How It Ends


Theo James gets a glimpse of how it ends.

(2018) Action (Netflix) Theo James, Forest Whitaker, Grace Dove, Kat Graham, Nicole Ari Parker, Mark O’Brien, Kerry Bishé, Aaron Hughes, Lanie McAuley, Josh Cruddas, Aidan Ritchie, Eric Keenleyside, RJ Fetherstonhaugh, Nancy Sorel, Storm Greyeyes, Haig Sutherland, Cory Chetrybok, David Lewis, Charis Ann Wiens, Juliette Hitchcock, Anett Rumanoczky. Directed by David M. Rosenthal

 

How will the world end? Will it go out with a bang or a thud? What will become of those who survive? These are questions that people have wondered about since…well, since there have been people. The movies wonder about it too, offering generally special effects-heavy looks at nuclear holocaust, approaching meteors, deadly plagues and so on and so forth. Sometimes the end of the world is the sound of the power being switched off.

Will (James) is a lawyer in Seattle whose girlfriend Samantha (Graham) is pregnant. They want to get married; she wants him to, in the best traditional sense, ask her father for her hand in marriage. That’s not something Will is especially looking forward to as Sam’s dad Tom (Whitaker) is a very conservative ex-Marine who doesn’t look with much favor upon Will who moved his baby girl all the way to Seattle and worse yet crashed his boat.

The meeting between potential father-in-law and son-in-law goes awkwardly and then falls apart. Will is about to head back home to Seattle and calls Sam to let her know he’s on his way when the phone call is abruptly cut off with Sam uttering a disturbing “Something’s wrong! I’m scared…” before the connection goes dead. Then the power goes off in Chicago and pretty much everywhere.

Tom, being a man of action, determines to drive to Seattle since air traffic is grounded. He gets Will to go with him, reluctantly at first. What they encounter in America’s heartland is nothing short of disturbing, with civilization falling apart, roaming bandits murdering and stealing with impunity and signs that the military has attempted to regain control unsuccessfully. The two manage to get Native American auto mechanic Ricki (Dove) to accompany them West in hopes that she can make it to California. Seattle’s in that general direction after all.

While this movie is beautifully shot (thank you cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg!) it feels like you’ve seen this movie before in a dozen disaster end of civilization films that have come before it. I don’t mind a movie borrowing ideas from other movies – after all, as Shakespeare once said, there is nothing new under the sun – but a movie needs to add something, something that at least reflects a point of view. At first, I thought that would be the relationship between Will and Tom which seems to be at the center of the film. And yes, Whitaker and James both put forth some fine performances which you would expect from Whitaker but James delivers what I think is his best performance so far. The problem is that the chemistry between the two is often cold; there should be more heat between them. After all, Tom neither likes nor trusts Will but grudgingly realizes he needs him if he is to save his baby girl – assuming she’s still around to be saved

There’s just too much typical post-apocalyptic cliché here, with people turning into selfish monsters willing to kill for anything that would allow them to survive for one day longer. There are signs that it didn’t all totally go tumbling down the drain – a small town which has essentially cut itself off from the chaos around it but one gets the sense they probably won’t be able to stand too long intact.

And I have to talk about the ending. I won’t reveal too much about it, only that it’s godawful and abrupt  You are left looking at whomever you are watching the movie with and wondering aloud “Why did I just watch this if that’s all there is?” Of course, you might ask the same question if viewing alone but the answer is likely to be you throwing your TV (or laptop) across the room in frustration. The moral is, don’t watch this alone.

That’s not to say that this is all bad; there are some poignant moments and Dove’s character Ricki actually has some memorable scenes but it gets lost a bit in the march to lawlessness. I think we all get that civilization is a terrifyingly thin veneer and that it won’t take much to strip it completely away. It just gets tiresome to see that concept being demonstrated over and over again with the characters refusing to learn that lesson along the way.

REASONS TO GO: Whitaker is as mesmerizing as always and James delivers his best performance to date.
REASONS TO STAY: The pace is a bit slow and the ending a bit abrupt.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of violence as well as profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first film to be directed by Chang-dong Lee since Shi in 2010.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/28/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 20% positive reviews: Metacritic: 36/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: On the Beach
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Solo: A Star Wars Story

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Wind Traces (Restos de viento)


Grief can spawn its own demons.

(2017) Drama (Conejo Media) Dolores Fonzi, Paulina Gil, Ruben Zamora, Julieta Egurrola, Juan Carlos Vives, Diego Aguilar, Itari Marta, Claudine Sosa, Anajose Aldrete Echevarria, Martha Claudia Moreno, Catalina López, Lorenzo Costantini, Juan Carlos Tavera, Karla Rico, Erwin Veytia, Sofia Fernández, Lara Escalante, Mateo Lujano, Gisola Ruiz, Laura Morett, Ana Morgado. Directed by Jimenta Montemayor

We sometimes believe that life is linear; events happen in a progression from birth to death. That’s not how we perceive it, however. Life is a series of moments, some memorable but most not. Sometimes the most mundane of moments carry with them the most elegance, the most grace, the most meaning.

Carmen (Fonzi) is having trouble coping. She can barely rouse herself out of bed in the mornings and she doesn’t get her daughter Ana (Gil) and son Daniel (Aguilar) to school always. She tells the kids that their father has gone away and will come back but Ana, who’s a bit more world-wise knows instinctively that her mother is lying to her. Perhaps Carmen believes it herself.

Carmen has difficulty focusing on things other than getting dressed up and going to the local lounge. She looks amazing and catches the eyes of the single men (and many of the married ones too) as she struts around the bar but she really isn’t looking for company. She’s just doing something that makes her feel alive. She exists in the semi-twilight of alcohol, cigarettes and shock; she may as well be an extra in The Walking Dead.

Daniel copes as best he can; he imagines fantasy figures; one, a thick shambling creature with antlers and a raggedy cloak. Other times it’s an indigenous North American who appears to resemble more the Indians of American westerns more than the natives of Mexico. Either way the figure shows up regularly around Daniel.

At first Ana can’t see the fantasy figures but soon she begins to see them as well. Carmen eventually goes out on a date with a co-worker to a carnival which bothers Daniel immensely. All three of the family members exist as ghosts within their own lives, haunted by memory and haunted by the future without their beloved father and Carmen’s beloved husband. What can they do to begin living again?

This is not a feel-good kind of film nor is it meant to be. The people in this movie are undergoing some of the worst days of their lives and we’re right there in the trenches with them. Fonzi is one of the most beloved actresses in Argentina; this movie illustrates exactly why that is. Not only is she out-of-this-world beautiful, she is also a tremendous performer; Carmen has many layers to her and Fonzi explores them all. She can be sexy and flirtatious one moment, nearly non-functional the next. She tries to bake a cake for her children to brighten their spirits but only ends up dampening up her own in one memorable sequence. She doesn’t have the emotional resources to help her kids through the ordeal and there doesn’t seem to be anyone around her that she’s willing to call upon for support; in fact there are family members she avoids talking to so that she doesn’t have to tell them that her husband is gone and this is months after the fact.

The children do a lot of acting out which is to be expected. The actors playing them however act like real children in that situation would act and that is unexpected. A lot of times child actors have difficulty with negative and difficult emotions; Gil and Aguilar didn’t seem to have that problem and that’s crucial to the success of the film. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been pulled right out of a movie in which the subject matter involves a family dealing with loss because the child actors were completely unconvincing.

Daniel has almost an obsession with native indigenous figures; he watches American westerns (the fantasy figures tend to resemble American natives rather than the Aztec and Mayan indigenous of Mexico. It does make for some jarring visuals but I can’t see why that wouldn’t be a thing in reality. Some iconic American images have tended to bleed over the border in certain respects.

Cinematographer Maria Secco shoots most of the indoor shots in muted colors; even the exterior shots have a less vibrant look to them than normal; everything is seen through a veil of tears and numbness. It’s very effective in setting the tone. The press material describes the film as atmospheric and that’s the most accurate description you’re likely to find.

Watching the pain all three of these people are clearly in can be excruciating at times. It’s like visiting a friend who isn’t that close who is suffering from intense grief and feeling helpless to do anything about it. I wanted to give all of them a hug but of course that’s impossible; all you can do is endure with them and empathize.

There is a visual poetry here that gathers from a variety of sources. I found the movie to be compelling but not always easy and sometimes those are the best kind there are. Be warned if you’re going to see this there is some work involved and almost expected but the reward is not necessarily insight so much as being put back in touch with your own compassion. That can be a worthwhile endeavor all of its own.

Tickets for the Festival can be bought here.

REASONS TO GO: The movie is beautifully atmospheric. The filmmakers handle grief in a realistic way.
REASONS TO STAY: Although it accomplishes what it needs to, the fantasy creature isn’t particularly impressive.
FAMILY VALUES: The themes are very adult (despite the presence of children) and as well there is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When Montemayor isn’t making movies, she conducts workshops for girls recently rescued from sexual slavery to help give them marketable skills and reintegrate them back into society.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/13/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Monster Calls
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
12 Strong

Piranha 3DD


Piranha 3DD

It’s The Hoff’s world; we’re just living in it.

(2012) Horror (Dimension) Danielle Panabaker, Matt Bush, Chris Zylka, David Koechner, Meagan Tandy, David Hasselhoff, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, Clu Gallagher, Gary Busey, Adrian Martinez, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Paul James Jordan, Katrina Bowden, Hector Jimenez, Paul Scheer. Directed by John Gulager

 

A proven formula for box office success has been blood, boobs and 3D. It worked well for Piranha 3D. Would it work as well for the sequel?

It is a year after the events of the first film and Lake Victoria is a ghost town, abandoned and largely a cautionary tale, a subject for solemn-sounding news features (although I have to admit that the documentary images of Lake Victoria make the town look abandoned for thirty years rather than the one year referenced in the narration). The prehistoric piranha with a taste for human flesh are still out there but where? I think we can guess.

A nearby water park has come under new management. Marine biology student Maddy (Panabaker) is a 49% owner in the park after the death of her mom, but the 51% is owned by Chet (Koechner), a sleazy promoter who’s out to turn the family waterpark into a kind of permanent Girls Gone Wild attraction called The Big Wet appealing strictly to the hormonal and the perverted and making sure everybody knows it with a series of tawdry adds with plenty of nudge-wink double entendres. Maddy is understandably perturbed about this turn of events but can do nothing to stop it.

She’s too busy canoodling with Deputy Kyle (Zylka), an arrogant preppy sort who seems to be way off from the type of guys you’d think a down-to-earth scientific type like Maddy would be into but I suppose the message here is never underestimate what a pair of dreamy eyes, a handsome face and a banging bod will do to make a woman’s knees weak and her heart melt. In the meantime nebbish Barry (Bush) pines for Maddy (he has since high school) and works as a mascot for the water park although he can’t swim and is terrified of the water – as it turns out for good reason.

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. There is a kind of underlying lightheartedness that makes me think that the filmmakers didn’t take themselves too seriously with this one – in a good way. Gulager has some underground horror film cred with the Feast trilogy and he proves himself worthy of a larger budget and a major studio release.

I liked that the movie had kind of an 80s vibe to it, although not overtly set in that era. There’s a certain amount of playfulness that was very endemic to the era, not to mention a lack of inhibitions when it came to actresses taking off their tops. There was also a lack of inhibition when it came to gore back then and Gulager doesn’t flinch when it comes to that either.

The movie doesn’t look as murky as the first one did; the producers saw to it that the movie was filmed in 3D rather than converting in post-production which usually yields a much clearer and cleaner image. However, it remains largely a gimmicky effect and to my eye didn’t really enhance the movie much, although admittedly I didn’t see it in a theater (more on that in a minute).

There are a handful of veteran actors with varying degrees of name value in the cast to go along with the largely unknown but plucky young cast. Of the latter, Panabaker has got a few good credits to her name, including a turn in John Carpenters The Ward in which she was one of the film’s acting highlights. Here she’s solid but unspectacular in the smart girl heroine role. For the cameos, Hasselhoff makes the best use, playing himself and referencing his public intoxication arrest from a few years ago to skewer his “Baywatch” image and prove that he might not be a bad sport after all. Rhames and Lloyd reprise their roles from the first film and gleefully overact, while Busey shows up to be fish food in the first reel in what might be a signature of the movie; killing off a well-known actor in the first reel (Richard Dreyfus did the honors in the first film).

The fish, a mixture of CGI and practical effects, are never really convincing. The CGI looks like CGI and the practical effects look like rubber fish being bludgeoned with rocks and filled with air bladders and blood bags. Still, the cheesy factor of the effects may also be a deliberate nod to the era, so you can take it in the spirit given.

Dimension (the genre division of Weinstein) took the interesting step of releasing this on Video On-Demand on the same day the movie got a limited release in theaters, a strategy that has worked well for major indies Magnolia and IFC. I don’t know how the movie is faring in VOD rentals but the box office numbers are weak. Whether this is the wave of the future for releases that aren’t expected to be box office bonanzas remains to be seen.

I’ve read reviewers who have said that this works much better on the big screen than on the home screen and I can see where that might be the case. This is definite exploitation fun that probably appeals most to the young male crowd and those who want to hang out with them. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but in all honesty for what it is, it really isn’t that bad at all.

REASONS TO GO: Retains a sense of fun. Hoff, Rhames and Lloyd are good sports.

REASONS TO STAY: The dumb factor is pretty high. Gore and CGI are unconvincing and 3D more gimmicky than anything else

FAMILY VALUES: Where to begin? Lots of swearing, a pretty fair amount of gore, plenty of bare breasts, some sexuality and some male nudity. And drug use. And teen drinking. And…

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally set to be filmed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during January and February 2011 but this proved to be impractical due to the cold weather and clothing restrictions for the actors; production was moved to Wilmington, North Carolina but resulted in a delay from the original November 2011release date to June of this year.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/14/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 14% positive reviews. Metacritic: 24/100. The reviews are nearly universally bad.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shark Night

TOPLESS WOMEN LOVERS: The water park has an adult pool where women may swim topless. Yes, there are a whole lot of boobs. No, none of the main actresses show theirs.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Speed Racer