The Last Resort


Back in the day, the residents of South Beach really knew how to have a good time.

(2018) Documentary (Kino Lorber) Gary Monroe, Ellen Sweet Moss, Susan Gladstone, Kelly Reichardt, Mitchell Kaplan, Edna Buchanan, Stan Hughes, Denise Bibro. Directed by Dennis Scholl and Kareem Tabsch

 

In the years after World War II, the city of Miami went through what would have to be termed a major renaissance. The beautiful beaches, warm weather and the presence of brand spanking new air-conditioned hotels became irresistible to those from the Northeast who endured harsh winters. Many of them, close to retirement age, decided that Miami would be a fine place to live. There were plenty of old art deco hotels in the South Beach area that had been converted to apartments; rents were dirt cheap. South Beach became a largely Jewish community, termed by residents as a stetl, a small but vibrant settlement.

Andy Sweet was a Miami native, the son of a prominent Miami judge whose family had helped develop the big beach side hotels that brought in a vibrant nightlife (Miami was the second home of the Rat Pack and most of the big names in Vegas played there regularly. Jackie Gleason hosted a variety show from there back in the day.

Along with his good friend Gary Monroe, the two young photographers set out to capture the South Beach community. Most of the residents were getting on in age; many of them were Holocaust survivors. Dubbed the Miami Beach Project, Sweet and Monroe proposed a ten year involvement, recording the residents and places that made South Beach so unique.

The two couldn’t have had more different styles. Monroe preferred black and white as a medium; his pictures were largely posed and had a more somber quality to them. Sweet preferred a much more spontaneous approach; his photos nearly exploded with color capturing not only the moment but the personalities of the people in them. Although many of the subjects posed for Sweet, he managed to get a more casual look as if capturing them in the act of being themselves.

Sweet wouldn’t live to see the project through to completion. A mere five years in to the project, Sweet was brutally murdered in 1982 at the age of 28, found stabbed 29 times in his apartment in what was conjectured to have been a drug deal gone terribly wrong. Miami was already changing drastically when Sweet died; a huge influx of Latin (mainly Cuban) immigrants began to change the culture of Miami and on the flip side, became the center of the cocaine trade at about the same time leading to an exponential increase in violence. Although Monroe went on to complete the project alone, by the time he did most of the Jewish residents were already gone, having moved to places like Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach where rents were more reasonable. These days South Beach is the center for nightlife in Miami, where the young and famous go to be seen.

While there are plenty of talking head interviews with Monroe and Sweet’s sister Ellen as well as a few people who knew him or of him (director Kelly Reichardt is one) which generally speaking can be terribly irritating, it is the photographs that Sweet took that takes center stage. They very nearly didn’t.

After Sweet’s death, his family was too distraught to even look at his photographs and put his negatives in storage. When Monroe broached the subject of putting together a retrospective of his partner’s work only three months after Sweet’s death, his family was infuriated and this led to an estrangement between Monroe and Sweet’s family that lasted for decades. In the meantime, the storage company charged with keeping Sweet’s negatives inexplicably lost them during a move. They have to this day not been recovered.

Fortunately, his sister’s partner Stan Hughes found several boxes of work prints while emptying a family storage unit. Hughes is something of a digital photography expert and although the prints were badly faded with time, he was able to start the restoration process, restoring the pictures to their original color vibrancy.

]The movie is not only a pictorial history of the evolution of South Beach but also a love letter to a man whose career was cut far too short. His work speaks for itself and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to see them. The pictures may sometimes have resembled vacation snapshots of happy seniors dancing, flirting, sunning themselves or porch-sitting but every one of them captured so much more than a moment.

REASONS TO SEE: The photographs really have character. A very interesting chronicle of the evolution of Miami’s South Beach.
REASONS TO AVOID: This is definitely a niche film.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sweet did a series of city government employees shortly before his death. One of the subjects turned out to be the police detective who would investigate his murder.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/16/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Smash His Camera
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Patrick

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Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel


They keep their heads covered to show their devotion to God.

(2018) Sports Documentary (Menemsha) Ike Davis, Sam Fuld, Ryan Lavarnway, Josh Zeid, Scott Buchan, Ty Kelly, Cody Baker, Jason Marquis, Jerry Weinstein, Cody Decker, Peter Kurz, Jon Moscot, Jeremy Bleich, Danny Valencia, Jonathan Mayo, Margo Sugarman. Directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger

 

As underdogs go, there are few more under than the Israeli national baseball team. Even back in the 80s, the spoof Airplane! Joked about handing out a tiny pamphlet sized book called Great Jewish Athletes to passengers looking for a little light reading. Baseball has had a few great Jewish players including Hank Greenberg and most notably, legendary Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax. Sadly, while Koufax is fawned over in the film, Greenberg who was one of the great sluggers of the game back in the day gets nary a mention.

Most of the players for the Israeli team that was fielded for the 2017 World Baseball Classic – a kind of World Cup for baseball – were American Jews who have at least one Jewish parent or grandparent which qualifies them under the Heritage Rule which allows players of a different national descent to play for that team rather than the country they are actually citizens of.

For the most part Team Israel was made up of players who were career minor leaguers or had just a cup of coffee in the majors. One big exception was Ike Davis, a slugger for the New York Mets and later the Pirates, A’s and Yankees. Injuries had shortened his career, but he was hoping to make a comeback when he agreed to play with Team Israel.

The team was ranked 41st in the world and were derided by the press as “has-beens and never-will-bes” but that only served as motivation for the team who beat the heavily favored Great Britain team in Brooklyn to qualify for the 16-team tournament. Placed in Pool A, they would be playing in Seoul, South Korea.

Many of the players weren’t really practicing Jews and almost none of them had been to Israel. Billionaire Sheldon Adelson arranged to fly the team there in his own private jet, beginning a spiritual and personal journey for the team who began to appreciate their Jewishness more. A terrorist attack that occurred while they were touring the country further cemented their connection to their heritage.

Once the tournament starts, the team captures the imagination of the world, becoming the Cinderella story of the tournament. The film doesn’t really cover the individual games in more than a cursory fashion but then again, the movie isn’t about the games themselves.

One of the quirks the team was known for was their mascot, Mensch on the Bench. Sharp Shark Tank viewers may recognize it from an episode of that show, a light-hearted parody of Elf on a Shelf. Well, Team Israel had a life-sized version who accompanied the team to most media events and games. That was indicative of the light-hearted spirit that the team possessed as a whole.

The bonding of the team isn’t particularly unusual; most teams bond in some fashion and Team Israel was no exception. The 2017 team hoped to win the WBC but not for the reasons you might think. They wanted the future of Team Israel to be populated less by American players but with Israeli-born players. A disgruntled Cuban at a press conference excoriated the self-described “Jew Crew” because of this, but that doesn’t hold a whole lot of water – the Cuban team could certainly have recruited players of Cuban descent from other countries had they chosen to.

At the end of the day underdog movies are pretty much a lifeblood for sports documentaries and this one, while occasionally inspiring, really doesn’t add much to the picture except for one item – the awakening of the players to their Jewish heritage. Those scenes in which the players react to Jewish traditions and ceremonies are among the most compelling in the film. Clearly the players grow a connection to Israel and those are the moments that make the movie satisfying. Unfortunately, the standard sports clichés that litter the baseball sequences keep the movie achieving all-star status.

REASONS TO GO: This is a heartwarming and occasionally inspiring documentary.
REASONS TO STAY: The film loses some steam towards the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The three directors are childhood friends and met Mayo through a Jewish summer camp.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/9/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Cecil

Song of Parkland


A chorus line of inspiration.

