REVIEW: “MASS” (2021) Bleeker Street

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Stepping away from acting and putting on a directors hat instead, Fran Kranz gives us a truly heart wrenching movie that is so well written from start to finish and carrying along with it, an almost gut wrenching amount of weight within it’s dialogue in “MASS”.

The film begins perfectly with a sense of something equal to tense energy and yet some awkwardness at the same time. It opens with church volunteers Judy (Breeda Wool), and Anthony (Kagen Albright), along with Kendra (Michelle N Carter), who is in charge of making this all happen. These three are are preparing an private room for what is clearly a high-stakes meeting. The four guests arrive, and it’s two couples – four people – all looking uneasy and unsure about the meeting. As we watch the initial small talk we start to realize what is happening and why they are here. This meeting is taking place six years after a devastating tragedy, and the parents have gathered in the room of a church to come to terms with the events of that time. We finally learn Evan, the son of Gail (Martha Plimpton), and Jay (Jason Isaacs), was shot by Hayden, the son of Linda (Ann Dowd) and Richard (Reed Birney). It’s been six years since the school shooting and both couples are seeking closure to the immense grief they’ve carried. There is also the overwhelming burden of guilt and the weight of blame, finger pointing, and as to be expected, real emotional chaos at times. Some of the issues being discussed reminded me of the documentary ‘American Tragedy‘ wherein the mother of one of the Columbine shooters tries to speak from her POV. But this gives us the difference of having both sides speaking to each other. Here all four leads brings something something different to the table, but put it all together as director Kranz did, and you have yourself one very good film that will stick with you for some time.

To put it quite bluntly, ‘Mass‘ is an acting masterpiece. Martha Plimpton’s performance is like time bomb that devastatingly yet also politely explodes at the finish. Ann Dowd shows someone who is truly drained, but is trying her best to put herself back together while expressing the complicated emotions being held within her. Jason Isaacs takes on the role of a devastated father with the energy of a broken man full of anger all while trying to hold back his hurt. Everyone it seems gets their huge powerful moment except for Reed Birney who is quiet and calm throughout. We only get a peek at his heartbreak, regret and horror, and at times it feels like he gives off such insolence as though he almost just doesn’t care.

Every once in a while you come across a film that doesn’t need any bells and whistles or a Marvel superhero in it, just actors giving raw, heartfelt performances. One that I have rarely seen in this form and one that will stay with you for a very long time. It tells a tragic story that will break you in many different ways. Their ability to convey a wide range of emotions will absolutely tear you apart, taking you on a roller coaster of a ride until arriving at a stop where you are satisfyingly put back together. While not for everyone, it does leave you better for having watched.

Grade: A

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“MASS” from Bleeker Street Films – is playing in theaters now – look for VOD release dates upcoming

Spirit Awards Review Nominee Screenings – week one

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So I am a member of Film Independent and every year they do a two-week long jaunt of screenings of all the Spirit Award Nominees. As a lover of Indie films, these two weeks are quite heavenly as not only are the screenings just a short distance from me, but let me see and open my eyes to many films that you don’t always get a media screening invite for. It gave me personally an extra benefit this year as I was quite ill, especially these past few months and missed quite a few of screenings I did have. So onward with brief thoughts and grades on everything I’ve seen so far. Mind you, I did miss some of these even, as not only do they do a whole block of them on weekends as in four in a row – I had a medical time-out for most of the week. Luckily, many of the films are luckily on Netflix, Prime or Hulu – and as voters are also provided with links to watch all of nominated films. But truthfully, watching films on a laptop just seriously isn’t how they are meant to be viewed now is it. So with that in mind – here we go. (following in the format of the Film Independent Screening Awards schedule)

Day One:
“SORRY TO BOTHER YOU” Dir: Boots Riley

I was really loving the first part of this film as it was satire sharp, imaginative and funny. But not only does it run too long, but that bizarro left turn it takes in the last third of the movie will surely leave most as bewildered as I was.
Grade: C-

Day Two:
“SHIRKERS” Dir: Sandi Tan

This was a great little women-driven documentary that takes on a journey of a lost film, a strange relationship that made that happen, and all the friends along the way. But maybe it’s the oddness of all of it put together that works so well.
Grade: B

“LEAVE NO TRACE” by Debra Granik

If you asked me if I thought I would enjoy a film about a man (Ben Foster) and his 13-yr. old daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) who have been living off the grid in an urban park of all places, and what happens when they make a single mistake and get caught, well I would’ve have probably laughed a bit and given you a ‘NO’ in response. As it was, I loved this film. It was taunt with drama, and the age old question of what is right or perceived as so, and what is wrong, again, perceived as so.
Grade: A

“HEREDITARY” by Ari Astor

While the film wasn’t scary per se for me, nor a particularly good horror film by any stretch, it did stitch itself together enough to follow along and be entertaining mostly because Toni Collette took it there. I had forgotten about Gabriel Byrne somewhat over the years, but his supporting role along with Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff topping off with good performances of their own, helped bring this film up a notch to be sure.
Grade: C

“ROMA” Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

A completely different take on the trials and tribulations in the life of a maid in to a rather dis-functional wealthy family in 1970’s Mexico City. While Yalitza Aparicio is a breath of fresh air to be sure, along with Marina de Tavira and well, truly the whole cast, I do think it’s a bit over-hyped in the ‘how good it is’ department. Mind you it IS good and I will leave it at that.
Grade: B

Day Three:

“PRIVATE LIFE” Dir: Tamara Jenkins

Both Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti give a completely believable ordeal of what one couple goes through to have a child – including numerous fertility ordeals, tests, fake surrogates, family surrogates, money and most of all their own lives and relationships, in a series of choices that can only make one cringe at times as to what some will choose to endure.
Grade: C-

“THE FAVOURITE” Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Let me just shout about how much and how long I’ve loved Olivia Colman. I always felt she was under-utilized so much or not given enough credit for her work. Here, she finally gets her lead role that will no doubt finally change all that and bring her an award. Alongside Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as her supporting, they do a commendable job of making this odd story come to life. While I didn’t love the film overall, the performances were so strong. Even Nicholas Hoult dons the old British wig and make-up to do a fun spin here as the strangest of cads. All said and done, just give Olivia her due already and be done with it.
Grade: C+

Day Four

“MADELINE’S MADELINE” Dir: Josephine Decker

I tried very hard to find a redeeming quality of this film and I just really didn’t find one. It was all over the place with nonsensical scenes cutting back and forth to add up nothing of what makes a film flow from scene to scene. It completely lacked any sense as you didn’t know if Molly Parker’s character was wanting Madeline (Helena Howard) to be crazy or making her crazy. All in all, it just lacked any and all of the Drama/Mystery/Thriller it is categorized as.
Grade: D-

“MINDING THE GAP” Dir: Bing Liu

As we know not all documentaries are going to be a pleasant, happy experience. This one however, made me feel as though I was watching a long drawn out episode of Teen Mom. And while I’ve never actually watched that show, I’m going to guess if you add in their boyfriends and skateboards, you’ve got it down pat. Enough said.
Grade: D-

“FIRST REFORMED” Dir: Paul Schrader

Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried both give good performances here and once again, without that this would be a truly hard film to sit through in it’s entirety. I just wish the movie didn’t drag so much for so long in many different parts. It’s seems as it’s trying to be a social commentary on despair, climate change, torment and tragedy all wrapped up in a bow that you see the ending coming right at you by the 30th minute leaving nothing to chance.
Grade: C

Day Five:

“If Beale Street Could Talk” Dir: Barry Jenkins

While I wasn’t Moonlight’s biggest fan, I did find Beale Street to be a far better film to be sure. I still didn’t love it as it left a lot of questions unanswered for me that I wanted to know and made it feel incomplete to me. While Kiki Lane and Stephan James are the leads, for me it was all about Regina King and Michael Beach (who is all of a sudden in so many projects and I love this fact) who really brought home the acting. And while so much of this hit hard, there was just still too much I wanted to know more about.
Grade: C+

And that’s all I’ve seen at this point – but I’ve still this weeks schedule and to make up some of last week’s also. So please come back as I will hopefully be posting more often again.

@pegsatthemovies

REVIEW ~ ST. VINCENT (2014)

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By this time, if there is anyone who hasn’t figured out that Bill Murray is a comedic genius then not only do I feel bad that they’ve missed so many fantastically funny, great movies, but maybe they can find some of it then in this film.  While Murray does a bit of a mixed bag here of comedy and a dramatic turn also, no one can deliver spot on, deadpan sarcasm like Murray.  NO ONE!  His character, “Vincent” is the corrosively, sarcastically funny old man next door who gets softened up a bit by the fact that his new neighbors seem to need his help somewhat with of all things, babysitting of the young boy, “Oliver” (played wonderfully by Jaeden Lieberher).  Oliver and his mom “Maggie” (Melissa McCarthy) are a bit down on their luck as she is going thru a divorce and trying to work long hours and take care of her son.  Step in ne’er-do-well neighbor and all around screw-up Vincent to ‘save the day’ and what ensues is a story of what could be taken two ways.. You can look at it as Vincent teaching Oliver ‘real’ life and what goes on when they spend the day in at the races using Oliver’s lunch money to make a bet and a surprising win, Vincent, showing Oliver how to deliver an upper-cut to nose to defend himself against the school bullies, celebrating at the local bar, or the sweetness of visiting his Alzheimers ridden wife.  Of course it’s not what you’re supposed to do, but taken in the context of the movie can not only be looked at as somewhat of a learning process, but quite funny as well.  StVincent2

But this isn’t all fun and laughs as not only does McCarthy go for a more dramatic start here, giving us some relief from what seems to be her playing the same character her last few comedic movies, but she does it well enough and it’s nice to see her showing she’s got more range than we thought. Murray, is as always quite genius even when his role becomes more challenging in the dramatic sense when he suffers a stroke and goes through a tough recovery process all with the help of what is probably one of the worst characters not only in this movie, but just in general, a very not funny, awfully acted Russian prostitute “Daka” played terribly by (Naomi Watts).  Not only is her accent just awful and grating on your every last nerve, but her garish, harsh makeup really does not flatter here at all. While she is supposed to be somewhat endearing and maybe even a bit funny, the whole character is sadly what makes this movie only good instead of fantastic.  On the fantastic side, newcomer Jaeden Lieberher as Oliver is remarkable in not only his acting skills, but as a child holding his own alongside Murray.  Who knows, we might have another Nicholas Hoult on our hands here! Add in a couple of fun smaller supporting roles from the always wonderful for me, Chris O’Dowd as “Brother Geraghty” a priest in the Catholic school which Oliver attends even though they and most of the children attending aren’t even Catholic, in his always fun, comedic ways, he helps Oliver make his presentation of “St. Vincent”. Terence Howard as “Zucko” the bookie trying to collect Vincent’s gambling debts and Kimberly Quinn as “Nurse Ana” who cares for Vincent’s wife “Sandy” (Donna Mitchell) in the care facility and has a soft spot for him as he tries to do anything and everything to keep her from being moved to another facility.

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Though they do a good job of mixing the right amount of comedic with dramatic adding in just enough heartstrings pull. all in all this adds up to only being a good movie..not a great movie,

Grade: C  (average)

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