Movie Reviews 2020

Skylines (R) 

In Jan 2018 (December 2017 in Asia) the movie Beyond Skyline hit the theaters. I liked it a lot. This is the third in the trilogy of films. (I didn’t see the first one called Skyline.)

This last of the series shows us a grownup version of Rose (Lindsey Morgan), the pretty, half human-half alien being that looks a lot like she could be Jessica Alba’s sister. (She’s not, but both actresses have Mexican/European lineages.) Rose tends to freeze up at important moments when she could help humans conquer alien invasions. A pattern we see all too often in films. It’s a cheap plot device that makes younger audiences wonder if she’ll be able to come through for the finale. Older viewers know where it’s headed.

I’m not sure where they spent the money for this one. It’s a low budget endeavor. More like the TV series Lost in Space than Ridley Scott’s Alien. Unlike the earlier film that included both city and jungle scenes, the Earth scenes here all seem to be filmed in a trailer park. The planetary scenes look like studio sets. Where this one really falls down is in the TV Sci-Fi level script and acting. The shoestring budget Beyond Skyline felt like a real movie and had an edge to it that was impressive. 

Not only is this film not theater-worthy, I think most people will have rental remorse unless they’re on an all-you-can-eat streaming plan. Regardless, you’re much better off watching Beyond Skyline instead. Even as a repeat viewing. 

Not sure why this is R rated. The violence doesn’t really warrant it and there is no sex.

The Donut King (NR)

Here’s a documentary that plays out like a well-written American story tale. And it’s terrific.

During the Vietnam War, Cambodia was in shambles as well. The rise of the Khmer Rouge sent millions of Cambodians fleeing for their lives. Those who escaped across the border to neighboring Thailand were asked by the Red Cross where in the world they would choose to be relocated. Those that answered “America” were sent to Camp Pendleton in California.

This is the story of a hard-working Cambodian (Ted Ngoy) who after arriving in California, started working multiple jobs to keep his family fed. While pumping gas at night (remember that job title?) he was fascinated by the fact that the donut shop across the street was always busy. Even late at night. That must be the place to work! 

So he went across the street and learned the trade of donut making. Then he got his own store and his whole family helped to run it. Then he helped other Cambodian families learn the trade of churning out tasty donuts. Turns out the Cambodians were really good at it. 

His donut stores grew into a multi-million dollar empire and even today, thousands of Cambodian run donut stores rule the California donut business. It’s a rags to riches film that covers the highs and terrible lows of his empire. It shows how harsh some parts of the world are. And how stellar America is in comparison. These Cambodians are forever grateful for not only the opportunity they were given, but for the opportunity to tell their unimaginable story. 

Much like we love hearing the ludicrously unlikely success stories of poor immigrants like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Elon Musk, these ordinary, dirt poor Cambodians have a wild story of their own to tell. It’s super entertaining and well done. It’s the feel-good documentary of the year and it’s available to rent now.
– Wait for Rental    

Love and Monsters (PG-13)

Another world destruction story with this one starting out after the world has already been destroyed. We meet a 24-year-old virgin named Joel Dawson who finds himself in a bunker with a dozen or so other survivors. He’s the only one that hasn’t paired up with a mate while underground. So that’s awkward. He also suffers from paralyzing fear which makes him useless when it’s time to face the monsters encroaching on their bunker. At least he doesn’t have an inhaler. Regardless, I’m not a fan of people who are unable to pull the trigger to save themselves or someone else when they have a viable weapon in their hands. It’s beyond infuriating. We have that here. 

The story is often advanced in a voiceover by Joel himself. We get a few flashbacks showing his family and Amy, his first high school sweetheart back when he was 17. They didn’t get past 2nd base before bad things happened to the world.    

Thus the title could be called Puppy Love and Monsters because there really isn’t much there between these two young adults. The whole darn premise is weak because it’s based on a meteor targeting Earth, but in this one all the nations send rockets en masse to blow it up and instead of totally working, those rockets somehow ruin the earth with their toxic chemicals.

Makes little sense. 

What’s worse is that these unexplained rocket chemicals raining down on the earth make all of the insects and animals immediately ginormous, but not humans. Makes even less sense.

This Joel character, who is the least capable of dealing with the crazy living monsters on the surface suddenly decides, after a short radio chat with Amy, that he wants to hike out alone to hook up with his high school crush. She’s in another bunker 85 miles away. This part actually makes sense with that whole hormonal thing that guys have going on in their 20’s. Especially with everyone around him having sex nightly in that tiny bunker. Like a buck crossing a busy highway.

To give credit where it’s due, Joel (Dylan O’Brien) does have a lot of funny lines and he speaks and acts exactly like the actor Elyes Gabel from the 2014-2018 CBS TV show Scorpion. Those that saw that series will know what I’m talking about. Perhaps they had the same acting coach? It’s crazy odd. Anyway, he goes topside and then guesses which direction to walk – for 85 miles. 

Back to making zero sense.

So it turns into, aimless search for Amy. Which could’ve been another title for this movie. The crossbow he uses is more of a toy than a real crossbow. His arrow won’t even go through a thin cactus arm! And yet it works against giant, exoskeletal insects the size of Mac trucks? C’mon man. 

One shark-like monster can swim under ground as fast as a shark swims on water. With its dorsal fin sticking out of the ground. That’s the silliest monster ever portrayed on the screen since the 1990 comedy Tremors! That kind of monster works – in a tongue-in-cheek comedy. Or in the sand-filled world of Dune. But not on rocky, tree-rooted forestland. It’s too phony for anyone over 13. 

The highlight of the film is when Joel is saved from certain death and joins up with a couple scrappy survivors out on their own, played by Michael Rooker and a scruffy little actress playing the foulmouthed Chloë Grace Moretz part right out of Kick-Ass. But though they’re able to save Joel they can’t save this movie. The payoff at the end is surprisingly anti-climatic for such a PG-13 story. Prepare to be let down. From start to finish.
– Wait for HBO

What Lies Below (NR)

Things are afoot!

Here’s yet another 2020 Hollywood movie that has snubbed the US Ratings Board. A long rumored hope by some in the industry, the tired old Motion Picture Association film rating system seems to have become irrelevant in 2020. Not sure if that’s good or bad news (for parents) but there it is. We’ll see if this trend continues into 2021.

What Lies Below opens with a single mother picking up Liberty, her severely introverted 16-year-old girl from summer camp. Liberty (her mother still calls her “Baby Girl”) is at that age where the quiet friction on the ride home is painful. Then as they pull into their summer home on the lake her mother suddenly introduces her new boyfriend. As he’s shown coming out of the water in slow motion, he’s a hunk. Just like the male models they put on the covers of women’s romance novels. Liberty, who’s usually at a loss for words – is at a loss for words. The whole arrangement doesn’t make any sense.

As time goes on it makes even less sense to Liberty. He’s too perfect. And odd. Even to an odd duck like her, he’s even odder. When she looks out the window one night to see him slowly walk into and under the water of the lake toward a bright green orb of light, she’s pretty darn sure he’s not really human.

It would have been a more realistic story had Liberty taken at least ONE camera photo shot of the many, many crazy things she witnesses. Even better, girls her age spend all day using the selfie camera so it’s not like it’s an alien idea to shoot cellphone video of alien activities going on around the house. Alas, it’s a movie where modern cell phones are only for texting and calling. At least she doesn’t drop the flashlight or point it into her own eyes after turning it on. 

But there’s a lot more going on here and a good bit of it is sexual in nature. Whenever the focus was turned toward the 16-year-old girl all I kept thinking about was the act of filming those creepy scenes. I can imagine the male model actor turning to the director and saying, “Really? You want me to do that!? Are you sure?

But he does it. And as an actor, he plays the creepy adult alien predator to the limits and I must admit those scenes are tense as hell. Whether those scenes would go over the heads of minors, I’m not sure. It’s not rape but it’s pretty twisted stuff. I suspect the Ratings Board would make a frowny face and slap a quick R sticker on it.

The ending seems a little rushed but if you start it you’ll stick around to see how it ends.
– Wait for Rental

Blood From Stone (NR)

What if Schwarzenegger had a rock ‘n’ roll nephew? 

That’s what I asked myself as I watched this latest vampire movie starring a long-haired Serbian stage actor (Vanja Kapetanovic) with his thick Eastern European accent and body builder physique. He even delivers funny lines like Arnold would. 

Some guys boast that they drank a six pack of beer Friday night. This guy’s a thirsty vampire that can hold his blood. So he decides to party and drain as many people as possible in one night. Brutal. A real opportunist. You wouldn’t want to cross this dude’s path.

That’s one part of the story. The other more interesting part is his X-girlfriend, Darya (who he turned into a vampire long ago) who is trying to go straight and drink only from blood transfusion bags. She has a guy on the inside who occasionally delivers her a lunch cooler full of blood bags from the rear door of the hospital. Not sure how plausible that is but I would have enjoyed it had that whole interesting arrangement been more fully fleshed out. She’s mighty casual about that transaction process, as was he. Why? But at nearly 2 hours the film is already full. They let most scenes play out in-length which I found refreshing in this era of breakneck paced editing. 

Darya is played by Gabriella Toth, a Hungarian model/actress (pictured above). As with Vanja, this is Toth’s first real movie role. Not sure about Vanja’s chances at success in Arnold’s absence, but Gabriella Toth’s agent should be fielding lots of calls after this. She plays the role perfectly as a vicious bad girl trying desperately to distance herself from the old-school vampires. Her X always seems to track her down to get back with her. And once rolling into town he usually goes all Mötley Crüe with the blood sucking mayhem. She’s tired of his antics. 

Since he finds Darya employed at a casino hotel bar in Vegas, that leaves a lot of feeding opportunities passing through – for both vampires. She’s easy on the eyes and watching her restraint with the fish in a barrel targets of drunk convention guys (and children) is a driving force of the film. 

For those looking for a kill spree film, the Arnold vampire will scratch that itch by the pitcherfuls. Literally. So if you want to know what it would be like to be a drunken party animal vampire, downing vodka while hunting to rack up a bodycount like the world is ending, this is your serial killer thrill ride movie. 

Just know that although I enjoyed it from beginning to end, I can’t remember a bloodier movie off the top of my head. Like it was filmed by vampires for vampires as porn. If that gets to you and you can cover your eyes for sections of it, the scenes and storyline of Darya’s struggle with hunting restraint would make it worth the rental. 

Note – The trailers give too much away. 

If they bothered to submit it to the Ratings Board it would be rated B for Bloody.
– Wait for Rental

Castle Freak (NR)

There was a campy horror movie released back in 1994 called Castle Freak. You probably watched it on TV after midnight on a channel higher than 13 in the 2000s. This is the modern remake directed by a special effects makeup artist. It’s been too long since I watched the original but I’m pretty sure the first one was better than this new attempt at the story. Both versions stay in the era before cellphones. 

In this 2020 version, Rebecca, a girl in her twenties, is partying hard with a group of druggie friends. She and her jerk boyfriend decide to leave the party and he gets behind the wheel drunk. Then he predictably crashes the car which leaves her blind and him uninjured but still a jerk.

The next scene has blind Rebecca and the jerk being driven around in Albania to a home that her family supposedly owned. She doesn’t remember her family because she was given away as a small child and only just learned that her mother has died, leaving her the last surviving member of the family. So the downside is that she’s a blind orphan. The good news is that when they arrive at the home she is inheriting it’s actually a massive castle just like the ancient ones you’ve seen in countless cool movies.

Her jerk boyfriend seems to have the vocabulary of a toddler so his descriptions throughout the entire movie are that of an actor that hasn’t read the script and doesn’t realize Rebecca’s supposed to be blind. Or he’s just a total jerk. So she only gets 1/100th of the story of the coolness that is going on around her. 

She almost immediately hears someone else inside the walls of the castle, but her jerk boyfriend refuses to lend any credence to that idea, nor does he really take the time to investigate the 30 or so rooms in the massive castle. However, he is very interested in the money to be had by selling all the furnishings and the sale of the castle. She naïvely doesn’t really seem that bothered by any of it. But that person in the walls still bothers her. 

Soon the same deadbeat friends from the big pre-blind party show up in Albania to help in some way, although it’s not clear why they are there. The script is pretty thin. But it certainly adds to the body count as the horrendous beast living in the castle walls begins slaughtering them one by one. When you’re a director who’s really a make-up artist looking for excuses for gore, more bodies is good. And that’s the payoff we really came for.

Now for the real issues with the movie. Where to even begin? 

Let’s start with an easy one. You can’t set a movie in Massachusetts with zero Boston accents for any of the characters. I lived there for six years. Virtually everyone who grew up in Massachusetts has that unmistakable accent. There are 50 States to choose from. It’s a movie so it’s not like you can’t lie about the location. Pick a different State. 

The white jerk only has two friends. A black guy and a stereotypical American Indian. (What are the odds of that on the East Coast?) And because this is a horror movie the Indian needs his asthma inhaler with him at all times. Since the 2020 Hollywood “Standards” now push disability representation onscreen, we have a blind girl and an asthmatic. But there will still be trouble since the actress is really sighted. So the pair of blind actresses out there sitting by their phone will be livid. You can’t win. 

There is a character called “The Professor” that is not the jerk’s friend but he tags along with the group anyway. The actor playing The Professor is a terrible and needs to go back to selling shirts at Nordstrom. He’s probably good at that.

Even without the bloodletting, the sex scenes might have pushed the R rating to an NC-17 had it been rated at all. But if not, the graphic and disgusting sex scene with the horrendous beast is something you won’t be able to unsee once you see it. Most people won’t want to see that disgusting display.

Other than that raw scene that pushes the realm of onscreen limits, the overall gross factor will satisfy those that routinely see these films. The rest of it is pretty weak.    

On the positive side, Clair Catherine (Wuestenberg) plays the blind lead. Her bio shows she’s a model and was a lead singer in touring bands for years so she’s been around the block. She’s a heroin chic blond with some dreadful tattoos that would be distracting even on a porn star. That said, she has good acting chops. She’s the highlight of this otherwise miserable affair. 

There’s a mid-credit extra scene so if you accidentally watch this movie you might as well stick around for it. 

A Mermaid in Paris (PG-13)

Murderous mermaids, oh my!

A quirky stage performer named Gaspard finds an injured, pretty blonde mermaid half out of the water and decides to take her home and put her in his bathtub. Watching the trailer you’d be forgiven for thinking this is just a remake of Splash that starred Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah back in 1984. It’s most certainly not. This one is storybook wacky in a way that’s darn hard to describe. Imagine if Disney teamed up with David Lynch to let him cast the peculiar looking characters and do the set pieces.

This mermaid tale (ahem) stars a bunch of French people speaking French. But don’t let that dissuade you from this most whimsical movie about a killer mermaid. From the long list of movies most of the cast has been in we can assume they are big film stars in France. 

Normally her siren’s song lures men to her like ships to the rocky shore. Men fall in love with her so quickly that their hearts explode within minutes and they drown. But not Gaspard, whose heart has been broken too many times to be affected by her love song of death.

So instead, he trades his roller skates for a motorized tuk tuk (really, he does) to drive his mermaid from the shore to his tub, and then proceeds to feed her a cooked frozen fish meal from his freezer. You couldn’t make this stuff up. And the rest of it (the whimsical parts) are not something I would even attempt to convey. It’s head-shaking footage that takes place in a secret back room speakeasy entertainment venue through a hidden door at the back of a wacky restaurant, yet somehow believable. It would not be believable if you simply read a short description of it. Too many nuances and textures to convey in less than a chapter of carefully crafted prose.  

The cinematography is top-notch. You buy into it because you’re immersed in its colorful imagery. It really makes a big impact on a multiplex theater screen and that’s the best way to see it. Probably in a theater in the “artsy” part of town.  

Out of all the mermaid movies you’ve seen, including animated ones, A Mermaid in Paris goes down an alley you’ve never been down before.

In French with English subtitles. PG-13 due to the ever-so-brief mermaid nudity.
– See it on the Big Screen

Girl (NR)

Bella Thorne and Mickey Rourke star in a story about a downtrodden twenty-something girl looking for revenge as she travels across state lines with an ax in her canvas bag. She and her mom are now broke so she’s looking for her deadbeat dad that left her and her mom when she was six. When she gets to her dad’s town she finds the place utterly beaten down. Even worse, when she tries to use her cell phone she discovers they don’t even have cell service yet. It’s hard to even describe it as one notch above a trailer park. I think a trailer park would be an improvement.

That doesn’t mean the “girl” isn’t beaten down herself. (We never know her name, exactly like Clint Eastwood’s character riding his horse into a downtrodden town full of trouble in A Fistful of Dollars.) She’s trashy looking. She looks like she’s from the wrong side of the tracks no matter which side you live on. Not that anyone in this movie has showered for over two weeks. 

Mickey Rourke looks like he’s trying to beat Michael Jackson’s record for face destroying surgeries. Good grief is he a mess. With all his failed doctoring it’s surprising he can even blink his eyes anymore.

Needless to say a dead-town sheriff with a dead face and visiting chick with an ax in her bag makes for quite a tale. Add in the local silver tongued sexual predator and it becomes quite a tangle of who the predator really is.  

Those that saw Bella Thorne in Midnight Sun (wow, to even think of that movie in light of this!) will be shocked at her transformation. (Midnight Sun was much better than the critics gave it credit for.) This movie reminds me of how Charlize Theron transformed herself for her role in Monster.

The trailers give the whole movie away, so avoid them if possible. Just know that this is a revenge movie with very few light moments and a dark set of characters who face a bleak future. But as a low budget B movie, it’s engaging nonetheless. It should be available to rent now.

If they bothered to submit it to the Ratings Board it would be rated R.
– Wait for Rental

Dave Not Coming Back (NR)

Although the title gives the plot away, this is a compelling documentary about a team effort to recover a diver’s body (lost ten years earlier) from the record setting diving depths of South Africa’s 900-foot deep sinkhole called Bushman’s Hole. It may not sound like riveting stuff but the knowledge given to us about the dangers of deep diving along with footage of the event make for quite an experience. Especially since we see a lot of Dave before his last dive. 

It only takes 17 minutes to reach the bottom of this natural freshwater pit but 12 hours to surface. Most people are familiar with the bends (decompression sickness) where nitrogen bubbles form in your blood vessels if you surface too quickly, leading to death. But the decompression tables get complicated when you combine extreme depth and length of time at depth. Every minute at depth multiplies the time you need to slow down to surface. So in essence, the longer you are under – stopping at set distance intervals to acclimate to the pressure on the way up – the longer you have to stay under with longer acclimation intervals. The clock is constantly working against you. It’s a scary formula.

