‘A Patch of Fog’ review: Irish blackmail tale grips with balanced screenplay, Graham’s performance

An image of a scene from the movie A Patch of Fog.

Conleth Hill(left) and Stephen Graham star in the new thriller “A Patch of Fog”, now available on iTunes and On Demand platforms.

“A Patch of Fog” is a thriller with a bit of tonal trickery.  From the standpoint of the obsessive fan genre, the viewer can see certain developments coming a mile away. However, the screenplay dashes and darts enough to keep things fresh, thanks to the teamwork of John Cairns and Michael McCartney.  It starts with a lighter, almost Odd Couple-like dynamic, but the two lead characters are evenly matched when it comes to wits.  When they start to butt heads, it’s anybody’s guess how these characters will respond in turn.

When the film opens, we see a man sitting in his car, obviously contemplative. He looks to be in his mid-50’s, with a head of proportionally grey hair. He smokes a cigarette to try and ease his nerves, and then he slips on a pair of gloves. He exits his car, which is in some kind of parking garage, and starts walking. It’s entirely unclear where he is headed, but there is an air of deviousness lingering.

The man walks into a high end clothing store, and while browsing through the selection, he stuffs a pair of cuff links into his coat pocket. He then selects a couple of shirts, which he goes to the counter and pays for. He walks out of the store, sidestepping the associate posted by the entrance. He takes a quick glance back over his shoulder, and knows he’s in the clear. When he returns to his vehicle in the parking garage, he lights up a cigarette, his hand trembling.  Even though his nerves are completely on edge, it is clear he has done this before.

Not only is this particular thief a serial shoplifter, but he also happens to be a rather successful novelist.  He is also the host of a television program that reviews works in the entertainment medium.  Sandy Duffy(Conleth Hill) has ridden high on the success of his only novel, A Patch of Fog.  He’s content to continue coasting and doing his TV show, but his publisher is pressing him to write another book.  But his business partner proves to be the least of his worries when he’s finally caught doing his destructive hobby.  Robert(Stephen Graham) diligently monitors the security cameras at this particular store(a five-and-dime of sorts), and stops Sandy as he’s leaving.

Sandy tries to pay Robert off to let him go, which offends him at first. But then he decides to hold on to the security footage(keeping it out of sight of his manager) if Sandy will buy him a drink. This leads to a tense, forced friendship as Robert continues to use the footage disc as leverage to continue hanging out with Sandy.  Robert is an unusual and lonely man, almost needy.

Stephen Graham has had roles in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and the hit John le Carré adaptation “Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy”, but he might be best remembered as Turkish’s cohort Tommy from Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch.” Here, Graham’s acting takes center stage, and he portrays Robert as an equal mix of strengths and weaknesses. Robert is certainly a lonely and unusual fellow, and at first he comes off as clingy; perhaps a simpleton.

However, he is often the perpetrator as much as he becomes a victim of Sandy’s wrath. He’s also quite smart.  Robert tends to surprise in his reaction each time Sandy tries to distance himself from him.  The film only hints at his more unstable aspects, and when Sandy makes a startling discovery later on in the film, it’s a shame that this dynamic isn’t explored just a little bit more.  Clearly, this is Graham’s show, and it would have been nice to let him explore Robert’s darkness just a little bit more.

The film makes significant mention of Sandy’s difficult relationship with his father, and that challenge is mirrored in his relationship with Robert. In a way, Robert is like his father, forcing Sandy to come to grips with his unresolved feelings from the past.  However, trying to stifle his relationship with Robert could have far more dangerous repercussions.

Michael Lennox directed the Oscar-nominated short film “Boogaloo and Graham”, and he finds more success with “A Patch of Fog.”  His feature-length debut is not without its hiccups; the most remarkable cinematography is definitely in the opening third of the film, especially a key shot in Robert’s office when the camera peers down like a fly on the ceiling(the perspective is actually utilized twice).  And a couple of scenes feel a little bit superfluous; one involves a train and the other involves a joint(at least the latter pushes the story forward).  But the strong screenplay pulls no punches, and that makes this Irish indie a winner. It debuted at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, and now it has the opportunity to find a new audience in the at-home streaming market.  “A Patch of Fog” may sound like a hazy title, but this thriller’s upside is crystal clear.

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Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel make an impression in a new clip from ‘The Comedian’

Sony Pictures Classics today released a new clip from the forthcoming “The Comedian”, which stars Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Leslie Mann.  De Niro plays Jackie, a comedian at a crossroads.  Jackie wants to once again be taken seriously as a stand-up comic, but after a successful TV show, he finds that his current audience may not want the same thing.

Jackie ends up having to perform community service after assaulting a fan, and that is when he meets Harmony(Mann).  Together, the two might just be able to turn things around.  “The Comedian” was directed by Taylor Hackford(“Ray”, “The Devil’s Advocate”), his first feature film since 2013’s “Parker.”  Hackford also directed the 2014 television adaptation of “Dangerous Liasons.”

The new clip from “The Comedian” has Jackie meeting Harmony’s father, played by Keitel.  “The Comedian” hits theaters on February 3.

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Summit Entertainment to distribute Tupac biopic ‘All Eyez on Me’

Lionsgate this week announced the distribution of the Tupac biopic “All Eyez on Me.”  The self-proclaimed ‘global content leader’ will handle the U.S. theatrical roll-out under its Summit Entertainment label.  The film is scheduled for release on June 16.  The date also marks the birthday of rapper Shakur, who would have been 46 years-old this year.  The rapper passed away in 1996.

Newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. stars as Tupac, and Jamal Woolard will reprise his role as Christopher Wallace(The Notorious B.I.G.) from the movie “Notorious.”  The film explores the rapper’s rise to fame as he also branched out into the avenues of acting, poetry, and activism.  “All Eyez on Me” was written by Jeremy N. Haft(who has an IMDB credit for director of the kids-oriented editions of the popular video game series Just Dance), Eddie Gonzalez, and Steven Bagatourian.  Benny Boom(“Next Day Air”) directed the biopic.  Morgan Creek Entertainment handled the film’s production.

The film’s title was also the name of one of 2Pac’s(the alternative spelling he used as a recording artist) most successful albums, which sold over 10 million copies and spawned the hit singles “How Do You Want It”(which featured K-Ci and JoJo) and “California Love”, which featured Dr. Dre.  The rapper has sold over 75 million records worldwide to date, and this year he will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Click below to watch the teaser trailer.  There is also a full trailer on YouTube, but it is decidedly NSFW due to the coarse language throughout!  Now that a major studio has picked up the film, one could surmise that there should be a green band trailer cut for the film relatively soon.

 

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Keanu Reeves returns in a clip from ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’

An image of a scene from John Wick Chapter 2, featuring Keanu Reeves.

Keanu Reeves stars as the titular hitman in “John Wick: Chapter 2.” PHOTO CREDIT: Niko Tavernise

Lionsgate today released a new clip from their upcoming action movie “John Wick: Chapter 2.”  Keanu Reeves returns as the titular assassin, as do former-stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad.  Laurence Fishburne, Common and Peter Stormare are among the new castmembers for this follow-up chapter, which both the L.A. Times and Consequence of Sound recently listed on their ‘top anticipated’ picks for 2017.

The original “John Wick” became a cult favorite in 2015.  Debuting in the usually-slow-traffic month of January, it made over $14 million in its opening weekend on a budget of just $20 million.  It then went on to gross over double its budget in five weeks’ time, before finding a much larger audience(and fandom) when it hit the On Demand and streaming platforms.

“John Wick” told the story of a retired hitman(Reeves) who reluctantly must return to his ways of gun-slinging after thugs break into his house to steal his car.  The robbers end up killing his dog, which was a gift from his now-late ex-wife.  Wick has no choice but to seek vengeance for his dog, but he soon discovers that there are more dangerous players behind these would-be carjackers.

“John Wick: Chapter 2” looks to toss the hero right back into the thick of things, doing what he does best.  The sequel hits theaters on February 10.

Click below to watch the clip!

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‘Alone in Berlin’ review: Real-life WWII tale doesn’t fully engage in its cinematic vision

Image of a scene from the IFC Films release Alone in Berlin.

Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson star as the Quangels in “Alone in Berlin.” PHOTO CREDIT: Marcel Hartmann

A clear, calm forest. But this is soon interrupted by the heavy breathing and racing footsteps of a soldier. At first, the viewer doesn’t see what he is running from. But then there is the gunshot. The soldier falls to the ground in a small clearing, eyes still open as his heart slowly comes to a halt, beat by beat. Then the soldiers finally come into view, moving alongside his body and back into the woods.

This opening scene is something of a metaphor for “Alone in Berlin” a quiet World War II drama punctuated with tension and thriller elements.  However, it never quite returns to that level of focus on the scenery.  The film is based on the Hans Fallada book Every Man Dies Alone, and is adapted from the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel.  A couple living in Berlin, the pair decided to start to speak out against the Nazis via anonymous messages left in public.

The Quangels live and work in Berlin, and Otto(Brendan Gleeson, “The Guard”) is the foreman of a local factory. When Otto comes home to a letter from the postwoman, the viewer quickly learns that the soldier they just watched breathe his last was his son. When the Nazi party visits the factory a few days later, they demand more output. Otto pushes back against the ‘request’- which was more of a demand – and that prompts the Nazi official to ask what he has sacrificed for the Party. Otto simply says his son, and what greater sacrifice could he make?

This flips a switch in Otto, who goes home and decides to start writing anonymous messages against the Nazi party on postcards. He then leaves the cards at random places throughout the city, hoping the message might resonate with anyone who finds them. At first his wife Anna(Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks“) wants no part of it, until she starts to feel pressure from the Party in her women’s organization. Soon, the two are working together to disperse the cards throughout Berlin.

Many of the cards find their way into the hands of the local authorities, so this brings a rather diligent police inspector onto the scene, played by Daniel Brühl(“Captain America: Civil War”). Of course, the police inspector has the Nazi Party breathing down his neck to find the person(s) responsible, even if that means bringing in a local simpleton that he knows to be innocent.

“Alone in Berlin” was directed by Vincent Perez, who wrote the adapted screenplay with Achim von Borries(“Good Bye Lenin”). Perez almost quit directing before he read Fallada’s book, and the story became a passion project for him. The emotion is certainly there when he is filming the two main characters, and perhaps a little when the police inspector starts to slightly unravel. Where the viewer doesn’t get a lot of emotional response is from the few that end up finding the anti-Nazi cards onscreen. In once such case, the man who finds the card seems more intent on tracking down the person he assumes had left it there.

Perhaps that is the point: while the Hampels did have a story of courage while trying to invoke change in their Nazi-occupied city, it could be said that the effects were relatively short-lived. Out of the 285 cards that were dispersed, a significantly large portion of them were handed in to authorities. That is not to say that the message didn’t remain with the person who found the card, or perhaps that a card was viewed by multiple people before someone handed it in.  The cards’ ultimate reach is nearly impossible to quantify.  But much like last year’s “Birth of a Nation” and the story of Nat Turner, such a small victory doesn’t always feel like a victory in hindsight.

“Alone in Berlin” brings suspenseful notes each time one of the Quangels tries to hide a card, but these moments don’t work as well as if they might have been confronted. And alas, the climax feels less so after all of the sneaking around beforehand. And Brühl’s police inspector is relatively unhinged by the time he believes he’s found his true man, so any emotional attachment to him or his fate can only be assumed.  This tale is ultimately a sad one, as each of the characters merely felt like cogs caught up in the wheel of the Nazi machine.  An underwhelming story is one thing, but “Alone in Berlin” is a somewhat underwhelming film.

“Alone in Berlin” is in select theaters and on VOD platforms today.

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‘Claire in Motion’ review: Character drama doesn’t inspire a rally for the cause

Image from the movie Claire in Motion.

Betsy Brandt stars as the titular character in “Claire in Motion.” PHOTO CREDIT: Breaking Glass Pictures

“Claire in Motion” uses a missing persons scenario as a gateway to explore its main character.  Roger Ebert once stated no bad movie was too short, and no good movie too long.  “Claire in Motion” falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but it does feel like it ends before performing its due diligence.  Perhaps it is the editing choices that make it feel so:  there are no actual flashbacks to explore Claire and Paul’s history, but there is at least one scene that feels hugely superfluous late in the film.  In either case, a quick 82 minutes is a small window for an emotional character drama to resonate, and “Claire in Motion” has trouble making that connection.

Claire(Betsy Brandt) and her husband Paul are both professors, living a seemingly happy existence with their son Connor. One morning Claire is woken from a dream to find her husband just heading out the door.  She says she dreamt he was dizzy again.  He assures her he wouldn’t be.  An avid survivalist, Paul is going to spend several days in the wilderness, and he takes just a moment to say goodbye.

But after several days pass, Paul never returns home.  When no clues surface, the local authorities have no choice but to call off the search. Since there was no sign of foul play, no body and no sign of Paul anywhere in the woods, he seems to have simply vanished.  Everyone(including Claire and Connor) can only speculate on whether or not he’s still alive.

It is only after Paul’s disappearance that Claire starts to learn more about her husband than ever before. A graduate student(Anna Margaret Hollyman) shows up, claiming to have known Paul and to have helped him explore his artistic side. Claire didn’t even realize he had an artistic side.  Of the many revelations that come to light, some get explained(Claire’s comment about dizziness from the opening of the film will finally make sense), and some do not.  But Claire seems to internalize a lot of this new information, and does little more than get flustered in front of others as a response.

“Claire in Motion” aims to be a character analysis piece, but it stops short of letting the viewer get emotionally invested. There is little beyond superficial moments(like videos on an iPad) to hint at the relationship between Claire and Paul. At least one of the clips not so subtly points to a possible strain in the marriage. Without any further exploration, this evidence has an unintended side effect: it sticks out like a sore thumb.  The viewer still barely knows these characters, but isn’t surprised that Paul might have decided to purposefully disappear.  That reaction is just from one video, and suddenly the viewer might feel like they know more than Claire does.

A strange scene later in the film also seems eager to delay the mystery of Paul’s disappearance, even though at this point it is fully focused on Claire.  The officers who originally worked her case call her back in to look at surveillance footage from a convenience store.  The figure walking into the store is little more than a shadow, a silhouette.  The convenience store clerk swears it was Paul from the missing person posters all over town, but it is impossible to discern anything from the security video.  The cops would not bother with such a thin lead, and if it was even worth mentioning, then why didn’t they go talk to the convenience store clerk?  The scene seems to spend most of its dialogue just trying to explain itself.

Brandt(who played Walter White’s neighbor Marie on the hit AMC series Breaking Bad) does the best she can with the material, but sometimes that involves little more than checking off another genre cliche.  There’s the obligatory cut-loose-and-drink scene, and the bad choices that result from said scene.  And detours such as this one feel like filler in a movie that is already lacking meat on the bones.  “Claire in Motion” doesn’t do enough to provoke an emotional response, and the result feels about as memorable as a weekly television procedural.  After all the nuance and emotional complexity of a marriage is stripped away, who wouldn’t vanish…even from their own movie?

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‘Paterson’ review: Poetic tale draws inspiration from both chance and routine

Film still from the new movie Paterson.

Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani star in “Paterson”, the new film from Jim Jarmusch. PHOTO CREDIT: Mary Cybulski

“Paterson” is remarkable in its relative simplicity. Ironically, its impartial perspective of the everyday mundane is its most defining attribute. It certainly won’t be the most memorable film experience of 2017(and a January release date is no help), but Jim Jarmusch’s latest certainly has enough special sauce to keep even the most cynical of viewers from wavering.  The writing is a triumph of patience over pervasiveness; it opts to be a stoic before a standout.

The film’s title references both the New Jersey city it is set in(it was also filmed there), as well as the name of its main character. Paterson(Adam Driver of Girls and “The Force Awakens” fame) seems to have his life routine meticulously calibrated, although it never quite feels obligatory. Each morning he wakes up without an alarm clock, and glances at his watch. But the time only fluctuates modestly day by day; he’s usually awake and raring to go a little bit past six.

He makes sure to kiss his wife Laura(Golshifteh Farahani, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”), an impossibly upbeat woman who loves to leave her artistic imprint on nearly anything. He eats a small bowl of cereal(always the same kind, which resemble Cheerios), and then he’s dressed and out the door. He walks to the city bus depot, where he usually has several minutes to ponder his passion projects before beginning his route.

See, Paterson’s defining characteristic is his love of poetry. He has them all tucked away in his notebook, but his wife insists he should be sharing them with the world. All of the poems used in the film are written by Ron Padgett. Many of them seem to have a similar simple structure, but their topics range from everyday household items to things far more emotionally resonant.

Paterson and Laura both have creative tendencies, but Laura draws on hers for daily inspiration. Not a day goes by where she isn’t painting or wanting to explore another creative avenue, and for her, each day is most certainly different.  Paterson is definitely her counterbalance in terms of daily rituals.

Paterson sticks to his routine of work and coming home to dinner, walking his dog and stopping by the local tavern for a beer. This quiet peace certainly allows him ample time to develop his poetry. However, he ends up being an unlikely(and mostly unwilling) conduit for many of the townspeople who surround him. Early on twins are mentioned, and identical pairs soon becoming a routine occurrence throughout the week(the story spans seven days). While he is often pulled into these situations, he isn’t often affected directly. It’s ironic that a special detour from his usual nightly routine to have a dinner and movie night with his wife is what leads to his greatest adversity later on in the film.

Even when he’s driving the bus, Paterson is drawn towards the inhabitants of the Jersey town. His eyes may remain forward, scanning, but his ears are usually somewhere in the back. He eavesdrops on many a conversation, right along with the viewer. It’s hard not to smile at each one of these scenes, as the viewer should be able to relate to many of them. A surely unscripted moment involving a squirrel proves memorable, as Paterson stops to watch it scamper up a tree. Certainly the squirrel must have known Jarmusch was at work, and wanted to help out in any way he could.

“Paterson” is sort of akin to a film like Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” or one of the Coen Brothers’ quirkier comedies, but his approach to the dialogue never feels like he’s deliberately trying to push it over that line. His screenplay is an exercise in extreme normality, and as a result, the characters and setting naturally feel a little out-of-sorts for a motion picture. Any one of them would probably feel out of place in a ‘meet-cute’ situation.

To say “Paterson” finds the beauty in everyday life is an absolute rote cliché. It certainly does, but it manages to do it without getting bogged down in an ‘aw, shucks’ style of forced cheesiness or exasperating character choices.  This look at a week in the life of Paterson(and to a lesser extent, his city) is a great way to spend two hours. The final scene in a nearby park feels slightly stiff and meanders a bit, but that comes with the territory. Not every poem is meant to roll right off the tongue, right?  That doesn’t make it any less poignant.

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Focus World releases new images, trailer for the infamous cannibal horror film ‘Raw’

Film still from the horror movie Raw.

Garance Marillier stars as Justine in the French horror film “Raw.” PHOTO CREDIT: Focus World

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated 1/16/17 since the recent release of the “Raw” trailer.

Focus World today released a couple of new images from their upcoming horror release “Raw.”  The film was picked up by the Focus Features distribution arm after hitting the festival circuit last fall.  The teenage cannibal-focused film made headlines last September when a couple of Toronto International Film Festival attendees needed medical attention after enduring a screening of the graphic flesh feast.

Film Still from the upcoming Focus World horror movie Raw.

PHOTO CREDIT: Focus World

“Raw” focuses on a young vegetarian in her first year at veterinary school.  After she is forced to eat raw meat in a hazing ritual, she is left with an unexpected insatiable hunger as a side effect.  The darkly comic – and highly gory – film is written and directed by Julia Ducournau.  Ducournau’s debut feature also screened last October at the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival.

Focus World releases “Raw” on March 10.

Click below to watch the trailer!

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Amazon releases trailer, details for Studio Ghibli series Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter

Image from the Amazon Prime series Ronja The Robbers Daughter.

Ronja(left) and Birk strike up an unlikely friendship in Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter.  PHOTO CREDIT: Amazon Prime Video

Amazon today released the trailer for Studio Ghibli’s Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter, the original Japanese series which starts streaming on their Prime service beginning January 27.  X-Files star Gillian Anderson narrates the series.

Told in 26 parts, Ronja tells the story of a ten year-old girl who was born to a career-thief father.  Things get complicated when she befriends a boy named Birk, who happens to be the son of her father’s rival.  Not only that, but the backdrop of the nearby forest provides danger and wonder for the girl, what with its unique creature inhabitants.

Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter originally aired in Japan, where it was honored with an International Emmy.  The series is based on a 1981 children’s book by Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author who also happened to write the popular Pippi Longstocking.  The book has been translated into 41 different languages on its way to selling over 10 million copies globally.

Studio Ghibli is the prestigious animation house behind such iconic films as “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.”  “Spirited Away” won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2003.

Amazon’s television efforts recently made headlines at the Golden Globes, after Billy Bob Thornton won the Best Actor prize for the drama series Goliath.

Click below to watch the trailer for Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter.

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The final scene of ‘La La Land’ is a thing of subtle beauty

Image of a scene from the movie La La Land.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in “La La Land.” PHOTO CREDIT: Dale Robinette

“La La Land” is magnificent, from its ambitious eye-candy opening on the L.A. Freeway to its final plucked piano key. And while this film is worlds apart tonally from Damien Chazelle’s previous film “Whiplash”, the two are surprisingly connected when it comes to characters with a passion for music. But for all the song and dance, perhaps the most pivotal moment of the entire film is one of complete silence.

There’s always a love story, and “La La Land” is no exception. While the two main characters are a couple of dreamers(one wants to act, the other a musician who wants to open a jazz club), the topic that pushes the plot forward(and triggers the next musical number) is the budding romance between them. But their dreams just won’t go away, and they keep knocking louder at the back of their minds. This ends up being the ultimate test for the couple. Their passion for each other definitely has to compete with their passion to see their dreams realized.

The film’s final scene involves a song(of course), and the initial melody is a throwback to when the two first met. Sebastian and Mia once again find themselves in a dimly lit Los Angeles joint. Once again, she’s looking on as he sits behind the piano. However, before Sebastian starts to revisit a single note from that fateful piece, he hesitates. Five years has now passed; while it might feel like a small lifetime for the two, the silence tells another story. All of Mia and Sebastian’s history exists in that very instant, and in this breathtaking moment he finds it hard to play the piece he knows so well. The silence is deafening and overwhelming; in that subtle pause is a lifetime of emotion.

“La La Land” packs a surprising amount of humor and seems to charm with great ease, which makes it worthy of all its praise and attention this awards season. But the film’s final scene is its bread and butter, and makes it one of the great movie moments of this year or last. It stands apart without a catchy song or set piece, and gives the film a depth beyond the vibrant scenery and flashy choreography. Sebastian’s moment of reflection is heart-wrenching and significant, and is one of the best cinematic choices to grace the big screen in quite some time. “La La Land” is certainly a whimsical place, but it is a grounded one as well.

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