John (John C. Reilly) has been divorced for seven years and finally meets a beautiful, single woman named Molly (Marisa Tomei). The only thing standing in the way of true romance, though, is Molly’s uncomfortably close relationship with her clingy and extremely jealous son Cyrus (Jonah Hill).
Cyrus is written and directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass and is a very enjoyable indie comedy/drama for a number of reasons. It’s original, it’s funny and it also borders on brilliant in portraying those uncomfortable situations that occur when things aren’t quite right and we don’t know how to deal with them. Most of all, it’s the performances that make this so worth watching. Marisa Tomei once again proves she is a remarkable actress who deserves her every award and nomination she’s achieved. It is, though, John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill who really surprise us with strong performances as two very dysfunctional people. Reilly and Hill show they can really act when given strong material and aren’t reduced to comic sidekicks and supporting characters like they usually are. Both handle their roles with layered performances and their scenes together bristle with emotion and energy, as the two characters fight for dominance in what turns into a sort of twisted love triangle. If you like offbeat indie films this is a real treat.
Awful and annoying flick opens with a quick kill and then settles in for over an hour of a gathering of the most superficial, rich, spoiled mean-spirited, twelve year-olds you’d ever not want to meet. After watching them say horrible things to each other and try on clothes, the killer finally shows up with twenty minutes left to the film. At this point we want them all dead anyway and the killer is exactly who you figured it is. All the fancy emoji animation and cellphone clips just cement the notion that writer/director Tara Subkoff is not nearly as clever here as she thinks she is and her efforts to be hip fall flat. Some nice shot framing and cinematography, but otherwise completely forgettable. Somehow features names like Chloë Sevigny and Timothy Hutton as equally vapid parents.
Written and directed by Sonny Malhi, this supernatural thriller starts out interesting and a bit spooky. The story finds emotionally troubled teen Jess (Ryan Simpkins) moving into a new home and starting to experience strange visions and sensations. Her mother (Annika Marks) thinks it’s part of her Dissociative Identity Disorder, but soon they realized she is being haunted by a young girl, Lucinda (Amberley Gridley) who recently died in an accident.
Flick starts out effectively, then looses it’s grip somewhat when it becomes an outright possession flick. There are also scenes set in the hereafter where Jess’ consciousness and Lucinda’s spirit confer, that just don’t grab like they should. Lucinda’s mother (Karina Logue) also just happens to have experience, from living in India, about people who can channel the spirits of others and thus conveniently provides the exposition needed. It’s a plot contrivance that really sticks out. At least the film gets credit for focusing on a non-malevolent spirit possession this time and a host almost willing to let her inhabit her. Not a bad flick, but also one that isn’t completely successful either.
Creep is another flick that has a good idea and starts out effectively, but looses you in it’s last act. The story finds struggling videographer Aaron (Patrick Brice who also directed and co-wrote) accepting a job filming a man, Josef (Mark Duplass who also co-wrote with Brice) with terminal cancer at a remote cabin. The goal is for Josef to say goodbye to the unborn child he won’t live to see. As the session goes on through the day, however, Josef’s behavior gets increasingly bizarre and Aaron goes from uncomfortable to downright scared as things start to spiral out of control.
For the first two acts, this flick worked. Duplass was appropriately creepy and the remote cabin setting gave the flick the proper feeling of isolation. It’s when we leave that setting in the last act and Aaron returns home to continue to be stalked by Josef that the film looses it’s grip. It becomes a routine stalking flick that gets increasingly silly as it goes along until it reaches it’s predictable climax. The found footage format works, as usual, until we realize someone should be putting the camera down and running. Worth a look as it is effective for it’s first two thirds and the performance by Duplass really does make you uncomfortable. Too bad they couldn’t find a more interesting and intense way to end it.
THE LAZARUS EFFECT (2014)
I credit Blumhouse Pictures a lot for the recent horror renaissance, so it’s disappointing when they crank out a lazy, generic piece of PG-13 horror like this. The Lazarus Effect is a routine, derivative (Flatliners anyone?) and predictable story about some scientists and students who are working on a way to prolong the period of time in which a recently dead person can be successfully resuscitated. Predictably, one of the group is accidentally killed and the far from perfect formula is used to revive them. Also predictably, they don’t come back quite normal. Film is competently directed by David Gelb, but the script by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater reeks of been-there-done-that. We’ve seen all of it before and much better done. The film also wastes a good cast on top of that. Wasn’t completely bored, but wasn’t completely interested either. Stars Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters, Community’s Donald Glover and Ray Wise.
SOMETHING WICKED (2009)
The most heartbreaking thing about this flick is that it is the last film starring the underrated and sadly gone too soon Brittany Murphy. it’s no surprise this convoluted mess was left on a shelf for five years before finally getting a minimal release. The barely coherent story follows pretty Christine Webb (Shantel VanSanten), who graduates high school and on the night of celebration and her announcement that she and her boyfriend James (John Robinson) want to get married, gets into a horrible car accident that costs the life of her parents. A year later Christine is married and in college and being stalked by a mysterious figure. She is also lusted after by her cop brother (James Patrick Stuart), her husband’s co-worker Ryan (Julian Morris) and apparently the director of this film as all the close-up shots of the pretty Miss VanSanten border on softcore porn. Murphy plays cop brother Bill’s psychiatrist wife whose barren womb sends the police officer into another woman’s bed…and to lust after his sister like we mentioned. There is a conspiracy of murder and shocking reveals and by the end of this badly edited soap opera level mess, I lost track of all the plots, sub-plots and double crosses and joined the cinematographer in staring at Shantel VanSanten’s shapely rear. Was there even a point to this movie?
