Friday, February 8, 2019

Worth Mentioning - It's the Things You Love That Kill You

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 jaw-dropping true story, horror, and a blind gunman.


The most incredible thing about I Love You to Death, which was directed by Lawrence Kasdan from a screenplay by John Kostmayer, is the fact that it was based on a true story. Sure, some details were changed for the sake of drama - and for comedy, since this is primarily a comedy - but in broad strokes the events actually happened.

I won't describe those events too much, because they're something to witness within the film and be amazed that they really happened, but the story centers on married couple Joey (Kevin Kline) and Rosalie (Tracey Ullman), and deals with what takes place when Rosalie finds out that Joey cheats on her frequently, with multiple women every week. With the help of her mother Nadja, played by a hilarious Joan Plowright, Rosalie decides to get revenge on Joey... and along the way characters played by River Phoenix, William Hurt, and Keanu Reeves get pulled into the potentially deadly scheme.

I Love You to Death is surprisingly amusing given the subject matter, and it's fine to laugh at this stuff because the real life situation had such an unexpected, some would say ridiculous, outcome. This is a decent comedy, one that I would chuckle at when I would catch moments of it here and there on cable back in the '90s but didn't fully appreciate until watching it in full more than twenty-five years later.

Watch the movie, then look up the true story, which is definitely a case of fact being stranger than fiction.


I can never watch any movie that's about a group of characters fighting among themselves while trapped in one location without thinking of George A. Romero's 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, and it didn't take long for that film to pop into my head while watching director Johnny Kevorkian's Await Further Instructions. Scripted by Gavin Williams, the film happens to be about a rather awful family that has gathered together to celebrate the Christmas holiday with each other. The squabbling starts almost immediately, but the characters' distaste for each other takes on a darker, more dangerous tone when they find that all of the doors and windows have somehow been blocked by a metallic substance that makes leaving the house impossible.

The characters we follow into this mess are Nick (Sam Gittins) and his girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik). Nick is concerned that his family is going to be too racist to accept Annji, since they're white and she is of Indian descent, and he's right to be concerned. His family, especially his sister Kate (Holly Weston) and their nasty old Grandad (David Bradley) handle the presence of Annji terribly, so much so that Nick and Annji are ready to give up on this get-together, go home and spend Christmas eating pizza and watching Doctor Who. Which sounds like a perfectly fine way to spend the holiday to me. Unfortunately, when they're opening the door to leave is when they discover all the exits are blocked.

From that point on, the audience is left to be appalled, as Nick and Annji are, by the way Nick's family handles this situation. While Grandad is antagonistic, you've got Nick's father Tony (Grant Masters) trying to prove he can take control and get everyone through this safely, Nick's brother-in-law Scott (Kris Saddler) acting like Tony's lackey, the pregnant Kate encouraging the machismo, and mom Beth (Abigail Cruttenden) just going along with everything her husband says. And of course, the people who take control are hot-headed idiots who have no time for logical, rational suggestions.

There's a line in Night of the Living Dead that has always made the audience laugh whenever I've seen it with a crowd. When asked if the course of action they're taking is the right one, a character says, "The television said that's the right thing to do." It's funny to hear someone say they're taking advice from the TV - but in an emergency situation, that's what people are mostly likely to do. That's certainly what Nick's family does. As soon as he sees the metal, Nick's father assumes that the government has put them under quarantine to protect them after a terrorist attack, and the others immediately accept that as the answer to the question of what's happening here. Then they see a message appear on the TV in green text: "Stay indoors and await further instructions." Well, they have no choice but to stay indoors, but those instructions they await eagerly, and when they arrive they carry them out, no matter what they are. These people give themselves over to the TV completely.

Watching this group fight with each other, turn against the most sensible people among them, and make idiotic decisions just because words on a TV told them to, I went beyond not caring if they got injured and started actively rooting for most of them to get hurt or die. They are a very aggravating bunch, and I wanted to see bad things happen to them.

Most of the characters are morons, but that's not a strike against the film or Williams' script. The movie is effective because these people are maddening, it's emotionally involving (the primary emotion being anger) because they're such mindless sheep, and the actors do a great job of making their characters disgusting. I got wrapped up in what was going on.

Now, my distaste for the characters will have an effect on the film's rewatchabilty, as these aren't people I'll want to come back and spend more time with in the future. But for this initial viewing, Await Further Instructions made for an engrossing, enraging viewing experience, and I was delighted to see it get stranger and stranger as it went along. I'm not going to want to watch this movie a bunch of times, but it was absolutely worth watching.

The review of Await Further Instructions originally appeared on

UNSANE (2018)

Steven Soderbergh intended to retire from directing years ago, but somehow just wasn't able to leave the career behind. At least he's still keeping it interesting for himself, doing things like making Unsane, his first horror movie, shooting it in 10 days on an iPhone 7 Plus, and getting the result a wide theatrical release. The film didn't make very much money from that release, but at least it got out there, and it was made for just $1 million anyway. That's certainly a higher budget than the average movie shot on a phone has, but not so much for something like this.

Unsane caught my interest through the fact that it was shot on a phone, I was curious to see it because of that, but it held my attention when the screenplay written by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer proved to be crafting an intriguing thriller story.

Claire Foy stars as a young woman named Sawyer Valentini, who recently had a terrible experience with a stalker. Hoping to overcome the trauma of that situation, Sawyer seeks help at the Highland Creek Behavioral Center - but after a routine visit with a counselor, Sawyer finds herself committed against her will, and there's paperwork showing that she has requested to be committed for 24 hours. When Sawyer reacts poorly to that news, her stay is extended to a week.

Now Sawyer is stuck in the mental ward, desperately trying to find a way to get released immediately, and the viewer begins to wonder whether she is sane and trapped at Highland through some sort of villainous act, or if she really needs to be a patient there. The validity of her claims is called into question even more when she starts insisting that one of the orderlies at Highland, a man played by Joshua Leonard, is her stalker.

The alleged presence of the stalker and the possibility that Sawyer's stay at Highland could last even longer than a week isn't the only threat she has to deal with. She also has to sleep in the same room as a troubled young woman named Violet (Juno Temple), who carries a shiv and throws bloody tampons around.

I was invested in seeing how this scenario would play out, and in finding out if Sawyer was truly "unsane" or not. At the same time, I was interested in evaluating the quality of the image. Some shots in Unsane don't look all that great, making the film look exceptionally cheap, but for the most part the iPhone did a good job of capturing an acceptable cinematic image. As more and more independent filmmakers are realizing, phones have become a viable way to shoot movies.

Regardless of how it was shot, I found Unsane to be an enjoyable psychological thriller.


One of these days I'm going to get around to watching the Japanese series of films that followed a character named Zatoichi, a blind swordsman who got into various adventures while wandering the land. While building up to that, I have enjoyed a couple movies that drew some inspiration from Zatoichi: the childhood favorite Blind Fury, which starred Rutger Hauer as a blind Vietnam veteran with a blade hidden in his cane, and now director Richard Spence's 1994 HBO TV movie Blind Justice. I should have watched Blind Justice a long time ago, but somehow only just saw it for the first time this year.

Written by Daniel Knauf and apparently (unofficially) also inspired to some degree by the DC comic book Jonah Hex, the film stars Armand Assante as Canaan, a gunslinger who was blinded during the Civil War and now wanders the Old West collecting bounties. When we meet him Canaan is working on fulfilling a dying man's request to transport a baby across the desert to her mother, but he quickly finds himself in the middle of a standoff between U.S. soldiers and a gang of bandits led by Robert Davi. The soldiers were on their way to the mint and the bandits want that silver. Canaan just wants to get the baby to her destination, but he's going to have to wipe out these bandits before he can safely move on his way.

Canaan is a complicated fellow. He's dedicated to keeping his promise to transport the baby because he obviously has experience with abandonment, and he will stick up for the defenseless without being asked, but he's also driven by greed and has a fiery temper. He's a hero in the end, but sometimes it's a bumpy path getting there.

He doesn't have to wait to be rewarded, though, because local woman Caroline (Elisabeth Shue) is so intensely attracted to him that she quivers at his touch and doesn't want him to leave town. Shue fans, watch out for the stunningly gratuitous nipple slip.

Jack Black fans, watch for his appearance. He shows up as a soldier and is on screen slightly longer than the nipple. Just long enough for him to be amazed by Canaan's ability to catch flies out of the air.

Blind Justice has its slow patches, but it's a pretty solid Western overall and Assante is great in the lead. I would have liked to have seen Canaan show off his shooting skills more often, but the scenes where he does are cool. It's like Johnny Depp in Once Upon a Time in Mexico - filmmakers introduce the concept of these awesome "blind gunman" characters, then don't do enough with them. Since I liked the idea and wasn't entirely satisfied with what Blind Justice gave me, I would have been glad to follow Canaan through another movie. Zatoichi has over 20 movies, why couldn't Canaan get 2?

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