Unforgettable (2017)


There’s something about a catfight men find irresistible.

(2017) Thriller (Warner Brothers) Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults, Isabella Kai Rice, Alex Quijano, Sarah Burns, Whitney Cummings, Simon Kassianides, Robert Ray Wisdom, Cheryl Ladd, Stephanie Escajeda, Kincaid Walker, Aline Elasmar, Jayson Blair, Lauren Rose Lewis, Robin Hardy, Mitch Silpa, Alex Staggs, Scott Beehner, Michelle Mehta, Leslie A. Hughes. Directed by Denise Di Novi

 

We humans are obsessed with love. So much has been written about it and there are so may aphorisms that exist about it. For example, it is said that it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. That’s pretty much true but I suppose that it might not be if your ex is completely out of their minds.

Things are looking up for Julia Banks (Dawson). Getting out of an abusive relationship which ended with her ex (Kassianides) being jailed (although he is due to be released soon) she has gotten into a relationship with a buff divorcee named David Connover (Stults) who has an adorable daughter named Lily (Rice) and is working to make his microbrewery into a big success. Engaged to be married, she is moving to the small town where he lives leaving the big city editorial job and her dear friend Ali (Cummings). Things are looking rosy for Julia.

That is, until she meets David’s ex Tessa (Heigl). To say she is tightly wound is like saying the Great Wall of China has a few bricks in it. She clearly wants her husband back as well as the life she had with him but David is done with her and has moved on. At first it feels like Tessa is making an attempt to be civil to Julia but soon nagging little annoyances start to turn into bigger things, like missing wedding rings, flower deliveries from Julia’s ex, Lily getting lost at a carnival – and then things turn full-blown crazy.

Tessa is going to get David back by any means necessary and nobody is going to keep her from her perfect life. As the stakes get higher, Julia realizes she is dealing with someone who has a deep psychosis and in order to protect herself and those she loves she has going to have to jump aboard the crazy train with Tessa and have it out with her once and for all.

If this sounds a bit like a Lifetime movie, it certainly feels like one at times – albeit one with better production values and a better cast. Heigl, known more for frothy romantic comedies, brings her A game here, allowing herself to go big which is what a movie like this needs. One must give her kudos for giving her all for a script that really doesn’t have a lot going for it.

Cliches abound here, from the housewife who turns out to have some mad hacking skills to the climactic catfight. Anyone who has watched a few of these crazy ex-wife thrillers will be able to pretty much figure out what’s going on from the opening scene which has Julia sitting in a police interrogation room trying to explain the dead body in her home which was probably not a good idea from a screenwriting perspective – it gives too much away right from the beginning.

There is a fairly tawdry scene in which David and Julia get busy in a public bathroom while Tessa, alone in her own home, goes the self-love route even as she sexts with one of the characters in the film as part of her plan to get Julia out of the picture. From a prurient point of view it’s pretty close to softcore Skinamax material so those who find that sort of thing distasteful should be forewarned.

Despite Heigl’s delightfully trashy performance, it’s really hard to recommend this wholeheartedly. Certainly there is a guilty pleasure element to it and I admit to liking it much more a few months after seeing it than I did immediately after watching it, but the characters are so poorly written and the execution shows little imagination. Based on Heigl alone, I can give it a mild recommendation particularly for those who like their potbroilers with a dash of sex and a minimum of mental effort. For everyone else, I’m sure you have better things to do.

REASONS TO GO: Heigl does some solid work in the batshit crazy ex role.
REASONS TO STAY: This is pretty much as predictable as it gets
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of sexuality and brief partial nudity, some foul language and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Di Novi has been a producer for quite awhile working with (among others) Tim Burton, this is her first go-round in the director’s chair.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/20/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Family Life

Double Life (Nijû seikatsu)


It always feels like somebody’s watching.

(2016) Drama (Star Sands) Mugi Kadowaki, Hiroki Hasegawa, Masaki Suda, Lily Franky, Aoba Kawai, Yukiko Shinihara, Shohel Uno, Yukino Kishii, Naomi Nishida, Setsuko Karasuma, Ryuju Kobayashi. Directed by Yoshiyuki Kishi

 

There is a certain thrill to observing other people unseen. There is an implied intimacy, seeing people as they truly are when they are sure nobody else is watching. That is how they reveal what makes us human – or at least so goes the theory as voiced by noted French photographer and writer Sophie Calle.

