Tag Archives: film

Review: ‘The Lodge,’ Long on Atmosphere, Short on Everything Else

dfn_the-lodge_300As The Shining showed us almost 40 years ago, nothing good ever comes from a deteriorating mind in an isolated, snow-bound place. In Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s new horror film The Lodge, substituting for Jack Nicholson’s crumbling facade into homicidal impulses is the always interesting Riley Keough as Grace, sent packing with her new boyfriend and his two younger children (Lia McHugh and Jaeden Martell) to their winter house after a terrible incident best not revealed here.

The deck is stacked against Grace fairly quickly, as her earnest attempts to get to know the children are muddled when the electricity goes out, the man of the house is away and Grace’s mysterious past — initially established as something quite discomfiting — begins to manifest itself in chilling ways.

With atmosphere to burn and a shadowy aesthetic, illuminated mostly by natural light and the halos of flashlights, The Lodge works best in its first half, establishing an eerie aura. Like Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019), the film begins on a somber gut-punch of violence, swelling with a sadness that it never quite regains as it tries to weave in and out of the scattered mind of Grace. And Keough, for her part, is utterly watchable and believable.

Outside of her frazzled performance, however, The Lodge missteps fairly often. Extremely hollow in its cruelty and repetitive in its narrative, anyone familiar with the previous work of Fiala and Franz, including Goodnight Mommy (2014), will detect the similarities and how much of a companion piece this work is to the filmmakers’ previous psychological horror film. Both films portray the decomposition of trust and familial bond between the nuclear family in a single environment. Both films ratchet up the atmosphere to, at times, unbearable tension. Both films are torturous in the way they expand and contract the usual horror movie tropes.

The Lodge, however, is less successful because it neglects any tangible connection to its characters. A shocking opening … the rigors of guilt and loss … religious suppression … all of this is introduced in one way or another throughout the film to explain the very horrible machinations of its plot. None of it, though, resonates outside of the filmmakers’ own commitment in crafting a very repulsive and suffocating effort in which not even the pet dog escapes unscathed.

Portions of this review were previously published as part of our coverage of the 2019 North Texas Film Festival.

The Lodge opens on Friday, February 14, at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.





Review: ‘Shot’

dfn-shot-poster-300A lot of films say they intend to reflect the catastrophes of gun violence, and then handle the idea in glibly emotional ways or, even worse, lose the idea completely behind a Robert Altman-esque canvas of liberal preaching and showmanship.

Jeremy Kagan’s Shot leans towards some of the same preaching but it communicates the literal ramifications of gun violence better than most films, trapping us in the perspective of a gunshot victim immediately following the accident and his hours in the ambulance and emergency room. Basically, if I never hear the wheezing sound of a collapsed lung anytime soon, I’ll be very happy. That’s the visceral impact Shot contains.

The gunshot victim is Mark (Noah Wyle). When we first meet him, he’s heavily involved with editing the sound of gunshots in a Western (naturally), uncomfortable with the lack of reverb in his work. Forced to leave quickly and meet his wife Phoebe (Sharon Leal), their marriage has deteriorated to the discussion of divorce.

Outside the restaurant where they agreed to meet, the couple talk casually when a stray bullet strikes Mark in the left chest, leaving him near death on the pavement. Across the street, young Miguel (Jorge Lendenborg, Jr.) is in the process of handling said gun to protect himself from bullies when it accidentally goes off. Using all methods of split screens, tri-screens and real-time narrative structure, Shot follows both sets of people as they deal with the incident.

Eventually settling on Mark for a good majority of the film, Shot effectively details his journey with gruesome detail and (at times) squeamish authenticity. Through his disoriented eyes and ears, we hear the technical jargon spewed back and forth between his ambulance drivers (one of whom is played by Malcolm Jamal Warner) and the causally brilliant way they alternate between their understood verbiage and the off-handed ways they try to make Mark feel comfortable. It’s a series of conversations and reactions that feels so organic, we wonder if we’re watching the pilot for a reality television show.

This attention to medical procedures is further expanded upon once Mark arrives at the hospital and his emergency room doctors (head doc played by Xander Berkely) whizz and dance around his wounded body. Mixed between point of view shots and standard one-two setups, Shot rarely leaves Mark’s strained face as he’s forced to piece together the snippets of conversation he overhears. Things certainly don’t improve when his breathing gets heavier and the addition of a tube to his body is applied in real time with bloody consequences.

As Mark, Noah Wyle gives a touching performance. He’s asked to do a lot without having the full expression of his body, utilizing his eyes and mouth to register the pain and confusion that slowly swallows him.

Less successful is the parallel story of Miguel, on the run and feeling guilty for his actions. Too often framed in loud, lazy arguments between him and the friend who loaned him the gun, Shot loses some impact in these portions before gradually bringing both parties back together for quite the resonant finale.

Director Jeremy Kagan, who’s been working since the 1970’s and whose best film is the under-appreciated and underseen 1978 comedy noir The Big Fix, starring Richard Dreyfuss, shows his astute hand at balancing all aspects of the film. By focusing so much on the incapacitated Noah Wyle, Shot could have ended up as a claustrophobic exercise in grief paralysis. Kagan, with a script by Anneke Campbell, knows just when to open the story up and focus elsewhere, creating that much more of an impact once Mark, Phoebe and Jorge collide and reckon with their fateful moment. The film may have initially sought to build a hopeful case against gun violence, but it ultimately becomes attuned to the hopeful case of forgiveness more than anything else.

Shot opened in limited release in New York and Los Angeles on December 15. It will be  available on Video-On-Demand platforms beginning Friday, January 12.

Special Event Review: ‘Train Station’

TrainstationPoster-300Fate, if one believes in such a metaphysical force, can be a devilish provocateur. Or perhaps one believes that the individual creates his or her own destiny. Either way, Daniel Montoya’s Train Station toys with the idea…. alongside 40 filmmakers from 25 various countries.

Known as CollabFeature, Train Station takes a single narrative thread of a man who misses a train that may never arrive and spins off a myriad of possibilities after this event. Every few minutes, a single cut introduces us to new people  playing the same characters. One second we’re following an English speaking couple, and the next, this couple have been replaced by an Iranian speaking couple, continuing the story. Think of it as a multi-national rift on “Waiting For Godot” if the mysterious impetus of Godot was a train. Not shying away from any type of gender, age, sexuality or nationality, Train Station is a truly collaborative effort.

Intermittently returning to a central point (mostly the man on the train platform deciding whether to stay or leave), the film sweeps through numerous permutations of genre. In one “episode,” it becomes a thriller full of wounded bank robbers, stolen cash and black marketeer organ thieves. If that tawdry story line doesn’t excite, the next “episode” turns into a domestic drama of missed opportunities, tragedies and ill-timed sexual misadventures. If nothing else, like the weather here in Texas, if you don’t like it, wait a bit and it’s certain to change.

Like so many anthology or collab films, Train Station does suffer from bouts of inconsistency. Certain filmmakers seem to have a better visual handle on things, such as the final, contemplative and quite magical final portion. Other sections (and actors) don’t fare as well. I was scratching my head during one prolonged golf course brawl and scared to look at the screen when a group of German-speaking clowns overtake the drama. Yet those are quickly forgotten as the film rolls along, breathlessly, in another language and part of the world.

In this wired age of Kickstarter and crowdfunding, I can certainly see the benefits of communal filmmaking and its desire to seamlessly share a myriad of voices and ideas. Train Station may not be the most perfect example of that, but its trying and that’s all that matters.

Locally, Train Station will be playing free of admission at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday March 22, 2017 at the Latino Cultural Center of Dallas located at 2600 Live Oak St.

Festival Files: Dallas VideoFest29 #1

dfm-blur_circle_poster_300The strength of a good festival lies in its programming. Not necessarily in the actual films it chooses to show, but in how they accompany and couch each entry. At this year’s Dallas VideoFest (now in its 29th year), it’s clear that founder and director Bart Weiss has a specific goal in mind since, for the first two days, the event has a distinct feel of being constructed to amplify a certain flavor.

If this weekend is all about locally made independent shorts (i.e. the Texas Filmmakers Showcase) and unveiling retrospective greats of the past (the 20th anniversary screening of Steve James’ mammoth masterpiece Hoop Dreams), then Thursday was for narrative features with a North Texas bent.

Chris Hanson’s Blur Circle was the first. As a professor in Baylor University’s film department, the equipment and means of producing an independent effort weren’t the issue, as he himself stated after the presentation. Filmed quickly with a small, dedicated cast over a very short period of 25 days, the real strain has been finding an audience for such a modest project.

Dealing with the grief-filled ideas of how one moves on after a seemingly insurmountable tragedy, Jill (Cora Vander Broek) comes in contact with media crusader Burton (Matthew Brumlow). Their relationship starts off rocky at first, each one questioning the other’s commitment and motivation behind their separate cocoons of torment. As the film progresses, both slowly help the other grieve and heal.

As a real-life married couple, Broek and Brumlow share some fine moments together. Toss in an eccentric junk yard owner (Ryan Artzberger), some mixed media messages about abuse and a confession scene that ranks as one of the more absurdly moving in recent memory and Blur Circle overcomes some of its heavy-handed pandering and emerges with some raw momentum towards its oblique finale.

The second North Texas film of the night, Gabriel Duran’s Streets of a Scion uses not one but two voice-overs to reflect the inner thoughts of its two leads, hispanic Bobby (Mike Marshall) and African-American Cee (Yung Poody), young men in racially charged neighborhood gangs who share the same late mentor. Fissures from both groups, including gang alliancse, old enemies and regular street thug code constantly threatens their friendship.

Clearly a work-in-progress (some hard edits and sound issues), Streets of a Scion did win its audience over through its authentic feeling representation of life in West Dallas/Oak Cliff and its local hip-hop artist cast. Largely improvised with hectic cinematography that swipes and pans desperately to keep the action in focus, director Duran cited the influence of films such as Boyz N the Hood as his starting point, and the raw energy of such films does feel present, but Streets of a Scion suffers from its lack of indelible characters and thin narrative warmed over from countless similar films. Its young cast screams, shouts and writhes a lot, but it unfortunately doesn’t have much to say.

Dallas VideoFest 29 will continue at the Dallas Angelika through Sunday, October 23.

Review: ‘The Wolverine’ Stands Tall, Thanks to Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman and Tao Okamoto in 'The Wolverine' (20th Century Fox)
Hugh Jackman and Tao Okamoto in ‘The Wolverine’ (20th Century Fox)

Hugh Jackman stands tall in the latest addition to the Marvel film universe, which is quite a feat when you consider that the character he plays, a mutant whose skeleton has been reinforced with the indestructible metal adamantium, tops out at 5 foot 3 inches tall in the original comic book series.

But then Jackman, who stretches two inches higher than six feet in real life, has made Logan, aka The Wolverine, his own sort of gruff, cynical, somehow still lovable character in the course of four films in nine years. The last one, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first stand-alone mutant-powered feature, is widely acknowledged to have gone off the rails and could have threatened the future of the franchise. Just like in the comics, however, movie heroes have an alarming propensity for returning to life against all odds, and so The Wolverine has returned.

The story picks up Logan’s life after the events in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), when the relationship he had enjoyed with fellow mutant Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) came to a most disagreeable parting of the ways. Logan is still haunted by unhappy memories, not only of his beloved Jean, but also of a terrible day during World War II when he was imprisoned behind enemy lines in Nagasaki, Japan.

On that day, Logan saved the life of a young Japanese soldier named Yashida (Ken Yamamura), who went on to become a wealthy and powerful industrialist (Haruhiko Yamanouchi). Now an old man, Yashida is dying, and so he sends his trusted servant Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to find Logan and deliver him to Japan so as to say goodbye.

Of course, Yashida wants something more from Logan than a solemn farewell, and the plot thickens into a sludgy substance that stubbornly resists easy or quick summary. Eventually, Yashida’s son, granddaughter, and oncologist, as well as a ninja protector, are involved in a power struggle whose consequences are not made terribly clear.

Of these characters, Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) is key, not least because she develops romantic feelings for Logan when they are forced to go on the run. She and the other Asian cast members, including Hiroyuki Sanada, Brian Tee, and Will Yun Lee, fare well, even though it seems they might have delivered better performances if they weren’t required to speak English so often. Meanwhile, Svetlana Khodchenkova is in over her head as Yashida’s oncologist, who has a secret agenda that reveals her to be a villain without a soul; the actress is unable to bring any menace to her role, which is a serious shortcoming for an antagonist in a superhero movie.

Despite the welcome dramatics from Jackman and Okamoto, especially, The Wolverine is still a superhero movie, which requires multiple action set-pieces. The screenplay, credited to Mark Bomback and Scott Frank, provides a variety of settings, but director James Mangold doesn’t have a great feel for constructing action sequences, shooting and staging them in a rudimentary manner. A duel set on top a speeding bullet train, requiring the participants to jump and leap to avoid being thrown off and/or beheaded, lacks any semblance of reality — we know it’s all taking place inside the computers of talented graphic artists — and so we simply must wait impatiently for it to come to a foreordained conclusion.

It’s an odd thing to say for an action junkie like me, but the best bits in The Wolverine are the ones that come between the fights and the running and the jumping: the scenes between Jackman and Okamoto and between Jackman and Fukushima are particularly strong, and go a long way toward making the movie a pleasant, though not essential, experience on the big screen.

Note: Viewed in 3D on a fine, large, brightly-lit screen at the Cinemark West Plano, I must add that 3D added nothing discernible to the movie. Ticket buyer beware.

The film opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, July 26.

Indie Weekend: ‘Pariah,’ ‘House of Pleasures,’ ‘The Devil Inside’

Adepero Oduye in 'Pariah' (Focus Features)
Adepero Oduye in 'Pariah' (Focus Features)

My pick of the week:

  • ‘Pariah.’ A coming-of-age story that manages to feel fresh and authentic. The extraordinary Adepero Oduye inhabits the lead role of a high school girl named Alike. She lives with her family in a comfortable home in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, but she could be anyone struggling with identity issues. Alike sneaks out to a gay club at night before changing her outfit to sneak back home; at school she is yet another personality. Her parents are having marital difficulties, and each exerts different pressure upon her. Slowly she comes to an understanding of what she needs to do to become her own person. Dee Rees wrote and directed, with precision and compassion. (Landmark Magnolia.) My interview with Rees at Twitch. Recommended.

Also opening in Dallas today, Friday, January 6, 2012 (listed in order of preference):

  • ‘House of Pleasures.’ A French-language film about women trapped by circumstances at a brothel in early 20th Century Paris. (Texas Theatre.) Not previewed.
  • ‘Beneath the Darkness.’ Dennis Quaid stars as a respected mortician in Smithville, Texas who murders a teenager. When the kid’s friends report it to the police, no one believes them, and it’s up to them to prove that it wasn’t an accident. (Cinemark 17.) Not previewed.
  • ‘The Devil Inside.’ A faux-documentary about possible demon possession and multiple exorcisms. Clumsily made — intentionally so — and dreadfully boring. (Wide.) My review at TwitchNot recommended.