Director: Dave McCary
Runtime: 98 minutes
(3.5 / 5)
It’s not often that a movie tackles the topic at the center of Brigsby Bear and manages to make it sunny and engaging in a quirky way. Dave McCary manages to pull this off rather handsomely, and while some elements might not completely gel together — a cop with a penchant for theater seems contrived — it treats the very delicate bruise at the center with due respect.
The opening sequence is going to be off-putting, focusing in on a television show that has all the look and feel of something made on public access TV for a small town. James watches his favorite show Brigsby Bear like any kid would: compulsively, analyzing every aspect, plot development, character, down to chat forums. Already there is something wildly off about his home life, and when that comes crashing down, James now has to contend with an entirely new reality that never knew.
But what about the bear that he grew up with? James can’t let go, and would you blame him when this is all he knows? I can remember from my own memories being all into Sesame Street and The Electric Company, so imagine growing up by yourself — no friends, no kids, no school, strict rules — and all you have to look for is this show in the style of PBS shows with a continuing story-line. Imagine that all that you knew about that was suddenly a lie.
Here is where Brigsby Bear veers into somewhat murky territory. How do you come to terms with something that essentially damages your entire childhood without moving into potential, explosive drama? When therapy stops working, re-enaction somehow becomes a catalyst and the movie is great in portraying James weird walk towards rehabilitation, Kyle Mooney brings the right amount of strange and misplaced into a character that didn’t deserve to go through a twisted life experience, and his performance manages to bring the right amount of pathos and empathy, and its laughs aren’t at the character, but with.
Brigsby Bear is still playing in cinemas around the country and at the Landmark Sunshine in NYC.
THE BIG SICK
Director: Pat Healy
Runtime: 85 minutes
Mostlyindies Grading: C–
Bad movies exist in all shapes and sizes and have only one purpose: to make you wonder what went wrong that they deserve to be considered such. Maybe it was the direction that was too flat, or too uninviting; perhaps the acting was so bad it bordered on camp; there’s a laundry list of possible misfires that could have contributed to the failure of a movie to deliver and be remembered in a good way. Tribeca, a film festival that often showcases films by new and rising directors, sometimes takes the word ‘new’ and runs with it; for a festival that showcases nearly 100 films of all shapes, sizes, and genres during its two week run in April, it can have the luxury to show several turkeys and still get away with it (and make a neat profit).
Take Me, an incompetent comedy-thriller-character piece directed and acted by Pat Healy, an indie character actor whose most notable credit was being the creepy-as-fuck voice of the ‘cop’ in the Craig Zobel indie thriller Compliance from 2012, falls under that nebulous category of bad film that makes it to Tribeca because, film, right? To explain: somehow, the movie gets selected, bows at Tribeca, and lands in VOD distribution (although it has a guaranteed slot at the midnight hour at IFC for a week or two). There, it thrives at a price of 6.99, a price much preferable than its 15 dollar tag in theaters, and people like me and you can watch without feeling cheated out of our hard-earned money and forget about it moments later. Not to digress about the film, but I guess it just shows that anyone with access to a camera can make a movie, but hey, what do I know. Let’s just say, this is one smelly turkey.
To keep it short, the premise is almost identical to the one Neil LaBute presented in his much superior Some Velvet Morning (a movie I highly recommend you watch on Prime for free if you haven’t; it’s that good). The crucial difference is that of subtlety. LaBute’s little film is a masterclass in restraint that threatens to explode between the two actors cohabiting a tense New York apartment and with dialog that melts from their viperous lips; Take Me offers no such gifts in dialog or performances and is basically blunt-force trauma masquerading as edgy cinema. From the word go we know what is happening; Healy runs an agency that pretends to kidnap people for a space of 8 hours as fetish — basically, an S & M company in which the person will be abducted, tortured, and released, all for a fee that Healy will collect. This time, however, he gets a call from a woman, Anna St Clair (Schilling) who wants to disappear for a weekend and is not afraid to get slapped around. She’s willing to pay him a plum sum upfront, mind you.
Healy takes the offer, and while the abduction sequence is still disturbing to see as it’s filmed dead on, and it’s followed by an interrogation sequence that while bizarre is still jarring, it never really makes us feel that this is something real (the movie has a lengthy prologue, and as if to nail it, another explanatory scene, with the intention of letting us know what we’re in for). Something starts to emerge in the fallout of the two actor’s encounter. It looks for a good while that Anna might not even know why she’s in the predicament and a news item seems to confirm that. Healy wonders if he’s in over his head, and tries to work things out with Anna, but Anna shifts from victim to temptress so quickly, and we never truly connect with Healy’s character, that it becomes impossible to watch except from a distance and look at the clock to see how much time there is left to this.
It is a shame because there are a couple of moments when Take Me adds little spark to its narrative: there is a side character, Healy’s sister (Alicia Delmore), who leaves a comic impression so strong that one would wish the movie had brought her in to complicate matters to a boiling degree. However, the two leads are so unsympathetic in every way that we just get to watch them go through the motions and attempt to out-guess where they’ll go next and what will the story turn into. A third act power reversal proves little cleverness in the plot procedures, and by the time the credits start rolling, I felt as though my time had been wasted by a story that didn’t quite pull it together. Take Me is not the movie you want to see if you like smart thrillers. For that, stick to The Game, or Some Velvet Morning.
HOUNDS OF LOVE
Director: Ben Young
Runtime: 108 minutes
Mostlyindies grading: B+
Inspired, it seems, by the Moorhouse Murders, a series of crimes committed by David and Catherine Birnie who abducted, raped, tortured, and killed four women (their fifth was unsuccessful) in the 1980s, Hounds of Love is a gritty exploration of the darkest forms of love between two psychopaths addicted to their own perversions. The opening is a shocker for its combination of slow-motion images of girls playing volleyball in a Perth high school, while a couple, John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth) stalk them in a vehicle. Cut to a scene later in the middle of the afternoon as the couple approaches one of the girls as she walks home and offer her a ride. The girl accepts. We later see shots of her, dead, in the White’s home. It’s all done in one short chilling series of takes, effectively laying out how matter-of-fact something as horrifying as snuffing the life out of a person can me under the right circumstances.
And of course, once is never enough. We’ll never know how many murders the Whites may have committed but it’s clear that where there was one, there will be more. And, sure enough, shortly after we get introduced to Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings), a troubled teenager angry over the split between her parents Maggie and Trevor (Susie Porter and Damian de Montemas), we see her on her way to a party while staying with her mother and getting lured into the White’s vehicle. The abduction sequence is so brilliantly done, because it starts out as casual conversation between neighbors, evolves into an offer that plays onto Vicki’s own innocence, then lands her into the nightmare hell that is the White house as they, in one static shot, chain Vicki onto a bed while she kicks and screams for help.
Luckily, Ben Young, the director behind this explosive debut picture, isn’t content to turn this into another version of exploitation or abduction porn. Vickie may be young but she’s not naive and look for her interactions with Evelyn to unsettle her and perhaps by doing so, secure her own freedom. Look for how delicate certain scenes between Vicki and John are handled — yes, they are perverse, but then again, how can one approach what must be suburban hell where death is certain without venturing into queasy territory? Where the movie plays strongest is in focusing on Evelyn and John and their twisted dynamics: Evelyn, implied to be a willing victim who’s allowed herself to be a puppet for John’s deviant passions, rants and rages at the very thought that Vicki could be a possible replacement in a scene where John takes Vicki into a room but locks the doors, leaving Evelyn the third wheel. John meanwhile, continues to deliver promises to kill the girl . . . when in fact he has no intention of doing so.
Hounds of Love won’t be for everybody due to its subject matter, a topic that has become almost ubiquitous on Discovery ID (if you follow some of their shows about evil women or twisted couples). There is always danger to overdo the sexual violence against a younger person and on at least one occasion it gets almost too hard to watch. However, this is a strong, muscular debut picture that is much more restrained even in its more harrowing moments. It’s to its success that it also has a trio of actors committed not only to the ugliness of the situation at hand but at their psychological make-up, Add to that a slight twist that builds to a remarkably suspenseful crescendo and you have yourselves one damn good movie and a director to pay attention to.
Hounds of Love is available on VOD via Amazon Prime. Take Me is on Netflix On Demand.
And here we are, into the second half of January already and not a single new release in sight. You’ll have to go to your smart TV for that — January is usually a dumping ground for all these tiny indies that either never got a proper release in theaters and thus went straight to VOD or got them in your local arthouse theater, but also got sent to Amazon, VUDU, iTunes, and the like.
So because of this, we get either leftovers from December releases playing on autopilot for another month as they try to entice themselves into awards season, or expansions like 20th Century Women, a movie I saw at the New York Film Festival on October 8th which expands to the rest of America after a limited, late-December run. If you miss anything in January, including the movie I will review next, don’t miss this one. It’s a fierce ensemble headed by a note-perfect Annette Bening as a family matriarch trying to secure a future for her teenage son in the twilight hours of the 1970s. I secretly hope she gets an Academy Award for her performance; she’s one of these horribly overdue actresses who have had the misfortune of competing with other, more likeable actresses who have, like Trump to Hillary, whisked the gold statuette right out of her hands, often to never measure up to that moment ever again (I’m talking to you, Hilary Swank).
Split is M Night Shyamalan’s newest film that gets dumped into the January graveyard presumably to make a quick buck during the calendar month and be well gone by the time the sequel to the horrifying 50 Shades of Grey arrives. If you’ve ever seen Discovery ID’s shows on abductions — namely House of Horrors, or Evil Lives Here, among others — you will know the premise of this, his new film. Three girls get abducted in a swift but terrific opening act that is as brutal as it is casual. And you realize, holy shit it really is that easy to dominate not one but four people in an act of sudden appearance into the fabric of their ho-hum lives and just turn everything upside down in an instant. Shyamalan keeps the camera off the abductor during these scenes, relying more on movement and tension focused on the victims.
What happens later is something straight out of 10 Cloverfield Lane, but without a John Goodman acting as a bearish captor. Instead, we get a muscular yet lean James McAvoy who looks and feels like a man you do not want to cross, ever. All these shows of psychopaths keeping their victims captive for weeks, or years, before disposing of them in an unspeakable way, and you get where three girls, played by Anna Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula would be scared half out of their wits but also thinking on overdrive how to potentially overpower them. I can’t blame them — with so many forensic shows on TV the insane has become, in one fell swoop, normal. You can sit down in a moment of insanity and wonder how are you going to stun that fucker who just abducted you and manage to escape with nary a fracture and your life intact.
Turns out, their captor isn’t just a psychopath. Dennis, who goes by Barry and other aliases, has 23 personalities inside of him, all vying for control. [We don’t get to meet them all; just the necessary for this story.] As Dennis he’s more the psychopathic creep who would do what he does to these girls, but as Barry, he’s a mild mannered metrosexual wondering where the hell is his life going that he can’t remember days and weeks on end and still thinks it’s 2014. Meanwhile, the girls try all they can to out-maneuver Dennis and escape. Richardson and Sula both wind up locked separately, while Taylor-Joy manages to do the unthinkable: befriend Dennis as a young boy, make him take her into his makeshift room, and allow her to use the radio to call out (unsuccessfully) for help. [We later in an ironic turn learn why and it makes sense.]
For a solid hour and ten minutes Split slowly ascends, tightening the knot more and more, until we come to realize that somehow,in one shape, sense, or another, these girls have to escape. We get little real interaction between the girls (who become separated anyway, and then the camera focuses only on Anna Tqylor-Joy, who following her turn in The VVitch, is very good as your Final Girl). Taylor-Joy’s character gets her own backstory, and this flashback sequence starts revealing little bits and pieces of her character. Interspersed within the narration is Betty Buckley (the gym teacher in Carrie) who is Barry’s psychiatrist. Buckley for the most plays her part straight, but a third act cry for help lands her in a place she’d rather not be (although even then she does manage to serve the plot developments to a T).
It’s right after the 60 – 70 minute mark that the story, which has been so far good, somehow slips its clutches and grasps for something greater. I don’t want to say any more that would amount to a spoiler. However, because I like well-made thrillers and horror movies, I believe that if you’re going to devote a lot of time to backstory that seems to be heading into something greater, you should deliver. I also am of the belief that once the story has nowhere else to go, it should end, and end there. There’s no need to escalate a climactic showdown into something quasi-operatic filled with ruminations that frankly make as sense to me as the math Ramanujan believed in. Horror doesn’t need that much, really. De Palma’s Raising Cain — a movie that Shyamalan’s Split clearly borrows a lot from — also did this to a lesser degree. If it weren’t for McAvoy, who is truly menacing — even more so than Lithgow in the aforementioned movie — I would have shut my eyes and gone to nap. He alone makes this movie work.
My advice to anyone going to Shyamalan’s movie is, go, sure, why not. It’s January Graveyard, folks: nothing to see here, come, enjoy the spoils, whatever. Just don’t expect anything more than an above average chiller curiously sterile of real horror and a rather bland pay-off. The man who made The Sixth Sense has long, long left the building.
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.