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Beating Hearts (2010)
Shocking and Disgusting. Well Made. Lacks Clarity.
In a scant ten minutes, director Matthew Garrett has packed enough realism to horrify almost any viewer. The action is explicit, violent, and bloody. The perpetrators are not whom you might expect.
All technical elements are excellent. And the resolution is believable.
But I'm so irked I could scream at the story's lack of clarity in several regards! A younger character's motivation is only very mildly hinted at. Is it driven by an existing and very disgusting relationship, or is this just wishful thinking by the character? To what extent do religious teachings - suggested by the line "I'll see you soon" - play a role in the motivation? Was an older character's penultimate decision planned all along, or did it arise from fear, or a change of heart? And what will happen with the smallest character?
Each viewer will have to answer those questions for him or herself. To me, that does not represent the best writing and directing. A comment to directors everywhere: Clarity and closure are not crimes, nor do they diminish the quality of your art.
The Grass Is Always Greener
"Horseface" is a bizarre short flick, just as depressing and depraved and amusing as the tangentially themed, feature-length "Men & Chicken," which came along a few years later. But "Horseface" is slightly more pungent because events are not presented as discovered history: they're happening now.
The squalor of the rural farmstead stuns the viewer immediately, raising one's emotional shields, making bearable the subsequent tale of two women reacting differently to a man's attention. You gradually learn what's going on, and you cringe. Outstanding acting and cinematography combine with spot-on costuming and make-up to create a world that completely suspends disbelief.
Unfortunately, part of the story is not as clear as it should be in such a short production: why an off-screen act of apparent violence occurs, whether it's routine, and whether it merely addresses setting and mood or drives some unrequited plot line must be guessed at, and that's distracting. Then the long term consequences of the overall situation are revealed in a genre-switching scene that gets short shrift. A sad final scene ties things together, but (at least as viewed online) the dialog is not recorded clearly. Maybe that's just as well.
I was left wanting a more explicit rationalization of events. That aside, "Horseface" presents the viewer an imaginative take on a train-wreck of human relations. It's worth watching.
Le petit bonhomme vert (2013)
Just what you'd expect from Monsieur Cacti!
"Little Green Man" (Le petit bonhomme vert) is believably acted, nicely filmed, and most importantly, both mildly humorous and somewhat original. Apparently we guys are the same all over!
Mishka is a girl dealing with a problem no thirteen-year-old should have to face. Watching her struggle, with no support from anyone, not even someone to talk with, is heart-rending.
Filmed in Canada with age-appropriate actress Matia Jackett as the lead, "Mishka" shows us excellent acting throughout. The result is a hyper-realistic stark contrast between Mishka's horrible situation and the happy, normal lives of her friends. The uneasy mood is enhanced by restrained dialog between main characters, and the technical production of this short movie is excellent, on a par with any feature-length film.
About the ending, I'll only say that it is believable, but could have used some explanation.
"Mishka" is not even slightly enjoyable, in the usual sense of the word, but it's highly worthwhile.
La Holandesa (2017)
A Portrait of Pain
2017 was a rough year for characters portrayed by Rifka Lodeizen, though she fares better here than in "Verdwijnen." In "Messi and Maud" (La Holandesa), Maud has to face the fact that she will never have children, despite years of trying.
This film does one thing very well, and that is to show her sadness and emotional pain. Maud's frustration comes through clearly; we can weep for her. But contrary to Smarthouse Films' claimed storyline, we don't get an "epic adventure." She is joined by Messi, an inadequately parented boy, and they travel together much of the length of Chile. The landscape is interesting, and there are a few cute moments, but not a great deal happens.
More importantly, though, Maud does not seem to travel "down a road of discovery." She shuts her partner (husband?) out of her life and hardly communicates with him. She gets some experience at caring for and worrying about a child. And her feelings are somewhat clear from her actions, which almost get out of control. But we never learn her thoughts. There are just two lines of dialog that express what she may have learned about herself, and that was totally inadequate. Toward the end of the film, I wondered if the director was trying to show us Maud's frustration at her situation by making the viewer equally frustrated at how little she communicated with anyone, including us.
By comparison, Lodeizen's other 2017 lead role in "Verwijnen", aka "Disappearance", leaves the viewer far more satisfied. I blame the writer and director for "Messi and Maud"s shortcomings in that regard. Receiving no closure, we end up seeing "only" a portrait of pain, not excellent but good enough to arouse some empathy. We're left hoping that Maud eventually will find happiness. More dialogue -- or even monologue -- would have made this a much better film.
A pesar de todo (2019)
As Bland As Flan
"Feel Good" movies don't have to be unbelievable, predictable, and simplistic. But this one is. It's boring. I rarely say that watching even a bad movie was a waste of my time, because even bad movies often have some redeeming feature of interest. This one doesn't; watching it was a waste of time. To make it worthwhile it should have been an hour longer.
Four thirty-ish sisters return to their parents' home in Spain for their mother's funeral. They learn that "Dad" is not their biological father, and are made to jump through hoops to learn which men are, so their Mother's will can be read. More accurately, they're made to casually stroll through one very broad hoop set at ground level with a smooth transition - no trouble at all.
Netflix Media Center's plot description says "discovering more about themselves, their mother, and their lives." Very little discovery takes place. We get only trivial insight into the four sisters' characters as the story starts. We gradually learn only token tidbits about each woman's relationship with Mom. And we learn absolutely nothing about the role played in their lives by the man they had been calling Dad, nor of his relationship with Mom. Who the biological fathers are is telegraphed early and loudly, as are the "insights" the daughters learn about themselves. All that remains is to map Dad A to Daughter 3, and so on, and the film progresses to the inevitable and obvious happy ending.
The trivial plot is carried forth by one-dimensional, stereotyped characters. A couple of the actresses apparently realize they're producing junk and seem not to even try to make it real. Netflix's technical production is excellent, of course. There are a couple of heart-warming moments. But wow, this is fluff. This storyline, to be meaningful, needs more texture and density and much more complexity at both a high and a low level.
Voy a explotar (2008)
Or, Why We Need Gun Control; Lamenting Corruption
Any empathy that a viewer might develop for these two alienated youths quickly dissolves: Roman is just another teen idiot with easy access to guns, and being the son of a wealthy politician, he's uncontrolled and knows no boundaries. Maru thinks Roman's alienation from society gives them a common bond, and they link up when she is emotionally vulnerable, feeling as-yet-unrequited sexual urges. Why either of them is disaffected is never explained. And that seems an intentional and satisfyingly realistic directorial choice, to show unthinking teens making bad choices with no plan, no hope, and no future. Things go poorly, as you might expect.
Both lead characters are well acted; their understated approaches suit the mood and the personas. The supporting cast of "responsible" adults receives much less screen time. The camera work is mostly fine. Too-close close-ups and hand-held views, all so unnecessary and annoying, are short and infrequent. Perhaps one day those fads will go the way of bell-bottoms and mullets or their Mexican equivalents.
The scenario, the characters, and the result of I'm Gonna Explode could play out in any one of many nations. I inferred a particular message, as indicated by my title above; others may experience it differently. It's worth watching once.
Virginia Minnesota (2018)
Almost a Gem
This could have been a masterpiece, and despite one major structural flaw, it's still a powerfully moving, beautiful film.
Being familiar with the locations, I found the North Shore vibe believable, and I thought the portrayal of folks mostly rang true, although one law officer had apparently been indoctrinated a little too deeply with our somewhat aspirational "Minnesota Nice". Other than that, the acting was superb, particularly from leads Aurora Perrineau and Rachel Hendrix. (This is definitely not, by the way, a fantasy story. The only fantasy is recounted in some tall-tale legends.) I chuckled and laughed out loud several times at the comic relief provided by Mister the Robot; kudos to writer Daniel Stine.
We learn that a group of women must return to the now-closed home for delinquents where they lived in their youth, for the reading of a will. The struggle of one woman to convince another to cooperate sets up a road trip that allows the pair to come to grips with an event that had torn them apart in those early days. Or rather, that's what it should have done. Instead, this wonderfully acted and filmed story became more of a slice of life, a mere vignette, for nearly its entire length because the writer/director failed to adequately build up to the climactic confrontation.
Although we learn a lot about Lyle's and Addison's history, the real reason for their estrangement is referenced so vaguely and peripherally that near the very end, when they finally talk about it, there has been no opportunity for tension to build. And the resolution boggles the mind, comprised of the briefest conversation followed by... not mentioning it again, and yet all is well between them. Unbelievable!
I cried anyway. Yep, it's a tearjerker ending. All in all, this film could have been better, but it's well worth watching!
What Really Matters?
"Disappearance" is elegantly simple but intense, and fortunately for a review without spoilers, the film's emotional content is its most significant. This is a film about family, and the need to share one's love and one's fears with the people that matter the most. Sharing isn't easy for Roos (Rifka Lodeizen), because it means loading her burden onto a mother who resents the choices they each made earlier in life, and onto a half-brother so young he doesn't deserve to bear the load. Life isn't fair that way. Finding the courage to begin the necessary conversations, knowing the pain they will cause, doesn't come easily to Roos. When she does open up, we might be tempted to criticize her timing, but under the circumstances I wager few of us would do better.
At times symbolism supplants narration, usually to good effect. A scene with a fish reveals how completely Roos has turned her thoughts to the well-being of others. The moose incident may remind Roos that she still has some choices to make, or alternatively, it may merely create what she feels is the right setting for a conversation with her mother.
What really matters, we are shown, is sharing our love of life's beauty with others, and letting their love into our life as well. Roos builds that sharing bond with her brother in the ethereal beauty of an ice cave and with a pragmatic and odd conversation in a sauna that should remind him of the importance of human interaction. Rebuilding the bond with her mother is more challenging; only when their relationship is stripped to its core does the elder woman allow her daughter back into her heart. Then Roos is finally able to control her own destiny.
"Disappearance" isn't easy to watch, but it is so very worthwhile.
Bienvenue chez les Rozes (2003)
O Henri Wouldn't Dare Ransom the Rozes
This is a rare gem that gradually rotates the viewers' perspective of the characters 180 degrees, leaving us fascinated, slightly repulsed, and thoroughly amused. I was actually grinning when it ended, a rare response to a dark comedy.
Two convicts have escaped while being transported back to prison, and find refuge with the Rozes, who seem completely at ease with the situation. We gradually discover why this is so. I've been bored or at best left unimpressed by so many French films that set out to satirize middle class family values. Perhaps fortuitously, Welcome to the Roses succeeds where the others have failed. I think it's because the Rozes are not merely placeholders in the plot symbolizing Everyman; nor are they initially presented as individuals so flawed that the film must teach them a lesson. Instead, they're affable, even lovable. We all want the Rozes as neighbors. Be careful what you wish for!
Monsieur and Madame Roze, Andre Wilms and Carole Bouquet, take a plot that could have devolved into incredulity and make us believe that what we see is their normality. So too does Clemence Poesy, who as daughter Magali presents a striking figure in this film. The younger escapee Gilbert (Lorant Deutsch) surely wins the Strongest Moral Fiber of the Year Award. And Jean Dujardin (MG) eventually wins our empathy, convincing us that bad luck, more so than bad judgement, has brought him to this cuckoo's nest.
It's just kooky enough, and just serious enough, and we're left with hopes that Justice will prevail. Enjoy!
La región salvaje (2016)
What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate
The Untamed wasn't terrible. It's a science-fantasy or space opera story: an alien falls to Earth and radiates sexual satisfaction, affecting man, woman, and beast. I generally like this type of story, and it was well acted for the most part, with good production values.
But the plot seemed to drag quite often. I think the reason is, we don't get much communication from the women or the man most directly affected: How is penetration of multiple orifices by this non-verbal, non-human, definitely not cuddly beast superior to or substantially different from penetration (presumably of multiple orifices) by those folks' not-very-verbal, not very communicative, not-sticking-around-to-cuddle human partners? This is not at all clear. Neither is it clear how some people were hurt, nor why, knowing the risks, some people continued to rendezvous with the alien.
Normally we would say, "Show, don't tell." But doing that would have turned the film into pure porn. Okay, why not tell us, using the usual stratagem of one character sharing their experience and their feelings with another character, so we get to overhear it? We see how the situation creates peripheral, real-word problems for the characters, but that just wasn't enough - for me - to build empathy. It left me cold, and the rather cavalier, nonchalant attitude expressed in the final scenes did nothing to build any redeeming affection for the characters.
It's okay, but the writers and director let us down, because it could have been a lot better.
Room for Rent (2017)
Nice Twist. Well acted.
As slacker redemption movies go, this is better than many. This slacker is 30-something; he squandered a $3 million lottery prize, and lives with his parents. They take in a not-quite-right boarder. You wonder, half-way through, just how dark it will go.
Most characters are played in such a realistically low-key way that the "threat" character needn't go over-the-top to seem menacing. The plot moves smoothly. A couple of red herrings make the final plot twist satisfying. It's not "War and Peace", but it's believable and enjoyable light entertainment, a notch above the usual slapstick archetype of this genre.
Amy Schumer: Growing (2019)
Male Reviewer says, "Rivals Seinfeld's and Ferguson's Best."
After somewhat of a letdown in "Leather Special", Schumer hit a home run with "Growing." I laughed nearly the whole time. So did my wife of 40+ years, who was frequently nodding her head at the truths underlying the humor.
The set was about an even mix of the personal and the big picture, with mostly smooth segues. Pregnancy becomes less of a Hallmark movie in Schumer's telling, but not quite a gore-fest; she's not shy about expressing her fears and doubts. Societal truths are sometimes painful, but Schumer made her points about modern sexism - so much better than in the 70s, but still with so far to go - in ways that made listeners go "aha!" She was at her most vulnerable - and yet still hilarious - when talking about her mildly autistic husband, and why they get along so well. I'll look forward to news reports of women taking her advice on how to respond to d*ck pics. ROFLMAO!
We're 5 seasons (of 15) into the 1980s-90s TV stand-up series "Evening at the Improv", where so many of today's older comics got their start. The blatant sexism, racism, and homophobia of the era are obvious, of course, but so too is the overall lower quality of the performances compared to today. Even Jerry was rough starting out. In "Growing," by comparison, we see a star at the pinnacle of the art, powerful and polished but still setting the gold standard for keeping it real in her vulgar, letting it all hang out way. Amy Schumer is every bit as good as my other favorites, matching the very best of Seinfeld, Craig Ferguson, Jack Whitehall, and Jeff Dunham.
With 10 stars, this joins about 3 percent of my 900+ ratings, which are public on here... "I am not a Robot," lol.
Nature's Weirdest Events (2012)
Good Content Marred by Over-dramatization, Horrible Graphics, Felony Mug Shots
This show introduced us to a lot of new neat creatures and events not covered in other nature shows. It could have easily been an 8-star program, rather than 6. But some bad production choices were Really Irritating! The narrator's speech impediment forced us to use captioning, but kudos to him for sticking with it. Sadly, there were several other off-putting "features."
1 Often, events were introduced in an overly dramatic way that wasn't supported by the rest of the segment. It's okay, if people were scared or mystified, to show that. But often, subject matter was merely unfamiliar, and yet the program tried to present "solving" it as a matter of life and death, when it isn't.
2 I hate the introductory graphics! I've noticed this sort of Olde-Fashioned Arte on a couple of other UK shows... but they're the horrid exception. The maps are pathetic. Also, the intro is too long, the tell-them-what-you're-going-to-say and then tell-them-what-you-said approach wastes time, and the soundtrack is just weird.
3 And at the top of the crap-list: WHY are the eyewitnesses and the science experts introduced through what could pass as felon's mug shots, complete with jump-scare type changes in distance??? Why prohibit any of them from smiling??? This is a show that could induce the joy of learning; to couple it with grimness is a mismatch! Why present these shots without dialog, when the show could progress as the folks are introduced??? This was terrible production!
The show is informative. But it's not "nicely done!"
The Coca-Cola Kid (1985)
Nasty Little Fact Ruins My Perfectly Good Theory
This tale of an American marketing guru sent to improve Coke's sales in Australia was mildly enjoyable. It's certainly not the worst film ever made, but the main character, played by Eric Roberts, is more than slightly over the top, to the point of being obnoxious, in fact, pretty unlikeable. Still, with some mild intrigue and a blooming romance, the movie will hold your attention just to find out what happens.
As to the nasty little fact ruining a good theory: I'd previously held that directors, especially Europeans, invariable fail when they attempt to address economic and social concepts via sex and violence. It's a theory supported by several of Jodorowsky's films, and by this director, Dusan Makavajev's, epic failures W.R. Mysteries of the Organism and Sweet Movie. These films support their moderately valid theses in ways as insubstantial and juvenile as the old Chi-com propaganda comic books that attempted to rationalize the downfall of the Gang of Four.
But with The Coca Cola Kid, Makavajev succeeds -- with less violence, and a lot less sex -- most likely because he addresses only one slice of the theoretical pie, and because he delivers a more coherent, standard narrative flow. He directed but didn't write it, of course. This dramatization of global corporate dominance was filmed while WalMart was only in the early stages of eradicating mom and pop, and while Google, Amazon, and Facebook were just leftists' vague nightmares. Any system, economic or otherwise, that lacks negative feedback will veer out of control, and the Kid personifies the attitude that lets it happen.
As often happens on Amazon Video, the film is censored; most of the shower scene with Terri and her daughter has been deleted.
It's a film worth seeing once.
C'est quoi cette famille?! (2016)
Blended Family: Puree Until Smooth
I watched this a second time. With a million movies I haven't seen yet, and more produced each year than there are hours to watch them, seeing this again was still worth it.
Seven children ranging from toddler to sub-adult, the result of multiple marriages, repeated divorce, and interlocking (but not incestuous) remarriage, are bouncing between the homes of several sets of parents, stepparents, and grandma each week. Worse, they're being jerked around by the adults, who constantly change the schedules for work or personal reasons, or sometimes just forget. Enough is enough! The kids hatch a scheme to shift the balance of power. The ensuing struggles become a learning experience for everyone. Some romances bloom, and others are tested. More than a few funny moments keep things light.
It's so strange, and amazingly satisfying, to see a realistic, un-bowdlerized portrayal of multiple generations interacting in meaningful ways, without stereotyping or demonizing either the old, the young, or those in between. The little kids act like little kids. The teens and tweens take tentative steps toward maturity. And the adults do things that adults do -- and the children are aware of, react to, and comment on all of it, which is why something of this high quality is produced in France, not here in the U.S.
In many places, We Are Family would be recognized as a fine family comedy, suitable and fun for all ages. (And some of the international ratings reflect that judgement.) Netflix rates it here as TV-MA. What a depressing commentary on our values when this is considered less suitable for kids than any hyper-violent, PG-13, Marvel superhero movie or Fast & Furious flic. I weep for our nation.
But then I remember how excellent this was, and hope springs eternal. Change will come.
Embarrassing Bodies (2008)
Providing Help and Hope to those Who Need It
Although I can hardly bear to watch some of the surgeries, I think Embarassing Bodies is by far the best medical show on TV, providing help and hope to a wide variety of people who haven't found it elsewhere.
Patients fall largely into two categories. The first are those whose general practitioners have not yet referred them to the right specialists (or, sometimes, to any). Since insurance isn't usually a barrier in the U.K., I chalk that up to the inevitable range of competencies of doctors.
The larger group are people who have been too embarrassed to seek help, until they can no longer tolerate their situation. We do see efforts to help folks with rotted teeth, bad odors, fungus-ridden feet, or odd scars, but a lot of segments deal with the "private" parts. And no wonder the patients haven't sought treatment, since so many of us, both here in the U.S. and those in Britain, were trained to be embarrassed and ashamed to talk or even think about breasts, genitals, and the rear end -- anything remotely sexual or excretory.
The three "host" doctors occasionally treat cases or offer advice, but more often refer patients to specialists. Surgeries, when needed, are shown in full gory detail. The doctors also travel the nation, using wild visual aids to educate people - especially teens and 20-somethings - about counterproductive habits from binge drinking to tanning to unprotected sex. In my mind, they do a tremendous service, and televising helps get the word out.
Some of the conditions treated are life-threatening, but many are not: giant facial scars, massive rolls of flesh on persons who have lost 150 pounds (11 stone) or more, odors, and yes, the grossly asymmetrical labia. But all these folks are suffering, from the one whose boobs are sagging to the man missing half a face. They're suffering emotionally or mentally, as well as physically.
Surely by now we can strive for parity between mental health and physical health. Each person's sense of self is bothered, in a way that I imagine is not qualitatively different from the dysphoria felt by transsexuals. And similarly, all these folks deserve our sympathy and our help, and Drs. Dawn, Christian, and Pixie should be damned proud to be part of it.
The show is very, very gory. It's also very educational, especially to those of us raised like mushrooms and kept in the dark. And it's fascinating. Well done!
Realistic, Gripping Modern Horror Story
I didn't expect much from this movie, but I was satisfyingly surprised. Not "pleasantly" surprised, of course, it's a horror story. The plot is straightforward: Leah takes employment as a webcam girl, teasing and stripping for online viewers. The world is full of nuts, and some of them are technologically savvy. One finds Leah. It's downhill from there.
The strength of this film comes from a great script, powerful acting, and engaging directorial choices. The result is an ever-increasing feeling of foreboding that stays 100 percent real-world believable, never flying off into the absurdity of Friday the 13th part 92. Initially, the use of two parallel viewpoints was mildly annoying, but as the situation quickly clarified, this approach created a fascinating insight into the characters and added to the overall sense of worry.
I loathe rap. And yet, as much as I hate to admit it, in this film the soundtrack added an appropriate sleaziness to the ambiance.
It's hard to believe the two leads have such limited resumes. A film like this could never win an Oscar, but the acting was as good as it gets: actress Jennifer Mae leaves each of Leah's fans no doubt that he's her favorite, even as we share her fear about the well-being of her lover. And Kristian Hanson's portrayal of Hal is truly disturbing; only politicians rival this character's ability to rationalize lunacy. In a webcam film, with stage names like Jennifer Mae and Victoria Fox, I expected the actresses came from porn, but no. ("Not that there's anything wrong with that.") And while their relationship and the webcam productions are shown in credibly adult ways, there's nothing even vaguely porn-like about this mainstream movie. It's not "provocative", just strong enough that you forget it's fiction.
If you're tired of slasher films and silly spoofs, take a stab at this reality.
On Order and Away (2018)
An Incoherent Collection of Vignettes
A group of odd characters work and sometimes live at an English pub. The characters are introduced in the first episode, and try to come together in the last. In between, there are four separate story lines with only two or three characters appearing in each. This approach doesn't allow for synergy, and we're left not knowing a great deal about them. And given how over-the-top and off-putting many of them are, not caring much either.
I just started Whites (UK, 2010), which has a similar setting, and there's no comparison: it's orders of magnitude better than On Order and Away. I'm not anxiously awaiting a second season.
Fun, Light-hearted, Good Kids' Film
Zits is not a bad film. If graded on a curve, just for younger kids, it might warrant 7 stars out of 10 instead of 5.
A group of 13-year-old Americans raise money to pay for their music teacher's eye operation by selling fake military plans to the Soviets. The hijinks that ensue, as both governments try to find out who the spy is, are not horribly unbelievable. The weakest point is the idea that anyone would pay for plans that kids draw up from plastic models. Their parents are mostly high muckety-mucks in various military and civilian government jobs, but the obvious, more realistic approach to obtaining secret information would have required a level of criminality that would have significantly changed the tone of the film. So Zits is not bad for what it is.
The young actors, ranging in age from 10 to 15, do a very credible job. And one can only wish that all kids were as nice as the characters they play. The turmoil of puberty is portrayed with gentility, not Hallmark-squeaky-clean, but unlikely to offend most viewers.
Zits was fun to watch. It's the film equivalent of an easy read, but even adults can enjoy it.
Quality Story and Acting Marred by Editing and Soundtrack
Watching Rivals, I found myself alternating between moments of intense desire to see what happens next, on the one hand, and a mix of boredom and annoyance on the other.
Widowed mother Christine (Joan Hackett) is providing inconsistent discipline to her 10-year-old prodigy son Jamie (14 y.o. Scott Jacoby), who resents her dating anyone. Jamie's attachment to his mother may be partly sexual, or he may just be spoiled, not wanting anyone to have what he can't have, as shown when he drives a wedge between his baby-sitter and her boyfriend. When Christine remarries, to the much more happy-go-lucky (and annoying) Peter (Robert Klein), Jamie slowly succumbs to psychopathy, and events go poorly for everyone.
The story line is very believable, other than portraying prodigal mental ability as linked with precocious sexual interest and development. (This may just reflect the state of 1970s science). Hackett and Klein provide their usual top professional performances. And young Scott Jacoby does a terrific job playing a much younger boy, even when he acts out as more childish to manipulate the adults. Some viewers may complain about the make-out scene between Mary and 10-year-old character Jamie, although the actual content is relatively mild (limited contact, primarily implied or simulated) and the actor (Jacoby) is actually 14. Jeanne Tanzy Williams comes across very credibly as Mary, a teen girl facing the always difficult sexual quandary of When Will I, and With Whom.
Another director might have made an almost-great film out of this. Unfortunately, periods of not much happening, intended to show relationships having time to grow, last way too long and don't provide side benefits such as character development. Even more annoying were several frantic video montages that were too disjointed to convey plot points coherently and too rapid to place in context. And the soundtrack, as many reviewers have noted, was bizarre, ranging from saccharine to pseudo-funkadelic; it rarely adds and often detracts from the experience. Still, the acting and story line make this film worth watching once.
It Was a Dark and Stinky Orifice
This movie will gross out some viewers, but others, including Troma survivors, will shrug and ask what's the big deal. Yes, it includes scenes of anal-oral interaction; yes, it includes a fair amount of well-simulated feces. And yet what discomfited me the most was when the main characters acted out in public as horribly obnoxious jerks, so my perspective may be atypical.
A clinical description: Adah and Aaron are a woman and a man who find their romantic prospects circumscribed by herpes. They find solace in each other's rear ends, and in inhalants. The infection and the drug use escalate, culminating in physical changes that are bizarre and humorously symbolic.
So it's a comic-horror-fantasy-gross out story. Does the director intend this as a satire/lament/celebration of the ongoing mainstreaming of heterosexual anal intercourse? Or as a serious warning of the dangers of drugs couched in raunchy hyperbole? Or, given that Adah, her brother Adam, and their parents are played by real world sister, brother, and parents, maybe it's just a group of slightly weird people, very comfortable with one another, playing together to stay together? I don't know.
Whatever it's meant to be, it's entertaining. It's funny once in a while, gross much of the time, and usually well-acted. Better special effects at the end would have helped, but I'm amazed that any funding was found for this, so kudos to the Brown family. Hmm... maybe this film was borne from word association!
O gios tis Sofías (2017)
Sometimes a child's gotta do what a child's gotta do.
Son of Sofia will trigger painful nightmares in all of us who suffered from an abusive or violent father.
In Russia, Mischa's father has died, so he must travel to Greece to live with his mother Sofia, who hasn't told him she remarried to a much older and oppressively controlling, old fashioned man, Mr. Nikos. Ten-year-old Mischa responds badly to the situation, but I can't blame him for that.
All of the characters are acted in a manner so low key that they become very realistic. Thanasis Papageorgiou's portrayal of Mr. Nikos is superb. He's always domineering but rarely yells, limiting actual violence to one scene of relatively mild corporal punishment. But danger is always imminent, threatened by the coercive grasp of his hand behind the boy's neck or around his arm. Mercifully, the director spares us a more explicit reality. Sofia and Mischa mostly keep their mouths shut, just trying to survive, and yet her fear and his rage are palpable.
I wager it would not actually have killed the director to give us five more minutes for closure at the end of the movie. But it's still a fine film. If it won't disturb you too greatly, it's worth seeing.
Como la espuma (2017)
It's All About Relationships
Like most movies centered on orgies, Foam Party is about relationships. With so many main characters, it does well to concentrate on three or four pairs of people, with others, less fully fleshed out, linking events or providing breaks from the main plots. As the movie begins, we learn that various characters have been dumped, are unsatisfied, or are questioning their orientation. There's a virgin, one person is uncomfortable with explicit language, another is seeking revenge, and so on. Providing contrast, background characters seem to be having a fine old time with no holds barred.
Some especially diverse scenes of gay male sex, although not exposing private parts other than butts, will make some of us uncomfortable. But that was adequately acknowledged within the film, by the widely ranging degrees of comfort of the folks at the party, gay or straight, male or female. Finding one's own comfort zone while expanding horizons is a large part of what this movie is about. People looking for nudity won't find much here, but there is a smorgasbord of simulated sex.
Although the acting is fine and the characters are believable, Foam Party tries to do too much too fast. The characters faced problems or doubts too substantial to be resolved so quickly, over the course of a party lasting only one day. It's mostly a happy movie. Call it a middle of the road medley of romance stories, neither horrible nor great.
Tiempos Felices (2014)
Light and Heavy, Mixed Well
It took several minutes after this movie had ended to realize that my Hollywood-and-Britain-conditioned reaction to it was wrong. This is a pretty darn good film.
A man who really doesn't know what he wants, but thinks he wants out of a relationship with a clingy woman, hires a mysterious firm to do it for him, because he's too weak-willed or too nice to just come out and do it. The breakup firm works strangely, and you suspect it's a scam, but by the end of the movie you realize they were playing a long game - though not necessarily the game you expect.
Happy Times is a bit wacky, a mix of light comedy and serious drama with intrigue mixed in. In the end, it works well. The acting and the technical elements are fine. And in a sneakily grown-up way, this movie reminds us that infatuation is not love, that love is not trivial, and that marriage is not to be entered into lightly. While many movies mix fun with a message - the raunchy sex comedy Dirty Grandpa being perhaps an extreme example - Happy Times does it better than most. I quickly came to care about both lead characters, and was kept wondering right up to the end what the mystery firm's real goal was.
It's worth watching.