ADULT LIFE SKILLS (2019)

January 17, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Each of us deals with grief in our own way, and often it’s even more challenging to help a grieving loved one. Loss and grief are at the core of writer-director Rachel Tunnard’s feature length film developed from her award winning short, EMOTIONAL FUSEBOX (2014).

When first we meet Anna, she is creating a space-oriented home video using aluminum foil and her thumbs. Yes, Anna is an adult – mere days from her 30th birthday. She’s not the type to live in her mom’s basement … no, instead she lives in the cluttered garden shed in her mom’s backyard. The play on words for the shed clues us in to Anna’s quirky personality (as if the foil spaceship and thumb faces hadn’t already done so). The Anna we see currently has no place for humor in her life.

Anna is struggling with the grief associated with losing her twin brother – a brother she was extremely close to. She’s challenged daily by the fine line between sorrow and depression, and is regularly late to her job at an outdoor camp for kids. Her morning routine includes drying her clothes in the microwave and bickering with her mother (Lorraine Ashbourne) over finding a boyfriend and new place to live. Mom has demanded Anna move out of the shed by her birthday.

Others in Anna’s life include her grandmother (Eileen Davies), Anna’s close friend Fiona (Rachael Deering), and local real estate agent Brendan (Brett Goldstein) who may or may not be on the spectrum, is constantly refuting assumptions that he is gay, and undoubtedly has an unrequited crush on Anna. Each of these folks tries in their own way to pull Anna from her funk and get her back to living. Surprisingly, the turn occurs when she is forced to look after a neighbor boy named Clint when his mother gets rushed to the hospital. Clint is an odd kid who wears cowboy attire and proclaims his desire to be like Anna … and they are more similar than she would care to admit initially.

Jodie Whittaker plays Anna and newcomer Ozzy Myers is Clint. Young Mr. Myers excels in his role, never going over-the-top with his offbeat tendencies. Ms. Whitaker (“Doctor Who”) first charmed us on screen with her role in VENUS (2006) and she proves yet again what an accomplished actress she is … likable and relatable. Here she turns an arrested development 30 year old hermit into someone we pull for. The film is filled with awkward interactions, each grounded in reality.

Of course, there is really nothing cute or charming about a 30 year old who hasn’t yet grown up, but slack and understanding is due here because of the grief. And it’s difficult to name another film character who could count mole hills daily and make it seem natural. Just remember that when a kid says they want to be like you, take it seriously – even if it’s because you are sad and lonely. Ms. Tunnard’s film is a bittersweet comedy that’s not too bitter, not too sweet, and not overly funny. It’s simply a fine little indie movie with a terrific performance from a talented actress.

watch the trailer:


BLACK SEA (2015)

January 21, 2015

black sea Greetings again from the darkness. One of my first favorite TV shows as a little kid was “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”. Each week I sat wide-eyed in front of the tube (yes, it was actually a cathode ray tube back then) anxiously awaiting underwater adventure. It wasn’t until later that I discovered Irwin Allen’s 1961 movie of the same name, and more importantly, Jules Verne’s novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”, which featured the wild exploits of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus.  Since then, count me in for just about any movie based aboard a submarine (Down Periscope being a rare exception).

Director Kevin MacDonald is best known for his excellent 2006 film The Last King of Scotland (with Forest Whitaker’s Oscar winning performance as Idi Amin). This time he works with a script from playwright Dennis Kelly to deliver a gritty, tense thriller that is lacking any traditional Hollywood fluff … it’s a down and dirty look at greed, desperation and the survival instinct.

Inherent to a story based aboard a submarine is the immediate and constant threat of claustrophobia and death. This one adds another element of danger by blending a crew of Russians and Brits with the goal of bringing back millions of dollars in gold locked away on a sunken German U-Boat in the Black Sea waters. Lest you think the Russians are just another group of southern California actors faking the accent, director MacDonald confirmed that he cast actual Russian actors – including Grigoriy Dobrygin (A Most Wanted Man), Konstantin Khabenskiy (one of the most popular actors in Russia), and three others named Sergey, which MacDonald acknowledged contributed to on-set confusion. This decision elevates the onboard tension between adversarial characters to an armrest-gripping level. Yet another slightly psychotic Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom) role doesn’t hurt, either.

Jude Law continues the second phase of his career – far removed from his pretty boy early films – as a tough, revenge-seeking sub captain fired by his long-time employer. Should you doubt Law’s acting range, I would recommend not just this film, but also last year’s Dom Hemingway (a raucous ride). Law’s performance here is very strong as he transforms from a p.o.’d former employee to an eye-on-the-prize, win-at-all-cost treasure seeker. The onboard tension mounts every time there is interaction between the Russians and Brits, and Law’s character attempts to mediate. The progression of this three-way dynamic is fascinating to watch as it unfolds.

To provide that true underwater feeling, MacDonald filmed some scenes onboard an old Soviet submarine that is moored in the River Medway in Kent (UK). We never have that feeling of Hollywood soundstage; instead we as viewers share in the tight space and constant dread. This combination of characters, setting and mission deliver an intense thriller that is sure to please, and feels uncommonly welcome this early in the year.

The pinnacle of submarine movies is Das Boot (1981), a must-see for any movie lover. Other popular sub films include Crimson Tide (1995), The Hunt for Red October (1990), and K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), and for those of us who are fascinated by life (and possible death) under the sea, we gladly welcome a new entry to the sub-genre, especially one as well made and tension-packed as Black Sea.

watch the trailer:

 


ONE DAY

August 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I have not read David Nicholls‘ novel, but my understanding is that it is extremely well written and its loyal readers really connected with Emma and Dexter. If that’s true, then this film version is even worse than I thought while watching.

This literally is my least favorite type of movie. An uninspired movie that assumes its viewers are unable to think for themselves or judge the actions of its characters. In other words, the filmmakers take for granted that we will accept whatever is shown on the big screen.

 First let me say that I completely understand the school girl crush that a young Emma (Anne Hathaway) has on her classmate Dexter (Jim Sturgess). He is handsome and charismatic and comes from more money than she. I also understand Dexter’s attraction to the lovely Emma. She is very pretty – despite the ridiculous over-sized glasses used for effect in the early scenes – and very intelligent, and a significantly nicer person than he.

What makes absolutely no sense is her continued attraction to this drunken, empty soul for the next twenty years. She is too smart to pine away the years hoping he will wise up and coming running to her. We are supposed to believe that she has no interest in any other relationship except the non-threatening one with flopping stand-up comedian Ian (played by Timothy Spall‘s son Rafe) and a “boring” French Jazz Pianist.

 Dexter’s mother is played by Patricia Clarkson. As she is dying from cancer, she tells him that she believes he will grow into a good man, but isn’t there yet. I guess we are supposed to take her word for it. Instead we only see Dexter go from a selfish pig as a TV personality to a defeated man who must perform manual labor for the first time in his life. My issue is that a defeated man is not necessarily a good man. A man resigned to his life has not necessarily reached enlightenment. Where is Emma’s proof that he deserves her? Where is the indication that her life with him will be better? I tell you where … in the mind of that school girl from years ago.

 Please don’t mistake my words as that of one who has no faith in romantic stories. There are so many ways this story could have turned that it would have captured me. Instead it chose a path that assumed I was ignorant … totally accepting of the ridiculous story being laid out in front of me. 

My final comments on the film involve the cast. Anne Hathaway is an incredibly talented performer. She is not, however, British. Her accent is terribly distracting. Jim Sturgess is a handsome guy, but just not showy enough to pull off the TV personality role. Patricia Clarkson is a fantastic actress, but she is not British either. Seriously, are there not enough British actresses? The casting reeks of a money-grubbing production team. As for director Lone Scherfig … her previous film An Education was cinematic excellence. This is an unacceptable follow-up and we expect better next time.

Since I usually look for the good in movies, I will say the locations of Edinburg, London and Paris were beautiful and different than we usually get from the movies. That provided the only real enjoyment from this highly disappointing movie.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: this is the only way you can see some beautiful scenery from the U.K. and France, and can block out the horrible story onscreen.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoyed the book and don’t want to spoil that good vibe

watch the trailer: