Movie Reviews 2020


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 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 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


HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY: THE REN & STIMPY STORY (NR)

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 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 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. 

** OBVIOUS SPOILERS BELOW **

The movie starts out in 1979 in an Alaskan timber project. A UFO shows up and a human abduction occurs. Then it flips to “Present Day” but then stays in a retro-world of the early nineties with tape machines and clunky personal computers. The director wisely avoids any close shots of automobiles that are always a telltale sign of the era. He even puts the lead kid on a bicycle riding to work in California. They carefully avoid or keep background cars unfocused in all shots. There’s some vintage cell phone use but mostly landlines. The kid is toting a $5,000 JVC KY1900 video recorder that’s so big you basically sit it on your shoulder to film with it. It came out in 1982 but because there was no Internet back then (Compuserve text pre-Internet at best) we’ll presume it’s just this kid’s old trusty video camera he’s still using in the 90’s.

As the California residents witness what looks like a large meteor streaming across the sky, this kid is in a perfect position to walk up close to the impact site in the mountains where he films the craft and alien visitor before his abduction where he’s then missing for three days without his even knowing it.

But they slip up on the timeline and add a social media scene where the lead kid posts his alien abduction video on a YouTube precursor that acts and feels very YouTubeish. Sort of like a parallel universe where things were discovered out of order, but clearly not an intentional part of the story. It’s more of a movie crutch to keep the story alive. Regardless, posting abduction videos online that get a lot of Likes will also get you some unwanted attention. 

Next we’re thrust into a Men in Black type of government facility with futuristic humanoids dressed in white leather uniforms you’d find in a fetish shop on Hollywood Blvd in the 90’s. But with his alien-abducted unexplained special set of Sci-Fi mental skills this kid is able to escape this high-tech research lab along with his also abducted misfit toy actress in tow. As they burst out of a random exit they find themselves in a jungle – in Costa Rica! We (and the kid) knows this because of the conveniently located ox-pulled wagon going by with a colorful El Café de Costa Rica painted on the side.

It’s here we get 80’s keyboard-centric music playing over slow motion shots of our fugitives in an MTV style video as they trudge along Costa Rican dirt roads with the white leather fetish humanoids on white futuristic motorcycles in hot pursuit. Soon enough they meet a bug-eyed misfit toy hacker who helps them on their quest to find the leader of the abducted ones who has all the answers they need.

So the bearded, bug-eyed misfit toy negotiates to get a pilot to fly the three of them in a seaplane from Costa Rica to Vancouver, British Columbia to save the day. Hilarious! That’s a straight line fight of 3,516 miles. In a commercial jet that would take over 7 hours. Further than a coast-to-coast US fight. Taking that journey in a propeller seaplane that can only land on water, the scenic flight along the California coast would be a laughably longer route. Looking into it, a typical seaplane flies at a leisurely 80 MPH (VS. 500+ MPH for a commercial jet). Not even taking into account the necessary seaplane fuel stops every 400 miles, it would be a 44 hour flight as the crow flies, in a cramped 4-seater plane with no bathroom onboard or food/drink service. Only astronauts would sign up for such torture. It would have been a less asinine plot hole if they had suddenly introduced teleportation into the story.

So we end up at a Unabomber-fashioned cabin-in-the-woods finale complete with a Ted Kaczynski wannabe hermit right at ground zero where the aliens are coming back for another visit in three days. Why are the aliens so intent on examining humans? Because of their quest to know more about this guy that Westerners call Jesus. Really.

The movie doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. And these actors had better not quit their day jobs. 

– 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