FRANK & LOLA (2016)

December 8, 2016

frank-lola Greetings again from the darkness. Michael Shannon continues to be one of the most interesting actors working today. In this first feature from writer/director Matthew Ross, Mr. Shannon is the titular Frank, and his pained facial expressions elevate this neo-noir into a dark and intriguing exposition on male obsession and sexual jealousy.

The abrupt opening scene finds Frank and Lola (Imogen Poots) frolicking in bed after obviously just meeting for the first time that evening. We (and Lola) know we are in for something a bit different when Frank slams on the breaks and states, “Maybe we should wait until next time.” Lola is taken aback, and we are soon watching this relationship develop … while simultaneously noting the subtle signs of troubled pasts for each of them.

Frank is a talented French chef and Lola is just starting her career as a fashion designer. His dark side flashes a bit more often, but before Lola ever comes clean, we realize there is unhappiness in her past. They seem to be two tortured souls in a jinxed relationship.

Filmmaker Ross keeps us (and Frank) on our toes as the script seems to continually offer yet another deeply held secret or mysterious character. Justin Long plays Lola’s new employer, while the rarely-seen-these-days Rosanna Arquette plays Lola’s name-dropping mother. However, it’s Michael Nyqvist (so great in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as the suave Frenchman with ties to Lola’s past and present that really makes things interesting … and somehow even darker. His wife is played by the terrific French actress Emmanuelle Devos. Her screen time is limited, yet crucial.

The film was well received at Sundance, and it shares the creepiness of such films as Basic Instinct, Body Heat and Night Moves. Rarely do contemporary movies go as deep into the male psyche of obsession as this one, and the throw-back atmosphere is a perfect fit for the tone. Not many actors simmer like Michael Shannon, and the story offers him the perfect vehicle to remind us that everyone longs to be loved – even when we aren’t sure we deserve it.

watch the trailer:

 

 


THE LOOKALIKE (2014)

November 2, 2014

lookalike Greetings again from the darkness. Familiar faces are everywhere in this crime thriller from husband and wife filmmakers Richard Gray (director) and Michele Davis-Gray (writer). The familiar faces make the most of a story with no shortage of characters or sub-plots, though sometimes the movie tries a bit too hard to be gritty and hard-edged.

Jerry O’Connell plays Joe Mulligan, a former basketball star turned club owner and drug dealer. Joe is dealing drugs to pay off his dead dad’s debt to loan shark Luis Guzman, all while keeping his dream of hosting his own cooking show on the Food Network. See, Joe is mostly a nice guy caught up in an ugly world. This world includes his brother Holt (Justin Long) who may not be the straight-laced guy he first appears as, his drug boss Bobby (John Corbett), Bobby’s henchman Frank (Steven Bauer), and William Spinks (John Savage) as the powerful guy who demands a set-up in exchange for a big pay day.

The set-up is on track until one of the freakiest fatal accidents strikes Sadie Hill, the object of Spinks’ attraction. Desperate for the money, the bumbling drug dummies, decide to find a substitute. Enter Joe’s customer and Holt’s squeeze as the titular lookalike. Gillian Jacobs (TV’s “Community”) as Lacey does a nice job making us believe she is just desperate enough to agree to the job. Yes, desperation is a trait shared by most every character in the movie … even the detective played by the always reliable Gena Gershon. The final character of note is Mila (Scottie Thompson), who plays the “girl walks into a bar” role and proceeds to muddy the water in this big plan.  Both Ms. Jacobs and Ms. Thompson flash the ability necessary for more ambitious projects.

Slow-motion and cheesy music negatively impact some of the dramatic moments and the sex scenes … especially an otherwise effective cross-cut between O’Connell and Long as they seduce Thompson and Jacobs, respectively. Still, for a rainy day mindless crime thriller that won’t require much investment, this one is satisfactory and offers a chance to catch up with some of our most familiar character actors.

**NOTE: If you don’t recognize Jerry O’Connell’s name, you might remember him as a child actor … he played Vern in Stand By Me (1986)

watch the trailer:

 


THE CONSPIRATOR

April 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. While not a historical expert, I commend writer James Solomon for his years of research into a fascinating, yet quite dark moment in America. Many have attempted to couch the film as presenting Mary Surratt as an innocent bystander. I would argue that the film is much less about her innocence or guilt, and much more about the state of our country’s leaders and the judicial system at the time of Lincoln’s assassination.

I found the two strongest elements of the film causing quite an internal conflict as I watched. First, the film is simply gorgeous. Costumes, props, sets and lighting all lead to a texture that puts the viewer right into the mid 1860’s. Second, the courtroom (and backroom) procedures generate a feeling of disgust. Although, we have had very recent examples of less-than-stellar judicial process in the U.S., we Americans still hold on to the belief that ours is the best and fairest system in existence.

 It was very interesting to see Kevin Kline as War Secretary Edwin Stanton. Stanton was the guy calling the shots during this time and evidently had quite a power hold on the military, as well as the government. His viewpoint that the country needed a swift and decisive conclusion to this tragedy makes absolute sense … unless you happened to be one of the accused, or their legal counsel.

The lead actors in the film do a very nice job of capturing their characters and holding us in time. In addition to Mr. Kline, James McAvoy plays Frederick Aiken, the Union war hero and reluctant defense attorney for Mary Surratt. Tom Wilkinson plays Senator Reverdy Johnson who, as Aiken’s mentor, recognizes all elements of the procedures. Evan Rachel Wood portrays Anna Surratt, Mary’s daughter. She has few scenes, but each is quite powerful. Danny Huston is Joseph Holt, the prosecuting attorney, who clearly has free reign to do whatever is necessary to ensure a guilty verdict. Other supporting work is provided by Toby Kebbell (John Wilkes Booth), Norman Reedus (from Boondock Saints), Stephen Root, Johnny Simmons and Colm Meaney. The two miscast roles are courtesy of Alexis Bledel and Justin Long.

 I found Robin Wright‘s stoic portrayal of Mary Surratt to be quite mesmerizing. Her strength and motherly insistence on protecting her son was absolutely believable. In my opinion she should gather consideration for an Oscar nomination when the time comes. This is not a showy performance, but rather the foundation of the story.

Lighting of the time was thanks to candles and lanterns, and director Robert Redford masterfully captures that on film. We are always hoping for a bit more light on the characters or in the courtroom. Instead we get the feeling of being present. I did find some of the “buddy scenes” to be unnecessary, but the scenes with Wilkinson and Kline more than offset this weakness.

This is the first film from The American Film Company, whose mission is to present historically accurate films on American history. If their initial entry is an indication, we anxiously await their next projects.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are in the mood to be transported back to 1865 and come as close as possible to experiencing the conflict and grief of the young country just out of civil war.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you find it difficult to see the flaws within what is basically a very strong and judicious system