VIFF 2021 Review: The Scary Of Sixty-First

Supernatural hauntings of a New York apartment and a ring of famous sex offenders spark intrigue in a pair (played by director Dasha Nekrasova and Madeline Quinn) in The Scary Of Sixty-First.

The Scary Of Sixty-First is an American film that’s part of the VIFF’s series of Altered States films which set one up to expect the unknown, unusual and even bizarre. Here, bizarre is an understatement.

The story begins close to Christmas with two female friends, Noelle and Addie, searching for an affordable apartment in New York City. The come across one place in the East Side which is grand in size and has just been made available after the recent death of its tenants. The realtor however makes clear that at an affordable price any place they accept is taken as is. The girls find a place in New York’s downtown area. They are willing to clean everything up even though it was left behind with a big mess, including a moldy turkey with a dead mouse found in it. After their cleaning, they decide it’s worth staying in temporarily.

They have no problem living together, even though Addie has a boyfriend named Greg. Addie is at a crossroads in her life. She doesn’t know whether to move on and establish herself, or live with Greg. One day, a young woman visits the place while only Noelle is home. She introduces herself and informs Noelle that this suite was owned by Jeffrey Epstein before he was arrested. Just when both Addie and Noelle were already starting to sense the bad vibes of the place, it gets even worse when they notice blood underneath the mattress. They find a tarot card with a provocative image that they feel holds a clue to the place.

The other woman and Nicole start having a tempestuous relationship. It almost appears the place is becoming more like Noelle’s and the other woman’s instead of Noelle’s and Addie’s. As they both are trying to get a better understanding of the place, Addie is feels drawn to the place, despite also sensing the danger of it. Addie starts having an interest in Prince Andrew as the woman tells Noelle of the stories involving Prince Andrew to the place. Things turn for the bizarre as while she has sex with Greg, she shouts in a demonic voice for him to imagine her underage. That creeps Greg out and starts the friction in the relationship. The woman and Nicole are especially freaked out by Addie’s frequent masturbation, child-like behavior, and fixation with Prince Andrew memorabilia.

As the woman and Noelle get further and further into the Epstein connection with this place, they have had enough. They go to a crystals shop where they think the man who runs the store will know what the tarot card means and will have a good sense of what’s wrong inside. The man turns out to be creepy as he appears to deride them both of what he senses in their aura. However once they show him the card, he’s convinced of the problem and warns them to leave.

Then one day, Addie arrives to the place appearing like she’s possessed by a demon. Both of the women notice Addie worshiping whatever appears to be in the place. The two have to go in, fearing the worst. The end culminates in something you would not at all expect no matter what you had anticipated. It’s even a surprise for Addie, Noelle, the woman and Greg.

This is truly a bizarre story. The story already begins on a creepy note about a house left over by deceased people which the two have to clean up themselves, only to discover a moldy turkey in the fridge with a dead mouse in it! The bizarreness just starts there and continues into weirder territory. The weirdness grows with the mention that this was owned by an associate of Jeffrey Epstein, then comes mention of Prince Andrew, and the bizarreness grows and grows after that. Sometimes, you’re left wondering what the main theme of the film is about? Sex-offenders? The supernatural? Bizarre possessions? What is the main subject? There were even other people leaving the theatre wondering what was the point?

Despite the bizarre story, I give credit to Belarussian-born Dasha Nekrasova. This is a very ambitious film she directs, co-writes with co-star Madeline Quinn and acts in. It’s a very daring story as it reaches into the supernatural, the provocative, and even the taboo. However it’s a story that gets you wondering what is the overall point? Yes, the ending is different from what one would expect, as one should be, but it doesn’t make sense in the end. Sometimes you wonder what was the film aiming to be? A scary drama? A scary comedy? A load of shock value? What exactly?

Despite my confusion with this, I will say the acting from Dasha was very good as she did an excellent job with her part. even the scenes where it didn’t appear to make much sense. Actually if anyone should understand this story, it’s Dasha. Madeline Quinn was also very good as Noelle. Being the co-writer of the story, she would most likely be the only other person who understands the story best. Betsey Brown was also very good as Addie. Being under a bizarre possession opens the door for bad acting. But Betsey pulled it off well. Mark Rapaport is also good as Greg. He has the luxury of portraying possibly the sanest character in the story!

Despite the weirdness of the film, this film has attracted awards mention. At the Berlin Film Festival, it won the Best First Feature Award and was nominated for an Encounters Award and a Teddy Award (given to LGBT films) for Best Feature Film. At the Sitges – Catalonian Film Festival, it was nominated for a New Visions Award for Best Motion Picture. Over on Rotten Tomatoes, many critics see this film as a tribute to the bad horror movies of the 80’s. Maybe these film festivals and critics are seeing something in it most of us didn’t.

The Scary Of Sixty-First is definitely far from your conventional story. However it’s a film that is often too weird or too bizarre in either subject matter or story line to make sense. Sometimes you’re left wondering what was the point? The story or shock value?

Triple Movie Review: Trainwreck, Vacation and Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

Okay, I said I’d do double-movie reviews reflecting a common theme. I actually would like to try something different: a triple-movie review. All three are comedies from this summer. All had a pre-opening buzz to them and all had mixed results. I know summer’s long over but I don’t mind publishing this now as this is more of a movie ‘summary than a movie review.

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader star as an unlikely couple in the unlikely romantic comedy Trainwreck.
Amy Schumer and Bill Hader star as an unlikely couple in the unlikely romantic comedy Trainwreck.

Trainwreck

Okay. I’ll start with a film that had medium-sized buzz. The film featured a rising comedic talent named Amy Schumer who also wrote the script. The film was directed by Judd Apatow who has delivered some of the best comedies in the last 10 years like the 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Bridesmaids. Here he and Amy both deliver the best comedy of the summer.

Part of it was giving it a common situation of the offspring of negligent parents. One daughter, Kim,  has things together and is making the effort to make a family. The other, Amy who is actually the prime source of the film’s humor, is a successful writer but lives irresponsibly and has a negative outlook on just about everything and everyone. Much like her father. That explains why she writes for a magazine an awful lot like Maxim. The humor comes when her attitude and habits are challenged with the situations she encounters and meets Mr. Right as the subject of her latest article.

A lot of it is Judd’s direction but a lot of it is Amy’s humor. Amy is a comedian who is not afraid to play idiotic women. Here Amy shows a character that has been devastated by a divorce in her childhood and never picked herself up. Her father said at the divorce “Monogamy’s not possible.” Here she lives it for herself and feels all the guys in her life have the same attitude. Even before she meets Dr. Aaron Connors, she gets a wake-up call from an athlete she has a one-night-stand with. She tells him banging every girl in the world is every guy’s dream but the athlete tells her “It’s not mine.” That was the first sign she needed changing but she was afraid to do it. It’s the encounter of Aaron that changes her but with difficulty as she still hangs on to her bad habits like drinking, toking up and fooling around.

It’s not just about the main situations in Amy Townsend’s path to love that make the story. There’s some unexpected humor too. There’s the feisty father in a nursing home. Then there’s his funeral where Amy starts the eulogy with “My father was an asshole,” but ends with “My father was the best father ever.” I’ve never seen a eulogy like that. There’s the addition of the homeless man Amy occasionally sees on the streets daily. The crude humor from the man blends in with the story well. There’s Amy’s relationship with her sister Kim’s step-family whom she doesn’t take to well, especially her socially awkward step-nephew Allister. There’s even the inclusion of pro-athletes in the movie that helps make the story that more fun. Hey, Amare Stoudemire isn’t the only one in there.

Amy is not the comedic performance to make the film. Colin Quinn adds his bit in as the irresponsible father whom Amy seems to model her own life with. He’s a father feisty to the end. Bill Hader was a good choice for playing the doctor and the love interest of Amy. However it was odd to see Bill play a character that was low-key in terms of comedy. I’ve seen him do more outlandish stuff in the past. I think he wanted to play it conservative here. Brie Larson was also good as Kim, the sister who has it together. Tilda Swinton was also good at playing the cold boss of Amy’s, Dianna. Makes you wonder who the brains behind all these men’s magazines are. Additional humor was added from Dave Attell as Noam, the homeless guy who Amy’s generous to.

Trainwreck is a rarity. A comedy that pulls the right kind of punches, delivers the right kind of shock without becoming too clumsy and sticks to its situation and characters. It also propels Amy Schumer to be a rising comedic talent for the future. My fav comedy of the summer. besides I like awkward romances.

Me Earl DyingMe And Earl And The Dying Girl

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl sounds like an awkward title. Even shocking. But the story actually turns out to be good if you give it a chance. This film won a comedic film award this year’s Sundance Film Fest.

The story is centered around Greg Gaines, a high school senior in Pittsburgh on the verge of graduating and heading to college. However he’s frustrated about what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Adding to the frustration is a mother who comes across as a ‘nagging machine,’ teachers who put pressure on him and the various cliques of students from the jocks to the drama dweebs to the loner freaks to his long time crush. Already that is one humorous element of the film. Senior year, the pressures to graduate and go to college, and the difficulty of fitting in with the other students. Funny how those of us long graduated can identify and laugh at the difficulties Greg is going through. Because we’ve all been there!

It’s not just about fitting in. It also included his friendship with Earl: a childhood friend whom Greg makes films with together. Humorous short films often relying on goofy and even crude humor.

The film’s humor isn’t just in things we can identify with but also in unusual situations. There’s Rachel, who learns she has leukemia. I’m sure all of us knew a kid in our high school days who had to fight cancer. However Greg is compelled to befriend her just to stop his mother from nagging. Over time we see the friendship grow from something Greg is forced to do into something real.

The film shows the positive aspects in the friendship between Greg and Rachel, Greg and Earl, and Greg, Earl and Rachel. Nevertheless the friendships do face a challenge as Rachel’s’ condition worsens and she decides to take herself off the medicine. That leads to a boiling point between the two that also leads to the end (albeit temporary) to the friendship of Greg and Earl as well as Greg being confronted by the fact his college acceptance had been declined because he spent too much time with Rachel.

I guess that’s what the film’s best attribute is. The film’s best quality is Greg’s situations resembling situations most of us all went through when we were 17 where we’d try to fit into school, try to decide what to do with our lives and try to make the best of situations. Even situations many of us don’t normally go through like befriending a cancer patient didn’t appear to deviate too much from our own lives.

It’s not to say it was all humorous. The scene where Rachel blurts out the hard truth about Greg befriending Rachel reminds us of how at 17 we would inhesitantly say brutal truths to people we either loved or hated out of our moods. Even the friction between Greg and Earl brings back ugly memories of us.

This was a very good comedy based off the book from Jesse Andrews with Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directing. They do a good job of creating a dark comedy of a high school scenario most of us can relate to with a twist. Befriending the terminally-ill Rachel was intended to be more humorous than tragic and I feel it hit a lot of right spots even when it didn’t compromise some of the more difficult elements. The friendship of Earl was also given good attention instead of having Earl be the ‘token black guy’ like in so many indie movies. Earl had a significant part in this movie.

The acting itself also made the movie. Thomas Mann did a very good job of playing a frustrated teenager who had a lot of growing up to do and achieved a lot of it in the span of a school year. Olivia Cooke did well as Rachel by making her look like a person trying to stay positive despite her terminal illness but imperfectly being the teenager she is. Ronald Cyler II is also good as the no-nonsense Earl who is a good friend but isn’t afraid to be brutally honest with Greg.

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a dark comedy full of ironies. It tries to make humor out of a tragedy in the middle of your typical teenage drama. It appears to have made the right moves.

VacationVacation

Even before Vacation hit theaters, even before I saw the trailer, I questioned whether this was a good idea. Seeing the trailer worsened my perception of the movie. However seeing it for myself convinced me this was the biggest waste of money I did this summer.

The film first seems like a good concept: Rusty Griswold, married with children now wants to take his own family to WalleyWorld. However it’s all downhill from here. The biggest faults come from writers/directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley. They take the Vacation movie formula and appear to have sabotage it with the lewdest, rudest, crudest humor you can come up with. There were many scenes I found hard to watch. Add to the mix unlikeable characters for Kevin Griswold as the foul-mouthed jerk of a younger son and James Griswold as the weenie of an older son and of course Rusty which I will get to later. Even Debbie Griswold was a turn-off with some of her stupidity.

