Rating: B/ Adultery, pedophilia, pornography addiction, and the all-around dark side of Suburbia all converge in this darkly funny, bleak book, which nonetheless kind of falls apart in a final act that is both inexplicable and unsatisfying. This is going to be a hard book to review, because I loved the movie, and as a result the differences between the two projects were kind of jarring for me. It’s pretty much the reverse of loving a book and not being able to reconcile with the changes made to the story when you are watch the movie. Anyway, Tom Perrotta’s novel is a bit more tongue-in-cheek than the movie, which was just plain depressing and had a conclusion that people found overly lurid and exploitative (but, funnily enough, which I found less baffling and more satisfying than the book ending.) Continue reading Book Review: Little Children by Tom Perrotta→
Rating: B/ Considering that I had already seen the excellent film adaptation a few years before, this novel held few surprises for me, least of all the twist ending alluded to in it’s lyrical title. So it’s a good thing that Laura Kasischke focuses more in her writing on lyricism and less on plot. With the lovely, vivid writing, I still felt like I was getting something new out of the experience of reading the book even though I pretty much knew the story. The Life Before her Eyes is a good book, not a great one. The writing can be meandering and sentimental while at the same time being lush and gorgeous, starting off the bat with a Sophie’s Choice type situation and gradually touching on aging, sorrow, and regret in a bittersweet manner. Continue reading Book Review: The Life Before Her Eyes by Laura Kasischke→
Rating: B/ Tom Hardy, in a car. Driving. For an hour and a half. Who knew such a movie would be watchable, let alone oddly compelling? Construction foreman Ivan Locke (Hardy) is in a bit of a bind. The woman he recently had an affair with (whose voice on Locke’s speaker phone is provided by Olivia Colman) is carrying his baby and has just gone into premature labor, triggering some complications with the birth. So Ivan, feeling responsible (and rightfully so) for the woman’s situation, drops his important construction job the next morning and the opportunity to watch a big football game with his two adolescent sons (voiced by Tom Holland and Bill Milner) to be with her for the event. Ivan’s lover’s needy and vulnerable, his wife (voiced by Ruth Wilson) wants to hang his philandering balls out to dry, and the job site’s a mess without him. Determined to do the right thing for once, Ivan juggles his responsibilities via phone calls as he makes his way to witness the birth of his illegitimate child. Continue reading Movie Review: Locke (2013)→
Rating: B/ For the most part, the critics didn’t really seem to like this movie, and I can understand why; the protagonist is fairly unlikable, the subject matter is uncomfortable and sometimes downright unpleasant to watch, and the film itself just kind of ends abruptly, with no definitive conclusion or explanation. I Smile Back is not a easy movie, but it is a true movie, a film for anyone who’s ever been told they have a good, blessed life, and to stop being depressed and pull themselves together for Christ’s sakes. Some people are miserable because they live under terrible circumstances, and for some people, the reason for their unhappiness is much more complicated. You can have everything in the world, and still find it hard to get up in the morning and face a day full of people who, to you, seem cruel-natured and callous. Continue reading Movie Review: I Smile Back (2015)→
Rating: B+/ So, is the movie called Little Children because the sex offender played by Jackie Earle Haley has a thing for little children or because all the adult characters in the movie act like little children, self-obsessed and bickering? The jury’s still out on that. While the main plotline concerning extramarital affairs and upper-class ennui in an affluent suburban neighborhood is dark and distressing enough, I found the subplot following a child abuser and exhibitionist moving into his mothers’ house after being released from prison (the superior thread by far) absolutely harrowing. Did this movie really make me feel compassion for a guy who gets his kicks flashing his weenie at little kids? What does that say about the film’s aptitude for puzzling moral ambiguity? Moreover, what does it say about me? Continue reading Movie Review: Little Children (2006)→
Rating: A-/ ***Warning- This is more of a comprehensive discussion of the film Spider than a actual review. Spoilers should be expected.*** First off, I adore Ralph Fiennes. I really just love the guy. I think he’s one of the best (if not actually the best) actors of today. I just rediscovered the greatness of Cronenberg’s psychoanalytic thriller Spider, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about why I think Spider was one of Fiennes’ best performances and one of his most daring film endeavors. I’m also going to discuss what made Spider so great and look at the layers of meaning the psychology of this film provides. Let this be my last warning; this is going to be a spoiler laden post. If you haven’t seen this film yet and want to, avoid this review like the plague. Thank you.
When we first meet Spider (Ralph Fiennes) as he gets off a train, he seems very small and vulnerable, one of society’s undisputed outcasts. Nicotine-stained fingers, raggedy old coat, stubbly, bewildered face- he looks like he wishes he cold just sink into the ground and disappear. We can also see clear as day that not all is right with him psychologically, as he continually mutters incomprehensibly to himself (turn on your subtitles!) and doesn’t seem totally cognizant of his surroundings. He’s definitely out of his element, and rightfully so- Spider has just been released from an insane asylum that he was committed to since childhood, and is being placed in the care of Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave,) a crusty old woman who owns a halfway house for the mentally disturbed.
The house could use a spruce-up and Mrs. Wilkinson could use some work on her bedside manner. She treats the patients like naughty children who constantly need to be berated and told off. Spider begins reexamining events that placed him in the care of the state by becoming an ‘observer’ of his childhood, following his boy self around the familiar streets of his youth and sitting in on conversations between people that occurred at that time, and some that didn’t. This is where the brilliance of this movie lies, for as soon as we are introduced to his parents (Miranda Richardson and Gabriel Byrne) we are immediately placed in the shoes of an unreliable narrator. While his mum is long-suffering, beautiful, and kind, his father Bill is a philandering alcoholic and all around jerk who Spider competes with for the affections of his mother.
In a series of events that young Spider couldn’t possibly have been present for, we find that Dad is screwing a local floozy named Yvonne (also played by Miranda Richardson) and that they kill Spider’s saintly mother when she catches them making it in the garden shed. These scenes, and the subsequent scenes where Yvonne takes Mrs. Cleg’s place as Spider’s new ‘mother,’ are ludicrously over-the-top and almost cartoonish in nature. Juxtaposed with the hyperrealistic scenes where Spider himself is present, these parts seem to make no sense unless you take them at face value- that Spider is making them up. That they came out of the mind of a naive, inexperienced, and mentally ill man who has spent most of his life in an institution.
Yvonne (despite being played by the same actress who played the mother) is slutty, coarse, and rendered with make-up and costume design to be actually fairly unattractive. The infinitely well-meaning Mrs. Cleg is superior in every way to this common street whore; of this Spider is convinced. So he sets out to murder Yvonne by turning the gas stove on as she sleeps, only to find he has murdered his mother and ‘Yvonne’ as he knows her never existed. Yes, maybe he was jokingly flashed by a woman similar to his incarnation of Yvonne (in fact, ‘Flashing Yvonne’ is played a by a whole different actress than Richardson, Allison Egan) and his mind did the rest of the work. Building upon this event he created the ultimate harlot, the woman who would stand by as his dad killed his mom and insist he call her ‘mother.’
So what do I think? I think Spider’s oh-so-virtuous mother became alcoholic and bitter, creating ‘Yvonne’ in his mind and causing him to believe that his dad murdered his mom and replaced her with an uncaring, promiscuous duplicate. Spider obviously has the hots for his mom on some subconscious level, brushing her hair and watching her put on make-up adoringly and eyeing her as she tries on a slinky nightgown. She became boozy and hard due to her marital problems with her husband and his love of going to the Dog and Beggar and drinking. Someone had to be blamed, and the issue had to be put in more black-and-white terms so Spider could understand it.
There’s only one thing about this movie that confuses me, and that’s the scene where Spider’s in a restaurant looking at a picture of a green Yorkshire field. Suddenly he’s standing in a field identical to the one in the picture, hanging out with a couple of old men who don’t particularly seem to have their mental faculties. I think that he met the men at the asylum (I believe one of these guys was the one wielding a piece of broken glass in the flashback.) He imagined them in a grassy field and used some of the dialogue he had heard from them in the scenario. I’m also very curious whether Spider realized what he had done to his mother (he does refrain from braining Mrs. Wilkinson, who he imagines as Yvonne, with a hammer) or whether the big reveal was just a tip-off to the audience and Spider is as lost as ever.
I don’t think it should be surprising to you that Ralph Fiennes is incredible in this movie. He shows a gift for portraying debilitating mental illness with a nuanced sleight of hand that is not generally present in these kinds of performances. So that’s it. I’ve explained why I think Spider is one of the more complex psychological thrillers I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve offered some explanation to the meaning of the events presented in this movie. Liked this discussion? Have any thoughts? Want me to write another like it? Stop by and tell me in the comments!
As much as I would like to root for the little man, stick it to the Hollywood studios, and support this small-budget indie horror film, I cannot. All I can say is this- good God this movie is horrible. The budget is tiny, which shouldn’t be a problem, but it so much so that it becomes a distraction. The acting is mediocre. The plot is rife with holes. It’s a disaster. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but this movie isn’t really worth watching on streaming for free, let alone paying a rental price.
Middle-aged, venomously mean-spirited businessman Kurt Wendell (Jonathan Hansler) is fired from his job, much to his chagrin. At home, he’s making his family’s lives a living Hell- his long-suffering wife (Andrea Gordon,) who may be getting a little nookie on the side, his weak-willed, latently homosexual son (Christopher Rithin,) and his pouty daughter (Nicola Posener.)
To Kurt, his son is a pussy and his daughter’s a slut, and he detests his kids and his wife in equal measure. But Kurt has a plan- he schemes to take his family to a summer home for one last vacation, kill them, and then himself. The drama unfolds at the isolated house, where Kurt takes it upon himself to end his family’s complaints- once and for all.
Jonathan Hansler plays Kurt with manic chutzpah, but Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” he is not. Gordon comes off best as a wife and mother trapped in a loveless marriage. Rithin and Posener are tragically mediocre as beleaguered kids who are too stupid for their own good.
There’s a lack of logic in the script that becomes increasingly obvious by the 1/3rd point. In one scene, the daughter, Megan, unsuccessfully tries to untie a man her father’s taken captive while Dad’s outside. Earlier, her dad took her cell phone and made it all too obvious he was not going to let her leave alive.
Later, she reveals to her mother that she has a second cellphone, which is later taken from her and smashed by her murderously irate dad. The question I have is, why didn’t she call the police while her father was distracted rather than spending 10+ minutes trying to uselessly untie the prisoners constraints with her ineffectual soft little girly hands?
In another scene, the mother gets her kids in the car and tries to drive away but the car doesn’t start. Okay, we’ll accept the oldest horror cliché in the book, but not this- Mom, in all her infinite wisdom, has not locked the door to the driver’s side, leaving it all too easy for Kurt to pull it open and drag her out. I guess she thought her car was going to zoom off like “Need For Speed” and leave her homicidal hubby in the dust.
Grainy photography, poor effects, gaps in logic- “Axed” has all the telling signs of a first feature. A victim’s black eye looks all too fake, while the blows inflicted on the said prisoner are woefully artificial. Last but not least, we have Kurt himself, who is too vile and reprehensible to be a remotely likable or even empathisable character.
What are we supposed to say about a movie that features as one of it’s final plot points a teenaged girl flashing her bra and panties at her murderous father to distract him from killing her (can we say anything?) I think her exact words were “Come and get it, Daddy.” With a script this sad, I bet the filmmaker wishes he could miracle himself into a time machine and undo the whole thing. I certainly would!
Apparently, filmmaker David Dobkin was inspired to make this after seeing “Fargo.” Despite never reaching the creative heights as the Coens’ 1996 masterpiece, “Clay Pigeons,” set in a small Montana town peopled with idiosyncratic characters, functions well as a unique independent film with bite and quirky oddness to spare.
Here’s the deal- loser Clay (Joaquin Phoenix) is banging his best friend Earl (Gregory Sporleder’s) white-trash girlfriend, Amanda (Georgina Cates). When Earl gets sick of being two-timed, he gets drunk and commits suicide in front of Clay, trying to frame him for his death.
This leads to a string of events that leave Clay totally shaken and out of his comfort zone, as bodies pile up, friendly serial killer Lester Long (played by Vince Vaughn, but don’t let that run you off) befriends Clay, and acerbic FBI agent Agent Shelby (Jeanane Garofelo) is on the case.
I found the beginning of this film a little shaky in terms of acting and writing, but I’m glad I hung in there because the film got a hell of a lot better after the first twenty-or-so minutes. I never fell in love with Joaquin Phoenix as Clay. I understand that maybe he was supposed to be sort of a boring, reactionary character, but I never connected with Clay or the performance.
I’ll admit, I haven’t seen Vince Vaughn in much and had no expectations except maybe low ones from the general opinion- which is, well, that Vaughn can’t act his way out of a paper bag. I was pleasantly surprised. Vaughn did great in this role as Lester Long, he was revalatory in his villain performance in the way that Matthew McConaughey was in “Killer Joe.”
Vaughn’s laugh- like a alien entity playing at being human- was particularly chilling. I will say his character may have been more compelling than either of the kidnappers in “Fargo.” My favorite character, hands down, was Detective Shelby, played by Jeanane Garafelo.
She was so smart and tough! She was a woman who was afraid to let her guard down, and had picked her job over having a regular life. I really respected her. The way she handled the amateur small town police force was hysterical.
Although I don’t think this is in the same category with “Fargo,” “Clay Pigeons” is still a intriguing comedic thriller with strong acting and character development.
I would call it the Vince Vaughn movie for people who hate Vince Vaughn, and the Jeanane Garafelo movie for people who get sick of her Liberal politics but would like to see her play a fabulous character. “Clay Pigeons,” despite it’s flaws, is an exciting debut, and a worthwhile movie.
A good movie can find humor in tragic circumstances and goodness in extremely flawed characters; “The Skeleton Twins” does both. Twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) have not spoken for ten years when the near-suicides of both bring them together, for better or worse. Milo is a gay, unemployed aspiring actor still enamored with the former teacher (Ty Burrell) who seduced him when he was fifteen; Maggie is a depressed, unhappily-married dental hygienist who doesn’t love her husband Lance (Luke Wilson.)
Lance is a total sweetheart and I think Maggie is in love with the idea of him (a kind, caring hubby who doesn’t treat her like shit,) but for a sexually frustrated serial adulterer like Maggie, the idea of true love and the reality of a sparkless relationship isn’t going to cut it. Milo begrudgingly moves in with Maggie and her husband, and exacerbates Maggie’s personal drama, but it is the conflicted relationship between the two siblings, who have been torn apart by the suicide of their dad years before, that might pull them together or destroy them.
This all sounds like some very heavy crap, and I guess it is, but director Craig Johnson sprinkles some laughs and light-heartedness among the dark drama. Milo and Maggie are extremely sarcastic and acerbic, and yes, they can be grade-A douchebags sometimes, but they end up coming through for each other and are ultimately each loyal to the other one’s needs, whether or not a loved one’s intervention is what the person in crisis was looking for.
The humor leavens the moments where the movie seems like it’s going in the direction of pure familial nastiness (I can go to my Aunt’s house and bring up politics for that.) There’s a definite realism to the proceedings and the filmmaker never tries too hard to get a sniffle or a laugh. I found the acting from everybody, from Milo and Maggie to Lance to even the “Modern Family” guy as a pedophilic schmuck, to be very effective.
Don’t go into “The Skeleton Twins” expecting belly laughs and wild escapades resembling those of Wiig’s breakout hit “Bridesmaids.” If you hadn’t guessed from all the suicide talk. “The Skeleton Twins” is rather low-key and sad. It’s real life, as filtered though the lives of some seriously troubled human beings. It’s love and family and emptiness and the trials of two fuck-ups trying to maintain their own sanity. In the end, all they have is each other. God help them.
90’s independent films give a different kind of vibe from the small-budget movies of today. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s the feeling of ‘newness,’ of being the first to do something (of course movies were being made outside of big budget studios before 1990, but there seemed to be a big boom in ordinary schmoes who weren’t big name filmmakers picking up a camera and making something). Indies then had less of a feeling of precalculation, less of a sense of ‘hey, we’re working with small actors and a low budget, but put in some well-worn tropes and we’ll have a guaranteed hit.’ Films back then were really out there. And, hey, there’s something I really like about that.
So, while past-trippin to the 90’s (which, admittedly, I don’t remember that well, I turned six in 2000) I rented Tom DiCillo’s very odd buddy comedy “Box of Moonlight,” starring a young (I mean, young young) Sam Rockwell and John Turturro, who pretty much looks the same to me, for better or for worse. Turturro plays Al Fountain, an uptight and lonely electrical engineer whose relationship with his wife (Annie Corley) is low on sizzle.
Al is having the king of all midlife crisis’, in which he actually has visions of things going backward- coffee pouring itself back into the pot, kids riding bikes backwards- in the way he desperately wishes he could. Nevertheless, Al doesn’t magically turn back the clocks and become younger (ain’t that a funny thing?) and can’t seem to get out of his slump. One day Al’s contract gets canceled and he tells his wife he’s still working the job, then bales to a rundown lake and vacation spot from his childhood.
On the way back home, he almost hits a strangers car on the road. This stranger turns out to be Kid (Sam Rockwell,) a gregarious, barely-functioning precursor to the sovereign citizen, living off the grid and running a oddment-selling business in a broken down backwoods trailer. Kid convinces Al to get him home, then finagles him (not by the powers of force, but by persuasion and a little coercion) to spend a few days with him at his decaying pad.
Kid’s home is a man-child recluse’s paradise. Every day Kid gets up whatever time he wants, has a breakfast of cookies dipped in milk, and goes skinny dipping in the lake. He has no responsibilities, no worries except for maybe food sources and the paranoid fear of the government tracking him down. Kid is socially hopeless, outgoing, flirty, and friendly, but his optimism is only matched by peoples’ contempt for him.
By most peoples’ standards, Kid would be delusional, or at least a borderline mental defective. By the movie’s standards, he is a manic free-spirit, living on the land. Despite vandalism, stealing garden gnomes, and a potentially harmful prank on the police, he doesn’t really seem a danger to anybody. Al’s feeling of inertia begins to crack as Kid works his magic on him. Sisters Purlene and Floatie Dupre (Lisa Blount and Catherine Keener) work their own brand of magic on the men.
I like both main protagonists for different reasons. I like the Kid because he is funny and wears his heart on his sleeve. I like Al because I can relate to his loneliness and private pain. The brunt of an abusive father and an uncaring world have turned him cold, and the pain of his isolation is keenly felt in the scene where he overhears his co-workers mocking him. I love the little details in this movie, like the phone sex operators dirty boys shoes and the NRA-centric country music playing on the jukebox in the restaurant.
I did not like how casually Al’s infidelity was treated. His wife really seemed to be trying, which was overlooked in favor of Al’s fling with Floatie, who did not seem to be the brightest light on the menorah, if you catch my drift. I did like the friendship between Al and Kid, which seemed a little on the gay side at times, but they also puzzlingly eagerly sook out rendezvouses with women (?) Maybe somewhat homoerotic male bonding was their man-love limit.
“Box of Moonlight” is funny, sweet, unsentimental, and quirky without being full of self-conscious pop-culture quips. I’m not exactly sure what it was getting at but I certainly enjoyed the ride. It may not be of interest to most people, obscure as it is, but fans of independent films interested in going ‘off the grid’ (as Kid would say) should enjoy this excursion into eccentricity.
Note- I put the poster with the naked Turturro with a clock on my post because f’ing hate the DVD release cover. Dermot Mulroney was in the film for five fucking minutes of screentime total and his mug gets put on the front of the box, Where’s Rockwell’s face? He had ten times the screentime, and where is he? Oh, he’s the tiny little guy dancing on the bottom. Sorry. Pet peeve of mine:)
A Fangirl's Rants about Movies, TV, and Literature