Category Archives: VOD

2017 TRIBECA NASTIES ON DVD: TAKE ME & HOUNDS OF LOVE

Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) gets tied up in Take Me.

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USA
Director: Pat Healy
Runtime: 85 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading: C–

Bad movies exist in all shapes and sizes and have only one purpose: to make you wonder what went wrong that they deserve to be considered such. Maybe it was the direction that was too flat, or too uninviting; perhaps the acting was so bad it bordered on camp; there’s a laundry list of possible misfires that could have contributed to the failure of a movie to deliver and be remembered in a good way. Tribeca, a film festival that often showcases films by new and rising directors, sometimes takes the word ‘new’ and runs with it; for a festival that showcases nearly 100 films of all shapes, sizes, and genres during its two week run in April, it can have the luxury to show several turkeys and still get away with it (and make a neat profit).

Take Me, an incompetent comedy-thriller-character piece directed and acted by Pat Healy, an indie character actor whose most notable credit was being the creepy-as-fuck voice of the ‘cop’ in the Craig Zobel indie thriller Compliance from 2012, falls under that nebulous category of bad film that makes it to Tribeca because, film, right? To explain: somehow, the movie gets selected, bows at Tribeca, and lands in  VOD distribution (although it has a guaranteed slot at the midnight hour at IFC for a week or two). There, it thrives at a price of 6.99, a price much preferable than its 15 dollar tag in theaters, and people like me and you can watch without feeling cheated out of our hard-earned money and forget about it moments later. Not to digress about the film, but I guess it just shows that anyone with access to a camera can make a movie, but hey, what do I know. Let’s just say, this is one smelly turkey.

To keep it short, the premise is almost identical to the one Neil LaBute presented in his much superior Some Velvet Morning (a movie I highly recommend you watch on Prime for free if you haven’t; it’s that good). The crucial difference is that of subtlety. LaBute’s little film is a masterclass in restraint that threatens to explode between the two actors cohabiting a tense New York apartment and with dialog that melts from their viperous lips; Take Me offers no such gifts in dialog or performances and is basically blunt-force trauma masquerading as edgy cinema. From the word go we know what is happening; Healy runs an agency that pretends to kidnap people for a space of 8 hours as fetish — basically, an S & M company in which the person will be abducted, tortured, and released, all for a fee that Healy will collect. This time, however, he gets a call from a woman, Anna St Clair (Schilling) who wants to disappear for a weekend and is not afraid to get slapped around. She’s willing to pay him a plum sum upfront, mind you.

Healy takes the offer, and while the abduction sequence is still disturbing to see as it’s filmed dead on, and it’s followed by an interrogation sequence that while bizarre is still jarring, it never really makes us feel that this is something real (the movie has a lengthy prologue, and as if to nail it, another explanatory scene, with the intention of letting us know what we’re in for). Something starts to emerge in the fallout of the two actor’s encounter. It looks for a good while that Anna might not even know why she’s in the predicament and a news item seems to confirm that. Healy wonders if he’s in over his head, and tries to work things out with Anna, but Anna shifts from victim to temptress so quickly, and we never truly connect with Healy’s character, that it becomes impossible to watch except from a distance and look at the clock to see how much time there is left to this.

It is a shame because there are a couple of moments when Take Me adds little spark to its narrative: there is a side character, Healy’s sister (Alicia Delmore), who leaves a comic impression so strong that one would wish the movie had brought her in to complicate matters to a boiling degree. However, the two leads are so unsympathetic in every way that we just get to watch them go through the motions and attempt to out-guess where they’ll go next and what will the story turn into. A third act power reversal proves little cleverness in the plot procedures, and by the time the credits start rolling, I felt as though my time had been wasted by a story that didn’t quite pull it together. Take Me is not the movie you want to see if you like smart thrillers. For that, stick to The Game, or Some Velvet Morning.

HOUNDS OF LOVE
Australia
Director: Ben Young
Runtime: 108 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies grading: B+

Inspired, it seems, by the Moorhouse Murders, a series of crimes committed by David and Catherine Birnie who abducted, raped, tortured, and killed four women (their fifth was unsuccessful) in the 1980s, Hounds of Love is a gritty exploration of the darkest forms of love between two psychopaths addicted to their own perversions. The opening is a shocker for its combination of slow-motion images of girls playing volleyball in a Perth high school, while a couple, John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth) stalk them in a vehicle. Cut to a scene later in the middle of the afternoon as the couple approaches one of the girls as she walks home and offer her a ride. The girl accepts. We later see shots of her, dead, in the White’s home. It’s all done in one short chilling series of takes, effectively laying out how matter-of-fact something as horrifying as snuffing the life out of a person can me under the right circumstances.

And of course, once is never enough. We’ll never know how many murders the Whites may have committed but it’s clear that where there was one, there will be more. And, sure enough, shortly after we get introduced to Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), a troubled teenager angry over the split between her parents Maggie and Trevor (Susie Porter and Damian de Montemas), we see her on her way to a party while staying with her mother and getting lured into the White’s vehicle. The abduction sequence is so brilliantly done, because it starts out as casual conversation between neighbors, evolves into an offer that plays onto Vicki’s own innocence, then lands her into the nightmare hell that is the White house as they, in one static shot, chain Vicki onto a bed while she kicks and screams for help.

Luckily, Ben Young, the director behind this explosive debut picture, isn’t content to turn this into another version of exploitation or abduction porn. Vickie may be young but she’s not naive and look for her interactions with Evelyn to unsettle her and perhaps by doing so, secure her own freedom. Look for how delicate certain scenes between Vicki and John are handled — yes, they are perverse, but then again, how can one approach what must be suburban hell where death is certain without venturing into queasy territory? Where the movie plays strongest is in focusing on Evelyn and John and their twisted dynamics: Evelyn, implied to be a willing victim who’s allowed herself to be a puppet for John’s deviant passions, rants and rages at the very thought that Vicki could be a possible replacement in a scene where John takes Vicki into a room but locks the doors, leaving Evelyn the third wheel. John meanwhile, continues to deliver promises to kill the girl . . . when in fact he has no intention of doing so.

Hounds of Love won’t be for everybody due to its subject matter, a topic that has become almost ubiquitous on Discovery ID (if you follow some of their shows about evil women or twisted couples). There is always danger to overdo the sexual violence against a younger person and on at least one occasion it gets almost too hard to watch. However, this is a strong, muscular debut picture that is much more restrained even in its more harrowing moments. It’s to its success that it also has a trio of actors committed not only to the ugliness of the situation at hand but at their psychological make-up, Add to that a slight twist that builds to a remarkably suspenseful crescendo and you have yourselves one damn good movie and a director to pay attention to.

Hounds of Love is available on VOD via Amazon Prime. Take Me is on Netflix On Demand.

SWEET SWEET LONELY GIRL

SWEET SWEET LONELY GIRL
USA
Director: A. D. Calvo
Runtime: 76 minutes
Language: English

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

What is it about fragile young women and old Victorian mansions with windows so menacing they almost look as though they have an evil intelligence that goes so well together in the makings of Gothic horror? I’ll only guess that it has to be the fact that someone less impressionable might not be as ripe for a gradual possession as someone more withdrawn and in-tune with their inner lives and what only they themselves can see, but what do I know? Ultimately, however, what haunts Adele (Erin Wilhelmi) is not the supernatural, but her own aching loneliness — she’s been sent to care for her aging aunt Dora (Sally Kellerman), a woman who’s become a complete and utter recluse, who’s left Adele a series of notes with instructions as to the management of the house and groceries written in handwriting so ornate as to seem from another time completely. Adele, none too happy with her situation, complies, not without a faint sense of “why me”.

And then she bumps into Beth (Quinn Shephard). The two girls could not be more dissimilar. While Adele is as waifish as they come, with long, golden hair parted severely in the middle and landing in exact geometric length halfway down her back, Beth is darker, more assertive, and worldly. The two take a liking to each other that seems almost too perfect to be true . . . fated, if you will. And  yet, the story moves along at its own pace, letting these two women breathe, share stories, experiences, and information that is vital to the bond that seems to be getting stronger between them. In the meantime, any attempt to reconnect with Aunt Dora goes unfulfilled–it seems as though something terrible has transpired in a time and a place before Adele was even born, yet has trickled down upon her head like an inherited crown of thorns.

