Little Monsters (2019)


Think of her as a poor man’s Michonne.

(2019) Horror Comedy (NEON/HuluLupita Nyong’o, Josh Gad, Alexander England, Nadia Townsend, Kat Stewart, Stephen Peacocke, Diesel La Torraca, Henry Nixon, Marshall Napier, Saskia Burmeister, Rachel Romahn, Talayna Moana Nikora, Felix Williamson, Lucia Pang, Ava Caryofyllis, Jason Chong, Adele Vuko, M.J. Kokolis, Carlos Sanson, Kristy Brooks. Directed by Abe Forsythe

 

Comedies in the horror genre have to strike a most delicate balance. On the one hand, the scares have to deliver but on the other hand so do the jokes – all without dragging the movie down to the level of a spoof. It’s hellishly hard to pull off.

This Australian zombie apocalypse effort does give it the old college try. Slacker Dave (England), a washed-up metal musician has broken up with his girlfriend Sara (Townsend) – we spend most of the credit sequence watching a montage of the uncomfortable arguments between the two – and has taken up on his sister Tess’s (Stewart) couch.

He’s a self-centered twit who has taken no ownership of his own part in his relationship’s demise. He bonds with her son Felix (La Torraca) over violent videogames and inappropriate behavior, but the kid is five years old and seems much more mature than Felix who has already frayed the nerves of his sister to the point that she’s ready to kick him out of her flat. Maybe that would have done him some good.

Instead, he develops a crush on Miss Caroline (Nyong’o), the perky kindergarten teacher of Felix. He ends up volunteering to chaperone on a field trip to a petting zoo/farm where kid TV superstar Teddy McGiggle (Gad) happens to be shooting his TV show on location. Also coincidentally. but pf a much less desirable sort, an experiment on a nearby U.S. military base has gone terribly out of control and a horde of zombies are descending on the unsuspecting attraction, putting the kids and celebrities alike at risk.

The gore sequences are done pretty decently, although there’s nothing particularly cutting edge here and nothing you haven’t already seen on The Walking Dead. Where the movie really falls down is as a comedy; much of the humor is extremely broad, perhaps in an effort to appeal to a younger audience but the gore is at times intense so that would seem to indicate that the filmmakers were looking for a mature audience. Or maybe, that they figure that the younger sense is desensitized to the violence through their embrace of videogames. They might have a point.

There is also a point that is a tribute to teachers and much of that goes to Nyong’o whose Miss Caroline reminds us of the teachers who shielded their charges from flying bullets at Newtown and other equally infamous school shooting situations. It’s also easy to understand why anyone would develop a crush on her; Nyong’o absolutely shines here and dang it if you won’t develop a bit of an attraction to her as well. As for the other lead characters, Dave is far too self-centered a creature to root for much and despite his turn to the light midway through the film, his change of heart doesn’t seem quite believable. Gad is generally a compelling performer but the alcoholic and cowardly McGiggle is simply too repulsive and one-note to be memorable – so much so that I had to go back to this paragraph and add him in just before publishing this review.

The pacing is a bit leaden and the film’s inability to decide what it wants to be costs it. In a season when we’ll be flooded with horror films, there are others that are undoubtedly more worthy of your attention than this one (hopefully the Zombieland sequel will be one of them). Other than Nyong’o, there really isn’t much to recommend this film but she’s almost enough. Almost.

REASONS TO SEE: Nyong’o is absolutely lustrous.
REASONS TO AVOID: The humor falls flat in places. Ridiculously slow-paced.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, bloody zombie violence, brief drug use and some sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Taylor Swift’s hit song “Shake It Off” is a pivotal song in the screenplay but initially the producers couldn’t secure the rights. It took a personal appeal from Nyong’o directly to Swift I order to get the rights to the song.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Hulu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/19/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews: Metacritic: 57/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Warm Bodies
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT:
Serendipity

Fyre Fraud


The face of a modern conman.

(2019) Documentary (Hulu) Billy McFarland, Ja Rule, Calvin Wells, Vickie Segar, Jia Tolentino, Ben Meiselas, Erielle Reshef, Jesse Eisinger, Anastasia Eremenko, Emily Boehm, Aubrey McClendon, Corolla Jain, Delroy Jackson, Ava Turnquest, Dave Brooks, Austin Mills, Elliot Tebele, Oren Aks, Michael Swaigen, Maria Konnikova, Daniel “Skywalker” Goldstein, Alyssa Lynch. Directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason

 

Some of you may have seem the term “FOMO” when browsing social media. It stands for “Fear of Missing Out” and is a particular curse of modern youth culture. Our society has become obsessed with the illusion of the good life, perhaps because it seems unattainable to us in an era when the gap between haves and have-nots is widening.

This documentary, one of two on the ill-fated Fyre Festival in 2017 that promised supermodels, luxury accommodations, 5-star cuisine, and a music festival on a private Bahamian island delivered only FEMA tents and stale cheese sandwiches in Styrofoam boxes. It has become a symbol of hype vs. reality as the organizers who were always in way above their heads but resorted to keeping their investors and employees in the dark and left thousands of Bahamian workers holding the bag, fleeced thousands of Instagram-obsessed would-be hedonists.

There is a little bit of an eye-twinkle to the Hulu documentary which without warning was made available five days earlier than the competing documentary on the subject on Netflix, and utilizes dozens of clips from TV shows to illustrate certain points – almost all of them available to binge on Hulu, don’t you know. However, in the main, the filmmakers go for the jugular when explaining how things went so horribly wrong.

The big difference between this documentary and the Netflix one (comparisons are inescapable) is that the filmmakers got main culprit Billy McFarland for an on-camera interview. Temper that information, however, with the knowledge that McFarland was apparently well-paid for his time; most journalists shy away from paid interviews for a lot of ethical reasons, not the least of which is that the appearance of being soft on the subject is almost inevitable. To be fair though, the filmmakers didn’t go easy on McFarland at all. He’s asked some pretty tough questions to which he often gets evasive or in some cases, outright lies in response. He’s a charming man, no doubt, but he is also fast and loose with the truth. Shortly after his interview was filmed, he was convicted of wire fraud (notice how it rhymes with the documentary title) and sentenced to six years in prison.

Much of the film takes square aim at what I suppose they would call Millennial culture – the directors themselves are Millennials – but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. It’s not just Millennials who contribute to the out-of-control consumerism that dominates social media although they certainly contribute to it. The whole culture of “influencers” is raked over the coals; if influencers are doing the job they’re supposed to, that makes their followers little more than gullible sheep.

Some of the most cogent commentary comes from New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino who helps put the Festival in perspective. Many of those who worked for the Festival were surely aware that they were headed for a train wreck of epic proportions but they were reassured by the brass that things would work out. It is easy to believe in such reassurances when the alternative is unthinkable.

Both of the documentaries on the Festival are flawed and taken together they do form a pretty complete document, so if you have the opportunity to see them both by all means do. However, I’m not so sure that it is worth the time to do that; while they are a chilling comment on our attitudes towards celebrity and consumerist success, they are also not really vital subjects considering everything going on in the world these days.

REASONS TO WATCH: Has the benefit of getting things straight from the organizers.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not as comprehensive and a little bit on the raw side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: McFarland agreed to appear in the film on the condition that he be paid.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Hulu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/9/19: Rotten Tomatoes:79% positive reviews: Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fyre
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Buskers and Lou

Minding the Gap


Skating can be more than just a passion.

(2018) Documentary (Hulu/Magnolia) Zach Milligan, Keire Johnson, Nina Bowgren, Kent Abernathy, Bing Liu, Mingyue Bolen, Roberta Johnson, Rory Mulligan, Kyle, Eric, Vickie. Directed by Bing Liu

 

Sometimes a film presents itself in such a way that you expect one thing (and those expectations are might low) but are delivered another which is so much more than you thought it might be. Those are the moments of discovery when you realize that you have seen a movie that isn’t just entertaining or enlightening but life-changing.

The movie begins as a suburban skateboarding documentary and to be honest, I’ve seen enough of those. The main protagonists are shredding around Rockford, Illinois and during interviews talk about how they just want to skate, they’re not interested in being a traditional part of society and that they don’t want to be put into any sort of box. These are all things about skate culture that I found repelling, a kind of entitlement that is unearned. As it turned out I was wrong.

We see the last three years of the lives of these skaters, essentially, as Zach – the leader of this group of friends, wrestles with fatherhood as his girlfriend Nina gives birth. Keire, the lone African-American member of the group, feels a sense of belonging with his friends that he doesn’t have with his family and Asian-American Liu – who initially was planning to only be behind the camera – begins to realize that documenting his friends’ lives is opening up some of the rougher parts of his own.

All three of these boys (and Nina as well) are on the cusp of adulthood and they are being dragged into it kicking and screaming. They don’t always act responsibly and they don’t always say or do the right thing. In other words, they are just like all of us at that age. Some of the things they do are destructive, some of the things they do are sweet but in every instance there is a sense of being unsure that they are doing the right thing. Like all of us as we move from childhood to adulthood, they are flailing around in the dark and hoping that they’ll find something to hold onto.

The relationship between Zach and Nina begins to deteriorate. They fight all the time, leading to a screaming match in which Nina threatens to kill Zach. We sympathize with Zach as he seems to be doing his best – working long hours as a roofer – but then we hear Nina’s side of things. Zach, as it turns out, is not the guy we thought he was.

All three of the boys have issues with fatherhood – in the cases of Keire and Bing dealing with abusive fathers. As Keire wryly says early on, “Back then it was called discipline but what it’s called now is child abuse.” Their moms are interviewed as we see the toll that abusive fathers took on them as well and as the movie goes on, how the dysfunctional relationship between Zach and Nina takes a toll on her as well. Everyone in this movie undergoes big changes in maturity as the movie goes on; some for the better, others not so much.

There are a lot of scenes of the guys skateboarding, maybe a few too many but one thing you begin to realize is that skateboarding is not a hobby or even a passion; it’s a release for them. It’s a way for them to deal with their pain and it’s as necessary to their well-being as eating and breathing. The issues I had with skater culture suddenly evaporated as I watched this. Their need for non-conformity made sense now to me. I can’t always condone someone who believes that their way of living is superior to anyone else’s, but I can see why the lifestyle is chosen. In a lot of ways, surfer culture is similar.

This is a movie you should see. You might think “oh, another skateboarding film” but it’s not that. It’s a coming of age film, not in the traditional Hollywood state of mind but as it really happens to all of us. Nobody looks forward to responsibility and stress but nevertheless we want the opportunity to make our own decisions and live life on our own terms. That’s not always possible; circumstances often dictate what our actions must be, but that need for autonomy and to be ourselves remains with us even when you’re as old as I am.

REASONS TO GO: The film goes from being a skate kid doc to an unexpected treasure. I ended up getting a better understanding of skate culture. It’s very powerful in places.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is a bit on the raw side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity, some brief drug use and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Liu has been filming his friends since they were all teenagers (and in Keire Johnson’s case, 11 years old) and has incorporated some of that home footage into the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Hulu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/18/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 91/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Street Kids
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Mute

New Feature for Home Video Reviews


New and ImprovedOnce upon a time, most recent major motion picture releases and the major independent releases would make their way to Blockbuster eventually. With the dynamic of how we watch movies at home changing, Cinema365 in an effort to be more user-friendly will begin listing where our movies that have received a home video release might be located for streaming and DVD/Blu-Ray rental. Unfortunately, I can’t check every service there is available but I will let you know if the movie being reviews is available in the following places:

Netflix Streaming
Netflix DVD/Blu-Ray
Blockbuster Online
iTunes
Amazon
Crackle
Hulu

We may add or delete services here as the need arises. Hopefully this will be useful to you in determining whether or not and how to watch something that catches your interest on this site. Happy viewing!