Movie Review ~ Launchpad

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A collection of 6 short films. Six filmmakers from underrepresented backgrounds were selected and provided with the opportunity to share their perspectives and creative visions that will show audiences what it means to be seen.

Directors: Aqsa Altaf, Hao Zheng, Ann Marie Pace, Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Jessica Mendez Siqueiros, Moxie Peng

Running Length: Each episode runs between 15-20 minutes

TMMM (Overall) Score: (8/10)

Review: Since its launch in November 2019, Disney+ has been a welcome resource for finding (most) of your favorite Disney films from the past as well as providing new content that has delivered on its promise to impress and inspire.  While the Marvel series it has fostered so far have created the appropriate brouhaha and its first foray into the Star Wars serialized universe with The Mandalorian brought it early legitimacy, the streaming service has also done quite a lot to support new talent for the next generation.  Recognizing the benefit of mentoring future bright minds, the company has made a concerted commitment to bringing more inclusive filmmaking programs to fruition and utilizing their new digital platform as an easy showcase for the finished products.

Disney+ subscribers were first exposed to this with the Sparkshorts series, an offshoot of Pixar in which the animation branch’s employees are given six months and a modest budget to develop their own short.  While some early works that weren’t exclusive to this program premiered in theaters, all formal participants go right into the Disney+ queue for viewers to discover…and evidently many have because within two years Kitbull and Burrow have been nominated for an Oscar. 

Encouraged by this success, the studio has now teamed with Panavision for the first season of Disney’s Launchpad which is now available.

According to the press notes,

Disney’s Launchpad is a collection of live-action shorts from a new generation of dynamic storytellers. Six filmmakers from underrepresented backgrounds were selected and provided with the opportunity to share their perspectives and creative visions that will show audiences what it means to be seen. The goal of Disney’s Launchpad is to diversify the types of stories that are being told and to give access to those who have historically not had it. Inspired by life’s journey, these first six shorts for Disney+ are based on the theme, “Discover.”

Providing the filmmakers with twelve months to complete the work and the resources, support, and top of the line film equipment courtesy of Panavision to make their dream a reality, the studio not only has given visibility to a population that isn’t always represented in film but done so without a lot of grand ceremony to it.  If all six films were stuffy, hand-holding reminders to be culturally aware and sensitive then the initial message of representation would have been lost.  While not all winners, each film does well by telling a story from an individual perspective where race or culture isn’t always the first thing that defines the characters.

American Eid – directed by Aqsa Altaf
Synopsis: Ameena, a homesick Muslim Pakistani immigrant, wakes up on Eid to find out she has to go to school.
Review: At the end of Ramadan is Eid or “Festival of Breaking the Fast” and this first short of the collection expects you to have done your homework (or do it after the fact like I did) to learn about the importance of this religious holiday in the Muslim community. It’s certainly a big deal for Ameena, the young immigrant girl who is spending her first Eid in America and wondering why she has to go to school when back in Pakistan they had the day off.  Her older sister just prefers to be like a normal American teen and not take part in the usual festivities but Ameena just wants things to be as they were, going so far as to create a petition to have Eid recognized as a holiday at her school.  There’s a blithe sweetness to Ameena’s quest not just to get the day off but to reconnect with her sister.  The resolution to this one might have you reaching for the tissues.

Dinner is Served – directed by Hao Zheng
Synopsis: A Chinese student uncovers his true identity when trying out for a leadership role at a U.S. school.
Review: A number of these Launchpad episodes felt like short chapters from a longer film the director is interested in making and Dinner is Served is a great example of this. Xiaoyu is attending an elite boarding school in the U.S., hoping to train for a maître d’ position.  The entirety of the 20-minute run time feels so self-contained for the small story being told but you can easily see it being just a part of a larger journey Xiaoyu undertakes as he comes into his own in the United States.  For this particular section of his tale, he survives the rigors of self-doubt and slight setbacks to lead him on a path to success, until the reality of the world he has entered deals him a devastating blow, changing his future outlook.  It may not end quite as strongly as it begins because it falls into some expected traps of too-pat developments, but the restraint shown in the first 2/3 is laudable.

Growing Fangs – directed by Ann Marie Pace
Synopsis: Val Garcia, a Mexican-American half human/half vampire teenager, struggles to fit in either world.
Review: Oddly enough, this was the one I thought I wouldn’t be able to get into, yet it turned out being my second favorite of the group and the first one I could conceivably see Disney seriously considering expanding into a full-length feature or even a series of its own.  There’s an oddball tone to director Ann Marie Pace’s short that is a welcome change of pace from the previous episodes, introducing us to high school half human/half vampire teenager Val Garcia.  Struggling with this duality in addition to her blossoming love for one of her classmates, Val is a people pleaser first and worries about herself second.  This winds up causing more trouble than anything and Pace manages to consistently zig when we think she’s going to zag, making the twenty minutes fly by.  I could have easily watched this for another 20 or even 40 minutes.  Did I mention this was also riotously funny, especially an early family meal sequence that has a couple of true treasures in the laugh department?

Let’s Be Tigers – directed by Stefanie Abel Horowitz
Synopsis: Grieving for her mother, Avalon finds comfort when she’s put in charge of a 4-year-old for a night.
Review: The shortest of the offerings is also the most emotionally raw so I wound up being glad it wasn’t that long of a commitment.  Admittedly, it wasn’t my favorite of the bunch, mostly because it didn’t feel as polished or complete of an experience as the others. That’s not to say director Stefanie Abel Horowitz doesn’t initiate some important conversations about death and what it’s like for those who grieve.  When compared to the previous episodes, this has a slower pace and employs a less flashy style, allowing the performances to come out.  There’s not a lot to the story, but Hororwitz and her cast have an easy flow with filling in some gaps of narrative when called to do so.

