The Soul Collector (8) (2019)


Good men can still do bad things.

(2019) Horror (SHOUT! FactoryTshamano Sebe, Inge Beckmann, Keita Luna, Garth Breytenbach, Chris April, Luxolo Ndabedi, Owam Amey, Sindiwe Magona, Graham Clarke, Eve Maxagazo Andy Crawford, Jac Williams, Andres Brink. Directed by Harold Holscher

 

The South African film scene has been coming on lately, with several movies produced there getting international attention. The Soul Collector (which made the Festival rounds known as 8) is a horror movie with its roots in local traditions and mythology, certainly a heady and largely untapped source of inspiration for scare flicks.

William Ziel (Breytenbach) has been experiencing rough economic times, so he heads to the interior of South Africa to work his family farm after the death of his father (Clarke). He brings along his adopted daughter Mary (Luna), whose parents in addition to being William’s brother and sister-in-law are also dead, and his wife Sarah (Beckmann) who has demons of her own.

William knows next to nothing about farming, but help comes in the form of Lazarus (Sebe), a wise old black man who once worked the farm. However, local villagers, led by their one-eyed chief (April), are aware of the true nature of Lazarus; he collects souls for the demonic presence occupying his daughter’s (Amey) body. Lazarus, a good man driven to an act of madness by grief and desperation, has also befriended Mary, whom the demon is dead set on feeding upon.

First-time director Holscher has crafted a film that looks really nice; beautiful vistas of the rolling plains of South Africa, as well as in-camera effects that are as effective as any CGI. He also is given the richness of African legend to work from, but sadly, resorts to jump scares and horror tropes that end up taking his movie down a few notches.

That’s not to say that the movie is entirely without merit. There are some frank discussions on the intertwining of life and death (the figure 8 is used to denote the place where the mortal world and the next realm meet, which is where the living can communicate with the dead) and Sebe is an imposing presence; intimidating when he needs to be, but clearly conflicted over his fate and the bargain he made. It is hard not to feel for Lazarus and Sebe does a good job of making the character sympathetic.

The other characters are less so; William is stubborn, refusing to see any other reality but the one that he wants to see. He is going to make this farm work no matter what! For her part, Sarah is often bitchy and vindictive, mourning that she can’t have children of her own. As for Mary, she’s not the plucky heroine of most horror movies (which is refreshing) but she keeps silkworms in a music box that plays the “Swan Theme” from Swan Lake (which is used as a motif throughout the score, at times to distraction) and is in every sense, a little weird. Then again, she’s been through a lot.

I like seeing horror movies using the mythology of other cultures, be they Latin, Eastern European, or Asian; we so rarely get to see the rich folklore of Africa used cinematically that it’s refreshing when it happens. I just wish that the director had done a little more with it here.

REASONS TO SEE: Takes us to an environment not usually found in horror films.
REASONS TO AVOID: Plenty of horror tropes and jump scares.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of profanity, some images of terror and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Not related to the movie of the 1999 movie of the same name.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/13/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews, Metacritic: 37/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Golem
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Exit Plan

Lancaster Skies


Bombers fill the night of Lancaster skies.

(2019) War (Shout! FactoryJeffrey Mundell, David Dobson, Kris Saddler, Joanne Gale, Vin Hawke, Steve Hooper, Josh Collins, Callum Burn, Steven Hooper, Tom Gordon, Henry Collie, Tony Gordon, Leila Sykes, Eric Flynn, Roger Wentworth, Oria Sanders, Fiona Kimberley, Matt Davies, Bridgette Burn, Elliott Strother, Bryony James, Robert Francis, Tina Hodgson. Directed by Callum Burn

 

I take no joy out of writing a negative review. I know that most people go into making a movie with the best intentions, but things happen – sometimes there’s studio interference, sometimes the cast and crew are inexperienced, other times things just don’t click for whatever reason. I understand that there are human beings behind every movie, some having put all their passion into a project that for whatever reason just didn’t click with me; and that’s not on them so much as it is on me.

Once in a while, though, it is clear that a filmmaker’s reach exceeded his grasp. He or she perhaps had a good story and a decent cast, but budget limitations kept him/her from making the movie they wanted to make. I suspect that’s the problem here.

Lancaster Skies is meant to be a World War II epic about an English bomber crew dealing with the loss of their skipper (Tom Gordon). They are having to cope with the death of a comrade-in-arms, but also the arrival of their new captain, Douglas Miller (Mundell), who is dealing with a tragedy of his own and has become closed-off, stand-offish and generally a bit of a pill. At first, he is oil and water with the veteran crew. Only co-pilot Georgie Williams (Dobson) seems to be friendly towards him at all – well, there’s always comely WAAF Kate Hedges (Gale) who has taken a shine to the handsome but taciturn Miller.

Miller, a former Spitfire pilot, is chomping at the bit to take the fight to the Germans. With the survival rate of bomber crews right around 50% (Williams illustrates that in a bar brawl by flipping a coin a la Harvey Dent), this would seem to be on the surface a little crazy, but slowly Douglas begins to warm up to his crew and they to him. But, at last, they’ve finally gotten a mission to fly. With a tail gunner (Saddler) prone to freezing up at the worst possible moment, and a co-pilot with a devastating secret of his own, this crew will need to pull together if they are to survive their next mission.

I don’t really know how to begin to sort this all out. It is simply poorly done on every level. On a technical level, the color fades into almost black and white but I believe is just washed out color. It does so without warning and goes from color to washed out within even the same screen. I’m not technically proficient enough to identify whether it was a camera thing, a processing thing or a digital thing, but I can say for certain that it was an annoying thing.

The only thing stiffer than the dialogue is the actors saying it; if their upper lips were any stiffer, they would have been shot up full of Novocain. There are a lot of characters in the film and I couldn’t always differentiate between them. At length, I just gave up.

I could go on, but I think that for now, that’s enough. I do give director Callum Burn props for having the moxie to try and make a movie of this scope on a budget that was right around £80,000 – a microscopic amount compared to even most independent films. The movie wasn’t completely without merit and it is a story that deserves to be told, but perhaps Burn should have waited until he could get himself a budget to tell the story properly.

REASONS TO SEE: The title is evocative.
REASONS TO AVOID: Stiff characters and even stiffer dialogue. Inexplicably drops in and out of color.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some war violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was shot in five different shooting blocks over a two-year period.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/9/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Memphis Belle
FINAL RATING: 3/10
NEXT:
Jinn (2018)

Standing Up, Falling Down


Billy Crystal still looks mah-velous!

(2019) Comedy (SHOUT!) Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz, Eloise Mumford, Grace Gummer, Nate Corddry, Jill Hennessy, Caitlin McGee, David Castañeda, Leonard Ouzts, John Behlmann, Debra Monk, Kevin Dunn, Wade Allain-Marcus, Kate Arrington, Mike Carlsen, Charlie Hankin, Nathan James, Hassan Jordan, Glenn Kubota, Kelsey Reinhardt. Directed by Matt Ratner

 

It’s not easy to make it out there. These days, it is not uncommon for kids to move back home with their parents when things don’t go their way in a career. I know I did that when I was younger; so did my own son. Most everyone knows someone who has been in that boat at one time or another.

=For Scott Rollins (Schwartz), that ship is on an indefinite cruise. After his attempt to become a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles crashed and burned, he has moved back home to Long Island – not the Hamptons part – with his mom (Monk) who is absolutely thrilled to have him home, his Dad (Dunn) who is disappointed and his younger sister Megan (Gummer) who trades acid-tongued barbs with him and is likely none-too-pleased to see him – her life isn’t going much better than his, although she does have a really great boyfriend (Castañeda).

Scott is 34 years old, with no direction in life and an uncertain future. Although his mom is pushing him in the direction of a post office job – which he is absolutely against – he doesn’t really have much in the way of a plan B. He is pining over his ex-fiancée Becky (Mumford) whom he left to go to the West Coast for. She has since married a mutual friend (Behlmann) and still lives in town.

>He meets the very drunk Marty (Crystal) in a bar bathroom; Marty is drunk enough to be pissing in a sink but not so drunk that his aim is off. He notices a skin condition on Scott’s arm and recommends a dermatologist. As it turns out, he’s the dermatologist. A more sober Marty treats Scott’s “stress hives” and the two develop a friendship.

Like Scott, Marty is damaged goods. He is totally alone and both of his marriages didn’t go the way he wanted. His son Adam (Corddry) can’t stand the sight of him and Marty knows he drinks far too much. But as it turns out, Marty and Scott are good for each other and help each other out in ways neither one of them could have anticipated.

The movie doesn’t break any particularly new ground; the concept of a thirty-something year old kid returning home in failure to his folks’ house has been done a number of times. There aren’t a whole lot of emotional highs and lows here although to be fair the ones that are here are handled well, particularly a scene between Marty and his son late in the film.

What the movie has in spades is charm which is mainly due to the casting. All of the actors, from Parks and Recreation vet Schwartz to the legendary Crystal all exude it and Ratner wisely lets them do their thing. In particular, Crystal is outstanding. This is some of his best work since his SNL days; it’s wonderful to see him display his impressive talent and screen presence again. He’ll be 72 in March but he’s still as funny as he ever was.

Schwartz, not so much. His stand-up routines are kind of flat, even when he’s supposedly killing it; there’s a fundamental lack of understanding of what makes a stand-up funny here. The filmmakers might have been better served picking a different occupation for Scott. However, to be fair, Schwartz has some screen presence and charisma going for him and even if his stand-up material doesn’t work so well, he does a commendable job in his role.

=Definitely, the attraction here is Crystal and fans of his should flock to see this. It is available on the major streaming services now with more to come I’m sure, and at the same time it is making a brief theatrical run including here at the Old Mill Theater in the Villages for those who would prefer to see this on the big screen. This isn’t going to be a movie you can’t live without, but it has enough warmth to make it worth your while.

REASONS TO SEE: There’s enough charm here to see the picture through. One of Crystal’s best performances ever.
REASONS TO AVOID: Is a little bit formulaic. Has a been there done that feel
FAMILY VALUES: There is more than a little profanity and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The crash scene into the pizza parlor was so well-staged that residents in Long Island called the police.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/25/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews: Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Comedian (2017)
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Nobody’s Fool

Camp Cold Brook


Shooting a ghost hunt in an abandoned summer camp where a bunch of campers died? What could go wrong?

(2018) Horror (Shout!) Chad Michael Murray, Danielle Harris, Courtney Gains, Michael Eric Reid, Loren Ledesma, Jason Von Erman, Mary Kathryn Bryant, Candice De Visser, Cate Jones, Mary Fjelstad-Buss, Juliette Kida, Doug Van Liew, Dale Niehaus, Ketrick “Jazz” Copeland, Corbin Tyler, Chloe Blotter, Pamela Bell, Connor Scott Frank, Debbi Tucker, Katie Fairbanks.  Directed by Andy Palmer

 

The paranormal investigation TV show is a staple of entertainment over the last, I don’t know, ten years, let’s say. Setting one in a staple slasher film locale – the abandoned summer camp – would indicate a melding of the two sub-genres, a good idea whose time has come. Unfortunately, that’s not the idea the filmmakers went with.

Jack Wilson (Murray) is the ruggedly handsome host of a cable TV paranormal investigation show that is in the midst of filming its third season when Jack is summoned by a network executive to be told that there won’t be a fourth season. However, Jack convinces him that the group is about to film their biggest show yet, one that will conclusively prove the existence of life after death. Reluctantly, the exec gives them one more episode to air as a summer special. If the ratings warrant it, they can talk about renewing then.

All Jack needs is a killer show, but to date mostly the group has come up snake eyes when it comes to any sort of paranormal activity. They don’t want to film at places every other paranormal investigation show has done to death; they need someplace new and preferably with a gruesome past. Production assistant Emma (De Visser) suggests a summer camp in rural Oklahoma where 20 years earlier 28 young campers drowned. The church that owns the campsite has steadfastly refused to let anyone in since then.

By an amazing coincidence, Jack grew up not far from there (non-spoiler alert: that isn’t the last amazing coincidence the plot will utilize). His mother Esther (Fjelstad-Buss) is less than pleased that her son is going to that place. Same with the least-sheriff-looking sheriff ever (Van Liew) as well as assorted townspeople. You almost expect the Scooby Do gang to show up.

But into the camp they go, Jack and Emma and jaded cameraman Kevin (Reid) and producer Angela (Harris). The cameras are placed, the lights are lit and the four of them hunker down. Soon, it starts – the unexplained noises, the half-glimpsed figures. Then, fires light and extinguish by themselves. Objects move without anyone being there. Then, things start to get real. As it turns out, a local woman whose child was killed by a church transport van, needs the lives of 30 other children to resurrect her own child through witchcraft. 28 kids died that night and the witch disappeared. Now, maybe she’s back to finish the job?

The movie has some things going for it and other things going against it. For one thing, it’s a little light on scares and the plot is on the formulaic side. Most veteran horror fans will see just about every plot point coming, quite possibly including the twist ending which, while nifty enough, wasn’t particularly shocking.

Genre legend Joe Dante was one of the producers on this, and his participation is slyly referred to in a couple of places (for example, one of the show’s tag lines is “We make the illogical logical” which was also a line used by the dad in Gremlins to promote his business. I found those little Easter eggs endearing.

This isn’t a bad horror movie but it could have been better. A little less reliance on formula and a few more legitimate scares would have gone a long way. There is some potential here though and I have high hopes that may of the performers here both on and off camera have better things ahead of them.

REASONS TO SEE: Murray has some real leading man appeal.
REASONS TO AVOID: Somewhat formulaic and a little light on scares.
FAMILY VALUES: There are images of terror, profanity and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made the rounds on the horror film festival circuit before getting a simultaneous streaming and limited theatrical release this weekend.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hoopla, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/16/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Grave Encounters
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Mid90s

Rabid (2019)


She’s got a bit of an overbite.

(2019) Horror (Shout! FactoryLaura Vandervoort, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Ted Atherton, Hanneke Talbot, Stephen Huszar, Mackenzie Gray, Stephen McHattie, Kevin Hanchard, Heidi von Palleske, Joel Labelle, C.M. Punk, Edie Inksetter, Tristan Risk, Sylvia Soska, Jen Soska, Vanessa Jackson, Joe Bostick, Troy James, Greg Bryk, A.J. Mendez, Dion Karas, Amanda Zhou. Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska

 

The Soska sisters are a pair of Canadian identical twins who have turned into promising horror directors. Their latest, a remake of an early classic by their countryman David Cronenberg, walks a fine line between modernizing a classic and overpraising it.

Rose (Vandervoort) is a mousy wannabe fashion designer who works for the insufferable Euro-trash designer Gunter (Gray) who regularly bullies her. Her BFF Chelsea (Talbot) convinces her to come to the company party that night where hottie photographer Brad (Hollingsworth) flirts with her. When she discovers that Chelsea put him up to it, Rose storms out of the party, gets on her scooter and promptly gets into a horrific accident.

With part of her intestine missing and her face marred by a ghastly mutilation, she is certain her career is over. However, Dr. Burroughs (Atherton) proposes a radical new treatment – stem cell manipulation – that will restore her beauty and repair her injuries. It sounds too good to be true but what does she have to lose?

The treatment goes better than she would dare hope. Dr. Burroughs’ promises are kept and more; when Rose gets back to work, she does so with new-found confidence that impresses Gunter to the point that he invites her to work on his new collection. She’s living the dream now.

But not so much since it turns out there are side effects. You see, Rose has a massive craving for blood and a weird appendage growing out of her armpit. And it turns out that Rose is now carrying a kind of super-rabies that is spreading throughout the city. Living the dream has turned into a living nightmare.

This is a fairly faithful remake of the original which is best-known for being porn star Marilyn Chambers’ first legitimate screen role. There is a smattering of social satire here that is welcome and a few in-jokes; early on, an employee of Gunter’s wonders about his new line “Why are we remaking old trends?” The level of self-awareness in the film is clever and subtle.

Unfortunately, a lot of good ideas here go undeveloped and the Sisters – whose earlier films didn’t shy away from the gore, certainly seem to be a bit tamer here. There are a few gruesome scenes – the injuries to Rose’s face, as depicted above, among them – but for the most part, there is a curious lack of over-the-top gore which might have benefitted the film.

A little judicious editing might have always helped. The movie is 20 minutes longer than the original and feels long; by the time the movie reaches its denouement it feels more like a marathon than a sprint. A good horror film requires brevity. There’s none of that here.

Vandervoort, best known for her time on Smallville, does a fairly decent job although quite frankly when compared with Chambers that’s not a high bar to reach for. She shows some nice horror chops here and although I don’t think that a further career as a scream queen is necessarily in the cards for her but if she chose to go that route I think she could make some real inroads.

I had high hopes for this one given the pedigree of the Soska sisters and the original material so I was mildly disappointed. It’s still worth seeing, particularly if you’re into body manipulation horror, but this is far from essential. Still, I do believe the Soska sisters are on the verge of becoming big players in the horror genre.

REASONS TO SEE: Occasionally delves into social satire which it does with welcome subtlety.
REASONS TO AVOID: Way too long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is extreme and often horrific violence, disturbing images, drug use, sexuality and nudity not to mention plenty of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Producer Paul Lalonde is best known for his work o the Left Behind film franchise. This is his first non-faith-based film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews: Metacritic: 41/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: World War Z
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
And Two If By Sea

Then Came You


Caught in the web of their own making – and a callous fate.

