February 28, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. I pity the poor soul who, based on the film’s title, buys a ticket assuming it must be a light-hearted romantic-comedy starring Katherine Heigl. While we do watch a slow-building romance, this is much more of a road trip through parts of the world we don’t usually see on screen. Writer-Director Michael Winterbottom (A MIGHTY HEART, THE KILLER INSIDE ME, THE TRIP) has had a solid career with movies that tend to be quite watchable, though not particularly memorable. Chalk up another.

The film opens in a subdued manner with a man (Dev Patel) meticulously packing a suitcase, boarding a plane, landing in Pakistan and renting a car. These are all things any of us might do if headed to a wedding. Only this mysterious man of few words also buys 2 guns, plastic ties and duct tape. Either this is going to be a honeymoon unlike any other, or he’s on a different mission altogether. We don’t have to wait long, as the night before the wedding, Patel sneaks past the armed security guard and into the family compound so that he can kidnap Samira (Radhika Apte), the bride-to-be.

Mr. Patel plays a British Muslim man with various names and identities, and a supply of passports. He was hired by a shifty rich guy (Jim Sarbh) who loves Samira to prevent her from going through with the arranged marriage. The meet up gets delayed as the kidnapping and fallout make national news. The story evolves into a predictable and familiar road trip, but with a delightfully different setting and backdrop than what we are accustomed to. A train to Delhi plays a role with Samira and her kidnapper on the lam – working to remain anonymous.

The film does offer up some twists and turns for us, but after an intriguing first 15 minutes, we pretty much know where things are headed. Fortunately the camera work of Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens (HELL OR HIGH WATER) keeps our attention, as does the back and forth between Dev Patel and Radhika Apte, two excellent performers. So yes, the film is one we can enjoy watching, though it will likely never come up in conversation.

watch the trailer:



December 17, 2015

emperors new clothes Greetings again from the darkness. I’m not one of those who subscribe to the belief that documentary films should present all sides to the story in a “just the facts, ma’am” style. In fact, I respect a filmmaker who is so passionate about a topic that he/she enthusiastically attempts to overwhelm the viewer with “proof” that their opinion is the definitive truth and no further debate is needed. Here, renowned director Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, 2010) supports comedian/actor/activist Russell Brand in his agenda to educate the masses on the evil of big banks and rich people, and the need for re-distribution of wealth.

Now that agenda may seem a bit odd coming from an admitted rich guy, but in fact, Brand’s professional success lends some credibility to his argument … or at least it’s a different approach than having a group of people living in poverty talk about how they got screwed by “the man”.

To say that Brand dumbs-down his explanation is certainly an understatement. To emphasize this, there are a couple of segments where he utilizes elementary level students to differentiate between rich and poor – what’s fair and what’s not. Concentrating mostly on the British economy, while also noting the similarities to the United States 2008 crash, Brand makes the argument that the turning point was approximately 35 years ago as Margaret Thatcher assumed power and Free Market Capitalism took over. It’s a bizarre point coming from a native of a country whose Monarchs (not known for their “fairness”) date back for centuries. However, this is an example of the keep-it-simple approach in getting the masses to join his quest.

Borrowing a page from Michael Moore’s long-successful script, Brand presents the big banks and the super rich as the villains of society. It’s a common theme and one that’s pretty easy to agree with … the banks were bailed out, and then proceeded to pay their upper management huge bonuses. The viable argument is, why don’t they pay “us” back? Brand attempts to follow Moore’s lead again (while referencing Joseph Campbell) by walking into the banks and asking to see the CEO’s. These attempts fall flat, and leave us with Brand wise-cracking while bystanders try to figure out if it’s all a prank.

The most effective sequences involve Brand walking the streets of Grays London where he was raised. His discussions with the locals are real, and infinitely more enlightening than his storming into bank lobbies. The statistics don’t lie – the rich are getting richer, while the rest of society struggles. George Carlin said it best … the poor are needed to keep the middle class motivated to work so the rich can benefit. Brand also rails against legal tax evasion via offshore accounts – especially in Grand Cayman. He lobbies for those accounts to be taxed and the money returned to the country of origin.

Most of Brand’s mission is preaching the importance of fairness, and the claim is made that by definition, capitalism is the inequality of power. Whether you agree with him or not, Brand is to be respected for using his celebrity status for a cause much more important than the best table in a restaurant, or courtside seats to a game.  His simple-is-best approach carries right through to the end where he does offer up his list of recommendations to create a more fair system.  If his simple and sometimes funny approach allows more people to enter into discussions, then his cause is worthwhile, even if his recommendations are a bit lacking in substance and depth.

watch the trailer:



July 18, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. The film is based upon the work of crime novelist Jim Thompson, who is quite famous as a writer and whose works have often been translated to film. This time oft-creepy director Michael Winterbottom is in charge and comes pretty close to creating a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the bits that fall short, very nearly ruin the film.

Psychological crime thrillers can be the most fascinating genre (see Inception), but only when the lead psycho is relatable in some sense and the story is complete. Here, Casey Affleck gives an outstanding performance as the dude you don’t want your daughter to date. There is a deep darkness hidden behind his aw-shucks facade of innocence and cutesy west Texas drawl.

The violence is expected, yet still shocking, when it first rears its head on poor Jessica Alba. We feel the first punch. What happens in this first encounter catches us off-guard and leaves us wanting to know more background on Affleck’s character. Instead, we are really only spectators in his plan of violence that seems to have no real goal. Think Natural Born Killers. Heck, even Ted Bundy had a real plan!

The creepiness factor is upped a bit since most everyone associated with the crimes seems to suspect Affleck’s character, but no one knows what to do or how to stop him. Kate Hudson, Elias Koteas and Simon Baker (miscast) give it a go. Personally I wanted more of the Koteas character as well as Ned Beatty, who plays a powerful developer against whom Affleck holds a grudge.

Bill Pullman is tossed in near the end to help wrap things up, but mostly the ending is as unsatisfying as the rest of the story. It is uncomfortable to watch Affleck’s character, so devoid of morals and empty of soul, but it feels wasted on a small town deputy sheriff with no vision. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing … but it makes for a much weaker film.