Extra Ordinary


Will Forte goes all satanic on your ass.

(2019) Comedy (Good DeedMaeve Higgins, Barry Ward, Will Forte, Claudia O’Doherty, Jamie Beamish, Terri Chandler, Risteard Cooper, Emma Coleman, Carrie Crowley, Mary McEvoy, Sarah O’Farrell, Agatha Ellis, Jon Cheung, Valerie O’Connor, Siobhan Sweeney, Paul Holmes, Eamon Morrissey, Jed Murray, Mike Ahern, Daniel Reardon, Alison Spittle. Directed by Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman

 

I’ve heard that Ireland may be haunted, and that’s my weak attempt at sarcasm. The truth is, you can’t swing a dead cat (although why would you want to) without hitting a ghost, a banshee or some other spook.

Rose Dooley (Higgins) knows all about it and she has the dead cat to prove it (figuratively speaking, PETA – this isn’t that kind of movie). Her father Vincent (Cooper) hosted a paranormal direct-to-VHS series when Rose was a wee lass, before he met a tragic end that Rose blames herself for.

You see, Rose has a special talent; she can perceive ghosts and even communicate with them. After the passing of her father, Rose determined to ignore her gift, although it’s kind of hard to do when sometimes you can’t tell the living from the dead. So, Rose keeps mostly to herself, only her pregnant sister Sailor (Chandler) really having any sort of ongoing relationship with her. Rose runs a driving school in her tiny town which seems to suit her just fine.

Martin Martin (Ward) whose parents must have waned him to get beat up in school, has a different problem. His wife Bonnie may have passed on but she hasn’t moved on; she still picks out the clothes he’s to wear and sends messages like “The Dog has worms” burned into the toast and from time to time hits him in the face with a cabinet door when he shows any sort of sign of defiance. Their daughter Sarah (Coleman) is fed up; she can’t find closure until her mom’s spirit is at rest and she basically gives her pa an ultimatum; get help or I’m gone.

Sarah is aware of Rose’s past and gives Martin her business card. Martin, wary and kind of spineless, signs up for Rose’s driving course – even though he passed his exam years before. When he finally confesses his real reason for seeking her out, she orders him out of her car. Still, Rose feels a connection with the distraught man and eventually agrees to help.

In doing so, she inadvertently puts herself in the crosshairs of dark forces. You see, American ex-pat Christian Winter (Forte) was once a pop phenom, but after his big hit “Cosmic Woman” put him on top was unable to capitalize on the momentum and now has become a has-been staring at financial ruin. He needs a comeback album and makes a deal with the devil, who needs a virgin to be sacrificed. There really aren’t many of them in town though, but Sarah is one and Christian marks her for sacrifice to the demon Astaroth (Murray).

Rose knows that stopping Christian won’t be easy. She needs the ectoplasm of seven ghosts to do it but fortunately Martin has a talent of his own – ghosts can easily possess him, after which he ends up vomiting up (literally) ectoplasm. Unfortunately, the blood moon is approaching and the sacrifice is nigh. Can Rose and Martin figure out a way to save Sarah and also the world?

The Irish are nothing if not charming and this movie has oodles of that. Higgins is extremely likable as is Ward; they make a cute if awkward couple. Ahern and Loughman, who in addition to co-directing the film also co-wrote the screenplay, never let the horror elements (and there are some) overwhelm the comedy, nor do they let the humor go too over-the-top. This is about as laid back as a movie gets.

The special effects are pretty rudimentary although the appearance of Astaroth near the end of the movie is cleverly done. While the movie loses its momentum in the middle section, it grabs it back once Martin and Rose start tracking down ghosts. Ward gets a chance to show off his chops, taking on the persona of the ghost each time he’s possessed, often to hilarious effect. One of my favorite bits of business is that whenever his late wife Bonnie resides in him, an unlit cigarette dangles from his lips as it did with her while she was alive. How did it get there? Who cares, it works!

And that sums up how I feel about the movie. There’s a specific mythology that the movie builds as it goes along, but don’t be intimidated; it makes good sense and the background is accessed in painless ways, often by showing clips from Vincent’s low-budget show. This film is pleasant, inoffensive and should elicit a smile from all but the most jaded of filmgoers. In an age of pandemics, politics and climate change, heaven knows we can all use a bit of inoffensive pleasantness.

REASONS TO SEE: A very droll sense of humor.
REASONS TO AVOID: Drags a little bit in the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, a bit of sexuality, horror violence and some gross images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Higgins, who plays a driving instructor, didn’t know how to drive before filming started.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/16/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews, Metacritic: 72/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ghost Team
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Workforce

Saudi Women’s Driving School


The world’s scariest profession: driving instructor.

(2019) Documentary (HBOSarah Saleh, Shahad al-Humaizi, Amjad al-Amri, Laijad al-Hathioul, Prof. Madawi al-Rasheed, Amal al-Jaber, Manal al-Sharif, Aziza al-Yousef, Fadia al-Amri, Adel al-Jubeii.  Directed by Erica Gornall

 

Saudi Arabia is a country that many have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it has been one of the staunchest allies of the United States in the Middle East. On the other hand, the 9/11 terrorists all hailed from there. On the negative side, women have been subjugated to a large degree. On the positive side, there are signs that this could be easing.

For years it was illegal for women to drive an automobile in Saudi Arabia. To get where they wanted or needed to go, they had to rely on male family members, taxis or Uber drivers. One woman describes the fear she felt; her husband was frequently away on business and they had a daughter who suffered from Type 1 diabetes and for whom severe medical issues were a real possibility. However, that ban was lifted in 2017 by order of King Salman, taking effect in June of 2018.

The effect of the lifting of the band was just about immediate. Young Sarah Saleh, who worked at a Ford dealership in the capital city of Riyadh, was immediately moved to the sales floor, the male managers feeling that she would better understand the needs of women who would come to the dealership to buy their own car. She decided to get a license herself and to do that she enrolled at the Saudi Women’s Driving School. There is an unintentionally hilarious moment when Saleh admits that her dream car is a Ford Taurus.

The school is one of the largest of its kind in the world; over 700 female instructors utilizing a fleet of 250 cars are trying to get through the backlog of women who are clamoring to qualify for a license of their own. Gornall often uses drone cameras to show overhead shots of the complex which is massive.

Gornall mainly focuses on three women whose lives are profoundly affected by the new-found freedom. In addition to Saleh, we meet Amjad al-Amri, an aspiring race car driver as well as Shahad al-Humaizi, an Uber driver who often picks up male clients who have varying reactions to being driven by a female driver. Some are clearly uncomfortable; Saudi society has largely been segregated for decades and some men feel that’s the way things should be. Amal, an instructor at the driving school, sits quietly alongside her husband as he speaks for the both of them; it is something he is clearly used to and takes for granted. She just as clearly doesn’t agree with his pronouncements and the moment is a little awkward.

Gornall was given unprecedented access to the driving school in Riyadh as well as to a variety of women (and men) commenting on the new changes. Many men are unhappy with it but resigned to accept it because the King has decreed it. One police officer in an audio-only interview flat out states that he won’t allow his wife to drive, essentially because he doesn’t want other men looking at her, although in full burka and hijab there really isn’t a whole lot to see.

I also couldn’t shake the feeling that in this attempt at transparency that there was more than a little spin control going on here. Following the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Kingdom could use some good press and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was an effort to distract from that black eye to the Saudi reputation

Gornall also notes that several activists who had been pushing for restoring the right of Saudi women to drive were abruptly arrested just weeks before the ban was lifted; they all remain jailed with reports that some of them have been tortured. All were recently branded as traitors by the Saudi government, which feels a bit excessive considering all they were doing was advocating for a change that was already going to take effect – or at least, that’s how it’s presented. We don’t get any comment from a representative of the Kingdom on the matter.

Nonetheless, there is a lot of value here, particularly in seeing how this one thing we take for granted has such an extraordinary effect on the lives and self-images of these women. Yes, they have a very long way to go (the film spends a bit of time on the repressive Guardianship laws, in which women cannot marry, travel or attend school without the permission of a guardian, usually a family member and always male and despite continued calls for the laws to be repealed, there’s no sign that’s going to happen anytime soon. While I get the sense that the Saudi government allowed a certain amount of questioning of policy, I don’t think the filmmakers got as deep into the subject as they would have liked to.

REASONS TO SEE: A look at Saudi Arabia few ever get to see.
REASONS TO AVOID: Feels a little bit like spin control.
FAMILY VALUES: There is nothing here you couldn’t show to the entire family.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Saudi Arabia is a monarchy with absolute power invested in the king; it was King Salman who made the decision to rescind the ban on driving for women in 2017.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/4/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Soufra
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Badland