Monday, March 29, 2010

Stay (2005)

Movie quotes:
Sam Foster: What are you going to do?
Henry Letham: [mimes a gun to his head]
Sam Foster: You're going to try to kill yourself? And how serious should I take this threat?
Henry Letham: Saturday at midnight. It's what I'm going to do.
Sam Foster: Okay, you've gotta know that everything just changed, if you talk to me about suicide I'm required to take certain actions.
Henry Letham: Wait, just deal with him
[indicating patient in waiting room]
Henry Letham: , and we'll talk about it next time.
Sam Foster: There's a next time?
Henry Letham: Yeah. Yeah, we got three days.

"If this is a dream, the whole world is inside it."
- Sam Foster

At a glance:
Masquerading as a real-time story of a psychiatrist attempting to help a suicidal art student, Stay is in actuality a visually rich exploration of the imaginative capabilities of the human mind

Our review (with spoilers):
Psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) takes over for a fellow psychiatrist to treat Henry (Ryan Gosling) a severely troubled patient who states that he will kill himself in 3 days. The more Foster delves into the case history, the more confusing it becomes – and he begins to lose his mind as well. Meanwhile, he tries – and fails to avoid discussing the case with his high maintenance artist girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts), who also tried to commit suicide a few years ago. The story is told with beautiful imagery, dreamlike sequences and locations, twins and triplets carrying metal cases, and artfully inventive transitions between scenes.

Stay received an overall low rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but this was because it polarized reviewer. Some hated it; others loved it. In most cases, I like movies such as this. They are usually outside the box, and some reviewers will reject that outright. I crave originality, although it must be said not at any cost: some of David Lynch’s weaker efforts, such as Mulholland Drive, seemed to me to be little more than random words and images pieced together to intrigue his cult of followers, with no real inherent meaning. Stay is in that same vein: you’ll invest a lot of time in trying to decipher it, and you’ll either enjoy the effort (and the inability to truly solve it) or be frustrated by it. Either way, the visuals and acting can be appreciated.

Stay works for me because it is tied, at least loosely, and I suspect quite elaborately, to a real event. For maximum enjoyment, see it with the type of friends who like to discuss movies afterward. Or get on the internet and visit sites like Tuikip’s Blog.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"So often, I have seen films like this that try to walk the fine line between creativity and confusion. Director Marc Forster manages to walk that line with precision."
- Kevin Carr (7M Pictures)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Defendor (2009)

Movie quotes:
"When you break the law, you’re a punk. When you break the law with a badge, you’re a punk with a badge. I don’t strike officers. Punks…different story."
- Defendor

At a glance:
Woody Harrelson’s Forrest Gump like performance as a mentally challenged superhero has some amusing moments, but the emotional impact just isn’t there

Our review (with spoilers):
Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson) is a simple-minded man named who lives on the fringes of society and believes that when he dons his moniker (Defendor), his black eye makeup mask and elaborate hand-made costume, he’s a better man – and a superhero. He fights crime, corruption, and bullying wherever he finds it in the big city, and in this fictional big city amalgamation of all big cities, it’s easy to find.

Defendor’s powers are somewhat limited (marbles, an ancient bully club, and swarms of hornets) ; his crime-fighting forays often earn him a beating – but there’s no doubt he has the heart and the morals of a superhero. His simple-minded quest to find and defeat ‘Captain Industry’ is not some comic-fueled fantasy, however: it is a deep need within him based on facts from his childhood. And Captain Industry is a real, dangerous drug dealer and cold-blooded killer; it seems like Defendor is in way over his head this time.

During his quest, he is adopted (or vice versa) by Kat (Kat Denning) a young hooker who alternates between doing drugs and dealing with some rough johns. Kat moves in with him for a fee – she provides info on Captain Industry - and their symbiotic relationship slowly grows into a deeper friendship.

Defendor the movie isn’t wholly successful, perhaps because it can’t seem to decide if it wants to poke fun at or sanctify its hero. Through glimpses of Arthur’s childhood, we see a truly sad story of a boy who is neglected and never nurtured. But then, the film itself treats him in a similar manner. Likewise, undercover narc Chuck Dooney (Elias Koteas) is treated similarly – his character is written to be s stupid as to be completely unbelievable. I enjoyed Harrelson’s performance, but the emotional punch just wasn’t there for me. I connected more with Michael Kelly’s supporting work as Arthur’s concerned, brotherly employer.

Rating:  2.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"The low-budget movie continually shifts from comic-book spoof to gritty crime story to mental-health drama, the inconsistent tone preventing it from ever fully working as one or another."
- David Germain (Associated Press)

Monday, March 22, 2010

In the Electric Mist (2009)

Movie quotes:
"That’s a beautiful child, Dave. By the time she’s 18 years old, your hair gonna be solid white – if there’s any of it left."
- Batist

"I came to accept that the general, as Bootsie had said, was only a figment of my imagination, there to remind me out of the distant past that the contest is never quite over; the field never quite ours."
- Dave Robicheaux

At a glance:
Local sheriff Dave Robicheaux (Tommy Lee Jones) steadfastly pursues justice in the present and the past as he trudges through his Louisiana backwater attempting to unravel twin mysteries in this moody, deliberate, effective thriller

Our review (with spoilers):
If you lived in a small southern town in Louisiana, you would want Dave Robicheaux  (Tommy Lee Jones) to be your local sheriff. Seasoned, smart, compassionate, incorruptible, and tough as nails, he treats each crime as a personal challenge to get to the truth and find the culprit – no matter who objects. He puts just as much effort into solving the current spate of grisly serial murders of young women as he does into solving the long-standing mystery of why a black man was gunned down in a bayou swamp. You might not want to be this guy’s wife and family, however – long-suffering wife Bootsie (Mary Steenburgen) begins to worry more and more as Dave’s obsession grows, his nights get longer, and the danger he places himself in multiplies.

In this unabashed starring role for Jones, he limps through every scene like a gimpy bloodhound, his sad eyes and sharp nose for crime leading him slowly and deliberately into a deeper swamp of cover-ups and lies. The film is atypically directed by Bernard Tavernier, who brings a welcome, unrushed, non-Hollywood approach to the storytelling. There’s nothing flashy here to distract from Jones’ ultra solid performance, allowing him to carry the film (with help from John Goodman, in another effective supporting role).

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Even though the film meanders a bit, the skilful direction and camerawork combine with strong acting to create an engaging, insinuating thriller"
- Rich Cline (Shadows on the Wall)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dread (2009)

Movie quotes:
"Someone once wrote that no man can know his own death, but to know the death of others…intimately – to watch the tricks the mind would surely perform to avoid the bitter truth – that was a clue to death’s nature…wasn’t it?"
- Quaid

At a glance:
Good performances, writing, and direction combine to make Dread a winning combination of psychological drama and sadistic gore

Our review (with spoilers):
Quaid (Shaun Evans) has been hiding from his past – when he was six, his parents were killed by an axe murderer - as he watched. Now he has inspired Stephen (Jackson Rathbone) to undertake an unusual film project –interviewing people about their greatest fears, about what they truly dread. Driven by Quaid, the film stops being something light to fulfill Stephen’s school assignment, and instead bares the souls of those who are interviewed, and of those making the film. Quaid also wants to deal with his own fears – the film project is part of it, and flushing his copious medications accelerates the unpredictable results of his ramped up aggression.

There’s much to think about and beautiful prose to provoke us in the Dread script – kudos to writer/director Anthony DiBlasi, who adapted a short story of the same name by horror guru Clive Barker. The interesting character interplay is punctuated by quick moments of sheer nightmare gore, fostered by Quaid’s dark past and nurtured in his future.

Now, those of you who know me know I don’t really like the more sadistic and gory aspects of horror films, nor do I particularly like getting cheap scares caused by noise combined with clever editing. So why am I watching (and reviewing) horror films? Good question, one that will especially be asked by those of you who love them, and particularly by those of you who love this one. Well, this one IS good – I give you that. I love these films in their ‘suspense’ modes, when we are waiting for something really bad to happen, but we don’t know if or when. When those really bad things happen, however, I don’t like to watch. I think about copycats during these moments. I don’t mind nightmare images, but I do mind people being sadistic. Dread has some heavy sadism, but I watched, because it was attached to  interesting characters with back stories. And it was still intriguing to see just how far they would go. And they do go far. Unfortunately, some horror critics felt the film meandered. They don’t enjoy the buildup of suspense as much as I do. Go figure.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Directed in an un-showy, controlled fashion with understated use of music and a total absence of contrived shock effects, Dread is a very impressive piece of work."
- Steven West (The Horror Review)