HOT AND COLD: Movie reviews of Words and Pictures, Cold in July and Chinese Puzzle

Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99.

words and picturesOfttimes of late, and not so late, I get into a discussion/argument/knock down drag out fight as to whether the director or the screenwriter is more important to the success of a movie, or even to the existence of a movie. The conflict usually boils down to which is more important, the visual or written aspects.

It’s a silly argument, at least it should be, because the answer is that both are important and neither should be denigrated (and are often so intermingled that you can’t even tell what part of the film resulted from one over the other). It’s a pretty obvious conclusion, though you’d be surprised as to how many people don’t go for the obvious. 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.