Uncle Peckerhead


A road trip with a punk band can be a bloody good time.

(2020) Horror Comedy (Epic/Dread CentralChet Siegel, David Littleton, Jeff Riddle, Ruby McCollister, Ryan Conrath, Greg Maness, Shannon O’Neill, Chloe Roe, Lucy McMichael, David Weinheimer, David Bluvband, Ruth Lolla, Alex McKelvey, Josh Peck, Adam R. Brown, Joey Maron, Nicholas Santos, Chris Tapp, Wicky Mendoza, Dave Ruestle, Kevin Lawrence. Directed by Matthew John Lawrence

2020 Florida Film Festival

With a title like Uncle Peckerhead, you know that the movie is either going to be very, very bad, or very, very good. Fortunately, in this case, it’s the latter.

Judy (Siegel) fronts a punk band called DUH! who are about to go out on their very first tour which will end with them opening a show for the Queef Queens, a punk band that features Jen Jennings (O’Neill) who happens to own a record label. Her dreams of rock stardom look to be within their grasp. But, as many indie bands will tell you, that’s generally when the floor disappears beneath you.

Their van gets repossessed, leaving her, guitarist Max (Riddle) and drummer Mel (McCollister) to look for some wheels to allow them to get them to where they need to be. Eventually, they find an old redneck living in a van which after some convincing, agrees to drive them in and to be their roadie. He introduces himself as Peckerhead (Littleton), or just Peck.

For some reason, Judy doesn’t hit it off with Peck even though Max and Mel think he’s great. Soon, it develops that there’s a good reason Judy has bad vibes about him. I won’t tell you exactly why but there’s a reason that the actors playing Max and Mel are covered in fake blood in the picture above. However, despite Peck’s horrible issue, Judy finally begins to warm up to him. Then, once again, out goes the floor.

The first few minutes of the movie don’t give any hint about how good it actually turns out to be. The movie starts out rocky with some awkward dialogue, stiff acting and a feeling that everyone is standing around, looking at each other and whispering “Now what?” Fret not, true believers. Once Peck gets introduced into the mix, the movie takes off. Yes, there is some gore although not a lot – some extreme horror fans might end up disappointed, but Peckerhead is such a great character, with a kind of bumpkin charm that’s endearing.

And the music! It really rocks, with some fairly high-level indie influences, not the least of which are X (for the harmony vocals) and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s a shame that DUH! isn’t a real band because I’d buy their shit for sure. There’s even a condescending rival band who doesn’t sound half-bad either. This might end up having the best indie movie soundtrack of the year.

There is a little more emphasis on the comedy than the horror, and while the scares aren’t the aneurysm-inducing sort they are nevertheless effective. The horror is more situational, and again tends to be overshadows by the more humorous elements. Best line in the whole film is when Peck asks Mel why they chose the name DUH! and she responds “Because James Taylor was already taken.”

There is a lot going on here that is worth checking out. I would have liked to see a little more attention paid to the horror elements, but that might well have been a function of its micro-budget. This could easily end up being a cult classic and inspire a franchise of its own. I enjoyed the heck out of this – and if you like a good horror movie with a good dose of comedy and killer indie rock music, you might just agree with me.

REASONS TO SEE: The music is actually really good. Peckerhead is kind of a sweet guy.
REASONS TO AVOID: The dialogue is occasionally awkward and a bit indie-snooty.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is all sorts of violence, profanity, gore and some adult images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Riddle is the lone performer in DUH! who plays his own music in the film; he also supplies the guitar for Dominion Rising as well.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/20/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: CHUD
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: 
Tesla

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Life Itself (2018)


Ah, to be young, in love and expecting a child!

(2018) Romance (AmazonOlivia Wilde, Oscar Isaac, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Mandy Patinkin, Jean Smart, Olivia Cooke, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Laia Costa, Alex Monner, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabel Durant, Lorenza Izzo, Jake Robinson, Adrián Marrero, Kya Cruse, Charlie Thurston, Gabby Bryan, Jordana Rose, Caitlin Carmichael, Bryant Carroll, Carmela Lloret. Directed by Dan Fogelman

 

Life Itself (not to be confused with the 2014 Roger Ebert bio-documentary) has some mighty tall aspirations. It means to show us through all the pain and suffering through life, we can find solace in that love finds us because it is destined to. I’m sure there are plenty of lonely people who would take exception to that theory.

Will (Isaac) and Abby (Wilde) are a young couple who met in college, fell in love, got married and are expecting a child. Or, at least, they were; we see most of that through flashbacks and we meet Will during a therapy session with a sympathetic psychiatrist (Bening) who is trying to guide Will through the ruins of his life after Abby leaves it. We meet their daughter Dylan (Cooke), a petulant young girl who fronts a punk band but is hiding great pain and not hiding it very well. We also meet Rodrigo (Monner), a young boy traumatized at a young age and brought up by a mother (Costa) who is afflicted with cancer and two fathers – his biological dad (Peris-Mencheta) and the wealthy landowner (Banderas) for whom his father works and who has been part of his life since the beginning. We also meet Elena (Izzo), the narrator who has connections with nearly all of these people in some way.

This is a movie that is riddled with sorrow; plenty of the folks I just introduced you to meet tragic ends, but there is also a lot of joy in the relationships with spouses, parents and caring friends. It feels like Fogelman has tried to cram way too much into the movie which helps to give it the feel that it’s going on too long. Some astute viewers will note that Fogelman has become well-known for the TV show This Is Us which this resembles in tone and construction which is probably why my wife likes this movie so much.

Most critics don’t, however, and I count myself among them. Like life itself, the movie has problems and triumphs in equal measure. There are some nice performances – Costa, Isaac, Wilde and Patinkin stand out, and Jackson in what amounts to a cameo at the very beginning of the movie might have caused problems by making viewers think this was going to be a different kind of movie than it actually was. Frankly, I thought that Fogelman should have stuck with the Sam Jackson movie; it’s a much better one than the one he actually made.

That’s not to say that there isn’t some form of catharsis throughout the movie for you to hold onto. There certainly is, but the tone shifts are so abrupt and violent that we are left feeling curiously off-balance, which is kind of what we watch movies to get away from. Life Itself is too much like life itself in many ways and I don’t think most of us love life itself enough to want to watch a movie about it.

REASONS TO SEE: Jackson is incandescent in his brief appearance.
REASONS TO AVOID: Excessively maudlin.
FAMILY VALUES: There is more than a bit of profanity, some sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fogelman listened extensively to Bob Dylan’s 1997 Time Out of Mind album in order to set the mood of the film which blends love and melancholy. In fact, the track “Love Sick” plays over the opening credits.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/9/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 14% positive reviews: Metacritic: 21/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: This Is Us
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
The House With the Clock In the Walls