Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Love Serenade (1996)
Sisterhood is powerful
This movie comes in cute and goes out really weird. It is one of the best black comedies ever made and one of the finest films to come out of Australia.
Two dorky, love-starved sisters live together in a house in the Aussie backwater town of Sunray. Their lives are thrown into a dither when a hotshot radio DJ moves into the house next door. The DJ, named Ken Sherry, has the personality of a lugubrious bloodhound and is thrice divorced, but the sisters are smitten. He's a celebrity!
One of the sisters, Vicki, is a hairdresser with delusions of tabloid grandeur, and the other, Dimity, is a painfully shy waitress in a forlorn Chinese restaurant with the absurdly grand name Emperor's Palace. The restaurant owner is, on his off hours, a proud nudist (Did I mention this movie is weird?).
When you begin watching, you may think you know where this flick is headed. You don't. Things get stranger and stranger and casual American audiences, seeing familiar sitcom elements unfold, will likely be stunned by the bizarre directions the movie takes.
For those looking for "something else," I cannot recommend this highly enough. Oh, and a terrific Barry White soundtrack.
Bad Fever (2011)
A poor soul
"Bad Fever" is a touching character study of a young man so socially out of touch he is unaware that the stage act he is working up in an effort to become a stand-up comedian is woefully unfunny (Sample joke: Q: Who do you think I saw at the supermarket? A: The workers at the supermarket).
When not at his job at a tree-trimming service, Eddie (Kentucker Audley) wanders alone through rail yards in his hometown of Salt Lake City and tells his jokes into a tape recorder. At home, he tries fitfully to have a conversation with his sourpuss mom. He is the poster child for loneliness.
When he meets Irene (Eleonor Hendricks), a young drifter who hits him up for a pack of cigarettes the instant she meets him, he thinks he now has a girlfriend. But we can see Irene is a hustler who just wants to use him in her peculiar occupation of humiliating men on camera and selling the film to "a guy in Iowa."
How this all plays out is not what you might imagine as the film heads to a poignant climax in a motel room.
This first-time microbudget effort by filmmaker Dustin Guy Defa (Dee-FAY) screened at the Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore over the weekend and Defa and some of his cast and crew were on hand for a discussion with the audience. The shy-seeming writer-director acknowledged there are autobiographic elements in the movie. The title, he said, resulted from a sickness he had while writing the script.
"Bad Fever," which so far has apparently only screened at festivals, deserves to find an audience.
Long Weekend (2008)
Offbeat Aussie horror movie
What to do when your marriage is on the rocks? Go camping!
That's what the attractive couple do in this remake of a Seventies Australian horror flick. Of course, they bring along a pile of expensive camping gear in their expensive SUV. Wouldn't ya know, that includes a spear gun and a scoped rifle. Hmmm.
They are supposed to meet another couple. But on their way to the beach, they get lost and, ignoring all kinds of warnings, drive into a "keep out" forest. But there's a beach! Let's camp here!
Let the bickering begin. Few couples are so in dire need of a divorce as these two. She hates nature. He is tone deaf to her feelings. She sprays insecticide on ant hills. He throws a beer bottle into the ocean and blow it up with his rifle. They have contempt for their natural surroundings. Hmmm.
Things start to happen. Nature's revenge? Oh yes, but in subtle ways that serve to incite their nastiness to each other. What that other family camping a few miles away? And what about the dead dugong (manatee) on the beach? Is it really dead? This is not going to end well.
"The Long Weekend," also known as "Nature's Grave," is a well made and gripping horror flick, especially because most of it is filmed in broad daylight. It has tense set pieces and several jump moments.
Mainly, it is one of a kind, although it borrows from "The Birds." It will keep your attention if you give it a chance.
Banlieue 13 (2004)
By Woo! I mean of course John Woo! But there's also John Carpenter (Escape from New York). And Don Siegel and Walter Hill And a whole host of Hollywood action directors. It's all here in an amazingly condensed 85 minutes of flat-out action.
And I mean flat-out. Not a dull moment. In fact, there's not even a romantic element. The woman to be rescued is a sister, not a lover.
Luc Besson, the main writer, is a name brand to be trusted. He seems to be on a quest to prove the French can make exciting violent thrillers. Which this is.
The main actors are stunt men. And the stunts they perform are, and I hate to use this overused word, but I will, awesome. One shot where our hero flings himself through a transom in an escape actually looks impossible. No CGI was used.
Some people should avoid this movie. That would be those who dislike subtitles. Otherwise, Those who are not hate-French-movies yokels should sit back, pop some popcorn, crack a beer and get ready for fun.
Thriller with a capital T
I give this low-budget indie with no big name cast members 10 stars because it is does exactly what it sets out to do — keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. The pace is relentless, the plot twists keep coming, the music pounds. Shoot outs? Oh yeah.
Two medical students on their way home through Oregon stop at a rural roadhouse to take a nature call. The bar is packed with dancing cheerleaders (there's a cheerleader convention nearby), so why not stay for "just one beer." Before long, there's an altercation in the parking lot, someone gets shot and our boys are on the run in their Mustang, cops in hot pursuit. The stakes keep going up as more and more people get shot. There's even some black humor.
This movie is pure muscle and bone. No fat. There's a quiet interlude when the boys run across a survivalist living in a cabin in the woods, but that's about it. It is almost reckless how tautly edited this movie is. Shot for shot, the climax on a remote bridge is so well shot it ought to be shown in film school.
Plausibility? Not so much. It is full of "It just so happens that ..." moments. So what.
For a pure adrenaline rush, you can't beat "Pressure."
Can an evil act be forgiven?
I loved this movie. "Troubled Water" is a Norwegian film about a young man who inadvertently kills a child in the course of a stupid theft. He serves his time in prison and returns to society to a job as a church organist, a skill he developed in prison. Since this is his home town, he is eventually recognized by the mother of the child he killed. She flips out.
This is the bare bones of a remarkable and suspenseful story that explores the usual elements of guilt, atonement, redemption and possible forgiveness that would be expected.
But it is more than that. The performances bring these themes down to earth. We sympathize with both Thomas, who is both trying to redeem himself but in denial about his guilt, and the mother, who has gone on with her life and has adopted kids and a loving husband only to be confronted unexpectedly with her son's murderer living in her town.
We see the story from both points of view and come to realize neither the young man or the mother fully understands who the other really is. He is seeking normalcy. She thinks he's still dangerous.
When the one-on-one confrontation finally happens, it is absolutely riveting. Rarely has a movie's climax had me on the edge of my seat this way.
To discriminating American viewers, this movie is worth your time, even though you have to read subtitles. It is such a compelling story, I wouldn't be surprised if someone in Hollywood envisions an American remake.
The Pillars of the Earth (2010)
Epic novel brought grandly to the screen
I have read everything Ken Follett has written, but I pretty much had him pegged as a writer of extraordinarily readable suspense potboilers. Better than Stephen King, but no Cormac McCarthy. Then, in 1989 he unveiled "Pillars of the Earth" and I was stunned. Follett gave full rein to his incredibly vivid and compelling storytelling abilities. When I finished I was sad. I could no longer follow the adventures of these heroic and scheming English men and women in the the tumultuous 12th Century, a time of uncertainty over who should be on the throne.
I have now watched the first six episodes (available on Netflix for instant viewing) and am dying to see the final two when they come available. I didn't know what to expect, but I can declare myself fully satisfied.
What worried me most going in was the series was what the tone would be. Follett is a master of grand, operatic gestures. The mini-series captures that.
He also is far from shy about sex, barbarism and vulgarity. There's a scene when the monks put Ellen on trial as a witch that made my jaw drop. No F-bombs, but one startling c**t bomb. The incest theme between William and his mother is not explicitly shown, but very clear.
Occasionally, it's a bit "stagey" and the CGI is good, but not state of the art.
Still, "Pillars" is a triumph of epic storytelling.
Frygtelig lykkelig (2008)
Jim Thompson lives on in Denmark
Few posters here have referenced American crime novelist Jim Thompson, but this is his turf, unquestionably. Small town. Everyone knows everyone. Secrets are buried by the residents. Town has a bad person. The local police force (one man, in this case) get pulled in by the town's sinister past. A murder is covered up. But then there's another, related, murder. Suspicion grows exponentially.
"Terribly Happy" begins with the punishment posting of a Copenhagen cop to a distant village because of something bad he has done (we learn the details later). This village is in the nastiest possible place, Jutland, a part of Denmark that looks like Kansas, but without the corn and loaded with swampy bogs. Really depressing. The cop, Robert (Jakob Cedergren), tries his best to bring professional law enforcement to the town, but is almost immediately in trouble over his head.
This is a town that doesn't cotton to strangers. It doesn't help when the town nympho, an abused wife who is married to the town bully, starts coming on to him. This is the kind of town where if someone talks to someone in public, everyone knows immediately. These are not friendly people and they love to gossip.
"Terribly Happy" works as a primo noir because it is utterly plausible, right down to the bitterly ironic ending. This is an outstanding crime drama.
Never saw anything like this
In a nutshell, well-off Greek parents are trying to raise their children — a 20-something son and two teenage daughters — in complete quarantine from the outside world inside their walled-in homestead. The kids display a naivete so complete that any stimulation from the outside world can have explosive consequences.
Dad brings home a female security guard from the plant he owns to sexually service his son. Soon bizarre ideas about sex, including acting them out, are spreading among the youngsters. They come to think licking each other is an appropriate way to show affection. Then oldest daughter forces the security guard to cough up some VHS cassettes she carries around.
Soon, oldest daughter is quoting lines of dialogue from "Rocky" and "Jaws" (and, hilariously, performing shark attacks on her brother in their pool). Finally, in a jaw dropping dance performed in front of their parents to celebrate their anniversary, while brother plays classical guitar, she does the "Maniac" dance from "Flashdance." This has to be seen to be believed.
This is all done utterly deadpan. Should we be laughing? Maybe not.
I know this review makes the movie sound shallower than it is. I just want to intrigue Americans who otherwise would shun something like this.
Along the way, there are pointed references to totalitarian politics and religious extremism. I am certain North Korea and what has been going on there was an inspiration. If you watch it, don't try to figure it out (though, there's plenty of that on the IMDb discussion boards). Just let it wash over you.
You will not have seen anything like it before.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
"It's OK with me."
I was 23 when I first saw this in a theater. I left scratching my head. I was already an Altman fan, but he seemed the last guy on earth that would adapt Raymond Chandler. Elliott Gould, known mostly at the time as a comic actor, as Phillip Marlowe? That was like replacing Bruce Willis with Steve Carell in a "Die Hard" movie.
Watching it now, I see how much I missed watching it as a callow youth.
Gould/Altman decided to portray Marlowe as a man out of time. From the dim alleys and sleazy nightclubs of Bogart-era Chandler, was are transported into sun-drenched SoCal. Everyone's dressed for the beach or a patio party. Marlowe's in a black suit. People are drinking, but Marlowe has a perpetual cigarette in his mouth. He twitches and mumbles. His neighbors are a gaggle of cute girls who are usually topless. Except when he needs their help finding his cat, he ignores them.
Tough "knight errant" Marlowe has a cat? Oh yes. In fact, the entire first ten minutes of the movie are devoted to him and his cat as he goes on a middle-of-the night quest to a supermarket for cat food. He can't find the brand his cat likes, so he buys another brand, brings it home, shuts his cat out of the kitchen, transfers to cat food to an empty can of the kind the cat likes, lets the cat into the kitchen, shows it the label on the can and dishes it out. The cat turns up its nose and ends up running away.
Why is this scene in a detective movie? It shows the length he will go to take care of someone (or some cat) he cares about, even though he ends up betrayed. And that's the bottom line on Marlowe.
He's a man of deep integrity, plain and simple. That is why, handed a case, he can stroll blithely through all kinds of corruption, vanity, stupidity, sadism and treachery with total equanimity. "It's OK with me," is his constant refrain. It simply doesn't rub off on him.
The entire cast is superb. Sterling Hayden roars his way through the movie as an alcoholic Hemingwayesque writer. Henry Gibson is a sleazy doctor. Nina Van Pallandt is the glamour, floating around in billowing clothes. Marty Rydell is a gangster boss who has the second most shocking scene in the movie when he uses his meek girlfriend to demonstrate to Marlowe what he is capable of.
Marlowe himself has the most shocking scene, at the end, when he delivers justice. His final moment on camera, a long shot on a cheerful moment, reveals that we didn't really understand this guy at all.
Classic noir. Classic '70s cinema. Classic Altman.
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Annette Bening is brilliant
The performances in this movie are all fine, but Annette Bening, in particular, delivers a tour de force, perhaps the best of her acting career. She clearly has never had cosmetic surgery and fearlessly lets the seams show in a movie that makes constant use of close-ups. It's fair to say she even lets herself look a little older than her 52 years. As far as I could see, Bening and her co-star, Julianne Moore, are not even wearing make-up during the movie. I never knew Moore is covered in freckles.
"The Kids are All Right" depicts a family that goes into crisis because of adultery. It also has some funny elements. Bening is Nic, a hard-drinking doctor and the family breadwinner. Moore is Jules, her gay partner, who is trying to start a landscaping business. Their two teenagers, on the sly, contact the sperm donor they have never met who is biological father to both of them. He turns out to be Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo, owner of a small, organic foods restaurant. Eventually, he comes to be a family friend, and, eventually, more than that.
This is the kind of movie containing scenes you want to discuss after. The "Joni Mitchell" scene at the dinner table. Nic forcing a confession out of Jules. Jules shutting off the TV and delivering her apology (this is really Nic's scene as she lets the depths of her heartbreak finally show).
Having praised the praiseworthy elements in "Kids," I want to discuss the flaws. The movie so wants to be NOT about lesbian parenthood, but about a southern California family whose parents happen to be lesbians. It does not want to be a gimmick movie. If that is so, then the movie's plot should be able to work equally well if the parents were man and woman, and it could, even with the sperm donor angle. But would you plunk down $10 to see that movie? Think about it.
Also, the movie works the diversity angle too hard. Not only do we have gay parenthood, we have not one, but two, interracial romance angles going on. Paul's longtime girlfriend Tanya is not only a dark African-American beauty, but she wears African jewelry and sports a large afro hairdo. I half expected her to turn up in a dashiki. Daughter Joni has a major crush on a handsome fellow student who is of Indian or Pakistani descent and, at a party, gets drunk and plants a big sloppy kiss on him. See folks, white-skinned people can be drawn to dark- skinned people. Especially if they are beautiful.
