Category: Reviews in Short

Knock Knock

 

Normally in movies like Knock Knock, director Eli Roth’s (sort of) home-invasion thriller starring Keanu Reeves and two young beauties, the audience has someone to root for. I couldn’t find anyone I liked in this mash-up of Fatal Attraction and Lolita; I pretty much wanted everyone to go down. Which removes a lot of the suspense from a suspense film.

Architect Reeves and his artist wife represent the Southern California 5 Percent, a vapid couple with perfect house, perfect kids, and perfect dog. Genesis and Bell (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas), who inveigle their way into Reeves’s house when his wife and kids are gone, represent entitled young people. When it turns out that the girls have something more sinister in mind than just sex, the battle begins. Like I said, I didn’t care who won.

But it’s competently directed, and the performances of Izzo and de Armas are spot-on chilling. Izzo, by the way, was Roth’s real-life wife at the time. Judging from the amount of skin she displays in this and other Roth productions like The Green Inferno and Aftershock, the couple seemed intent on becoming this decade’s answer to Brian De Palma and Nancy Allen.  Release: 2015   Grade: C+

 

Above, Izzo gives her all for director Roth and actor Reeves.

 

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Haunt

Above, frightened young people in Haunt

 

Wait …

Sorry about that. That picture is from a GEICO commercial.

 

Above, frightened young people in Haunt

 

I was relieved when Haunt did not open with an aerial shot of young people in a van driving through the country, because way too many horror flicks begin with an aerial shot of young people in a van driving through the country. Alas, my hopes were dashed some 30 minutes later when — you guessed it — young people in a van drive through the country. At night. On their way to an “extreme” haunted house.

I liked the premise of this movie because it’s simple, like most horror movies should be. Terror at a haunted house. If it was good enough for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it should be good enough for Haunt.

But once our heroes arrive at the spooky joint, I was instead reminded of the GEICO commercial in which clueless kids run from a chainsaw-wielding maniac — rather than hop in a running car and simply drive away. In Haunt, our heroes encounter a gang of deranged people who, for reasons that are never explained, decide it would be fun to create an elaborate maze with which to terrorize random young people.

I began clock-watching — always a bad sign — to see how much longer the movie would last. At least the Geico commercial was only 30 seconds long.  Release: 2019  Grade: C-

 

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#Alive

 

If you’re an apartment dweller who lives alone (like me), you don’t get to see many movies that take place in, well, your kind of place. There was Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, of course, but most films seem to be set in creepy houses (horror movies) or sunny, single-family homes (everything else).

So I was attracted to the premise of #Alive, a new zombie flick from Korea in which a young man wakes up to discover that the world outside his upper-floor apartment is overrun by snarling brain-eaters. This isn’t as entertaining as the similar-themed I Am Legend or Korea’s manic Train to Busan, but it will do on a lonely Saturday night. Release: 2020 Grade: B

 

 

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We Summon the Darkness

 

In old-school slasher flicks, the psychos were usually male and their victims were often female. But this is the post “Me Too” era, and so in We Summon the Darkness the roles have reversed. (OK, so that was a twist spoiler; but it’s not much of a twist.) Yet one thing hasn’t changed over the years: Old-school slashers were generally ridiculous, and that certainly holds true with this 2019 offering.  It’s well-produced — but not so well-written.

Alexandra Daddario plays the alpha of three female dimwits who hook up with three equally dimwitted boys for a night of drinking and games at her parents’ isolated house. Bad things happen. You know the drill. Release: 2019 Grade: C-

 

Sidebar:

Alexandra Daddario, who stars and is listed as one of the film’s producers, gets to flex her acting chops in We Summon the Darkness. I hadn’t seen Daddario in anything since 2014’s True Detective, in which she memorably flexed a few other things (see below).

 

 

The video clip:

 

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Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

 

I’m trying to decide what I learned after watching the Netflix docuseries Filthy Rich. Most of what’s presented in the four-part series is old news to anyone who followed the Jeffrey Epstein sex scandal. Epstein allegedly lured teen girls with empty promises and small amounts of cash. He enjoyed relationships with high-powered men like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and Alan Dershowitz.

We also get obligatory interviews with accusers like Virginia Giuffre, whose connection to Prince Andrew was also well-publicized (see photo above).

In the end, I didn’t so much learn anything as have my old feelings confirmed. If you have enough money and clout, you can pretty much get by with anything — at least until you’re found dead in a jail cell. Release: 2020 Grade: B

 

                         

 

Virginia Giuffre, above left, alleges she was repeatedly forced to be Alan Dershowitz’s (above right) sex toy when she was still a teen.

 

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Accuser Maria Farmer let Epstein see nude pictures of her teen sister Annie, including the bare-breasted painting shown center above. According to the sisters, Epstein molested both of them. At right, Annie Farmer today.

 

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Bad Education

 

Bad Education is intellectually rewarding but emotionally bereft, mostly because there are no characters to root for. And yes, that includes the charismatic high-school superintendent played by star Hugh Jackman.

In HBO’s fact-based film about scandal in Roslyn, Long Island, we watch in mounting disgust as the school officials and citizenry of Roslyn prioritize property values and glossy college resumes over other things. Little things like, oh, millions of embezzled taxpayer dollars. That is, until the high-living thieves are caught by an enterprising student journalist.

It’s highly watchable stuff; I just wish I cared more.  Release: 2020 Grade: B

 

**

 

Downton Abbey

 

At the midpoint of this theatrical offshoot of the long-running British TV series, I began to seriously question my taste and judgment: Why on earth had I slavishly watched nearly every episode (52 of them) of this ridiculous soap opera, which aired from 2011 to 2016? In the movie, the king and queen of England are coming to visit the upstairs/downstairs gang at their fancy digs, and I am supposed to care … why?

But here’s the thing. There is a fine line between warm and fuzzy (a good thing) and cloyingly sentimental (a bad thing), and no one is more adept at finding the sweet spot than Downton creator Julian Fellowes. By the time the credits rolled on this — let’s face it – motion-picture cash grab, Fellowes had worked his magic and I was once again sucked in to the hoity-toity hokum. Release: 2019 Grade: B

 

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The Platform

 

If you like your movies loaded with symbolism and metaphors, The Platform is piled high with none-too-subtle commentary on class warfare, capitalism, socialism, racism, and religion. All of that adds substance to the film, but the unpredictable plot is what held my interest in this Spanish thriller.

A man volunteers to spend six months in “the hole,” a concrete prison with hundreds of floors through which a food-filled platform descends on a daily basis – a rectangular slab piled high with consumables for the prisoners. The catch? Everyone on the upper floors pigs out, leaving nothing but scraps for the poor souls below. The Platform is often gross and always grim, but it kept me glued to the screen, wondering what fresh hell would be coming next. Release: 2019 Grade: B+

 

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Harpoon

 

Harpoon is a bit gory for my taste (pun intended), but this tale of three friends on a boat trip gone bad is otherwise a fast-paced, entertaining black-comedy-slash-thriller. Munro Chambers, Christopher Gray, and Emily Tyra shine as young pals who grow paranoid, distrustful, and hungry – oh, boy, do they ever grow hungry – when they are stranded at sea with little food and water. None of this threesome is particularly sympathetic, but they are all very amusing rascals. If nothing else, Harpoon might get you to Google “Richard Parker” (both of them). Release: 2019 Grade: B

 

**

 

Wij

 

Perhaps I’ve grown jaded, or maybe I’ve seen too many movies based on books by Bret Easton Ellis, but I was unmoved by the alleged “shocking” escapades of the kids in this Belgium-Netherlands co-production. Director Rene Eller’s movie follows a group of eight teens who go bad thanks to, oh, the usual culprits: Internet porn, reality TV, and/or indifferent, clueless, or non-existent parents. You’ve seen most of this before – although probably without quite so much bare skin. Release: 2018 Grade: B-

 

 

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Girl on the Third Floor

 

Girl on the Third Floor is further evidence that a talented director can take a silly ghost story and, with skill and creativity, deliver more than a few goose-bumps. C.M. Punk plays a no-account husband who, after cheating on his pregnant wife (Trieste Kelly Dunn) with a sexy blonde (Sarah Brooks), gets his #MeToo comeuppance at the hands of some angry female spirits. Director Travis Stevens uses the creepy old house the errant husband is renovating to good effect. Too bad Stevens’s efforts are undermined by a weak script. Release: 2019 Grade: B-

 

Trieste Kelly Dunn

 

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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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