Review: ‘Mortal,’ starring Nat Wolff and Priyanka Bose

November 8, 2020

by Carla Hay

Iben Akerlie and Nat Wolff in “Mortal” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Mortal”

Directed by André Øvredal

Some language in Norwegian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Norway, the sci-fi thriller “Mortal” features an almost all-white cast of characters (and one Indian) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A mysterious young man is hunted by authorities because he has a lethal ability to conduct energy and electricity through his body.

Culture Audience: “Mortal” will appeal primarily to people who like formulaic sci-fi flicks that put more emphasis on visual effects than in crafting a good story.

Priyanka Bose in “Mortal” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Mortal” starts off as a run-of-the-mill sci-fi flick before it turns into a ludicrous off-the-rails story. Even before the plot twist is revealed in the last third of the movie, “Mortal” had too many weak links for it to be strengthened by the “surprise” ending. This plot twist actually makes the movie worse, because the ill-conceived, drastic turn in the story looks very tacked-on and rushed. It’s as if the filmmakers were desperate to come up with an ending to bring “Mortal” out its repetitive rut.

Directed by André Øvredal (who co-wrote the screenplay with Norman Lesperance and Geoff Bussetil), “Mortal” is essentially a sci-fi chase movie that doesn’t really go anywhere. The movie centers on an American man in his mid-20s named Eric Bergland (played by Nat Wolff), who is in Norway looking for his relatives. The details of his family aren’t revealed until toward the end of the movie, because it’s part of the plot twist.

And so, for almost the entire movie, viewers don’t know anything about Eric except that he’s homeless in Norway and he has a very strange and deadly power: He can conduct and transport energy (especially electrical energy) through his body, giving him the ability to start fires and cause electrical storms. In the beginning of the film, Eric is by himself, looking like he’s a dirty and disheveled vagrant who’s trying to hide from the world.

He trespasses into a home to steal some scissors, medicine, bandages and candy. He eats the candy as if he’s been starving for days. He uses the scissors to cut his hair. And he uses the medicine and bandages to treat a festering wound on his leg.

It’s revealed later in the movie that Eric can get burns on his body when he’s at his peak of energy-conducting power. Viewers will have to suspend disbelief that Eric can be burned everywhere on his body except his face, because nothing bad ever happens to his face except for the unfortunate straggly beard that Eric has at the beginning of the film.

At a gas station in the municipality of Odda, Eric catches the attention of four teenagers (three boys and a girl) in a car. A bullying guy named Ole (played by Arthur Hakalahti), who’s the leader of the group, taunts Eric for looking like the dirty transient that he is. The car then happens to follow Eric to an open field.

Ole gets out of the car, while the other teens follow him and Eric into the field. Ole continues to harass Eric, who warns Ole in an ominous voice: “If you touch me, you will burn.” But of course, Ole touches Eric. And when he does, Eric stares at Ole intensely, while Ole appears to be suffocating without Eric touching him. Ole then immediately collapses and dies.

Eric is quickly apprehended by authorities, who don’t find out much about Eric except for these three things: (1) He’s a backpacker from the United States, but he’s of Norwegian heritage; (2) He’s in Norway to look for his relatives; and (3) He was seen at a farmhouse in Årdal, a municipality in Norway’s Vestland county, where three years before, a fire killed five people at the house. Eric is suspected of starting the fire, but he’s not talking to law enforcement about what happened at that house.

The sheriff of Odda is Henrik Jondal (played by Per Frisch), who’s in charge of the investigation into the death of Ole. The police aren’t making any progress in interviewing Eric, because he refuses to say much to them, so Henrik has the idea to call someone who has experience counseling teenagers and other young people. The hope is that this counselor will be able to break through to Eric and get him to open up about the death of Ole.

The counselor’s name is Christine Aas (played by Iben Akerlie), and she looks like she’s approximately the same age as Eric. And as soon as she appears on screen, it’s easy to see that she’s going to be Eric’s love interest because she has the stereotypical physical appearance (young, blonde and pretty) of a love interest in a formulaic movie like this one.

Even though Christine looks young enough to only be a few years out of college, the movie has made her a whiz at diagnosing medical conditions because she figures out very quickly what Alex’s superpower is. Not long after Christine is put in a police interrogation room with Eric to ask him some questions, he goes from being mute to gasping remorsefully about Ole, “I tried to tell him not to touch me.”

Meanwhile, Henrik is in another section of the police station, where he’s dealing with the parents of Ole, who want answers about what caused Ole’s death. Ole’s father Bjørn (played by Per Egil Aske) is very angry because he knows that the police have Eric in custody as a suspect. (The arrest has been all over the news.) Bjørn demands to be in a room alone with Eric, but Henrik refuses. It’s pretty clear at this point that this won’t be the last we see of Bjørn, who might as well have worn a T-shirt that says “Vigilante Justice,” because that seems to be the only purpose for his character in this movie.

Back in the police interrogation room, Eric reaches for a glass of water, and Christine sees that he’s able to lift the water out of the glass, just by putting his hand above the glass. This gives him such electrical energy force throughout his body, that when Eric places his hands on the wooden table, it scorches the table. And then, Eric gets so upset, the entire room lights up with an electrical storm caused by Eric.

Christine tells Eric the obvious: The energy comes out when he’s experiencing negative emotions, such as fear, anger or anxiety. She tells him that he can control the energy if he just breathes and calms down and gets to a relaxed emotional state. Now that Little Miss Expert has diagnosed Eric’s problem in a matter of minutes, you almost expect her to say, “I’ll be right back. Let me get a yoga mat for you so we can do some breathing exercises.”

Henrik rushes in and witnesses the “electrical storm” in the room, and everyone rushes out before more damage can be caused. The authorities sedate Eric with medication. And a U.S. Embassy official named Cora Hathaway (played by Priyanka Bose) is summoned to take Eric by helicopter to a place that isn’t made clear in the movie because this movie’s screenplay is kind of a sloppy mess. However, viewers can assume that he’s going somewhere for scientific tests.

Eric is strapped to a gurney during the helicopter ride. But when he wakes up and sees that he’s essentially being imprisoned against his will, he goes crazy and creates such a big electrical storm that it causes the helicopter to crash into the ocean. Everyone on the plane dies except for Cora (who ends up in a hospital) and Eric, who has temporarily disappeared. Cora eventually gets released from the hospital and makes it her mission to track down Eric so he can be put back into the custody of the government.

Meanwhile, Eric shows up in the outdoor parking lot of the apartment building where Christine just happens to be at that moment. Somehow, in the short time that Christine and Eric have known each other, Eric has managed to find out where Christine lives. Viewers will have to assume that he was able to look up that information in between causing electrical storms, surviving a helicopter crash in the ocean, finding his way back to land, and then showing up at Christine’s place in the hopes that she’ll want to hang out with him while he’s a fugitive.

It turns out that Christine does want to hang out with Eric and help him elude capture by law enforcement. She tells him, “I’m going take you to my friend’s cabin, and we’re going to figure it out.” The rest of the movie is basically Eric and Christine going on the run together. There’s only one moment when Christine doubts her decision to help Eric, but she shows the kind of immediate loyalty to him that makes it obvious she’s romantically attracted to him. Eric and Christine’s inevitable “big moment” kiss comes later in the movie.

Wolff is serviceable in this poorly written role. He tries to infuse a “lost soul” persona into Eric’s character, but the character is so vague that it’s a wasted effort to try to bring gravitas to the role. The problem is that “Mortal” tells almost nothing about Eric and his background until toward the end of the film, which makes it hard for viewers to root for Eric while he tries to evade capture. The other actors in the film are mediocre, while Bose is just plain awful with her emotionless, wooden delivery of her lines.

And speaking of the U.S. Embassy official Cora, it doesn’t make sense that she would be heading up the task force to find Eric. Embassy officials are political diplomats, not law enforcement or part of a government’s military defense. Based on all the destruction that Eric causes in the movie, the Norwegian military would be the ones to take over if a seemingly crazy guy was out there causing electrical storms that are bad enough to burn bridges, roads, buildings and people.

Even though Cora has seen firsthand how dangerous Eric can be, she wears no protective gear the entire time that she’s trying to hunt him down. She’s dressed as if she’s about to go for a nature hike. And the only indication that she survived a traumatic plane crash in the ocean is that she has a small band-aid on her forehead. Yes, this movie is that stupid.

As for Eric’s big “secret” at the end of the movie, it looks like a blatant cash grab to latch on to the popularity of a certain blockbuster movie franchise. It’s too bad that the filmmakers of “Mortal” couldn’t come up with a more original story. The visual effects and cinematography in “Mortal” are fairly good, but because of the moronic way that this story is told, it doesn’t matter how good the movie’s visuals might look if the dialogue and basic storyline are of such low quality that it’s embarrassing. All the electrical storms and fires concocted for this movie still can’t ignite the film’s very dull and unimaginative plot.

Saban Films released “Mortal” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 6, 2020. The movie’s Blu-ray and DVD release date is November 10, 2020.

Review: ‘Body Cam,’ starring Mary J. Blige, Nat Wolff, David Zayas and Anika Noni Rose

May 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Mary J. Blige in “Body Cam” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Body Cam”

Directed by Malik Vitthal

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional city of Swinton, Louisiana, the horror film “Body Cam” has a racially diverse cast (African American, white, Latino and Asian) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A veteran cop goes rogue in investigating a series of mysterious and bloody murders that have been recorded on surveillance videos.

Culture Audience: “Body Cam” will appeal primarily to Mary J. Blige fans and to people who like formulaic and predictable horror movies.

Nat Wolff in “Body Cam” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Grammy-winning singer Mary J. Blige was nominated for two Oscars for the 2017 Netflix drama “Mudbound” (Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song), so it’s a shame that her next role in a live-action film turned out to be such an embarrassing dud.

After “Mudbound,” Blige had voice roles in the animated films “Sherlock Gnomes” (2018) and “Trolls World Tour” (2020), with both roles as supporting characters. In the live-action “Body Cam,” Blige is front and center as the main character— a troubled cop named Renée Lomito-Smith, who lives and works in the fictional city of Swinton, Louisiana. The movie is Blige’s first time getting top billing in a major motion picture—”Body Cam” is from the ViacomCBS-owned companies Paramount Pictures and BET Films—and it’s an unfortunate career misstep for her as an actress, due to her wooden acting in the film and the movie’s silly plot.

The only saving grace is that “Body Cam” has little chance of being seen by a large audience, so there probably won’t be permanent damage to Blige’s efforts to be taken seriously as an actress. Paramount Pictures apparently has so little faith in this movie that the studio didn’t even release a trailer for the film until the week before “Body Cam” was dumped as a direct-to-video release.

The beginning of “Body Cam” (which has almost every scene taking place at night) shows Swinton as a city in racial turmoil over police brutality. The opening scene takes place in a local diner, where a TV news report shows that a white cop from the Swinton Police Department has been acquitted in a fatal shooting of an unarmed black man. As the news report is shown on TV, a black cop named Kevin Ganning (played by Ian Casselberry) enters the diner, but he is told by the older black gentleman who serves him a cup of coffee that he’s not welcome in the diner.

After Kevin leaves the diner during this rainy night, he’s alone on patrol duty when he encounters a green Chevy van in a routine traffic stop. He looks inside the vehicle and sees something bloody in the back. He then orders the driver to step outside. A black woman in her 30s, wearing a hooded jacket, steps out with her arms raised. And then, a mysterious forces swoops Kevin up in the air.

The movie’s story then shifts to 12 hours earlier, when Blige’s Renée character is seen in a meeting with an internal affairs psychiatrist named Dr. Lee (played by Han Soto), who interrogates her about her mental health, by asking if she has insomnia or troubling thoughts. “Have you moved on from your son’s death?” he asks.

As viewers learn, Renée has been grieving over the death of her pre-teen son Christopher (played by Jibrail Nantambu in flashback scenes), who passed away from an accidental drowning in a neighbor’s swimming pool. Although her husband Gary (played by Demetrius Grosse) is grieving too—Christopher was their only child—and Gary is very supportive of Renée, her emotional turmoil has apparently affected her job performance.

Renée is under investigation because she slapped a civilian during an argument with the civilian—an incident that was captured on her body cam, but not shown in the movie. The meeting is to determine if she will be suspended or be able to continue working in the department. Ultimately, Renée (who was on administrative leave during the investigation) gets to keep her job.

When she returns to the police department, Renée is put on the night shift and welcomed warmly by her colleagues. They include Sergeant Kesper (played by David Zayas) and patrol-duty fellow police officers Kevin Ganning, Darlo Penda (played by David Warshofsky), Gabe Roberts (played by Philip Fornah) and Mariah Birke (played by Naima Ramos-Chapman). Renée also finds out that she’s been paired with a rookie cop named Danny Holledge (played by Nat Wolff), who previously worked with Ganning.

The police staff meetings led by Sergeant Kesper show that there is a culture of strong solidarity that’s expected of the cops. Kesper expresses that the recent acquittal of their fellow cop colleague was the right decision. He also warns his subordinates that the controversial shootings have caused a lot of anger toward cops, so extra care must be taken in dealing with the public.

Meanwhile, Renée’s colleagues tease her about having to be stuck with a rookie. She isn’t thrilled about having to train a newcomer, but she brushes off the good-natured ribbing and does her best to work with Danny, who is a “by the book” type of of cop and eager to impress his more experienced co-workers.

It isn’t long for Renée and Danny to find out that they have very different styles of working. Renée is more of the “take charge” type, while Danny is more of a passive observer who follows the lead of someone who has authority over him. While out on patrol, they encounter a black boy who’s about 5 years old sitting alone in the middle of the street. As Renée approaches the boy with concern, his mother bursts out of a nearby house and shouts at Renée not to touch her son.

A small group of angry neighbors suddenly appear, and they’re hostile to Renée and Danny. Because they are cops, they’re clearly not wanted in the neighborhood. Renée quickly diffuses the situation by reassuring the crowd that she was only trying to help the boy because he wasn’t being supervised by an adult. As they leave the area, Danny tells Renée that he respects how she handled the incident.

Renée and Danny then arrive at an apparent crime scene: Officer Ganning’s squad car has been apparently abandoned, with the cop nowhere in sight. The green Chevy van shown earlier is near the squad car and also appears to be abandoned. The van has no license plates. And soon, Renée and Danny find a lot of blood near the car and bloody teeth on the hood of the car.

When Renée looks at the surveillance footage from the dashboard camera, and she sees how Officer Ganning encountered the mystery woman and then appeared to be abducted and lifted up in the sky by a mysterious and shadowy force. He was then brutally thrown on the ground. While the injured and bloodied cop is crawling on the ground, he is scooped up again and lets out a horrified scream.

While she’s still absorbing what she just saw, Renée tells the investigating cop Detective Susan Hayes (played by Laura Grice) that Office Ganning was probably murdered. But when Detective Hayes looks at the surveillance video, she tells Renée that the video was apparently erased because the footage doesn’t exist.

Upon further investigation, it’s confirmed that Office Ganning was murdered, when his mangled body is found impaled like a scarecrow on a steel link fence. In shock, Renée and Danny commiserate with each other at a local diner, where she opens up to him about the incident that put her on a leave of absence. She admits that she “lost it” with the civilian because he called her a “black bitch.”

She also tells Danny about her son Christopher and how he died. “I can’t let another person close to me die without doing something,” Renée tells Danny. And so, the rest of the movie is about Renée’s attempt to solve the mystery of her colleague’s murder and other similar murders that happen throughout the story.

Through surveillance footage, Renée was able to find out that the mystery woman in the van is a registered nurse named Taneesha Branz (played by Anika Noni Rose), who used to work at Winton Hospital but has mysteriously disappeared. And by doing an Internet search, Renée finds out that Taneesha had a 14-year-old son named DeMarco (played by Mason Mackie) who died of foul play, since he was found shot in an abandoned industrial area.

Unfortunately, this shoddily written screenplay from Nicholas McCarthy and Richmond Riedel has Renée breaking all kinds of laws to get to the bottom of the mystery herself. She steals evidence from crime scenes, and she breaks into Taneesha’s abandoned home multiple times. Danny uncomfortably witnesses some of these law violations (he’s with Renée the first time that she breaks into Taneesha’s empty house), and he voices his objections, but Renée essentially ignores him and does what she wants anyway as she tries to solve the case all on her own.

Part of her “going rogue” also includes a laughable scene where she convinces a morgue attendant to leave her alone in a roomful of bodies so that she can find the thumbprint that she needs to unlock a cell phone that she stole. This takes place after the “killer on the loose” strikes again by massacring several people in a rampage at a convenience store.

Danny and Renée, who are apparently the only cops in Swinton who get called to murder scenes, are the first police officers to arrive after this mass murder spree. And, of course, Renée goes straight to the store’s security video to see what happened, since the ongoing theme in the movie is that Renée (and the viewers) are putting the pieces of the puzzle together through video surveillance footage.

The lackluster direction of Malik Vitthal and the moronic screenplay are mainly to blame for this dreary and unimaginative movie. The pacing in “Body Cam” is sometimes too slow for a story that’s supposed to be a suspenseful thriller/horror movie. The expected bloody gore (which isn’t very creative) takes place in numerous scenes, but the movie lacks character development in its paint-by-numbers storytelling that’s derivative of so many below-average movies in the horror genre.

And some viewers might be very annoyed that because almost everything in the movie happens at night, the entire color palette of the film is very dark and often very murky, even in the interior scenes. “Body Cam” cinematographer Pedro Luque lights a lot of scenes as if almost every location in Swinton is grimy and polluted. The movie was actually filmed in the vibrant city of New Orleans, but you wouldn’t know it from how the cinematography makes this movie’s city look like a depressing urban wasteland.

Blige often delivers her lines in a monotone voice and stiff demeanor that might be her attempt to portray Renée as someone who is numb with grief, but it comes across as simply dull and dreadful acting. The other actors in the film do an adequate job with their underwritten characters that have very forgettable dialogue. And in the case of Rose, who plays a mostly mute Taneesha, there’s hardly any dialogue to be said. Blige is the one who’s supposed to carry the film as the main character, and it appears that she’s not quite ready for this type of heavy lifting. Blige’s original song “Can’t Be Life” is tacked on to the film’s end credits, but even that tune is forgettable and certainly won’t be nominated for any awards.

The ending of “Body Cam” is very easy to predict, even down to the climactic scene that takes place in a dark and abandoned building where no self-respecting cop would go without backup. Unlike the surveillance video in the movie, “Body Cam” can’t be deleted or erased from Blige’s list of acting credits, but she probably wants to forget that she made this substandard film.

Paramount Pictures released “Body Cam” on digital on May 19, 2020. The movie’s VOD release date is June 2, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘The Kill Team’

April 28, 2019

by Carla Hay

Nat Wolff and Alexander Skarsgård in "The Kill Team"
Nat Wolff and Alexander Skarsgård in “The Kill Team” (Photo by Manolo Pavon/A24)

“The Kill Team”

Directed by Dan Krauss

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

In 2013, “The Kill Team” (directed by Dan Krauss) won the Tribeca Film Festival jury prize for Best Documentary Feature for its chilling chronicle of the Maywand District murders scandal, in which members of the U.S. Army were arrested in 2010 for murdering unarmed, innocent civilians during the war in Afghanistan. Krauss has revisited the story—this time, by writing and directing the dramatic, scripted film also titled “The Kill Team,” which is based on real-life events but using fictional names of the real people involved. Whereas the documentary (which was released by The Orchard in 2014) spends a lot of time explaining why this tragedy happened, the scripted feature film does something even more disturbing: It shows how it happened in the first place.

“The Kill Team” documentary, which includes interviews with several of the soldiers involved, takes place entirely after the arrests of the soldiers. The documentary is set not in a combat zone, but in the type of conference rooms and offices where defense attorneys or therapists meet with their clients, as the defendants prepare for their cases to be resolved. The “Kill Team” scripted feature film takes place almost entirely before the arrests, and brings the viewers directly into the environment that created the horrific “Kill Team” mentality to murder people for thrills.

The main protagonist in both films is the young specialist who enters the Army as a wide-eyed, eager-to-please rookie and leaves the Army as a disillusioned, broken man wracked with guilt over his participation in the murders. In real life, that man is Adam Winfield, whose name has been changed to Andrew Briggman in “The Kill Team” scripted film. In the beginning of the movie, Andrew (played by Nat Wolff) is excited and proud to join the Army, since his father is an Army vet who served honorably.

Andrew has a close relationship with his loving parents, William and Laura (played by Rob Morrow and Anna Francolini)—and it’s a relationship that plays a pivotal part later on in the story. However, Andrew is in for a rude awakening when he leaves the supportive cocoon of his middle-class family and goes off to war in Afghanistan. Early on, Andrew experiences the brutality of war when he and other squad members witness their squad leader being killed by an improvised explosive device (IED). In addition, several of the other soldiers in his squad initially give Andrew a hard time—they think because of his scrawny physique that he’s a nerdy wimp who’s not cut out for combat.

Andrew and his college-age peers essentially have a fraternity-like existence, with each member jockeying for position and testing boundaries when it comes to egos, power and respect. They argue, but they also party together (smoking hashish is one of their preferred leisure activities), and they have varying degrees of expectations on how much violence they’ll commit while they’re on active duty.

The stakes in the team’s power plays get higher when the squad gets a new staff sergeant named Sergeant Deeks (played by Alexander Skarsgård), who is charismatic but extremely manipulative. He does what most toxic leaders do: He pits his subordinates against each other so that they can prove who is the most loyal to him, and those who “win,” get the most rewards and benefits from him. Deeks (who is based on the real-life Calvin Gibbs) makes it known to his squad that he’s looking for a trusted right-hand man, which sets off a competition to see who’s the toughest of the bunch to get that position. Andrew is eager to prove himself worthy of being Deeks’ second-in-command, and he surpasses Deeks’ expectations by fulfilling increasingly violent tasks that Deeks orders him to do.

The other members of the squad—including Rayburn (played by Adam Long), Coombs (played by Jonathan Whitsell), Marquez (played by Brian Marc), Weppler (played by Osy Ikhile) and Cappy (played by Oliver Ritchie)—join in on the mayhem, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and reluctance. Coombs in particular has an almost joyful zest in the violence that he causes, because he thinks war should be about “kicking ass,” and he thinks it’s boring for soldiers to have duties such as patrolling areas and protecting civilians.

On the surface, Deeks appears to be an accomplished and upstanding military man—he lovingly checks in on his wife and young son back home via Skype chats—but it’s a façade that masks a sadistic criminal who likes to kill for fun, and he has a total disregard for the law and U.S. military policies. The first sign of Deeks’ corruption is when he catches his subordinates smoking hash, but instead of reporting this punishable offense, he tells them that what they’re doing is wrong because he knows where they can get better-quality hash.

It isn’t long before Deeks lets his young subordinates in on some of his secrets: He’s gotten away with an untold number of murders in Iraq and Afghanistan, simply by lying and saying that the people attacked first and were killed because of self-defense. In many of the cases, Deeks admitted to planting weapons on the victims (which is called a “drop weapon” technique) to further perpetuate the lie that the killings were justified. Deeks has also kept body parts (such as fingers) of many of his victims, and he likes to pose for pictures next to their dead bodies, much like a hunter poses for photos with dead prey.

Some of Deeks’ subordinates are all too eager to join him on his murder sprees, if it means that they can rise through the military ranks with Deeks as their mentor. They call themselves “The Kill Team,” and become a twisted fraternity of soldiers looking for unarmed victims to murder, under the guise of being good military men who are eliminating the enemy at war. When some of the squad members show signs of guilt, they’re threatened by Deeks to keep silent, or else he’ll make sure they’ll be beaten up or killed. After all, Deeks has shown that he’s capable of not only committing these crimes but also covering them up and making the victims look like the aggressors. Deeks’ subordinates are isolated, far from home, and under the command of a dangerous and powerful leader, so it’s easy to see why they went along with his heinous actions in order to protect themselves.

We’ve seen villains in many war movies before—the Oscar-winning classics “Apocalypse Now” and “Platoon,” for example, each features a corrupt leader who fits the mold of the gruff, scowling bully instilling fear in his subordinates. What makes “The Kill Team” villain Deeks even more insidious is that his dominance isn’t all by brute force—he barks commands, but he also presents himself as a smiling, older brother to be admired and whose approval is a reward that his subordinates are desperate to get, even if it means that their morality gets stifled or snuffed out in the process.

Deeks’ physical presence—tall, blue-eyed good looks, as embodied by Skarsgård—also has a lot to do with his powerful influence, because he fits many people’s image of an American military hero. Skarsgård brings complexity to the role by portraying Deeks as loathsome but also with a self-righteous magnetism that makes it convincing that he could manipulate other people into thinking what he wants them to think. The merits of this film are largely centered on authentically explaining how someone like Deeks could get away with so much horrific destruction—and Skarsgård successfully rises to the challenge. The Andrew Briggman character is less complex and more transparent than Deeks, but Wolff effectively portrays the morality crisis and emotional turmoil of a soldier whose world is turned upside down by the horrors of war and corrupted values.

Krauss and his team did a terrific job of recreating not only the Afghanistan war zones (the movie was actually filmed in Spain) but also the military weapons and automobiles (which were actually digital effects) that were shown in the movie. Although many people already know the real-life outcomes of the Maywand District scandal, Krauss builds a level of suspense and emotional tension that will leave an impact on viewers and serve as a painful reminder that serial killing in the context of war is an issue that will never be fully erased.

UPDATE: A24 Films will release “The Kill Team” in select U.S. theaters and on VOD on October 25, 2019.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Good Posture’

April 28, 2019

by Carla Hay

"Good Posture"
Emily Mortimer and Grace Van Patten in “Good Posture” (Photo by Savannah Jankaosky)

“Good Posture” 

Directed by Dolly Wells

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

In this “odd couple” comedy about two opposite people who end up living together as housemates, writer/director Dolly Wells takes on a myriad of issues that drive the story and the jokes. There’s the clash between Generation X and millennials. There’s the clash between old-school literary snobs who write books and tech-obsessed texters who write in abbreviations. There’s the clash between those who like to plan ahead and those who just like to “wing it.” Somehow, Wells makes it all work in “Good Posture” (her first feature film as a director), thanks largely to the movie’s witty dialogue and an engaging, talented cast.

In “Good Posture,” recent film-school graduate Lillian (played by Grace Van Patten) is a New Yorker who suddenly finds herself looking for a place to live, after her boyfriend Nate (played by Gary Richardson) gets fed up with her immaturity and breaks up with her. In an argument that the former couple has in the beginning of the movie, Nate tells Lillian that one of the many quirks she has that gets on his last nerve is that she takes showers without having a towel nearby. Lillian’s self-absorbed, widowed father Neil (played by Norbert Leo Butz), who keeps delaying plans to spend time with her, can’t give her a place to stay because he has recently moved to Paris to be with his French girlfriend.

