Category: Movies

Us

 

Jordan Peele’s 2017 hit Get Out created a stir because it was a rarity: a horror movie with smarts. Critics gushed because, face it, when it comes to the scary-movie genre, the bar is awfully low. But to me, Get Out failed to achieve goal number one:  it wasn’t particularly frightening.

Not so with Us, Peele’s 2019 follow-up. Lupita Nyong’o stars as the female head of a family of four that encounters their wicked doppelgangers while on holiday in Santa Cruz, California. This time, Peele pleases both critics – there is symbolism galore; what do the doubles represent, the global underclass? Our individual dark sides? – and horror-film aficionados. Peele wisely puts the scary first, the message second.

Also, it turns out you can spend all the money you want on special effects or monsters or gore, but there’s nothing more terrifying than a knowing, evil grin — especially from someone who looks just like you. Release: 2019 Grade: B+

 

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We get a lot of review requests along with links to private “screeners.” Mostly, these are low-budget movies so dreadful that they don’t even appear on Netflix or Amazon Prime – yet.  They have titles like Luciferina and The Haunting of Mia Moss and, in this case, Lection and Shed.

Often the movies are unfinished: The soundtrack might not match the video, the credits have yet to be added, that sort of thing. But occasionally these films have a certain rustic charm; the spirit of Ed Wood living on.

 

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Low-budget movies tend to come in two distinct categories: watchable and unwatchable. Today, we take a look at two movies released this year by South Carolina filmmaker David Axe.

One is quite watchable and the other, well … you guessed it.

 

Lection

 

 

Lection has probably the least amount of dialogue since 1928 – the year they stopped making silent movies (more or less). The story is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which two casualties are the spoken word and the written word. “Election” becomes “lection,” “vote” becomes “vot.” Conversation becomes nearly non-existent.

A third casualty is the movie’s wardrobe department, which can happen when your budget is a mere $25,000 and the amateur cast is encouraged to wear their Saturday-afternoon shabbies. Hey, it’s OK though, because this is the (extremely) casual, dystopian future.

Anyway, a rag-tag group of survivors has split into two factions fighting for more bread. Or rather, “mor bred.” One faction is led by a sexy young black woman (Sanethia Dresch). The other group is led by a grumpy old white man. You can probably guess which side wins.

 

(Above right, actress Sanethia Dresch’s shapely backside; more about that below)

 

I’ll credit writer-director David Axe with this: His story is ambitious. It wants to explore the societal division between haves and have-nots. The problem is the movie’s execution. (I’m reminded of football coach John McKay’s rejoinder when asked what he thought of his team’s execution: “I’m in favor of it.”)

A major problem with Lection is its lack of dialogue. No speaking means long, long, long stretches of deadly dull footage in which nothing much happens. In this case, less is not more.

To watch the trailer for Lection, click here.

 

Shed

 

(Above, Mike Amason in Shed)

 

Compared to Lection, a lot happens in Shed (not to be confused with The Shed, another 2019 premiere), an Axe production that features many of the same actors from Lection but in a much more entertaining movie. Unlike Lection, Shed is a watchable mess.

It’s a bit of a throwback to 1980s schlock, but Axe has a few things going for him: His musical soundtrack is distinctive and surreal; and the man certainly has visual flair. Many of Axe’s shots are clever.

But mostly, Shed is enjoyable on a guilty-pleasure level. If you like gore, there is that. If you like gratuitous nudity, there is plenty of that. There are even moments that reminded me of – in a good way – Blade Runner. And if you enjoy hammy performances, here we have Lection’s Mike Amason (pictured above) in another villainous role.

The plot involves some mumbo-jumbo about an unhuman species that traversed the Atlantic hundreds of years ago, and which must kill humans in order to inhabit their skins. Events are frequently incomprehensible, but the film is never dull. Axe’s musical score, his pacing, some over-the-top performances, and the striking visuals ensure the movie’s entertainment value.

To watch the trailer for Shed, click here.

 

**

 

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Actress (and Her Shapely Derriere)

 

 

One thing Lection and Shed have in common is actress Sanethia Dresch, who stars in the former and provides support in the latter. She is a bright spot in both films. We tried to interview her.

After initially agreeing to do the interview, she did not reply to the actual questions. We’re guessing she might not have cared for our third query:

“Most of the reviews of Shed mention the “threesome scene” early in the movie. Can you take us through what it’s like to film a scene like that? It was a very dark scene (at least on my computer), but it appears that you are nude in it – were you? Was that difficult?”

Or perhaps she was scared off by the mention of Rip van Dinkle:

“When I get your replies, I might have some follow-up questions. Also, we have a humor columnist named Rip van Dinkle who wants to ask you a couple questions. I’ll forward them to you after I receive your replies to this interview.”

Can’t really blame her for that. Dinkle scares off most people.

Or, as director Axe told us: “She’s not always very responsive.”

Anyway … there seems to be some dispute about the aforementioned threesome scene (it’s mentioned in pretty much every review). For one thing, the actress who plays “Kahlan” (Caley Fleming) apparently used a body double (Courtney Busby) for the simulated sex — although the close-up shots below certainly seem to be of Fleming:

 

 

Then there is the third member of the horny trio, “Morgan” (Dresch), who joins in the bedroom fun. Axe told us: “To be fair, she (Dresch) wasn’t actually nude in that threesome. It just very briefly looked that way. The nudity in that scene mostly was the result of clever editing.”

Hmmm. That piqued our curiosity, and so because we have way too much free time, we lightened the (very dark) scene.

We suppose there could be a merkin involved, but these certainly look like bare butt cheeks to us:

 

Before:

 

 

After:

 

 

In the shots above, Morgan (Dresch) enacts a fantasy she earlier described to Kahlan (Fleming): “I’ve been dreaming … Gauge (Gauge Santiago, the dude above) is always there … I want you, too: your mouth, your tits, your cunt, your skin. And Gauge — his hands, his cock.”

Apparently some dreams do come true.

 

(Fleming, left, and Dresch discussing … uh, maybe Gauge?)

 

 

Sanethia Dresch

 

 

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Bonus Trivia

 

Shooting Shed was apparently quite the experience. Director-writer-editor-photographer Axe includes this statement in the end credits: “An amateur cast and crew made Shed for $25,000 in Columbia and Eastover, South Carolina in late 2018 … during a hurricane. A bunch of actors and crew quit during production.”

And then there is this from Axe in an on-line interview:

 

 

Can’t say the actresses weren’t warned about Shed’s nude scenes. Here is the casting call:

 

 

Speaking of nudity, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention actress Emilia Olga’s (“Caley”) eye-catching full-frontal shower scene:

 

Olga All Dressed Up:

 

 

Olga All Undressed:

 

 

Just for fun, here is a blink-and-you-miss-it skin shot when Morgan’s cheerleader skirt flies up as she runs through the woods:

 

 

In case you are beginning to wonder if we have a fetish about Sanethia’s fanny, well, we aren’t the only ones. Check out this clip from her YouTube page and a shot from her Instagram:

 

 

 

The “End”

 

 

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Burning

grouchyeditor.com Burning

 

Until its ending, which I thought was unnecessarily ambiguous, Burning felt like a Korean version of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. A young man (Ah-in Yoo) falls in love with a free-spirited girl (Jong-seo Jun) in the first half of the film and then, after the girl vanishes, he spends the second half engaged in an obsessive search that leads to some very dark places. But until that abrupt and unsatisfying ending, the movie is compelling and filled with haunting images. Release: 2018  Grade: B+

 

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We get a lot of review requests along with links to private “screeners.” Mostly, these are low-budget movies so dreadful that they don’t even appear on Netflix or Amazon Prime – yet.  They have titles like Luciferina and The Haunting of Mia Moss and, in this case, Hybristophilia.

Often the movies are unfinished: The soundtrack might not match the video, the credits have yet to be added, that sort of thing. But occasionally these films have a certain rustic charm; the spirit of Ed Wood living on.

 

Hybristophilia

 

 

If you watch a lot of movies () and have an eye for nude scenes (), you’ll probably notice a cinematic fact of life – at least with low-budget productions:  The more nudity in the movie, the greater the likelihood that the actresses can’t, well, act. Or can’t act well. Starlets who do extensive nudity do not generally go on to win Oscars. I mean, watch something like H.O.T.S. and tell me how impressed you were by the actors’ emotional range.

At least that’s how it used to be. Increasingly, the line between girls-who-do and girls-who-won’t has blurred.  These days even the actresses who do win Oscars bare it all at some point in their careers.

I mention all of this because our most recent screener begins with a naked make-out session between two actresses which did not remind me of H.O.T.S. (Sorry, I seem to have that 1979 T&A bonanza on my brain).

The opener of Hybristophilia certainly caught my attention.

And so did the final scene of the movie, which frankly knocked me for a loop. It was as if Scorsese or Tarantino was brought in to this low-budget production for one day of shooting and left after filming an amazing five minutes.

 

The plot:   A small film crew is summoned by a serial killer called “The Sleepy Stalker,” who wants to do an on-camera interview. The killer wants to correct public misconceptions and to explain how he (or she) came to be such a notorious person. The crew obligingly sets up shop at a remote house in the woods and … things go badly.

The good news:  As mentioned above, the opening scene between Deanna Pak and Celisse Graves made me want to see more (yeah, yeah, more skin; but also more of the movie). And that final scene was remarkable. It has images I’ll retain for a long time.

The bad news:  The midsection is in dire need of ruthless editing. The killer drones on endlessly about her (or his) woe-is-me upbringing, with much bemoaning about the cruelty of society toward anyone who is different. Oh, and there is childhood abuse involved, because every serial killer movie has childhood abuse involved.

 

 

Trivia

 

  • That title – we had no idea what it means. See below.
  • How is it that the killer, who we are told was born and raised in the “Watermelon Capital” of Georgia, speaks with a heavy Russian accent? Just asking.
  • If the guy who plays the film crew’s cameraman looks familiar, it’s because you probably saw him in The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock. Yes, you read that right. It’s Quinton Aaron.
  • We have to be very careful with this review. According to Wikipedia and other sources, the film’s director, Romane Simon, is the great-grandson of a president of Haiti, and a mixed martial arts expert, and the son (or grandson) of a voodoo priestess.  You tell me:  Should I be worried if he reads this review and doesn’t like it?
  • Also, this guy apparently has money, connections, or … something … up the wazoo. I’d never heard of him, but take a look at how many projects he has in the works: 

 

 

 

The Girls of ‘Hybristophilia’

 

(We could call it “The Girls of Romane Simon,” but that sounds sexist.)

(Wait … we ARE sexist.)

 

The Girls of Romane Simon

 

We asked our resident nudity expert, Rip van Dinkle, to provide the commentary below. Our apologies for that.

Rip and The Grouch interviewed stars Deanna Pak and Lilian Lev, as well as director Simon. The quotes below are from those interviews.

 

Deanna Pak

 

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Rip Says:  Deanna is a very hot Asian-American actress who plays one of the two ill-fated lesbians in the opening scene. From what I can tell (I did some research), this was her first nude scene. Although, according to her interview reply, it was “implied nudity.” This answer confused me, so I was forced to go back and watch the scene again. And again.

Hmmm. Seems to me that if you are clearly bottomless, that’s a bit more than “implied.” But who am I to quibble over words?

 

Deanna (right) and Celisse Graves get comfortable in a cabin in the woods.

Celisse likes what she sees. So do we.

 

Grouch:  I’m guessing that the love scene between two naked women (right before all hell breaks loose) was a great attention grabber. You certainly grabbed my attention. Was this your first nude scene? If so, what did you think of it? Is it difficult to take your clothes off before the crew, or is it no big deal?

Deanna:  I understand this scene was definitely an “attention grabber” type of opening. This was my first implied nude scene, yes. I was still not comfortable with certain parts being shown on screen, so the director, Romane Simon, worked within my limits, so I appreciate that. I felt comfortable on set with the crew and actors and I’m glad that we agreed to be shown on screen (and not shown) [and] remained consistent. I feel like although there was definitely some skin, it was still tasteful and done beautifully.

Grouch:  Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to promote?

Deanna:  You can find my first self-produced pilot, Hot Asian Girl, on my Instagram, which made some festival rounds last year. I also have other movies and TV shows coming up that I can’t speak of yet.

 

 

Lilian Lev

 

Rip Says:  Lilian (also known as Liliana or simply Lili) is a Russian singer-actress striving to make it big in Hollywood. If you Google her videos, you will find one that claims to show her stripping in the background while some dude in the foreground drones on and on in Russian. I don’t know; the chick on the stage doesn’t really look like Lilian to me, but who knows?

 

 

“I’m OK with nudity and my body in a great shape so I would gladly do it!” — Lilian Lev to The Grouch

 

Grouch:  Some of the actresses in the movie had nude scenes, but you did not. Is that something you consciously try to avoid? Have you done nude scenes in any other films?

Lilian:  For my character there was no place in the story for nude scenes. And it wasn’t in the script. I’m ok with nudity and my body in a great shape so I would gladly do it)))

Grouch:  You have a very interesting background. How do you compare being a musical star in Russia with being an actress in Hollywood?

Lilian:  My music career in Russia definitely helped me with acting. I’m a performer more than anything else. It helps with acting for sure. I’m open and charismatic since I was very little. I love performing on stage more than anything else. I was either dancing or singing most of my life. Since I was 7. I have zero shame in front of the audience.

 

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(Click on images for a larger view)

 

(To see this video, click here.)

 

 

 

Sara Hedgren

 

grouchyeditor.com Hedgren

 

Rip Says: Sara appears briefly in a flashback scene. We didn’t do an interview with her, but since she appears topless in this movie, she definitely qualifies as a “Romane Simon girl.” Oh, and we included a couple pictures of her appearance as a stripper in 2016’s The Lone Road. Because, why not?

 

 

 

Sadie Katz

 

Rip Says:  Oddly, Sadie does not get naked in Hybristophilia. I say that’s odd because, of all the actresses in the movie, she has the nudest acting resume. So we naturally couldn’t resist posting a couple of shots from one of her soft-core appearances.

 

 

Below, a couple Sadie shots from 2013’s Hidden Treasures.

 

 

“There’s something really fucking exciting about seeing an actress nude. I know that’s terrible to say, but I think there’s something really fun about it.” — Sadie Katz to “Mr. Skin”

 

Jenna Willis

 

 

Rip Says:  Sadly, Jenna Willis doesn’t show much skin in this movie (nor anywhere else, from what I could tell). But she is very good as a gung-ho reporter, and she appears with Lilian Lev in that knockout final scene (below).

 

 

Layla Dideban

 

Rip Says:  Layla is not in this movie. But she does make a memorable-if-short nude appearance in Blood Runs Thick (below), which is another Romane Simon movie from last year. Hence, she qualifies as one of “Romane’s girls.” Right?

 

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(Click on images for a larger view)

 

 

Romane Simon

 

 

Grouch:  The opening scene was quite an attention-grabber. Is it difficult to find actresses who are willing to take their clothes off for scenes like that, especially since they then get killed and don’t appear again?

Romane:  Actually yes it was so difficult to find an actor that can act and OK with nudity. I was so lucky to find two wonderful talent that was OK with nude scene and I make sure on my set everyone treat each other like family so not only it was a closed set. But I also communicate with them over and over to make sure they were comfortable and ready to go. My assistant Ameena she was like a mama bear to all the ladies on the set. Cause we all was in a cabin in the woods for weeks shooting in the middle of nowhere.

Grouch:  Will you be making anymore horror movies?

Romane:  Yes actually I have 3 horror-related films, one based on my bestselling book Red to Black — The Power of Love, also Voodoo Retribution so excited I also have two other horror film out. Our Way and Blood Runs Thick. I love making horror film. Growing [up] in Haiti around Voodoo help my creativity.

 

 

Last and certainly least, Rip wanted to ask the girls if they thought Hollywood was ready for a non-actor oddball with a small penis. Lilian had trouble answering his question:

Rip:  Hi Lili! I really got into your movie and I thought you were great. You probably haven’t heard of me, but I was kind of an underground celebrity at the “Smallest Penis in Brooklyn” pageant in 2013 and 2015. Do you think I should put that on my acting resume? Can a dude with a small penis become a big Hollywood star? Just asking!

Lilian:  (no reply)

 

Grouch (days later):  Our columnist Rip van Dinkle is disappointed that you didn’t answer his question — did you not see it?  (By the way, we are all very surprised that you haven’t done any nude scenes yet, because it’s obvious you are in great shape!)

Lilian:  I did answer it. Yeah, I’m saving nude scenes for big budget films and TV shows.

 

Rip (second attempt):  Hi Lili! I really got into your movie and I thought you were great. You probably haven’t heard of me, but I was kind of an underground celebrity at the “Smallest Penis in Brooklyn” pageant in 2013 and 2015. Do you think I should put that on my acting resume? Can a dude with a small penis become a big Hollywood star? Just asking!

Lilian:  Unless u r planning to be a porn star — it doesn’t matter.

Below, Rip competes at the third annual Smallest Penis in Brooklyn pageant. (Click on the image if you need proof that he does, in fact, have a penis.)

 

 

Rip posed the same question to Deanna:

Rip:  Hi Deanna. I enjoyed your movie. In fact, I thought your scenes were the highlight of the movie. Trust me, I know what it’s like to have to bare all in front of an audience. You probably haven’t heard of it, but I was a star at the “Smallest Penis in Brooklyn” pageant. Twice.

If I want to become a Hollywood actor, on my resume under vital statistics should I include information about my “shortcomings”? Why or why not? Thanks Deanna!

Deanna:  Hahaha. I would say magnify your strengths, and work on your “weaknesses” until they become strengths. I don’t think you have to acknowledge every shortcoming, but in today’s world with a one click access to social media, there’s a big audience for people who are real and upfront. So, in that way, it can work in your favor, especially if you are okay with making fun of yourself, but still carry the confidence like “So what? I’m still great” vibes. People actually appreciate when you can be real and not give a crap about every person’s opinion.

Hybristophilia is now available from on-demand video.

 

Editor’s note:  Shortly after we published this post we heard from an unhappy Deanna Pak, who e-mailed in part: “Is there any way they can take some of the graphic screen grabs off? Those should be for buyers of the movie and I was not okay with those nudity screenshots for a public article …. If you cannot take these nudity screen grabs off the article, please remove my name and my entire interview.”

Well … we weren’t about to edit the post because the subject was unhappy with it (besides, we think she looks great in the most of her bare-bottomed shots). But we wondered why she was so upset, so we did a bit of Web research and …. Our guess is that Deanna had an unpleasant previous experience with Web exposure — like this very revealing video she did for a site featuring Asian-American girls:

 

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Dolemite Is My Name

 

I’m old enough to remember when Eddie Murphy burst upon the American scene in movies like 48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop and, of course, on TV’s Saturday Night Live. It was a dynamic time for Murphy and for his audience, because we hadn’t seen anything quite like him.

So it’s a bit melancholic to see middle-aged Eddie in Dolemite Is My Name, sporting a pot belly and lacking that brash, youthful energy of days gone by. But Murphy retains some of that spark, and in Dolemite he’s given a role that leaves behind fat suits and haunted houses in favor of some depth. Alas, the story of 1970s comedian-turned-movie-“auteur” Rudy Ray Moore is oh-so-familiar and predictable. It’s in the same ballpark as Ed Wood and The Disaster Artist, but not quite as good. Release: 2019 Grade: B-

 

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Mandy Kaplan (see sidebar) and Johnny Giacalone play a married couple experiencing the seven-year-itch – scratch that; seven-year-itch implies pining for new romantic partners. What these two have is more like “it’s-been-seven-years-and-nothing-about-you-lights-my-fire.”

After consulting with a marriage counselor, Nick and Willa embark on a 30-day program to spice up their love life. The program, however, is less Hallmark and more Hamster.com. Anyone game for anal sex?

 

 

Pros:  Although the film is raunchy, at heart it’s old fashioned and feel-good. The two leads are likable, which they pretty much have to be in a movie like this, and several of the supporting characters are a hoot. A few scenes are flat-out hilarious.

Cons:  The tone is often peculiar. 30 Nights mixes a Disney-movie sensibility with hard-core interludes. Sometimes this works because the contrast is so stark that it tickles. (Remember watching “June Cleaver” speak jive in Airplane!? Imagine June and Ward experimenting with anal sex, instead.) At other times this tonal juxtaposition just feels … off. I mean, golden showers in a feel-good comedy?

But there are several laugh-out-loud scenes, which is a tough find in 2019.   Grade:  C+

 

 

Director: Tom Metz III  Cast: Mandy Kaplan, Johnny Giacalone, Dan Fogler, Katie Walder Release: 2018

 

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Walking Out

 

I have a weakness for movies like this one. You know: wilderness movies with hungry bears, or deep-sea movies with dead-eyed sharks. That’s because, unlike most sci-fi and horror films, these scary stories could really happen. To you. Or to me. Walking Out, in which a father and his teenage son encounter peril in the Montana mountains, does well with its survival elements. On the downside, although Matt Bomer and Josh Wiggins are believable as dad and son, their on-screen chemistry left me a bit cold. Release: 2017 Grade: B

 

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El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

 

Whenever a studio announces plans for a movie version of a beloved TV show, the hope, at least among fans of the series, is that the movie version will be bigger and better. Bigger budget = better experience. There is good news and bad news about Netflix’s two-hour revival of the classic Breaking Bad. The bad news?  The movie, which follows the trajectory of young Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) after the death of Walter White, is no better than the series. The good news? The movie is just as good as the series – and you don’t get any better than that. Release: 2019 Grade: A

 

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A Young Man with High Potential

 

Is it just me who finds it off-putting when a perfectly good suspense-drama finds it necessary to include a 10-minute sequence of graphic gore? Young Man concerns a social nerd/computer genius (Adam Ild Rohweder) who falls for a sexy girl (Paulina Galazka), then lets things get out of control and winds up running from the law – a cliché plot, for sure, yet suspenseful and well acted. But when Crime and Punishment veers into Blood Feast, it loses me. Release: 2018  Grade: B-

 

 

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A Simple Favor

Anna Kendrick does A Simple Favor.  Big mistake.  

 

I was beginning to despair of ever again seeing anything clever and funny, i.e. entertaining, in a Hollywood “comic thriller.” But then I saw A Simple Favor, which has it all: clever script, fast-paced direction, and engaging characters. Anna Kendrick is perfectly cast as a Susie Homemaker with a video blog who gets drawn into a murder investigation when her new “best friend,” a glamorous mystery woman (Blake Lively), goes missing.

At times the plot does get a bit far-fetched. I gave that a pass because of the top-notch cast and a tongue-in-cheek tone that works.  Release: 2018  Grade: A-

 

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Personal Shopper

Pretty much how I felt while watching this film

 

A Simple Favor is a female-centric movie for everyone. Personal Shopper is, alas, a female-centric movie for diehard fans of Kristen Stewart only.

Stewart plays a celebrity’s assistant in Paris who grieves for her recently deceased twin brother. And grieves. And grieves. The first hour of the movie was intolerable: Kristen mopes, Kristen strips, Kristen engages in endless, pointless text messaging with a mystery man who might be her brother’s ghost. No, thank you. Release: 2017  Grade: D

 

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June is a short month. That’s my excuse for not finding a movie that interested me enough to warrant a typical two-paragraph review in short.

I tried, but there is such a sea of mediocrity out there in Streaming Land that … sigh. I can barely muster the enthusiasm to write a sentence or two about the films I did watch, much less an entire paragraph. To wit:

 

The Wolf’s Call (2019) – France tries to do a Tom Cruise action flick without Tom Cruise or much action. Not a great idea, France.  Grade: C

 

The Isle (2019) – Plenty of atmosphere in this period piece about ghostly possession. Howling winds, candlelit cabins, and gorgeous outdoor scenery – but nothing remotely scary.  Grade: C-

 

Murder Mystery (2019) – Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston mingle with the beautiful people and try to find a killer. Sadly, Sandler and Aniston are no Nick and Nora Charles.  Grade: D

 

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