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Pink Wall (2019)
"Pink Wall": Fine Performances obscured by Sloppy Script
She is a hard to like hard a--. He, a rudderless milquetoast. Inherently, their relationship should have never been. We get that over the first hour and a half of the relationship dissection "Pink Wall". Then a few wasted and whispered words from her in the closing moments drive it home.
Tatiana Maslany and Jay Duplass each do a lot of ad-libbing here, and they're both damn good at it. Which leads one to believe that the script, such as it was, wasn't all that red hot.
In fact, it barely registers on the spectrum as pink-ish.
"Us": Grim Reminder that it could always be Worse...
The Coen Brothers, Atom Egoyan, Shane Carruth and now Jordan Peele. This is my short list of favorite film directors ever.
Peele's latest deep and deliciously demented dive into modern society is "Us". There are many messages to be mined in this movie, all woven expertly into a decidedly disturbing yet darkly comic story.
My key takeaway? No matter how bad you think you may have it in life, there is an alternate path which would have led you to something far more unbearable. And, as Peele so ingeniously reveals both literally and figuratively in "Us", it's not that far, or that different, from hell.
Landing Lake (2017)
"Landing Lake": Swimming in Swill
"Landing Lake" is sunk by underwhelming acting acumen and proceedings so incomprehensible it is impossible to determine what these filmmakers intended. Except evidently to make their audience both baffled and bored.
"I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore": Earthy Perfection
Melanie Lynskey is my new celluloid heroine. The New Zealander is flawless in practically every way in the eclectic as hell crime dramedy "I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore". Lynskey brings us Ruth, a Regular Jane managing as best she can working as a nursing assistant at a second-rate hospital while living alone in a particularly oddball suburb of one of the weirdest locations on our planet. This would be Portland, Oregon. I know. I've been there. A lot.
Ruth is a foul-mouthed, pot smoking, beer swigging (Coors Light, a girl after my own heart) wallflower of a woman whose life is turned tush over tea kettle after her roost is robbed and her fave stuff is swiped. In the wake of the break-in, Ruth suffers an extreme case of violation, all the while repeating the refrain that she wants everybody to quit being such total a-holes. And not just the creeps who ripped off her rental. Enlisting the aid of a fellow social misfit loner in her neighborhood (Elijah Wood in an inspired turn), the peculiar pair go off in search of the crooks and her cache.
The first three-quarters of this strange saga are consistently hilarious and quirky on behalf of all involved. An abrupt shift in tone fashions the film's final frames as decidedly dark and sinister before succumbing full force to explicit violence and graphic blood spatter. But then that's pretty much how it goes when you've taken a deep dive into the deranged and despicable as this daring duo do.
Ultimately it all serves a purpose. To show that even the most regular among us, that is to say you and I, are fully capable of accomplishing far greater than we ever dare dreamed was possible. If we'd but kick ourselves in the cans and get about it.
That, and we want our flippin' laptop back bad enough.
The Uninvited (2009)
"The Uninvited": No big loss if you didn't make the Guest List
Okay ghost story/mystery drama with thoughtful twists and performances hovering above respectable. Still, "The Uninvited" would have been far better served with more David Strathairn.
Fear Bay (2019)
"Fear Bay": Fear it's Stench!
The lifeless mystery drama "Fear Bay" is scarcely standard Lifetime TV flick fare. A modicum of extra credit for a cast that is pleasing on the peepers and a more ominous au revoir than this type of tripe typically trots out.
***Rebranded as "Killer Cove". It still stinks.
Bullitt County (2018)
"Bullitt County": When Friends Fall Out
A tale of fabled buried treasure circa the 1970s, friends swing shovels together in an effort to unearth it. The upshot? So often times, too often, the threat doesn't come from forces external. It manifests when those familiar turn on themselves.
"Mojave": Dastardly Doin's in the Desert
Garrett Hedlund is a Hollywood rebel who did a bad, bad thing in the midst of a meltdown in the Mojave desert. Oscar Isaac is an unhinged drifter who saw him to it. And he's not about to let him forget it.
The two actors are superb in a salacious and sinister fight to the finish, with the delirious driving dilemma being whose?
The Endless (2017)
"The Endless": Confoundingly Cool
You may not entirely get what in the hell is going on with this mysterious cult at the core of the total trip sci-fi psyche spacer "The Endless". But, also like me, you will find yourself delightfully suspended in spellbound stupefaction throughout it's nearly two hours of WTF flip-out fun.
"Annihilation": Tear it Down and Start Again
What if the human race got a do-over? This seems to be the overarching premise of the fascinating and fantastic sci-fi drama "Annihilation".
What is indisputable is that the five actresses who play the leads in this film are individually and collectively exceptional. Don't call them bad ass babes. And don't you dare call this a "chick flick". What these ladies, in real life and by way of their fine performances, SHOULD be called, as a wise man of few words, my beautiful father, would say, is "substantial".
And Dad would mean that as a supreme compliment.
"Pause": Soul-crushing Examination of a Soul Reborn
Stella Fyrogeni is remarkable in the Greek domestic drama "Pause". Her portrayal of a long-suffering wife, so minimized by her loathsome husband it doesn't even pass for underappreciated, is at various turns in this film: morose, incensed, impassioned and, ultimately and most unlikely, giddy.
And as the movie's premise is that this is a middle-aged woman ensnared in a vicious bout with menopause, we as an audience are never entirely sure if what we are watching is her real world or her fantasy one.
Captivating stuff here to be sure. If it wasn't all just so damn dismal.
The Conjuring (2013)
"The Conjuring": Man, that Ending packs a helluva Wallop
I am a big fan of Vera Farmiga. Not so much Patrick Wilson. That said, the two veteran actors are excellent together as real life ghost chasers Lorraine and Ed Warren in this based on a true story imagining of the couple's 1971 experience battling violently malevolent spirits in a family's remote farmhouse.
While the tone is unsettling and disturbing throughout, what we witness in the final twenty minutes of "The Conjuring" will blast you right square in the jaw as the Warren team gives it all they got to kick the holy hell out of evil.
Movies are great.
For the Birds (2018)
Filmmaker says "For the Birds" is really more about The Human Experience
The riveting new documentary "For the Birds" is a story that leads us down several roads. Obsession, marital struggle, love and loss are among the moving life experiences touched upon most poignantly by Director and Co-Producer/Editor Richard Miron.
Miron brings us into the profoundly unusual world of Kathy, a wife, mother and grandmother who over the course of several years has amassed over 200 birds on her property in rural eastern New York state, much to the chagrin and suffering of her husband of more than a quarter-century, Gary.
I had the opportunity to talk with Miron about his film, which consumed five years of his life including two devoted to editing. I started off by asking him how he originally found out about Kathy and the birds she calls pets. He tells me it all started as a senior project in college focusing on animal rescue and rights. He was working as a volunteer at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary (which plays a prominent role in the film) when he first met Kathy following up on a neighbor's complaint about the deplorable conditions at her home. It was then that Miron says a long-term relationship with this odd yet compassionate woman developed.
"I felt for everybody in the story and I really cared about Kathy. And I know she really loved her animals."
Miron says the thing that surprised him most during and after his intimate immersion in this ever-evolving story was bearing witness to the enormous power of change.
"The story morphed from being an animal rescue story to being more about this marriage and the way this couple loved each other in such a complex way over 25-plus years. The capacity for change. The capacity that Kathy has to turn her life around when she was really at rock-bottom."
The final image Miron leaves us with of Kathy in "For the Birds" inspires a decided feeling of hope. For change, certainly. But ultimately for a future more closely shared with her precious family. And, as damn hard as it will be, apart from the flock of feathered friends that will forever hold a place of empathy and love deep within her healing soul.
Wade in the Water (2019)
Wade in the Water: So you think YOUR relationship is weird?
The new dark semi-comic domestic drama "Wade in the Water" practically defies description. Still, I'm gonna give it my best shot. Kinna like a main character in this flick does.
Director Mark Wilson's interpretation of a mega offbeat story by Chris Retts takes us on a mesmerizing journey encompassing, among other things, at home telemarketing, independent So-Cal fast food joints, the U.S. Post Office, dancing on the beach and vintage typewriters. And that's not even a thorough list. Add to this eclectic mix the infinitely more troubling elements of family dysfunction, child molestation and murder and you have a movie that really must be seen to both understand as well as approach appreciation.
Tom E. Nicholson is flat-out Oscar worthy here. The reality that he won't even be nominated, or even seen, by The Academy takes not one damn shred away from his raw, raunchy and heartrending performance. Danika Golombek ("I Am The Night") matches Nicholson's standard as the completely unlikely other half of the weird relationship referenced in this review's title.
These two lost souls are caught in the current of a tense and tenuous bond that can not continue. And we as an audience are the benefactors of watching this most dubious pair navigate through unspeakably troubled waters.
Death Wish (1974)
"Death Wish" & "Death Wish II"......at long last
We all have those things we're gonna get around to. Learning the banjo. Running a 5k. Sleeping under the stars. For me one of those things on my "one of these days" list was finally seeing the Charles Bronson vigilante vehicles "Death Wish" and "Death Wish II".
Now that I have I can proclaim that the 1974 original is way better than the largely unnecessary follow-up eight years later. Bronson's character's calm exterior belies a furious core bent on kicking scumbag ass and not giving one crap about taking their sorry names. These films represent perhaps the ultimate experience in an audience living vicariously through a tortured soul bent on avenging a senselessly brutal attack upon those he loves.
The original is a true classic. If you haven't already, see it. It'll make you wish, as I do, that the filmmakers would have given us this cinematic touchstone and then called it good.
Miriam Graves (2019)
"Miriam Graves": Profound in it's Plainness
The new low-budget indy drama "Miriam Graves" introduces us to actress Shelli St. George in her motion picture debut (while also appearing to establish what may be described as The Archangel of The Homeless). St. George is not a typical L.A. leading lady. Her performance is understandably unpolished. Yet it is this understated and unvarnished manner in which she brings us her mentally deteriorated character that makes her portrayal seem so real. So raw. And so utterly heartbreaking.
Writer/Director Richard Tur has created a woman and a world here that reaches the soul. And in the end impales it.
Apollo 11 (2019)
"Apollo 11": Stunning Tribute to one of America's most Glorious Moments
My father helped put the first men on the moon. A proud veteran of decades of devoted service to NASA and the United States space program, this man is my hero.
"Apollo 11" is a start to finish riveting documentary of the first manned mission to the moon. The film is loaded with breathtaking never before seen footage.
Seeing this epic masterwork with dad and my middle son, seated together in a theater mere minutes from the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, is a multi-generational experience that was, both literally and figuratively, out of this world.
"Clara": Metaphor for what Science may, or may not, Explain
Is our universe an infinite masterpiece of order and structure? Or is it merely a limitless amalgamation of randomness and chance? These are the questions posed and explored in the new sci-fi drama "Clara".
Writer and Director Akash Sherman has fashioned a most intriguing tale of science, distant space exploration, traumatic loss and unlikely romance. That's a lot of fertile, yet tricky, ground to cover in any story, and Sherman does so most adroitly here. Using equal parts special effects, human drama and deep existential issues, his film presents an embracing and genuinely thought-provoking chronicle of man and his place in the great cosmic unknown surrounding and dwarfing him.
If I have an issue with Sherman's film, it would be this: That what is apparently presented to us as one version of Heaven is, to put it both mildly and quite literally, way out there, man. Yet, as with all of the themes the filmmaker thoughtfully investigates in "Clara", whose to say, or know, that this version of The Afterlife may not be at least in the ballpark of actuality? Certainly not we of mortal man and woman status, and this is for DAMN sure.
Patrick J. Adams (TV's "Suits") and real-life spouse Troian Bellisario (The tube's "Pretty Little Liars") are excellent individually and in tandem as two shattered souls who come together to make a spectacular discovery. Was it the data-driven product of complex analysis and precise calculations? Or could it all have come to pass as simply an accident of luck, happenstance, and, perhaps, even love?
This is the ultimate quandary presented in "Clara". The grand answer may lie embedded in the lyrics of Bob Dylan, whom Sherman prominently features, when the iconic musician suggests it..."is blowin' in the wind."
It's as good a place to start as any.
Searing Lead Performance, but why in the hell was this movie even made?
Marisa Tomei is remarkable as a woman in helpless free fall with a soul shattered beyond repair. But "Danika" is so stiflingly depressing and gutting, particularly if you are a parent, it makes this well-made film nearly impossible to recommend.
Let's Not Meet (2018)
Let's not be too Harsh about "Let's Not Meet"
Okay, here's the deal. A low budget movie doesn't earn a pass exclusively because it was made with little cash. It deserves whatever review it gets based on how engaging and entertaining it is. Enter the indie demonic horror flick "Let's Not Meet". This dude Ryan Callaway had an idea for a film. Then he wrote and directed the damn thing. Yeah, so it's not gonna be nom'd for an Oscar. However, it is also not a total piece of crap.
The no-name acting troupe is not entirely devoid of talent, the subversive plot can't be roundly dismissed and the get-your-kicks quotient is not nearly negligible. Which, let's be real, is a helluva lot more than you can say about FAR too many multi-multiplex mega money mediocre to miserable big budget a-BOMB-inations.
Shimmer Lake (2017)
"Shimmer Lake" Shines a Dim Light
Lazy writing, uninspired performances (save for Benjamin Walker's low-key small town sheriff) and a gimmicky back to front story presentation that's been done before and far better (see "Memento"), the wildly uneven crime drama "Shimmer Lake" drowns in good intentions taken down by merciless misfires.
I like the scene near the end, however, when three grown men relive high school football glory. It rings true, wistful. I could have easily contributed to the chatter as a fourth participant in kind.
Seven in Heaven (2018)
"Seven in Heaven" put through Hell
Though not nearly as complex, the teen mind screw horror pic "Seven in Heaven" goes a little "Primer" on us, what with it's hidden closet launching kids into multidimensions of time-tricking tension and terror.
Never has a pencil been so cryptic.
13 Sins (2014)
That last one of the "13 Sins" is a real humdinger
You will likely join me in finding the premise of the subversive game show cum horror thriller "13 Sins" to be patently preposterous. But it's a movie, man. So I let myself go with the freaky flow. And I was reasonably rewarded with a solidly acted (more Ron Perlman), consistently engrossing (emphasis on GROSS) story of a guy who finds he'll do anything for a buck. Well, damn near, anyway.
The final scene of "13 Sins" follows a particularly heinous "ultimate challenge". The moment didn't retread the route that most flicks of this ilk choose to go down. An unexpected upbeat conclusion delivers a welcome surprise, capping off a brutally bumpy ride.
The Eye (2008)
"The Eye" is worthwhile Scoping Out
"The Eye" starring Jessica Alba is the second mystery/thriller I've watched of late focusing upon a blind symphony orchestra musician. I give it the nod over "In Darkness".
After all, how tortuous can it really be looking at JA for an hour and a half?
"Emelie": One Word
Okay, last one, I promise.