THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016) – Quiet Ghost Story Drama Doesn’t Stand Out

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The-Disappointments-Room-2016-poster

What if you made a stylish horror movie but forgot to make it scary?

You’d have THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016),  a horror movie now available on Netflix Streaming.

Dana Barrow (Kate Beckinsale), her husband David (Mel Raido), and their young son Lucas (Duncan Joiner) move into their new home, an elegant manor in the countryside.  They are looking for a fresh start in life as they recently suffered a devastating tragedy.

Dana is an architect and plans to work on the house, while David, when he’s not off on business trips, spends his days with their son Lucas.  Dana discovers a mysterious room on the top floor of the house, a room that is not in the home’s original plans.  When she starts hearing strange noises in the middle of the night, as well as catching glimpses of people inside the house, she begins to suspect the house is haunted.

She learns that the room on the upper floor of their home is most likely a “disappointments” room, a place where a century before families would hide children they deemed as “disappointments,” children suffering from either physical deformities or mental disorders.

When the spiritual and physical worlds collide, and young Lucas’ life is threatened, Dana takes matters into her own hands to save him.  But her efforts are hindered by her own psychological issues, as she struggles to distinguish between what is real and what is imagined.  Is Lucas really in danger?  Or is it all just in her head?

The biggest knock against THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is that it is yet another haunted house/ghost story movie.  There have been so many of these movies of late, unless it’s the best I’ve ever seen, a film with this plot has a lot going against it because it’s extremely difficult to keep fresh at this point.  And THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is not fresh.  What it has to offer in terms of ghost story plot is nothing new, and this definitely works against the movie.

Early on, there were parts of this film that reminded me of the classic chiller THE CHANGELING (1980) starring George C. Scott, but that film benefitted from some genuine scares and a shocking reveal.  THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM has neither.

What it does have are solid acting performances and a steady directorial hand by director D.J. Caruso.

Caruso, who also directed the teen adventure I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) and the thriller DISTURBIA (2007), sets the mood early on with some creepy scenes, like the strange black dog that keeps showing up outside the home, and the eerie spectral figures which Dana sees.  And the film looks good throughout, even as the story ultimately fails to build to a satisfying climax.

The screenplay by director Caruso and Wentworth Miller [an actor known mostly for his starring role on the TV series PRISON BREAK (2005-2009) and the current mini-series PRISON BREAK: RESURRECTION (2017)] adds the disappointments room to the haunted house plot, and early on this was enough to hold my attention, but as the story evolves, and we learn more about the events which led to the haunting of this house, things become less interesting.

The potential for a nifty psychological thriller is certainly there but it doesn’t quite happen because the film only hints at the darkness inside Dana’s head.  It could be ghosts.  It could be imagined.  It could be a little bit of both.  The film never really makes up its mind, and it’s a weaker vehicle for it.

The film definitely plays like a dark drama rather than a horror movie.  As such, it’s a pretty good example of quiet horror.

But what it fails to do is reach the next level.  The climax of the film is certainly disturbing, but then what follows is a standard “I’ve got to save my son” sequence  which is ultimately a let down, and this is followed by a tepid ending which doesn’t do the movie any favors.

But as I said the acting is solid.  I really enjoyed Kate Beckinsale in the lead as Dana.It was so much more fun to watch her here than in those awful UNDERWORLD movies.  She makes Dana believable, and she seems like a woman with a tortured past who is now thrust into a ghost story conundrum.  That being said, considering what Dana believes she did in the past, her character should have been even more fragile and unhinged than she is here.

There’s a parallel between Beckinsale’s Dana and the father of the child in the disappointments room, Judge Blacker (Gerald McRaney).  But just how alike they are is never satisfactorily explored.  Like so many other things in this movie, it’s only hinted at.

Mel Raido does a nice job as Dana’s level-headed husband, David.  He’s the voice of reason who continually works to keep his wife grounded in reality.

Gerald McRaney doesn’t do much more than look menacing as the ghostly Judge Blacker, but he does it so well.

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM looks better than a lot of the other recent haunted house/ghost story movies of late, and it doesn’t suffer from the atrocious plot twists that some of those other flicks have, but ultimately it doesn’t really add anything of note to make it stand out.

And while it does provide a rather nasty revelation towards the end, what follows is a by-the-numbers conclusion.

All in all, THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM is a ghost story drama that will hold your interest for a while before it ultimately fizzles, settling gently into its quiet world of stylized mediocrity.

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HUSH (2016) – OK Horror Movie Is Too Quiet At Times

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hush poster

Shh!

HUSH!

Why the silence?  Because today I’m revieiwng HUSH (2016), a new horror movie about a deaf woman terrorized by an insane killer.  It’s available now on Netflix Streaming.

HUSH was written and directed by Mike Flanagan, the same guy who brought us OCULUS (2013), a horror movie I wasn’t all that crazy about.

HUSH tells a rather simple story.  Deaf author Maddie (Kate Siegel) lives alone in a secluded house in the woods, where she spends her days working on her novel.  She is close to her neighbors, a woman named Sarah (Samantha Sloyan), who visits her in the opening scene of the movie, and Sarah’s husband John (Michael Trucco).

Life is good, until one night when a masked killer (John Gallagher Jr.) armed with a deadly crossbow shows up at her door and decides he’s going to spend the night terrorizing her before ultimately slaying her. Maddie immediately tries to use her laptop to call 911, but the killer cuts the power to her house, rendering her server, router, and modem useless.  Maddie then spends the rest of the movie trying to stay alive, as she not only needs to defend herself against the killer, but she also has to find a way to escape from him.

Been there, done that.

And that’s the biggest issue I had with HUSH.  It’s nothing I hadn’t seen before, and there’s nothing about it that makes it better than those similar films that had come before it.

That being said, it’s a polished good looking flick, it’s got good acting, and it has a couple of interesting scenes, so it’s not all bad.  It’s just not all that exciting either.

It gets off to a good start.  I enjoyed the opening scene between Maddie and Sarah.  It establishes Maddie as a likeable character, someone I felt I could easily care for.  The killer’s initial entrance is also a good one, as we first see him when he brutally murders Sarah.  It’s a violent scene, and in terms of shock value I thought it scored high on the fright meter.  The killer definitely caught my attention at this point.

But then, strangely, the film takes a nose dive.  The killer confronts Maddie, and the cat and mouse games begin.  This is where the suspense should have taken over, but to my surprise it really didn’t.  It becomes one of those movies where there are lots of scenes without dialogue where Maddie is creeping around her house, looking for ways to escape.  She then tries to escape,the killer stops her, she retreats back into her house, and the process repeats itself.  This part of the movie bored me to tears and I really had a difficult time sitting through it.

It also suffered somewhat from the “Home Alone” syndrome, where Maddie would play the role of Macaulay Culkin and find ways to inflict pain on the killer, who would groan and grunt a la poor Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.  Not something a horror movie should be proud of.

Things do get better though, around the time Sarah’s husband John shows up, mostly because it introduces a third character, which if nothing else, provides the movie with some much needed dialogue.  And I thought the ending worked, even if it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before.  Basically, Maddie uses her writer’s brain to evaluate the various “endings” which in this case means her options for escape.    I thought this worked, and the ending was one of the more exciting parts of the movie.

I really enjoyed Kate Siegel as Maddie.   She does a nice job bringing the deaf character to life and gives her a lot of energy, making her a believable heroine when she fights off her attacker.  One criticism however is I never found her to be as frightened as I imagine she would have been.  I didn’t get the sense that she felt she might die at any second.  Siegel also starred in OCULUS, and I enjoyed her more here in HUSH than in that other horror movie.

For the most part, I enjoyed John Gallagher Jr.as the killer.  At first, he’s wearing a mask, and as much as I like masks in horror movies, I thought this one was rather silly, and when he finally took it off, I was glad.  The mask had this silly grin which reminded me of David Naughton in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).  I kept expecting Griffin Dunne to show up beside him.

However, even without the mask, the character struggled to exhibit any personality.  We never really get to know much about this killer other than he’s just some random psycho, which to me, hurt this movie.  Give this guy a background story and it gets that much better.  We do get to see more of his personality as the film goes along, and the character eventually grew on me as a villain, but I can’t say that I thought he was all that scary or disturbing.  Gallagher is up to the task of getting inside this character’s head, but there’s just not much there to play with.  Gallagher was also in the recent 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) and in that movie he was given much more to do and was able to deliver a stronger performance.

The screenplay by director Mike Flanagan and lead actress Kate Siegel is okay.  I liked the premise, I thought Maddie was a strong main character, and there were some shockingly violent scenes, but the film suffers through a long stretch where nothing much happens. The killer needed to be developed more, which would have helped the story.

I thought Flanagan did a fine job directing.  The first murder is a brutal stabbing death that really grabs your attention, and some of the scenes near the end also worked, like when Maddie gets her hand stuck in the door, and the killer mercilessly crushes it with his foot.  The film also looks slick and polished and doesn’t come off as low budget at all.

There’s just not a lot to this one.  HUSH really needed something more, an edge of some sort, to make it stand out from similar horror films of its type.

All in all, not bad.  It’s a good looking thriller, it’s got some scary parts here and there, but at times it’s just a little too— hushed.

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Brosnan Kicks Butt in THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014)

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November Man - posterStreaming Video Review:  THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014)

by

Michael Arruda

I wanted to see THE NOVEMBER MAN (2014) when it opened in theaters last year, but for some reason or other, I missed it.  Now that it’s available on Netlflix Streaming, I finally caught up with it.

THE NOVEMBER MAN is an action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan as a former CIA operative who’s lured back into one last job and finds himself, among other things, squaring off against his former protégé.

Peter Deveraux (Pierce Brosnan) is trying to enjoy his “retirement” from the CIA.  He owns a coffee shop in Switzerland, and life is good.  However, his old boss John Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) tracks him down and asks him to do one more job.  Hanley wants Deveraux to bring in a woman Natalia (Mediha Musliovic) from Russia whose life is in danger because she has information which will ruin the political career of the man who’s about to become president of Russia, Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski).  The Russians want her dead and have put one of their most dangerous assassins, a woman named Alexa (Amila Terzimehic), on her trail.  Deveraux can hardly say no to this assignment, as Natalia is the mother of his twelve year-old daughter.

So, Deveraux travels to Russia to extract Natalia, and all goes well, at first, but then a squadron of agents descend upon them and kill Natalia.  Deveraux retaliates and recognizes one of the attackers as David Mason (Luke Bracey), his protégé, and he realizes that this was a CIA hit, which contradicts the information given him by his old boss Hanley, that they wanted Natalia alive.

David’s current boss Perry Weinstein (Will Patton) wants to know why Deveraux was there, and fearing that his former agent will seek vengeance for Natalia’s death, he orders David to find Deveraux and kill him.

Deveraux meanwhile tracks down a young woman named Alice (Olga Kurylenko) who has information on a missing woman who holds the key to Federov’s downfall.  It’s this missing woman who Natalia knew about and is why the Russians wanted her dead.  Now they want Alice dead as well.  Deveraux vows to protect her, and together they set out to find the mystery woman, all the while remaining one step ahead of both the Russians and the CIA.  Deveraux also has a personal score to settle, as he wants to know why the CIA wanted Natalia killed, and he wants to get back at those responsible for her death.

While this may sound confusing, it really isn’t.  In spite of its twists and turns and political intrigue, the plot of THE NOVEMBER MAN is relatively easy to follow.

And since I understood this one from start to finish, I found myself really enjoying THE NOVEMBER MAN, as there was enough going on in the story to hold my interest, there were decent action scenes, and the cast more than held their own.

Pierce Brosnan leads the way as Peter Deveraux, the tough-as-nails CIA operative who earned the nickname “the November Man” because when he was through with a job, no one was left standing.  I dunno.  I can think of months with worse weather than November.  Anyway, Brosnan is excellent here.  I’ve always liked Brosnan as an actor, and as much as I liked him as James Bond, I’ve liked him better in other movies.  He almost always delivers the goods, and his performance here in THE NOVEMBER MAN is no exception.  He displays more range and emotion in the first twenty minutes of this movie than he does in any Bond film.  He’s also more bad-ass than Bond in this movie, and as such he’s completely convincing as a deadly CIA assassin.

Luke Bracey is less convincing as Deveraux’s protégé Mason.  He’s a pretty face and a muscular body, but he lacks Brosnan’s weathered toughness, and not once in this movie did I believe that Mason would actually best Deveraux.  I had to scratch my head when Mason’s boss Perry Weinstein (Will Patton) sends Mason in to kill Deveraux.  If Deveraux is as dangerous as they say he is, why send in a “baby” like Mason.  Isn’t there someone more seasoned?  Plus there’s the obvious emotional connection.  Mason can say all he wants about how he’ll get the job done, but the fact remains the two men were best friends.  It’s not the most convincing plot point.

Olga Kurylenko fares better as Alice, the woman who Brosnan spends most of the film trying to protect.  Kurylenko is terribly sexy, and as Alice she gets to do quite a lot in this movie, as she is much more than just a target that Brosnan has to guard.  She’s quite the effective heroine.  Kurylenko also made a big impression starring opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond in QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) – she must like the James Bond types— and she was also good in a smaller role in the Tom Cruise science fiction film OBLIVION (2013).  She’s excellent here in THE NOVEMBER MAN.

Bill Smitrovich is also exceptional as Hanley, Deveraux’s former boss.  Smitrovich is a familiar face, and he’s been in lots of movies and TV shows, including IRON MAN (2008) and TED (2012).  I’ve liked Smitrovich in a lot of these roles, but his performance in this movie as Hanley might be my favorite.  He’s adept here at playing a two sided shadowy character, and he’s quite the bastard when he needs to be.

Amila Terzimehic looks impressive as Russian assassin Alexa, but she’s not in this movie a whole lot and as a result never becomes the villainous force she could have been.  Likewise, Will Patton, who I always enjoy, isn’t on screen very much either as the current CIA chief Perry Weinstein.  So, Patton’s impact is also limited.

THE NOVEMBER MAN was directed by Roger Donaldson, a veteran director who’s been making movies for decades.  He directed Pierce Brosnan previously in DANTE’S PEAK (1997) the very average adventure film about an erupting volcano.  THE NOVEMBER MAN is better than average.  It’s a nicely paced slick thriller with convincing action scenes, a couple of exciting chase scenes, and some effective fight sequences that don’t disappoint.

The screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek based on the book There Are No Spies by Bill Granger has enough twists and turns to keep even the most seasoned spy movie fan satisfied, and it also boasts decent dialogue, especially for star Pierce Brosnan, who gets to chew up the scenery in some scenes.  Finch wrote the screenplay for PREDATORS (2010), the PREDATOR reboot/sequel that I liked a lot, while Gajdusek co-wrote OBLIVION (2013), the Tom Cruise science fiction film which also starred Olga Kurylenko.  I expected the screenplay for this one to be decent, and it was.

Sure, things become a bit far-fetched towards the end, and the plot does get somewhat convoluted, but it never reached the point where I flat out didn’t believe it, mostly because Brosnan remains convincing throughout.  He’s the glue which holds this movie together.

THE NOVEMBER MAN is a well-made actioner, solid throughout, and it’s led by an impressive Pierce Brosnan who turns in a gritty rugged performance.  The former James Bond can still kick some serious butt.

—END—

PICKIN’ THE CARCASS: THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (2013)

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Last Days on Mars - posterPickin’ The Carcass:  THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

Welcome back to Pickin’ The Carcass, that column where we scour the sale bins and Streaming movie queues to find those undiscovered gems of horror movies we missed the first time around.  Or, as often is the case, we find yet another dud, which would explain why we missed them in the first place.

Today on Pickin’ The Carcass we look at THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (2013) a science fiction horror movie starring two actors I like a lot, Liev Schreiber [DEFIANCE (2008), X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009)]and Elias Koteas [THE FOURTH KIND (2009), LET ME IN (2010)].  So, with eager anticipation, I sat down to watch THE LAST DAYS ON MARS on Netflix Streaming the other night.

THE LAST DAYS ON MARS takes place on a scientific base located on— well, Mars, of course.  The scientists are led by their commanding officer, Charles Brunel (Elias Koteas) and all is well on Mars-land until one of the scientists discovers what he believes to be evidence of bacterial life.  When this scientist disappears, seemingly falling into a huge pit, Brunel orders a rescue party to enter the pit to search for their missing team member.

No!  Don’t go into the pit!

 Unfortunately, they didn’t listen to me.

The strange bacteria their missing friend discovered has an even stranger effect on the scientists.  It’s like a Martian version of THE WALKING DEAD, as suddenly members of the crew start dying, only to quickly come back to life as murderous unstoppable zombies.  And that pretty much is the plot of THE LAST DAYS ON MARS:  scientists vs. zombies on a Martian base.  It actually sounds better than it is.

THE LAST DAYS ON MARS is a very top-heavy movie.  In other words, a bunch of action happens early on, and nearly the entire cast is done in before this film even reaches its halfway point, and I found myself asking, what’s up with this?  Where can this film go now?  A flashback perhaps to reveal a missing piece of the plot?  No.  Nothing this creative or clever.  We simply continue to watch the last couple of crew members fight to survive.  Needless to say, the first half of this movie is much better than the second half.

But the biggest problem I had with THE LAST DAYS ON MARS was the muddled direction by director Ruairi Robinson.  In spite of its simple straightforward storyline, this movie unfolds in a rather confused pattern of scenes.  Early on before the zombies show up, it struggles to tell its story, as a lot of what’s going on is unclear.

The pacing is also incredibly slow, which for a science fiction tale, isn’t all that bad, but it fails to really gain any momentum once all the horrific things start happening.  It also forgets to have fun.

The screenplay by Clive Dawson based on a short story by Sydney J. Bounds is fairly routine and not all that creative.  The reanimated corpses make for some suspenseful scenes, but we know nothing about these creatures other than what we can infer by watching their actions.  We know even less about the characters, as the character development here is practically nil.  The screenplay is based on a short story, so I’d have to say Dawson did a poor job of fleshing the story out.

Liev Schreiber gets most of the screen time as crew member Vincent Campbell, and I like Schreiber, and he does what he can in this central role.  I enjoyed watching him as the main guy who’s able to fight back against the threat in this movie, even though I learned nothing about who Vincent Campbell was.

Unfortunately, Elias Koteas has a much smaller role than Schreiber, and they’re barely in this movie together at all, which is too bad, because had Koteas been in the film longer, he could have added a lot to it.

Olivia Williams is on hand as fellow scientist Kim Aldrich, and she gives her character more personality than the rest of the folks in this film, but sadly, like Koteas, her screen time is limited.  We saw Williams earlier this year in the Arnold Schwarzenegger action pic, SABOTAGE (2014), and she was good in both movies.

Romola Garai is also very good as Rebecca Lane, as is Johnny Harris as Robert Irwin, two of the other crew members who along with Schreiber get the most screen time.  I have no problem with the acting in this one.  The players pretty much all do a good job.

The make-up on the reanimated crew members isn’t bad, but it’s nothing to write home about, either.  The best thing I can say for it is it’s not fake or cheap looking.  The entire film actually looks very good.

THE LAST DAYS ON MARS is a pretty mediocre entry in the science fiction horror genre.  It benefits from a professional cast doing a pretty decent job all around, but the story it tells is nothing we haven’t seen before, and there’s nothing really new about it, neither in the actual story or the way it’s presented.  Had greater care been put into some of the shock scenes for example, then this one would have been a more memorable film experience.  I didn’t find anything scary about this movie.

Had the film fleshed out its characters more, that also would have been a huge plus.  As much as I like Leiv Schreiber, his character, Vincent Campbell, is pretty much a cardboard cut-out who could have been played by any actor.

If you have nothing better to do, you may want to check out THE LAST DAYS ON MARS, but I certainly wouldn’t rush out to buy this one or put aside major plans to watch it, unless of course you’re a hardcore space-movie junkie and like to watch any movie which takes place in space.

For the rest of us, THE LAST DAYS ON MARS might remain the last movie in our queue.

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His Name is MUD (2012)

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Mud Blu ray coverStreaming Video Review: MUD (2012)
by
Michael Arruda

The Matthew McConaughey tour continues.

McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar for his work in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) earlier this year, and I’ve been going back revisiting some of the performances by McConaughey leading up to his Oscar winning role. Last time out, I reviewed THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011), a decent drama in which McConaughey portrayed a smooth talking defense lawyer who takes on a client shiftier than he is.

Today we look at MUD (2012), a film that in many ways is more satisfying than THE LINCOLN LAWYER. It’s a slice of life drama about two boys who live on the Mississippi River in Arkansas who strike up a friendship with a man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living in the woods because he’s wanted by both the police and a group of vigilantes who want him dead.

Fourteen year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and fourteen year-old Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are best friends. Life is hard on the both of them. Ellis’ parents are getting a divorce, and Neckbone lives with his uncle Galen (Michael Shannon), who’s a nice enough guy, but as a fisherman and a womanizer, he’s hardly the ideal parent figure for the boy.

So when Ellis and Neckbone meet the curious and very dynamic Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living in the woods on an island on the Mississippi River, they quickly grow attached to him and believe the things he tells them. When Ellis learns that the police are looking for Mud, and that he’s wanted for murder, he doesn’t turn in his new friend. Mud tells the boys that he only killed the man because he was protecting his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).

But Mud is also being hunted by a group of vigilantes, led by the father of the man Mud killed. The father, King (Joe Don Baker) is determined to see Mud dead. Needing extra help, Mud sends the boys to meet with old Tom (Sam Shepard), a strange man who lives on the river across from Ellis, a man who Mud describes as both his surrogate father and a former hit man for the CIA. Tom warns the boys to keep away from Mud, but they are too attached to Mud to heed the old man’s advice, putting them in harm’s way when King’s men close in for the kill.

MUD is an entertaining movie that is driven along by its topnotch acting performances. Matthew McConaughey is perfect as Mud, a charismatic loner who is head over heels in love with Juniper and refuses to see that she might be more trouble than she’s worth. Mud’s personality easily wins over the boys, and I found it completely believable that these two fourteen year-olds would be so awestruck by Mud and his stories. McConaughey makes this larger than life character credible and real, especially late in the movie when it becomes clear that he is a flawed and troubled man.

Even better than McConaughey are Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Jacob Lofland as Neckbone.
These two young actors are such naturals it seems like they’ve been best friends living on the Mississippi River forever. As much as I liked McConaughey in this film, I liked these two even more.

Sheridan is particularly good, especially in the subplot where he follows through on his crush on a high school girl. The painful scenes with his parents, as they deal with divorce, are also particularly well done. That being said, Lofland is just as good as Sheridan, and he has some of the best lines in the film, and he delivers them without missing a beat.

Sam Shepard also makes his presence known as Tom, the man with the mysterious past, who Mud sees as his father figure. Shepard makes the most of his limited screen time. Bonnie Sturdivant stands out as May Pearl, the high-schooler who pays Ellis some attention at first but then pretty much tells him to get lost because he’s too young for her. Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson are also very good as Ellis’ parents.

Less effective is Reese Witherspoon as the love of Mud’s life, Juniper. Witherspoon is fine, but it’s a straightforward role, as Juniper is bad news from the get-go, and she doesn’t really change all that much. Joe Don Baker looks solemn and gruff but that’s about it in his small role as King, the man who’s spending lots of money to have Mud killed.

MUD was written and directed by Jeff Nichols, and he scores high on both fronts. MUD is a beautifully photographed film, and Nichols really captures the flavor of life on the Mississippi River. In addition, Mud’s island is a magical place to which Ellis and Neckbone are more than happy to escape.

The story succeeds on multiple levels. It works as a friendship story between Mud and the boys, and it’s also a coming of age tale about Ellis. He grows up during this movie, as he has to deal with his parents separating, and the prospect that because of the separation he may be forced to leave his house on the river, which would sever him from the only life he had ever known. He experiences his first crush on the older Mary Lee, and it’s through this relationship that he learns firsthand about rejection.

Mud’s story is also multifaceted. He’s in love with Juniper and is driven to do whatever it takes to make things work with her. He’s also on the run and has to live as a fugitive from both the police and the vigilantes. And once he involves Ellis and Neckbone, he realizes that he has put the boys’ lives in danger. Not known for taking personal responsibility, Mud finds himself having to step up to protect his two young friends.

MUD is the story of broken dreams and what people do when their dreams have been shattered. Mud takes refuge on an island and hunkers down, refusing to give up. Ellis’ dad grows bitter and warns his son about women, and Ellis looks to an energetic and optimistic stranger.

With his world crumbling around him, Ellis is desperate to find someone to believe in, and for right or wrong, that someone is Mud.

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SECOND LOOK: DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)

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Dead Man Down PosterSECOND LOOK:  DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)

By Michael Arruda

I was eager to see DEAD MAN DOWN (2013) again.

It was one of my favorite movies from 2013.  Yet, I heard a lot of negative things about it afterwards, and I was surprised it didn’t do better at the box office.  Hmm. Could I have been the victim of popcorn euphoria?  That condition where the movie popcorn is so buttery and delicious the movie on the screen goes from mediocre to amazing?

Nah!

Still, I wanted to see DEAD MAN DOWN (2013) again, and so I watched it the other night on streaming video.

The verdict?

I still liked it.  End of column.

But seriously, I had heard a decent amount of criticism about this movie, and so I wanted to see if maybe I missed something the first time around.

For example, the biggest complaint I heard was that it was all rather contrived.

The plot again, in a nutshell, involves a man named Victor (Colin Farrell) concocting an elaborate revenge plot against a local crime lord Alphonse (Terence Howard) because he was responsible for the death of his wife and young daughter.   To do this, Victor goes undercover to infiltrate Alphonse’s organization, pretending to be a loyal lieutenant, waiting for the right moment to kill his enemy.

His plans become more complicated when his neighbor Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) sees him murder one of Alphonse’s men and then uses this information to coerce Victor into murdering the man responsible for scarring her face in a drunk-driving accident.  Along the way, Victor and Beatrice become romantically involved, while Victor’s buddy Darcy (Dominic Cooper), a rising star in Alphonse’ organization, leads the charge to find the man who’s trying to kill Alphonse, meaning he’s unknowingly on the trail of his own best friend.

Some folks had difficulty believing that Victor would allow himself to be coerced by Beatrice.  Why not just kill her and be done with it?  But as I wrote in my original review, Victor hates killing:

“You may ask why Victor allows himself to be blackmailed by Beatrice in the first place, and why he doesn’t just kill her to shut her up.  The fact is that Victor hates killing, which makes his quest for revenge against Alphonse all the more effective, as it shows how deeply Victor has been scarred.  Beatrice has scars on her face, but Victor has scars on his soul.  There’s a powerful human element in this movie that in spite of its preoccupation with retribution, shows a value for life and love that I found refreshing.  Victor and Beatrice may hate the people who hurt them, but they don’t hate the human race, and they’re saved from falling into an emotionless abyss when they fall in love with each other.”

Others have complained that it was unrealistic that Beatrice would approach Victor in the first place.  What kind of a person sees a man commit murder and then thinks she can blackmail him into murdering someone else? Well, Beatrice is a wounded soul, and she suffers from more than just the scars on her face.  Like Victor, the events from her life have hardened her resolve, made her a very cold person.  For me, this made her a very interesting character.  It also made her love story with Victor all the more enjoyable, because you can see how they’re clinging to humanity, and how they view their relationship with each other as hope that they can remain in the human race.

I really enjoyed the cast in DEAD MAN DOWN, and to me they’re the main reason this movie works so well.  Colin Farrell is excellent at Victor, as is Noomi Rapace as Beatrice, and Dominic Cooper is just as good as Darcy.  These three fine actors don’t disappoint.

Director Niels Arden Oplev crafts some compelling scenes, including some violent shoot-outs and an exciting chase scene, and I still find the scene with the rats chilling and effective.

So, even after a second viewing in the comfort of my living room, I still very much enjoyed DEAD MAN DOWN and still consider it one of the best films from 2013.

If you like hard hitting dark thrillers, check out DEAD MAN DOWN, now available on Streaming Video.

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Frank Langella Memorable in ROBOT AND FRANK (2012)

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Robot and Frank posterStreaming Video Review:  ROBOT & FRANK (2012)

by

Michael Arruda

 

I’ve been a fan of Frank Langella since I first saw him as Dracula in DRACULA (1979), a film I’ve never been all that nuts about, but I liked Langella in it.  I’m always happy to see him in a movie, and he’s the main reason why I checked out ROBOT & FRANK (2012) the other day on Streaming Video.

 

ROBOT & FRANK is a quirky comedy-drama that tells the tale of retired cat burglar Frank (Frank Langella) who lives alone away from his family and is dealing with a faulty memory.  His adult son Hunter (James Marsden) buys him a Robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard)— yes, this story takes place in the near future— to keep him company and to look after him.

 

Frank wants no part of the diminutive white Robot, but Hunter insists.  When Frank discovers that the Robot has no sense of right or wrong, he realizes that he now has the perfect partner, a Robot who can help him pull off heists.

 

His first theft is small-scale, to impress his friend, the local librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon), but later he sets his sights on his wealthy neighbor, a snotty young man who had insulted him at a library function in front of Jennifer.  Frank manages to steal some very expensive jewels.  With his criminal history, Frank is automatically a suspect, even at his age and in his ill mental condition, but Frank is still suave enough to remain one step ahead of the authorities, which he does, much to the annoyance of his family, especially his son Hunter, who constantly feels betrayed by his theft-obsessed father.

 

ROBOT & FRANK may sound goofy, but it’s not.  It’s actually quite subdued and touching.  While the heist storyline is easily the most interesting one in the movie, the story of Frank’s struggles with his family and his memory are both poignant and sad.  On a deeper level, his relationship with the Robot serves as a metaphor for both his relationship with his family and his battle with his faulty memory.  His conversations with the Robot often appear as dialogues with himself, while other times Frank seems to think the Robot is his son and speaks to him in ways that his son Hunter never seems to hear for himself.

 

The Robot definitely serves as an embodiment of Frank’s memory.  When the authorities realize that the Robot’s memory most likely contains evidence of Frank’s crimes, the Robot tells Frank that the only way to protect himself is to erase his memory.  Frank reacts strongly to this suggestion, refusing to do it, haunted both by the prospect of his own diminishing memory and the loss of a friend.

 

There’s also a very poignant scene near the end where the Robot tells Frank that he can’t give up, that he must escape so he can plan his next job, using nearly the exact same words Frank had used earlier when speaking to the Robot. Hearing this, Frank realizes a truth about himself that he had up until this point ignored.  It’s the moment in the film where Frank changes.

 

Through most of the movie, Frank is self-absorbed, thinking only of his next heist, and this self-centered attitude comes at the expense of his relationship with his adult children.  Frank is divorced and has no one else other than his adult children, son Hunter and daughter Madison (Liv Tyler).  When Madison objects to her father’s spending time with a robot, she decides to temporarily move in with him to give him a hand and the benefit of some human companionship, but Frank rejects her generosity, seeing it as intrusive, and he’s often rude and stand-offish towards her.  He treats his son Hunter even worse.  He prefers the company of the Robot because he sees it as a friend, someone who doesn’t judge him or tell him what to do.

 

Frank is interested in Jennifer, the local librarian, but he is unable to make any kind of commitment to her other than seeing her at the library.  When she shows up at his doorstep for dinner at his invitation, he has forgotten that he invited her, and he tells her to come back later, slamming the door on her.

 

The best part of the movie however is watching Frank plan his heists with his partner the Robot. It’s a lot of fun watching Frank prove that he still possesses the skills and talents that he had as a younger man, as they have not deteriorated like his memory.  His rich neighbor is also condescending to him, and so we feel no sympathy for this weasel of a man when Frank rips him off, and we certainly don’t want to see him have the satisfaction of watching the police arrest Frank.  We’re rooting for Frank the entire way, and the wily old thief doesn’t disappoint.

 

Frank wants nothing to do with erasing his Robot pal’s memory, but the Robot tells him that it’s okay, that he’s not really a person.  Langella’s pained expression as he considers this option speaks volumes.  You know he wants no part of it.  To him, the Robot is a person, and even though he doesn’t live and breathe, he should be treated as such.  Frank also resists terminating the Robot’s memory because it hits too close to home, as he’s struggling to keep his own memory from fading.

 

Frank Langella is terrific in the lead role as Frank.   In spite of the rough way he treats his adult kids, Frank really comes off as a sympathetic character, and a lot of this has to do with Langella’s performance.  He’s crafty when he has to be, and he’s funny more often than not, especially when dealing with his snobbish neighbor Jake (Jeremy Strong).  Langella also makes Frank a sympathetic character, as you can feel the angst he experiences at losing his memory.  He’s also no sap.  When he’s cold and cruel to his son Hunter, he does this with no regrets.

 

The supporting cast is also very good.  Both James Marsden and Liv Tyler make their marks as Frank’s children, Hunter and Madison.  Marsden is especially good at showing the pain he feels towards his cold self-centered father, who has never been there for his son.  This is a much better pairing between Marsden and Langella than when they starred together in the misfire thriller THE BOX (2009) several years ago.  X-MEN fans will remember Marsden as Cyclops in the X-MEN movies. He also was on the TV show 30 ROCK as Tina Fey’s boyfriend Criss.

 

Susan Sarandon adds class and style as Frank’s love interest, Jennifer.  She’s also involved in a plot twist later in the movie that honestly didn’t do a whole lot for me, as I preferred the story without this revelation.

 

Robot is voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, and he’s fine, although one thing that bothered me was that he sounded an awful lot like Hal from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) and so I kept expecting him to say something sinister.  The actual person in the robot suit was 4’ 11’’ actor Rachael Ma.

 

Jeremy Strong is also very good as Frank’s annoying neighbor Jake.  He gets no sympathy when Frank takes him to the cleaners.

 

ROBOT AND FRANK tells a poignant story that is at times heartwarming, sad, and humorous.  I really enjoyed the thoughtful screenplay by Christopher D. Ford.  The character study of aged burglar Frank and his friendship with the Robot held my interest throughout.

 

Director Jake Schreier gives this movie a deliberate pace that matches the unhurried speed at which Frank himself moves, except of course when he flees the police in a speedy car.  I also enjoyed how the camera often stayed at length on Frank’s face, so we could see clearly the emotions Langella gave the character.

 

All in all, ROBOT AND FRANK is a very satisfying movie.  If you’re a fan of Frank Langella, you’ll love it, and if you enjoy stories about people dealing with aging, and the pressures that go along with it, especially in terms of family and memory loss, and the will to recapture one’s talents and skills from one’s youth, you’ll find ROBOT AND FRANK a rewarding experience.

 

It’s a story you won’t forget.

 

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