Tag Archives: indie

Freaky

[3 stars]

Let me just say up front that I love this concept. And given that it was co-written and directed by Christopher Landon, the same guy who brought us the very funny and clever Happy Death Day series, I was definitely on board. And the resulting story does pull itself together in nice ways. I just wish it had been executed with as much care and finesse as the idea suggested and as the pedigree promised.

That said, it wasn’t for a lack of effort on the part of the actors. Everyone committed to the story and the silliness. The balance wasn’t always quite right, but everyone tried to maintain a thread to reality.

In the top spots, Vincent Vaughn (Hacksaw Ridge) and Kathryn Newton (Pokémon Detective Pikachu) have the most challenging roles. Newton manages to get “cold killer” down well, though we can’t really assess her “Vaughn” as we never know him. Vaughn, on the other hand, does a much more credible, if slight pushed, version of Newton. The tenor of the movie forces him to the broader side rather than the more realistic, but he rarely pushes it too far.

There are also some nice showings by Newton’s friends Misha Osherovich and Celeste O’Connor. They are clearly over-the-top in just about every way, but with Landon’s guidance they are kept within a range that works. There is also a surprising performance by Uriah Shelton which helps the flick round out nicely.

Freaky isn’t as precisely crafted as Landon’s previous films, but it isn’t without its moments and value. It is definitely a movie that requires a particular taste in horror and comedy, but if you have it, you’ll enjoy this. Whether it requires more than one viewing in your lifetime, that’s up to you. Once was fine for me, though I will be watching for some of the players down the road. Landon does have a knack for finding lesser-known talent. And I still want to see what he comes up with next as well.

Jolt

[3 stars]

Kate Beckinsale (Love  & Friendship) has made a portion of her career playing tough fighters in poorly scripted movies (can we talk Underworld?). And here we are again in an obvious franchise play with a script that is just as often good as it is, well, not.

This isn’t a story with a lot of surprises, just a lot of clever quips and many fun fights. Jai Courtney (Honest Thief) serves as catalyst for Beckinsale’s Lindy with a sort of guilelessness. And Bobby Cannavale (Thunder Force) and Lavern Cox (Promising Young Woman) provide a weird, almost believable cop duo. And while you’d expect the addition of Stanley Tucci (Supernova) and Susan Sarandon (The Calling) to elevate the story some, they’re just there to have fun.

For a first script by Scott Wascha’s it isn’t unwatchable, just occasionally cringey (especially the prologue). And director Tanya Wexler (Hysteria) manages to keep it all moving along with just enough character to the action. The result is a hyper-real tale of female power, not unlike, though with considerably less finesse and panache, as Gunpowder Milkshake or Sin City. It isn’t great, but it is definitely diverting and, if you can handle the violence, entertaining.

I’d love to see where they could take this story and if they can expand on the universe in a way that makes sense. Certainly they’ve queued it up to be an ongoing black-ops series. Time will tell, but at least this movie is relatively self-contained (and with a tag during the credits) in a way that doesn’t leave you hanging.

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Cosmic Sin

[2 stars]

There’s 80% of a movie here. Sadly, that missing 20% is sort of essential to pull it all together. Director and co-writer Edward Drake (Breach) either was unable to deliver the missing footage or simply over-edited the movie in a way that excised important aspects of the plot. Honestly, I don’t know which, but more than once I had to ask WTF about situations and comments where the base information was never revealed or setup events don’t seem to have occurred.

Now here’s the thing. Bruce Willis (Breach) and Frank Grillo (Skyline) are the names that helped sell the production, I’m sure. And they deliver exactly what you’d expect them to deliver…dry wit, hard action, dark comedy. But about the only character with any set of levels is Adelaide Kane, and her role is relatively small, if integral.

The initial concept, that of first contact gone (maybe) wrong, is classic and full of possibility. But the level of male toxicity (and I even hate typing that statement) makes the rest of the story inevitable and just plain sad. There is no nuance, no humanity to the decisions and actions, despite some lip service to moral implications.

You can comfortably skip this and miss nothing. But if you insist, just strap in for the action and let the plot just wash over you like bullet points.

Cosmic Sin Poster

Fear Street: Part 3 – 1666

[3 stars]

It’s all comes down to this: the origin. And what a nice payoff it is. As you’d expect, given the previous two parts, the cast reprises from the previous 1994 and 1978 time frames to inhabit the 1666 characters. Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch are back at the center along with Ashley Zukerman (The Code), Gillian Jacobs (Life Partners), and, now with a bit more range, Benjamin Flores Jr. (Rim of the World).

Having the setup of the previous two parts, this third flies in a swift 2 hours of suspense, action, and frustration. But the best part is that everything you’ve learned comes back into play right up through the end. And there is where it stumbles just the tiniest bit.

The main action resolves perfectly fine and acceptably. But there is a moment, and you can’t miss it, where there is an obvious and boneheaded oversight. I know it’s a trope of the genre, but it could have been less ham-handed. In fact, if it weren’t for that, I’d have rated the whole movie higher. That gaff cost it because after all the clever, subversive, and frankly well thought out planning, it was cheap and insulting to the audience.

But that frustration aside, which is small in comparison to the journey, this is a great trilogy of dark fun executed with a clever eye and solid talent. Leigh Janiak pulled the sequence off with aplomb and will have me watching for her next project for sure; as well as some of the cast.

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Gunpowder Milkshake

[3.5 stars]

Imagine a blend of John Wick and Bad Times at the El Royale, with maybe a dash of Terminal thrown in. Think a sort of hyper-real, female assassins tale. It isn’t quite as lyrical as it might have been, and the editing and timing were off for the first half of the film bringing down the energy, but it holds together and is definitely a fun ride.

At the center of it all is Karen Gillan (Spies in Disguise), in full Nebula voice, as a disassociated, abandoned woman doing the only thing she’s ever known how to do. And she does it very well. Things, of course, go wrong and she finds herself suddenly in the position of trying to do the right thing to balance out the voices in her head. This brings us to another wonderful performance by Chloe Coleman (My Spy), who has now lost her second chance at a big screen launch thanks to the pandemic, but who continues to impress.

Joining Gillan, from her past and present, are a collection of strong women fighters, cast as much for the abilities as they are for their past roles, providing a fun resonance. Lena Headey (Fighting With My Family), Michelle Yeoh (Boss Level), Carla Gugino (The Space Between Us), and Angela Bassett (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) make an impressive set of co-conspirators. And each gets their moment to shine. Paul Giamatti (I Think We’re Alone Now) adds a small bit of patriarchy for them to respond to.

This isn’t a perfect film. As I mentioned, the energy and timing are off for the first third to half. However, it does come together and has room for more stories. Much like John Wick, there is ongoing potential as the various levels of the onion get involved. For a bit of mayhem and girl power, spin this one up and enjoy the carnage.

Gunpowder Milkshake Poster

Fear Street: Part One – 1994

[4 stars]

Pretty much out of the gate Leigh Janiak has the reins of Fear Street and drives it relentlessly and with style. Loaded with good scares, clever surprises, and wry humor, it never lets up and it has a lot of fun with horror tropes.

She also pulled together a solid cast who could play the genre with earnest irony. Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, and Julia Rehwald, in particular, manage a wonderful juggling act that bounces between femme victims and femme fatales. But, as a whole, the cast holds it together without a weak delivery among them (given the style).

Clearly this is a story that has a lot left to reveal since it’s a trilogy that goes back to it’s origin (1666). Also, it’s completely clear that the kids in this movie have no clue what is really going on yet, try as they might to make sense of it all. So while the Final Girls vibe is fun, I don’t know how it will all shift through the subsequent parts. However, if you’re looking for a fix before the next chapter of Stranger Things, but with a bit more of an edge, this is the ticket.

Intersect

[2 stars]

When a story is taking place at Miskatonic University, it sets up some expectations. Some of those are met in this odd little indie, mostly it is left wholly unsatisfying.

Admittedly, I came because Gus Holwerda added in a time paradox. The two concepts together were too intriguing to avoid. And there is some interesting story telling going on. As is typical we start at the end and work our way backwards-ish. Slowly revealing the truths and issues of the past.

It doesn’t help that some of the script is just bad science and some is just woodenly delivered; ultimately that isn’t it’s greatest flaw. Jason Spisak (Pacific Rim: The Black) and Leeann Dearing (despite her costuming) do relatively fine with their parts. And James Morrison adds some solidity for the time he is present. Abe Ruthless, however, isn’t the least credible. But it also isn’t the acting that’s the issue. Where it all fails is the final moments.

Time paradoxes need a resolution or a definitive lack of one to end comfortably. They also need a clear and obvious paradox. The ending to this tale is an unresolved chord with a sense of what might happen but with nothing clear. In fact, in some ways it makes no sense at all, in terms of resolving the unidentified paradox or threat and the outcomes from it.

I did love that Holwerda allowed this to be a slow burn. It isn’t at all rushed and there are layers to experience. But because of the end, I can’t really recommend it. If you are intrigued enough to seek it out on your own, remember I did warn you.

Intersect Poster

A Sexplanation

[4 stars]

Sex. We all think about it. We all talk about it. Wanting it. Getting it. Having it. But we almost never really talk about “it.” Not about the specifics. And probably not with anyone of importance even if we do, like our partners, let alone ourselves. Why is that? Really… ask yourself when was the last time you talked about sex, I mean really talked about it? How about the last time you talked about it with your parents? Alex Liu dives into the subject of why this subject make us so uncomfortable. And he does it with heart, hilarity, and honesty.

Liu goes for broke in his first full-length piece (sorry, couldn’t resist) and even takes center stage as he explores our attitudes toward sex and how to become less stressed about it all. But he never loses track of the fact that this is a documentary for everyone, not just himself.

The 90 minute piece is wonderfully executed and is full of experts and lay people. And, yes, he talks to his parents in a way he’s never done before. You will come away from the journey asking yourself some of the same questions Liu began with, but equipped, emboldened, and encouraged to consider doing something about it. And, if nothing else, you’ll laugh a lot while you learn about what’s going on in the field. Because it is, above all, a genuine dive into the subject.

Shadow in the Cloud

[4 stars]

Talk about an unexpected thrill-ride from beginning to end. Roseanne Liang directed and co-wrote this, with Max Landis (Bright), as her Sophomore offering. And it is damned impressive.

Chloë Grace Moretz (Tom and Jerry) dominates this film. From the opening credits she embodies her strongest female role since her Kick-Ass days. The story is tightly focused on Moretz, her actions and her reactions. As her character is slowly revealed, we are constantly re- evaluating what we think we know. There are several male characters, but who cares? They exist solely as fodder to Moretz’s tale.

In the center of it all, acting as engine to the machine, is one of the biggest McGuffins I’ve seen in a while…simply because it is so iconic. The movie opens with a war-time cartoon that sets up this horror piece of the story. If you’ve ever seen Nightmare at 20000 Feet you have a sense of what’s coming (or think you do anyway).

The rest is an unbelievably tense ride. Like Pitch Black, once this one starts downhill, it goes at breakneck speed and never relents. And it ends on a hugely satisfying tableau.

Make time for this one. It is ostensibly a horror film, but it is so much more than that as well, even managing to pay homage to the WACs and WASPs of WWII. I can’t wait to see what Liang offers up next if this was any indication of her ability and eye.

Shadow in the Cloud Poster

Blythe Spirit (2021)

[3 stars]

Noël Coward is known for his witty dialogue and comedies of manners. He thumbs his nose at society while embracing it utterly as a goal. Pulling off a Coward script requires an open-eyed love of what all that means, and rapid fire repartee with a dry wit.

Dan Stevens (Solos), Leslie Mann (Welcome to Marwen), and Isla Fisher make a wonderful trio to tackle that challenge. Each embodies the 1930s pre-war sensibility nicely, as well as the broad comedy of the story. But even with the assist of the wonderful Judy Dench (Staged), the movie lacks any chemistry between the characters. And without that chemistry it becomes only a collection of performances…it just doesn’t quite work.

The end result isn’t the Twentieth Century or Thin Man it needed to be. It isn’t even Death Becomes Her (with or without all its flaws). Somewhere, shortly into it all, director Edward Hall lost the rhythm and energy. The bottom falls out of the movie and it all just drifts along to a funny, but not punchy ending. Of course much of that has to go at the feet of the new adaptation by the collective that brought us such varied comedies as St. Trinian’s and Finding Your Feet. In their attempt to update the story so it was less arch, they lost the focus and the point. The ideas were great, but they never went quite far enough.

The movie makes for a shortish distraction, with some really nice locations and costumes. And none of the individual performances are bad; there are some truly laugh-out-loud moments. However, while the parts all work, the flick fails to impress on the whole. But with the kind of talent it has on screen, it was certainly worth the attempt even if the end-result fell short. Ah, but what it might have been in better hands or a better matched cast.

Blithe Spirit Poster