We Need to Do Something
A rare stumble for a number of otherwise reliable players, WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING is nothing to get that excited about, despite a frighteningly relatable array of terrible happenings to one Midwestern family congregated in their tacky bathroom as they weather a heckuva bad storm. Initially, it seems like it will be a family vs. nature run wild sort of deal, with thunder and lightning giving way to crashing trees that prevent an already high-strung foursome from leaving an increasingly bad situation. Sadly, it becomes a “who can be the most awful to one another” bit of ghoulish no-fun, almost frustratingly so. The filmmakers throw a few effective sequences into the mix (snakes in enclosed spaces = gold) but rely far too much on human ugliness for the real horror. Performances range from quite good (Loved Vinessa Shaw as the matriarch and Sierra McCormick as the angsty daughter with several secrets she’s sitting on) to whatever Pat Healy is doing. Director Sean King O’Grady is far more successful in flashback scenes taking place outside of the privy prison…so I’d be interested to see what they could do with a project that allows for more expansion.
This is a home of major Anna Camp and Elvis fans so I have to thank the makers of GRACELAND, a friendly and easy-going short, that gave me ample doses of both. While this 14-minute reel of a girl who thinks she’s the reincarnation of The King feels more like the beginning idea of a longer narrative feature, there’s clearly something to play with should Bonnie Discepolo want to open this up a bit and flesh out a few more of the themes introduced. As a viewer just dropped into the lives of Grace and her family, we don’t get much time to know anyone or much of their history before we’re asked to care about the tricky emotional peaks they need to climb. I’ve a feeling there’s more to come with these characters and it’s a role Anna Camp would be an inspired choice to stay with. Wisely written and played with some incredulity at the situation but never intentionally inflicting judgement, Camp previews just a little of her own character’s insecurities during the film and that’s worth exploring further.
With/In, Volumes I and II
Two volumes of short films written and made by celebrities tasked with capturing life during the pandemic could have been such a bunch of pretentious baloney and let me tell you, I was 100% prepared for WITH/IN VOL I and VOL II to be booooooooring. I mean, really. All these stars. Something had to fly off the rails. What a surprise to find that both volumes, even with the occasional passage that’s marginal at worst, is quite a delightful mix of thoughts and ideas cleverly brought to the screen with creativity. Championed by the likes of Trudie Styler (who appears in one segment), the anthology is broken up oddly into two inequitable halves with strong chapters found in both. I particularly liked Bart Freundlich directing his wife Julianne Moore in a piece that feels excised from a movie both would be interested in making when their schedules allow…and please please please bring @taliabalsam along when you do! Rosie Perez directs herself and friend Justina Machado in a funny and ultimately moving look at how the emotions our friends have seen via FaceTime over the last year might not be what we’re really feeling inside. While it goes silly in the end, Julianne Nicholson’s entire family gets in on the action with a often riotously funny examination of how a peaceful day with your family can upend itself quickly. Even Gina Gershon’s completely random closer is totally unique and authentically her, sidestepping affectation in favor of approaching the material differently. Both volumes are worth watching and while you’ll need to see Vol I for Moore, Vol II gets you more bang for your buck.
Earlier this year, The Father took us inside the mind of a man slowly careening downhill suffering from brain disease and Anthony Hopkins wound up with an Oscar for it. Now along comes SHAPELESS, which makes a similar play in exposing the inner demons associated with eating disorder and having the guts to go all the way. All. The. Way. Co-written by star Kelly Murtagh, giving the kind of bravura strenuously physical performance you wind up watching through hands covering your eyes, Shapeless uses body horror to jerk you to attention but derives its biggest shocks for pain found in grounded reality. Watching hopeful singer Ivy slide into a black pit of her own making could be exhausting, but don’t look to director Samantha Aldana to cut viewers much slack. As Ivy’s obsession with her consumption intertwines with her music, she begins to transform in ways that are slight at first, shocking in conclusion. The film’s got some amazing, haunting visuals (ooo-wee, some of those last moments are splendid!) but learners looking for outright horror are best directed elsewhere — this is strictly a horror horse of a different color. Kudos to Murtaugh for exposing some raw nerves and also for her alluring vocals throughout.
The Beta Test
It’s hard to talk at all about the newest film from writer/director Jim Cummings without giving too much away so let me just say this: THE BETA TEST serves as both a cautionary tale of manhood run amok & a cinematic facial peel for wheelers and dealers in Hollywood. While the previous films from Cummings have enjoyed some under the radar cult status and grown in popularity with some grassroots word-of-mouth PR, I’d expect IFC to get this one out in front of people in a unique way. It’s a thriller for those that like something more intelligent and satirical than lowbrow and ordinary. Cummings is excellent as is the other players assembled, especially Virginia Newcomb as his hapless fiancée that has her eyes opened just a fraction of a second too late.
See for Me
The first movie I saw at Tribeca, I think I got a little swept away in my admiration for SEE FOR ME because the more I think about it the less I am solid in my praise for it. Not that it isn’t worth a recommendation because I love a home invasion thriller as much as the next person. And star Skyler Davenport takes what could have been a stalwart character that refuses to be a victim and gives her a tricky moral compass that you don’t often see in these films. As a blind athlete using a new app to help “see” around a house they are cat-sitting, Davenport makes a fine pair with Jessica Parker Kennedy as the eyes on the other side of the screen. This becomes a sneaky little B & E thriller with a mid-point twist that doesn’t just make the film more interesting, but the characters as well. Director Randall Okita manages some taut pacing, and the score is right on target score. Never underestimate the power of a good baseline! It may show some large holes in the light of day but that first viewing was pleasant enough for me to have been amped about the rest of the festival offerings.