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In an industry where an 80 percent failure rate is pretty much the norm, every TV project is an experiment.

But a miniseries like Syfy’s “Ascension” is a grand experiment on several levels, from subject to the viewer’s interpretation. Especially this viewer’s interpretation — the first hour made me ask myself, many times, exactly what it was that I was watching. Was it supposed to look like the love child of “Mad Men” and “The Love Boat“? Did half the cast attend a workshop at the William Shatner School for Drama? Is this thing for real?

Yet I didn’t give up on the hour that Syfy made available to me, either. I saw it through to the finish and was glad for the payoff. The end of that first episode changed a number of my initial impressions.

“Ascension” is a space adventure with a retro twist. As the story goes, President John F. Kennedy commissioned a classified military study called Project Orion, which examined the possibility of creating a gigantic vessel capable of launching into deep space and propelled by the force of detonated atomic bombs. It sounds interesting, if more than a little nutty, and apparently was never declassified.

In “Ascension’s” alternate reality the launch actually did take place, in secret, sending 350 souls on a deep space odyssey that began in 1963. The miniseries drops us into the journey more than half a century after launch, at the point of no return. The ship is populated by the children of the initial voyagers, and William Denninger (Brian Van Holt) is its Captain, with his wife Viondra Denninger (Tricia Helfer) serving as the equivalent of the ship’s first lady. Not an inaccurate description, considering the political nature of the ship’s social structure: Everyone is born into their roles. Pregnancies must be approved, marriages arranged. This also means discontent boils beneath the surface; being a faithful spouse, for example, is less important than maintaining order and political supremacy. And the guys who do the dirty work understandably are not thrilled with their lot in life.

Ascension’s closed society works for 51 years until it has to deal with its first murder, spurring an investigation by First Officer Aaron Gault (Brandon P Bell), who has no idea of how to take on a homicide case. This is where “Ascension” gets interesting from both a performance and a storytelling perspective. You see, the ’60s-era launch means the architecture, interiors and fashion on the ship are stylistically frozen in the mid-20th century. So, too, are Ascension’s inhabitants, to a certain degree; its society is multicultural, which is a science fiction ideal and a welcome aspect of this presentation, but perhaps not in keeping with the actual sentiment of the time period. This does not strain credulity any more than the idea that a gigantic ship propelled by nuclear explosion could launch secretly anywhere on Earth does.

But it bears pointing out because it’s obvious that other values and mannerisms on display in Ascension’s society evolved within a space that never witnessed the signing of the Civil Rights Act or the Feminist movement, never experienced the end of the war in Vietnam or saw the Berlin Wall come down — and did not live through the cultural shifts that happened because of these historic developments.

And here’s the interesting idea within “Ascension,” one that might develop further over nights two and three, or might not. What happens when a segment of the human population is encapsulated at a specific point in time and completely removed from a larger world? Is that a benefit, or to its detriment? At the very least, the visuals fascinate. As I stated above, some of the performances in the miniseries suffer from a pulpy flatness, which makes more sense when Gault turns to an old timey noir detective film to get tips on how to investigate a homicide. If they’re getting life instructions from old movies, it’s no wonder that the acting of everyone we see on Earth — yes, there’s an Earth-based contingent — comes across as more believable and lifelike than that of the wooden deep space folk.

Maybe this is one science-fiction fan trying to find excuses for flaws in a show that she really wants to love, and those flaws hold no deeper meaning. It could very well be that “Ascension” represents another of Syfy’s swings for the fences that ends up being a whiff. Or this three-night miniseries could ultimately be considered successful enough to launch into a fully-realized weekly drama. Like I said, it’s a tricky experiment.

Whether I’m on to something or just fooling myself, it’ll be interesting to find out where this mission goes, and whether it sticks the landing.

Ascensionpremieres 9pm Monday, December 15, continuing at 9pm Tuesday, December 16 and 9pm Wednesday, December 17 on Syfy.

IMDbTV Pick: HBO’s Olive Kitteridge

October 27th, 2014 | Posted by Melanie McFarland in IMDb Picks - (Comments Off)

While a person probably would not want to spend much time with a real-life version of Olive Kitteridge, a woman who sums up the state of her supposedly golden years by declaring that she’s just waiting for her dog to die so she can shoot herself, visiting her over the course of four hours in HBO’s superb miniseries “Olive Kitteridge” is a moving, unforgettable experience. This is particularly true if you’re in the habit of keeping track of award contenders; it’s nearly a guarantee that the dour and plainspoken Olive will have a heavy presence in upcoming awards shows.

Olive Kitteridge (Frances McDormand) is a stubborn woman, intolerant of impoliteness and bad behavior in children. She observes the goings-on in her New England town with the air of self-imposed exile; at times, she appears to be downright spiteful. But her husband Henry (Richard Jenkins) balances out his wife’s moodiness by overflowing with patience and a generosity that, in turn, magnifies the truth of Olive. She is, in fact, a deeply sensitive and caring soul masking her shriveled aspirations and broken heart with a permanent scowl.

Elizabeth Strout’s stunning Pulitzer Prize winning novel spun thirteen different narratives into one story, an ambitious feat by itself. But she also wove these tales through an initially unlikable character’s life, raising our estimation of Olive in the process. That’s a level of storytelling mastery that tough to replicate on the screen. Fortunately HBO and McDormand, who optioned the novel for the screen, made a terrific choice in director Lisa Cholodenko .

Cholodenko specializes in bringing uniquely complex character studies to life, as if opening tight shutter slats to allow the audience a peek into the minds and hearts of difficult souls. Her rendering of Strout’s creation is spare and unblinking, and as perfect as McDormand’s nuanced, tender portrayal of Olive. An eleventh-hour storyline featuring Bill Murray gives him the chance to flex his singular ability infuse deep pathos with light comedy, but watching McDormand and Jenkins together will break your heart, and mend it, over and over again.

Olive Kitteridge airs over two nights, 9pm Sunday, November 2 and 9pm Monday, November 3, on HBO.

Taking Aim on “Arrow’s” Third Season

September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Melanie McFarland in IMDb Picks | Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

All successful genre series are build on a strong foundation of deep character development and credible mythology. When a show does those things well and manages to survive its first two years, then everyone involved in making it can relax — theoretically — into a more adventurous third season.

The wise ones only relax a little, though. While a third season renewal usually indicates a certain level of confidence on the network’s part, it also means that the creative stakes are higher than ever. One imagines a sort of freedom in that; writers can swing for the fences by expanding into ever more complex storylines and stickier moral challenges. Consider that the third season of “Buffy” gave us Faith, the dark side of the Slayer personified. The third season of “Battlestar Galactica” explored humanity’s occupation on New Caprica. Season three of “The Walking Dead” introduced us to the prison, Woodbury and The Governor.

All signs point to The CW’s “Arrow” following a similar trajectory, thanks to the thoughtful stewardship of the Green Arrow’s origin story by executive producers Greg Berlanti,  Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg. They, and the rest of “Arrow’s” writers, have molded Oliver Queen into a believably human figure, albeit one with outstanding aim, near-superhuman fighting abilities and the kind of athleticism extreme sport champions would sell their souls to have. That’s all wonderful, and Heaven knows many a viewer drools during scenes that require star Stephen Amell (and his similarly sculpted co-stars David Ramsey, Manu Bennett and Colton Haynes) to go shirtless. But if “Arrow” relied on the eye candy of this world, allowing its characters to be rendered in the 2-D heightened emotional style of a comic book, we would be talking about what it might have been as opposed to musing upon what it is becoming.

Oliver is a tortured man — no shortage of those in the world of superheroes. He bleeds, he sweats, he is fallible. But he also learns from his mistakes in a way that the average soul watching at home can relate to.  That bears pointing out in a fall television season that will have three comic book-related titles on the schedule before Christmas (“Gotham” has already premiered, with “The Flash” and “Constantine” making their debuts during October) and another, “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” due in midseason. So many great options for superhero fans, and so many opportunities for the TV renderings of these characters to go wrong. Already I’m noticing evidence of directors nudging their actors to color their performances like the fantastical characters inked onto pages, tinging their dialogue with campy lilts that belong in quote bubbles.

Wrong.  Stop.

Take a page from “Arrow’s” playbook instead. Amell’s Oliver plays the arrogant rich boy as his mask, but there was an arrogance to his vigilante mission as well… until that quality lost him almost everything, Starling City included. Amell played out that struggle superbly in season two, which wouldn’t matter a bit if his co-stars Ramsey, Katie Cassidy, Emily Bett Rickards and Paul Blackthorne did match his even-keeled performance with their own. They make a world where villains in masks and thugs hopped up on a mystical drug from an island can terrorize the streets seem absolutely plausible. Why? Because although they’re in fictional Starling City, everyone acts as if they’re in any other real world urban environment… as if Starling City were just a short train ride away from, say, Boston.

Again, this is the foundation and the ground floor. In the story Guggenheim and Berlanti have been constructing, Oliver is still navigating the fallout from his failure to stop Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) in season one, and the near destruction of his city in season two at the hands of his former ally Slade Wilson (Bennett). Without spoiling the story for viewers who still haven’t watched “Arrow”, circumstances have forced Oliver to grow up and accept his family’s mantle as the head of Queen Consolidated, while his alter ego The Hood has established himself as the force of good holding Starling City together.

Oliver also may be looking to ditch his playboy image, if what Amell told reporters in July is true. “Oliver has one woman this year. That woman is Felicity,” he said, giving hope to ‘shippers everywhere who are rooting for the rich boy to finally give his heart to the very able but meek, bespectacled tech nerd on his team. Don’t get your hopes up too much — our understanding is most of what happens involves tying up loose ends from the season two finale. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll end up being together. “We talk about some pretty important stuff in the premiere, and if Oliver were to have a fling, it would undermine some of that,” Amell explained to reporters. “So I think that the cavalcade of women is going to slow down, or stop.”

But it’s not the heroes, or the ‘shipping, that makes “Arrow” and shows like it such fun to watch — it’s the villains. Already we know that Malcolm Merlyn is back and has taken Ollie’s sullen sister Thea (Willa Holland) off to places unknown to exert his influence over her. At Comic-Con, Amell teased that certain characters we’ve encountered in passing during seasons one and two (along the lines of Amanda Waller, known to DC Comics fans as the head of Project Cadmus) will return. We’ll find out more about the circumstances under which they crossed paths with Oliver.

The main lure for season three, however, is its Big Bad: The Arrow will be tangling with one of DC’s most fearsome characters, Ra’s al Ghul, memorably played in Batman Begins by the Liam Neesons.  Neeson is busy with other projects,  not to mention that he’s probably too expensive to fit The CW’s budget, so in “Arrow,” the role will be filled by Matt Nable. Amell hinted that a few unlikely alliances must be formed to defeat him. The writers obviously kept Merlyn alive for a reason, right?

This is the time of year when viewers get their hopes up for a lot of shows, both new and returning, only to have them dashed by November sweeps. Fortunately the CW’s “Arrow” is one of the few surer shots on the schedule. Oliver Queen never fails his city, or his fans. We can’t wait to see what the show’s producers have built for us this time.

Arrow” premieres at 8pm Wednesday, October 8 on The CW.

Venice Announces Awards

September 6th, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (Comments Off)

Well, you gotta give Venice points for originality. Two years ago the Golden Lion went to the odd Korean film, PIETA. Last year it went to the Italian film SACRO GRA (which also won best film at the Seville Film Festival). This year, instead of handing out the awards to BIRDMAN, including Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for the Silver Lion and Michael Keaton for Best Actor, as I would have, well, take a look for yourself.

