Review: ‘The Hunt’ has the left and the right in its crosshairs

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By Randy Myers

Horror films tap into the mood and fears of contemporary culture better than any other genre. Except for satire.

When you combine satire and horror, your nerves and thoughts are in for a killer workout.

“The Hunt,” the much-vilified film delayed from its summer 2019 release and out this Friday, does a bloody good job at doing both. It takes a sharp cleaver and swipes and jabs at the left and the right, cutting through the sinew of hypocrisy and extremism on both sides.

Craig Zobel’s reinvention of the 1932 classic film “The Most Dangerous Game”  is entertaining, smart and cynical — never choosing one side over the other. And just like some of the best topical films in the genre — such as “The Purge” — “Hunt” make us laugh and squirm — at the same time.

The scenario is seemingly  simple: A bunch of liberals engage in a cat-and-mouse killing game, taking down “rednecks.” The extreme liberals — I’m not going to name the stars who play them since that mutes  plot twists — are self-involved and argue constantly. Ditto the extreme conservatives caught in the crosshairs. Sound familiar? You bet. 

The predictable setup — with 12 people being sought for slaughter — doesn’t extend to an obvious screenplay. Co-writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof redeem Blumhouse after the hellishly inept “Fantasy Island” reboot, going for full gusto here from start to finish.

The  in-on-the-joke cast, which includes a standout Betty (“Glow”) Glipin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Madigan and so on, convincingly enable the writers’ mission. They play it straight throughout, going over the top when warranted and it’s often warranted.  

Zobel’s film received a lot of exposure when its September 2019 release was delayed after two mass shootings. That’s understandable given the extreme violence in “The Hunt.”

Sobel’s film, though, doesn’t fuel extremism. It exposes the idiocy of hate and how when its fanned from social media fake claims and outrage leads to a dead-end for us all. 

“The Hunt”

3 out of 4 stars 

Opens Friday

Cinequest 2020: Don’t miss ‘Small Time,’ ‘Faraway Eyes,’ ‘Breaking Fast,’ ‘The Night’ on its final day

Breaking Fast 01By Randy Myers

It’s the final day of Cinequest due to the Coronavirus. Sadly, the closing night film with Jesse Eisenberg — “Resistance” — won’t be shown. I love that film. 

Here then are my recommendations on what to see today in San Jose:

“Opposite Directions”: A sexy melodrama about love and lust. Gorgeous stars and gorgeous settings.

“Watch Me Kill”: Woefully underrated thriller featuring a female assassin in the Philippines and the young girl who becomes her surrogate daughter. Twists galore.

“Faraway Eyes”: Inventive romantic sci-fi drama that’s too long for its own good, but captivating nevertheless. Christina Ricci costars. It’s a keeper.

“Small Time”: One of my favorites from the fest. A precocious and optimistic young girl weathers her parents battles with addiction and PTSD. Don’t miss this one.

“Breaking Fast”: Enchanting romance between two hunky guys, one a Muslim with a lovable family and another a charismatic guy he meets.

“Survival Skills”: Another knockout from the fest that’s framed as a VHS training tape for cops going into the force. Unpredictable and smart.

“Like Reply Share”: Scrappy and shot on the cheap, this two hander delves into connections made through accidents, not on social media.

“The Night”: Ominous, claustrophobic and unsettling, this horror hybrid set in L.A. finds a couple haunted by decisions in the past.  Shahab Hosseini stars, and he couldn’t be finer.

Forget ‘Fantasy Island,’ set sights on ‘Portrait,’ ‘The Lodge,’ ‘Come to Daddy’

portrait-of-a-lady-on-fire-Portrait of a lady on fire 6Lilies Films_rgbBy Randy Myers

Here are my quick takes on what’s at movie theaters this weekend:

“Portrait of a Burning Lady”: This instant classic about a painter falling for her subject is both elegant and eloquent, and is also one of the very best films of the year. What a shame Oscar snubbed it and director Céline Sciamma. That final scene left me in a puddle. It will do the same for you. 4 out of 4 stars

“Fantasy Island”: ,This chintzy reboot lacks tension, ingenuity. and intelligence. Forget shrieking out “The Plane! THE PLANE!!,”  I want to scream out “THE PLOT!! THE PLOT!!” Avoid: It’s a tourist trap. 1 out of 4 stars

“The Lodge”: A horror movie you probably haven’t heard about but really should is this chillingly photographed mind-messer. Versatile Riley Keough plays a psychologically rubbed raw woman whose psyche unravels while stuck in an isolated cabin with her two unfriendly new stepkids. From visionary horror directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala of “Goodnight Mommy” acclaim, this one will chill you to the bone minus  the relentless gore. 3 out of 4 stars

“Come to Daddy”: Speaking of good movies that deserve more high-wattage promotion than the dopey  dud “Fantasy Island,”  here’s one way off  most radars. MVP Elijah Wood stars in this clever, twisty and original  thriller about a father and son reunion that creates some murderous possibilities. Wood continues to impress in indie horror/thrillers, and “Daddy” is one of his best efforts yet. Martin Donovan is terrific in a supporting role.  “Daddy” marks the arrival of director Ant Timpson, a most welcome new voice in horror.   3 out of 4 stars

Review: ‘Troop Zero’ is THE family-friendly film to watch

           January tends to be when Hollywood tosses out its junk, productions that were  plagued from the get-go. Yes, “Dolittle,” that’s you!

           This weekend — besides that hyper-hyped Robert Downey Jr. mess  — finds two strong films nudging their way into theaters with another good movie bowing on Amazon Prime.

            Here are my quick takes on each.

Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti and Djebril Zonga star in LES MISERABLES
(Amazon) “Les Miserables” is nominated for an Oscar for best international feature film.

“Les Miserables”: Screenwriter/director Ladj Ly powers up Victor Hugo’s classic in his pedal-to-the-metal debut, staging a showdown between police and rebellious youths in  Paris. Ly’s contemporary adaptation is relevant and energetic as it hones in on a project city. It’s one of the most bracing, accurately observed dramas of 2019, capturing the powderkeg divide that exists between the law and the public. A best international feature Oscar nominee, “Miserables” takes a pulse on civil unrest with more depth and nuance than “Joker” did, and features a haunting performance from Issa Perica, portraying a boy seething and ready for retaliation after he’s shot. (A-)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFfdlLW9Rwg

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(RLJE Films) If you like the color purple and horror films, you’ll love “Color Out of Space” with Nicolas Cage.

“Color Out of Space”: A good Nicolas Cage film? What the hell. On an occasion a decent one slips by (“Mandy” and “Mom & Dad”). And with the right director and role, Cage can get his bat-shit crazy act on and have it actually match the material. Here, he gets that chance and nails it. Richard Stanley’s scary, gross and altogether colorful adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft surreal mindmessers is a treat. A family starts to loses their minds, and the occasional body part, once a meteor slams into their land. Even the llamas go a bit daft. Horror hounds will bay at the moon over this. (B)

Trailer: https://youtu.be/agnpaFLo0to

TROUPE ZERO
TROUPE ZERO featuring Allison Janney and Viola Davis courtesy of Amazon Studios.

“Troop Zero”: Set in a small town in 1977 Georgia, this warm, not sugar coated family-friendly indie celebrates kids and adults on the outsider, considered too often as “misfits” by townsfolk. Centered around an upcoming girl troop jamboree wherein the winning team will then get featured in a NASA promotion, “Troop” is both touchingly scripted (by “Beasts of the Southern Wild” writer Lucy Alibar) and energetically directed by debut feature filmmakers Bert and Bertie — a talented female directing duo. Making it more appealing are the dust ups between Viola Davis — a co/producer — playing a reluctant scout leader and her uptight/former friend and rival troop leader, played by Allison Janney. What delicious fun they have sparring. Be prepared for young actress and narrator Mckenna Grace to steal your heart in the part of determined Christmas Flint who is mourning the loss of her mom and looking up to the stars for inspiration. (Debuting and available to stream Jan. 17 on Amazon Prime) (B)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi4C6GncmQ4

Hot but smart, Dekkoo’s gay series ‘The Third’ is first-rate

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(Photo courtesy of Dekko)  Married couple David (Ryland Shelton) and Carl (Corey Page) invite the charming Jason (Sean McBride) into their relationship in Matthew Lynn’s “The Third.”

 

By Randy Myers

 

Dekkoo prides itself on being THE streaming service for gay men. They firm up that claim with their latest series, the sensual and addictive “The Third.” 

Creator/writer Matthew Lynn, who also directs the WTF season finale, tantalizes with the sexy promise of a triad — threesome.  And while the premise and the series is decidedly hot (certainly the three leads — Sean McBride, Corey Page and Ryland Sheldon — are), “The Third” is not overly graphic, but refreshingly original, entertaining and thoughtful. It also works as high-gloss gay soap opera, one amped up on strong production values, acting and alluring cinematography.  

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“The Third” creator Matthew Lynn.

Lynn — who has been in a triad — grabs our attention from the get-go with a flashforward scene in which Jason (McBride) — the charming cutie invited into the home and bed of a shakily married relationship — makes a bloody discovery at the Palm Springs home of Carl (Page) and David (Sheldon).

The setup sounds like we’re boarding the rote thriller train, but Lynn eyes more of an ambitious destination and does so by judiciously sprinkling in eye-opening details about his characters. This makes them more interesting, complex and, best of all, human and relatable. 

He also captures, without resorting to hammering overstatement, the differences between the new generation of gay men and the more mature generation. It’s subtly done and most welcome.

The six episodes clock in around 15 minutes to around 30 but zip by. In fact,  I downed all in one sitting, and suspect you might as well. More please. 

View trailer here.

“The Third” will be available for streaming Oct. 24 on Dekkoo.

 

‘Oh Lucy!’: How did you ‘You Were Never Really Here’ and ‘Support the Girls’ get overlooked in 2018?

(L to R) Koji Yakusho, Josh Hartnett and Shinobu Terajima in English School in OH LUCY
Josh Hartnett gives the best performance of his career in “Oh Lucy!”

Every year it happens. An outstanding film appears early in a particular year and then gets overlooked in the avalanche of hyped features vying for a best-of-the-year title.

So let’s correct a few of those wrongs. Here then are a number of films unfairly passed up either by audiences or critics in year-end roundups.

And before jumping in consider this: “Oh Lucy!” has a 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. As does “A Moment in the Reeds.”

Here are some films worth seeking out.

 

Reviews of LGBTQ-themed releases ‘My Best Friend,’ ‘Mario,’ ‘Anchor & Hope’ and ‘My Big Gay Italian Wedding’

When it’s decision time about what to rent or stream over the Thanksgiving holiday, the choices are limitless. Unfortunately, some titles get overlooked.

With that in mind, here are short takes on a couple of recent LGBTQ-themed features released by Breaking Glass Pictures along with two gems available from Wolfe Releasing.

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(Breaking Glass) Lautaro Rodriguez and Angelo Mutti Spinetta star in the underrated “My Best Friend.”

“My Best Friend”: Essential in crafting a successful coming-of-age drama is the creation of  characters that are interesting and a storyline that is evocative, even provocative. Filmmaker Martin Deus and his talented young cast (Angelo Mutti Spinetta and Lautaro Rodriguez) have done just that with a poignant tale about unanticipated friendships and sexual discovery. When the troubled son (Rodriguez) of a family friend moves in, bookworm Lorenzo (Spinetta) finds his sheltered, lonely and well-organized life in a Patagonian town getting disrupted in important ways. Deus adopts a low-key approach, but still navigates his story into some tough territories. It’s always authentic and forever true to its characters. Watch it and you’ll see why it has a 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. (Available to rent on Google Play)

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(Breaking Glass Pictures) Cristiano Caccamo and Dino Abbrescia star as lovers getting married in a small Italian village. 

“My Big Gay Italian Wedding”: The title of director Alessandro Genovesi’s bubbly romantic comedy perfectly sums up the persuasive predictability of this breezy, if minor confection based on an Off-Broadway show. The nuptials of two Berlin-based lovers (Dino Abbrescia and Cristiano Caccamo) in a small Italian village where one grew up triggers introspection, unresolved relationships  and, of course, family drama. Undemanding in every way, it’s an upbeat crowd-pleaser. (Available for rent on Google Plus, iTunes, Vudu, Vimeo)

 

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(Wolfe Releasing) Natalia Tena, Oona Chaplin and David Verdaguer in “Anchor and Hope.”

 

“Anchor & Hope”: Two lovers (Oona Chaplin and Natalia Tena) who live unfettered by commitments on a wandering houseboat in London consider having a baby, a decision that leads to rough waters ahead. Carlos Marques-Marcet’s feature anchors itself around a group of fine performances, including one from Geraldine Chaplin. (Available on various platforms)

 

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(Wolfe Releasing) Rising star Max Hubacher (second from left) is sensational in “Mario.”

 

“Mario”: Two of soccer’s rising stars become roommates and lovers in Marcel Gisler’s sexy, realistic story that illustrates how athletes are urged to stay in the closet. Leads Max Hubacher and Aaron Altaras are sensational in a heartbreaking drama that’s exceptionally well-directed.  (Available on various platforms)