Rabbit Hole


Even comic books won't cheer Miles Teller up.

Even comic books won’t cheer Miles Teller up.

(2010) Drama (Lionsgate) Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Miles Teller, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Tenney, Stephen Mailer, Mike Doyle, Roberta Wallach, Patricia Kalember, Ali Marsh, Yetta Gottesman, Colin Mitchell, Deidre Goodwin, Julie Lauren, Rob Campbell, Jennifer Roszell, Marylouse Burke. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

In the initial throes of grief there is much screaming and sobbing. It’s what happens eight months after the initial shock of loss that is the concern here of playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and director John Cameron Mitchell. Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Eckhart) are still grieving the loss of their four-year-old son in a tragic traffic accident and the grief is less immediate but no less sharp and painful, so much so that their marriage is beginning to crumble. While Howie turns to a fellow member (Oh) in a grief counseling group for solace, the fragile and shrewish Becca has surprisingly found the teenager driver (Teller) of the car that killer her boy. So painful that it is at times nearly unwatchable, fine performances from the leads (Kidman particularly) overcome an occasionally contrived script.

WHY RENT THIS: Kidman’s performance is extremely strong. The relationship between Howie and Becky is surprisingly authentic.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Occasionally the dialogue and some of the plot points feel contrived.
FAMILY VALUES: The themes are definitely mature; there is some brief drug use and some foul language as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Teller’s film debut.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.1M on a $5M production budget.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Collateral Beauty
FINAL RATING: 7/10

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11-11-11


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Timothy Gibbs is as bewildered as you are.

Timothy Gibbs is as bewildered as you are.

2011) Horror (Rocket) Timothy Gibbs, Michael Landes, Wendy Glenn, Benjamin Cook, Lolo Herrero, Salome Jimenez, Brendan Price, Denis Rafter, Angela Rosal, Lluis Soler, Jose Bertolero, Oscar Velsecchi, Jose Antonio Marin, Luis Alba, Jesus Cuenca, Titus Ferrer, Alejandro Gil, Jason Abell, Emilie Autumn, Patrizia Medrano. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

They say that the secret to the universe is written in numbers. I call it mathematic mysticism – a belief that the universe is controlled in a supernatural way by math and numbers. While I can get behind science and mathematics as the language of creation, it’s a bit of a leap of faith to think that numbers control our destiny.

Joseph Crone (Gibbs) would probably like a word with whomever or whatever is controlling his destiny. A bestselling author of thrillers, he is bitter and alone after his wife and son died in a fire while he was away. Since then he has had frequent nightmares about their deaths and has been unable to write a single word despite pressure from his agent to follow up on his last book which sold more than 5 million copies.

He is also attending grief therapy class along with comely widow Sadie (Glenn). There is a bit of a connection between them and he begins to open up, telling her he’s been seeing the number 11 a lot lately, particularly in groups of two i.e. nightmares taking place precisely at 11:11pm, a car crash taking place at 11:11am, that sort of thing. Then, he gets word from his estranged brother Samuel (Landes) that their father (Rafter) is dying.

Joseph flies back to Barcelona to be with his family. Samuel is confined to a wheelchair after an auto accident and he and dad are cared for by Ana (Rosal), the housekeeper who’s been keeping a diary and who makes creepy pronouncements. Samuel has become pastor of his father’s church during his illness and despite Samuel’s best efforts attendance is dwindling. Joseph has long since lost his faith, figuring any God who could let his family die in a fire was someone he largely had no interest in getting to know.

Demonic apparitions begin to show at 11:11pm and increasingly inexplicable and largely scary events begin to lead Joseph to the conclusion that yes, there are more things under the sun than can be explained by men and as he does further research begins to come under the sneaky suspicion that something bad is going to happen to Samuel on November 11, 2011. But can someone who has no faith stop something that requires faith to believe in it?

Bousman, who has directed several films in the Saw series, goes the demonic route here and surprisingly for him keeps the blood and gore to a bare minimum. Bousman does an adequate job of creating an environment that is spooky to the max but then populates it with few genuine scares. Mostly one just gets a creepy feeling, like watching a snake swallow a rat. Now if the rat were to suddenly leap out of the snake’s flesh with bared fangs and red glowing eyes…

But I digress. Part of the problem is that Gibbs is playing Joseph as emotionally cut off and almost zombie-like. Now, grief can cause one to shut off one’s feelings and I get that – however, for the purposes of a movie, the hero needs to at least show something other than numbness. He also needs to vary the tones of his dialogue so that he doesn’t sound like a robot. Gibbs is a handsome fellow, sort of a cross between Dermot Mulroney and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but handsome alone can’t carry a film.

Bousman is actually a very entertaining speaker and does some of the best commentaries in the DVD business and he spends a good deal of time lamenting about budget constraints that take the initial climactic battle from 1,111 demons to five guys in rubber masks. You get what you pay for in that sense.

I think Bousman was successful enough at creating a scary atmosphere that the film succeeds overall if just barely. However, this isn’t the kind of movie that will scare you out of your seat. It might just give you the willies so chicken-hearted horror film fans, take note.

WHY RENT THIS: Atmospheric and creepy.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks real scares. Acting is less than convincing. Been-there-done-that demons.

FAMILY VALUES: It’s a horror film so, like, some horrible things happen. There’s also a bit of violence, some disturbing images and a few thematic concerns.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bousman states on the commentary track that he believes the house they filmed in Barcelona in was actually haunted and goes on to recount some unexplainable activity that occurred while shooting took place.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.2M on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Number 23

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Day 4 of Six Days of Darkness 2013!!

Passengers


Passengers

Anne Hathaway figures out that Columbia has buried her movie.

(Columbia) Anne Hathaway, Patrick Wilson, David Morse, Andre Braugher, Clea DuVall, Dianne Wiest, William B. Davis, Ryan Robbins, Don Thompson. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia

If we’re going to properly deal with life, we also must learn how to deal with death. Every so often, we experience an event in which death stares us right in the face. How we react to that can be a life-defining moment – or a life-destroying one.

Claire (Hathaway) is a grief counselor and budding psychiatrist who is assigned to work with the few survivors of a horrific commercial airline crash. Her group contains the suspicious and skeptical Shannon (DuVall), the paranoid Norman (Thompson) and the euphoric stockbroker Eric (Wilson) whose brush with death has turned him into a type “A” personality.

Soon, the passengers begin to assert that contrary to the official report (which blamed the crash on pilot error), there had been an explosion in the main cabin. Arkin (Morse), an airline executive, begins to lurk around Claire’s patients and sessions, and as the survivors begin to disappear one by one, Claire begins to suspect that a conspiracy is afoot.

When she reports her suspicions to her boss (Braugher), she is met with some skepticism but as the coincidences begin to mount, even he starts to admit there might be something to her fears. In the meantime, she has become more and more attracted to Eric who is encouraging her to cross ethical lines (or as she incorrectly puts it in the dialogue, unethical lines). Soon, Claire herself finds that she may be in danger of joining the list of victims of the crash.

This movie was shelved several times from the Sony release schedule, eventually receiving a modest and somewhat begrudging limited run with a minimum of publicity behind it. This is what is known as burying a film, and that’s just what happened to Passengers. Generally, that means the film is truly awful and the studio is only releasing it to make back a modicum of its cost; generally execs will view the buried film as a kind of tax write-off.

I was expecting the worst when I saw this and was surprised to find that it wasn’t truly bad. Hathaway is an engaging performer and even if there were a few wrong notes hit for her as a psychiatrist, she makes up for it by being sympathetic (other than the ethical violation thing) and interesting. While the subplot with her sister seemed a bit forced, still Hathaway is one of the better things in the movie.

The script definitely has a “Twilight Zone” feel to it and while I think they would have benefitted with the input of a Rod Serling or a Richard Matheson, director Garcia and writer Ronnie Christensen have managed to create a nice, unsettling atmosphere with some legitimate spine-tingling moments. Unfortunately, much of the good will is undone with the ending, which is borrowed from a recent classic and brings the movie screeching to a halt. It’s not so much the concept I had problems with but with the execution, which felt a little too close to the way the twist was revealed in the other movie I referred to.

This is one of those movies that is certainly flawed but has enough going for it to get a mild recommendation. Those who like those old TV shows like “The Outer Limits” and of course “The Twilight Zone” might get a kick out of this. Those who like Anne Hathaway will certainly enjoy this since she’s in virtually every scene. This isn’t a hidden gem so much as a hidden rhinestone; still, it is much better than I expected it to be.

WHY RENT THIS: Hathaway is becoming one of the most compelling actresses in Hollywood. Some seriously good moments in the thriller vein, especially if you’re a fan of “The Twilight Zone.”

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The “twist” ending has been done before and much better; savvy moviegoers will be able to suss it out pretty quickly.

FAMILY VALUES: A few decent scares and some sensuality make this suitable for older teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Eric tells Claire he’s a vice-president at the brokerage firm Kahane-Drake. Nathan Kahane and Joe Drake are the executive producers on the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A feature about the staging of the plane crash is relatively interesting, but most of the features are the usual standards.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Charlie Bartlett