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Films I Neglected To Review: Now Playing At A Theater You Will Be Avoiding
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Big Time Adolescence," "M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters," "The Postcard Killings" and "To Your Last Death."

"Big Time Adolescence" is yet another coming-of-age film about a basically good kid who falls under the sway of a bad influence but fails to recognize the obvious warning signs until it may be too late. This time around, the good kid is Mo (Griffin Gluck) and the bad influence is Zeke (Pete Davidson), who used to date Mo's older sister until she dumped him for being an irresponsible loser six years earlier when Mo was only nine. Since then, Zeke has been Mo's one friend and always manages to carve out time from his busy schedule of getting stoned and doing nothing to offer him deeply dubious life lessons, much to the chagrin of Mo's concerned father (Jon Cryer). Zeke even convinces Mo to start selling drugs for him to his classmates at parties, a move that makes him instantly popular with the cool kids (as long as the drugs are available) while alienating him from the one classmate (Oona Laurence) who actually likes him for who he is rather than what he is selling. The twist is that Zeke genuinely does care about Mo and thinks that he has his best interests at heart, even if that interest is heading Mo towards a collision with a brick wall that everyone but the two of them can see coming from a mile away.

How one reacts to "Big Time Adolescence" will no doubt depend on their tolerance for seeing "SNL" cast member Davidson in his first lead role in a film. While the part of Zeke is not exactly heavy lifting on his part--the character plays into his persona as a perpetually sketchy burnout who always appears to be one step away from jail, rehab or the morgue--it does make effective use of his particular, I guess "charm" is the word, and both he and writer-director Jason Orley are careful to make sure that, even at his most charming, there is something vaguely unpleasant about virtually everything he says and does. As the actual father figure in Mo's life, Jon Cryer is very good as he tries to negotiate the tricky path of guiding his son through the storm of adolescence without coming across as too overbearing. The problem with the film is that while they are intriguing characters, Mo himself is just not that interesting, either as his gawky true self or in his cool phase as "the man with the bag," and that leaves a hole at the center of the film that cannot be avoided. I also wish that the film had spent just a little more time developing the female characters, especially Mo's classmate and Zeke's long-suffering new girlfriend (Sydney Sweeney), who also proves to be a big influence on Mo's development, and giving them things to do other than to simply react to what the guys are doing. Like Zeke himself, "Big Time Adolescence" has a certain undeniable charm for a while but, also like Zeke, it wears out its welcome after a while.

As the found footage thriller "M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters" opens, single mother Abbey (Melinda Page Hamilton) is trying to raise her 16-year-old son Jacob (Bailey Edwards), who has been prone to throwing violent temper tantrums since childhood. Increasingly worried that he might be a psychopath in the making, she sneaks into his room one day and finds a number of red flags suggesting that he may be preparing to do something monstrous. Torn between wanting to protect her son while still fearing the worst, she installs hidden cameras throughout the house so that she can monitor his behavior and upload the videos on line so that other worried mothers can use them to look out for warning signs in their own kids. The fact that little in the footage seems directly threatening does not seem to assuage her fears in any way but when Jacob himself discovers the footage and what his mother is convinced he is planning to do, he decides to turn the tables on her.

In other words, the essentially suggests what might have resulted if "We Need to Talk About Kevin" had been made by the "Paranormal Activity" crew. As concepts go, this is certainly an interesting one and it has been presented with some skill by writer-director Tucia Lyman, bolstered by convincing performances by Melinda Page Hamilton and Bailey Edwards in what is essentially a two-person show. (Ed Asner, of all people, briefly pops up in a brief role as a therapist in an appearance that is more distracting than anything else.) And yet, while I can sort of appreciate it on an intellectual level, I cannot deny that I felt nothing but an increasing sense of distaste towards the film while watching it. The notion of a mother grappling with the possibility that their child is planning something horrendous is undeniably wrenching but the film doesn't really seem to have much interest or insight about that other than to serve as a narrative hook. As the film lurches into its final third, it essentially abandons any attempts at insight in order to present a long series of physical and psychological cruelties that swerve the film into the area of torture porn. "M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters" is ambitious and makes me curious as to what Lyman will do next, but in the end, it is little more than a bleak stunt film that spends too much time being needlessly cruel and nasty and not enough time being especially edifying.

I confess that I have never read any of the works of best-selling author James Patterson but if "The Postcard Killings," an adaptation of the internationally successful thriller that he co-wrote with Swedish author Liza Marklund, is any indication, I am relieved to discover that I am apparently not missing much. In this screen adaptation, which Marklund co-wrote, Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Jason Kanon, a New York police detective who, as the story opens, learns that his daughter and son-in--aw were brutally murdered in London while on their honeymoon. Consumed with anger and grief, Kanon begins poking around and discovers similarities between his daughter's death and other killings throughout Europe, such as each one being preceded by a postcard sent to a local journalist in the city of each upcoming killing. He soon ends up in Sweden, where he meets up with the latest postcard recipient, a writer named Dessie (Cush Jumbo) and they try to crack the case before more bodies turn up, not always at once.

A quick perusal of the film's IMDb page suggests that the journey from the page to the screen for this film was a particularly hard one--it spent years in development and a number of actors drifted in and out of the cast before, and in one case during (as Famke Janssen replaced Connie Nielsen in the role of Kanon's ex-wife), shooting commenced. Unfortunately, during all that downtime, no one seemed to realize that the basic narrative just wasn't all that compelling. Most of the film is a standard-issue "Seven" knockoff involving people investigating grotesque crime scenes and trying to figure out what the murders mean, all in the most boilerplate manner imaginable. In an attempt to liven things up, the first half of the movie intercuts Kanon's investigation with the adventures of another young couple unwittingly stepping into a trap and then throws in a big twist for good measure that is undercut slightly by the fact that even inattentive viewers will see it coming a mile away. (There is another twist later on that somehow manages to come across as being even sillier.) There is no suspense to speak of, the actors all look bored as they speak lines that feel as if they went through two or three imperfect online translators and director Denis Tanovic--a very long way from the Oscar-winning "No Man's Land"--presents the material in the blandest and most perfunctory manner imaginable--even the mutilated corpses somehow seem bored by the proceedings. At this point, I might have considered closing out this review of "The Postcard Killings" with some dumb joke playing off of the title--saying "Wish You Weren't Here" or something along those lines. Because I care too much, I am not going to subject you to that but bear in mind, no joke that I could have added could possibly be as trite and hackneyed as the film itself.

The publicity materials for "To Your Last Death" state that this is the first full-length American animated horror film and if that is indeed the case, this gory effort certainly seems to be making up for lost time. One night, the estranged children of demented and abusive tycoon Cyrus DeKalb (Ray Wise) are summoned to his impregnable high-rise building late one night for a mysterious reunion. It seems that Cyrus, whose political aspirations were scuttled when his children banded together to make his history of abusive behavior public, is dying of a brain tumor and, instead of going gently into that good night, has decided to avenge himself by killing his kids via a series of elaborate deathtraps based on the ways in which they have embarrassed him in the past--with one being a cutter and another into auto-erotic asphyxiation, you can imagine the possibilities. Although her siblings are slaughtered, eldest child Miriam (Dani Lennon) escapes but winds up in a hospital and about to be arrested for the murders herself. This prompts the arrival of The Gamemaster (Morena Baccarin), a multi-dimensional version of Ace Rothstein, sans the keen fashion sense, who takes bets on life-and-death situations across the time-space continuum and can alter events as she sees fit. The Gamemaster offers Miriam a chance to reset the clock and have a do-over of those fatal events, this time with the knowledge of what is coming to even the odds, so that she can save her brothers and sisters and defeat dear old Dad.

With its weirdo plotting, funky visual style and extremely liberal doses of bloodletting, "To Your Last Death" is a film that might have found a place on the midnight movie circuit back in the day. Seen at a more normal hour, the film reveals itself to be a curiosity but not much more than that. It does have the novelty of being an animated horror feature and while that is interesting for a little while--there are some things on display here that even gorehounds might have found to be too much if they had been presented in live-action--that sensation soon wears off, especially since the look of the film makes it resemble an especially demented episode of "Archer" more than anything else. While the premise is promising, the screenplay never quite manages to establish the Gamemaster and her cadre of bettors or the various degrees of control that they have over the proceedings, leading to an increasingly frustrating litany of narrative rug-pulls that eventually wear out their welcome. As Miriam, Dani Lennon does a good job of establishing her character's combination of sheer determination and fragile psyche. On the other hand, William Shatner intermittently pops up as the Rod Serling-like narrator but his contributions are so superfluous to the proceedings that they feel like an afterthought that was dropped in as a way of getting Shatner on the poster. The best thing about the film is Ray Wise's gleefully malevolent turn as Cyrus--this is a part that fits him like a glove (and I mean that in the best way) and he takes to it with undeniable zeal. "To Your Last Death" may be uneven and ultimately unsatisfying but when his character is on the screen, the film comes alive.


link directly to this feature at https://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=4223
originally posted: 03/13/20 02:28:57
last updated: 03/13/20 04:31:58
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