Tag Archives: 3.5 Star Movies

Cop Car (2015)

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Two rambunctious kids + One unattended cop car = a shitload of unforeseen consequences. Kevin Bacon ratchets up the creepy as corrupt and scheming sheriff Mitch Kretzer in Jon Watts’ entertaining and somewhat odd independent thriller. A duo of bored preteen boys discover a seemingly abandoned police car and after finding it’s keys hidden inside they take it out for a joy ride.

Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) is the self-proclaimed leader, the kid who’s coercive bossiness makes him a natural fit for taking the wheel. Harrison (Hays Wellford) is shyer and more passive, the follower and voice of reason in the duo, though that’s not saying much- reason is in short supply with these two.

Their foolish misdeed provokes the ire of Kretzer, the coke-snorting, murderous, morally bankrupt sheriff of their small Colorado town. You see, Kretzer has something in the trunk he doesn’t want the curious lads to see, and he’s willing to do anything- even murder two children- to keep his skeletons in the closet and himself out of prison.

“Cop Car” is kind of a strange movie with a thin narrative; there doesn’t seem to be much going on beneath the surface but it’s elevated by effective performances by Kevin Bacon and the kids. Bacon, rocking a 70’s pornstache and dangerously flirting with being over-the-top, is chilling as a dubious authority figure without a ethical bone in his body, his near-murder of a motorcycle officer from his district revealing his complete lack of loyalty for cops and  criminals alike.

The main problem I saw with this script is that even for sheltered, Suburban kids who’s only real interaction with violence is a tournament of Halo followed by a Jean-Claude Van Damme flick, these boys are appallingly thick. Their refusal to act age appropriate (ten years old? more like two!) is not caused by the child actors, who are surprisingly good, but by a script that forgets that underestimates pre-teens. At least I hope so. Otherwise the younger generation is flat-out doomed.

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I don’t know (nor would I want to know) any ten-year-olds who would put on a bullet-proof-vest and ask their friend to shoot them (in the vest, of course, as if that doesn’t make it pure idiocy) with an AK-47. And granting that a few of these kind of children exist, it’s doubly hard to believe that they would survive recess at the playground, let alone Bacon’s crafty, predatory killer.

That said, though there are things that I question about the writing, “Cop Car” is an undeniably entertaining film. Whereas the script fails the two young protagonists in some ways, making them a pair of blundering idiots who couldn’t pass a Kindergarten curriculum on the best of days, the child actors that portray them add a degree of sympathy and humanity. Furthermore the earlier scenes with the kids (before they find the cop car and open it’s ensuing Pandora’s Box) feel exceedingly natural, akin to the best coming-of-age stories.

Now for the good things- Kevin Bacon on full creeper mode, natural chemistry between the kids (they seem to genuinely like each other, which leads to a certain credibility,) a tense, taut script without a lot of filler. “Cop Car” does what all fantasies do (make no mistake, it is very much a fantasy, albeit one with realistic locations and characters) it makes the ridiculous seem possible for ninety minutes.

Could these kids survive for ten minutes with a corrupt cop with years of police training and a barrage of artillery on their trail? Probably not. Could a ten-year-old make his daring escape going a hundred miles an hour with his wounded friend in the back while followed by a maniac with an agenda? Definitely not. When placed under close scrutiny, “Cop Car” is about as believable a story as “The Goonies.”

But what is does do right is put us under it’s spell for an hour and a half. Like a magician preforming a sleight of hand, it makes us forget that the plot contrivances are pretty much bullshit, and just presents us with an entertaining and tense story. Can Bacon hard-wire a car in twenty seconds tops in a rough trailer park without getting his head blown off by a rifle-toting redneck. If you get worked up about these things, you’re probably over-thinking it. Just sit back and enjoy the film, and the birth of two pint-sized rising stars. Fin.

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Mostly Martha (2001)

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When in doubt, let go of the inhibitions and prejudices holding you back. A high-powered career person’s heart melting after being given custody of an adorable orphan  isn’t the most  original premise, but “Mostly Martha,” with the help of a touching performance by it’s lead, Martina Gedeck, handles the somewhat been-there-done-that story line with surprising finesse.

Martha (Gedeck) is a neurotic, anal-retentive chef who is helpfully informed by her boss Frida (Sibylle Canonica) that the only reason she hasn’t been fired for her temperamental behavior and fiery outbursts is because she is an amazing cook. Frida wants to hire another head cook to help Martha in their posh restaurant, but Martha is quite insistent that she be the only one in the kitchen, as in life, to run the show.

When Martha’s sister Christin abruptly and tragically dies in a car accident, Martha is given  custody of her eight-year-old daughter, Lina (Maxime Foerste.) Martha has no idea to to connect with the depressed and unresponsive girl, especially when grieving herself for the sister she didn’t have the warmest relationship with. However, Mario (Sergio Castellitto), an eccentric new employee at the restaurant and potential love interest for the uptight Martha, may help give her and Lena the new lease on life they need.

“Mostly Martha” has it all- tragedy, love, romance, tension and lots and lots of food porn. It did think it was a little so-so as far as plot (especially with the big turning point where Martha just hands Lina over to a man who’s apparently her biological father (Diego Riban) on the basis of a letter and with no questions asked- never mind that this guy could be a sex offender, an addict, or just an all-around horrible dad… paternity isn’t everything folks!) Also, the ending seemed a bit easy, but it’s intention is clearly to be a romantic heart warmer, not a cut-and-dry realistic piece.

However, where the plot may falter, Martina Gedeck is completely convincing as Martha, the kind of woman who goes to a psychologist (August Zirner) and takes up their time together with talking and making metaphors about food. Martha loves food as much as a Trekkie love their Spock and Picard- it’s not as much a mere interest as an all-consuming obsession.

Gedeck makes us sympathize with a chilly, emotionally damaged woman that would probably be hell to be around in real life, and she never overplays her character or makes her a cartoon of compulsive behavior. We root for her to end up with Mario and maintain custody of Lina not because these things cure her of her frustrating tendencies but because they make her a happier person- and happiness seems to be a step in the right direction.

So, even though “Mostly Martha” is a mostly formulaic movie (see how I did that there?) , the acting and the undeniable chemistry between Castellitto and Gedeck make it a savory romantic comedy, if not a mind-blowing one. There’s no doubt in our minds what’s going to happen by the film’s end, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t partake, unless of course your an incorrigible sourpuss. Plus, food porn! If you like foodie movies so you can sit back and undress the food with your eyes, this is the movie for you. “Mostly Martha” is ultimately more an appetizer than a banquet, but it’s a pleasant and charming diversion and by all means worth checking out.

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Clean, Shaven (1993)

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Writer/director Lodge Kerrigan’s Schizophrenic protagonist, Peter Winters (Peter Greene,) doesn’t say an intelligible word for the first fifteen minutes or so of “Clean, Shaven.” He seems to be in a perpetual state of great agitation, guided by voices in his head and his own determination to find his young daughter, Nicole (Jennifer McDonald.) It is clear he is in no position to care for a child, but in a sick, sad way, we want to invest in him, even as we suspect him of unspeakable atrocities.

“Clean, Shaven” is not a pretty movie. It portrays the hellscape of a psychotic break in an immediate, confrontative way that has rarely been touched upon in the world of film. Peter has a psychological obsession with removing his body hair. He cuts himself to the quick, nicks his scalp with bloody results, and at one point peels his own fingernail off before the appalled viewer.

All this is shown in agonizing close-up, as Peter embarks on a tormented journey to find his daughter, who his mother (Megan Owen) put up for adoption years before. Peter’s auditory hallucinations are brought to life in the form of jarring sound mixing. There’s nary a relaxing or cathartic  moment in “Clean, Shaven,” so determined is it to capture daily life from a madman’s perspective. In harsh contrast to a movie where every element of character and backstory is offered up under no uncertain terms, “Clean, Shaven” leaves nearly everything to subtext and the shadowy recesses of the imagination.

We see the events much in the distorted, kaleidoscopic way Peter would see them, without context or explanation. Meanwhile a less-than-savory detective (Robert Albert) is on Peter’s trail, and the manhunt leads to a ugly confrontation where no one will emerge unscathed.

“Clean, Shaven” is supposed to be an extremely accurate clinical depiction of a person suffering from a psychotic disorder. I wouldn’t know. I’m fortunate enough to not have faced a Schizophrenia diagnosis in myself or a loved one, though anxiety disorders are all too well known for me. For viewers who get subversive pleasure from watching the dark side of the human mind offered up on film, “Clean, Shaven” may prove to be a rare delight.

For what it’s worth, Peter Greene gives an unforgettable turn as the deeply disturbed Peter Winters. He slips so imperceptibly into the skin of someone suffering form a severe mental illness that he could just as well be a loon on the street, not an actor getting paid to portray the terrifying illnesses that can beset the mind. Every tic, every twitch, every seemingly misplaced whisper and mutter seems so real you could be watching a documentary about mental illness rather than a piece of fiction.

The ending leaves the viewer to puzzle out what it all meant, rather than offering easy explanations. The best way to describe the film altogether would be harrowing, but also sometimes tedious. It is hard to truly care about the characters in a movie when next to nothing is revealed about them. Take Peter’s mother, Gladys. She seems distant, even cold, and her only act of maternal concern is bullying her son into eating a sandwich she has fixed when he comes by looking for his daughter.

But was she a devoted mother at one time, before psychosis took her son from her? Does she love him, even now? There’s a distinct lack of heartfelt monologues, emotive testaments to  the character’s relationships. “Clean, Shaven” is as uncomfortably clinical as an instructional film on Schizophrenia. Lodge Kerrigan provides a lean, mean, ice-cold critique on what being psychotic might feel like; like Michael Haneke, he doesn’t exactly endear his characters to us; unlike Haneke, he doesn’t revile them either.

They are what they are, and Kerrigan doesn’t sentimentalize them or make them appear to be any more or less than than that. They’re there, and they’re hurting. Anything else that might be gleaned from their personality is strictly subtext.

“Clean, Shaven” is worth watching at least once by film fans, for it’s unflinching realism and sharp observation. It’s not for everyone; to say it is not a popcorn flick would be putting it mildly. There’s no easy answers, it fearlessly plumbs the depths of the lead’s insanity. The premise will ensnare you, but it is Greene who will haunt you for days with his wracking portrayal of psychological torment.

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Million Dollar Baby (2004)

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Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of boxing. At all. I don’t judge people who like it, but there you are. I just don’t see the appeal in big, sweaty, greased-up guys knocking the piss out of each other, having their remaining teeth flying every which way, and probably acquiring long-lasting brain damage at age thirty. Entertaining? Hell no. Erotic? No, it’s not that either.

So with boxing movies, and by extension all sports movies (football, baseball, basketball, etc.) I need a sort of human interest story to really capture my attention. Well, I can tell you if you’re looking for human drama, pathos, and an extra helping of tragedy,  Clint Eastwood Academy Award-winning film has that and more. There’s guilt, grief, denial, friendship, and major moral dilemmas. I mean big fucking moral dilemmas. The kind that keep you up at night.

Frankie Dunn (Actor/Director Eastwood) is a bit of a cranky old man and well-regarded boxing trainer who doesn’t train girls– period. This moral position doesn’t seem very well thought out- it’s less a legitimate position than a lunk-headed duh... I mean, girls wanting to box. Who’d have thunk it? Next they’ll be asking for equal pay and equal rights in all things.

So, being the kind of crank he is, he turns aspiring boxerette Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) away like a puppy in the rain. “There’s plenty of people who will train girls,” he says. But Maggie’s determined. She’s come from a trash family (when we later meet her selfish and spectacularly ungrateful mother (Margo Martindale) and sister (Riki Lindhome,) we see where she’s from, and why she wants to get out) and she believes that being trained by Frankie Dunn (who seems to have quite a reputation in the boxing world, despite slumming it in a tiny fighting hall) is the best way to get her where she’s going.

Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman) is just the janitor, but he’s inwardly wise and worldly in that quintessential Morgan Freeman (with a smooth as butter voice over and that great voice) and quietly observes the drama between Frankie and Maggie, occasionally sharing a barbed repartee with Frankie and giving him a gentle push in the right direction. Frankie’s heart is rendered stony with personal tragedy, including a long-time estrangement from his own daughter. Will he give Maggie the well-deserved training and fatherly input she needs?

One thing you can say about this movie is it does good by not saddling Maggie with an  unnecessary love interest, rightfully focusing on the paternal relationship between she and Eastwood. The two have good (platonic) chemistry as they somewhat predictably bond, but tragedy lurks just around the corner. I often felt Morgan Freeman was a bit too much of a catalyst to the events rather than a character in his own right.

The thing is, for the first thirty minutes or so I was planning to bitch that the development of the relationships in “Million Dollar Baby” were too trite and predictable (i.e. grumpy old trainer professes his hatred for girls’ boxing, grumpy old trainer is suckered in by girl boxer’s irrepressible enthusiasm, etc.) But then I realized that while these odd couple stories are not the most original premises in the world, they work. They’re compelling. Where would we be without the gruesome twosome in “Up,” or “Men in Black,” or to name a less known title, “Treacle Jr.” (one of my personal favorites?)

If you bawled out every movie that featured a progressing bond by two people who have nothing in common, you’d have no movies left. Which is why I figure, we need our well-worn story lines. To some extent. Because something can be derivative and original at the same time. Well, the acting here certainly can’t be faulted. Outstanding performances all around. Hilary Swank proved her merit as a thespian in “Boys Don’t Cry,” playing trans man Brandon Teena, and once again with tomboyish pluck she shows us why she’s one of the best in the business.

Clint Eastwood is wonderful- he possibly gives an even better performance in this than he does in “Gran Torino,” a top-notch movie in it’s own right. He’s not just a gun-toting Republican tough guy with dozens of Westerns to his name- he shows real range and finesse as a troubled old man who tries to build barriers around his heart and refuses to let himself care about anybody. Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. He plays a role we’ve come to expect from Freeman- wise and pensive, with sage advice for the other characters, and he does a fine job.

I didn’t cry at the end because someone had already spoiled the twist for me, but it might have really gotten to me had I not gone in knowing more or less how things were going to go down. I think the characters came off as a little one-note while watching it under a critical eye (Maggie in particular seeming a little too perfect at times,) but overall “Million Dollar Baby” is just a good, emotional, wonderfully acted drama about allowing yourself to legitimately give a shit about someone again- albeit with tear jerking results.

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Paradise: Love (2012)

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  Pardon my French, but these old corpulent tourist cunts need a serious kick in the teeth. I haven’t been discomforted by watching a movie like this in along time. And considering the crazy – disturbing crap I watch on a regular basis, that, my friend, is saying something!

Controversial filmmaker Ulrich Seidl’s first installment  in the ‘Paradise’ trilogy takes a probing look into the world of sex tourism. 50  year  old Teresa (Margarete Tiesel ) yearns for love, but what kind of love can be found here  as a aging ‘sugar mama,’ travelling to Kenya to tempt young impoverished men with unspoken promises of material prostitution? She says at one point that she needs a man to see her for who she really is, past the saggy boobs and stretch marks and wrinkles, yet she dehumanizes the black men she shamelessly uses for sex as soulless slabs of ebony flesh.

Early on, she and a friend (Inge Maux) talk crassly and loudly about the black male as pure object in front of a young barkeep, carelessly assuming by default that the man can’t understand a thing they’re saying. In one fell swoop, a sensual, vibrant country which a rich culture and history is reduced to a kitschy tourist trap where unattractive old women go to get fucked and idly take in the scenery. This is reflected in the apparent belief by the tourists that they can learn a few trite words and phrases in Swahili and they’re fully assimilated into Kenyan culture.

The nudity and sexual content here is frank verging in a uncomfortable striptease scene as unnecessarily  pornographic  and the raw nakedness displayed on screen is not always flattering, especially as far as the women are concerned. I have to admit, the extended stripping/boner scene took this movie down a few notches for me, having crossed the line in my eyes and become borderline pornography, but the movie itself is a deliciously ambiguous portrayal of male objectification and casual racism.

The thing about this story is that these women, these fat horny lumps of pitiful desperation, probably don’t see themselves as racist. They think they’re being complimentary, reducing their boy toys to pieces of sex meat. But they’re not. They’re gross and repugnant and they don’t even know it. They’re not being any more complimentary than if an old man looked at a young black woman and called her ‘brown sugar’ and asked her to come into the bathroom for a quickie.

So that’s why I didn’t feel bad for Teresa when she was used by her Kenyan sex partner (Peter Kezungu)  for her hard-earned cash. Any sympathy I had for her initially was snuffed out by the last scene, where the story shoots straight down into a sexual and psychological hell. How desperate and hot to trot can one person be? Pretty desperate, apparently. And who says women can’t be predators? It might be harder to physically overpower a man, but that doesn’t mean you can have psychological power or fiscal power over him. Both kinds of power are bountiful in this disquieting film.

“Paradise: Love” ties into the two later films in the trilogy thematically, and it features Maria Hoffstatter as Teresa’s religious fanatic sister (the lead in the 2nd film) and Melanie Lenz as Teresa’s heavyset, sexually curious daughter (lead in the 3rd, and final film) in  small roles. There’s a lot of static shots, reminiscent of Michael Haneke, moments that seem incredibly quiet in contrast to the extremely emotionally painful things that are going on. There’s  hardly any violence, but there’s a barely contained sense of menace, of something terrible just waiting to happen in this outwardly sunny habitat.

Margarete Teisel is the perfect person to play Teresa, and I mean that in a totally complimentary way  my point is not just that she is dowdy and plump, but also that she conveys insecurity and desperation well, carries it in her shoulders. She’s not too pretty, but also she gives the impression of being ordinary in every way, even desperately so. Not too beautiful, not too smart– just a sad person struggling with her mediocrity, 

Even with minimal on-screen violence, “Paradise: Love” will make you squirm in your seat for it’s unique vision of subjugation and power play. It’s not my favorite film in the trilogy in fact, it’s probably my least liked of the three but it still has it’s ‘hey, this filmmaker is really getting at something here’ moments. And it doesn’t really matter that I saw the trilogy all out of order each film tells it’s own, desperate story, with minimal confusion plotwise. Watch it if you dare- it’s definitely a taboo shattering film.

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We Are Still Here (2015)

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When will you silly people ever learn? When the house starts doing weird shit, get the hell out of it. And when in doubt, keep away from the basement.

A grieving couple must face human adversaries as well as ghostly ones when they move into a isolated, spooky old house in “We Are Still Here,” a fun, over – the – top, and delightfully gruesome (if sometimes painfully cliched) indie horror flick. All the markers are there of a Hollywood ghost film – a couple too stupid or too skeptical to leave a fucked -up ghost inhabited house, creepy sounds, things that go bump in the night, sinister locals, and a ball that goes bouncing down a set of stairs when – wait for it – nobody threw the damn thing to begin with!

What separates this film from others of it’s ilk, for better or for worse, a  whole lotta gore.Things go squish and people become human soup a lot more than is typical (or perhaps necessary) for this type of film. The acting is dodgy, although the two leads (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) are surprisingly good. Crampton is surprisingly touching as a mother who recently lost her child in a film that, to be honest, generally doesn’t allow for much pathos.

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Crampton and Sensenig play Anne and Paul Sachetti, a couple devastated by the loss of their teenage son a few months prior. They maintain a affectionate, if somewhat stagnant relationship and Paul tries his best to comfort Anne amidst her deepening grief. Paul moves Anne to a remote house in the country in hope that a change of pace will be beneficial to her. No sooner have they moved in than Anne begins feeling her dead son’s presence.

She tries to tell her husband she believes that the old house is haunted, but he remains ever the skeptic, trying to talk some sense into the troubled woman. Soon thereafter, the couple, fist Anne, then Paul – are haunted by visions of a burnt -up family. Against her husband’s wishes. Anne invites over two hippy -dippy friends of her’s – good -humored stoner Jacob (Larry Fessenden) and flaky psychic May (Lisa Marie) to conduct a seance, which is when, as they say, shit gets real.

All this is set in the dead of winter, filmed so that the viewer can practically feel the cold brushing against their skin. I haven’t seen such a chilly wintery horror film since “Let the Right One In.” And this is no “Let the Right One In.” But it’s fun, a spooky, cheesy Halloween time diversion. It walks the line between creepiness and outright (intentional?) comedy, sporadically collapsing in a heap into pure camp. Come on, guys? Who else laughed when the possessed guy swallowed the sock? It was hysterical! It can’t be only sick, jaded bitches like me who find this shit funny!

Simply put, I wasn’t scared by this movie. But I was entertained. The director does a decent job building tension and the gore (no pun intended) is to die for. I can understand why people wouldn’t like this movie. A lot of aspects of it are, for lack of a better word, weak. But as a bombastic, bloody whole, it’s worth a watch by horror fans who like cheeky, subversive gorefests that maybe can’t compare with the spookier, more atmospheric horror flicks, but are decent scare films in their own right (even if this one didn’t scare me as much as keep me in stitches.) I didn’t look away from the screen once, didn’t get bored with the goings-on, didn’t check the time. Shouldn’t that count for something?

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The Harvest (2013)

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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.

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