Once again we find ourselves at the mercy of Netflix’s problems with pacing themselves. Next week sees a massive amount of titles hitting our virtual shelves, including plenty I’ll be sure to gush praise over with excited aplomb. This week, however, we’re served a bland dish of cinematic gruel with only the slightest touches of flavour. Even my choice for film of the week is one you could live without seeing, unfortunately, making this week—and thus this article, and all the precious time that went into it—utterly irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. If only I’d known that seven days ago. See you next week.
In some respects a family drama, in others a culture clash comedy, but in almost all a failure, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is admirably earnest in its desire to showcase a relationship of greater depth than it can hope to manage. Visiting the daughter who departed for the United States many years prior, an elderly Chinese man is disappointed to find his idyllic image of her married life to be far from the reality. His alienation from his daughter is just one of many invocations of cultural and generational divides, interesting lines drawn by this all but severed familial connection. The problem is the reservation with which all is handled, leaving the film to feel only cold and clinical where there should be an emotional core for us to relate to. Well shot and perfectly performed though the drama is, it crucially and critically fails to engage, making it interesting but never involving. SO-SO.
Despite a formulaic adherence to the standard setup of modern slasher movies, Bereavement—writen, produced, directed, edited, and scored by Stevan Mena—begins quite strongly, showcasing an accomplished visual ambition and effectively chilly atmosphere that promises to set it apart from its endless sea of generic brethren. Quite quickly, alas, Mena’s story descends into cheap and uninspired gore, gushing gallons of blood and filling the soundtrack with infinitely more irritating teen screaming than dialogue. The story sees recently orphaned Allison uncover the horrors of a young boy abducted from his home and trained to become a serial killer. Given the bland execution, it’s almost annoying that it looks so damn good, cinematographer Marco Cappetta exploiting the rural Pennsylvanian locations to astonishing effect. His talents are clear, but the same can be said for few others involved, the cast primarily lacking and the technical aspects amounting to little that we haven’t seen—and been bored of—a dozen times before. AVOID IT.
Beginning with the farcical scene of an old woman rushing—walker and all—to outrun the orderlies from her nursing home in an escape attempt, Carried Away comes bearing a good deal of comic potential. Unfortunately it never makes use of that, raising only a laugh or two in the course of some 100 minutes. Tom Huckabee’s film bears something of a similarity to Little Miss Sunshine, albeit only in narrative and structural terms than in those of actual quality, its quirky family dynamic and road-trip framework certainly calling to mind the more memorable aspects of that far superior film. With a cast that struggle to distinguish themselves and a script that offers them only vaguely caricatured outlines to work with in the first place, Carried Away is a trite mixture of easy race gags and easier resolutions. While most of its scenes make for perfectly acceptable viewing, never once do any of them wow in any way at all. SO-SO.
Perhaps the release of the week to which I brought the highest expectations, the consistently good word on Goon led only to embittered disappointment for me, offering just a fecklessly violent and limply unfunny sports movie that might just as easily be titled Happy Gilmore on Ice. Liev Schreiber does a suitably menacing job as the professional hockey player whose ban from the game begins the film, while Sean William Scott struggles to cope with a character who flits periodically from imbecilic schlub to thundering thug. Scott’s dumbfounded schtick is presumably intended as loveable, yet for me it proved only intolerable courtesy of his aggravatingly artificial delivery and the general ineptitude of the script, co-written by Evan Goldberg, whose Superbad sensibility of maximum crudeness and flat efforts at human drama here once more fails to craft characters even remotely resembling people in the real world. It’s dull and dumb, and everything in it has already been done to death. AVOID IT.
Further proof, as if we needed it, that few things in life are more hypnotic than the sight of Tommy Lee Jones sat at a table staring off into the distance waxing lyrical on the decline of civilisation, In the Electric Mist sees the leathery-faced veteran playing the role of New Orleans detective Dave Robicheaux. His dual investigation of a series of murders and a lynching over four decades prior comprises maybe the film’s most serious narrative problem: it has so many balls in the air that it can’t hope to catch them all. Scrambling to speak out on a good many themes, it’s a movie that spreads itself too thin to really work as well as it should. Still, bearing a quality performance from Lee Jones is enough to overcome such minor storytelling qualms. The version made available here is the studio-ordered “US cut”, reputedly an inferior alternative to the director’s cut distributed in European markets. WORTH WATCHING.
A horror cult classic as famous for its often astoundingly frank sexual imagery as its perceived feminist undertones, I Spit on Your Grave remains to this day banned in my own native Ireland (as well as other countries besides). Graphically depicting the horrific ordeal that befalls a holidaying New York short story writer at the hands of four sexually starved rural men, and then her subsequent bloody revenge upon each of them, it’s a nasty exploitation film through and through. The cheapness of the production comes across in the lacking quality of both the visuals and the performances, lead Camille Keaton never quite managing to exude the same screen presence as her grandfather. For all its standing in extreme horror cinema history and the ever-appealing allure of seeing a banned film, however, I Spit on Your Grave is a frightfully dull experience that will shock few modern viewers, completely lacking in the sociological subtext its defenders claim. AVOID IT.
Frantic, frenetic, and phenomenally ill-judged, Red Mist is an independent horror thriller so desperate to pack itself with material that it can’t help but burst at the seams, gushing plot strands all over the place and leaving nothing but a massive mess in its wake. Telling the story of a medical student whose guilt over her and her friends’ role in the overdose of an introverted young man leads her to inject the now comatose patient with an experimental drug, it shows some small degree of narrative promise before completely losing its way with a frankly laughable setup. The mystery drug bequeaths the slumbering loner with the telekinetic power to possess anyone he pleases and thus exact his revenge without ever so much as getting out of bed. Add to the silly story a handful of poorly written characters, an unnecessary second villain, and a bland visual aesthetic, and all you have is a film as unaware of its own intentions as the audience will be. AVOID IT.
Fascinatingly elusive, if not entirely successful in its vagueness, Silver Tongues lives or dies on the viewer’s willingness to surrender to its characters’ malleable identities and the mystery of who these people really are. They call each other Gerry and Joan and claim to be wed, but the four scenarios in which the film explores them paint a picture of mind games had as much with each other as with the people around them. Writer/director Simon Arthur seems intent on an allegorical rumination on identity, a goal he achieves only to a certain extent. Certainly Silver Tongues’ characters capture the imagination, but the lack of resolution feels more an inability to succinctly conclude this story than a thematically relevant finale. Still, there’s so much in the performances of Lee Tergesen and Enid Graham to admire that it’s well worth going along for the ride; they make these characters intriguing folk to follow, even if the end result frustrates more than satisfies. RECOMMENDED.
An investigation into the issues surrounding the bottled water industry, Tapped takes an aggressive stance toward market giants, interviewing chemical experts as well as homeowners affected by refineries to glimpse the consequences of a modern convenience we take for granted. With talks of benzene and other alarm bell-ringing carcinogens, it’s an insightful piece that should encourage reconsideration of what its audience drinks. At its best when artfully juxtaposing the defensive retorts of interviewed PR personnel and the awkwardly uncomfortable FDA, it offers some light laughs to offset the tough revelations it brings to bear. Structurally problematic despite its entertainment value, it follows the standard path of such informative documentaries, even opting for the cloying ending complete with vaguely hopeful background music. Nevertheless, Tapped is a film full to the brim of the kind of information consumers deserve to know. WORTH WATCHING.
There’s an unwritten law in British independent comedy: no matter how lacking the setup seems, the presence of Dylan Moran guarantees at least one laugh. It worked for the otherwise dismal Run Fatboy Run and again delivers here, albeit to no great extent. Moran only gets limited screen time as the ruthless magazine editor desperate to land a scoop on the secret Scottish wedding of a famous actress and her novelist fiancé, David Tennant and Kelly Macdonald instead taking the leads as said fiancé and the local woman chosen as the titular distraction. In spite of the plentiful talent before the camera, The Decoy Bride’s mild and inoffensive comedy flails more often than not, only a few of its lines managing to make anything of an amusing impact. Tennant and Macdonald make for a likeable enough screen pairing though, immediately evident though their eventual fate is, and it’s something of a treat to see the two working together. SO-SO.