Centigrade (2020)


Baby, it’s cold outside.

(2020) Thriller (IFC MidnightGenesis Rodriguez, Vincent Piazza. Directed by Brendan Walsh

 

I think one of the basic fears of modern man is being stranded, particularly in the middle of nowhere. We rely so much on our modern conveniences – a working car, the Internet, our creature comforts – that when they’re taken away, we’re at a loss as what to do. In the immortal words of The Clash, should I stay or should I go?That’s what faces young American married couple Matt (Piazza) and Naomi (Rodriguez) when they pull over to the side of the road one night during a blizzard. They are on a European book tour for her latest tome, and were driving to their next stop, a hotel in the hinterlands of Norway. She is very pregnant, nearly ready to give birth and they wake up after sleeping the night away to discover that the car won’t start. They can’t open the doors because of the weight of all the ice and snow. It is dangerously cold, and they have precious little in the way of food and water.

The two have very different ideas as to what they should do next. One of them wants to stay put and wait for rescue, while the other thinks that their best chance of survival rests on getting out of the car and walking to safety. Initially, it’s not much of an argument – getting out of the car is out of the question anyway, so they are more or less forced to stay put but as time goes by and desperation grows, something is going to have to give or all that will be found of them re their frozen bodies, still wrapped in blankets in the car.

Rodriguez and Piazza are both fine actors and they do a decent job. It’s a pity that they weren’t given more defined characters to work with. We really don’t find out very much about them during the course of the 90 minutes we are forced to spend with them, which considering that they are stuck inside a car with nothing to do, seems to be almost criminal. They do bicker, but so do most couples and the stress of a life-or-death survival situation is likely to bring out the worst in both of them.

The production is pretty minimalist which makes sense given the confined quarters the characters are in. Walsh at least is creative with his camera angles, but after a while it isn’t really enough to keep our interest. This is the type of movie that would have been much better as a short than as a feature length film; there’s not enough dramatic conflict to sustain us and we don’t even get the benefit of flashbacks to change the monotony

A word about true stories: the movie claims it is “inspired by a true story,” but I couldn’t find any information anywhere about whose story this was based on. That could mean one of two things (at least that come to mind right away); either the people this happened to were unwilling to grant the rights to their story, or the finished story veered so far away from the truth that the real couple wanted nothing to do with it. For all we know, some friend of the producer might have been stranded in their car on a chilly night and the producer thought “Hey, this could be a great movie if we add a blizzard….and they’re snowed in! Yeah, that’s the ticket!!!” All kidding aside, the words “inspired by” can hide a lot of sins, so take the true story aspect with a grain of salt. One aspect couldn’t possibly be true; no obstetrician on the planet would let a woman as pregnant as Naomi fly to Europe to do a book tour.

This is another case of strong concept, less successful execution. For a movie like this to work, we have to get invested in the characters and without really getting much of a glimpse as to who they are, we haven’t much to hold onto and so our interest wanes. Even though the movie isn’t a long one, the lack of action or character development really made it feel much longer. That might be a little bit cold to say, but given the circumstances I think it justified. Still, the actors do give it their all, so if you like either Piazza or Rodriguez (or both) this isn’t a bad rental, but otherwise this is disappointing to say the least.

REASONS TO SEE: Nicely tense and claustrophobic.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too long for the type of movie it is.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a pretty good amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rodriguez and Piazza are an actual couple in real life.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/1/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews, Metacritic: 42/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lamp Light
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Unfamiliar

Hidden Orchard Mysteries: The Case of the Air B and B Robbery


The joys of hanging with your bestie on a summer day.

(2020) Family (VisionJa’ness Tate, Gabriellla Pastore, Catarah Hampshire, Carlos Coleman, Corey J. Grant, Kim Akia, Donovan Williams, Orlando Cortez, Davey Moore, Camilla Elaine, Hunter Bills, Ole Goode, Jaymee Vowell, Kevin Robinson, Vanessa Padla, Candice Richardson, Ja’Juan Burton, Edward Pastore, Audrey Meah, Diane D. Carter, Tim Davidson, Vienna Ash-Simpson. Directed by Brian Shackelford

 

Have you ever been around someone who was consciously trying to sound hip, but the words are awkward and only make you cringe? It’s one thing to have a 17-year-old telling you that they’re woke; it sounds disingenuous when it comes out of a 40-year-old mouth. Sometimes an entire movie can feel that way.

Summer is beckoning and best friends Lulu (Tate) and Gabby (G. Pastore) are looking forward to three months without school. They live in a fairly tony development called Hidden Orchard where people are friendly, but bicker over just about everything, such as a resident’s plan to convert a property into an Air B and B. Then when the house is robbed the neighborhood goes on edge. Lulu and Gabby are determined to solve the mystery that apparently the local police are having issues cracking. The deeper they get into the mystery, however, the greater danger the two intrepid teens realize they are in. Pretty soon solving the case may be the only way they can get out of this with their hides intact.

I have nothing against family movies in general, but oftentimes they seem to be of the opinion that their target audience is unsophisticated and not very bright. I have found that most young people actually have more than a few brain cells rattling around between their ears, and appreciate not having everything spelled out to them. They are perfectly capable of figuring things out for themselves.

Parents and most kids are going to find this cliché and riddled with afternoon special tropes. While Lulu and Gabby get on like a cross between the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (or to be a little more current, like they should be headlining shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark? on Nickelodeon. Your kids may find that intriguing, although most kids are probably not too interested in a 20-year-old TV show.

While the cast is admirably diverse and in particularly, African-Americans are shown in a light of being hard-working, intelligent and prosperous, the acting feels very stiff and the line delivery sounds forced. Worse still, the music – which is constant to the point that there is almost no moments during the film that don’t have a soundtrack – sounds like the score of a bad TV movie comedy. It’s intrusive and noticeable, which is not a good thing at all.

Parents should be aware that there are an awful lot of damns, hells, and hos. While I think that for the most part it’s no worse than what the average kid hears during the course of their day, some parents may be uncomfortable with it, as well as the drug humor herein. I would recommend that parents consider this when deciding whether this is appropriate viewing for their children.

Nothing here is all that offensive, other than the execution. I get the sense that this could have easily turned into a franchise had this been done right, but I can’t think of a single reason to watch a sequel to this. Definitely one of the worst films I’ve seen so far this year.

REASONS TO SEE: Positive portrayal of people of color.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very cliché and predictable. The acting is forced and uniformly mediocre. The score is intrusive and sounds like it was filched from another older bad movie. Although marketed as a family film, some of the material may not be appropriate for some kids.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some peril and rude humor, as well as mild profanity and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although he has directed several documentary features, this is Shackleford’s debut as a narrative feature director.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/23/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Nancy Drew
FINAL RATING: 2/10
NEXT:
Babyteeth

Pontypool


Pontypool

Georgina Reilly has an eating problem.

(IFC) Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak, Rick Roberts (voice), Daniel Fathers (voice), Beatriz Yuste, Tony Burgess. Directed by Bruce McDonald

We use language as a tool to communicate; as a matter of fact it is a necessity. Without language we can’t communicate and without communication society tends to descend into chaos. Language is a prerequisite for civilization. In recent years, we have added enough jargon, slang and nonsense to stretch the English language to the breaking point. What would happen if our language began to fight back?

Grant Mazzy (McHattie) is a shock jock who has seen better days. Fired from his job at a big city station for saying things over the air that his station manager didn’t want him to say, he has landed as the morning drive time jock at the sole radio station in Pontypool, a flea speck of a town in northern Ontario, and I’m thinking it wasn’t the one Neil Young had in mind when he wrote “Helpless.”

Once a voice in the Canadian consciousness, Mazzy is reduced to reporting about lost cats, drinking enough coffee (heavily spiked of course) to drown said cats, and bickering with his producer, Sydney Briar (Houle). His engineer, Laurel-Ann Drummond (Reilly) just returned from a tour of Afghanistan and tends to want Mazzy to speak his mind whereas Sydney wants no repetition of the incident that got him fired and makes it clear he’s on a short leash. All in all not the most dazzling first day on the job.

Then, strange reports begin to come in. The “Sunshine Traffic Copter” (that is in reality a guy parked in a truck on top of a hill overlooking the town) reports a crowd gathering outside the office of the local physician, Dr. Mendez (Alianak). Soon, the increasingly agitated Ken Loney (Roberts) – the guy parked in the truck – makes it clear that the mob is getting violent, ugly. And as the morning wears on, it becomes even clearer that there is something wrong with the people of Pontypool – they’ve developed a taste for human flesh.

As authority breaks down, the three slowly realize that they are under siege in their basement studio. Eventually, Dr. Mendez arrives at the station and informs them that there is a virus going around, but no ordinary one – it is carried through certain words in the English language. In fact, the only way to maintain safety is to speak French, which will certainly have the French separatists in Quebec giving the citizens of Canada a great big “I told you so.”

All kidding aside, this no-budget Canadian horror film is actually rather effective. McDonald, whose last film was the less-than-stellar The Tracey Fragments does a good job of utilizing the claustrophobic nature of the basement sound studio, maintaining the frustration of the staff as they struggle to discover what is going on outside their doors. McHattie, Reilly and Houle all do credible jobs as people who don’t particularly like each other suddenly forced to depend on each other.

It takes a little while for the tension to get amped up but once it gets there, McDonald and writer Tony Burgess sustain it nicely. The ending is also nicely ambiguous, not only leaving room for further sequels (apparently one is in the works) but also leaving viewers wanting a sequel.

The budget is virtually non-existent, forcing a bit of creativity for the moviemakers. Almost all of the action takes place in the sound booth where Mazzy does his thing; while that gives a nice feeling of claustrophobia, it also makes for a very static film, almost as if it were the filmed version of a play. While Orson Welles’ version of The War of the Worlds was effective in its day, radio reports of horror don’t really move the modern horror film audience as profoundly.

However, props and kudos to the filmmakers for taking an unusual concept and sticking to it; many filmmakers don’t have that kind of courage of conviction. Pontypool won’t rewrite the horror genre, but it does provide a thoughtful, insightful thriller with horrific elements that should keep fans who like their horror less visceral and more cerebral quite satisfied.

WHY RENT THIS: A taut thriller with horror elements that utilizes the claustrophobic nature of its main setting nicely.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie drags in places and with the action mainly limited to a single room, lacks a bit of scope that might have served the story better.

FAMILY VALUES: Unrated; there isn’t a lot of gore although there is some. There’s also a bit of foul language and a good deal of tension; definitely not for the squeamish or the impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tony Burgess, who plays Tony/Lawrence in the movie, also wrote the screenplay as well as the novel it’s based upon.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Actually, there’s a fair amount of extras here, including a trio of short films unrelated to the main feature, as well as the audio-only CBC radio version of the play the movie is based on.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Predators