Another big fault was the super-stocky character of Rusty Griswold delivered by Ed Helms. I’ve seen Ed do funnier stuff such as in the first Hangover when he did a more reserved character. I also saw him do a funny stock character as the idiotic kingpin in We’re The Millers. Here, his stocky character of Rusty Griswold was a complete miss. Just completely unfunny from the dialogue he’s given to the stocky delivery. He comes across looking idiotic. You’ll notice it at the beginning when he does his pilot job. You’ll get a bigger sense soon after when he talks to his sons about ‘boys having a vagina.’ Yes, sensing trouble that soon in the movie.

However the biggest thing that annoys me about Ed Helms’ performance is that he sabotages the role of Rusty. I’ve seen the other vacation movies and Rusty appeared to have a head on his shoulders. Even his stupidities in the other Vacation movies weren’t as different from the stupidities of other boys his age. Here, it gives the impression that Rusty went stupid overnight: even stupider than Clark ever was. There were even many times I left the theatre thinking this this may not have intended to be a movie of the Vacation series but an Ed Helms movie instead.

And since we’re on the topic of the Vacation series, the film gives the appearance near the end that it’s trying to have the ‘passing of the torch’ of the Vacation series from Clark to Rusty. Yes, that scene where Rusty is given Clark’s station wagon form the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation while Russ and the fam stay at Clark and Ellen’s B&B in San Francisco with an appearance from Clark and Ellen themselves: Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. The whole movie from start to finish and Ed Helms’ irritating acting shows it’s unworthy of such a passing of the torch.’ It has no feel of the other Vacation movies and often feels like it’s going for the shock laughs and fails miserably.

I will admit there was a scene or two I found with a decent amount of humor like the four cops from the four states at ‘Four States Corner.’ However most of the time it feels like the humor is there to disgust us or make us sick rather than play into the movie. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen mean-spirited, punch-below-the-belt humor done well but that’s something the likes of the South Park duo or Seth MacFarlane know how to ace and all those involved with Vacation fail consistently.

Vacation appears like it’s trying to do a lot of things. Try to be the latest in the vacation series, try to propel Ed Helms’ stardom or try to ‘entertain’ us with shock humor. Whatever it tries to do, it fails in every which way.

In conclusion, Trainwreck was the surprise comedic delight of the summer, Me and Earl And The Dying Girl was the offbeat comedy of the summer and Vacation was the comedy fail of the summer. There you go for summer comedies.

Movie Review: We’re The Millers

Jason Sudeikis (right) and Jennifer Aniston (left) lead an unorthodox trip in We're The Millers.
Jason Sudeikis (right) and Jennifer Aniston (left) lead an unorthodox trip in We’re The Millers.

At first I wasn’t too interested in seeing We’re The Millers back around when it opened across theatres August 7th. Well guess what? Its eighth weekend has passed and it’s still in the box office Top 10 so I figured I had to see why this is such a hit.

Before I review, I want to give the box office details that sparked my interest. When We’re The Millers first debuted at the box office, they were pitted that weekend against debuts from Elysium, Planes and the latest Percy Jackson movie that weekend. The big-budget Elysium was the winner that weekend with $29.8 million while We’re The Millers was second with $26.4 million. Actually Millers opened the Wednesday that week which gave them a healthy extra $9.5 million. That helped a lot in making back their $37 million budget that Sunday. The following weekend saw The Butler, which I will review at a later date, at the top with $24.6 million. As for last weekend’s debuters, the other three movies started to move down in terms of their weekend grosses while Millers remained in second with a healthy $18 million as compared to the humble $13.7 million Elysium racked up. Yeah, very humbling since Elysium came at a $115 million budget. The following week saw a repeat of the Top 2 with the Labor Day weekend only seeing the One Direction concert movie superseding the two. Even over the weekends in September, We’re The Millers still did consistently well and now sits at #9 in its eighth weekend with its total gross just recently passed the $140 million mark.

Firstly we have to admit that the situation of the comedy is humorously unusual. A veteran pot dealer has to make back money he lost by being a drug mule in Mexico for his boss. However being single makes him a dead giveaway to the police while families are often overlooked by the cops. So you have to admit creating a fake family with a runaway girl, a stripper neighbor who can’t stand him and a shy neglected boy in his block would make for an unusual premise and leave the audience wondering what will happen next. Having a bizarre drug-trading situation also adds to the story as well as another travelling family who’s uberfriendly and whose daughter captures the attention of Kenny adds too. Scenes like the strip-show getaway and the fake baby named Lebron add to the humor as well. The uberfriendly family having the father being a former FBI agent adds to the suspense in wondering what will happen next.  Many of the dramatic moments are somewhat predictable as you mostly know what will happen in the end but it’s still fun to see them played out. Also there are some surprise moments.

The actors themselves also added to the humor of the story. Jennifer Aniston is the one with the biggest resume in the movie. She has starred in hit after hit for so many years. Also adding to this is funny guy Jason Sudeikis. Many Saturday Night Live regulars in the past have gone on to bigger and better things once leaving, but it hasn’t happened to all of them. Very often the first few years after they leave determine whether their post-SNL success will be sink or swim. We’re The Millers is actually a very good boost for Jason Sudeikis. There’s no telling how far his next movies will go but Millers is already a good boost. Also good was the addition of Ed Helms. Funny thing that when I was watching this movie, I wondered if it was written by those involved with The Hangover because I saw a lot of similar humor elements. It wasn’t but including Ed as this off-the-wall cartoonish drug lord added to the humor. Makes you wonder how a yutz like Gurdlinger can be a successful kingpin. The young actors of Emma Roberts, Molly Quinn and Bill Poulter also added to the story as they appeared to be the ones closest to normal, even Casey the street girl. Actually I was surprised Poulter because I didn’t think he’d be the type for sexual slapstick or slapstick of any kind.

Another factor to the movie’s success could be as well is the timing of the movie. This comedy came as big-budget action flick after big-budget action flick were doing less than expected. It almost appeared the summer hype was fizzling out. I will admit that charmingly offensive humor doesn’t have the same heyday that it had back in the late 90’s-early 2000’s. You remember how gross out comedies like There’s Something About Mary, American Pie and Scary Movie surprised everyone by getting loads of people laughing with their low-brow humor and became bigger hits than expected. Since then there hasn’t been as mammoth of hits in the charmingly offensive comedy genre. Nevertheless it’s fair to say there was a steady diet of such thanks to the ‘Frat Pack’ or ‘Slacker Pack’ made up of Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson. They churned out comedies that kept everyone entertained continuously up until 2008 when people started to tire of them. Since then it hasn’t been as consistent but there have been some hits along the way. The first one being The Hangover. Its hit success proved that obnoxious and even lewd comedy could still draw good-sized crowds. Grown Ups soon followed. Last year was Ted. This year showed that the Hangover formula and the Grown Ups formula were fading. Fortunately We’re The Millers was able to take the place of both and became the surprise hit of the summer this year.

Actually from my own point of view, I found a lot of moment so We’re The Millers funny but also a lot of unfunny moments. Yes, there was the bag of dope disguised as a baby named Lebron. Yes, there was the stripper dance getaway. Yes, there was the idiot Gurdlinger. But all too often it seemed like they were resorting to sex humor or sexual languages for the sake of cheap laughs. It may be because I’ve aged but I’m okay with sex humor as long as it justifies itself in the movie or the script. All too often I can tell the sex humor or sex language is used for the sake of a shock effect or a cheap instant laugh. And that’s what it seemed to be doing all too often in Millers. I know I should be expecting this especially since the writers have The Wedding Crashers, She’s Out Of Your League and episodes of Married With Children to their writing credits. Even the director has Dodgeball to his directing credits. Nevertheless I felt it tried too hard to deliver shock-laughs at times. Hey, I know comedy is the hardest thing in the world to do but still…

We’re The Millers is a surprise hit of the summer and for a lot of good reasons. I often feel it’s National Lampoon’s Vacation meets The Hangover.  However it’s not to say that its over-the-top humor can come across as desperate for shock laughs at times. It’s all a matter for the audient to decide whether it’s funny or not.