Brighton 4th


You don’t want to piss off Dad if he is an ex-Olympic wrestler.

(2021) Dramedy (Kino Lorber) Levan Tedaishvili, Giorgi Tabidze, Nadezhda Mikhalkova, Kakhi Kavsadze, Laura Rekhviashvili, Tsutsa Kapanadze, Irakli Kavsadze, Tolepbergen Baisakalov, Temur Gvalia, Irma Gachechiladze, Mary Caputo, Lew Gardner, Giorgi Kipshidze, Yuri Zur, Artur Dubetskiy, Vsevolod Berkolayko, Aleksandr Karlov, Tornike Bziava, Anastasia Romashko. Directed by Levan Koguashvili

We can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. Most of us are aware of people in our lives who simply seem incapable of making a good decision. We watch, often helplessly, as they self-destruct, often sucking in all those around them into the vortex of their weakness. Despite our best efforts, often we can’t do much to help them without falling into the whirlwind ourselves.

Kakhi (Tedaishvili) is an aging former Olympic wrestler from the Republic of Georgia. He lives a quiet life, quietly saving his money and bailing out his brother (Gvalia) who has lost his apartment in Tblisi to a gambling addiction. But at least Kakhi’s son Soso (Tabidze) is living in New York City, preparing to go to medical school, and marrying Lena (Mikhalkova) which would net him the green card he desperately needs.

Instead, he finds out that Soso has a gambling problem of his own, and is $14,000 in debt to the local mob. All the money that Kakhi had sent his son to pay his medical school tuition – gone. The good-hearted Kakhi can’t turn away from his son, even though he knows that he will continue to make foolish mistakes, but something must be done.

Most often, this film is described as a slow burn, which is absolutely accurate. The 90 minute film is in no particular hurry to get to where it’s going, and you may well find yourself being thankful for that, for the characters here – even the peripheral ones – are richly drawn and so human they almost leap out of the screen and shake your hand.

At the heart of everything is Tedaishvili, who is actually an ex-Olympic wrestler as Kakhi is. This is his second acting performance and his first since 1987. He imbues Kakhi with a gentle wit, and a gruff kindness. He has a way of seeing through people – even his own son – and being able to forgive their foibles. Tedaishvili brings an inner strength that makes Kakhi a formidable presence. It’s a magnificent performance that utterly captivates.

In fact, many of those in the film are non-professional actors from the Brighton Beach area, the enclave in Brooklyn where a substantial Russian and Eastern European (mainly former Soviet bloc countries) population rules the roost. Their ties to their culture gives the film a genuineness that you simply can’t fake.

The going is terribly slow at times, and younger viewers (and some older ones) may have a hard time keeping their focus on the film, which is why seeing it in a movie theater would be more ideal than on a laptop or streaming device where there is plenty of distractions to take you away from the lovely spell that Koguashvili weaves. Georgian cinema doesn’t get a great deal of respect from American cinephiles, which is a crying shame because there are some really outstanding films coming out of that country. It is worth noting that the film contains the final performance of Kakhi Kavsadze, one of the most respected and acclaimed actors in his country, passing away two months before the film’s debut at Tribeca. He left us with a role of great dignity and pathos, a worthy send-off for a great actor.

REASONS TO SEE: Full of life and liveliness. The performances are natural and genuine. There is a gentle tone to the humor.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not the fastest-paced movie you’ll ever see.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: It was the official submission for Georgia for the 94th Academy Awards for Best International Picture.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Kino Marquee
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/22/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews; Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Moscow on the Hudson
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Puff: The Magic of the Reef

A Banquet


Food for thought.

(2021) Psychological Horror (IFC Midnight) Sienna Guillory, Jessica Alexander, Ruby Stokes, Lindsay Duncan, Kaine Zajaz, Richard Keep, Deka Walmsley, Rina Mahoney, Jonathan Nyati, Walter van Dyk, Andrew Steele, Adam Abbou, Finn Bennett, Dylan Clout, Selena Thompson, Kevin Marshall, Hannah Zoé Ankrah, Suzie Voce, Kharlis Ubiaro, Leon Finnan, Charlie Roberts, Polly Turner. Directed by Ruth Paxton

 

=Mother-daughter relationships are often complicated, layered things, particularly when the daughter is in her difficult teen years. When the behavior of the daughter becomes disquieting, maybe even self-destructive, the question has to be raised if the impetus is psychological, or a cry for attention – or something far worse.

Holly (Guillory) has a lot to cope with, having two teenage daughters. She has been through the wringer; after nursing her terminally ill husband, she is rewarded with witnessing (along with her older daughter Betsey (Alexander)) his grisly suicide. Such a traumatic event is bound to leave some scars; for Holly, it has led to her drawing inward, isolating her family in a dark, cave-like home. For Betsey, it is becoming somewhat nihilistic, or at least fatalistic, and adopting the accoutrements of goth. Only younger daughter Isabelle (Stokes) seems relatively unaffected.

But at a party one night, Betsey – who has gone outside to get some air – is lured into the nearby woods by a mesmerizing blood-red moon and by sibilant whispers. When she returns home, she has changed; the sight of food makes her deeply nauseous, causes bouts of violent resistance and makes her skin tingle. At first, Holly attributes her daughter’s behavior to a severe hangover, but when the condition persists over several days with Betsey refusing to take even so much as a single pea in sustenance, Holly begins to suspect that something deeper is at play. When medical doctors write it off to “something viral,” and psychiatrists make little headway, Betsey begins to insist that she witnessed something in the woods; a vision of something coming. She now believes her body belongs to a higher power and shouldn’t be desecrated with food.

Into this equation comes June (Duncan), Holly’s mom who is understandably skeptical of Betsey’s condition, thinking it as an attempt to get attention. June has her own demons, having had to raise a mentally ill daughter (not Holly), and as Holly begins to believe that maybe something supernatural is going on, particularly when it is discovered that Betsey hasn’t lost so much as a pound since this whole thing began. June and Holly begin to butt heads. Betsey, in the meantime, has attained a kind of serenity. Is the apocalypse really coming?

This is the kind of horror movie that doesn’t have any “gotcha” scares, nor does it really provide anything that terrifies other than the general situation. The horror is psychological in nature and revolves around the relationships between the four women in the family. This is not a movie that you can watch passively; it requires that you pay attention and the filmmakers expect you to work at least as hard as they did making the film, not an unreasonable request, but for a lot of movie buffs, it may be more than they are willing to give.

This is particularly true in the first half, which moves at a very slow pace. Things to pick up in the second half, as the tone gets weirder and weirder, and some very strong performances (particularly by Duncan, a veteran actress who has been known to steal a scene or two during a distinguished career) and some very deeply layered characters and storylines.

With a production setting that actually parallels the themes of the film, it is clear that a great deal of thought went into the making of this film. Paxton is a brilliant new voice, whose next project I’m eager to see. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but anyone who has ever had a contentious relationship with a parent, or loved (or been) a teenage girl, there is a lot to unpack here – and like the conclusion of any trip, is sometimes more satisfying to ponder it afterwards than it is to actually be on the journey.

REASONS TO SEE: The second half of the film is truly gripping…
REASONS TO AVOID: …But the first half of the film is terribly slow.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, sensuality, drug use and some disturbing images (including an on-screen suicide).
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the feature film debut for Bull, who has a passel of award-winning shorts to her credit.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/21/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews; Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Saint Maud
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Brighton 4th

Ted K


Ted Kaczynski mulls over his alter ego.

(2021) Biographical Drama (Super LTD/Neon) Sharlto Copley, Drew Powell, Christian Calloway, Tahmus Rounds, Kate Scott, David Ward, Lois Keister, Teresa Garland, Nicole Welch, Andrew Senn, Megan Folsom, Brandon Seaman, Vincent James Carnevale, Ian Primus, Ben Fundis, Bobby Tisdale, Joe Felece, Amber Rose Mason, Travis Bruyer, Robert Braine, Nancy Rothman. Directed by Tony Stone

We are aware of those folks who for whatever reason choose to withdraw from society. We envision them, in their lonely cabins in the wilderness, shouting at the universe, their rage echoing harmlessly off the walls of their place of exile, taking no effect on the universe or those living in it. There are those, occasionally, who venture from their lairs and do real damage.

We are informed in a pre-credits crawl that Ted Kaczynski (Copley) was a math prodigy who got his PhD in mathematics at age 16 and was well on his way to a brilliant career as a college professor when after a year he withdrew from his university and went to live on the land near Lincoln, Montana, in an isolated cabin he built with his brother Dave.

Ted’s natural reverie is interrupted by the noise and damage of snowmobilers. Ted waits until they are away from their luxury cabin, when he breaks in and takes at their things with an axe. One gets the sense that Ted is a powderkeg of rage just waiting to explode, but he turns out to be more of a slow-burner, one whose frustration and anger percolate and simmer, releasing from time to time in acts of violence – constructing homemade bombs that would kill three and injure 22, some horribly. His acts of domestic terrorism, aimed at random targets he felt were advancing technology which he thought would destroy the human race, or defiling nature, would earn him the name he is better known as – the Unabomber.

If you’re looking into insight about what makes Ted click, you won’t find it here. Although the film uses Kaczynski’s own words (from over 25,000 pages of writing found in his cabin after his arrest) for the voiceover narration. Kaczynski’s writing style can be dubbed radical academic. A brilliant, literate man, he was nonetheless a pompous writer.

Stone, who previously directed the lyrical documentary Peter and the Farm, utilizes cinematographer Nathan Corbin’s talents extensively, creating beautiful and often bucolic images of life in rural Rocky Mountain Montana. He also utilizes the electronic noodling of Blanck Mass to often create a disturbing, discordant background. Stone doesn’t use the narrative tropes of your average biopic, but rather intersperses surreal dream images in an effort to give audiences a taste of the madness that Kaczynski was experiencing, including manufacturing a fantasy woman figure (Mason) to illustrate Ted’s simultaneous longing for companionship and misogyny.

We are not meant to understand what turned a brilliant mathematics professor into a remorseless, heartless bomber and Stone wisely doesn’t try. We get the broad strokes that Kaczynski left behind in his manifesto, but no sense of how the transformation actually occurred. We are left, then, to wonder at how someone so rational could change so radically that any logical thought he had – and it’s clear Stone believes that he had some – were suborned by acts of chaos. We never feel sympathy towards Ted Kaczynski, but we get the sense that Stone is saying that just because the Unabomber was insane doesn’t necessarily mean he was wrong.

REASONS TO SEE: Copley is mesmerizing. Wonderful cinematography.
REASONS TO AVOID: If you’re looking for answers as to what made Kaczynski tick, you won’t find any.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, plenty of profanity and some sexual situations including brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A good deal of the production was filmed where Ted Kaczynski’s cabin actually once stood (it has since been torn down).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/19/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews; Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: One Hour Photo
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
A Banquet

The Highwaymen


Gault (left) and Hamer discuss their next move.

(2019) Crime Biography (Netflix) Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kathy Bates, John Carroll Lynch, Thomas Mann, Dean Denton, Kim Dickens, William Sadler, W. Earl Brown, David Furr, Jason Davis, Joshua Caras, David Born, Brian F. Durkin, Kaley Wheless, Alex Elder, Emily Brobst, Edward Bossert, Jake Ethan Dashnaw, Jane McNeill, Karson Kern, Savanna Renee. Directed by John Lee Hancock

]The mythology around Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, notorious Depression-era bank robbers, was without question aided by the 1967 Arthur Penn masterpiece Bonnie and Clyde. Portraying the outlaws as Robin Hood-types who led the bumbling cops on a merry chase through the Midwest, ending in a hail of bullets that turned the folk heroes into martyrs.

This Netflix production aimed to right the scales somewhat. The lawmen who chased Bonnie and Clyde and eventually caught them, Frank Hamer (Costner) and Maney Gault (Harrelson), were called out of retirement by Texas governor “Ma” Ferguson (Bates) to combat the thieves who had become popular and eluded the police time and time again. It didn’t seem to matter that Barrow often killed people in cold blood, the good folks of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and the Midwest were uncooperative with the investigation and occasionally shielded the gang when they needed a place to hide.

The movie was described by Reel Films critic James Bernardinelli as “a companion piece” to the Penn film, and in many ways it is that, but it is also it’s opposite. Hagiographic to the lawmen where the Penn version was to the title characters, through much of the movie Costner as Hamer growls at those who express admiration for the lawless bank robbers, occasionally resulting in beatdowns by the ex-Texas Rangers. It bears noticing that there are parallels to the modern complaints about police brutality towards African-Americans to the way the cops behave in this film.

The overall mood of the film is dour, and the overall impression is watching cantankerous grandparents trying to show the young ‘uns the error of their ways. I wish Hancock, a very able filmmaker in his own right, would have cut down on the lecturing somewhat as the movie runs a bit long for what it is. But Costner and Harrison  both have excellent chemistry together, and watching a couple of old pros doing some of their best work is worth the time spent. Not to mention that the score, by Thomas Newman, is simply lovely.

REASONS TO SEE: Costner and Harrelson give strong, believable performances. The music score is absolutely gorgeous.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit on the long side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is occasionally graphic violence, brief profanity, and some grisly images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hamer and Gault are buried in the same section of the same cemetery.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/18/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews; Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bonnie and Clyde
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Ted K

Marry Me


Do you take this pop star to be your unlikely wedded wife?

(2022) Romantic Comedy (Universal) Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Maluma, John Bradley, Sarah Silverman, Chloe Coleman, Michelle Buteau, Khalil Middleton, Kat Cunning, Taliyah Whitaker, Diego Lucano, Brady Noon, Connor Noon, Ryan Foust, Léah Jiménez Zelaya, Tristan-Lee Edwards, Scarlett Earls, Olivia Chun, Jim Kaplan, Jameela Jamil, Hoda Kotb. Directed by Kat Coiro

Rom-coms have their own peculiar kind of logic. They play on our romantic fantasies of finding true love despite apparently insurmountable odds. One of the most popular sub-genres is what I call the Pretty Woman effect, in which a ridiculously wealthy and/or famous person falls for an ordinary person from an entirely different world, and we get to see those worlds collide. But, like all rom-coms, true love eventually prevails – and that shouldn’t be a spoiler to any fan of the genre.

Pop star Kat Valdez (Lopez) came up from the streets of Brooklyn to become an international pop sensation, whose every move is chronicled on social media. She is about to hit a publicity bonanza; her hit song “Marry Me,” performed with her fiancée Bastian (Maluma) has spawned a huge tour, at the conclusion of which she and Bastian will perform the song together live, and then have their wedding ceremony onstage, live-streamed to more than 20 million viewers and an in-house audience at the venue.

In that audience is Charlie (Wilson), a middle school math teacher who doesn’t even want to be there. He got tickets to the exclusive event through the school’s guidance counselor Parker (Silverman) – who also happens to be his best friend – whose two guests had bailed on her. Charlie’s daughter Lou (Coleman) is a huge fan, so he agreed to go for her sake.

But just before the ceremony is to take place, word races through social media that Bastian cheated on Kat – with her assistant, no less – and the devastated bride-to-be comes onstage with a tearful excoriation of her love life, which had been carefully planned, only to end up with three divorces and now this never-happened. When she sees Charlie holding his daughter’s sign that says “Marry Me,” she is inspired in her grief and pain to propose to him. Charlie, thrust into the spotlight unwillingly, goes with the moment, not wanting to humiliate the already-devastated pop star further and says yes. The two are then married.

Kat’s manager (Bradley) wants to make sure this is spun in a way that doesn’t make Kat look more psycho than she already does, so they convince Charlie to hang in there and play husband for a few months, at which time she would make a generous donation to his school. He agrees…for the kids, of course. And if you know rom-coms at all, you know how this one will go.

The formula is so ingrained that Da Queen and I even before the movie started had bet that certain things would happen – and every last one of them did. To say that this movie is predictable is to underestimate predictability; unless you’ve never seen a romantic comedy before, you are just as likely to figure out how this movie will turn out and what steps it will take to get there.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing if the filmmakers pull off the steps with a certain amount of style (they do) and the leads are interesting and root-worthy (they are). There’s nothing here that’s surprising or innovative, but Coiro is a good director who knows that she’s making a movie written by algorithm; rather than fight it, she goes with it and even revels in it to a certain degree. I’m not a particular fan of Lopez, but she’s essentially playing herself here, or at least a version of her, and so she makes the character at least reasonably charming. The soundtrack is mostly performed by her (and in duet with Colombian pop star Maluma) and is fine if you like modern top 40 music, which to be honest I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that the songs are bad for what they are. It’s just not my taste. Anywho, getting back on track, Wilson has relied on a certain amount of frayed-around-the-edges charm since his career began, and he in many ways is the best thing about the movie, delivering the kind of performance we have come to expect and appreciate from him.

It can be said that both actors are a bit long in the tooth for their roles (both are in their fifties, playing characters who appear to be in their thirties) but that doesn’t really matter; they may be middle-aged at this point in their careers, but they have the experience to pull off this kind of movie without putting up much of a sweat. The result is a movie that has enough charm to see it through, but not enough to make you realize that you’ve seen this before and done better.

The movie is currently playing in theaters but is also available on the Peacock streaming service. Choose your method of seeing it according to how willing you are to drive to your local multiplex and see it.

REASONS TO SEE: Wilson has the kind of warmth to carry the film and Lopez has enough charm to get audiences to root for the couple.
REASONS TO AVOID: Encumbered by too many rom-com cliches.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity and sexually suggestive material.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Believe it or not, this is the first time Lopez has used her own singing voice in a film; the only other film she sang onscreen in was Selena in which she lip-synched the songs of the title character.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Peacock
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/18/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews; Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Music and Lyrics
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Highwaymen

New Releases for the Week of February 18, 2022


UNCHARTED

(Columbia) Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Waddington, Tiernan Jones, Rudy Pankow. Directed by Reuben Fleischer

Based on the best-selling videogame, this long-in-gestation project features Nathan Drake at the very beginning of his adventures. A street-wise thief, he hooks up with a seasoned treasure hunter to search for a fabulous treasure that Nate’s brother was also on the hunt for before he disappeared, but other, less savory, characters are also looking for it.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for violence/action, and language)

A Fairy Tale After All

(Vertical) Emily Shenaut, Gabriel Burrafato, Tobin Cleary, Amy Morse. A stubborn teenage girl finds herself magically transported to a kingdom of magic and fantastic creatures.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

The Cursed

(LD Entertainment) Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran. In the late 1800s, a peaceful country village is suffering from uncharacteristic murders and disappearances. A big city pathologist is summoned to help discover what’s behind it, but he discovers an evil far more insidious than anything he could have imagined.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for strong violence, grisly images and brief nudity)

Dog

(United Artists) Channing Tatum, Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Q’orianka Kilcher. A former Army Ranger is tasked with bringing a bomb-sniffing dog with PTSD to the funeral of the dog’s former partner. Each battling their own demons, they find themselves on the trip of a lifetime.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for language, thematic elements, drug content and some suggestive material)

Finding Carlos

(Vertical) Maximus White, Michael Andreaus, Branjae, Jabee Williams. A teenager with a skateboard has to learn to live with his estranged dad, even as he pursues his passion for hip-hop and dance. The story is inspired by the classic holiday celebration of The Nutcracker.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Family
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Jockey

(Sony Classics) Clifton Collins Jr., Molly Parker, Moises Arias, Logan Cormier. An aging jockey, looking to win one last championship, has his life turned upside down when a talented young jockey confesses that he is the older jockey’s son. Previously reviewed in Cinema365; see link below under “Scheduled to Be Reviewed.”

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: R (for language)

The Ledge

(Saban) Brittany Ashworth, Ben Lamb, Louis Boyer, Nathan Welsh. A young woman out on a rock climbing trip witnesses the murder of her best friend, capturing it on her cell phone. The killers will stop at nothing to escape justice, so she is forced to climb a treacherous mountain path, knowing that one wrong step could be fatal.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for strong violence, language including crude sexual references, and some drug use)

Ted K

(Super LTD) Sharlto Copley, Drew Powell, Travis W. Bruyer, Wayne Pile. A former university professor, appalled at how technology had begun to take over our lives, removes himself to an isolated cabin in the Montana woods. But despite his efforts to remain secluded, the modern world intrudes, driving him to acts of local sabotage and, eventually, sending deadly bombs, earning him the nickname of The Unabomber.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: R (for language, some sexual content and brief nudity)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

A Banquet (Friday)
Caught In His Web (Saturday)
Downfall: The Case Against Boeing (Friday)
Double Play (Tuesday)
Erax (Thursday)
Fistful of Vengeance (Thursday)
Incarnation (Friday)
King Knight (Thursday)
Swim Instructor Nightmare (Sunday)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Friday)
They Live in the Grey (Thursday)

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Banquet
The Cursed
Dog
Downfall: The Case Against Boeing
Fistful of Vengeance
Jockey
Ted K
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Uncharted


Those Who Walk Away


Sometimes you get a more accurate reflection in a cracked mirror.

(2022) Horror (VMI Worldwide) Booboo Stewart, Scarlett Sperduto, Nils Allen Stewart, Nancy Harding, Grant Morningstar, Bryson JonSteele, Devin Keaton, Josh Bradshaw, Connor McKinley Griffin, Michael Holub, Yash Gajera, Brandon Leonard, Ethan Wieland, Steve Hausler, Kim Smith, Paula Macfarlane Van Kuren, Alexis Curtiss, Dante Yatel Nayvaez, Beau Elliott, Daryl Anisfeld. Directed by Robert Rippberger

First dates can be magical things. They can also be terrifying. Often they end up being completely forgettable. How many times have we gone on first dates, only to be checking our watches…excuse me, smart phones… or fidgeting in place as we realize that it was an enormous mistake to ask this person out in the first place (or say yes when asked). Sometimes, however, there is a chemistry that just pops up without any provocation or intention and it becomes an event you never forget for as long as you live, however long that may be.

Max (B. Stewart) has been out of the dating game for a while. He had been taking care of his seriously ill mom, until the grind and mental fatigue finally overwhelmed him. He feels tremendous guilt for having walked away for caring for his mom, but here is a chance to get into a healthier relationship.

And at first glance, it seems like Avery (Sperduto) is tonic for the troops. The two met on a dating app and decided to take a shot and meet in person. Not only is she pretty, but she seems to be quite taken with Max. At first, both are awkward, particularly the chronically shy Max as the conversation sputters, reloads, stops, and shifts gears. The two walk slowly through their small town, making small talk as they take their time before arriving at their movie. Except that the movie has been canceled due to extenuating circumstances. Bummer.

After a brief stop at a bar where their mutual attraction seemed to take off into overdrive, Avery suggests visiting a reputedly haunted house on the edge of town. Max quickly agrees. Once there, the rotting and crumbling house seems to be the perfect place for a malevolent ghost and one lives there – Rotcreep (N.A. Stewart). Avery tells Max that Rotcreep has agreed to remain tied to the house so long as sacrifices are made, otherwise he would escape and rain terror on an unsuspecting world. And, as it turns out, nothing is at all what Max thought it was.

The first half of the movie is a stroll through town, moving at the kind of pace you would expect from a stroll. The strained small talk, the awkward conversation – all ring true, but Rippberger made the decision to film his movie in a single continuous shot, which feels unnecessary and gimmicky here. Note to aspiring filmmakers; if something like that doesn’t add anything to the narrative other than being an exercise in self-indulgence, then you don’t need it. It becomes distracting and irritating to the viewer. Just some friendly advice.

Booboo Stewart is perfectly cast as the shy, awkward Max who has tremendous burdens, but at heart is a kind young man. He has pretty good chemistry with Sperduto, which is necessary to carry the first half of the film. Unfortunately, that part of the film is going to be virtually excruciating for those who expect a roller coaster haunted house film, which is what the trailer is selling.

There are a lot of cinematographic twists and turns as cinematographer Diego Cordero spins the camera, flips it upside down in an effort to create a literal visual coaster effect; however, be warned that such effects can be vertigo-inducing and wear out their welcome after a couple of turns.

There are some pretty good ideas here, but the backstory of Rotcreep is confusing and contradictory; what is explained to be always fatal turns out to be survivable after all, and he doesn’t appear until comparatively late in the film (they don’t even get into the house until 45 minutes in). The production design is spooky and really well done, considering the miniscule budget. I would have liked to have seen a little less small talk and a little more development of the haunting set-up, but to be truthful, this isn’t bad so much as it makes a few missteps.

REASONS TO SEE: A good college try from both Stewart and Sperduto.
REASONS TO AVOID: Takes WAY too long to get going.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence, sensuality, disturbing images and terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Loosely inspired by the Ursula K. LeGuin short story “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Avery even mentions early on that she is writing a paper on that very story during their stroll around town.
]BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/16/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Autumn Road
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Marry Me

Dumbo (2019)


Aren’t you glad that elephants can’t fly?

(2019) Family (Disney) Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth, Lars Eidinger, Deobia Oparei, Joseph Gatt, Miguel Muñoz Segura, Zenaida Alcalde, Douglas Reith, Phil Zimmerman, Sharon Rooney, Frank Bourke, Ragevan Vasan, Michael Buffer, Sandy Martin, Tom Seekings, Heather Rome. Directed by Tim Burton

 

At first glance, Tim Burton would seem to be an odd fit for Disney (or vice versa). Still, his Frankenweenie was a nicely weird animated piece for the studio and he had one of his biggest hits in the Alice in Wonderland live-action version. He continues Disney’s recent trend of remaking animated classics as live-action films with this version of a 1941 classic.

Holt Farrier (Farrell) returns home from World War I minus an ar and also minus a wife, who had perished in the recent influenza epidemic. His children Milly (Parker) and Joe (Hobbins) have been raised by circus performers in the meantime – Daddy had been a show rider along with his recently deceased wife in the circus before being called up to go Over There. The children are happy to see him, of course, but they are clearly grieving.

Mrs. Jumbo, the star elephant of the circus – which has fallen on hard times since Daddy left for the War – has given birth to a new baby elephant, Baby Jumbo who has enormous ears, making the newborn the target of bullying. However, Milly and Joe are enchanted by the new arrival, even more so when they accidentally discover that when they use a feather to tickle the baby’s trunk until he sneezes, the pachyderm defies physics and actually takes flight. Word soon gets out and the kindly ringmaster and owner (DeVito) finally sees success come to the circus – which attracts the attention of visionary (but thoroughly despicable) amusement park owner V.A. Vandevere (Keaton), who wants the elephant, cruelly nicknamed “Dumbo,” for his prize park Dreamland.

The movie doesn’t quite achieve the pathos of the original except for one scene in which Dumbo, whose mother has been chained up and confined after attacking a cruel trainer, sneaks in and cuddles with his suffering mom. Some of the music from the original survives into the remake, in one form or another, although mostly as musical cues for the savvy viewer.

The movie, although set in 1919, is firmly rooted in 2019 with its attitudes towards animal captivity, which to be honest, although admirable, feels a bit out of step with the setting and is, I ust admit, more than a little jarring to those of us who grew up with the animated version. The movie is heartwarming enough to keep kids delighted, although older, more savvy kids will recognize that the CGI is a bit muddled in more than a few places, although the CGI Dumbo is well-done. Now part of the offerings at Disney Plus, it serves more or less as a curiosity. One has to wonder why watch this when the original is also available?

REASONS TO SEE: Heartwarming in all the right places.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the CGI doesn’t quite work.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity, action sequences (some featuring kids in peril) and some thematic elements unsuitable for smaller children.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Burton directed Keaton and DeVito together in Batman Returns (1992); DeVito also played a ringmaster in the Tim Burton film Big Fish (2003).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, DirecTV, Disney Plus, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/14/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: 46% positive reviews; Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Water for Elephants
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Here Before

Catch the Fair One


Kali Reis has the intensity of a caged lion ready to spring.

(2021) Crime Drama (IFC) Kali Reis, Daniel Henshall, Tiffany Chu, Michael Drayer, Kimberly Guerrero, Lisa Emery, Kevin Dunn, Jonathan Kowalsky, Gerald Webb, Isabelle Chester, Shelly Vincent, Matt Godfrey, Emmett Printup, Jordan Smith, Rae Anna Gott, Wesley Leung, Aaron Kriegler, Sam Seward, Christine Lauer, Sheri Fairchild, Marcus, Elizabeth Manente, Mainaku Borrero. Directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka

It is a dirty little secret in modern America that indigenous women are kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery at an inordinate rate. Advocacy groups report that about 90% of those taken end up murdered once their “purpose” has been served.

Kaylee “KO” Uppashaw (Reis, a boxing champion making her acting debut) prepares for a championship fight with her trainer, Brick (Vincent, also a fighter), going through the pre-fight rituals of getting taped up, having her gloves slipped on, and waiting in the wings for her introduction. She wakes up in a squalid women’s shelter. Was the championship fight a dream or a memory? We’re never sure which, but likely the former.

Kaylee works as a waitress in a diner. She has fallen into such a state where she takes uneaten food off the plates of her customers and brings it home to eat. She sleeps with a razor blade secreted in her mouth, to defend herself if she needs to protect her possesions or her life. She has fallen far from the spotlight she once occupied, and perhaps understandably so; her kid sister Weeta (Borrero) disappeared after walking home alone after visiting Kaylee who was training at her gym (Kaylee wanted to stay a little longer and work; Weeta needed to get back home). Kaylee’s guilt led to estrangement from her mother (Guerrero), the end of her boxing career, and a descent into substance abuse.

The authorities were of little help. Desperate to find her sister and perhaps find redemption, she decides to go looking for her on her own. Researching the local sex trade (the police were able to discover that Weeta was sold into a sex trafficking ring) she discovers a pair of pimps who specialize in pairing up native American women with clients who wanted them. Kaylee decides to allow herself to get into their stable. From then on, things don’t go exactly as she plans.

Basically, the second half of the movie changes tone and focus, going from an intense, emotional, gut-wrenching drama into a fairly typical action film of the revenge genre. While the fight scenes are outstanding (as you’d expect they would be), the change is jarring and makes it feel like two completely different movies were spliced together.

Reis, who hasn’t acted professionally prior to this, is a revelation. She brings a quiet intensity to her role as Kaylee. Kaylee doesn’t say a whole lot; she does her talking with her fists, her eyes and her body language. There is a confrontation with her mother early on in the movie, where she unloads a little bit: “You have a living daughter right here in front of you,” she cries as her mother, who runs a support group for families with missing children, turns to stone. It’s powerful and I wish there had been more scenes like this, showing the devastating effect Weeta’s disappearance had on her family.

This is not the kind of film you want when you’re looking for a pick-me-up; it’s dark, gritty and suffused with an air of impending tragedy. While Kaylee is hopeful that she’ll reunite with her sister, the odds are stacked against her. The ride is a bumpy one, and at times you’ll be tempted to turn away, especially at some of the more wrenching moments. This isn’t always an easy film to watch, but there’s some important material here about a problem that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. When a character with casual cruelty tells Kaylee “Nobody is looking (for her sister) because nobody cares,” he is stating the reality of the situation overall. That’s a fact that needs changing.

REASONS TO SEE: Reis shows a great deal of grit and intensity as a performer.
REASONS TO AVOID: Becomes more of a revenge action thriller in the second half, a move that doesn’t blend well with the dramatic first half.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence, sexuality and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Reis was the first person of mixed Native American heritage to win a boxing title. Like her character in the movie, she is of Native American and Cape Verdean descent.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/12/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews; Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Trade
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Dumbo (2019)

Don’t Look Up


Making America late again.

(2021) Disaster Comedy (Netflix) Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Himesh Patel, Melanie Lynskey, Michael Chiklis, Tomer Sisley, Paul Guilfoyle, Robert Joy, Jack Alberts, Ting Lik, Lance A. Williams, Shimali De Silva. Directed by Adam McKay

 

Some of you might remember the competing apocalyptic comet/meteor collision movies Armageddon and Deep Impact, both of which came out in 1998. Both featured American governments that acted decisively upon finding out about the upcoming end of days in an effort to avoid the end of Life as We Know It. But what if such a calamity occurred during the presidency of someone less competent?

Astronomer Dr. Randall Mindy (di Caprio) and the PhD candidate he’s mentoring Kate Diblasky (Lawrence) are by no means the upper echelon in their field, but they do have the advantage of looking in the right place at the right time (or, more to the point, the wrong place at the wrong time). They find a comet heading on a collision course with Earth and it will be here in just six months – time enough to maybe do something about it.

Except that President Orlean (Streep) and her idiot son/Chief of Staff Jason (Hill) are more concerned about the upcoming midterms than they are about a giant rock heading our way. Frustrated by a lack of government action or even interest, the two scientists take their case to the media in the form of the morning news program The Daily Rip. True to form, the talking head anchors Brie (Blanchett) and Jack (Perry) are more concerned with the disintegrating love life of pop star Riley B (Grande) than about their audience being wiped out by an oncoming – and very preventable – disaster.

The characters here are broadly drawn; clearly the President here is meant to be Trump and Jason could be Ivanka. There’s also a billionaire (Rylance) who seems to be cribbed from the Elon Musk book of billionaires. When Randall wonders why people aren’t panicking, we wonder the same thing. Of course, the movie was written to be a satire on the response to climate change (it can also be construed as a satire on the response to the pandemic but it was written years before COVID-19 was even a thing) but don’t that fool you; this is a time capsule of life in These United States circa 2021.

This is also a satire of the State of the Union, as it were. I suspect that even Trump would have reacted with a little bit more alarm had he been faced with an approaching comet, but then again, who knows? I have a feeling that those who really need to see the movie likely won’t; first off, because they’ll see it as another smack in the face from them liberal Hollywood socialists, and secondly won’t recognize themselves in it anyway. As one critic pointed out, how are you supposed to write a vacuous talking head blonde broadcaster when there already is a Laura Ingraham?

There are a few too many moving parts here and some of the big names in the cast are given very little to do, which is only to be expected. The one big sin that the movie commits is trying to do too much; I get that there’s an awful lot to satirize when it comes to our reaction to the climate crisis, but there comes a point where the point gets lost in the noise of all the ancillary points that McKay is making.

And maybe the offense that we’re all guilty of is the same one that this movie makes; we’re too busy talking at people to notice that we’ve stopped talking with people. The latter situation involves listening, and there’s precious little of that going on at this point in time. Maybe that’s the point that McKay is trying to make, but it does get lost in all the points he’s making about social media, broadcast news, the GOP, big business, and our general state of malaise.

REASONS TO SEE: An absolutely stellar cast. A commentary on spin and misinformation, particularly in regards to climate change and the pandemic.
REASONS TO AVOID: Preaches to the choir.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, sexual content, violence and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The film was nominated for four Oscars at the 2022 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/11/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews; Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mars Attacks!
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Catch the Fair One