Summer of 84


Just a bunch of teenage badasses.

(2018) Thriller/Horror (Gunpowder & Sky) Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Grüter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer, Jason Gray-Stanford, Shauna Johannesen, William MacDonald, Harrison Hourde, Aren Buchholz, Susie Castillo, Reilly Jacob, Jaiven Natt, J. Alex Brinson, Patrick Keating, Patrick Lubczyk, Jordan Buhat, Mark Brandon. Directed by Anouk Whissell, François Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell

We remember our childhood with a certain tinge of nostalgia. The era we grew up in – be it the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s or aughts – live in our memories with a sepia glow of comfort and warmth. Summer nights spent bicycling around the neighborhood with our friends, looking for whatever adventures might be found in the nooks and crannies of where we grew up are precious to us as we grow older, careworn and further away from our youth when anything was possible, before we found out that life isn’t always beautiful.

Davey Armstrong (Verchere) grew up in the 80s in a small Midwestern town which was about as suburban as it got. His dad (Gray-Stanford) worked as a sound man for the local TV news. His best friends were always around the neighborhood and summer was an endless time of hanging out, talking about girls and neighborhood games of manhunt.

It is also a troubling time for his parents who are fully aware that several boys around town have gone missing. Davey is a bit of a tabloid conspiracy nut and most of his friends and acquaintances have heard all about his oddball theories but at least this one is plausible; Davey believes his next door neighbor, Wayne Mackey (Sommer) is a serial killer responsible for the disappearances. His friends – leather jacketed punk Eats (Lewis), rotund Woody (Emery) and smart-as-a-whip Curtis (Grüter-Andrew) are skeptical at first but soon they come to believe in Davey and set out to proving it.

This will involve things like going through his garbage, staking out his house and eventually breaking and entering. But that’s not the only thing Davey is keeping an eye on; his pretty former babysitter Nikki (Skovbye) has a habit of undressing in front of her window which Davey’s bedroom window faces. Her parents are divorcing and she’ll be moving away from the neighborhood shortly; she is upset and Davey becomes her confidante, which ends up dragging her into their detective work. She is also skeptical about Davey’s theory since Officer Mackey is outwardly a very nice guy, but there is also a very creepy side to him. As summer comes to a close and the chill winds of autumn and school beckon on the horizon, Davey and his crew will come face to face with something truly monstrous.

The vibe here is a bit Hitchcock meets vintage Spielberg. While there is very much a tone similar to the hit Netflix series Stranger Things this isn’t exactly the same thing. There are no supernatural elements here and for awhile I had a real hard time convincing myself that this belonged among my Six Days of Darkness collection but then again there’s the last ten minutes which…well, I’ll get to that.

The synth-heavy score certainly sets the tone; the music is reminiscent of John Carpenter’s music from the era. There are also lots of visual cues, from the arcade to the G.I Joe walkie-talkies that the boys use. The parents here are generally well-meaning but clueless which brings in the Spielberg element. The idyllic nature of the environment adds not so much to the era but to the time of life of the protagonists. I think that’s a time of life that we all appreciate.

There are some clichés in the plot and characterization. Those who are familiar with Rear Window or Suburbia will feel like they’re on a well-trodden path and Davey’s group of friends are pretty much standard issue for these sorts of Hardy Boys-type films. Also, the identity of the person behind the disappearances is not that hard to pick out if you’re paying attention.

But then there are those last ten minutes. At a certain point, the movie kicks into overdrive and you will be sitting on the edge of your seat, jaw firmly resting on the floor as you watch these filmmakers whose previous film was the decent Turbo Kid absolutely come of age. The last ten minutes of Summer of 84 may be the best ten minutes of any film you see this year.

REASONS TO GO: The last ten minutes of this movie are as good as any you’ll see. The filmmakers keep you guessing.
REASONS TO STAY: There are more than a few clichés here and the killer is fairly easy to spot.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity including crude sexual references and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There are a variety of shout-outs to 80s movies including The Karate Kid, The Thing and the Star Wars franchise.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play,  iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/28/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stranger Things
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness Day Three

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What If (2014)


Indie cute OD.

Indie cute OD.

(2014) Romantic Comedy (CBS) Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Rafe Spall, Megan Park, Mackenzie Davis, Lucius Hoyos, Jemima Rooper, Tommie-Amber Pirie, Meghan Heffern, Jonathan Cherry, Rebecca Northan, Jordan Hayes, Oona Chaplin, Adam Fergus, Sam Moses, Ennis Esmer, Mike Wilmot, George Tchortov, Tamara Duarte, Vanessa Matsui. Directed by Michael Dowse

Finding The One is a matter not only of chemistry but of timing. Both of you have to be in the right place to be able to accept someone into that kind of intimacy. Both of you have to be available. It would help a lot if you’re both as attractive, cool and hip as Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan.

Wallace (Radcliffe) is a medical school dropout who has had his heart broken one too many times. He lives in his sister’s (Rooper) attic as a kind of live-in babysitter to her son (Hoyos) and spends a lot of time sitting on the roof of his sister’s house gazing soulfully at the Toronto skyline.

His cynical friend Allan (Driver) gets him to go to a party where he meets Chantry (Kazan). The two hit it off right away and spend much of the evening talking. To Wallace’s surprise (and perhaps disgust) Allan has hooked up with Nicole (Davis) and those two are going at it like sailors on a 24 hour pass in a brothel. Not much chance of that happening with Wallace and Chantry though – she has a boyfriend named Ben (Spall) who is a pretty decent fellow who works for the U.N. Kind of a rough challenge for an unemployed medical school dropout to take on, y’know.

 

Nonetheless Wallace and Chantry become the best of friends and when Ben’s work takes him to Dublin for six months, the opportunity is there although Wallace – something of a wimp – shies away from it even though it is clear to everyone who knows him that he’s hopelessly smitten by the comely young Chantry. And for her part, Chantry’s friends suspect she likes Wallace a lot more than she’s letting on, although she lets her somewhat slutty sister Dalia (Park) take a crack at Wallace which ends up pretty disastrously. However as Chantry begins to question her relationship with Ben and a major opportunity knocks for her which might send her halfway around the world. Wallace has the choice of doing the right thing, or…but what is the right thing in this situation, anyway?

This Canadian-made rom com based on a stage play has the advantage of having some attractive leads but the disadvantage of fairly bland personalities for the both of them. Sure, Chantry is an animator whose scribblings occasionally come to life but this contributes to a cuter-than-thou vibe that over-sweetens this concoction like someone dumping a whole jar of refined sugar into a glass of tea. The animations really add nothing to the movie other than to be a distraction reflecting Chantry’s occasional melancholy. Sure Wallace comes off as cooler than the average bear but with a sweet sensitive side that is apt to get all the indie gals in their vintage dresses and fuchsia hair misty-eyed.

Radcliffe, now a grown-up after we watched him grow up in the Harry Potter movies, is an engaging romantic lead, not conventionally handsome like a Hugh Grant but having the same tripping-over-his-own-feet awkwardness that Grant made into a trademark in the 90s. His character here has little in the way of backbone and tries so hard to do the right thing that he ends up making everybody around him miserable. Sometimes doing the wrong thing is the right thing.

Like a few other critics, I found the relationship between Allan and Nicole far more interesting and would have appreciated much more insight into their relationship, even though they do pull a few dick moves during the movie. Their characters seemed more realistic and more alive than the sometimes walking cliches that are Wallace and Chantry.

That’s not to say that the relationship between the two leads doesn’t have its moments. There’s the slapstick sequence that sends Ben out of a window during a disastrous dinner party but sadly there isn’t enough of that. When late in the movie the two of them “break up” as friends due to an issue that could have been resolved simply with a phone call and seems blown way out of proportion in order to manufacture conflict, I could feel my eyes rolling into the back of my head. This is one of the most egregious of rom-com cliches of the 21st century.

This is basically a movie that has a lot of potential but tries too hard to be charming in a Bohemian way, sort of like Toronto doing the East Village and realizing far too late that they’re far too polite and less pretentious to make that work effectively. I liked Radcliffe and Driver, with a hint of Davis and Spall but after that there is much less to love.

REASONS TO GO: Daniel Radcliffe is awfully engaging.

REASONS TO STAY: Way too cute. A surfeit of indie rom-com cliches.

FAMILY VALUES:  A whole lot of sexual references including some brief partial nudity and not an inconsequential amount of profanity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Casey Affleck and Mary Elizabeth Winstead were originally cast as the leads but the producers decided they wanted to go with younger actors instead which is ironic since Zoe Kazan is in fact older than Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/19/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: When Harry Met Sally

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Bellflower

In Her Skin (I Am You)


In Your Skin

Ruth Bradley literally leads Kate Bell down the garden path.

(2009) True Crime Drama (IFC) Guy Pearce, Miranda Otto, Ruth Bradley, Sam Neill, Kate Bell, Khan Chittenden, Graeme Blundell, John Butler, Justine Clarke, Diane Craig, Jack Finsterer, Rebecca Gibney, Eugene Gilfedder, Jeremy Sims, Steven Vidler. Directed by Simone North

 

Very few of us are genuinely happy with who we are. Some of us long to change certain things about ourselves, be it our physical appearance or our own natures. Sometimes this self-loathing leads to a hatred for everyone who at least on the surface appears to have everything we want.

Rachel Barber (Bell) is one of those that looks to have everything anyone could want. Beautiful and graceful, training to become a ballet dancer who one day will dance for a world class company, happy and well-adjusted, she has parents (Pearce, Otto) who adore her and a handsome boyfriend named Manni (Chittenden) who is head over heels for her.

Caroline Reid (Bradley), who was once Rachel’s babysitter, is in the other class. She isn’t conventionally pretty, struggles with her weight, and has less of a bright future before her. Her parents’ divorce really affected her deeply and from that arose anger issues that have given her a hair-trigger temper, prone to rages that are truly terrifying. Her father (Neill) is wealthy and distant, tending to be more critical than loving although he does love her in his own way.

When Rachel fails to return home after dance practice, her parents are alarmed. This just isn’t like their daughter at all. The police seem disinterested in finding their girl; they chalk it up as a runaway situation, which mystifies Manni who tells her everything but didn’t tell her that she had any idea about running off. Even Caroline, surly at best, expresses concern. The Barbers, desperate to find their daughter, decide to search on their own with the police scarcely willing to help.

Tragically, the Barbers are searching in vain. Their dearest Rachel is already gone, brutally murdered at the hands of her trusted friend and former babysitter Caroline. The deed was done as part of a twisted, psychotic attempt of Caroline to transform herself into Rachel, the only way the girl thought she had of ever having the things she wanted.

The movie is told from three differing points of view; that of the Barbers, of Caroline and of Rachel herself. North, in an attempt I suppose to take some artistic license, jumps wildly between time frames which is often confusing. Still, North gets the benefit of some riveting performances.

Bradley, an Irish actress, was someone I hadn’t seen much of (if anything) prior to this film but she nails the role. You feel like you as a viewer are walking on eggshells every time Caroline is onscreen; she can be sweetness and light but can explode into a volcanic eruption of rage without warning or cause. Her self-loathing is palpable as is her need for her father’s acknowledgment, something she can never get – the way she wants, in any case. You never really understand the motives, but then you can’t really understand crazy unless you are a lunatic yourself.

Pearce and Otto are two of the most dependable actors working today and as the parents their grief and worry consume them, sometimes leading to conflict between their characters. They are both sympathetic but imperfect adding a touch of realism to the film. It isn’t always easy to watch them, but it never feels anything but genuine.

Speaking of realism and genuine, the murder scene is quite horrific and very tough to watch. It doesn’t pull any punches and there’s nothing about it that is clean or easy. I very much suggest that those who are easily upset by those sorts of things to think twice before viewing.

This is definitely a flawed film but it is still quite good nevertheless. North excels at keeping a sense of tension even when it is obvious what is about to occur or what has already occurred. For those of us in America who are mostly unfamiliar with the case (it was front page news in Oz so Aussie readers may be far more familiar with the events in the film than us Yanks) there is an element of suspense that is well-appreciated. Like the Barbers, North doesn’t always do the right thing here but she does her best and even if she makes mistakes they are at least honest ones. She has a good deal of talent and I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for her.

WHY RENT THIS: Extremely well-acted. Tense and suspenseful, even though it is pretty obvious even to those unfamiliar with the case how it’s going to end up. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Time jumping confuses the viewer unnecessarily. Tries too hard in places.

FAMILY VALUES: The movie is intense in places and the murder scene might be too much for the sensitive. There’s also a few instances of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bell and Chittenden, girlfriend and boyfriend in the film, also played girlfriend and boyfriend in the Australian TV series “Blue Water High.”

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are some cast interviews that get highly emotional.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Data not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Taking Lives

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Instinct

Date Night


Date Night

Steve Carell is flabbergated; he thought Tina Fey was smashing through the glass ceiling, not the glass door.

(20th Century Fox) Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji Henson, Common, James Franco, Leighton Meester, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo, Ray Liotta, William Fichtner, Mila Kunis, Jimmi Simpson. Directed by Shawn Levy

At a certain point in every relationship, routine sets in. That can be deadlier to a marriage then money problems or even infidelity.

The Fosters, tax preparer Phil (Carell) and realtor Claire (Fey) live normal, unprepossessing lives in suburban New Jersey. They have two kids who can be the spawns of Satan but for the most part, are ordinary kids. They pay their taxes, mow their lawn and attend book clubs together. Every week, they go on a date together to the same steak house and always order the potato skins. They play the “what’s their story” game with other diners, imagining some rather colorful goings-on. Sex is occasional, growing more and more occasional.

