This 1945 thriller is a combination of the man-on-the run-story, which Hitchcock continually worked on perfecting, and the man-chasing-himself -without-knowing-it story.
Gregory Peck plays a man caught impersonating a noted doctor who has recently disappeared. Once exposed, he claims to have amnesia and demonstrates the symptoms of a man with a deeply repressed trauma. Ingrid Bergman plays the
psychiatrist who tries to help Peck figure out who he really was, and, more
importantly, why he insists on believing he murdered somebody.
Apparently, producer David O Selznick was very taken with
the practice of psychotherapy and took a very personal interest in the project. The opening credits boast an expert
advisor for the psychiatric elements of the plot. A title card informs us that in the process
of psychotherapy, "the analyst seeks only to induce the patient to talk
about his hidden problems, to open the locked doors of his mind."
The film latches onto this like a man with a hammer. The symbol of doors, closed and open, is bluntly wielded at times, but there are few more subtle uses that contribute to some of the film's best moments.
Spellbound is most often remembered for its dream sequences,
which were designed by Salvador Dali. There is a central dream landscape which
contains clues to the murder mystery at the heart of the film. This dream sequence was supposed
to be about 20 minutes worth of footage, but the finished film only features a couple of minutes what was intended.
One dream-like sequence, (I'm not sure if is a Dali concept,) placed early in the film, is composed of a long hallway with doors opening endlessly. This image dissolves into the two leads embracing.
However, just prior to this moment, Hitchcock uses doors to frame
Bergman and Peck as she comes to his room in order to find out more about him. Bergman approaches Peck's door from the stairs. From her point of view we can see the light
spilling at the threshold, telling her that he is still awake.
She at first
avoids the door, but then enters unannounced to find him awake in his bedroom, obviously troubled. She remains standing in the study, and they begin to talk through an open doorway. Hitchcock creates an uneasiness, coupled with an anxiety of
discovery, by using carefully directed eye lines along with framing the scene using
the doorway itself. At an important moment, when
Peck approaches Bergman, nearing the doorway, he even passes through a shadow.
Once he has completely entered the room with Bergman, his
gaze shifts slightly. He is now looking directly at the camera, at us. The result is hypnotic and signals that Bergman's trip down the twisting hallways of
the troubled mind is about to begin.
Unfortunately, though Spellbound has its moments of
suspense, it is bogged down by intrusive explanations of psychotherapy. Peck and Bergman are able to generate some great chemistry as tortured and tentative lovers, and there are a few nice visual elements, but there is not much else going for this minor Hitchcock film.
Uncle Charlie always knows where the back stairs are
located. He's bright, outgoing, handsome
and witty; one could never imagine him shying away from a conversation in
public. However, he has a tendency to disappear out a window or a fire escape
just when people are looking for him.
Charlie's niece, and his namesake, begins to favor the back
stairs as well. She wants to avoid her visiting Uncle Charlie who is always
patrolling the parlor or dining room of her family's home, a
two-story house with a nice lawn and quirky neighbors. When she ambles up the front walk, there he is, guarding the front porch in his light-colored suit, smoking his cigar. The wooden steps around the back of the house
become her preferred entrance and egress.
The two Charlies play out this sinister game amidst a sunny,
but drab suburban setting. Just the way Alfred
Hitchcock likes it.
In Saboteur, the film Hitchcock made before Shadow of a Doubt, the entire expanse of America was made claustrophobic. Here, the suspense is telescoped to a pleasant neighborhood in Santa Rosa, and, eventually, the family house itself becomes a prison. The aforementioned back stairs, the
garage and the dining room all transform into possible traps.
This situation is quite different from the original daydreams
of the heroine, Charlotte Newton (Charlie, to her friends and family), when she
conjures a visit from her mother's worldly, bachelor brother, Charlie Oakley.
Charlotte is bored in her safe little community and she has
her well-travelled Uncle on her mind when, almost magically, she receives a
telegram informing her that Uncle Charlie is on his way to stay with them for a while! Her
elation is infectious as she walks down the street, beaming and chanting,
"I knew he'd hear me."
Hitchcock literally dissolves this very innocent and
youthful moment into the oncoming force of a locomotive, the train carrying the
wayward Charles Oakley.
He takes the young Charlie's bedroom for his stay at the
family house, while young Charlie moves in temporarily with her much younger
sister. This displacement of the young
woman grows as she learns more about her Uncle and his strange finances and idiosyncrasies
- he always carries large amounts of cash and he doesn't like his picture being
Soon, some reporters arrive to do a story on the Newton
family. But are they really reporters? Uncle Charlie seems very wary of them and
when one of them snaps his photo, he insists on them surrendering the
Uncle Charlie transforms from a charming bachelor, to an odd
duck ,to a dark presence as the visit from the "outside" world that
young Charlie so longed for takes up residence with more baggage than she ever
anticipated. Their boring household is
now unsafe as the young Charlie learns a terrible secret about Charles Oakley.
In fact, she literally has to watch her step - did those boards that tripped
her come loose on their own?
Hitchcock seemed to have found a very good collaborator in
screenwriter Thorton Wilder. Wilder's
Pulitzer-Prize-winning play Our Town almost invented the idea of death lurking
behind the ideal image of small town America.
In the young Charlie of Shadow of a Doubt, one can see a bit
of Emily Webb, the heroine of Our Town, who is cautious about marriage. Indeed, when Charlie begins to receive the serious
romantic attention of one of the "reporters" who seem hot on Uncle Charlie's
trail, she is flattered, but halting.
The enormity of societal existence is being laid out to her very
rapidly. Life, marriage, money and death
are all explained in cynical sermons by her Uncle, who intones:
cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands, dead, husbands who've
spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and
leave their money to their wives, their silly wives. And what do the wives do,
these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by
the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at
bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money, proud of their
jewelry but of nothing else, horrible, faded, fat, greedy women... Are they
human or are they fat, wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when
they get too fat and too old?"
This is quite a strain for the young
Charlie as she finds herself desperately trying to avoid her Uncle, The house
becomes strange to her, and ultimately dangerous. For instance, she shares an intimate moment of romantic
revelation in the house's garage, only to later find the same location is a
It is not news to anybody that Hitchcock got a great
amount of joy in pushing these macabre ideas to almost perverted ends. His camera seems to take strange pleasure in
robbing Young Charlie of her innocence. He
lingers on her broken spirit as she realizes evil in the world can survive and
thrive, even in the knowledge and view of the righteous. She sees evil, but can do nothing about it.
In a final toast, and a tender moment with
his sister, Uncle Charlie reveals the secret he has learned, that the instinct
to preserve the idea of "home"
and "family", and by extension
community, can provide cover for sinister doings.
Shadow of a Doubt moves Hitchcock a little further into the psychology of domestic life being invaded and taken advantage of by sinister forces. Rebecca and Suspiscion had already probed the infestation of marriage by psychopathic and cynical agents, but Shadow simultaneously expands this vision and turns it inward.
More than most films, when reviewing The Cabin in the Woods, the first question one asks is how closely one must hew to the
guidelines set out by the film's creators.
It is probably not news that producer Joss Whedon (Buffy the
Vampire Slayer, The Avengers) and director Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) have implored critics,
podcasters and audience members to try their best not to spoil the many twists
and turns that they have baked into their thriller satire.
Reviewers have approached this request with at least a modicum
of respect, excepting a few
tongue-in-cheek attempts at humor. For
example, the Village
Voice review should only be read by somebody who has seen the film, because it
gives away the ending in the first sentence!
In the end though, Whedon and Goddard's much publicized
entreaty for radio silence is strangely misplaced. For The Cabin in the Woods is not really constructed
as a whiplash inducing plot twister.
Indeed, if you are looking for that floor-dropping-out-from-under-you feeling induced by such mind-benders as The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects or The Matrix,
you may be very, very disappointed.
Rather than a brain teaser, or labyrinthine philosophical
puzzle, this masquerading horror film is actually more akin to an open-ended mid-term
question that students are expected to elaborate on at length in blue books
that will never be cracked by the professor.
Let's start at the beginning of the syllabus though. The titular abode in the forest is the
destination of five college friends seeking to blow off steam on a long
weekend, but, right away, you sense that not all of them will be coming
If you think you've seen this movie before, that's the
Like Wes Craven's franchise
engendering, genre-prodding Scream, Whedon and company know you've seen it all
before and they aren't even going to try to pretend you haven't. Almost everything in the opening sequences of
the college romp into the deep woods is by the numbers...only it
The young, attractive cast of stereotypical slasher prey
display some strange divergences from the norm in these pictures. Chris Hemsworth's jock archetype, for
instance, has a deep knowledge of economic theory and the stoner character,
played with great aplomb by Franz Kranz, has a pretty
rational and lucid handle on the increasingly weird situation in which the crew
Also, there is that creepy cabin, the road to which runs by
an abandoned gas station, naturally attended by a sun-wrinkled, grouchy red
neck who warns the students of the dangers ahead. This harbinger of doom seems to be plucked
right from central casting and the cabin seems constructed from the same wood
as the forest cottage in Sam Raimi's ground-breaking film The Evil Dead. This all seems so perfect that we aren't scared as much as we are amused.
Once the kids arrive at
their destination a nice sequence unfolds.
One of the men discovers, behind a rather gruesome painting, a two way
mirror that allows him to see into the adjoining room of one of the sexy
coeds. However, the scene doesn't go as
we are expecting, and indeed it flips our expectations. Who is watching whom? Why would we watch? Do we have the power to look away?
However, we have already been tipped off to these questions
and themes through the introduction of a completely different set of
characters. And here's where that spoiler
question I talked about comes into play.
Trying to honor the filmmakers as best I can, I'll just
briefly explain that within the first few minutes, as we are getting to know
these young lambs heading to the horror movie slaughter, we are also introduced
to two bureaucratic engineer-types operating at some vast-Pentagon-like war
room. Portrayed humorously by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins complete with
ties and white, short-short sleeve shirts these two seem to have wandered in from
Mike Judge's workplace satire Office Space.
"Somebody has a case of the Mondays!"
From the start, Cabin in the Woods is about the interplay of
these two worlds and my guess is the filmmakers were relying on our continued
interest in exactly how these worlds connect to buoy their experiment. Unfortunately, too many cats are let out of the bag too
early. We're ahead of the movie a bit
through most of its running time, and, after a while, I got a little impatient waiting for these two worlds to intersect. It does happen, but it is very late in the game.
The collision of these two story lines
unleashes a frenetic orgy of non-stop horror jokiness that is so blood- drenched
that you can't help but giggle with delight at the pure audacity of it. However,
I also couldn't help but think that it was overcompensating for the film's flimsy
and slightly boring middle section.
The Cabin in the Woods is amusing enough and has its moments
that illuminate its themes brilliantly, but without showing a real flair for
horror, or for conspiracy, we are left with bald satire that doesn't really have a
strong enough spine.
Some great filmmakers have tried to twist genres inside out
with more successful results artistically. Stanley
Kubrick's The Shining and his thriller take Eyes Wide Shut are an example. And Michael Haneke subverted the expectations
of the horror genre with his movie Funny Games.
It doesn't appear that Whedon and Goddard are attempting
the same sort of experiments that Kubrick and Haneke did, and their movie is a lot of fun despite that, but I found myself
wishing they had tried a little harder.
I will give them this though, they really go for broke with
the ending of this movie, and, while not a real twist, it is delightfully
And unlike that Village Voice reviewer, I'll keep it confidential!
In 1977, movie mogul Dino DeLaurentis hopped on the killer
shark train and fast-tracked a high seas leviathan horror picture that now occupies a
strange position in the B-cinema archives.
The resulting movie, Orca, a tale of a vengeful killer whale
in mortal combat with a grizzled fisherman, sank at the box office and was
harpooned by the critics, but it strangely never entered the realm of Ed
Wood-dom, the kind of movie that is so bad it's good.
Instead - if reading comments on YouTube clips of the film or
on various message boards is any indication - the film has attained cult status
as a kind of eco-horror show.
Watching it today, it is difficult to understand the vitriol
it faced from its harshest critics.
After the visceral thrill ride of Steven Spielberg's Jaws just two years
earlier, many must have thought the lugubrious pace of Orca to be interminable and inexcusable for a
killer fish picture.
And the story really is ridiculous. Richard Harris plays salty Captain Nolan, (an obvious rip-off of Robert Shaw's Quint from Speilberg's movie,) a
fisherman who has his sights set on corralling a great white shark for possible
sale to an aquarium. His plans are
foiled by the unexpected appearance of a killer whale that literally blasts the great white out of the water.
After a local scientist, (Charlotte Rampling) doing research off the coast of
Nolan's fishing village, lectures Harris on the uniqueness of these creatures and their limitless intellectual capacity, Nolan decides to try and catch
one. This leads to an all out battle
between man and giant predator that strains credulity to the breaking point and then pushes further.
It would seem that this movie would be ripe for midnight
screenings, especially since it includes a scene in which the titular orca
demonstrates knowledge of how to dismantle a natural gas line and then even knocks over a lantern to ignite the fumes.
Why then, is Orca not so bad it is good? There are a couple things working to save it.
First, and foremost, is the haunting score by
legendary film composer Ennio Morricone. Yes, that Ennio Morricone.
Second is the beautiful location in which the film takes place. Filmed in Newfoundland, the vistas and colors
of the fishing village are stunning.
For years, Orca was only available
on a pan and scan VHS transfer, but now it can be seen on DVD with its original
And there are
some really good shots as well - shots that would probably be iconic in a better
Lastly, the screenplay, despite hampering the film on a scene by scene basis, charts a story with an epic sweep that Morricone's score helps to buoy through to the
end. Rather than throwing together a
shark-eats-swimmers gore fest, the writers of Orca, (who also penned many Sergio
Leone films,) tried to fashion a revenge tale that cobbles together elements of
Moby Dick and Greek tragedy.
film is this realm, it is actually not bad, and Richard Harris is very good as a
man who is deeply troubled by his action, (the movie contains a stunningly horrific scene in which Captain Nolan, in his zeal to capture a killer whale maims and kills a female whale and its baby,) and therefore obsessed with this creature
that is more and more unpredictable.
In the heart of the film, there is a great scene where Harris goes down to a jetty
because somebody has told him that a fin was spotted there. He goes at dusk and looks out at the water, but he sees nothing - only the gentle water. He smirks and then turns away to leave. There is the
smallest splashing sound, and he turns around again. He waits, looking out over the dark water for a long moment. He is just about to turn
again, when he hears more gentle splashing and sees the water roiling just a bit. Then, as he strains to see in the gathering darkness, there is the
movement of white and black under the surface of the water. When the film is focused like this, it is compelling.
However, when the film is trying to shoehorn in spectacular
explosions and orca attacks on Harris's crew, the results are eye-rolling. (I won't go into the horrible expository dialogue.)
The finale of Orca certainly turns the tables on the
ending of any of the Jaws films. I remember being surprised and troubled by it when I saw the movie as a kid. But the sequence seems rushed, and the execution of it is edited badly and shot clumsily.
The idea of the climax taking place in the icy north Atlantic is a good one, but the actual scenes were shot in Malta, using iceberg mock-ups, so the power of it is diminished and the visuals are almost laughable. More unfortunate is the fact that this is the worst part of the picture transfer on the currently available DVD and streaming options.
The way the ending is handled is symbolic of the way the rest of the film is handled. Somewhat mythic and poetic ideas, choked off by attempts to also deliver a monster movie.
The movie is currently available on Netflix streaming.
The scene of a couple hunched over the kitchen table,
sorting through the bills and balancing the checkbook is familiar enough
reality for most people, but on the screen it seems to to be represented mostly in commercials for politicians and tax attorneys. In fiction, do we need a break from household financial drudgery?
In our popular culture, the familiar incantation is "People
go to the movies to escape!" From
what, exactly, the masses are fleeing is tough to pin down, and no doubt
changes with the times. But for
Americans, one issue seems to be almost deliberately elided on the silver screen: Money.
The independent film circuit showcases a number of ventures into these areas, but Hollywood tends to shy away. Outside of releases in the heist and crime
genres, it is the rare major motion picture in which money fuels engine
of the plot, or serves as an overarching antagonistic force which helps the film
This 1980 film sits atop the pantheon of movie
comedies, and its tagline - "The snobs versus the slobs " - is just as famous. It is a still a delight to watch Ted Knight's smug, privileged judge being slowly driven insane by Rodney Dangerfield's boorish, working-class climber. However, we sometimes forget that the
real plot of the film involves Danny, a young caddy trying to get some money
to attend college, ingratiating himself to the wealthier members.
Dudley Moore's iconic performance as the alcoholic
multi-millionaire playboy does not age as fast as the rest of the movie does,
(nor does Sir John Gielgud's turn as the understated butler.) However, the other thing that remains fresh
about this comedy of attraction between classes, is the way money is talked
about quite openly by Arthur and the object of his affection, Liza
Minelli. When the chips are down, and it
looks like Minelli won't be marrying into Arthur's family fortune, her father
weeps like a baby.
Another comedy from the eighties. Mortimer and Randolph Duke perform a Pygmalion-like social experiment by switching the financial fortunes of two very different individuals. When Dan Aykroyd's lock-jawed, Harvard-educated broker loses his money, he becomes persona non grata, almost immediately. Eddie Murphy's hustler is given entree, a nice home and a great salary and goes on to succeed admirably. We also get a lesson in commodities trading, (video above) prompting a memorable breaking of the fourth wall by Murphy
Oliver Stone's slight homage to the classic film
Sweet Smell of Success, introduced us to Gordon Gekko. Some argue that
rather than simply reflecting the reality of arrogant traders, the movie served
as a kind of Dress for Success manual for the corporate raiders and hedge fund
wizards of the next few decades. (In a smart scene in the 2000 filmBoilerRoom, group of young brokers sit around watching Wall Street and mimicking of
Michael Douglas's iconic performance.)
Budd Foxx, Gekko's protege, starts off the film asking his Dad, a blue
collar worker for a small airline, for money to support him in his
apprenticeship in New York City.
The War of the Roses may be the darkest film on this list and it's a comedy! I recently re-watched it and couldn't imagine it being made today. It approaches that kind of fiction about class and money that reigned in the novels of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We are dazzled by the beauty and wealth of the Roses, but then we are flinching at the deadly battles over the couple's communal wealth.
Ah yes, this movie prompted so much public discussion,
outrage and dismissal at the time. Roger
Ebert correctly places it in that class of films that put acceptable people in
unacceptable situations so that we can safely watch it play out . For instance,
the idea of a lonely businessman hiring a hooker is a pretty unsavory prospect
for a night at the theater, but looking at Richard Gere and Julia Roberts amidst
high society ain't so bad. Still there
was something so delightfully wicked about Robert Redford, (of The Great Gatsbyfame,) confidently proposing that anybody can be bought.
"Show me the money!" Indeed. Tom Cruise's idealistic sports agent
finds himself immediately down on his luck after he is ousted from a top
agency. Coming along with him to form a
start-up is a single mom (Renee Zelwegger) who, inspired by Cruise's farewell
speech, leaves her good job as an accountant at the former firm. Soon, the two of them find their bank
accounts drained and their hopes for a financial and romantic future pinned on
their one free agent client.
The 90-foot wave that threatens to swallow the crew of the
Andrea Gail in this disaster epic is nothing compared to the debts, bills and
lost wages that are awaiting the fishermen back on shore. What drives George Clooney's crew ever
further into the Atlantic? The promise
of a big catch and more money. And,
tragically, this is also what drives them back into the fateful storm.
This was supposed to be the Rocky of urban class issues, but
audiences tended to leave the theater in shock.
The relentless penury of Will Smith's aspiring stockbroker pushed
viewers and some critics to the edge.
THIS is what it takes to pull yourself up from the grasp of
poverty? While watching in amazement at
the resourcefulness of the protagonist, it still made many people ask:
"Isn't there an easier way for a man like this to succeed?"
So there you have it. Some big hit films about money. I also noticed some things about hit films and how they handle class - specifically comedies. More about that soon.
Two British stars take a trip to the North of England together in this Michael Winterbottom project that was edited down from a BBC series.
The Trip is a long form improvisation with a spine
created around the imagined (or real) middle-career and middle-aged
malaise of the actor Steve Coogan. Divorced, in the middle of a
break-up with his American girlfriend, Coogan calls his friend Rob Brydon, a
comedian and impressionist, to accompany him on an all-expense paid trip to
visit restaurants in the North of England for a magazine piece he has been
commissioned to write by the Observer.
Their talents are on full display with Coogan playing broody
and barely amused to Brydon's optimistic, playful needling. Several of the movie's centerpieces involve
the two men dueling with their impressions of iconic stars such as Michael
Caine or Sean Connery. These can go on for a bit, but one of them will always hit
on something deeper in their own relationship as friends or the others career.
The pair travel through the desolate, but beautiful moors and
end up in the Lake Country, while the deeper themes of time passing us by and
the desperation to make some type of mark on the world start to present
themselves more clearly. Finally, the
two are walking in the footsteps of immortal poets like Coleridge and
Wordsworth, but rather than things getting burdened with too much pretension,
the biting humor of Coogan and Brydon constructs a sturdy engine fueled with
just enough gallows humor to keep us moving along.
I wasn't sure what to think of this film once it finished,
but I was feeling many things. Bellflower is a rambling interestingly-shot trip through depression, jealousy and anger as could
only be properly filmed by the twenty- something renegade filmmakers who made
Evan Glodell, the director and writer, puts himself in the
lead as the slacker Woodrow who spends his time fixing up a muscle car named
Medusa. He also tries to build the
perfect flamethrower with his friend Aiden.
Their shared buddy fantasy is that they will be prepared for an imagined Road Warrior-type apocalypse. However,
after Woodrow gets mixed up with a new girl, he and Aiden's lives become very
difficult, very fast.
Flawed, but with a raw artistry and vision,
there is no doubt that these guys have something here, but what it is, I'm afraid I or any critics I have read elsewhere can't describe fully.
3. Another Earth
Yes, the science fiction elements are shaky of course. If you have seen the ads or the poster for Another Earth, you
would know that an identical planet to the size of the Earth would create all
sorts of gravity issues if we could see it looming in the sky like that. Best
seen closer to the fantasy end of science fiction (think Twilight Zone) Mike
Cahill's film is really about coming to terms with ourselves as we are, with
all of our history and finding a way to move forward.
Earth's citizens become aware of another planet, one that
seems remarkably similar to their own, drifting closer to them This
unleashes the imagination of woman who caused a
fatal car accident that derailed her promising young life, (she was on her way to an MIT scholarship) and wrecked the
family of another man. She tries to find a way to
somehow make retribution.
One can easily forgive some of the science flubs, but the
credibility issues with the young woman's strange plan to make amends seems a
bit more outlandish than the huge doppleganger planet that hangs in the
sky. However, the haunting tone and the
camera's love of the beautiful Brit Marling, (also a co-writer on
the film,) makes for a hypnotic experience.
And the first contact of our NASA with the sister organization of that other
Earth is a spine-tingling sequence matched only by the finale, which is closest
thing to the chills I received when I first saw some of the classic Rod Serling
Know nothing about NASCAR and even less about Formula One
racing? Then you actually might want to check out this documentary about Senna, Brazil's legendary Formula One racing champion.
An aggressive driver on the track, Senna is portrayed as a gentler
and more contemplative man out of the car.
Though the film doesn't hide that he was an intense character, he comes across as humble and self-aware. While he obviously dated some of the world's
most beautiful women, the filmmakers seem uninterested in his romantic life and
only fleetingly feature his family. The
politics and rules of the international governing body of Formula One racing
provide the obstacles and Senna emerges as a pure competitor who must somehow
negotiate his way through this thicket to the championship, despite sometimes being
the best driver. Unfortunately, the movie becomes a little bit of a hagiography
in this area, with only a hint of Senna's own infractions.
With the high decibel roar of the exclusive Formula One
footage to serve as a pillar, the story eschews the static documentary convention
of the talking head, and Sennainstead uses actual period interview audio and a few
voiceovers to thrillingly recreate the fast rise and short life of this athlete
dying young. Senna was killed in an
accident at the age of 34 and the footage taken from his racing car allows us
to be right next to him until the very moment of his fatal collision.
A kind of serene twin to Senna, the documentary Buck shows us another man was born to be the best at what he does. Rather than Senna's high octane pace, this film ambles along and waits until its last
moments to throw you.
Buck Brannaman travels the country running training camps
and seminars for horse owners. He is a protege of a famous horse trainer who
was the inspiration for the novel The Horse Whisperer, which was made into a movie
with Robert Redford. Buck himself served
as a consultant on that film, and his own horse was used for many of the
With beautiful sunsets and mountain vistas as a backdrop, director Cindy Meehl gradually reveals Buck's past.
His brother and he were young prodigies who performed rope tricks around
the country, managed by their increasingly abusive father. Buck's gentleness
and understanding of horses is almost magical, but the film has an ace up its
sleeve that leaves the sage cowboy and the audience off-balance.
6. Five Days Gone
Playwright Anna Kerrigan made her first feature film by
scraping together 60,000 dollars and securing an interesting location - a large
estate out in Western Massachusetts. Five Days Gone starts in a New York City bar as two sisters, who never knew each other
existed, meet for the first time after their successful father has recently
While one sister, Camden, grew up with her father and all the money that
that entailed, Alice, played by the writer Kerrigan, grew up poor, never really
knew her absentee Dad and doesn't seem to really care. Camden and her
reluctant husband, invite Alice and her boyfriend to stay for a weekend at the family estate, recently inherited..
A few days on the grounds of
the house, and a slow tension
builds, with hints of Chekhov or Turgnev (Kerrigan admits these are her
influences.) The sparks come a little too slowly and there are some
inconsistencies in the characters that seem engineered to create some needed
conflict. However, the performances of
Kerrigan as the skeptical Alice and Brooke Bloom as the nervous Camden, keep
moving the film into the territory where it is at its most interesting: as a tentative
coming of age story about family and class.
Remember that 60 Minutes piece years ago about the Jim
Roberts cult? You know, the sketchy church that seduces away bright young college students
into a Spartan, separatist lifestyle that prohibits them from ever talking to
the their families again and has them riding bicycles and eating out of garbage cans?
Well, that cult still exists and is as active as ever. Only now, bereaved family members who have
had children seduced into the organization can connect with each other over
the internet. As a network, the families
can run surveillance on the nomadic cult if they suddenly pop up in a metro
area. They share photos online so that
families can see if their sons or daughters are hiding out in the houses the
cult members rent.
Filmmaker Angeline Griego followed this group of family
members closely, and her film, God Willing, documents the attempt of one woman in particular
to make contact with her daughter. It
is as suspenseful as any Hollywood thriller - the cult has been known to
completely blow town at the slightest hint they are being watched.
As they circle their
target, the family members talk about what they know about the cult and about
their loved ones, some of whom have been out of touch for decades