Friday, March 26, 2021

Showtime’s ‘The Turning’ a decent ghost story with a major flaw

By Matt Pascarella

Running time: 1 hour 34 min

Rated: PG-13

A giant mansion with a checkered past. A governess hired to look after two unique children. Strange behaviors. A possible haunting. “The Turning” is based on the Henry James novella “The Turn of the Screw,” in which children suspect their estate is haunted. Overall, this is a decent movie with only one flaw.

It begins with a woman running from a large mansion, panicked and terrified. She is struggling to leave and does everything she can to leave the grounds as quickly as possible.

Kate (Mackenzie Davis) just got a job as a teacher, to Flora (Brooklynn Prince) who lives in the large mansion the woman was shown fleeing from in the beginning. Before arriving at the house, Kate stops to visit her mother (Joely Richardson) in a care facility. Once at the mansion, the first person she meets is Mrs. Grose, the caretaker (Barbara Marten). Mrs. Grose has been with the family for many, many years.

Kate and Flora meet and discuss a variety of topics. While giving Kate a tour of the estate, Flora mentions she has no friends. At another point in the movie, Mrs. Grose says that Flora doesn’t leave the grounds; I thought this was an immediate clue about Flora’s existence. Why would someone not be able to leave the grounds, even under supervision?

Flora tells Kate of her prior governess, Ms. Jessel (Denna Thomsen) and how she never got to say goodbye to her.

Flora’s older brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) returns from school and it’s learned he was expelled for attacking another student. Miles’ behavior toward Kate is unsettling from the start.

Weird things happen inside the house. Kate sees things and hears noises. Is it actually happening or is it in her head? Kate finds Ms. Jessel’s diary and learns about the former stablemaster, Quint (Niall Greig Fulton) who died in a horse accident.

Flora gets scared as she, Miles and Kate are about to leave the grounds; things get heated from there. Miles gets angry and tells Kate to leave like everyone else has. Kate wonders if she can do this and considered quitting.

Kate continues to see things in the house. More disturbing information comes from Ms. Jessel’s diary.

Later, Kate makes a discovery about Mrs. Grose.

What is going on in this house? Is it haunted? And what does Mrs. Grose know? What will happen to Flora and Miles? What does the future hold for Kate?

This is a decent horror movie; it’s not gory, or overly violent, but good enough that it keeps you interested. In watching it, I recognized some of the names and realized that the Netflix series “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is similar to this movie – they end very differently though.

I did mention a flaw; my only issue with this movie is its ending. I can’t say any more than that. It’s definitely worth watching. Maybe with the lights off.

Available on Showtime and to rent. <

Friday, March 19, 2021

Netflix’s ‘Moxie’ addresses tough topics with positive messages

By Matt Pascarella

Running time: 111 minutes

Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a high school junior is tired of the sexism and harassment of women at Rockport High School. She’s also sick of the staff’s indifference to it, specifically her principal, Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden) who would rather ignore certain behaviors just because it’s easier. Vivian decides to take a stand in this good movie that comes with a positive message.

On Vivian’s first day of school, she and her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) notice that the rankings have already begun. The rankings are list of ‘best this, best that’) put out by the boys, that rate the girls.

The beginning of the movie depicts serious harassment and discrimination from the captain of the football team, Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Mitchell is a bully and jerk right from the start. In a discussion about the importance of “The Great Gatsby” he interrupts and undermines a new student, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena). When Lucy tells Principal Shelly she feels unsafe, the principal brushes it off as something that can be worked out. Even after a more serious accusation, that the whole school is aware of, the principal glazes over it.

Vivian is working on a college essay that asks what cause she feels passionate about and what steps has she taken to make a change. She’s having a little trouble, so she talks to her mom, Lisa (Amy Poehler) and finds a box with a bunch of Lisa’s protest pamphlets and patches. Vivian makes a pamphlet, or zine, of her own called “Moxie,” and distributes it anonymously. The zine appeals to a couple girls right away. In it is a list of the dirtbags of Rockport High.

The Moxie zine gathers support very quickly and Vivian prints a few more. While the Moxie zine is largely about girls supporting girls, it draws the support of Seth (Nico Hiraga) who Vivian develops a crush on and it’s quickly reciprocated.

At a party, several girls, including Vivian, talk about the sexism at the school and are impressed by who wrote Moxie. They start a Moxie club. Solidarity among the girls at Rockport High increases as more Moxie zines come out.

Vivian and Lucy become friends and Claudia feels left out. Seth and Vivian get closer (and closer). Moxie officially becomes a school club, thanks to Claudia who later gets suspended. Kiera (Sydney Park) runs against Mitchell in a scholarship contest. Mitchell makes a plea during the school’s televised morning announcements that he is being attacked.

Vivian feels more than a little hopeless when things don’t go the way she wants and lashes out at her mom and her mom’s boyfriend. Mitchell is later accused of a horrific act.

What happens to Vivian and Claudia? And Seth? And even Mitchell?

There are a lot of layers here. This movie deals with subjects of sexism, inequality, race inequality, harassment, assault and probably a couple others I missed. It asks the question, “what are you going to do, nothing?” of anyone who witnesses discrimination of any kind. While the topics discussed in the movie are tough ones, they are important and “Moxie” illustrates that one person can make a difference – even if it’s not easy. I enjoyed this movie and would recommend it. <

Friday, March 12, 2021

Movie Review: Apple TV+’s ‘Palmer’ a story of second chances and acceptance

By Matt Pascarella

Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) didn’t have it easy growing up and recently got out of prison. As he struggles to figure out this somewhat new world ‘on the outside,’ he meets Sam (Ryder Allen), a little boy who is not afraid to be himself. The two develop a connection and become important to one another. ”Palmer” is a heartfelt story of acceptance and second chances.

Palmer has been in jail for 12 years. When he finally gets out, he moves in with his grandmother, Vivian (June Squibb). Vivian rents a trailer out back to Sam’s mom, Shelly (Juno Temple), who disappears for days – sometimes weeks. Vivian often looks after Sam when Shelly takes off.

During one of Shelly’s disappearances, Sam and Palmer meet. Sam doesn’t dress or act the way one might think a boy should; he likes dresses and princesses. At one point, Palmer says to him, “you know you’re a boy, right? Boys don’t play with dolls.” To which Sam responds, “well I’m a boy and I do.”

When no one else will hire him, Palmer gets a job as a janitor at Sam’s school. When Palmer sees Sam getting picked on, he stands up for him. Vivian later dies and Palmer is at a bit of a loss for what to do with Sam, so he takes him to the police station where they agree to take him, but say he’ll probably end up in Child Protective Services. While apprehensive, Palmer decides to let Sam stay with him instead.

Over time, he and Sam become friends and Palmer very much like a father figure. Palmer meets Sam’s teacher, Ms. Maggie (Alisha Wainwright) and the three go bowling together. Palmer and Maggie get close.

News of stipulations in Vivian’s will surprises Palmer. As Sam continues to stay with him, Palmer continues to make sure Sam is safe – even from adults. Sam notices Palmer’s efforts and tells him he is doing a good job. Palmer looks into becoming a legal guardian.

Out of nowhere, Shelly returns and Sam goes back to live with her and her abusive boyfriend Jerry (Dean Winters) who is not nice to Sam. Eventually, Child Protective Services takes Sam away. Palmer tries to convince Shelly to sign custody over to him, but she won’t have it.

Palmer again makes a plea for custody, but the judge turns him down. Palmer takes Sam away from Jerry and Shelly in the midst of a fight. This gets Palmer arrested and upsets Sam.

What will happen to Sam? Will Palmer get custody? What about Jerry and Shelly?

While this movie was a little slow to start, the story is very good. It was an emotional rollercoaster, but also a feelgood movie. It stresses the importance of being okay with who you are and is also a story of friendship and kindness. I’d recommend this one. Two thumbs up.

Available on Apple TV+.  <

Friday, March 5, 2021

Movie Review: ‘I Care A Lot’ a solid exploitive crime-comedy

By Matt Pascarella

Runtime: 1 hour 58 minutes

Rated R

Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) is great at her job – or that’s at least what she wants you to think. She’s been pretty successful until Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Weist) came along. Loosely based on real life events, this comedy crime-thriller was better than I expected. It will keep you guessing even after you don’t think you have to guess any more.

Grayson and her business partner/girlfriend, Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) have convinced many able-bodied elderly people they are no longer able to live on their own and they must now move to an assisted living facility. Afterwards, Fran and Grayson rob them, stealing from their assets and bank accounts.

In the beginning of the movie, Grayson says, “there are two types of people in this world: lions and lambs; I am not a lamb.”

After the death of Alan Levitt at Berkshire Oaks Facility, it is recommended to Grayson that she ‘go after’ Jennifer Peterson. Why? Peterson has no family, she lives alone, and she is quite wealthy. After a doctor (Alicia Witt) falsifies some information, a judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) says Grayson can add Peterson to her caseload. Grayson meets Jennifer and Jennifer is quickly brought to the assisted living facility like so many others who Grayson has taken advantage of before. After Peterson is in, Grayson raids her home and sells her possessions.

Maybe Peterson isn’t as unattached as originally thought. Peterson’s lawyer (Chris Messina) stops by Grayson’s office and says he knows what she’s up to. He sort of threatens her, and then bribes her. 

At this point Peterson is aware of what Grayson has done and tells her she’s the worst mistake Grayson will ever make.

There are some new developments regarding Peterson. Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage) is looking for her. Grayson and Fran meet Lunyov and it doesn’t go well. Several questions come up at this point about Jennifer Peterson. Grayson is aware that she may have bitten off more than she can chew. Things get a little crazy.

Have Grayson and Fran met their match? Have they finally conned the wrong person? And what about Jennifer Peterson?  And Roman Lunyov? How is he associated with Peterson?

I went into this fast-paced movie with only a peaked interest and zero expectations. I think it’s safe to say Marla Grayson and Fran are both antiheros. But not ones I was rooting for. Once the story began evolving and Marla had some opposition, I wasn’t rooting for anyone – but I really wanted to see how everything was going to play out.

Just a heads up: there is some language, violence, mild sexuality and drug use.

Also, don’t let your guard down when you think it’s okay to do so. You might be led in the wrong direction.

Two bags of diamonds way up.

Available on Netflix. <