Ravage


This is one shutterbug you really shouldn’t mess with.

(2019) Action (BrainstormAnnabelle Dexter-Jones, Bruce Dern, Eric Nelsen, Robert Longstreet, Joshua Brady, Ross Partridge, Chris Pinkalla, Drake Shannon, Michael Weaver. Directed by Teddy Grennan

 

One of the mainstays of grindhouse cinema in the 70s and 80s was the plotline that involved a young woman getting wronged (generally involving rape) by one or a bunch of redneck-types and then goes out to kick the ever-loving deplorable out of ‘em. Those movies fell out of favor, mainly because films depicting rape are frowned upon these days (which is a good thing). But, the kick-ass woman archetype has been passed down through the years in horror films and in revenge thrillers like this one.

Harper Sykes (Dexter-Jones) is a renowned nature photographer who has been acclaimed for going to remote and sometimes dangerous areas to get her shots and it has paid off; she has photographed two species that were thought to be extinct. Now she’s closer to home, in the (fictional) Watchatoomy Valley where, it is whispered, there are homicidal Catholics and cannibalistic Chinese living in the dense woods.

As she looks for a specific species of bird in the wilderness, she stumbles across something she’s not meant to see; a group of good ole boys feeding a man to their dogs. Sickened, she takes pictures of the perpetrators and high-tails it to the local police. Before she can show the sympathetic sheriff (Partridge) her pictures, she is abducted by the bad guys and taken to their leader, Ravener (Longstreet).

She is beaten and raped, but manages to escape, leading the men on a deadly chase where she turns out to be surprisingly vicious herself. On the way back, she runs into a nice old man (Dern) and winds up making it back to town, where a not-so-pleasant surprise waits for her.

This is as brutal a film as you’re going to see this year; it has elements of torture porn and the aforementioned grindhouse fare, but there is a bit of a modern vibe to it as well, so it never feels like a rehash of something that has come before. One of the reasons the movie works so well is the performance of Dexter-Jones, who is vulnerable at times, but hard as nails when the chips are down. She has all the makings of both an excellent action hero and a fine scream queen. She definitely has the confidence and charisma to carry a movie as she does here as she’s in almost every scene.

Most of the gore here is implied and for those who are concerned that the rape will trigger sensitive sorts, it is never actually shown onscreen but alluded to in dialogue. The ending is a wild one; you may be blown away or you may be disgusted. Either way, you won’t look the same way at dairy farms again.

There are a few problems here; most of the film is told in the form of a flashback, so we know in advance that the heroine is going to survive, even though she is bandaged head to toe in her interrogation scenes with a skeptical state detective (Weaver), which leads to another issue here – some cringe-inducing plot points. Why would a detective assume that a world-renowned photographer (as Harper is set up to be) is a demented meth-head? Why doesn’t she utilize the motorbikes that are available to her several times during the course of the film instead of trying to hike out on foot? And why does someone as methodical and as obviously well-trained as Harper is end up trusting someone who she doesn’t know, especially after she’s been burned before more than once?

Other than those sorts of things, this is a movie that grabs you by the throat and shakes you like a rabid dog with a piece of diseased flyblown meat in its maw. There isn’t anything terribly redeeming and considering the abuse that Harper takes, no triumphant feminist message; it’s just bad things happening to a good person who may have looked like a fairly vulnerable girl but turned out to be an ass-kicker of the first order. I enjoyed just about every minute of it.

REASONS TO SEE: A lot better than you think it’s going to be. Dexter-Jones proves to be an excellent action hero.
REASONS TO AVOID: Gets a little far-fetched in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, a fair amount of profanity, and some sexual/rape references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmed in Virginia near Somerset.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/23/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mother’s Day (1980)
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Train to Busan Presents Peninsula

The Cuban


The memories of when we were young.

(2019) Drama (Brainstorm) Louis Gossett Jr., Ana Golja, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Lauren Holly, Giacomo Gianniotti, Shiva Negar, Jonathan Keltz, Layla Alizada, Kane Mahon, Tabby Johnson, Margaret Lamarre, Gerry Mendicino, Richard Chevolleau, Emily Piggford, Mazida Soroor, Paulbaum Wildbaum, Wajma Soroor, Nadine Roden, Pazz Neglia, Olga Consorti. Directed by Sergio Navarretta

 

Our culture is remarkably cruel to the elderly. We have a tendency to shut them away in warehouses for the old, out of sight and out of mind. We sigh and tell ourselves that it is in the best interests of those whose golden years are tinged with rusted iron; in reality it is as often a convenience for ourselves.

Young Mina Ayoub (Golja) is a pre-med student starting her first day on the job in an extended care facility. One of her assignments, as passed on to her by head Nurse Baker (Holly) is to care for Luis Garcia (Gossett), a cantankerous gentleman who is in the throes of vascular dementia and in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. He refuses to eat the dietitian-prescribed food that is supposed to be good for his ailing heart. She notices a poster of Benny Moré on the wall, a legendary Cuban trumpeter. Her late father had introduced her to Cuban music so she has a bit more familiarity with it than the average Afghan immigrant.

She also lives with her Aunt Bana (Aghdashloo), who as an administrator for the facility, is watching Mina like a hawk. Bana had a career as a physician in Kabul before the violence there forced her to move to Canada but it meant giving up her career and taking care of her niece, who by then had been orphaned

Mina is oddly drawn to Luis and decides to play some Cuban jazz records to see if they would stimulate something more than the vacant stare he gives (when he’s not throwing plates in her general direction when she tries to get him to eat). She also discovers that Luis is willing to eat Cuban food that he remembers fondly, so she begins cooking some for him and bringing it in.

Gradually we discover that Luis was one of the most revered guitar players in Cuba, whose band Los Cubanos played all over the world and shared the stage with luminaries like Dizzy Gillespie. He also was deeply in love with Elena (Golja in a dual role), the band’s singer. The food and the music begin to awaken Luis and he and Mina begin to bond. She also begins a romance with Kris (Gianniotti), a teacher’s assistant at her college who is studying psychology and has some insight into Luis’ condition, as well as a guitar. Soon, it appears Luis is coming out of his shell, but that generally means that the other shoe is about to drop.

Navarretta, whose career spans 20 years although he has mostly directed short films, is a bit heavy-handed in places; for example, the flashback scenes of Luis in Havana are vibrant and colorful; the scenes in the nursing home drab and colorless. We get that Luis’ life is more vivid in his memory than in his intolerable present, but I don’t think it was necessary to make the home look like Alcatraz.

The performances here are strong with the 84-year-old Gossett showing that he won an Oscar for a reason; he imbues Luis with humanity and dignity, despite the fact that his dementia is robbing him of both. Luis is often volatile, his moods swinging wildly from violence to joy to child-like to weary, sometimes within the confines of a single conversation. Although his Cuban accent slips from time to time, his chemistry with Golja is undeniable and she brings a great deal of life to the film; she’s another veteran of the DeGrassi series that seems to have employed nearly every actor in Canada at one time or another.

Although the movie is low-key, it does show a genuine affection for Cuban music and culture, not to mention a valid point to make about how the elderly are treated in modern Western society. I could have done without the subplot of the romance between Mina and Kris; it distracts from the real story which is the relationships between Mina and Luis, and between Mina and her family, which is also an important commentary on the expectations of immigrant families which I could relate to directly. This is a movie that some might write off as a Hallmark channel type of film, but I can assure you that it is much, much more – it is a hidden gem that film buffs would do well to seek out.

REASONS TO SEE: A love letter to Cuban music as well as an indictment of how we warehouse the elderly.
REASONS TO AVOID: The romance between Mina and Kris feels unnecessary
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief mild violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The soundtrack was written by Hilario Duran, a veteran Cuban pianist whose own life story has many similarities to that of Luis Garcia.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinematic Experience
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/4/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews, Metacritic: 53/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Buena Vista Social Club: Adios
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Rebuilding Paradise

Working Man


A true working man isn’t afraid to stand alone.

(2020) Drama (BrainstormPeter Gerety, Billy Brown, Talia Shire, Bobby Richards, Matthew Russell, J. Salome Martinez, Gary Houston, Patrese McClain, Daniel Leahy, Bradley Grant Smith, Jason Singer, Michael Brunlieb, Kristen Fitzgerald, Ryan Hallahan, Marc Grapey, Liam C. Miller, Aurora Real de Asua, Barbara E. Robertson, Laurie Larson, Bea Cordelia. Directed by Robert Jury

 

There was a time when working in a factory was worthy of respect, a time when America actually made things and “made in the USA” was a symbol of pride. This country had a workforce of me and women that dressed in faded jeans, sturdy work boots and hard hats, trudged to work every morning, lunch pail in hand, and stopped at the local tavern after work to throw down a cold one, shoot some pool and hang out with the guys before heading home for a meatloaf or whatever. Then, watch a little TV, go to bed, and start up again the next day.

We used to make movies about these people as well, so if Working Man feels a little bit like a throwback, it’s understandable because it is. Allery Parkes (Gerety) works at New Liberty Plastics in a Rust Belt town, the last factory in a town that once had a dozen of them. He’s a beefy guy who walks with a bit of a shuffle, a result of spending a lifetime standing on his feet for eight hours. Allery doesn’t say much, doesn’t really even talk to his wife other than a muttered “See you at dinner” as he slowly walks out the door and walks to work, past the row houses of fellow co-workers.

This day is different, though; the factory is closing down. Where once it employed 500 people, the last fifty are being shown the door, kicked to the curb with a pitiful severance check and with few if any prospects for the future. Grim scenes like that have played out in American factories for the last fifty years, so much so that they are kind of rare now because, let’s face it, most manufacturing has shut down in the United States, imported by faceless corporate bean counters to third world countries where labor is cheap, overhead is cheaper and safety precautions are non-existent. It is one of the more shameful effects of capitalism.

Most of his co-workers gather on the porch where they listen to a police scanner because there really isn’t much else to do but Allery was always something of a loner. However, when they see him trudging off to work in the morning, lunch pail in hand, they all wonder if he hasn’t lost his marbles. So, too, does wonder his worried wife Iola (Shire) who calls their pastor (Smith) to talk to Allery, who just grunts and excuses himself, walking out the door.

One person who doesn’t think Allery has lost it is Walter Brewer (Brown), a newcomer who was only employed by the company for less than a year before it was all shut down. He understands that our identity is wrapped up in our employment; the dignity of having a use, of contributing something, of being valued – not so much by those who write the paychecks who rarely value their employees properly, but by those around them.

Allery, unable to face a future of uselessness, has been breaking in to the old factory and finding it without power, cleaning up the place, eating his lunch in a deserted break room by himself which isn’t much of a change. Walter happens to have a set of keys that he copied when asked to oversee the replacement of windows on the dilapidated old factory and he lets the two of them back into the factory, then connives to get the power turned back on and comes up with a kind of strange plan – the factory had closed with orders outstanding. If they can fill those orders, maybe the owners will see the value of the place and reopen the factory. It does sound like a pipe dream but Allery, needing something to do, is amenable.

So the others, alerted by Walter, come back to work and occupy the factory in kind of a disorganized way, gaining attention of the local media which eventually leads the company to take notice. Allery becomes the face of this peculiar worker’s revolt and even as inarticulate as he is, nevertheless resonates.

Movies like this were much more prevalent in the 70s when factory closings had become an epidemic; they were also embraced in the UK where filmmakers like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh made eloquent films about the working class. This is also the kind of film that independent directors should flock to, with a story that resonates with just about anyone, even those who haven’t worked a day in a factory in their lives.

The movie is built around Allery and veteran character actor Gerety brings him to life. You may know him from television roles in Ray Donovan, The Wire and Sneaky Pete. Gerety is pushing 80 now, but has excelled at roles that required no-nonsense performances and this is easily his best work yet. Much of his work is internalized; Allery staring uncomprehending into his wife’s face before turning away, Allery dealing with a family tragedy that has caused him to shut down and close off.

He is supported by Shire, the biggest name in the cast who won acclaim for her performances in The Godfather and the Rocky movies as a Mafia princess in the former and a boxer’s wife in the latter. She is neither Connie Corleone nor Adrian Balboa here but a tired woman who has seen some hard times but has taken comfort in her marriage which has become largely a succession of routines. It’s a marvelous role for her, and she hits it out of the park.

Unfortunately for both of them, the movie makes an odd turn into melodrama in the last third. Jury, he also wrote the film, ends up writing himself into a corner and takes a movie that was going in an interesting direction and perhaps trying to give it a kind of different spin, ends up derailing the trip. I understand him wanting to make this movie uniquely his, and that’s to be commended, but sometimes simple is better.

A movie about people coping with a loss of income and an uncertain future might hit a little too close to home on a day where the news is that we have hit Depression-era levels of unemployment in this country, but the film is nevertheless a strong one that should be checked out if for no other reason because of the performances throughout the cast, including the supporting roles which is a rarity. Jury looks to be a talent to keep an eye out for in the future.

REASONS TO SEE: Gerety gives a stirring performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: Starts off promising but descends into melodrama.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Film editors Richard Halsey and Morgan Halsey are father and daughter.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/7/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews Metacritic: 72/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gung Ho
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Jesus Rolls

Boom Bust Boom


Terry Jones is bullish.

Terry Jones is bullish.

(2016) Documentary (Brainstorm) Terry Jones, John Cusack, Andy Haldane, Zvi Bodie, Robert J. Shiller, Steven Kinsella, Perry Mehrling, Dirk Bezemer, Wilhelm H. Buited, Paul Mason, John Cassidy, Steve Keen, James Galbraith, Randall Wray, Nathan Tankus, Daniel Kahneman, Laurie Santos, Lucy Prebble. Directed by Terry Jones, Bill Jones and Ben Timlett

It is a fact of life that our lives are deeply affected by forces largely out of our control. It is not an exaggeration to say that many of these forces are literally beyond our understanding; one of those things is economics. Economics make the world go round in a capitalist society; when the system is working properly, prosperity is shared. When it isn’t however…

Jones, who some may remember from the subversive Monty Python comedy team from the 70s, aims to make sense of why bad things happen to economies. Using interviews with economists and historians to explain why economies that are booming end up going bust eventually.

The concepts are certainly interesting; basically Jones and his fellow filmmakers are arguing that the tendency for good economic times to breed a kind of euphoria that leads to bad decision making, an onset of greed and an eventual “bubble bursting” which takes the economy down. A lot of the concepts here have been argued by now-deceased economists like John Kenneth Galbraith (who like the other deceased thinkers are portrayed here by puppets and voiced by voice-over actors) and present-day ones like Haldane, Kinsella and Bodie.

But unlike most of the financial documentaries we’ve seen in the last couple of years, the finger-pointing that goes on (and there is some, to be honest) is tempered by an optimism that things can change. However our entire institutional mindset has to change, beginning with how we educate our up and coming economists. We see some interviews with college students studying for economic degrees who know little of the history of economic crises, from the Dutch Tulip crisis of the 17th century to the Great Depression of 1929 to even the most recent recession.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, which makes not teaching it more of a crime. And in some ways, this entire documentary – only an hour and 15 minutes long – feels a bit like a teaching aid at an advanced high school teaching economics for students who might want to be economists someday. The puppets and animations that accompany the fairly dry talking head interviews are at least entertaining if at times simplistic.

However, there aren’t enough of them to really elevate this and the interviews can be a bit sleep-inducing, although there are a few charismatic sorts here including activist-actor Cusack who has some pretty strong opinions on the 2008 subprime bubble collapse. There’s also some fascinating information not only about the various bubbles but how they are part of human nature as anthropologist Laurie Santos shows an experiment in which monkeys on an island off of Miami were made to have a capitalist-like society with “monkey money” exchanged for the things they need and how they made horrible decisions based on manipulation by the scientists.

I find stuff like this fascinating; Da Queen, who works in the financial sector, is not normally very enthusiastic about these sorts of documentaries – it’s too much like being at work, she tells me – but she liked this one even more than I did, which should tell you something. I did find the interviews to be occasionally sleep-inducing, but that doesn’t mean that Jones and cohorts don’t explain the subject well, nor that the information isn’t good and necessary.

Not everyone will get into this, but this is useful information in understanding how the economy works. And we all should have at least a basic understanding of it, particularly if we intend to do any investing. If we’re going to make the right decisions with our money, we should understand how the system can work against us – or for us. Education is the first step in making things better; movies like this one provide it.

REASONS TO GO: The puppetry and some of the animation is fun. Some very interesting historical information.
REASONS TO STAY: A very dry topic indeed. A whole lot of talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: Some adult themes and topics.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Directors Terry and Bill Jones are father and son, respectively.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: VOD, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/10/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Capitalism: A Love Story
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Automatic Hate