The Last of the Chupacabras – directed by Jessica Mendez Siqueiros
Synopsis: A lonely Mexican-American woman unknowingly summons a dark and ancient creature.
Review: Yes, I completely went out of order and watched this one first because I thought it was going to be a scary one.  I’m totally guilty of actually thinking Disney handed over all these cameras and money so a director could make a splatter film about the Mexican creature from folklore.  Instead, this is an eccentric tale of a woman who pushes a tamale cart who arrives home after another long day on her feet to her crafty home filled with puppets and creatures representing her culture.  Somehow, she manages to conjure up a Chupacabra and proceeds to adopt it as her pseudo-pet for the evening, eventually using it to bite back at the tourists that gawk at her from their tour busses while taking her picture but otherwise pretending she isn’t there.  You can see what director Jessica Mendez Siqueiros is getting at and from a production standpoint the short looks grand, but the zany story and wide-eyed acting of the leading actress made this one lower on the rung for me.

The Little Prince(ss) – directed by Moxie Peng
Synopsis: When Chinese kids Gabriel and Rob become friends, Rob’s dad questions Gabriel’s feminine behavior.
Review: Obviously saving the best for last, the first season of Disney’s Launchpad concludes with The Little Prince(ss) and, again, we’re wading in familiar water in this short from writer/director Moxie Peng.  Tiny Chinese first grader Gabriel loves to wear pink and dance ballet, very different from his new friend, 2nd grader Rob who plays basketball but doesn’t have a true passion for it.  Meeting on the bus one day, the boys become friends…which is OK by Gabriel’s dad but a problem for Rob’s.  Objecting to Gabriel wearing “girly” clothes and “not acting like a boy”, Rob’s dad pays a visit to Gabriel’s home one night to deliver a message but winds up getting one himself.  Remember that tissue box I told you to get out for American Eid, you’ll definitely want to have it handy for this one.  Peng’s film might not feature the strongest performances (the children are beyond adorable but…yeah…) but it has the most direct pathway to your heart/mind message as a takeaway. 

Season 2 of Disney’s Launchpad is already in the works and while this season had a theme of “Discover”, season 2 will be built around a different theme, “Connect”. Based on the overall strength of the initial run of episodes, I’ll be looking forward to what’s launching next.

Movie Review ~ Port Authority

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Paul’s momentary encounter with Wye, a trans woman of color, leaves the 20-year-old Midwesterner transfixed by her beauty and confidence. But as the two learn more about each other, Paul’s false narratives begin to surface and the double life he lives must be reconciled.

Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Leyna Bloom, McCaul Lombardi, Jari Jones, Devon Carpenter, Eddie Plaza, Louisa Krause, Christopher Quarles, Taliek Jeqon

Director: Danielle Lessovitz

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  So much for that whole “wokeness” thing, I guess.  Maybe that’s being a tad harsh toward the filmmakers of Port Authority but there’s something more than a little off-putting about watching a movie released in 2021 that features a vibrant LGBTQ+ cast in supporting roles of a love story between a trans woman and a “straight” white male.  When the film is seemingly about this male’s journey of discovery it’s kind of, well, lame in this current climate because it feels as if that story, that angle, has been looked at and analyzed from every conceivable vantage point already in film, on stage, and recently on television in the never-quite-got-its-due series Pose.  Who needs to see this problematic arc of redemption via self-aware reflection play out yet again, albeit with some memorable performances that almost take your mind off the main sticking point?

With Martin Scorsese serving as executive producer, this NYC-set romantic drama seems to start off on the right foot as we meet up with Paul (Fionn Whitehead, Dunkirk), newly arrived from Pennsylvania at the titular transit station expecting to be picked up by his half-sister.  Scouring the location to see if she’s as lost as he feels, he steps outside for a smoke and sees a group of twenty-somethings that give off a different kind of energy he can’t quite put his finger on.  Amongst them is Wye (Leyna Bloom), and for the briefest of moments the two lock eyes and it’s obvious we’ve witnessed that rare spark of attraction…but it’s only for moment because Paul has to get find a way to his sister’s apartment and Wye’s group is off into the charged bustle of the evening crowds.

As Paul acclimates to the city, he finds a place to stay at a grungy hostel and manages to quickly find work from the first person that showed him kindness, a tatted homophobe named Lee (McCaul Lombardi).  Lee is in the business of intimidating low-income minority families that have landlords threating to evict them, forcing them either to pay their rent or sacrifice their possessions and soon Paul is participating in these illegal actions. Not so far away, Wye is a popular star in the ballroom scene and a member of the House of McQueen, performing in nightly contests that lift up queer society and with exquisite performances.  Delirious displays of fashion, runaway walks, dancing, and severe attitude, these ballroom scenes are exclusive and not a spectator sport.

By chance, one of the ballroom participants is staying at the same hostel as Paul and one night Paul follows them to an event where he again comes in contact with Wye.  This time, they don’t let opportunity pass them by and a flirtation turns into a full-blown romance after hanging out a few times.  Now, I don’t want to say Paul is slow on the uptake but after hanging out with Wye and her “brothers” at their “house” (apartment), he apparently gets the idea that the guys might be gay but has no clue that Wye is trans. Unfortunately, this isn’t the extent of Paul’s limited exposure to life outside of his own bubble, as we’ll witness over the next days where he systematically dismantles several relationships he has – work, love, family, and all because he can’t be honest, really honest, with any of them.  At least someone like Lee wears his misogyny and bigotry loud and proud and Wye keeps it real above all else.  Anytime Paul is faced with owning up to something or providing a false excuse he tends to always opt for the lie – and this is the character we’re supposed to root for?

Writer/director Danielle Lessovitz has one half of a good movie going on here and when Port Authority is in its better half, it has a liveliness that is attractive and intoxicating, much like NYC itself.  When it strays into the uglier parts of the action, it can feel like the end of a long day walking around the city in the heat…exhausting and chafing.  I just did not care what sort of issues Paul had to work through because it was becoming more obvious he was using some of his experiences with Wye and her family to help him through that.  Not finding much love or support in his own life, he acts as a sort of parasite until he takes too much, and people get hurt. 

The other side of the coin has Whitehead and Bloom turning in tender and often terrific performances amidst all the noise, creating genuine chemistry that goes a long way in selling what Lessovitz can’t quite convey in her screenplay.  After Voyagers, this is another performance from Whitehead where he’s emotionally broken and needs the attention of another to find his way back to being whole and Bloom is just the right actress to make that fix work.  I could have used a few mores scenes with the two of them together (or even of Bloom doing her own thing) but this is firmly Paul’s story and, like it or not, you’re stuck with him for the good scenes as well as the bad.

Every time we left Wye and her family to tag along with Paul and his gross friends, all I was thinking about was how much fun the others must have been having.  If only Lessovitz had opted to tell that story instead, jettisoning Paul’s acceptance of himself by seeing what he could become through Lee’s deplorable work in favor of a deeper dive into Wye’s ballroom scene.  That would have made Port Authority more of a destination worth looking forward to.

Movie Review ~ A Quiet Place: Part II

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Forced to venture into the unknown, The Abbott family realize that the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats that lurk beyond the sand path.

Stars: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, Wayne Duvall, Okieriete Onaodowan, Scoot McNairy

Director: John Krasinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  Even before this bugger of a pandemic arrived on our shores and fairly quickly shuttered businesses, not to mention effectively cancelling the summer movie season, a great number of people were saying that theaters were on the decline.  The streaming services were offering up faster ways to watch movies at home, and it was becoming easier than ever to get the entertainment you wanted at a far lower price than you would if you went to the cinema.  Plus, watching from the comfort of your living room meant the only person you had to worry about kicking your seat, obnoxiously using their cell phone during a movie, or eating loudly would be your significant other, friend, or family member and not a random stranger you didn’t have the courage to silence. 

At first, I found it strange to watch a film I knew was meant for the big screen on a smaller scale in my home theater but eventually I got accustomed to it like many people did.  You could see where the idea that maybe theaters weren’t as in-demand as on-demand would be coming from…but then a movie like A Quiet Place Part II comes out and you’re reminded that going to the movies, and the right kind of movie, is the best kind of communal event.  Now, I can only guess at this because I saw this sequel to the 2018 blockbuster in a Dolby Theater with about 10 other members of the press, but I would wager a bet that if you saw this in a packed theater (as packed as social distancing could be) you’d feel the same way.  The energy the film creates is tangible and I don’t think it’s simply because it was the first one I’d seen in a theater in over a year.

It sounds silly now, but I was almost nervous my senses would be too overwhelmed to take the theatrical experience after all this time, but I clearly needed no slow re-introduction.  Thankfully, the film doesn’t waste any time, either.  If by some chance you’re reading this and haven’t seen the original, fair warning that spoilers are ahead because it’s impossible to review the sequel without talking about a significant plot development at the end of the first film.  No major spoilers for the second chapter will be shared but I strongly suggest you don’t see this one before you have caught up with the film that scared the beejebus out of audiences three years ago and fast-tracked a follow-up set to arrive May of 2020.  Now, exactly a year later, Paramount is cashing in on a big gamble that audiences wanted to wait and see this in theaters, and I’d be willing to bet this is the film that will be how many make their return to the movies.

Picking up so close to the end of A Quiet Place that you could nearly edit the two films together, returning writer/director John Krasinski cleverly finds a way for his now-tragically deceased character to make an appearance.  Beginning the film with a flashback to Day 1 of the invasion when alien creatures arrive from the sky and wreak havoc in a small town (and, apparently, the rest of the world), Krasinski parallels the opening of the predecessor with sly winks to locations and props that we know will be important hundreds of days from now.  This prologue is the first pot of water Krasinski lights a fire under and slowly brings to a boil. When it bubbles over it sets the stage for a heart stopping sequence with creature scares that come in unlikely directions at unexpected times. 

Once we get into the proper film, after Evelyn (Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns) and her children Regan (Millicent Simmonds, Wonderstruck), Marcus (Noah Jupe, Holmes & Watson), and a days-old newborn, ensure the creatures on their property are cleared out they quickly realize they need to leave the protection of their farm for a nearby outpost.  Hoping for friendly inhabitants, perhaps a townsperson they used to know like Emmett (Cillian Murphy, Batman Begins), they make the perilous journey in silence, arriving at an abandoned metalworks plant where a painful surprise awaits.  It’s here I’ll stop and save the rest for you to discover, noting that Krasinski almost out of necessity has to find a way to split the family up but devises a believable way to do so.  In doing this, he’s able to stage several sequences where he uses some extraordinarily effective editing to hop between narratives and raise the blood pressure of everyone watching.

What I appreciated quite a lot about the film in general is that it sidesteps many of the duties that sequels feel obliged to fulfill.  True, you see more of the creatures in this one, but only because they’ve already been introduced so the mystery of them is gone. Why continue to hide them?  However, Krasinski doesn’t make it a priority to explain why the monsters have come to Earth or fashion a lot of backstory into the proceedings and that’s because it doesn’t matter one iota.  Why they are there doesn’t matter as much as what is happening in the here and now.  We actually don’t learn anything we didn’t already know about the beasts and why would/should we?  There isn’t time to waste studying them, they just need to be stopped.

Stopping them requires a brave spirit and Krasinski (Aloha) recognized that Simmonds is a natural choice to step into the driver’s seat for this round.  While Blunt is still a warm, commanding presence in the movie and earns the top-billing she receives, she’s less of the natural central figure.  That aura transfers to Simmonds and, to a lesser extent, Jupe.  While Jupe has shown great acumen for unlocking unique personalities in the children he’s played, his character feels less of a priority to develop than the others.  Simmonds makes up a lot of ground Jupe doesn’t cover as she rises to a challenge put forth early on which takes Regan out of her comfort zone.  Anyone coming into the dynamic that was so tight in the first film is at a disadvantage but with his bushy hair and beard, Murphy is more than an acceptable stand-in for Krasinski as a neighbor who has had a very different experience of survival than the Abbott family.

Not all sequels need to tread new ground, that’s why they are sometimes called Part II which insinuates it’s a continuation of a previous iteration.  Krasinski has exceeded expectations and given audiences exactly what they asked for, maybe even a little more.  There’s an ample number of scares to be had, some of the cheap jump variety (watch out for those random flocks of birds!) but most of the creeping flesh kind that make you squirm in your seat from anxiety.  I’ve a feeling Krasinski has a third one of these in him and if I were Paramount, I’d give him the time, money, and freedom to make it when it fits into his schedule.  If A Quiet Place Part II is any indication, it’s loud and clear he’s worth the wait.

Movie Review ~ Blue Miracle

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The Facts:

Synopsis: To save their cash-strapped orphanage, a guardian and his kids partner with a washed-up boat captain for a chance to win a lucrative fishing competition.

Stars: Jimmy Gonzales, Dennis Quaid, Anthony Gonzalez, Bruce McGill, Raymond Cruz, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Fernanda Urrejola, Nathan Arenas, Chris Doubek

Director: Julio Quintana

Rated: NR

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Let’s get something out of the way at the start of this review, shall we?  The poster for Blue Miracle, the new inspirational true life tale Netflix is premiering on May 27, stinks.  It’s just awful. What looks to be a hasty photoshop project done by a junior intern doesn’t tell you what this movie is about in the slightest (no tagline?), nor would it catch your eye amongst the throng of enticing options Netflix pushes out week after week.  This is too bad, because while ultimately it’s no game changer of a watch, Blue Miracle is blessedly low on the sugar you might expect to be puckering on and heavy on the good-natured charm that goes down much easier, reeling you in for a surprisingly brisk viewing.

The bones of this whale of a tale feel pretty familiar.  Sunny Cabo San Lucas, Mexico is a haven for tourists who soak up the sun and sand, but venture further into the city and you’ll find Casa Hogar, a orphanage run by Omar Venegas (Jimmy Gonzales, Happy Death Day) and his wife.  Dubbed Papá Omar by the children he has helped to get off the streets and provide the kind of safe environment to grow up in that he wasn’t afforded, Omar is finding it harder to make ends meet.  Facing bankruptcy but unwilling to give up on the kids he has made a commitment to, he attemps a last-ditch effort to win the money in a yearly fishing tournament that’s never been open to locals before.

There are one or two problems with this plan, naturally, the first being that Omar doesn’t know how to swim, the result of a childhood trauma he keeps reliving throughout the film.  Secondly, neither he nor a select group of older boys from Casa Hogar knows the first thing about fishing.  Wanting to help his cash-poor friend out, tournament director Wayne Bisbee (Bruce McGill, Lincoln) pairs Omar with grizzled boat captain Wade Malloy (Dennis Quaid, Midway), a former two-time winner who had previously come to Bisbee wanting to enter the contest solo.  Though neither man is happy about the prospect of splitting any winnings, both agree that something is better than nothing and it’s out to sea for a weekend that will change their hearts and minds…and possibly their futures.

Looking over screenwriter Chris Dowling’s listing on IMDb shows titles that reflect similar themes found in Blue Miracle.  Different world views colliding and eventually learning from one another, choosing between wrong and right, walking a mile in someone else’s shoes…all hearty stock that goes into Chicken Soup for the Netflix Film.  Yet Dowling and director Julio Quintana never let the movie get weighed down in its tripe, recycled though it may be.  Aside from a few spotlight performances, as I watched the film, I kept thinking how predictable the beats were while at the same time finding a true investment with these day trippers and honestly rooting for them. It’s a strange fence to find myself sitting on, admittedly, but expect to be perched there right along with me. If we’re nitpicking, and we must, I question why a movie set in Cabo featuring characters that were born and raised there would be speaking English to each other when they are alone but, hey, I guess that’s just the way these features have to be made.  Still, wouldn’t it have been nice to have it authentic, forcing audiences to either read the subtitles or admit defeat and watch it dubbed in their language of choice?

For a while there, I was beginning to think we’d lost Quaid as a dependable actor.  Turning up in roles that didn’t suit him or, worse, straining to make the broad circles of comedy fit into his square wheelhouse, gone was the fun Quaid that just had a looser screen presence.  In Blue Miracle, Quaid is clearly finding his way back to a comfortable place and he’s in fine (read: rare) form as the salty many of the sea that starts the film as a grump but, wouldn’t you know it, burns a little brighter once those boys from Casa Hogar spend a little time on his boat.  The boys all turn in pleasant, if unremarkable, performances of stock characters that every orphanage apparently needs to have (nerd, bully, loudmouth, clown, etc) but there’s no question Blue Miracle belongs to Gonzales.  Known for his TV work and small film roles, this is his chance to shine, and he does an admirable job with what he’s given.  The role is inherently written as good beyond measure, so he’s pretty much accompanied by a halo.  A lesser actor might go strong on the parts of the film where Omar battles his own inner demons while a bigger name might draw attention away from his costars in their scenes together.  Gonzales walks that fine line well, turning in his own solid performance while making room for Quaid and the boys, too.

In a strange bit of timing, Netflix’s Blue Miracle was the second new film I screened in less than a week based on a true story that featured a group of orphan boys seen as underdogs overcoming inexperience on their path to success.  That other film is 12 Mighty Orphans and it’s not coming out until July but both movies share that common thread of underestimating determination.  I won’t say yet which film is more successful at tugging at the heartstrings, but both are winners when it comes to having the audience completely in their cheering section by the time the final moments draw near. As for those you considering casting a line toward Blue Miracle, I say go for it. It’s better to be see what you catch instead of having it be the one that got away.   

Movie Review ~ Cruella

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Penniless and orphaned in London at twelve, four years later Estella runs wild through the city streets with her best friends and partners-in-(petty)-crime. When a chance encounter vaults Estella into the world of the rich and famous, however, she begins to question the existence she’s built for herself in London and wonders whether she might, indeed, be destined for more after all.

Stars: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Mark Strong, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Jamie Demetriou, John McCrea, Abraham Popoola

Director: Craig Gillespie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 134 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: As a lifelong fan of all things Disney, I must admit a certain coolness toward the canine adventures found in 1961’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians.  Based on the 1956 novel by Dodie Smith, the animated film has remained a popular title for the studio, despite having one of the most blatantly vicious villains.  A live-action remake in 1996 was just the juicy bit of rawhide star Glenn Close could sink her teeth into playing that very villainess, Cruella de Vil. So though the character still wanted puppies to make a Dalmatian coat of her own, Close’s performance somehow made Cruella less frightening and instead amped the camp.  The less said about the ill-advised 2000 sequel, the better, and you really don’t want a deep dive into the disastrous 2009 musical with its eye on Broadway that premiered in my hometown but closed on the road before the real dogs in the show had a chance to grow up and age out.

