Tag Archives: Loneliness

King of Thebes (2012)

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While King of Thebes serves as an atmospheric, eerie art house oddity, there is nothing about it that would urge me to recommend it to you. It is seven minutes  long, so I’ll keep my analysis of it brief. A man (Laurence R. Harvey) enters a room and meticulously starts setting up his things for a carefully planned rendezvous. When the object of his affection is presented, things get increasingly icky/strange and it all wraps up to a weird and inexplicable finale.

When I say that Laurence R. Harvey is a terrific actor, I am not simply saying it because we have been online friends for more than a year. He blew us away in a better performance than the film deserved in The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), and he does creepy and disturbed, albeit in this case harmless, again in King Of Thebes. However, after watching ‘Martin’ (Harvey’s wordless villain) rape the back end of a stapled-together line of people in THC2, nothing in this movie presents shocks me that much.

Anyway, Laurence R. Harvey does desperation well, and this short gives him the opportunity to do a kind-off sex scene, make a singularly unappealing ‘Oh’ face, and act generally sketchy. I would love to see him play against type, maybe the huggable teddy bear Uncle, or the love interest. Is that too much to ask? King of Thebes was an okay short and might be enjoyed by people who like weird for weird’s sake.

The Station Agent (2003)

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Pensive and deliberately slow-paced, “The Station Agent” was a movie that definitely improved for me upon another viewing. It was the movie that brought Peter Dinklage into the spotlight before “Game of Thrones” made him a star. Dinklage is a dwarf, so it will come as no surprise to you that good roles are hard for him to come by regardless of what a good actor he may be (and is.) Compared to his more disposable roles like “Elf” and “Underdog,” “The Station Agent” stands as a surprisingly good indie film, and Dinklage, as well as his co-stars Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale, give the project all they’ve got.

Gut-wrenching ableism is alive and well in the people who surround Fin (Dinklage,) a reserved young dwarf whose equally hard to read friend and fellow train enthusiast Henry (Paul Benjamin) dies suddenly, leaving him property in a middle-of-nowhere New Jersey town. Fin, who is subject to constant prejudice from ignorant a-holes, just wants to be left alone, but bereaved mom Olivia (Clarkson) and loquacious Cuban-American hot dog vendor Joe (Cannavale) try and begin to succeed to draw him out of his shell (but only after Olivia almost carelessly runs Fin over with her car- twice(!)

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“The Station Agent” is almost as low-key as it’s protagonist and doesn’t resort to cheap sentimentality or maudlin counter-stereotyping of the disabled to make it’s point. Michelle Williams, who has always been good at straddling both indie and big-budget productions, is featured as a lonely librarian who flirts with Fin, much to his befuddlement. Fin is not a martyr or a bafflingly quirky little person with a heart of gold. Fin himself says it best “It’s funny how people see me and treat me, since I’m really just a simple, boring person.” Many people are astonishingly nasty to him, either out of cruelty or ignorance, and he’s learned to build up walls and avoid getting hurt.

“The Station Agent” is tender and funny without exploiting the foibles of it’s characters. The movie is best suited for people who have reasonable attention spans, as it is sometimes painfully slow, but the sharp and bright-eyed observations of it’s characters make it worth the watch. It’s a great showcase for the talents of both Patricia Clarkson and Peter Dinklage, BEFORE he was ‘Half-Man’ Tyrion Lannister. I also feel that the later film “An Insignificant Harvey” ripped this off to some extent. People who love subdued indie movies will like this a lot. It’s slight yet affecting, and touches the viewer’s hearts without using implausible melodrama or deceit to get it’s way.

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Let the Right One In (2008)


It’s no secret that “Let the Right One In” is my second favorite movie of all time, and was, in my opinion, in no need of a remake. The experience of watching this movie is akin to that of reading a great book — afterwards you want to recommend it to everyone, in hopes that they will feel the way you did watching it for the first time.

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an unhappy twelve-year-old boy, is bullied by his peers and fantasizes about making them pay, though for the time being the violence stays within the confines of his imagination. While outside his apartment complex at night, he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a strange twelve-year-old who offers him, for the first time, a chance to dream of a different life.

Eli is not like other girls. She goes outside into the bitter Swedish winter wearing no shoes. Occasionally she smells like a putrid corpse. Animalistic growls emanate from her gut. But she floors Oskar with her concern for him and her insistence that he must fight back, no matter what the cost.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, Eli is a vampire, which doesn’t stand by itself as a big spoiler, as it is alluded to in the first twenty-or-so minutes. Eli is not twelve, but rather thousands of years old, and her intentions toward lovelorn, nerdy Oskar are ambiguous throughout.

This is a extraordinarily well-shot film — the snowy, coldly beautiful backdrop is the perfect setting to tell this story, and the cinematography is gorgeous without being showy or pretentious. It is the kind of story that makes you fall in love with its characters. It doesn’t matter if Eli is a vampire or a zombie or even a robot — she is an undeniably real presence, and you root for her as she carries out what must be done.

Lina Leandersson is surprisingly good and carries most of the acting duties on her small, vampiric shoulders. Kåre Hedebrant is a little underwhelming at times but still makes a decent effort, and acts much better than Daniel Buttcliffe is the early HP years. He pulls off the mix of darkness and pain in Oskar’s heart combined with his ultimate naivete.

There’s a lot of symbolism in the second half of the movie (Oskar closing the doors of his toy cars, anybody?) which you may not catch if you are overly literal-minded or are not paying attention. The film never lets us forget the suffering of Eli’s victims, including Lacke, a local drunk she ensnares with a nasty trick and makes a snack out of.

The strength of “Let the Right One In” is that it cares as much about its characters as its blood and special effects. The small bit of controversy it earned with its content involving children is unfounded, and should not deter you from watching what is most certainly one of the all-time greats in modern horror.

Wendy and Lucy (2008)

This movie is not for everyone. Curious art-indie buffs, you know who you are. Others, look elsewhere. “Wendy and Lucy” is ‘real’ in such a way that it will delight a certain audience and bore the pants off everyone else.

Drifter Wendy (Michelle Williams,) camping out in Oregon on her way to find work in Alaska, travels alone except for her beloved dog, Lucy. So when Lucy goes missing in a small podunk Oregon town, Wendy vows not to leave until she finds her best friend and traveling companion.

Invested in her plight is a kind, otherwise unnamed Security Guard (Wally Dalton) who doesn’t seem to do much work but instead gives her advice and comfort while she tries to find her dog. Wendy comes into contact with other people, some helpful, some detrimental, and in the end must make a painful and difficult choice.

Although the grainy imagery can be a little frustrating, “Wendy and Lucy” is a touching, and above all, real little tale. It’s the kind of film that doesn’t have a hook, but wins us over with it’s true-to-life characters and situations, and makes us wonder what’s going to happen.

Michelle Williams is extremely convincing as flawed protagonist Wendy, and Lucy is a very cute and charming canine. This is the kind of movie people will argue has no ‘point.’ Since when does a film have to have a lesson, a glossy twist ending, or an revelation at before the end credits?

Isn’t a depiction of real, believable people and honest plot developments enough to to keep the audience watching? Since when did we become a legion of people who need a robot, a superhero, farting animated animals, or a masked killer to keep us invested in a story? Maybe I sound pretentious. But I can’t help but wonder if peoples’ interest in the movies is regressing.

I’ve seen Michelle Williams in two movies recently. “Take This Waltz” had its moments, but was also often glib and sitcom-ish, despite a painfully effective ending. “Wendy and Lucy,” the more effective of the two films, was never unbelievable and never simplistic, a testament to the power of kitchen sink realism in film.

“Wendy and Lucy” also excels in the way that it portrays poverty without the morbid vision of filth and decay many movies strive for. Overall, it’s more “Winter’s Bone” than “Requiem for a Dream,” and delivers pathos and sympathy rather than cheap shocks.

Not that it doesn’t have tense moments, such as when Wendy sleeps in the woods and comes face to face with an unexpected intruder. It just doesn’t overplay its hand trying to be disgusting and gratuitous, and portraying Williams as a wretched drifting waif. I hope you see it.

Rating-
8.0/10

Paradise Faith (2012)

What’s impressive and surprising about “Paradise: Faith” is how it takes a sensational premise (a lonely woman with an erotic fixation with Jesus) and does not use it for cheap shock value or as a vicious attack on Catholicism. In fact, it’s not really tawdry or sleazy at all- it, like it’s desperate heroine, just is. I have not seen the first movie in the trilogy, the thematically linked “Paradise: Love,” but after this movie I probably will.

Instead of building contempt and hatred for it’s fanatically religious protagonist, it develops it so that we feel a mix of curiosity and pity for strange, pious Anna-Maria (excellently played by Maria Hofstätter,) but never disgust or rage. She needs her faith desperately, as a human being needs food or oxygen.

A single woman in her mid-50’s, Anna-Maria works as a X-Ray Technician and spends her summers proselytizing the neighbors and no doubt making herself quite unpopular in her town in Austria. Anna-Maria is painfully sexually repressed and endures self-inflicted punishments for her unchaste thoughts. She fancies Jesus quite a bit and finds herself attracted to his gentle strength and kindness.

Everything abruptly changes when Anna Maria’s Arabic, paraplegic husband Nabil (Nabil Saleh) returns after a long, unexplained absence. Saleh is quite good too, developing his character from merely an annoyance to a cruel misogynist who spits on Anna Maria and mocks her passionate devotion to God. Nabil wants Anna Maria to ‘fulfill her duties as a wife’ and make love to him, but Anna Maria’s only love now is God.

What follows is a battle of wills- between the fanatical Anna Maria and the stubborn Nabil. No love and friendship comes out of this conflict- only violence and bitterness. Meanwhile Anna Maria copes with her impending crisis of faith and her complex feelings for her savior.

“Paradise: Faith” is similar to the films of Michael Haneke in style- cold, unbiased, virtually devoid of music and littered with long takes. It interested me quite a bit. I hate the dumbing-down of the Christian in Hollywood, as even the craziest is a human being with complex motivations and belief system.

The film doesn’t give us a pat ending or anyone worth cheering for, and that’s just fine- Anna Maria is greeted with mixed reactions from her herd of endangered souls. No one wins, no one ‘proves her wrong,’ and there are no revelations or messages except for this- crazy-devout religion can be a temporary aid for something deeper- unbearable loneliness, repression or isolation. Sometimes someone who seems proselytizing or arrogant is simply lonelier.

Maria Hofstätter is just perfect as Anna Maria, and you can completely believe that she is this person, who she plays with total sincerity. It is interesting to see her try to ‘save’ the souls of her fellow man, and the way they react to what could be interpreted as a attempt to connect or or just pure  patronization. An essential art-house film for fans of the genre.

Buddy Boy (1999)

Buddy Boy, Mark Hanlon’s debut, is a haunting and potent film about dead end lives that provokes more questions than answers but remains bizarrely interesting throughout.

The film provides a look into the surrealistic existence of emotionally stunted, stuttering misfit Francis (Aidan Gillen), who lives with his trollish invalid stepmother (actual amputee Susan Tyrrell), in a squalid apartment.

Suffering from overwhelming guilt concerning his sexuality, his religion, and himself, he goes to confession monthly, admitting every impure thought and indiscretion. The contrast between faith and the id is revealed in the opening, which presents the viewer with a montage of religious imagery followed by Francis, uh… pleasuring himself to a pair of voluptuous breasts in a magazine.

Like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, this is the high point of his day, which soon descends into woeful monotony. He finds a new pasttime in spying on his attractive neighbor Gloria (Emmanuelle Seigner, controversial Polish director Roman Polanski’s wife) through a hole in his apartment.

Then they meet. Gloria is strangely attracted to Francis, which would be unfeasible if she weren’t clearly lonely and desperate too. She tells him she is a vegan, a word he doesn’t understand, but he catches on. According to her, she doesn’t care what he eats, but then she buys him a “Meat Is Murder” t-shirt, which is a mixed message if I ever saw one. This further accentuates the character’s conflicting beliefs and desires.

Gloria is pretty and nice, too nice, and Francis begins believing irrational things about her pastimes, focusing on her eating habits. Meanwhile he becomes increasingly psychotic (?) and has a falling out with God. Is Francis going insane? Or is meat back on the menu? Buddy Boy is an enigma — although declared a religious allegory by IMDB users it at times seems to be making a statement against Christianity.

In fact Francis spends so much time obsessing about his masturbating, sinning ways that the viewer wishes the poor guy would just snap out of it. The movie is a triumph of atmosphere — the bleakness and decay of Francis and Sal’s apartment is palpable, while Gloria’s big-windowed, pleasingly green abode seems to spell change for the troubled young man.

The problem, it seems, is the vast contrast in acting styles between Aidan Gillen (Francis) and Susan Tyrrell (his stepmom, Sal). Gillen, from the GLBTQ show Queer as Folk (which I haven’t seen), plays his character sensitively and gently, as a fundamentally benevolent albeit strange outcast damaged by trauma and psychosis. Susan Tyrrell plays his abusive stepmom more like a SNL skit. Maybe her broad performance is the fault of the material.

When an actress’ character is scripted to beat a plumber over the head with her artificial leg (one of the stranger scenes in this story), maybe there isn’t much room for subtlety. Buddy Boy, nevertheless, is an intriguing first feature and a fascinating story.

It walks a fine line between being campy and profound, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like the humanization of Francis, a character who might be written off as a scummy voyeur, or worse, as white trash. It raises interesting questions, contains twists, and transports you, which is something films should accomplish, but rarely do.

Tony (2009)

“Tony” is the rare exception where the term ‘indie horror’ means smarter rather than just cheaper. On one level, it’s a pretty simple premise (man commits crimes, man goes unnoticed until…), but on another, it a phenomenal character study of a man to whom desperation is a constant companion, to whose hobbies others would find sickness and perversion. All that and a highly effective performance by unnoticed actor Peter Ferdinando, as the titular killer.

Tony is a lonely fellow who idles away his days watching low-grade 80’s action films. We see him desperately trying to make a connection with the uncaring world around him, but socialization is hard, especially if your second hobby is, well… killing people.

The murders are sporadic and not overly graphic. Tony just gets fed up with humanity. Don’t we all? Tony is unwashed, dirty, and unemployed. He lives off the U.K. welfare system without having done a real day’s work in his life. He’s haunted by memories of his abusive father. It’s hard not to feel bad for him as he navigates an apathetic London, and hard not to be repulsed as he cohabitants in his filthy apartment with the corpses of his victims.

First you might consider the place of Tony’s action films. Are the driving him to kill? Probably not, the movie suggests. People drive people to kill, the media is scapegoated. I am reminded of an eight-year-old boy who took a break from “Grand Theft Auto” long enough to shoot his elderly caretaker in the head.

All the things you can find obviously wrong with that family (guns unlocked, eight-year-old’s playing restricted games,) and the video game becomes the scapegoat. It’s easy. It’s too easy. Sorry for that tangent. Anyway, “Tony” is grim, and sometimes very gross, but don’t expect a “Human Centipede”-style torturefest.

An interesting fact Tom Six made “The Human Centipede II”‘s lead Laurence R. Harvey watch this movie for inspiration on his character, ‘Martin.’ A great performance inspiring another. “Tony” reminds me of what THC2 could have been if Six had concentrated on character development rather than cutting ligaments and pulling out teeth with pliers.

At the center of “Tony” is Peter Ferdinando’s fearless performance, playing a sick, sick character with a glimmer of empathy. The other actors back him up nicely, although in the end it’s solitary Tony, friendless, unchanging, and scrutinizing a world he can’t quite understand. And indulging in his second favorite hobby, of course.
Rating-
8.5/10

Wild Tigers I Have Known (2006)

“Wild Tigers I Have Known,” Cam Archer’s visually striking but somewhat self-indulgent debut, is an abstract and meandering portrayal of teen angst and burgeoning sexuality. Its youthful protagonist, Logan (Malcolm Stumpf), seems perpetually caught between a daydream and and the harsh, uncaring real world.

Sounds kind of like Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Except that movie actually had substance. Oh well. This movie at least looks pretty, and art-chic-happy film students might find more to love in the film than I did.

13-year-old Logan is lonesome soul, given to walks on the beach and recording himself going on a abstract tangents. He also is in the midst of discovering his sexuality (gay as a maypole) while harboring a crush on Rodeo Walker (Patrick White), the most popular boy in school.

Does Rodeo feel likewise? Maybe so (“girls make me want to go to sleep,” he tells his youthful admirer), but whatever the case, Rodeo isn’t telling. Seeking Rodeo’s affection, Logan creates a female persona named ‘Leah.’ ‘Leah’ calls Rodeo up promising a wild night, but Logan’s naivete is apparent.

I “get” Logan’s inability to connect to, or even maybe occupy the same universe as, his junior high classmates. I go to a school of hundreds of students, and 99% of the time I feel like I’m off on my own planet.

But although Logan is intriguing, the film collapses under its own pretension, with scenes that have no clear dramatic purpose and dialogues that are laughable in their bloated sense of self-importance. And isn’t Logan’s mother’s response to the fallen groceries a little… psychotic? Nobody who’s still on the sanity wagon would react that way.

“Wild Tigers…” sports beautiful cinematography and a couple of well-known actors (Fairuza Balk as the mom, Kim Dickens as the school counselor,) but in the end, it hardly matters. Seeming long at 88 minutes, “Tigers…” ultimately seems like a bit of a chore, never a good  impression for a film to make. Logan entices us but the film keeps us at an arm’s length.