5/30/2014

Blu-ray Review: Endless Love (2014)


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Unlucky enough to get sick on the last day of the long holiday weekend, I decided that since I was cruising the couch anyway, I’d make the most of it by engaging in a cinematic experiment.

After reading a good chunk of the source material, I watched both big screen adaptations of Scott Spencer’s contemporary classic Endless Love, starting with the most recent title and wrapping up my teen romance double feature with the 1981 original from Romeo and Juliet director Franco Zeffirelli.


A Nicholas Sparksian makeover for a Notebook crazy tween audience who’ve been showered with one lukewarm romantic shampoo ad of shiny happy, golden people after another, Country Strong director Shana Feste helms a blandly sunny wrong-side-of-the-tracks romance that bears little resemblance to wither the novel or Zeffirelli’s oft-maligned version.

In fact, when watched back-to-back, miraculously it’s Zeffirelli’s film that fares much better in that it at least adheres to a few of Spencer's major plot points (albeit while spinning them in a much more romantic and altogether positive light) than the modern remake which ditches most of the building blocks of the book altogether.

Lacking the unreliable narrator one-two punch of the original Spencer work including the ominous opener which foreshadows the idea that perhaps the father of fifteen year old Jade wasn’t wrong in enforcing a thirty-day “break” in her relationship with her seventeen year old boyfriend, the lovers in the '81 movie seem doomed mostly due to unrelenting hormones, bad luck and mixed messages in her free-spirited hippie home.


However the 2014 remake produced by The O.C., Chuck and Gossip Girl's Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage has not only erased the dark undercurrent that made the book so absorbing but it lacks any sort of unique edge that might’ve kept things fresh enough for the 105 minute running time of what is otherwise a by-the-numbers romantic movie paradigm.

Instead of opting for the unusual, we’re given more of the same while being fed a heaping spoonful of sudsy cheese about a beautiful but shy Georgia beauty who’s been nicknamed “the ice queen” by a majority of her more unforgiving of her classmates after the death of her older brother found Jade (Gabriella Wilde) burying her head in books instead of social media selfies.

Hopelessly devoted from afar, the valet at her country club and fellow recent high school graduate David (Alex Pettyfer) flirts Jade out of her icy shell as she melts unrealistically far too quickly and eagerly – hopping in a “borrowed” country club car for an illicit fast food run in a scene that’s totally out-of-character.


And taking a cue from David’s borrowed ride, the film borrows a few moments straight out of the Say Anything… playbook including a scene where Jade loosens up at a party with David and finally “meets” her classmates before she must choose between her burgeoning relationship with David and taking an internship (versus a fellowship in Crowe’s Anything).

Nowhere near as compelling or original as the characters penned by Cameron Crowe, the young lovers in Feste’s film have been likewise stripped of any beguiling or discerning traits from Spencer’s novel as the well-mannered yet at times quick-to-temper David is missing any trace of the Jewish communist intellectual background of his Russian author reading character from the Zeffirelli version.

Moving the Chicago-set tale to idyllic Georgia, Endless Love (which doesn’t even contain the lovely theme song or a new version of it to fit the work) manufactures drama from start to finish, turning David into a working class blue collar budding mechanic hero straight out of a music video for a boy-band cover of a Bruce Springsteen song.


And this is particularly disappointing when you consider that – if anything – why remake a film if you’re not going to present us with some new worthwhile angle or stay closer to the source material, like for example Kimberly Peirce attempted to do in the intriguing although admittedly unnecessary female-centric spin on Carrie (also co-starring Gabriella Wilde)?

While the two lovers have terrific chemistry and both actors are more deserving of better scripts, it’s Bruce Greenwood in particular that easily classes up the picture and steals every scene he’s in as Jade’s overprotective father.

Unfortunately, in the end this Love has much more in common with a Nicholas Sparksian spin on Say Anything… than anything resembling the Spencer novel.


And even though there’s no law stating that the filmmaker must remain faithful to the book as their only job should be to make an engrossing, solidly entertaining picture, there’s nothing in the final cut that explains why Feste felt so strongly about the project to bother helming it in the first place.

While it's beautifully lensed and makes impressive use of a vibrant color palette to punctuate the passions of its two leads by frequently featuring Jade in eye-popping, powerful red so that she sticks out in a sea of dark clothed party-goers or passersby at the airport, visuals alone can't sustain our interest.


A Hollywoodized feature, Endless Love seems to signify that Feste has taken far too many steps in the wrong direction while selecting the follow-up to her flawed yet admirably daring and endlessly fascinating previous picture Country Strong, which was buoyed by an ensemble cast of remarkable characters (and the actors inhabiting the roles).

I only hope that this talented, up-and-coming writer/director will get back on track in her next project by staying away from endlessly unnecessary remakes or adaptations and instead listening to and trusting the endless strength of her own uniquely original voice.


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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

5/29/2014

Film Movement Review: The Jewish Cardinal (2013)


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Known as Aaron to his father, Jean-Marie to Pope John Paul II and Monsignor Bulldozer to his old parishioners, while the rabbis in his native France call him a Christian, as a Jewish born child who was baptized after converting to Catholicism as a young teen to escape the fate of relatives who died at Auschwitz, Jean-Marie Lustiger considers himself a Catholic Jew.

While many consider that complicated at best and a contradiction at worst, in this powerful biopic from French filmmaker Ilan Duran Cohen, we’re given an extraordinary multilayered and largely objective account of the life of the controversial Jewish cardinal.


Quickly rising in the ranks to become one of the closest confidants of the pope (whom he simply calls Karol), Jean-Marie never seems divided in the slightest by his so-called dual identity or allegiance to one religion or another until he finds himself at a crossroads of his past and present.

When a group of Carmelite nuns set up a convent at Auschwitz, renovating the very building where his mother was murdered by the gas that was stored in the very room they’re occupying, Jean-Marie is faced with a crisis of conscience, culture and identity while confronting the role that both faiths play in his life.

Though the dual faiths had never dueled before (at least in his eyes), Jean-Marie soon finds himself in a religious standoff. Sent to intervene and help mediate an agreement with Polish church leaders and representatives from the Jewish community alike, when politics soon come into play (as the pope is pushed to intervene and pull rank on his own country), Jean-Marie begins questioning not only his own identity but just how and why he was promoted so quickly by Karol.


Facing concerns and charges of hypocrisy leveled directly at him and by him at both communities, Jean-Marie goes through a major existential upheaval while taking inventory of the faiths and facts that guide his spiritual journey.

A terrific film that serves as a great double feature to Film Movement’s previous tale of a Catholic priest in crisis – In the Name Of – the helmer’s approach to The Jewish Cardinal is as journalistic as it is elegantly ornate.

Though lusciously photographed – with the obvious and understandable exception of the nuns and their cohorts at Auschwitz that took to pouring water on the heads of Jewish protesters – Cohen’s ability to keep an open mind and avoid imposing any kind of overt message or paint either religious group in a dominant, negative light is admirable indeed.

Admittedly, while the filmmaker presents everything with a cool, level head, I found myself torn by my initial reaction to our lead – not liking the often unsympathetic man who’d rejected his background and broken his father’s heart while at the same time finding myself admiring his dedication to following his own path regardless of which text had inspired him along the way.

However, the film deepens as it continues as we begin to learn more about our protagonist including what happened on a life-changing student exchange trip (that has haunted him for decades) which makes Cohen’s work that much more engrossing.


While given the contemplative nature of his profession, we’re left to deduce a great deal of Jean-Marie's rationale behind certain actions that may have been better conveyed by giving the cardinal someone to bounce more thoughts off of via a confidante of his own, all in all, it’s still a thoroughly riveting feature that stays with you long after it’s over.

In fact I couldn’t stop thinking about the movie as well as the man for days (namely the telling yet troubling decision to have prayers of two faiths said at his grave after denying his father the same courtesy).

One of those unfailingly humanistic features, the film puts reality above any desire to manipulate viewers into sympathizing 100% with its characters by instead daring to show us a flawed human being that plays his cards close to his prayer robes.

As such, Cardinal is as strengthened as it is occasionally weakened by its adherence to  “just the facts” rather than serving up a more dramatic interpretation of the events that shaped our subject's life.

Yet regardless of which Jean-Marie Lustiger we happen to encounter at different points in the film, the conflicted cardinal who (depending on the situation) was as soft spoken as he was prone to temper-ridden bulldozing is brought vivaciously to life by the stellar, convincing portrayal of With a Friend Like Harry actor Laurent Lucas.

A man whose identity meant something different to everyone, Lustiger is perhaps best understood as an enigmatic, flawed and ultimately ambiguous man. Yet even though his goal to be all of the above may have found him having to pick sides from time-to-time, thanks to Cohen’s compelling film we’re at least able to appreciate Jean-Marie Lustiger’s noble quest to remain faithful to his true self above all.

   

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: Devil's Due (2014)




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While leaving a message for his bride on his ever present video camera with which Zach McCall (Zach Gilford) has pledged to document the start of their new life together, he makes a promise to the lovely Sam (Allison Miller) that he will always protect her and keep her safe.


But as we learn not even twenty minutes into Radio Silence filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s demonic baby chiller Devil’s Due, Zach has spoken much too soon after a bizarre night on their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic finds his wife not only pregnant but acting completely different from her usual self.

Arriving on disc a full month before NBC premiered their own thematically similar miniseries remake of Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror classic Rosemary’s Baby, while Devil’s Due takes you down familiar terrain by playing deliberate and at times humorously tongue-in-cheek homage to Polanski’s original, it’s pieced together in a way that’s less stagey and far more naturalistic.


Much like Fox’s Chronicle (with whom Devil shares a producer), the movie’s classification as a work of pure found footage horror is up for debate since multiple source videos are somehow edited together by "unknown parties" in addition to an online sequence wherein some footage is erased.

Nonetheless, if you’re willing to ease up on the strict qualifications and rules or regulations of paint-by-number genre mandates, you’ll find a truly impressive and pretty damn effective example of low budget, do-it-yourself horror made to just sit back and enjoy. (And in all actuality, with far too many mock-docs on the horror shelf, it’s about time filmmakers started easing up and/or rewriting the rules to keep things interesting.)

Admittedly predictable, although the directors realize there’s simply no getting around the fact that we’ve all seen this movie before, they do their best to take each opportunity they have to ratchet up the tension or offer a unique spin on the tried and true formula of Lindsay Devlin’s script.


And this is evident in the clever Kubrickian inspired twisted delight they take in serving up a spine-tingling Motown era musical counterpoint where the lyrics of the catchy “Oogum Boogum" foreshadow and later provide a commentary on the eerie events that follow.

Likewise, making the most of its unusual natural camera-centric focus by tapping into grocery store and parking lot security cameras for two jaw-dropping scenes, Devil’s Due illustrates the truism that necessity really is the mother of invention in forcing the helmers to think outside the box.

While it had the potential makings of a much more original storyline by alluding early on to the fact that Sam had no memory of her parents who died in a car crash before abandoning that thread altogether, far too often, Devlin’s script retreats back into the expected realm of a Rosemary’s Baby retread instead of daring to pay-off on that unique premise.


Although it doesn’t achieve the same level of success that D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia did in providing a contemporary, new take on an old classic with Caruso's thrilling tribute to Hitchcock’s Rear Window that provided viewers with a creepier comeuppance and a fresh point-of-view, overall the filmmakers make the most of what they’ve been given.

Augmented by the emphasis on Hitchcock-like voyeurism that fills the second half as more camera flood the lives of our characters without their knowledge, Devil’s Due amps up the suspense considerably by using the strategy to capture eerie scenes both in and outside the couple’s home as they’re hounded by the eyes of Big Brother everywhere.

With an exceptional Holy Communion centerpiece sequence that infuses the work with shades of The Exorcist, while most filmmakers would’ve blown most of their budget on a big CG payoff there, the film is that much more arresting given the helmers’ strong dedication to documenting the events with understated realism.


And while there’s nothing earth-shattering about the work as a whole, it’s saved by these little artistic flourishes that keep us invested.

Filled with flashes of innovation and intriguing shifts in first person camera point-of-view by those behind the camera, as we watch the increasingly desperate Zach attempt to make good on his wedding day promise to keep his wife safe, come hell, high water, unholy cab drivers or baby antichrists, we realize that the Devil’s due is truly in the details.
   

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

5/23/2014

DVD Review: Weekend of a Champion (1972)


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Alternate Title: Afternoon of a Champion

It’d been nearly three weeks since Jackie Stewart had had a decent night’s sleep. Yet unlike others in Monaco in May of 1971, he wasn’t awakened simply by the roar of Formula One motorcar engines speeding around the curvy, curb-filled city streets that were never meant to be driven the same way as a racetrack.

No, for almost three weeks Stewart found himself driven to near-insomnia out of sheer preparation and passionate dedication, scientifically strategizing the precise place he should brake before a turn and figuring out which gear made the most sense for every single maneuver he planned to utilize in his attempt to win the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time since 1966.


With the added pressure of an untested car thrown into the mix along with consenting to be captured throughout the course of the entire weekend by his good friend, filmmaker Roman Polanski as well as the documentarian Frank Simon (that Polanski has tapped to execute his first foray into nonfiction moviemaking), Stewart’s anxiety is easily understandable.

And when you toss in the variable of unpredictable weather that required Stewart to shift his thinking (and his car) on a dime to recalibrate the plan of attack he’d take behind the wheel should he suddenly find himself driving in the rain, you have the makings of a compelling cinema verite feature.



Weekend of a Champion truly brings you inside the pressure-cooker that is Formula One racing and finds a intellectually stimulating subject in Jackie Stewart at the peak of his powers. With the race itself taking a backseat to Simon’s cinematic slice-of-life approach, Weekend zeroes in on Stewart’s fascinating point-of-view.

In doing so, Simon illustrates the excruciating amount of mental focus and physical stamina (from the deep blisters received from constant gear changing to the lack of support for the neck) required to make it in Formula One during the horrifically tragic era when two out of three racers were killed in the span of a five-year period.

Offering those uninitiated in the sport an unprecedented first person account of just how much of a true art-form racing actually is, when you view it through that lens in retrospect, it’s no surprise that the subject would’ve attracted Polanski enough to serve as the jumping-off point for this intriguing work.

Whereas a documentary centered on his own profession may have easily bored him, Champion gives Polanski – through Simon – a chance to indulge his hunger for knowledge and let his imagination go wild.


If there’s one thing that Champion has in common with his other work is that it centers on a psychologically focused study of a subject’s confrontation and likewise exploration of a whole new world that typically they’ve never been privy to before.

From the devilish goings-on in a nearby apartment (via Rosemary’s Baby), in the seedier side of Frantic’s Paris or the eponymous Chinatown, the heroes and heroines of Polanski’s films are put to the test and must either succumb to or rise above the increasingly dangerous situations in which they find themselves in everything from Knife in the Water to The Ghost Writer.

Riveted by the human response when people are pushed to extremes, even though Polanski is an uncredited filmmaker on Weekend, the Frank Simon co-production easily fits into Polanski's own filmography.

Jokingly chided that as a racing driver, he’s a very good film director by a nervous Stewart who later laughs that the blood spilled from his Grand Prix morning shave has supplied the helmer with the requisite gore demanded by a Polanski picture, the film walks that fine balance of violent danger and seductive glamour evident in his other work.


And sure enough, Stewart echoes this, acknowledging that the “anything can happen,” air of a race is inevitably what draws the sport’s spectators.

With racers like Mario Andretti wailing around the city streets on cars that maneuver like they’re on a “knife’s edge” dangerously close to the crowd with the threat of a crash just a shift away, Stewart theorizes the allure of Formula One while doing everything he can to keep safe.

Likening the car to “a best friend,” “wife,” or “fantastic affair,” there’s undoubtedly something sexual about the injection he says he feels when behind the wheel where undoubtedly the three weeks of anticipation and foreplay have paid off as he can “become one with the car” while going all the way to the finish line.


Although the newly added twenty minute contemporary postscript added by Polanski that finds the two friends reminiscing in the same suite they stayed in years earlier is interesting as it better acknowledges Stewart’s loyal, beautiful and courageous wife Helen as he discusses his efforts to make racing safer, ultimately it doesn’t offer any other new insight into the aforementioned weekend.

To this end, perhaps it would've better appreciated as a behind-the-scenes DVD extra as others have suggested. While fans will undoubtedly enjoy the conversation, the slice-of-life, place-in-time snapshot is so complete on its own that it’s a bit jarring for those who had gotten into the flow of the race, (similar to the way Stewart had in ’71) to be quickly pulled back into the current reality.


Almost destroyed by archivists who called Polanski and asked him what to do with the original film negatives, Weekend is a riveting discovery. Likewise it makes a terrific follow-up and companion piece to the recent slew of titles about the racing world from the informative historical chronicle documentaries 1 and Senna to the indie biopic Snake and Mongoose as well as Ron Howard’s big screen Rush.

A wonderful filmic flashback to that weekend in May when Polanski and Simon journeyed to Monaco to bring us a portrait of his friend (and artist in his own right), Champion zooms in on the mindset of Stewart – determined to do whatever it takes to ensure that come race day, he won’t be asleep at the wheel but all revved up and ready to go.
   

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

5/22/2014

Movie Review: Scream Park (2012)


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Like the haunted house set we first see at the start of writer/director Cary Hill’s debut feature Scream Park, a horror-themed amusement park seems like a natural location upon which to build a slasher movie.

And in using the same ingredients in plot, character and structure that have pervaded the genre since its late ‘70s/early ‘80s post-Halloween screaming virginal teenage girl-centric heyday, that’s exactly what Hill does in this old-school horror movie.

In addition to using the same paradigm, Scream Park harks back to the era from start to finish by including technological and cultural touchstones from boom-boxes to the type of punks that Corey Feldman would’ve played three earlier alongside modern-day conveniences like cell phones and motion-detection lights.


While we’re confused by the early introduction to way too many similar characters at the same time, we’re quickly charmed by Park’s obligatory nice, smart girl lead Jennifer (capably portrayed by Wendy Wygant).

Unfortunately (aside from one or two exceptions) the rest of the teens that round out the ensemble group of soon-to-be-victims are very one-dimensional. And adding insult to injury for Hill's film, they're played with such little skill in performances that run the gamut from over-emphasis to mumbled line-readings

Initially, because the roles that they inhabit fill a one-word description so well, I wondered if perhaps they might have been intended as exaggerated satirical genre caricatures of the same type of “princess” and “athlete” archetypes that filled the seminal John Hughes ‘80s classic, The Breakfast Club. However, the satirical theory fizzled as the killing took center stage and Hill's teen movie switches gears, focusing on the cat-and-mouse game that is being played around the park.

Needless to say, Hill’s film is at its best when he keeps things simple both for the actors and the viewers as just when we’ve begun to be able to tell the characters apart (despite not knowing a few names), the horror begins.


With more money, a more talented cast, slicker special effects and much better lighting (to the point that  at times I had to squint in my most vibrant color temperature settings), the film could’ve easily become a modern cult hit.

Yet as it stands in spite of its technical and professional limitations, the downright entertaining Scream Park scored a hit among genre film festival goers who no doubt responded to its obvious knowledge of and affection for the films that paved the way while sitting back to enjoy Hill's ride.


While I kept thinking about just how damn good the film could’ve been if only it had a script punch-up (or fill-in-the-blank), the one thing that kept me interested was just how well-timed and ingenious it was of Hill to venture quite far back into the past to take on such a monster of a project for his first time out.

And this is doubly refreshing and impressive when you realize that far too many of his contemporaries are overcrowding the marketplace with found-footage, do-it-yourself horror movies. With this in mind, any attempt to reinvigorate the genre is more than welcome and that's exactly the itch that's scratched by Scream Park.


Reminiscent in spirit of Ti West’s debut effort and ‘80s era throwback, The House of the Devil, I only hope that with more funds, experience and talented new collaborators, Hill will embark on a career with a similar word-of-mouth appeal.

For regardless of its flaws, Scream Park is Saturday midnight screening fun and Hill knows his audience well – no doubt as a filmmaker weaned on the rollercoasters of genre classics the same way those who lived in Anaheim were weaned on the rollercoasters at Disneyland.

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Film Movement DVD Review: In the Name Of (2013)


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In her multiple award-winning career so far, Polish filmmaker Malgoska Szumowska has revealed a particular fascination with exploring the complexities of female sexuality onscreen, as evidenced in the controversial Elles starring Juliette Binoche (with whom she’s expected to reteam for 2015’s Sisters).

Yet as under-represented as women are on both sides of the lens (especially with regard to realistic portrayals helmed by female craftsmen), Szumowska changed her focus for her fifth feature In the Name Of by exposing the secrets, sex lives and double standards faced by another minority via her Catholic priest male hero, who just so happens to be a closeted homosexual.

Daring to take a humanistic look at terrain we haven’t seen even marginally explored with this degree of tenderness since Miramax’s likewise female helmed controversial ‘94 shocker Priest by filmmaker Antonia Bird, this Berlin Film Festival jury award-winner is as sensitively understated as it is powerfully contemplative.


A cinematic slice of life, Szumowska opts for a naturalistic, fly-on-the-wall approach while establishing our main character in the form of the conflicted, gentle priest Adam (played by an astounding Andrzej Chyra) who works with troubled teen boys at a village parish in the Polish countryside.

From coaching soccer to breaking up fights and intervening when the ignorant locals don’t know what to do for a young woman who falls into an epileptic seizure, Adam has quickly become a prominent community figure and something of a fascinating enigma to admirers of both genders.

The latest in what have been a series of transfers that have pushed Adam further and further out into boonies away from the coveted parishes of the city (following inferences and incidences of homophobic paranoia and suspicion from the higher-ups), the uncertainty of his permanently temporary status has turned him into something of a wandering nomad.


Letting few people in -- some of the film’s most affecting scenes illustrate his sense of loneliness and isolation of a man always off to the sidelines, with frequent barriers like transparent windows or solitary shots of him juxtaposed with masses of others (in and out of mass) to help drive home the internal monologue of a man who doesn’t reveal much through dialogue.

The target of a crush by a determined young woman who plies him with homemade pies, Adam’s slowly evolving bond and slight flicker of a spark ignited in the shared gaze of a local villager (well-played by the filmmaker’s husband, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) is threatened by the arrival of a sexually aggressive city boy whose gaydar may have picked up on the father’s true orientation.

Uninterested in the priest except to possibly pull at the strand of truth he can sense until it unravels and threatens to humiliate Adam among the villagers, the boy sets his sights on one of the country lads who’d confessed his own confusion in confession after a spontaneous erotic encounter.


Bringing the drama to a slow boil, events reach a dramatic climax as the film continues and Adam realizes that he must face his feelings and the truth that continues to be used as Catholic blackmail to push him from one post to the next.

While the film is gorgeously lensed by the director’s long-term co-writer and cinematic collaborator Michal Englert, there are a few disruptively abrupt editing hiccups that mess with the film’s sensual, cinema verite like flow (that reveal either errors in character blocking in an edit-on-action match cut or sloppily simple continuity mistakes) that pull you out of the graceful rhythm of the piece.

Nonetheless, while it could’ve been tightened up a bit as the pacing lags in the second act, the film’s problems on the whole are relatively and thankfully minor when compared to just how compelling it is overall.


For ultimately it’s the mood of the film (bolstered by the effective employment of “The Funeral” by Band of Horses as a recurring musical motif) and its conversation-worthy portrait of the church, countryside and characters that keep you invested throughout.

And while the ending may be slightly pat indeed, the questions the film raises about whether or not the church’s practices and policies are victimizing our lead rather than setting him free are sure to get open-minded viewers of all religions talking longer after the end of this Film Movement release.


Refreshingly keeping its focus on the father as a human being first as opposed to defining him by any number of characteristics, while a lesser director would’ve ventured into exploiting the church abuse angle, Szumowska is wise enough to keep that out of the equation. To this end, an obvious takeaway and message of the film is that Adam's orientation has nothing to do with how devoted he is to his duties and parishioners.

An altogether thoughtful, hypnotic filmic portrait of often-ignored screen territory by a woman who seems to derive cinematic inspiration from subjects most directors overlook, this Film Movement release finds the filmmaker stepping back from her female-centric explorations of sexuality.

However it only takes a few minutes into In the Name Of until we realize she’s done so “in the name of” the thematically similar purpose of investigating life, liberty, equality, humanity and our universal pursuit of happiness which manages to stay true to and push the boundaries of her oeuvre in all the right ways.

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

5/20/2014

DVD Review: Barefoot (2014)


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Evan Rachel Wood has long been drawn to tales of unlikely friendships and unusual bonds that develop between people who are brought together by their eccentricities (which have run the gamut from quirky to downright certifiable) in her prolific, impressively diverse career.

Typically opting for one of two character arcs, Wood’s oeuvre often finds her either portraying those at a mental, emotional or psychological crossroads or those guiding someone else through the same metaphorical journey through the course of a film.

From her earliest breakthroughs in Digging to China and Thirteen all the way up through King of California, Running With Scissors, Down in the Valley and The Life Before Her Eyes, Wood’s fearless nature along with her unwavering commitment to each character that she loses her own identity as a celebrity while playing makes her one of the most underrated character actresses of her generation.


Able to strengthen flawed material like Justin Long’s affable but admittedly protracted A Case of You with her chameleon-like knack for making you instinctively buy into whatever role she’s taking on, Wood followed up her Kate Hudson-like hippie waif in Long’s Rom-Com Case with another role that, if played by someone less talented, could’ve become easily stereotypical female date movie bait. Yet because Wood is so genuine as Barefoot’s guileless wallflower Daisy, she makes the film’s formula feel much fresher than you might’ve imagined.

Cast as an innocent young woman (which Meryl Streep once said is the hardest thing to play believably) who’s been sheltered indoors her entire life by a mentally ill parent, after her parent passes away offscreen, Daisy is sent reeling; unable to cope with life outside on her own.


A fish out of water regardless of the situation, when Daisy is placed in a mental institution due to her odd behavior, she takes the first opportunity she has to leave by following Scott Speedman’s down-on-his-luck janitor Jay out the door after he rescues her from a dicey situation.

Offering her a few dollars for shoes despite her proclamation that she’d rather go barefoot, Jay realizes that he can’t just leave the far too trusting Nick at Nite educated, earnest young woman alone to fend for herself in the middle of Los Angeles.


The first decent thing his cad-like character has done up to this point in the film (after saving her from harm, of course) – in debt up to his eyeballs and worried about losing his job which would send the gambling law-breaker to jail, Jay decides to violate his parole in a preemptive strike for what he believes will be the greater good.

Bringing Daisy along with him, Jay sets off for his brother’s wedding down south where he hopes he’ll find his dad (Treat Williams) in a good enough mood to pay off his debt.

Recalling tonally similar screwball inspired romantic comedy movies in the same traveling to a family event and/or destination wedding vein a la the Sandra Bullock genre films Forces of Nature and The Proposal, it’s here where you might say, “wait a minute, I’ve seen this film before.”


Yet whereas most titles would’ve followed the same Bullock movie lead – spending the rest of the running time at the main destination location with most of the action set at the wedding itself, Barefoot decides to use its admittedly short 89 minute length wisely by bringing you something old and something new instead.

Part road movie and part ensemble Rom-Com, Barefoot checks some of the requisite genre boxes including a makeover scene plus charming the future in-laws along with a close call with the authorities (including a cartoonish car chase). But it's much more than simply formulaic as it continues.

Working from a script by Stephen Zotonowski, filmmaker Andrew Fleming laces the laughter with a surprising amount of sweetness combined with sensitive touches that never ridicule the mentally ill characters that Jay considers his only real friends.


Admittedly initially Speedman’s characterization seems slightly disingenuous as it’s hard to imagine the man the film initially establishes as a selfish jerk putting a stranger's needs before his own (especially since they’d just met) but he grows more complex as their relationship builds.

Likewise, the positive message of the film (that’s never laid on too thick) as well as the ample chemistry between the two leads helps you overlook some of its logical inconsistencies.

While not as laugh-out-loud funny as you would assume given the screwball approach, the tone employed by Nancy Drew, Dick and The Craft helmer Fleming is as serious as it is silly.


Frequently bittersweet as if Preston Sturges had been the one to write and direct Holiday with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant rather than George Cukor and blended it with a few of the scenes from Sullivan’s Travels and The Palm Beach Story, Fleming punctuates Barefoot's melancholy moments while making you laugh at the same time in a decidedly Sturges-like manner.

A terrific blend of old and new that despite a clumsy beginning a contrived finale is highly recommended for a rainy evening in thanks to the always effervescent Evan Rachel Wood, Barefoot plays especially well as the contemporary half of a genre double feature when paired with a classic screwball romantic comedy from the past.


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