Funeral Day


Not exactly what the doctor ordered.

(2017) Comedy (Random Media) Jon Weinberg, Tyler Labine, Suzy Nakamura, Tygh Runyan, Dominic Rains, Jed Rees, Kristin Carey, Sarah Adina, Jeremy Radin, Ron Butler, Rahnuma Panthaky, Robert Bela, Joe Fidler, Mat Kohler, Nakia Secrest, Luca Secrest, Ralph Cole Jr., Jared Adams, Noam Emerson-Fleming, Shauna Bloom. Directed by Jon Weinberg

 

Funerals are a drag. Nobody ever really wants to go to one; while we couch them in terms of “it’s a celebration of his/her life,” it is also very much a reminder that a funeral of our own awaits us down the road.

Scott (Weinberg) wakes up on the morning of a close friend’s funeral (who passed away at a young age from cancer) and discovers a lump on his own scrotum. A bit of a hypochondriac to begin with, he is completely freaked out and decides not to go. When his pal Chris (Runyan) arrives to take him to the event, Scott refuses to go. We discover that Scott never visited Ryan the entire time he was in the hospital; “I don’t do cancer” is Scott’s lame explanation.

But Scott has it figured out. Instead of going to a depressing ritual of saying farewell amid tears and tea sandwiches he decides that the better thing to do is turn his own life around “in honor of Ken.” He determines to make amends to those he has wronged, and to trim his scruffy beard and get a haircut, among other things. As much as he wants to change though, it becomes apparent that he doesn’t really want to change his life; he just wants to change his circumstances. The very embodiment of a self-centered hipster, Scott has a lot of growing up to do if he is to affect serious change and maybe a group of characters including a sexually aware waitress he’s sweet on, a married couple who have some pretty bizarre ideas of health and a self-absorbed real estate license who is focused on selling Scott a property he can’t afford particularly after quitting his job as part of his “remake Scott” project.

There are also endless shots of Scott running throughout L.A. without ever breaking a sweat. Didn’t he get the memo that nobody walks in L.A.? In any case while I think it was meant for comic effect, it really isn’t all that funny and to be honest there isn’t a lot to laugh about here. Some of the stuff that pokes fun at shallow Los Angeles culture works pretty well but those moments tend to get repetitive also. Besides, it’s too much like shooting fish in a barrel.

This is meant to be a comedy that involves taking stock of one’s life and finding the motivation to getting out of one’s rut. The problem with this movie (and it’s a big problem) is that Scott is so thoroughly selfish, so incredibly unlikable that even though the film is a short one you feel like you’re being forced to hang out with that guy nobody likes. I’m not sure Weinberg intentionally made Scott so unlikable so that when he achieves some sort of redemption at the film’s conclusion it will be a cathartic moment, but no such catharsis occurs. You’re not motivated enough to care at all whether Scott gets his redemption and makes the changes he yearns to. It just feels like an exercise in self-absorption.

Although the supporting cast (with the exception of Labine and Nakamura, both in very brief roles) is largely less well known, their performances are actually pretty strong particularly Runyon and Adler. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to make this film, which actually has something to say, worth much more than a mild “check it out if you have nothing better to do.” I think if they had written Scott as more deserving of redemption maybe it would be possible to get more invested in the film but that just doesn’t happen.

REASONS TO GO: There are some decent performances, particularly from Runyan and Adler.
REASONS TO STAY: Scott may be the most annoying protagonist ever.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity including sexual references, further sexual content and some brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film took Best Comedy Feature honors at both the Twister Alley Film Festival and the Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/12/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lie
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
King Cohen

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Poltergeist (1982)


You can never get a-head with a skeleton crew.

You can never get a-head with a skeleton crew.

(1982) Supernatural Horror (MGM) Jobeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins, Zelda Rubenstein, Beatrice Straight, James Karen, Martin Casella, Richard Lawson, Dirk Blocker, Allan Graf, Lou Perry, Michael McManus, Virginia Kiser, Joseph R. Walsh, Noel Conlon, Helen Baron. Directed by Tobe Hooper

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Our home is our castle; it is our safe place, somewhere we escape to from the cares and troubles of the world. We are protected by our walls, our windows, our doors. Those we love the most are there with us. Our home is our security.

Steven Freeling (Nelson) has a suburban castle, brand spanking new in the center of a spiffy new development. He sells property in the neighborhood and is responsible for most of his neighbors having the lovely new homes they all have. His family includes wife Diane (Williams), son Robbie (Robins), daughter Carol Anne (O’Rourke) and teen Dana (Dunne) from his first marriage. Life is sunny and perfect.

Then odd things start to happen. Chairs are found stacked by themselves. Carol Anne hears strange voices coming from the TV set. Toys begin to move from themselves. They see strange lights and hear strange noises. Unable to account for any of these phenomena, they consult Dr. Lesh (Straight), a renowned parapsychologist and she concludes that their home may be haunted by a poltergeist. When tests confirm a malevolent presence (to put it mildly), things begin to go from bad to worse – and even worse still, Carol Anne disappears.

Desperate, they bring in Tangina Barrons (Rubenstein), a powerful psychic and medium, to help them get their daughter back. She detects a horrifying presence, something malevolent and deceitful who is using Carol Anne to control all the other spirits locally. Getting Carol Anne back however won’t be the end of the affair.

This was a collaboration between Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Steven Spielberg and two more diverse styles I don’t think you could find. There has been a great deal of controversy over the years regarding Spielberg’s role in the movie. He is listed as a co-writer and producer but many have said that he did many things a director might do and that he was on set all but three days of the shooting schedule. Certainly there are many of Spielberg’s touches here; the quiet suburban setting, the family in crisis pulling together, the escalating supernatural crisis. However, even today it remains unclear just how much creative contribution Spielberg made to the film. Keep in mind he was filming E.T.: The Extraterrestrial as filming was wrapping on Poltergeist. Some of the scenes though are very definitely NOT Spielberg-like.

Nelson used his performance here as a springboard to a pretty satisfying career that has shown a great deal of range, from his sitcom work in Parenthood to dramatic roles in movies like The Company Men. His solid performance as the dad here – a dad who is not the perfect sitcom dad but for all his faults and blemishes still cares deeply about his family and would put himself in harm’s way for them – changed the way dads were portrayed in the movies. Nelson also gets to utter one of my all-time favorite lines in the movies: “He won’t take go to hell for an answer (so) I’m gonna give him directions.”

Rubenstein also made a memorable appearance and while her career was cut short by her untimely death six years ago, she will always be remembered for her absolutely mesmerizing performance here. There’s no doubt who steals the show here and even while O’Rourke was incredibly cute, she didn’t stand a chance against the hurricane force of Rubenstein’s personality.

The movie set horror tropes on their ears. Rather than the haunted house being a spooky old mansion, it was a suburban split level of the type that many people who flocked to see the film back in 1982 lived in. That brought the horror home for many; they could see spider demons in front of their master bedroom; skeletons emerging from their swimming pool and their dining room chairs stacked on their dining room table. It could happen to anyone and that’s what makes it truly terrifying.

The effects here are not groundbreaking and most of the time practical effects were used, sometimes in some quite clever ways. There really aren’t a ton of special effects here in any case; it is the unknown that scares us most and Hooper/Spielberg wisely left the best scares to our imaginations.

There’s nothing scarier than death and this is all about what happens to us after we die. Sure, atheists probably think all this is nonsense but no more so than a bratty teenage boy on some backwater desert planet being the savior of the universe. It’s all a matter of how you look at things. Hardly anybody wants to die, but nobody wants their afterlife to be worse than their life. Poltergeist taps into that fear, the fear of death and brings it right into our living rooms. What could be scarier than that?

WHY RENT THIS: It’s one of the scariest movies ever made. Relocating a haunted house flick to a suburban environment had never been done before. Nelson and Rubenstein give career-making performances.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some people have issues with kids in peril.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some very disturbing images and scenes of terror. There’s also a little bit of mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Zelda Rubenstein was a medium and a psychic in real life before becoming an actress.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The 25th anniversary DVD edition has a 2-part documentary on poltergeists. The Blu-Ray includes that and a digibook that includes essays, trivia, production notes, photos and cast and crew bios.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray Rental only), Amazon, Google Play, HBO Go, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $121.7M on a $10.7M production budget.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Haunting
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: The Dressmaker

White Irish Drinkers


White Irish Drinkers

Nick Thurston is oblivious to Leslie Murphy’s skepticism over the idea that a cemetery is an acceptable location for a first date.

(2010) Drama (Screen Media) Nick Thurston, Geoff Wigdor, Leslie Murphy, Stephen Lang, Karen Allen, Peter Riegert, Zachary Booth, Robbie Collier Sublett, Michael Drayer, Henry Zebrowski, Ken Jennings, Regan Mizrahi, Anthony Anorim, Jackie Martling, Patricia Hodges. Directed by John Gray

 

We can choose our friends, so the saying goes, but we can’t choose our families. We’re stuck with them to a certain extent. We are also stuck with the place we are raised, and the time we are raised in. These are the things that make us who we are later in life and yet we have little or no control over them. I suppose in that sense we are destined to become who we are.

Brian Leary (Thurston) is a young man living with his parents in Brooklyn in the 1970s. His dad (Lang) is an Irish longshoreman who drinks night after night and often comes home drunk and belligerent. His ma (Allen) has the patience of a saint, can’t cook worth a damn and is a bit of a dim bulb but loves her son with the fierce passion that Irish moms are known for.

His brother Danny (Wigdor) is a petty thief constantly getting into trouble and often incurring the wrath of dear old Dad, who beats him like a drum. Brian is a sensitive soul who has a basement studio that he keeps locked away from his family. There he paints watercolors and has some real talent.

He works for a theater run by Whitey (Riegert) who is almost as decrepit as his rundown building which is slowly going bankrupt but salvation is in sight – Whitey has called in a whole bunch of favors and has gotten the Rolling Stones to play an afterparty concert there. Of course, life being what it is in that time and that place, Danny finds out about the show and decides to rob the theater of the proceeds and is eager to use Brian as an accomplice.

Brian is hesitant; this would break Whitey and might ruin the nascent romance he is kindling with Shauna Friel (Murphy), a young free-spirited Brooklynite who has plans to escape and make something of herself, although those plans are pretty vague. And at the behest of one of his friends, Brian has applied to Carnegie Mellon University to see if he can escape the vortex that is Irish Brooklyn, where his buddies aspire to careers as garbage men and cops.

Gray, who also wrote the movie, obviously has a great affection and understanding of Brooklyn in the time of Disco. I can’t say as I have any connection to the time or place by anything other than having seen it in movies of the time, but from what I understand this movie depicts it pretty accurately. Certainly you get a feel for time and place here which is essential for making the story work.

The acting here isn’t spectacular – you aren’t immediately overwhelmed – but it’s serviceable. Thurston and Wigdor are at the crux of the film and while they don’t amaze, they do everything right. There is a good chemistry between them and their relationship as brothers onscreen is believable. So too Murphy is also solid and her relationship with Thurston is similarly organic.

Riegert and Allen had a pretty sweet onscreen romance in National Lampoon’s Animal House but they don’t share any screen time here but both veterans are solid here, as is Lang who has by now become one of Hollywood’s most reliable screen villains. Here he is more of a presence but in the one scene where he has any sort of dialogue he delivers big time.

This doesn’t possess the kind of nostalgic glow that would make it a “Happy Days” for the 70s, but there is certainly some affection that the filmmakers clearly possess. White Irish Drinkers isn’t always pleasant but it has a goodly amount of heart and a goodly amount of grit in pretty equal amounts, making this a movie that resonates much more clearly than most films of this type do. Sure, the story isn’t going to set the world on fire but sometimes a familiar story told well can be as much if not more satisfying than a story that is innovative.

WHY RENT THIS: Evocative of era and place. Gritty where it needs to be.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might not resonate as much with younger audiences.

FAMILY VALUES: Basically this is non-stop bad language. There’s also a bit of sexuality and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gray previously directed the 2001 remake of Brian’s Song for “The Wonderful World of Disney” and created the hit TV series “The Ghost Whisperer.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $31,056 on an unreported production budget; it’s unlikely that the movie turned a box office profit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Bronx Tale

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Liberal Arts