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On Blu-ray/DVD: LUCKY DAY (2019) and FREAKS (2019)

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LUCKY DAY
(Canada/France - 2019)


Roger Avary's place in film history is secure thanks to the Oscar he shared with Quentin Tarantino for co-writing PULP FICTION, but the career paths of the former Video Archives co-workers went on decidedly different trajectories. While Tarantino became one of the most lauded and influential filmmakers of the modern era, Avary, whose own KILLING ZOE was released a few months before PULP FICTION, followed his Oscar win with the 1995 straight-to-video Rutger Hauer sci-fi/horror film MR. STITCH. He did some hired gun TV writing and script doctoring until his underappreciated and critically-panned 2002 film version of Bret Easton Ellis' THE RULES OF ATTRACTION, which has since acquired a well-deserved cult following. At the same time, Avary cobbled together an extensive amount of unused Kip Pardue footage from RULES' memorable "Victor's trip" sequence and assembled it into an adaptation of Ellis' semi-sequel GLITTERATI, but it remains unreleased to this day. Avary then settled into journeyman screenwriter mode, working on Christophe Gans' SILENT HILL and Robert Zemeckis' BEOWULF before his personal and professional life collapsed. Avary was behind the wheel in a 2008 drunk driving crash that killed his passenger. He pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter and other DUI-related charges and was sentenced to a year in a furlough program that allowed him to work during the day and return to jail at night. Those privileges were suspended when officials realized he was tweeting about jail conditions and he was ordered to serve out the remainder of his year in lockup, followed by five years probation.





Once released, he wrote a few episodes of the Canadian TV series XIII in 2012, but LUCKY DAY marks Avary's first feature film project in over a decade. He started writing it while incarcerated, and it's easy to see the influence of his jail time in the story of safecracker Red (Luke Bracey from the POINT BREAK remake that you forgot happened), just paroled after serving two years after a botched bonds heist. He wants to settle down with his artist wife Chloe (Nina Dobrev) and eight-year-old daughter Beatrice (Ella Ryan Quinn), but that's impossible with deranged, unstoppable French hit man Luc Chaltiel (Crispin Glover) leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake in his quest for revenge against Red, who he blames for his brother's death in the job that got Red arrested. Other than the return of Roger Avary, the big selling point here is the over-the-top performance by Glover, who's using a ludicrous Inspector Clouseau accent as a ruthless assassin who only thinks he's French. It's amusing for a few minutes, but Glover sets a land-speed record for wearing out a welcome, and once that happens, all you're left with is the realization that Avary is just spinning his wheels on what amounts to nothing more than another belated Tarantino knockoff that feels two decades old right out of the gate, like something you'd stumble upon while browsing the new release shelves at Blockbuster in 1997.




He might be entitled to a bit of a pass considering his connection, but LUCKY DAY is mostly just garish and grotesque, with Clifton Collins Jr as Red's racist parole officer with an unexpected expertise in art, and David Hewlett as Chloe's sexually-harassing art gallery benefactor coming in close behind Glover in the running for the film's most grating performance (there's also brief appearances by Mark Dacascos, Tomer Sisley, Josie Ho, and a voice cameo by Eric Stoltz). Bracey is essentially a second-string Tom Hardy, and the film's only genuinely amusing moments are provided by Cle Bennett as Red's best friend Leroy, who's just changed his name to "Le Roi," and is having a hard time making it stick. Much of LUCKY DAY is devoted to Avary's self-indulgence, from a Bret Easton Ellis shout-out in the form of a door sign reading "This Is Not An Exit," to Red calling Chloe "Honey Bunny," and Dobrev looking and sounding a lot like Maria de Medeiros' Fabienne in PULP FICTION, almost as if Avary is taking this opportunity to let us know which elements of that classic are his contributions. A tribute to late producer Samuel Hadida, who died in November 2018, in the form of an end-of-credits stinger is a sincerely heartfelt gesture on Avary's part (Hadida co-produced KILLING ZOE, so they go back a long way), but LUCKY DAY is just...not good. (R, 99 mins)



FREAKS
(US/Canada - 2019)


A low-budget indie sci-fi outing that plays like an origin story for Dafne Keen's Laura in LOGAN, FREAKS managed to get some good buzz at the 2018 Toronto Film Festival but it was another year before it finally landed a straight-to-VOD release. Some of the praise given to the film was for the way it revealed itself through the eyes of its confused seven-year-old heroine, only letting the audience see it from her POV and, for quite a while, leaving anyone watching just as hopelessly confused as she is. That set-up is reminiscent of BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD as well as the ill-fated Blumhouse production STEPHANIE, but the way FREAKS presents itself starts to feel less like clever exposition and more like an excuse to pull anything and everything out of its ass, to the point where the film itself resembles a nonsense story that an imaginative seven-year-old might concoct. Young Chloe (Lexi Kolker) lives in a mostly boarded-up house--in the middle of an otherwise nice neighborhood--with her disheveled, nervous father (Emile Hirsch, looking a lot like a haggard Jack Black). He doesn't let her go outside and there's a half-dozen dead bolts on the front door. He makes her practice the biography of a fake identity he's devised for her and has stacks of cash hidden throughout the house. At this point, FREAKS could be about anything--a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a WALKING DEAD scenario, or a Shyamalanian/TWILIGHT ZONE scenario where the dad is a paranoid nutjob and the outside world he's keeping her from is completely normal. But Chloe demonstrates telepathic abilities. She gets in people's heads and influences them, and her ability to control others is getting stronger. She can control the mind of a neighbor girl (Ava Telek) across the street and make her role-play, lying with her and innocently cuddling as the dead mom Chloe never met. And Chloe is strangely drawn to the incessant jingle of an ice cream truck that's constantly parked outside her house, manned by the mysterious "Mr. Snowcone" (Bruce Dern), who seems to know a lot about her and her father and their strange abilities.





If it sounds like I made that synopsis up as I went along, then yeah, that's what FREAKS is like. I haven't even mentioned the intermittent breaking news alerts on their TV about drone strikes in Seattle or the tenth anniversary of an attack that wiped out Dallas. Or a government agent (Grace Park) who's pursuing "Abnormals," or the more derisively-termed "Freaks," a race of apparent alien invaders who were rounded up a decade ago in a "Relocation Act" and shipped off to a massive internment camp called Madoc Mountain (cue ham-fisted Trump-era immigration allegory). Or that sometimes, Chloe's dead mother (Amanda Crew) appears in her closet, only the closet looks like a holding cell of some kind. Or that Chloe can manipulate time and that a few months for some might be several years for others. The writing/directing team of Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky maybe deserve some props for somehow cobbling together every half-baked idea and passing thought they've ever had and cramming them into one movie, almost like they went into it assuming this was gonna be their only shot and said "Fuck it, we're going all-in." But FREAKS just doesn't work. Its mythology is confusing and utterly arbitrary and its characters' behavior and the extent of their abilities is dependent on whatever a particular scene needs them to do. The entire film feels like an endless barrage of dei ex machina the likes of which are rarely seen outside of late-period Stephen King novels (doesn't "Mr. Snowcone" sound like a King character?), so much so that there's never any suspense because whatever obstacles Chloe faces, the script will just make up some bullshit on the spot to move her to the next scene. Possibly the most inexplicably acclaimed sci-fi film since CHRONICLE, FREAKS is a mess, but the filmmakers do alright from a technical standpoint with an obviously small budget, and they get good performances out of Hirsch and Kolker. Dern looks completely bewildered, and it's probably not in character. Check out the tragically underseen CAPTIVE STATE instead. (R, 105 mins)


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