Monday, April 29, 2024

If You Have to Have a Blackout, Best to Have It During This Movie


Monday, April 22, 2024

Mother is Smothering

It's always exciting to discover a new genre filmmaker with a fresh voice and style. I adored Aneesh Chaganty's Searching, so when I finally realized the straight-to-Hulu 2020 thriller was also one of this (along with co-writer Sev Ohanian) it seemed like the right time to finally dive in (four years after the rest of the world, as is my style).

Quick Plot: Diane is more than ready to send daughter Chloe to college. Born with a bundle of health issues (diabetes, paralysis, asthma, arrhythmia, and a few more syllables explained in the opening credits), Chloe has grown into an incredibly capable young woman who manages her body in between homeschooling and the dozens of daily medication doses issued by her mom.

As Chloe anxiously awaits her college acceptance, she begins to notice certain aspects of her daily routine not adding up. Could her mother be tampering with her medication? Hiding university mail? Building an entire life on a lie?

Obviously, going too much further would spoil much of Run so I'll stop there, though it's not terribly difficult to guess its turns (including a late-breaking reveal that many will call early on). While not packed with narrative surprises, Run does have a few other key factors in its favor.

Sarah Paulson has a lot of fun crafting a homeschooling, organically-grown tomato-eating monster mom, but it's Kiera Allen who holds Run together. The script doesn't quite justify some of her obliviousness, but Allen does an incredible job of pulling us into her character's body and headspace. 

Chaganty has a very different job here than he did on Searching. Where that film wove a mystery out of pure story, Run is all action. Well, not necessarily the kind you probably associate with that word, but it's characters locking doors before others can get there and trying to ask for help while stifled with tubes down their throats. It's a different style, and Changanty does it well.

Run didn't fully grab me, mostly because the script just isn't nearly as clever as it probably needed to be to really click. But this is still an engrossing little film that made for a sufficiently satisfying watch.

High Points
It's an obvious Hitchcock/Bernard Herrmann homage, but it works: Torin Borrowdale's score uses angry strings to great effect

Low Points
The cast helps overcome a lot of this, but as a viewer, it's a bit hard to get past some of the details. How exactly DOES Chloe, a very bright if sheltered person, go 18 years without actually seeing a regular doctor or having a conversation without someone that isn't her mother or mailman?

High Points
Pacific Northwesterners are incredibly patient when it comes to waiting in line

The way to a pharmacist's heart is a challenging scavenger hunt

A stranger is just a google search assistant you haven't met

Run doesn't quite add up to a great movie, but it achieves plenty of tension and stays entertaining all the way through. Worth a glance on Hulu.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Leaving Las Vegas


Monday, April 8, 2024

Hail the Pumpkin Thing

People who start playing Christmas music in April are monsters.

People who watch Halloween movies in April are, well, me.

Quick Plot: It's 1963 in Bastion, an isolated Illinois hamlet filled with cornfields and boredom. The town's big excitement for the teenage male population comes on Halloween night, when a vicious pumpkin-headed scarecrow named Sawtooth Jack is unleashed for a battle to the autumnal death. The boy who successfully defeats the monster is celebrated as a hero of the harvest and rewarded with the newest edition of a sports car  (in this case, a 1963 Corvette), ticket out of town, and home for his family, while the rest of the town breathes easy knowing their crops will thrive another season.

One year after his older golden boy brother Jim wins, moody Richie Shepard is so angry at his small-town existence that he decides to enter the hunt, even though he's technically exempt. Along the way, he falls for new-girl-in town Kelly, who also decides to break the rules and join in. 

Though we were only given a quick glimpse at the previous hunt, it seems as though this Halloween is far more brutal. The boys are locked up and starved for three days before the big night, presumably to amp up their aggression. This year, a lot of that gets spread past Sawtooth Jack to the local shop proprietors trying to defend their stores from looting. Sawtooth Jack is equally hungry and takes out dozens of teens, all as Richie and Kelly begin to piece together the details behind the tradition.

Most viewers will likely get there first. Dark Harvest is based on a novel by Norman Partridge, and probably has a richer feel on the page. I assumed that the 1960s setting was a sham, some sort of added The Village-esque touch to keep the population under certain restrictions, but nope: it's simply that director David Slade (whose work I generally enjoy) didn't get his young actors to channel any kind of past.

Dark Harvest is the KIND of movie I love, and I can easily say that I enjoyed watching it even as I found myself groaning at most of its choices. The bones of the actual story are good enough to make me want to read the source material, and I was never bored. But what do we actually have here? There's a dull romance that goes nowhere, an over-the-top villain choking on the scenery he's chewing, and a general feeling of kids playing dress-up. Every actor seems to be in a different film, which makes the rare moments of human loss fall pretty flat. 

David Slade has had a fascinating career behind the camera. While he's never quite made a truly great genre film, he's come close with Hard Candy, the better-than-it-could-have-been 30 Days of Night, and one of the best (and certainly best-directed) episodes of Black Mirror. Heck, even his Twilight entry manages to rise above what it could have been. 

That's probably what makes Dark Harvest such a letdown for me. This concept with a better script, and perhaps more time or a more experienced pool of younger actors that could tap into the time period, could have been something genuinely special. Instead, it's a missed opportunity. 

High Points
The actual concept and design of Sawtooth Jack is pretty neat, especially once you see him as the perfectly gangly teenage version of Trick R Treat's Sam

Low Points
It's hard enough to tell the generically slick-back haired boys apart in their Grease knockoff leather jackets, so throwing Purge-esque masks over their faces doesn't help ground any of the action

Lessons Learned
You won't find Jujubees in a small town

Nothing will put a teenage boy into beast mode more efficiently than three days without food

Your fighting aim will generally not be improved by wearing a rubber mask that limits peripheral vision

If you're craving an enthusiastically autumnal horror movie, Dark Harvest certainly checks a few boxes. I was entertained, but also extremely frustrated. Perhaps low expectations will help? Give it a shot via Amazon Prime. 

Monday, April 1, 2024

Thank You For Flying Delta


Sometimes, timelines align in such a way that you get to watch a film under the absolute perfect circumstances. I'm thinking of how I had just moved into a probably haunted apartment when I first sat down to be terrified by Pulse, or how I had to watch a (perfectly legally) downloaded version of The Descent on a laptop in such a way that I had my face pressed against the screen. I got to see the horrid Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on the big screen in Moscow but with a British speaker dubbing over all of the actors' dialogue. It made a bad movie perfectly enjoyable in the most bizarre of all ways.

Searching was a thriller I had on my watch list forever, but it never seemed to land on any streaming site. Instead, something better happened: Delta Airlines had it on its list, and as I settled in for a six hour flight, watching a movie set on a laptop on a screen just slightly smaller than that seemed all too right.

Quick Plot: Remember how Pixar's Up opened with a beautifully tragic montage that followed the full cycle of a marriage? Searching does something similar, as we dive into David and Pamela Kim's laptop screen and watch their happy years raising baby Margot, scary ones battling Pamela's lymphoma, elation over her remission, and devastation when cancer returns.

Now a moody high school senior, Margot grows distant from David, who seems to bury his head in his project management career to avoid talking about Pamela. One day, Margot doesn't come home. David waits a little longer than he probably should to contact the police, but that's what happens when you don't really know your daughter anymore. 

Like The Den or that Modern Family episode set on Claire's laptop, Searching's point of view is David's screen. That can mean Facebook windows, cam communities, Skype calls, or occasionally, news reports. Through it all, John Cho creates a truly natural dad at the end of his rope acting straight to a computer monitor. 

Written by Sev Ohanian and Aneesh Chaganty (the latter of whom also directed), Searching is a tight thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat (safely buckled in, in my case). It's a mystery that by its very limitations, can only give you so many clues at a time, forcing you to be in step with David's investigation. Even when you think you're smarter than the movie, it packs a few more tricks to throw you off the trail. 

High Points
Having now seen several movies in the computer POV style, I know that it's not easy to keep the visuals engaging (I still don't understand the adoration for the stiff Host). Whether it's Cho's skills in front of the camera, Chaganty's behind, or the editing team of Will Merrick and NIcholas D. Johnson, Searching remains riveting.

Low Points

I had ONE detail gnawing at me from about 45 minutes in, but Searching's finale reveals that plot point to be an integral part of the reveal so you know what? I've got nothing. This is an excellently put together film

Lessons Learned

See, all you people who look at my computer screen and wince, SEE: having dozens of tabs open rather than clicking and backtracking is MUCH MORE USEFUL AN EXPERIENCE FOR EVERYONE INVOLVED THANK YOU VERY MUCH


I don't know that I'd say Searching is worth an expensive 3+ hour Delta plane ride, but it IS an incredibly engrossing and satisfying little watch. Maybe one day it will stream somewhere on land. When such a time comes, hop on.