Regret in Venice

September 5th, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (Comments Off)

Any time you leave a festival there are twinges of regret. You chose this film from a filmmaker you love over another by an unknown, only to find that your director has stumbled while hearing the roar of the crowd as the critics applaud the other work rapturously.

There’s also the films you never even had a shot at in the first place because these films screened late (or early) in the festival’s run.

That’s where I find myself now that PASOLINI has debuted. The film made by Abel Ferrara, depicts the final days in the life of the infamous Italian filmmaker and provocateur Pier Paolo Pasolini and stars Willem Dafoe in the title role.

The Hollywood Reporter called it “more interesting in theory than achievement.”

Catharine Bray of HitFix said it was a “biopic-as-arthouse-collage, strictly for those willing to dive headfirst into an immersive, bitty, talky, messy and bold scrapbook of Pasolini’s final days”

I’m also missing out on:

Oh well.


September 4th, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (Comments Off)

There are many reasons to applaud what HBO has done for us, the audience, and for filmmakers wishing to make quality work. One only needs to look to OLIVE KITTERIDGE for the proof of that. The story, based upon a book by Elizabeth Strout, does not have the epic scope nor the “gottcha” cliff-hangers too often the norm now with popular television series. It’s too short, too complex and too intimate to fit the standard definition of a mini-series so networks would avoid making it. The subject matter, mental imbalance and disease and marital and parental discord, doesn’t seem to fit well with habits among the movie-going public so it’s unlikely a studio would have greenlit it. Caught between two worlds the story needed something like Home Box Office.

But it also needed the principal filmmakers. Director Lisa Cholodenko may have produced her best work yet with KITTERIDGE. She has also enabled the best performances from Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins, no small feat considering their respective filmographies.

The story is done in four parts and recounts, by going back and forth in time, the marriage of Olive and Henry Kitteridge in their seaside town in Maine. Henry is a positive, easy-going pharmacist who is polite and conforming to a caution. That’s in stark contrast to Olive, a tense, judgmental school teacher. She berates Henry and, originally, appears desperately unhappy in her marriage. They have raised a surly, smart-mouthed boy, Christopher (played, as a teen by Devin Druid), who has picked up his mother’s trait of delivering acerbic and cruel responses. Life looks bleak for all involved and, not being familiar with the book, I wondered when the DOLORES CLAIBORNE stuff was going to start. It never did.

Instead what unfolded was a tender examination and rich character study of what makes some people, and some couples, function or not. Wonderful and complicated no one is given one-note characters. Each has moments of weakness, of pettiness, of vindictiveness but also of kindness and even heroism. This is especially true of Olive.

McDormand delivers the performance of her life. Olive is a scold, a termagent, the kind of woman that other people talk about in hushed tones. She’s the bad mother-in-law, the mean teacher and the hen who pecks her husband in one package. Yes, she’s blunt but she’s also attuned to the lies and niceties of society, put in place to keep people from talking about and acknowledging the real problems, of depression, insanity, hopelessness and cruel fate. In spite of all this she is truly loved by Henry and, eventually in KITTERIDGE, we understand why.

Richard Jenkins’s Henry is another quality creation by the actor. The pharmacist, so utterly cheery, is obviously not a fool, and Cholodenko and Jenkins dig into what makes a man like Henry behave the way he does. Is he so afraid of confrontation and chaos that he’s unwilling to challenge her? Or, is he so attuned to what she’s feeling, knowing her history, that he understands what drives her radical mood swings. In this series, it’s a bit of that and more.

There are also numerous surprises here, of the best kind, both unexpected and organic. To give but one example, when Cholodenko takes us to meet the grown up Chris we expect a petulant, entitled adult. He turns out, however, to be a caring, tender man, a podiatrist by trade, who has worked through therapy to heal the wounds his mother inflicted on him.

