BLOW THE MAN DOWN (2020)

March 20, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Who better to sing the title song than Gloucester, Massachusetts singer David Coffin … while wearing the attire of the local fishermen of fictional Easter Cove, Maine? Mr. Coffin’s rich vocals (and face) pop up periodically throughout the film and provide an unusual bit of story structure to the feature film debut of co-writers and co-directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. It’s a nifty little indie film that’s fun to watch, despite some gaps in the storytelling that keep it from ‘what could have been.’

Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor star as the Connolly sisters, Priscilla and Mary Beth. Their mother Mary Margaret Connolly has just died, and it appears they may lose their family home as well as the family business – a local fish market. Priscilla is the reserved, level-headed one, while Mary Beth (who put off college for a year) is impulsive and reactionary. A poor decision made while drinking with bad boy Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) leads to a violent confrontation involving a harpoon, a brick and cole slaw. Well, technically the cole slaw comes in during the clean-up being orchestrated by Priscilla.

There are some Coen Brothers and neo-noir elements at play here, which, along with the intriguing small town characters keeps us connected to the story and wondering how things will end up. An interesting twist has Easter Cove with a Matriarchal town structure, one of which the recently deceased Mary Margaret Connolly was instrumental. Three elderly ladies played with glee by June Squibb, Marceline Hugot, and Annette O’Toole take it upon themselves to continue the behind-the-scenes power brokering, while at the same time ‘cleaning up’ the town a bit. After the murder of a local prostitute, the triumvirate of senior women confront Enid Nora Devlin (yet another scene-stealing turn from Margot Martindale), who runs Ocean View B&B, the town’s brothel. Enid listens to their request to shutter the doors … or at least transition into a traditional bed and breakfast.

A found bag of money plays a role, as does Priscilla’s carving knife, and Alexis (Gayle Rankin), a friend of the murdered girl. Will Brittain plays Officer Justin Brennan, a young policeman who fancies Priscilla and is committed to solving the crime(s). All of these interactions are quite something to watch, as most every character has their own secrets and motivations. As mentioned, the story structure may remind some of Coen Brothers projects, however as fun as it is to watch, it’s lacking the sharp and witty dialogue of the Coens. Also, while many of us enjoy movies that don’t fill in every detail, there are gaps crucial to understanding the actions of these characters … gaps that probably should have been colored in a bit more.

Harpswell, Maine poses as Easter Cove, and there is something about this small fishing community on the northeast coast that creates a unique and appealing setting for a movie. Additionally, the dialect and personalities make for entertaining cinema. It’s a nice first feature for Ms. Cole and Ms. Krudy and we look forward to more of their work.

*available on AMAZON PRIME

watch the trailer:


TABLE 19 (2017)

March 3, 2017

table-19 Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/director Jeffrey Blitz (Spellbound) takes the approach that many wedding guests would prefer – he skips the wedding and heads straight to the reception. Another wise move by the filmmaker is assembling a very talented ensemble of funny folks. This cast proves they can wring a laugh from dialogue and moments that would probably otherwise not elicit much of an audience reaction. Instead, the full house on this evening had quite boisterous responses on numerous occasions.

The initial set-up drags a bit as we are introduced to the characters that will soon enough populate Table 19 at the reception. Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel bellhop) is Renzo, the longing for love (or anything similar) high schooler who might be a bit too close to his mother (voiced by the great Margo Martindale). Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson are the Kepp’s, a mostly unhappily married couple who own and run a diner together. June Squibb is Jo, the bride’s long-forgotten nanny who sees and knows more than most. Stephen Merchant plays the outcast nephew/cousin who has been recently released from his prison sentence for white collar crime. Lastly we have Anna Kendrick as Eloise, the fired maid of honor and former girlfriend of the bride’s brother (Wyatt Russell), who also happens to be the best man and now dating the new maid of honor.

This is the island of misfit wedding guests known as Table 19, and purposefully placed in the back corner as far as possible from the family and favored guests. Of course we know immediately that this Team Reject will unite for some uplifting purpose at some point, and the movie improves immediately once that goal has been revealed. Comedic timing in a group setting can often come across on screen as forced, and it’s a tribute to the cast that these characters come across as human and real.

Make no mistake though, this is Anna Kendrick’s movie. She plays Eloise as we would imagine Anna Kendrick in this real life situation. Sure, a wedding reception is low-hanging fruit for comedy, but it’s the third act where Ms. Kendrick’s talent really shines. Comedy drawn from emotional pain is the most fulfilling because we’ve all been there. The melodrama that creeps in is pretty predictable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good time. The scenes with Ms. Kendrick and Wyatt Russell (Everybody Wants Some!, and Kurt and Goldie’s son) are the best, and it leaves us wishing for more attention to both.

Don’t worry, the film features the required wedding cake mishap, a flirtatious wedding crasher (Thomas Cocquerel) and a drunken mother of the bride singing karaoke to Etta James’ “At Last”. It’s designed to be a crowd-pleaser, and mostly succeeds with a nice blend of silly, cute, and emotional tugs.

watch the trailer:

 


NEBRASKA (2013)

November 24, 2013

nebraska1 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Alexander Payne has proved yet again that he has a remarkable eye for characters, and no need to bury those characters deep in plot. About Schmidt, Sideways, and The Descendants provided us with characters we could laugh with, cry with and feel with. His latest is his first film which he did not write, but it’s clear that he and screenwriter Bob Nelson are similar type people watchers.

What you notice immediately is that this film and its characters move at their own pace. There is no rushing or urgency. They do nebraska2things and say things in due time. Or not. What you also notice is that the camera does the same thing. Filmed in stark black and white, the camera is exceedingly quiet and still … just like the characters and landscape. We can thank Director of Photography Phedon Papamichael, who also worked with Payne on Sideways and The Descendants. Even the score is a bit offbeat. The blending of trumpet and guitar is rare, yet seems to fit just right.

Bruce Dern is 77 years old and in his sixth decade of acting. While I have liked him quite often – and really liked him in The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) – this may be his best performance and best role yet. Dern’s Woody Grant is an alcoholic, nebraska4and hard of hearing, and crotchety, and isolated. More seriously, he seems to be in the early stages of dementia given his insistence on walking to Nebraska to collect his “winnings” from a mass marketing mailing similar to Publishers Clearing House. With minimal dialogue, we “get” Woody. That’s thanks to Dern’s physical performance and ability to emote through simple gestures. We feel his quiet desperation in the search for meaning in a life that is slipping away. He just wants to be somebody before the end.

The delivery mechanism is a road trip shared by Woody and his very patient son David (Will Forte). We sense David looks at the trip as an opportunity to connect for the first time with his dad, and maybe even get some life questions answered along the way. On the trip, other family members join in, including Woody’s other son Ross (Bob Odenkirk), and Woody’s colorful wife Kate (June Squibb). The trip takes them to Woody’s hometown where they cross paths with other family and old friends.

nebraska3 Woody’s insistence that he is about to be a millionaire brings out the “true self” in those whose paths they cross. Many of his old friends are truly happy for him and wish him nothing but the best. Others aren’t so kind. True colors can be hard to watch, especially as shown by Woody’s old partner Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), and other family members who are just after “their fair share” of the loot. The movie excels in these moments … watching a fiery Kate put these vultures in their place, while defending the husband she has spent the whole time badgering is priceless.

Ms. Squibb delivers the film’s funniest lines, but she also gives a depth to Kate that adds the level of realism. Will Forte is surprisingly effective given his “Saturday Night Live” background, but we never lose sight of Bruce Dern (and his hair). The characters we see are grounded rural midwesterners who live their life from day to day, depending heavily on family and friends. Their interpersonal skills are quite different than what is found in metropolitan areas, and those born and raised in heavily populated areas may struggle to relate.

The film should garner Oscar nomination consideration in multiple categories, and Mr. Dern is probably a shoe-in for a Best Actor nom. So slow down and share this trip from Montana to Nebraska … while I can’t promise a prize of one million dollars, you will definitely be rewarded.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy character driven dramatic comedies based on people you might know (if you know people in the rural midwest)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: your sense of humor is more likely to parallel that of Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell than Sideways or About Schmidt.

watch the trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UT5tqPojMtg