Friday, July 10

Relic Review

Dir: Natalie Erika James
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcote

My mother, a career nurse, spent the majority of her life working with patients dealing with dementia and memory loss, many of them taken care of in assisted living facilities. She loved her job and working with the clients on a prolonged daily basis but hated how dementia would steal the people she fondly cared for. She would share stories with me, many of them about the trauma of watching someone lose grasp of their memory. The ones I recall concerned how a lifetime of memories would be scattered around on sticky notes, on the bathroom mirror, on the bedside lampshade, or in a book that remained at their side in bed. Remembering a loved one when they can no longer remember is devastating. 

Director and writer Natalie Erika James, along with Christian White who shares writing credit, use the topic of dementia and memory loss to craft a disturbing genre film that functions as a metaphor for the terrible and terrifying loss that accompanies severe dementia in the film “Relic”. 

Kay (Emily Mortimer) receives a phone call concerning the unknown whereabouts of her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin), an elderly woman who lives in a small town in a large house by herself. Kay and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) immediately travel together, once they arrive they encounter a home that feels lost amongst boxes, dust, rotting plants, and a peculiar black substance that stains the walls. But Edna is missing, nowhere to be found. They ask neighbors, contact the police, and even search the nearby forest to find her. Then one day, without announcement, Edna returns, leisurely making tea in her kitchen. But something is wrong, she has violent mood swings, talks to herself, and is reluctant to share where she disappeared to. Kay and Sam begin to notice strange bruises on Edna and the house walls begin to creak and bang as if something is trying to get out.

Director Natalie Erika James has crafted something very unique and emotional, taking the physical structure of a horror film to examine dementia and craft chilling metaphors for the traumatic experience of losing the essence of a loved one, of watching a person you once knew change into something you don’t remember them as. The depth of character development throughout the film is excellent. The film revolves around Kay, played reservedly by Emily Mortimor, as she delves into the process of understanding her mother and the extent of memory loss she is experiencing. It’s heartbreaking at times to watch the little things, such as flipping through old photographs, finding notes with messages written on them strewed around the house, and cleaning messes left unattended for long stretches of time. With every discovery about the extent of her mother’s ailing health, Kay’s journey becomes the real horror of the film.

Bella Heathcote and Robyn Nevin have some of the best scenes of the entire film. Their relationship as grandmother and granddaughter is played to great effect, with Ms. Heathcote’s character Sam constantly supporting the independence and freedom of her grandmother. When their relationship shifts, after an angry encounter involving a gifted piece of jewelry that Edna doesn’t remember giving, the pain and sadness in Sam’s eyes and the realization that her grandmother isn’t the same person brings reality back into the framing of the horror film being built. This foundation of reality assists the film in shifting through the supernatural tonal narrative diversions that take full grasp in the third act, which turns into a complete horror show that highlights the metaphors being explored and the experiential qualities being analyzed through the vessel of a familiar-looking monster stalking someone down a hallway. 

Once the horror takes over completely, the narrative becomes less about subtle analysis and instead goes for complete extravagance. It’s never bad that this happens but it sometimes feels unnecessary, especially when the subdued narrative design does such an excellent job of creatively establishing the metaphor, monster, and emotional terror of the situation.

Director Natalie Erika James has created a very good first feature, one that will put her on the radar for future projects. “Relic” is a great conversation horror piece for adults, one that displays why the genre of horror can be so fluid in how it tackles subject matter both simple and difficult, using monsters and scares to portray an understanding of real-life trauma.

Monte’s Rating
4.00 out of 5.00

Friday, June 26

Irresistible Review

Dir: Jon Stewart
Starring: Steve Carell, Mackenzie Davis, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Brent Sexton, and Topher Grace

Comedian Jon Stewart, at one point during his cable television tenure as the host of the “Daily Show”, was one of the most vocal political news correspondents and satirists during the 2000s. Stewart and the “Daily Show” team tackled everything from Presidential elections to small-town blunders with a combination of honesty and humor and many times a wealth of sarcasm. It seems the perfect combination of elements to craft a biting narrative about the sordid world of the electoral process which is the focus of Mr. Stewart’s second feature film “Irresistible”, an often maddening, sometimes funny, and on occasion completely out of touch comedy.

Gary Zimmer is a Democratic political strategist who worked on the Clinton campaign in 2016, the results were not in his favor and Gary has been looking for the next campaign scheme to get his party into the driver’s seat for the next election. The hope he is looking for comes from Deerlaken, Wisconsin in the way of a veteran named Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) whose impassioned speech about the rights for undocumented workers at his town meeting when viral on the internet. 

Gary understands that there is a disconnect with the Democratic party and middle America, Jack Hastings could be the solution of relatability and reliability as a Democrat contender for Mayor in Deerlaken. Gary brings the political campaign machine to the small town, in tow is major national attention and big-city money. It doesn’t take long for the opposing party affiliates to see Gary and Jack as a threat, they send their own consultant superego to Deerlaken in the form of Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) to build a campaign to retain the Republican stronghold. 

There is a moment in the film when a political ad runs for Jack and all the familiar key elements are present; the patriotic music, the old red, white, and blue waving in the background, Jack positioned in a place of authority in the corner frame. The difference here is the image of a Democratic candidate firing a semi-automatic weapon in the forest, with the final sentiment being that very familiar “I approve of this message” look into the camera. It’s a rather comical moment that has the perfect mix of satire and sarcasm. There a few more moments just like this, along with a few perfect insights about the chaos of campaign strategy and the ridiculous money involved that give “Irresistible” some clever comedic crossovers with real-world concerns. 

Unfortunately, there are also quite a few moments when the film just doesn’t find the focus for its purpose. A misguided romantic subplot between Steve Carell and Mackenzie Davis encumbers the pacing and much of the political swings and jabs are surrendered for easy targets that lack the depth of the issue being handled. 

Steve Carell and Rose Byrne are great together here, many of their expletive-filled banters are hysterical. Chris Cooper is always reliable and here he does a fine job of being the everyman trying his best to please those around him while maintaining his moral compass. A great moment that takes place in a swanky New York City high-rise provides a nice visual representation of the process of procuring donations, it allows Cooper the opportunity to give a speech about wealth and the common man. 

“Irresistible” has enjoyable qualities that inevitably outweigh the complaints of this film not taking more chances with its comedic political punches. The cast is great and the story remains engaging because of the characters. While it may not feel in the same focused and charged vein as what Jon Stewart was doing during his “Daily Show” days, it’s still a fun and sometimes insightful look at the measures our country takes to find and support the perfect candidate. 

Monte’s Rating
3.00 out of 5.00

Sunday, June 21

Into the Dark: Good Boy Film Review

Into the Dark: Good Boy
Dir: Tyler MacIntyre
Starring: Judy Greer, McKinley Freeman, Steve Guttenberg, Ellen Wong and Chico as Reuben the Dog

I’m going to be honest; I haven’t had a real desire to watch Hulu’s Into the Dark series. Which is bizarre because I love holidays (basically the concept behind the Into the Dark series) and horror.

Then I saw the trailer for “Good Boy.” Finally, Judy Greer gets her own spotlight in what looks like a horror comedy with the most adorable dog? Grab me a glass of wine and popcorn, I’m in. 

When we first meet Maggie Glenn (Judy Greer), we learn she is struggling in the dating scene at 39 and her biological clock is loudly ticking away. Then after 12 years as a seasoned journalist, she is forced into freelance work and a part-time job at a coffee shop to make ends meet. Basically, she is stressed, anxious and struggling. Greer’s performance makes it incredibly easy as a woman to empathize with her character.

A stroke of good luck then comes Maggie’s way when she is encouraged by her boss (welcome back Steve Guttenberg) to adopt an emotional support dog. Viewers get a short, sweet scene at the adoption center and a montage of Greer becoming the ultimate dog mom to Reuben.

Then the fun starts to happen. Unbeknownst to Maggie, Reuben is more than she bargained for as he is not what he appears to be. The emotional support end of the deal takes a deadly turn as Reuben undertakes Maggie’s many anxieties, such as dating douche-bags and dealing with an unfair land lady, by eliminating them with bloody force.

Once Maggie discovers her land lady’s body and the truth about Reuben, she does her best to keep him calm and locked up to prevent further deaths. She also begins to date a cop (McKinley Freeman) she meets while working at the coffee shop, foreshadowing that all good things may come to an end. 

Finally feeling at ease with Reuben, Maggie loses her shit when she is only paid $250 for her freelance work. She drives over to boss’ office with Reuben in tow and Greer finally saying “Good boy” when Guttenberg is taken out. 

Life starts looking good for Maggie as she is promoted to her boss’ position, she quits the coffee shop, her relationship with the cop is thriving and she undergoes IVF treatments to finally have that family she always wanted. 

But anxiety never fully leaves Maggie’s side and becomes her undoing as the California police force is hot on her trail for Reuben’s murders and an unfortunate demise pops her perfect world bubble. In the end, Reuben is back at the shelter, ready to take on emotional support elsewhere.

“Good Boy” is a fun hour and half watch. It’s by no means deep but is an enjoyable and creative story around the horrors of anxiety. There are times when the director tries to be artsy with his filming but it doesn’t quite work and feels out of place for such a simple production. 

But I what I really applaud the writers and director for is not using the “crazy woman” troupe to ultimately explain all the death. SPOILER ALERT: As cute as Reuben is, he actually is the real monster. 

If you’re looking for something a little quirky, somewhat heartwarming, and full of blood, add “Good Boy” to your streaming list.

Theresa's Rating
3.5 out of 5.00