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Somewhere between laughably bad and just bad

Posted : 3 years, 10 months ago on 13 April 2016 07:07 (A review of The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995))

'The Passion of Darkly Noon' includes a handful of memorable scenes that are so hilariously awful and bizarre that they almost make the movie "good." Unfortunately, there's so much in this film that's just plain BAD, that I can't quite recommend it. At best, I'll say that 'The Passion of Darkly Noon' seems like it might be fun to watch in the company of others -- who are in the mood for something to laugh at, snark on, and perhaps throw popcorn at whatever screen happens to be showing it.

Brendan Fraser, speaking with a stammer (!), stars as Darkly Noon -- yes, that's the main character's name (the "Darkly" comes from 1 Corinthians 13:12; whatever, and since this movie can't get anything right, stupid Darkly stutters that his "M-ma and P-pa"  randomly chose it from "s-second Corinthians 13:12").  Darkly, despite looking like he walked off the set of "Beverly Hills, 90210" (shelf hair -- with a silly "lock" hanging down on his forehead, and all -- like he wouldn't be all scraggly or have a beard or something)  is very sheltered, because he grew up in a cult.  At least, it's fairly obvious to anyone who knows anything about Waco that he's supposed to have come from something like that; however, again, since this isn't explained very well, Darkly and his dead Ma and Pa ultimately just end up looking like typical movie "religious zealots".

Anyhow -- one day, after his cult compound is destroyed and his parents killed dead, Darkly stumbles into the deep, dark, mysterious forest and collapses from exhaustion. Lucky for us (before he dies, too) he's discovered by a guy named "Jude" (Loren Dean), who for some reason takes Darkly to recover at this woman named Callie's house. 

"Callie" (Ashley Judd), with her obviously-dyed blonde hair, skimpy outfits, and very visible armpit hair (because she's just such a wild beauty, like the forest!) learns that Darkly is all alone in the world now, and offers to let him stay in her guest house (or garage, or whatever it's supposed to be) for as long as he needs to (although she insists on calling him "Lee"). Naturally, Darkly falls in love with her; but since he's much too sheltered and shy to tell her, he just creepily watches her from afar and offers to help her fix her roof.

Darkly seems fine with all of this, at first -- but then Clay (Viggo Mortensen), Callie's true love (who's gratuitously mute, although he can whistle and grunt just fine) , returns from wherever he'd been, and uh-oh! How dare Callie love somebody other than Darkly!

Thus begins Darkly's "descent into madness". He starts voyeuristically peering through his garage/guest house window into Clay and Callie's window as they engage in steamy sex. Of course -- because this film isn't at all B-movie-ish -- Darkly "pleasures himself" while he spies. But apparently he feels very evil doing so; and as punishment, he begins to whip himself with barbed wire or something (I fast-forwarded through that part on Hulu because I hate blood). What a freak!

Shortly afterward, Darkly meets up with his old pal and rescuer, Jude (who's pretty much thankless, but otherwise the most "normal" character in this ridiculous mess). They share a "touching" scene where they bond over some egg-shaped thing that Jude claims is fossilized dinosaur "s^%*" (oddly enough, this silly scene features some of the best acting in the film; Fraser and Dean seem natural and like they're having fun, which fits the spirit of the scene -- it's Darkly's one truly happy moment!) and Jude promises to visit Darkly again soon.

That's when things get REALLY bizarre (but also, kind of hilarious, at least temporarily). First, Darkly falls asleep in the forest for some reason, then wakes up only to find himself gazing in wonder at...

A giant, silver, sequined boot floating down the river (with a crow perched lazily on top of it).

No, I'm not making that up. A giant, silver, sequined BOOT.

Darkly watches the giant silver boot float away, then goes tromping through the woods some more until he encounters a crazy lady named "Roxy" (played by Grace Zabriskie, in an over-the-top yet fairly amusing performance). They strike up an unusual friendship; and Darkly learns that Roxy is none other than Clay's Ma! 

However, Roxy is Evil; she convinces Darkly that Callie is... a witch. ("Her name is WITCH, Boy!") Even though Darkly now hates Callie, he returns to her house, but things there are tense.

More strange things happen: Darkly continues to spy on Clay and Callie; Darkly constructs a barbed wire undershirt thing that he walks around (remarkably well) in to punish himself some more; Roxy's dog dies and she burns the dog's body on that giant silver boot (which is still just floating around the river?); Darkly sees a vision of his dead Ma and Pa (who are straight out of the "Degrassi Junior High" episode where Wheels dreams about his own deceased parents; Darkly's Ma and Pa even speak in unison. They're a lot creepier than Wheels's dead parents, though.)

After the vision of his dead Ma and Pa up in a tree, Darkly (who's officially lost whatever mind he had by this point) storms toward Callie and Clay's house bellowing "CALLLLLLIEEEE!" Mute Clay rushes to Callie's defense; and Ashley Judd showcases what I hope for her sake is the low point of her acting career as she watches the two men fight and wails, "STOP it! Clay, don't hurt him!!! Lee, keep calm!!!" 

But then Darkly's shirt is ripped open, exposing his barbed wire undershirt and bloody chest -- and (finally seeing what a freak Darkly is) Callie orders him to take his things and go! 

So Darkly does; but only long enough to go paint himself all red like a devil (with black paint under his eyes, that he just happens to have; I guess he stole it from Clay's workshop?). Then he makes himself a torch or something -- I don't remember, because I LOATHED this awful and way too long and drawn-out scene, and blocked most of it from my memory -- and returns to Callie and Clay's house to kill them both dead.

Demonic! Darkly knocks Clay unconscious pretty quickly (but doesn't kill him), then goes after Callie -- who screams and wails as fire crackles all around, illuminating the grisly scenario. Finally -- just as Darkly is about to kill her -- Callie's all, "I love you, Darkly!" This makes Darkly immediately stop in his tracks and stare at her with a dumb look on his painted-devil face (she... loves him?). Callie repeats the words. But before Darkly can either kill her or stammer "I l-love you, too, C-Callie", Jude appears and kills Darkly dead!

(Before he dies, Darkly mutters, "Wh-who will love me now?" -- which also happens to be the name of a PJ Harvey song on the soundtrack, minus the "stuttering" part.)

The entire film is every bit as bad as it sounds; however, it at least ends on an AWESOMELY bad note:

The morning after Darkly's death, Callie and Clay and Jude are all standing around outside in the forest next to the burned-up house peering at it, when out of the woods walks...

A circus family. 

Leading an elephant on a leash.

And, as if that isn't enough -- the little circus boy is clutching a small, silver, sequined boot. His "favorite toy", explains the circus dad.

Circus Dad also says that the family's circus boat sank -- and that their "giant silver boot" just went floating away and they haven't been able to find it! By the way, can Callie show them the way out of the forest? (Before she does, the circus boy runs up to her and gives her his small, silver, sequined boot; so much for it being his favorite toy.)


I don't even know what to say about the whole circus family with the random elephant thing -- other than that I wish the rest of 'The Passion of Darkly Noon' had been as entertaining as its final scene!

The movie has its moments; but ultimately, it only manages to fall somewhere between "laughably awful" and just plain awful. With the right company (or -- if featured, as it should be -- on one of those TV shows that mocks bad movies) OR even if you're alone, I suppose it could be worth a hate watch. 

But if you're seeking out a movie that's actually good... well, 'The Passion of Darkly Noon' is most definitely NOT what you're looking for! (3/10)

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Comedy? Drama? Who knows -- but worth a watch

Posted : 3 years, 10 months ago on 13 April 2016 01:47 (A review of The Scout)

'The Scout' is a rather odd, yet not unappealing movie about a baseball scout named Al Percolo (played by Albert "Einstein" Brooks) and his relationship with "the greatest baseball player in the world" (Brendan Fraser) -- an awkward fellow with the not-very-handsome name of Steve Nebraska (and a not-very-handsome mullet to match).

After Al's latest would-be star player (Michael Rapaport) suffers a humiliating and very public bout of stage fright at Yankee Stadium, Al is fired from the Major Leagues and for some reason sent to Mexico. There, Al encounters Steve Nebraska -- who might act like he has an IQ of about 6, but he sure can play baseball! 

Al tries to find out more about Steve's past, but Steve "doesn't like to be asked questions." Nevertheless, Al guarantees Steve that he can make him a  New York Yankee, and convinces him that he'll earn millions of dollars. Steve agrees to fly back to New York, live with Al, and do everything Al says (show off his baseball-playing skills for the other scouts, talk to the press, etc.) to embrace his role as the "greatest baseball player in the world."

Sure enough, Steve turns out to be worth millions, and is snapped up by the Yankees -- with a couple of conditions. One: he'll make his pitching debut with the Yankees at the World Series only if they happen to actually make it to the World Series (otherwise, he'll have to wait until the following year). Two: Al must provide a signed letter from a psychiatrist or psychologist ensuring that Steve is mentally stable enough to play professional baseball -- and won't run away or "throw up" like Al's last discovery.

At this point, it's already clear that Steve has his fair share of issues (hinted at during the flight to New York when he loudly and "obliviously" -- and badly -- sings along to "Do You Know the Way to San José"; and made all the more evident from his angry reaction to one too many photographers snapping his picture at a press conference). Still, Al finds the number of a psychiatrist named "H. Aaron" in the phone book (H. Aaron -- just like Hank Aaron!) and decides that it must be a sign.

Dr. H. Aaron turns out to be a woman (played by Dianne Wiest); but Al doesn't care -- he just wants to get that letter and get out of there! She agrees to see Al and Steve that day. Unfortunately for Al's sake, after Dr. Aaron talks with Steve and shows him a few drawings, Steve's responses concern her (he can't even identify a drawing of a father and son fishing as father and son! gasp!) and she determines that Steve is "disconnected." She initially refuses to write the letter vouching for Steve's sanity; however, they manage to work out a deal: Al will bring Steve to visit her every day, and, in turn, she'll provide the requested letter.

Eventually, Steve starts to make progress during his (offscreen) visits to Dr. Aaron -- who later reveals to Al that Steve had an abusive father (so Al had better watch out, because Steve already sees him as a father figure and might one day snap and try to kill him!).  

But as the World Series approaches -- and it's determined that the Yankees will, in fact, play in it; and Steve will, in fact, pitch -- Steve continues to act alternately like a 5-year-old, a ticking time bomb with anger issues,  and a generally socially awkward individual (he even "steals" Tony Bennett's final number one night at a Tony Bennett concert that Steve and Al randomly go to with some of their pals! Apparently, Steve loves the Great American Songbook?) It's quite evident that Steve Nebraska is... not ready to play professional baseball. Dr. Aaron is VERY concerned, and tries to warn Al -- to no avail. 

The night of Steve's pitching debut arrives, and he manages to make it out onto the field (after much nervous stalling). But then, who should Steve encounter?  None other than Tony Bennett, who happens to be singing the National Anthem. On his way to the microphone, Tony stops to sneer at Steve, "Are you going to steal this one, too?" (Ha!) This proves to be the final straw for poor, pressured Steve -- and (never mind that the World Series is about to start) he leaves the field to "get some fresh air"... on the roof of the stadium.

After Al spots Steve up on the roof, he makes his way up there himself. A dramatic confrontation ensues: Al yells that he doesn't care what's going on in Steve's head; Steve threatens to throw Al off the roof; Al yells "Go ahead!" --  then Al suddenly changes his tune and says that Steve doesn't have to pitch, after all, and it doesn't matter because Al is just a failure. Steve is all, "No, Al! You're like a dad to me!" Al, in turn, assures Steve that he's not mad at him, and that he'll still be his friend; later, they can even do laundry together (Steve loves to do laundry). Somehow, all of this convinces Steve to change his mind and he rides down to the field in a helicopter to play ball, ending the movie on a happy note (after Steve makes an annoying "Tarzan" yell out on the field -- maybe this role helped Fraser land 'George of the Jungle' a few years later?).

Yes, in many ways 'The Scout' is as silly as it sounds. It also takes awhile to pick up; I like Michael Rapaport well enough as an actor, but he seems a bit miscast in this film (as Al's original discovery), so the early scenes with his character didn't do much for me. (In fact, I didn't become fully invested in the movie until after Al and Steve flew back to New York.)

However, Brooks, Wiest, and Fraser are all good in their respective roles (even if "Steve Nebraska" irritates in some of his goofier scenes, Fraser more or less manages to pull off the "emotional" ones; and the climactic scene between Fraser and Brooks is surprisingly effective. Fraser is certainly more believable as a  "crazy" guy here than in the dreadful 'The Passion of Darkly Noon', which came along a year after this movie.)

Is 'The Scout' a great baseball film? (Or even realistic?) Probably not -- but what I know about baseball couldn't even fill a thimble, so I'm not really sure.

I'm not even really sure if 'The Scout' is intended to be a comedy or a drama, or what; regardless, despite the slow beginning and handful of scenes that made me roll my eyes pretty hard, the movie definitely has a strange sort of appeal and is worth a watch if you haven't yet seen it. (6/10)

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More like Easy F-minus...

Posted : 3 years, 10 months ago on 9 April 2016 02:08 (A review of Easy A)

I know that the 2010 film 'Easy A' (a remake of 'The Scarlet Letter' geared toward teenagers) received a lot of positive reviews, and is supposed to be really witty and sharp and clever and blah blah blah; what I don't understand is why

I ABHORRED this horrid excuse for a movie -- possibly even more so than 'The Interview' (my other Least Favorite Movie That I Watched in 2015).

To begin with, there are way too many aggravating pop culture references sprinkled throughout the film. Now, I don't always mind pop culture references in movies; sometimes I even enjoy them. But in this case, lines such as "I want Judd Nelson thrusting his fist into the air because he knows he got me" -- said by a teenage girl (because that's how all teenage girls talk, after all) -- come across as very "written", rather than natural. All of the pop culture references in 'Easy A' smack of the screenwriter injecting his own personal tastes into the script; none of them feel authentic.

Then there are the characters; I pretty much hated all of them. Same goes for the performances. 

Some of the onscreen portrayals are simply uninteresting (please go back to "Gossip Girl", Penn Badgley); some are rather unlikable (yes, that includes Emma Stone as the lead character "Olive"; I am not a fan of snarky teenage heroines). And some are utterly reprehensible -- namely, Amanda Bynes as "Marianne", aka the token "evil Christian." Because, of course, that's SO VERY ORIGINAL  for Hollywood; no movie has ever depicted Christians as sanctimonious and judgmental before (because, of course, all Christians act just like Marianne!). The movie doesn't even try to "complicate" Marianne by giving her a "softer side" -- or any other personality trait other than "ridiculous caricature."

On top of everything else, 'Easy A' is also quite boring. It's so boring, in fact, that it eventually put me to sleep!

I probably don't need to bother mentioning that I didn't go back to watch the scenes that I'd missed after I feel asleep, nor do I have any desire to do so; you couldn't pay me to spend another minute on this crap. (1/10)

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Sweet, but never TOO sweet

Posted : 4 years, 5 months ago on 14 September 2015 08:53 (A review of The Story of Luke)

'The Story of Luke', a simple yet likable movie starring Lou Taylor Pucci, chronicles a brief period in the life of Luke, a young man with high-functioning autism.

Luke was raised by his grandparents; but after his grandmother dies and his grandfather moves to a nursing home, Luke's sent to live with his Uncle Paul (Cary Elwes) as well as Paul's wife and two children. Luke's new family doesn't necessarily adjust to his presence right away (particularly not his aunt, who's downright mean to Luke at first; she redeems herself pretty quickly, though). Meanwhile, Luke seems determined to find two things to help him fit into his new environment: a girlfriend, and a job.

He lands the job before too long; there, Luke encounters his first-ever boss, the surly Zack (Seth Green) -- who turns out to have more in common with Luke than he initially lets on.

As far as the girlfriend -- well, I won't give that one away.

'The Story of Luke' was said to be well-received by the autism community. The movie has something of a sitcom-y feel (not meant as a criticism); there are several funny moments, and a generally uplifting (and refreshingly unsappy) tone present throughout the film.

Performances are good all around -- especially by Elwes (as the dorky-yet-well-meaning uncle who takes Luke in) and Green (as Luke's "mean" boss -- this was quite a different role for Green than any of the ones I've seen him in before, and he's pretty funny in it). I'll admit that Pucci's unusual voice took some getting used to at first; though once I managed that, I thought that he, too, did a nice job.

Before I watched 'The Story of Luke' on Netflix, I read a complaint from some user there that they couldn't finish the movie because it was "too raunchy". While this turned out to be quite an exaggeration, I could *sort of* understand where the reviewer was coming from, especially toward the beginning of the film (most of the "raunchy" dialogue occurrs between Luke and his grandfather in the first 15 minutes or so; on that note, I didn't much care for the grandfather character, but he's only really in the movie for those first 15 minutes).

Because of the so-called raunchiness, 'The Story of Luke' might not be appropriate for younger kids -- although it should be fine for older ones (I'm not sure if it was ever actually rated by the MPAA, but a "PG-13" seems fitting). The main reason I mention all of this is that 'The Story of Luke' also reminded me quite a bit of a (good) Hallmark Hall of Fame movie; and those films are often, if not always, "family friendly".

While 'The Story of Luke' might not be AS "family friendly" as a Hallmark Hall of Fame picture, it should appeal to anybody who likes to watch movies *about* families (or to anybody who enjoys movies that are funny and sweet-but-not-too-saccharine, regardless of whether family has anything to do with the plot).

As the aunt of a wonderful boy with autism, I both appreciated 'The Story of Luke', and found it thoroughly enjoyable. (7/10)

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Not just a generic B-movie, despite how it looks

Posted : 4 years, 5 months ago on 14 September 2015 06:44 (A review of Stand Off)

For some reason, whichever company distributed this movie in North America decided to change its title from 'Whole Lotta Sole' (a reference to a fish market that's significant to the plot; I believe the film still has this title overseas) to the utterly generic 'Stand Off'. As if that wasn't enough -- the distributors also gave the movie a completely unremarkable (and rather misleading) cover, thus ensuring that at least half of the people who might come across it in the future will brush it off as some mindless B-movie before moving on to more interesting viewing options.

Which is kind of a shame, because 'Whole Lotta Sole' (oops, I mean, 'Stand Off') is actually a surprisingly not-bad film.

Since it's impossible to tell what the movie's about just by looking at its cover: 'Stand Off' stars Brendan Fraser as "Joe Maguire", an American hiding overseas in Belfast (after getting mixed up with the mob or somesuch back home) who winds up looking after an antique store -- then getting held hostage inside that very store, along with an interesting array of characters. Colm Meaney co-stars as a detective who attempts to resolve the hostage situation; most if not all of the rest of the cast members are (like Meaney) Irish.

Yes, I suppose 'Stand Off' is kind of a B-movie, but it's better than most B-movies; the film is quirky, lighthearted, fast-paced, and generally entertaining throughout. Meaney and the always-affable Fraser give good performances, and I quite enjoyed the Belfast setting (I didn't even mind that at least 70% of the movie takes place inside an antique store; I love antique stores!).

'Stand Off' isn't without its faults -- most notably the script, which has some good moments but gets clunky toward the end (I'll admit, I was half expecting a character to wail something like "There are better ways of going about this than by stripping away the dignity of your fellow man!" or some other embarrassing line; fortunately, it never gets *that* bad). The actors struggle a bit with some of the more "action"-y scenes (probably the fault of the script), and the movie's climactic scene is a bit... silly.

(A few reviewers on Netflix also complained about the actors' thick Irish accents, but the accents didn't bother me at all.)

Overall, 'Stand Off' is probably not a movie that will stick with me forever -- or even one that I'll necessarily watch again -- but it's a LOT better than its cover and title suggest, and worthy of a respectable 6/10.

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Perfect monsters

Posted : 4 years, 5 months ago on 13 September 2015 09:44 (A review of Perfect Sisters)

'Perfect Sisters' is similar to a Lifetime movie, but not the secretly-entertaining kind. More like the trashy and poorly-made Lifetime movies that make you feel plenty ashamed for watching, but fail to deliver on the second half of the phrase "guilty pleasure". It's based on a true story (naturally); and I'm not really sure what the filmmakers were thinking when they decided to turn this tragic event (the 2003 murder of Brampton, Ontario resident Linda Andersen by her own daughters) into a movie.

Was I supposed to feel sorry for these horrid, sociopathic girls? It's sad that they suffered abuse by their stepfather(s?), but that's no excuse for DROWNING. THEIR. MOTHER. IN. THE. BATHTUB (in the movie, their "drunken" mother -- as portrayed by Mira Sorvino -- comes across as more pathetic than anything else). The sisters in 'Perfect Sisters' show no remorse for their actions; I didn't feel bad for them in the least after their crime was finally uncovered.

And what was the deal with the ridiculous fantasy sequences, where the pink and sparkly "vision" of a woman (also played by Sorvino) kept appearing to talk to the girls as they gazed back at her in wonder; I guess they were supposed to be envisioning their ideal mom? Those scenes were not only stupid (the sisters simultaneously had the *same* fantasy? really?), they very much detracted from the rest of the movie... which was already bad to begin with.

Based on those sequences, and especially on the film's laughably dramatic final scene (where the sisters are shown screaming and wailing as they're pulled apart from one another in the courthouse after they receive their so-called sentence), it seemed like the filmmakers actually *were* aiming for a sympathetic viewpoint toward the two girls. And if that's the case, all I can say is EPIC FAIL. (2/10)

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Not as bad as the cover implies

Posted : 4 years, 5 months ago on 9 September 2015 09:46 (A review of HairBrained)

If I was going to judge 'HairBrained' by its cover (poster?), I'd have assumed the movie was some raunchy and/or obnoxious comedy (possibly about tennis) and steered clear of it.

However, despite the ridiculous appearance of stars Alex Wolff and Brendan Fraser on the cover (Fraser looks like he's trying to play his tennis racket like a ukulele -- and, nice hair, both of you), I decided to give 'HairBrained' a chance. The film turned out to be a flawed, yet more-or-less decent indie comedy that perhaps tried a little *too* hard to be "quirky", but managed to avoid being overly obnoxious. Oh, and, incidentally, the movie has almost nothing to do with tennis (the two leads play briefly in one scene, and that's it).

Instead, 'HairBrained' centers on 14-year-old genius Eli Pettifog (Wolff) and his efforts to fit in at the fictional Whittman College, the small and seemingly unremarkable school where he's just enrolled as a student. Eli would have preferred Harvard (which rejected him), so from the start he isn't the happiest at Whittman; he also very quickly finds himself dealing with much teasing about his age, his "genius" status, and his hair, and he's forced to try to outwit a bully or two.

Still, Eli is able to strike up a friendship with his 41-year-old roommate across the hallway, Leo Searly (Fraser) -- who (despite being a self-described "late bloomer" himself) becomes a sort of mentor to the younger student. Eventually, with some help from Leo, Eli discovers after joining the school trivia team that he can use his genius to his advantage. In fact, Eli's presence on the team becomes his full-fledged ticket to popularity; after the team wins round after round of an ongoing college trivia competition, they wind up with a coveted spot in the finals playing against none other than... Harvard, the very school that rejected Eli.

There are a couple of other subplots in 'HairBrained', too. Which is actually the film's biggest drawback -- with so much going on, the result is that certain conflicts don't really go anywhere and certain storylines feel rushed or underdeveloped. This is especially the case with Fraser's character; a subplot about Leo's relationship with his estranged college-bound daughter is fairly interesting, yet comes out of left field and resolves almost immediately after it begins.

Also, while not as obnoxious as the cover first implied, 'HairBrained' is still a college movie (and a college comedy, at that) so a certain degree of obnoxiousness feels almost inevitable. Sure enough, the film includes its fair share of characters that made me roll my eyes pretty hard (such as the "bully" who acts more like a caricature of an elementary school bully than a college student -- or Eli himself, who whines throughout half the movie). The scene where several of the characters "relieve" themselves on a campus lawn is just stupid.

Meanwhile, slightly less annoying on the character front is the such-a-minor-role-that-she-doesn't-even-get-a-name "Perky Girl", played by Kimiko Glenn. Some might recognize Glenn as "Brook Soso" from "Orange is the New Black"; and fittingly (as her moniker might suggest) "Perky Girl" in her handful of scenes acts remarkably like... Brook Soso.

On a more positive note -- thanks to Fraser's natural likability, HIS character (who could have easily came across as irritating or even borderline creepy) is actually somewhat endearing, if not the most developed as a character. That said, "Leo Searly, late bloomer" (as he introduces himself more than once in the movie -- what a cool guy) was kind of pushing it in that weird, brief scene where he's lying around in his dorm room, uh... flicking a crumpled strip of paper into his belly button (?! and, ew!) while muttering some sort of commentary. Whatever THAT was.

(Also, what was the deal with Leo's "old man" wardrobe; was it meant to illustrate just how much older he was than the other students? If so: he was 41, costume designer, not 81.)

Anyhow, even if this movie isn't the greatest, I do think that these indie films suit Fraser (and would rather see him in something low-budget like this than another 'Mummy' movie). Speaking of indie films -- the Indie Queen herself, Parker Posey, shows up in a VERY brief role in 'HairBrained' as Eli's mother, which was a pleasant surprise.

Otherwise, I enjoyed some of the trivia contest scenes (I even learned a few facts while watching them). And Fraser and Wolff effectively convey the unexpected friendship between their mismatched-yet-similar characters.

However, all in all, 'HairBrained' still feels somehow lacking in the end. Yes, it's better than it looks, and certainly the movie isn't a complete waste of time; just be prepared to not be blown away should you decide to watch it. (5/10)

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Somewhat disturbing, yet strangely compelling

Posted : 4 years, 5 months ago on 8 September 2015 11:46 (A review of Girl Model)

'Girl Model', an oddly compelling documentary, parallels the experiences of two very different people living for the most part in different parts of the world, whose paths happen to cross through their mutual involvement in the sinister world of modeling.

At the beginning of the film, in her native Siberia, Nadya Vall (a shy 13-year-old girl) wins the dubious honor of being chosen by casting agents to travel to Tokyo, where she'll launch a glamorous new career in modeling. The agents assure Nadya and her family that she'll be supervised and taken care of throughout her travels, and promise the young girl success in Japan. Nadya's family doesn't have much money, and Nadya seems excited about the opportunity to offer her family this financial blessing.

Meanwhile, we're introduced through a series of interviews and old home videos to one of the agents who selected Nadya and promised her success. Ashley Arbaugh, a thirtysomething former model, now earns a very comfortable living traveling around the world (mostly between Japan, Siberia, Paris, and her opulent "glass house" in Connecticut) and selecting girls like Nadya to fill the same seemingly desirable role that shaped (and continues to have a tremendous presence in) Arbaugh's life. It quickly becomes apparent that Arbaugh feels VERY conflicted about her ongoing involvement with modeling. On top of this, Arbaugh seems to be dealing with some kind of (undiagnosed?) mental illness, which might or might not be the result of her earlier work as a model.

The film alternately showcases Nadya's devastating journey to Japan with the footage of Arbaugh. In the former's case, we see her land at the Tokyo airport only to be greeted by absolutely nobody (remember, this is a 13-year-old girl who doesn't speak Japanese and has never even been on an airplane, much less traveled abroad); finally make her way to the tiny and cramped "apartment" where she's expected to live for the next several months (with a roommate, no less -- although Nadya's roommate, another young teen girl, at least speaks her language, and eventually proves to be Nadya's only source of support in Japan... until she's sent home with no money to show and a huge debt for "breaking her contract" by increasing her waist size by something like half an inch); attempt to survive in a foreign country without any of her promised money (not even for food); and, ultimately (despite the above circumstances, as well as other setbacks) try to find the success that she was "guaranteed" as a model.

As for Arbaugh, it's hard to know whether to sympathize with her or just feel creeped out. In both her interviews and in her personal videos, Arbaugh frequently claims to hate the modeling industry and paints a rather negative picture of it (even suggesting that many of the so-called models, possibly even herself at some point, wind up in trafficking situations or forced into prostitution). However, Arbaugh appears to be in denial that (while she might have started out as a victim) she's now an active participant in the very dark and sinister world that she claims to despise.

This becomes especially apparent in one particular scene, when Arbaugh visits Nadya and her roommate in their tiny apartment in Tokyo. There's no question that Arbaugh is well aware of the poor conditions that these young girls are trapped in (she admits to having been there before, and she's now sitting right in the middle of it), yet Arbaugh brushes off their concerns about finding jobs (something they were not only promised, but are required to do a certain amount of times in order to fulfill their "contract") and offers them no assistance or support. Arbaugh merely gives the girls an uncomfortable smile and a few fake words of encouragement before quickly fleeing the apartment and leaving them on their own again.

Then there's Arbaugh's strange home life, shown up-close in a visit to the huge Connecticut house where she lives almost entirely on her own. Arbaugh's only companions in the house are a pair of naked baby dolls that she carries around from room to room; Arbaugh tells the filmmakers that she used to have a third doll -- but that she dissected it. (?!) We also see the rather... unusual collection of photos that Arbaugh for some reason keeps in a box in her bathroom: photos of various unsuspecting models' hands and feet that Arbaugh proudly admits to taking herself under the table when the models weren't looking. And Arbaugh's bizarre obsessions aren't limited to her house; she's practically obsessed with a benign cyst that she eventually has removed from her abdomen (we "get" to see disgusting post-surgical photos in the film, and hear Arbaugh compare the size of the cyst to a baby's head as she reflects on just how much she wants to have a baby).

As odd and even at times disturbing as Arbaugh comes across in 'Girl Model', at least it's evident that she's struggling with some sort of mental illness, which lends her a bit of sympathy. There are a few other characters shown in the film who come off as far worse -- including the head of the so-called agency that employs Nadya. A man who's possibly a member of the mob, and who paints himself as a real savior (he's "helping the girls" by running the agency, in order to atone for some kind of crime he committed in a "past life" -- or so he says.) That guy is just sleazy. Then there's the 40-something year-old agent (or whatever he's supposed to be) who (to quote Arbaugh) "likes models" (and it's implied, if not outright stated, that by models she means "very young models"); *his* brief footage was enough to make my skin crawl.

I'm not sure what I expected when I decided to watch 'Girl Model'; but what I found was a surprisingly dark, vaguely unsettling, yet undoubtedly interesting eye-opener of a film. Recommended for documentary fans, or for anybody who might be curious to learn more about the less-than-glamorous side of modeling. (7/10)

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A well-acted and surprisingly moving film

Posted : 4 years, 5 months ago on 5 September 2015 07:23 (A review of Gimme Shelter)

I decided to stream 'Gimme Shelter' one evening after noticing it on the front page of my Netflix account; I knew absolutely nothing about the story, and the name Vanessa Hudgens made me "meanly" roll my eyes a bit (in fairness, I knew almost as little about her as I did about the film; but her association with 'High School Musical' made me automatically inclined to not take her seriously). However, the plot description looked passable enough; there were no other names listed in the cast to dissuade me from watching (I approved of James Earl Jones, and felt ambivalent about Rosario Dawson and, at the time, Brendan Fraser); and, all in all, I thought the movie seemed a good bet for at least passing the time, and perhaps even for holding some Lifetime movie-ish (read: guilty pleasure) appeal.

While there were indeed some Lifetime movie-ish elements to be found, 'Gimme Shelter' turned out to be a much better film than I'd anticipated -- and a far better movie than its (mostly) negative reviews suggest.

The movie is centered around the real-life, New Jersey-based Several Sources Shelters, a Catholic-oriented service founded by a woman named Kathy DiFiore (portrayed in the movie by Ann Dowd, in a great performance), which provides shelter for homeless expectant mothers and allows them to give birth in a safe environment. The story focuses on Agnes -- or "Apple" as she's called (Hudgens) -- a fictional teen (though her story is said to be drawn from the experiences of some young women who stayed at the actual shelter) who runs from her abusive mother (Dawson) to her wealthy father (Fraser) in hopes of a better life. Apple's father, Tom, seems well-meaning but unprepared for the sudden appearance of the daughter he never knew (he also has a wife and two young children to consider); meanwhile, Apple holds some understandable resentment toward her dad for not doing anything to establish contact with her while she was growing up.

Complications arise when it's revealed that Apple is pregnant; Tom's wife basically tells Apple "have an abortion or get out" (and Tom doesn't say anything to counter this). Just before the abortion, however, Apple flees the clinic, which leads her to become homeless and eventually lands her a brief stint in the hospital. While hospitalized, she encounters a kind chaplain (Jones) who, after learning of Apple's circumstances, directs her to the Several Sources Shelters.

So, yes -- 'Gimme Shelter' is technically a "pro-life" movie (*gasp*!), if that's what one wants to label a film where the main character chooses not to have an abortion.

What 'Gimme Shelter' ISN'T, however (despite what most of its critics brushed it off as) is "propaganda": none of the characters lecture about the evils of abortion; and the characters who do push for Apple's abortion aren't portrayed as mere caricatures (actually, I'd venture to guess that many viewers would see Mrs. Fitzpatrick's initial point-of-view as an understandable one).

But the Apple character does, in fact, choose to have her baby. And while the movie doesn't try to pretend at all that this wasn't the best thing for Apple -- to me 'Gimme Shelter' seemed FAR more a celebration of life and of hope than some sinister attempt to get a pro-life message out to the unsuspecting public disguised as a movie.

I also didn't think that the film came across as "preachy" -- but that's the other big "reason" most critics gave for dismissing the movie (which I found rather annoying while reading their reviews). Yes, James Earl Jones's character reads from the Bible in one scene; he was a chaplain! Yes, the girls at the shelter attend church in another scene; it's a Catholic shelter! Some characters might even pray once or twice (*huge gasp*!); but every one of these scenes felt authentic rather than gratuitous.

In fact, I wouldn't even classify 'Gimme Shelter' as a "religious" movie -- not that it would be a bad thing if it was, but to brush off the film because some characters established as following a religion are briefly shown *practicing* that religion is just silly (and irritating).

Anyhow, the movie isn't without its faults, but I found it to be a genuinely moving and well-made film with some surprisingly good performances.

At the top of that list is Fraser -- whose understated performance as Apple's father was, to me, one of the most compelling things about the movie. Instead of coming across as "evil absent dad", Fraser makes his character sympathetic and surprisingly gentle (granted, more so in the second half of the movie; still, aside from the obvious choice of Apple, I thought that Fraser's character "Tom" showed the most growth throughout the film -- and Fraser is terrific in the role).

In fact, I enjoyed Fraser's performance in this movie so much that -- for the first time since I originally saw him in 'School Ties' 20+ years ago -- I decided to check out some of his earlier work (before this, I'd seen him in a few other movies besides 'School Ties'; but I never had much of an opinion about him one way or the other, and I'd actually kind of forgotten about him entirely before coming across 'Gimme Shelter'). While 'Furry Vengeance' and 'The Passion of Darkly Noon' made me briefly reconsider my newfound interest (and I still have zero interest in 'The Mummy' franchise) I'm glad that 'Gimme Shelter' helped me discover that "George of the Jungle" has more acting talent than I ever gave him credit for (and I actually quite like the guy now).

Also wonderful in 'Gimme Shelter' are the aforementioned Dowd, and the always-reliable Jones, both of whom seemed perfectly cast.

(Fun fact: according to an interview with director Ron Krauss, Fraser and Jones donated their salaries from this film to the Several Sources Shelters -- an anecdote that made me like both actors even more.)

As for Hudgens -- I did think that she bordered on Lifetime-y dramatic in a few scenes (and her appearance certainly took some getting used to, though she "cleans up" in the second half of the movie). But overall, she was fine as the lead.

Dawson, on the other hand, proved more difficult to watch. To be honest, I found her quite grating in her role as "June", Apple's abusive mother. But this seemed appropriate for her character, so I'm not necessarily criticizing her performance (and I even sympathized with June just a smidge in the scene where she bumped into Tom outside of the shelter and was too ashamed to walk past him in her current state... though she was still grating. Incidentally, I also thought that that particular scene was one of Dowd's/Kathy's strongest.)

Finally, regarding the cast -- for those who might care, Dascha Polanco ("Daya" from "Orange is the New Black") turns up in a very small supporting role as another pregnant young woman staying at the shelter (meaning that Polanco has played a pregnant woman at least twice now).

As far as criticism goes -- probably the thing I liked LEAST about 'Gimme Shelter' was the ending, which I have to admit kind of disappointed me. Not enough to ruin an otherwise strong film, but I felt sorry for Tom, and I questioned the plausibility of Apple's decision.

Otherwise -- the script might have had a few clichéd lines here and there (but nothing really noticeable enough to stand out or take away from the story). And as much as I liked Fraser in the movie, he looked a bit too old for his role (Fraser looked well into his 40's -- which is fine in general since he *is* in his 40's -- but it's stated that June was a teen mother and implied that Tom was college-aged at the oldest when Apple was born; so, technically, Tom should have been in his mid-30's, tops, and Fraser just doesn't look that young). Again, though, this didn't detract from the movie; and to be fair, I'm pretty sure that Tom didn't state his actual age in the letter that he wrote to Apple. (Speaking of which, I had to chuckle just a little at the photo that Tom included with the letter, which looked suspiciously like an early head shot of Fraser.)

Ultimately, minor flaws and all, I'd consider this one an unexpected gem -- and well worth a watch. (8/10)

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It... could have been worse

Posted : 4 years, 5 months ago on 5 September 2015 04:42 (A review of Furry Vengeance (2010))

Oh, boy, where to begin?

For reasons far beyond me, in the time since I first compiled a list of Movies I've Streamed on Netflix in 2015 (which is where I originally commented on 'Furry Vengeance'), I decided to subject myself to a second viewing of the 2010 Brendan Fraser/Brooke Shields disaster. My opinion of the movie didn't change... much. But I DO have a few additional thoughts after watching a second time -- so I guess I'll start with my original comments, then follow those up with my amended ones.


After attempting to watch the ridiculous mess that is 'Furry Vengeance', it was easy to see why the movie was so critically bashed. I felt profoundly embarrassed while watching for everybody involved with the movie (especially Brendan Fraser), which is every bit as bad as all of the reviews say it is (and possibly even worse).

The movie was SO painful, in fact, that I could only tolerate about 25 minutes before I started fast-forwarding through the rest of it. However, I did randomly stop on several scenes (between pauses in the fast-forward game), long enough to notice such cringe-worthy moments as: Fraser flailing around in a pink jogging suit as he was attacked by animals or some such nonsense; a raccoon playing "whack-a-mole" with a character that I think (?) was supposed to be a typical bumbling villain; and virtually every human character screaming at the top of their lungs (the animals don't talk, but instead have corny thought bubbles). Needless to say, I immediately pushed the fast-forward button again after about two seconds of each of these scenes.

As if the above wasn't bad enough -- I also watched enough of 'Furry Vengeance' to notice that the usual gross-out jokes and gags that you'll find in most kids' movies these days are, naturally, found here in spades (but, unlike in actual good children's films, without any cleverness or charm to help balance the lame "bathroom humor").

And I watched the stupid ending -- which made me think fleetingly of the "Joey Gladstone" character from "Full House". For the record, I DON'T mean that as a compliment (but, come to think of it, Dave Coulier might as well have played the lead in 'Furry Vengeance'; it's hard to think of much else that could make this movie even worse). (2/10)


Strangely enough (mainly because I've known of him for over 20 years -- and for most of that time have barely thought of or had much of an opinion about him one way or the other), I've recently come to appreciate Fraser, and think he gets a bad rap. Which I suppose is what prompted my second viewing of 'Furry Vengeance'.

I can't excuse Fraser's appearance in this... silliness (and I *really* don't need to see him taking a bath in tomato juice after being sprayed by angry skunks, or flailing around in those stupid pink "Yum Yum sweats" EVER again). But, well, it could have been worse; what if Coulier really HAD played the lead? That could have been Joey Gladstone bathing in tomato juice, or flailing around in those pink sweats (*shuddering at the very thought*).

Really -- while it's easy to see how such a masterpiece might have helped contribute to Fraser's current career slump (which, aside from this misstep, I wouldn't say he deserves) -- I have a hard time imagining ANY actor making 'Furry Vengeance' (or Fraser's character, "Dan Sanders") any less ridiculous than the movie or character turned out to be, nor can I imagine any actor managing to escape scorn for appearing in such a role. And Fraser, at least, seemed to have a good time making the movie; the same can be said for the rest of the cast, as well.

Speaking of Fraser's co-stars, it was kind of funny to see Wallace Shawn turn up in a brief role as a therapist who tries to help stupid Dan with his perceived "fear of animals" (Shawn was probably relieved to find that the therapist character comes across as positively distinguished compared to the rest of the them).

Sadly, I can't say that very much else about 'Furry Vengeance' amused me; but while watching for the second time, there were a *few* random lines and moments here and there that made me at least snicker (I'm not sure why, but I even laughed out loud once -- during a scene where some crow was loudly hitting its beak against the roof trying to keep Dan awake or somesuch; the crow's giant shadow on the wall struck me as funny for whatever reason).

And, going by some reviews that I read, I guess there are a few young kids out there who genuinely enjoyed 'Furry Vengeance' -- considering that it's aimed at, what, 7-year-olds?, at least that means the movie wasn't a *total* bomb. But that's about all the praise I can muster up for this one.

I'll add, however, that (for what it's worth) I was able to watch the movie all the way through the second time around without fast-forwarding -- perhaps because I was already prepared for the most embarrassingly awful scenes.

So I suppose it's only fair to point out that, during my second viewing, the characters didn't seem... QUITE as "yelly" as I'd remembered them. Also, the villains, who do NOT in fact get bonked on the head by raccoons in a whack-a-mole game (although a couple of other characters briefly do) are only... sort of bumbling.

Because some footage of Fraser signing a DVD copy of the movie for a little girl smiling shyly back at him made my grinchy heart grow just a bit, because some kids actually liked the movie, and because of the oddly amusing scene with the crow's giant shadowed head pecking away at Dan Sanders's roof, I'll go ahead and raise my original rating -- to an "impressive" 3/10.

But I can't rate 'Furry Vengeance' any higher than that; I just can't. Maybe if I was 6 instead of 36...

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