Movie Review ~ South of Heaven

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After serving twelve years for armed robbery, Jimmy gets an early parole. Upon his release from prison, he vows to give Annie, his childhood love, now dying from cancer, the best year of her life. The best last year of her life. If only life were that simple.

Stars: Jason Sudeikis, Evangeline Lilly, Mike Colter, Shea Whigham

Director: Aharon Keshales

Rated: NR

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  I don’t know about you, but it’s a little funny to me that the same weekend Jason Sudeikis closes out his second season playing the Emmy-winning title role of his multiple award lauded serio-comedy Ted Lasso, he’s also premiering a hard-nosed crime drama that at one point sees someone sliced in half.  That he pulls both off convincingly is a sure sign that Sudeikis is another SNL alum that was always meant for something more.  Up until now, Sudeikis has mostly thrived in comedic films but South of Heaven represents a gear shift that’s likely to feel jarring for many of his fans that have come to expect a lighthearted Sudeikis or, more recently, the Ted Lasso-y Sudeikis with a perennial good-nature we secretly all wish we could emulate more of.

The sunniness Sudeikis brings to that show on Apple TV+ is mostly cloudy in South of Heaven.  Right from the start when we see Jimmy Ray (Sudeikis, We’re the Millers) in front of a parole board being up front and honest that he should be released so he can spend as much time as he can with his terminally ill fiancé.  Yes, he committed a crime but it was a first offense and after 12 years, has his time been served?  He’s a middle-aged white guy so…of course he’s let out.  Waiting for him is Annie (Evangeline Lilly, Ant-Man and the Wasp) and with her pixie cut and glowing aura, she looks like she’s already practicing for her guardian angel gig she’s most certainly getting hired for.  The reunion between the two is sweet, bittersweet, and then ultimately tender as both realize how quickly they have to re-learn their old routines to maximize the time they have left with one another.

Not long after Jimmy Ray’s return, his rat-like parole officer (Shea Whigham, The Quarry, always on call when a weasely character is needed) makes sure Jimmy Ray knows that he’s under his thumb and even prompts him to get involved with under the table business on his behalf or risk being sent back to prison on trumped up charges he creates.  Unwilling to part from Annie again, Jimmy Ray agrees to retrieve a package for the parole officer and it’s on his way back that something happens which shifts the film from being one story to a different one in a similar vein.  It’s one of several adjustments director and co-screenwriter Aharon Keshales makes for the next 75 minutes which will keep the audiences on their toes, wondering where all of these tone shifts are going to lead.  Will they add up to beautiful music or is just all banging on a keyboard?

Working with fellow screenwriters Kai Mark and Navot Papushado, Keshales manages to make South of Heaven into that rare bird that refuses to stay in one place for too long but doesn’t feel too flighty at the same time.  The movie has about 5 endings as it nears its conclusion (and that was one too many for me) and with each progression to a new level the stakes are raised quite convincingly and, more importantly, with an entertainment value that works for nearly everyone involved. The only person it isn’t completely successful with is its leading man.

I’m not sure if it was Sudeikis now being so tied to the Ted Lasso of it all but it took a long time for me to lock into what he was doing here and go with it.  There was a dramatic side to him that he doesn’t wear totally convincingly in, oh, 78% of the movie and it’s only working with Lilly in some of the final scenes and in a climactic sequence near the end that it feels like the talented actor is working in a zone.  Yet you see the actor trying new things and new ideas as he journeys to get to that zone and you can’t fault someone that’s actively trying to make something work in what had to be a tight shooting schedule.  He’s got great support with, as mentioned, Lilly who is a real breath of fresh air here and Mike Colter (Girls Trip) as a soft-spoken crime boss that doesn’t like to have to ask for things twice.  I also got a kick out of seeing former C-movie action star Michael Paré as a mostly silent hired muscle for Colter, who isn’t too shabby in the bicep category himself.

If there’s one thing that might be problematic for viewers it’s that Keshales doesn’t seem to be able to settle on the mood of the film, shuffling the deck at random.  This tends to lessen the weight of heavier scenes and makes you wonder whether dialogue that is supposed to be dramatic is coming off just a tad phony.  In more than one scene, an actor is drawing from a deep well to convey emotion but the sincerity was so over emphasized that the effect is insincere.  Put all of these little moments in a line and it would result in an unconvincing watch but when they are peppered within the fabric of a film you can forgive it a little easier as a quirk the filmmaker is working through.

At this point, you have to be wondering what I’m even thinking about the film, right? It sounds like I’m down on it but I was way more into South of Heaven than I originally thought I would be, even when it overstays its welcome ambling toward one of its many endings.  For all its emotional ups and downs, I didn’t have a clear idea of where it was headed and that’s a refreshing feeling after sitting through countless tales that are sunk by predictability.  When it does get to its ending, it’s not what I expected (and probably not what I wanted) but I appreciated one final rug pull from a director that wasn’t afraid up until that point of shaking things up to keep the action interesting.

31 Days to Scare ~ Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters

The Facts:

Synopsis: The definitive Ghostbusters documentary charts the making of the greatest supernatural comedy of all time.

Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton, Jennifer Runyon, Ivan Reitman, Alice Drummond, Timothy Carhart, Jason Reitman, Catherine Reitman, Kurt Fuller, David Margulies, Joe Medjuck, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Steve Johnson, Randall William Cook, Michael C. Gross, John Bruno, Ray Parker, Jr., Randy Edelman, Steven Tash, Michael Ensign, Bill Murray

Director: Anthony Bueno

Rated: NR

Running Length: 128 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: It’s easy to look back at a perennial favorite like Ghostbusters and conclude it was a no-brainer from the start it would be the monster hit it became upon its release in June of 1984.  The director was on a hot streak coming off of three consecutive box office winners, the cast was made-up of proven talent from the worlds of comedy in television and film, and audiences were promised the kind of special effects spectacle that had become a staple of the summer blockbuster.  Collectively, this was the kind of ‘nothing but net’ slam-dunk that comes along once in a ghoulishly blue moon, and to hear the cast and crew in an extended version of the 2019 documentary Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters tell it, the making of this landmark film wasn’t a rough ride for many. Met with enthusiasm and golden dollar signs, it’s gone on to weather a sequel that greatly divides it fans even to this day and a reboot that only deepens the chasm between supporters and those…otherwise inclined. 

With a Jason Reitman-directed follow-up feature arriving in November (don’t forget, Jason is the son of Ivan who sat in the chair for the 1984 original and its sequel in 1989) I figured it was a good time to take in this newly released extended edition of this extensive making-of documentary which has been bouncing around for a few years.  You can see a version that’s nearly a half hour shorter on Crackle, but this lengthier look at how a film originally conceived to be about a crew of janitors in the year 2010 who join a league of ghost hunters became what we know it as today is the more rewarding experience.

Director Anthony Bueno goes big and bold, christening this as the “definitive Ghostbusters documentary” and with the fine amount of detail covered in over two hours of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, I’m inclined to believe him.  Of course, can anything about Ghostbusters be truly definitive without the participation of Bill Murray or Rick Moranis, neither of whom turn up in interviews here?  Probably not, but taking that out of consideration Bueno sure has rounded up a bevy of production designers, producers, and actors, from the stars all the way down to a red-headed extra that’s seen in one of the final shots of the film.  All speak fondly of their experiences on the film, with only Ernie Hudson continuing to go on the record with his justified disappointment over his character’s clear tokenism, a fact that’s basically acknowledged by several of the actors/writers. 

Going all the way back to Dan Aykroyd’s family history that led him to come up with the basic concept of the film and then gathering the core team of creatives together, Bueno smoothly moves through each element of the production as it builds the movie from the ground up.  Rarely are there any sources of conflict and from what we can assume, despite some pressure from the studio to make their deadline, the shooting and production went off without a hitch.  So many of these documentaries feel like they’re put together to show what a terrible trial it was to produce such a classic but in Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters you get the impression the goal is more to show that Ghostbusters was the result of multiple creative minds working cohesively from the same page.  If there were problems, they’re not mentioned here.

I wish Bueno would have gone the extra mile and covered the sequel because I don’t think we’ll ever get an exhaustive dissection of that interesting misfire, which has its definite pros and cons.  Perhaps in keeping with the positive spin the doc maintains throughout to examine the less successful follow-up would re-open a sore spot no one was in the mood to revisit.  Instead, Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters busies itself probing the great minds that thought alike for that magical stretch of time for their memories of their involvement, whether they were the actor inside The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the actress playing the librarian at the beginning of the movie, or the puppeteer responsible for moving the tongue of one of the ghosts.  For movie nerds, this is a heaven-sent doc that touches on multiple elements involved in the creation of Ghostbusters and a must watch to see how it all came together.