Tag Archives: 2013

Philomena (2013)

philomenaposer

I know I’m probably a little late getting onto the bandwagon, but Judi Dench is an amazing actress! Her eyes are like twin oceans that reflect her character’s feelings, whether stormy or sunny, to an absolute tee. And although some people might find Stephen Frears’ biopic drama Philomena trite or predictable, I thoroughly enjoyed and it’s touching tribute to motherhood. Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) is a simple woman- kind, a little eccentric, and privy to the simple joys that life provides. What she lacks in worldliness she makes up for in good cheer and her big heart.

But something in Philomena’s past haunts her well into her twilight years. As a girl, Philomena had a little boy named Anthony who was taken from her and given to an American couple by the nuns that kept her as an indentured servant to work off her sins as an unwed mother. Not exactly living out the example of Christ, these nuns have refused to tell her over a span of dozens of years what became of Anthony, and despite being the mother of another grown child, a daughter, Philomena’s heart aches to discover Anthony’s whereabouts and to involve him in her life.

That’s where Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan,) a disgraced journalist, comes in. Against his own better judgement, the cynical Martin is recruited by Philomena’s daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin) to locate Anthony and reunite him with his aged mother. Thus, begins a funny, sad, and bittersweet journey to Ireland, Philomena’s birthplace, the U.S., and finally, home again (hopefully with son in tow.) On the way Philomena challenges Martin’s atheism and grim viewpoint on life in general, and Martin is gradually buoyed by Philomena’s infectious attitude.

If you enjoy well-acted, gently quirky and sweetly predictable British dramedies that showcase the best humanity has to offer and heart-tugging plots, this movie is for you. I know what I like, and I’ve always enjoyed these kinds of movies, which seem soft and cozy enough to lull you to a peasant catharsis but real enough (compared to their U.S. counterparts) to take seriously. They’re the movie equivalent of comfort food, with laughs and tears along the way.

“Philomena” is sad, but not in the nihilistic soul-crushing way a Von Trier movie is sad. It is funny, but not in the way a crude teen comedy is funny. It has just enough reality to make you think and just enough fantasy (like the prerequisite and entirely fabricated scene where Coogan gives his speech about decency and basic human rights to the geriatric, cold-hearted nun (Barbara Jefford) that sent Philomena’s son away in the first place and not an eye is dry in the house) to be warm and familiar, like a well-worn blanket.

Yet, despite the familiar territory and the paper-thin supporting characters (Including Game of Thrones‘ Michelle Fairley as Martin’s implausibly soulless editor, and Martin’s wife (Simone Lahbib), who appears at the beginning to complain about his emotional unavailability and scarcely seen or heard from again), the movie works, and contains a handful of genuinely touching moments that will move you to tears.

If “Philomena”‘s intent was to move me, it has duly succeeded. If it’s intent was, also, to make me curious about the real Martin Sixsmith’s book, ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee,’ it has succeeded in this regard too. “Philomena” won’t rock anyone’s world with particularly innovative filmmaking and storytelling, but can’t us softies have our comfort food to watch as well as to eat and drink? For a taste of bittersweet, heartwarming, and maybe a little formulaic British cinema, look no further.

philomena_dench-coogan-country

Advertisements

The Harvest (2013)

harvest

For thrills, chills, and scintillating melodrama, look no farther than “The Harvest,” John McNaughton’s most recent venture into the horror genre; but don’t use the film to inform the uninitiated about the perks of homeschooling your kids.

Maryann (Natasha Calis)  just wants a friend, and release from the doldrums of being the new kid in a new town. Katherine (Samantha Morton,) the emasculating and controlling homeschool mom of a very sick boy, has other ideas. When Maryann meets Andy (Charlie Tahan,) a wheelchair bound preteen, it’s affable curiosity and burgeoning friendship at first sight, but Katherine is totally hellbent on keeping Andy as far away from Maryann as possible.

She keeps Andy and his dad Richard (Michael Shannon) in constant fear of her insane mood swings (it’s safe to say that Richard, like “American Beauty”‘s Lester Burnham, has had his balls stored in a mason jar under the sink since the early years of their marriage,) overprotects Andy to the point of ridiculousness, and keeps Andy on a variety of numbing medications that seem to increase exponentially by the minute. It’s almost as if she doesn’t want him to get better- but that’s crazy, right?

When Maryann quite accidentally does a bit of probing into the matter, she discovers a horrible secret that Richard and Katherine would die to keep buried far, far away with their other familial skeletons. Maryann wants to help Andy, but what can a kid do when her live-in grandparents (Peter Fonda and Leslie Lyles) are so obtuse about her shocking discovery? One thing’s for sure- Andy’s not breaking free of his domineering mum without an explosive confrontation.

“The Harvest” is like a soap opera you can’t stop watching for fear that, if you turn away, you’ll miss one of the insane plot twists. There’s probably more constructive things you should be doing, but something keeps you anchored to the TV screen, and for some reason, you don’t even resent the power it seems to have over you. The realism is questionable, the unanswered questions are daunting, the confrontations are over-the-top but the film has the effect of reading a really good paperback novel- you’ve just got to turn that next page.

Although “The Harvest” can be outrageous, the performances solidly support a sensational premise, including a thoroughly committed acting job by Samantha Morton. Morton flips by the turn of a dime from a annoying overbearing ice queen with a vast array of outfits apparently picked from the Mormon Housewife section of the JC Penny to a genuinely malevolent force. She’s so outrageously cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs that you almost laugh, but you genuinely fear for those orbiting her one-woman circus act.

The whole cast- Michael Shannon as a stereotypical deballed hubby with a perpetual hangdog posture, Natasha Callis as a girl probably too smart for her own good, Charlie Tahan as a put-upon youngster- are so devoted to making their roles work that they manage to gloss over the more soap-opera-ish moments. There are certainly some logistical infallacies (unless Maryann is the kind of child who habitually tells tall tales, which I suspect she isn’t, wouldn’t her well-meaning grandparents put some credence to her wild story- at least give her a chance?) and the ending raises more questions than it answers, but the film itself is luridly compelling.

It held a strange power over me, maybe partially because it shows how quickly good intentions- anything for the one you love’s sake- can slip-slide into focused evil. I haven’t seen hardly anything with Samantha Morton (nothing memorable I can remember off the top of my head) but I think she was outstanding in this role. Her devotion comes with a body count, and her husband must decide how long being her bitch serves his best interests. Shit will go down, and we kind of love that about it.

The-Harvest-Michael-Shannon-Charlie-Tahan

Enter the Dangerous Mind (2013)

enter the dangerous mind

At times “Enter the Dangerous Mind” feels like an extended music video, but, for the most part, that’s okay. Just don’t expect a particularly accurate (or sensitive) portrayal of mental illness. This disturbing and somewhat exploitative psychothriller focuses solely on the most extreme and even deadly mental health crises, the James Holmes’ in a social group of mostly harmless individuals.

The story concerns a Paranoid Schizophrenic named Jim (Jake Hoffman, son of actor Dustin,) who makes… noise for a living. Well, technically jarring techno music, but I don’t want to get into semantics here. Jim develops these tunes to ‘drown out the noises in his head,’ but when he tells Wendy (Nikki Reed,) a cute social worker, that, it doesn’t seem to concern her. It should. Jim has a roommate (Thomas Dekker) who is the proverbial devil on his shoulder, urging him to get over his crippling shyness and get laid.

Jim begins a tentative relationship with Wendy, but an embarrassing bedroom incident triggers a downward spiral for the disturbed young man. As Jim becomes increasingly delusional, Wendy breaks off all ties with him, leading to horrific consequences for both of them.

The plot develops okay up til the silly ending (apparently not only do Schizophrenics kill dogs, murder people, and engage in horrific acts of self-mutilation, their disease is also as contagious as the common cold,) while actor Jake Hoffman does a good job as Jim, making his tics and affectations believable while keeping his character somewhat sympathetic despite the reprehensible things he does.

On the other hand, I didn’t like the jerky ‘hard-rock-music-video’ cinematography or the constant, grating electronica score. I don’t like electronic music; I never have, so you can imagine I found the omnipresent pulsing techno to be irksome, to say the least.

“Enter the Dangerous Mind”‘s commendable performances elevate it infinitesimally above average territory, and while the movie is not politically correct regarding the horrors of mental illness- not by a long shot- it does keep you guessing and capture your attention for it’s short duration.

It is similar in subject matter to the recent film “The Voices,” although “The Voices” is the superior film due to it’s visual verve and it’s cheeky sense of humor regarding the portrayal of extreme insanity. Both movies could easily be called “Dating a quirky, weird guy becomes a health hazard when…” Poor Wendy. like Anna Kendrick’s character in “The Voices” believes she can save her troubled beau from himself. But sometimes, girls, being nice and considerate and compassionate to a guy who is batshit crazy just doesn’t cut it anymore. Once in a while a restraining order does what all the kindness in the world can’t.

enter the

Mama (2013)

“Mama” is a eerily different and creepy ghost story with great performances from the child actors. Young Victoria and Lily (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) have spent 5 years in a cabin in the woods after their father (Nikolaj Coster-Waldaudies,) alone except for a ghostly presence they call Mama. When they are rescued by and put into the custody their dad’s twin brother (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his metalhead musician  wife Annabelle (Jessica Chastain,) who doesn’t want the responsibility of kids.

The special thing thing about this movie is the lack of typical ‘bad guys’ (Mama is disturbed and overprotective, but also a tragic figure) and the CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT many horror films lack. You end up both feeling for these little girls (who return to civilization filthy, emaciated and feral) and being a little creeped out by them due to the clever writing and the girl’s great performances.

The CGI can be a little shoddy and there are plot holes present, but that didn’t deter me from enjoying the creepy, emotional, and compelling story. There where some very touching moments and I found myself still becoming uneasy on my second viewing, which hardly ever happens. I found the development of Annabelle’s character and her transformation from rocker with no real responsibilities to devoted surrogate mom fighting a jealous supernatural force interesting.

I will now voice my minority opinion and say this movie was better than the recent supernatural thriller “The Conjuring.” While “The Conjuring” was perhaps a movie with better visual effects and more audience appeal, it never really got me interested in the characters. They were simply victims, struggling against a tide of bizarre supernatural events that were beyond their earthly grasp.

On the other hand, I felt like the characters in “Mama” were well written and developed, and well I thought the young girls were the highlight of the film, the rest of the cast was quite good too. The child actors display range and prowess beyond their young years, and I hope to see more of them in the time to come.

And then there’s ‘Mama’, who’s overall a rather confusing character, but also eerie and ambiguous. You feel for her, and you fear her wrath, in equal measure. I recommend this movie to horror buffs, but also to people who like just a good emotional riveting story. It’s not a horror classic, but it’s worth watching as ‘light horror’ for genre fans and scaredy cats alike.

Movie 43 (2013)

Though hardly a consistently funny film, “Movie 43” is, astonishingly, not a complete and utter miss. It is a hit-and-miss spectacle around the lines of 2013’s “The ABCs of Death,” with a comedy rather than horror theme. At it’s worst, it’s still a lot better than the worst “ABCs of Death” had to offer.

The plot is loosely and crudely constructed, with an emphasis on ‘crude.’ The jokes consistently base themselves on shock value and poor taste, with sometimes funny results. This is an anthology film, and the segments all base themselves around this premise- wimpy schmuck Griffin (Greg Kinnear) listens as obsessed screenwriter Charlie (Dennis Quaid) pitches a script to him- a tasteless opus that Griffin quickly dismisses. Undeterred, Charlie holds Griffin at gunpoint and tries to force him to sell the script. The following shenanigans are the contents of this screenplay.

The first segment, “The Catch,” is actually pretty funny as Kate Winslet tries to figure out why no one seems to notice the giant ballsack hanging from her date Hugh Jackman’s neck. Don’t judge me, I laughed. The second one was pretty funny in an ‘ashamed of yourself but laughing’ way, it actually plays on the stereotypes about homeschoolers, as a homeschooled young person I appreciated that.

The only other really funny short in this collection is the grossly inappropriate iBabe. The others range from pretty mediocre to pretty bad. The one with Chloe Grace Moretz, a talented young actress, is just embarrassing and awkward as a teenage girl is humiliated by her inopportunely timed first period and the incompetence of her male audience. The one with Anna Faris was gross and pointless, and is only funny if you like poop jokes and third rate sitcom humor.

Some of the shorts were mesmerizing in their strange tastelessness, “Beezel,” with it’s homosexual cat jacking off to pictures of his owner in swimtrunks, is a startling example. I didn’t find the short about the black basketball players particularly racist, but I didn’t find it funny either.

“Movie 43” doesn’t really utilize it’s all-star cast, but you could do worse for a late-rainy-day distraction. If you get to watch it free, and want to laugh a few times and think ‘hmm, that’s strange,’ then go for it. It’s not the abomination people have made it out to be, but it’s no classic comedy. Just remember to think for yourself!