Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #19: Jack of the Red Hearts (dir by Janet Grillo)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by July 10th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

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The 19th film on my DVR was Jack of The Red Hearts, which I recorded off of the Lifetime Movie Network on April 27th.

I have to admit that I was a little bit surprised as I watched Jack of the Red Hearts.  While it seemed to have a typical Lifetime premise — a runaway fakes her identity and moves in with a troubled family — it didn’t feel like a typical Lifetime film.  For one thing, the cast was made up of actors like Soul Surfer‘s AnnaSophia Robb, The Bling Ring‘s Israel Broussard, and the X-Men‘s Famke Janssen.  None of these people are exactly big stars but they’re still not Lifetime regulars.  While the premise may have been Lifetime-friendly, the portrayal of an 11 year-old autistic girl (played by Taylor Richardson) definitely seemed a bit more realistic than one would usually expect from a made-for-TV movie.  Finally, there were more than a few occasions when it was obvious that some of the dialogue had been overdubbed, in order to make the language more appropriate for television.

So, I did some research and I discovered that Jack of the Red Hearts was not originally made for Lifetime.  Instead, it’s an indie film that was directed by Janet Grillo and written by Jennifer Deaton, both of whom drew on their own experiences of raising an autistic child.  Jack of the Red Hearts did the festival circuit in 2015 and even got a very limited theatrical release back in February.

Jack of the Red Hearts tells the story of Jack (AnnaSophia Robb), an 18 year-old high school drop out who is on probation.  When we first meet Jack, she’s helping her younger sister, Coke (Sophia Anna Caruso), break out of foster care.  AnnaSophia and Sophia Anna are both totally believable as sisters and their scenes together are so believable that you even forgive the fact that they’re named Jack and Coke.  Jack wants to take care of her sister but she’s broke and she’s homeless.  In order to rescue Coke from the foster home, Jack has to get a job and enough money to rent an apartment.

And what better way to get a job than by stealing someone else’s identity!  After Jack sees some flyers asking “Are you good with children?,” she shows up at the home of Kay (Famke Janssen) and Mark (Scott Cohen).  Jack claims that her name is Donna and that she’s the nanny that Kay previously hired over the telephone.  Despite having neither training nor a high school degree, Jack is soon taking care of autistic Glory (Taylor Richardson).

Glory is nonverbal and sometimes violent and her family, while loving, struggles to adjust to not only her behavior but also their inability to understand what the world is like for her.  (The film occasionally tries to show us the world through Glory’s eyes and it works a lot better than you might expect.)  When Jack initially reacts to Glory’s behavior by snapping at her and occasionally getting rough (at one point, she slaps away Glory’s hand when Glory suddenly tries to grab food off her plate), you wince but at the same time, you understand Jack’s frustration.  Richardson, who is not autistic in real life, fully commits herself to the role and the film deserves a lot of credit for not sentimentalizing her condition or its effect on her family.  Unlike most Lifetime films, this one takes place in a frequently cluttered and chaotic house and Kay is portrayed as literally being on the verge of a neurotic meltdown.

Though it takes a while, Jack starts to care about Glory and finally, she even starts to make some progress with Glory.  And again, it should be pointed out that the film does not portray Jack as a miracle worker, though Jack does watch The Miracle Worker on television at one point.  The progress is slow but, the film says, it is progress and that’s the important thing.  Jack also develops an attraction to Glory’s brother, Robert (Israel Broussard).  Robert, however, is the only member of the family to suspect that Jack may not be telling the truth about who she is…

Because Jack of the Red Hearts was on the Lifetime Movie Network, I kept waiting for the scene in which Jack would either seduce Kay’s husband or try to kidnap Glory.  Thankfully, that scene never came, though the film still has its share of melodramatic moments.  Jack of the Red Hearts is, in many ways, a predictable film but it’s also an achingly sincere film and Robb, Broussard, Janssen, and especially Taylor Richardson all give excellent and empathetic performances.

This is a sweetly well-intentioned and bravely unsentimental film and definitely one to keep an eye out for.

Playing Catch Up: Welcome to New York (dir by Abel Ferrara)


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Gerard Depardieu is naked a lot in Welcome to New York and I know you’re probably being snarky and sarcastically thinking, “Well, then I’m definitely going to track down this film…” but actually, the frequent display of Depardieu’s body gets to the heart of what makes his performance so memorable.  Playing an extremely unsympathetic role, Depardieu doesn’t hide the character’s depravity from the audience.  He reveals every inch of the character, from his flabby body to his empty soul.  It takes courage to bring such an unsympathetic character to life and talent to keep the audience watching and fortunately, Depardieu has both of those.

Welcome to New York opens with Depardieu (as himself) talking to a group of reporters and explaining why he’s decided to play a character based on Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Abel Ferrara’s upcoming movie.  It’s an interesting way to start, both because it features Depardieu’s scornful opinion of politicians and because it leaves no doubt that, even if Depardieu’s character has been renamed Devereaux, Welcome to New York is directly based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case.

(Dominique Strauss-Kahn, of course, was the wealthy French socialist who many thought was going to be the next President of France until he was arrested after raping a hotel maid in New York City.  As a wealthy and well-connected white man, he was acquitted of raping the maid, who neither wealthy, well-connected, or white.   Throughout the trial, the usual collection of elitists complained about how Americans just didn’t understand French culture but, ultimately, Strauss-Kahn’s political career was ended by the scandal.)

Welcome to New York closely follows the facts of the Strauss-Kahn case.  Wealthy banker and politician Devereaux is in New York on business.  When he meets his daughter and her boyfriend, he spends the entire lunch asking them about their sex life.  When he returns to his hotel, he and his business associates hire a group of prostitutes and have one of the most depressing orgies ever captured on film.

I have to admit that during these first part of the film, I was often tempted to turn off Welcome To New York.  No, it wasn’t that the film was too explicit.  Instead, my problem was that Devereaux was such a dull character.  Devereaux has a lot of sex during the first third of the film but, at no point, does he seem to enjoy it.  Instead, he is detached from everything happening around him and it doesn’t exactly make for compelling viewing.

But, as the film played out, I realized that we weren’t supposed to find Devereaux in any way compelling.  Instead, Devereaux is portrayed as a hollow and empty shell.  For him, sex is all about entitlement and power.  After his is arrested for raping the hotel maid, Devereaux appears to be more surprised than anything else.  Rather than feeling regret at being caught or even fear that he might be convicted, Devereaux seems to be shocked that a man of his wealth would be held responsible for his actions.

After Devereaux is arrested, the film’s pace picks up a bit.  Devereaux’s wife, Simone (Jacqueline Bisset), flies to New York and takes over her husband’s defense.  It’s not that Simone feels that Devereaux has been wrongly accused.  In fact, Simone really doesn’t seem to care much for her husband in general.  However, Simone is determined that Devereaux is going to be the next president of France and she certainly has no intention of allowing some American criminal case to stand in his way.  Bisset gives a chilling performance as the almost fanatically driven Simone.

Soon, Devereaux is under house arrest and staying at a rented house.  (For these scenes, Welcome to New York filmed in the same house that Strauss-Kahn stayed at during his trial.)  It’s while locked away in the house that Devereaux finally starts to realize that he has gone too far.  It’s in the house that Devereaux remembers the man he was once was and is forced to confront the man that he has become.

Welcome to New York is not always an easy film to watch but, thanks to Depardieu and Bisset’s ferocious performances, it’s a film that will reward patient viewers.

Film Review: Joy (dir by David O. Russell)


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Hi there and welcome to 2016!

Today was the first day of a new year so, of course, I had to go down to the Alamo Drafthouse and see a movie.  What was the title of the first movie that I saw in a theater in 2016?

Joy.

Despite the fact that Joy has gotten some seriously mixed reviews, I had high hopes when I sat down in the Alamo.  After all, Joy represents the third collaboration between director David O. Russell and one of my favorite actresses, Jennifer Lawrence.  (Their previous collaborations — Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle — happen to be two of my favorite films of the past 5 years.)  Add to that, Joy has been advertised as being a tribute to a real-life, strong-willed woman and I figured that, at the very least, it would provide a nice alternative to the testosterone-crazed movies that I’ve recently sat through.  And finally, Joy had a great trailer!

Sure, there were a few less than positive signs about Joy.  As I mentioned before, the majority of the reviews had been mixed and the word of mouth was even worse.  (My friend, the sportswriter Jason Tarwater, used one word to describe the film to me: “Meh.”)  But what truly worried me was that Sasha Stone of AwardsDaily absolutely raved about the film on her site and that’s usually a bad sign.  Let’s not forget that this is the same Sasha Stone who claimed that Maps To The Stars was one of the best films ever made about Hollywood.

And, to be honest, I had much the same reaction to Joy that I had to Map To The Stars.  I really wanted to love Joy and, occasionally, there would be a clever bit of dialogue or an unexpected directorial choice and I would briefly perk up in my seat and think to myself, “Okay, this is the film that I wanted to see!”  But, for the most part, Joy is a disappointment.  It’s not so much that it’s bad as it’s just not particularly great.  For the most part, it’s just meh.

But let’s talk about what worked.  Overall, this may be one of Jennifer Lawrence’s lesser films but she gives a great performance, one that reminds us that she truly is one of the best actresses working today.  I’ve read some complaints that Lawrence was too young for the title role and, to be absolutely honest, she probably is.  She looks like she could easily go undercover at a high school and help Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum bust drug dealers.  But, at the same time, she projects the inner weariness of a survivor.  For lack of a better term, she has an old soul and it comes across in her films.

In Joy, she plays Joy Mangano, a divorced mother of two who lives in upstate New York.  Her mother (Virginia Madsen) lives with Joy and spends all of her time watching soap operas.  Joy ex-husband, a lounge singer named Tony (Edgar Ramirez), lives in the basement.  Meanwhile, her grandmother (Diane Ladd, who narrates the film) is always hovering in the background, offering Joy encouragement and optimism.  At the start of the film, Joy’s cantankerous father (Robert De Niro) has also moved into the house.  Joy, who was the valedictorian of her high school, has got a demeaning job working as a flight booker at the airport.

(“What’s your name?” one rude customer asks, “Joy?  You don’t seem very joyful to me…”)

How stressful is Joy’s life?  It’s so stressful that she has a reoccurring nightmare in which she’s trapped in her mother’s favorite soap opera and Susan Lucci (cleverly playing herself) tells her that she should just give up.

However, as difficult as life may get, Joy refuses to take Susan Lucci’s advise.  She invents a miraculous mop known as the miracle mop and eventually becomes a highly successful businesswoman.  Along the way, she makes her television debut on QVC and becomes a minor celebrity herself…

The film’s best scenes are the ones that deal with Joy and QVC.  These scenes, in which the inexperienced Joy proves herself to be a natural saleswoman, are the best in the film.  These scenes are filled with the spark that I was hoping would be present throughout the entire film.  Of course, it helps that these scenes also feature Bradley Cooper as a sympathetic television executive.  This is the third time that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have acted opposite each other and there’s an immediate chemistry between them.  In this case, it’s not a romantic chemistry (and one of the things that I did appreciate about Joy was that it didn’t try to force a predictable romance on the title character).  Instead, it’s the type of mutual respect that you rarely see between male and female characters in the movies.  It’s a lot of fun to watch, precisely because it is so real and unexpected.

But sadly, the QVC scenes only make up a relatively small part of Joy.  The rest of the film is something of a mess, with David O. Russell never settling on a consistent tone.  At times, Joy feels like a disorganized collection of themes from his previous films.  Just as in The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, we get the quirky and dysfunctional family.  Just as in American Hustle, we get the period detail, the Scorsese-lite soundtrack, and the moments of cynical humor.  There’s a lot going on in Joy and, at time, it doesn’t seem that Russell really knows what to do with all the theme and characters that he’s mixed into the movie.  I found myself wondering if he truly understood the story that he was trying to tell.

Finally, at the end of the film, Joy visits a business rival in Dallas, Texas.  Let’s just say that the film’s version of Dallas looks nothing like the city that I know.  (The minute that the scene cut from her ex-husband discovering that Joy had left to a close-up of a Bar-B-Q sign, I let out an exasperated, “Oh, come on!”)  I suppose I should be happy that Russell didn’t have huge mountains in the background of the Dallas scenes but seriously, would it have killed anyone to do a little research or maybe hop on a plane and spend a day or two filming on location?

(After all, if Richard Linklater or Wes Anderson decided to set a movie in David O. Russell’s home state of Massachusetts, I doubt that they would film the Boston scenes in El Paso….)

Joy features great work from Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper and it tells a story that has the potential to be very empowering.  But, when it comes to the overall film … meh.

Sorry Jen