Friday, March 27, 2015
Given all the discussions surrounding The Babadook (2014), another recent independent, horror film, it's a wonder if similar discussions will surround this movie. Those discussions might be similar. Critics believed that the villain in The Babadook was a metaphor for grief or mental illness. If we are to go along the same lines, some might believe that the villain here is a metaphor too. The question is for what.
Maika Monroe (Labor Day and The Guest) stars as Jay, a young girl who seems to be a college student in Michigan, possibly Detroit. There's a reference to 8 Mile Road. She possibly lives at home. We never see her parents interacting with her or present at home. Yet, they are referenced as if they were readily available. We only see her with her friends and boyfriend.
She starts dating a guy named Hugh, played by Jake Weary, who starts acting weird or very strangely. After having sex with her one night in the back seat of his car, Hugh reveals the existence of a paranormal being that literally follows you by walking and when it catches up to you, it kills you. Hugh says it only follows one person at a time and only that one person. It will change who it's following in one of two ways. Either after it kills its target or its target has sex with someone new, and then it will be passed to that new person. There's also two tricks to it. One is that only the target can see the follower and two is that the follower can appear as and look like any person it wants.
The movie then proceeds as Jane and her friends deal with this follower. At first, her friends think she's crazy. Then, after a few dicey encounters, they all do all that they can to protect Jane and stop the follower. Mitchell directs in very foreboding ways. He has many long, tracking shots in wide angles with occasional people in the background walking toward the foreground, forcing the audience to be on edge that any random person could be the follower.
To further throw the audience off, Mitchell's production design is such that you could be confused as the time period. From the decor of homes, certain objects therein and even cars the characters drive, one might assume the film is taking place in the 1970's. The tone is very much akin to 70's horror films. With only a few slight changes, this could easily be a John Carpenter film from back then, like Halloween (1978).
There are of course a lot of frustrating questions. Even though it feels intentional in order to amplify the terror, the movie keeps the police at more than arm's length, not like Carpenter did. Yet, in terms of the follower, this paranormal being generates a lot of queries about the mechanics, which never get answered.
The follower can be passed when its target has sex with someone new. The movie only depicts heterosexual intercourse. What about homosexual acts? Does any sex act count? What about bestiality? No exploration of this is proffered.
The follower only walks after its target, like a zombie. It can kill in any number of ways, whether using its body and its powerful strength or other physical objects. We see the follower pick up a rock and throw it through a window in order to break into a house. It gets ridiculous because the follower is invisible to all, so when a gun is used against it, which doesn't work and one of Jane's friends is standing right next to it, it's a curiosity why the follower doesn't just grab the gun and shoot Jane.
The follower actually gets close enough to touch Jane and what does it do? It pulls at her hair. I'm curious. If the follower only walks, what if the target takes a plane across the ocean? Would the follower be able to walk across a large ocean?
But, as Wes Craven's Scream points out, this film is yet another horror film that's sex negative. Sex is seen as such a bad or dangerous thing. There's also a lack of female empowerment. Jane's boyfriend Hugh drugs and kidnaps her. She does call the police, but they can't find him. She does but she doesn't let the police know. There's probably something to this that runs deeper but absent of context, it just makes Jane seem weak.
Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Alex Russell (Chronicle and Unbroken) stars as Sam Atwell, a college senior in Austin, Texas, who is about to graduate and go on to law school. He's also the head of his fraternity who walks around like a king with the fraternity pledges attending to his every whim. He's knocked down a peg when he realizes that his scholarship ran out a semester ago and now he owes $9,000 to the school. After he attends a church fundraiser, he gets the idea to trick church-goers to donate to a worthy cause when really he's going to pocket the funds for himself.
Sam gets three of his frat brothers to join him in this scheme. Tyler, played by Sinqua Walls (Friday Night Lights and Teen Wolf), is the black moral compass. Pierce, played by Miles Fisher (Final Destination 5 and J. Edgar) is the spoiled brat, and the devil on anyone's shoulder. Baker, played by Max Adler (Glee and Switched at Birth) is the loyal and faithful idiot in the middle.
Sam and his friends call themselves the "God Squad" and their scheme is called Project Get Wells Soon, which pretends to aid impoverished children in Africa. Their initial fundraising event on school campus attracts the attention of a legitimate, Christian non-profit called Cross-Country. Ken Hopkins, played by Christopher MacDonald (Happy Gilmore and Requiem for a Dream), is the head of Cross-Country. He is a total supporter of Sam and company. One of Ken's employees is Callie, played by Johanna Braddy (Avatar: The Last Airbender and Greek). Callie is a bit skeptical but she comes to trust Sam completely.
