Movie Review ~ Here After

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A struggling actor dies right after a bad breakup, awakening to a singles Purgatory where he must find his soul mate in order to cross over to the other side as if dating in New York wasn’t hard enough already.

Stars: Christina Ricci, Andy Karl, Nora Arnezeder, Jackie Cruz, Michael Rispoli

Director: Harry Greenberger

Rated: NR

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review:  Doing this long enough you know not to make up your mind about a movie in the first five minutes because, more often than not, a film (especially an indie one) needs some time to settle in and shake off some jitters.  It’s almost a common courtesy to give some extra breathing room and I’m more than happy to grit my teeth a little longer, giving a movie the benefit of the doubt as long as possible.  I tell you this so you know that I tried, I really tried, to give Here After (or, Faraway Eyes, it’s listed as both on IMDb and in the end credits) the widest berth to win me over during its incredibly overstuffed run time.  After 125 minutes, I’m afraid that my thoughts toward it at the beginning hadn’t changed much.  This was a seriously problematic movie with an especially pungent lead character.

You don’t KNOW how much this bums me out because I truly enjoy Andy Karl (Joyful Noise) who plays Michael, the unfortunate soul who dies in a car crash shortly after breaking up with his girlfriend at the airport.  Opening with Michael on a gurney giving a monologue directly to the camera about a sexual escapade he had at 16 involving handcuffs and a cute redhead from school, I’m unsure how writer/director Harry Greenberger thought this would go over to the majority of audience members.  Did he think this story would be endearing?  Funny?  Charming?  It’s sort of…misogynistically putrid and everything that happens to Michael after that point you almost completely don’t care about because of how we meet him.  Yet we still have two hours to go.

After he dies, Michael has a meeting with Scarlet (Christina Ricci, Mermaids) a platinum haired, glassy-eyed corporate-type heavenly being in a red suit that tells him he died without ever finding his soulmate.  He can’t “proceed” without finding his soulmate among the other souls that are currently wandering around without a match.  Michael doesn’t take this news well and heads straight for the bar where he launches into another bit of odd stream of consciousness ramblings. Finally, he remembers he has a schmuck uncle (Michael Rispoli, Cherry) who died recently and perhaps he also stuck around and could offer some advice.

This is where the movie truly goes gutter because Rispoli’s character has got to be one of the most repugnant and repulsive creations put to film.  Always ready with some trashy remark about the opposite sex or a tired slur about the same sex, Michael’s uncle eventually takes him to a women’s locker room for a man to man talk where they can discuss their situation on finding a mate while invisibly watching naked women walk around.  Interspersed through all of these uncle scenes are a bevy of totally filthy comments about body parts, cavities, and sex devices that were almost enough for me to throw in the towel.

The movie thinks it’s picking up when Michael meets Honey Bee (Nora Arnezeder, Army of the Dead) but that’s just when it begins ripping off Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series.  Ever wanted to know what it’s like being on a date with two boring people that are getting to know one another…especially when they start to talk about what kind of music they like?  Fire this one up!  Loading plot complication upon plot complication, not only is Honey Bee alive but can still see the undead Michael (so couldn’t be the soulmate he seeks), but she also has a psycho stalker (Alex Hurt) that won’t leave her alone.  I mean…has he walked around talking about music with her?  He’d run for the hills if he had.

I’m a little surprised Broadway star Karl (and he’s great on Broadway, I’ve seen him, I’ve met him, he’s a star, no question) showed up in this.  Either he’s a friend of Greenberger or the chance to star in a film was too big of an opportunity to pass up.  It’s a shame because Here After is a real dog, for everyone involved.  Even the supporting players get stuck with lame dialogue and this odd CGI space that looks like a Zoom background set to ‘Blur’.  Poor Jackie Cruz (Midnight in the Switchgrass) …not only does she have to say Greenberger’s gaggingly smug dialogue but she’s wedged into this weird wig.  The small bright spot of Jeannie Berlin (Inherent Vice) as Michael’s mom doesn’t burn bright for long, Greenberger keeps making her reference jars of pickles she gave him that he kept in his refrigerator.  I know, this sounds odd.  Now think about my having to watch it and then recount it for you.

You roll the dice with every movie you watch, and they aren’t all going to be winners.  Sometimes you roll the dice so hard they bounce back and hit you in the forehead and that’s what Here After felt like.  It’s so thick with heavy-handed plot devices that rely on toxic maleness it’s almost stifling.  Speaking of stifling, try not to full on yawn during the closing song from Debbie Harry played over the credits.  Advertised on the poster, it was the one thing I was looking forward to as things were drawing to a close but it was just as off-key and strange as the film. 

Movie Review ~ Ailey

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Alvin Ailey was a visionary artist who found salvation through dance. Told in his own words and through the creation of a dance inspired by his life, this immersive portrait follows a man who, when confronted by a world that refused to embrace him, determined to build one that would.

Stars: Robert Battle, Rennie Harris, Darrin Ross, Don Martin, Mary Barnett, Linda Kent, George Faison, Judith Jamison, William Hammond, Sylvia Waters, Hope Clarke, Sarita Allen, Masazumi Chaya, Bill T. Jones

Director: Jamila Wignot

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Though you may not know the name Alvin Ailey, you surely have seen some piece of his work over the years.  The revolutionary choreographer was an artist ahead of his time that saw dance as a language he had the power to translate, and his work is representative of that.  My own exposure to the works of Ailey has been quite limited and that’s why a documentary like Ailey is a rare opportunity to delve deeper into not just the history of the man himself but into what the dance brought to life in the time it was developed.  Each move told a story, and each step had a purpose, and as viewers of this documentary will find out, much of it was born from the pain (personal and professional) experienced by Ailey throughout his life.

Born in Texas in 1931 during the peak of the Great Depression, Ailey rose from picking cotton with his mother to living with her after moving to Los Angeles in 1941.  Beginning his formal dance with Lester Horton and the (now legendary) dancer Carmen De Lavallade, he started out in Horton’s troupe and eventually formed a nightclub act with future poet laureate Maya Angelou.  This led to numerous tours, club dates, and his Broadway debut but kept Ailey longing for a role that was more tailored to his choreographic interests.

Director Jamila Wignot’s film traces these early years and the eventual formation of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater using archival materials from Ailey and stock footage from the era along with Ailey’s own voice recordings recounting his life story.  Weaving through and helping to propel the narrative further are Ailey’s own choreographed dances, preserved forever on film and many of them captured with their original performers.  Not only do these represent the raw talent that Ailey was working with and who knew his style intimately, but it gives viewers a true taste of what an experience of seeing his pieces must have been like under the watchful eye of the man himself. 

Ailey’s most famous piece, Revelations, has entered the cultural lexicon as his calling card of sorts but it was this piece that would haunt him for the remainder of his life before his death of AIDS in 1989.  This extraordinary piece charts the black experience using the church and church music as its inspiration.  Given an extra bit of attention in Wignot’s documentary, Revelations is fairly stirring even now and along with a dozen or so other works, it can be easy to be swept away into any of the archival numbers presented throughout Ailey.  I’m so sorry for those seeing this in theaters, watching it at home I could rewind the film and re-watch the incredible Judith Jamison leave it all on the stage performing Ailey’s propulsive Cry in 1971. 

Where the documentary comes up short (feeling padded for time even at 95 minutes) is when it shifts back to the present and watching choreographer Rennie Harris piece together a new work honoring Ailey’s 60th anniversary for the company.  What Harris was putting together would, I’m sure, be wonderful but since we don’t get to see that final product it’s just random rehearsal footage and time I’d rather be spending with more of Ailey and his acolytes recounting the history.  That’s where the greatest wealth is to be found here.

Perfect for newcomers to Ailey or dance in general, it’s a primer that gives you nearly all the information you need and then encourages further exploration after.  While Ailey goes just to edge of some of the more personal aspects of his life, I can’t quite tell if Wignot didn’t want to turn over too many stones that have settled in a good place or if it simply wasn’t part of the story being told.  No matter, it’s filled with enough grace and style to catch your eye…most especially Ailey’s long-time stage manager recounting the first performance given after Ailey’s death.  Grab your Kleenex.

Movie Review ~ Midnight in the Switchgrass

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The Facts:

Synopsis: While in Florida on another case, FBI agents cross paths with a state cop who is investigating a string of female murders that appear to be related. When an undercover sting goes horribly wrong, it plunges the team into grave danger and pitting them against a serial killer in a twisted game of cat and mouse.

Stars: Megan Fox, Bruce Willis, Emile Hirsch, Lukas Haas, Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly), Caitlin Carmichael, Sistine Stallone

Director: Randall Emmett

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review:  I think we all need to stop and have some kind of memorial service for the Bruce Willis we once knew.  The Bruce Willis of the 1980’s and 1990’s who gave us some of the most memorable action movies out there.  The risk-taking Bruce Willis who went blonde for Luc Besson in The Fifth Element and went in the buff for Richard Rush in Color of Night.  This was the Bruce Willis married to Demi Moore who was part owner of Planet Hollywood and looked like he enjoyed making movies and being a member of the Hollywood A-List.  Scanning over the last several years of films on the IMDb credits for Willis, it’s clear this version of him is gone.

It’s hard to even call what Willis is doing in Midnight in the Switchgrass acting because he’s basically “present” in the film more than anything.  Sitting most of the time and only standing/moving in blink and you missed it moments, Willis has made a habit of this type of show-up-and-speak kind of roles that represent a sorry state of affairs for the actor that used to have so much pull in Hollywood.  If Midnight in the Switchgrass had been a better movie, this type of appearance might be just a minor bummer because you’d wish Willis had wanted to participate more.  Sadly, the movie is resoundingly terrible and now the lack of energy Willis shows in his appearance only signals what the audience will feel after sitting through this ungainly schlock which never figures out who the star is or what mood it wants to set.

Someone is abducting vulnerable women and leaving their bodies (not in the switchgrass!) along various roadways.  Pretty early on in Alan Horsnail’s leaden script, we find out that someone is truck driver/family man Peter (Lukas Haas, First Man, forever trying to extricate himself from his baby-faced child acting days) and his ugly, backward attitudes toward women (the ones he kills and otherwise) are laid on so thick you wonder if Horsnail is making a point or just exacerbating one.  His latest catch wanders out in a drug haze from a motel that also happens to be the site of an FBI sting operation originally set to trap him – what a coincidence.

Though she purposely set out to trap Peter, beautiful (but tough!) FBI agent Rebecca (Megan Fox, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) instead nabs a disgusting pimp (the equally disgusting Colson Baker aka Machine Gun Kelly, Fox’s real-life boyfriend) and their grueling matching of {nit}wits make an already lengthy first act set-up that much longer.  Sitting out in the car listening to all this and constantly threatening to “come in there!” is Karl (Willis, Glass), Rebecca’s partner who thinks she’s playing with fire tempting a killer out of hiding.

Also looking for the killer is state police office Byron (Emile Hirsch, The Autopsy of Jane Doe), who arrives at the scene of a victim and makes some stunning conclusions on motive and method having seen ¼ of the crime scene.  After promising the mother of the victim that he’ll find the killer, after sitting through her looooong story that is only important because it gives us the title reference, he ditches all other responsibilities (and his weepy wife played by Here After’s Jackie Cruz in a thankless role) and eventually teams up with Rebecca to track Peter down.  Doing some good old fashioned detective work, the film hits some sort of mild stride when the younger cops work together, only to be quickly flattened by a drawn-out finale that just sort of slumps over and gives up.

Director Randall Emmett makes his feature directorial debut after producing, wait for it, 119 movies, the bulk of those within the last 10 years.  Even the most prolific producer can’t have quality control over 20 good movies over 10 years…so that should tell you why there are multiple gaffes in the film, evidence of a shoddy production where even relatively smart actors like Fox and Hirsch get tripped up every now and then.  Recently on a redemptive streak and scoring in Till Death just a few weeks back, Fox is dragged down by the man in her life (Machine Gun Kelly) and her scene partner (Willis), both of whom give her little to work with.  When she’s left to her own devices, the movie at least gets somewhat interesting.  Hirsch oversells his role to the extreme, but at least he’s hawking something…even if he fully changes accents several times throughout the film and at one point even adopts a lisp for a brief scene. 

This is a cheap, stupid, pointless excuse of a film that represents nothing but $$$ for everyone involved.  It will keep the lights on in whatever lake cabin they have or perhaps an acting class or two for some of the local supporting cast that desperately need it.  It doesn’t meet the demands for the thriller genre and Midnight in the Switchgrass certainly won’t cut it as an action suspense picture.  I suggest firing up the lawnmower and cutting this weed down to the root.