Category Archives: Film

“THE BIG WHITE”— A Comedy Thriller

“The Big White”

A Comedy-Thriller

Amos Lassen

“The Big White” is set in snow country and has a dark and offbeat sense of humor, and at its heart, it’s a crime thriller full of eccentric characters all trying to get away with something.  Paul Barnell (Robin Williams) is an Alaskan travel agent who is struggling to pay the bills, He is so desperate for money, that he claims his missing brother Raymond should be presumed dead, if only to collect on his life insurance.  Ted (Giovanni Ribisi) is the insurance man assigned to the case and who promptly turns Barnell down.  Down but not out, Barnell gets an idea when he finds a dead man in the dumpster outside his office — he’ll claim the body is his missing brother in an accidental death settlement which will get him a million dollars.  It’s not so easy, as Ted is ruthlessly skeptical and tenaciously vigilant in proving  that Paul is scamming the insurance company. The result is a test of wills that is only further compounded when the hit men responsible for the unknown cadaver want their body back.

Robin  Williams was one of the funniest men alive, and yet, somehow movies have never played to his strengths as a comedic actor.  He is a very fine dramatic actor, though, but there’s just little drama in “The Big White” .  

Holly Hunter steals most of her scenes with a terrific performance as the Paul’s wife. She suffers with Tourette’s Syndrome. Woody Harrelson comes in late in the film with another manic crackpot performance.  It seems like the creators are desperate to squeeze out any laugh they can get, but they only manage to squeeze the life out of it altogether.

Director Mark Mylod must have thought that the casting of comedians and terrific character actors would make up for the fact that Collin Friesen’s script isn’t quite funny enough on its own.  Unfortunately things rarely mesh well on any level and the entire tone of the film is uneven throughout. 

Saying too much will spoil the movie but I can say that it survives because it is driven suffice to say, The Big White survives mainly because both events and characters working together.

The acting is good throughout with Ribisi again proving himself to be a fine character actor. The main problem lies with predictability and a fundamental lack of originality. The denouement, while pleasing enough can’t fully rescue the film and in the end the magic is missing.

“MORTUARY”— Moving On

“MORTUARY”

Moving On

Amos Lassen

“Mortuary” is the story of Leslie (Denise Crosby) a widowed mother of two who while trying to make things better for her family moves them all to a rural town where she is going to take over the local mortuary.  The business side of their home is the basement with the graveyard conveniently located right out the front door.  They live in the upstairs part of the building which also houses what appear to be the viewing rooms for friends and family of the deceased.  When they arrive the place is in serious need of repair.   Jonathan (Dan Byrd) the son and older of the two siblings gets a job at the local diner and also manages to anger couple of the local bullies while at the same time attracts the attention of a local girl. Liz (Alexandra Bell).  She tells him the local legend of the folks who occupied the house prior to them.  The Fowler family, a prominent family that were the town’s first settlers. Their son Bobby killed his parents (who ran the mortuary) because they abused him as a child and he is supposed to now live in the crypt. 

Jamie (Stephanie Patton), the youngest of the two kids, a daughter, helps her mom set up shop and plays around the house.   The bullies that had a run in with Jonathan come by the graveyard to wreak some havoc and end up discovering that most of the local legend is true.   Tobe Hooper directed this one keeping the mood and atmosphere eerie.  

After mom is warned by the sheriff (Michael Shamus Wiles) that the local youth use the graveyard as a hangout to be with their lovers, all sorts of folks become missing in the haunted graveyard. The missing Bobby Fowler (Price Carson) makes a creepy appearance as a dangerous deranged retard, a black fungus starts spreading and dragging people down a well and taking over the bodies of those victimized and it spreads rapidly. Then there’s a confrontation by the well between the good folks and Bobby and all the zombies who are possessed by the fungus.

The film’s parodies cheaply made horror movies and while not a great or even a good movie, it is fun to watch.

“BOOGIE BOY”— Friendship/ Betrayal…

“BOOGIE BOY”

Friendship/ Betrayal…

Amos Lassen

After being released from prison for a drug deal gone bad,  Jesse Page (Mark Dacascos) finds  drug dealers hot on his trail, and he still has three days to reach Detroit where a new, clean, legitimate life awaits him. Along the way, he puts his junkie criminal past to the test by attempting to answer these question: What is true friendship made of? How far should loyalty go? Craig Hamann directed.

