Friday, March 1, 2019

Worth Mentioning - Plan a Paradise, Create a Hell

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

A contained thriller, a disturbing Ford, and a couple doses of horror.


The statistics about cell phone and pay phone use in New York City that director Joel Schumacher drops on the viewer at the start of his film Phone Booth may be long outdated, but seventeen years down the line from its release the film itself still holds up as a great dramatic thriller.

The most important information we get up front is that the street corner phone booth of the title is the last of its kind still in use in New York City, and that it's going to be removed the next morning. We're then introduced to the man who will be the booth's final occupant: Stu Shepherd (Colin Farrell), a "thinks he's a hot shot but he's actually a douchebag" publicist who gets a lot of use out of his cell phone, but has a special call to make from the phone booth at the same time every day. He enters the booth, slips off his wedding ring, and makes a call to his sort-of girlfriend Pam (Katie Holmes), an aspiring actress who is one of his clients.

As soon as he hangs up the phone, karma comes down on him hard. The phone rings, Stu unthinkingly picks it up, and on the other end is the voice of a stranger (Kiefer Sutherland) who knows everything about Stu, all about his secret love triangle with Pam and his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell), and wants him to confess to both of the women. Stu is forced to comply with the man's demands because he has a sniper rifle pointed at him from the window of a nearby building - a fact that he demonstrates a couple times, most disturbingly when Stu's refusal to leave the phone booth upsets a group of hookers who send their pimp over to deal with him. The pimp gets shot dead. That brings in the police and the TV cameras.

Stu steps into the phone booth 9 minutes into the film's brief, quick 81 minute running time, and there he remains until moments before the end credits start rolling. For most of that time, he's surrounded by police officers who have guns trained on him, believing he has a gun in the booth, so the stranger's sniper rifle isn't the only way he might get shot. The cop who tries to figure out what's going on here and to talk Stu out of the booth is the calm and sensible Captain Ramey (Forest Whitaker).

Farrell did a terrific job of playing Stu as a total slimeball at first, then getting us on his side as he shows desperation and vulnerability while pleading with the sniper over the phone. Eventually Kelly and Pam both end up in the crowd that has gathered around the phone booth, giving Stu a chance to lay out the entire truth about his sketchy life to them and everyone else watching. He does so in a tearful monologue that I have found emotionally effective every time I've watched the movie - which is to say, I start to get teary-eyed myself. I saw Phone Booth in the theatre in 2002 and I still remember that theatrical experience; my mom was with me and I could tell by the sound of her breathing that she was also getting choked up by Stu's confession. It's a fantastic moment.

Phone Booth was written by Larry Cohen, and I'm very impressed by how Cohen was able to fill an entire feature with the story of a man stuck in a phone booth. It is a short movie, but it's exactly as long as it needed to be, and it's always interesting and always moving. Schumacher keeps every minute lively, putting a lot of energy into the camera movements and editing - even using a lot of split screen to show what's going on with multiple characters at once. He could have padded the movie out a little by giving each character the whole screen to themselves all the time, but it wasn't necessary. 81 minutes was perfect.


Sometime in the late '80s, the cinematic adaptation of Paul Theroux's novel The Mosquito Coast was showing on cable, and I caught a couple minutes of it. A couple minutes in which the character Allie Fox, played by Harrison Ford, was coming off as a deranged douchebag... A child of probably only around 4 years old at the time, I was deeply disturbed. I knew Ford as a hero. Indiana Jones. Han Solo. Why was he coming off as such a creep? Why was his character being such a jerk to his family? That disturbed feeling has been stirred up within me every time The Mosquito Coast has come up again over the last thirty years.

Watching The Mosquito Coast now, I'm somewhat surprised it was made at all. What demographic did the studio think they could sell this to? This was a risk I don't think would be taken these days.

Allie Fox is a man appalled by the state of America in the mid-'80s and certain that the country is soon going to be destroyed in nuclear war. He packs up his wife (Helen Mirren), who is credited only as Mother and goes along with Allie's every whim without question, and four children - including River Phoenix as Charlie - and moves them to the Central American jungle, where he buys a village and begins building his own little community while butting heads with a missionary named Spellgood (Andre Gregory). Allie and Spellgood don't get along, but Charlie is intrigued by Spellgood's daughter Emily (Martha Plimpton), who volunteers to be his girlfriend and informs him, "I think about you when I go to the bathroom." I'm not even sure what that means.

At the edge of the river that runs past their new home, Allie constructs a large icemaker of his own invention, called Fat Boy. Once he's pumping out ice in the middle of the jungle and installing homemade air conditioning in his wooden hut, Allie starts taking on a bit of a messiah complex himself. "Ice is civilization," he says, and he wants to bring it to the isolated tribes in the jungle.

Things don't go well. In fact, this all turns out to be a complete disaster, and as things get worse and worse Allie gradually slips into insanity, dragging his family into dangerous situations, refusing help, telling his kids America has been blown up. I was right to be disturbed by Allie when I was a kid, because he is a very frustrating maniac.

Directed by Peter Weir from a screenplay by Paul Schrader (who had experience writing about characters going insane, being the writer of Taxi Driver), The Mosquito Coast was a financial failure and I can't imagine anyone could have ever thought it would make money. Who wants to see Ford acting like this? Who wants to watch a movie about a man risking the lives of his family to feed his own ego? Well, it's not an appealing concept, but if you do give The Mosquito Coast a chance it does happen to be a fascinating drama.


Presented in black & white and slowly paced, with so many moments of not much happening stretched to the limit that the film feels much longer than its 76 minute running time, writer/director Nicolas Pesce's feature directorial debut The Eyes of My Mother is a bit too "artsy" for my taste... And yet, beneath that artsy fartsy facade the film does tell an intriguing and disturbing story that brings to mind Ed Gein - the real-life killer and collector of body parts whose story inspired The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deranged, and Psycho, among others.

The film centers on Francisca, played by Olivia Bond as a child and Kika Magalhães as an adult, the daughter of Portuguese immigrants whose life on an isolated farm in the U.S. countryside becomes a nightmare when a stranger shows up in their yard one day. The decision to let that man into their home has repercussions that play out over several years, and viewers are shown murders, dismemberment, and the sight of people with their eyes and vocal cords removed being kept captive in chains. (The gurgling sound these captives make when they try to speak also made me think of the Chainsaw Massacre-esque Motel Hell.)

In the midst of these twisted, disgusting events, Francisca is dealing with grief and loneliness, a fact which humanizes her, but the things she does were too reprehensible for me to ever be able to truly feel sympathy for her.

The Eyes of My Mother is for a small audience, which makes it somewhat surprising that it has served as a great breakthrough for Pesce. It's an impressive technical accomplishment, but there's nothing here to indicate that the director could make something with mass appeal. Pesce is currently working on a reboot of the Grudge franchise, so we'll soon see how he does at making something aimed at a large audience.

REBORN (2018)

What if Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood's mousy heroine Tina had been the character in that movie who was saved from the grave by a bolt of lightning rather than slasher Jason Voorhees (who was given the Frankenstein's Monster treatment in the previous film, Jason Lives)? The character might have turned out something like electrokinetic teenager Tess in director Julian Richards' film Reborn.

Scripted by Michael Mahin, Reborn begins with a morgue attendant named Kenny acting strange around the corpses, and Sonny and Cher's son Chaz Bono does a very effective job of making Kenny come off as a slimy creep. When the hospital is hit by a lightning strike, an electrical surge revives one of the corpses, that of a stillborn baby. So Kenny decides to take the living dead infant named Tess home to mother so she can be raised as his little sister. On her sixteenth birthday, Tess breaks free of the metal bracelet that has been holding back her power to control electricity, then uses that power to break free of Kenny.

Meanwhile, after being plagued by nightmares for sixteen years, Tess's biological mother, actress Lena O'Neil, has coincidentally started trying to find out what the hospital did with the body of her baby. She is deeply disturbed to find that the body went missing, and doesn't realize that the young girl who has started attending her acting classes is actually her long-lost daughter...

Wrapping up in under 78 minutes (and that includes roughly 6 minutes of credits), Reborn moves along like a rocket, propelled forward by sequences in which Tess uses her electrokinetic abilities to kill anyone she feels wronged, threatened, or even annoyed by. As you can imagine, the power to manipulate electrical objects proves to be quite handy for a person on a killing spree.

Like the seventh Friday the 13th, Reborn owes a lot to the Stephen King story Carrie, but you won't be doing your viewing experience any favors to keep Carrie in mind while watching this electric boogaloo. Although there is a solid attempt at stirring up emotion with the drama between Lena and Tess, the pain they both feel over past events and how their lives have gone, the movie comes up a little short in the substance department. It could have benefited from taking more time to really dig into the subject matter instead of getting the viewer in and out so quickly. But the filmmakers even go so far as to directly copy the ending of Carrie at the end of their movie, so maybe they weren't taking it all that seriously.

The death scenes are fun to see, and the film is also worth checking out for the cast, like the aforementioned Bono. This serves as a strong introduction to Kayleigh Gilbert, who did a terrific job in the role of Tess, her performance complimented by the fact that she has a great look for the part, especially when her hair gets wild. This is only Gilbert's second feature, and I hope she's going to be doing a lot more work in the horror genre. Her most prominent co-stars are a trio of actors you've probably been a fan of since the 1980s (if you were around back then): Lena O'Neil is played by Re-Animator's Barbara Crampton, no stranger to dealing with scary things that come out of the morgue; the LAPD cop investigating the unusual deaths caused by Tess is Michael Paré, star of Eddie and the Cruisers and Streets of Fire (not to mention John "The Arrow" Fallon's The Shelter); and Commando's Rae Dawn Chong plays Lena's agent, who Tess isn't very fond of. I really enjoyed seeing these actors deal with the situation Reborn drops them into.

Although I ended up feeling like the movie could have been more than it is, I had a good time watching it. It delivers a quick dose of entertainment, and that's all it really needed to do.

The review of Reborn originally appeared on

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