Those Little EVIL Buggers Ruin Everything! “Ankle Biters” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / Digital Screener)



Injured hockey goon Sean Chase has severe on-ice anger issues but leave from the game curbs his temper for the better after meeting an internally distraught Laura Haywood.  Enamored by the mother of four who enjoys rough sex as much as he does, Sean decides to willingly plunge into marriage by asking Laura for her hand against his friends and family passive advise him of the hefty, multi-kid baggage in Laura’s tow.  To set the romantic mood, Sean takes Laura and her young kids to his family’s lakeside cabin where all the locals know him, personally and professionally, but when the girls discover cell phone footage of Sean and Laura’s bedroom exploits and interpret them as Sean hurting their mother, they devise mischievous retribution on Sean in order to protect mommy. 

From being a bare knuckler enforcer using the rink as his boxing ring to becoming the haplessly smitten and blind to four little girls’ perception of him as the bad guy, the once penalty box denizen Sean Chase is now the penalized good guy in the Canadian dark-comedy “Ankle Biters” from writer-director Bennet De Brabandere.  Also known as “Cherrypicker,” the title used in the film, the film is Brabandere’s first feature length film based off a story by lead actor, Zion Forrest Lee (“Hit It”), who oft puts delicate notes of misperception as the main theme in his tale.  Shot primarily in the harbor village of Ontario’s Tobermory “Ankle Biters” is produced by Michael Flax of Flax Films, director Bennet De Brabandere, long time makeup artist Sean Sansom with credits from “Land of the Dead” and “eXistenZ, and special effects company, Mindwarp Productions’, Francois Dagenais (“Saw” franchise, “Chucky” SyFy series).  The film is presented in part by APL Films.

As if seeking some sort of self-punishment, story originator Zion Forrest Lee takes the form of a punching bag for four overprotective little girls; four real life sisters, in fact, played by Rosalee, Dahlia, Violet (“Bad Santa 2”), and Lily Reid, the latter Reid having played a significant role in Johannes Roberts’ recent “Resident Evil” reboot as young Claire Redfield and will be involved in another Lee and Brabandere collaboration in the upcoming apocalypse thriller, “Salvation.”  As a father of three girls myself, the Reid girls are nothing short of genuine, killing their roles with tweaked difference in each of their individual personalities as cute and morbidly curious children and siblings.  Lee offers up a rather over-the-top approach toward Chase’s Mr. Perfect in a way that doesn’t come across naturally as the performance is stuck somewhere between Phil Hartman in “Jingle All the Way” and Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation” (I’m in the Christmas spirit with my films, if you can’t tell) with a suave sexy toward the women who swallow it up and dorky goofball toward kids who don’t understand it. Chase’s legendary hockey status has been interweaved into the community surrounding his family’s lakeside cabin, such as the local cops with Officer Brian (Gareth Moyse), local shopkeepers like Jordy (Jordan Mills), and even other vacationers, a pair of lakeside neighbors in Anthony (Doru Bandol) and Caprice Gaddis (Maria Sant’Angelo) with their blossoming teenage daughter Matia (Matia Jackett, “Crimson Peak”). By far one of the more interesting characters, Matia doesn’t actually progress the story with her flirtatious crush on Chase as she’s used as more of a device to propel the Haywood girls into full-blown psycho-kiddies as Matia bites off more than she can chew on a what should have been a routine babysitting gig. The biggest name in the film is the “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” comic Colin Mochrie in an unfunny role as the town’s police chief. “Ankle Biters” houses many curious characters come and go, adding little to story or not adding enough, with select bit performances from Evert Houston, Michael Copeman, and Jani Lauzon amongst the Canadian cast.

Not one single member the cast had that it factor that sparks allurement, intrigue, laughter, hate, or any other kind of emotion they’re trained to extract from you or intent on to make you feel in certain crucial points in the story. As a dark comedy, “Ankle Biters” lacked, well, comedy with an overreaching and flat satire on the innocence of mistaken circumstances. When the opening credits roll with the Gary Glitter “Rock and Roll” sampling “The Hey Song,” a track used for decades at sporting events, and we’re immediately exposed to a confrontational and bearded hockey player punching the eye out of an opposing team player into the title sequence, investing myself was easy as the synch of melodious Jock Jams and brutality is promised for the horizon; however, quickly skating from the ice is our beloved bloody-knuckled goon gone in a matter of oddly edited and sequenced scenes and is rarely seen again, even in flashbacks, as we’re dumped into post-hockey career, clean shaven, and on the behavior mend of Sean Chase trying to quickly nail down a woman with four kids who obviously dislike him a whole lot. I fail to see the transition, I don’t want to see the transition, and I’m angry “Ankle Biters” ended up in this transition whereas having Chase continue to be the injured, but still a fisticuffing and bearded enforcer, going toe-to-toe with brats would have been much more (Canadian) of an amusing watch. The better side of this genre blending coin is the darkness portion that really elevates during the latter half of the lakeside trip. Dead bodies, baby spiders crawling out of an ear, open wound fractured skull, a knife to the eye are just a few of the effective practical and composite applications from Francois Dagenais’s special effects company, MindWarp Productions, that keeps the story grounded with destroying the human anatomy as well as keeping up with the human fallibly in order to not have the film fall completely on its face with everything else erroneous.

Released back in mid-November, “Ankle Biters” landed onto On Demand platforms and DVD home video courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. Even though I’m unable to fully cover the audio and video details from any digital screener, I don’t think what was provided was even a finished version of the film that came complete with top left corner running timestamps and some obvious missing special effects, such as the missing prop knife tip when removed from the eye socket and then the tip is back whole on the next shot. No information on the DVD specs was given to me either. Brabandere and Lee do tease with a follow up sequel involving the “Son of Cherrypicker,” named after the lakeside penned “Cherrypicker murders” in the film which, again, was never made a solidifying connection to other than a brief news report ticker on television. If comparing a film close to “Ankle Biters,” Peter Berg’s “Very Bad Things” fits that gruesome bill with one gross misstep in front of another that eventually culminates to a shocking and even deadlier kill or be killed ending with a grown man versus four little girls.

Watch “Ankle Biters” On Amazon Prime Video

Fortuity Can Be EVIL’s Plaything. “Like A Dirty French Novel” reviewed! (Blvd. Du Cinema Productions / Digital Screener)



An organized crime and deceitful milieu sets the stage for a missing bag of stolen cash, an unscrupulous bunch of characters, and a mysterious omnipresence being persuasive behind the curtain of a rotary phone.  When ex-lovers Crystal and Hue are not in heated spats over past infidelities, trapped inside their quaint apartment, Crystal moonlights as an adult cosplaying model secretly having an relationship with a stranger while Hue locks himself away in the bathroom conversing secretively and flirtatiously with an unknown woman he knows nothing about.  They become entwined in a heist gone wrong by a group of halfwit robbers that leaves a trail of death, lies, and an evil charting their fates in the shadows. 

Desultory pulp basking in noir fiction, “Like A Dirty French Novel” flaunts a chicly awkward and brazenly unmethodical black comedy and crime drama front from Cuban-American writer-director Mike Cuenca.  The “By the Wayside” and “I’ll Be Around” auteur stitches together a vivaciously satire and minuscule budgeted drama comedy shot in the zero hours of a time crunching, less than a week, schedule with an editing style, edited by Cuenca himself as one of his many production hats, of five chaptered, non-linear tale of sectionalized cynicism and infringing transgressions.  Cuenca co-write the script with Ashlee Elfmann and “I’ll Be Around” co-writer, Dan Rojay, with Cuenca self-producing under the filmmaker’s East Los Angeles-based, DIY encouraging production company, Blvd. Du Cinema Productions.

With an ensemble cast, “Like A Dirty French Novel” spreads out with five chapters, two interludes, and a prologue that begins with three men walking in a desert and approached by a mysterious woman in a chintzy, but intrinsically detailed, Japanese resembling Oni mask.  Before we can invest into these bewildering circumstance that leave the three men screaming for their very lives, Cuenca whisks up away right into Chapter One, introducing bickering ex-lovers Crystal (Jennifer Daley, “Blood Born”) and Hue (Rob Vally, of gay themed Steven Vasquez pictures such as “Angels with Tethered Wings” and “Dancing on the Dark Side of the Moon.”) snooping into each other’s hidden extracurricular activities that leave Crystal daydreaming about romance and Hue surrendering to smutty phone talk.  Not much is revealed in the first chapter before segueing into the second with Forrester Dooley (Grand Moninger), an unhappily married man who switches places with his twin brother and the recently unincinerated Bugs Dooley (also Moninger), but, as fate would have it, Bugs turns out to be a standup, wonderful guy whereas Forrester need for a break ironically places a bullseye on back and he ends up stranded in the desert with two unsavory fellows, circling back to the film’s vague prologue.  The cause for their stranding is because of Lane, a manic drifter delightfully captured by “We Take The Low Road’s” Amanda Viola.  Lane is approached by cool cat Jake (Aaron Bustos) and what ensues next is a montage of innocent dalliance before he suddenly vanishes and is seemingly dead to the world.  Remaining chapters unravel more about the principle players, spilling their hidden agendas and their scheming roles surrounding a duffle bag of thieved cash pinched from a local ruthless kingpin Filmore Demille, played by Cuenca himself donning yet another hat.  The cast rounds out with Dominic Fawcett, Samantha Nelson, Laura Urgelles, Claire Woolner, Dan Rojay, Joey Halter, Miles Dougal, Steven Escot, Arko Miro, and “Murder Manual’s” Brittany Samson as the interlude’s stammering and obsessed fanatic of the masked and sexy graphic novel cosplay model.

“Like A Dirty French Novel” pulsates with pulpy fiction with hints of Lynchian notes through Cuenca’s back and forth pacing of connecting the dots to his equivocal crime thriller.   Cuenca’s gray area, faltering more than any other, lies in making that relating and understandable so important connection of reverting scenes back to earlier ones in order to have actions make sense.  A once over is not enough to fully grasp “Like A Dirty French Novel’s” abstract features and to be recursive would not be a sign of weakness or simplemindedness on our part.  Still, smoothing out the rough patches like with the peculiar finale, which I’m speculating to be the grounds of Hell, would have made “Like A Dirty French Novel” more of an easy read than a confusing one as well as completing most characters arcs with a satisfying tell all fate. Cuenca’s filmic message of what comes around, goes around comes across more clearly with those who reap what they sow. A faux book entitled Porter du Fruit or Bear Fruit yields to positive results and, in which this case, none of those characters who go to the grounds of Hell are saints by any means. Constrained by a shallow pocket budget, settings are simple outdoor public areas, small apartments utilized with polygonal angles, and, if you’re working in L.A. much like this shoot, then more than likely a scene or two, at the very least, is filmed in the desert, but seasoned cinematographer, Jessica Gallant (“The Control Group,” “Shevenge”) spruces up scenes with neon red lighting, dabbing in black and white, and centralizing characters with focal spotlight, adding little classic techniques that still pop in the camera’s eye. Gallant’s wide berth of techniques, from hot pink tints to emulating grindhouse celluloid grain and scratches, keeps a stylized profile wanting to be watched. However, most cast performances are not so debonair as they come across a bit prosy, staged, and without too much magnetism that usually trends with pulp-noir trademarks and, of course, trashy novels érotiques bon marché.   With the exception of the underused Amanda Viola and Cuenca’s solo-scene monologue, sleeping at the wheel performances drives no other standouts in this cast.

“Like A Dirty French Novel” premiered this past August at the independent showcase, Dances With Films film festival, held in Los Angeles at The Chinese Theaters as part of their Midnight lineup; however, no current confirmations on when the first home release – whether physical release or digital releases – will be available yet. Briskly paced at 78 minutes, Cuenca squeezes into one more hat among his list of production duties as author of the eclectic sometime brooding and sometime high energy score along with Carlos Colon composing the pieces that could resemble the minor league notes of Michel Legrand. Alas, Michael Cuenca’s “Like A Dirty French Novel” aims to be more bourgeoisie than an obvious low cut of a few francs with an ingrained pulpy style and more twist and turns than Grand Prix race car driver, but lacks that tour de force it strives to assimilate as because of stiff performances and a wildly untraceable storyline.

Money is the Root of All EVIL! “Beasts Clawing at Straws” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Artsploitation Films)

A middle-aged man working a meager job at a gentleman’s bathhouse finds a Louis Vuitton bag full of money when routinely checking the storage lockers at closing.  Unsure about what to do with the money, he stows the bag away in the backroom and continues a moral, yet pauper’s, life while dealing with financial and family troubles at home.  Meanwhile, a border customs agent finds himself in severe debt with an unstable loan shark after his girlfriend skates and disappears with a large borrowed sum.  With a week to come up with the money, plus interest, he calls upon his distant cousin to assist in scamming a scammer who illegally came into some money, but things go awry when an overly friendly and clingy cop begins to snoop around.  Lastly, a prostitute grinds tirelessly to work off a large debt her abusive husband continues to blame her for with night after night beatings.  She jumps into bed with a young, handsome foreigner and her eager to support female boss to off her husband and collect the insurance money.  Yet, these troubled souls find that sticking to their convictions doesn’t always bode well as the unexpected happens in a blink of an eye.

The Asian film machine has mastered the art of the crime thriller from a proven track record that began with Akira Kurosawa films, if not even before that, and has chronically grown stronger, and sometimes more peculiar, with choice stylistic elements, suggestive themes, and extreme violence that has garnered, to much disdain, Westerner attention over the last 20 years with films like Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” and Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s “Internal Affairs” being Americanized with a Hollywood remake.  With that being said in an upward trend of remakes spilling over the edge, there would be no eye-brow raising surprise if the introductory film, the tri-narrative crime drama idiomatically titled “Beasts Clawing at Straws,” from South Korean filmmaker, Kim Yong-hoon, will one day grace the English silver screens in a diluted variation of a Brad Pitt featured carbon copy.  Based of the Keisuke Sone neo-noir novel of the same name, Kim Yong-hoon’s pulpy impression of against-the-wall misdeeds is dog-eat-dog dark comedy gold.  “Beasts Clawing at Straws” is produced by Jang Won-seok (“The Gangster, The Cop, and The Devil”) and is a production of Megabox Plus M films (“Zombie for Sale”) and B.A. Entertainment.

The three prong, greed-catapulting narrative converge characters separately at first and then string them linearly together when the picture becomes clearly what exactly each one of them is chasing, but every story is magnetized to a single focal point, a person under immense pressure, stress, and the malice forces that thirst for their humility, kinetically embarking on the bad choice choo-choo steaming toward the station of vary bad things.  Bae Seong-woo stars as a downtrodden Joong-man, a middle-aged man stuck in the rut of poverty with a geriatric, browbeating mother, a fatigued wife, and busting his rump in a dead end job.  Seong-woo combats himself as a man tight rope walking the thin line of ethic principles when opportunity knocks at his door, but his ill-timed strike to grab life by the balls blows up in his face in a farce of instant karma leaves him less than what he had before.  Then there’s a Tae-young, a comfortably Governmental positioned customs agent facing a different kind of hardship when his ex-girlfriend, Yeon-hee, disappears with a borrowed lump sum of a gangster’s money and he’s left on the fence.  “Illang:  The Wolf Brigade’s” Jung Woo-sung plays into the desperate stench of the superstitious and ambitious customs agent.  Slightly cradling the severity of the situation, Jung amply positions Tae-young’s dilemma that resembles spearfishing in a barrel and he’s the fish.  The last story follows the abused wife Mi-ran, played reservedly by Shin Hyun-bin as a desperate woman looking to bank her soon-to-be dead’s insurance money.  When Mi-ran is abetted by motive-dueling pair of instigators, she finds that paying her debt can be more severe than ever imagined.  While sitting back and basking in the stir-craziness of the leads’ turmoiled chaos, the best characters of the film are the supporting roles of Kim Jun-han as an intestine devouring, fanny-pack wearing henchman, Park Ji-hwan as Tae-young’s bumbling, but begrudgingly loyal distant cousin, and Jung Man-sik as a breezy mobster with a cherry, yet malevolent disposition.  Youn Yuh-jung, Jin Kyung, Jung Ga-ram, Bae Jin-wong, and Heo Dong-won round out the cast.

Non-linear yet interconnected in story, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” hawks a Tarantino layered thriller with colorful deplorables from all walks of life and luxuries.  Kim Yong-hoon nourishes the unbridled, free-for-all nature of diving into the murky, shark-infested waters uncaged and tethered with cuts of raw steaks dangling from the pelvis area in this two wrongs don’t equal a right account of mistrusting desperation and misguided optimism.  Kim’s style echoes the likes of the popular “Pulp Fiction” filmmaker along the lines of shooting techniques and a frank view of violence to tell the frantic clutching of hanging onto what is left of tattered lives and borrowed time while disavowing pure, unadulterated nihilism by at least giving characters a grain of hope.  With any non-linear, multiple moving part films, individual aspects tend to become lost in order for pacing and “Beasts Clawing at Straws” doesn’t fall into the excluded category as factors that play into the main quandary are left hanging, such as in Yeon-hee’s circumstantial results of jetting off with a mobster’s money as the assumption is there, but nothing is fully concrete in her storyline.  The same indiscernible spousal battery stemmed from Mi-ran and her husband’s severe debt that leads to transgressions beyond marital misuse isn’t privy to the audience of how circumstances come about surrounding their predicament and we’re forced to speculate and shoulder an explanation that doesn’t quite feel justified.  However, neither of the slapdash developments hinder “Beast Clawing for Straws’” steamrolling posture to get that desirable bag full of problem-solving, filthy lucre. 

Artsploitation Films delivers a stylish and avaricious South Korea crime drama with “Beasts Clawing for Straws” into the U.S. Blu-ray home video market. The not rated BD25, high-definition 1080p release is presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, and nears the epitome of flawless. Aside from the picture slightly flickering, more noticeably on solid colored backdrops, the hue palette is absolutely gorgeous with the neon lights of South Korean cities, the breathtaking silhouettes of the natural mountains adjacent to a lifelessly still lake, and the variety of settings from an airy fish house to a modern, symmetrically designed bordello denote a keen eye by Kim Tao-sung. The South Korean language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound couldn’t be any better with a crystal clear aptitude for strong dialogue balanced in front of a robust soundtrack accompanied by deep range of ambience from fire crackling to the faint hint of rain drops audible from inside a restaurant, solidifying the depth package as well. English subtitles are available along with an English dub track in a dual channel Dolby stereo. What’s lacking with this release is bonus material as there is virtually nothing besides four Artsploitation trailers and the film’s own theatrical trailer. Parlous and deadpan funny, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” amazes as Kim Yong-hoon’s first time effort with the technical grace and the story construction that has been a paradigm for only a handful of notable directors able to execute an impeccable result.

Own “Beasts Clawing at Straws” on Blu-ray! Click the poster to go to Amazon.com

This Dinner Party Dishes the EVIL! “Happy Times” reviewed! (Artsploitation Films / Digital Screener)

A small, but affluent, Los Angeles Jewish community dine together at a Hollywood mansion in celebration of the Shabbat.  Mixed feelings about each other compounded with mixed drinks stir the emotions of heated topics, including business ventures, religious attitudes, social statuses, marital qualms, and hidden desires.  Lines are being drawn and sides are being taken when one thing leads to another and undisclosed secrets become evident in a clash of suburban violence that pits friend versus friend, colleague versus colleague, and husband versus wife to the death. 

Director Michael Mayer reminds us that you should never mix business with pleasure with a keep your friends close, but your enemies closer black comedy entitled “Happy Times.”  The brawl of survival centered around Israel immigrants living in the U.S. is the second written and directed film from Mayer, following polar oppositely against another Israel themed, 2012 picture, “Out in the Dark,” a gay drama in the backdrop of the two rival and patriarchal sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The only conflict in this 2019 thriller-com is of the gravely plentiful and concentrated kind inside a L.A. mansion turned battle arena that sees about as much confrontation as the war-torn Gaza strip.  Co-written with Guy Ayal, “Happy Times” is a collaboration produced by Erri De Luca and Paola Porrini Bisson of OH!PEN and, the Israeli born, Gabrielle and Tomer Almagor’s Urban Tales Productions in association with Michael Mayer’s own company, M7200 Productions.

The Israel-nationality cast can be an immersive experience and a sign of good faith casting from the filmmakers as well as a show of open diversity from the production studios that casting Hebrew speaking, Israel background actors implies a serious interest and respect embroidered into the project. Mayer, born in Haifa, Israel himself, is a breath of a fresh air of non-appropriation in a time where whitewashing can still be prevalent in the movie industry. Israel born actresses Shani Atias, Liraz Chamami, and Iris Bahr command the screen not only as Israeli women in lead roles, but as different personas that interact and keep lively the one night, single dinner party narrative. Chamani especially dazzles in the details as the dinner hosting socialite wife and mother, Sigal, who exacts an assertive Jewish woman with a cooped up attitude and a knack for handling her own while also worried about her social status, an extravagant exhibition of a screen trope that you might experience on shows like “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” or movies like “The Slums of Beverly Hills,” enacted on point when she’s handing a frightened dinner guest, outside their Jewish circle and fleeing from the scene, tin foil wrapped leftovers with a wide menacingly unsure smile, while holding a medieval crossbow to go frag another party guest, in the plain view driveway. The wives’ counterparts are equally as Jewish and equally as prominent in the fold of the affair with Ido Mor as a unscrupulous businessman co-hosting the dinner, Guy Adler as a construction manager with money problems, and Alon Pdut as an unhappily married Ph.D engineer bothered by his fellow dinner guests’ lack of education and tact. In all, most of the characters are undilutedly snobbish with the exception of Sigal’s struggling actor cousin, Michael, played by Michael Aloni, whose magnified Hollywood liberalism deconstructs the Hebrew bible as racist and inaccurate among other colorful adjectives and becomes the catalyst that begins all hell breaking loose. Stéfi Celma, Mike Burstyn, Daniel Lavid, and Sophie Santi become the filament around the principle leads that strengthen the kill or be killed melee in “Happy Times.”

As if dinner parties weren’t already stressful enough, having to make trivial small talk, possibly acquaint or re-acquaint with unaccustomed faces, or pretend to enjoy the slop being served as food, “Happy Times” turns the internally exasperating dinner party debacle on its head with guests and hosts who are just too terribly comfortable with each other as volatile personalities explode like little active volcanos plumed to reach every corner of the house in a deadly playground for unstable, on-edge adults spewing their strident emotions and Mayer is able to maintain a layered pace with a narrative that’s snowballing quickly.  Where “Happy Times” struggles is the redline occurrences that trigger things to go very badly.  Though hardly trivial episodes between the guests, involving innocent infidelity affections or a slight practical joke stretched beyond devastating consequences, the harried moments afterwards diverge into a blown out result while more nefarious consequential revelations are held back, in after the fact chaos, and these differently graded spurs seem unbalanced, if not flip-flopped, in the story.  The characters themselves adequately course into being delightfully insane and as about as relatable as the internal frustration against our friendly-façade enemies, but there’s a part of me that personally wanted more development.  Military vet Avner, for example, exhibits symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the horror sounds of war play in his head when under stress.  As he stares into oblivion when the rage fills into his face, especially by a nagging, browbeating wife who doesn’t seem to be aware of his condition, the subconscious killing-machine overcomes the mild-manner tech engineer.  There’s also Yossi’s opaque tax evasion scheme, Michael’s thespian struggles, and Mati, the late arriving Rabbi, who pockets money on the side from Yossi and Sigal that factor into an erratic equation that’s a mind field surprise every step of the way.

“Happy Times” relishes in unpredictable violence as a round table of feast or famine hatred in this dog-eat-dog thriller coming to you from the Philadelphia based distributor, Artsploitation Films. Slated for a February 9th, 2021 release, the unrated film will be presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, in a gorgeously rich color of a modest, natural color scheme. Kazakhstani cinematographer, Ziv Berkovich, distills a solid, yet uninspiring, photography of mostly still cam mixed with subtle steady cam, rooting firmly to particular rooms without capturing the flow of a big mansion, reducing much of the in clover luxuries of the hosts. The Hebrew, English and some Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mix offers well balanced layers of audio tracks with dialogue clarity and establishing good range with depth not really set up because of the close up or medium shot frames. Guy Aya;’s score offers a good blend of a violin-screeching from a murder mystery dinner theater with the inklings of traditional Israel folk sprinkled in to create an anxiety riddled brew of trouble. There were no bonus material included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. The best of times and the worst of times doesn’t compare to the bloodletting of “Happy Times” in a wildly amusing dark comedy with every impulsive-driven and tension-wrought scene chockfull with bated breath.

Pre-order “Happy Times” on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazom.com (Click the poster)

Nurses’ Put Up With All Kinds of EVIL in a “12 Hour Shift” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

In the dwindling days leading up to the turn of the century, Mandy is about to start a 12 hour nursing shift at an Arkansas Hospital.  As a side gig, Mandy must supply fresh internal organs to her dimwitted cousin and organ mule, Regina, to earn a little extra cash to pay for her narcotic habit, a condition prolonged and sustained by a front desk colleague.  When Regina misplaces the bag full of internal organs and doesn’t deliver them to her ignoble black market boss, she returns to the hospital desperate and corners Mandy into coughing up more, even if that means killing a patient or two.   When Mandy profusely refuses, but reluctantly complies, Regina still takes matters into her own reckless hands and as the bodies begin to pile, Mandy has to stave off police interrogation and suspicion long enough to get through the long night shift of twisted circumstances and peculiar characters.

As if nurses didn’t already work tediously long hours on normal circumstances as it is, Brea Grant’s pitch black comedy, “12 Hour Shift,” is a cardiac inflamed melee of drug users, a convicted cop killer, and black market goons slaughtering it out with hapless patients caught in the middle.  “12 Hour Shift” is the sophomore film written and directed by Grant, released 7 years following her feature debut of the apocalyptic drama, “Best Friends Forever,” in 2013 as Grant also costars alongside Vera Miao as a pair of BFF journeywomen.  Now, Grant steps fully behind the camera, cherry picks real life headlines, and blends them with urban myths to inject cynicism right into our plump veins with pulpy anti-heroes and a graphic violence backdropped with a Y2K hyperbole.  Shot on location in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the film is produced by Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne of HCT Media and alongside actors, Tara Perry and David Arquette, and David’s wife, Christina McLarty Arquette. 

“May” star Angela Bettis jumps into scrubs as the steely junkie, Mandy, who teeters on benevolence after a streak of merciful killings of terminally ill patients for vital organs in exchange for addiction withdrawal averting cash. Mandy is stuck between a motley nursing staff, unpredictable cops, and a pair of bad guys as the coupling link scrambling to tread above water.  Bettis brings her harried eyed fortitude as a sarcastic and solitude-immersed nurse who is a jack of all trades contending internally with paper thin sympathetic motivations paralleling her self-preserving abilities.  Mandy’s calculating, on-the-fly smarts comes under threat by Regina’s halfwit, caution to the wind, sociopathy, housed under blonde teased hair sitting upon a model’s thin frame from the build of Chloe Farnsworth (“Crying Wolf 3D”) who dons crazy like a dunce cheerleader of a Renaissance slasher of an 80’s throw back, but instead of being the chest-baring victim killed while having prematernal sex in the woods, Regina is a scrappy and determined go-getter with more Cheeto dust on her fingers than braincells in her brain.  Grant paints a hefty list of colorful characters, written to ooze their own sanctimonious nature or Podunk refinement, a pair of inglorious splendor fallacies of small Southern townsfolk.  Dusty Warren plays one of those roles in the tactless ponytail wearing Mikey, the right hand muscle of the organ trafficker, and Mikey has nerveless feelings toward those that surround him except for his boss and, then, there’s Tara Perry’s Dorothy, a religious chatty-Cathy nurse who is essentially the most good, but less influential character of the whole rotten bunch.  “12 Hour Shift” cast rounds out with Kit Williamson as the cute, but hopelessly funny beat cop, Nikea Gamby-Turner as Mandy’s side hustling quasi-employer/colleague of drugs and organ, Brooke Seguin as the tireless nurse shift supervisor, and a pair of wrestlers, the only and only Mankind, Mick Foley, and the actor-turned-wrestler, David Arquette (“Scream”), who I must note is perhaps in the best shape of his life for this film.

“12 Hour Shift” comes off as like a big, crass joke on Southerners with a bloody knuckle one-two punch domino effect of disaster after disaster mayhem.  Grant satirically captures the hackneyed perceptions of a small Arkansas town from the late 1990s, complete with tube televisions and really bad hairstyles, that doesn’t the support the age old Southern mantra that is Southern Hospitality.  Every character touts an awful version of themselves.  Even Mandy, a junkie who commits unauthorized euthanasians with bleach in exchange for cash, crowns being perhaps the absolute worst of the entire character pool, but endeavors through the chaos as an anti-heroine we want to cheer for but is nowhere on the brink of amiability.  A strong point for Grant is giving every character, from scarce to principle, a once over and also touching on them periodically throughout to keep the minor parts existing in the back of the mind  Only David Arquette’s convicted death row inmate, emitted into the hospital due to self-harm, is the only role that feels half-heartedly fleshed out as a small story outlier or maverick whose dynamic is to only add another layer of obstacle fear without becoming too involved with the heart of the organ trafficking plotline.  The comedic air is dry, bloody, and not egregiously over the top in savoring enough plausibility of the abstracted truths to be told in a verse narrative that relies much on Matt Glass’ cymbal, bass, and snare drum soundtrack to provide an unique rhythm for a feminist story.  The two female leads absorb, react, and solve the issues on their own without male assistance; Mandy’s very own half-brother lies comatose for all of the duration and he’s even the reason for Mandy’s pounding addiction, but she still exhibits compassion for family, as we also see with her cousin by marriage, Regina, in the last act, and will do anything to guarantee his safety.  The attributes of the male characters are inversely heroic with qualities like whining, coquettish, uncouth, and gullible running rampant amongst the behaviors; ergo, female characters Mandy, Regina, and even Nikea Gamby-Turner’s Karen have room to grow in the timespan of Brea Grant’s “12 Hour Shift.”

 

Magnet Releasing and HCT Media in association with One Last Run presents “12 Hour Shift,” stat, releasing this Friday, October 2nd in theaters and video on demand.  The black comedy from the United States clocks in at 87 minutes of a shift from hell.  Since the screener provided was of a new theatrical release, there will be no A/V specs listed and critiqued.  The only bonus feature outside the any kind of physical release is an extended last scene after the principle credits role that encourages more hospital mayhem, but will alas leave open ended about the destruction that would ensue.   Aforesaid, Matt Glass serves as the composer on the film, but the multi-hatted filmmaker also serves as the director of photography, producing tactile scenes with a lot of rich, natural lighting on a slightly higher contrast scale and with pockets of brilliant, soft hues to exude more dastardly situations. “12 Hour Shift” goes to show you, in extreme measures and unpredictable circumstances, much like real life hospital scenarios, the rigors and pressures of nursing can be unfathomably taxing, but under the gun (literally in the movie), the nursing staff can overcome all obstacles and filmmaker Brea Grant, in her own style, honors with a gritty, black comedy for the profession that, in many instances, goes unappreciated and thankless.