Films I Neglected To Review: Now Playing At A Theater You Will Be AvoidingBy Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/12/20 11:28:57
Please enjoy short reviews of "Big Time Adolescence," "M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters," "The Postcard Killings" and "To Your Last Death."
How one reacts to "Big Time Adolescence" will no doubt depend on their tolerance for seeing "SNL" cast member Davidson in his first lead role in a film. While the part of Zeke is not exactly heavy lifting on his part--the character plays into his persona as a perpetually sketchy burnout who always appears to be one step away from jail, rehab or the morgue--it does make effective use of his particular, I guess "charm" is the word, and both he and writer-director Jason Orley are careful to make sure that, even at his most charming, there is something vaguely unpleasant about virtually everything he says and does. As the actual father figure in Mo's life, Jon Cryer is very good as he tries to negotiate the tricky path of guiding his son through the storm of adolescence without coming across as too overbearing. The problem with the film is that while they are intriguing characters, Mo himself is just not that interesting, either as his gawky true self or in his cool phase as "the man with the bag," and that leaves a hole at the center of the film that cannot be avoided. I also wish that the film had spent just a little more time developing the female characters, especially Mo's classmate and Zeke's long-suffering new girlfriend (Sydney Sweeney), who also proves to be a big influence on Mo's development, and giving them things to do other than to simply react to what the guys are doing. Like Zeke himself, "Big Time Adolescence" has a certain undeniable charm for a while but, also like Zeke, it wears out its welcome after a while.
In other words, the essentially suggests what might have resulted if "We Need to Talk About Kevin" had been made by the "Paranormal Activity" crew. As concepts go, this is certainly an interesting one and it has been presented with some skill by writer-director Tucia Lyman, bolstered by convincing performances by Melinda Page Hamilton and Bailey Edwards in what is essentially a two-person show. (Ed Asner, of all people, briefly pops up in a brief role as a therapist in an appearance that is more distracting than anything else.) And yet, while I can sort of appreciate it on an intellectual level, I cannot deny that I felt nothing but an increasing sense of distaste towards the film while watching it. The notion of a mother grappling with the possibility that their child is planning something horrendous is undeniably wrenching but the film doesn't really seem to have much interest or insight about that other than to serve as a narrative hook. As the film lurches into its final third, it essentially abandons any attempts at insight in order to present a long series of physical and psychological cruelties that swerve the film into the area of torture porn. "M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters" is ambitious and makes me curious as to what Lyman will do next, but in the end, it is little more than a bleak stunt film that spends too much time being needlessly cruel and nasty and not enough time being especially edifying.
A quick perusal of the film's IMDb page suggests that the journey from the page to the screen for this film was a particularly hard one--it spent years in development and a number of actors drifted in and out of the cast before, and in one case during (as Famke Janssen replaced Connie Nielsen in the role of Kanon's ex-wife), shooting commenced. Unfortunately, during all that downtime, no one seemed to realize that the basic narrative just wasn't all that compelling. Most of the film is a standard-issue "Seven" knockoff involving people investigating grotesque crime scenes and trying to figure out what the murders mean, all in the most boilerplate manner imaginable. In an attempt to liven things up, the first half of the movie intercuts Kanon's investigation with the adventures of another young couple unwittingly stepping into a trap and then throws in a big twist for good measure that is undercut slightly by the fact that even inattentive viewers will see it coming a mile away. (There is another twist later on that somehow manages to come across as being even sillier.) There is no suspense to speak of, the actors all look bored as they speak lines that feel as if they went through two or three imperfect online translators and director Denis Tanovic--a very long way from the Oscar-winning "No Man's Land"--presents the material in the blandest and most perfunctory manner imaginable--even the mutilated corpses somehow seem bored by the proceedings. At this point, I might have considered closing out this review of "The Postcard Killings" with some dumb joke playing off of the title--saying "Wish You Weren't Here" or something along those lines. Because I care too much, I am not going to subject you to that but bear in mind, no joke that I could have added could possibly be as trite and hackneyed as the film itself.
With its weirdo plotting, funky visual style and extremely liberal doses of bloodletting, "To Your Last Death" is a film that might have found a place on the midnight movie circuit back in the day. Seen at a more normal hour, the film reveals itself to be a curiosity but not much more than that. It does have the novelty of being an animated horror feature and while that is interesting for a little while--there are some things on display here that even gorehounds might have found to be too much if they had been presented in live-action--that sensation soon wears off, especially since the look of the film makes it resemble an especially demented episode of "Archer" more than anything else. While the premise is promising, the screenplay never quite manages to establish the Gamemaster and her cadre of bettors or the various degrees of control that they have over the proceedings, leading to an increasingly frustrating litany of narrative rug-pulls that eventually wear out their welcome. As Miriam, Dani Lennon does a good job of establishing her character's combination of sheer determination and fragile psyche. On the other hand, William Shatner intermittently pops up as the Rod Serling-like narrator but his contributions are so superfluous to the proceedings that they feel like an afterthought that was dropped in as a way of getting Shatner on the poster. The best thing about the film is Ray Wise's gleefully malevolent turn as Cyrus--this is a part that fits him like a glove (and I mean that in the best way) and he takes to it with undeniable zeal. "To Your Last Death" may be uneven and ultimately unsatisfying but when his character is on the screen, the film comes alive.
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