MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS: Movie Reviews of Diary of a Teenage Girl and Grandma by Howard Casner

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diaryI remember back in 1987 when Dirty Dancing came out, I was a little surprised that in all the positive reaction to the film, no one was mentioning the fact that a teenage girl was having an affair with a much older man. In fact, women loved this movie about first love and sexual awaking.

When Lolita was released in 1962, the movie was not so much seen as a dramatization of the horrors of pedophilia, but a tragi-comic character study of a man obsessed with his step-daughter, a step-daughter who did as much of the seducing as did the aging roué.

In 1984’s Blame it on Rio, Michael Caine has sex with his best friend’s daughter and the whole thing is played as a farce. It was even called incest by proxy by some and many found the move tres amusement.

Woody Allen’s films like Manhattan (1979) were probably the main ones the drew some hesitation, but even in his black and white paean to a city filled with morally questionable neurotics, his relationship with the high school nymphet was seen as the most pure and Mariel Hemingway got an Oscar nom.

Even Roman Polanski got the brunt of the sympathy as he fled the country to try and restart his film career in Europe.

But this was an earlier time when sex between older men and teenage girls wasn’t quite held in the same low esteem as it is today.

And oh, my, the times they have been a changing. Back then we had the new morality. Today, we have the new, new morality where sex between an adult and someone below the age of consent is no longer seen as acceptable and even considered damaging to the teen. Legally it’s always been called statutory rape, but until more recently, that term was not used much in terms of these relationships in movies.

The new movie Diary of a Teenage Girl, written and directed by the actor Marielle Heller (she can be seen in such films as A Walk Among the Tombstones and MacGruber), based on the autobiographical novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, falls somewhere in between today and yesterday. Read the rest of this entry »

Movie Review of BLUE CAPRICE and WE ARE WHAT WE ARE by Howard Casner

Over the weekend I saw two movies that have subject matter that define the word tension. And yet, neither movie managed to really take that subject matter and create a riveting drama out of it. Both stores were sincerely told by people who really seemed to want to do something different and personal. But at the same time, if truth be told, it almost seemed as if the writer and director, in both instances, did everything they could to wring whatever tension there was out of their pictures.

Blue Caprice is a story inspired by the actions of the Beltway Sniper, a mass murder that eventually left ten people dead. The reason I knew this was because the movie begins with a series of news reports about that awful time in D.C. history. This was probably a wise way to start everything off, since that knowledge gave the film the main intensity it had. If nothing else, one did want to know how beginning A led to ending Zed.

In between those two letters is the story of Lee (Tequan Tichmond), a lonely teenager abandoned by his mother and living in Antigua who meets the sociopathic John (Isaiah Washington), who is on vacation with his three children, though he does not have permission to have them. John is angry at the world because the court has taken away custody of his children; his wife has a restraining order against him; and his family has moved away and he doesn’t know where and can’t find out (all for good reason, as it more than turns out). John then turns the younger man into a random killing machine for no more reason that a fit of pique, I suppose one might say.

This should be a picture filled with suspense and fraught with apprehension and dread. But Ronnie Porto’s screenplay and Alexandre Moors direction is more than a bit leisurely. Neither one seems to be in a hurry to get anywhere, but neither one has also found interesting enough characters or provided a strong enough story to justify the lackluster pacing. It’s very handsome and technically well done, but it’s also all mood, with dark overcast skies and ominous silences (lots of ominous silences), that doesn’t add much to the forward momentum.

The acting is solid and gets the job done, but the real standout is the criminally underused Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy) who fully inhabits her role as a slatternly working class wife who seems to wear the weight of the world on her face.

In the end, though everyone toils mightily to make something of the story, and one admires Porto and Moors for getting the film made (it’s a first feature for both), it still feels like one of those movies where you’re unsure why anyone wanted to make it. Though it’s about a terrifying subject, it doesn’t quite feel like it has a reason to exist.

The next film I saw was We Are What We Are, a charming family film about tradition, religion and cannibalism (Donna Reed and Fred MacMurray would be so proud). Again, everyone seems to work hard. It’s also handsomely done with some nice technical work (the costumes are exceptional), and there’s more mood than you can shake an overcast day at. But it, like Blue Caprice, moves at a definitely decided pace. It’s certainly in no more of a hurry to get anywhere that the other film, that’s for sure.

It’s about a family that has inherited a religion that is centered around the eating of human flesh. But things begin to fall apart, as they are wont to do, when the matriarch dies after suffering a fit and a rain storm starts revealing the family’s deep, dark secrets. There’s nothing particularly original or unique here. The screenplay by Nick Damici and director Jim Mickle (adapted from a Spanish film) is a pretty standard movie about cannibalism when it comes to plot and the use of a cult is fairly clichéd (the filmmakers have nothing to say about religion; it’s just used as a boogeyman). And the leisurely pacing by Mickle only emphasizes that there’s not a lot of there, there.

Mickle is strongest when it comes to the acting. The creepiest part of the movie is the sight of the two young virginal daughters (played with convincing innocence by Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers) with their pale skin, blonde tresses and tight, buttoned-up period dresses, the two speaking in angelic voices. And Bill Sage as the patriarch is solid enough. However, some of the damnedest people show up. Kelly McGillis, once of Top Gun, seems to be making a career out of small, effective parts in these indie horror films (like The Innkeepers and Stake Land) and Michael Parks does a nice turn as a coroner.

Mickle and Damic have worked together on other films, including the more original and involving Stake Land. But it may be unclear what exactly drew them to this particular story. Like Blue Caprice, I’m not convinced the filmmakers have given us a reason why they wanted to make this movie or what they were trying to do.