THE MASTER CLEANSE (2016)

April 30, 2016

Dallas International Film Festival 2016

master cleanse Greetings again from the darkness. Sometimes, it’s just difficult to know how to describe or discuss a movie. This happens more frequently at film festivals where the most creative and risky films often find their only audience. This first feature film from writer/director Bobby Miller isn’t really a comedy – though there are some uneasy laughs; and it isn’t really a horror film – though isolated cabins in the woods and creepy little creatures give the impression that it could go that way.

Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”) stars as Paul, a down-on-his-luck nice guy who hasn’t recovered emotionally from being dumped at the altar by his fiancé. One night he’s dozing on the sofa when a TV ad captures his attention … it’s a spiritual retreat for the downtrodden!  The timing couldn’t be better.

He’s joined at the isolated retreat by struggling actress Maggie (Anna Friel), a young couple, Eric (Kyle Gallner) and Lily (Diana Bang) working through relationship issues, and a quasi-caretaker and holdover client played by Kevin J O’Connor. The on-site leader is played in full-bellow mode by the great Angelica Huston.

Day one is the juice cleanse, and the participants have to force down a disgusting concoction designed to “eliminate” … the step preceding “termination”. Elimination is pretty easy to figure out, as our new friends expel from both ends (fortunately this is mostly implied, not shown).  While that part might be expected, the surprise comes in the form of the eliminated creatures unique to each of our players … little critters representing the emotional baggage we all carry inside.

In the midst of misery, the retreaters are told that the movement (no pun intended) leader (Oliver Platt) will be arriving soon. He’s kind of a cult-like figure without the expected pretentiousness. In fact, he’s a pretty nice guy that seems to really care. Of course, that would be a pretty boring story, so plenty of things go awry during the process.

“Let’s Get Pure” is the name for the retreat, and the idea of physically removing our negative energy and emotional baggage does make some sense. Director Miller seems to blend the worlds of early David Cronenberg and Gremlins to deliver an odd little film that could develop a cult following of its own. It’s a serious message conveyed in a not so serious way. Galecki and Friel do a nice job of keeping us grounded and giving us some peeps to pull for.  Just watch that final step … termination can be brutal.

 

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THE FINEST HOURS (2015)

January 29, 2016

finest hours Greetings again from the darkness. The U.S. Coast Guard has played a role in many movies over the years, but only a few have placed this service branch directly in the heart of the story … most recently The Guardian (2006), which was little more than a cheesy, too-talkative water-based rip-off of Top Gun.  Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, 2007) takes a much different approach as he presents a look at one of the most legendary and heroic real-life rescues in Coast Guard history.

The Oscar-nominated writing team behind The Fighter (2010): Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson have collaborated on the screenplay based on the book from Casey Sherman and Michael J Touglas. It’s a worthy tribute (and clearly Disney-influenced) to what is described as the greatest Coast Guard small-boat rescue. It combines a boat-load (sorry) of tension-filled ocean-based sequences with some pretty interesting character-based sub-plots within a Massachusetts community that has become all too familiar with storm-based catastrophes.

Chris Pine stars as Bernie Webber, an awkwardly shy and obsessive rule-follower, who has lived under a cloud of doubt ever since a previous rescue mission failed, resulting in the death of a local fisherman/husband/father. We first meet Bernie as he bungles through a first date with Miriam (Holliday Grainger, a young Gretchen Mol lookalike). The film then jumps ahead to 1952 when they become engaged and Bernie is ordered into a questionable mission by his “not-from-around-here” commanding officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana). See, a huge storm has literally ripped apart not one, but two giant tankers, leaving crew members battling for survival. It should be noted that Bana the Australian, tosses out a laughable southern accent that is a joke within the movie and within the theatre (for different reasons).

Bernie and his crew: Richard Livesay (Ben Foster), Andy Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner), and Ervin Maske (John Magaro), take off against all odds in a too-small boat against too-big waves in a desperate attempt to rescue the tanker crew that includes brilliant engineer (and quiet leader) Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) and characters played by John Ortiz and Graham McTavish. Affleck excels as what can be termed a quiet leader. Of course, we know how the story ends, but the heroic efforts against a very powerful Mother Nature show-of-force make for compelling movie watching.

The special effects are stout, though not be as spectacular as The Perfect Storm (2010) or In the Heart of the Sea (2015), and it’s the human-factor that provides more than enough thrills, excitement, and tension. In fact, the biggest issue I had was that I saw a 3-D version which is an absolute disservice to the film. Most of the story takes place at night and at sea, so the 3-D consequence of dimmed light and muted colors results in a far too dark and dull look to the film. I spent much of the movie sliding the 3-D glasses down my nose in a simple attempt to enjoy a bit more brightness. The recommendation would be to skip the higher-priced (money grabbing) 3-D version and take in the more pleasing “standard” version.

Disney makes feel-good movies. Their target market is not cynics or the overly critical among us. The romance pushes the “corny” meter, but keeps with tradition of other Disney movies based on true stories like The Rookie (2002) and Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (2005). Keep this in mind you’ll likely find this one pretty entertaining. Stick around for the closing credits as a slew of real photographs from the actual 1952 event are displayed, as are photos of the real heroes from that night.

watch the trailer:

 


AMERICAN SNIPER (2014)

January 17, 2015

american sniper Greetings again from the darkness. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”. Shakespeare wrote those words for “Henry IV”, but director Clint Eastwood’s latest film depicts the sentiment for Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sharpshooter known as “Legend”. Screenwriter Jason Hall adapted the story from Kyle’s memoir (co-written with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice).

You may not be aware of the sniper’s role during a war. In an early scene (used in the trailer) we experience the incredibly stressful moment of decision that Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) faces as a mother and young child enter the street … are they a threat to the platoon or not? The decision means killing a woman and child or risking the death of many U.S. soldiers. If he is wrong, he faces a jury and military shame.  Most of us lack the capacity for such decision-making.  As a flashback to Kyle’s childhood shows, most of us are either sheep or wolves. Only a very few are sheepdogs with the aggressiveness to protect the flock. Chris Kyle: sheepdog.

The story takes us through Chris’ aimless young adult years on the cowboy circuit. He’s a tough guy who likes to drink and party with his friends. September 11 acts as a call to action, a call to service. SEAL training is shown and the point is made that Chris is the old man in the group, but he displays a quiet leadership trait. We then witness his flirting with a snippy Taya (Sienna Miller) at a bar counter as his SEAL buddies throw darts at each other’s bare backs (don’t try that at home, kids).  Soon enough Chris and Taya are married, and Chris is called to the front.

Back and forth we go through Chris Kyle’s four tours. His expertise in war is offset by his inability to adjust to family life. He has a compulsion to serve and to protect his fellow soldiers, but he is unable to fit into the suburban life of cell phones and grilled hamburgers. Not surprisingly, Taya struggles with his struggles. Bradley Cooper gets to be the legend, while Sienna Miller is the emotional mother who has seemingly lost her husband – not to death, but to an obsession to serve.

The film does little to explain why Chris Kyle is exponentially more productive than other snipers, and even less to explore his PTSD and mental anguish outside of the front. It’s Bradley Cooper’s acting that provides us what insight we do get, and he does a remarkable job capturing the hulking, uncommunicative giant who doesn’t really understand the “legend” title … he’s just doing his job and following his nature.

The tragic end is handled with grace by Eastwood, and it left my full-capacity movie theatre as quiet as a church during prayer. It’s possible to be a legend, but not a feel like a hero, and the movie makes no political statements regarding war or foreign policy. What it does show is that most of us are not sheepdogs.

watch the trailer:

 


A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

May 9, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. OK, if you are seeking cinematic genius, no need to check this one out. On the other hand, if you enjoy a good scare, a creepy story and a really messed up bad guy … the latest reincarnation of Freddy Kreuger may be just what you have been dreaming of.

The list of Elm Street alums is pretty impressive: Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Laurence Fishbourne, Patricia Arquette and of course, Robert Englund. Sadly, the new one only gives us a bunch of mid-20’s types as high schoolers (yes, STILL a pet peeve of mine), though Kate Cassidy is the daughter of former pop star David Cassidy, and Rooney Mara is Kate’s sister. Kyle Gallner and Thomas Dekker are familiar enough and wear sufficient bleary-eyed make-up to help us forget their real ages.

Of course, the real stars here are Freddy and the dream sequences. We get a decent enough scrip without the total camp of the later Elm Street films. The first time director is Samuel Bayer, who made his name as a music video director. His eye for visual effects and camera shots is a plus here. I really enjoyed some of the spectacular individual shots, even if the overall flow was a bit choppy.

Wes Craven’s original creation lives on through the fine work of Jackie Earle Haley as Mr. Kreuger. Many will remember Jackie Earle as the dirt bike riding center fielder in the first Bad News Bears. He is all grown up now and experiencing a really nice career revival. He possesses the necessary creep factor to pull off this nastiest of nightmares.