Cocote


It’s hard to be a fly on the wall when there is no wall.

(2017) Drama (Grasshopper) Vicente Santos, Yuberbi de la Rosa, José Miguel Fernández, Kalyane Linares, Enerolia Nuñez, Pepe Sierra, Isabel Spencer, Ricardo Ariel Toribio, Judith Rodriguez Perez. Directed by Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias

Changing locations can sometimes change a person. Their outlook on the world may evolve and eventually become unrecognizable from the person who left their original home. That person, though, remains inside whether we want them to be there or not.

Alberto (Santos) is a gardener in a Santo Domingo upper class home. He receives word of the death of his father in the village Alberto grew up in. It was not a natural death; he was murdered by a local bigwig over an outstanding debt. Alberto grew up in the Los Mysterios faith, a mixture of Christianity and West African beliefs but has since converted to evangelical Christianity.

He goes back to his village to mourn the loss of his father only to find he has already been buried. His family makes the reluctant Alberto take part in the funerary ritual of the faith which involves music, and a kind of ecstatic grief. There’s a lot of screaming, singing and sobbing and the occasional animal sacrifice.

It soon becomes apparent that it is expected that Alberto will take revenge on the murderer of his father but that is not who Alberto is anymore. It causes a great deal of friction particularly with his outspoken sister (de la Rosa). Alberto is caught in a struggle between who he was, who he is and who he is to become.

This isn’t a movie that follows normal storytelling tropes. There are often changes between film stock, moving from color to black and white, widescreen to almost a Super 8 type of perspective, grainy to crystal clear. Interspersed are grainy video snippets that are something of a cinematic nonsequitir, like a local news report of a chicken that apparently crows “Christ is coming.” I think that de Los Santos Arias is utilizing a new kind of cinematic language but for most filmgoers this is going to look like a patchwork film.

Santos has a passive, scowling face. He doesn’t get violent (until late in the movie), preferring just to endure whatever life serves up to him. The dichotomy of past and present are at war within him but there is no clear winner; it is something like the ongoing wars in the Middle East where there are no winners – only survivors.

The imagery captures the beauty of the Dominican Republic as well as the poverty in her rural villages. There is lots of the Los Mysterios culture on display here but the scenes of the rituals go on interminably, one after the other until far from illuminating they become annoying. The arguments between Alberto and his sisters become more strident and eventually, one loses interest on any sort of resolution. It’s just people shrieking at each other.

I can’t say I liked this film, although I admire de Los Santos Arias’ ambitions. He has no interest in making just another movie and to be sure, that’s not what he made. This is going to appeal only to a very specialized audience, equivalent to music fans who like bands like Animal Collective and Pere Ubu. They seek to transcend the ordinary and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just not convinced that this movie transcends anything.

Tickets for the Miami Film Festival can be ordered online here but hurry; the Festival ends on Sunday.

REASONS TO GO: There are some nice images here.
REASONS TO STAY: The ritual scenes are fascinating at first but then they go on and on and on and on. There’s too much shrieking, screaming and pretensions.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Arias based the story on an incident that occurred when he was a child visiting his aunt and meeting her gardener.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/15/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: White Sun
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Keep the Change

The Monster (2016)


It was a dark and stormy night...

It was a dark and stormy night…

(2016) Horror (A24) Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine, Scott Speedman, Aaron Douglas, Chris Webb, Marc Hickox, Christine Ebadi. Directed by Bryan Bertino

 

The things that scare us are often those that hide in the shadows, that dwell in the dark but they aren’t always the most dangerous things. Sometimes what is most threatening is that which is right in front of us.

Lizzie (Ballentine) is entering her teen years with a bigger burden than most. Her mother Kathy (Kazan) is a raging alcoholic with appropriately awful taste in men. Lizzie yearns for a normal life but that is not likely to happen with Kathy who is far from a candidate for the Mother of the Year award. Lizzie just wants Kathy to drop her off at school so she can appear in the school play but the two get into a massive fight which ends up with Kathy essentially telling her daughter to go straight to Hell.

The two simply can’t co-exist any longer so Kathy decides to take Lizzie to live with her father (Speedman) who may or may not be much better, but whatever – Kathy is going to take her daughter in the middle of a rainy night through a lonely wooded road. When a wolf runs out into the road, Kathy spins out the car and wrecks it. However, thank goodness there is a cell signal and she calls for an ambulance and a tow truck.

When the two ladies investigate, they realize that the wolf was in the process of being eaten before they hit it. And when the tow truck driver (Douglas) arrives, it soon becomes crystal clear that they’re being stalked by something that is not anything anyone has ever seen before but there is one thing that is absolutely for certain about it – it’s hungry.

