Film Review: Faults (dir by Riley Stearns)


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Faults is many things.

It’s a character study.  It’s a thriller.  It’s a deeply unsettling horror film.  It’s a darker-than-dark comedy that will make you laugh even while you’re glancing over your shoulder to make sure there are no strangers hiding in the shadows.  It’s a look at religion, faith, free will, and guilt.  It’s a declaration that a major talent — writer/director Riley Stearns — has arrived.  It’s an acting showcase for both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Leland Orser.  It’s a film that found success on the festival circuit and then had an all-too brief theatrical release in March.  It’s also a film that’s currently available on Netflix.  Finally, it’s one of the best films of the year so far.

When we first meet professional cult deprogrammer Ansel Roth (Leland Orser), he is eating dinner in a hotel restaurant and desperately trying to convince his waiter that he has an agreement with management, guaranteeing him free meals while staying at the hotel.  After Ansel is kicked out of the restaurant, he then tries to convince the hotel manager that his room is supposed to be free as well.  The manager gives Ansel an hour to check out.

As quickly becomes apparent, Ansel is nearly broke and he’s living out of his car.  What little money he has, he makes from giving sparsely attended lecture where he literally begs people to pay fifteen dollars to get a copy of his latest book.  After his lectures, Ansel is willing to sign his new book at a cost of five dollars per signature.

(At one point, when someone asks Ansel to sign his previous book, Ansel abruptly explains that he no longer signs that book.  If you want his five dollar autograph, you have to first pay fifteen dollars to get his new book.)

At one point, Ansel was a minor celebrity with his own talk show but, after a girl he deprogrammed subsequently committed suicide, Ansel’s life fell apart.  His latest book is self-published and his former manager, the oddly polite Terry (Jon Gries), claims that Ansel owes him money.  Terry’s enforcer, Mick (the always intimidating Lance Reddick), is stalking Ansel from cheap motel to cheap motel.

However, things start to look up for Ansel when he’s approached by Paul (Chris Ellis) and Evelyn (Beth Grant).  They explain that their daughter, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), has joined a cult known as Faults and is a follower of a mysterious figure named Ira.  They ask Ansel to deprogram her.  Ansel agrees to do so and charges them $20,000.

After Ansel and two “assistants” literally grab Claire off the street, they take her to a cheap motel where, behind locked doors, Ansel starts to try to deprogram Claire.  However, from the start, Ansel discovers that it’s going to be more difficult than he realized.

For one thing, Claire remains calm throughout the whole kidnapping and, even when locked in the shabby motel room, is confident that she is about to “move on” and achieve a higher level of existence.  When Paul and Evelyn show up and try to talk to Claire, it turns out that they’re not quite the loving parents that they initially presented themselves as being.  Paul, in particular, reveals himself to have a fierce temper and he demands that Claire change into clothes that would be more appropriate for a teenager than for an adult.  When Ansel suggests that the overbearing Paul should back off, Paul replies that he “knows” what Ansel truly wants to do with Claire.

Secondly, even as Ansel tries to deprogram Claire, he still has to deal with Terry and Mick.  Neither one of them is particularly concerned about whether or not Ansel can pull Claire away from Faults.  Instead, Terry just wants his money.

And finally, even as Ansel tries to keep control of the situation, he is personally falling apart.  He finds himself having sudden nosebleeds.  At one point, his suit spontaneously combusts into flame.  (Believe it or not, there is a relatively plausible reason for why this happens but that doesn’t make it even less shocking.)  When Ansel falls asleep in the motel room, he subsequently wakes up in his car and has no memory of how he got there.

And through it all, Claire remains a seductive and manipulative enigma.  Sometimes she’s cold and in control.  Other times, she’s surprisingly vulnerable.  Ansel finds himself both attracted to and frightened of Claire.  Throughout the film, Ansel insists that he has “free will” but Claire forces him to reconsider that assumption.

