This is one of those movies where the whole time you’re watching it you feel like you’ve seen a lot of stories with the same elements before. It’s just a matter of how it ends.
George Almore, a robotics/neural engine professional (played by Theo James) works for a secret company in the year 2038 that allows him the technology to take the mind of his dead wife and attempt to stick her consciousness into a robot. Like a ton of futuristic movies have shown us, this one predicts that all TVs will suck, as if the rabbit ear antennas are misaligned. And they won’t even be in color! So we have that to look forward to.
We see that George has already built two boxy robots, one much smarter than the other. It’s a slow burn movie so to add some excitement, the smarter of the two robots has a teenager’s attitude problem. It’s one thing to have a badly behaved human kid in the house, but a rambunctious robot? I think not. In reality, you’d probably just shut it off. Blood is thicker than water, but a bad appliance is just a bad appliance.
George doesn’t shut off his fussy robot, because it’s a movie.
Eventually he builds a third robot that is so humanlike, it kind of saves the otherwise slow movie. Then threats from the outside world move in.
The ending will absolutely surprise you. Enough that it might be worth watching – if you can stay awake. Given a choice, if you’re looking for a story about a lifelike female robot with an intelligent mind, Ex Machina is a better film.
It’s rated (NR) but would be rated a soft PG if they bothered showing it to the Ratings Board. It went straight-to-video.
– Wait for Rental
The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion (NR)
This Korean movie was released with the title Manyeo in South Korea back in 2018 but only came to American VOD in 2020 with an English title. So I’ll treat it as a new movie release. (I suspect Hollywood tried to buy the rights to release an American version like they did with the Japanese hit film Ringu, which was blocked from American shores until the Hollywood scene-by-scene copy version was remade called The Ring.) Warner Bros. has finally distributed this Korean movie in the US. As for the bloated English language title, this is not a tale about a witch. But if it was submitted to the Hollywood Rating Board it would certainly receive a hard “R”.
Depending on where you look it up, it’s either listed as Horror, or Action & Adventure, Mystery & Suspense. It quite frankly fits in all those categories.
The story follows a little eight-year-old girl who escapes from a hellish government facility that uses barbaric WWII types of tests and genetic experiments on children. The facility personnel fail to chase her down once she reaches the neighboring forest area. They figure she’ll simply die in the Korean wilderness anyway within days so they stop searching for her.
She winds up curled up in the dirt near a rural farm where she is taken in by the couple and raised as their own daughter.
Years pass and we follow her into her high school days as a typical Korean student. The hardcore Korean culture (how they eat, communicate, etc.) will either be off-putting or insightful, depending on your tolerance for different cultures around the world. By the 10 minute mark you’ll know you’re not in Kansas anymore. By the 45 min. mark you’ll say, “This slow movie is a horror film? Are we being punked?”
Patience. Stick with it.
Once she enters a televised national singing contest where her cover is blown, the film switches gears as she is again pursued by those people from the past with odd special gifts. They can deliver death (action!) that turns this into a horror movie (or Action & Adventure, Mystery & Suspense, or a Tarantino-level killing film). It’s here that the movie takes off and gives Hollywood a run for their money.
The story circles back and is smarter than you think it will be. Great writing going on and the special effects of the hand-to-hand combat are simply incredible. The South Korean movie folks have all but caught up with Hollywood. I’ve never seen any other country up to this level when super strong folks are fighting. I expect most viewers will rewatch parts of it again. It’s that kind of movie.
At just over two hours, it’s probably fifteen minutes too long. But if you like retribution movies with no-nonsense violence, this one is a true diamond in the rough.
(In Korean with English subtitles)
– Wait for Rental
Last Moment Of Clarity (R)
This movie reminds me of the type of movie Brain De Palma directs. Which is a good thing if you like Brain De Palma movies. He’s directed some great ones, so let’s presume for the moment that you do like his stuff. Movies like Dressed to Kill, or Body Double. Both are slow burns with layer after layer revealed like peeling an onion.
Because this movie slowly reveals crazy stuff that you would never see coming, YOU CAN’T WATCH THE TRAILER BEFOREHAND.
The nutshell of the story: What if your long-time girlfriend (who was interested in acting) is dead, but years later while watching a newly released Hollywood movie in a theater you could swear you see her on the silver screen? This happens to Sam in this stright-to-video movie, Last Moment Of Clarity.
Great idea for a movie, right? Especially when there’s so much more to it.
So it starts out like an independent film with a drunken cameraman filming unimpressive shots in Paris. So far so bad. But don’t give up. They obviously fired the vodka-fiend and the film becomes more polished as it goes.
Even still, about halfway though, just when you think to yourself, Why on Earth did Jim recommend this turkey? they’ll start peeling back and revealing layers of the onion. A little at a time. That’s when you’ll want to cook up some popcorn and keep going.
I’m not saying this Sam guy who’s obsessed with his dead ex isn’t a whack-job. I think he is. And he doesn’t articulate well when put on the spot. But that hardly puts women off. If you’ve ever driven past a prison (and who among us doesn’t like to do that occasionally?) you’ll see plenty of nice looking young women walking in to see their whack-job, thug boyfriends. Disappointing but true.
Actresses are whacky. Girls who sported a mohawk back in high school are whacky. Dudes who fly from Paris to LA on a hunch to find their dead girlfriend in crazy Hollywood are whacky. All of the people described above are in this film. And I’ll bet De Palma is perturbed that he wasn’t given this script.
Anyway, there are enough layers that it’s a satisfying ride to see how it all plays out.
There are some nitpicks, but here’s the most offensive one:
In this movie, Sam leaves his bicycle unlocked in multiple locations in Paris. I’ve met a lot of European folks in Thailand who ride bicycles back home. You absolutely cannot leave your bicycle, locked or unlocked, unattended out on the streets of Paris. It will be stolen. In five minutes. Worse than NYC. You always have to bring it inside with you. Google “Bicycle theft in Paris.” Over 400,000 bikes are stolen per year in France. It’s off-the-charts bad.
– Wait for Rental
A young man is abducted by aliens in this straight-to-video movie that tries to be too many things and only occasionally succeeds. It had a Kickstarter budget that brings it up to the polish level of Logan’s Run from 1976. Or a low-budget Syfy Channel series. A low budget means that the orchestral music never quite matches the scenes we’re watching. It’s close but no cigar, which stands out like a sore thumb. But the biggest shortcoming with such a low budget is the casting. The actors are quirky-looking rejects from the Hollywood Island of Misfit Toys with either cheese grated faces, ultra wide bug-eyed stares or genetic misfires. They can act, but nobody with a clear vision and a budget wants to commit any of these people to film much less close-ups.
I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version of the story so you won’t have to waste 2 hours of your life sitting though this Kickstarter disaster shaking your head that you were taken for a few dollars.
** OBVIOUS SPOILERS BELOW **
The movie starts out in 1979 in an Alaskan timber project. A UFO shows up and a human abduction occurs. Then it flips to “Present Day” but then stays in a retro-world of the early nineties with tape machines and clunky personal computers. The director wisely avoids any close shots of automobiles that are always a telltale sign of the era. He even puts the lead kid on a bicycle riding to work in California. They carefully avoid or keep background cars unfocused in all shots. There’s some vintage cell phone use but mostly landlines. The kid is toting a $5,000 JVC KY1900 video recorder that’s so big you basically sit it on your shoulder to film with it. It came out in 1982 but because there was no Internet back then (Compuserve text pre-Internet at best) we’ll presume it’s just this kid’s old trusty video camera he’s still using in the 90’s.
As the California residents witness what looks like a large meteor streaming across the sky, this kid is in a perfect position to walk up close to the impact site in the mountains where he films the craft and alien visitor before his abduction where he’s then missing for three days without his even knowing it.
