AMERICAN NIGHT (Italy 2021) **
Directed by Allesio Della Valle
AMERICAN NIGHT is described as a neo-noir set in the New York City's corrupt contemporary art world where the art dealer John Kaplan and the ruthless head of New York's mafia, Michael Rubino, fight for money, art, power and love.
When the film opens, the audience is warned that the film unfolds in 3 Parts and those in the know would shrug at the film’s long running time of 2 hours and 5 minutes, especially when the film has a muddled lacklustre opening which is all over the place.
The film jumps into 4 separate parts within the beginning 5 minutes. The audience witnesses, first a silly argument how one can kill with the correct stance and swing, as stuntman and wanna ninja (Jeremy Piven) explains to another. The film switches to two females in a car, who are described as black market art dealers. The film jumps to a painter (Emile Hirsch) in a suave outfit throwing paint on a canvas before shooting the canvas with bullet holes. This is supposedly art. Then the setting is a mansion of some mobsters where respects are being paid to a recently deceased, supposedly the father of the painter.
The story concerns a highly coveted Andy Warhol painting that suddenly surfaces. It triggers a chain reaction of danger-filled events for an oddball group of characters including: a forger turned art dealer (Jonathan Rhys Meyers); a mobster and painter (Emile Hirsch) with a penchant for scorpions; a seductive museum conservator (Paz Vega); and a stuntman and wannabe ninja (Jeremy Piven). Filled with daring double-crosses and surprising twists and turns, the race for the painting comes to an explosive conclusion…one American Night.
The Jonathan Rhys Meyers paint splattering sex scene that is perhaps inspired by Antonioni’s BLOW-UP is definitely disgustingly low grade trying to pass on \artistic. The entire film has that similar feel, with director Della Valle trying to pass his nonsense as art. The Andy Warhol slant in the film is typical. Does Warhol pass as art or is he just plain kitsch?
Substituting style for substance (or the director’s version of style more accurately) does not really work in this tedious overlong exercise of an American crime noir by an Italian.
IMPLANTED (USA 2021) **
Directed by Fabien DuFils
The new sci-fi horror attempts to be as relevant and current as the film IMPLANTED opens in the setting 3 years after the global pandemic. Humans are tested with an implanted chip in order to diagnose one’s health and as sure as can be, things go haywire. The film begins with a man gone mad in the middle of night. From the looks of it, as he grabs his head with both hands, there is something impacted in him that is causing him to experience great pain - pain that he cannot bear any longer. Blood is then revealed covering his hands as he collapses in the middle of the street.
Sarah, a struggling young woman living in Brooklyn, agrees to volunteer as an experimental test subject for a pharmaceutical company called Dynamic Health Cure and to be implanted with the LEXX nanochip. Sarah hopes that the money ($20,000) received for her participation will solve her financial troubles and help her to take care of her mother who has Alzheimer’s. A nanochip is implanted in her cerebral cortex. It is designed with artificial intelligence technology to take control of the body at the inception of any disease or illness. When the implant turns sinister and orders her to commit crimes, Sarah is plunged into a murderous spiral with only one choice: to live or die.
How does implantation work? The audience follows Sarah (a female to make the film more politically correct), as she is given a personal profile with LEXX from the company. Everything appears fine till Sarah gets pissed off at LEXX and requests a reset. Like HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, LEXX cannot be controlled and takes over Sarah. “Sarah, you cannot leave me. We are partners. Now, we have to rectify your error. You are under my control. From now on, you have to obey my instructions. You will obey or you will die.”
IMPLANTED is clearly made during the Pandemic as most of the characters are socially distanced from each other. The majority of the film follows an alone Sarah, a homeless person, not in touch with many people. There are few people around Sarah in most of the scenes.
Director Dufils ejects a bit of satire into his film. “Take deep breaths, hydrate, ….” These are typical advice humans are given by their therapists daily. It is funny to see these repeated by LEXX.
In these two weeks, this reviewer has seen 3 one-handlers in which the protagonist spends the majority of the screen time talking to one person. In Phillip Noyce’s soon to be released LAKEWOOD, Naomi Watts spends most of the time jogging and on her mobile talking to the police regarding saving her son from a shooter at his school. In Antoine Fuqua’s soon to be released THE GUILTY, Jake Gyllenhaal spends most of the screen time on a 9-1-1 call at the 9-1-1 dispatch centre. In IMPLANTED, Sarah spends most of the time talking to LEXX. In each of the three films, the directors up the angst in what could be a very intense period. The movie is reduced here to a one-act play. One can and should complain that movies are meant for the big screen and audiences expect blockbusters. It is of no surprise that IMPLANTED has scored low on the audience tomato metre on Rotten Tomatoes. IMPLANTED is not a bad psychological thriller but it is tiresome to see films made during the Pandemic with one protagonist talking to one person or in this case one computer during the entire movie. Movies should be more than that.
IMPLANTED is available on digital platforms on October 1, 2021
MAYDAY (USA 2021) **
Directed by Karen Cinorre
MAYDAY may qualify as one of this year’s weirdest fantasy, that somehow might seem relevant for two reasons - the #MeToo Movement and the Covid-19 Pandemic. The film follows its female protagonist Ana, who enters a rabbit hole (in this case an oven) similar to ALICE IN WONDERLAND, landing in an alternate universe in what seems to be World War II.
The film, MAYDAY begins with the army alphabet phonetics: Mary, Alpha, Yankee, Delta, Alpha, Yankee” standing for''Mayday ``. Those who have been in the army or associated in the army will immediately know that this is wrong. Mike is used for the letter ‘M’ not Mary. It becomes clear in writer/director Cinorre’s film that this is the female version with Mary replacing Mike. MAYDAY , her new movie is clearly a part of the #MeToo Movement, a female fantasy where women take revenge on the male species.
The audience is introduced to the film’s protagonist, Ana. Ana (Grace Van Patten) works in a hotel where she is harassed by her male manager., both work-wise and sexually. After an unusual storm causes a short circuit, Ana opens an oven door that leads to a land where three women warriors (Mia Goth, Havana Rose Liu and Soko) live in a stranded U-boat during what seems to be WWII. Pretending to be damsels in distress, they send out “Mayday” signals, luring
soldiers to their death. Payback for the way men treated them in the past?
There is a lot of male hate in this female fantasy where women lead male soldiers to their death. It is surprising that female director Cinorre is working with her male life partner Sam Levy as her cinematographer who shoots some beautiful shots. The film was shot largely in Croatia, making it an ideal tourist ad for the country.
“I am afraid of heights.” “No wonder, you are always at the bottom.” is the reply to Ana’s remark. When she insists that she is an easy target, she is told that she should be the attacker. Ana is trained as such. Ana is to be trained to be a man-hater but she is unable to be turned into one, falling in love with one of her victims. The rest of the film has her attempting to return to normalcy. This involves her being at the right place at the right time, something really silly that makes no sense or credibility.
It can be seen that this is a Pandemic influenced film. Ana is seen in many scenes alone, and if with others, socially distanced.
Besides some fresh ideas, MAYDAY’s outrageous story about female man-haters set in a fantasy world of women runs out of steam and credibility. Who really cares about Ana and the others? Juliette Lewis livens the proceedings a little, making two small appearances, but she cannot save this exercise.
The film debuted in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance 2021. It opens at the Carlton Cinemas October 1st, which has just recently opened after being closed for a long period due to Covid-19. It is also available on VOD.
NO TIME TO DIE (James Bond)
(reviewer on long deserved holiday at Turks and Caicos - missed preview screening)
SEANCE (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Simon Barrett
SEANCE is a new teen horror flick opening this week on Shudder. SEANCE is about a seance conducted that supposedly brings back the spirit of a dead girl, as the participants attempt to find out the truth of her death - if it was suicide or murder.
Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse) is the new girl at the prestigious Edelvine Academy for Girls. Camille takes the place of a girl that has recently been found dead after having fallen from her bedroom window. Soon after her arrival in the dead of winter, six girls invite her to join them in a late-night ritual, calling forth the spirit of a dead former student who reportedly haunts their halls. The camera loves to show the white wintry conditions outside the school building, a scene reminiscent of old horror films, that depict that something ominous is about to happen. But before morning, one of the girls is dead, leaving the others wondering what they may have awakened. Written and directed by Simon Barrett (YOU'RE NEXT, THE GUEST), Barrett has already proved himself quite apt at the horror genre.
SEANCE is derivative from other films. If it is to steal from other films, it might have been stolen from the best. SEANCE could have borrowed from as it bears resemblance with Dario Argento’s SUSPIRA (slasher in a music academy), CANDYMAN (say the spirit’s name in front of a mirror and the shirt will appear behind you), BLACK CHRISTMAS (slasher in a dorm), MEAN GIRLS (bullying running foul) and also with Mrs. Langley the headmistress of the college looks much like Rachel Robert’s headmistress in Peter Weir’s PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. The camera shot of two girls sharing the same bed is also right out of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. The closing credits are done in bright pink, similar to the bright red credits that always follow the Italian Gallo horror films of the 70’s and 60’s.
The film delves into what a group of girls will do if they band together. The most obvious is that they form a pack, not allowing newcomers to join in. There is bullying, and the fight to be the leader.
If there is any predictability in the story, it has to be the identity of the slasher. In this case, the obvious suspect is Trevor, the handsome son of Mrs. Langley. In films like Agatha Christie’s TWISTED NERVE and BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING and other murder mysteries, the killer often turns out to be the most good-looking guy, and the least suspect, like the boyfriend of the lead character. Whether Trevor is the one, the identity will not be revealed in the review. The film has a resolved but still open ending.
SEANCE does not break new ground but director Barrett’s aims to rehash old material. Nothing wrong here, as Barrett succeeds in keeping his audience entertained by the murderous goings-on at the academy if not titillating them with young female flesh, though no nudity is present, just lots of teasing.
Don’t expect much but the teen thriller, SEANCE delivers in terms of an easy to watch entertaining time waster.