Film Review: Becky (dir by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion)

Becky is a fairly intense thriller, featuring two actors who you normally wouldn’t expect to appear in a film about a 13 year-old girl savagely attacking and killing a group of criminals in the woods.

For example, Kevin James is best-known for starring in The King of Queens and for playing Paul Blart: Mall Cop.  He’s a member of the Adam Sandler stock company and almost his entire career has involved playing goofy but lovable manchildren.  In Becky, he plays Dominick, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood who has escaped from prison and, along with a group of other fugitives, is desperately searching for a key that will apparently unlock something that will lead to a race war.  Over the course of the film, Dominick murders several people.  He orders his associates to kill children.  He tortures a man with a branding iron and he taunts an interracial couple.  He has a big bushy beard and a swastika tattooed on the back of his saved head.  In other words, this isn’t the Kevin James movie to show your grandma.

And then you have Joel McHale.  Joel McHale is best-known for hosting The Soup and playing Jeff Winger on Community.  In Becky, McHale plays another character named Jeff.  This Jeff is the father of an angry 13 year-old girl named Becky (played by Lulu Wilson).  Jeff wants to have a nice weekend up at the lake with Becky and he’s hoping that he can get Becky to accept the fact that Kayla (Amanda Brugel) is going to be her new stepmother.  Needless to say the weekend does not go well.  Not only does Becky resent Kayla but Dominick and his crew show up at Jeff’s cabin, searching that key.

While Dominick is holding her family hostage, Becky is hiding in the woods and picking Dominick’s men off one-by-one.  As Kayla explains it, Becky is unstoppable because she’s “a vindictive 13 year-old girl.”  The majority of the film is taken up with scenes of Becky coming up with creative ways to kill people who are a lot bigger than her.  It turns out that everything from an art pencil to a ruler can be turned into a deadly weapon.  (Of course, sometimes, a lawn mower works just as well.)  Becky is the type who will scream over the corpse of someone who she has just killed.  It’s not because she’s upset over what she’s done.  It’s because she’s so pissed off.  And believe me, I could relate.  I was a pissed off 13 year-old too.  Luckily, I never had to kill anyone with my art supplies so let’s all be happy about that.

Becky is a bit of throwback to the grindhouse films of the past.  There’s even a scene that plays a very obvious homage to the ending of the original I Spit On Your Grave.  There’s a lot of violence.  There’s a huge amount of gore.  If you’ve ever wanted to see what an eye looks like when it’s literally hanging out of its socket, this is the film for you.  There are some moments of very dark humor as well.  Lulu Wilson gives a fierce performance as Becky and, In general, the film’s well-directed.  The first 20 minutes of the movie are actually rather brilliant, with scenes of Becky dealing with school bullies alternating with scenes of Dominick killing people in prison.

That said, the film itself runs out of gas long before the final scene.  A huge part of the problem is that Domenick and his associates are all way too stupid to really be a legitimate threat to Becky and, as a result, there’s not much suspense as to whether or not Becky will be able to kill them.  (It was hard not to unfavorably compare the buffoonish, easily outwitted Neo-Nazis in this film with the legitimately terrifying ones that appeared in Green Room.)  As well, for all the film’s violence and it’s homages to the grindhouse, it oddly allows two characters to survive the film despite the fact that there was no reason for the film’s villains to keep them around.  Their survival reminds you that you’re just watching a movie and it takes you out of the moment.  You realize that if the movie doesn’t have the guts to kill the two of them, then it’s probably not going to have the guts to really surprise us further down the road.

I have to admit, I really wanted to like this film, if just because I was intrigued by the against-type casting of Kevin James and Joel McHale.  I may not care for the majority of Kevin James’s films but I’ve always felt that he was a good actor.  Joel McHale, as well, has always been a personal favorite of mine and, like James, he’s a better actor than he’s often given credit for being.  I was hoping that both of them would get a chance to shock viewers by brilliantly playing against type.  But McHale is stuck playing a character who is just too wimpy to be sympathetic and Kevin James, bless him, often seems to be trying too hard to project menace.  True menace has to feel natural.  Once it becomes obvious that you’re trying to be menacing, then you’re not.  Dominick is a Sid Haig role being played by Kevin James.  Despite (or perhaps because of) the goofy appeal of such an idea, it just doesn’t work.

Despite its flaws, Becky is a well-shot, quickly paced film and it has enough entertaining moments to be watchable if not entirely satisfying.  If you’re looking gore, this film has what you’re looking for and, as any horror fan can tell you, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.  The film doesn’t quite work but still, directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion do a good enough job that I look forward to seeing where they do next.


Marooned (1969, directed by John Sturges)

Imagine The Martian or Apollo 13 without any humor or narrative momentum and you’ve got an idea what Marooned is like.

Three American astronauts (played by Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman, and James Franciscus) are returning to Earth after serving on an experimental space station when the engine to their spacecraft fails.  Now stuck in orbit around the Earth, they only have two days before they run out of oxygen.  While flight commander Crenna tries to keep everyone calm and make sure that all the proper procedures are followed, Gene Hackman yells at NASA and demands to be rescued.

Down on Earth, the head of NASA (Gregory Peck) says that there’s nothing that can be done.  There’s no way to get a rescue mission set up quickly enough to save the lives of the astronauts.  Both the President and David Janssen disagree with him.  Janssen demands to be sent into space immediately, regardless of the dangers, so that he can bring America’s astronauts home.

Marooned is a painfully slow movie that went into production at the height of the space race and which was released just a few weeks before the first successful moon mission.  Because it was made at a time when there were still many who claimed that NASA was a waste of money, the movie goes out of its way to explain that, even though the astronauts are probably going to die in space, NASA is in no way to blame.  Richard Crenna absolves NASA of blame after being told that a rescue mission isn’t feasible.  Gregory Peck holds a press conference, where he gives a lengthy speech about why space exploration is still important.  The movie is very detailed in showing that NASA is staffed by personality-free professionals, which might have boosted confidence in NASA but which also leads to a dull story.  You’ll notice that I haven’t referred to anyone in this film by the names of their characters.  That’s because their names don’t matter because, other than Gene Hackman and David Janssen, none of them is really distinguished by any sort of identifiable personality.  Hackman chews the scenery while Janssen plays another surly character who seems like he has a permanent hangover.  I wouldn’t trust Janssen to pilot a spaceship.

Marooned won an Oscar for its Special Effects, which were probably impressive back in 1969 but which are dull by modern standards.  Winning that Oscar meant that Marooned would eventually earn the distinction of being the only Oscar winner to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  On MST 3K, it aired under the title Space Travelers, which is a perfectly generic name for a perfectly generic film.


Song of the Day: Man With A Harmonica by Ennio Morricone

Once Upon A Time In the West (dir. by Sergio Leone)

For the first week of our tribute to Morricone, I kind of shied away from his best-known spaghetti western themes, just because I wanted to highlight some of his other films.  I wanted to remind people that Morricone’s genius wasn’t just limited to his work with Sergio Leone or the western genre.

That said, there’s a reason why Morricone’s western themes have become classics and that’s because they’re really, really good.  They capture the grandeur of both Leone’s visuals and his themes.  For all the credit that rightfully goes to Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Charles Bronson, the music of Ennio Morricone is one of the main reasons why we remember films like Once Upon A Time In The West and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly while forgetting about certain other westerns that were being made in Europe at the same time.  In Leone’s films, Morricone’s music is just as much of a character as The Man With No Name.

So, any tribute to Morricone has to include the music that he composed for Leone.  Therefore, today’s song of the day is a familiar one but a great one.  Here is Man With A Harmonica from 1969’s Once Upon A Time In The West:

Previous Entries In Our Tribute To Morricone:

  1. Deborah’s Theme (Once Upon A Time In America)
  2. Violaznioe Violenza (Hitch-Hike)
  3. Come Un Madrigale (Four Flies on Grey Velvet)
  4. Il Grande Silenzio (The Great Silence)
  5. The Strength of the Righteous (The Untouchables)
  6. So Alone (What Have You Done To Solange?)
  7. The Main Theme From The Mission (The Mission)
  8. The Return (Days of Heaven)


Music Video of the Day: Crazy Inside by TAKIA (2020, dir by Jonathan Guttmann)

This is an especially relevant song and video for our day and age.  I think almost everyone has gone a little bit crazy inside, whether it’s from rage or just feeling a little bit stir-crazy at being shut up inside.

Of course, some people handle the craziness by going online and acting like a jackass.  Other people handle it by creating.  In this video, Keka Martin handles it by dancing.  That, by the way, is how I’ve also been handling it all.  Ever since I realized that this lockdown isn’t going to be ending anytime soon, not a day has gone by that I haven’t found time to dance a little.  It helps to keep me calm and centered and, even more importantly, it takes my mind off of the craziness all around.

“But, Lisa,” you’re saying, “I don’t dance!”

Well, that’s okay.  You don’t have to dance.  Maybe you should write.  Maybe you should watch an old movie.  Maybe you should just listen to music or tell yourself an old joke.  The important thing is to remember that there’s more to life than just worry and anxiety.  There’s creativity and movement and joy.  None of those things have to end just because the world kind of sucks right now.  In fact, it’s important that they don’t end.  Keeping creativity alive is the only thing that stand between us and authoritarianism.