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Vampires vs. the Bronx

★★★★

I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty butthurt when I fired up “Vampires vs. the Bronx” on Netflix only to discover it’s PG-13. PG-13 horror?!!! Yeah, that’s gonna be a no from me, dawg. All that said I’m glad I stuck with it. The movie’s good enough that my dog ass tired wife who said she was gonna dip after a coupla minutes stayed up, stayed put and stayed engaged throughout the entire thing. This flick fits a lot of charm into its compact 85 minute package.

“Vampires” focuses primarily on three tween boys and the borough they call home. There’s Miguel Martinez AKA Lil Mayor (Jaden Michael), a community-minded kid who comes across like a Baby Barack Obama. There’s Bobby Carter (Gerald W. Jones III) who ran afoul of Father Jackson (Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith, yeah, Meth’s playing a priest … lulz) for fighting and got himself thrown out of school. He’s now trying to resist the pull of street life in the form of Henny (Jeremie Harris). There’s Luis Acosta (Gregory Diaz IV), who’s back in the old hood from Tampa, Fla. to visit his Tia Maria (Socorro Santiago). Luis is the nerd of the group. He’s cleverly introduced reading a copy of Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” and is referred to as “Puerto Rican Harry Potter” by a gangbanger. The rest of the neighborhood is comprised of familiar faces such as Zoe Saldaña and Chris Redd (“Saturday Night Live”).

Miguel’s current project is saving the bodega run by Tony (Joel ‘The Kid Mero’ Martinez of “Desus & Mero”). Tony opened his doors and heart to the boys giving them a safe space to do homework and play video games. Many businesses in the neighborhood have been bought up by the shadowy Murnau Properties (a cool nod to “Nosferatu” director, F.W. Murnau) fronted by the pompadoured Frank Polidori (prolific character actor Shea Whigham – a performer my wife and I are so fond of that whenever he pops up in something (which is often) we exclaim in unison, “Shea!!!,” or one of us simply mutters, “Goddamn, Shea Whigham.”). Polidori is a familiar, the human face of the vampire-owned Murnau, and they have their sights set on the bodega.

“Vampires” feels like a hodgepodge of “The Lost Boys,” “The Monster Squad” and “Attack the Block” and is much more comedic than horrific (it’s produced by “SNL” mastermind Lorne Michaels), but it also has a lot on its mind. The movie is undeniably a condemnation of gentrification and the white supremacy that’s inherent to such practices. These blonde, lily-white vampires figure they can buy up the Bronx, set up shop and feed on its residents because no one cares about them … they’re nobodies. It’s also telling that when the boys run into Vivian (Canadian actress Sarah Gadon of “Cosmopolis” and “Enemy”), a seemingly kind white lady who’s new to the neighborhood, and she assures them that she won’t call the cops they retort with, “That’s what someone who’s about to call the cops would say.”

It’s refreshing to see a flick fronted by three kids of color where they’re not only decent – they’re smart, funny, compassionate and civic-minded. Kudos to co-writer/director Oz Rodriguez (a segment director on “SNL”), his co-scripter Blaise Hemingway and these talented child actors for producing content that will empower and represent underserved youngsters out there. Kids between the ages of 8 and 14 will lap this up like a suckhead would Type O Positive … kids at heart will too. This is essentially the woke version of an ‘80s Amblin movie. “Vampires vs. the Bronx” may lack blood and guts, but much like the Wolfman, it’s got nards.

Scare Me

★★★★

“Scare Me” (now available for streaming on Shudder) isn’t the movie I was expecting it to be, but that’s not an entirely bad thing. Despite being on Shudder, the picture is not really a horror flick and hews far more towards humor. Truth be told, “Scare Me” could easily be a play and in many respects feels like an improv show.

Fred (Josh Ruben – a writer, director, producer and performer on “CollegeHumor Originals”) has left the city, gone upstate and rented a cabin in order to focus on his writing (a multigenerational werewolf action-horror saga) after a bad breakup. While out for a run he meets Fanny (Aya Cash of “You’re the Worst” and “The Boys”). She too is a writer … one of the successful variety … her zombie novel “Venus” has been hailed as the greatest piece of horror fiction ever written and sold a metric butt ton of copies. Fanny too is on a writing retreat and renting a nearby cabin … a bigger, nicer one.

Later that evening the power goes out. Fanny seeks solace in Fred’s smaller shack. They make a fire and talk craft. Fanny chastises Fred’s clichéd concept. Ultimately the gauntlet’s thrown down to, “Scare me!” The duo takes turns telling their best terrifying tales.

Normally, this is when the movie would turn into an anthology picture with different actors and locations being employed. Not here. Ruben and Cash employ various accents and facial expressions in acting their stories out soup to nuts. If their characters load or fire a gun sound effects are creatively overlaid to convey as much.

The duo becomes a trio when they order a pizza and it’s delivered by Carlo (“Saturday Night Live” vet Chris Redd). He’s a BIG fan of “Venus” and of Fanny herself. He too has tales to tell (something about, “baby scabies”). He puts off his next delivery – they eat, drink, do blow … hell, there’s even a musical number.

Ruben not only acts in “Scare Me” he also wrote, directed and produced it. The fingerprints of his sketch comedy background are all over it – thematically, structurally, performatively. He kills the accents, expressions and body language. (Humorously enough, Ruben’s real life next project is “Werewolves Within.” How’s that for meta?) Cash comes across well too. Her Fanny is smart, snarky and strong. As good as Ruben and Cash are (and they’re very, very good), the movie gets a real shot in the arm when Redd appears. Those who’ve seen “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” know if you put Redd in something it’ll automatically pop. I can simply look at his face and its exaggerated expressions and I’ll laugh. The dude’s just preternaturally funny AF. (He’s actually in another movie I’m reviewing this weekend. Stay tuned!)

“Scare Me” is a deconstruction of horror fiction and flicks that has a lot to say about gender politics, toxic masculinity and the Bechdel Test. Initially, I felt like I was sold a false bill of goods, but much like the Rolling Stones sing, “You can’t always get what you want/ But if you try sometime you find/You get what you need.”

2067

★★★

I’m not certain a post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick in which Earth grows increasingly less inhabitable, society’s crumbling and people can’t breathe is what we need right now, but “2067,” available in theaters and on VOD Friday, Oct. 2, is here regardless. And in spite of being of bit of a bummer, it’s a nifty albeit flawed genre exercise that makes the most of its meager budget.

Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as Ethan Whyte (I kept thinking of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candy and his dessert whenever the character’s surname was shown or uttered). Ethan was orphaned as a child. He’s subsequently taken under the wing of Jude (Ryan Kwanten). The two now work underground doing maintenance on an unstable nuclear reactor in a world ravaged by climate change and deforestation. Oxygen is practically nonexistent with most everyone employing masks and breathing artificial air. Many folks grow sick from not having the real thing – one of them is Ethan’s wife, Xanthe (Sana’a Shaik).

Scientists led by Regina (Deborah Mailman) receive a transmission from 400 years in the future stating, “Send Ethan Whyte.” Apparently, Earth has become habitable again. Ethan must then weigh whether he’s willing to leave his wife behind in order to save her and the rest of the world. He reluctantly agrees and is slingshotted through the space-time continuum. Steampunk grunginess is replaced by lush jungle overgrowth. What initially feels like a sci-fi-tinged “Cast Away” gives way to something more strongly resembling “Hell in the Pacific” when someone else joins Ethan in the future.

I have conflicted feelings about Smit-McPhee as an actor. I think I dug him more as a child performer in films such as “The Road” and “Let Me In.” I may also prefer him in supporting roles as opposed to lead ones like in “Dolemite Is My Name” from last year. He brings a similar energy to “2067” that he brought to “Slow West” a handful of years back – that is being a waifish whiney wimp. In spite of this, he performs admirably enough.

It was nice to see Kwanten again after not having seen him in much of anything since “True Blood” concluded. He’s not as fun here as he was there, but he has some interesting notes to play with which he excels. It’s curious that this is an Australian film, Kwanten is an Australian actor, everyone else employs an Australian accent and Kwanten opts for an American accent.

Shaik and Mailman aren’t given nearly as much to do as their male counterparts. Shaik’s Xanthe serves more as motivation than as a fully fleshed out character. The thrust of Mailman’s performance is derived primarily through the silver wig she employs.

“2067” is the screenwriting and directorial debut of special effects artist Seth Larney. Its look is more impressive than its words, but it’s a promising start to what could be a fruitful career. I’m certainly interested in seeing whatever Larney does next. Dialogue and themes are somewhat circuitously repetitive rendering the whole enterprise draggy. The sets are well appointed; the effects impressive. With as visually striking as “2067” is, I’m somewhat surprised it didn’t resonate with me more deeply. Perhaps it’s too emo? Perhaps I’m struggling with time travel fatigue after having watched “Tenet” and all three of the “Bill & Ted” movies within the last month? Either way, “2067” is a trip worth taking – it may just behoove you to do so sometime in the future … hopefully a brighter one.

Death of Me

★★1/2

You’re gonna have to bear with me on this review. I watched “Death of Me,” available theatrically and on VOD beginning Friday, Oct. 2, almost a week ago and was kinda drunk while doing so. This may actually be appropriate for the picture, as it’s a trippy fever dream of a flick.

“Death of Me” stars everyone’s favorite Hemsworth brother (Luke!) and Maggie Q as vacationing couple Neil and Christine. He’s a travel writer and they’re winding down their trip to a Thai island. On their last night in country they’re out drinking and having a good time. Faster than you can say Roofie Coolada, the duo is drugged.

They wake up the following morning with no recollection of the previous evening, their passports are missing and there’s a video recording of Neil strangling Christine to death. Strange, as she’s very much alive, but probably wishes she weren’t due to a massive hangover.

The couple seek passage on a ferry, but are denied due to lack of passports. To make matters worse, the boat takes off with their luggage. It’s safe to say they’re up shit creek without a paddle and are stuck like a coupla Chuck’s. They’re left with no choice but to stay on the island and get to the bottom of what transpired the night before. The rest plays out in a manner that’s likely gonna give the Tourism Authority of Thailand fits.

Q and Hemsworth acquit themselves fairly well with their performances, but it’s her picture more than his. It’s mildly amusing to see Q in this so soon after “Fantasy Island.” It’s like the working vacation stage of her career has kicked into high gear. Who does this lady think she is? Adam Sandler or one of the multitude of buddies he keeps employed? Hemsworth has a somewhat strange screen presence. He looks a bit like his brothers. My wife thought he looked like Matt Damon. I thought he looked like Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year.” He’s simultaneously fit and flab. I get why he’s to the Hemsworth’s what Daniel is to the Baldwin’s (to further the analogy Chris is akin to Alec; Liam is like a hybrid of Stephen and William), but he’s good enough here that I’d be curious to see him in more stuff.

“Death of Me” is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Ari Margolis, James Morley III (co-writer of the 1999 Ice-T/Erika Eleniak modern day pirate picture “Final Voyage”!) and David Tish. I’m not exceedingly familiar with Bousman’s filmography having only seen his 2010 remake of “Mother’s Day” (a movie I engaged with even if I felt gross for doing so) prior to this. I always meant to see “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” but never got around to it. I saw James Wan’s “Saw,” but didn’t dig it so I never checked out the Bousman-directed sequels “Saw II,” “Saw III” or “Saw IV.” Despite not liking “Saw,” I’m very much interested in seeing Bousman’s upcoming “Saw” spinoff, “Spiral,” but this has more to do with Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson’s involvement than anything else. That said Bousman and his crew do a commendable job of capturing the island’s beauty as well as the grisliness that transpires.

The movie’s a bit of a mess, but is appropriately disturbing and/or disquieting when it wants to be. It’s often disorienting (that could be the booze and my memory talking), but I get the impression it’s meant to be. You likely know if a bouillabaisse of “The Wicker Man,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and any number of vacation horror flicks is up your alley or not. Just know this hews closer qualitatively to the Nic Cage “Wicker Man” as opposed to the Christopher Lee one.

Feels Good Man

A documentary about a grinning cartoon frog might be the most important movie about politics to come out in 2020.

“Feels Good Man” tells the story of Pepe the Frog, which first appeared in a comic strip called “Boy’s Club” in 2005. It grew to become a meme by 2008, mostly on the message boards of a site called 4Chan.

Creator Matt Furie was first just amused about how widespread his comic was on the Internet and he saw no harm in people making their own drawings or using the character to express emotions. Even Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj retweeted images using Pepe in 2014.

But in 2015, things changed. Donald Trump announced he was running for president and at the same time an undercurrent of angry Internet users began to use memes to spread their message. 4Chan became inundated with extremist that became known as the alt-right, a collection of Internet users that often said sexist, racist or xenophobic things and shunned normal society.

For some reason, Pepe became their symbol.

Furie wasn’t happy. His happy little comic turned into something used for hatred and it was eventually deemed a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League

Documentary director Arthur Jones (in his feature debut) dissects this cultural phenomenon and explains how a cartoon becomes a meme and how a meme’s meaning can get changed by the others. Truly nobody owns anything on the Internet. And things take on a life of their own.

Expertly intercut with talking head interviews, TV news clips and animation of Pepe to portray the mood, Jones really takes you on a journey. It’s fast paced and chock-full of information, but it really gets at the heart of today’s political landscape and it does it in a way that’s mostly objective. The alt-right users get their (brief) say but they don’t overtake Furie’s central message of love and hope.

Everything in this documentary could easily be discovered by perusing Wikipedia and reading a few in depth articles. Trump retweeting Pepe. Hillary Clinton denouncing Pepe. Cryptocurrency. Trading “rare Pepes” and selling them for thousands. The lawsuit against Alex Jones. The political movement in Hong Kong. The documentary covers it all and even if you knew all of this stories it’s done with such style and emotion that it’s worth seeing it all distilled into 90 minutes.

I know colleges teach courses on Internet memes and symbology and this movie should be required viewing for all of those students (and probably marketing or political science majors too). It perfectly explains how a meme comes to life and what impact it can have on the world. At times the movie can be scary, but it ends of a beautifully hopeful note.

The one thing I really took from this documentary is that you can always flip the script. Maybe Pepe was once a symbol of white supremacy, but you can reclaim it and make it into a symbol of love too. If things that are meant for good can be turned into hatred, why can’t we work in the opposite direction? Maybe that’s possible too.

Welcome to Sudden Death

★★★

I am a Michael Jai White fan. Two movies cemented my status as one – “Undisputed II: Last Man Standing” (arguably the greatest straight-to-DVD flick of all-time) and “Black Dynamite.” Much of White’s output isn’t up to snuff with his talent – in spite of this I always tune into his stuff so long as he’s punching and kicking people … just save the Tyler Perry melodrama for your Mama!

This brings us to “Welcome to Sudden Death,” now available on DVD, VOD and for streaming on Netflix, a sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme “Die Hard” in a hockey arena vehicle from 25 years ago. The movie is the latest product from Universal 1440 Entertainment – the production arm of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. These are the folks who unleash “Tremors” installments upon us seemingly every year (“Tremors: Shrieker Island” drops Oct. 20, 2020!), “Jarhead” follow-ups that have fuck-all to do with the original movie (but my boi Scott Adkins was in #3!) and a “Backdraft” sequel 28 years after its predecessor that I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on if it were on fire. Despite their spotty track record, I must say “Welcome to Sudden Death” is a pleasant surprise. It’s better than Adkins’ “Hard Target 2,” but that ain’t an especially high hurdle. This new “Sudden Death” is an objectively bad movie, but it’s an entertainingly bad movie.

White stars as Jesse, a Special Forces veteran who’s reintegrating to life back home with his family. He wants to contribute, so he takes on a job working security for the Phoenix Falcons of the National Basketball League. He decides to take his kids Mara (Nakai Takawira) and Ryan (Lyric Justice) to the season opener. Unfortunately for them, a group of pissed off Geek Squad members with an axe to grind known as Alpha rig the arena with explosives at all of the exits. They’ve also taken hostages in the executive suite – the Governor (Paul Essiembre), the Mayor (Kristen Harris), a billionaire businesswoman named Diana (Sabryn Rock) and her rapper boyfriend, Milli (Anthony Grant). Leading Alpha is Jobe (Michael Eklund, who comes across like a bargain basement Craig Sheffer … then again Craig Sheffer himself is kinda bargain basement Craig Sheffer). Assisting Jesse in thwarting these terrorists is the facility’s custodian, Gus (comedian Gary Owen).

“Welcome to Sudden Death” is less a sequel to “Sudden Death” than it is a remake that substitutes hockey for hoops with a darker complexion, smaller budget and more humor. It’s directed and co-written by Dallas Jackson. The original film’s writer Gene Quintano is credited as well. I’m not sure if he wrote on the picture or if he’s given a nod since the filmmakers straight-up aped his original work?

There’s a lot to like here – White can still fight – a locker room-based skirmish between he and Marrese Crump (next set to appear opposite Nicolas Cage, Frank Grillo and Tony Jaa in “Jiu Jitsu”) is a showstopper. A sequence depicting Alpha making guns with 3D printers is cool and calls to mind John Malkovich’s shenanigans from “In the Line of Fire.” Owen can’t act, but he’s insanely likable and often very funny. Takawira isn’t anywhere near the best child actor I’ve ever seen, but she’s cute as a button, sassy as shit and can deliver one-liners like nobody’s business. Eklund has a certain presence to him as the primary baddie, but he’s no Powers Boothe. Then again, who is?

As fun as this all is, don’t get it twisted – “Welcome to Sudden Death” is dumb as a doornail. This is a movie involving basketball referencing a phenomenon that doesn’t exist in the game for the sake of name notoriety. The filmmakers should’ve just called this scrappy, crappy action flick “Overtime.” If you want another riff on “Sudden Death,” Dave Bautista’s soccer-themed “Final Score” from a coupla years back easily bests this beater.

Ava

★★1/2

The much-maligned Jessica Chastain-fronted hitwoman picture “Ava” is now available theatrically (it’s playing exclusively at Georgetown Cinemas here in Indianapolis, Ind.), on VOD and for rental at Redbox. While the movie’s not good, it’s better than many critics are making it out to be (it’s currently rocking a 22 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 38 on Metacritic). Straight up, “Ava” is for folks who wanted “Atomic Blonde” to feel more like a Lifetime movie.

Chastain stars as our titular heroine, who turned her back on her father, mother, Bobbi (Geena Davis), sister, Judy (Jess Weixler of “Teeth,” a movie my wife and I watched together in the early stages of our relationship and are still making references to and jokes about 12 years later) and fiancée, Michael (Common), in the wake of familial dysfunction. She Martin Blanks ‘em all by joining the Army and later becoming a hit person under the tutelage of Duke (John Malkovich).

Ava returns to her family and hometown of Boston eight years later following her father’s passing. Michael and Judy are now an item. There’s no love lost between mother and daughter, but Ava has bigger fish to fry in maintaining her hard-fought sobriety and keeping a target off her back for breaking agency protocol. The black ops organization she works for (embodied by Colin Farrell’s Simon) is gunning for her after a botched job.

“Ava” reunites Chastain with her “The Help” director Tate Taylor. The results are a mixed bag, but I find it kinda funny that Taylor keeps dipping his toes into genre filmmaking with the leading ladies of “The Help” after having made horror flick “Ma” with Octavia Spencer last year. (I’m eagerly anticipating his Emma Stone Western and Viola Davis sci-fi vehicle. Hell, maybe he could remake “Salò” with Bryce Dallas Howard?) “Ma,” a movie I enjoyed more than most, is better than “Ava” … which I also seem to enjoy more than most.

Many of the movie’s shortcomings stem from its script by actor-turned-writer/director Matthew Newton (he played Armand in the 2002 Aaliyah-fronted Anne Rice adaptation “Queen of the Damned”). “Ava” is the first film Newton’s written that he didn’t direct. It wants to be an action movie, a character study and a domestic drama and doesn’t totally succeed at any of these avenues. It’s mostly just cliché city.

Newton isn’t done any favors at times by his director (employing speed ramping when filming Chastain doing karate kicks in her hotel room looks ridiculous as opposed to cool) and leading lady (Chastain brandishing a machine gun lacks the authenticity of Charlize Theron doing the same and is downright laughable). Chastain comes across better sporting a pistol, knife fighting and especially in the hand-to-hand combat sequences. She’s an actress I’ve always liked and admired, but she seems above this even if she steered the project creatively serving as a producer.

The supporting cast are hit-or-miss. Malkovich and Farrell (bringing BIG Tom Skerritt in “Top Gun” energy with his haircut and mustache) are fun. They too get in on the fisticuffs and appear to enjoy working with one another and with Chastain. Davis is crackerjack casting as a clever nod to Renny Harlin and Shane Black’s “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” As nice as it is to see Davis again after a prolonged big screen absence – the filmmakers should’ve given her more to do, though she does solid work with one meaty scene opposite Chastain. I like Common. He seems like a cool dude. But he can’t act. The cat is a charisma void on screen and often just stares blankly when delivering dialogue. He may be at his absolute worst here. Promising young actress Diana Silvers (“Booksmart,” the aforementioned “Ma”) is kinda wasted playing the daughter of Farrell’s character who’s following her father into the family business. (He’s old enough to play her Dad?!!! Man, I’m getting old.) She figures prominently into a final scene that either hints at a sequel that’ll likely never happen or concludes the picture on a foreboding open-ended note. I’m OK either way as I wasn’t mad at the $2.14 and 96 minutes I spent watching “Ava,” and that’s about all it’s worth.

Enola Holmes


★★★1/2

What does Sherlock Holmes have in common with Santa Claus, Dracula and God?

They are the four most portrayed characters when it comes to TV shows, movies and books.

That’s rare company for the fictional detective and the Guinness Book of World Records lists him as as the most portrayed literary human character in film and television history (the other three don’t fit that description). There have been more than 25,000 stage adaptations, films, television productions and publications featuring the detective. Movies alone count more than 250.

So to say there’s another movie featuring Sherlock Holmes might give many a groan, even if there’s a new twist.

Netflix’s newest original movie “Enola Holmes” gives Millie Bobby Brown a starring vehicle in which she portrays the titular heroine, who is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes.

It’s based on a series of young adult novels that debuted in 2006 and while the movie is appropriate for teens and tweens, fans of the Robert Downey Jr. movies and the Benedict Cumberbatch series will still enjoy this two-hour feature. It’s not just for children. In fact, kids younger than middle school might get bored or confused.

Henry Cavill (“Man of Steel,” “The Witcher”) plays the famed detective with obsessive brilliance and arrogance, but lacking the eccentricities of other version. He’s not a misanthrope or a drug addict in this version. It’s a softer Holmes. And yes, he’s far far better than Will Ferrell’s terrible version.

Trusty sidekick Watson isn’t by Sherlock’s side. Maybe they’re saving him for some sequels. Yes, this movie is meant for sequels. The movie itself could have easily been turned into a series, but I’m thankful that Netflix is still providing options that I can watch in two hours rather than eight.

The plot itself is disposable. It’s a generic mystery where you could care less about the clues that are found or who the ultimate villain ends up being. With the exception of the brilliant twist in last year’s “Knives Out,” most detective movies are more about the journey than the answer.

The real reason to watch “Enola Holmes” is to see a star in the making with Millie Bobby Brown. She was introduced to the world in 2016 as Eleven, a bald-headed 12-year-old with telekinetic powers on the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things.” She was shy, scared and unable to speak. It was a powerful role, but one that gave us no hint of how Brown would fare as a confident, verbose, witty young feminist in “Enola Holmes.” With only one other feature film under her belt (a small role in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”), this is Brown’s film breakthrough. It showcases her leading star ability and it’s not hyperbole to say that I see the same charm and acting ability that we saw in Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman and Emma Stone before they went on to win Oscars many years later. Brown is only 16 and if she keeps selecting the right roles (which is very important) her future will be bright.

Brown brings a ton of charisma to “Enola Holmes.” When she breaks the fourth wall and looks into the camera, the viewer feels like she’s looking directly at them because of Brown’s personal connection and relaxed performance. It’s a strong enough debut to warrant sequels, even if the mystery itself isn’t incredibly engaging.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels

★★

My interest in Japan and its culture and my baser, more prurient instincts led me to “Lost Girls and Love Hotels,” which is now available on VOD. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

“Lost Girls” focuses on Margaret (Alexandra Daddario), an American expatriate living in Tokyo and teaching English pronunciation to aspiring Japanese flight attendants. Margaret spends her evenings drinking and joking with fellow expats Ines (Carice van Houten) and Liam (Andrew Rothney). She makes cracks about other people’s problems with the bottle, but it’s eventually revealed that she’s the one with the issue. Margaret often shows up late to her gig, disheveled and hungover, which draws the ire of her boss, Mari (Mariko Tsutsui), but Mari gives Margaret slack because she likes and even empathizes with her.

Joking and drinking aren’t Margaret’s only nighttime activities – she often closes her evenings by talking strangers into renting rooms at love hotels where they’ll engage in anonymous sex and BDSM. During one of these sessions she actually makes a connection with the Yakuza-tattooed Kazu (Takashi Miike veteran Takehiro Hira).

Why is Margaret in Japan? Who or what is she running from? Why is she so damaged? These questions are answered in the most cursory sense via throwaway lines. Catherine Hanrahan adapts her 2006 novel of the same name to little fanfare. I imagine this story worked better as a book where you’re provided the inner workings of our heroine’s mind. This is a character piece with little to no character. I know very little about Margaret besides the fact that she likes to drink, smoke, fuck, get choked out with a belt and has a predilection towards Asian dudes. That’s it. Swedish director William Olsson and screenwriter Hanrahan feel as if they took “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Lost in Translation” and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” shoved ‘em in a blender, hit puree, dumped the contents into a pan and began photocopying them until almost any individualistic and/or interesting attributes of the original works become fuzzily indiscernible.

Daddario is serviceable as Margaret. She’s de-glammed in the role, but still lovely. I feel as though the writing and direction of her character did the performance a disservice. Van Houten is given an absolute nothingburger of a role. I actually think if she and Daddario had traded roles the picture might’ve been better, as she’s proven in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book” and on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” to be an actress who can plumb the depths of a part. The most interesting performance and character of the lot is Hira as Kazu. His character changes the most through the course of the movie. He’s mysterious and yet I feel like I know him much more than Margaret.

There’s not a whole lot to recommend about “Lost Girls” aside from Hira’s performance and some really striking opening and closing credits. It’s not sleazy enough to be guiltily entertaining nor substantial enough to be a true character study. It ends in an open-ended fashion that’s open to interpretation … I wasn’t invested enough to care much either way.

The Babysitter: Killer Queen

★★★

You’ll likely know whether “The Babysitter: Killer Queen,” now available for streaming on Netflix, is for you prior to firing it up. Did you see its 2017 predecessor “The Babysitter?” Did you dig that ditty? “Killer Queen” is more of the same only bigger, longer and dumber. McG returns to the director’s chair, which will either entice you or fill you with dread … either reaction is perfectly understandable. I’m a bit of a McG apologist having enjoyed “Charlie’s Angels” (2000), “We Are Marshall,” “Terminator Salvation,” “This Means War,” the first “Babysitter” picture and “Rim of the World,” but make no mistake … “Killer Queen” feels every bit the work of the dude who helmed the Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” music video.

Judah Lewis reprises his role as Cole, a nerdy kid who survived an attempted cult killing at the hands of his babysitter, Bee (Samara Weaving), and her cadre of cronies – Max (Robbie Amell), Sonya (Hana Mae Lee), Allison (Bella Thorne) and John (Andrew Bachelor). Cole vanquished his foes, but was too open and honest about what transpired and has subsequently been labeled as crazy by the police, his classmates, his teachers and even his own parents, Archie (Ken Marino) and Phyllis (Leslie Bibb). Cole’s only friend is his neighbor, Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind), on whom he harbors a crush. Unfortunately, she’s dating a musclehead by the name of Jimmy (Maximilian Acevedo). In spite of this, Melanie invites Cole along for a weekend excursion on a houseboat where he runs into Phoebe (Jenna Ortega), the new girl in school with a dark history and an accompanying rap sheet. Figures from Cole’s past reemerge, things become complicated and the bloodletting begins.

Lewis is a talented young actor who’s made a name for himself in genre fare such as these “Babysitter” pictures and “Summer of 84” after having broken out opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Demolition.” He kinda reminds me of Giuseppe Andrews, who some of y’all might remember from the Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979” music video as well as “Detroit Rock City.” The kid’s reliably good here, but I’m curious whose decision it was to dress him like Max Fischer in “Rushmore.”

Lind is memorable here much in the way she was in last year’s “Doctor Sleep.” It’s safe to assume this young lady has a bright future in horror flicks if she wants one. I wasn’t familiar with Ortega prior to “Killer Queen,” but liked her well enough that I’m looking forward to seeing what she has up her sleeve in the upcoming “Scream 5.” As good and lovely as these young lasses are, the movie’s sneaky standout is Carl McDowell as Dr. Big Carl McManus, the guidance counselor/nurse at the kids’ high school. Some of y’all might remember McDowell as TTD from HBO’s “Ballers.” He brings much of the same manic comedic energy to this role and a lot of it seems improvised. Humorously, McDowell’s McManus and the movie itself are strangely preoccupied with whether or not Lewis’ Cole is gonna get laid.

“Killer Queen” is a horror comedy that skews far more towards the comedic, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its fair share of gruesome gore. When the jokes hit – they hit hard. When they miss – it’s brutal. The movie is chock-full of pop culture references ranging from “Deliverance” to “Risky Business” (going so far as to borrow its theme) to “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” There are a ton of cool needle drops including the Queen tune from which the movie lifted its subtitle and “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, which many would now understandably say belongs to Edgar Wright and “Baby Driver.”

“The Babysitter” clocked in at a svelte 85 minutes. “Killer Queen” feels flabby at an hour and 42 minutes. Brian Duffield, who wrote the first film, serves as Executive Producer this time out, having been busy making his directorial debut, “Spontaneous.” Duffield was replaced on scripting duties by McG, Brad Morris, Jimmy Warden (who’s engaged to Weaving) and Dan Lagana (showrunner of “American Vandal”). The writing-by-committee didn’t result in as clear of a vision as its predecessor, but it’s still pretty fly for a bunch of white guys. Hell, I’d even happily watch a third installment of “The Babysitter” franchise.