This incident took place back in 2005 when people used bulky underwater cameras with digital recording tape in them. So Dave has a wonky waterproof camera on his helmet to record the whole body recovery process. 

Obviously, they had no idea Dave would die down there so not everything above water was recorded in 2005. They simply wanted to show the recovery. So there are some docu-recreation scenes done by the same people from the original event to show us how it all went down (no pun intended). But the recreation scenes are done in a way that you might not even know it without the background info beforehand. 

For Dave to bring the dead body up from the bottom, there are 8 divers at one point all staggered at different depths to work the corpse up like a fire brigade while the divers that went deepest slow their ascents to a crawl. When things go awry, there’s a lot of moving parts failing all at once. It’s not a movie you’ll likely turn off and walk away from. 

If there are annoyances, one might be the low rent score for the film. A lot of drawn-out bow drags on a single string of a bass cello as if they’ve only learned how to play one note. Another personal annoyance for me is Dave’s Australian wife who has that annoying HRT voice inflection where all of her sentences end with a rising tone that sounds like she’s constantly asking a string of questions. A lot of younger Americans are adopting this odd trait as well and I’m not sure why.

That aside, this story is full of weird occurrences. About halfway through the film your curiosity will probably have you asking a morbid question. That’s OK, a lot of us think like that. There’s an old saying, “Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true.” 

That may happen here, too!
– Wait for Rental

Freaky (R) 

There have been over 60 body swap films since 1936. Some are just goofy for laughs (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and some are played with serious overtones. Two classics that are played straight and well worth watching are Dave, and Heaven Can Wait. They would be considered the cream of the crop. 

This latest in the genre introduces us to a suburban white high school girl whose only two friends are the 2020 Hollywood cast stereotype black girl and a cut to the chase gay kid with endless funny quips (see photo above). I get the feeling the writers of the film totally forgot what high school was really like. None of it seems real and hundreds of kids suddenly disappear at convenient times. 

We are also introduced to a vicious Halloween style killer, played by Vince Vaughn. I like Vince Vaughn. Who doesn’t like Vince Vaughn? He’s funny when he just walks into a room. Thus the theater visit. 

The movie earns the R rating. Although not very scary, the bloodletting is well done. Not a torture kind of kill movie. More of a precise McDonald’s method – make it quick and then, “Next!” The killing was actually the highlight of the movie. 

Due to a killing spree, spiritual-knifing-gone-wrong incident, the killer and the high school girl swap bodies.

After the obvious checking out of their new body parts they then have to act like the other person for the rest of the movie. That’s hard. Especially for 6’ 5” Vaughn who never for a minute sells the high school girl trapped inside him act. It’s clearly Vince Vaughn – acting. You never lose sight of it. Your belief is never suspended. It’s exhausting.

The writing doesn’t help as the story limps along with TV sitcom-level scenes and lines. Instead of blurting out insider things to acquaintances that would immediately prove she was in Vaughn’s body, she/he instead repeats, “Listen to me. Stop and listen to me for a second. Just listen to me. If you’d just listen to me…” 


The movie plot isn’t about trying to catch the killer. That would be easy. The plot really hinges on whether they can swap back to their original bodies in time or not in this town full of cartoony people. It’s less of the seriousness of I Know What You Did Last Summer and more like Disney’s That Darn Cat! or Herbie Rides Again townsfolk. Not really riveting stuff in the scheme of things and no one in the theater is really worried.

This movie has an 86% favorable score on Rotten Tomatoes®. I don’t understand how that’s even remotely possible.
– Wait for HBO

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (R) 

A werewolf is killing people in a bumpkin ski town. We know it’s a werewolf because we see a werewolf show up and tear women to pieces. But the clean cut deputy (son of the aging Sheriff) doesn’t think so because . . . well, werewolves don’t exist. Pretty simple. And he’s adamant even when everyone around him is pretty sure it’s a huge wolf that walks on two paws. Likely a werewolf.

There’s a bit of a Fargo vibe to this one. But the main sheriff’s deputy character (played by Jim Cummings who is also the writer-director of the movie) is very strange (like alien strange), neurotic, deranged and an awful person to be around. And that’s all before he falls off the wagon hard and starts drinking like a fish again. His character is sooooo out there that I suggest you watch a trailer or two for this movie and see if you can really stand over an hour of him. I got tired of him after 15 minutes. He’s like an over-the-top Jim Carrey wannabe.

There’s blood and guts (and one ripped off arm). There’s comic relief. And there’s a sliver of Cohen Brothers oddity. But the screenplay isn’t something the Cohen Brothers would have penned since they were twelve, and the the role Mr. Cummings wrote for himself is just too out-there to recommend.
– Wait for HBO

Last Three Days (NR)

The first 40 minutes are like a sappy TV movie. It’s a long 40 minutes. Then the bloody mess takes place.

An undercover narcotics cop marries a nurse and their lives quickly end up like ships passing in the night. We’ve seen this friction countless times. He’s a cop but somehow literally can’t read the writing on the wall (a dry erase board by their front door) with their 4th anniversary coming up. Dumb on so many levels. So there’s that ensuing drama to sit through.  

It’s good that the pacing picks up when the blood splatters but unfortunately we are forced to sit through hallucinations of storyline that happen in a Groundhog Day way but maybe don’t really happen at all? Because of an exotic drug slipped into a drink at a strip club run by the Yakuza? OK. Whatever.

So he has completely blanked out and lost three days of his life, thus the title. No food, no water, out cold. Hmmm. That’s highly unlikely.

It’s their version of a cheap dream sequence without making it a cheap dream sequence. I guess. At first you shake your head that what he is experiencing is simply impossible. Then you realize the filmmakers are pulling your leg and you just get pissed off. At least I did.

To add insult to injury there are the scenes where people simply don’t tell anyone what’s really going on, with loved ones in mortal danger. All because we have to stretch out a movie. There’s no other possible explanation for the cryptic dialogue between people that could easily help one another. At one point a single text could end this movie 45 minutes sooner but it never occurs (to a cop) to send a text that would immediately appear on the next victim’s phone screen within seconds, thus saving the day. 

So we’re left with a wacky parallel universe story that makes no sense, all leading up to a drawn out sappy Hallmark Channel ending. Simply awful.

Triggered (R)

Don’t do it. Don’t let anyone strap a bomb to your chest and don’t watch this silly movie about a bunch of dimwits who wake up with bombs strapped to their chests.

It’s in essence an independent film version of a death-match among friends. Or if you’re a foreign movie buff, a version of the famous Japanese movie from 2000 called Battle Royale. (Battle Royale is hardcore. The Japanese know a thing or two about torture and butchering foes.) 

We start out listening to the usual teenage banter around a campfire in the middle of nowhere. The kind of movie-speak that precedes impending death of some sort. So far so good. And then there’s raw teenage sex, just like in the Friday the 13th camping movies from hell. Excellent! Like pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, there’s something to be said for tradition.

Then on cue, an irritated visitor shows up and manages to knock them all out and strap very intricate bombs to their chests that also contain computer screens and proximity sensors. In a nutshell, your chest shows the time you have remaining. When it gets to zero, you blow up. But wait, there’s more!

If you kill one of your friends* your screen adds their remaining time to your time. Thus, the one with the most time wins as everyone else will be killed-off or blown-up.

Sounds good on paper.

* The biggest flaw with this movie is that none of these friends actually like one another. And the viewer won’t be fond of them either. So the question becomes, does it really matter who lives or dies? The movie should have been called, “With Friends Like That, Who Needs Enemies?” 

Probably tough to fit that on a marquee.

Then there’s the fact that it’s really dark at night in the woods and the actors get dirty. So for the viewer it becomes a guessing game of who is who? Ahhhh, who cares.  

Instead of hiding from a pursuer, they all run around in the dark woods with bright LED flashlights and scream at each other, and call out for a select friend even though the not-so-friendly friends have ears too. In this day of LED flashlights that put out a ferocious Sun-like glare, if you are running for your life the last thing you would do is keep your searchlight wiggling around in the woods. But they all do that. And the screaming. Good grief, the constant bickering and screaming. You mustn’t do that either if you are trying to get away from your other friends (with ears) who are trying to kill you to take your precious time. 

The dialogue is cringeworthy for sure. One of the kids throws out insult after insult at anyone he stumbles upon, before trying to kill them and take their time. His best line? “You’re a left swipe on tinder!” 

Yeah, it’s that kind of movie. To keep it light, I suppose. 

This South African thriller paints itself like a Hollywood movie and for the most part you might be fooled into thinking it was made Stateside. But the opening credits show, “With the financial assistance of the DTI South Africa.” Then the steering wheels are on the “other” side of the car. They simply refuse to own the origin of the movie. A girl dials 911 for help. Wrong continent. The steering wheel is on the wrong side and the emergency assistance code in South Africa is 112. 

The laugh out loud moment (among all the bloodletting and bombs pulverizing bodies) is in the last act when they are all completely lost and disoriented in the pitch black forest that never ends and the survivors suddenly decide they need to rendezvous back at the camp. How on earth would they suddenly know where that is? 

The actress might be “a left swipe on tinder,” but the script writer is retarded. 

Skip this one. It’s not even worth it for the blown up body parts. If you’re in the mood for high school classmates hunting each other with barbaric tools of death, rent the classic Battle Royale for $2 instead.

Mortal (R ) 

I’m not a Marvel fan. Let’s just put that out there right now. I thought the first Iron Man movie was terrific and the first Spider-Man was OK. But it was all downhill from there and I finally stopped even going to the Superhero releases a few years ago. Especially once they all joined their little co-ed bowling league (with no consensus on their uniforms) and started saving the world as one wacky group that includes every-superpower-ever-dreamed-up.

Turns out this is a Norwegian shoestring take on a Marvel film. It’s basically about a drifter who lives off the grid like a bum and has the power to burn things. His biggest problem isn’t his hygiene or lack of money making skills. It’s his inability to control his tendency to burn things, like trees, buildings and people. The 1984 movie Firestarter (with Drew Barrymore) was a better movie about this subject – and Firestarter wasn’t very good.

Unlike the few dark Hollywood Marvel films I’ve seen, like Spider-Man 2, Mortal is a total slow burn. (See what I did there?) 

It’s always a head shaker when the police witness what can only be described as Jesus performing miracles or someone doing insane destruction that you only see in crazy special effect movies, and the police simply continue with the, “Hands up! Get your hands up!”

Not likely. That’s really when the police would pull out their cell phones and start filming like everybody else around them. Or running for their lives.

But I suspect you’ll nod off and miss that part. It’s too slow, even if you’re a die-hard fan of this Marvel-tie-in junk food.

Impetigore (NR)

This Indonesian film just hit the theaters and VOD at the same time. (Don’t look up what the title means as it will give too much away.) I chose the photo above very carefully because the trailer gives too much away and the other movie photos misrepresent the genre of this film. It’s billed as Horror but it really delivers us a Mystery/Thriller feel as the Horror is mostly a fake-out. But it does deliver on the tension and there is life-ending brutality. Just not in a scary Jason manner. 

Written and directed by Joko Anwar it’s a deep dive into his native Indonesia. Without getting too political let’s just say the visuals and life there seem downright depressing. But as a movie backdrop it’s exciting in an adventurous way. Since the main characters are native to the country we tag along without the nervousness of watching an outsider or tourist (Hostel movies!) in the same situation.

The story starts out with a shocking scene at a toll booth. That scene will hook you for sure and make you believe it’s a horror flick. But the main storyline follows two woman who decide to leave their failing clothing shop (a pitiful street stall) behind to chase a long-shot opportunity where one of the women might have a family mansion in a distant rural village that she can claim and sell for a huge sum of money. Things slowly start to go off the rails once they arrive in that strange village.   

The story gets overly complicated as the movie gets wrapped-up for us, almost as if two chapters of a book were simply removed so that they could force-feed us a CliffsNotes short-take instead for brevity. But it was written and directed by one guy so the blame for that falls squarely on Joko. That said, the dialogue (script by that same Joko) is incredibly well-written. I can’t remember another movie where two actresses spoke and acted as if they’ve known each other forever like these two. (See photo of them above) Impressive as hell. In every scene, the pages and pages of dialogue are delivered to perfection as if the camera is filming a documentary instead of a fictional movie. They act and speak exactly the way real people do in every situation. It’s hard to explain how well these two main characters are fleshed out. The believability of their interactions is off the charts. 

Sure, all the women fall down when running for their lives and cover their mouths to keep themselves quiet, but that’s just par for the course.

Things that happen are horrifying, but it’s not scary like the movie poster would have you believe. It would be an R rating if was actually rated. Seems a lot of movies don’t bother with that process anymore.

(In Indonesian with English subtitles) 
– Wait for Rental

Alone (NR)

I’m a sucker for zombie movies. Even when most of them are not good.

In this one, the usual zombie apocalypse happens and we are in an apartment with a down and out surfer dude who sees it unfold all around him, both inside and outside his building. Just before he can die by hanging himself he sees a pretty girl stuck in her apartment across the alley from him. Ah, a reason for him to live and a reason for us to keep watching this thus far awful movie. 

Donald Sutherland (will this guy ever retire?) plays himself in a role he’s played to death. 195 movies on his resume. But at least he can act. So there’s that.

But it’s not enough. 

Tyler Posey stars and is quite frankly a terrible actor with ridiculous looking tattoos all over his body (see photo). It’s like watching drummer Tommy Lee get a lead role and try to act for the first time in his life. Pitiful. What’s worse, Tyler’s in every scene. 

They have some ridiculous Die Hard Hollywood ductwork leading from his tiny bathroom ceiling to all the other apartment bathrooms in the building. No such residential buildings exist. Even worse, none of these imaginary ceiling duct entryway doors are locked. You can just push the doors open from the duct side. The weakest plot device ever.

Out of the 550 or so zombie movies out there, this may be the worst of the bunch.

Note: There are a LOT of movies called Alone. Two released this month. This is the one with Donald Sutherland in it. He’s only been in six of them. (Just kidding) 

The Best Movies Ever (Horror)
I recently posted a list of my favorite movies of all time, excluding horror. Now I’ll tackle horror. Categorizing horror movies can be tricky. Is Jurassic Park really a horror movie? Yeah, I’d say that dinosaurs chasing and eating people can be categorized as horror. So I’m including it on this list and not on the “other” list. 

Unlike the long original Best Movies Ever list, there are far fewer scary movies that really get the job done.

My Top Ten:
The Exorcist
Friday the 13th
The Ring (or the original Ringu film from Japan)
Paranormal Activity (original only)
Lights Out
The Descent

Other Great Horror Movies:
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The Crazies
Drag Me to Hell
Jurassic Park
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
House of Wax

Honest Thief (PG13)

Liam Neeson is once again showing us his very particular set of skills in his latest role as Tom, a clever bank robber called the “In and Out Bandit,” because of his skills at robbing banks in the middle of the night and leaving no clues. But that’s not the Skills we know this Tom guy will reveal later. 

Tom puts his nine million dollars in cash in a self storage facility. The same facility where he meets a woman. She quickly becomes the love of his life. It changes him to the point he decides to turn himself in to the FBI and give back all the money. In exchange he wants a guarantee of a light sentence of just a year or two, so he can spend the rest of his life with the love of his life. You can see where this is headed, right?

Seems the intoxicating love he’s feeling also clouds his judgment that the FBI really does deals like that.

Robert Patrick (the bad terminator in T2) stars as an FBI agent on the case and he considers the call from Tom to be just another whacko claiming to be the In and Out Bandit. He assigns the case to two lower level agents to meet with this Tom character.

Tom trusts these two agents in a way that can softly be described as extremely naïve. They decide to take the money instead. Even worse, they also decide take it even further and tie up a loose end – which happens to be the love of Tom’s life. 

Now we get to see the “other” set of Tom’s special skills.  

The FBI storyline is hopelessly flimsy but the movie as a whole gets the job done. Nobody knows more than FBI agents (and bank robbers) how difficult it would be to spend nine million in cash. You can’t deposit it in your bank. You can’t buy new cars with cash. You can’t buy houses with cash. You can only buy so many new TVs, so it winds up being a thousand lifetimes of restaurant meals, using $100 bills – all the time. Pretty suspicious. To really use it you’d have to launder it with a shady character in the mix, which is NOT something FBI agents would want to delve into. Then there’s that pesky IRS always sniffing around.

But for some insane reason, these two FBI agents go for it and the money turns out to be the least of their worries.

Those of us that watch these Liam Neeson movies know what we’re in for. You can quibble with some of the middle sections, but this story has a payoff at the end that is throughly satisfying. That alone will have you walking out of the theater with a smile.
– See it on the Big Screen

The Best Movies Ever
In these times of a world pandemic where Hollywood production has ground to a halt and movie theaters are closed in most of the world, this may be the time to catch up on movies at home that you may have missed over your lifetime. It’s rare to see a truly great film. Think about it. If you had the chance to erase your movie memory and start over, seeing great movies (again) for the first time, how great would that be? 

As you sat down to watch a movie from your list with your wiped mind you’d think, “God, this is going to be great. I already know I loved this movie!”

Or, if someone came out of a 60 year coma and asked, “What did I miss?” what movies would you be excited to recommend?

“Oh, man, you gotta see ______. And wait till you see ______!”

The goal would be to cover the spectrum from black and white oldies to state of the art thrillers. Funny movies to tear jerkers.

Scary movies are not everyone’s cup of tea. So horror movies would need to go on a separate Horror List. (So must-see movies like Jaws were pulled from the list below.) The horror list of great films is actually pretty short.

I tried to keep this list as tight as possible (and obviously it’s from a guy’s perspective). But it’s my best of the best in multiple genres. If there’s something on this list you haven’t seen, you should really check it out.  

Holiday (1938)
The Wizard of Oz
The Omega Man
James Bond 007 (Series)
Planet of the Apes (Original 1968)
Star Wars (Original Trilogy 1977-1983)
Star Trek (Original Cast Movie Series)
Mission Impossible (Series)
The Godfather (Series)
ALL the classic Christmas movies including the 1947 version of “Miracle on 34th Street” and the 1983 comedy, “A Christmas Story.”
The Warriors (To see NYC during its grittiest period) 
Taxi Driver (Again NYC at the height of grime and crime)
Death Wish (I Only – More dirty NYC days)
Mad Max (I Only)
Field of Dreams
Dances With Wolves
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The Deer Hunter
All the big Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns (For sure “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales”)
Dirty Harry
Rocky (I Only)
Rambo (I Only)
West Side Story
Sleepless in Seattle
Scent of a Woman
An Officer and a Gentleman
Top Gun
Forrest Gump
Cast Away
The Shawshank Redemption
Full Metal Jacket
Apocalypse Now
Red Dawn (1984)
Saving Private Ryan
The Fabulous Baker Boys
The Poseidon Adventure/Towering Inferno (one or the other)
Heaven Can Wait
Rock Star
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
Fatal Attraction
Die Hard (I Only)
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Risky Business
The Firm
Raiders of the Lost Arc
Blade Runner
The Sixth Sense
Million Dollar Baby
Silence of the Lambs
Pulp Fiction
Sling Blade
No Country for Old Men
Raising Arizona
The Big Lebowski
Jurassic Park (I Only)
Iron Man (I Only)
Terminator I and II
Total Recall
Kindergarten Cop
Office Space
Michael Jackson’s This Is It
Guardians of the Galaxy
John Wick (I Only)
Wedding Crashers
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Pitch Black
Frozen (I’m not a big animated movie buff but I saw this during a long overseas flight and I have to admit it was very well done).

Honorable Mentions:
Baby Driver
Ex Machina
The Astronaut Farmer
Memoirs of a Geisha

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. But out of thousands of movies, those are the ones that left an impression on me. I wish I could see them in a theater again – for the first time.

Hosts (NR)

Here’s a UK movie that really comes close to a great scare delivery just in time for the October Halloween season. Close, but no cigar.

A rural family invites a young neighbor couple over for the annual Christmas get-together dinner. There’s no snow but everything else is in place so we do get that festive seasonal feeling.

Just before the couple leaves their house to head off to the shindig, a small pair of strange lights move across the slider door outside. The scene is long and ultra creepy. Like, this is going to be a great movie! No way they can screw this one up!   

The young couple finally shows up to the dinner but they are obviously different. Too different.

It’s here that the movie starts to go off the rails. As I’ve covered before in other reviews, humans act in very specific ways. If you only blink one eye at a time, all kinds of questions will be triggered in the minds of everyone around you. Even the most subtle of mannerism rule-breaking will trip you up. This couple is way too weird to pass the sniff test at a Christmas gathering, much less at an intimate dinner table full of people. (Just glance at the snapshot above!) Yet no one notices a thing.

Then the horror starts. And it’s mighty gory. Cool!

The movie’s back on the rails again. Let’s face it. If you’re movie director going “all-in” with your blood-spattered movie script in hand, a lot can be forgiven when you start delivering the goods. It’s shocking stuff. It’s what you paid for. 

Unfortunately, the father role is played by an English actor that has this annoying noise he makes whenever he cries. It sounds like when Benny Hill snickered at something. An even better example (an old reference to be sure, but perfect) is when the dog “Muttley” laughed in the 70’s cartoon Wacky Races. Annoying as hell. 

There are A LOT of scenes where the father cries – at length. And it always sounds like a long, whistling, forced cartoon laugh. He single-handily torpedos the movie with his terrible acting skills. 

The eerie music and soundtrack is utterly fantastic and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Anyone interested in film scoring should rent it just for that schooling. The script was solid and with the right casting it would have made a terrific rental.

Note: If they bothered to get it rated it would have been a hard “R” due to the violence and gore. 
– Wait for HBO

She’s in Portland (NR)

It’s a good premise. Wes, the suit and tie white collar guy from Virginia who’s in a stale marriage sets out to help his old school buddy, Luke (a single, LA video soundtrack guy in a rut of his own) find his first high school crush. She’s still single too but lives in Kentucky. 

I jest. She obviously lives in Portland, Oregon which makes for a great road trip movie (scenic-wise) from Los Angeles to Portland, hugging the coastline. As anyone who’s been to the West Coast knows, some of the best scenery, weather and places to live are on the West Coast of the United States. So the movie is easy on the eyes. 

Early on we meet this old flame Maggie at the high school reunion that LA Luke fails to attend. So he doesn’t see her there, but we do when she runs into Wes and his wife. It’s a low bar moment. 

For the movie to work, the girl at the “other end of the long journey” can’t look like the Maggie in this movie. Meg Ryan? Sure. All the way to Seattle. But not Maggie. You could argue that “his” school crush was somehow “it” for him, but that doesn’t translate to the moviegoers. We need to be enthused about the long journey ahead, too. There are 100 West Coast women in the movie, 96 of whom are more enticing (to us) than this “Maggie” character. This needs to be one of those, “Yeah, I can see him doing this outlandish journey,” moments. It wasn’t. 

The only reason to recommend this movie is that it’s well-acted and these two guys do meet quite a few interesting and entertaining women along the way. There’s some pretty deep conversations about relationships from both college girls as well as divorcees. The West Coast-realistic hook-ups we see here aren’t hard to believe. If you’re a people-watcher like me you’d probably enjoy being on the sidelines watching these guys interact with the locals as they drive north for days on end. 

They had to use computers/cellphones from the 2009 era to brings us back to a time when voice messaging was the best way to get hold of someone in order to make the story work. Texting would have shortened the plot by 30 minutes. Which is kind of funny if you think about it. If you just make believe the movie was made 10 years ago it helps.
– Wait for Rental

Greenland (PG-13) 

Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin star in this latest “end of the world” comet event movie. But this one is actually a cut above the rest. 

Butler plays a high-rise structural engineer who’s had a fallout with his wife (after he cheated on her). They have a young son who still thinks his dad is terrific. The wife (Morena Baccarin) is understandably chilly around Butler but they are playing nice for a while to put up a good front for their annual neighborhood cookout. 

The latest news that everyone is talking about is the comet in the sky that’s so close and bright you can see it during the day. 

While out running a cookout errand with his son in tow, Butler gets a text alert and robocall from the government that he and his family have been selected and need to get to the nearest military base to be flown to the protective bunker immediately. No one else around them in the supermarket is getting that screeching personal national alert warning message.

Once back at home where the neighborhood cookout attendees are gathered around his TV to watch a piece of the comet hit the ocean, it’s suddenly apparent to the TV crews and everyone at the party that the comet is breaking apart in a bad way. Troublesome! Now what?

That’s as much as you need to know. The trailers and other reviews will likely give too much of the story away.

As we’ve seen too many times before (going all the way back to 2002 for my very first movie review on this site of Panic Room starring Jodie Foster and an asthmatic son) Hollywood loves to lean on a character that has asthma (inhaler dependent) or diabetes (gotta have that insulin on-hand). So whenever there’s an American kid in the script and they want some extra worries going on they flip a coin – heads, we go with asthma, tails, diabetes. We have that here too, but even more so as the whole script is basically driven forward based on diabetes related issues.

But at the same time this odd duck Hollywood movie doesn’t attempt to force-feed us a complete United Nations cast lineup nor does it have a queer character that comes up with funny quips to appease the LGBTQXYZ groups. Nor does it pander to the Mainland Chinese market. China isn’t mentioned once in this world catastrophe film. I’m sure fines will be levied against everyone involved but regardless it’s refreshing. 

Instead, this summer blockbuster focuses on America and one view of how the US population might react if such an event took place. Both good and bad, as one would expect.

Although the special effects deliver, the strength of this film lies its handling of humanity as a whole. The story is solid and character driven. You’ll be affected by the actions of the people on screen. They do a terrific job of showing what “the end” might really look like. I highly recommend it. I’d even go as far as saying it’s one of the better extinction event movies Hollywood has ever made.

If possible it really should be seen in a theater. In a normal world it would be a blockbuster. If you can’t get to a theater, it’ll likely be available to rent in a month or so. 

Note: The movie trailer shows way too much so avoid it if you can.
– See it on the Big Screen

Let It Snow (R)

This is the 2019 Russian (Georgian) horror movie which unfortunately shares the same title with many other movies. It has finally been released for the first time in the West – straight-to-video.

I’ll start by quelling the idea that this is a Horror movie. It was no doubt billed as a horror film to drum up more ticket sales. However, it’s clearly more of a Mystery/Thriller. A well-shot Mystery/Thriller. 

Two American Freeriders* travel to Georgia (the former Soviet State, not the land of Peach Trees and Coca-Cola) to snowboard down the infamous Black Ridge.

* Freeriders use a directional snowboard designed to go down uncharted deep powder terrains. Skiers would call this “backcountry” or off-the-map/off-trail skiing. Either version is dangerous.

Since two of the actors are playing visiting snowboarders from America and most of the supporting Georgian actors speak English with them (how else would it work?) most of the movie is in easily understood English. None of the actors are known in the West but it’s a well-acted affair. 

Even though the two Americans are warned numerous times by the locals about going to Black Ridge, they still press on, even bribing their way to the ridge. Very realistic. Whether looking for the most rad spot to surf or ski, or searching for that ancient hidden Cambodian temple that hasn’t yet been cleared of menacing thick jungle and Khmer land mines, the adventurer/adrenalin junkies abound. And there’s no shortage of locals that will lead these wide-eyed folks to these forbidden destinations for cash.

Once helicoptered to the peak of Black Ridge they mount their boards and descend. Things quickly go predictably wrong with the two Americans getting separated in dense fog. At this point it becomes a story of survival in breathtakingly beautiful but unrelenting terrain. Then there’s the menacing snowmobile fiend dressed in black which isn’t really the slaughterhouse Jason that you conjure up from the movie poster. (I purposely avoided using that poster shot for this review.) The fiend is actually a minor character in play when trying to keep from freezing to death over several days on a mountain. 

For movie buffs, the scenery coupled with stellar camera work makes this a real gem. To film such a backdrop without the need for green screens and expensive CGI is a cameraman’s dream. Impressive footage especially for a Russian movie. Another example is when we get a long, complicated tracking shot as the couple walks into their hotel room. Very well choreographed and smooth. It makes you wonder how many takes or practice run-throughs it took to get that shot just right. Especially considering all the reflective appliances and floor to ceiling window glass everywhere. Zero reflections of the cameraman as he maneuvered around that room. Perhaps not at the level of the infamous Copacabana nightclub Steadicam® branded single shot that Scorsese pulled off in Goodfellas but still impressive.

The shaky-cam footage we see in the middle of the film is more of an experimental offering as things start going off the rails for the snowboarding woman. But it passes. Some shots are intentionally disorienting, like after a snowboarder falls and is knocked goofy. The camera is upside down before it slowly rotates 360° against the horizon as she gets her wits about her. It’s clever and pulls you right into her mountainous world.

If there’s a shortcoming to the story it’s that we don’t really get the sense that the American couple has anything more than a recent relationship going on. For the ending to make sense the director really should’ve spent more time showing us the deep interdependence the two feel for one another. There are writers in Hollywood that specialize in such scenes. They needed that. 

If you’re a movie buff that appreciates tense thrillers that have pro production values on a tight budget, this should appeal to you. The ending will surprise you as well.

Note: There are two separate extra ending scenes once the credits roll. Not earth-shattering but there if you want. 
– Wait for Rental

Alive (R)

A man and woman wake up on post surgery beds in a macabre hospital after having major surgery to save their lives in this straight-to-video horror flick Alive.

The two patients don’t know each other. They can’t even remember their own names or who they are. To make matters worse, once the surgeon shows up to introduce himself (a cut-rate Anthony Hopkins type) it’s apparent that this hospital is a few stars short of certified. 

It’s a torture porn affair to be sure but the main thing that keeps this movie afloat is your curiosity as to whether you can figure out what’s going on – or not. Why is this surgeon trying to save them but not let them go? As both patients scuffle and roam around the hospital from hell, they get flashes of their old memories. So we all get to try to put the pieces together. A lot of possible outcomes come to mind as the movie moves along at an interesting pace. I must admit my guesses were wrong. Perhaps you’ll have better luck. 

The ending was satisfying enough that you likely won’t be mad if you guessed wrong. 

There’s an extra scene if you wait for the first set of credits to roll. That short scene is not worth waiting for.
– Wait for Rental

Alone (R)

Think of all the movies you’ve seen where a woman is kidnapped or otherwise under duress while beaten or chased by a man. It would seem these stories were all written by the same guy. It’s certainly true that there’s a lifetime of actual news events covering kidnapped women who were put through a living hell, so perhaps the stories we see over and over onscreen are somewhat realistic.

I found watching Alone with the same clichéd checked boxes a frustrating experience. Perhaps it’s a soft power illustration to attempt to help women out in real life without being too preachy about it. Hopefully women get it. If I had a wife, I’d be schooling her about all these endless mistakes women make onscreen all the time. 

So I’ll preach for a minute. Consider it a public service.

Do women really not realize they have a camera in their smartphone that can take sharp photos of sketchy guys following them – or their license plate and fire it off to friends and family? And/or simply telling the creepy guy you did so? Doing that really throws icy cold water on his plans. A photo is soooo much better than a goofy black and white police sketch.

Do women realize there is one 3 digit code that works everywhere in the US – from coast to coast and even in the woods? You need to use it as soon as you realize you’re being hunted, not after you’re in his trunk. (It’s 911 by the way and it works even on locked cell phones.)

Just mentioning the trigger phrase, “There’s a guy stalking me,” will get you immediate attention. If you’re hiding quietly and can’t speak when calling 911, just press “1” when they answer. That’s the silent code that you need the police. They will ask you yes or no questions that you can answer using the “4” (for yes) and “5” (for no) keys.

Always turn the phone to Silent while hiding so a pesky text message Ting or Twitter bird call “tweet” won’t reveal where you are hiding.

At the initial point of attack, you can’t overpower a dude unless you have a weapon. It’s a Mother Nature thing. But you can bite. You need to bite. And leave chunks of him on the pavement. Growl like a deranged dog and bite viciously like a pit bull or a Walking Dead extra. Biting isn’t even allowed in MMA cage fighting! They stopped a professional heavyweight boxing match in 1997 when Mike Tyson did it. It’s too vicious. But your life depends on it. So bite.

If you are held in his house and somehow manage to get free of the prep-room or holding cell you need to find another place to hide if he’s still in the house with you. If he opens the closet where you’re hiding, you need to become a real life movie jump scare and come out of that closet like a demon sent from hell. That’s your only chance. 

The neighbors in his neighborhood may not be sympathetic to your woes. If you look out the windows and think to yourself, I don’t know where I am! there’s a sure way to bring help to you – pronto. Set his house on fire. Curtains and sofas really take off in a hurry. If he’s still in the house, you’ll be the least of his problems once those flames get to lickin’. At that point he’ll realize you don’t play fair (that and the bite wounds all over him). It’s game over. THEN get out of the house and hunker down until the sirens show up.

Have girls never played Hide and Seek when they were little? They seem terrible at it. The secret to the game is to hunker down and stay put. Stay quiet. Don’t move. For hours. And repeat to yourself, stay quiet! Putting your hand to your mouth does nothing so don’t bother with that nonsense. But keep that mouth shut. (Bonus tip, if you’re outside at night, collect a small rock. If the pursuer is walking your way, throw the rock in another direction and it sounds like you’ve run that way away from your spot. And just because they walked away, you don’t move an inch.)

The quiet part can’t be overstated. Guys can hang out for hours at a time and only mumble three sentences, but still enjoy watching TV, fishing – or literally whatever. So women… when a predator is pursuing you, pretend you’re fishing.

Running from a guy is a problem. Again, it’s a Mother Nature thing. Also, when you’re running (instead of hunkering down and hiding – sigh) you’re making noise. But for god’s sake, if you have a lead on the predator and he doesn’t know where you went, don’t call out for help. That only leads him right to you long before a stranger will decide to get involved. People will only watch from their windows. Meanwhile – he’s coming for you.

If you step on a rock in your bare feet, don’t yell out, “Owwww!” That only leads him right to you.

Don’t whimper and cry. He has ears. That only leads him right to you. 

If you run into a spiderweb, don’t scream. That only leads him right to you. 

If you see a previous dead victim on the floor or in a closet, don’t scream. That only leads him right to you and you’ll soon be disposed of next to that previous victim. 

If someone does intervene you need to immediately spill the beans in a manner that leaves no cryptic Hollywood gray areas. This is NOT the time to be quiet or polite. Something along the lines of, “He’s held me in his basement for a month and raped me every day. Help me!! Take me to the police NOW!”

Even if it’s not true, sort out the details with the cops later. You need a hero. Heroes need to be prodded by a no-doubt scenario. No one wants to get in the middle of a simple boyfriend/girlfriend love spat. 

The unfortunate female victim in Alone did none of these things. She did the opposite of these things which I suppose made the movie longer. Whether that’s real world realistic or not, women need to use stories like these as an example of what NOT to do when a predator tries to kidnap them.

You’ve seen a dozen movies like this before. The ending has a pretty satisfying payoff (resulting in the R rating) but the endless foolish mistakes along the way are beyond irritating.
– Wait for Rental

The New Mutants (PG-13)

Since Disney has refused to release personal screeners of this film to any critics around the world, everyone, including critics, will have to brave the health risks of sitting in an actual theater with general audiences to see this movie. The US critics have all refused to go to theaters so other than a handful of overseas reviews there’s little feedback about the quality of this film. It sat on a shelf at 20th Century Fox for three years until Disney bought the company and their shelves of movies this year.

Although I’m hardly the targeted audience for this genre of films based on the cast, it piqued my curiosity. The movie theaters are fully open and safe over here in Chiang Mai, Thailand so I dove right in with no preconceived notions about what I was about to see.

The basic premise is that a hodgepodge of young adults are captured and held in a compound where they are either studied or physiologically counseled (we don’t know any more than the captives do) by the physician that oversees the large facility (all by herself). Don’t ask.

They took a refreshing direction here with their forced diverse cast of characters. The kids (shown from left to right above) are a girl from Scotland, a Brazilian boy from a rich family, an American Indian (I think she claimed she’s Comanche), a hick coal miner kid from West Virginia and a bad-ass attitude Russian chick that seems to prefer Moscow back-alley streetwalker attire. 

It’s not a very deep story and it’s hamstrung by its PG-13 rating, so guessing what each of their powers is is a big part of the mystery that keeps you engaged. Though the script is thin on new ideas, the acting is solid enough to draw you in. We don’t have a total fox actress playing an invisible woman, so it’s got that going for it. There’s also no worthless, comedy relief stooge character among the group like we typically see in movies like the Fast and Furious and the latest Stephen King’s It movie. Everyone here acts like a young person would really act in their situation. Often they act like kids. Because they basically are kids.

I haven’t seen the other 212 or so Mutant/Wolverine/Marvel coed Football Team movies that this loosely ties into, but it’s basically the kids finding their secret talent mojo and then teaming up to find a way out of their prison situation so they can. . . do whatever the script writers write next, I guess. 

There are of course multiple lesbian scenes (strangely not involving the Russian tramp) to appease the LGBTXYZ camp. The scenes are awkward but in this instance, with these kids barely out of high school, probably realistic. Had the Russian taken the reins it might have pushed the film to a better R rating, and then the scares could have been ramped up to match. 

Unfortunately it’s not seriously tense or scary but I have to admit I was engaged enough with the characters that I’m not disappointed with the overall effort. It’s a light PG-13 movie. On that level, and with little competition delivered to theaters during the pandemic this year, it’s fine. Especially if you want to see kids figure out their own Taken-style mutant special skills. It delivers on that.
– Wait for Rental


For those that set their eyes on this cartoon back in the early 90’s and thought it was crazy and/or funny, you might get more out of this documentary than you think. If you can draw and have ever given any thought to being a cartoon animator you’ll get even more out of it. The word tedious immediately comes to mind. Cartoonist live for it. Watchmakers too. 

If you don’t know what Ren and Stimpy is – or hated it, then move along. This is definitely not for you.

The documentary covers the crazy rise and fall of John Kricfalusi, the brains behind the cartoon. He has been drawing since he was a tiny kid. Comics. Cartoons, as in flip-book moving images using stacks of paper. Drawing was his gift and he was a genius at it. In real terms he was the Steve Jobs or Elon Musk of cartooning. And just like those guys, a total tyrant of a guy to work for. A really, really horrendous taskmaster. But he drove his workers to do their best work, all night, all week, all weekend if necessary. Just like Jobs and Musk when verbally whipping their toiling servants.

It’s tough stuff for the past employees to talk about, but they do. It’s hard to believe how much past film footage and personalities this documentary pulled together. The gang of misfit cartoonists assembled in those early days remind me of the stories about Mötley Crüe both in their roach infested living conditions and the lack of food to eat. A real scrappy make it or die attitude shared by both professions. And both camps got groupies. Cartoonist groupies? Who knew?

Even more eerie, similar to the rock band stories, the Ren and Stimpy contract with the shyster Network (Nickelodeon) would be as treacherous as the record company deals that fleeced EVERY rock band you can think of. 

With rock bands, meteoric success often leads to endless touring, drug use and their downfall. With animation, meteoric success often leads to endless hours, impossible-to-meet deadlines, fraying nerves and their downfall.

Possible Spoilers Below. But if you’re unlikely to rent it, read on. Especially if you’re a performer/artist of any kind.

A point briefly covered in the documentary that might go over a lot of people’s heads; John Kricfalusi acted out his cartoon ideas (like a crazy person) in the pitch rooms of the different Networks. On the wall behind him were his drawings of his various characters. 

His pitch was for “Your Gang” an irreverent poke at the Our Gang comedy films of the 1920’s. Irreverent or “edgy” was the main goal of anything John Kricfalusi touched (drew). Two of the characters on that wall were the Gang’s dog and cat named Ren and Stimpy. The executive liked those two characters best and wanted to run with only the Ren and Stimpy pets.

When the cartoon immediately breaks all records, single-handedly making Nickelodeon the shining star of cable TV, a year in, Kricfalusi goes off-script and is fired… but he gets nothing going forward for his creation of Ren and Stimpy as the cartoon continues without him. Why? Because he was pitching “Your Gang.” They didn’t take that deal. Going with Ren and Stimpy was the NETWORK’S idea. Per the underhanded clause in the legal paperwork, they own those characters that he drew.  

Boom. That’s how the shyster companies work. Artists of every genre need to be wary and lawyer-up before signing anything with any corporation. The corporations are all scoundrels. 

Even more in line with the world of rock stars, John Kricfalusi also has this thing for under age groupies. As hard to imagine as it is, the rock stars (all of them) have for the most part escaped the Me Too Movement for their (nightly?) backstage antics. Not this cartoonist. He’s pretty much done for.

We’ve all seen a ton of Behind the Music documentaries on all our favorite bands. This is exactly the same thing, but about a band of infamous cartoonists instead. If you can stand Ren and Stimpy, this might be for you. You have to see it to believe it. 
– Wait for Rental

Sputnik (R) 

Two Cold War era cosmonauts returning from space have an alien encounter in this Russian movie that has a whopping 90% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

I purposely didn’t watch any trailers for the movie so I could avoid seeing any shots of the alien in advance. Whether that helped or not, I personally found the alien underwhelming. But watching the trailer afterward I’ll warn you, as is often the case, the trailer basically shows the whole movie. 

The two cosmonauts land in Kazakhstan in 1983. In bad shape. They are taken to a facility that looks exactly like what your imagination would conjure up when thinking about a Soviet research facility. Bleak. Every shot of the movie paints a realistic bleak picture of Russia. Joyless. 

No sugarcoating here.

A female Russian doctor is summoned to the facility to examine one of the parasite-infected cosmonauts. That’s where 90% of the 1hr 54min movie takes place. (Rotten Tomatoes lists it as 107 minutes. That’s not the true theatrical length.) 

Unlike a Hollywood film where we’d be introduced to additional characters (perhaps even unnecessary ones) outside the facility to add spice and a nice change of venue, here we only get a few equally dark scenes of a Russian orphanage. Perhaps the film needs a few of those Hollywood unnecessary scenes to give us a welcomed break from the doom and gloom, if only for two minutes. But that’s just my American take.

Again, Mother Russia with no shine on it. Just the facts. And no-nonsense dogged research of the infected and what to do with the parasite.

As you would expect, the film is entirely in Russian and it’s dialogue-heavy. The English subtitles are well written but sometimes flash in frustratingly short durations that make you long for a rewind button.

By the initial high ratings, I thought this was a movie theater kind of film. It’s not. This is no Alien franchise. And if you watch at home you’ll appreciate the availability of that rewind button.

If you’re looking for a fast paced sci-fi adventure, this isn’t it. The Russians go for methodical moviemaking. And realism. If anything, this film gives us a rare behind-the-scenes peek into the Russian view of their own world. It’s as alien as the parasite. 
– Wait for Rental

Before the Fire (NR)

Shot on handheld cameras (YMMV) this is a movie about a world pandemic. Written before the Wuhan Virus pandemic. That may be the most interesting part about watching it. 

With all flights cancelled in America and full lockdowns ordered, a couple decides the safest place to hibernate would be the rural Midwest. Certainly not Los Angeles. 

Pulling strings, the newspaper journalist/photographer boyfriend calls in a favor and gets a private pilot to fly Ava (Jenna Lyng Adams), his pretty girlfriend back to her podunk hometown in a prop plane. I mention pretty because that’s the major source of tension once she touches down in Mitchell, South Dakota to stay with her boyfriend’s family.

The backstory is that Ava fled this podunk town to become an actress and subsequently succeeded with a starring role in a famous werewolf TV series. So unlike other films (like Cowboys & Aliens) her out-of-place looks makes sense here. But the locals don’t appreciate her shunning of her roots. And then there’s her own family (who live in the same town). Like something straight out of Deliverance. Some real issues there. 

So that’s the run-of-the-mill storyline going on here. What I found more interesting is the filmmaker’s view of what a world pandemic would look like. Very Hollywood and very wrong. Not because we wouldn’t have bought into this scary view a year ago (we would have probably thought it very plausible) but not now after actually living it. 

We now know that gas prices don’t jump to $10 a gallon when a pandemic happens. Quite the opposite. No one drives in a lockdown and crude oil prices plummet to all time lows. Mass anarchy with armed citizens all shooting each other over food? Nope. Just as with an impending snowstorm, toilet paper hoarding is what really happens when a pandemic is announced.  

And then there’s a scene after Ava shows up at her boyfriend’s family house where the farmer mumbles out-loud, suddenly worried about another mouth to feed – on a farm. Anyone who’s been to a midwestern farm knows that food is the least of your worries. Ever try to eat an acre of corn? Good luck with that. Farmers grow so much corn they fill entire 100’ tall silos with it. Even the Indians survived on corn – all winter. In the 1400’s. With no mechanization.

And then there’s the other veggies out back.

And deer meat. 

Wait until you see the hilarious amounts of food these on-screen farmers are stocking up with for the pandemic. In reality most of their money is made exporting their abundant crops overseas.

This movie was written by the star of the film, Jenna Lyng Adams. It’s her first screenwriting effort so make of it what you will.

Whenever there’s a stuck-in-a-room horror movie or tense drama you know somebody is either dependent on an inhaler or insulin. This movie checks that box as well. For those in need of a reality check, one of the hardest tasks any American soldier deals with in boot camp is marching with a bulky M-16 in their hands for any distance. Unbearably difficult until you build the muscles to do it. Wait till you see the platoon-worth of ordinance Ava totes for miles on her back. Like something out of a Bionic Woman TV episode.

All I can say is that other than the wildly wrong guesses that any of us might have missed a year ago, the timing of this release could not have been better. If you’re running out of things to watch during this real life pandemic, this movie will pass the time just fine. But a heads up – when the screen goes dark at the end, wait until you see the credits start. It may not really be the end quite yet.

Warning-The trailer for this film basically shows the whole movie.
– Wait for Rental

Most Wanted (R)

Based on a true story (embellishment level unknown) this is the saga of the entrapment (by the Canadian government) of a young Canadian junkie who is caught doing a drug deal in Bangkok and subsequently sent to a Thai prison on drug charges.

We’ve all seen overseas prison stories like this before. From Turkey to Thailand. Even a young Kate Beckinsale starred in a Thai prison drug-mule-gone-wrong movie. 

But this one covers more of the long and intricate lead-up to the flight to Thailand and subsequent prison sentence, using non-linear storyline. In fact it tends to jump around to the point of either confusion or irritation depending on your mood.

Taking place back in 1989 we see the beginnings of The War on Drugs and the pressures America put on other countries (in this case Canada) to make big busts to show progress for all the money spent on The War. So much pressure the Canadian police go to the lengthy (as in ridiculous jumping through hoops to make it happen) trouble of setting up an innocent man, even after they clearly know he’s nothing more than a patsy. Thankfully there’s another thread to this one where an investigative reporter doesn’t buy the government cover story and flies to Thailand to attempt to uncover the ugly truth about the Canadian drug bust.

Ah, 1989. Corded phones indoors, pagers and pay-phones outdoors. Lots of calls made. Like watching an old Matlock episode. 

Comedian Jim Gaffigan has been landing a lot of movie roles lately and does his usual solid work as the gritty bad guy who carefully lures the unsuspecting Canadian twenty-something kid who’s down on his luck with no money. Anyone who’s seen more than one episode of Locked Up Abroad knows that’s exactly the type of people that are taken advantage of or otherwise bamboozled into smuggling drugs in and out of countries, sometimes without even knowing they’re doing it.

If you enjoyed the Locked Up Abroad series on TV and are a sucker for drug trafficking stories gone wrong, this might be for you. The Bangkok, Thailand scenes are about as authentic as you’ve ever seen in a film. There is none of the exaggerated nonsense that most Hollywood movies throw in. This one just sticks to the facts of what happened day to day while the unfortunate soul was flown to Bangkok for the multi-kilo heroin deal. 

That said, between the unnecessary shaky-cam throughout and the jumping around forward and back in time between numerous groups of characters, it’s a full two hour test of your patience. Add to that my personal guess that you’ll only “like” one of the characters out of the dozen on-screen and it’s likely a movie that most people can skip. 
– Wait for Rental

The Rental (R)

Two couples rent a beautiful beach house together for the weekend in the latest Airbnb horror movie The Rental. Although the story isn’t fantastic I must say all the actors are stellar. Everyone is surprisingly believable in every single scene. 

Like a lot of movies in this genre the customers in this case are not people you’d really want renting your place. First of all they bring a dog to an insanely beautiful house when the Airbnb listing specifically says no pets. It’s dumb on so many levels to do that.

But once the guests figure out that they are being filmed in the house, things get really dicey. 

It’s worth a rental only because the last 15 minutes are tense as hell. And then after the movie finishes, there’s an additional couple of minutes of extra footage that might make people think twice about Airbnb stays. I’m sure it’s the stuff that keeps the Airbnb headquarters up at night. As it should.

The trailers for this movie show way too much so refrain if possible. This one went straight-to-video.
– Wait for Rental

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (NR)

This is the follow up to the Korean zombie movie Train to Busan (AKA Busanhaeng) that came out in 2016. It was a hit in the streaming world and I enjoyed it as well as a rental. Korean movie makers are as close to Hollywood quality as any asian country these days. The original zombie movie was well done too. (You can absolutely view this second part as a standalone film without seeing the original).

In this sequel that occurs 4 years after the zombie disease outbreak, we see how the last ship to make it out of Zombie-filled Korea landed in Hong Kong after being denied entry by other nearby counties. (Because Communist China is world-renowned for being so open to outsiders in need. LOL.)

The Koreans are treated as redheaded stepchildren in their new Chinese land (as in real life) so when this ragtag group of Koreans are offered a deal to bring a truck full of cash back to Hong Kong (for a million dollar cut per participant) they obviously take the deal. But the plan involves being shipped back to the Korean peninsula where they’ll have to deal with the zombies (again) to retrieve the truck and bring it to the dock for the return pickup on the ship to Hong Kong.

It’s an odd feeling to sit through this film in a movie theater in the middle of a world pandemic. (Thailand movie theaters reopened in early June but few new movies have been released to theaters in that time.) What timing for this release! Furthermore, the Korean filmmakers gladly set-up the movie with the Korean newscasters claiming the Zombie Virus came out of Seoul, Korea. Funny. China would never show that in their movies. In today’s real world, Communist China refuses to even own up to their own “Wuhan Virus” that has taken the world down. Pinpointing outbreaks shall now and forever be forbidden! What a joke.

Peninsula is action packed and shows World War Z numbers of zombies. As with all the latest action movies over the last handful of years, the car scenes are more video game based than reality, and girl power is on full display. Since it’s a Korean movie there is a bit more standing around, contemplating with their emotions on their sleeves when seconds count than you may be used to. So know in advance what you’re in for. It also suffers from the same fallacy all end-of-the-world movies employ where millions of fleeing people politely park their cars off to the side of all roads and highways as they perish in horrible ways – just in case somebody comes back later and needs to drive down the center of the road unabated. Probably the most far-fetched part of the film. That said, as a zombie movie, Peninsula is effective for what it is. 

The ending could have gone multiple ways. Whether or not you think they went the right direction depends on your tolerance for tearjerking vs. happy endings. It might have been a more powerful summer movie had it gone the “other” way. Just a thought.
– See it on the Big Screen (if allowed in your world city)

Greyhound (PG-13) 

Use to be that when a film was made, regardless of the studio that created it, it would be shown in the theaters and then trickle to all the various rental platforms one by one. Things have changed. Now with movies like The Irishman (Netflix only) and The Report (Amazon Prime only) it’s harder to see what you want unless you’re ready to subscribe to all the streaming companies out there. HBO GO has their list of proprietary content and Disney Plus will now herd all their films into their barbed-wire corral of content.  

Now Apple is on that list with the new Tom Hanks movie Greyhound (Apple+ only).

Written by Tom Hanks, it’s a story about the Greyhound escort ship during WWII, desperately trying to defend their convoy of 37 ships from the wolf packs of German U-boats as they cross the Atlantic from the US to England. 

The onboard scenes (when not scurrying around locating enemy subs) are weak. There’s the radio relay guy that takes extra time to sneeze, thus delaying the crucial relay message during a battle. Hmmm. OK. That’s a nugget, I guess. There’s the black cook that spends time preparing the Captain (Hanks) delicious looking food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But Hanks never touches any of it. My, how tragic. Whether it’s because he’s too busy or just not a foodie, we’re never privy to the reason. 

Unlike any other war movie you’ve ever seen, there’s zero time spent on character development. There’s seriously more time spent listening to a Colonel Klink sounding antagonistic German who taunts the crew over the radio from the sub below than the US crew members onboard the ship. Mostly crew members just repeating orders of what others have said.

When guys die (even the cook) we really don’t care. We know nothing about any of them. They’re all as expendable as those Star Trek crew members of the Starship Enterprise who wore red uniforms. They always died on the planetary excursions, and we didn’t care because they were just extras anyway. Here we have a whole ship of extras. 

But they still spend minutes of film on a burial at sea scene for crew members we never saw, other than the cook just a few fleeting times (seconds) when he delivered a meal. We’ve spent the whole movie on the bridge of the ship with Hanks. Like in his film Castaway, he’s in every scene!

The battle scenes are entertaining and there’s plenty of them. Hanks does a good job spewing out the naval lingo like a pro, and the guys on deck look plenty scared. But it’s likely the thinnest war movie (on land or water) that you’ve ever seen.

This one is only for Hanks fans that don’t want to miss any of his films. All others should avoid it. 
– Wait for Rental

Volition (NR)

What an odd film.

A greasy, grimy guy meets a greasy, grimy girl* in this tale of a man who receives visions of the future and utilizes time travel backward to try to fix his screw-ups. If only the director had either of those skills we might have had a better film. 

*At least she gets one shower in during her short unfortunate encounter with him. 

In one scene the actress sits on the rooftop and her knees and shins are beat up like a crack addict. Although she was in a scuffle in an alley earlier, her legs weren’t really involved. We never figure out why she’s living out of her car but she’s beyond dirty. He just ignores it.

The basic premise is that Greasy, Grimy Guy is tasked with delivering a small bag of precious diamonds worth over 10 million from the local hood boss to the money men for his $100,000 share of the payout. Two just-out-of-prison hoods are in the room too, which is odd when spilling out a handful of 10 million worth of diamonds on the desk. Greasy, Grimy Guy is really the only one with the (mystical) skills to actually move these diamonds. 

So the little black bag of diamonds is simply handed to Greasy, Grimy Guy to put in his pocket full of lint. It’s been years since I fenced diamonds, but I’m pretty sure this is a bad way to move them around town. 

The biggest problem with the story (other than the absurdity of the diamond deal) is that the director takes Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day into his kitchen, blends it with every time travel movie he’s ever seen to create a mile high club sandwich of storyline that you really don’t want to finish. Way too many components. 

Even with his gift of clairvoyance and multiple do-overs, Greasy, Grimy Guy is beyond inept in his attempts to change the dire future. So many Mulligans to sit through! Ugh!

The bottom line is that everyone here seems to be a dumb degenerate, everyone is grungy, and the script tries to get too cute with time travel. In the end it’s just frustrating and annoying as hell. 
– Avoid!

Archive (NR)

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 in the future 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

Proximity (NR)

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. 


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.
– Avoid!

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

Bloodshot (PG-13)

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. 

Makes sense.    

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. 
– Avoid!

Extracurricular (R) 
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.

Go to 2019 Movie Reviews