Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Day the NATAS Broke My Heart

The Daytime Emmy nominations were announced today and, for the second year in a row, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences opted not to nominate Blake Berris for his amazing performance as Nick Fallon on Days of Our Lives. To say that I'm disappointed would be an understatement. I was baffled last year when Blake was shut out of the race but to have it happen again this year just feels incomprehensible. I'm perplexed and I'm upset. It sounds arrogant and mildly delusional to say that I'm taking this personally but I'm still so emotionally invested in Nick, and still so in awe of what Blake was able to bring to the role, that it's hard not to feel wounded on a personal level by the back-to-back snubs. 

Blake, for what it's worth, you touched a lot of people (myself included, obviously) with your portrayal of Nick. And I'm so proud of you. It feels kind of weird saying that to someone I don't really know, like it's too personal or something, but I'm saying it anyway because, well, I am proud of you. I'm proud of the character you brought to such vibrant life on Days. I'm proud of the story you told with that character. I'm proud of the chances you took on the show and the extraordinary contribution you made to daytime television. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. If it were up to me you know that you'd get all the awards, today and every day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Honeymoon

Yesterday I watched The Taking of Deborah Logan, a possession flick that received plenty of positive reviews; I went into it expecting something above average and ended up being dissatisfied when the movie fell short of my expectations. I couldn't help but think of Honeymoon, a creepy little story I watched last week and enjoyed immensely. Neither of these movies is doing anything groundbreaking but there's something about Honeymoon that feels so immediate, so passionate and genuine that it's hard not to feel like you're seeing something a bit out of the ordinary. It's so simple and so streamlined but so beautifully, thoughtfully constructed that every moment of it feels necessary and engaging.

Honeymoon opens with the wedding reception video confessionals of Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway). They are young, beautiful and absolutely mad about each other. They have chosen to spend their honeymoon at a rustic lakeside cabin owned by Bea's family. It's very early spring, just before the start of tourist season, so the other nearby cabins are empty and the newlyweds have pretty much the entire place to themselves. The only other people who seem to be around are Will, a childhood friend of Bea's from family vacations past and his wife Annie. Will operates a small lakeside diner that his family owns but when Bea and Paul stop in for a bite they are met not with hospitality but with apprehension and hostility. Will seems on edge and Annie seems . . . very unwell. 

But Bea and Paul's odd encounter with Will and Annie is a minor hiccup to the newly married couple, who are content to canoe on the lake, make lots of pancakes and have loads and loads of sex. That is until Bea goes missing in the night and Paul finds her, naked and disoriented, in the middle of the woods. Though she tries to assure her new husband that everything is fine there's just something about Bea that's a little off. She forgets how to perform simple tasks, like making French toast or coffee, and she stumbles over herself in conversation, occasionally struggling to find and properly utilize the most basic, everyday words. She has also abruptly lost all interest in sex with Paul, finding any excuse to put him off when he tries to initiate any kind of serious physical contact with her. Paul's suspicions turn to the already suspicious Will and he begins to fear that the other man may be a threat to both Bea and Annie. But the strange lights that illuminate the darkened forest in the night and the peculiar electrical disturbances in the cabin suggest a more fantastical adversary. 

Honeymoon is a slow burn but, for me, every moment of it worked. Leslie and Treadaway are lovely as Bea and Paul. I believed they were in love and I was heartbroken and terrified for both of them for the better part of the movie. And even though the overall vibe is subtle creepiness the movie definitely delivers some squirm-inducing gore in its final scenes. The sort of body horror stuff that makes me shudder and would make David Cronenberg proud. This is a genuinely effective and unsettling little film. 

The Taking of Deborah Logan

2014's The Taking of Deborah Logan is an above average mediocre film. I can't think of any other way to describe it. There are no fresh ideas and no fresh approaches to the subject matter in this faux documentary possession yarn. There are a handful of moments that are creepy, and one towards the end that genuinely freaked me out, but, for the most part, this movie felt more or less interchangeable with any number of other shaky, hand-held camera, running in the woods flicks. It's worth watching because it's well made and wonderfully acted but I wish it had had just a little more oomph to distinguish it from all the other titles like it.

Deborah Logan is a prim, proper Virginia gentlewoman who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Deborah reluctantly agrees, at the urging of her daughter, Sarah, to allow a film crew to document her struggles with the disease. Deborah is a private woman by nature but the filmmakers are willing to pay her for her contribution and, with the very real threat of her house being repossessed hanging over her head, she's not in a position to turn down their offer.

The Alzheimer's diagnosis, like Mia's drug addiction in the new Evil Dead, is a gimmick. It's a plot device designed to keep the characters from figuring out too quickly that something malevolent has taken hold of Deborah. All her bizarre behavior, the violent outbursts, the sleepwalking episodes where she digs in her backyard in the middle of the night, are attributed to her illness, which her physician surmises is progressing at a much more rapid rate than Deborah and Sarah were originally told that it would. Her doctor ups the dosage on her medication but Deborah's mental and physical state continue to deteriorate. Once Sarah and the film crew realize what's actually happening they must try to stop Deborah from succumbing to the entity that is tormenting her.

Deborah Logan's strength is its titular protagonist, played by Jill Larson, who gives a performance that is both chilling and heartrending. Anne Ramsay is equally compelling as daughter Sarah, a stressed-out caregiver who is fast approaching her own breaking point. Because I liked these characters so much I was especially disappointed in the tone of the movie's resolution, which felt callous and sensationalistic. I invested emotionally in these women and it was disheartening to see them treated as little more than an afterthought in the movie's abrupt, hackneyed "Gotcha!" ending. I think I wouldn't be nearly as disappointed in this movie if it hadn't shown so much potential. It made me want more from it and, when it didn't deliver, I ended up feeling incredibly unsatisfied. Maybe even more unsatisfied than I have any right to feel.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Campaigning for Blake Berris


A few years back, after he released his film Inland Empire, David Lynch campaigned for the movie's leading lady, Laura Dern, to receive an Oscar nomination. Since he is David Lynch his approach was far from conventional. Lynch wandered around Hollywood with a live cow, periodically parking himself and his bovine companion at popular intersections and sitting next to an enormous banner with the words "For Your Consideration: Laura Dern" emblazoned across an image of the actress's face. Dern's performance was not recognized by the Academy but I was so intrigued and impressed with Lynch's support for her work in the role that I felt compelled to launch my own campaign for Blake Berris (I do not live in Hollywood or own a cow, so I made do with what I had on hand). 

At this point, Berris is considered by many to be the favorite to take home the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series at the Daytime Emmys broadcast on April 26th. But, first, he has to snag a nomination. He has already garnered a pre-nomination, just like last year, for his exquisite work as Nick Fallon but, one week from tomorrow, the field of contenders will be narrowed from ten to five. While I feel fairly confident that Berris will make the cut it was at this particular stage that he was snubbed by the Academy last year, so it's hard not to feel a little nervous about the March 31st announcement. I know that my peculiar campaign won't influence the way that anybody feels about Berris or his work on Days of Our Lives but I had to give it a shot, regardless. And I'm hoping with all my might that the voters recognize his outstanding contribution to daytime drama this go-around.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Eden Lake

knew very little about Eden Lake before I watched it, other than it was a couple-in-peril yarn and it starred Michael Fassbender, before he blew up stateside and became a Hollywood A-lister. I went in expecting a typical thriller and ended up with much more than I bargained for; the movie is bloody and terrifying but it was the tone of the thing, which is relentlessly bleak and nihilistic, that really took me by surprise. I am almost tempted to watch it again, to see how I might react when I know what to expect, but I'm not sure I can subject myself to such a torturous endurance test a second time around.

Fassbender and Kelly Reilly play Steve and Jenny, a couple who set out for a rustically romantic get-away of camping and swimming at Eden Lake, a picturesque flooded quarry that sits on a patch of beautifully wooded land. Steve wants to spend one last weekend there before the property is transformed into a high-end residential area. The couple's idyl is interrupted, however, when they run afoul of an aggressive group of teenagers, who have come to the quarry for their own very different sort of fun. Steve and Jenny's initial interactions with the youths are unpleasant, though not particularly alarming or out of the ordinary, but the situation eventually escalates, a confrontation ensues and the unlucky couple find themselves targeted, indeed hunted, by a vengeful, bloodthirsty group of young savages. Or, more accurately, one vengeful, bloodthirsty young man and his friends, all of whom are either too weak-willed, indifferent towards or intimidated by their bullying leader to go against his orders.  

Eden Lake, written and directed by James Watkins, is reminiscent of other stories where civilized people find themselves in decidedly uncivilized situations, like Deliverance and Lord of the Flies. I was also reminded, just slightly, of Shirley Jackson's short story "The Summer People," about a couple who stay on at their rental home past the close of the holiday season, and the repercussions they suffer from the disgruntled locals as a result of their decision; while the bulk of the movie is set in the wilderness surrounding the quarry there are a few key scenes set in a nearby tourist town that suggest that the adult population isn't especially enamored of outsiders either. 

Some critics have taken issue with the class distinctions between the locals, who are decidedly working class, and Steve and Jenny, who are bit more well off, and called the movie to task for being classist. And at times it's hard not to take that message away from Eden Lake, that the poorer characters are less humane and more savage than the nice, middle class couple at the center of the story, but I like to think there's more going on than that. As the story progresses all the characters are pushed to their limits and react in extreme, out of the ordinary ways. And while Steve are Jenny are most definitely the victims the teenagers in the story are not a group of young aggressors who decide, at the outset, to spend their weekend terrorizing and hunting a couple of unsuspecting strangers for kicks. Everything just escalates quickly and the alpha teen, Brett, refuses to back down; peer pressure and fear drive a lot of the action in this story.

It has been almost a week since I watched Eden Lake and I find that I have thought about it several times and my perception of it has shifted slightly. Initially I was overwhelmed by the unapologetic brutality of the film but, the more I mull it over, I think about all the things about it that are worth admiring. The movie is well-made, the setting is gorgeous and creates a nice contrast to the ugly events that unfold. Fassbender and Reilly give compassionate, convincing performances; Reilly, in particular, really gets put through her paces in the later half of the story. Watching Jenny's fight for survival is both engrossing and exhausting. But it's Jack O'Connell's Brett who basically steals the show. He is relentlessly cunning and terrifying but so very compelling. There's not a false note in his performance, which makes it all the more watchable and all the more frightening. And the grim resolution to the story is as memorable as it is heartbreaking. If you've got the constitution for it, this one's worth a watch.