Friday, August 28, 2009

New DVD Recs: LONDON TO BRIGHTON, BOB FUNK, Gretchen Mol and more....

As usual, viewing and reporting on new independent and foreign films is taking up even more time of late, so I am way behind on advisories regarding what to see on DVD. However, there have been a few films just too good not to recommend, so today, I'll cover a few of these:

The tiny and unheralded LONDON TO BRIGHTON was, over here in the USA at least, a surprise for many of us because its director Paul Andrew Williams was actually nominated for a BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer in 2006 (he won five other major awards for this film at various fests and from British newspapers). His tiny-budget movie about two females on the run -- done, from the looks of things, on the fast and cheap -- is very nearly perfect in terms of moment-to-moment storytelling, acting, filming, editing and all the rest. This film is so good -- so fast, economical (79 minutes plus credits), gritty and real -- you'll hardly know what's hit you till its over and you've had time to think things out. Even then, I don't imagine you'll discover many flaws.

The acting is splendid all-round. Leading lady Lorraine Stanley (shown at left) gives a simply phenomenal performance that, were the film better-seen, would have put her on the map for good) and the tiny moments of decency amidst the squalor are greatly appreciated, as much for their lack of sentimentality as for the respite they provide from the gathering gloom. Mr. Williams went on to write and direct one of the funniest, and again, under-seen thriller/slasher movies in memory, The Cottage (my review for Greencine appears here). He has written (but not directed) another scare movie as yet unreleased on these shores but said to be quite fine: The Children. Could some enterprising distributor grab this one, please? Mr. Williams is, so far, a movie-maker to be treasured, and thankfully London to Brighton is one of those rare films that is impossible (even for critics like me) to oversell.

BOB FUNK, on the other hand, could be oversold because it takes some time working its spell. Yet it is an almost pitch-perfect, indepen-
dent comedy that is unlikely to be mistaken for any other movie you can think of. This is because its leading character and the actor who portrays him -- Michael Leydon Campbell -- are originals. So is, from the sound and look of the film, its writer/director Craig Carlisle, who has managed the rarely-accomplished feat of having his main character grow and change believably -- and in a major way. From a beginning, in which you think this man with the odd name is perhaps the most ridiculous character you've encoun-
tered, through to the end, when you've long ago cried "uncle" and are now firmly in Funk's corner, the experience is, well, wondrous. As good as is Mr. Campbell, it is also a thrill to see the lovely, funny Rachel Leigh Cook in a decent role again at long last (she's the love interest here); the fabulous and more often seen on TV than in film, Grace Zabriskie ; Amy Ryan, smashingly good in a small role; and a fine newcomer named Terri Mann, as Funk's analyst: a wonderfully conceived and performed character that helps make up for decades of (perhaps somewhat deserved) "shrink" abuse. Do not, under any circumstances, miss this one. And if you are initially put off, I beg you to stick with it. You'll thank me.

And now to the work of an actress who just seems to get better and better -- after a debut complete with overheated fanfare -- the cover of Vanity Fair -- followed by the kind of backlash that would have killed any weaker performer. Yes, we're talking about Gretchen Mol. I've never seen her give anything less than a good performance and she's usually much better than that. Yes, she's staggeringly beautiful in a blond, fine-boned, sexy way, and if her latest, AN AMERICAN AFFAIR, is any indication, she is now approaching middle age with all her beauty and talent intact and growing. Here she plays a character named Catherine Caswell, and if that last name rings a slight bell, it's meant to -- for the movie deals sidelong with the affair between a certain famous U.S. President and a equally famous blond actress. Written by Alex Metcalf and directed by William Olsson, the film was generally trashed upon release and unfairly so. Though certainly not great, it offers several good performances -- Ms Mol's in particular -- and some lovely directorial touches, one of the best being how news of a certain event is passed between students in a Catholic High School. Cameron Bright (Birth, Running Scared) grows up a bit here, and though he gets off to a rocky start, his performance improves, even as the movie wavers a bit in its tone and its telling.

Gigantic is one of those films that seems to polarize people. It's an odd one, small and very quiet. Hardly anyone raises a voice, even when one character is getting mugged and mauled. But it has much on its mind -- to the credit of its co-writer (with Adam Nagata) and director Matt Aselton. Two lovely and talented leads Paul Dano (I hope he will appreciate my use of that first adjective because the wonderful sense of quiet trust he projects leads me to choose it) and Zooey Deschanel help ground the movie, and fine older actors like John Goodman, Jane Alexander and Ed Asner, provide some meaty and delicious moments. There's a mystery at the heart of Gigantic that remains unsolved. My gut feeling is that our hero imagines certain things (out of guilt, perhaps?), but feel free to create your own scenario. Either way, the movie is worth a watch.

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