Movie Review ~ Disconnect

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A drama centered on a group of people searching for human connections in today’s wired world.

Stars: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Michael Nyqvist, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgard, Max Thieriot, Colin Ford, Jonah Bobo, Haley Ramm

Director: Henry Alex Rubin

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

ReviewDisconnect is that rarest of films…the kind that works like gangbusters while you’re soaking it in at the theater but one that gradually erodes away with each day that passes.  It would be easy (and fair) to call this Crash 2.0 or Crash Online as the film is an ensemble drama with intertwining plots that circle around a single topic.  Where Crash took a hard look at race relations, Disconnect takes a timely look at how the internet has worked its way into our lives with troublesome results.

As is the case with many of these films with large casts and multiple story arcs, some of them work well and some of them fall flat.  For me, the most effective of these involves a news reporter (UKer Riseborough, sporting a flawless American accent) doing some investigative journalism into underage teens using the internet to provide sexual favors/shows in return for gifts/money.  Lured into this life, these teens are exploited and put into dangerous situations and it isn’t long before the FBI gets interested in the reporter and her relationship with an older teen (Thieriot) that agrees to go on camera to tell his story.

Riseborough is a fascinating actress to watch and though she does equally good work in the sci-fi actioner Oblivion, it’s in Disconnect where we enjoy her more because the character has some interesting moral dilemmas to go through.  Thieriot is impressive too as he graduates from Disney-fied teen films to a raw and revealing look into some dark material.

There’s also a Catfish-y story about two young high schoolers (Ford and Avian Bernstein) that use Facebook to pose as a girl interested in an outcast (Bobo).  Not just cyber-bullying but using the boy’s desire to connect against him, the two take their joke too far and soon find lives and futures are put into question when their target goes to drastic measures to free himself from their humiliation.  Grillo (building quite the impressive resume recently with films like The Grey, End of Watch, and Zero Dark Thirty) and Bateman (Hit and Run, Identity Thief) are fathers that are directly affected by the actions of their sons and both do solid dramatic work.

The least effective section involves Patton and Skarsgard as a couple with a marriage in trouble further put to the test when they are the subject of identity theft.  Was it Skarsgard’s online gambling habit or Patton’s online support group friend that opened them up to having their bank accounts drained?  That’s the back and forth issue they bicker about a lot…leading them to a confrontation with a man (Nyqvist) that may have the answers to their questions.  Patton and Skarsgard don’t have the right chemistry to sell this and I found myself squirming anytime the movie shifted focus.

How these different stories connect are mostly interesting and maybe sometimes too convenient but I won’t spoil how these overlap lest it ruin some of the discoveries the movie reveals as it goes on. Director Rubin (of the great documentary Murderball) and writer Andrew Stern clearly used Crash as an inspiration for the resolution (everything comes to a head in one high-tension series of slow-mo throat grabbers) and for the most part the film works. 

It was on my way home and in the days since that I saw how manipulative the film was.  Though there’s a connection that most audiences will make with the movie, if you sit down and consider the film you’ll see some of the plot holes and disconnecting contrivances that don’t seem to be a big issue when the fast paced movie is being taken in.  Perhaps because I enjoyed the film so much at the time and thanks to several strong performances, I’m giving it a higher rating than it deserves.

Movie Review ~ The Lords of Salem

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Heidi, a radio DJ, is sent a box containing a record — a “gift from the Lords.” The sounds within the grooves trigger flashbacks of her town’s violent past. Is Heidi going mad, or are the Lords back to take revenge on Salem, Massachusetts?

Stars: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davidson, Jeffrey Daniel Phillips, Ken Foree, Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace, Maria Conchita Alonso, Judy Gleeson, Meg Foster, Griffin Boice

Director: Rob Zombie

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  In his previous four films, director Rob Zombie was in it to win it.  A fan of old-school horror films, Zombie brought back a throwback nature to films like The House of 1,000 Corpses and its superior sequel The Devil’s Rejects.  These films were low down, dirty movies not for the faint of heart and established Zombie as a talent with an eye for the twisted.  Undertaking remaking the king of the slasher films, Zombie took a reboot of Halloween to a place I didn’t care for and then slashed through a sequel that managed to be even more vile – both of those movies really scared me, not so much because of any frights provided on screen but because of the lasting impression Zombie left with his shockingly violent killings.

So it’s pretty surprising that his latest effort seems so tame in comparison – it’s as if Zombie has gotten the need to shock out of his system and decided instead to focus on a more serious filmmaking exercise.  Clearly taking a page from Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick, and early Dario Argento, The Lords of Salem finds Zombie not so much holding back but moving forward.  It’s not a great movie but it shows continued growth from the filmmaker.

Zombie’s wife (with an acting style that’s passable at best, laughable at worst) is a radio DJ in Salem, MA —  a dreadlocked bohemian chick that loves her dog, has colorful tattoos, and likes to sleep in the nude no matter how chilly it is outside.  Working in a Mod-Squad type set-up on her radio show (Phillips and Foree are her fellow mic-men), they play death metal and generally roll off each other well.  It’s interesting that Sherri Moon Zombie is the most effective in these scenes…naturalistic and unguarded – it’s only when she’s working through dialogue on her own that she sounds like she’s reading the script for the first time and missed all the punctuation.

Living in the type of boarding house straight out of any number of 70’s possession flicks, Heidi gets sent a record from The Lords and when it’s played on the air it’s eerily dissonant instrumental music has a strange effect on Heidi and other women of Salem that happen to be listening at that time.  You see, Heidi is the descendant of a famous witch hunter and has opened the door for the witches to return and bring Satan back with them.

That’s the gist of the set-up and Zombie takes a good forty minutes to set his picture into true motion.  There’s something to be said for a focus on characterization before the odd manifestations start to take place…but the material and performances in this first act doesn’t rise to the occasion.  It doesn’t help matters that wild-haired Davison blusters his way through the film as an author interested in witchcraft who surprisingly knows very little about the town he’s grown up in and its storied history.

Aside from Sheri Moon Zombie and Davison, the film casts four interesting veteran actresses in memorable roles that pretty much steal the show.  As the big bad super high meanie witch, Foster (with those icy blue eyes) is buck naked for 98% of the film and seems to relish the artistic freedom that comes with it.  As three sisters that seem to be auditioning for a local production of Macbeth, Quinn (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Stone (The Howling, Cujo), and especially Geeson (To Sir, With Love) are nearly worth the  price of admission – here are three established actresses that are game to play with what Zombie has given them.

Though his previous movies have creaked toward the two hour mark, this barely cracks the 90 minute plateau and all the better.  Zombie seems to have made it to the final reel before giving in to his previous stylistic trappings and decides to cram it all into a finale that features a lot of old lady nudity, ripped out intestines, and several strangely effective demonic images.

Even with all this it’s a slow film and I found myself fighting to keep my eyes open on more than a few occasions.  Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with Zombie tightening his reins and trying something different.  His last film, Halloween II, was way too violent for me and The Lords of Salem was overly languid to go along with.  Zombie picks and chooses his projects carefully so I’m hoping his next effort is a better balance of directorial narrative and the stylized violence and imagery he clearly is so adept at.

The Silver Bullet ~ Grown Ups 2

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Synopsis: After moving his family back to his hometown to be with his friends and their kids, Lenny finds out that between old bullies, new bullies, schizo bus drivers, drunk cops on skis, and 400 costumed party crashers sometimes crazy follows you.

Release Date:  July 12, 2013

Thoughts: Grudgingly, I’ll admit that when I caught the original Grown Ups at a second-run movie theater I liked it more than I thought I would.  A few years later, I’m confident that I’m over these types of lame-brained comedies from lame-brains Adam Sandler, David Spade, and director Dennis Dugan (other stars Kevin James and Chris Rock get a pass…for now).  This summer releasing sequel looks like more of the same antics so chances are I’ll wait on this one to see if lightning can strike twice at the discount movie houses.