All posts by nyccritic

ON DVD: THE DANISH GIRL

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

i’m going to have to admit to a pesky little secret. I’m actually glad Nicole Kidman — for all of the excellent actress she can be when she desires — didn’t get the part of Lili Elbe when she was lobbying for it a little under ten years ago. I recall after seeing her in Manderley she had become attached to the project where it languished and floated in the background until it seemed to fade away . . . that is, until it took on a new life under Eddie Redmayne and the rest as you have seen, is history. It’s not that I don’t believe she would have played the part well; I just think it was the entirely wrong project for someone of her essence.

Enter Tom Hooper, Redmayne, and Alicia Vikander, hot of a gaggle of good movies that gave her the clout to get the part of Gerda Wegener, the artist-wife of Einar Wegener who inadvertently introduces him to not just donning female clothes and posing, but discovering a greater reality — that he, in fact, was a woman trapped inside a man’s body.

The Danish Girl comes at a time where trans-visibility is making its mark in society and tells the story of the first recorded male to female transgender person with grace and sensitivity without becoming too melodramatic. On that note and many others, I would say it does a good job and there are a couple of rather striking sequences, such as when in search for a therapist to treat his ‘malady’ Einar almost finds himself committed against his will and uniformly considered to be insane and a pervert. Or the smaller moments when Einar, as Lili Elbe, smiles and lifts up her arms to cover up her chest in a coy pose, you can forget that it’s Redmayne that you’re seeing and realize this is a woman on the verge of being a fully realized creature.

Alicia Vikander, however, to me, makes the movie come alive. Much of what transpires gets displayed on her face and her character’s art: the subtle expressions of confusion and playfulness that she experiences when Einar, after attending a party, reveals he’s wearing her undergarments, for example. To that, followed by their frequent incursions into stores in what now is known as cosplay. Clearly Gerda could not know what was brewing undrneath the surface, and when she realizes just what’s happening . . . well.

There are portions of the movie that seem a little tacked on for an enhanced dramatic story, such as Lili’s fumbled romantic encounters with a male friend (Ben Whishaw) but other than that The Danish Girl as a whole is a well crafted vision of what could have been the real Llii Elbe as recorded (some events are compressed to create a more fluid storyline and technically, Gerda did leave her husband years before his transition although they remained in contact and maybe initiated a lesbian relationship, a thing left unexplored in the final film version), and I believe this movie will serve as a study for future generations on how transgender men and women would have been seen at the dawn of the XXth century.

ON DVD: CREED

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5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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If anyone would have ever told me that there was yet another story waiting in the wings within the Rocky Balboa saga I would have laughed out myself into a coma for reasons that are more than obvious. How many times did Rocky have to fight against an unbeatable opponent? All that was left was placing him in the ring against a cyborg, or an alien or worse, a spoof (which actually, did happen: I can’t but think Grudge Match was in some way a not so subtle jab at all the Rocky movies gone bad). No, by the end of 2015, the Rocky Balboa story had come to a close, end of the line, time’s up, shop is closing. EVERYTHING MUST GO.

But . . . of course, there is always a but. It’s a “but” that was probably born in the seeds of Rocky V. Somewhere the spirit of Sage Stallone lives on this film, but now the part of the surrogate son has been taken over by a one-time rival and later friend Apollo Creed’s son Adonis, a young man rescued from a life of possible crime and delinquency who learns of his origins and now watches his father on YouTube clips. When he leaves what seems to be a promising job in an LA firm to come all the way back East to where it all started — Philadelphia — we can sense a hunger in Adonis. He wants this, to get in a ring and fight . . . but he needs the guidance to get there. And that man is none other than Rocky Balboa.

But no, this is not another Rocky gets in the ring and fights movie — far from it, Rocky, now owner of the restaurant that memorializes his wife Adrian’s name (she has died of cancer, off-screen), is far from the passionate man he once was. He’s become a much more sedate person, speaking in quiet tones, and can offer but a meal to this kid who wants his help in training him. It’s only after some serious thought in a touching scene where Rocky visits Adrian’s grave that he relents to become the young Adonis’ mentor while keeping his identity a secret from other boxing gym owners who may want to jump in on the money bandwagon and make a quick buck off of associating with Adonis.

At its heart, Ryan Coogler has reinvented a tired old rags to richers / ignominy to fame story that made Rocky a household winner in 1976 and spun it into powerful life with some truly ferocious direction and acting from both Michael B Jordan and Sylvester Stallone that has to be seen. Jordan, much like the younger Rocky, is a reserved mask of tenacity hiding a bruised soul that needs to forgive himself before he can come into his own in the ring. Stallone now steps into the role made famous by Burgess Meredith, and I will say, his scenes are handled almost delicately — with measured weight, dignity, and the right amount of subtle pathos. Stallone’s Balboa is a tired man hiding a deeper secret, who still can “put ’em up and show a kid how it’s done. It’s his most elegant performance to date after years and years of playing uber-macho characters. Tessa Thompson is also a standout as Bianca, the girl Adonis falls for who has some issues of her own. Someone give this actress a  movie already–she’s been oozing presence now for three standout pictures starting with Dear White People and Selma.

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Creed is still a Rocky film at heart and isn’t afraid to show its somewhat manipulative streak, but you can forgive it for being so because of the near-perfect direction Ryan Coogler gets out of its story and performers. If you thought seeing Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum was the emotional peak of a man ready to get dirty, you need to see Creed’s biker sequence. It’s as operatic as anything committed to screen.

And shame on the Academy for shutting Creed out of directing, movie, and actor slots. Shame, shame, shame.

 

 

 

 

BETWEEN HELL AND A GREEN ROOM

Green Room:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Baskin:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Try to survive in the green room.
Try to survive in the green room.

After the show, Jeremy Saulnier came out and spoke to the audience on his new movie Green Room, how he stumbled upon the story, how he himself was part of the story (he was a member of a punk-rock band in the 90s), and his love for exploitation flicks. It was quite an insight to someone who’s quickly establishing himself as a director of note who hasn’t yet sold out to Big Hollywood and suddenly churned out another (yawn) rehash of a Marvel/DC superhero movie. Not that that isn’t okay — hey, to each their own, I don’t judge, it’s their pockets, not mine. Even so, to see a director not selling out and sticking to smaller, genre pics (for the moment) is pretty refreshing.

If any of you saw his 2014 Blue Ruin (which singlehandedly became the sleeper thriller/neo-Western of the year), you saw a finely drawn character study of a broken man out to protect his sister from the man who years before killed his parents. Its (anti)hero Dwight, played by the taciturn and scraggly Macon Blair couldn’t be farther removed from the unstoppable force that is Liam Neeson in the Taken films (or, apparently, any film where he’s the good guy in an impossible situation). Notwithstanding, Dwight is as tunnel-visioned as the most hardcore of them, and when his mission generates an unexpected reaction from an entire family, the film then takes revenge and retribution into a whole different level altogether, elevating it almost to Coen Brother’s status.

Green Room is completely different, and at the same time, a little like Blue Ruin’s more streamlined companion. There is a family, or let’s say, two of sorts, and yes, there is battle, and the overwhelming need for survival instinct, but the similarities end there. Green Room is more muscular in its setup and delivery and doesn’t have the gravitas that Blue Ruin exhibited, and there are moments of so much self-awareness and black as night humor it’s a wonder this couldn’t also pass as a mock-up of cheap B-movies.

A DC punk band lands a well-paying gig at a remote location. Once they arrive to the place they realize it’s a watering hole for White supremacists looking to vent their aggression with hyper-loud punk music. Their gig goes well albeit the initial misstep, and here is where Saulnier starts to introduce a sense of menace just outside the melee of bargoers — a large, tattooed skinhead spitting his drink at the howling singer, and two odd looking girls meandering through. Once the band returns to the green room to a nasty event of someone getting a knife through their head, the gloves are off. The band manages to outwit the bouncer and take possession of his gun. Pat (Anton Yelchin); the bar proprietor, Darcy (Patrick Stewart in a completely different role) wants them to hand the gun, come out, and promises no harm. The tension in this scene is almost unbearable.

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Green Room from here on explodes in scene after scene of escalating violence as two groups of people fight to overthrow the other. There is so little characterization that the players emerge mainly as archetypes, but that’s precisely the point in this homage to exploitation films — no one is a true person; everyone is there to serve a plot and drive the story home. Saulnier is Green Room’s true star, delivering a tightly-directed story filled with mood, snappy lines, shocking violence, gallows humor, and a pretty good amount of nastiness. There’s probably one too many subplots playing in the background as to who did what first, but you won’t care once the carnage starts. This should be pretty good performer for horror movie lovers once it gets released later in April.

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Coming out of Turkey is a cop movie with a decidedly wicked twist worthy of David Lynch, Lovecraft, or Giallo movies. Baskin, which in Turkish stands for “raid” is a lurid dream within a dream within reality, well-made, if a little uneven or over the top, leading to a clever Moebius strip that forces the story to unfold back into itself into a hellish replay.

The story has a prologue and epilogue of sorts. A young boy wakes up to hear his parents having loud sex. When he knocks into their room, a strange, misshapen claw of a hand creeps out of another room, beckoning. Cut to the present, and you meet the five cops of the story. There is an extended scene straight out of Goodfellas where a bumbling waiter laughs at a homophobic cop’s joke that winds up with them fighting. It seems completely out of place within the scope of the picture, but this is all setup. Once they get a distress call from another cop asking assistance in the town of Incengaz [sic], and another cop almost loses his shit while staring at himself in the mirror, Baskin hits its story.

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They take off and have encounters with escalating weirdness: frogs, frogs, and more frogs, a naked man crossing the road, and a very strange family. Nothing, of course, can prepare them for what comes next. But while we get there, we’re pulled out of the story and into the best scene in the movie where two officers creep each other out — one with the nightmarish sequence that starts the movie, the other with the tale of being watched . . . and just over his shoulder, in the background, a shadow so unsettling it made my skin crawl.

Baskin devolves into gross out for the sake of it which distills the power it would have had to horrify had it taken a minimalist route. As it stands it is also a pretty good little horror movie that should appeal lovers of gore and straight up bizarre images heavy with faux-Satanic symbolism.

REMEMBER

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Christopher Plummer plays Zev Guttman, a man on a mission in Atom Egoyan's Remember.
Christopher Plummer plays Zev Guttman, a man on a mission in Atom Egoyan’s Remember.

Time and memory form the basis of Atom Egoyan’s new thriller, Remember. Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer, subdued, but what a presence), a 90-year old survivor from the concentration camps in Auschwitz, lives in a foggy state of a suspended present in an old person’s home. He believes his wife Ruth is still alive when in fact, she is dead. He’s also in the early stages of Alzeimer’s, a condition that will become more prominent later on. The one person he is close to, presently, is Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau), with whom he shares the Auschwitz past. When a conversation with Rosenbaum takes a dark turn, however, Remember starts to unfold itself into a story of a man out to execute vengeance at whatever the cost.

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You see, Max was a collaborator with Simon Wiesenthal and has taken up to himself to continue the task of hunting down former Nazi criminals. He wants Zev to kill a man named Rudy Kurlander, and has it all arranged to make Zev’s trip as easy and simple as possible. Zev does indeed uncover several Rudy Kurlanders — the most poignant being a German dying of AIDs who was once marked, just like Guttman, for being a homosexual.

Midway into the story Guttman encounters another Kurlander — one of his descenants, but the story keeps reserving the fateful encounter with the real one for the climax. This one, however, proves just as powerful and difficult to watch. While Nazism may be apparently dead, it’s alive and well in this man’s house. John Kurlander (Dean Norris), a sheriff with a passion for all things German, is a raving Neo-Nazi and has the house riddled in Nazi memorabilia, Once he learns Guttman is Jewish, things turn for the worst.

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Egoyan’s movie is far from his best, but it’s a tense one-man thriller that brings some completely unexpected surprises in its third and inevitable third act. Suffice it to say that when you can’t remember the past, you are doomed to repeat it forever. In Remember, denial also becomes a way for the long hand of the past to come reaching for you and sweep the rug of the present right off your feet.

Remember is still currently playing at the Angelika at Houston, so far, until Thursday, March 31.

KNIGHT OF CUPS

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

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No one does movies like Terence Malick. You may rile and make a row about his indulgence, his pretty pictures with similar backdrops, and his penchant for an abstraction of a plot that seems to exist only in the air. I actually resonate with his cinema, and I’ll tell you why.

It’s pure cinema, plain and simple. Malick’s movies aren’t for people who like straightforward stories with clear scenes, necessary dialog, and even transitions. Having read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Anais Nin’s Spy in the House of Love and House of Incest I realized that stories could still happen, but be retold from the perspective of memory and purely internal language devoid of words. Thought, feeling, experiencing the world as a chaotic yet coherent whole: and yet, a story remains, intact, distilled into the bare essences, told in symbols.

My advice to anyone — you included, dear reader — coming into Malick’s world, to please start from the beginning.The man has only made a handful of movies in a little over 40 years. Badlands (1973) already shows the signs of his very personal style while retaining a tight narrative over a sparse 90 minutes and is a striking debut. It’s once you come across 2005’s The New World where his penchant for eschewing literal storytelling in favor for voice-overs and characters’ internal language starts to become apparent. By the time you reach his fifth film, 2011’s The Tree of Life, Malick has completely abandoned narrative, and created a fascinating coming of age story of a boy in the 50s perfectly braided with the man he became, climaxing in one of the most surreal, yet boldly moving shots in film history. Plainly simple, The Tree of Life is a masterpiece of esoteric, transcendental storytelling.

Knight of Cups employs a similar presentation, and Rick, a screenwriter, is adrift much like the architect in Tree of Life, moving around a vapid Los Angeles filled with decadence and debauchery. He is haunted by the people in his life: a complicated relationship with his younger brother (Wes Bentley), his father (Brian Dennehy), and his estranged wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett). Other women drift in and out of his life like water through a filter, leaving only fleeting impressions of themselves. All the time, his thoughts in the forefront, his memories of time and emotions experienced, a whispered confession to an audience that becomes privy to this man’s quiet pain, told in rich, fluid images that transition freely from one segment to the other, divided in chapters that represent a Tarot card. Some of the Tarot symbols (The Hanged Man, Judgement, Death) come through clear; others are questionable or understandable only to Malick himself.

If all this seems a bit lofty, it probably may be, but it’s really  not. All Malick does is subvert the narrative and go into a visual stream of consciousness, which if you listen closely, is your own inner voice. Life doesn’t occur neatly: there aren’t fade-to-blacks, no sudden cuts, no sharp lines spoken. When Rick moves around and through the areas that bring memory back to the front, we see the character he’s reminiscing about with him, as if the scene was being relived. And isn’t that how we tend to remember people? It’s hardly ever in a concrete environment: you see them walking with you, looking at you, while the disembodied echoes of memory mixes with eyes looking at each other, gestures made, the occasional explosion of emotion.

All else I can say about Knight of Cups and Malick’s cinema is that this is the work of a man operating at a much higher level than most people. It’s rather easy to write dialogue, explain to the audience (or as I like to say, talk down to it) what is taking place. Fast editing has become commonplace in movie-making today. After all, who wants to sit and stare at a long take and see actors way in the background, moving but not speaking, only communicating through non-verbal language? Malick isn’t interested in that. He’s clearly more focused in the nuances that we take for granted. We don’t need to see, for example, a progressive dissolution of Rick and Nancy’s marriage: what he gives us is the aftermath, and a revisit to that moment when all was well before segueing into a beach scene, both dressed in black. Scenes of a plane flying high in the deep blue sky show up as a motif that to me seems a sense of freedom seen from a man trapped in his own drama. That freedom will come later as a symbol and an apparently stable relationship is not a spoiler but a natural progression of the story, the next step, the Tarot that doesn’t get shown.

What also got to me was the sense of time as something fleeting, ephemeral. Malick’s style is perfectly suited for compressing events into a mere scene or flashback sequence. In Knight of Cups, the people who Rick crosses in his path are many, but the one emotion I got was Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. All these people, some who know each other, some who never will, connected by love, anger, moving towards the unknown. It’s only fitting that the pervading song that keeps resonating is Exodus. Constant movement, on the way out, but lingering.

 

 

THE CLAN

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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The opening scene of The Clan is as frightening as they come. We open onto a scene of domestic peace, with a young man and a woman –whom we will learn are Alejandro (Peter Lanzani) and his girlfriend Monica (Stefania Goessel) — about to enjoy a quiet dinner together. Suddenly, their sense of peace gets turned on its head as the world comes crashing in, the girl thrown against the wall, screaming, the son tackled by strange men.

We then cut to a defining moment in Argentine history several years before. Patriarch Arquimedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella, completely against type but perfect), watching television, his face a mask disclosing zero emotion, except for the eyes which are working. You see, Argentina has now moved away from its Dirty War period where that claimed the lives of so many, now known as the “disappeared”, and Raul Alfonsin’s coming into power pointed towards a new page in Argentina’s history. Times were changing.

The following scene shows Alejandro asking his rugby teammate Ricardo Manoukian for a ride. As they drive down the road they become intercepted by some masked men. Fearful for their lives, not knowing what’s going on they have no choice but to comply. Until we realize that once Ricardo is dumped into the trunk of the car, his screams still audible, that Arquimedes is the one pulling this kidnapping . . . and is using Alejandro as an accomplice.

They say the family that kidnaps together, stays together. Arquimedes has by choice turned to kidnapping the those he sees as rich and powerful for monetary gain. The Clan doesn’t try to explain a motive for his actions, and the way he goes from ruthless kidnapper to strict but loving father and husband is chilling. As a matter of fact, the entire Puccio household is a contrast in domestic bliss and a dungeon of terror straight out of 10 Cloverfield Lane, or House of Horrors, the Investigative Discovery series. A dinner scene ignores that just walls away Ricardo (and others) are locked and shackled away in pure, abject terror. Even more sickening is when Arquimedes has Ricardo not just write the letter that seals his fate to his family, but inserts words of emotion to make it as devastating as possible. This is, to me, the height of cruelty, and one that defines Arquimedes’ character as a pure psychopath.

The Clan thankfully doesn’t go into full-out horror, instead of opting for moments of pitch-black humor expressed in its characters, an accidental murder sequence worthy of a Tarantino film, and a soundtrack that would make Martin Scorcese squeal. It does make a couple of missteps in the jumping back and forth — one scene involving a female victim plays out, twice. We don’t get too deep into what Puccio does for a living (although I would guess he gets a pension as a former government official). I felt that the women got the short end of the stick — Epifania Puccio and Monica are somewhat bland and male-dependent, compared to their male counterparts. Even an absent son gets ample screen time (but then again, in reality, the men did the work, and the women looked the other way). Even so it’s a bone-chilling portrait of the depths and levels of depravity which some people will go to ensure their status. Or perhaps, this is all Arquimedes knows — and is too addicted to that style of life to suddenly find himself set aside. We’ll never know.

EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

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There are films, and then there are films. I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but when you see movie after movie after movie, often non-stop, and then something like Embrace of the Serpent reveals itself, your eyes literally fly open. You feel as if though somehow, the fabric of the screen had somehow trickled away into dust and disclosed another world, time and place, a beckoning, living paradise drenched in wonders, adventure, and mysteries just waiting to be discovered.

Split into two timeframes — 1909 and 1940 –, Embrace of the Serpent is the story of Karamakate, the last surviving member of his own tribe, living in solitude in the Vaupes, deep in the heart of Colombia.

The first time period, 1909, has Karamakate (Nilbio Torres, a commanding, warrior presence) coming upon Theo (Jan Bijvoet), an explorer whose fallen sick, and his partner, the Westernized indian Manduca (Yauenku Migue) who asks Karamakate for help. Karamakate expresses an open distrust for Theo — after all, he is a Blanco, a white man, and they’ve been responsible for decimating his tribe. Theo expresses that he’s only searching for the yakruna, and that he can help Karamakate find remaining members of his tribe along the way.

A gradual, yet sometimes volatile relationship develops between the three men as they canoe through the river. On their way to the fabled yakruna, they come across a rubber worker who begs Manduca for death, poisonous food that Theo in his ignorance ingests, and a tribe whose leader steals Theo’s compass. Upon discovering the act, his goodbye sours; he needs the compass, but also states that these people will lose their own tradition of using the sky for location. Karamakate counters, justifiably, that knowledge shouldn’t be for a chosen few.

One of the more telling encounters is at a mission where a monk has seemingly converted young boys into the ways of the Spanish. At first fearful that the three men will raid his place, he accepts their visit. Here is where a sense of religious hypocrisy comes into the picture: later on, the men realize the monk has forbidden the boys speak their native language and whips one of them savagely. This visit will repeat itself in a moment straight out of a cult movie, when in 1940 an older Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) and another explorer, Evan (Brionne Davis), come upon the now grown men from that mission, living under the vicious thumb of a man who believes himself to be the Christ and who’s clearly insane. It’s a perversion of the previous scene and a symbolic indication of how south things went after the Spanish conquered the new world. In eradicating most of the native culture (deemed heretic and barbaric), they plunged the remaining people into an even more savage reality, as dark as the Dark Ages, bordering on religious frenzy.

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And in the midst, the Maguffin of the story, the elusive yakruna, the rare pearl beckoning both Theo and Evan, both with Karamakate as a guide: withholding and willing to destroy information to preserve something pristine, but a little more giving the second time around. Perhaps the zeal of youth is to blame; who wouldn’t protect the secrets of his own civilization before allowing it to be corrupted by a society determined on imposing its stamp and stamping everything else out?

Of course, the older Karamakate has mellowed, it seems, and can now only dispense knowledge where in the past, he would have kept it for himself. Perhaps that is all he can aspire to. Embrace of the Serpent is a fascinating epic like no other, it’s its own Apocalypse Now, demonstrating the heavy load that being the sole survivor of one’s own people it can be.

SOUTHBOUND

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2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

Horror comes to an unnamed highway in the American desert in this somewhat unbalanced but average anthology. There are a couple of inspired elements here — instead of taking the usual route of terminating a segment, titles and all, and starting the next one (as in chapters), it uses one character from one to place him (or her) in the next. One of the more effective stories is the second segment, where three female band members stumble onto a devil worshiping family (all who seem like rejects from a terrible dress-up version of Mad Men and enunciate their lines so badly you can almost spot the cue cards just off-screen). One of them manages to make it to the next thread only to have a rather fatal encounter with a reckless driver who in calling 911 for help gets a rather sinister request from the person on the other line. Somewhat more effective is the following story that takes off where the third segment ends and follows the disembodied voice operator from the third segment into a bar I’d rather not go into.

Southbound is has moments of retro-horror reminiscent of Cinemax / HBO-made movies from the late 80s and early 90s complete with chintzy special effects, cardboard acting, and the ever omniscient Narrator (here played by Larry Fessenden). It’s not bound to make any waves, but should suffice for a Friday evening in front of the TV when nothing else happens to be on.

Southbound is available on VOD via iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

THE WAVE

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then I’m glad that a movie like The Wave exists.  The Wave is a Hollywood disaster picture with Hollywood production values, a heart-thumping, countdown to zero plot, suspense to spare, strong acting (even within archetypes), and nail-biting suspense packaged in a muscular 100 minutes. It says something when a movie like this comes along and makes travesties like last year’s San Andreas and 2012’s 2012 look like exercises in American excess in the genre.

Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) picks the wrong time to leave his job as a geologist monitoring the mountains surrounding Geiranger to take another less stressful job in town (and moving his family in the interim to the hotel where his wife Idun (Ann Dahl Torp) works at the front desk). However, he can’t extricate himself completely from his former occupation, because he continues to monitor the continuous activity stemming from the area (and letting his now ex-coworkers know, who dismiss him entirely). When he realizes that the cables monitoring the erosion have snapped and two of his ex-coworkers who have gone to explore the crevasse are in mortal danger . . . well. You guessed it. Things are about to get as bad as they will, and from here on, the movie shifts into high gear. Try not to be at the edge of your seat from here on.

The Wave offers a fantastic set-piece as Kristian, who has attempted to go into town to rescue his family, has to turn around and with his daughter head for higher ground in 10 minutes or risk be swept away by a massive wall of water. I couldn’t imagine a better sequence than this one: seeing people run up the road as in the distance you see a blurry but relentless monstrous wave hurtling towards the townspeople is terrifying. Even more so is the evacuation sequence in which Idun herds hotel guests onto a bus to attempt to out-drive the wave, and suddenly becomes aware her own son, Sondre, has gone missing. [Earlier in the movie Sondre had left his hotel room and gone into the hotel basement to skateboard while wearing his headphones and was unaware of the chaos upstairs.]

To be honest, this is a pretty predictable picture down to some of the minor characters and some of the events that take place just as the giant wave barrels into town will remind you of The Poseidon Adventure and The Impossible. I didn’t mind at all: it was so tense, so emotionally wrenching, all that I thought was “Run for the hills! Higher ground, people!” There is a moment where Swedish actor Thomas Bo Larsen’s character has a meltdown which goes rather badly, and it reminded me, Europeans, as usual, tend to go into darker places than Americans.

The Wave was released in a very limited scope — perhaps its lack of an Oscar nomination being the cause — but it’s available on Video on Demand. Do yourself a favor and watch this.

HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

 

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It’s good to see Sally Field on screen again even when the character she plays is a creepy woman who people view as somewhat eccentric and cute at best. I could even forgive the eventual incursion into over-emoting somewhat reminiscent of Steel Magnolias just because she’s that kind of a performer.

Doris has had much of a life. She took care of her mother and unfortunately inherited her less than desirable traits — like hoarding. [Although, to be honest, hers is not an out of control hoarding worthy of an hour’s intervention on A & E, but it’s enough to define the character as someone who hasn’t been able to move on and can’t let go of minor things. Such as, the object of her affection’s pencil, which she smells.]

A visit to a self-help guru (played to narcissistic perfection by Peter Gallagher) with her friend Roz (Tyne Daly, offering solid support in a well-written character that deserves its own story) becomes a catalyst for Doris to pursue her new office-mate John (Max Greenfield), who’s pencil she stole while they were stuck in an elevator for a meet-cute-awkward ride. At first it’s innocent — she asks him to pump air into her balance ball, a scene that turns hilarious on its own. Soon she’s delving into online stalking on social media via a fake profile complete with a Hot Girl’s pic to check his profile on Facebook and see what he’s about. While it does allow her to share a mutual like for an electronic band (which lands her at a concert in Williamsburg where she becomes an instant hit with the millennials), it’s still a little cringing. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to root for Doris and John to wind up together, or giggle at the sheer disparity between the two and the several comical moments they share together, mostly at Doris’ klutzy expense and incursions into Walter Mitty territory.

A monkey wrench gets thrown in, and John starts dating a Bright Young Thing, Brooklyn (Beth Behrs). Somewhat predictably, this spirals Doris out of control, and remember that fake profile Doris created just to spy on John? Once she confirms that he’s dating Brooklyn . . . well. Over wine and The Platters’ Smoke Gets in Your Eyes [used to perfection in 45 Years], she does precisely what she shouldn’t. Chekhov’s gun goes off.

Hello, My Name is Doris is a very entertaining comedy that wears its darker aspects  under multi-colored glasses as bright and peppy as Doris’ outfit. It’s a wonderful return for Sally Field, whom I last saw in Lincoln (2012). She starts the movie in complete sight-gag mode, unafraid to play that kooky office person we all know and . . . love? (okay, okay, tolerate), until a crucial sequence with her brother and sister-in-law (Stephen Root and Wendi McClendon-Covey) and the therapist assigned to her case (Elisabeth Reaser, in a small role) lets Doris spill out years of frustration and regret in one powerful scene. Which, again, reminds you the strength of Sally Field’s ability to perform on several levels at once.

This may be a breakout hit given the fact that in its second week it’s expanded to a little over 600 theaters nationwide over the initial 4 in its debut week. I think that Hello My Name is Doris will be the sleeper hit this spring because of its appeal to both fans of the younger cast as well as its more established performers. Recommended. Watch for Caroline Aaron, Kumali Nanjiani, and Natasha Lyonne in small parts.