Give or Take


In the weed hole.

(2020) Drama (Breaking Glass) Norbert Leo Butz, Jamie Effros, Joanne Tucker, Louis Cancelmi, Cheri Oteri, Annapurna Sriram, Jaden Waldman, Garry Mitchell, Shaun O’Hagan, Chris Fischer, Roya Shanks, Kyle Overstreet, Dennis Cunningham, Polly Lee, Jack Casey, Nathaniel Schultz, Kate Dearing, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, Steve Ross, Ian P. Ryan, Paul Schuyler. Directed by Paul Riccio

 

A vital part of indie cinema is the city dweller return to their small-town home for self-reflection following some trauma or event, finding some kind of a) redemption, b) growth or c) peace. Sometimes, all three. These movies can be by-the-numbers and as such, offer little insight; however, they can also take a fresh look and shine a light on some aspect of our nature that we can relate to.

Said city boy is Martin (Effros), who has returned to his home on Cape Cod to attend his father’s funeral and settle his affairs. Martin isn’t particularly thrilled to be there; his father had always been a distant, critical and cold man who never warmed to his son. They were driven further apart after Martin’s mother passed away, and his father promptly came out as gay and took up with Ted (Butz), his yard landscaper who now lives in the house that Martin grew up in.

Both men have issues; Martin hears tales of his father’s warmth and generosity, traits he never displayed towards Martin, and feels some jealousy that others saw this side of his dad and he never did. Ted feels slighted that his lover had not changed his will and left everything to Martin, including the home that he has lived in for seven years and made so many wonderful memories in. A predatory real estate agent (Oteri) is after Martin to sell, confident she could get a nice seven-figure sum for the property. Ted doesn’t want to leave, but he doesn’t have a legal right to stay. The two men clash in all sorts of details about happens at the funeral. Ted thinks there’s some homophobia going on, but neither man, trying to deal with the grief they both feel in different ways, truly understands that the other is also grieving.

Riccio (who co-wrote the movie along with Effros) fails to resist the temptation to make all the characters in town quirky, although he doesn’t take it to the degree that it becomes annoying. Martin reconnects with his prickly teenage crush Emma (Tucker) who is married now – Martin himself has a high-maintenace girlfriend (Sriram) who is remarkably materialistic. He also befriends a little boy who hides in a water-filled garbage can, using it as a kind of DIY sensory deprivation tank. There is also the stoner pool guy Terrence (Cancelmi) who has a large hole in the ground where he likes to smoke weed and invites Martin to join him from time to time. He also dispenses pearls of wisdom that are very un-stoner-like.

Good use is made of the bucolic Cape Cod setting. The best part of the movie is the relationship between Ted and Martin. It’s generally contentious, and there are times you want to give each one a good shaking, but at others you marvel at the humanity they have. Each man is played as wounded and imperfect; Butz, in particular, shines here, shows Ted as sometimes overwhelmed in his grief.

Some have classified this as a LGBTQ film and I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate; it’s more of a film in which one of the main characters is gay, but it isn’t necessarily about his experience as a gay man. It appears that most people in town seem to accept Ted for who he is, but it would seem likely in a small New England town that he would have encountered some push back. That really isn’t explored here, though.

Overall, the tone is pretty low-key, almost to the point of lethargy. Some might find the tone unexciting, but in all honesty, I found this to be a satisfying slice of life that reminds us that yes, even our parents are capable of growth and change, and so are we. Solid, all around.

REASONS TO SEE: Complex, layered relationships.
REASONS TO AVOID: Might be a little too low-key for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug use and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Butz is a two-time Tony Award winner.
=BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Google Play, Spectrum, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
=CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/4/2022: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Beautiful Boy
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Huda’s Salon

Surveillance


Surveillance

Can you tell these two are federal agents?

(2008) Crime Thriller (Magnet) Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond, French Stewart, Pell James, Ryan Simpkins, Michael Ironside, Kent Harper, Cheri Oteri, Anita Smith, Mac Miller. Directed by Jennifer Chambers Lynch

Life is a matter of perception. What we see, what we experience, is filtered through our own realities. Often, our own personal realities color what we see and experience and so the reality changes, each according to their own flavor.

A brutal murder takes place on a desolate  road in the middle of nowhere. Captain Billings (Ironside) of the local police wants it solved, especially since it involved police officers being filleted. And then in walks Agents Hallaway (Pullman) and Anderson (Ormond), who believe it to be the work of a serial killer they’ve been chasing.

We see what happened through the eyes of three sets of witnesses; a couple of junkies (James, Miller), a family on a road trip vacation (Oteri, Simpkins) and two corrupt and brutal cops (Stewart, Harper). The interrogation takes place in one room while Hallaway watches via closed circuit TV in another. The clues to the masked killers begin to add up and an unpleasant truth begins to get formed.

It took 13 years for Lynch (daughter of David Lynch, auteur of Blue Velvet and “Twin Peaks”) to make her second film after making Boxing Helena, a 1993 gusher about a surgeon who amputates a girlfriend’s arms and legs in order to keep her close by. I’m thinking that she has a very different idea about love and obsession than most of the rest of us.

There is a good deal of violence and brutality here. The camera doesn’t shy from the more sadistic elements of the crime, nor is there any sort of feeling that the filmmaker is either apologizing for the sadism, nor is she reveling in it. It merely is as a matter of course.

There are some fine actors here, including Ormond who is an actress who should have been a huge star; she’s incredibly beautiful and incredibly talented, but for whatever reason, audiences never warmed to her and she never got the roles she should have. Pullman is one of the more likable actors in Hollywood, but here he seems to be involved in a twitch-a-thon, going as over the top as he can. In that sense, he is the most noticeable member of the cast here and so by default, all eyes are drawn to him throughout.

Part of the problem here is that the movie takes a certain course for the first two thirds of the film and then it veers off. While I’m not opposed to that in most cases, it’s almost like watching someone who is calm and collected suddenly turn into a gibbering lunatic before your very eyes in this case. It’s kind of off-putting, especially since aspects of the movie are so unsettling to begin with. It’s definitely a dive into the deep end, if you discovered raw sewage leaking into it. There is a twist at the end but quite frankly it doesn’t come as much of a surprise, for those who are regular moviegoers at least.

Certain filmmakers have a style which doesn’t shy from the darker aspects of life. Jennifer Lynch is one; her father is another. Is it genetic? Doesn’t matter in the least. Sometimes watching movies in that vein can be difficult; it’s like identifying the body of a loved one in the morgue with a coroner who can’t stop gigging.

There are some things here worth checking out; there are also things here that are going to drive you crazy. Whatever the case may be, you won’t walk away from this with a lukewarm feeling. Love it or hate it, Surveillance is going to get a strong reaction from you.

WHY RENT THIS: I like the Rashomon style of storytelling. Pullman is at his quirky best.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some might find this too sadistic. Ending is a bit too muddled.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some brutal violence, kinky sex, a little bit of drug use and more than enough foul language to make this a definite hard “R.”

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lynch was the first woman to win the Best Director Prize at the New York Horror Film Festival.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.14M on an unreported production budget; the film probably broke even or even made some money.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Green Hornet