo, Kandyse McClure, Jessie Rusu, Shawn Ashmore, Vicki Rice, Alexa Vega, Jason Wishnowski, J. LaRose, Jennifer Hupe, A.J. Cook. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

There are few bonds quite like the one between a mother and her sons. Especially when the mom is psychotic as all get out.

A group of bank robbing brothers (and sister) bungle a job and one, young Johnny (O’Leary) is shot in the stomach. They try to make it to their Mother’s house but are dismayed to find that she no longer lives there. The couple that bought the house – Beth (King) and Daniel (Grillo) apparently bought it at a foreclosure sale. It’s Daniel’s birthday and they have a bunch of friends over to celebrate – Treshawn (Bent) and his wife Gina (McClure), George (Ashmore) and his girlfriend Melissa (Rusu), Dave (Nappo) and his girlfriend Annette (Evigan) and Julie (Marcos), Beth’s best friend and a colleague of Daniel’s.

Trigger-happy Addley (Kole) and vicious Ike (Flueger) call their sister Lydia (Woll) who tells them that she and her mom now live in a trailer after the house was foreclosed on. Lydia brings Mother (De Mornay) over and they get George, a doctor, to try and help Johnny. Mother also discovers the interesting fact that the boys have been sending money to her old address – money that she hasn’t received.

From that point her demeanor changes from courteous and kind to vicious and cruel as she and her boys torture the hostages in order to find the money. The boys are going to need about ten grand to get to Canada and that kind of money just doesn’t grow on trees. As the night goes later and a tornado warning sounds, the hostages begin to bicker and fight amongst themselves and as Mother grows more impatient, the violence escalates.

This is a loose remake of a Charles Kaufman movie from the 80s about which Roger Ebert famously said “The question of why anyone of any age would possibly want to see this movie remains without an answer.” Like the remake, there was a certain mean-spirited attitude in the original (in which the hostages were all women). There are rape scenes in both movies (more graphic in the first) and redemption through violence in both.

The similarities end there however. This one has  much better acting than the first, which while a flop at its release has a kind of cult status among horror fans. This one didn’t exactly do blazing box office either which of course leads to the question why was it made at all.

De Mornay, a much-underrated actress who rarely gets the kind of parts she deserves but delivers each time she does, makes a fine villain. She’s never over-the-top with her character’s psychosis but instead keeps it low-key, making it all the more terrifying when she blows her cool. Most of the others in the movie do pretty well too.

The biggest problem was that once the set-up is complete it turn into a torture fest in which we are made to watch just how cruel these characters could be to each other, and while the original had just three victims involved, this one has eight and there really isn’t enough time for us to get to care about any of them. Most of the characters in this movie exist only to have bad things happen to them. The writers really should have cut out all but three or four of them and focused on them. The whole tornado subplot doesn’t work logically; they’d have been better off using a hurricane as a threat because that would have fit the story’s needs better.

Bousman, who has directed movies in the Saw franchise is  capable enough but here there are some continuity errors that frankly should never happen with a cast and crew of this quality. Quite frankly, while there might have been opportunity for an interesting movie about what it would take to force normal people into barbarity and how far a son would go for his mother, the filmmakers instead prefer to take the low road and just go for shock and gore. For me personally, I need a little bit more to keep my attention. There are, I’m sure, plenty of folk who are fine with just that – I’m just saying for myself it’s not enough.

WHY RENT THIS: De Mornay delivers.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Really never goes anywhere new. Distracting continuity errors.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence, much of it gory as well as some depictions of torture. There is also plenty of cursing and some very sexual content

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the filming of a scene in which the criminals had their guns out, police mistook the actors for participants in a bank robbery nearby and held the cast at gunpoint until the situation was cleared up.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $862,769 on an $11M production budget; after several delays and studio switches, the film got an excuse-me theatrical release and quietly (and quickly) went to home video.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Funny Games (2006)

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Grown Ups 2

The Divide


A post-apocalyptic pacifier.

A post-apocalyptic pacifier.

(2011) Sci-Fi (Anchor Bay) Lauren German, Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Biehn, Courtney B. Vance, Rosanna Arquette, Ashton Holmes, Ivan Gonzalez, Michael Eklund, Abbey Thickson, Jennifer Blanc. Directed by Xavier Jens

The real test of humanity comes in situations of great stress. We see the best of the human spirit – firefighters running into burning hills to protect homes and property, ordinary people pulling people out of the rubble of disaster sites and keeping them alive until help arrives.