They are both shocked when one of the couples they are closest to announce that they are splitting up. Brad (Ruffalo) confides in Phil that they had evolved from being a loving couple to being really excellent roommates, while Haley (Wiig) asserts to Claire that it’s the best decision that she’s ever made, that at last she can explore her own sexuality without any constraints and that Claire should “run with the birds,” a reference to a really bad feminist novel their book club is reading (and, you can be sure, one that will pop up again during the movie).

Both of them are secretly concerned that they are now dwelling in a comfortable rut and the other might be getting bored in the relationship, so when the next date night rolls around, Claire puts on makeup and a pretty dress rather than her usual comfortable clothes. Phil, surprised and delighted, resolves to go to a trendy restaurant in Manhattan rather than their usual steakhouse.

The problem with trying to go to a trendy restaurant in Manhattan spontaneously is that there is usually a waiting list to get in. Phil and Claire arrive too late to get a walk-in table, so the snooty host dismisses them to the bar, there to wait an eternity in all likelihood.

An opportunity arises when a hostess arrives in the bar, looking for the Tripplehorn party of two. When nobody responds, Phil on the spur of the moment decides to take the reservation of the missing Tripplehorns. Spur of the moment decisions can lead, as we all know, to lifetime regrets.

In this case, it leads to a case of mistaken identity. Two beefy gentlemen (Simpson and Common) show up at the table and firmly but politely ask the Fosters to follow them out. The Fosters, believing they’re from the restaurant, comply and are flabbergasted to see guns being pointed at them and the beefy gentlemen demanding that a flash drive belonging to a well-known mobster be returned to them forthwith.

Threatened with immediate execution and with the beefy gentlemen not believing their assertions that they are not, in fact, the Tripplehorns, Phil tries to stall the beefy gentlemen until an opportunity presents itself to escape. When it does, the Fosters go straight to the police until they are shocked to discover that the two beefy gentlemen are actually cops. Mortified and terrified, they go to a shirtless security expert (Wahlberg) to try and find the elusive Tripplehorns and elude the beefy gentlemen and other beefy gentlemen like them.

There’s plenty to like here, but the best thing about the movie is the chemistry between and Fey and Carell. They’re believable as a married couple who have been married to each other for awhile. There’s obviously love between them, but it isn’t as obviously on display as it might be for newlyweds.

They are just ordinary people caught up in events beyond their control. They don’t whip out submachine guns and start blowing people away, Phil isn’t an ex-Navy SEAL and Claire isn’t a third degree black belt. They are intelligent and inventive, but no more so than any one of us would be. They’re totally believable which gives the movie its heart.

Most of the rest of the characters are meant to be caricatures, particularly Wahlberg as the studly security expert. He spends the entire movie without a shirt and the sight of his pecs and abs gives Phil an inferiority complex the size of Mount Everest. The same sight lights Claire up like a Japanese lantern in the summer night.

Where the movie suffers from is that it takes a scattershot approach to comedy. There are lots of bits of business that are more or less extraneous and are meant to try and generate laughs, but come off as feeling a bit forced – the prime example is the sequence involving a head-on collision between the sports car Phil and Claire have “borrowed” from the security consultant and a taxi leaving the two vehicles hopelessly stuck together with armed bad guys shooting at them and the police (the non-corrupt ones) trying to arrest them.

The resolution of the movie is very sweet and I thought very realistic. While I think my relationship with Da Queen is a bit stronger than the one between Phil and Claire – I don’t see us questioning our relationship because another couple splits up – the movie end on a profoundly sweet note and I don’t have a problem with that. In these tough times, a little sweetness can make a lot of difference.

This is meant to be, I think, a screwball comedy and it certainly has many of those elements. The situation escalates from the slightly off-kilter to the totally absurd. There are plenty of laughs, some of which are a little on the blue side, but this is definitely got moments that will keep you chuckling for awhile.

REASONS TO GO: The chemistry between Carell and Fey is genuine. Wahlberg has a small but memorable role.

REASONS TO STAY: Too much needless “business.” Some of the laughs seem a little forced.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality and sexual situations are the culprits here. There’s a little bit of foul language as well; probably not for the more impressionable sorts but generally fine for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Shawn Levy also tackled married couple dynamics in the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen.

HOME OR THEATER: Very doable at home.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Class and a mini-review of Winter’s Bone to kick off our coverage of the Florida Film Festival.