There is Nowhere to Hide When "You're Next"

4/20/2014

The home invasion horror sub-genre has been done to varying degrees of success in recent years.  Movies like 2008's "The Strangers", Michael Haneke's "Funny Games" and the French horror masterpiece "Inside" are just a few examples of what filmmakers aspire to.  Director Adam Wingard does the genre proud with his brutal and often humorous film "You're Next". 

After a brief introduction scene with indie horror icon Larry Fessenden, we get all of our main characters together in a large and somewhat isolated vacation home.  The four grown kids and their significant others and celebrating their parent anniversary.  This includes brothers Crispian, Drake, Felix, and sister Aimee.  The cast is stocked with indie film regulars Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz and AJ Bowen to name a few.  The plum role of the film goes to Crispian's girlfriend Erin, played by Sharni Vinson.  He has obviously seen (or not cared to notice) only one side of her.  As she grew up on survivalist compound which needless to say pays off big when the house is under siege by three men in animal masks.  The Lion, the Fox, and the Lamb is not a lullaby but a brutal threesome out to wipe out the family with crossbows and machetes.  Their motives and the deeper meaning of their attack are played out later in the film in a place call spoiler territory.  Sorry no spoilers in this review, you'll have to watch the movie.


The madness begins at dinner with arrows flying fast and furious.  Instinct kicks in and Erin switches to survival mode to take control of the situation.  Unlike popular horror movie traditions Erin is not the frightened final girl who cowers in a corner.  She is ready to kick some ass.  Many other common horror clichés are stepped around, but their are still plenty to go around.  The movie has its brutal violence meshed with dark comedic moments to make this a very enjoyable experience.


"Broken" One of the best Unseen Films of 2013!

4/13/2014

The British independent film "Broken" broke through in the UK in 2012 with a quite a splash, winning a number of awards.  The film however has sort of flown under the radar as it wasn't released in the US until last Summer by Film Movement.  Its the dramatic coming of age story of an 11 year old girl affectionately named Skunk.  She is played by first time actor Eloise Laurence, who gives a remarkably real and thoughtful performance. This is also the first feature film for director Rufus Norris.

Skunk lives within a cul-de-sac in suburban London with her Dad Archie, played by Tim Roth, and older brother Jed.  Her mother ran off with another man years back.  They have a live in nanny, Kasia, who serves as a sort of mother or big sister figure.  Cillian Murphy also puts forth a strong performance as Mike, Kasia's boyfriend and Skunk's crush.  The stories of the three families within the cul-de-sac are all compelling and well integrated into Skunk's world.  We open with Skunk talking to Rick, an older friend but mentally unstable neighbor, who out of nowhere get a savage beating from Mr. Oswald, the fiery father of a trio of foul mouthed daughters who are also without a mother.


Adding to the many difficulties of adolescence, Skunk also has diabetes.  She could be bitter and angry about her situation, but is very resilient and strong.  She is adventurous, inquisitive and full of wonder, where as the girls next door are petty, vile, and just plain unpleasant.  The two families are dealing with similar issue in very different ways.  While the third family, Rick's Family, tries to keep to themselves and protect there son from the world.  Rick is a volatile man child.  He has a gentle and sweet exterior that fights with his inner rage and turmoil.  After becoming to much of a handful for his parents to deal with he is put up in a hospital.  Skunk see the good in him,  the longing to be normal and accepted.

The final 30 minutes will keep you on the edge of your seat with a an intensity that is hard to find.  I know that sound a little clichéd, but the filmmakers took such care in developing the story and building its characters that the ending just works on every level.  You won't be disappointed.  And Its currently on Netflix Streaming so you have no excuse.


"Capote" Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar Winning Role



3/16/2014

A high point in the career of Phillip Seymour Hoffman was his Oscar winning portrayal of Truman Capote in the 2005 Bennett Miller film "Capote".  Hoffman's transformation into the flamboyant and controversial writer was striking in that he completely lost himself in the role and seemed to virtually channel Capote's spirit.  From the voice, the mannerisms, and everything in between this was Hoffman's role of a lifetime.

"Capote" tells the story of how he wrote his most famous book "In Cold Blood", the true story of a quadruple homicide in rural Kansas in 1959.  Together with his research assistant Harper Lee, who would write a modern masterpiece herself in "To Kill a Mockingbird", it took Truman 4 years to write.  Although the story only encompasses about four years, we are given and very intimate look at the life of Capote.  Who he was, his thought processes, and much more.  All of this would not have been possible with out the amazingly authentic portrayal by Hoffman.

Two men are eventually arrested and convicted of these brutal murders, Perry Smith and Richard Hickok.  To get access to the men, Capote bribes the warden and begins a sort of strange relationship with Perry.  Truman is very empathetic to Perry's life and upbringing.  He humanizes him to the public and helps him get a new Lawyer and possibly a new hearing.  Capote's motives and ethics are one of the driving forces of the film. He is writing a true crime novel, but personally influences the events to fit a sort of story line.  Although he exploits Perry for his story, he has trouble holding back some very strong feelings for him.

While the men are on death row and keep getting stays of execution, Capote is driven to the brink of collapse since he is unable to finish his book until they die.  During this time Perry's pleas for help go unanswered as Truman is unable or unwilling to help anymore.  He needs to be done with this book and Perry.


At the end of the film we are told that after writing "In Cold Blood" Truman Capote never finished another book and died from alcoholism in 1984.  It's amazing movie although a very slow burn and meticulously put together.  It's a character study like no other.  It is also currently available on Netflix Streaming.


Before you see "Nebraska" you must meet "The Savages"



3/2/2014

Not to be confused with the 2013 Oliver Stone movie "Savages", 2007's "The Savages" stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as brother and sister dealing with their aging father.  The story is all too familiar to some as the baby boomers continue to age it's up to their children to care for them.  The film is written and directed by Tamara Jenkins in a very honest and sincere way that will resonate with many people.

We start out in the warm and sunny senior utopia of Sun City, Arizona.  Lenny Savage, played by Philip Bosco, is the elderly antagonist in a story that starts out with a "bathroom incident".  Not to long after that his girlfriend of many years literally drops dead.  Since he was living with her and her kids can't stand him he is kicked out to fend for himself.  His daughter Wendy Savage lives and works in New York City as a struggling author and playwright who is having an affair with an older, balding, and more importantly married man.  Her older brother John Savage lives in Buffalo, he writes, teaches, and has PhD in philosophy.  Both sibling are single and muddled in mid life crisis territory when they receive a call to come and do something about there estranged father.  Lenny was a terrible father and their mother left the family when they were little, so it is quite amazing to see how relatively normal Wendy and John turned out.  They meet at Wendy's place, then board a plane to Sun City.

Lenny has dementia and is pretty dependant on others so they make the big decision most people dread.  They have to choose a nursing home were they prey on peoples guilt.  Wendy asks John "Are we horrible people?"  They each deal with things in their own way.  Wendy feels enormous guilt, while John can only think of what his father did to him as a child.  Can he forgive the abuse?  Are they doing the right thing? 


"The Savages" is also darkly comedic.  The indignities of getting old and the many awkward moments that ensue.  While bringing Lenny back to New York, they have quite the embarrassing moment on the plane.  Later on at a coffee shop they have a very tough and awkward conversation about what to do with him when he eventually dies.  The film is a rare and realistic approach to death and how it affects the living.  It forces Wendy and John to get together and work out there problems which eventually brings them closer together.  Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance earned him the Award for Best Male Lead at the Spirit Awards, while Laura Linney nabbed a Oscar Nom for best supporting actor. Tamara Jenkins also got a nod for best screenplay.


Phillip Seymour Hoffman Tribute - 2001's "Love Liza"




2/15/2014

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death at the grip of drug addiction has taken another supremely gifted artist from this world.  Hoffman's work in film and sage will be sorely missed.  From his everyman looks to his grasp of the human condition he was definitely a king among men. For my next bunch of reviews I'll focus on many of the smaller independent films that Hoffman so often shined.

In 2001's "Love Liza" a man struggles to deal with the sudden suicide of his wife (Liza) and his personal spiral into some deep dark places.  The examination of his life and his questionable future  The film was directed by Todd Louiso and co-stars Kathy Bates and Jack Kehler.  It also won the Screenwriting Award at Sundance.

Wilson Joel is your typical geeky web developer who comes home to find his wife has killed herself, leaving him with a bunch of unanswered questions.  Was it his fault?  How could this have happened?  He is consumed with grief and looking for a way out he starts huffing gas fumes to get high.  Instead of food he keeps a red plastic gas can in his fridge.  "Do you smell Gas?" is a question heard more than once. 

 The plot revolves around a suicide note that he can't bring himself to open.  Wilson's mother in-law, Mary Ann (Bates), grieves the loss of her daughter and her relationship with Wilson is pretty awkward to say the least.  Does she blame him?  Everybody at work is very supportive of his situation but after one of the many lies he tells a new "best friend" is forced upon him.  Thinking that Wilson is into radio control planes, Denny (Kehler) a real enthusiast, comes over so see his plane.  Wilson wants nothing more than to be alone and huff gas, passing out wherever he may be.  He is going down a tough road and needs a friend, but most people are not willing get him the help he really needs.  He buys a plane from a hobby shop and starts to huff the special fuel that they run on.  Him and Denny have some fun together at a Radio Control competition and discuss his situation.  He has to read the letter eventually but when? and where?

Wilson finally has to deal with these pent up feelings and frustrations and decides to open the letter.  "Love Liza" is fantastically cast and acted, its a character piece that really hits hard.  Although it does have its comedic moments.  Hoffman's performance is superb and like a lot of his roles you can see the real person behind the character.  "Love Liza" is available on DVD, so search it out and give it a
watch.