Friday, September 13, 2013

Film Round-Up for September: "Morning," "Una Noche," "Short Term 12," "I Give It a Year"

Brie Larson (left), future Oscar nominee.
Reprinted with permission from ICON, here's an eclectic collection of reviews. The reason? Well, August and early September is a time when the new releases go on. Next month should be more promising.

"Short Term 12" was excellent. I'm rooting super-hard for Brie Larson.


Morning (Dir: Leland Orser). Starring: Jeanne Tripplehorn, Leland Orser, Laura Linney, Elliott Gould, Kyle Chandler, Jason Ritter, Gina Morelli. A married couple (real-life husband and wife Orser and Tripplehorn) can’t cope with the death of their young son. Over the course of several days away from each other their lives unravel. He reverts to the behavior of a child, playing with toy trains and eating Spaghetti-Os. She walks around like an anesthetized soul in a Swedish film, alternately zoning out or lashing out at those who try to comfort her. Orser, who also wrote and directed, has a good story and a knack for telling it through images. (The opening shots of the house—eerily quiet and unsettling—set the tone.) It’s a shame that Morning doesn’t have a narrative base to support its two main characters, so Orser and Tripplehorn (who is, to put it nicely, over her head here) come across as wailing theatrically instead of expressing their characters’ anguish. The way Morning is constructed we care more about the supporting characters than the leading one. Another crippling issue: a crucial plot point will make you wish Orser had used that as the script’s thrust. [R] **

Una Noche (Dir: Lucy Mulloy). Starring: Dariel Arrechaga, Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre, Javier Núñez Florián. Best friends Raul (Arrechaga) and Elio (Florián) long to leave the sweltering despair of Havana, where, according to Raul, all you can do is “sweat and fuck.” Salvation lies in Miami, 90 miles across the ocean, and in a barge constructed from wooden planks, inner tubes, and a prayer. Mulloy paints modern-day Havana as a pitiless pit of poverty and decadence, so you know exactly why the boys want to leave. But that doesn’t mean they should. Elio is in love with unaware ladies’ man Raul, who believes his long-estranged father will be thrilled to reunite. And Elio’s clingy twin sister (de la Rúa de la Torre) wants in because she cannot bear to be away from her brother. So many movies tell immigration stories that serve as triumphs of the human spirit. Mulloy shows that the desire to leave can be fueled by delusions. Just because the mission is noble and right, there’s no guarantee the participants will succeed. You are invested in Una Noche because its characters never stop battling against their fate. Filmed on location in Havana on 35 mm film. Inspired by a true story. [NR] ***1/2

Short Term 12 (Dir: Destin Cretton). Starring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Keith Stanfield. Quick-witted and no-nonsense, Grace (Larson) effectively supervises a halfway house for troubled youths. Her personal life is a different story. She’s in a serious relationship with her co-worker, Mason (The Newsroom’s Gallagher Jr.), who clearly loves her. That’s not enough. Grace’s unfortunate past prevents her from opening up, while a recent development forces her further inward. Throw in the arrival of a new charge (Dever), who reminds Grace too much of her own troubled childhood, and Grace’s carefully constructed equilibrium threatens to shatter. Larson (21 Jump Street, The Spectacular Now) is fantastic in a star-making turn—she is dramatically compelling while remaining fragile and human-sized—but she’s surrounded by fantastic performances, including Stanfield as an 18-year-old resident who is afraid to leave the only loving environment he’s ever known. Directed and written with assurance and heart by Cretton, this might be one of 2013’s best films when all is said and done. [R] ****

I Give It a Year (Dir: Dan Mazer). Starring: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Stephen Merchant, Minnie Driver, Jason Flemyng. Business executive Nat (Byrne) and novelist Josh (Spall) had a whirlwind courtship. Now closing in on a year of marriage, the two cannot stand each other. And more appealing options have emerged. Nat is enchanted with her client (Simon Baker), a rich American who is also handsome and intelligent. Josh, for reasons never made entirely clear, gravitates toward his ex-girlfriend (Faris). Everyone knows who should end up with whom, but director-writer Mazer’s idea of originality is to overstuff his frantic affair with “inappropriate” humor. So we have to endure Faris getting tangled in a threesome, stuffy parents viewing risqué honeymoon photos, and a marriage therapist shouting at her husband David Mamet style. This bombardment can’t hide a glaring omission: Mazer, a longtime collaborator with Sacha Baron Cohen, forgets that a romantic comedy—even a spoof of one—must feature people we actually have some affection for. Even the wonderful Byrne can’t help much this time around. [R] **

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