Tag Archives: 4.0 Star Movies

Fido (2006)

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In “Fido”‘s candy-colored, whimsical 50’s-esque  world, zombies are obedient servants of mankind and as gentle as a family dog- just keep those pesky electronic control collars turned on so your faithful friend stays domesticated and servile! Zombie-phobic Bill (Dylan Baker,) haunted by the years when the undead ran rampant before the collar was invented, is not pleased when his ditzy wife Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) brings home ‘Fido’ (Billy Connelly,) a amiable walking corpse to serve their every need.

Timmy (Keysun Loder,) their son, quickly makes friends with Fido, but Bill’s worst fears are realized when Fido eats Timmy’s crotchety old next-door neighbor Mrs. Henderson (Mary Black) in a freak accident. But, gee, Mrs. Henderson wasn’t a very nice old bird, and Timmy is determined to keep his best pal there at home with him, where he belongs, and is willing to cover up Fido’s kill and the carnage that follows.

“Fido” is very funny, cute and charming (in a dark, sweetly diseased way,) and a wicked satire of 1950’s manners and customs. I honestly don’t know why it didn’t get more attention at the box office. The costumes and sets are eye-poppingly colorful and stand sharply in contrast with the decomposition of the monsters. And Billy Connelly- who knew that an actor could make his character of an occasionally flesh-eating zombie a lovable and empathizeable character?

I’ll admit it, guys- I was rooting for ‘Fido’ to get away with his massacre of the next door neighbor all the way through. With a masterful mix of body language and facial expression, Billy Connelly creates perhaps the only zombie worth squeeing in adorableness for in the history of cinema. If you’re anything like this slightly wacked viewer, by the end of this movie you’ll want to envelop Fido in a warm hug- cautioning, of course, that his collar is fully functional.

Carrie-Anne Moss and Dylan Baker are a riotous pair as they provide a send-up of 50’s values with a dark and homicidal twist. Tim Blake Nelson delivers as a oddball neighbor with an overly familiar relationship with his female zombie (it’s not like it’s necrophilia… right?) If “Fido” pales in one respect, it’s that zombies are an overused cultural icon and it seems to dim slightly in comparison to the truly great zomcoms like “Shaun of the Dead.”

It’s not particularly novel in terms of it’s themes theme (either as a satire of nondescript 1950’s suburbia or a comedy featuring zombies as some of it’s main players,) but it delivers on it’s oddball premise with some great gags and jokes. There’s an uncanny weirdness lurking behind it’s goofball amiability- maybe this outwardly silly satire is darker than it lets on. But the inherent corniness of the violence- like a wacky midnight movie- ensures that “Fido” should be enjoyed by viewers of twelve and up- especially those who are seasoned on slightly edgier horror fare.

You may have overlooked this movie when it passed through theaters (not with a bang, but with a slightly piteous fizzle,) but “Fido” has the potential to become a cult classic if it gets attention with lovers of cheesy horror and slightly subversive cinematic oddities. It’s dry, dark humor earns it a place in my heart- even if it’s not as memorable as “Shaun of the Dead” or even “Zombieland,” it’s the little movie it could with some actual thoughts in it’s twisted little head- a sad rarity in modern horror. For an opportunity to root for the zombies and their unholy cravings, watch “Fido.”

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Maleficent (2014)

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If I ruled a kingdom neighboring this femme fatale, I’d make sure to be on very, very good terms.

As far as I’m concerned, the majority of classic Disney princess movies are sacred cows- shallow, one-sided, and featuring fair maidens too stupid to tie their own shoes, let alone entice a handsome prince of any substance. I can’t even recall if I’ve even seen the original “Sleeping Beauty,” which makes me, I think, the perfect audience for this unfairly maligned movie. “Maleficent” is certainly not a perfect movie. It’s over dependent on CGI, firstly, and Maleficent’s transformation from villain to sympathetic character can be uneven and rocky.

Unspectacular as it was, I ask myself, was I entertained? I answer this question with an emphatic yes. I had been depressed the day I watched this movie, and it took my mind off my problems for an hour and a half. I didn’t find myself fidgeting in my seat, or checking the time, or rolling my eyes at improbabilities. It was fun, pure and simple, and what’s wrong with that? And Angelina Jolie is surprisingly good in the lead.

According to this story, Maleficent, the evil fairy who cursed the princess Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty,” did not start out as a villainess. She began, as many troubled and evil people do, as an innocent child. But she was no ordinary child by any means, being born to the fairy folk, orphaned, and left to traverse her magical kingdom and birthright. Maleficent is gifted (cursed?) with a pair of horns and wings, which make her look uncanny if not downright monstrous to the ignorant folk of the neighboring kingdom.

When young Maleficent meets Stefan, she falls in love with the curious and initially accepting boy, never guessing that her love for him will become the singular most destructive force in her life. Maleficent, unsurprisingly, becomes leader of her realm, whereas Stefan (Sharlto Copley) seeks power in unexpected places. When Stefan commits the ultimate betrayal, Maleficent curses his newborn daughter and closes off her heart to all. But she never counted on Aurora (Elle Fanning) coming back into her life again slowly bringing her cold heart to a simmer.

The concept of the fractured fairy tale is not original, but “Maleficent” brings warmth and humor to a tired premise. The original idea is twisted by making Maleficent not a soulless she-devil, but a rightfully indignant and complex antihero. In fact, Aurora’s fairy ‘protectors’ (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville) are so in need of a prompt fairyland CPS visit that Maleficent is forced to aid the very child she swore to hate and malign forever.

There’s more focus on these characters than you might expect considering the film is shot on a blue screen with extravagant special effects. Both the protagonist (anti-hero) and the antagonist are surprisingly consistent, facing their own demons in their individual broken ways. Nobody gives a weak performance in a visually beautiful (if aesthetically self-indulgent) twist on a classic fairy tale which was, let’s face it, pretty weak and creepy originally (of course there’s nothing weird about princes going around kissing apparently dead maidens, rrriiight?) 😛

Jolie, who I’ve never been the most avid fan of, actually surprised me in this. She juggles bile and vulnerability, the result of a love affair gone tragically sour effectively, especially with this kind of movie, which let’s face it, doesn’t focus on acting as much as special effects and self-aware humor. “Maleficent” isn’t a masterpiece (but what do you expect, “The Godfather?”) but it achieves it’s goal of being a fun, cute and charming tale with effective humor and thrills incorporated throughout.

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Disconnect (2012)

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Every day, untold millions of people will use the worldwide web to chat with friends, watch vines and videos, and reconnect with family. Whether Facebooking, Tweeting, or Skyping, most of these people will not see the truly bent side that sometimes lingers behind the web’s glossy facade. “Disconnect” is a movie featuring a trio of loosely interconnected stories casting the spotlight on three characters  who get a chance to experience the internet’s unsavory dark edges.

Cindy (Paula Patton) is a neglected wife who’s just suffered an unthinkable tragedy. Ben (Jonah Bobo) is an Emo teen who gets Catfished by two mocking schoolmates. Nina (Andrea Riseborough) is a reporter hungry for a story, who finds her pitch on the ‘net in a handsome male sex worker Kyle (Max Theirot.) All three people are, among other things, looking for a way to bond with their fellow man, but they all at once find themselves caught up in dysfunctional, emotionally hurtful situations.

In the wake of disaster, Ben’s father Rich (Jason Bateman) looks for the faceless perpetrator behind a devastating prank, while Cindy and her Ex-Marine husband Derek (Alexander Skarsgard) face a failing marriage and a potential identity thief (Michael Nyqvist.) Nina balances her desire for fame with her need for forgiveness, but when it comes to betrayal, how much can be forgiven?

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Sometimes didactic yet relevant, real, and so well acted, “Disconnect” might do for the vast, mysterious internet what “Psycho” did for showers. Just when you thought it was safe to log into a chatroom… The key element here, though, is not fear, but human tragedy. The cast is uniformly good, even Jonah Bobo as a bullying victim (the annoying little kid from “Zathura”- who knew!) and Alexander Skarsgard, known best as sexy vampire Eric, who- I must admit- was wooden as usual, but in this case his inert acting style fit the character.

The characters here aren’t super well-developed, but they’re portrayed with steady enough brush strokes that you find yourself liking and sympathizing with them. These are people you know. These are people you’ve chatted with, worked with, gone to school with, occupying a mundane and instantly identifiable world but fighting for their sanities, their reputations, even their very lives- their sufferings coldly recorded in the dark halls of cyberspace.

The message presented here is clear- the internet does not fill the void of a life half lived. Also, watch out, you never know who you’re sharing your secrets with in a chatroom or on a message board. It is implied by the three sad yet somewhat hopeful ‘stories’ that we are living in a society that barely notices each other, that passes over meaningful human interaction for conversations with people we’ll most likely never meet, who might not be who they say they are (unlike actual people, who are always %100 legit :P) It’s a message you might not agree with, but the movie is worth watching and pondering.

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Mommy (2014)

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“A boy’s best friend is his mother,” uttered by the titular killer Norman Bates in “Psycho,” remains one of the most iconic lines of all time. But can a boy’s best friend also be his worst enemy? Can the love between a mother and son become so tangled, so deeply dependent that their bond becomes detrimental to them both? In Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy,” loud-mouthed white-trash widow Diane Despres (Anne Dorval) becomes the sole caretaker of her mentally ill fourteen-year-old son Steve (Antoine-Oliver Pilon) when the troubled youngster is released from an institution for disturbed children.

Steve is, simply put, out of control, and we witness his whacked-out rages first-hand almost immediately. His mother glibly enables his psychotic behavior to the point of almost encouraging it, and there is an incestuous subtext between the two that several times ceases to be subtext at all (such as the scene where the lad puts on eyeliner, turns up his tunes and gropes his mother’s breasts in front of a curious onlooker.)

Steve and Diane get a new lease on life when a timid woman (Suzanne Clement) with a bit of a stuttering problem comes into their lives, bringing help and healing- if only temporarily. Things are complicated by a lawsuit based on the damaging effects of a fire the boy started in the institution. Suzanne adds some degree of stability to a home rife with dysfunction and violence- but can people this damaged be healed?

“Mommy” is elevated above an okay family-values-gone-awry/oedipal complex movie by the three outstanding lead performances. Anne Dorval is magnificent in an acting job that will enrage you into wanting to slap her smug face and then break your heart. Antoine-Oliver Pilon is terrifying as a volatile teen whose mood vacillates on the turn of a dime, and Suzanne Clement provides steady support as a character who is under reactionary and strange at best, totally underwritten at worse.

Indeed, the stammering Kyla doesn’t seem to have any reaction whatsoever to the destructive love that Steve and Diane share; she is just there to help. This lack of judgment should be inspiring but instead seems to have come directly out of the twilight zone. How long could you handle Steve’s insane antics without cracking? The only moment where Kyla hints at deeper levels of trauma is her attack on the jeering Steve; the rest of the time she’s pretty fucking caviler about a family dynamic that would leave most running for the hills.

Unfortunately, the worst thing about this movie is the 1:1 aspect ratio (a perfect square,) which is jarring and distracting and takes away attention from an effective film. The filmmaker, Dolan insisted that it was more ‘intimate’ this way, but I suspect most viewers are so used to the majority of or all the screen being filled up that this is merely distraction.

Despite a lack a likable characters, “Mommy” is compelling (mostly due to its stellar acting) and even grueling. Of course it can not portray in it’s entirety the horror of caring for a severely emotionally disturbed kid, but it provides a honest (if not exactly hopeful) look at when love is not enough to sustain parent and child. The film itself is a dark, heart wrenching ride (portraying the depths of dysfunction between a deeply damaged woman and her disturbed son,) but Anne Dorval particularly deserves all the awards she gets. Freud would be pleased.

Note- The bright-light film critic Xan Brooks referred to “Mommy” as a ‘boisterous Oedipal Comedy.’ What. the. Fuck. Did we watch the same movie? This film was grim and depressing from beginning to end. Very little ‘comedy’ to it other than bemused mortification.

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Paradise: Hope (2013)

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Raging hormones. Sexual frustration. Adolescent rebellion. A lot can go on during a summer at fat camp.

Cute, heavyset 13-year-old Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is dropped off at a weight management camp by her Aunt (Maria Hofstatter) when her mother goes off on vacation to Kenya. Not as bitter as you might expect, Melanie quickly makes friends with a more sexually experienced girl (Verena Lehbauer) and develops a heart-stopping crush on the camp’s middle-aged physician (Joseph Lorenz,) who is unnervingly receptive to her girlish flirtations.

“Paradise: Love” is the third in a trilogy, Ulrich Seidl’s thematic follow-up to “Paradise: Love,” focusing on Melanie’s horny sex tourist mother, and “Paradise: Faith,” following the daily life of the religious fanatic aunt (portrayed briefly in this film) who takes her love for Jesus into the realm of obsession. We fear for Melanie watching “Paradise: Hope.” Desperately hoping that she will not get over her head pining for this older man.

Never during the conversations between the fat camp teens do we get the impression that they are acting. They talk, look, and feel like real people- making themselves out to be more experienced then they are, discussing past escapades with a knowing air, playing spin the bottle giddily while drunk on cheap beer.

This is a movie that understands teen angst and desire and the mad contrast in the level of experience and sexual maturity of adolescent kids (while Melanie’s friend plays the part of an adult, wise in the ways of men, another camp girl still walks around clad in a pink Hello Kitty shirt and many of the kids remain hopelessly naive.)

The teens alternately understand a lot and see a lot more than the adults give them credit for and don’t know a damn thing- about love, about relationships, about the forbidden power a child can have over an adult. Melanie craves tenderness. She wants to feel loved and desired by this aging but virile man. Her instructor’s desire is less emotional, more carnal.

A bit of a dirty old man, he finds attentions from a virginal thirteen-year-old almost to much too resist. The viewer desperately watches events unfold, afraid for Melanie’s sexual and emotional health. Will the object of her affections play the part of a classic predator, everything your mother ever warned you about… or a blessing in disguise?

An almost complete lack of music reigns over this dark but tremulously hopeful story. There’s lots of shots of the teens trying to get into shape while their instructor (Michael Thomas) sternly guides them, eating low fat food in the dining hall, and chatting in their dorms, with few intimate close-up’s, giving an almost fly-on-the-wall feeling to the film. The performances are naturalistic and restrained, showing burgeoning promise in Melanie Lenz.

I wish people online would stop describing Melanie’s character as trying to ‘seduce’ her pediatrician. That man was sending Melanie signals loud and clear, in a playful but totally inappropriate way. Look at the scene where the man follows her hungrily into the woods, looming threateningly in the frame, predatory even as she casts looks upon him beseeching him to follow her. Melanie’s girlish ignorance of the consequences of her crush remain abundantly clear despite her pursuit of the much older man.

Melanie is a kid, for all intents and purposes, albeit a curvy, physically mature one. As far as I’m concerned this is a movie about a flirtation that wouldn’t have gone nearly so far had the adult acted in a grown-up way and gently rebuffed the child from the get-go.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about in this film was the ending. It seemed to end a bit too cryptically, even by European art film standards and I wasn’t wild about the strange and slightly creepy way it went down. Somehow a story revolving around sexual tension between an adult and a child manages to avoid being gross and exploitative- until that scene in the bar. It’s one of those films where you ask, is the hero-slash-heroine going to be okay?- and in this case you just don’t know.

Though slightly less dark than “Paradise: Faith” (I watched the trilogy all out of order, leaving the first installment for last,) “Paradise: Hope” has it’s share of uncomfortable moments and taboo subject matter. For the most part, though, it establishes director Seidl as less of a creepy old man with a camera and more as an observer of life- the discomforting parts, the parts maybe not everybody can talk about, even the ugly parts- to not sordid, but spectacularly real effect. It’s a story that couldn’t have been told in America, and are you really going to fault it there? Controversial, but more palpable that you might think considering the subject matter.

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Watership Down (1978)

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This animated adaptation of Richard Adams’ classic novel proves to  be a slightly unnerving experience, since the anthropomorphic rabbits and early-Disney-esque visuals seem to say “Yeah, this is totally legit for kids,” while the subject matter tells you a decidedly different tale. I was intrigued by various online accounts of people being totally psychologically fucked by watching this as children. Oh the blood! The screams of the dying rabbits! I was sold. I had to check it out.

I had previously tried to read the book along with Adams’ ‘The Plague Dogs,’ but they were thick volumes with long chapters, and my interest in literature is admittedly a fluctuating thing. So I rented the movie, and I am pleased to report that this movie is a work of art, particularly in the visual sense. The watercolor-created landscape framing every shot is gorgeous and genuinely a masterpiece. This isn’t the cheap animation being flaunted in modern children’s films and Saturday Morning cartoons.

The artists had a vision, and they carried out that vision to stunning effect. The animation of the rabbit characters is impressive too. But damn, “Watership Down” is not only a grim movie and absolutely inappropriate for anyone under thirteen, it’s downright eerie at times, portraying the hostility of nature and the finality of death in a dark, unsettling way. This isn’t the kind of movie where a hip, sarcastic talking rabbit voiced by an A-list actor is seemingly injured, jumps up unharmed, and cracks a joke to a chorus laughs from the audience. It is dark, dark, dark. It portrays it’s rabbit protagonists with the grim earnestness of players in a Greek tragedy.

Rabbits Hazel (voiced by John Hurt) and his timid brother, Fiver (Richard Briers) live out a peaceful existence in a warren of coexisting bunnies. That is, until Fiver, who has the gift of foresight, declares that a catastrophe will shortly take place, causing the two siblings and a group of others to flee toward an uncertain future. Turns out, he was right. Real estate developers fill in the warren with piles of dirt, killing all the remaining rabbits except for one.

And with the only female in Hazel’s group promptly snatched up by a hawk, the weary travelers need women. Quite literally. But the Efrafans, a hostile, fascist warren of rabbits, are not willing to give up their dames, or come to a settlement, for that matter. The leader of the Efrafans, the frankly terrifying dictator General Woundwort (Harry Andrews,) tortures his subordinates to keep them compliant and in constant fear of their leader. Who knew seemingly docile bunnies could be such fucking assholes?

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I don’t know, maybe it’s different with rabbits (who screw around and thereupon breed like, well… rabbits,) but the Efrefan’s essential rape and prostitution of their women (they pimp out their ladies to bucks who wish to partake) paired with the protagonist’s blase insistence that women are needed to reproduce and continue their legacy (no mention of whether the girls want them) reminded me of the military men in Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (” I promised them women.”)

Hazel and the gang can’t exactly be faulted- we are dealing with rabbits after all, who are more interested in procreation for the sake of procreation than wining and dining does. However, the treatment of women as babymakers is slightly disturbing (realize that by no means am I calling “Watership Down” a sexist film- the main priority here is survival, not romance.) As a modern woman watching it, it was a little creepy, although you definitely have to take it in context, as well as realize that “Watership Down” is basically a commentary on survival and warfare, and Warfare and rape and prostitution are often a package deal.

The inclusion of rabbit religion and a bunny political system was pretty awesome and creative and as mentioned before, the film was visually stunning but I wasn’t quite so enamored with the plot. It was not really so much what was wrong with the plot as that it didn’t transport me the way the world-building and animation did. The voice acting was excellent, with Richard Brier sporting a fittingly cagey inflection as the perpetually nervous Fiver while John Hurt provides sturdy backup as the strong, hearty Hazel.

