WWTF (Wassup With This Flick): SUN CHOKE

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We know Janie (Sarah Hagan) has severe mental health issues, Irma (Barbara Crampton), the housekeeper/stepmother, may be trying to cure her with yoga, holistic exercises and New Age babble and that, in one of her rare forays out of doors (most of the film takes place in a lavish yet sterile Beverly Hills home complete with swimming pool) Janie becomes obsessed with a young woman named Savannah (Sara Malakul Lane) and begins to stalk her. 

Sarah Hagan as Janie

That’s it. The rest may be up to you. Writer/director Ben Cresciman supplies no backstories for any of the characters. He only hints that something very bad happened to Janie (perhaps dating back to her childhood), her mother has died and the father has been largely absent from the scene (in the film he is on an extended trip to Tokyo). Themes of parental neglect, personal control (or the lack of it) and the care and treatment of mental illness are hinted at. But like all works of art, the final interpretation is left up to the individual viewer.

Sara Malakul Lane

All three actresses are committed to Cresciman’s vision. The cinematography (by Matthew Rudenberg) reflects the many moods of the characters and is exquisite and well thought out.

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Barbara Crampton

The problem, for the viewer, may be that, like Janie, you will have problems separating reality from what is going on in Janie’s feverish imagination. Most of the film seems to be from her deeply disturbed point of view. In literature, Janie’s POV is often referred to as “the unreliable narrator”.

If the idea of a film that entertains while it makes you work and if the concept of a film largely set in one environment and only featuring three main characters makes you as a viewer feel claustrophobic, then you are advised to choose something else.

For me, even though I couldn’t always figure out what was going on, the film held my attention to the bitter end (and the ending may be bitter to most viewers) and images from the film replayed themselves in my mind for several days after viewing, the mark of a film that grips and holds my imagination.

Sun Choke was streaming on Netflix as of May 2017


Accepting No Substitute!

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I read an ad in a newspaper for a David Bowie impersonator. He was described as having the looks, the moves and the sound of the late rock icon. 

I saw the real David Bowie at a rock festival in the California desert a number of years ago. The temperature had crested over one hundred degrees that day, the water taps were on the fritz and the first aid tents were full of sun-burned folks in various states of distress. To put it mildly, the crowd was in a raucous, ugly mood. And yet when Mr. Bowie entered the stage, looking elegant as always in a suit and tie and began  to perform “Cracked Actor” with  his usual theatrical flair, a reverent hush fell over the unruly crowd. 

So while impersonators may have the look, the moves and the sound of David Bowie, they will never capture his charisma. The feeling that one is in the presence of genuine and highly respected rock royalty. 

And while I am on the subject how come most of the performers mimicked are white? Oh sure, there is one Tina Turner impersonator that I know of (and Ms. Turner is one of the few performers being copied who is still alive) and a friend tells me there is a Prince impersonator in eastern Canada (good luck with that) but to date I haven’t heard of any touring Tupac acts (although that may change with the upcoming biopic All Eyes on Me) or Notorious B.I.G. imitators.

Maybe I don’t get out much but all I seem to hear about is Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond (!) impersonators , touring Abba tributes and Creedence, Pink Floyd and The Band soundalikes. I suppose this fills the need for people who, for various reasons, were/are unable to see The Real Deal.

But for me, at least, there is no substitute for the genuine original artist/group.

Thoughts While Watching the Screen (I Couldn’t Think of a Better Title)

Ever notice the cops/detectives in movie and TV chase scenes always seem to be in preternaturally good shape? I mean, these folks can run for blocks without showing any signs of getting winded. (I know. I’m familiar with the miracle of screen editing … but these kind of shows are supposed to be realistic.)

I was thinking of this while watching Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle in French Connection II run a marathon in the heat of a French summer in pursuit of the drug kingpin played by Fernando Rey (who was riding in a boat at the time.) Now. I have never visited Marseilles (where FCII took place) but I did visit Paris in roughly the same time period and the heat was so intense I almost died from terminal thirst. I would like to believe that I was in reasonably good shape at the time of my visit but personally I couldn’t have run more than a couple of blocks in that heat.

It’s not just American cops either. In the Japanese thriller Stray Dog, Kurosawa goes out of his way to show viewers how hot it is. And yet what do we see? Toshiro Mifune as a Japanese policeman sprints after a fleeing felon in a …suit and tie? Even Hackman wasn’t that well dressed.

I assumed there might be a course in police academy about chasing down a fugitive that would account for the resilience and strength required to run that far and fast.

But then, come to think of it, that doesn’t explain why the crook is in such good condition. I mean, the “hero” has to have someone to chase, right? And I have a hard time picturing criminal types working out on treadmills in an underground gym. 

Must be the adrenaline rush powering the wrongdoer. I mean, I’d run, too (regardless of the weather) if I had someone who looked like the mighty Mifune on my tail.

Thoughts on Mortality

We all gotta go sometime.

From something.

So, like Tim McGraw sang, 

“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying
Like tomorrow was a gift
And you’ve got eternity
To think about.”

Or, to quote Willie Nelson

“…. woke up still not dead again today
The news said I was gone to my dismay
Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play …. “

Whatever ….

I noted with misplaced envy that a woman poster with an unconventional name had complained on my Facebook feed about a troll who had prefaced his diatribe to her page by making fun of her name.  It should have been rather flattering, in a perverse way.  At least he read her post and had taken the time to think of a nickname and a reply. I get little response to my entries. Of course, I write basically film reviews (for which I actually got paid in a previous lifetime) and she writes political rants. That may be the difference.

When I first started writing this blog (an eternity ago in internet time) I wrote a lengthy critique on the work of one sun-dazed film-maker who had come back to haunt us with one more self-indulgent release and actually got a (largely snarky) reply from one of the film-maker’s longtime buddies in LA. Several years later, I get, as  I say, minimal response. However, the old maxim remains true – Be careful what you wish for.

A few months ago. I began receiving some intriguing posts from what appeared to be an attractive young American woman. Having experienced this “game” in high school and having watched the film Catfish (before the movie title became an Internet term) I did not make an expected move that could be deemed inappropriate or just plain humorous. I assumed the “posts” and “pics” were the product of some bored young suburbanites or some local men/women/collective who knew I was writing a blog (largely for my own reasons) and decided to prank me.  Since my responses to this mysterious “poster” were largely non-committal he/she/they eventually got tired of the “game” and moved on .

Still, it’s an interesting world we now live in.

I Rented It on DVD: “Edge of Seventeen”

Yawn! Another coming-of-age tale about privileged white teen-aged suburbanites who drive  gleaming new cars and vans to school (no second hand jalopies in this crowd), have pools in their backyard and all the latest technological gear at their disposal.

As usual, most of the actors in these films are too old to play high school students. 20 year old Hailee Steinfeld plays a high school junior!

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Hailee Steinfeld – Yearbook picture?

Fortunately, for writer/director and co-producer Kelly Fremon Craig, it is Ms. Steinfeld’s remarkable performance as troubled teen Nadine that saves the movie. Striking an ironic pose to hide the confusion lurking just underneath, Ms. Steinfeld somehow makes her difficult character human and, um. likeable. If you ask me (and no one did) she should have been Oscar nominated for this role as well as the Academy nod for her performance in the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit. (She did earn a Golden Globe nomination for her work in Edge of Seventeen.)

Her exchanges with Woody Harrelson, as a deceptively sympathetic teacher, especially shine.

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