18 Days of Paranoia #16: Lost Girls (dir by Liz Garbus)


Lost Girls tells the true and infuriating story of Mari Gilbert and her search for her oldest daughter, Shannan.

Mari Gilbert is a single mother who is works as a waitress and struggles to give her children the best life that she can.  She’s still haunted by a decision that she made years ago to temporarily put her three daughters into foster care.  Though she eventually reclaimed two of her daughters, her eldest — Shannan — has basically been on her own since she was sixteen.  Shannan, who is now 24, visits her mother and her sisters on a semi-regular basis.  Despite the fact that Shannan claims that she’s just a waitress (like her mother), Shannan always seems to have a lot of money on her.  Mari has her suspicions about what Shannan’s doing to make that money but she keeps them to herself.

Then, one day in May, Shannan disappears.  Mari can’t get the police to take her seriously when she says her oldest daughter has vanished.  They say that Shannan left on her own and will probably return at some point.  They dismiss Mari’s concerns, telling her that her daughter was a prostitute and therefore, by their logic, unreliable.  Even when Mari gets strange phone calls from a doctor who lives in a gated community in Long Island, the police refuse to take her seriously.

However, Mari then discovers that Shannan called 911 the night that she disappeared.  Despite the fact that Shannan sounded panicked, the police waited an hour before responding to her call and, by the time they arrived, Shannan had disappeared.  It’s only when Mari goes to the media that the police actually start to search the area of Long Island where Shannan disappeared.  The police discover the bodies of several sex workers, all murdered by the same unknown killer.

However, they still don’t find Shannan’s body.  Though Mari and her daughter, Sherre (Thomasin McKenzie), are convinced that Shannan is one of the killer’s victims, the police continue to insist that Shannan probably just ran off on her own.  In fact, the local police commissioner (Gabriel Byrne) finds himself being pressured to do something about Mari because her now constant presence on TV is making the entire community look bad.

Meanwhile, Mari finds herself caught up in a personal feud between two men who live in the gated community, an amateur investigator (Kevin Corrigan) and a shady doctor (Reed Birney) who has a history of making inappropriate phone calls….

Lost Girls is an interesting but frustrating film.  Some of that is because the story on which the film is based did not have a happy ending.  The Long Island serial killer has never been identified or captured.  The most obvious suspect was never charged with anything and subsequently moved down to Florida.  Mari never got justice for Shannan and, sadly, was eventually murdered by her youngest daughter.  (The murder is acknowledged via a title card but it is not actually depicted in the film.)  As a result, the film itself doesn’t really offer up any of the payoff that you would normally expect to get after devoting 90 minutes of your life to it.  It’s frustrating but, at the same time, its understandable.

Amy Ryan gives a great performance as Mari.  That shouldn’t shock anyone.  She makes you feel Mari’s pain, fury, and guilt.  To its credit, the film does shy away from the fact that Mari often looked the other way when it came to how exactly Shannan was making the money that she regularly sent back to her family and Amy Ryan perfectly captures Mari’s struggle to not only get justice for her daughter but also to forgive herself.  Unfortunately, the film is a bit less convincing when it deals with the police and the suspects.  The film, for instance, can’t seem to decide whether or not Gabriel Byrne’s character is indifferent, incompetent, or just overwhelmed by a bad situation.  By that same token, the doctor and his neighbor both seem oddly underwritten and underplayed.  Obviously, the film can’t just come out and accuse a real, living person of murder (especially when that person hasn’t been charged with anything) but it still makes for a frustrating viewing experience.

Where Lost Girls succeeds is at creating a properly ominous atmosphere.  Every scene seems to be filled with dread and, from the minute that Mari starts her investigation, you feel nervous for her.  She’s taking a true journey into the heart of darkness.  The film leaves you angry that the police refused to search for Shannan.  Sex workers are regularly preyed upon and, because of what they do for a living, society often looks the other way.  That’s how you end up with killers like The Green River Killer and the Long Island serial killer.  They don’t get away with their crimes because they’re clever.  They get away with it because, far too often, society refuses to care about their victims.  Lost Girls is an imperfect film but its heart is in the right place and its message is an important one.

Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls
  8. The French Connection II
  9. Blunt: The Fourth Man 
  10. The Quiller Memorandum
  11. Betrayed
  12. Best Seller
  13. They Call Me Mister Tibbs
  14. The Organization
  15. Marie: A True Story

Catching Up With The Films of 2017: American Made (dir by Doug Liman)


Oh, Tom Cruise.

You magnificent and problematic bastard.

Tom Cruise has become so associated with Scientology and all of its creepy excesses that it’s sometimes easy to forget that he’s always been a pretty good actor and he’s actually getting better with age.  In the Mission Impossible films, he’s proven that he can be a better James Bond than Daniel Craig.  In Edge of Tomorrow, he and Emily Blunt brought real depth to what could have just been another generic action film.  Even as bad as The Mummy may have been, the film failed because of a bad script and bad direction.  Tom Cruise’s performance was actually one of the few things in that movie that did work.

And then there’s American Made.

Directed by Edge of Tomorrow‘s Doug Liman, American Made is supposedly based on a true story.  At least as portrayed in this film, Barry Seal was an airline pilot who, in the late 70s, was recruited by the CIA to fly over Central America and take pictures of communist rebels.  An adrenaline junkie who had grown bored with his day job, Barry quickly agreed and even got a thrill out of the rebels shooting at him as he flew over.  Barry was then recruited by the Medellin Cartel and soon, he was flying drugs into the United States while still working for the CIA.  While the President was declaring war on drugs, Barry was attending secret meetings at the White House.  The CIA set Barry up with his own airport in Mena, Arkansas, where he both trained anti-communist guerillas and arranged for the importation of cocaine into the United States.  This went on until both the CIA and the Colombians decided that Barry knew too much and was expendable.

It’s a pretty wild story and, at the very least, some of it is true.  It is generally acknowledged that Barry Seal worked for both the CIA and the Medellin Cartel and that the little town of Mena, Arkansas was, briefly, the very unlikely center of America’s drug trade.  The film places most of the blame on Ronald Reagan and the Bushes.  Of course, if you ask any of the older folks in Arkansas, they’ll tell you that Bill Clinton not only knew about the cocaine coming in to Mena but that he also snorted at least half of it up his nose.  Director Doug Liman, himsef, has said that American Made was inspired by the life of Barry Seal but that its shouldn’t necessarily be considered a biopic.

Despite a few scenes where the film tries a bit too hard to duplicate the style of American Hustle, American Made is an entertaining film.  That’s largely due to Tom Cruise’s performance as Barry.  Cruise plays Barry Seal as man who, no matter what the situation, always managed to have a good time and, watching American Made, you can’t help but suspect that Tom Cruise was having an equally good time playing him.  Cruise is at his most relaxed and charismatic in American Made, even managing to deliver his lines in a passable Southern accent.  (The rest of the cast is less successful, too often sounding quasi-Texan even though they’re playing Arkansans.)  Even after his whole operation has fallen apart and Barry knows that his days are numbered, you get the feeling that he wouldn’t change a thing.  He just seems like he’s happy to have had the experience.

(For me, Cruise’s best moment comes after Barry crashes his airplane in a suburban neighborhood.  Stepping out the wreckage, covered in cocaine, Barry steals a kid’s bike and says, “You didn’t see me!” before triumphantly riding off.  It’s potentially cartoonish but Cruise sells the scene and makes it work.  I was sad to discover, while researching this review, that this apparently didn’t actually happen.)

I liked American Made.  It never quite becomes the savage critique of American foreign policy that it appears to want to be but it’s still an entertaining film and a reminder that, weird religious beliefs aside, Tom Cruise is actually a pretty good actor.

Spotlight and Paul Dano Win At the Gothams


Spotlight

The Gotham Awards were held last night!  Spotlight was the big winner though Paul Dano picked up the supporting actor award for his performance in Love & Mercy.

Best Screenplay
“Carol,” Phyllis Nagy
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” Marielle Heller
“Love & Mercy,” Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner
“Spotlight,” Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer – WINNER
“While We’re Young,” Noah Baumbach

Breakthrough Actor
Rory Culkin in “Gabriel”
Arielle Holmes in “Heaven Knows What”
Lola Kirke in “Mistress America”
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in “Tangerine”
Mya Taylor in “Tangerine” – WINNER

Breakthrough Series – Long Form
“Jane the Virgin,” Jennie Snyder Urman, Creator (The CW)
“Mr. Robot,” Sam Esmail, Creator (USA Network) – WINNER
“Transparent,” Jill Soloway, Creator (Amazon)
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, Creators (Netflix)
“UnREAL,” Marti Noxon, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, Creators (Lifetime)

Best Feature
“Carol”
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
“Heaven Knows What”
“Spotlight” – WINNER
“Tangerine”

Best Documentary
“Approaching the Elephant”
“Cartel Land”
“Heart of a Dog”
“Listen to Me Marlon”
“The Look of Silence” – WINNER

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director
Desiree Akhavan for “Appropriate Behavior”
Jonas Carpigano for “Mediterranea” – WINNER
Marielle Heller for “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
John Magary for “The Mend”
Josh Mond for “James White”

Best Actor
Christopher Abbott in “James White”
Kevin Corrigan in “Results”
Paul Dano in “Love & Mercy” – WINNER
Peter Sarsgaard in “Experimenter”
Michael Shannon in “99 Homes”

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett in “Carol”
Blythe Danner in “I’ll See You in My Dreams”
Brie Larson in “Room”
Bel Powley in “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” – WINNER
Lily Tomlin in “Grandma”
Kristen Wiig in “Welcome to Me”

Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast
Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Brian D’Arcy James for their ensemble work in “Spotlight”

Breakthrough Series – Short Form
“Bee and PuppyCat,” Natasha Alllegri, Creator (Cartoon Hangover)
“The Impossibilities,” Anna Kerrigan, Creator (seriesofimpossibilities.com)
“Qraftish, Christal,” Creator (Blackgirldangerous.com)
“Shugs and Fats,” Nadia Manzoor and Radhka Vaz, Creator (ShugsandFats.TV)
“You’re So Talented,” Sam Bailey, Creator (Open TV)

Paul Dano

Awards Season Is Here With The 2015 Gotham Award Nominations!


Officially, awards season started yesterday when it was announced that Chris Rock would host the Oscars in 2016.  And let me tell you, I was so excited about that prospect that, for the first time since this site began, I actually didn’t even post that a new Oscar host had been officially selected.  But anyway, here’s hoping that Chris does well!  (Personally, I still want them to give James Franco a second chance…)

However, today, we had the first of our annual Oscar precursors when the 2015 Gotham Nominations were announced!  It’s debatable just how much influence that Gothams have on the actual Oscar race.  The Gothams are designed to only honor independent, American-made films, which means that several potential Oscar nominees aren’t even eligible.  A lot of Oscar pundits have pointed out that, last year, Birdman did very well with the Gothams.  But wouldn’t Birdman have been nominated even without the Gothams?

As for this year’s Gotham nominations, Spotlight and The Diary of a Teenage Girl dominated.  Spotlight has regularly been mentioned as an Oscar contender.  Will the Gotham nominations propel Teenage Girl into the hunt?  (Even more importantly, how did I miss seeing Diary of a Teenage Girl when it was first released?)

As well, Carol got some recognition.  That’s probably a good thing since, after being an early front runner, Carol has lately been overshadowed by Spotlight, Steve Jobs, Bridge of Spies, and The Martian.

Here are the 2015 Gotham Nominees!

diary-of-a-teenage-girl-kristen-wiig

Best Feature

Carol
Todd Haynes, director; Elizabeth Karlsen, Tessa Ross, Christine Vachon, Stephen Woolley, producers (The Weinstein Company)

The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Marielle Heller, director; Anne Carey, Bert Hamelinck, Madeline Samit, Miranda Bailey, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)

Heaven Knows What
Josh and Benny Safdie, directors; Oscar Boyson, Sebastian Bear-McClard, producers (RADiUS)

Spotlight
Tom McCarthy, director; Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, Blye Pagan Faust, producers (Open Road Films)

Tangerine
Sean Baker, director; Darren Dean, Shih-Ching Tsou, Marcus Cox & Karrie Cox, producers (Magnolia Pictures)

Best Documentary

Approaching the Elephant
Amanda Rose Wilder, director; Jay Craven, Robert Greene, Amanda Rose Wilder, producers (Kingdom County Productions)

Cartel Land
Matthew Heineman, director; Matthew Heineman, Tom Yellin, producers (The Orchard and A&E IndieFilms)

Heart of a Dog
Laurie Anderson, director; Dan Janvey, Laurie Anderson, producers (Abramorama and HBO Documentary Films)

Listen to Me Marlon
Stevan Riley, director; John Battsek, RJ Cutler, George Chignell, producers (Showtime Documentary Films)

The Look of Silence
Joshua Oppenheimer, director; Signe Byrge Sørensen, producer (Drafthouse Films)

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

Desiree Akhavan for Appropriate Behavior (Gravitas Ventures)
Jonas Carpigano for Mediterranea (Sundance Selects)
Marielle Heller for The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sony Pictures Classics)
John Magary for The Mend (Cinelicious Pics)
Josh Mond for James White (The Film Arcade)

Best Screenplay

Carol, Phyllis Nagy (The Weinstein Company)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Marielle Heller (Sony Pictures Classics)
Love & Mercy, Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner (Roadside Attractions, Lionsgate, and River Road Entertainment)
Spotlight, Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Open Road Films)
While We’re Young, Noah Baumbach (A24)

Best Actor

Christopher Abbott in James White (The Film Arcade)
Kevin Corrigan in Results (Magnolia Pictures)
Paul Dano in Love & Mercy (Roadside Attractions, Lionsgate, and River Road Entertainment)
Peter Sarsgaard in Experimenter (Magnolia Pictures)
Michael Shannon in 99 Homes (Broad Green Pictures)

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol (The Weinstein Company)
Blythe Danner in I’ll See You in My Dreams (Bleecker Street)
Brie Larson in Room (A24)
Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sony Pictures Classics)
Lily Tomlin in Grandma (Sony Pictures Classics)
Kristen Wiig in Welcome to Me (Alchemy)

Breakthrough Actor

Rory Culkin in Gabriel (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Arielle Holmes in Heaven Knows What (RADiUS)
Lola Kirke in Mistress America (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine (Magnolia Pictures)
Mya Taylor in Tangerine (Magnolia Pictures)

Welcome to Oscar season!

mara_blanchett_carol