Tama Shiraishi (Kadowaki) is a grad student working on her master’s thesis. She lives with her boyfriend videogame designer Takuya (Suda) in a modest apartment in suburban Tokyo. They do have morning sex from time to time but they are distant from one another, showing little affection for each other. It can be chalked up to the business of their lives; Takuya is up against some looming deadlines for his upcoming game, Tama is consumed with her thesis on the meaning of being human which isn’t going very well.

Her professor, Shinohara (Franky) is a feared presence around the philosophy department of the university but he is soft-spoken and surprisingly helpful to Tama. When she proves to be too shy to distribute a questionnaire to 100 people, Shinohara – seeing the Calle book on his desk – is inspired to suggest that Tama observe a single person without their knowledge and use her observations as the basis of her thesis.

Tama chooses Ishizaka (Hasegawa), a neighbor who seems to be perfectly happy. A successful book publisher, he lives with his gorgeous wife and adorable daughter across the street from Tama – she can watch them playing together from her balcony. However, as she tails her subject, she discovers to her surprise that he is having a torrid affair which includes some rather public lovemaking.

The more she tails her subject the more emotionally involved that she gets. As she later describes it, she feels an empty part in herself beginning to get filled up. Her late nights and exhaustion lead Takuya to suspect that it is she having an affair and when Ishizaka’s wife discovers his infidelity, the fallout will not only affect his family but Tama and her boyfriend as well.

This is a film that takes a while to get rolling but once it does the filmmakers do a good job of keeping the interest of the audience. There is a certain cultural element to this – Japanese eroticism is somewhat different than Western eroticism – that makes even ordinary, normal activities seem sexual. The fact that the exterior shots take place in an overcast wintry gloom tends to heighten the feeling of repression as the characters bundle up against the cold.

Kadowaki does a stellar job here playing a character who has difficulty relating to people and prefers not to be the center of attention. Her oversize glasses and frumpy dress make the actress look somewhat plain although she is far from that in reality. However, it suits the character well here as few people give her a second glance including the people she is tailing.

The movie feels a bit long and while it is based on a novel by Mariko Kolke there is an almost soap opera vibe at times. There is a subplot about Professor Shinohara coping with his mother’s final days in the hospital with a new girlfriend (Kawai) which is a complicated situation in itself that tends to convolute the film and pull attention from the main story.

Kishi utilizes handheld camera work during most of the stalking sequences and it does wear on the viewer after awhile since the bulk of the movie is spent watching Tama stalk her academic prey. It is only when the two finally confront each other and Tama admits to some of her own inner demons that the movie gets a real emotional spice to it.

Hamlet’s famous line “To be or not to be” is utilized in several different ways, including in a Japanese play that Tama attends. The point of her thesis is what it means to be human and the idea is that Tama hasn’t really figured that out yet and with the movie opening with a suicide attempt – even though it is dark and chaotic you should be able to figure out who is trying to do themselves in – the “not to be” gets its share of attention as well.

Like many of the films at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival, there seems to be an infusion of new blood and exciting young directors coming out of Asia right now and Kishi is one of them. While the elements of soap opera and extraneous plot devices do hold the movie back, there is at least enough substance here to make this a worthwhile film to seek out to perhaps give some insight into your own humanity – and how well it would stand up to the scrutiny of constant observation.

REASONS TO GO: There is the allure of voyeurism. The wintry tone of the cinematography enhances the feeling of the film. The theme of being or not being is utilized here better than in most films.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie overstays its welcome and is a little bit too close to a soap opera. The stalking scenes contain a little too much handheld camera work for my comfort.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and some brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first feature for Kishi and the first lead role in a feature for Kadowaki.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/11/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Seduction
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: With Prisoners

Vacation


Some swimming holes are best left alone.

Some swimming holes are best left alone.

(2015) Comedy (New Line) Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Catherine Missal, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, Emyri Crutchfield, Alkoya Brunson, Nick Kroll, Tim Heidecker, Michael Pena, Colin Hanks, Kaitlin Olson, Hanna Davis, Kristin Ford. Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein

Vacations are the source of a good percentage of our fondest memories. Who can forget that road trip to a national park, or to Disney World, or that trip to grandma’s house in the country? These are memories we carry with us for a lifetime.

Rusty Griswold (Helms) can vouch for that. As a pilot for a small commuter airline, he is used to flights in which the final descent begins five minutes after take-off. He is a decent sort, if a little bit on the white bread side. He has two kids; James (Gisondo) is the eldest who wants nothing more than to play guitar and daydream. The other one, Kevin (Stebbins) who might well have been named Satan, bullies his older brother unmercifully and doesn’t really have respect for anyone to be honest. His wife Debbie (Applegate) is beautiful but the spark has gone out of their marriage in a big way.

Rusty decides that rather than go to the same Michigan cabin the family has gone to for years on their vacation, he’d take a page out of his own scrapbook and take his family on a road trip to Southern California’s best theme park, Wally World.

However, his family is less than enthusiastic about the idea, especially when he turns up in a rented van, from the Honda of Albania with a key fob that does everything but what normal key fobs do. It is the only vehicle where the cup holders are on the outside of the car and comes with a self-destruct mechanism, which can be activated by pressing the swastika button on the fob.

Getting to Wally World will include detours to the most vile hot springs on earth, a visit with Rusty’s sister Audrey (Mann) and her hunky meteorologist husband Stone Crandall (Hemsworth) who is more than happy to see Debbie, a visit to Debbie’s old sorority house in Memphis where Rusty learns a few things about his wife that he never knew, a stop to go white water kayaking in the Grand Canyon with a guide (Day) who’s having a horrible day, and finally, a stop in San Francisco to visit some familiar faces.

This is a peculiar entry into the franchise as it is both a reboot and a sequel; it’s a reboot in the sense that it is a brand new entry in the franchise after years of inactivity with an entirely new cast, and it takes place where the events of National Lampoon’s Vacation and its sequel happened. It can even be said to be a remake since the plot of this one is essentially the same as the first.

Ed Helms, the sixth actor to play Rusty (which is some kind of record), takes over for Chevy Chase as the head of the Griswold clan. Like Clark, Rusty is both optimistic and oblivious. He tries to do what’s best for his family but often overlooks not just what his family wants but simple common sense as well. He, like his dad before him, is the king of good intentions gone bad. Helms is a terrific comic actor who not only highlighted the Hangover franchise but was amazing as a lead in Cedar Rapids as well. This is less successful in that sense but not because of anything Helms did or didn’t do; we’ll get into that in a minute.

Applegate, like Beverly D’Angelo before her, is a gorgeous blonde who tries to reign in her husband’s quirkier inclinations but unlike the Ellen Griswold character, Debbie isn’t happy in her marriage. Given her wild past, that’s not unexpected. Applegate is one of the most underrated leading ladies out there, particularly in the comedy genre. She has great comic timing, is sexy as all get out and can play just about any character she chooses to. She doesn’t get the leading roles that a Tina Fey or an Amy Poehler might get (or even a Cameron Diaz) but she is to comedies what Maria Bello is to dramas; a strong, beautiful and desirable performer who never upstages the lead.

The rest of the cast is pretty decent with plenty of cameos by fairly well-known names (although I must admit that the Chase/D’Angelo cameo was the most welcome) but the best support actually comes from Stebbins as the badger of an 8-year-old who humiliates his teenage brother and is essentially an unholy terror. Some of the best moments in the movie are his.

The humor here is like a lot of comedies, very hit or miss depending on your sense of humor. There is a lot of scatological jokes and plenty of rude, crude bits that may either delight your inner twelve-year-old boy or cause you to purse your lips in distaste. Many of the best jokes (the hot springs incident) are spoiled by their appearance in the trailer sadly, so be warned. They do get the family bonds thing right, so in that sense this movie has the same vibe as its 1983 predecessor. That much is entirely welcome.

This isn’t the greatest comedy you’ll see this summer. It isn’t even the best of the Vacation movies, albeit it is the first without the National Lampoon label. However, it has enough going on that’s good to give it a mild recommendation. Think of it as less of a Vacation and more of a weekend getaway.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the scenes are genuinely funny – most of them appear in the trailer. Helms and Applegate are always engaging.
REASONS TO STAY: Very, very hit and miss. Something of a hot mess.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of crude humor, sexual situations, brief graphic nudity and foul language throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Released on the same day as the original – July 29 – only 32 years later.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/17/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews. Metacritic: 33/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: National Lampoon’s Vacation
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Walt Before Mickey

Crank: High Voltage


Crank: High Voltage

You can't say that Jason Statham doesn't get a charge out of life.

(Lionsgate) Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam, Efren Ramirez, Clifton Collins Jr., Bai Ling, David Carradine, Art Hsu, Corey Haim, Gerri Halliwell, John de Lancie. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

Some action movies are high octane. Others, nuclear meltdowns. The first Crank was one of the latter. Would this one measure up?

You wouldn’t think so, given that the hero of the first movie (SPOILER ALERT) falls from a helicopter to his apparent death on the city street below. (CONTINUE READING) But in the universe of Crank: High Voltage, Asian gangsters come along with a snow shovel to scoop up the wide-awake Chev Chelios (Statham) with a snow shovel to bring him to a back room operating room, where his seemingly indestructible heart has been removed for transplant into an aged Chinese mobster (a nearly unrecognizable Carradine).

He has been given a cut-rate artificial heart powered by a car battery to keep his body alive before other organs (including his, ummm, manliest) can be harvested as well. Instead, Chelios awakes to wreak mayhem, havoc and otherwise kick the crap out of things. He goes on yet another rampage around the Los Angeles area to find his heart so that he might get it back, stopping periodically to recharge his dying battery. He rescues his girlfriend Eve (Smart) from a life of exotic dancing, gets together with his incredulous doctor (Yoakam) and picks up Venus (Ramirez), the effeminate twin brother of Kaylo (also played by Ramirez) from the first movie (and Venus has a rather unusual affliction by the way), and Ria (Ling), a goofy prostitute who becomes smitten with Chelios.

Further explanation is unnecessary, redundant and superfluous. If you loved the cinematic video game that was the first movie, this will be right up your alley. Neveldine/Taylor, the directing team responsible for the first one, has amped things up a notch, shooting the improbability factor to 10 and letting loose their guerilla filmmakers onto an unsuspecting city.

This is the kind of movie not meant to be taken seriously, yet most of the reviews I read of it seemed downright huffy. Look guys, this was never meant to be a Merchant/Ivory production. This is going to appeal to the crowd that plays Grand Theft Auto for 36 hours straight, hyped out on Mountain Dew, Hot Pockets and testosterone. The heavy metal soundtrack should tell you that this is meant expressly for young males.

Yes, Virginia, there is some stereotyping, nudity, sexuality and a whole lot of violence, but so what? The stereotyping is done so broadly that it’s fairly obvious it’s meant as satire. The nudity and violence are so over-the-top that it’s impossible to take it too seriously, and the script so ludicrous that it becomes understood that this is meant to be Jackass on steroids high on angel dust.

Statham makes Chelios as fun as it is possible for a hit man to be, poking fun at his own image in the process. He is a masterful action hero, looking convincing in all the fight sequences and running around with a perpetual scowl on his face that invites the good citizens of Los Angeles to stay the frack out of his way if they know what’s good for them.

There are constant little homages to B-movies of the past, from The Brain that Would Not Die to El Mariachi as well as to the pop culture of the digital age – videogames and things like Red Versus Blue. Again, this moves at dizzying speed, so much so that you feel like you’ve sprinted through a marathon by the time the movie comes to an end.

This isn’t Shakespeare folks; it’s just a good time, and Crank: High Voltage succeeds wildly at that. This is the kind of movie that you put on, turn off your brain and let the energy drinks flow as you pound your chest and shout an occasional ”WHOAAAA!” at the screen. You’ll need to go through detox after seeing this one.

WHY RENT THIS: If you liked the first movie, you’re gonna love this one – all the frenetic oddball action, only amped up another notch.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The nudity, the violence, the ludicrous plot…if those things bother you, you’re better off watching the next edition of Masterpiece Theater.

FAMILY VALUES: Oh, c’mon…you’re not honestly thinking of letting your kids see this are you? If you are, your kids are going to need therapy, man.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The home video edition is entitled Crank 2: High Voltage although the theatrical release didn’t have a number in the title.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray has a Crank’d Out Bonus View mode featuring the cast and crew, as well as a featurette on the wrap party for the movie, something we rarely get to see.  

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Drag Me to Hell