However, Neil calls in a favor and asks his friend Julia Price (played by Emily Mortimer), a successful novelist with a chilly demeanor, to let Lillian stay at Julia’s place until Lillian can afford a place of her own. In exchange for living in a spare room rent-free in Julia’s home, Lillian has to do the cooking and the cleaning.

Julia, her musician husband Don (played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach), their young son and dog all live in the kind of Brooklyn brownstone that screams “yuppie establishment,” and Julia is very particular about maintaining her tidy and predictable existence. Naturally, Lillian (the queen of messy spontaneity) feels uncomfortable from the get-go, and it isn’t long before Lillian and Julia start clashing with each other. Meanwhile, Don tries to stay neutral. He loves his wife, even though she’s become increasingly distant from him, and he establishes a friendly rapport with Lillian.

Julia’s main claim to fame is her book “Good Posture,” which Lillian hasn’t read yet because she prefers watching movies to reading books. (Julia is naturally appalled that Lillian doesn’t like to read.) Still, Lillian can’t help but be intrigued by Julia, and she decides to start making a documentary about Julia, and enlists some of Julia’s peers and business colleagues to do on-camera interviews. Lillian also recruits an insecure dandy named Sol (hilariously played by John Early) to be her assistant on the project.

As the tension grows between Julia and Lillian, they begin writing notes to each other, in a passive-aggressive way to argue without getting in each other’s faces. Meanwhile, Lillian finds a job as a barista at a local coffee shop, and she awkwardly attempts to get back into the dating pool, knowing that sleepovers could get tricky as long as she’s living at Julia’s place.

There are two potential love interests who come into the picture—Jon (played by Nat Wolff) and George (played by Timm Sharp), but Lillian’s real issue isn’t finding a new boyfriend. Her living arrangement with Julia has sparked a mother/daughter dynamic that makes both women feel uncomfortable because Lillian is still grieving over her dead mother, and Julia’s only child is a son.

As one of the two central characters, Mortimer (who is writer/director Wells’ best friend in real life) does a fine job playing the uptight Julia. As Lillian, Van Patten is a winning standout, because she takes what could be a very annoying character and makes her into someone relatable. It becomes apparent that underneath her biting sarcasm and selfish ways, Lillian is someone who’s very hurt over the loss of her mother and by having a father who isn’t there for her. Most people have known someone just like Lillian—someone who’s still trying to figure out how to handle adult responsibilities while masking some deep emotional pain.

Comedies about “odd couples” usually have similar tropes about how the two opposites learn from each other in ways that they didn’t expect. In that regard, “Good Posture” doesn’t break any new ground, but the performances in the movie are so watchable, that it’s an entertaining ride from beginning to end.

UPDATE: Sparky Pictures will release “Good Posture” in the United Kingdom on VOD on January 26, 2020. Umbrella Entertainment will release “Good Posture” in Australia on VOD on February 5, 2020 and on DVD on February 14, 2020.

Reese Witherspoon navigates love and an unusual living situation in ‘Home Again’

September 8, 2017

Reese Witherspoon in "Home Again"
Reese Witherspoon in “Home Again” (Photo by Karen Ballard)

“Home Again” stars Reese Witherspoon as Alice Kinney in a modern romantic comedy. Recently separated from her husband, (played by Michael Sheen), Alice decides to start over by moving back to her hometown of Los Angeles with her two young daughters. During a night out on her 40th birthday, Alice meets three aspiring filmmakers (played by Pico Alexander, Nat Wolff, and Jon Rudnitsky) who happen to be in need of a place to live. Alice agrees to let the guys stay in her guest house temporarily, but the arrangement ends up unfolding in unexpected ways. Alice’s unlikely new family and new romance comes to a crashing halt when her ex-husband shows up, suitcase in hand. “Home Again” is a story of love, friendship, and the families we create. And one very big life lesson: Starting over is not for beginners.

Here are videos and photos from “Home Again”: