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MOVIE REVIEW: HONEYMOON and NO GOOD DEED

 

September 8, 2014

This weekend bodes well for movies with another eclectic mix of new releases across the country with each as engaging and worthwhile as the next.

The stunning THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY (aka THEM) stars James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain. Written and directed by Ned Benson, ELEANOR RIGBY is a companion to two other films HER and HIM, which will open in October. Emotionally intense, the performances alone are more than worth the price of admission. And then there's something for the whole family with the wonderfully charming DOLPHIN TALE 2 as we go back into the water with Winter and company. An absolute "must see" is THE DROP. Written by crime master Dennis Lehane based on his own short story, THE DROP stars Tom Hardy, and in his final role, James Gandolfini. Both mesmerize. How Hardy could top his performance in "Locke" of earlier this year, I don't know, but he does. Gandolfini is so strong that it's not a stretch to see a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar push for him.

My personal favorite this week is Israel Horovitz' MY OLD LADY. Adapted by Horovitz from his own play, MY OLD LADY is about an American writer who inherits an apartment in Paris from his deceased father. On his last dollar, Mathias Gold heads to Paris to claim his inheritance only to find his building legally occupied by an old woman named Mathilde. Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristen Scott Thomas delight at every turn. Filled with charm and texture both visually and emotionally, MY OLD LADY captures the heart and tickles the funny bone from beginning to end. Set in Paris, visually Horovitz sweeps you up to a world of lightness and light, beauty and old world charm. Production design is beauteous while Michel Amathieu's cinematography is breathtaking, celebrating an airiness, filling the apartment with white light, metaphorically and practically using windows to their utmost advantage. When it comes to performance, there is a vibrancy of life that bubbles forth from the very patina of history and the yellow tinged memories of Smith's Mathilde, recalling a happier time of days gone by. Kline and Smith are rapier perfection while Kristen Scott Thomas as Mathilde's daughter is delicious with frustrated exasperated angst at which you can't help but laugh. You will fall in love, as I have, with this film and these characters.

But let's take a deeper look at two other films opening this weekend, films filled with terror and suspense - HONEYMOON and NO GOOD DEED.

HONEYMOON

Long have we heard the old adage that "marriage is hell", but what about the honeymoon? Thanks to first time writer/director Leigh Janiak and HONEYMOON, couples may now want to start rethinking their own post-marital celebrations as Janiak gives new meaning to honeymoon hell and marital bliss. Deconstructing a relationship thanks to over-zealous paranoia and that omnipresent question, "How well do you know the person you married?", Janiak delivers an intriguing story fueled by doubt and uncertainty, hesitancy and fear, while creating suspense and tension with a sinister slow burn.

As newlyweds Paul and Bea head out on their HONEYMOON to a secluded cabin in the woods belonging to Bea's family, it doesn't take long to realize this was one hasty wedding, undoubtedly spurred onward thanks to incredible sexual chemistry as opposed to lifetime compatibility. The characters and the audience are all on the same page when it comes to learning about who Paul and Bea are; who can cook, who likes long walks in the woods, who plays board games, who hates mud and thick foliage, who's afraid of the dark. But by the end of the first act, the audience is ahead of the game, although it remains to be determined what they have witnessed on screen and that's where real suspense takes hold.

While the couple sleeps in the dead quiet and black of night, a strange bright white light pierces the inky darkness outside before angling in on the sleeping couple, and particularly, Bea. An even stranger pulsating "thrumming" noise accompanies the light; a noise that carries a vibration so intense one would think it would wake the dead. But it doesn't wake Paul and Bea. The next day, the marital bliss starts to chip as Bea seems a bit off, especially after reconnecting with a former flame who runs a local restaurant and market and after Paul finds her outside in the middle of the night stark naked. An affair? Already?

As jealousy and doubt start to consume Paul, straining the already somewhat soft marital foundation, Bea seems disconnected, disinterested, merely going through the motions, and increasingly forgetful of the brief personal history that they do share. What's happening to this HONEYMOON? Although Paul decides they need to leave the isolated woods and return to a land of cell phones and wi-fi and people, Bea refuses and even goes out of her way to prevent the couple from leaving the cabin

As Paul and Bea, "Penny Dreadful's" Harry Treadaway and "Game of Thrones" Rose Leslie have a comfortable and youthfully believable dynamic. They suit the roles and the story well, bringing an ease, and subsequent necessary uneasiness, to the experience. Immensely likeable, they connect with the audience, making us care about each character individually and as a couple.

Although Janiak and co-writer Phil Graziadei, include all the requisite "horror" tropes, trappings and cliches we have come to expect in the suspense/horror genre, it's on the technical levels where Janiak makes her mark. Working with cinematographer Kyle Klutz, the shoot is relatively self-contained within the confines of a very small cabin. Shooting hand-held, lensing angles are varied, interesting and intimate while exteriors serve as contrast with wide shots, often dutched to make the forestry even more menacing and our principals more insignificant. Wonderful visual metaphor. An underwater scene is a real achievement given the murky muddiness of the water. Outstanding is a climactic bathroom scene that despite my lengthy interview of Janiak, still has me amazed at how it was executed. Special effects are minimal but effective.

Editor Chris Capp excels with the pacing, creating a solid, even, steady flow that hits peak moments in a timely manner (i.e., before the audience can lose interest), while fueling the slow burn of Janiak's overall construct. But the real achievement is the sound design. Integral to the paranoia and fear, although not "surround sound", the design is such so that it does surround you. Imagine the cabin as the center, and the audience in the cabin. We hear every leaf, every crackle of a branch, drop of water, hoot owl, footstep, muddy slip, cabinet door click, as if in the thick of the story with Paul and Bea. And then the "thrum"! Any classic movie fan will immediately liken it to "The Incredible Mr. Limpett" - and it provides the same foreboding trepidation today as it did 50 years ago.

Let HONEYMOON be your late night honeymoon destination - if you dare.

Directed by Leigh Janiak

Written by Leigh Janiak and Phil Graziadei

Cast: Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie

NO GOOD DEED

Continuing with themes of old adages and films lensed within a single confined space, I turn your attention to NO GOOD DEED. As your mother always told you, no good deed goes unpunished and that's exactly what happens to Taraji P. Henson's "Terry" in NO GOOD DEED.

Terry is a devoted wife and mother of a four-year old daughter and newborn son. From the looks of her plush, suburban wooded Atlanta neighborhood and her house, her husband provides well for the family. From the exterior of the house to the furnishings and art inside, it looks like a page from Architectural Digest. And while on the surface it may appear that Terry has an ideal life, she clearly doesn't. Suffering with post-partum body issues and low self-esteem, Terry is feeling the lack of attention from a husband who is always working. Left alone yet again as her husband heads out of town for a golfing weekend for his father's birthday, Terry is in a funk, something that best friend Meg determines to break her of with a girls-night-in.

As the sunny summer day has turned into one of doom and gloom with a thunderstorm raging outside, Terry thinks nothing of it when her doorbell rings, other than being surprised that Meg would have still ventured out in the inclement weather to come hang out. But imagine Terry's surprise when she flings open the door and sees a tall handsome (very handsome), and injured, man on her stoop. (Yes, I know. Flinging open doors on a dark and stormy night without looking in the peephole is a no-no, ladies!)

His name is Colin. He has car trouble. Can he use her phone to call a tow company? A question and answer session ensues that has all the hallmarks of foreplay. What about your cell phone? Uh, forgot it. No problem. Here's the phone. Oh, you're bleeding, you're all wet. Come inside and let me dress your wound while you take off that wet shirt and jacket. You hungry? Want a glass of wine? And then Meg arrives.

As Meg thinks there's more to muscular and manly Colin than meets the eye, she starts probing with specific questions to Colin while Terry tends to some non-sleeping children. When Terry returns to her guests, only Colin is there. Strange. Her best friend would never leave without saying good-bye.

And because of the surprises and twists within the film, that's all the plot you get.

Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson soar. Serving as very hands-on executive producers as well as lead actors, the two feed off the energy of one another in a dance of suspense that is as thrilling as it is action-packed and intense; so intense in fact that during a crucial scene of physicality, Elba actually struck Henson in the face with a gun and drew blood. The emotional chess game played out between Colin and Terry is enthralling. And while we saw Henson get down and dirty earlier this year in "Think Like A Man Too", she goes toe-to-toe with Elba, demonstrating she can kick some serious butt! Standout with Henson, however, is that Terry is a wonderful shift of performance, allowing Henson to tackle a character that has a great arc as she gets her balls - and brains - back after falling into the stay-at-home-mom slump. And while Elba's intensity can be searing, it's his personable charm that creates red herrings and plot twists.

As Terry's husband, Henry Simmons provides some nice eye candy while Kate del Castillo is sheer emotional power as Colin's ex-girlfriend. A treat is Leslie Bibb who adds a lightness and grounding as Meg while showing us a depth in her skill as an actor which we haven't really seen prior.

Directed by Sam Miller from a script by Aimee Lagos, the action is tight, the suspense and tension taut, escalating with palpable intensity. Production values are through the roof with a slick, sleek polish and originality, thanks in large part to cinematographer Michael Barrett's lensing with the Sony F camera, a camera that allows you to shoot night for night and use extremely minimal lighting, rather than create night during daylight. The result is spellbinding, creating a rich visual dynamic and saturation of color and light/shadow. The Sony F set the tonal bandwidth of the film and, according to Elba and Henson, aided their performances because of the night shoots and our natural body clocks.

Although there are some continuity issues and some events that bode disbelief, it doesn't detract from the white-knuckling terror that unfolds.

Directed by Sam Miller

Written by Aimee Lagos

Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Idris Elba, Leslie Bibb, Kate del Castillo

 

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