REVIEW: “THE RENTAL” (2020) IFC Films

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Doing more for Airbnb’s already somewhat tempestuous reputation, “THE RENTAL” will have you thinking twice about booking that weekend get-away vacation we are all aching for.

Dave Franco’s directorial debut “The Rental” revolves around a simple set-up. Two couples, Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Alison Brie) and Mina (Sheila Vand) and Josh (Jeremy Allen White), have the idea to rent a beautiful Oceanside rental house where they can do some hiking, relax some, and enjoy each others company, well sort of. Bringing along with them not only their emotional baggage but adding some party ‘favours’ into the mix to spice it up a bit and get them through the weekend might not be the best idea ever, but hey no one has ever turned away from a ‘good’ idea now have they… From the get go though, things are off and the feeling is some things just don’t seem right. There’s clearly some underlying issues between the couples, some lingering attraction between Charlie and Mina, and this sea-side getaway they have rented has seemingly more secrets than one can even imagine.

Adding in some racial and creeper-type tension is Taylor (Toby Huss), the caretaker of the house and so much more – because that is not the only tensity here. Franco does a really good job of slow boiling all the tensions together that are abound here from building up of the obvious sexual tension between Charlie and Mina, which could unravel in many ways, but how it does is all part of again, the build up and layers in what awaits us. As to what they don’t know about the house and slowly start to discover is but just an another added plot line that intertwines with the others so well. That they didn’t know that the very house in which they are staying, has some very invasive recording devices placed in some very private places is just part of it. The slow and precise reveal of all this is done by having a grip on us the viewer – to want to know and keeps our toes tingling in anticipation of how it all draws out.

On the acting level Brie, despite a slow start to her character, revs it up during the second hour of the film as the reveals start pouring forth. Stevens once again not speaking in his native accent but more of a whispery American one which once again he’s just not wholly successful at, but because of the genre of movie, it actually adds a little to it by doing so. Jeremy White as a screw up brother isn’t really a stretch of a character and he’s fine here, but does grow aggravating during a few spots. Vand’s role here is a great find though as she handles the biggest character evolvement of both good & bad, all the while keeping us completely on her side.

The movie also shows the effect that technology can have on our lives and how you never really know if or when you are being watched even in the most private of places. The film doesn’t rely on gore, but on the build up of tension to give us it’s scare. The direction from Franco is also well paced and while it could be argued there may have been a need for more depth on these characters, it’s a very slight one as Franco turns the tension up to the perfect level, delivering an ending that makes it all a notable pay off, most especially leading into the credits sequence which will send much worthy chills right down your spine.

All in all ‘The Rental‘ is most definitely deserving of a rental this weekend. 🙂

Grade: C+

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Review link courtesy of IFC Films

THE RENTAL | Opens In over 250 Drive-Ins + Theaters and Digital/VOD THIS Friday JULY 24

REVIEW: “EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA” (2020) Netflix

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“EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA” is the story of two clunky but charming singers, who chase their pop star dreams to perform for their country in the very popular International Eurovision song contest. We see Lars (Will Ferrell) as a child watching ABBA at the 1976 Eurovision and from that moment on in life, he aspires to be everything like them. Singing along to ‘Waterloo’ is too amusing for his family as they all laugh at him, this upsets young Lars and he loses their respect, especially from his father Erick (Pierce Brosnan) who does a wonderful, darkly comedic portrayal of one of those dads who had zero faith and belief in his son on this lifelong endeavor.

Fast forward to 2020 and we see Lars teaming up with his childhood best friend and local singer Sigrid (Rachel McAdams) who along with Lars are ‘Fire Saga’, the hometown band in their small town village in Iceland. They have a few fans at local bars but they are dreaming big and are entered into a knockout competition to have the chance to sing at Eurovision. Sigrid wants to get close to Lars, but he thinks it would get in the way of the music and would be a distraction. When the other contestants are blown up, Lars and Sigrid are Iceland’s only chance left and off they go.

On this wild ride that ensues their journey through the Eurovision contest and predicaments they find themselves in, they meet their crazy fellow contests, attend some wild parties where Sigrid finds she has herself an admirer in the Russian favourite, the arrogant and flamboyant Alexander (Dan Stevens), who gives an downright amusing performance here. He comes between Sigrid and Lars who have a love attraction, until Lars decides to not perform and goes home where he not only feels lost, but realizes that Sigrid is his true love and he must return to her – well that and OMG they actually qualify for the contest itself.

As someone who has never watched more than 10 minutes of a Eurovision contest, I must confess that the film is just a little much needed diversion from everything serious happening all around us on a daily basis. And while we shouldn’t just BOOM! forget everything, we as people can do two things at once at take a momentary diversion for a hot second to enjoy this as it doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a hilarious satire of all that Eurovision entails.  The over the top performances, the voting fix of neighbouring countries, the notable guest starring roles of past contestants, and yes, the noticing of that Britain never gets a vote, just all add up to a gaggle of tidbits to make this comedic enough for all of us to at least crack a smile at.

All of it’s in good fun though you might not get a complete laugh out loud moment, you will be charmed by this one as even the Icelandic accents are funny, done in a very tongue-in-cheek manner. Again, the characters are more enjoyable and charmingly funny rather than a “ha!ha!” laugh-out-loud type funny. But with some sporting singing from both McAdams and Ferrell to close it all down, makes it one to check out.

Grade: B-

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“EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA” IS AVAILABLE TO WATCH ON NETFLIX

REVIEW ~ “THE GUEST” – PREMIERE: SUNDANCE NEXT FESTIVAL

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Ever wonder what happens after you leave ‘Downton Abbey’  as one of it’s most popular characters of the show..’Matthew’?’  Well this movie might answer some of those questions for you.  From the get go you wonder to yourself..’what happened to that pasty-white Brit who played as one of the Brit’s upperclassmen so very well.. cuz let me tell you..THIS Dan Stevens is definitely not that guy. THIS Dan Stevens looks amazing, someone clearly got a tan, worked out & came over to the dark side..hahahaha  This character he plays here is such a far-fetch than what we are used to seeing him in, I wouldn’t think they are even one and the same person.  Now did I love this movie..well…I will admit to being confused for a bit if they actually meant it as a serious movie, sorta like the pitch/trailer was, or what exactly it was meant to be.  It starts off creepy, goes to serious, goes campy, goes silly, goes action-y, goes just plain stupid, goes horror.  After a while you get the jist that it’s just supposed to be B or even D movie campy as anything..and if you can realize that from the beginning you will probably enjoy it more than I did the first hour because it will make much more sense.. It wasn’t till the Q & A afterwards with Director: Adam Wingard & Writer: Simon Barrett that I actually gleaned this important fact. ha!  They wanted a ‘Terminator’ meets “Halloween’ type vibe..

the guest shirtless

Serious part of the plot starts off with “David” (Dan Stevens) showing up at the front door of the of family of his deceased Army buddy Caleb’s house and within the blink of an eye, he is invited to stay by the mom, “Laura” (Sheila Kelly) in her son’s old room no less. Well Dad “Spencer” (Leland Orser) comes home to find this all out and of course has a freak out moment, which quickly passes as they share some beers, cause you know..you can trust people after you’ve shared a few beers! ha!   Luckily the daughter, “Anna” (Maika Monroe) figures out that all is probably not on the up and up with this guy, his behaviour, as she takes him to a party with her is really off..her friends start disappearing, the local gun dealer in a cameo from Ethan Embry & town dealer “Craig” (Joel David Moore)  – whoosh! gone.. her dad’s boss, boyfriend “Zeke” (Chase Williamson) gives her trouble..have no fear he gets busted after being set up by David.. NO ONE is safe it seems. Her brother “Luke” (Brendan Meyer) thinks David is great after he kicks the school bullies asses for harassing him..so the only person who ‘gets it’ that David is a complete & utter psychopath is Anna..  After she calls the military admin to check on him and they send out basically, a hit squad led by “Carver” (Lance Reddick) after David.  What ensues for the next 45min is just so over the top, though some of it was funny..but mostly it was just ridiculous as it turns out David aka “The Guest” is really part of some secret military operation so when he annihilates the whole team plus 1/2 the family in some of the most bizarro scenes of pure mayhem..I had to shake my head a few times as this was a major sub-plot that was pretty underdeveloped as it just gets sorta sprung on you..The following whole Halloween carnival scene where it Anna & Luke are fighting against David is probably the best and worst part of the movie, if that makes sense at all.. 🙂

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As for Dan Stevens performance.. some are hailing it as really good..I mean I guess since we are so used to seeing him playing these completely different Brit period piece roles… so yeah..seeing him up on the screen looking so damn good, while it could be considered well..distracting to say the least..but of course in a good way, I didn’t think the performance was great..as he played it in a restrained kinda way..when it seemed as though it should be more over the top..following in the genre of the movie, but it’s definitely not a bad performance and shows he can make his mark doing some other fun stuff, hence the reasoning behind leaving Downton.

the guest

Lastly, the soundtrack was given kudos by some..I guess you really have to like and be familiar with speed/heavy metal, which I am not as there were times it almost overpowered the scenes for me. I like soundtracks to be part of and enhance the movie..not be the movie.. Thankfully also the Q & A afterwards cleared up many points about this movie for me at least.  It was moderated by Nicolas Winding Refn of “Drive & Bronson” fame,  who while he might think out of the box as a director at times, clearly thinks he is the cat’s pajamas..(sunglasses in a movie theatre..just stop) and while I liked Bronson..well.. let’s just say I like a fun, bantering Q & A, not one where the moderator actually seems rude and is putting down the Writer: Simon Barrett & Director: Adam Wingard while moderating. Not cool guy..not cool.  Overall judgement of this movie.. I liked it, mostly because of the campy silliness, but I didn’t love it as for a supposed horror/action thriller as it was really neither and never lived up to full satisfaction of either..

Grade: C

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Grading Scale: A = Oscar worthy; B = Above average – must see;  C = Average;  D = Don’t waste your time or money;  F= Don’t see the movie  (+ or – gives it an edge up or down)