ALL ROADS LEAD TO PEARLA (2020)

September 24, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Rural, small town America forms an appealing backdrop for filmmakers due to the great divide: those who are desperate to “shake the dust off” and head for greener grass, and those who can’t imagine any other way of life. In his first feature length film, writer-director-editor-producer Van Ditthavong seizes on the small town atmosphere to create a sense of danger that complements the above-mentioned divide.

Alex MacNicoll stars as Brandon, a high school wrestler in non-stop training mode – replete with nose bleeds, early morning runs, and the quest to cut weight. Brandon lives in a trailer with his mother (Morgana Shaw) who has never gotten over the death of Brandon’s beloved brother. She’s an aggressive griever and takes out her anger on Brandon, leaving him squarely in the “can’t wait to get out of this town” mode. Brandon and Ellie (Paige McGarvin), the local grocery checker, are attracted to each other, yet, despite her warning, Brandon falls for the wicked charms of the mysterious bad girl Pearla (Addison Timlin, FALLEN). Naïve Brandon knows nothing of the town’s criminal underbelly, but Pearla is connected to the psychotic Oz (Dash Mihok, “Ray Donovan”), who is part of it.

Mihok seems to revel in playing the deranged Oz. He expertly balances his scenes as a vicious mask-wearing, gun-toting thug with his small town country-bumpkin mentality … one who spells bidet, “b-a-d-a-y”. Somehow in a town this small, almost no one is who they appear to be. This certainly includes Coach Baker (played by Nick Chinlund, who you’ll likely recall from CON AIR), the motivating wrestling coach with a dark side. Also in the ‘bad guy’ mix are Cowboy Loy (Corin Nemac) who is after revenge on Pearla, and shop owner Mamo (Tina Parker), who seems to control the local crime element, or at least tries to – “Nobody steals from me”.

Brandon’s English class covers a pertinent passage from Orwell’s “1984”, and his big dream involves saving enough money to drive his truck to El Paso for a job on an oil rig. There is some similarity in tone to the Coen Brothers’ classic BLOOD SIMPLE (1984), but of course, Mr. Ditthavong is not yet at that level as a filmmaker. However, for a low budget film that sometimes mixes up day and night, it benefits from nice performances and an atmosphere of dread. The entertainment value is such that I look forward to more projects from the cast and Van Ditthavong.

watch the trailer:


THAT AWKWARD MOMENT (2014)

February 1, 2014

awkward Greetings again from the darkness. Writing about lousy movies is no fun, but if I can save even one person from wasting $10 and two hours on this garbage, it’s worth it. The only way this got the green light is because of the success of The Hangover movies, Sex and the City, and HBO’s “Girls“. The difference is that all of those projects had a sense of humor and style, while writer/director Tom Gormican somehow finds it creative to end numerous scenes with someone calling someone else either ‘a f***ing idiot’ or ‘an A-hole’.

Mr.Gormican’s only other listed credit is as Producer for the gross out Movie 43. Let’s just say he is now 0-for-2, and here’s hoping he never gets a shot at number 3. This is such a waste of a talented group of up and coming actors. Zac Efron loses whatever credibility he has built up since High School Musical by playing Jason the Jerk. OK, I added the Jerk part, but it’s true. Jason is best friends and co-worker with Daniel, played by Miles Teller, who was so good in The Spectacular Now. Daniel is a simple-minded misogynist with a razor sharp tongue. They are both friends with Mikey, a young doctor whose wife dumps him. Mikey is played by Michael B Jordan, a standout in last year’s Fruitvale Station. These twenty-somethings make a drunken pact to stay single and build their roster of casual sex partners, thereby avoiding the awkward moment of “So … where is this relationship headed?”

The guys live like frat boys, guzzling booze while spouting “jokes” on such thought-provoking topics as poop, penis, masturbation, homosexuality, and Viagra. To add even more insult to humanity, there are four female roles that could set back women’s advancement by 100 years … should anyone actually see this pile of junk. Imogene Poots, Jessica Lucas, Addison Timlin and MacKenzie Davis each play smart, beautiful women who somehow associate with these dunces. For the record, Jordan’s character is not as classless as the others, but guilt by association cannot be ignored.

Miles Teller still has the potential to be the next John Cusack, and Michael B. Jordan clearly has a future if he avoids projects like this, and Zac Efron will probably take his perfect face and go back to sweet romantic comedies. The four key actresses should all bounce back soon with far superior projects … movies that don’t denigrate men, women and movie soundtracks (it may be the worst since the 1980’s).

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are related to director Tom Gormican and he has promised you a role if somehow someone asks him to make another movie

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have an ounce of decency or even a minor reason to spend your days doing something worthwhile

watch the trailer … and then forget about this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE_bE_kswEw

 


STAND UP GUYS (2013)

February 3, 2013

stand up Greetings again from the darkness. Any movie lover with a sense of history has to get at least a little excited hearing about a star vehicle featuring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin. These three screen legends together prove the adage … worth the price of admission. And that’s a good thing, because there is little else that works for this movie.

The movie unfolds like a tribute to its three stars. That’s not a compliment. First time screenwriter Noah Haidle and character actor-turned director Fisher Stevens simply lack the chops to provide material worthy of the cast. So we get Pacino doing a Tony Montana growl and A Scent of the Woman dance; Walken doing his deadpan delivery and even a quick little soft shoe; and Arkin falls back into his half-crazed,moment-seizing act. What we don’t see is a story line that pushes any of them to a “wow” moment.

Pacino plays Val, and we meet him on the day of his release after 28 years in prison. He’s picked up by Doc, his old partner in crime, or crime partner if you prefer (played by Walken). There are a couple of not so secrets twists that try to keep it interesting, but the best part comes when they spring their old driver Hirsch (Arkin) from his nursing home and oxygen mask.

stand up4 The night on the town allows for plenty of female interactions: a brothel run by Lucy Punch, a nurse played by Julianna Marguiles, another brothel visit, revenge for a female victim played by Vanessa Ferlito, and multiple chats with a young diner waitress (Addison Timlin). Unfortunately, this big night also provides entirely too much consumed alcohol, numerous penis jokes, an extended (so to speak) Viagra sequence and attempts at laughter thanks to hyper-tension and insurance co-pays.

The old guys do their best to uphold the code from the good ol’ days – both as gangsters and actors. It’s just inexcusable that the script wasn’t improved to take advantage of this talent. Despite that, there was a certain sense of nostalgia that proved enjoyable watching these guys on screen together.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: for no other reason than the nostalgia of seeing Pacino, Walken and Arkin on screen together.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you don’t share my sense of nostalgia and prefer movies that have a script worthy of the cast and your time

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NApJNjPTqZs