REVIEWS OF RENTED DVDs I GET IN THE MAIL

Posts Tagged ‘funeral’

THE MESSENGER (2009)

In Drama, Independent, M, Motion Pictures, Romance, War on July 5, 2010 at 3:25 am

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STUDIO – Oscilloscope Pictures

CASTWoody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi, Jenna Malone

DIRECTOR – Oren Moveman

MPAA Rating: R

According to legend, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman was said to have uttered the infamous axiom “War is hell”. Starting in 2002, when American troops invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, we were re-introduced to the hell that is war for the first time since Vietnam. We have seen many a motion picture about soldiers on the front lines, soldiers behind the lines, and the brave faces on the home front. There have been portrayals of both the glory, spirit, and camaraderie, and the pain, claustrophobia, and chaos that is war. But, until The Messenger came along, there hadn’t been a motion picture which focused exclusively on the men and women who perform the solemn duty of informing someone their husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, or sister had died in combat.

Ben Foster stars as SSG Will Montgomery, who had just returned to the States after recovering from battle wounds sustained in Iraq. With only a few months remaining on his enlistment, he is ordered to Fort Dix, New Jersey, to act as a Casualty Notification Officer (CNO). There, he is introduced to Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), who is to be his trainer and partner in performing this duty. From the word “Go”, Montgomery doesn’t like this job nor the man who came with it, but he is a soldier; he is given a job, and he sets out to do it the best he can.

Capt. Stone (Woody Harrelson) gives last-minute instructions to SSG Montgomery (Ben Foster) prior to his first CNO assignment

The Messenger is one of those movies that sinks into you slowly. And while, by co-writer/director Oren Moveman’s own admission, the tone of the movie is politically liberal, there aren’t any “in your face” moments that speak out against this (or any other) war. Rather, it is an intimate look into the lives of the military personnel assigned to perform this difficult task, and of the families impacted by them. This is a side of war that most of us never see, and that every military family wishes they never do see. It is grim. It is sad. It is gut-wrenching. It is also, unfortunately, the truth.

There are six scenes in this movie  in which families are notified of a soldier’s death, and each one plays out differently. There is the father (Steve Buscemi) who spits in SSG Montgomery’s face, the father (Angel Caban) who breaks down and cries when he looks back at his grandchild, the mother (Portia) who slaps Capt. Stone upon hearing her son was killed, and the father (Kevin Hagan) who throws up when he receives the news in a store (That last one, by the way, is against current military protocol, but it is based on an actual event in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War). Of the other two notification scenes, one is so moving and so poignant, that describing it here would not do it justice, and the other becomes the genesis of an unlikely romance between Montgomery and the widow of a fallen comrade, Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton).

I had a problem with how this relationship started out, because for one thing, a soldier performing as a CNO should never get personal with the people he encounters while he performs his duty. To me, the whole thing started out as some kind of twisted obsession, but (thanks to wonderfully low-key performances by both Foster and Morton) it evolves into a tender and nurturing relationship with a possible future. Woody Harrelson gave a powerful performance as Capt. Stone. Harrelson proudly proclaims himself to be “pro-peace” (as opposed to “anti-war”), so to see him playing a military officer with such drive and intensity was not only surprising, but brilliant, as well. And though this is very much an independent movie, his performance did not go unnoticed; Woody Harrelson received many accolades for his work in this movie, including an Independent Spirit Award, and Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, all for Best Supporting Actor.

There are several special features on the DVD, the most important of which is a companion-piece documentary called “Notification”, in which both Army CNOs and family members of the fallen share their stories on how the casualty notification process works. There is a behind-the-scenes look back by the cast and crew after finishing the movie, and a Q&A hosted by Variety magazine. And, for all you aspiring screenwriters out there, the DVD also features a .pdf version of the shooting script, which provides an excellent template for how movies should be written.

The Messenger is a powerful and moving motion picture that not only shows you just how difficult it is to be a CNO, but it is also smart enough to know when to let its hair down and enjoy the moment. Subtle and nuanced performances by Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, and Samantha Morton make this movie required viewing. And on this weekend, in which this nation observes its anniversary, it serves as an invaluable reminder for all of us to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

4 (out of 5)

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DEAD-ALIVE (1992)

In Comedy, D, Horror, Motion Pictures on April 21, 2010 at 1:24 am

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STUDIO — Trimark Pictures 

CAST — Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Ian Watkin, Brenda Kendall, Stuart Denevie, Jed Brophy 

DIRECTOR — Peter Jackson 

NOT RATED
(MPAA Equivalent: NC-17) 

Something tells me that, from watching this movie, Peter Jackson was the pride and joy of Fangoria magazine back in the early 1990s. 

This is the second of two requested samples of Peter Jackson’s early work (Heavenly Creatures is the other). Originally titled “Braindead”, Dead-Alive follows the budding romance of Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme), a local chap with a penchant for clumsiness, and Paquita María Sanchez (Diana Peñalver), daughter of a local shopkeeper whose store Lionel frequents. But Lionel’s mother, Vera (Elizabeth Moody), still thinks that her son is a child, and she still treats her as such. 

One day, Lionel visits the market to place his mother’s order. Paquita, after a Tarot reading by her grandmother, is convinced that Lionel is the man of her dreams, so she delivers the order to Lionel’s house. She then talks him into a date at the local zoo. The next day, at the zoo, while spying on her son, Vera is attacked by a Sumatran creature called a “rat-monkey”. The next day, she dies, and… it kind of goes downhill from there. 

Lionel (Timothy Balme) and Paquita (Diana Peñalver) try to escape zombies

Be warned: This is one of Jackson’s goriest movies among his early work. It is by far the goriest movie I have ever seen. But it is also a movie with a lighter side, both in the setup to how Vera became a zombie, to the film’s inventive climax, including my personal nominations for Most Creative Use for a Lawn Gnome, as well as Most Effective Zombie Weapon. 

Jackson’s handling of the material shows a master in the making, though still a bit rough around the edges. The zoo sequence, with Lionel and Paquita enjoying the day together, played out like it would if this was a silent movie. The smiling, the innocence, even the kissing, all are reminiscent of such a scene with Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, or Buster Keaton. Too bad Mum had to spy on them, get bitten by that… thing, and ruin everything. 

As a “B” movie, it goes without saying that you won’t find anything Oscar-caliber in it. The script has its cheesy moments, and most of the characters are one-dimensional. For example, Ian Watkin is Uncle Les, a greedy slimeball who tries to take Vera’s estate from Lionel. Then there’s Harry Sinclair as Roger, a butcher delivery boy — and rival for Paquita’s affection — who’s obsessed with rugby more than he is with anything else. But what the film lacks is compensated with strong camera and editing work, energetic performances, and irreverent humor (some of it gross, but necessary to offset the goriness of the third act). 

This is the first movie from the horror genre that I had seen in a long time. When I got the DVD in the mail, I read the sleeve, then I checked out the trailer. Finally, I did a quick “sneak-peek” in the scene selection menu. After all of that, I asked myself, “My God! What did I get myself into?” But I pressed “Play” and braced myself for impact. And I am happy to report that I survived what has got to be the bloodiest movie ever made. 

Gross, shocking, gory, funny, energetic, and with enough blood to send the American Red Cross into panic mode, Dead-Alive is a very funny movie of the rancid kind. Hard to believe this came from the same mind that gave us the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you’ve got the stomach for it, then by all means, rent it. Those of you with weak constitutions may want to try something lighter, instead… 

IN THE BEDROOM (2001)

In Crime, Drama, I, Independent, Motion Pictures on April 5, 2010 at 9:04 am

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STUDIO — Miramax

CAST — Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother, Nick Stahl

DIRECTOR —  Todd Field 

MPAA Rating: R

Once in a while, a movie comes along and makes you ask yourself how you would change if the unthinkable happened to you. In the Bedroom is one those movies.

Set in coastal Maine, this movie takes its title from a lobster trapping term (which is explained early on). A typical lobster trap consists of two parts, the entrance and the parlor (or “bedroom”). The entrance has a funnel, into which a lobster crawls inside. Next, it enters another funnel leading to the bait inside the parlor. If a trap is left unattended for too long, the parlor might become overcrowded, which may lead to the trapped lobsters fighting among themselves. Therefore, it is best to avoid having more than two lobsters “in the bedroom”. Interesting, the things you can learn in movies, huh?

Anyway, the story is about a middle-aged couple, Matt and Ruth Fowler (Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek); he is a physician, and she is a music teacher. They have a son, Frank (Nick Stahl), who wants to become an architect, but he is also considering staying in town at least one more year to work on a lobster boat so that he can stay with his girlfriend, Natalie (Marisa Tomei). It all seems nice and normal, except for one minor detail: Natalie has two children, is nearly twice Frank’s age, and is separated from her abusive husband, Richard (William Mapother).

Okay, kids and age difference aside, Frank and Natalie’s relationship is a perfectly normal one. But Richard, in a fit of jealousy, confronts Frank in Natalie’s kitchen and… Well, let’s say for sake of argument a gun discharges, resulting in Frank being being shot in the face at point-blank range. We, the viewers, are not witness to the shooting, but we do know that Richard had the gun and Frank is killed.

The Fowlers (Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson) in the days after their son's death

But the real story begins with how the Fowlers deal with the sudden, untimely death of their son. Matt experiences internal struggles, to the point that he seems to lose confidence in himself; he also seems to be drinking more than usual. As for Ruth, she appears to be cool and detached, when in fact she seems ready to explode with rage at any moment. These conflicting personalities simmer throughout the rest of the movie, as the Fowlers fight desperately to continue leading normal lives. But left unattended, a simmer gradually builds to a boiling point, and Matt and Ruth eventually learn things about themselves and each other that they had never known before, and they are not pretty.

Speaking from the perspective of someone whose parents have buried a child, I can tell you firsthand that this sort of tragedy is at best traumatic. Without going into detail, I had a brother whose life ended far too early, and my parents were both profoundly affected by it. I was quite young myself, but I recall my mother doing lots of artsy-craftsy things like needlepoint and painting as (I believe) a form of therapy, while my father took nearly all traces of my late brother’s existence and buried it inside a desk drawer, never to openly speak of it again.

This movie brought back some of those memories for me, and I really felt empathy for Matt and Ruth. As for Natalie, she turned into a sort of lost soul. After the shooting, she found herself with a dead boyfriend, and the father of her children accused of the crime. So, I ask you, the reader, the following question: What would you do if you were thrust into a situation like this? Even if you think you know the answer, you really don’t. And In the Bedroom makes you realize this in an introspective way. I have read that this movie is a modern-day tragedy, and I agree with that assessment. It almost plays out as a story written by Shakespeare if he were alive today. High praise, indeed.

3-1/2 out of 5

WEDDING CRASHERS (2005)

In Comedy, Motion Pictures, Romance, W on March 11, 2010 at 5:00 pm

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STUDIO — New Line Cinema

CAST — Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Christopher Walken, Rachel McAdams, Isla Fisher, Jane Seymour, Henry Gibson

DIRECTOR —  David Dobkin

MPAA RATING —  
(Uncut version Unrated)

Before I get into this review, let me preface it by saying that when this move came out, I rolled my eyes and thought “Great! Yet another movie about guys trying to bed every woman they can!” And yes, Wedding Crashers is just that; fortunately, it also has a moral lesson in the end (delivered in the goofy way that only Owen Wilson knows how, but it’s there). So, why did I watch this movie? Simple. It was a request from a co-worker.

So, with that caveat in mind, Wedding Crashers is the story of a pair of Washington, D.C., divorce mediators named John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) who have been friends for years. Every spring, they engage in the practice of (wait for it…) crashing weddings for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the single ladies present at each ceremony. But these guys are pros at what they do. Their skill at crashing weddings was handed down to them by legendary wedding crasher Chazz Reinhold; they have absorbed, memorized, and digested these rules. They enter each ceremony with aliases and backstories. They are masters at their game.

Then comes the so-called “Kentucky Derby” of weddings: The oldest daughter of Treasury Secretary William Cleary (Christopher Walken) will be tying the knot, and it is expected to be the social event of the year. Our heroes, of course, only care about one thing: the 200 or so single women who will be in attendance. Interestingly enough, of all the women at the wedding, John and Jeremy have their eyes on the Secretary’s two other daughters, Claire (Rachel McAdams) and Gloria (Isla Fisher). So, naturally, the story progresses from the reception to a weekend getaway at the Cleary family compound. Naturally, of course.

John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) at the Cleary wedding

Okay, so I had to suspend my disbelief a bit here, but overall, this movie was surprisingly enjoyable to watch. I particularly liked Ron Canada’s portrayal of Randolph, the Cleary’s butler. He was low-key, discreet, and probably the coolest butler since Alfred Pennyworthy. Rachel McAdams’ Claire was pretty, as always, and she seemed to be the only sane member of the family, which included a foul-mouthed grandmother (Ellen Albertini Dow), a tormented gay brother (Keir O’Donnell), a prowling cougar for a mother (Jane Seymour, against type), and Gloria, her just-this-side-of-completely-nuts sister. All was moving along just fine, until… HE came along.

I am talking about Will Ferrell. Surprise! He has a cameo as the legend himself, Chazz Reinhold. In the opinion of this writer, anything Will Ferrell did after “Saturday Night Live” is little more than lowbrow schlock. I have seen exactly one movie of his, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and what I liked about that movie was Steve Carell. Anyway, in Wedding Crashers, we see Chazz as either a pathetic loser who still lives with his mother, or as an insane genius because he now crashes funerals(!) and takes his conquests home to his (mother’s) place. Either way, seeing Will Ferrell brought it down a notch for me.

On the up side, there are other cameos of note. In the beginning of the movie, our heroes are negotiating a divorce settlement between Rebecca De Mornay and country singer Dwight Yoakam, and the Cleary wedding guests included Senator John McCain and CNN political analyst James Carville (Kind of levels the political playing field, if you ask me).

Overall, I enjoyed Wedding Crashers, which I found surprisingly funny. Maybe I should expand my movie viewing habits beyond Sci-Fi and award winners a bit more…