Fireflies in the Garden


Family dinners in indie films rarely end well.

Family dinners in indie films rarely end well.

(2008) Drama (Senator) Ryan Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Willem Dafoe, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Watson, Ioan Gruffudd, Hayden Panettiere, Shannon Lucio, Cayden Boyd, George Newbern, Brooklyn Proulx, Diane Perella, Natalie Karp, John C. Stennfeld, Philip Rose, Babs George, Frank Ertl, Grady McCardell, Chase Ellison, Michelle Brew, Gina Gheller, Stayce Smith. Directed by Dennis Lee

There are those who say that we cannot escape childhood. Like death and taxes, it pursues us with relentless ferocity and those things in childhood that wounded us remain with us, periodically picking at the scabs.

Michael Taylor (Reynolds) is a best-selling author although what he writes is generally considered “light” reading. His relationship with his father Charles (Dafoe) is strained at best. Charles is himself a frustrated writer who retreated into the halls of academia when his career as a novelist didn’t pan out. A strict disciplinarian with his children but mostly with his son, Charles meets any indiscretion with the most horrific and overreacting punishments imaginable. You can imagine what this academic does when Michael as a boy (Boyd) shames him by plagiarizing a Robert Frost poem and presenting it as his own.

Michael is definitely abused but he has two women in his corner; his gentle mother Lisa (Roberts) and his feisty aunt Jane (Watson as an adult, Panettiere as a teen) who protect him against the worst of his father’s rages and comfort him when their protection is breached.

As an adult Michael has definitely made some errors. He has separated from his wife Kelly (Moss) and continues to have a contentious relationship with his father. When a family tragedy brings the family into the same place, Michael and Charles will have to confront their feelings for one another perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Although set in Illinois, the movie was filmed in Texas and has a kind of Southern gothic feel to it that is almost soap opera-esque. Dafoe is note-perfect as Charles whose anger issues and self-loathing point to deeper waters that the film doesn’t explore but that Dafoe seems to have a handle on. Roberts’ Lisa at first glance seems like the long-suffering wife archetype but it turns out that she has some secrets of her own and not all of them are pleasant. Roberts, normally a star who appears in much higher-profile movies, imbues Lisa with decency and humanity.

Reynolds in recent years has gotten all sorts of flack for appearing in some sub-par films but to my mind is actually capable of some pretty good work. This is an example of him at his finest, showing that Reynolds can really deliver when given the right script.

The jumps between present day and past can be jarring and with all the souls revolving around the story here it can be difficult to distinguish one character from another. Simple linear storytelling might have served the film better, or failing that cutting down on the superfluous characters would at least be helpful.

The pacing here is as slow as a tax refund when you really need it which suits me just fine but some viewers who prefer a more robust pace might find frustrating. Lee does have a good eye and some of the scenes have an artful grace to them, such as when the family is swatting fireflies with badminton racquets or the bookending scenes in which young Michael is forced to walk home in the rain after a transgression in the car and his nephew Christopher (Ellison) runs away from nearly the same spot 22 years later. Despite the star power for this indie feature, there isn’t enough here to really sustain interest over the course of a full film although there is enough promise in Lee’s work to keep me interested in his future endeavors.

WHY RENT THIS: Fine performances by Dafoe, Roberts and Reynolds. Some graceful touches.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Multiple actors playing the same role gets confusing. Storytelling is a bit muddled. Languidly paced.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of foul language as well as some sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Moss and Panettiere share a birthday.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.4M on an $8M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tree of Life

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Bad Words

Four-Warned October 2011


October 2011

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.
The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THE THING (1.4)
2. THE IDES OF MARCH (1.6)
3. IN TIME (1.7)
4. PUSS IN BOOTS (1.8)
TIE. THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1.8)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. HELL AND BACK AGAIN (1.3)
2. FIREFLIES IN THE GARDEN (1.4)
3. MARGIN CALL (1.6)
4. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (1.7)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

OCTOBER 5, 2011

HELL AND BACK AGAIN (Docurama) Genre: Documentary. An American soldier copes with civilian life after a brutal tour in Afghanistan. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles October 14). RATING: 1.3 If the movie is anything like the trailer, this is an amazing and affecting documentary.

OCTOBER 7, 2011

1911 (Well Go USA/Variance) Genre: Period War Drama. The citizens of China rebel against a despotic dowager empress and the 7-year-old son in whose name she rules. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Jackie Chan in an epic war movie? I’m so there…
BLACKTHORN (Magnolia) Genre: Western. Butch Cassidy survives the Bolivian shoot-out to live a quiet life under an assumed name in South America but gets drawn in to one last adventure. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks like an awesome Western with Sam Sheppard as Cassidy.
DIRTY GIRL (Weinstein) Genre: Comedy. A young girl living in Norman, Oklahoma in 1987 persuades a young overweight outcast to drive her to California to find her dad. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks like a quirky indie comedy that’s been done to death.
EVERYDAY SUNSHINE: THE STORY OF FISHBONE (Pale Griot) Genre: Musical Documentary. One of the most innovative and exciting bands to come out of Los Angeles in the ’80s gets their due here. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles October 21). RATING: 3.3 Although I never fully got into the band, they definitely had their own unique sound.
THE HEIR APPARENT: LARGO WINCH (Music Box) Genre: Action Adventure. The heir to a billionaire’s fortune takes over his father’s multinational corporation with unexpected results. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Has almost a video game feel to it.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2: (FULL SEQUENCE) (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. A sexual deviant obsessed with the previous film in the series decides to create a human centipede of his own, this time utilizing twelve people instead of three. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 One of the most twisted films of recent years gets an equally twisted sequel.
THE IDES OF MARCH (Columbia) Genre: Thriller. A presidential candidate’s press secretary becomes embroiled in a scandal on the eve of the primary. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 An all-star cast headed by Ryan Gosling and George Clooney make this quite intriguing.
INCENDIARY: THE WILLINGHAM CASE (Truly Indie) Genre: Documentary. An examination into a case of a potentially innocent man executed for a heinous crime with political overtones. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Casts doubt on the death penalty as well as the presidential candidacy of Rick Perry.
REAL STEEL (DreamWorks) Genre: Science Fiction. A down on his luck ex-prizefighter tries to make a comeback in the new sport of robot boxing in order to bond with his estranged son. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.9 Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots from the look of it.
THE SONS OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS (First Run) Genre: Documentary. The story of the gay Mardi Gras and the earliest attempts to assert gay rights in New Orleans. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles October 15). RATING: 2.2 A study in courage that is inspiring to gay and straight audiences alike.
THE SWELLSEASON (SeventhArt) Genre: Musical Documentary. A look at the band The Swell Season whose principles won Oscars for Once and whose romance rose and fell through the rigors of touring. Release Strategy: Los Angeles (opening in New York City October 21). RATING: 2.4 We get to see the reality of a terrific band we thought we knew through a movie.
THE WAY (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Drama. After his son dies on a pilgrimage on the Way of St. James, his father decides to complete the journey in memory of his boy and in doing so, gains a greater understanding of who he was. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Emilio Estevez directs his dad Martin Sheen on what looks to be an interesting film from the trailer.
THE WOMAN ON THE 6TH FLOOR (Strand) Genre: Comedy. A Parisian stockbroker circa 1960 has his world turned upside-down by a group of Spanish maids. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 A French class comedy; the trailer looks intriguing.

OCTOBER 12, 2011

AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL II: THE THIN COMMANDMENTS (PMK*BNC) Genre: Documentary. America’s unhealthy obsession with dieting and body image gets a look under the microscope. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (expands on October 21). RATING: 3.8 The forces behind weight loss and body image turn out to be more insidious than you’d think.

