Choosing Signs


An American tree-hugger teaches an Irish lad the joys of natural energy.

(2013) Romantic Comedy (Random) Jessica Lancaster, Owen Dara, Betsy Douds, Jeremy Ocanas, Stephen Wyley, Cora Fenton, Alan Riordan, Claire Bermingham. Directed by Owen Dara

 

The universe is a great big place. Some folks believe that our lives are guided by it if you just notice the signs that the universe is sending you. Personally I think the universe has way too much to do to bother with individuals but that’s just me and I’m a heathen.

Jennifer (Lancaster) believes it though. When she has tried to make decisions on her own, they’ve been utter catastrophe. She figures that allowing the universe through flipped coins, throwing dice – i.e. random chance – probably couldn’t end up worse. This has brought Jennifer from the shores of the United States to Cork, Ireland along with her mentally ill brother Matty (Ocanas) whose institutionalization has been paid for by Marc (Wyley), with whom Jennifer is living. Matty is obsessed with cars and building one out of found items. Marc has an obsession of his own – building low cost housing for immigrants during an Irish economic boom known as the Irish Tiger – and Jennifer is kind of drifting through the world that has been laid out for her through the signs.

Eamon is the nurse for Matty at the institution. Matty likes him; the easy-going Eamon treats him like he’s not crazy. Matty is also fully aware that Eamon has it bad for his sister and seems to be okay with the idea. Jennifer is a bit of a new age nut – she’s a big believer in things like shakras, auras and the like – so at first the match with the down-to-earth Eamon looks doomed. The charming Irishman is persistent though and not even the knowledge that she’s living with another fella dampens his spirits much but when the inevitable happens, Jennifer finds herself left with a decision that she simply can’t leave to chance.

This is a movie with a ton of heart which can excuse a lot of sins. It is also an ultra-low budget affair (Dara made the movie for about $25K) which can excuse a lot of other sins. However, there are some issues here that one should bear in mind when choosing to watch this or not. The soundtrack, composed by Dara as well as all his other duties, is mainly made up of acoustic folk songs written by Dara and sung by Dara and Virginia Williams. Dara has a pleasant voice as does Williams but the songs are noticeably too similar and after awhile it really gets on one’s nerves. It should be said that getting the rights to songs to be included on a soundtrack can be prohibitively expensive even for performers who aren’t well-known so unless you happen to have friends in the local music community who are willing to contribute songs for nothing which is actually a loss if you count recording costs, then chances are the music will have to be DIY.

Dara is an engaging performer, using his Irish charm to full advantage. He seems to be a very strange mix for the flighty Jennifer but then, Lancaster and Dara are a couple in real life so assuming this isn’t autobiographical (which I’m told it isn’t) there’s probably much more in common between the two in real life than there is in reel life.

One thing you can say about the movie – it isn’t a typical rom-com. All four of the main characters have some sort of burden or mental issue and Marc’s Ukrainian housekeeper Svetlana (Douds) whose blunt tell-it-like-it-is style forces all of them sooner or later to take a good hard look at themselves. Even Matty gets a dose of Svetlana’s forthright tongue. In many ways, Svetlana is the most compelling character and despite being a supporting character who gets little screen time eventually becomes the one you’d want to spend time with in real life.

Not everyone will latch onto this. It is by-the-seat-of-the-pants filmmaking and at times the low budget is very evident. What remains with me after having seen this yesterday is that charm, heart and conviction can go a long way in indie filmmaking and Choosing Signs has plenty of all three. If you’re willing to overlook the fact that there are no stars, no Hollywood glitz and the fact that all of the characters are damaged in some way – even Eamon as we discover late in the film – then you might just fall under the sway of this charming Irish production.

REASONS TO GO: Dara gives the film a great deal of charm.
REASONS TO STAY: The soundtrack has too many similar-sounding folk songs and needs way more variety.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexually suggestive material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In addition to producing, writing, directing and starring in the movie, Dara also composed all the songs for the soundtrack and edited the film as well. He may also have swept the floor of the theater after the show.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/12/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mr. Roosevelt
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Public Image is Rotten

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The Maiden Heist (The Lonely Maiden)


The Maiden Heist

It's Hell to grow old - you get a lot more of your pictures going straight to DVD!

(2009) Caper Comedy (Yari Film Group) Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, William H. Macy, Marcia Gay Harden, Breckin Meyer, Bhavesh R. Patel, Stephen Stapinski, Philip Dorn Hebert, Anthony M. Cascio, Bart A. Piscitello Jr., Joseph McKenna, Todd Weeks. Directed by Peter Hewitt

 

Art is a very personal thing. There’s no telling what will inspire us, capture our imagination, create an obsession. That isn’t limited to the wealthy and educated – anyone can find themselves captivated by a work of art.

That’s what happened to Roger Barlow (Walken). He’s a security guard for the Boston Art Museum and one of the paintings under his charge, The Lonely Maiden has gotten under his skin. The forlorn look of the maiden standing on the beach has him scouring the internet for information on the artwork and its artist to the point he knows more about it than the docents do.

He’s not alone in this regard. Fellow security guards Charles Peterson (Freeman) and George McLendon (Macy) have a similar problem, albeit with different works of art. In George’s case, he has a statue that’s a particular favorite; it inspires him to get naked and imitate the statue’s pose – alongside the statue itself. To each their own.

Charles has a thing about a picture of a woman with cats on a different floor of the museum. All of the men are friendly with one another until they get yet another thing in common – their pieces of art have been sold by the Curator (Weeks) to a Danish Art Museum. Suddenly, it appears their obsessions will be taken from them. All three agree that this can’t stand.

They decide that their obsessions must be stolen and replaced by fakes. Not being particularly adept artists themselves, they enlist a starving artist (Meyer) to recreate the artwork to the standards of the men. This isn’t easy as the men are very particular and they need to be – the artwork has to be good enough to fool the experts.

They have a pretty foolproof plan but there are a few snags – one of them being Roger’s wife Rose (Harden) who dreams of Florida and is amassing the funds for a vacation there. In order to pay the starving artist to do the work they need (and get other supplies needed for the switchola) Roger has to raid his wife’s vacation fund without her knowing. The fact of the matter is that these are far from being professionals – will they be able to pull this off?

I think with a cast like this one, a lot of people might be surprised they’ve never heard of this film. It was due to be released back in May 2009 but the bankruptcy of the distributor left it dangling in the wind. The movie was eventually picked up by Sony and sent straight to DVD – do not pass Go, do not collect, well anything.

And quite frankly there’s a reason Sony didn’t put this into theaters. Despite the cast full of Oscar winners and nominees, the movie is pretty scattered. The plot goes careening all over the map like an out of control radio controlled plane before crashing in a neighbor’s yard. The caper aspects kind of don’t make sense a lot of time and stretch credibility.

At least with a cast of actors this distinguished you know you’re not going to get amateurish performances. Walken and Freeman acquit themselves well, although Macy looks decidedly uncomfortable as a guy who is something of a pervert – and not in a good way. Harden winds up being shrill and unlikable for the most part, until the very last reel. She was certainly misused here.

I generally like caper movies but they have to be smart and they have to be clever (which sounds like the same thing but it isn’t). This one is neither and despite the stellar cast misfires most of the time. There are a few moments here and there that work (particularly near the end) but too much of the movie relies on stupid people doing stupid things – which is just lazy writing.

WHY RENT THIS: The actors give it a good college try and there are some poignant moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Kind of a mess with the caper aspect being the worst offender. Too many clichés spoil the plot.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few curse words scattered throughout, some brief nudity and a bit of fantasy violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The art museum scenes were primarily filmed at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, MA.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a blooper reel…and not much else.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Zookeeper