Movie Review ~ The Feast

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A wealthy family gathers for a sumptuous dinner at their ostentatious home in the Welsh mountains. When a mysterious young woman arrives to be their waitress for the evening, her quiet yet disturbing presence begins to unravel their lives.

Stars: Annes Elwy, Nia Roberts, Julian Lewis Jones, Steffan Cennydd, Sion Alun Davies, Rhodri Meilir, Lisa Palfrey, Caroline Berry

Director: Lee Haven Jones

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  You’d think that by now people would learn.  After countless movies over the years have shown land and animals rebelling against crooked land developers, evil miners, mad scientists, and villainous officiants that should know better, there are still those that tempt fate by messing with Mother Nature.  Or whatever Mother Nature looks like from country to country, tradition to tradition, culture to culture.  You can’t escape the wrath of a tree root that doesn’t want to be chopped or a plot of earth that doesn’t feel like being tilled and getting all rumpled up.  Most of the time, the results are a good round of devastating special effects bonanzas but when you drift over into the European market you can rest assured that when retribution is doled out, the grand finale isn’t going to be a walk in the park.

That’s absolutely the case with The Feast, a Welsh film from director Lee Haven Jones that sets an ominous tone (literally) from the start and maintains a tense grip on your nerves throughout.  There’s seldom a moment when you can let your guard down and not because there are jump scares waiting around one or more of the dark corners in the secluded modern home the film centers itself in.  The real scares here are from the sense that the impending doom could somehow be prevented at any time but those in peril sally forth without bothering to check in with their surroundings and notice things are amiss.  Once The Feast begins (and the actual feast referred to in the title starts) there is no going back for any of the guests, hosts, or viewer.

A young woman named Cadi (Annes Elwy, Apostle) arrives to assist well-to-do Glenda (Nia Roberts), in hosting a dinner party for an investor her husband Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones, Zack Snyder’s Justice League) works with.  They’ve invited their neighbor from a nearby farm, with a plot of land not that dissimilar to theirs where they have already tore down the woman’s childhood home and erected the chic but soulless house where they are assembling the meal.  Also attending will be Gwyn and Glenda’s two troubled sons, ice-blonde health nut Gweirydd (Sion Alun Davies) and sandy-haired screw-up Guto (Steffan Cennydd).  Right away we can see that Cadi either isn’t who she says she is or has an alternative agenda with the family, but to what end.  Getting to know the family during the day as the meal is prepared, we start to see hints at her true nature, only to have our expectations altered as the evening progresses.

Credit to screenwriter Roger Williams and director Jones for keeping things moving at a good clip without sacrificing any little character details along the way in The Feast.  Cadi acts like a tiny fly on the wall and observes the inner workings of the family, so we see firsthand how odd Gweirydd is and that he might be hiding a secret.  The small actions of other characters hint at this too, you have to pay close attention to pick these up and it only adds to the richness of the finale if you understand why things are unraveling as they do.  The violence is grotesque at times but sort of beautifully done in its own way as well.   Fans of folk horror will, pardon the pun, eat this one up.

Movie Review ~ Zeros and Ones

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Called to Rome to stop an imminent terrorist bombing, a soldier desperately seeks news of his imprisoned brother — a rebel with knowledge that could thwart the attack. Navigating the capital’s darkened streets, he races to a series of ominous encounters to keep the Vatican from being blown up.

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Cristina Chiriac, Phil Neilson, Anna Ferrara, Salvatore Ruocco, Valerio Mastandrea, Babak Karimi

Director: Abel Ferrara

Rated: R

Running Length: 85 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review:  I’m going to relay an anecdote to you and I wanted you to go with me on this journey.  OK? 

OK.

I only watched The Oprah Winfrey Show on a regular basis for its last season because, what can I say, I was simply a very late adopter when it came to the most popular talk show on the planet.  During that last season I was watching an interview with The Judds, Naomi and Wynonna to be exact, and they were talking about their relationship and how they made it work.  More than anything, when she was faced with a bad situation that was what it was but that she had some control over her participation in, Wynonna said that she had learned to say to a number of things in her life “That may be fine for you but that doesn’t work for me.” and then being willing to get up and leave that particular situation in the past.  I think I had what Oprah would classify as an “A-Ha!” moment right then and there and I never looked back.  I often use that phrase in times when I’m feeling cornered, step back, and recognize I actually do have more autonomy over my actions than I originally thought.

You get this lengthy look into my brain today for a few reasons.  One, it makes this post that much longer because I have so little to say about director Abel Ferrara’s newest film Zeros and Ones that I had to think of something else to include in my write-up.  I also needed to give you background into why I made it through all 85 minutes of this film (yes, you actually DO have to watch to the very end of this movie) and then said “That doesn’t work for me.” turned off my TV, and went directly to bed.  Naming your film after the scores the movie will likely get is very prophetic on the part of Ferrara, so the longtime director with his fair share of hits and misses should be given a nice pat on the back and then a good kick in the pants for such a lazy and pointless endeavor that robs the viewer of their time and its star of not one but two good roles. 

Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) appears as himself at the beginning and end of the movie for some inexplicable reason that he actually does try to explain (but doesn’t really) and only further confuses whatever narrative Ferrara is trying to chase in Zeros and Ones.  Hawke then goes on to play twin brothers, one searching for the other in Rome shortly after a terrorist bomb targets the Vatican…or else he’s trying to prevent the Vatican from being blown up.  Honestly, I never really understood what was going on because there’s so much of us just watching Hawke tool around the city as one brother or another either behind a mask (production was done during the early height of COVID) or in full crazy mode.  The image you see on the poster is a Hawke that isn’t present in this film…false advertising, for shame!

One of the most famous songs The Judds recorded was ‘Love Can Build a Bridge’.  Well, as it relates to Abel Ferrara’s Zeros and Ones, ‘Love Can Build a Bridge but Ferrara Can’t Make a Cohesive Movie’…and that doesn’t work for me, nor will it for you.  So skippable, I was almost tempted to tell you off the bat to skip my review.  Almost. Hope you stuck around!

Movie Review ~ Last Survivors

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A father and son living off the grid for 20 years encounter an outsider who threatens to destroy the utopia they’ve built.

Stars: Drew Van Acker, Alicia Silverstone, Stephen Moyer

Director: Drew Mylrea

Rated: NR

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Here’s a well-made, quiet, and curious movie for all you out there willing to stick around for some payoff after what appears to be an initial suggestion of a film that’s quite different than what it winds up being.  Last Survivors wasn’t a film that was on my radar and is a rarity in that it sort of just plopped into my lap unexpectedly.  Once I heard it had Alicia Silverstone (aka an occupant of a top slot of The MN Movie Man Will See Anything X Actor is In List) as one of the three leads, a viewing was a forgone conclusion. When I finally did get around to watching it, I was surprised not just that I sort of liked this strange mix of wilderness thriller and drama, but just how well made it was.

One of the first things you’ll see in Last Survivors is a bare butt, and while I’m not sure it’s star Drew Van Acker’s gluteus maximus on display, I do know that director Drew Mylrea has a particular fascination with it.  It’s not the last time we’ll see it either, as Van Acker (or his butt double) has a fondness for dropping trou and showing his ass-ets that would make Mel Gibson blush.  Anyway, curving back on topic, Van Acker’s Jake is a sheltered young man living off the land deep in the forest (actually Butte, Montana) with his father Troy (Stephen Moyer, Concussion).  Cut off from the outside world to avoid a plague that has wiped out much of the world’s population, Troy protects his son by keeping outsiders away with deadly force.  When Troy is injured and requires supplies they don’t have, Jake sets out to see if one of the abandoned homes nearby has anything they can use. 

His search leads him to Henrietta’s ranch and, understandably, the naïve Jake’s first experience seeing a woman is both a shock and an opportunity.  He wants to know more but remembers the warnings his father (a clear misogynist) has given him not just about the disease that has spread which took his mother but also of the ways women in general act.  Throwing caution to the wind, he risks it and forms a bond with Henrietta (Silverstone, Valley Girl), a woman that has come to this remote location for reasons of her own.  Why she’s there, what really happened to the population, and answers to several other questions are uncovered the longer Jake spends time away from his controlling father.

Writer Josh Janowicz has a nice little film going for much of the time we spend with Last Survivors.  It’s especially kind to Silverstone’s character, giving equal time to exploring Henrietta’s situation and not making it solely about Jake’s coming of age (more of catching up to his own maturity than anything) or the deception Troy has been creating for his son.  The last twenty minutes or so of the movie gets a little too messy and introduces complications which feel out of place when the rest was so level-pitched.  Even with little romantic chemistry between Silverstone and Van Acker, the two have good rapport in their scenes.  It’s all a little too run of the mill to be memorable (even the rump is sort of average!) so while it works in the moment, the memory of Last Survivors doesn’t stick around long after the credits end.

Movie Review ~ Night Raiders

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A desperate Cree woman joins an underground band of vigilantes to infiltrate a State children’s academy and get her daughter back.

Stars: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Brooklyn Letexier-Hart, Alex Tarrant, Amanda Plummer, Violet Nelson, Gail Maurice

Director: Danis Goulet

Rated: NR

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: It’s only natural that as representation in film (especially genre films) grows, so do the complexities in the cultures that are presented to audiences.  This is doubly true in the horror and science fiction community which have long drawn from ancient civilizations and previously underrepresented societies for their own skewed version of practiced traditions.  Thankfully, more of these peoples are having their voices heard and platforms on which to showcase their talent are more readily available to them.  Already in 2021, First Nations horror film Don’t Say Its Name has been making the rounds of genre film fests and while I didn’t much spark to that one, it’s undeniable the talent that was a part of getting it made.

Next up is Night Raiders, a far more successful attempt that takes us into a post-apocalyptic future with a set-up that feels familiar but featuring enough engaging performances and directorial choices to keep it afloat for most of its running length.  It’s not going to rock your world but it’s far better than any of the direct-to-video junk Bruce Willis has made recently, mostly because you can tell that those involved want to be there. 

Written and directed by Danis Goulet, Night Raiders is, at its most boiled-down, the story of a Cree woman surviving twenty years in the future with her daughter after a world changing event who has to make an agonizing choice in order to save her child.  With her daughter’s life on the line, she leaves her behind so she can receive the medical care she desperately needs and then turns around and immediately plots how to retrieve her from a mysterious military regime which trains children’s to be soldiers.  Eventually, the woman teams up with a resistance movement made up of her own people as well as other races. Ultimately, she fights to save not just her family but the hope of a future that looks increasingly bleak.

Goulet’s future appears as depressingly glum as all the others in a similar vein, but not all had an actress like Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers acting like a beam of light in the middle of it all.  Tailfeathers does great work here, nicely leading a strong cast of performers of varying experience.  It’s not all smooth sailing but for the most part Night Raiders goes over easily and, surprisingly, winds up being more entertaining than it hints at early on.  The marketing on this one is smart and will draw people in with promises of more action and suspense than are actually there, but for once that’s an OK thing.  What’s here is actually better, because strong performances and developed characters will always win me over.