Page is an ex-con who, upon his release from prison, meets up with his junkie ex-cellmate, Larry (Jaimz Woolvett) and gets mixed up in an ambitious drug deal gone bad. Page is then torn between his desire to save his friend and his desire to start a new life as the drummer for a tough female rock ‘n’ roller, Jerk (Joan Jett). Dacascos is usually cast as an unsmiling, muscle-bound he-man with a shadowy past.

Larry is an obnoxious troll of a guy, but he bought Jesse a motorcycle, which is pretty nice of him. Jesse hops on and Larry rides with him. They go back to the ‘hood, which is full of various junkies, a self-proclaimed Scream Queen b-movie starlet (Traci Lords) and a weirdo who just plays Doom all the time. Jesse is a drummer and he gets really into the show when the actual drummer passes out and Jerk asks if there’s a drummer in the house.

An untrustworthy buddy, Larry ruins everything by getting him to go along on a drug deal with some unsavory types and  it turns into a shootout and they have to go on the lam. They end up staying out in the middle of nowhere with a guy named Edsel (Frederic Forrest) who’s the only likable character in the movie, and his daydreaming wife Hester (Emily Lloyd) who makes a move on Jesse. The rest you will have to see for yourself.

BLU-RAY + DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 

  Brand new director approved 4K High Definition transfer from the original camera negative with the film presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio on Blu-ray (1080p) and standard definition DVD.

  Original 2.0 Stereo Audio

  Optional English and Spanish Subtitles 

  ”The Making of Boogie Boy” (HD, 92 mins) (brand new feature length retrospective of the film featuring interviews with stars Mark Dacascos, John Hawkes, James Lew, producer Braddon Mendelson and writer / director Craig Hamann)

  Photo Gallery 

  Original Theatrical Trailer (SD)

  Collectible Mini-Poster

“BEER LEAGUE”— Play Ball!!

“Beer League”

Play Ball! 

Amos Lassen

Rarely will I stop watching a film because it is so bad that I can’t watch it. That almost happened here but I decided to stick it out. “Beer League” is just that bad. Artie Lange who directed this film obviously made an autobiographical film in which he stars. This is just a depressing look at loser culture in New Jersey. The film is totally unrealistic, the plot is weak, the acting is really bad and the production values are nil. There are a few funny lines but they are almost lost in the poor dialogue

Artie Lange is the star and he is also responsible for the script. Lange is a veteran of for the most part of bad movies that are supposed to be funny. He is a real human being who seems to genuinely care about people and that could be the reason that this movie is so awful,. The plot is about a group of nice guys who are not very good softball players in a local New Jersey softball league. Of course, there is one team that always beats them that is led by a pompous abhorrent guy named Dennis Mangenelli (Anthony DeSando). Artie and Dennis have known each other since childhood and Dennis is more successful and gets better looking girls etc. In short, he is what Artie wants to be.

Artie lives at home with his mother, played by Laurie Metcalfe who is a good actress but somehow became involved in this film. Her character is off the charts over the top, almost a caricature. Artie’s best friend on his team is Maz (Ralph Macchio).  Artie’s girlfriend Linda (Cara Buono) does an okay job in her role, which means she is a top performer here.

The film is perfectly bad and does not have a bit of social, entertainment or even curiosity value. But it does however have  one small redeeming attribute in that it answers “Whatever happened to Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi)?” Stiles was killed off of the television show “24” and never heard of again until “Beer League” in which he appears briefly as a police chief.

“24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE”— Manchester’s Factory Records

“24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE”

Manchester’s Factory Records

Amos Lassen

“24 Hour Party People” is the story of Factory Records I Manchester, England. Factory was at the center of Manchester recording from the late ’70s through the early ’90s and was the cradle of British dance culture) and the home to an innovative, artist-friendly approach to business. However,  Factory burned itself out. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, the film opens with a sequence that shows its intentions to avoid the familiar. The year was 1976 and future Factory founder Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) is working as a TV presenter. His report on the new sport of hang-gliding spills over into a monologue on the scene’s Icarus-like implications for the story that follows. It’s a case of form following content, and the rest of the film subscribes to a very similar cut-and-paste aesthetic.

Coogan becomes both a clubland impresario and the driving force behind Joy Division and its doomed, soon-to-be-iconic lead singer Ian Curtis (Sean Harris). Ups and downs follow in the years after Curtis’ suicide, and the film acknowledges and revel in its own shapelessness. It’s an epic story with too many players and too great an ego at the center to allow room for them all. Even without the confused post-punk milieu, Coogan is a man-of-contradictions. He mentions his Cambridge education while covering stories of dwarves who bathe elephants at the Chester zoo, he is an unlikely rock hero, but the film makes him into one anyway. The script is by frequent collaborator and fellow Mancunian Frank Cottrell Boyce. Winterbottom and cinematographer Robby Müller use an innovative approach to digital video, showing Wilson’s career as a funny, unexpectedly inspiring story of excess, poor choices, and unwavering high-mindedness. It all fell apart but only after having been completely successful.  

What director Michael Winterbottom and TV chat host Alan Partridge have done with the Manchester club scene in the late Seventies and Eighties is irreverent, honest and  crazy.   Factory Records was started  with a temperamental, allegedly brilliant producer, and signed up a bunch of serious-looking nerds, who belted out dark, depressing songs.

Wilson ran a club to highlight his groups and then splashed out on a warehouse-sized building, The Hacienda, which was said  to look like a public toilet. No one came at first, but later, when Happy Mondays were huge, it became a legend and then the drug dealers moved in and there were guns and people were killed and it was no longer fun. What the film achieves, better than any other rock music movie, is how unorganized and banal so much of what went on behind the scenes was.

“LOVE IN SUSPENDERS”— Love Has Its Own Rules

“LOVE IN SUSPENDERS”

Love Has Its Own Rules

 

The encounter between two people with such different personalities, such
as Tammy and Beno, has to result in a nightmare…but love has its own rules. So it happens that Tammy (Nitza Saul), a 64 year old widow who constantly deals with the memory of her loving late husband, meets Beno (Yehuda Barken), a 70 year old sarcastic lone wolf widower – and the two fall in love.

From their first unfortunate encounter, when Tammy  hits Beno with her car until they unite in front of the altar, Tammy and Beno experience all sorts of emotional, funny struggles. They get closer, break up, get back together  and fight again, until ultimately their love wins out.

Shlomo Bar-Aba gives a heartwarming performance as Tammy’s late husband, who refuses to let her go in a cinematic tribute to Jorge Amado’s Vadinho in  “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands”.

 

“GENESIS 2.0”— Survival and Obsession

“Genesis 2.0”

Survival and Obsession

Amos Lassen

Christian Frei’s “Genesis 2.0” is a fascinating study of exposition that contrasts the exploitation of blue-collar workers with the posh entitlement of a cabal of global intellectuals.

In the New Siberian Islands north of Russia, hunters search jagged landscapes for prehistoric mammoth tusks that are hidden underneath the permafrost. Maxim Arbugaev, who’s credited here as co-director and cinematographer of the New Siberian Islands sequences, bonds with the hunters while keeping correspondence with Frei, who in turn films a synthetic biology competition in Boston, where eager young students regard geneticist, chemist, and molecular engineer George M. Church as a rock star.

Frei doesn’t initially reveal how these scenarios even belong in the same production, and the documentary benefits from this mystery, evocatively cross-associating the plains of the New Siberian Islands with futurist notions of humankind taking control of its own evolution. At times, Frei seems to be unearthing a kind of found planetary life cycle, in which the death of one species is rhymed with the likely rebirth of another.

reveals a literal connection between the mammoth hunters and the scientists who strive to digitize our genes, the latter a goal that has sinister connotations, especially when Frei travels to China to visit BGI, a genome sequencing center. One of the mammoth hunters, Peter Grigoriev, often framed by Arbugaev in predictably taciturn poses, has a brother, Semyon, who runs a mammoth museum and is desperate to clone one of the animals. Semyon visits BGI with more skeptical intellectuals, as well as the South Korean laboratory of discredited scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who’s cloning dogs. Just when Genesis 2.0 appears to be cohering as a narrative, Frei confusingly cuts to a flashback of Peter and Semyon discovering a nearly intact mammoth carcass. Though thrilling on its own terms, and important to uniting the film’s dual threads, this footage initially appears to come out of nowhere, taking the film backward right when it should be leaping forward.

The theoretical core of “Genesis 2.0” is the relationship between Peter and Semyon, which embodies the difference between a primordial past and a harsh future where we engineer and survey our own bodies for perfection. Frei isn’t interested in them as human beings, only as respective signifiers of instinct and intellect, as well as of the class differences between people who live using their hands and those who using their minds.

The film is a globe-spanning documentary that explores the front lines of genetic science and the efforts to realize an Arctic spin on ‘Jurassic Park.’

The documentary is a double-stranded helix of a real-life thriller that is chilling and unforgettable. An inquiry into the brave new world of “synthetic biology,” it moves between two filmmakers in very different locations. Their twinned subjects, whose connections are gradually revealed, are past and future, superstition and logic, a hunter and his scientist brother.

At the center of the heady mix is the woolly mammoth, a long-extinct species that key figures in the exquisitely crafted documentary are determined to revive. Those figures speak, of the power to design bodies and perfect God’s work. They view such experimental hybrid creatures as the geep (goat meets sheep) as exciting steps in that direction.

Through the divergent paths of two Yakutian brothers, the film throws into question the simplistic notion of mercenary selfishness versus the purity of science. Peter Grigoriev is a professional tusk hunter; Semyon Grigoriev is a paleontologist who heads the Mammoth Museum in the Siberian city of Yakutsk. Semyon delivers a TED Talk, exhilarated about the potential uses of DNA from the extraordinarily well preserved mammoth that he helped to excavate from the warming Arctic soil. Peter, speaking with Arbugaev on the human drive to hunt and acquire, says quietly, “We’ll see how long we can get away with this.”

There is much to consider in “Genesis 2.0”, but Frei gives us time to do so. This is a film that values imagery and symbolism over information downloads. Both Frei and Arbugaev who documented the tusk hunting as co-director and Siberian cinematographer, are clearly fascinated by the parallels between the genetic and primeval trophy-hunting pursuit of the woolly mammoth, occurring simultaneously and represented by the odd couple brothers. They certainly capture some remarkable images, especially Arbugaev.

Some slight pruning would probably make “Genesis 2.0” stronger, because it is a bit slow at times. It dramatically illustrates our current technological tipping point.

“DRIVEWAYS”— An Intergenerational Friendship

“DRIVEWAYS”

An Intergenerational Friendship

Amos Lassen

“Driveways” is low-key optimistic heart-felt film about trying to survive with the help of others, who are also trying to get by with their own problems. Andrew Ahn has directed this sweet and charming look at outsiders bonding in small town America. Excellent performances by Hong Chau, Lucas Jaye and Brian Dennehy stand out in this modest film about the benefits of small town life. It was shot in Poughkeepsie, New York, where the screenwriters were students together at Vassar.


Divorced Korean-American Kathy (Hong Chau), is an aspiring nurse who brings her young sensitive son Cody (Lucas Jaye) to help clean out her estranged dead older sister’s upstate N. Y. house in order to sell it. There was a problem in that her sister was a hoarder and the clean-up will take some time. The story is made up of several small moments and it quite easy to connect with the  characters and the inferences given to how so many Americans face financial hardships, family problems, battles over loneliness and struggles with aging. 

The new arrivals are cautiously received by their reserved and reclusive neighbor Del (Brian Dennehy), who eventually takes a liking to the fatherless child and warmly interacts with him in a fatherly way on his porch. There’s also the presence of the longtime actor friend of Del, wonderfully played by Jerry Adler, who suffers from dementia, yet is treated with dignity. The film is a warm, charming look at a young boy befriending his elderly neighbor.

What should have been a short trip for Kathy who had come to put her late sister’s affairs in order becomes complicated when Kathy learns that her sister was a reclusive hoarder and the house is full of her hoardings. In fact, the house is so densely packed that Kathy and Cody are forced to camp on the front porch and be nice to a series of neighbors  who come by with varying degrees of nosiness. Kathy endures the pushy small talk of a grandmother named Linda (Christine Ebersole), while Cody makes awkward niceties with the local children: two polite kids who are just getting into manga and think it’s everything now and challenge him to a fight.

When that fight goes poorly, in an unexpectedly grody fashion, Cody ends up spending most of his time with the elderly veteran Del (Dennehy), who spends most of his time on his porch or playing bingo and generally just minding his own business. It’s a friendship that opens doors for Cody and Del alike, as they each find a companion who wants peace, quiet and earnest conversation.

Some of you might remember the director Andrew Ahn whose first feature, “Spa Night” was also a story of a young, closeted gay man feeling disconnected from his friends and community and the story was somewhat tragic. He developed no relationships while here we see relationships develop. Del seems to carry the weight of a lifetime on his shoulders and while he is burdened, he is undefeated. Kathy tries to keep her son happy but her life is interrupted with the realization that she never knew her sister. Cody shows how comfortable he is with the older man.

 “Driveways” is a film without dire incidents and exciting set pieces. The most suspenseful moments come in the middle of a pizza party and are diffused quickly. Ahn builds his film around keenly observed details, like the highly motivated search for an electrical outlet by a child who’d rather play video games than observe his environment. Driveways” is a slice-of-life movie that remind us all that big stories come out of little things, and that all of our journeys have value, even if we spend years at a time just getting by. Ahn’s film finds drama in the intentionally quiet life of introverts.

“THE SHAPE OF NOW”— Remembering War

“THE SHAPE OF NOW”

Remembering War

Amos Lassen

Manuel Correa’s experimental documentary “The Shape of Now” is about writing history for the sake of peace and reconciliation.

According to estimates around 200,000 people lost their lives in the 50-year Colombian civil war. Another 25,000 were kidnapped, many are still considered missing. When the peace deal between the government and the FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels was signed in November 2016, guns were banned from the conflict and the country’s population have since faced the almost impossible task of having to agree on a common past. “The Shape of Now” shows us this strenuous process and Colombia’s leaden present from very different perspectives. Like the people of Colombia— the survivors, the grieving mothers, the historians and experts – this film is still in first orientation mode.

When Colombians are asked if they remember the war, each has a different story and different memories. We then ask ourselves if it is possible to write history from so many different perspectives. When we are in grade school, we are taught that history is the story of the past, of what came before us. It isn’t until much later that we learn that history can be totally different from person to person. Herein is the difficulty of writing history.
“The Shape of Now” attempts to present the difficulties of writing history in order to achieve peace and reconciliation.

The film opens us to the lived experiences of different social spheres invested peacekeeping: as scientists, academics and activists try to find possible routes to normalize a war-torn society, a group of elderly mothers find a direct way to approach the possible killers of their disappeared children by forging a necessary and genuine encounter in the attempt to find closure.

The film was made during and in response to the signing of the peace plan  between the government of Colombia  and the FARC-EP guerilla faction. This is a film that must be seen since it cannot simply be written about.

“BACHMAN”— A Biopic About Randy Bachman

“BACHMAN”

A Biopic About Randy Bachman

Amos Lassen

The new documentary, “Bachman”, written and directed by John Barnard explores his life, from his childhood in Winnipeg, Canada to his conversion to Mormonism to his touring life today at age 75. 

Bachman takes us on a guided tour of a warehouse containing his collection of a seemingly endless number of guitars. Bachman beams at them with pride and joy, handling them as if they were newborn babes. Many of us grew up listening to Bachman’s music, a result of his work with The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. He’s one of the rare musicians to have No. 1 singles representing two different bands, and his many hits include “American Woman,” “These Eyes,” “No Time,” “Undun,” “Laughing,” “Takin’ Care of Business,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” “Let It Ride” and “Roll On Down the Highway.” The list inevitably conjures up fond memories of AM radio heard over tinny car speakers during a summer drive.

Bachman is still going strong in his 70s as a solo artist (a large section of the film is devoted to the creation of his latest project, a recently released album featuring the songs of George Harrison) and currently hosts a popular music-oriented radio show on Canadian television.

The film follows Bachman’s life in chronologically, beginning with his modest upbringing in Winnipeg. Discovering his love of the guitar at an early age, he hooked up with popular local singer-songwriter Chad Allan, joining his band Chad Allan and the Expressions. The group eventually became The Guess Who, with Burton Cummings, replacing Chad Allan and with whom Bachman formed a hugely successful songwriting partnership.

From the beginning, Bachman was an anomaly as a rock star. He rejected the common lifestyle of booze, drugs and sex and converted to Mormonism after he met the woman who would become his first wife. His stern sense of morality led to tensions with his fellow players, who eventually kicked him out of the band. Neil Young who is interviewed in the film, expresses the indignation he still feels over the decision. Young says that Bachman “was the biggest influence on me.”

 

Bachman reunited with Allan to form Brave Belt, but the country-folk project, heavily influenced by such bands as Poco and Buffalo Springfield, was short-lived. Not long after, Bachman was persuaded to listen to a singer named Fred Turner at a local bar. Not wanting to venture inside an establishment that sold alcohol, Bachman listened to Turner’s take on “House of the Rising Sun” from an open door. Their resulting collaboration, Bachman Turner Overdrive became a global phenomenon that brought Bachman wealth but that band, too, eventually fell apart due to faltering record sales and interpersonal tensions.

We hear from such musicians as Young, Peter Frampton and Paul Shaffer. But it is Turner, himself, who delivers more personal commentary. Cummings who was  so important in Bachman’s career, is conspicuously not here. Two of Bachman’s children speak about their father but very little about his personal life is revealed. Bachman doesn’t open up about his marriages, his conflicts with other bandmembers, the way he dealt with massive success and then financial ruin, his health problems, the inspirations behind his songs or pretty much anything else of substance. It is Bachman’s love of music that comes through again and again. I just wish the documentary had gone a bit deeper.