MASS (2021)

October 8, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. A normal life is no longer possible. The question becomes, how does one go on in the aftermath of an unimaginable (yet all too common) tragedy that takes the life of one’s child? This the feature film debut of writer-director Fran Kranz. He’s an actor you’d likely recognize from JUNGLELAND and THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. Rather than choose some lightweight project to kick off his filmmaking career, Franz serves up a gut-wrenching confrontation that would work just as well (if not even better) on stage in live theater.

It’s an awkward and maladroit opening as two church volunteers (Breeda Wool and Kagen Albright) and another woman (Michelle N Carter, who’s either an attorney or a therapist), are preparing an isolated room for what is clearly a high-stakes meeting. The room will have a table and four chairs, and enough refreshments for 20 people. Almost the entire movie will take place in this room, around that table and away from the church choir practice.

The four anticipated guests arrive, and it’s two couples – four people uneasy and unsure about the meeting. After some initial small talk, we finally learn Evan, the son of Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs, was shot by Hayden, the son of Ann Dowd and Reed Birney. It’s been six years since the Columbine-like school shooting and both couples are seeking closure to the immense grief they’ve carried. There is also the overwhelming burden of guilt and the weight of blame.

These are four recognizable and accomplished actors working in ways we typically only see on stage. The always superb Ms. Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and the often villainous, yet always effective, Mr. Isaacs (“The OA”) are truly at the top of their game, which is to take nothing away from the performances of Mr. Birney (“House of Cards”) and Ms. Plimpton (Keith Carradine’s daughter, and from a child actor in THE GOONIES to a series lead in “Raising Hope”). Their interactions mostly feel grounded in emotions, and we as viewers find ourselves dragged right into their personal misery.

A flower arrangement, a box of Kleenex, bagels, piano music, and a Christmas photo all play a role, but this is an actor’s showcase, and director Kranz gives each their time in the spotlight. These are four people who consider themselves good parents, and one has the fortitude to say it aloud, “I raised a murderer.”

This is couples therapy re-imagined, and it’s a necessary but painful step for four people who have endured more than any parent should endure. Both sides of the table highlight our worst fears as parents, but equally as important, is the need for forgiveness – of others and ourselves. This one will likely stick with you for a while.

Bleecker Street will release MASS in theaters on October 8th, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2013)

June 23, 2013

much ado1 Greetings again from the darkness. The previous movie version of William Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing” was directed in 1993 by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed Thor (2011). This modernized, much simpler version is directed by Joss Whedon, who also directed The Avengers last year. It’s difficult to imagine a more oddball movie symmetry than that! Whedon’s production plays almost like a home movie, and in a way it is. Filmed at the director’s Santa Monica house with a cast featuring mostly a close group of his friends … those that frequently gather for Shakespeare dinner parties … this one exudes a certain joy and love of the material from all involved, with a live theatre feel.

I have always been more attracted to Shakespeare’s comedies than his more famous tragedies. His startling wordsmithing is much ado3always filled with an edge and is borne of real personalities we all recognize. Combine that with director Whedon’s love of rapid-fire, wise-cracking dialogue and we get something from the ilk of Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks screwball comedies.

The banter and battle of wits between Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) are at the heart of the story. Their flirtations are recognizable as two who doth protest too much … as if it could hide their mutual attraction. In one of the most pure comedic roles from the pen of Shakespeare comes Dogberry, the detective on the case of the dark conspiracy occurring right under the noses of most characters. Nathan Fillion (“Castle”) plays Dogberry in such a manner that he steals every scene in which he appears … both verbally and physically. He provides some laugh out loud moments.

much ado3 You will recognize some of the others in Whedon’s acting troupe: Reed Diamond plays Don Pedro, Clark Gregg as Leonato, and Fran Kranz as Claudio. Newcomer Jillian Morgese plays Hero, the falsely-accused bride-to-be, whose misfortunes lead to the great Dogberry scenes.

The temptation here is to say that a very entertaining movie can be made simply, cheaply and quickly (12 days filming). Of course, as wonderful as Amy Acker is, the real star is the story and words from William Shakespeare … even in this modernized setting. As we all know, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Whedon and his cronies prove this.  I’m not sure this is the best indoctrination to Shakespeare, but I believe only the most traditional of Shakespeare devotees will not find some joy in this version.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of The Bard and enjoy seeing varying visual interpretations of his fantastic work

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are the firm traditionalist who believes Shakespeare only belongs on stage or on paper

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAMsDP_DMHE

 


THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011)

April 22, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Well I was not ready for the horror/zombie/slasher genre to be turned on its ear, but that’s exactly what co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (also director) have done here. Rest assured that your favorite aspects of horror films will be lampooned, or at least parodied. There are times you will jump and laugh simultaneously, but mostly I found myself checking off the influences/targets of the filmmakers.

There is no way to comment on this film without offering up spoilers, and I will not do that. What I can tell you is that you’ll be reminded of films such as Scream, Friday the 13th, Bubba Ho-Tep, Night of the Living Dead, The Evil Dead, Saw, and dare I say, elements of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone … you know the parts where you know there is more going on than you are seeing, but you can’t quite put it all together.

 The movie starts out with a tongue-in-cheek assembly of generic characters from most horror films: the fun-loving jock (Chris Hemsworth, pre-Thor), the “bad” girl (Anna Hutchison), the “good” girl (Kristen Connolly), the brainiac (Jesse Williams), and of course the comic relief stoner waxing philosophical (a very effective Fran Kranz). This group piles into a borrowed RV and heads to the cabin. And yes, we get the obligatory stop at the run down gas station manned by the straight-from-Deliverance attendant played by tobacco-spitting Tim De Zarn.

 We learn quickly that something odd is going on and our heroes are really playthings in some kind of cosmic game being conducted at an underground lab run by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. That much is shown in the trailer and that’s the end of what I will say. After that, the choice is yours … just like in the basement.

I have no idea whether to recommend this movie, and if so, to whom.  The last 15 minutes are pure mayhem, and you will either be fully onboard with this Disneyland ride gone bad, or you will have wanted to leave for the past hour. Filmed three years ago, but caught up in studio legalities, the movie was selected for opening night at SXSW and it truly is a twisted, even demented jab at all things horror. Only you can decide what comes next.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: your twisted, demented movie-watching personality has made you a horror/zombie/slasher expert and you don’t mind Whedon and Goddard poking a little fun at your genre … just don’t blame me.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: I didn’t just describe you in the “See” section

watch this trailer … or don’t, if you are planning to see the movie: