Tag Archives: independent

Snowtown – Review

5 Jun

You know that feeling you get when a movie just completely obliterates you? The credits are rolling and you’re just sitting there, numb to the world, with the film acting as a sort of pressure prohibiting you from doing anything at all? That’s how I recently felt after my viewing of Justin Kurzel’s 2011 film Snowtown, also called The Snowtown Murders in some parts of the world. This piece of unequivocal horror is based on the brutally true story of Australia’s worst serial killer, and the people he drew into his web of torture and murder. This is not an easy film to watch, and I’m sure there are some that may call it unwatchable, but I firmly believe that this may be one of the most horrifying films I’ve seen in a long time.

Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is a teenager growing up in a poor suburban area of Adelaide. He has a couple of brothers and a loving mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris), who despite the love has a hard time making ends meet. After the short lived relationship she’s in with her neighbor ends with her sons becoming in danger, Elizabeth doesn’t know where to turn. That is until she meets John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), a charismatic man who has a sort of team of vigilantes who keeps a harsh eye on certain people in the neighborhood. Jamie takes and especially strong liking to John, and it doesn’t take long for John to become Jamie’s mentor and father figure. As Jamie spends more and more time with John, he begins to notice certain behavioral patterns that don’t seem quite right, and when more and more neighbors begin to disappear the pieces really begin to fall into place.

Snowtown is a ten ton punch in the gut, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Kurzel does not mess around with what he’s willing to show and it makes the movie all the more horrifying. There’s terror to be seen everywhere from the people living around this family to the actual members of the family and finally from John, who is a presence that’s hard to describe. It was also a smart choice to have this film shot mostly in a hand held style with the surroundings often times being close to colorless. This is a very down to earth movie in the way it’s presented, but the lack of color brings in a layer of hopelessness and the living situations make it seem impossible for these people to escape the horror that is plaguing their lives. This is how you do it, ladies and gentlemen. This is top tier horror film making.

It’s kind of hard to find really serious problems with Snowtown because they really feel very few and far between. There’s some unnecessary padding to the plot in a couple of scenes. A few bits go on a bit too long, but it’s really nothing that noticeable unless you’re really trying to nit pick, which I’m certainly not. The plot moves at a very certain pace, which boarders between being a slow burn and an edge of your seat thriller. The only thing that really sticks out to me that I can complain about is the way the passage of time is shown. There are a few cues to show that time is passing, but I feel like a lot happens in this movie without any sort of clue as to how much time has passed from one scene to another. This movie could happen over the course of years, months, or weeks. I’m really not too sure. This does add a layer of disorientation, which is kind of cool, but it still would have been nice to have seen progress shown in a more clearer fashion.

With this movie being told in the way that it is, the actors would really have to sell that they aren’t actors playing characters, but are the actual people they are playing. It’s clear Kurzel wanted the audience to completely lose themselves in this movie and not just switch off and watch it. That being said, he casted a lot of people who aren’t actors, but were rather people who lived in the area. Lucas Pittaway, who was never in any kind of film before this, is excellent as Jamie, who gets completely entangled in John’s plans. His mother, played by Louise Harris, was also virtually unknown before this and she does a great job at bringing this character to life in a realistic way. Finally, Daniel Henshall, who plays John Bunting, was only known for some performances in television, but he gives a horrifying performance as the murderous mentor of Jamie. It’s something I won’t soon forget.

Snowtown is a prime example of true, excruciating horror. Justin Kurzel and his team do not hold back with this movie. Some truly terrible acts that really happened are depicted in this movie, which may turn some people off. It’s definitely not an easy movie to sit through, but it does tell a story that will guarantee to send shivers down anyone’s spine. I can’t emphasize enough that this is the way horror films should be made, even though this particular one is also filled with a lot of drama and true crime elements. If you ever get a chance and think you can stomach the content, I would highly recommend checking this film out.

Final Grade: A

Free Fire – Review

6 May

Have you ever been so excited for a movie, but knew you had to wait so long to see it that you were convinced it would never be released anywhere around you? Well, that’s how I felt about Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire. I saw the trailer for this movie months ago, and was so excited to see the cast and the insanity that the trailer had to offer. It also is worth mentioning that this movie has Martin Scorsese as an executive producer. All of the pieces were in place and I’ve finally gotten to see the movie I’ve been so excited for… The disappointment has really set in hard.

Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are two IRA members who have travelled to America to buy rifles from a known arms dealer and all around douche bag, Vernon (Sharlto Copley). Along for the ride is Vernon’s associate Ord (Armie Hammer), the intermediary Justine (Brie Larson), and some other hired hands to help with the transaction. This is a pretty volatile bunch to begin with, but once it’s revealed that Vernon has brought the wrong rifles and that there are hidden tensions shared between a few of the hired hands, things start to go south until shots are fired. Now the two groups are split at opposite sides of the abandoned factory they are meeting in with a suitcase full of money and crates of rifles and ammo standing between them. Whoever is left standing wins.

This as an idea sounds perfect. Put a bunch of volatile criminals in a room together with guns and money and see what happens. It’s not something we haven’t heard of before, but it looked like a movie that was going to take the idea and inject it with some high energy and lots of laughs. I’m not really sure what happened. As the movie started, I was into the dialogue and the characters. They were setting up the scene very well and when a new character was introduced, I liked seeing their personality matched with everyone else’s. I had this picture in my mind that this was just going to be a raucous clash that didn’t have time to slow down, but Free Fire is surprisingly boring. There’s a lot of sitting around and yelling insults and when a shot is fired, someone is either just clipped or missed all together. And this goes on and on it seems, until things finally pick up the way I wanted it to in the last act of the movie. If the whole film had the energy of the last act, this review would be going a whole other way.

I do have to give it to all the actors in this movie. All of them give their best to their performances, which is really the strongest point of the movie. The characters are what’s going to be remembered most. Cillian Murphy,Michael Smiley, and Brie Larson work off each other very well and they spend most of the movie together. If their chemistry didn’t work than that would have been a real problem. I also have to give it to Armie Hammer for being surprisingly hilarious as Ord, who just seemed to have an answer for everything. How could I talk about the good performances in Free Fire without talking about Sharlto Copley? This guy is one of my all time favorite actors, and for good reason. He has all of the best lines in this movie, and quite frankly, it’s clear that Wheatley wrote Vernon as his favorite character. It shows in every line Copley delivers. He’s the best part of the movie, hands down, and I know I may be a little biased in saying that, but I don’t really care.

When I think of all my favorite parts in this movie, they all come from the last half hour or so. I was looking at the time all throughout the movie wondering how they were going to fit in what I wanted to see with the time running out so quickly. This is not a long movie, so when I got to the 45 minute mark, I kinda lost hope that this movie was going to be as exciting as I originally thought it was going to be. Then the third act happens and it was a lot of fun, but I couldn’t help but wonder where all that energy and excitement and humor was for the beginning and the middle. Ben Wheatley did not handle the material well in his writing and seriously undersold what this movie could have been. The whole thing is a huge missed opportunity, which is sad because I see so much potential.

Free Fire had everything it needed to be a cult classic. It had a really cool idea, memorable characters, a great cast of actors, and a writer/director that has proven his skill in the past. I’m still not sure what happened. The finished product is a lackluster action/comedy that provides a good deal of laughs but is bogged down by an overly short run time and a surprising lack of energy. This film could have been an incident of hilarious contained chaos, but it never reaches this potential which left me wanting so much more. This is one of the bigger cinematic disappointments I’ve seen in quite some time.

Final Grade: C-

Swiss Army Man – Review

12 Jul

Listen, I’m all for big budget Hollywood productions. If there’s a movie that’s a sequel or another comic book adaptation, chances are I might be in that theater seat adding to what some people might call “the problem.” That being said, it is mighty refreshing to come across a new movie that is overflowing with imagination, creativity, and though provoking content. The movie I’m referencing right now is Swiss Army Man, a film circuit gem that has finally gotten a wider release. I’ve seen a lot of great movies this year, and I’ve also seen some garbage, but Swiss Army Man will more than likely remain in my top picks of 2016.

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After being shipwrecked on an island for who knows how long, Hank (Paul Dano) has decided he’s had enough and creates a makeshift noose to help him end it all. This plan abruptly comes to an end when a dead guy who Hank names Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on the beach, and through the power of extraordinary flatulence, whisks Hank away to the mainland. Still trapped in the middle of nowhere, Hank and his new deceased friend start their trek back to humanity, but soon it becomes clear that Manny is slowly coming back to life, even though he has no memories of his life or customs that humans hold so dear. As this odd couple makes their way through the woods, Hank gives Manny some lessons about what it means to be human, which includes some of our positives and lots of our negatives.

I have to give all the credit in the world to Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan for having the guts to actually write and direct this movie. When you think of all the movies out there right now, none of them really compare to the absurdity that is seen in Swiss Army Man. It takes a lot of imagination and skill to actually pull this movie off. While it is a fantasy, it also works as a social commentary. Might I just remind everyone that this social commentary is discussed between a guy that’s been stranded on an island and a dead guy that washed up on the beach and is slowly coming back to life. What a ridiculous concept, and yet it is pulled off so well. There’s a lot of overt criticisms, but the ones that are more subtle are the ones that work the most. I don’t want to say it’s a pessimistic view of the world we live in and the rules we are “forced” to follow, but it kinda sorta is.

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So, yeah this is a pretty pessimistic movie that I would argue continues throughout the entire story. Paul Dano’s character has a backstory that is pretty upsetting, even though what can be interpreted as upsetting is actually pretty minor. This is because we can all relate to those little things that always seem to bring us down the most. In that way, Dano’s character is extremely relatable and I really just wanted to see him finally find something to be happy about. On the flip side, Swiss Army Man is also an incredibly funny movie. I laughed a lot at things I never thought I’d ever see. There’s humor as low as fart jokes all the way to some really clever satire. The way Radcliffe’s character is used adds a lot to this humor as his corpse seems capable of pulling anything off. What I’m trying to say is that this movie works well at making you feel sad one moment and then making it seem impossible to stop laughing the next.

Throughout most of the movie, the only characters we see are Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Needless to say, this movie wouldn’t have worked it their chemistry wasn’t exactly on point. Thankfully, it was and now we have one of the most hilarious odd couples to ever grace the silver screen. Dano is great as Hank, the straight man, who is forced to explain even the most basic things to the screwball corpse, Manny. Radcliffe really steals the show, though, as he brings Manny to life more and more as the story progresses. He’s absolutely hilarious and gives one of my favorite performances of the year so far. The only other person worth mentioning is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who is only really in the movie near the very end. She’s fine, but she doesn’t really have much to do. If you wanna see Winstead really show what she’s capable of, just watch 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Swiss Army Man is packed to the brim with ideas, imagination, and adventure. It’s certainly a one of a kind movie in every sense of the word, and might sit pretty well in my top 10 movies of the year. Of course, it is only July, but on the other hand I loved this movie a whole hell of a lot. This is normally the part where I would say that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that may be true, but I can’t really see how. This is a movie with characters that anyone can relate to, and a premise that is guaranteed no one has ever seen before. It’s independent film making on a grand scale.

Green Room – Review

17 May

I’m not saying that the horror genre is completely saved, but what I will say is that there has been a major step up in the genre thanks to indie film makers. Within the past year we’ve had some excellent independent horror films like It Follows and The Witch grace theaters with the intelligence and originality that I love seeing movies like this. Now we have Jeremy Saulnier’s newest film, Green Room, which can be added to this new echelon of horror. This is a bloody, suspenseful, and exhausting movie that puts new faith in no holds barred horror film making and made me jealous that I didn’t make this movie myself.

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Pat (Anton Yelchin), who is in a punk band with his friends called The Ain’t Rights, is in the middle of a pretty unsuccessful west coast tour. After a show in Seaside, Oregon that is a complete bust, they are hired to do a gig in the backwoods of Portland in a club that is owned by a group of neo-Nazis. While the show itself goes fine, things take a turn for the worst when Pat stumbles upon a murder that took place in the green room backstage. Now Pat and his friends are being held by the skin heads and their leader, Darcy (Patrick Stewart). Darcy and his crew have no desire to let the band leave alive, which means the group of inept punks have to band together, strategize, and fight their way to freedom.

I love movies that take place in one location because I feel like it adds something more immediate to the story. While there are a couple places the band goes to in Green Room, the central story focuses on Anton Yelchin and his friends just trying to get out of the small skinhead club. This makes for plenty of claustrophobic scenes laced with paranoia and close quarters fighting. That being said, this is a very intense, gritty, and gruesome movie and Jeremy Saulnier really makes it a point not to shy away from any of the brutality. If you get sick looking at blood or absolutely abhor violence, this is certainly not the movie for you. If you’re looking for that grindhouse thrill, Green Room certainly has your back.

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This isn’t to say that Green Room is just some cheap grind house movie, because it’s so far from that. This is a very well executed, shot, and acted movie that has the balls to the wall attitude of ’70s exploitation and shock cinema. The true horror behind this movie that allows it to really stand tall and be more than just a shocking movie is the almost unbearable suspense and the down to earth characters that you’re almost certain to run into the likes of at some point. The scenes when it’s the punks against the skinheads during an escape attempt, it gets a little hard to breathe. There was a point in the movie where I realized that anything could happen to these characters and it was best to stop thinking like I knew what was going to happen next. This isn’t fleeting fear. This is fear that gets under your skin and makes you feel like you need a power shower.

One of the main reasons I was so interested in this movie was to see the great Patrick Stewart not only play a villain, but a villainous backwater neo-Nazi. Captain Picard as a Nazi. How does that not make anyone interested? It came as no surprise to see Stewart completely own his role and not go the over the top route that could have been gone. Like I said, the characters are pretty grounded in reality and that include Darcy. When Stewart first read the script, he said he really wanted the role because of how scary he found Darcy, and he does a great job with the character.

Green Room can join the ranking os one of my favorite movies of 2016 so far. There’s still a lot of movies ahead, so anything can happen, but right now I just can’t get it out of my head. This film is a brutal reminder that the world is full of heinous people, but never does it forget to be entertaining. It’s filled with an almost unbearable amount of suspense, an excellent performance by Patrick Stewart, and plenty of terrifying scenes that you can not unsee. Thank you Jeremy Saulnier and Green Room for helping breathe new life in a stale genre.

Killer’s Kiss – Review

29 Nov

Without a shadow of a doubt, Stanley Kubrick is my favorite film maker of all time. In fact, the very first thing I wrote about on this blog was a rundown of all of the movies I’ve seen of his at the time. Now, finally getting around to watching one of his movies I’ve never seen before is really, really exciting. This film is Killer’s Kiss from 1955. After a disappointing start with his first feature, Fear and Desire, Kubrick was determined to really make a name for himself and show what kind of artistic flourishes he had to offer to the film world. For being a very short and totally independently produced film, Killer’s Kiss affectively foreshadowed masterworks that were to come.

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Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) is a down on his luck welterweight boxer who’s goal is to finally achieve some sort of recognition or success, but his prime has long since passed. He also has eyes for his neighbor, a taxi dancer named Gloria Price (Irene Kane), who is employed by the sexually frustrated and alcoholic gangster, Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera). After rescuing her from one of his drunken fits, the two quickly fall in love and decide to leave town together. What Davey and Irene don’t plan on is Vincent soon catching on to their plan, and how he’ll go so far as murder in order to guarantee his favorite dancer will stay in town and make all of his fantasies come true.

Kubrick’s early works sort of form a mixed bag of films. While it’s mainly established that The Killing is a film noir classic, many people aren’t very fond of Fear and Desire. Right in between those two is Killer’s Kiss, a film that I don’t hear discussed or reviewed as much as the other two. In my opinion, Killer’s Kiss is visually ahead of its time and beautiful and a seedy sort of way, but the story and the characters are poorly developed. I’d like to take a step away from the plot development and the characters and marvel at this movie for its visuals, but that wouldn’t be a very accurate review, would it? Still even with its faults, it’s Kubrick’s first real punch to the film industry.

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From the picture above, it’s pretty obvious that Kubrick takes the cinematic styles of film noir and utilizes them to their fullest. Even though the characters are pretty uninteresting and underdeveloped, they still are archetypical of the noir genre and fit in perfectly with the seedy New York underbelly that is fully explored throughout the film. Not only does Kubrick use style that was already seen in films of this kind, but also adds some stuff of his own that wasn’t quite the common place. There’s more tracking shots than there normally were in 1955, a boxing scenes shows some real brutal violence, and there’s an excellent long take of Davey running along a rooftop. Not to mention some of the compositions, like when Davey’s face is stretched out as the camera looks at him through a fish tank.

Killer’s Kiss, as lost in the background it may be, was truly a passion project for the 26 year old Stanley Kubrick. The only way he got funding for this film was by borrowing $40,000 from his uncle and shooting without any permits. That may not seem like a problem, but it certainly is when you’re filming on Broadway during the busiest time of the evening. In order to get some shots, Kubrick had to be filming from the inside of a car so he wouldn’t be noticed and if he had to make a quick getaway. He also had to negotiate with a group of homeless people at one point so he could use their alley for a scene.

Killer’s Kiss may not be the best written film noir or entry into Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, but it does mark the real beginning of his film career. Visually, this movie is excellent foreshadowed what was to come. The archetypes and genre tropes are all present, but Kubrick really injects the film with his surreal style that left me with many memorable scenes. Fans of Kubrick, film history, and the film noir genre should definitely make this one a priority.

Frankenstein’s Army – Review

9 Jul

There are movies with crazy ideas, but then there are movies with CRAZY IDEAS. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that certain movies get made at all with the stories that they boast, but the it’s even harder to imagine that some of those same movies are actually something worth watching. Believe it or not, this is where we find Frankenstein’s Army, a 2013 film that was made with a seriously low budget, and made up for it with a massive amount of imagination. While this film isn’t destined to be on anybody’s list of classics, it’s one that should be noted for the passion and the dedication that went into ensuring it would be completed.

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At the end of World War II, a group of Soviet soldiers are sent into Germany for a recon mission. After hearing a mysterious distress call from other Soviet soldiers, who weren’t even scheduled to be in Germany, the group decide to go the the coordinates that were sent and investigate. The coordinates lead them to an abandoned factory where they discover a horrifying secret. Instead of finding Soviets, they stumble upon a squadron of mutated, robotic zombies constructed by Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden), the grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. This begins a fight for their lives to hold off the creatures and escape becoming one of Frankenstein’s next experiments.

Without actually seeing the movie and just judging by the ludicrous story, it would be safe to assume that this movie is brainless and without point. In fact, I’ve even heard people that have seen the movie say that it is brainless and has no point. They are sorely mistaken, however, because Frankenstein’s Army is packed to the brim with imagination and excellent design, so much so, that it is impossible to call it brainless. Even the story of Nazi “zombots”created by a descendent of Dr. Frankenstein is entertaining as hell. But with a movie as much fun as this, there always seems to be one near fatal flaw, and Frankenstein’s Army has a glaring one, BUT I will get to that later.

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Since this movie had a shoestring budget and the co-writer/director Richard Raaphorst is also an illustrator, he decided to combine these two things, draw out the monsters, and have some ridiculously skilled costume artists bring them to life. I swear, the zombots are some of the coolest looking things I have seen in a movie in years, because they are really just guys in costume made with practically achieved means. One zombot actually has a fully functioning propellor sticking out of its front. Another one walks around on these blade like stilts. On top of that, the set design looks really authentic, like this is what you would actually find in a situation like this. Finally, I just want to mention the overabundance of blood and gore that is NOT CGI, and also Karel Roden’s wonderfully maniacal performance.

But like I said before, there is one thing about this movie that is just so unbelievably stupid and illogical that it almost spoils the entire thing. Ladies and gentlemen, Frankenstein’s Army may be a movie that takes place at the end of World War II, but it is also a found footage movie… Yep. Not only is it a found footage movie, but also one with excellent sound design and shot on digital. Ok, I know that part of the reason it is made like a found footage movie is because of the budget, but like it’s just so weird to be watching it and then remembering that it’s World War II and the picture quality is just so clear. I don’t even think this is nitpicking, either, because it makes so little sense.

Frankenstein’s Army is certainly a one of a kind movie depending on how you want to look at it. I completely understand if someone hates this movie or disregards its existence because of that overwhelmingly illogical fault of it being found footage, but I just don’t want to hear that the movie is brainless. I, for one, was entertained throughout the entire movie because there was so much to look at with the excellent design. That’s pretty much all I can say about the movie. It’s definitely worth checking out just for the creativity behind it all.

Catch .44 – Review

7 Jun

Part of the joy of watching movies is seeing how an influential film maker created something so great that film makers coming after them take their content and utilize it to make something else new and original. For example, The Rambler took parts from Lynch and Cronenberg and made it something new. Catch .44 and its writer/director Aaron Harvey has their sights on Tarantino, however, who is one of the most influential film makers of his time. Now, what’s interesting about this movie is that it provides a wonderful lesson: Homage should never be pure mimicry, because that is just annoying.

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Tes (Malin Akerman) is a waitress in a sleazy strip club who is completely fed up with her job. Luckily for her, her skillful pickpocketing is recognized by a drug lord, Mel (Bruce Willis), who owns the bar. After working with him for a number of years and messing up a big job, Mel tasks Tes and her two friends with finding a rival drug transporter in a remote diner in the middle of the night. The friends make their way to the bar, but bullets soon begin to fly and blood is quickly spilled. After the violence dies down, Mel’s associate Ronny (Forest Whitaker) arrives on the scene and explains to Tes that not everything about this job is what it seems, and it is very likely that everyone left standing may not live to see the end of the night.

It’s crazy to realize that a movie has a completely ludicrous plot when I actually have to sit down and write a summary. That is just one of many things that are wrong with Catch .44. Like I said before, this movie is a Tarantino knock off in the most obvious and obnoxious of ways. I can only compare it to the cereal that you would find on the bottom shelf in a plastic bag that is an obvious knock off of Lucky Charms. The plot unfolds in a non linear fashion, very similar to Pulp Fiction, but certainly nowhere near as good. The actors also try to engage in this quirky kind of small talk that is reminiscent of the opening scene in Reservoir Dogs. Again, it’s nowhere near as good, and it’s clear that Harvey doesn’t operate on the same playing field as Tarantino.

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One look at the cast will leave you completely baffled, as it did me. Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker? Don’t they have better things they can be doing? Well, maybe they saw something in the script. I don’t know. What I do know is that they are the only reasons this movie is almost watchable. It seemed like they were both just having a really good time with their roles while everyone else were just sort of there. Brad Dourif is also in this movie for like two minutes, making him one of the most wasted characters I’ve seen. Dourif is a great actor and I wanted to see more of him in this movie, but instead I just scratched my head and wondered why the character was even there in the first place.

The reason that Dourif’s character is even in the movie is just one example of how messy it is. There’s absolutely no reason for him or really for Forest Whitaker’s character either. The only important part of the movie is what happens in the diner, but only a short amount of time is spent there with all of the flashbacks that try to add depth to the characters or explain how they got there in the first place. The only problem with that is that the characters don’t have any depth and the reasons they are there are anything but interesting. Nothing in Catch .44 really adds up to anything except for a few scenes that were kind of cool.

Catch .44 really wants to be something it isn’t, and that just makes it hard to watch. The wit is dry, the characters are shallow, and the actors are miscast. There are even characters who are absolutely useless. There is potential somewhere hidden in here, but it only shows itself during one quick scene and the rest is just wasted material. There’s really no one that I can think of that can watch this movie and fully enjoy it, so I recommend to just stay away from it completely.