This week on VOD, a legendary franchise makes its long-awaited return: Yes, the Transmorphers are back, along with a queer slasher movie, a trans coming-of-age drama, and one of Ed Asner’s final film appearances.
Transmorphers: Mech Beasts (VOD and select theaters June 30): Somehow the mockbuster specialists at The Asylum have resisted ripping off every installment in the Transformers franchise, so this is the first Transmorphers movie since 2009’s Transmorphers: Fall of Man. It’s surprisingly dense with continuity, though, set 20 years after the first Transmorphers in a post-apocalyptic world as humans attempt to rebuild society following the defeat of the alien robot invaders. A dormant failsafe creates a new transmorphing threat, robots that vaguely resemble lions, thus justifying the title. The CGI robots look almost passable when they appear onscreen, although most of the action involves characters pointing and yelling at things the audience can’t see. Joe Roche’s leaden screenplay is full of incomprehensible jargon, and the characters’ struggle against the robots is nothing compared to top-billed star Tom Arnold’s struggle against all the dialogue’s techno-babble. The rest of the actors fare only slightly better, as they run around nondescript warehouse spaces shouting at each other about algorithms and servers. Grade: D
Lola (Film Movement Plus June 30): It would have been easy for Belgian writer-director Laurent Micheli’s drama to slip into clichés about reconciliation between an intolerant parent and a rebellious teen, but Lola is more nuanced than that, refusing to offer simple solutions to the conflict between the trans title character (Mya Bollaers) and her hostile father Philippe (Benoît Magimel). Philippe wants nothing to do with Lola, but when Lola’s mother dies, she insists on accompanying her father to spread her mother’s ashes at the family seaside vacation home. They have an entire road trip to bridge their differences, but Micheli doesn’t pretend that problems like that can be solved over the course of a montage. Instead, he allows for moments of parent-child bonding without minimizing the impact of Philippe’s rejection. Bollaers gives a sensitive performance as a character who is finally asserting her own identity, and a series of flashbacks elegantly illustrate how far she’s come. The story beats are familiar, but they’re handled with grace. Grade: B
South of Sanity (VOD July 1): If co-director/co-writer/star Shy Pilgreen’s dysfunctional family comedy seems choppy and overlong, that’s probably because it was cobbled together from episodes of a web series produced over the course of several years. Billed as “based on some real shit,” Sanity begins with Lacy (Pilgreen) fresh out of rehab and headed back to her rural Alabama family home. There, she stays with her brother Mike (co-director Robert Peters) and his wife Ila (Jennifer Pierce Mathus), helping them out with their flea market stand that serves as a cover for meth dealing. There’s a somewhat amusing half-hour of Lacy’s Alabama misadventures, along with her efforts to stay clean, but the next 90 minutes shift to a pandemic-era production largely over video chats, which is tedious, repetitive, and unfunny. Characters come and go haphazardly, plot points are raised and abruptly dropped, and the movie ends on a seemingly random note after dragging on for two hours. Grade: C-
Bad Girl Boogey (VOD July 4; select theaters July 7; DVD July 11): At 18 years old, Alice Maio Mackay has already directed three features, with her first (So Vam) streaming on Shudder and her third (T Blockers) making the festival rounds. Bad Girl Boogey demonstrates more potential and enthusiasm than skill and discipline, but it still offers a refreshing queer perspective on horror. The plot mostly follows a standard slasher-movie template, beginning with multiple prologues depicting a cursed mask that turns anyone who wears it into a homicidal maniac. The latest wearer targets a group of queer teens, who are already dismissed and marginalized even when they aren’t being stalked by a killer. The story is disjointed and poorly paced, the acting is uneven, and the eventual explanation of the mask’s origins is unsatisfying. Mackay creates some evocative images and makes good use of her limited budget for gore effects, and the result is an effective calling card if not exactly a good movie. Grade: C
Tiger Within (VOD and select theaters July 7): The late Ed Asner worked so steadily up until his death in 2021 that he’ll probably be getting posthumous credits for the next year or two, and this hokey drama will not be among the most notable. Asner acquits himself well, of course, playing a lonely Holocaust survivor living in Los Angeles who befriends a surly teen runaway (Margot Josefsohn). Teen Casey leaves her Midwest home to escape her mother’s abusive boyfriend, only to discover that she doesn’t fit into her father’s new family in California. She turns to a highly sanitized version of sex work to make ends meet, and the elderly Samuel finds her sleeping on the ground next to his wife’s grave. The obstacles in Casey’s life are presented so cartoonishly that it’s tough to take them seriously, and her eventual bond with Samuel is equally unconvincing. Even an acting legend like Asner can only do so much with material this cheesy and heavy-handed. Grade: C