But, back to the relationship between Beth and Adele. Because this is a horror movie — slow burn, creepy as all get out and with a palette completely drained of life, making even its bright 70s colors seem dusty and remote — it’s inevitable that whatever the two get into will not end well, and I really don’t want to give too much away because . . . well, you have to see it for yourself. If you get references as wide and varied as Robert Wise’s The Haunting of Hill House, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, and made-for-television fare such as Burnt Offerings in which a house seems to turn its people into something darker, you will enjoy Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl. The three actresses are perfect in their roles — with both Shephard and Wilhelmi complementing each other to near perfection, and Kellerman making the most of her barely-there scenes. I won’t call it a masterpiece — it’s certainly not — but it’s a work that pays homage to a kind of horror that was more rising dread and what-the-fuck endings that were quite common for a time in the 60s and 70s and have since been making a slow but steady comeback with films like The Witch, The Duke of Burgundy, Darling, and The Eyes of My Mother.

Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl is currently playing at Shudder.

BAND AID

BAND AID
USA
Director: Zoe Lister-Jones
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Ever since Cassavetes and Bergman tackled their versions of marriage on the rocks in their now excellent dramas Faces and Scenes from a Marriage I’ve been waiting for a movie that at least attempts to approximate what it is that can make a marriage work even when it seems that, from the word go, it’s doomed to fail at every turn. Come have come close, some have slightly missed the mark, and that’s okay. In her first feature film, Zoe Lister-Jones (currently seen in Life in Pieces) basically becomes a one-woman show as director, writer, producer, lead actress, and lead musical performer, in a deceptively comic film about a couple caught in a rut  she holds nothing back: Anna (herself) and Ben (the totally gorgeous Adam Pally  who looks more and more like Joaquin Phoenix without the excessive brooding looks) are at each other’s throats over who gets to do the dishes. It’s an every day situation that anyone who’s been involved with another person can relate to: that point where even the slightest tick can set off a firestorm of comments that escalate and turn nasty, usually devolving the entire thing into a litany of “fuck yous” that basically erode away at the glue that would keep a couple together.

But before we get into the story, a a little back story gets thrown in about who these two people are. That’s essential, because that is precisely what shapes the fabric of LIster-Jones’ sharp observation about a couple facing the death of their relationship. Ben has had trouble keeping a job due to his personality and is more than happy to stay home and be “wife”. Anna, on the other hand, is a little more complex than that. Once upon a time she had Book Deal (and I’m not being too on the nose when capitalizing this event in Anna’s life). The Book Deal didn’t fall through; she’s been wallowing in barely suppressed self-pity while observing her other friends lead apparently Successful Lives and making ends meet as an Uber driver.

Somewhere down the line both Anna and Ben come across the revelation that perhaps they could use music to fill the void that their angst as a couple is creating. It’s no secret that most successful bands have used their personal turmoil to create some truly memorable songs,  and while it seems that Anna and Ben register hit some sharp notes while coming up with some songs in the alternative/punk style, just when they’re about to hit it big, Anna seems to be doing this with the expectation of securing some sort of greater compensation — a record deal, perhaps? — and finally make her mark in the world. Other heretofore issues that had been deftly placed in the background suddenly come to the surface, old pains materialize and bleed raw with emotion, and it seems that these ghosts that will not die might take a toll after all on this adorable couple.

I really don’t want to say more about Band Aid — it is that good, and mind you, this is a movie shot with next to no ‘style’, no flair other than a documentary-like feel, a sense of cinema verite perhaps, and Lister-Jones and Pally’s wonderful, electric performances that almost jump off the screen and sit right next to you. If you want to see what an unscripted marriage looks like, with all its ups and downs, moments of hilarity, awkwardness, sudden desire, sudden hatred for each other, hatred stemming out of deep, unresolved pathos, this is the movie to watch and it’s one of the breakouts for this year in my opinion. Watch for Fred Armisen, Brooklyn Decker, Colin Hanks, and Susie Essmann in small, but scene-stealing roles.

Band Aid is currently playing at the IFC in NYC and will be released on VOD platforms June 9th. Go see it.

ON VOD: THE VOID

THE VOID
Canada
Director: Jeremy Gillespie / Steven Kostanski
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Horror is becoming fashionable retro and I like it! Gone and seeping into the background to make a quick buck and be forgotten are the bloated miseries of the likes of Annabelle and Exorcist rip-offs, no more do we see found footage horror movies with the same anticipation as when Paranormal Activity took that genre into a new territory (and subsequently ripped it to shreds). Thanks to SXSW, Fantastic Fest, and late night sections on Tribeca, Cannes, and Sundance, now we’re getting edgier material that doesn’t shy away from bringing the type of horror that made franchises back into the world of indie film-malking.

Case in point, this little-known movie that swam in several film festivals before making it to its perfunctory, one-week theatrical run at Cinema Village (as it also saw its release in VOD platforms). The Void doesn’t have any lofty aspirations than to tell a slick, tense horror story in a muscular 90 minutes of screen time, and it basically recreates everything you came to love about 80s horror movies, (many which had their own franchises that occasionally still pop up in video), and if you like your gore to the wall, your half-seen creatures alive with tentacles all over the place, and a completely surreal turn that only someone like Sam Raimi in his heyday would have produced without a shred of irony and a wink of an eye, then this one’s for you.

The Void starts with a bang — a shocking scene of violence that starts with two vigilantes and ends with one woman going up in flames. We don’t know much else, but we cut to an officer on duty (Aaron Poole) talking to his girlfriend (Kathleen Munroe) who encounters a badly injured man crawling along the road. He drives the man to the nearby hospital that apparently, must be run on a skeleton crew of a handful, but I’m not here to nit-pick. It doesn’t take long for hospital personnel to subdue the injured man who is in a frenzy (and might be on drugs, it seems), but there are other forces at work . . . and they’re about to zero in on this hospital and literally, in the most Lovecraftian sense, unleash hell.

The Void is a pretty solid horror movie that even with its limited budget doesn’t crack under the pressure and manages to deliver some visceral shocks and neat plot twists as it plunges towards its very dark abyss. Lovers of the aforementioned master of the weird, Stephen King at his goriest, and references to Clive Barker will have a hoot with this one, especially when the directors pull out all the stops and show just how good they are in not only building up a terrific sense of suspense with some clever editing, but more importantly, showing the thing that’s been hiding in the dark for who knows how long. Recommended.

PREVENGE

PREVENGE
UK
Director: Alice Lowe
Runtime: 88 minutes
Language: English

5/5

If you like your comedy as black as Vantablack then Alice Lowe’s new movie, which she turned into a one-woman show (she stars, wrote, and directed it at breakneck speed while seven months pregnant) will be a hoot from start to finish. [Viewers may remember her several years back in another indie movie called Sightseers.] Alice revisits her psychopathic universe by telling the story of a very pregnant Ruth whose baby is talking to her, giving her orders to murder people. If pregnancy weren’t that difficult already! [I don’t know — I’ve never been, but I’ve witnessed it’s no walk in the park to be that close to a ticking time bomb.]

That is precisely what Ruth is — a smiling, human ticking time bomb. Her unborn baby’s orders drive her to do just that, off a random group of people that she happens to meet on the go, when it turns out that there may be some deeper truth to the madness. Ruth expresses through us the sheer hell that it can be to not just be a newly single woman trying to make ends meet but also one that tries to right a wrong — it’s the way she casually goes by it, almost as if this were just another casualty of daily living or, as she tells a woman while holding a knife, “I am a working mother.”

I’m not going to lie, I was howling in laughter through most of the movie’s best parts, so I wonder if perhaps I may have some weird stunted sense of sympathy, empathy . . . oh, who knows. Prevenge is as twisted and demented as they come, it’s got Alice Lowe dominating every scene from start to finish, and it gives you a wallop of an ending that will tell you perhaps it’s not about revenge at all. Since its release March 24 (NYC had a special presentation on March 20th at IFC), it’s been playing at limited showings — you can only see it at the 10 o’clock hour at the IFC. Watch it on Shudder, where it is available for free.

Prevenge will be released soon on iTunes and other online platforms.

CATFIGHT

 

CATFIGHT
USA
Director: Onur Tukel
Runtime: 95 minutes
Language: English

3.75/5

Frenemies come together; chaos ensues, and that, in a nutshell, is your movie, still playing in theaters around the country and on VOD platforms. There is a running satire concurrent with the main story that reflects to a larger political climate in which we, as inhabitants of our own micro-cosmos, can’t seem to find a middle ground without wrecking the shit out of each other, but the movie per se is less invested in that unless it’s by occasionally throwing glimpses at the state of affairs abroad and our entries into the wars under the Bush regime.