Where to go from there?  The remake had been done, the musicalization was donzo, but with Cruella still getting a fairly good reception whenever she turned up in Disney theme park shows or in television on the Disney-owned ABC’s Once Upon a Time it was clear audiences were somewhat keen to see her show up at the party.  After the success of Maleficent and its sequel, how about running old de Vil through the origin story factory and see what pops out?  To me, this sounded like an idea for the birds, not the dogs.  While Maleficient’s journey toward cursing a princess to eternal slumber might lend itself to a bit of Disney magic, where was the fun in finding out how a skunk-haired meanie developed her admiration for fur and luxury canine couture?  Not even bringing on I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie or two Oscar winning Emmas felt like it would do the trick.

Well, like a style guru who must capitulate that a checkerboard print does indeed work for all seasons, I have to say that Cruella is an absolute delight and one of Walt Disney Studios most confidently unique offerings in recent memory.  To take a villain many lovers of Disney’s animated oeuvre outright despise is a bold move to begin with, but to give her the kind of genesis the writers have (granted, it took five of them) is a wonder in and of itself.  Add to that a cast of actors that sparkle at rest and shine in action and you’re off to the races with a film that operates at full tilt for much of it’s 134-minute run time. 

An older Cruella narrates her early years when she was called Estella and Cruella was merely the name for her dark side that came out when she felt threatened or got into mischief.  Though she tries her best, Estella can’t always keep her bad side from taking over and that’s why she and her mother have to leave another school in a small village outside London and head back to the city, but not before a late-night stop at an imposing manor hosting a costume ball.  Here is where Estella takes her first steps toward life on her own and how she winds up roaming the streets of London alone, eventually meeting young pickpocket street urchins Jasper and Horace who welcome her into their makeshift home.

Years later the gang is grown-up but still at it, though Estella (Emma Stone, The Favourite) longs for a life that stimulates her passion for fashion.  Though some fancy footwork Jasper (Joel Fry, In the Earth) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser, Songbird) get her in the front door for an elite department store that sells clothes by The Baroness (Emma Thompson, Late Night), London’s most chic designer.  True, it’s a janitorial job…but it’s something.  A series of right time/right place events occur, leading Estella and The Baroness to cross paths with Estella eventually joining her fashion house as their youngest designer with cutting edge ideas.  However, as she quickly learns, the demanding job comes with a price…and a very wicked boss.  Soon, an old friend Estella had locked away comes roaring back and this time Cruella isn’t going to play second fiddle to her better self. 

One need only look at the screenwriters for Cruella and a lot of what transpires in the film begins to make sense.  Writer Aline Brosh McKenna is best known for adapting The Devil Wears Prada in 2006 and there are quite a number of parallels between Cruella and that blockbuster.  There’s more than a little of that Miranda Priestly bite from Prada in Thompson’s The Baroness, though Thompson is handed even more rapid-fire one-liners and small bits of physicality that drive home her sting.  Make certain of this, Miranda Priestly is no match for The Baroness.  Then you have Steve Zissis, a long-time friend and collaborator with the Duplass brothers who are known for their quirky approach to filmmaking and fleshing out characters.  That’s evident in the supporting characters of Cruella, with a number of the secondary players far more developed than they normally would be in these types of films.  That’s how Fry, Hauser, and even Mark Strong (Shazam!) as the stoic right-hand man for The Baroness are able to sneak in and steal some small moments here and there.  Finally, Kelly Marcell worked with Thompson in 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks so she knows how to write caustic one-liners for the actress and also bravely adapted the screenplay for 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey.  This experience no doubt helps with a little of that duality found in the Estella/Cruella scenes, chiefly near the film’s finale when Stone gets quite the scene that would be an 11 o’clock number if it was set to music.

Speaking of Stone, while I’ve found the actress successful in fits and spurts over the years (I still don’t agree with that Best Actress Oscar win, though, sorry!) she’s a fabulous choice to bring this classic personality to live-action life.  In her early scenes, she’s appropriately green and goofball but the more she learns of the game she has to play to get ahead, the faster she comes into focus with self-confidence.  I was nervous when her adult Cruella side first appeared because the shift is admittedly jarring, and Stone’s interpretation of Cruella’s upper-crust purr is more broad comedy than the sophisticatedly arch tones the rest of the film has been playing with.  Anything would be jostling next to Thompson though, who plays the role so brittle you expect her to crack into shards to shred anyone in her wake at any moment.  In a more creative climate, this kind of role would win Thompson an award, but the character is probably too soulless to be rewarded.

Knowing it was well over two hours going in, I tried to find places where director Gillespie might have trimmed things up, but I’m at a loss to say what could go that wouldn’t do damage to other structural parts of the story.  While it has a fairly large climax halfway through, the energy of the movie never dips.  Besides, with a driving score by Nicholas Britell (If Beale Street Could Talk), wonderful production design from Fiona Crombie (Macbeth), and stunning costumes courtesy of 2-time Oscar winner Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road), there’s little reason to ever be bored – there is always something to take in.  I’d have liked to see a little less digital work in the outdoor scenes but seeing that much of Cruella was filmed on a soundstage, this was obviously unavoidable.

Parents, take note that Cruella rated PG-13 and it’s for a reason.  I’d wager it’s one of the darkest films ever released under the Walt Disney Studios logo (i.e., not Touchstone, Hollywood Films, etc) but I’m glad nothing seemed to be truly, uh, neutered.  The darker parts are meant for a more mature child, likely the ones already watching Disney Channel works that have a similar feel, like The Descendants.  If you’re one of those people that get hung up on the “dog coat” of it all, try to remember this is Disney we’re talking about.  It’s important going in to try your best to separate this movie from the 1956 film and its remake, don’t put this one in the doghouse on principle alone.  If you do, you’re going to mess a heck of a fun ride. This is a highly enjoyable endeavor, well worth the cost of renting it for a family night on Disney+ with Premier Access.

The Silver Bullet ~ Last Night in Soho

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Synopsis: A young girl, passionate about fashion design, is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters her idol, a dazzling wannabe singer. But 1960s London is not what it seems, and time seems to fall apart with shady consequences.

Release Date:  October 22, 2021

Thoughts: I normally don’t get to have the “full” movie-going experience anymore when going to theaters.  Ha… “when I go to theaters” that hasn’t happened in over a year!  Sorry, let’s start again.

Back when I went to theaters, I normally didn’t get to have the “full” movie-going experience because there are rarely previews at press screenings.  Movie trailers in general don’t tend to interest me anymore because I can just look at the length and know they are going to show the majority of the film, so I don’t even bother.  It’s helped a great deal in going in blind, so I’ll usually just watch the first 30-60 seconds to get a feel and then shut it off.

With Last Night in Soho, I found that I wasn’t able to turn it off after 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 90 seconds…I had to watch the whole thing.  An eternal caveat I need to remember is that every bad movie can be edited into a fantastic trailer but there’s something about this new Edgar Wright (The World’s End) thriller arriving in October that looks like it is up to something good.  Starring exciting up and comers Anya Taylor-Joy (Radioactive) and Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit), it shows a lot but tells a little – the perfect kind of teaser.  Other trailers may arrive as the release date grows near, but I don’t need to see anything more.  Along with the intriguing poster…I’m sold at first glance on Last Night in Soho.

Movie Review ~ Séance

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Camille Meadows is the new girl at the prestigious Edelvine Academy for Girls. Soon after her arrival, six girls invite her to join them in a late-night ritual, calling forth the spirit of a dead former student who reportedly haunts their halls. But before morning, one of the girls is dead, leaving the others wondering what they may have awakened.

Stars: Suki Waterhouse, Inanna Sarkis, Madisen Beaty, Ella-Rae Smith, Seamus Patterson, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Megan Best, Stephanie Sy, Jade Michael

Director: Simon Barrett

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  What terrific fortune is this?  Two respectably good female-led slasher films released within weeks of each other?  Can it be?  After a long dry spell with a pile of duds and clunkers, an eerie wind of change is blowing and bringing with it revitalized energy to a genre that was barely standing.  Early May’s Initiation was a clever subversion of the typical college-set slice and dice thrillers that populated many cinemas throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, giving tired tropes an entertaining dust off.  Now along comes Séance with its spooky boarding school setting and Craft-ian vibes to send some chills through your screen. What both films may lack in overall budget and the benefit of a release via a larger platform, they more than make-up for in playful deference to their treasured inspirations.

I could understand some dubious feelings about Séance at first glance, because I had them too.  The original poster with pouty girls in school uniforms in front of a foreboding dormitory made it look like one of those generically terrible Redbox cheapie titles that come out of nowhere and offer little return for your overnight fee.  A closer inspection (and a better poster) unveils some pedigree behind the scenes and that was enough to get me signed up for writer/director Simon Barrett’s feature debut.  A screenwriter on respectable genre outings like You’re Next and The Guest, Barrett also penned the attempted reboot of Blair Witch in 2016 that was better than many gave it credit for.  Teaming up with Dark Castle Entertainment (the production label responsible for remakes of House of Wax, House on Haunted Hill, and original titles The Apparition, Ghost Ship, Gothika, and Orphan) and streaming service Shudder, Barrett was able to get this one made during the pandemic without sacrificing any of its effectiveness in the scare department. 

The exclusive Edelvine Academy for Girls is supposedly haunted by the spectre of a former student that died under mysterious circumstances.  At least that’s what the group of girls attempting to call her spirit forth late one night in a dark bathroom mirror are hoping for.  Saying her name into their reflections several times doesn’t produce the result they are expecting, but it does leave one skeptic so frightened that she winds up dead later that night.  Was it an accident, was it the spirit, or was it someone else with a razor-sharp axe to grind?  The tragedy leaves an opening for a new student, though, and Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse, Pokémon Detective Pikachu) is the next name on the list. 

Failing to make a great first impression to the headmistress (Marina Stephenson Kerr, The Grudge, a sort of B-list Michelle Pfeiffer) after getting into a nasty fight with HBIC Alice (Inanna Sarkis) before she can even unpack her bags, Camille doesn’t fit the new girl mold in kowtowing to existing hierarchies or ways of doing business.  Instead, she asserts her dominance from the get-go and isn’t above landing or taking a punch from Alice or any of the other girls that run in her gang. (Side note: when did girl fights get so crazy? Camille refuses to move from Alice’s table and in response Alice punches her several times right in the face for her ‘crime’. Yeow!)

Camille does manage to find some people she likes; shy Helina (Ella-Rae Smith, The Commuter) was friends with the girl who recently died and Trevor (Seamus Patterson, Books of Blood) is the son of the headmistress and a handyman/boy around campus.  Through them, Camille learns more about the “accident” and other strange goings-on around the school, just in time for her detention to begin with the other girls for their opening day fight.  While they’re cleaning out and organizing a musty section of the school, they decided to press their luck and try out another séance, but this time their ceremony definitely brings something into reality…a slinky killer that begins to swiftly chop away at the girls. 

As he has with his previous scripts, Barrett makes efficient use out of his dialogue and doesn’t waste a lot of time with extraneous tangents.  It’s not Pulitzer Prize winning stuff, nor is it intended to be.  However, there is a mystery at the heart of Séance the audience is meant to figure out and clues are dropped along the way to help those paying close attention unravel in advance of the Big Reveal (one of several, I might add) near the end.  Barrett also excels at creating strong female characters that fight back, not just those that have a surge of energy when they most need it, either.  These are women that are prepared and not helpless and I like that he seems to have that in mind as he develops the story.  The idea of victimhood isn’t at the forefront of his mind and none of the women in the movie are portrayed as feeble or lacking…only in terms of perhaps coming up short in the conscience department.

There is a nice overall tone achieved and more than a few sly frights along the way. With the scary comes the silly and a dance sequence with some questionable skill level is one you’ll just have to bite your tongue through.  It’s also worth noting that it took my partner and I a full forty-five minutes to decide if this was a prep school or a college because the ages of the actresses are so varied you can’t quite tell the academic institution they are attending.  If you’re looking at Waterhouse, it should be a college.  Then you look at Madisen Beaty (To the Stars) and you’d believe it could be a boarding school for children of rich parents. 

Nitpicks and a few plot holes aside, Séance is one I think horror fans can join hands and get their arms around with ease.  It’s well made and at brisk 92 minutes moves at a nice clip, dotting it’s time with the appropriate amount of momentum so that it doesn’t experience that middle sag which can drag a lesser film down.  It joins recent feminist slasher films in skewering expectations without beating audiences over the head with any agenda to do so.  Would be a great Saturday night choice or could even be enjoyed as a late afternoon watch if the clouds grow dark and the rain falls.

Movie Review ~ Sound of Violence

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young girl recovers her hearing and gains synesthetic abilities during the brutal murder of her family. Finding solace in the sounds of bodily harm, as an adult, she pursues a career in music composing her masterpiece through gruesome murders.

Stars: Jasmin Savoy Brown, Lili Simmons, James Jagger, Tessa Munro, Brian Huskey

Director: Alex Noyer

Rated: NR

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: The biggest gripe I have in movies these days, and horror films in general, is a lack of originality when it comes to their delivery.  While it may be true that there are only a set number of core plots that every story springs from, it doesn’t explain away why every rom-com has to follow the same path toward happily ever after or how revenge is most often a killer’s motivation in slasher films.  There’s nothing in the rulebook saying you have to move from Point A to Point B in a set number of moves so lately I’ve been more interested in films that go off the beaten path, especially if the terrain they choose is extra rough.      

Believe it or not, the most impressive aspect of Sound of Violence are the visuals.  While this creative horror film gets some mileage out of an interesting way into its creepy story through exploring the phenomenon of synesthesia, it winds up overwhelmed by its own oddity.  What’s troubling is that you as an audience member can see this wrong-turn wave coming but then have to watch filmmaker Alex Noyer do nothing to get out of its way, only lean further into it.  The result is a frustrating experience of wanting to lift up the inventive facets of this independent horror film, which are indeed imaginative, while also considering that perhaps there is something to be said about straying into territory that repulses rather than frightens. 

Losing her hearing as a child comes as a devastating blow to Alexis, especially seeing that it comes right as she is moving into adolescence and during a difficult time for her family.  It’s the result of an unthinkable tragedy that she miraculously regains her hearing…and more.  Now she experiences not just aural sensations but a visual one as well, bursts of color and hued designs leap into her mind when she hears noises associated with brutality or bloodshed.  It’s a type of stimulation known as synesthesia and Alexis is experiencing the version that produces color when her cognitive pathway to sound is fueled.    

As an adult, Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown) has become intent on studying the power of sound, mixing her own music as an experimental musician in the evenings while paying her bills as a part-time DJ.  She’s also a TA in a local college, giving her the opportunity and access to equipment she can use to fine tune her thesis.  With the help of her roommate Marie (Lili Simmons), Alexis visits a dominatrix to record her session with a customer wanting to be whipped and it’s here where her condition leads her to a precipice.  She begins to understand that the more violent the sound, the deeper the sensation in her mind and the better recordings she can make.

Noyer’s film is inspired by his original short film form 2018, Conductor, in which the character of Alexis plays a minor but pivotal role.  By expanding on her here and investigating who she is, he dispels much of the mystery of his well-regarded short and I’m not sure that serves either film very well.  The further Alexis goes in her commitment to creating her music (which, by the way, sounds like total trash…which, maybe is the point?) the more removed the audience becomes from her.  Not that we are supposed to be invested in her (or like her) but if Noyer wants us to remain engaged we have to find some thread about the leading character that keeps us involved. 

The most interesting person on screen is (and this is no knock to Brown who is overall fantastic as Alexis) is Simmons as Alexis’ roommate who doesn’t see that her friend is a dangerous psychopath who lures homeless men into a grotesque death trap and, in the film’s showstopper, somehow drugs a harpist into literally playing until the flesh comes off her fingers. Simmons handles the slow build of not accepting her long time friend is capable of undertaking such atrocities well, you can see the gradual realization of who Alexis really is weigh heavily on her. By the time we get to the finale on the beach (what’s it with movies with shocker endings on beaches?  This and Saint Maud both must have it in for sandcastles) nothing you see or hear is much of a surprise, though give both actresses credit for going full-out in a tricky juggling act to close out their movie.

There’s definitely something alive in Noyer’s film and director’s eye but Sound of Violence happens to turn the dial up a few notches too far.  It’s sure to please fans of garage metal music and ultra-violent horror films with little redemptive qualities for any of the characters but I wanted more balance to the madness, more examination of the character behind the crimes.  There’s an over eagerness to get to the violence after a while and that grows tiring when you can see the director and actors are worthy of more.

Movie Review ~ Dream Horse

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A Welsh cleaner and bartender persuades her neighbors and friends to contribute financially to breed and rear a racehorse. The group’s unlikely investment plan pays off as the horse rises through the ranks and puts them in a race for the national championship.

Stars: Toni Collette, Damian Lewis, Owen Teale, Joanna Page, Nicholas Farrell, Siân Phillips, Karl Johnson

Director: Euros Lyn

Rated: PG

Running Length: 113 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  When settling down to watch this quaint, PG-rated bit of molasses, I suddenly felt the urge to seek out a skein of yarn and start to knit a very large, comfy sweater.  There’s something about the tiny Welsh village setting, gentle plot mechanics, and, if not vibrantly colorful, then slightly washed-out characters which just calls for a knit one, pearl two pattern to keep your hands busy.  It will at least keep your mind from drifting too far away from Dream Horse which feels like a movie that’s been around the track a few times and is almost ready to be put out to pasture.  However, like many final laps, this one rallies at the most important moments and reminds you why the structure has worked so well time after time.

I remember seeing ads for Dream Horse last year before all the release dates shifted and I give credit to its US distributor Bleecker Street for holding on to it a full year after it was originally due to come out.  They could have moved it to a streaming release like many of their higher profile releases (Supernova comes to mind) but instead they’ve let it out of the gate right as vaccinated audiences are being told they can head back to the theater (and follow the mask mandates).  While many viewers will be clamoring for the rock ‘em sock ‘em blockbuster titles, there are a good number who will see this one as a quieter bridge to ease their way into a picture larger than their TV with a soundsystem that goes just a little higher than the one they have in their living rooms.  That it works as a pure audience pleaser at its best moments doesn’t hurt either.

Ah, but does it ever take its time getting there!  I honestly wasn’t sure Dream Horse would ever move from a trot to a full gallop during its first hour which establishes the plan made by supermarket cashier Jan Vokes (Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding) to form a racehorse syndicate among a group of villagers in Cefn Fforest, a former mining town in South Wales.  Her vision is to buy a mare and pair it with a thoroughbred racing stallion.  The foal the two horses would produce would be “owned” by the group who would front the costs for all of the expenses it cost to raise the horse.  When the horse grew into its potential, any profits from championships won would be divided among the neighbors.

The script from Neil McKay tends to move quickly over some of the finer details within this initial set-up and doesn’t bother filling in some other gaps along the way (Jan has two children who we never see or hear much of which have left her and husband Brian as empty nesters) and this can be frustrating to a viewer wanting to get more character bang for their buck.  What McKay and director Euros Lyn do like to spend time with is in the mundanity of syndicate meetings that follow the typical trajectory of Jan having to convince those initially hesitant to come onboard only to then almost be ousted from her own group that suddenly feels they know better. 

Often in these sporting films the “sport” winds up being the least interesting thing on screen but in Dream Horse it’s the opposite.  Just as I was thinking the film would be a disappointing misfire, albeit a well-performed and well-intentioned one, Lyn and cinematographer Erik Wilson (Paddington 2) stage the first of several races that will raise your blood pressure far more than you’d expect.  Add in Benjamin Woodgates (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) score which is equal parts rousing and relentless and it creates a feeling like you’re right there cheering from the sidelines.  It creates a dramatically different sensation than the rest of the film, one that invests in emotions almost by accident.

Although the actress is able to disappear into most any working-class role with ease, it’s not quite the performance from Collette I think is in her wheelhouse.  I just didn’t connect with her connection to the horse, only later on when you see how the horse represents something much more than we originally think does it begin to make sense.  During the film’s laudable closing credits (done with gusto in a music hall style sing along) we see some of the real people involved, making one appreciate how well Owen Teale (Tolkien) transformed into the rough and rumpled teddy bear husband of Jan…down to the set of teeth that look assembled from the Tooth Fairy’s junk drawer.  There’s perhaps one too many leads fighting for attention, meaning Damian Lewis (Run This Town) gets overshadowed (unintentionally) by Teale and a few of the more memorable residents of Cefn Fforest.

I’d be lying if I said the final twenty minutes of the movie didn’t aid in almost entirely erasing that first stodgy hour, so while it doesn’t totally wipe the slate clean, Dream Horse crosses the finish line in a well-earned position.  It will at least help others, like me, finish up some knitting projects that went by the wayside if they watch it at home.

Movie Review ~ Dementia: Part II

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When an ex-con takes a job as a handyman for an unstable elderly woman to avoid a parole violation, it becomes a choice he may regret.

Stars: Matt Mercer, Suzanne Voss, Najarra Townsend, Graham Skipper, Stacy Snyder, Teya Wolvington

Director: Matt Mercer & Mike Testin

Rated: NR

Running Length: 67 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  Wise words and something to keep in mind while watching Dementia Part II, an icky no-budget movie that sprung to life as a challenge made by a film festival to two writer/directors.  Could they produce a film from scratch in five weeks?  If they could, the festival would show whatever they had put together, saving a choice spot for them in their programming.  The creative energy could (and should) have been through the roof on this but instead we have yet another zombie horror/comedy that is a sequel in name only to a 2015 film which has a few cast and crew crossovers.  Ever the completist, I made the effort to watch that earlier movie first and frankly found it to also be fairly lousy but far more competently made than this black and white turkey.

It didn’t start out so bad, I’ll give it that.  Referencing several notable horror films off the bat was a nice touch and that it did it with such clear nods made me feel relaxed enough to hope the filmmakers would temper their sense of humor with some ghoulish frights.  Unfortunately, this good will vanished fast pretty much the moment the credits ended and ex-con Wendell Miska (Matt Mercer) enters the scene.  Struggling to make ends meet because he can’t keep a job, his no BS probation officer (Graham Skipper, amateurish and obnoxious, also an early candidate for worst abuser of the “F” word in film of 2021) is breathing down his neck to get one or face more jail time.

A maintenance gig for an old lady seems to be easy money and Wendell eagerly accepts, but upon arriving and meeting the confused Suzanne Goldblum (Suzanne Voss, The Lords of Salem) he realizes that something isn’t quite right.  Also, he’s creeped out by the picture of her late husband staring at him from the fireplace mantle (don’t worry Wendell, he gives us the skeevie weevies too!) and the way she talks about him like he’s still around.  As she floats in and out of lucidity, stopping only to vomit or secrete some vile substance that somehow winds up in, on, or around Wendell’s mouth, the hapless plumber continues to stick around when he learns there may be money from Suzanne’s late husband stashed around the house.  If he can stay long enough to find out where it is, all his problems should be over, right?  Right?  If only Suzanne didn’t have that nasty bite…and wasn’t slowly turning into a beast hungry for blood…

Returning as co-director, co-writer, and cinematographer, Mike Testin shares head honcho duty with star Mercer and the challenge they delivered on appears to be a film that was meant to be shown at a closing night cast party and not for paying audiences. Barely an hour long, you can hardly even call it a feature film at all…it’s more of a chapter in a longer anthology waiting for more pieces of the puzzle.  It constantly is trying to find out a way to keep Wendell in the house, unsuccessfully convincing us he’d delaying exiting the lady regurgitating bile for as long as he does.  Even the appearance of a mystery woman (value-add Najarra Townsend, The Stylist) claiming to be a relative of Suzanne doesn’t spice things up in the least.  Maybe it’s because everyone in the film is just sort of awful in one way or another, either their character is good but their acting is lousy or they are stuck with a poorly written part but have the acting chops to make something of it. 

Look, give me a no-frills indie that makes the most out of their limitations.  Plenty of great movies have been made with bad budgets and I’m tired of films like Dementia Part II looking so cheap and ugly and then letting the production costs bear the brunt of the criticism.  Looking over the credits for both directors you can see they have experience in this genre – their combined experience should have made this a slam dunk.  The only think clever or interesting about the movie is the poster.  Why they even made it a sequel is beyond me, even the clinical definition for Dementia Part II (or the second stage) doesn’t line up.  The character Voss played in the first film was so minor (a nurse) that I’m wondering why they couldn’t just carry it over here.  It’s just sadly a total wash and not recommended in any way, especially disappointing seeing that the opening hinted there were some cunning cooks in this gory kitchen.