Tag Archives: D

UP ON THE GLASS

Producers: Nikki Brown and Kevin Del Principe    Director: Kevin Del Principe   Screenplay: Nikki Brown and Kevin Del Principe   Cast: Chase Fein, Chelsea Kurtz, Hunter Cross, Steve Holm, Jessica Lynn Parsons, Nikki Brown and Burke Sage   Distributor: Gravitas Ventures  

Grade: D

The press materials suggest that this character study/thriller by the USC-trained husband-and-wife team of Kevin Del Principe and Nikki Brown bears a kinship to “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” but Patricia Highsmith would blanch at the comparison.  Narratively thin and cinematically threadbare, “Up On the Glass” barely deserve a cursory inspection, let alone sustained examination.

The protagonist (anti-hero might be the better term) is Jack DiMercurio (Chase Fein), a Dartmouth grad whose career hasn’t fulfilled the promise of his academic background.  We first find him as a scruffy, bearded guy apparently living in his car after losing his latest short-term job in construction (or maybe architecture—he’s shown drawing some sort of primitive blueprint).  After shaving and cleaning up as best he can on the run, he heads for Benona Township, Michigan, where he’s been invited to a get-together at the lakefront home of his well-to-do college buddy Andy Shelton (Hunter Cross), who’s made good in the investment game.  

It’s a very small reunion: the only other attendee is jerky “Moze” Mosely (Steve Holm), who drinks too much and has a habit of embarrassing himself.  Jack, gloomy and angst-ridden, tries to participate in the strained horseplay, but his only real interest is in seeing Shelton’s wife Liz (Chelsea Kurtz), whom he was once involved with and obviously still has feelings for.  Moze shoves off quickly, leaving the two erstwhile roomies alone. They go off for a meal and meet up with Becca and Kate (Jessica Lynn Parsons and Nikki Brown), whom Jack had encountered earlier at the convenience store where they work, and with whom they have some fun.

But it’s just a passing flirtation, and once they’re alone again Andy spends much of the time pointing out Jack’s failure and boasting of his own success.  The hostility between them grows, finally bursting out in an act of accidental violence that leaves Jack with a corpse to deal with.  And Liz finally shows up.

That’s where the “Ripley” comparison arises.  Jack tries to keep Andy’s death a secret while awkwardly and guiltily reconnecting with the deceased man’s wife and disposing of the body.  Liz’s concern about her husband’s curious absence doesn’t help, nor do periodic intrusions by neighbor Bob McKenzie (Burke Sage), who seems to appear at the most inopportune moments.  The makers try to gin up some suspense while continuing their character study of Jack, who represents the failure of a middle-kid kid to make it in the world despite a first-class education, but they never manage to generate much tension, and the ending is puzzling and inconclusive. 

Fein strains to convey Jack’s inner turmoil and winds up overacting strenuously, while Cross’s attempt to seem sleek and confident merely comes across as smarmy and Kurtz is bland.   Holm is persuasively annoying—a dubious achievement—while Sage is particularly amateurish and grating.  The technical side of things (cinematography by Mark Blaszak, editing by Nicholas Sy music by Oscar Jasso) is mediocre, resulting in visuals in which even the Lake Michigan shore looks bleak rather than inviting. 

“Up On the Glass” raises some issues, personal and sociological, that are intrinsically interesting, but the indifferently written, laxly directed movie doesn’t dramatize them effectively.

MURDER IN THE WOODS

Producers: Luis Iga Garza and Yelyna De León   Director: Luis Iga Garza   Screenplay: Yelyna De León   Cast: José Julián, Jeanette Samano, Chelsea Rendon, Catherine Toribio, Kada Wise, Jordan Diambrini, Max Chavarria, Kurt Caceres, Yelyna De León, Soledad St. Hilaire, Rolando Molina and Danny Trejo   Distributor: Rezinate Pictures

Grade: D

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a group of teenagers go to an isolated house in the forest, where they proceed to get murdered one by one by a mad killer.  Does “Murder in the Woods”—not the most imaginative of titles—give any twist to the admittedly familiar premise?  Yes: the characters are all Latinex.  Is that enough to make it worth watching?  Unfortunately, no.  It’s too prosaic, and in the end ludicrous, a genre exercise for the ethnic emphasis to make much difference.

Yelyna De León’s script begins with a prologue in which an injured man (Kurt Carceres) staggers through the woods to a house where, in an upstairs window, a cute little boy (Max Chavarria) looks on afraid.  It then shifts, a conventional fashion, to introduce the young candidates for slaughter.  One is Fernanda (Jeanette Samano), a girl from Chicago visiting her cousin Chelsea (Chelsea Rendon), who’s going out with friends, including her handsome boyfriend Gabe (Jordan Diambrini), to celebrate her birthday big-time.  Joining them are pretty Celeste (Catherine Toribio) and jokester Jule (Kade West).  Finally there’s Jesse (José Julián), a quiet sort who, despite a stern warning from his grandmother (Soledad St. Hilaire), decides to tag along.

Along the way to the house where they plan to party, the car accidentally is damaged when they hit an animal, and they’re stopped by Sheriff Lorenzo (Danny Trejo), who sees them all as punks.  Once settled in for the night, they begin to get drunk and high, and friction occurs: a fight erupts over a boy, for instance, and a girl runs out into the forest, only to meet an unhappy fate.   But Fernanda, who left the area years ago, hits it off with Jesse,

Then, of course, the real trouble begins as some unknown person attacks the youngsters.  Lorenzo shows up to warn those still alive to evacuate the place because of an oncoming wildfire (which never shows up, probably due to budgetary restrictions), and it’s revealed why the killer should have chosen this moment to attack; an attempt to link the motive with the prologue italicizes the absurdity of the entire business—one must overlook a variety of logical and chronological lapses to follow the plot trajectory at all, and the effort simply isn’t worth it.

One can appreciate the desire of De León, a producer and actress as well as an actress, and Garza, who served on the crew of the 2013 Halle Berry vehicle “The Call” (here directing his first feature) to include aspects of Latino culture in the film, and to cast ethnically authentic actors in the lead roles.  But the effort goes unrewarded when the screenplay is, overall, so hackneyed and the acting so amateurish.  That even applies to Trejo, who seems to be winking at the audience as he goes through the motions of playing the crusty lawman. 

On the technical level the movie is obviously a low-budget affair, presumably based on a lot of volunteer work as the credits list no fewer than three cinematographers (Nicholas Albert, Anirudh Gattu and Steven Holleran), two editors (Ryan Libert and Garza) and two composers(Isabelle Engman and Gerardo Garcia).  It looks rather dim and unfocused, but that’s about par for this slasher-type genre.

Throwbacks can sometimes be fun, but this return to 1980s formula proves that more often retreads are pretty bald affairs.