Tuesday, September 4, 2018


Hope everybody had a great Labor Day weekend; Happy September to all!

Check out this month's issue of Phoenix Magazine...

...for my "Four Corners" column on Valley spots for Caribbean food, and also check out my online reviews of Operation Finale, The Bookshop and a "Big Gay Sing-Along" showing, tomorrow night at FilmBar, of 1986's Little Shop of Horrors...

Now in  theaters:

Kin--It's flown a bit under the radar, but this odd, gritty little tale is not without merit. It's set in the economic wastes of Detroit, where 12-year-old Eli (Myles Truitt) scavenges for scrap metal in the shells of deserted factories. Eli, an adopted African-American, lives with his construction contractor Dad (Dennis Quaid), a morose but morally upright widower.

Eli's ne'er-do-well older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) comes home--to a chilly reception--after six years in prison, to quickly realize that both he and his family are in serious trouble with a local gangster (James Franco). Jimmy and Eli end up on the run from the gangster and his goons, and somewhere along the line a stripper (Zoe Kravitz) with a heart of gold is added to their party.

This modest, poignant story, which if not for some violence has almost an Afterschool Special atmosphere, would be compelling simply as a realistic drama/thriller. But the directing team of Jonathan and Josh Baker, working from a script by Daniel Casey (an expansion of the Baker brothers' short film "Bag Man"), layers in a sci-fi twist.

On one of his scavenging excursions, Eli comes upon the aftermath of a battle between some otherworldly warriors--time travelers or aliens or something; it isn't made entirely clear. He picks up a sophisticated weapon that only seems to respond to him, and, as you might guess, this eventually becomes a factor in the story.

I don't mean to mislead anyone about Kin--it's uneven, and sentimental at times. But it has an unpredictability that I enjoyed, and the low-key style of the Bakers recalled, for me, certain commercial directors of the '60s and '70s  like John Avildsen and Jeremy Paul Kagan and Matthew Robbins, whose straightforward, unpretentious style has been insufficiently emulated.

Most of all, Kin worked for me because the actors made me care about the characters. Truitt makes a  fine, sober debut as Eli; you feel sorry for this kid's poor luck in family relations. Reynor, who seems like sort of a poor man's Chris Pratt, is exasperatingly likable as the fun, decent-hearted, well-intentioned, hopelessly foolish Jimmy, who introduces his brother to strip clubs and doing donuts in the parking lot in his truck.

Quaid is convincingly downcast as the desperate dad, and Kravitz is charming as usual, even in this stock role. Most striking, perhaps, is James Franco, truly repellent and scary as the mild-voiced gangster. I've never been able to warm to Franco in ordinary leading man parts, but on the basis of this film and The Disaster Artist, he's a natural as creepy freaks.

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