WE BROKE UP (2021)

April 22, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. They’ve been together for 10 years, and when Doug proposes – seemingly spontaneously – to Lori, her reaction is ‘slightly’ askew from what he expected. The real question here is, how do two people have a 10 year romantic relationship and never once discuss marriage, kids, a house, or literally anything to do with their future? That’s the premise for the dramedy from writer director Jeff Rosenberg and co-writer Laura Jacqmin.

Aya Cash (“Fosse/Verdon” and a Jodie Whitaker lookalike) stars as Lori, longtime girlfriend of Doug, played by William Jackson Harper (MIDSOMMAR, 2019). If the proposal-gone-wrong and subsequent fallout weren’t uncomfortable enough, the timing couldn’t be much worse. Lori and Doug are scheduled to leave for her sister’s wedding, and both have roles in the wedding party … he’s “King of the Ushers”. Since staying away is not an option, the dilemma they face is whether to announce the break-up or pretend everything is fine until the vows are exchanged. They decide not to spoil the wedding and head off to Camp Arrowhead, the former summer camp site that the wedding couple selected for the ceremony.

Sarah Bolger (IN AMERICA, 2002) plays Bea, Lori’s betrothed sister. She’s been dating Jayson (Tony Cavalero, “School of Rock” TV series) for a whole month, and the two energetic free-spirits are total personality opposites from Lori and Doug. As mother of the two girls, Peri Gilpin (“Frasier”) is a tad less than supportive of her daughter’s spontaneous life decisions, while initially clueless to the difficulties faced by her stable and dependable daughter.

The film is well acted by the leads, but most of it feels like a missed opportunity to explore the psychological differences of the sisters or the effects of a long-term “comfortable” relationship with no eye towards the future. Both of the topics are begging for more in-depth coverage, and instead we are left with mostly predictable behavior. One couple that is too fast to the altar, while the other is too slow, presents a goldmine of opportunity. On the bright side, there are some small moments and subtle jokes and gags that are beautifully executed and work much better than the overall comedy efforts. Filmed at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, the film touches on anger and hurt and excitement, and all emotions attached to love and relationships.

In theaters and On Demand April 23, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


END OF SENTENCE (2020)

May 28, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. The pandemic has put most blockbusters and mainstream releases on hold, allowing the projects of many first time filmmakers to jump to the front of the line for exposure to critics and streaming platforms. Director Elfar Adalstein’s first feature film stems from a screenplay by Michael Armbruster (BEAUTIFUL BOY, 2010) and covers familiar ground in an unfamiliar manner, enhanced by gorgeous scenery and a couple of terrific performances.

Frank Fogel (John Hawkes, WINTER’S BONE, 2010) and his wife Anna (Andrea Irvine) are visiting their son Sean (Logan Lerman, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, 2012) in an Alabama prison. Sean is serving time for stealing a car, and his mother is there to tell him goodbye. Frank and Sean are estranged, so there is no father-son visit. After the funeral, Frank shows up on Sean’s day of release to convey the mother’s death bed wish … father and son are to travel together and spread her ashes on her favorite lake in Ireland. Sean has no interest in traveling with dad and only wishes to get to California for a fresh start.

Of course there would be no movie if the two men didn’t eventually take the trip together, and we notice immediately that Frank, though a man of conviction, doesn’t appear to have a strong backbone. Sean, acting the jerk, clearly holds a grudge against the father he views as not protecting him from an abusive grandfather during childhood. These are deep wounds that may go deeper if there is to be a chance for healing. A wake in mom’s Ireland hometown reveals secrets of her past, and results in the men taking in Jewel (Sarah Bolger, one of the young daughters in Jim Sheridan’s excellent IN AMERICA, 2002) as a hitchhiker. Jewel has her own secrets and agenda, and seems to both further divide father and son, while also helping pull them together. This segment is very well written and acted.

The father-son road trip is really nothing new, though the setting of Ireland, with its stunning countryside captured by cinematographer Karl Oskarsson make it a visual treat. But more than that, the basic story is elevated thanks to the work of Mr. Hawkes (a previous Oscar nominee) and Mr. Lerman. The two excellent actors make the strained relationship seem real, rather than hokey or manipulative. We sense Frank’s pain in discovery, and Sean’s pent-up frustration that softens when he learns more of the history. On the downside, three musical/song interludes is two too many, but fortunately the performances overcome these storytelling shortcuts. Self-discovery, the acceptance of others, and the importance of family ties are all at play here, in addition to some quirky life philosophy: “Sometimes you’re the pigeon. Sometimes you’re the statue. That’s life.”

Available VOD on May 29, 2020

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THE LAZARUS EFFECT (2015)

February 26, 2015

lazarus Greetings again from the darkness. In this day of direct-to-video and movie streaming, it’s a bit surprising that one like this secures a theatrical release. But then it does have a solid cast and a producer who has a proven track record of profitable box office success with low budget horror. The other thing it has going for it is the time of year – there is not much being released right now that can draw the weekend teenage groups, the audience this is clearly aimed at.

Horror movies can be fun, and with a cast that includes Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover and Evan Peters, this one has the foundation to develop a following. However, what starts out like a new age “religion vs science” battle, ends up as a schlocky pseudo-intellectual gore fest. It teases us by mentioning the big questions: What happens when we die? Is it possible to bring back the dead? Should we even try? There are philosophical and ethical questions that are just as relevant as the religious ones.  Unfortunately, the teases offer no payoff and instead we are left with cheesy special effects and a demonic presence that is not so interesting.

When a movie disappoints like this, comparing it to better pictures seems unfair; however, there are elements of Flatliners (1990), Pet Sematary (1989), and of course James Whale’s classic Frankenstein (1931). We even get an “IT’S ALIVE” reference, tongue-in-cheek though it is. The biggest difference is that all three of those films knew exactly what they were trying to accomplish, whereas this first feature film from director David Gelb is a mish-mash of genres and styles.

The basic premise is that lovers, and co-researchers at a Catholic university, Frank (Duplass) and Zoe (Wilde), along with their assistants Clay (Peters), Niko (Glover) and Eva (Sarah Bolger, one of the sisters from the great IN AMERICA from 2002), began by looking for a way to extend brain activity in comatose patients. Their work evolved into attempting to bring the dead back to life. It’s no surprise – and included in the trailer – that one of the group dies and the experimental serum is used to reanimate that person. You probably won’t be surprised at this … things don’t go well.

There are some interesting moments and elements – the recurring dream sequence plays out well, but most of the good stuff is quickly dropped in favor of jolts of shock and awe. Jump-scares abound and that will go over well with the Friday night teenagers, but few others will find much to like here. Producer Jason Blum has a real feel for this genre and has turned 50 cents into mega-millions with such movies as the Paranormal Activity franchise, The Purge, and Ouija among others. Mr. Blum has 21 projects in the works for 2015 alone, making him one of the most prolific producers working today. He will learn that it’s sometimes better to let dead dogs lie.

watch the trailer: