Saturday, May 16, 2015

Pics Picks

Five more midnight movie reviews:

Home Sweet Hell (2015)
I’ve always liked Katherine Heigl. Her TV roles have been hard to fault. While in the teen soap Roswell she was the favorite alien of every straight teenage boy. Later, she had broad appeal as Dr. Izzie Stevens in Grey’s Anatomy. I wish I could say as much for her movies. Oh, she was adorable way back in 1994 in My Father the Hero, but since then her films have ranged from dreadful to “eh.” A few were commercially successful, e.g. Knocked Up and The Ugly Truth, but, strangely, these were among the most dreadful ones. The best of the bunch might have been Bride of Chucky, which pretty much says it all. So, I suppose it is almost a compliment to say that Home Sweet Hell is nearer than most to “eh.” “Almost” means it’s not.

In this self-styled comedy Mona (Heigl) has goals – specific goals that she pastes in a scrapbook. They all have to do with meeting or exceeding the standards of an affluent suburban lifestyle. She and her hapless husband Don (Patrick Wilson) own a furniture store; the capital for the business and for their kids’ private school came from Mona’s well-to-do parents. Mona lets Don run the store. More accurately she requires him to do so since she needs to focus on her goals; she schedules everything in her life including (six times per year) sex with Don. Don hires an attractive and spontaneous young salesperson named Dusty (Jordana Brewster) who has no trouble seducing Don. She also has no trouble blackmailing Don by claiming she is pregnant and threatening to tell Mona. Don decides the least bad option is to come clean with Mona himself. Mona coolly decides they should kill Dusty so they can stay on track toward their goals. Are you feeling the humor yet? Me neither. Dusty has accomplices so other murders ensue.

I have no trouble with dark humor. Two of my favorite authors are Robert Bloch (Psycho) and Jeff Lindsay (the Dexter novels). I like Arsenic and Old Lace, Heathers, Serial Mom, and To Die For. I even like Psychos in Love in a so-bad-it’s-good sort of way. This film, though, is neither sufficiently dark nor sufficiently humorous. It is, at best, “eh.”

“Eh” doesn’t cut it. Thumbs down.

Miss Meadows (2014)
Overly proper female killers must be in vogue. We have another one in the substitute teacher Miss Meadows (Katie Holmes). Due to a childhood trauma she has become a vigilante. Imagine Death Wish if Paul Kersey were Mary Poppins. No don’t. That makes this movie sound too good. There is little suspense and (oddly) not enough action, even in the climactic scene. The pacing is sluggish and the romance with the cop unconvincing.

Another “eh.” Thumbs down.

The Babadook (2014)
Amelia is a struggling single mother of Samuel, a boy who is by the kindest description difficult. The last thing she needs is a scary entity messing with her head. She gets one anyway.

Suspend disbelief for a moment. What if there really were a type of existence on different principles than the usual ones? What if some entity exists on another plane that only partly intersects ours? Suppose a creature of this sort thereby has limited (not zero, but limited) ability to interact with ordinary matter directly, so it must get most of what it wants by influencing the behavior of people, primarily by scaring them. Though this movie doesn’t try to explain what the Babadook is, what I just described fits the bill. As you might imagine, police and others don’t find Amelia credible when she tries to explain her predicament, and it doesn’t help that her son’s behavioral problems seem to provide a better explanation for any disruptions in her household. She can’t even run away, not just for financial reasons but because the entity has latched onto her personally, at one point manifesting itself while she is driving, with unfortunate results.

This low-budget Australian film is well-written, well-acted, and unconventional. If you like your horror movies with copious blood and gore, this isn’t the right movie. If you regard eeriness and suspense more highly, it is. Thumbs up.

Everly (2014)
Everly (Salma Hayek) while wearing lingerie shoots and bashes bad guys in an apartment. That’s pretty much the whole movie. There is the barest excuse for an explanation: she is a prostitute who has ratted out her yakuza boss, so her boss wants her dead. A parade of would-be killers try, but somehow Hayek proves to be an amazing expert at any and all weaponry and at hand-to-hand combat, so the bodies pile up. Unlike the similarly violent Kill Bill!, which had character backstories that were intriguing even if silly, this movie offers little else but the violence. It quickly grows numbingly repetitive. Thumbs Down.

Laggies (2014)
Laggies is aimed primarily at twentysomething Millennials disturbed by the all too rapid approach of age 30. Millennials have a reputation for lagging behind previous generations at adopting an adult lifestyle. Since neither Boomers nor Xers were very quick off the mark, that is saying something. Generational generalizations of this sort by their nature are unfair. All age-groups contain a mix of early-achievers, late-bloomers, perennial Peter Pans, and the pre-maturely middle-aged. Yet, the numbers do tell us something. The median age at which Millennials get drivers licenses, finish college, get full-time jobs, get married (if they ever do), and buy property really is higher, and no one is more aware of it than Millennials themselves.

Megan (Keira Knightley) is in her late 20s and has a degree as a therapist, but she works for her father by holding a street sign. Her relationship to her parents is more like that of a college freshman just back from the dorm than like anything more adult. She lives noncommittally with her boyfriend Anthony whose maturity isn’t noticeably higher than hers. She still hangs out with her old high school friends. One is married and pregnant while another is soon to be married, yet they aren’t exactly mature either; they are shallow and seem to regard marriage the way they would dates to the prom. Then Anthony proposes to Megan. She accepts but has major reservations. Her reservations are as much about the step toward adulthood as about Anthony.

Megan encounters some high school kids outside a liquor store. She finds she has more in common with them than with her own circle of friends. Megan tells Anthony she will be away at a career conference but instead stays with Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), one of the teens. Annika’s single dad is not happy to discover a grown woman staying over with his teen daughter.

In a sense this is a coming-of-age story, but it is Megan’s story, not Annika’s, and thus it comes about a decade late by past reckonings. The ending is far far too facile, but it doesn’t altogether ruin what went before, especially the interesting friendship between Annika and Megan.

Lynn Shelton’s film is flawed and, like the lead character, insufficiently ambitious. But it is good enough for a Thumbs Up.

Laggies trailer


  1. It's pretty bad when Selma in lingerie gets a meh or eh, but sometimes more is needed than a sexy character--like perhaps a story. :)

    I enjoyed The Babadook too. It's hard to talk about without some spoilers. But I liked it because it allow the audience to read into the story some of their explanations as to what was happening. I've got my own interpretation of the film, I just don't know it that's what the director was aiming at.

    I liked Heigl in Knocked Up, but that's about all I've seen her in. I think I saw where she has a new role on TV. Her other work I'm unfamiliar with, which from your review, seem to have been hit and miss, mostly miss. That's a shame as she's attractive and seems to be a good actress overall.

    Miss Meadows sounds a bit like one of the Dirty Harry films, Sudden Impact, which I saw the other night. Most of those Dirty Harry films can be entertaining, though it seemed like they got weaker and weaker as the sequels continued.

    1. Heigl is likable, beautiful, and remembers her lines, but her script choices (perhaps her script offers) have been unfortunate. As you are a SF fan, try the three-season soap Roswell (1999-2002); this was a guilty pleasure for me. It is perfect for binge-watching.

  2. That's a shame about "Home Sweet Hell". I was curious to give that one a shot. It sounded like it could be darkly funny. Sounds like they mucked it up.

    Funny, I've got a review for "The Babadook" coming up on my page too. :)

    I never heard of "Laggies" sounds intriguing. And yeah my brother in law is definitely a laggie. ;)

    1. The script of "Home Sweet Hell" lacked something. I'm sure the Coen brothers could have rewritten it and made it work. Same for "Miss Meadows.

      I think a lot of folks can relate to "Laggies," which is not to say everyone will like it. Knightly seems to know her character, and Chloe Grace Moretz always brings something interesting to her parts.