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Rating History

The Living and the Dead
9 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Not your first pick for Mother's Day, "The Living and the Dead" is morbid and horrifying- and I mean that, strangely, as a compliment. It is a family drama, a psychological thriller, a tragedy, an art film, all these things at once, and and despite it's flaws, it doesn't overextend.

The film opens with Lord Donald Brocklebank (Roger Lloyd-Pack,) a worn-down, silent shell of an old man, pushing an empty wheelchair through a quiet room. The image delivers the same feeling as a dark grey painting, lonely and despondent.

He watches, lip quivering, as an ambulance pulls into his massive estate. Cut back an undetermined amount of time. Donald stands straighter.He maintains a kind of pride that must come with being one of the British elite, but he is grieving. He has a lot to grieve about.

His wife Lady Nancy Brocklebank is terribly sick, and probably won't be with him much longer. The bills are piling up, and they will soon lose their mansion. His son James (Leo Bill, in an over-the-top performance that works,) dashes around the house with little clear purpose.

James is in his mid-to-late twenties. He is stuck in a kind of permanent childhood, the kind of childhood that is made up of nightmares, not whimsy. Although Simon Rumley, the director, describes him as 'mentally challenged,' I suspect Paranoid Schizophrenia.

James is by far my favorite character in the film. He is a complicated movie creation, and his emotional limitations do not hold back his complexity or ambiguity as a person.

Donald treats James with the casual cruelty that is most likely inflicted on the mentally ill more often than we think, condescending to him, forbidding him to use the phone or answer the door.

James is desperate to prove to his father that he is an independent adult, and plans to do so by taking care of his mother. His father understandable rejects the idea.

In an undetermined matter of days, James will have locked the door, shut out the nurse, skipped his pills, and may have destroyed the lives of those closest to him. Soon, as his lucidity deteriorates, the viewer begins to wonder if the past events were only in James' head.

This is a film for a patient audience- it's a while before anything happens, and the reality of the events is questionable.The atmosphere is palpable, and the characters are well developed.

There are many plot holes and unanswered questions throughout the film, as the story itself seems on the edge of reality, with it's Gothic features and abstract images.

People have had different opinions on whether James is 'good' or 'bad.' He is a disturbing character, to be sure. He is not a sex maniac, mad slasher, or stony-faced killer, but a exceptionally childlike and deeply disturbed man.

This movie might make you feel differently about a crime in the paper factored by mental illness. Despite naysayers, "The Living and the Dead" is a emotional bombshell and thought-provoking film.

Treacle Jr.
Treacle Jr. (2010)
9 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

No one does slice-of-life drama and acerbic humor like the Brits, and the curiously named "Treacle Jr." showcases this, as well as some damned good acting from the cast, particularly Aidan Gillen ("Queer As Folk," "Game Of Thrones,") as Aidan (it seems kind of cheap when the screenwriters can't come up with their own names, anyone agree?"

Treacle Jr., as it so happens, is a kitten, Aidan is a childlike man in an unhealthy relationship, and Tom (Tom Fisher) steps quite by accident into the situation, in the process of getting out of another.

Unable to bear for another minute the responsibilities of parenthood and Family life, Tom (Fisher) walks out on his wife and baby and, after running out of cash, seeks new means of livelihood on the streets of London.

Inexplicably, he is attacked and injured by a gang of thugs, and while at the police station, he meets Aidan, who is comparing the woman at the front desk's hair to an Irish Setter's in an attempt at flirtation.

Aidan's the kind of guy most people stay away from. He's earnest, hyper, and completely free of any social graces. Aidan's naive and enthusiastic to a fault, but Tom soon discovers he has problems too- namely Linda (Riann Steele,) his 'girlfriend,' a volatile bag of nuts who beats on Aidan, dubs him a 'retard,' and in one painful scene, tries to rape him. She's a barrel of laughs.

People who find this situation unlikely need only think again. What does society think of men who hit women? If Aidan were to so much as take a swing at Linda in self-defense, she'd need only pull a pouty face to the police and Aidan would be sent up to the big house. Maybe it's a bit of an exaggeration, but it's something to think about.

The story chronicles the meeting and eventual friendship between the two men, despite Tom's initial urgent attempts to get away from Aidan, who has the boundless enthusiasm of a horny beagle. Now Aidan, he's an interesting character. Devoid of the marketability of endearing innocents like Forrest Gump, he is good-hearted but entirely oblivious to his effect on people. He was not written to be liked. I liked him.

If this was to be remade in America, there would be some adjustments mad. Linda's race would be changed (she is African-American,) because a cruel black person is against the politically correct agenda we are spoonfed nowadays. The gender roles would be switched, and the movie would become a feminist power flick. But it will not be remade becuase it was not highly successful, and a good thing, too. "Treacle Jr." intrigues and challenges, doing what British films do the best.

Buddy Boy
Buddy Boy (2000)
9 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"Buddy Boy," Mark Hanlon's debut, is a haunting and potent film about dead end lives that provokes more questions than answers but remains bizarrely interesting throughout.

The film provides a look into the surrealistic existence of emotionally stunted, stuttering misfit Francis (Aidan Gillen,) who lives with his trollish invalid stepmother (actual amputee Susan Tyrell) in a squalid apartment.

Suffering from overwhelming guilt concerning his sexuality, his religion, and himself, he goes to confession monthly, admitting every impure thought and indiscretion.

The contrast between faith and the id is revealed in the opening, which presents the viewer with a montage of religious imagery followed by Francis, uh... pleasuring himself to a magazine pair of voluptuous breasts.

Like Kevin Spacey in "American Beauty," this is the high point of his day, which soon descends into woeful monotony. He finds a new past time in spying on his attractive neighbor Gloria (Emmanuelle Seigner, controversial Polish director Roman Polanski's wife) through a hole in his apartment.

Then they meet. Gloria is strangely attracted to Francis, which would be unfeasible if she weren't clearly lonely and desperate too. She tells him she is a vegan, a word he doesn't understand, but he catches on.

According to her, she doesn't care what he eats, but then she buys him a 'Meat Is Murder' T-shirt, which is a mixed message if I ever saw one. This further accentuates the character's conflicting beliefs and desires.

Gloria is pretty and nice, too nice, and Francis begins believing irrational things about her pastimes, focusing on her eating habits. Meanwhile he becomes increasingly psychotic (?) and has a falling out with God. Is Francis going insane. Or is meat back on the menu?

"Buddy Boy" is an enigma- although declared a religious allegory by Imdb users, it at times seems to be making a statement against Christianity. In fact Francis spends so much time obsessing about his masturbating, sinning ways that the viewer wishes the poor guy would just snap out of it.

The movie is a triumph of atmosphere- the bleakness and decay of Francis and Sal's apartment is palpable, while Gloria's big-windowed, pleasingly green abode seems to spell change for the troubled young man.

The problem, it seems, is the vast contrast in acting styles between Aidan Gillen (Francis) and Susan Tyree (Sal. the step mom.) Gillen, from the GLBTQ show "Queer as Folk" (Unwatched by me,) plays his character sensitively and gently, as a fundamentally benevolent albeit strange outcast damaged by trauma and psychosis.

Susan Tyree plays his abusive step mom more like a SNL skit. Maybe her broad performance is the fault of the material. When an actress' character is scripted to beat a plumber over the head with her artificial leg (one of the stranger scenes in this story,) maybe there isn't much room for subtlety.

"Buddy Boy," nevertheless, is an intriguing first feature and a fascinating story. It walks a fine line between being campy and profound, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I like the humanization of Francis, a character who might be written off as a scummy voyeur, or worse, as white trash. It raises interesting questions, contains twists, and transports you, which is something films should accomplish, but rarely do.

Wake Wood
Wake Wood (2009)
9 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

"Wake Wood" starts out with an unnerving premise and goes downhill as the film's tyke goes on a killing spree. Her name is Alice, and she has had a happy life. Why does she kill?

Well maybe if you were resurrected during a Pagan ritual, you'd have problems too. After Alice (Ella Connelly) is killed in a dog attack, her parents Patrick and Louise (Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle) would do anything to have her back.

They move to Wake Wood, the kind of community that exists primarily in horror movies, cloistered and isolated, with weird locals who come into the house uninvited.

"How would you like to get you daughter back?" asks creepy villager Arthur, played by Timothy Spall (not a direct quote.) "That's not funny," replies Patrick. a believable response. But conveniently, Louise caught a glimpse of a resurrection ritual. She believes him.

The ritual can bring the deceased back for three days, so the bereaved can say their goodbyes. It requires that another person's body be used in the process of resurrecting the girl. Conveniently (or not so conveniently,) an older man in the village was recently crushed to death by a cow.

The ceremony is prepared, but the child's parents lied about one important detail- Alice has been dead for more than a year, which creates a rift in the Pagan magic. Will Alice come back a normal little girl? Or the bad seed reborn?

You should have been able to figure out the answer to this question without my little commentary on the first paragraph. And forgive me, but I don't buy that a seven-something year old girl, albeit an undead one, could rip a woman's heart out of her ribcage. Which also happens in the movie. Keep up with me, folks!

Notice how I'm saying the word 'convenient' a lot? "Wake Wood" runs on unlikely occurrences, close calls, and horror cliches, like 'car breaks down,' 'woman runs into *gasp* her husband,' and the inevitable 'child kills animal' archetypes. All this and a scene pulled straight from "Carrie."

Ella Connelly, as the girl, has all the cuteness and wide-eyed sincerity of a young Dakota Fanning, but Dakota Fanning she is not. Although she could act happy and sweet, she wasn't really convincing as an infernal child-gone-wrong.

Which brings us to the ending. Eva Birthistle is the highlight of this film, portraying grief and distress naturally. Timothy Spall is a great actor in an underdeveloped, criminally underwritten role, therefore hindering his capacity for greatness.

Aidan Gillen, who did a commendable job playing a mentally ill stutterer in the indie "Buddy Boy" some years back, practically sleepwalks through this role. His apparent mindset- play the part, jump the hoops, collect the paycheck. There's little passion or commitment to this role.

Now that I think about it, his character in "Buddy Boy" was a little stiff, a little under-reactionary. But it fit the character, and Aidan Gillen had some spark playing the nervous wreck. Gillen now plays Patrick as detached to the extreme, facing horrific and astonishing occurrences with mild anxiety. He plays a concerned husband, but that's about it.

Despite it's initially chilling premise, "Wake Wood" fails to deliver. Although it has potential as a thriller, it ultimately fails as a movie.

Zathura: A Space Adventure
9 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

The first part of this film is the sad story of how divorced Dad Tim Robbins copes with his three bratty kids (he does commendably, better than I would.) The second part disposes of Robbins and takes a turn into pure ridiculousness, as his two sons Walter and Danny (played sloppily by Jash Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo) play a mysterious board game (a 'la "Jumanji") with magical properties that Danny has found, which proves to have unforeseen consequences.

The acting, save for Robbins', is really bad, not only from Hutcherson and Bobo but also from Kristen Stewart (who plays the completely useless, gape-mouthed character of the boys' older sister) and Dax Shepard as the astronaut who lands on their doorstep when- suprise!- the board game sends the little losers into deep space. The script is not much better, providing mediocre (at best) entertainment for anyone over the age of twelve.

Worse is the unlikablity of the characters, particularly Walter (Josh Hutcherson, a vile little twit who has a thorougly unconvincing road to Damascus halfway through, becoming a better brother to little Danny. Only slightly better than Walter is Danny himself, annoyingly whiny and obnoxious.

Stewart fails to provide steady support as Lisa, while Shepard reads his lines like a man reading the instructions on a container of boxed macaroni and cheese. A twist occurs in the last act that proves to be moderately interesting, if underwhelming, but by that point it is too late to care.

My younger sister (age nine) liked this, though even she had to admit that the acting was pretty piss-poor. Maybe your younger kids will like this too, even the older ones if they lower their standards enough. But this is not embued with family magic the way movies like "Up," "Tangled," or "Spirited Away" are, and in this writer's opinion is only worth watching if all your other DVDs are suddenly destroyed in a fire or sucked into a black hole. Avoid.