The World Made Straight (2015) Noah Wyle & Southern Drama Hold the Cheese

Film poster for The World Made Straight
The 2015 film The World Made Straight, is a dose of southern drama, holding off the cheese, and delivering a tale which encompasses the Civil War, the drug culture and how weed seems to have replaced White Lightning as the redneck’s produce of choice. Noah Wyle plays the “Professor,” aka Leonard; a disgraced school teacher who was framed for selling pot. After losing his wife and child, along with his job, he decides to deal drugs and drop out of society.

He takes in a lad who leaves home after an argument with his overbearing father. Travis (played by Brit actor Jeremy Irvine, who made his name in War Horse) steals some marijuana plants from the local drug lord and sells them to Leonard on the advice of his friend Shank (Haley Joel Osment).

Leonard lives with his drug addict girlfriend Dena (Minka Kelly) who is not best pleased with the news that Travis will be living in the trailer as well. The “Professor” has a fascination with the past, as his ancestors and Travis’ were part of the Shelton Laurel massacre. A real event where 13 suspected union sympathizers were executed, the youngest being 13 years-old, although in the film they repeatedly refer to his age as 12.

The movie is adapted from the Ron Rash 2006 novel of the same name. This drama is a slow moving tale which features a few flashback sequences of the Civil War massacre and Leonard’s more recent past. The feeling is one of doomed existence as well as an acceptance of fate. As directed by David Burris, his first feature film in the chair, The World Made Straight moves at a snail’s pace.

Amazingly this does not detract from the power of the actor’s performances and actually helps the viewer get into the story. With its reflection on needless violence and the need for escape, the film holds our attention throughout.

Wyle is excellent as the over-educated drug pusher who cannot stop reading his ancestor’s Civil War diary and is desperate to save Travis from a dead end existence in the area. Irvine as Travis Shelton is all angst and ire, unhappy with his lot in life yet resenting the interference from his girlfriend (played by Australian actress Adelaide Clemens) and Leonard.

What is missing from this film is that “cheese” factor where the action all feels like a soap opera in progress and each character a stereotype. The one problem with the movie is that it feels more like a TV movie of the week rather than a “proper” film. Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, the film is a bit on the long side, but still enjoyable.

3.5 out of 5 Stars.

Bad Asses on the Bayou: Third Time up for Viral Video Based Film

screenshot from Bad Asses on the Bayou
It is hard to be too critical about Bad Asses on the Bayou, aka Bad Ass 3. This is the third time up for the film series based on a viral video posted on YouTube back in 2010. Featuring a “Vietnam vet” in his late 60s who beats up a younger chap on the public transit bus, the footage turned Tommy Bruso into an Internet sensation. Unfortunately he was also on the Google-owned site a year before for getting tased by the police when a drunken Bruso got belligerent about being in the wrong seat at a baseball game.

In essence, the real life, “Bad Ass” was a bit of a nut, one “friend” stated that the man who served in the US military for 3 months during the Vietnam war, suffered from Bipolar and that he was bit off the rails, so to speak. Writer, director Craig Moss (Breaking Wind, Saving Ryan’s Privates)came up with a highly fictionalized version of Bruso where the “vet” turns vigilante when his one and only friend is murdered and the police do not seem to care (Bad Ass). This straight to DVD, and Netflix apparently, film proved popular enough that a second visit was set up where the screen version of Bruso, Frank Vega (played by cult favorite Danny Trejo) teams up with a pal, Bernie Pope (played by Danny Glover) for Bad Ass 2: Bad Asses.

Each of these films boasts an estimated budget of around $5 million and in the third installment, John Amos plays the part of Earl, father of Carmen (Loni Love) who is worth a fortune after his plantation is found to have oil under it. Carmen is kidnapped at her engagement party and the two men; Pope and Vega, decide to get their friend back.

These films are pretty low brow and despite the entertainment value of seeing Trejo, Glover and John Amos (a personal favorite) on screen, this one trick pony should be brushed down and put back in the stable. In all likelihood, the first film, which came out two years after the viral YouTube video with Tommy Bruso punching out a fellow passenger on the bus, came at a time when the public’s awareness of the bearded 67 year-old “hero” was already diminishing.

By now, a good five years later, type Bruso’s name in the search bar and not a lot comes up. A little like the plot of this film and the script it adheres to. It is a bit depressing to see Danny Glover reduced to playing these types of roles. Although he has aged well and still looks good onscreen.

Sadly, this type of film misuses his talents. Trejo has been in enough cheesy films to overlook his participation in this low budget followup to a film based on a mentally ill man who shot to fame via YouTube back in 2010. The stuntman turned actor has made a career out of playing oddball parts and when his Frank Vega says, full of outrage, “you shot my fanny pack,” we chuckle and nod our heads accepting this cockeyed attempt at humor by the screenwriter who is relying on Danny’s delivery to make this amusing.

This film ends with the promise of yet another sequel, this one possibly starring Glover, Trejo and Amos. While all three actors may welcome the income this would generate, the idea of one more abysmal repeat of marginal humor and three old age pensioners doing their version of Dirty Harry fills me with dread.

Bad Asses on the Bayou, aka Bad Ass 3, is a 2.5 out of 5 stars. This third in the series is as tired looking as its two stars. Perhaps the specter of Tommy Bruso can be put to rest now.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead Sequel Gold

Film poster for Dead Snow 2.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead is the long awaited sequel to the 2009 Norwegian comedy horror film written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (Stig Frode co-wrote both films and this gold plated sequel also had Vegar Hoel working on the script.) This film follows the adventures of Martin (played again by Vegar Hoel) who was the unlikely survivor from the Dead Snow.

The first movie was about a group of friends who travel to the mountains for a skiing holiday and while they are staying in their cabin find Nazi gold hidden in a box under the floor. The second that any of the treasure leaves the box, a horde of zombie Nazis come out of the snow and begin killing off the holiday makers one-by-one.

For those who have not seen the first film, this is all covered in a short recap narrated by Martin himself. This time, the survivor is wanted by the police after they found all his dead friends up in the mountains. His fiancee, Hanna; who he accidentally killed with an ax, still has the weapon lodged in her throat, “with your fingerprints all over it,” the police detective smugly informs Martin.

On top of his immediate problems of being charged with multiple murders, he has had Herzog’s arm attached to his body, Herzog was the Nazi commander who led the undead soldiers. While recuperating in the hospital, handcuffed to his bed, Martin meets a young boy who is in contact with the US Zombie Squad. He talks the lad into releasing him only to kill the youngster with his zombie arm.

After trying, in a spectacular failure which results in obliterating any chance the boy had of recovering, to revive his new friend, Martin then talks to the zombie squad and they promise to arrive in Norway and save the day. The rest of the film deals with this disparate group trying to kill off the Nazi zombies as well as resurrecting a group of Russian zombies that Herzog had killed during the war to help them win this zombie battle.

At 100 minutes the sequel is that little bit longer than the first one. Overall, however, this does not matter in the least as the gags, and the gore, keep coming with machine gun rapidity that leaves the viewer gasping. The film’s humor runs from parody to full-on slapstick. Perhaps the only complaint was the decision to make the dialogue English versus Norwegian with subtitles.

It is surprising to hear Martin speaking English and while there are a few moment of confusion once the US Zombie Squad are introduced it all becomes clear why they dropped their native language and the subtitles. In all honesty, the film still works brilliantly and is funny regardless of the dialogue change.

Comparing the two films, it is obvious that the budget for number two is much bigger than the first one. The scope of the movie is much larger, no longer restricted to the snowy mountain setting from number one, this sequel roams across the Norwegian landscape through a village or two and back into those mountains.

In Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead, there are zombie fighting nerds, or geeks, a tank, the ability to touch dead people and turn them into zombies, or “recruiting” as Martin puts it at one point, and some local police who are very funny indeed.

Without resorting to any spoilers, there also seems to be a good chance for a Dead Snow 3 to become a reality. For those who loved the first two, this could be good news if they do not mess things up.

This is a real 5 out of 5 star film despite the odd things that make no sense, such as a museum tank having life rounds in it. Available on iTunes to stream and available on DVD.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

A Trophy For Little Old Me

Wordpress trophyI do love how WordPress sets these somewhat eclectic targets (for lack of a better word) which when reached by the blogger gives them an automatic trophy. The first thought that goes through my mind is ‘Wow, a trophy? For little old me?’ *By the by, a single quotation mark by some authors is meant to convey thought versus speech anyone disagree with this method? Just curious, answers on a postcard please or conversely you can tell me via the comment section below.* Anyway, as shown by the image above, I now have reached 1,337, with a “real” total of 1,339 followers on my blog.

Cue fireworks, confetti and cheering, even if it is only my hoarse voice you can hear, in wild celebration. I do celebrate these milestone events, albeit rather quietly, since these follower counts mean that slowly but surely, I am building up a core group that like my meandering messages.

Here is where I insist that you give yourself a pat on the back for having such great taste! Seriously, it does mean a lot that either some of you have come back or others have enjoyed my ramblings enough to pay me the ultimate compliment. Thanks to both types of folks and to those who fall into neither camp.

For those still “on the fence” about my writing, that is fine too. I’ve not published anything yet, but I will. In this day and age of self publishing if I cannot get picked up by a publisher when I’ve finished, I’ll do it on my own. I know this is now the norm and quite successful for some folks, like the Winner Twins who I have met, interviewed and still interact with now and then. *On a side note, two nicer young ladies you will never meet and their work is entertaining and good.*

For those who have been here for awhile, thanks for being patient. I’ve veered off the path, most notably working for the content mill and sweatshop GLV where I had no time to devote to my baby. (But I did manage to attend some geeky type cons and meet some dynamite actors and in that aspect had the time of my life.) Now I am back and casting my hook around to see what other writing opportunities are out there.

Thanks to you all; I know that regardless of where my laptop and I end up there are folks who like my writing and will stop by to read and comment. Even though I do not get out and about as much as I used to, and those of you with your own blogs will know what I mean, but as soon as the Internet issue is sorted and I learn to be more organized, I will be more visible at other blog sites. I promise.

Till then, I remain humbly overawed that there are that many people out there who like my work. I think you all are the best. Thanks and I raise my metaphorical glass to you. Cheers and all the best.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

America: The Land of the Big

Two overweight people on a benchSince I have been coming to Burger King to make use of their free Wi-Fi it has become apparent that America is the land of the big. Big Gulps being swallowed by big girthed people. The same huge folks who always go extra large for the small extra charge. These gargantuan folk are all ages and all seem to share the same appetites.

Watching these rotund and elephantine people from behind, they look like carbon copies of each other. The arm swinging waddle with bulging areas of fat beneath each armpit, the roll of fat round the waist and lumped on each hip. It is exhausting to see these huge examples of humanity move. The amount of effort required to move that much mass is amazing and tires me out just watching them move awkwardly toward their SUVs.

When I was a lad, being hefty was considered healthy. Skinny boys and girls were looked down upon. Those were the days when parents urged children to “eat that fat it’s good for you.” Put some meat on those bones boy. A time when those who did not have “love handles” would drink banana shakes with an egg or two in it to gain weight.

Times changed and people learned that eating fat was not good for you. Carrying around all that excess poundage was bad for your heart and meant that more than likely, those who had those “love handles” would meet their maker that little bit sooner.

Living in England for 32 years, I used to hear about “fat America” from mates and colleagues. While there, I observed quite a number of folks with weight problems and felt they were exaggerating. Surely the US was no worse than the UK. Since moving back though I noticed that the average size of the average American is “big.”

You can see them with those Big Gulp drinks, or their equivalent, eating the double whopper with extra cheese and the super-large fries, followed up with a large desert. Afterward, their hearts pound while moving all that fat through their veins and arteries. Heart attacks and strokes waiting to happen and when they fall, the floor will tremble.

It is depressing to witness so many trying so hard to kill themselves slowly with big appetites, big servings and little exercise apart from struggling to hit the next fast food outlet. Seeing fat parents, fat children and fat babies, is enough to put one off eating.

America land of the big you are burying yourself under the weight of food and drink. Learn moderation and exercise, before the entire country becomes a welter of bulging XXXL people who lose the use of their legs when these appendages refuse to carry the excess poundage.

For your own sake stop.

6 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Sex Ed (2014): Haley Joel Osment Indie Comedy

promotional still from Sex Ed
Haley Joel Osment has followed up his previous 2014 Independent film outing, Kevin Smith’s superb Tusk, with another Indie movie, this one a comedy titled Sex Ed. Written by Bill Kennedy and directed by Isaac Feder (helming his first feature-length film) the movie is an almost wry look at a virginal teacher’s attempt to teach middle school kids about sex.

Osment may have gotten the world’s cinematic attention after playing the kid, (“I see dead people.”) in M. Night Shyamalan’s brilliant 1999 film The Sixth Sense but to a huge portion of the population he is the English voice of Sora from the epic video game Kingdom Hearts. Anyone watching Haley in Tusk will have noticed that even with very little to do, in that film, those acting chops are alive and well.

Sex Ed proves that the adroit performer can do comedy as easily as other types of roles. It is always a shock to see a grown up Osment, he is now 27 years-old and until Tusk, the last film I saw the actor in was Second Hand Lions. As the young semi-abandoned lad, “I’ve been to the orphan home before, I don’t want to go back,” Walter, he projected the perfect mix of loss, hopefulness and pathos, how he did not get an award for that film is a mystery.

In the start of this film, he plays Ed Cole, unemployed teacher, virgin and all around nerd. His character is uncomfortable around women and is convinced he is not cool enough. Ed is working in a bagel shop and getting rejection letters from every educational institute he applies to. After a motivational chat with his housemate JT (Glen Powell) he goes and demands that he be hired for a teaching job

On his first day, a young teen girl in his class comes back from the restroom crying and between sobs tells Cole that she has cancer and is dying. She has started her menstrual period and does not know that this is normal. The teacher immediately decides to teach the kids during their detention period about sex education.

He also falls in love with a student’s older sister and incurs the wrath of the local minister. During his daily adventures with the kids in his class, Cole desperately wants a girlfriend and to have sex, although not necessarily in that order. Sex Ed may not be blazingly original but the film is entertaining, funny in the right spots and although not “laugh out loud” funny, the film is pretty chuckle worthy.

Love interest Lorenza Izzo (Aftershock, Knock Knock) does a great job at being awkwardly interested in the nerdy Cole. Abby Elliot and Powell make a great couple and play really well off one another.

Kudos to Retta (Parks and Recreation, Fracture) as Sydney, Ed’s landlady and “life coach” as well as the owner of the bar below his apartment. This lady plays her part with a genuine feeling of warmth and caring that is funny and amidst the humor, sincere.

Streaming on US Netflix, Sex Ed is a 3 star film. Enjoyable enough but not so original that your breath will be taken away.

6 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Out of the Dark (2014) Slow Moody Morality Tale

Film Poster for Out of the Dark
Out of the Dark is the partial brainchild of writers/directors Dave and Alex Pastor. If the names sound familiar then in all likelihood you have seen their 2009 apocalyptic feature Carriers with Chris Pine and Emily VanCamp. Another slow paced film that could be seen as a sort of morality tale, which Out of the Dark definitely is, albeit a slow and moody one.

Set in Colombia, Julia Styles (The Omen, Silver Linings Playbook) and Scott Speedman (Underworld, The Strangers) play a husband and wife who travel to South America so she can run her father’s (Stephen Rea) paper company. The young couple and their daughter (Pixie Davies) barely have time to unpack before ghostly events begin to make themselves known.

There are two plot threads running concurrently in this film. An ancient incident that resulted in the fiery deaths of the Colombian village’s children. Conquistadors kidnapped the youngsters and held them for a ransom of silver. After it was paid, they then burnt down the castle where the children were held. Each year a festival commemorating their murder is held where statues of the burnt victims are taken to the local church.

The other incident is not so old. 20 years previously the old paper mill leaked mercury into the river which then killed local children in the most horrible manner. Paul, Sarah and Hannah Harriman (Speedman, Styles and Davies respectively) all move to the village of Santa Clara where Sarah’s father has set up his only daughter to run the family company based in the small town.

Davies, as Hannah, is a brilliant little actress and she is a little natural in front of the camera. This youngster already has eight credits to her name, including Out of the Dark and is in the 2015 television series Humans. This little actress shines in her part and is a delight to watch.

The rest of the actors give solid performances as well. Vanesa Tamayo, in her first feature film, is spot on as the nanny Catalina hired by the Harriman’s to help look after Hannah. The child gets sick after coming into contact with a ghost-child in the dumbwaiter in their new home. When the very solid wraith touches Hannah, something that looks like an insect crawls onto the little girl. She soon develops a rash and temperature. Later in the film, what the “insect” is becomes painfully and tragically clear.

As her parents try to find out what is wrong with their daughter she is kidnapped by ghost children. The remainder of the film is spent with everyone searching for Hannah before she dies. Judging from the comments, and the low score, on IMDb, the film was not well received by many. Obviously the languid pace and the mystery of what was going on did not appeal to those more enamored with slasher films.

There are not many “jump scares” and no gore  but the suspense is well handled and the pieces of the film slot into place by the end. There are few things that do not logically pan out and there is one point in the film where Styles’ character suddenly sports a bandage on her hand. When and how the injury occurred is never shown and it is not explained.

Regardless of the odd plot hole the film delivers and does not deserve the low score on IMDb. This low-key horror/mystery film does deliver and it entertains.  3.5 out of 5 stars. Out of the Dark is streaming on US Netflix.

6 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith