Bikini Moon


The frank stare of madness is unblinking.

(2017) Mockumentary (Flix Premiere) Condola Rashad, Sarah Goldberg, Will Janowitz, Sathya Sridharan, Mykal-Michelle Harris, Chukwudi Iwuji, Scott Martin, Irungu Mutu, Lauren Lim Jackson, Alyssa Cheatham, Irma Estella La Guerre, Jeremy Rafal, Brian Sills, Roland Sands Cliff Moylan, Lisa Lakatos, Gemma Forbes, Jeannine Kaspar, Danielle Kelsey. Directed by Milcho Manchevski

 

Mockumetaries – fake documentaries which are actually scripted films – are one of those genres that are truly hit or miss. Sometimes they’re played for comedy, as in This is Spinal Tap while other times they’re played straight as in…well, most found footage films like the Paranormal Activity series. This movie is one of the latter.

A documentary crew led by ambitious but obsessive Trevor (Janowitz) and his mousy girlfriend Kate (Goldberg) are filming at a New York City housing office when they are struck by Bikini (Rashad), an Iraqi war veteran who clearly has some emotional and mental problems and decide to focus on her instead. Unable to secure government housing, the couple spends the night trying to find her an apartment that will get her off the streets. The landlord who agrees over the phone to take her in suddenly changes his mind when he sees the film crew but Bikini gives him oral sex and that seems to satisfy things…but as will become her modus operandi she will mess things up for herself when she stops taking her medication. You can usually tell shes having issues when she starts blathering on about the wonderful creatures that are the praying mantis. That figures into things fairly heavily late in the game.

With their subject back on the street, the couple brings Bikini into their own home that Kate inherited from her mom. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that things will end in tears and they literally do. In fact, pretty much everything does, from Bikini’s attempts to regain custody of her daughter Ashley (Harris) to her friendship with Kate and Trevor. And when the rest of the crew tries to finish the film in order to at least recoup some sort of payment for all their time and effort, things take a turn that nobody will see coming.

The first half of the film is enthralling, largely due to the efforts of Rashad who is absolutely brilliant. She has been seen in such things as the Showtime series Billions but she is clearly ready to take on major roles in important films. She never overplays the crazy until she needs to but her performance is raw and believable. The first half of the film is riveting and unforgettable.

Then comes the second half which not only goes off the rails, it proposes that there were never any rails to begin with. The more Bikini does to sabotage her situation, the more unbelievable everyone around her acts. Kate is the poster child for white guilt and Trevor is an absolute douchebag as we eventually discover but at some point someone would say “I’m not dealing with this crap anymore” and walk away.

One of the things the movie does successfully is look at the artificiality of some documentaries where scenes are staged and rehearsed rather than capturing the reality of the situation. We also see how the presence of a film crew can change the situation. It’s a bit of a Catch 22 – damned if you do, damned if you don’t – and while it’s not directly addressed Manchevski gives you the situation and lets you go from there. That shows a great deal of respect for his audience and had he continued down this route this could have been an absolutely amazing film.

Sadly, he chooses to go down the path of weirdness and as things spiral into an ending that the rest of the movie doesn’t hint at and to be frank doesn’t earn, the viewer will not only be taken straight out of the film which appeared to have something to say at first and likely, as I did, get incredibly angry at the filmmaker who went to the trouble of sending a message and then spoiling whatever good will he had developed with an absolute train wreck of an ending.

Basically there are two films here; one very good, the other a waste of time. I would recommend that you watch the first half and after Trevor and Kate go their separate ways just turn off the movie or walk out of the theater. Of course, the curious will want to see this all the way to the end but I’m here to tell you it’s not worth it. See the first half, skip the second. You’ve been warned.

REASONS TO GO: Rashad is a real talent with a bright future.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie drags a little at the end with an out-of-left-field ending that it hasn’t earned.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bunch of profanity, some violence, nudity, sexual content and disturbing content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Condola Rashad is the daughter of Phylicia and Ahmad Rashad.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/17/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lobster
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Oath

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Dave Made a Maze


The Tiki God of garbage gazes over his domain.

(2016) Fantasy Comedy (Foton) Nick Thune, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Stephanie Allynne, Adam Busch, Scott Krinsky, James Urbaniak, John Hennigan, Frank Caeti, Scott Narver, Kirsten Vangsness, Drew Knigga, Kamilla Alnes, Rick Overton, Timothy Nordwind, Etienne Eckert, Brittney Deutsch, Jessica Graves. Directed by Bill Watterson

The imagination can be a powerful thing. It can create entire worlds…entire realities. It can change one’s life in a heartbeat. Of course, it comes in real handy when making movies as well.

Dave (Thune) is one of those guys who just pisses away his life. He has a thousand ideas for things but he never follows them through to the end. As a result, as he hits 30 and wonders where his life is taking him, he feels a failure even though he has a beautiful girlfriend named Anna (Kumbhani) and a bunch of friends who think he’s cool.

One weekend, Anna is out of town on a business trip and Dave is bored out of his skull. He decides to construct a maze out of cardboard in the living room – an elaborate one. Like many projects that become obsessions, it takes on a life of its own.

When Anna arrives home, she discovers the maze in her living room and can find neither hide nor hair of Dave. Eventually she hears his voice calling from inside the cardboard creation. It turns out that he’s gotten lost in the maze. That sounds absolutely unbelievable but Dave insists that it is much bigger on the inside. Anna means to knock it down so he can get out but he begs her not to – he wants to finish something for once in his life.

He doesn’t want her to go in and get her either – a rescue mission is too dangerous as there are booby traps and trip wires. Nonetheless, Anna calls Dave’s best friend Gordon (Busch) and he calls a few other friends (despite being told explicitly not to) and soon there’s a party in Dave’s living room which includes power couple Greg (Nordwind) and Brynn (Allynne), ubernerd Jane (Vangsness), a random homeless guy (Overton), Harry (Urbaniak), a documentary film maker with his boom operator (Caeti) and camera operator (Narver) and a couple of Flemish tourists (Knigga and Alnes) and Leonard (Krinsky) who is just…Leonard.

They all go in after him and find a world they could never imagined; living origami, a Tiki God that spurts out living ribbon, rooms that evolve on their own and yes, a Minotaur (Hennigan) for good measure. Not everyone is going to make it out alive, but then again, not all of them were really living anyway.

I gotta hand it to first-time filmmaker Watterson – he has oodles of imagination. The production design here may be low-budget but it is absolutely captivating. The world of the maze isn’t like anything you’ve ever seen…well, most of it is anyway. The crew used 30,000 square feet of cardboard to construct the maze and…well, every penny is on the screen as some critics like to say.

Watterson also uses perspective as an additional effect to keep the viewer off balance, and he wisely refrains from using it overmuch. One of the things that encourage me about this new director is that he knows how to keep from being repetitive while remaining creative. That’s not as easy as it sounds.

Thune has plenty of charisma and likability in the lead role and I can see him building on this and getting some plum roles in the near future. Certainly performances like this will make him eligible for romantic comedy leads as well as straight comedies. Thune has a pretty rosy future.

There are a few faces here from TV, like Vangsness from Criminal Minds, Allynne from One Mississippi and Krinsky from Chuck but most of the others with the exception of Thune are largely not well known and Thune is known mostly for being a stand-up comic with appearances on stand-up shows and @Midnight.

Be warned though that in watching this you’re likely to suffer hipster overload. The movie is lousy with them and those who find them insufferable may find themselves heading for the exit. The soundtrack is full of indie rock and the male characters with beards. You may want to dose yourself with anti-hipster medicine before coming to see this.

That and an ending that doesn’t live up to the rest of the movie aside, this is a very strong entry in the ranks of indie films this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get some distribution from one of the big indies. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those movies that is going to show up in a lot of best of the year lists this year.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the most amazing production design you’ll see in a film this year. Thune is an engaging and earnest lead. Watterson has a good eye for perspective. One of the most imaginative films at this year’s Florida Film Festival.
REASONS TO STAY: Hipster overload. The ending is a tad weak.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The director is not related to the cartoonist of the same name who created Calvin & Hobbes.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/23/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cool World
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: For Ahkeem

The Devil Inside


The Devil Inside

Static electricity can be murder!

(2012) Supernatural Horror (InSurge/Paramount) Fernanda Andrade, Evan Helmuth, Simon Quarterman, Ionut Grama, Suzan Crowley, Bonnie Morgan, Brian Johnson, Preston James Hiller, D.T. Carney, Maude Boranni, Marvin Duerkholz. Directed by William Brent Bell

 

Ah, Blair Witch Project, what hath thou wrought? Here is yet another in the long line of recent found footage films (i.e. Cloverdale, Apollo18) which to be honest are becoming rather gimmicky. While the Paranormal Activity series has been well-received both by critics and audiences alike, it is quickly becoming an excuse for sloppy camera work and poorly constructed plots.

Studios like these kinds of movies because they are extremely inexpensive to produce and when they hit it big, they can really upgrade the studio’s tax bracket. Even when they don’t hit it big, it doesn’t take much for them to make a profit and when they don’t, it’s not much of a write-off so it’s a win-win situation for the studio.

For audiences, however, it can be another matter. Maria Rossi (Crowley) was a Connecticut housewife who in 1989 killed two priests and a nun during an exorcism ceremony. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity and later moved from an asylum in Connecticut to one in Rome. Her daughter Isabella (Andrade) who was a little girl when her momma went all medieval is ready to visit her mom for the first time since then and in the fine tradition of reunions everywhere wants to film it, taking with her Michael, a somewhat slimy cameraman (Grama).

In Rome she is given permission by the Holy See to film an exorcism class where she meets Fr. Ben Rawlings (Quarterman) and Fr. David Keane (Helmuth), a couple of young exorcists-in-training who chafe under the Church bureaucracy and are eager to go off and perform exorcisms on  those who as they put it “have fallen through the cracks of the Church.” Naturally they become interested in Isabella’s case but they want to show her a real exorcism first, so they take her to visit Rosa (Morgan), a cruelly possessed teenager. After that, the two renegade priests visit Maria in the asylum and, as you can imagine, all Hell breaks loose.

I will grant you that the movie as much as I’m ripping on it does do a good job basically from the time Isabella gets to Rome and through the exorcism attempt of Maria in setting up the right mood. There are a few startle-scares (big dogs parking, loud crashes) but for the most part this is more atmosphere than gorefest. Those looking for demons and beasties best look elsewhere.

The acting, as it is in many of these sorts of films is just competent at best. Maintaining the illusion of reality means hiring unknowns and that is always a bit of a crap shoot. But then again, who goes to these sorts of movies for the acting?

A movie like this has to keep the viewer interested in what’s going to happen next and elicit a sense of dread from the audience (after all, the footage had to be “lost” before it was found and there’s usually a reason for that) but part of the problem is that you kind of know before the movie even starts that bad things are going to happen to the people in the film and it’s not going to end well for them. In a sense, their own genre works against them. For that reason, we need to care about the characters and quite frankly, the writers of the movie didn’t even care enough to make them anything more than cookie cutter characters.

Much of the audience anger (it has gotten very poor word of mouth) at the movie stems from the ending. I won’t spoil it other than to say it’s abrupt enough to give you whiplash, then refers you to a website for further information – which I did and while it gives you additional background information on the main characters and some of the other elements within the movie. I think the attention was to be innovative and turn the movie into a film/internet hybrid. While I think that’s a peachy concept, quite frankly it didn’t work well here and served only the make people really angry. The ending basically ruins the movie.

While some publications thought that Paramount was hoping for a Paranormal Activity-type franchise out of this film, I’m not so sure. I can’t see how this lends itself to a sequel, although I suppose it’s possible to have some other investigators investigate the happenings in the movie. I don’t think the found footage-style would work for that so much though.

The middle part of the movie was pretty good which is what makes this so sad. There is obviously potential here for a good movie, but then the horrible ending blows that to smithereens. It made pretty decent box office its first weekend (which I’m sure is what the studio was hoping for) but with the bad word-of-mouth and negative reviews I don’t foresee much staying power and I don’t think people are going to want to see a The Devil Inside 2. You can’t trample the goodwill of an audience and expect them to come back for more.

REASONS TO GO: Very creepy in places.

REASONS TO STAY: An ending that just about kills the movie. Makes you wonder if found footage movies have outstayed their welcome.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some fairly disturbing scenes and a couple of grisly images. The language is rough and as with most possession movies a lot of it is sexually based.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first release of Paramount’s low-budget InSurge brand.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 6% positive reviews. Metacritic: 18/100. The reviews are scathing.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Last Exorcism

DEMONIC PSYCHOBABBLE LOVERS: While the exorcisms are conducted in English rather than Latin, there are references to demons and demonic lore.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: GalaxyQuest

The Last Exorcism


The Last Exorcism

This isn't Kansas anymo...oh yeah it just might be.

(2010) Supernatural Horror (Lionsgate) Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones, Tony Bentley, John Wright Jr., Shanna Forrestall, Justin Shafer, Carol Sutton, Victoria Patenaude, John Wilmot, Becky Fly, Denise Lee, Logan Craig Lee. Directed by Daniel Stamm

Belief is a powerful thing. Once we lock something in our mind that we believe is so, we make it so consciously or unconsciously. The mind can make us sick – and be a powerful healer.

Reverend Cotton Marcus (Fabian) has been a Southern hellfire and brimstone preacher since he was a child. Like many preachers, he also performs exorcisms. He doesn’t actually out demons; he uses parlor tricks and special effects to suggest to his “patients” that the demon has left them. Most of the time, they feel much better.

But Cotton’s own son was born with serious medical issues and the death of someone during an exorcism (not one Cotton was involved with) have opened his eyes to the harm he could well be doing. He decides to perform one last exorcism and chooses a subject at random; the Sweetzers.

He enlists a documentary crew to capture his last exorcism on film and show the practitioners to be the charlatans they are. The “victim” is Nell (Bell), a bright and cheerful teen whose father Louis (Herthum) is a fundamentalist who makes Pat Robertson look like Bill Maher. Nell’s brother Caleb (Jones) is suspicious of the whole thing and with good reason.

Nonetheless, Cotton convinces Louis to let them perform the exorcism and with the usual smoke and mirrors, Cotton is successful. He leaves the farm, thinking that he is done with exorcisms and finished with the Sweetzer family. He has no idea how wrong he is.

The conceit of the movie is that you’re seeing the “documentary” footage shot by the crew; as the movie wears on and things get more and more strange, the unexplainable tends to feel more realistic and believable than it might on a Hollywood sound stage. That works to the movie’s favor.

Also to the good is Fabian as Cotton Marcus. Cotton is a bit of a scalawag, a born salesman for God who can earnestly sell his flock on the power of Jesus as easily as he does in the deliciousness of his grandma’s banana bread recipe. He is also suffering a bit of a crisis of faith; he is tired of the games and the tricks and yearns to set things right. His family isn’t so sure about his change of heart but his wife Shanna (Forrestall) supports him.

Of the film crew, we mostly see Iris (Bahr), the producer and sound engineer (hey, it’s a low budget shoot) and she delivers the requisite amount of fear and panic. Herthum is also steadfast as the farmer whose belief and faith never waver, to the point that he’s willing to kill someone to prove it.

Despite its flaws (and indeed, occasionally because of them) this is as effective horror film as I’ve seen recently, a pleasant surprise that came from producer Eli Roth, who helmed such films as Cabin Fever and Hostel. There are some real scares here on a real low budget, mostly revolving around Nell who gets tossed about like a rag doll in some scenes. There is some subtle commentary on faith, religion and the gullibility of man. There are some solid performances. Basically, this is just a well-written movie that has an ending that is unfortunate, but that doesn’t negate the hour plus of film that preceded it. If not for that ending, this would have a perfect rating and that doesn’t happen for horror films often, but this one very nearly deserved it.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the scariest horror movies of the last few years. Really makes good use of the whole found footage genre. Surprisingly well-acted.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending was really disappointing.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of bad language and a few somewhat disturbing crime scene images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie spent ten years in development following a “60 Minutes” story on the subject which led to a bidding frenzy.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Real Stories of Exorcism featurette looks at actual exorcism and interviews people who have been exorcised. There is also footage of the actor’s auditions on the Blu-Ray edition.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $67.7M on a $1.8M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster in every sense of the word.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Six Days of Darkness continues!