Recap: The Santa Clarita Diet

scdiet

Available on Netflix February 3

Spoilers on the first half

Meet Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore). They sort of like their bland, upper-middle class, Southern California life. Shelia and Joel are real estate agents. They have a surly teenage daughter Abby (Liv Hewson). Their home is between two rival, alpha-male cops Dan and Rick. Dan (Ricardo Chavira) also acts as a one-man homeowner’s association. His wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) is phony and bored. His stepson, Eric (Skylar Gisondo) is a nerd and has a crush on Abby. Abby is indifferent.

Their suburban dream is interrupted one morning, when Sheila feels a pain in her lower abdomen. Later while showing a house, she projectile vomits in front of the buyers. It’s worse than The Exorcist. Total faux pas, and everyone pretends they can’t hear her vomiting her insides out in the bathroom for the next ten minutes. Joel finds her in a bathroom that looks like the lobby from The Shining, but with a kale smoothie. She’s also thrown up an organ apparently.

They can’t worry about that too much though, because the new guy, Gary (Nathan Fillion) might steal their big sale. He also shamelessly hits on Sheila in front of Joel. But Sheila kind of likes it. She’s feeling different, a little frisky. She buys a new Range Rover and starts clubbing. Oh, and she can’t feel her heartbeat and craves raw meat.

After consulting Eric, the family concludes that Shelia is “undead.” They’re not using the zed word. They’re not entirely sure what she is; but, just in case, they figure it’s a good idea to keep her fed. They wouldn’t want to see her when she’s hungry.

Speaking of cravings, Gary is thirsting for Sheila. He sneaks up on her in her backward one morning. In a predatory Gaston-y way, tries to get Shelia to have sex with him. It almost works, until Shelia gets hungry. Nathan Fillion has been Marion Craned.

This is a triple-D cocktail: equal parts Desperate Housewives, Dexter, and Death Becomes Her. The first five episodes are binge-worthy. Each episode is about 25 minutes, and while the tonal shifts are awkward, the chemistry between the leads is charming. It’s fun watching Joel and Sheila figuring out how to be serial killers while maintaining their perfect façade.

One criticism is that Sheila isn’t fully set up as a meek suburbanite. Her transformation into a cussing, impulsive realtor doesn’t stick. They rely a little too much on Barrymore’s natural sweetness. It’s a safe tactic, because Drew Barrymore is just adorable, especially when she’s cheerfully making a brain smoothie.

As the uptight and cowardly Joel, Timothy Olyphant veers into manic desperation.  His pasted smile is borderline psychotic. His only outlet is weed, which annoys Sheila. One day, in his impotent rage, he destroys the toaster oven. I wish there was a little more to his character than failed musician. Oh well.

The first half of The Santa Clarita Diet deals with Joel and Sheila trying to find appropriate victims. Joel is trying to figure out what happened to Sheila. Sheila is “following her passion” and “living her best life.” She’s become the neighborhood Oprah. Abby starts having trouble in school. She and Eric become friends. Meanwhile, Dan is snooping around their yard. He thinks there’s something up with the Hammonds.

 

Review: 5 to 7

5 to 7 (2015)

dir. Victor Levin

starring: Anton Yelchin, Berenice Marlohe

A story about a young writer falling in love with an older, married woman. 5 to 7 is a charming culture-clash romance that nimbly balances comedy and drama.

Writer/director Victor Levin’s debut begins with a montage of the bench plaques in Central Park.  The little loving messages from couples and individuals is reminiscent of Pont des Arts (the love lock bridge in Paris).  It sets the light and sweet tone of the film.  From Manhattan’s upper west side setting to the Jules et Jim references, 5 to 7 has a breezy and nostalgic air.

When Brian (Anton Yelchin), a struggling writer, meets the glamorous Arielle (Berenice Marlohe), he reluctantly begins an affair that can only take place between the hours of 5p.m. to 7p.m.  She assures him that it’s a normal type of relationship in France.  She even invites him to meet her husband (Lambert Wilson), who is in his own 5 to 7 affair with the sprightly Olivia Thirlby.  It is an odd setup that generates very funny moments, especially with the children.  They are so happy Brian is mom’s boyfriend.  Berenice Marlohe and Anton Yelchin have a warm chemistry that doesn’t cheapen the relationship.  Despite the circumstances, the characters genuinely care for each other.

The downside of the film’s old-fashioned charm is that it becomes too sentimental.  The parents, played by Glenn Close and Frank Langella, are affectionately, stereotypically, Jewish parents.  All the players speak earnestly and truthfully.  It’s a bit unrealistic, especially as the relationship reaches it’s inevitable conclusion.  The aftermath of the relationship is somehow treated too lightly and too earnestly.  However, 5 to 7 leaves a warm lasting impression.

watch the film’s trailer here.

Recommend: Yes. It’s an unconventional romance with an old-fashioned heart.

In Theaters (US):  3 April, 2015

Review: Forever Into Space

Forever Into Space (2015)fis_card

dir. Greg W. Locke

starring: Kelly Sebastian, Tyler Evan Rowe, Oliver Fetter, Julianna Pitt, Jaz Valentino

A film that’s more about a feeling. Shot in crisp black and white, Forever Into Space is a glimpse into the lives of over-educated and underemployed twenty-somethings in New York City.  It centers on Audrey Harrington (Kelly Sebastian) a writer/blogger trying to earn a living off her writing, and her struggling friends.  The film pays homage to other New York-set films and subtly answers the criticisms lobbed at millennials.  With a budget of less than $1000, Forever Into Space is no budget film-making at its best.

The first comparison that comes to mind is ClerksForever Into Space shines in the small moments, where the characters are just hanging out, occasionally waxing philosophically. There is an homage to the bridge scene in Manhattan that puts the focus on the speakers rather than the object of their conversation. Maybe that’s a generational difference?  Unlike Clerks, here there is an underlying tone of hunger and disappointment.  It takes place in 2013 and economic uncertainty permeates the film. These are people who did what they were supposed to, like go to college, move out, get a real job; but they are constantly told that they are entitled brats who expect everything for nothing.  That disconnect is the films’ slogan, “the have-to-do-it-yourself generation.” It can be a bit slow, but its authenticity and immediacy make it worth a watch.

www.foreverintospace.com

www.cinequest.org