Take Me to Tarzana


Making plans over a single generic beer; now THAT’S living the high life!

(2021) Comedy (GravitasJonathan Bennett, Maria Conchita Alonso, Samantha Robinson, Oliver Cooper, Kahyun Kim, Andrew Creer, Owen Harn, Kent Shocknek, Chris Coppola, Kimberly Joy McBride, Betsy Hume, Bob Wiltfong, Henry Brooke, Desiree Staples, Emanuel Hernandez, Denny Nolan, Andrew J. Rice, Ivan Ehlers, Kevin Dembinsky, Elle Vernee.  Directed by Maceo Greenberg

 

These days, big corporations and in particular, Big Tech make big targets. So do creepy, misogynist bosses. We all know that everyone hates all of those things. Well, ALMOST everyone.

Miles (Creer) works at Teleplex, a data mining company. It’s a far from ideal working environment, with a boss (Cooper) who is as abusive as they come and with unreasonable expectations. People are worked like the wage slaves they are and Miles can barely afford to live in the apartment he rents, despite having what most woud consider a stable job.

His cubicle is next to Jane (Robinson), one of those incredibly beautiful girls who always seem to be absolutely unobtainable. She has crosses to bear of her own; that same boss, Charles, consistently demeans her and she seems to have to work twice as hard as the men to earn any sort of respect.

But things are a lot worse than Mies thought they were; in fact, Charles has hidden cameras all over the building including under Jane’s desk and in the women’s bathroom, the better to perve on all the gals in the office. When he brings this to Jane’s attention, rather than go to the police or even to HR, she wants to get back at Charles in a more meaningful way. They enlist Miles’ party animal friend Jameson (Bennett) to help dig up the real goods on the company but when they get the dirt on Charles, they discover that the hidden cameras are only the tip of the iceberg.

As far as workplace comedies go, the top of the pyramid is the 1999 Mike Judge movie Office Space with which this film shares some thematic elements in common. I think, however, that Greenberg is loathe to have his own film compared to that classic comedy; for one thing, he shifts tones about two thirds of the way through the film in what can only be described as a jarring and unexpected manner. From that point, the movie falls off the rails in a big way.

That’s a shame, because up to that point it’s pretty enjoyable. I might have wished for edgier comedy, but the leads of Robinson and Creer are pretty nifty. Both are very likable and although Miles is a bit on the wishy washy side, Jane is a strong, powerful woman whom you wouldn’t want to cross. The character of Jameson, though, seemed to be somewhat unnecessary to me; he’s meant to provide comic relief but his Spicoli-like antics really don’t do anything to make the film better.

All in all the movie is mostly likable but that shift from workplace comedy to faux thriller really dooms it. I wouldn’t try to talk you out of giving this a try from your local streaming service for a weekend pizza and movie night on a cod winter evening, but then again I think you could probably do better as well.

REASONS TO SEE: Creer and Robinson have much potential.
REASONS TO AVOID: The humor needs more edge.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug references and some sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the directing debut for Valadez.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/21/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Office Space
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Judas and the Black Messiah

The Mimic (2020)


One of these guys is just like the other.

(2020) Comedy (Gravitas) Thomas Sadoski, Jake Robinson, Austin Pendleton, Gina Gershon, Jessica Walter, M. Emmett Walsh, Marilu Henner, Tammy Blanchard, Didi Conn, Matthew Maher, Josh Pais, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Doug Plaut, Steve Routman, Teddy Coluca, Vanna Pilgrim, Drew Porschen, Victoria Mahal-Sky, Diane DeSalvo-Beebe, Connie Porcellini. Directed by Thomas F. Mazziotti

 

There’s no telling how we’re going to react to other people upon first meeting them. Some folks just charm the bejeezus out of us and we respond to that; others we can take or leave – most of the others, in fact. Then there are those where are feelings go the other way; we can’t quite put our finger on it, but we know there’s something off about that person and we instinctively dislike them.

Our Narrator (Sadoski) – who is never given a name – works for a community newspaper in a tony small town while he works on a screenplay. A new neighbor comes into his life, a man that the Narrator calls The Kid (Robinson), mainly because it irritates the Kid to be called that. The Kid is almost puppy-eager to please, but amid his wide-eyed gosh shucks demeanor there is an undercurrent that the Kid might not be quite so gosh shucks – trending more towards the No Please Don’t Hurt Me side. The Narrator is quite sure that the Kid is a sociopath.

And so the Narrator takes it upon himself to keep the Kid in close proximity so he can better observe him. The Narrator isn’t always able to hide his contempt for the Kid, and they often have disagreements. The Narrator, a widower, is also beginning to develop feelings for the Kid’s wife (Pilgrim).

The dialogue has a lot of snap to it, taking its cues from screwball comedies (the fact that it’s set at a newspaper could well be a nod to His Gal Friday). But for all the machine gun-like delivery hat Sadoski and Robinson manage, the laugh-out-loud funny quotient is unusually low. A lot of it is because the two leads are mainly just too unlikable; the Narrator is a bit of a pompous know-it-all and the Kid is just downright creepy.

In some ways, Mazziotti is trying too hard to make the movie relevant and fresh. It feels sometimes that he’s not confident enough to let the film stand on its own merits; he has to kind of gink it up a bit with screwy situations that don’t feel real, and with zippy one-liners that occasionally fall flat. I get the sense that Mazziotti is trying a bit too hard; if he had done some punchier jokes and went less for oddball and more for snappy he would have had something here

I do see what Mazziotti was trying to do, and to be honest while he isn’t always successful, he doesn’t always fail either. I can’t say I wouldn’t mind seeing a well-made comedy in this style again; it is definitely a lost art. The movie needs a bit more punch with the humor and a little less highbrow. Never talk down to your audience, a maxim that serves well in all sorts of artistic endeavors. I felt a bit talked down to after viewing this, but on the plus side there is definitely some strong points here to recommend the movie.

REASONS TO SEE: The dialogue is pretty snappy.
REASONS TO AVOID: Tries a little too hard to be different.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mazziotti got his start doing television production at WPIX in New York City
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/12/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Keeping Up With the Joneses
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Young Hearts

Baby Done


The waiting is the hardest part.

(2020) Comedy (Gravitas) Rose Matafeo, Matthew Lewis, Rachel House, Nic Sampson, Madeleine Sami, Matenga Ashby, Fasitua Amosa, Loren Taylor, Olivia Tennet, Kura Forrester, Alice Snedden, Chelsie Preston-Crayford, Sam Snedden, Bree Peters, Hayley Sproull, Brett O’Gorman, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Angella Dravid, Guy Montgomery, Beth Allen. Directed by Curtis Vowell

 

We all react to pregnancy differently – whether our own or our partner’s. Some look forward to it eagerly as a new beginning; some see it as an end to a carefree life of fun and irresponsibility. The act of having a baby is, no matter how you react to it, a life-changing affair. There are no manuals and most couples (and singles) approach impending parenthood with the terror of the unknown staring them in the face.

Zoe (Matafeo) is a young arborist – down under in New Zealand, that means tree surgeon – who has big plans. She wants to win the World Tree Climbing Championship in British Columbia, for one thing (I didn’t know that was a thing either). Bungee jumping, having a threesome, and a whole laundry list of Type A shenanigans for another. But when she learns she’s preggers, her first reaction is denia. (“It’s a tapeworm. More often than not, that’s what it is”) to the point where she hides it from her partner in business and in life, Tim (Lewis). But at a gender reveal party for another couple, her competitive nature comes out and she spills the beans.

Zoe has spent her life defying convention and living on her own terms. Her obstetrician father is a bit clinical of the whole thing, but her mum is blunt: “You’re not cut out for being a mum.” That seems harsh at first but as the picture progresses, we begin to see that Mommy Dearest may have a point. As the due date continues to approach, Tim grows more excited and fearful and Zoe’s denial and disappointment reach record highs. Can their relationship survive having a baby?

This isn’t exactly new territory for movies, although having a prospective mom flat-out delusional is kind of a first. The movie has a kind of sitcom feel to it, often relying on its characters doing things that reasonable people would never do. Yes, I understand that people who are in this situation can sometimes lose perspective, but here it feels forced and unnatural, making the comedy at times a little awkward.

The saving grace here is that the couple – Zoe and Tim – as played by Kiwi TV vets Matafeo and Lewis – are charming as all get-out and there’s a real chemistry between them that works. Matafeo, in particular, is delightful as a Type A personality who has lots of plans who is terrified that the impending Blessed Event is going to force her to change her identity into something she doesn’t necessarily want to be – a Mom. She’s not the sort who takes easily to being told what to do in any case. I can say I’ve known a fair amount of women in my time who fit that description.

The movie is also refreshingly frank with some of the indignities that pregnant women have to suffer through. The ending comes as no surprise and is about as squishy as you might imagine, but it keeps the tone overall sweet and light.

We have all been through a year of heavy and portentous and many of us need a break from it. You could do a lot worse than this light comedy that is reasonably inoffensive and in all honesty, none too challenging in terms of viewer investment. But sometimes, that’s just the perfect tonic.

REASONS TO SEE: Pleasantly clinical about the difficulties of pregnancy.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little on the sitcom-y side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) is one of the producers of the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Nine Months
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Knocking

Grizzly II: Revenge


She’s a big’un!

(1983) Horror (GravitasSteve Inwood, Deborah Raffin, John Rhys-Davies, Louise Fletcher, Deborah Foreman, Dick Anthony Williams, Jack Starrett, Charles Cyphers, Marc Alaimo, Laura Dern, Barbie Wilde, Ian McNeice, Charles Young, Charlie Sheen, George Clooney, Billy Boyle, Nigel Dolman, Edward Meeks, Timothy Spall. Directed by Andre Szöts

 

Some movies are most definitely products of their eras. You can look at them and immediately say “Oh, that’s a noir film from the 40s” or “that’s a 70s anti-hero film.” The 80s were like that; movies from that decade had a style and a presence all their own, much like the music and fashion of the time. Sometimes, that’s a very good thing. In this case, not so much.

When poachers kill a bear cub and remove its gall bladder for its aphrodisiac qualities – one would think it would work much better as a laxative – mama bear goes ballistic and starts shredding every humanoid she lays eyes on in Summit National Park. Park ranger Nic (Inwood) is trying to rally his rangers for an upcoming rock concert that park manager Ms. Draygon (Fletcher) insists must go off without a hitch, 15-foot-bear or not. The hunky ranger brings aboard the “best grizzly tracker” in the business, the French-Candian Bouchard (Rhys-Davies) with an accident that would embarrass Pepe LePew – much to the horror of “bear manager” (don’t all national parks have one?) Samantha (Raffin). Ahh, but the show must go on, something that the makers of this film took much to heart.

The story of how this movie finally made it into theaters 38 years after it was filmed probably makes a more interesting movie than the one that actually got made. Lensed at the tail-end (‘scuse the pun) of the killer animal craze that Jaws created, this sequel that nobody wanted was filmed in Hungary while the Cold War was still in full swing and the Iron Curtain was still Iron. The producers apparently ran out of funds before post-production could be commenced, and the uncompleted movie languished on the shelf, famous only for the future stars that appeared in it – all cast because of their famous relatives, being unknowns at the time. In fact, this movie has three Oscar-winners in its cast (two of them are killed before the movie is even five minutes old, so there’s that) but you’d never know it. But somehow, an unfinished work print started making the rounds on YouTube and at genre film festivals until original producer Suzanne Nagy, realizing that there was an audience for this, finished the special effects and got the movie edited for release. There is no disguising the mechanical bear, however.

Interspersed with the action is concert footage of very bad Hungarian new wve bands performing at the faux concert….in Hungarian. Yes, this concert that is supposedly taking place in an American national park features songs sung in a language only a tiny percentage of the population here speaks. And the music is about what you’d expect it would be.

This is the kind of movie that’s enjoyed more in retrospect. While you’re actually watching it, you might find yourself having a hard time keeping from turning the bloody thing off. In fact, those who do see the movie from start to finish should get some sort of merit badge.

So why the score it got? I’ll be honest with you, the movie deserves a much lower score and in fact my initial rating was going to be much lower, but the fact of the matter is as I sit down to write this, the more I think about the movie, the more enjoyment I’m getting out of remembering how ridiculous it was. I don’t know if Clooney even remembers making the film – I assume he likely remembered a trip to Budapest – but I’m sure he was just as happy it never was released into theaters. I would love to hear what he thinks of its release…I can only imagine the expression of pain he might extrude. All in all, with Rhys-Davies and Fletcher gamely delivering what they can in the way of performances and a kind of car crash vibe that really takes hold well after you have finished watching, the experience is one that I am glad of – and one I sincerely never hope to repeat.

REASONS TO SEE: Unintentionally funny, sort of like a Plan 9 From Outer Space.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very much a product of its time and not in a good way.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and plenty of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fletcher and Alaimo, who have no scenes together here, would go on a decade later to play major recurring characters in Star Trek: Deep Space 9.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/27/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 9% positive reviews, Metacritic: 7/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grizzly
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
76 Days

GetAWAY


That’s the way to get ahead in the movie business.

(2020) Horror (GravitasEmma Norville, Danielle Carrozza, Kyle Mangold, Franchesca Contreras, Joshua Cody, Michael Recchia, Jon Rust, Kristel Rachocki, Abigail Haggerty, Kira Jackson, Trevor Stevie Ray Ontiveros, Cherish McCormick, Joseph P. Durbin, Hank Stone, Jacob Yard, Marissa Chaffee, A.J. Cabbagestalk, Connor McLean, Stanley Payne, Ali Dougherty.  Directed by Blayne Weaver

 

It is often said (because it is absolutely true) that making movies is a collaborative effort. When everything goes smoothly, you can tell in the final product that it did. When things are more chaotic, well….

Student would-be actress Maddie (Norville) is still reeling from the break-up with her now ex-boyfriend Noah (Cody) and her bestie Harlowe (Contreras) suggests she accompany a student film company heading into the mountains at a deserted summer camp to shoot a horror movie. For one thing, it would get her some valuable film credit; for another, it would get her out of town, out of her dorm room and give her the opportunity to forget her troubles with a whole lot of drinking and flirting. Unfortunately, nobody told Noah who is also bringing along his new girlfriend Kayla (Carrozza) along for the same getaway. You just know that isn’t going to turn out well.

You don’t know the half of it. You see, unbeknownst to the clueless students, there’s another movie being filmed in the same location shoot. And this one’s a snuff film – in fact, their suddenly missing professor (McCormick) has already done a cameo. And the really fun part? They’re all tapped to be the stars.

College students fornicating, drinking, and doing drugs in a remote location with no cell service. Sounds like a movie you’ve seen before, no? Yes. And there is nothing that’s particularly memorable here compared to any one of a dozen slasher films set at Camp Crystal Lake, Sleepaway Camp or Cheerleader Camp. That isn’t to say that Weaver, who also wrote the script, wasn’t trying to at least be a little bit different, but let’s face it; the script had been sitting, forgotten, in his desk for more than a decade. He did do a polish on it, but it still feels a little dated and I don’t mean ten years – it feels like something you might have seen in 1983. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly for younger viewers who ight not have seen a lot of movies from that era, but those of us who cut our teeth on slasher films from that era might find this disturbingly familiar.

Weaver, who utilizes a lot of cast and crew from the University that he teaches at, at least captures the feel of a student film, but that’s a double-edged sword. We end up with a spineless director, a tightly-wound producer and a cameraman who’s more interested in getting high than getting the shot. And all of them talking like they’re making the next iteration of Battleship Potemkin while they’re at it.

I can’t really say that this is a bad movie, because it isn’t. It just isn’t particularly memorable. The trouble with slasher films is that there’s only so many ways that you can kill somebody without making it look ludicrous or like a self-parody. If you really dig slasher films and you’re looking for some, ahem, new blood, well, here’s a whole mess of it. For those who like their horror films a little bit more inventive, there are other movies out there that would serve them better than this one.

NB: This shouldn’t be confused with Getaway, another 2020 horror film but this one starring Scout Taylor-Compton.

REASONS TO SEE: There is a certain amount of satisfaction watching these bickering ninnies get 86ed.
REASONS TO AVOID: An unremarkable, standard slasher movie.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, vioilence and sex.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Weaver was director-in-residence at Shenandoah University at the time of filming; most of the cast were students at the University.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/30/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Tiger Within

Paint


Art for art’s sake.

(2020) Comedy (GravitasJosh Caras, Olivia Luccardi, Paul Cooper, Comfort Clinton, Amy Hargreaves, François Arnaud, Vince Nappo, Kaliswa Brewster, Daniel Bellomy, Lizzy DeClement, Phil Burke, Austin Pendleton, Kate Stone, Victor Verhaeghe, Emrhys Cooper, Stella Kammel, John Wolfman, Roger Netzer, Nick Neon, Anthony Edward Curry, Jon Valde. Directed by Michael Walker

 

I don’t know if any of you have ever met an art school graduate. My sister went to Cal Arts so I knew quite a few. Most of them were people just like thee and me, with a particular talent for creativity and artistic technique. A handful of them were pretentious blowhards who thought they could take a crap on a piece of canvas and it would be amazingly insightful.

The latter is the sort that inhabits the latest from New York indie filmmaker Michael Walker. Three mostly-affluent graduates from art school – frustrated Dan (Caras), his best friend Quinn (Cooper), a photographer who lives in his own studio; and lovely Kelsey (Luccardi) who works menial jobs while trying to find herself as an artist.

Dan is frustrated at the hoops he has to jump through to break through the high-falutin’ New York arts scene. His distracted father (Verhaeghe) encourages his son’s chosen career, introducing him to gallery owners and scene makers who tell Dan that his art “isn’t dark enough.” So, he does what any self-respecting art student in the same situation would do – he asks his mom (Hargreaves) to pose nude for him.

She is understandably reluctant, but Dan sidesteps the obviously creepy Oedipal overtones by suggesting that Quinn take nude pictures of mommy dearest and Dan will paint based on these. Mom consents to this, but as it turns out, the session gets out of hand and one thing leads to another….

Speaking of inappropriate relationships, Kelsey has sex with an important painter three times her age who is currently homeless, who promptly takes one of her paintings that is heavily influenced by his own work and sells it as his own. So she does what any self-respecting art student in the same situation would do – she blackmails the art gallery owner (Arnaud) to take on her career as a manager.

In the meantime, Dan finds out about what happened with Quinn and his mom, which doesn’t sit well with him at all, although he himself is having an affair with a married woman (Clinton). The three friends are forced to re-evaluate their values and their preconceptions about who they really are.

Walker, who also wrote the film, has a good ear for dialogue and that might just be the most distinctive thing about the film. It’s a shame that the characters speaking those lines are for the most part, pretentious self-absorbed twats. I get the sense that Parker was poking a hole in the façade of the New York art scene, which elevates the above-mentioned traits to god-like heights, but the humor here is more in the deranged nature of the situations. At one point, you wonder if actual human beings would do the things that the characters are doing in the movie. I would like to say they wouldn’t, although given that this is 2020, I may be overly generous with my assessment of human beings.

After a year in which it has become readily apparent that Americans have a self-serving streak wider than any river and a tribal identification taller than any mountain, I suppose my tolerance for spending time with characters I find no common morality with is pretty low. If you are in the same boat that I’m in, you might have the same reaction. But if your threshold for arseholes is relatively high, you might find this entertaining particularly if you enjoy the skewering of pretentious art snobs.

REASONS TO SEE: The dialogue is pretty good.
REASONS TO AVOID: Pretentious and preposterous.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, nudity, sexuality and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is based on a 2018 short of the same name  featuring the same characters.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/29/2020: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Velvet Buzzsaw
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
GetAWAY

Don’t Click (2020)


The Internet is full of horror.

(2020) Horror (GravitasValter Skarsgård, Mark Koufos, Catherine Howard, Geoff Mays, May Grehan, Samantha Hart, Dayjan Lesmond, Derrick Rabethge, Erica Sherwood, Ry Barrett, Anthony Polito, Jessica Vano. Directed by G-Hey Kim

 

Those selling us the Internet have portrayed it as a repository for human knowledge and ingenuity, where our lives may be made easier and the ability to access the sum total of everything knowable could lead us to a new golden age…yeah, right.

Like everything else, we humans tend to muck it up with our baser instincts. In this horror opus from G-Hey Kim based on her own short film, college student Josh (Skarsgård) returns home after a night of drinking and partying to find his roommate Zane (Koufos) missing. His laptop, however, is still there and still connected to the site Josh had been watching – something called Beataslut.com. In it, voyeurs may watch the torture and degrading of a woman (Howard) who is gradually stripped, tortured and then eventually murdered by a smiling sadist (Mays).

Abruptly Josh is sucked into the laptop and finds himself in a dungeon with no windows or doors; only a mirror with the phrase “Take a good hard look at yourself” written in what may be lipstick, or might be blood. Therein is also Zane whose lips have been sewed shut and who has had tortures of his own visited upon him. Soon, it becomes obvious that the supernatural entities that are in control of the room can also control Josh, forcing him to do unspeakable things to his roommate. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Zane has been brought there – but why is Josh suffering the same fate?

This is a horror movie with a message and it is attempting to deliver it to the subset of viewers who might need to receive it the most – male horror movie fans. It has never been a secret that horror movies have traditionally been guilty of sexualizing brutality towards women, helping to create a culture of misogyny and rape that society has embraced. And yeah, that might be a harsh and simplistic assessment – rape culture and institutionalized misogyny come from a variety of sources, not just horror films – but let’s face it, horror movies have desensitized young men to brutality towards women for decades now.

The movie harkens back to the torture porn of the late 90s and early 21st century, and skeptics might be forgiven for pointing out that the movie, even as it seems to point out the violence towards women also indulges in it. There is definitely a sense of “do as I say, not as I do” here. It’s also certainly understandable that certain segments of the audience might find the scenes of violence and brutality too much to handle, although most hardcore horror fans will find it no problem at all, although a scene involving a character’s private parts might make even the most rabid of gorehounds a bit squeamish.

Kim does make a few stylistic choices that are questionable; for example, the scenes set in the dungeon are shot at a lower frame rate, giving the action a jumpy and overexposed feel that is more endemic to internet video of 20 years ago, not so much now. Skarsgård does a credible job in the lead role, but his character is somewhat bland and spends a good deal of the movie whining about one thing and another.

As a society, we are all guilty of turning a blind eye to the violence that has been visited upon women, not only in the physical sense but also in the emotional and mental sense as well. The overall theme of the movie is written on the mirror, and it is rare that a horror movie invites us to do just that. While the movie might have benefited from stronger characters, the message is one that can’t be ignored.

REASONS TO SEE: A cautionary tale for incels.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be too brutal for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, disturbing images, nudity, abusive sexual behavior and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at the UK Frightfest this past August.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/22/2020: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hostel
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Max Cloud

Wetware


Never grab a woman by the elbow; she might be a genetically-enhanced killer.

(2020) Science Fiction  (GravitasCameron Scoggins, Morgan Wolk, Jerry O’Connell, Bret Lada, Aurélia Thiérrée, Susan S. McGinnis, Labhaoise Magee, Lauren Carole Ritter, Matt Salinger, Nicole Shalhoub, Brandon Alan Smith, Ariel Zevon, Jessica Blank, Jeff Zinn, Bianca Ilich, Dallas Mahan, Hunter Hard, Kristan Lyon, Kimberly Arthurs. Directed by Jay Craven

 

The world is changing before our very eyes, and not necessarily in a good way. Climate change is leading to some hard decisions that are, for the most part, being ignored. Overpopulation and automation is leading to a shortage of jobs. Something has got to give.

In this dystopian future, climate change has decimated the world. Most people are chronically unemployed; the jobs that are available are largely menial jobs people are unwilling to perform. In fact, most of them are performed by Mungos, genetically engineered folks who have had their memories purged and given the abilities to do whatever job it is they are assigned to do without complaint.

But there is a worldwide economic crisis in the offing and Galapagos Bioengineering, the company that markets Mungos, is looking to market a new product; genetically engineered super-soldiers that can do just about anything a superspy can do, as well as have the skillsets of an elite soldier. The company desperately needs funds from financier Wendell Blaine (O’Connell) to fund their new project and it is up to genetic engineer Hal Briggs (Scoggins) to create these new superhumans.

But Briggs has a problem. One of those volunteering for the project, Kay (Wolk), has caught his eye and so he engineers her to fall in love with him. As she and the other prototype Jack (Lada) undergo testing under the watchful eye of Carr (Shalhoub), the project manager who has an agenda of her own, Briggs is left to contend with the ethical ramifications of what he’s done and with a hidden conspiracy that threatens everything, not the least of which is his continued existence.

Based on a novel by Craig Nova, Jay Craven – noted for Vermont-set adaptations of novels by Howard Frank Mosher – is a bit of a departure for the New England-based filmmaker. He has given us a remarkably self-assured and thoughtful sci-fi slice with elements of noir. His cast of mostly local Vermont actors are surprisingly strong, with Wolk as the haunted woman who agrees to have her memory wiped and become something new being a particular standout but buttressed by strong performances by Thiérrée and Salinger. The production values are also pretty impressive for a low-budget production.

The movie has a few ideas to kick around, some of which have been recycled from other places – what makes us human, which I thought was better-explored by Ridley Scott’s Philip K. Dick adaptation of Blade Runner and of how central memory is to our identity, also explored in the wonderful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Michel Gondry. Still, there are also ideas that are a bit more timely, such as the lengths we will go to for employment – particularly relevant during the economic crash brought on by the pandemic – and the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots and the shrinking space in the middle class.

Craven’s attempts to add a noir edge to the movie falls mainly in the dark neon-lit spaces and in particular, the dialogue which at times feels a bit pretentious and is the weakest part of the movie. However, Craven wisely doesn’t fill in all the blanks here and leaves viewers to do some thinking, which I think an increasing number of sci-fi cinephiles are learning to appreciate.

REASONS TO SEE: Surprisingly strong performances and production values.
REASONS TO AVOID: The dialogue is trying too hard to be noir-ish.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Craven’s day job is as a professor of film studies at Marlboro College in Vermont.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/18/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blade Runner
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Sister of the Groom

Elyse


In 2020, catatonia might be viewed as a blessing.

(2020) Drama (GravitasLisa Pepper, Anthony Hopkins, Aaron Tucker, Tara Arroyave, Fran Tucker, Julieta Ortiz, Griffin Thomas Hollander, Donat Balaj, Anthony Apel, Danny Jacobs, Everett Kelsey, Connor Garelick, Natalia Tucker, Susan Papa, Brittani Ebert, Riccardo Spinotti, David M. Jackson, Daisy Barber, Annette Dugan, Diana Arroyave. Directed by Stella Hopkins

 

Some movies are just slam dunks as far as critics are concerned. They are easy reviews to write; the words just flow. Some are much harder to articulate though.

This turgid melodrama stars Pepper as the titular character, a well-coiffed, well-dressed wife of a wealthy lawyer (A. Tucker), living in a gorgeous modern house where her adorable son (Hollander) is looked after by a solicitous nanny (Ortiz). But all is not perfect in paradise. Elyse suspects her husband – baselessly, it turns out – of having an affair with the nanny’s daughter Carmen (T. Arroyave) who works at her husband’s firm. She also has a very dysfunctional relationship with her patrician mother (F. Tucker).

At a dinner party, fueled by too much drink, she has a meltdown. Her husband, concerned over her increasingly volatile behavior, wants her to see a psychiatrist, a Dr. Lewis (A. Hopkins) who had some success with one of the other lawyers in his firm. Elyse agrees and actually develops a bond with him. However, not all is what it seems and to quote David Byrne, “You may ask yourself, is this my beautiful house?”

 

This is something of a family affair, with the director being married to one of the stars, and also related to two other actors by blood (her maiden name is Arroyave). There is also a mother/son team of actors playing mother-in-law/son-in-law here. That’s all very cozy, but it feels very much like this was cast largely from people the director knew and was comfortable with, rather than getting the best actors for the roles. It shows particularly in the lead roles where, with the exception of the one Oscar winner in the cast, the performances are uniformly stiff and uninspired.

But then again, the dialogue is truly dreadful. You can’t ask an actor to say a line like “This house is an empty shell…of vanished dreams” and expect him (Aaron Tucker, in this case) to make it sound like something a real human being would say. You know a film is going to be pretentious when the opening voice-over narration quotes The Wizard of Oz and you know that the film is about mental illness. I mean, Zoinks! Home viewers may end up banging on their TV in frustration as the first half of the film is in black and white with occasional splashes of color in a ham-fisted attempt at symbolism. Even when the main crux of the plot unfolds – it’s not a spoiler to say that Elyse is actually catatonic and in a mental hospital with Dr. Lewis trying to reach her and bring her back into consciousness – there is little to surprise the viewer and a whole lot to make them want to watch something else.

Still, Anthony Hopkins – who also produced the film and scored it – is a reliable factor and worth watching even in a bad movie, and trust me gang, the rating for this would be a hell of a lot lower if the Oscar-winning actor wasn’t present. Believe it or not, I take no joy out of trashing a film; I know that nobody goes into making a movie with the intent of making a bad one, but sometimes, despite the best intentions, that is exactly what is produced. However, Hopkins fans don’t have to feel bad about his lot – in a couple of weeks, his new film The Father will be coming out and that might well be one of the best films of a year that most of us will want to forget anyway.

REASONS TO SEE: Anthony Hopkins is always a treat.
REASONS TO AVOID: The dialogue is simply awful.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Stella Hopkins has been married to star Anthony Hopkins since 2003.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/10/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 40% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Woman Under the Influence
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT:
Farewell Amor

Truth is the Only Client


Moments before tragedy.

(2019) Documentary (GravitasBrendan Sheehan, Samuel Stern, Vincent Bugliosi, Lloyd Weinreb, Howard Willens, Burt Griffin, Alfred Goldberg, Stephen Breyer, G. Robert Blakey, Murray Laulicht, Melvin Eisenberg, H.B. McLain, Bernard Weisman, Steve Barber, David Slawson, David Robarge, Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Ruth Hyde Paine.  Directed by Todd Kwait and Rob Stegman

 

It has been 57 years since the young, vibrant President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and it remains a topic of hot debate. Some say that accused assassin (who himself was murdered by nightclub owner Jack Ruby before he could stand trial) could not possibly have planned and carried out the murder of the President of the United States of America, one of the most protected men on Earth, by himself. Others say that there is no evidence to the contrary. Certainly, the country hasn’t been the same since.

It isn’t a stretch to say that most television programs, movies and documentaries (not to mention the legions of books published) on the assassin have fallen firmly into the conspiracy camp. As judge and assassination buff Sheehan (who acts as host here) asserts, “the money is in conspiracy theories.” People tend to want to believe in cabals and secrets, sometimes in the face of legitimate evidence – hence Q-Anon.

The filmmakers seek out surviving members of the Warren Commission – mostly junior attorneys and researchers, who are now in their 80s – to talk about the case, the evidence and the investigation. The filmmakers readily admit that Chief Justice Earl Warren, who headed the commission, made a major misstep when he suppressed the autopsy photos of the late President, which show that the bullets that struck him came from behind him on a downward angle. While Warren sought to spare the former First Lady as well as the millions of mourning Americans the horror of the damage done to the President’s body, the suppression gave the Commission an aura that they were hiding something.

The documentary takes the stance that the Warren Commission exhaustively went through the evidence and came to the proper conclusion. This isn’t going to sit well with conspiracy theorists; I have to admit, as someone who had doubts about the veracity of a lone crazed gunman assassinating the President of the United States, I found it hard to have long-held beliefs assailed by evidence to the contrary.

For example, the “magic bullet theory” which posits that the kill shot did all sorts of aerial physics-defying gymnastics in order to go through the President and impact Texas Governor John Connelly falls apart when we realize that Connelly wasn’t sitting directly in front of the President, but in a jump seat slightly to the President’s left – which means the bullet would have gone straight through both men.

=Sheehan is relentless in showing that there is no evidence of a shot originating from the Grassy Knoll, no evidence of Soviet, Cuban or mob involvement, and certainly not that there was any sort of grand conspiracy to get Kennedy out of the way to clear the way for the Vietnam War which put billions of dollars into the pockets of the military-industrial complex. I have to admit, the evidence is presented in a very intelligent and thorough manner, even if it gets a little dry at times as we listen to one old man after another talking about the case.

This is a rare documentary in that we not only get to hear from people directly involved with the investigation, but also with some witnesses including Ruth Paine, in whose house Marina Oswald stayed at the time of the assassination and where the assassin stowed his rifle before carting it off to the Texas Book Repository. There is also some footage and images that have not been shown publicly before, although much of the footage has been seen many times before.

It is very hard to change people’s minds of long-held belief. Most people aren’t all that open-minded to begin with, particularly when it comes to something as emotional as the Kennedy assassination. This is not always an easy documentary to sit through, but anyone who wants to understand how the Warren Commission arrived at its conclusions should see it. Even conspiracy theorists should give it a look; after all, there’s nothing like having your ideas challenged to give you the opportunity to prove them once again to yourself.

REASONS TO SEE: Very scholarly in tone.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very reliant on talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images (autopsy photos) and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sheehan is a judge in Ohio who argued cases before Griffin, who was a junior attorney on the Warren Commission; Sheehan, who had long been a Kennedy buff, struck up a friendship with Griffin based on that.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Google Play, Redbox, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/6/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: JFK
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Love, Weddings and Other Disasters