Unfriended: Dark Web


Your computer is watching you and no, that’s NOT a good thing.

(2018) Horror/Thriller (BH Tilt) Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Savira Mindyani, Douglas Tait, Bryan Adrian, Chelsea Alden, Alexa Mansour, Rob Welsh, Alexander Ward, Kurt Carley, Chuck Lines, Eric Watson, Maya Nalli, Ashton Smiley, Kiara Beltran. Directed by Stephen Susco

The Internet is like landing on a brand new planet; there are all kinds of places to explore, from web comics to news sites to social media. You can spend hours browsing Wikipedia, Snapchat, Spotify, Amazon, eBay, iTunes and wherever else you want to be. There are some corners of the web however that are best left unexplored.

Matias (Woodell) has a brand new laptop. Well, new to him anyway…he purloined it from the lost and found of the coffee shop he works at. He needs a new one because his current one is unreliable and slow and he can’t afford a new one. He can’t even afford a used one. He desperately needs one because quite frankly he needs to get back in the good graces of his ex-girlfriend Amaya (Nogueras) who he is almost stalker-ish obsessed over.

It’s also game night for a bunch of his millennial friends and in true tech-dependent fashion, rather than meeting up in person they get on Skype to play Cards Against Humanity (isn’t there an app for that?). His friends include cute couple Nori (Gabriel) and Serena (Rittenhouse), conspiracy junkie AJ (Del Rio), British tech guru Damon (Lees) and YouTube-famous musician Lexx (Mindyani). If these descriptions sound like stereotypical clichés, it’s mainly because they are; little thought is given to supplying any depth to any of the parts.

Editorializing aside – there’ll be plenty more of that kind of thing later – it turns out that there are some hidden files on the laptop and those files enable connection to the dark web, the semi-mythical place on the Internet where dirty deeds are done dirt cheap and nearly any perversion can be had for the asking, including murder and torture. Some of the files on the laptop show gruesome scenes of snuff and torture as well as webcam footage of a local missing girl. And the owner of the laptop now knows that someone else has it and is logged in and they want it back and not tomorrow but right freaking now. To prove how serious he is, the owner kills one of their number on camera, warning the survivors if they go to the cops he’ll kill them. And naturally, their life expectancies has just taken a turn for the worse.

I don’t really know where to start here. The acting is mostly okay – the majority of the cast has served time doing teen-oriented TV shows like Teen Wolf and The Originals. You really can’t complain about the actors because they are given so little to work with and their characters are required by the script to make some unbelievably dopey decisions in order to move the generally unrealistic plot along.

All of the action is viewed through various apps and laptop/tablet/smart phone screens, which is the trope that was used in the original Unfriended and is essentially the only connection between the two movies. This isn’t so much a sequel as part of an anthology which I can understand, but might not have been the best idea but then again, the original wasn’t all that compelling and had no characters in it that you’d want to see in another movie. Just like this one.

At least the first film had a fairly original concept but since it came out in 2015 several other movies have utilized the same or a similar gimmick. The supernatural element of the first is gone but replaced by a nearly real-world tone which goes completely out the window when we discover that the owner of the laptop utilizes a special jacket that causes cameras to malfunction, allowing him to not be seen; sort of a Harry Potter Cloak of Invisibility for the Snapchat set.

And that brings up another problem – this movie essentially has built-in obsolescence. Any relevance it might have had (the first one at least had an anti-cyber bullying message) will be lost in the very pop culture/social media consciousness of the film. What’s cool in 2018 might not necessarily be in 2020. This is a film with a shelf life which means that buyers remorse will likely set in quickly once you realize that the movie is “so 2018.”

I was mildly entertained by this one – Rittenhouse and Gabriel make an appealing couple and Gabriel is actually a decent actress who needs some roles that will let her spread her wings a little. The scares aren’t terribly scary – clearly the producers were aiming for a PG-13 – the characters aren’t memorable and the plot is riddled with clichés like Swiss cheese is with holes. In an era where strong horror films are becoming more and more available, efforts like this which seem to be cash grabs capitalizing on a popular could-be franchise film aren’t really worth your time if you’re a horror gourmet. Of course if you’re ,more of a gourmand you might find this more suitable.

REASONS TO GO: There is some nice family bonding moments.
REASONS TO STAY: The filmmakers are trying too hard to make it witty and cute.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of disturbing imagery, sexual references and profanity herein.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There are two different endings in the theatrical version; also, the original title was to have been Unfriended: Game Night but the title was eventually changed to avoid confusion with the Jason Bateman comedy.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/26/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews: Metacritic: 53/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Searching
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness Day Two

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Pulp Fiction


Someone is going to get a cap in their ass.

Someone is going to get a cap in their ass.

(1994) B-Movie Noir (Miramax) John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz, Amanda Plummer, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino, Julia Sweeney, Phil LaMarr, Frank Whaley, Burr Steers, Rosanna Arquette, Bronagh Gallagher, Duane Whitaker, Peter Greene, Stephen Hibbert, Kathy Griffin, Maria de Madeiros. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Some movies become classics because they define an entire genre; others because they define a region. Many become classics because they define the person who made it – and Pulp Fiction does. But what sets it apart from other movies is that Pulp Fiction has come to define cool.

Pulp Fiction is ranked high on a lot of people’s lists of all-time favorite or significant (or both) films, critics and film buffs alike. Tarantino had already been receiving notice for his previous films True Romance and Reservoir Dogs but to most people, this is his artistic nadir. It would provide a serious career renaissance for Travolta and a boost for Willis, while Jackson would really hit the public radar with his incendiary performance here.

Tarantino skillfully weaves three stories – one of two career killers, Vincent Vega (Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Jackson) having a particularly bad day, a second about a prize fighter named Butch Coolidge (Willis) who fails to throw a prize fight and runs afoul of gangster Marcellus Wallace (Rhames) who also happens to be the employer of Messrs. Vega and Winnfield. Finally a third story involves Vincent’s ill-advised assignment to take out Marcellus’ wife Mia (Thurman) out for dinner and dancing. He takes her out to Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a restaurant that never existed but OMG it should have. There, waiters dressed like Hollywood stars of the 50s and 60s serve burgers, shakes and steaks to customers seated in classic cars. Slot car racers ring the room and periodic twist contests and other entertainment keep the joint hopping.

My personal favorite sequence is when Vincent and Jules head to a suburban home of mutual friend Jimmie Dimmick (Tarantino) after one of the messiest accidents you’ll ever see on film. They are forced to call The Wolf (Keitel), a fixer who specializes in clean-ups. There is a whole lot of dark humor in the scene and I always look forward to it whenever I view the movie which is pretty regularly.

Tarantino has always been a skillful writer of dialogue and he writes some of the best I’ve ever heard here. Much of it has become classic; Vincent’s laconic assertion that in France, a Quarter Pounder with cheese is called a Royale with cheese, or Jules’ Biblical oration when he’s about to shoot someone in the face and who can forget Marcellus Wallace promising that he is “going to get medieval on yo ass” to a  It is also the kind of film where bad things happen to just about everyone.

The movie combines all sorts of different genres, from black comedies to thrillers, from mob movies to fight flicks. Pulp Fiction is B-Movie noir, a tribute to the movies that weren’t so respectable but are the movies that we tend to remember even more than the high-falluting Oscar winners. These are the movies that we are raised on, the movies that make us feel just a little bit like badasses. These are the movies that appeal to the devils of our better nature, and Pulp Fiction is everything about these movies that makes them great.

WHY RENT THIS: A true classic with some of the best dialogue ever written. Terrific performances by Travolta, Jackson, Thurman and Keitel.  Awesome soundtrack.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be filled with a few too many pop culture references.

FAMILY VALUES:  All sorts of violence and drug use as well as a ton of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Travolta and Thurman copied their twist sequence at Jack Rabbit Slim’s virtually move for move from a similar dance sequence in Fellini’s 8 1/2 by Barbara Steele and Mario Pisu.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Collector’s Edition DVD includes a feature from Siskel & Ebert At the Movies on Tarantino and his generation of filmmakers, Tarantino’s acceptance speech when the film won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, an interview of Tarantino by Charlie Rose and a menu from Jack Rabbit Slim’s. The Blu-Ray has all of these other than the menu.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $213.9M on an $8M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Reservoir Dogs

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: The World is Not Enough

Breaking Upwards


Breaking up is hard to do.

