Good


Talking – and dining – at cross purposes.

(2020) Drama (Gravitas) Keith David, Justin Etheredge, Nefetari Spencer, Kali Racquel, Christen Roberts, Sarah Scott-Davis, Ken Colquitt, Aaron Nayer, Gwen Cesta-Persichetti, Harrison Rodriguez, Lettye Smith, Aiden Weems, Kyle L. Jacobs, Jeff G. Mungai, Elizabeth Capps. Directed by Justin Etheredge

 

Parenthood is not something to be entered into lightly. It is so easy to mess up a child’s future without meaning to. It is also true that we can mess up a child’s future simply by not being there. Nothing says “you don’t matter” as much as a parent who chooses not to be a part of their offspring’s life.

Peyton Poitier – “no relation,” he is quick to point out while watching In the Heat of the Night starring Sidney Poitier – has lived such a life. His father was never in the picture, and his mother died when he was young. He was mostly raised by his grandma, who passed away herself recently. He sometimes goes to her favorite diner where she used to take him as a child.

That’s where he meets Gregory Devereaux (James), an old man who likes to eat at that particular diner because they remember his name and call him by it. He is a curmudgeonly sort who takes guff from nobody, and he recognizes b.s. when he hears it. But he recognizes something of himself in Peyton, and has Peyton drive him home so they can share a drink or two and watch the aforementioned In the Heat of the Night.

Peyton is at what you might call a crossroads of his life. He has some potential but has never fulfilled it, but now things seem to be looking up. He’s engaged to marry Shannon Kitzmiller (Racquel) who is beautiful, a little bit self-absorbed and from wealthy parents. However, there’s a blip on that radar. It turns out that his girlfriend before Shannon, Jeneta (Roberts) is in a family way and Peyton is the baby daddy. This couldn’t come at a worse time for him. He’s convinced that Shannon will drop him like a cheap cell phone if she finds out about his predicament. And in the meantime, Gregory’s estranged daughter Barbara (Spencer) has hired Peyton to be Gregory’s caretaker because most of the nurses that have seen to his needs recently have been chased off by the grumpy growly antics of her dad. And she finds Peyton to be like sexual catnip as well. What’s a man to do?

Etheredge wrote and directed this as well as starred in it, and it is never a good thing when someone wearing  all three of those hats posits that the main character is absolutely irresistible to women. Not to comment on the desirability of Etheredge, but I think it’s safe to say that Mike Colter he is not. Every one of the women in this movie other than the extras has been or currently is willing to hop into bed with Peyton at a moment’s notice; there’s a little bit of ego there that is a bit of a turn-off, frankly. Justin, if you’re reading this, don’t just chalk it up to jealousy on my part (although day-um!) but take it to heart that the subplot of having Barbara come on to Peyton was completely unneeded.

That said, there is some charm here and Etheredge is actually a pretty likable lead. David has the stentorian authority of a James Earl Jones and lends gravitas to a role that sometimes gets played for laughs. Gregory is far too Old Testament for that.

The commentary here is on parental responsibility and taking responsibility in one’s own life. When Gregory thunders, “Just another young black man making babies he won’t raise,” he’s leveling an accusation that is often made against young African-American men. There are those who protest that as a racist trope that isn’t as true now as it was twenty or thirty years ago, so that could be a hot button item for some who are sensitive about such things.

In general, my main issue with the movie is the pacing, which is a mite on the slow side; also, some of the plot points seem a bit forced, maudlin and contrived. It felt a little bit unconvincing and all the charm in the world isn’t going to rescue a movie with those sorts of issues. All in all, not a horrible movie but a deeply flawed one.

REASONS TO SEE: Takes on how families can screw up their children.
REASONS TO AVOID: Slow-moving, maudlin and soapy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmed and set in Atlanta.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/8/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Upside
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
499

Deliver Us From Evil (Daman akeseo guhasoseo)


It is twilight for a professional killer.

(2020) Crime (Well Go USA) Jun-min Hwang, Jung-jae Lee, Jung-min Park, Moon Choi, Hakuryu, Park Myeong-hoon, Dae-hwan Oh, Tomonori Mizuno, Young-chang Song, Kosuke Toyohara, Hiroaki Hirakawa, Ito Keitoku, Ken Kurahara, Atsundo Maruyama, So-yi Park. Directed by Won-Chan Hong

 

For an action film to be successful, it doesn’t have to be particularly original, although that certainly helps. When an action movie is well-thought-out, well-choreographed and well-paced, a lack of imagination can be forgiven.

In-nam (Hwang) is a contract killer who used to be a cop. He has just finished his last job before retiring to Panama to live on a quiet beach, but that is not to be. For one thing, the last man he killed, a yakuza named Goreda (Toyohara) has a vengeful brother named Ray, who is better known as Ray the Butcher (Lee). You really don’t want someone named “The Butcher” mad at you, particularly when that person is muscle for the yakuza.

