By Day’s End


Any corridor is dangerous during the zombie apocalypse.

(2020) Found Footage Horror (Breaking GlassLyndsey Lantz, Andrea Nelson, Joshua Keller Katz, Diana Castrillon, Bill Oberst Jr. (voice), Maria Olsen, Devlin Wilder, Umberto Celisano, Nadia Jordan (voice), Devon Russell, Kyle Nunn, Amber Hawkins, Roy Ying, Matthew Lee, Janaki Tambe, Helen Audie, Shirley Aikens. Directed by Michael Souder

While many of us are stuck at home by social distancing – voluntary or otherwise – caused by a deadly pandemic, a virus-driven zombie apocalypse movie might not be precisely the best choice in social distancing viewing. Still…

Carly (Lantz) has just purchased a video camera. After dropping out of med school just short of graduating, she intends to take up a career as a videographer instead and even has a wedding lined up to shoot on the weekend. She lives with Rina (Nelson), her girlfriend and a lawyer who is, unfortunately, out of work. This set of circumstances has forced them to take up residence in a squalid L.A.-area motel.

The dingy surroundings might well be a metaphor for the relationship between the two women. Andrea is on edge, sniping and picking on Carly at every turn. Carly doesn’t seem to be taking their circumstances seriously. Their romance is definitely on the rocks, with a twist of lemon even.

But this relationship movie is interrupted by the intrusion of a screaming woman; Gloria (Castrillon) who has been bitten by her husband (Celisano), the maintenance guy for the hotel. All of a sudden, this romance has turned into a zombie movie and the two women are not close to being prepared for it.

=Fortunately, Wyatt (Katz) is. The ex-military man has a cache of weapons and ammo in a hotel storeroom and is aware of a safe zone that the army has set up. Now all they have to do is get there.

This is a found footage film, a sub-genre that seems to be making a comeback this year after taking 2019 off. As found footage films go, this one is pretty standard with plenty of shaky-cam video camera footage and grainy security camera footage mixed in for good measure.

The performances here are pretty decent, all things considered. It is a micro-budget film and most of what budget they have went to make-up effects which incidentally are also pretty decent. The script is full of zombie movie tropes as well as found footage tropes, and never really rises above them to do something different, despite having two lesbians as the lead – which is refreshing. And to the credit of Lantz and Nelson, the relationship between Carly and Rina is pretty realistic, full of missteps and failings but loving when push comes to shove – which it does.

Souder does a good job in several scenes making the tension rise, but there are also some head-scratching moments where he misses some opportunities. However, at a sleek 73 minutes the movie isn’t going to tax anyone’s patience. The relationship scenes early on are the best reason to see this, although there is some fun to be had once the dead start chowing down on the living.

REASONS TO SEE: There are some really tense moments.
REASONS TO AVOID: Kind of a standard plotline with few surprises.
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of violence and plenty of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the feature film debut for Souder..
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/27/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic:  No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Zombie Apocalypse
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Tape

Dosed (2019 Documentary)


Adrianne takes five on the back porch.

(2019) Documentary (Mangurama/AbramoramaAdrianne, Tyler Chandler, Mark Haden, Nicholas Meyers, Rick Doblin, Rosalind Watts, Ingrid Pacey, Trevor Miller, Gabor Mate, Garyth Moxey, Mark Howard, Paul Stamets, Geoff Acres, Gary Cook Patrick Rishley, Maud Lundestad, Chor Boogie, James Jesso, Robyn Howard. Directed by Tyler Chandler

Drug addiction was a pandemic long before COVID-19. All of us, every one of us, has been touched in some way by it, whether we ourselves have struggled with addiction to one drug or another, or if someone we know/love/cherish has done the same.

For Tyson Chandler, that friend is Adrianne (her last name is not given onscreen or in the press notes). She’s a 30-something woman who at one time was studying for law school. She had a quiet, middle class upbringing, a stable home life and for all intents and purposes, had everything going for her and yet starting from age 15 she began experimenting. Working in a law office, she was introduced to cocaine and from there on the downward spiral began.

She describes herself as a trashcan addict; she’s willing to do anything and everything, whatever is available so long as it takes her out of her own head. She takes us on a tour of the streets of Vancouver, streets that might appear ordinary but as she points out, are a hotbed for drug dealing.

She is engaging, intelligent and on the surface, brutally honest – although we eventually find out that she’s not being totally honest with both Chandler and those trying to help her and there are plenty of people trying to help her. She’s been through everything; rehab, psychotherapy, group sessions, psychotropics, methadone – in fact, she’s also addicted to the latter. She’s at the end of her rope and is willing to try anything.

How about psychedelics? Don’t snigger; there have been some clinical studies that show that psychedelics can actually unlock hidden traumas that lead to psychological disorders including addiction. At first, Adrianne tries increasing doses of magic mushrooms – psilocybin – but when she relapses, she and Chandler decide that something stronger is indicated; the African hallucinogenic Iboga. That’s even less easy (and just as illegal) to obtain in British Columbia, so she goes to IbogaSoul, a kind of communal rehab center in rural Squamish, where lead counselor/head cheerleader Mark Howard administers the drug in a ritual that I suppose is supposed to be African. It is here that we find out that Adrianne has been dishonest about the amount of heroin she has been using.

If you’re looking for a definitive documentary on the efficacy of psychedelics on drug addiction and other illnesses, keep looking. This is strictly anecdotal, the journey of a single addict chronicled by a loyal friend. From that standpoint, this is an effective documentary and if you’re looking for one person’s story, this is where you stop looking. However, there is a notable lack of scientific information as to how psychedelics work, or much information beyond “there have been some studies done.”

Instead, we get plenty of new age psychobabble about healing the spirit and so on. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with concentrating on the human spirit or expressing it in terms of something spiritual but it comes off a bit amateurish and it makes me wonder how qualified the people administering these drugs truly are. You also get the sense that Chandler and Adrianne are flying by the seat of their pants and in a sense, they really are – there’s no manual or much information about the road they’re going on, and definitely no road maps.

This is a fairly elementary documentary that is excellent for seeing things from an addict’s (and those who care about them) viewpoint, but not very helpful for those who might be looking into alternative treatments for drug addiction. In other words, from a personal standpoint this is fascinating; from an educational standpoint, not as useful as it might be.

NB: This is not to be confused with the 2019 horror film of the same name.

REASONS TO SEE: Presents an addict’s point of view.
REASONS TO AVOID: A whole lot of psychobabble.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a surfeit of drug use and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chandler, a Canadian documentary producer, was inspired to make his directorial debut by wishing to document his friend’s struggle with drug addiction and her turning to alternative means of dealing with it.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Vimeo
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/26/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews: Metacritic: 47/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Warning: This Drug May Kill You
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
By Day’s End

An Irish Story: This is My Home


On the road again.

(2020) Music Documentary (VisionDave Browne, Dave Rooney, Jose Andres, John Good, Tony McGuinness, Joanne Rooney, Aisha Browne, Joe Magee, Jessie Nickoley, Chad George, Greg Ahn, Gavin Carpenter, Simon Knuusen, Heather Lingle, Daragh Kenney, Teresa Murphy, Henry Parnell, Steve Carey, Russ Warner, Jonathan Adams, Kevin Lowney, Teresa de la Haba. Directed by Karl Nickoley

 

There is an old saying: “The luck of the Irish.” Any Irishman will smile ruefully at the cliché, clap you on the back and tell you that it’s all bad luck. Looking at the history of Ireland, you can’t disagree.

Dave Browne and Dave Rooney are two Irish gentlemen who now live in the United States – Las Vegas, to be exact – and make up the Irish folk band the Black Donnellys. Some may be aware of their Guinness world record owned by Browne, for playing guitar continuously for 114 hours straight at Dublin’s legendary Temple Bar.

The duo – both hoping to get their green cards and eventually become American citizens – hit on exploring their new home and at the same time, making the record books once again by playing 60 shows in all 50 states in just 40 days. It might sound easy on paper, but trust me – it’s anything but.

We’re brought along on their journey, starting with a gig in their home base and then heading down to Arizona and California and continuing on and on and on. Everyone knows what Murphy’s Law is – whatever can go wrong, will go wrong – but let us not forget that Murphy was an Irishman (he was also an optimist, but that’s another story for another day). The RV that they rent has mechanical issues. A volcanic eruption in Hawaii threatens their flight back to the mainland. Gigs get canceled with little notice, causing them to scramble.

Throughout the boys keep their sense of humor intact, even though the grind of the blitzkrieg tour clearly begins to wear on them. They also have financial issues on the way; at last they break down and start a GoFundMe page to help them get through the tour and their fans come through. It’s amazing how people respond sometimes when you just ask for help.

The music is rousing and guaranteed to get you out of your seat and on your feet, clapping your hands and dancing like a fool. Be sure to have plenty of Guinness on hand when you’re watching this at home.

The main attraction here is Browne and Rooney, however. They are about as Irish as you can get, telling stories effortlessly and with self-deprecating humor. They are charming, genuine and extremely likable. They get reflective from time to time on the struggles of Irish immigrants in the United States, and of course the things that have troubled their beautiful homeland.

Still, this is the kind of movie that will make you feel better and let’s face it, who doesn’t need that? This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting – but it was just what I needed.

REASONS TO SEE: The music is wonderful. Browne and Rooney are charming, engaging storytellers. A truly entertaining music doc.
REASONS TO AVOID: Gets a bit repetitive in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There are more fookin’ F-bombs than you can fookin’ count.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Black Donnellys are currently the house band at the Ri Ra Irish Pub in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vimeo, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/25/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: One Direction: This is Us
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Dosed

The Dog Doc


Man’s best friend.

 (2019) Documentary (FilmRiseDr. Marty Goldstein, Meg Goldstein, Dr. Jennifer Lenarz-Salcedo, Dr. Randie Shane, Dr. Jacqueline Ruskin, Leigh Hardesty, Joni Evans, Jennifer Rudolph, Dave Hardesty, Virginia Rudolph, Rodney Habib, Dr. Rick Palmquist, Helen Gemignani, Andre Dias, Dr. Susan Klein. Directed by Cindy Meehl

 

As always, whenever I review a documentary in which dogs play a major part, I give fair warning that I am an utter dog nut and that my objectivity is right out the window. Consider that as you read on.

Dr. Marty Goldstein is a Cornell-educated veterinarian with a practice in affluent Westchester County, New York. He had an epiphany when he grew ill in his twenties and conventional medicine didn’t seem to hold the answers. Lo and behold, a holistic approach helped him feel better and take control of his own health and wellness. He wondered if this wouldn’t work for pets as well.

His integrated approach blends alternative medicine like acupuncture, holistic remedies such as homeopathic nutritional supplements and traditional veterinary procedures. He has over the years accumulated a reputation for being something of a miracle worker, able to extend the life of animals who were days away from euthanasia by conventional vets.

This documentary, from filmmaker Meehl who previously examined the human-animal dynamic in Buck, the 2009 documentary about the man who inspired The Horse Whisperer, was filmed over a 2 ½ year period and follows several dogs with challenging or even life-threatening conditions, from cancer of the jaw, a kidney disorder, blindness and a rabies vaccine reaction. Dr. Goldstein and the three other veterinarians (all female) at the Smith Ridge Veterinary Clinic, are all passionate about their love for the fur babies that make our lives so much better, utilize such techniques as cryosurgery (freezing tumors so that the body has a chance to fight them off naturally), intravenous Vitamin C infusions and blood transfusions. Not all of the pets in the film make it, although most experience a marked quality of life improvement.

These kinds of results come with a price tag and there’s no doubt that the clientele at Smith Ridge is affluent, or at least well-enough off to afford $1200 for a Vitamin C treatment. Anyone who has nursed a dog through a serious illness that has included specialized vet visits will tell you that it isn’t cheap, but any dog lover will also tell you that it’s worth it. Still, in the midst of a pandemic, it’s hard not to consider that this mirrors the health care system for humans as well – if you can afford it, you can get amazing health care. If not, you get what you can afford.

=Dr. Goldstein is a compelling subject and a tireless advocate for his integrated treatment philosophy, which hasn’t really gotten a lot of traction in the veterinary community. The one failing in this documentary is that it never adequately explains the reasoning behind the opposition. We just hear Dr. Goldstein explain that he is characterized as a snake oil salesman or a charlatan, yet we see the results before our very eyes, even the ones that don’t quite work out.

It is hard to watch an animal suffer, and there is some of that here. Dog nuts like myself may have a hard time watching that aspect of it, but there are success stories here, of joyful reunions with owner and pet, and sick dogs once again behaving like healthy ones. There is a parable for human medicine here, but those who don’t want to necessarily embrace that aspect of the film can be satisfied watching four-legged patients get better.

REASONS TO SEE: An interesting look at the life of a veterinarian. Dr. Goldstein is a compelling subject.
REASONS TO AVOID: Never explains why the veterinary community is so intractably against his methods.
FAMILY VALUES: There are sequences of pet suffering that might be rough on those who are sensitive to such things.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dr. Goldstein has since taken on a role in education; the day to day operation of the Smith Ridge Veterinary Clinic is now overseen by Dr. Ruskin.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/8/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64% positive reviews.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Paw Project
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Los Lobos

M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters)


Being a mom means knowing how to D.I.Y.

(2020) Suspense (Indie Rights) Melinda Page Hamilton, Bailey Edwards, Edward Asner, Janet Ulrich Brooks, Julian de la Celle. Directed by Tucia Lyman

 

Every mom thinks her child is an absolute angel, right? There’s that unbreakable bond between mother and son that is maybe one of the most beautiful relationships there are. But what happens when a mom begins to suspect that her little angel is in fact potentially a homicidal monster?

That’s the situation that Abbey (Hamilton) finds herself in. Throughout his childhood, young Jacob (Edwards) has had anger management issues and has acted out in troubling ways. Now that he’s a teen, Jacob’s rages have grown in scope and he has begun to take an unhealthy interest in guns and Nazi symbology. His acting out is getting increasingly violent. Abbey is calling out in the wilderness, to school officials who see a different side of Jacob, and a psychiatrist (Asner) who believes that Abbey is the one who’s losing it. And maybe he’s right; living in a constant state of terror is taking its toll.

This found footage film, mostly video confessionals, security cam footage, cell phone footage, laptop cam footage and home movies, is woven together by veteran TV showrunner and first-time feature director Lyman, perhaps not seamlessly but close enough.

She does a masterful job of building up the tension in the film, giving the viewer a feeling that they can’t look away even for a moment. It’s not exactly like a train wreck; it’s more like hearing noises outside your window and staring out to see if there’s something out there. You know there is and you’re just waiting for it to make its move.

The movie does move into a psychological horror mode in the last half which is a bit weaker than the first; the movie would have benefitted by exploring Abbey’s mental state a little bit more as well, because part of the movie’s strength is that you’re never quite certain whether Jacob is the monster his mommy thinks he is, or whether Abbey – herself traumatized by a childhood incident which is only revealed near the end of the film – is the one who is losing her mind. That question is sorta kinda settled in the shocking ending, but not really. You are left wondering which one of the two needed professional help. Maybe both of them.

The film benefits from strong lead performances by both Hamilton and Edwards. Edwards projects menace, occasionally staring at the camera with an utterly blank expression that screams “psychopath,” whereas Abbey seems to be growing more and more brittle as the film goes along, a tribute to Hamilton who manages to be both sympathetic and yet leaving room for the audience to question her own sanity. In that sense, the film is well-written.

The movie has a lot of resonance in an era where kids shoot up schools for no apparent reason other than that they can. I think a case could be made that we’re all suffering from PTSD given the national obsession with guns and how often we have a mass shooting dominating the headlines. Many parents of teens (or parents who survived their children’s teen years) will find some empathy for Abbey, while younger viewers may actually identify with Jacob, whose issues have him taking all sorts of meds and whose dad is not really in the picture, not to mention Abbey can be a bit on the controlling side at times.

Still, this is a powerful movie that flew under the radar but definitely has the chops to be worth your while. It’s not on a whole lot of streaming services at the moment, but that may change once people are clued in to how good this movie is. However, if you’re practicing social distancing with a teen in the house, you might want to think twice before watching this. You could end up with all sorts of paranoid nightmares.

REASONS TO SEE: Genuinely chilling. Leaves you feeling like you can’t look away for even a moment. Strong performances by Hamilton and Edwards.
REASONS TO AVOID: The middle third drags a little bit.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity and some disturbing violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the debut feature film for Lyman, whose background is in television..
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/18/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: We Need to Talk About Kevin
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Pacified

Exit 0


Is it paranoia when everyone is out to get you?

(2019) Suspense (Breaking GlassGabe Fazio, Augie Duke, Federico Castelluccio, Peter Greene, Kenneth McGregor, Daniel O’Shea, Ariel Eliaz, Boomer Tibbs, Ashley Jordan, Tara Rose Schreiber, Lindsey Axelsson, Kevin Ebner, Cash Kortum, Terry O’Brien, George Lind, Yara Mulder, Mary Anuzzi Voigt. Directed by E.B. Hughes

 

There is a fine line between madness and sanity. We all push the envelope of that line from time to time, whether it is obsession with a sports team, or the puzzling madness of doing the same thing time after time and expecting a different outcome. We all have some soft of insanity in our DNA.

Billy (Fazio) and his girlfriend of nearly a year Lisa (Duke) are heading up to the seaside town where Billy grew up for a weekend romantic getaway. We see that there are already cracks in the relationship; Lisa spends an inordinate time on our cellphone, Billy is paranoid as to who she’s texting. At a rest stop, Billy notices that there is a mysterious black car following them, but doesn’t think anything particularly sinister about it.

Once at the hotel, things really start to get creepy. While Lisa is taking a bath, Billy unpacks only to find a mysterious videotape. Being curious, he plays it and to his horror watches a young couple being stalked by a pair of men who rape and the wife and then murder the couple in the very hotel room in which he’s staying. Not wanting to freak out his girlfriend, Billy keeps the disturbing information to himself.

He does call the police, but when skeptical Det. Muller (Castelluccio) shows up the tape mysteriously disappears. Billy decides to spend the day doing touristy things with Lisa. While on a tour of the local lighthouse, tour guide Charlie (O’Shea) informs the couple that the inn in which they are staying is well-known as being haunted.

Then the videotape shows back up again, but this time it is blank. Muller begins to suspect that Billy has some mental issues and talks to Lisa about it. Meanwhile, Billy grows more and more paranoid. Are he and Lisa being stalked by the same people who murdered the couple? Is there a malevolent ghostly presence in the Inn? Or is Billy losing his mind?

There are a fair number of suspense movies that utilize the “is-it-or-is-it-not-paranormal” card, and for that kind of film, Exit 0 tends to follow the formula pretty dang closely. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it tends to rob the movie of any major surprises. We are then left to rely on the actors ability to inject some personality into the movie to make it unique and while the actors do try their best, at the end of the day they don’t quite pull it off.

I’m not sure where they filmed this but Hughes and company do a good job of creating a creepy environment. Still, it isn’t quite enough to overcome the somewhat tired script. It does come close, though.

REASONS TO SEE: The old hotel is suitably creepy.
REASONS TO AVOID: Very much on the formulaic side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, some sexuality, some violence and a scene of rape.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the debut feature film for Zonana.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/18/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Strangers
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters)

Over the Rainbow


In this warehouse is stored the Ark of the Covenant.

(2017) Documentary (1091Lara Anderson, Dr. Susan Clancy, Karen de la Camere, Jeffrey Augustine, Barrett Brown, Shane Clark, Sarah Seltzer, Nathan Tompkins, Joke Reedor, David Gartrell, Bill Franks, Christopher Hartney, Janette Haugen. Directed by Jeffrey Peixoto

 

Some movies are easy enough to review. Others are “I can’t even.” This is one of them.

This documentary purports to be about fringe beliefs and it starts out that way, with psychologist Susan Clancy talking about clinical studies done on people claiming to be alien abductees who called the experience both the worst thing that ever happened to them as well as the best thing that ever happened to them. This non-sequitur moves from there to art dealers who handle Thomas Kincaid paintings – essentially the Muzak of art – who then start waxing poetic about the blessings of Scientology.

From there it goes into a fairly fawning look at the pseudo-religion/pseudo-science that feels more like propaganda than information, following several members who refer to founder L. Ron Hubbard as almost a God-like figure. It is somewhat disturbing in some ways.

Some time is spent in Clearwater, a town here in Florida which is largely owned by the Church of Scientology – whose members are made to be so busy they can’t even enjoy the beautiful beaches there. However, most of the interviewees live in Southern California and they are as pretentious a group of people you’ll ever see in the same movie. They use a lot of spiritual aphorisms and essentially come off as the stereotypes of SoCal nutjobs. Having grown up there, I can tell you that people like this do exist although they aren’t the norm; several times I felt my palm making the journey to my face, in violation of medical advice in this era of viral contagion.

The movie then takes a darker turn as Lara Anderson, who grew up in Scientology with her parents who were deeply into the cult, being reported by her own father to church officials for the sin of speaking to former members who left the Church to try and discover what prompted them to leave. A phone call with her indoctrinated Pa is shown here and it may very well be the most disturbing thing you see in the film.

I’m really not sure what Peixoto was attempting to do here, and I suspect neither was he. At the end of the day, this is scattered, poorly organized and scattershot. Is this a puff piece on Scientology, or a documentary showing the disturbing side of the cult? I don’t know; following the Anderson sequence the film returns to the art dealers lovingly demonstrating the pseudo-scientific “E-meters” which are used in “audits” to determine….oh, I don’t know what. And I don’t care. And neither will you.

REASONS TO SEE: A good opportunity to make fun of Southern Californians.
REASONS TO AVOID: At times feels a bit much like Scientology propaganda. Some of these nutjobs are outrageously pretentious.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity as well as descriptions of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: According to IMDb, this is the first film of any kind by Peixoto.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/15/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: My Scientology Movie
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Extra Ordinary