This past month has been quite busy over here on DeFacto, and there were quite a few films we weren’t able to make time for. So to make up for the lack of time, here’s a smaller recap of some films released over the past few weeks.
This debut feature from writer/director Rose Glass is a disquieting, haunting character study of a highly religious young nurse, Maud (Morfydd Clark). Maud looks after Amanda, (Jennifer Ehle) a former ballerina diagnosed with cancer and later is consumed by the torturous notion that she must save Amanda’s soul from damnation. Writer/director Rose Glass, taking notable inspiration from the likes of Paul Shrader and William Friedkin, crafts a palpable, moody atmosphere that lingers throughout the films entirety. The sense of unease grows as Maud succumbs to her inner desires, exploring sexuality and trauma with equal thrill.
Morfydd Clark gives a star-making turn as the titular lead. Clark’s performance is a complex high-wire act of emotions that never stumbles. Her dynamic with Ehle — who’s rarely been this good — creates some of the films most riveting moments, leading to a superb climax. Despite the brief 84 minute runtime, the material does spread itself a bit thin towards the finale, but Clark’s impressive performance and Glass’s handle of the material keep the film from running stale.
(In select theaters & drive-ins 1/29, Streaming exclusively on Epix 2/12)
Our Friend, the latest from filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish, Megan Leavey), might be a traditional studio weepie robbed of its chance of becoming an early-in-the-year box office hit, still offers plenty of raw, emotional truths in its depiction of a losing battle with terminal cancer. Jason Segel stars as Dane, the longtime friend to Nicole (Dakota Johnson) and her workaholic husband Matt (Casey Affleck). When Nicole is diagnosed with ovarian cancer with just six months to live, Dane — living a routine life working a dead-end job at a sporting goods store — travels to live with Matt and Nicole, for emotional support and to help with their two young girls (Violet McGraw and Isabella Kai). While it’s a role that plays to his strengths as a charming, lovable presence, Jason Segel infuses a great deal of nuanced emotion to the role that marks the actors best dramatic work since The End of the Tour. Affleck, not unlike his Oscar-winning turn in Manchester by the Sea, gives a quieter, more subtle performance, but one that effortlessly coveys the entire spectrum of the grieving process, making some keys moments in finale even more emotionally resonant. Dakota Johnson is truly devastating here in perhaps her best work to date as the ailing Nicole.
What separates Our Friend from the normal crop of Hollywood tearjerkers is its unflinching depiction of grief, with the final act particularly ripe with grueling, cogent moments of unspeakable tragedy. Even as things get overwhelming in the back half, in comes Cherry Jones, (the films late-in-the-game secret weapon) with an entrance not unlike Zelda Rubinstein storming into the frame of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, who gives the film a much-needed touch of warmth. Despite the story beats that play out as expected, the skilled craft in which such horrifying moments are presented still ring true. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s assured direction, the naturalism in the performances and the matter-of-fact depiction of the grieving process only add to the films poignancy that is only occasionally dampened by the frustrating scattered narrative. Our Friend transcends the genre it derives from with its wrenching and intimate portrayal of a family experiencing the tragic process of terminal cancer and the friend who was there when he was needed most. It’s not always an easy film to watch, but rewarding nevertheless.
(Available on VOD)
Steven Kostanski, one of the founding members of Astron-6, the filmmaking group behind wonderful grindhouse faire such as Manborg and Father’s Day, writes and directs this one-of-a-kind fusion of Troma films sleaze with gleefully campy tone of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Psycho Goreman follows two young siblings, Luke (Owen Myre) and Mimi (a ferocious Nita-Josee Hanna) as they unknowingly dig up a mysterious gem in their backyard summoning an unholy titan from another world, the Arch-Duke of Nightmares, or as the kids dub him, Psycho Goreman (PG). Anyone wielding the gem is able to control PG, leading the kids to use him to do their bidding as they see fit.
This is an uproarious blend of 90’s b-movie gore with the heartfelt whimsy of Amblin films. The extraordinary practical effects are an absolute wonder to behold, but aren’t relied upon as a distraction from the compelling plot. Despite a 95 minute runtime that drags it’s feet a little in the second act, the laughs comes consistently and almost always land — this is possibly the funniest film I’ve seen in the past couple years. Psycho Goreman feels like it comes from a recently-discovered VHS tape from 25 years ago. An ingenious homage to a bygone era that is so singular in its schlocky, bizarro charm. While certainly not for everybody, this is the kind of film that appeals to the demented 9 year-old some of us hold dearly in our hearts.
(Available on VOD)
Outside the Wire
If the Netflix algorithm came to life and made a film, I suspect it would look something eerily similar to Outside the Wire. Serving as a futuristic mashup between Training Day and Robocop (the remake if we’re being honest), Outside the Wire follows Harp (Damson Idris), a young drone pilot recently disgraced after bad judgement costs the lives of a small group of soldiers, given the task of locating a doomsday device with Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie, getting his turn among the Avengers alumni starring a solo Netflix franchise) who just so happens to be a high-tech android. Director Mikael Hafstrom is a more-than-capable filmmaker — helming the underrated Stephen King adaptation 1408 and the entertaining Escape Plan, but there is no sense of style or originality located at any point during this.
Outside the Wire offers up a number of competent action sequences — the choppy hand-to-hand combat scenes not withstanding, some mildly interesting commentary about the Military Industrial Complex, a compelling turn from star Anthony Mackie (in a role tailor-made for his sensibilities) and even Pilou Asbaeck (Overlord) is an inspired casting choice for the films third act baddie, but its not enough to compensate for the lack of creativity or personality. Can you do worse than this? Definitely; but at what point do we allow this to become the new norm?
(Now streaming on Netflix)