Sunday, January 23, 2022

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Granger at the Movies: ‘Palm Springs,’ ‘Blood and Money,’ The Rental’

Plus there’s this menacing fellow, Roy (J.K. Simmons), who’s been relentlessly stalking Nyles, bearing a heavy moral grudge.

As Nyles and Sarah struggle to keep their sanity in this bizarre, morally complex, often tedious situation, there’s absurdist humor, peppered with deeply philosophical observations.

“We have no other choice but to learn how to suffer existence,” Nyles tells her, as she makes one-attempt-after-another to escape.

While this 90-minute romantic comedy might have quickly come-and-gone in movie theaters, having it continuously streaming when we’re trapped at home during this pandemic, waking up and going through the same routine, day-after-day, seems to strike a familiar emotional chord.

Screenwriter Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow make their cleverly inventive, adroitly paced narrative-feature debut, which should inevitably lead to bigger and better projects in the future.

Curiously, despite its location-specific title, it was actually filmed over a 21-day period in Palmdale and Santa Clarita, California.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Palm Springs” is a skittish 7, if you enjoy existential sci-fi.

Streaming on Amazon Prime, “Blood and Money” is a low-budget ‘survival’ thriller, set in the wintry wilderness of Northern Maine, starring Tom Berenger as an aging, alcoholic hunter who bags more than just a deer.

Chain-smoking Vietnam War veteran Jim Reed (Berenger) lives in his “custom” RV, coughing up blood and washing down his meds with milk. He’s a loner with a murky past that involves estrangement from his son and the death of his daughter.

One day, while hunting a buck in the forest, Jim accidentally shoots a young woman who—he later discovers—is part of a gang that recently robbed a casino of $1.2 million.

When he realizes he dropped a cigarette butt in the snow and could be arrested for involuntary manslaughter, Jim returns to the scene of the crime, where he discovers a duffel bag filled with cash.

Impulsively, he grabs it and heads back to his RV, only to discover he’s being followed by the other four robbers who are determined to retrieve their stolen loot.

Struggling to make his way through the deep snow, Jim discovers a nearby cave, where he stashes the duffel bag. After that, it’s a cat-and-mouse game with the much-younger thieves in reckless pursuit.

Meanwhile at the local diner, Jim has befriended Debbie (Kristen Hager), a distraught waitress, who is trying to summon the courage to leave her abusive husband, George (Jimmy LeBlanc).

Originally titled “Allagash” and filmed around Oxford, Maine, it’s written and directed by John Barr, who also serves as cinematographer. Unfortunately, the characters, particularly the villains, need more fleshing out, and Barr never makes the most of his action set-ups.

Yet there is one particularly inventive scene in which Jim, having fallen in the creek, seeks refuge in the icy cave, defrosting his frozen fingers and soaked shirt over a fire made with stacks of filched currency. Burning money is, indeed, a memorable sight.

On the Granger Gauge, “Blood and Money” is a frigid 5, chronicling the familiar futility of B-movie crime.

Remember how you felt about going to a motel after seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho?”  That’s the same vibe first-time director Dave Franco goes for with “The Rental,” an Amazon Prime horror/thriller, based in an Airbnb.

“The country is as divided as it’s ever been, and no one trusts each other,” observes Franco in the press notes. “Yet we trust staying in the home of a stranger simply because of a few positive reviews online.”

Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand) are business partners. To celebrate closing a major tech deal, Charlie plans a weekend getaway, renting a magnificent mansion perched on a rocky cliff with expansive oceanside views.

Charlie’s married to Michele (Allison Brie, Dave Franco’s wife), while Mina’s dating Charlie’s rebellious, ex-con brother, Josh (Jeremy Allen White).

Trouble’s brewing immediately, since Josh and Mina insist on bringing their dog, Reggie, even though the lease agreement specifically forbids dogs. Plus, Mina’s furious that Charlie was able to reserve this secluded Airbnb while she, having tried earlier, was rejected; she’s convinced it’s racial profiling because her Iranian surname is Mahoumadi.

Mina immediately confronts their sinister ‘host’ Taylor (Toby Huss) with accusations of discrimination. Trying to defuse the situation, Michele inquires whether it would be possible to get a telescope, and he agrees to bring one over.

Eager to liven up the party, Michele reveals she’s brought Ecstasy to share the following evening, but Charlie, Josh, and Mina decide to drink and drug right away. When Josh passes out, Charlie and Mina climb into the hot tub and, predictably, nature takes its course.

The next morning when Michele and Josh go on a hike, Charlie and Mina beg off. Then Mina discovers a camera hidden the showerhead—with incriminating footage of their indiscretion. And they’re not alone. Someone’s stalking them.

Scripted by Franco and co-writer Joe Swanberg, it’s character-based, delving into the insidious relationship dynamic between the two couples.

On the Granger Movie Gauge, “The Rental” is an exasperating 3, burdened by a disturbing, frustrating conclusion.


Susan Granger

(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

Plus there’s this menacing fellow, Roy (J.K. Simmons), who’s been relentlessly stalking Nyles, bearing a heavy moral grudge.

As Nyles and Sarah struggle to keep their sanity in this bizarre, morally complex, often tedious situation, there’s absurdist humor, peppered with deeply philosophical observations.

“We have no other choice but to learn how to suffer existence,” Nyles tells her, as she makes one-attempt-after-another to escape.

While this 90-minute romantic comedy might have quickly come-and-gone in movie theaters, having it continuously streaming when we’re trapped at home during this pandemic, waking up and going through the same routine, day-after-day, seems to strike a familiar emotional chord.

Screenwriter Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow make their cleverly inventive, adroitly paced narrative-feature debut, which should inevitably lead to bigger and better projects in the future.

Curiously, despite its location-specific title, it was actually filmed over a 21-day period in Palmdale and Santa Clarita, California.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Palm Springs” is a skittish 7, if you enjoy existential sci-fi.

Streaming on Amazon Prime, “Blood and Money” is a low-budget ‘survival’ thriller, set in the wintry wilderness of Northern Maine, starring Tom Berenger as an aging, alcoholic hunter who bags more than just a deer.

Chain-smoking Vietnam War veteran Jim Reed (Berenger) lives in his “custom” RV, coughing up blood and washing down his meds with milk. He’s a loner with a murky past that involves estrangement from his son and the death of his daughter.

One day, while hunting a buck in the forest, Jim accidentally shoots a young woman who—he later discovers—is part of a gang that recently robbed a casino of $1.2 million.

When he realizes he dropped a cigarette butt in the snow and could be arrested for involuntary manslaughter, Jim returns to the scene of the crime, where he discovers a duffel bag filled with cash.

Impulsively, he grabs it and heads back to his RV, only to discover he’s being followed by the other four robbers who are determined to retrieve their stolen loot.

Struggling to make his way through the deep snow, Jim discovers a nearby cave, where he stashes the duffel bag. After that, it’s a cat-and-mouse game with the much-younger thieves in reckless pursuit.

Meanwhile at the local diner, Jim has befriended Debbie (Kristen Hager), a distraught waitress, who is trying to summon the courage to leave her abusive husband, George (Jimmy LeBlanc).

Originally titled “Allagash” and filmed around Oxford, Maine, it’s written and directed by John Barr, who also serves as cinematographer. Unfortunately, the characters, particularly the villains, need more fleshing out, and Barr never makes the most of his action set-ups.

Yet there is one particularly inventive scene in which Jim, having fallen in the creek, seeks refuge in the icy cave, defrosting his frozen fingers and soaked shirt over a fire made with stacks of filched currency. Burning money is, indeed, a memorable sight.

On the Granger Gauge, “Blood and Money” is a frigid 5, chronicling the familiar futility of B-movie crime.

Remember how you felt about going to a motel after seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho?”  That’s the same vibe first-time director Dave Franco goes for with “The Rental,” an Amazon Prime horror/thriller, based in an Airbnb.

“The country is as divided as it’s ever been, and no one trusts each other,” observes Franco in the press notes. “Yet we trust staying in the home of a stranger simply because of a few positive reviews online.”

Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand) are business partners. To celebrate closing a major tech deal, Charlie plans a weekend getaway, renting a magnificent mansion perched on a rocky cliff with expansive oceanside views.

Charlie’s married to Michele (Allison Brie, Dave Franco’s wife), while Mina’s dating Charlie’s rebellious, ex-con brother, Josh (Jeremy Allen White).

Trouble’s brewing immediately, since Josh and Mina insist on bringing their dog, Reggie, even though the lease agreement specifically forbids dogs. Plus, Mina’s furious that Charlie was able to reserve this secluded Airbnb while she, having tried earlier, was rejected; she’s convinced it’s racial profiling because her Iranian surname is Mahoumadi.

Mina immediately confronts their sinister ‘host’ Taylor (Toby Huss) with accusations of discrimination. Trying to defuse the situation, Michele inquires whether it would be possible to get a telescope, and he agrees to bring one over.

Eager to liven up the party, Michele reveals she’s brought Ecstasy to share the following evening, but Charlie, Josh, and Mina decide to drink and drug right away. When Josh passes out, Charlie and Mina climb into the hot tub and, predictably, nature takes its course.

The next morning when Michele and Josh go on a hike, Charlie and Mina beg off. Then Mina discovers a camera hidden the showerhead—with incriminating footage of their indiscretion. And they’re not alone. Someone’s stalking them.

Scripted by Franco and co-writer Joe Swanberg, it’s character-based, delving into the insidious relationship dynamic between the two couples.

On the Granger Movie Gauge, “The Rental” is an exasperating 3, burdened by a disturbing, frustrating conclusion.


Susan Granger

(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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