THE COLD LANDS (2014)

June 3, 2014

cold lands Greetings again from the darkness. A favorite at some film festivals, this little film starts off very strong and captures our attention with the odd, yet fascinating dynamic between mother (Lili Taylor) and adolescent son Atticus (newcomer Silas Yelich). She commits much of each day to making sure her son learns the skills to be self-sufficient. Their borderline off-the-grid minimalist lifestyle has her also teaching him history (the anti-rent wars in the Catskills) and music appreciation. This is definitely not Hanna (2011), where the parent teaches the kid to be a cold-blooded assassin. Instead, this parenting approach is grounded, earthy and independent.

Teasing a theme of The State vs The Individual, the story suffers once untreated diabetes removes mom from the picture, leaving Atticus to fend for himself. Having Atticus meander aimlessly through the forest makes some sense given his background, but the story loses all focus at this point. Unfortunately it doesn’t really regain traction when Atticus latches on to the free-spirited hippie Carter (Peter Scanavino). Carter becomes a quasi-father figure and big brother, but his endless stream of screw-ups can’t be offset by his hand-crafted jewelry. He attempts to sell the goods at hippie festivals seemingly designed for pot smoking and skinny dipping.

With this beautifully photographed film, writer/director Tom Gilroy could have used a bit more attention to the script. The mother-son story easily could have lingered longer, and the Carter-Atticus story needed a bit more direction – more than just making the point that Carter has mostly good intentions. Young Silas Yelich looks really good on screen, but is given little to do, so we aren’t sure what to expect with his future work.

With some elements of  Mud (2012) and Running on Empty (1998), the early look and feel of the movie gets us set up for a nice indie treat. Unfortunately, the script lets us down in the second half.

watch the trailer:

 

 


THE CONJURING (2013)

July 22, 2013

conjuring Greetings again from the darkness. The overdose and saturation of reality TV the past decade has resulted in at least a couple of Ghost Hunter type shows. Surely you have stumbled on at least one of these. Director James Wan kicks off this latest haunted house adventure with the all-too-familiar “Based on a True Story” and then proceeds to fill the next couple of hours with scene after scene of horror film staples … things we have jumped at many times over the years. However, this one is bumped up a notch thanks to atmosphere, direction and acting ability, and the fact that yes, the ghost hunters are/were REAL.
The Perron family has moved to the country for a “fresh start” and here is what we learn:

1. If the family dog won’t enter the new house, then neither should you or your kids. It’s time to move out. How many dogs aren’t dog-wagging thrilled to follow the kids right in through the front door?

2. If all the clocks (electric and wind-up) stop at exactly the same time, it’s time to move out.

3. If you stumble on a boarded up cellar/basement, just leave it boarded up … and it’s time to move out.

4. If multiple birds fly full speed into your house, breaking their necks, it’s time to move out.

5. If your daughter discovers an antique toy that she carries around while talking to her new imaginary friend … it’s time to move out.  If she brings her “old” imaginary friend with her to the new house … see The Shining.

6. If, over two consecutive evenings, your sleepwalking daughter bangs her head into the armoire left by the previous owners, it’s time to move out.

7. Having 5 daughters seems to make parenting exceptionally difficult, but this in itself is no reason to move out of the house.

8. Playing blindfolded ‘Hide and Clap’ is not an appropriate game when you live in a 3 level home. This is no reason to move out, just find a game that doesn’t require a blindfold … or an Ouija board.

9. If you ever have to call demonologists to your home, don’t get defensive about not being a religious family. Just move out of the house.

conjuring3 Director Wan gives us tastes of the haunted house/possession Big 3: The Exorcist, Poltergeist and Amityville Horror. It’s not at the level of these, but it’s certainly better than most horror films of the past two decades … at least we don’t get any stupid teenagers wandering through the woods. In fact, this one plays right off our natural tendency to feel safe and secure while surrounded by our family within the confines of our own home. The biggest scares come from the moments we are most relaxed.

It’s Rated R for being frightening.  There are no spinning heads or pea soup, and the gore factor is exceptionally low considering Mr. Wan directed Saw, the film that kicked off torture-fest movie genre. The acting here is really good for a horror film. Patrick conjuring4Wilson also starred in Wan’s Insidious, and here he plays Ed Warren. With his clairvoyant wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), the Warrens are well known ghostbusters, ghost hunters, demonologists, or whatever label you care to apply. We learn about their most famous case regarding Annaelle the creepy as heck doll, and we also see how they save a trophy from each of their cases … and store it in their home (a seemingly dumb move). Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston are also strong in their roles as the Perron parents. Another thing I liked was that the kids seem like real kids … especially the recognizable Joey King and MacKenzie Foy.

conjuring2 Horror and Comedy are both at the mercy of personal taste.  What makes you laugh and what makes you jump is probably different from others, so these two genres are difficult to recommend.  Still, it takes talent to direct a horror movie and not really introduce any new “gotcha’s”, while still keeping the viewers grabbing the armrests. So enjoy the jumps, cover your eyes, and keep in mind … if your dog won’t enter your new house, it’s time to move out!

**NOTE: an interesting side note … Ryan Gosling co-wrote the song that plays over the closing credits

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: your favorite horror films are the haunted house types

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have 5 daughters and think moving to the country is a good idea

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejMMn0t58Lc


BEING FLYNN (2012)

March 27, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Having done no research to determine how closely Nick Flynn’s autobiography/memoirs entitled “Another Bull**** Night in Suck City” follows his real life, it is safe for me to say that there is some pleasure to be had from a movie that lacks the traditional Hollywood ending of redemption for rotten souls. We do know that in real life, as in the movie, Nick met his long-lost father while working at a homeless shelter. This happened after Nick’s mother committed suicide.  Not exactly the most cheerful start, eh?

This story will strike a familiar chord with anyone who has experienced abandonment by a parent (or two). Hopefully, your personal story doesn’t also include the alcohol and drug abuse, as well as the guilt of believing you were responsible for the loving parent’s suicide. Nick’s story does.  He makes no apologies for the behavior of himself or either of his parents.  He just lays it out for us to see.

Nick is played well with an almost detached passive aggressiveness by Paul Dano. He seems constantly numbed by the situation life places him in. Astonishment kicks in when he comes face to face with his father Jonathan, a self-proclaimed brilliant writer, but also con artist and racist. Jonathan, played by Robert DeNiro, is first seen as a taxi driver. Yes, Robert DeNiro as a taxi driver, almost 40 years after his iconic turn in Taxi Driver! It’s a startling image for a movie lover, but one that doesn’t last long. Jonathan loses that job as he has lost everything else.

 Nick’s internal battle is obvious. He doesn’t want to be his father, but constantly sees glimpses that they are more similar than he would prefer. Nick manages to mess up a good thing with his co-worker played by the terrific Olivia Thirlby. She experiences the frustration of trying to save someone who doesn’t really want to be saved.

Strong support work comes from Wes Studi, Dale Dickey, William Stadler, Lili Taylor (Nick Flynn‘s real life wife) and Julianne Moore. Ms. Moore plays Nick’s mother, but really has little to do. Though she provided a strong foundation for Nick, this is really the story of Nick and Jonathan. It’s DeNiro’s best dramatic work in years and is a reminder that he is capable of more than the “Focker” movies (Paul Weitz actually directed Being Flynn AND Little Fockers, as well as About a Boy and American Pie.  This one can’t be termed enjoyable, but it is an interesting look at “real” life without a Hollywood twist.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have forgotten (or never knew) that Robert DeNiro is an accomplished dramatic actor

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: bleak, dysfunctional family dramas are not your preference for springtime fare

watch the trailer:


BROOKLYN’S FINEST (2009)

March 6, 2010

(3-5-10) 

 Greetings again from the darkness. Ever since Training Day became a hit, director Antoine Fuqua has been one of the director’s that escape harsh criticism from the Hollywood elite. He is a master of intense moments in time, but I believe many of his movies lack continuity to the point where the story seems to come second to adrenaline rushes. Brooklyn’s Finest is no exception.

The film follows the unconnected stories of three cops. Richard Gere is the stereotypical veteran cop who is one week from retirement, and begins the film with a gun in his mouth. Ethan Hawke is the desperate young cop whose family just keeps growing (his wife Lili Taylor is pregnant with twins) and he longs to provide better living arrangements. Don Cheadle is the undercover cop who, if he hasn’t already crossed the line, is dangerously close.

The best scenes are with Cheadle and Wesley Snipes, who plays a just released from prison hardened criminal. Their dialogue rings true for an undercover cop trying to play both sides and hold on to what’s “right”. If not for Ellen Barkin‘s histrionics, the worst scenes would be watching Richard Gere show off his full repertoire of three different facial expressions. Poor Ethan Hawke looks like no one let him eat or shower for 2 months prior to filming. The boy looks sad.

Even though we know it’s coming, the final act where the three stories intersect is pretty interesting and make for a satisfying shoot-em-up ending. Brace yourself for some hardcore street violence and language and a meandering soundtrack.  The film seems to funnel to the point that there is a very fine line between right and wrong for those in law enforcement.  I prefer to cling to the belief that this is a serious exaggeration.