Worse still, it turns out that an ex-girlfriend (Choi) has died and her young daughter Yoo-min (S-y Park) has been kidnapped by human traffickers and taken to Bangkok. In-nam is not helping out because he’s a particularly good guy; he is about as stone cold as they get, but he does have some skin in that particular game. With raving lunatic Ray chasing the ice-cold In-nam, you can imagine that sparks will fly when the two meet.

And sparks do fly. Action fans will be pleased to know that this is as gripping an action movie as you’re likely to see this year, with well-staged martial arts fights and some spectacular action sequences that would do a Hollywood big-budget summer tentpole film proud. This is the kind of movie that doesn’t lack for entertainment.

It also doesn’t lack for action stars. Hwang and Lee are two of South Korea’s biggest stars; they haven’t been in a movie together in eight years, but their chemistry is undeniable. They work really well together, and Hwang does the taciturn, brooding killing machine about as well as anybody, although in the Bangkok heat the man sweats like a politician in front of a grand jury.

Where the movie is lacking is in plot. There is nothing here in terms of story that you haven’t seen before, and sometimes in better movies. How many retiring hit man movies have we seen even this year, where the retiree is drawn back into the business unwillingly? One place where the movie is a little different is that there is a transgender character, Yoo-Yi (J-m Park) who plays In-nam’s translater and girl Friday in Bangkok, where she hopes to make enough money for her gender reassignment surgery. While she’s mostly there for comic relief, surprisingly she is played as more sympathetic than you’d expect, and who ends up being the most likable character in the movie with the possible exception of the utterly adorable Yoo-min.

The movie was one of the top grossing films in Korea last year, having just finished production before the pandemic hit and was one of the few major releases in that country in 2020. With big budget Hollywood movies beginning to peek out from out of their quarantine, this might end up being lost in the shuffle which would be a shame; it is actually quite entertaining and a must for action fans who like their movies at break-neck speed.

REASONS TO SEE: Some spectacular action sequences. Hwang has the surly action hero thing down pat.
REASONS TO AVOID: Somewhat unoriginal.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a truck full of violence and gore (much of it brutal) and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second time that Hwang and Lee have appeared in the same action film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/28/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Taken
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
An Amityville Poltergeist

Happily


Married couples red light district.

(2021) Comedy (Saban) Kerry Bishé, Joel McHale, Natalie Morales, Stephen Root, Charlyne Yi, Shannon Woodward, Breckin Meyer, Brea Grant, Al Madrigal, Natalie Zea, Paul Scheer, Jon Daly, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Billie Wolff. Directed by BenDavid Grabinski

 

It is a truism that as the years go by, passion within a couple cools down. While we are newlyweds, we cannot keep our hands off one another. With age comes wisdom and a settling into a more comfortable relationship as we learn to accept our partners foibles and quirks (or don’t) and get used to the idea that, for better or worse, here is the person we’re going to spend the rest of our lives with – the person we’re stuck with, in other words.

Tom (McHale) and Janet (Bishé) are the exceptions. Fourteen years into their marriage and they still can’t wait to have sex with each other – and do at every possible opportunity, including at parties, in clubs, at home – whenever they can do the bad thing, they do it.

This has taken a toll on their friends. Tom’s ex Karen (Zea) and her husband Val (Scheer), fed up with the lovey-dovey couple, have disinvited them from an upcoming couples’ weekend at a snazzy estate with a spectacular view of L.A. They are shortly thereafter visited by a stranger named Goodman (Root) who informs them that due to a defect in their genetic make-up, they have not done what most couples do and lose that newlywed zeal. However, a quick stick with a syringe full of dayglo yellow goop will quickly put things right and make them both miserable, which is to say, normal.

Janet, however, is not okay with this option and chooses to take action to prevent this. Shortly after, they are re-invited to the couples-only weekend and show up along with the aforementioned Karen and Val, Patricia (Morales) – the only one among them who isn’t uncomfortable with their failure to lose the romance – and grumpy Donald (Daly), snooty Carla (Howell-Baptiste) and shy Maude (Woodward) and newly engaged Richard (Meyer) and Gretel (Yi).

This couples weekend was supposed to be a means of blowing off steam, but it turns out to be therapeutic in a most unconventional and unexpected way. As secrets get discovered, issues get confronted and the dead don’t stay buried, and relationships will be changed.

This is kind of a black comedy that comments on our obsession with wanting more, our refusal as a society to appreciate what we have, and the nature of relationships and what constitutes a happy one, all with a slightly supernatural bent. It helps that there is an outstanding cast, with Bishé, Morales and Root all doing standout turns and McHale nearly stealing the show.

Unfortunately, writer-director BenDavid Grabinski didn’t really develop many of the characters; this was a case of too many roles. He could have probably combined some of the attributes of the supporting cast and reduced the cast by four or more people; it certainly would have made the film a bit more interesting. Certainly he could have worked a bit on the ending, which was a big letdown.

But by and large, this is a solid film that while not spectacular, at least hits most of the right notes. With a few tweaks here and there, it could have been something special. As it is, it’s not bad at all; but it’s not great. Worth a rental? Sure enough.

REASONS TO SEE: Dark and twisted with a nifty soundtrack.
REASONS TO AVOID: Feels a bit pointless at the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and lots and lots of sex.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Jack Black is among the producers for this film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/21/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Box
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Atomic Cover-Up

Clover


A couple of idiots walk into a bar…oh, you’ve heard that one?

(2020) Crime Comedy (FreestyleMark Webber, Nicole Elizabeth Berger, Jon Abrahams, Erika Christensen, Chazz Palminteri, Ron Perlman, Julia Jones, Jake Webber, Jessica Szohr, Michael Godere, Tichina Arnold, Johnny Messner, Louis Lombardi, Val Lauren, Brian Goodman, Ari Barkan, Martin Abrahams, Peter Johnson, J.J. Alfieri, Giovanni Reda, Kathryn Schneider. Directed by Jon Abrahams

 

The trouble with borrowing money from mobsters is that sooner or later they’re going to want it back. If you don’t have it, it could lead to some pretty awkward conversations: “Where’s my money?” “AUUUUGH! OWWWWWW! OOOOOOO GOD!!!!” *whimper, whimper* *bleed, bleed*

That’s the situation that Irish brothers Jackie (M. Webber) and Mickey (Abrahams) Callaghan find themselves in, especially after Jackie foolishly gambles away their payment the night before it’s due. Then again, Jackie isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

They are given one chance to redeem themselves: said mob boss Tony (Palminteri) sends the two screw-ups along with his vicious son Joey (Godere) to collect from another deadbeat. Of course, you figure that the two numbskulls are being set up and they are, but after Joey kills the deadbeat, he himself is shot – by the deadbeat’s 13-year-old daughter Clover (Berger).

Realizing that nobody is going to believe they weren’t responsible, Mickey and Jackie go on the run, dragging Clover in tow. They try to find help from a rogue’s gallery of family and friends, including Jackie’s bitter ex-girlfriend Angie (Szohr), family friend and cop Stevie (Messner), local fix-it lady Pat (Arnold) and their demented uncle Terry (J. Webber) who has a thing about poisons. Can they keep themselves alive as well as protect an innocent little girl who may not necessarily be as innocent as she looks?

Abrahams and writer Michael Testone are trying to work out the Troy Duffy playbook, but neither is quite as clever nor as skilled with punchy dialogue as Duffy is, and the movie needed a whole lot of cleverness and snappy dialogue. It’s the kind of movie that I really could easily like, but it let me down in so many ways.

Before we get to that, there are some good points to keep in mind; the chemistry between Abrahams and Mark Webber is spot-on; they get on just like brothers who most of the time want to kill each other but deep down they would kill for each other if needed. Berger is a revelation; she reminded me strongly of Chloë Grace Moretz in Kick Ass and that’s a good thing. She’s both pretty and tough, yet shows vulnerability when she has to.

You also have Palminteri doing Palminteri which is always worth the price of the rental by itself. But you also have some pacing issues; at times the action comes thick and fast but at other times it drags. There needed to be more consistency there. Also, the score is about as annoying as can be. It sounded like someone paid ten bucks for a generic thriller score for student films. It is telling that nobody is credited with the score. This is where a decent budget could have netted them a few songs from the 70s to go with some of the obvious influences. I even thought I caught a whiff of blaxploitation in the mix.

There was some real potential here but it ends up being just a mediocre film, which is a shame. Elements of it work really nicely, particularly the three leads (and Palminteri) but a lack of good dialogue, a soundtrack that probably shouldn’t have been added on, and some issues with pacing doom the movie to being a must only for Palminteri completists.

REASONS TO SEE: A really nice twist at the end.
REASONS TO AVOID: Lacks bite and snappy pacing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity and lots of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the debut feature film for Zonana.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/1/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Boondock Saints
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Streetlight Harmonies

The Buskers & Lou


The slack life.

(2014) Drama (RandomMarshall Walker Lee, Megan Carver, Tyler Andre, Margaret Douglas, Robert Thrush, Jordan Wilgus, Steven Felts, William H. Wilson, Nickolas Mitchell, Ethan Zinn-Brown, Luke Potter, The Crow, The Wolf, Wes Lysiak, Skylar Jensen, Shay Bjorndahl, Perla Bonilla, Erin O’Connor, Alexandra Metaxa, Katerina Georgiou. Directed by Alex Cassun

 

Welcome to being a grown-up. I know it’s not something you particularly wanted to do; it just happened. There’s no real prize for getting here and it tends to be a pain in the you-know-where. For your trouble, however, you get free elevated stress levels. Isn’t that nice?

Lou (Lee) returns to his home town of Portland after an absence of an unspecified number of years; his friends are at first happy to see him back but more as a curiosity and Lou isn’t really forthcoming about where he’s been and why he’s back. Some, of course, are happier to see him than others.

Lou had been a street musician, playing for pocket change and using what he made “busking” for what things he needed – mainly food and alcohol. He’s determined not to resume that lifestyle however; he wants a job and a life, but considering that he’s never really had gainful employment before it’s not easy to find anything other than a dead-end minimum wage job which he takes.

Lou is crashing for now in his friend Jackie’s (Carver) van where she also lives; the two are, as friends in close quarters often will, start to get on each other’s nerves. Lou spends time talking to a therapist (Wilson) on a park bench when he’s not trying to navigate the rat race, much to the contempt of his friends.

You see, they are all continuing to busk and live life on their own terms and are all the happier for it. They have an event to look forward to; ten years prior they (including Lou) had buried a time capsule in the yard of a house some of them owned. They have decided to dig it up and are organizing a party, called “The Big Dig” to celebrate it. Lou has been inviting but he is often a no-show for things that he is invited to these days.

I don’t think I’ve seen a movie that made me feel quite so much like a crotchety old man in quite some time. This is a young person’s film dealing with young person’s issues and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Happiness is important to these characters as it is indeed to all of us; most of us in the rat race aren’t necessarily there because we don’t want to be happy. Even mind-numbing make-work kinds of jobs can occasionally give us a feeling of satisfaction and/or accomplishment though.

There is almost a contempt for people who work here at times an that might be irritating to those who actually, you know, work. Portland can be a great place for street musicians but not all of us live there; I get that the artistic mentality is different from that of the working class and just as valid in its own way but I can see how those who work hard just to tread water might be a little bit insulted by this.

The performances are pretty decent considering that the cast is largely locals and unprofessional. I suspect Cassun comes from a musical background because his soundtrack choices betray a really good ear. The problem I had is that I couldn’t get into most of the characters; there was nothing here for me to grab onto and as a result I found myself less and less enthused about finding out what happens to Lou and his friends. By the time the Big Dig rolls around, the mystery behind Lou’s disappearance is revealed (you should be able to figure it out) and I didn’t really care very much about it to begin with.

I try to give low-budget indies a pass for the most part and it’s plain to see that the director invested heart and soul into this film but sometimes that isn’t enough. I need to be invested in the lives of the characters; I need to care about what happens to them. I need to be excited about what comes next. None of that ever happened during the film. As you can tell by the release date, it’s been bopping around the Festival circuit and otherwise sitting on the shelf for five years until Random Media got hold of it for home video release. They believe in the film and maybe you will to once you see it but this was one I never found myself connecting with.

REASONS TO SEE: Tackles the age-old question of happiness versus adulting.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit of a bore.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The house where the “Big Dig” takes place is actually the rehearsal space for the Portland-based band Typhoon.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/11/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Portlandia
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Them That Follow

The Final Wish


Mirror, mirror on the wall…

(2018) Horror (Cinedigm) Lin Shaye, Michael Welch, Melissa Bolona, Spencer Locke, Tony Todd, Kalwi Lyman, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Jean Elie, Christopher Murray, Douglas Tait, Larry Poole, Garrett Edell, Michelle Burke, Timothy Oman, Dey Young, Gordon Woloson, Mohamed Mohson, Diane Markoff, Jeffrey Reddick, Zebulun Huling, Barbara de Normandie, Randi Lamey. Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr

 

The old saying goes “Be careful what you wish for” and that is especially true in a horror film. Wishes may from time to time be granted, but almost never in the way you expect and always – ALWAYS – at a price.

Aaron Hammond (Welch) graduated law school from essentially an online school but that hasn’t led to the dream job at a prestigious firm he was dreaming of. He is basically unemployed, unable to pay his rent on his squalid Chicago apartment and being demeaned at interviews by haughty lawyers who prefer Ivy League candidates.

Locked out of his apartment for failure to pay the rent, his day goes from awful to horrible when his ex-girlfriend calls to inform him that his father has passed away. Coming home to his small central California town isn’t exactly the tonic he was looking for; his mom Kate (Shaye) is almost bi-polar, at turns happy to see him and then furious at what she sees as his abandonment of his parents. The aforementioned ex, Lisa (Bolona) is married to Derek (Lyman), known as “Douchebag Derek” back in high school in Aaron’s circle and now the town sheriff when he isn’t busy physically abusing his wife.

Clearing out Dad’s antique shop has yielded some curious looking artifacts, including an urn with a ram’s head on the cover. As a depressed Aaron wishes for a better life, his wishes start to come true but in awful ways; a wish that he could be better looking results in him being hit by a car driven by his friend Jeremy (Elie) and requiring plastic surgery. A wish that his mother could be happy leads to his father returning as a zombie. You know, those sorts of things.

This is where Dad’s antiques buyer Colin (Todd) drops into the picture to explain what’s going on. It turns out that the urn is actually the receptacle for a djinn and no, this is not the kind of blue genie that croons “You never had a friend like me.” This is a hideous creature that draws its power from wishes and once seven of them have been granted, takes possession of the soul of the user. And Aaron has used up six of them…

This is a fairly clever horror flick from the writer of Final Destination. Some of the death scenes have that kind of Rube Goldberg-like complexity to them which made that franchise so entertaining; some are much more straightforward. Some of these complex scenes have nothing to do with deaths either which is an interesting twist on the FD franchise.

Any horror movie that has Lin Shaye in it is welcome and in that regard The Final Wish doesn’t disappoint. Shaye is at the top of her game, giving Kate a truly hard-to-read character. She may be a little over-the-top in places but only when the scene calls for it. Horror icon Tony Todd also has a cameo and while he does as good a job as always, the part feels like it was hastily added for expository purposes, dropped suddenly into the film and dropping just as suddenly out of it.

Welch is a competent lead; Aaron is something of a selfish jerk and Welch is able to make the character somewhat sympathetic nonetheless. This is a good performance for the resume. Bolona is pretty and present as the girlfriend but she’s given not a lot to work with. I did like Jonathan Daniel Brown as the nerdy best friend who carries with him a whopper of a secret.

I have to say that the production design is impressive; the interior of the house is suitably spooky with Dad’s very creepy antiques scattered around. Since a lot of the action takes place at night, the shadows add to the tone. It’s not haunted house spooky but you are always nervously glancing at the shadows waiting for something to leap out; something with fangs and horns, most likely.

I can’t say that this is groundbreaking; it really isn’t. There are plenty of djinn tales that are plenty more interesting than this one. Frankly it could have used a little more camp. However, it has enough going for it that horror buffs are likely to find this entertaining. Everyone else it’s probably not going to be too high on the list, although the end twist is a pretty cool one.

REASONS TO GO: The production design is really well done.
REASONS TO STAY: The writing is more than a little bit sloppy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and gore, plenty of profanity, some disturbing images and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the same house that was used in Annabelle: Creation.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wishmaster
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Dead Ant

Sollers Point


McCaul Lombardi looks like he just walked in on something.

(2017) Drama (Oscilloscope) McCaul Lombardi, Jim Belushi, Tom Guiry, Zazie Beetz, Everleigh Brenner, Imani Hakim, Wass Stevens, Alyssa Bresnahan, Ashley Shelton, Lynn Cohen, Greg Crowe, Liam Hughes, Pete Papageorge, Michael Rogers, Kazy Tauginas, Grace Doughty, Brieyon Bell-El, Vincent De Paul, Maya Martinez, Hilary Kacser, Marin Ireland. Directed by Matthew Porterfield

Redemption isn’t easily obtained. It requires a genuine determination to change and to make amends which requires hard work on the part of the seeker. Sometimes – often, in fact – even the best of intentions just aren’t enough.

Keith (Lombardi) has just been released from prison and has transitioned from incarceration to house arrest. He has moved in with his father (Belushi) who is wary of his son who had made a lot of mistakes and had hung out with the wrong crowd. A low-level drug dealer for local Baltimore gangs, Keith wants to put that life behind him and make something of himself.

He is not on good terms with his ex-girlfriend Courtney (Beetz) who also has his dog, or at least that’s how Keith sees it (she sees it as she’s got their dog which is at least equally hers). Some of the gang bangers from his past have come back, intimating that he owes fealty to them but Keith turns down the offer to rejoin, angering Aaron (Guiry) who harasses Keith in an escalating series of confrontations.

Keith’s biggest obstacle, however, is Keith himself. He wants to learn a trade that his father would find honorable like air conditioning repair but Keith misses the first class and is late for the second which gets him thrown out of class. He does some odd jobs here and there but he finds that in order to make real money he has to skirt closer and closer to his old life. Lonely, he initiates hook-ups with strippers that he knows which leads to a further falling from grace. And as Keith’s temper begins to get the best of him, he finally crosses the line and may bring his freedom to a crashing halt

This is Porterfield’s fourth film, all of which are set in his hometown of Baltimore. While there’s clear affection for the city coming from the director, it is not unconditional love – he sees its issues clearly and without sentiment. There is crime, racial division and an erosion of the ability of the working class to find jobs and dignity. Most cities have the same types of problems, particularly those that relied heavily on industrial economies in decades past.