OCTOBER 14, 2011

THE BIG YEAR (20th Century Fox) Genre: Comedy. Three men whose lives are in a tailspin decide to make this year their best yet particular in regards to bird watching. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 You’d expect a cast with Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson would be intriguing but the trailer left me a bit flat.
BOMBAY BEACH (Boaz Yakin) Genre: Documentary. A former resort community on the Salton Sea becomes a haven for hippies and outsiders. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.3 I’m sure that this is what a lot of people think all of California is like.
CHALET GIRL (IFC) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A young skateboarder turned burger flipper gets a chance to cater in an exclusive Alpine resort where she discovers snowboarding and possibly love. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 The trailer made the movie look like a mediocre rom-com with a British accent and lots of snow.
FATHER OF INVENTION (Anchor Bay) Genre: Comedy. An entrepreneur whose invention turns out to be dangerous gets a second chance at success. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 The trailer looked good and the part looks like a good fit for Kevin Spacey.
FIREFLIES IN THE GARDEN (FSI) Genre: Drama. A family is torn apart when the mother, the glue who held them together, dies suddenly. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 An amazing cast includes Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds and Willem Dafoe.
FOOTLOOSE (Paramount) Genre: Musical. When a small town bans dancing after a tragedy, a lone newcomer challenges the law. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 Why did this need to be remade? And why make it look like part of the Step Up franchise?
THE SKIN I LIVE IN (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A brilliant plastic surgeon tries to create an artificial skin that might have saved his wife, a victim of a horrible car accident. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Director Pedro Almodovar is known for creating movies that push the boundaries.
TEXAS KILLING FIELDS (Anchor Bay) Genre: Mystery. A pair of small town detectives hunt for a sadistic serial killer who dumps his victim’s bodies in a nearby swamp. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Stars Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan; the trailer looked intriguing.
THE THING (Universal) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. A team of Antarctic researchers find a spacecraft in the ice…and something in it. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.4 A prequel to John Carpenter’s version of the story is the third movie of the same name based on the same material.
TRESPASS (Millennium) Genre: Thriller. A wealthy family having their house renovated are the victims of a well-thought out home invasion by a gang of vicious criminals. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Despite a cast that includes Nicole Kidman and Nicolas Cage looks like a retread of movies we’ve seen before.
THE WOMAN (Bloody Disgusting Selects) Genre: Horror. A country lawyer finds a feral woman in the woods and attempts to civilize her, bringing her home to a family that grows more savage as their attempts fail. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 With a graphic rape, this had people walking out on the film at Sundance.

OCTOBER 19, 2011

THE CATECHISM CATACLYSM (IFC) Genre: Comedy. An eccentric pastor is suspended for telling inappropriate parables to his flock; he goes for a bonding fishing trip with his high school friend, a former metal guitarist and the two find things get really weird really fast. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles November 4). RATING: 3.1 Looks like it could be an acquired taste.
PAUL GOODMAN CHANGED MY LIFE (Zeitgeist) Genre: Documentary. Goodman, one of the counterculture’s most influential thinkers, is profiled as a renaissance man of his time. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.0 Most Americans are unaware of him or his landmark novel “Growing Up Absurd” but he was a crusader for gay rights and pacifism before nearly anyone.

OCTOBER 21, 2011

BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER’S JOURNEY (Submarine Deluxe) Genre: Documentary. Kevin Clash creates a beloved icon but starts out as a fan of Jim Henson. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles November 4). RATING: 3.2 A must-see for Muppet fans.
CARGO (Persona) Genre: Drama. A young Russian woman hoping for a modeling career enters the U.S. illegally, crossing paths with an Egyptian human trafficker. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.3 A gritty look at the human toll of human trafficking.
JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (Universal) Genre: Spy Spoof. Rowan Atkinson stars as a British superspy brought out of retirement in order to prevent a global catastrophe. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.7 It wasn’t funny the first time.
KLITSCHKO (Corinth) Genre: Sports Documentary. The story of the Klitschko brothers who rose from the Soviet Union to dominate boxing – and Ukrainian politics. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 A surprisingly interesting boxing documentary.
LE HAVRE (Janus) Genre: Dramedy. A bohemian shoe shiner in the French port city stands up for an immigrant boy about to be deported. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 2.9 Looks awfully heartwarming in a non-schmaltzy way.
MARGIN CALL (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. Employees at a financial firm in the beginning stages of the 2008 crash grapple with financial, ethical and moral issues. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Great cast and what appears to be a thrilling plotline.
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Thriller. A young woman who escaped from a cult has the line between reality and fantasy blurred by her paranoia. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.7 A Sundance sensation that has a fantastic-looking trailer.
THE MIGHTY MACS (Freestyle Releasing) Genre: True Sports Drama. A tiny Catholic girls school becomes an NCAA women’s basketball powerhouse. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks interesting but I’m a bit burned out on the genre.
NORMAN (AMC Independent) Genre: Drama. A high school senior whose mother recently passed away and whose father is dying starts to exhibit his father’s symptoms in order to maintain the fiction that he is dying himself. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Looks very intriguing from the trailer and with the great Richard Jenkins in the cast and Andrew Bird writing the music, color me interested.
ORANGES AND SUNSHINE (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Drama. A courageous social worker in England discovers the illegal deportation of children to Australia. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.7 Incredibly, this is based on a true story.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (Paramount) Genre: Supernatural Horror. Sisters Kate and Christine have their first encounter with the evil force that plagued them in the first two movies. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 The first two films in the series have been as scary as the first two films in any horror franchise – maybe more so.
RETREAT (Goldwyn) Genre: Thriller. A couple recuperating from a personal tragedy on a remote island retreat find a man washed up on the shore who tells them Europe is in the grip of a plague. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 This looks like one of those paranoia-inducing thrillers with a biohazard edge; could be good.
THE REUNION (Goldwyn) Genre: Action. A trio of dysfunctional brothers join forces as bail bondsmen in order to cash in on a large inheritance. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Another WWE film that doesn’t look particularly impressive.
REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CARS (WestMidWest/Area23A) Genre: Documentary. Ten years after Who Killed the Electric Cars, the status of four carmakers – including GM – seeking to set the market for electric cars is examined. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 The original documentary is a classic; will this one live up to it?
SNOWMEN (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Family Drama. A young boy with cancer wants to set the world record for most snowmen built in 24 hours. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Saw this at the Florida Film Festival earlier this year; read the review here.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (Summit) Genre: Adventure. D’Artagnan and the legendary three musketeers must take on wicked Cardinal Richelieu and his killers to prevent a devastating war between England and France. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.8 A little swashbuckling can be good for the soul.

OCTOBER 26, 2011

RA.ONE (Eros International) Genre: Science Fiction. A videogame villain is released into the real world, prompting the game’s creator to become a tech-enhanced superhero. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Sounds a bit like TRON but the trailer looked impressive.

OCTOBER 28, 2011

13 (Anchor Bay) Genre: Action. A young handyman assumes a dead man’s identity and enters a deadly game of chance. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.2 A remake of the terrific French film 13 Tzameti with a cast that includes Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham and Ray Winstone.
AND THEY’RE OFF… (Kinobild) Genre: Mockumentary. A racehorse trainer with a perennial losing record in desperation hires an ex-girlfriend as jockey, not understanding she’s only doing it to get back together with him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 Despite a decent cast, the trailer did not inspire me to want to see this.
ANONYMOUS (Columbia) Genre: Drama. The question of whether or not William Shakespeare actually authored his own work is examined and a theory presented. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 An intriguing idea and the first movie by director Roland Emmerich to lack an epic scope in quite awhile.
THE DOUBLE (Image) Genre: Spy Thriller. The murder of a U.S. Senator appears to be the work of a Soviet assassin, bringing a CIA operative who knew him best out of retirement to track him down. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Sounds intriguing but with no trailer available as of this writing, can’t really get too excited yet.
IN TIME (20th Century Fox) Genre: Science Fiction. In the future where time is the currency and nobody ages past 25, a young man tries to right a corrupt system in which the wealthy live forever and the poor live on borrowed time. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 One of the most interesting concepts to come along in awhile; hopefully they’ll do the idea justice.
JANIE JONES (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. An aging rocker trying for one last comeback is forced to bring his 13 year old daughter on the road while her mom is in rehab. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.6 The trailer looked authentic and the music sounded good and who knew Abigail Breslin could sing?
LIKE CRAZY (Paramount Vantage) Genre: Romance. Two college students meet and fall in love but one is forced to leave the country when she violates the terms of her student visa. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Teen angst taken to the Nth degree.
MY REINCARNATION (Long Shot Factory) Genre: Documentary. The son of a Tibetan Buddhist Master rejects his status as the reincarnation of a renowned Buddhist teacher and embraces the modern world. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.8 Based on a British movie of the same name.
OKA! (DADA) Genre: Adventure. An ethnomusicologist in the Central African forest studying the music of the Bayaka pygmies fights to protect their land from greedy political interests. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 2.8 The trailer looks promising.
PUSS IN BOOTS (DreamWorks) Genre: Animated Feature. The fabulous feline from the Shrek series gets a movie of his own. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.8 The last Shrek movie was pretty weak; hopefully the emphasis on Puss will re-energize the franchise.
THE RUM DIARY (FilmDistrict) Genre: Drama. The Hunter S. Thompson novel comes to life with Johnny Depp as a hedonistic reporter in 1950s Puerto Rico. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Depp’s second HST adaptation after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
SLEEPING BEAUTY (IFC) Genre: Drama. A reckless university student takes a job as a sex worker, allowing old men to have erotic experiences with her as she sleeps; her work eventually commences to bleed into her waking life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A very sensuous, intriguing trailer.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Ides of March, Real Steel, The Big Year, The Thing, Margin Call, The Three Musketeers, Anonymous, In Time, The Rum Diary