Film Review: Murder by Numbers (dir by Barbet Schroeder)


First released in 2002, Murder by Numbers is one of those films that seems to be pop up on Cinemax every couple of months.  It’s not really that good, though it has its fans because if features Sandra Bullock being all self-destructive and one of the film’s villains is played by a young Ryan Gosling.

Ryan Gosling is Richard Haywood, child of privilege.  He’s handsome.  He’s funny.  He’s popular.  He’s spoiled.  He’s often high.  And he’s totally psychotic.  Richard wants to commit the perfect crime and, fortunately, so does his classmate, Justin (Michael Pitt).  Justin is a fiercely intelligent introvert who spends most of his time reading and writing and playing with his computer.  He’s got a crush on Richard’s ex, Lisa (Agnes Buckner).  From the minute that Lisa showed up and started talking to Justin, I was concerned.  I was like, “Is this another movie that’s going to feature someone named Lisa being murdered?  CHERISH ALL OF THE LISAS IN YOUR LIFE, PEOPLE!”

Anyway, Richard and Justin do end up killing a woman, though not Lisa.  They go through a lot of effort to frame the school’s pervy janitor, Ray (Chris Penn), for the crime.  And they nearly succeed, though Detective Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) is way too smart to fall for their tricks.  Unfortunately, no one believes anything that Cassie says because she has a shady past and a drinking problem.  Even her sympathetic new partner, Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin), thinks that it was probably Ray.

Literally everyone on the police force tells Sam that Cassie is unstable and not to be trusted, which leads to an interesting question.  If everyone’s convinced that everything Cassie says is wrong, why does she still have a job?  Why do they still assign her to cases?  It’s like, “We’ve got a murder that we have to solve!  Let’s give it to that detective who we think never gets anything right!”

Sandra Bullock does her best to bring the self-destructive Cassie to life but she kind of runs into the huge problem that she’s Sandra Bullock and she has such a firmly entrenched screen presence that it’s difficult to take her seriously as someone who spend her free time sitting on a houseboat, getting drunk, and obsessing on the past.  You really want her to give a good performance because it’s impossible not to root for Sandra Bulllock but she’s just too miscast.  You keep expecting Matthew McConaughey to show up, playing a bongo drum and trying to cheer her up.

Far more convincing is Ryan Gosling, who plays Richard as the type of guy that we all knew in high school.  You know he’s a jerk.  You know you should stay away from him.  But he’s just so much fun and he has so much money!  Unfortunately, Gosling is so charismatic that Richard quickly becomes the only compelling character in the film.  I mean, if you have the choice between watching Michael Pitt, Ben Chaplin, or Ryan Gosling, who are you going to go with?  You’re supposed to hate Richard and hope that justice catches up with him but instead, you find yourself hoping that he’ll sneak out of the country and spend the rest of his hiding out in South America or something.

So, as a result, the film really doesn’t work.  (It also doesn’t help matters that it’s directed in a rather detached fashion by the king of ennui, Barbet Schroeder.)  But it’s interesting to watch, just for a chance to see a future star in the making.  Gosling steps into a rather underwritten role and basically takes over the entire damn movie.

It’s also worth seeing for the scene in which Sandra Bullock gets attacked by a baboon.  It’s a weird moment and Schroeder screws things up by mixing in a flashback to Cassie’s past but still, it’s a baboon attacking Sandra Bullock.  That’s not something you see every day.

Back to School Part II #39: The Glass House (dir by Daniel Sackheim)


the_glass_house_2001_film

Originally, I was planning on using the 2001 thriller The Glass House as one of my guilty pleasure reviews.  Because, seriously, this film truly is one of the guiltiest of all guilty pleasures.  I mean, there’s so much that you can criticize about the movie but it’s so much fun that I always feel rather bad for doing so.  However, after giving it some thought, I decided to use The Glass House as one of my Back to School reviews.  Seeing as how I just totally trashed a Leelee Sobieski film called Here On Earth, it only seems fair to now recommend one of her films.

In The Glass House, Leelee plays Ruby Baker, a 16 year-old whose parents are killed in a car accident.  Though their uncle (Chris Noth) wants to adopt them, the will states that Ruby and her nine year-old brother (Trevor Morgan) will instead be looked after by their parents’ best friends, Erin (Diane Lane) and Terry (Stellan Skarsgard).

Now, here’s the thing.  This is going to blow your mind.  Guess where Erin and Terry live?  They live in a big mansion in Malibu and the entire house is made out of … GLASS!  We have a title, right!?  But wait, there’s more!  Guess what Terry and Erin’s last name is?  That’s right — GLASS!  So, the house is not only literally a glass house but it’s also the Glass house as well!  And beyond that, there’s that old saying that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones and … well, that really doesn’t apply to this film.

Anyway, I’m making such a big deal about the title because it pretty much tells you everything that you need to know about The Glass House.  There is not a single subtle moment to be found in this entire film. And really, this is not a film that requires or rewards subtlety.  We know that Terry Glass is up to no good from the minute we meet him, largely because he’s played by Stellan Skarsgard and when was the last time Stellan Skarsgard played a trustworthy character?  Skarsgard pretty much gives the same performance here that he’s given in almost every thriller that he’s ever appeared in (including David Fincher’s rehash of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo — which I’m still ticked off about, by the way) but it works wonderfully because there’s not a hint of pretension to The Glass House.  It just wants to entertain and it does just that.  There’s little that can match the entertainment value of watching Stellan Skarsgard go totally over the top.

Sure, the film has all sorts of flaws.  Ruby’s intelligence changes from scene to scene, depending on what the film’s story needs her to do.  (For that matter, the same thing can be said about every character in the film.)  But the film’s a lot of fun and Leelee Sobieski gives one of the best and most sympathetic performances of her career.  Ruby may be an inconsistent character but she’s so well-played that you like her anyway.  In a film that often threatens to go just a little bit too crazy, Leelee gives a performance of both believable grief and believable inner strength.  She keeps the film grounded just enough that you’ll continue to watch even when the narrative hits a rough patch.  As well, Bruce Dern is hilariously sleazy as a possibly duplicitous attorney.  The only thing more entertaining than watching Stellan Skarsgard go over the top is watching Bruce Dern do the same thing in the same film.

The Glass House is one of those films that seems to show up on cable constantly.  And, 9 times out of 10, I’ll at least watch at least a little bit of it.  It’s just a fun movie.

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night #93: The Woods (dir by Lucky McKee)


Last night, I turned over to Chiller and watched the brilliant 2006 horror film, The Woods.

Why Was I Watching It?

I ended up watching The Woods almost at random.  I didn’t want to go out last night because it’s Texas-OU weekend and that meant that the streets of Dallas would probably be full of drunk people from Tulsa.  Even more importantly, I couldn’t go out because I’m recovering from a sprained ankle.

Normally, under those circumstances, I would have watched and live tweeted an original SyFy film.  However, last night, SyFy was showing Fright Night which I had little interest in sitting through.  So, instead, I turned over to Chiller and decided to give The Woods a try.

And that is how I randomly discovered one of the best horror films that I’ve recently seen.

What Was It About?

The year is 1965.  Angry teenager Heather (Agnes Bruckner) starts a fire in a forest.  Frustrated by their daughter’s rebellious nature, her parents enroll her at Falburn Academy, a boarding school that sits in the middle of the woods.   Because she is the only redhead at the school, Heather is an immediate outsider who finds herself being taunted by the blonde Samantha (Rachel Nichols) and called “Firecrotch” by her other classmates.

However, Heather has more problems that just a bunch of anti-redhead bigots.  She has nightmares where voices seem to call to her from the woods.  Her friends Marcy and Ann both disappear from their beds, leaving behind a pile of dead leaves.  Meanwhile, the school’s mysterious headmistress (Patricia Clarkson) insists that nothing strange is happening…

What Worked?

I wasn’t expecting much from The Woods.  After all, it was a film that was released straight-to-DVD in 2006 and Chiller doesn’t exactly have a reputation for showing the best films.   But, oh my God, y’all — The Woods turned out to be such a good film!   The Woods is an atmospheric and surprisingly well-acted film that’s full of haunting imagery and memorable details.  Much like Dario Argento’s Suspiria (which has a similar plot to this film), The Woods is a triumph of both style and substance.

While the entire film is well-acted, special mention should be made of Patricia Clarkson, who gives a performance that is both menacing and humorous.  Genre fans will be happy to see Bruce Campbell in the role of Bruckner’s well-meaning father.

Finally, I have to admit that, as a member of the 2% of the population who have been blessed with red hair, I have a special appreciation for this film.  Behind all of the scares, The Woods provides a compelling portrait of the discrimination that those of us with red hair struggle with every single day.  From the minute Heather enters Falburn Academy, she is the subject of constant prejudice because of the color of her hair.  As someone who has had to endure countless comments about redheads not having souls, I both related to and appreciated the film’s sensitivity to those of us in the 2%.

What Did Not Work?

Over on the film’s imdb page, there’s some debate as to whether or not the term “Firecrotch” was in use back in 1965.  Personally, I think that’s nitpicking.  The fact of the matter is that anti-redhead prejudice has always been with us.  If people in the 60s didn’t attack us by calling us “Firecrotch,” they undoubtedly called us something equally bad.  As far as I’m concerned, the entire film worked perfectly.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Almost the entire film was an “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moment, largely because the main character was a redhead and had to deal with constant anti-redhead prejudice.  (“Oh my God!  Just like me!”)

At one point, Samantha taunts Heather by asking, “Is your pubic hair red?” which is the exact same question that I got asked several times throughout high school, though in my case, I was usually asked by a guy with a smirk on his face.  (“You’ll never know,” I would reply.)  Heather then finds herself being repeatedly called “Firecrotch” by people who are jealous of her red hair and again, oh my god!  Just like me!

Finally, as I mentioned above, I sprained my ankle last Wednesday and, as such, I’ve spent the last few days recovering.  Amazingly enough, about halfway through the film, Heather twists her ankle.  She spends the rest of the movie either on crutches or painfully limping.  Oh my God!  Just like me!

(As a quick aside, can I just say how much I HATE crutches!?  Oh my God, they’re the worst…)

Lessons Learned

I am tempted to say that the main lesson to be learned from The Woods is that it’s not easy being a redhead.  However, I knew that before I watched the film.  I also knew that you should stay out of the woods, which is the main reason why you’ll never catch me camping.

So, the most important lesson that I learned is that everyone should see The Woods.

Redheads Unite