I’m not a big fan of the Troma movies and this Canadian horror/comedy is definitely in the Troma-wannabe category. The story takes place in the rural town of Woodhaven and finds lazy, alcoholic cop Lou (Leo Fafard) being transformed into a werewolf by a group of cultists, who need werewolf blood for a ceremony to make themselves more powerful. Lou though, won’t let a slight case of lycanthropy keep him from catching the bad guys. The use of practical gore and make-up effects is about all this dull and unfunny flick has going for it. Most of the attempts at humor fall flat and the action sequences are very routine and strictly low budget…which would be fine if they had some energy or style. There are generous amounts of blood spattered, but the film is lethargically paced even for a movie that isn’t even 80 minutes long. That and it is just trying way too hard to be a midnight movie and the best of those types of flicks usually happen unintentionally. Not sure where all the internet hype comes from, as it lacks the style, originality, cleverness or outright manic over-the-top ferocity that makes a good cult classic.
Decided to focus this double feature on two charming and very entertaining indie comedy/dramas that might have flown a bit under the radar but, have familiar faces, good performances and are refreshingly un-Hollywood…
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012)
Safety Not Guaranteed is a really entertaining and offbeat romantic comedy from director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly that tells the story of Darius (Aubrey Plaza) an intern at a high profile Seattle based magazine whose first assignment is to assist self-centered reporter Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) in writing a piece on a man who placed a personal ad looking for a time travel companion. While Jeff uses the story as an excuse to look up an ex-girlfriend who lives in the area (Jenica Bergere), Darius befriends the placer of the ad, Kenneth (Mark Duplass) and soon finds a bond with the eccentric and lonely man. Director Trevorrow crafts a sweet and quirky tale of two loners who find each other over some very strange circumstances. And while the film sometimes plays like a drama, there are some laugh out loud bits and there is always an offbeat humor running underneath. The cast do really well in bringing their eclectic characters to life with Plaza and Duplass doing a great job of showing the progression of two people learning to trust each other and then discovering much deeper feelings as they get to know each other. We get to watch a sweet relationship form between these two lost souls all the while being teased with the notion that maybe Kenneth may not be so crazy after all… or maybe he is. The other subplot between Jeff and Liz also shows a sweeter side of the cocky Jeff and possibly humbles him a bit as well and is nicely realized by actor Johnson. To elaborate anymore would be to spoil a really nice indie flick that has some pleasant surprises. Also stars Kristen Bell as woman with ties to Kenneth and Karan Soni as accompanying intern Arnau, who Jeff decides to motivate out of his shell. A quirky, original and entertaining indie.
3 and 1/2 hearts!
TAKE THIS WALTZ (2011)
One of my favorite things about this charming indie drama was that I really enjoyed was just how real the relationships in the film came across. Writer/director Sarah Polley creates a freshness and realness to this story of a happy young married couple Margo (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) whose happy life is challenged when Margo meets and falls for neighbor and artist, Daniel (Luke Kirby). Margo thought she had what she wanted but, the free spirited Luke makes her question whether she is really happy with Lou or just thinks she’s happy. As Lou becomes focused on writing a cookbook, Margo begins to explore what she really wants… or is it. And that’s the thing that I felt was so real about this charming little movie. Margo’s answers are never clear as in life they sometimes aren’t. Are we really happy or just convincing ourselves to settle for what we have? Is it human nature to always think there is something better for us out there and thus were never are truly content or satisfied? These are true life questions and questions we ask ourselves as we watch Margo pursue a course which could cost her everything. And, of course there is the age old question, of the grass always appearing greener. I really enjoyed how director Polley gave the film a very refreshing style and really made the characters seem like real people. They all have their little quirks and habits and they make decisions based on emotions and are sometimes selfish and not careful about hurting those around them… and they don’t always know what they really want. The performances are strong across the board with Michelle Williams giving another great characterization of the almost childlike Margo, who’s very likable despite her selfish pursuits. Seth Rogen surprises as Lou, a man who obviously loves Margo but, has his own goals and is a little too focused on such to notice his wife is troubled. Luke Kirby is good as the artist Daniel who, much like Margo, decides to selfishly pursue their attraction despite knowing she is married and he will likely undo that. Rounding out the main characters is a perfectly cast Sarah Silverman as Lou’s sarcastic alcoholic sister Geraldine. All in all, this is a refreshingly un-Hollywood indie that takes a look at real people with real emotions making real and sometimes selfish and stupid decisions. Something we are all guilty of and that’s why we can identify with these people and how love or, what we think is love, can be such a confusing factor in our lives. And, most of all, is there such a thing as true happiness or is it an illusion we create ourselves? A very interesting drama that does have a quirky sense of humor to go along with the more serious moments. Also loved director Polley’s visual style and how she made use of the film’s charming Canadian neighborhood locations.
3 and 1/2 hearts!