(2019) Documentary (HBO) Melody Herzfeld, Ally Richard, Alex Wind, Ashley Paseltine, Alex Athanasiou, Jared Block, Sawyer Garrity, Emma Gonzalez, Dylan Redshaw, David Hogg, Heather Hart, Emma Summers, Cameron Casky, Molly Reichard, Kelly Mathesie, Ariel Braunstein. Directed by Amy Schatz

 

I’ll be honest with you; I don’t normally review short films. In fact, this is the first one I’ve ever published on this site. Then again, the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2008 – less than a week from the one-year anniversary of the event as I write this – resonates with me in a way that few events can. For one thing, it happened in Florida where I live. For another, this was in many ways the straw that broke the camel’s back as teens who were tired of this same old story being repeated over and over and over again with “thoughts and prayers” being the only political response that came of any of these massacres.

On that terrible day drama teacher Melody Herzfeld sheltered her 65 drama students in a store room for two hours until police came to escort them out. Only then did the students – and their teacher – discover that 17 of their peers had died in the tragedy and another 17 were injured. And the survivors needed to find a way to cope with that. How can a 14-17 year old find the strength to deal when most adults can’t?

For Herzfeld, the answer was to finish what the kids had started. They had been working on the children’s musical Yo, Vikings and were in rehearsal the day of the shootings. The drama department puts on an annual kid’s play and it is one of the highlights of their season. The show must go on and so it does and we get to watch it unfold but it isn’t without cost. The kids are hurting deep inside and it comes out, sometimes in unexpected ways. Two of the young people write songs about their feelings, helping them to process what they are going through (we get to hear both songs during the course of the film). And yes, the students go under a media microscope as several of them (including some in the drama class) choose to become advocates of gun control and become the faces of change for a generation. Admired by some, demonized by others, these young people say what you will about them at least made an effort to make change for the better although of course that will depend on your definition of “better.”

Schatz relies heavily on talking head interviews with the kids, interspersed with news reports and occasional cell phone footage. This isn’t about the shootings themselves – we don’t see that aspect of it – but about how the kids adjusted to unthinkable trauma. When the students are interacting with each other, goofing around, being themselves – those are the best moments in the film. Even the real heart-tugging moments – the Tony Awards performance of “Seasons of Love” from Rent, for example – is less compelling.

I would have actually liked to have seen a full-length feature made here and spend more time with say, the parents of the drama students, other teachers besides Herzfeld, that sort of thing. We definitely get a very limited perspective and while it is most valid to concentrate on the students themselves, ranging a bit further opinion for perspective would have brought a little more clarity.

I got the sense that this was an act of catharsis, not only for the filmmakers but for the students themselves. I’m sure that in the days that followed the tragedy they became used to describing their feelings and the events as they saw them must have gotten to be old hat but there feels like there was a lot of genuine emotional healing going on here. It’s gratifying to see but also heartbreaking that it was necessary. This is by no means the perfect documentary but it is, in it’s brief 28-minute run time unforgettable.

REASONS TO GO: The students express themselves well through song. The film is powerful, timely and heartbreaking. One gets the sense that it was cathartic for all involved just making this documentary.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is overly reliant on talking head interviews.
FAMILY VALUES: While none of the violence is depicted, the themes of grieving and feeling of insecurity at school may be difficult for impressionable children.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Schatz won an Emmy for her work on the documentary Through a Child’s Eyes: September 11, 2001.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/8/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Parkland: Inside Building 12
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel

Cold War (Zimna wojna)


Love and war are often indistinguishable.

(2018) Romance (Amazon) Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cėdric Kahn, Jeanne Balibar, Adam Woronowicz, Adam Ferency, Drazen Slivak, Slavko Sobin, Aloise Sauvage, Adam Szyszkowski, Anna Zagórska, Tomasz Markowicz, Izabela Andrzejak, Kamila Borowska, Katarzyna Clemniejewska, Joanna Depczynska. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski

 

We like to think of love as a redemptive, enhancing feeling that makes us better people. Love can also be toxic, blinding us to that which can destroy us and leave us bitter and broken. Love is two sides of the same coin and when you throw a repressive regime that discourages individuality into the mix, love can be all but impossible.

In 1949, Poland like all of Europe is digging itself out of the rubble of World War II. Now under communist control, the government has sent Wiktor (Kot), a pianist/composer/arranger out into the countryside along with dance instructor Irena (Kulesza) and driver Kaczmarek (Szyc) to seek out the songs and singers of traditional Polish folk music, something like the Folkways project that the Smithsonian undertook during the Depression. A school/troupe of singers and dancers of traditional Polish folk songs and dances is being put together and Wiktor and Irena are tasked with selecting the songs and dances as well as the artists who will perform them.

One woman in particular catches the eye of Wiktor; Zula (Kulig), a brassy, effervescent sort who has a criminal record and all sorts of stories to explain it. She’s beautiful in a kind of Pia Zadora/Bridget Bardot kind of way and certainly sensual; it isn’t long before she and Wiktor are having a torrid affair, one that threatens to consume them both.

As the 1940s ease into the 1950s, there is a subtle change in the mission of the troupe. No longer content to save and extol Poland’s musical and artistic past, naked propaganda has begun to work its way into the program, songs praising Stalin and communism in general. Wiktor wants none of it. He was content to save music that might have been lost but he is not one who follows any party line and he is determined to pack up his toys and depart that particular sandbox.

But Zula has been passing on information about Wiktor to Kaczmarek who has become a minor commissar who is rising up in the ranks of the bureaucracy. Nevertheless, Wiktor convinces Zula to flee the communist bloc with him when they are performing a concert in Berlin shortly before the Wall was erected. However, she doesn’t show at their planned rendezvous and bitterly disappointed, he steps into the West, never for one moment forgetting what he left behind in the East.

The film follows them through their tempestuous romance over the next 15 years, the height of the cold war. Pawlikowski based the couple on his own parents who had a stormy relationship of their own, although I’m pretty certain it didn’t go down quite the same path as Wiktor and Zula go. Both of them are scarred by the times but mostly by each other. Wiktor becomes weak, directionless and obsessed with the love he lost; he ends up in Paris, playing with a jazz combo and scoring films. Zula, volatile and occasionally cruel, gets married but still loves Wiktor even though she knows any sort of relationship with him is doomed to fail. Love, sometimes, isn’t enough and this movie certainly makes that point. Wiktor and Zula clearly love each other deeply but they are fighting an uphill battle from the very beginning. The Iron Curtain will end up crushing them both.

The performances here are strong, particularly Kulig who is one of Poland’s most popular actresses and a dynamite singer in her own right. There’s a scene late in the movie where Zula is performing in a nightclub revue in the mid-60s that is absolutely horrible by our standards today. She knows what she has been reduced to. Onstage she’s all smiles and even the presence of her lover doesn’t overcome her own revulsion of what she’s become; she runs offstage past her husband, son and yes Wiktor too and vomits. It’s powerful and resonant all at once.

Pawlikowski is best-known for his Oscar-nominated Ida and what was excellent about that film is present in his latest one. The cinematography from Lukasz Zal who did that film (as well as the brilliant Loving Vincent) is in gorgeous black and white, often accompanied by a smoky jazz score. Speaking of the score, the folk music both of the troupe and that which Wiktor and Irena find in the sticks is absolutely gorgeous and while I’m less impressed with the more modern jazzy takes of the music, this is regardless a soundtrack worth seeking out.

Powerful and tragic, this is a movie that spends a lot of time getting started – the early scenes at the Palace which is the headquarters for the troupe become overbearing as we watch the girls practice dancing and singing endlessly and as Wiktor and Zula’s love begins to blossom, we sense that this is a relationship that is not built for longevity but that’s not because of the depth of their love or lack thereof but sadly, about the times they are in. It’s still playing at a few scattered theaters across the country (including right here in Orlando at the Enzian) but will be making its home video debut shortly, although if it should do well at the Oscars that might change. I suggest seeing it on the big screen if you can – you’ll want to enjoy the cinematography the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

REASONS TO GO: The cinematography is breathtaking. The folk music is hauntingly beautiful.
REASONS TO STAY: The first third drags a little too much – all the training sequences could easily have been excised.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content, brief nudity, profanity and some mild violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cold War has been nominated for three Oscars this year; Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/5/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews: Metacritic: 90/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The English Patient
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Golem

Solo: A Star Wars Story


“Chewie, I’ve got a bad feeling about this..”

(2018) Science Fiction (Disney/Lucasfilm) Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau (voice), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (voice), Erin Kellyman, Linda Hunt (voice), Ian Kenny, John Tui, Anna Francolini, Andrew Woodall, Warwick Davis, Clint Howard, Anthony Daniels, Charlotte Louise. Directed by Ron Howard

 

Prequels can serve one of two purposes; to give insight to an established character or franchise, or to forever tarnish them. The much-anticipated Solo: A Star Wars Story could go either way…or both.

Han Solo (Ehrenreich) is an orphan committing crimes for a kind of reptilian Fagin named lady Proxima (Hunt). He and his best girl Qi’ra (Clarke) plan to get out of the life and find a life of their own but their plans go awry and the two are separated. Indy..I mean Han…resolves to come back for her and joins the Imperial Stormtroopers as a pilot. Eventually, he meets scoundrel Tobias Beckett (Harrelson) who along with his squeeze Val (Newton) are planning a big heist, one which may finally get him the opportunity to finally rescue his girl. First he will have to avoid the wrath of the crime boss Dryden Vos (Bettany) and meet up with future allies Chewbacca (Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Glover).

This is a movie in which the sum of its parts exceeds the whole. An underrated cast, writer Lawrence Kasdan who wrote arguably the best installment in the series (Return of the Jedi) and one of Hollywood’s most respected directors (Oscar winner Ron Howard). Still, despite exceptional turns by Harrelson and particularly Glover (who at one time was rumored to be toplining a Lando Calrissian movie of his own) the movie feels curiously flat. Perhaps it was because Howard was brought in late after much footage had already been shot by departing directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were (depending on who you ask) shown the door or found it on their own after artistic differences with Disney brass. More likely, it’s because Ehrenreich who is a very talented actor, was given a no-win situation in which he was given. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is one of the most iconic roles of the last 50 years and most people can’t see anyone playing Solo except Ford. I will say that Ehrenreich does his level best but for whatever reason his performance didn’t resonate with me. Great effects, great pacing and great cinematography can take a movie so far but it also has to connect, to inspire and amaze. Solo does none of those things.

REASONS TO GO: Glover and Harrelson do bang-up jobs.
REASONS TO STAY: The film left me feeling flat and was overall a disappointment.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some science fiction-type violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The fertility idol from the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark can be seen on a table in the meeting room of Dryden Vos, the villain.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews: Metacritic: 62/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Then Came You

Dead Ant


Rock on!!!

(2017) Horror Comedy (Cinedigm) Tom Arnold, Sean Astin, Jake Busey, Rhys Coiro, Leisha Hailey, Michael Horse, Danny Woodburn, Sydney Sweeney, Joy Llaye, Natasha Blasick, Michelle Campbell, Angelica Chitwood, Cameron Richardson, Nick Mason, Amber Martinez, Nic Novicki, Ewart Chin, David A. Lockhart, Camilla Jackson, Cortney Palm, Abigail Johns. Directed by Ron Carlson

 

Some movies should be seen in an art house, preferably one with a bar where you can hang out with fellow film buffs and discuss the nuances of the filmmaking you just witnessed – this isn’t one of those. Other movies should be seen in the local multiplexes with lots of popcorn and ice cold soda – this isn’t one of those either. No, this is the type of film that should be seen in a Times Square grindhouse circa 1979 – or in my case, the Jose Theater in downtown San Jose circa 1985.

Aging metal band Sonic Grave hasn’t gotten the memo that the 80s are long over. They’ve essentially made a career milking their one and only hit, a power ballad that now the band detests. They have been just hanging on through the machinations of their ruthless manager Danny (Arnold) but even he knows the band is fast approaching the end of the line. They have one shot at a comeback; a gig at a music festival in the California desert. No, not that one; the organizers of Coachella wouldn’t even take his calls. Instead, they’re going to “No-Chella,” a kind of Slamdance to the better-known festival’s Sundance

Danny knows they need to write some songs that will blow everyone away and get the band’s name known again so he takes the into the desert with a brief pit stop for some shrooms so that the band can get creative. They meet with Native American shaman Bigfoot (Horse) and his bodyguard Firecracker (Woodburn) who I must say has an impressive arsenal. Bigfoot is known for his variety of psychedelic mushrooms called The Moon but he has an even more potent fungus for sale – The Sun. He warns them that while under the influence they must not harm any living thing on the sacred grounds and that the mushrooms must be taken after sundown.

The rockers, being rockers and all, don’t listen and their train wreck of a bass player, Art (Astin) goes out to – um, relieve himself – and drowns a hapless ant in a stream of his own relief. The group, including shrieking singer Merrick (Busey), stoner guitar God Pager (Coiro) and level-headed drummer Stevie (Hailey) as well as two party girls Sam (Sweeney) and Lisa (Llaye) are attacked by ants that grow in size every time the hapless musicians kill one of them. Can these metalheads outwit the giant ants or will they become ant food?

This movie is actually a mash-up of a lot of different kinds of grindhouse films, from giant critter horror to stoner comedy to 80s music videos to psychedelic road trip. It never takes itself completely seriously but it doesn’t fail to deliver the goods either. That’s not to say there aren’t some missteps, but at least they are honestly come by. The movie declares it’s intentions from the very first scene in which a nubile hippie chick is chased through the desert by a gigantic ant. As she flees, she sheds her clothes and throws them in the general direction of the oncoming ant. I don’t know how much more grindhouse a film can get than that. Oddly enough, that is the last nudity seen in the film so arrive at the theater on time for those who are fans of the female form.

Arnold has made a career out of playing the same sort of guy pretty much in every role (which I suspect is pretty much the same guy that Tom Arnold actually is, although not as much of a schmuck). Most of the really funny lines in the movie are his and to his credit he gives it the same kind of effort that he gave in True Lies. That’s what you call a pro, right there.

The movie is filled with the kind of clichés that metal lovers have had to endure for years and I suppose some of them are earned, but there are plenty of people who play and love heavy metal who aren’t dumber than rocks and not all of them have fried their brains with sex, drugs and rock and roll, not necessarily in that order. Some of you fans of the music may find the portrayal of your kind to be wearisome, but I think (I may be wrong about this one) that it is meant in good spirit.

The mainly CGI special effects are cheesy as all get out and that may not necessarily be a bad thing. It at least keeps with the film’s oeuvre. While this isn’t going to break any records for originality, the filmmakers at least have the courage of their convictions and have crafted a pleasant and occasionally charming entertainment that wouldn’t feel out of place in Quentin Tarantino’s VHS collection (if ever a 21st century movie screamed for a VHS release it’s this one) and that’s pretty high praise in my book.

REASONS TO GO: The film is goofy and charming from the get-go.
REASONS TO STAY: The special effects are downright cheesy.
FAMILY VALUES: Where to begin? There’s plenty of violence and gore, a whole lot of drug use, a boatload of profanity, a few horrific images and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Carlson’s last film was set in a cold climate. Not wanting to undergo that kind of hardship again, he deliberately wrote this film set in a warmer climate.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/27/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Colossal
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
How It Ends

The Final Wish


Mirror, mirror on the wall…

(2018) Horror (Cinedigm) Lin Shaye, Michael Welch, Melissa Bolona, Spencer Locke, Tony Todd, Kalwi Lyman, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Jean Elie, Christopher Murray, Douglas Tait, Larry Poole, Garrett Edell, Michelle Burke, Timothy Oman, Dey Young, Gordon Woloson, Mohamed Mohson, Diane Markoff, Jeffrey Reddick, Zebulun Huling, Barbara de Normandie, Randi Lamey. Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr

 

The old saying goes “Be careful what you wish for” and that is especially true in a horror film. Wishes may from time to time be granted, but almost never in the way you expect and always – ALWAYS – at a price.