Breaking up is hard to do.

(2009) Drama (IFC) Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones, Andrea Martin, Olivia Thirlby, Ebon Moss-Bacharach, Julie White, Peter Friedman, LaChanze, Pablo Schreiber, Heather Burns, Tate Ellington, Francis Benhamou, David Call, Sam Rosen, Max Jenkins, Audrey Allison. Directed by Daryl Wein

It is said that it isn’t always easy to pin down when a relationship begins but it is almost always obvious when a relationship ends. Hollywood tends to spend much more time in the former situation and much less in the latter and usually when a relationship ends in a Hollywood movie it’s always sudden, event-based and rarely the way things work in real life.

Daryl (Wein) and Zoe (Lister-Jones) have been going together for four years. He’s a writer and filmmaker, she’s an off-Broadway actress. Sex between them has become almost routine and just something that Zoe wants to get over with as quickly as possible.

Obviously the bloom is off of the rose of their relationship and the two of them, being good New York hipsters, decide that they’re going to spend some time apart but not the way most normal couples do. Instead, they’re going to pick several days during the week when they are forbidden from seeing each other. Hopefully this enforced time off will help them gain some perspective.

Instead, it gives them opportunities for them to see other people – Alan (Schreiber) in her case, Erika (Thirlby) in his. It also gives the relationship an opportunity to die slowly. Daryl moves in with his mom (White) while Zoe’s mom (Martin), a sort of hippie feminist sculptor with a big dash of Jewish mom thrown in for  good measure, attempts to help Zoe get through a situation that mom doesn’t quite understand.

Wein and Lister-Jones co-wrote the script (along with Peter Duchan) and reportedly based it on their own experiences as a couple when they were going through a rough patch (they are no longer together). Wein, who would go on to direct Lola Versus, shows some nice touches in depicting a relationship in a realistic manner but then turns it into an indie hipster fest with characters hanging out in coffee houses, listening to indie rock and talking like they based their dialogue on episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Wein and Lister-Jones make an engaging couple as you might expect having had a real life romance but it is after they separate that things kinda lose their steam. That’s a bit opposite of what I would have hoped for; in a chronicle of a relationship’s demise, I would hope that there would be more intensity as things spiral towards their inevitable conclusion.

The supporting cast, most of whom worked for scale if they took money at all is pretty impressive, with SCTV alum Martin showing the most depth but veterans White and Friedman also get some pretty nice scenes and Moss-Bacharach and Thirlby contributing some key scenes as well.

I take it that Wein and Lister-Jones are New Yorkers and of course they’re going to write about what they know. No problems there, although I think that at some point there are going to be enough movies about New York/Brooklyn hipsters and perhaps we’ll see people that don’t live in lofts that they can’t possibly afford, aren’t artists or artistic and don’t eat out and go out drinking more often than Paris Hilton does. If you’re going to make a movie about real relationships, the least you can do is make the environment real as well – at least, not a cliché typical indie flick New York environment which has been done to death.

I liked the premise a lot but the execution left a lot to be desired, mostly on the writing end. I can take a script in which the leads do senseless things – when it comes to love and relationships, often the things we do in real life don’t make sense either. What I can’t take is a movie that’s serious in tone getting unexpectedly precious which takes me right out of the experience. There are some things here that work, enough for me to give it an average rating but I hope that Wein continues to grow as a filmmaker and tries a few other environments other than the one discussed. I think he needs to be taken out of his comfort zone a bit in order to be a better filmmaker, although in all fairness this was a local production made on a microscopic budget that probably wouldn’t cover office supplies on a major studio release. I can commend the movie for not looking or feeling that it was made on the cheap but I just wish it took a less consciously hip tone.

WHY RENT THIS: A rare realistic look at a relationship’s end. Some good performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Once again, awfully New York-centric. Some cutesy-pie moments derail the movie’s overall tone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The New York Times did an article on the film’s production, praising it as an example of “sweat equity” or the use of alternative methods to acquire cast, crew and production funding.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: A photo tutorial.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $77,389 on a $15,000 production budget; the movie was quite profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Uncertainty

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Deadline