UNCANNY

(RLJ ENTERTAINMENT/SHORELINE ENTERTAINMENT/EMERGENT BEHAVIOR-ACCELERATED MATTER PRODUCTIONS/AMBUSH ENTERTAINMENT (85 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

UNCANNY_DVD_HIC

As much as I love science fiction movies, I’m not big into the whole Artificial Intelligence (AI) thing; cyborgs, robots, androids are okay (Deathlok, that canned dude from LOST IN SPACE, the Vision) but, a lot of times, the attempt to make these types into a “normal” human-like construct just leaves me cold. With that as background, I wasn’t sure about UNCANNY and where it would fall on the spectrum; the advance publicity and trailer promised a creepy sort of stalker thing with the possibility of a very violent second half. Uh… kinda.

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

The story has a rather claustrophobic feel… it mostly takes place in one location (an apartment/suite/laboratory called Workspace 18) with only three characters for roughly ninety-eight percent of the movie. David Kressen (Mark Webber, who strikes me as a younger version of the brilliant Jeffrey Combs) is a reclusive (and amazingly well-adjusted) boy genius who has been left to his own devices for the past ten years, charged with creating the ultimate robotic AI; his roommate, Adam (David Clayton Rogers), is the result of Kressen’s work and has taken his creator’s last name. The introduction of a third individual, reporter (and failed roboticist) Joy Andrews (Lucy Griffiths), is initially met with trepidation and mild annoyance from David and confusion from Adam. Joy has been sent to conduct a week’s worth of interviews for a feature story on Kressen and his work. She is totally taken aback when David reveals the truth about Adam and, thus, the three embark upon an intellectually stimulating few days; as the continued interaction leads to more intimate feelings between Kressen and Andrews, Adam begins to exhibit some very human reactions: Love, jealousy, confusion and, finally, hate and revenge. By the fourth day, the situation has become a bizarre lovers’ triangle, with Adam infringing upon and, at times, outright sabotaging the others’ time together. Adam also develops some new voyeuristic tendencies, which come to a head when he gives a gift to Joy, in the form of a prototype robotic eye with, naturally (and completely unknown to the receiver), a camera. The better to secretly watch you mediate in your underwear, my dear.

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Lucy Griffiths, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

UNCANNY (David Clayton Rogers, Lucy Griffiths, Mark Webber) (publicity still)

The whole movie is very quiet and serene, three highly intelligent beings discussing the things that they enjoy most and interacting in the most reasonable fashion imaginable… until the final twenty minutes or so. When Joy discovers what Adam has been up to, she takes Kressen aside to let him know what his creation is capable of; Kressen tells her she shouldn’t worry too much… it’s just Adam adjusting his learning curve and adding new stimuli and knowledge to his matrix. David does, however, confront Adam about his actions; Adam apologizes and – as far as Kressen is concerned – the incident is forgotten. Adam hasn’t forgotten and, when he tries to stick his tongue down Andrews’ throat, she objects and David chastises Adam, sending him to his room like a misbehaving child; a very childlike outburst from Adam stuns creator and reporter alike. That’s really the extent of the violence, though there is a nice (if rather anticipated) twist-ending that delivers the “evil corporate construct” message like a very quiet sucker-punch to the solar-plexus. That message, delivered by Rainn Wilson as the deliciously sinister Simon Castle, Kressen’s benefactor/employer, will send a chill down your spine and have you looking over your shoulder as you conduct your day-to-day life for, at least, a few days. And, that, friends, is what a good piece of science-fiction should do… leave you questioning the reality of the subject matter at hand; first-time screenwriter Shahin Chandrasoma (who is a surgeon specializing in robotic urology) and acclaimed director/editor Matthew Leutwyler have certainly accomplished that.

UNCANNY (Lucy Griffiths, David Clayton Rogers) (publicity still)

UNCANNY (Lucy Griffiths, David Clayton Rogers) (publicity still)

UNCANNY succeeded in holding my attention and stimulating my mind much more than I would have thought possible, given the subject matter and the subtly delicate approach. This kind of story probably isn’t for everybody… teens and young kids will undoubtedly be bored out of their gourds waiting for something, ANYTHING to happen and, by the time it does, will probably have given up on the whole thing. However, if YOU stay with it, I think that you’ll be grateful you didn’t give up on UNCANNY too soon. The movie is available on DVD and as a digital download.


THE SQUEEZE

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/JAM FILMS (95 minutes; Rated PG-13); 2015)

The Squeeze

Can I tell you guys something? I don’t like golf. Never have and, considering my curmudgeon-like obstinacy and advanced years, probably never will. Everything about the sport (at least ’til Tiger came along… and, maybe, John Daly before him) is too quiet, too polite! I’ve only ever played the game (rather accurately dubbed by my father, “Cow Pasture Pool”) once. I shot a 64… I quit after the first hole. Here’s another little secret: I don’t like golf movies; except, of course, CADDYSHACK (and, yeah… I’ll even throw CADDYSHACK II in there, as well). Until now. THE SQUEEZE is more of a caper movie or a gangster movie but, with golf as the central element behind all of the intrigue and death threats, I think we can fairly safely call it a “golf movie.”

THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter) (production stills)

THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter) (publicity stills)

Most “based on actual events” stories are only marginally based on those events; THE SQUEEZE is no exception. Jeremy Sumpter (who was apparently in a television show called FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS… I’m sure the little girls know the one I’m talking about) plays golf savant Augie Baccas, a character loosely based on a guy named Keith Flatt. Baccas – like Flatt – is the Meadowlark Lemon of his small town’s golf club, winning a one day tournament by a course record fifteen shots. The flick begins, as most do, with Augie indulging in a game of cross country extreme golf with his friends, including his girlfriend, Natalie (played by Jillian Murray, whose resume includes the latest installment of the CABIN FEVER horror franchise). With Augie bemoaning his financial state and his inability to make a better life for his mother and little sister (all three are under the thumb of the abusive Baccas patriarch), golf and Natalie are his only escapes; he dreams of joining the PGA Tour and qualifying for the US Open.

THE SQUEEZE (Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald, Jeremy Sumpter) (publicity stll)

THE SQUEEZE (Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald, Jeremy Sumpter) (publicity stll)

After a particularly brutal confrontation with his father, Augie is offered a way to make enough money to remove his family from his drunken lout of a father. That offer comes from a gambler named Riverboat (a sleazy, almost endearing character portrayed by Christopher McDonald) who, driving cross country to Las Vegas for a poker tournament, after hearing a report of Augie’s phenomenal feat on the local radio station, changes course to locate the young man to convince him to come to Vegas and use his talents in high-stakes matches against unsuspecting golfers. Along for the ride is Riverboat’s high-maintenance wife, Jessie (Katherine LaNasa), whose provocative dress and coyly flirtatious demeanor are so distracting to opponents that she is as important to Riverboat’s game plan as are his gambling skills. Naturally, Natalie is concerned and angered that Augie would compromise his reputation and integrity for a quick buck, earned in a rather dubious fashion under the tutelage of an obvious shyster. She has Augie leaning toward turning down the offer until Riverboat waves a stack of hundred dollar bills under his nose. The decision made, Augie asks Natalie to look after his sister and mother and, though she refuses to speak to him, she does agree to keep an eye on his family.

THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter, Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald) (publicity still)

THE SQUEEZE (Jeremy Sumpter, Jillian Murray, Christopher McDonald) (publicity still)

Working their way to Las Vegas, Augie, Riverboat and Jessie play the best of the best at every course along the way, amassing a nice little nest egg for the ultimate Vegas fleecing: Riverboat plans to engage notorious card sharp and mid-level gangster Jimmy Diamonds (Micahel Nouri) in a poker game. After winning big, Riverboat suggests a golf match between Augie and Diamonds, giving the latter a chance to win his money back. Diamonds knows a ringer when he sees one and counters with a ringer of his own, reigning NCAA champion Aaron Bolt (Jason Dohring, who was in some movie about some television series that I never watched), who has made his own deal with a much more violent devil. Diamonds sets Augie up and, breaking in to his hotel room, tells Augie that if he does not lose the next day’s million dollar round to Bolt, he will end up in the deep end of a swimming pool with lead weights tied to his ankles. When Augie tries to get out of his deal with Riverboat, the gambler tells him in no uncertain terms that if he does not WIN the million dollar challenge, HE will kill him. With Augie caught between a rock and very hard place, the final third of the movie features enough twists and turns and all-out action (as well as some questions best left unanswered) to make THE SQUEEZE one cool thrill ride of a caper flick.

THE SQUEEZE (Christopher McDonald; Katherine LaNasa) (publicity stills)

THE SQUEEZE (Christopher McDonald; Katherine LaNasa) (publicity stills)

The attention to detail in the golf sequences is amazing. Sumpter (and, I understand, Dohring, as well) can really play and most of their golf shots – even the trick shots – are real and were generally first takes. Sumpter, in fact, could probably qualify for a spot on the Tour. Of course, the main reason that everything looks so legitimate is because writer/producer/director Terry Jastrow was a junior champion himself and actually caddied for Arnold Palmer; he also became a producer at ABC Sports at the age of 22, winning seven Emmy Awards for his groundbreaking golf coverage. The fact that he’s married to actress Anne Archer is merely a bonus as regards THE SQUEEZE. The family, relationship, gambling and action sequences range from stilted to over-the-top, though, honestly, a couple of the characters call for an over-the-top performance (particularly Jessie and, to a lesser extent, Riverboat); Sumpter’s portrayal of Augie is the most grounded and believable but, overall, the cast does a good job.

THE SQUEEZE (Michael Nouri) (publicity still)

THE SQUEEZE (Michael Nouri) (publicity still)

I’ve seen THE SQUEEZE reviewed as a “Faith-based” production and, I suppose, it does have certain elements that could cause it to be considered a morality play of sorts. However, there are also some dirty, gritty elements (coarse language, some drug use and sexual situations, not to mention the violence) that would probably exclude it from most “Family” movie lists. Having said that, parents shouldn’t necessarily shy away from making it a family movie night option; I wouldn’t be too concerned about allowing a twelve year old to watch it. The film would also make a great date night offering for Mom and Dad. If the actual game of golf was more like a cross between this flick and CADDYSHACK, I might actually find myself a bit more interested in it.


SEE YOU IN VALHALLA

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/TARNOL GROUP PICTURES (82 minutes; Rated R); 2015)

SeeYouInValhalla_2D

Taking dysfunction to an entirely new level, SEE YOU IN VALHALLA follows the Burwood family as they gather after several years apart to mourn their brother, a troubled young man who found peace living in a Viking colony. After Maxwell (played in pivotal flashbacks by Jake McDorman, whose most high profile role to date has been in AMERICAN SNIPER) – who had adopted the Viking name Magnus – and his girlfriend left the colony, she drifted back into drugs, dying of an overdose and sending the distraught young man spiraling out of control; taking justice into his own hands, Magnus attacked the drug dealer and his associates with a broadsword, effectively committing suicide by proxy.

SEE YOU IN VALHALLA (Jake McDorman) (publicity still)

SEE YOU IN VALHALLA (Jake McDorman) (publicity still)

The youngest Burwood, Johana, learns of her brother’s death from a television news report. As Johana (played by MODERN FAMILY’s Sarah Hyland, who is also a co-producer on the project) sits stunned, there’s a knock at her door; it’s Peter, her scheduled date. Telling Peter (Alex Frost) that she forgot about their plans, she apologizes and tells him about her brother. What Johana intended to be a casual get-together meant something far different for the smitten Peter, who immediately volunteers to accompany her back home. With Peter in tow, Johana heads for home, where she is greeted by her father, Woody (Conor O’Farrell), a man who had always been a bit distant toward his children and further distanced himself as he enveloped himself in grief after the death of his wife; with Woody is his live-in nurse (and former grocery delivery person), Faye (Emma Bell), a spirit so free that she is continually mere nanoseconds away from floating away. Already at the home is Jo’s older brother, Barry (played by Bret Harrison, who has starred in two of my favorite TV series of the past fifteen years, the deeply twisted GROUNDED FOR LIFE and the wildly underrated REAPER) and his life partner, Makewi (a more-than-a-little off-center performance from Steve Howey, who has an impressive resume, including a recurring role in SONS OF ANARCHY, but will probably forever be known for his role of Reba McEntire’s screwball son-in-law, Van on REBA).

SEE YOU IN VALHALLA (Bret Harrison, Steve Howey, Michael Weston, Sarah Hyland, Alex Frost) (publicity still)

SEE YOU IN VALHALLA (Bret Harrison, Steve Howey, Michael Weston, Sarah Hyland, Alex Frost) (publicity still)

The final piece of the Burwood family mosaic is oldest brother Don (Michael Weston), a holier-than-thou perfectionist who blames Woody for all of his (well-hidden) problems (actually, he blames his father for the extinction of the dinosaurs and every other ill that has beset this planet since the dawn of time). With the arrival of Don and his Nazi-in-training teenage daughter, Ashley (snarkily portrayed by Odeya Rush), the sniping, cheap shots and fist-throwing begins. Throughout it all, Jo manages to stay fairly well out of the line of fire… until the entire family convenes for supper, where Ashley admits her superiority over all others by announcing her plans to remain a virgin until marriage and qualifies that decision by pointing out that “at least I won’t have to get an abortion,” a subject that is a widespread rumor about Jo amongst the general populace but never discussed in the Burwood home. Johana, of course, takes umbrage to the condescending remark, which suddenly turns into a free-for-all yelling and shoving match between Woody and Don. Tragedy, quite naturally, ensues… something so startling that it brings the three quarreling siblings together and sees Pete and, especially, the zen philosophy of Makewi showing their true worth to this insane family to whom they have become, at the very least, satellites caught in their gravitational pull. The ending, a hair-brained scheme concocted by the two that brings the whole family together, is truly touching.

SEE YOU IN VALHALLA (Steve Howey, Sarah Hyland) (publicity still)

SEE YOU IN VALHALLA (Steve Howey, Sarah Hyland) (publicity still)

SEE YOU IN VALHALLA is a brutal look at familial in-fighting that really isn’t intended for the young’uns (the R rating is for some very coarse language more than anything else) and, though it borders on the realm of “chick flick,” there’s enough testosterone and subversive comedy (Makewi and Pete’s first encounter; Don and Barry’s argument about the latter allowing Ashley to indulge in an alcoholic beverage) to make it a great late-night date movie (several linear yards of very beautiful people certainly doesn’t hurt, either). Don’t get me wrong, it is far from perfect; there are more than enough cringe-worthy moments to fill a couple more movies but, I have come to the conclusion that great acting can overcome a marginal script and, conversely, no matter how great the script is, marginal acting will absolutely ruin it. In this case, the cast is first-rate (Howey, in particular, is a stand-out), as they manage to rise above some of the more questionable sequences to deliver an entertaining piece of family drama. Even a couple of rather convoluted plot devices involving Johana’s former boyfriend and the abortion rumor are well-acted, if not well-written. There are certainly worse ways to spend an hour-and-a-half than watching SEE YOU IN VALHALLA.


THE DESCARTES HIGHLANDS

(Eric Gamalinda; 300 pages; AKASHIC BOOKS; 2014)

1407359070

This story had me so confused for the first few chapters, I almost gave up on it; written in three distinct voices (and styles) and covering (at least) two different time periods on at least three continents (and an island nation or two), it took a while to get my head around what was happening, when it was happening and to whom. At some point, I noticed that the chapter titles… really weren’t; each character’s story had its own title; that’s when I went back to the beginning and figured out exactly what the heck was going on. Sometimes I can be a little slow on the uptake, but once I get on board with a concept, I can generally roll along rather nicely.

Author Eric Gamalinda (photo credit: ROME JORGE)

Author Eric Gamalinda (photo credit: ROME JORGE)

The story follows the paths of two young men, born just hours apart in neighboring huts in a poor village in the Philippines. Both men are unaware of the existence of the other or the reasons for their adoptions; their father, an American named Andrew Breszky, told their mothers (who didn’t know that Breszky was the other child’s father) that he was going to sell the babies for adoption and send the money back to the village to save their families the embarrassment of, not only being unwed mothers, but also giving birth to an American child. One of the boys was adopted by a woman in New York, the other by a couple from the south of France. The title of the story comes from the region of the moon where Apollo 16 landed in 1972, the year the boys were born; the mother in New York would give her adopted son letters from his father, with the return address listed as “Mister Breszky, the Descartes Highlands, the Moon.” Interspersed with his sons’ stories, the story of political prisoner Andrew Breszky unfolds, allowing the reader insight into the psyches of the two men, desperately seeking a long lost clue to who they are and why they act as they do. THE DESCARTES HIGHLANDS is a psychologically taut drama that unravels right in front of you, much like the relationships and mental stability of the two sons. Filipino author Eric Gamalinda spins a tale of lies and loneliness, of longing for the truth and for an acceptance that always seems to be at arm’s length; the acceptance is there – from parents, from girlfriends and lovers – but the pair can never quite trust their own feelings… to believe that what is being offered to them freely doesn’t come with some sort of string attached. Yeah… the story can be a bit confusing and, occasionally, mind-numbing in its intricacies but, if you stick with it, following the ups and downs, the in and outs… I guarantee that you will be richly rewarded. Gamalinda’s storytelling and bleak imagery is disturbingly realistic, his dialogue frighteningly authentic. It’s time that you put on your thinking caps and delve into THE DESCARTES HIGHLANDS.


JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE

(XLRATOR MEDIA/DARKO ENTERTAINMENT/FREEMANFILMS/MATADOR PICTURES (118 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE cover

When this movie was originally announced, there were grumblings and, in the case of Experience Hendrix (the company formed by some members of the Hendrix family to oversee everything Jimi), outright venom spewed at director/writer John Ridley, actor Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000 of the hip-hop/pop/rock duo, Outkast) and others associated with the project. The Experience Hendrix people demanded complete participation and final approval on every aspect of the movie, including who would play Jimi; they were adamant that Benjamin be replaced. When their demands were rebuked, they pulled all licensing of Hendrix’ music for use in the film. Feathers were also ruffled by the portrayal of certain of the man’s character traits and, no doubt, the characterization of his father, Al. I could never really understand the family’s dislike of Mister Benjamin but, I have read some rather ludicrous comments from others on the subject: Andre, according to one person, was several shades too dark to accurately portray the lighter skinned Hendrix (that one just absolutely boggles the mind); another cited Benjamin’s age (somewhere around 37 when filming began), stating that he was too old to play a 23 year old Hendrix (uh… that’s just ridiculous… let’s examine, shall we? The four high school kids from WELCOME BACK, KOTTER were all in their twenties when the series began – John Travolta was the youngest, at 21; Ron Pallilo was 26 and only four years younger than his “teacher,” Gabe Kaplan. That’s just one example… this kinda stuff happens regularly in movies and television), but if 60 is the new 40, then 40 is the new 27 and, suddenly, 37 isn’t so far removed from 23. Another… I’m gonna call it an “observation” that I’ve read (and heard from friends) is the fact that Andre is a “hip-hop” guy and, well, he couldn’t know anything about Jimi Hendrix (ay, caramba! I give up!). Of course, the major complaint is the fact that the film-makers could not use any of Jimi’s music. So, how does the movie stack up against all of that hate? Very well, thank you.

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE ( Andre Benjamin and Imogen Poots) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE ( Andre Benjamin and Imogen Poots) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

Before getting into the meat and taters (so to speak) of the film, I would like to address several of the issues listed above. Let’s start with the biggie: Jimi’s music. The ban was limited to actual recordings of Hendrix and to songs that he wrote. The former really had no bearing on the production, as the music was performed by a crack group of session men (guitarist Waddy Wachtel, bassist Leland Sklar and drummer Kenny Aranoff), with vocals by Benjamin; the latter would have been devastating had the movie focused on Jimi’s legendary career past June 1967, because during the time span featured (June 1966 through June 1967), Hendrix had only released one album (ARE YOU EXPERIENCED in May ’67) and three singles (sure, two of those were “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary,” but those also came out in May ’67). So, the music focuses on the time that Hendrix played rhythm and blues standards with Curtis Knight and such classic blues numbers as “Killing Floor” and “Manish Boy.” As far as I’m concerned, that works fine for me and plays into the narrative of Hendrix’ rise to stardom in England during that twelve-month period. The Hendrix family, no doubt, wanted to avoid much of the foibles and the darker side of, not only Jimi, but his father, as well; I gotta admit that I was shocked by a couple of violent outbursts in the film but, who among us can say they are foible-free and don’t possess a darker side to some extent? Now, as far as Andre Benjamin’s skin-tone, if he were a white guy in black make-up, I would see that as a definite problem; since, however, the performance and the voice and the mannerisms are the important thing here, I’m good, as Andre was spot on, based on just about every film clip I’ve ever seen or every audio clip that I’ve ever heard of Jimi Hendrix… except the hands… for some reason, the way he holds and plays the guitar and the way he uses his hands throughout just doesn’t match up with what Hendrix did. You saw my feelings regarding the age discrepancy, so we’ll move on from there to Andre 3000 being a hip-hop guy and not knowing anything about Hendrix. Really? I’m a pasty white guy from the middle of nowhere who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s as a pasty white kid from the middle of nowhere, but I know and love a wide variety of music and artists from the ’50s and earlier. And, hey, just to make that particular section of the populace even crankier, I listen to hip-hop, too.

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Andre Benjamin) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Andre Benjamin) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

If I have one complaint about JIMI… it’s that it tends to jump around a bit much, leaving a lot of the context of what’s happening up to the viewer (a noble tactic for a horror movie… not here). There are also several stop frames, where a character is identified (Keith Richard, Chas Chandler, Noel Redding) before moving into whatever scene is up next. The whole thing rather reminds me of an old John’s Children song called “Jagged Time Lapse,” which the songwriter, when asked what the title meant, replied, “It’s about jagged lapses of time, innit?” The movie starts at the end, on June 4, 1967, as the Jimi Hendrix Experience are about to take the stage at the Saville Theatre in London (of which, more later). We are quickly transported in time back one year, to the Cheetah Club in New York, where Jimi is playing with Curtis Knight. One of the audience members is the very bored, very spoiled girlfriend of Keith Richard, Linda Keith (played by the beautiful and unfortunately named Imogen Poots), who is immediately taken with the man hiding in the back corner of the stage, just waiting for his solo to come around. Flash forward to Linda turning Jimi on to acid and, later, trying to make him see just how gifted a musician he really is. When he tells her that he can’t leave Knight’s band because the guitar he’s using belongs to his employer, she buys him the white Gibson that would become somewhat of a trademark during those early days. As Linda becomes more involved with Hendrix, she begins to contact the movers and shakers within her circle (the Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, co-founders of the newly formed Sire Records, Seymour Stein and Richard Gottehrer), actively seeking a management and recording deal for him. In a particularly humorous (and somewhat ironic) scene, the Stones’ guitar player, in a petulant pique of jealousy, visits Linda’s father to have him intervene in the situation with Jimi; Keith tells Mister Keith, “And he’s a drug addict. Did you know that? He has her strung out all the time.”

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Haylet Atwell and Andre Benjamin) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Haylet Atwell and Andre Benjamin) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

A chance meeting with Animals bassist Bryan “Chas” Chandler, at the end of an American tour (and the end of the original Animals line-up), finally garners Linda the guidance for Jimi’s career that she has been seeking: Chandler (played by a virtual doppleganger, Andrew Buckley) is retiring from playing and moving into management. The scene where Chas first hears Hendrix is an absolute priceless moment in the film, with Chandler’s eyes wide and jaw dropped as he’s mesmerized by the guitarist’s ability (if not his stage presence). Linda sets up a meeting between the two rockers and, literally, history is made as Chandler convinces Jimi to head for the much greener pastures of England, with promises of a much more diverse and open-minded approach to the burgeoning music scene there. Jimi arrives in London on September 24, 1966 but, still waiting for his work visa to be approved, his playing time is limited to a couple of minutes onstage. As Chas, Linda and Jimi make the rounds at all of the local clubs, Jimi is noticed by Kathy Etchingham (played by Marvel’s AGENT CARTER, Hayley Atwell, who, it should be noted, doesn’t look anything like Chas Chandler); likewise, Kathy is noticed by Linda, who becomes violently jealous when she catches the pair in bed together later that night (or, six weeks later… jagged time lapses, remember?). Linda simply picks up the guitar she had given Jimi and walks out the door as Jimi implores, “No, Linda, no. Not the guitar.” Kathy is elevated past groupie status to girlfriend, as she and Jimi are virtually inseparable; Linda realizes that her jealousy was misplaced (she and Jimi, though very good friends, were never anything more) and returns the guitar (actually, a pawn ticket for the guitar) and all seems right in the world of Jimi Hendrix.

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Tom Dunlea, Andre Benjamin and Oliver Bennett) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Tom Dunlea, Andre Benjamin and Oliver Bennett) (photo credit: PATRICK REDMOND)

As Hendrix and Chandler marched inextricably toward a return to the States and the legendary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, there were, of course, several memorable events – all well documented – in those final months in London. Jimi needed a band; Jimi wanted a power trio like his idol, Eric Clapton, had with Cream. The auditions to find the perfect bass player and drummer, complimentary and exemplary players who could do what Jimi’s music and style demanded of them, were on. Noel Redding was tapped for the bassist position as much for his hair (“I like your hair, man. It’s wild, like Bob Dylan’s.”) and his vast musical knowledge as for his playing. In fact, Redding, a guitarist by trade, knew nothing about playing bass. When he asks how much the gig payed, Jimi tells him that everybody was broke, but that was cool: “Might as well hang out with us and be broke… and cool. It’s better than being just broke.” Feeling himself well on the way to being a rock star, Jimi calls his father, in Seattle to tell him the good news; his father is not impressed and, once more sensing that feeling of abandonment from his father, Jimi becomes moody and combative with those around him, who are only looking out for his best interests. Fulfilling a promise, Chandler takes Hendrix to see Cream at the Regent Street Polytechnic on October 1, 1966. Chas tells him that Clapton will meet him before the show; Jimi has him ask if he can sit in. This is one of the most famous first meetings in rock history; Hendrix plugs into Jack Bruce’s bass amp and asks the group if they know “Killing Floor,” starting the song cold, leaving Clapton, Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker to catch up. Bruce and Baker find the groove, but Clapton walks off stage without playing a note. Backstage, Eric asks Chandler, “Is he really that good?” Still searching for the third member of what was now to be known as the “Jimi Hendrix Experience,” Hendrix, Redding and Chanadler are debating the merits of the two finalists for the position. John “Mitch” Mitchell wins a hard fought battle over Aynsley Dunbar via a coin flip. Suddenly, we’re back to the beginning, with the band getting ready to take the stage at the Saville on June 4, 1967. With George Harrison and Paul McCartney in attendance, the Jimi Hendrix Experience would open the show with the just-released Beatles track, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” a gutsy move, but one that works. As he plugs in, Jimi turns to the crowd and, pointing to his ears, says, “Watch out for your ears.” The only thing that didn’t work for me in this scene was the guitar Hendrix was playing. I’ve seen film and photographs of the show and he was playing that white Gibson, not the painted flying V shown in the movie. A little artistic license, I suppose, wanting to show off another one of the man’s iconic guitars.

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Imogen Poots; Andre Benjamin; Ruth Negga) (photo credits: PATRICK REDMOND)

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (Imogen Poots; Andre Benjamin; Ruth Negga) (photo credits: PATRICK REDMOND)

I usually don’t go into such detail when reviewing a film but, as I said, much of this is canon as far as Jimi Hendrix is concerned. But… what about the movie itself? Andre Benjamin catches the essence of the young guitarist perfectly (except, as I mentioned, the hands), capturing especially well the phrasing and nuanced vocal patterns of the soft spoken Hendrix; most of the well-known people shown (mostly in cameos) look astonishingly like the real deals, which is an instant plus. The cast is superb, from top to bottom, including Ruth Negga (the girl in the flowered dress, Raina, in Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD), who has a pivotal role as Ida, a woman wanting Jimi to use his fame as a catalyst for a racial uprising (Hendrix’ response is beautifully poetic and one that should be used universally); of course, like Kathy, she, too, is a groupie looking to bed another rock star. The script doesn’t pull any punches with the portrayals of Jimi and all of the others (Clapton, in particular) and, really, that’s all you can ask of a docudrama like JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE. The film is rated R, primarily for language and the limited portrayal of drug use but, aside from that, this is a film that every music lover (well… except for those close-minded few that I discussed at the front of this thing) should see and will enjoy. Even without those classic Hendrix tunes.


PLASTIC

(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT/GATEWAY FILMS (101 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

PLASTIC

To be quite honest, I was going to give this one a pass; on first blush, it just didn’t seem to be my particular cup of tea (either Raspberry or Cherry Vanilla… or, maybe, a simple English Breakfast Tea). To say the least, I was dead wrong. PLASTIC is a thrilling roller coaster ride of deceit, theft, violence, sex, drugs and a thumping electronic soundtrack. The film is based on (or inspired by) a true story but, then, aren’t they all?

The story revolves around four university con artists working a brilliant and seemingly flawless credit card scam. Ringleader Sam (played by Ed Speleers, who looks genetically produced from equal parts Eric Stoltz, Topher Grace and Rick Astley; he apparently, occupies an abbey located downtown) has gone to great lengths to insure the loyalty of his three co-conspirators (he hacked into their e-mails and used the information he found to either blackmail them or play on their sympathies). Fordy (Will Poulter), ostensibly, the group’s second in command, is the cool-headed realist, biding his time before he makes a move on Sam; Rafa (Sebastian De Souza) is a big dreamer stuck in a dead-end job; Yatesey (Alfie Allen, who stars in that one show about thrones) is the loose cannon, who would like nothing better than to excise Sam from his life (and, possibly, this earth). Yatesey and Rafa decide to freelance, attacking a man and stealing a briefcase in his possession. The owner of the briefcase, a gangster named Marcel (a delightfully evil Thomas Kretschmann), has gone to great extremes to protect his property, including placing tracking devices and cameras in it, which, of course, leads him (and two very large assistants) right to the boys’ lair (or dorm room, as the case may be). Marcel gives them until the end of the day to acquire a long list (about £60,000 worth) of items with their stolen card information, or else. They manage to fill Marcel’s wish list and discover that the “or else” is a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere. The lads make a deal with Marcel to obtain two million bucks in two weeks in exchange for their lives.

PLASTIC (Sebastian De Souza, Alfie Allen, Emma Rigby, Ed Speleers, Will Poulter) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Sebastian De Souza, Alfie Allen, Emma Rigby, Ed Speleers, Will Poulter) (publicity still)

That deal sends them looking for help. The help is a girl both Sam and Yatesey had previously met at a bar. Sam remembered that Frankie (Emma Rigby, who is a dead ringer for Jill Ireland… plus, the Red Queen looks really good in a bikini) works for a credit card company as a data processor in overseas accounts. Sam’s plan is to be empathetic to lure Frankie into the scheme; her father is very ill and the family is drowning in medical bills. Once the girl is on board, she tells the guys that the best plan would be to go to America because, according to her inside information, she knows of several high-budget card holders that spend a lot of time and plenty of cash in Miami. So, using other people’s money (as they have since the beginning of the story), they head for the sunny beaches of Florida. Infighting, mistrust, jealousy and greed are at work, eroding the plan virtually from the time they land in Miami; The two low men on the totem pole, Yatesey and Rafa, plot against Sam, looking to get their fair share; initially, the plot takes the form of Yatesey using one of the fake cards at a strip club after Sam specifically tells the team to be careful how they are used. Of course, when the card is refused for “suspicious use,” the junior partners (including Fordy) run afoul of several very large bouncers.

PLASTIC (Emma Rigby) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Emma Rigby) (publicity still)

From that point, things take a decidedly dark turn. As more and more people and ancillary businesses are drawn into the conspiracy, an international noose begins to tighten around the throats of the five thieves as police and Marcel seek justice in their own ways. From the scene in the strip club, the crosses and double-crosses begin to stack up, eventually pitting too rival criminal cartels against each other, with Sam’s team squarely caught in the middle. Hilarity, as they say, ensues. To say more would be undermining the purpose of this review, which is to get you to watch (purchase) this movie. Let’s say that the climax of PLASTIC is a thrill-a-minute, action-packed and wholly implausible ending… but, then, it based on a true story.

PLASTIC (Graham McTavish and Malese Jow) (publicity still)

PLASTIC (Graham McTavish and Malese Jow) (publicity still)

The R rating is for the violence, strong language, some nudity and drug use. Though it does drag in some parts, the payoff is definitely worth the price of admission. Bonus points are awarded, by the way, for the casting of Malese Jow (she plays Beth, the secretary and arm candy of one of the sleazier business-types that gets sucked into the scam). The role is small, but Malese has a way of commanding every scene she’s in. The DVD has a “Making of… ” special feature which is quite entertaining in its own right. The producers briefly interview a man named Saqib Mumtaz who, in 1997, was a member of the fraudulant group the film is based on; I would guess that, from the interview, the character of Rafa was based on Mister Mumtaz. Overall, a great movie, though you may wanna keep it away from the kiddies.


AUTUMN BLOOD

(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT/DREAMRUNNER PICTURES/MOUNTAIN FILMS (99 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

Autumn Blood 2D flat

AUTUMN BLOOD is a very quiet, almost pastoral movie, filled with moments of unbelievable brutality, violence and pain. Beautifully filmed in the mountains around Tirol, Austria, the scenery is breathtaking and there is a sense that we may be watching a story set in the untamed wild west of the United States; the only things visible to place the movie in modern times are the vehicles, farm machinery and weaponry. The opening sequence of the film sets the stage as, six years earlier, a farming family’s lives are shattered when the father is killed by the mayor of the nearby village. The inference from what happens prior is that the mayor either raped the mother or they were having an affair. At any rate, the father is dead, leaving the mother to care for her two young children.

AUTUMN BLOOD (Sophie Lowe, Maximilian Harnisch) (publicity still)

AUTUMN BLOOD (Sophie Lowe, Maximilian Harnisch) (publicity still)

The movie shifts to the mother and her now sixteen year old daughter (played with an innocence that seems almost too real to be acting, by Sophie Lowe, an ethereal, waifish beauty who may be best known for her role as Alice in the television series, ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND) and ten year old son (Maximilian Harnisch), who hasn’t spoken a word since witnessing his father’s death. There’s a gentleness and a sense of idyllic contentment, or maybe it’s resignation to their lots in life… whatever it is, the mother does her best to give the children a good life.

AUTUMN BLOOD (Gustaf Skarsgard, Sophie Lowe) (publicity still)

AUTUMN BLOOD (Gustaf Skarsgard, Sophie Lowe) (publicity still)

The girl’s innocence is probably best displayed as she swims/bathes in a secluded pond; she lays, drying on the rocks, completely at one with her surroundings. As she lay there one morning, dreaming, a hunter (the mayor’s son, played by Samuel Vauramo) breaks her reverie. Totally unaffected and unashamed, she doesn’t try to cover herself. It isn’t until the man grabs her and bends in to kiss her that she begins to understand his intentions and tries to fight him off. Beaten and bloody, the girl eventually makes her way home. She is met by her brother who helps her into their house, where more heartache awaits. As the boy was doing chores around the farm and while the girl was being brutalized, their mother had finally succumbed to the loneliness (or guilt, as there are several clues that she was, in fact, somehow involved with the mayor), ending her own life (at least, that’s how I read the scene). As the girl cleanses her wounds and tries to wash away the rape, she makes the decision to quietly bury their mother and keep her death a secret so that she and her brother wouldn’t be taken from their home and, possibly, separated.

AUTUMN BLOOD (Peter Stormare, Sophie Lowe) (publicity still)

AUTUMN BLOOD (Peter Stormare, Sophie Lowe) (publicity still)

On a trip into town, the girl, still showing signs of the beating she took, is waited on by a caring banker who grows suspicious and calls a social worker to check on the family situation. The girl also encounters the mayor (a steely-eyed Peter Stormare) in the local church, as well as being intimidated by the town butcher (played with a sense of monstrous depravity by Gustaf Skarsgard), the hunter and another friend. Later that night, the three men pay the children a visit, threatening to kill the boy and, once again, forcing themselves upon the girl. The mayor suspects his son and the others are, at the very least, up to no good and, possibly, in far more trouble than he has the power to get them out of.

AUTUMN BLOOD (Samuel Vauramo, Peter Stormare) (publicity still)

AUTUMN BLOOD (Samuel Vauramo, Peter Stormare) (publicity still)

Now knowing of the mayor’s suspicions, the three decide to kill the only witnesses to their crimes. As the girl and her brother try to allude their would-be executioners, the film takes on a disturbing DELIVERENCE quality. Amidst the scenic backdrop of the Austrian countryside, the three stalk the siblings for the final third of the movie. As is always the case in such chase scenes, the villains are dispatched, one in a fairly standard fashion, the other two in less obvious ways. The chase sequence, which encompasses two days, is chilling, thrilling and nicely staged. I do, however, question the need for the girl to doff her clothing once she finds a suitable hiding place for the night; it just seems incongruous and more than a bit exploitive. If you’re paying close attention all the way through AUTUMN BLOOD, the final scene offers a little hint as to the relationship between the mother and the mayor and… I ain’t sayin’ no more. You’re going to have to connect the dots yourself.

AUTUMN BLOOD (Tim Morten Uhlenbrock, Gustaf Skarsgard, Samuel Vauramo) (publicity still)

AUTUMN BLOOD (Tim Morten Uhlenbrock, Gustaf Skarsgard, Samuel Vauramo) (publicity still)

As mentioned, the movie has some nudity, violence and two brutal rape scenes, so it has an R rating, though it seems that most teens (say, 12 and over) wouldn’t be too shocked or permanently damaged if they watched it, depending on their sensitivity to such things. I originally felt that the rapes would be dealbreakers for a majority of viewers but, the overall quality of the story eventually won me over. By the way, about those rape and nude scenes… Sophie Lowe was 21 years old when the film began shooting so, everything was above board and legal.


LOUDER THAN WORDS

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/IDENTITY FILMS (93 minutes, Rated PG-13); 2014)

LOUDER THAN WORDS

For me, ambivalence is not an option for a film like LOUDER THAN WORDS; either I like such fare very much or hate it vehemently. I knew that the script was based on a true story which, depending on the screenwriter, the director, the principal stars and – yes – the subject matter, could signal disaster or thought-provoking, uplifting confirmations about life, family and the inherent good within each of us. The first few minutes of LOUDER THAN WORDS had me leaning toward disaster… to the point that I nearly hit the “stop” button on the remote. But, I hung in and, thankfully, was rewarded with story about life and death and family dynamics that seem, in some part, to reflect each of us.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (David Duchovny and Hope Davis) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (David Duchovny and Hope Davis) (publicity still)

So, is LOUDER… perfect? No, the movie definitely has problems, which I’ll address shortly. First, though, here’s the basic gist of the story (no spoilers here, as the story has been well documented): John and Brenda Fareri (played by David Duchovny and Hope Davis) are a well-to-do couple devastated after the loss of their 13 year old daughter, Maria (Olivia Steele-Falconer), to a rare strain of rabies. Maria, a vibrant and loving child, was the glue that held the Ferari family unit together. John – always the thoughtful, quiet one – seems to become more insular and withdrawn, alienating Brenda and their other children (from Brenda’s previous marriage), triplets Stephanie, Michael and Julie (Adelaide Kane, Ben Rosenfield and Morgan Griffin), each grieving in their own fashion and wondering why the man they call Father has abandoned them. At one point, one of the girls tells her Mother that she fels like things are back to the way they were before John became a part of their family: Like they didn’t have a Father. John gains focus when he decides to build a new children’s hospital to better serve the needs of the whole family and to make the kids feel – if not at home – a little more comfortable about their hospital stay. Of course, everybody thinks that John has driven off the rails somewhere, including city leaders, rich friends and the consultant (Bruce Komiske, played by Timothy Hutton) he hires to help bring his dream to fruition. An eventual kitchen showdown between Brenda and John allows both to vent and gain a modicum of understanding of the pain the other is feeling. From there, it isn’t a great stretch to bring Brenda and the three kids on board and start the ball (and donations) rolling. The previous despair is replaced by a sense of hope and a desire to help others in the Fareri’s situation.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Olivia Steele-Falconer) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Olivia Steele-Falconer) (publicity still)

The film is narrated by Maria, who is initially seen riding her bicycle on a beautiful fall day (or, maybe, she’s in Heaven). I originally found this premise a bit dubious, to say the least but, as the story progresses, it seems somehow natural that she would be the one to tell this story. LOUDER THAN WORDS encompasses approximately seven years, boiled down into a compact 90-minute package; and, therein, lies the bulk of my problems with the movie. Sometimes it just seems too much like watching MTV on speed for its own good. The film bounces back and forth between past and present, generally via family remembrances, with too many quick cuts and edits and little “black-out” vignettes meant to move the story forward as quickly as possible. Producer Anthony Mastromauro says, in the “behind the scenes” bonus feature, I think any time you’re telling a story that spans a number of years, the non-linear structure can work in your favor.” Or not, sir. While I did find the movie engaging and the story a great affirmation of life, I would very much have preferred a more traditional, linear telling (which the film does revert to eventually) and, maybe, about another 30-minutes to flesh out a few of those frustrating vignettes.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Timothy Hutton, Hope Davis and David Duchovny) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Timothy Hutton, Hope Davis and David Duchovny) (publicity still)

Some of John’s flashback sequences are akin to Agent Mulder’s search for his sister (and the truth, which is out there… or so we’re told) in THE X FILES. And, now that I think about it, the hospital where Maria dies kinda looks like one of those draped-in-shadows secret government facilities that Scully and Mulder would occasionally find themselves searching for that truth. As is often the case with a death in the family (particularly a young child), the survivors each handle the loss in their own way. The Fareri family’s coping mechanisms may seem a bit over the top, but… try to put yourself in their shoes (heck, you may have been in those shoes yourself once). I haven’t lost a child, but I watched my Mother go through it twice; it’s a pain that never goes away. So, anyway… the kids are suitably sullen; Brenda is devastated, confused and angry… in that order; John is, first, zombie-like, then, inconsolable and, finally, driven. With Bruce Komiske on board, John and he begin to knock on the doors of the wealthy and the powerful. At one point, a consultant mentions that the best way to build a new hospital is by putting a donor’s name on the building; John steadfastly declares that the hospital will bear his daughter’s name. That is the attitude that has his family and friends, at first, questioning his sanity and, later, joining him in the fight to give these children and their families a state-of-the-art facility, as well as a sense of hope.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Ben Rosenfield, Hope Davis, David Duchovny, Morgan Griffin and Adelaide Kane) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Ben Rosenfield, Hope Davis, David Duchovny, Morgan Griffin and Adelaide Kane) (publicity still)

Duchovny’s performance is understated, sometimes to the point that he appears to be mumbling his lines; he very rarely raises his voice, but when he does, it’s with authority and passion. The sincerity in the faces and eyes of Duchovny, Davis and Hutton are real. In the “behind the scenes” documentary, they each declare how much they believed in this story and how much they believed that it was one that should be told… standard quotes for any actor about any of their projects. This time, though, that same sincerity is in their eyes. They aren’t just giving lip service, they really mean it. Rosenfield, Kane and Griffin play the lost and hurting triplets as if they’re walking through a very bad dream; and, that’s exactly what it feels like, especially when you feel like you’ve lost your parents, too. Olivia Steele-Falconer, at times, seems to be in over her head and overreaching to compensate but, when it’s all said and done, she delivers a moving performance. The Fareri family were all involved in the production of LOUDER THAN WORDS and, I couldn’t imagine how hard that must have been, particularly when they would see this little girl playing their daughter and the uncanny resemblance to Maria.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (The Maria Fareri Children's Hospital; Maria in inset) (uncredited photos)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (The Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital; Maria in inset) (uncredited photos)

So, I told you that it wasn’t perfect and I stated my reasons for that assessment. If you don’t feel the same way I do about the editing style and non-linear storytelling, then by all means, you should check out LOUDER THAN WORDS. It truly is a story that had to be told.


JESSE

(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT (86 minutes/Rated R); produced 2011, released 2014)

Jesse 2D

JESSE is the story of a troubled cop seeking peace in a bottle… actually, several bottles. She has recently returned home only to become the third cog in a severely dysfunctional family wheel, alongside her dope smoking (and very loud) mother and her dope selling (and very large) brother. When her brother goes missing – except for a foot – Jesse (played to the “Jersey Jewish Princess” hilt by Stephanie Finochio, a former professional wrestler known as Trinity) seeks retribution on the Mafia types who she believes killed him because he owed them more than ten thousand dollars in gambling debt. Along the way, she meets several dubious characters and an even greater number of dubious bottles of booze. Eric Roberts shows up (as he is wont to do) as a sympathetic bartender who recognizes Jesse from a news report about her walking into a market (or a liquor store… who knows with her) in the middle of a robbery. The bad guys yell at her; she doesn’t care for that, so… she shoots them, becoming an instant hero. Of course, she has sex with the bartender.

JESSE (Stephanie Finochio) (publicity still)

JESSE (Stephanie Finochio) (publicity still)

After threatening the mob guys with various kinds of pain and suffering, she goes home to find that her mother has been savagely beaten. Her next stop? A gun store where she purchases an over-the-counter cure for her problems: A sawed-off shotgun. After a series of strange sidetracks that muddle the plot and do nothing to move the story along, Jesse finds out about a meeting of several of the racketeers she believes are responsible for the discomfort recently visited upon her brother and mother (and ex-dog). Upon arriving at the scene, she discovers… her brother (minus one foot – in a brilliant strategical move, he amputated his own foot as part of a moneymaking scheme to sell his product at sports memorabilia shows, disguised as collectible baseball cards). Brother Mitchell (played by bad actor Mitchell Walters, swimming in a rancid cesspool of bad actors) is busy scamming the crew he used to scam the guys that wanted him dead… but, that was all a scam, too. Guess who gets the first shotgun blast from Jesse. So now, Mitchell has a hole in him almost as big as the plot of this film.

A JESSE gallery (Tamara Markowitz; Richard Lampese, Anthony Trentacosta and Dave M Lipsky; Stephanie Finochio and Michael Wright) (publicity stills)

A JESSE gallery (Tamara Markowitz; Richard Lampese, Anthony Trentacosta and Dave M Lipsky; Stephanie Finochio and Michael Wright) (publicity stills)

It all sounds like fun, huh? Yeah… it’s all fun and games ’til someone loses a foot. Or until you have to sit through JESSE. To be fair, I really wanted to like this movie… the premise sounded so promising. So, thinking that I may be wrong or having a bad day or whatever, I asked a friend to watch JESSE, too. He made it through less than five minutes before shutting the thing off, declaring, “You’re kidding, right? I can’t handle any more of this screeching. It’s like watching JERSEY SHORE. Except those people were less annoying.” I don’t know; I guess somewhere there’s somebody who’s gonna watch this thing and think it’s the greatest flick they’ve ever seen. Maybe Snooki, if she gets her ADD under control. Wait… that’s it! Everybody involved in this movie obviously suffers from ADD and were off their meds! No, that theory doesn’t fly because Eric Roberts, Armand Assante and William Forsythe (generally fine actors if they’re given a decent script) are in it. Okay… I got it: Everybody but those three suffers from ADD; Assante, Forsythe and Roberts were paid truckloads of money to appear in an attempt to class up the proceedings. But, even they shoulda realized that you can’t shine a turd. No matter how hard you rub, you just end up getting it all over your hands. And on your resume. If you must watch, please place all sharp objects out of your reach. That way, you won’t be tempted to jab things in your eyes or ears to make JESSE go away.


AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY

(NASSER ENTERTAINMENT (90 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

Amber Alert 2D_Flat

This movie (which, apparently, was originally released in January 2009 as DESPERATE HOURS: AN AMBER ALERT) is one-half police procedural, one-half infomercial for the Amber Alert System and… one-half AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL cautionary tale, one-half Lifetime movie melodrama. So, that’s… what? Five-eighths of what this movie’s about. That means that the other two-sevenths of the flick are all about Tom Berenger, who – of course – starred in the greatest movie ever made (make that “The Greatest Movie Ever Made”), RUSTLERS’ RHAPSODY (who you gonna believe… those stuffed shirts at the AFI or yours truly?).

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Tom Berenger) (publicity still)

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Tom Berenger) (publicity still)

Alright… seriously, AMBER ALERT… is co-written and co-produced by reserve police officer Joseph Nasser, so he knows what he’s talking about. Of course, without everything else (teen angst and teen relationships that would embarrass Stephenie Meyer; good looking but woefully misunderstood kids, creepy looking but woefully misunderstood three-time-loser bad guy, highly driven but woefully misunderstood chief of police; horribly dysfunctional family dynamics), this movie would be a very dry educational film for police academy cadets. I’m not gonna kid you; there’s plenty wrong with this movie (mostly in the editing and an overtly melodramatic script) but… I found myself engrossed in the story. I mean… I knew how the thing was gonna play out, I just wasn’t sure how we were gonna get there. I think the fact that someone with police training had a hand in writing and producing the movie gave it a more realistic feel – at least outside of the histrionics heaped upon us by a couple of truly over-the-top performances and one “better check her pulse… she may be dead” performance. So, here’s the who, what and why about the good, the bad and the ugly of AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY:

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Britt McKillip and Genevieve Buechner) (publicity still)

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Britt McKillip and Genevieve Buechner) (publicity still)

Berenger stars as Edward Larsan, the newly paroled loser who, determined to take back what was his (wife, daughter, house, beer), begins his new life by robbing some campers, stealing a car and holding up a convenience store (his haul is two bottles of booze, a carton of smokes, a handful of money, a bouquet of flowers and a rag doll belonging to the clerk’s daughter). He shows up at his ex-wife’s (Dana McLoughlin) door with the flowers and the doll for his daughter… it just happens to be her birthday… her 18th birthday. Rebuked by his ex, Larsan takes to the road again to clear his head. A blow-out seems to be the last straw but, thankfully, he’s still got the booze. Because that fixes everything, right? While drowning his sorrows at a local lovers’ lane kinda teen hangout sorta place, Larsan watches as a couple of girls pull up, hoping to run into a couple of cute guys. These girls have just what ol’ Larsan needs… and, we all know what that is, right? Yup, you got it: A ride. He snatches the driver (Jessica Parker Kennedy) out of the front seat, telling the other girl, Debra (Genevieve Buechner), to get to the back of the vehicle… or else. A lot of whimpering ensues, as the first girl’s mouth and eyes are duct-taped shut and she’s led away, to be duct-taped (man, that stuff sure is handy, huh?) to a fence. Before Larsan can do the same to Debra, another vehicle arrives on the scene: A truck containing Pete and Katie (Tyler Johnston and Britt McKillip). Katie is upset that her mother won’t allow her to go to Italy with her friends over spring break; Pete is pretending to be sympathetic… hey, he is a 17 year old boy, after all. Larsan introduces Pete to his weapon, takes the kid’s money and his girl (after duct-taping him to the steering wheel of his truck and threatening to come back, find him and kill him if the cops are called). But, what 17 year old ever listens to their elders? Certainly not Pete, who somehow manages to dial 911.

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Torri Higginson and Alexander Mendeluk) (publicity still)

AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY (Torri Higginson and Alexander Mendeluk) (publicity still)

An incredulous dispatcher (BJ Harrison) takes the call, prudently deciding that “better safe than sorry” should be the ruling axiom in this instance and dispatches (thus, her title) a squad car. Enter: Police Chief Geiger (played by Torri Higginson, who’s performance is so laconically laid back, it makes Cesare, the somnambulist from THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI look like an excited chihuahua by comparison), who agrees with dispatcher Carla that it’s more than likely a prank. Nonetheless, she asks to be kept informed, as any good chief of police would. The cops are shocked… shocked, I tell you… when they find the 911 caller duct-taped to his vehicle. They eventually find the other driver and her duct tape. At this point, Edward Larsan is in possession of a (second) stolen vehicle, this one with the added feature of two teenage girls – one of them only 17 years old – duct-taped and cowering in the back floorboard. Back at the make-out rendezvous, Chief Geiger pulls out all of the stops: Since one of the girls is still under-age, she calls her superiors to get the okay for an Amber Alert. As she’s jumping through some rather obnoxious hoops, Larsan is just discovering the error in judgment of kidnapping two teenage girls. And, I’m not talking about their incessant giggling and air-raid-siren-level squealing whenever their favorite song comes on the radio; nope, upon hearing that an Amber Alert has been issued after the carjacking and kidnapping, he realizes that he may have, indeed, managed to cook his own goose. He curses and beats the steering wheel as one girl whimpers in the back and the other plans his demise and their escape. Needless to say, except for some truly bad acting and unintentionally humorous dialogue, hilarity does not ensue. That’s where I stop telling you what comes next because I don’t wanna blow the ending for you. Except this: In a totally bizarre plot twist/secondary storyline, Chief Geiger has an estranged son (Alexander Mendeluk) who is – I am not making this up – dating Debra but, as far as I can tell, the little light bulb of recognition never goes off over anybody’s head that these people have a connection. So… there ya go: AMBER ALERT: TERROR ON THE HIGHWAY ain’t great but, it ain’t totally without some merits; view at your own risk.