We also see the worst and that’s pretty much what you’re going to see here although to be fair, that is pretty much true of most movies of this genre. New York is leveled by nuclear detonations; eight residents of a Manhattan apartment tower make their way into the basement to ride out the fallout storm.

Mickey (Biehn), the janitor, lives in the basement and he’s none too happy about having his space invaded by residents Eva(German), her boyfriend Sam (Gonzalez), brothers Josh (Ventimiglia) and Adrien (Holmes) and Josh’s friend Bobby (Eklund), Marilyn (Arquette) and her daughter Wendi (Thickson) and the bookish Devlin (Vance). While he asserts his dominance, it is not without some uneasiness on the part of the other survivors.

Not long afterward the make-shift shelter is broken into by armed men in biohazard suits; they abduct Wendi and attempt to leave but a firefight breaks out and Adrien is wounded while several of the invaders are killed. Josh takes one of the soldiers suits in an effort to rescue Wendi and finds the basement connected to a lab connected by tunnels of plastic sheeting. He finds Wendi among a group of children unconscious, head shaved and eyes bandaged. Unfortunately, Josh’s ruse is discovered and a soldier yanks off his breathing apparatus, exposing him to the irradiated air.

Josh makes it back to the basement and the soldiers weld the remaining survivors into the room, trapping them there. This is called making things worse; the fractured group grows even more fractured. Sexual politics begin to play a role as Marilyn starts sleeping with Bobby while Eva moves away from the indecisive and borderline cowardly Sam and more towards Adrien. When it becomes clear that Mickey has a hidden stash room, a fight breaks out and the balance of power shifts. Josh and Bobby take control and start using Marilyn as a sex slave. Can Eva and the rest survive?

Gens has a history of films portraying a group of people in a hellish situation and showing them to revert to their most primal and ignoble forms. There are those who believe and hope that faced with a desperate survival situation that people will show that they are basically good and act accordingly. Gens is clearly not one of them; in his point of view (and he may well be right) people are inherently self-serving and will throw morality and compassion out the window in a justification to survive at any cost, no matter what it takes.

The tension here is as good as you’ll see in any movie of this type. I like that this isn’t a paint-by-numbers apocalypse with conspiracies and mutants. Instead, we see people gradually grow more suspicious and violent and when power shifts, we see how that power corrupts them, making them monsters. Of course, the radiation poisoning doesn’t help either.

While I like Arquette’s performance as the distraught mom who reverts to using her sexuality to bind her to the alpha males. It is sobering and discouraging to watch but I think it’s a pretty accurate portrayal. As much as I respect women, we come from roles in which women who had stronger protectors were more likely to survive. It’s why even now, women are expected to be more attractive in order to find a mate.

Unfortunately, most of the others in the cast are surprisingly flat and uninspiring. Considering the situation, you’d expect that there’d be more emotion in the cast but you never get a sense of anything other than anger, self-importance and lust. They go right to the base emotions and while indeed that might be what would really happen in such a situation, when we look at situations where civilization breaks down we do see less of that baseness than you see here.

This is a very bleak movie although it is well-made. However you will feel a need for showering after wading through this celluloid cesspool of human ugliness. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth wading through however – the well-made can sometimes outweigh the ugly.

WHY RENT THIS: Gens ratchets up the tension nicely. Avoids post-apocalyptic cinematic clichés.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Misses opportunities. May lay on the ugliness a bit thick.

FAMILY VALUES: It’s not just the violence and sexuality but more the disturbing nature of it. There are also some rough images as well as plenty of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set in New York City, the majority of the movie was filmed in Winnipeg.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $130,839 on a $3M production budget; the production costs were not recouped during the theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: On the Beach

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Goon

The Big Bang


Noir, 21st Century-style.

Noir, 21st Century-style.

(2010) Mystery (Anchor Bay) Antonio Banderas, Sienna Guillory, James van der Beek, Snoop Dogg, Autumn Reeser, Sam Elliot, Jimmi Simpson, Thomas Kretschmann, William Fichtner, Robert Maillet, Delroy Lindo, Bill Duke, Rebecca Mader, Robert Ernie Lee, Rachel Handler, Sean Cook, Khanh Doan, Keith MacGeagh, Chandra Bailey. Directed by Tony Krantz

When you think of film noir, you think of hard-bitten detectives in rumpled suits, gorgeous dames in dresses two sizes too tight and big bruising thugs with brass knuckles. You think of soft black and white, foggy back alleys and sleazy private investigator offices. You think of Bogart, Bacall, Mitchum and Greenstreet. You don’t think of Antonio Banderas and neon colored strip clubs.

But they can be noir too. In this celluloid extravaganza Banderas is Ned Cruz, a P.I. from the mean streets of L.A. A Russian boxer named Anton “The Pro” Protopov (Maillet), freshly release from prison after killing a man in the ring, is looking for a girl. Not just any girl though – you can find one on the Internet – but the lovely Lexi Persimmon. You heard me. Anyway, she wrote him a bunch of letters in the slam but gave the galoot no info to go on, no address, no social security, no phone number – not even an e-mail.

There’s also this stash of $40 million in blood diamonds, a waitress named Fay (Reeser) who loves particle physics, a porn director (Dogg) who loves his product a little too much, a kinky movie star (van der Beek) with a dark secret, a cross-dressing nuclear physicist (Simpson), a crazy billionaire (Elliot) obsessed with finding the God particle and willing to re-create the Big Bang in the New Mexico desert to do it and the billionaire’s wife (Guillory) who might be the key to the whole sordid tale. Oh, and did we mention the three brutal cops (Kretschmann, Lindo and Fichtner) chasing down Cruz to find out where the diamonds are?

On paper this really does sound like my kind of movie – something smart but timeless, using the conventions of a noir detective thriller with a touch of sci-fi and a little bit of black humor mixed in. However, references to physics and science doesn’t necessarily a smart film make although this one is pretty clever in places.

Banderas is an engaging star but I didn’t really believe him in the role. Ned Cruz should have been a lot more badass than pretty boy; in some ways I think Danny Trejo might have been more suitable but of course Banderas is the bigger box office draw so from that standpoint I can’t really blame the producers.

The cast is pretty impressive for a low budget thriller with a tiny distributor but not many of them get the kind of screen time that makes for much of an impression. Most are little more than cameos although Elliot seems to be having the most fun playing the kind of character he rarely gets to play while Simpson camps it up nicely. Reeser and Guillory really don’t have much more to do but look pretty which to be fair they do very, very well – but I suspect if their characters had been given a little more fleshing out they would have risen to the challenge as well.

I don’t think the movie achieves everything the filmmakers set out to do, but it is entertaining enough to be worth a look-see. Although I criticized his casting earlier, Banderas at least does an adequate job of playing the tough guy and of course doing the narration which is a noir tradition. While the movie takes a few left turns too many, it nonetheless at least doesn’t disgrace the genre and given that since its heyday many have tried but few have succeeded in giving us a good noir thriller I have to at least admire the attempt.

WHY RENT THIS: A noir thriller involving particle physics – I can’t make this stuff up. Decent cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Goes a little bit off into left field occasionally.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity and quite a bit of sexuality (some of it graphic), a bit of foul language and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There was an extended sex scene shot that got the film an NC-17 rating that was removed from the film in order to bring it down to an R rating; director Krantz refers to it on the home video commentary track but the scene isn’t included on the Blu-Ray release.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Perfect Host

Free Samples


I think Jess Wexler looks like Winona Ryder but she just doesn't agree.

I think Jess Wexler looks like Winona Ryder but she just doesn’t agree.

(2012) Drama (Anchor Bay) Jess Wexler, Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Tippi Hedren, Halley Feiffer, Keir O’Donnell, Jocelin Donahue, Whitney Able, Eben Kostbar, Jordan Davis, James Duval, Matt Walsh, Craig Gellis, Suzy Nakamura, Cory Knauf, Joseph McKelheer, Montre Burton, Madison Leisle, Joe Nunez, Angel Parker. Directed by Jay Gammill

 Florida Film Festival 2013

We all go through periods where we just seem to be treading water. Inertia deserts us and life is happening to everyone around us but not to us. We flounder in the current, not really moving anywhere and praying to God we don’t drown before we figure out which direction we need to move in.

Jillian is in just such a phase. She’s dropped out from Stanford Law School and is taking a break from her fiancée. She is adrift in Los Angeles, trying somewhat diffidently to become an artist (which is a lot harder when you aren’t particularly talented at anything) and engaging in a series of all-night binges and one night stands, the latest ending up with a cowboy hat-wearing dude that Jillian knows only as Tex (Eisenberg) in her bed. Well, it’s not really her bed – it’s her best friend Nancy’s (Feiffer) bed and she’s just sleeping in it, apparently with Tex’s hat. Tex isn’t in it at the time.

