Wednesday, March 14, 2018

VODepths: 'Counterfeiters,' 'In the Cloud,' 'Sensitivity Training'

Counterfeiters (Bryce Hirschberg, Robert McEveety, Taylor Lockwood, dir. Bryce Hirschberg) I feel sort of bad for tearing apart movies like Counterfeiters, which was made for $8,000 and submitted to me for review directly by its writer/director/producer/editor/star Bryce Hirschberg, clearly trying to drum up some attention for his micro-budget effort. But he asked for it, so to speak, and so I will warn anyone who comes across this movie on Amazon Prime and thinks its logline (about makers of counterfeit money turning on each other) sounds intriguing: This is a terrible, terrible movie, even for its budget level and limited resources. Honestly, I might believe that Hirschberg made the movie for $80, mostly spent on renting a boat where the majority of the action takes place. Hirschberg plays Bridger, who begins the movie by learning about his mother's cancer in the most awkward cancer-diagnosis scene since The Room, and then six months later is apparently some sort of counterfeit-money kingpin, working with his indistinguishable friends to create counterfeit bills via a process that was not remotely believable. Something goes bad (?) and they have to ditch their operation, but also they're putting together a drug deal? The motivations are as murky as the visuals, and the dialogue is full of what sounds like semi-improvised fumbling. Hirschberg, in a man bun and ugly denim shirt, gives himself the part of a compassionate badass who's irresistible to women, It's clearly a calling-card project to pitch himself for more work, but I have a feeling that no one's going to be calling. Available on Amazon and iTunes.

In the Cloud (Justin Chatwin, Tomiwa Edun, Nora Arnezeder, dir. Robert Scott Wildes) Hey, did you know that Crackle makes original feature films? Sony's free, ad-supported streaming service is mostly known as the butt of jokes, but it somehow keeps going even when subscription-based niche services like Seeso or Warner Archive Instant shut down. It's no Netflix, but Crackle has its own original series and occasional movies, like the dreadful cyber-thriller In the Cloud, a sort of low-rent take on themes from movies like The Cell and Inception and Transcendence. It's not nearly as good as any of those movies (whose quality varies wildly anyway), and its ideas are so muddled and poorly executed that they're essentially meaningless. Given the obvious budget constraints, a movie like this has to succeed on its story and characters, not any dazzling visual effects, and first-time writer Vanya Asher and director Robert Scott Wildes completely fail to deliver on that front. The plot involves a combination of a technology that can digitally map a person's brain and an ultra-sophisticated virtual-reality system, with Justin Chatwin and Tomiwa Edun as the tech bros who use them to delve into the mind of a terrorist and discover where he's planted bombs around London. They don't get around to that until more than halfway through the movie, though, and most of the story is actually about confusing corporate intrigue related to a tech genius played by Gabriel Byrne who dies at the beginning of the movie. It's so convoluted that the resolution (with blatant sequel-bait) was completely lost on me, but at least I got to watch a bunch of Red Lobster commercials along the way. Available on Crackle.

Sensitivity Training (Anna Lise Phillips, Jill E. Alexander, Quinn Marcus, dir. Melissa Finell) Mild indie comedy Sensitivity Training follows the Hollywood rom-com template almost beat for beat, via the relationship between a gruff microbiology researcher (Anna Lise Phillips) and the aggressively chipper counselor (Jill E. Alexander) hired to teach her to be nicer to her co-workers (after some particularly harsh words are the alleged catalyst for another scientist's suicide). Phillips' Serena is antagonistic and resentful at first, but she soon forms a (platonic) bond with Alexander's Caroline, which is then tested via some overblown misunderstanding in the third act. As usual, I sympathized with the misanthropic curmudgeon before her transformation into a friendlier person, but the character arc is so predictable and basic that neither version of Serena is particularly convincing. The movie gives a surprisingly large focus to Serena's research into a new kind of bacteria, which is detailed enough to take up a lot of the audience's attention, while coming across as completely dubious from a scientific perspective (and questionably useful from a plot perspective as well). Writer-director Melissa Finell throws in a half-formed lesbian subplot that seems designed solely to give the movie a little bit of edge, but everything about this story is as bland and safe as a Disney Channel original. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.

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