Rust Creek


Kentucky back roads are full of unusual roadkill.

(2018) Thriller (IFC Midnight) Hermione Corfield, Jay Paulson, Micah Hauptman, Sean O’Bryan, Daniel R. Hill, John Marshall Jones, Jeremy Glazer, Jake Kidwell, Denise Dal Vera, Laura Guzman, Virginia Schneider. Directed by Jen McGowan

 

Road trips are a favorite of mine. There’s no better way to see the countryside, to get a feel for those who live there. However, there are some roads that are best not traveled upon.

Sawyer (Corfield) is one of those college students who are popping up everywhere – bright, ambitious, and fiercely determined to follow the road they’ve mapped out for themselves. Yes, that spells “irritating” for us older folks who once were bright, ambitious and fiercely determined to follow the road we mapped out for ourselves but somehow took a wrong turn.

Sawyer has also made a wrong turn. She’s driving through the backwoods of Kentucky during Thanksgiving week to get to Washington DC for a job interview and not just any job interview – one for her dream job. The Interstate is literally bumper to bumper with holiday traffic so she decides to take a road less traveled. Her GPS turns out to be unhelpful to say the least – sending her down roads that don’t exist or in dubious directions. Hopelessly lost, she stops to get her bearings and consult an actual paper map.

That’s when she gets the attention of Hollister (Hauptman) and Buck (Hill), a couple of locals – brothers and from an inbred family, judging from appearances. Things quickly get creepy and before you can say “isn’t that the kid from Deliverance?” she’s saying “you’re making me uncomfortable” and one of them makes a try for a Presidential pussy grab which goes over about as well as you’d expect. Things escalate and both of the Backwoods Boys get stabbed but unfortunately so does our heroine.

She escapes into the woods though, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. She’s bleeding and the Kentucky woods are no joke in November. She eventually passes out and finds herself awake and in restraint in a trailer that looks like its seen better days. So too has the guy living there, Josh (Kidwell) who to make matters worse is a meth cooker and brother to both Hollister and Buck.

But Josh is different and he knows what the score is; why the Sheriff (O’Bryan) seems unconcerned with an abandoned car and missing persons report, and what Buck and Hollister were up to. Sawyer knows she’s in over her head but if she’s going to get out of this alive she’s going to have to be even tougher than she’s ever been.

Sawyer is one of the strongest and fiercest female characters in a low budget thriller to come along in a long time and Corfield does her justice. She could well be a 21st century Ripley, but strangely during the second half of the film her character’s strength seems to be sapped and she is almost waiting for Josh to save her. I can understand that a character as traumatized as she is during the course of the movie might lose some of her steam but I think the film would have been better served had Sawyer been more of a force throughout. I could see her being a role model but then….well, not so much.

Cinematographer Michelle Lawler gets to play in the Kentucky woods and she hits it out of the park, turning this into as beautifully shot a thriller as you are likely to see anytime soon. The woods are deceptively beautiful, the bad guys notwithstanding and it almost gives me thoughts of moving there someday. Almost.

The movie is a little bit on the long side as we learn more about meth cooking than I think most of us will ever want to know. Also Buck and Hollister are so stereotypical that the state of Kentucky might seriously think of protesting the film for perpetuating those stereotypes. I’m not saying that guys like his don’t exist, but they’re given not a lick of character development and that, too, hurts the film.

Still, this is a solid and eminently watchable thriller that has some really high points but just misses on others. It’s out in theaters for a limited run and also on VOD if it’s not playing in a theater convenient to you. As January films go, this one isn’t half-bad.

REASONS TO GO: Corfield is one of the strongest and fiercest scream queens to come along in years. The Kentucky scenery is gorgeous.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is somewhat long. The villains are for the most part stereotypical rednecks.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, profanity and some drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The production company, Lunacy, has a mandate to support female filmmakers; thus most of the key behind the camera roles have been filled by women, including director, writer, director of photography, production designer, sound mixer and colorist.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/7/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews: Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Archer
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Christmas Chronicles

Dark Skies


Things that go bump in the night.

Things that go bump in the night.

(2013) Sci-Fi Horror (Dimension) Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, J.K. Simmons, L.J. Benet, Rich Hutchman, Myndy Crist, Anne Thurman, Jake Washburn, Ron Ostrow, Tom Costello, Marion Kerr, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Josh Stamberg, Tiffany Jeneen, Brian Stepanek, Judith Moreland, Adam Schneider, Jessica Borden Directed by Scott Stewart

6 Days of Darkness 2015

In one’s home, one feels secure, safe as if locked doors and a deadbolt can keep the outside world at bay. The terrors of the outside world however are insidious and some of them can’t be deterred by a closed door or a security alarm.

Daniel Barrett (Hamilton) is an unemployed architect unable to find a job in a recession-era environment. His wife Lacy (Russell) is a real estate agent in a market when NOBODY is buying houses. They are surviving on her meager income and the bills are rapidly becoming an issue that is affecting their relationship.

Their kids Jesse (Goyo) – the eldest – and Sam (Rockett) – the youngest – are aware that their parents are under some strain but don’t really know why. And then some odd things begin to happen. They find the refrigerator door open and all the vegetables eaten. The canned and packaged food is stacked up in a neat pile on the kitchen table. The chandelier over the table begins projecting strange symbols on the ceiling.

The incidents begin to escalate. Sammy has some kind of seizure during a soccer game. Lacy witnesses hundreds of birds flying into their home and killing themselves. Lacy sees an alien figure standing over Sammy’s bed who disappears when she turns on the light. As the incidents get worse and worse, Lacy does some research and comes up with a single cause – U.F.O.s. She consults an expert (Simmons) who tells them that these cases usually end up in child abduction.

That night, which happens to be the Fourth of July, Daniel and Lacy load up for bear, sealing up their home and awaiting an alien onslaught. But how can you fight an enemy you can’t see – and whose motivations you don’t know?

There have been plenty of alien abduction movies ranging from Communion to The X-Files: Fight the Future. Where does this one stack up on the list? Somewhere in the middle. Director Stewart, whose background is in visual effects, manages to set a great suburban environment where everything is normal – at least normal for this time and place. At first the villains are purely financial – bill collectors and the possibility they might lose their home bring in modern horror we can all relate to.

But as the movie goes on, it slowly begins to come off the rails until it builds to a climax that is to put it mildly disappointing. I can’t stress enough that this is a movie with enormous potential that you watch with a stupefied catatonic expression on your face as it completely blows it.

Keri Russell is a really fine actress and normally she can be relied upon to keep a film centered but here, she – like everyone else in the cast – overacts almost to the point of parody. All the gestures are wild and overbearing; all the dialogue delivered like they’re pronouncements rather than lines. I have never seen a movie in which there was such universal scene chewing as this one, or at least none that I can remember.

The two actors playing the kids – Royo and Rockett – are completely unconvincing and as wooden as a treehouse. I get that having children put in jeopardy is part of the movie’s whole reason to be, but at least make the children believable. I can’t believe they couldn’t find better juvenile actors than these.

The most major failing however is that this sci-fi horror movie isn’t as scary as it could be. For one thing, we never see the aliens clearly. If you’re going to have an alien movie, the least you can do is show us the aliens. And as the ending dives over the cliff of futility, the sense of jeopardy that the director worked so hard to establish disappears entirely. By the end of the movie you’ll be hard-pressed not to check the time.

The first half of the movie is actually pretty terrific and if they’d maintained the momentum they set up, this could have been a horror classic. Instead we get a movie that is a bit of a mess. There are definitely some features worth exploring here but overall this is fairly unsatisfying and despite a decent cast, falters in nearly every important way.

WHY RENT THIS: Establishes a sense of normalcy. Hits close to home.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Abundant overacting. Not scary enough.
FAMILY VALUES: Situations of terror, a fair amount of violence, some sexual material, a little bit of drug use and a fair amount of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dark Skies was also the original title for Sharknado.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26.4M on a $3.5M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Flixster, Vudu , M-Go
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fire in the Skies
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT: Six Days of Darkness continues!

The Promotion


The Promotion

Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly have a competition to see which one can look the stiffest.

(2008) Comedy (Dimension) John C Reilly, Seann William Scott, Jenna Fischer, Lily Taylor, Fred Armisen, Gil Bellows, Bobby Cannavale, Rick Gonzalez, Chris Conrad, Nathan Geist, Adrian Martinez, Masi Oka, Angel Guzman, Joshua Eber, Mario Larraza. Directed by Steve Conrad

 

Ambition is a fine thing sometimes. We all want to improve our circumstances, to provide better for ourselves and our families. Generally speaking we do this through getting new jobs or promotions through the companies we work for. Getting these, however, is much easier said than done.

Doug Stauber (Scott) is a mild-mannered assistant manager at a Chicago-area grocery store. He’s extremely good at it, although he isn’t what you’d call a forceful personality. When the chain he works for announces that they’ll soon be opening a new store in the area, he figures he’s a shoo-in for the job to the point where he sinks all of the savings of himself and his wife Jen (Fischer) into a down payment for a house that they can only afford if he gets the job which he’s sure he will.

But not so fast there Sparky. Also in the running is Richard Wehlner (Reilly), who has just moved his family to Chicago from Quebec. He is a recovering alcoholic and at one time ran with a biker gang who has turned his life around.  Getting this position would really help solidify his standing and help he and his wife Lori (Taylor), a hot-headed Scot, finally get over the hump.

Now if this sounds like we’re going to see 90 minutes of two men trying to sabotage one another, think again. Mostly the two guys sabotage themselves. This is not a Judd Apatow comedy by any stretch of the imagination, although the key elements for it might be there. Had Apatow gotten hold of this, it would have been a very different movie.

The thing is that both Doug and Richard are essentially nice guys. You’re not really sure who to root for (although Doug, who also does the voice-over narration, seems to be the surrogate for the audience) since there’s no real bad guy, although occasionally the two both make weak attempts to undercut the other.

Scott, best known as Stifler in the American Pie movies (and upcoming American Reunion) usually plays characters that are much more over-the-top than this one. Really, I found this to be the kind of character usually played by Paul Rudd – nice, mostly mellow with just a hint of wild man in him. Reilly, on the other hand, has that wild man in his past big time. Still he’s much more of a hangdog now, like a dog who’s been to obedience school and been neutered in the process. Few do that kind of role better than Reilly and he does it well here.

Taylor is a very talented actress more known for her indie films but she shines in her brief on-screen appearances here, stealing scenes effortlessly with her charm and comic timing. Fischer is sometimes underrated because of her beauty and sexuality but she does a fine job as the unsuspecting wife of Doug, unaware that the job he said was in the bag really isn’t.

There are some nice bits here (like an apology to community leaders after the company determines was a racially-motivated incident that turns horribly, horribly wrong) and director Conrad, one of the finest writers in Hollywood who you’ve probably never heard of tackles his first feature directing job with a surprisingly sure hand.

The whole movie is pretty low key which can be a double edged sword. A lot of comedies will “tell” viewers when to laugh, either using visual cues, sound effects or cues from the score. You don’t really get that here; Conrad trusts in the intelligence of his audience to know what’s funny. Of course, that generally means they don’t always do.

I give the film big props for trying something new but there isn’t enough tension here to keep the viewer’s interest, nor are there enough laughs to overcome that. This goes down as a good idea with good intentions that didn’t quite translate to a good movie.

WHY RENT THIS: A competitive comedy where both the leads are actually decent guys – a very innovative set-up.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: So low-key in places that you wonder if you’re supposed to laugh.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of foul language, a good deal of it sexual. There’s also a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally scheduled for release in May 2007 but was delayed for a full year, mainly to add the cameo appearance of Oka who at the time was starring in “Heroes.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel but other than that the usual suspects. 

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $424,030 on an unreported production budget; I think it likely that the movie lost money, probably quite a bit.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Handsome Harry

The Girl on the Train (La fille du RER)


The Girl On The Train

Emilie Duquenne & Catherine Deneuve react to the news that Herman Cain is making set visit.