Jillian is experiencing the mother of all hangovers but since she slept in Nancy’s bed and mutual friend Wally (Ritter) – who’s in a band along with the half of L.A. that isn’t in the movies – has urinated on her couch in his alcohol-induced blissful slumber, Jillian owes her a favor; she needs to cover for Nancy at work. Jillian is oh-so-reluctant to do this, but is eventually coerced into it.

Work happens to be standing all day in an ice cream truck handing out free samples of the most godawful excuse for artificial ice cream that you’ve ever had the sorrow to try – you might well get a cup full of chilled sour cream instead – to the freeloaders and nutjobs of a neighborhood not far from hers. It’s excruciatingly boring, like having bamboo shoved up your fingernails while your genitals are sprinkled liberally with napalm, except I would assume those pursuits would probably not be strictly classified as boring. Not by me, anyway.

As she stands in the cramped confines of the truck, handing out samples to all who request one – vanilla, or chocolate (one to a customer, no exceptions) the things that are driving her life – the motivations that persuaded her to drop out of college and her relationship – are brought into focus and not in a vague, diffuse allegorical way but by the serendipity of bad luck and crushing coincidence.

Not all of it is bad. She meets Betty (Hedren), an actor of some fame who is retired, living alone in a small apartment with TCM blaring old movies (“It’s like a reunion,” Betty asserts when a heartbroken Jillian comes to visit her) whose daily highlight is a walk to the truck for a bit of free ice cream. It’s not the ice cream she craves (“it’s really awful” she confides to Jillian) but the company.

As the day ends and Nancy shows up at long last, Jillian has had an epiphany and maybe her life is about to change for the better. You know, you can gather a lot of good karma by handing out free samples.

This is mainly Wexler’s movie and for a young actress with limited experience, it can be a daunting task to carry a movie on one’s slender shoulders but Wexler – who cut her cinematic teeth in Teeth, to date the best movie about vagina dentata ever made – is up for the task and she really has two strikes against her from the onset. Jillian is something of a bitch who whines constantly, complains repeatedly and always seems to be flipping life a mental bird. She has been compared facially to Uma Thurman and I suppose I can see what they’re saying, but I think she looks and sounds more like Wynona Ryder and carries some of that actress’ spunky attitude in her demeanor.

One of the things I love most about this movie is the synergy between Jillian and Betty. Movies rarely show mentor relationships between older women and younger women that aren’t related which I’ve always found to be quite odd – older women can be friends with younger women just like older men can be friends with younger men although Hollywood doesn’t seem to have a problem with those sorts of relationships among men. Women seem to only be allowed those relationships when it’s the younger woman’s grandmother or great-aunt or some such.

The soundtrack, provided by Indie Rock wunderkinder Say Hi is one of the best I’ve heard thus far this year, one which might give the slackers who dug Juno a run for its money. At least from my admittedly non-slackeroonie perspective.

There are some flaws here, some inherent. For example, nearly all of the film takes place with the lead in the claustrophobic ice cream truck. There really are only so many ways you can shoot that, so we get a lot of standard two shots and it does get a trifle repetitious. And Wexler does such a good job as Jillian that there are times you want to give the girl a major foot in the behind with an admonition to stop complaining and start living. Of course by the end of the film she pretty much does that without the need for a boot to the ass.

It was lovely to see Hedren, the star of Hitchcock’s The Birds in the film and I was astonished at how good she looks for a 83-year-old dame. She hasn’t gotten any work that I could detect; she’s just blessed with good genes. How often do you see an 83-year-old woman that you’d seriously think of doing? Not that I actually would sweetie (ducking from the inevitable bonk on the head from Da Queen’s scepter). But if I were single…(sigh). And it was thrilling to see Ms. Hedren at the Florida Film Festival screening we attended. Such beautiful diction. (sigh)

Anyway, that aside this is a terrific indie film that takes some of the indie clichés that we’re so bloody used to and turns them on their head. At the end of the day this is about relationships and redemption, with the object lesson that rehabilitation truly comes from within. Surviving being lost in the current is one thing but swimming for shore and rescuing ourselves is quite another. Me, I’d pay for this free sample – not for the ice cream though.

REASONS TO GO: Wexler gives a terrific performance. Shows a relationship between an older woman and a younger woman who aren’t related – a rarity in Hollywood.  Terrific soundtrack.

REASONS TO STAY: A bit claustrophobic. Occasionally you want to give Jillian a shake.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of bad language and anti-social behavior.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The music composer is credited as Eric Elbogen, which is the real name of the person who is the one-man indie rock band Say Hi. Some of that band’s music is also on the soundtrack.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/23/13: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet; this is making the rounds on the festival circuit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Future

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Evil Dead (2013)