Alliance Films' May '08 Releases
Grace is Gone (May 29/08)
Small and unassuming, Grace is Gone packs an emotional wallop that ultimately belies its low-key sensibilities - with star John Cusack's career-defining performance certainly playing a key role in the film's unexpected success. Cusack stars as Stanley Philipps, a small-time manager who is stunned to learn that his military wife has been killed in combat. Unable to tell his daughters (Shelan O'Keefe's Heidi and Gracie Bednarczyk's Dawn) that their mother is dead, Stanley instead decides to delay the inevitable by taking the girls on a cross-country road trip to Florida-based amusement park Enchanted Gardens. Writer/director James C. Strouse - making his debut here - has infused Grace is Gone with a laid-back feel that mirrors his quiet and distinctly subtle screenplay, as the filmmaker devotes the majority of the proceedings to character-building sequences revolving around the trio's languidly-paced journey (which is, not surprisingly, rife with personal revelations). It's the strength of the central actors' work that ensures one never craves a more substantial storyline, however, and there's little doubt that Cusack - who effectively sheds his sardonic persona to convincingly become this downtrodden, sedate figure - remains the most overt element behind the film's often profoundly moving atmosphere. And though Strouse occasionally relies on manipulative techniques to elicit a visceral reaction from the viewer, Grace is Gone primarily comes off as an affecting and flat-out engrossing piece of work that's nothing short of heartbreaking in its emotional honesty.
Nightmare Detective (May 31/08)
Chockablock with some of the worst attributes that the J-horror genre has to offer, Nightmare Detective is nothing short of an interminable mess that's utterly unable to engage the viewer on any level whatsoever - with the infuriatingly baffling storyline and nausea-inducing visuals certainly standing tall above the film's myriad of transgressions. Writer/director Shinya Tsukamoto - he of such unwatchable fare as A Snake of June and Tetsuo - possesses a palpable disdain for his audience that's evident in virtually every frame of the proceedings, with the filmmaker's refusal to offer up even the most elementary of cinematic conventions quickly transforming Nightmare Detective into as unwatchable an endeavor as one could possibly imagine. The wafer-thin storyline - which has something to do with the title character's efforts at stopping a dream-based serial killer - has been augmented with a whole host of needlessly oddball elements that grow increasingly prevalent as the movie progresses, and it's ultimately impossible to shake the feeling that Tsukomoto is attempting to top himself with every subsequent bit of inexplicable nonsense. And while it's hard to deny the effectiveness of some of the film's appreciatively brutal kill sequences, there reaches a point at which Tsukomoto's relentlessly unpleasant modus operandi casts a pall of sheer tedium over the proceedings. If A Snake of June hadn't already, Nightmare Detective would surely cement Tsukomoto's status as one of the most egregiously untalented and flat-out worthless filmmakers around and it's downright astounding that the man continues to receive funding for his artistically-bankrupt endeavors.
no stars out of