The Killing Jar


Michael Madsen is tired of being mistaken for Tom Sizemore.

Michael Madsen is tired of being mistaken for Tom Sizemore.

(2010) Suspense (New Films International) Michael Madsen, Harold Perrineau, Amber Benson, Danny Trejo, Jake Busey, Kevin Gage, Lew Temple, Lindsey Axelsson, Talan Torriero, Patrick Durham, Jonathan Sachar, Emily Catherine Young, Mark H. Young (voice), Todd Davis. Directed by Mark Young

There is something intimate about a late night diner. Few customers, each with their own story, their own drama, their own tragedy. Why are they there? For some, it’s just a way station, a temporary stop on the journey between here and there. Others have nowhere else to go. A few, a very few, are waiting for something…anything.

This diner in particular is in the middle of nowhere special. The cook, Jimmy (Trejo) isn’t cooking food to write home about but it ain’t bad either. The waitress Noreen (Benson) probably deserves better than this but still here she is, just trying to make ends meet and not always succeeding. Lonnie (Temple) is a cop who stops here regularly; there aren’t many dining choices late at night in this small town. Billy (Torriero) and Starr (Axelsson) are eloping; they’re excited and in love, but also hungry. There’s also Smith (Perrineau), a salesman heading out into his territory to ply his trade, stopping for a quick meal before finding some place to hole up for the night. Then there’s Hank (Gage) whose story nobody really knows.

On the radio is fearful news; a family one county over has been massacred. Everyone’s a bit uneasy over this; that’s not the sort of thing that happens in a place like this. Then Doe (Madsen) comes in. He’s twitchy, dressed in black leather and angry that he can’t get the steak he wants. Noreen, thinking he might be the miscreant responsible for the multiple murder, spills coffee on him. After she discusses her suspicions with Lonnie (who is skeptical) and Hank (who thinks she might be onto something), Lonnie attempts to question Doe who proves uncooperative. The radio report had specified that the killer had gotten away in a black truck; it becomes clear that Doe is driving a red one. Lonnie apologizes, Doe pays and walks out.

But not for long. He comes back in with a shotgun and handgun and takes the room hostage. Turns out that he’s a veteran and he is fed up. When Greene (Busey) comes in, he’s also taken hostage but it turns out that Greene is involved with that massacre – and that the real killer was supposed to meet him there for payment. Doe isn’t the killer. That means that someone in that diner is and is even more dangerous than the guy with the guns. Things have gone from bad to worse.

This is in my mind a pretty decent premise. It isn’t necessarily a new one, but the claustrophobic environment of the diner, knowing that the people herein are locked up with at least two killers makes for a pretty tense situation. Sadly, Young doesn’t really make the most of it. The dialogue ranges from unnecessary to downright cringeworthy. The movie comes off as too talky which in a movie like this is a bad thing. Dialogue is necessary for a movie like this to be successful.

It doesn’t help that for the most part the actors here seem disinterested in what’s going on other than Madsen, Perrineau and Trejo, but Madsen in particular shines. His intensity as an actor is tailor-made for a role like this and he executes it to perfection. Perrineau and Trejo are both terrific character actors and they at least make an effort to appear like they’re invested. Benson, who has shown some real talent in previous roles, phones this one in.

That’s sad because this is a situation tailor-made for indie budgets. Under a surer, firmer hand this might have been a pretty decent thriller. Unfortunately, it’s a suspense movie that lacks suspense although it gets points for a whopper of a twist ending that I appreciated. Still, even with that the film’s deficiencies are such that I can’t recommend it other than with faint praise. Be warned.

WHY RENT THIS: Madsen is always intense. Interesting premise with a nice twist at the end.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Does nothing with the good ideas it does have. Lacks tension.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, some of it fairly bloody with a goodly amount of rough language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The voice of the radio announcer is director Young.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Suspect Zero

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: About Time

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The Lightkeepers


The Lightkeepers

RIchard Dreyfuss has some shark stories he’d like to share.

(2009) Period Romantic Comedy (New Films International) Richard Dreyfuss, Blythe Danner, Tom Wisdom, Mamie Gummer, Bruce Dern, Julie Harris, Jason Alan Smith, Stephen Russell, Ben Dreyfuss, Theodora Greece, Ellen Becker-Gray. Directed by Daniel Adams

 

When romance turns to heartache often enough, men sometimes are known to swear off of women. This is all well and good but mostly is an empty gesture; we need love at least as much as we need food and air. To deny any of the three is to kill the body and the soul.

And yet cantankerous old sea captain Seth Atkins (R. Dreyfuss) has done just that. He has retired from the sea and taken up being the lighthouse keeper near Provincetown, Massachusetts. He is getting on in years however and this being 1912 is in need of an assistant to help him run the lighthouse, which is still very necessary to help ships who are not yet relying on satellite navigation.

