DEBUG

(KETCHUP ENTERTAINMENT/COPPERHEART ENTERTAINMENT (86 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

Debug 2D

When actor David Hewlett decided to write a Sci-Fi movie, I’m sure the concept looked pretty good on paper and – you know what? – even with a couple of black holes in the plot and unspoken back stories (due, no doubt, to time and budgetary constraints), the finished product looks pretty good, too. Hewlett’s script is equal parts 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY, TRON, WAR GAMES and just about every slasher movie ever made; toss in some nifty KILL BILL style fight scenes and a cast of beautiful – if limited – actors and you have a rollicking good time of a space opera with DEBUG.

DEBUG (Tenika Davis, Jason Mamoa) (publicity still)

DEBUG (Tenika Davis, Jason Mamoa) (publicity still)

The concept is relatively simple: Convicts on a work release derelict spaceship clean-up detail (got that?) are dispatched for one final debugging assignment before returning to lock-up; the debugging is of the computer kind, as long dormant vessels with still-functioning systems tend to become infected with various viruses and need to be cleaned before a reboot and a return to active service. We get a glimpse of just how corrupt the system is in a prologue that sees the sole survivor on-board, one of 1,200 prisoners (a terror-fraught cameo by Tenika Davis), stalked by a physical manifestation of the infected security program (malevolently played by future Aquaman, Jason Momoa). Suffice to say, bad things happen. The cleaners are under the supervision of a no nonsense (though somehow good-natured) guard named Capra (Adrian Holmes), who gets hijacked by the virus, doing its gruesome bidding. Capra’s eventual demise is kind of a side-splitter.

DEBUG (Adrian Holmes) (publicity still)

DEBUG (Adrian Holmes) (publicity still)

Of course, each member of the convict crew has their own little secret: Lara (Sidney Leeder) and team leader Mel (Kerr Hewitt) are – if not romantically – sexually involved; Diondra (Jaydn Wong) is looking for a quick score, but ends up with a splitting headache for her troubles; Samson’s exit (and, by extension, CARRIE’s Kyle Mac) was so quick, I’m not too sure I can even tell you what his secret was or what happened to him; tough-as-nails scarey chick Kaida (who really has a heart of gold, much like – I’m sure – the actress who portrays her, Jeananne Goossen) is all business, as she hacks into the rogue system for a bit of virtual butt kicking; James (played by Adam Butcher, Momoa’s co-star in WOLVES) is a former cadet whose dreams were smashed after pleading guilty to a cyber-crime committed by his younger brother. Each, seemingly working against the others, are given their own little vignette, as they are assigned different sections of the ship to work on; most interact with various “creature comfort” programs, all under the control of the evil “I Am” (Momoa), leading to varying degrees of pain and suffering. The final confrontation with the I Am and the ultimate sacrifice by one team member is right up there with other such selfless gestures for which the genre is so well known (Spock’s final moments in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN remain untouchable in that area).

DEBUG (Jeananne Goossen) (publicity still)

DEBUG (Jeananne Goossen) (publicity still)

There are a plethora of direct-to-DVD Science-Fiction movies released every week, most of which are totally forgettable and many of those are utterly regrettable; DEBUG rises above the dross with an imaginative script and cold, antiseptic sets that add to the creepy machines-in-control aspect; the small blasts of color (the convicts’ orange jumpsuits and, yeah… a whole lot of blood) tend to be rather jarring against the bright lights and stark white of the spaceship. This is a movie that would have benefited from another 20 to 30 minutes. That’s something that I very rarely say about any movie but, here, the extra time would have definitely made an already strong feature into a great one, allowing the characters to be fleshed out more fully (we don’t really know why most of the crew are in prison or what motivates their actions on this mission), as well as offering a more in-depth examination of just how the ship’s computers became so corrupt.

DEBUG is unrated but, due to some strong language and some fairly brutal scenes of violence and death (a couple of which are quite imaginative), this one probably shouldn’t be viewed by anyone younger than, say, twelve. It’s not really a great date flick or family movie night fare… in fact, it may not be anything that the female of the species will find appealing at all. Having said that, it’ll play really well for a bunch of guys just hanging out in a man cave somewhere.


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.


THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/LIBERTY LANE PRODUCTIONS/RUTHLESS PICTURES (103 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

POLTERGEIST_DVD_HIC

Your parents always told you that bad things would happen if you lied to them or let your friends (or a bunch of people you thought were your friends) influence you to do something stupid, like partying in the haunted woods just outside of town. THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST is truth positive that your parents were right… if you go to a party in the woods (or the beach or your bestie’s house or anywhere, really), an evil, murderous spirit will follow you home and harm your loved ones. Of course, this has been happening since the dawn of mankind, which is why parents are always warning their kids about such wanton teenage frivolity but, as most teens are – at the very least – hard-headed or – far more often than would seem possible – brain dead and insist on “making our own mistakes,” and why the curse continues to thrive. And, this is why filmmakers continue to make movies warning about the dangers proscribed above.

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (publicity still)

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (publicity still)

Marina Petrano plays Paige, the questionable teenager… I mean, the teenager in question who, against her better judgment and her parents’ express wishes, is asked by her friend, Ava (played with a stunning indifference by Weston Adwell), to go to a party in the secluded and preternatural Borley Forest. When Ava does a no-show, Paige, bored with the illicit high-jinx and illegal shenanigans of the boorish people that make up her friend’s clique, starts looking for a ride home. Naturally, she gets lost in the woods (I mean… seriously, what self-respecting horror story doesn’t involve somebody getting lost somewhere?), ending up under the “haunted ghost” tree of Borley Forest, where a local lynch mob exacted their own kind of justice on a pair of brothers believed to be responsible for the disappearances of at least three teenage girls during the 1950s. From that point forward, strange and unexplained things started happening to Paige and her friends and family, with an odd “stalker/love interest” plot device tossed in to put savvy horror movie buffs off the scent of what was really happening.

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (Marina Petrano) (publicity still)

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (Marina Petrano) (publicity still)

Yeah… that doesn’t really work when the antagonist is featured in the title of the movie but, as padding and uncomfortable dialogue go, I reckon this definitely qualifies; plus, it adds a little something extra for the TWILIGHT set to glom onto and keep them interested, I suppose. Keeping the last two sentences in mind, the original title of the film was YOU WILL LOVE ME but, I guess, the producers figured that would be a dead giveaway to the plot and changed it to something less obvious. After being left high-and-dry by Ava and amazingly turned on/freaked out by the attentions of older new guy Cooper (a rather bemused Nicholas Barrera in one of the better performances in the film), Paige turns to another friend, Jenna (Rebecca Barrow Hall), for consolation; when the pair is attacked by the demon ghost, Jenna becomes a true teenager, as catatonia sets in. Confused by the attack on Jenna and angry with Ava for setting the whole thing in motion, Paige demands that Ava help her, alongside her brother (a frightfully laconic Christopher Ingle), sister-in-law (an “Eh… it’s a paycheck” performance from Rhea Rossiter), Cooper and one of the dumbest parapsychologists in any movie… ever, Doctor Hidalgo (played by Jason Beck); when Hidalgo learns that Paige had been in Borley Forest, he relates the story of a haunted or possessed tree that no one can never seem to locate once they’ve initially encountered it. When the frightened teens tell the (insert snickering noise here) Doctor that the entity seems to disappear once the lights are turned on, he utters what may be the most cogent words of his entire life: “A preference for darkness is not the same as a fear of light.” I guess why he has that degree hanging on the wall behind him.

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (Marina Petrano) (publicity still)

THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST (Marina Petrano) (publicity still)

Anyway, once the group decides to go into the woods and confront the bogey, things start to pick up story-wise; the dialogue and the actors delivering said dialogue, unfortunately, don’t pick up. Of course, the whole thing wraps up very nicely with a “surprise” ending that you can see coming from at least four movies away. Look… I’m not saying that …BORLEY FOREST is a bad flick, I’m just saying that it ain’t that good; oh, I’ve seen far worse and I suppose the youngsters will enjoy destroying a few braincells watching it, but it doesn’t even come close to meeting my threshold of tolerance for ignoramus entertainment and my threshold is set fairly low (I mean, I nearly made it through three minutes of that horrid DUKES OF HAZZARD movie once, so you know I’ve got staying power). The “unrated” designation may make it seem more appealing but, even if the frights were scarier and the script wasn’t so hackneyed, the producers probably coulda gotten away with a PG-13; that’s how mild every aspect (horror, sexual situations, alcohol consumption by minors, et cetera) of THE POLTERGEIST OF BORLEY FOREST truly is. A shame, really, as, on paper, the concept seems to work.


JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/MAIN STREET FILMS/RAPIDFIRE ENTERTAINMENT (93 minutes; Rated R); 2015)

John Doe Vigilante

When I was solicited to review this Australian import, loosely based on a series of executions (or, murders, depending on your sense of justice), I wasn’t sure what to expect. To be perfectly honest, I envisioned something akin to one of those horrible, schlocky Steven Seagal flicks. Boy… was I wrong! Steven Seagal would choke on his own tongue and break every bone in his body if he were to attempt a nuanced performance like that given by Jamie Bamber as JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE.

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Jamie Bamber) (publicity still)

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Jamie Bamber) (publicity still)

Here’s the story: A man identified only as John Doe (a chilling, steely-eyed performance from Bamber), an accused serial killer of 33 – all reprehensible people who needed killing (pedophiles, abusive partners, gang members, crooked police, unscrupulous businessmen, et cetera… you get the idea) – is standing trial for his crimes. The scene shifts to the courthouse steps, where protestors (for and against Doe’s actions) and a rabid media are on hand as the prosecuting attorney steps to the microphone to announce the verdict; just as he is about to utter the vigilante’s fate, a huge explosion tears through the crowd. From there, the film takes on a sort of cinema verite feel, with scenes of John Doe’s brutality (as well as the injustices that led to that brutality) interspersed with a series of worldwide news reports, incidents of other like-minded citizens, a movement they call “Speak For the Dead,” taking up the cause (and their baseball bats) and – most intriguing – a prison interview with the man called John Doe, conducted by a reporter named Ken Rutherford (a brilliantly understated turn by Lachy Hulme). One reporter, closely linked to Doe, tells the camera, “He was killing career criminals. Nobody cared until the body count started rising.”

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Lachy Hulme) (publicity still)

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Lachy Hulme) (publicity still)

Apart from the chaos at the courthouse and a few very violent scenes of retribution, there really isn’t a lot of action going on; JOHN DOE… is what you would call a psychological thriller. If you’re thinking that means this flick is boring, I guarantee you… it is anything but; even with everything basically laid out in front of us since that first scene, there are more than a few “gotcha” moments that will stun you and leave you wondering how you could have missed some rather obvious (in retrospect) clues; even the ending will leave you guessing. By exploring the killer’s psyche, we are forced to confront the societal and personal demons that we too often ignore or accept without question. In the end, we learn that, like the system of justice we live under, we are all somehow tainted and a little corrupt. JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE will have you thinking and, maybe, looking over your shoulder… just in case.

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Jamie Bamber, Isabella Woodlock) (publicity still)

JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE (Jamie Bamber, Isabella Woodlock) (publicity still)

I’m not really sure how to characterize this film; I mean, it probably wouldn’t make a great date movie and, with the R rating and all of the scenes of violence and brutality, it really isn’t made for family viewing, either. When and with whom you decide to watch, just know that you are in for an emotional roller coaster of a ride; it is, hands down, one of the most riveting, purely psychological explorations since 1990’s MISTER FROST.


PHOBIA

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/RLJ ENTERTAINMENT/QUIET BOX PRODUCTIONS (84 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

PHOBIA_DVD_HIC

I have an extremely high level of tolerance for creep; the new movie, PHOBIA, has creeped me out more than anything I’ve witnessed… and that includes the nearly four minutes of KEEPING UP WITH KARDASHIANS I accidentally saw when my remote’s “channel up” button wouldn’t “channel up.” Now, I have to live with the image of that Bruce Jenner chick every time I close my eyes! As disturbing as that was, the nightmare inducing images of Rory Douglas Abel’s directorial debut full-length film should easily over-ride that.

PHOBIA (Michael Jefferson and Sandra Palmeri) (publicity still)

PHOBIA (Michael Jefferson and Sandra Palmeri) (publicity still)

Agoraphobic Jonathan MacKinley (portrayed by a disturbingly believable Michael Jefferson) hasn’t stepped out of his house in over a year, since the death of his wife; he wanted to go to a party, she wanted to stay home; he drank and insisted that he was fine to drive home after the party. In his impaired state, he didn’t see the car that ran the red light and struck the passenger side of his vehicle (although, I suspect something more sinister… probably involving that ‘stache). Since that time, the only people that he’s had actual physical contact with have been his best friend, Taylor (Andrew Ruth), his therapist, Doctor Edmondson (Peter Gregus) and a grocery delivery person. Early in the story, Taylor phones MacKinley to let him know that he’s found a new delivery person, a young woman named Bree (Emma Dubery). MacKinley’s tenuous grasp on reality has been eroding quickly of late, as the solitude takes its toll via frightful dreams and macabre visions, blurring the line between his reality and his horrible fantasies. (On the surface, this whole scenario may seem highly improbable; however, I can say from family experience, that this is quite plausible: I had a cousin… a cousin that I never met. She suffered from agoraphobia and had locked herself in her home, pulling all of the blinds. The only people she would allow in was a sister and a daughter. The years of separation from the outside world had a negative effect on her mental health, including the belief that her life was in constant danger. The delusions were very real.) And, so, back to our regularly scheduled review…

PHOBIA (Emma Dubery and Michael Jefferson) (publicity still)

PHOBIA (Emma Dubery and Michael Jefferson) (publicity still)

MacKinley, fighting against his own sanity, opens up to Bree, allowing an intimacy that he hasn’t known since the death of Jane (Sarah Schoofs, who generally appears in all of her post-autopsy glory… uh… gore). As the visions and dreams become more frequent and more realistic, MacKinley places an emergency call to Doctor Edmondson, putting into motion a chain of events that, while expected, are, nonetheless, very disturbing. In a wonderfully twisted move, Abel (who is also co-writer, with Matthew Barnes) introduces enough elements to the story to open up the possibility that MacKinley’s psychoses may actually be the work of a malevolent entity (appearing in his waking nightmares as “the Shade,” played by Sandra Palmeri). That’s one of the theories that the individual viewer will have to accept or discard on their own.

PHOBIA (Michael Jefferson and Sandra Palmeri) (publicity still)

PHOBIA (Michael Jefferson and Sandra Palmeri) (publicity still)

The movie, like most indie flicks, is not without its problems, chief among them being the particularly stilted acting from Jefferson in the first few scenes of the story; of course, this could all be his take on the phobia and dementia that is overtaking his life. As that dementia progresses, Jefferson’s acting becomes more natural and… more manic. The fact that the majority of the story takes place within the confines of a cramped, dark brownstone only adds to the creepiness, allowing us to – in a fashion – experience MacKinley’s torturous life. Working in such a small area may not be most movie-makers’ ideal situation but, this tale would not have worked under any other circumstance. The set and the lighting is dark and claustrophobic, making the few moments of bright light (usually seen when Bree or Taylor enters the home) seem like searing shards of metal boring into your cerebral cortex. If PHOBIA had been Abel’s third or fourth film, these aspects would be considered outstanding film-making from an experienced hand; with it being his first, these choices point to a visionary of phenomenal potential in the horror/thriller genre. Personally, I can’t wait to see what he has planned for us next. Oh, yeah… for whatever reason, the package art has absolutely nothing to do with the story. Just sayin’.

PHOBIA (Sarah Schoofs and Michael Jefferson) (publicity still)

PHOBIA (Sarah Schoofs and Michael Jefferson) (publicity still)

Please be aware that PHOBIA features graphic scenes of violence and gore, as well as, nudity. This film is not for the weak of heart or for anyone younger than fifteen or so. It will definitely have you looking over your shoulder and under your bed for a day or two; but, then, that’s why we like it so much.


HOUSEBOUND

(XLRATOR MEDIA/SEMI-PROFESSIONAL PICTURES (111 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

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So, you know those cute, little (occasionally out-of-context) blips in movie advertising that say “Wicked fun!” or some such exclamated proclamation exhorting you to spend money on whatever movie they’re hyping? Well, that one is mine… “Wicked fun!” and, the publicity people handling the horror/comedy flick HOUSEBOUND are more than welcome to add it to the ever-growing list of expletives regarding said flick. But, just like all of those other quotes about all of those other movies, that’s just one phrase plucked from an entire review about the film… I don’t think that the guy from TIME or ROLLING STONE could get away with a review that said simply, “Heart-stopping thrills!” or “Madcap murder and mayhem!,” although I would definitely go see whatever film the latter was tagging. But, I digress (regress?). Likewise, my review would have to be something a bit more substantial than “Wicked fun!,” even if that capsule statement sums up the matter rather effectively.

HOUSEBOUND (Glen-Paul Waru and Morgana O'Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Glen-Paul Waru and Morgana O’Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

After a string of bad decisions (the last one involving an attempt to purloin an ATM or, at the very least, the funds located within), Kylie Bucknell (sardonically portrayed by Morgana O’Reilly) is placed under house arrest. Here’s the catch: The house the judge remands her to for the next eight months is a musty old place occupied by her ditzy mother, Miriam, and befuddled step-father, Graeme… a place she hasn’t visited for a few years because, well, that’s where her ditzy mother, Miriam, can be found. Miriam (the gloriously over-the-top Rima Te Wiata) flits about the house and around Kylie like a hyperactive squirrel on speed (just let that imagery soak in for a bit), glad to have her errant child back home and continually fretting over her well-being; Graeme (a delightfully somnabulistic Ross Harper) just stands back, hoping that he is well out of the line of fire. Glen-Paul Waru appears as the bumbling tech specialist Amos, who is responsible for activating Kylie’s ankle monitor and running her to ground when the alarm goes off. Regarding said monitor, Miriam notes, “It’s such high tech, isn’t it? Aren’t you lucky, Kylie, having all that fancy technology on your foot?” You can understand why Kylie would rather have spent the eight months in a prison cell.

HOUSEBOUND (Morgana O'Reilly, Rima Te Wiata and Ross Harper) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata and Ross Harper) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Strange happenings are afoot in the house, as various electronic devices go haywire and electrical wiring and outlets are causing major disruptions to the trio’s way of life. Miriam, in typical fashion, is convinced that the house is haunted; Kylie, in typical fashion, is convinced her mother is insane. When a power outage sends Kylie to the basement to check for a blown fuse, a noise has her believing that someone has broken into the house; when she is grabbed by a skeletal hand, she is definitely starting to come around to her mother’s way of thinking. As it turns out, the incident damages the monitor, eliciting a visit from Amos, who is definitely down with the thought that a spirit or other-worldly entity may be causing the electrical problems at Casa Bucknell. Things get weirder as Kylie begins to dig into the history of the familial abode, discovering that, at one time, it was a “halfway house” for wayward teens (rather like a younger version of Kylie herself) and the scene of a brutal murder. As she becomes more immersed in the mystery, her court ordered therapist (Cameron Rhodes) shows up for their first session. Kylie, uncharacteristically, starts to open up to Dennis, the analyst and, naturally, the recurrence of unexplained activity heightens. From this point forward, the scares and the laughs come fast and furious, leading to a completely implausible ending that is as satisfying as any haunted house movie in recent memory.

HOUSEBOUND (Rima Te Wiata and Morgana O'Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Rima Te Wiata and Morgana O’Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

First time director (and scriptwriter) Gerard Johnstone has taken a pretty stale premise and given it a new car shine, with witty dialogue, an ingenious twist and brilliantly gloomy lighting. The chills are quite convincing; the relationship between Kylie and Miriam is, alternately, hilarious and very touching; the underlying mystery is as much fun to unravel as an episode of CASTLE or BONES. Of course, all of these, along with a great cast, make HOUSEBOUND wicked fun. (I bet you thought I’d forgotten that one, huh?)


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.


LULLABY

(DVD, Digital and Video-On-Demand; AVENUE PICTURES/ARC ENTERTAINMENT (117 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

LULLABY

I’m gonna let you guys into my life and my head and my heart for a little bit. I’m a sensitive guy… no, really, I am. Movies like this one touch me. I shed a tear or two watching LULLABY. Why? Good story, good acting? Partly, but the main reason is this: The underlying premise of the movie is something that is very near to me (I can’t say “dear” because… CANCER SUCKS!). In a span of approximately 10 years, I lost my father, my sister and my brother to cancer. My brother-in-law, a couple of beloved uncles and an aunt, too, during that same period; my sister-in-law succumbed to liver failure, as well. In the middle of all of that, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. I act as her caregiver… I’m the only one left. I watch her die a little bit more each day. I’ve spent far too many days in hospital rooms and funeral homes and I know that I’ve got more of both in my future. Look… I’m not complaining. I’m just using my experiences as a reference point for a review of the movie, LULLABY. Knowing these things may help you understand (at least a bit) where I’m coming from in regards to this film.

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund) (publicity still)

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund) (publicity still)

Garrett Hedlund leads a strong ensemble cast as Jonathan, the wayward son of a well-to-do family. LULLABY is a bitter-sweet coming-of-age story for Hedlund’s character. Jonathan is coming home after several years; his cancer-stricken father has decided to end his suffering. In short, the father (brilliantly played by Richard Jenkins) is – according to the statutes of the State of New York – committing suicide, with the assistance of his well-meaning doctor (Terrance Howard in a small role that amounts to no more than a couple of short cameos… what Howard does with those cameos speaks to the power of, not only his talents, but those of the entire cast). Jonathan reluctantly returns, telling his mother (Anne Archer), “He’s been dying for twelve years!” and asking, “Why is this time any different?” When she explains his father’s plan, Jonathan, enraged, storms out of the room. Taking refuge in the hospital’s stairwell, he lights a cigarette (he seems always to be getting into trouble for smoking in places where it’s prohibited… the film opens with him lighting up in the airplane restroom and, later, he walks into the hospital lobby and lights another smoke… both scenes are actually pretty funny) and practices a little primal screaming. He soon discovers, however, that he isn’t alone; a couple of flights above is a young woman who, like his father, is dying of cancer. Meredith (Jessica Barden) is a wise-beyond-her-years high school senior who hides her pain and fear behind a tough facade; when she asks for a cigarette, Jonathan gives her a look. “What? You gonna tell me that it’ll kill me?” Through his interaction with Meredith, the troubled musician is humbled and begins to look inward at who he is and what he’s become. There are several scenes between the pair that some may call “schlocky,” but they are so sweet and gentle that you can’t help but be touched.

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund, Anne Archer, Richard Jenkins, Jessica Brown Findlay and Daniel Sunjata) (publicity still)

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund, Anne Archer, Richard Jenkins, Jessica Brown Findlay and Daniel Sunjata) (publicity still)

Other key elements leading to Jonathan’s growing up involves an ex-girlfriend (another small but pivotal role, played by Amy Adams), his “I’m way too good for this” sister, Karen (Jessica Brown Findlay), who is struggling with her own demons. She files an injunction to stop her father from going through with his plans and comes unglued when he tells the family that he gave all of his money to charities and other causes. There’s a great scene where she comes clean to Jonathan, growing up a bit herself. The mother, Rachel, goes through several stages of grief, alternately being the strong woman holding the family together as she always has or completely falling apart, railing against the situation, her husband and God. One of Robert‘s last requests is to bring his family together for the traditional Passover Seder, performing the ritual early because he won’t be around at the Passover and because this is the first time in seven years that his whole family has been together. The scenes in the hospital’s chapel are powerful, heartwarming and… funny. You’ll understand when you watch. I should mention Jennifer Hudson as the in-your-face, tell-it-like-it-is nurse who first confronts Jonathan as he enters the hospital lobby, lighting a cigarette. She’s featured prominently in another heart-wrenching episode with Robert and Jonathan.

LULLABY (Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard) (publicity still)

LULLABY (Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard) (publicity still)

So, I know that I’m kinda skating around a lot of important stuff here, but I hate to be one of those guys that give away every detail of the movie. Ultimately, all I can do is recommend that you watch LULLABY with a box of tissues on hand. The subject matter and some strong language may be too intense for the young’uns, but it could open up a dialogue with junior high school aged kids (and older) who may be going through (or will eventually experience) similar situations. I told you at the top of this piece about my experiences. Obviously, they weren’t nearly as dramatic as those of the Lowenstein family, but they left there marks. LULLABY isn’t the type of movie that opens up old, painful memories; rather, it brought back some feelings that are really just under the surface: warm, happy memories of the people I love. And… okay… some sad ones, too. I honestly don’t believe that there’s a day that goes by that I don’t think about picking up the phone and calling my Dad or my sister or my brother. If you’ve lost someone close, you know what I mean. One of the most jarring aspects of LULLABY is Richard Jenkin’s make-up. As Robert becomes weaker and nears the end, there are moments when I could see my father’s face, sallow and small (he was always so much bigger than life to me), but with a peace that came from the knowledge that his pain and suffering was at an end and he was going home. That alone was worth the price of admission.


FROM A DARK PLACE: THE PAUL HOUGH INTERVIEW

PART 1: AN INTRODUCTION

The Human Race

The son of director John Hough, Paul Hough, like his father, has a rather dark palette from which he works. This rather frightening visionary focus has given life to some of the most depressing (and bloodiest) world views in the past decade plus. From the plight of a suicidal amputee in the music video, “The Enemy,” by Fozzy to the brutal reality of extreme backyard wrestling in THE BACKYARD to the new movie, THE HUMAN RACE, Paul has taken the universal themes of suffering and man’s inhumanity to man to new heights. Yet, in all of this pain and misery (and exploding heads), there is a subtle beauty that focuses on some of the more enjoyable aspects of the human condition. These aspects – unquestioning friendship, love, hope, belief in a higher calling, religion in all of its varying forms (Muslim, Christian, et cetera) – tend to make the grotesquerie more palatable… even enjoyable.

The school, the house, and the prison are safe. Follow the arrows, or you will die. Stay on the path, or you will die. If you are lapped twice, you will die. Do not touch the grass, or you will die. Race… or die.” That is the startlingly simple premise of THE HUMAN RACE. Eighty people, all who were unlucky enough to be occupying the same city block, are struck by a blinding white light (was it God? A priest, who is seen offering comfort to a homeless – junkie? – woman believes that they are in Purgatory) and transported to an undisclosed area and given the instructions above. Through two flashback vignettes, we meet three of the 80, survivors of their own personal hells: Veronica (Brianna Lauren Jackson), a young woman who has lost her family to a particularly aggressive form of cancer only to find out that she, too, has been stricken. She curses God for his cruelty. Flash forward to her doctor’s office where Veronica is told that her cancer is in total remission. She looks to the heavens and gives thanks, only to find herself a part of this macabre race; Eddie and Justin (Eddie McGee and Paul McCarthy-Boyington), two soldiers who meet for the first time on an Afghan field of battle. Eddie has, basically, been blown apart, his left leg is gone and Justin is determined to save him. Justin drags Eddie into a cave and using his own body, covers him to keep him warm until they can be rescued. Back in civilian life, they both work with underprivileged or disabled youth. Other “racers” include a pair of deaf friends (Trista Robinson and T Arthur Cottam), a Tour de France bicyclist (played by Cinderella drummer Fred Coury), a pregnant woman, the priest and homeless woman mentioned earlier, a Korean War (?) Marine vet with a walker, three vicious BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD types, a self-absorbed, Better-Than-Thou yuppie type, a young girl and her little brother… in other words, people from every walk of life, representing every facet of the social, racial, political and religious spectrum. Any more information than what I’ve already given would ruin the movie for you; let’s just say that, “THE HUMAN RACE takes more twists and turns than I thought possible for a film of this kind, especially one that runs less than 90 minutes.” The plot, script, acting and visuals all work together perfectly to present a stunningly moving look at the foibles and fallacies that make up the human condition. The following interview with writer/director/producer Paul Hough offers insights into his career, his journey to make this movie and the film itself.

PART 2: AN INTERVIEW

Director Paul Hough (uncredited photo)

Director Paul Hough (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: Hey, Paul, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about your new project.

PAUL: You’re welcome, Darren, it’s a pleasure.

THE MULE: So, let’s start at the beginning. Your father is famed director, John Hough, who had a penchant for the gruesomely horrible… maybe the only person to ever work for both the legendary Hammer Studios and Disney. How has his work influenced you, particularly in the making of this brutal new film, THE HUMAN RACE?

PAUL: My dad has a career that doesn’t focus on one particular genre but got those Disney films because of the horror movies he made. Disney wanted someone who could bring something dark to Disney. He taught me early on to make sure I said something when making a film, to have a point of view. Not necessarily overtly but to bring something that was me to it. He taught me also to try and make everything as interesting as possible when shooting and taught me how to cover things from the best and most unique angles.

THE MULE: This isn’t – so to speak – your first rodeo, but it is your first feature length, scripted endeavor. Can you give us the breakdown of your short films and the extreme wrestling documentary, THE BACKYARD?

PAUL: I did a short called THE ANGEL, which can be found on YouTube with Eddie McGee and Celine Tien (both from THE HUMAN RACE) and did a music video, also with Eddie, for Chris Jericho’s band, Fozzy (called “Enemy” – also online). In that, you can see quick glimpses of Fred Coury and Luke Y Thompson, who also appear in THE HUMAN RACE. I met Luke after he wrote a good review of THE BACKYARD (he is a film critic, currently working for THE VILLAGE VOICE). THE BACKYARD was about kids who wrestle in their backyards, using weapons such as barbed-wire baseball bats, staple guns and nails. The documentary focused also on their parents, who were more than often supportive and were high school teachers, principals, doctors and nurses.

THE BACKYARD poster

THE BACKYARD poster

THE MULE: THE BACKYARD is every bit as violent and as bloody as THE HUMAN RACE, but everything was real. Did that make things harder for you, knowing that these guys were really hurting themselves and each other? Did their brutality, in any way, affect the way you approached THE HUMAN RACE?

PAUL: It didn’t really make it hard because I wasn’t the one getting hurt. And they were going to be doing this whether I was there or not. While I was shocked at a lot of what I saw, I found it an amazing sub-culture which I enjoyed being immersed in. There was an incident in Modesto which was scary because these really tough guys (presumably from a gang) had seen some of the kids fighting in the street and lighting each other on fire – and were super unhappy about it. It was very unexpected and there was a lot of tension. I thought it could have got really ugly – but, luckily didn’t. And there was another incident in England, where a 15 year old blades and cuts himself with a razor blade. He wouldn’t stop bleeding as I’m doing the interview and it was hard then, as to whether I should keep filming – but I did, since there were other adults off-camera who attended to the situation. It’s funny – in THE HUMAN RACE, there is a lot of blood. And in THE BACKYARD there was a lot of blood. And the reality is, when I see someone bleed, it makes me ill. I hate the sight of blood in real life. But I was comfortable with the blood in THE HUMAN RACE because I knew it was movie blood, and comfortable with the blood in THE BACKYARD because it, too, seemed like movie blood to me because I was watching it from behind a camera.

THE MULE: You wear many hats for this project: Producer, director, writer… I understand that you even had a hand in the visual effects end of things. Do you have a favorite part of the creative process? How does writing for yourself differ from writing a script for another producer or director?

PAUL: I wore many hats out of necessity – not out of desire. If I had my choice, I would only direct. Maybe write and direct – but my main focus is on taking a compelling story and making it happen on camera. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, I had to produce this, edit this, do FX for this. I had to write something that was practical enough for me to shoot. When writing for someone else or for a budget, I think you have more freedom.

THE HUMAN RACE (Brianna Lauren Jackson) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Brianna Lauren Jackson) (publicity still)

THE MULE: The title of the movie works on – at least – three different levels. The first two are quite obvious from the beginning; the third is revealed in the final 15 or 20 minutes of the film, with a twist ending that kicked the whole thing up a notch for me. Without giving anything away, when you came up with the idea, did you start with one level and find that the others played well into what you wanted to say, or was it a simple case of coming up with a great play on words for the title and working from there?

PAUL: I started with the ending of the movie before anything else – and the knowledge that I wanted Eddie McGee in it. I think the idea of running then came next since I love to torture Eddie in everything we do together – and what better than to put him (a guy with one leg) into a marathon-type race. The title of the movie came then, as I was writing other aspects of the movie and just fit perfectly.

THE MULE: Aside from the obvious horror/sci-fi aspects of the film, there are also several underlying themes that are woven into the fabric of THE HUMAN RACE: Religion is a big one; racial and economic divides; sex, I guess, is unavoidable in any circumstance. Was the purpose of introducing these themes to draw the audience away from the larger theme, allowing for a greater impact at the end of the movie?

PAUL: A lot of the movie is from the characters’ points of views and you don’t really know where you are – along with them. They are people from all walks of life who express their different views. Certainly, because of the blinding white light it gave a path to introduce Christianity. Once I had that in – I wanted somewhat balance by introducing a Muslim. Overall, however, all of these themes and the conflict of these themes is both a reflection and representation of the human race and the struggles it has with itself.

Side note: one of my favorite critical reviews of the movie is this one: www.myhorribleidea.com/the-human-race-2013

THE HUMAN RACE (Gabriel Cullen) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Gabriel Cullen) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Making this movie was a very slow process. Can you take us through the various stages and give us a little insight into why it took so long to complete?

PAUL: It took over four years to make. We started to shoot for seven days, then stopped due to lack of money. A few months later, I saved up some more money, so we could shoot for two more days. Then we’d shut down again until I could raise more money – so months would go by until we could shoot for a few more days. I’d never recommend to someone they shoot a movie this way but… it was the only way I could get this movie done.

THE MULE: Given the time lapses between shooting, was it hard for you to maintain continuity? Most of the cast are adults, which may cause some small problems (weight change and the like), but there are two children who play small but important roles. How did you handle those growth spurts and physical changes that kids go through?

PAUL: The kids’ stuff wasn’t a problem at all – all of their stuff was shot at the same time. But otherwise, it was difficult, but I made all the actors responsible for their own continuity. There is one scene, however, that I had to shoot before I lost a location and Eddie’s hair was super short compared to the rest of the movie, so I had to shoot it from a super low angle just to disguise his haircut. It’s weird having to make choices like that – but when you’re making a movie you can’t anticipate or plan everything and have to adapt as you go along.

THE MULE: The set-up for the first death was ingenious. It was one of many unexpected swerves throughout the movie. It was so unexpected that I have to ask: Was it planned from the start or did other factors – scheduling and budget issues, perhaps – cause a change in direction?

PAUL: No, this was planned. I wanted a character that you really like – and then kill her off – in the same way Hitchcock killed off Janet Leigh in PSYCHO.

THE MULE: Obviously, with 80 people forced to participate in this “event,” you couldn’t possibly flesh out the character of each and every one but, the several that were more than just extras all seemingly had a back story, allowing the audience to identify each with a label: Hero, Villain, Victim. How did your vision of each main character play into the casting? Did any one audition cause you to rethink any of those roles and adjust the script accordingly?

PAUL: One of my favorite characters in the original script was a huge guy called the Blob. I just couldn’t find someone large enough for this role – and then when I did find an actor who was close – right before filming, he (inexplicably for the movie) went on a diet and… didn’t look like a Blob anymore. His part then got cut from the movie when he no showed on a particular day. That was incredibly frustrating but, again, is something I just had to deal with. I wrote the movie around a lot of actors I actually already knew and some were friends who started off as extras and then got promoted into bigger roles as the movie went along.

THE HUMAN RACE (Fred Coury and Paul McCarthy-Boyington) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Fred Coury and Paul McCarthy-Boyington) (publicity still)

THE MULE: One of the primary characters is played by Fred Coury. Even though you’ve worked with musicians before, on videos by the bands Pitbull Daycare and Fozzy (the latter also featured Eddie McGee), Fred is more out-front in an acting capacity here. How was he to work with? Was this his first acting gig?

PAUL: He was actually fantastic to work with – and a really amazing actor. Being a rock star, he has a great confidence that shows through on screen. After the shoot, he told me he had quit acting but I hope one day he’ll return to it.

THE MULE: You worked with Eddie McGee and Celine Tien, one of the youngsters, previously on the short, THE ANGEL. Were their parts for this movie written with them in mind or was it just a lucky coincidence that they both ended up in the cast?

PAUL: Both written with them in mind. In THE ANGEL, the Grandma was Celine’s real Grandma. In THE HUMAN RACE, her brother character is actually her real brother. I hadn’t seen her for a few years s,o while I wrote the role for her in mind – I still needed to audition her. Originally, there was only one kid in the script – but when she came to the audition, she turned up with her brother – who I thought was fantastic – so I made the role two kids rather than one.

THE MULE: Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with Eddie McGee, but when I found out that he was a cast member of the game show BIG BROTHER during its first season, I didn’t hold out much hope for this movie. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. The guy’s got chops… leading actor, action/adventure/sci-fi/horror chops. How did you become acquainted with Eddie and, based on a few things that I’ve read elsewhere, how did he become the “go-to” guy on your projects?

PAUL: Yeah, his being on BIG BROTHER has not been a good thing for his acting career. The only good thing is that he didn’t become a “reality star” per se – since his season happened before the whole reality boom. I’m hoping, going forward, that he’ll become Eddie McGee from THE HUMAN RACE and that his BIG BROTHER past will become that – a thing of the past. I met him while I was looking for a double-leg amputee for the Fozzy video. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to do the role – since most people found the character I wanted (ie: a disabled suicidal person) not suited for them. Eddie shared the same philosophy and beliefs of myself and taped an audition for me. He got the role and… I hope to work with him now on everything I do. He is an amazing actor and we’ve gone through a lot together. When you find someone as good and as brilliant as he – then he does certainly become your “go-to” guy.

THE HUMAN RACE (Trista Robinson) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Trista Robinson) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Speaking of projects, what’s next up for Paul Hough? In a bit of a spoiler, THE HUMAN RACE left itself open for a sequel. Will there be one?

PAUL: I’d love to do a follow up to THE HUMAN RACE and already have a script written – but it will depend on how successful this film is first. I’m off to Korea in a month, working on a new dark thriller which I hope will be my next project…

The film debuts in limited theatrical release and on Video-On-Demand and iTunes on June 13, 2014. Comparisons to the apocalyptic Japanese bloodbath, BATTLE ROYALE and the Young Adult book/film series, THE HUNGER GAMES (among others) are unavoidable but, THE HUMAN RACE is, in my humble opinion, not to be missed.


SAVING GRACE B JONES

(NEW FILMS INTERNATIONAL/ARC ENTERTAINMENT (115 minutes/Rated R), 2014; Original Theatrical Release, 2011)

Saving Grace B Jones_2D

The instant I saw the title, I knew that SAVING GRACE B JONES was going to tug at the heart strings. It does. The first thing that usually comes to a guy’s mind when he sees those words is: “Chick Flick.” However, I gotta tell you, that definitely is not the case with this movie. Actress Connie Stevens (HAWAIIAN EYE and a butt-load of TV and movie appearances) acts as director, executive producer, co-writer and narrator on what turns out to be a thrilling – and, yes, heartbreaking – tale of a perfect Central Missouri family driven to the brink of desperation by a confluence of events that they have no control over. Without giving away too much, here’s the plot of the “inspired by a true story” film:

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Tatum O'Neal (publicity still)

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Tatum O’Neal (publicity still)

Set in 1951, Rylee Fansler portrays 10 year old Carrie (Stevens narrates as the adult Carrie). Already traumatized by the death of her mother, she becomes even more withdrawn and noncommunicable after witnessing a brutal stabbing. Her father makes the decision to send her to a small rural town called Boonville to spend the summer with an old Army buddy and his family. As Carrie settles in with Landy and Bea Bretthorst (Michael Biehn and Penelope Ann Miller) and their free-spirited daughter, Lucy (Evie Louise Thompson), she seems to be putting the gruesome memory behind her. She and Lucy even tag along when Landy travels to Oklahoma to bring his sister, Grace (Tatum O’Neal), home to live with the family. Grace had suffered horrible injuries when she was hit by a truck on her wedding day in 1935. The grueling recovery process drove Grace over the edge and she had spent the past sixteen years in a mental institution or, as they were commonly called then, an insane asylum. An underlying concern, hinted at throughout the movie, is a seemingly Biblical rain that constantly threatens the town, close to the Missouri River.

There are also hints of the abuse that Grace has had to withstand as a patient in the institution… all in the name of healing. Piper Laurie appears, in a delightfully wicked turn, as the asylum’s director, Marta Shrank. She is of the opinion that anyone ever admitted to such a place can never be released, as they are a threat to themselves and those around them (a sentiment, by the way, shared by most of Boonville, including the pious Reverend Potter): “… the best doctors and judges we have said that people who come here will never be right again. Maybe the doctors are smarter than you and me.” She isn’t very fond of her charges or of the two children that have accompanied Landy Bretthorst to bring Grace home and, with one of the best lines in the movie, she declares: “Tommy, it’s been so many years since I’ve seen children. They’re almost like little people, aren’t they?”

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Evie Louise Thompson and Rylee Fanser (publicity still)

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Evie Louise Thompson and Rylee Fansler (publicity still)

Grace’s homecoming isn’t the smooth transition that Landy envisioned. Things are complicated by the fact that her groom lives across the street from the Bretthorsts with his pregnant wife. The rains continue to fall intermittently adding to the feeling of isolation, as Landy is constantly called away to help with sandbagging at outlying areas. However, both Lucy and Carrie have found a kindred spirit, as they grow close to the troubled woman. In one particularly poignant scene, Grace and Lucy are sitting on the roof of their porch (apparently, a sanctuary for both). Grace opens up a bit about her life, saying, “I wonder if anyone will ever know why I existed? I am crazy, you know.” She tells her niece about some of the things she did in her youth, concluding with the insightful line, “It’s funny… the hard thing about being crazy is, you don’t get to do crazy things anymore.” This tender moment, of a completely lucid Grace interacting with one of the few people in her life that doesn’t judge her, is – literally – the calm before the storm. She’s still fighting her demons but, the one person who may be able to help her is too busy to see how much she needs him. Everything comes crashing down for Grace and the family after a tragic accident that…

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Connie Stevens, Evie Louise Thompson, Rylee Fansler and Tatum O'Neal (publicity photo)

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Connie Stevens, Evie Louise Thompson, Rylee Fansler and Tatum O’Neal (publicity photo)

But, that would be telling! From this point forward, the narrative takes on a considerably darker tone. Relating the events of the last half of the film would ruin an excellent movie if you haven’t seen it. So, just let me add these few thoughts: The acting throughout is top notch and – I could make some crack about her family and upbringing here – Tatum O’Neal displays, for the first time in a long while, the skills that made her the youngest person to ever win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress for 1973’s PAPER MOON). Penelope Ann Miller, as the harried sister-in-law, also delivers a solid, low-key (for the most part) performance. SAVING GRACE B JONES skillfully addresses the stigma that the mentally ill continue to face today, with a forthright depiction of the patient, as well as the problems and decisions faced by the family that loves them, while still managing to incorporate an exciting secondary story. Guys, don’t be afraid of this flick; it will actually hold your attention to the end. You may want to have a box of tissues handy, though.