But they slip up on the timeline and add a social media scene where the lead kid posts his alien abduction video on a YouTube precursor that acts and feels very YouTubeish. Sort of like a parallel universe where things were discovered out of order, but clearly not an intentional part of the story. It’s more of a movie crutch to keep the story alive. Regardless, posting abduction videos online that get a lot of Likes will also get you some unwanted attention.
Next we’re thrust into a Men in Black type of government facility with futuristic humanoids dressed in white leather uniforms you’d find in a fetish shop on Hollywood Blvd in the 90’s. But with his alien-abducted unexplained special set of Sci-Fi mental skills this kid is able to escape this high-tech research lab along with his also abducted misfit toy actress in tow. As they burst out of a random exit they find themselves in a jungle – in Costa Rica! We (and the kid) knows this because of the conveniently located ox-pulled wagon going by with a colorful El Café de Costa Rica painted on the side.
It’s here we get 80’s keyboard-centric music playing over slow motion shots of our fugitives in an MTV style video as they trudge along Costa Rican dirt roads with the white leather fetish humanoids on white futuristic motorcycles in hot pursuit. Soon enough they meet a bug-eyed misfit toy hacker who helps them on their quest to find the leader of the abducted ones who has all the answers they need.
So the bearded, bug-eyed misfit toy negotiates to get a pilot to fly the three of them in a seaplane from Costa Rica to Vancouver, British Columbia to save the day. Hilarious! That’s a straight line fight of 3,516 miles. In a commercial jet that would take over 7 hours. Further than a coast-to-coast US fight. Taking that journey in a propeller seaplane that can only land on water, the scenic flight along the California coast would be a laughably longer route. Looking into it, a typical seaplane flies at a leisurely 80 MPH (VS. 500+ MPH for a commercial jet). Not even taking into account the necessary seaplane fuel stops every 400 miles, it would be a 44 hour flight as the crow flies, in a cramped 4-seater plane with no bathroom onboard or food/drink service. Only astronauts would sign up for such torture. It would have been a less asinine plot hole if they had suddenly introduced teleportation into the story.
So we end up at a Unabomber-fashioned cabin-in-the-woods finale complete with a Ted Kaczynski wannabe hermit right at ground zero where the aliens are coming back for another visit in three days. Why are the aliens so intent on examining humans? Because of their quest to know more about this guy that Westerners call Jesus. Really.
The movie doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. And these actors had better not quit their day jobs.
A Good Woman Is Hard To Find (NR)
This foreign movie came out in 2019 but it’s now streaming during the Wuhan Virus Pandemic in 2020. It’s the first “gem” I’ve seen in a while.
If you can refrain from watching the trailer beforehand I think the movie will pack a bigger punch. Just go with my synopsis instead:
A woman is struggling to raise her two small children in Belfast, Northern Ireland after her husband is murdered. To add to her bad luck, a young man randomly pushes his way into her flat and tells her he wants to deal his stolen drugs out of her home for a while. Things quickly go downhill from there.
You’ve heard it all before, but this movie goes places you won’t expect, which I applaud. It’s not easy for a script to stray off the well worn path that we’ve all come to expect. I’m sick and tired of watching women fall down when chased more than three feet. This director feels the same way. It earns it’s NR rating but in a thoughtful way, for a change.
If you don’t use the subtitles feature you’ll miss a lot. So enable that from the start. A lot of talking under the breath going on.
– Wait for Rental
Vin Diesel stars as a US soldier in combat overseas. At some point he’s killed (if you watched the trailer you already know too much about the specifics and should curse Hollywood).
But he’s brought back to life with futuristic nanotechnology that heals any future injuries instantly. Yeah, it’s based on a comic book character – which is the deep well Hollywood is pumping dry by the minute. But at least the number of indestructible characters are held to a minimum here as he brings justice down on the wicked.
The special effects are up to today’s expectations and the action level will keep you interested throughout. At one point there is a semi-truck full of flour that overturns in a tunnel. Anyone from the Midwest is aware of grain silo (elevator) explosions. You’d better not have even a spark in that tunnel. Yet here, the bad guys light flares to see through the massive cloud of flour particles. LOL
That airborne flour would immediately ignite like a dynamite charge and kill everyone in the tunnel. It’s called a fuel-air explosion. Regardless of how the script was written, I’ll bet the pyrotechnics guys on the set mentioned it. And anyone involved in the film who stayed awake in high school science class.
Eiza González co-stars as the tough laboratory love interest. She’s solid in the part and was terrific in Baby Driver as the gangster girlfriend. She deserves more work in Hollywood.
Of course there’s also the requisite black comic relief character who’s wicked-smart at coding, so we have all the bases covered to bake this Hollywood cake.
Overall it’s theater-worthy, if you liked other Vin Diesel movies. It’s less raucous than the 27 Fast & Furious films that have made a bazillion dollars. So that’s a plus.
– See it on the Big Screen
The Invisible Man (R)
As we’ve seen all too often over the last two years, in their rush to get their Hollywood trailers onto the internet ASAP to get a buzz going, the scene depicted in the thumbnail above and all the trailers was cut from the final theatrical release.
There have been a ton of invisible people movies over the decades. In this version a wife runs from her abusive billionaire husband in the middle of the night and tries to make herself disappear in the conventional way. She later discovers he’s made himself disappear in a much more extraordinary way. After he successfully tracks her down, he leaves her obvious clues to reveal he’s really not dead after all. That’s just one of dozens of silly things about this farce of a movie.
After going through all that trouble, why leave her clues? Why not just do whatever it is he wants to do to her? Huge plot holes abound and unlike the villain, none of those gaping holes are invisible to us.
We follow long camera shots that may or may not be tracking the invisible man, if he’s even really there at the time. Or, we may be the camera “seeing what the invisible man sees” as he skulks around the house. Maybe. There are too many red herring camera moves to really care by the halfway point. There are times where he must also possess teleportation, or mind reading, or transform into a fly that can dart through a closing door way too quickly for a human to step through. Or perhaps he’s ghost-like and can pass though walls?
None of it matters a lick. The script is beyond silly. Why on Earth Rotten Tomatoes gave this film a huge thumbs up is beyond me. Rotten Tomatoes has become as irrelevant as MTV.
If someone calls a cop and tells him his family member is in grave danger, “So go save the day!” – if the cop doesn’t then immediately call the cell phone of their own family member, but instead drives all the way across town to intervene, the year had better be before 2010. After that year, everyone had a decent cell phone within 2’ of them, if not in front of their nose. Especially teenagers. If the cell phone idea doesn’t immediately cross your mind as a faster solution, you should really change your meds.
Furthermore, anyone over the age of ten would quickly think of ways to defeat an invisible man who’s spying on them in their home. A hundred ways. Here’s one.
Grab your cell phone and purse and walk to the coat closet. Open the door and quickly close the door behind you. There. No room for two beings in there (without you noticing).
If he does squeeze in after you, then go to town on him. There’s a reason people are afraid of dogs and small spiders. They bite! So listen up, gals. Sink your teeth into some invisible flesh, jerk your head around viciously like a Walking Dead zombie and growl loudly like a rabid pit bull. If the flesh tears free in your mouth, spit and repeat. He’ll be kicking a hole in the closet wall to get the hell out of there.
But if he remains outside the closet . . . text your friend where to meet you. The invisible man that you know is in the house (because he gave it away) can’t overhear your conversation and sabotage your text message plans.
Then open the Uber app and silently book a ride. Take note of the Uber plate number and sleep your phone screen. Leave the closet. Go out front and make sure only your door opens when you get in the car. Boom. You’re back on your own now with plans he can’t interfere with. Your million dollar bank account is accessible worldwide. Become a renter, buy some new clothes and move on with your life.
There’s 99 more where that came from.
I found it odd that they would cast such a homely actress for this role. Like we’re reverting back to the Glenn Close days of casting. But the long still camera shot at the end explains it. We’re now all set up for the inevitable P.C. sequel, The Invisible Woman. (Like all P.C. sequels these days). And we even see who her Lethal Weapon Danny Glover-like sidekick will be!
But this time Hollywood learned from their past mistake with Jessica Alba in The Fantastic Four bomb. If you’re going to cast a hottie to help fill the theater seats, you can’t make her invisible for half the film!
Way to go, Hollywood. I guess.
– Wait for HBO
After Midnight (Something Else) (R)
Sometimes people can pull off a low budget horror movie (Paranormal Activity) to create a truly enjoyable event. Most times they can’t – like with After Midnight (Something Else).
This dud misses on almost every aspect of what makes a movie decent – horror or not. It starts out with a scene that smells of first semester film school dialogue and acting. Long riffs of mundane dialogue ensue and then it switches to a drunk who’s dealing with a girlfriend who left him and monster who suddenly decides to visit and terrorize him in his old shack of a home every night.
He lives in a house filled with wired telephones, old radios, tape decks, record players and plenty of beer. (Study the photo above carefully). Even if that’s the way you really live, unless you’re eighty-years-old you still need a smartphone in 2020. No one seems to have a smartphone. The cars give away the fact that it’s set in today’s world.
The movie soundtrack is like the director’s teenage kids are in a basement band making up really bad White Stripes knock-off songs. These awful tunes lead us back and forth to constant (annoyingly frequent) flashbacks of the couple years ago when their lines were poorly written and their feelings superficial. All the while they swill cheap wine. Constantly. Eventually they buy the town bar.
Back to the scary stuff (there really isn’t much of that) we have another guy in a movie who is being attacked by a really bad-ass monster (nightly) so what does he do? Drinks like a fish. We’re talking passed-out drunk with the sofa barricading the front door and a shotgun in his lap.
Now I’m no survivalists, but I find it hard to believe any guy would choose the path of inebriation when personal defense is paramount. But that’s not the worst of it. Virtually everybody in the movie that isn’t pregnant is swilling wine, beer or hard liquor in every scene. I’m talking swilling liquids like they’re all stuck in a black tent in the Algerian desert. If you like the thought of sitting in a room listening to endless dialogue between drunk folks while the camera rolls for ten minute stretches without a cut, this might be a gem. The actors certainly learned their lines. Endless tirades of dialogue. A lot of bickering dialogue. Angry couples dialogue. You know, the fun stuff to listen to as it happens in front of you.
I don’t know any therapists – so I don’t know anyone who wants to listen to that.
It was yet another movie where I was rooting for the monster – to save me from any more of it.
We’ve seen plenty of movies with goth high school teenagers doing bad things, but this might just take the cake. These four high schoolers meticulously plan murders and then coldly carry them out. It earns the R rating.
Contrary to the hype and what most people around the world might think about American high schools today, it’s ridiculously unlikely you could find 4 psychotic mass killers in any one high school (even in Baltimore) much less two girls (that would be a first) much less all friends with one another. But as bad kids pretending to be normal kids goes, the acting here is first rate. (The two sidekick cops are poor actors but thankfully they aren’t the focus of this movie anyway).
It is a Hollywood movie, so we’ve got the necessary P.C. boxes checked:
Mixed couples – check.
“Lethal Weapon” cops casting blueprint. Check.
LGBTXYZ appeasing lesbian couple. Of course!
As intensity goes it builds to a 10 about halfway through. So it delivers the goods.
There are technical quibbles:
It’s one thing to have a filthy BMW on a backwoods road trip – but not the windshield. German carmakers and the people who drive them are finicky about windshield cleaning mechanisms. And often even the headlights have cleaning nozzles. C’mon, man!
Car alarms don’t sound all night. They all reset after one minute. All of them. Every single brand. And you turn a car alarm off with the key fob. Not inside the car. C’mon, man!
Cops don’t whoop their sirens for no reason in quiet neighborhoods at 2:30 AM. C’mon, man!
The trailer gives too much of the plot away. Perhaps a niche genre, but you know if this movie is for you or not.
– Wait for Rental
End of 2020 Movies.