Fractured

Release: Friday, October 11, 2019 (Netflix)

→Netflix

Written by: Alan B. McElroy

Directed by: Brad Anderson

There’s something inherently off-putting about hospitals and treatment centers. Anyone who has spent some time in them (not to mention contend with their bureaucratic ways) can attest to just how much stress they can bring out in a person. They might even be worse than airports in that regard.

These places inspire angst, distrust and even outright fear, elements apropos of a psychological thriller. To that end, maybe it’s not surprising a great many of these “it’s all in your head” movies set up shop in mental institutions and psychiatric wards. Nine years ago Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island brought us to the Alcatrazian equivalent of an asylum for the criminally insane. Just last year Steven Soderbergh provided a reality check as Claire Foy steadily unraveled in a mental care facility holding her against her will (check out my review of Unsane here). In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched, one of cinema’s all-time great villains, gave us one of the most legitimate reasons to fear the institution in a way that is, nearly 45 years later, still waiting to be challenged.

Brad Anderson’s psychological thriller Fractured can’t help but encourage a little déjà vu in terms of the way it messes with your head. It’s perception-skewing plot mechanics and unreliable protagonist aren’t things you haven’t seen in better/more expensive movies. Shutter Island is definitely invoked, but the plot this movie steals the most from is undoubtedly the 1938 Hitchcock classic The Lady Vanishes. However there are some nuances to this environment that help Fractured gain its own modest standing. For one, the super-sketchy way organ donations seem to be handled here at America’s most uncooperative hospital — a familiar place that increasingly feels like a madhouse based on the way everyone, including our everyman “hero,” seems to act. Plus it’s just cool to see the amiable English actor Sam Worthington in a lead role.

Fractured is born in an air of anxiety that makes you feel unnerved from the very beginning. The filmmakers manage to further intoxicate it with strange characters and mounting aggression. The Monroes are driving back home after a lousy Thanksgiving gathering. Stress levels are through the roof of their blue Ford Explorer. However many hours they’ve been on the road you can bet Ray (Worthington) and his wife Joanne (Lily Rabe) have been fighting for the duration. Ray, a former NASCAR driver and recovering alcoholic, is not the man his wife married — a shell of his former self. Their six-year-old daughter Peri (Lucy Capri) minds her own business in the backseat. Soon though she has to pee. And the batteries in her music player are dead. Ray pulls over at a suspect gas station in the middle of nowhere to kill two birds with one stone.

A pivotal event occurs there, an unfortunate accident bad enough for Peri to need immediate medical attention. Ray recalls passing a hospital not too far back and puts his experiences as a professional driver to good use. When they arrive at Kirkbride Hospital his good intentions are rebuffed by an unfriendly staff and an interminable sit in the waiting room. Ray is coming in a little hot with his need-to-know interrogations, yet something’s clearly off about this place. Unusual questions are being asked. Suspicious looking people are coming and going at the back door. A Dr. Berthram (played by prolific character actor Stephen Tobolowsky) insists on taking Peri to the Lower Level to be evaluated for head trauma even though it’s just a broken arm — you know, just to be safe. The family gets separated, as only one visitor is allowed at a time and Joanne goes with her.

When Ray awakens from a nap in the waiting room the drama goes to work in earnest. No one in the hospital has a recollection of Joanne or Peri, only that Ray checked himself in for a head injury. Shift rotations and front desk assistants unapologetically in dereliction of duty only compound the headache. As his behavior intensifies — there’s a really entertaining confrontation in that ominous elevator — Alan B. McElroy’s screenplay tosses into the mix local cops, overzealous security guards and psychologists, building a case against Ray that you, the surrogate couch detective, must either dismiss as a sophisticated conspiracy or embrace as the ugly truth.

Technically speaking this isn’t a flashy movie; the drab interiors and equally blue exteriors are exceptionally unexceptional. I’d argue that the elementary design to some degree works in the movie’s favor. The un-showy style keeps the focus on what matters most, and that’s the human element, the details regarding what’s really fracturing this man who would do anything for his family. Some creative editing allows the mystery to expand and deepen, even as the feeling of “Been here, done that” tugs at the back of your mind. This otherwise generic prescription for low-key horror is given its biggest shot of adrenaline thanks to Worthington’s performance, a convincing evocation of a man clearly dealing with more stress than he can bear.

He’s going down.

Recommendation: Fractured is a by-the-numbers thriller that gets by with a strong performance from Sam Worthington. Despite the number of weird developments that encourage us to draw our own conclusions throughout, ultimately it’s that final frame that will leave viewers talking. The sum totality of the experience isn’t what I would call a Netflix “original” (that feels like a misnomer) but there’s enough going on here to keep you involved from the comforts of your favorite recliner. Kick your feet up and bring your expectations down. 

