Friday, May 15, 2020

Selah and the Spades (2020)

Streaming Service: Amazon Prime Video
Movie Name/Year: Selah and the Spades (2020)
Genre: Drama
Length: 97 minutes
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: Argent Pictures, Novel Pictures, MVMT, Cinereach, Secret Engine, Amazon Studios, Amazon Prime Video
Director: Tayarisha Poe
Writer: Tayarisha Poe
Actors: Lovie Simone, Jharrel Jerome, Celeste O’Connor, Ana Mulvoy Ten, Jesse Williams, Nekhebet Kum Juch, Evan Roe, Francesca Noel, Henry Hunter Hall, Gina Torres, Krish Bhuva, Greyson Cage, Benjamin Breault, Cody Sloan, Ali Fisher, Rae Bell, Melissa McMeekin, Kenneth Isreal, Debbie Aboaba, Jessie Cannizzaro, Luis G. Nuñez

Blurb from IMDb: Five factions run the underground life of Haldwell School, a prestigious east coast boarding school. At the head of the most powerful faction - The Spades - sits Selah Summers, walking the fine line between being feared and loved.

Selina’s Point of View:
I am supremely disappointed.

I had incredibly high hopes for Selah and the Spades. The trailers that I saw when I got my Top 20 together were promising, to say the least. They were beautiful, from a cinematic perspective, and they showed depth in the movie’s main character and setting. It looked amazing.

A lot of the time when a film doesn’t live up to my expectations, I can blame my expectations. I don’t think that’s the case here.

The first issue I had was with the acting – though I’ll admit that I don’t know if it was the acting itself or the direction of the actors. Usually, it’s easy to tell the difference, but not here.

The actors were not inherently bad. It’s more that there was a quality to the acting that felt overly choreographed. Now, because the main character had an obsession with being perfect – that may have been a direction choice. If it was, I understand why Tayarisha Poe (Two Sentence Horror Stories, Honey and Trombones, Guisado on Sunset) would go that way, I just don’t think it worked. It kept pulling me out of the movie.

Since the manner of acting pulled me out of it, I couldn’t connect. That means I was bored throughout most of it. It was an hour and a half film and I felt every single minute of its runtime so much that it felt longer.

Then, in the ending, there’s no pay off. There’s no reward for sitting through the whole thing. The characters experience no real arc. Not only that, but the climax is muted and the denouement is so rushed and overlooked that it feels like there was no ending at all. The story just cuts out before there’s any satisfaction for the viewer.

By the time I closed out of the window, I felt like I had wasted my time. The story and the plot had so much potential and the film itself was aesthetically gorgeous. I wanted to come away from it in awe. I would have settled for just a basic level of enjoyment. Instead, I’m left shaking my head.

I want to see more from Poe. I want to see her grow and watch future films that might showcase the actual potential she has.

Cat’s Point of View:
Selah and the Spades was my #14 pick for April 2020’s list of new movies releasing directly to the internet. I can’t guarantee that it would have made my Top 20 list if the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t brought mainstream studio releases to a near standstill.

There was something compelling about the trailer I watched in my decision-making process. Herein lies the crux of several of my problems with the movie.

Trailers are so important – they are what gets the message of a movie crammed into a nutshell and to the masses of its target audience. It’s what keeps us from judging solely by the poster. Many of us don’t like to think that we judge a book by its cover – even though we do, often. I’m not telling you something you don’t already know, though. I just have to stress that the trailer you watch before you view this film will likely color your experience of it.

There are at least 3 trailers for this movie. While, ultimately, the monologue featured in the trailer I watched does encompass the theme of the movie’s plot, it doesn’t give a well-rounded view of the film. Viewers would be better served by either of the others.

I was expecting something along the lines of a feminist movement among the student population against some sort of patriarchal misogyny. Nope. That’s not what was going on here.

Unfortunately, the film meanders around so slowly that it doesn’t really give itself a chance. The usual drama and manipulations and jockeying for the position of in-charge of the most popular group that can be found in most teen and young-adult school-based productions are present here. Nothing new or exciting really jumped out at me. The score almost led me to believe I could expect some sort of jump-scare around the corner due to tonal tension building. Alas, this wasn’t a teen horror movie in disguise – at least, not in the traditional sense.

To be fair, there were some really amazing visuals. Unfortunately, I can’t point them out for the sake of spoilers, but the one of the trailers gives some of it away – so be warned. Another bright note was that the issues I have with this film don’t fall to the acting. I think everyone did a great job with what they had to work with.

Some layers of the plot give a bit more depth to what’s going on and the overall theme of control, but blink and you might miss it. 

I think one of the parts I had the most issue with would be the ending. The movie closes at such an unfinished moment that it left me rather aggravated.

I did note that there is a series in pre-production with the same name as the movie. I can only hope that it shores up the faults of this first project and gives a resolution to the conclusion of this film. I’ll do my best to reserve further judgment until that series is released, but I doubt that I could recommend this movie in good faith until then.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 89%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 63%
Metascore – 69/100
Metacritic User Score – 2.8/10
IMDB Score – 4.5/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating2/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating2/5

Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Assassination Nation (2018)

Streaming Service: Hulu
Movie Name/Year: Assassination Nation (2018)
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime
Length: 108 minutes
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: BRON Studios, Foxtail Entertainment, Phantom Four Films, Creative Wealth Media Finance, Neon, Apollo Films, Cine Canibal, Elevation Pictures, Refinery29, Universal Pictures International (UPI), Universum Film (UFA)
Director: Sam Levinson
Writer: Sam Levinson
Actors: Odessa Young, Abra, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Colman Domingo, Danny Ramirez, Joel McHale, Maude Apatow, Cody Christian, Bill Skarsgård, Cullen Moss, Bella Thorne, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Anika Noni Rose, Jeff Pope, Noah Galvin, Stacie Davis, Lukas Gage, Susan Misner, Kathryn Erbe, Joe Chrest, J.D. Evermore, Caden Swain, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Lucy Faust, Destiny Reed

Blurb from IMDb: After a malicious data hack exposes the secrets of the perpetually American town of Salem, chaos descents and four girls must fight to survive, while coping with the hack themselves.

Selina’s Point of View:
I have some very strong views on this film, but it’s going to be hard to get them all out without going into spoiler territory.

The first 20 minutes of Assassination Nation felt unbearable to me. There wasn’t a single likeable character. Every vapid teen it followed made me feel more disgusted than the last. If anything, the only character I could get behind at all was the principal. It felt like I had been sold a plot that was not even on the horizon. I had to pause the movie twice because it was just that hard to watch.

When things changed, it went hard.

Only about two minutes after my last pause, the film took a serious 180 and I never looked away again.

The characters never became likeable. They weren’t meant to be. That’s not what the film is about. In fact, if you relate to any of these characters. Please. Get therapy. That said, the message is loud and fucking clear.

There’s nothing subtle here. You’ll be left thinking at the end, but not about what Sam Levinson (Euphoria, Another Happy Day, The Wizard of Lies), the writer/director, wanted to portray to you. You’ll be left thinking about the fucked-up nature of our world. Assassination Nation goes into internet privacy, cancel culture, mob mentality, politics, feminism, fascism, homophobia, transphobia – it even slips in some perspective on anarchy.

I was completely engulfed in the plot, and the message. It didn’t matter that every single character was unlikable, because there was a side that was clearly in the right regardless of their flaws. In the end, I think that was the most important point.

Levinson wanted to show the audience that there was a wrong and a right, regardless of our personal feelings for someone. He wanted us to side with people that we didn’t like. And it worked.

This was clearly a modern-day telling of the Salem Witch Trials. It is a film that really shows how little humanity, as a whole, has changed. Witches may not be on the menu anymore, but we’re still hunting.

So, yeah, there are parts of this movie that are difficult to watch – but I think those parts are necessary. I needed to dislike the main characters in order to get the full weight of what Assassination Nation was about.

What matters is that I was entertained, I learned something, and I didn’t waste my time. I’d say this movie is worth it.

It has a hard R-rating though. Seriously. 18 or over.

Cat’s Point of View:
When I listed Assassination Nation as my #18 on my Top 20 Movies for September 2018, I shared that the movie looked like it would be a bit bonkers. Now that I’ve watched it, I’d have to say that’s not too far off the mark. It’s definitely a barrage to the senses.

Those squeamish, easily triggered, or easily offended may not enjoy this movie very much. You know you’re in for a rough ride when the actual film gives you its own trigger warnings. I’m not kidding.

Let’s break it down a little bit comparing my guesses based on the trailer to the movie, itself.

Mass hysteria madness in a social media age? Check. Was this a satire pointing out the illusion of privacy when it comes to the internet and social media and internet vigilantes? I’m not so sure about that one. There weren’t enough laughs for this to fit in that general category. There was certainly some dark comedy involved, but it struck me as a drama and thriller with a sprinkling of horror instead. It’s not exactly The Purge (2013), but my wager is that this was heavily influenced by it.

Regardless of the questionable moral compass of some of the teens involved in the story, there’s even a case for feminism woven through the whole plot, as well as LGBTQ+ awareness.

There is seriously a lot packed into this nearly 2-hour movie. Even so, I barely noticed the passage of time.

I’m fairly convinced that the story’s setting of a town named Salem points to a modern retelling of the craziness that happened during the Salem Witch Trials of the late 1600s. There were more than 4 girls at the heart of that insanity, but the general idea is well represented here.

I felt the end was fitting.

All told, this was a rather bold film by writer/director Sam Levinson. I wouldn’t mind giving this one a recommendation for any unphased by the afore-mentioned caution about triggers.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 73%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 54%
Metascore – 56/100
Metacritic User Score – 6.3/10
IMDB Score – 5.9/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating4/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating3.5/5

Movie Trailer:

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Willoughbys (2020)

Streaming Service: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: The Willoughbys (2020)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Length 90 minutes
Rating: PG
Production/Distribution: Netflix, BRON Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance, Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, The Province of Ontario
Directors: Kris Pearn, Rob Lodermeier, Cory Evans
Writers: Kris Pearn, Mark Stanleigh, Kris Pearn, Lois Lowry
Actors: Jane Krakowski, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph, Terry Crews, Will Forte Ricky Gervais,  Alessia Cara, Bonnie Riley, Brian Drummond, Islie Hirvonen, Kris Pearn, Rebecca Husain, Robyn Ross, Seán Cullen, Shannon Chan-Kent

Blurb from IMDb: Convinced they'd be better off raising themselves, the Willoughby children hatch a sneaky plan to send their selfish parents on vacation. The siblings then embark on their own high-flying adventure to find the true meaning of family.

Cat’s Point of View:
The Willoughbys was definitely a change of pace from the movies I’ve been watching lately – both for the blog and otherwise. I found it rather refreshing.

I enjoyed turning my attention to a family flick for a while. There were appropriately maudlin moments and plenty of laughs. I think what I enjoyed most was that the movie kept me guessing. This definitely didn’t follow your general cookie-cutter cartoon family recipe. This was something outside of the box and well worth the emotional roller-coaster ride.

It’s not really a spoiler, the movie warns you up front that the story is a bit on the grim side. Oh, how I love dark comedy. If you’re a fan of the works of author Edward Gorey (1925–2000) or Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) this movie will be right up your alley.

It was easy to connect with the Willoughby kids – aside from the red hair, I found quite a bit to identify with. Of course, I didn’t spend childhood time-outs in questionable circumstances, but that’s beside the point. Don’t get me wrong, my parents did the best they could and I have no doubts of their love – my childhood was, simply put, a bit on the dysfunctional side to someone on the outside looking in. I did a good bit of raising myself when I was little. Lest I digress, those are stories for another day.

Given those circumstances, and the fact that I was born an only child – I have learned the importance of ‘found family’ over the years and that is another way I find myself connecting with this story.

It’s a weirdly wonderful tale about family and friendship, and it’s more realistic than most animated tales out there. Realistic might be a strong word, given the fantastical things that abound within the tale, but I’m talking big-picture.

With the phenomenal cast on board, it’s not surprising how well the story was told.

I don’t really recall seeing much about this movie before we were looking to put together the Top 20 for its month of release on Netflix. Based on the trailer, however, I had this squarely as my #2; but then it had some stiff competition with a mainstream title, or it might have landed higher.

I think we could all use some quirky and weirdly wonderful fun in our lives about now, and I’d recommend this animated yarn in a heartbeat. 

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 89%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 67%
Metascore – 67/100
Metacritic User Score – 6.8/10
IMDB Score – 6.4/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4.5/5

P.S.: There are small scenes during the beginning of the credits and also a small scene after the credits.

Movie Trailer: