A GIRL WALKS HOME…

InHerLairFull Title = A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Weird and exhilarating vampire film set in a mythical Iranian nightscape called “Bad City” (although it was actually filmed outside LA).

“The Girl” (Sheila Vand) prowls the dark streets of Bad City covered by her black chador, preying on low life scum. Then she meets “Arash” (Arash Marandi) who is conveniently dressed in a Dracula costume, and she falls head over heels.

Amirpour creates a velvety B&W tableau, adds a hypnotic sound track, and… WOW! (JLH: 4/5)

Written & Directed Ana Lily Amirpour. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

OnTheProwl

Top Photo: By day, The Girl (Sheila Vand) lives alone in a tiny room.

Bottom Photo: By night, The Girl prowls the streets of Bad City.

Photos courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Q: Does A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes!

Exhibit One in the “low life scum” category is a drug dealer named “Saeed” (Dominic Rains) who has cheated Arash and brutalized a prostitute named “Atti” (Mozhan Marno).

After The Girl is done with Saeed, she has a heart-t0-heart chat with Atti. Touched by the fact that someone has seen her and empathized with her unhappiness, Atti feels a stirring of hope for better future.

Gentle, touching scene in the midst of mayhem ;-)

 

 

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BAD HAIR

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon.

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FOOD CHAINS

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon.

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STONES IN THE SUN

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon.

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THE SLEEPWALKER

sleepwalker1Review of The Sleepwalker by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Mona Fastvold’s thriller The Sleepwalker tells the ominous story of two-half sisters and the eerie unfolding of their family secrets.

The dreary indie film begins with “Kaia” (Gitte Witt) and her boyfriend “Andrew” (Christopher Abbott) living in an inherited estate centered in the woodlands of Massachusetts. One night, when her half-sister “Christine” (Stephanie Ellis) calls her for help, Kaia drives into town to pick her up only to be informed that Christine not only left her fiancé in Boston, but is 14 weeks pregnant with his child. Christine’s drama interrupts Kaia and Andrew’s serene life on the estate, bringing up memories from a childhood fire that left Kaia physically and emotionally scarred. The next day, Christine’s fiancé “Ira” (Brady Corbet) arrives from Boston and Kaia agrees to let him stay the night. Ira is immediately off-putting, commenting on Christine’s behavior as “not the best” and “we might have to start tying her up.” Hilarious! … Not.

The history of the four characters bubbles to the surface, ranging from Christine’s sleepwalking issues and erratic behavior to Andrew’s violent past of beating his ex-girlfriend (a far cry from Abbott’s role as sensitive Charlie in HBO’s Girls). Christine and Kaia use their family bonding opportunity to frolic in a lake, dance around, and discuss Andrew’s past anger management issues. When the sisters are with their boyfriends, director Fastvold never misses an opportunity to show them in the midst of rough sexual intercourse, not particularly adding any depth to the story.

While family tension rises, Ira uses the opportunity to flirt with – no, not his pregnant fiancé – but Kaia, and Christine resumes to her childlike ways and sleepwalks her way into the woods. Her sudden disappearance leads to the formation of the trio’s search-and-rescue team (accompanied by Sondre Lerche’s and Kato Adland’s chilling score).

Despite their psychotic, maniacal, and bizarre characters, the four main actors give strong, raw performances to make them come to life. But the best elements of The Sleepwalker are not found in the script or the acting, but the gloomy, quiet world Fastvold creates. During flashbacks of Kaia and Christine’s childhood, we see two young girls in their nightgowns and socks roaming shadowed hallways, but the ominous music is at the forefront instead of the action. Although the content is dull (and unnecessarily sexualized), the underexposure and sound mixing give the audience something to focus on as the narrative drags. Overall, what is supposed to be a psychological thriller is ultimately a sleeper.

sleepwalker2Review © Brigid K. Presecky (11/22/14)

Top Photo: Gitte Witt as “Kaia” with Stephanie Ellis as her troubled sister “Christine”

Bottom Photo:  Gitte Witt as “Kaia” and Christopher Abbott as angry “Andrew”

Q: Does The Sleepwalker pass the Bechdel Test?RedA

Yes.

Although most of the conversations between sisters Kaia and Christine revolve around their boyfriends, they also reflect on their traumatic childhood events that are just now resurfacing.

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ALWAYS WOODSTOCK

TheScreamGuilty Pleasure about a girl who gives up the “cool life” in Manhattan & returns to her rural roots so she can be a singer/songwriter in the tradition of gals from the last generation like Joni Mitchell (represented here by the Katey Sagal character “Lee Ann”).

Allison Miller is fine as “Catherine,” but the star is James Wolk as “Noah Bernstein, M.D.” — the doctor all Jewish Moms are thought to dream of for their daughters.

Wolk had a recurring role a few years back on Mad Men and he was fine, but in Always Woodstock he is positively yummy! (JLH: 4/5)

Written & directed by Rita Merson. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

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Writer Rita Merson’s first directing effort tells the story of wannabe singer/songwriter “Catherine” (Allison Miller) as an orphaned young adult trying to make it in New York with her self-absorbed boyfriend. When Catherine’s work promotion means wrangling a petulant, overindulged movie-music star “Jody” (Brittany Snow), she ends up dragging the starlet onto the stage and gets fired for assault. To make matters worse, Catherine arrives home early to find “Garret” (Jason Ritter), her boyfriend of more than 10 years, in bed with another woman. She impulsively pawns engagement ring, giving her enough money to buy a car and drive to the abandoned house owned by her late parents – in her hometown of Woodstock, just northwest of the Catskills.

Catherine’s arrival in Woodstock includes a night out to the local bar where she gets drunk, makes a fool of herself singing karaoke, and meets the handsome (and available!) town doctor “Noah Bernstein, M.D.” (James Wolk). Over time, Catherine makes a home for herself in Woodstock with the help of her new friends, bartender “Emily” (Rumer Willis) and a mentor/former folk singer “Lee Ann” (Katey Sagal). She also receives periodic visits from her school buddy, fairy-godmother-like “Sally” (Alexie Gilmore), who acts as Catherine’s wise older sister through her ups and downs.

In some ways, almost all the characters in Always Woodstock are stock characters, but the acting made them exceptional (particularly James Wolk as the dreamy Jewish doctor). Although Jason Ritter is funny in the role of Garret, he plays it very broad as a self-absorbed actor/monster, making Catherine’s happy ending with Dr. Bernstein that much more desirable. The folk-music-filled film is a charming, enjoyable romantic comedy to watch in the sense that you really, really do want these two characters to get together in the end.

HappyEnding

Top Photo: “Catherine” (Allison Miller) in her cool New York clothes has a meltdown.”

Bottom Photo: The sun sets on a happy couple after Catherine decides to give up her city ways and settle down in the country with her Bashert.

Photo Credits: Sunrise Films

Q: Does Always Woodstock pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes!

In the beginning–in her New York Career Girl mode–Catherine tries to get spoiled star “Jody” (Brittany Snow) onto the stage, but she botches it. After she is fired by the record company, she hides out with her BFF “Sally” (Alexie Gilmore) for awhile before returning to the hometown–Woodstock, NY–that she hasn’t visited for over a decade.

Once there, in addition to fabulous Dr. Bernstein, Catherine meets “Lee Ann” (Katey Sagal), the woman who becomes her musical mentor. Lee Ann helps her write the kind of simple songs that express her own truth, and their on stage duet at the end is lovely.

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BEYOND THE LIGHTS

MexicoIn 1992, audiences swooned over The Bodyguard, and now that Whitney Houston is gone, many of us are likely to remember her as she appears in this film.

Alas, Beyond the Lights–in which a pop star once again falls for the stand-up guy who has been hired to protect her–plays like a pale copy.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker are both gorgeous, but both performances are on the surface. Neither of them dig deep as individuals, and they have minimal chemistry together. Worse yet, no matter how hard she tries, Mbatha-Raw simply lacks the big voice of a great singer. So the plot simply churns along, totally predictable from beginning to end.

Only Minnie Driver, playing Mbatha-Raw’s ferocious stage mother, hits a homer. I’ll bet she listened to multiple recordings of Gypsy as she transformed herself into the definitive “Mama Rose” of our new millennium! (JLH: 3/4)

Written & directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

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Beyond the Lights is the newest film written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (best known for her decade-old hit Love & Basketball). This rehash of The Bodyguard stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as “Noni,” a beautiful, accomplished singer who wants to ditch the money-making hip hop genre for inspirational, poetic songs that speak to her soul. Although Mbatha-Raw sings well enough, she’s no Whitney Houston, singing softer and quieter numbers at the times she’s intended to belt it out. Specifically, when she does a Nina Simone song, she fails to give the audience a thrill of a believable, accomplished singer.

Noni is at the edge of success singing for “Kid Culprit” (Richard Colson Baker, aka rapper Machine Gun Kelly) and yearns to cross over into a solo career. But as Noni comes into her own, the mainstream hip hop her mother/manager “Macy Jean” (Minnie Driver) pushed her into starts feeling incredibly false. She’s not connecting with the chart-topping music making her a star and feels the only way out is suicide. Thankfully for Noni, on-duty cop “Kaz” (Nate Parker) sees her suicide attempt and saves her from jumping off a balcony. Their bond over their smothering parents leads to their inevitable romance where they can finally be themselves. When the two run off together, Noni feels healed and restored as she pulls out her hair extensions, takes off her stage makeup, and exchanges her fashionista outfits for t-shirts and shorts. She’s back to being Noni, the little girl from Brixton, now that she has a love with someone who sees her when no one else did – and saved her when no one else could.

Beyond the Lights big, glossy, and beautiful with incredible costume design and impressive musical numbers – but lacks any sort of energy. The only life comes from Minnie Driver as the mother from hell (an update of the Mama Rose character from Gypsy). Macy Jean explains to Noni that her parents refused to help her when she was a 17-year-old girl carrying a black man’s baby, “I had to do the best I could by you and you have this incredible gift to sing.” Noni yells, “You did it for yourself.” Although the scene is standard and straight out of Gypsy, Minnie Driver says, “No, I did it for you,” with an incredible amount of energy and passion. She comes through as the ferocious Macy Jean, making Gugu Mbatha-Raw seem weaker than she already was.

The glossy film will most likely do well because of the music and costuming, but between the predictable storyline and a disappointing lead as an actress and singer, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s latest effort does not live up to the hype.

EnglishRose

Top Photo: “Noni Jean” (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and “Kaz Nicol” (Nate Parker) flee to Mexico to escape the limelight.

Bottom Photo: Noni with her ferocious stage mother “Macy” (Minnie Driver).

Photo Credits: Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/Blackbird Productions, LLC

Q: Does Beyond the Lights pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes!

In a wonderful scene at the very beginning, Macy convinces a hairdresser in Brixton to teach her how to manage Noni’s kinky hair. From that point forward, Macy devotes herself completely to Noni’s career, battling everyone who gets in her way.

Danny Glover–as Kaz’s father–is also ambitious, but he has none of Macy’s energy.

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MISS MEADOWS

missmeadows1Review of Miss Meadows by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

These boots are made for walking … quickly out of the theater.

Karen Leigh Hopkins’ bizarre Miss Meadows tells a dark, sometimes-funny story in the world of an elementary school teacher moonlighting as a vigilante.

Katie Holmes is perfectly cast as the eccentric, prim-and-proper “Miss Meadows,” a poetry-loving teacher who tap dances down the street to the beat of her own drum. In the opening sequence, Miss Meadows smiles and waves to a chirping bluebird, admiring its colorful hue in her gray, gloomy neighborhood. Her bliss is interrupted when a pigheaded truck driver pulls up beside her, taunting and threatening her to get in the car. But Miss Meadows simply unclasps her small white purse, pulls out her handgun, and shoots him in the face. With only a sprinkle of blood on her dress, Miss Meadows places the gun back in her purse, returns to reading her poetry, and tap dances her way down the street. She then calls her “Mother Meadows” (Jean Smart) on the phone to remember the protocol of removing bloodstains from clothes. (Note to self: only lemon and water!)

On her way to school, Miss Meadows stops in the middle of the road to pick up a lonesome toad and meets “Sherriff,” (James Badge Dale) a hunky townsman intrigued by her odd behavior. “Think he’ll turn into a prince when I kiss him?” she says with almost childlike joy, and the sheriff is immediately smitten.

Back in the classroom, joyful substitute Miss Meadows encourages the children to write Get Well cards for their former teacher and promises she’ll be healthy again shortly. All is fine and good until one student, “Heather” (Ava Kolker) sitting angrily at her desk, tells Miss Meadows that the sick teacher won’t be coming back. Heather is by far the darkest, saddest little girl in the classroom, so Miss Meadows has an instant connection with Heather, sure that she, too, has a tormented childhood.

We flashback to blurred scenes of Miss Meadows as a toddler, holding a bouquet of flowers as blood drips on her tiny white ruffle socks. But in the present day, Miss Meadows’ romance with Sheriff deepens, her own childhood tragedy unfolds, and she continues her self-proclaimed role as the female-Dexter (in vintage clothes and hair bows, no less).

Although there were many flaws to this movie, Holmes’ performance as the whimsical, psychotic Miss Meadows is the best role she’s had since 2003 as April Burns in Pieces of April and her signature role as tough girl-next-door Joey Potter in Dawson’s Creek. The Miss Meadows character is a mix of happy, funny, motherly, and extremely disturbed – and Holmes pulls it off extremely well. The cloudy, rainy background makes for an interesting setting and the music lends a hand to the “comedy” part of “dark comedy.”

Everything else, however, is simply bizarre. It was too comedic to be a psychological thriller, but not comedic enough to be enjoyable. The portrayal of her tragic childhood was over-the-top and melodramatic, as well as her vigilante shootings of an escaped convict and a molesting priest. Unfortunately, Hopkins’ odd Miss Meadows, even with a talented cast and a picturesque world, fails to tell a believable, compelling story.

miss-meadows2

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (11/16/14)

Top Photo: Katie Holmes as “Miss Meadows” comforts Ava Kolker as “Heather.”

Bottom Photo: Katie Holmes in one of her over-the-top “Miss Meadows” outfits.

Q: Does Miss Meadows pass the Bechdel Test?RedA

Yes.

Miss Meadows speaks with her mother (Jean Smart) on the phone on a regular basis, and befriends her student, Heather, taking on a protective role.

She also has a neighbor, “Mrs. Davenport” (Mary Kay Place) who complements her extravagant flower garden and warns her about bad people in the neighborhood. But when Mrs. Davenport suggests setting her up on a date, Miss Meadows refuses, telling her neighbor that she doesn’t need a man in her life. Then Mrs. Davenport disappears as Miss Meadows becomes engrossed in her relationship with the Sheriff.

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21 YEARS: RICHARD LINKLATER

CartoonMMNew BioDoc is like a big, fat, wet Frat House kiss to Peter Pan director Richard Linklater, which is ironic because this latest film is, in fact, Boyhood.

We have liked many of his films, so it should be fun to run through old clips, but Dunaway/Wood are too star-struck to do justice to their hero. (JLH: 3/3)

Written & Directed by Michael Dunaway & Tara Wood. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.

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I wouldn’t exactly say that Richard Linklater is one of my favorite filmmakers, although I have seen most of his films and I have liked quite a few of them (most especially School of Rock and Bernie).

But this BioDoc seems determined to see Linklater as a Boy’s Boy–an eternal Peter Pan refusing to grow up–and therefore focuses on the earliest films, and most especially Dazed & Confused from 1993.

Quite possibly this all results from the fact that the filmmakers had remarkable access to Matthew McConaughey. Dazed & Confused is McConaughey’s first IMDb credit. Way back in 1993, he was one of the members of a huge cast of actors which included Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Milla Jovovich, and Parker Posey (as well as a bit part for Renée Zellweger as the uncredited “Girl in blue pickup truck”).

But McConaughey–who has had a remarkable string of great roles recently which culminated in his Oscar-winning performance last year as “Ron Woodroof” in Dallas Buyers Clubis clearly first among all these former equals. And so McConaughey steals the show. Dunaway and Wood just can’t get enough of him, and it throws their film totally off balance.

No matter who else appears on screen–Ethan Hawke, Billy Bob Thornton, Zac Ephron–McConaughey has totally co-opted the narrative. Even Jack Black–as irrepressible as always–barely gets breathing room.  Walking out of this film, it would be hard to remember that after Dazed & Confused, McConaughey only appeared in two more Linklater films: The Newton Boys (1998) and Bernie (2011).

Watching 21: Richard Linklater, who would know that his doppelganger is actually Ethan Hawke who stars in “The Before Trilogy”–Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight–the films for which Linklater has achieved his greatest critical acclaim (as well as his only Oscar nominations), as well as Boyhood (one of this year’s Indie darlings).

Ironically the real Linklater has long since left Neverland and the Island of the Lost Boys, focusing more and more on the inevitability of the aging process. Born in 1960, Linklater is now 54 years old. So I have hopes that the best is yet to come.

YoungMM

Top Photo: Cartoon caricature of Matthew McConaughey (from the 21 Years Facebook site).

Bottom Photo: Matthew McConaughey in Dazed & Confused.

Q: Does 21 Years: Richard Linklater pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

Dunaway and Wood allow Julie Delpy to tell a few cute stories about the making of “The Before Trilogy,” but otherwise there are remarkably few women seen onscreen in 21 Years: Richard Linklater.

The most invisible “Invisible Woman” is  Kim Krizan, who appeared as an actress in Slacker (1991) and Waking Life (2001) as well as in Dazed and Confused, but is best-known–or rather should be best-known–as the co-writer of Before Sunrise aka the first chapter of “The Before Trilogy.”

Somewhere along the line, Kim Krizan and Richard Linklater went their separate ways, and neither IMDb nor Wikipedia provide any explanations. So perhaps Dunaway and Wood asked Kim Krizan to participate in their film and she said no. Who knows?

But since she is the credited co-screenwriter of Before Sunrise, turning her in an “Invisible Woman” leaves 21 Years: Richard Linklater with a gaping Black Hole.

RELATED POSTS:

Click HERE for our Boyhood Haiku.

Click HERE for my review of The Before Trilogy.

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GETTING TO THE NUTCRACKER

Opens today in NYC. Review coming soon.

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