Category Archives: Entertainment

Byzantium (2012): Practically Perfect Irish Horror

Gemma Arterton in Byzantium
Were it not for the fact that this film was titled Byzantium, this 2012 movie could have been titled Perfection as this Irish horror tale is a dark “Mary Poppins,” in other words “practically perfect in every way.” This melancholic vampire story leaves the fangs and the long cloaks behind as it follows Eleanor Webb and her mother Clara through a journey of discovery for both the eternally young Ellie and her mother.

Directed by Neil Jordan (Breakfast on Pluto, End of the Affair) and starring Gemma Arterton (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time), Saoirse Ronan (Hanna, Atonement), Sam Riley (Maleficent, The Dark Valley) and Johnny Lee Miller (Dark Shadows, Elementary) and Caleb Landry Jones (Antiviral, Contraband) Byzantium is a dark, slow, melodic tale that moves through time and distance to mesmerize the viewer.

The film starts with Eleanor (Ronan) writing her life story page by page and then crumpling the pages into a ball and throwing them into the wind. An old man has been collecting the pages and he calls to her. Later, she kills him by drinking his blood. At roughly the same time, her mother Clara (Arterton), aka Claire is working as a lap dancer in a seedy club downtown.

After being fired for stealing a customer’s wallet and then assaulting him, she is followed by a man who says he has been looking for her for a long time. She kills him and later comes back with Eleanor to burn the place and his corpse. The two move to another town, a seaside town, where Eleanor says they have been before.

The film moves backward and forward as Eleanor recounts her life, she compulsively writes and rewrites her story throwing the tale away until she gives it to a new friend, Frank (Jones) who is dying of Leukemia. The 200 year-old teenager meets Frank at a hotel dining room where she plays the piano, he “passes the hat” for her “are you busking?” he asks her before she leaves. He later gives her the collected cash and she runs off.

Clara meets a lonely man down by the seaside arcade (she charges him £50 for a “blowy”) and invites herself and Eleanor back to his place, a sort of bed and breakfast that his mother owned before she died. Clara sets the place up as a bordello to help Noel get out of debt. Eleanor’s story about becoming a vampire relates that her mother started out as a whore, set off in that life by Capt. Ruthven (Miller).

As Eleanor and Clara settle in the seaside town, two men are searching for them, Darvell (Riley) and Savella, played by Uri Gavriel (The Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises) who look like police but are from Clara’s past. These two have searching for the two female vampire for centuries.

The tale of how Eleanor’s mother is created, first as a whore then a vampire, is spellbinding and feels like a twisted Dickensian tale. A chance meeting while gathering cockles turns the young Clara’s life upside down and begins her dark journey after one military officer gives her a pearl and the other takes her virginity.

Byzantium has very nontraditional vampires. Not created by the classic exchange of blood, in this world a demon is searched out on a bleak island, and there are no fangs, instead a long almost tear shaped thumbnail makes the necessary incisions. The vampires can walk in the daylight and are not cold to the touch. Both Eleanor and Clara are the only female vampires in the world and they are hunted not by a version of Van Helsing but by male vampires.

At just over two hours this film should drag but it does not. It is a delight to watch and the cinematography is addictive. Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave, The Place Beyond the Pines) gives the viewer exquisitely framed shots and uses lighting to accentuate every scene beautifully. Arterton holds her own against Ronan, who narrates the film, and if ever there was any doubt that this “Bond girl” could act, this film proves it.

Byzantium is a 5 star beguiling feature that lures the viewer in and seduces them completely. A new favorite and worth all 128 minutes spent watching it, the film is available on Hulu.

Watch this film and prepare to become addicted.

The Unwanted: Tony Todd, Andy Mackenzie and Destin Pfaff Ride Again

Poster of The Unwanter
In 2012, Tony Todd (Candyman, Sushi Girl), Andy Mackenzie (Sushi Girl, True Detective) and Destin Pfaff (Sushi Girl, Married in a Year) all worked on Sushi Girl, Pfaff wrote, produced and had a role in the film. The film was a brilliant look at the total lack of honor among thieves with a great twist at the end and the excellent cast also had a cameo by Japanese legend “Sonny Chiba.” Tony Todd, Andy Mackenzie and Destin Pfaff are ready to mount up and ride again in their latest venture The Unwanted, a film being funded via Kickstarter. The movie is inspired by the real events that took place the same year that Sushi Girl had a limited cinema run and was released on DVD and Blu-Ray; 2013.

The year following their work on that film, a 21 year old Vancouver student named Elisa Lam disappeared and then was found dead in a water tower at the top of Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. The notorious inn, where Richard Ramirez stayed while killing his way through a baker’s dozen of unfortunate women, had footage of Lam’s last known moments via their elevator CCTV. The video, uploaded on YouTube, went viral and fired the public’s imagination.

Lam is acting oddly in the footage, which started a slew of theories about just what went on before her body was found naked in the water supply tower on the roof of the hotel. Hollywood has already jumped to make a big budget version of the events and these three are going to be part of a less expensive and, as Andy promises in the Kickstarter video, much scarier movie inspired by the events.

According to the press release, this film The Unwanted has been inspired by that viral footage of Elisa Lam acting very odd in the Hotel Cecil elevator. The release says that the film will “pull from an expansive range of horror elements from films such as The Exorcist, The Gates of Hell, and The Sentinel” and ask the question of whether one person can be possessed by two entities at the same time.

Both Andy and Tony are very excited about the project, as can be seen on their video at the Kickstarter site, and another name has been added to the cast list, as well as another video on the site, one Rachel Federer aka Mrs. Pfaff and another alumnus from Sushi Girl.

This promises to be an excellent film with one icon from the world of horror, Tony Todd, and Andy Mackenzie, who plays one of the best bad guys ever in front of the camera, and that alone makes this an exciting prospect. The fact that Pfaff was inspired by the viral footage, which is creepy and unsettling, shows what creative muses were influenced in his mind.

There are only five days left in the Kickstarter campaign. Follow the link above and see where they are in terms of funding. While you are there check out the awesome things on offer for donations, things that are over and above being part of what promises to be one scary film for fans of the genre. A donation can get you some Sushi Girl “swag” or a chance to be in the film. *These are just some of the things available.*

The Unwanted is the latest screenplay from Destin Pfaff and there are just five days left to reach deep, or not so deep, and chuck some money into the Kickstarter campaign. It is important to point out that these talented folks are not basing their film on the viral footage of Elisa Lam’s apparently last moments. They were, as stated over at the site inspired by the footage and that is a completely different proposition.

In case you missed the viral video, here is the YouTube video of Elisa Lam’s odd behavior in that elevator. Don’t forget to head over to The Unwanted website to see just what getting involved entails.

Adult World (2014): Poetry and Pain Comedy

Emma Roberts as Amy and John Cusack as Rat Billings in Adult World
Directed by Scott Coffey, it is his second feature length film sitting in the driver’s seat and perhaps best known as the film that brought Evan Peters and Emma Roberts together, Adult World was produced in 2013 and not released till 2014 it has John Cusack doing “John Cusack” and is all about youth, ambition, dreams, poetry and pain. It is a comedy.

A pretty good one in fact. Following the adventures of Amy (Roberts) who is a wannabe poet that has a poster on her wall about Sylvia Plath. She graduates college and has difficulty finding a job. Her father tells her that they can no longer support her dream of being a published “wunderkind” poet and that she needs to find a job. In the middle of winter she learns that these are scarce and ends up working in an adult sex store.

There she meets the manager Alex (Peters) who shows her the ropes after the shop’s owners, Mary Ann and Stan hire her (a delightful pair of cameos by legendary actress Cloris Leachman and longtime prolific actor John Cullum). She also meets transgender “diva” Rubia, played by Armando Riesco (National Treasure, Garden State) who hates her on sight but later helps the youngster out.

Before leaving college, Amy discovers a book of Rat Billings’ poetry (Cusack) and becomes a diehard fan. She meets the man at a book signing and alternatively gushes all over him and convinces him she is a deranged stalker. He ends up becoming a reluctant mentor while acting like an all around heel.

This film is funny, despite the fact that Cusack could have phoned his part in. The role of curmudgeonly “over-the-hill” wunderkind poet was not a stretch for the actor although he pulls it off just by being “John Cusack.” Evan Peters, who proved back in 2010 in Kick-Ass that he could do a comedic role, is brilliant as the slightly quirky sex store manager.

The film belongs to Emma Roberts however. Her performance as the immature Sylvia Plath idolizer, which then changes to “Rat Billings” fan, is just brilliant. Emma, daughter of Eric and niece of Julia, Roberts can do comedy. Full stop. Her timing was good and while she’s proven that she can do horror, Scream 4 (2011) and American Horror Story season four, she shows in Adult World that, like her the rest of her acting family, she can do pretty much anything.

The only real complaint about the film is its message which states, via the vitriolic Rat Billings, that not everybody can be great and that if everyone was talented the world would be a pretty boring place. That one ambiguous statement is tempered a bit by the publishing of Amy’s first story; a bit of sexy prose written by a virgin that is printed in an adult magazine and the fact that one never really believes Billings when he says it.

Adult World works mainly because of the chemistry between Roberts and Peters. Of course the two sparked off one another so well that a real life romance ensued but, to be fair, Emma had great interaction with everyone on the film, even Cusack who did not appear to put a whole lot of effort in his role. (Having said that, his character was pretty non-interactive and fairly weird…so Cusack could have been, in fact, acting his little cotton socks off.)

It is quite nice to see Malcolm in the Middle actress (she plays the teacher who recognizes the boys high IQ) Catherine Lloyd Burns who played Amy’s mother in the film.

The film is on Showtime, via Hulu as add-on, and is worth the time spent watching it. Just the pot scene (“My teeth feel so big!”) alone is enough to make the film a good one. This coming of age feature works and the only shame is that the two love interests are no longer together in real life. A 4 out of 5 star film losing a whole star mainly because of Cusack’s apparent lack of interest.

Atari: Game Over (2014) Urban Myth Deconstructed

ET found in Atari: Game Over
Zak Penn, who has written a slew of superhero films and directed two films of his own before this one, was the motivator and creative impetus behind and in front of Atari: Game Over. Penn decides to follow and deconstruct the facts that made up the urban myth of the ET video game killing off not just a major game company but an industry.

For those of a certain age, the name Atari has special meaning. The first company to really break the boundaries of home entertainment and to bring video games into the front rooms of the world. What Penn’s documentary does is go back to the story of Atari, the company’s meteoric climb and then its sudden end. The film may follow the Alamogordo trail where, in the world of gaming myth, a million ET Atari games are said to be under tons of dirt at the town landfill. The rumor has been that these unsold “unplayable” video game cartridges were buried there way back in 1983 just as the game company was going under.

The journey that Penn takes the viewer on is one of discovery, if the audience is young enough, or a trip down memory lane if the audience are over a certain age. The idea that one single game was so bad that it crushed a company and “destroyed” the video game industry is laughable yet still believable when considering the gaming community and its increased tendency to rip apart games, old ones and new ones appearing on the market.

Atari: Game Over follows the pioneers who developed “coin op” games to be played on the old Zenith or Motorola or (fill in brand name here) televisions in millions of home across the world. It also recounts the birth of game engineer as “rock star.” Speaking to the guy who made the ET game in just five weeks Howard Scott Warshaw; who was and is a legend in the industry, the film lets the gamer into the early world of games development and the free wheeling atmosphere that ruled behind those closed creative doors.

Despite the “backstory” where the filmmaker talks to the people who were part of the action “back in the day,” like a gaming version of Halt and Catch Fire but without Lee Pace and all the smugness that show suffers from, the film is really about all those millions of Atari ET game cartridges shoved into the ground in the town closest to where the nuclear bomb was first tested.

The filmmakers talk to Joe Lewandowski, who maintained for years that the games were indeed buried there and even worked out their exact location. Cameras were present for the actual “dig” and although the work was disrupted by a sand storm blowing in from White Sands Park the cartridges were found. Ernest Cline, the guy who wrote Ready Player One and Fanboys, participates in the film as well.

*sidenote* Cline stops by Santa Fe and borrows the DeLorean from Back to the Future from Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin…How cool is that? (Sorry, fanboy geeky moment over.)

Not everyone will enjoy this documentary or even understand the necessity of Zak Penn’s decision to make it. As one who lived in Alamogordo, from 1980 to 1982 and played on an Atari 2600 for the first time at Holloman, AFB (the USAF base outside the town) during that two years, this film was a delightful surprise.

In the film, the enormous amount of gamers who arrived at the small town to see if there really were millions of ET game cartridges under that landfill looked eerily familiar to the scores of press and public (and vendors) who lined the roads back when the Space Shuttle was diverted to Alamogordo back in 1982. It is amazing that all this occurred back in 2014 and was missed by at least one older gamer who only discovered the documentary recently.

This film is a brilliant look at a part of history that became a part of urban myth. What really destroyed Atari? Perhaps Warshaw’s pronouncement of hubris or a glutted market or the winds of change combined to not only bring the company down, but also put the dampers on ET. Regardless of just why the Steven Spielberg endorsed video game became a part of myth and whether or not it had anything to do with the demise of a company and industry, the documentary is entertaining and informative.

Keep an eye out for the Raiders of the Lost Ark reference that Penn sets up toward the end of the film. Atari: Game Over is a 5 star film; a fun eye opening look at the early video games industry and the unmasking of an games urban myth. This Showtime documentary is available on Hulu as part of its new add-on, gamers head on over if you have not already.

Last Vegas (2013): Fogies Having Fun

Main Cast of Last Vegas
Okay, so it has been an “in fashion” thing over the last couple of years for films to focus on older folks having fun and Last Vegas features four childhood friends who are now old fogies celebrating their last singleton giving up the life. Directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and starring Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Mary Steenburgen the film is about Douglas’s character finally tying the knot with a woman half his age.

The four friends meet up in Las Vegas for a bachelor party and along the way Paddy (De Niro) and Billy (Douglas) patch up their differences. When Paddy’s wife Sophie died, Billy never went to the funeral and the two former best friends have never reconciled that fact.

There is a lot to like about the film, Douglas playing his age, for instance and Martin Freeman cutting the rug pretty convincingly. Kevin Kline is on top form and De Niro manages to be pretty convincing as the down-in-the-mouth widower who misses his wife. Steenburgen looks terrific and manages to be alluring as ever.

Is the film hokey? The answer is a resounding yes, but…

It entertains and it hits all the right notes. The “Flatbush Four” are cute together and while there are no in-depth moments reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Hamlet or anything by Ibsen, there is never a dull moment and 50 Cent has a brilliantly funny cameo. Some of the gags in the film never quite mesh, but who cares? It is four old guys who are having fun and not worrying about whether their Depends are working properly.

The underlying theme of being as old as you feel works well and Douglas’ character’s romance with Steenburgen’s August torch singer works much better than the one with Diane Keaton’s similar torch singer in And So It Goes (2014). The son of Kirk seems to be attempting to play closer to his age and doing a pretty respectable job of it.

A comedy of oldsters that ends on a hopeful note and allows Douglas’ character to admit that the whole idea of marrying the younger woman was his fear of being old and alone. Again, not quite Shakespeare but still pretty good stuff set against the superficial glitz and glamor of Las Vegas.

The entire cast appear to relish their time in the casinos and playing the part of old men getting to feel young again. That said, none of the characters are over 70 and in this day and age that is not really too old.

All in all, Last Vegas is a fun little film with a cast to die for and performances from actors who rarely, if ever, disappoint. (Never mind the disastrous miscasting of Douglas in the above mentioned film.) A solid 3.5 out of 5 stars and watching the film is time well spent. The only shame was having the brilliant Michael Ealy do little more than roll his eyes and worry about his father Morgan Freeman. Watch this one if you don’t mind seeing old folks misbehave.

Deep in the Darkness (2014): Goosebumps for Grownups Sort Of

Sean Patrick Harris in Deep in the Darkness
Deep in the Darkness, a 2014 film directed by Colin Theys (Dark Souls, Remains) has the feel of an R.L. Stine Goosebumps for grownups; a sort of adult version of the beloved scary stories for kids. It stars Sean Patrick Harris (Cruel Intentions, Save the Last Dance) as a doctor who moves to a small town in New Hampshire to get away from the big city and where he plans to expand his nuclear family.

Dean Stockwell plays his neighbor, Phil Deighton whose wife Rosie is “dying of cancer” and it is Phil’s job to welcome the new doctor and show him the ropes. The doctor soon learns that this quaint little burg has more to offer than an eight o’clock p.m. curfew, there are things that live in the woods and they rule the town.

In a lot of ways the ending of this little horror film is signposted from the very start. It does feel a little like the classic Goosebumps episode where the family move to a small town only to learn that they are the only people in it. Just as in that segment of the kid’s series, the protagonists of this film find that the entire town is against them. Goosebumps’ Welcome to the Dead House (Part 1 & 2) is probably about as scary as Deep in the Darkness and certainly leaves the viewer feeling very uneasy long after it finishes…Even adult viewers.

Deep in the Darkness is based on the Michael Laimo novel of the same name and Laimo also wrote the book Dead Souls, that was made into a 2012 film that was also directed by Theys. Dead Souls is another film that tries hard and has a good concept but fails overall to convince.

It has to be said that the best thing about Deep in the Darkness is Dean Stockwell; who proves that old child stars never lose their chops. Stockwell began working in the business as a baby and the 79 year-old actor still blows everyone else off the screen with ease.

Sean Patrick Harris does do a solid job as the man who opts to fight the dreadlocked creatures in the wood. Sadly, there are too many moments that require too much in the area of suspension of disbelief to allow the film to work. Kristen Bush who plays his wife Cristine was a brilliant casting choice as the two do have chemistry in the limited time they are allowed to have it.

The biggest disappointment is the young actor chosen to play their daughter. Cute enough to look at but Theys apparently could not connect with the youngster to get a good performance out of her. Wooden and unconvincing the child has only this credit and one can only hope that if she does work again it is for another director.

There are some suitably creepy moments, a couple of dream sequences, a goat in the shed, a woman who dies after trying to seduce Harris’s character in the local church and even the Isolates themselves are bit disturbing. Sadly the entire film fails to gel.

The plot is interesting enough but flags in the middle, as does the film, and moves at a snail’s pace to its conclusion. Watching this movie on Netflix it took maximum willpower not to fast forward past the dull bits. The score for the film is jarring and does not fit, it could well be that this is the death blow to the movie overall. The music is too much. Deep in the Darkness would have benefitted from a more subtle soundtrack without the crashingly loud movements meant to convey a scare or mood.

At the beginning of the film, Theys opts for very little mood music giving the viewer hope that this will be a hidden gem of a movie. Sadly, the music soon intrudes and along with its other problems the film sinks. Harris is given an arc that makes no real sense for his character. The same can be said for Kristen Bush’s Cristine; a loving wife in the beginning, halfway through she falls pregnant and turns into a sort of Stepford wife who then decides, on a whim it seems, to listen to hubby and escape from the town.

Deep in the Darkness could have been a brilliantly scary film but all the ingredients were mixed badly by the director and the end result is a disappointing mess. Steaming on Netflix at the moment, it may be worth watching just for Dean Stockwell but when his character departs one can safely turn it off and not miss a lot. Goosebumps is also streaming on Netflix…Watch the two part episode titled Welcome to the Dead House it really is better.

A 2.5 stars out of 5 for Deep in the Darkness and a deep sigh of disappointment…some of those dream sequences were truly disturbing.

American Horror Story: SDCC News Jessica Lange Tease

Kathy Bates at SDCC AHS Panel
San Diego Comic Con, aka SDCC annually mades headlines when the creators, cast and other various members of the entertainment industry give out early information about iconic games, TV shows and movies. American Horror Story gave fans a bit of news about the next season and Ryan Murphy decided to tease fans of the series about past star Jessica Lange. While Lady Gaga fans are overly excited about the face that their Mommy Monster will be in the show, acting only – sorry kids – the news that award winning actress Lange will not be in this newest ensemble was more than disappointing to say the least.

Granted fans of the show have known for sometime now that Lange would not be in Hotel, but the tease that she could return in a later season was a bittersweet treat for fans. It does feel a little like a bad joke, replacing Lange with Gaga? Really?

In a joint panel, stars from both AHS and the new horror comedy series Scream Queens, starring American Horror Story alumnus Emma Roberts and horror icon Jamie Lee Curtis, revealed certain noteworthy items from both shows. Curtis teased fans of her Laurie Strode character from Halloween that there would be a “wordless” nod to the role that helped to make her one of the original scream queens. Roberts is reportedly going to show up at the end of the latest version of Murphy’s brilliantly macabre creation, at least that is what the show’s creator told the panel audience at the SDCC.

The 24 year-old actress will apparently reunite with her one-time real life boyfriend and costar Evan Peters. It is interesting to note that the Scream 4 star had been arrested in 2012 for allegedly beating Peters up, he refused to press charges and the relationship limped along till June 2015 when they called the whole thing off.

Roberts will not be the only other AHS alumni member to reappear in the hotel setting of season five of the series. Ryan Murphy, the same man who brought the world Glee and “gleeks,” stated that other characters would be appearing in this newest season. Murphy has always insisted that the each season’s characters are interconnected, he proved that in season four by showing how Pepper, who was first spotted in Season three; Asylum, was placed into Briarcliff.

While this is welcome news to fans of the long running series, it is still a major disappointment that the one constant in all of the previous four seasons, Jessica Lange, will be missing. The two time Oscar winner stated after Freakshow had finished that she would not be in the next one. Her reason was that she needed a rest from the verse. Considering the different types of characters she played along with the intensity of her performances, it is no wonder that the 66 year-old performer took a break.

This absence may just be the missing ingredient from Murphy’s crowd pleasing cult favorite that spells disaster for its long running success. Lange was not necessarily the glue that bound each episode of every season together, but she was the steely spine of each and every story. The thread that held together through each twist and turn and bloody gruesome event.

Lange’s Elsa Mars, Sister Jude Martin, Fiona Good and Constance Langdon were all disparate creatures, and as much as Elsa was heart rending yet despicable, her Sister Jude will be the epitome of character arcs for the entire season; a journey that started with the viewer hating her overbearing nun and then crying real tears for her and that fall from grace.

SDCC saw fans of American Horror Story getting the latest news about the latest verse in Ryan Murphy’s creation and his teasing that perhaps other performers who will not show up might do so in another season, “aka Jessica Lange,” is a little exciting, if not bittersweet. Sadly Lange will not be back this time around and maybe that is the way it should be.

After all, how can she top Elsa Mars’ rendition of Bowie’s “Life on Mars.” Not to mention her sad success at the end of the season. Have a look at the video below of Elsa belting out this show stopper and think of the Comic Con and just what the latest season of AHS will be like without Lange.

Do not be afraid to shed a little tear…

Ask Me Anything (2014): Dramedy that Hurts

Britt Robertson in Ask Me Anything
Written and directed by Allison Burnett (Untraceable, Underworld Awakening) Ask Me Anything is a bitter dramedy meant to be amusing and all about coming of age and an awareness of self that hurts; it is painful to watch and dreadfully depressing. Starring Brit Robertson (Tomorrowland, Under the Dome) the film has an excellent cast of performers both male and female.

Robert Patrick, Justin Long, Martin Sheen, Mary Hagan, Christian Slater and Kimberly Williams-Paisley all bring much to the table. Robertson plays Katie Kampenfelt who is taking a gap year between high school and university. During her break, she blogs about her life, using a fake name but telling the truth about what she is up to in her day to day life.

She writes about her affair with older community college instructor Justin Long and then becomes a nanny for Christian Slater whom she sleeps with and may be pregnant by. Patrick, her alcoholic father dies and it is revealed that the girl was molested when she was six by a next door neighbor. Later Katie finds out that the father she felt was so distant, kept every single card she ever sent him and died trying to retrieve one that had been thrown away.

The film feels like a sort of off beat comedy in the beginning with Robertson getting a job at the local bookstore only to discover that the owner is a serial sex offender. She is having an affair with a older man who has a girlfriend and he moves away to be “closer to the college.” In reality he moves in with his girlfriend and the two get engaged.

While Ask Me Anything starts out with a somewhat cheerful delivery and “clever” dialogue which is meant to show how intelligent and clever the lead character is. As the film progresses, Katie’s narration becomes less focussed and darker. One of the men in the movie states that the girl is promiscuous and brings up the possibility of her being molested as a child.

What looks at first to be a semi sweet film about a teenage girl learning about life in a dark chocolate-coated world suddenly plunges into the bitter tangy taste of aluminum. Her life is not amusing nor light hearted and the film becomes less about the blog and more about Katie learning right and wrong along with making bad decisions.

Despite the fact that Ask Me Anything is rather depressing and leaves one feeling quite down, Britt Robertson turns in a real crackerjack performance. The movie feels a little like a morality tale. With the actress’s character becoming pregnant and then contemplating abortion or moving in with convicted sex criminal Glenn Warburg (Sheen).

Just as Katie is attempting to deal with her issues, the film shifts gears. The initial thought of the movie being a light hearted look at the drama of being a teenage girl vanishes completely. Of course while watching the film, it becomes apparent that despite the delivery at the beginning, this movie was never meant to be light or amusing.

Ask Me Anything is drama with a capital D and it showcases Robertson’s acting chops brilliantly. Streaming on Showtime at the moment, the film is worth a look, but be warned, the viewer may want to avoid this film if they depress easily. The effectiveness of the film’s message is 100 percent and the mother’s final line at the end of the movie will move you to tears.

Cold in July (2014): Innocence Lost

Michael C Hall and Sam Shepard in Cold in July
The 2014 film Cold in July is another offering from the team that brought you Stake Land and in a sense, this new film is also about innocence lost. In the first movie, that starred Damici, it is the young protagonist being trained by Mister who loses his, in the new film by the team of Nick Damici and Jim Mickle, it is Michael C. Hall’s character Richard Dane who falls.

Based upon Joe R Lonsdale’s 1989 novel of the same name, Cold in July stars Hall as a “everyman” who shoots an intruder in his house and his life begins a rollercoaster trip of twists and turns that change his world. Initially he is stalked and threatened by the ex-con father of the man he killed, Mr. Russell, played by Sam Shepard, and he turns to his friend on the local police force Ray Price (Nick Damici) for help.

The police catch Russell and tell Richard that the man is back in prison. When Dane is at the police station, he sees a wanted poster with the name of the man he shot; the picture on the bill looks nothinglike the dead man. The frame shop owner tries to question Price about the discrepancy and the detective blows him off. Heading down to the station, he sees the police taking Russell out of jail. They put him on train tracks, inject him and leave him to be killed by an oncoming train. Dane saves the man and puts him in his late father’s cabin.

The two men dig up the man Dane shot and Russell learns that the body in the coffin is not his son. Russell calls a friend from Houston, Jim Bob (Don Johnson) who comes to help his Korean War comrade. It turns out that Russell’s son worked for the Dixie mafia and turned state’s evidence. He is now under the witness protection program and the police are helping the man to disappear.

Shepard’s character wants Jim Bob to find his son and Richard volunteers to help. When the men find Freddy Russell, the film takes yet another darker turn and Dane gets in even deeper.

Hall plays a man who finds himself firmly immersed in the underbelly of southern crime. Porn films, snuff movies, the Dixie Mafia and wholesale bloodshed all leave the man shaken and changed by the end of the film. The arc for Richard Dane is a long and complex one. At the beginning when his neighbors are starring at the man who inadvertently killed an intruder in his home, Dane is uncomfortable with his notoriety.

“I didn’t mean to shoot him,” Richard says. When he shakingly loads his pistol, it is obvious that the man is nervous and scared. Later when he confronts the man in his living room, the clock striking is the trigger that makes him shoot. The camera shows the vividness of the victim’s blood and later focusses on the couple cleaning up the crime scene and revealing just how destructive death is.

Later on, when Dane joins up with Jim Bob and Russell Sr, he slowly gets acclimatized to weapons and being around them but he still hesitates to pull the trigger. A tendency that almost costs him his life and that of his two comrades. The film moves from what could have been a question of morality and the cost of taking another man’s life into a modern noir of grim proportion.

The hunting down of the con’s son and the discovery that Russell’s offspring is beyond evil is as shocking as the video tape that they take from the giant thug they encounter at Freddy’s house. All three of the male protagonists knock their performances out of the park. Shepard as Russell is a wraith, full of remorse, rage and deadly intentions. He does not suffer fools and his life has been harsh.