Through the character of Callie, we get representation of someone who is genuine about her religious faith and her desire to do charity. Through Sam and his friends, we get posers who mimic those of faith and re-affirm the faith, not for higher or greater purposes, but for personal, selfish ones. Directed and co-written by Will Bakke, it never feels like his protagonist or friends are ever truly mocking the people of faith, even though that's an apparent side effect, but it also seems as if Bakke wants to take Sam on a journey that is either not properly conceived or not properly executed.
At the end, Sam is on stage giving a speech that tells a metaphorical story about himself and his dilemma. In the scene prior, Sam is challenged to tell the truth about what he's done. During the speech, it seems as if he might tell the truth. He doesn't. He stops almost mid-sentence and the movie cuts to black and end-credits roll. Bakke perhaps thought this would be a cool, open-ended conclusion, but it speaks of gutlessness.
|Max Adler (left) and Alex Russell in 'Believe Me'|
This movie is tolerable, mainly due to my crush on Max Adler. He's not featured enough. A really, great, deleted scene led by him was cut from the movie, as well as several others, and I wish those scenes weren't cut. First off, Adler looks great, even in his tank tops, shorts, glasses and scruffy beard. He's funny. He's interesting and a good young actor. But, in general, more from Max Adler, Sinqua Walls whose character comes across as sensitive and Miles Fisher who comes across as a jerk would have been appreciated.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 33 mins.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
|Ben Mendelsohn (left) and Kyle Chandler in 'Bloodline'|
Emmy-winner Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights and Early Edition) stars as John Rayburn, a veteran detective in the Florida Keys who is the golden boy of a well-known family that runs a hotel and a bit of a resort in Islamorada that does charters that takes guests onto the water for snorkeling and fishing. John has a wife, Diana, played by Jacinda Barrett, and two teenage children, Ben, played by Brandon Larracuente, and Jane, played by Taylor Rouviere.
Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom and Killing Them Softly) co-stars as Danny Rayburn, the older brother of the Rayburn children. He's the veritable black sheep. He was living in Miami or somewhere further north for a while. A family reunion and the future dedication of a pier in the family's name prompts his return to the Florida Keys and the "Rayburn House," which is what the hotel is called, as well as where his parents live.
However, it's apparent that there is some bad history between Danny and the family, specifically Danny's father, Robert, played by Sam Shepard. In fact, Danny asks John to ask their father if he can come back. Seemingly, Danny has been banished, an outcast for reasons that aren't apparent other than the fact that Danny looks like a drug addict, or a straggly drug dealer. John asks Robert but Robert says that he's going to put the decision into John's hands.
Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks and ER) co-stars as Meg Rayburn, the remaining sister of the Rayburn children. It's revealed that there were two sisters. Now, it's only Meg. Meg is a lawyer who works for the family business, as well as a small firm in the Keys. She's currently dating Marco Diaz, played by Enrique Murciano (Without a Trace and CSI), a detective who works with John. She's also having an affair with business developer Alec, played by Steven Pasquale (Rescue Me and The Good Wife).
Norbert Leo Butz plays Kevin Rayburn, the youngest brother of the Rayburn children but still in his mid to late thirties. He works for the nearby marina. He seems like a husky, surfer dude-type. He's dating Belle, played by Katie Finneran (I Hate My Teenage Daughter and The Michael J. Fox Show), and she seems like a former, surfer chick-type too, an earthy blonde.
When it comes to Danny coming back to the family home, John asks Meg and Kevin about it. Ultimately, John makes the decision that Danny should not be allowed to come back and actively rejoin the family. Danny doesn't just want to return. He also wants to work in the hotel, control things and be put into Robert's last will-and-testament. The bad blood between Robert and Danny made Robert cut Danny out of any inheritance, and John wants to keep it that way.
Thus begins a season-long battle between John and Danny. The sibling rivalry between all of them is the thrust. All the siblings battle. Danny especially goes after Meg and Kevin in specific ways. His attacks against Kevin are obvious with regard to his relationship with Chelsea O'Bannon, played by Chloë Sevigny, but the specific conflict between John and Danny is at the heart and core. John is a cop and Danny is a criminal, and the writers and actors do a fantastic job of putting them at odds in a clever way. There's only one bit of criticism. The show does a flash-forward and couple it with narration starting in Episode 1 that spoils events in Episode 12 and 13, the last two episodes.
One of my all-time favorite series Lost did flash-forwards in a way that worked extremely well. Ever since then, I've felt flash-forwards have been used to less effect. Tons of TV shows and films make the inciting incident, or narrative hook, a moment that takes place chronologically in the future from where the story actually starts. It's so common that often it gets ignored, but here the show inserts a flash-forward at the end of the first episode that reveals, spoiler alert, that John disposes of Danny's dead body.
The series does reference this flash-forward again in subsequent episodes. It doesn't hit us over the head with it constantly as in How to Get Away With Murder. It delves into the sibling rivalry and the characters in a darker and more horror-filled version of Brothers & Sisters.
Like the series Dexter, which was also set in southern Florida, this show makes great use of the landscape to make the area as much a character as anyone. The heat for example is very much felt. Kyle Chandler's shirts are always sweaty. His investigation into murders on the water of burned victims reveal the ugliness and the beauty here. Chandler also has the look of a weathered detective who has seen a lot and a brother who has dealt with a lot.
The perfect companion for him in his scenes is Mendelsohn but also Sissy Spacek who plays Sally Rayburn, the mother of the Rayburn children. She carries around a lot of guilt, particularly with regard to the death of her daughter. This is opposed to the hatred that Robert carries. Sally also has a lot of expectations when it comes to each of her kids. It's an excellent and heartbreaking performance in a phenomenal show.
Five Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
The first thing is that the title is misleading at best, an outright lie at worst. The opening of the first episode has titles reading that it's the year 2020, one year after the virus. Presumably, this virus has wiped out the entire human population at least the entire U.S. population with the exception of a man named Phil Miller, played by Will Forte (Macgruber and Nebraska). We see Phil driving around in a tour bus with a bullhorn all throughout North America searching for signs of human life. There's apparently no animal life either.
I realize it's just a comedy and suspension of disbelief is required. Yet, later revelations continue to beg questions. If this were a virus at work, where are all the dead bodies? I get how difficult it would be to turn Steven Soderbergh's Contagion into the kind of comedy that this show wants to be, but Zombieland worked as a comedy, an outrageous one.
Everyone seems not to be dead but disappeared as in HBO's The Leftovers. Forte who also wrote the first episode seemed only to want to get himself to the same place as Tom Hanks' character in Castaway, but instead of being stuck on a deserted island, he made the entire world the deserted island where his character can now steal from the Smithsonian and the White House.
Phil doesn't find anyone even though he takes a year searching all of the contiguous states. He leaves behind graffiti in every city, saying, "Alive in Tucson," indicating to anyone who might see it that his home is in Tucson, Arizona, and that's where he'll be. He returns to Tucson to wait. He waits for a long time until he gives up hope that he might not be alone. Yet, at the end of the first episode, he realizes he isn't alone.
Kristen Schaal (Gravity Falls and Bob's Burgers) co-stars as Carol, a very weird and quirky girl who saw his "Alive in Tucson" graffiti and came to find him. Phil is happy to know he's not alone, but as he comes to know Carol, he finds he doesn't like her. Carol is a stickler for proper grammar and syntax. She's critical of his lonely life, filled with sloth, slob-like habits, masturbation and random destruction.
Carol makes her criticisms in Episode 2 of everything that Phil did in Episode 1. I liked Episode 2 over Episode 1 because I was making the same criticisms while watching. Carol starts cleaning and bossing Phil around, much to his chagrin. Eventually though, the conversation arises about sex and specifically re-population, becoming a kind of new Adam and Eve, or reverse Blue Lagoon arrangement.
For a while, we think Phil and Carol are the last two people on Earth, which could be interesting, but in Episode 4, Phil and Carol meet another human, Melissa, played by January Jones (Mad Men and X-Men: First Class). However, in Episode 6, Phil, Carol and Melissa meet Todd, played by Mel Rodriguez (Enlisted and Getting On). Therefore, not only is Phil not the last human on Earth, but he's also not as the title suggested the last "man" on Earth. It gets to a ridiculous point where the show might introduce a new person every other week. Then, one wonders if the whole premise was all to build this extreme love triangle.
Unfortunately, Phil's obsession with Melissa gets to be tiring, offensive and stupid after it's dragged out for three episodes. It probably wouldn't be so bad, if his tactics weren't so ridiculous. It's almost as if the writers don't trust the awkwardness of the situation and his feelings alone to be enough and that it has to go overboard with Phil's pathetic attempts to woo or romance Melissa in spite of Carol.
It might be because I work for a TV station, but if I were Phil, my first thought would be to try to commandeer a TV or radio station and try to send a nationwide or international broadcast. I might try to takeover a phone or Internet company and send a signal or message over the entire phone or cable network. Driving around in a bus is a clever idea, but not necessarily the smartest, and if a show is going to do something like this, I would appreciate it being smarter than I am.
Three Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Sundays at 9:30PM on FOX.
Randall Park (Veep and The Interview) stars as Louis Huang, the father of the family who wants to open a restaurant in the Sunshine State. His restaurant is called Cattleman's Ranch. It's a steakhouse that mimics a popular franchise. Louis is desperate to make the restaurant work and be successful. He's optimistic and dedicated, despite all the stumbling blocks and set-backs.
Constance Wu (Eastsiders) co-stars as Jessica Huang, the mother of the family who could be classified as a tiger mom. She believes in tough love. She's very strict. She can be perceived as a nag as well as super critical, harsh and highly cynical. Yet, the true nature of Jessica isn't revealed until Episode 2, in a very hilarious sequence where she runs down some people in her car.
Hudson Yang co-stars as Eddie Huang, the prepubescent boy at the center of this story. Yet, despite being a pre-teen, he thinks himself to be older. He loves hip hop music and fancies himself as what's portrayed in rap videos and on records. He apes and mimics the behavior. His efforts to be cool and to fit-in fail initially. He typically ends up looking the opposite.
Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen play Emery and Evan respectively, the two younger brothers. They have no trouble fitting into their new school and even thriving. Emery in fact thrives the most, even landing a girlfriend before Eddie. Evan has no complaints. He is a bit quirky, but he is certainly well-adjusted. Lucille Soong (Desperate Housewives) plays the grandmother and she seems to be somewhere in between the grandmother in Jane the Virgin and the grandmother in Raising Hope.
The writing led by Nahnatchka Khan and the directing from those like Lynn Shelton, Max Winkler and Jake Kasdan craft great gags in every episode. So many great ones are given to Constance Wu to deliver. In Episode 6, Jessica says, "No one appreciates that I'm good at everything I do," and Wu says it with absolutely no irony. From her loving Stephen King to her singing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," Wu knocks it out the park each time. The subtitles in English of English dialogue revealing opposite and antagonistic meaning isn't new but it is used to great effect here.
There was a very kitschy moment in Episode 4 when the show references the decade they're in. Louis' brother-in-law Steven, played by C.S. Lee (True Detective and Dexter) has to wait and listen to a dial-up modem and grandmother watches the OJ Simpson trial. Both gags were very funny. The relationship between Eddie and Louis has been funny and heartwarming as depicted in Episodes 5 and 6.
There's a questionable moment in Episode 6 where Jessica doesn't acknowledge a gay couple, but I'm willing to let that slide. The development of a side character like Nicole, a teenage girl who is Eddie's object of affection, played by Luna Blaise, is an example of the great things that the show can do. Nicole's role in Episode 7 is proof of that. This has been a great show so far.
Five Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Tuesdays at 8PM on ABC.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Nicholas Braun (Red State) stars as Michael, a tall and skinny, high school student who has an obsession with making a pot brownie. New actor Hunter Cope co-stars as Matty, a shorter and chubbier, high school student who admits to Michael that he's gay. Seeing the two friends deal with this revelation is the crux of the film, which would have been fine, if again the two main characters weren't so unlikeable.
The first thing is the way in which Michael and Matty break up with their girlfriends. They break up in seemingly non-compassionate or insensitive ways. One of which actually gets slapped for it. This doesn't help to endear us to these guys. Michael in general is just annoying, but Matty does something that really sinks his likeability.
Michael and Matty go to a gay bar. As they're leaving, they get into a fender-bender in the parking lot. The car they hit belongs to a hot-tempered guy named Greg, played by Zach Cregger (The Whitest Kids U'Know). They get into a bit of an argument and Greg trips Michael essentially pushing him to the ground, and Matty does nothing to help. Matty sees a stranger push his best friend to the ground and does nothing. I'm not saying Matty should have fought Greg, but Matty didn't lend Michael a hand to try to pick him off the ground or even ask if he was okay or anything.
Later, Matty starts to date Greg. Greg somewhat apologizes to Matty but he should have apologized to Michael before Matty even considered dating the guy. When Michael finally learns about this secret relationship, he confronts Matty with reasonable questions and concerns, and Matty's reaction is completely horrible. The movie then makes it so that it's up to Michael to make the first move and apologize to Matty.
It's funny because Larry Wilmore plays a gay teacher here. Wilmore recently took over the time-slot of Stephen Colbert this year. It's funny mainly because not only is Wilmore following in Colbert's footsteps on TV but Wilmore is also following in Colbert's footsteps in film. Colbert also played a gay teacher in Strangers With Candy (2005).
But, other than that, the sexual politics aren't all that well-handled. I'm all for breaking stereotypes of gay people, but this movie goes out of its way to reject and step on or mock anything effeminate. Matty even goes as far as sleeping with his ex-girlfriend Em, played by Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey), and there's no conversation about it. Matty is so desperate to not seem "gay" that he sleeps with a girl. Ridiculous! Matty also is surprised at how straight-acting Greg is. He asks Greg how he's gay.
There's an inherent assumption that if he's not acting effeminately or isn't interested in effeminate things or the club scene, then it's totally shocking as to how this guy could be gay, which is again ridiculous. It seems odd that someone that young coming in the wake of so much media and such Internet access would hold such an opinion or be so surprised. Brokeback Mountain alone shattered a lot of those stereotypes on a major scale.
There are tons of guest stars who had a lot of great humor. Someone like Brian Geraghty (The Hurt Locker) is not used to full potential. Geraghty plays Lars, the older brother of Michael. Lars is a 30-year-old who is trying to overshadow Michael's TV-theme-song, cover band by being in a high school, garage band too. Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation) has a weird one-off scene.
Top among the guest stars though is Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) who plays Michael's father. He's not in the movie much at all, but he does have a really great scene where he assumes that his son is gay when he's not. It's hilarious and by far the best scene in the film. It's great only by comparison. The rest of the film is so sub-par.
At one point, Matty complains that his life sucks and the moment is supposed to be somewhat sincere. Yet, there's no convincing context for his statement. He's not even dealing with any ostensible homophobia. He merely comes across as a whiny, privileged, white kid who's awful.
One Star out of Five.
Rated R crude dialogue, pervasive language, drug and alcohol use - all involving teens.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 31 mins.
Friday, March 20, 2015
|Shailene Woodley (left) and Theo James in 'Insurgent'|
Shailene Woodley stars as Tris Prier, a young girl living in a futuristic Chicago that has been decimated by war but everyone living in it now have been divided into five factions. Each faction contains groups of people who share a common personality trait. As we learned in the previous film, teenagers are tested to see which faction that will belong. There are two types of outcasts within this system. The first type are those who don't test into a faction. They're known as Factionless. The other type are those who test into all the factions. Those latter types are called Divergents. Tris is a divergent.
Kate Winslet co-stars as Jeanine. She's the leader of the faction known as Erudite. In the previous film, she tried to take control of the city, which she did, but her mind-control efforts didn't work on divergents so Jeanine tried to kill all the divergents. Tris who went to live with the faction known as Dauntless banded together with fellow divergent, Four, played by Theo James, and other Dauntless members to rebel and fight back against Jeanine's evil plan.
Maybe I'm forgetting the specifics of the ending, but I thought Jeanine was defeated and Tris and company got away and were okay. Yet, the opening of this film, which supposedly takes place only five days after the ending of the first, resets things, so everything done in the first film basically has to be done all over again, only delaying what we thought we'd get this time around, pushing it to the third movie, wasting all our time here.
I feel like all the actors and characters are wasted. Octavia Spencer who plays Johanna, the head of the faction known as Amity didn't add much. I did refer to the area in which she lives as Amity-ville. Miles Teller who plays Peter, one of the Dauntless members, seems like he's the only one having any kind of fun. He's the comic relief though. Everyone else, I suppose, has to be very serious. Unfortunately, it also comes across as lifeless.
Of all the characters, I didn't understand Caleb, played by Ansel Elgort. Caleb is a member of the faction Erudite, but given everything that happened in the previous film, his actions here don't make sense or at least the screenwriters don't allow us into his head to get us to comprehend the leap he makes.
Again, just like in the previous film, a chunk of the movie deals with Tris having to experience these virtual reality tests. These tests like last time play off some psychological fear inherent within her. Yet, these tests of which there are five don't seem that difficult, even though Jeanine touts them as the most difficult thing ever. There is one crazy, CGI-heavy test that Tris faces, but the CGI is so over-the-top that it's never believable or feel as if Tris is ever in any real danger. It was better in The Lawnmower Man or The Matrix. Supposedly, it's more of an emotional struggle, but even that's not ultimately true.
Instead of the repeated ending as the first movie, there's also the silly ending just prior that's akin to the recent The Maze Runner. It's indicative of perhaps how these YA novels, of which this movie is based, are too much alike and are starting to bleed together.
One Star out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality and brief language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.