Monday, December 30, 2019

MOVIE REVIEWS #164: "AVENGERS: ENDGAME", "ROCKETMAN", "TRANSIT", "BOY ERASED", "INSTANT FAMILY", "BLAZE", "LIYANA", and "MOM AND DAD"!

Happy New Year Everyone,

I'm not reviewing too many movies this time around, but I have been watching quite a bit. Among the best things I'm not reviewing; I finally got around to "Wormwood", the Errol Morris documiniseries on Netflix. Um, personally, I'm not exactly sure it needed to be this long, but I did enjoy it quite a bit, even though I'm a bit saddened that Morris has somewhat abandoned using the interrotron camera that he invented; I know some people didn't love the effect of it, but I always thought it was compelling. I also saw a couple other powerful documentaries, "The Rape of Recy Taylor" and "Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World", that are worth seeking out especially "The Rape of Recy Taylor", which documents a forgotten aspect of the civil rights fight, the rampant sexual assault on African-American women in the South. 

Also, I got around a little too late to "The Little Hours" a wonderfully bizarre comedy from Jeff Baena, the post-mumblecore director guy behind "Joshy" and "Life After Beth"; this is the first film of his I've gotten to, and it's a quicky, ambitious parody of the Middle Ages, and the whole thing mostly takes place at a monastery where the nuns are Alison Brie as a spoiled lovelorn nun who can't wait to be bought into marriage, Aubrey Plaza as a sardonic sexualized version of her regular persona, plus she's apparently a witch along with Jemima Kirke from "Girls", and Kate Micucci is a lesbian Jewish nun who tell on everybody to Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly, the heads of their church...- this is one strange, twisted little farce. I give credit for anybody who takes a shot at doing Middle Ages, anything, much less comedy. I mean, that list is short especially with film, it's basically, Bergman, Monty Pythong, and-eh, that's about it. So, yeah just for that alone I was respecting it, but it is a bizarre, twisted sex farce that get funnier on repeated observations, and surprisingly subtle too. I actually really enjoyed "The Little Hours".

I also got around to watching "Collateral Beauty" finally. I had heard that it was a disaster of a movie, but-eh, yeah, that was awful. Like, really fascinatingly awful. I won't go into complete detail on it, but it's one of those movies where I'm actually curious to find out what went wrong, and what was supposed to happen. If this movie, wasn't changed drastically from some original idea, then, wow. I'm not particularly a big David Frankel fan to begin with; he's got a couple movies I liked, but nothing special, Allan Loeb wrote the screenplay for "Things We Lost in the Fire" that I liked a lot, other than that, not crazy about most of his work at all, but I'm hoping that they weren't the entire problem on this film, 'cause this is a damage-your-career movie for them. They're not untalented people, I suspect some other hands came in and took control of that movie. I'm not saying it would've been a good movie in it's best form, but something had to have made it this bad.

But, hindsight is, well, 2020. I don't plan on posting anything else before the year ends, and for many, many reasons, I'm hoping this next year will live up to it's namesake's reputation, although I hope we do a little more then just, "Hope" that happens. There's a saying that I've heard in the film industry and I suspect it applies everywhere else, that luck is equal to time plus preparedness. Basically, it's a way of saying that there are no overnight sensation; it might seem that way, sure, but when that opportunity comes, you need to be prepared for it. I'll confess, I'm not always good at the latter, in certain career situations. I'm hoping that I can change in that in the next year, and that's my big New Year's Resolution, but it can't just be hope, I have to take action to make that happen.

I'll be trying to do that to do as well, and I hope all of you do the same with whatever your goals, whether they be immediate or in the future, may be.

In the meantime, my first action, catch on the years of movies that I've been slacking off on, so let's get to this final batch of movie reviews this decade!


AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) Director: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

★★1/2

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Let's talk about mythology for a second. Now I'm not an expert in all ancient mythology, in fact, I probably shoud be studying more of it than i do, but I do know a little bit about Greek mythology, which means, basically I've read Homer, and a few other stories here and there. I bring it up though 'cause there isn't much else to compare to superheroes, essentially they are our modern interpretations of gods in the classic Greek mythological sense, which is weird 'cause the Greek gods were actually far more complex and interesting. The most we ever seem to get out of superheroes is the idea of having some sort of superpower, but there's a lot more personality and conflict with the Greek gods, and most of them were quite complex. Now, similar to the most popular groups of modern superheroes, the MCU Avengers films, they often got together at a special place and talked, and discuss and even fought and disagree over their actions or lack thereof, mostly they fought about, ironically, the people. The humans. They would get involve with them, they would fight and influence their wars, they would mate with them, say whatever you want, the Gods generally had a great interest in humanity and it was constantly explained over-and-over throughout mythology that their actions at the peak of Mt. Olympus directly impacted the lives of the mortals below. 

I think this is one of the main reasons I have hated every "Avengers" movies. Not every movie in the MCU, but definitely all the ones with the word "Avengers" in the title. (Well, the main titles, although I hated that one "Captain America" (Chris Evans) movie with Avenger in the title too, although I hated all the ones with Captain America in the title. Captain America sucks!) Actually most mythology I find isn't actually good storytelling either, and usually it makes for terrible films seeing gods fighting gods 'cause nobody ever fucking wins and you get bored to death watching them fight each other 'til they never die, The thing is, that's acceptable in mythology, 'cause it's understood that they're fighting effects the fate of the humans below, but that's not something that generally exists in these movies. It's not that they aren't constantly saving humanity, but there's no direct conflict or link between the actions of those with the most superpowers and those who don't. Sometimes the superheroes are just fighting each other for the sake of it, and yes, that is always terrible. In fact, I'd argue that the best of the MCU films, "Black Panther" and "Thor" succeed mostly in part because those movies are the most intricately connected to the existence and survival of the people the heroes are protecting. "Black Panther" is protecting the people and culture of Wakanda from being disrupted by the corrupting outside forces of the modern world, and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is mostly fighting for the survival of the people of Asgard and their homeland from being corrupted by having their leader corrupted. The other movies, they all vary in quality but most of the time, that's not a main theme, many times the plight of the humans is at most, an abstraction, and I'd say it's definitely true in the titular Avengers movies themselves, 'cause they've always been about the members of the Avengers, themselves, and all their personal quibbles, squabbles and battles with themselves and each other, and occasionally other bad guys, and the survival of humanity has always been secondary. Even if these gods among men were as interesting as the Greek mythological ones, gods talking and being around other gods it's still not particularly compelling or interesting. 

I think that's part of why "Avengers: Infinity War" so utterly pissed me off. I've been behind for personal reasons on this blog and on life in general, but spoilers, when I do get around to a Top Ten Worst of 2018 list, and I am getting around to that soon, "Infinity War" is going to be on it. Not only did the movie so utterly dismiss and disregard so easily so many of it's own characters that this franchise has spent the last decade or so building up just to destroy with literally a snap of a finger, but the Avengers are actually really dismissive of actual human beings. That's probably why it took such as drastic act as Thanos (Josh Brolin) finding the last whatever it was for the stupid maguffin glove to destroy half of humanity, to actually make most of these characters actually care about humanity and it's survival and not as an abstraction, but as a reality. 

Honestly, this is actually inspiring and hopeful. Instead of superheroes fighting supervillains or fighting each other, they have to actually figure out how to solve a problem and save the lives of everyone else. Hopefully this won't lead to simply to another battle of superheroes and supervillains fight each other, I thought. 

(Sigh) 

SPOILERS: It ends with a giant battle of superheroes and supervillains fighting each other and there's barely any real mention of anyone else ever. Well, so much for this actually being something relatable to the humans on this planet. Yeah, technically they're all saved, but eh, that's always secondary in most of these films, isn't it?

So, basically after the fingersnap of doom happens, wiping out half the universe, including a good handful or two of all the superheroes we've come to know and love, and for some reason not Captain America, we get the remaining heroes together, meeting at the Avengers secret headquarters, led currently by Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) as a de facto head of S.H.I.E.L.D. essentially. This includes finding the drifting spaceship remains of what's left of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Nebula (Karen Gillam) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) as well as Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) by-eh, um,... wait,- who is this CARRYING their SPACESHIP to Earth?

(Check IMDB) 

Captain Marvel (Alison Brie)? Wait, "Captain Marvel"'s a woman? Wait, I was supposed to watch "Captain Marvel" before this film? Where the hell was she for "Infinity War"?! These films were released in the same year; how would I know or even have time to watch one over the other...- Good god this damn universe is too fucking big. 

Don't at me! I'm getting to "Captain Marvel" soon enough; I'm just pissed that basically I can't miss anything anymore in this series and still keep up. It's like missing a "24" episode, except instead of everything I missed mattering, there's one, maybe two things I missed that matter. Anyway, they eventually find and kill Thanos, but after he's destroyed the stones that made the stupid maguffin work. (Yeah, I stand by that, infinity gauntlet is still a stupid maguffin.) However, with the help of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who, it turns out actually survived the fingersnap of doom despite evidence indicating otherwise, and seeking out his now, five-years-older daughter Cassie (Emma Fuhrmann), he arrives having come up with a possible scenario for, traveling back in time to defeat Thanos that way. 

Okay, it's not quite the end of the original "Superman" movie where Superman races around the Earth so fast that he reverses time, kind of thing, but yeah, basically that's exactly what it is. (BTW that movie sucks too. "Superman II" is the great Christopher Reeve Superman film; the original is boring and stupid.) They all have to go back in time to capture the infinity stones before Thanos gets them, and mostly what the movie is is a place to tie up some old loose ends and get everybody who's ever been in any of these goddamn movies a little time to show up and become apart of the end of this thing. Some of those segments are okay, most of them I don't care much about at this point. It's basically the MCU's version of a flashback sequence at the end of a television series. 

Actually you know, I've complained about how many of these scenes in the "Avengers" movies in particular are just, a lot of, forced conflict between the characters and I do think there's been issues with much of it, but I do get them conceptually. You see, if "The Avengers" movies were a TV show, those would be somewhat more acceptable. I'd still probably hate them because usually they were badly-written and conceived, but the pacing of long-term storytelling works for television. This doesn't work for movies, especially movies that are released so irregularly. At least television episodes come every week, the story still fresh in your mind. Even if these movies were that good, all the time, I would still be ambivalent at best towards them, because it's difficult to pay this much care and attention for so long, with so many stretches in between. I don't know how long or fast they come out now, apparently fast enough that I can't even skip over a movie released in the same year without missing something, but yeah, as supposedly, groundbreaking as these movie universes are, the thing is, I don't think theatrical movies are the best place for this. I've heard mixed reviews about both Marvel and D.C. TV shows, that are apparently also in these damn universes, I'm probably never gonna be really interested in them, but I get why they work better there and for all intensive purposes, that is the better medium for this story. Especially if we consider this as an episode instead of a movie, these sequences of seeing these characters having to travel back to the past and re-catch up with characters that we haven't seen in a while or don't exist anymore, would be more compelling and interesting. Instead, I see Michael Douglas get three lines of dialogue in a scene that takes place in 1970something and all I see is, "Well, I guess that de-aging stuff worked pretty well there. I wonder who his stunt double is?" 

I know I'm nitpicking here but oddly, for the whole of "Endgame", there isn't actually a lot to complain about; I just feel like I'm forced to sit through something that apparently is supposed to mean a lot to me, because I've sat through almost all of these films over the last ten decades or however long it's actually been, and I guess if you really cared about this then, yeah, "Endgame" is fine. It certainly doesn't piss me off like "Infinity War", and you know what, kudos, they didn't have a post-credits scene in this one! Good! That already makes it my favorite of all the "Avengers" titles. Fine, you reversed everything that you took away from me in "Infinity War", well of course you did, what would you do?! The infinity gauntlet is basically just a giant reset button, to begin with, so fine, the character I like are back; I still claim it was utterly stupid to get rid of them like that. There were other ways to raise the stakes. Raise the stakes and come out with the ending this movie had. (And the one "Infinity War" had for that matter.)  

So, am I actually recommending this one or not? 

Um...- I don't know honestly, I guess the tone of this review is negative, but there's a lot good here. I like the first hour of the movie or so seeing the effects of "Infinity War" and all the characters that are left having to confront their failures and the real cost of it, and the struggle of trying to figure out how they can somehow reverse this apocalypse. That stuff, I actually really enjoyed; it's probably among the best sequences of any of the "Avengers" films. I also like Hawkeye's (Jeremy Renner) arc, especially since he is the one who most suffers from the Fingersnap of Doom, and he spends the next couple years as a vigilante sword-wielding ninja. Wait, was he always good at swords as well as bow-and-arrow? 

What ultimately brings this down for me is because the franchise is how convuluted the going back-and-forth between each of these characters and past characters and future characters and whatnot, those feel like they just bring the whole movie to a halt every time, especially considering some of the giant tonal shifts these stories have, I felt like i was just getting whiplash by these constant switching between time periods and worlds and character asides and situations. Again, all these-, like if given proper time and build, like a TV show, I might care more about, like, say Tony confronting his father Howard (John Slattery) in the past or something, but I just mostly read these as last second get-together for building up personal drama, or to kill time, or whatever.

Also, Captain America at the end, if you really think about it, he is really a selfish prick, isn't he? Is that just me, or...- I don't know; I haven't like any of his films, for differing reasons, but as a character, it wasn't until now that I can say that, I don't like what he does at the end. That could just be me, I won't say it, but, he makes a choice at the end, that I think is more troubling then he might admit. 

All that said, I had much more assured feeling about all the other "Avengers" films, even if most of the time they were negative but this one, like, I guess I don't ever feel the need to see it again, and yeah, enough of it annoys me that I felt like I was forcing myself to stick it out, but oddly I just kinda came out of the movie, unmoved. I think I'm used to it; once something good starts going in this thing, I kinda know that it's gonna get undermined by other bullshit and I just tune out. Admittedly this bullshit, is better then most of the other movie's bullshits, but I'm still just numb now. Like thank god it's over, now we can finally move onto something else, kinda numb. A lot of that might also probably just be residual pain and frustration at "Infinity War", but still.... 

I made a comment on one of my Facebook posts from one of my last blogposts that I truly felt that I've been bombarded with way too many superhero movies, ever since the first "Spider-Man' film, the Sam Raimi one. Somebody called me out on it, saying that that ridiculous, now it's a lot, but since that movie, it was still at most, one-a-year at that point. I mean, I guess he's technically not wrong, but fuck that guy; he doesn't know what he's talking about. This does feel like I've been with this for seventeen years, and I know it's not over any time soon. I legitimately thought that we had way too many superhero movies back then, and there was back then much less now, and I don't think it's that I don't like the genre. Or subgenre, I should say, 'cause this is a subgenre. I know we keep treating it like "superhero" is it's own genre, but it's not, it's a subgenre of fantasy, and I think that's part of the real problem. It's not that I don't like these movies; I don't like the "Avengers" but I like a lot of the MCU films and other superheroes movies fine; it's because this is so niche, that since I don't necessarily overly care about it, everything about how Hollywood and everybody who does care has been bashing me over the head with it for this frickin' long...- I'd be this numb if I got this same regular amount of zombie movies or musical jukebox comedy or any subgenre of a subgenre like this, from both Hollywood and the fans of the subgenre, even if it's a subgenre I generally a have a fondness for; I would've longago been so tired of it at this rate, that I'd be begging for crumbs of something else.... 

Superhero fans or not, I just don't understand how everyone else is still up for this....! 

Maybe all those characters coming together to fight at the final battle over all those years was truly amazing and inspiring to some, I've read that it was a powerful moment in cinema for some. To me though, all I kept thinking was, "Well, duh, how else was this thing gonna end?", and that ultimately takes a lot out of what would otherwise be a decent assemblage of drama for me.  

Oh, if I can give one last thought about the movies up 'til now, what's with the way Gwenyth Paltrow and Natalie Portman's characters in these films keep getting these surprise intros. I mean, Paltrow usually gets this, where you hear Pepper Potts mentioned, three or four times, before she ever shows up and all, and Portman gets it here as well, frankly I just don't quite get why? It seems like it's mostly a joke on the actresses and whether or not they're gonna show up for these films more than anything else, and you know, that kinda just bothered me too at this point. Especially with Pepper Potts, who's one of the best characters in the MCU, but, oh well.... 


ROCKETMAN (2019) Director: Dexter Fletcher

★★★1/2

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I wonder if it's common knowledge these days just how big of a major pop and rock'n'roll star Sir Elton John (Taron Egerton) actually was and, in many ways still is. I was born in the mid'80s, after what most would consider his prime years, but he was an everpresent part of the music and entertainment world, for most of my life. His songs were then, and in many ways, still are constantly on the radio, and just when you'd think we were finally gonna outgrow him or move on, suddenly one of his older songs would become a huge hit again. This happened constantly btw, it happened to "Candle in the Wind" twice; that actually was not even a hit originally, it wasn't even a single from his "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", it became big in the '80s when a live version got released as a single, and then again, after his performance of an altered version of the song he sang at Princess Diana's funeral became huge again. He had a ton of hits in the '90s; I think he still holds the records for the most consecutive years with a song on the Top 100 Billboard charts. Hell, this movie, "Rocketman", which is little more than a jukebox musical of his songs, placed in his life, included the song, "I Want Love", a hit of his released, in 2001! And hears the real funny thing, 2001 was the first year, he didn't have a Billboard hit in his career! From '71 to 2000, he had a Top 100 hit song! And even the ones that weren't hits, they're remembered pretty well now. I remember that song when it came out; I thought it was a really good actually. 

Hell, I've been to one of his concerts, which is a really rare thing for me to say about any artist, even ones I admire a lot I rarely go to their concerts, but I saw him perform live when he had his Caeser residency; it was a good show and he performed a lot of his hits. About 2 hours of them. He could've kept playing for another six hours and never repeat a song, and I'd know the words to every one of them. He's still creating good songs; I liked that one original song of his from that lousy "Gnomeo & Juliet" film he did with Lady Gaga. He doesn't usually have hits anymore, but considering how long his reign lasted, I think it's okay for him to not necessarily make the charts anymore. 

All that said, is this a music biopic worth making or telling? (Shrugs) Well, there's definitely a lot of story in Elton John's story there, but I can't say that I was terribly looking forward to it. I was more ambivalent on last year's big rock biopic, "Bohemian Rhapsody", for several reasons, among them, the fact that Queen apparently had a lot of undue influence on the film and production and how they were portrayed, and Elton John's own film studio funded this project. But, it is true that Elton John's had a really intriguing and unusual life and career. Nowadays, it's blatantly obvious that Elton was gay; I mean, I distinctly remember seeing one of his first TV appearances where Andy Williams of all people introduced him with a slight nod to his homosexuality in his intro, and that was when he was really young. That said, it went over a lot of people's heads at the time. I mean, this was back when everyone still thought Liberace, the only pianist more obviously flamboyant and homosexual than Elton, just couldn't find the right girl. 

Actually, the best parts of the movie for me, was seeing the images of Taron Egerton portraying the young Elton. My image of him is so over-the-top and huge, both in my mind, and literally; Elton's had huge weight fluctuations in his career, including suffering from bulimia, but whether he was oversized or at his fittest, he's always seemed bigger-than-life to me, but at the beginning of his career, he was an eccentric-but-shy stick of a kid. John Lennon glasses, hippy clothes that didn't fit, and he still seemed like the quiet kid who played piano in the background. I mean, they portray that iconic Troubadour appearance, his first U.S. debut like he's a fully-formed star that we know and love now, but despite those amazing scenes and reviews in the movie and in real life, he really wasn't. He was this troubled, quiet young man who wrote these beautiful songs along with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). 

Obviously, that didn't last too long. The movie opens with Elton, in full stage brigalia showing up suddenly to some kind of AA meeting, an idea that's funny in theory definitely although, yeah, the meeting; I'm sure he goes to AA, but the meetting is a device for him to tell his story in flashback, ehhh.... I don't know,  I don't think that totally works, but I guess you're gonna use some cliches in these rock biopics at this point, especially with Elton's life being one that was full of a lot of excess. Drinking, drugs, eating disorders, multiple suicide attempts, the latent homosexuality that he has to the point of marriage to a woman at one point, which, yes, was exactly as ludicrous as it sounds. 

However I tend to be a little more lenient towards "Rocketman". Mostly because I genuinely appreciate a music documentary that's mostly just a celebration of the artist's life and work. The movie anachornistically uses songs through Elton's professional recording career to undercut moments from Elton's life. His youth is focused on a lot, his mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) was pretty loving, his father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) is portrayed as pretty dark, a military man who never loved Elton, or Reggie (Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor at different ages) or Sheila for that matter. Apparently, he's so overprotective, he refuses to even let Elton touch his jazz records, and eventually they divorce. Of course, we get the origin story of his career, the first time him and bernie meet and we see how Elton works. Elton's not a lyricist, but you give him words, he can compose anything to it. If you ever find his appearance on "Inside the Actors' Studio", there's a great scene at the end, where he shows the audience how he does that by grabbing a book of plays someone has and picking a page at random and coming up with music to undercut the dialogue on the spot on his piano.

I also like the performance montages here better than "Bohemian Rhapsody" because, which often just blurted out the words "MADISON SQUARE GARDEN" onto the screen in multiple-sized fonts like that was an accomplishment. Elton John toured a lot, that's all you needed to know and this was done well. 

Basically, if you take away the struggles with demons that he has to overcome, and the occasional frustrations with the bromance him and Bernie have, as well as the one tumultous relationship Elton had with producer John Reid (Richard Madden) the general tone and feel of the movie, the music biopic it mostly reminds me of is "Yankee Doodle Dandy". It's all his works, it's thematically matches mostly, which isn'tdifficult 'cause he's got so many songs, they could've remade this movie five or six more times and pick completely different songs for every scene and it would still seem like a reasonable choice, but I appreciate it's celebration of it's subject. It's by no means a perfect movie, but Taron Egerton's performance helps a lot. The movie itself, is as over-the-top, ridiculous, nonsensical and outlandish a musical you can have, and that's the perfect kind of spectacle to celebrate Elton John with to me.  

And now, I've got a bunch of his songs stuck in my head. Honestly, that's not a particular unusual state for me to begin with, so,... 


TRANSIT (2019) Director: Christian Petzold

★★★★1/2



Everytime I thought I was getting a grasp of Christian Petzold's "Transit", the movie managed to surprise me in both shocking and subtle ways. On the surface, it feels similar to Petzold's last movie, "Phoenix", except while "Phoenix" was a Nazi era re-imagining of "Vertigo", "Transit" seems to be a darker, more modern retelling of "Casablanca". Even the title, "Transit" is a "Casablanca" reference, as the maguffin in "Casablanca", is of course, the infamous, Letters of Transit that are apparently so hard to get.

The idea of their being constant struggles for letters of passage to travel in an era of constant Fascist raids of illegal seems especially prescient these days, although come to think of it, I'm not actually certain when this movie takes place. All indications point to sometime around the late '30s and early '40s but there's never a direct mention of the date that I remember, although we know what era this is and it is an adaptation of a wartime Anne Seghers's novel that was indeed autobiographical, but the way this movie's telling it's story,...-

Anyway, trying to explain the labyrinthian plot is a bit difficult, basically, Georg (Franz Rogowski) is tasked with transferring some letters to a famous writer, Wiedel. One from a Mexican publisher, and another from his lover, Marie. (Paula Beer) Naturally, by the time he gets the letters to Wiedel, he's killed himself, leaving behind transit papers to Mexico by way of a ship leaving Marseilles in a few weeks.

He travels to Marseilles, after his contact is rounded up, as he manages to escapewhich is filled with illegals and foreigners who are all stuck there hiding, while they're simultaneously trying desperately to leave and get out before the Fascists round them up. He ends up eventually taking Weidel's identity and begins plans to board the ship to Mexico himself. We then follow Georg as he spends the movie cohorting and discovering the jagged corners of this refugee underworld. He befriends one boy named Driss (Lilien Batman) A North African refugee who's stuck with his deaf single mother Melissa (Maryam Zaree) who's husband Weidel was also traveling with, and who also died on the way to Marseilles. Human life is cheap indeed.

At one point he meets Marie, who's having an affair with another refugee, a doctor named Paul (Sebastien Hulk) both of whom are simultaneously looking for transit passages too, and she's still searching for Weidel, and this turns into an odd kind of love triangle itself, that-, it's hard to even explain how this plays out, 'cause it's very layered. The narrative keep double-backing upon itself; I've seen some people compared this film to Kafka's work, and in terms of how it's shot, it does have some moments that reminds me of say, Orson Welles's "The Trial", but narratively, it's got more in common with the meanderings of say Raymond Chandler. Pertzold does list my personal favorite Chandler adaptation, Robert Altman's "The Big Sleep" as inspiration, and yes, this movie has a lot of interesting references to how that film adapted the work, including how it somehow seemed both out of place and time and yet, still feels eerily like a not-so-distant past. Also, the way characters seem to suddenly die out of nowhere.

The logic is nightmarish, especially through Georg's eyes. He's a refugee, pretending to be another refugee, while seeming trying to take the physical place of at least him and another dead refugee,...- Despite all that, it's also so full of bizarre details, like how it's not clear that Driss's mother is deaf until after a piece of information is revealed that we aren't entirely certain that she has, but perhaps her sickly son does. Or how a radio in Marseilles seems to play a strange German lullaby at exactly the opportune moment. Or also, a weird and foreboding use of a voiceover. On first watch, I thought the voiceover was unnecessary; he describes a few things that's happening inside Georg's mind and happens between events but he doesn't actually add anything to the movie that would be missed if he was taken out, but perhaps, that's not important; maybe it's the fact that this foreboding all-seeing narrator is there to represent something else. The soon-to-come capture by the Fascists, death, the end, whoever-it-is that shows up at the restaurant at the end and what exactly they have planned?

Christian Pertzold is becoming one of the most fascinating directors out there, especially among European directors. He's clearly inspired by the classics of American cinema, but he's never simply remaking or retelling those tales with a European twists; he's using these very familiar plots and themes to tell new more pointed stories. Darker stories, with more commentary and darker undercurrents. He's knows to look at something old in a new way: I'm looking forward to his next films, and I really want to seek out more of his past work too, to see what else he's done already.


BOY ERASED (2018) Director: Joel Edgerton

★★★★

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From my review of "The Miseducation of Cameron Post", posted Nov. 3, 2019:
Now, I’m all in favor of just straight up making fun of places like these (Religious degayification centers); they should be mocked as much as they are admonished and as much as they should be shut down, but that’s the thing, they do exist; they are real people and real people, real kids, have been forced to go there simply because they’re attracted to their own gender and for some reason, their family thinks that because it was declared a sin in a book written well over a 1000 years before anybody know there were two continents on the other side of the world. So, there really should be some stories out there talking about the experiences of those who go to places like these. Several really, ...

(Sigh)

So, well, this film is starting to make me regret that statement. I guess we are starting to get these stories and movies, and we're also getting a tough-to-watch good one, in "Boy Erased". This is a pretty full-on dramatic look at one of these places, based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, the son of a Baptist preacher who ends up going to one of these conversion therapy places after he's outed by a college roommate. In the movie, he's named Jared (Lucas Hedges) and he's a pretty god-fearing, normal young man. His father Marshall (Russell Crowe) is a preacher who runs a local car dealership under the same guiding principles that he leads his faith in, and a smart and empathetic mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman).

The movie does do a lot of time-jumping as it starts when he goes to the conversion center, being dropped off by his mother, and then it backs up somewhat non-linearly. For instance, we first see his failed attempts at being straight with his cheerleader girlfriend Chloe (Madylin Cline) but then we get back to meeting some of the overseers of Love In Action, the name of this particular Gay Conversion Therapy home.

You know, that's something weird too, come to think of it, the notion that homosexuals, in order to be, 'cured', have to be stuck in a home. You can't trust them to just set up a day and time and meet at a fixed point for therapy. In that respects actually, LIA was apparently better than some as Jared was often allowed to go visit his mother at a nearby hostel and stay with her at night instead of staying at the home, although they aren't allowed to talk about any of the therapy or methods to his mother....

We also see how Jared was outed to his parents, and strangely and graphically, it involves a sexual assault scene that takes place at Jarod's college dorm from his roommate Henry (Joe Alwyn). After the guy assaults Jarod, Henry inexplicably decides to out him to his parents, over the fear that he'll tell on him, when it's not even entirely clear to Jarod that he's gay yet, and certainly his first experience isn't exactly a great endorsement, despite finally admitting to his family that he might be homosexual. They don't dismiss his honestly, or what he suffered through, but they do think of it as some other people's problems, but they do turn in Henry, but they also end up sending him to the conversion center.

Jarod's parents are particularly interesting characters. You can tell that they're trying to do the right thing by their beliefs and god and for Jarrod, but they just quite know what that is, and they're only refuge for such situations, is unfortunately, the church. Now this movie, takes place, in the '90s, there's some subtle clues about that, but if you had told me the movie was about something that happened last year, I probably would've bought that too. That said, these are really strong performances. Hedges is one of those young male actors who seems to be stronger the less he speaks and more he observes. He is quiet 'til the weight of his burdens make him burst, but even then, he observes everything and everyone with an eagle eye, although an empathetic one. Russell Crowe in particular,- I think he's gotten a lot of undeserved abmonishment for his performances over the years; and I'm not certain why 'cause he's always been one of the best actors around, and here in this role, where he's gained weight and is hiding behind some intriguing makeup, it actually reminds me of just how far he will go for a role at times. The guy used to be a chameleon, like Christian Bale who would gain and lose weight based on his roles This might not be the most complicated role he's ever played, but he plays it the way a great old veteran star plays.

There's two major contrasting fellow inmates of his in particular, there's Jon (Xavier Dolan, in an inspired bit of casting) who's trying to stop touching anyone for fear that it will trigger erotic impure thoughts for him, and there's Cameron (Britton Sear) a football player who suffers the worst of the abuse from the therapy and from his family and his crescendo includes a sequence where he's literally beaten with bibles at a faux-funreral that's held for him. At one point, Jarod's admonished and threatened, not by Victor or any of the other overseers in the group, who are mostly trying to decipher his otherwise normal college writing assignments and their gay subtects that aren't there, (Okay, they're probably a little there) but by Jon who threatens him because he showed the littlest amoung of empathy in a group after Cameron was admonished during his part of group therapy sessions.

I guess it is bizarre how people react differently to this kind of brainwashing, and that's interesting in of itself, but especially knowing everything we know now, it's kinda hard to not everything about it as outright fraud and everybody who ever was sent there as a patient or even were coaxed into overseeing or teaching or preaching at the place as some kind of victim. The movie ends with a note that the real Victor, eventually left the Center himself and now lives happily with his husband. I'm not at all surprised by the way, but I guess I should feel a little more sympathy for him for that now.

I guess "Boy Erased" in that sense, doesn't surprise me or anything. Joel Edgerton has become one of the more fascinating people in the film industry today. I had some difficulty relating to him as an actor originally, at least until he made "Black Mass", in which I found his character and performance far more interesting that Johnny Depp's in the same movie. That said, I can't always get a read on him. He plays the average everyman a lot, and yet he does usually have this naturally chiseled and grizzled look; I always feel like he's a western actor who hasn't found a western to be in yet. So, maturally, like Crowe and Kidman, they're all from Australia originally, which is actually a bit weird when you think about this movie, which is essentially is supposed to take place in the U.S. South somewhere. I aim giving high praise to the acting, but this does feel a liitle like I'm watching a college production of a Tennessee Williams play in the University of Sydney or something.... Nevertheless, as a director though, his two features the horror/thiller "The Gift" and now this "Boy Erased" leave me a bit scratching my head some more. I genuinely don't know why he'll do next, where/how he'll show up or why he'll take that role, and I like that about him. He's always been a chameleon on screen, and if he can be one behind the camera too, I'm looking forward to being surprised by him again soon.


INSTANT FAMILY (2018) Director: Sean Anders

★★★★

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Hmmm. I could've swore I had more to say about this movie. Like,- I meant to write a review of this movie after I watched it, but spoilers, I don't always do that. Sometimes I wait a little bit, 'cause I got others things to write and whatnot, blah. blah, blah, but-um... I definitely remember thinking I had more to say about "Instant Family". 

For one thing, it was a very good movie. It's a film about a couple adopting a kid, and they end up adopting several, 'cause they were all siblings and they all needed a home. I guess, you can look at that a few different ways, and they make fun of some of the more, um, eye roll ways of people do. For instance, Pete and Ellie (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) the house flipping couple who suddenly decide to adopt first have to go through this process before they have to get approval from the agency; this is run well by Karen and Sharon (Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro, in a surprising really sharp pairing.) and you get the typical group of wanna be foster parents that you'd expect and each has their own story about why they want to adopt, and there's one single grl, played by one of my favorite stand-up comediennes Iliza Schleshinger, who, basically is trying adopt a kid, in order to, become the mother from "The Blind Side". Like,- this is one of those weird running gag jokes where I'm trying to figure out if this is too over-the-top and offensive, or shockingly sharp satire of something that, honestly might be somebody's inspiration to action. I mean, "The Blind Side" is a terrible movie, so I'm usually okay with people taking a shot at it, but this is a weird angle at it. 

The movie is essentially based on director Sean Anders's own experience with having adopted three kids on his own, so I have to believe, to some degree, that this might be the kinda thing that could come up in real life. And in that's the case, then, well, kudos to "The Blind Side". The one thing I got from this movie is that, I really don't want to go after people for adopting foster kids. Even if, some might be doing for selfish reasons, (And I'm sure a small percentage do it for some very heinous reasons) like, people who are willing to help raise someone who isn't their own child and young people who've suffered enough in life to begin with at that, honestly, I probably couldn't do that. Not just emotionally or personally, but I'm be blunt, financially I wouldn't be much interested in that. Of course, I'm poor at the moment, maybe if luck changes and I somehow sell a movie script, things might be different, but yeah, even if it's just rich white guilt and you want to adopt a kid hoping he'll become a major athlete to fulfill your, fairly disturbing and possibly racist self-empowering fantasy, then yeah, these kids needs somebody who's willing and able to care that much about them. 

Doesn't make it easy of course. The three kids are Lizzy (Isabela Moner), the oldest, she's a teenager in high school who's spent much of her life parenting her two youngest siblings, Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) who's perpetually worried about doing anything wrong or bad, in case their foster parents decide to give them back up, and Lita (Julian Gamiz) who's is still young enough to think playing "Restaurant" is an appealling idea. (Thank god she doesn't live in a time of those old McDonald's Drive-Thru toys; how did we let stuff like that get so popular?!) The movie becomes fairly episodic and expected from there; you can probably guess most of the main episodic, I won't call them plots, but situations, that you might see from there, pretty much all of them, expect for maybe the one involving Lizzy trying to get a boyfriend by sexting nude pictures to him, you can probably find somewhere in an old episode of-, I don't know, something that either was or should've been on a TGIF lineup at some point, but they're all pretty much done better, if not very well here. 

The movie was funny; I don't know much of Sean Anders's work to be honest. He's one of though big budget comedy directors in Hollywood; I guess he's most famous for "Daddy's Home", since that the one that he made a sequel to, but I haven't seen either of those films, or anything he's directed 'til now. Um, he wrote "Hot Tub Time Machine" and "We're the Millers", which I guess were both okay comedies, but I-, I guess he's kinda like the poor man's Paul Feig? 

Honestly, I don't know much about him ot be honest. I guess that's why I'm being a little tripped up by this review, because the movie is based on his own experience, but I don't know much about him other than that. Is there a bio, on IMDB, or anything? 

(IMDB Search) 

Brother of Andrea Anders.... Andrea Anders..., I know that name; where do I know that from? She has a small role in the movie, but no, I feel like I've seen that name stand out, like as a credit sequence before....

(IMDB search)

Oh, okay. Yeah, I recognize her now. She's one of those talented actresses who has a pretty strong TVQ ratings, so she keeps ending up in new TV pilots, but she never ends up in a really good one. Well, even when she does, like in "Mr. Sunshine" or "Better Off Ted", it's never one that ends up lasting. Right now, she's in something called "Mr. Mom", which is on Vudo, of all streaming services I didn't know had original programming... (and probably shouldn't.) But, none of those were the show that I remembered her from. 

She was the girl-next-door on "Joey". The one, he had the crush on.

I remember, 'cause half the time I watched the show, and yeah, I'm one of the few who did, I kept thinking she was Andrea Barber from "Full House". I guess that's an unfortunate way to talk about her, I always liked her on the show, most everything else I've seen her in, but yeah, in my mind, she's famous 'cause I keep confusing her for Kimmy Gibbler. More than that, I hate that's really all I know about her brother. Well, I'm guess I'm learning more now, and so far, I'm impressed.

He made a very emotional, funny good personal movie about raising a foster family of siblings, and what's that like to suddenly be doing it. Going from no kids, to several, and they're all different ages and have lived their own troubled lifetimes up until now. It affected me and I cared about these characters at the end, and that's really all a film like this needs. You can get away with something that in the wrong hands can be done really sitcom-y, in all the negative uses of that terms, but you do it with genuine emotion and caring, and you know what, I'm willing to jump into it and let it work for me. 


BLAZE (2018) Director: Ethan Hawke

★★★

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In pop music critic Todd Nathanson's recent review of Lil' Nas X's "Old Town Road", he notes that some people note that unusual trap-country song sounds more country than normal country, which he interprets as meaning that, "It sounds more like '70s outlaw country, which is the only kind of country music that it's okay to like." (Shrugs) I don't know whether or not that's a valid observation of the song, but yeah, I kinda agree with him about outlaw country music. Even the people who purportedly hate that genre will gladly know every word to the theme from "Smokey and the Bandit". And, one of the progenators of that genre is Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey) the subject of this music biopic. 

Blaze Foley wasn't particularly popular in his days, which were cut short, passing away at age, and bizarrely most of his music, the masters never seemed to get released for some reason, but he was always respected amongst his peers. At the time of his passing, he had recorded a live album, which marks the conceit of the movie as the film constantly returns to that performance, while diving into his past and the future, as Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton) is being intervivewed about Blaze. Also, we get some thoughts on his from his widow, Sybil (Alia Shawkat) and the movie portrays their romance and chaotic life as Blaze fall harder into drugs and alcohol while Sybil struggles to get acting work on Broadway. Foley was killed during a drunken incident after an argument over some cashed veterans pensions and welfare checks. The performances are great I should add, especially Ben Dickey who is also a musician and played most of the music himself; he gives a strikingly brutal portrayal of Blaze, warts and all. 

Dickey is basically the reason that I'm recommending the movie, 'cause I basically couldn't deal with more of thist. Let's talk about Ethan Hawke as a director. Now, actor-turned-directors struggles, are not unusual, there's plenty of examples of even the best of the bunch, perhaps giving too much leeway and focus on the performances, not as much on the editing or telling a concise story. Andy Garcia's "The Lost City" comes to midn for me as a really good movie that probably was an hour too long. Ethan Hawke however, as much as I love the guy as an actor and writer, I've just been frustrated with his directing attempts. This film makes sense in his directing ouevre though; Hawke is a Texan, who's worked quite a bit with other Texan filmmakers, and like he best previous directing achievement, "Chelsea Walls", he liked to tell stories about other artists.  

"Chelsea Walls" was a meandering plotness trip back in time, to the Chelsea Hotel in New York, which has always been known as a haven for the up-and-coming in the artistic world, most notably being the hotel where Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. His second feature, the forgettable, "The Hottest State", another mood piece, this one based on Hawke's own original novel, he tells the story about a Texan trying to make his way through New York, with his singer- songwriter girlfriend. I get that artists are fascinated by other artists, but yeah, Hawke seems to be so in an extreme. and since he's one of those directors who prefers tone and mood over narrative, his movies often feel like a chore even if objectibly, I get what he's going for and essentially he succeeds. I mean, he's not wrong, this is probably the best approach to telling and discussing Blaze Foley. and probably a good way to do biopics in general; usually it's hard to force a traditional narrative on a life. 

That said, these kind of movies, they have a limit with me, and Hawke is right at the line. There's a way to do these kind of mood pieces right, Lisa Cholodenko was always great at them for instance, but she also usually had a plot, but her appeal was that she would suck you into the location and the atmosphere of the world, I think that can be a lot harder when you're trying to do that into a person's entire life instead. I guess Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" did that to an extent, but Hawke's aiming for something closer to, like Gus Van Zant's "Last Days", and I'm just not crazy about that direction, even when it's objectively done well, and I'd say it is here, 'cause the movie has it's moments. 

I love the scenes where we seem to just follow people in the bar that Blaze is performing at and see their reactions to him and their reactions towards others, and we eventually start finding out the whole ecosystem of the dive bar itself slipping into the foreground while Blaze's music plays as more ironic undercurrent. You could've seen something like that in like "Nashville", or some twisted alternate universe version of it. There's a lot of good scenes, but it doesn't always add up to a movie is all. This is what most about these kind of movie, they make me torn. I get what Hawke does and I get that he succeeds, but I don't really want to overly praise these slow, meandering, boring mood pieces anymore. Like, I said, the performances push me over today, so I guess I'll be charitable and recommend this "Blaze" for that reason. 


LIYANA (2018) Directors: Aaron Kopp and Amanda Kopp

★★★1/2

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I don't know a particular lot about the nation of Swaziland. Well, other then the fact that it doesn't go by Swaziland anymore; it recently changed it's name to Eswatini. It's a small country mostly surrounded by South Africa, but it also lies on the Mozambique border. I know it's surprisingly diverse physically; mountains, farmland, they're surprisingly a major producer of sugar. I think at one point the country was a British protectorate. 

I also know that when people talk about Africa and how the HIV crisis still is there, a lot of the times they're probably talking about this Eswatini. It has the smallest average life span in the world with much of the country not surviving past 50 years old 'cause of it. So, there's a lot of orphans in the country. 

"Liyana" is an intriguing little documentary with a creative idea. The filmmakers, along with Gcina Mhlophe, who's not a name I'm familiar with, but she's quite a famous South African artist and activist who's made her mark in several different art mediums, they decide to go to one of the orphanages and work with the kids and, try to create a new kind of fairy tale story, based around the kids's own personal stories and lives. Something to represent them. Then, they actually animate the stories and bring them to life through the kids' created main character, "Liyana". the rest of the movie is this mosaic of seeing this fairy tale created by and told by these kids, which both mixes their imaginations and fantasies with their own real life experiences. She is a representative of them and the country, so that makes sense, and it would even if it didn't, because even fairy tales originate somewhere through someone's own experiences and ideas. 

The animation, is a bit of an exaggeration; it actually plays more like, reading an illustrated children's book, but that works fine. Through these kids, we learn about their stories, their hardships, their dreams, desires, and also about the country itself, and many of the various problems it's going through. There's not much else to it, but that's all it is. It's a powerful film about the power of storytelling not just in the stories that come from it, but in the need to tell them, not only for others, but for those storytellers. 

It's not an easy watch, sure, it's not gonna be for everybody, but I think the idea and execution and the storytelling is creative and intriguing. It's a solid film experiment and it's done for good purposes, and advances both the awareness of the struggles of the nation of Eswatini, and it finds a new approach to cinematic storytelling. 


MOM AND DAD (2018) Director: Brian Taylor

★★1/2

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I think I'm gonna finally confess that I just have don't have a good grand guignal meter. Sometimes I do, I guess; I get why "Re-Animator" is a cult classic, I liked "Tucker and Dale Versus Evil", but even that one took me a little bit before I decided to appreciate it. Other times though, like I get why some people would find these movies funny, but I usually just-, I just don't, and I just don't care. And I have the problem the other way too; I seem to be the only person among my group of friends who thinks the original "Halloween" was hilarious, but they keep telling me that a scared Jamie Lee Curtis trying to protect herself with a wire hanger is genuinely scary to them. 

Maybe I just don't find schlock horror comedy naturally funny to me. I mean, "Tucker and Dale...", I basically recommended not because of the comedy was funny to me, but the characters were funny to me; putting those two loveable dimwits in a situation where they haplessly don't realize everybody getting killed in some truly bloody-and-guts gore horrific ways, and yet, they kind reminded me of a more classical form of comedy. Watching that movie felt more akin to watching "Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein" then say, finding humor in "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre". Maybe that's what I want something that's an estrablished or traditional comedic situation, suddenly set in these forms of horror movies that I appreciate, maybe? I don't know.

Then, we get to the unique story of "Mom and Dad". the latest from writer/director Brian Taylor? A director who used to be known as "Taylor" for some reason. He directed the two "Crank" movies, "Gamer", he wrote "Jonah Hex", he also directed "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance". I haven't seen any of these but just on the fact that he was involved with "Ghost Rider" in any way, makes me worried. You'd think I'd have the same problem with Nicholas Cage, but he's the best actor in Hollywood, and yes, I stand by that statement, and even he couldn't make me stay awake for the first of those films. The premise is simple, for some reason, presumbably an unknown biological attack on America probably, has causes all the parents in the country to begin killing their kids. 

Okay, so, is this premise funny or not? 

Basically you're response to that question is probably what's gonna determine whether or not you would like the movie. If you're still unsure, how about if I tell you that the parents of the main characters in "Mom and Dad", are played by the aforementioned Nicholas Cage, and Selma Blair? 

What do I think? Well, I think, the premise can be funny. There's definitely some laughs I got from this film, like the sequence at the hospital where Kendall (Blair) is there for her sister's birth, and then she and the hospital all have to protect the children from their parents, for fear that they'll try to kill them in the maternity ward. That's a cute premise. I also like how the parents aren't too zombified child killers enough to actually try to figure out ways to get to their kids who've barracaded themselves in the basement, like killing them by inserting a gas hose into the basement and turning it on, and I like how the kids have to think and consider how to get out of these situations. And without giving anything away, I do like the twist in the third act, and all the various dimensions and angles of conflict that that entails. 

I also think the performances are strong enough here. Carly (Anne Winters) is the oldest of the kids and is the one who seems to most able to think through the situations and try to, at first protect herself, and her boyfriend Damon (Robert T. Cunningham), especially when the parents descend upon the high school, but also her brother Josh (Zachary Arthur) who takes a little too long to fully understand what's going on, especially with his father who he just looks up to. Carly does try to figure out how to turn the parents using their mind and sense of empathy and emotion, but I guess I buy into the premise that whatever-it-is has shut down that part of the mind and caused the more animalistic survival instincts to break through, and therefore, parents try to devour their young. (The Dr. Oz cameo though, I could've without. He's officially on the Abuse-Of-SAG card list along with Larry King, Dr. Phil and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at this point now. [Non-actors who constantly show up in film/TV series to the point of excess.]) 

And yet,- I still wrote down 2 1/2 STARS after I finished watching it. Does this entirely work? I mean, it's a competently-made movie, but sadly no. It's a bit of a cute premise, but it still just feels icky. Like, I guess I'm glad he ddn't turn this entirely into "Lord of the Flies" or "Children of the Corn" something of that sort, but I'm still not sure I can respect the premise. I don't know, maybe I just grew up with too many Susan Smith stories on the news and just don't find this that shocking, but do find it disturbing.  There was a Belgian movie a couple years ago called "Our Children" about a woman who ended up married with several kids and how she inevitably descended into such chaos and madness that she killed all her kids one by one. It's not a blood-and-guts horror, it's more of a ripped-from-the-headline character study of how somebody can go all Susan Smith out there. (BTW, If you don't know that reference immediately, consider yourself lucky and please, dear God, Ryan Murphy don't make a miniseries about that.) I get that this is more of a comedic approach, it's a movie where Nicholas Cage destroys a pool table while a sledgehammer while singing the "Hokey Pokey", I get that, and I love that about it. But as much as I love Cage, I don't really need to see all his films. 

Like, yes, he's the perfect actor for this; he's a perfect actor for a lot of roles though and while I appreciate him taking these parts and turning something that would've only been cute for a short 15 minute film at best and push it to where it's a surprisingly tolerable 90 minutes; I do wish he and Blair for that matter, were a little more selective in their projects. Especially an amazing talent like Cage. 

So, am I better off seeing this movie as opposed to say, some other horror/comedy bloody-gore schlock? I mean, to compared to something in the genre I've seen lately, I liked "Deathgasm", but that wasn't just a cult movie like this, but that film also circumvented a lot of their tropes by having characters that were already infatuation with occult imagery and the more grizzly death side of the supernatural. "Mom and Dad" is just another dark comedy about how the suburbs of America can turn deadly at a moment's notice; I've spent twenty years seeing that trope; I'm a little bored with it now, and I think this could've been a little sharper with maybe one more draft through the script. 

Ultimately I think the movie still had potential to be better, and that's why I'm gonna reluctantly pan this one, despite, sure, winking and nodding at certain filmgoing friends of mine that they should probably seek it out, but for me; I just didn't need to see it. 


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