Centigrade (2020)


Baby, it’s cold outside.

(2020) Thriller (IFC MidnightGenesis Rodriguez, Vincent Piazza. Directed by Brendan Walsh

 

I think one of the basic fears of modern man is being stranded, particularly in the middle of nowhere. We rely so much on our modern conveniences – a working car, the Internet, our creature comforts – that when they’re taken away, we’re at a loss as what to do. In the immortal words of The Clash, should I stay or should I go?That’s what faces young American married couple Matt (Piazza) and Naomi (Rodriguez) when they pull over to the side of the road one night during a blizzard. They are on a European book tour for her latest tome, and were driving to their next stop, a hotel in the hinterlands of Norway. She is very pregnant, nearly ready to give birth and they wake up after sleeping the night away to discover that the car won’t start. They can’t open the doors because of the weight of all the ice and snow. It is dangerously cold, and they have precious little in the way of food and water.

The two have very different ideas as to what they should do next. One of them wants to stay put and wait for rescue, while the other thinks that their best chance of survival rests on getting out of the car and walking to safety. Initially, it’s not much of an argument – getting out of the car is out of the question anyway, so they are more or less forced to stay put but as time goes by and desperation grows, something is going to have to give or all that will be found of them re their frozen bodies, still wrapped in blankets in the car.

Rodriguez and Piazza are both fine actors and they do a decent job. It’s a pity that they weren’t given more defined characters to work with. We really don’t find out very much about them during the course of the 90 minutes we are forced to spend with them, which considering that they are stuck inside a car with nothing to do, seems to be almost criminal. They do bicker, but so do most couples and the stress of a life-or-death survival situation is likely to bring out the worst in both of them.

The production is pretty minimalist which makes sense given the confined quarters the characters are in. Walsh at least is creative with his camera angles, but after a while it isn’t really enough to keep our interest. This is the type of movie that would have been much better as a short than as a feature length film; there’s not enough dramatic conflict to sustain us and we don’t even get the benefit of flashbacks to change the monotony

A word about true stories: the movie claims it is “inspired by a true story,” but I couldn’t find any information anywhere about whose story this was based on. That could mean one of two things (at least that come to mind right away); either the people this happened to were unwilling to grant the rights to their story, or the finished story veered so far away from the truth that the real couple wanted nothing to do with it. For all we know, some friend of the producer might have been stranded in their car on a chilly night and the producer thought “Hey, this could be a great movie if we add a blizzard….and they’re snowed in! Yeah, that’s the ticket!!!” All kidding aside, the words “inspired by” can hide a lot of sins, so take the true story aspect with a grain of salt. One aspect couldn’t possibly be true; no obstetrician on the planet would let a woman as pregnant as Naomi fly to Europe to do a book tour.

This is another case of strong concept, less successful execution. For a movie like this to work, we have to get invested in the characters and without really getting much of a glimpse as to who they are, we haven’t much to hold onto and so our interest wanes. Even though the movie isn’t a long one, the lack of action or character development really made it feel much longer. That might be a little bit cold to say, but given the circumstances I think it justified. Still, the actors do give it their all, so if you like either Piazza or Rodriguez (or both) this isn’t a bad rental, but otherwise this is disappointing to say the least.

REASONS TO SEE: Nicely tense and claustrophobic.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too long for the type of movie it is.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a pretty good amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rodriguez and Piazza are an actual couple in real life.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/1/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews, Metacritic: 42/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lamp Light
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Unfamiliar

Blind Date (2007)


Blind Date

An uneasy romance.

(Variance Films) Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thijs Romer, Gerdy De Decker, Georgina Verbaan, Robin Holzhauer, Sarah Hyland, Peer Mascini. Directed by Stanley Tucci

A relationship is a fragile thing. It requires nurturing and growth in order to survive. Sometimes, events happen which put this fragile existence in jeopardy. In those instances, a couple has to be willing to go to extreme lengths to make things work.

Don (Tucci) owns a rundown bar (although it’s never specifically said, we assume it’s in Amsterdam) and periodically takes to the small stage to perform a desultory Vaudeville-like magic act, usually to be met with disinterest. People go to this bar to drink and maybe hook up; entertainment is not really on the minds of any of the barflies who frequent it.

He is married to Janna (Clarkson), someone he has spent much of his adult life with. The marriage is a lifeless one, it seems; they are trying to spice it up with a series of blind dates arranged through personal ads. In each date the two take on different personas, trying to find two that mesh well. However, reality intrudes on each date as their problems peek through the façade, causing each date to end badly, inevitably.

It’s a simple premise, and only two gifted actors could make this work. Tucci wrote and directed this movie based on a 1996 movie by the late Dutch director Theo van Gogh, who would be murdered by Muslim extremists in 2004 for making a film critical of Islam. Tucci has chosen to take that movie and strip it down to a bare frame, shooting on two sets over the course of seven days, utilizing many of van Gogh’s regular crew to do it.

The results are mixed. The movie at times has a stagey feel, like you’re watching the filmed version of a stage play. I get the distinct impression that Tucci as a director was deliberately going for that feel, and to be honest, I think that it makes some of the movie ring false. The powerful dialogue and plot might have been better served in a more natural setting, but that’s just me.

What makes this movie worth seeing are the performances of Tucci and Clarkson. Their characters have both been wounded deeply and are struggling to find a way to co-exist and both of them are very well aware that they may be clutching at phantoms that don’t exist. The actors have to portray people playing different roles, only accidentally allowing their true selves to peek through. This is the kind of acting that requires great discipline, much preparation and a whole lot of talent. Fortunately, these are two of the better actors working today, people who elevate every movie they’re in but very rarely get lead roles.

There is some voiceover narration from the couple’s daughter which helps to explain the goings on (and it is much needed) but other than that all the lines (other than background chatter) are spoken by Clarkson and Tucci. Fortunately, Tucci has written compelling dialogue that is not only interesting but gives a good deal of insight not only into the hell these two characters are in but also into the nature of failing relationships in general.

This is a very intimate film in the sense that it delves deeply into the deepest, most private parts of a marriage – and I’m not necessarily referring to the bedroom, although sexuality is touched upon at times. This is about the emotional sanctuary that a married couple provides each other, and what happens when that sanctuary is eroded. It’s very difficult to get it back once it’s gone.

This is not a movie for everybody. It is painful and awkward at times and the emotional places it visits can be very traumatic for those who have been in similar situations. It also requires a certain amount of focus from the viewer to pick up on the nuances, and a willingness to be in a quiet, still place. Still, if you’re willing to commit to the movie, you may find that you get a good deal out of it. What that might be is totally up to you.

WHY RENT THIS: A very powerful look at two people trying to save their marriage in an unorthodox way. Tucci and Clarkson deliver strong performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is a very emotionally complex movie without a good deal of language; less cerebral viewers may get bored.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a great deal of sexual tension and a fair amount of foul language. These, along with the very adult subject matter, should make this off-limits for kiddies.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The role of Don was originally offered to Tony Shalhoub but when he had to drop out due to schedule conflicts, Tucci decided to take the role himself.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Skeptic

Date Night


Date Night

Steve Carell is flabbergated; he thought Tina Fey was smashing through the glass ceiling, not the glass door.

(20th Century Fox) Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji Henson, Common, James Franco, Leighton Meester, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo, Ray Liotta, William Fichtner, Mila Kunis, Jimmi Simpson. Directed by Shawn Levy

At a certain point in every relationship, routine sets in. That can be deadlier to a marriage then money problems or even infidelity.

The Fosters, tax preparer Phil (Carell) and realtor Claire (Fey) live normal, unprepossessing lives in suburban New Jersey. They have two kids who can be the spawns of Satan but for the most part, are ordinary kids. They pay their taxes, mow their lawn and attend book clubs together. Every week, they go on a date together to the same steak house and always order the potato skins. They play the “what’s their story” game with other diners, imagining some rather colorful goings-on. Sex is occasional, growing more and more occasional.

They are both shocked when one of the couples they are closest to announce that they are splitting up. Brad (Ruffalo) confides in Phil that they had evolved from being a loving couple to being really excellent roommates, while Haley (Wiig) asserts to Claire that it’s the best decision that she’s ever made, that at last she can explore her own sexuality without any constraints and that Claire should “run with the birds,” a reference to a really bad feminist novel their book club is reading (and, you can be sure, one that will pop up again during the movie).

Both of them are secretly concerned that they are now dwelling in a comfortable rut and the other might be getting bored in the relationship, so when the next date night rolls around, Claire puts on makeup and a pretty dress rather than her usual comfortable clothes. Phil, surprised and delighted, resolves to go to a trendy restaurant in Manhattan rather than their usual steakhouse.

The problem with trying to go to a trendy restaurant in Manhattan spontaneously is that there is usually a waiting list to get in. Phil and Claire arrive too late to get a walk-in table, so the snooty host dismisses them to the bar, there to wait an eternity in all likelihood.

An opportunity arises when a hostess arrives in the bar, looking for the Tripplehorn party of two. When nobody responds, Phil on the spur of the moment decides to take the reservation of the missing Tripplehorns. Spur of the moment decisions can lead, as we all know, to lifetime regrets.

In this case, it leads to a case of mistaken identity. Two beefy gentlemen (Simpson and Common) show up at the table and firmly but politely ask the Fosters to follow them out. The Fosters, believing they’re from the restaurant, comply and are flabbergasted to see guns being pointed at them and the beefy gentlemen demanding that a flash drive belonging to a well-known mobster be returned to them forthwith.

Threatened with immediate execution and with the beefy gentlemen not believing their assertions that they are not, in fact, the Tripplehorns, Phil tries to stall the beefy gentlemen until an opportunity presents itself to escape. When it does, the Fosters go straight to the police until they are shocked to discover that the two beefy gentlemen are actually cops. Mortified and terrified, they go to a shirtless security expert (Wahlberg) to try and find the elusive Tripplehorns and elude the beefy gentlemen and other beefy gentlemen like them.

There’s plenty to like here, but the best thing about the movie is the chemistry between and Fey and Carell. They’re believable as a married couple who have been married to each other for awhile. There’s obviously love between them, but it isn’t as obviously on display as it might be for newlyweds.

They are just ordinary people caught up in events beyond their control. They don’t whip out submachine guns and start blowing people away, Phil isn’t an ex-Navy SEAL and Claire isn’t a third degree black belt. They are intelligent and inventive, but no more so than any one of us would be. They’re totally believable which gives the movie its heart.

Most of the rest of the characters are meant to be caricatures, particularly Wahlberg as the studly security expert. He spends the entire movie without a shirt and the sight of his pecs and abs gives Phil an inferiority complex the size of Mount Everest. The same sight lights Claire up like a Japanese lantern in the summer night.

Where the movie suffers from is that it takes a scattershot approach to comedy. There are lots of bits of business that are more or less extraneous and are meant to try and generate laughs, but come off as feeling a bit forced – the prime example is the sequence involving a head-on collision between the sports car Phil and Claire have “borrowed” from the security consultant and a taxi leaving the two vehicles hopelessly stuck together with armed bad guys shooting at them and the police (the non-corrupt ones) trying to arrest them.

The resolution of the movie is very sweet and I thought very realistic. While I think my relationship with Da Queen is a bit stronger than the one between Phil and Claire – I don’t see us questioning our relationship because another couple splits up – the movie end on a profoundly sweet note and I don’t have a problem with that. In these tough times, a little sweetness can make a lot of difference.

This is meant to be, I think, a screwball comedy and it certainly has many of those elements. The situation escalates from the slightly off-kilter to the totally absurd. There are plenty of laughs, some of which are a little on the blue side, but this is definitely got moments that will keep you chuckling for awhile.

REASONS TO GO: The chemistry between Carell and Fey is genuine. Wahlberg has a small but memorable role.

REASONS TO STAY: Too much needless “business.” Some of the laughs seem a little forced.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality and sexual situations are the culprits here. There’s a little bit of foul language as well; probably not for the more impressionable sorts but generally fine for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Shawn Levy also tackled married couple dynamics in the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen.

HOME OR THEATER: Very doable at home.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Class and a mini-review of Winter’s Bone to kick off our coverage of the Florida Film Festival.