His deliverance is literally washed ashore into his lap in the form of John Brown (Wisdom), a young British subject who claims he fell off a tramp steamer. He is not particularly forthcoming about his past but seems eager to get away from the fairer sex; this looks like¬† perfect match for Seth who is precisely looking for a man who won’t be “sparkin’ on the premises” consarn it! And yes, this is pretty much how the characters (especially Seth) talk.

Their bachelor’s paradise is shattered when two women move into the adjoining cottage for the summer. Ruth (Gummer) is an heiress, chaperoned by Emaline Bascom (Danner), who has more to her than she seems. Of course at first the boy’s club is outright hostile to their new neighbors. But as you can imagine soon they are sneaking behind each other’s backs, Seth to see Emaline, John to see Ruth. And when the two boys find out that their roommates have been cheating on their agreement, sparks are going to fly.

Adams does a good job of creating the turn of the last century Cape Cod environment. He also does a good job of creating a story that’s not going to be offensive to anybody. The trouble is that there isn’t enough friction to really hold your interest. The story – which is kind of predictable to begin with – moves along at a majestic pace and I don’t mean royal. It’s slow. It’s ponderous. And while that’s not always a bad thing, it doesn’t give you the payoff here that makes it worth waiting for; the ending simply can be seen coming a good nautical mile away.

Dreyfuss has been one of my favorite actors since Jaws. I’ve always appreciated his work, even when he was in a turkey. This isn’t the worst movie he’s ever appeared in but it is far from the best; nevertheless he elevates it with his leonine performance. Danner, who has always been able to convey grace and class, ups that exponentially here. Her Emaline is a bit of a firecracker but never loses her inner elegance.

There are times when the scenes look a bit awkwardly staged, as if setting up for an avant garde stage play rather than a period family-oriented film. Despite the lush settings and the beautiful period costumes, the actors often look uncomfortable or directionless. On top of that the pacing is so slow and the story so predictable that left to its own devices the film would be a complete yawner. The presence of Dreyfuss and Danner alone give it a marginal reason to see it.

WHY RENT THIS: Inoffensive and wholesome. Dreyfuss and Danner are welcome additions to any cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks inertia. Ending doesn’t resonate. Often seems stagey.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few mildly bad words and some of the themes might be a bit much for youngsters.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ben Dreyfuss is Richard’s son by his first wife Jeramie Rain; Gummer is the daughter of Meryl Streep.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Golden Boys

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Dredd

A Beautiful Life (2008)


A Beautiful Life

When Jesse Garcia tells Angela Sarafyan that he loves her for more than her body, her expression makes it clear she’s heard that one before.

(2008) Drama (New Films International) Debi Mazar, Dana Delaney, Bai Ling, Angela Sarafyan, Jesse Garcia, Jonathan LaPaglia, Walter Perez, Enrique Castillo, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Rena Owen, Meltem Cumbul, Bill Lithgow, Ho-Jung. Directed by Alejandro Chomski

 

Desperation leads people to doing things that they wouldn’t ordinarily think of doing. Sometimes, being driven to that state can be a very short trip indeed.

Maggie (Sarafyan) gets off the bus in Los Angeles underage, scared and alone. Seeing the population of hookers and junkies, she finds herself a dumpster to hide in and get some sleep. There she is found by David (Garcia), a dishwasher in a strip club. He marches her to see Esther (Ling), a stripper with an eye towards a singing career but also one with the proverbial heart of gold. She cajoles David into taking Maggie in until she can get back on her feet.

The two approach each other warily at first but Maggie eventually gets work at a Korean market while David makes steady cash at the club. However, a raid on the club leaves David without a job (did I mention he was here illegally?) and things begin to get desperate. Maggie isn’t making a lot of money at the grocery and soon is let go from that job too. Still, it is when you are in desperate straits that strong bonds are formed and Maggie and David begin to fall in love.

However, sex between them is odd. Maggie can’t do it unless David is hurting her – this stems from a trauma that caused her to run away in the first place (bet you can’t guess what it was) and this frustrates David who wants to express more tender feelings towards his girlfriend. The two, no longer able to afford rent, squat. And getting to the point where they can’t afford food, David takes to selling drugs which leads to problems of their own.

This is based on a play by Wendy Hammond called “Jersey City.” I haven’t seen the play or read it, so I must assume that based on the title the movie has been relocated on the opposite coast, perhaps to highlight an area where illegal immigration is much more of an immediate problem.

The characters here are living on the edge of society. For the most part, they are completely marginalized, although Mazar plays a sympathetic librarian who gets Maggie interested in learning and earning that G.E.D. while Delaney plays Maggie’s mom who lives conveniently nearby and comes through with timely assistance. Beyond that, this is about people who are as poor as the people in this country get, barely subsisting and never quite sure what the future holds.

The movie is mostly about Sarafyan and Garcia, and they do fairly well. Sarafyan’s character isn’t always sympathetic; she’s pretty messed up (and understandably so) but like many messed up people she lashes out at those who care about her and sometimes makes decision based on the maximum amount of harm that can befall her when she’s in a state of self-loathing. This isn’t a movie about role models necessarily, although you can make a case that their advanced survival instinct is admirable but then again most animals have a survival instinct.

The movie gets the grim reality of homelessness and poverty right but for some reason – whether scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, or because there is a lack of responsible continuity checking in the writing – characters drift in and out of the film without explanation. In fact, one of the main characters essentially disappears from the movie for the final third of it as the film focuses on David’s drug dealing. That final third almost seems like an entirely different movie.

This is one of those movies that drives me crazy. On the one hand, there are portions of it that are extremely well-written but then there are things that just seem like the screenwriters just weren’t paying attention or just didn’t care. There are moments here that shine and others that made me roll my eyes. I kind of want to recommend it – and I kind of don’t. If you do elect to see it, be prepared to be driven crazy by it – or to have it stick with you for a very long time. Maybe both.

WHY RENT THIS: Suitably grim and grimy. Reasonably well performed by the young leads.. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot lacks direction and cohesion. Characters appear and disappear from the story without explanation.

FAMILY VALUES: The is some drug use, more than a little sexuality, nudity, depictions of masochistic sex, an attempted rape and a bunch of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The original play this was based on, “Jersey City,” was first produced at the Second Stage Company in New York City in 1989.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Data not available..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Saint of Fort Washington

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: White Material

Turning Green


Turning Green

When you reach the edge of the world there's nothing left to do but fall off.

(2005) Crime Drama (New Films International) Timothy Hutton, Alessandro Nivola, Colm Meaney, Donal Gallery, Killian Morgan, Jill Harding, Brid Ni Chionaola, Deirdre Monaghan, Frank Kelly, Myles Purcell, Billie Traynor, Katherine Kendall, Gavin O’Connor. Directed by Michael Aimette and John G. Hoffman

 

Wherever you go, as a wise man once said, there you are. Sometimes where we are isn’t necessarily where we want to be. Sometimes we need to get a little creative to get where we want to be.

James Powers (Gallery) is in Ireland but he sure doesn’t want to be there. He and his little brother Pete (Morgan) were shipped there to his overbearing aunts when their mother passed away; now James can only think about finding a way back to America.

He at first tries to raise some cash by performing drinking tricks at the local bar (which cause him to throw up after all the patrons have left) and then he starts running numbers for Bill the Bookie (Nivola). Bill takes a liking to the industrious James while his right hand enforcer Bill the Beater (Hutton) is a little bit more suspicious.

James, being 16 years old, is also discovering the joys of masturbation. He is constantly in the bathroom, so much so that his aunts are under the mistaken impression he’s suffering from severe constipation. The aunties dote on the local priest and have no idea how to handle a young man who is awakening sexually.

While on a visit to London, James is introduced to the wonderful world of dirty magazines. He realizes that they’re illegal in Ireland and that if he could figure out a way to smuggle them in, he’d make a fortune and make enough to get him and Pete back home in no time. So he does just that, not realizing that he is attracting the wrong kind of attention, the kind of attention that will get friends like the drunken fisherman (Meaney) who is the closest thing he has to a father figure in deep trouble.

This is a fairly low-key affair that wants to steep itself in rural Irish charm but doesn’t quite get enough of a soaking. Part of it is that we spend a lot more time dealing with James’ tallywhacking than anyone should have to sit through. Gallery is a pretty decent actor, but he doesn’t really have the roguish charm that Irish actors like Colin Ferrell and Liam Neeson possess and in any case, few actors who can easily pass for 16 have that ability anyway but Gallery gives it a good solid effort and is likable enough.

Hutton is a very strong and able actor who has an Oscar under his belt but playing Irish muscle is a bit out of his comfort zone and he also gives it a good try but is ultimately unconvincing in the role. The actor who fared best IMHO is Nivola, who made the charismatic Bill the Bookie come to life. His is the character I remember most vividly from the movie.

This is a very masculine movie – most of the female roles are either sex objects or comedy relief and there is very little in between. It is also quite schizophrenic; the first two thirds seems to be more of a coming of age film but then it makes an abrupt left turn into a crime drama. There is a good deal of wit through both portions which kind of ties the film together but I would have preferred that the movie stuck to one set of guns. Goodfellas this ain’t.

Nonetheless I can give it a mild recommendation. It certainly has a different point of view and has a different feel than most of the films out there. If you’re looking for something that is a little bit off the grid, this might not be a bad choice.

WHY RENT THIS: Good cast performs solidly. Doesn’t have much of a female point of view.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overuse of masturbation as a thematic issue. Can’t decide if it wants to be a crime drama or a coming-of-age film.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and nudity, teenage drinking, a wee bit of violence and a whole lot of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The script was a runner-up on HBO’s first season of “Project Greenlight.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: John Carter