REVIEW: “SONGBIRD” (2020) STX Films

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During a pandemic we all might wonder if it’s really a good time for a pandemic film right now – the answer isn’t really definitive as none of us want a something that will instill a probable cause of more anxiety. And considering the staggering amount of cases being reported, the horrible handling of it all and more deaths in one day than 9/11, some might shy away from this one. But yet “SONGBIRD” didn’t instill that in my sometimes anxiety ridden self as it tells an actual story, not a great one, but a story it does have and it wasn’t any worse than the horrible handling that is happening first hand of the actual Covid-19 virus at present.

It’s also essentially the first studio film to be shot in Los Angeles during the pandemic showing us it can be done with all protocols and testing being followed and that is a good thing with the bringing of employment and cash flow back into the city. This one though isn’t dealing with Covid-19 but is set in 2024 with the virus having mutated into another deadlier level aptly called Covid-23 and millions have now died from it. The country is not only under martial law, but has been in complete lockdown for a few years. You must do a viral scan each and every morning and anyone who is infected will be taken by force if necessary and sent into overcrowded quarantine camps again, aptly called ‘Q-Zones’.

There are as with any disease known, people who are immune and these lucky few are given a yellow coded bracelet to wear as proof. Nico (K.J. Apa) is one of these lucky immune people and he is employed by a delivery company owned by Lester (Craig Robinson) which as no one is allowed to step out of their house, an extremely lucrative business. Especially of course to the rich and wealthy as noted by Lester “The rich need their stuff”. Lester monitors all his staff through high tech GPS and an agoraphobic disabled vet Dozer (Paul Walter Hauser) who operates delivery surveillance drones to make sure they get their stuff. The rich here being the Griffin family consisting of William (Bradley Whitford) and Piper (Demi Moore) and daughter with pre-existing conditions Emma (Lia McHugh). William and Emma are not happily married and they are also underground dealers of those special yellow bracelets that can make travel for other rich people possible. Nico is also busy trying to help his girlfriend Sara (Sofia Carson), with whom he has never had a face to face conversion with as their connection is through phone screens and her front door. Sara lives with her grandma Lita (Elpidia Carrillo) who might be at risk of passing her Covid scan. Lastly is of course our villain Emmett Harland (Peter Stormare) who leads the so-called ‘Department of Sanitation’ crew who take the sick to the Q-Zones.

All of this happens very very quickly as writer/director Adam Mason throws everything at us at a very quick paced 90 minutes of runtime. There is no acting standouts here although it was nice to see Demi Moore still giving it a go – though not a fan of her glasses look, she played the bad/good person here well enough. Apa and Carson have a good chemistry even though their whole relationship is done through screens, it was believable. And credit must be given that someone can make a film at all right now let alone write it, pitch it, get it made and released all during a lockdown. Was there moments where you realize with how badly things have been handled, and where empathy is definitely a lacking trait in realization of how many have passed already, yes and it’s definitely not a hope-filled, joyous look at a future that none of us want to see, but there is a story behind it all.

All in all, giving credit where credit is due and while not the best film of 2020, it’s also not it’s worst.

Grade: C-

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Review screening: Courtesy of STX Films

“SONGBIRD” IS NOW AVAILABLE ON VOD

REVIEW: “THE DARKEST MINDS” (2018) 20th Century Fox

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Starting us off somewhere in the future, “THE DARKEST MINDS” throws us in into a world where 98% of American kids were wiped out by a mysterious disease called IAAN aka Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration. 10-year old Ruby Daly (Heaven Hightower) is one of the survivors and is taken along with other survivors of the plague by the government and put them in a camp – yes, it is eerily reminiscent of not only what has happened in the past, but what is happening right now in the US.

Here, the kids are classified by color, based on the special ability that they possess: Greens are geniuses. Blues are telepathics. Golds have electrical powers. Reds and Oranges are rare, but are also considered dangerous and terminated on site. Ruby is diagnosed an Orange, but thanks to Cate (Mandy Moore), a doctor from the resistance Children’s League who helps Ruby escape the camp. From that point on, she has to discover how to use her power in order to survive.

Ruby (Amandla Sternberg) now a teenager, finally escapes her camp – she meets and makes friends with a group of fellow runaways, namely Zu (Miya Cech), Charlie ‘Chubbs’ to his friends (Skylan Brooks) and Liam (Harris Dickinson). They seek out and find refuge in EDO, a camp for survivor kids. And of course, as in every YA film, a romance blooms between Ruby and Liam, while Chubbs provides the comic relief third wheel and Zu gives us a ‘silent’ performance that isn’t terrible.

I went into this film not knowing that it was based on the first book of a young adult book series written by Alexandra Bracken. Her “The Darkest Minds” series started in 2012, and shockingly is now already into its fifth installment. Maybe had it been done then vs. now it might seem as something new. As it was, this whole film felt like a ‘Maze Runner/Divergent’ retread. And that my friends, is wherein the problem lies with “The Darkest Minds,” it comes out too long after this trend has run out of steam.

Up and coming young actress Amandla Sternberg has lovely quality and screen presence about her and I don’t think it’s far-fetched to predict that she’s got a great career in front of her, though hopefully something with a bit more ummph to it.
Harris Dickinson, who impressed me so much with both ‘Beach Rats’ & his portrayal of J.Paul Getty Jr.,in ‘Getty’, sadly disappoints here playing rebel leader and Ruby’s love interest. Patrick Gibson is the villan of sorts, Clancy Gray, the son of the US President and a fellow Orange who took a special interest in Ruby, steps it up some and helps make the last 35 minutes of this film interesting. Mandy Moore just gave me a “This is Us” mom-vibe for her role and Bradley Whitford as US President Grey, a nasty character that could probably give Trump a run for his money. Which brings us down to our least used star whom I love, Gwendoline Christie. She only has a few scenes as Lady Jane, a bounty hunter chasing runaway kids, but made them work.

Watching “The Darkest Minds” gave me a “been there, done that” feeling. I could not help but see it as just another rehash of all the previous YA adventure series. But what started off quite terribly, picked up the last 35 minutes to make it not a completely wasted watch as it did have its own twists, particularly regarding a certain power that only Ruby can perform. But it will take sequels to explore how this story will proceed from the familiar set-up it has begun with here. But again, it’s 2018 – and the time for this YA genre is long past it’s due date. I predict this one will be in and out of theaters before your mind can go dark.

Grade: C–
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Wednesday, August 1, 2018 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
‘THE DARKEST MIND’ IS NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE // WORLDWIDE RELEASE STARTING FRIDAY, AUGUST 10, 2018