FILM REVIEWS:

CRUMB CATCHER (USA 2023) ***½

Directed by Chris Skotchdopole

 

Making an entertaining uncomfortable film is no easy task.  The terms ‘entertaining’ and ‘uncomfortable’ seldom go well together, requiring expertise to have them work well together. One of the best examples of working well is the uncomfortable comedy Neil Simon’s THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS (there are two versions - the one best loved being the one with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis) in which the audience is supposed to laugh at all the mishaps of a couple traveling in New York City.  The trouble is that the audience feels more sorry for the couple when something and happens, other than laughing at them.  CRUMB CATCHER is an uncomfortable horror black comedy.  Though one might not laugh at this couple’s bad encounters, at least the audience can root for them as audiences often do in horror movies.

The audience can tell things are not going right at the start of the film for the newlywed couple Leah (Ella Rae Peck) and Shane (Rigo Garay).  While doing their wedding photo shoot, trouble blooms in their discussion of Shane’s new novel about his troubled father relationship that he has put down on paper, which Leah has got an advance for publishing the book.  They argue.  Shane had been drinking and unknown to his new bride, had just got a blow job from another woman during the wedding day.

Then the nightmare honeymoon.

At a remote estate in upstate New York, newlyweds Leah (Ella Rae Peck) and Shane (Rigo Garay) celebrate their honeymoon, but a pall hangs over their union.  She works for the publisher who will be releasing his debut novel, a lightly autobiographical examination of family trauma, alcoholism, and the immigrant experience.  Barely suppressed tensions over family trauma would be enough kindling for a blowup, but Leah and Shane’s marriage is truly tested by the appearance of two weirdos with entrepreneurial zeal and a half-baked blackmail plot: John (John Speredakos) and Rose (Lorraine Farris).  John isone of the waiters at the wedding so is responsible for the non-showing of the wedding cake.  John is over-apologetic when the couple leaves the wedding and he and his sour wife show up at the estate.  They’re looking for investors for John’s latest invention, a culinary breakthrough called the Crumb Catcher — and they won’t take no for an answer.  The crime catcher is a gizmo that when placed at the dining table can automatically be used to sweep away crumbs from the meal.  It is an incredibly stupid and useless invention, that can only be designed by the dumbest and weirdest of people like John.  Even his wife Rose thinks the invention is stupid, and she is only out to make some money.

At the estate, the home invasion egis with John and Rose not wanting to leave without some investment for the CRUMB CATCHER, and the only reason Shane obliges them is that Rose is the woman who had given him the blowjob and he wants the secret kept from Leah.

The film progresses to horror as John starts threatening the newlyweds with weapons and blackmail.

What makes CRUMB CATCHER stand out from the typical horror slasher movie is the element of black comedy infused into the plot and the out-of-sync characters that grab one’s attention from start to finish.  CRUMB CATCHER is an accomplished first feature from Chris Skotchdopole.

CRUMB CATCHER opens in theatres July 19 and On Digital August 20

Trailer: 

THE DEAD DON’T HURT (Canada/Mexico/Denmark 2023) ****

Directed by Viggo Mortensen

 

Impressive and ambitious second feature after FALLING by actor Viggo Mortensen has an 1860s setting in an elegantly realized feminist western starring Mortensen himself and Vicky Krieps as immigrants attempting to forge a life in a corrupt Nevada town. There are a lot of French spoken in the film.  French-Canadian flower seller Vivienne Le Coudy (Krieps) and Danish carpenter Holger Olsen (Mortensen) meet in San Francisco. Vivienne is irreverent, fiercely independent, and refuses to wed, but agrees to travel with Holger to his home near the quiet town of Elk Flats, Nevada. There, they begin a life together — Vivienne grows roses and waits tables at a tavern and Holger builds barns until the couple is separated by Holger’s decision to fight for the Union in the burgeoning Civil War.  Left on her own, Vivienne must fend for herself in a place controlled by corrupt Mayor Rudolph Schiller (Danny Huston) and his business partner, powerful rancher Alfred Jeffries (Garret Dillahunt). Alfred's violent, wayward son Weston (Solly McLeod) aggressively pursues Vivienne, who is determined to resist his unwanted advances.  A bit disorienting at first as the story unveils in non-chronological order without titles, the tactic forces the audience to think a bit and puts all the pieces into place.  Necessarily violent, this is a violent revenge western.  Director Mortensen sets up all the injustices committed toward the couple before exacting the well-deserved revenge that would have the audience cheering.

THE DEAD DON'T DIE that premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival starring Vicky Krieps and Mortensen hits July 16 across Digital & VOD in US & CANADA.

 

MIDNIGHT TAXI (UK 2024) ***½

Directed by Bertie Speirs and Samantha Speirs

 

The beginning of the taxi drama MIDNIGHT TAXI feels like the recent Dakota Johnson/Sean Penn two handler where the film’s entire action is the conversation taking place between driver and pass ear on the drive from JFK Airport to a destination in Manhattan.  MIDNIGHT TAXI begins with a smart conversation between cabbie Eddie Carter (Ladi Emeruwa) and a journalist passenger in which it is revealed that Carter is proud of his job but still keeps a logbook.  The passenger says he should interview Carter to publish an article for his paper - The Slow Death of the Taxi Industry, to which Cater responds that he better get the article done before his paper folds over.

In the course of the night, Carter, immaculately but modestly attired as a cab driver takes on an assortment of passengers before his shift is over.  The audience gets to see a modern London, with sights like The London Eye, a passenger trip to the National Theatre and modern skyscrapers by the Thames rather than dirty streets and old landmarks like Big Ben and the London Bridge.  As the music accompanies the film, the film has the feel of a very smooth cane ride, until……   Carter wakes up from napping in his cab to discover a dead girl in a red dress with her head on the stone of the sidewalk.  The camera reveals a bare breast.

Driving a Black Cab night after night is a quiet and simple life for Eddie Carter, but when Eddie’s daytime sleep schedule is disturbed by construction work next door, he finds his nighttime shifts requiring more coffee and exhaustion setting in.  After pulling over for a break one night, he awakens to a terrifying situation: ahead of his cab is the body of a murdered woman. 

After this gruesome discovery and reporting it to the police, Eddie tries to move on by the sight and his tiredness haunts him, even though the police agree to let the cabbie go home.   The following night he awakens from a dream of the murder scene to find that he has started sleepwalking again, a condition he suffered from as a child.  Panic creeps in as he realizes that there is a chance he may have been involved in the woman’s murder. 

In an effort to clear his conscience, Eddie starts to quietly investigate the murer on his own. With the help of frequent customer, investigative journalist Adam Blomfield, the one Eddie had a conversation with at the start of the film, and high-end escort Karli as a window into the underground world of London’s sex industry, Eddie soon finds himself immersed in the murky depths of a city he’s been blindly driving through for years.  The shift in look and atmosphere from a clear and polished London slowly deteriorates as the film progresses neatly into another different world, though existing in the same city.

MIDNIGHT TAXI, written and directed by: Bertie Speirs and Samantha Speirs in an impressive debut is available on VOD and Digital Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Trailer: 

NEW STRAINS (USA 2024) **

Directed by Artemis Shaw and Prashanth Kamalakanthan

 

NEW STRAINS refers to the COVID-19 pandemic virus.  The film was shot just before the NYC lockdown.  Though a few years have since past, the horror, inconvenience and impact of the Pandemic have not left the world.

During the COVID-19 lockdown in New York City, Artemis Shaw and Prashanth Kamalakanthan (the writers, directors and main leads in the film), a married filmmaking couple arrive in  NYC.  Kallia and Ram have just begun their first vacation as a couple, and they are already bickering at the start of the film.  Though a strange new illness is on the brink of exploding into a pandemic, and despite Ram’s protestations, Kallia insists that they are going to have a fun week in New York City.  Within hours of their arrival, a nation-wide lockdown is announced, ruining their plans. Throughout their stay, they descend to absurd depths of jealousy and co-dependence.

Filmmakers Artemis Shaw and Prashanth Kamalakanthan who both teach in addition to their creative filmmaking, often collaborating in numerous capacities and roles— relied on improvised dialogue, a decades-old camcorder, no operator, and a full cast of non-professional talent.

There are two kinds of films these days.  One is the huge Hollywood million-dollar productions with special effects and huge crew that make money for the theatre chains.  Often these use formulaic filmmaking and are highly unoriginal with the majority of these being sequels or rip-offs.  Then there are the films at the other end of the spectrum.  The new film NEW STRAIN  is an extreme of the latter, a no-budget improvised film, shot with as the press notes say, an age-old camcorder, no operator and non-professional talent.  This will work if the non-professional talent does not equate with no talent.

` One thing that is unforgivable in a movie is a character that is intrinsically annoying - one that would just screw up one’s enjoyment of the film.  Unfortunately, this unforgivable flaw is present in the film.  As the film is improvised with improvised dialogue with little script, the two actors say what comes into their minds.  As for Prashanth Kamalakanthan and many teens and pre-teens, they have the problem of speaking over-using the word ‘like’.  If one listens to his dialogue, the word like is used by him close to 5 times every sentence and when he has much to say, the ‘like’ word becomes totally intolerable.  This occurs throughout the movie.  If he follows a written script, the word ‘like’ would be likely omitted in the lines.  Prashanth Kamalakanthan is a non-professional talent that equates with no talent.  To make matters worse, the wife also speaks this way as well 30 minutes into the film,

NEW STRAINS exits more as a curiosity piece than filmed entertainment.  One could admire filmmakers Artemis Shaw and Prashanth Kamalakanthan for their guerrilla no-budget filmmaking but even at 80 minutes, enough is enough.  ‘Like’ stop it already, ‘like’.  To listen to the two leads speaking using the word ‘like’ all the time is pure torture.

NEW STRAINS is available in North America on VOD (the MEMORY Video Platform) on July 19.

Trailer unavailable.

SCALA!!! or, The Incredibly Strange Rise and Fall of the World's Wildest Cinema and How It Influenced a Mixed-up Generation of Weirdos and Misfits

(UK 2023) ***½

Directed by Ali Catterall and Jane Giles

 

The long-titled film documentary SCALA!!! or, The Incredibly Strange Rise and Fall of the World's Wildest Cinema and How It Influenced a Mixed-up Generation of Weirdos and Misfits is a feature-length big-screen documentary written and directed by Ali Catterall and Jane Giles telling the riotous inside story of the infamous sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll repertory cinema which inspired a generation during Britain's turbulent Thatcher years.  Jane Giles is a former Scala programmer and author of the award-winning Scala Cinema 1978-1993 (FAB Press) upon which this doc is based and Ali Catterall, an award-winning writer.

The Richard Lester film the Beatles' A HARD DAY’S NIGHT was filmed when the theatre had just opened followed by one of the highlights the then art student David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD.  AMERICAN PSYCHO director Mary Harron talks about her experience watching ERASERHEAD and freaking out at the Scala.
The Scala was founded in 1979 by actor, producer, and director Stephen Woolley, for 15 years until its unceremonious closing, the Scala Cinema was THE legendary destination for adventurous London cinephiles with a taste for outlandish and eccentric fare. Inspiring a generation of movie-goers during Britain’s turbulent Thatcher years.  Between 1978-1993 over a million people passed through the doors of the Scala Cinema for its daily changing program of double-bills and All-Nighters, from high art to horror via sexploitation, Kung Fu, and LGBTQ+ This film features new interviews with diverse audience members who went on to become filmmakers, musicians, writers, actors, activists and artists. 

The interviews are combined with previously unseen archive material, iconic movie clips, animation and graphics, plus a thrilling new score by the celebrated musician Barry Adamson. With its universal themes of youthful discovery and the underdog versus the establishment, this is no nostalgia trip but rather a film of universal relevance with clear parallels between then and now. Above all, it's a hilarious and joyous celebration of cinema-going.

This is what John Waters’ who made the infamous arguably trashiest movie of all time PINK FLAMINGOES with the late Devine (there is a clip of the film seen on the Scala screen) has to say of the cinema: “The Scala had magic, it was like joining a club, a very secret club, like a biker gang or something. It’s like they were a country club for criminals and lunatics and people that were high. Which is a good way to see movies”

The doc covers a wide range of interesting topics that are related to the Scala  One is the audience who did the all-nighters.  The cinema would be full and people would start walking in from midnight while being totally drunk or stoned.  A suicide off the 4th floor of the cinema also occurred.  Clips of outrageous films like Pasolini’s THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (or SALO) are also on display.  The area around the cinema, Kong’s Cross was also a very dangerous area.

           The doc opens across North America beginning July 18th.

Trailer: 

 

TWISTERS (USA 2024) ***

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung

 

TWISTERS like many adventure action movies, the best example being the James Bond movies, begins with a powerhouse action set piece that often cannot be beaten during the rest of the film.  TWISTERS follows the same format but with a difference.  The opening sequence is topped by the climatic action set piece.  The introduction piece, running around 15 minutes in length is also connected to the main story.  In it, the audience sees Kate (Daisy Edgar-Jones), the female protagonist being the only survivor in her ground crew, a fact that affects her story during the rest of the film.

TWISTERS has all the elements required for a successful Hollywood blockbuster.  Firstly, it has a huge budget of $200 million, superb special effects, impressive modern technology, and is already a tested success, following the success of the highly profitable TWISTER back when, though this film can be considered as a standalone non-sequel.   There is a villain, the buyer of cheap land devastated by tornadoes, with a plot involving saving the world (by the destruction of tornadoes) and chasing a dream come true of an invention if it works.  In addition, there is a romance complete Harlequin style with a chase of the almost got-away lover at the airport.  The film contains a strong female slant, in the tradition of political correctness.  All the guys in the film are drop-dead gorgeous with Kate having trouble of picking the right one.  The three gorgeous actors are Glenn Powell, Anthony Ramos and the now unheard of David Corenswet who is going to become famous after being cast as Clark Kent’s in the next SUPERMAN movie. To this effect, it is hard to find fault with TWISTERS as it covers all areas, the only flaw that could be considered is its reliability on formula and its lack of fresh groundwork.

Director Lee Isaac Chung has definitely made a solid transition from small movie - last year’s Oscar-nominated MINARI to a Hollywood blockbuster.

The script emphasizes human’s fascination with twisters.  Kate’s character follows on into the wheat fields when she was a kid. The script contains a lot of scientific jargon on how to dissipate a tornado complete with the process - something involving an increase in condensation in doing it.  It is all too difficult to follow but enough is offered to the audience to take it all gullibly.  

The climax involving two big events, the tornado touch-down and a rodeo is ambitious but effective to a point.  Not much is seen as to what is happening to the horses and bulls during the twister hit.  More screen time is given to the rodeo spectators taking cover in a movie theatre.  The rush of Kate’s two beaus to Kate’s rescue after the twister is dissipated also stretches a bit of credibility.  The two beaus are a distance away in the movie theatre away from Kate suddenly appear.  However, audiences would not really care about these credibility points.

TWISTERS opens everywhere on July 19th.

Trailer: 

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