BLOOD ON HER NAME – movie review

Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Matthew Pope
Screenwriter: Don M. Thompson, Matthew Pope
Cast: Bethany Anne Lind, Will Patton, Jimmy Gonzales, Jared Ivers, Jack Andrews
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/29/20
Opens: February 28, 2020

Blood on Her Name Large Poster

When you see Leigh Tiller (Bethany Anne Lind) with blood on her hands and cuts on her face, looking over a dead body surrounding by a puddle of blood, you may think for a second that the title is “Blood on Her Hands.” However among the wise choices made by director Matthew Pope in his debut feature (one previous 15-minutes short, “The Echo Construct,” is about a technological breakthrough to help solve crimes), is to evoke the view that Leigh is doomed perhaps from the time she was born.

Pope’s principal character who is in virtually every scene and delivers a compelling performance, would be better served by a good screenplay. As the situation stands now, the genre movie, a slow burn for the most part until an explosive conclusion, would not in my opinion be well served on the big screen, more likely the type of picture that should do better on cable TV. Pope shows rural America—perhaps the American South given some dialogue about iced tea—as a pit of depravity, the type of place which in this case is home for a group of deplorables.

Save for two guys, Leigh’s helper Rey (Jimmy Gonzales) and a parole officer (Tony Vaughn), the characters are all compromised. Leigh’s husband is in jail. Her father, Richard Tiller (Will Patton) is a corrupt sheriff who is estranged from his daughter. Her son Ryan Tiller (Jared Ivers) is on parole, and the dead body, about whom we know little, though we find out that he had a girlfriend Dani Wilson (Elisabeth Röhm), winds up in his unhappy state for reasons not made clear.

Notwithstanding the misery of Leigh’s life, she has the decency not to dump the body into the lake, but instead return it to the ground close to the scene—which could prove to be her downfall. In flashbacks, we see Leigh with a drug habit, we know that because of her failing business she could not made court-ordered restitution to the family of a victim beaten and blinded in one eye by Leigh’s son. In the depths of her desperations she offers to take her son on a two-weeks’ vacation (he wants to do white water rafting), an impossible dream for someone with blood on her name.

Are these the kinds of people who vote for Trump? Do they vote at all? Have they ever heard of Trump? If you’re a bit city dweller, you’ll get a picture of how many millions of Americans live, people who are employed like Leigh but who are unable to make ends meet—never mind the full employment of which the Republicans are proud.

Bethany Anne Lind has great promise, with an acting résumé full of TV movies, now cast in a film that should have been on Cable TV.

83 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B
Technical – C+
Overall – C+

UNCUT GEMS – movie review

Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Screenwriter: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Cast: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Sanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 11/29/19
Opens: December 13, 2019

If you like your movies over-the-top like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Inglorious Basterds,” then has A24 a movie for you! The pace doesn’t let up for a second, the photography evokes New York on amphetamines, and Adam Sandler gives the performance of his lifetime. Yes, that Adam Sandler, moving up from a waterboy for a football team, a manchild with a stutter, to a jewelry merchant on New York’s 47th street with a gambling disability. “Uncut Gems,” directed by Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie following up their New York-centered pic “Good Time,” about an attempt by a guy to get his younger brother out of jail. Given that “Uncut Gems” shoots many of its scenes inside a midtown jewelry store which has a way of locking people inside, the Safdies are right in their métier.

Even if you have a hearing disability you’ll have no problem understanding the dialogue. The shouting is combination of the floor of the Chicago Futures Market and Donald J. Trump’s ersatz press conferences that are drowned out by his chopper. Anchoring the proceedings, Adam Sandler in the role of Howard Ratner knows and loves gem stones.  He does not think that he could make the kind of life he wants at his desk in the back room, preferring to gamble on basketball games, chiefly because he has faith that his main man, Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics (who plays himself), will sink enough baskets and pick up enough rebounds to make him an instant millionaire.

The shouting, in fact, starts right in the beginning, not in New York but in Ethiopia, where a large group of miners who had just extracted a fellow worker from a grievous accident. The bosses are getting hell for allowing unsafe conditions, but when two miners re-enter the tunnel they find a large rock with brilliant opal stones imbedded as though fashioned by an expert cutter.

On a hunch, Howard buys the rock, then lends it out to KG who convinces Howard that he will buy it. To contrast Howard with his long-suffering wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), who is aware that Harold has a woman, Julia (Julia Fox) on the side, the couple are at a theater to watch their daughter perform in a play. Dinah is sitting with her teen son, but Harold who should be with them, is running about outside, all in the service of making his fortune while at the same time avoiding or putting off his creditors.

Harold is larger than life, just like Trump, and like the president he is wrapped up in himself, playing a high-wire act that finds him tending to his business but more involved in actions that could make big trouble for him. He is a rabid sports fan, liking the Celts not as a mere hobby but as his chance to make it big financially. It would be nice to say that a win that bring him over a million dollars would allow him to retire, but you can bet that he will gamble it away within a month.

Daniel Lopatin’s score, particularly in the miners’ scenes, can be madly intrusive, making one wonder why the bold and furious action would not serve to excite the moviegoers. For Darius Khondji who is behind the lenses, no action that he captures is too fast. The ensemble cast are terrific, but wouldn’t it be great if Adam Sandler, seeking the big movie guild prizes this year, winds up competing for the over-the-topness with “Dolemite”’s Eddie Murphy?

135 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

BAD SAMARITAN – movie review


Electric Entertainment
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dean Devlin
Screenwriter:  Brandon Boyce
Cast:  David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Carlito Olivero
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 4/24/18
Opens: May 4, 2018
Bad Samaritan Movie Poster
A traveler is stripped of clothing, beaten, left for dead.  A Levite and a priest walk by and ignore the man.  A Samaritan (a group from the Levant originating from the Israelites of the ancient Near East) sees the injured man and helps him.  Today we consider a good Samaritan to be one who helps a stranger.  But what’s a bad Samaritan?  We never heard that before.  Watching Dean Devlin’s “Bad Samaritan” we realize that such persons may be of flawed character but nonetheless are willing to extend themselves, sometimes at the risk of their own lives, to assist someone in jeopardy.

That’s the theme around which this thriller is based, a movie whose story comes from Brandon Boyce, the scriptwriter of “Apt Pupil’s” (a 16-year-old discovers that a Nazi is living quietly in his neighborhood) and is directed by Dean Devlin, whose “Geostorm” finds two brothers acting to prevent a climate change catastrophe from engulfing the world.  Neither Devlin nor Boyce may have the patience to unveil a plot consisting largely of dialogue, and that’s to the good.  This time they unfold a white-knuckle  thriller with some horror undertones filled with so many fascinating incidents, one building on the other toward an explosive finale.  “Bad Samaritan,” then, is the kind of picture that won’t have you looking at your watch for a second.  Its villain is as disturbed as Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates in “Psycho” (and in fact the actor bears a resemblance to him) and its hero is the title character, a petty thief who more than redeems himself in tracking down a serial killer in his attempt to save a complete stranger.

The picture starts off with a bang:  a short backstory, wherein young Cale (Austin Leo) is whips a horse that has the nerve to resist his efforts at breaking it, then firing a shot–before moving ahead to current-day Portland, Oregon, where Cale Erendreich (David Tennant), a billionaire with a penchant for “breaking” women and a knack for using all the technology that a billionaire can afford, to get revenge on a young, Irish, green card immigrant who could upset plans for his latest victim.

There is no shortage of humorous elements, particularly involving the petty thievery of Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan) and his buddy Derek Sandoval (Carlito Oliver). They work as parking valets outside Nino’s Restaurant with a plan to rob the well-heeled diners.  While Derek keeps watch on the tables inside, he transmits the time a prospective patsy will take courses by cell phone to Sean—who is on his way in the patron’s car to the diner’s home, where he lifts items that may not soon be detected as missing.  Sean uses the money to finance his relationship with Riley Seabrook (Jacqueline Byers), his girlfriend, and occasionally presents his mom with expensive jewelry.

While robbing the home of billionaire Cale Erendreich (David Tennant)—which he accesses through the GPS by driving the man’s Maserati to the location instead of to Nino’s parking lot– he is faced with an ethical dilemma. Finding a woman chained to a chair with a metal gag on her mouth but unable to release her at that point, he ponders whether to tell the police of his discovery. Revealing that information would result in his own arrest for burglary.  Though friend Derek urges him to forget the prisoner, Derek soon comes around to supporting the bad Samaritan.

The plot is filled with so many episodes crammed into a film under two hours that you could get dizzy trying to recall what happens when.  Yet the busy-ness of the story makes it a journey into the heart of a movie that keeps it thrilling.  You can see why so many actors say they would rather be villains than good guys, since David Tennant has the best lines and loves showing his psychotic side when not dining with his friends at Nino’s.  By contrast Sean’s petty thievery gets him into far more trouble than his bad side could justify.

This, then, is a first-rate thriller filmed in lovely Portland and environs that will make your time pass so quickly you’d imagine yourself zipping down Portland city streets in your own blue Maserati.

Rated R.  107 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+