Mini Reviews (May 2011)
Textuality, The Silent House, My Own Love Song, Something Borrowed, The Tortured, Submarine, Attack the Block
Textuality (May 1/11)
Directed by Warren P. Sonoda, Textuality follows Jason Lewis' Breslin as he attempts to get over a bad breakup - he was dumped at the altar - by sleeping with a succession of attractive ladies. It's not until Breslin literally crashes into Carly Pope's Simone that he begins to experience real feelings again, with the revelation that Simone is just as promiscuous as Breslin inevitably causing problems for their would-be relationship. It's a relatively promising setup that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect by Sonoda, as the filmmaker, working from a script by Liam Card, has infused Textuality with a distressingly sluggish sensibility that holds the viewer at arm's length from start to finish. The less-than-enthralling atmosphere is exacerbated by Card's ongoing difficulties in transforming any of the characters into wholeheartedly compelling figures, with the episodic nature of the movie's midsection resulting in a pervasive lack of momentum that proves disastrous. And while the meet-cute between the two protagonists is indeed quite cute, the viewer is simply unable to work up a rooting interest in Breslin and Simone's inevitable coupling - which is undoubtedly a shame given the strength of both Lewis and Pope's charismatic work here. By the time the interminable, seemingly endless third act rolls around, Textuality has firmly established itself as a misguided romantic comedy that's sure to leave even the hardiest of romcom fans cold.
The Silent House (May 3/11)
It seems fairly clear that The Silent House owes a great deal of its mild success to its central gimmick - the film has seemingly been shot in just one take - as the movie is otherwise, for the most part, lacking in attributes designed to wholeheartedly capture and sustain the viewer's ongoing attention. The narrative, which follows Florencia Colucci's Laura as she and her father (Gustavo Alonso's Wilson) attempt to tidy up a ramshackle house, unfolds at a snail's pace that's exacerbated by Oscar Estévez's almost comically uneventful script, as the majority of the movie's first half is devoted to Laura's continuing efforts at exploring her dark, increasingly sinister environs. And while a good chunk of such moments are indeed quite creepy, the absence of momentum ensures that the film possesses a hit-and-miss quality that grows more and more problematic as time progresses. The one-shot conceit generally proves effective at heightening the inherent suspense of the situation, yet, by that same token, it also amplifies the less-than-logical elements within the screenplay (eg Laura's return to the house after making her escape is nothing short of ridiculous). Filmmaker Gustavo Hernández offers up a final half hour that admittedly features a number of tense stand-alone sequences, and although the climactic revelation doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, The Silent House ultimately establishes itself as a passable cinematic experiment that does reward the viewer's patience on a relatively consistent basis.
My Own Love Song (May 13/11)
Olivier Dahan's English-language debut, My Own Love Song follows two friends, Renée Zellweger's wheelchair-bound Jane and Forest Whitaker's dimwitted Joey, as they embark on a road trip to Memphis - where Jane hopes to meet the son she gave up for adoption more than a decade ago. Dahan has infused My Own Love Song with a deliberately-paced, almost oppressively off-kilter sensibility that does, at the outset, hold the viewer at arm's length, and there's little doubt that the film's self-indulgent atmosphere initially threatens to render its positive attributes moot (eg Zellweger's impressively commanding performance). It's the strange-yet-compelling bond between Zellweger and Whitaker's respective characters that inevitably compensates for the rampant quirkiness, with the film improving immeasurably as the two characters take off on their journey through America's south. And although Dahan has peppered the proceedings with a handful of decidedly questionable sequences - eg Jane and Joey's encounter with an unreasonably off-the-wall guitarist (Nick Nolte's Caldwell) - My Own Love Song boasts an engaging midsection that benefits from the inclusion of several unexpectedly engrossing interludes (eg Jane belts out a moving rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land.") By the time the house-sized animated birds show up, My Own Love Song has certainly established itself as a distinctly odd (yet oddly compelling) piece of work that's destined to leave most viewers scratching their heads in confusion - although, by that same token, the film absolutely does work provided one is tuned into its extremely specific wavelength.
Something Borrowed (May 16/11)
Based on the novel by Emily Giffin, Something Borrowed follows Ginnifer Goodwin's Rachel as she celebrates her 30th birthday by drunkenly sleeping with her best friend's (Kate Hudson's Darcy) hunky fiancé (Colin Egglesfield's Dex) - with the film subsequently detailing Rachel and Dex's ongoing efforts at carrying on a full-fledged affair right under Darcy's nose. Filmmaker Luke Greenfield does a nice job of immediately establishing an amiable, easygoing vibe, with the uniformly likable performances certainly going a long way towards perpetuating the movie's effortlessly agreeable feel. (Goodwin is certainly quite charismatic in the central role, although there's little doubt that John Krasinski, cast as Rachel's heterosexual (?) friend, steals every single one of his scenes and walks away with the title of MVP.) It's just as clear, however, that Greenfield's almost excessively lackadaisical sensibilities wreak havoc on the film's momentum, as the sluggishness of the midsection effectively highlights the repetitive nature of Jennie Snyder Urman's screenplay. (Such problems could have, of course, been avoided with some judicious editing, as there's no need for an endeavor like this to run longer than 90 minutes.) The uneven atmosphere is allayed by the periodic inclusion of stand-out sequences (eg a friendly badminton game goes awry), and it's also worth noting that the movie's romantic elements prove instrumental in buoying the viewer's interest on an all-too-regular basis. The end result is a passable romcom that just barely gets the job done, with the post-credits promise of a sequel not quite as offensive as one might've feared.
The Tortured (May 16/11)
Though not really a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, The Tortured just barely manages to squeak by on the basis of its admittedly irresistible premise and the inclusion of a few stand-out sequences - with the end result a passable horror effort that remains a marginal cut above its direct-to-video brethren. The movie follows young married couple Craig (Jesse Metcalfe) and Elise (Erika Christensen) as they conspire to kidnap the man (Bill Moseley's John Kozlowski) responsible for the death of their son, with the pair's plan to torture and eventually kill their victim inevitably encountering a series of problems. Director Robert Lieberman, working from Marek Posival's screenplay, does a nice job of initially luring the viewer into The Tortured's time-shifting narrative, with the harrowing abduction of Craig and Elise's boy handled especially well and effectively laying the groundwork for what should be a taut thriller. There's little doubt, then, that the movie's decidedly underwhelming atmosphere is due mostly to the lackluster performances and less-than-convincing chunks of dialogue, with, in terms of the former, Metcalfe and Christensen's ongoing efforts at stepping into the shoes of their grizzled, emotionally devastated characters generally falling completely and utterly flat. The inherently compelling nature of Craig and Elise's plight goes a long way towards smoothing over the film's various deficiencies, however, and Lieberman certainly doesn't shy away from portraying the brutality of the couple's continuing treatment of their immobile captive. By the time the intriguing yet hopelessly muddled finale rolls around, The Tortured has established itself as a serviceable genre entry that is, admittedly, destined to leave non-horror fans absolutely cold.
Submarine (May 29/11)
Based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine follows quirky outcast Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) as he begins dating a similarly oddball fellow student (Yasmin Paige's Jordana) and, eventually, sets out to repair his parents' crumbling marriage. There's little doubt that Submarine, for the most part, comes off as a fairly typical coming-of-age story, as first-time filmmaker Richard Ayoade hits virtually all of the notes that one has come to expect from the genre - with the pervasive familiarity of the narrative initially offset by Ayoade's off-kilter visual and stylistic choices. (It also doesn't hurt that the tentative romance between Roberts and Paige's respective characters is genuinely sweet and compelling.) The watchable yet far-from-spectacular atmosphere persists right up until the movie segues into its increasingly underwhelming midsection, which is, unfortunately, devoted primarily to Oliver's tedious efforts at figuring out just what's going on with his parents (ie is his mother having an affair with Paddy Considine's Graham Purvis or not?) Submarine's problems are exacerbated by Roberts' aggressively deadpan turn as the protagonist, with the actor's inability to transform Oliver into a wholeheartedly sympathetic figure preventing the viewer from working up any interest in his ongoing exploits. By the time it rolls into its sluggish, momentum-free third act, Submarine has established itself as a disappointingly uneven piece of work that doesn't exactly bode well for Ayoade's future endeavors behind the camera.
Attack the Block (May 30/11)
Written and directed by Joe Cornish, Attack the Block follows a gang of English thugs - led by John Boyega's Moses - as they're forced to fend for their lives after vicious aliens land in their working class neighborhood. It's an inherently compelling premise that is, at the outset, threatened by one's difficulties in deciphering the dialogue, as the performers' frustratingly thick British accents - coupled with Cornish's reliance on obscure instances of slang - often make it impossible to understand just what's being said and results in a moviewatching experience that is, for the most part, akin to viewing a non-English release without subtitles. The lack of coherent speech initially ensures that the protagonists come off as dishearteningly interchangeable, yet there does reach a point at which such concerns become (relatively) moot - as Cornish offers up a propulsive narrative that's heightened by his impressively energetic directorial choices. (It also doesn't hurt that the number of central characters is slowly-but-surely whittled down, which certainly makes it a whole lot easier to sympathize with and root for the survivors' ongoing efforts.) The increasingly engrossing atmosphere is heightened by the presence of several electrifying interludes, with the best example of this an absolutely breathtaking slow-motion sequence that effectively leads into the film's enthralling climax. The end result is an above average horror endeavor that admittedly would've benefited from the inclusion of subtitles, with the movie's success due almost entirely to Cornish's superlative efforts behind the camera (ie the filmmaker keeps things moving to such an extent that the incoherence of the dialogue eventually becomes a non-issue).