Category Archives: movie reviews

Dean: Directed and starring Demetri Martin

Dean – Demetri Martin (2016)

Dean, the indie film directed and written by and starring Demetri Martin, is somewhere in between a minimalist/mumblecore and a standard rom-com. You may be familiar with Martin’s stand-up performances, which have appeared on Netflix (where you can also find this film, though you may have to search).

Not everyone is a fan of Demetri Martin’s ultra low-key, hipster persona. In terms of stand-up, the closest analogy I can think of is Steven Wright , who delivers his often absurdist lines in a similar monotone (as Wright has been around since the 70s, he may have been an influence on Martin). I’ll confess that I actually like both of these guys more than many people do. But then I’m not a big fan of standard stand-up, which to me all starts to sound the same after a while with jokes about airports, relationships, having kids, and aging. I’ve heard Martin described as pretentiously hip and so forth but I actually appreciate that you never really know what he’s going to say and it doesn’t always make sense.

Even as a Martin fan, however, I can’t muster much enthusiasm for Dean. Martin’s style on stage, where he delivers unexpected and often hilariously absurd one-liners, doesn’t really work the same way on screen. Here, he’s just another emo-type hipster with a broken heart.

Dean is a youngish (Martin was 44 when this came out but could pass for late 20s) struggling artist living in an improbably stylish Brooklyn brownstone. He and his father Robert (Kevin Kline) are suffering from the recent death of Dean’s mother. Robert wants to sell their house, which is a source of disagreement between father and son. To avoid dealing with that, and to get away from his life in general, Dean flies to LA where he has an interview with an internet company that’s interested in his darkly whimsical illustrations (the drawings, actually done by Martin, are featured throughout the film).

We get a familiar parody of LA with its decadent parties and obnoxious internet startup types. Dean’s trip is not a total waste, though, as he meets Nicky (Gillian Jacobs), the sort of perky blond co-star that’s practically mandatory in rom-coms. There’s a parallel romance happening back in New York as Robert flirts with a real estate agent (Mary Steenburgen). Are either Dean or Robert ready for a serious relationship?

Dean isn’t only a lightweight indie-ish rom-com. It’s also about how people deal with grief. This isn’t an original topic, but it’s one that has archetypal relevance to everyone. Martin attempts to convey an arc for his character, who goes from flippant and obnoxious to more self-reflective and considerate of those around him. I think the problem with Martin is that minimalism is what he does best and while this definitely works for a certain type of humor, it doesn’t really work for creating a complex and sympathetic character.

I’ll also add that I’ve developed a certain attitude towards movies where the director, writer, and star are the same person. I’m sure you could come up with examples of great films that fit this category, this approach has its pitfalls such as a lack of objectivity -someone to watch what’s going on and notice areas that may need tweaking.

There’s nothing to hate about Dean. It has passably funny dialog in places and anyone in creative fields and/or who has lost a parent will be able to relate to Dean to some extent. It just doesn’t really stand out from the thousands of other indie/ rom-coms set in New York and/or LA with scripts that have similar trajectories.

Room For Rent

Room For Rent, a low-budget Canadian blackish comedy directed by Matthew Atkinson, is the kind of indie comedy that provides a respite from the steady stream of formula action, horror, rom-coms, and other generic fare churned out by the Hollywood machine.

This isn’t to say that Room For Rent doesn’t fall into genre cliches of its own. There’s definitely an established category of psycho roommate who won’t leave. However, while Brett Gelman infuses the unhinged roommate Carl with an edgy creepiness that could turn scary, the film never quite goes into full-fledged horror mode.

Mitch (Mark Little) is a thirty-something slacker who still lives with his parents. The catch in his case is that he’s a former lottery winner who managed to blow over $3 million in a few years with a series of failed inventions and improbable business ventures, including a self-drying umbrella and a sex doll marketed to teen girls.

When Mitch’s father (played by Mark McKinney, known as the goofy manager on the TV show Superstore) loses his job, the family is faced with the prospect of losing their home. Rather than consider the extreme prospect of getting a job, Mitch comes up with the idea of renting out a room. Enter Carl, who arrives with a suitcase, ready to move in on the spot, and a thick wad of cash which overcomes the parent’s reluctance to take in a complete stranger.

Carl wins over the parents but makes Mitch uneasy. An undertone of creepiness soon becomes outright threats and pranks. Carl calls up Mitch’s ex-girlfriend Lindsay (Carla Gallo), who Mitch alienated while going on his spending spree years ago.

The second half of Room For Rent takes a slightly different course than you might expect from the Roommate From Hell genre. Without getting too specific, let’s say that the film provides a semi-coherent motive for Gelman’s bizarre behavior.

I found the explanation a bit convoluted and contrived. For one thing, it depended on Carl arriving at Mitch’s household literally minutes after the “Room For Rent” sign was put up. It also gets into some dubious legal and business matters involving patents that may or may not make sense (I’ll let someone with an MBA or a patent lawyer answer that one).

All in all, however, Room For Rent is an entertaining movie. I always give props to a film that’s at least somewhat unpredictable. In a typical Hollywood film with this kind of setup, you’d have something like Pacific Heights (actually a pretty good example, and one of the first, of that genre), where Michael Keaton’s psycho character gets crazier and crazier until the predictable bloodbath ensues.

Countless cable (e.g. Lifetime) knockoffs of this variety have been made. At least Room For Rent, though not perfect, manages to walk an interesting line between drama and dark comedy without falling into total cliche.

Green Book: Familiar But Engaging Buddy/Road/Race Relations Movie

Green Book, directed by Peter Farrelly (along with his brother Robert, best known for low-brow comedies such as Dumb and Dumber and Something About Mary ) starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali is the kind of film that Hollywood absolutely loves to produce and that tends to win Academy Awards: A buddy film that takes place on the road, with a mismatched black and white duo and dealing with serious social issues.

Tony Lip (a moblike nickname) is a bouncer at a nightclub who has at least casual ties to local mob figures. Despite a penchant for gambling, he manages to steer clear of their dubious offers of easy money. When the nightclub closes, he seeks employment and has an interview for an unusual driving job with a musician named Don Shirley (Ali).

The two are about as mismatched as you could imagine. “Doctor” Shirley is a classical musician, a Ph.D. who speaks multiple languages while Tony Lip is a garrulous street character whose diction Shirley immediately starts to correct.

As the two drive to the segregated South of 1962, they encounter predictable instances of racism and hypocrisy. While Shirley is superficially honored as a great musician, he is not allowed to dine with white people or even use their toilets.

The lessons the two impart to one another are predictable. Tony’s worldview expands while Shirley learns to loosen up and even enjoy fried chicken (a recurring joke that’s milked throughout the film).

It would be easy to dismiss Green Book as merely a series of familiar tropes. Despite this, strong performances and some moving, as well as humorous moments, provide genuine pathos as well as entertainment. It does come perilously close to falling into the “white savior” category as Tony (Mortensen) acts as bodyguard and protector to. However, he’s just flawed enough to avoid being too blatantly a savior.

The film was “inspired by a true story,” which means that somewhere, sometime, something at least remotely similar may have occurred. Green Book gets its title from The Negro Motorist Green Book, an actual book which provided information on which hotels and other businesses permitted blacks to enter.

The fact that Green Book has been nominated for Best Picture can be attributed mainly to Hollywood’s long-time attachment to familiar themes and uplifting tales involving race. Driving Miss Daisy, a film that invites comparisons to Green Book for obvious reasons won Best Picture in 1990, a year when a far more cutting-edge drama dealing with racial issues, Do The Right Thing, wasn’t even nominated.

Both Mortensen and Ali were also nominated for, respectively, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Whatever little relevance the Oscars have these days, the actors are deserving of acclaim for making the very most of what they have to work with. Mortensen, in particular, is given the all-too familiar role of a brash Italian American gangster type with a gargantuan appetite (in an early scene, he wins a hotdog-eating contest). Despite this, he manages to rise above the stereotype and imbue Tony with likable qualities.

While not exactly original or groundbreaking, Green Book isn’t as banal or objectionable as it could have been. It’s the kind of film that is hard to dislike even if you recognize that it’s shamelessly tugging at familiar heartstrings.

I saw Green Book at Tyneside Cinema, an atmospheric, well-preserved traditional theater in Newcastle, UK where they do an admirable job of recreating the old-fashioned cinema experience. I did grumble at the decidedly modern practice of making you sit through some 20 minutes of commercials before the film but I suppose it’s a challenge for movie theaters to pay the bills these days.

Obey Giant Review

Obey Giant, a documentary currently on Hulu, covers the career of street artist Shepard Fairey and explores some of the movement’s influences and history. Fairey is best known as the creator of the iconic Obama Hope posters that were seen everywhere during the 2008 campaign. He’s also featured in Exit Through the Gift Shop, another documentary (some say mockumentary) about the even more famous street artist Banksy.

Obey Giant gets its title from one of Fairey’s widespread use of pro wrestler Andre The Giant’s image in his early work. Later, he began to use the word “obey” in his stickers and stencils, inspired by the sci-fi cult classic They Live (where advertising signs contain subliminal messages such as “obey” and “consume” that are only visible with special glasses).

One thing that makes Obey Giant more entertaining than the average documentary is that the director, James Moll, stays out of the way and lets Fairey (along with other characters involved in his life) do all the talking without inserting unnecessary interview questions or voiceovers. The film discusses the artist’s early influences, mainly 70s punk rock and skateboarding and concludes with a look at his legal problems after being sued by the AP and a photographer for allegedly stealing an image for his Obama poster.

Fairey’s popularity, along with that of Banksy and other street and graffiti artists, reveals the growing acceptance of this type of art (which doesn’t extend to authorities, who arrest Shepherd just before his biggest opening at a Boston museum). As with Banksy and Exit Through the Gift Shop co-creator Thierry Guetta, people are willing to line up around the block for his openings, a somewhat strange and paradoxical phenomenon for artists who made their reputations as outlaws who work under the cover of darkness and anonymity.

People have wildly conflicting views of street art, of course. Depending on your cultural and political leanings, you might see it as a vibrant form of rebellion or out-and-out vandalism. As Fairey points out, however, he only covers vacated buildings, something also done by big brands without legal consequences), Obey Giant provides a fascinating look into this world. Personally, I admired Fairey’s commitment and willingness to take risks (not only legal but also placing his art in dangerous places) while feeling a bit skeptical at some of his political views.

His “Obey” campaigns were based on the They Live premise that there’s a sinister subtext to everything put forth by mainstream culture (an idea Fairey eloquently explains early in the film) yet he seems a bit naive in thinking that certain political candidates such as Obama aren’t part of this manipulation. Political views aside, the film is close to flawless in letting its subject reveal what makes him tick. Nor does it (or Shepard himself) shy away from admitting his own insecurities and periods of self-doubt, as when he admits to lying about the photograph he used for the Obama poster.

One thing that stuck out to me is the fact that Banksy’s name is not uttered once in the whole film. Exit Through the Gift Shop is referenced, Banksy is listed as the director and Fairey talks at length about his contentious relationship with Thierry Guetta. However, Banksy’s name is never spoken out loud. A minor detail to e sure, but considering how many other artists are mentioned in the film the commission seems deliberate for whatever reason.

Regardless of how you feel about street art, Obey Giant provides insight into a popular and controversial type of art. It also gets into the lively debate about digital age issues such as fair use, copyrights and the anarchistic notion that art and ideas belong to everyone. Fairey isn’t 100% on the anarchist’s side, at least from what he says here. His argument with the Obama photo is that he transformed the image to the extent that it falls under the category of fair use (the case was ultimately settled). Obey Giant is one of the better documentaries of recent years and is recommended to anyone interested in art, culture, and countercultures.

The Voices Film Review

The Voices (2014), directed by Marjane Satrapi, who is best known for her 2007 animated Iranian film Persepolis, is a strange film that’s difficult to categorize, love or hate (at least for this reviewer). It can be seen as an original, very dark comedy about a superficially likable guy named Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) who happens to be schizophrenic and turns into a serial killer. It can be appreciated for its absurdist humor or criticized for its gory scenes, portrayal of mental illness and for the seemingly lighthearted way that it depicts violence against women.

Apart from anything else, I did find aspects of The Voices quite funny. Specifically, the way Jerry hears his cat and dog talking to him, playing the parts of angel and devil (with the cat, naturally, being the latter). Reynolds himself does a moderately good job of doing these voices, with the cat having a Scottish brogue and the large bull mastiff speaking in a cartoon-dog southern drawl. We actually see the cat’s mouth moving as he “talks” to Jerry and urges him to commit all kinds of hideous crimes.

There is nothing realistic about The Voices, even apart from talking pets. Jerry is a man with a history of mental illness who, it seems, has recently been released from an institution. He sees a therapist regularly, played by Jacki Weaver. He lives in a depressing industrial city called Milton that is somewhere in the middle of the country. Jerry inexplicably inhabits an entire building, a former bowling alley. While this makes for a convenient headquarters for a serial killer, it is hardly credible that a man who works in a warehouse is able to rent out an entire building all by himself.

Jerry’s workplace is similarly bizarre and off-kilter, with employees who wear pink uniforms and, at least in one scene, dance in musical style numbers around the factory. There is even a local Chinese restaurant that features unlikely Elvis and Bruce Lee impersonators. One feature of The Voices is that we are meant to notice a large gap between reality as perceived by Jerry (when he is off his meds) and the real, far less colorful and hopeful world.

Jerry’s descent into complete madness begins when his romantic advances towards attractive co-worker Fiona (Gemma Arterton) are not reciprocated. Despite this, the scene in which he brutally murders her does not really make sense, even given Jerry’s mental state. He is clearly infatuated with Fiona and she is actually being nice to him, albeit in a dishonest way, up until the point when things go wrong. After they hit a deer, Jerry inexplicably turns violent against Fiona.

The most complex relationship in the film involves Jerry and another co-worker, Lisa (Anna Kendrick), the only character who genuinely likes Jerry. The begin a romance, but Jerry’s evil cat Mr. Whiskers, along with Fiona’s head (which Jerry now keeps in the freezer) are urging him to continue his killing spree. Funny, sick or just plain bizarre stuff, depending on your tastes.

We get quite a few glimpses into Jerry’s back story; his mother was also mentally ill and also heard voices. However, as any mental health advocate will tell you, most schizophrenics are not violent, especially not in the premeditated way that Jerry’s actions ultimately unfold. Perhaps they were thinking of the real life infamous killer Son of Sam, who supposedly followed orders given by his dog when he went on a killing spree in the 1970s.

It’s hard to say what director Satrapi and writer Michael Perry were trying to achieve with The Voices. The focus on Jerry’s tragic childhood and the absurdly upbeat and surreal ending set in heaven with a dancing Jesus, seem to be urging us to sympathize with this unlikely but not entirely unlikable serial killer. At the same time, it’s impossible for any remotely sane person to justify anything Jerry does in this film.

Critical response to The Voices has been interesting and extremely conflicted. I read one review that called the film “perfect,” which seems like excessive praise. On the other hand, I think it’s worth reading a vitriolic but insightful feminist critique of the film by Maryann Johanson, on The Flick Philosopher. I’m not sure if I agree with her conclusion that the film is thoroughly misogynistic, but it does bring up some salient points about the way violence against women is trivialized.

I’m not a big believer in quantifying films with stars (or, even worse, using a binary, absurdly simplistic “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” system), which is why I don’t use stars on any of my reviews. However, just to put things in perspective, if I were rating The Voices on Netlfix or Amazon I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars. It’s a film that’s darkly funny, interesting, disturbing and extremely uneven.

Inside Llewyn Davis Review

Inside Llewyn Davis is another compelling feature by Ethan and Joel Coen, who are among the most consistent indie film directors working today. This film has similarities with some of the former hits; it has a sullen protagonist reminiscent of Barton Fink and a music-centered theme like O Brother, Where Art Thou, but Inside Llewyn Davis is also a completely unique and original film.

The movie takes place in 1961, at the very beginning of the modern folk music revival in Greenwich Village. Aside from anything else, the set and photography of the film is quite impressive -it’s no easy task to recreate the lower Manhattan of half a century ago. The film is, however, more than just a period piece. Like many Coen Brothers’ films, it’s darkly humorous, with an almost-but-not-quite unlikable hero.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac, who is also a musician and performs many songs in the film) is a sulky, self-centered but talented folk musician who hasn’t gotten his big break and, it is strongly suggested, never will. Although he doesn’t exactly have a winning personality, one reason why it’s hard to hate him is that he’s so poorly treated by everybody else in the film. Early on, he is beaten up in the alley of a folk club. We don’t find out why till nearly the end. He is verbally chastised by Jean (Carey Mulligan), an ex-girlfriend and another folk singer. Bad luck and bad vibes seem to follow him everywhere he goes, including on a bizarre road trip to Chicago. We also get the sense that the only time Davis is able to show his true self is when he performs his music.

Llewyn Davis has been called a surreal film, due to the way it plays tricks with the audience regarding time and the progression of events. I can’t be more specific or less cryptic without giving too much away. However, if you start watching the film expecting some kind of magical realism or fantasy, you’ll be disappointed. You don’t really see that there’s something mysterious going on until quite late in the film. There are, however, clues. One involves the motif of a tabby cat who keeps making appearances at unexpected times.

In addition to strong (musical as well as acting) performances by Isaac and Mulligan, the film features Justin Timberlake, John Goodman and F. Murray Abraham. Inside Llewyn Davis is an aesthetically satisfying look at the paradoxical world of music and creativity.

Radio Free Albemuth: Philip K. Dick’s Prophetic Dystopia

The novels of Philip K. Dick are not easy to translate into film, but Radio Free Albemuth, directed by John Alan Simon, does a good job at conveying some of the cult novelist’s more far out (yet far from implausible) ideas. Whereas Richard Linkater’s Through A Scanner Darkly was a mostly animated, surreal movie where the line between reality and hallucination was always on the verge of collapsing, Radio Free Albemuth is closer to being a conventional science fiction film. In fact, the movie has a deliberately retro feel to it, as it depicts an alternative late 20th century America that has too many similarities with the actual 2014 America for comfort.

The story follows a record store employee named Nick Brady (Jonathan Scarfe) who starts to receive mystical visions from a mysterious source called VALIS. He and his writer friend Phil (Shea Whigham, playing author Dick himself) try to unravel a mysterious series of events that involve interrogations at the hands of stormtrooper-like government agents and a radical organization plotting to overthrow the fascist government.

Radio Free Albemuth portrays a low tech, pre-Internet America that feels even earlier than the 1980s. The cultural climate is more like the 1950s and the enforced conformity, with the ever present threat of being hauled in for your political beliefs recalls McCarthyism, with some Orwell thrown in. It is, however, unsettling to note that, while the technology is retro, the proto-fascist political rhetoric spouted by President Fremont has an all too contemporary ring.

The film is a bit confusing when it comes to the time frame and how it relates to historical events. Dick wrote the novel in 1976 and it was published after his death in 1985 In the book and film, the Soviet Union has collapsed and America is run by the right wing President Fremont (Scott Wilson), who has been in power for 15 years. So Dick foresaw the end of the Soviet Union some 20 years before it actually happened. It’s worth noting that in the late 1970s, when Dick wrote the novel, the Soviet empire hardly seemed to be falling apart and the Patriot Act was still far in the future.

Dick’s vision can be seen as prophetic in a number of ways. Not only did he foresee the impending end of the Soviet Union, but his pre-9/11 foresight that the U.S. government would use the threat of terrorism as an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties was eerily prophetic as well.

Singer Alanis Morissette provides the musical talent for the story as Sylvia, a woman who also has visions and whose family is connected to that of Fremont in a mysterious way. One of the subplots involves inserting a subversive revolutionary message within a pop song.

Those not familiar with Dick, or with conspiracy theories and/or metaphysical ideas regarding parallel realities might find this material inaccessible and farfetched. The film also turns rather dark towards the end. Whereas it starts out with Brady being hopeful at accessing a higher intelligence, gradually the power of the Orwellian state overshadow the other elements. While Dick’s visions are metaphysical and hopeful on the one hand, they definitely tend towards the dystopian as well.

Radio Free Albemuth is certainly full of interesting ideas about consciousness, metaphysics, politics and what it might take to become free in the face of widespread oppression. These are themes that have universal relevance.

Radio Free Albemuth is currently available on Netflix Streaming.

About Fifty: Midlife Crisis and Lots of Golf

About Fifty (2011)
Directed by Thomas Johnston

About Fifty covers familiar cinematic territory -middle-aged guys having a midlife crisis and trying to recapture their youth. In this case, the pair are recently separated Adam (Martin Grey) and longtime bachelor Jon (Drew Pillsbury).

Although this film is categorized as a comedy on Netflix (it received little attention elsewhere), it is more of a drama. In fact, a lot of it is quite depressing. It is also full of cliches of this genre. The men deal with prostate exams, senile parents, fight off desperate cougar-type women in a bar, obsess about golf scores and experience career and marriage malaise.

For About Fifty to have really worked, it would have had to go in one of two directions. Either a goofy comedy or a drama that breaks new ground. Instead it waffles between mild comedy and cliched melodrama.

I should also confess having a prejudice against movies where golf takes up more than a few seconds of screen time. In About Fifty, this incredibly dull sport dominates at least three scenes.

About Fifty on IMDB

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    Best Sources For Movie Reviews

    Reviewing The Reviewers

    There are thousands of places to find movie reviews online, from obscure independent sites (like this one!) to giants like the MRQE (Movie Review Query Engine).

    This is a short and extremely biased review of some of my favorite (and not so favorite) places to find movie reviews.

    VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever 2013

    This is the largest print book of movie reviews you can find, and it gets updated every single year. I often wonder how they can keep putting it out each year and still include all the new movies that are released.

    The partial answer is, as huge as it is, it’s not close to comprehensive. In fact, in the few editions of it I’ve owned, I’ve noticed that each one has more movies missing.

    Still, it’s by far the best of its kind. This doesn’t mean I always agree with the reviews. Far from it. In some cases, the reviewers seem to try too hard to pander to mainstream and conventional tastes. Still, it’s a superb reference, especially if you want a hard copy movie review resource.

    Movie Review Query Engine

    This is not a movie review site per se, but a meta review site. That is, it lists reviews for any movie you look up. Once again, it’s not comprehensive. Many indie films you might find on Netflix, for example, can’t be found here. The focus is on mainstream movies that get reviewed by major reviewers -e.g. Variety, The New York Times, Roger Ebert, etc. For this, however, it’s a great resource.


    This is probably the most complete movie resource on the internet. It’s the one place you are almost certain to find any movie that’s been released, whether a TV movie, an obscure indie film or a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster.

    That said, the reviews on this site are nothing special. They are simply reviews written by users of the site. The reviews are on a 10 star scale, which, in my opinion, is too many stars to be useful. Furthermore, many films are not reviewed at all. All in all, Imdb is better for looking up information, such as the year, cast or director of a film than reviews.


    Netflix is strange when it comes to reviews. The whole system has seemed very buggy over the last couple of years. For example, I’ve noticed that for many films, all reviews were rated 100% “helpful.” The whole “helpful” vs. “not helpful” system, which I believe started on Amazon is very dubious in itself, but as long as you’re going to use it, you may as well make it honest. And when all reviews are rated helpful, it renders the whole thing pointless.

    As for the reviews themselves. Netflix customers on the whole tend to be a very mainstream and/or conservative bunch. You’ll find many reviewers, for example, objecting to curse words or the immoral values of a certain movie. This puritanical bent is quite common among Netflix reviewers, and can result in reviews that don’t really tell you much about the movie.

    Amazon reviews for movies are similar to their reviews for books (and everything else they sell), which means a very mixed bag. Overall, however, Amazon reviewers tend to be more sophisticated and educated than Netflix reviewers, probably because of the literary origins of Amazon.

    The main limitation of Amazon for movie reviews is that you’ll only find movies that are available for sale in at least one format. This includes lots of movies, of course, but it also excludes some good ones.

    My Amazon Reviews (this includes book reviews as well as movies)

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      Stone -a Film With Psychological and Spiritual Depth

      Stone is a surprisingly complex and thought-provoking film from director John Curran. To describe the plot of this film -a probably sociopathic prison inmate (Edward Norton) schemes with his wife (Milla Jovovich) to manipulate his parole officer (Robert DeNiro) to win early release – makes it sound like a possibly interesting, but predictable crime drama. Yet the longer it goes on, the more nuanced and complicated things get.

      Robert DeNiro, of course, specializes in playing unhinged, or about-to-go-unhinged characters, and this is no exception. As Jack Mabry, an unhappily married parole officer about to retire, he listens to provocative religious talk radio on his way to work and has a cynicism, borne of long experience, towards his inmate “clients.” Norton, meanwhile, gives a great performance as Stone, a streetwise career criminal doing a long sentence for arson. When he pressures his beautiful wife Lucetta to contact his parole officer outside, it seems like a fairly straightforward set-up -Lucetta will try to seduce Mabry so they’ll have something on him, and Stone will go free.

      Yet mid-way through the film, Stone apparently has a spiritual awakening after reading a prison book that instructs him to repeat a certain mantra. Is this real, or part of his scheme? Much of the film involves conversations between Stone and Mabry. At first, Stone behaves like you might expect a violent convict, barely able to suppress his anger at Mabry having power over him. Yet after his “experience,” his personality is transforms, which only makes Mabry dislike and distrust him all the more.

      Meanwhile, Lucetta’s motives are not as clear cut as we first assume. A natural seductress, she doesn’t have much trouble getting to the repressed Stone, but we are soon left wondering whose side, if anyone’s, she’s really on. As for Mabry, it is revealed early on that he has a violent and unstable streak in him, and we’re not sure when he might become unravelled.

      There’s a certain ambiguity to Stone that will not please many viewers. Yet I was impressed with the psychological subtlety of it, and how it maintained its integrity by not devolving into a standard Hollywood climax. Highly recommended if you like character based stories that have some psychological, and even spiritual depth.

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