Since the seven smaller film dissections were a big hit last week, no reason to not duplicate critical enjoyment for your reading pleasure – but I’m adding one more to fight the good film fight. (Being that disaster flicks are a dime a dozen and any movie that sits on the shelf too long might be past its due date!) The cinematic character spectrum gets covered below with eight films both good and bad that have everything from bitter old guys looking for a way out to killer clowns with big toothed smiles handy with a baseball bat. (Plus a little ‘foxy Knoxy’ doc action to boot!) Continue on to the Encapsulated Movie Reviews of A Man Called Ove, Denial, Amanda Knox, The Caretaker, Generation Startup, The Hurt Business, Circle of Poison and ClownTown below!
A MAN CALLED OVE
(Music Box Films)
What begins as a caustic comedy with a saucy sense of humor about a bitter elder gent who hates everything and everyone suddenly takes a sharp but believable dramatic turn into romance, friendship and the importance of connection – and that’s just for openers. Helmer Hannes Holm juggles varied tone and a wide range of story jumps, but thankfully none of it feels odd or out of place. (Anyone who can make you laugh at crude humor one minute and weep the next is a craftsman worthy of bucking film conventions!) Plus as his angry mature man of mystery Ove, ‘leave me alone’ leading man Rolf Lassgard is the epitome of engaging indifference and thus making the brief moments of melancholy all the more memorable. (Though even when his heart begins to soften, Ove’s still full of piss and vinegar!) Also special shout out to standout actress Ida Engvoll playing the role Ove’s true love Sofia – a captivating character that’s very easy to fall for. All together funny yet sad, romantic but realistic and whimsical with witty asides, leave it to a film and filmmakers from Sweden to once again lovingly shake up the cinematic status quo.
As a simple story – a woman being sued in a British court for libel by an angry gent whom she declares a holocaust denier – Denial is engaging as hell. (The fact that it’s based on true events even more so!) Plus the scenes of fact finding at the actual ruins of Auschwitz are especially poignant. But it’s first and foremost the actors here that elevate the already interesting material from being simply good to great. As the spirited and frustrated American author on trial, Rachel Weisz brings just the right amount of unmovable moxie, while Tom Wilkinson as her London lawyer tempers with quiet character authority. But the scene stealing standout of this flick is by far the tasty turn by Timothy Spall as the pompous and self-righteous David Irving. As a man of little morals, a desire to be in the spotlight and willing to go to any lengths to win, Irving is the kind of arrogant character we love to hate – a Spall specialty.
While there are no concrete answers within the doc that is Amanda Knox, it’s not from the filmmakers’ lack of trying. Dissecting the dark deeds of the day (the murder of Meredith Kercher did happen, so someone here is lying!), candid chat with those involved both directly (former Knox boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito obviously still carries a heavy torch for his former flame!) and indirectly (Daily Mail reporter Nick Pisa shows no shame having exploited both Knox and the murder for his own personal gain!) and the inclusion of telling evidence (the video kiss at the scene after the murders between Knox and Sollecito is odd for sure!), filmmakers Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn fan out the facts to help paint a picture that somehow feels like it will never be finished. But the triumphant truth of this doc lies in the long interviews with Knox herself who provides personal insight into the events before, during and after the incident – whether damning or redeeming you decide.
(Level 33 Entertainment)
While The Caretaker does contain some run-of-the-mill B-movie horror familiars (mysterious character backstories, naïve youngsters and a male lead that look and acts like Corey Haim in his Lost Boys heyday!), there’s also some nightmare inducing notables too. The film has an amazing opening that puts you right into the ‘mad grandma’ mood, a few choice story twists and turns and an overall tone that all but screams sinister. (Love the use of eerie old music!) But the true diamond in the rough here is the haunting and insane inspired character work by Helter Skelter alum Sondra Blake as the batty elder Birdie. So scary, so strange and so unsettling is her emotional and physical work here that she makes Pamela Voorhees look like a soccer mom – all creepiness in The Caretaker belongs to Blake.
This startup themed doc follows a handful of newbies into the ailing town of Detroit as they try their hand at starting or building up a business with varied results. Best of the bunch is the harsh true to life tale of Labib Rahman who not only has to deal with a shady boss ripe with false promises of advancement, but two critical Muslim parents unaware that he’s given up the family religion. Most interesting product via the story of newbie Avery Hairston joining in is definitely Banza, a rare pasta made from chickpeas. (Love seeing the fail vs. success rate – keeps the doc real!) And while there are other stories of note (proud programmer Kate Catlin does impress with Women Rising – a way of getting tech gals together) this doc is not unlike pitching a new venture – only those truly interested will be on board.
THE HURT BUSINESS
(The Vlader Company)
There’s a lot of ground covered with The Hurt Business and it’s either good or bad depending on how you look at it. On the up side the film exposes everything MMA related, from history of the sport to effects on fighters and their respective families before during and after their time in the cage. Down side is without a single cohesive focus the doc encompasses everything and leaves little room for relatable stories that a viewer can fully invest in. The personal tales are many, the spectacle is ever present (Kevin Costner narrates this one!) and there’s dipping into the harsh side of the sport (injuries are considered the norm!), the beauty (working out inner aggressions!) and the unfair (fighters get how much?!) and it’s a serious mouthful. Seemingly biting off more than it can chew, The Hurt Business subscribes to the motto the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few.
CIRCLE OF POISON
(Passion River Films)
Circle of Poison, a doc dealing with the billion-dollar industry of life killing pesticides, is a difficult movie row to hoe. Meaning the film documents the devastating effect on human life (especially to foreign countries where the US still ships it shamelessly), those in power who have tried to have production stopped (even former President Jimmy Carter talks about completing the ban – only to have it overturned by Reagan!) and even exposing the political conflicts of interest within the whole sordid affair. (There’s a section of Louisiana where there’s a hundred and fifty industrial companies – the locals call it Cancer Alley!) But in doing such a thorough job it becomes increasingly obvious that the folks behind the strings not only know all the above and for the sake of the almighty dollar simply don’t care. (Plus complacent folks get no in-your-face camera accountability here – it’s the standard no comment through a title screen!) So while I agree the uneducated may need to see the truths welling within (even the Dalai Lama proclaims people need to be educated on such matters!), those who hold the key to the gates of change even in the face of this damning doc will more than likely be unmoved.
ClownTown is a flick that suffers from typical terror tropes syndrome. There is a pinch of goodness in such recognizable rites of passage like teen nudity (the opening babysitter gets topless – fast!), a little blood and guts and menacing bad guys. (David Greathouse’s sinfully sick grinning Baseball Clown could give Pinhead a run for his money!) Problem is the film also takes on all of the things horror fans hate – most notably lead characters making dumb decisions. (Let’s stop while being chased by weapon carrying maniacs to have some food and fun!) Look, when even a little blood-flying Evil Dead inspired repeated crowbar hits to the head can’t get the party started, it’s time to send all unoriginal satanic sinners home.