A scene that bothered me showed Paul watching Jules work in his garden. She is squatting and he can see she is wearing a thong. Would a woman who is a professional landscaper and is dressed for a day spent squatting in the dirt also wear a thong? Aren't thongs a tad uncomfortable?
Oh, and Paul is not only a male, he is a MALE. Though he is a fine actor, one is tempted to think Ruffalo was hired because of how hairy he is. He's tanned, muscular and barrel- chested. Rides a motorcycle. And when Jules pulls his pants down the first time, her eyes widen in appreciation. There's even some mild S&M in the sex scenes. Here, no doubt, is the source of the complaints by many in the gay community that the movie carries a subtext that if a lesbian could find a real manly man, she would go straight. The movie could have gone on to show that Jules discovers she is bisexual with a preference for women, but it does not. She simply made an inexplicable "bad choice."
Finally, the sex scenes are pure Hollywood R. You know what I mean -- non-explicit explicit. After sex, the bed is covered with that special sheet that comes up to the man's waist, but up to the woman's armpits.
"The Kids are All Right" is trying hard to be "organic." But it comes off as somewhat synthetic.
Two New York actors tear it up
Maura Tierney plays a tough New York cop with a secret life — she drinks too much and, though married, has a secret lover who burns her with cigarettes.
Adrien Brody plays a sick pup of a kidnapper who has grabbed a middle-aged socialite and put her in an airless underground box to speed up the ransom. Oh, and he thinks he's some kind of reincarnation of Harry Houdini.
Thus begins "Oxygen," a low budget made-for-Cinemax thriller that, I think, far exceeds expectations. First of all, Tierney, who very much reminds me of Lily Taylor, and Brody, who is impossibly young here, don't just chew up the scenery. They own this movie and make it their b*tch.
At first, I was worried the movie would cave and ....
... reveal that the husband was in on the snatch. Not.
END OF SPOILER
This movie has bigger fish to fry and I was totally gratified that it went down dark places where cop and kidnapper realized that, on some level, they shared certain things. The two have a late scene in an interrogation room where they deliver volcanic performances.
But once this psycho-thriller stuff is set aside, the movie comes to a swift ending. But right up to the end, you cannot predict what's coming next. Magicians, like Houdini, have things up their sleeve.
Some terrific set pieces include a foot chase through a subway train in Steadi-Cam and a car chase in downtown NYC that is, though modest by "French Connection" standards, is still pretty ill.
And, of course, there's the gritty and atmospheric NYC backdrop. The Twin Towers still stood tall when this came out in 1999.
Males, from teen to adulthood
Male teens grow up wanting to see bare boobs. Then they want to see the other things. Then they want to touch those things. We all know what they want after that.
And, meanwhile, men preen, they brag, they lie and they pretend. They can and do embarrass and humiliate girls. Men fail to pick up on serious clues from girls that could reward them in a big way.
Men are so lost.
Oh, but what if you can freeze time and take girls' clothes off. But that's about two minutes of the movie. If you want that, you'll get short shrift.
This gives us writer/director Sean Ellis' snapshot of young British men and women who are connecting on every possible level, good and bad. meaningful and stupid, but mostly for naught because ... well because they are young and stupid.
If your heart was ever broken before your heart was even ready to be seriously broken, chances are you will see it here.
This is, bottom line, the portrait of the artist as a young British man. Trying to deal with women, he stumbles through the whole movie in a state of confusion.
Finally, at the end, he's figuring things out.
We are so there with him.
Shotgun Stories (2007)
Brothers vs. brothers
Southern American culture is rich in storytelling tradition and part of that is the story of the blood feud. But Shotgun Stories is not about those ancient yokels, the Hatfields and the McCoys, but contemporary families in rural Arkansas.
One father, two wives. Two sets of sons. With first wife, father was an alcoholic ne'er to do well who abused his wife. The boys by this wife are poor. He cleaned up his act when he ran off with this second wife and became a farmer. The sons by this wife are middle class. The sets of sons hate each other.
The father dies. At his funeral, his first set of sons shows up, brazenly unkempt to spite the well-dressed second set of sons. The oldest makes a speech condemning the father for abandoning them, then spits on the casket. A fist fight breaks out. Vengeance is sworn.
And so the movie begins. And blood is shed.
The information above about family history does not emerge all at once. Bits are doled out as we get to know the Hayes family, the sons, their wives and girlfriends, friends (some, like Shampoo, disreputable) and their children. An often unmoving camera fixes on the details on these young men's lives, especially the older ones, Son, Kid and Boy (Yes, that's their names).
Just about everybody in the movie has known each other since childhood.
This is not a fast-paced movie, but the tension builds to almost unbearable levels as retribution leads to worse retribution. Interestingly, the most serious violence occurs off camera.
Eventually, a peacemaker emerges in a most unlikely (but maybe not) persona.
Shotgun Stories is the kind of movie film festival goers adore. Low budget. Unknown actors. Local color. Rich dialogue. Evocative cinematography.
If that's not your bag, stay away. But if it intrigues you, check this out.
Ridiculous but fun
Russian spies? How retro. How old school. Ha ha.
Oh, wait, didn't they arrest a bunch recently?
Lots of potential in rebooting the old Cold War Paranoia trope. "Salt" mostly squanders that potential to be a flat-out car-crash and punch-out actioner. Nothing wrong with that. Pass the popcorn.
Posts here reference the Bourne and Bond movies in describing "Salt," but the movie it reminded me most of is "The Fugitive." "Salt" is one long improbable chase as our CIA agent protagonist Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) runs around Washington and New York trying to clear her name and prevent the assassination of the Russian president, who's in town to attend the funeral of the American vice president.
The entire movie is a series of escape set pieces. Her escape from the CIA office. The chase on foot through the streets of D.C. The escape from her apartment. Inside the cathedral during the funeral. Her escape after being arrested. Her escape from the barge. And, finally, her escape from the helicopter.
The movie delays letting on whether Salt is a goodie or a baddie. I was not fooled. For all the cops, Secret Service, CIA, FBI, etc., she took on — beating them up, breaking their bones, knocking them unconscious, shooting them in the arm — she never kills a single one. What does that tell you?
BTW, how did she get out of that interrogation room in the beginning?
A franchise being set up and I think we can anticipate the return of Evelyn Salt, a new movie avenger against a team of men and women trained from childhood, in a secret compound in Russia, to become CIA agents. At the same time, Salt will remain a hunted woman in America. I anticipate the moment in the next film when she tells her boss over the phone, "You look tired. Why don't you get some rest."
On display here is one of Hollywood's newest action gimmicks -- Salt is coming at a guy to deliver a punch, but first she runs up the wall.
The franchise needs a thrilling theme song, something like the Bourne movies' "Extreme Ways" by Moby.
I would have given this 6 instead of 7 stars, but the movie contains the wildest strangulation scene in the history of cinema.
Breathtaking masterpiece or $500 wallet?
I'm gonna go with the former, although something in my brain pan keeps coming back to the movie's casual mention (twice) that the rich and powerful central figure who is the target of Cobb's team of dream invaders carries a $500 wallet. Who would pay that much for a wallet? I mean, what could a wallet have that would make it worth that much? I couldn't shake this question about money foolishly spent.
Watching this, admittedly, amazingly entertaining but absurdly complicated movie does make you stop and say, "Wait a minute, I want to see the flow chart." Plot points race past at breakneck speed. Do they go down three or four dream levels? Why did Leo inception his wife? Was the eroding seashore city limbo? Why were they all tied together and floating in the elevator? How did Cobb "betray" the team with memories of his wife?
Perhaps repeat viewings will make all this clear. If anything, Inception is a movie that will have audiences back for a second viewing to try and clear things up.
In a word, Inception is a movie that has its way with you. You are helpless in its clutches. A freight train crashing through rush hour traffic? Check. Siege of a mountain fortress with avalanche thrown in for good measure? Check. Paris folds in on top of itself? Check. Volcanic Hans Zimmer soundtrack? Check.
Oh, and machine gun warfare. Lots of machine gun warfare.
And then there's that hotel hallway fight. Whoa. One for the books.
Flirting with Disaster (1996)
Extraordinary screwball comedy
I submit there is never a single non-funny minute in this masterpiece of screwball comedy. How in heaven's name were these actors able to keep a straight face making this? Tea Leoni, especially, greets each new disaster with insincere mortification so effectively that it is the movie's best running gag.
To recap, Ben Stiller is a husband, new father and adopted son of archetypely loud and quarrelsome Jewish New York parents George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore. Ben wants to find his "roots," i.e., birth parents. He has enlisted the help of adoption case worker Tea Leoni, whose somber professional manner conceals incompetence of colossal proportions.
So begins a road movie as Ben, Tea and Ben's wife, played by a physically lush Patricia Arquette, and their baby set out on the quest, which seems simple at first. What they are actually plunging into is an incredibly complicated unfolding of an adopted child's real history.
There's no point in going into the plot in more depth. Suffice it to say that no sooner does one set of crazy people, all of whom seem perfectly normal at first, exit the movie than a new set of crazy people pops up.
Favorite scene? I'd have to say LSD "guide" Lilly Tomlin trying to talk down an LSD-lit-up Richard Jenkins. The destruction of the post office comes in a close second. Oh, but wait, there's the armpit-licking scene. And ... I give up.
David O. Russell, the writer/director, take a bow.
The Vicious Kind (2009)
Every girl with a strong sexual urge is a sucker for a bad boy
Is the above true? Tell us, girls. In any case, that's what this movie is about. I think it tells a basic truth about male-female relatonships. Some girls gravitate to stability and safety. Others gravitate toward danger, instability and chaos. The symbol in the movie is who smokes and who doesn't.
The plot of this movie is simple. Total mysogynistic asshole prick of a guy falls passionately in love with his virginal younger brother's new girlfriend. After some conflict, she clicks with what big brother wants. She is not so virginal. Lust rears its head. Little brother has no clue what is going on behind his back. Maybe big brother has some redeeming qualities. Or is he just a opportunistic jerk.
Caleb, the older brother, who is the focus of the whole movie, finds that deep within himself are some noble motives that surprise even him. The movie, which could have plowed through some nasty melodrama, ends on grace notes. A single tear during a scene at the end speaks volumes. I'm a sucker for offbeat stories of love and heartbreak and this is one of the best.
Oh, and J.K. Simmons is in this movie.
From melodrama to touchy-feely
This movie so wants to be an epic drama about the failure of terrorism to stifle the human spirit in the face of mankind's determination to ... uh ... have more babies and ... uh, make uplifting music and, uh .... babies' cries drown out hate and ... uh ....
I don't want to mock this well intentioned movie too much. For one thing, Michelle Williams delivers a ferocious performance as a wife and mother whose grief will not be denied.
Williams is simply "young mother." She has a boy toddler and a husband on the police bomb squad who comes home exhausted every night and falls asleep in front of the TV watching his soccer team, Arsenal.
One night, she tucks hubby in on the couch and goes down to the local pub. There, she meets a reporter and they click. She is sex starved. They have sex.
Next day, hubby takes the boy to the stadium for an Arsenal game, giving "young mother" an opportunity for another liaison with reporter. The two liaise, and are well into sex with the TV on the Arsenal game when a terrorist bomb explodes in the stadium, killing thousands, including her husband and boy.
She races to the scene. Debris falls on top of her. She wakes up in the hospital covered in lacerations. As she heals, and gets out of the hospital, she goes on a quest. She is consumed with rage and guilt.
This is an incredibly good scenario to begin a movie and it has a powerful actress to carry it forward, but somewhere along the way it decides it does not want to be a thriller or a melodrama or even a conventional drama, but an inspirational Hallmarkian story about the triumph of love.
OK, maybe the cries of a newborn English baby will drown out the rants of mad dog jihadists. Or, perhaps, political issues are involved. Hmmm.
Approach this as an absurdly contrived, violent stretch of black comedy, and you will have a great time. It also matters a lot that Hilary Swank is in it (she also co-produced), because she gives a performance as a high-strung, braces-wearing convenience store clerk that is nothing short of wonderful.
11:14 very much recalls 1999's Go, which also featured teenagers getting into trouble using a fractured narrative. Any one who has seen one of these and enjoyed it, definitely check out the other.
As it opens, a guy is driving into the town of Middleton (the slogan on the sign says, insipidly, "A Happy Place to Live!"). He's drunk, there's a crash and then there's a dead man lying by the road. He panics and tries to get rid of the body. A police car pulls up. And the fun begins.
As events unfold, we see five separate story threads along a fractured timeline. We meet three teenage yahoos driving recklessly in a van, a worried mother and father and their ripe and trashy teenage daughter, and boy and girl (Swank) convenience store clerks named Duffy and Buzzy. These people are out on the night streets of this sleepy burg (all the action in the movie happens within several blocks) and they frequently cross each other's paths on their way to a common destiny that happens at 11:14.
The highlight of the movie is definitely when Buzzy (Swank) comes across Duffy's revolver and begins fooling around with it, jumping around the store in her own little action movie. Then, the scene featuring Duffy, Buzzy and gunfire is hilarious.
Finally, the cemetery hook-up between Cheri and her boyfriend is a big laugh coming down the highway because we've already seen the puzzling outcome, and now we get to see how something so ridiculous could possibly happen.
All good things to Greg Marcks, the young writer-director. Interested to see what he does next.
Oh, and steer clear of Middleton, especially at night. The people there are crazy.
En la cama (2005)
A man, a woman, a bed
"En La Cama" (In Bed) opens to the sound of passionate sex. The camera seems to be under the sheets and that's mostly what we see, though we get a glimpse of a thigh here, a breast there. There's a climax and the camera pulls back to show the couple, lying backs to each other, catching their breath.
Meet Bruno and Daniela, both attractive and probably affluent young Chileans (we learn he's in grad school). They just met for the first time earlier in the evening and bopped off to have a casual one-night stand in a motel room, where they are now and remain for the entire movie. They don't even know each other's names yet and, so, they start to get acquainted.
It all starts out playful. They tease each other. They talk about former lovers. He explains an absurd theory he has about how everyone has one of three personalities defined by what kind of movies one likes. She shows off her appendectomy scar. They smoke. They get horny and make love again.
Then things get more serious. They fight when he accidentally calls her by the name of a former girlfriend. Secrets come out. She cries. More revelations. They peek in each other's wallets while the other is in the bathroom. They try to go to sleep, but end up talking some more. They can't stop looking at each other. As the hours approach dawn, it becomes apparent these two are falling in love, but because of off-screen circumstances, there doesn't appear to be any future they can share. Finally, each of them reveals a secret not only heartbreaking, but unnerving. They fall into a passionate but non-erotic embrace. The end.
I watched this as an insta-view on Netflix and found it completely absorbing. But then I'm the kind of film goer who seeks out these offbeat gems.
Some posts here suggest the actors, Blanca Lewin as Daniela and Gonzalo Valenzuela as Bruna, spend most of the movie in the nude. Not so. Most of the time he's in boxers and she's in a camisole and panties. Valenzuela does a creditable job as the somewhat hangdog Bruno, but it is Lewin who makes this movie work. She has big, expressive eyes, but it is her full, generous mouth set into a kind of rueful smirk that we are drawn to.
As to the sex, it is erotic, but far from graphic. There's little on view here you wouldn't see in a steamy American thriller. It's about two people who connect on a deep emotional level in one night. Sex is just the calling card.
Two Lovers (2008)
Sweet brunette or dangerous blonde?
Two Lovers contains, in my humble/exalted opinion, the finest performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow in their careers. This is a small, closely observed romantic drama (with some humorous undertones) about people who live in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Meet Leonard (Phoenix). He's a classic lost soul. He's a lonely, depressed Jewish bachelor who has returned to his boyhood room in his parent's apartment after a relationship that ended disastrously. His family worries about him, especially his mother, played brilliantly by Isabella Rossellini, who plays totally against archetype as a Jewish mother who cares, but refuses to intrude. She has a scene near the end with her son on the apartment staircase that is revelatory.
Close friends with Leonard's family is another Jewish family with a beautiful and sweet daughter, Sandra (Vanissa Shaw). She has been attracted to Leonard from afar for a while and engineers a meet with him. It's shows a lot about her that when she meets Leonard she instantly confesses this. She knows what she wants and she wants Leonard. She is adorable and ought to be his soulmate.
Gosh, you might say, this is all very nice, but (yawn) I've got to go empty the crumb drawer of my toaster.
Then a hand grenade with the pin pulled rolls into the movie in the person of Gwyneth Paltrow, as Michelle . Volatile blond shiksa neighbor! Sexy club-goer! Does drugs! Tormented from having affair with married man! She gloms onto Leonard as the brother-confessor she needs to help her through her drama. Elias Koteas does a nice cameo turn as the rich married lawyer who is keeping her as his mistress. When he meets Leonard, he enlists him to keep a watch on Michelle's drug use. No one has a clue about Leonard's feelings.
Poor sap, Leonard is totally smitten with Michelle. Head over heels.
What throws enormous tension into this volatile situation is the close-knit Jewish society we see surrounding and embracing Leonard. In a Bar Mitzvah scene, the camera pulls back to the far end of a ballroom so all we can see is a room loaded with joyous, dancing Jews, including Leonard. This is obviously where Leonard belongs.
Yet. Is this where he will be happy?
The last 10 minutes contains some of the finest acting I have ever seen as Leonard permanently settles things with each of the women in turn. There's a scene where Michelle approaches Leonard in a dark alley when you pray, you pray, she will not say what you absolutely know she is about to say.
A hat tip to director James Gray, who loves New York and its denizens as much as I do.
Winter's Bone (2010)
Good film noir, but has a major flaw
Winter's Bone has a stunning performance by newcomer Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, the 17-year-old whose relentless search for her father is the spine of the plot. Unless he turns up, dead or alive, the bond he placed on the house to get out of jail (he's a meth cooker) will default and Ree will lose the house, along with the ability to care for her catatonic mother and two little siblings. Her search is almost entirely among her kin, or what I would call her tribe, as hard-bitten a crew of mountain men and women you're going to find. The ending, set on a lake, is wonderfully Gothic and grisly.
My problem with the movie is what I would call the fetishization of hillbilly culture. The camera dwells a little too lovingly on every sign of hick destitution that can be imagined. I didn't see any snake handlers or toothless women smoking corncob pipes, but here's my checklist of what's in the movie: banjos, rusted refrigerators on front porches, dogs, derelict vehicles in yards, junk everywhere outdoors, dogs, clothes hanging on clotheslines, broken- down sheds, roads with no center stripe, dogs, squirrel huntin' and squirrel guttin', firewood splittin', outdoor livestock butcherin', everyone is armed, dogs, all men are bearded, someone sits on a tire, mountain music jam in someone's living room, serious wrinkles (women included), dogs, lumberjack clothing, deer stew, greasy baseball hats, a burned-out abandoned house and, of course, methamphetamine. Also, do people who are not in John Wayne movies really say "scatter gun" instead of shot gun?
This culture is hardly unique to the Missouri Ozarks. I've seen it in lots of places in the mid- Atlantic, including the coal regions of Pennsylvania and in western Maryland and West Virginia. But wherever you find it, you will also see folks who mow their lawns and keep flowerbeds, who have well-kept vehicles in the driveway and whose yards are free of junk. In other words, poor people who live with dignity. This belongs in the mix and Winter's Bone doesn't show it, no doubt for "artistic" reasons.
Also, a scene at the end in which cash is handed to Ree seemed hokey and out of place. Can't well enough just be left alone??
Kudos for a compelling story, lively dialogue and vivid performances. But there's a bit too much of this "check out these weird backwoods crackers" going on.
Tragic that Jennifer Lawrence's next movie has the potential to crash and burn through no fault of her own.
Serious Moonlight (2009)
MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD. THE ENDING WILL BE REVEALED. YOU ARE WARNED.
Ahem. This clever rom com is virtually a two-character play and most of it transpires in a bathroom. Early on, I began to sense all was not as it seemed. And it's not.
Everything in the movie points to it being a set up by Louise. Let's count the ways --
From the moment she arrived at the house, her whole attitude is fake innocent. Any other woman would be suspicious that her husband had strewn rose petals all over the place, but wasn't expecting his wife.
Lawn boy shows up oh so conveniently just after Louise goes into town for food.
Lawn boy is listening to music on his riding mower and cannot hear hubby's screams for help or banging on the bathroom window. Where does he decide to shut off the mower and remove his head set? Directly beneath the bathroom window.
When Louise returns to the house, her confrontation with lawn boy is entirely off camera. We just see the fishbowl smash and hear her screams and see the alarm on hubby's face. It's all an act by Louise and lawn boy.
When lawn boy drags Louise into the bathroom, apparently unconscious, and tapes her up, the husband begins his long, tearful confession that he really loves her. Supposedly she is knocked out and not hearing it, but the camera shows close ups of her face. She does not look unconscious. It is strongly hinted she is hearing this.
Lawn boy acts all lustful over Louise, even feeling her up when unconscious. Then he turns to hubby and says something like, "How could you not want this?"
If you really want to immobilize someone with duct tape, you tape their hands behind their back, not in front.
Louise has her hands duct taped in front of her. There are broken mirror shards on the floor. Hello?
When husband said he hoped the crooks would not take the heirloom silver set, a red flag went up and I said, they won't. They didn't. What kind of crooks leave behind a chest of silver sitting in plain sight?
And what kind of crooks clean the house of loot, then stick around all night to drink and party? Could it be to give Louise more time with her husband?
The only question is, how did Louise find out about the affair? And how did she know hubby was going to be at the house a day early, preparing to fly to Paris in the morning with his girlfriend? I guess we just have to go along.
As to the final scene, it could have been better. As Louise, her husband and Lawn Boy pass on the street, what if they exchanged knowing glances, but the husband doesn't see and remains clueless. Way cooler, I think.
Bass Ackwards (2010)
Lost and luckless, on the road, in a stupid vehicle
I follow film websites and picked up a film festival buzz about this movie. I spotted it on Fios pay-per-view and said "what the heck." I like micro-budget films if they are original (being from Baltimore, check out our home boy Matthew Porterfield).
That said, this movie enthralled me. In my youth in the 60s and 70s, I spent a certain amount of time on the road. I hitchhiked from Boston to Provincetown almost effortlessly in 1972. I traveled all around the Baltimore/D.C. area on my thumb. I fear those days are over. Not sure why. But I met a lot of interesting people along the way.
Anyway, a lot of those reminiscences came back watching "Bass Ackwards." Linas, our hero, has basically gotten kicked out of Seattle. No one there who he thought he was tight with wants him around anymore. He ends up on an alpaca farm to make a few bucks and the owner is glad to give Linas his rattletrap VW microbus, a ridiculous vehicle in any man's motor pool. Linas hits the road.
Linas' parents are glad to hear he's on the way home to where they live in Boston. But you can tell they are dubious over what he's up to. They definitely do not want him as a permanent boarder.
Bottom line, Linas is leaving nowhere and headed nowhere. All that matters is what happens to him along the way. And interesting things happen. He picks up and befriends a guy with heavy marital baggage. He flirts with a girl he does not know is married and ends up in a punch-out. He runs out of gas and has to do a Christopher Walken imitation in Lithuanian to get the gas he needs (I kid you not).
It's not much of a spoiler to say Linas lands in an intriguing place in NYC and we see the beginnings of his new life. In fact, the movie ends abruptly where you are really curious what come next. Nevermind. He'll be OK.
This is wonderful independent American cinema. And, one of the best American road movies ever made.