|Films I Neglected To Review: Rooms With A View
|by Peter Sobczynski
Please enjoy short reviews of "The Night Clerk," "Ordinary Love," "Standing Up, Falling Down" and "Swift."
"The Night Clerk" offers viewers yet another example of the familiar suspense thriller trope of a person who witnesses a gruesome crime but is unable to divulge the information that they have without getting into big trouble themselves, thereby attracting the attentions of both the police, who suspect that they know more than they are letting on, and the real perpetrators, who know that they know more than they are letting on. Our hero this time around is Bart (Ty Sheridan), a young man with Asperger's Syndrome who functions on a high enough level to allow him to work the night shift at a local motel. Because his basic social skills are limited at best, Bart has taken to secretly installing hidden cameras in some of the rooms in order to study how the guests interact with each other from a bank of computers set up in the basement of the house he shares with his overprotective mother (Helen Hunt). Inevitably, while watching a live feed from his house after his shift late one evening, he witnesses a guest being brutally beaten by a man and since he cannot call the police, he rushes back to the motel but by the time he arrives, she has been murdered and his odd behavior has made him the prime suspect in the eyes of the cop (John Leguizamo) on the case. While trying to prove his innocence, Bart also finds himself befriending a beautiful new guest (Ana de Armas) but soon begins to fear that she may be in danger as well.
The film marks Michael Cristofer's first outing as a director since the 2001 Angelina Jolie botch "Original Sin" and while this effort is nowhere near as dopey as that one (not that anyone has actually watched any of it beyond a few specific scenes since it came out), it still isn't much of anything to write home about. The story, as you can probably surmise, is just another rehash of "Rear Window" and while the addition of the Asperger's angle is not quite as exploitative as it might sound, it doesn't really bring much of anything to the proceedings. Likewise, the two lead performances by Sheridan and de Armas (whose rapidly ascending stardom, thanks to "Knives Out' and the upcoming "No Time to Die," is probably the driving force behind the film getting even its modest release) are perfectly fine but there is only so much that they can do with their thinly drawn roles. "The Night Clerk" isn't a terrible movie by any means but considering the amount of talent on hand here, the fact that it never quite clicks is probably the biggest mystery of all.
If you are looking for a thoroughly depressing film experience--in terms of subject, not execution--you would be hard-pressed to find a movie as absolutely grim as the new drama "Ordinary Love." In it, Liam Neeson and Lesly Manville play Tom and Joan, a long-married Belfast couple who have weathered their share of tragedies but have managed to come out from them as stronger people. One day, Joan discovers a lump on her breast and when she has it checked out, she discovers that it is cancerous. She begins treatment for the disease and before long, both she and Tom find themselves struggling with all of the challenges that it entails--she endures treatment procedures that often leave her as pained and drained as the sickness itself while he tries, not always successfully to step into the role of caretaker for the first time in his life. To its credit, the film--written by Owen McCafferty and co-directed by Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn--resists the temptation to amplify the material into melodrama in order to paint a more realistic depiction of a couple facing an increasingly dire medical diagnosis. In addition, the performances are great--Manville is spectacular throughout and Neeson's quiet and sensitive work reminds us of the considerable acting chops that had all been stored away for the last decade while he was off making one action film after another. The trouble is that in its efforts to remain earnest and devoid of cheap theatrics, a certain dullness begins to set in after a while that not even the performances from Manville and Neeson can quite overcome--with its indifferent visual compositions and reliance on speeches in which the underlying themes are too often spelled out in more detail than necessary, it tends to feel more like a filmed play at times than anything else. "Ordinary Love" has clearly been made with good intentions but as it proves, a film needs more than just those in order to succeed.
b]"Standing Up, Falling Down" is a film that bravely dares to answer the heretofore unasked question "What would 'Garden State' have been like if the Natalie Portman role had been filled by Billy Crystal?" Having spent the last four years in failed pursuit of his dream of being a stand-up comic in Los Angeles, 34-year-old Scott (Ben Schwartz) moves back in with his parents in his childhood home in Long island. While trying to figure out what to do next--and also pining for the old girlfriend (Eloise Mumford) that he dumped when he took off, despite the fact that she is now married—he makes the acquaintance of Marty (Billy Crystal), a dermatologist with an endless array of patter, a lifetime of regrets and a serious problem with alcohol, and the two find themselves in the odd positions of trying to help each other try to come to terms with the failings of their respective pasts so that they can finally move on with their lives.
As someone who did not particularly care for either "Garden State" nor the wave of knockoffs that came in its wake, I am probably not the best person to objectively judge a film like "Standing Up, Falling Down. This particular variation moves along quickly enough and contains a few surface pleasures--although his character is more than a little contrived, Crystal milks the role for all that it is worth--but it suffers from two significant problems. The first is that there is not much of anything particularly unique or memorable about Peter Hoare's screenplay--there is even a running joke about Scott's mother (Debra Monk) constantly interrupting him while he is in the bathroom--and the things that do happen feel more like script contrivances than anything borne out of reality. The other, and bigger, problem is the fact that for all the glibness they display throughout, the two central characters are essentially jerks throughout but with one key exception--a confrontation between Crystal and the estranged son (Nate Coddry) who has had enough of him--the film never really owns up to that. (In the most cringe-worthy sequence, the now-happily-married girlfriend that Scott unceremoniously dumped years early practically throws herself at him.) If you have an insatiable taste for movies about white male fuckups coming to terms with their considerable personal issues without ever really having to answer for them, then "Standing Up, Falling Down" might be worth a look but others are likely to find it barely tolerable at best and it is only rarely at its best.
Although the title might delude a few people into thinking that it is a retitled version of Taylor Swift's Netflix documentary "Miss Americana," "Swift" is actually a German-made animated film about an adorable bird named Manou (Josh Keaton) who tries his best to swim, fish and fly like his mighty seagull parents (Willem Dafoe and Kate Winslet) but is just not very good at any of those skills. Eventually, he discovers that his failings in these areas are not entirely his fault--he is actually a swift who was adopted by his seagull family after being orphaned, much to the consternation of the other gulls, who intensely dislike swifts. He does his best to fit in but after a tragic event, Manou is forced out on his own and tries to negotiate the hereditary vs environment divide for himself in time to return and save his adopted family using his natural abilities after all. The implicit message, at least in theory, is that putting up divides between different cultures is terrible and that by everyone coming together as one, we are all better off as a society. While the film does eventually end with this message, it seems to be advocating precisely the opposite way of thinking for most of its running time, a decision that is both dramatically dubious and likely to result in confused questions from any young children who manage to make it to the end. Luckily for parents, few of them are likely to last all the way through, thanks to the pretty but indifferent animations, dull characters and a storyline that constantly seems to be grinding to a halt every few minutes. Very undiscriminating kids might enjoy it on some basic fundamental level but will almost certainly kick it to the side the minute something better comes along. As for parents, their only interest will probably come from trying to figure out the chain of circumstances that led to Winslet and Dafoe contributing their distinctive voices to such nothing roles in such a nothing project. "Swift" has its heart in the right place, I suppose, but, unlike its main character, it never quite manages to spread its wings and fly.
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originally posted: 02/20/20 14:50:49
last updated: 02/20/20 18:05:22