Dane has lived the existence of the small town businessman. He has a wife and child, is well thought of in the community and has never killed anyone before. His gradual descent into the hellish underworld of pornography and the Dixie mafia is shocking and Hall convinces that his character will never be the same again.

Don Johnson as the Houston private eye and war friend of Russell is bigger than life and plays Jim Bob as a jaded man who has seen it all and paid the price. One can easily imagine that Richard Dane knows exactly how both men feel at the end of the film.

As a genre, Jim Mickle and Nick Damici have placed Cold in July in a category that could be called Southern Gothic Noir. At 109 minutes, the movie moves at a good pace and never drags. Some sequences of the film feel a bit like Cape Fear but not for long. The shape and direction of the movie changes quickly soon after and the viewer is taken into unknown territory.

Michael C Hall is well known for his portrayal of the serial killer with a difference in Dexter. The actor has given a brilliant performance in this film and his fans will not be disappointed with his work on Cold in July. This is a real 5 out of 5 star film that enthralls from the first frame to the last. It is streaming on Showtime at the moment.

Need for Speed (2014): Aaron Paul’s Video Game Film

Aaron Paul as Tobey Marshall in Need for Speed
The 2014 film Need for Speed could be seen as a film made to cash in on Aaron Paul’s Breaking Bad popularity or an effort to capitalize on the video game of the same name. While the movie did make a decent profit, production costs were $66 million and the worldwide box office came to $203 million, critics panned the movie almost universally. The film’s biggest crime seems to have been, apart from starring television actor Paul, not being 2 Fast 2 Furious or part of that long running franchise.

Directed by Scott Waugh, stunt coordinator extraordinaire turned director, and starring Aaron Paul, Brit actors Imogen Poots and Dominic Cooper (Cooper is currently working steadily as Tony Stark’s daddy in Agent Carter on ABC) along with Mr Robot‘s Rami Malik and pre – 50 Shades of Grey Dakota Johnson, the movie is an action film based, very loosely on the video game and features fast cars, a little humor, and some thrills and spills along the way. Michael Keaton has a splendid cameo as Monarch, the former Formula 1 racer with a dickey heart who sponsors the De Leon race.

Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a racer who yearns to win the De Leon and whose small cadre of friends stick by him and help out in his late father’s business. Cooper is Dino Brewster, professional race car driver, rich guy and all around heel. The two do not get on, mainly because Dino stole Tobey’s girl, Anita (Johnson) whose little brother Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) is Marshall’s best friend. After taking a contract to modify a car for Brewster, a Mustang that is later sold to Julia Maddon’s boss for a cool $2.7 million, Dino challenges Tobey and Pete to a race and the heel kills Pete with a pit maneuver during the race.

Tobey is framed for the crime and put away for manslaughter. When he gets out, Marshall vies to get Monarch’s attention and get an invite to the De Leon where he wants to beat Brewster once and for all. Maddon joins Tobey as they drive across country with a bounty placed on their heads by Dino who wants to stop Marshall from entering the race.

That Aaron Paul has got some enormous acting chops goes without question. Just the fact that he held his own against master craftsman Bryan Cranston for the whole of Breaking Bad is proof positive that the man can act. Critics who had their long knives poised to sink into Aaron’s performance in this video game action racer were doing so because he dared to leave the small box. Had they paid attention, these “experts” would have noticed that Paul gave his usual meticulous performance.

Granted the storyline itself had some pretty glaring plot holes and Poots manages to look younger each time she is on screen, and there is not nearly enough Michael Keaton, but…

Malik shows just how he got the part of Elliot in Mr Robot, Poots showed just why she should be in more films and Cooper made a impressively nasty villain. The Brit actor showed just how to make the bad guy a truly nasty bit of stuff and that, in turn, helped to make Paul’s hero look even better.

Waugh did a good job in his second feature length film as director and the film looks great. Everything felt right and while not as glossy or OTT as the 2F2F franchise films, the stunts delivered the requisite amount of oohs and ahhs and made all the scenes crackle with excitement.

Certainly Need for Speed feels a little like a red headed step child to the “Furious” saga but overall, the film delivers. This is a 4 out of 5 star film, earning an extra star for the casting of Aaron Paul and Dominic Cooper. It is Streaming on Showtime at the moment and worth watching despite its rather long runtime of over two hours.