I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore


Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey are out looking for trouble.

(2016) Crime Comedy (Netflix) Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Gary Anthony Williams, Devon Graye, Christine Woods, Robert Longstreet, Derek Mears, Jason Manuel Olazabal, Dagoberto Rodriguez, Dana Millican, Myron Natwick, Robin Blair, Buck Eddy-Blair, Marilyn Faith-Hickey, Jared Roylance, Michelle Moreno, Cristi Miles, Lee Eddy, Jana Lee Hamblin. Directed by Macon Blair

 

There comes a point in life where you just have to say “enough.” You can’t take another jerk in your life, you can’t bear to just swallow the selfishness of people and be polite. What triggers that feeling may vary from person to person.

For Ruth (Lynskey) it starts with a very bad day. A nurse’s assistant, her day begins with a most unpleasant patient, an elderly woman with racist thoughts, suddenly dies. It ends with Ruth coming home to a house which has been broken into. Her laptop is gone as is her grandmother’s silver set. The police in the person of Detective William Bendix (Williams) seem fairly indifferent to her plight.

With the aid of her martial arts-loving devout Christian neighbor Tony (Wood), Ruth endeavors to find her grandma’s silverware which has a sentimental value to her. Utilizing a tracking program on her laptop, she does recover her computer and discovers that the stoners using it picked up the device at a dicey pawn shop.

This will lead her into the world of incompetent, petty criminals, wealthy douchebag lawyers and home invasions. The journey there will be dark and twisted; will she come out all right on the other end?

This made a lot of noise at this year’s Sundance, winning the Grand Jury prize for dramatic presentation. Blair, a childhood friend of director Jeremy (The Green Room) Saulnier, is making his feature film directorial debut and I must say he has a really bright future if he chooses to pursue that aspect of filmmaking; Blair has appeared in front of the camera in several of Saulnier’s films as well as this one in a cameo as an annoying bar patron.  He has a great eye for shot composition which makes the film pleasing from a strictly visual point of view.

He also had the good sense to cast Lynskey in this. She’s an actress who simply doesn’t get her due; I can’t remember a performance of hers that was anything but compelling and here, in a rare opportunity to carry a movie herself, she knocks it out of the park. Ruth is an essentially mousy character who has been pushed too far. There’s a great scene where she stands up to Bendix at the police station, a confrontation that leads to an unexpected revelation. She also has great chemistry with Wood, who has morphed into an actor with a very broad range of styles. He may be one of the most versatile actors working in Hollywood today.

Ruth’s journey is a fascinating one. Even though she’s dealing with a sort of darker side of humanity not of her own doing, she keeps up her optimism pretty much throughout and although her naiveté gets her into situations that are somewhat precarious, she manages to prevail even though logic tells you that she shouldn’t.

The tone is a little bit off-kilter which can work in its favor, but also discourage more traditional moviegoers from wanting to see it. I admit, there were times when I was a little bit put off by the somewhat unconventional atmosphere. It’s not that there are a lot of eccentric indie trope characters in the movie, although there are a few; it’s just the situations can get a little bit wonky.

This is a good metaphor for life in 2017. Most of us feel the way Ruth does; there are a few too many assholes in the world and all we want is to live life as asshole-free as possible. Our society has in general become far more self-centered; there is little thought given about others, whether they are part of our circles or not. It is ironic that with communication so much easier we understand so much less than we once did. The world is indeed full of assholes; to counteract them, we need more people like Ruth.

REASONS TO GO: Lynskey is a much underrated actress who has become one of my favorites. The shot composition is terrific.
REASONS TO STAY: The vibe may be a little too out there for some. The film is a little preachy in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Blair used his own experience of having his apartment broken into and his laptop stolen plus a perceived lack of police follow-up to inspire the story; the title comes from a line in a gospel song sung near the end of the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chasing Holden
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: A Stray

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1408


John Cusack waits for housekeeping to take care of his room.

John Cusack waits for housekeeping to take care of his room.

(2007) Horror (Dimension/MGM) John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Tony Shalhoub, Mary McCormack, Len Cariou, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jasmine Jessica Anthony, Kevin Dobson, Paul Kasey, Benny Urquidez, Gil Cohen-Alloro, Drew Powell, Noah Lee Margetts, Jules de Jongh (voice), William Armstrong, Emily Harvey, Alexandra Silber, Kim Thomson. Directed by Mikael Håfström

Our Film Library 2015

There are places that have a presence in them, a kind of echo from the past. There are other places that have a feeling in them, one that tells of contented lives – or contorted ones. Then there are places that are just effin’ evil.

If Mike Enslin (Cusack) seems bitter it is with good reason. His career as an author has all but faded into oblivion and the death of his daughter Katie (Anthony) has split he and his wife Lily (McCormack) even further apart. He is intent on doing a sequel to one of his most successful books, Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Houses with a new conceit, Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Hotel Rooms. However, the cynical Mike doesn’t believe in the paranormal. He really doesn’t believe in anything.

He gets a mysterious postcard from the Dolphin Hotel in Manhattan with the cryptic message “Don’t Go in 1408.” He takes this as a personal challenge and heads promptly for the Dolphin. He demands to be given room 1408 to stay in but Olin (Jackson), the manager of the hotel, is reluctant. Mike invokes a New York state law that requires the hotel to rent the room to him so long as it is up to standards. Olin responds that 56 people have died in that room in 95 years and nobody has lasted more than an hour. Mike thinks that Olin is trying to create a mystique that will attract people to the hotel and dismisses his claims. Reluctantly, Olin allows Mike to rent the room.

At first, the room seems like any other room in any other hotel. Then, little things start to happen; the clock radio begins playing “We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters for no reason. Strange calls from the front desk about food Mike hasn’t ordered. Then, he begins to see spectral visions of past inhabitants of the room and the clock radio begins a countdown from 60:00.

The visions begin to grow more terrifying and his dead daughter appears on the hotel TV set. Mike’s attempts to leave the room are fruitless, the door knob breaking off in his hand. An attempt to leave through the air conditioning ducts gets him attacked by a mummified former guest.

Soon it becomes apparent to Mike that the room isn’t just interested in him; it wants his estranged wife to come to the hotel and enter room 1408. Knowing that he was wrong about the room, that it is indeed an evil place, he must somehow prevent the room from claiming the last vestige of his family.

This adaptation of a Stephen King short story is one of the finest adaptations of his works ever, right up there with The Mist and the first Carrie. Some have compared it (favorably and not) to King’s other haunted hotel story, The Shining although like King himself, I never warmed to Kubrick’s version of the novel and never found it particularly scary. Not so for this one.

Cusack was at his best here, playing an embittered man and failed novelist (a favored protagonist of King’s) who still deep down has love in his heart, particularly when he is forced to confront his deepest pain. Cusack has a knack of making guys like Mike Enslin relatable and even admirable, despite being not the easiest guys to get along with in the world. While you can clearly see why Lily would have given up on their marriage, you still end up rooting for Enslin to survive.

This isn’t as effects-driven as other movies based on King’s works nor does it use as much CGI as popular horror movies. Much of the effects here are psychological and Håfström goes out of his way to implant seeds of doubt that everything happening is occurring in Mike’s head, which leaves you with a sense of not being able to trust what you see which is deliciously disorienting to the viewer.

There are false endings here – scenes that make it appear as if Mike’s ordeal is over but then something else happens and horror movies have had a tendency lately to go to that particular well a bit too often. It works okay here but it did make me grumble a bit, curmudgeonly critic that I am. You may not find it quite as annoying as I did depending on how many horror movies you watch.

Once this gets rolling it is quite a ride, although it takes a good long time to get going as Olin attempts to dissuade Mike from entering the room. Hey, if Samuel L. Jackson is scared of a room, I would certainly think twice about going inside. Of course, if Mike didn’t, we wouldn’t have had much of a movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Leaves us questioning reality throughout. One of Cusack’s best performances ever.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might have gone to the false ending too often.
FAMILY VALUES: Some very disturbing images of violence and terror as well as some adult themes and horror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The axe wielded by the fireman late in the film is the same one Jack Nicholson used in The Shining.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is an extended director’s cut with an ending different than the theatrical version (which is also included here). There are a couple of brief webisodes here as well.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $132.0M on a $25M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental/Streaming), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (not available), Target Ticket (not available)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Amityville Horror (1979)
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Our Film Library continues

The Equalizer


Martin Csokas looks forward to his next movie  My Dinner with Denzel.

Martin Csokas looks forward to his next movie My Dinner with Denzel.

(2014) Action (Columbia) Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman, David Harbour, Haley Bennett, David Meunier, Johnny Skourtis, Alex Veadov, Vladimir Kulich, E. Roger Mitchell, James Wilcox, Mike O’Dea, Anastasia Mousis, Allen Maldonado, Chris Lemieux, Matt Lasky, Shawn Fitzgibbon, Luz Sanchez. Directed by Antoine Fuqua

We go through our lives essentially just hoping to mind our own business. We don’t want to get involved nor do we get involved with anybody else. However, sometimes there comes a time when a situation demands our action.

Robert McCall (Washington) lives a quiet life as a clerk at a home improvement store (think Home Depot with a different color scheme). He is helping his buddy Ralphie (Skourtis) lose weight and prepare to apply for a security guard job, a definite upgrade in pay.

But he is reluctant to talk about what he used to do. He has insomnia and spends a lot of nights at an all-night diner, drinking tea from tea bags he brings himself and reading novels off the list of 100 books you must read before you die (he’s up to 91). He compulsively rearranges the silverware on the table and always sits at the same one – yes, he’s OCD.

He also strikes up a conversation with Teri (Moretz), a prostitute from Russia who aspires to greater things. He encourages her and provides a welcome breath of fresh air from all the men who just want to use her for sex – or profit by her. He witnesses her pimp Slavi (Meunier) slapping her around but doesn’t intervene when she asks him not to. Slavi’s muscle (Veadov) gives McCall a card so that he can come and collect a more amenable girl.

When Teri ends up in the hospital, McCall pays Slavi a visit. You see, McCall isn’t just a guy that works at a hardware store. He’s got skills. Some big bad ones. And he puts them to good use. This doesn’t sit well with Slavi’s bosses who happen to be the Russian mob and they send a fixer of their own (Csokas) to deal with him and quite frankly, he’s got mad skills himself.

The film is based on an 80s TV show that some critics characterize as forgotten although I remember it quite well – if for nothing else for its catchy Stewart Copeland theme song which sadly isn’t in the movie. There are those who will remember that English actor Edward Woodward starred in the title role as a former British spy who turns his talents to helping the powerless surmount impossible odds. It also reunites Fuqua and Denzel who teamed together so well for Training Day.

This is a good fit for Denzel, who has the best dead eye look in Hollywood. He has mastered the technique of using his good looks as a facade, hiding something deeper – sometimes sorrow or pain, sometimes rage or evil. McCall has plenty of history behind him and it shows in Denzel’s eyes – but there is also a coldness there when Denzel switches it on, the coldness of a trained killer.

He will be 60 later this year and joins the trend of sexagenarians invigorating their careers and becoming action stars (see Neeson, Liam) and let’s be frank; he looks damn good doing it. A couple more roles like this and Sly Stallone is going to be putting him on speed dial for The Expendables 6. The fight scene in Slavi’s office is as good as many action film climaxes and the climax here in the Home Depot clone is frankly incredible. While McCall leaves a few traps, mostly he uses the various power (and non-power) tools to great effect so this doesn’t sink into a Home Alone parody. No, the scene is gritty, violent and occasionally gory.

This is essentially entertainment for its own sake. There are really no deeper meanings here – everything is visceral. You don’t have to interpret different levels, just sit back, turn off your mind and enjoy the carnage. While I enjoyed the action sequences themselves, they don’t really blaze any new trails but they take existing ones and pretty them up a bit. If you’re looking for mindless fun, this is your ride.

REASONS TO GO: Denzel still has it. Terrific climax.
REASONS TO STAY: Kinda formulaic.
FAMILY VALUES:  Lots and lots of violence, some of it rather bloody. Also plenty of foul language and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: With almost no backstory for the character of McCall, Washington came up with some of the items including the character’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/6/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The A-Team
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: This is Where I Leave You

Craigslist Joe


Craigslist Joe

Joseph Garner needs all the help he can get if he’s going to make it through 30 days.

(2012) Documentary (CLJ) Joseph Garner, Gina Keatley, Fran McGee, Kristos Andrews, 357 Magnumm, Craig Newmark. Directed by Joseph Garner

 

For better or for worse, our lives have become dominated by the Internet, most prevalently in young people; say under 30 for now, although those on the north side of 30 are also plenty engaged by social networking, online auctions, web surfing and of course porn perusing. Much of our purchasing is done through websites rather than through traditional brick and mortar retail stores and sevices.

One of the more useful websites that has emerged from the dot com explosion is Craigslist. It has become the equivalent of the village marketplace. Not only are goods exchanged, but services as well. People meet on Craigslist and develop meaningful relationships. It’s like a classified ad section, bulletin board and social networking site all in one. There are many people who spend a good part of their days scanning the simply designed pages of Craigslist looking for things to do, places to go, apartments to rent, people to meet and well, just about everything.

Joseph Garner, a young 20-something filmmaker from Los Angeles noticed just how important Craigslist had become in our lives. With that in mind, he decided to film an experiment. He would leave his home with no money, a backpack full of clothes, no job, no transportation and only a laptop and a cell phone with a new number that he didn’t give to his friends or family, as well as a new e-mail account that he also didn’t give to friends or family. Thus armed, he set out.

For 30 days in December 2008, he meant to live off of whatever he could find on Craigslist. He’d exchange work and volunteering in exchange for food, transportation and shelter. He would travel wherever he could find rides to. In essence, he’d be living off the charity of others. When times are hard, often generosity shrivels up as people go into self-survival mode. In that kind of environment, can a young white man possibly find kindness?

Well, yes. I’ve always believed that people are inherently good and will help someone in need when they can. In Garner’s case, he was experiencing it directly and there are times that he is genuinely moved by it. While critics have brought up with some legitimacy that the presence of a cameraman might have urged some to be more generous than they might have been otherwise, a lot of kindnesses are volunteered over the phone with people unaware that they are going to be part of a documentary at the time.

Garner travels from L.A. to Seattle, from Seattle to Chicago, Chicago to New York, New York to Tallahassee, Tallahassee to New Orleans, New Orleans to Houston (with a stop in Juarez, Mexico) and Houston to San Francisco to meet Craigslist founder Craig Newmark who has long espoused the principal that people are generally kind and willing to help out their fellow man, which has come a long way from a mailing list for Bay Area computer professionals with events, seminars, and job opportunities.

Garner is a sweet-natured young man with a naive veneer that puts one at ease; certainly his attitude promoted kindness. One wonders though if he had been a young African-American male with a rapper vocabulary if he would have had the same success. Maybe Spike Lee could act as producer for a young filmmaker from the African-American community to try the same experiment (comedian Zach Galifianakis was a producer for Craigslist Joe).

There are some moments that will get to you; one that I’ll remember vividly for a long time to come is an encounter in New York with a former actress who appeared in such films as Home Alone 2 and now lives as a hoarder with emotional and possibly mental issues. She offered Garner a place to stay and he helped organize her apartment so that she could move around it more easily. She hadn’t requested that he do it but the act so moved her that she broke down and opened up about her fears and her life to Garner; it was obvious he was moved as well.

Near the end of the film, when Garner returns home from the experience much thinner, wiser and a little humbled by his experience, he tried to tell his mother what he learned and chokes up when he talks about how he found generosity of spirit still alive in this country. I found myself getting misty as well.

It is an election year and the vitriol is flowing like it is coming from Niagra Falls. As the Democrats rant against the Republicans, the Republicans rage against the Democrats and the independents remonstrate against everybody, it’s easy to believe that the milk of human kindness is in short supply. Craigslist Joe on the surface is not an important film; it’s a tale of a single journey among many and the lives that it touched. It would be a mistake to underestimate it though; to my way of thinking, it is very important to remember that people are not always douchebags and that we are still capable of making the world a better place – one act of random kindness at a time.

REASONS TO GO: Uplifting and inspirational in places. Garner is an engaging personality.

REASONS TO STAY: Presence of cameraman probably skewed the humanity quotient more than a little.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words, some drinking and smoking and some adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second documentary film in which Craigslist played a significant part; the first was 24 Hours on Craigslist (2005).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews (officially no score as there aren’t enough reviews in on the film yet). Metacritic: 45/100. The reviews are not good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Into the Wild

ROAD TRIP LOVERS: Joe’s travels take him from L.A to Seattle to Chicago to New York to New Orleans to Houston and back to L.A, essentially touching on nearly every region in the country.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: The Dry Land