There is room here for a really nifty horror film but unfortunately we don’t get it. The constant bickering between Lizzie and Kathy gets irritating after awhile. Also the backstory is largely told through flashbacks which have a tendency to stop the movie dead in its tracks and interrupt the goings on. These also get irritating after awhile.

Kazan has a very youthful face which is perfect for this role; she barely looks old enough to have graduated from high school herself. She has a pretty thankless role; Kathy isn’t what you’d call admirable although when push comes to shove, she finally reacts like an actual mother but most of the movie tells us that she isn’t really much of a mother to begin with. Why she suddenly becomes one doesn’t feel very organic to me.

There are a lot of things that I call horror movie shortcuts; actions taken by the characters that defy logic. Even when panicked, most people aren’t going to continually venture past the streetlight that seems to be their only protection just to see what’s going on. However, the women’s actions serve to advance the plot but not necessarily the characters. That is some lazy writing right there.

The creature effects are nifty (and non-CGI, refreshing in this day and age) and the filmmakers wisely choose not to reveal too much about the monster. They are undoubtedly familiar with the adage that the imagination is far scarier than anything any filmmaker can come up with in general and the filmmakers use that to their advantage.

There are a few moments here and there that are generally scary and the dysfunctional mother-daughter dynamic might have made for an interesting background for the film, but in the end it’s just another monster hunt and not a particularly innovative one. Generally, I’d wait on this until it becomes available at a bargain streaming fee, or on a service you already subscribe to. It’s nothing to seek out intentionally though.

REASONS TO GO: The creature work is pretty nifty.
REASONS TO STAY: Lapses in logic and realism spoil the plot. The mother-daughter bickering eventually got on my nerves. The flashbacks are rather intrusive.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is a surfeit of profanity as well as some violence and bloody images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The film was previously titled There Are Monsters.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/19/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cujo
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Bunny the Killer Thing


That rabbit is dynamite!

That rabbit is dynamite!

(2015) Horror Comedy (Artsploitation) Hiski Hämäläinen, Enni Ojutkangas, Veera W. Vilo, Jari Manninen, Katja Jaskari, Roope Olenius, Olli Saarenpää, Vincent Tsang, Orwi Imanuel Ameh, Marcus Massey, Gareth Lawrence, Henry Saari, Juha-Matti Halonen, Annilina Koivisto, Matti Kiviniemi, Päivi Komulainen-Vuoti, Maria Kunnari, Erno Michelsson, Marko Moilanen. Directed by Joonas Makkonen

What would you say to a six and a half foot tall rabbit-man hybrid with an 18” penis and a raging libido? Pretty much anything it wanted to hear, no doubt. Dr. Moreau ain’t got nothin’ on this.

In the mountains of Finland, a mad scientist has injected a strange fluid into a writer who escapes into the woods, mutating into something hideous. Not long afterwards a group of Finn friends head out for a vacation mainly of sex, centered around fashion designer Emma (Jaskari), her friends Sara (Ojutkangas) and Nina (Vilo), their erstwhile boyfriends Tuomas (Hämäläinen), Jari (Olenius) and Mise (Manninen) and stowaway younger brother Jesse (Saarenpää) who has an outrageous libido and a massive crush on Emma.

=Along the way they pick up a trio of Brits – Lucas (Massey), Vincent (Tsang) and Tim (Ameh) who were stranded alongside the road. They head to the group’s rented cabin (complete with sauna, a must for Finns) and get down to partying, Finnish style. Vincent and Sara develop a bit of a thing, although it is derailed due to acute alcohol poisoning.

In the meantime, the giant Bunny is hell-bent on crashing the party in its ongoing pursuit of pussy, which is essentially the only word it knows. It will rape anything with a vagina; in fact, even a drawing of one will do. Or an eye socket. Or a gaping wound that resembles one. Any hole will do. I’m sure the knotholes of the forest were in danger.

Based on an earlier short film, this is earmarked for cult status. A goofy hybrid of The Human Centipede, The Island of Dr. Moreau and Dead Snow, there is a wacky over-the-top vibe here that isn’t so much as endearing as just pure fun. Now using the term “fun” in a movie in which rape is so much a part of the plotline may get me criticized in some quarters; this is not in any way to trivialize the crime of rape any more than a comedy set in the Civil War era is meant to trivialize slavery and racism. Very little of the rapes are actually seen onscreen and because the rapist is basically a visible Harvey who likes to swing is penis around like a lasso, the ridiculousness of the situation mitigates things a bit. However, those who are survivors of rape should only view this if they have a great big sense of humor about it.

The creature effects are, I think, deliberately cheesy and the gore, while plentiful, tends to be also a little bit on the “oh no you didn’t” variety. Don’t expect a whole lot in the way of character development and backstory – we never really get a coherent explanation as to how the transformation takes place or why – but to be honest, that’s fine with me. This is meant to be a twisted creature feature and the filmmakers seem content with essentially taking a bunch of beautiful, sexy women and a group of guys who are in no way shape or form in their league and throwing a monster into the mix. There’s mayhem and chaos in goodly amounts and the squeamish need not even think about this one.

It takes a little while to get going but once it does, it’s a roller coaster ride of bizarre insight into the male libido, a hoot and a holler creature feature from the 90s and a Rocky Horror-like cult film. This isn’t going to grow on everybody and some will find it truly offensive but for those of us who are able to get around the films flaws (some of which are, I believe, deliberate) then this might well be one of those midnight movies that you’ll want to view again and again and turn your friends onto.

REASONS TO GO: A cult classic in the making. Over-the-top in a good way.
REASONS TO STAY: The sexuality may be a bit much for more reserved American audiences. Some of the effects are of the bargain basement variety.
FAMILY VALUES: Given the plot description above, you can expect (and will receive) plenty of graphic violence and gore, graphic nudity and sexual situations, scenes depicting rape, a crapload of profanity and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally based on a short film by Makkonen made in 2011. He’d wanted original actor Tuomas Massa to return to the feature film but Massa was unable to do so. The character was renamed Tuomas in honor of the actor.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/30/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Human Centipede
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Marguerite

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans


The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

Eva Mendes and Nicolas Cage were having a contest to see who could look the coolest - Eva won.

(2009) Crime Drama (First Look) Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, Vondie Curtis Hall, Shawn Hatosy, Xzibit, Denzel Whitaker, Brad Dourif, Shea Wigham, Katie Chonacas, Michael Shannon, Tom Bower. Directed by Werner Herzog

An out-of-control drug-addled policeman taking on crime in his own corrupt way, desensitized to violence and seemingly without any moral compass whatsoever. Sound familiar?

First of all, this movie has nothing to do with the classic Abel Ferrara film The Bad Lieutenant, which starred Harvey Keitel back in 1992. This movie shares only a producer with the original. There are some thematic similarities but that’s about it. The first film is amazing and powerful; this one is going to suffer by comparison – so I’m not going to compare the two, only to say that those coming in looking for a sequel, a remake or a reboot are going to be confused at best, angry at worst and disappointed for certain.

Lt. Terence McDonagh (Cage) is a decorated member of the New Orleans Police Department. He injured his back rescuing a prisoner from the rising floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. Hooked on vicodin for the pain, he graduates to bigger and better drugs.

He is in love with Frankie (Mendes), a prostitute who is a fellow junkie. He is not above rousting a pair of clubgoers leaving a nightclub, stealing their drugs and raping the girl – while her boyfriend watches. His only worry is avoiding detection from his partner Steve Pruit (Kilmer) and the evidence locker supervisor Mundt (Shannon). The only law he seems intent on enforcing is the law of looking out for number one.

Then he is assigned the case of the execution of an entire family of immigrants and discovers the father was involved in drug dealing. We also discover that a vicious drug kingpin named Big Fate (Xzibit) is responsible. McDonagh, growing more and more paranoid, hooks up with Big Fate not only to bring himself a whole new supply of drugs but to get to the bottom of the killings. The further in he gets, the more dangerous the game he plays becomes to himself and those around him.

Director Werner Herzog knows a thing or two about obsession. The director of Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man is fascinated by characters that live on the edge of madness, and often die on that edge. He and Nicolas Cage are a match made in…maybe not heaven, but in purgatory at least.

Cage is an Oscar winning actor who has always specialized in characters out there on that edge. Of late he has done a lot of movies that are best forgotten; still, he is capable of busting out with some great performances. He is right there on the ragged edge here and at times he overacts shamelessly, which can be a turn-off.

Then again, this kind of role really does call for it. McDonagh hallucinates about iguanas and snarls after Big Fate and his crew shoot someone dead “Shoot him again! His soul is still dancing!” Only Cage could pull off a line like that.

Kilmer is another actor who often takes on quirky roles and has of late been relegated to a lot of direct-to-home video disasters. It’s nice to see him in a movie that actually got a theatrical release; hopefully more casting directors will take notice of him, although I’m not sure his performance here will get that for him – the role is pretty bland.

This is the kind of movie that makes you feel like you’ve just gone for a swim in the sewer, only in a good way. It shows the corruption and seediness that is rampant around the drug trade. It’s a shame they had to unnecessarily throw the Bad Lieutenant association in – the movie I think would have benefitted from a better title (this one is really bad and may have actually kept moviegoers away). It at least has the distinction of being one of Cage’s better movies of the last decade, although I’m becoming more enamored of Herzog as a documentarian than as a filmmaker.

WHY RENT THIS: You get a great sense of a life spiraling out of control.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cage overacts shamelessly. The corruption is so pervasive that you feel like you need a shower after watching the movie.

FAMILY VALUES: Where to begin? Lots of bad language, even more drug use, a goodly amount of violence and just for good measure, let’s throw in a little sex on top.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nicolas Cage is actually snorting baby powder during the cocaine scenes.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10.6M on a $25M production budget; this was a box office flop.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: A History of Violence

I Remember


I Remember

Griff Blane and Rick Baker prepare to roast some S'mores.

(2008) Drama (Self-Distributed) Griff Blane, Rick Baker, Cassie Raye, Daniel McKinney, Randy G. Scott, Buddy Metz, Craig Hanley, Whittaker Garick, Charlie Wiggins. Directed by Ray Gaillard

When we see the homeless, we tend to view them as failures at life. They are scary in a way, as despair and desperation can drive people to do terrible things – and we sure don’t want to be around when they do.

Buck (Blane) is an eight-year-old boy who’s been through much more than any eight-year-old boy should have to. Both his parents were killed in a car accident and he and his little sister Molly (Raye) have been separated and sent to different foster homes. Whereas Molly is in a loving middle-class home, Buck has been left in the tender care of George (Wiggins), a brutish man who never tires of telling Buck that he’ll never amount to anything, or pointing out he’s been kicked out of every foster home he’s been sent to.

Driven past the breaking point, he escapes George’s clutches, leaving him with a present he’ll remember for a good long time. He decides to go out looking for his sister, but hasn’t a clue how to find her. Living on the streets and eating out of garbage bins, he finally attracts the notice of Joe (Baker), a kindly man who is also homeless.

Joe takes Buck to a camp outside of town where other homeless people are living as best they can. Joe teaches Buck the ropes and imparts the wisdom of how to survive on his own. Still, Buck is focused on finding his little sister and despite Joe’s warnings to the contrary, goes out after her. The attempt will lead Buck into a life and death situation, one in which he must make a decision that will color the direction his life takes from then on.

First-time filmmaker Gaillard filmed the movie in and around Columbia, South Carolina using friends and family as actors and crew members. Taking into account the nature of the production, it has to be said that this is definitely unpolished; the acting is uneven, as such productions usually are. However, this doesn’t feel like an amateur film. The cinematography is gorgeous, utilizing its locations nicely, and the script rarely descends into cliché.

Blane is a credible young actor; he takes the less-is-more route, rarely overplaying his hand. The result is that he comes off as a boy who is in a bit of a shell, but capable of violence when cornered. Simply put, Buck is not a kid to mess with. Blane gets that across, but manages to retain the inner core of a child. Many better known child actors wouldn’t have been able to pull that off. If he chooses to pursue acting as a career, he has a bright future in it.

Baker (not the special effects make-up guy) is the wise old Yoda to Blane’s Luke Skywalker. He plays a very complex character that is homeless by choice, rejecting the money-centric society that America has evolved into. Baker even resembles a Jedi with his snow-white hair and ponytail. In any case, he is the film’s heart in many ways and carries that aspect off solidly.

Quite frankly, I was pleasantly surprised with the movie that depicts how the homeless are perceived by society in a very realistic manner. There are a couple of rednecks in the movie (Hanley and Garick) who precipitate a good deal of violence. Some of the violence is sudden and brutal in the manner that violence often is. Sensitive souls should note that while the movie isn’t gore-drenched, it doesn’t shy away from it either and the violence that exists in that stratum of society is dealt with in a matter-of-fact manner.

The movie is a slice of life of lives that are often marginalized; that it depicts these people as human and worthwhile is a unique feature all of its own and should be applauded. It is a bit of an eye-opener as a matter of fact, and these are the kinds of movies that should be appreciated and savored. While it is exceedingly difficult to find the movie in local theaters, I would highly recommend ordering the movie from the website below. Talent such as Gaillard’s and his cast and crew should be nurtured and encouraged; I suspect that Gaillard has plenty of additional stories to tell and I for one look forward to seeing them.

REASONS TO GO: While very raw, the movie depicts the life of the homeless and how they are regarded by society in a very realistic manner. The movie is well-filmed, utilizing its locations very nicely.

REASONS TO STAY: The violence can be off-putting to those who are sensitive to such things.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and a smattering of foul language. While the lead character is a young boy, it would be advisable to watch the movie with your children to answer questions about the situations and the ensuing violence, some of which is directed at the boy, others committed by him.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Before making this movie, Gaillard had no movie-making experience and knew very little about the process. He read several books on the subject at his local library and checked out information on the Internet before purchasing a camera and putting together the funds to film the movie, mostly with friends and family.

HOME OR THEATER: This film is on the festival circuit and your best bet is to see it at one; if you can’t find it, the movie is available on DVD at its website www.iremembermovie.com.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: The Princess and the Frog