"Ida" The Best Foreign Film of 2014!


"Ida" is the new film by famed Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski and is one of the best films of the year.  It's beautifully shot in black and white and presented in a square format that gives it that extra level of style and authenticity.  It's the story of a young girl at a crossroads in her life when the truth about her origins is revealed.  

Taking place in Poland in the 1960s we are introduced to Anna a young woman who has lived most of her life in a convent and is close to taking her vows to become a nun.  Before this will happen the Mother Superior requests that she spend some time with her only living relative, her Aunt Wanda.  Wanda has never shown any interest in her previously and Anna is reluctant to leave the safety of the convent.  When it comes to the outside world Anna is quite naive but strong-willed.  Wanda, however, is quite the opposite, a down on her luck former prosecutor who smokes, drinks, and sleeps around.

Upon their first meeting, Anna is given some life-changing information.  She is actually Jewish and her birth name is Ida Lebenstein.  Her parents put her in the convent as a baby to escape the Nazi's.  She is then told they were both killed in the war.  Unable to accept her explanation Anna sets out to find the truth about there deaths.  Feeling guilty and having nothing else better going on in her life Wanda helps her in her search.  They find the farm where her parents were staying during that time and the current residents brush them off. 

Along the way, Anna crosses paths with a young attractive saxophone player who shows a genuine interest in her.  Anna is forced to confront new feelings and choices that she has been protected from her whole life.  The choice to be brought up in a convent was never hers and with the revelation that she's Jewish brings up some tough choices.  Does she go against everything she has ever known and reinvent her life? Does she return to the convent and continue to live as if nothing has changed?  Wanda doesn't force her in one direction or another, but she does seem happy to have her in her life.

The women make progress in discovering the fate of Anna's parents and a deal is made with the family at the farm to learn the truth.  Now fully knowing what happen Anna is forced to make her choice, which leads to Wanda making one of her own.  The character of Anna/Ida is played by first-time actress Agata Trzebuchowska (don't ask me to pronounce it) and she does a fantastic job in translating her inner conflict and repressed emotions in the subtlest of words and gestures.  Although I didn't agree with her final decision it was hers and hers alone.  "Ida" is currently available on Netflix instant streaming.

REVIEW #200 - Robin Williams and Matt Damon in "Goodwill Hunting"

Review #200
The Golden Side of Robin Williams


Combining the landmark 200th review and the current Robin Williams tribute, I've chosen one of my all-time favorite movies in "Goodwill Hunting".  The film was not only the breakout party for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but it earned Robin his only Academy Award.  In all the movie was nominated for 9 Oscars, winning 2.  It is currently ranked #128 in IMDb's list of the greatest movies of all-time.  Directed by Gus Van Sant, "Goodwill Hunting" managed to be one of those small films that hit it big in every possible way.

Will Hunting is a young working-class genius living in South Boston.  He is however troubled and prone to fits of anger.  He spends his days mopping the floors at MIT and his nights drinking at a local bar with his friends.  Chucky (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck) and Billy (Cole Hauser).  Will has an amazing mind for mathematics that is in danger of going to waste if he doesn't straighten out his life.  While at his duties at MIT he anonymously solves a proof that was meant as a supreme challenge to the students of Professor Gerald Lambeau class.  Lambeau becomes aware of Will's brilliance and is intrigued.  Meanwhile, Will and his friends instigate a nasty brawl with some guys from the neighbor and Will ends up hitting a police officer.  While in court he rattles off all kinds of legal jargon and precedent-setting cases that have gotten him off before but this time the judge won't hear of it.  Professor Lambeau comes to the rescue and saves him from any jail time, but he must help him will mathematical theories and worst of all see a psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist scenes are hilarious as Will plays the consummate smart ass.  He can deconstruct anybody in the blink of an eye and have them running for the exits in no time.  When worst comes to worst Lambeau brings him to an old college friend of his who now works at a community college.  His name is Sean Maguire.

Like all the others before him upon their introduction, Will cuts deep to the core a Sean.  When he makes comments about Sean's recently deceased wife, he puts a hand to Will's throat and threatens him.  Despite his anger, Sean wants to see him again.  Hailing from the same neighborhood he is determined to help him sort his life out, while along the way helping to sort out his.  On their second meeting, they go to a pond and Sean has a big monologue about love and life experience.  Even though Will is so smart "You can't learn everything from books".  Sean works at bringing down the walls that keep Will a prisoner in his own mind.

Back with Chucky and the gang, Will meets Skylar (Minne Driver) at a bar outside Harvard and he is immediately smitten.  Although Will never allows himself to be open and vulnerable to anyone, Skylar could be the one to break through his thick exterior.  Things are going great until Skylar's plans to move to California force will to make a tough decision he is not ready for.  This happens all while he is making good progress in his sessions with Sean.  Will opens up and respects Sean, he gets the father figure and mentor he has been sorely looking for while Sean gets the son he never had.  They are both lonely men.  Sean and Lambeau meet frequently but have vastly different opinions about how to care for the boy.  Each has their own theories but is it in the best interest of Will of themselves?

Even after this progress Will is reluctant to change and it takes a push from Chucky to break free and make something of his life.  Put best by Chucky "You have a winning lottery ticket, but are too much of a pussy to cash it in".  To make something of himself Will must leave his small and secure surroundings.  In one of their last sessions Sean having gained Will's trust and respect digs deep into Will's past and confronts him about his fathers abuse and how he was also abused as a child.  This breakthrough allows both men to turn the page and start the next chapter in their lives.  Will decides to search out Skylar in California, while Sean decides to take some time off and travel.

"Goodwill Hunting" is funny, heartfelt, and just plain amazing.  It also wouldn't be the same without the haunting and beautiful songs by the late Elliott Smith. The closing song "Miss Misery" got an Oscar nomination for the Portland based musician.  Like any great music it melted perfectly into the film and made it even more unforgettable.  The movie is widely available on any platform or device so if you haven't seen it yet get to it!

The Darker Side of Robin Williams "The Big White"

The Darker Side of Robin Williams


Released in 2005 "The Big White" is a dark comedy with a talented ensemble cast.  Like the previously reviewed "Insomnia" the story takes place in Alaska hence the title "The Big White".  While it was independently financed and played a number of film festivals it never made it to theaters but went straight to DVD.  It's a fun movie never the less, with a fine performance from the whole cast.

Robin plays Paul Barnell who runs a struggling travel agency.  He is married to a more than a little eccentric Margaret played by Holly Hunter.  Margaret has some sort of mental disorder that is not identified, but from that comes a bunch of disturbingly funny scenes.  They have a wonderful marriage and Paul will do absolutely anything for her, which is what puts the whole movie in motion.  Paul is in deep financial trouble and is looking for any kind of money he can get his hands on.  His brother Ray (Woody Harrelson) has been missing for a few years so he tries to cash in on his life insurance policy.  The problem is there is nobody and he needs to be missing for seven years to be declared legally dead.  In despair, Paul needs another plan, which he finds in a rather unusual place, the dumpster outside his business.  A couple of low-level thugs, kind of in the vein of Laurel and Hardy, have just dumped a body there and Paul is desperate enough to do anything.  There is plenty of dead body humor as Paul uses the corpse to pose for his missing brother.  While he waits for the insurance company to process his claim, fraud investigator and ghostly white Ted (Giovanni Ribisi) smells a rat.  Ted's girlfriend Tiffany (Alison Lohman) runs a telephone psychic scam and talks frequently with Margaret.

Things start to get a little messy for Paul when the goons come back for the body and its missing, but
worst of all crazy Ray comes back into the picture looking for his piece of the insurance money.  Knowing that Paul took the body the goons, who we later find out are gay lovers, take Margaret hostage in a home invasion.  Margaret puts up a pretty crazy fight even when she is tied up.  Paul is taking heat from every angle.  He must find a way to control his psychotic brother, save Margaret, and lose the obsessive Ted.

It's rare to see Robin Williams plays the straight man in a comedy.  Paul is a grounded and sensible man whose desperation gets him into some sticky situations.  He is surrounded by crazy off the wall characters that make him stand out even more.  The style of comedy is like midnight in the desert, dark and very dry.  It's not for everyone but for a few adventurous people its pure gold.

The Darker Side of Robin Williams "World's Greatest Dad"

The Darker Side of Robin Williams

World's Greatest Dad

The title leads you to believe that this is another crazy family comedy starring Robin Williams that the whole family could enjoy.  The poster, however, deceives the title and shows a lonely and tired Robin.  Written and directed by popular 80s comedian Bobcat Goldthwait the story is told in a darkly comedic and satirical tone.  Similar to his later and even darker film "God Bless America".

Robin plays Lance Clayton a struggling writer who has yet to have anything published. Although he is very persistent he is on the verge of giving up all hope.  His day job is a high school English teacher at the school his teenage son currently attends.  To put it bluntly his son Kyle is just an asshole on every level.  He does, however, have one loyal friend in Andrew who lives next door.  A nice kid who really only stays over at to escape his own horrific home life.  Lance is divorced and only half-heartedly tries to control Kyle.  After so many years of trying he is starting to give on him too.

Lance is a likable enough guy and has managed to carry on a relationship with a much younger teacher at the school.  It becomes threatened when a colleague, a young black man, has the first thing he ever wrote published in a New York magazine.  Lance is quite the sad sack, but things are to about to look up when he finds that Kyle has accidentally killed himself while masturbating.  Autoerotic asphyxiation to be exact.  To protect his son's dignity Lance hangs the body in the closet to make it look like a suicide before calling the cops.  He also types up a suicide note and sticks it in Kyle's shirt pocket.  The note turns out to be the best thing he has ever written and is taken as a window into Kyle's profound inner pain.  Like the latest social media fad, Kyle's note goes viral and people can't get enough of him.  Looking to cash in on his son's sudden popularity he writes up a mock journal of Kyle's and actually gets it published.  Lance plays the grieving father perfectly during interviews and soon enough he becomes a sort of celebrity himself.

Lance loves all of the attention he is getting from the news media, publishers and colleagues.  In a twisted sort of way his, all his dreams are coming true.  But when the school plans to rename the library in honor of Kyle, he must draw the line and finally come clean about the whole ordeal.  He admits his own son was a jerk and nobody paid any attention to him when he was alive.  The movie makes a statement on the greedy nastiness of the news media.  How Kyle's suicide was just another product to be sold to the American public.  It was never really about Kyle, but how other people could profit from his death.  Something Lance got swept up in but was finally able to come to his senses and morn his son died.

In light of Robin's own tragic suicide "World's Greatest Dad's" has an even more eerie feel to it.  At one point his character utters the line "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."  Sadly less than five years later Robin was unable to take Lance's advice.

The Darker Side of Robin Williams "Insomnia"

The Darker Side of Robin Williams


After his breakout hit "Memento" director, Christopher Nolan was given the job of remaking the Swedish murder mystery "Insomnia" starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank.  Nolan did not disappoint and was eventually given the job of rebooting Batman franchise and is currently one of the most in-demand directors in Hollywood.

Detectives Will Dormer (Pacino) and Hap Eckart (Martin Donovan) are L.A. detectives sent up to a small isolated town in Alaska called Night Mute to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. The town is far enough north that the summer sun never sets.  They are welcomed by a bright young officer named Ellie Burr (Swank) who idolizes Dormer.  The reason they've been sent on this assignment is to take a break from an ongoing internal affairs investigation back in L.A..  Happ wants to make a deal while Dormer will do everything in his power to fight it.

The film starts out like your average police procedural, our victim is Kay Connell a local teenage girl whose body was found in a dump.  Although upon inspection of the body her hair was washed and her nails were trimmed by the killer.  Randy the boyfriend and Tanya the best friend are interviewed.  After the discovery of Kay's book bag Dormer sets a trap only the murderer could fall into.  This leads them to a cabin on a rocky beach and chases through a dense fog.  Shots are fired, a local cop is hit.  Dormer gives chase and fires upon a shadow in the fog, its Hap.  Looking up at his partner Hap thinks he was shot on purpose to prevent him from taking the IA deal.  Dormer realizes the situation and the cover-up begins.  Dormer is unable to sleep during the investigation, but is it because of the constant light or a guilty conscious?  After studying the evidence of Hap's shooting Ellie has questions and doubts of her own.

During another sleepless Dormer gets an anonymous call from the girls killer (Williams) who saw him kill Hap.  He wants to make a deal since they are in similar situations.  Dormer discovers that the man is a local author named Walter Finch.  He was friends with Kay, he bought her stuff, listened to her poetry but it never went any further than that. The films best scene is when the two men decide to meet up on a ferry boat.  Pacino has a tendency to be a little over dramatic, becoming a parody of himself.  Robin, on the other hand, is calm and calculating.  He is not a murderer, things just got a little out of hand.  It was an accident, or was it?  They try to blackmail each other but in the end, things end up as they should.  The character dynamics in "Insomnia" are intriguing and I know its a giant cliché but the Alaskan setting is a huge character in itself.  It helps drive Dormer to the brink of insanity.  The truth gets hidden in the dense fog.  The atmosphere is heavy, cold, and wet with Ellie being the only ray of sunshine.  "Insomnia" is an amazing film and another opportunity for Robin to explore his darker side.

The Darker Side of Robin Williams "One Hour Photo"

The Darker Side of Robin Williams

One Hour Photo

The late Robin Williams was known around the world for his crazy off the wall humor that could make the most serious and stoic person burst out laughing.  While he's most known for his comedic roles later in his career he was able to explore a lot of darker ones.  A daring but welcoming departure that showed a whole new side to a familiar actor.  The fact that he was playing so far against type was shocking and interesting in itself, not to mention showcasing what a great actor he really was.  The next bunch of reviews will explore some of Robin's darker roles.  First up is the 2002 film "One Hour Photo" directed by Mark Romanek (who also did "Never Let Me Go" which I have previously reviewed.)

In a time not so long ago people use to take pictures with cameras that used film.  You'd get about 24 shots per roll, they would have to bring it into a store to get it developed.  Sy Parrish is a photo lab technician at a Wal-Mart like big box store called Sav-Mart.  He takes his work very seriously as family photos are a treasured commodity that can't be replaced.  He knows his customers well and closely follows the lives one family, in particular, the Yorkin's.  Will (Michael Vartan), Nina (Connie Nielsen) and their son Jakob.  He likes to think of himself as Uncle Sy while Jake calls him Sy the photo guy.  It's all pretty normal and business as usual, but inside Sy is hurt and tortured soul. 

Sy lives alone in a drab and dull apartment.  He is a quiet man and his loneliness shows in his eyes,
deep down you know something is bothering him.  He's is not a bad person, he doesn't drink or get violent he is just damaged.  Things start to get creepy when we see his living room wall covered with photos of the Yorkin's.  He has made extra prints of all of his favorite moments in their lives.  He fantasizes about living in their house and being loved as Uncle Sy.  He purposely runs into Nina at the Mall's food court, then shows up at Jake's soccer game.  He is desperate for a family, desperate for any real human connection.  Sy's fantasy world is about to come crashing down as he discovers that Will is having an affair when he develops a young woman's film.  He feels personally hurt and betrayed as Will has broken up his surrogate family.  In retaliation he puts some of the incriminating photos into Nina's order an watches what happens.  About the same time, the Sav-Mart manager has caught on to Sy's extra prints that he has been taking home and fires him on the spot.  This is the last straw and Sy simmering anger and rage is about to be unleashed.  He steals one last thing from Sav-Mart, a hunting knife, and heads out to teach Will a lesson.

The film opens at a police station with Sy under arrest being asked questions by a detective.  This is also where it ends as Sy breaks down and confesses what happened to him as a child.  "One Hour Photo" is an intriguing and heartbreaking character study of a damaged man looking for the loving family he was denied of as a child.  Robin's performance got huge praise and a few awards.  That same year (2002) he played a murder suspect in the Christopher Nolan thriller "Insomnia".  This will be the next review as we explore the darker side of Robin Williams.

"Thumbsucker" A quirky coming of age story


"Thumbsucker" is similar to the previously reviewed "Chumscrubber" in that it's an independent dramedy with a strong ensemble cast.  A quirky coming of age story of a teenage boy and the prescription drugs society makes him take.  Based on the novel of the same name by Walter Kirn, the film was also released in 2005 and did quite better with critics than "The Chumscrubber".

Lou Taylor Pucci plays Justin Cobb a shy but very real seventeen-year-old.  When the anxieties and pressures of being a teenager get to be too much he resorts to sucking his thumb.  His mother Audrey is played by the always great Tilda Swinton, a nurse who has a crush on a T.V. show cop Matt Schramm (Benjamin Bratt).  His father Mike (Vincent D'Onofrio) is a former high school football star whose severe injury prevented him from going pro.  He is emotionally closed off to Justin and cannot overcome his own hang-ups.  Rounding out our supporting cast is Mr. Geary (Vince Vaughn) the debate club teacher and Perry Lyman (Keanu Reeves) an unconventional orthodontist looking for "something" in his own life.  All of the characters seem to be looking for something, going through a sort of existential crisis.

During an orthodontic appointment, Perry can see the physical damage that the thumb sucking is
causing Justin.  He offers a solution with a little hypnosis and Justin is game for just about anything.  His parents also take him to see a doctor and are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and prescribed Adderall.  Since drugs are always the answer he starts taking them and before long his life is changed, but is it for the better?  He begins to excel at the debate team competitions and his self-confidence soars.  Although this new found confidence goes a little too far and he is turned into this arrogant douche with little regard for anybody other than himself.  He gets into mischief and in trouble with the law.  He manipulates Mr. Geary at the state debate meet.  Angry with himself he stops taking the pills and reacquaints himself with his friend Rebecca who has also changed.  Just when as he thinks things are going a little too good he is blindsided by her and it stings.  Justin is a sensitive and caring guy although a little naive he is still a strong person.  He will not be deterred from his goals like getting into NYU.

"Thumbsucker" is very honest with its characters and the acting performance further enforce this.  At times heartbreaking, quirky, and funny you can't help but feel for Justin and remember similar times in your own life.  Everybody looks for safety and security in this world and sometimes it manifests itself in strange ways like sucking your thumb.

"The Chumscrubber" Meet Generation Rx


Perfect suburban neighborhoods are not as perfect as they look is one of the main themes of "The Chumscrubber" the debut film for director Arie Posin. Psycho suburbanites are nothing new when it comes to the movies.  The crown jewel being David Lynch's 1986 film "Blue Velvet" and 1999's "American Beauty".  It has become a little cliché but "The Chumscrubber" does a decent job thanks to its talented ensemble cast.

The main protagonist is Dean a high school student played brilliantly by Jamie Bell.  He's a loner and a misfit but the most grounded and down the earth of the characters.  He is the heart of the film that everything revolves around. The main plot is really more of a teen drama that shows how parents have no idea who their kids are, another easy stereotype.  An opening scene shows Dean finding the body of his best friend Troy who has hanged himself.  All of this taking place during a dinner party thrown by Dean's mother.  He walks back home in a state of shock, unable to tell anyone.  The story itself takes place in a southern California cul-de-sac, all of the families involved are intertwined in each other lives but all too often are just involved with themselves.  Everybody spends so much time and effort improving and promoting themselves that they have lost all meaningful contact with everyone around them.  Dean's father is a self-help guru who uses him to sell his books, while his mom hawks Veggie Force vitamin supplements.  Every family seems to be in a similar situation.  The kids are forced to raise themselves. 

Dean's departed best friend Troy was the school "happy pill" dealer and now a group of cool kids are after him to recover his lost stash.  Good Ole Camilla Belle plays the hot girl, Crystal, who is now interested in Dean but her motives are a little foggy.  While Billy the school's arrogant douche bag (Justin Chatwin) is crazy enough to do anything to get those pills.  The third member of the group is Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci) who just blindly follows the crowd like a lonely lost sheep.  This rears its ugly head near the film's climax.

Billy hatches a plan to kidnap Dean's little brother to get the lost pills but that goes awry when they pick up the wrong kid.  The kid actually kind of likes being kidnapped and hanging out with the group.  His mother doesn't even realize he is missing for a couple of days.  The script is tightly structured with many storylines going on simultaneously almost like a ballet.  They all come to a head and people become aware of their misdeeds, but will it make them better people or is it just business as usual.  Dean is able to fully accept and grieve for Troy and move on, while Billy is not so lucky.  Why is it called The Chumscrubber? You'll just have to watch the movie and find out for yourself.  It's now available on DVD which also includes has a commentary track so check it out!

"How I Live Now" Starring Saoirse Ronan


For part 3 of my Saoirse Ronan trilogy of reviews comes the 2013 Film "How I Live Now" by acclaimed director Kevin McDonald who has "The Last King of Scotland" and "Touching the Void" to his credit.  "How I Live Now" mixes together a few current popular genres and comes out better than some, but is still pretty run of the mill.  It debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013 but didn't make it to theatres.  Instead, it had an On-demand release last fall and is currently out on video and Netflix.

"How I Live Now" is a teen love story in the shadow of an apocalyptic crisis.  Angsty American teenager Daisy (Ronan) is sent to live with her cousins in the English countryside for the summer just days before a nuclear bomb detonates in London.  Initially, Daisy comes off as a bitchy American stereotype who lives by her own set of strict rules.  Her inner thoughts and anxieties are played as a voiceover when Daisy is by herself and does make her more interesting and a bit more dimension.  She has two younger cousins, a boy (Isaac) and a girl (Piper), and the older Edmund.  Daisy instantly has a crush on the strong and stoic Edmund.  Some "Twilight" threads can be seen but are kept to a minimum.  Her Aunt Penn is a workaholic who always has a phone attached to her ear and a computer screen to her eyes.  She has a government job and is found running nuclear fallout scenarios.  She leaves for Geneva for a few days but never returns.

While the kids are all frolicking in a field an enormous explosion rocks the earth and moments later ash falls like a dirty snowfall.  Things have just gotten serious and martial law is invoked.  Daisy starts to drops her "act" and becomes a more real and authentic person.  The things that really matter come into focus.  Caring for her cousins and helping Eddie secure the farm.  Daisy and Eddie have turned an important corner in their relationship when the terrorists raid the farm and separate the girls and boys.  They have them working in internment camps and living with foster families.  Now the only thoughts on Daisy's mind are to protect her cousin Piper and to reunite with Eddie and Isaac.

When the war reaches the camps Daisy and Piper escape.  On their journey back home they pass by a downed airplane, an abandoned refugees camp, and numerous shady characters.  Daisy is a stronger person than she thought as her hope and determination help them both along the way.  The story and structure a quite formulaic although there is a couple of shocking moments to ground the film.  When it comes down to it your basically getting a teen movie masquerading as an important adult film.  As I mentioned before it's by no means a bad film, but kind of like my grades in high school, just a step up from average. 

"Hanna" is a Fairy Tale Version of the Bourne Identity


Director Joe Wright is mostly known for his dramatic literary adaptations like "Atonement", "Pride and Prejudice" and "Anna Karenina" (all starring Kiera Knightly by the way) but with "Hanna" he goes in a different direction but with another familiar actress.  Saoirse Ronan was nominated for best supporting actress for her role as the young Briony Tallis in 2007's "Atonement". 

Saoirse (sur-sha) plays the lead role as Hanna, a sixteen-year-old who lives with her father Eric, played by Eric Bana, in a remote cabin in the middle of a frigid and desolate environment.  Living far off the grid Hanna is being trained by in combat and survival among other things.  She has been heavily sheltered from the outside world until she feels she is ready but ready for what?

The whole film is set up be an action-packed sci-fi fairy tale.  Along with an energetic techno score by The Chemical Brothers" that is reminiscent of "Run Lola Run".  We find out that Eric is a rogue asset of the U.S. government.  Cate Blanchet plays Marissa Wiegler, Eric's handler, who has been searching for him ever since he went dark.  Her character is played over the top and like a classic Disney villain which plays into the whole fairytale theme.

Finally ready for her unknown mission she is separated from her father Hanna is taken into custody by the evil intelligence agency where Wiegler works.  She knows all about Hanna and what she is capable of, but after some pretty kicks ass moves, she escapes.  She now finds herself in the Moroccan desert where she comes upon a vacationing British family and makes a friend in Sophie.  The film then goes into a coming of age story and Hanna learning to be a regular teenager, but her years of training are never far behind as well as Wiegler's angry German henchmen. 

Hanna begins to find out more about who she is and her long complicated past.  Finally, in Germany, the fairy tale theme starts to bludgeon you over the head as she is chased through a dilapidated Alice in Wonderland-like amusement park.  This is where a majority of the third act takes place.  Hanna learns the truth about her "Mother and Father" from Eric as they meet up at their intended location.  Her mission is not yet complete as she must kill Wiegler.  "Hanna" as a movie is a bit scattered, a little cold, it tries to be a few too many things at once.  Although Saoirse Ronan is the difference and makes the film watchable as she makes Hanna into a magnificent character full of physical strength and emotional weakness.  She has this ethereal quality that makes her character different, which in the film she really is.  The film opens and closes with her speaking the line "I just missed your heart" each having a very different meaning.

"The Lovely Bones" is Missing a Few Pieces


Director Peter Jackson has basically only worked on 3 film projects in the past 15 years if you count the 6 Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films as one.  The others were the big budget remake of "King Kong" and the family drama "The Lovely Bones".  I have yet to see any of the Hobbit films and would have rather have seen Jackson branch out a bit more, take some risks and find more original projects.

"The Lovely Bones" was adapted from the hugely popular book by Alice Sebold, about a 14-year-old girl named Susie Salmon who is murdered and tells her story from the afterlife and how her family copes with her absence.  Pegged as an awards season prestige film by the studio, it severely underperformed in theatres and with most critics.  Except for the beautiful and talented Saoirse (pronounced SIR-SHA) Ronan, who plays Susie, and the intensely creepy Mr. Harvey, played by Stanly Tucci, the acting was pretty awful.  Rachel Weisz is completely wasted in a bit part as the mother while Mark Wahlberg gives a bland phoned performance as her father.  Not to mention the over the top corniness of Susan Sarandon as the crazy grandmother.

Since a big part of the film takes place with Susie in a sort of in-between world, there is a lot of gaudy CGI effects that really do nothing for the film or story.  *Spoiler Alert* Susie meets with other girls within her own "heaven" that act as sort of spirit guides.  These young girls turn out to be the other victims that Mr. Harvey as brutalized and killed through the years.  Stanley Tucci really goes all out in his portrayal of Mr. Harvey as he oozes a menacing creepiness with only a look and a hesitation.  He is a lonely man who lives by himself and builds and fixes dollhouses.  He is reclusive and introverted, you can see the gears working in his mind as he always seems to be up to something. 

The film plays it safe for the most part and is pretty formulaic in it plotting.  It never dives into any deeper questions about death or the afterlife.  It just glosses over it with more bad CGI.  As with most adaptations, the book turns out to be far superior.  It just has more time to tell the full story.  The film comes in at over 2 hours but still seems extremely condensed.  

"Dead Alive" Peter Jackson's Cult Horror Splatterfest


Before his "Lord of the Rings" fame, a young Peter Jackson gave us the 1992 cult horror phenomenon "Dead Alive".  It's many things to many people, but here are a handful of adjectives that sort of describe what you're in for.  it's cheap, cheesy, horrific, hilarious, disgusting, insane, wrong and entertaining all at once.  It's also packed with past horror movie homages, with none greater than Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead".  From it's over the top gross-out gore to its all-out slapstick humor.

Taking place in New Zealand in the late 1950s, Lionel is a grown man living with his mother.  His father died at sea will trying to save him and he feels responsible for his death.  His mother is strict and against Lionel meeting and seeing any other women but her.  Although the local grocer's daughter Paquita has her eye on him.  They end up going on a date to the Wellington Zoo, but his mother spies on them only to get bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey.  The monkey is done completely with stop-motion animation in a nod to the great Ray Harryhausen movies of the time.  It doesn't take long for Lionel's mother to die and come back to life as a flesh-hungry zombie.  Her nurse is then turned and Lionel and Paquita have quite the mess on their hands both literally and figuratively.

Events start to escalate quickly and just as soon you think it can't get any more bizarre.  From the Nazi veterinarian to the zombie killing priest who spouts "I kick ass for the lord!" after laying down some sweet Bruce Lee moves on a group of the undead.   Then you get the party scene and the lawnmower.  This is possibly the most batshit crazy gory/funny scenes you'll ever see.  Lionel finally has to deal with his mother who has transformed into what looks to be a gigantic paper mache beast.

"Dead Alive" has a certain vibe to it. Its far from movies like Hostel and Saw as the violence is so over the top it's funny.  The characters seem to be from a 50's sitcom stuck in a B-horror movie.  I know that probably doesn't do it the justice it deserves but any horror fan needs to see "Dead Alive".

"Heavenly Creatures" starring Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey


This small New Zealand based drama is a cinematic milestone in many ways.  It was the screen debuts of two teenage girls named Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey.  Winslet went on to fame an fortune with Titanic and numerous other big roles.  While Lynskey is mainly known for playing Rose on the TV show "Two and a Half Men".  Although she is nearly unrecognizable as that character in "Heavenly Creatures".  It was also the breakout film for director Peter Jackson, who had previously done a few nasty but amazing horror films. "Dead Alive" is a cult classic.

"Heavenly Creatures" is based on a true story of two teenage girls, Pauline Parker (Lynskey) and Juliet Hulme (Winslet) who in the 1950s develop an intense bond living their lives in a fantasy world.  When their parents feel that their relationship has become a little too intense and "unhealthy" their attempts to separate them drive the girls to unthinkable lengths.

Juliet is a rich privileged girl who has just moved with her family to Christchurch, New Zealand from England.  Upon attending the all-girls school she develops an immediate bond with the withdrawn and homely Pauline.  They both share a love for the Italian tenor Mario Lanza, and quickly create a unique world of their own, with clay figures that come to life and dreams of becoming royalty.  Although Juliet's seemingly perfect life is anything as her parents don't seem to care for her, as they are always either going off the other countries or sending her off to live in far-off lands.  Both girls are terribly lonesome and lose themselves in each other.

Pauline's religious-minded parents take her to a doctor fearing she has some sort of "gay disease".  Conversely, Juliet's parent is extremely liberal with few if any religious beliefs.  The girls' physical worlds start to crumble as Pauline's mother's affair comes to light and a divorce closely follows.  Juliet also learns that she is being sent to South Africa to live with an aunt. This impending separation leaves them inconsolable and desperately making a plan to stay together.  The ending is intense and extremely disturbing in its realistic depiction of these girls driven to the brink and finally breaking.

"My Summer of Love" is Unforgettable


Internationally acclaimed Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski's third feature film "My Summer of Love" proves he is as advertised. This is an amazing film that deals with class structures, lusty obsessions and searching for a place to belong.  This was also the first major film role for Emily Blunt, who now has made quite the career for herself.

Taking place in Northern England Blunt plays Tamshin a bored rich girl home from boarding school for the summer.  While riding her white horse she finds Mona lying in a field.  Played by Natalie Press Mona is a red-haired tomboyish girl who lives with her brother Phil (Paddy Considine) in their families dilapidated Pub, which is now being turned into a prayer space.  Phil is a recovering addict and born-again Christian which infuriates Mona.  Their parents are no longer living and she is feeling disconnected from her brother and life in general. Tamshin takes an immediate interest in her and a friendship is born. They bond over secrets and bottles of wine. Tamshin's sister died from anorexia and her dad is having an affair.  The girls' relationship grows quickly and Mona becomes more and more obsessed with Tamshin's world.

Phil is equally obsessed with saving people's souls, including that of his sister.  Like Noah constructing an arc, Phil constructs a giant cross.  Near the end of Summer, with help from townspeople, they march the cross up a hill and place it for everyone to see.  Although coming from completely different backgrounds neither Tamshin or Mona have any strong religious beliefs.  Unable to put up with Phil's phony religious bullshit any longer, Mona packs up and leaves.   She hopes to run away with Tamshin and live happily ever after.  But this is far from a fairy tale.  As Mona shows up at Tamshin's she is in for a devastating revelation.  "My Summer of Love" is more than your typical coming of age movie.  It's digging deep into theses character psyche's and the actors realize this to maximum effect.  This film is currently on Netflix Streaming so see it tonight.

"Off The Map" is out of this world!


In the vein of the previously reviewed "The Ballad of Jack and Rose", "Off the Map" contains some of the same themes but came out two years earlier in 2003.  Veteran actor Campbell Scott goes behind the camera to direct his third feature about a small family living off the grid in New Mexico.  Based on a play by Joan Ackermann the story is told through the eyes of a precocious 11-year-old girl named Bo, played by Valentina de Angelis, during one summer sometime in the 1970s.

Sam Elliott and Joan Allen play Bo's parents Arlene and Charley.  Charley is going through a crippling depression, while Arlene struggles to keep the family afloat.  They have help from Charley's brother George, played by J.K. Simmons, who helps out when he can.  Although Charley won't see a doctor Arlene gets George to go in his place to see if he can get some drugs to help him.  This idea works out better for George in the long run.  The family as a whole is pretty self-sufficient and lives without many of the comforts of modern life, but are none the less happy and content.  To add to their troubles they find out that they are being audited by the IRS.  Not having filed a tax return in years has finally caught up with them.  Although it doesn't even seem necessary the way they live.

Lost soul William Gibbs is played by Jim True-Frost and is the newly appointed IRS agent assigned to the family.  As soon as he steps foot onto their land his life is forever changed.  Originally from the east coast, he is entranced by the majestic scenery. Not to mention to seeing Arlene nude in her garden.  A bee sting is a final incident that awakens his spirit.  He has a major epiphany that propels him to become a great artist, like many others before him.  However, your epiphany experience may differ.  Since he must have been allergic to the bee sting, he is laid upon their couch for several days in a feverish state.  Since the family has few visitors Bo has an instant crush on him and stays by his side when she can.  Her main contact with the outside world is pretty clever.  She writes complaint letters to food companies, who in turn send her boxes of free stuff.  She has a big personality and is full of wonder but is stifled by her current arrangement. 

William's appearance may also be the trigger that will snap Charley from his current funk.  They are almost like a pseudo psychiatrist to each other.  Both men are damaged and have a hard time talking about things that have happened to them.  "Off the Map" is a character drama that brings you into these peoples lives and continues to amaze.  The acting is phenomenal and I know its a huge cliché but the New Mexico scenery is a big character in itself.  "Off the Map" is definitely one to check out.

"When a Stranger Calls" ...Send it to Voicemail


Hopefully, the recent trend of remaking every somewhat popular horror movie from the 80s has runs its course (but I highly doubt it).  The originals are so iconic and timeless that any attempt at a remake or "reboot" is doomed to fail under its own pressure to recapture its past glory.  But for some movies like "When a Stranger Calls (1979)" a remake is just what it needs, but would anybody go an see it?

The original film has a few memorable lines and a great opening twenty minutes, but after that, it falls completely flat into a boring, drawn-out mess.  So this new remake does the most logical thing.  Just take that great twenty-minute opening and stretch it out into an 87-minute feature, update it for today's generation and market it to teen girls.

Camilla Belle stars as Jill Johnson, a teenager who is being grounded for going way over her cell phone minutes and now must babysit to pay off the bill.  She gets a job at a wealthy Doctors mansion way out in the middle of nowhere.  He has an indoor aviary (birds) and koi pond for cryin' out loud.  So she is left to watch two children who are asleep in an upstairs bedroom.  The life in maid Rosa is also around somewhere.  Jill roams the halls of the ultra-modern estate when the phone rings.  Nobody is there.  It rings a few more times, a man breathes and hangs up.  The man then calls and asks her if she has checked the children, one of the infamous lines from the first film.  Although here its only used as a call back to the original film.  After chasing some noises and shadows Jill is freaked out and calls the police, but they can't do anything unless he threatens her, then they can trace the call.  During another call, Jill asks the man what do you want? "Your Blood, all over me" Ahhh, creeper!  She also finds out that he can see her.  Eventually, a trace is done and the policeman calls back with some shocking news.  One of the best scary lines of all time. "The calls are coming from inside the house".  Needless to say Jill sort of loses her mind, but being the good babysitter she goes upstairs to save the kids.  Jill and the crazy man have a brief battle, and we find out what happened to Rosa.  Then the cops arrive leaving Jill with a case of crazy-itis.

The remake is a whole lot better than the original but as I mentioned before that's not really saying much.  Camilla Belle is a good looking actor, but just doesn't seem right for this role, she is more suited to dramas than horror.  Carol King played the original Jill Johnson as was alright in the little time she was on screen.  Maybe the third time would be the charm, who wants another remake?

"The Quiet" Looks to Make Some Noise


"The Quiet" is a pulpy noir-ish drama that goes into some queasy taboo shattering places all while seeming like an surreal game.  Jamie Babbit directs this story of a deaf mute girl named Dot (played by Camilla Belle) who is forced to live with her God parents after the tragic death of her father. 

Dot joins the Deer family with Paul, Olivia, and their teen daughter Nina.  A small family with big secrets.  Paul (Martin Donavan) is a successful architect, while Olivia (Edie Falco) is a interior decorator.  Nina, played by Elisha Cuthbert, is your typical over privileged teenager, who manipulates her parent to get what ever she wants.  Dot is quite the opposite, she is every bit the tom boy.  She is an outcast at high school not only because she can't hear and doesn't talk, but because she doesn't give in to all of the phony high school culture bullshit.  She is just herself, but far from perfect.  Nina and her best friend Michelle are both cheerleaders and "cool" kids, but like all of the character in the movie are putting up a front to hide a painful truth.

*Spoiler Territory Ahead*

Dot awakes one night and wanders down to Nina's room but Paul is in there with her and he's not helping her with her homework if you catch my drift.  Dot runs back to her room and back to bed, wondering what to do with this new information.  Olivia is in denial about a lot of things in her life and medicates with sleeping pills and pain killers.   She tries to be a wife and mother, but is just not there.  On another night Paul comes into Dot's room while she is sleeping and confesses to her that he is a sick man in need of help. A number of times people confess their deep dark secrets to Dot knowing that she can't hear, or can she?  Dot plays the piano and while thinking she's alone curses when one the strings break.  Nina sees this and now can manipulate her just like she does her father.  Dot can also see how Nina is suffering in her situation but that would mean giving up her secret and she is not ready for that yet.  Her deaf mute charade is her way of grieving the loss of her own father who she was very close with.  She blames herself for his accidental death and also see this as a sort of punishment.

In the cafeteria, knowing Dot can hear, Nina lays out a plan to get rid of her dear ole dad once and for all.  Nina's cry for help doesn't land on deaf ears, so to speak.  Things don't go as planned so Nina goes to Plan B.  This doesn't last very long and sends Paul into a rage. Dot comes to the rescue while Olivia stands motionless as usual, but this event breaks the nasty cycle and finally allows her to take some sort of twisted responsibility. "Lies keep us safe from the truth" but in time will turn you into a shell filled with nothing but denial and self hatred.  "The Quiet" is a lot deeper than what appears on the surface all while being entertaining and somewhat dangerous.

"The Ballad of Jack & Rose" Hits All the Right Notes


Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors of his generation.  His talent, craft, and commitment to his roles are second to none. Nominated for Best Actor five times by The Academy Awards taking home 3 golden trophies.  For "My Left Foot (1990)", "There Will be Blood (2008)" and "Lincoln (2008)".  One of his lesser-known roles was in the small independent film "The Ballad of Jack & Rose (2005) Directed by his wife Rebecca Miller.  It's a story about the relationship between a father and daughter living off the grid on an island off the east coast.

Camilla Belle plays Rose the tomboyish teenage daughter who has spent her entire life on the island, sheltered from the rest of the world.  Her mom had left the family when she was only five years old and has grown up alone with her father all these years.  Jack is the last remaining holdout of an old hippie commune on which they live, unable to let go of the past and his strong ideals of how a society should behave.  It's1986 and land developers are starting to infiltrate his sacred island, his battle is mainly with Marty Rance (Beau Bridges).  For Jack this means War, but his declining health and lack of support make it an impossible task.  Nobody can stop progress.  The future will come whether you like it or not.

With Rose getting older, about sixteen or so, Jack is forced to think about the future and what will
happen when he dies.  He starts to feel guilty for keeping Rose away from modern society and what will happen to her when she's on her own.  Jack does go to the mainland now and then to shack up with Kathleen (Catherine Keener), a single mother of two teen boys, who is currently living in her mother's basement.  They've known each other a while but their relationship has never too serious.  To hopefully benefit Rose, Jack pays Kathleen to quit her job and move her kids to live with him on the island.  Jack's "experiment" is a bumpy road and awakens feeling and emotion that will change all of them.  Rose's emotional state becomes a little erratic, to say the least, as Kathleen has now taken over most of Jack's time, this causes her to lash out and rebel in some extreme ways.  Not to mention the introduction of two teenage boys.  Rodney, is a self-conscious and sensitive guy who is questioning his sexuality, while Thaddeus is a skinny womanizing rebel, played by Paul Dano, who also stars opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will be Blood".  Jack is surprised and shocked by what he see's in Rose and has to confront the fact that nothing lasts forever and that he has to let her go and experience the world, even if she might get hurt along the way.  Operating on a budget of 1.5 million, this is a prime example of how a strong story along with strong actors can make a great film.  

"Insidious: Chapter 2" Takes you into the Further


You can see my review of the original "Insidious"
*This review Contain Spoilers from both movies*

Director James Wan, the creator of the "Saw" Franchise, had quite the summer in 2013.  His two films were released about a month apart and both made over $100 million.  With "The Conjuring" being the biggest hit of the summer and launching yet another horror franchise.  "Insidious Chapter 2" although not as successful as the original still will see many more Chapters.

Unlike a lot of horror sequels "Insidious: Chapter 2" has the entire cast back and continues the story of the Lambert family and their battle with the ghosts, spirits, and demons that lurk in the further.  The further being a purgatory-like place for evil spirits looking return to the land of the living.  The first film saw their son Dalton become lost in the further and now it his father Josh (played by Patrick Wilson) who must escape.  The sequel definitely has it's inventive and creative good points, but its flaws are a little more visible than they were in the first film.

After the events of the first film, the Lambert family is now living with Josh's mother (Barbara Hershey), hoping the worst is behind them they try to resume their lives.  The plot is heavy on backstory with Josh's experiences with the Further as an 8-year-old boy and the origins of his nemesis the bride in black.  Back in the present, more strange happenings continue to frighten his wife Renai (Rose Byrne).  Josh also has been acting strangely and not really himself.  After a few scary incidents she contacts the paranormal hunters from the first film Tucker and Specs, one of them played by scriptwriter Leigh Whannel.  These two morons almost single-handedly destroy the film with there terribly cheesy one-liners and hammy acting that stopped any tension as soon as they appear.  We find out that the real Josh is trapped in the further, while his earthly body is being taken over by a serial killer named Parker Crane, who also has some pretty shocking ties to the bride in black.  The group of ghost hunters and his family have to battle some pretty nasty forces to get him back.  The medium Elise (Lin Shaye) is back, but only as a helper in the further, as she was murdered at the end of the first movie.  She gave the paranormal hunters the credibility it needed in the original and is sorely missed here.

In a bit of creative genius while Josh tries to escape the further the filmmakers manage to work in and explain a lot of the noises and scenes from the first film from a different perspective.  All while making it relevant to this film and not just used as filler as a lot of other movies do.  The creepy scares are still there and its a very accomplished sequel but still not as good as the first.  A third film the series is guaranteed with the final scene being ghost Elise, Tucker, and Specs visiting a new family and her staring into a corner of the house, her mouth wide open "Oh my God" Indeed.

"Broken (2006)" British Torture Porn That's Rusty and Dull


Not to be confused with the other film called "Broken" I reviewed back in April of this year.  This "Broken" was released by Dimension Extreme back in 2006 at the height of the torture porn craze.  Riding the coattails of the "Saw" and "Hostel" Movies, this low budget British import is all kinds of nasty, but in the end is not all that interesting.  The film is also supposedly based on a true story. 

Like a lot of horror movies were given a gruesome opening scene that gives you a taste of what's to come.  We are then introduced to Hope (quite the metaphorical name), a young woman out on a date having a good time.  She returns home to say goodnight to her 6-year-old daughter and goes to sleep only to wake up buried underground.  The story is then structured into days she is held captive by a mysterious psychopath.  After Day 2 she is dug up and tied to a tree, similar to another victim from the opening scene.  A razor blade has been sewn up in her abdomen leaving her no choice but to dig it out and cut her self free from the tree. The make-up and effects are supremely disgusting all through the film and are the main reason to watch it in the first place.  Unfortunately, like a lot of horror movies, the story and characters are weak and poorly drawn.  The plot is very thin and predictable with only the final scenes being somewhat original.

The unnamed male psychopath takes his victims into the woods and sets up camp.  He chains Hope to a tree and trains her to be his slave but not in any sexual way.  After a few days, he tests her loyalty and another few times she tries to escape but all things lead back to the camp and Hope being physically and mentally beaten and abused.  About 10 days in the Man brings back another girl, a teenager who won't stop whining and crying, she really tests the viewer's patience.  This is kind of strange in that you really want the girl to die just so she would shut the hell up.  The man does get fed up with her and cuts her tongue out.  It's only a matter of time before the women hatch a plan to escape and the Man's reign of terror come to an end.  Like I mentioned before the ending is a little different than what you'd expect, as it takes an extremely cruel twist in the spirit an extremely cruel movie.

Peter Dinklage Shines in the "Station Agent"


One of the great independent films of 2003 and one of my personal favorites, "The Station Agent" introduces us to the exceptionally talented Peter Dinklage.  Although upon first impression most people will only notice his 4 foot 5 inch frame, his deeply brooding and thoughtful performances rival any actor working today. 

Finbar McBride, or Fin, is a solitary man who works at a hobby shop repairing and working with model trains.  One day his friend and the store's owner Henry falls over dead, presumably of a heart attack.  Fin is lost in despair, Henry, however, has left him a small but abandoned depot station to him in his will.  With nothing tying him down Fin moves into to the Newfoundland depot station.  Just across the way is an oddly placed food truck called Gorgeous Franks and its lone operator Joe, played by Bobby Cannavale.  Joe is a friendly and energetic man who's intrigued by Fin arrival.  Although not looking to make friends Fin eventually comes around and allows him to hang around with him.  Also upon arrival Fin has a few run-ins with Olivia, played by Patricia Clarkson.  She doesn't make that good a first or second impression for that matter as she almost runs him over with her car, twice.  Olivia is a friendly but slightly frantic, painter who is separated from her rich husband, Joe, however, has had his eye on her for quite some time.

Writer and director Tom McCarthy creates this world for these characters that are based in small-town reality.  Fin has a number of encounters with a curious little African American girl as well as a possible girlfriend in the form of the young and beautiful librarian, played by Michelle Williams.  Although the heart of the story is the relationship between the three friends Fin, Joe, and Olivia.  All are damaged in their own way and looking for something real.  Finn fights with loneliness and alienation, while the return of Olivia's husband throws her life into an angry spiral.  Joe is full of life and charisma but misses his son, who lives with his mother. "The Station Agent" is a wonderful film, skillfully acted on all fronts with a deeply heartfelt story of a marginalized man trying to find his place in the world.

Although a lot of people now know Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister on "Game of Thrones", please take a moment to watch "The Station Agent".