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Reviews: Drama 'DriverX' taps the street-level grind of ride-share services, plus other films

Reviews: Drama 'DriverX' taps the street-level grind of ride-share services, plus other films
Patrick Fabian in the movie "DriverX." (Sundance Selects)

‘Driver X’

Just like in real life, more and more movies and TV characters have been getting jobs with ride-share services. Writer-director Henry Barrial’s “DriverX” is one of the few films that doesn’t just use the gig as a plot-device. Drawn from the filmmaker’s own experiences, “DriverX” is a collection of hit-and-miss anecdotes, organized around the idea of what “work” means in the 21st century.

Veteran character actor Patrick Fabian (“Better Call Saul”) stars as Leonard Moore, a 50ish Angeleno who once ran a successful independent record store. Unable to find a new career and facing the mounting debt that comes with a middle-class suburban California lifestyle, he signs on with an Uber/Lyft-type company called “X” and hits the streets.

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Barrial follows a few story lines throughout “DriverX.” Leonard’s having some troubles in his marriage, exacerbated by economic stress and sexual frustration. He also strikes up a friendship with a steady customer named Tom (Desmin Borges), a nice guy who becomes a confidant.

Mostly though, the film strings together vignettes, relying on Fabian’s strong performance to hold the audience’s attention through scene after scene of Leonard ferrying around drunk young people, whose lives and desires he can barely understand.

“DriverX” can be a little reductive when it comes to the generation gap. It’s even iffier when it comes to how Leonard tends to see women: as strange, frustrating alien creatures, who control him with their inscrutable whims and ineffable beauty.

But the acting throughout is excellent; and it helps that Barrial isn’t playing Leonard’s predicament for cheap laughs or amped-up drama. Instead, he’s documenting what it’s like these days, to try and find some meaning in life while scrounging all night long, terrified to miss whatever meager scraps are being tossed.

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‘DriverX’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 30, Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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‘Ghostbox Cowboy’

David Zellner in the movie "Ghostbox Cowboy."
David Zellner in the movie "Ghostbox Cowboy." (Dark Star Pictures)

In his acclaimed documentaries “Running Stumbled” and “Big River Man,” director John Maringouin made the real world look like something out of an absurdist comedy. In his semi-fiction feature “Ghostbox Cowboy,” he makes the surreal look natural. The movie is unique, and often off-putting, in ways that should be exciting to open-minded cinephiles.

David Zellner (himself a pretty adventurous filmmaker) plays Jimmy Van Horn, a huckster who has an epiphany while looking at the cheap plastic imports in an American dollar store. He moves to China to pitch a phony ghost-detector gadget with the help of Bob (Robert Longstreet), an expert in persuading foreign investors.

Multiple bizarre twists and turns follow, including a new career opportunity for Jimmy — getting paid to be a cartoonish version of an American at parties. As is his wont, Maringouin also weaves in some nonfiction, embedding with actual American and Chinese entrepreneurs.

“Ghostbox Cowboy” is such a hodgepodge that even the people who made it may not always have had a clear plan from day to day, beyond spoofing a global economy that seems to reward waste. But the film’s as eclectic as it is eccentric, and it stays true to its own twisted sense of poetry, all the way to an epilogue that’s somehow even odder than anything that came before.

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‘Ghostbox Cowboy’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 30, Laemmle Glendale; available on VOD Dec. 11

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‘Default’

Yoo Ah-in in the movie "Default."
Yoo Ah-in in the movie "Default." (CJ Entertainment)

Like “The Big Short,” “Margin Call” and Johnnie To’s underrated “Life Without Principle,” the Korean drama “Default” successfully turns a global financial crisis into a movie that’s at once engaging and educational. Set during the 1997 Asian currency meltdown, the film weaves together three stories, each representative of what happened, who was affected and how South Korea recovered.

“Burning” star Yoo Ah-in is in a very different role here, playing a ruthless young financial manager who figures out early that his country’s about to go bankrupt and angles to make some money off the crash. Kim Hye-su plays a bank manager who urges the government to inform the public before it’s too late, while Huh Joon-ho is a small businessman who makes a big credit-backed deal then watches his dreams crumble overnight.

Director Choi Kook-hee and screenwriter Eom Seong-min err on the side of the over-explanatory (which viewers who don’t know a won from a baht might appreciate). What’s more welcome is their sense of purpose. “Default” functions in part as a critique of the economy of 2018, arguing that the inequity now was built into the bailouts then.

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‘Default’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 30, CGV Cinemas Los Angeles; CGV Buena Park

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‘Blood Brother’

Trey Songz in the movie 'Blood Brother."
Trey Songz in the movie 'Blood Brother." (Eliza Morse / Lionsgate)

The word “formulaic” was practically invented for movies like “Blood Brother,” a well-made but almost completely unnecessary crime thriller. A cast filled with multi-hyphenates like rapper Trey Songz and singer China Anne McClain brings plenty of charisma to the screen, but they’re stuck play-acting a pro-forma gangland tale of betrayal and revenge.

The talented Jack Kesy is both the betrayed and the vengeful, playing a recently released felon who returns home after prison, planning to wreck the lives of the friends he thinks hung him out to dry — including one who has since become a cop (Trey Songz).

Director John Pogue brings some grit and energy to the action sequences, but ultimately “Blood Brother” is just a compendium of pulp clichés, with nothing to say about these characters or the worlds they inhabit.

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‘Blood Brother’

Rated: R, for strong violence, language throughout, some drug use and sexual content

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 30, AMC Universal CityWalk; also on VOD

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‘Dead in a Week’

Aneurin Barnard and Freya Mavor in the movie "Dead in a Week."
Aneurin Barnard and Freya Mavor in the movie "Dead in a Week." (levelFILM)

It’s overlong, overly cutesy and its premise has been disappointingly overworked, but writer-director Tom Edmunds’ “Dead in a Week” (subtitled “Or Your Money Back”) is too genial to dislike … well, much, anyway. A stellar cast and a breezy tone partially compensate for the movie’s shortcomings.

The title refers to a contract taken out by morose, unsuccessful young author William (Aneurin Barnard), who wants to commit suicide but can’t work up the nerve. William hires an aging assassin, Leslie (Tom Wilkinson), to do the job, but then he meets the sympathetic and sexually available editor Ellie (Freya Mavor) and suddenly the writer wants to call off the hit.

Christopher Eccleston and Marion Bailey have funny supporting turns but aren’t in the movie enough. The rest of “Dead in a Week” strains too hard to find the lighter side of professional murder — like a Coen brothers version of “John Wick,” but without the inspired touch of either.

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‘Dead in a Week’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 30, Laemmle Glendale

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