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Nancy Drew

Teenage Sleuths

/ Remi

Nancy Drew is back, this time in the gen-x-pandering, yet millennial-friendly guise the CW is so fond of. (See Riverdale.)

And this time, things have changed.

Nancy Drew, official posterNancy's shady boyfriend, NickNancy's new friend, Bess
Never, not once, does a character not stare pensively off screen in this show.

After a long, fruitful career as a teenage sleuth, Nancy is retired, living the tail end of her teenage years as a high-school student and a server at a local diner. That’s right, this new, gritty take on the 1960s literary icon features a haggard, burnt-out investigator.

But I’ll be damned if she doesn’t get pulled back in for just one last case.

What is the nightmare from her childhood all about? Who killed Tiffany Hudson? Why are a) all the inhabitants of Horseshoe Bay haunted by J-Horror ghosts, and b) why does nobody talk about it? These are baffling mysteries indeed.

Starring as our eponymous hero is Kennedy McMann, who, like the rest of the teens, looks just old enough to be ready to seriously invest in a retirement plan. Impressively, she looks senior to her TV dad, Scott Wolf.

So pretty much everything about Nancy Drew is ridiculous. It is also downright mesmerizing. You’d have to be clinically dead not to find this show entertaining. And credit where credit is due – the cast does a laudable job with scripts delivered by the creators of Gossip Girl. McMann is downright good as Nancy herself.

Make tonight a Nancy Drew night. It’s streaming on HBO Max.

Bonus! The top ten sleuths of our time

  1. Jessica Fletcher
  2. Nan Bobbsey
  3. Frank Hardy
  4. Nancy Drew
  5. Timmy (the dog from The Famous Five)
  6. Freddie Bobbsey
  7. Jonathan Chase (Manimal)
  8. Laura Holt (Remington Steele)
  9. Joe Hardy
  10. Automan

Fun fact about Automan-actor Chuck Wagner: He has served as Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus’s ringmaster since 2005. A true renaissance man.

Twisted Pair

Surrealism? Maybe?

/ Remi
Twisted Pair cover

What came first, the stock footage, or the script? That is the question I repeatedly asked myself after sitting through Neil Breen’s fifth film, Twisted Pair, now finally available in digital formats.

An aside about availability: Breen’s movies could up until recently only be purchased on DVDs from the auteur’s website. For a mere $30, he would send you a DVD packed in a brown cardboard envelope, burned straight from his computer. Cover? Neil Breen does not need covers.

But I digress.

Twisted Pair is every bit as baffling as Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, which in comparison seems downright coherent. Breen kicks his film off with five minutes of stock footage, sometimes with himself superimposed (yes, he wrote, directed, starred, and catered Twisted Pair) delivering a river of nonsensical exposition. He is a twin, we are told over footage of kids straight from a suntan lotion commercial, and at some point… Well, something happened. Precisely what is hard to say, but it sounds like some higher being brought Cade and Cale to the heavens and bestowed upon them powers to… fight evil? Maybe? Cale at least wasn’t particularly good at it, so his powers were rescinded while Cade started a fruitful career in law enforcement(?). As logic would dictate, Cale turned into an evil junkie. Something like that.

I don’t even know where to start describing the actual movie. Twisted Pair consists conservatively of forty-five minutes of stock footage, and the film was seemingly written around it. Breen uses it all in, shall we say, creative manners. An example is a scene where he leads soldiers through a building, running from the back of the group to the front of it. Thing is, his superimposed self is not layered and is therefore always positioned on top of the footage all the way through. 3D it is not in any sense of the word.

There is a scene that is supposed to be a cute relationship joke(?), where Cade assaults a woman he has stalked, screaming obscenities at her, and getting a painting smashed over his head. Just as he is quite literally about to kill her, he quips, what’s for dinner, and they both share a good laugh. They’re a couple. That scene goes on for three minutes.

The rest of the film largely takes place in two locations: what I presume to be Neil Breen’s home (judging by the fact it has been used in a number of previous movies) and an office park where he likely was not allowed to film inside the offices. Anything put to reel is either in the hallways or in the courtyard. I’m actually not even sure if they were allowed inside the buildings at all, and what was filmed was during a break-in. Somewhat hilariously, when Cade takes his belle to a restaurant where he has reserved all the tables, it’s painfully clear they are sitting in the office park’s smoking area.

It’s bizarre. It all is. Breen portrays a superhero secret agent, yet has clearly never gone for even a light jog in his life. It is even weirder looking when his jeans are pulled up ten inches past his waist, with his Henley shirt tucked in.

The stock music, while good, never fits the scenes, even in the literal sense. When a scene ends, the sound gets chopped off, mid-note. I seriously doubt any of the movie used anything other than natural light, and characters are sometimes only halfway in frame. Roughly half the shots are out of focus.

And Breen playing twins? Let’s just leave it with this green screen magic…

Neil Breen as twins

In that sense, there is nothing right about Twisted Pair. Yet… I can’t take my eyes off it. It is so utterly fascinating that somebody deemed this movie releasable. (That was Breen, by the way, who also served as the distributor.) It’s like a psychological study of a man with delusions of grandeur. Even more baffling, I don’t think that’s actually the case. While Breen does seem like a guy with misplaced self-confidence, he also appears quite affable in interviews.

Twisted Pair is not a good movie, yet worth every cent sent iTunes or Amazon’s way.

Sequel alert!

Cade Altair will return threatens the end-credits. Breen is currently shopping the film around, having sworn off self-financing.

Podcast recommendation

How Did This Get Made recently did a hilarious live episode on Breen’s magnum opus, Fateful Findings.

The Trailer

Mom and Dad

Nic Cage Craziness

/ Remi
Mom and Dad cover

Directed and written by Brian Taylor, the co-auteur behind Crank: High Voltage, arguably the craziest action movie of the last twenty years, comes Mom and Dad with a pedigree weird films are made of. We are set in a world where parents have turned violent and are obsessed with killing their children. Why so? It’s never explained, nor does it really matter. The important part is that Nic Cage (Brent) stars as Carly and Josh’s dad, which, even if you’re not familiar with Taylor’s previous work, gives you a good idea of what you’re in for.

Cage has said this is his favorite role over the past decade, which only makes sense. The premise is dark and is a setup for what he does best: give a 110% over-the-top portrayal. Not many actors can blend menace and comedy the way Cage can, and this type of movie is tailor-made for him.

The storyline, as far as it goes, is little more than a cat-and-mouse chase. There is a backstory about Cage’s character longing for his youth, and more than a few hints that he feels he might have been happier without a wife (Kendall, portrayed by Selma Blair) and kids. The depth of the setup is that of an afterthought. Mom and Dad would have benefited from pulling a High Voltage and jump straight into action instead of dwelling on character development. We’re there for a crazy ride, which luckily starts about twenty minutes in.

Think of Mom and Dad as a demented Home Alone. As Carly and Josh (Anne Winters and Zack Arthur) set traps around the house, as inventive as anything Kevin comes up within Chris Columbus’s seminal Christmas movie. The two young actors do a serviceable job as the freaked-out offspring but lack Macaulay Culkin’s charisma. It’d be going a step too far to call their portrayal memorable, and some of the urgency is lost as a result.

Nic Cage, meanwhile, is Nic Cage, which should give you a decent idea of what to expect from him in Mom and Dad. The crazy, bulging eyes; the manic grin; it’s all on display. He might not reach the level he showed in Color out of Space, in which he delivered a more nuanced performance, yet Cage being Cage is always a joy to watch.

(Neither here nor there, but Cage is by all accounts as normal and professional as anyone on set, and apparently always supportive of his younger co-stars. It goes to show there’s more depth to his performances than many give him credit for.)

Props to Selma Blair – an actor I know for more subdued roles – who easily keeps up with Cage. Through the film, she switches between predatory to motherly while trying to lure her kids out of hiding. She has a demented air about her that fits the movie well.

Overall, Mom and Dad is a good domestic chase story. There are some hold-your-breath moments and plenty of graphic yet comical violence. It’s a hard movie to take seriously, which isn’t too surprising seeing as it comes from the man behind High Voltage. Neither is it a bad thing – the world needs more entertaining craziness in it.

For those who like their films to be over the top, Mom and Dad is more than worth the watch, even if it never reaches the level of weirdness we’ve seen from Taylor and Cage before.

The Trailer

Capone

Surreal Drama

/ Remi
Capone cover

Al Capone was, despite his reputation, not a hardened tough guy. After being incarcerated for tax fraud, he became a frequent target of bullying in prison and relied his cellmate’s protection to get through his time there. Ten years or so into his sentence, the system took pity on him do to his literal degradation from syphilis. He lived the last year of his life in his Florida mansion, where Capone picks up.

Capone is, despite what one might expect, not a biopic. It builds pretty faithfully on accounts of the last year of Capone’s (known as Fonse during this period) life but is more of a surrealistic horror-drama than anything.

True to reality, both the FBI and Fonse’s inner circle are searching for the ten million dollars the former crime boss was rumored to have hidden on his property. Where it is, no-one knows, and Fonse’s mind is so far gone he barely remembers he ever hid it. Or even if he did.

Fonse is reduced to a shell of a man at this point. He is forced to wear diapers, which he utilizes frequently, and events from his past muddles with reality. Long gone, deceased people come and go, having long conversations with him, often about the lost money.

There is a lot to like about Capone. Particularly Fonse’s dream sequences are fascinating and illustrate how far gone his mind has actually gone. They’re beautifully filmed, too, even though they might be a bit on the nose at times. Fonse has a fascination with The Wizard of Oz; during his dreams, a golden balloon guides him through a labyrinth of corridors. Yellow brick road aside, it’s an eerie sight, his wanderings, and it does illustrate his confusion well.

Portraying the titular character is an almost unrecognizable Tom Hardy. He looks aged and haggard and shows Fonse as a vacant shell. Scenes that otherwise would be considered extreme are delivered with empty, aloof expressions, even uncontrollable defecations. Those scenes could come off as borderline parody, but Hardy is committed to them to a point where they feel uneasy and disturbing.

The supporting cast fares equally well, and particularly Linda Cardellini (recently seen in Dead to Me), delivers a nuanced performance as Fonse’s wife. Kyle MacLachlan, too, does well as the doctor who also works as an informant for the FBI.

As a surreal drama or horror, Capone works well, and it’s too bad some more conventional plotlines are thrown into the mix. This includes an integral part surrounding Fonse’s illegitimate child, which does little to further the main story. It feels like it was lifted from a different script altogether, and comes off as jarring when paired with the dreamlike flow of the main storyline.

Toward the end, I’m not sure Fonse’s actions really make much sense — a scene with a gun comes out from nowhere — and again comes off as something from a different movie. It’s too bad. The juxtaposition between Capone’s two sides ruins a good chunk of the movie’s flow.

It’s still worth watching, Capone. The scenes that work, work almost exceptionally well and Hardy gives it his all. A lesser actor could have made the movie unintentionally funny. If you’re a fan of surrealism, and if you can forgive some slower parts, Capone is fascinating enough to be worth your time.

The Trailer