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Posts Tagged ‘Christina Hendricks’

Sienna Miller

“AMERICAN WOMAN” My rating: B+ 

111 minutes | MPAA rating: R

People can change.

That’s the hopeful message at the core of the often brutally grim “American Woman,” a film that casts American-born, Brit-reared beauty Sienna Miller as a working-class American floozie transformed by tragedy.

Written by Brad Ingelsby and directed by Jake Scott (son of director Ridley Scott), “American Woman” (a terribly meaningless title, BTW) offers an unconventional narrative covering 16 years in one woman’s life, leaping months or even years between scenes and often eschewing big dramatic moments for tiny glimpses of  everyday existence.

If you’re looking to compare it to another movie, Bruce Beresford’s “Tender Mercies” comes to mind. As antecedents go, that’s a pretty great one.

At the movie’s outset we meet Debra (Miller), a thirtysomething grocery store clerk living in small-town Pennsylvania with her  daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreira) and Bridget’s baby boy, Jesse.  Teen pregnancy seems to run in the family.

Debra, it quickly becomes apparent, is a good-time girl who in short skirt and go-go boots is a regular at the local honkytonk.  She is having a shameless affair with a married man, and though she seems a smart-mouthed tough cookie, she’s soft enough to entertain the notion that someday he’ll leave his wife.

This sort of behavior doesn’t sit well with her sister Katherine (Christina Hendricks), who lives across the street with her burly, decent-as-the-day-is-long husband Terry (Will Sasso). Nor does Debra’s mother Peggy (Amy Madigan) much approve of her daughter’s lifestyle. The two are always at each other’s throats.

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Charlize Theron in "Dark Places"

Charlize Theron in “Dark
Places”

“DARK PLACES”  My rating: C+ 

113 minutes  | MPAA rating: R

“Gone Girl” is a hard act to follow.

That 2014 film — the first to be adapted from the three best-selling mystery novels by Kansas City native Gillian Flynn — offered a surfeit of riches: a gnarly yarn that nastily doubled back on itself, a scathing indictment of modern media and its consumers, and one of the most savage commentaries on marriage ever sold as popular entertainment.

Add to the mix masterful direction by David Fincher (who absolutely nailed the darkly hilarious misanthropy that characterizes Flynn’s best work) and stellar turns by Ben Affleck and Oscar-nominated Rosamund Pike, and you had a film that excelled on numerous levels.

By comparison “Dark Places,” adapted by writer/director Gilles Paquet-Brenner from an earlier Flynn novel, is fairly straightforward and one-dimensional.

The film captures Flynn’s gloomy outlook without offering the antidote of biting humor, and is so single-mindedly bent on building its narrative that there’s little room left to explore other ideas.

Most problematic, the plot relies on mind-boggling coincidence. This was bothersome on the printed page; it feels patently phony on the screen.

Libby Day (Charlize Theron) is an antisocial loner living in hoarder squalor in a Kansas City apartment (though set in Kansas and Missouri, “Dark Places” was filmed in Louisiana).

Nearly 30 years earlier she was the sole survivor of the notorious “Kansas prairie massacre” in which her mother and two older sisters were murdered on the family farm. Based largely on Libby‘s testimony, her teenage brother Ben was convicted and is now serving a life sentence.

For years the emotionally damaged and employment challenged Libby has gotten by on donations from a sympathetic/morbid public. But now her bank account is empty.

So when Lyle (Nicholas Hoult), president of a local society of true-crime groupies, offers to pay to have Libby’s brain picked by the membership, she reluctantly accepts — even though it means a bizarre confrontation with a Bob Berdella role player.

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