Aaron Hammond (Welch) graduated law school from essentially an online school but that hasn’t led to the dream job at a prestigious firm he was dreaming of. He is basically unemployed, unable to pay his rent on his squalid Chicago apartment and being demeaned at interviews by haughty lawyers who prefer Ivy League candidates.

Locked out of his apartment for failure to pay the rent, his day goes from awful to horrible when his ex-girlfriend calls to inform him that his father has passed away. Coming home to his small central California town isn’t exactly the tonic he was looking for; his mom Kate (Shaye) is almost bi-polar, at turns happy to see him and then furious at what she sees as his abandonment of his parents. The aforementioned ex, Lisa (Bolona) is married to Derek (Lyman), known as “Douchebag Derek” back in high school in Aaron’s circle and now the town sheriff when he isn’t busy physically abusing his wife.

Clearing out Dad’s antique shop has yielded some curious looking artifacts, including an urn with a ram’s head on the cover. As a depressed Aaron wishes for a better life, his wishes start to come true but in awful ways; a wish that he could be better looking results in him being hit by a car driven by his friend Jeremy (Elie) and requiring plastic surgery. A wish that his mother could be happy leads to his father returning as a zombie. You know, those sorts of things.

This is where Dad’s antiques buyer Colin (Todd) drops into the picture to explain what’s going on. It turns out that the urn is actually the receptacle for a djinn and no, this is not the kind of blue genie that croons “You never had a friend like me.” This is a hideous creature that draws its power from wishes and once seven of them have been granted, takes possession of the soul of the user. And Aaron has used up six of them…

This is a fairly clever horror flick from the writer of Final Destination. Some of the death scenes have that kind of Rube Goldberg-like complexity to them which made that franchise so entertaining; some are much more straightforward. Some of these complex scenes have nothing to do with deaths either which is an interesting twist on the FD franchise.

Any horror movie that has Lin Shaye in it is welcome and in that regard The Final Wish doesn’t disappoint. Shaye is at the top of her game, giving Kate a truly hard-to-read character. She may be a little over-the-top in places but only when the scene calls for it. Horror icon Tony Todd also has a cameo and while he does as good a job as always, the part feels like it was hastily added for expository purposes, dropped suddenly into the film and dropping just as suddenly out of it.

Welch is a competent lead; Aaron is something of a selfish jerk and Welch is able to make the character somewhat sympathetic nonetheless. This is a good performance for the resume. Bolona is pretty and present as the girlfriend but she’s given not a lot to work with. I did like Jonathan Daniel Brown as the nerdy best friend who carries with him a whopper of a secret.

I have to say that the production design is impressive; the interior of the house is suitably spooky with Dad’s very creepy antiques scattered around. Since a lot of the action takes place at night, the shadows add to the tone. It’s not haunted house spooky but you are always nervously glancing at the shadows waiting for something to leap out; something with fangs and horns, most likely.

I can’t say that this is groundbreaking; it really isn’t. There are plenty of djinn tales that are plenty more interesting than this one. Frankly it could have used a little more camp. However, it has enough going for it that horror buffs are likely to find this entertaining. Everyone else it’s probably not going to be too high on the list, although the end twist is a pretty cool one.

REASONS TO GO: The production design is really well done.
REASONS TO STAY: The writing is more than a little bit sloppy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and gore, plenty of profanity, some disturbing images and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the same house that was used in Annabelle: Creation.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wishmaster
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
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Dead Ant