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Landscape gardener Jim Winters is a quiet craftsman, a soft-spoken man who prefers an orderly life. His family, however, is anything but orderly. Older son Gabe is planning his escape to Florida, leaving behind any shot at a stable future with his girlfriend. Younger son Pete has retreated into a private world of anger, drift and disappointment. Jim struggles watching his sons make choices he views as disastrous compromises. It is only when he meets his new neighbor, Molly, that Jim finds a way to deal with his own life and his family's future. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
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Sunset Soon Forgotten
Written by Sam Beam
Performed by Iron & Wine (as Iron and Wine)
Published by Sam Beam (BMI)
Courtesy of Sub Pop Records See more »
WINTER SOLSTICE (2005) *** Anthony LaPaglia, Aaron Stanford, Mark Webber, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Michelle Monaghan, Brendan Sexton III, Ebon Moss-Bachrach. (Dir: Josh Sternfeld)
Echoes of "Ordinary People" and a first-writer's novella.
Anthony LaPaglia is an excellent actor whose talents have been lately on the small screen in the TV crime drama CBS hit "Without A Trace" but on screen it's been awhile since he's had the chance to shine and in his latest film his talents are on full display.
LaPaglia plays Jim Winters, a recently widowed father of two teenagers, attempting to hold things together including his moderately successful landscaping business in the lush suburbia of New Jersey. After the car crash that killed his beloved wife and the apparent glue to his brood the Winters family has been in a state of flux with his eldest son Gabe (Stanford) restless to break free from his dead-end job at a restaurant and his youngest son Pete (Webber) is aimlessly attempting to rebel by being a chronic late-to-riser and winding up in summer school much to their chagrin. All the while Jim has kept his grief to himself and apparently blaming himself.
Enter Molly Ripkin (Janney of NBC's "The West Wing") a newcomer who enters the picture as a neighbor's house sitter who breaks Jim's cloud by moving in a few doors down enlisting Jim to help her move in and by returning the favor invites him and his boys to a dinner. Jim is naturally awkward and still trying to heal his new wounds but sees some salvation in this sudden change of events but still must deal with his head-strong sons when Gabe announces he's saved enough money to drive down south to stay with a friend in Florida, even leaving his girlfriend Stacey (Liv Tyler look-alike Monghan) behind.
Novice filmmaker Sternfeld (making his directorial debut) who also wrote the screenplay tiptoes around the familiar angst in suburbia route that "Ordinary People" furrowed 25 years ago but shrewdly makes this more of a character study than a soap opera melodrama; the film feels like a first time writer's early novella. His casting of LaPaglia anchors the film with an implosive anger and rising feel of uncertainty yet doesn't rely on pyrotechnique of the human emotions that often blister what is lurking under the surface of complacency: fear and anger. LaPaglia has a few nice moments where the emotions are bubbling (I especially liked his encounter at a teacher/parent meeting where he almost bursts out in barely restrained ire) and tries to find his footing when Janney enters the picture; he clearly wants to move on but is plagued by his own hatred of himself which is subtle yet on display with his interactions with his sons.
The acting is fine Janney is a drink of ice water in an arid story of sadness and dislocation; Stanford and Webber have a good feel for their characters as not atypical teens and Livingston has some fun as the summer school teacher who seems as bored as his charges with ancient history.
The only problem overall is the pacing seems a bit off and is arguably too low-key prompting the viewer to expect a fireworks display of feelings to come skyrocketing out of nowhere but this is not what Sternfeld has in mind and yet the stillness works. As does the rustic guitar-playing acoustic score by John Leventhal.
A nice little indie film with some assured acting and interactions that often are overlooked in the multiplexes, even in the wilds of Jersey. Trust me, I had to venture to the jungles of Manhattan to catch this gem.
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