Write When You Get Work


This is what “kissyface” looks like.

(2018) Dramedy (Abramorama) Finn Wittrock, Emily Mortimer, Rachel Keller, Jessica Hecht, Hermione Heckrich, James Ransone, Andrew Schultz, Isabella Blassingame, Afton Williamson, Jennifer Mudge, Mitchell Slaggert, Gregory Isaac Stone, Jeffrey Butler, Robert Eli, Scott Cohen,  Sam Gilroy, Rosa Gilmore, Adele Kader, Ava Capri, Tess Frazer. Directed by Stacy Cochran

 

Sometimes people get off to a bad start. They get involved with the wrong people, get involved with the wrong drugs, or just plain lose their way. Some people stay that way while others make an effort to make a change. After all, it’s not how you start but how you finish.

Jonny (Wittrock) and Ruth (Keller) had that kind of start. The two were high school sweethearts if that’s what you can call a couple who share hurried beach couplings and shoplifting sprees. Nine years later, both have graduated on gone on to different lives. Jonny remains pretty much in the same juvenile pattern, unable to keep a job and forever on the hustle for whatever score he can manage.

Ruth on the other hand has landed a job in the admissions office of an exclusive girls school on Long Island. While it is very much an “interim” position, things are looking up for her. A chance meeting at a funeral for a track coach for the both of them leads Jonny to infiltrate her life, much against her will, involving occasional breaking and entering.

When he finds out about Ruth’s new gig, dollar signs light up his eyes. He looks at the school she works at as his own potential fishing hole. He lands on a particularly vulnerable guppy; Nan Noble (Mortimer) who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her douchebag of a husband (Ransone) is being investigated by the feds for financial chicanery and she is very much worried that her own assets will eventually be seized. Enter smooth-talking Jonny and soon the two hatch a convoluted plot. At first, Ruth is trying to separate Jonny from Ruth but soon gets sucked into the scheme. Things begin to escalate, one double-cross follows another and soon nobody knows who to trust.

I don’t mind a good heist movie, no matter how complicated but you need to have a rooting interest in the con artists. Jonny is just so slimy and so without conscience that you can only root for a quick arrest. Wittrock is a decent enough actor and he is certainly a good looking man but he doesn’t pull off the charming rogue here. Mortimer though is fun to watch; you get the sense that she is one bad day away from cracking and she does high-strung as well as anyone.

There are some moments that are borderline brilliant – the cinematography can be magical – but the plot is so convoluted and relies on people acting in ways that people don’t ever act. Cochran has made a couple of solid movies but this one is a step backwards. By the time you get to the end of the movie you may have already checked out which is a shame because that’s the best part of the movie. File this one under near-miss.

REASONS TO GO: There are flashes of something interesting here. Mortimer does her best with  bad hand.
REASONS TO STAY: Wittrock’s character is completely despicable. The script is convoluted and sometimes not believable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some drug use and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cinematographer Robert Elswit has worked frequently with director Paul Thomas Anderson
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/24/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 46% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Thief
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Invisible Hands

Rings


All is not well with Samara.

(2017) Horror (Paramount) Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Jonny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Chuck Willis, Patrick Walker Zach Roerig, Laura Slade Wiggins, Lizzie Brocheré, Karen Ceesay, Dave Blamy, Michael E. Sanders, Randall Taylor, Drew Gray, Kayli Carter, Jill Jane Clements, Ricky Muse, Jeremy Harrison, Jay Pearson, Rose Bianco. Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez

 

Urban legends have a tendency to take a life of their own. They also make for some pretty nifty horror movies, whether they are actual urban legends or made-up ones. One of the best of the latter was the Japanese horror film Ringu by Hideo Nakata which helped make the Japanese horror film industry a global powerhouse back in 1998. Four years later, Gore Verbinski of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise made an American version that didn’t disgrace itself and in 2005, Nakata himself directed the American sequel.

Now in 2017 the powers-that-be at the studio felt the time was right for a third installment of the series but forewent most of the attributes that made the two films so successful and tapped Spanish director Gutiérrez to take his shot. I don’t think that the film’s problems rest primarily on the director’s shoulders necessarily.

The new installment is a sequel. In it, the videotape that brought death to whomever watched it seven days to the tick after watching it is still making the rounds. Holt (Roe) has left his high school sweetheart Julia (Lutz) behind to attend college in the Pacific Northwest. At first, all is hearts and roses as the two lovebirds Skype their sexy across the miles. Then, Holt stops answering his phone. Julia becomes worried so like any good girlfriend she treks to the school to find out what her boyfriend is up to.

It turns out that he has become part of a study of that very videotape as presided over by whacked-out Professor Gabriel (Galecki from The Big Bang Theory) who keeps his students alive by having them do the only thing that gets the video watchers off the hook – show the video to another potential victim. It turns out her man has seen the video and is 24 hours away from an up close and personal visit from Samara (Morgan), the angry spirit who crawls up out of the video screen to murder those foolish enough to give in to temptation.

When Holt’s relief watcher doesn’t show up, Julia herself takes the bullet and watches the tape – which has now been, conveniently enough, transferred to a digital file for easy streaming. It’s the 2010s after all. S’anyway, Julia wants to get to the bottom of this whole rigmarole and ends up chasing clues about the real Samara to a small village on a remote island in the Puget Sound. There she finds a blind priest (D’Onofrio) who may know more about the legend of Samara than he’s letting on.

I think most fans of the series would have welcomed an updating of the original, made in the age of VCRs and modems, into a more digital format. There are certainly a lot of ways good writers could have taken this – Hell, even the concept of a collegiate study of the phenomenon might have worked if the writers had shown some originality.

But they didn’t – not even a little bit. The dialogue is preposterous and the characters are largely too bland and personality-challenged to care about. Lutz and Roe seem to be trying but I have to say that I found their performances simply didn’t create any chemistry or energy onscreen. The producers, going for a PG-13 rating, didn’t even leave Gutiérrez graphic gore or sex to fall back on.

D’Onofrio is a smart actor, who sometimes shows up in bad movies but he never does anything less than his best. Here, his role has little depth to it but what it does have D’Onofrio gives it by the dint of his performance. None of the other actors in the film really hold up next to him although Galecki comes close.

This is a bit of a yawner as horror films go and that’s not what you want to hear when trying to make a scare flick. It has enough going for it that I can give it a very mild – VERY MILD – recommendation but this is a mediocre attempt at resurrecting a franchise that deserves better treatment. I’m quite sure both Nakata and Verbinski would be rolling in their graves if they had one.

REASONS TO GO: D’Onofrio gives it the old college try.
REASONS TO STAY: A poorly written script and not enough imaginative scares doom this franchise revival.
FAMILY VALUES: As you might imagine, there’s plenty of horrific sequences, spooky images, profanity, a bit of sexuality and a brief scene of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first film in the franchise without lead actress Naomi Watts and special make-up effects master Rick Baker.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/4/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 6% positive reviews. Metacritic: 25/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ringu
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: John Wick Chapter 2

The Virginity Hit


The Virginity Hit

Nothing like the awkwardness of teen sex to draw an audience into the theaters.

(2010) Sex Comedy (Columbia) Matt Bennett, Zach Pearlman, Jacob Davich, Justin Kline, Krysta Rodriguez, Nicole Weaver, Harry Zittel, Savannah Welch, Seth Barrish, Tina Parker, Sunny Leone, Daniel Weber, John McLeaish, Ramona Tyler. Directed by Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko

 

When you’re a teenager, sex isn’t just a compulsion, it’s an obsession. Getting laid is one of the major rites of passage, particularly for young boys who yearn to be men. The hormonal nature of teen-ness has of late run head-on into the modern generation’s desire to document every aspect of their lives on Twitter and YouTube. You know something had to give.

Matt (Bennett) is the last of four friends to lose his virginity and that event will soon be taking place as he and his girlfriend Nicole (Weaver) intend to do the deed on their second anniversary. This will be marked with a hit on a special bong purchased for just that purpose – one which has been already used by the other three mates.

Things go horribly wrong when Matt discovers that Nicole cheated on him with a college frat boy. When confronted, Harry (Zittel) neither confirms nor denies that any sex took place. Matt’s adopted brother Zack (Pearlman) advises Matt to go through with the de-flowering, and then break up with Nicole. However when Nicole discovers she’s being filmed, she freaks out and angrily admits to having allowed Harry to suckle her breast but  only that. The two break up and Nicole’s father shows up to fetch his daughter, shoving Matt into the underbrush in the process. Matt’s fall becomes a YouTube sensation.

A beautiful young woman named Becca (Welch) sees the video and takes pity on Matt. Not only is she willing to be the one to take Matt’s virginity, she is experienced enough to make it memorable. She however makes the condition that Matt must purchase a nice suit. Matt, not able to afford such threads, goes to his biological father (Barrish) for the funds and finds out that the college trust that Matt’s mom left him had been emptied by his dad to buy drugs.

The guys – including the other members of the quartet Jacob (Davich) and Justin (Kline) – help Matt steal an Armani suit and when Matt turns up for the big night, Becca further stipulates that Matt must shave his pubic regions. Matt finally shows up for the gig and Becca tells Zack that the actual event cannot be filmed, but that Matt can practice on a blow-up doll in order to get started. Becca then leaves. Matt waits three hours before leaving himself.

It turns out that Becca isn’t her real name and that she’s a graduate student studying male behavior. The tape of Matt practicing on the blow-up doll becomes a viral sensation and Matt locks himself in his room for two weeks, completely humiliated. His friends try to get his favorite porn star Sunny Leone (herself) to help out a fan and she agrees to – for a price. The quartet and their friends raise the funds and it looks finally as if Matt is going to lose his cherry to a porn star. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything. This is kind of a mess, the conceit being that it is recorded by the cast (mostly playing themselves) on iPhones, video cameras and other recording devices. Given that the movie was produced by Funny or Die impresarios Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (of Step Brothers and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby fame) should touch a nerve with the Internet-savvy, at whom this is clearly aimed.

The problem is that for one thing, it isn’t very funny. Yes, it certainly has an authenticity about how this generation of teens feels the need to capture every aspect of their lives and share it via social networking and videos but there is a caveat there – most of our lives, teens and adults alike – are too damn boring to warrant much an hour and a half in the theaters let alone streaming video. The ad libs here are not what you’d call catchphrase-worthy.

The acting, pretty much by unknowns exclusively, is nearly uniform in its stiffness. None of the performers really capture my attention and create characters that I want to spend time with. I found my attention wandering throughout the movie, glancing at my iPhone and playing mah-jongg when I got bored which was frequently.

The teen sex comedy has been done to death with the American Pie and Porky’s movies, and the found footage phenomenon that started pretty much in the horror genre with The Blair Witch Project has also been overused of late. While the melding of the two seems like a good idea on paper, to be honest the execution lacks wit or cleverness enough to capture my attention for more than a few minutes. In that sense, it brought me back to my teen years perfectly.

WHY RENT THIS: Captures the connection between the Internet generation and their obsession with documenting everything in a very authentic way.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The jokes aren’t particularly funny and watching teenagers awkwardly try to get laid isn’t my idea of a fun 90 minutes.

FAMILY VALUES:  As you might imagine, there’s a good deal of sexual content and nudity, a little bit of drinking and drug use and a whole lot of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Almost all of the dialogue is ad-libbed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s some audition footage, as well as a focus on Nicole Weaver, who worked at a popular theme restaurant in New Jersey at the time this was filmed and continued to work there after the movie was released.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $636,706 on a $2M production budget; even with no budget at all it lost money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: End of Days