THE MIMIC (2020)

March 11, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. It has been said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Writer-director Thomas F Mazziotti has not only based this story on his own real life experience, but with it proves that imitation can also be the sign of a psychopath. In fact, as the film begins, we are informed that 1 in 25 people are psychopaths, and also playing a role here is “The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us”, a 2005 book written by Martha Stout.

This is an unusual film with an offbeat rhythm. It reminds me a bit of CREEP, the 2014 movie starring Mark Duplass, in that the characters all seem like someone we could know, yet there’s something a bit off. Thomas Sadoski (“The Newsroom”) is Tony, a lead character, a widower, and our narrator. Tony has not adjusted to life without his wife, and part of the reason could be how his friends and neighbors are always bringing it up. Once the “Kid” shows up, Tony is taken on a ride that has him questioning not just other people, but reality.

“Kid” is actually Peter (Jake Robinson), a 31 year old, red pants wearing newcomer to town. He seems to fit right in with the elderly local newspaper ladies as they bicker about semi-colons, but his real attraction is to Tony – proclaiming “we’re on the same wavelength” after a few ‘coincidental’ meet-ups. It’s tempting to label this as a battle of nitwits, but neither of the men lack intelligence. They are both just awkward, and that includes Tony, our trusted narrator.

The film is basically a puzzle with numerous separate pieces loosely packaged as a series of vignettes that may or may not tie together. The segments certainly provide a showcase for a plethora of recognizable actors. The list includes: Austin Pendleton, Gina Gershon, Jessica Walter, Didi Conn, Marilu Henner, Tammy Blanchard, Matthew Maher, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Josh Pais, and Steve Routman. One segment I found particularly entertaining featured Doug Plaut and the legendary M Emmet Walsh as a writer and director discussing a project.

For the most part, it just seems the film, the writers, and the characters are all trying so desperately to be witty, clever, or funny, that whether it works as a cohesive project gets kind of pushed aside. The background circus music fits well and complements the theatrical pacing and cadence. Mazziotti’s film is certainly not cinema-as-usual, and it will likely find a cult following … perhaps among those bonding “on a personal pronoun basis.”

 

 


I SMILE BACK (2015)

October 23, 2015

I smile back Greetings again from the darkness. The combination of Sarah Silverman in the lead role and the word “smile” in the title sets the stage for some shell-shocked movie goers who walk into this one expecting the side-splitting laughs this talented comedienne usually delivers. Drama seems an insufficient description for what director Adam Salky serves up, and Ms. Silverman is fully engaged with the bleak tone. It’s a Hollywood rite of passage that every comedic actor must go full bore drama before they are taken seriously as an actor. Welcome to the club, Sarah.

The opening sequence plops us right into Laney’s (Silverman) depressed state. We soon learn that she is far beyond the stereotypical disillusioned suburban housewife. She lives in a stunning McMansion with her wonderful husband Bruce (Josh Charles) and their cute kids. Unable to find joy in her life, Laney seeks answers in alcohol, pills, cocaine, and by trysting with her friend’s husband (Thomas Sadoski). We’ve seen it all before, but never by through the work of a fearless Sarah Silverman.

It’s not that we dislike Laney. It’s more that we feel helpless and somewhat disgusted watching her. We have seen the parents who put their career ahead of family, but it’s even more painful to watch such self-destructive emotional behavior. And when Laney finds release through her daughter’s teddy bear, it pushes us as viewers to accept just how near the edge she teeters.

Laney’s vacuous eyes are the obvious sign that she is simply unable to find any joy in the daily routine of family life. It’s not surprising when we learn of the childhood baggage she carries, and her attempts to confront the past provides a spark of hope for her recovery … as does the rehab stay. However, the script from Paige Dylan (wife of Jakob Dylan) and Amy Koppelman confirms that sometimes there is no redemption. The abrupt ending is both a kick in the gut and relief that our time with Laney is done … and also recognition that Sarah Silverman has arrived as a dramatic acting force.

watch the trailer:

 


WILD (2014)

December 14, 2014

 

Wild Greetings again from the darkness. The best movies expertly provide a visual representation of quality writing. However, the film medium is somewhat limited, and especially struggles, in displaying the complexities of human introspection … something the best writers are able to capture with words on a page. Director Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyer’s Club) and writer Nick Hornby (An Education, High Fidelity) are simply unable to capture the guts of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild: Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” – despite the likely Oscar nominated performance of Reese Witherspoon.

It’s quite likely, given the steady stream of rave reviews, that my lack of connection with the film is firmly planted in a small minority of movie goers and film critics. On the bright side, it’s a real pleasure to see Reese Witherspoon follow-up her no frills supporting role in Mud with a strong portrayal of uber-flawed Cheryl.

The story picks up with Cheryl getting ready for her 1100 mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in the summer of 1995. Her lack of trail experience is obvious from the unwrapped, shiny new contents of her “monster” backpack. While walking alone with her thoughts, memories are triggered by such things as a song, a horse, and even a phrase. It’s through these flashbacks that we learn the reasons for Cheryl’s trek towards self-discovery. The illness and death of her beloved mother, a childhood marred by an abusive father, her own crumbled marriage brought on by her promiscuity (“I cheated on him a lot”), and her attempts to dull the pain through heroin abuse, have led Cheryl to the trail head of re-discovering her true self.

Cheryl’s mother is played by Laura Dern (a terrific performance) and while her inspiration is obvious, there is one especially poignant scene that takes place in the kitchen … Bobbi tells Cheryl that she fully understands their plight, and refuses to let that define her life. That powerful scene is negated by the awkward and unexplained relationship Cheryl has with her ex-husband (Thomas Sadoski), the underdeveloped best friend support shown from an intriguing Gaby Hoffmann, and the voice mail connection with her brother (Keene McRae). More of these key people and fewer flashbacks might have allowed us to better relate to Cheryl as a person, rather than someone who hasn’t dealt well with a few life obstacles.

The familiar guitar strumming of Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa” is heard throughout, as are numerous literary quotes that Cheryl used to leave her mark in the trail journals. There are, of course, similarities here to other films such as Into The Wild, 127 Hours, and Eat Pray Love. Also present is the element of a solitary woman in the wilderness … every male presence is greeted with anxiety from Cheryl, especially in contrast to the warm greeting she offers another female hiker.

The biggest missing link for me was Cheryl’s apparent epiphany. We witness a couple of emotional breakdowns along the trail, plus big time blisters, damaged toenails, rain and snow, and nature’s beauty. What’s not explained is her personal growth and self-discovery – the moment when Cheryl put the past behind and went “above her nerve”.  While her desire and efforts are commendable, the real story would be her inner thoughts … those conversations going on inside her brain (and in the book) that led to a conclusion of which we aren’t privy.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see a likely Oscar performance from Reese Witherspoon (including frequent use of the F word)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: a damaged toenail makes you nauseous

watch the trailer: