HAPPILY (2021)

March 19, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Most frequent movie-goers have complained about the over-supply of sequels, remakes, and superhero movies. The battle cry is typically something like, “We want some creative new movie ideas!” Well, the feature film debut of writer-director BenDavid Grabinski (writer-producer of TV series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”) serves up a unique and creative premise in which Act 1 really gets us excited for new experience.

There’s a party at a very nice house. A woman makes inviting eye contact with a man across the room. Their spontaneous sex romp forces Arthur (Al Madrigal, “I’m Dying Up Here”) to find an alternative place for relief. Soon the hosts are explaining to Arthur that the bathroom is tied up by Tom (Joel McHale, “Community”) and Janet (Kerry Bishe, “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels”), a couple who has been married for 14 years, yet they can’t keep their hands off each other. Skeptical Arthur states it must be an act, and “they are as miserable as everyone else.”

We quickly discover that Tom and Janet are neither acting nor miserable. Dinner with the hosts of that ‘bathroom’ party, Karen (Natalie Zea, “Justified”) and Val (Paul Scheer, “The League”), brings a disinvite to a planned couples weekend getaway, along with the brusque enlightenment to Tom and Janet, “everybody hates you.” The next day, a stranger shows up at their front door. Goodman (Stephen Root, OFFICE SPACE, 1999) basically explains the couple is defective and missing the genetic DNA that creates the law of diminishing returns. Fortunately, he has the vaccine that will bring them normalcy. A dramatic turn of events leads to panic and a phone call from Karen re-inviting the couple to the weekend getaway.

That initial set-up is brilliant and played to perfection. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to that standard. Things begin to falter once the couples begin showing up at the luxurious Airbnb booked by Patricia (Natalie Morales, BATTLE OF THE SEXES, 2017) and her husband, Donald, (Jon Daly, MASTERMINDS, 2016). The other two couples include Carla (Shannon Woodward, ODE TO JOY, 2019) and Maude (Kirby Howell Baptiste, “Barry”), and Gretel (Charlene Yi, THIS IS 40, 2012) and Richard (Breckin Meyer, ROAD TRIP, 2000). Until this point, we kind of liked Tom and Janet, and got a kick out of the annoyance shown by Karen and Val. However, once everyone is under the same roof, we realize just how unlikable these people are and how screwed up each relationship actually is. The smart dark comedy of Act 1 devolves into a party that we wish we weren’t at, with a twist that makes little sense.

It’s fun to see the familiar faces, and McHale and Biche are fun, but the hope we felt for that creative beginning never pays off. There is a “Twilight Zone” vibe to the premise and the Stranger, but even that is a letdown. The message the movie leaves us with is that people aren’t all good. It’s a message we live every day, not one for a comedy.

In theaters, on digital, and On Demand March 19, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER

 


TOO LATE (2016)

April 7, 2016

too late Greetings again from the darkness. The first feature film from writer/director Dennis Hauck has a number of elements that are appealing to movie lovers on the lookout for something a bit outside the box. It’s the type of film that would be a festival favorite, as it provides no shortage of “talking points” for discussion afterwards.

Of course, casting John Hawkes is always a good start. Here he plays a Private Investigator named Sampson. The story is presented in 5 segments – each filmed in one extended shot. Oh, and it’s not presented in sequential order, so some assembly is required. The real end to the story is not the same as the ending of the movie, and the beginning of the story is actually in the middle of the movie. Confused yet? Well a loss of equilibrium is what makes this one so much fun to watch. Characters and story lines are intertwined – some accidentally, some secretly, and some surprisingly.

Hawkes appears in each of the five segments, and sprinkled throughout you will find such recognizable faces as Robert Forster, Jeff Fahey, Natalie Zea, Joanna Cassidy, Crystal Reed, Dash Mihok, Rider Strong, Vail Bloom, Sydney Tamilia Poitier and singer Sally Jaye. A strip club, the Hollywood hills, a Park Ranger, a suicide, and multiple murders all are key pieces to the puzzle … and none are presented exactly as we would expect.

With an unpolished 1970’s look and feel, the film offers a touch of Tarantino (including some of the actors who have worked with him), but mostly the vibe is refreshingly throwback. Even the music … Joe Tex, Cowboy Junkies, etc … is a bit offbeat, and of course, any movie that references Genevieve Bujold and Choose Me deserves a special place in my heart. It may not be the typically structured PI murder mystery that we have come to expect, but an unusual approach and the performance of Hawkes, makes this one to see.

watch the trailer: