Movie Review ~ Penguin Bloom

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The Facts
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Synopsis: When an unlikely ally enters the Bloom family’s world in the form of an injured baby magpie they name Penguin, the bird’s arrival makes a profound difference in the struggling family’s life.

Stars: Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, Jacki Weaver, Griffin Murray-Johnston, Rachel House, Felix Cameron, Abe Clifford-Barr, Gia Carides, Leeanna Walsman, Lisa Hensley, Randolph Fields

Director: Glendyn Ivin

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  What I loved most about one of my all-time favorite critics Roger Ebert is that he could review a movie that was a top awards contender or the ninth sequel in a once popular franchise film and give them both equal considerations based on their individual merits.  He didn’t compare the two to each other, he didn’t contrast the ninth sequel with the fourth sequel or ponder what could have been done in the sixth one to make the eighth lay better groundwork for the film he was watching then.  He reported back to you how he felt about that movie on that day and often would revisit a film later and talk about how his experience changed over time on a second or third watch.  I know I’ve looked over reviews I’ve done in the past for this site and couldn’t believe the high (or low) scores I’ve given a film.  However, that’s where I was at the time and I have to trust my opinion I formed back then.

Maybe that’s my preamble apology (or is it excuse?) for what I’m going to say in the next few hundred or so words about Penguin Bloom, premiering on Netflix January 27th.  Here’s a movie, based on a real-life family in New Zealand, that couldn’t be more predictable and made up of your standard formulaic elements that go into films surrounding overcoming adversity.  It’s a kitchen sink flick that tries to fit as many issues in as possible and I’m half-amazed they couldn’t find a way to stick in a pair of bumbling thieves for a late in the game attempted bird-napping but, alas, screenwriters Harry Cripps & Shaun Grant (True History of the Kelly Gang) stick closely to the adaptation of the book from Cameron Bloom & Bradley Trevor Greive.  Yet the fact remains that I wrapped up the film with a genuine warmth I didn’t have before I started it and it’s largely due to its admirable unwillingness to hide from its own mawkishness.

On a 2013 family vacation in Thailand, active mom and nurse Sam Bloom leaned back on a balcony railing and her life changed forever.  Falling nearly 20 feet to the concrete pavement below, she was paralyzed from the waist down…but she was alive.  With three young boys and a photographer husband she would now have to rely on, the once unstoppable force of nature had the wind knocked out of her sails and fell into a deep depression when faced with her new normal.  Rarely venturing out of the house and refusing the extra care offered by family and friends, life is going on for Sam and the rest of the Blooms but nothing is flourishing.  That’s the point where director Glendyn Ivin opens the film and while we get glimpses of life before the accident and small snippets of the horrific event itself, the action primarily is focused on the Bloom house and Sam’s life within.

Noah Bloom (Griffin Murray-Johnston) narrates the film, watching as his mother (Naomi Watts, Luce) exerts great energy to even pull herself up into a sitting position.  Frustrating easily, she hasn’t quite mastered her way around their oceanside home yet and her wheelchair makes it difficult/impractical for her to accompany her outdoors-y sons to the beach or through their various daily adventures.  Husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln, Love, Actually) helps as much as he can, but backs off when his wife feels lorded over.  Her busybody mother (Jacki Weaver, Stoker) pays frequent visits, never missing an opportunity to point out something her once go-getter daughter could be doing differently and showing that even in the face of permanent paralysis, some mothers think there’s no excuse for having a dirty house.  Mostly, Sam sits alone, looking at a wall of pictures of their life of abundant activity before Thailand.

While exploring the beach, the boys find an injured magpie that fell from its nest and bring it home in hopes of nursing it back to health.  You can take one guess who is the most against the bird (named Penguin) at first and then I’ll let you go double or nothing to predict who will form the greatest bond with Penguin over time.  The discovery of the injured bird the boys can nurse back to health and the way the bird seems to intuit family behavior is the tip of an iceberg of metaphors the screenwriters have placed along the way. The movie is just chock-a-block with parallels to how, among other bits, the healing of Penguin starts the healing process in Sam that you start to chart the course of where the journey for both human and bird will wind up.  Unable to perform a miracle and restore their mother/wife back whole, there’s an unspoken knowledge among the Bloom men that their attention for this bird represents all that they wish they could be doing to help their family member.

To the great credit of the film, this isn’t a Mr. Popper’s Penguins sort of situation where it becomes more about magpie antics than serious minded drama but there is a general light tone to the movie, even in its darker passages.  A particularly upsetting sequence near the end is tough to watch, but only because the movie has lined you up perfectly to be targeted for that emotional reaction.  (No, that’s not a spoiler, by the way.)  It was refreshing to be diverted away from some of the oft-traveled roads in these types of films or at least have the scenery not be exactly what you think.  More often than not, even when the most predictable of moments arrive they aren’t dwelled upon long enough for viewers to squirm within the familiarity.  It’s also not a movie with Watts chatting with a magpie and working out her emotions as if in a one-woman tour de force, it’s hard to describe but both are good scene partners in some strange way.

Speaking of performances, there’s solid work going on throughout the picture from the always underrated Watts turning in gold star work on a silver star picture.  I don’t always love her choices in roles or films – she’s flirted with the Oscars a few times and has never been the right choice to win.  She has the chops to get one, but it can’t be for roles like this…not that it comes across like she’s trying for it here with her relaxed showing.  Not a fan of The Walking Dead here so I’ll have to trust you that Lincoln is dependable in the long run; he’s serviceable, if not all together memorable as your typical supportive husband and the same goes for Weaver in a role that feels too constricting for the quality of work she’s capable of.  The boys are all fresh-faced and naturalistic, with Murray-Johnston handling himself nicely but coming up just a tad short in a pivotal scene.  By far, the best performance in the film is Rachel House (Soul) as a kayak instructor that enters the Bloom’s life at the right time.  House brings a special kind of light to the picture in her few short scenes and, don’t tell anyone, but there were times when I wondered what was going on at her character’s house because she was able to create something unique in her character that generated interest to know more.

At a short 95 minutes, the film develops a nice zeal with threads of harmony in the final act and found some moving scenes for Watts to shine. While it can be a hair on the heavy-handed side as it makes that final climb up to its conclusion, it doesn’t overburden you by staying in that weighty area for too long and instead chooses to keep its head up as it focuses on the bigger picture. Ultimately, Penguin Bloom is a pleasantly pleasant sort of film from Down Under and one that feels like it was the best one that could have been made from the story it wanted to tell.

Movie Review ~ Psycho Goreman

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: After unearthing a gem that controls an evil monster looking to destroy the Universe, a young girl and her brother use it to make him do their bidding.

Stars: Matthew Ninaber, Nita-Josee Hanna, Owen Myre, Adam Brooks, Alexis Kara Hancey, Kristen MacCulloch, Reece Presley, Rick Amsbury, Matthew Kennedy, Timothy Paul McCarthy, Conor Sweeney, Robert Homer, Anna Tierney, Rich Evans

Director: Steven Kostanski

Rated: NR

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  During the tumult of 2020, one big positive I took was getting to see more indie horror films long before they became another new release to add to a growing queue of titles I would struggle to return to.  With space on the schedule thanks to the studios moving their bigger projects out months or years, my inbox became an increasingly fertile ground for all kinds of features with creatures both real and imaginary. Most were expectedly good, some unexpectedly great, and of course we had a stinker or two that just balanced everything out in the end in my eyes.  Each week there seemed to be something new to spook you and it’s important to keep these studios/titles/filmmakers in mind as we head into 2021 when we start to get back to “normal.”  That’s a thought for another day though because there’s another title out that’s worth your time here and now and while Psycho Goreman may have some rough edges and more schlock than shock, it’s a goofy good time that can serve as a throwback for fans wanting retro kicks or a perfectly enjoyable modern take on a popular formula.

As the film opens, an introductory scroll tells us of the Archduke of Nightmares and how he was defeated by the good people of the planet Gigax.  Imprisoned on Earth for his crimes and separated from his power source, a glowing gem that was buried deep within the soil, his reign of terror over the galaxy was put to an end and everyone lived happily ever after.  That is, until the present day when suburban siblings Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and Luke (Owen Myre) accidentally awaken the demon during their afternoon match of Crazyball and hypercompetitive Mimi winds up with her bratty hands on the amulet he is desperate to be reunited with to regain his full strength.  Realizing that as long as she has what he wants he’ll do anything for her, she names her new pet Psycho Goreman (PG for short) and sets about wreaking almost as much havoc as PG did, sometimes with more disastrous results.

In between montages of PG learning about the people of Earth, there are secret neighborhood crushes turned into a oozing oversized brain and a run in with the police that turns into a face melting bad time for one of the officers.  To the increasingly horrified Luke, this is the stuff of nightmares, but to Mimi it’s her own plan for world domination coming to fruition…just a few years earlier than she expected.  As Mimi and Luke befriend PG, who grits his teeth as Mimi’s personal gopher, galaxies away his revival has sent an alarm to the Gigax elders and alerted them that their ancient nemesis may be making a return visit.  In short order, the alabaster warrior Pandora (Kristen MacCulloch) is sent to Earth to make it clear they aren’t accepting visitors. Then, when a horde of PG’s former fiendish allies also descend upon the small town and several double-crosses are revealed that loop in the kids’ squabbling parents (Alexis Kara Hancey & Adam Brooks), Mimi and Luke turn to their beastly bud for assistance and find that PG might turn out to be the savior of Earth and not its destroyer.

Writer/director Steven Kostanski has a clear affinity for the low-budget efforts from studios like Troma, Full Moon Entertainment, and Empire Pictures.  These production houses churned out cult classics that might have been stuck together with goopy glue and popsicle sticks that still had remnants of a Fudgsicle on them, but they were so much fun to watch you hardly minded.  Film production has come a long way since then so Psycho Goreman uses its low budget in all the right places, going sparse in the way of special effects and focusing on make-up and costuming instead.  That’s where the creative energy really starts to flow and there are several of the old PG friends that were designed to be so disgusting and/or funny that you very nearly want to stand up and applaud the imagination brought to life.

That same energy flows into the performances as well, starting with Matthew Ninaber under layers of latex (and, later, some goofy costumes to disguse himself) as the titular character.  The suit is always a suit but it has a surprisingly effective presence even when you can see it puckering in at odd angles on the actor.  All of the actors in full costume deserve major props for navigating what I’m sure where hard conditions to film in; it can’t have been comfortable, but the results are well worth the efforts.  If the humans feel a little second banana, it’s only because they are so ordinary compared to the extraordinary nature of their out-of-this-world co-stars.  Audiences are either going to love Hanna’s preposterously awful Mimi or wish she’d get a laser blast to the cranium post haste and while it took me longer than it probably should have to warm up to her, by the end I understood why she had to be drawn with such big bold lines.

Definitely bound to appear on every “Best Movies You Haven’t Heard Of” lists for whatever streaming service this one lands on and more than likely headed toward a status of cult, Psycho Goreman is a fun film that takes itself only as seriously as you’d let it.  It delivers everything it promises and more, with a plot that’s more fleshed out than usual, excellent physical effects that blend nicely with computer generated ones, and performances that sell the material without turning it into a poorly timed farce.  The final act (and specifically the last 15 or so minutes) is really going to tweak a sweet spot for horror fans but by then I’m betting most viewers will already have been won over by PG’s R-rated antics.