Tubi is what's known as an "over the top" streaming service, bypassing traditional broadcast or cable. It's "free" with ads. Tubi made its bones with low-budget genre knockoffs. Which isn't a diss: cheap can be good: witness Roger Corman. After all, off-brand auteurs tend to be resourceful and take more risks, working fast and cheap.
Since being purchased by Fox Entertainment, Tubi also offers major films from Fox's voluminous library, plus a slate of "originals," ranging from romcom to action to horror, whose posters are designed to make you think they’re other more popular films, with generic-sounding titles like Set-Up and Break Out.
The two films reviewed here, besides being on Tubi, are also the product of the burgeoning film industry in Georgia, one of the friendliest film tax-break states in the nation. More on this later.
Deji LaRay writes, edits, and stars in Escaping Paradise. You'll know him from Amazon Prime's series Bosch, and as the creator and showrunner of Johnson, a series that has run for three seasons on the Brown Sugar network. Mr. LaRay’s strength is his writing. His scenarios are action-packed and have a definite narrative arc. He understands the way people really talk and act.
Escaping Paradise is essentially The White Lotus with firearms. Floyd (LaRay) and Zina (Shayla Hale), travel to the Philippines for their anniversary. There they meet a mysterious man named Kane (a snarling Simon Philips), who intimates that he is a drug and gunrunner. Kane dazzles them with his rich lifestyle, but Floyd is suspicious about Kane’s true intentions.
Escaping Paradise is directed by Paul Tanter, who keeps his action contained, not biting off more action set pieces than he can chew. Mr. Tanter has a list of TV directing credits like Age of the Living Dead and No Easy Days (both 2018).
Fantasy Lodge Resort Cebu provides the exotic backdrop, impossibly blue surf and cascading waterfalls. Escaping Paradise is framed in flashback, using a voiceover, and ends up being a taut little film that is worth seeing.
A metallic looking "MR" fades up from black. It takes on dimension and drifts through black space, the MR further defined as "Mann Robinson Productions," the "o" in Robinson a camera aperture that sets, then sets agin, then the whole structure swoops, all to bombastic sound effects. This animated logo takes 24 seconds of screentime, a long time for a logo, and much care has gone into it. Does as much care extend to the movie itself?
Mann Robinson wrote/produced/directed but apparently film isn't his only source of income (isn't that his MR logo on the side of a utility truck in one scene?). His other films include Super Turnt (2022) and Power Corrupts (2020).
St. Sebastian is a Christian martyr famously skewered by arrows. According to legend, he was saved and healed by Saint Irene of Rome. According to this movie, Sebastian comes back every century or so to stalk the current incarnation of Irene, whom he now wants to … violently kill? I don't remember this version from catechism.
A pair of detectives, played by Darius McCrary and Torrei Hart (a producer of the film with her own animated logo), are assigned by their grumpy but irascible captain (Clifton Powell) to the case. The actors were apparently allowed to improvise, and they digress often. What’s meant to be a showcase for talent becomes a clearing house for clichés. Mr. Robinson’s handling of cop characters suggests he’s never met a real one, only seen them in the movies. These cops are never where they’re supposed to be, they keep asking victims “is everything okay?” (… well, no, that’s why we called you), and collapse sobbing at the sight of a dead body, a real time-waster in the grisly homicide business. And in Sebastian, those dead bodies are always naked young women.
Sebastian is played by Italian actor Luca Della Valle as a smarmy Lothario. Irene is played by Jamie Bernadette, who's known for roles on TV and in films like I Spit on Your Grave Deja Vu and Homestead. Ms. Bernadette’s soft features make her equally convincing as a mom, a temptress, or in this case the victim of a stalker. Ms. Bernadette is a solid actor, and her scenes with costar Tracey Graves as her friend are relaxed and credible.
Mr. Robinson claims inspiration from Se7En, but Sebastian leans more toward Kiss the Girls (1997) and The Bone Collector (1999). I mention the years because Sebastian is a throwback to a time when long knives and the gratuitous nudity equaled entertainment.
Does this have anything to do with Georgia? To feed our obsessive need for streaming "content," many films are being made there at state-of-the-art facilities like Tyler Perry’s and Blue Star Studios, giving new talent the experience and opportunity Hollywood doesn’t. But in the process, do obsolete ideas kept alive?
Films like Escaping Paradise and Sebastian go to intent. Deji LaRay (Escaping) is carving out a creative niche; he's delivering fresh ideas in an established form. Mann Robinson's Sebastian depends on archaic views of the world, of Christianity, and of the treatment of women that wouldn't fly in Hollywood. Call this PC, but political correctness is a social barometer of acceptable behavior. It shows how we live now, what we're willing to accept, as movies about brutal murders and bare breasts did in the 1990s.
So what's up with Sebastian? It tries hard to resemble other, better movies, but its plot wanders, stitched together only by scenes of violence. At one point, the detectives talk to the coroner (Jace Agoli, welcomed and intentional -- comic relief), but the scene ends up being little more than an excuse to show crime scene photos, one after the other, of young naked women riddled with bloody stab wounds.
Let me check my watch. Isn't this 2023? When long knives and gratuitous nudity (always female) equal misogyny?
At least the actresses/models who play the corpses get cast credit. That's some consolation.
Escaping Paradise. Written by Deji LaRay, directed by Paul Tanter. A Tubi original, produced by Black Mandala and Midnight Train Productions. 2023. 92 minutes.
Sebastian. Directed by Mann Robinson. A Tubi original, produced by Mann Robinson Productions. 2023. 93 minutes.