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Films I Neglected To Review: "Oy Vey, Have You Got The Wrong Vampire!"
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Astronaut," "David Crosby: Remember My Name," "Skin" and "The Fearless Vampire Killers."

After a long and good life, Angus (Richard Dreyfuss), the central character of the new drama ''Astronaut,'' is beginning to feel the physical and emotional ravages of time. His wife has recently passed away after losing most of their savings investing in a donkey farm and while he is currently living with his daughter (Krista Bridges) and her family, his own ailments force her to put him in a retirement home--a reasonably nice one filled with colorful characters, to be sure, but a retirement home nonetheless. Angus has long nurtured a fascination with outer space and when an Elon Musk-type entrepreneur (Colm Feore) elects to hype his plan to become the first to offer commercial flights into space with a contest to give seats on the inaugural flight to members of the public, his beloved grandson Barney (Richie Lawrence) convinces him to enter even though he is more than a decade past the upper limit of the contest age requirements. Inevitably, Angus is selected as one of the finalists and begins working his way towards landing one of the seats, much to the consternation of his daughter and her husband (Lyriq Bent) and the delight of both Barney and the other residents of the nursing home, who look at his new adventure as a source of hope for their own lives.

So yes, this is essentially another film in which Richard Dreyfuss plays an ordinary man who finds himself contemplating leaving his family in order to make a journey into space. Needless to say, it isn't quite as good as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind,'' but to be fair, writer-director Shelagh McLeod is working on a much smaller scale, dramatic and otherwise, than Steven Spielberg did back in the day. This film is basically a well-meaning fable that is filled with good intentions that never quite manage to pay off in the end. The storyline is contrived, of course, but McLeod chooses to lean into the contrivances so heavily that one cannot help but notice them and some of the elements that have been included--such as the stuff involving the donkey farm and a fellow resident at the nursing home, a taciturn Indian who is played by Graham Greene, seems to be there merely to invoke memories of ''One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest''--are patently unnecessary, as is the dramatic pivot that the narrative makes in the final third that tries to turn the whole thing into a generic thriller. The best part of the film, almost inevitably, is Dreyfuss, who takes advantage of the chance to do a rare lead role and reminds viewers of the gruff charm that made him a star in the first place. His work here is not going to make you forget the indelible performances that he has given in the past but it does show that while the flashy lead roles may have faded away, his talent certainly hasn't.

As someone who has never been much of a fan of the music of David Crosby--whatever residual affection I have for the bands that he has been associated with has been largely due to the fellow members that he has played with and mostly alienated during that time--and virtually ever single thing I have read about him has tended to paint him as an asshole of astonishing proportions. Therefore, the notion of sitting through a documentary about him--even one co-produced by Cameron Crowe--struck me as being the kind of horror show that ''Midsommar'' only dreamed of being. And yet, despite my misgivings towards it going in, ''David Crosby: Remember My Name'' turns out to be a far more interesting and engrossing work than it really has any right to be considering the subject at hand. At first, it seems as if Crowe, who also serves as Crosby's interviewer (which he was doing back during his fabled days as a teenaged reporter for Rolling Stone) and director A.I. Eaton are taking a hagiographic approach to the subject at hand by taking him on a tour of his old haunts and buttering him up in regards to his musical legacy. As things progress, however, the film takes a tougher stance towards the man and the astonishing amount of hurt, waste and acrimony he left in the wake of his largely selfish and appetite-driven existence and at a certain point, even I began to respond towards the remorse that he clearly felt about his self-destructive existence and his realization that he may never be able to rebuild the bridges that he torched along the way (the only surviving former bandmate of his who was willing to appear on camera here is Roger McGuinn and that is just so he talk on the record about what a jerk he is) as he struggles with health problems while continuing a busy tour schedule just to keep his head above water. I cannot say that ''David Crosby: Remember My Name'' has caused me to reconsider my opinion regarding his music--I would still take the weakest Neil Young album over the best CSN efforts in a heartbeat--but it did inspire me to look at him a little differently and a little more sympathetically as a person and with someone with a past as checkered as his, that is a considerable achievement indeed.

When Guy Nattiv took the stage at the Oscars this year to claim the Live-Action Short Subject prize ''Skin,'' a fairly dreadful work that might have gone down as the biggest embarrassment of the night if it hadn't been for the dubious triumph of ''Green Book,'' he already had a full-length feature version of that project in the can. Although both share the same title and certain thematic issues, the two are otherwise wildly different, though this second ''Skin'' turns out to be only marginally better. Inspired by a true story (one that received yet another cinematic treatment via the 2011 documentary ''Erasing Hate''), the film centers around Babs (Jamie Bell), a former runaway who was taken in by a neo-Nazi gang leader (Bill Camp) and and his wife (Vera Farmiga) and given a place in their ghastly facade of a family, even going so far as to adorn himself with head-to-toe racist tattoos proclaiming his ideology for all to see. As it turns out, Babe is a little more ambivalent to the cause than he seems and his regrets over the beating of a black protestor, combined with his budding romance with Julie (Danielle McDonald), a young mother of three who was once connected to the scene and wants nothing to do with it anymore, inspires him to abandon it for good (even undergoing a painful two-year process of tattoo removal) with the aid of an African-American activist (Mike Colter) who tries to get him to rat on his former cohorts to the Feds. Not surprisingly, those cohorts are none too keen on him leaving and try to force him to stay by any means necessary.

The kind of movie that all but grabs you by the lapels and demands that you describe it as ''searing,'' ''Skin'' appears to be a dark and discomfiting drama on the surface but it doesn’t take too long to realize that all of that is only--forgive me--skin-deep. Sure, a story of white supremacy movements in America is now sadly more timely than ever but Nattiv doesn't have anything new or especially interesting to say on the subject. Other than the most obvious details, this turns out to be nothing more than the usual story of a guy led from the path of darkness by his nagging conscious and the love of a good woman and while the film tries to disguise this familiar arc by messing with the time structure, it winds up doing greater damage to the dramatic tension as a result--since the story now opens with Babs already showing his signs of regret and then flashing back to his darker days, we are robbed of seeing his viewpoint being changed and shaped for ourselves. What is especially vexing is that Nattiv includes two characters who might have made for intriguing focal points for the story--the black activist who dedicates his life to trying to turn racist neo-Nazis around (a concept that could have led to a loose companion piece to Sam Fuller's late-period masterpiece ''White Dog'') and the wife of the gang leader who, despite the mucho-macho tone of the group, appears to be the real power behind the throne--and then relegates them to the sidelines while spending more time with the far-less-interesting Babs. (In the role, Jamie Bell is perfectly fine but is constrained by the limitations of the screenplay.) Although it never comes close to being the garbage fire that its short subject predecessor was, this ''Skin'' nevertheless never feels like anything more than a missed opportunity to say something new and provocative about an age-old subject.

After emerging from the glory that is ''Once Upon a Time. . . in Hollywood,'' most moviegoers may find themselves wanting to check out some of the movies made by Sharon Tate, the real-life actress who, portrayed by Margot Robbie, is a key element of that film's sprawling narrative. Admittedly, most of the films that she made during her unfairly abbreviated career were not very good--mostly ranging from intolerable dross like ''Don't Make Waves'' and ''Valley of the Dolls'' to tolerable dross like ''The Wrecking Crew''--but this Monday night, Arclight Cinemas will be obliging curious moviegoers with a one-night-only screening of what is probably her best and certainly her most significant movie, ''The Fearless Vampire Killers,'' the 1967 horror spoof from Roman Polanski, whom she would eventually marry after beginning a romance with him during its making. In it, aging vampire hunter Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his clumsy assistant Alfred (Polanski himself) are on the prowl for creatures of the night and stop to rest at an inn in a town that is, unbeknownst to them, in the thrall of Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne). No sooner has Alfred fallen hopelessly in love with the innkeeper's lovely daughter, Sarah (guess who), she is taken by the Count and Abronsius and Alfred follow him to his castle in order to rescue her. Although the film as whole doesn’t begin to approach Polanski’s top-tier workas Polanski would prove throughout his career in films like ''What?'' and ''Pirates,'' straight-up comedy has never quite been his forte--it is still a pretty amusing and frequently entertaining hybrid of horror and humor that works thanks to the all-in performances from MacGowran, Mayne and Polanski, some inspired gags here and there, the striking visuals and, of course, Tate herself. This is not a great or impressive role, to say the least, but Tate's total screen presence--not just her obvious surface beauty--is so overwhelming at times that you can still feel it even during the times when she isn't on the screen and it leaves you wondering what she might have accomplished as a movie star if she had managed to avoid her tragic fate.

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originally posted: 07/26/19 04:41:38
last updated: 07/26/19 04:55:54
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