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Get Out (2017)
The Claustrophobia of Racism
"Get Out" isn't a horror film. It's a dark fable about how racism hypnotizes its victims in order to lobotomize them, in a white-is-right world so claustrophobic, you'll start breathing as heavily as Daniela Kaluuya ("Chris Washington").
While this is not a good film for any reason a film is generally considered "good," it's unforgettable for conveying the claustrophobia and terror black people experience when faced with powerful rich white people.
I don't believe but can't say for sure that Jordan Peele intended this as an indictment of the white race. Whether or no, "Get Out" is unforgettable for showing the helplessness to be dealt with in the U.S. if you are guilty of Living While Black.
Daniel Kaluuya's acting is Oscar-worthy. So is LilRel Howerey ("Rod" the TSA guy). The white cast is noteworthy only for Caleb Landry Jones (the brother, Jeremy). Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford may have been wooden by design; I don't know, but the degree of woodenness hurts and doesn't help the film.
"Get Out" is not a good film for any reason other than understanding the terror of racism--but that seems more than reason to see it.
Red Knot (2014)
Great Acting and Cinematography, Poor Script
"Red Knot" is a good film with a very ominous title. Vincent Kartheiser and Olivia Thirlby excel in their roles as Peter and Chloe, newly-marrieds who impulsively honeymoon aboard a freighter bound for Antarctica. And how could cinematography in the golden age of video be not excellent? In general, this film's reach does not exceed its grasp. If the documentary "March of the Penguins" could be combined with the Benedict Cumberbatch/Sam O'Neill mini-series, "To the Ends of the Earth," you'd have "Red Knot."
Independent movies in 2017 in general rely far too much on 1) non-verbal narrative--characters' lingering, meaningful looks--and 2) infatuation with digital photography. "Red Knot's" *story* is excellent, so why muddy an excellent story with excellent lead actors and excellent cinematography with a confused and confusing script?
The story is basically Chloe's, not Peter's. Starry-eyed about marriage, she learns how fast a claustrophobic sea voyage will make you develop your inner self. Strangely, the addition of the kinds of scenes that could have made this movie great would have cost no money--for example, the prescient scene where Chloe decides to skip out on the first mate's (?) pre-voyage lecture about safety in case of troubles on the high seas. More script would have made "Red Knot" a hit.
In Chloe's case, inner self means not only skipping safety instructions for sex in a bunk bed but expedited understanding of a husband's potentially murderous or suicidal character. Peter's quick disdain for her in favor of the company of highly trained researchers superficially explains his unusual choice of their honeymoon trip. But this is *his* honeymoon, not Chloe's.
Billy Campbell as the Captain is very good and slightly mysterious--but is he or anyone at all real or imagined, flesh-and-blood or a dream? Because of many never-explained jumps to pastoral green settings, it's unclear whether "Red Knot" is not in fact entirely surreal, a prolonged nightmare like the one Chloe has in the middle of the film. When Chloe's claustrophobia gets too much, the Captain is always there to rescue her. Almost always. A better-developed script wouldn't necessarily have ruined "Red Knot's" impressionism. More dialogue or even more development of Chloe's growing loneliness and feelings of abandonment (at the antipodes of the planet) wouldn't have undercut the artiness the film clearly craved. And Peter's ultimate reveal, his vulnerability, would have been more believable if the audience actually had narrative to support it.
There are no minor characters. There are talking heads but not characters; and this isn't a bad thing, because even the title, "Red Knot," makes it clear this movie is about the breathtaking isolation of marriage without communication or love.
The final sequence is absolutely unsatisfying. That the film's first scene opens with what will also be its last scene is additionally weird--or else a statement that *all* of "Red Knot" is symbolic. Antarctica's terrifying barrenness is not the type of terrain where inexperienced travelers would be allowed to roam at will. In motorboats. Motorboats they pilot alone. So maybe even Antarctica is a cold desolate world Chloe has dreamt, as well as a real ice-world.
So is "Red Knot's" conclusion as dire as all the cliffs and snow and vanishing foot-tracks suggest? I don't know. Is the film to be taken at all literally? I don't know. Is Vincent Kartheiser's trademark (apparently) cruel aloof lover sincerely capable of lying to his bride in order to keep her? Don't know that, either.
The odd scenes of penguins on paradisaical green grass may be the best clue that "Red Knot" is just as impossible and not to be taken literally. That doesn't detract from the story of Chloe's premature, fast-tracked journey to the heart of marital darkness.
Chance: Define Normal (2017)
"Define Normal" Season 2, Ep. 7 SPOILERS
SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Considering the previous episode's conclusion, it's not unusual and in fact is necessary that "Chance's" action lets up for a while. Episode 7, "Define Normal," contains a significant amount of flashbacks--graphically violent flashbacks. My one criticism of this series is that the amount of graphic violence is unnecessary, given its stylized production.
By stylized production, I mean that the show seems to be filmed with filters constantly on the cinematographer's lens. The costume department is devoted to the color green. (For D, of course, clothes are usually basic black.) For that reason, elided or implied violence would be enough for most "Chance" viewers to understand, for example, the violence inflicted on a minor child in this episode.
In addition to flashbacks, the episode is heavily devoted to Nicole's story-line. This isn't a bad thing, first, because Nicole is not a mere subplot. Nicole symbolizes the ramifications for "real" people of resorting to violence as an answer to problems. Later in the season, a very minor character will remind her that the teenage villainess who hurt her is at home in a warm bed eating hot food, while she...is not. Unlike the "successful" serial killer whose back-story we see in this episode, we also see Nicole try for the second time to use violence--but fail.
Christina, Eldon Chance's ex-wife and Nicole's mother, gets necessary screen-time in "Define Normal," and she probably is responsible for the meaning of the episode's title. At one point, Christina argues with Eldon and, with devastating bluntness, calls herself a "low charge" Eldon chose to marry not because he loved her but because she would never test his tendency to romantic obsessiveness. Christina is also the butt of Nicole's abuse after Nicole is spared from the consequences of her actions back in Episode 3; and Christina makes a decision regarding the girl's future without consulting her volatile ex-husband.
No matter the running-time (or weeks, or months) of a particular story, intervals highly charged with action or meaning have to be followed by intervals of falling action or stasis. Episode 4, "The Coping Mechanism," was this kind of "quiet" episode; and, to the extent that "Chance" is ever at all emotionally quiet, "Define Normal" is this kind of episode as well.
Viewers who were shocked by the previous episode's conclusion may or may also object to the way the series' apparent trajectory changes. But in the plot trajectory department, viewers this season are in for more than one surprise.
Chance: Treasures in Jars of Clay (2017)
"Treasures in Jars of Clay" Season 2, Ep. 6 SPOILERS
SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
The sixth episode of "Chance" is the saddest hour of the show's two seasons. It opens with the killer still confessing to Chance the usual grandiose serial killer crap he began in the previous episode. It all verges on being very "Criminal Minds"-y, until this killer's screed hits home. He assures Chance poolside at his mansion that victims are vulnerable without knowing it--and he says this to Chance's vulnerable face.
Beginning-to-end, the episode is about grandiose dreams of starting over. Each major character has a story line where plans (and that word, "plan," is stated at least a dozen times in the hour) are made only to be dashed. D, as usual, is the person who says to Nicole that that is exactly what happens with plans--they "never go how you expect." In his case, he has an unusual and pretty medieval-monk-like way of disciplining himself. He has finally, finally, confronted his wicked father, the guy who abandoned him as a young child to a sadistic abuser. D confronts him in the old man's bedroom, and although he has brought a knife, he lets the rotten, corrupt villain reach for a nightstand pistol to shoot him. He will tell Nicole that fear is a thing that must be killed--and kill his own fear, of his old man, he does indeed.
But then he goes to the warehouse where his "tribe" does their mixed martial arts and asks them to beat him and try to hurt him. It seems like an unusual request--at first. But when we see Nicole's, Hynes', and also Chance's mindless happiness after their own apparent victories (Nicole returning the homeless man's stolen dog, Chance putting in action a "plan" to separate Winter from Lyndsay, Hynes agreeing to meet Lambert in the small hours at Winter's mansion, where Lambert has promised him something big regarding Winter), we see how much of a cold, gimlet-eye D has when it comes to the danger of reveling in success.
The episode belongs heart and soul to Brian Goodman, who plays one of the most tragic roles of this series. Kevin Hynes was introduced as a menacing but mysterious figure last season, working for Internal Affairs and professing suspicious willingness to help Chance "get" Blackstone. Hynes' reappearance in Season 2 was worse than menacing; it was to blackmail Chance over the way Chance solved all his problems with the crooked cop and Jaclyn.
But throughout Season 2, Hynes has been the volcanic counterpart to D. His depression in this episode after losing his job is so strong, it seeps through the screen. The audience might remember how grandiose he was after being fired in the previous episode, how he pretended indifference, foresaw for himself eventual ticker-tape parades in his honor, and spouted quotes from St. Augustine. Brian Goodman's portrayal of this aging, desperately unhappy--but finally out of the closet--man would be beyond heartbreaking even if the episode did not end the way it does.
Unlike D, he is proud of the fact that never once in his career did he fire his gun. He and D are temperamental opposites with identical passions for justice. Unlike D, he is still crippled by shame, in his case about his homosexuality. In the scene with Carl Allen, he naively asks Carl if Carl never tried just to "forget" he was gay. Then melodramatic Carl proceeds to quote Scripture to him ("treasures in jars of clay" comes from 2 Corinthians 4, if it matters) about God's love.
Hynes' depression FINALLY begins to lift, and briefly, he is neither menacing, brooding, or closeted, and he and Carl share a cup of tea. He looks sincerely hopeful with (uh-oh) a vague "plan" for a new life as a guy at peace with his sexual orientation. Carl too has plans--D insists on driving him to his dying ex-wife's apartment, where Carl's family waits for a reunion whose bitterness or happiness the audience doesn't see.
And then-- Then comes the concluding scene. Just as with Nicole in her short-lived happiness after returning the homeless man's dog to its owner, Hynes sees his own newfound peace brought very very low. The metaphor by St. Paul is ironic here: Carl Allen may be very correct that God regards humans as "treasures," but "clay" is very, very breakable.
This episode of "Chance" contains a great amount of action, dialogue, and character development. It also contains the season's greatest tragedy.
10 out of 10.
Chance: A Madness of Two (2017)
"A Madness of Two" Season 2, Ep. 9 SPOILERS
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THIS EPISODE
Faith. Love. Hope. Yes, it sounds like a religious sermon, and, unless the finale totally messes up this ninth and all preceding episodes of this season, this show will do you more good than reading whatever holy book your particular belief system uses for inspiration.
First: All is Lost. This isn't a spoiler, not for anyone who watched the previous episode. Second: Ethan Suplee needs to be recognized by his industry this year. Early in "A Madness of Two," he and Chance have a long conversation that will break the hardest heart. Darius Pringle "never even took Lorena" to a movie. But he had Chinese food with her. He had pie with her. And in this episode, he gets a toy with their Happy Meals. The way Suplee manages to mix the most extreme violence of this series with Boy Scout purity of motive is way more important to Lorena than going to a frickin' movie.
"A Madness of Two" has to be about faith, because of how dire the situations of all Season 2's heroes--Chance, D, and Nicole--are. And Chance as usual tries selflessly to conform with social expectations. Lucy, who becomes a real hero herself in this episode, says at one point to him: "You've got to figure out a way to *be* in this world, Doc." The dark truth for men or women like Chance, who want to respect social norms but be good and have integrity, is that there is NO way for such people to "be in this world." At least as of Episode 9, there isn't. So everything that Chance does or reacts to here at the twenty-fifth hour is an act of faith.
Love: If you don't get a tear in your eye at, like, a dozen points in this episode, you have no heart. An encounter between Chance and Nicole is textbook, How to be a Dad. The fact that his offspring is female is even more significant, considering the prospects the naive girl has in her fairy-tale haven. This is the only weak part of the episode: Nicole's segue from wilderness to civilization. But if any series deserves to be cut some slack in the despair department, it's "Chance." And a shout-out to Greta Lee in her role. Lucy isn't a major character but in all her episodes this season, Lee gives the role of prickly millennial depths that make you want to see her again, and that's what limited series are all about.
Charity: Aside from Lucy--very little. Velerio turns out to be a worthy successor to Hynes, as does a new detective from out of town; and for a very short time, it looks as if Lambert at least will go down instead of Chance. A touching and ironic sequence within a courtroom shows how much Chance's avenging goodness has meant to certain people; and the failure of an accuser to show up to testify for the prosecution only argues more strongly that Chance should be treated with mercy. But just as we're gullible enough to believe the world will work in a way that will let him "be" in it-- The world, the flesh, and the devil step in and show that all the mercy in the hearts of powerless people means absolutely nothing. Darius Pringle, survival artist extraordinaire, the Boxer incarnate, is right: Might is the only Right.
Whatever the words of your particular holy book, if you have one, regarding the way men and women of courage should act when all is lost: "A Madness of Two" exemplifies them. Brilliant.
"The Collected Works of William Shakespeare" SPOILERS
"The Collected Works of William Shakespeare" was a weapon earlier in the season. It's not completely accurate to say that this season, "Chance's" female characters personify social responsibility and integrity. After all, Nicole is flirting with a prison stint for taking D's "grandmaster" words too seriously. But in this episode, the male characters wrap their bruised spirits in literary references, historical trivia, and other abstractions ("software decay"). With the exception of D, who has fallen hard under a beautiful pregnant woman's spell, not very different from how Chance fell under Jaclyn's, every male character except D loses control.
Chance almost beats down a guy in a parking garage for speeding and hallucinates seeing Winter at the clinic. Hynes smashes lab beakers when DNA samples from Winter's comb don't match what was found under the boy murder victim's fingernails. And then Winter butchers a young mother who happened to sit on the same bench he did while he was stalking Lucy. Hynes warned Chance in the preceding episode that breaking into Winter's psychotic and evil psyche might let lots of devils loose, and belatedly, Chance sees that butchering people is Winter's coping mechanism. All these men operate on a continuum of increasing insanity.
Two unlikable female characters, Lyndsay and Kristen, do due diligence professionally. Lyndsay tries to keep Chance away from Winter and tells him that while Winter "has to" trust him, she does not; does NOT! Kristen sees professional danger in Chance's not telling her who beat him up in Episode 1. She places a call to the one authority that will ensure even more threat to everyone at the clinic—the D.A.
So is (generally, this season) female social responsibility right and good--or naive and wrong? Are Robin Hood Eldon and his band of not-so-merry men not insane at all?
The episode balances narrative and character exposition so well, the audience doesn't have time to breathe. When Hynes quotes St. Augustine to Chance--"the truth is a lion; it doesn't need to be defended; it only needs to be set loose"—he quotes with a bottle of whiskey he intends to drink dry, as his commitment to bringing a very evil man to justice has just cost him his job. He dreams out loud of the day San Francisco will give him a ticker-tape parade. Without Hynes, the second season of "Chance" would not exist; and anyone who has watched this season past "The Collected Works of William Shakespeare" knows how his dream works out.
Chance: The Coping Mechanism (2017)
Everyone Gets a Time-Out *SPOILERS*
SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW "The Coping Mechanism" is a breather in "Chance." Some of the most beautiful camera-work you'll see this t.v. season occurs when Chance uses his newfound knowledge of Winter's obsessions and fears, and takes him swimming in the ocean. There are extended sequences between D and Lorena, and D and Carl, when Carl's estranged son Alvin comes to the antiques shop with bad news. We also see Chance visiting Nicole's bully in her hospital bed, and then at the bully's home some time later, to try to reason with the parents about pressing charges against his daughter. Chance and Nicole have some heart-to-heart moments. Although Winter's "at-home" scene with Lyndsay ends more brutally, the segments between Chance and the bully's parents—mother and father—are tough to watch. In terms of let-up in this season's action, much is made, by Kristen and Lucy, of Winter's donation of $1M and an entire new computer system to the clinic. Lucy bumps into Winter at a coffee shop and strikes up an acquaintance. Finally, there's a long scene where Chance visits Ms. Debbs at her nursing home/psychiatric facility and hears her insane story about why she did what she did at the train station many years earlier.
The episode develops D's softer side, and there's a painful moment when Chance, learning from Nicole how she embarked on her life of vengeance because of D's "wisdom," speaks too frankly to D. He goes to the antiques shop to confront D about encouraging Nicole to act out her rage against the bully, and D starts in on one of his dark sermons that makes D kind of a huge Yoda. Chance snaps and asks him what he knows about parenting. This is cold, because earlier, we see D follow Lorena to a supermarket and try to win her over by suggesting vitamin supplements for her pregnancy, and we get the feeling that D might never have even dated, let alone been a parent. Things get worse when Chance shuts him and his eclectic, dark religion down by shouting that he (Chance) doesn't want Nicole to do the things D preaches or be what D is. He flies out of the place, and D just says, You're Welcome, Doc.
The extended ocean sequence with Winter dominates the episode. "The Coping Mechanism" is narrative filler, but it's interesting or at least very beautifully framed and painstakingly shot.
Chance: A Very Special Onion (2017)
"What Do You See?" (SPOILERS)
This is the single-best hour of television I have seen in easily five years. The overriding theme can be summed up by questions, not statements. "What do you see?" Chance asks a patient at one point about illustrations that diagnose psychopathology. The plot deals with invasions of privacy of increasing magnitude and severity, in one case ending in death. And nearly none of the characters whose privacy is being invaded sees that that's happening.
The editing in this episode is masterful and has to be, because (as with the following episode) a lot of action takes place in silence and...privacy. The characters who invade the sanctity of others scrupulously maintain boundaries for themselves. Impossible to say whose creative decision it has been this season to superimpose dialogue on scenes where the characters are silent; it might be a way for the writers to address the audience. It's overused.
The best scenes don't rely on non-linear speech. Winter's "Rorschach" test scene with Chance is brilliant. The illustrations Chance shows Winter, disturbing pictures of lonely people, contribute to an unexpected and evil development. Chance is unquestionably responsible for the fatality at the conclusion--simply because he kick-started Winter by attacking him in Episode 1.
"I get consent," he tells Winter about psychiatric techniques. "Do you, though?" Winter replies, in one of his few sincerely sympathetic scenes this season. He asks if consent is truly given when a patient doesn't know what the psychiatrist wants to elicit from him, what kinds of revelation or self-exposure the psychiatrist is after. Winter then checks himself out of the hospital where Chance's midnight beat-down landed him.
A compelling subplot involves Chance's teenage daughter. Her privacy is invaded in emotionally ugly ways neither she, her parents, nor the audience are aware of until the end (and some viewers might not realize what's happening until the third episode). The story arc this invasion of the vulnerable teenager sets in motion serves to illustrate how dangerous and arrogant Chance and D not only can be, but in fact are. The problem is that Chance and D have been railroaded into their most risky stunts by Kevin Hynes, the Internal Affairs officer from last season.
Hynes is one of the high points of this season. His privacy is invaded very early in the episode when D, furious at how the guy has blackmailed Chance into doing his bidding about Ryan Winter (blackmailed him with material from Season 1), breaks into Hynes' apartment to find out more about him--although he'd prefer to "stab him in the eye." As with Chance and D, Hynes also is convinced that the only way to achieve justice and relief for suffering patients and loved ones is to become a modern-day Robin Hood. Hynes' closeted homosexuality provides the background for another magnificent scene, in a seedy bar where D chooses to send Carl Allen, and Carl Allen...invades Hynes' privacy by pretending to befriend him, in order to worm information out of him about him. Hynes isn't finished being worked over yet, though: Chance manages to grab at his integrity and his job. He's the kind of guy who doesn't have to be asked, though, "What do you see?" He's as paranoid as Chance and sees too much of everything.
Not a word, not a millisecond of film, is wasted in this brilliantly written episode. It deserves every kind of accolade television series can get. The acting is second-to-none.
Chance: Multiaxial System (2017)
Don't Let Season Premiere Persuade You to Give Up
The premiere of Season 2 is a weak episode. For anyone who watched Season 1 and is on the fence about whether to be all-in for Season 2, this review is to convince you to be patient.
The start of a new season has to set up the basic plot. The hard thing for a limited series starting a new season is that its audience already knows the continuing characters, in this case the hero (Chance, Hugh Laurie) and the best alternate-hero you'll ever see on made-for-streaming (D, Ethan Suplee). D is not an anti-hero; he's an alternate hero. For reasons that will become clear in the episodes to come, it's important to keep this distinction in mind. D is Chance's "co-hero."
The first episode of Season 2 is too full of D's sensei-pithy spiritual comments. Neatly sandwiched between a series of revenge scenes against various evil-doers, the D "sermons" sound adolescent and almost trite. This is a shame, not only because D has suffered so badly and continues to be plagued by a brutally abusive narcissist father. (No spoiler here; the audience learns all about D's nightmare childhood in Season 1.) As Season 2 continues, D's insights never once are wrong--even when, shared with people besides Eldon Chance, they lead to consequences he doesn't intend.
So this episode is filled with two guys--Chance and D--basically doing a t.v. version of a Tarantino film...and it's not good. Just remember: this specific episode is burdened with 1) starting an entirely new story arc; while 2) being unable to be exciting, specifically because the episode is a set-up for what will follow. In my opinion, "Chance" made a mistake by relying on as much violence in this Season 2 premiere as it did.
Don't give up. If you do, you'll miss what everyone will be calling the best streaming series of the decade. Serious.
All About Hubris
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
"An Infant, a Brute or a Wild Beast" refers to the three types of sentient beings who'd have no idea of the consequences of their actions in criminal court. Lambert says it to Winter, when, either at his lawyer's behest or on his own initiative, the confessed serial killer plans an insanity defense. At one point in this incredibly economical episode, one character reminds another of the wisdom of the old adage that the person who sets out to get revenge should dig two graves: one for whoever wronged him or her, and the second for one's self. Oh, do "Chance" fans *ever* see how sound this advice is in season 2's eighth episode. In fact, though, nearly every character, including Winter, really IS an "infant, a brute, or a wild beast" when it comes to acting on impulse rather than reason. Nicole at reform-school-camp puts on a "Yes-Man" act for her wholesome captors, only to skedaddle into absolute wilderness. D decides that Lorena's decision to skip town isn't the best idea, and it's better for him to confront an entire entourage of the gang leader who impregnated her. And Chance. Oh, Chance. His idiotic boss at the clinic, hell-bent to find the thug who has gone around maiming and almost killing the rapists, murderers, and assailants who have hurt the clinic's victims, not only makes certain Lambert and Gilyard get the sketch-artist's rendition of D. She accidentally sees D leave Chance's apartment. She fires Chance. Then he's arrested. But before he's arrested, he gives maybe his best explanation of why he is the way he is (and why, for that matter, all his friends and his daughter are the way they are): they want revenge. They want relief. They want justice. Thank God, the writers don't redeem Winter, because in deciding to plead insanity, he shows that he's not sorry for all his butchery. He's so infatuated with Chance, he wants to make him happy--which is also a way of making himself happy rather than of being penitent. As you can see by all the various characters I've referenced or whose scenes I've described, this episode is chock full of exposition--and I haven't covered half of it in this review. It's not an episode you hurt from at the end because of one particular character's story arc. In fact, there's enough material so that the producers easily could have spread it out over two episodes. But with the exception of Greta Lee, every actor has great scenes; and, most importantly, every character's actions and decisions prove that each is acting "under diminished capacity," because each wants revenge, relief, and justice. And none of them get any of those things.
"Chance" is THE show to watch this autumn. It also addresses the "business" of psychology or psychiatry, and shows how unbearable the stresses of counseling one victim after the next can be. Nearly every episode this season gets a "10" from me; the series is a modern morality play, very very somber, but oddly more inspiring than, or equally inspiring as, a religious sermon, because of how it shows that no one escapes the darkness.
Chance: The Flitcraft Parable (2017)
Best Episode of "Chance" Yet (SPOILERS)
I was ready to give up on "Chance" after its lackluster debut. Ethan Suplee's overwrought character was beginning to wear thin, and D owned the Season 2 premiere. Wow, am I glad I watched--and watched again--episodes two and three. This third episode is one of the most tightly scripted, well-edited, suspenseful--and even comical--of the series. Everyone changes in this episode...and yet nothing changes. I hate it when television series or movies refer to outside sources that viewers have no reason to and should not be required to understand. Nevertheless, this episode's pretentious title, "The Flitcraft Parable," a story-within-a-story of Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon," explains exactly why episode 3 is so great. "The Flitcraft Parable" is a curious segue by Hammett in "The Maltese Falcon" to a parable about a rich man who deserts his life, his wife, his golf clubs...just to move to another town and start another life, marry another wife, and get more golf clubs. The significance to "Chance" here probably, or possibly: everything changes for him when he's nearly creamed by a city bus, realizes he almost died...but then immediately returns to his risk-taking new life with the psycho-du-jour, Winter, and the quite possibly even more psychotic Kevin Hynes. There's a bit of breaking the fourth wall in episode 3. For example, Hynes turns off D's death-metal in a car ride during which he, D, and Chance become three inept musketeers; and Hynes asks how long he has to listen to this crap. The subplot with Chance's daughter isn't at all annoying, despite the actress' uncanny resemblance to the similarly troubled daughter in "Homeland." (It's as if all troubled teenage girls have to have naturally curly hair, slightly pug faces, and look nothing like their parents.) But she too has a "Flitcraft Parable" story arc: she first appeared last year as a very troubled kid who inherited her father's mental illness, and she definitely ends the episode the same way. So much development occurs within her--yet it's all for naught when she does something very foolish in a situation D has meddled in. No matter. All the strands of the story tie together so effortlessly-- more than any, Hynes' increasingly mysterious motives in going after Winter. A careful viewing of the episode will NOT make it clear who the bad guy really is. The best and most touching line of the episode comes at the end, when a new character tells D the reason for a non- reaction to finding D in a place where he most certainly doesn't belong: "You didn't look scary." D is stunned. It's important that psychos don't rule this series; and Winter is already cliché and boring. The great thing about episode 3 is that, unlike Gretchen Mol in last year's "Chance," the script doesn't make too much at all of Winter. If you don't think Season 2 isn't better than Season 1 already-- Well, you're not watching the same show I am. "Chance" is fantastic.