Lombardi is a find; he’s had supporting roles in high-profile indies up to now but this is his first lead and he hits a home run. Facially a cross between John Cena and Mark Wahlberg, he carries the latter’s charisma and the former’s physicality. It makes for a very promising performance; keep his name in mind as I suspect we’re going to be hearing a lot more from him.

Beetz, who has a high-profile role in the upcoming Deadpool 2 comes off less impressively. Perhaps her character was written with less to work with than Lombardi’s but she came off flat and without energy for most of the film; I couldn’t for the life of me see what Keith saw in Courtney at all. The chemistry was much stronger between Lombardi and Belushi although to be fair they had a lot more screen time together. While I was disappointed in her performance here – she’s done some compelling work in Atlanta – I’m hoping she does better the next time out.

Jim Belushi has come a long way from The World According to Jim and he shows some pretty serious dramatic chops here. There’s a scene with him and Beetz in which he pleads with her for the sake of his son, made all the more poignant for what Keith is doing at that moment. That scene alone is worth seeing the movie for.

This isn’t the first film to explore the reintegration of ex-cons into society and the hurdles facing them. In many ways, this is a well-trodden path. Keith though is his own worst enemy; he loses his temper when he should keep it, he is passive when he needs to stand up for himself and he does the wrong things for the right reasons – and sometimes, the wrong reasons. He isn’t a guy I’d probably want to hang out with for very long. It is a testament to Lombardi’s charm that the audience still ends up rooting for him. While I wouldn’t say this is Porterfield’s best film yet, it is nonetheless a solid one that is elevated by the strong performances from Lombardi and Belushi.

REASONS TO GO: Lombardi has some potential. There are some sweet and satisfying moments.
REASONS TO STAY: Beetz didn’t impress me at all. The character of Keith doesn’t have a whole lot going for him.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity including some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Porterfield and Lombardi visited a state prison to get ideas on how Keith would behave in certain situations.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/18/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Small Crimes
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
In the Fade

The Hitman’s Bodyguard


Mace Windu’s got a brand new bag.

(2017) Action Comedy (Summit) Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Gary Oldman, Elodie Yung, Joaquim de Almeida, Tine Joustra, Richard E. Grant, Michael Gor, Kirsty Mitchell, Barry Atsma, Sam Hazeldine, Ori Pfeffer, Dijarn Campbell, Rod Hallett, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Nadia Konakchieva, Roy Hill, Georgie Glen, Noortje Herlaar, Donna Preston, Samantha Bolter. Directed by Patrick Hughes

 

The most important thing about a buddy action movie is that the chemistry between the buddies is good. Judging from the trailer, it appeared like that was a slam dunk for The Hitman’s Bodyguard – action veterans Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds looked to be like the best buddy combo since Gibson and Glover. Then I saw the movie.

The premise is a simple one; down on his luck executive  bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds) whose “triple A rated” agency took a tumble after a Japanese CEO he was hired to protect had his grey matter splattered all over a private jet window. Now his ex-girlfriend Amelia (Yung) who works for Interpol these days has a proposition for him – to escort a hired killer named Darius Kincaid (Jackson) from Manchester to the Hague to testify in the trial of an Eastern European dictator (Oldman) being tried for war crimes. Of course, neither the dictator nor elements within Interpol that he paid off want to see Darius make the court date and they mean to make sure he doesn’t.

There is an over-abundance of car chases which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you like car chases. Some of them are actually quite well done – in fact quite a number of stunts are really well-performed here. The problem is that many of the best ones are spoiled in the trailer. In fact, this is one of those occasions where the experience of a film is ruined by viewing the trailer. I can sympathize that those folks who make trailers have a difficult job – to get people excited about a movie without revealing too much about it. It’s a fine line to walk and not every trailer walks it successfully. This one doesn’t.

The all-important chemistry between Jackson and Reynolds isn’t nearly as strong consistently as the trailer would have you believe. Like any good buddy action combo, the relationship is strictly love-hate (emphasis on the hate to begin with) but there are times that the two feel awkward together. I think part of the problem lies with a studio decision to change what had been a pure action drama into an action comedy just weeks before shooting started. The original script had been on the Black List for best unproduced screenplays but I suppose the powers that be thought – with some justification – that a team-up between Reynolds and Jackson should be heavier on the comedy. Unfortunately for them, comedy can be a tricky thing to write and what looks good on paper may not translate to onscreen laughs.

The supporting performances are pretty solid. Oldman is suitably snarly as the generic Eastern European dictator and Grant has some nice scenes as one of Michael’s more recent clients but the show is nearly stolen by Hayek as Darius’ foul-mouthed wife. I would have liked to have seen a lot more of her and a lot less of Yung who is nondescript here.

2017 was a good year for action movies and this one had the potential to be right there among the best. Sadly, it squandered a lot of opportunities and ended up being merely adequate. Adjust your viewing plans accordingly, particularly since there are a plethora of great action movies out there that are far more worth your rental dollars.

REASONS TO GO: There are some great stunts in the film. Hayek was terrific in the film; it could have used more of her.
REASONS TO STAY: The chemistry between Jackson and Reynolds is inconsistent. Many of the best sequences were spoiled in the trailer.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of violence and profanity throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Criminal which also was Europe-set and featured Gary Oldman and Ryan Reynolds shared over 100 crew members in common.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/1/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 40% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hot Pursuit
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Chronically Metropolitan


Writing and hangovers go hand in hand.

(2016) Dramedy (Paladin) Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Benson, Addison Timlin, Josh Peck, Chris Noth, Mary-Louise Parker, Chris Lowell, Sosie Bacon, Nasser Faris, Norm Golden, Rhys Coiro, Max Curnin, Craig Newman, Luca Surguladze, Whitney Vance, Al Thompson, Victor Cruz, Andres Arellano, Antoinette Kalaj, Alex Oliver, Meredith Travers, Ana Valdes. Directed by Xavier Manrique

 

Writers are an odd lot. We have wonderful powers of observation, very often able to discern truths about those we observe that they might not expect. We are also self-centered; writing is by its nature a solitary endeavor. All of us, every one, is ruled by the tyranny of the blank page.

Fenton (Fernandez) is the son of one such writer and professor who has been a leading light in the New York City literary world and a fixture on the Upper East Side. When Fenton’s dad (Noth) is involved in a car accident in which drugs and extramarital sex played a role, his whole family is put under an enormous microscope – the accident winds up front page material in the New York Post (“They never paid this much attention when I won my National Book Award” he grouses).

Fenton had been living in San Francisco the past year. A talented writer in his own right, he had gotten a story published in The New Yorker which his then-girlfriend Jessie (Benson) had assumed was about her and her family. It led to a nasty break-up and to Fenton’s exile, as he puts it. Now he’s back, trying to mend fences with Jessie who is on the eve of her wedding to Victor (Lowell), an art gallery owner whose family is stupid rich. Fenton’s dad assumes that’s why the nuptials are impending.

Fenton’s mom (Parker) has retreated into a marijuana-scented haze trying to dull the edges of her pain and embarrassment. His sister Layla (Addison Timlin) is basically angry at everybody and carrying on a hidden relationship with Fenton’s best buddy (and mom’s pot supplier) John (Peck). Fenton has a deal for a novel based on the success of his New Yorker story but when he sits down to write it that blank page stares back at him accusingly. He hasn’t been able to move on from all the upheaval and with his parents essentially on the verge of divorce, he is getting overwhelmed and acting out. Can he put his life back together under the microscope of New York literary society?

This is the kind of movie that plays to the prejudices of non-New Yorkers, characterizing them as pretentious self-centered spoiled rich pricks. Everyone in the movie and I do mean everyone has some sort of neuroses going on. As for actual New Yorkers, this is the kind of movie that sets their teeth on edge. Certainly there are people who behave this way – those prejudices had to start from somewhere – but it isn’t really true to life anymore.

For one thing, a story in the New Yorker isn’t going to have the catastrophic effect on families that it once did. In this day and age of social media, a family’s skeletons are likely to be aired on Facebook long before the dirty laundry is made into a short story or a novel. Regards to the New Yorker, a publication that is worthy of respect but while it continues to carry a lot of clout, I don’t think that it can cause that kind of personal chaos any longer. At least, that’s what I hear.

This feels like a movie cobbled together from a lot of different movies; Fenton wanting to stop the wedding of an ex-girlfriend, a family at each other’s throats due to a work of fiction that is thinly veiled autobiography, a philandering father who is a writer, a mother who is self-medicating, an angry sibling – I could go on but why bother? This is all fairly safe, fairly familiar territory and most of you who have watched more than a few indie films set in Manhattan are going to recognize it.

Noth channels Rip Torn here and does a fairly stellar job in a role of an utter S.O.B. which Torn used to essentially own. Noth, who generally plays nice guys, does an admirable job here. Parker, a terrific actress who doesn’t get nearly as much credit as she deserves, is wasted in a generic role. In fact, most of the women here have very little depth to their parts. This is certainly a case where the script could have used a woman’s touch.

Cinematographer Scott Miller does a bang-up job of using the city as a character; one gets the sense of the ebb and flow of New York. Despite the shallowness of most of the characters, one senses a genuine love for the city from all of the filmmakers. That does go a long way.

Sadly this is far too generic and far too cliché to really attract much notice. There are some good ideas here but for the most part the writing takes safe, established routes rather than blazing new trails. There’s nothing here that seems to have much of a voice – and that’s essential to a film like this. It’s okay as far as it goes, but I would have liked a lot more than okay.

REASONS TO GO: The film is skillfully shot and features New York City nicely.
REASONS TO STAY: Indie clichés abound here.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, a fair amount of drug and alcohol use and some sex and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Parker, whose character here has developed a marijuana habit, also played a pot smoker in the TV series Weeds.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/7/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews. Metacritic: 28/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Frances Ha
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Landline

45 Years


Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are up next on Dancing With the Stars.

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are up next on Dancing With the Stars.

(2015) Drama (Sundance Selects) Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, David Sibley, Sam Alexander, Richard Cunningham, Hannah Chalmers, Camille Ucan, Rufus Wright, Max Rudd, Kevin Matadeen, Paul Goldsmith, Peter Dean Jackson, Martin Atkinson, Alexandra Riddleston-Barrett, Rachel Banham, Michelle Finch. Directed by Andrew Haigh

There are things in a marriage, events of one’s past that our spouse isn’t aware of. Not because we want to keep it from them, but simply because it hasn’t come up. However, there are things we keep from our husband or wife intentionally, perhaps because we’re ashamed of it or because we want to keep that part of ourselves to ourselves. However, one thing is clear; without transparency, pain beckons.

Kate (Rampling) and Geoff (Courtenay) are getting ready to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary and they’re throwing a big party at a banquet hall in their native Norfolk. The misty grey mystery of that part of England makes for cozy cuddle weather and although the two are getting on in years, they haven’t lost the desire for one another. They don’t have any children but they do have plenty of close friends so all in all one has to say they lead a good life.

Then word comes of a discovery that directly involves Geoff’s past, before he’d even met Kate. The ripple effect is like a tsunami hitting their relationship; Kate discovers that her husband had kept things from her, things that have affected their relationship

As the days count down towards the big party, subtle changes begin to occur in their relationship. Geoff takes up smoking again, something he promised Kate he’d stopped forever. He becomes sullen, withdrawn and obsesses over the pictures he has found of an old girlfriend in the attic. She starts to snoop into his past and the hurt slowly changes her view as to how stable the relationship really is. As the party starts, Kate is beginning to wonder who the man she married truly is – and whether or not she wants to stay married to him at all.

Let me take the suspense out of this review – this movie is extraordinary and is truly a must-see for any lover of the cinematic arts. Rampling delivers a performance that is simply sensational. She does so much of her acting here with her facial expressions and her eyes and less with the dialogue. Sometimes a whole range of emotions plays over her expressive face in a matter of moments, expressing Kate’s thoughts far more effectively than dialogue. Her Oscar nomination was well deserved and while she didn’t win the statuette, she more than deserved to.

Courtenay is equally sensational. He spends much of the movie hunched over, drawn into himself and slowly he unwinds during the course of the film, becoming less hunched and more straight as if the revelation of his secret is slowly freeing his soul. In many ways, he’s reverting to a younger self in the movie with all the ridiculousness that implies. Geoff is not a bad man but he is a flawed man.

Haigh is a gifted director and really flowers here, the movie seemingly capturing a plethora of seasons during the course of the four days that the movie takes place over. He utilizes bad weather, a common occurrence in Norfolk, to great effect, the wind and the rain becoming part of the soundtrack. And speaking of the soundtrack, he peppers it with some wonderfully-chosen tunes from the 60s and 70s.

The movie, which is based on a short story by David Constantine, benefits from a beautifully written script. The dialogue is realistic; Kate and Geoff talk like a married couple that has been together for 45 years and their friends talk like real people as well. This feels like an unflinching look inside a real marriage. It’s occasionally uncomfortable – neither of the protagonists are perfect and neither one does the right thing all the time. But as the movie comes to an end, you sense a turning point has been reached and hard questions remain to be asked. What the answers will be are not necessarily the ones that either of the main characters – or those of us following them – wants to hear.

This is an amazing movie that I recommend highly for everyone. Yes, kids are not going to get the dynamics here and find the pacing slow and the grey landscape of Norfolk dreary. However those of us who love movies that give us insight into the human condition will find this to be an absolute jewel of a movie. It isn’t always pretty, but it’s real. And that makes for great cinema.

REASONS TO GO: Relationship of the leads is very realistic and natural. Emotional and raw in places. The dialogue sounds like real people talking to each other. Terrific soundtrack. Rampling and Courtenay do fantastic work, doing a lot of their acting with their faces.
REASONS TO STAY: May be too honest for some.
FAMILY VALUES: Some profanity, a scene of brief sexuality and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rampling and Courtenay last appeared together in The Mysteries of Lisbon.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/4/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 94/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Late Bloomers
FINAL RATING; 10/10
NEXT: King Georges