Faults is a low-key and disturbing film that is distinguished by a very dark and cynical sense of humor.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead is amazing as the mysterious Claire while Leland Orser is wonderfully desperate and surprisingly sympathetic as Ansel.  When Faults first started, I was concerned that, since it largely takes place in one cramped motel room, the film would be too stagey to be effective.  But director Riley Stearns does amazing work with that one location and, as a result, Faults is one of those rare films that actually gets more intriguing the deeper you get into it.

Faults is currently available on Netflix and you should watch it.

Bad Blonde: TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949)


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I just finished viewing the 1949 feature TOO LATE FOR TEARS on TCM. The title may sound like a weepy tearjerker, but this is film noir dynamite. Once incomplete due to falling into public domain, the UCLA Film & Television Archive have restored it to its black & white glory. I’d never seen this one before, and it was time well spent. It’s based on a Saturday Evening Post serial by screenwriter Roy Huggins, who later went on to produce television classics like MAVERICK, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, and BARETTA. TOO LATE FOR TEARS can hold it’s own with the better known noirs of the era.

Alan and Jane Palmer are driving down a lonely LA highway when a satchel is tossed in their car by another driver. They discover the bag’s loaded with cold, hard cash. They’re chased by the intended party, but manage to elude them. When the couple opens the bag at their apartment, Jane’s money lust is palpable. See, she was married once before to a man who committed suicide when he lost his fortune. Jane yearns to return to the easy life and sees this cash as a way out. Sensible Alan argues they should turn it over to the cops, but greedy Jane persuades him to stash it in a train station locker for a week, until cooler heads can prevail.

While Alan’s at work, Jane gets a visit from slimeball Danny who says he’s a cop. After nosing around a bit, he tells her he’s the guy the bag was intended for and threatens her. Not willing to give up her claim on the dough, Jane entices the bum into helping get the money in exchange for half. Danny goes along and agrees to meet her at the lake. Alan and Jane go on a fateful boat ride, where she shoots her husband and has Danny switch clothes with the corpse. Then they tie an anchor to him and drop the poor sap at the bottom of the lake. Jane creates an elaborate ruse to convince everyone that Alan’s run off. But Alan’s little sister Cathy has her doubts, and grows suspicious. An old Army buddy of Alan’s named Don drops by to visit his pal. But Don’s not what he seems to be (no one is in this movie!). Jane plots with Danny to poison little sister and get her out of the way. Instead, Danny ends up poisoned by duplicitous Jane. She ends up hightailing it with the loot to Mexico. Jane’s really living it up on her ill-gotten gains, until Don shows up and the truth is revealed…..

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The ending’s a doozy, and Jane gets her final comeuppance in the film’s climax. TOO LATE FOR TEARS is all about crosses and double-crosses, greed, lust, and murder. The cast is full of dependable actors. Lizabeth Scott stars as Jane, the ultimate femme fatale. Scott got her big break in DEAD RECKONING (with Humphrey Bogart), and went on to film noir stardom in I WALK ALONE, DARK CITY, and THE RACKET. She even played opposite Elvis in LOVING YOU. Dan Duryea (Danny) has long been one of my favorite actors. His sleazy touch can be seen in SCARLET STEET (a real gem), LARCENY, CRISS CROSS, and WINCHESTER ’73. Don Defoe (Don), usually cast as the lead’s sidekick, is more recognizable for the sitcoms OZZIE & HARRIET and HAZEL. Always dependable Arthur Kennedy doesn’t make it through the first third of the movie, but is fine as straight laced Alan. If you don’t blink, you’ll spot Denver Pyle, Billy Halop of the Dead End Kids, and MICKEY MOUSE CLUB host Jimmy Dodd in small uncredited roles.

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Byron Haskin was a top cinematographer and headed Warner Brothers’ special effects department before turning to directing in the late 40s. He keeps a tight reign on this one, but is best known for his work in science-fiction films like WAR OF THE WORLDS, CONQUEST OF SPACE, ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS, and the 60s TV anthology THE OUTER LIMITS. TOO LATE FOR TEARS, despite the sappy title, is a great little piece of filmmaking. Independently produced by Hunt Stromberg (RED DUST, THE THIN MAN) and originally released through United Artists, this is a movie that will satisfy any film noir buff. Thank you UCLA for your continued work in saving these lesser known pieces of  Hollywood history. And as always, thanks to TCM for giving us all the privilege of watching them again and again.

Film Review: The Magic of the Golden Bear: Goldy III (1994, dir. John Quinn)


The Magic Of The Golden Bear: Goldy III

Remember when you were a kid and you didn’t have anything else to do so you started flipping through the channels on the TV? You came across a movie that wasn’t necessarily good, but you stopped and watched it anyways. You didn’t have anything else to do. Then you moved on with your life and grew up. Something happens and you remember that movie but can’t for the life of you think of title. So you begin digging around trying to find it. If you’re lucky, you do. An example of that kind of movie for me is Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller (1988). This is one of those movies. A humble movie. I never saw it as a kid, but I think I would remember it. I became aware of it because it showed up on Netflix and said it has Cheech Marin, Mr. T, and a bear. How was I going to resist that?

The movie begins in an Old West town with Jessie (Bonnie Morgan) and her pet bear Goldy. I am no expert on bears, but it puzzles me why they keep referring to it as the last Golden Bear. Well, this bear likes to pay visits to the schoolhouse to get suckers from Jessie, plays dress up, and sometimes goes for a bike ride. No joke. Just look!

Goldy Rides!

Goldy Rides

It’s that scene that would make this film stick somewhere in your memory if you saw it as a child. With that little bit of comedy to open the film, we are introduced to our characters and situation that needs resolving. There is a man who lives in the wilderness simply referred to as the “ghost man”. Take a wild guess who that is.

Ghost Man (Mr. T)

Ghost Man (Mr. T)

There are also Borgia (Cheech Marin) and Hugo (Danny Woodburn) who are magician and magician’s assistant respectively. Borgia isn’t doing so good magically and thinks if he can get his hands on the last Golden Bear that things will get better. He’s also a Jedi.

Jedi Mind Trick

Jedi Mind Trick

Throw in some rednecks and a shooting contest that must be won to save the house and you have Goldy III. Eventually all these people come together and the real problem emerges. The ghost man, who turns out to be named Freedom, realized it from the moment he met Goldy. Goldy ran away scared from him. It’s understandable that a little girl would, but a bear? That shouldn’t happen and Freedom knows it. Goldy has become too human and forgotten how to be a bear. I mean Goldy even takes his punishment for riding the bike by sitting in a corner with a dunce cap on.

Eventually Jessie runs away with Goldy to protect her when the possibility of her being sold arises. She finally gets to be properly introduced to Freedom and he explains why Goldy needs to be set free. After awhile the rest of the folks catch up with them. At this point, Borgia knows he’s been doing bad things and wants to make things right. How? Well, remember he’s a Jedi!

Into The Wild For Goldy

Into The Wild For Goldy

I can’t tell you how this fits in with the previous films because I haven’t seen them. Note, I said films, not the first two movies. That’s because according to IMDb there are two Goldy III movies. I don’t know how that works. Trevor Black is the creator and director of the first two movies and seems to have made a third too. This was then made several years later also as Goldy III. Maybe it’s a remake, but I don’t know. It’s definitely safe for a kid, but this really is the kind of movie they should stumble upon their own. I wouldn’t bring it to them.

Here’s the Trailer for The Revenant!


Here’s the first trailer for The Revenant, director Alejandro Inarritu’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning Birdman, which I thought was overrated but everyone else in the world seemed to love it.

A lot of people are speculating that The Revenant could be a major player in the 2015 Oscar race and the trailer certainly does look exciting.  Leonardo DiCaprio has never won an Oscar and Tom Hardy has never even been nominated, so both of them are due for a little Academy love.  Plus, The Revenant co-stars the suddenly very prolific Domhnall Gleeson, who was great in both Ex Machina and Unbroken and who is destined to be nominated some day.