LEN AND COMPANY (2016)

June 10, 2016

Len Greetings again from the darkness. Mining a mid-life crisis for new film material often results in something we have seen on screen too many times in the past. However the first feature film for writer/director Tim Godsall and co-writer Katharine Knight draws inspiration from the 2008 Carly Mensch one-act play “Len, Asleep in Vinyl”, and what we get is a terrific little indie gem with multiple interesting characters.

Highly successful music producer Len Black has pretty much “dropped out” of society as evidenced by his quitting in the midst of an awards ceremony, and by his new hobby of floating in the algae-laden swimming pool at his country estate. His self-imposed exile seems designed to magically reveal the meaning of life and lead to a form of self-discovery. Soon his peaceful deep-in-thought zen is disrupted – first by the arrival of his estranged son Max, and then by the presence of his pop star protégé Zoe. Len is perturbed by the uninvited guests, and shows nothing approaching warmth or caring towards either.

What we really have is a 3 person collision of psychological crisis. Len is attempting to come of age (a bit late, given he’s in his mid-40’s); OCD Max has dropped out of school in hopes of making it with his band; and Zoe is on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Three messes all intertwined with each other, as Max just wants Len to be a dad this one time, and Zoe wants him to show a little compassion and not treat her like the pop music ATM she has become. Despite the relentless attention she has from her public and fans, what she needs is a bit of attention from the guy that got her into this.

Rhys Ifans plays Len, and his outstanding performance makes the film work. He realizes he’s a jerk, but has no clue how to atone for the past. Jack Kilmer (Val’s son who is also the “projectionalist” in The Nice Guys) plays Max as a carefully considered young man who is never without his “to do” list. Juno Temple plays Zoe, and perfectly captures the two sides and delicacy of young fame. As an added bonus, the fourth wheel is local kid William (Keir Gilchrist, It’s Kind of a Funny Story), who ironically is a surrogate-son type to Len, and helps out with chores around the house. There is also a brief sequence featuring the always great Kathryn Hahn as Len’s ex and Max’s mom.

The heaviness of the emotional stuff is offset brilliantly by comedic moments … some small, others not so small. The scene with Len addressing William’s classroom (in a quasi-take-a-parent-to-school day) is both hilarious and insightful. Minus any decorum or good judgment, Len spills to the students what his life has been. It’s a turning point in the film as we finally see him as more than the dirtbag we originally thought. It also leads to Len’s rant – right in Max’s face – about the roots of rock and roll, and how a privileged, uptight young man couldn’t possibly have the soul and spirit required to make a go of it.

Lessons are learned by all, and much enlightenment has occurred by film’s end. Of course, those doing the teaching and those doing the learning are a bit unconventional, as it’s Len who finally figures out solitude and loneliness may not be a worthy goal. It’s a wonderful first feature from the filmmakers and a top notch performance from Mr. Ifans.

watch the trailer:

 


IT FOLLOWS (2014)

March 8, 2015

it follows Greetings again from the darkness. Known for an endless stream of copycats and re-treads, the horror genre periodically surprises us with a dose of originality. Heck, we don’t even ask horror filmmakers for anything too revolutionary … just give us something we haven’t seen a few dozen times before. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell “gets it” and delivers a game of psycho-sexual-tag-you’re-it featuring the most sinister STD ever.

A definite departure from the all-too-common teen slasher films, the slow-drip terror of this one has more in common with dread and eventuality than scream-inducing terror and “made you jump” scares. When we first meet Jay (Maika Monroe), she is a typical pushing-twenty student who enjoys leisurely swims in her suburban backyard pool, hanging out with friends, and a healthy dating scene. Well, healthy until one evening of back seat passion with Hugh (Jake Weary) sets off the above-mentioned sinistry. See Jake has purposefully “passed on” some kind of affliction that attracts a death-seeking entity who slowly, but purposefully pursues its target. Supposedly the only options are to be killed or pass it on through more passion … the worst kind of “pay it forward”.

Jay is supported in her ongoing attempts to avoid the entity by her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), her neighbor and classmate Greg (Daniel Zovatto), and Paul (Keir Gilchrist) her not-so-secret admirer who would do anything to protect her. The big catch is that only Jay can see the entity … making heroism quite elusive for her support group.

Lest there be any doubt of the dire situation, director Mitchell begins the movie with a very vivid example of the likely result in being “caught” by the entity, and adds the score from composer Disasterpeace … an ominous throwback techno-sound that would be distracting if not so fitting. This has all the makings of a breakout role for Maika Monroe, with similarities to Jamie Lee Curtis in the original Halloween movie (1978).

The low budget caused some obvious production limitations – in particular an awkward bounce from day to night and back again, and some iffy effects. However, the suburban Detroit setting provides a nice backdrop, and of special note are the Redford Theatre (est 1928) replete with its beautiful pipe organ, and the indoor swimming pool put to spectacular use in the film’s climax. As long as the audience is not expecting the typical teen slasher, this creative horror film should gain an audience while putting director David Robert Mitchell on the fast track to bigger budget films.

watch the trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=it+follows+review

 


IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (2010)

September 30, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Attended a screening last evening and came away a bit surprised. The preview, thanks in part to Ida Maria’s blaring song “Oh My God”, had me convinced this was going to be a typical slapstick teen comedy. Instead, co-writers and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck deliver a black comedy-drama that has appeal to both teens and grown-ups. (based on the Ned Vizzini novel)

The story revolves around Craig, a 16 year old who is feeling depressed and suicidal given the pressures of a relentless father, looming college entrance exams and a screwed up social life. You are right if you are thinking this sounds like just about every 16 year old on the planet. The difference here is that Craig checks himself into a psych ward … he ends up in the adult wing, since the teen wing is undergoing renovations. Craig is played by Keir Gilchrist (The United States of Tara), who I can best describe as a young Keanu Reeves clone, only too smart rather than too clueless.

Since this is part comedy, you can imagine the characters who fill the ward. Craig bonds with Bobby, played by Zach Galifianakis, who seems happy to play the mentor role (quoting Dylan) for Cool Craig, but just can’t seem to find the strength to live his own life. Of course, we also get the emotionally damaged hot girl played exceptionally well by Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric, niece of Julia; Nancy Drew). The film accepts its own stereotypes for the other characters with labels such as “the schizophrenic”.

The message of the film seems to be that we all go through stages of doubt and uncertainty, and the best “cure” is to somehow remove the stress and discover our real talents and personality. You may end up creating art in the form of a brain map, or even a music video of Bowie/Queen’s “Under Pressure” (an elaborate inset to the film).  Just live.

The filmmakers evidently struggled with where their line was for the direction of the story. With previous serious films Half-Nelson and Sugar, my guess is their vision was a much more complex and darker script rather than the final version which has more mass appeal. The Zach Galifianiakis character specifically, seemed poised to make a real statement. Instead we are left with his reserved, knowing smile as Craig presents him a gift and the hope of getting together for ping pong. Also, not much story is given to Emma Roberts and her penchant for cutting herself. She seems magically cured after a roof top encounter with Craig. Anyway, the comedy sections are more successful than the drama sections, provided you are able to find humor in the illness and weakness of others.

This is certainly not at the level of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it is an entertaining film from a comedic perspective. It will probably be remembered as Zach Galifianiakis fist role where he flashed some real acting chops, and hopefully as Emma Roberts breakout role.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy humor derived from the darker elements of life OR you want to say “I was there” when Zach Galifianakis proved he could do more than smirk.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you think a movie should be either a comedy or drama, not both OR hearing the opening riff to “Under Pressure” causes flashbacks to Vanilla Ice explaining how he didn’t sample the song.