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

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

The Inbetweeners 2 (2014) Australian Adventures in Gormlessness

Poster for The Inbetweeners 2
It may not be as well known on this side of the pond, but The Inbetweeners is a bit of television gold, no…platinum. Featuring the adventures of a group of lads who bring a whole new meaning to the term gormless, the show ran from 2008 to 2010 and made stars of Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison and Joe Thomas. Produced by the E4 network, a part of channel four, the show was an instant hit and spawned first one, then two films.

Fans of the show are again treated to the misadventures of Will, Neil, Jay and Simon aka Si. The last film had the boys heading to Malia in Cyprus, Simon was chasing the love of his life Carley and the rest of the lads acted normally, or gorm-ally.

This time round, the girl that Simon found to replace Carley in the first film has now turned into the girlfriend from hell. She cuts his hoodies off and is smothering him. Jay, according to a grinder message he sends Neil, is living it large in Australia. He claims to get “a blowie from a different bird every morning” in his spacious mansion. He is known as DJ Big Penis and runs his own club. He invites Neil to visit.

Will, Simon and Neil decide to head down under. Simon wants to get away from Luci and Will can’t stand the thought of being at university with a group of people who constantly make fun of him. Once there Will bumps into an old junior school friend, female, who is delighted to see him. She talks him into hanging with her group of friends and Will turns his back on Jay, Simon and Neil.

The first thing the lads learn is that Jay, is still Jay after all. His mansion is a two-man tent, he works in the toilet at the nightclub and there are no birds in the morning. He is staying in his uncle’s front garden and the man is an Aussie version of Jay’s dad back in England, in a word; insufferable.

We follow the lads as they bumble their way through many social settings. It could be said that the sequel to The Inbetweeners Movie, is pretty much a copy of the first one, four English inept lads in a foreign country. The gags in the film however, are a bit closer to the bone than the first one.

There is a riff, or homage, on the Babe Ruth scene in Caddyshack, except this is no candy bar and the payoff is much more disgusting. It is, however, very very funny. One laughs in horrified glee while simultaneously gagging at the sight. There are a number of ‘R’ rated moments, a set of bollocks hanging down at a pub, along with a dog licking them, and a urine scene towards the end that is grossly funny.

The Inbetweeners 2 is amusing and entertaining. However, the humor is tinged with sadness. We feel that this will be the last time Will, Jay, Neil and Simon will crease us up with their antics. The film felt a little hollow somehow. Perhaps it was seeing James Buckley in the 2014 horror movie The Pyramid. He played a bit more of a grownup in that feature, he was a cameraman and never once said “clunge”

He never said it in The Inbetweeners 2 film either. It was as though Jay, the part James plays in the show and the films, was an imitation and not the real thing. Sort of how the film itself felt. The whole thing felt more like a imitation of the original, addictive humor of the TV show. Despite the the bollocks jokes and the fecal funnies.

Still, fans of the show will find this entertaining, if not a bit disappointing since Carley is not in it, “beep, beeb, beep, beep.” Despite this shortcoming, made up a bit with the appearance of Will’s mum with Mr. Gilbert, a sight that leads her son to declare that they have all died and gone to hell, Edith Head was missed.

A good solid 4 out of 5 for this last visit with the boys and anyone who disagrees is a “Bumda!

2 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008) Real Life, But Not

Poster for How to Lose Friends and Alienate PeopleThis, sort of, biopic about Brit journo Toby Young is entertaining fodder. Never mind that it took me around seven years to finally watch this film, there were reasons…Okay? Essentially, like most amusing features based upon humorous memoirs, the film is about real life, but not really. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is pretty much fictional from the first frame. Where Toby, renamed Sidney, for the film worked in New York for Vanity Fair magazine, Pegg’s journalist works for Jeff Bridges, in the guise of Clayton Harding owner of Sharps a celebrity focused glossy.

It is fun, at the start of the film to see Thandie Newton, as herself, interacting with Pegg’s character, probably a payback for appearing together the previous year in Run Fatboy Run! and what’s wrong with that?

The romantic interest in the film is played by, alternatively, Megan Fox, who had not yet insulted her Transformer’s producer Michael Bay and Kirsten Dunst who had just finished her Spider-Man run as Mary Jane. There are a number of respectable names in the film. Gillian Anderson, whose character may, or may not be a cougar who tempts Young into dancing with the devil so to speak.

Everyone in the film looks ridiculously young, no pun intended. Pegg looks like he has regressed age-wise from the superior television comedy Spaced and Fox looks very different as well, having not gone that final step with plastic surgery that “refined” her face, and body even further. Sadly, there is no cure for “toe-thumbs.”

Jeff Bridges could have been Shemped at the start of the film as he talks to Pegg’s character looking away from the camera. In fact, the Oscar winning star could have phoned his role in as it did not require an enormous amount of effort on his part. The same could be said of Dunst.

Danny Huston, however, excelled as the sleazy and oily king of the paps who heads up the “show and tell” portion of the magazine. I will admit a soft spot for Huston whom I fell in love with initially in 40 Days of Night and then later in The Warrior’s Way and American Horror Story.

The beginning of the film offers such familiar British acting worthies as Chris O’Down, James Cordon and Fenella Woolgar as well as the more famous English stars in tiny cameos, Daniel Craig, Kate Winslet; and Australian star Toni Collette.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is amusing and at one point it borrows from the second of the Cornetto trilogies, Hot Fuzz, where they do a riff on the “Can I have your autograph” gag. Compared with other Pegg offerings, this film is much better than, say, Burke and Hare but not quite on par with any of the Cornetto trilogy films.

On Netflix at the moment, along with A Fantastic Fear of Everything and while the biopic is definitely worth a look, the latter film can be missed without too much guilt. 3.5 out of 5 stars for this older funny film.

1 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith