Friday, August 21, 2020

Random Acts of Violence (2020)

Streaming Services: Shudder
Movie Name/Year: Random Acts of Violence (2020)
Genre: Horror
Length: 81 minutes
Rating: NR
Production/Distribution: Elevation Pictures, Manis Film, Kickstart Productions, Image Comics, JoBro Productions & Film Finance, Trinity Media Financing, Shudder
Director: Jay Baruchel
Writer: Jay Baruchel, Jesse Chabot, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti
Actors: Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel, Simon Northwood, Niamh Wilson, Isaiah Rockcliffe, Clark Backo, Victoria Snow, Eric Osborne, Nia Roam, Aviva Mongillo, Wade MacNeil, Amir Sám Nakhjavani

Blurb from IMDb: A pair of comic book writers begin to notice scary similarities between the character they created and horrific real-life events.

Selina’s Point of View:
When I was researching the Top 20 for this month, the trailer for Random Acts of Violence came up. I mentioned thinking that it would follow the well-known recipe we see all the time in cop dramas that feature a horror/mystery writer in a protagonist position. You know, the one where the fan of the writer brings the murders in the book to life.

Now, there was some of that in there, but there was a lot more to it than that. The trailer did a very good job of hiding the real plot from us.

Every time you think it’s going to stick to a recipe, it changes. At various points it’s about the fan-killer, a slasher, morality, even psychology. On top of that, there’s rarely any down-time. I was absorbed from about the 5-minute mark.

Even if I didn’t already know this was a passion project for Jay Baruchel (This is the End, Lovesick, The Kindness of Strangers), I’d have guessed. When a talented creator really works from the heart, it’s woven into every moment, and Baruchel is insanely talented.

I thought it would feel like something from Criminal Minds (2005-2020) or Castle (2009-2016), but by the end of it I felt the message reminded me more of Se7en (1995). I can’t really get into it without spoilers, so I’ll just say that I think people will understand once they’ve seen it.

Bottom-line, I really liked Random Acts of Violence. I think everyone involved pulled it off spectacularly. It wasn’t perfect, but I can absolutely see it becoming a cult favorite.

Cat’s Point of View:
The first word that comes to mind when I think back over my experience with Random Acts of Violence is: intense. I could easily follow that up with brutal and even trope-smashing.

I’ve seen a lot of slasher movies. This one took the genre in an unexpected and new direction. I’m probably going to need to watch something lighthearted and fluffy before I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

Jay Baruchel certainly didn’t hold anything back when he penned this macabre tale.

There were only a couple of things about the movie that bugged me. The flashbacks were a bit confusing at first but it didn’t take long to figure out why they were necessary. I did appreciate how they tied in the graphic novel aspect with the story. The other bit that didn’t make sense to me would, unfortunately, include a spoiler.

Plenty was great about the film, though. I loved that the production leaned on tried-and-true practical effects; which were, for the most part, well-executed. (I’m really not trying to pun here!) The cast, for the most part, were also pretty spot-on. I got a kick out of seeing Niamh Wilson (Hemlock Grove, Maps to the Stars, Giant Little Ones) as the assistant, considering she was in several of the Saw (2004) franchise movies.

I found the dynamic between Jesse Williams’ (Lee Daniels' The Butler, They Die by Dawn, Selah and the Spades) and Jordana Brewster’s (Annapolis, American Heist, Lethal Weapon) characters interesting and believable.

I feel that they were a little bonkers for setting upon the path that ultimately led to their demise – but then, in horror movies, the characters rarely make good decisions.

Random Acts of Violence was raw and bloody, laced with profanity, and lived up to its name. If you’re a fan of the slasher genre, I’d say it’s worth the Shudder subscription to check this movie out.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 66%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore – 33/100
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 4.9/10

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

Trust the Dice Parental Advisory Rating: R

Movie Trailer: 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning (2020)

Streaming Services: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning (2020)
Genre: Comedy
Length: 64 minutes
Rating: TV-MA
Production/Distribution: Netflix
Director: Kristian Mercado
Writer: Sam Jay
Actors: Sam Jay

Blurb from IMDb: Comedian and "Saturday Night Live" writer Sam Jay serves up fresh takes on relationships, travel nightmares, the audacity of white people and more.

Selina’s Point of View:
I’m of two minds with this comedy special.

Sam Jay (Saturday Night Live, Donald Glover Presents, The Comedy Lineup) is new to me. I’ve never heard of her before. That said, I’m always down to watch a comedian that I’m unfamiliar with. I love to hear different perspectives and I love to laugh. Hell, I started liking my husband because he’s a funny guy. Comedy is just always worth a shot.

One of the things that Sam Jay definitely had going for her was a perspective that isn’t normally examined in specials like this one. At least, not in any that I’ve ever seen. That means that a lot of her jokes felt fresh. Some of them touched on stuff that’s been joked about quite a bit, but from an angle I’ve never considered before. I’d have said the special was worth watching just because of that.

On a similar note, a lot of her stories were hilarious. There were a few times where she had me genuinely laughing out loud. Often, because she caught me off guard with a punchline. At least once I found myself declaring that I was definitely going to hell for laughing at a particular joke.

I’ve always liked dark humor based off social issues. Dark humor is my thing.

My biggest issue with Jay’s humor is that she often held onto a bit for a little to long. The joke would start to wear out its welcome.

Sure, most comics will repeat a line here or there for some extra laughs, or revisit a subject later on down the line in order to come at it from a different angle. That’s fine. I don’t have a problem with it. Sam Jay didn’t leave it at that, though. She would repeat certain stories, or jokes, without putting a new spin on them, so many times that – even if they were funny to begin with – they weren’t by the time she was done.

It became annoying. In fact, it wound up getting so annoying that when she revisited the topics later in her special, with a new context, it still wasn’t funny anymore.

There’s a balance that needs to be maintained when a comic uses repetition in their set. They need to use it just enough to get the extra laughs, without making the audience feel like she thinks the only way to make people understand it is to beat the subject into the ground. There were times when she did not have that balance.

Even with the faults, I think I’ll still seek out her future specials.

Cat’s Point of View:
I’ve come to a realization regarding Netflix comedy specials. They’re like that proverbial box of chocolates where you never know what you’re going to get. Of course, unlike me, you could watch the trailer.

I try to avoid stand-up trailers out of concern that they’ll show the best bits and take the surprise out of the moment.

While the trailer for this special does reveal one of the good bits, it stays with a condensed portion of that single premise rather than showing multiple items from the comedian’s set.

I found Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning amusing. Some of the segments were less so than others for me, but comedy is really a subjective thing. Something I find hilarious might actually rub someone else the wrong way. I found the material relatable for the most part. The bits including, and connected to, the one shown in the trailer were my favorites.

Overall, what it boils down to is that I just wasn’t laughing aloud. I chuckled here and there, but there were no side-splitting oxygen-deprived moments that you hope for with something that’s supposed to be funny. My lackluster reaction could also be attributed to tiredness.

All told, I’m not sure that I’d go out of my way to recommend this special to anyone. However, if asked about Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning, I wouldn’t steer anyone away. Those who don’t enjoy humor laced with sexual content and expletives might give this one a pass.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 5.9/10

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

Movie Trailer:

Monday, August 17, 2020

Project Power (2020)

Streaming Services: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: Project Power (2020)
Genre: Action, Crime, Sci-Fi
Length: 113 minutes
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: Supermarché, Netflix, Screen Arcade
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Writer: Mattson Tomlin
Actors: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro, Courtney B. Vance, Amy Landecker, Machine Gun Kelly, Tait Fletcher, Allen Maldonado, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Kyanna Simone Simpson, C.J. LeBlanc, CG Lewis, Joseph Poliquin, Jazzy De Lisser, Cory DeMeyers, Casey Neistat, Azhar Khan, Rose Bianco, Askia Bennett

Blurb from IMDb: When a pill that gives its users unpredictable superpowers for five minutes hits the streets of New Orleans, a teenage dealer and a local cop must team with an ex-soldier to take down the group responsible for its creation.

Selina’s Point of View:
This is a little strange, but I have to start my review by talking about the trailer.

The trailer laid out this incredibly unique plot and showed a bit of the cinematic quality paired to an adrenaline provoking song. It took bits from every part of the film without resorting to spoilers. That’s a difficult thing to do. I mean, there’s a scene from the very top of the climax in the trailer and, even in hindsight, it’s not a spoiler. Production companies need to take note. This is how you make a trailer. I got everything I signed up for and then some.

I had to start there, because really good trailers are hard to come across. Let’s move on to the movie, though, because there’s a lot worth talking about.

Project Power was every bit as good as I expected it to be.

I have to start with a look at the graphics and cinematography. This was, hands down, one of the most gorgeous films I have ever seen.

It captured the feel of New Orleans, as a setting, well. You had the grit of city life that felt familiar to me. Now, I don’t live in Louisiana – but I did live in Brooklyn for over 30 years. I know how to find that beauty in the graffiti, the grime, and the strange personalities. It felt a little like home – and then they threw in the powers.

Holy shit. The power graphics were insane. They took so many favorite hero-based powers and brought them into the real world. It was done so well that I believed it. Someone with a fire power would look like they had burn scars all over them – from those few moments after the power wore off but their clothes were still on fire. Someone with a bulletproof ability who gets shot in the head would pass out from the impact and awaken with burst blood vessels in their eye. The attention to detail was impressive. At the same time, the actual portrayal of the powers was beyond anything any superhero movie has ever given us.

Which brings me to my next point: Project Power is not a superhero movie.

I read some of the bad reviews that this film got and they all go into it as if it’s a superhero movie. It’s not. Yes, there are powers used in the story – but it’s not the people using the powers that the plot focuses on. At most, each ability is used more like a gun or a shield than a focus. The main point of the film is the connection between very real, very normal, individuals. One of the main characters never even pops a pill.

At most, I’d say it’s an action/crime film with some noir undertones. No one’s out there in spandex taking down an archvillain. It’s not even a motivation to protect the populace (for the most part). It’s closer to Taken (2008) than it is to anything from the MCU or DCU. You know what? That’s what I’m going with. It’s like Taken if the people in that movie had access to the power pills used in this one.

If you judge it like a superhero flick, it’s not going to measure up, because that’s not what it is.

I want to see a lot more of the world that was created here. We could absolutely get some kind of superhero flick from it, but it’s not necessary. What’s been done with Project Power is something new. If the creators wanted to make other movies from this world, they wouldn’t have to stick to a certain genre or sub-genre. They could make anything to further examine this premise and still come out with something incredible. I could absolutely see a horror or a comedy in this world.

Regardless of what they do in the future, though, Project Power was good. It was new and refreshing, while still offering just a touch of familiarity that really helps in our current uncertain world. It’s something I think we all really needed.

Judge for yourself. The next time you’re having an awful day, sit down and turn on this film. It’ll help you get out of your own head for a while.

Cat’s Point of View:
I’ve been really excited to watch Project Power since I first saw its trailer. My desire to watch this film actually fought a battle with a few others to sort the top spots in my personal Top 20 list for August 2020. I ended up rolling a die to determine how to order the films.

The trailer gave promising flashes of action, super-powered mayhem, cop procedural, and general awesome badassery. Here’s the good news – the movie lived up to the hype, as far as I was concerned.

Co-directors Henry Joost (Catfish, Nerve, Viral) and Ariel Schulman (3x3, Paranormal Activity 3, Nerve) are certainly no stranger to the supernatural. They’ve taken on the ghostly series that swept theaters and streaming rentals by storm with two of the Paranormal Activity (2007) flicks. They’re also no stranger to action. Their talents were well put to use here.

Of course, they had a magic trifecta within their cast comprised of Jamie Foxx (White House Down, Annie, Baby Driver), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50, The Night Before, Knives Out), and Dominique Fishback (Night Comes On, The Hate U Give, The Deuce). I had a little giggle when I realized Fishback’s character’s name is Robin. I’ll let you connect those dots.

The core premise of this film is just really interesting. I’m an admitted comic book geek. I know a little about a lot of titles, and a lot about a small range of them – but I love them all the same. This movie isn’t really based on any particular comic title; but with its plot, it could be. 

There’s something inherently appealing about popping a pill and getting super-powers even if it is only short-term. Society as a whole is always looking for that instant remedy or that quick fix. So many just want to throw a pill at things and find instant results. Here that concept goes to a whole new level.

I found it easy to just let myself sink into the story and get carried away. I was giddy after the first moment that I realized that this story was set in New Orleans, and I chanted right along with the occasional “who dat think they gonna beat dem Saints,” as it appeared in the background. I could see something like this playing out on the streets of The Big Easy.

I would absolutely recommend anyone that’s a fan of any genre within this blend to give this movie a whirl. I am going to be crossing my fingers that it gets enough response that they might consider expanding on the tale with a sequel. As it stands, the film is fine as a stand-alone. I just want more.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 63%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 56%
Metascore – 51/100
Metacritic User Score – 4.8/10
IMDB Score – 6.0/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating4/5

Movie Trailer: