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

The Washington D.C. Critics Are Mad About Max!


MadMaxFuryRoad

One good thing about Mad Max: Fury Road doing so well during award seasion is that it gives me an excuse to say that “So-and-so Is Mad About Max!”  Thank you, film critics, for making my job a lot easier.

Anyway, yesterday, the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics announced their nominees for the best of 2015!  And, once again, a lot of love was shown to Fury Road.  However, I am even happier to see that they also gave some attention to one of my favorite films of the year, Ex Machina.

Here are the nominees!

Best Film:
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario
Spotlight

Best Director:
Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
Todd Haynes (Carol)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)
George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Ridley Scott (The Martian)

Best Actor:
Matt Damon (The Martian)
Johnny Depp (Black Mass)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Best Actress:
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Brie Larson (Room)
Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
Sarah Silverman (I Smile Back)
Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Supporting Actor:
Paul Dano (Love & Mercy)
Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation)
Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Best Supporting Actress:
Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
Rooney Mara (Carol)
Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)
Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

Best Acting Ensemble:
The Big Short
The Hateful Eight
Spotlight
Steve Jobs
Straight Outta Compton

Best Youth Performance:
Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation)
Raffey Cassidy (Tomorrowland)
Oona Laurence (Southpaw)
Güneş Şensoy (Mustang)
Jacob Tremblay (Room)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Nick Hornby (Brooklyn)
Phyllis Nagy (Carol)
Drew Goddard (The Martian)
Emma Donoghue (Room)
Aaron Sorkin (Steve Jobs)

Best Original Screenplay:
Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen (Bridge of Spies)
Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley (Original Story by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen) (Inside Out)
Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight)
Amy Schumer (Trainwreck)

 

Film Review: Southpaw (dir by Antoine Fuqua)


Southpaw_poster

Southpaw features Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer who loses his wife, his daughter, his career, his self-respect, his car, his house, his manager, his friends, and nearly his life.  But then, about 70 minutes into the film, he gets a chance to get it all back.  Well, almost all of it.  His wife is dead so he can’t get her back but there are hints that he might get together with a helpful social worker after the end credits role.

There was really only one reason why I was interested in seeing Southpaw and that’s because it starred Jake Gyllenhaal.  Last year, Gyllenhaal gave the performance of his career in Nighcrawler.  Gyllenhaal was so brilliant that you just knew the Academy was going to prove itself clueless by not nominating him.  And that’s exactly what happened.  Gyllenhaal was snubbed and, as a result, the Academy now owes him a nomination.  When the trailer for Southpaw first appeared and we saw Gyllenhaal as muscular and bloody, a lot of us assumed that Southpaw would be the film that would get him that nomination.

And Jake Gyllenhaal does do a pretty good job in Southpaw.  He’s one of the main reasons for seeing the film.  It’s interesting to compare Gyllenhaal’s hyperactive performance and sickly appearance in Nightcrawler with his work as boxer Billy Hope in Southpaw.  Billy is a professional brawler and you believe it when you look at him.  Not only is he huge and muscular but he’s got a face that has obviously been punched more than a few times.  When he speaks, he isn’t the hyper articulate con man of Nightcrawler and Love and Other Drugs.  Instead, he stares at the ground as he mumbles and struggles to put together the simplest of thoughts.  It’s a good performance but, at the same time, it lacks the element of surprise that Gyllenhaal has brought to his best roles in the past.  You watched both Donnie Darko and Nightcrawler and you knew that only Gyllenhaal could have brought those roles to life.  Billy Hope, however, is a far less interesting character and you could imagine any number of actors playing the role.  (Reportedly, Southpaw was actually written with Eminem in mind and you really can see him playing the role.)

And really, the entire film is a lot like Billy Hope.  It does its job but there’s nothing all that interesting about it.  Southpaw‘s biggest surprise comes about 20 minutes into the film when Billy’s loving wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), is shot and killed and you already knew that was going to happen from the film’s trailer.  After Maureen’s death, Billy starts using alcohol and drugs and, as a result, he loses custody of his daughter, Leila (12 year-old Oona Laurence, giving a great performance).  Because this is a sports film, Billy has to hit rock bottom before, with the help of a grizzled and haunted trainer (Forest Whitaker), he can get a chance to win back both the championship and his daughter.  Director Antoine Fuqua obviously know how to tell these type of testosterone-drenched stories but there’s not a single moment in Southpaw that you won’t see coming from miles away.

And don’t get me wrong.  Unlike some other films that I was less than overwhelmed by, I can actually understand why some people in the theater applauded at the end of Southpaw.  It’s an effective film, even if it does run on for a little bit too long.  It tells a heartfelt story.  It’s a crowd pleaser and I’m sure that a lot of people will enjoy it.  But, for me, it was just too predictable.  I like it when movies catch me off guard and that’s something that Southpaw never came close to doing.

A quick sidenote: Southpaw features the final score composed by the late James Horner and the film is dedicated to his memory.  If you see the movie, be sure to stick around for the dedication so that you can put your hands together for a cinematic and musical legend.