Mnemophrenia


The revolution will be digitized.

(2019) Science Fiction (Indie Rights) Freya Berry, Robin King, Tim Seyfert, Tallulah Sheffield, Jamie Laird, Robert Milton Wallace, Dominic O’Flynn, Angela Peters, Anna Brook, Michael Buckster, Gary Cargill, Steve Hope Wynne, John Morton, Cally Lawrence, Lisa Caruccio Came. Directed by Einni Konstantinidou

 

What is real? Is it what we perceive it to be? Experts will tell you that memory can’t really be trusted; we tend to remember things through our own peculiar filters, often changing the nature of those memories or omitting important context to them altogether. So if memories are unreliable at best, would artificial memories and the inability to tell that they were artificial be such a bad thing?

Mnemophrenia is a portmanteau of mneme and schizophrenia; it is a condition posited by writer-director Konstantinidou (an academic at the University of Essex making her feature film debut) in which memories made in virtual reality environments take on the status of living memories, even though we didn’t experience them in the real world.

The story is told through three different time periods. The earliest takes place in the near-future in which Jeanette Harper (Berry) has memories of a summer with a nearly perfect man named Douglas (Seyfert) which only occurred in a virtual reality environment. Nevertheless, she fell in love with him and held all other relationships to his standard, which led to a failed marriage and a feeling of emptiness. She is engaging in group therapy for other sufferers of the condition, and making a documentary about the process.

Her grandson, Nicholas Morgan (King) is developing a next-gen virtual reality environment called Total Cinema, which will allow a much more complete VR experience. He and his assistant Will (Laird) have some misgivings that the system seems to trigger mnemophrenia in those not generically pre-disposed to the condition. Nicholas, who was born with the condition, is acutely aware that others will perceive that should the product be released to the marketplace (and the release date is hurtling towards them with terrifying speed) that he will be accused of creating the condition on purpose, since he is on record as believing that mnemophrenia is not a condition to be feared but embraced, which goes largely counter to society’s disdain of those who suffer from it. However, the corporate bigwigs are having none of it, not caring what the potentially catastrophic effects of releasing this product to market would be so long as they get return on their investment.

The third story takes place in the far future when terminally ill academic Robyn (Sheffield) is studying the effects of an implanted chip that would allow her to experience the memories of both Nicholas and Jeanette as an “empathy study,” while her husband Charlie (Wallace) has misgivings that this would change his wife into another person entirely.

Considering the budget the film had to work with, the visuals are impressive. The mid-period story of Nicholas utilizes impressive graphics that give the viewer the experience of viewing the world through the Total Cinema environment. The film stands up with science fiction films with budgets many times larger than this one must have had.

The concept is a thought-provoking one as we enter an era in which VR is becoming increasingly prevalent; there are many who foresee it as the medium of the future, replacing film, television and gaming entirely. Are those memories that we create in virtual environments any less real than those we create outside of them? Will we be able to distinguish between the two? This is no less a study of the war that is waged between technology and naturalism. Even the score reflects that dichotomy, blending the real with the synthesized.

The acting is above par for an indie feature; there are no “name” actors to anchor it, but all of the cast do their jobs well and to a certain extent, the relations Jeanette, Nicholas and Robyn even have a faint resemblance to one another.

This is the kind of science fiction that academic sorts love; it explores the possibilities of the human experience and forces us to confront what makes those experiences real to us. While we haven’t gotten the technology to the point where VR avatars seem real to us, that day is coming and soon. One wonders if living in a virtual reality might not be preferable to existing in the real world.

REASONS TO SEE: An imaginative, intelligent concept. Nice special effects for an indie.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit disjointed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Much of the film was improvised, Konstantinidou believing that would make the characters more realistic. To facilitate that, she shot the film in chronological order, so that characters in succeeding time periods would have the “memories” of previous time periods to use as a base.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Tubi, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/26/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brainstorm
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Vice

The Mentor (2020)


Art is occasionally confusion.

(2020) Dramedy (Indie Rights) Brandi Nicole Payne, Liz Sklar, Mike Bash, Michael James Kelly, Santiago Rosas, Julie Lockfield, Corey Jackson, Mary Ann Rodgers, Geeta Rai, Ed Berkeley, Robyn Grahn, Sarah Williams, David M. Sandoval Jr., Brian Moran, Colin Johnson, Mark Olsen, James Huston, Audrey Levan. Directed by Moez Solis

 

Making movies is nothing like Andy Hardy exclaiming “Let’s put on a show!” It’s a frustrating and often cutthroat process that rarely has anything to do with art and has everything to do with how much crap you’re willing to put up with in order to get your film made. You have to be a little crazy to want to break into the business.

But that’s just what Nilah Williams (Payne) wants to do. She’s come to California from Georgia to make it as a screenwriter but she hasn’t been able to get a foot in the door just yet. It’s not for a lack of trying, though but her persistence hasn’t paid off. By chance she literally bumps in to indie film darling Claire Adams (Sklar) who is something of an idol for young Nilah and the young wanna-be asks her if she would be willing to mentor her. Claire has no time for such nonsense but after Nilah literally pulls her out of the way of a speeding car and saves her life, Claire feels obligated to give her the benefit of her experience.

Claire is brutally honest about Nilah’s script, which was written using a manual. This doesn’t make Claire happy; no great movie, exclaims Claire, was ever written using a manual. To be different, to create something meaningful, you have to go beyond the book. Before Claire can give her much more than that, the two are kidnapped by a group of people wearing bird masks.

The kidnappers are apparently well-versed in cinema, and have an axe to grind with Claire concerning her behavior towards the writer of her latest film, in which all the dialogue was in German. They force Claire to get a loan from her mother (Rodgers) to help finance a film of their own, which their leader, Mr. Owl (Bash) is constantly on the phone with a big boss about. Escape seems unlikely and as the gang begins to self-destruct, it’s not at all certain this movie is going to have a happy ending for Nilah or Claire.

The film is delightfully off-kilter and Solis, who also wrote and co-produced the movie, has written some pretty impressive dialogue. Sadly, not all of the actors are up to making it sound natural. Some of the actors are on the stiff side and their timing in reciting their lines is just a little off. The exception is Sklar, a veteran stage actress, who gives the most emotive performance and tends to be the one you’ll remember most here, although Payne shows some promise as well. Most of the acting, though, is of film school project level.

Oddly, the movie actually gets better in terms of cohesiveness in the second half, as if the actors are getting used to working with each other and the interplay between them gets better and more honest. The best moments in the film are in the last 20 minutes, so if you’re willing to hang in there for a bit, you might find yourself rewarded.

There’s a satirical element to the film that for the most part I liked, although there is an awful lot of name-dropping which cinephiles might get a kick out of (Werner Herzog should get royalties). The various characters are a little bit arrogant about their art, and while I don’t think that’s true of filmmakers in general these days, I have known a few who are on the pretentious side. Still, I think it’s telling that the movie which is ostensibly about the film business with Claire on her way to take a meeting and Nilah attending a conference of producers and directors, was actually filmed in Oakland and Benicia, not noted as filmmaking hotbeds. That might be because Solis lives in the area and didn’t want to go to the expense of filming in L.A. or it might be a sly wink for those in the know. I would like to believe it’s the latter.

This isn’t for everyone and it does get kind of weird in places. However, I found that I liked it a lot more the day after I saw it than I did while I was watching it, which is an encouraging sign. Processing everything you see here may take some time to catch up. It’s newly available on Amazon so you might want to check this out if you’re up for something a little bit left field. We all need a little bizarre once in a while, no?

REASONS TO SEE: There’s a lot of attention to detail here.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little too much cinephile name-dropping.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Solis’ first narrative feature film; he has a narrative short (The Beat Down, 2013) and a documentary feature (The Games of These Divers, 2006) previously to his credit.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Tubi
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Player
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Fairytale

M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters)


Being a mom means knowing how to D.I.Y.

(2020) Suspense (Indie Rights) Melinda Page Hamilton, Bailey Edwards, Edward Asner, Janet Ulrich Brooks, Julian de la Celle. Directed by Tucia Lyman

 

Every mom thinks her child is an absolute angel, right? There’s that unbreakable bond between mother and son that is maybe one of the most beautiful relationships there are. But what happens when a mom begins to suspect that her little angel is in fact potentially a homicidal monster?

That’s the situation that Abbey (Hamilton) finds herself in. Throughout his childhood, young Jacob (Edwards) has had anger management issues and has acted out in troubling ways. Now that he’s a teen, Jacob’s rages have grown in scope and he has begun to take an unhealthy interest in guns and Nazi symbology. His acting out is getting increasingly violent. Abbey is calling out in the wilderness, to school officials who see a different side of Jacob, and a psychiatrist (Asner) who believes that Abbey is the one who’s losing it. And maybe he’s right; living in a constant state of terror is taking its toll.

This found footage film, mostly video confessionals, security cam footage, cell phone footage, laptop cam footage and home movies, is woven together by veteran TV showrunner and first-time feature director Lyman, perhaps not seamlessly but close enough.

She does a masterful job of building up the tension in the film, giving the viewer a feeling that they can’t look away even for a moment. It’s not exactly like a train wreck; it’s more like hearing noises outside your window and staring out to see if there’s something out there. You know there is and you’re just waiting for it to make its move.

The movie does move into a psychological horror mode in the last half which is a bit weaker than the first; the movie would have benefitted by exploring Abbey’s mental state a little bit more as well, because part of the movie’s strength is that you’re never quite certain whether Jacob is the monster his mommy thinks he is, or whether Abbey – herself traumatized by a childhood incident which is only revealed near the end of the film – is the one who is losing her mind. That question is sorta kinda settled in the shocking ending, but not really. You are left wondering which one of the two needed professional help. Maybe both of them.

The film benefits from strong lead performances by both Hamilton and Edwards. Edwards projects menace, occasionally staring at the camera with an utterly blank expression that screams “psychopath,” whereas Abbey seems to be growing more and more brittle as the film goes along, a tribute to Hamilton who manages to be both sympathetic and yet leaving room for the audience to question her own sanity. In that sense, the film is well-written.

The movie has a lot of resonance in an era where kids shoot up schools for no apparent reason other than that they can. I think a case could be made that we’re all suffering from PTSD given the national obsession with guns and how often we have a mass shooting dominating the headlines. Many parents of teens (or parents who survived their children’s teen years) will find some empathy for Abbey, while younger viewers may actually identify with Jacob, whose issues have him taking all sorts of meds and whose dad is not really in the picture, not to mention Abbey can be a bit on the controlling side at times.

Still, this is a powerful movie that flew under the radar but definitely has the chops to be worth your while. It’s not on a whole lot of streaming services at the moment, but that may change once people are clued in to how good this movie is. However, if you’re practicing social distancing with a teen in the house, you might want to think twice before watching this. You could end up with all sorts of paranoid nightmares.

REASONS TO SEE: Genuinely chilling. Leaves you feeling like you can’t look away for even a moment. Strong performances by Hamilton and Edwards.
REASONS TO AVOID: The middle third drags a little bit.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity and some disturbing violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the debut feature film for Lyman, whose background is in television..
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/18/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: We Need to Talk About Kevin
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Pacified

Underneath the Same Moon


A bridge too far.

 

(2019) Romance (Indie Rights) Sara Ball, Meg Cashel, Anderson Davis, Jose Garza, Justin Guyot, Todd Herrera, Phil Holmer, Lucas Kerr, Ebony Lanet, Hap Lawrence, Douglas William Smith, Mike Wayne, Luciana Vara. Directed by Bob Wasson

 

The nature of love is largely unknown. Is it a chemical reaction stimulated by sexual attraction? Is it a series of right place-right time coincidences? Or is it some sort of mystical bond that guides us to find The One?

Thomas Miller (Davis) is a good man who likes to surf and is getting ready to propose to his best girl Jessica (Vara). As he approaches the bar he’s to meet her in with ring in hand, he sees her embracing another man, whisper “I love you” into his ear and obviously very much in love with him. Disconsolate, Thomas shuffles off.

Flash forward five years. Thomas is now happily married to a beautiful girl named Kelly (Ball) who his quirky sister Holly (Cashel) adores. However, things go terribly wrong when Thomas is involved in a terrible accident and lapses into a coma which lasts 11 months. When he wakes up, all memory of the past five years has disappeared. He o longer recognizes Kelly, remembers that he’s married to her and in fact, thinks he’s still dating Jessica.

On the (incredibly bad) advice of psychiatrist Dr. Butler (Smith) who looks more like a lumberjack than a doctor, the two ladies decide not to tell Thomas about the last five years and let him go on thinking he’s still with Jessica. Kelly painstakingly erases any trace of herself from Thomas’ life, including cutting out her picture from wedding photos.

But the opportunity presents itself for Thomas to venture up to San Francisco and Kelly finds an excuse to tag along, figuring that the long drive from San Diego to San Francisco might jog her husband’s memory back. Unfortunately, things don’t go to plan but can the heart remember what the mind has forgotten?

Generally, I try to give movies the benefit of the doubt but I had some real problems with this one. For one thing, the plot is generally preposterous throughout; it’s like the writer just decided to create a situation in which Thomas lost five years of memories in order to set up the romantic situation of his beloved trying to win him back all over again. I’m not saying this kind of situation never happens in real life – it has – but I sincerely doubt that any competent psychiatrist would urge family members to lie to a patient about his past. That’s just plain lazy writing.

The leads are very attractive. Ex-model Davis is a rugged, handsome guy who oozes appeal, while Ball seems to have been born to play romantic roles. Cashel is one of those actresses who is able to get audiences to like her even as she’s doing the most outlandish things; Holly is somewhat puckish and while for whatever unholy reason the writers decided to make her fart in a key moment early on, she seems to have been a good sport about it.

The moment I knew I was going to give up on this movie was during the obligatory melancholy pop song montage when Kelly is painstakingly moving Thomas’ things out of her home. It is sung badly off-key. Considering the company that produced it has done music videos for some fairly big naes, you’d think they’d have had access to better material.

This is kind of a mess although I must admit that if you can endure the first half hour, things do improve over the remainder of the film but at nearly two hours long, the movie badly overstays its welcome. I really can’t recommend the movie but I think that Ball, Cashel and Davis could have solid careers ahead of them so there is that.

REASONS TO SEE: Ball gives it the old college try.
REASONS TO AVOID: Fart jokes…ugh! Lacks logic throughout.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was produced by VFXLABS, which has provided special effects for motion pictures, music videos and the aerospace industry for over 35 years and which Wasson owns.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/19/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 50 First Dates
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Monsters and Men

Long Lost


The femme fatale hard at work.

(2018) Erotic Thriller (Indie Rights) Adam Weppler, Catherine Corcoran, Nicholas Tucci, Fran Kranz. Directed by Erik Bloomquist

 

I think all of us from time to time wonder about (or even fantasize about) having long-lost family members we never knew we had. A rich uncle, birth parent or sibling who will take care of our problems like a deus ex machina descending from the rafters. But what would you do if you actually got a letter from such a relative?

Seth (Weppler) gets to find out the answer to his question. A struggling blogger, he is just getting by financially and maybe not quite even that. One day, he gets a letter from a man claiming to be his stepbrother, inviting him to his home in Greenwich, Connecticut – all expenses paid. Intrigued and with nothing better to do, Seth agrees to go. I know I would if I were him.

Seth ends up finding a huge, beautiful mansion with acreage and there he meets Richard (Tucci), the stepbrother he never knew he had. At first Seth is greeted warmly but then things get…well, weird. He meets Abby (Corcoran), Richard’s girlfriend that he neglected to mention, stepping nude out of the shower – and apparently not minding Seth’s presence a bit.

Richard turns out to be something of a hyper-competitive bully, urging Seth to play childish games like flashlight tag and something called “Fluffy Bunny” which involves stuffing mushrooms in the mouth (don’t ask). He also uses every opportunity to belittle and insult Seth who quickly tires of the abuse. Abby gets her share as well but whereas Seth can walk out the door at any time, Abby perhaps can’t. Besides, Abby is taking quite a shine to her boyfriend’s stepbrother and makes no bones about it which makes Seth distinctly uncomfortable. Seth has a bit of a stick up his anus, you know.

Even given the enticement of a very willing Abby, Seth keeps trying to leave and Richard pleads with him to stay, offering him ten Gs for one more night of his company. Seth can’t say no to that kind of money so he stays and then the party really starts to go off the rails.

In the 80s and 90s, erotic thrillers were a staple of cable TV and featured prominently on HBO, Showtime and particularly Cinemax. They have fallen out of favor in more recent days – the erotic part pales to the kind of pornography that is easily accessible on the Internet – and as a result the erotic thrillers that come out these days tend to be missing something either on the erotic or thriller sides of the equation.

This one, from first-time feature writer/director Erik Bloomquist, is missing out to a certain extent on both sides. While Catherine Corcoran is amazingly attractive and crazy sexy, there are no real sparks between her and Weppler. Her seduction of him seems arbitrary and forced in order to make the plot work; Seth as a character is kind of devoid of any sort of heat. He seems to be a nice enough guy but he’s super uptight and after awhile you just would rather spend more time with Richard and Abby. Tucci gets to have the most fun with his character who has an explosive temper and few redeeming qualities of his own, but Tucci plays him with enough gusto to make him interesting.

The thriller part is lacking a bit as well. While Bloomquist makes good use of the lighting (or often, the lack thereof), the atmosphere never really acquires the quality of suspense a film like this needs to work. The twist isn’t really a bad one, but by the time it comes you really haven’t developed any sort of reason to care. You are left with a feeling of “Oh, those crazy rich people, they can get away with anything BWAHAHAHA” which isn’t the way you want to leave an erotic thriller. The mansion itself is beautiful as is the grounds and Bloomquist makes excellent use of the setting.

I can’t say for certain that Bloomquist was trying to make a 90s-style erotic thriller but there are certainly elements here thereof. The overall tone is unsettling rather than suspenseful and I don’t think that’s what Bloomquist was going for. There are some scenes that work and Corcoran makes an excellent female lead and Tucci gives it the old college try but at the end of the day this is far too cliché to be worthwhile.

REASONS TO SEE: Corcoran makes a wonderful femme fatale.
REASONS TO AVOID: A very generic entry into the genre.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence, sexual situations, drug use and plenty of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tucci and Kranz were both members of the Suite 13 comedy sketch club while at Yale.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/27/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Goodbye Lover
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Tangent Room

Bill Coors: The Will to Live


Bill Coors, Still a silver bullet as a centenarian.

(2017) Documentary (Indie Rights) Bill Coors, Amit Sood, Kieran Goodwin, Quran Squire, Scott Coors, Margo Hamilton, Dr. Scott Shannon, Amie Lee, Graceanne Parks, Tracy Atkins, May Coors, Leon Kelly, Thomas Pauling, John Ortiz, Peter Coors, Rosa Bunn, Herbert Benson, Max Morton, Karl Cordova, Patty Layman, Candice Jones, Brooke Stocks, Elizabeth Archer. Directed by Kerry David

 

Especially these days when it seems like there’s a very real class war going on in this country, we have a tendency to forget that the people in the 1% are just as human as we are. Some of them – a lot of them – are certainly driven by greed and an attempt to not only keep what they have but improve upon it, there are those who have had their share of suffering which has made them very different from those privileged few who cannot have any empathy for those in lesser economic brackets.

The grandfather of William Coors was Adolph Coors who founded the Coors Brewing Company in Golden, Colorado back in 1873. Bill’s dad, Adolph Jr. would inherit the plant from his father who committed suicide in 1929. Bill characterized his father as a stern and exacting disciplinarian who rarely displayed affection to anyone. As a result, Bill had a difficult time showing affection which would later end his first marriage.

Bill was always a success in business; under his stewardship Coors went from being a regional brewery to a national and even global presence; it is the second largest beer company in the United States and the fifth largest in the world. Having come from money, one would think he led a charmed life.

One would be wrong. Depression runs strongly in the Coors family and there were cracks in the facade; his grandfather, the founder of the company, committed suicide in 1929; his daughter did the same in 1983. His older brother Adolph III was murdered in 1960 during a botched kidnapping and his first wife Geraldine died of the effects of alcoholism shortly after they divorced.

Bill also suffered from depression all of his life but it became much more obvious following the death of his brother. He did an enormous amount of research in trying to find a way to overcome his mental health issue. The movie is largely based around an address he gave graduating students of the American Academy of Achievement in 1981; although no video exists of his speech, there is audio of it and it is played throughout the film. In it Bill details some of the critical aspects of overcoming depression and what he calls his eleventh commandment – “Honor Thyself.” He had felt that repeating business platitudes would be of less use and instead delivered an impassioned and highly personal address instead.

That may sound like the dictates of a privileged and entitled generation but in reality it’s a remarkably accurate distillation of what mental health professionals often advise their patients. Bill learned and passed on that in order to love others he must first learn to love himself, something that his unaffectionate father never gave him the tools to do.

Young people, many of them YouTube vloggers, as well as family members, employees, and those close to Bill also chime in with either their own depression stories (musician Amie Lee implores people to communicate when they feel something is wrong) or how Bill has improved their lives.

The main problem here is that the whole thing kind of feels like an infomercial with nothing to sell except Bill’s philosophy of life perhaps. For those who have seen self-help infomercials late at night on cable, this will seem a bit uncomfortably familiar from the music to the way the film is laid out. That does some disservice to the subject who one gets the sense is genuine in his concern for others who like himself suffer from depression.

This is kinda Bill Coors’ story and kinda not. I suspect it was more important to get his message out than to tell his story although he does so mainly to emphasize that it’s possible to beat depression. If you chose to see this documentary, it is unlikely what you expected to see. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing but it can certainly affect how receptive you are to the message. I think the film would have been better served to take Bill’s name out of the title but perhaps the filmmakers were hoping the Coors name would give potential audiences the impression that this is a film about beer – and who doesn’t want to see a film about beer?

The movie is currently paying in New York City with engagements in Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle in upcoming weeks. It will also be available on VOD starting on November 1st. Check your favorite home video providers for availability.

REASONS TO GO: Coors has a very compelling and occasionally heartbreaking story and his message is a worthy one.
REASONS TO STAY: Plays more than a little bit like an infomercial.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes here.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Coors turned 102 years old shortly before the film was released
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Good Fortune: The John Paul DeJoria Story
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Pick of the Litter