(2018) Dramedy (Shout! Factory) Asa Butterfield, Maisie Williams, Nina Dobrev, Ken Jeong, David Koechner, Tyler Hoechlin, Peyton List, Tituss Burgess, Sonya Walger, Margot Bingham, Colin Moss, Briana Venskus, Ron Simons, Angel Valle Jr., L. Steven Taylor, Francesca Noel, Ann Osmond, Ken Tsukada, Crystal Tweed, Terri Gittens, Ashlyn Alessi. Directed by Peter Hutchings

 

All good things must come to an end, including (and especially) life itself. However, knowing that you’re dying doesn’t mean that you have to stop living.

Calvin (Butterfield) is a college drop-out who is working as a baggage handler at a regional airport along with his Dad (Koechner) and big brother Frank (Hoechlin) whose wife (Walger) is about to have a baby. Although he vehemently denies it, Calvin is a bit of a hypochondriac, taking his own vitals hourly (his watch alarm reminding him to do so) and obsessively writing down his symptoms in a journal. Most of those by the way are pretty much in between his ears.

His frustrated doctor, wanting this healthy young man to get some perspective, sends him to a cancer support group where he meets Skye (Williams), a manic pixie dream girl from a long line of them, who reacts to being told her tumor is not responding to treatment by shrugging at her shattered parents “You win some, you lose some.” She’s the kind of girl who gives a goldfish as a gift to a friend, swimming happily in an IV bag.

She recognizes the depressed and introverted Calvin as a project she can take on and manages to convince him (overwhelming what few defenses he has) to help her achieve all the entries on her “To Die List,” which is essentially a bucket list with a cooler name. In doing so, she begins to coax Calvin out of his thick shell as he begins to learn how to really live, something he gave up on years earlier after a tragedy left his family shattered and his mom essentially catatonic. He even manages to work up the courage to ask out the girl he’s been crushing hard on, a lonely stewardess named Izzy (Dobrev) who, as Skye helpfully points out, is way out of his league. So is Skye for that matter but don’t tell her I told you that.

Izzy gets the mistaken impression that Calvin is the one with terminal cancer and neither Skye nor Calvin are disposed to setting her straight which from the moment she confides to Calvin that she broke up with her last boyfriend because he was untruthful to her tells you all you need to know about where this relationship is going. As for Skye, she’s going somewhere herself but will she able to get all the things on her list done before she sets sail for the shores of the undiscovered country?

Dying teens have been a staple of music and movies since people figured out that teens could die and it was a tragic thing when they did. There have been plenty of dying teen movies – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl for example – and while they usually don’t make for extraordinary box office, they are generally inexpensive to make and can pull a tidy profit when done right. They almost have to since they are not generally fodder for sequels if you catch my drift.

Butterfield is a handsome devil with big soulful eyes in a puppy dog sense. He has been around the block a few times but has never really demonstrated the screen presence to be a big star. Still, his performance here feels a bit more authentic than that of Williams, the Game of Thrones star whose bonhomie seems a bit forced in places. Still, she manages to be more unforgettable than her bland co-star and ends up carrying the movie for the most part even though this is ostensibly Calvin’s story.

Dobrev who has done the manic pixie dream girl role herself a time or two is the most authentic of the three leads even though she isn’t given a ton to work with. It’s hard to figure out what she sees in Calvin other than sympathy for his mistakenly perceived plight although by the movie’s end we see that there might be more to it than meets the eye initially. Koechner and Jeong, two comedy pros, have some surprising moments of pathos during the course of the film and show off their versatility in doing so.

The soundtrack is decent enough and the filmmakers show off their taste in music during several montages which are almost de rigueur for a film like this. The issue is the filmmakers are almost trying too hard to set the mood both light and dark and resort to familiar clichés in order to get their points across. This is going to seem depressingly familiar to those who have seen a few of these kinds of movies up to now.

Still, their heart is in the right place and to the credit of the filmmakers the movie gets better as it goes along. In the first twenty minutes, I was thoroughly prepared to despise this movie but it is rescued particularly in the last third by strong performances by Dobrev, Koechner and Jeong (and to a lesser degree, Butterfield) and a memorable take on things by Williams whose Skye may be an amalgam of other MPDGs but Williams has the presence to pull it off pretty well. This isn’t going to replace your favorite tearjerker but it does make a decent substitute to listening to a Morrissey record or whatever angst-ridden pop star has the attention of young people this week.

REASONS TO GO: The quality picks up towards the end.
REASONS TO STAY: The filmmakers try a bit too hard.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, some sexual content and plenty of adult thematic content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Much of the movie was filmed in upstate New York in the Capital District; the airport scenes were mainly filmed at Albany International Airport.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/4/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 55% positive reviews. Metacritic: 43/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Fault in Our Stars
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Cold War

MDMA (Angie X, Cardinal X)


Annie Q knows you can never truly relax when you’re a drug kingpin.

(2017) Crime Drama (Shout! Factory) Annie Q, Francesca Eastwood, Pierson Fode, Scott Teiji Takeda, Joseph John Schirle, Ron Yuan, Noah Segan, Yetide Badaki, Henry Zaga, Elisa Donovan, Allyrah Caldwell, Angie Wang, Devon Libran, Kyle Zingler, Zoe Winter, Ed Moy, Shoyi Cheng, Dexter Masland, Cooper Chow, Jason J. Lai, Jackie Dallas. Directed by Angie Wang

 

In the mid-80s, “Just say no” was the kind of thing knowing club kids used as a kind of electronic irony. Just say no? Why on earth would anybody do that? Drugs were profitable (for dealers and their suppliers) and moreover, drugs felt amazing. And yeah, so long as you didn’t get hooked on something like heroin they were essentially harmless, right?

Angie Wang (Q) is a young sparkling-eyed freshman going off to college at an expensive private school in California (think: Stanford). Her father (Yuan), who works at a Chinese restaurant in New Jersey, can’t afford the tuition, but lets his daughter go anyway. Once there she befriends her roommate Jeanine (Eastwood), a blonde and pretty debutante sort whose life is much more messed up than it appears to be on the surface, with an alcoholic and judgmental mother who seems hell-bent on putting down her daughter about as far as she can go. Angie’s mother left with her little brother when Angie was a little girl, enduring an abusive husband until she couldn’t.

It turns out that Angie is no stereotype, no prim and proper Asian princess. She parties hardy and has sex whenever and with whoever she chooses. A swimmer with Olympic aspirations turns her on to Ecstasy, then a legal recreational drug (the title is based on its scientific name which is abbreviated as MDMA). Supplies are extremely limited as its only manufactured by a single lab in Germany; chemistry major Angie thinks she can synthesize it in the chem. Lab all by herself. As a result she becomes the leading supplier of the drug on the West Coast, referred to in the clubs as “Cardinal X.”

The money allows her to pay her tuition and live a lifestyle more to her liking. She joins the big sister program and becomes a mentor to Bree (Caldwell), the daughter of a crack mom (Badaki) more concerned with having beer and smokes readily available than seeing that her daughter wasn’t hungry. Her lab partner Tommy (Takeda) urges her to get out of the drug dealing although he doesn’t report her; he’s crazy in love with her after all, and hopes that he can save her from herself. However, it’s already way too late for that and soon things spiral out of control.

Wang called this “a dramatic telling” of her life story, which means that likely some events were fudged, embellished and/or compressed somewhat. She recalls the club scene of the mid-80s (what I can remember of it) pretty accurately, other than if they were Bay Area clubs there should have been a larger presence of gay men than there are in the movie.

Annie Q is a former child actress whom readers might recognize from the TV show The Leftovers. She gives Angie a good deal of strength and sass without reverting to Hollywood Asian stereotypes. The movies definitely need more characters like Angie in them – not necessarily as role models for young Asian girls since Angie does a lot of really bad shit in the movie – but simply to show Asian women in a more realistic light.

Some of the plot points feel a bit overdone with the final third of the movie feeling like every one of the main characters are constantly in tears. The dialogue sometimes sounds a little awkward as well. Still as first efforts go, this is a mighty fine one. The soundtrack is full of 80s goodness and Wang wisely keeps things simple, not trying to show off unusual camera angles to attract attention to herself. She lets the story take center stage which some new directors forget to do. Wang may not necessarily be proud of her past but she can be proud of her movie.

REASONS TO GO: Annie Q gives the story a strong Asian woman lead, something not seen often.
REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a little overwrought in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of drug use and references, violence, profanity, sex and rape.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wang, who wrote and directed the film (and also appears in a cameo role), based the movie on her own life experiences.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, ITunes, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/18/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews: Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: White Boy Rick
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
A Greater Society

Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town


Izzy may be a hot mess but at least she’s green.

(2017) Comedy (Shout! Factory) Mackenzie Davis, Alia Shawkat, Haley Joel Osment, Carrie Coon, Keith Stanfield, Annie Potts, Brandon T. Jackson, Sarah Goldberg, Lauren Miller, Melinda McGraw, Ryan Simpkins, Alex Russell, Bob Huebel, Dolly Wells, Kyle Kinane, Luka Jones, Sheldon Bailey, Marcia Ann Burrs, Michelle Haro, Meghan Lennox, Salme Geransar, Robert Santi, Rebecca Kessler. Directed by Christian Paperniak

 

I think that everyone has that certain someone in their lives, someone who always manages to find a way to say or do exactly the wrong thing, a person who is chronically broke, always needs a favor and can be counted upon to throw up on your sofa after a party. We keep them in our lives despite all these days because we know deep down they mean well and that there is a better person inside just screaming to be let out.

Izzy (Davis) is that kind of girl. She is described in the press material quite accurately as a shameless hot mess; she wakes up in a stranger’s bed remembering hardly anything of the night before other than that she got in an altercation with her boss at a catering company. Izzy, a now-unemployed musician sort, has been crashing on the sofa of a friend but still pines for her ex-boyfriend Roger (Russell). It just so happens he’s celebrating his engagement to Izzy’s former best friend (Goldberg) that very evening in Los Feliz. Izzy is all the way out in Santa Monica which, if you know your L.A. geography, is quite the hike. With her car out of commission and flat broke (because she paid every last cent she had to get the car fixed but the parts tragically haven’t arrived yet), she’ll have to by hook or by crook get her happy tush across town in time to win back her ex and live happily ever after. Izzy is frantic but at the same time she thinks it’s her destiny. Then again, Izzy is a bundle of contradictions.

Mackenzie Davis is an exceptionally fine actress but even she can’t make Izzy much of a likable character. Izzy has no filter and takes no responsibility for all the things she has done or failed to do to get herself in this position. She and her sister Virginia (Coon) were in a band once together but while Izzy continued to drink and fritter her life away, Virginia sobered up and began to live a life of her own. This has pissed off Izzy something fierce and she blames a lot of her lack of success on Virginia leaving the band. There is a sweet moment where the two sisters sit down and cover a Heavens to Betsy song “Axeman” and for a moment you can see the connection between them. The moment is fleeting however but authentic nonetheless.

The supporting cast is impressive, with Osment as a tech guy who gives Izzy odd jobs from time to time and appears to be at least as far from together as Izzy is; Potts is one of the rare kind people in the film; Shawkat is one of Izzy’s friends (Izzy complains about not knowing anybody in L.A. but for someone who doesn’t know anybody she sure has a lot of friends) who calmly enlists Izzy’s help in breaking into one of Agatha’s friends houses and robbing it for her meth-head boyfriend Rabbit (Kinane). Jackson is Dick, the guy repairing Izzy’s car which may or may not be in as bad a shape as he lets on; Stanfield is the hunk Izzy wakes up next to at the start of the film.

The pace is frenetic and the soundtrack that accompanies the film is pretty damn good. Where the film goes wrong is really the dialogue; everyone sounds like they’re refugees from a sitcom which I guess makes Izzy the Third Broke Girl. There is so much potential here that it hurts when the writing gets bogged down with snappy dialogue that rings false, and quirky characters that just about scream indie hipster character clichés. I really wanted to like this movie more but after spending an hour and a half with Izzy I felt burned out, like I’d spent a similar amount of time in the dentist’s chair. I do like some of the writer/director’s ideas and I feel that there is some potential there – the movie isn’t a washout by any means – but he needs to start writing dialogue that sounds like actual people talking. Maybe he needs to watch a little less television and hang out with actual people – and not Hollywood people, I mean actual people – and listen to what they have to say. That would make for a far more interesting and unusual movie than this one.

REASONS TO GO: The soundtrack is decent.
REASONS TO STAY: Izzy is so unpleasant that you really just want her to get hit by a bus. The dialogue is too self-aware and too sitcom-like.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of profanity, some sexual references and drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Haley Joel Osment’s character in Secondhand Lions was also named Walt.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/22/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews: Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Funeral Day
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT:
Red Sparrow

Cockneys vs. Zombies


Alan Ford knows what to do with Jehovah's Witnesses that get a little too aggressive.

Alan Ford knows what to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses that get a little too aggressive.

(2012) Horror Comedy (Shout! Factory) Rasmus Hardiker, Harry Treadaway, Michelle Ryan, Jack Doolan, Georgia King, Ashley Thomas, Tony Gardner, Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Tony Selby, Georgina Hale, Dudley Sutton, Richard Briers, Natalie Walter, Phil Cornwell, Josh Cole, Gary Beadle, Finlay Robertson, Joan Hodges. Directed by Matthias Hoene  

 Florida Film Festival 2013

Zombies are the new vampires and fortunately none of them are sparkling, although we have had some sensitive boyfriend zombie sorts (Warm Bodies). But they’ve never run into opposition like they would have in the East End of London.

A couple of construction workers working on a condo project unearth a tomb from the 16th century with a warning from King Charles not to disturb the contents within. Being modern day men, of course they do and release a plague of zombies for their troubles.

Another victim of the condo project is a retirement home where rough and tumble Ray (Ford) resides. His grandsons Terry (Hardiker) and younger brother Andy (Treadaway) don’t want to see the residence torn down but there doesn’t look to be a way out – they’d have to buy the property back from its owner and they don’t have that kind of cash.

But they know where they can get it. With time being a factor, applying for a loan is out of the question. They’ll just have to get the money the old-fashioned way – they’ll have to steal it. Of course, while they’ve had the odd brush with the law, neither one of them is exactly a criminal genius. They’ve added a few bodies to their brigade – their sharp-tongued cousin Katy (Ryan), their somewhat bumbling friend Davey (Doolan) and the one legitimate villain – Mental Mickey (Thomas), a veteran of the Iraq war with a steel plate in his skull and a surfeit of viciousness.

During the robbery, the bank manager presses the panic button, bringing down the police. The desperate criminals take hostages – Clive (Gardner) and comely Emma (King). When they go out to face the cops, the cops are all dead and a flock of zombies is chowing down. They get away in the van but Mickey is bitten. They manage to make it back to the hideout and debate on how they’re going to get their grandfather out of the retirement home. They know he’ll want to take as many friends as he can so their van is out of the question, particularly since it doesn’t always start right up. Mickey turns not long after but head shots don’t work with him because of the steel plate. Instead, a hand grenade is stuffed in his mouth. Innovation is key to surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Meanwhile, back at the retirement home, the zombies are swarming and Ray, his girl Peggy (Blackman) and friends Daryl (Selby), Doreen (Hale), Eric (Sutton) and Hamish (Briers) take refuge in the kitchen. With the van out of the question, Andy and Terri “borrow” a double decker bus and head on out to the retirement home with the surviving members of their gang. Even if they can liberate these none-too-spry pensioners from the surrounded kitchen, where can they go?

This is really quite funny more than it is serious horror and gore, although there’s plenty of that. I’d say it’s a comedy with horrific overtones more than anything else. The cast is fairly well-known in Britain with Blackman being the best known across the pond, largely due to her iconic role of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (and for preceding Diana Rigg in The Avengers – not the Marvel version). The humor is, typical for British comedies, pretty dry although Americans who like their humor over the top will find some gags to love – my favorite was Hamish in his walker being chased by a slow-moving shuffling zombie, complaining “why is it going so fast?” as he plods his way towards safety.

There’s nothing really subtle here at all and they goof on zombie movies not only of the Romero persuasion but also some of the more persistent tropes of the genre. People who are pretty familiar with zombie movies will find a few in-jokes scattered about. Of course these are cockneys for the most part so they use the rhyming cockney jargon (i.e. apple and pears for stairs) that will go sailing over the heads of American audiences. I suspect the average cockney won’t give a crap if it does.

This is entertaining on both fronts – both the comedic and the horrific – that will satisfy fans of both genres. Even Da Queen, not a big fan of horror movies, enjoyed this far more than she thought she was gonna. I understand that the distributors are planning a late summer American release for this – if you see it playing anywhere near you, by all means take the opportunity to see it. It’s one of those delightful hidden gems that you hear nothing about that turns out to be really good and those are definitely one of life’s great pleasures for a movie buff like me.

REASONS TO GO: Cheeky. Occasional elicits some guilty laughs.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the dialogue is difficult for American audiences to figure out.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s lots of zombie gore goodness, a surfeit of foul language, plenty of violence, a few disturbing images and some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This would turn out to be the final feature film role for Briers, one of Britain’s most beloved actors (mainly for stage and television).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100; has mostly played the festival circuit after a brief British theatrical release; may be coming to a midnight movie emporium near you.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shaun of the Dead

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story