Rated: TV-MA

Running Time: 99 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.geektyrant.com 

Unsane

Release: Friday, March 23, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Jonathan Bernstein; James Greer

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh is to date the most recognizable filmmaker to have publicly touted the virtues of making movies using your own smartphone. We aren’t talking Instagram videos of course, but full-length feature films. In this case, a gritty horror film about a young woman who can’t get away from her stalker. The director behind popular, lavish productions like Ocean’s Eleven and Traffic has now come to embrace the increasingly popular backpack-style approach to filmmaking as a means of avoiding unwanted financial headaches and focusing upon that which matters most — the actual making of the film.

Unsane was filmed entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus. Unfortunately the final product ends up being an indictment on that particular choice of tech. Much like our possibly mentally unstable protagonist, the film simply does not look well. The color scheme is pallid, almost sick-making in light-starved environments and the claustrophobic spaces into which we are forced do nothing but bring attention to the inferiority of smartphone cameras. I’m no expert on photography or cinematography, but as I understand it the iPhone does not give the user the option to adjust aperture (the hole in a camera lens that determines how much light will be let in) and Unsane‘s ugly aesthetic attests to these limitations. The story itself is not all that engrossing, but the entire enterprise suffers on a technical level to the point where the low overhead becomes very difficult to ignore, much less defend.

Unlike Sean Baker, who found great success in his 2015 street drama Tangerine, interestingly among the first few feature films to dabble in Apple, Soderbergh’s implementation tends to draw attention to style and like the worst of found-footage (which this film mercifully isn’t), ends up more as a gimmick than the product of creative budgeting. That’s an issue made more apparent by the fact that Unsane doesn’t move us the way it should, particularly in post-Harvey Weinstein Hollywood. The performances are strong, especially that of star Claire Foy, but Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer’s screenplay doesn’t develop into much more than a fairly standard psychological horror in which the viewer’s perception of reality is constantly being challenged. Only, it isn’t constant. In Unsane, we are only for a brief moment unsure whether to trust the ‘hero’ or the needle-wielding orderlies against which she constantly rebels.

The British actress plays a driven businesswoman named Sawyer Valentini. The promise of a new, less complicated life awaits her in a new city, some 400 miles away from her hometown, her mother (Amy Irving) and her ridiculously maladjusted man-child of an ex, one David Strine (Joshua Leonard). But when one of her first attempts to truly move on turns south thanks to unwanted and repressed memories rising up at a most inopportune moment, Sawyer finds herself turning to a local mental health facility for answers. During the course of a promising discussion with one of the experts, Sawyer confesses she has contemplated suicide in her past. The next moment she is being admitted as a patient, apparently against her will. Her privileges and personal items are quickly forfeited at the door to some decidedly unsympathetic staff.

Unsane starts strong, but the disorienting effect created by a series of personal invasions quickly disintegrates like a pill in water. Chalk that up to how impatient Soderbergh is in steering the film to its bloody and predictable conclusion. The best part of the film is simply getting settled in at this really creepy, depressing joint. A 24-hour watch becomes a weeklong stint as Sawyer’s aggressive self-defense mechanisms are used against her as proof of her instability. In that time she meets a few of the patients, many of them wretches, like Juno Temple’s Violet. But then there is also Nate (Jay Pharaoh), who appears to be the only person willing to listen. More importantly, she also begins experiencing what may or may not be hallucinations of her ex, which sends her into more apoplectic fits that in turn send her into solitary confinement.

Sawyer’s descent is undoubtedly disturbing, even difficult to watch at times for reasons beyond the fact it is literally difficult to see what’s going on. The film touches on certain disconcerting realities of the social media age in that invisibility and anonymity are precious commodities, especially when you are the target of a stalker. (And not to keep pouring it on, but I really wish this dynamic wasn’t introduced by a needlessly distracting cameo.) Foy is a force to be reckoned with in her character’s darkest moments — and I hope this is what we are witnessing; I don’t know how it gets any darker than what goes down in the rubber room. And the fact she isn’t an entirely sympathetic individual gives Unsane more of an edge. There is such a lack of comfort everywhere you turn.

Indeed, those anticipating a Soderbergian take on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or even Shutter Island would be better off re-watching those films and just imagining what they would be like with someone else at the helm. In fact they would be even better served going back to Side Effects, a film that spun a similar tale of corrupt institutions in cahoots with special interest groups — another in which we couldn’t ever be sure who was telling the truth. That film may have been convoluted and ultimately confusing, but given that both films deal in issues of mental health and the real-life nightmares pharmaceutical companies often induce, Unsane gives us the ability to compare. And it is the weaker film, even ignoring Soderbergh’s attempt to thematically merge grainy footage with his character’s fraying mentality.

And in case you want to know, I have a Samsung Galaxy S7. And I love the way it makes me feel like a pro when I take pictures.

Recommendation: Familiar B-horror filtered through a rather off-putting visual aesthetic makes for an iffy recommendation. If you support everything Steven Soderbergh has ever done there is a great chance you’ll like this more than me. I’m not subscribed to the thought he is a particularly original filmmaker, and that may have hurt me here. With all my issues with the way the film appears, it is still impressive what these guys are able to do in 10 days with a phone on what basically amounts to a selfie stick. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

May Blindspot: What About Bob? (1991)

Release: Friday, May 17, 1991

[YouTube]

Written by: Tom Schulman

Directed by: Frank Oz

Given the career Frank Oz has been able to enjoy over the span of some 40 years, a gentle comedy like What About Bob? tends to get lost in the shuffle. That’s a shame, because it’s quite funny. Wholesome in that 1990s PG-comedy kind of way; sentimental in the same.

Oz has directed Steve Martin twice and he’s kicked it with DeNiro once, so his collaboration with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss isn’t some crazy cosmic event. He’s put in the work to get here, having helped launch Jim Henson’s career in the early going with his development of both Sesame Street and The Muppets. He also curiously remade The Stepford Wives and brought chaos upon a British family in his 2007 farcical comedy Death at a Funeral. But his behind-the-scenes work didn’t become the stuff of cinematic legend until Henson repaid the favor by turning down the part of Yoda in Star Wars, recommending George Lucas cast his friend instead. And history, the rest is.

By comparison What About Bob? feels like a rather modest achievement. Modest, but not insignificant. It’s a film whose fixation upon mental health was taboo then and is, sadly, taboo now. It tries to define what sound mental health is through an exploration of an unorthodox relationship between Dr. Leo Marvin (Dreyfuss), an accomplished psychotherapist, and his high-maintenance, multi-phobic client, a neurotic New Yorker named Bob Wiley (Murray). Of course, that’s not to suggest this is a thorough interrogation of perpetually un-PC subject matter as what unfolds aims for entertainment rather than the provocation of thought and discussion. Think of it more as a friendly PSA urging us to be more tolerant of others’ quirks and mannerisms, regardless of whether they’re clinically diagnosable traits.

Dead Poets Society screenwriter Tom Schulman’s work is simply but effectively constructed, the farcical events forcing the pair of well-matched leads into comically and diametrically opposed character arcs, with Murray slowly regaining his dignity and Dreyfuss steadily going mad over the course of a fleeting hour and forty minutes. Murray is an ideal spokesperson for the quirky and off-kilter. Ostensibly, he’s bringing nothing new to his role, but that’s ironically what this overly familiar movie needs. It needs Bill Murray being Bill Murray. When Bob is first pawned off by his former counsel and onto Dr. Marvin, the actor’s eccentricities embrace you as a warm hug from a grandparent.

Meanwhile, Dreyfuss arguably outshines his costar in doing the dirty work, exuding a level of self-absorption that makes him an easy target. He comes across cold and clinical, a puffed-up, red-faced bureaucrat who cares not so much about the hippocratic oath (or maybe even his family) as he does earning more accolades and climbing further up the career ladder. Dreyfuss’s performance is outstanding, a controlled caricature of professional hubris that so perfectly culminates with a man drooling in a wheelchair.

The plot remains obvious and more than a little contrived in parts — it’s really difficult to believe a man as neurotic as Bob would actually board a public bus for New Hampshire, but we acknowledge the plot must move along somehow. You tend to get over those sorts of things, because there’s a lot of it to go round, and while the film relies mighty heavily on its star power, it’s frequent pit stopping into cliché is justified.

Dr. Marvin learns the hard way that “I’m on vacation” is a foreign concept to his oddball client. The story proper gets underway when Bob manages to track his impatient doctor down in his New Hampshire hideaway and begins the process of integrating himself into the family. Compounding Dr. Marvin’s discombobulation is the rapidly growing divide between himself and his family. He can’t comprehend the fact his wife Fay (Julie Hagerty) and children, Anna (Kathryn Erbe) and Sigmund (Charlie Korsmo), have taken a liking to this possible sociopath. Bob, who has justified his sudden appearance as him taking some of Dr. Marvin’s advice to heart (“take a vacation from your problems”), is viewed by the majority as the fun-loving drunk uncle rather than a pest who needs to be flushed out.

With all due respect to Murray, the genius that he is (and Bob is certifiably a great character), the schadenfreude that comes with Dreyfuss’ energetic, unhinged performance simply makes this experience what it is — granted, something of an echo of the trials endured by Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles four years earlier. In that film, a similarly obnoxious but well-meaning northerner effectively infiltrated the personal life of a gruff stranger, often to his own detriment, and ever-so-occasionally to surprisingly poignant effect. However, where that film truly satisfied with the way John Candy was able to finally win the other guy over, What About Bob? clumsily tries to contrive that same feeling in the final few seconds.

Curious about what’s next? Check out my Blindspot List here.

Recommendation: With two outstanding performances from Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss, What About Bob? becomes something I can easily suggest to viewers who are looking for another solid, perhaps overlooked Bill Murray comedy from the early ’90s. Funny, heartwarming, ultimately predictable but definitely worthwhile. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “Shit-eating son of a bitch! Bastard, douchebag, twat, numb-nuts, dickhead, BITCH!” [Editors note: I love the MPAA ratings of the ’90s.]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Disappointments Room

the-disappointments-room-movie-poster

Release: Friday, September 9, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: D.J. Caruso; Wentworth Miller

Directed by: D.J. Caruso

I would be more upset about the way this anti-thrilling psychological thriller turned out but I brought this upon myself. I knew what Rotten Tomatoes had said about it. I knew no one was talking about it. No one was in the theater with me when I saw it. Part of me (the masochistic part of me that really needs help) was curious to see why. Would it be worth the six smackaroonies I put down apologetically at the box office?

The Disappointments Room is a bad title for an even worse film. It references a kind of holding cell that was established by early 19th Century well-to-do families who needed a place to stow away their ‘undesirables’ — their hopelessly disfigured, ugly and otherwise lame offspring they couldn’t possibly bring themselves to publicly acknowledge. Left alone for years on end, these children would ultimately perish in isolation, their spirits left to haunt that room and the house. Ironically that title also represents truth in advertising, when director D.J. Caruso (I Am Number Four; Disturbia) really needed something more . . . misleading, like The So-Spooky-You-Just-Have-To-Watch-It Room.

Young couple Dana (Kate Beckinsale) and David (Mel Raido) have left Brooklyn with their son Lucas (Duncan Joiner) for a fresh start in the countryside after a traumatic event left them reeling. Dana’s an architect and wants everyone in town to know that women are perfectly capable of being architects, and that she is planning to bring her sharp eye for architectural detail to the mansion she and her family have just architecturally moved into. The place is a real fixer-upper, and of course it has an urban legend attached to it, because why wouldn’t it? Blacker Manor, as it is known around this podunk community, is the site of an infamous murder of a daughter by her own father, the prominent Judge Blacker (Gerald McRaney).

As they get settled and Dana the Architect inspects the property for things that need attention, she comes across a locked room in an attic. She’s alarmed this feature wasn’t included in the building schematic and wants to find out what it is, architecturally speaking, of course, especially after she briefly gets trapped inside it — one of several remarkably poorly executed sequences that leaves you scratching the architecture of your head. Dana has a certain history — as all women in horror films must have — that leads her down a path filled with weird hallucinations and disconcerting encounters. Beckinsale’s poor performance doesn’t help matters, but the character is an utter bore as she tries to convince David something is wrong with the house.

There’s no end to the clichés in The Disappointments Room. The execution is ruthlessly rote, a problem compounded by some really clumsy, confusing directing. One can never get a good sense of what is supposed to be “the ultimate terror” lurking in the darkness of that depressing, dusty room because the filmmakers seem to have no faith in their ability to create something fresh from old scraps. There’s a theoretical parallel drawn between Dana’s tragic past and the history of this mansion, but the lack of confidence behind the camera translates to a lack of confidence in front of it. Beckinsale simply could not make me care. Then there’s the subplot involving a local construction worker that fizzles out as though the writer forgot to finish the draft.

The production is, in a word, a mess. I was able to get into the spirit of things early on despite the ache of familiarity setting in almost immediately. There’s an intimacy amongst these characters and I appreciated the understated manner in which this couple tries to adjust to their new surroundings — you know, the kind that often contributes mightily to any given character’s vulnerable psychological state. And Raido has great chemistry with his diminutive co-star, fully selling us on his fatherly bond and thankfully he also carries an optimism that contrasts against Beckinsale’s unconvincing aloofness.

I don’t think Caruso had any pressure riding on him to conjure the next genre classic, though surely horror directors these days have a heightened awareness of the increasing availability of effective, niched independent releases that have necessarily upped the ante for the genre as a whole. There’s nothing really to bash about a film being average and forgettable when it is enjoyable. The Disappointments Room didn’t need to do anything crazy, but it needed to do more than this. The only thing worse than identifying myself as the only patron to see this film that day was the stench of regret that followed me as I walked out of an empty cineplex.

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Recommendation: Considering all that is on offer with the advent of independent horror, I would have to say there is very little reason to go near The Disappointments Room unless you are a completionist. There’s simply not enough interesting material here to recommend. And if you want further proof, the review you’ll find at the bottom of this film’s IMDb page is excellent, and better sums up my thoughts on this rig than my own.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Decades Blogathon – Taxi Driver (1976)

 

Mark closes out the 2016 Decades Blogathon with a fantastically written piece on Martin Scorsese’s seminal 1976 crime drama Taxi Driver. Be sure you don’t miss it by visiting the link below! Thank you.

three rows back

Decades Blogathon Banner 20161976So this is the end; the final day of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition. Thank you once again to everyone who made this such a great blogathon. My biggest thanks goes to my partner in crime on this enterprise – Tom from Digital Shortbread. We had a blast with this in 2015 and this year’s event has been just as much fun. The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade and it’s my turn to focus on Martin Scorsese’s seminal 1976 classic Taxi Driver.

Looking to the Academy Awards as a critical barometer for the best films of a given year is, for the most part, as redundant an exercise as swimming through treacle.

The list of Oscar clunkers is long and ignominious and among the most glaring is the dearth of statuettes awarded to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. A…

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Demolition

'Demolition' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 8, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Bryan Sipe

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée

Jake Gyllenhaal has played a variety of oddballs in his time. He’s navigated his way carefully through a maze of mental illness — including, but certainly not limited to, sociopathy, obsession and depression — and often bravely inhabited characters who we’re almost dared to embrace at the expense of our own conscience. But even when he’s playing characters who are either lowlives or who find themselves at low points in their lives, rarely do we regret spending time watching him.

Alas, that is the case in Demolition, the new film from Québécois director Jean-Marc Vallée. I suppose the good news is that I can’t remember the last time I was able to say Gyllenhaal failed to captivate me, wasted my time or anything similarly negative. I’m not talking about a movie in which he starred or had a juicy supporting part, but something he appeared in. That’s quite a streak this utterly directionless and ultimately pointless black comedy has just broken. If I were the movie, I’d feel pretty bad about that, because while Gyllenhaal has certainly been better, the fact the film passes without significance isn’t entirely his fault.

Demolition is the story of a successful investment banker who seems to mentally check out of reality following a traumatic event in which he and his wife are involved in a bad car accident. Rather than breaking down into tears or exhibiting any of the symptoms someone in his position would typically exhibit, particularly in the immediate aftermath, his Davis Mitchell feels nothing. He seemingly moves on with his life as if nothing happened. We, the appalled, are challenged to interpret whether his behavior is something indicative of some kind of mental deficiency, or if he’s just a coldhearted bastard. (Either way, there’s something wrong with him.)

Bryan Sipe’s talky, introspective but ultimately forgettable script pivots around a rather crass catalytic event in which Davis — and this is just hours after his beloved Julia (Heather Lind) has succumbed to injuries sustained in the accident — begins writing a series of letters to the company that owns the vending machine that just screwed him out of a pack of peanut M&M’s. I know. Life is unfair. For awhile we’re lead to believe that these letters are just a way for him to vent, that perhaps he’s just this bad at expressing anguish. After all, grief is grief and there aren’t really any rules for dealing with this shit.

But then we learn that Davis’ letters are being received by a customer service rep named Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts, less annoying than usual) — a customer service rep in desperate need of a raise because she’s seemingly the only one who ever pays attention to such outmoded forms of communication. Complaint letters being read. Pah! What a quaint idea. The set-up is so serendipitous it’s ridiculous. Maybe if Davis were a character we could actually get behind, the fact Karen’s entirely too trusting of a strange man might not be something we’d notice. After all, Karen’s essentially a polar opposite to Davis, a kind-hearted soul who’s struggling financially as a single mother raising a bratty kid who can’t stay unsuspended from school.

Davis finds comfort in divulging intensely personal tidbits about his marriage and his childhood through letters to someone he’s never met. He’s also further alienating himself from the brutal truth of being made a widower at the ripe age of 30-something. What begins as a pen-pal relationship soon turns into clandestine phone calls whose tones range from stalker-ish to flirtatious; meanwhile Julia’s parents are still trying to get over their loss. Those phone calls that then turn into face-to-face meet-ups aren’t the extent of Davis’ ‘descent.’ (I put that word in quotes because Davis himself admits he didn’t even know Julia that well, other than that marrying her was an easy thing to do. So, good chance this guy was insufferable even when she was alive.)

Promotional material for Demolition seems fixated on the character physically destroying things. There’s the clip of him taking a bulldozer to his posh, angular, suburban abode and a bathroom stall at his office lying in pieces on the floor. By the time we actually get around to these moments we’re so numb to what we’re seeing they don’t really register. There’s a faint whiff of tragedy underlining Davis’ increasingly absurd behavior but it’s all for naught because the story and the character haven’t given us any reason to feel empathy; this is quite literally 100 minutes of watching Gyllenhaal getting free license to go willy-nilly with a sledgehammer and other construction materials.

In fact it becomes so difficult to identify with Davis we end up feeling terrible for his father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper) as Phil continues to give Davis entirely too much leeway around the office. (Does he have much choice? Um, how about firing him?) Perhaps the only behavior Davis displays that we can understand is his lack of ability to stay invested in work-related projects. In an early scene, Davis is recounting what it was like getting to know Phil in the early stages of his relationship. Not one to mince words, Phil shouts down from the top of a flight of stairs, “I don’t like you Davis.” Yeah, no kidding. We’re with you on that one, Phil. Fortunately for us, we figured that out within about an hour. You had to endure this man’s sociopathic behavior for years.

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Recommendation: Demolition revolves around a through-and-through unlikable protagonist, which isn’t a problem in and of itself. But the story also asks us to start taking sides (with him) as Davis begins a new relationship — to the film’s credit, one that’s only ever platonic — with a customer service rep who decides she likes the way he writes. Everything just feels so false. Jean-Marc Vallée has dealt with the selfish, brooding, sociopathic and self-destructive type before but this one really pushes limits. One for actor/director completionists only.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “There was love between me and Julia. I just didn’t take care of it.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Road Within

Release: Friday, April 17, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Gren Wells

Directed by: Gren Wells

The Road Within is far from a realistic take on how mental illness affects one’s ability to socially interact but I’d be lying if I said it isn’t incredibly uplifting and heartwarming. Gren Wells has created a wonderful pick-me-up and that’s all you really need to know.

I suppose I could go into more detail, else this would be the shortest film review ever.

The schmaltzy-titled film follows a trio of teens who break out of a mental health facility and embark on a three-day expedition during which they bond, sharing in their anguish and collective suppressed emotions. The goal of the journey is for Vincent (the emerald-eyed Robert Sheehan), who has Tourette’s, to reach the ocean and scatter the ashes of his recently passed mother. He is joined by his roommate Alex (Dev Patel), a boy of similar age who is perpetually overwhelmed by his obsessive compulsive disorder, and a girl sporting purple-dyed hair played by Zoë Kravitz. Her name is Marie and she’s battling anorexia.

Vincent’s father (T-1000 Robert Patrick), unable to cope with his son’s turbulent behavior in the wake of the tragedy, sends him away to this facility run by Kyra Sedgwick’s Dr. Rose, a counselor who means well but is fairly incompetent. Given her hands-off approach and Vincent’s determination, the mechanism for the story’s development still feels a bit too clumsy: all it takes for Vincent’s wishes to come true is for Marie to stumble upon his room one day, flirt ever so slightly with him, and then steal doc’s car keys. It’s fairytale-esque how easily they are able to break from their shackles (and a tiny bit naughty — she stole car keys, thief . . . THIEF!)

The Road Within doesn’t play out as something that would happen in real life yet the adventure is too much fun to dismiss altogether. It features an incredible performance from the young Sheehan, who I was convinced actually had Tourette syndrome. His brown curly hair a perpetual mess and his face beset with worry, Sheehan’s Vincent is hugely empathetic despite his inability to control his temper when his tics have subsided. The 27-year-old actor masterfully steers his teenaged character through emotional turmoil that’s in addition to his literal knee-jerk reactions and spasms. That it becomes difficult to watch on occasion (and listen to — be prepared for a stream of profanities in the early going) is a credit to how committed Sheehan is to inhabiting this head space. It’s easily the crowning achievement of the film.

Less effective, but affecting nonetheless, are Patel’s Alex, whose crippling paranoias have him constantly wearing latex gloves and render him unable to slap his newfound friends a high-five in a brief celebratory moment, and Kravitz’s headstrong yet visibly physically unhealthy Marie. Over the course of their adventure, one which finds the actors juxtaposed against the breathtaking backdrop of Yosemite Valley, their precarious states begin to act as a galvanizing agent — “we’re all sick so we aren’t that different from each other” — though frequently the development rings hollow. I simply couldn’t buy into how quickly the characters moved past their severe illnesses, shedding symptoms as if they were layers of clothing.

The story isn’t completely lacking in validity. Vincent finds himself attracted to Marie (naturally), a development that only compounds Alex’s sense of loneliness and frustration over his condition. While romance is hinted at, it’s wisely handled with vulnerability and even an air of distrust. And while the melting of Vincent’s father’s icy exterior over the course of the story as he and the doctor set off in pursuit of her stolen car and the three renegades similarly sends up red flags, Robert Patrick has the acting pedigree to make the sudden shift somewhat legitimate.

One need look no further than The Road Within‘s emotional conclusion to find everything that’s wrong, and right, with Wells’ handling of the material. It tidies up much too quickly and leaves viewers with the impression that the hellish travails prior to the kids’ rebellion will no longer exist; this is a happily-ever-after for people who sadly do not travel down such a finite road. Mental illness, like an addiction, is permanent. It’s inescapable. It’s infuriating. However, none of these shortcomings are enough to drown the piece. It may be sentimental and unrealistic but The Road Within is immensely enjoyable. It’s optimistic and upbeat, easy to embrace. This is the kind of film you’ll want to reach for when you find yourself enduring a particularly rough stretch, even if you may not suffer from any kind of ailment at all.

Recommendation: The film has its flaws — and quite a few of them — but this is a winning road trip comedy that I recommend on the backs of an incredible performance from Robert Sheehan (as well as Dev Patel and Zoë Kravitz). Upbeat and entirely inoffensive (save for the litany of swear words in the opening third), The Road Within offers something for all but the most cynical of viewers. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “You know, there’s a clown in my head and he shits in between my thoughts and he forces me to do the most inappropriate thing at the most inappropriate moment. So relaxing is pretty much the one thing I cannot do.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.shaanig.org

Frank

Release: Friday, September 5, 2014 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Jon Ronson; Peter Straughan

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

Any film that strives to turn Domhnall Gleeson into a thoroughly unlikable character is one I’m uncomfortable watching. Frank is just such a film.

Focusing on an aspiring musician who stumbles upon an eccentric pop band with an unpronounceable name (they call themselves The Soronprfbs), this oddball comedy does its best to distance itself from an audience looking to make connections with key characters. Its best is more than enough.

After witnessing a drowning at a local beach, Jon (Gleeson) finds himself being ushered into the band. They have a show to play that night and they need his help filling in on keyboards as that was in fact their keyboardist trying to drown himself. Excited for the opportunity, he shows up for a bizarre display of nonconformist musicianship, the heir apparent to a suicidal keyboardist — what a great guy.

Jon initially assumes his role in the band would be that of a temporary hired-gun. His involvement soon extends to filling in on a more permanent basis as The Soronprfbs seclude themselves in an isolated cabin in the Irish countryside to record a full album. Jon bemoans the fact no one told him this would be more than a weekend gig, citing he has to return to work as soon as possible. His kidnappers don’t much care though, for they have a lot of work to do. Seemingly this is now his job, trying to find a way to fit in amongst a crew of ragtags who themselves don’t fit in elsewhere.

There’s the dude who first offers Jon the chance to play, Don (Scoot McNairy). His determination to become someone he’s not is simultaneously driving him mad. We’ve got the non-English speaking Baraque (François Civil) and Nana (Carla Azar), who don’t do much beyond moping about and remaining wary about Jon’s presence. Then, chief among the antagonists — I’m sure none of these people are meant to be perceived that way but let’s just say these are some talented actors here — is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara, a nutcase who takes an instant dislike to Jon and makes life in the band a living nightmare for him. Her role is akin to that of someone you come across in your early grade school years who constantly picks on you, but all along the bullying is that person’s way of saying they dig your vibe.

Unfortunately the only person’s vibe I can really dig in this oppressively odd film is Michael Fassbender and his papier-mâché head/mask. As Frank, Fassbender is simultaneously the leader of The Soronprfbs and the stand-out acting talent. He’s empathetic given the obviousness and severity of his mental condition. He’ll never remove the head/mask, a fact that yields all sorts of questions ranging from his ability to function in social settings to his general hygiene. Answers to a few of these are admittedly provided with a compelling, brutal honesty when Jon is able to convince the band to make an appearance at the SXSW festival, where he hopes their efforts to represent a very . . . different . . . music experience will finally provide them an audience willing to reciprocate their uniqueness. It’s an undertaking that does not at all go according to plan.

Despite few of the members being likable on any level, it’s clear there are sides to be taken in this awkward, personal tug-of-war. Jon’s main purpose is to become the wedge between Frank and the rest of the band. Amidst the hostility and intolerance that defines The Soronprfbs’ dysfunction there exists this competition to be ‘the next Frank.’ It’s a mentality that explains Clara’s treatment of Jon — she doesn’t believe he has any talent or originality whatsoever and is trying too hard to be like Frank; a mentality that also sums up the fates of other members who have stepped out of the band.

Abrahamson’s fourth directorial effort manifests as a sincere reflection of mental illness but sadly this is a production difficult to enjoy or even sympathize with. An hour-and-a-half featuring people arguing and making something akin to music. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn about any of it.

Recommendation: If kinky films are what you dig, then maybe Frank will be something you might enjoy. With disagreeable characters, languid pacing and a band that makes no sense, it is a difficult one to recommend to anyone else. Even though the characters are largely detestable, my bigger issue is that it combined that with a theme of social anxiety that didn’t really work. Plus the film feels so much longer than 95 minutes would suggest. I was prepared for a different kind of watch, but maybe not one this repellent. It’s almost as if the film was actively trying not to be enjoyable.

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “Stale beer. Fat f**ked, smoked out. Cowpoked. Sequined mountain ladies. I love your wall. Put your arms around me. Fiddly digits, itchy britches. I love you all.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Voices

the-voices-poster

Release: Friday, February 6, 2015

[Redbox]

Written by: Michael R. Perry

Directed by: Marjane Satrapi

I always knew cats were inherently evil.

What with their pawing and purring and hairballs and general infatuation with chasing their own tails. Is evil the right word? In this case, yes . . . yes it is; cats take on an entirely darker role in at least one human’s life.

At the center of attention in this bizarre twist on an already twisted subgenre of horror known as horror-comedy is a fairly lonely man named Jerry (Ryan Reynolds), who has just started working at a bathtub factory in a rinky-dink town we don’t know the name of. By all accounts a nice enough guy, he nevertheless shows some signs of detachment from reality and reluctance to interact with his coworkers. When he’s tasked with putting together a company barbecue and in the process meets the cute girl from accounting, a British babe named Fiona (Gemma Arterton), he is instantly smitten and asks her out.

Unable to flat-out tell him she doesn’t want to go out with him, she instead avoids him after work and goes with her friends from accounting, Lisa (Anna Kendrick) and Alison (Ella Smith), to a karaoke bar. She’s left stranded afterwards in the rain when her car can’t start up and her phone has been soaked in the downpour. Serendipitously enough, along comes Jerry who’s heartbroken to say the least having been stood up yet offers a desperate Fiona a ride home. In striking up a conversation with her on the way back Jerry can’t see the deer in the middle of the road and unfortunately creams it. Antlers and all sticking through the windshield, we’re now entering spoiler territory. Suffice it to say, The Voices quickly flips the switch and starts to pursue, with unsettling fervor, the horror aspect.

As far as the comedy is concerned, a little asterisk might need to be placed beside that word. A twisted sense of humor will help enormously in enjoying what Iranian director Marjane Satrapi has to offer here; although the brightly-colored promotional poster for the film doesn’t really make that a secret. What might be more of a surprise is the quality of Ryan Reynolds’ purely tortured performance. He is something to behold — the days of Van Wilder are long since gone, boys and girls. Not that staying in school for the better part of a decade was ever a bad idea but this is a role that represents a remarkable sense of maturity.

If Reynolds’ masterful turn as an oddly empathetic Jerry is the peanut butter to this messed-up sandwich the jelly, then, surely is Satrapi’s commentary on the truly disturbing potential of mental illness to completely consume its victim. There’s no doubt something’s off about this man and while we do surpass the point where we in any reality could forgive him for what he does (let’s get one thing straight: this isn’t an Eli Roth production, death is not played up for laughs), we are able to get to a place where we understand where his problems stem from.

Sure, in order to get to the root of the evil that pervades Jerry’s life we must try to buy into some rather ridiculous scenes that could have benefitted from stronger writing, but the surrealism, the downright perverse entertainment value wins out time and again. Talking dogs and cats? This isn’t quite like Homeward Bound. Or maybe, if Sassy had more of a psychotic agenda.

At the end of the film, one thing was certain for this reviewer: I’m still much more of a dog person.

ryan-reynolds-does-something-bad-in-the-voices

3-5Recommendation: The best recommendation I can give here is that if you’re still wondering what the animals have to do with anything (especially that darn cat — yay, another movie reference!) then you should just watch and find out for yourself. Fan of Ryan Reynolds and black comedies? This just may well be a must-see for you.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “Pretty complicated inside the human mind, huh?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com