Non élucidé (2008)
Possibly the Best True-Crime Series Ever Produced
First: "Non-Elucide" is available on Youtube only in un-subtitled French. You'll have to understand the language to watch it. I truly feel sorry for anyone who doesn't have that opportunity, because-- dear God--this series combines theatrical-film-quality thriller production values and scripting, and first-rate, "Sherlock"-style graphics, with gut-wrenching stories of some of the most notorious crimes in recent French history.
Arnaud Poivre d'Arvor, the series "presenter," is a cerebral and sincere host. In the most terrifying episodes of Non-Elucide, you can see how moved he and Jean-Marc Bloch are by the murders they discuss. I began watching when I learned of the John List-style murder (and how!) of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnes. Dear dear dear... This episode alone will bring tears of fear to your eyes and a lump of sorrow to your throat. But so will many others: the small-hours rest-stop murder of the young father executed while the lot was full of eighteen-wheelers and his two little boys waited for him to return; the strikingly similar massacre not far away of the visiting Middle Eastern family in Haute Savoie; the dismemberment of the near-elderly female pensioner near the Belgian border; and--absolutely--the eerie killing in an affluent country town near Lyon of a young female student whose family does not seem at all forthcoming in their knowledge of how she was stabbed to death.
The "cinematography," if you can use that word properly to describe a television series, is perfect. The vision of France the producers work so hard to evoke is the France we all dreamed of pre-European Union and terrorist attacks. We see only the most beautiful streets, country lanes, and mountain ranges--all almost always emptied of people and very frequently lit theatrically and filmed after dark. The dramatic effort shouldn't offend social justice folk. France as we know it is in danger of dying; and Non Elucide wants it to stay alive. A petition to keep the show on the air fell short of 5,000 signatures required by France 2. This is a shame. In June, 2017, the saddest case of all-- the notorious 32-year-old case of "Petit Gregory"--still unresolved-- came back to French television with Poivre d'Arvor doing an update. This unbearable case of a child murder might be on the verge of being solved, and France 2 respected it enough to let Non Elucide do an update.
Oh, how I miss this show, about crimes in a country I haven't been to in thirty years. You know a show is good when it makes you care about people you *know* you don't stand a chance of ever meeting or doing anything to help achieve justice. That's how good Non Elucide is. If you can understand spoken French, DO NOT MISS Non Elucide.
And France 2, if you're reading this-- Please bring it back!
Brilliant Film Not Really About Cats at All
I gave "Kedi" a 10 rating on IMDb. In the early 2000's, the most spiritual film arguably was "March of the Penguins," about eccentric mating rituals but much more about the holiness of life and the will to live among eccentric wild animals. The *exact* is true, but in much more human-friendly terms, about "Kedi." "Variety" calls this film "graceful," which its lovely (xylophone?) soundtrack emphasizes. "Kedi" is urban, fast-paced, and deceptively lighthearted--deceptively because "Kedi" is about the universal need humans have to care for animal life. The narratives the various street cats' food- and love-providers give offer insights into the needs of humans much more than the needs of the cats. One man in particular, who wanders each day feeding the cats with sacks of food, explains bluntly that he suffered a nervous breakdown fifteen years ago, and that the only thing that raised him out of his depression was taking care of the strays, and that, in this discipline, he found meaning and happiness. A constant refrain that all the food- and love-givers repeat is that without the ability to love animals, we do not have the ability love one another.
"Kedi" raises some questions the producers leave unanswered. A few of the human "supporting cast" bring up the matter of neutering, but at least this viewer was mildly stunned by the lack of concern in general for the cat overpopulation. (I'd have donated instantly to an international or domestic U.S. Go Fund Me account!) The film also repeats how urbanization is destroying the seaside lands the cats depend on for survival--and no one addresses any animal rights group's efforts to step in and help. The irony is how the film's impact is all the stronger for its total silence on controversial topics, because in the end, "Kedi" is just about love. As "March of the Penguins" was about the will to live, "Kedi" is about love, pure and simple, from the ginger mother cat's odd adaptation to hunting-and-gathering for her kittens back in a stairwell, to the older folks for whom the cats are a reason for living and armor against loneliness, we see the innate and complex human and feline need for one another. Another, and maybe the most potent, message of the film is that keeping domestic animals as pets is in the end unworkable. Many of the people interviewed say that cats do not belong indoors, and that being kept indoors changes and even destroys a cat's nature. Whether a viewer holds deep opinions on this increasingly widely held but controversial subject is yet another of the themes "Kedi" stays as silent on as the cats who star in it. Finally, "Kedi" interviews a charming Muslim who tells how as a boy he and his brother planted Christian crosses on the graves of cats that died and that they gave proper burials to; and how their father was infuriated that they would convert to Christianity as a result of their little rituals. And then the young man says what will make everyone cry: he could not have survived to adulthood without his love of the street cats. That's about as primal a statement about our shared humanity as you'll see in this year of a world increasingly divided by religious and political strife.
"Kedi" is about YOU. It's about your response to neediness, to vulnerable innocence, and to the universal truth that the only thing the world really needs is love. "Kedi" may have human competition for best film of 2017; for me, it will be the Best Film of the Decade.
The Whole Truth (2016)
Fantastic, Believable Legal Thriller--Significant Spoilers
I watch every legal thriller I can find not adapted from some mass- producing legal thriller novelist. I thought I'd seen every narrative trick in the book in this genre. "The Whole Truth" has a surprise ending, but long before the "whole truth" is revealed, I decided it is hands-down one of the best I've ever seen.
Why? Although this film is set in Louisiana, there's no clichéd southern "down-home" scenes or premise, such as in Downey/Duvall's "The Judge." No legal coup de grace such as in "Primal Fear" or "The Verdict." No lawyer-as-superman. Instead, we have boring, bad, mundane, even sickening characters and undeveloped subplots. In other words, "The Whole Truth" feels so true to life, by the third act, your heart's pounding and adrenaline's rushing...although absolutely no character in this film is special.
Keanu Reeves delivers a performance most reviewers have panned. He's so boring in the lead role of a defense attorney known only as "Ramsey" that you start off thinking, Holy Moses, how did this actor get where he is. And then slowly, very slowly, your heart pounds and adrenaline rushes because he's as much of a legal snake as Marty Vail ("Primal Fear"). He's doing EXACTLY what he describes when he tells his newbie second-chair, Janelle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) how Mohammed Ali won the fight with Joe Frazier. Ali was the "dope on the rope," conserving his strength for the last round. Janelle is a very quick learner—as boring as every other character in this film--but so there when he needs her.
Ramsey does voice-overs throughout the film, another thing panned by critics. Why should the voice-over be panned? Harrison Ford did voice-overs in "Presumed Innocent," although that film is has fallen into disdain these days as being too much in the 90's legal grand guignol tradition. You won't hear any Edward Norton-style "M-M-M-Mr. Vail? Marty?" in this spare new movie. The voice-overs serve as a plot device that turns out ingenious and integral to the audience's like- -or dislike--of Reeve's jaded, lazy self. He his hired to represent for capital murder Mike (Gabriel Basso), the young, privileged son of a former colleague (Jim Belushi). "All witnesses lie," Ramsey says several times. That's all he seems to care about, in fact. When, right before the verdict is read, Mike leans toward him and whispers cynically, "Appeal?" We think, This is just how poor representation by a mediocre lawyer goes. That impression is wrong.
Renee Zellweger plays Loretta, the wife of Boone (Belushi). She is a horribly abused wife, abused in every way. It's no stretch of imagination to think her son, apparently hers and Boone's only child, is in the jam he's in because a son of the South could endure his mother's abuse only so long. Zellweger is fantastic in her role, pitiful and soulless all at once. That a neighbor boy has a crush on her is believable, because she has the undeveloped character of a preteen.
So when two third-act shocks come, one involving Mike, the other, Janelle and a stewardess (Nicole Barre), you can't take your eyes from the screen. The scene between Janelle and the stewardess is unquestionably the film's high-point...as it should be. Neither is a person of importance to the plot, just as in a real- life courtroom, testimony or witness-stand shocks often come from people whose fates don't depend on the trial's outcome. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is not only a stunning actress, she is Reeves' kind, underplaying a role that at first seems as if it will be the one that will tilt the believability meter. (Janelle has a Rich Daddy we thankfully never get to meet.)
"The Whole Truth" is an ensemble effort that by not going for the big legal drama deal, succeeds in being exactly that. Enjoy 80's and 90's courtroom melodramas; they were great in their day. But don't trust reviews of this film. Hopefully, "The Whole Truth" will mark the re-emergence of the legal thriller as a genre recently neglected. A very significant character at the end screams, "What now?" after the best verdict possible is read. And you just know that that's from real life.
Mr. Holmes (2015)
One of the Best-Written Films of 2015
This review contains Spoilers because I suspect other viewers may, as I did, begin this slow-moving, deceptively disjointed, seemingly undramatic film...and, on first try, give up because it's "depressing" and about a genius losing his memory. Is he really losing his memory? That treacly old song from the 70's says, "what's too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget."
Sherlock Holmes in advanced old age, after the end of World War II, travels by train to a stunning country house he has maintained (we learn) for thirty-five years, after renouncing the profession of detective for that of apparently--none. He has been and still is profoundly interested in bees, and he keeps and tends bees at the country home. There, Mrs. Munro and her young son Roger (Laura Linney and Milo Parker) look after the home. Mrs. Munro is one of those dangerous people whose very bitter life experiences have left passionate about duty and routine, but less observant of the demands of kindness. Not a stern woman, and certainly never cruel, she is nevertheless mean-spirited, especially when two things happen: her adorable son (Milo Parker has a big career ahead of him) quickly shows aptitude for beekeeping and innate, aristocratic sensitivity to her boss; and, second, Holmes makes the brutal remark to her that it often happens that "extraordinary children are often the product of unremarkable parents."
Luckily, "Mr. Holmes" is no repetition of either PBS' "Sherlock," or "Elementary," or the Robert Downey films. It does not exhaust the viewer with its hero's cruel wit. Except for this early and miserable slight, Ian McKellen gives a tour de force performance as a frightened, sometimes terrified, old man whose reason for living eludes but haunts him. It haunts him in the image of a Roaring Twenties-dressed female, a sad-faced woman whom encroaching dementia makes appear to him as real. But do his hallucinations indicate dementia--or a guilty conscience?
The extraordinary thing about this stunningly plotted and meticulously developed script is that it remains so true to the "Sherlock Holmes" of legend, while filling in plot holes in other versions of the fictitious detective's life-- plot holes found even in the books. That plot hole will be addressed in an unforgettable flashback scene and addresses head-on the loneliness of a mind as brilliant as his. Loneliness as a huge part of the human *and* Holmesian condition is described in dialogue you'll find yourself reaching for a pen or stylus to transcribe; it is *that* good.
Between beekeeping, a very private but frantic search for a cure for his "dementia," and the attempt to finish his "first story" (all the others were written by Dr. Watson), Holmes' mundane reliance on young Roger's innocence and idolatry of him as a father-figure becomes something much MUCH more than a cozy story of a grampa learning to be entertained by a kid's zest for life. At stake in "Mr. Holmes" is the redemptive power of love--and by the word "redemption," I mean salvation in a religious sense.
There aren't words to describe how moving, entertaining, and sage this film is. See if it you're old and scared about the future, see it if you're young and scared about the future, see it if you're bitter and scared about the future.
As Roger reminds his 93-year-old BFF, he had a 102-year-old uncle. Holmes characteristically tries to one-up Roger: "Ah, but what are the chances you'll know *two* who live to that age?" To which Roger replies: "I didn't really know the other one all that well."
This film is a revelation in more ways than one.
The Silent Storm (2014)
Effective Realistic Romance SPOILERS
Sometimes a malignant narcissist is just a narcissist--nothing can be done to make him/her interesting. But "The Silent Storm" is an extremely compelling movie set in the mid-twentieth century, on a remote North Sea island losing its population and (one assumes) Presbyterian congregation to the mainland. The few reviews I have seen mention "Breaking the Waves" in comparison, as if any film set on the Scottish coast must resemble that unbearably depressing 90's hit. Rather, this movie calls to mind "Oscar and Lucinda," only minus that film's humor. For those who haven't seen "Oscar and Lucinda," set in Australia: the film stars Ralph Fiennes as another messed-up son of sadistic Calvinism.
Damian Lewis is listed as one of nine executive producers, rather amusingly with one of the Broccoli's, of "Bond" fame. His twisted and abusive character, a minister named Balor McNeil, reminds a female congregant to be grateful for her alcoholic, abusive husband, because "to wish for happiness in this life is arrogance." Balor watches his flock dwindle due to the closing of a never-seen diatomite mine. The Reverend's cruelty is established early, with stereotypical tropes from Victorian literature; and stereotypes don't profit from grand guignol soundtracks. The hideous soundtrack is the real villain of the work and the only thing that marks this as a first directorial effort.
"The Silent Storm" is reminiscent of Benedict Cumberbatch's "Wreckers," too, in that it deals with a tightly-wound man from a post-War striving class. Rage is indistinguishable from religion to Balor; and when he opens a bottle of whiskey, which is often, his "Lord" is a monster. He's married to Aislin, Andrea Riseborough, whose age, though implied to be younger, is inconsequential, as rapid-aging always happens in a marriage to a religious sadist.
We learn very early that Balor somehow rescued Aislin from the sea, although the circumstances of the rescue and his role in it are never made clear. Another reviewer here has mentioned Riseborough's discordant, Eastern European-sounding accent. On first viewing, I too considered this a glaring flaw. On second viewing, I decided that Aislin's hatred of her husband's religion and vague references to an even vaguer past might suggest she is a refugee from Germany. Unfortunately, the most significant problem with "The Silent Storm" is an utter lack of narrative, exposition, or dialogue that fleshes out any of the three leads, but especially Aislin. (My assumption that her Eastern European accent is intentional is merely an assumption.)
Riseborough's expressive face is burdened by carrying too much of the story. No question she's in the situation Ralph Fiennes' violently abused Oscar was in before his escape; she's a free spirit whose collection of herbs has earned her the scorn of the fellow- narcissists who fill Balor's pews and gossip about her. What is inexcusable from the perspective of storytelling is the glossing over by the script of the miscarriage with which the film opens, and Balor's wild grief over this event. He is convinced he is Job, a man for whom the Lord has not divine love, but divine contempt.
Fionn (Ross Anderson), a young man identified as a truant by a do- gooder from the mainland, arrives Providentially (as he should arrive in a film about Calvinism) when Balor is beating Aislin off- screen over her miscarriage. Fionn unfortunately arrives before the island's population all depart for the mainland; he too is the object of post-Sunday service character assassination, as the stereotypical "troubled" and "dangerous" "lad" who'd surely stir up trouble if more people than Balor and Aislin would be around. (It turns out his great "crime" was that he defended himself against a man who was raping him.)
I judge a film by its ability to keep my interest. Certainly the extraordinary beauty of the gloomy island and coast would keep a viewer's interest, but only for so long. "The Silent Storm" doesn't rely on its exteriors. Balor is severely alcoholic, a former sailor whose losses make him more than a little deranged, and he starts to dismantle his "kirk" down to the studs, to transport it (like Ralph Fiennes' less luckier Oscar) to the mainland. His narcissism or indifference to Aislin, the "witch," is strong enough for him to leave her alone on the island during this endeavor rather than to take the young, handsome, strapping Fionn with him. But Aislin and Fionn don't fall into each other's arms the moment they have their own private Idaho; and this is the source of much of the film's meaning and power.
These characters are not interesting. I'm making them sound much more interesting than they are written. The film suffers greatly from sufficient back-story--in whichever ways the director/writer might have chosen to provide back-story: expository dialogue, silent visuals, additional characters. Even if a film is done with minimal financing, there are ways to convey story, and "The Silent Storm" has about as little story as a film can have. (Compare it to the bigger budget "Angels and Insects" or the even older, brilliant "Draughtsman's Contract," to see how story can be crammed into the most claustrophobic "isolated country manor" tale.)
Anyway, neither Balor, Aislin, not Fionn have any past, and, for that reason, they are not distinctive. Was this the filmmaker's point? An Everyman/Everywoman morality play? I don't know. The film has a curious amount of scenes that fade-to- black and disrupt immersion in it. Despite all of this, I never lost interest in the film, not for a second. It is lyrical and talks very quietly to the viewer about strength and convictions formed in the "silence" of its title. It perhaps cheats, trying to satisfy both an audience seeking bleak abusive British period drama as well as an audience of millennials seeking realism. In fact, though, it's this mixture of the mundane, the ugly, and the romantic that make the film work.
Definitely worth seeing.
Best Long-Running True Crime Show, Bar None
I discovered "Disappeared" in 2013 on Netflix. I didn't know what "binge-watching" meant at the time but learned fast. As another reviewer has said, this series is haunting and riveting. No other true crime show--maybe even including beloved Unsolved Mysteries-- comes close.
There are several reasons for its effectiveness. Early seasons had minimal musical background. Intrusive music in true crime shows often overwhelms, rivals, or trivializes stories of heartache and ongoing loss. What little music there is conveys the melancholy and ominousness of the "disappeared's" loved ones' lives. The narration likewise is not melodramatic; the single-camera interviews have often brought me to tears, because parents, siblings, police officers look straight into the camera as if they're appealing to you--and they are.
So many of these stories remain sincere mysteries. Tragically, a few have been solved with the discovery of remains. Fewer have been solved with the surprise reappearance of a person who consciously chose to disappear (and these stories are often as troubling, in their own way, as those of the poor souls whose fates we have to imagine). No matter what the outcome, "Disappeared" somehow has an unmatched sensitivity in approaching an awful subject. It plumbs the psychological background of any given missing person without being prurient or sensational. It is compassionate to those missing people--generally very young--whom the show freely admits never knew a level playing field in life.
I would not recommend that children younger than thirteen watch this show--especially in re-runs or on streaming online "channels." Two stories in particular concern missing children and are among the most disturbing I've ever seen. On the other hand, if I had teenage children, I would make "Disappeared" required viewing. So many of the stories deal with young people trying to rebuild lives ruined by substance abuse, or plain abuse--but who choose to befriend or become lovers of partners whose danger is almost written on their faces.
The word "modest" comes to mind when I think of "Disappeared." I know nothing about the producers or history of the series. All I know is that it has remained my "go-to" streaming crime series; I don't feel like a voyeur watching it. I often watch it and say prayers for the parents, the kid sister, the older brother, the bereaved wife or husband, still waiting for peace in the most awful of circumstances.
Blessings on every one of these folks still waiting, and on those whose worst fears have been realized. "Disappeared" honors victims; it doesn't glorify crime. Do not miss this superb program.
Plot-Driven Thriller That Keeps Your Attention
When I finished this movie, I for some reason thought of 2011's The Ghost Writer and 2007's Michael Clayton.
Unlike The Ghost Writer, but very much like Clayton, Arbitrage's plot is very busy. It could have profited, and how(!), from a longer running-time; and maybe that's the extent of what's wrong with it. The characters for me remained people spouting words; there just wasn't enough exposition of Robert Miller's predicament from the beginning, exposition that would have made the viewer really root for him. The film is more than 1/3 through before the viewer understands the nature of his troubles--in the park bench scene with his daughter. Brit Marling played the most convincing character in the film and was very good, and in that scene, Gere came to life. His business problems were heroic and compelling.
The problem, as with The Ghost Writer, is that exposition takes up so much screen-time that character development never occurs. Unlike Gere's corrupt sex addict killer cop in Internal Affairs, I never had any feeling about who Robert Miller really was. Ewan McGregor's "ghost" might have been intentionally written that way, but this business exec shouldn't have been. The scene where he walks away from the exploding car is right out of Michael Clayton--and *that's* where this film's emotional poverty becomes clearest, or at least became clearest to me. Michael Clayton has got to be the best business-noir of the last twenty-five years, and by the time *he* walks away from an exploding car, we know him, really know him, care deeply about his survival, and feel that he's not at all morally ambiguous but as courageous and principled as a man could be, and becoming exponentially more so. With Gere, we just see a guy escaping a traffic fatality.
The sad thing is that Arbitrage is very good on the level of plot. It's actually perfect and reminiscent of the great legal thrillers of the 90's (Presumed Innocent, Jagged Edge).
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012)
Superb and Better Than Any Recent Historical "Movie-House" Film
I just finished watching this film for the second time--and it is a film with production values equal to anything you could pay to see in a theater. I'm a former Dickens buff who gradually turned my attentions to Wilkie Collins; and what many reviews fail to mention is the extreme likeness between this 2012 adaptation and The Moonstone, the "crossing-over" of Dickens from crowd-pleaser to a man who might just have written one final novel for his own pleasure (as his former friend Collins always seems to have done). There is no shame in the character of John Jasper, something Matthew Rhys reveals with restraint. Rhys is excellent in being his very own doppelganger, to the extent that the viewer wonders if opium actually prevents his Jasper from being even more malignant. He deserves attention at awards' time for his portrayal of the nauseating convergence of guilt and agony.
Ms. Hughes' strength *is* Jasper, whom she knows is a descendant of the striving middle-class hypocrites that Dickens was so good at, beginning with Jonas Chuzzlewit, then (most famously) with Uriah Heep, and--right before The Mystery of Edwin Drood--most menacingly with Bradley Headstone. As another reviewer points out, Rhys' Jasper captures the sexual menace of Headstone in a creepy, truly frightening, way. Of course some of Ms. Hughes' twenty-first century sensibilities are evident in Jasper's open sexual aggression toward Rosa, but the viewer can't help but suspect that this honesty would have been EXACTLY what Dickens would have wanted, if he had lived to finish the work. Years ago, a critic said that the novel had a feel of being written from beyond the grave. It is a palpably autumnal work that can make a reader or viewer wonder if Dickens' death was caused by his inability be as frank about the sexual aggression of his anti-hero as Wilkie Collins never had any trouble being at all.
Hughes has an unerring instinct for what is and isn't Dickensian, including the recurrent--and disturbing--older man/younger woman couple (Crisparkle and Helena), the village idiot politicians, and the cruelty of the class system. This novel is set in a Hardyan place, and so there are no Southwark Nancy's or abused Jo's. Hughes showed a sensitivity to the thematic Dickensian staple--London--by making the character Edwin Drood perhaps more racist and callous than Dickens would have made him, thereby bringing sordid London into the countryside. Freddie Fox' portrayal is a pretty raw portrait of the Dickens' "cad."
Shame, that this movie has not received the media and academic attention it deserves, because this was clearly a labor of love. Bravo--a perfect 10.
Too Young to Be a Dad (2002)
Maybe Best Made-for-TV Movie Ever
This movie is so unusual and so good it actually presents a problem. Since you can only talk about it in superlatives, it'll seem as if you have a political interest in the issue of teen pregnancy. I'm not married, never had kids, am not an activist in this arena on either side of the fence.
I watched it because Paul Dano's performance is mesmerizing...but then so are the performances of everyone in the cast. The script is so true-to-life, it's achingly realistic.
If I could, I'd buy this for a child of either gender who has or is about to reach puberty. More than anything, Too Young to Be a Dad shows the incredibly powerful feelings involved in procreation and how different they are from the incredibly powerful hormones involved in too-youthful premarital sex.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Unusual and Moving Film
One of the reviewers on Rottentomatoes comments on how place-specific this film is (San Francisco). The specificity is just one thing that makes this movie so memorable. I went thinking it would be maudlin and possibly a tearjerker. If anything, it was the opposite. Unusually realistic. Sometimes frantic, like homelessness.
Another Rottentomatoes critic said, astutely, that for a Father-Son film, Smith's character shows remarkably little chumminess with his boy, and that this is what makes the relationship so realistic. The movie is--but isn't--a Horatio Alger story. And (like *another* Rottentomatoes critic says!) there's a European impressionism about it. It's not a "feel good" holiday movie.
Altogether, pretty unforgettable. Just count the scenes where Smith is running.
What We Did That Night (1999)
Couldn't agree more with the first comment. I watched this (apparent) MOW on Lifetime this afternoon not expecting much. Then I was amazed: the plot twists, the MacGuffin (and *how*!), PLUS four character studies better than The Usual Suspects... This is one heck of a film.
The real mystery is what motivates the protagonist's anger--it kept me guessing for two hours. (The most obvious explanation seemed to have to do with some socio-economic deprivation and a "to-be-revealed" relationship between him and the small-town hooker.) Without giving anything away to people who haven't watched it yet, this mystery also had unexpected depths.
Great, great film. Should have had a theatrical release.