Director Brett Harvey explores the issue of the war on drugs in The Culture High, a poorly oranized/edited doc with many talking heads. The main argument is that the legalization of marijuana prevents drug dealers, jails, and even our very own government from making a profit from its illegalization. Snoop Dogg gets a chance to speak his mind although he doesn't say much that's truly insightful. Ex-drug smuggler Howard Marks is also among the interviewees. Once the doc makes its points, it repeats them over and over, though and then goes off into unnecessary, off-topic tangents that including lobbying, NSA surveillance, and freedom-of-information activist Aaron Swartz, among others, that serve as distractions albeit important topics that better off tackled in separate docs. At a running time of 2 hours, The Culture High overstays its welcome. Eone Films opens it at the IFC Center.
The Blue Room
Fishing Without Nets
The Little Tin Man
35-year-old Herman (Aaron Beelner) hasn't been fulfilling his passion for becoming a successful actor yet. He works at his family's restaurant, and he gets typecast in minor roles that stereotype dwarves, but lacks the drive to reach his full potential. That way of thinking changes after his mother dies, leaving him out of her will and with her dying wish to have him persue acting more seriously. Thanks to his agent, Tyrone (Eddie Dunn), he lands an audition for a role as the mayor of the Munchkins in a remake of The Wizard of Oz directed by Martin Scorcese. Instead of auditioning for yet another typecast role, he sets his ambitions higher for the first time in his life by auditioning for the Little Tin Man with the help of his best friend Miller (Kay Cannon), and his brother, Gregg (Jeff Hiller).
The Little Tin Man feels refreshing because it boasts interesting characters who behave like complex human beings would, and because of its sensitively written screenplay by co-writers Dugan Bridges and Matthew Perkins. Blending drama and comedy is no easy task, but Bridges and Perkins pull it off with aplomb without resorting to the lowest common denominator like too many filmmakers tend to do nowadays. In other words, they treat the audience respectfully when it comes to trusting their intelligence. It also helps that much of the film is grounded in humanism. Herman's struggles are concurrently intimate as well as universal given that many adults have yet to find their innate will to succeed in life instead of putting themselves down or letting others step all over them. Fortunately, the performances feel just as natural as the screenplay does, and the comedic moments deliver the laughs with a little bit of tongue-in-cheek humor and wit as icing on the cake. At a running time of 1 hour and 24 minutes, The Little Tin Man is genuinely warmhearted, wise, funny and relatable.
Stephen King's A Good Marriage
Darcy (Joan Allen) and Bob (Anthony LaPaglia) have been happily married for the past 25 years. That happiness changes when Bob goes away briefly for a work-related trip, and Darcy discovers evidence that he's a serial killer, nicknamed "Beadie", who has been targeting women. Upon learning that she had discovered the truth, he tells her that he knows that she had been snooping around, and she bravely confronts him about it in their bedroom. Meanwhile, a strange man (Stephen Lang) follows Darcy around. More surprises and twists transpire after the confrontation, but they won't be spoiled here.
The screenplay by Stephen King, based on his short story, works very well for the most part, especially the first and second acts as the suspense builds. To be fair, though, there's not much of a first act given how little time you spend getting to know Darcy and Bob during their peaceful moments as husband and wife. How did they meet and fall in love? Were there any spats during those 25 years before Darcy learned the harsh truth about Bob? King leaves that up to your imagination. What he doesn't leave for you imagination is what Darcy does once she finds out that truth. You can't help but wonder to yourself, "What would I do in that situation? How brave would I be?" That's part of what makes the film compelling--at least until the rather rushed third act that's far from subtle or believable for that matter. Interestingly, the other domestic murder mystery/thriller opening this weekend, Gone Girl, also suffers from, among other things, a weak third act, although it ultimately falls apart much more than Stephen King's A Good Marriage does.
What keeps the film afloat, you ask? Firstly, the lighting, camera angles and set design along with the music elevate the suspense to a palpable level. Hitchcock would appreciate some of the camera work and the fact that director Peter Askin doesn't rely on gore as a means of shocking/entertaining. Secondly, the film boasts very fine performances by the talented Joan Allen and Anthony LaPaglia. You can sense that they come from a background in theater, especially during the emotionally-charged confrontation scene, because they play off of each other quite well and tackle a wide range of emotions convincingly. Bravo to casting directors Douglas Aibel and Henry Russell Bergstein for choosing them because they truly rescue the film from sinking into mediocrity.