Monthly Archives: January 2014

Film review: ‘Mitt’

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Photo courtesy of Netflix.

A few lofty assertions are made about the Netflix documentary “Mitt” in its promotional material:

1. “For six years, one filmmaker had exclusive access to Mitt Romney.” Well, it really doesn’t seem like it, because the majority of the footage is taken from directly before or after presidential debates or at other integral campaign events, showing very little of the promised “behind-the-scenes” moments of the Romneys in their natural habitat.

2. “Whatever side you’re on, see another side.” Well, not really. It’s not as if Romney As A Devoted Family Man is a shockingly new angle on the story — everyone has been exposed to Romney’s public image already, and “Mitt” doesn’t bother to delve any deeper than that.

But, what was I really expecting?

That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the documentary. I had similar feelings coming out of One Direction’s “This Is Us” documentary last summer: ‘Well, that was a clearly scripted promotional tool/moneymaking device.’ But, well, duh. And then I went to see it again.

Likewise, I enjoyed watching “Mitt,” but at 92 minutes, it barely scratches the surface, and I wanted so much more.

It begins in 2006, capturing a few choice moments from the lead-up to Romney’s loss to Senator John McCain during the 2008 primary. Leaving out nearly all of the political elements of the political campaign, “Mitt” instead focuses on the family life of the politician (and expects the viewer to keep track of about 112 Romney family members that filter in and out).

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Photo courtesy of Netflix.

My favorite Romney, Josh (identifiable only because he has a slightly stronger jaw than his brother Matt), has a good moment of attempted realism, providing both his “media answer” and “actual answer” to the question, “Is it worth it?” After the 2008 primary is said and done, the family, as a whole, agrees vehemently that running for office is not worth it and they will never do it again.

The documentary then skips ahead several years to file footage of Mitt appearing onstage at the 2012 Republican National Convention to accept his party’s nomination for President. This, I think, deserved much more of a segue.

The film also ends extremely abruptly without showing any return to normalcy or adjusting to life after losing a presidential election. Instead, Ann and Mitt walk inside their home, sit awkwardly on opposite ends of the room, then credits roll.

Mitt is an interesting person, just as villains usually have more interesting origin stories than their good-guy counterparts. Romney’s history is full of incidences of being good but never the best, culminating with his unsuccessful presidential campaign. He idolizes his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney (which is showcased, albeit subtly, in the documentary when Romney speaks passionately about his father’s accomplishments or hangs his father’s old campaign posters on his bus), and has always put great effort into doing things of which his father would be proud.

That’s what I want to watch a documentary about.

I found the rare, honest glimpses into Romney’s true character pretty interesting, and I would love to see a documentary focus more on that. I was pleasantly surprised by his self-deprecating sense of humor. During one of the many family pep talks featured in the film, one of the Romneys (probably Tagg) says, “A year ago, we told you that we’d love you no matter how this thing turned out, and—“ “And now you’re not so sure,” Mitt interjects with a wry smile.

Romney would make for a fantastic character study, but I’m not sure we’ll ever have the opportunity to truly lift the veil. Until then, “Mitt” only provides some partial insight.

‘Mitt’
Release Date: Jan. 24, 2014
Director: Greg Whiteley
Starring: Mitt Romney, Ann Romney and Taggart Romney
Genre: Documentary, Biography, Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B

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Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies

‘Contracted’
Release Date:
Nov. 23, 2013
Director: Eric England
Starring: Najarra Townsend, Caroline Williams and Katie Stegeman
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

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Photo courtesy of BoulderLight Pictures and Southern Fried Films.

There are a lot of things to love about “Contracted”: the excellent special effects makeup that succeeds in creating some gross-out body horror scenes, the overarching allegory, the unconventional take on the genre, the sociological commentary. Although it gets off to a slow start with pretty weak acting, it soon hits its stride and is fascinating until the end. The story starts out evoking an old urban legend that I have even heard happened to some girl who knows a friend of a friend — Samantha (Najarra Townsend) is a lesbian who is drugged and sexually assaulted by a man at a party, and she quickly begins displaying symptoms of a strange sexually-transmitted infection that doctors cannot identify. She tries to carry on without acknowledging what happened to her, but the effects become increasingly difficult to hide. The film steadily ups the ante as it delves more deeply into Samantha’s life and finally culminates with a shocking final scene.

‘Compliance’
Release Date:
Aug. 17, 2012
Director: Craig Zobel
Starring: Dreama Walker, Ann Dowd and Pat Healy
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Rating: Rated R for language and sexual content/nudity.
Grade: B

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Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Well, “Compliance” on its own isn’t really that great of a movie. However, it’s a good complement to go along with reading about the real-life cases on which the movie is based, which I would highly recommend doing. The movie follows Becky (Dreama Walker), a teenage cashier at a fast food restaurant, and her manager Sandra (Ann Dowd). When Sandra receives a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer, she barely hesitates to follow his orders to detain Becky, and the situation continues to escalate until Becky is stripped naked and sexually assaulted by Sandra’s fiancée Van (Bill Camp). What makes “Compliance” worth watching is the knowledge that this is a totally true story — and that it happened more than 70 times in many different states. The story brings to mind Yale University’s Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures, during which volunteers readily gave increasingly powerful electric shocks to innocent strangers at the command of an “authority figure.” So, like I said, “Compliance” is not altogether a fabulous movie filled with mind-blowing acting, but the story is so thought-provoking that it’s worth looking into.

‘In Their Sleep’
Release Date:
Jan. 27, 2010
Director: Caroline du Potet and Éric du Potet
Starring: Anne Parillaud, Arthur Dupont and Thierry Frémont
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C+

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Photo courtesy of Delante Films and Banque Populaire Images 9.

“In Their Sleep” is a French horror film that probably would have been better had the main narrative twist not been glaringly obvious from the beginning of the action. The film is constructed cleverly with dream sequences slipped into the storyline, a nonlinear timeline and substantial flashbacks at opportune moments. Anne Parillaud succeeds at portraying Sarah as a sympathetic and emotionally vulnerable heroine, and Arthur Dupont is excellent as the twisted Arthur. The film has all the makings of an interesting addition to the horror canon, but it plays out exactly as it is expected to without taking risks or maintaining the suspense.

‘The Shrine’
Release Date:
July 15, 2011
Director: Jon Knautz
Starring: Cindy Sampson, Aaron Ashmore and Meghan Heffern
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: F

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Photo courtesy of Brookstreet Pictures.

“The Shrine” is pretty terrible. I knew it was going to be pretty terrible when, one minute, we’re all in the United States, and the next, the film is suddenly taking place in Poland with absolutely no interlude between the two settings. It’s really pretty boring with run-of-the-mill, badly-acted American tourists wandering aimlessly through unfamiliar woods in an attempt to suss out a mystery. The only mildly interesting moment takes place more than halfway through the film, after the Americans have been captured by Satanic cultists and have escaped. And even these goofy special effects don’t make the movie or its letdown of a “twist” conclusion worthwhile.

Theater: Eric Rudnick, ‘Day Trader’

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The Bootleg Theater. SCREAMfmLondon

“Everyone knows a career in Hollywood is a gamble, and this play asks if people can ever come to grips with the fact that a large part of gambling is losing,” playwright Eric Rudnick is quoted as saying in the playbill for the Bootleg Theater’s current production of “Day Trader.”

The play is expertly staged, using sound bites of Mo Gaffney’s soothing narration from a how-to book on day trading to break up the scenes. The ongoing theme of day trading (the buying and selling of financial instruments before the market closes for the trading day) mirrors the plot of the play as unhappily married screenwriter Ron (Danton Stone) uses his family and friends as bargaining tools in an attempt to score a fortune from his wealthy wife and, thereby, make himself finally feel meaningful.

The Bootleg Theater makes excellent use of the space, projecting elements onto the minimal backdrops and revealing a jazzy drummer (Josh Imlay) to accompany the narration during scene changes. Although Ron’s wife Brenda never makes an onstage appearance, her presence is still felt through the shadows in the background and the snippets of Shakespeare she leaves for Ron to discover at opportune moments, foreshadowing the development of the plot (“A little more than kin, and less than kind”).

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SCREAMfmLondon

Particularly impressive is the performance of 14-year-old Brighid Fleming as Ron’s daughter Juliana. While the audience sees her deal with the dissolution of her parents’ marriage and crave a better relationship with her father, in true Hollywood fashion, we also see that she is smarter and more capable than anyone anticipates.

Ron has long been yearning for a way out of his marriage, but, as per his prenuptial agreement, he is unable to file for divorce without forfeiting the share of his wife’s fortune to which he would otherwise be entitled. When he meets a beautiful young waitress/aspiring actress named Bridget (Murielle Zuker) who wants to help him get his hands on the money (and is willing to accompany him on overnight trysts in Solvang), he thinks his luck is finally turning around.

The plot is exciting — particularly in the final act, wherein the characters show their true, twisted, morally corrupt selves. The resolution is delightfully cynical and entirely satisfying.

And, moreover, the Bootleg Theater is impressive. It’s an interesting space that hosts a number of art events, from dance and theater to live music and spoken word. The set designers and stage managers are clearly very talented. It will definitely be worth checking out what they come up with next.

‘Day Trader’ at the Bootleg Theater

2220 Beverly Blvd.
7 p.m. Thursday – Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 16
General Admission $25
Students & Seniors $20
For more information, call 213-389-3856 or visit www.bootlegtheater.org.

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2013

‘The Lords of Salem’
Release Date:
April 26, 2013
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Judy Geeson and Bruce Davison
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use.
Grade: C+

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Photo courtesy of Anchor Bay Films.

It pains me to say, but as much as I love and admire the talents of both Sheri Moon and Rob Zombie, I was not a big fan of “The Lords of Salem.” I do enjoy the corresponding Rob Zombie track, as well as the movie score that was penned by Rob Zombie guitarist John 5. The movie itself, however, misses the mark quite a bit. The story centers on Heidi (Moon Zombie), a recovering drug addict who works as a DJ at a rock ‘n roll radio station. When she plays a strange record that she receives from a band called The Lords of Salem, she begins having creepy Satanic visions that are traced back to a curse from the Salem witch trials. The premise sounds really cool, and there are some great artsy shots of priests masturbating with giant dildos and naked old witches and goats’ head masks and all kinds of weird shit. But the film doesn’t really come together as a whole, and these interesting sequences come across a little too obscure.

‘Curse of Chucky’
Release Date:
Aug. 2, 2013
Director: Don Mancini
Starring: Fiona Dourif, Brad Dourif and Danielle Bisutti
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for bloody horror violence and language.
Grade: C

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Photo courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

“Curse of Chucky” was less cheesy than most of the previous installments in the “Child’s Play” franchise, but I don’t know why anyone would want that. The series reached its peak of cheesiness with 1998’s “Bride of Chucky,” which is still definitely the best film of the bunch. As for the “Curse of Chucky,” there was too much spooky ambiance and too few Chucky one-liners. I am, however, so incredibly glad that this film was made rather than a reboot or remake of the original “Child’s Play,” as was initially intended. I also appreciate that the film stars Fiona Dourif, the real-life daughter of Brad Dourif (Charles Lee Ray/the voice of Chucky). I was also pleasantly surprised that the movie focused on a female hero in a wheelchair and two lesbian/bisexual characters. I just didn’t think there was enough Chucky silliness. But I do hope they continue making “Child’s Play” movies for a long time coming.

‘The Jeffrey Dahmer Files’
Release Date:
Feb. 15, 2013
Director: Chris James Thompson
Starring: Andrew Swant, Pamela Bass and Pat Kennedy
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C

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Photo courtesy of Good / Credit Productions.

A documentary rather than a horror movie, “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” is nonetheless horrible. However, this not a very well-filmed nor well-made movie. The dramatic reenactments are pretty goofy and unrealistic — particularly a scene that depicts Dahmer (Andrew Swant) carrying a set of mannequin legs out to the trunk of a taxi that was so silly I’m still unclear on its purpose. There are also a lot of inexplicable fade-to-black transitions that were rather bothersome. But, aside from the filmmaking, there are some interesting aspects to this documentary. The file footage is compelling, as is its unique focus. The documentary features interviews with only three people, providing a clear look into their lives and how they were impacted by the Dahmer case — an unusual perspective that almost made up for many of the filmmaking missteps.

‘You’re Next’
Release Date:
Aug. 23, 2013
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci and Wendy Glenn
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rating: R for some sexuality/nudity, language and strong bloody violence.
Grade: D

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Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

The plot twists in “You’re Next” are terribly predictable, which makes the whole thing pretty disappointing and left me wanting a lot more. The carnage is pretty standard (save a choice bit involving a blender and someone’s still-thinking brains — that was a little off the wall), and the suspense is pretty lacking as the villains simply aren’t strong enough to make much impact. However, Sharni Vinson (“Step Up 3D”) is badass as Erin and does a strong job carrying the movie on her own. Some of the dialogue and action is amusing, particularly regarding the ill-fated family dynamic. And the movie ends on a good note with an almost slapstick final scare.