SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018)

Review by LL Soares

There’s a lot to like about Boots Riley’s feature film debut, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018), currently in theaters. First off, it’s the first film to cast Lakeith Stanfield as a leading man. Stanfield has been making a name for himself as a very interesting actor for the role of Darius, a kind of stoner sage, in the excellent FX series ATLANTA, as well as movie roles in SELMA (2014), STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015), and as Andrew Logan King, the guy who shouts “Get Out” when he has his picture taken in Jordon Peele’s GET OUT (2017). Stanfield is the kind of actor who just keeps you involved, wondering what he’ll do next, and it’s this unpredictability that makes him such a great lead character. He’s not your typical, heroic leading man type, which makes him all the more fascinating.

Here, Stanfield plays Cassius “Cash” Green, who just desperately needs a job. So much so that he brings a trophy and a fake “Employee of the Week” plaque to a job interview for a telemarketing job at a place called RegalView. His future boss sees right through the fake information on his resume, but hires him anyway because he’s a go getter.

At first, Cash isn’t very good at the job, and since he’s working on commission, things aren’t going well. Until one day a fellow employee named Langston (Danny Glover of the LETHAL WEAPON movies) gives him some advice: “Use your white voice.” Cash does just that (voice provided by comedian David Cross) and suddenly, he’s incredibly successful at his job, quickly getting promoted upstairs to where the “Power Callers” work.

The way Riley films the movie is also interesting. When Cash calls a potential customer, his desk drops down through the floor and crash lands in the home of the person he’s calling, providing a strong visual metaphor for how telemarketing calls intrude on people’s daily lives. There are also lots of visual gags, throughout, including graffiti defacing signs for a company called WorryFree, where people sign up for a lifetime of servitude in exchange for free housing and food: in other words, legalized slavery.

Other characters include Cash’s girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson, also in CREED, 2015, THOR: RAGNAROK, 2017, and ANNIHILATION, 2018), a who spins a sign part-time and who is also an artist. Secretly, she’s also part of a group called Left Eye that vandalizes signs for WorryFree and opposes the company. His uncle Sergio (Terry Crews, also in THE EXPENDABLES, 2010, and the show BROOKLYN NINE-NINE) lets Cash live in his garage and gives him a beat-up old car to drive. Jermaine Fowler (also on the TV show SUPERIOR DONUTS, and HBO’s CRASHING) is Cash’s friend Salvador, who also works at RegalView (Cash also gets Detroit a job there eventually). Squeeze (Steve Yeun, Glenn from THE WALKING DEAD, and the star of last year’s officer horror flick, MAYHEM) is a guy trying to set up a union among the RegalView workers, to demand better pay.

As Cash moves up to the top floor and starts making big money, he sees a chasm grow between him and Detroit, and his friends, but keeps at it, happy to have found something he’s finally good at. His work catches the attention of billionaire Steve Lift, the CEO of WorryFree, played by Armie Hammer (THE LONE RANGER, 2013, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., 2015, and most famously in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, 2017), who invites Cash and his new boss (Omari Hardwich, also on the shows BEING MARY JANE, 2013 -2014, and POWER)—whose character’s name is always beeped out when it’s spoken—to a drug- and sex-fueled party, and Lift makes a proposition involving human/horse mutants. And then things get really weird.

I saw this one in a packed theater, which was unusual since this movie is outside the mainstream and not for everyone. It’s a sometimes very dark satire of the corporate world, that has some very sharp barbs, and the often works quite well. As a first film, it has some flaws, but for the most part delivers the goods, and will hopefully make a star of Mr. Stanfield.

Boots Riley is also a rapper in the group The Coup, which provided the soundtrack for the film. He wrote the screenplay years ago and has been trying to get the movie made since. I’m glad it finally happened.

I give SORRY TO BOTHER YOU three and a half knives.

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© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

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QUICK REVIEWS OF RECENT MOVIES

SHORT TAKES by LL Soares

THE FIRST PURGE (2018) – the most political franchise in recent horror films delivers a prequel this month, and there’s an upcoming television show version as well. The movie tells the story of the arrival of the New Founding Fathers, the ultraconservative party that steps in when the U.S. has suffered massive economic collapse. One of their big ideas is to have one night a year where all crime, including murder, is legal, called the Purge. The first Purge one takes place on Staten Island, where people are paid money to stick around during the Purge, and even more money if they partake in the violence. When it begins, and things don’t get violent quickly enough, mercenaries are pumped in to turn it into a bloodbath. As usual in these films, the low-income citizens are the ones who suffer the most, and are the ones who have to fight back when the mercenaries come in, turning it all into an overnight war zone.

It stars Lex Scott Davis (of the series TRAINING DAY, and the recent remake of SUPERFLY, 2018) as an anti-Purge activist named Nya; Joivan Wade (from the British series EASTENDERS and DR. WHO) as her younger brother Isaiah, a good kid who has fallen off the straight and narrow and uses Purge night as a chance for revenge; Y’lan Noel (of the shows THE HUSTLE, 2013, and HBO’s INSECURE) as Nya’s former boyfriend and local drug kingpin Dmitri; and Marisa Tomei (MY COUSIN VINNY, 1992, and THE WRESTLER, 2008) as psychologist Dr. Updale, who dreams up the Purge and puts the first one togethere together. There’s also a facially scarred psychopath named Skeletor (Rotimi Paul, also in DUTCH KILLS, 2015, and MAPPLETHROPE, 2018) running around. It’s directed by Gerard McMurray, who previously made the college hazing drama BURNING SANDS (2017).

I like the PURGE movies, and this one was okay, if predictable. I give it two and a half knives.

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****

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018) – Paul Rudd is back as Scott Lang, who can shrink to the size of an ant or grow to the size of a giant thanks to a cool costume created by scientist Henry Pym (who was the first Ant-Man, and played here by Michael Douglas). In this sequel, several plots intertwine as Lang tries to stay out of trouble his last two days under house arrest involving the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016). He hasn’t seen Pym and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly of LOST) in months, but they pop up and he suddenly gets involved in an attempt to reach Pym’s lost wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) who shrunk so small she disappeared into the sub-atomic world. Meanwhile, Lang’s sidekicks from the first movie (Michael Pena, Tip “T.I.” Harris, and David Dastmalchian) try to go straight with a security company. There’s a slimy weapons/technology dealer named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins of the shows THE SHIELD, JUSTIFIED, and VICE PRINCIPALS), who has been supplying Pym with equipment and wants in on whatever he’s working on now; and Hannah John-Kamen as the “Ghost,” a villain who has a lot of trouble controlling her atomic structure, constantly alternating between solid and, well, being ghost-like. Judy Greer plays Scott’s ex, Maggie, now married to a guy named Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), and Maggie and Scott’s daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) has a lot of screentime, as Scott tries to prove he’s a good dad, despite all the shenanigans. There’s also Randall Park of TV’s FRESH OFF THE BOAT as an FBI agent who keeps trying to catch Scott doing something illegal so he can send him back to jail. Also along for the ride is Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), an old colleague of Pym’s who was once part of an experiment called Goliath.

It’s all directed by Peyton Reed, who directed the first ANT-MAN movie from 2015.

There are too many plots going on this one (the one about the Ghost seems especially expendable), but it moves fast, has great big/small special effects, and cast is good. It’s far from the best Marvel movie, but it’s entertaining enough. I give ANT-MAN AND THE WASP two knives.

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Also, there’s not much in this movie to tie it into the recent events of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018), but if you stick around for the closing credits (which is practically obligatory for all Marvel movies), you’ll find a special scene that ties that up nicely after all, and brings Mr. Lang and Company up to speed.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

RESOLUTION (2012)

Movie review by LL Soares

RESOLUTION was the feature film debut of directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who have since made the terrific movie SPRING (2014). In it, Michael Danube (Peter Ciella) receives a strange video of his old best friend, Chris Daniels (Vinny Curran). The video shows Chris, alone in the woods, talking to himself (and his dog) and shooting guns. Right off the bat, we have to wonder what is going on, because if Chris made this video and sent it to Mike, then who filmed it? There’s no clue in the correspondence, but clearly Chris seems rather lonely.

Mike heads out to a cabin in the woods using a map that was also provided in the email, and finds Chris on the front deck of his house, rambling incoherently and shooting at unseen “birds” that he says are bothering him. In fact, by going to the cabin, Mike is pretty much taking his life in his hands, since Chris’s behavior is so erratic. It doesn’t take long for Mike to figure out the cause of this strange behavior, since Chris is obsessed with his “pipe” and smoking meth.

Having just found out that his wife is pregnant, Mike takes it upon himself to do something good in the world – getting Chris cleaned up, and that is the central focus of RESOLUTION. Not long after he arrives, Mike handcuffs Chris to a pipe in the wall and makes it clear that he is not leaving for seven days, the time it will take to get Chris off drugs using the “cold turkey” method. Mike says that after this period of time, he will take Chris to rehab, if he wants to go. If not, he’ll leave, and never come back.

Chris is furious at first about being chained up, of course, but slowly goes through various phases, from trying to convince Mike that he’s okay, to threatening him, to agreeing with him. While this is going on, they get a few visitors. These include Micah and Ted (Skyler Meacham and Josh Higgins), two guys that Chris and Mike went to high school with, who are now hillbilly drug dealers. They come by looking for some drugs they left behind, and when Chris answers the door (with a baseball bat) to say Chris can’t see them, they get angry and threaten him. They soon leave, though, when another group shows up, led by Charles (Zahn McClarnon), men from the nearby Indian reservation. Charles says that owns the cabin they’re staying in, and that he wants them off his property – or else! It turns out that Chris has been squatting all along.

Mike makes a deal with Charles to pay him so they can stay until the cold turkey process is over, and they arrange to meet later outside a casino where Charles works. At that point, Charles agrees to let them stay in the house, but they have to be out by the end of the week.

During his stay, Mike leaves the cabin several times to go on walks, and he finds weird stuff along the way. These include some vinyl records at a weird stone fireplace in the middle of nowhere; film equipment in a shack out in back of the cabin; weird young men wearing business shirts and ties who claim to be taking “a break from praying” while they smoke cigarettes in the woods; and a weird cave with primitive drawings on the wall, and a surprise occupant inside.

Clues point to French students who had stayed at this location decades before (a Frenchman, claiming to have been their archeology professor, still lives in a trailer far from civilization). As the story goes on, Mike finds other weird objects, including what looks like an old videotape, that shows that someone has been filming Mike and Chris now — during their time together in the cabin. In fact, videos of them start showing up on Mike’s computer as well. Who the hell is filming/watching them? And where are all of these weird videos and recordings coming from?

RESOLUTION is a very interesting film, but not everything makes a lot of sense. For one thing, Mike seems to have a delayed reaction when it comes to weird happenings. At first, when he finds weird objects or meets oddball people, he has little or no reaction to what’s going on. When the drug dealers come to the house and threaten to kill him and Chris, he doesn’t seem very concerned, even going for a walk alone in the woods soon after they’ve left. It’s not until much later in the film that he actually seems disturbed by all these goings-on.

Meanwhile, Vinny Curran plays it way over the top at first as the drug-addled Chris at first, but as the story goes on, he becomes more lucid and sympathetic. There are moments when the banter between the two old friends seems real, and those are the best moments of the movie. These two guys play off each other very well.

Things get pretty screwy by the end, and the very last scene actually brings up more questions than answers, but I thought RESOLUTION was an impressive debut by Benson and Moorhead. It doesn’t really give you much of a clue about how great their next film, SPRING, will be (what a huge leap forward!). Also, some of the characters from this movie (including Chris and Mike) will pop again in Benson and Moorhead’s most recent film, THE ENDLESS (2017), which I plan to review later.

Benson and Moorhead are two directors who are headed for great things. And RESOLUTION just reveals that right off the bat, with their first feature, they showed us how much damn potential they had.

I look forward to everything they do in the future.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

UPGRADE (2018)

Movie Review by LL Soares

The new movie UPGRADE is a pleasant surprise. I went into it with fairly low expectations, and had a helluva good time with it.

It’s written and directed by Leigh Whannell, whose original claim to fame was a writer of the first three SAW movies (2004 – 2006), as well as DEAD SILENCE (2007) and the INSIDIOUS series. His first directing credit was for INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015). Also an actor, Whannel might be familiar to you for playing Specs, a technician in the “ghost busting” team in the INSIDIOUS films. UPGRADE is his first non-sequel film, and his second film overall as a director.

The film’s plot is incredibly simple. It’s a crime-rampant near future, and a grease monkey who loves working on old cars named Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green, also great in THE INVITIATION, 2015, and the sadly short-lived Cinemax series QUARRY, 2016) is in a driverless car with his wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), when something goes wrong and they get in an accident (maybe he wasn’t so silly to love old cars after all!). Some criminals descend on the wreackage, killing Asha and leaving Grey a parapalegic.

Tech wunderkind Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), the rich computer genius who Grey was restoring a classic car for in the first scene, offers the wheelchair-bound Grey a choice. Either stay the way he is, or test out a computer chip called Stem that can possibly give him his movement back. At first, Grey just wants to die after what happened. But he eventually comes around, and we cut to some clandestine surgery in Eron’s home, where the chip is implanted in Grey’s spine.

The experiment is a success, and Grey can walk again. But there are some unexpected side effects, the biggest being a voice in Grey’s head that only he can hear, the AI version of STEM (Simon Maiden, whose voicework here is as much of a character as any of the physical people onscreen). It doesn’t take long for STEM (all-capped, all-conscious now, as far as I’m concerned) to offer Grey a chance to track down the low-life criminals who ruined his life and knock them off, one by one. Grey is more than happy to go along for the ride, especially when STEM reveals that when Grey turns over the “controls” to his new friend, he is capable of superhuman feats of strength and violence.

Meanwhile, the detective on the case of what happened to Grey and Asha, Det. Cortez (Berry Gabriel, who was also so memorable as the maid Georgina in GET OUT, 2017), slowly begins putting the pieces together after a series of violent murders in the bad part of town.

Also a treat is Benedict Hardie as a creepy bad guy named Fisk, who is in many ways Grey’s equal. A scene where Fisk kills a bartender with a sneeze is both ludicrious and kind of cool. Fisk is a vicious adversary, and the final showdown between him and Grey (and STEM) is worth the wait.

UPGRADE is yet another in a long line of high-tech revenge stories, and yet somehow it seems fresh and different. Part of it, no doubt, is due to Logan Marshall-Green, who has real screen presence here. The dude’s an underrated actor who deserves a bigger career, and his interactions with robot voice STEM (and once again, I have to give propos to Simon Maiden as that voice) are the highlights of the film, making this a dynamic duo I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. Whannell’s script and direction are also refreshing. While the storyline might sound a little like ROBOCOP (1987), let’s say, it’s still a hundred times more entertaining than 2014’s ROBOCOP reboot. 

My only disappointment is that this one didn’t do better at the box office. It’s a low-budget horror/scifi film that shines much brighter than it has a right to, but I wish more people would actually see it.

I give it three and a half knives.

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© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares