Tone-Deaf (2019)

Directed by: Richard Bates Jr. Starring: Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick, Kim Delaney. Runtime: 1h 27 min. Released: August 23, 2019.

It feels like in every neighborhood there’s a curmudgeonly old fart sitting in a rocking chair on his porch ranting about something. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” had the Grinch up on Mount Crumpit, shouting down at the Who’s. “Gran Torino” had Clint Eastwood, telling everyone to get off his lawn. “Tone-Deaf” has Harvey (Robert Patrick) who constantly breaks the fourth wall to monologue about how terrible millennials are. Sorry, Mr. T-1000, we don’t mean to be terrible.

Olive (Amanda Crew), a millennial has just broken up with her boyfriend and has just lost her job – she just got fired on a Thursday, before free lunch Friday (!) – so rents a house for a weekend getaway away from the city. The renter is crazy baby-boomer widow Harvey. It sets up an intergenerational clash because Harvey may be a curmudgeonly old asshole and widow, but he’s also a long john wearin’, millennial swearin’ psychopath. He seems like he’s been nutty for awhile but his reason for now wanting to be a psychopath, you ask?

He looks at the screen and says that he’s done everything “but I haven’t killed a person. That’s one itch I haven’t got around to scratching.” I’ve never been on a roller coaster but you don’t see me lining up to go on one. But I also don’t want to, so to each their own, I guess. His motives to kill aren’t strong. The only reasons given are his hate for millennials and the fact that dementia is settling in, but the dementia part is dangerous to use as a motive.

The only thing “Tone-Deaf” has to offer is its generational commentary, as it elevates it above a plain horror film. Even that isn’t very good, though. It’s mostly just hateful monologues from Robert Patrick. He’s introduced poorly to us by asking the screen, “Want to be a conduit of change? Go drink a gallon of bleach… As long as you millennials leave the hard work to my generation, the least you can do is sacrifice yourselves.” His rants and a brief political observation service as the commentary but it’s mean-spirited and not clever. But am I, as a millennial, proving the film’s point for thinking it’s mean-spirited when it’s just tongue-in-cheek commentary?

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Robert Patrick in “Tone-Deaf.” (IMDb)

I’m not sure, I just know I didn’t like this. His rants just feel try-hardy and like he’s listing pet peeves of the writer/director Richard Bates Jr., though “sunglasses are for the outside” is an amusing observation. At one point, Olive the millennial gives us a fourth-wall breaking rant about baby boomers. The film doesn’t work when it’s just shoving its ideas down our throats.

It doesn’t work when it’s being subtle, either, but it feels smarter. The best aspect is a major quirk of Olive’s character and the reasoning for the title. She loves playing the piano but the catch is, she’s terrible. Just tone-deaf (like most of the film). However, she’s a millennial so no one’s ever told her that she’s bad because they don’t want to ruin any of her dreams.

It’s the only interesting thing about her character, or any character, as she’s just a basic, bratty millennial who wants to get away for a weekend. Crew plays it fine, and I’ve liked her since “Sex Drive” but she can’t do much with the dialogue, that’s either just bad or awkward.

They try to add depth to her – but her dad (Ray Wise) killing himself isn’t interesting, nor is Olive’s acid trip talking to him. Sub-plot scenes featuring her mother, Crystal (Kim Delaney), living at a commune and hanging out with a fling (Johnny Pemberton) is more useless than anything.

This doesn’t work as a horror comedy, either. Some of the horror’s more visual and surreal than I’d expect for the simple horror premise and there are some seriously strange scenes, mostly in Harvey’s imagination. The kills aren’t memorable for a slasher film, and a lot of the scares are lazy. There is one scene that builds decent tension, though. There are more laughs than scares, but they’re merely chuckles and the film usually tries way too hard to be funny or the setups are bad. The finale setup is fine and feels like it could be good but then Harvey just goes back to millennial shaming.

Patrick’s performance doesn’t work because the character’s so bad, but he embodies manic and hateful here. But there’s a reason why no one likes that curmudgeonly old guy in the neighborhood. He’s just an asshole and so is Harvey. But unlike the Grinch or Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino,there’s no redemption story here.

Score: 38/100

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Race (2016)

Released: February 19, 2016. Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree. Runtime: 2 hr 14 min.

Taking on a dual meaning title, Race follows the awe-inspiring story of Jesse Owens gearing up towards his stint at the 1936 Olympics in a Germany under the start of the Hitler regime.

Stephan James (Selma) stars as the pride and joy of Ohio State, Jesse Owens, bringing charm to a legendary figure who wasn’t given enough credit for his achievements at the Olympics because of the time it happened.

Heck, it took him long enough to get the first theatrical film about Owens – about 80 years. Owens did have his own film back in 1984, however, in the form of a made-for-television production called The Jesse Owens Story. But are TV productions real movies? That’s debatable.

Anyway, James captures emotion of the time for a person of colour not having the rights of any white people. He’s great depicting the athleticism and astounding agility of the character. I enjoyed seeing the chemistry between him and Shanice Banton’s Ruth Solomon, as well.

He can take a stand by going to the Olympics in Germany and making a stand for the African American folks, as well as the severely repressed Jewish people, during a time that was just the start of Hitler’s regime.

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Stephan James as Jesse Owens doing the long jump. (Source

With all of its other focuses, this is still very much a sports film, as we’re brought through Owens’ training by star Larry Snyder, portrayed with utmost kindness by Jason Sudeikis.

The feature is also at its best when we go with Owens to the Olympics. This isn’t a spoiler if you know of Owens’ prestige. It’s rousing and inspiring cheering him on.

But the line between sport and politics blur so much that it takes away from Owens’ story at times. It’s like Owens’ story is just used as a frame for a story that is largely about the United States Olympic Committee and how they were able to convince the Germans to allow African Americans and Jews to compete.

Jeremy Irons’ Avery Brundage represents the interest to have Americans compete at the Olympic Games. William Hurt’s Jeremiah Mahoney represented the opposing opinion of boycotting the Olympics for the year – because of the intense segregation.

Joseph Goebbels is portrayed by Barnaby Metschurat. The character is just rather mean, but that’s expected for Goebbels. He’s the political heart on the side of the Germans, as the Minister of Propaganda at the time.

While promoting the Aryan race, he also suppresses documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (portrayed by Carice van Houten). He wishes her to make a film which reflects the views of the German government – while she has to stick it to the man and wants to focus on the success of Owens.

It’s frustrating, but that’s what the filmmakers go for – to frustrate the audience. And later in the film show that, even through so much glory, there will always be discrimination.

The story is almost drowned completely by the politics, and is often in danger of being a political drama.

But the scenes at the Olympics and the inspiring road there make up for it and while the film isn’t as great as Owens’ achievements, it would still deserve a bronze medal. That’s still a winner, right?

Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space, A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warrior) directs the races with precision and it makes the film entertaining in that respect. The cinematography is stellar in these scenes, the director of photography is Peter Levy who often works with Hopkins, and is still interesting during the more chatty sequences.

The best part of the film is especially James’ performance. He’s inspiring how he captures optimism through a dark time. Hopefully this kick-starts James’ career the same way 42, a sports biography about fellow race pioneer Jackie Robinson, did for Chadwick Boseman.

James depicts the athlete’s dedication to his coach realistically. The chemistry there really works – and captures how lovely the relationship between a coach and a mentor can be.

Score: 65/100