HONK FOR JESUS: SAVE YOUR SOUL (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Adamma Ebo
HONK FOR JESUS; SAVE YOUR SOUL is a satirical comedy starring Regina Hall as Trinitie Childs - the proud first lady of a Southern Baptist megachurch, who together with her husband Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown), once served a congregation in the tens of thousands. But after a sexual allegation scandal forces their church to temporarily close, Trinitie and Lee-Curtis must reopen their church and rebuild their congregation to make the biggest comeback that commodified religion has ever seen.
The action takes place in the aftermath of the huge scandal. The major part of the film is Trinitie Childs, the first lady of a prominent Southern Baptist Mega Church, attempting to help her pastor-husband, Lee-Curtis Childs, rebuild their congregation. It proves one thing -that things that are broken cannot be fixed, no matter how hard one tries.
Though billed as a satire comedy, most of the action that takes place, the rise and fall of the church leader and attempt to rise back to glory has been depicted many, many times in history and also made into films such as in the recent 2021 Michael Showater’s THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE with Andrew Garfield playing the downfallen pastor Jim Bakker. As in the case of Pastor Childs, all these evangelists have amassed large sums of wealth in the name of Jesus. They are, needless to say, the biggest hypocrites on the planet. They claim that Jesus has forgiven them, they are new and refreshed and will begin saving souls once again for Jesus. These are the same words uttered by Pastor Childs in HONK FOR JESUS. The only thing Childs deserves is a special seat in hell.
But HONK FOR JESUS concentrates on the character of his wife, Trinitie - the proud first lady who always stands by her husband. The wife is often just as interesting a character as the husband, as evident in THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE. The film shows her dedication to her husband which includes a compromising sex scene where she takes it from behind and has to do a blow-job in order to satisfy him and bring his confidence back. But the film shows credibility, that there is a limit to tolerance. She loses it completely when her husband’s abused male teenager shows up unannounced to upend their efforts.
The two leads Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown, both multiple award winning actors deliver stellar performances worthy of more awards. Hall displays both vulnerability, strength, emotion and constraint. It helps that director Ebo loves to have his camera right up the face of his characters. Often, it is done interview style, as the Childs often speak directly to the camera. The excuse is that they are being filmed on camera in the story by a girl called Anita who is only heard but never seen on screen. Brown prances around just like the TV evangelists, oblivious of all the damage he has done.
Throughout the film, which is likely the director’s intent, is the audience wondering what the purpose is of the film. The hypocrisy of such ministries is already well known. What that intent is is how the audience will feel at the end of the movie. More than a satire, HONK FOR JESUS is a study of human endurance and the film works in this respect.
HONK FOR JESUS: SAVES YOUR SOUL is a compelling watch, a close up rather unpleasant character study of the desperation of how much a human being is willing to go through, despite all odds, to regain fame and fortune.
THE HORROR CROWD (USA 2021) **
Directed by Ruben Pal
THE HORROR CROWD, a documentary about the people who supposedly created (or at least largely influenced) the horror genre begins big with clips of the two arguably the most influential and scary films of all times, JAWS and FRANKENSTEIN. The doc introduces the audience to a “Who’s Who” roster of talent in this horror genre documentary.
Director Ruben Pla who appears at the beginning of the film and seeks directly to the camera, has assembled an impressive all-star cast of actors and filmmakers to discuss the Hollywood horror community, covering such wide-ranging topics as women in horror, race relations, “being the weird kid,” and film festivals, as well as the unique community and support that exists in the space. Together, this “crowd” dishes on horror creators, actors and fans. They also discuss why they chose (and still choose) to be involved with the horror genre and its tangential community. Despite the dark and scary implications of the genre, the community behind it is rather warm and generous amongst its own; a chosen family bonded by living their lives as weird kids and outliers.
Among those featured on film are:
the doc’s director Ruben Pla who explains how he entered filmmaking
actress Lin Shaye (Insidious) whoppers with her dog
Greg Grunberg (Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker)
Russell Mulcahy (Director - Highlander, Resident Evil: Extinction)
Darren Lynn Bousman (Director/Writer - Saw franchise)
Jeffrey Reddick (Writer - Final Destination)
Mike Mendez (Editor - Big Ass Spider)
Charles de Lauzirika (Producer - Blade Runner)
Lombardo Boyar (Big Ass Spider)
Clare Kramer ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
Adam Robitel (Escape Room)
Brea Grant ("Dexter")
Sarah Nicklin (Blood Pi)
Craig Perry (Producer - Final Destination)
Kevin Tenney (Director - Witchboard)
Sean Decker (Damnation)
and shots of a few others like James Wan.
The most enjoyable segments are the clips from William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST. The sight of Regan, the child elevating from the bed and spewing green stuff brings back solid horror memories. Many of the filmmakers claim that they could not sleep for weeks after watching the film, many too young to be allowed to see the film according to the film’s classification, but managed to watch the film on video, which was brought home by their parents.
The thing that is expected is that all the horror filmmakers are just ordinary people. Unfortunately the revelation does not do much as ordinary people hardly make interesting fodder for movies. Many share similar traits and experiences - one of them being bullied as a kid in school. Making horror movies appears to be something that needs to be done to prove oneself. The doc could have included more horror film clips - of classic and perhaps hidden gems, so that audiences will have a list of must-see films to take home. The doc could also have included a few more more famous names.
THE HORROR CROWD aims low and achieves its aims. It is an easy watch, pleasant and entertaining. For horror film geeks, the doc would definitely be a rated 4-star from them.
THE HORROR CROWD will be available via digital and VOD on September 2.
I CAME BY (UK 2022) ***1/2
Directed by Babak Anvari
With shades of William Wyler’s classic of the 60’s, THE COLLECTOR, I CAME BY is a devious thriller about a former judge who keeps a prisoner in his basement. Not until he is discovered by graffiti artist Toby (George MacKay from Sam Mendes’ 1917), former judge Hector Blake (Hugh Bonneville from DOWNTON ABBEY) had little to worry about.
There are lots of curves and turns in the story. The title I CAME BY derives from the words of graffiti painted in the homes of the rich and wealthy, a sort of message delivered to condemn high class society. The graffiti artists, Toby and Jay (Percelle Ascott) break into the homes to do their work. When Jay quits after news that he is about to become a father, Toby alone breaks into Blake’s place to discover the prisoner in the basement. In an attempt to free him, he is caught and himself captured by Blake.
Toby’s beleaguered mother (wonderfully played by Kelly MacDonald) takes it upon herself to do the detective work, herself spying on him outside his mansion and finding more about him online. She learns of Toby and Jay’s involvement as graffiti artists. She herself ends up breaking into Blake’s house. Lizzie will do anything to find her lost son, she is made more guilty for the fact that she threw him out of the house after a heated argument.
As described, the plot of the film thickens not once but too many times. But somehow these different turns of events make the film a compelling watch, despite the fact that it is often all over the place. Certain segments are well executed as in the one an Iranian asylum seeker plays a troubling sounding Tchaikovsky’s piece on the record player when visiting Blake in his home, the soundtrack adding to the tension of the situation.
MacDonald makes the movie as she is always so good as she is in this one. Bonneville makes the perfect sinister villain, then one would love to see killed off. The one problem performance comes from George MacKay who just does not cut it as the rebellious son. His performance looks similar to Harry Enfield’s comic character, Kevin in the Kevin and Perry TV series and movie KEVIN AND PERRY GO LARGE, both of which never aired or released in North America but are comical classics in the U.K.
One thing solid about the script is that it is unpredictable.
The other thing that distinguishes this script and film from other thrillers in the genre is the multiple shifting of protagonists. Once Toby is out of the picture, the protagonist turns out to be Toby’s mum, Lizzie and then Jay. There is also a good explanation as to who the prisoner is, as in the monologue delivered by Blake. The film contains an ending, not to be revealed in the review that is satisfactory but not necessarily happy. This fact also distinguishes this thriller from the others.
I CAME BY opens on Netflix this week and it had an opening week theatrically in the U.K. before also debuting on Netflix. For a Netlflix film to be watched at home, I CAME BY deserves a solid passing grade. Despite mediocre reviews, I loved this film.
THE MOVIE (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Michael Mandell
It is difficult to make a good movie about the making of the worst movie of all time.
Former child star Janet Gillespie (Bonnie Root) is home alone one night when the doorbell rings and Walter (Jarrod Pistilli), a delivery boy, shows up with a big package on a dolly. He recognizes her. He takes a selfie with her. Tells her he wrote a screenplay for her and even has it with him. The question that immediately comes to mind is whether all he is saying and doing are true. Maybe Walter knows that this is the house of the actress and uses his chance to make his dream movie. In fact, Janet uses this identical question to him, a question that Walter does not answer. Soon, Janet’s bound to the dolly and Walter’s shooting his movie right there in her house. Of course, Walter is no delivery boy at all. He’s a renegade filmmaker doing whatever it takes to get his movie in the can, which just so happens to be the worst movie of all time, Water Under the Fridge. Water under the fridge is about a woman falling in love, yes with plumber while he is fixing the plumbing. If this sounds awful, the sound of a delivery man and an old actress does not defer that much either. Walter thinks it’s only compelling if it’s real, so he makes Janet experience the things her character is experiencing for real. There’s an onscreen kiss, a love scene, even a death scene, and Janet’s gotta do it all… with or without consent.
The trouble is that Walter is a terribly annoying character and one wonders the reason he is not shoved out of Janet’s house immediately or why she doesn't call the cops. The two banter for too long a time. His filming her does not all make any sense at all and neither for the whole film for that matter.
THE MOVIE is an uncomfortable movie that does not generate much humour or drama. Any opportunity for humour is largely wasted. The script for Walter’s film for example could be made to be hilarious but nothing like that happens. A few more interesting characters could be introduced into the lean script who could liven up the proceedings but again no such luck. The script isn't that believable either. At one point, Janet’s dialogue goes: “I used to be nominated for an Oscar.” this is probably the film’s unintentionally funniest line.
But to director Mandell's credit, the film does get better in the second half. Credit must be given to the two actors for being so dedicated to the material that they have given their all. That said, flaws and all, THE MOVIE is surprisingly watchable. Root delvers her perfromance almost entirely tied to a dolly.
THE MOVIE was written and directed by Michael Mandell and stars Bonnie Root and Jarrod Pistilli. It is a typical small movie ideally to be made during the Pandemic - a two-hander that is only interesting as its subject which means that it is not that interesting a movie. Janet should have just slammed the door in Walter’s face, saved herself all the aggression and grief as well as the audience’s and brought all the trauma to a quick end. Janet spends more than half of a movie bound to a dolly. THE MOVIE is such a bad exercise in concept, execution and presentation that it deserves a watch! Gravitas Ventures releases the film on digital platforms on September 6, 2022. Note that the film has a running time of 85 minutes and will not be rated by the MPAA.
ONE WAY (USA 2022) **
Directed by Andrew Baird
Andrew Baird is an Irish director who worked for legendary filmmaker Roger Corman right after film college. He has already one film under his belt the Guy Pearce thriller ZONE 414, his directorial debut. ZONE 414 is so-so and a small budget production similar to his new thriller, mainly set on a bus. The protagonist has only ONE WAY to go, as the poster says, but what this ONE WAY is, is up to the audience to decide. It is a so-so small budget thriller, with no way to go and the kind of production that has emerged during the Pandemic times. It stars Texas actor Colson Baker, who is not very good, and a solid example of cardboard acting. The film boasts Kevin Bacon in the role of an asshole and asshole is his character. Bacon is so good that one wants to wish him off the story, his character being such an asshole. The film also features Travis Fimmel, another asshole on the bus. Fimmel was supposed to be cast in Baird’s ZONE 414 but had to drop out.
The story written by Ben Conway is straightforward and nothing fresh and has not been seen before in low budget crime thrillers. Freddy (Colson Baker) , a petty criminal , is on the run with a bag full of cash and coke. He's way over his head and hurts badly. With a bullet in his guts he's running out of time. FAST. Freddy is on the run with a one way ticket to salvage what is left of his crime-ridden life, for one last shot at redemption with his family.
To add the feminine factor into the film, the mob boss is a female. Freddy also meets a girl two seats in front of him in the bus who helps him. He also speaks with his girlfriend who works in a hospital, a worker abused by the male doctor and yelled at.
From Paramount Picture and Saban Films, ONE WAY is an ok thriller with a limited story potential and leads only ONE WAY and that way is not up. It opens in theatres and on Video On Demand September the 2nd.
SALOUM (Senegal 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Jean Luc Herbulot
Shot mainly in French though set in the poorest regions of Africa. A trio of mercenaries navigate a mysterious region of Senegal, in Jean Luc Herbulot’s perhaps coolest film of the festival. His film demonstrates great ingenuity and spirit with lots going on in each layered scene that might be overlooked. Amidst Guinea-Bissau’s coup d’état of 2003, Bangui’s Hyenas, an elite trio of mercenaries, skillfully extract a drug dealer and his bricks — both gold and narcotic — from the chaos and make tracks for Dakar, Senegal.
Shot down while fleeing a coup in Guinea-Bissau, the legendary Bangui's Hyenas mercenaries - Chaka, Rafa and Midnight - have three goals: stash their stolen gold bounty, lay low long enough to repair and refuel, and escape to Dakar, Senegal. Taking refuge at a holiday camp in the coastal region of Sine-Saloum, they'll do all they can to blend in with their fellow guests, including deaf-mute Awa, with secrets of her own, an artist couple looking for inspiration and a policeman who may or may not be on their tail. But Chaka is hiding the deepest, darkest secret of them all, and unbeknownst to the Hyenas, he's brought them there for a reason. As his past catches up to him, his decisions will have devastating consequences, and threaten to quite literally unleash hell on them all…
The film is not perfect, as it is messy and occasionally confusing, but SALOUM is definite evidence that director Herbulot has the best that is yet to come.
Taking West-African cinema to new genre heights, SALOUM is both an unexpected and unashamedly pulpy thrill-ride inspired by true-life mythology, and a meditation on the nature of "heroes". It's a film that questions the nature of 'heroes' and 'villains', selfishness vs sacrifice, and the consequences of choices good and bad.
SALOUM was unexpectedly selected for the Midnight Madness Section of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The filmmakers rushed to finish their final cut and have it ready for TIFF. SALOUM might not have been the best film at TIFF but it is one of the most energetic.
WHO INVITED THEM? (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Duncan Birmingham
The film begins with a young couple and a young son moving into a new big house. Something is not right. The son is having horrible nightmares which the father dismisses as new house jitters. A mysterious black car is outside their new residence as if someone is watching them. Yes, and there is also a history of death in the house. A woman had slit her husband’s throat before being shot to death by him.
A couple meeting a very strange couple has always been interesting fodder for films since films like Pul Schrader’s 1990 THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS and the French Dominik Moll’s 2002 LEMMING. Adam and Margo throw a housewarming party. “How can Adam afford this? says one guest to another, “He must be throwing this house warming party to show how smug he is.” As the guests leave, one couple stays behind. Adam and Margaret do not know them. WHO INVITED THEM? When finally confronted after all the other guests have left, they claim that they came to complain about a car that had blocked their driveway and that they are neighbours. But are they?
There is a reason the couple could afford the wonderfully designed mansion. The residence is murder house where a killing has brought down the real-estate price of the dwelling. Margo does not know the sordid details but Adam is aware of a double homicide that had taken place.
The host couple is white and asian while the uninvited are both white. A black character would have made the film more racially correct though there are few guests at the party that are noticeably black and culturally different. The film makes a slight social comment about the rich and unpopular show-offs, in this case of the wealthy neighbourhood of Canyon Heights. The film was shot in Los Angeles.
The characters of the two males are noticeably different. Adam wants his own company, likes to show-off and comes across as the too obliging asshole that many are familiar with. These people are always apologetic, self-righteous and annoying. The other male, Tom, is what every male wishes to be. Tom attends the party in a cool suit, is handsome and charms everyone. Tom manages to hide his darkness well and doesn't even come across as creepy. As the host couple says, the unenvied couple appear as the cool young couple that would show up at a funeral. The female characters are equally intriguing. Margo is shown as having a darker side who begins snorting a line of coke, after giving into her temptation. Yet, she is smart and sharp. The other female has the least information provided on her character, but beauty rules.
The film turns into a four handler once the party ends and the film is at the roughly one third mark. The film runs an efficient 90 minutes.
Written and directed by Duncan Birmingham and aptly played by relative unknowns, the film plays as an expected deliciously wicked parlour game with the true colours of the uninvited couple finally revealed at the film’s climax.