To make these revelations work Cholodenko has gotten great performances from all her other players as well. Of particular note is Cory Michael Smith, who plays Kevin Coulson, an abused child who comes back as a haunted young man, and the grown up Christopher, played by John Gallagher Jr.. You can watch Gallagher’s Chris tamping down his genetic inheritance, rage and retribution, in nearly every frame.

Though I would have loved more resolution (there are some characters, such as Kevin Coulson, who essentially disappears) this is a series to be cherished, like a beloved novel, where we are given insight into lives we would dismiss in real life and are richer for it.

Capsule Reviews: LOIN DES HOMMES

September 3rd, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (Comments Off)

LOIN DES HOMMES is writer/director David Oelhoffen‘s captivating tale of friendship, war, and survival which doubles as a thoughtful piece on the conflicted, one could even say crazed, nature of man.

It’s set in Algeria in 1954 at the start of that country’s bloody rebellion against French colonial rule that would engulf both sides, memorably depicted in an urban environment in Gillo Pontecorvo‘s THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS and given a fresh perspective here.

Vigo Mortensen plays Daru, who lives by himself in the high plateau and teaches the local Algerian children, about 5 – 8 years old, who adore him. We assume he’s covering a wide range of topics because he’s on geography when the story starts.

But Daru’s teachings are interrupted. As a reservist in the French army he is charged with taking a man to justice in Tinguit, a town a day’s walk away. The man, a local named Mohamed (played Reda Kateb), has murdered his cousin for reasons that are disclosed later. Daru objects to the mission but is coerced into it by a sense of justice, duty and for humanitarian reasons, as Mohamed is a dead man if he stays in the region.

Quickly, the teacher and murderer find out just how wanted Mohamed is when his victim’s brothers, Mohamed’s other cousins, arrive and seek his blood for vengeance. Daru manages to chase them off with his shotgun only to have their group replaced not long after with another. This time it’s Daru’s fellow Frenchman, led by a farmer whose livestock have been slaughtered by Arabs. They want to take out their anger and frustration on anyone who looks like the right race and Mohamed will suffice.

In both cases Daru must act with violence to prevent harm to a man that he ultimately is going to deliver to his death, an irony that is not lost on him. And they haven’t even left the front yard of the schoolhouse yet.

Once they get on the road to Tinguit they are caught in harsh weather and then by the Algerian rebels moving through the foothills. This ragtag bunch takes both Daru and Mohamed as hostages, with the intent of using Daru as a shield against the French. While on the march Daru meets men in the rebel ban he had formerly commanded in expeditions in Italy. These Algerians, who fought beside him and took his orders, greatly admire Daru but as his former comrade says, “I love you like a brother Daru but, if I have to, I will kill you tomorrow.”

That’s a nice summation of Oelhaufen’s approach to the shifting moral code people use and its most graphic expression in situational violence, in life and in this film. It’s pragmatic, used sparingly but used with lethal consequences when employed. This echoes the perspective of violence in another Mortensen film, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE directed by David Cronenberg. In Cronenberg’s film a cafe owner named Tom Stall (Mortensen) reveals himself to be an ex-Mob hit-man whose selected use of a coffeepot, knife and gun saves good people from bad men, although he does so reluctantly.

As with VIOLENCE Mortensen delivers another deep, still-water performance. The actor speaks French and Arabic in the film and, adding to the fact that he is also a good looking actor who played Strider, it’s possible to both admire and envy him at the same time.

Kateb, who was recently one of Variety’s “Ten Actors to Watch” is indeed someone to watch. He has a Jack Elam wall-eye which sets his looks apart from other actors and also lends an enigmatic quality to him. His Mohamed is a worthy foil for Daru and Daru sees in him the spark of decency, mixed with pragmatism of dealing with the world, that reminds him of himself.

As they get closer to their destination and because Daru knows how tenuous life is he’s all the more upset with Mohamed for wanting to follow through on his appearance in Tinguit. Like the root stock they eat while on the journey life is “bitter but it fills you up.

Oelhoffen and his cinematographer, Guillaume Deffontaines capture a blasted landscape that appears to be lifeless and utterly set against anyone surviving on it. And, put a railroad here and a wagon train there and it would remove all the reasons not to call this film a post-modern Western. Oelhoffen seems to have been greatly influenced by the genre, particularly the bridge scene from THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and the very setup from 3:10 TO YUMA too.

Also to be noted, and like YUMA and GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY Oelhoffen also manages to keep some sense of humor about him for such a serious subject and setting. But the levity is contextual and in keeping with character. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to search out the director’s earlier works (1 feature and some shorts) because this is someone who might be around for a while.

Capsule Reviews: THE CUT and THE HUMBLING

August 31st, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (Comments Off)

Director Fatih Akin has poured his heart and soul into THE CUT, a film that has the kind of scope not often seen in films this delicate.

Tahar Rahim, terrific in A PROPHET and THE PAST, plays Nazaret Manoogian, an Armenian blacksmith with a wife and twin daughters. It’s 1915, the first third of the bloody first World War and they live in Mardin, in the southeastern corner of Turkey. Nazaret is conscripted by the increasingly desperate Turks to do manual labor for the army. As the Ottoman Empire shudders in its death throes the Turks take their frustration and bigotry out on the Christian Armenians. Nazaret’s road gang is summarily executed by having their throats’ slit by the Turks but Nazaret is saved by one conscientious objector who merely pierces his neck.

The charade saves his life but leaves him unable to speak. To compound his woes he discovers that Mardin has been sacked and his wife murdered. He never learns the fate of his daughters.

Despising God and aimless he is saved by a Muslim soap-maker who takes him in alongside other refugees. After the war ends Nazaret joins a village showing of Charlie Chaplin‘s THE KID, where he is told by another former resident of Mardin that his daughters are still alive. Thus begins a quest to find them that takes him from Jordan to Cuba, to Florida, to Minnesota, to North Dakota.

Rahim carries the film on his often motionless, but never emotionless, face while Akin manages to keep the audience enthralled in this tale of animalistic cruelty and inhumanity which easily could have become repellant.

For all that I had hoped for a more cathartic ending then the one Akin is prepared to give and seems to admire from Chaplin, as he shows the final heart-rending, ultimately uplifting ending of THE KID. To spend so long with one man’s search, watching rape, stonings, and mass murder it would have been more like a movie and less like real life, to have had a more triumphant finale.

Much like the THE HUMAN STAIN and ELEGY, the Philip Roth adaptations that precede it, THE HUMBLING is a May/December romance that mixes powerful characters with a seriously creepy vibe.

Al Pacino plays Simon Axler, a famed actor who takes a header off of the stage and decides to retire. Not allowing him to go gently into that good night, or anywhere else for that matter, is his goddaughter, Perdeen, played by Greta Gerwig. She’s long idolized Simon and she takes it from mere admiration to sex, even though, as we’re repeatedly told, she’s a lesbian.

Like STAIN, where Nicole Kidman character, Faunia Farley, played the hyper-sexualized seductress talking so dirty that poor Anthony Hopkins‘s character, Coleman Silk, has to stand to and be a man, there’s more than a bit of “it’s not my fault” at play here.

Certainly there are some winning moments from director Barry Levinson and cast. A sequence where Simon has to take dog tranquilizers and is left nearly incomprehensible to Perdeen’s parents and his old friends, is quite funny.

But the movie is still quite creepy and that overshadows everything else.

Director Benoit Jacquot has made all kinds of films from 1995′s widely lauded A SINGLE GIRL (which was, for me, a tedious extended tracking shot) to 2012′s Versailles drama FAREWELL, MY QUEEN.

THREE HEARTS is an immensely watchable French potboiler with three excellent leads in Benoit Poelvoorde (also seen in Venice in THE PRICE OF FAME), Charlotte Gainsbourg (also here in the extended cut of NYMPHOMANIAC I and NYMPHOMANIAC II), and Chiara Mastroianni (also in THE PRICE OF FAME).

Poelvoorde plays Marc, a tax auditor who, stressed out, is pacing the streets of Lyon one night when he runs into Sylvie (Gainbourg). They have an immediate attraction towards one another but, instead of rashly acting out on it, they promise to meet in Paris the next Friday, at 6:00PM. Sylvie goes home to her long-suffering boyfriend and announces that she’s fallen in love with someone. The next week Sylvie makes the rendezvous but Marc suffers a minor heart attack and is late. Sylvie goes back to her boyfriend who announces that he’s been reassigned to America and he wants her to go with him, which she does.

A few months later Sylvie’s sister, Sophie (Mastroianni) seeks tax advice. Sylvie had run the books at their mother’s antique store but some irregularities were found. Marc offers to help Sophie and they strike up a romance that blossoms into a marriage and, later, a child. Though Marc is unaware that his new bride is the sister of his passionate one-night romantic encounter he clearly feels he had missed out on the love of his life and has settled, a fact not lost on the girls’ mothers, played by the stately Catherine Deneuve (who, incidentally, is Mastroianni’s real mother). Sophie and Sylvie, dearly beloved sisters, have no idea that one is married to the man that the other nearly left her boyfriend for.

Slowly, though, and this is where Jacquot has the most fun, Marc begins to suspect a possible connection between his wife and his near-fling. Certain phrases are used by both. Certain gestures. Most delicious is the spiral staircase in the girls’ mother’s home. The base has photos of their sisters when they were girls. Marc fears going up the staircase to see the age progression.

When Marc and Sylvie finally reconnect, on Skype of all things, they set in motion a series of events the Greeks would be proud of. Well, the French should be proud too.


The first stinker, out-and-out stinker at Venice is HUNGRY HEARTS about a new mother, played with creepy effectiveness by hot, new Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher. The young woman’s theories of impurities and her son’s faultlessness are symptoms of the mental illness that causes her to nearly starve her newborn baby to death. Hot young American actor Adam Driver plays her increasingly concerned husband, and both actors convincingly portray a couple fraying at the ends. You play the increasingly annoyed audience member.

Review Capsules: 99 HOMES and MANGLEHORN

August 31st, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (Comments Off)

Strong performances by Andrew Garfield and particularly Michael Shannon make Ramin Bahrani‘s 99 HOMES a real estate WALL STREET. After Rick Carver (Shannon) evicts Dennis Nash (Garfield), Nash’s son and his mother (Laura Dern) out of the house that has been in their family for years Nash strikes a Faustian bargain. He becomes Carver’s right-hand man, succumbing to the chance at easy money and the possibility of buying back his repossessed home.

Bahrani depicts this world of greed, of broken promises, and loss extremely well. But, as we all know, a change of heart must occur and Nash must be thoroughly motivated to do so. Thus, when Mom and his boy evince horror at his new profession and reject the McMansion he’s bought for them, over the evictee hotel they’ve been living in, it doesn’t wash. The final act of the film layers it on even thicker, which takes away from the very good film that came before it. 8.2/10

I’ll never give up on director David Gordon Green but MANGLEHORN definitely had me wanting to move back to my mother’s for a while. Al Pacino plays the titular character, a locksmith who has locked his heart away. He’s awful to everyone including his son played by Chris Messina and even the cute teller at the bank, played by Holly Hunter, who for reasons only screenwriter Paul Logan must know (cause Green doesn’t), thinks this bitter, distant old man is a real catch.

The straw that had me packing my bags and putting the kids in the station wagon was the carwreck/watermelon scene, followed closely by the message parlor scene, which features Harmony Korine. 5.8/10