On a final note, let me beseech you not to perpetuate the cycle of terror and adamantly avoid renting this movie for your kids. There is a scene where a rabbit, Bigwig, is caught in a snare and he is bleeding and foaming from the mouth and it is frankly extremely disturbing and gruesome. The movie is harrowing and sometimes downright off-putting, with lots of (animated) blood and rabbits killing and torturing rabbits. The BBFC (what’s up with them) rated this U for all ages, which is absolute insanity considering the children who were scarred (not joking) by this movie.

For adults, “Watership Down” is a contemplative and inventive film. But, not even kidding, kids who watch this are going to have a fear of rabbits for the rest of their lives. Going in a pet store might be tricky, and paying your kid’s therapy bills for the rest of your natural lives is no fun either. I credit all my remaining sanity to the fact that I never watched “Watership Down” as a child. I recommend “Watership Down” to adults who are interested in films with a slightly different and uncanny vibe that are visually stunning and thematically unsettling.

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Scum (1979)

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“Scum” is an important and controversial example of harsh British realism charting incarcerated teen Carlin (Ray Winstone)’s transformation from wayward kid to brutal thug with the help of a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” style correctional institution. Only this place makes the hospital ruled under the iron fist of Nurse Ratched in the classic film (a mental hospital, not a Borstal, as portrayed here) look like a trip to Disneyland paired with a ride in the spinning teacups.

The movie might as well be called “You Wouldn’t Want to be a Kid in 70’s Borstal.” It’s grimmer than grim. The facility is a horror show that includes sadistic guards with collective hard-ons for harsh discipline (i.e. abuse,) rape, despair, and suicide. The only thing worse than the “Lord of the Flies”-esque ‘Daddies’ that terrorize and sodomize the weaker children are the cruel, hypocritical, and astonishingly uncaring guards. One such ‘screw’ regards a boy of about thirteen getting gang-banged with a look of smug enjoyment on his face.

These guards, ironically, are ‘upstanding citizens’ in the eyes of the public. They go home, kiss their wives on the mouth, play with their kids and sleep easy, unaware or unconcerned that a massive crime against humanity has been  committed. Because who cares if the ‘scum’ get their human rights violated? But if the boys are scum, what does that make the men? These remorseless cogs in a system that spits out it’s incarcerated youth crueler and more disaffected than before.

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Alan Clarke directs “Scum,” and it’s a harrowing experience. No humor to speak of, few scenes of goodwill or humanity, no soundtrack sporting the latest tunes to remind us that we’re watching a movie… there’s only one scene that contains any warmth whatsoever. Resident  wiseass Archer (Mick Ford) reads a note from home to the illiterate Woods (John Fowler,) who is completely obsessed with the pet dog he left behind and her litter of new puppies. Over the moon, Woods begs Archer to read the note again, a lone relic from the outside world.

That’s it. That’s the extent of the sentiment. The psychological torture combined with the physical violence and cruelty make “Scum” a singularly harrowing experience. The lead performances are incendiary, the most impressive turn not coming from Winstone, but from Julian Firth, who plays the ill-fated Davis. Firth is simply outstanding, especially considering his youth and the emotionally painful rape scene and the resulting fallout the director subjects him to. He doesn’t break character once, and he and Toyne (Herbert Norville) are the emotional heart of an unremittingly bleak picture.

“Scum” isn’t a perfect film. It’s point (that a bleak and hopeless prison system is ultimately more destructive to Britain’s youth than just leaving them on the streets to do what they will,) seems to lack subtlety at times, especially in a scene where Archer shares a moment of philosophical discussion with a guard and in the process pretty much provides him with the entire message it’s director is trying to push. But it gets points for being fearless in it’s portrayal of a broken system, gritty as Hell, and carefully researched by Clarke, who interviewed hundreds of guards and prisoners of Juvenile Detention Centers for this film.

In many ways, “Scum” is a historically important film, and it will definitely put your life in perspective for you when you’re filled with unwanted ennui and angst. Yeah, the kids in this film screwed up, but they’re paying for it tenfold in a system that will either destroy them or release them as half the people they were before, hard and lifeless imitations of people unleashed on a world that suddenly seems much crueler and devoid of hope than it did before they went in. The director sometimes flaunts an obvious political agenda, but also has a natural ability with his actors and behind the camera. It’s a dark, dark journey, but also a valuable one.

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Roxanne (2014, Short Film)

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In Paul Frankl’s low-key short film, a jaded transgendered prostitute is unwittingly thrown into the motherhood role after saving a homeless little girl from some unsavory types. It sounds like a recipe for melodrama, but Frankl shows remarkable restraint directing real trans woman Miss Cairo and Thea Lamb as the unwanted girl.

First of all, you don’t get a litany of boo-hooing about the direction Roxanne (the man, er… I mean woman of the night)’s life has taken. She’s remarkably self-possessed at best, fully resigned to the life she is leading at worst. But although the living situation between her and Lily, the little girl who’s mother has left her and whose mother’s boyfriend is a grade-A asshole. is less than ideal, it does make Roxanne reconsider her aloneness and the lifestyle she has taken for granted.

“Roxanne” is a very well-shot short film. The scenes at the night club where Roxanne cruises for the willing sex partner are dreamy and virile, while the sequences at her apartment, in the company of the young girl, are more akin to a Ken Loach kitchen-sink realism film. The cinematography (such as the cigarette smoke wisping through the cheap lace curtains ) always seems to articulate the feeling it wants to, and, more importantly needs to under the circumstances.

Miss Cairo has kind of an openness about her even when she’s being cagey, and despite her character’s waffling feelings towards the girl, it’s hard not to get sucked into her story and believe the best in her. I would have liked a more complete ending; the conclusion of “Roxanne” feels more like a ‘to be continued,’ but at least this leaves room for a possible sequel. I guess it’s too much to ask that Roxanne drop her life to assume full-time care of this girl, but I’m not ashamed to say that’s what I hoped for. Instead we got kind of an ambiguous ending, which I guess is better and more realistic, but not as satisfying.

It’s hard to make the viewer care for a duo of characters that exist on screen for a mere fifteen minutes, but directed Paul Frankl has pulled it off. I wanted the two heroines to find happiness in each other, and I would be happy to see a follow-up short or a film adaptation.

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

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“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” works so well because you know next to nothing about the characters for the first portion of the film, making it an altogether mysterious and intriguing experience indeed. Crisply photographed in black-and-white and imbued with a truly unique soundtrack compilation, this ‘Iranian Vampire Western’ is nothing if not unpredictable.

Arash (Arash Marandi,) the stressed-out protagonist, is a hard-working young man who’s dependent, drug-addled father Houssein (Marshall Manesh) proves to be continually burdensome and exasperating to him. Houssein is being frequently visited by local thug Saeed (Dominic Rains,) a ne’er-do-well, pimp, and drug dealer to whom Houssein owes thousands of dollars of the illegal substances that service his addiction.

Saeed is the exception to the rule. You know everything you need to know about him from the moment you meet him, from his truly epic tattoos (including the word ‘SEX’ inexpertly scrawled on his throat) to his cheap gangsta haircut, Saeed is only half as frightening and twice as ridiculous as he believes himself to be, but is still a volatile hood and no one to be trifled with.

With Houssain in debt, Saeed pilfers Arash’s prized car, driving Arash to steal a pair of earrings from his alluring employer (Rome Shadanloo.) But a mysterious vampire (Sheila Vand, who manages to be all at once creepy, quirky, sexy, and sympathetic) may render Arash’s drastic action obsolete.

“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” combines wry humor and nail-biting tension in a film that might seem disappointedly low on violence for avid gorehounds but proves to be a technically- and stylistically- sound film. Alternately self-satirizing and even cheesy and artsy and daring, this movie never seems awkward or tone-deaf, but straddles all the elements of the film with pleasing self-awareness and (no pun intended) bite.

Packed into the film is a strong feminist message that proves to be just what Middle Eastern cinema needs. All over the world, women are choked with the what-ifs of simple daily activities such as seeking help carrying groceries from a stranger, walking home from work, and drinking in bars. What if I get robbed? What if I get raped? What if a guy who looks outwardly legit decides to overpower me?

Although men themselves are not incapable of being victims of sexual violence,  it’s a much bigger cause of concern for girls and women. The irony here is, with a vampiress on the loose, now it is the guys, particularly the predatory ones, who have to worry. No pimp, rapist, or woman-beater’s neck is safe. And the halfway decent citizens  of the as-advertised ‘bad city’ are not entirely off the hook either.

You may wonder how this film got away with blunt social commentary and nudity in Iran. Simply put… it didn’t. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” was shot in California. But it is, for all intents and purposes, a Middle Eastern film. And a pretty good one at that. Although some people might be put off by the Black-and-White photography and the subtitles, this would be a good starter movie to others unfamiliar with Middle Eastern cinema, as it is entertaining and takes little to no political background to understand

Nor is it overly gory or violent (other than a gruesome- but amusing-  finger munching scene,) and even the relatively squeamish viewers can watch and enjoy it. International film enthusiasts, and vampire fans, should love it.

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Cold in July (2014)

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An ordinary man undergoes extraordinary duress that has the potential to break him or change him forever. This is the basic premise of “Cold in July,” a bloody Southern-fried thriller that is undeniably slick in execution yet nevertheless manages to maintain a higher level of realism than many films of it’s ilk. But “Cold in July” still managed to surprise me, going in a direction I had never expected and growing twistier by the minute.

Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall, Dexter) is an average schmoe who kills a home invader accidentally-ish and must protect his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and son (Brogan Hall) when a man who appears to be the intruder’s father (Sam Shepard) threatens their lives. But just when you think the grizzled old goon’s going to be the lead antagonist and pull the conflict toward a predictable conclusion- Bam!- the plot swerves another direction entirely. It’s surprising and actually really cool to see Ben (Shepard,) Richard (Hall) and a slick-as-ice good ol’ boy named Jim Bob (who ‘knows a guy who knows a guy,’ to quote Breaking Bad‘s Saul,) played by Don Johnson, join forces to fight a greater evil.

The effect of this movie is not dissimilar is digging into a happy meal to find a prize that totally isn’t what you expected, but hey, looks pretty good on your bureau after all. The color scheme is wild and crazy, and above all, striking– most scenes are shot with a filter that seem to cloak the environment either in orange and yellow or an intense cyan color. This is a daring move on the cinematographer’s part, although sometimes it doesn’t quite work- the colors are at times so turned-up that it’s hard to focus on anything else.

The Electronica-heavy soundtrack might turn off some potential viewers and drive others to agitation, but it was just fine by me. Another radically unique way they set up the movie is the atypical portrayal of action hero Richard. Unlike most of these kinds of movies, it doesn’t seem that Richard enjoys killing, although he feels compelled to do it later on in the film. The killing of the burglar is messy and violent, but neither Richard nor the filmmaker seem to particularly take glee in it.

After the event, Richard seems visibly shaken, which is a powerful anecdote to all those testosterone fueled protagonists who take pride in their first kills. When Richard kills again, it is a out of a sense of duty to his companions, but he still doesn’t seem to get any enjoyment out of it. He’s not the quipping, sneering hero of 80’s action movies. He is you. He is me. He doesn’t really know how to handle a gun, but he wields one anyway because it is what is expected of a Southern father and husband. Whether it serves him well is ultimately up to you to decide.

There are unrealistic moments in “Cold in July” (like Richard dodging machine gun shells towards the end of the film, I mean come on!,) but if you’re looking for something quite different from your average, run-of-the-mill action flick, I suggest you give this solid little thriller a try.

Warning– As the stream of violence is continual and gruesome (and because of a scene of violence against women,) weak stomachs may want to steer clear of  this gory, gutsy revenge flick.

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