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

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

Stonehearst Asylum (2014) Old Fashioned Gothic Romance Story

Stonehearst Asylum Film Poster
Directed by Brad Anderson (The Call, Transsiberian) and adapted for the screen by Joe Gangemi (Wind Chill, Inamorata) from an Edgar Allen Poe short story (The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether) Stonehearst Asylum stars Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Total Recall), Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas, Ashes), David Thewlis (Macbeth, The Theory of Everything) along with Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley as well as some of England’s finest character actors like Jason Flemyng and Sinead Cusak. Set in 1899 just as the world is slipping into the 1900s; Beckinsale plays Lady Eliza Graves, a woman driven mad by her brutish husbands sexual demands on their wedding night.

This is the reason given for her incarceration, but in reality, she attacks her husband with a comb and puts out one of his eyes when he attempts to force her into sodomy.

A doctor known as an Alienist, played by Brendan Gleeson (28 Days Later, Safe House) parades Graves at a medical lecture where he induces her to have a fit by touching her “inappropriately.” Later, a young Alienist, Dr. Newgate, comes to Stonehearst Asylum to become the latest member of staff in the madhouse. The stone structure is out in the middle of nowhere and the first person the young doctor meets is Mickey Finn (Thewlis) who is disturbing to say the least.

Once inside, Newgate meets the Asylum head, Dr. Lamb (Kingsley) and learns that the doctor does not give drugs to the incarcerated patients and practices new and unusual treatments. The new doctor meets Lady Graves and later finds that Lamb and Finn are actually patients who overpowered the real staff and taken over. Dr. Salt (Michael Caine) and the remainder of the asylum’s professional care takers have been locked in cages in the building’s basement.

The look and feel of this 2014 film is a mixture of mystery, thriller and a good old fashioned romantic Gothic love story. Enough of the real inhuman treatments of the clinically insane are featured in the film and this marks the second time that Kingsley and Caine have worked together, the first being their Holmes and Watson double act in the 1988 film Without a Clue.

The sets and the lighting combine to create what looks to be a perfect recreation of the back end of the Victorian Era. Cinematographer Tom Yatsko (Gotham, The Day After Tomorrow) pulls out all the stops to make this film moody, atmospheric and Victorian. The only anachronism is the reference to slipping someone a Mickey Finn before the phrase became well known, as the setting is just prior to 1900 and the saying did not become popular until 1915 according to Wikipedia.

All the actors deliver brilliant performances. David Thewlis, who repeatedly plays roles so full of menace, does not disappoint as the mad lady-killer and Sturgess gives a wonderful turn as the love struck medico. Sir Ben Kingsley shows once again why he is an award winning actor and Michael Caine does the same. Beckinsale is appropriately stressed as the woman who freaks at a too-familiar touch and Brendan Gleeson is seen far too little.

A little nepotism is apparent in the casting, although not a lot as he does not appear until towards the end of the film, as Kingsley’s son Edmund plays the role of Sir Charles Graves, Beckinsale’s brutish screen husband whose sexual tastes drives her into the madhouse.

For anyone who adores British cinema (And who does not?) this is a 5 star film. Despite being set, very loosely, on a Poe short story, the movie feels as English as London fog. Streaming on US Netflix it is worth the time spent to watch it. Pop yourself some corn, grab a glass of fizzy and enjoy.

1 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Housebound (2014) Hysterical New Zealand Horror

Poster for Housebound
It is no secret that I adore both Australian and New Zealand cinema, specifically horror. An eternal favorite of straight horror is the 1978, and its 2008 remake, Long Weekend. While the Aussies are adept at making scary films that get right under your skin, the Kiwis have a knack for comedy horror that will make you jump, but more importantly, will make you laugh till the tears roll. Black Sheep, the 2006 film that made genetic experimentation with sheep scary and funny, has now been joined by Housebound.

This urban setting, versus the rural one of Black Sheep, deals with troublemaker Kylie Bucknell who is placed under house arrest, or more accurately confinement, after being caught stealing a cash box from an ATM with her boyfriend. The film promises to be funny from the first few frames when Bucknell’s accomplice knocks himself out with the recoil from a sledgehammer that he ineffectually smacks the money machine with.

Kylie must return to her mum’s house for eight months whilst tagged. The tag monitor, Amos comes to her house to fit the device to her ankle and explain how the whole thing will work. While she must come to terms with living at home again and coping with her annoying mother Miriam, Kylie learns the house is haunted and that the place she grew up in was the scene of a brutal murder.

Amos initially helps the two women try to solve their ghost problem and then tries to help Kylie solve the 14 year old murder.

Morgana O’Reilly, an alumnus of the long running Australian soap Neighbours turns in a brilliantly diverse performance as the teen tearaway with mum issues. Her Kylie can make the viewer crease up, as when she acts completely gormless when Amos explains how he will help the family solve their ghost problem, or keep the audience on the edge of their seat during the more tense moments.

The comedy in Housebound is outstanding. Taking a dental plate from a sleeping suspect’s mouth, a murderer being attacked with a cheese grater, and a tag monitor being caught by what looks like a bear trap are all just part of the comic events in this film.

Rim Te Wiata from another long running Aussie soap, Sons and Daughters, as well as Full Frontal and Shortland Street plays mum Miriam and also turns in an admirable comic performance. Glen-Paul Waru is spot on as Amos, the tag monitor, ghost hunter and all round helpful official who lends a hand to the family.

The film shifts easily from one event to the next. At one point in the film, Miriam and Kylie are explaining that the house is haunted. Amos has turned up because the ankle bracelet alarm indicated that the teen had left the premises. The second that the tag monitor learns of the haunting, he immediately switches to paranormal investigator.

A big shout out to Cameron Rhodes as Dennis. This experienced actor, who boasts credits in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring as well as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, turns in a brilliant performance.

Housebound is the feature length debut of Gerard Johnstone who wrote and directed the film. He has managed to subtly shift comedy, mystery and horror almost efortlessly in what is one of the best comedy horror films I have seen in ages. It is streaming on US Netflix at the moment and I cannot recommend this movie enough. A real 5 out of 5 stars as all concerned hit every mark.

31 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith