Intense drama tells the story of angry mother, Mildred Hayes (an amazing Frances McDormand), who sees, what she believes, to be a lack of effort on her local sheriff’s (Woody Harrelson) part in catching the man who raped and murdered her daughter, Angela (Kathryn Newton). In response, she puts up three billboards on the outskirts of her small town calling the police force out on their failings. This not only sets the town against her, as they sympathize with a sheriff dying of cancer, but also puts her, and those affiliated, in the cross hairs of his ignorant and hateful second in command, Dixon (Sam Rockwell).
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, this is a powerful film, that not only illustrates what anger and hatred causes folks to do, but the consequences of those actions. The film is not really about Angela’s murder, but the effect it has had on her family and the town they live in, mostly on the rage coming from mother Mildred. The film also delivers some surprising transformations as the effects of all this anger and hatred changes people, some for the better, others for worse. McDonagh gets some fantastic performances out of his cast, especially McDormand and Rockwell and his script gives some intense dialogue and material for the cast to work from. Maybe the film isn’t perfect, one wonders if this town arrests anyone for anything at times, but it is a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll. Also stars Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Samara Weaving and Abbie Cornish.
French thriller tells the story of Maureen (Kristen Stewart) who is a personal shopper for bitchy celebrity Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) …and a paranormal medium. She’s also in Paris to try to make contact with the spirit of her twin brother, who recently died in his home there. On top of all that, she is receiving ominous texts from an unknown source who seems to be stalking her. Still with me?
Despite not knowing what it wants to be about, the film is well directed by Olivier Assayas from his own script. It manages to provide some very spooky moments when dealing with the paranormal issues and some taunt suspense when dealing with the ominous texts Maureen keeps receiving from the unknown sender. The personal shopper drama is also well done though the least interesting part of the film. Assayas also gets good work out of Kristen Stewart whose disassociated style of acting works perfectly for the emotionally troubled Maureen. A few of the supernatural moments come close to tipping over into silly and the author of the mysterious texts wasn’t hard to figure out, but somehow despite, the multiple narrative, Personal Shopper does remain intriguing and sometimes very effective. Worth a look for something a bit offbeat.
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Film by Orphanage director J. A. Bayona is the sad tale of Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) who is dealing with not only the terminal illness that is slowly taking his divorced mother (Felicity Jones) from him, but having to live with his stern grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) with whom he has a tenuous relationship, as well. His father is now living in the U.S. with his new family and he has no one to turn to…until a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) appears and says he will tell Connor three stories, but only if the boy agrees to tell the fourth, which is to relate a reoccurring nightmare Connor is having. The boy reluctantly agrees, but soon finds these tales have more in common with his current situation than he could have imagined.
Flick is written by Patrick Ness based on his book that was inspired by writer Siobhan Dowd, who came up with the idea during her own illness, one she sadly did not live to write herself. It is excellently directed by Bayona, though is a very somber and sad story when all is said and done. The film certainly has a strong emotional core, as we watch a young boy trying to deal with the fact that his mother is dying and there is nothing he can do about it. Is the monster there as an imaginary way of sorting through his emotions, or an actual being only Connor can see, that is there to help the boy sort things out? Bayona and Ness aren’t eager top let us find out and the film does have a sort of magic because of it, despite the dour tone. Much like Orphanage J. A. Bayona gives this the feel of a sort of dark fairy tale and it boldly deals with the theme of a child facing the death of a loved one, without sugar coating it or giving it an unrealistic wrap up. That’s one of the things that also holds it back a bit, is that it is overall, a very sad film and contains some very serious subject matter despite having a young child as it’s central focus. On a production level, the FX are excellent, especially in the rendition of the tree-like monster, and the hand drawn illustrations that relate the creature’s tales are full of charm. The film has a wonderful visual style, that does not betray the serious tone, from the eye of it’s director. It also adds loads of atmosphere from Orphanage cinematographer Óscar Faura and an equally appropriate score from Orphanage composer Fernando Velázquez. A heartbreaking yet very well made film.
The cast also contributes much with exceptional performances all around. Young Lewis MacDougall is simply amazing with all the emotions he needs to convey as Connor. He presents a sweet natured young boy who must deal with a turmoil of feelings, including anger, with his mother slowly dying before his eyes and having to deal with both his stern grandmother and a bully at school, as well. The young actor is simply wonderful in a very emotionally heavy role. Felicity Jones will break your heart as the young mother trying to stay strong for her son. The actress gives a truly noble and endearing performance as a woman who will leave when she’s good and ready. Weaver is also very good as his grandmother. She’s is a tough women, but not a villain. Weaver let’s us see the pain she is in, watching her own child fading away and somehow having to deal with that and now raise her grandson. It’s a difficult place her character is in and while she may not handle every situation the right way, we do appreciate her position. Neeson, of course does top-notch work giving the monster both a nobility and a ferocity. He is a creature not without a bit of a heart, fierce as he can be. Neeson also appears in a photo as Connor’s grandfather who we assume is gone as well. Actor Tony Kebbell also has a minor role as Connor’s estranged dad.
In conclusion, this is a very well done and emotionally engaging movie. It is also, however, a very sad film and despite having a young boy as it’s focus, tackles that child facing some very adult decisions and emotions. The cast is exceptional and the film looks sumptuous and the movie works very well, despite it’s somber tone, thanks to a director who knows how to tell this kind of tale…with heart, albeit a broken one.
Found footage flick has three sisters reuniting at their family lakeside home to mourn the drowning death of their mother with sister June (Lindsay Burdge) documenting it. The aptly named Spirit Lake is said to be bottomless and there is a local legend about The Seven Sisters, who all drowned one night in the lake trying to save each other as they were each in turn dragged under by some force. With some strange occurrences happening while they stay there, the three women start to believe that their mother’s death was possibly not an accident and there might have been something more supernatural involved.
As written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith (Holidays), the film has some spooky moments, but focuses more on the drama between the three siblings, which isn’t anything we haven’t seen before in this kind of indie drama. There is also no real reason for this to be a POV movie and sometimes it works against the more drama intensive narrative. When the film delves into the more supernatural possibilities, it is more interesting and more effective, though it doesn’t do that often. When the three sisters are reminiscing about their mother and revealing inner pain and such, it just becomes another routine indie family drama. An interesting curiosity, with some spooky moments, but nothing that one needs urgently see. Also stars Jennifer Lafleur and Aleksa Palladino as the other sisters, Annie and Isa.
FLIGHT 7500 (2014)
Story has a flight to Tokyo, Japan experiencing some very strange and deadly supernatural phenomena. When a passenger dies of a sudden seizure, it seems to unleash a mysterious force that begins to stalk the plane and starts killing the passengers. A group of passengers band together to try to find out what is going on and stop it.
Disappointing flick from Takashi Shimizu, who wrote and directed the 90s J-horror classic The Grudge and it’s very effective sequel. It plays like a 70s B-movie disaster flick complete with a cast of cliché characters played by B-list actors like Leslie Bibb, Amy Smart, Jaime Chung, Johnathon Schaech and Halloween’s ScoutTaylor-Compton as a goth chick. It’s basically a very silly film that gets more and more silly as it goes on and evoked memories of a very similar and equally silly 1973 TV movie called The Horror At 37,000 Feet with William Shatner. It’s not all Shimizu’s fault, as it is written by Craig Rosenberg and not one of his own scripts. Given the Japanese director’s track record for creepiness, though, you’d at least expect it to be somewhat spooky. Let’s not even mention the ludicrous and cliché ending. Had a moment or two, but sadly is another example of a Japanese director working for an American studio on a project that is an insult to their talents. Now we know why this has sat on a shelf for two years.
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Intense drama finds aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) in his first year at the Shaffer Conservatory where he strives to be one of the all-time greats like his idol, Buddy Rich. While practicing one night, he catches the ear of renown instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) who is tyrannical and sometimes outright cruel to his students. Invited to join Fletcher’s band, Andrew sees this as the opportunity of a lifetime. Nothing can prepare the young musician, though, for the brutal and humiliating treatment he is about to receive under Fletcher’s tutelage and as Neiman pushes himself to meet the harsh instructor’s demands of perfection, he dangerously straddles the line between hitting the mark and going over the edge.
The whole reason to watch this flick is two dynamic performances from it’s lead actors. Teller, who I’ve never been a big fan of, is excellent as Neiman and J.K. Simmons, who I have always liked, is an absolute powerhouse as Fletcher. These two actors really ignite the screen and have a great chemistry together, especially when they are at odds. Veteran Simmons gives us an explosive tour de force as a man who is a complete dictator one minute and then someone who may truly have his students’ best interests in mind, the next. We see glimpses of a soul and then the monster returns with the blink of an eye. He is remarkable. Teller is a young man with talent and a dream and he gives us a strong performance as an ambitious man with eyes on being the best, who is unprepared for the difficult road ahead in the form of Fletcher. Even Glee’s Melissa Benoist is also very good in a supporting role as Andrew’s love interest. She gives this smaller role some nice heart in her few scenes.
As directed by Damien Chazelle, who also wrote the screenplay based on personal experiences, the film is a high energy, high intensity powder keg waiting to explode…and explode it does. The scenes of Fletcher torturously pushing Neiman crackle with a brutal intensity and you find yourself sweating as much as the characters are. It makes us question the difference between pushing someone to achieve beyond their limits, or just being cruel and abusive. Fletcher claims that he is trying to inspire, yet is he just using that as an excuse to be cruel? This is something we constantly find ourselves questioning and the film gives us reason to believe their may be a heart in Fletcher’s chest, but then also reason to question his sincerity. It keeps us very on edge. While I may not have been totally sold on the events leading up to the powerful finale, it brings this war of wills to an appropriately breathtaking conclusion and one you may not expect.
All is not perfect in Chazelle’s drama as my line above implies… be warned, there are a few SPOILERS here…
First off, it’s hard to believe, in today’s lawsuit happy environment that a teacher as abusive as Fletcher would have gotten this far, especially with the inappropriate language, racist comments and mean-spirited personal things he says to his students…though Chazelle does claim this is based on a real person, I doubt they were this cruel and brutal. While this does come into play here, again, it’s hard to believe he would have gotten this far with no one holding him accountable. Two thirds of the way in, the story takes a turn with such actions and it removes both characters from the school and finds them butting heads again at Jazz festival. It only sets Andrew up to be humiliated by Fletcher, once more, though payback is a bitch and it is a delight to see how it plays out. I also will admit, it’s a little hard to swallow that after all Fletcher put him through, Andrew would be so easily convinced by Fletcher himself, to join his band…again. The events that lead to Andrew leaving Shaffer is also a bit of a contrived act of fate, as is his involvement in Fletcher’s dismissal. Finally, when Andrew is promoted by Fletcher to core drummer, during his time at Shaffer, his change to arrogant douche is way too fast and doesn’t sit right as he appears to be a likable guy with a heart, otherwise. The transformation is a bit too quick.
Overall, even with some questionable story elements, this is an intense drama with a fiery battle between two characters that are superbly acted. Teller and Simmons are amazing to watch and their chemistry in their scenes together is magical. I really enjoyed this flick a lot, even with what I perceived as some story flaws that Fletcher himself may not have tolerated had he been sitting behind Damien Chazelle, while in production. Chazelle though is a good director and while we have yet to see if he can direct as well with a story not so personally close to him, I am eager to find out. A very enjoyable and sometimes brutally intense drama about aspiring to one’s dreams and maybe being pushed too far to achieve them. By the time the credits roll, you may be also be surprised by Chazelle’s answer to some of the questions the story has us asking ourselves.
Otis is another of the contemporary trend of trying to be hip by mixing a disturbing subject with off-color and sometimes inappropriate humor. The effect here is just dull, off-putting and silly. Flick tells of serial killer Otis Broth (Bostin Christopher) who is a disturbed man-child loosely watched over by his older brother Elmo (Kevin Pollack) and living in his dead parents’ house. He delights in kidnapping girls who he all re-names Kim, keeps them prisoner as part of a girlfriend/prom scenario then eventually kills and dismembers them. When he kidnaps pretty Riley (Ashley Johnson) he messes with the wrong family. Directed by Tony Krantz and written by Erik Jendresen and Thomas Schnauz, the film is never disturbing enough to be chilling and not funny enough to be…well, funny. The humor is sophomoric and sometimes just silly and it’s attempts to be shocking fall flat too. Only partial saving grace is a very charming and spunky performance by Johnson (the waitress from The Avengers) as his fifth abductee whose vengeful parents (Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas) ineptly try to take matters into their own hands when police prove incompetent. I know this flick has it’s fans but, aside from liking Johnson’s resilient Riley, I was just bored.
SUMMER’S MOON (SUMMER’S BLOOD) (2009)
Despite a good turn by Ashley Greene and a disturbing portrayal by the reliable Stephen McHattie, this is just an epic fail. Greene plays Summer, a young woman who runs away from her drunken mother to find the father she’s never met and winds up the prisoner of a disturbed young man (Peter Mooney) and his mom (Barbara Niven). Three guesses who the patriarch of the house (McHattie) turns out to be. Film is just kind of a mess with none of it seeming to have much purpose and far too many preposterous conveniences occurring to carry the plot forward or be shocking. Director Lee Demarbre helms this very by-the-numbers and with little atmosphere and the script by Christine Conradt and Sean Hogan seems to like being shocking for shocking sake without legitimately trying to tell a story. We get incest, kidnaping and murder without any real reason why and by the end we really don’t see a point to it all. Greene does better than she is usually given credit for but, the film wastes it on just being bad…and at only 90 minutes, kinda boring too.
THIRD PERSON (2013)
Written and directed by Paul Haggis, this is an interesting and engaging drama with three stories told that we know will connect somehow by the time the credits roll. We have a writer (Liam Neeson) separated from his wife (Kim Basinger) and with his lover Anna (Olivia Wilde) in Paris, while trying to complete a new book. We have Scott (Adrien Brody) on business in Rome who finds himself in the middle of a situation involving a mysterious and beautiful woman (Moran Atias), money and some shady characters. In New York there is troubled ex-actress Julia (Mila Kunis) who is trying to regain visitation with her young son after being accused of trying to harm him. Her artist ex-husband (James Franco) adamantly refuses to let her see him, while her lawyer (Maria Bello) tries desperately to change the judge’s mind despite Julia’s inability to handle the situation responsibly. The three stories are all well directed and acted and while I did figure things out before the reveal, it is still effectively done. Brody’s story is the weak link but, otherwise an entertaining drama with a fine cast.
Faults is an intriguing and entertaining little movie from writer/director Riley Stearns. The story opens with cult expert Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) as his life is falling apart, his latest book has tanked and he owes some shady characters (Lance Reddick and Jon Gries) a lot of money. He sees hope in turning things around when a desperate couple (Beth Grant and Chris Ellis) come to him to for help to rescue their daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from a cult oddly called “Faults”. For a price, Roth kidnaps the young woman and locks her in a hotel room to ‘deprogram’ her. While it seems to be going well at first, events begin to spiral out of control and the line between deprogrammer and subject blurs as does the one between deprogramming and brainwashing…but who is brainwashing who?
I enjoyed this movie. Not only do we get some offbeat characters that populate Roth’s world at the moment, but some interesting questions are posed and there are some nice twists and surprises. Claire appears content and happy when kidnapped by Roth and her parents seem a bit overbearing and controlling. It makes us question the validity of what is transpiring and if her parents have a right to force a full-grown, 28 year-old woman to adhere to their will against her own. We also question whether a man who has lost control over his own life is in any position to try to undo the effects of the cult’s influence, when he seems to be having his own issues. That’s also the fun of this film, which is played seriously, but has a darkly comic atmosphere to it. It gives us things to question, but just when we think we’ve got things figured out, it throws us some twists and curves. There are some nice surprises here and being in the hotel room with our characters in such an intimate setting, sometimes makes us too close to realize there are other things going on, until it’s too late…just like poor Ansel. Tables are turned and characters are not who they seem and Ansel is too focused on his own problems to see it…and it takes the audience awhile to realize it, too, though we do catch on long before our beleaguered ‘expert’. A clever and sometimes downright devious story that is intriguing to watch unfold and is well directed by Stearns.
This wouldn’t have worked as well without a good cast and that it has. Leland Orser really brings Roth to life as a man who is beaten-down and hitting rock bottom and who sees an opportunity to turn things around…so much so, he doesn’t see what’s really going on in front of him. Mary Elizabeth Winstead turns in another strong performance…she was so good in Smashed…that proves she is an underrated actress who really needs more recognition for her work. Her Claire is sweet and a little confused at first, but the more we get to know her, the more we realize she’s far more in control than she let’s on. It’s worth watching alone to see her slowly turn the tables on the man who is supposedly there to ‘fix’ her. Reddick and Gries are good as the oddball thugs Roth owes money to, for his self published failure of a book, and Grant and Ellis shine too, as Claire’s outwardly typical Middle American parents with their own hidden facets. A very good cast.
I definitely recommend this indie flick for those who like something offbeat and intriguing. The script is clever and the performances all strong. It’s an odd little movie for sure but, it’s involving and the story is refreshingly different. Definitely worth a look!
3 kidnapped Claires (for her own good, of course!).