(2009) Drama (Strand) Emilie Dequenne, Michel Blanc, Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Demy, Ronit Elkabetz, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Jeremy Quaegebeur, Djibril Pavade, Alain Cauchi, Amer Alwan, Melaine Leconte, Raphaeline Goupilleau. Directed by Andre Techine

 

What motivates people to lie? To deliberately mislead people, to say that something is so that isn’t? Often, we don’t know ourselves why we do it – generally it is to attract some kind of attention, the kind that makes us feel better about ourselves. But what happens when it gets out of hand?

Jeanne (Duquenne) is the sort of girl who floats through life like a leaf in a stream. She rollerblades through Paris with her headphones on, her music shutting out everything and everyone. She lives at home with her mother Louise (Deneuve). Louise runs a day care center, and gently urges her daughter to get a job, which Jeanne is less enthusiastic about. Louise contacts an old lover, Samuel Bleistein (Blanc) who is now a high-powered lawyer in Paris to set up an interview for Jeanne but that goes disastrously. Jeanne’s resume is rather thin and her diffident responses reveal that she doesn’t have a whole lot of enthusiasm either.

What she is enthusiastic about is Franck (Duvauchelle) who is training for the French Olympic Wrestling team. Franck is a bit of a bad boy which appeals to Jeanne, and when a shopkeeper-friend of Franck’s ask him to move into his apartment above the shop so that he can watch over his stuff while he is away on an extended trip, Jeanne moves in there with him.

However, things go horribly wrong there, causing Jeanne to move back home and her frustration and anger boils over. When she shows up at home with a swastika carved in her stomach, some of her hair cut off and her clothes in tatters, she tells her shocked mum that a group of North Africans had accosted her on the train and believing her a Jew because she was carrying the lawyer’s card, beaten her up.

The incident becomes a cause célèbre in France with the media making Jeanne the center of attention of a nation. The attention makes Jeanne uncomfortable and Louise thinks she knows why – she believes that the attack never happened and that her daughter made it up out of whole cloth. Why, she does not know but she does know that the truth will come out eventually, as it usually does.

Director Techine is a veteran of French cinema who has some marvelous films to his credit, My Favorite Season among them. This, his most recent film to date, is based on an actual incident that occurred in France. However, it isn’t the anti-Semitism that really is the focus of this story but of the girl, the one who was the center of the controversy. Why she did what she did (and there are no real answers given, at least none that make any  sense) and how it affected two families – her own and the Bleisteins, whose grandson Nathan (Quaegebeur) is about to have his bar mitzvah and is dealing with problems between his estranged parents Alex (Demy) and Judith (Elkabetz). Throughout the movie the emphasis is on the family dynamics, which is to Techine’s mind (and mine to be honest) the more interesting subject.

Duquenne is an able actress and despite being 30ish manages to play much younger very effectively. She gives Jeanne a waif-like quality as well as that diffidence I mentioned earlier. Jeanne is crowned by charming curly hair, but it is an empty crown – she seems happiest when she is tuned out from everything and tuned in to herself.

Deneuve is the grand dame of French actresses. Her compassionate heart is Louise’s most striking feature; Louise is a loving parent but somehow seems to love her daycare charges a little more than her own daughter who baffles her in many ways. That is often the way when it comes to mothers and daughters. Louise doesn’t know how to reach Jeanne which is also something parents wrestle with. It’s not Deneuve’s most striking performance but it is a realistic one.

The Girl on the Train is one of those movies that seems a bit unremarkable when first you see it but the more you think about it, the better it gets. Like good French wine, it ages not only in the barrel but in memory as well and we all know how much age benefits good wine, no matter the vintage.

WHY RENT THIS: A capably executed jewelry heist film that brings to mind The Bank Job albeit in a stuffier vein. Michael Caine is, as always, impeccable. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: No new ground is broken here. Moore never really gives me a sense of who her character is.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and a bit of bad language, as well as some adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Caine’s grandfather had a similar job to Hobbs.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $305,140 on a $9M production budget; the movie was a box office failure.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Underworld Awakening

Hop


Hop

When Willy Wonka sees this, he's going to be contacting his attorneys.

(2011) Fantasy (Universal) James Marsden, Russell Brand (voice), Kaley Cuoco, Hugh Laurie (voice), Hank Azaria (voice), Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, David Hasselhoff, Tiffany Espensen, Chelsea Handler, Hugh Hefner (voice), Coleton Ray. Directed by Tim Hill

While Hollywood has produced its share of Christmas movies, Easter movies have not been quite so plentiful. Perhaps because Christmas is all about birth and Easter is all about death; opposite ends of the life cycle. Indeed, Easter time seems to be a time where movies like The Ten Commandments have held sway.

However, here’s one about the Easter Bunny which fills in some of the mythology. The Easter Bunny (Laurie) is the latest of a 4,000 year line (I know, I know – the screenwriters are a little deficient on math) and is eager to pass on his Eternal Egg – a kind of scepter that I the key to the Easter Bunny’s magic – on to his son, E.B. (Brand).

The problem is, E.B. has dreams of his own – he wants to be a rock and roll star, a drummer to be exact (and we all know that nobody thumps like a rabbit). Of course Dad finds this out and gets into a row with his son, forcing E.B to travel by convenient interdimensional transportation tube from Easter Island to Hollywood.

There he runs into (literally) Fred O’Hare (Marsden), the ne’er do well 30ish son of Henry (Cole) and Bonnie (Perkins). Henry is very hard on his son, and the parent in me says with good reason as Fred is directionless, living at home and turning down job after job a “bad fits.” In the meantime his over-achieving sisters, Sam (Cuoco) – the older sister, and Alex (Espensen), the younger – have become the apple of their parent’s eyes, while their son is in danger of becoming a disappointment.

While Fred continues to find himself, E.B. manages to get himself an audition on a talent show hosted by the venerable David Hasselhoff (playing himself) and is finally on the road to fulfilling his dream. Unfortunately, Pink Ninjas – the personal guard of the Easter Bunny (why he would need one is anyone’s guess) – are after E.B. to haul him back home in time for the ceremony in which the mantle is passed from father to son and Fred continues to create a further rift in his family dynamic. In the meantime Carlos (Azaria), an oversized chick and the Easter Bunny’s #2 is plotting a coup. Fred and E.B. ultimately discover that they are good for one another and that destiny can sometimes be a good thing.

This is a mix of live action and CG animation, and of late that has been a very, very bad thing indeed (think Yogi Bear, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Garfield). For whatever reason, studios seem to think that these sorts of movies should be completely dumbed down for kids. Personally, I don’t get it – we give children these sophisticated and clever fully animated movies that both kids and their parents can enjoy but when it comes to live action it becomes an endless, tedious Nickelodeon original episode.

Marsden is horribly miscast here. Not only is he much too old for the role, you get the feeling that he’s taken Botox in order to keep the smile frozen on his face because, left to its own devices, that face would be left in a frown of disdainful disgust. From being Cyclops in the X-Men franchise to this? A very sad fate indeed.

The animated portion, provided by the same people who did Despicable Me is the movie’s highlight. Their Easter Island settings are magical in the same way Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was decades ago. I could have spent a good long time exploring the candy factory of the Easter Bunny and do some taste testing of my own.

Unfortunately, that’s about it as far as reasons to see this go. The script is most decidedly unfunny, falling flat in nearly every attempt at humor and the story lacks tension. It just seems to meander a bit until coming to a painfully obvious conclusion.

There should be magic in a holiday movie and there just isn’t enough of it here. I think of something along the lines of The Polar Express when it comes to digitally enhanced holiday movies and Hop just doesn’t compare. You may wind up being dragged to a matinee for this movie this weekend. For once it will be the parents kicking and screaming when they are taken someplace they definitely don’t want to be.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the Easter Island backdrops are very nice.

REASONS TO STAY: Desperately unfunny, panders to the lowest common denominator, treats audiences like idiots – need I go on?

FAMILY VALUES: A bit of poo-poo humor here but nothing to get concerned over.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Emily Browning doesn’t have a line of dialogue (despite being the lead character) until nearly twenty minutes into the film.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the digital imagery should be seen on a big screen and if you have little ones, you’re going to be dragged into the theater to see this anyway so might as well enjoy it.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: Fanny, Annie and Danny