Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Right at Your Door (2006)

Over the week-end I happen to see "Right at Your Door" and since all eyes are on Washington DC for the inauguration of our next president I thought why not try some real horror. When I mean "real" horror I mean horror that can occur in our lifetime. While growing up it was all about the bomb. Movies like "The Day after", and "On the Beach" were films that showed us alternate futures for mankind. Now in the 21st century it's all about terrorism, and the so-called threat from "dirty" bombs, and biological weapons. The movie "Right at your Door" brings that horror to the screen, and shows us a horrible "what if" scenario.

The movie "Right at Your Door" was written and directed by Chris Gorak. Gorak does some interesting things here in the film, and the performances by both Mary McCormack, and Rory Cochrane are very convincing. The jest of the story is this: "A dirty bomb goes off in Los Angeles, jamming freeways and spreading a toxic cloud". Cochrane's character is stuck at home, and worries about his wife Lexi (McCormack) who has gone to work near where the bombs have exploded. The next hour and 36 minutes is spent on how both McCormack and Cochrane's characters both react to their plight. The cinematography is good, and the editing is very effective. Essentially were trapped with them in their house while all around them bad things are happening. Of course the characters reveal who they are through their actions, and the problem I had was that I didn't like our main character Brad (Rory Cochrane). Maybe this could be why I found it hard to listen to him or even justify his actions. In the end we find out his action have damned him, and maybe that is what the director wanted, but the end has it's own problems.

I'm told that this movie premiered in Sundance and won an award for best cinematography. It does have that going for it, and I've read that the film was shot in Super-16 so that feel as though it were a documentary is there, but make no mistake this is a drama. The film has a kind of "Blair Witch" feel. Maybe it's the cinema verti shots in the film that remind me of "Blair Witch", but it does strike a vibe that is familiar.

What I'm not happy about is the ending. I get mixed feelings. I don't know whether Chris Gorak is unable to decide whether government officials are hopeless incompetents like that what we saw in Hurricane Katrina, or evil fascists from a New World Order conspiracy. This detracts from the core of the story, which is about two people facing a horrifying event. I felt that the end was there to shock me, and nothing else. Also there is a lot of facts in the movie that Gorak gets wrong. Such as a biological weapon would not be used in an explosive since in an explosion the biological weapon would be destroyed. A "dirty bomb" which the news announcers in the film continually mention would be more effective in an explosion. But in the film we are never given enough info to determine what type of attack it is or was. At he end we hear that many structures are contaminated with a toxin, but the outside area and those exposed to the flying ash seem to have a chance and will survive. If you think about it after the film you begin to question the films validity. Maybe the script was rewritten and in several drafts it was a "dirty bomb", and in others it was a toxin, and eventually the two were combined. True in an event such as this facts would be scarce, but the two facts here contradict each other, and in the end you begin to question certain things in the film.

All in all the facts shouldn't hinder your enjoyment of the film. The dialogue is interesting, and the circumstances are horrifying. What this movie is good at is making you think about how YOU would react in the same circumstances. For that I give the movie a lot of credit. It's the end that will make you think, and maybe take you out of the scenario. Maybe instead of trying to "shock" us in the end the director should have given us a more plausible and intimate ending for its characters and for its audience. It's a minor pick, and something that can be overlooked, but like I said it detracts from the ending because when you come right down to it the film is about the characters response to each other and themselves . The horror is how WE as human beings deal with such unimagined terror. That in the end would have made this film a much more interesting and powerful film.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Honeymoon (1998)

"Honeymoon" is a film by filmmaker/critic Dan Sallitt. I'll lift the synopsis from the films press kit "HONEYMOON, written and directed by Dan Sallitt, is the story of Mimi and Michael, in their thirties, who marry suddenly after years of friendship and go on their honeymoon without having had a physical relationship. The honeymoon turns into a nightmare of sexual failure and conflict, which the couple seems powerless to resolve." I've been wanting to see this film for some time, and saw that it was available at "Createspace".

I ordered it the other week, and last week-end I sat down and watched it. The film is an interesting character study of Mimi and Michael. The way the film treats the subject matter is non-flinching. At times I thought I was watching a documentary. Both actors seemed to have slipped into the characters and become them. The camera lingers on Mimi & Michael as they discuss there problems in bed, and it is how the actors behave that makes this film. I've always been interested in getting good performances out of actors. My own film has made that even more of an obsession since I see where things went right and when things didn't work out the way I'd like. In Honeymoon the actors give a stellar performance. For a lot of the film the are in bed nude, and its as if we were a fly on the wall listening to their conversations. This is in large part due to Dan Sallitt's direction. Sallitt made the film for $60,000 from a gig he had in the computer industry. Sallitt shot it in NYC and in Northeast Pennsylvania where his parents had a house. This is from the press kit Sallitt has on his web site:

Sallitt, a former film critic for the Los Angeles Reader, financed HONEYMOON with $60,000 that he earned as a technician in the computer industry. Shooting took place in the summer of 1996, with the honeymoon scenes shot at Sallitt’s parents’ cottage at Sylvan Lake in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and the city scenes on location in New York City. Principal photography was completed in nineteen days. “I’m definitely not a one-take director--I think we shot at a 7:1 ratio, which is high for a low-budget film,” says Sallitt. “But we stuck to our cutting continuity, and I don’t shoot coverage, so I got away with doing the number of takes I needed and was still able to make a three-week schedule.” The completed film contains only 230 shots, giving it a much more leisurely editing pace than most films.

If you like good character studies then this is an interesting film for you to see. I was interested in seeing the film because it had received some festival attention, and I missed it one time at the CinemaArts theater in Huntington Long Island. I was a member there for awhile, and still love the theater. It's a good place to see independent films. I was envious in how Sallitt got his film into festivals. A hard thing to do these days. To say that this is my type of film would be incorrect, but I do like character studies, and enjoyed watching the actors Edith Meeks (Mimi) and Dylan McCormick (Michael) get into character. The subject matter is also interestingly dealt with. I am most certain that couples do talk about this and it happens more often then we are lead to believe. I'm surprised that a cable station such as Sundance channel, or IFC channel doesn't pick this up. They have shown a lot worse, but then again it's about politics I believe, and who you know. Yeah I know you're not suppose to say that, but come on. It's a reality, and its a shame since films like "Honeymoon" slip through the cracks.

If you are interested in Dan Sallitt visit his web site, and he even now has a blog. Sallitt has a second feature called "All the Ships in the Sea". It's available at CreateSpace. I wish I could be as cerebral as Sallitt, but I've been corrupted by too many B-movies, and exploitation films. It's neat to see such a masterful work that is both interesting in subject matter, and in viewing. At the end of "Honeymoon" I came away a little bit envious at how a good director can inspire his cast and create an interesting story that feels very real.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rails and Ties (2007)

So this is weird. I didn't plan it this way, but it just worked out. After seeing Gran Torino I happened to catch Rails and Ties directed by Alison Eastwood on HBO. Since I did think it merited mentioning here I figured I review it. To say the apple doesn't fall to far from the tree would be an interesting comparison between Eastwood and her father. Rails & Ties is Alison Eastwood's only directing credit so far, and she shows a lot of skill here. Though some would say that this type of film is more situated on the Lifetime network then theatrical release I beg to differ. Eastwood does a very competent job at directing the actors and getting good performances out of them. It is these performances that make the film worth seeing.

Tom Stark (Kevin Bacon) and his wife (Marcia Gay Harden) are dealing with his wife's illness. Marcia Gay Harden's character isn't dealing with the illness that is eventually killing her to well. Both Bacon & Harden's characters are having a difficult time dealing with how their lives have turned out It isn't until , Laura Danner (Bonnie Root), who is suffering from addiction and depression, that she drives her car--with her son, Davey (Miles Heizer), inside--onto the railroad tracks where they wait for the train to come and kill them. Davey is able to get out but not save his mother as the train, driven by engineer Tom Stark (Kevin Bacon), crashes into the car. It is only till then that the drama of the movie takes off.

Now having just said all this it does sound like melodrama hell, but Eastwood's direction does the picture some justice. The performances by Bacon & Harden are well done, and very believable. I felt empathy for the characters and some how got rapped up in their plight.

You can see Eastwood's direction working in the film, and she gives the actors room to inhabit their characters making them more believable. I have to say that it is a sort of a tear jerker too, but one that feels a bit real. I don't think I whole hearted believe that the social worker wouldn't have turned in the boy after seeing him with the Stark's, but that a dramatic contention that can be overlooked. Though Marin Hinkle portrays the social worker with a heart very well, and it is due to this that I buy her heartfelt love for the boy played by Miles Heizer.

The movie is slowly paced, but it works for the movie, and I would be remiss if I didn't say something about Marcia Gay Harden's performance here. I have always liked her as an actress. She seems to be the hardest working actress of today, and I always look forward to her performances, but here she shines. Bacon's performance is also one to be noted and the two complement each other. Harden's performance as a dying women could have been so easily phoned in, but here she does anything but. She made me feel her hurt, and her despair and that's not easy to do.

In the end I would be remiss to tell you that I didn't have some tears, and that's due to the performances in this picture. Eastwood should be very proud of her first film, and you can see she did learn from both her father and her performances as an actress on how to draw actors into the part. If you get a chance and you want a good cry I recommend Rails & Ties.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Gran Torino (2008)

I have to say Clint Eastwood will be ultimately know for his body of work as a director then an actor. I'm not taking away anything about Eastwood's performances in his films, but he is a man in his 70's who is churning out good solid films when most of us think about retiring and resting on our laurels. Eastwood has used his star clout to make the films he wants to make. He has always been a solid director, and actor, and one can learn a lot by studying his films. From The Beguiled: The Storyteller to Gran Torino Eastwood has brought audiences attention to intolerance, violence, and the lone individual making a difference.

I've heard all the reviews by now, and the accolades that this movie is bringing to Eastwood, and I have to say that I agree. If you only take Gran Torino you have to give Eastwood his due. He is a solid storyteller who uses the camera and editing like nobodies business. Since film making is a collaborative art I have to say that the story in Gran Torino is very sharp. Written by Nick Schenk the man knows how people speak, and is a keen listener to how humans interact. The film is filled with humor, and we find ourselves loving the characters in this film. Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) represents every man who finds himself up in age and who feels a bit disconnected from today's culture. How we got to where we are later in life sometimes remains a mystery, but Eastwood makes us like Walt Kowalski sneer and all. But what Eastwood does here best is that he makes us feel the characters hurt, and sadness. Not by dialogue but by good cinematography and keen editing. A good director knows how to do that and Eastwood does that so well here. An example would be the scene where Kowalski talks to his son over the phone. Walt Kowalski has gotten bad news from some tests his doctor has done, but with editing and frame composition Eastwood conveys so much more. There is a distance between father and son that somehow we feel. It is a simple conversation, but it is how Eastwood uses his shots and paces the scene that conveys so much more. It is this that makes Gran Torino such a good and special film.

The story is a bit simplistic. In essence it is about the fight for one young mans soul beautifully played by Bee Vang. But the story works on so many levels. It's about racism, intolerance, violence, and redemption. I heard that some reviewers say that this film is like those old films of yesterday. If they mean sensible, and coherent I'd have to agree, but I think it's just GOOD film making. Nothing yesterday about this film. Eastwood is a good director, and he's a hell of a producer. He knows where and how to get good talent to work on his pictures. Again I have to say that film making is a collaborative art. It takes a lot of people to make a film, and Eastwood knows how to rally them to his films. But he also has learned on every film he's done. He's worked with such greats as Don Siegel, and Sergio Leone and he's learned from them all.

In the end Clint Eastwood will be known as a prolific filmmaker. He works hard at his craft and for him its always been about the work. You can see that in any Eastwood film. Seeing Gran Torino is like seeing a thoroughbred running. After watching Gran Torino you understand why Clint Eastwood is an American icon & prolific filmmaker. Go see Gran Torino you won't be disappointed.