Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Urgent 'Premise,' touching 'Cupboard' show ways of mysterious minds

New on both DVD and VOD outlets (as of just yesterday) is the little sci-fi sleeper "Minor Premise," a mad scientist kind of thriller with hints of "Altered States," "Split," and other similarly brain-busting attractions thrown into the lab mix.

Here the key cerebrum belongs to Dr. Ethan Kochar, and major plot clues arrive in the film's first images showing eight human characteristics listed on a blackboard and a man's voice explaining: "Every thought, every half-baked idea inside your head starts with me." 

After meeting the constantly haggard-looking Kochar (and some nicely nuanced personality shifts by Sathya Sridharan, the actor playing him), we're already intrigued when Kochar's ex-girlfriend starts snooping around his workplace. Naturally, she's an equally brilliant neuroscientist (Paton Ashbrook) and a tough one, too.

First-time feature director Eric Schultz smartly uses surveillance cameras to keep us watching some of what's going on, and Ashbrook's real-life uncle, "Twin Peaks" veteran Dana Ashbrook -- deservedly or not -- offers a kind of weird vibe as a Kochar family colleague. Don't be surprised if and when you watch it more than once.

Not rated by MPAA (but likely no worse than "PG-13" if it was); 1:36; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Lo and behold, Dana Ashbrook also runs off with the co-lead and a fine performance in a completely different film, already streaming on Prime Video and Vudu, among other places. It's the uniquely named "Ice Cream in the Cupboard," based on the book and life of co-screenwriter Pat Moffett.

Now, there have been movies about early-onset Alzheimer's before, and Julianne Moore even won a Best Actress Oscar for "Still Alice" in 2014. Yet, watching how the memory disease so easily cripples the minds of adults in their prime can be both a blessing and a proverbial viewing curse. Certainly you appreciate a well-acted offering, but the subject matter rarely is like taking a walk in the park.

In this "Cupboard," though, Moffett's story never plays to the maudlin, especially with the author portrayed by Ashbrook, and lovely, ill-fated wife Carmen so truly humanized by a fine Claudia Ferri. Instead, director Drew Pollins highlights the magic moments of the couple's 30-year relationship, including their charismatic first meeting, which features well-cast actors Garrett Mercer and Andrea Londo, as young lovers who keep popping into the memories of the older Moffetts.

Add in tiny bits of humor, mostly from Pat's father (Tobin Bell, well out of "Jigsaw" mode and now, perhaps, the youngest-looking 80-year-old in show biz), and there's much more to inspire than pity.

Not rated by MPAA (with some language and violence); 1:30; $ $ $ out of $5

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