Dave Made a Maze


The Tiki God of garbage gazes over his domain.

(2016) Fantasy Comedy (Foton) Nick Thune, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Stephanie Allynne, Adam Busch, Scott Krinsky, James Urbaniak, John Hennigan, Frank Caeti, Scott Narver, Kirsten Vangsness, Drew Knigga, Kamilla Alnes, Rick Overton, Timothy Nordwind, Etienne Eckert, Brittney Deutsch, Jessica Graves. Directed by Bill Watterson

The imagination can be a powerful thing. It can create entire worlds…entire realities. It can change one’s life in a heartbeat. Of course, it comes in real handy when making movies as well.

Dave (Thune) is one of those guys who just pisses away his life. He has a thousand ideas for things but he never follows them through to the end. As a result, as he hits 30 and wonders where his life is taking him, he feels a failure even though he has a beautiful girlfriend named Anna (Kumbhani) and a bunch of friends who think he’s cool.

One weekend, Anna is out of town on a business trip and Dave is bored out of his skull. He decides to construct a maze out of cardboard in the living room – an elaborate one. Like many projects that become obsessions, it takes on a life of its own.

When Anna arrives home, she discovers the maze in her living room and can find neither hide nor hair of Dave. Eventually she hears his voice calling from inside the cardboard creation. It turns out that he’s gotten lost in the maze. That sounds absolutely unbelievable but Dave insists that it is much bigger on the inside. Anna means to knock it down so he can get out but he begs her not to – he wants to finish something for once in his life.

He doesn’t want her to go in and get her either – a rescue mission is too dangerous as there are booby traps and trip wires. Nonetheless, Anna calls Dave’s best friend Gordon (Busch) and he calls a few other friends (despite being told explicitly not to) and soon there’s a party in Dave’s living room which includes power couple Greg (Nordwind) and Brynn (Allynne), ubernerd Jane (Vangsness), a random homeless guy (Overton), Harry (Urbaniak), a documentary film maker with his boom operator (Caeti) and camera operator (Narver) and a couple of Flemish tourists (Knigga and Alnes) and Leonard (Krinsky) who is just…Leonard.

They all go in after him and find a world they could never imagined; living origami, a Tiki God that spurts out living ribbon, rooms that evolve on their own and yes, a Minotaur (Hennigan) for good measure. Not everyone is going to make it out alive, but then again, not all of them were really living anyway.

I gotta hand it to first-time filmmaker Watterson – he has oodles of imagination. The production design here may be low-budget but it is absolutely captivating. The world of the maze isn’t like anything you’ve ever seen…well, most of it is anyway. The crew used 30,000 square feet of cardboard to construct the maze and…well, every penny is on the screen as some critics like to say.

Watterson also uses perspective as an additional effect to keep the viewer off balance, and he wisely refrains from using it overmuch. One of the things that encourage me about this new director is that he knows how to keep from being repetitive while remaining creative. That’s not as easy as it sounds.

Thune has plenty of charisma and likability in the lead role and I can see him building on this and getting some plum roles in the near future. Certainly performances like this will make him eligible for romantic comedy leads as well as straight comedies. Thune has a pretty rosy future.

There are a few faces here from TV, like Vangsness from Criminal Minds, Allynne from One Mississippi and Krinsky from Chuck but most of the others with the exception of Thune are largely not well known and Thune is known mostly for being a stand-up comic with appearances on stand-up shows and @Midnight.

Be warned though that in watching this you’re likely to suffer hipster overload. The movie is lousy with them and those who find them insufferable may find themselves heading for the exit. The soundtrack is full of indie rock and the male characters with beards. You may want to dose yourself with anti-hipster medicine before coming to see this.

That and an ending that doesn’t live up to the rest of the movie aside, this is a very strong entry in the ranks of indie films this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get some distribution from one of the big indies. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those movies that is going to show up in a lot of best of the year lists this year.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the most amazing production design you’ll see in a film this year. Thune is an engaging and earnest lead. Watterson has a good eye for perspective. One of the most imaginative films at this year’s Florida Film Festival.
REASONS TO STAY: Hipster overload. The ending is a tad weak.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The director is not related to the cartoonist of the same name who created Calvin & Hobbes.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/23/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cool World
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: For Ahkeem

It’s Not My Fault (And I Don’t Care Anyway)


This hideout could use a cleaning service.

