Tag Archives: Keith David

Reconnecting

Unplugging

by Rachel Willis

When his UPS delivery driver unexpectedly dies, Dan (Matt Walsh) decides it’s time he and his wife “unplug” and reconnect with each other.

With Unplugging, co-written by Walsh and Brad Morris, director Debra Neil-Fisher attempts to find humor in a couple so plugged-in that a weekend without cell service becomes a disastrous nightmare.

The premise of the movie is applicable to plenty of people. Who doesn’t know someone who’s practically married to their phone? In this case, that’s Dan’s wife, Jeanine (Eva Longoria). The demands of her office are such that she’s typing emails and sending Jib Jabs at 3 am.

Dan and Jeanine’s daughter is just as connected as Jeanine, but this is apparently not a problem. Dan’s tech-free weekend getaway is just for Mom and Dad. His daughter, still looking at her phone as she says goodbye to her parents, is left behind with her grandmother.

Walsh and Longoria are adept at comedy, but the script never gives them anything to work with. Gil (Keith David) runs the local place where the only thing worth eating is the enchiladas, but the spot is so dead that Dan and Jeanine are his only customers. At least, until Perkins (Lea Thompson) shows up.

Thompson and David also have a knack for comedy, but David is underutilized, and Thompson’s drone-tracking, government-conspiracy-spouting rural nut is too over-the-top to land any jokes. Neither character make a lot of sense in the grand scheme of things, except to criticize rural people as “out there.” Perkins’s pet raccoon Lulu only belabors this point.

The film is unclear about its message. Is tech a bad thing? Or is it okay in moderation? Does getting lost in the woods make you appreciate your tech more, or less? Will a person’s constant disconnection from the “real” world make them suspicious of their neighbors? Or are your neighbors worthy of your suspicion? (If they live in the country, the answer seems to be yes.)

Like its characters, Unplugging gets lost about halfway through and never finds its way back. That it’s light on the humor only makes it harder for those of us who unplugged to watch the movie to keep our hands off our phones.

Undead American Summer

Black As Night

by George Wolf

“That was the summer I got breasts and fought vampires.”

Yes, a lot is happening in Shawna’s life, but Black As Night never loses that matter-of-fact teenage perspective even as it broaches some plenty familiar horror terrain.

Shawna (Asjha Cooper) and her BFF Pedro (Fabrizio Guido) uncover a ring of vampires in their New Orleans precinct, and it’s going to take some help from the hunky Chris (Mason Beauchamp) and a privileged Twilight fan (Abbie Gayle) to track down the lead bloodsucker and take him out.

Black As Night is part of 2021’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” collaboration with Amazon, and it continues last season’s focus on films by and about women and/or people of color.

Director Maritte Lee Go and writer Sherman Payne mix Candyman‘s themes of gentrification and disposable populations with the surface level adventures of Buffy and The Lost Boys for a vampire tale that is most noteworthy for its fresh cultural lens.

The message isn’t unique or particularly subtle, production values can be shaky and there’s a hearty helping of exposition shortcuts, but these kids have spunk. Cooper makes Shawna’s journey from insecure wallflower to confident vampire killer an endearing one, and Keith David is here to lend his always welcome gravitas.

And though it often feels like Black As Night is content to just jump on a crowded ride, it consistently finds small moments to call its own. Plus, large numbers of vampires to kill!

So, how was your summer?

In Search of a Purpose

In Search of Darkness

by Hope Madden

The first thing you know about Shudder’s new original doc In Search of Darkness is that it’s an encyclopedic look at horror movies from the Eighties.

The second thing you need to know is that it’s 4 hours and 20 minutes long.

Right?!!

Why filmmaker David A. Weiner decided this had to be a standalone doc rather than a short series is beyond me. Certainly you can (and no doubt will) pause the film and come back to it, which is simple enough to do with Shudder. Still, having devoted about 1/3 of my waking day to a single documentary, I feel as if I should have learned more about Eighties horror than I did.

The bright spots: Tom Atkins is as delightful as you hope he is, as, of course, is Barbara Crampton. John Carpenter and Larry Cohen are as curmudgeonly; Keith David’s saucy baritone makes every anecdote extra fun; Alex Winter makes some interesting connections between films and society at large; and some of the industry insider talking heads seem knowledgeable.

There’s no real rhyme or reason to the specific titles discussed, but more problematic is the superficial treatment of the genre. In four and a half hours, I should have learned something, should have heard of a movie I’d never known about. In Search of Darkness refuses to connect any dots.

Some of the asides about VHS cover art, for instance, are briefly interesting, but other such tangents only emphasize the film’s overall weaknesses. The discussion of the final girl or of gratuitous nudity in 80s horror lacks any kind of insight, but when the piece on horror soundtracks did not mention Goblin, it dawned on me that in early 4 ½ hours, not a single foreign title is discussed.

No Argento, no Fulci, no Deodado – niente.

A ninety minute doc that contents itself with a nostalgic traipse down VHS store aisles would be fun. A doc series that contextualizes the phenomenal explosion in the popularity of horror in the Eighties, digging into sexism, feminism, foreign titles, changing music, the Reagan influence, the impact of VHS and MTV – that would be amazing. In Search of Darkness is neither.