All Good Things (2010): A Stranger in Disguise

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Despite the name change, All Good Things is a fictionalised account of property tycoon Robert Durst who killed his next-door neighbour while he was living incognito as a mute woman. Proving that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, Durst’s wife disappeared mysteriously over 31 years ago and the only other person who might have known what really happened to her wound up dead after receiving a 9mm gunshot to the head.

Execution style.

Directed by Andrew Jarecki who has a fascination with Durst’s case and history, All Good Things is a slow movie. Its languid pacing is overshadowed by a sense of discord from the start of the film. The movie changes Durst’s name to the ironic moniker of Marks, this overly obvious ironic name change is just a few of the films problems. Such as relying on cliché’s and stereotypes to tell the story.

The Plot:

David Marks (Ryan Gosling) meets Katie (Kirsten Dunst) one of his father’s tenants when she complains of a leaky kitchen sink. He stops by, at his father’s insistence, to see if he can fix it. They are immediately attracted to one another and strike up a relationship. It’s a case of opposites attracting with Marks’ family is in the higher stratosphere of the monied gentry and Katie’s in solid middle class. After some growing pains, they marry and David turns his back on the family business. Their wedded bliss is short-lived, however, and after some interference from ‘poppa’ Marks (Frank Langella) they move back into the family fold. Their troubles begin almost immediately.

The Cast:

Ryan Gosling
Kirsten Dunst
Frank Langella
Sanford Marks
Lily Rabe
Deborah Lehrman
Philip Baker Hall
Malvern Bump

*Cast courtesy of IMDb.*

The Device:

Money can buy you anything and what you see is definitely not what you get.

Gosling and Dunst.
Gosling and Dunst.

The Twist:

There is no real twist here at all. Ryan Gosling as David Marks makes it apparent from his first appearance on-screen that there is something wrong with this character, hence, it comes as no surprise when we find out what he’s really like.

The Story:

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Marks is based on the real-life story of Robert Durst. Durst’s first wife disappeared and has not been seen since. The only person who may have known anything about the disappearance (Susan Berman aka Deborah Lehrman in the film) was dispatched with a bullet as soon as a Prosecuting Attorney got in touch with her. Durst took to living as a woman (who was mute) and he murdered an elderly neighbour claiming self-defence,

The Characters:

David Marks looks and acts slightly off kilter from frame one. He’s obviously got some hidden issues that would probably be better off left alone. I’ve never been a huge fan of Gosling’s, but, he is a more than capable actor. In this film he delivers but the movies pacing and perhaps the “filler” plot let him and Dunst down a bit. All the actors gave good solid performances and delivered characters who were believable and flawed. Unfortunately, as in any film that is based on true events, a lot of things for the film had to be “filled in” and therefore felt contrived.

The Verdict:

Although the script does a pretty good job of filling in the blanks, as it were, the pacing of the action lets everything down. I’m not saying that it needed to race towards the finish line, but it needed a shot of adrenaline administered here and there to pick up the flow. It is oddly compelling to watch. I could not stop viewing it even when I got frustrated at some of the events and their dipped in molasses recounting.

I’d have to give this film a 3.5 out of 5 stars for Dunst’s performance and that of Frank Langella. With an honourable mention to Lily Rabe as Deborah Lerhman and the delightful Philip Baker Hall. It is not a film that I’d care to watch twice and once I’d checked out the “true” story the film was based on; I felt that ,quite possibly, the real events probably overshadowed this celluloid re-telling.

Don’t break a leg rushing to see this one.

*And a quick word of thanks to Kevin over at Claratsi for giving me the “bump” I needed to finally watch this film. You can check out his blog by clicking on the link above!*

The delightful Philip Baker Hall.
The delightful Philip Baker Hall.

Pitch Black (2000): The Beginning of Riddick

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Pitch Black was the first film I ever “googled.” One afternoon while hunting for a new film to watch (new as in one I’d not seen before) I had a vague memory of something I’d seen on the telly. The setting was very dark and these giant “bat-like” things were flying around and killing people.

If I remember correctly, I typed the phrase ‘film with giant bats’ in the search engine and the first thing that showed up was Pitch Black with Vin Diesel. The VHS video had been out for quite a while by the time I finally got to see the entire film. When I found it, I got it from one of those Video Rental Vans that used to deliver weekly to your house.

When it came out on DVD it was one of the first films I bought. We watched it again last night. It seemed like a good idea, what with Riddick  part 3 coming out September this year. I found, to my delight, that I still enjoyed the hell out of the movie and I noticed something at the end of the film that I’d never noticed before. A nice surprise for me on top of my usual enjoyment of the story and the characters.

The Creators:

Directed by David Twohy  – who also co-wrote the screenplay with the creators of the story Jim and Ken Wheat – Pitch Black was a film that boasted a unique “anti-hero,” a cast that was equivalent to an actor’s smorgasbord of talent, and story that had a great blend of action, science fiction, and horror (or as IMDb categorises it, thriller, which I suppose it is to a huge degree).

The Story:

The spaceship Hunter-Gratzner is transporting goods and people as part of its cargo. A meteor storm causes severe damage to the ship and the pilot, Frye has to set the ship down on an uncharted planet. After jettisoning most of the cargo and passengers, the captain forces her to keep the last two sections of the ship as it crash lands. The tiny amount of survivors include a bounty hunter, two settlers, a holy man and his three sons, an antique collector/dealer, a 14 year-old-boy, Fry and the incredibly dangerous and homicidal Riddick.

The planet appears to be a barren waste. Full of desert and it features an empty mining community. With no sign of where the miners are or where they went, the group begin outfitting a smaller spaceship  to escape this alien planet with three suns. As the “law-abiding” members of the crash keep an eye out for Riddick and try to move supplies a solar eclipse cuts off all the light from all three suns.

The dark is full of death and danger and it will be the longest and last eclipse that many of them will face.

The planet before the eclipse.
The planet before the eclipse.

The Device:

The planet with three suns has an eclipse that allows carnivorous creatures access to the planet’s surface. Riddick has had his eyes “polished” by a doctor to enable him to see in the dark.

The Twist:

Riddick becomes the group’s reluctant saviour along with the pilot Frye.

The Characters:

Vin Diesel
Radha Mitchell
Cole Hauser
Keith David
Lewis Fitz-Gerald
Claudia Black
Rhiana Griffith
John Moore
Simon Burke
Les Chantery
Sam Sari
Firass Dirani
Ric Anderson
Vic Wilson

*Cast list courtesy of IMDb*

It has to be said that every actor in this film performs brilliantly. Whether this is down to the cachet of talent that had been cast or whether it’s down to the writing of the characters, they all shine in this film. The dialogue as written by Twohy and co is snappy, funny, and ironic. Riddick has the best lines obviously, but Frye also has her fair share of pithy remarks as well.

Out of all the characters, Riddick, Fry and Johns have the best character arcs and their interactions are a treat to behold. But one of my favourite characters was Jack, who has such a case of hero-worship for Riddick that it’s truly funny and touching. But as I said, all the actors knocked it out of the park in this intimate small cast film.

The Verdict:

For it’s time this was a kick-ass movie that entertained and kept you on the edge of your seat. The CGI on the creatures was brilliant and the whole thing was impressive in its presentation and its originality. It made  household names of Vin Diesel and Radha Mitchell and it was only Twohy’s third time at bat as a director.

A great entertaining Science Fiction, Thriller, Horror Action film that does not disappoint and one that can be watched again and again and again. I’d give it a solid 5 out of 5 stars just for having a powerful female character in Fry the pilot and for the decision to use Radha Mitchell.

Neat Fact:

Pitch Black opens with Riddick talking about cyro-stasis. Avatar opens with Jake Sully talking about cyro-stasis.

Riddick invading Frye's personal space.
Riddick invading Frye’s personal space.

Pin (1988) Overlooked and Unloved

With no less than eighty-six horror films released in 1988, it is no wonder that Pin got lost in the shuffle. This quiet psychological horror film had to compete with the likes of Phantasm II, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Maniac Cop, and a slew of “Slasher” films, sequels and the re-make of The Blob.
 Sandor Stern directed and wrote the screenplay for Pin. Adapted from a novel byAndrew Neiderman and if you’ve never heard of him, I’ll just point out that he was the ‘ghost-writer’ for V.C. Andrews from 1986.
Pin aka  Pin a Plastic Nightmare – Is about  a family that is just about as dysfunctional as you could want. Pin is an anatomically correct plastic dummy. He is life sized and covered in clear plastic (all the better to see his muscles, bones and organs). He sits in a chair in Doctor Linden’s office, naked save for a towel over his lap. Dr Linden it turns out is a ventriloquist. He provides the voice for Pin, who he uses to ‘break the ice’ with his younger patients. He needs Pin because he is not a very communicative person. He has such a problem that he uses Pin to teach his own children about sex. Doc Linden is played with icy aloofness byTerry O’Quinn, fresh from his top notch perfomance in The Stepfather (1987). O’Quinn would go on to more impressive roles culminating in his pivitol role as John Locke in Lost (2004 – 2010).  In Pin O’Quinn’s portrayal of Linden is spot on. This is a man who expects much from his children, especially his son, and yet does not know how to communicate with them.
Mrs Linden as played by actress  Bronwen Mantel, obviously suffers from OCD so badly that she has plastic covers on all the family’s furniture. She even tells her son Leon that he can no longer play with a friend, because he looks diseased. Leon answers back and gets a slap for his angry retort. Unfortunately we are not able to read a lot into Mrs Linden’s character. She is there to provide a somewhat two dimensional version of a cleaning obsessed woman, who is also a good cook. But like her husband, she cannot communicate with the children either.
David Hewlett and Cynthia Preston play Leon and Ursula Linden with confidence and an impressive ease.  The fact that they had worked together the previous year on the feature The Darkside obviously helped them to bond as the on-screen brother and sister. Hewlett especially impresses as the psychotic Leon who has believed since childhood that plastic man Pin is alive. Ursula has known since their first meeting that Dad was providing the voice for Pin, but she has never tried to convince Leon of it.
Once Doc Linden realises that Leon has developed an unhealthy fixation on Pin, he decides that Pin must go. He loads Pin into the family car with Mrs Linden and then speeds  off to a convention where the good doctor decides that Pin must stay. Unfortunately, the fact that Doc has been a bit “weirded out” by Pin means that besides speeding on wet roads, he spends too much time looking at Pin in the rear view mirror. The combination of speed and inattention causes the car to crash and sic transit Doctor and Mrs Linden.
With the departure of Mom and Dad, Leon descends even further into the belief that Pin is real.  And at this point we the audience start harbouring the belief that Leon might just be right.
This film deals with sexuality and the growing pains of becoming sexually aware. Yet for all the heavy sexual overtones, there is very little sex in the film. We get one glance of sister Ursula’s feet against the backseat window of a car and one flash of topless nudity when Leon  unsuccessfully tries his first bid at sex.
The film has a bit in common with the South Korean film The Tale of Two Sisters. Like Two Sisters there are scenes in Pin that are absolutely, one hundred percent cringe worthy. Yet we as the audience cannot help but watch. The director does not hesitate to ”lose the music” in these excruciating scenes and it helps to sell the film.
The film has been likened to Psycho and I don’t really get the link. The only thing that it has in common is that it does indeed feel like a Hitchcock film. It is brilliantly paced, moody, creepy, and sometimes downright sad. Although I do suppose the end of the film could be linked to Psycho’s ending.
So If you get a chance see this film. You will not regret it. And if it doesn’t become a firm favourite…I’ll eat my plastic covered man.