Write When You Get Work


This is what “kissyface” looks like.

(2018) Dramedy (Abramorama) Finn Wittrock, Emily Mortimer, Rachel Keller, Jessica Hecht, Hermione Heckrich, James Ransone, Andrew Schultz, Isabella Blassingame, Afton Williamson, Jennifer Mudge, Mitchell Slaggert, Gregory Isaac Stone, Jeffrey Butler, Robert Eli, Scott Cohen,  Sam Gilroy, Rosa Gilmore, Adele Kader, Ava Capri, Tess Frazer. Directed by Stacy Cochran

 

Sometimes people get off to a bad start. They get involved with the wrong people, get involved with the wrong drugs, or just plain lose their way. Some people stay that way while others make an effort to make a change. After all, it’s not how you start but how you finish.

Jonny (Wittrock) and Ruth (Keller) had that kind of start. The two were high school sweethearts if that’s what you can call a couple who share hurried beach couplings and shoplifting sprees. Nine years later, both have graduated on gone on to different lives. Jonny remains pretty much in the same juvenile pattern, unable to keep a job and forever on the hustle for whatever score he can manage.

Ruth on the other hand has landed a job in the admissions office of an exclusive girls school on Long Island. While it is very much an “interim” position, things are looking up for her. A chance meeting at a funeral for a track coach for the both of them leads Jonny to infiltrate her life, much against her will, involving occasional breaking and entering.

When he finds out about Ruth’s new gig, dollar signs light up his eyes. He looks at the school she works at as his own potential fishing hole. He lands on a particularly vulnerable guppy; Nan Noble (Mortimer) who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her douchebag of a husband (Ransone) is being investigated by the feds for financial chicanery and she is very much worried that her own assets will eventually be seized. Enter smooth-talking Jonny and soon the two hatch a convoluted plot. At first, Ruth is trying to separate Jonny from Ruth but soon gets sucked into the scheme. Things begin to escalate, one double-cross follows another and soon nobody knows who to trust.

I don’t mind a good heist movie, no matter how complicated but you need to have a rooting interest in the con artists. Jonny is just so slimy and so without conscience that you can only root for a quick arrest. Wittrock is a decent enough actor and he is certainly a good looking man but he doesn’t pull off the charming rogue here. Mortimer though is fun to watch; you get the sense that she is one bad day away from cracking and she does high-strung as well as anyone.

There are some moments that are borderline brilliant – the cinematography can be magical – but the plot is so convoluted and relies on people acting in ways that people don’t ever act. Cochran has made a couple of solid movies but this one is a step backwards. By the time you get to the end of the movie you may have already checked out which is a shame because that’s the best part of the movie. File this one under near-miss.

REASONS TO GO: There are flashes of something interesting here. Mortimer does her best with  bad hand.
REASONS TO STAY: Wittrock’s character is completely despicable. The script is convoluted and sometimes not believable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some drug use and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cinematographer Robert Elswit has worked frequently with director Paul Thomas Anderson
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/24/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 46% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Thief
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Invisible Hands

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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

Doomsdays


A thief, another thief and an Indian chief.

A thief, another thief and an Indian chief.

(2013) Comedy (Self-Released) Justin Rice, Leo Fitzpatrick, Brian Charles Johnson, Laura Campbell, Reagan Leonard, Keith Leonard, Deshja Driggs-Hall, Susan Louise O’Conner, Gordon Joseph Weiss, Tom Cherwin, Jenny Bradley, Mark Bain, Jane Hollinger, Neal Huff, Nate Della Ratta, Michael Power, Jason Downs, Scott Hollinger, Wayne Pyle, Heidi K. Eklund, Mourka, Heather M. Kayal. Directed by Eddie Mullins

Florida Film Festival 2014

It’s no secret that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Resources are growing more and more scarce, a trend which is only going to get worse. The environment is pretty well screwed. Politicians dither and posture and do nothing and the well-to-do are positioning themselves to get their chunk of what remains. No wonder there are those who have given up on society.

Dirty Fred (Rice) and Bruho (Fitzpatrick) are two of those. They aren’t your average dropouts however – think of them as hipster survivalists. Absolute believers in the peak oil theories as espoused by M. King Hubbert, rather than find themselves a rathole to hunker down in, they instead prefer the high life of breaking into expensive vacation homes in the rural Catskills where they enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labors – until the liquor and food run out, the owners come back or they just plain get bored.

Fred fancies himself a bit of an intellectual whereas Bruho has almost a phobia about cars; he likes to wreck them but absolutely refuses to set foot in one, so the two of them wear down a lot of shoe leather. They indulge in random acts of vandalism and occasionally hook up with local girls…well Fred does anyway. Bruho doesn’t seem to have the interest in sex with either gender.

At a house party that they crash (which is, apparently, itself thrown without the knowledge of the residents of the house) they meet up with Jaiden (Johnson), a teenager tired of being picked on and marginalized. He begins as a tag along which Fred finds amusing but Jaiden has his uses – mainly to do the grunt work Fred is too lazy to do himself. However at a more refined house party that the boys crash, Fred hooks up with Reyna (Campbell) who soon discovers that these aren’t local boys and fascinated by their lifestyle, joins in. This Bruho seems extremely set against as adding a girl to the mix is only going to make trouble. However, as Fred is something of a dick, chances are she probably won’t be sticking around long.

This isn’t really a black comedy but more of a really dark grey. Mullins, a former film critic, hits a home run with his first feature. This could have easily descended into a miasma of indie cliche and hipster chic but thanks to a superior script and fine performances the movie is elevated to something different.

Fitzgerald and Rice have some terrific chemistry and play off of each other nicely. Their banter is genuine and organic and you don’t for an instant doubt that these guys haven’t been hanging around each other for ages. They have a comfortable familiarity with each other in that both Fred and Bruho know their roles and are content to keep to them.

Johnson reminded me of a Superbad-era Jonah Hill and that’s not a bad thing at all.  He starts out as the odd man out but by the film’s end fits in nicely with the two main characters. Campbell gives the movie a nice twist, a strong and well-written female character which even in indie films can be kind of rare. She is flawed and unapologetic for those flaws and she holds her own with the male leads.

You might find yourself laughing out loud despite yourself; some of the wit here is droll and sometimes it’s one of those things where you find yourself shaking your head when you realize what you’re laughing at. The antisocial behavior and overall zeitgeist of the movie’s main characters may be off-putting to some and if you are offended by random acts of property destruction and disrespect to the haves of our society, you may want to find some other movie to see. Otherwise, this is one of the more intriguing narrative features at this year’s Florida Film Festival and an indie film to keep an eye out for at your local festival.

REASONS TO GO: Elicits much guilty laughter. Great chemistry between Rice and Fitzpatrick. Refreshingly oddball.

REASONS TO STAY: Some might not appreciate the antisocial behavior.

FAMILY VALUES:  Quite a bit of foul language, some scenes of drunkenness and drug use, some sexuality, depictions of vandalizing and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rice is also frontman for the indie rock band Bishop Allen.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/11/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bellflower

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Before I Disappear