LEARNING TO DRIVE (2015)

September 10, 2015

learning to drive Greetings again from the darkness. Many movies have utilized the career-focused husband who is oblivious to how his inattentiveness leads to a crumbling marriage and estranged family. It’s much rarer to have a professionally successful woman at the core of a story where she is the neglectful one, and the dissolved marriage leaves her in emotional shambles.  The metaphor here is obvious yet effective, as the woman tries to put her life back together and discover herself in the process … by “learning to drive”.

Patricia Clarkson stars as Wendy, a very successful New York book critic, who is blindsided when her husband (Jake Weber, “Medium”) dumps her for another woman. It turns out Wendy is infinitely more attentive to her computer screen than to her husband and daughter (Grace Gummer). In a fortuitous turn, the cab driver during the marital break-up is a Sikh Indian-American named Darwan, played by Sir Ben Kingsley.

Darwan’s second job just happens to be driving instructor, which means he can provide life lessons and philosophy to Wendy while simultaneously reminding her to fasten her seatbelt and check the mirrors. During this time, Darwan is also taking on a wife via arranged marriage to Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury, “Homeland”). His patience and way of life is challenged by both women, so the teacher also becomes a student.

The scenes featuring Clarkson and Kingsley are the film’s best, and inject some moments of humor to go along with the force-fed melodrama. Ms. Clarkson is at her best here flashing anger, vulnerability and a realization that life opens up for those who open up themselves, but she can’t overcome what amounts to a film that should air on Oprah’s network.

Director Isabel Coixet also worked with Clarkson and Kingsley in her 2008 film Elegy. Though it teases some interesting topics, this story sticks mostly to the surface, never digging too deeply. Because of this, it’s a pleasant film that will easily entertain adult audiences who prefer their movies with no real surprises or suspense.

watch the trailer:

 

 

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OCTOBER GALE (2014)

March 2, 2015

october gale Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/Director Ruba Nadda likes to explore human nature and unexpected romantic attraction. She did this in Cairo Time (2009) and does so again here in this excruciatingly slow-moving “thriller” with an interesting beginning, muddled middle, and a final act that reminds of wet fireworks … a dud. On the bright side, actress-extraordinaire Patricia Clarkson never allows us to lose interest.

I’ve often written of my enjoyment of slow-burns and slow-builds for thrillers, and the best manage to generate a sense of caring from the viewers as they move towards the climax. Unfortunately, this one offers little more than an intriguing premise that places one ridiculous development on top of the next.

Patricia Clarkson plays a doctor whose beloved husband has recently passed away and she heads to their lake cottage for some peace and quiet. Not long after, an injured Scott Speedman shows up in her living room. Being a doctor, she performs bullet-removal surgery with needle-nosed pliers, and then of course, finds herself attracted to the young gunshot victim who is being hunted by the father of a guy Speedman killed.

We know the showdown is coming, but it seems to take forever to arrive, and then is pretty anti-climactic despite the presence of Tim Roth as the revenge-seeking father. The romantic attraction is pretty far-fetched and plays like a Nicolas Sparks story, or even a 1990’s Tom Berenger or Ashley Judd thriller.

The focus on death could have gone much deeper, psychologically speaking, and there is a brief scene where Roth tells Speedman “You always think there’s going to be more time” that leads us to believe things are going to get really interesting. Instead more attention is given to the unlikely romance and the kinda hokey manhunt. Fortunately, the cinematography around beautiful Georgian Bay helps offset the story and the manipulative score, and of course watching Patricia Clarkson and Tim Roth work is always somewhat satisfying.

watch the trailer:

 


THE EAST (2013)

July 1, 2013

east1 Greetings again from the darkness. Co-writer and director Zal Batmanglij re-teams with his Sound of My Voice co-writer and actress Brit Marling (Another Earth) to deliver another cult-based story. This time they focus on big, bad corporations and the eco-terrorists who target them.

Ms. Marling’s character is hired by Patricia Clarkson’s Security Company that specializes in protecting big corporations from the terrorist attacks and acts of revenge that these cults of anarchists perpetuate. Marling goes undercover to learn the secrets of The East, one of the particularly aggressive cult-like groups. The leader of The East is played by Alexander Skarsgard, who works with an overly-zealous and bitter Ellen Page and former med student Toby Kebbell.

east3 Are these idealists, anarchists, eco-activists or eco-terrorists? Is their “eye for an eye” philosophy a form of retribution or is it meant to draw attention so that a wrong can be righted? Are there extremes to which they won’t go? This group doesn’t seem united in their answers to these questions, though their deep woods hangout draws comparisons to Charles Manson’s compound.

As Marling becomes part of the group, she participates in the “jams”, which are the actual strikes against the companies and the decision makers in charge. Specifically, they give a pharmaceutical giant a taste of their own medicine … getting the desired results, which they watch online. Of course, there is always the risk of prison and/or injury and things don’t always go according to plan.

east4 The cast is pretty talented and also includes Jason Ritter, Shiloh Fernandez and Julia Ormond. The story will remind a bit of Sound of My Voice, and also Martha Marcy May Marlene. In other words, the attraction of the cult and commitment to cause. The set-up to the story is very well done, and it’s no real surprise as opposing ideals and conflicts creep into a group of idealists. Is violence necessary or are there more effective methods to make one’s protest heard and spur change? While the movie lacks the edge of the best indies, it still makes for good movie discussion … and crosses into real life beliefs and, personal and political stances.

**NOTE: Brit Marling is one of those rare combinations of Writer/Actress, and she is talented at both. She would be a wise choice as a prediction of future Oscar winner at some point … the only question is whether that will come as a writer or actress.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of Sound of My Voice and/or Martha Marcy May Marlene OR you’re in the mood for a intriguing story during this time of blockbuster summer releases OR you just want to see Alexander Skarsgard in full scraggily mode

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you refuse to believe big corporations would never put profit above public well-being OR you’re looking for a few good laughs (not sure this one has even one)

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oPoTrnHQ3I


ONE DAY

August 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I have not read David Nicholls‘ novel, but my understanding is that it is extremely well written and its loyal readers really connected with Emma and Dexter. If that’s true, then this film version is even worse than I thought while watching.

This literally is my least favorite type of movie. An uninspired movie that assumes its viewers are unable to think for themselves or judge the actions of its characters. In other words, the filmmakers take for granted that we will accept whatever is shown on the big screen.

 First let me say that I completely understand the school girl crush that a young Emma (Anne Hathaway) has on her classmate Dexter (Jim Sturgess). He is handsome and charismatic and comes from more money than she. I also understand Dexter’s attraction to the lovely Emma. She is very pretty – despite the ridiculous over-sized glasses used for effect in the early scenes – and very intelligent, and a significantly nicer person than he.

What makes absolutely no sense is her continued attraction to this drunken, empty soul for the next twenty years. She is too smart to pine away the years hoping he will wise up and coming running to her. We are supposed to believe that she has no interest in any other relationship except the non-threatening one with flopping stand-up comedian Ian (played by Timothy Spall‘s son Rafe) and a “boring” French Jazz Pianist.

 Dexter’s mother is played by Patricia Clarkson. As she is dying from cancer, she tells him that she believes he will grow into a good man, but isn’t there yet. I guess we are supposed to take her word for it. Instead we only see Dexter go from a selfish pig as a TV personality to a defeated man who must perform manual labor for the first time in his life. My issue is that a defeated man is not necessarily a good man. A man resigned to his life has not necessarily reached enlightenment. Where is Emma’s proof that he deserves her? Where is the indication that her life with him will be better? I tell you where … in the mind of that school girl from years ago.

 Please don’t mistake my words as that of one who has no faith in romantic stories. There are so many ways this story could have turned that it would have captured me. Instead it chose a path that assumed I was ignorant … totally accepting of the ridiculous story being laid out in front of me. 

My final comments on the film involve the cast. Anne Hathaway is an incredibly talented performer. She is not, however, British. Her accent is terribly distracting. Jim Sturgess is a handsome guy, but just not showy enough to pull off the TV personality role. Patricia Clarkson is a fantastic actress, but she is not British either. Seriously, are there not enough British actresses? The casting reeks of a money-grubbing production team. As for director Lone Scherfig … her previous film An Education was cinematic excellence. This is an unacceptable follow-up and we expect better next time.

Since I usually look for the good in movies, I will say the locations of Edinburg, London and Paris were beautiful and different than we usually get from the movies. That provided the only real enjoyment from this highly disappointing movie.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: this is the only way you can see some beautiful scenery from the U.K. and France, and can block out the horrible story onscreen.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoyed the book and don’t want to spoil that good vibe

watch the trailer:


CAIRO TIME (2009)

August 22, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. I am as intrigued and fascinated by the mysteries of Egypt as most. Seeing the majestic monuments from the past still standing is remarkable and awe-inspiring. Not so awe-inspiring are the dusty road and crowded streets and walk ways of Cairo. Unfortunately, writer/director Ruba Nadda provides much more of the latter than the former.

This is supposed to be an intimate tale of charm and love in the mesmerizing city of Cairo. Instead, it’s a torturously slow moving train to nowhere. The two lead characters, Tareq and Juliette, are well played by Alexander Siddig and Patricia Clarkson. Unfortunately, they are not supported by a worthy script. Where was the connection between these two? She makes no effort to contact him until she “needs” him after being accosted on the street … where Caucasian women just don’t walk alone.

I was amazed at how this magazine journalist was so clueless on the way of life in a city she was to visit for 3 weeks. Tareq was more of a tour guide, who also happened to be a lonely heart – whether for Juliette or the “love of his life” who reappears. It seemed he could go either way, if not for the cultural disrespect shown to a widow.

The driving force seems to be Ms. Nadda’s obsession with romance between a Muslim and non-Muslim. If that’s the case, the film desperately needed more insight into the cultural and religious differences. Instead what we get is a woman who, on one hand, is willing to risk a dangerous trip to find her “missing husband” and, on the other, teetering on whether to toss him aside for a new found tour guide.

I found little of this believable or rewarding. More substance was needed in the story and the “relationship” between these two. I enjoy nuanced romance very much when it makes sense (see The Remains of the Day). I also enjoy political thrillers where a wife refuses to give up her search for her husband (see Missing). What I don’t enjoy are movies that think they have earned the right to be considered important just because they start with an interesting premise.


SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)

February 20, 2010

(2-19-10)

 Greetings again from the darkness. Ahh yes, the psychological thriller is my favorite movie genre. Not sure what that says about me. There are so few good ones, at least since Alfred Hitchcock passed on. Director Martin Scorsese often includes some psychological warfare in his films, but with Shutter Island, he leaps feet first into the world of the criminally insane.

This is a very difficult film to comment on because it is crucial that the viewer watch with a clean slate … in other words, don’t let someone toss out some spoilers if you plan to see the film. All I will say regarding the story is that it’s fun to watch and my brain was working non-stop the whole time (that’s a good thing!).  Scorcese uses many different camera angles, close-ups and bright red to go with they island storm.  The film has some of the style of his Cape Fear, but even more darkness to the story, as here, EVERY character is a bit off center.

Scorsese has, as usual, assembled an excellent cast. Leonardo DiCaprio takes the lead as Teddy. His partner is played by Mark Ruffalo and they “investigate” the disappearance of a patient from Shutter Island – a treatment center for the criminally insane. This is no vacation island and at the center is a civil war fort that houses the worst of the worst. The creepy place is run by Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow, who could both make afternoon English Tea seem downright ominous.

The cast is so strong that Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson are basically limited to one scene each and Jackie Earle Haley continues his resurgence with a wicked one on one scene with Leo. Michelle Williams makes her appearances via flashbacks, visions and sweaty, late night dreams. By the end of the film, her ugly yellow dress was itself a frightening prop.

To cap off the mental and emotional turmoil, Scorsese adds an unusual score that at first seems overbearing at odd times, but later reveals itself to have been “right” all along. My favorite shot of the film is at the very beginning when the ferry first breaks through the fog. Funny enough, it was ME in a fog for the next 2 hours!