Tag Archives: 3.0 Star Movies

Baxter (1989)

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While I stand by my belief that human beings are the only creatures capable of true, premeditated evil, a film premise concerning a homicidal, misanthropic dog with a razor-sharp human intellect was too fascinating to pass up. That’s what this movie is all about, really… even if it’s rough around the edges in some parts and so, so hard to watch at others, you can’t fault it for creativity. For a dog, who is considered ‘man’s best friend’ and a protector of humankind, to be a incarnation of human’s worst qualities, is a innovative idea, to say the least.  But, ultimately, one can’t help but feel sympathy for the titular Baxter. As always, the ‘superior’ evil of man wins over the force of a clawed, toothed animal’s will.

We are introduced to Baxter’s world in a distorted, bizarre sequence featuring the dogs in a pound making a ruckus and baring their teeth. It’s a normal real-life scene, except for the way it’s handled, which is uncanny and eerie at best, completely surrealistic and mundanely terrifying at worst. This sets up the development of the canine anti-hero, a bull terrier who should be considered immoral and malicious, to say the least. Meet Baxter. He’s not like other dogs.

Baxter is adopted and given to an elderly lady (Lise Delamare) as a birthday present by her daughter. To say that Baxter dislikes the old woman is an understatement. Bored and infuriated by the uneventful life of a docile, neglected house pet, Baxter knocks the old woman down the stairs twice, finally killing her.

After the lady’s death, Baxter goes looking for a perfect human to spend the rest of his life with, ideally, one who ‘feels neither love nor fear’ (Baxter’s ugly thoughts are brought to life by the late French actor Maxime Leroux, who maintains a creepy, almost sociopathic inflection throughout.) After another failed endeavor aimed at finding the ideal master, Baxter gets saddled with Charles (François Driancourt,) a sicko adolescent obsessed with Hitler. At first Baxter finds he can respect the youth’s nihilistic worldview, but what is the price of this twisted partnership? And when the boy’s degenerate behavior surpasses that of even Baxter, what price will be paid?

Firstly, if you find yourself particularly unnerved by cruelty towards animals in movies, don’t bother to watch this movie. It won’t inspire you, ingratiate you, or offer you anything but hopelessness and violence. However, if you like dark, unusual films with a hint of horror, this might prove to be your type of flick. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize “Baxter” as black comedy, though there are certainly some who may disagree with me on that point. Despite a lack of likable characters, the movie becomes twistier and more tragic by the minute.

I really liked the scenes shot from Baxter’s point of view. The choice to make the actor who plays Charles so young was a good one- his youth paired with his complete ammorality makes the situation all the more disturbing (it deserves to be mentioned that the kid actor does a very good job, despite this being his only movie.)

I was a little quizzical about the portrayal of the human characters. Maybe it was written as such to drive home Baxter’s belief about the inferiority of certain people, which ties into the kid’s Neo-Nazi ideology, but the people featured in the film display a dazzling ignorance. From the rotten teen’s parents, who decide not to confront him about his Nazi paraphernalia because he’s ‘going through a phase’ to the pretty brunette who sleeps with the youth after he compares her beauty to that of Eva Braun, the humans don’t seem to have a brain among them.

This mostly works, except for one scene that almost ruined the movie for me in it’s ridiculousness. Let me set the scene, if I may, of a couple (Jany Gastaldi and Jacques Spiesser)   that have adopted Baxter (post- dead old lady but pre- Nazi scuzzbucket.)

The duo have a new baby who Baxter has a deep and abiding hatred for. The baby has almost fallen (or been pushed?) into the fountain in the yard once, so what do the mom and dad do? They go in to have sex, leaving the tyke on the lawn. Whether or not you know the dog is trying to kill the baby (which you wouldn’t, let’s be honest,) would you leave the child in a yard with a fountain he has a propensity for crawling toward? No.

Pretending two people of non-retarded intelligence would do this just to advance the plot is lame to say the least. But if you overlook that scene (argh,) “Baxter” is a thought-provoking film and a singularly bizarre character study. I would like to get a hold of the book on which it was based, “Hell Hound” by Ken Greenhall. Also, is it weird that now I want a bull terrier? 😛

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Air Bud (1997)

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Okay, so I like “Air Bud.” What can I say?- I was a 90’s kid. Unfairly maligned because of its truly awful sequels, “Air Bud” certainly isn’t the best ‘boy and his dog’ movie out there, but you could do worse for a rainy Saturday afternoon with the kids. Sure, there’s more slapstick than a “The Three Stooges” episode (rule of thumb- if there’s a decadent cake introduced at the beginning of a scene in a children’s movie, said cake will be fallen into before the sequence is done,) but there’s genuine heart  too. Maybe I’m seeing it through the distorted lens of a former soppy, dog-loving preteen, but I believe it’s there.

12-year-old Josh Framm (Kevin Zegers) is having a rough year- his pilot dad died in a plane crash, he’s starting up at a new school, and the bullies have picked him as the target for mild but annoyingly insistent bullying.) Josh has probably been struck by the puberty fairy too, though the more sensitive implications of this have not been touched on for obvious reasons. He’s moody, distant, and unresponsive to his mother (Wendy Makkena)’s attempts to reach him.

Into Josh’s life walks Buddy, an abused, highly intelligent Golden Retriever on the run from his children’s entertainer owner, Norm Snively (Michael Jeter) who’s not a very nice man at all. Buddy takes some urging due to his fear of people, but ultimately proves to be a good and loyal friend to the lonely Josh. Soon, it is revealed that Buddy has a secret- he can play basketball!- and the lovable dog serves as an icebreaker to help Josh get over his shyness and play sports with his classmates.

I really like the late Michael Jeter as a character actor- unfortunately, he doesn’t have much to do here except be knocked into everything. Still, he’s fine in the role he was given, and offers a few laughs (mostly to very small children.) Nevertheless, “Air Bud” is a cute movie with several good subplots going for it. One of these concerns Arthur Chaney (Bill Cobbs,) a former basketball star who now works as a simple janitor at Josh’s school, and offers his friendship and guidance to Josh and ultimately, to the team.

The heart of the film is Josh and Buddy’s relationship, which is carried out effectively for this kind of movie. By allowing plenty of scenes of Josh and Buddy simply spending time together, the movie lets us root for their friendship- which is threatened when the dastardly Norm returns on the scene. I like the way Buddy is allowed to act like a dog, despite his extraordinary sports-playing talents, and I like how Josh has to win his trust by laying down a trail of vanilla pudding containers.

Frankly, I still like this movie from when I was a kid and I enjoyed watching it with my 11-year-old sister and listening to her laugh. “Air Bud” isn’t a great movie by any means, but it’s cute and charming and fun. Let me just save you the time and tell you not to watch the sequels. If your kids have any sense, even they will hate them.
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Paddington (2014)

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I wish I had connected with “Paddington” more than I did. This CGI-animated family adventure has beautifully lifelike special effects, and the jokes commonly hit the mark, at least to some extent, but the film, plot and character-wise, leaves much to be desired. Of course, it’s an entertaining feature to pass the time, and kids and adults should be amused by this diversion, but it fails as a truly great family feature.

When Paddington Bear (voiced by Ben Wishaw)’s home in the rainforest gets demolished and his Uncle Pastuzo (voice of Michael Gambon) unexpectedly dies, the bear’s Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) sends him as a stowaway on a boat bound for London, where she encourages him to get in touch with the intrepid explorer who befriended the bears an indeterminate amount of time before, Montgomery Clift (Tim Downie.)

The continued lifespan of Clift seems highly unlikely, but while waiting at the station Paddington is taken home by the eccentric rown family- loving mother Mary (Sally Hawkins,) uptight dad Henry (Hugh Bonneville,) and bored kids Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and Judy (Madeleine Harris.)

The irate Henry has trouble warming up to this big-hearted bear with a knack for trouble, and while the family unit gradually succumbs to Paddington’s cuteness, Cruella De Ville-esque baddie Millicent (Nicole Kidman) prowls the scene, set on stuffing Paddington and putting him on display in a museum!

“Paddington” is quite the potpourri of happenin’ British talent, including Julie Walters as a live-in relative of the Brown’s and Peter Capaldi as the kind of meddling neighbor everyone’s had at one point or another, who becomes stupidly enamored with Kidman’s venomous femme fatale. The CGI is amazing, and brings vim, vigor, and personality to the bears that the script falls a little short on.

Now for the weaknesses- I didn’t really care about any of the characters, not even Paddington, who despite being cute and fuzzy, and a brilliant visual creation, was not really all that compelling. The plot of very typical and the big showdown was mundane as they come. The kids were annoying and rude, particularly the girl.

On the other hand, she was obviously going through a scary time called puberty, so her dark moods and constant embarrassment at the antics of her family were realistic, they just weren’t very fun to watch. The boy wasn’t as bad but was very disrespectful to his father, stating at one point that “Dad’s always been boring and annoying.”

I didn’t perceive a development of genuine respect between the kids and their father. Dad gets treated like a trained monkey throughout, rewarded with hugs and conditional love when he does right, and being totally disregarded when he acts like a grouch. Should the monkey rise to the occasion and let the bear stay, give him a banana. The characters and relationships were rather stereotypical, although the actors did what they could with the clichéd material.

However, the jokes were often effective, and I laughed readily at various points of the movie. Paddington wrecking the bathroom,  Mr. Curry’s hopeless crush on the villainess, Henry Brown going into the information bank in very deep disguise… these scenes were amusing (if somewhat sitcomish and, in the cast of Capaldi’s infatuation, ripped directly from “Enchanted.”)

I felt conflicted while watching “Paddington” because while I was entertained overall by the motion picture, I kept thinking that the British actors featured had been in much better movies that won’t get nearly the attention that this did. Make no mistake, I think this is a good family movie that adults should get enjoyment out of. But it is not worthy of the rave reviews it has been getting. It just doesn’t have the innovation and genuineness of something like “Frozen” or “Up.” In other wards, a good kids movie, but not an outstanding film.

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Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

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Ah, “Leaving Las Vegas.” I’ve seen it once and I don’t think I could bear to see it again. This movie features the absolute worst humanity has to offer and creates a skin-crawlingly lurid world of pathetic drunken sadsacks, emotionally scarred hookers, sadistic pimps, developmentally disabled rapists, all in the backdrop of a godforsaken world that just doesn’t care.

The thing is this is our world, the one we live in rather than a yuckily fascinating fantasyland, but it is this side of life that the more privileged don’t want to look at. Also, this is considered the movie where Nicolas Cage was good. How’s that for a shocking twist? Joking. Actually, Nicolas Cage has been halfway decent in a select few other movies. I liked him in “Joe,” and “Matchstick Men,” and he was okay in “Kick-Ass” I guess, though the Moretz kid ran circles around him and all the other actors.

“Leaving Las Vegas” is about pain, pure and simple. It’s about the pain that comes with being one of society’s forgotten ones, and the pain that accompanies orchestrating your own destruction. The protagonist, Ben Sanderson (Cage,) is drinking himself to death. Why? He just doesn’t give a shit. He’s been laid off from his job as a screenwriter, his wife has left him and taken his son with her.

He’s a perpetually drunk alcoholic, consumed by ennui and self-loathing, who believes he has nothing to live for. After his dismissal from his job, Ben moves to Las Vegas, burns all of his screenplays, and prepares to slowly die of alcohol poisoning. When he meets Sera (Elisabeth Shue,) a beguiling prostitute abused by her pimp (Julian Sands,) Ben falls head over heels.

Not enough to change for her- no, Ben’s long past the point to chance for anybody. He is simply content to be in her company. People don’t generally hire these women for idle chit-chat, so Sera’s all too happy to accommodate her worn-out client, who soon morphs into a friend and later into a live-in boyfriend.

Sera pretends to be a hardened Dame, but like Ben, she’s vulnerable and desperate. But unlike Ben, she has some small degree of hope. She builds a strange family for Ben and her where she is the happy homemaker and the ultimate enabler. The resulting film is an interesting character piece, and I guess Nicolas Cage IS good, along with Shue.

And I didn’t find any of the ensuing horror show unnecessary, until the ending. Potential viewers, avert your eyes, because this is going to get a bit spoiler-y. *********************SPOILERS I was astounded by the climactic scene, where Shue gives Cages a pity-fuck while Cage is lying on his death bed, wheezing and hacking. I guess the tragedy that is supposed to be portrayed in this scene is that they were unable to express their love physically until this sad moment, with Cage in a truly pitiful state.

But all I could think was how lurid and gross, and yes, unnecessary the scene was. It was like watching your feeble cancer-ridden Grandpa receive a blow-job from a lithe hooker before your very eyes. If Nic Cage were your grandfather, that is. Meh. Give or take a few years. *********************END OF SPOILERS

The characters being unlikable was not a problem. Shue and Cage imbue their portrayals with more compassion than these sad people probably deserve. The film, as a whole, was well-made. Watch it to see Cage at his best, but be forewarned, it’s terribly sad.

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Summer Storm (2004)

Tobi (Robert Stadlober) is at that age when young adults wonder who they are, what they want, and where, if anywhere, they fit in. Unfortunately, what Tobi wants is quite obvious and unattainable: his straight best friend, Achim (Kostja Ullmann), who seems oblivious to Tobi’s affections.

“Summer Storm” is the story of Tobi’s coming out, Tobi’s boat rowing team championship, and Tobi himself, a fragile young man who hides behind a mask of goofball lovability to avoid confronting the world head-on.

Similarly compelling are the trials of Tobi’s girlfriend Anke (Alicja Bachleda), who tries to understand the deep feelings Tobi has for his best bud. The only subplot that I thought did not work was the attempts of a member of the openly gay opposite team, Queerstrokes (cute, huh?) to seduce an apparently straight homophobe.

I found this to be silly and cartoonish, and to reinforce negative stereotypes about gays (they want to “convert” you.) I think that the director should have dropped that and concentrated on Tobi, who is, to be a fair, a compelling and likable character.

He can be naïve, he can be a jerk sometimes, but Tobi is well-realized and sympathetic. Robert Stadlober, who is bisexual in real life, gives a sensitive and restrained performance. I also liked his romance with Leo, a Queerstrokes member. Although I initially felt that Tobi was using Leo, I liked the direction their relationship took.

“Summer Storm” is a good if unexceptional drama with mostly realistic characters, humor, and heart. Some aspects ring false (such as the apparently straight Achim masturbating in the shower room with Tobi) but most of it was believable. It is a movie for people who like gay cinema and true-to-life films about growing up.

Antichrist (2009)

I was apprehensive about seeing “Antichrist,, but not primarily for the reason that you might expect. Yes, the film’s allegations of rampant misogyny (not a new accusation for controversial filmmaker Lars Von Trier) and graphic violence were daunting, but I also heard that the Von Trier’s new work was linked thematically to “Melancholia,” a film I found almost unbearably aloof and pretentious.

I am, however, a fan of the director’s earlier works “Dancer in the Dark,” and especially, “Breaking the Waves” (the film that made me fall irrevocably in love with Emily Watson), so I decided to  give this one a go. This movie didn’t make me fall in love with anybody, least of all the characters (though the acting is very good.) It made me want to hit something. Or crawl into a fetal position and cry.

Not that “Antichrist” is a bad movie. It’s certainly a well-made one. Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg act their hearts out as the otherwise unnamed He and She. It’s just… let me put it this way. Von Trier was in a period of deep depression during the conception of this film. The production was a disaster. Lars Von Trier’s hands shook as he held the camera. To see this movie is to take a close look into its creator’s tormented soul.

Don’t watch this movie if you have a weak stomach. On second thought, don’t watch this movie if you have anxiety, panic attacks, a love of children (the cute, cherubic youngster kicks it pretty early on in this dark story), or if you want to have a normal, functional life and healthy relationships. This coming from the girl who laughed at “The Human Centipede II” and was barely fazed by Haneke’s “Funny Games.”

I know. By building it up, I’m just making you want to watch it more, so I stop here. It’s like the Mormons who tell you “Don’t watch that, it’s filth!” So you go see it, naturally. The thing is, I’m not telling you not to see it. I’m just saying, tread carefully. What might be harmless for one person could be the last straw on the road to a mental breakdown.

In a visually rapturous black-and-white opening, He and She (Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) have passionate sex while their infant son, Nic, escapes from his crib and falls out the window (the similarities between Nic’s fate and the death of Eric Clapton’s son need not be mentioned.)

She collapses at the funeral and is taken to hospital. In He’s infinite wisdom, he pulls She out of the care of the government and decides to take her to the place that she fears the most (“Trust me- I’m a therapist”) — the woods. To be specific, one place in the woods: “Eden,”  a place She went with her son to write a thesis.

Almost immediately, She’s verbal taunts begin: He wasn’t there, He is indifferent to his son’s death, He’s cold and distant. Meanwhile, nightmares start to penetrate Eden’s placid exterior. And they’re not the only things doing so — He and She engage in weird, compulsive sex acts and mind games.

I didn’t love “Antichrist”- I’m not even sure I liked it, but it taps into a sense of primal fear like few films I’ve ever watched. However, the meaning is as obscure as the film is unnerving. One thing I notice is the unsexiness of intercourse and the frequent use of sex as a temporary distraction and means to an end. Does this mean the film’s theme revolves around sexual politics? I don’t know? The meaning is akin to an unsolvable problem.

“Antichrist” is not fun, entertaining, or easy, but it gets under your skin and creates a creeping sense of dread, so a certain respect for it must be retained. Because Lars Von Trier isn’t fun, entertaining, or easy, but he pours out the dark contents of his heart for the world to see and finds strength in the darkness.

Jesus Henry Christ (2012)

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Unfairly bashed by critics as self-consciously quirky and “hipster,” “Jesus Henry Christ” is a entertainingly quirky little film, featuring highly intelligent characters who must find their own way towards being happy.

Henry James Herman (Jason Spevack) is an enigma, a brilliant youngster raised by his single mother Patricia (Toni Collette.) Henry has a keenly incisive mind and a photographic memory, but there is one thing he doesn’t know… who his dad, an anonymous sperm donor, is.

Enter dweeby professor Slavkin O’Hara (Michael Sheen), whose latest mistake is putting his 12-year-old daughter Audrey (Samantha Weinstein)’s face on his new book, Made Gay or Born That Way? Audrey, as it turns out, is gay, but she’s not ready to be outed just yet, and Slavkin’s bug-up provokes the merciless taunts of her peers.

Henry decides to locate his father, which leads to a series of sometimes sweet, sometimes sad, sometime revelatory occurrences, which in the long run brings Henry’s makeshift family together.

But first Henry must contend with his skeptical mother and furious half-sister, while Henry’s appearance dredges up old memories in Slavkin, who must come face-to-face with how fractured he and his daughter’s relationship has become.

This film is not a masterpiece. I didn’t like parts of it. For instance, the white character who thinks he’s black and refers to the other characters as “white Devils” was kind of silly. The scene where Henry is bullied for writing an atheistic paper in Catholic school was a little obvious (Will there ever be a movie where the kid is bullied for being Catholic? Probably not.)

The movie I’d compare “Jesus Henry Christ” to is “Amelie.” The dark/cutesy whimsy and off-beat narration tie the two films together, but Jason Spevack’s Henry is simply not as likable as Audrey Tautou’s Amelie Poulain.

I mean, Jason Spevack is fine, but the real discovery here is Samantha Weinstein as Audrey, Slavkin’s defiant adolescent daughter. It’s hard to make a character of a preteen who hates everything and everyone not seem like an entitled brat, but Samantha Weinstein makes you sympathize with Audrey.

There is also a scene where Henry and Audrey go on a carnival ride, and Audrey’s shrieks of fright become joyful screams, that I thought was beautifully done. “Jesus Henry Christ” is an unfairly bashed addition to the genre of offbeat indie movies.

Take This Waltz (2011)



“Is that that Seth Rogen guy? What’s he doing?”

“I think he’s… acting.”

“Acting? You mean actually giving a performance without using immature fart or stoner humor as a crutch to compensate for an apparent lack of talent? Well, I’ll be… Do miracles never cease?”

Seth Rogen is, indeed, quite good in this. The scene where he expresses, in various takes, his shock and horror at his wife’s infidelity is revelatory. Overall, though, “Take This Waltz” is so-so, marred by a lack of likable characters and consistent dialogue.

I there’s one thing you can say about this movie, it’s that it doesn’t glorify the act of adultery in any way. Bored housewife Margot (Michelle Williams, who gives a very nice performance here) engages in cutie pie antics and baby talk with her husband, Lou (Seth Rogan,) but longs for passion and intimacy.

When Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby,) a handsome artist, sparks fly almost immediately. As it turns out (damn you, fate!,) Daniel lives right next door to Margot and Lou’s place, and temptation for indiscretion may be too much to resist. But what are the consequences for such an act?

I was underwhelmed by the dialogue here… sometimes it was really good, and sometimes it was cringe-worthy. It felt like the movie was divided into two different worlds- one where intelligent characters say intelligent things, and one where a verbal expression comes directly out of a third-rate sitcom.

The relationship between Lou and Margot was interesting. I could neither fully support it, nor deny it’s moments of comfort and familiarity. I can understand Margot’s need for a more intellectually stimulating relationship (as any reasonably intelligent person would presumably have,) as many of the ‘tender moments’ between them were saccharine or just plain icky.

However, we don’t really see a side of Daniel that allows us to understand Margot’s prompt crisis. In fact, some of the dialogue was just as vomit-inducing, and the scary thing is, I’m not even sure it was meant to be. For the most part, the characters were more exasperating then likable.

This would be a much better movie if not for the dives in quality of dialogue. “Take This Waltz”‘s acting is both fresh and powerful, as is it’s refusal to slap itself with a happy ending. However, I have difficulty recommending it and will, sighing, present my ambivalent review.

Beautiful Boy (2010)

Writer’s Note- I wrote this review a couple of years ago and just posted it on this blog now, so forgive me if the writing isn’t up to par with some of the later reviews. Also, I wrote this a little while before the film “We Need to Talk About Kevin” came out.

Within a span of a couple of years, two indie films with very similar premises hit festivals, their names being We Need to Talk About Kevin and Beautiful Boy. I have just seen the latter, a tremendously acted film that deals with the aftermath of rather than the build-up to a school shooting, and concentrates on the grieving parents of the shooter.

The tagline of this movie, “Everything seemed perfect… Everything would change” is grossly inaccurate, as the group in question is not a happy family. Katie and Bill (Maria Bello and Michael Sheen) are trapped in a failing marriage to the point of sleeping in separate beds, while college student Sam (Kyle Gallner) is suicidally depressed and can barely contain his tears as he talks to his parents by phone, as it turns out, for the last time.

Beautiful Boy‘s shooter does not seem to be a psychopath, as We Need to Talk About Kevin‘s promos show their angry young man to be. Rather, he seems to be a deeply unhappy person who irrationally not only wants to die, but wants to take some people with him.

Frankly, I don’t agree with the film’s statement that “it’s nobody’s fault.” Except in some rare cases, people are to some degree responsible for their own actions. If you say it is in no way the shooter’s fault, you’re taking away his role as perpetrator. Should we say the same for rapists? Pedophiles? If you don’t consider the kid a monster, fine (nor do I), but give me something here.

Paired with the son’s seemingly average home life, this makes the film’s act of violence rather puzzling. What really stands out is the acting, Maria Bello, primarily, but also Michael Sheen, Kyle Gallner, and Alan Tudyk (from the great series Firefly) as the concerned brother. The peculiarly named Moon Bloodgood and Meat Loaf are decent too, though not notably so. Some of Beautiful Boy reminded me of Todd Fields’ In The Bedroom, the guilt, the blame-placing, and the grief, without the relentless grimness of Fields film.

One plus is the minimal use of music to make a point, which is always applied with buzz kill in mainstream American films. Beautiful Boy is an emotional film — try to watch the scene where the parents receive the news without your lip a-quivering, and excellently acted, but a certain something keeps it from being an “unforgettable film.”

It may be the sentimentality or naivete placed deep within the script or the fact that, although there are many characters to care about, there are none who blow you away. I’m interested to see what We Need to Talk About Kevin does with the subject matter, and whether it surpasses this in content or style.

Hick (2011)


Contrary to the brutally negative reception for this film, I found “Hick” to be a solid film with a powerful theme and an engrossing main character. I actually thought it was better than the director’s earlier effort, “Lymelife” (2008.) Rory Culkin gave it his best shot, but the Suburban family dysfunction motif is so ‘done,’ and y’know, Emma Roberts plays the same damned character in every freaking movie she’s in.

The often-overlooked Culkin brother is in this too in a small part, but Chloe Grace Moretz runs the show as Luli, a sexually provocative yet heartbreakingly vulnerable 13-year-old and the product of drunk loser parents (Anson Mount and Juliette Lewis) living in small town, Nebraska. Disenchanted with her going-nowhere life, Luli hitches a ride from a limping young man (Eddie Redmayne,) a decision which turns out to be the most dire of her life.

Chloe Grace Moretz is a good little actress, although she still has a lot of room to improve, and seeing her flounce around in her underwear and act sexually precocious might bother a lot of people. But it’s important to remember that Moretz is not a little girl anymore, and is gradually working her way into more mature roles (maybe a little faster than we would like.)

Pubescent Moretz provokes controversy.

Luli is a dynamic character. Early on, as she points her revolver in the mirror and quotes lines from famous films, we see a girl who has been hurt to many times, and needs a lifeline of any kind to stay afloat. Later, when she asks her mother’s boyfriend if she’s pretty, our heart aches for her- we want to be there for this lonely, desperate girl, yet can only watch her fumble and fight with the challenges of an unusual adolescence through the screen.

Unfortunately, the other characters are singularly nasty and unlikable, almost unbearably at times. Most of them seem to exist primarily to abuse, let down, and exploit Luli, to the exclusion of anything else. Redmayne gives a good performance as Eddie, the boy who picks Luli up, but by the end it is impossible to feel any sympathy for him.

Just because we are traveling from one little hick town to another, does that mean the men can’t show a little chivalry towards a struggling teenage girl? It is disturbing, but also ludicrous, how each odd character Luli meets seems to be indescribably broken and mean spirited. That said, I never got bored during this movie, and was fascinated by Moretz’s little traveler.

I’ve liked Moretz since “Kick-Ass,” and she shows maturity and screen presence as the lead character. Watch this for her and Redmayne, if for no one else. While Redmayne is appropriately vile, the film finds an unlikely heroine in Luli, sometimes sour, sometimes sweet, but always compelling.