(2017) Dramedy (108 Media) Alan Thicke, Quinton Aaron, Leah Doz, Valerie Planche, Reamonn Joshee, Jesse Lipscombe, Allen Belcourt, Orin McCusker, Tony Yee, Elisa Benzer, Kevin Hanchard, Norma Lewis, Trevor Schmidt, Hillary Warden, Julia LeConte, Amber Lewis, Christine Sokaymoh Frederick, Mark Sinongco, Donovan Workun, Matt Alden, Erica Ullyot. Directed by Christopher Craddock

 

In our current society, self-help has been taken to new heights. We have become so self-involved, so self-focused that we have stopped seeing ourselves as part of anything larger. We’ve become all about getting everything we can for ourselves and everyone else can go screw themselves. It’s not a society that is pretty.

Patrick Spencer (Thicke) is a self-help guru who has gotten rich preaching “me first” to the choir. Masses of people have bought his books and attended his speaking engagements all chanting his mantra “It’s not my fault and I don’t care anyway” like robots, a means of absolving themselves of responsibility for anything. Patrick, a former alcoholic, is really good at that.

His daughter Diana (Doz) can attest to that more than most. Her relationship with her Dad is a rocky one indeed. She watched her mother (Frederick) grow more and more morose until she divorced Patrick; once she got the divorce settlement that would allow Diana to live decently, she took her leave of this life. Diana turned to drugs and sex.

Brian Calhoun (Aaron) grew up with loving parents, although things ended badly for them. Brian is called “Giant Man” around the neighborhood (not a terribly imaginative nickname) for his size which is impressive. It also comes with a price; Brian knows that his lifespan will be much shorter than most. Alone and miserable, Brian becomes a heroin addict and his size brings him to the attention of Johnny Three Fingers (Lipscombe), a vicious drug dealer and crime boss. Johnny needs an intimidator, something his right hand men Moose (Belcourt) and Lil’ Charles (McCusker) aren’t really capable of.

But Lil’ Charles has been seeing Diana and discovers her daddy is rich. When Johnny finds out about this, he decides a kidnapping and ransom would be in order. What he failed to reckon with that Patrick is so self-centered that he refuses to pay a ransom for his daughter; if she dies, after all, it’s not his fault and he doesn’t care anyway.

The two cops assigned to the case, Detective Elizabeth Stone (Planche) and her partner Smitty (Joshee) are dumbfounded by this but nonetheless go about trying to solve the case and, hopefully, rescue Diana. Brian who is really a gentle giant however doesn’t want to see her get hurt and together the two come up with a plan but it is a dangerous one.

This Canadian film is one of the last appearances of the late Alan Thicke, who is best known for playing the dad in Growing Pains, a hit sitcom back in the 80s. This is a far different role than Dr. Jason Seaver was for him. In a lot of ways, it’s a very savvy character particularly attuned to the modern man. He’s very charming but not always likable and I suppose that’s what our society values these days. Craddock, who based this on his own one-man play, picked up on that nicely.

The film is essentially told in flashback by four of the main characters in a kind of confessional way. Patrick discusses the incident at one of his self-help speaking engagements. Diana talks about it at a sex addiction group therapy session. Brian tells his side of the story during a police interrogation after the act. Finally Detective Stone is interviewed about the story by a journalist (Benzer).

The most compelling story belongs to that of Brian and in all honesty Aaron is the most likable actor in the group (with all due respect to Thicke). Aaron, who most might remember playing Big Mike Oher in The Blind Side, has a very sweet nature and while it’s hard to believe him as a heroin addict he manages to make the part his own anyway. His story tended to be the one I enjoyed the most.

There is a wry tone to the humor which is rather dry and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I enjoy the change of pace from most of the comedies we’ve been getting lately in which the humor is broad. However, it isn’t as funny as I would have liked and at times the energy is lacking. Part of the problem is that much of the film is static; we’re watching the characters sitting in chairs talking about the kidnapping and their lives up to that point.

This almost feels like a made for TV movie other than the graphic sex scene that comes out of nowhere and the fairly consistent use of profanity which one might expect from criminal sorts. Still, if you’re going to do that I think you need a little bit more punch. Not that there isn’t any – it’s just that there are so many talking head interludes that it disrupts the flow of the film.

Essentially this is available on VOD through various streaming services so that’s your best bet if you want to see this. It’s not a bad film but it isn’t very compelling either. I like that this is essentially about our move towards selfishness but it needed a bit more energy to make it work better.

REASONS TO GO: Aaron is a very compelling and likable performer. The humor is a little drier than usual which is quite welcome.
REASONS TO STAY: At times, the film gets a little bit too maudlin. The energy is missing at times.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some fairly graphic violence, some sexuality, drug use and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Thicke and Lipscombe penned and performed tunes on the soundtrack.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/17/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ruthless People
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: The Last Word

Jackie (2016)


A White House isn't necessarily a home.

A White House isn’t necessarily a home.

(2016) Biographical Drama (Fox Searchlight) Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, Caspar Phillipson, Beth Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Max Casella, Sara Verhagen, Héléne Kuhn, Deborah Findlay, Corey Johnson, Aidan O’Hare, Ralph Brown, David Caves, Penny Downie, Georgie Glen, Julie Judd. Directed by Pablo Larrain

 

One of the most iconic women of the 20th century was Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onasis. She epitomized elegance, grace, charm, culture and beauty in her era. To many, she epitomized the ideal of what a First Lady should be. Fiercely private, she rarely discussed her innermost feelings with anyone, even her most intimate confidantes. Riding in a motorcade in Dallas at her husband’s side, she would be the closest witness to one of the most singularly dramatic events of American history and yet she spoke very little about it after the fact.

This biopic mainly covers three separate events in the life of Jackie Kennedy (Portman); her 1961 televised taping of a personalized tour of the White House, for which she led an important restoration work; the assassination of her husband (Phillipson) and the events of the following week leading up to the funeral procession and an interview a week later with an unnamed journalist (Crudup) but who is mainly based on Theodore White of Life Magazine.

Portman nails her unique voice, a combination of New England patrician and breathy Marilyn Monroe sultriness. She portrays the First Lady as a woman knocked completely off-balance by the murder of her husband, and somewhat uncomfortable with the limelight. During the taping of her show, she is urged by her assistant Nancy Tuckerman (Gerwig) to smile which she does, somewhat shyly but she seems unsure of herself, as if she hasn’t quite memorized the lines she’s supposed to say. In the week following the assassination, she shows a hidden core of steel to Jack Valenti (Casella) who is LBJ’s (Lynch) chief of staff, as well as to her brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy (Sarsgaard).

She realizes her husband’s legacy will be incomplete and that if he is to have one, she will have to orchestrate it. It is she who comes up with the Camelot analogy, based on the hit musical of the time which she claimed her husband was quite fond of (and he may well have been – he never commented on it during his lifetime). While most believe that she made the reference off-handedly, the film (and writer Noel Oppenheim) suggest it was a deliberate attempt to give his presidency a mythic quality. If true, it certainly worked.

Portman is brilliant here; she is quite rightly considered the front-runner for the Best Actress Oscar and a nomination is certainly a lock. She has to tackle a great number of emotions; grief, frustration, anger, fear, self-consciousness – and hold it all under that veneer of charm and civility that Jackie was known for. The First Lady we see here is vastly different than the one that history remembers. In all honesty, who’s to say this version is wrong?

Larrain gets the period right from the fashions to the attitude of the people living in it. The Presidency at the time is not something that is bartered to the highest bidder; it is a position of respect that is won by the will of the people. The Kennedy clan understood that quite well and Larrain also understands it. The Presidency was held in a higher regard back then.

We get a Jackie Kennedy here who is much more politically savvy than history gives her credit for; she knows exactly what the right thing to say is and she holds herself in a way that reflects positively on her husband more than on herself. It is forgotten now but while her husband was President Jackie was considered to be a bit of a spendthrift. Much of her standing was achieved after she was no longer First Lady, but then an assassination of one’s husband will do that.

I do have a bone to pick with the film and that is its score. While the music of Camelot is used liberally and well, the score penned by Mica Levi is often discordant and sounds like it belongs on a European suspense thriller rather than a biography of the widow of President Kennedy. When the music becomes intrusive, it takes the viewer out of the film and that’s exactly what this score does; it gets the viewer thinking about the music rather than the film as a whole. Larrain also jumps around quite a bit in the timeline, showing the movie mainly as flashbacks and flash-forwards. It isn’t confusing so much as distracting and once again, the viewer is often taken out of the movie by being made aware that they are watching a movie. Good movies immerse their viewer and make them part of the experience and at times, this movie does. Then again, at times it does the opposite.

While this is essentially a biography, it is also very much conjecture. Most movies about the Kennedy assassination see it from the eyes of the President or from the witnesses; none to my knowledge have even attempted to view it through the First Lady’s perspective. I would imagine that largely is because we don’t know what the First Lady’s perspective was; she kept that well-hidden and knowing what I know about her, that isn’t surprising. I don’t know what she would have thought about this film but I suspect she would have been appalled by the rather graphic scene of her husband’s assassination and perhaps amused by what people thought she was thinking. I don’t know that Larrain and Oppenheim got it right; I suspect they got some of it right but we’ll never know. And perhaps that’s just as well; we need our myths to be inviolate. When Jackie, portrayed as a chain smoker here, icily tells the journalist “I don’t smoke,” when he wonders aloud what the public would think of her smoking, she’s making clear that she understands the need for mythological figures to be pure and that she has accepted her role as such.

Just as Lincoln, whose name is often bandied about in the film, belongs to the ages, so does John Kennedy – and Jackie as well. This is a strong film that your enjoyment of is going to depend a great deal on your opinion of the Kennedys to begin with. Some will be irritated that her carefully manicured persona is skewered here; others will be irritated that she is given a certain amount of sympathetic portrayal. In any case, anyone who loves great performances should make sure they see Portman’s work – it is truly worth the price of admission.

REASONS TO SEE: Portman gives a tour-de-force performance that is justifiably the odds-on favorite to win the Best Actress Oscar. The era and attitudes are captured nicely.
REASONS TO MISS: The soundtrack is annoying.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is some profanity and a scene of graphic violence and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Producer Darren Aronofsky (who at one time was set to direct this with Rachel Weisz in the title role) also directed Portman to her Oscar win for Black Swan.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 13 Days
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Manchester by the Sea

One More Time with Feeling


Nick Cave in his element.

Nick Cave in his element.

(2016) Musical Documentary (Picturehouse) Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Susie Bick, Thomas Wydler, Earl Cave, Else Torp, Martyn Casey, Jim Sclavunos, George Vjestica. Directed by Andrew Dominik

 

Nick Cave is one of those artists who people either never heard of or fall in love with. His sonorous voice isn’t the kind you associate with pop music and while his songs are beautiful and haunting, they generally have a darkness to them that some find uncomfortable. It isn’t an accident that one of his best albums is entitled Murder Ballads.

Cave had begun the recording of his sixteenth album with his band the Bad Seeds when tragedy struck; his 15-year-old son Arthur accidentally fell off a cliff near his Brighton home and died of the injuries he sustained. Cave and his wife Susie Bick were devastated as you can imagine and work on the album stopped for a time.

Now the songs of the album are infused with the presence of the son who is gone. The lyrics are dark and bitter, like a coffee infused with burnt chicory. The tragedy becomes the elephant in the room and in order to keep from answering endless questions about it, Cave enlisted Dominik, whose film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was scored by Cave and his usual partner-in-crime Warren Ellis.

Most of the film is in black and white (there are a couple of color sequences, one involving Cave’s surviving son Earl and a sequence in which Danish soprano Else Torp lends her voice to one of the songs on the album) and that seems perfect for the somber situation, and for Cave’s catalog in general. That’s not to say that this is all ashes and sackcloth however; there is some teasing that goes on, particularly from Ellis who claims that Cave’s hair “never looked better.”

The music is at the center of the film and quite frankly, I was motivated to buy Skeleton Tree almost immediately after arriving home (thank you, eMusic) and I haven’t regretted it since. The music is haunting and beautiful and sad – sad can be intensely beautiful – and will stick with you for a long while. I’m still listening to the tracks from the album in almost constant rotation.

Speaking of constant rotation, one of the annoying things about the movie is that for nearly every song Dominik has his camera circling on a dolly around the piano Cave is playing or the microphone Cave is singing into. There are some lighting effects that go with some of the songs but Dominik could have changed things up a little more from song to song. Frankly I ended up closing my eyes and just letting Cave’s voice wash over me for most of it and maybe that’s the intent. Cave’s voice is raw and real; reading the lyrics on the page are fine and they reveal his anguish and grief, but to really get the truth of his pain one must hear his voice. There are few singers who are as emotionally communicative as Cave is.

Another issue I have with the film is the interviews with Cave, particularly early on in the movie. Often Dominik (I assume it is Dominik doing the interviewing; it could be someone else) interrupts Cave and finishes his sentences. Sometimes Cave says “Yeah, right” but other times he says “No, not really…” as Dominik tries to express what Cave is feeling. A cardinal rule of interviewing on-camera is to let the subject do as much of the talking as possible; you never interrupt them nor put words in their mouth. Your function is to ask a few questions and the occasional follow-up but to keep your mouth shut as much as possible, particularly when you have someone like Cave who is intelligent and thoughtful. I would have preferred to hear more of Cave and less of Dominik.

Dominik is, however, a gifted visual director and some of the images here are amazing and poignant, particularly as the film goes on. Dominik chooses not to say anything specific about the tragedy that clearly haunts Cave so if you were initially unaware of his son’s passing you may end up getting snippets of some sort of unexpressed trauma but it isn’t until the last 20 minutes or so of the movie that Cave and his wife speak openly about the death of their son and they never tell you specifically what happened. The film’s final image – of the cliff where Arthur Cave spent his final moments – is a haunting one and will stay with you nearly as much as the music that precedes it.

This does make a fine companion piece to the album although I don’t know how much it is going to enhance the listening experience of sitting down in a nice quiet place, turning on the headphones and letting the music of the Bad Seeds and Cave’s expressive voice wash over you. If Dominick’s direction had been less intrusive this easily could have been a contender for best movie of the year. As it is it will certainly merit a certain amount of contention for my top ten list, although likely the second half. Skeleton Tree is more likely to vie for my favorite album of 2016 however, and you might feel the same after seeing this and more importantly, hearing the album.

REASONS TO GO: The music is absolutely amazing. Cave is a thoughtful interview subject. A fascinating look at the creative process for what will be a landmark album. At times, the film is emotionally wrenching.
REASONS TO STAY: Dominik is too intrusive a director. The interviews are poorly conducted.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is a little bit of profanity and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Other than a screening at the Venice Film Festival, the film debuted on September 8, the day before Skeleton Tree – the band’s sixteenth album – was released.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/21/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 92/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Listening to Skeleton Tree in a nice quiet place.
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: Max Rose

Hitchcock/Truffaut


The man who is arguably the greatest director of all time frames a point like he frames a shot.

The man who is arguably the greatest director of all time frames a point like he frames a shot.

(2015) Documentary (Cohen) Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, Matthieu Amalric (voice), Wes Anderson, Paul Schrader, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Directed by Kent Jones

Greatness isn’t a title we’re allowed to proclaim for ourselves; it is rather bestowed upon us by those who follow in our footsteps. And, hopefully, an honor bestowed upon a favored few.

Certainly, Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut are worthy of such accolades. Hitchcock, once lauded as the Master of Suspense, was mainly relegated to the standing of a competent director of popular entertainment. It wasn’t until Nouvelle Vague darling Truffaut interviewed him and wrote a book about their conversation that Hitchcock began to be taken more seriously by film cognoscenti.

Much of the documentary is about the conversation between the two legends, with audiotape from the actual interviews that are augmented by film clips and commentary by ten modern directors who are clearly influenced by Hitchcock in particular. I don’t know that the commentary augments the book with much insight other than as to how Hitchcock has influenced modern movies, particularly in how carefully he framed and set up his shots. You might not know it from looking at him, but Hitch was a driven artist who labored intensely to make his vision come to life.

Much has been made of Hitchcock’s disdain for actors and in many ways he used them as living props. He was a visual storyteller more than anything, which makes sense considering he got his start in silent cinema. He worked with some of the great names in Hollywood – Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day, Tony Perkins, Janet Leigh and so on – but for him, they meant little other than how they looked in the shot. He was a master storyteller however and he always got the best from his actors, no matter how much they personally disliked him.

The thing is though; I’m not sure why this documentary exists at all. The book that it is about is a landmark book that essentially provides readers with a Film Directing 101 course and continues to do so to this day. Anyone interested in going into movie production should make it required reading. But the question is what does this documentary give you that you couldn’t get from reading the book yourself?

The answer is not much. Sure some of the director commentary helps, and Jones – whose day job is as a film historian (he also has collaborated in the past with Scorsese, a well-known film buff) – provides some historical context to Hitchcock’s career. Some of the footage of his older films from the silent era and in England in the 30s was stuff I hadn’t seen. I wish there had been more of it.

Certainly there is plenty of interest here and if you haven’t read the book, this is a fine introduction to it. I read it back when I was in middle school and high school and my lifelong love of film was in part primed by it and other such tomes (The MGM Story, for example) for which I’m duly grateful. However, recommending this has to come with a codicil – read the book. If you have more than a passing interest in movies, you should read it anyway.

REASONS TO GO: Fascinating insights to some of his classics. Gives a great director his due.
REASONS TO STAY: Couldn’t ya just read the book? Glosses over most of his films other than Vertigo and Psycho.
FAMILY VALUES: Some images of violence as well as suggestive material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The conversations, recorded on audiotape and partially on film, took place over a week in a conference room on the Universal lot in 1962.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 79/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hitchcock
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: In the Heart of the Sea

Room (2015)


Room is the world and the world is Room.

Room is the world and the world is Room.

(2015) Drama (A24) Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue, Cas Anvar, Zarrin Darnell-Martin, Tom McCamus, Sandy McMaster, Jee-Yun Lee, Matt Gordon, Randal Edwards, Justin Mader, Brad Wietersen, Jack Fulton, Kate Drummond, Chantelle Chung, Megan Park. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

The world is what we perceive it to be. For some, the world is vast and extends far beyond our planet. For others, the world is boiled down to the small space of their room.

Ivy (Larson) has a very close relationship with her son Jack (Tremblay). On the occasion of his fifth birthday, she bakes him a cake. He watches TV and she makes sure he gets plenty of exercise. She tucks him into bed at night with a story, then awaits the return of his father.

But this isn’t an ordinary situation. Their home is an 11×11 garden shed and his dad kidnapped Ivy when she was 17, tricking her into getting into his car by appealing to her compassion. Since then he has kept her locked up, raping her regularly (and inadvertently creating Jack) for seven years. Their only contact with the outside world is a skylight which mostly just allows them to see passing clouds. For Jack, Room is the entire world.

Finally, his mother devises a bold escape plan and the two are finally liberated. For Jack, his world has suddenly expanded like a sponge thrown into water. For Ivy, it means a reunion with her mom (Allen) and Dad (Macy) who have divorced in the aftermath of her kidnapping. It means coping with the media which clamors to hear her story. It means adjusting to freedom, something Jack has never known.

But the thing is, both of these souls are wounded, suffering from acute Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, even if Jack hasn’t known any other life than Room, now he has to completely readjust his world view which is no easy task even for a five-year-old. Ivy has to deal with reintegrating herself into a world which has moved on without her, and she has to deal with the reality of what was done to her. She is no longer in survival mode and that can be the most dangerous time of all.

Room, which is based on an extraordinary novel turns out to be an extraordinary film. Abrahamson has taken the script, adapted for the screen by the novel’s author, and breathed life and color into it even if the color is mostly grey. The movie is set in Ohio during the fall and winter and it seems to be eternally raining, snowing or cold. Even the interiors are full of fall colors, the hospital where they are kept briefly sterile white. Only Room has bright colors, which is both ironic and intentional.

The effect brings a chill to the audience even if considering the horrifying circumstances that Ivy endures does not. And make no mistake, while those circumstances mirror several real life cases in which women were imprisoned, used as sex slaves and forced to bear children by their captor, this is a unique story unto itself and completely fictional – and completely plausible.

What makes this work are incredible performances by Larson and Tremblay. Their relationship is at the center of the story, and it is happily an authentic one. Larson has turned in several outstanding roles in a row and for my money is emerging as one of the best young actresses around. Don’t be surprised if Oscar comes knocking on her door for her work here, and certainly don’t be surprised if she nabs some high-profile roles because of it. Her character is strong on the outside, but the facade is crumbling and revealing an inner vulnerability that is heartbreaking, particularly when things come to a head about midway through the film.

Tremblay plays a child who gets frustrated, particularly when told things he doesn’t want to hear and often acts out with screaming tantrums – in other words, a typical five year old. While I think a few too many of these fits of anger are presented here – we get the point of his frustration and after awhile like any child’s tantrum they grow wearisome – that is certainly not the fault of this young actor who delivers a mature performance many veteran actors would have trouble producing. This may well be the top juvenile performance of the year.

Speaking of veteran actors, Joan Allen – one of Hollywood’s most underrated actresses – does a stellar job here as a mother who has to readjust to having her daughter back after thinking she was lost forever, and having to deal with that daughter’s own rage issues, and shifting inability to cope with all the emotions that are just now coming to the surface. Allen delivers a character who is magnificent in her grace and patience. She’s the kind of mom we all would want to have.

The story is not an easy one to watch. We are looking at people who are soul-sick, who have all suffered at the hands of the actions of one monster. All of their lives have been shattered – even Jack’s although he never knows it – and picking up the pieces is no easy thing. In many ways this is a story that is genuine and authentic. It deals not just with the physical aspects of the story, but the emotional ones as well and you’re likely to be thinking about it long after the movie is done.

It may be too intense for some; some of the scenes are raw and hard to watch. Still, thinking about it, I think you’ll agree that sitting through those scenes may feel awkward at times but it is well worth the effort.  Clearly one of the best movies of the year.

REASONS TO GO: Searing performances from Larson and Tremblay. Excellent supporting performances by Allen and McCamus. Taut, excruciating story.
REASONS TO STAY: The frequent tantrums can be annoying. May be too intense for some.
FAMILY VALUES: Adult situations, intimations of rape and plenty of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Joan Allen and William H. Macy played husband and wife in Pleasantville as well.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/12/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 85/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kiss the Girls
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: Lucha Mexico

Trainwreck


Tea for two.

Tea for two.

(2015) Romantic Comedy (Universal) Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson, Dave Attell, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Jon Glaser, Ezra Miller, Evan Brinkman, Mike Birbiglia, Norman Lloyd, LeBron James, Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei, Method Man, Tim Meadows, Nikki Glaser, Matthew Broderick, Marv Albert, Chris Evert, Rachel Feinstein. Directed by Judd Apatow

Romantic comedies are beginning to get a terrible reputation among both critics and filmgoers alike. For the past decade or so, Hollywood has churned out mass-produced paint-by-numbers rom-coms that are as predictable as Republicans opposing whatever the President proposes. After a while, people get tired of the same, stale old thing.

Apatow has been one of the most successful directors, writers and producers of comedies in roughly the same period. He has done coming-of-age comedies as well as yes, romantic comedies and has become a money-making machine for the studios to a certain extent. He has specialized in outrageous humor with a somewhat over-the-top attitude towards comedy, with a regular stable of actors including Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, his wife Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd.

&None of them appear in his latest, which in an unusual move for Apatow is not written by him but by star Amy Schumer. Schumer is a somewhat controversial comic who went from Last Comic Standing to the hit Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer. Her humor is somewhat raunchy and is unashamed of the comic’s own sexuality, which is in-your-face. If a guy comic did that, it would be taken in stride but when a woman does that people just lose their minds but Schumer has become something of a poster child for being her own woman and not really giving a rat’s fig about what other people think.

Here, she plays Amy, a writer for a men’s magazine called S’Nuff which specializes in stories like “Are you gay or is she just bored?” and take a fairly cynical look at modern man-dom. When her dad (Quinn), a serial philanderer, divorced her mom, he drove home the point that monogamy is unrealistic. Young Amy took that to heart and has kept relationships to a minimum. She’s kinda seeing Steven (Cena), a cross-fit guy but when she’s not going to the movies with him she’s getting drunk and having sex with a parade of guys whom she wants nothing else from and there certainly are plenty of those sorts of guys in Manhattan for her to choose from.

She banters with her sister Kim (Larson) who is married to a sweet but somewhat vanilla guy (Birbiglia) who has a demonically polite son (Brinkman) from a previous relationship. She also has a homeless friend (Attell) who hangs out near her apartment. Her boss (Swinton) is a Brit with an attitude who is sort of a low-rent Ricky Gervais; she assigns Amy to do a piece on Dr. Aaron Conners (Hader), a sports medicine specialist who is getting ready to try a radical new surgery for knee injuries that cuts the recovery time in half.

Amy isn’t really the right person for this particular job; she doesn’t know anything about sports and doesn’t really want to, but she and the Doc hit it off and before too long his best buddy LeBron James (himself) is urging Dr. Conners to call her back. They couldn’t be more of an odd couple; she’s an uptight party girl, he’s a laidback stay-at-home guy; she is cynical and occasionally cruel; he’s optimistic and wants to help people; she’s a loose cannon, he’s a little too tightly wound. Of course they’re going to fall in love.

To the movie’s detriment, it follows the typical rom-com formula pretty much from there; one of them has to overcome a personal tragedy. The two eventually split up because they can’t communicate. They both mope around, missing each other horribly (one of the best scenes in the movie is LeBron James organizing an intervention for Dr. Conners with Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick and Marv Albert providing the play-by-play) and eventually, one of them making a grand gesture to bring them back together again.

The difference here is that the gender roles are switched; Amy is the one who needs to grow up and it will take the love of a great sensitive guy to help her do it, rather than the guy being the one who is tamed by a beautiful, patient girl. I suppose that’s considered thinking outside the box in some circles, but for me, this is merely the same running back in a different jersey.

Fortunately there are some fine performances around her, particularly Colin Quinn as her douchebag of a dad, Cena as her musclebound but sensitive boyfriend, and James who shows impressive comic timing in his first feature film. And quite frankly, there are some really good laughs here, and Schumer is often at the center of them.

I didn’t fall in love with this movie like a lot of my friends and colleagues have. That’s not to say I didn’t like it – I did – but only up to a point. It’s more a matter of personal taste for me and your opinion is likely to differ. Schumer is not really my cup of tea as a standup comic so that’s something that you’ll need to take into account. There are plenty of people who find her funny as all get out and that’s cool by me; I’m more of a Ron Funches kind of guy these days. If you like her humor, you’re going to love this. If you don’t, you’re less likely to. If you’re not sure, Google her and find a video of her stand-up performances or an episode of Inside Amy Schumer. If you find either of these funny, then head out and buy your ticket at the multiplex. I’ll go on record as saying it’s funny enough to see, but not the funniest summer comedy of the past few years by any stretch.

REASONS TO GO: Really, really funny in some places. Supporting cast superb.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally uncomfortable. If Schumer is not your cup of tea, you may find this unpalatable.
FAMILY VALUES: Sexuality galore, some nudity, crude language and brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lloyd, who plays a friend of Amy’s dad at the assisted living facility, is 100 years old – he was once a member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/10/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: What’s Your Number?
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Wolfpack