Film

Belated SF Indiefest Feature Round-Up: ‘Have a Nice Life’; ‘Quaranteened’; ‘Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break’; ‘All My Friends Hate Me’; ‘Pretenders’

I got no excuse here, folks: I was supposed to have these out during the festival itself, but life (and concerns about the-goddamn-pandemic-whichhasnotended) delayed it. As I was writing other work for places that were actually paying me, this-thing-that-I-write-for-free fell by the wayside.

So, whereas my previous reviews for this year’s festival were detailed and thorough, this round-up’s gonna have to be a buncha quick shots meant to both clear my “Drafts” box and maintain my sanity.

Your ‘Life’ Sucks: ‘Have a Nice Life’

(Parori Productions)

“I sent that bitch a smiley face. Bitches love smiley faces.”
The Boondocks, “Let’s Nab Oprah” (s1e11), writ. By Yamara Taylor

This flick reminded me of The Force Awakens, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. JJ Abrams’ overrated debut for Star Wars was, like Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, so slavishly devout to what came before that it was more concerned with replicating the original rather than innovating the way it did. The result in both cases was a ham-fisted sequel that didn’t have the courage to call itself a remake.

Have a Nice Life isn’t based on any pre-existing property, but it’s so reverent to the “on-the-road buddy picture” that you can reassemble its thin plot from random scenes left over from those flicks. But for all work making this story fit into the genre mold, it didn’t bother to give us characters we’d actually like to follow.

I certainly see the logic behind writer-director Prashanth Kamalakanthan’s story, in that he wanted to show an old-fashioned culture-clash story between conservative Indian wife Jyothi (Jagathi Kamalakanthan) and crass American Sophie (Lucy Kaminsky). Certainly, cinema has seen its share of odd couples, but there’s never a reason given for these two to get together, let alone stay together.

They meet at a pawn shop, where Sophie – the foul-mouthed, unemployed, stoner musician – is trying to sell her guitar just as the meek Jyothi is looking to buy a hand gun to use on her philandering husband. When Jyothi, who isn’t a full US citizen, is unable to get through the red tape, Sophie purchases a musket for her. This leads to a misadventure in which Sophie shoots someone, insists Jyothi destroy her phone to not be tracked, and goes back-and-forth between supporting and chastising Jyothi’s planned revenge.

At no point during the proceedings do these two ever make a real connection. Most of the time, it’s hard to believe these two live on the same planet, let alone share a car from North Carolina to Montreal. By the time we reach the abrupt, anti-climatic ending, one finds oneself long past the point of wishing for the end.

GRADE:                              D

Official site: https://hanlmovie.com/               

Gimme a ‘Break’: ‘Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break’

(Bonne Bouche Media)

“You must finish a term & finish every day, & be done with it. For manners, & for wise living, it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could — some blunders & absurdities no doubt crept in forget them as fast as you can tomorrow is a new day.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a letter to his daughter (1854)

As I write this, Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place has finally moved on from its eponymous creator/author spending two days indulging in the Schadenfreude of recollecting the non-career of Troy Duffy, writer-director of the cult film The Boondocks Saints. I’ve never seen that film, nor its belated sequel, but everything about it screamed “Tarantino knock-off”, including the fact that Duffy got the endorsement of Harvey-fucking-Weinstein. As someone who was an impressionable teen when Pulp Fiction set the world on fire, I can well recall every imitator that followed, peppering their crime flicks with idiosyncratic villains and pop culture references (something Tarantino stole from Elmore Leonard, whose Rum Punch novel Tarantino adapted into Jackie Brown, arguably his best film).

It’s debatable whether British film-maker Guy Ritchie should be counted amongst those Tarantino wannabes, but Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is definitely a Guy Ritchie knock-off, which should tell you almost all you need to know going into it.

Our eponymous lead is a loser having a shitty day, not unlike Michael Douglas in Joel Schumacher’s shitty Falling Down. Like Douglas’ buzzcut bastard, Paul Dood decides today is the day he’s gonna get back at those who wronged him and – in his mind – did the actions that led to his mother’s death. But unlike Douglas’ character, Dood isn’t even proactive enough to actually kill anyone – they all die through a series of contrived accidents for which he’s blamed.

Also, he want’s to be on a musical competition show and somehow has a girlfriend.

If you’ve read my writing for long enough, you’ll know that I don’t really believe there’s such a thing as a bad story, just good and bad ways of telling that story. In the right hands, this film could have been a brilliant satire of British manners (and lack thereof), the quest for fame, and the hypocrisy of institutions like the church contrasted with media worship. These are not the right hands.

I’m not giving it an “F” because I do recall a few occasional chuckles, but I honestly can’t recall what they were?

GRADE:                              D+

Mind if I Fake it?: ‘Pretenders’

“In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”
– Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

I hate to repeat myself, but this is another project that could have been brilliant. Unlike Paul Dood, this one just needed to get out of its own way.

A story about a young Japanese woman who fakes incidents for social media fame (and more) is ripe for portrayal. Had the film stopped 30-or-so minutes sooner, it would have been a good-not-great film. Instead, it not only extends its runtime, but features one terrifying incident that has the film-makers crossing the line. Yes, it’s an attempt to show the characters what happens when that line is crossed, but that doesn’t excuse the callous way in which the film-makers do it.

It left a bad taste in my mouth and ruined nearly all of what came before it.

GRADE:                              B-

They Slow Up so Fast: ‘Quaranteened’

“Youth is when you are allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. Middle age is when you are forced to.”
– Bill Vaughn, Senator Soaper (1958)

This is not only one of the best films of the festival, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year (which, I grant you, hasn’t been many). A documentary of Midwest teens during the initial 2020 lockdowns – they deal with cabin fever, missed friends, holidays, George Floyd, and the realization that this damn pandemic may never end.

Two years later, I’m sorry to say that they’re right.

GRADE:                              A

u WON’T Hate It: ‘All My Friends Hate Me’ – Centerpiece Film

(Totally Tom Films)

“Do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends?”
– Vermont newspaper (1818)

Pay attention other film-makers: this is how you do dark satire the right way.

There are a few times it goes into straight-up horror, but that’s good, too. Still funny as hell and a damn good time.

GRADE:                              A-

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