The Samuel Project


here’s still a little bit of Barney Miller in Hal linden.

(2018) Family Drama (In8 Releasing) Hal Linden, Ryan Ochoa, Michael B. Silver, Mateo Arias, Ken Davitian, Phillippe Bowgen, Catherine Siggins, Pia Thrasher, Callie Gilbert, Malina Moye, Lilinda Camaisa, Robert Ochoa, Casey Nicholas Price, Anahid Avanesian, Ken Venzke, Lauro Rocha, Filippo Duelk, Patee Spurlock, Liza Lapira. Directed by Marc Fusco

Back in my day, they called it the “generation gap” – the increasingly difficulty between older generations and younger generations to communicate with each other and understand one another. These days that gap appears to be wider than ever with folks from my generation having a hard time with Millennials and Post-Millennials. I can only imagine that to my parent’s generation Millennials might as well be from Mars.

Eli (Ryan Ochoa) is a teen who is nearing graduation from his suburban San Diego high school. His passion is not girls nor sports but art. He loves to draw, particularly fantasy scenes not unlike heavy metal album covers. He wants to go to art school to his father’s (Silver) chagrin; basically art school is completely out of reach financially. In any case, there’s no money in it; Eli would be better served going to a community college, taking some business courses and with his Associate Degree in hand get himself some paper-pushing job that pays real money.

Eli is also tasked with visiting his grandfather who is essentially estranged from his son, Eli’s father. Grandpa Samuel (Linden) owns a neighborhood dry cleaning business and is more or less content with his life. He is friendly and outgoing but only with his customers; with his own family he tends to be close-mouthed about his past.

When his close friend Uma (Thrasher) arrives in town, very ill, he is thrilled to go see her and takes Eli along because he needs someone to drive him. Shortly after the visit, word reaches Samuel that Uma has passed away. When Eli asks about Uma, Samuel becomes very terse and refuses to talk about her.

At about that time Eli’s media teacher (Bowgen) assigns the class a project to do a multi-media presentation based on something in history that affects them directly. Eli realizes that his grandfather’s story would be perfect. The pot is sweetened that the best entries would be presented at a local competition where they would be seen by those in the business and in education. Eli’s future is suddenly riding on this project, but can he get his reluctant grandfather to talk?

This has a very family-friendly vibe and is meant to be something of a parable about the inability of various generations to connect and see each other as individuals. That’s not a message that has gone unsent by Hollywood films previously, but this one shows a good deal of charm in sending it.

The chief reason why that is so is the presence of Hal Linden. Best known for the cop sitcom Barney Miller, Linden has always been a gifted actor with seven Primetime Emmy nominations and Four Golden Globe nominations to prove it. He shows here that he still has it at 87 years of age; there is that eye twinkle that made Barney such a revered character. Linden’s charm and his ability to communicate so much with small gestures makes this performance well worth seeing for those of my generation and those who just like seeing a master at work.

His chemistry with Disney Kid Ochoa is rocky in places but it’s still there. Ochoa does better with Linden than he does with Arias who plays Kasim, Eli’s metalhead friend from school. Unfortunately, Kasim’s role is completely superfluous and his monosyllabic dialogue does nothing for the movie. The film would have been better off concentrating more on Eli’s relationship with Samuel – or perhaps with a prospective girlfriend, although the filmmakers didn’t choose to go that way.

The ending is definitely a heartstring-tugger even though you can see it coming a mile away. In fact the story is fairly rote throughout with plenty of family film clichés to spare but the cast is charming enough that one can overlook it – although not enough to prevent me from giving it only a mild recommendation. While it’s worth seeing because of Linden, the story around which Linden is given to perform isn’t sadly on par with his talents.

REASONS TO GO: Hal Linden is still a very good actor who has decent chemistry with Ochoa.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is a fairly rote generation gap-type of film.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some teen smoking and a few adult themes about the brutality of the Holocaust.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The 87-year-old Linden recently won the lifetime achievement award at the Heartland Film Festival where this film was shown.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/14/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Akeelah and the Bee
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Free Solo

The Depths


Men love to manspliain even to other men.

(2017) Drama (Valor) Patch Darragh, Michael Rispoli, Charlotte Kirk, Michelle Ventimilla, Gia Crovatin, Anthony LoCascio, Hampton Fluker, Suzette Gunn, Michael Sorvino, Jennifer Bassey, Lucas Salvagno, Jesse R. Tendler, Randy DeOrio, Wally Marzano-Lesnevich, Leon Gonzalez, Alexander C. Mulzac, Tom Coughllin, Chuck Obasi, Peter Barkouras, Lisa LoCascio. Directed by Jamison M. LoCascio

 

Sometimes in order to be a successful writer you have to go somewhere you wouldn’t necessarily or even want to. You have to explore places that might be abhorrent to you, think thoughts that are alien to you and become people you don’t want to be. Sometimes, to write a great screenplay you have to plumb the depths.

Ray (Rispoli) and Mickey (Darragh) are best friends and aspiring screenwriters. They have been working two years on a screenplay about a pair of brothers who become killers; one repelled by it, the other becoming addicted to it. It seems like a swell idea and they take their completed masterpiece to a powerful producer but he passes on it, advising the two aspiring Oscar winners to “write what they know.”

Ray takes this to heart, arranging for him and Mickey to go on a call with a homicide detective. Mickey though thinks that scrapping the script and starting from scratch is the way to go. The two men get into a disagreement about the direction they want their script to go. The bad blood is fueled by Mickey becoming friendly with Chloe (Kirk), a prostitute who Ray had been seeing but whose relationship had been falling apart because of Ray’s jealousy and combative personality.

Mickey gets fired from his job at a hardware store because he is consistently late (having to do very much with his inclination to party) and decides to go full bore writing his own version of the script. He also gets addicted to cocaine, which is not a good idea when you’re unemployed. With Ray working on his own script, Mickey has faith in his writing skills and creative ideas (which he has a notebook to jot them down in) and believes his script will be the better of the two…until he finds that his precious notebook has been stolen. Things are bound to get ugly from there.

This was the first full-length feature by writer-director-producer LoCascio who also helmed this year’s Sunset. This outing is dramatically different in tone and construction; it’s nice to know that LoCascio isn’t a one-trick pony. There is almost a noir-ish feel to the film although in many ways it’s more street-gritty, sort of like what noir would be if it had been started forty years later.

Although the main cast aren’t household names, they are solid actors all with some strong resumes behind them. Darragh (Sully, Boardwalk Empire) does a good job as Mickey who starts off as a sweet screw-up and gradually sinks into an abyss of coke-fueled paranoia. Rispoli (Kick-Ass, The Rum Diary) goes from being the heavy to being sympathetic. He’s the most Noo Yawk of the two which fits the grittiness of the film to a “T.” Kirk (Vice, Oceans 8) is not only breathtakingly beautiful but also has the right amount of world-weariness and vulnerability to make the brassy Chloe more than just a stereotype.

The last third, as Mickey sinks further and further into delusional behavior becomes a bit more cliché than the rest of the film which is understandable but still drags the overall rating down a tad. The film also shows its minuscule budget pretty obviously, with only a handful of sets but it must be said that LoCascio manages to do a lot with a little. Nonetheless this is the kind of first feature that any director would be proud to have, and with those two films under his belt I think we can expect a lot more from him in the future.

REASONS TO GO: The film is marked by good performances and a strong story.
REASONS TO STAY: The story loses a little cohesion towards the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug use, disturbing images, violence, partial nudity and sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won Best Narrative Feature at the Manhattan Film Festival in 2017.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/24/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Nightcrawler
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
 Ready Player One

Meat (Vlees)


This is not your ordinary meat market.

This is not your ordinary meat market.

(2010) Thriller (Artsploitation) Titus Muizelaar, Nellie Benner, Hugo Metsers, Elvira Out, Kitty Courbois, Gurkan Kucuksenturk, Wilma Bakker, Jasper van Beusekom, Ali Sultan, Frans Bakker, Eric van Wijk, Taco Schenkhuizen, Guido Paulsen, David Jan Bronsgeest, Nadine Roodenburg, Philippe de Voogdt, Florian Visser, Maarten Wijsmuller, Cindy Robinson, Sander Schreuders, Piet Leendertse. Directed by Victor Nieuwenhujis and Maartje Seyferth

 

We are a carnal species, creatures of the flesh. Most of us are meat-eaters and all of us indulge in a healthy interest in sex and, occasionally, unhealthy. As civilized as we like to think ourselves to be, we are at heart animals with animal needs and animal desires.

In a small Dutch seaside town lives a Butcher (Muizelaar) who runs a small but tidy butcher shop. He’s a lonely guy looking for someone to love and who’ll love him back, but he’s not an exceptionally handsome, in good shape kind of guy and I suppose people just inherently don’t trust people who work with a lot of knives. He has a prostitute friend named Teena (W. Bakker) whom he has romantic illusions of but she turns out to be all business.

The butcher’s apprentice is Roxy (Benner), a comely student who has a boyfriend named Mo (Kucuksenturk) who is, ironically enough, an animal activist. Roxy has a handy-cam that she turns on whatever turns her fancy, whether it is the Butcher disconsolately shagging Teena in the freezer, or a tray of freshly butchered offal. When the butcher begins what can only be termed sexually harassing Roxy, she doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. In fact, the two begin shagging themselves, particularly after Teena starts flaunting her sexuality, having sex with clients and her pimp (who happens to be the butcher’s boss) in the freezer which seems to spur on Roxy, who is much younger than Teena, to initiate a sexual affair with her boss.

Parallel to that is Inspector Mann who has a startling resemblance to the Butcher – mainly because he’s played by the same guy. Inspector Mann seems to be floating along through life on whatever current might take him. His marriage to Sonia (Out) is disintegrating, largely because of Mann’s own disinterest. The only things that apparently interest him are watering his desultory office plant, and eating. Sex with his wife seems to frighten him. Even tragedy doesn’t move him much; he just seems to shrug his shoulders and move on.

The butcher’s tale (which sounds like it should have been written by Chaucer but in this case more like by way of Lars von Trier) intersects with that of Inspector Mann in an unexpected and somewhat horrific way. Once that happens, the lethargic Mann is moved to take action, but where does the connection truly lie?

This isn’t a horror film precisely. It’s more of a psychological thriller but on LSD. Maybe it would be more accurate to call it a psychedelic thriller; some of the images resemble an acid trip and truly they speak for themselves. There isn’t a lot of dialogue here (a previous film by Seyferth had none at all) and indeed Roxy doesn’t speak until nearly halfway through the film. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot going on though.

There is an awful lot of naked flesh here, both of the human and slaughterhouse varieties. We see the butcher plying his trade which may make some sensitive vegetarian/vegan sorts more than a little nauseous. We see a lot of very graphic sex, almost to the point of pornography which may make some sensitive prudes more than a little squeamish. If you fall into either category, it would be a wise thing for you  to stop reading now and move on to something else because there’s no point in you seeing this movie at all.

Benner is a fresh faced beauty and certainly seeing her naked (as she is for a good percentage of the film) is no great hardship; Muizelaar is a fine actor and has two similar but disparate roles to work on here, although he is less pleasing naked. However, both Inspector Mann and the butcher have body image issues so the flab both of them display naked is somewhat necessary.

The movie doesn’t always make narrative sense and the ending is something of a bad trip. This isn’t a film for everybody – let’s be very clear about that now. It requires a bit of work to get into but I thought it well worth the effort. Not everybody will. This Meat is rather highly seasoned and spicy, but for those of that particular palate, this is a dish best consumed quickly.

REASONS TO GO: Benner and Muizelaar give sterling performances. The film keeps you off-balance in an unsettling way.
REASONS TO STAY: Some might find it too “artsy fartsy.” A little bit on the disjointed side.
FAMILY VALUES:  Graphic nudity and sex, some disturbing butchery images, an attempted rape and adult situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Although the film is just getting released in the states, it debuted at the Rotterdam Film Festival way back in 2010.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Vimeo, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/20/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wetlands
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Nick Cave: Once More with Feeling

The Tenth Man (El Rey del Once)


The King of Buenos Aires!

The King of Buenos Aires!

(2016) Drama (Kino Lorber) Alan Sabbagh, Julieta Zyllerberg, Usher Barilka (voice), Elvira Onetto, Adrian Stoppelman, Daniel Droblas, Elisa Carricajo (voice), Dan Breitman, Uriel Rubin, Dalmiro Burman. Directed by Daniel Burman

 

There are those of us who embrace our roots. Then, there are others of us who want to disconnect ourselves from our roots entirely. Much of that has to do with our childhood and how we feel about it. The traditions of our upbringing can be a prison – or set us free entirely.

Ariel (Sabbagh) is an economist currently living in New York but who grew up in El Once, the Jewish quarter of Buenos Aires. He is dating a ballerina (Carricajo) and things are getting serious between them. He is returning home to Buenos Aires to introduce his girl to his father Usher (Barilka) who runs a charitable foundation in El Once, serving the poor of that area and providing them with prescription medicine, clothes, food and even arranging for shelter.

Things start going wrong before he even leaves for the airport. His girlfriend has to stay behind because she’s wangled an audition for a major ballet company, so she will be arriving a few days late. Usher asks Ariel to find a size 46 shoe with Velcro instead of laces for a bed-ridden client of the foundation, and although Ariel searches everywhere, he can’t find shoes with Velcro in the short amount of time that he was allotted by his father, who sprung that on him just hours before he had to board his plane.

Once he gets to town, Usher is nowhere to be found although his Aunt Susy (Onetto) shepherds him inside the foundation which is surrounded by angry clients, looking to get meat for the upcoming Purim celebration; the Foundation has none due to a payment dispute between Usher and Mamuñe, a local butcher. Finally Usher calls and has Ariel deliver the shoes, then go to the apartment of a deceased client to find unused prescriptions to take back to the Foundation to redistribute. He is accompanied by Eva (Zylberberg), an attractive but mute Orthodox Jew whose hand he cannot even shake due to the proscriptions of their brand of the faith. It’s this kind of thing that drove a wedge between Ariel and Usher to begin with.

As the week progresses, things begin to fall apart for Ariel who continues to be avoided by his father and who gets roped into performing errands for the Foundation. However, Ariel begins to be inspired by Eva’s spirit and sweetness, and slowly he begins to succumb to the charm of his old neighborhood. What will this mean for the fractured relationship between father and son, and more to the point, between the son and his faith?

Burman has a history of films that deal with the Jewish faith in Latin America that explore similar subjects as he does here, although not quite in the same way. The early part of the movie is a little bit off-center, even a bit surreal as the two most important people in Ariel’s life – his father and his girlfriend – are nothing more than voices on a cellular phone and he wanders about El Once, a bit lost and befuddled. Gradually, though through the rhythms of the neighborhood and its rituals and particularly through the sweet and gentle Eva (who actually does have a voice), he finds a sense of purpose and connection and that journey is at the heart of the movie.

Sabbagh spends most of the movie on the phone, and that can be fairly boring cinematically speaking but the actor, who resembles Jason Alexander a bit to my mind, pulls it off. He plays Ariel as a fairly low-key individual; there are no histrionics, only a sense of frustration that grows as the movie begins, but the more he becomes involved in the neighborhood and with Eva, the more he changes and finds himself. It’s a stellar performance and one you may not want to miss.

I have to admit I was squirming a bit through the first half of the film but the longer it went on, the more it appealed to me. Burman clearly feels a connection with El Once (he is also a resident of the area) and just as clearly a real affection for it. The movie was filmed in the neighborhood and many of the people who live there show up as extras or in small roles.

Most of the time when we see movies about the Jewish experience, we are seeing it either in New York, Eastern Europe or Israel. Burman’s films provide us a look at what Judaism means in Latin America, a predominantly Catholic region but certainly with a fairly large Jewish population. The movie isn’t necessarily a love letter to El Once, but it certainly plays a role in the film and is a large part of why I liked it so much.

Given the charm of the neighborhood and Ariel’s evolution (or de-evolution from a certain standpoint) this is the kind of movie that generally appeals to me. It’s low-key, charming and provides a look at life somewhere that I probably will never see. Movies like this give us perspective into our own daily lives and even if you’re not Jewish, you will likely find this as heartfelt and warm as I did.

REASONS TO GO: This is the kind of movie that grows on you as it plays. Sabbagh plays it low-key and gives a tremendous performance.
REASONS TO STAY: Some might find this a bit overly out there, particularly at the beginning.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scene filmed in the Mad About Fabrics store was filmed in the actual store with the owner of the store playing himself. Usher Barilka, who runs the charitable foundation in the area that the one in the film is based on, provides his voice as Ariel’s father.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/6/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Putzel
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Secret Life of Pets

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding


Living the hippie life.

Living the hippie life.

(2011) Comedy (IFC) Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Ann Osmond, Rbert Bowen Jr., Marissa O’Donnell, Nat Wolff, Elizabeth Olsen, Joyce Van Patten, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyle MacLachlan, Joseph Dunn, Chace Crawford, Rosanna Arquette, Katharine McPhee, Denise Burse, Teri Gibson, Poorna Jagannathan, Terry McKenna, Wayne Pyle, Alison Ball, Laurent Rejto. Directed by Bruce Beresford

When things are going wrong in our lives, it is a natural instinct to run back home to our parents. Sometimes, we just crave the comfort of being next to our figures of security but other times, it’s their wisdom that we truly need.

Diane (Keener) is a high-powered Manhattan lawyer who is used to being in control. When her husband (MacLachlan) announces that he wants to divorce her, it shakes her to her very core. Needing a refuge, she decides to go home to mom in Woodstock. The trouble is, Diane’s mom Grace (Fonda) is something of a free spirit who hasn’t really left the 60s and the two women, as different as night and day, haven’t really spoken in 20 years.

But Diane has more than her own pride to think about. Her young son Jake (Wolff) is terribly shy and lacks self-confidence. That might just be because her daughter Zoe (Olsen), a budding poet, is terribly judgmental about things and people. Her kids need a support system while Diane tries to put her shattered life back together.

All three find Grace to be more than a little irritating at first and Woodstock a bit too sedate for their liking. However, all three find romantic interests; Jake falls for Tara (O’Donnell), a waitress at the local coffee shop; Zoe, a vegan, against all odds develops a crush on Cole (Crawford), a butcher. Even Diane finds time to become romantically involved with Jude (Morgan), a budding musician.

As the family finds healing in the love of others, Grace and Diane begin to find common ground. Can the two women, at war with each other for over two decades, finally make peace? Maybe there’s hope for the Middle East yet if these two can mend their differences.

Australian director Bruce Beresford has some pretty nifty movies to his credit and while he hasn’t really made it to the top tier of Hollywood directors, he is nonetheless well-respected and has had a consistent career. This movie isn’t one that is going to be a resume highlight but it nonetheless has its own kind of charm.

Chief among its charms is Fonda, who rarely gets lead roles these days and usually plays crusty old broads, curmudgeonly old mothers-in-law or this one, the eccentric granny. We tend to forget what an amazing career Fonda has had, with Oscar-caliber performances in Klute, Coming Home and On Golden Pond.

Also of note is the village of Woodstock. Famous for the music festival (which actually took place on a farm 60 miles away), the town – if this movie is to be believed – has capitalized on the notoriety of the festival and has become kind of a high-end Berkeley (those of you who live or have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area will immediately know what I mean). Think of it as a college town permanently stuck in a by-gone era.

This isn’t an inconsequential film mind you, but it isn’t something you have to overthink. It’s a charming, pleasant diversion that might bring a smile to your face and is nicely performed and directed. It won’t necessarily change your life any although the lessons it teaches about living life at a pace that doesn’t burn you out is well-taken (the ones about being in love solving all your problems, not so much) and you’re never really hit over the head with them. It’s one of those movies that gives you the warm fuzzies and sometimes, like a hug from your mom, that’s all you need.

WHY RENT THIS: Strong female roles and performances. Woodstock is a charming location.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit scattershot. Seems to indicate that the secret to happiness is romance.
FAMILY VALUES: There are a few sexual references and some comedic drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although two films she performed after shooting this one were released before it, this was actress Elizabeth Olsen’s first cinematic acting job.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $590,700 on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Georgia Rules
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Insidious Chapter III

So I Married an Axe Murderer


Scotland has a love-hate relationship with Mike Myers.

Scotland has a love-hate relationship with Mike Myers.

(1993) Comedy (TriStar) Mike Myers, Nancy Travis, Anthony LaPaglia, Amanda Plummer, Alan Arkin, Brenda Fricker, Matt Doherty, Charles Grodin, Phil Hartman, Debi Mazar, Steven Wright, Patrick Bristow, Cintra Wilson, Luenell Campbell, Michael Richards, Michael G. Hagerty, Jessie Nelson, Bob Sarlatte, Ken Grantham, Greg Germann, Holly Lewis. Directed by Thomas Schlamme

Do we really know the person we’re closest to? After all, it’s very easy to create a facade of normalcy. We can say anything about ourselves and the person who loves us will believe us. After all, why should we lie?

Charlie McKenzie (Myers) is a San Francisco hipster who writes beat-like poetry by night and…well, we’re not quite sure what he does by day. He has been through one abortive relationship after another, each one ending with the terminally paranoid and commitment-phobic Charlie finding a reason to end things. His friend Tony Giardino (LaPaglia) urges him to loosen up but Charlie isn’t inclined to.

That is, until he meets Harriet (Travis) in a butcher shop and it’s chemistry at first sight. Things are going really well as they get to know each other and Charlie thinks at long last this might be the one. Even her little sister Rose (Plummer) is nice.

Then, Charlie is reading one of his mother’s (Fricker) Weekly World News papers (her sole source of news and information) and happens upon an article about Mrs. X, a woman whose three husbands have all disappeared under mysterious circumstances – as has she. The more Charlie reads, the more he realizes that the facts about Mrs. X happen to match up with those Harriet has let slip.

Suddenly Charlie is certain that Harriet is Mrs. X and ends things with her, not wanting to end up as the fourth husband – and victim. Tony is just as certain that his friend is a wacko who is inventing yet another excuse to avoid committing to another person, albeit the most bizarre excuse yet. Then when someone confesses to being Mrs. X in Texas (all our X’s are in Texas), Charlie realizes what a fool he’s been and at the anniversary party of his mother and father (Myers again) he proposes. Nothing but smooth sailing ahead, right?

This was Myers’ first film after the lucrative Wayne’s World established him as a movie star and it was a critical and commercial flop at the time. Over the years the opinion about this gem have been revised and now it has a bit of a cult following and I for one couldn’t be happier about it.

While Charlie is pretty damn quirky, this is Myers’ most “normal” role to date and quite frankly I wish he’d do more of them. He is really likable as Charlie and has a terrific chemistry for Travis who is one of the more underrated actresses of the last 20 years, although she’s getting a regular paycheck these days on the Tim Allen sitcom Last Man Standing. Myers also does his Scottish eccentric role to perfection as Charlie’s dad. “Heed.. Newspaper. Now!” he bellows at his other son, the poor set-upon Doherty, lobbing bon mots at the oversized noggin of his son.

There are plenty of cameos ranging from Arkin as Tony’s way-too-sensitive captain and the late great Phil Hartman as a creepy park ranger at Alcatraz to Steven Wright as a laconic pilot and Charles Grodin as an uncooperative driver whose car is commandeered. The city of San Francisco is shown off as effectively as it has been in any recent movie – watch this one and you might just want to move there.

This is as charming a movie as Myers has done. He’d go on from here to the Austin Powers franchise and the Love Guru misstep but one look at this will convince you that even with the success he’s had he could have gone much farther if he’d continued on the road of movies like this. Sadly, the box office underperformance convinced him otherwise although Austin Powers fan might be happy enough that it did. This is one of those underappreciated comic gems of the 90s that may well have fallen below your radar; it’s well worth a look if you haven’t seen it (and it has a fabulous soundtrack to boot).

WHY RENT THIS: One of Myers’ best. Underrated. Terrifically quirky and cute.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit dated and relies too much on shtick.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some bad language, a bit of nudity, some sexual situations and what they called “mock terror.”

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Poet’s Corner Hotel scenes were filmed at the Dunsmuir estate which is actually in the Oakland hills east of San Francisco, not North of the city as depicted in the film.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11.6M on an unknown production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Haunted Honeymoon

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Good Ol’ Freda

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!

Midnight Meat Train


Midnight Meat Train

Bradley Cooper demonstrates the wrong way to get on a subway train.

(2008) Horror (Lionsgate) Bradley Cooper, Brooke Shields, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, Roger Bart, Peter Jacobson, Barbara Eve Harris, Ted Raimi, Stephanie Mace, Tony Curran, NorA, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Dan Callahan. Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura

 

Big cities hide their secrets zealously. The bigger the city, the more difficult it can be to pry those secrets loose. In a city the size of New York City, it can be well-nigh impossible – and quite deadly to those who even try.

Leon (Cooper) is a photographer who specializes in crime scenes and fairly dark subjects. His girlfriend Maya (Bibb) through her friend Jurgis (Bart) gets Leon an audience with well-known art dealer Susan Hoff (Shields). She likes some of his work but needs Leon to go deeper – get at the truth. Go somewhere dangerous.

And what could be more dangerous than the New York subway after midnight? Certainly model Erika Sakaki (NorA) finds this out first-hand when a group of young toughs surround her, threatening to sexually assault her. Only the timely intervention of Leon pointing out that their whole tete-a-tete is being caught on security camera saves her. She shows her gratitude by allowing him to take a few pictures of her, then plants a kiss on him before getting on her train and heading off into the night.

Except that she never gets off that train. Leon finds out a few days later that she has turned up missing and Leon realizes he may well have been the last person to see her alive. He takes his pictures to the police who are indifferent, so he decides to investigate on his own. While checking out the subway station he sees a hulking, well-dressed man who appeared in his last photo of the missing girl – he was on board the same train as she was when she disappeared. Figuring this can’t be a coincidence, he begins to follow the man.

The man, who we later find out is known as Mahogany (Jones), shows up at a butcher’s shop. He is apparently mute (until the very end of the film when he speaks the only three words of dialogue he has in the movie) and imposing. However, Leon proves to be an inept investigator in one sense; Mahogany soon realizes he’s being stalked. However, Leon does manage to discover that Mahogany is brutally murdering people on the late night trains with a misshapen butcher’s hammer, and then hanging them on portable meat hooks while the subway train goes off on a silent siding.

Now the cat and mouse game gets deadly as both Maya and Jurgis get sucked into Leon’s obsession. Still, there’s an even more terrible secret lurking on that forgotten side track; one which only one of them will walk away from.

This is based on a short story by horror master Clive Barker – in fact it is the very first story in the first volume of his 8-book Books of Blood series. The movie version was announced with great fanfare in 2007 and 2008 as horror fans anticipated what the trailers promised was a taut, mesmerizing gorefest. However, a regime change at Lionsgate saw the film thrown into a series of delaying actions before finally getting about 100 screens, all in dollar theaters rather than in first-run houses before moving quickly to home video.

Horror fans (and Barker) howled in protest at the mistreatment of the film. They have a pretty good case – as horror movies go, this is better than average. It is far from perfect – for one thing, this would have made a pretty good hour-long short on some cable anthology series but the overall story doesn’t really support a full-length feature. It feels sometimes stretched out a bit too thin, particularly the portions where Maya and Jurgis are doing their own investigating.

In addition, Cooper who would find stardom with The Hangover just a year later, was miscast here. He is stiff and somewhat flat; I don’t get the sense that he ever really got a handle on the part. My take is that while Kitamura speaks pretty good English, he might not have necessarily been able to communicate what he wanted precisely to Cooper but that’s just conjecture. It does bring the film down a notch.

Some of the kills use obvious CGI for the blood and gore. Remember the good old days when all that was done with practical effects, make-up and puppets? Some of the CGI gore looks it and when you notice it, it takes you  right out of the environment of the film and it’s much like being awakened from a dream by someone throwing a bucket full of cold water into your face.

That said, there is plenty to like about the film as well. Kitamura is a more than capable director. He takes Barker’s story and translates it beautifully to the screen, combining elements of his own background in J-horror along with Dario Argento-esque Italian horror and throws in Big Apple ‘tude on top of it all, from the haughty snobbery of Shield’s West Village art cognoscenti, the indifference of the cops and media to a series of disappearances going on right under their noses and the cocksure tough guys haunting the streets and subways after dark. It’s a heady mix.

So yes this is flawed but overall there’s much more right with it than not. For one thing, Jones makes an intimidating villain, such a presence here that you wonder if he hasn’t been underutilized in his other films. Bibb, who like Cooper has mostly done comedies to this point, makes a fine scream queen and gets her sexy on in a couple of scenes here. This was one that the studio messed up on – it deserved more than a token contractual obligation release and might have made a good deal more coin than it did had the new regime shown a little more faith in the product but sadly, it seems like the Lionsgate brass has turned their back on the horror genre that essentially built the studio (the Saw and Tyler Perry franchises the twin pedestals that the studio was built on) which makes it all the more ironic that they had gotten into such financial difficulties that they had to merge with Summit earlier this year. Sometimes poetic justice just…happens.

WHY RENT THIS: Combines J-horror with giallo and meets it in the middle with a New York attitude. Jones is at his brooding best.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cooper is unconvincing as the horror hero. Over-reliance on CGI gore does occasionally jolt one violently out of the mood.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is violence and gore, quite a bit in fact; nudity (most of it grisly), some sex and of course plenty of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some of Clive Barker’s paintings are seen hanging in Susan Hoff’s art gallery.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are featurettes on author Clive Barker and actor Vinnie Jones.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.5M on an unreported production budget; the movie might have made money but then again it might not have.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW:High Fidelity

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

The old and the new collide in modern Shanghai.

(2011) Drama (Fox Searchlight) Bingbing Li, Gianna Jun, Archie Kao, Vivian Wu, Hugh Jackman, Russell Wong, Coco Chiang, Congmeng Guo, Yan Dai, Ying Tang, Chen Tao, Zhong Lu, Mian Mian, Wu Jiang, Feihu Sun. Directed by Wayne Wang

What makes a friendship last? Is it the experiences we share or is it something deeper, a connection that cannot be explained or quantified? Why is it that our friendships sometimes seem far more lasting and deeper than our romantic relationships?

In the early 19th century in China, two young girls – Snow Flower (Jun), born into a family of wealth, and Lily (Li), born into poverty, have their feet bound on the same day (the bones broken then the feet wrapped tightly in silk in order to inhibit growth which made the feet smaller, a prized feature in ancient China) and are made laotong  – which translates to “old sames” and is a deep friendship between two women that is contractual but entered in through mutual choice rather than arrangement.

The two young girls grow up into women and each are married; Lily, whose perfect feet make her a prize, into the wealthiest family in Hunan Province and into a loveless marriage and Snow Flower, whose family fortunes have taken a nosedive when her father blew the fortune on opium, to a butcher (Jiang), the lowest rung on the social ladder in the day. Snow Flower’s marriage has its share of difficulties but at least there is some love there.

In modern Shanghai, Nina (Li) is about to leave for New York City to run the North American office of a prestigious financial firm. However, her plans are interrupted by the news that her estranged friend Sophie (Jun) has been gravely hurt in a bicycle accident, lying in a coma in a Shanghai hospital. Nina discovers that her friend is writing a book about the two laotong from the 19th century, seeing in them a parallel between herself and Nina. The occasion is hastened by an exhibit on laotong at a Shanghai gallery.

Nina decides to dig into Sophie’s life, searching for a missing fan on which Snow Flower and Lily communicated in nu shu, a secret language for women. In the process, she discovers the insignificance of the barriers between them and the importance of friendship, particularly one as deep and lasting as the one they share.

Wang, who has also directed The Joy Luck Club, based this on the bestselling novel by Chinese-American author Lisa See. He and writers Ron Bass, Angela Workman and Michael Ray, added the modern sequences which didn’t appear in the book. The device allows some juxtaposition between modern and ancient China; whether or not that was necessary is a subject of some debate.

To the movie’s credit, it captures both the ancient and modern Chinas beautifully. This is a very good looking film. Also to the movie’s credit, it doesn’t skimp on the ugliness that sometimes rears its ugly head, from the foot binding to the abuse of women and mistreatment, particularly in ancient China when they were little more than property

Jackman, who has a song and dance background from Broadway, gets to show off his singing chops as a singing nightclub owner in the modern sequences in a very small role so if you’re going to see the movie because of his presence, be aware he only appears in a handful of scenes. However the performance of Li, who plays both Lily and Nina, is strong and is one of the reasons I gave the movie a rating this high. She makes a compelling lead and carries most of the movie on her shoulders, which may seem delicate but are much stronger than they appear.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has received some scathing reviews, some of which I can kind of see, but others seem to be more aimed at the involvement of Rupert Murdoch (who personally lobbied to get this film released) and his wife (who is listed as a producer for the film). While I hold no love for Murdoch or his media empire, I can only review the movie, not who made it. The movie is beautifully made on a subject rarely delved into in Hollywood (even Thelma and Louise was a movie that was less about ordinary circumstances as this one is). Sure, it’s flawed – the pace is a little too slow for my tastes and I suspect that focusing on the 19th century story rather than drawing parallels in modern China would have benefitted the film overall. Nonetheless it’s a movie well worth seeing just for the insight into feminine friendships and the cinematography alone.

REASONS TO GO: A compelling look at female friendships, a rare thing in the movies. Beautifully shot in modern Shanghai and ancient China.

REASONS TO STAY: The story moves at a fairly glacial pace.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sexuality, some violence, a few disturbing images and some depictions of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was scored by Rachel Portman, the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Original Score (for Emma in 1996).

HOME OR THEATER: The beautiful cinematography should be enjoyed on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Cowboys and Aliens