Movie Review ~ The Wretched


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A defiant teenage boy, struggling with his parent’s imminent divorce, faces off with a thousand year-old witch, who is living beneath the skin of and posing as the woman next door.

Stars: John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Jamison Jones, Azie Tesfai, Zarah Mahler, Kevin Bigley

Director: Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce

Rated: NR

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  It was all the way back in 1991 when I was first introduced to the novels of Christopher Pike with the classic, Whisper of Death.  The pseudonym of Kevin Christopher McFadden, writing as Pike he gave teens a boatload of thrills tinged with some mature themes and I just couldn’t get enough of them.  Pike is going to have a bit of a resurgence now that it’s been announced super-hot director Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) is adapting his novel The Midnight Club (and interweaving a few others) into a new series for Netflix.  I also couldn’t quite get Pike’s prose out of my mind while watching The Wretched, a new indie horror flick released on streaming that’s better than you think even if it plays like a really strong YA novel adaptation.

Sent to live with his dad in a sleepy resort town on the coast of Michigan for the summer after a bit of wild teenage fun got out of hand (and left him in a cast), Ben (John-Paul Howard, Hell or High Water) is all angst and over-it attitude.  However, he starts to come around when he is coaxed out of his shell by Mallory (Piper Curda), a co-worker at the marina his dad oversees.  The fun doesn’t last long, though, because Ben’s neighbors with two small children are starting to act funny…perhaps it’s because of the grotesque creature we saw crawl out of a deer carcass and hide in their basement or the strange markings on their front porch.  When their children vanish and no one claims to remember them, Ben becomes convinced something strange is happening…and it all seems to center on a tree in the woods that hides a terrifying creature.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on in The Wretched, starting with a spooky prologue set 35 years ago and writer/directors Brett and Drew Pierce keep things moving at a decent clip for the first hour or so.  While the territory is familiar with no one believing the already troubled teenager, there’s a particular comfort in watching it play out so by-the-numbers.  Maybe it’s because the cast is so benignly appealing and the production values are a step-up from the normal indie schlock-fest.  The make-up effects (by a dude named Erik Porn, no joke) are aces and much of the work is practical with CGI used sparingly, at least as far as I could tell.  Genre fans will have fun picking out the influences on hand, from Rear Window to Fright Night to Invasion of the Body Snatchers…heck, even to William Friedkin’s much maligned 1990 movie The Guardian…but instead of leaving feeling that the movie lifted the best bits I got the impression the filmmakers had a deep affinity for those movies they wanted to emulate and they succeed with that.

Where The Wretched gets into some trouble is not being able to connect the dots to its ideas at the end of the day.  Like that spooky prologue I mentioned before.  It sets a nice tone but unfortunately (and this isn’t a total spoiler) it doesn’t truly come back in a meaningful way later in the film.  Even the most strident of television movies would have at least find a way to bring that back but the Pierce brothers seem to have forgotten about furthering their mythology about whatever wicked presence has long been feeding in the area.  Also, I have to say the doozy of a ending didn’t work for me…like, at all.  It’s one of those rug-pulling twists that could have worked but it doesn’t have the logic (or running time) to back it up.

Even if it falters toward the end, I found The Wretched be a far above average entry in the genre film that pops up on my recommended list.  It’s scary but not aggressively so, one of those weeknight watches you won’t feel too bad about spending time with

Movie Review ~ 1BR


The Facts
:

Synopsis: New to Los Angeles, a woman moves into a seemingly perfect apartment complex, and soon finds out that there are consequences for breaking the rules.

Stars: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Giles Matthey, Naomi Grossman, Taylor Nichols, Alan Blumenfeld

Director: David Marmor

Rated: NR

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  The other night I was having a bad case of The Scrolls.  You know what The Scrolls are.  You have every streaming service available, a healthy library of digital movies, and are staring at a wall of BluRays and DVDs of countless films but you just can’t find anything to watch.  Do you go for an old classic or do you try something new?  It’s getting late so now you can’t pick anything too long because it’s a weeknight…but wait, we’re in a quarantine and you work from home so you could stay up a little later.  Then again, you are kind of tired so something shorter would be nice.  You settle for something new and your genre of choice is, of course, horror because your partner doesn’t care for it and he’s busy in the other room playing the remake of Final Fantasy on PS4.  A title pops up that looks like a pass but the reviews are decent…it’s 90 minutes so why not?

This, dear readers, is how I came to find my way into 1BR, a nifty little thriller that’s out now to stream.  It’s budget is low and it’s production values are slim but it’s more effective that you might imagine and it goes to show (once again) how you must never judge a movie by its cover.  First impressions aren’t always everything…especially when it comes to indie-horror films.

Arriving in Los Angeles with hopes of being a costume designer, Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) is also trying to leave the bad memories of her fractured family behind her.  With only her cat as companion, she’s living week to week in a motel while she finds an affordable place to live in the city of stars.  Attending an open house at a well-manicured, gated apartment complex with friendly, if guarded, residents, she’s sure she won’t get the apartment and surprised when she gets the call that the one bedroom dwelling is hers.  Ignoring the no pet policy, she sneaks her cat in…her first mistake…or is it really her second?

To give away what happens to Sarah is to break the lease of trust I have with you in terms of spoilers so I’ll just hint that this apartment is far from serene perfection and the tenants not entirely what they appear to be.  Writer/director David Marmour makes up for a small budget and limited shooting locations with a well-formed idea that he gets a lot of mileage out of.  I had no idea where this one was going and definitely no clue where it was headed…which makes for an entertaining watch.  Twists are doled out fairly and characters make choices that feel motivated by choice, rather than phantom direction from a script that hasn’t been fully realized.

It also helps Marmour has assembled a complex full of interesting actors, starting with Bloom as the tormented Sarah.  The way Bloom plays her, Sarah is a bit of an enigma, so we get the feeling Sarah might not be entirely who we think she is at the beginning…so we’re never sure how much we should trust her or feel for her plight.  Maybe she’s holding a secret that we don’t know yet and whatever empathy we have for her isn’t totally deserved.  There’s nice work from Giles Matthey (Ford v Ferrari) as a possible romantic interest for Sarah, Taylor Nichols (Jurassic Park III) as the overly kind landlord, and Clayton Hoff as a mysterious neighbor who recently lost his wife.  I also particularly liked Susan Davis as an elderly resident that Sarah forms a friendship with…a bit of trivia I learned is that Davis was the English voice of Pippi Longstocking for the 1968 film of the same name.  It gives her a little twinkle in her eye, which masks some deeper wells of deceit.

Others with a case of The Scrolls might find themselves skimming by this one, assuming it’s just another low-grade bit of garbage but this is one to add to your watchlist pronto.  It’s not going to change the world but for 90 minutes it’s going to hold your attention.  In a way, some of it’s low-rent trappings (re-using a few of the same shots, obvious continuity errors) make it that much more appealing – but ultimately it acquits itself nicely for having some originality because it carries itself confidently toward a satisfying conclusion.

Movie Review ~ We Summon the Darkness


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Three best friends cross paths with sadistic killers after they travel to a secluded country home to party.

Stars: Alexandra Daddario, Keean Johnson, Johnny Knoxville, Logan Miller, Maddie Hasson, Amy Forsyth, Austin Swift

Director: Marc Meyers

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I find that more and more I’m an easy target for any movie that starts out saying it is set in the 1980s.  Maybe because it’s the decade I was born and started to gain some consciousness (movie consciousness came in the 1990s, though) but there’s something so fun and carefree about the 80s that lends itself well to a retro bit of cinema.  For comedies, it’s a slam dunk to set your film in the Carter or Reagan era of our timeline but for the horror genre it’s especially wild because you’ve then freed yourself from the technical advances of future decades that make being stranded at a remote location that much more easy to navigate out of.

I hadn’t known We Summon the Darkness was set in 1988 before I started it on early Sunday morning so it already began on a high note.  In all honesty, I went into this one as blind as possible and knew nothing save for the synopsis that you can read for yourself above.  That’s really the best way to go into this because it has a twist that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling and it’s revealed pretty early into the feature.  Genre aficionados will probably spot it before the characters onscreen do but it’s a tribute to writer Alan Trezza and director Marc Meyers that they are able to keep things under wraps as long as they are able to.

Girlfriends Alexis (Alexandra Daddario, Texas Chainsaw 3D), Val (Maddie Hasson, Novitiate), and Beverly (Amy Forsyth, Beautiful Boy) have hit the road for a trip to a local concert.  Stopping at a gas station for some refreshments they’re alerted to a rash of cult killings of teenagers that have been plaguing the area so the audience knows they have been fairly warned for whatever happens next.  At the death metal concert they buddy up with Mark (Keean Johnson, Alita: Battle Angel), Kovacs (Logan Miller, Love, Simon), and Ivan (Austin Swift, Live by Night) and they all agree to go back to Alexis’ parents’ home after to continue the party.  At the sprawling manse that is appropriately cut-off from anyone that could interfere, the six will go through a night of hell…but it’s not totally what you think.

The previews for We Summon the Darkness have given away some of the major twists and that’s unfortunate because going into the film without that knowledge made the lead up an enjoyable bit of suspense and misdirection.  Being robbed of that would, I think, dampen the entertainment value so it’s up to you if you want to have that experience cooled a bit – I think you should just go headfirst into the bloody nightmare Trezza and Meyers have cooked up because it’s not only a lot of fun but it’s fairly funny as well.

As is the case with many of these types of horror films that are laced with comedy, the laughs start to grow old about as fast as the blood dries on the victims and it wouldn’t be fair to let the filmmakers off the hook and say the movie is smooth sailing.  While there’s little spared in terms of blood, gore, and guts, the humor starts to get repetitive and grating around the 70 minute mark and that’s just about the time Johnny Knoxville (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) turns up as Daddario’s Bible-thumping televangelist preacher papa.  Knoxville’s presence is not needed here as the younger actors are holding things down just fine (Hasson and Forsyth are both standouts) but he’s given a longer leash that required and he drags the taste level down a bit.  Thankfully, it recovers nicely for a decent finale which pulls no punches.

Add We Summon the Darkness to the growing list of watchable horror films that are harmless distractions during this quarantine.  I’m not sure we’d be as forgiving if there was an abundance of other films in theaters to watch…but then again we likely wouldn’t be devoting much attention to smaller movies like this in the first place.  So, in that regard, I’m glad indie horror films like We Summon the Darkness are getting viewed at all.  Meyers and his team are clearly talented and know their way around the genre, with some editing of the script it could have been even better.

Movie Review ~ Spaceship Earth


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A true, stranger-than-fiction, adventure of eight visionaries who in 1991 spent two years quarantined inside of a self-engineered replica of Earth’s ecosystem called BIOSPHERE 2.

Stars: John Allen, Tony Burgess, Kathelin Gray, Linda Leigh, Jane Goodall,

Director: Matt Wolf

Rated: NR

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  When I first heard there was a documentary arriving called Spaceship Earth I’ll admit that as a Disney fan I was fully expecting it to be on the creation of the ride at EPCOT Center in Florida that occupies that iconic dome in the futuristic theme park.  While my original excitement was dampened a bit (hey, I’ll take a Disney doc any day of the week on the most mundane topic!) I was still intrigued to learn more about a group of established idealists that set out to complete an ultimate test of next-level global thinking.  Also, a movie about a group of people willingly sequestering themselves (or quarantining, if you will) for two years couldn’t come at a more prescient time.

Though director Matt Wolf’s documentary is, on the surface, about the experiment known as Biosphere 2 that launched in 1991, much of the film’s running length is devoted to its genesis, starting in the 1960s California when a motley group of creative forces were gathered by a fatherly figure to form a theatrical troupe, as so many did in those hey days.  Through a truly astounding amount of archival video (it seems as if every day was captured on film for three decades), we see how these individuals coalesced into more than just a communal tribe, morphing into a business-minded collective that started their own farm, built a ship from the group up, and lived a nomadic life across the globe.  What set this group apart is that they didn’t just create and run things to ruin before pulling up stakes as we’ve seen in other failed Utopian societies.  No, this group was smart in their model and set-up businesses along the way that funneled money into their coffers to fund future investments and projects – which leads us to Oracle, AZ and the project that became known as Biosphere 2.  Recognizing Earth’s resources were limited, the group wanted to see if it was possible to replicate our ecosystem on another planet and simulate that experience for two years.

Attracting national attention and a media frenzy, the training and eventual selection of the “biospherians” was closely watched…not so dissimilar to keeping an eye on astronauts preparing for their next mission.  I was only 11 at the time so I don’t remember all the hoopla, but the clips of worldwide news coverage shows just how much of a three ring circus the experiment devolved into.  As you would expect, with all the attention, it made the stakes of the experiment even higher and that’s when problems began to arise not just for the eight people within the dome but for their supposed support staff working outside.  The dramatic rise and fall of the Biosphere 2 is hard to watch, but it stands as an example of how a good idea can go bad the more people have a say in its creation.

At this point, I’m starting to feel like I’m living in my own Biosphere with only the occasional release into the outside world so I’m betting the experience of watching Spaceship Earth now is very different than it would have been had I seen it in theaters.  Yet, it was the earlier parts of the film that showed the group coming together that stuck with me the most.  Hearing the interviewed members discuss it now, they all found something important and meaningful when they joined this initiative and whether they were designing a ship to sail the ocean or picking the plants to go in Biosphere 2, all found strength and purpose in their task.  That it doesn’t feel cult-y or nuts and berries granola helps, too.  Sure, there is dissent and some questionable ethics at times…but what group (or family, for that matter) doesn’t have the occasional squabble?  The film starts to feel a bit long and stretched for length, with Wolf trying to find some dramatic tension in situations that don’t have much energy in them.  Still — it’s hard to deny the wealth of footage is not fascinating to watch.

You can watch Spaceship Earth now on Hulu (or at theavalon.orgsunscinema.comafisilver.afi.com, cinemaartstheatre.com) and I do suggest setting aside some time one of these nights after your work from home day is done to catch it.  It’s a great example of idealism at its most pure, though it may not have achieved its ultimate goal the experiment (and documentary) are well-intentioned and well crafted.

Movie Review ~ To the Stars


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Under small town scrutiny, a withdrawn farmer’s daughter forges an intimate friendship with a worldly but reckless new girl in 1960s Oklahoma.

Stars: Kara Hayward, Liana Liberato, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro, Adelaide Clemens, Lucas Jade Zumann, Malin Åkerman, Tony Hale

Director: Martha Stephens

Rated: NR

Running Length: 109 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I open my review of the new coming-of-age drama with a familiar slap on the wrist to myself.  Yes, once again I did the film I was about to see a disservice by reading the little blurb about it first and getting to the “coming-of-age” part and doing one of those exasperated “Blerghs”.  Like a badly drawn character from the Sunday comics, my next thought bubble was, “now you’ll tell me that it’s set in the South in the 1960s”.  Sure enough….a small Oklahoma town in the 1960s is where the action of To the Stars takes place.  The one thing that intrugied me, though, is when I read the movie was shot in black and white…which I found interesting because so few movies go that route.  So let me say I was a little fraught when I started the movie and it was in full dust bowl color…a pause and a scan of the internet told me that while the movie was shot in B&W and premiered at festivals in that format, the wider release would be in color.  Huh. Ok.

All this to say that for whatever reason I came to this indie film in, how should I say it?, not the best spirit.  I recognized that, though, and promised myself to work hard at letting all that go because the movie deserved my honest feedback.  Turns out, I didn’t have to work hard at all because this is one fine film, a surprisingly moving bit of entertainment boasting genuine heartfelt performances.  Well-paced and taking the kind of turns I wasn’t expecting at the beginning, it may follow some familiar rough roads but it’s when it veers off in its own path that it really soars.

When mousy Iris Deerborne (Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom) first meets fireball Maggie Richmond (Liana Liberato, Banana Split), she doesn’t know quite what to make of the new girl in town.  A gang of bullies that have found a reliable target has just stopped Iris on her way to school and Maggie isn’t aware that Iris rarely puts up a fight.  Though Maggie tries to fit in by standing out in their small town school crowd, she only connects with Iris when the two share of moment of vulnerability late at night at a pond between their houses.  A friendship blossoms where Maggie encourages Iris to come out from the shadow of her well-intentioned but wrong-headed mother (Jordana Spiro) and Iris helps Maggie tear down some of the defensive walls she’s built up, eventually revealing why her family suddenly moved to their small town.

Shannon Bradley-Colleary’s script has a languid way of developing at first, slowly letting the friendship between the two girls come center stage.  The first half perhaps spends a tad too much time involved with school politics, namely the way Iris is shunned by the cool girls who are mean to Iris just…because. (It’s a big pain point of the script that none of the antagonists are ever given any background/reason to their actions.)  In a set-up that reminded me of Muriel’s Wedding, the cool girls glom on to the ‘prettier’ Maggie, who would rather spend her time with Iris who she senses (correctly) is far better for her than they are.  Scenes with Maggie and her parents (a staid Tony Hale, Toy Story 4, and Malin Åkerman, Rock of Ages) are fairly interesting because it’s clear something is going on in the family dynamic but just what that is only comes to light later on.

What the script does provide, even in small doses, are some excellent moments of authenticity not just for the two leading ladies who are both resolutely excellent throughout but for the supporting players.  From Shea Whigham (The Quarry) as Iris’s soft-spoken and supportive father to Spiro as her boozy mother that flirts with anything that moves.  I was also quite taken with Adelaide Clemens (The Great Gatsby) as Hazel, the town hairdresser who plays a special role of comfort as the film continues.  To say more about how all of these complex characters factor into the surprising turn of events would rob the movie of some of its emotional kick but director Martha Stephens guides it all with a delicate touch.

Watching the movie, the whole black and white business was always on the forefront of my mind.  At first, the wide shots of the open Oklahoma prairie land seemed like the perfect way to utilize the film stock drained of color but quite a lot of the movie is set at night.  I actually think the decision to flip to color was the right one because seeing that a few major events happen in the darkness, it especially helps as the film moves toward its bittersweet conclusion.  A wise choice for a wise movie.  Don’t miss this one – it’s one of those I think you could easily recommend to others.

 

Movie Review ~ True History of the Kelly Gang


The Facts
:

Synopsis: An exploration of Australian bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang as they attempt to evade authorities during the 1870s.

Stars: George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Orlando Schwerdt, Thomasin McKenzie, Sean Keenan, Charlie Hunnam, Russell Crowe

Director: Justin Kurzel

Rated: R

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Over the past years writing reviews for this blog, it’s been well-documented that I don’t always keep up with my history lessons but I have a feeling I could be forgiven for not being as up to date as I could be on the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.  Though he’s a divisive figure in his native land, a folk hero to some and a murderous villain to others, he’s not as well-known here, only making his mark in various forms of media over the last century.  Though 2003’s Ned Kelly starred the late Heath Ledger as the titular character and featured Orlando Bloom as his right-hand man Joseph Byrne, it didn’t connect with audiences and wouldn’t rank high on either actor’s roster of credits.

While many historical records are available to put together a fairly accurate account of Kelly’s life starting in the rugged outback until his death at the end of a hangman’s noose before he turned 30, director Jed Kurzel (Macbeth) takes a different, more controversial approach to his telling.  Working with screenwriter Shaun Grant, he’s adapted Peter Carey’s celebrated 2000 novel True History of the Kelly Gang which is largely (and proudly) a work of make-believe that mostly follows Kelly’s life but takes certain liberties along the way.  The novel created a ruckus from Kelly naysayers who were dismayed another work glorifying his crimes became so popular and enticed others open to the history books being cleverly reworked.

The resulting film Kurzel has made from this work is having the same effect and that almost instantly makes it something to seek out so you can decide for yourself.  Here is a bold movie that shouldn’t be taken as the final word on anything Kelly related, especially because it says from the beginning that none of what audiences are about to see is true.  Instead, it invites the viewer to ponder how the story could unfold if the man himself were sitting in front of you telling it.  What would he leave out?  What would he embellish?

Life for the Kelly clan was rough in the barren outback of the 1860’s.  After his father is sent to a dredge of a prison, his mother Ellen (Essie Davis, The Babadook) establishes herself as a bootlegger willing to do anything to keep her family with food on the table.  Eventually, she goes so far as selling off her eldest son Ned (played as a youngster by Orlando Schwerdt) to bushranger Harry Power (Russell Crowe, Boy Erased) in the hopes he could learn his thieving ways.  Horrified both by his mother’s betrayal and Power’s wicked bloodlust, Ned returns briefly before entering jail himself.  As an adult, the brash Ned (George MacKay, How I Live Now) runs with a smaller crowd that includes Joe (Sean Keenan), doing what they can to stay away from the long arm of the law.

When Ned is introduced to Constable Fitzpatrick (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies), a friendship that might have helped him turn his life around winds up sending him in the other direction when both men show they are unable to fully divest themselves from their convictions and their past.  This sets the stage for the film’s final act, sending Ned on the run with his “Kelly Gang” that leaves a trail of violence and bloody bodies in their wake.  When Ellen is jailed and Ned decides to stage a grand scale escape for his mother, it gives way to a final confrontation between the Kellys and the policemen that becomes the stuff of legend.

Plenty of movies about history have been given a modern edge with a little rock and roll twist but Kurzel finds a viscerally pleasing way of juxtaposing the luxe with the rough.  At times, the costuming and music give the feel of a movie taking place a century or more later, yet the movie never feels like it’s pawing at a theme it can’t follow through on.  As he’s shown in previous films, Kurzel has an eye for scale and he gives viewers some excellent scans of the burnt out landscape the Kellys call home as well as the more tony living of the upper crust.  Though the technique starts to overwhelm the film near the end, with the final confrontation become a bit of a headache inducing mess – the lead-up to it is pretty invigorating and chilling.  Kurzel also isn’t shy about showing copious amounts of violence, there’s enough blood and guts tossed about in the movie for several horror films yet it somehow still felt like it was authentic to the story being told.  Were the director to pump the brakes in these moments, it would feel like he was cheating so in that sense I appreciated he didn’t spare us these stomach churning sequences.

Where the movie truly excels are the performances.  Nearly landing an Oscar nomination for his work in 1917, MacKay follows it up with a commanding performance as Kelly that hits all the right notes.  He gives the character a humanity, yet doesn’t make him sympathetic at the same time.  That’s a hard line to draw because where folk heroes are concerned there is a tendency to try to overly humanize them just to make them likable…MacKay nicely walks the thin tightrope by just making him human.  The showstopper is Davis as his scheming mother, though.  In a truly remarkable performance, Davis (who is married to Kurzel) makes Ellen so resolutely devoted to her family that she’s willing to destroy everything else that gets in their way…even if it means sacrificing her other children.  This is the stuff Oscar nominations were made for.  Crowe and Hoult are strong, too, as are Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit) as a love interest for Ned the author has created for effect, and Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim), as the first lawman Ned has to face head on.

Not going to lie, this is a tough blister of a movie but it’s worth your time if you are into these visually arresting skewed history lessons.  The performances are first rate and the production design seemed to always be keeping me on my toes.  It’s unpredictable in a way that historical dramas just aren’t crafted to be – and how fun is that?

Movie Review ~ Sea Fever


The Facts
:

Synopsis: The crew of a West of Ireland trawler, marooned at sea, struggle for their lives against a growing parasite in their water supply.

Stars: Connie Nielsen, Hermione Corfield, Dougray Scott, Olwen Fouéré, Jack Hickey, Ardalan Esmaili

Director: Neasa Hardiman

Rated: NR

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: All together now – What kind of movie does The MN Movie Man like more than anything as a guilty pleasure?:   Underwater Creature Features.

You know that once I was offered the chance to watch and review the new Irish horror film Sea Fever I jumped at it because if there’s one thing I know, it’s a good horror film and if there’s one thing I like, it’s something creepy underwater that picks people off one by one.  Add to that an eerie timeliness of arriving just as the world was put on its own lockdown quarantine and you have a movie that could be an effective winner if it comes off as planned.  Thankfully, despite obvious budget limitations and some pacing issues, Sea Fever is infectious fun.

Marine biologist Siobhán (Hermione Corfield, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) isn’t exactly thrilled about spending time on a fishing boat but she’s unable to graduate without doing some real world studies.  While the Captain (Dougray Scott, My Week with Marilyn) and his wife (Connie Nielsen, Inheritance) are welcoming to the young student, the rest of the crew are dyed in the wool sea farers who believe in the superstitions about the ocean and all her mysteries.  So something like Siobhán’s red hair means bad luck before they’re even out of port…and it turns out to be a harbinger of things to come.  Straying from their intended course in order to guarantee a good net of fish and a hefty payday, the boat winds up converging with something massive that attaches itself to their hull.  What’s locked onto their vessel eventually seeps inside…first the boat and then the crew, releasing a deadly parasite.  Drawing from similar creature features like Leviathan and The Thing, it becomes a race against time to get back to shore alive while eliminating the hungry organism before it consumes them all.

Though it gets off to a good start, about 45 minutes into Sea Fever things get a little soggy because it feels like writer/director Neasa Hardiman has hit a wall in where to steer her ship next.  She’s navigated to a solid place. did a fairly good job in establishing the crew (though, I have to say there were two that I kept confusing because they looked so similar), and introduced a corker of a scary situation.  Then, everything kind of stalls for a good twenty minutes as Siobhán studies the organism and devises a way to defeat it, while trying to keep the crew (and herself) alive throughout.  Thankfully, things pick up again for the last fifteen minutes and Hardiman is able to bring it home with a satisfying (if somber) finale…but trimming it by 10-12 minutes wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

Hardiman also gets nice performances out of her cast, with Corfield being a subdued and unexpected lead.  She may be a bit of an enigma at times, but it worked for how she was acting and reacting to the situation and the ship’s crew – both of whom she seemed to be battling at one point or another.  Scott and Nielsen not only offer worthy contributions as dependable leads but they find time to make a small backstory Hardiman has crafted seem germane to the film instead of distracting from the central horror of the plot.  Of the crew, I most enjoyed Olwen Fouéré (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) as a mother hen-ish type.  With her wild white hair she could at times be a nurturing presence or a wild sea witch if provoked…it’s the type of performance that makes sense within the confines of this movie and kept you wondering where the real danger was lurking.

All in all, I’m glad a movie like Sea Fever is out there because we need more movies like this, especially written/directed by women!  The effects aren’t going to blow your mind but they work better than expected for a smaller movie like this.  Earlier this year, Underwater was another slick deep sea creature feature that excelled by keeping the focus tight on a small number of characters.  That same logic applies here and it works quite well, resulting in a high degree of entertainment.

Movie Review ~ Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time – Vol. 1 Midnight Madness


The Facts
:

Synopsis: From The Rocky Horror Picture Show to The Big Lebowski and everything in between, this fascinating deep-dive documentary begins its celebration of the greatest cult movies of all-time discussing the birth of the midnight movie.

Stars: Jeff Bridges, Pam Grier, Rob Reiner, Barry Bostwick, Michael McKean, John Turturro, Gary Busey, Jeff Goldblum, Fran Drescher, Penelope Spheeris, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, John Waters, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Pollak

Director: Danny Wolf

Rated: NR

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  I don’t know about you but all this #StayHome #StayHealthy quarantine life has gotten me pretty nostalgic on the film front.  While I’m still enjoying being able to screen the newer releases that are coming through digitally, my work desk faces a wall of movies and I can’t help but let my eyes drift throughout the day to favorite classic films of mine.  There’s my Criterion BluRay of Blood Simple nestled in close proximity to a well-watched DVD copy of Captain Ron.  Joe Versus the Volcano is being shuffled around to make room for the newly acquired 4K of Knives Out.  And did I really mess up my alphabetizing and put my old DVD of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow before Shout Factor’s Collector’s Edition of Serial Mom?  For shame.

Now, these aren’t all classic films (to some) but they may be that one flick for others that ranks high on the re-watchability scale…but how does a film earn the legendary “cult” status?  That’s the question posed at the beginning of the first volume in Time Warp: The Great Cult Films of All-Time, a new documentary that aims to cover the oft-mentioned movies that started small and got big over time, and maybe perhaps uncover a few gems film fans have forgotten over the years.  While subsequent volumes will cover the horror (Volume 2, out in May) and comedy (Volume 3, out in June) genres, this first entry corrals the true pick of the litter, the Midnight Madness titles that stand out as exemplars of the moniker.

Beginning with the granddaddy of all midnite movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, audiences will be treated to interviews with cast, crew, and fans talking about the origin, initial reaction, and staying power of the film over the last four decades.  While it’s all fairly standard stuff and nothing anyone with even marginal information about the show likely wouldn’t know, there’s a marked energy among all (and all interviewees throughout the doc, come to think of it) that doesn’t make it seem like the warmed over info it is.  Maybe that’s due to the fact that while the movies aren’t treated as high art, again and again their vital importance in the zeitgeist is stressed so if you do happen to count a movie like Eraserhead as better than Citizen Kane, no one involved with this production is going to judge you for it.

Some of the other titles covered are The Big Lebowski, a good example of a movie that isn’t for everyone yet has amassed enough of an audience over time to push it into cult status; Pink Flamingos, the John Waters tale of comic debauchery that definitely isn’t for everyone…dogs included; and Coffy and Foxy Brown, two Blaxploitation films that put star Pam Grier on the map.  Each come with their own groupings of supporters that detail why the films had such significance then and how their influence was important over the ensuing years.  Another dozen films are discussed in some detail with countless others mentioned in passing – it would be hard for any viewer to not hear at least one of their personal favorites tossed around at some point.

It doesn’t surprise me to learn that director Danny Wolf and the distributor are planning on breaking apart all three volumes further to create an extended TV mini-series because why else would we need a quartet of color commentators awkwardly set-up in a studio to chat about their personal favorite films between segments?  Don’t get me wrong, I’d have welcomed Illeana Douglas (Cape Fear) and John Waters (Cry Baby) to serve as the de facto hosts but I just didn’t understand where director Joe Dante (Matinee) or actor/comedian Kevin Pollak (Indian Summer) fit in at the end of the day or what they really brought to the proceedings. (I’ve watched two of the three volumes at the time of this writing).  That said, some of the people they do interview are quite entertaining, none more so than director Penelope Spheeris who appears to talk about her landmark documentary The Decline of Western Civilization.  Dressed all in black with sunglasses on, she is an active and engaging participant but is the kind of straight shooter that guffaw-inducing sound-bites were made of.

I’ll hold off on more of my thoughts for the next two volumes but as a first entry, Midnight Madness is a swell introduction into Wolf’s look into a fun side of movie history.  Providing some cinematic comfort food while we’re all hunkered down, Time Warp: The Great Cult Films of All-Time, is well-worth a look and an easy, entertaining watch.

Movie Review ~ The Quarry


The Facts
:

Synopsis: After murdering a traveling preacher, a fugitive drifter assumes his identity and becomes the new cleric of a small-town church. While he wins over the congregation, the police chief starts to link the mysterious stranger to a crime investigation.

Stars: Shea Whigham, Michael Shannon, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Bobby Soto, Bruno Bichir, Alvaro Martinez

Director: Scott Teems

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  There are times when big screen adaptations of novels feel too workmanlike, simply going through the motions like chapters are driving the characters forward rather than real motivations.  Internal narratives are filled in with action so audiences don’t get restless and you feel as if you’ve lived the book rather than experienced the movie.  Every so often, though, you come upon a film that’s made the leap from page to screen and the transition works to its advantage because it lets the book dictate the rhythm and pace of what develops.

No one is going to watch the indie drama The Quarry and get an adrenaline rush from the viewing because writer/director Scott Teems hasn’t set out to create a fast-paced crime noir set in a Texas border town.  This is a carefully considered character study and before you roll your eyes a second time let me reel you back in and say that as dime a dozen as those may be, this is one to take a chance on.  Though the action that takes place over the 103 minute run time may not be the most original or, let’s be honest, exciting, it’s at least compelling in a way that many similar films aren’t.

Picking up The Man (Shea Whigham, Vice) after finding him on the side of the road, a preacher (Bruno Bichir, Sicario: Day of the Soldado) running away from his past toward an unremarkable future makes the mistake of thinking he can save one last troubled soul.  In short (non-spoiler-y) order, The Man kills him, dumps his body, and assumes his identity in the small dead-end town near the Mexican border, first as a way to hide from the law he’s clearly running from but eventually because he finds some salvation in the response he gets from the town’s residents.  Much like 2019 Best Foreign Language Nominee Corpus Christi, the townspeople have a positive reaction to this supposed man of God because he speaks to them in a way no on has spoken before…as one of them, which, we know he is. Taking room and board with Celia (Catalina Sandino Moreno, A Most Violent Year) who sees the police chief (Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water) regularly puts a spotlight dangerously close to him…a situation made more tense when a body is discovered in the local quarry.

It’s interesting to note that Damon Galgut’s 1995 novel has been made into a movie once before in 1998 that maintained the book’s original setting: South Africa.  Teems has skillfully moved the action to Texas which provides an opportunity to further explore the themes of the book involving the police trying to pin the murder on local minorities (blacks in the novel, Mexicans in the 2020 movie) which only makes The Man’s growing anguish over his crime grow.  You don’t have to look very hard to see a little Les Misérables action happening, with a man living under a false name pursued by the law weighing his options when another man is arrested and tried for a crime he himself committed.

You may not know his name but you’ve definitely seen Whigham before (and you’ll see him again next week in a small role if you check out the excellent To the Stars) and he’s afforded a swell leading role here.  He hasn’t made the leap in Hollywood to A-list, but I always have the feeling he’s one great role away from getting recognized for his strong showings wherever he turns up.  His quiet, nearly silent, role speaks to a deep well of hurt within the convict and though you know you shouldn’t be on his side, you silently root for him to win.  Never truly capitalizing on her Oscar-nominated role in 2004”s Maria Full of Grace, Sandino Moreno is excellent in her supporting turn as the lone female presence in a male dominated town/movie.  Shannon’s lawman could very easily have gone cliché but he kept surprising me, whether that was the script or the actor, I’m still not quite sure.  Another actor to look out for is Bobby Soto (A Better Life) as Celia’s cousin.  Soto begins the film heading in one direction but takes a surprising twist halfway through.  Going toe-to-toe with nearly everyone in the movie, Soto often manages to come out the winner in his scenes…a not small feat considering his co-stars.

You’ll hear the term “slow-burn” thrown around a lot when people talk about the movie but don’t take that to mean it won’t hold your interest.  I was initially put off by what I thought would be another tale of “how long can a man who isn’t who he says he is fool everyone into thinking he isn’t a bad guy” and was pleased to find how much the movie pulled me in and took me along for the ride.  For fans of these types of crime dramas and assured performances, you’ve got a good option in The Quarry.

The Silver Bullet ~ Valley Girl (2020)

Synopsis: Set to a new wave ’80s soundtrack, a pair of young lovers from different backgrounds defy their parents and friends to stay together. A musical adaptation of the 1983 film.

Release Date:  May 8, 2020

Thoughts:  In Hollywood, the phrase ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ doesn’t really apply…it’s more like ‘If it’s ain’t broke, remake it’ and that could explain why we’re finally getting a look at this trailer for the long in development new edition of 1983’s Valley Girl.  Now, at first, I was, like, totally horrified at the thought of a true time capsule of cinema getting re-done because, like, why? Gag me with a spoon.  Then I heard it wasn’t just a simple remake but would add some gnarly tuneage from the era to become a full blown musical so I was, like, open to the idea.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be all ‘Whatever’ about the end product but after, like, six weeks of stay at home quarantine I have to admit the fun frolicking in Day-Glo neon on display looks like totally tubular fun right about now.  Starring Jessica Rothe (Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2 U) with a little cameo from Alicia Silverstone (The Lodge), I’ll probably swing by this party….but only if the apps are tasty.