The Things You Find On Netflix: Eli (dir by Ciaran Foy)


Eli (Charlie Shotwell) is a young boy who is allergic to everything outside.  As a result, he can’t venture out of the house unless he’s covered, head-to-toe, in protective gear.  Eli wasn’t always allergic, of course.  It’s just something that suddenly started.  Eli’s mother, Rose (Kelly Reilly) and her husband, Paul (Max Martini), are taking him to a special clinic run by Dr. Isabella Horn (Lili Taylor).  Because the clinic is sealed off from the outside, Eli can leave his plastic bubble.  Because the clinic is in a dark old building, we know that it’s either going to be haunted or run by some sort of cult.  In fact, it doesn’t take long before Eli is doubting not only Dr. Horn but his parents as well!  He keeps hearing voices that hiss, “Lie.”  And the only other patient at the clinic, a young girl named Haley (Sadie Sink), repeatedly tells him to be careful….

Eli is 98 minutes long and I lost interest after the first ten.  Basically, I was willing to give the film a chance but then a bunch of rednecks started to taunt Eli while he was walking around outside in his protective gear and I was like, “Yeah, okay.” Then they started throwing stuff at him and I was like, “Getting a little bit heavy-handed now.”  Then the suit got torn and Eli started screaming like he was about to die and the rednecks just stood there laughing and that’s when I said, “Okay, this is going to suck.”  There’s heavy-handed and then there’s just attacking your audience with a sledgehammer.  Sledgehammers give you a migraine.

Once Eli reaches the clinic, the film slows down to a glacial pace.  In theory, the slow pace should have helped to maintain an ominous atmosphere but …. eh.  To be honest, I’ve seen a lot of creepy clinics in a lot of creepy movies and there was nothing that special about this one.  It all leads to a big twist but, again, it wasn’t a particularly original twist and even the film’s attempt to blow my mind with a subversive ending just left me shrugging.  “Really?” I thought, “That’s what’s going to happen, huh?  Well, what can you do?”

Like a lot of bad movies, the script for Eli was included on the infamous Hollywood Black List.  The Black List is an annual list of the “best” unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.  A few good films have been made out of scripts on the Black List but, for whatever, the majority of Black List films always seem to turn out to be somewhat disappointing.  Broken City, for instance, was a Black List film.  So was The Beaver.  You can add Eli to the pile of mediocre Black List films.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #122: Calvary (dir by John Michael McDonagh)


Calvary_movieposterCalvary was probably the best movie of 2014 that you did not see in a theater.  I missed seeing it during its brief theatrical run in the States.  If I had seen it when it was originally released, my list of the best films of 2014 would have been far different.  Calvary is an amazing film that takes a serious and intelligent look at issues of faith, morality, guilt, and absolution.  It is one of the best films about Catholicism that I’ve ever seen.

The film, which was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (who previously gave us The Guard), tells the story of an Irish priest, Father James (Brendan Gleeson).  During confession, an unseen parishoner tells James about the horrific sexual abuse that he suffered as a child.  The parishoner explains that the priest who abused him has since died so the parishoner plans to get his revenge on the Catholic Church by killing James.  He tells James to meet him on the beach next Sunday.  He also informs James that his death will mean more because James is a “good man.”

The rest of the film follows James over the course of what could be the last week of his life and we watch as James struggles to fulfill his priestly duties in a world that seems to be moving further and further away from the Church.  While everyone seems to come to him with their problems and their questions, few people seem to share James’s faith and James is often left to wonder whether he’s doing any good at all.

For instance, when he confronts the local butcher (Chris O’Dowd) for beating his wife, the butcher refuses to admit that he did anything wrong.  When he goes to prison and talks to a serial killer (Freddie Joyce) who wants forgiveness, James replies that he can’t be forgiven because he feels no guilt.  The local millionaire (Dylan Moran) offers to donate money to the church but also confesses that he made his money through illegal means.  A local doctor, a hedonistic, cocaine-snorting atheist played by Aiden Gillen, takes perverse pleasure in taunting James for caring about death.  When James attempts to talk to a local girl, the girl’s father accuses him of being a pedophile.  When the local church catches on fire, nobody in the village seems to care.  And finally, one night, James returns home to discover that someone has murdered his beloved dog.

And yet, there are good moments as well.  James prays with a woman (Marie-Josee Croze) who has just lost her husband.  James gets chance to bond with his emotionally unstable daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly).  James successfully counsels a troubled young man (Killian Scott) and befriends an American writer (M. Emmett Walsh).

And, as Sunday approaches, James is forced to decide whether to leave his parish or to go to the beach.

Calvary is a great film, one that consistently takes you by surprise and forces you to think.  In many ways, James serves as a stand-in for the entire Catholic Church.  He’s made mistakes, he’s been battered, and he struggles with doubt.  And yet, at the same time, he is still capable of doing so much good.  Calvary is one of the best Catholic films ever made.

And it also features Brendan Gleeson’s best performance to date.  That is truly saying something because Brendan Gleeson is one of our greatest actors.  Gleeson is onscreen for every minute of Calvary and his emotional and, at times, warmly humorous performance is an amazing thing to behold.  When we first see James, he’s a weary and burned-out man.  Over the course of the week (and the film), he goes from being frightened to angry to sad to eventually achieving a state of grace.

It’s a great performance in a great film.

You may have missed Calvary in 2014.

Don’t miss it again.

6 More Films From 2012: 4:44: Last Day On Earth, First Position, Flight, The Paperboy, Red Tails, and The Trouble With Bliss


Continuing my desperate attempt to review all of the 2012 films that I’ve seen but haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet, here’s six more reviews.

1) 4:44: Last Day On Earth (dir. by Abel Ferrara)

Whether it’s because of the Mayan calendar or the fact the Obama got reelected, people seem to be obsessed with the end of the world right now and it’s been the subject of several recent films.  4:44: Last Day On Earth is one of the more low-key entries in this genre.

Willem DaFoe plays a New York-based actor who deals with the impending end of the world by meditating in his loft, having sex with his much younger girlfriend, and having awkward conversations on Skype with his daughter.  As opposed to the characters in several other end of the world films, DaFoe doesn’t use the situation as an excuse to go on a quest for true love.  Unlike 2012, there’s no talk of escaping the apocalypse.  Instead, the world is ending and DaFoe has no choice but to accept it.  From a cinematic point of view, DaFoe’s passivity can be frustrating (4:44 is a film that’s willing to be boring to make its point) but, at the same time, it does force a viewer like me to wonder how she would handle the end of the world in a way that a film like Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World does not.

One interesting thing that distinguishes 4:44 from other end-of-the-world films is that, in 4:44, the world ends specifically because of the actions of mankind.  Whereas films like Melancholia and Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World presented a random apocalypse, 4:44 presents the apocalypse as the fitting punishment for the sins of humanity.  While I could have done without the scenes of DaFoe listening to Al Gore droning on and on about global warming (because, seriously, Gore always sounds like the creepy community college professor who you know is having an affair with one of his students), this still adds an interesting element to the film.

4:44 requires a bit of tolerance and a lot of patience but it’s still a film that’s worthy of being seen.

2) First Position (dir. by Bess Kargman)

First Position is a documentary about ballet so, of course, you know that I loved it.  The film follows six young dancers as they prepare for the Youth American Grand Prix in New York City and it brought back a lot of memories (both good and bad) for me.  First Position captures both the beauty and the pain of both dance and life.

3) Flight (dir. by Robert Zemeckis)

In Flight, Denzel Washington plays a cocky and talented pilot who is also an alcoholic and a drug addict.  In a truly harrowing sequence, the plane that Washington is piloting goes into a nosedive over Atlanta.  After Washington manages to crash-land the plane with only a few fatalities, he finds himself hailed as both a hero and also under investigation.  Working with a union rep (Bruce Greenwood) and a slick attorney (Don Cheadle), Washington tries to cover up his mistakes while, at the same time, romancing a recovering heroin addict (Kelly Reilly).

Flight has a brilliant opening and a strong ending.  Unfortunately, the middle of the film tends to drag.  Flight also suffers from the fact that cinematic addicts are always more fun to watch when they’re under the influence as opposed to when they’re getting sober.  On the plus side, the film itself is well-acted and the cast is always fun to watch even when the rest of the film is getting bogged down.  Washington is brilliant in the lead role and John Goodman has a great cameo as the world’s most helpful drug dealer.

4) The Paperboy (dir by Lee Daniels)

In 1960s Florida, Hillary Van Wetter (an amazingly sleazy John Cusack) is on death row for the murder of a small town sheriff.  His girlfriend, the flamboyant Charlotte Bess (Nicole Kidman), convinces reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) to return to his hometown and investigate the case against Van Wetter.  With the help of his younger brother (Zac Efron) and an arrogant colleague (David Oyelowo), Ward works to get Van Wetter off of death row but it becomes obvious that all of the film’s characters are hiding secrets of their own.

The Paperboy has a few isolated moments where it achieves a certain pulp poetry but, for the most part, Lee Daniels’ follow-up to his Academy Award-winning Precious is a total and complete mess.  Unfortunately, it’s not even all that interesting of a mess.  Nicole Kidman’s vampish performance and her white trash femme fatale outfits are definitely the film’s highlight.  As for Zac Efron, he’s not much of an actor but he’s pipin’, boilin’ hot.  It’s just  too bad the character that he’s playing isn’t that interesting.

In the end, The Paperboy showcases everything that didn’t work about Precious and nothing that did.

5) Red Tails (dir. by Anthony Hemingway)

Red Tails was one of the first “major” releases of 2012 and it’s also one of the most forgettable.  The film, which was executive produced and reportedly co-directed by George Lucas, is based on the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-Americans who served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and who had to not only fight Nazis abroad but racial discrimination at home.  There’s undoubtedly an inspiring story to be told here but Red Tails is such a predictable and corny film that it feels as if Lucas and Hemingway essentially wasted the real life story of the Tuskegee Airmen on a painfully generic movie.

6) The Trouble With Bliss (dir. by Michael Knowles)

Morris Bliss (played by Michael C. Hall) is the type of guy who always seems to show up in quirky independent films.  He has no job, he has no money, and he lives in a tiny apartment with his father (Peter Fonda).  Since there’s nothing more attractive than a middle-aged guy with no future, he finds himself being pursued by an 18 year-old (Brie Larson), who also happens to be the daughter of a former high school classmate, and his married neighbor (played by Lucy Liu).

I have a weakness for quirky indie films but the nonstop quirkiness of The Trouble of With Bliss feels less like narrative imagination and more like total desperation.  Michael C. Hall’s a likable actor but he essentially turns Morris Bliss into Dexter Morgan and, as a result, I kept expected for the trouble with Bliss to turn out to be that he had about a few dozen bodies hidden away in a closet somewhere.

Now that would have been a quirky film!

Trailer: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Official)


In 2009, we saw the first film in what Warner Bros. hoped would be the start of a new film franchise in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Down, Jr. in the titular role with Jude Law playing his intrepid assistant, Dr. Watson. The film did quite well in the box-office that a sequel was greenlit right away and here we are just five months from the premiere of the follow-up film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

The first film introduced the character of Sherlock Holmes to the public who really didn’t know much of the iconic character. That film also introduced the one person who would become Holmes equal in intellect and deductive reasoning but without the moral center: Dr. James Moriarty. This arch-foil for Holmes is to be the main antagonist for the sequel and whoever decided to cast Jared Harris in the role of the good Dr. Moriarty should get a raise. Harris has always been one of those character actors who disappears into his roles in every film he has done but never seem to get any glory. Hopefully, once people have seen him in A Game of Shadows, this will change and he joins the likes of Mark Strong, Anthony Hopkins and others who toiled in relative obscurity until finally hitting it big as a charming villain in a major film.

New to the sequel will be Noomi Rapace just fresh off of her stand-out role as Lisbeth Salander in the film adaptation trilogy of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy. Also, joining the returning cast is Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes. The film, as shown in the trailer, looks to ramp up the action and bring Holmes and Watson on a whirlwind tour of Europe.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is set for a December 16, 2011 release date.