Saturday, July 22, 2017

Movie Reviews: Austin Found, Incarnate

Austin Found
directed by Will Raee
This movie is being marketed as a comedy. Well it has comedic elements but it's really not slapstick or anything that would make you constantly laugh out loud. It's more of a satire/slice of life story. It's uneven to say the least but the ending which I obviously won't discuss made the film worthwhile as far as I was concerned. At just over an hour and a half this film doesn't overstay its welcome. 

This movie works the same side of the street as such films as Fargo, To Die For, Little Miss Sunshine, and Living Dolls. We all have a self-image. Whether we want to or not we often measure that internal portrait against the reality of who we are and where we are in life. I'm not just talking about money or material success although that is the most obvious metric which comes first to many people's minds. Health, fame, power, status, moral standing, intimate and familial relationships, and many other things are also important to people.

Austin, Texas hair stylist Leanne (Linda Cardellini) is a woman who doesn't like where she is in life. Leanne is a former high school cheerleader and beauty queen/prom queen who's now in her late thirties. Leanne often dresses as if she is much younger and still single. She married for money but her decent computer sales husband Don (Jon Daly) won't inherit what Leanne thought he was going to inherit. Additionally, because of career downturns Don isn't earning the big bucks that he used to bring home. At all. Money is tight. Bank accounts are low. Credit cards are maxed out. Leanne is channeling all of her ambition into her and Don's eleven-year old daughter Patty (Ursula Parker) by forcing Patty's participation in various talent shows and beauty contests as well as the required or suggested prep classes for those activities. 

Patty has inherited her mother's good looks but has also picked up her father's kindness and easy going nature, something that frustrates Leanne. Leanne is more invested in her daughter's success than Patty is. Leanne is not amused when during the interview portion of a junior Miss Austin beauty contest Patty chides the pageant organizers for endorsing and causing eating disorders and low self-esteem among young girls. Cardellini is the film's lead. Her scenes drive the movie. Cardellini and Parker work well together in a very believable manner. I probably wouldn't have bothered to watch this movie if it had been solely marketed as a review of a dysfunctional mother: daughter relationship but that is certainly an important sub theme. I actually enjoyed that part. 

There are three catalysts for this movie's cascade of events, all of which come thru Leanne. (1) Leanne finds that the family cash flow has dried up, not allowing her to pay for Patty's after-school activities. (2) At her job Leanne must service an old frenemy (Jaime Pressley) of similar morals and attractiveness who has married a man who is much more successful than Don (3) Leanne is fascinated by the story of a family whose beauty pageant winner daughter was kidnapped and successfully returned. That family parlayed the experience into fame and fortune. Fed up with Don's phlegmatic nature, Leanne decides that if the family (by which she means her and Patty) are ever going to make it then she will have to make things happen on her own. 

Leanne decides to manipulate her old high school flame and current auto mechanic Billy (Skeet Ulrich) into kidnapping Patty and holding her hostage long enough for the media interest to grow so that Leanne can score a movie or book deal. Leanne broke up with Billy in a particularly humiliating way a long time ago. Billy never got over it. His heart has stayed broken though he hides it with sarcasm and vitriol.

But Leanne has total confidence in Billy's neediness/stupidity and in her own ability to turn on the va-va-voom. Some people, particularly if they are as emotionally fragile as Billy, have trouble letting go of the "One that got away". Billy's ego needs to believe that Leanne still wants him. Billy can't do the kidnapping job by himself. Billy recruits his friend J.T. (Craig Robinson), a shy lonely pianist, to help. J.T. and Billy did prison time together so they think they can trust each other. Things go south. Billy gets suspicious that Leanne has no intention of sharing any money, or more importantly, her body with him. And hell hath no fury like a man twice rejected. 

A scorned romantic can be quite dangerous. Patty is smart enough to pick up on information that Billy or J.T let slip. And J.T. is far too kind and protective to be an effective menacing kidnapper. Patty is also a musician, a violinist. In a big brotherly way, the formerly withdrawn J.T. starts to bond to the self-assured and inquisitive Patty, something Billy doesn't like one bit. Billy sees Patty as an unpleasant walking reminder that "his" woman did the deed with someone else and has a life without him. 

Local television reporter Nancy (Kristin Schaal) is a homely former high school classmate of Leanne. Having been bullied and mocked by Leanne all those years ago, Nancy isn't exactly sympathetic when she learns of the "kidnapping". And her spidey sense goes off when some details don't add up. Nancy digs deeper into the kidnapping story though as some of her peers caution her, she could be motivated as much from jealousy and resentment as from sober journalistic instincts. Patrick Warburton has a cameo as a publicity hungry police chief.

After watching this movie you might feel some sort of way about overaggressive parents, child beauty pageants and always doing the right thing. The writing could have been tighter. The J.T. character needed better definition. He doesn't have any good motivation for his involvement in the caper. Sometimes he came across as too childlike. Don only has a few scenes where you can distinguish him from the wallpaper. But as mentioned the dynamics of the mother: daughter relationship were a strong story feature. Ursula Parker's Patty was well written and acted. 

Parker held her own with the adult actors. She and Robinson seem to have good chemistry. Parker is a skilled violinist in real life. I thought the ending made up for an occasionally muddled tale. I loved the soundtrack. Do not watch this film expecting end to end silly slapstick humor. This is more of a dark comedy or sardonic drama than a laugh machine. If you're looking for something off the beaten path and don't demand perfection or didacticism from your entertainment choices then this you might enjoy this movie. Although some characters do stupid things, a quick review of real life crime news shows that people do stupid things because of sex, money or revenge. All the time.

directed by Brad Peyton
There are some horror movies where a running time of 95 minutes or less works well. Some directors and screenwriters can very quickly outline the story, illustrate the characters and their motivations, and draw the viewer into the events in no time at all. Other horror movies need to or like to take their time and leisurely show the viewer who is who, why this matters, and play with the viewer's expectations. For them two hours or more is essential. Incarnate had a short running time but would have done better to slow things down and explain or scare people a little more. At PG-13 there weren't many scares, explicit or otherwise. I have seen this story done better and with more pathos on such television shows as Supernatural or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Incarnate featured two A-list or pretty close to A-list leads in Aaron Eckheart and Carice Van Houten but they were wasted in these roles. Incarnate was a rip/off mashup of better films and books such as The Cell, Fallen, The Matrix, Inception, A Wind In The Door, and Insidious among others. Incarnate had one or two good ideas but the execution was crap.

Even the internal logic of the film failed. If someone dies during an exorcism, you can't just call the police and have the body hauled away so that you can get right back to the exorcism. No. The police don't believe in demons. Saying that a demon killed your ex-husband won't really suffice as an explanation of why your estranged ex is dead in your living room. Probably the police will ask you and everyone in the house to come with them. They'll have a few questions for you. They might even insist upon putting you in a cage and not letting you leave. And yet in Incarnate this very event takes place without anyone missing a beat. Okay.

The only interesting idea which Incarnate offered up is that demons are essentially parasites, who seek to possess human beings not necessarily to do evil things or profane God but to feed on their souls. Once ejected from the body the demon dies unless it can find someone else to possess. Dr. Seth Ember (Eckheart) is a psychologist with a disdain for organized religion. Nevertheless he has the paranormal ability to enter someone else's mind while both are sleeping. He uses this to perform exorcisms of demons, though as he doesn't use any religious imagery he prefers to call them evictions. 

He's approached by a Vatican representative (Catalina Sandino Moreno) to perform an eviction of a demon possessing a young boy (David Mazouz). Supposedly the Vatican needs his help as their best guys have failed. Ember doesn't want to do this at first. His ability to evict demons is waning while the damage he takes fighting demons inside other people's minds is starting to show up in real life on his body. 

But when Ember learns that the boy's divorced mother is Melisandre  the demon possessing the boy is one he has a personal history with, he decides to take his team to the apartment where battle will be joined. As mentioned Carice Van Houten is the boy's mother. She doesn't have much to do except look worried and figure out Ember's deep dark secret, which because it's constantly shown in flashback comes as no surprise to the viewer. I often write about Saturday afternoon movies that are cheap forgettable fun. This wasn't even that.

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