Depraved (2019)


Give yourself a hand

(2019) Horror (IFC MidnightDavid Call, Joshua Leonard, Alex Breaux, Ana Kayne, Maria Dizzia, Chloe Levine, Owen Campbell, Addison Timlin, Chris O’Connor, Alice Barrett, Andrew Lasky, Jack Fessenden, James Tam, Zilong Zee, Noah Le Gros, John Speredakos, Stormi Maya, Hope Blackstock, Rev Love, Hannah Townsend. Directed by Larry Fessenden

 

The classic novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was originally the result of a competition between herself, her husband poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and the Romantic poet Lord Byron to write a ghost story. Only the tale of a man reanimated, reconstructed from the body parts of other men has withstood the test of time.

Alex (Campbell) is having an argument with his girlfriend Lucy (Levine) whose only crime was to compliment him on what a good father he’d make. Alex sees it as putting undue pressure on him to become a husband and father, neither of which he’s ready for. He grabs his hipster beret and stalks out into the night – only to run into a murderous mugger. Face to black, Alex.

Only Alex isn’t completely gone. Adam (Breaux) wakes up on an operating table in a Brooklyn loft, not knowing who he is or even what he is. He is literally a tabula rasa, a blank slate. Henry (Call), an Army doctor who served in Iraq and came back home with a massive case of PTSD for his trouble, calms the confused Adam down. Eventually he begins to teach him the basics of motor skills and human speech, which eventually Adam begins to develop as a self-aware human being.

Covered in scars, Adam doesn’t understand why he is different than other people nor does he know that he is a pawn in a game being played by Polidori (Leonard), a would-be pharmaceutical billionaire who is eager to market the drug that aided Henry in the revivication process. As Adam grows more self-aware, some of his memories as Alex begin to resurface, confusing him further. As anyone who has ever seen a Frankenstein movie or read the book will tell you, the path for Adam will lead inexorably towards bloodshed.

Fessenden, who has carved a niche in indie horror with strong, character-driven films, utilizes camera effects to give audiences a sense of the confusion Adam is feeling and how his memories as Alex begin to overlap with his own. There isn’t an awful lot of gore in the film other than some in the initial going as Alex meets his fate, and as with most Frankenstein adaptations, most of the blood flows in the final reel. Horror fans who crave lots of gore might be disappointed with this one, although there is plenty for my own taste.

While some have labeled this an update of the original Shelley novel, I think it’s far more accurate to call this a deconstruction, taking the elements of Shelley’s novel, updating the location and time and then creating something entirely new with it. This is much more of a psychological horror piece than a gothic one.

There is an awful lot of dialogue here – maybe too much. There are some moments in the film that drag a bit too much and the movie would have benefited, in the immortal words of Elvis, with “a little less talk and a little more action.” Still, the movie is much smarter than the average horror film and looks in a meaningful way with out own fear of mortality, much as Shelley’s original novel did but putting it in terms that are more modern and understandable.

This isn’t destined to be a horror classic. For one thing, most people familiar with the story of Frankenstein are going to find the plot somewhat predictable despite the updated setting; Depraved is essentially in that sense an updated remake. It’s in the places where it strays from the source material that the movie has its best moments. Many movie critics will tell you that we are currently experiencing a renaissance of the horror genre; while this movie isn’t on the leading edge of that wave, it certainly is a solid entry into the genre as an early entry into the Halloween sweepstakes for 2019.

REASONS TO SEE: A deconstruction of the Frankenstein mythos, set in Brooklyn.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit tedious in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, sexuality, some violence and horrifying images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fessenden has a cameo in the film as Ratso.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/18/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews: Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Frankenstein (1931)
FINAL RATING: 6,5.10
NEXT:
Ant-Man and the Wasp

Bring Me an Avocado


Cookies do make a fine movie snack at home but where are the avocados?

(2019) Dramedy (Self-ReleasedBernardo Peña, Molly Ratermann, Candace Roberts, California Poppy Sanchez, Michaela Robles, Sarah Burkhalter, Anthony Harris, David Silva, Adham Aljahmi, Aaron Sarazan, Alicia Villanueva, Natalie Conneely, Santiago Rosas, Jose Lucero, Mikayal Babar, Harold Ny, Mariah Leyba, Gloria Martinez, Chelsea Christer, Daniela Sirkin. Directed by Maria Mealla

The holes that appear in our lives when someone is abruptly taken out of them often take us by surprise, even though we may suspect at the length and breadth of the hole. We might think we can handle it, we might even feel that we have to but sooner or later the toll is taken.

Robin (Burkhalter), her husband George (Peña) who is an aspiring but thus far unsuccessful writer and their two effervescent kids teen Isabel (Sanchez) and youngster Matilda (Robles) have a close-knit, loving family. Sure, money is tight but they manage to get by. Then, when a shocking event takes place at a surprise birthday party for Robin, George is left to pick up the pieces for his kids.

At first, he tries to make things as normal as possible for his kids. Robin’s bestie Jada (Roberts) and her sister Grizelda – known to one and all as Aunt Greece (Ratermann) – help out as best they can but as time goes by George begins to fray around the edges. Relationships grow complicated and Robin’s absence threatens to tear the family apart.

First off, this is a film that has a lot of women behind the camera which is a good thing. Hopefully someday soon that won’t be an occasion for comment by reviewers. For now, the film comes with a truly feminine quality to it even though ostensibly the main character is George (although in many ways Robin is although she’s largely out of the picture for most of the picture).

Burkhalter doesn’t get a ton of screen time but she takes advantage of the time she’s allotted. Roberts and Ratermann also deliver solid performances. The juvenile actors do try but like a lot of kid actors, they try a little too hard and it becomes apparent that they are acting rather than playing a role. Not to knock the kids but it is noticeable.

]The first half of the movie is rather remarkable. What we get is what Gene Siskel used to call a “slice of life” – a movie that simply shows a family going about its business in a realistic and natural way. Had the filmmakers been able to maintain that tone this would have been a terrific film. Unfortunately, the second half of the movie begins to unravel and edges into soap opera territory. The plot points begin to feel contrived and dramatic conflicts seem to be manufactured. As honest as the first half is, the second half is the opposite.

Still there is plenty to like here. Some fine performances, a spotlight on a Hispanic-American family that isn’t the standard Hollywood version of a Latin family and a sense that the day to day life of that family is a good one, even given some of the issues that Robin discusses with Jada early in the movie. Life isn’t perfect but it is beautiful until it isn’t. Getting through the “isn’t” is what the film is all about.

REASONS TO SEE: The film doesn’t seem contrived at first.
REASONS TO AVOID: As the film progresses it becomes a bit soap opera-esque.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and a couple of scenes of brief violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made its world premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose this year.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/11/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grace is Gone
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
To Dust

The Amazing Spider-Man


 

The Amazing Spider-Man

There’s just no way to look dignified in this costume and in this pose.

(2012) Superhero (Columbia) Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Embeth Davidtz, Chris Zylka, C. Thomas Howell, Jake  Ryan Keiffer, Kari Coleman, Stan Lee, Tom Waite. Directed by Marc Webb

 

Most of us have something missing in our lives. Whether it be something emotional – a feeling of being loved or needed – or something physical, like one’s parents or a new Ferrari, we all have something we lack and would do quite literally anything to get back.

Peter Parker (Garfield) is by all accounts a fairly normal kid, but a little on the dark side; his parents left him with his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Fields) one rainy night after their house was broken into. They were later killed in a plane crash according to newspaper accounts. He misses them and yearns to know why they left but they are shadows and smoke to him. Peter is a science nerd with a good deal of brilliance inherited from his geneticist father (Scott). He has goo-goo eyes for Gwen Stacy (Stone), the beautiful blonde daughter of Capt. George Stacy (Leary) of the NYPD. However, she seems to have the attention of Flash Thompson (Zylka), a jock who loves to pick on Peter.

When Peter finds an old briefcase that belonged to his father, he discovers some papers in a hidden compartment containing something called a decay rate algorithm. He also discovers that his father worked at Oscorp, a large biogen firm in Midtown Manhattan, along with Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), a one-armed scientist who is trying research combining animal DNA with human to transfer the traits of that animal (in Connors’ case, the regenerative power of reptiles) to the human. While nosing about the lab on his own, Peter finds a room where mutant spiders spin a biocable of incredible tensile strength and adhesive qualities. While in there, he picks up a hitchhiker who bites him and burrows into his skin. He also discovers that Gwen is Dr. Connors’ intern.

Within hours Peter develops these odd powers – the ability to stick to smooth surfaces, extreme strength and the ability to sense danger moments before it occurs. He finally meets Dr. Connors, introducing himself as the son of his former colleague. He also draws up the algorithm, having committed it to memory. The two begin working together to figure out the right formula to create a regenerative solution.

In the meantime Peter uses his new powers to humiliate Flash, who had beaten the snot out of him earlier. Ben is forced to switch shifts in order to deal with his nephew, admonishing him to pick up his aunt at work since he now had to work a later shift. Unfortunately, Peter is late coming home, having forgotten his responsibilities while working with Dr. Connors. He and Ben get into an argument with Peter storming out into the night. Ben goes out after him but this ends up in tragedy.

Peter decides to go looking for the author of his pain and winds up donning a luchador-like mask and spandex suit to conceal his identity, leaving those criminals tied up in a web of the biocable which he has developed a shooter for. He also begins to develop a romantic relationship with Gwen.

Unfortunately, under pressure from the powers that be at Oscorp to begin human testing on the formula, Dr. Connors injects himself with the formula. It works all too well, not only regenerating his arm but turning him into a 9-foot tall lizard, with tail and scales and murderous rage, yet combined with the good Doctor’s intelligence and cunning. Peter finds himself needing to stop the Lizard, whom he partially created but the cops are after him, the Lizard has a sinister agenda and is out to keep Peter Parker from stopping him and trying to hide his identity from his girlfriend’s dad who wants to put him in jail. And I thought chem finals were bad.

Webb, who previously directed the incredible (500) Days of Summer, is saddled with a kind of a double whammy. Not only does he have to measure up against Sam Raimi’s filmed trilogy whose numbers helped usher in the Marvel film renaissance but also against the comic books that Raimi did so well in translating to the screen.

For some odd reason the studio decided to reboot the series with another origin tale – because it’s been ten years since the first one so I’m sure nobody remembers it by now. *snerkle* That’s sarcasm, in case you were wondering.

Garfield is a find. Most will remember him from The Social Network but he has established himself here as a leading man for the next 20 years. He is charismatic, brooding, likable and able to do serious and funny, a rare trait. It is not often when opportunities to take the next step in your career evolution come along and Garfield makes the most of his. This is in every sense a star-making performance.

Stone has been on a winning streak of late but she is curiously flat here. Her Gwen Stacy lacks the spunk and fire of her previous performances and while far from a typical damsel in distress role, she doesn’t show much of the personality I know she has. I think a little less courtesy and a lot more personality would have only benefitted the film.

Sheen is so reliable; every role he takes is full of compassion and gravitas. He resonates with both as Uncle Ben, although Ben has a bit of a temper on him that was absent from Cliff Robertson’s version from the Raimi films. Fields plays May a little younger than previous editions, but with all of the maternal love and wisdom that she is known for – well, both Fields and Aunt May in this case.

Ifans is a fine actor in his own right but as the villain here he has a tough time. Part of the problem is that he isn’t strictly speaking a villain; he is overzealous, yes, and has a mistake born of hubris that nearly proves fatal, but for the meddling of Spider-Man! That doesn’t really make him a bad bad guy, just a vulnerable one. In fact there really isn’t anything evil here and that might be what stops me from really getting into this version; none of even the most villainous characters is without redeeming qualities. That may work for Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and other artists and writers, but it simply doesn’t work here. Basically Spider-Man is fighting a less powerful Hulk (i.e. Mr. Hyde) whom he doesn’t have the heart to take out.

Still, this is entertaining enough although I still wonder why another origin was necessary. If you want to reboot with a young high school-age Peter Parker, that’s fine (although why cast a 28-year-old man to play a 16-year-old boy?) but why not simply assume we all know that the guy was bitten by a radioactive (or in this case genetically enhanced) spider and move on from there? I understand that Columbia is planning at least three Amazing Spider-Man movies, all of which deal with the missing parents in some fashion as Parker tries to unravel the tangled threads of his past. That’s all good. Rehashing a story unnecessarily costs the movie points and that blame goes directly to the studio heads who thought it was necessary. Otherwise, Webb shows that he can direct a blockbuster as well as a small-budget indie romance and do both with charm, inventiveness and deftness.

REASONS TO GO: Garfield is a terrific Peter Parker. Follows comic book mythology a little more closely.

REASONS TO STAY: Action sequences were moving too fast to follow easily at times. Not quite up to the best moments of the first trilogy.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of comic book violence and action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Anne Hathaway was originally cast as Felicia Hardy – a.k.a. the Black Cat –  but her character was eventually written out and she went on to do the similarly natured Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/17/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100. The reviews are definitely good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man

STAN LEE LOVERS: Plays an oblivious librarian listening to classical music on the headphones while the Lizard and Spider-Man engage in a raging battle behind him

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The High Cost of Living

Attack the Block


Attack the Block

John Boyega looks uncertain but his future doesn’t.

(2011) Science Fiction (Sony Classics) John Boyega, Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Luke Treadaway, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Gina Antwi, Natasha Williams, Paige Meade, Maggie McCarthy, Franz Drameh, Michael Ajao, Sammy Williams, Karl Collins, Jumayn Hunter, Danielle Vitalis. Directed by Joe Cornish

 

In any invasion, people will defend their home territory with the kind of ferocity usually associated with rabid wolverines. For some odd reason, that ferocity increases the worse the neighborhood is. In fact, the kinds of places you wouldn’t want to walk alone in after dark are the places that are most fiercely defended by their inhabitants.

Walking alone after dark in a bad neighborhood though is precisely what Sam (Whittaker), a young nurse does. It’s a bad idea, even though the neighborhood is the one that Sam happens to live in and of course she’s approached by five thugs, led by the charismatic Moses (Boyega). They force her to give up her wallet and things look like they might just get worse for her when there’s an explosion – a meteorite hits a nearby car.

Normally that would attract a lot of attention, but it happens to be Guy Fawkes Day in England and there are fireworks going up like it’s the apocalypse – which it kinda is. You see it wasn’t just a meteorite; there was a creature in it. When Moses goes to investigate, the creature scratches up his face. Where Moses comes from (the block housing of South London) that’s a no-no, so Moses chases down the creature and kills it, allowing Sam to get away.

Soon there are more meteorites falling all over London and inside them are these…things, kind of like a cross between wolves and bears with glowing teeth (in fact, throughout the movie they are mistaken for big dogs) but these things can hover, as well as climb up sheer walls – and rip human flesh to shreds.

Moses and his gang have a lot more than an alien invasion to deal with; Sam called the cops on them so they are dodging the police, and they have brokered a deal with Hi-Hat (Hunter) to sell some pot grown by Ron (Frost), whose apartment contains a hothouse for growing the wacky weed that’s as secure as Fort Knox (in fact it is here where Moses leaves the body of the dead alien for safekeeping), but that deal is going south as Hi-Hat suspects that Moses is planning to start carving out his own territory in the Blocks – and where Hi-Hat comes from that’s a REALLY BIG no-no.

Moses and his crew – Pest (Esmail), Jerome (Jones), Dennis (Drameh) and Biggz (Howard) are now beset on all sides by angry cops, angry drug dealers and angry aliens, not to mention an angry nurse who now must ally with them in order to protect herself from the aliens. It’s going to be a long night…

Most alien invasion movies of late have been pretty awful, to say the least. This is one of the few bright spots. It’s fast-paced, clever, and well-written. Cornish, an English comedian who lived in this part of London, knows the rhythms of life there well and takes characters who are most often supporting cast, used to advance the plot or as designated victims. Here, we see their lives and their motivations more clearly. There’s a bit of social commentary inherent in that.

Cornish mostly cast newcomers or non-professionals, particularly in the teen roles. Most of them are about as well as can be expected with a couple rising above the rest – Esmail, as the aptly-named Pest, provides some counterpoint to the more brooding Moses and it is Boyega who seems to have the most potential. He reminds me of a young Denzel Washington; he has that kind of screen charisma and shows amply the ability to carry a film on his shoulders. He is both villainous and heroic in the same film; not in a 70s anti-hero kind of groove but more like a person growing and transitioning, doing what he has to survival-wise in an unforgiving element.

The creatures themselves are mostly practical effects, surprisingly – there is almost no CGI in this movie. They are amply intimidating and scary and they move in a lifelike manner (mostly because there are people in them thar suits). The explanation for their presence is pretty convincing; I appreciate that there were no government scientists to lead us by the nose; we’re as much in the dark as the kids on the block.

The movie starts off quickly and continues pretty much non-stop with action. The pacing is fast enough to keep us off-balance and to satisfy even the most attention-deficit afflicted. This is the kind of movie Battle: Los Angeles should have been but wasn’t.

WHY RENT THIS: A fun ride. Takes marginal characters and turns them into leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Somewhat amateurish at times. Slang can be hard to make out.

FAMILY VALUES:  The language is uniformly foul, there’s a good deal of violence and gore and some fairly scary alien creatures, plus some drug content; all in all, this ain’t no E.T.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The mugging scene at the beginning of the film actually happened to Joe Cornish; he noted that the five muggers looked as scared as he was and afterwards he looked into the lives of gang members in the area and began coming up with characters for the movie.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Considering that the film wasn’t what you’d call a big financial success, the DVD got a goodly amount of features on it, including an outtakes reel of the cast attempting to rap (with varying results) and storyboards of scenes that weren’t filmed for budgetary and scheduling issues.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.8M on a $13M production budget; the movie lost money during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Mere Brother Ki Dulhan