Note to readers: I currently am not willing to risk my health (I’m 62 and an asthmatic) by visiting a theatre. All films that I have seen for review have been screened in my home. I am not going to tell you whether or not to attend a theatre. Just be aware of the risks, do your research, and follow the instructions to the letter.
My View: The War with Grandpa (2020) PG Peter (Oakes Fegley) is thrilled when he learns that his Grandpa Ed (Robert De Niro) is coming to live with his family. Thrilled until Peter finds out that Grandpa is taking over Peter’s room, forcing Peter to move into the creepy attic. Peter comes up with a plan to make Grandpa surrender his room. However, Grandpa has other plans, to never give in and to get even. Right now, this film is my top pick for the worst movie of the year. You can see why, regardless of a cast that includes two-time Academy Award winner De Niro, Oscar winner Christopher Walken, Oscar-Nominated Uma Thurman, and Grammy winner Cheech Marin, this film sat on the shelf since 2017. Right from the start, the film isn’t even remotely funny and many times becomes uncomfortable to watch, including a painful scene where De Niro, Walken, Marin, and two-time Golden Globe winner Jane Seymour try to play dodge ball on trampolines. There is a scene that sums up this film where a bully has been terrorizing Peter, and De Niro, Walken, and Marin appear at school to scare the bully. They show up in tracksuits, and we are led to believe that Walken and Marin have the ability/agility to lift the bully up high enough to put him in a dumpster. Sorry filmmakers, but like with the rest of the film, I just don’t believe it. My Rating: You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again The War with Grandpa Website The film is currently in select theatres.
My View: Black Box (2020) After a horrific car accident, Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) lost more than his wife in the crash; he also lost his memory. Struggling to raise his daughter by himself with a memory that won’t let him remember the simplest things, Nolan decides to trust a doctor (Phylicia Rashad) and undertake an experimental treatment. The treatment begins to work, but soon, Nolan discovers that his memories are possibly too dark to explore without losing his mind. Part of the Welcome to the Blumhouse anthology film series on Amazon would feel more a part of a Twilight Zone TV show than a Blumhouse horror movie. Part mystery, part sci-fi movie, we follow Nolan as he goes under the care of a doctor who claims she can bring back his lost memories. But Nolan’s memories aren’t clear, and each time he goes under for treatment, a mysterious creature shows up threatening him. The beast is one of those creatures we have seen time and time again that is some sort of human that walks upside down on all fours as we hear crunching sounds. That’s it. That’s about all the scare this film has a crunchy upside-down man, and oh yeah, people with no faces. The film never delivers any of the horror/scares and gives us a twist that I saw coming from the first time Nolan goes under for the treatment. Let's hope the next films in the Blumhouse anthology series do a better job at scaring us than this slow turn film does. My Rating: Cable Black Box Website The film is currently available on the Amazon platform.
Indiefest: The Devil to Pay (2019) After her husband mysteriously disappears, Lemon Cassidy (Danielle Deadwyler), living on a farm in an isolated Appalachian community, must fight back against the cold-hearted matriarch of the family that controls the mountain. Danielle will do anything to protect her son and her land. A hit at both the Atlanta and Georgia Film Festivals last year, The Devil to Pay is a tight, well thought out thriller about a woman who fights the odds with grit and determination. The film is filled with rich characters like Catherine Dyer’s Tommy Runion, an iron-fisted ruler of a clan with a cold heart but a woman who is continuously and sweetly talking about her cooking. Deadwyler is fantastic as Lemon, a woman who accepts that her husband has a debt which has to be paid, that is, until Tommy decides the rules have changed and Lemon has no other way to get out of her predicament other than with violence. The film is a thrilling ride in a world seemingly set in a place time has forgotten, one that is ruled by grit and overcome by heart. My Rating: Full Price The Devil to Pay Info The film is currently in select theatres.
Indiefest: The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) R Officer Marshall (Jim Cummings) is an alcoholic who is raising his teenage daughter, caring for his ailing father, and has aspirations of one day being the sheriff. Terror grips the small town that Officer Marshall works in as bodies are being discovered after each full moon. Officer Marshall is the only one in town unwilling to consider that a werewolf is doing the killings. Part comedy, part horror film with a ton of quirky characters thrown in, describes this well-meaning film that never quite finds its footing in the icy snow covering the town. I wanted more from this film, especially since it is the last film of the late great actor Robert Forster but it never quite can get a handle on what it wants to do. The film does have some funny bits, like a running gag where sad sack Marshall can’t convince anyone that the killer is a man and not a werewolf. The problem is that the situation's strangeness isn’t wild enough; the story never quite feels consistent in its tone. The center of the problem is Cummings, who, besides starring in the film, also is the writer/director, and Cummings can’t find a handle on his character or his performance, which gets old pretty quickly. I did enjoy Riki Lindhome as the put-upon Officer Robson, Marshall’s 2nd in command, that keeps things on track. In fact, by the end of the film, I wanted more of Officer Robson and less of Officer Marshall. I think it would have had a better experience spending my time watching the movie from her perspective. The Wolf of Snow Hollow isn’t a bad film, and I had some fun watching it; I just wish it had gone with a different, more interesting lead character. My Rating: Bargain Matinee The Wolf of Snow Hollow Website The film is currently in select theatres and is available for rent on participating on-demand services.
My View: The Lie (2018) R A father (Peter Sarsgaard) and his daughter, Kayla (Joey King), are on their way to dance camp when they stop to pick up the daughter’s best friend (Devery Jacobs) by the side of the road. Those good intentions have horrible consequences, and now Kayla’s parents are part of a cover-up that soon begins to unravel. Part of the Welcome to the Blumhouse anthology film series on Amazon, The Lie doesn’t even come close to what you would consider a Blumhouse horror film. Horror films, even the bad ones, are supposed to be fun to watch but The Lie, pardon the pun, just lays there with a plot that gets increasingly stupid as it goes along. If you haven’t stopped watching somewhere in the middle, there is a twist near the end of the movie that is so poorly handled, the gang on the podcast How Did This Get Made will be able to talk about it for hours. The tension never builds, and frankly, by the end of the film, you hope that bad things will happen to all three of the family members just so that the movie will end. My Rating: Cable The Lie Website The film is currently available on the Amazon platform.
Indiefest: Time (2020) PG-13 Fox Rich fights for the release of her husband, Rob, who is serving a 60-year sentence in prison. This documentary uses video diaries that Fox personally recorded over the years with family and friends for Rob. Meet Fox Rich, a force of nature who is determined to get her husband and father of her children released from prison. The film pulls no punches as Fox tells you just how and why she and her husband ended up in jail. What she is upset about, and rightfully so, is that her husband was sentenced to 60 years without parole for a bank heist where no one got hurt. Using mostly footage shot by Fox on her iPhone or camcorder, the film follows the journey of this mother trying to raise a family while campaigning for her husband to come home from a system set up for her to fail. Fox is charismatic and well-spoken, a woman who can get her point across with passion and fire, while also charming. We see the frustration that she feels and the love keeping her hope alive, ever hoping that her twin boys will see their father out before they turn into men themselves. Time is a moving tribute to the love a woman has for her family and showcases a penal system that has long been broken. My Rating: Full Price Time Website The film is currently playing in select theatres and will be available for rent on the Amazon platform on Oct. 16th.
Indiefest: Spontaneous (2020) R Mara (Katherine Langford) and Dylan (Charlie Plummer) are two high-school-students who meet during their senior year and fall in love. Just one problem, students in their school are exploding without any warning, and so, each moment may be their last. I see a few films every year that make me want to go on the rooftops and shout how great they are, and this is one of them. If you are a fan of films like Edgar Wright’s early work ( Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The World’s End), Warm Bodies, or even Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, this is a film for you. Led by a dazzling performance by Katherine Langford and a sharp, funny script, this is a film that you will fall in love with. Langford is brilliant as the smart as a whip high school girl who really is too cool for school. Langford’s character Mara, pals around with her best friend Tess (Hayley Law), someone she is so close with that they are already scouting beach houses to retire to. Mara has cool parents (Piper Perabo, Rob Huebel) who adore her and add to that, she meets a boy, Dylan, that has a sense of humor that can keep up with Mara’s. Things seem up until, for no reason, seniors start exploding into a bloody mess. Combine the sweet and wonderful chemistry Langford has with Plummer, dialogue that is a blast, and a performance Langford hits out of the park (you will want to be Mara’s best friend), and you have one of those films that you don’t want to end. I wish this film was being released at a time that it could build an audience because it is worthy of one. Go rent this Spontaneous, and you won’t be sorry. Not every movie can span the line between horror and comedy, but this one does, even if it is a little bloody. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again Spontaneous Website The film is available for rent on participating on-demand services
Forgotten Films: The Professionals (1966) A group of grizzled cowboys (Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Woody Strode, Robert Ryan) are hired by a rich man (Ralph Bellamy) to rescue his kidnapped wife (Claudia Cardinale) from a ruthless Mexican rebel leader (Jack Palance) who has an army of desperados. The film is a beautifully filmed western that is filled with great performances and has a brilliant story with a twist that is incredibly well scripted. I love Lee Marvin, and he is outstanding as the leader of the four men but its the performance of Jack Palance that makes this film work. Palance is so good as the evil leader, giving us a low-key but deadly bad guy to go against our heroes. If you are a fan of westerns like I am, this is one not to be missed. My Rating: Full Price The Professionals Info
Weird Credits: From the credits of The War with Grandpa: Chef Driver
Coming Soon to A Screen Near You: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) R In 1968, the war in Vietnam has divided the country and the Democratic Party Convention convened in hot, sweaty Chicago. The convention was met with protests from activists led by Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, and Abbie Hoffman. Seven protesters were put on trial, and the country was torn farther apart. The film is from the mind of Aaron Sorkin and has a cast that includes Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In a strange movie landscape, this film has become one of the few Oscar contenders out there. The Trial of the Chicago 7 Website