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Posts Tagged ‘Anne Heche’

Ross Lynch (center) as future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer

“MY FRIEND DAHMER”  My rating: B

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Right off the bat, the title “My Friend Dahmer” puts potential audiences on edge.

After all, Jeffrey Dahmer was one of our more notorious serial killers of the last 50 years. Between 1978 and 1991 he murdered 17 men and boys, often preserving their bones and feasting on their flesh. He was beaten to death in prison in 1994.

The obvious question: What’s the take of writer/director Marc Meyers’ film?  Is it a blood-soaked bit of gross-out exploitation? A black comedy?

In truth “My Friend Dahmer” is a smart, insightful and disturbing study of the killer’s high school years.  Based on the graphic novel by John Backderf, Dahmer’s classmate and one of the few who paid the dead-eyed loner any attention, it’s both creepy and sad.

From almost the first frame of this film we understand that Jeff, played by Disney discovery Ross Lynch (“Austin & Ally,” “Teen Beach Movie”), has issues. In a shack in the woods behind his family’s semi-rural Ohio home he keeps jars in which dead  animals are slowly dissolving in acid solution. He always keeps a black plastic garbage bag in his pocket, lest he stumble across an intriguing bit of road kill.

“I like bones,” he explains. “It interests me — what’s inside.”

Gawky and outwardly unemotional, Jeff is a target for school bullies. Not that things are much better at home.

Mom (Anne Heche) is a former mental patient who lives life in just two speeds: fetal and combative. Her depression and raw emotions prove unbearable to her decent but  ineffectual husband (Dallas Roberts). At least Jeff’s father, himself the victim of a solitary  childhood, recognizes his oldest son’s plight and urges the kid to try to fit in.

Jeff’s plan to win his classmates’ attention is typically bizarre and tone-deaf.  He begins staging fake epileptic fits in the school hallways. His arm-flapping, screeching antics draw the attention of John Backderf (Alex Wolff) and a small coterie of social outsiders who adopt Jeff as their mascot.

“I think with you as our fearless leader we can really disrupt this school,” John tells Jeff.

“Let’s do a Dahmer,”  becomes their rebellious battle cry before each new example of perverse performance art. (more…)

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Amanda Seyfried, Shirley MacLaine, AnnJewel Lee Dixon

“THE LAST WORD”  My rating: C+ (Opens March 24 at the Glenwood Arts, Cinemark Palace and AMC Barrywoods)

108 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Any film that sends you out to your car humming The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset”cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Still, an aura of uneasy familiarity clings to “The Last Word,”a dramedy  that plays like a second-class “A Man Called Ove” from a female perspective.

Shirley MacLaine portrays 81-year-old Harriet, a grouchy, judgmental woman who radiates disdain for the lesser mortals around her.

Harriet is, of course,  a variation on the character MacLaine has played so often (“Guarding Tess” and “Bernie,” for starters) that she could do it in her sleep.

Sensitive about both her mortality and her legacy, Harriet pulls strings to have the local newspaper’s obituary writer, Anne (Amanda Seyfried), write her death notice in advance.  She even provides a list of acquaintances Anne should interview.

Problem is, not one of these individuals has anything good to say about Harriet.  According to Anne,  the old lady “puts the bitch in obituary.”

At this point Stuart Ross Fink’s screenplay starts turning squishy.  To restore her image, and so that Anne will have something positive to put in the obit, Harriet becomes mentor to the foul-mouthed Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon), an at-risk African American child who is so precocious and self-possessed that she hardly seems at risk at all.

Harriet also volunteers to work as a deejay at a local community radio station, snowing the station manager (Thomas Sadoski) with her knowledge of obscure ’60s pop and even orchestrating a romance between the fellow and obit-writer Anne.

Late in the proceedings she takes Anne and Brenda on a road trip for a long-delayed reunion with her grown daughter (Anne Heche).

None of this is in the least bit original — though it’s been carefully calculated to squeeze the tear ducts for a bathetic sendoff.

The good news is that MacLaine keeps finding new angles on what long ago became one of her stock characters.

That and the strong supporting cast assembled by director Mark Pellington (Philip Baker Hall, Tom Everett Scott, Gedde Watanabe, Sarah Baker), who find ways to make more of the material than it deserves.

| Robert W. Butler

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