Thursday, July 16, 2020

(Mostly) lovable losers populate Will Addison/ Ben Matheny's road-trip indie, EASY DOES IT

Losers have a long and storied history on film -- particularly, I suspect, in the independent realm -- but losers of the actually lovable type prove fewer and farther between. To the array we can now add the characters of Jack (Ben Matheny) and Scottie (Matthew Paul Martinez), two really dumb dolts who just about never get anything right.

A little of this kind of thing can go quite quickly to extremes, and while I must admit this keeps threatening to occur with EASY DOES IT, thanks to these two performances (plus a lot of good supporting work), the co-writing and direction of Will Addison (shown below, with this, his first full-length film after a bunch of shorts), and co-writing from Mr. Matheny, we stick around.

The movie's plot, such as it is, has Jack and Scottie owing money to the local crime lord (a funny, scary turn by Linda Hamilton, above, in dreadlocks), as simultaneously Jack receives a post card from his now-deceased mom telling him that she has left him something. So our pair hightails it across the country  toward California to claim that "inheritance," pursued by said crime lord's daughter and major "enforcer" (Susan Gordon).

Mayhem ensues, in addition to a lot of sprightly, fast-moving fun, with the entry -- and then re-entry -- of a new character named Collin, played with relish and delight by Cory Dumesnil at left, below), that gooses the movie into becoming even more enjoyable.

Along the way, we're treated to quite a number of lovely if oddball visuals -- from shards of broken glass that turn into stars in the night sky to a reflection of EMERGENCY in a rain puddle to a ton of thick red paint washing away in that rain --  while supporting actor Bryan Batt gets the film's funniest line, a surprised but dead-on assessment of our two heroes:
"You all are stupid!"

The writing occasionally rises to funny metaphorical heights, too: "America has gone and over-expanded itself: too little jelly over too much toast." Though the film is said to be set during the 1970s, because the locations are mostly America's south and southwest, you could practically believe these are current times, as well. (Actors/stars Matheny and Martinez are shown above, right and left, respectively.)

Can't make any claim to greatness for this little film, but if you're interested in viewing good performances (from both known and not-so-known actors), while watching new talent emerge, then take a chance on this one. From Gravitas Ventures and running 97 minutes, Easy Does It hits VOD and Digital HD this Friday, July 17 -- for purchase and/or rental.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Apocalypse soon in Jeffrey A. Brown's slow-burn horror, THE BEACH HOUSE

When a cute and sexy but squabbling young couple  -- played by Liana Liberato and Noah Le Gros -- show up at his family's supposedly empty beach house for a long weekend (or maybe an indefinite stay), after a bout of quick lovemaking, they discover they're not alone and must share this lovely and spacious retreat with a kindly older couple, who are friends of the Le Gros character's father, who owns the house.

This might be a nice set-up for comparing relationships, young and old; or maybe a kind of coming-of-age tale in which the younger set learns about priorities and responsibility.  Except that this movie begins with the camera panning down, down, down to the bottom of the ocean where a huge rock formation is suddenly giving off a very weird, gray combination of what seems like steam and dust.

What's going on in THE BEACH HOUSE, the new sci-fi/horror/thriller from first-time/full-length writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown (shown at left), turns out to be the kind of theme and movie that usually demand an enormous budget. Brown quite cleverly reduces it all to four actors/characters (plus a few extras) and a time frame of maybe two full days, if that. What happens begins at a very slow burn then increasingly heats up until we're grasping at straws, trying to discover a way out -- any way at all -- for the remaining characters. Things finally begin to happen so fast and furiously that we rather know in our heart and mind that there is no way out. Which make the final lines spoken in this film so awful and moving.

Ms Liberato's character, Emily (above), is studying to be (if TrustMovies remembers correctly) a kind of astrophysicist-by-way-of-marine-biologist, and knows how to explain her fields to that older couple (Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel, below) so that they (and we) understand just enough of what might be happening that we can suspend disbelief and hold on tight.

That early slow burn allows us to ascertain a bit more about character and situation as we move along -- Emily is highly responsible, Randall (Mr. Le Gros, below) is anything but, while Mitch (Mr. Weber) is a loving caregiver, though Jane (Ms Nagel) is definitely not long for that care.

Special effects -- beginning ever so quietly and slowly, then heatedly ramping up -- are very well chosen for both suspense and their "ick" factor. The power of suggestion is also used quite smartly here. Even at just 88 minutes, the movie is still a little too long. Once it is clear how and where things are going, Mr. Brown dawdles and repeats a bit in getting us there.

But, finally, we do. And though it's not a place you'd choose to be, there is, as they say, at least some closure. From the AMC streaming platform, SHUDDER, The Beach House opened last week in the U.S.A., Canada, the UK and Ireland. Click here to find the fastest way to access the movie.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

DVDebut for Tom Herman's look at a hugely important part of U.S. journalism and history: DATELINE--SAIGON

For those of you around my age who came into adulthood (and then beyond) protesting the Vietnam War, here comes a terrific, not-so-new (2016) documentary -- DATELINE--SAIGON -- that will bring back memories of a time, a rotten and unnecessary war, and a group of journalists/photographers whose necessary and difficult work helped bring the truth of that war to the public eye and mind.

Much of what is covered by this fine documentary -- written and directed by Thomas D. Herman (shown at left) --  will be familiar to those who followed U.S. involvement in Vietnam from its inception on through our country's sleazy abandonment of the stupidly created and wretchedly run South Vietnam, once this war had been lost. (Anyone who tells you the outcome was some sort of "tie" is either lying or impaired.)

Full of fabulous tales and anecdotes (including some of the early mistakes made by these fledgling reporters) and featuring both archival footage of and more current interviews with the four leading journalists who covered the war -- Malcolm Browne, Peter Arnett, Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam plus that ace photographer Horst Faas -- the documentary is so packed with history and intelligent information that is seems particularly appropriate all over again, now, in our time of Donald Trump and his "alternative facts."

These five fellows (that's, left to right, Halberstam, Browne and Sheehan, above, and photographer Faas, below) offered so much more than the typical parroting-the-administration "take" on how the war was going that they pretty much led the USA from oblivious complacency into the kind of increasing activism that would eventually derail -- thanks in good part to television's finally broadcasting the war into the living rooms of America -- the lying Kennedy/Johnson administration and its "best and brightest" mechanics.

The movie is particularly accomplished in the way it handles the story of South Vietnam, the Diem regime, the infamous Madame Nhu (below, right) and the Buddhist uprising that simultaneously helped derail the South politically, even as the North continued to win the war.

For the younger generation that does not know as much about Vietnam as we older folk, I can't imagine a better history lesson than this film. Nor a better example of the kind of journalism we need now, more than perhaps we ever have before.

From First Run Features and lasting 96 minutes, Dateline--Saigon has its home video debut this coming Tuesday, July 14, via DVD and VOD. Click here for more information.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Absolutely in a class all by itself: Makoto Nagahisa's WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

Mashing up so many dfferent genres while remaining utterly its own original, WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES gave me the most bizarre and special movie experience I've had since first encountering South Korea's lollapalooza, Save the Green Planet. First of all, this film is as witty -- verbally and visually -- as anything you have recently (or even not so recently) seen. It moves like a house afire, telling the tale of the meeting and life thereafter of four children, all orphaned on the same day, and all already fed up with adults and life as they have so far experienced it.

I think it is safe to say that writer/director -- whose first full-length film this is after a single, award-winning short -- Makoto Nagahisa (shown at right) is clearly a born filmmaker. Except that he may soon tire of the medium, since I am not certain what more he could give that he has not already provided via this film. We shall see.

Meanwhile, We Are Little Zombies addresses it all -- love (given, but mostly withheld), death, grief, contemporary life, parenting (mostly bad) -- even as it cleverly, delightfully indicts parents, adults in general, Japan in particular, and consumers and society at large (both eastern and western). Have I left anyone or anything out, Nagahisa?

Yet this indictment is so funny, fresh and endlessly entertaining that movie buffs ought not mind, even if more mainstream audiences may throw up their hands in disarray. Who cares? How the filmmaker gives us these kids and their back stories, those parents and their deaths, the real and surreal, fantasies, facts, fishbowls and so much more will make you grateful you still have eyes and ears.

While a Puccini tune runs throughout the film, its oddball musical numbers are amazing in their own right. For a while the film seems like some old-fashioned videogame come to life, and then around the midway point it takes a turn -- for the even better. Our heroes/heroine become a kid band, complete with their own sleazy/sweet manager (the red-head above),

before moving into the utterly surreal/unreal/too real. And still, the energy and wit never flag. Sweet, sad, profound, memorable and certainly one of this year's best movies,  We Are Little Zombies also proves to be the zombie movie to end them all, even without the de rigueur flesh-eating. (The scene in which we suddenly see the zombies -- and their "attachment" -- proves a perfect humdinger.)

From Oscilloscope Films and running a full two hours (from which I would not have wanted to cut one minute), the movie opens today in virtual and real cinemas all across the USA. Click here and then follow directions to learn how and where you can view it. Oh, and I want to nominate for the Movie Faces Hall of Fame little lead actor Keita Ninomiya. What a face -- and what a beautiful pair of eyes this kid has!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

In Natalie Erika James' RELIC, characters peel away the present to discover the past

One of those What's-going-on-with-Granny? movies that proves -- for awhile, at least -- good enough to work on two out of three of the levels it tackles: horror and family history. Whether RELIC works on its third and probably most important level, which seemed to TrustMovies to be about unconditional love, will depend on how well this new film, the first full-lengther directed and co-written (with Christian White) by Natalie Erika James (shown below) holds and convinces you throughout its too-little-content-for-90-minutes running time.

Relic lost me around the mid-way point. I continued with it, but more out of a sense of reviewer's duty than enjoyment or interest. The plot follows a dutiful daughter (Emily Mortimer, above center) and her own daughter (Bella Heathcote, above, right) who come to visit Grandma (Robyn Nevin, above, left) because there seems to be a problem.

The two women arrive at an empty house with Gran missing. Once she returns, it is very soon clear that this old woman is a danger to herself and to others: a textbook example of someone who must be taken into some kind of protective custody.

But, instead of acting like intelligent, caring adults, mom and granddaughter turn into horror movie clichés who waste our time by walking down long dark corridors for the usual effect but to no particular purpose. Chills melt, suspense flails and dies, and we realize most of this exists merely to provide filler and vamping.

So we wait for the conclusion that works as both metaphor and reality -- well, the reality of a horror movie, at least. And while it does prove somewhat interesting and different, it also arrives as too little too late. Ms Mortimer and Ms Heathcote are as good as their roles allow but only Ms Nevin rises to the memorable. She is simultaneously classy, scary and impressive indeed.

Cinematography, set design and special effects are also as good as possible, considering -- especially the manner in which the house is made to mirror the dementia of its occupant. Otherwise, though, Relic seem to me to be yet another example of an idea worth maybe forty minutes stretched to unseemly proportions.

From IFC Midnight, the movie hits select theaters, drive-ins and digital/VOD this Friday, July 10. Click here for more information.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Sherry Hormann's film, A REGULAR WOMAN, revisits a horrific honor killing in Germany

If you're a foreign-film buff, you will perhaps remember a movie from a decade ago entitled When We Leave, submitted by Germany to qualify in the Oscar category of Best Foreign Language Film. Its subject was the Muslim honor killing of a young woman, and though it was not a very good film, its story has been made into a motion picture once again, this time under the title of A REGULAR WOMAN. The new film is, like its predecessor, German produced but is directed by American-born fillmmaker, Sherry Hormann.

Ms. Hormann, shown at right, has done a remarkable job of telling anew this truly awful tale of fundamentalist religion trumping even the most basic and necessary tenets of family. Her approach is very close to documentary -- using a plethora of "still" shots -- and this not only works surprisingly well, it even adds to the momentum and punch of the wily narrative (the screenplay is by Florian Öller).

Hormann's film begins at very nearly the end of the tale, and her movie is actually narrated by its heroine, Aynur, now deceased, who slyly introduces herself as possibly one of several lively and attractive young women we see on the street.

Then we flashback to Aynur, beautifully portrayed by Almila Bagriacik, first as an eighth-grader about to be sent to her family's homeland, Turkey, to be married to an older cousin who, soon enough, turns out to be an abusive spouse. From the outset, the film steeps us in the "traditions" of fundamentalist Muslim culture -- especially regarding the "ownership" of women.

As the film progresses, we see not only how the current religion, as practiced on the males (especially the young) who attend the mosque, effectively destroys what ought to be a loving family life, but also how this has been going on for so long now that it is accepted as utterly normal by both the men and the women.

Once the pregnant Aynur has returned from Turkey and her abusive spouse to live with her family again, she begins to understand just how awful is the situation for women via these fundamentalist Muslim beliefs. Slowly she begins to respond. Regarding the headscarf: "I start to wonder what Allah finds so bad about my hair."

Rather than simply being a catalog of abuses, the film finds a lot of smart humor and irony in its grievous situations -- without ever losing its momentum or the enormous sense of rage that continues to build up in both Aynur and the viewer. If your blood pressure has not gone into overdrive by the conclusion, I shall be surprised. TrustMovies felt he could use a class in anger management by the time those end credits rolled.

Another worthwhile movie from the newly rejiggered Corinth Films, A Regular Woman hit virtual theaters last month and will eventually find its way to home video, I'm sure. Click here for more information on how you can view it now.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Home Video debut for Josh Pierson's noirish and nutty WHERE SLEEPING DOGS LIE

Honor among thieves certainly has a long and storied history in literature and film, even if, in most cases, you could as easily call it dishonor among thieves. It's one thing when the thieves in question -- two brothers and their friend since childhood -- are relatively smart but quite another when they're dumb-as-they-come. Which is the case with the poorly-titled WHERE SLEEPING DOGS LIE. There are no sleeping dogs lying around anywhere in this movie, even metaphorically speaking, with almost every character about as hyped-up, noisy and attention-deficit-disordered as you could possibly want.

The first full-length feature (after half a dozen shorts) from writer/director Josh Pierson (shown at left), the movie's noticeably lax and lank storytelling and style make it something of an effort to sit through. The plot: Three idiotic, would-be criminals mis-execute a robbery with even worse-then-imaginable results.

Initially, the movie seems a bit promising because it is told piecemeal via scenes that go back and forth in time, but eventually the scenes begin to feel like filler -- in particular those set in a bar, below, in which one brother (Jesse Janzen, above, left) tells the other (Dustin Miller, right) about his big plan.

While some of this seems played for dark laughs, the humor quickly curdles due to the sheer ugliness and stupidity of what's going on. Too dumb to make a decent noir and peopled with characters that pretty much defy credibility, the film simply moves ever forward on its crazy death march.

The third wheel here is played by Tommy Koponen (above), who might garner more sympathy if the script didn't have him constantly whining and at odds with just about everything and everyone. Dialog moves from the expected and mediocre to downright bad, so the performers are hardly given much chance, except to over-emote like crazy. (Some of the speechifying sounds suspiciously like improvisation, in which one of the actors has just discovered the word fuck.) Female roles, as is often the case in these buddy-boy movies, are mere fodder for cliché.

The most impressive role, along with the performance of it, is taken by David J. Espinosa (above, left), as the initial victim of the robbery -- perhaps because his mouth is taped shut for much of the movie so he can't spout too much dialog. (I hope this actor got double pay for having had all that duct tape placed around and then removed from his head and mouth, over and over again!) And what the hell -- even the special-effects fire here looks fake.

From 1091 and running a too-lengthy 96 minutes, Where Sleeping Dogs Lie will hit home video this Tuesday, July 7 -- for purchase (and maybe?) rental. Your move...