Movie Review ~ Shattered (2022)

The Facts:

Synopsis: After a lonely tech millionaire encounters a charming and sexy woman, passion grows between them – and when he’s injured, she quickly steps in as his nurse. But her odd behavior makes him suspect she has more sinister intentions, especially when her roommate is found dead from mysterious causes.

Stars: Cameron Monaghan, Lilly Krug, John Malkovich, Sasha Luss, Frank Grillo

Director: Luis Prieto

Rated: NR

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: All we heard in the latter half of 2021 and now into 2022 was how movies were returning to normal.  It took a while for theaters to get back up to speed and while there is still a long way to go to get people to venture out to films that aren’t proven franchises (RIP West Side Story…you shoulda been a blockbuster…), the tide is turning slowly.  The at-home market feels like it’s regaining its footing at a more rapid pace. It surely is welcoming its fair share of stink-bombs at around the same volume it was before the pandemic hit. 

The latest must-miss is Shattered, another Lionsgate effort and oh, how it pains me to say it.  This is the studio that had such a great run with the Saw franchise and launched a trove of worthy indie titles back in the day (Gods and Monsters! Eve’s Bayou!).  Yet recently I’ve seen a good amount of less than impressive titles coming out through their banner.  I know they can do better, and they can certainly do far better than the dreadful Shattered which I watched on a day off over the Christmas holiday and felt like I got a lump of coal for my efforts.  Directed with some attempt at style by Luis Prieto and working from David Loughery slimy script, I actually think Shattered had the potential to be something better than it was.  It’s just that the cast assembled is so unfathomably bad.

Describing the plot of Shattered is sort of like looking at a whole shelf of mystery thrillers in the video store, starting at the top left and then randomly assembling the synopsis using snippets from each film.  There’s little originality to the set-up featuring a wealthy divorcee (Cameron Monaghan, Vampire Academy) living in a secluded home who meets a random woman (Lilly Krug, Every Breath You Take) at the grocery store, detects she may be in trouble in her current living situation, offers to take her away for the evening to avoid a strung out roommate and skeevy landlord (John Malkovich, Jennifer 8), sleeps with her, falls for her, meets up with her again, then spends the rest of the movie suffering the consequences when she turns out to be a lunatic. Loughery (who also wrote the campy 2009 thriller Obsessed starring Beyoncé, Passenger 57 featuring Wesley Snipes, and the 2020 Hilary Swank vehicle Fatale) tries to differentiate his screenplay by giving the mystery woman a backstory which comes back to haunt her (and us), but if you don’t have actors that can sell it convincingly, then what’s the point?  That leaves us to spend the next hour or so with bad actors attempting to play dramatics far beyond their reach.         

It pained me to do it, but at the end of Shattered I went back and took a look at the IMDb page for John Malkovich.  It’s here if you want to look for yourself.  There was a time when that name called forth a certain image, at least to me, of elevated acting and a commitment to the craft which meant that when his name popped up in the credits you should take note of his involvement.  Now, when I see Malkovich listed, I have to decide if I even want to bother to read the plot description or watch the trailer.  Making movies that are so far removed from titles like 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, 2000’s Shadow of the Vampire, 1999’s Being John Malkovich, or his Oscar-nominated roles in 1984’s Places in the Heart or 1993’s In the Line of Fire, it almost feels like the actor has been taken hostage and is being forced to make bottom of the barrel scuzz.

The barrel gets scraped down to the rivets with Shattered, truly the most embarrassing role of Malkovich’s celebrated career which finds the actor playing a minor role as a majorly disgusting motel owner that gets mixed up with a femme fatale and her latest target.  If you can believe it, Malkovich isn’t even the worst performance in the movie, or the second.  Those two key positions are held by stars Monaghan and Krug, as charmless a duo as you could ever want in a psycho-sexual thriller built around a seduction that turns dangerous and eventually deadly.  Monaghan is a whiny wimp that somehow has a beautiful ex-wife (Sasha Luss) and child and now has nabbed Krug’s crazeballs chick that turns the tables on him in short order. How or why Frank Grillo (Boss Level) shows up is almost beside the point, by the time the usually dependable supporting player appears when there’s a little more than thirty minutes left, viewers will either have turned the TV off or checked out to the point where they won’t even recognize another character has entered the action.

Even though Shattered is assuredly bad, I wound up giving it a pass for my Worst of 2021 list because it could have technically shown up there…and ranked high in the process.  Being a rule follower, I also couldn’t put it on my Worst of 2022 list because I didn’t actually see it this year.  So Shattered will slip through my grasp as a call-out after this review concludes…and should slip from your mind just as quickly.

Movie Review ~ The Legend of La Llorona

The Facts:

Synopsis: While vacationing in Mexico, a couple discovers their son’s disappearance is tied to a supernatural curse.

Stars: Autumn Reeser, Antonio Cupo, Zamia Fandiño, Danny Trejo, Angélica Lara, Edgar Wuotto, Nicolas Madrazo

Director: Patricia Harris Seeley

Rated: R

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: When a film comes out that’s as bad as The Legend of La Llorona (and let’s not beat around the mulberry bush, this is very, very, bad), I try to look for one positive takeaway that will make the experience seem like not a complete wash.  It helps in the overall reflection when looking back at a later date and also assists in the writing of the subsequent review.  The honest truth is that I almost made it to the end of this extremely cheap horror cash-in without finding that small sliver of silver lining I could bring back to you but, thanks to Danny “I Never Say No” Trejo, I nabbed it pretty close to the end.  Are you ready? Here it is: When in doubt, you can shoot a ghost with a shotgun.  I didn’t say it was logical…just a takeaway I wasn’t aware of before the film began.

Apparently filmed in Canada as well as Mexico City where the action takes place, The Legend of La Llorona often looks like the actors are running around a botanical garden that needs a good watering instead of the dark brush where a local legend is said to be hungry for children.  An opening prologue (which oddly lists the production company credits twice) finds a brother and sister being separated from their mother in said botanical garden as they attempt to escape Mexico to the United States but are thwarted by a ghostly apparition of La Llorona, appearing first as extremely questionable CGI vapor and then as a white bedsheet dragged through a shallow body of water.  The bedsheet is pretty tangled up and dirty and from a laundry perspective, that’s terrifying.

Jumping over to numb American couple Carly and Andrew Candlewood (the name is at least one of the more creative decisions in the film) arriving in town to escape their continued grief over the recent loss of their child, they have their other son Danny in tow.  Poor young actor Nicolas Madrazo spends this opening introduction with his head halfway in a barf bag as taxi driver Trejo (Anaconda) cluelessly rambles off a list of stomach-churning local delicacies while the carsick boy upchucks loudly in the backseat.  Not that his parents are paying much attention. Carly (Autumn Reeser, Sully) can only think about the child she lost while Andrew (Antonio Cupo) just wants to know when Carly will be ready to make another baby.  Clearly, this couple needs a vacation to mend what is broken in their relationship, but they’ve chosen the wrong destination to start that process. (Once Madrazo starts acting for real you realize maybe sticking to the vomit pouch is better for him.)

Arriving at a gargantuan estate tended to by Veronica (Angélica Lara, acting circles around the rest of the cast), no one even unpacks before Danny has been lured into the back pond by the ghost of a woman that lived there long ago.  There’s a story to go along with her tragic end but why spoil Lara’s pivotal scene, the only believably conveyed dramatics in the entire picture?  Before long, Danny is missing, having been taken by La Llorona and Carly has to find the strength to take on the lady ghost if she wants her son back.  There’s several unnecessary side plots involving thugs and gangs roaming around which interfere with the core action, only padding what is already too long and too recycled a storyline.

What The Legend of La Llorona struggles with the most is an overall sense of clumsiness and an impression that no one involved, least of all director Patricia Harris Seeley, really believed in the horror film they were making.   Reeser and Cupo are veterans of Canadian-produced holiday films for Hallmark and similarly themed pictures, and it shows in the scenes where they are called to do anything other than cast misty-eyed looks at one another.  Some of the Mexican characters are painted with a broad brush, leaving Trejo to get locked and loaded with shifting allegiances that lead to his aforementioned target practice with La Llorona.  This scene is fairly hysterical because it just looks like we’re watching Trejo play a video game, every time he “hits” the “ghost” the specter gives a ghoulish grimace and disappears.  I kept expecting to see +100 appear in the sky somewhere.

Ever since the success of The Conjuring spin-off The Curse of La Llorona and then the 2019 film La Llorona from Guatemala which very nearly landed an Oscar nomination for Best International Feature, cheap-o productions featuring the figure from Latin American folklore have been popping left and right.  All are aiming for the easy scare with nothing to back them up from an emotional storytelling point of view and The Legend of La Llorona is no different.  Brandishing the kind of fake-out marketing which will most likely trick a number of viewers into a watch, it’s a shame this one didn’t have more performances like Lara as the housekeeper.  It’s not a perfectly formed creation but it’s filled out with the right amount of paranoia that would accompany a town haunted by a legend that couldn’t be real…or could it?

Movie Review ~ Brazen

The Facts:

Synopsis: A prominent mystery writer and crime expert hurries back to her family home when her sister is killed and her double life as a webcam performer is revealed, ignoring the warnings of cool-headed detective and getting involved in the case.

Stars: Alyssa Milano, Sam Page, Malachi Weir, Emilie Ullerup, Matthew Finlan, Colleen Wheeler, Lossen Chambers

Director: Monika Mitchell

Rated: NR

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: We’re ever so slightly into January but I can’t quite shake the cozy comfort of one of my favorite seasons of the year…and it’s not Christmas.  No, it’s the cycle of holiday movies produced en masse for television by a growing number of networks and streaming services, aiming to pummel their target audiences with enough easy to digest 90-minute treats to fill a Santa-size stocking.  Like a greedy kid in a small-town candy store about to go under but saved at the last minute by a hard-working single gal from the big city, I always go a little overboard in gathering my selections each year, finding that my time is more limited than I would like to get through them all.  So, it’s around now when I start to gradually remove myself from these holiday affairs and get back to the reality of films where icicles can be used as weapons, not decorations.

Luckily, every now and then a movie like Brazen comes along and it’s a nice blending of both worlds that helps me ease my way back into the swing of things.  There’s a feeling of familiar efficiency to suggest this adaptation of a popular Nora Roberts mystery novel from 1988 was produced quickly, with experienced director Monika Mitchell (The Knight Before Christmas) casting dependable actors well-versed in the one take turnaround to guarantee deadlines are met.  It also hits the right notes in being just scandalous enough to make a younger viewer wish it went further but keep watching to see if it does and an older viewer to think it goes as far as necessary but secretly wanting just a small flash of flesh. 

Celebrated mystery writer Grace Miller is riding high on the success of her latest novel when her estranged sister (Emilie Ullerup) calls, asking that she visit.  Dropping everything and expecting to find her sister in serious trouble, she instead finds her younger sibling holding down a job as a schoolteacher at a prominent school and attempting to get her son back from her well-connected and wealthy ex.  Within days, however, her sister is found slain and her double life as a webcam model is exposed, sending Grace into a tailspin as she works with the detective living next door (Sam Page) to find the killer…a killer that continues to strike.

I was surprised to find that the novel Brazen is based off of was nearly 34 years old because it’s made it to the screen without much alteration if I’m reading the synopsis correctly.  Yes, it often comes off as a lengthier and better produced episode of a crime drama you’d see on network TV, but at the same time that’s selling short the work that Milano and Page are doing with the material.  It’s standard-fare mystery-solving, with a number of red herrings and the typical fingers pointed at the most obvious (read: slovenly or repulsively creepy) characters, but the two leads believe in the material enough that you can’t help but take them as seriously as they are taking it.  How Grace manages to make her way into the investigation is a stretch by any tinkering of plot mechanics, but the way Milano pitches it, I might have been convinced to let her take over the case as well.

For a film that largely has to do with webcam modeling, it’s quite chaste…like so many movies that take place at strip clubs where all the dancers are wearing bras and underwear.  It’s just another way the film simply wants to remain neutral.  Not aiming to upset anyone (save for the more conservative Roberts fans that bristled at the casting of the dependably outspoken Milano in a leading role), Brazen is a harmless 96-minute weeknight watch that leaves the door open for a sequel.  While I can’t find any info that Roberts herself continued this character in future novels, I’d imagine the team of writers who brought Brazen to Netflix could come up with another case to solve that would check the same boxes.  There’s a real lack of this kind of entertainment on the streaming site and if they were all made with such awareness of who they are all showing up for, why not throw some money at them and make a few more?