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5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Elle Fanning in The Neon Demon, out now. Image from the Youtube UK teaser trailer.

And now, a movie that earned loud boos at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and has since divided audiences like separating tectonic plates. You can loudly blame director Nicholas Winding Refn for this, since his art cinema is so out on its own limb that it seems to exist if at all to shock for the heck of it. If you saw his earlier outing, Only God Forgives, you’ll know what I mean: the violence was almost unbearable. I was literally squirming in my seat and had to at one point somewhat disconnect to enjoy the story so I wouldn’t run for the exit. Most people hated that one; I didn’t, because so much of it is choreographed that you couldn’t but realize that this was just a exercise in plasticity, dressed in garish, Giallo colors, and not the stuff of reality. [If anything, 12 Years a Slave, which arrived in the fall of 2013, truly was unbearable, and that was based on actual events, However, leave it to the audience to jump out of their chairs, praise Steve McQueen’s movie, and grant it the Oscar for Best Picture. Strange world.]

The Neon Demon isn’t as violent as Only God Forgives. What it is, however, is a brightly colored nightmare fairy-tale closer to the sensibilities of Snow White. Much of the violence that transpires is off-stage in the shadows, filling the picture with an overpowering sense of portent as our heroine, which also could be our prime villainess, makes her first appearance and attempts a career out of modeling.

Image from

Much will be made out of Refn’s choice of topic — already there are speculations that this is a criticism of the world of modeling, where young women not out of their teens are subject to ferocious levels of scrutiny in order to fit a package. The more they fit into a ‘look’, the less human they are, and by the time they reach 21, they’re spat out onto the street, deemed ‘retired’ and ‘too old’ and are thrown into the gutter where they face a life of slow aging. I’ll state that this is the tip of the iceberg. It’s telegraphed much too loudly to be the true reason the story exists; if it were only that (and it’s been done before in TV movies, serials, and films about the brevity of youth in performing, the best being 1950’s All About Eve), this would be a  much more basic, cut and dry tale.

Jesse (Elle Fanning, restrained, somewhat a deer in the headlights, but radiant) has arrived to LA’s plastic modeling scene with big dreams. Already a natural beauty, she’s perked up the eyes of Ruby (Jena Malone), a make-up artist who warms up to her and Dean (Karl Glusman), a young photographer whose ‘amateurish’ shoots have landed jesse at the offices of Roberta (Christina Hendricks). Roberta would normally send someone like Jesse home without as much as batting an eye . . . but Jesse’s pictures are different. In fact, Jesse herself is different. Only 16, she instructs Jesse to state she’s 19 as 18 is a little too close to barely legal, and before you know it, she’s modeling for professionals like Jack (Desmond Harrington) who in one scene paints her body in gold and does so in a way that suggests she’s merely a dead calf about to be prepped for the slaughter.


And in many ways, it does seem that Jesse, a pure innocent girl if there ever was one, is surrounded by danger. Early in the movie Jesse, who lives in a seedy motel run by a truly creepy guy (Keanu Reeves, who oozes sleaze here), sees her room invaded by a cougar. Scenes of predatory females grouped around her in the guise of two rival models, Sarah (Abbey Lee, previously in Mad Max: Fury Road) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote, Jane in Pride and Prejudices and Zombies) casually scrutinizing her natural looks while envying them, are presented with a sense of impending dread. Neither really care for Jesse — and why would they? She’s competition, although Gigi believes she’s a passing fancy and won’t cut it). However, a scene where Sarah and Jesse are competing for a show, where Sarah gets the boot (after displaying her rail thin body to an unnamed fashion designer (Alessandro Nivola) turns vicious in a way no one could see coming. And just as Jesse herself begins to assert her own, she comes face to face with the titular demon itself . . . who looks identical to her.

It’s safe to say that in many ways this could be an allegory of what happens when someone who has a magnetic presence that demands acknowledgment. Sarah compares her to the Sun shining in the middle of a cold winter. Ruby is clearly besotted with her. Sarah continues to diss her until she lands an important job. Even Keanu Reeves’ hotel manager has a scene with Jesse involving a knife that is probably one that is most disturbing because of the bloodless assault on a young woman, and that his character goes next door to commit an act of rape and possibly murder against another unseen woman indicates the twisted desires that Jesse herself inspires upon herself.


Nothing however, can prepare the viewer for Jesse’s own sudden turn of character, where she seems to embrace the darker form of love — narcissism. Even when she had said, earlier, “I’m not as helpless as people think I am,” one couldn’t but look at her and think, “Aww. Sure you are.” Her rejection of Dean comes as a surprise, but more so when she accepts Ruby’s help at the moment the hotel manager goes batshit off-screen. Ruby, who placed against the three blond girls comes off rather masculine — a younger version of Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall — takes advantage of Jesse’s helplessness to fulfill her own needs, which backfires. Jesse’s rejection, followed by the affirmation of her own beauty and existence sparks a chain of events that is revolting. What happens next is the eye of desire’s Gorgon face revealing itself to the viewer, merciless and hungry. All the portents of dread come alive, and Refn doesn’t content himself by just showing how depraved people can and will act against something they can’t have, but its consequences.

The Neon Demon is the reason cinema pur exists: bold, screaming colors that reek of Stanley Kubrick and any spread of Vogue magazine, the expressive use of faces that recall Ingmar Bergman, a plot that only involves the minimal, and powerful auric visuals make this picture a direct classic coming out of the kind of cinema Dario Argento created with Suspiria. My only quib? It wasn’t depraved enough. It still could have gone one step farther, right into the heart of darkness. Yes, indeed.


3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)


SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano
Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano

Seeing a movie that is playing to a packed audience and gauging their reactions to the string of scenes being displayed out in front of them and witnessing their — and my own — laughs, which happened by the plenty right up until the movie got too creepy for its own good, almost makes me not want to write this review. What for? It doesn’t really matter what I think; the truth of the matter is, the audience will be the one to decide. I should know. Many times I’ve gone to see something that made critics rave and all but explode in a litany of praises that made me wonder what the heck was it that they saw that I couldn’t see, or was I too dumb to appreciate a good movie when I saw one?

Clearly, the audience wins in this case. They ran with the scatological images and sounds that the directors seemed to provide at a rate of one per minute with brief pauses in between gave space to commentaries on life, sex, and The Meaning of It All. And all this happened while Paul Dano’s Hank and his dead buddy Manny (Daniel Ratcliffe, clearly in on the fun and distancing himself even more from Harry Potter as his character’s body gets used as a vessel closer to the stuff of tall tales) escape the island at the start of the movie (by the power of farts alone, yes, you read that) and land in some remote wooded area that suggests perhaps the Northwest. And I have to say, for almost its entire run, I ran with the jokes myself. You really have to see it to do a WTF. I won’t even dare spoil it for you; it’s that flat-out weird you can’t react in any other way but with nervous, then straight out, balls to the wall laughter.

The point where the movie goes a little creaky, however, arrives at the place where Hank starts to place less emphasis on being rescued and more emphasis on bonding and even remaining in the woods with Manny. We find out that Hank is a compulsive loner unable it seems to relate to anyone outside of his own self, The girl in Manny’s cellphone (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is someone Manny used to date. Hank then concocts a way to use this image to somehow propel Manny’s apparently superhuman corpse to civilization. I really can’t do justice to the barrage of scenes that constitute Swiss Army Man’s middle section. You really have to witness this and judge for yourself. Let’s just say, therapy doesn’t have to involve sitting on a psychiatrist’s bench. Oh, no. The Daniels (as the directors refer to themselves) have a lot more meta-story up on their sleeve.

At surface value Swiss Army Man is beyond ridiculous once you get past the solid first forty minutes and settle in to see just how all this will play out. When you realize that — and I’m not ruining anything — the entire thing may be a twisted allegory of extreme isolation, if you don’t cringe like I did, then something is definitely amiss. Don’t get me wrong — this is a pretty good movie that just doesn’t deserve to be known as the one where the dead body farts and does things no dead body should ever do. There is a lot more going on with Paul Dano’s character alone that merits a close look. If you can get past the unhinged presentation (unique in itself), you have yourself a disturbing comedy that reveals just how twisted it is towards its finale. You might blame its fierce adhering to its comedic sensibilities that Hank’s situation becomes somewhat trivialized and reduced to the stuff of a horny but super awkward teenager. I think it actually enhances it (and we see just how, all over Winstead’s face).

See Swiss Army Man for yourself.  By the end you will have walked out having seen a completely different picture that defies categories.


4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)



I think it’s safe to say that watching a Todd Solondz movie isn’t exactly a pleasurable experience. There’s always the sense that you watched something subversive dressed in a deft appearance of quirk, people who live alienated even from themselves, afraid to really reach out. While nothing here is as transgressive as some of the elements of, let’s say, his 1998 movie Happiness, Solondz happily presents a series of vignettes where the sole presence of a dachsund manages to somehow upset or alter the existences of the people with whom it comes in contact to. I’m going to safely infer that this is not the same dachsund, or that the poor dog is caught in a loop of scenarios and we’re only privy to the four that Solondz presents to us (with a faux intermission exactly 45 minutes in, the halfway mark), because not mentioned but felt — sensed — is the feeling that what we as viewers are witnessing is a warped meta-reality that changes once the desired effect is over, like a vaguely perverse kaleidoscope. Where the dog, called Wiener-dog in the first sequence, upends a rather sterile household led by a frazzled Tracy Letts and a neurotic Julie Delpy (who has the task of explaining the matters of life and death to her recovering son), the same gets abducted by a gawky, uber-shy Greta Gerwig portraying the character Heather Matarazzo played in Welcome to the Dollhouse who in turn goes on a road trip with a guy (Kieran Culkin) she reconnects with, with some sweet results despite hints of drug use and instability). The same dog makes it appearance again as Danny deVito’s pet, and while it has less to do — mainly, this is deVito playing an out of touch writer/professor, it does have an uproarious sequence of mistaken terrorist device that points towards a post 9-11 hysteria.

It’s in the final sequence where Solondz shows his feral grin and it’s a doozy. Without telling much about it, I think it’s safe to say that whatever Solondz was trying to say is compressed in this one mini-story. The dog’s name is Cancer, but that’s not the point: it’s the artificiality of life itself: Ellen Burstyn, robed and under thick sunglasses, croaks and acts like a miser while revealing she posed nude once. Her niece has come to visit, she says she has a part in a movie, but really, she needs money for her boyfriend named Fantasy who’s an artist who hates –HATES — to be compared to Damien Hirst. In a surreal twist, Fantasy and Burstyn’s maid Ivette are dressed in almost identical pink and khaki colors (that may have been an in-joke only Solondz will know about). Once Burstyn’s niece and Fantasy exit the scene, she is faced by clones of the person she could have been “if…” which somewhat echoes the previous storyline where De Vito’s character has become stagnant in his “what if…” approach to storytelling. I’m not going to say how this plays out, but suffice to say, it is as demented as twisted as anything Solondz has ever done and then some. Suffice to say that he doesn’t just go right over the edge — he dives headlong right into it, and ends the film in an exclamation point.

Caveat emptor!


3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)


Horrific acts of violence are striking a small, isolated South Korean town. In one instance, a man has slashed his family to pieces and now sits mute, zombie-like, with eyes rolled to the back of his head and his skin festered with boils. In another instance, a woman has burned down  her house and instead of giving into the authorities seems to act possessed. In the middle of all this, two people who will later confront each other: a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who keeps to himself, but may be the harbinger of disaster, and a bumbling police detective (Do Won Kwak) whose very own ineffectiveness leads him on the trail of the Japanese man who lives in the woods. Add to this that a disease seems to be affecting other townsfolk (and in one gruesome sequence, taking over their bodies  until they snap and die), and that now this same disease has the detective’s home. Such is the tableau that Na brings to us in his complex horror entry The Wailing.

Na creates a pretty rich story of comedic situations that foreshadow the almost insane levels of horror that will come to roost, fester, and spread out like a virus in his unnamed town. At times, it can be a little too broad, especially when it involved the misadventures of Jong-Goo (Kwak), but as the real story emerges, and otherworldly details begin to take center space, The Wailing becomes a ferocious tale of good and evil not unlike The Exorcist — instead here, the forces battling for the soul of a little girl (Jong-Goo’s daughter) happen to be shamans, and we’re never sure if they come in peace or are demons in human form. And there are three of them.

So many unexplained and undefined presences can be distracting in a genre that allows for only one bad guy, but the set pieces work quite well in Na’s movie. After all, when bad things happen, they come in threes. Pity the townsfolk who are completely unprepared to fight it.


5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)


Yorgos Lanthimos is that type of director you either love, because you get him and what he’s about, or hate because you go to one of his features and walk out either in the middle or at the end, either times scratching your head and demanding your money back. I’ve only seen Dogtooth, and as uncomfortable as that movie made me it felt both nightmarish but real given the fact that we have had compounds in Utah that isolate their people on purpose, intent on forming a twisted sense of family.

The Lobster keeps sex at its most awkward and perfunctory in the foreground of its plot. This time, it focuses less on a family per se (although the concept arises as a risible alternative later on) but the hunt (if you will) for a mate. Colin Farrell is David (and the only named character here), a bespectacled, slightly pudgy man who arrives at an unnamed hotel where he seeks to find a partner in life. With him, his dog, who was his brother and a previous guest at the hotel. His brother was unable to find a partner in 45 days given to him by the hotel management and thus was changed into the animal of his choice.

This is the same predicament that now David faces: find someone before the clock hits zero, or get turned into an animal for life. David flatly chooses a lobster. His reason? Lobsters are great at spawning.

If this isn’t weird enough, you have to see just how far The Lobster goes into creating scene after scene of the stuff Luis Bunuel would have approved of. Farrell goes to great lengths to preserve his humanity as he navigates the strict rules of the hotel, such as, eating with one arm chained behind him or going on raids among the grounds searching for “loners” to gain extra days– people who it seems left the hotel premises and have banded together to form a rebel group. In many ways, The Lobster is two movies in one. Once David has a violent encounter with a heartless woman he chooses as his partner (if at all to avoid an uncertain transmogrification) after she does the unthinkable to hurt him, the movie shifts gears and lands him squarely in the hands of the loners.

The problem? David finds love in the character of Rachel Weisz . . . but the situation is just as bad on the outside as it is on the inside.

Lanthimos’ movie is a comedic nightmare with pitch-black humor and glimpses of pathos peppered among the ridiculous. Anchored by Farrell’s performance as the self-effacing and ultimately self-sacrificing David, it manages to be both a romance — if at all, a strange one — but also, one where people are bound together not by what qualities they bring to one another but their lacks and faults, be it physical or personality-wise. It might be a tad long for its own good, though. It seems as though Lanthimos was rather enamored of his own story and somehow wanted to get as much in, in order to see for himself where the story would itself go. That it ends not with Farrell but with Rachel Weisz and an inaudible question mark only adds to its absurdist nature. Watch for Lea Seydoux, John C Reilly,  Ben Whishaw, and Olivia Colman (in a scene stealing role as the hotel manager). Highly recommended only if you enjoy these kind of movies.


5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)



Pablo Larrain is a director to pay close attention to. In under a decade he’s brought critically acclaimed films of the likes of Post-Morten, Tony Manero, No (Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Picture for 2012), and has also produced Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus, Gloria, and last year’s Nasty Baby. In his petrifying drama The Club he again draws on events in Chile. This time he ventures beyond the confines of the Pinochet era which defined some of his earlier pictures and goes full Spotlight and then an extra step into the heart of darkness of what should be the messengers of God on Earth.

When The Club opens we see four older men engaging in betting on dog racing. It’s nothing out of the ordinary until we realize who they are: disgraced ex-priests who live in societal exile in La Boca, each one of them accused of a myriad of crimes ranging from the predictable (pedophilia) to the shocking (child abduction from unwed-teenage mothers, an actual incident which took place in 2014). Presiding over them, a former nun (Antonia Zegers) with the looks of a formidable Dame Judith Anderson. She’s all soft speeches and maternal instincts, but look closer. She’s basically their jailer and amidst her suave demeanor lies someone just as monstrous as the rest of them. We have entered what is called Hell on Earth.

The arrival of a fifth priest serves as the catalyst for the procedural that follow: After his presence attracts a local homeless man who goes by the moniker Sandokan who one morning startles the entire block with a torrent of utterings where he discloses that the priests’ home is a house of pedophiles and sex offenders of all sorts (but mainly homosexuals), the fifth priest commits a shocking act attempting a confrontation that explains that he may have been the man responsible for driving Sandokan mad and lusting for revenge and something akin to a perverted sense of closure. This then attracts yet another priest — Father Garcia, played by the impossibly beautiful Marcelo Alonso. Garcia has come not just to inquire of the tragic events surrounding the fifth ex-priest, but to possibly close down the house.

Garcia has high morals, and even higher ideals of creating a new church, closer to faith, and eliminating what doesn’t work. Of course, this is better said than done, and Pablo Larrain masterfully creates a sense of a detective story through the interviews Garcia sustains with each priest. Except for the oldest, a man who seems to be senile, none of them exhibit any remorse for their actions. When the camera touches on Alberto Castro’s face as he recounts his love for young boys and claims to be above that, we can clearly see the internal torment, but also his shameless, arrogant lying self, and it’s a terrific performance for an actor playing a despicable character who isn’t moved by pity, and whose scenes involving his greyhound imbue him with a faint degree of primitive humanity. Tensions begin to arise within the other priests and Garcia who threatens their existence, and at the fringes of the story, the ruined beyond repair Sandokan, a reminder of the many damaged people the Church has left behind in the name of religion.

Sandokan has initiated a relationship with a local woman, but his psyche rages, broken, as he continues to lash out verbally at the priest’s gate, decrying their own past sins of the flesh. Garcia, the sole person who still seems to have a soul, has gone nowhere in his inquiries and starts to see, upon meeting Sandokan himself, the beginnings of what could be a fitting punishment for the men who damaged not just him but every other young boy. It’s a savage, almost unbearable decision, but one that shows the Church itself eating its tail to preserve its head in an act of perverted sacrifice. Larrain, thus, accomplishes just as much as the movie Spotlight did in not just uncovering the layers of corruption within the Church but the lengths that it will go to protect itself and mete only a tiny fraction of justice the maimed. And what does it say that at the end, there is no one to root for — not even Garcia, who has become just as monstrous as the rest of them? What can we do but reluctantly side with the worst possible person — Castro’s ruined man — in an emotionally devastating sequence right at the end?

The Club is a  movie without a satisfying ending and because of it, it becomes compulsive to watch. It is a fascinating study of men unwilling to bend to the laws of justice, unfeeling to the pain of others. This is a rather bleak picture, but oh what colors, what powerful darkness it carries within. Pablo Larrain may have just annotated his best feature film yet, even when his own Neruda has  not yet seen a theater past Cannes.


2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Whenever I see movies like Creative Control I’m invariably brought back to the most successful director of ensemble films set in New York — Woody Allen. Like him or despise him, the man has for forty years brought a new film year after year, and while he’s had his share of questionable slumps you can’t deny that a Woody Allen film alone has become linked to ensembles featuring finely honed, complex characters flanked by memorable bit performers.

Creative Control attempts to replicate a Woody Allen film by situating it in the middle of a futuristic Brooklyn. In it, Benjamin Dickinson, who also directs and penned the screenplay, stars as David, a software exec trying to sell a product to an advertising agency. His brainchild consists of what I would call the equivalent of Google glass: a virtual keyboard/device called Augmenta where one can experience the virtual world without a need for screens, holographic streaming if you will (A Hologram for the King also touches on this topic but doesn’t give it central stage.). David has what can be called a rather brittle relationship with his live-in girlfriend Juliette, which leads him to start experimenting with his own “toy”. This leads him to concoct a virtual experience with Sophie, his friend’s girlfriend. Soon enough — almost predictably — his life begins to play second fiddle to the virtual, relationships start to collapse to the point of no return, and his professional life takes a nosedive.

In concept the story is actually quite good, but it seems that in trying to create a world filled with privileged hipsters — sort of the equivalent of Allen’s uber-intellectuals of the 70s, 80s, and 90s — he fails to bring anyone to life. It’s almost an incursion into irony, to see so many characters inhabit cinematic space and not a single one being a fully fleshed out person. In this respect, Creative Control completely collapses onto its own hubris of becoming the year’s “new IT comedy” and is dead on arrival despite its inclusion of some turquoise and pastels within its black and white palette.


1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)


Reader, where do I begin? I’m still reeling over the sheer awfulness of Luca Guadagnino’s mediation on ex-lovers, gender politics, and something vaguely resembling a romance. Remember a little-known playwright called William Shakespeare? Him. Well, he basically wrote the book on partner-swapping in his comedies and did so much better. Even Woody Allen has managed to produce interesting reflections on the nature of relationships between men and women and the consequences they engender. This, on the other hand . . .

The trailer promises and delivers nothing that it winks at the audience it will deliver. From the opening shot of Tilda Swinton, a rock star reflecting on stage in what seems David Bowie drag, followed by her and Matthias Schoenaerts laying on the beach as they get a call from Ralph Fiennes who is popping for a visit (and you see a shadow of a plane about to land as to drive the point home), to an awkward sequence where the twosome get introduced to Fiennes’ daughter in the film played by Dakota Johnson, you get a general idea that perhaps this will be something screwball-ish, rather flighty, with misunderstandings left and right and perhaps a couple of sex scenes along the way for good measure. I mean, they are in a secluded Italian island in the middle of a vacation, might as well make the best of it and pretend nothing ever happened, right?

Wrong. From the moment Fiennes enters the picture, it’s as if he had in mind he had to ham it up to almost extreme lengths to make his older stud-character register. Reader, it’s painful. The harakiri would have been an act of mercy. Seeing Fiennes, still remarkably fit, make a fool of himself at every turn and inhabit a character who is deluded as to the extent he relates to the others is just torture. Consider it an act of an old peacock macho-ing it up in an extended mating dance that clearly provokes some quiet seething from Schoenaerts who takes a secondary seat and inexplicably allows Fiennes to take center stage as if it were better that way. Meanwhile, Swinton, who’s rock star persona in the movie is recovering from a throat operation, can’t speak but in whispers, and even that is an effort. All she can do is react in various degrees of passivity while both men circle each other, each trying to claim their ground, neither backing up.

And Dakota Johnson? She’s merely skin decoration. She gets in one or two lines pregnant with innuendo, but that’s all her character is: a tease. Guadagnino plays her like a card held very close to his chest, and some late-story revelations don’t really do much more than cement how unnecessary her character truly is to the story, but to supply a motive for a completely out of the blue catharsis that . . . well. You’d have to see this mess to see where I’m getting at.

A Bigger Splash boasts an inexplicable title that narrates a story that doesn’t seem to have any real direction other than to force some events to come together and perhaps shed light on the consequences of giving into temptation. I wish that somehow some narration choices would have been less indulgent. Guadagnino’s film had the potential to play with the original material it’s based on — Jacques Deray’s La Piscine. Tragically it all but dissipates any sense of tension in lieu of lingering shots of beach, scenery, food preparing, snakes, Fiennes diving into the pool, Fiennes dancing, Fiennes basically chewing sccenery, which makes this movie almost insufferable. At least Schoenaerts boasts some incredible pectorals. That at least prevented me from stabbing my eyes out.




2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)


Once in a while there will be a film I come across that defies explanation and makes me wonder just what was the director and writer thinking about when he or they decided that making a movie so unsettling and queasy would be a good thing. A prime example is The Human Centipede (and whose sequels I will not watch; I have better things to do than to sit down and endure that kind of debasement). That story everyone knows, and while on the plus side it’s not a badly made movie — at a visual level there are sequences of great dread and beauty, often in the same frame — it’s what the energy coming through from that is attempting to communicate to me. Not that I have an issue with horror movies going that extra mile, but . . . well, if you haven’t seen it, you need to, and then go outside and take a fresh breath of air.

Lamb came out early this year and played in one theatre, one week (maybe two), and I missed it. I wanted to go see it but something held me back. Shortly thereafter it made its way to VOD while traveling across select theatres across the nation, and I didn’t do as much as add it to my queue for later viewing. It sat there and sat there and sat there. And then it finally made its way to the top of my Netflix once it got released proper, and even then, a month on top of my player, untouched. Waiting. Always as I was about to see it and decide if it was good, bad, or meh, another more interesting film came across and demanded attention. A lame excuse it was, but it kept me from it.

Reader, I don’t know what to tell you. Based on the Bonnie Nadzam novel of the same name, Lamb tells you the story of two people of completely different walks of life who have a chance encounter, although a creeping notion that chance is up to question continues to attempt to high-jack my thoughts and present to me some subtext.

You see, the two people in question are a 47 year old man (in the book he’s in his 50s) and a young girl of about 11 whom he spots at a public spot trying to ask him for a light for a cigarette.

Now, let’s do a quick back to the beginning of the story before I get into the real story that transpires in the movie. David Lamb (Ross Partridge) has experienced two losses — his father who livedin filth and died alone, and his wife to divorce. He seems to have caused some situation at work and has a rather casual, sordid of sorts affair with a female colleague (Jess Wexler). The story finds David meeting this young girl sporting the tomboy name of Tommie and thus the cigarette scene plays out, followed by a fake abduction where he sternly lectures her that he could have been a bad guy and done some harm, even murder her. She seems to be not that much fazed by the situation, and when she returns home, her parents (Scoot McNairy and Lindsey Pulsipher) don’t as much as acknowledge her presence.

David and Tommie have another encounter where he informs her he’s going for a trip someplace for a while. Why, we don’t know. Tommie tags along and here is where my creep-o-meter began climbing because I’m thinking, “Okay, this could very well go to a very icky place I’m not prepared or willing to see, and I hope it doesn’t.” As of this moment the movie is competently made (and at least it remained to be), but that’s not the point. Lamb and Tommie venture into open country playing the parts of Gary and his niece Emily while all the while engaging in conversations that seem to be of self-discovery but also go into some subtle manipulation on the part of the older David, who while telling Tommie she’s free to go back any time she wishes, pretty much is implying he’d rather she stay, to which she does.

Now, Tommie is no innocent by any means — she already acts well above her age and has a reply for everything. Oona Laurence as Tommie gives her character a sense of preternatural depth that kept reminding me of Tatum O’Neal. She’s a perfect foil to Ross Partridge’s talky but withholding character. It’s when he continues to repeat that their relation is secret, that he could go to jail because technically what he’s done is illegal. Then the arrival of a third party takes the story into a slightly darker level just shy of ick (especially when it involves a scene where Tommie is watching David from the outside of the house they’ve rented) where my fears of what’s not being said, what’s being kept out of frame really start to materialize.

Is David trying to test his own limits by using a young girl as bait? What can he gain by taking Tommie under his wing and lecturing her constantiy when in reality whatever bond they form — and they do form one — has no future? He seems to be a man on the edge of an abyss, staring at a world without hope, mired in self-temptation that exists just out of mind, but all over the picture. Tommie winds up being cheated, doubly, by an adult who presents himself as a friend and is left hanging.

In a nutshell, there are better ways to where an adult can mentor a child but this is a story that is too problematic for anyone to sit and watch without cringing or grabbing their stomach at the anticipation of what might happen. If there is something artistic to be said, long shots of scenery and a talky plot is not what I’d consider art. Maybe I didn’t get the message; maybe there is something else that’s in the fabric of this story, and while yes, there was a time when Lolita, a more sexually active story also involving an older man and a young girl (albeit a teen), was considered a controversial classic, I doubt Lamb ever will.


1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)


Bad Hurt is one of those movies where everything that can possibly befall a family does so, in groups, without a moment of rest in between. In fact, so much misery happens in such a short period of time it almost becomes numbing. You keep expecting the ground opening to swallow them up. Again, why I avoid many TriBeCa Film Festival movies. This is suffering porn.

So, let’s see. There’s this Irish family, the Kendalls living in Staten Island, and by living, I mean going through the motions while chaos, madness, sickness, and never-ending agony dances around them without an end in sight.

Elaine and Ed Kendall (Karen Allen and Michael Harney) head the household and provide 24-hour care to their severely, mentally disabled daughter DeeDee (Iris Gilad) who constantly seems to be on the verge of going deliriously manic and has to be taken out of the special needs school due to her violent tendencies. DeeDee, however, has made a friend in Willy (Calvin Dutton), and that friendship seems to have romantic overtones.

Kent (Johnny Whitworth) is the next son who once served the Gulf War and since then  suffers from crippling PTSD — so much that his capacity to communicate verbally is impaired and he is dependent on pain killers and Elaine’s care to alleviate his crippling pain. And finally, there is Todd (Theo Rossi), the son with the least amount of baggage, whose problems are minuscule compared to the rest of the household. Todd is, as a matter of fact, the one who is the glue keeping the Kendalls from falling to pieces at a moment’s notice.

Kitchen sink events unfold rather quickly, often one on top of the other, and it becomes clear this is a family who needs a lot of healing. However, I’ve seen other movies about dysfunctional families and there is at least some levity in between the stories. Bad Hurt seems to have lumped together every possible combination of human suffering, so much that even a quiet tucking into bed or a funeral scene becomes a battlefield, and a conversation between father and son discloses a secret and unleashes bloody hell. I’m not saying this is a bad thing — catharsis is necessary in order not to end up like the family in the recent Louder than Bombs — but paring it down a little would have been better. Everyone appears to be carrying a massive burden and worse, unable to know when to stop, rest, and continue.