At least, the extremely appropriately titled Catfight lets its two female leads — Sandra Oh and Anne Heche, both sharp TV comedians — to let loose and really go for roles that are absolutely unsympathetic from start to finish, redeem themselves not an inch even at the face of abject tragedy, and seem to be aware that they’re trapped in an endless loop that skips on its own groove. The women are ex-college classmates and the reason of their dislike is nebulous, if ever mentioned. How they get together is through circumstance: Veronica is a trophy wife living in SoHo and married to a guy who’s just secured a deal with a mid-Eastern nation. He’s in celebratory mode. Serving drinks the party are Anne and her girlfriend Lisa (Alicia Silverstone, in a nice supporting touch). Anne is a talented artist struggling in Bushwick, but her paintings are so extremely aggressive — basically red on red violence — that they don’t really sell. Interestingly enough, Veronica gets introduced by cutting her son’s artistic dreams down for something more practical, a thing that will haunt her later.

When Anne and Veronica meet exchanges are in the frosty pleasantries that people who are now essentially strangers share with each other (partly because they have to; partly because since they’re caught in situations they hate, they need to unload the venom on someone, and who better than the old college chum whom you’ll never see again? Think again, girls.

Anne’s humiliation at being put down by Veronica is complete and lands her in a stairwell. Drunk out of her mind, Veronica also winds up there, and both women, angry beyond etiquette, go to blows. The blows, mind you, are of the action variety — so ferocious that you realize it’s not Nicholas Cage or Keanu Reeves kicking the shit out of ten guys at once but two petite New York women. The thing is, Veronica takes a tumble down the stairs after a crucial blow to the head and wakes up two years later. In a hospital. Alone. No family, no assets; she’s basically homeless and dependent on the kindness of her former maid (Myra Lucretia Taylor) who takes Veronica in, introduces her to chambermaid work, and tells her a few less savory things about herself.

It’s here that Veronica learns that luck has been much kinder to Anne, now a famed artist gracing magazines the likes of ArtInfo (the movie uses a variant of the title but you can see where they were going). Anne is now not in struggling Bushwick but in the limelight, planning her first baby with Lisa, and is even more insufferable than Veronica ever was, humiliating her meek assistant Sally (Ariel Kavoussi) for using the color blue. while planing her next exhibit. Who should walk into the exhibit but Veronica, who sees a painting that resembles her. Guess what happens next.

The good thing about a movie like Catfight is that it isn’t trying to sell you a product better or with loftier aspirations that to see two women beat the shit out of themselves and still, somehow, continue ticking like a clock that just doesn’t know when to stop. Tukel amps up the satire by winking at you with the fight sequences, choreographed to death and with sound effects that magnify the sheer ridiculousness of these women’s predicament. Sometimes you need this kind of movie to take you out of the sheer seriousness of it all and deliver a (feel-good? ridiculous) story of women who should stay away from each other. Who cares if these women even evolve past their primal hatred? Anyone looking for a movie where two adversaries come together to sing “Kumbaya” should definitely not check this one out: forget Feud: Bette and Joan; this one is nihilistic, violent fun.

LAVENDER

LAVENDER
USA
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Runtime: 92 minutes
Language: English

1.5/5

Ever since Hitchcock used repressed memories as plot devices to narrate his formidable movies every director wanting to probe the waters of supernatural horror has tried to emulate the Master of Suspense, sometimes getting close like Christopher Dolan’s Memento, and sometimes misfiring badly, such as this new arrival onto the indie scene. It’s a shame because the story itself could have been a great platform for its lead actress to perform the heck out of a tormented character haunted by the past. Instead we get a color-by-numbers product that is as dead on arrival as its mystery.

In 1985 young Jane Ryer was found holding onto a knife, covered in blood, crouching in a corner of her house while her family lay lifeless before her. There was some speculation that she may have snapped, but who in their right mind would think a girl of her age would be able to produce this level of carnage? Fast forward to the present: now Jane Ryer has grown into a happy young woman married, with a daughter and a career as a photographer. A car accident (that happens just when she’s singing a piece of a child’s song, Lavender — hence the title, clever) lands Jane in the counsel of a psychiatrist (Justin Long) who attempts via therapy to induce her memories. A mysterious box arrives, and Jane realizes what it’s about.

Soon we see her being drawn back to the house where the events from 1985 occurred. This, instead of inducing an interest in a mystery, instead creates scenarios where anything and everything that is meant to be seen as a Portent of Horror happens: a red balloon with a key, a chase through a maze of bales of hay that leads to another gift box, and the requisite supernatural specters that have to make their appearance to remind you this is a thriller rife with horrific overtones. Meanwhile, Jane grows none the wiser and digs not an inch into her own psyche, but instead becomes a passive conduct for cheap scares that will inevitably play themselves out in the time the movie takes to get there, which at least here, is mercifully quick.

Lavender comes courtesy from Tribeca Film Festival, which should give you an idea of what you’re getting as cinematic entertainment. Abbie Cornish can, on occasion, motivate you to see her perform onscreen (as she did over 10 years ago in her debut picture Somersault) but ever since she’s been adrift and resembling a clone of Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts — all doll-faced, no character. Everyone else, especially Dermot Mulroney, else is wasted, the story falls apart, and you’re left with the feeling that you just got swindled. If at least there was a smidgen of style, Lavender could transcend its limitations but it never even tries to build any tension. A colossal waste of time.

ON VOD: DON’T KNOCK TWICE

DON’T KNOCK TWICE
UK
Director: Garadog W. James
Runtime: 93 minutes
Language: English

2/5

It’s kind of a tragedy that Don’t Knock Twice, a film barely released in US cinemas who seems to be playing well in On Demand platforms, didn’t embrace one half of its premise (estranged mother and daughter) and instead decided to go through the “there’s a witch and she’s nasty” plot that is so tired it may as well be dead on arrival. I would have preferred to have seen a  mother trying to reconnect with a daughter without having to also battle an external force. But, this is the world of low-budget VOD movies and films like these, made on the cheap in perhaps less than a month and released via IFC Midnight, so the expectations on coming into this one were on the slim.

Let’s just say i wasn’t disappointed. Don’t Knock Twice at least has the delicacy as to not deliver a prologue with a four-score-and-twenty-years-ago beginning that is somehow meant to inform the audience of some event that occurred before the movie’s timeline. (Actually, there is a sort of backstory, but that doesn’t show up until perhaps the first third of this short picture, to the film’s credit.) But back to the story: it happens that Jessica (Katee Sackhoff) is an artist and recovering addict who at one point gave up her daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton, the cool girl from Sing St. and horror mainstay), but now feels the  need to reconnect and give her a life.  Chloe at first doesn’t really give a hoot about Jess, but the “backstory” I just mentioned? It happens that Chloe and some friends go urban legend hunting at the house of a recluse accused of stealing children, who will only appear if you do what the title of the movie tells you not to do.

Guess what happens?

To the movie’s credit, there is some suspense where you don’t quite know who’s in league with the devil (so to speak). After Chloe shows up on Jess’ door asking to stay over and hoping that whatever it is that’s haunting her will disappear, the movie takes little time to develop any relationship the two could have and instead decides that the only way to resolve this situation is through the horror part, so we begin to get treated with the sounds of crying, an old lady walking the halls of Jess’ home, statues breaking, a nanny who freaks out when she sees Chloe and tells Jess that she’s got a black cloud over her (the same nanny, when Chloe produces a picture of the Baba Yaga, the demon she believes is haunting her, tells her not to believe what she sees on the internet). There are a couple of red herrings, but in a nutshell, Don’t Knock Twice implodes rather badly during its second half, and it even has the gall to wink towards a sequel towards the end.

Don’t Knock Twice, in short, is a pretty horrific mess of a picture with cardboard characters. It’s a shame — Boynton is a good actress, she was great in Sing St. and should be in better films. Hopefully she will be.

DETOUR

 

DETOUR

2.5/5

Quentin Tarantino and film-noir have influenced quite a bit of directors and Christopher Smith’s Detour wears its influences loud and clear to a shrill degree. [It even features a clip from the 1945 film of the same name, because Our Hero is a film buff.] I personally like both — I love the ultra-violence that explodes after a leisurely character buildup that only hints at who’s who, and I love noir because of the depths and depravity some characters will go to achieve their means, not to mention, twisty plots that sometimes leave holes unsolved, and feature memorable side characters, not to mention the necessary femme fatale. Detour, to be frank, is as unsubtle as a sledgehammer mashing its way through dry wall, and a hat-trick  that doesn’t feature a rabbit.

Detour attempts to pay homage to both Tarantino and noir by introducing what looks to be a troubled character in Tye Sheridan (previously seen in Mud, Joe, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and the direct-to-video Dark Places). Here he’s Harper, a rich kid studying law in an unnamed university. His mother is dying, and he fears his stepdad will pull the plug and take off with the family’s money. We’re made aware of this situation in a conversation Harper has with a rather self-involved friend who’s of no help to both the plot or Harper himself, but perhaps the director thought he’d make good comic relief early on.

Anyhow, we soon cut to a bar scene. This isn’t, it seems, the kind of bar any college kid would hang out at — but I may be wrong. There he overhears a conversation between three thugs, and one of them, Johnny Ray (Emory Cohen, a mass of uncontrollable masculine posturing that recalls a version of James Dean) approaches Harper with plans to get into a brawl. Harper blandly treats Johnny to a drink, the both have a conversation that involves murder for hire. The following day, when Johnny Ray along with his girlfriend Cherry (a wasted Bel Powley) actually show up to do Johnny’s part of the deal it seems Detour will turn into a version of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that it doesn’t, but instead, splits the film into two segments. One follows the three of them into Vegas territory; the other one leaves Harper at home. You’ll have to watch this movie to see what Smith is trying to do with his split narrative, because while that technique has been used before, it doesn’t quite work inasmuch as it will confuse the heck out of you. But, let’s face it, there will be film buffs and cinephiles who love this sort of thing and will call it “inventiveness” in the narrative; to me, it just muddled things up.

ON VOD: MA

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

The only way I can classify Celia Rowlston-Hall’s movie is “experimental”. In many ways, it’s startling beautiful and inspired; in others, an absolute misfire that fails to launch. Her presentation of Mother Mary’s pilgrimage to the Great City has no dialogue except a couple of words spoken by a little girl towards the end (who also closes the feature singing “Amazing Grace”), and while the approach is closer to that of ballet or even performance art, it sort of leaves you to on your own to figure out what the heck is all this about.

When we see Ma, as she is called, she’s in the desert pouring sand over herself beatifically. She starts to walk, slowly, almost lurching, tentative, and certainly the scene is inspired — it’s as though Ma herself had been transported to a contemporary setting and was just realizing this wasn’t the Old Land anymore, but America. Her reaction to an approaching car while she walks in the middle of a road is but to crawl on top of it, and allow it to take her wherever the driver (Anthony Pastides) is going. She finds herself soon in a motel, and the image that we get from her in the nude is startling — reed thin, awaif  with nearly unformed breasts — the perfect virgin, you would think. Once naked, she settles in, reacts to the emotions the television offers, and soon an intimate, sensual moment emerges. It’s almost as though Ma were discovering that while she may be a virgin and pure, she’s also a woman, filled with longing and desire. That desire gets broken by an act of possible rape, and the Rowlston-Hall makes the glaring, obscene error of having the motel concierge (Amy Seimetz) bite and pop a cherry between her teeth. This is, to me, the single misstep Ma makes, and as a woman, I would think Rowlston-Hall would have treated this scene with a little more subtlety.

Ma finds herself alternating between the desert and the hotel, where she seems to undergo a gradual personality change. A baptism of sorts is the catalyst, and her hair becomes shorter, shorter still, until she emerges looking as a young man, dressed in man’s clothes. She leads the same people who inhabit the world of the motel into the pilgrimage, carrying drawers and other pieces of furniture as in a form of penitence for having diminished her. Once she makes it to the City — which turns out to be a seemingly deserted Vegas, populated only by a handful of showgirls and children, she makes her way  up what seems to be an endless stairway, crying, coughing, collapsing. We’re then introduced to what seems to be an abstract nativity, itself truly a lovely, almost ethereal moment that elevates the entire picture to a state of quiet meditation.

Ma is going to be a headscratcher for people not used to this type of cinema — it takes patience to observe without analyzing, to see Rowlson-Hall move gracefully across the camera and look at the us, the audience, with her sad, crystal blue eyes as if she were dressed in the pain and suffering of everyone. It doesn’t always work, it might even be a little weird, but I would say this is a rewarding experience for art-cinema lovers and even the curious film-goer who doesn’t mind an abstraction of the visual language.