HONEYMOON

Review of Honeymoon by Associate 63894_022Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Remind me to scratch off “cabin in the middle of nowhere” for possible honeymoon destinations. Leigh Janiak’s new horror film Honeymoon is a disturbing tale of New York City newlyweds “Paul” (Harry Treadaway) and “Bea” (Rose Leslie) who are torn from married bliss to bloody chaos in a matter of days.

Retreating to an isolated cabin in the middle of the woods for a romantic getaway seemed like a good idea before a gooey mess of a creature decided to inhabit Bea’s body. What starts off as a sweet, romantic story of Paul and Bea and their love of pancakes, board games, and boating quickly turns into the honeymoon from Hell. Bea wakes up in the middle of the night and wanders into the forest, dazed and half-naked in her silk nightgown. When Paul finds her, however, she’s completely naked with bite marks on her inner thighs. He questions her again and again about the bite marks, the night she was “sleepwalking,” and her peculiar behavior. Why would Bea jump into cold lake water when she shrieked at its frigidness the day before? You wouldn’t think it’s the most insane thing a person has ever done, but it brings Paul’s suspicions to the forefront. Something’s wrong his wife; she’s forgetting how to make French toast and coffee, and even has to write down her own name to remember it. He knows something happened to her in the woods and he can’t quite figure it out. Bea acting weirdly and Paul staring at her like a stranger makes up 90% of the boring, bizarre Honeymoon.

Each night, a beaming spotlight shines through the cabin’s windows, seemingly the source of all the weirdness. Paul yearns to get his wife back, asking Bea questions to jog her memory and prove, somehow, that something has taken over her. It’s paralleled with Paul trying to get Bea to remember him physically, leading to one of the most graphic and cringe-worthy scenes in recent movie history. The sick-factor is much more impactful than the thriller aspects of Honeymoon as Bea bleeds, gushes, and oozes all over Paul’s hands. The overload of disturbing imagery might have made sense if the plot supported it, but there was a severe lack of clarity as to what was happening.

What did work, however, was the chemistry between Treadaway and Leslie and their portrayals of lovebirds, Paul and Bea. Leslie must come from the Nina Dobrev-school-of-acting, making Bea’s character shift from joyful to crazed seem effortless.

Other than that, the film was just strange. With little resolution or any real explanation as to what was happening, Honeymoon fails to get where it needs to be. If Janiak upped the ante of the plot or provided a little more thrill, it would have been a better tale to tell. Unfortunately, besides the acting and the ick-factor, everything else falls flat.

Honeymoon_web_1

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (9/14/14)

Top Photo: Harry Treadaway as “Paul” and Rose Leslie as “Bea”

Bottom Photo: Rose Leslie as “Bea”

Q: Does Honeymoon pass the Bechdel Test?

No. Almost every scene is about the couple, except for one encounter Bea has with a woman seemingly possessed by the same demonic spirit.

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I AM 11

Opens today in NYC. Review coming soon.

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NO GOOD DEED

NoGoodDeed6

Review of No Good Deed by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky 

No Good Deed is a B-movie thriller earning top dollars from all the social media hype.  The film, written by Aimee Lagos and directed by Sam Miller, tells the story of “Colin” (Idris Elba) a murderer denied parole who terrorizes the home of former D.A. mom, “Terri” (Taraji P. Henson).

Colin, a serial killer who murders prison guards to escape a Tennessee prison, shows up to his girlfriend Alexis’ (Kate Del Castillo) house to see she’s involved with another man. Blinded by rage, he murders her and drives his stolen car down a suburban road, crashing into a tree. If he murdered a prison guard, you’d think this maniac would be smart enough not to leave his crashed car in the middle of the road with the lights on. But no, the “malignant narcissist” Colin knocks on the door at the house of lawyer turned homemaker Terri, whose husband is conveniently away on a golf weekend with his father. Colin asks to be let into the house to use the phone and, despite her better judgment, she lets him in. But as the title suggests, no good deed goes unpunished.

The predictable chase ensues in typical suspense thriller fashion as Colin’s charms and good looks fail to hide his violent, murderous ways. Terri’s protective, maternal instincts kick in as Colin threatens to kidnap and terrorize not only her but her children. The film cuts between shots of them hitting each other over the head with household objects to shots of lightning and power outages, all leading to that plot twist so heavily advertised. On the heels of the Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice domestic abuse situation, Screen Gems canceled all press screenings of this home-invasion thriller at the 11th hour, explaining “The film contains a plot twist that we do not want to reveal, as it will affect the audience’s experience when they see the film in theaters.”

No Good Deed is inspired by a similar Broadway play The Desperate Hours, which starred Paul Newman. Humphrey Bogart was the lead in the first big-screen adaptation in 1995 and was remade with Anthony Hopkins in 1990.

Actors Elba and Henson are too good for the mediocre material given. From Elba’s past work on The Wire and Henson’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, this film seems like a major step down for both. Not only was the film more of the same old, same old for a home-invasion thriller, it certainly didn’t live up to the hype and comes at a time when domestic violence has such a presence in real life, it’s not worth the money to see it on the big screen.

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (9/17/14)

Top Photo: Taraji P. Henson as “Terri”

Bottom Photo: Taraji P. Henson as “Terri” hiding from Idris Elba’s intruder “Colin”

Q: Does No Good Deed pass the Bechdel Test?

Not really. Terri has her best friend “Meg” (Leslie Bibb) but her role is to hit on Colin. The rest of the film is entirely centered on the murderous home invader.

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BUT ALWAYS

BreakfastWhat do women want?

Turns out that sometimes it’s a melodramatic “Guilty Pleasure” from China. Who knew?!?

But Always is an epic story of star-crossed Beijing lovers played by lead actress Yuanyuan Gao (as “Anran”) and lead actor Nicholas Tse (as “Yongyuan”).

Gorgeous! Heart-breaking!! Set to a soundtrack showcasing a thousand and one strings!!!

Kudos to writer/director Snow Zou for breathing new life into the classic Hollywood Weepie genre from the Golden Years–and yes, I do mean that as a complement. (JLH: 4/5).

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

But Always is Snow Zou’s old-school Hollywood romance movie from China. It’s gorgeous and weepy, with charismatic, beautiful stars and a score that transports you into a romantic mode. For women, more so than men, the film will hit that soft spot of star-crossed love and tragic destiny. Even though there were a couple of laughable moments, I loved But Always.

Told from the point of view of “Anran,” (Yuanyuan Gao) the film opens with the tragic events surrounding 9/11. The English subtitles read: New York City – 2001, and immediately flash back to earthquake stricken Bejing – 1976. We meet young Anran, narrating her story as a young girl living in the streets of Beijing with families too terrified of aftershocks to reenter their homes. As a five-year-old, Anran lives in her parents’ makeshift shack on the street, running around and having a great time until her mother has to leave. Her mother, a doctor needing to leave with her emergency team, gives Anran a stern look and advises her to take care of her father and be a good girl while she’s gone. Although it’s never really explained, the mother dies in an accident, leaving Anran with only her father.

Not wanting her to be known as a motherless child or under the Chinese cloud of bad luck, Anran’s father moves her to another school far away. Being attractive, well dressed, and cared for doesn’t make her feel any less lonely. Anran walks very pert and alert, but is always by herself until a little boy “Zhao” (Nicholas Tse) starts following her. At first she tries to try to ignore him, but slowly draws comfort from the fact she’s got a companion who can relate to her. Zhao, living with his grandmother, lost both his parents in the earthquake. The little, adorable kids bond and grow into the edge of adolescence. For years they’re good friends, depending on each other, walking together, and waiting at the bus stop together, until one day when Zhao abruptly disappears. His uncle arrives from Quanzho when the grandmother dies and takes him away before he can say goodbye to Anran. Zhao bangs on the bus window to catch her attention, but she is looking on the street for him, not knowing where he went.

Eight or so years pass until they’re young adults, with Zhao coming back to work in the marketplace for his uncle. One day, Anran comes by to shop and Zhao can tell it’s her by the rhythm of her walk. Because he’s in the presence of a certain footstep and he knows it’s Anran, he follows her to find out where she goes to school. Zhao begins lurking around until she finally spots him. During the years, Anran has done very well in school, particularly in her English lessons since her father insists that the mother’s dream was for Anran to attend school in the United States. So she passes her exams and is accepted at Columbia right around the time her relationship with Zhao heats up. Anran doesn’t want to leave him, they make love, and Zhao promises to meet her at the bus stop so she can take him to meet her father. Of course, he doesn’t show up at the bus stop and his friend tells Anran that Zhao doesn’t want her anymore, doesn’t love her anymore, and has another girlfriend. In heartbreak and despair, she leaves for New York not knowing the truth about Zhao, who has really been arrested and sent to prison for three years.

Another set of years pass, jumping ahead to New York City. When Anran first arrived, she was pregnant with Zhao’s baby and suffered a miscarriage. Soon after, she met an artist who goes on to become her lover and her protector. She goes through the motions of making it in medical school, but is emotionally destroyed and bereaved by Zhao’s desertion of her.

Meanwhile, after Zhao is released from prison, he becomes a successful clothing manufacturer with his large company earning millions of dollars. He and his coworkers take a trip to New York for a business deal and Zhao goes in search of Anran. When he finds her, she turns away from him. But when he spots a painting of her, Zhao locates the artists, and tries to find out how to track Anran down. When he does, she tries to rebuff him again but ends up giving in. There’s a big, wonderful climatic love scene where they finally reunite after all these years and look like they’re actually going to happy, but something happens to the artist that snaps Anran back to reality. The choice she makes between her two men and the resulting consequences lead into the third act of the film, as Anran deals with her past life in Beijing and her current life in America.

Gao and Tse are absolutely gorgeous as Anran and Zhao. As a kid, Zhao looks like a frog and turns into an incredibly charismatic Prince Charming who is kind, tender, handsome, and successful. He’s a dream come true; your classic poor boy with the prince inside.

Other than being a great, romantic, weepy film with great leads, there are little missteps except for a few melodramatic moments. It swept along on gorgeous visuals with fast pacing. I liked the idea that they’re putting 9/11 in context that every country has its trauma. In the case of Anran’s mother and Zhao’s parents, who were directly affected by the cataclysmic earthquake in Beijing in ’76, But Always reminds Americans that al-Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center and it wasn’t just Americans who died. There were people from all over the world who were impacted by this event and it’s important for us to remember that.

The film held my attention and made me really care about these two people. I knew that the star-crossed lovers weren’t headed towards a happy ending, but I still enjoyed going on this tragic journey with Anran.

Beijing

Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (9/15/14)

Top Photo: Anran and Yongyuan find a moment of stolen happiness in her shabby Brooklyn apartment.

Bottom Photo: Just before she leaves for New York, Anran must tend to Yongyuan’s wounded forehead after thugs assault him in Beijing. OMG: What a handsome guy! “I’m melting!! I’m melting!!!” TeeHeeHee :-)

Photo Credits: China Lion

Q: Does But Always pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

Drama is focused on Anran’s love for Yongyuan, and even in the rare occasions when she does speak with another woman (e.g., when her boss tells Anran that she must agree to continue taking this handsome Chinese businessman on tours around NYC or lose her job as a guide), they are always talking about him.

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GRINGO TRAILS

BeforeProfound new documentary by NYU Anthropology Professor Pegi Vail is ostensibly about the impact of backpacker tourists on once distant climes and cultures, but it implies even more about the way our now dominant “Western Mentality” has overrun our fragile planet and potentially brought it to the breaking point.

Quests made popular by films like Lawrence of Arabia and generations of “desert loving English” have reached crisis proportions now that we can fly almost anywhere we want and the people there to greet us want our money. (JLH: 5/5)

Click HERE for our FF2Haiku.  NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

Gringo Trails is a terrific new documentary by Pegi Vail, an anthropologist currently teaching at NYU, who has also worked with National Geographic and the Soros Open Society Foundation. She’s curated exhibits in collaboration with the Museum of the American Indian, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of Modern Art. And she’s involved with The Moth, a public radio storytelling collective.

Gringo Trails begins with an interview with Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli who finished up his army service in the mid ’80s and went on a trek–like many Israelis do–which brought him to the northeast corner of Bolivia (at the edge of the Amazon Rainforest). Once there, he and his companions faced the most disastrous of circumstances. Through voiceovers, Ghinsberg recalls his time in Bolivia, witnessing the greatest floods the Amazon had seen in at least 10 years. His tale of survival after separation from his group and the natives who saved his life form the basis of Gringo Trails.

Ghinsberg’s three-week triumph of lone survival in the Amazon jungle has become a milestone for adventurers who want to go somewhere where almost no one not native to the area has ever been before. In the years since his rescue, backpackers have followed, so much so that as one American man who is traveling with an Israeli woman jokes: “The guides here speak better Hebrew than I do!”

From the story of Yossi Ghinsberg, Gringo Trails takes off into a general meditation on these rapidly multiplying backpackers who buy stacks of Lonely Planet guidebooks and then show up in droves in formerly inaccessible places. Some are trekking to the great salt desert in the southwestern corner of Bolivia while others go like Yossi to the rainforests in the northeast corner of Bolivia. Then they go from the African desserts surrounding Timbuktu to tiny islands off the coast of Thailand.

The common element in all of these “adventures” is the lone backpacker looking for a natural “unspoiled” place. The problem occurs when backpackers in the plural start inundating these places. The obvious result is that they quickly lose the very characteristics that made them attractive in the first place. The backpackers endanger native–human–populations as well as local wildlife.

A haunting sequence shows a forest guide warning the backpackers in his group not to touch snakes: “You’ve got mosquito repellent on your fingertips and this is extremely toxic.” Of course the young backpackers want to show how fearless they are, so one of them captures an Anaconda snake, and the rest line up to stroke it. They can’t help themselves. They need to stroke the snake so they can go home and say: “I stroked an Anaconda snake!” There is no real danger for the human, but it’s extremely dangerous for the snake. Wildlife population scatter as they attempt to flee the humans who are invading their environment–humans who leave behind them a disgusting mess of plastic water bottles and other non-organic “First World” detritus.

The quandary depicted in Gringo Trails then goes in an even more metaphysical direction: What it is about the human personality that makes us want to go to places no one–that is, no non-native–has ever been before, only to end up destroying the very thing we went to find? Although other movies are not Vail’s primary reference point, it’s clear that movies such as Lawrence of Arabia and Out of Africa have fed a “First World” longing to test oneself against a “Third World Wild.”

On the other hand, most of the people in the local populations are extremely poor. The backpackers think they are being parsimonious and careful with their spending. They don’t want to be Capitalists and travel like pampered tourists. They think they are roughing it. But from the POV of the people in the local populations, these backpackers have a tremendous amount of money. As backpackers start trekking regularly to these formally inaccessible places, guesthouses start springing up along with tourist houses, hostels, restaurants and all kinds of accommodations for backpacking tourists who tell themselves that they’re living cheaply on an adventure.

So the backpackers have become a source of income, and no matter how many responsible people in the community–or in the government–try to enforce the rules, there will always be those willing to do things they are not supposed to do, because they know tourists will pay for what they want. Seeing the consequences, Yossi Ghinsberg–for one–now uses his personal prestige to encourage the building of eco-friendly facilities. But are people on either side of this financial equation willing to be truly honest about the damage they are doing? Probably not.

Once I left the theatre, I started thinking about Out of Africa, a movie that I really, really love. When Baroness Karen Blixen (the Meryl Streep character) first meets Denys Finch-Hatton (the Robert Redford character), he is out on safari with Masai warriors. Then time goes by, and after World War I, he starts taking people out on safari. To be blunt: He takes wealthy people out to kill lions just for the sake of killing lions. The paying customer–the tourist of the early 20th Century–can tell everyone back home that he killed a lion, just like the backpacker of the early 21st Century can tell everyone back home that she stroked a snake.

Midway though Out of Africa, Denys goes out to look for new safari locations and he takes Karen with him. It become an incredible romantic trip! They make love–for the first time–in a tent!! Everything is pure, beautiful, and natural as they ride their Jeep through herds of wild animals!!! When they take their first plane trip together, the Savannah below is filled with natural beauty. But later you see Denys flying alone, and the land below him is a barren patchwork of Jeep ruts. Denys and his colleagues and his customers have plowed their way through the Savannah… Gringo Trails captures this same feeling of melancholy. Like Denys, Yossi wanted to test himself. But when he succeeded, he blazed a trail for others, and he ended up destroying what he most loved in the process.

Gringo Trails provides an excellent mix of context and history with a perfect meld of first person and third person points of view. It tells a profound story about the nature of man’s relationship to Planet Earth. We all think: “I am just one person and I am going to do what I want to do.” But if we all do what we want to do without thinking about the larger consequences, how soon will it before before we end up destroying our planet?

After

Top Photo: Tourists from all over the world converge on pristine places…

Bottom Photo: …which are no longer quite so “pristine” after the tourists have congregated there…

Photo Credits:  Icarus Films

Q: Does Gringo Trails pass the Bechdel Test? DigitalStampA

Yes.

One of the surprising elements of Gringo Trails is how many women are out there backpacking. One might have thought this was a “guy thing,” but no. Based on the footage captured by Vail and her team, I would guess ~ 40% of these travelers are women.

One the one hand, this is a good thing (“You Go, Girls!”), but obviously they can be just as thoughtless as their male counterparts…

Looping back to the snake-stroking incident all I can say is: Shame on you, sister!!!

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INNOCENCE

Screen shot 2014-09-06 at 9.35.11 PMReview of Innocence by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

The long-awaited release of Hilary Brougher’s third film Innocence is anticlimactic, telling the tired story of preparatory schoolgirl “Beckett Warner” (Sophie Curtis) and the elite book club on the prowl for her precious virgin blood.

After Beckett’s mother dies in a tragic surfing accident, her father “Miles” (Linus Roache) enrolls her in Hamilton Preparatory School for Girls. Although most people in the real world could care less about new students, the girls at Hamilton see Beckett as fresh meat, immediately pointing and snickering in slow motion while giving her looks of disdain. (Why? Because she’s new? Because she’s a virgin? How can they tell and why would they care?)

Beckett is introduced to Miles’ friend “Natalie” (Stephanie March) and her cute son “Tobey,” (Graham Phillips) along with the rest of the creeptastic book club. She’s also introduced “Pamela,” (Kelly Reilly) the touchy-feely school nurse who takes a liking to Beckett’s dad – and basically moves in with her and Miles within the week. Skateboarder Tobey and newfound friend “Jen” (Sarah Sutherland) keep Beckett from being completely isolated in her new environment. She smiles, laughs, and gets bellybutton piercings from gothic Jen – all normal things in her otherwise turbulent world.

As Beckett attempts to settle into her new life, she’s haunted by visions of her mother, a recently suicidal classmate, and slain Hamilton students from last century. In between her visions and skateboarding lessons from Tobey, she’s encouraged by Pamela and the school therapist to pop some pills “to help her sleep.” But Pamela and the other Stepford-like book club members are only after one thing: virgin blood, to maintain their youth, of course.

Sophie Curtis portrays Beckett as a quiet, disturbed teenager who looks like (and acts like) she has chronic insomnia. Her unreadable eyes glaze over as she wanders the historic halls and gardens of Hamilton. Aimless wandering and dead-eyed staring make Turner’s performance tiring after Act One. The only real standout performance comes from Kelly Reilly, who adds another interesting role to her already versatile filmography. From the moment Pamela comes on the screen, you immediately get a feeling that something’s not quite right. The believability in Reilly’s performance, from the way she nuzzles Beckett’s neck to her terrifying glares, gives the film just enough ambiguity to keep it from being completely predictable.

Other than Reilly’s frightening take on “Pamela,” everything else is mediocre. The low-budget film’s editing and typical horror-movie-blue tone try to make up for the lackluster screenplay. Although marketed as a thriller, there’s more gag-worthy scenery than actual thrills. “Virgin blood to maintain youth” is a common theme in horror movies and it seems all the more dated in the boring, amateurish Innocence.

innocence

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (9/06/14)

Top Photo and Bottom Photo: Kelly Reilly as “Pamela” and Sophie Curtis as “Beckett.”

Q: Does Innocence pass the Bechdel Test?DigitalStampA

Technically, yes. Beckett has scenes her friend Jen as she deals with her alcoholic mother. She also has scenes with Pamela and her wicked, blood-drinking school therapist, discussing the death of Beckett’s classmate.

Posted in Bechdel List, Reviews: H-J | Tagged | Leave a comment

KELLY & CAL

WKZKEL12-600(JLH: 2/5) Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.

Kelly & Cal is Jen McGowan’s first feature film after doing several highly regarded short films. Amy Lowe Starbin’s screenplay begins with new mother “Kelly,” (Juliette Lewis) visiting the gynecologist for her six-week examination after the birth of her son Jackson. The doctor gives Kelly the all clear for resuming sexual relations with her husband and everything looks fine, but by the look on Kelly’s face, everything’s not fine. She’s seemingly stranded in a life that she’s not coping with very well.

Kelly’s frustrations intensify as she tries and fails to soothe her fussy baby. Not being able to calm him is obviously communicating itself to the baby and the he fusses even more, continuing the vicious cycle. When her laid-back husband “Josh,” (Josh Hopkins) holds the baby, however, he’s instantly pacified, which of course makes Kelly feel even worse.

To ease her stress, Kelly retreats to her extremely nice, suburban backyard to sneak a cigarette and sees “Cal,” (Johnny Weston) her teenage neighbor. Kelly gets up to leave when she’s annoyed at his inappropriate comments, but feels terrible when she looks over the fence and sees him in a wheelchair. At another attempt to calm her baby down, she decides to take him for a walk in his stroller and sure enough, he loves it. In the course of long walks around the neighborhood, Kelly runs into Cal again, visiting his house and discovering his musical talents. Having lost his muscular control to play the guitar, Cal has taken to the drums to utilize his upper body strength. It turns out that Kelly used to be a punk rocker of the “riot girl” variety in her past life and she and Cal start bonding over their love of music.

I hated this movie. It was totally unbelievable, from the terrible acting to the characters and their unrealistic, intimate attachment. Let’s start with the most notable problem for me: What year is this supposed to be happening? Punk rocking was back in the ‘90s and Zines were back in the ’90s. When Kelly goes into her hope chest and pulls out a cassette recorder and cassettes and old mimeographed or Xerox zines, the timeline is skewed. She appears to be in her late 30s and obviously liked the music a long time ago, yet the Stepford world she lives in where the mothers are all home while husbands are off at work throws is unrealistic. What was she supposed to have been doing with herself from the time that she was recording cassettes and to the current day, at least 10 or 15 years later having first child Jackson? I don’t get that at all.

As Kelly becomes more restless, she gets more visits from Josh’s mother “Bev,” (Cybill Shepherd), and his sister, “Julie,” (Lucy Owen), having conversations that are tremendously inappropriate. Again, it’s hard to figure out why Bev and Julie have nothing better to do than show up every afternoon to spend time with Kelly. At one point, Julie has a meltdown because she’s consumed with envy of Kelly’s wonderful husband, baby, and house – everything Julie wants.  But do we know why? Do we know what Julie’s problem is? Is she divorced? Do we know anything about Julie or anything other than the fact that she’s a woman in her middle 30s with nothing better to do then go over in the afternoons to her sister-in-law’s? There isn’t an answer. When Bev drops off lasagna, Josh comes home all excited because he gets to eat his mom’s food, adding to the creepiness of the Stepford wife-y world that made me crazy.

To relive her rocker roots, Kelly goes up into the bathroom and emerges at a family barbeque with incredibly fake-looking turquoise blue hair. Of course Cal loves the outrage of it, but everybody else thinks Kelly has gone off the deep end. The next thing she knows, Bev has shown up with some makeover person who covers Kelly in makeup and dresses her in these Stepford wife outfits. They turn her hair from turquoise blue to brown again, and it’s unclear what they want to accomplish. Cal, thinking this is hilariously funny, throws her a hoodie and tells her to cover up the stupid clothes. In the same sequence, Julie is shoving cards at her to go see a therapist who specializes in postpartum depression. It was bizarre to me as to what was supposed to be going on.

There’s a distance that Kelly has with her husband and it’s strongly implied that his long work hours are covering up an affair. Because of Josh’s lack of sexual interest in Kelly, she turns to Cal for comfort and friendship – and he, of course, wants more than that. After an accident that injured his spine, crippled Cal’s girlfriend dumped him for his best friend and since the prom is coming up, he wants Kelly to go with him. (I mean what is this?) While Josh thinks Kelly is at a benefit to help the handicapped, she’s actually making a ridiculous makeshift prom for Cal, getting all dressed up and going to the empty high school gym to do a wheelchair dance.

What was really irritating to me was how baby Jackson seems to appear and disappear according to the needs of the plot. Sometimes he’s out of sight and nobody’s caring about him and other times he’s cooing or crying. The random and manipulative writing made no sense to me in addition to the atrocious acting. I didn’t believe a word of it. The only redeemable character was nicely grounded Bev, not overreacting the way all the other characters were. She gives Kelly a nice little talk one day where Bev basically says, “You know, things don’t always work out the way we think they will and you just have to be patient.” Cybill Shepherd gives her character a believable, grounded quality, which was the only thing in the movie that I liked at all.

SavedByBev

Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (9/13/14)

Top Photo: Juliette Lewis as “Kelly”

Bottom Photo: Juliette Lewis as “Kelly” and Josh Hopkins as “Josh”

Q #1: Does Kelly and Cal pass the Bechdel Test? DigitalStampA

Yes, it does pass the Bechdel Test – that’s the good news – but, no, it’s not a good movie. Ironically, Richard really liked it, and I don’t know what to make of that. He liked it. He believed it. He found it touching. And what can you say? Split decision from Jan and Rich.

 

Posted in Reviews: K-M | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM

Opens tomorrow in NYC. Review coming soon…

Posted in Reviews: K-M | Leave a comment

WETLANDS

HelenAloneAlthough the filmmakers do a great job of keeping the tone light and the lead actress (Carla Juri) is extremely charismatic, the surface of this startling German coming-of-age film is gross and the core is filled with incredible pain. Bottom Line: Difficult to actually watch but rewards those who do. (JLH: 4/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

Wetlands is a new German dramedy about “Helen” (Carla Juri) a transgressive exhibitionist fresh out of high school. The film, based on Charlotte Roche’s novel, deals with serious issues and has heavy overtones—albeit cleverly camouflaged both in trailers and by press information.

Wetlands begins humorously, as Helen deals with the uncertainty of her future and turns to vegetables for comfort… in the most sexual and not at all healthy kind of way. There are shots of Helen in a bathtub, sampling her masturbation vegetables—which range from cucumbers to ginger—before she reveals a special craving for avocados. Such scenes are told with a light touch, which goes a long way towards disguising events that are actually pretty disgusting. Are we to believe Helen when she spins out an elaborate yarn about men ejaculating onto pizza? Truth and even truthiness are left deliberately unclear.

Helen’s extremely vivid imagination shifts back and forth between the real world and her fantasy world—which is filled with graphic imagery and brightly colored animation sequences. In one instance, she talks in voiceover about her mother’s obsessive need for cleanliness, especially as it concerns the toilet bowl. As a result, Helen tells us she has a special love for dirty toilets. The animated sequence which accompanies these reveries shows Helen’s journey down a public toilet filled with germs and bacterial life. Scenes such as these are as disgusting as they sound and go way too far (showing vomit, fecal matter, and menstrual blood). Helen is clearly an “unreliable narrator” who wants to shock us, but since it’s never clear whether these graphic scenes are happening in the real world or just in Helen’s fevered imagination, it becomes a bit easier over time to actually sit back and admire her stylish bravado.

Then, once the filmmakers have us hooked, they shift into more serious territory, as Helen zeroes in on her conflicts with her parents. (Note that these two characters don’t get names of their own beyond “Helen’s Mother” and “Helen’s Father.”) Helen has multiple scenes with her mother, including flashbacks to happier times as a little girl before the birth of her younger brother. Are Helen’s self-reports merely verbal assaults that signify aggression toward her mother? Limited maternal comfort, such as it is, comes though her relationship with best friend “Corinna” (Marlen Kruse) whose soft, round, feminine figure is the opposite of Helen’s thin, taut, athletic build.

Helen’s endearing side appears when she meets “Robin” (Christoph Letkowski), a male nurse who tends to her in the hospital after she injures herself. Robin gets to see the sweet side of Helen as her helpless qualities come out and she becomes a much more sympathetic character. Robin can see that her transgressive exhibitionism is just a cover for a sweet, nice, middle class girl in need of some serious self-examination.

By the end, Wetlands actually becomes quite compelling in a weird kind of way, primarily because of the terrific and talented Carla Juri. Her dazzling smile combines with her energy and charisma to make Helen’s outrageous behavior bearable, and the glistening pain in her eyes generates a tremendous amount of sympathy. Stay to the end, and you too will want to know what is going on with Helen, and you too will hope that this likeable young women gets her happy ending.

Although I will admit to having been grossed out from time to time, I was not bored for one single minute. Wetlands certainly held my attention while I was in the theatre, and good girl that I am, I spent days afterwards pondering what it all meant.

WithCorinna

Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (9/04/14)

Top Photo: Carla Juri as “Helen”

Bottom Photo: Carla Juri as “Helen” and Marlen Kruse as “Corinna”

Photo Credits: Peter Hartwig

Q #1: Does Wetlands pass the Bechdel Test?

Yes, it emphatically does pass the Bechdel Test!

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Most of the conversations with her mother relate to issues with her father, but not all of them. In critical flashback scenes, Helen remembers how her mother deceived her and violated her trust. Similarly, although Helen and Corinna often talk about boys, they also commit to one another as “blood sisters,” making it clear that whatever they might say in words, what’s really at stake is their relationship with one another.

Q #2: Does Wetlands have a female screenwriter? 

Although IMDb lists her as one of screenwriters, Sabine Pochhammer says she made limited contributions at the beginning of the project. In her own words, the Wetlands screenplay was developed and written by Claus Falkenberg in collaboration with director David Wnendt.

 

 

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ROCKS IN MY POCKET

MarriageLatvian animator Signe Baumane (with a long list of shorts to her credit) releases her first feature length film–a chronicle of mental illness played out against 20th Century Latvian history including economic booms/busts, invasions by Nazis/Russians, & life in the former Soviet Union.

Female relatives fall in love & get pregnant, then succumb to depression & suicide. (JLH: 3.5/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.

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Signe Baumane is a brilliant animator and she has a profoundly moving story to tell–at once a macrocosm of 20th Century life in Latvia as well as a microcosm of how the women in one family adapted for awhile but eventually gave up–but I’m not sure this was the best way to tell it.

In a feature-length film, Baumane’s personal narration–88 minutes worth in heavily-accented English–weighs her images down. After a while, it became hard to keep watching. I wish she had hired actors so that the different characters each had a voice of her own.

After awhile, Baumane’s deliberate decision to take their individual voices away from them comes to feel like the final indignity forced on lives lived in pain and isolation.

AnnaKidsCows

Top Drawing: A portrait of a woman withdrawing from her marriage & finding “refuge” in clinical depression.

Bottom Drawing: Signe’s grandmother Anna was the brightest child in a large rural family. Her father sacrificed to send her to college in Riga only to see her marry a no-goodnik who imprisoned her on his farm perpetually pregnant and in despair. As soon as she was able to force her eight children out of the nest & into Soviet-run boarding schools, she swallowed a bottle of antidepressants and died of “heart failure” at age 50…

Q: Does Rocks in My Pocket pass the Bechdel Test? DigitalStampA

Yes! Signe rarely has any conversations with her father or her male relatives. Stories are related to her by her mother (who was not Anna’s child) and various female relatives.

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