Road to Nowhere (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Director Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan) predicts the story of a senator and his younger mistress as the next big thing in film industry. As the director, he believes that his main responsibility is to cast the right leading lady to play the mistress. After some time of having no luck despite a pool of diverse actresses, the casting agents stumble upon Laurel Graham (Shannyn Sossamon) whose prior and only work is a horror exploitation film. Upon Mitchell and Laurel’s first meeting, she assures him that she is not an actress. Nevertheless, he thinks she fits the character so perfectly, he needs to have her in the movie.
Written by Steven Gaydos and directed by Monte Hellman, “Road to Nowhere” is an edgy and ambitious film within a film but it does not always work. So willing to obfuscate certain plot points to lure its audiences’ curiosities, ultimately it lacks the ability lift the veil so that the audience is allowed to reach a valid and sensible conclusion about what really happened to the murdered North Carolinians. The elements are certainly there. There’s Nathalie Post (Dominique Swain), a blogger who suspects that what is written on the script does not necessarily reflect what happened in actuality. The other is Bruno Brotherton (Waylon Payne), the movie’s regional consultant who feels as though Laurel has something to do with the murders.
Hellman should have allowed us to spend more time with Nathalie and Bruno being investigators. While the director does not have to give us clear-cut answers, he should have handed us all of the pieces required so that we can create a full mental picture of what has possibly transpired and in what order. With such a thick mystery, clarity, along with consistency, should have been what the film worked toward.
Sossamon is very good as a potential femme fatale. I found myself unable turn my eyes away from her whether she is Laurel or the character that Lauren is given to play. Her performance reminded me of Penélope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar’s “Los abrazos rotos”: a calculated performance but comes off natural without sacrificing an air mystique. There are extended sequences when I thought Laurel knows more about the crime than she leads others to believe, but then there are moments when I was convinced she’s just an egocentric actress, that she has invested in the role so much, she could care less if she causes friction between the director and his crew.
I loved the way the movie was shot. I noticed that Hellman uses a camera that allows the actors’ bodies to create a blur when they make sudden movements. It reflects the recurring theme of seeing the film through someone’s dreams. Laurel and Mitchell, while not working on the film, watch movies like Víctor Erice’s “El espíritu de la colmena,” a dream-like coming-of-age picture in which a child meets a wounded Frankenstein-like figure. It shows who Mitchell is without using Laurel as a conduit. His project, the film, is his own Frankenstein. It reveals his fear of failure and desperation to make the project work.
Two Bits (1995)
★★ / ★★★★
Twelve-year-old Gennaro Spirito (Jerry Barone) was desperate to get into La Paloma, the newly-opened movie theatre in town, but he didn’t have twenty-five cents to pay for the admission ticket. Everybody seemed to not have any change to spare because of the difficult times. Even his mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) saved every bit of money they had for food in order to care for Gennaro’s ailing grandfather (Al Pacino). Inspired by young street performers, our little protagonist decided to earn the money himself by taking odd and sometimes dangerous jobs to finally get inside the newfangled cinema. Main critiques about the film was directed toward a selfish main character who only cared about raising enough money as everyone else worried about bigger things in life such as hunger and deteriorating health. I felt differently because Gennaro was just a kid. Even though he was on the cusp of being a teenager, his brain was still like that of a child’s. He fixated on one idea and couldn’t let go until he was able to grasp it. In some ways, I found his adamant nature amusing because I was able to relate to him on some level. For example, when I really want to see a certain movie, I just can’t help but think about it. No matter what I do, I find it difficult to get rid of the fantasy of finally sitting down and seeing something I’ve so been yearning for. Obviously, there’s more to life than watching motion pictures, but Gennaro’s perseverance to see a film in the movie theater was more than the obvious. Whether he was consciously aware of it or not, I believed that he wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself, perhaps to share a rewarding collective experience in a dark room with strangers. Another interpretation was maybe he needed a temporary escape from his grandfather’s illness and the streets that served as his playground which was filled with people dealing with the Depression. Just because Gennaro was adamant about going to the movies, not once did I think that he didn’t love or care for his mother and grandfather. However, I did wish that the relationship between Barone and Pacino’s characters was explored in a deeper way. The adult Gennaro (narrated by Alec Baldwin) claimed that he and his grandfather had a special relationship. In the end, it still wasn’t clear to me what made their relationship so special. There were moments of genuine connection between them, like when the grandfather asked his grandson for a really big favor which might have been a bit too much to ask of our protagonist, but I didn’t feel the special element that the adult Gennaro, through a retelling of his memorable day, wanted us to experience. Written by Joseph Stefano and directed by James Foley, “Two Bits” contained some thoughtful scenes but it just felt short in achieving the magic that Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso” and Victor Erice’s “El espíritu de la colmena” seemed to effortlessly possess.
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
★★★ / ★★★★
Considered as one of the most important Spanish films, “The Spirit of the Beehive,” written and directed by Victor Erice, tells the story of a little girl named Ana (Ana Torrent) who, after watching the 1931 version of “Frankenstein” and being told by her sister named Isabel (Isabel Tellería) that his spirit exists, goes off to find a real-life monster. I really admired this film because the use of words was minimal yet it was more than able to convey what the characters were thinking and feeling. It truly captured how childhood was the peak of curiosity and how our perception at that point in our lives may be a bit skewed from reality. The way Ana and Isabel tell stories, play games and tricks on each other reminded me and my brother many years ago. I also liked the broken relationship between a husband (Fernando Fernán Gómez) and a wife (Teresa Gimpera). Little do they know that no matter how much they try to interact with their daughters separately (or not interact), the children feel that there’s something wrong even though they do not yet know how to tackle such feelings. The awkward scene at the table when the whole family was eating together was somewhat elusive because I noticed that there was not a frame in the film that each of the family member was in. I think that divide between the two parental figures was another reason why Ana decided to plunge into her own imagination as an escape. The scenes in their big mansion of a home were painful for me to watch because there was a very noticable lack of stimulation such as books and toys for the two children. At least for me, they looked more alive when they were watching a movie in the town, while they were at school, and when they were roaming around outside. This is a very strong motion picture that should be seen by movie-lovers everywhere. However, one should be warned that it requires a lot of patience because it may get a bit slow at times due to the lack of happenings in the small village that they live in. Nonetheless, it’s a rewarding experience because it works on several angles, cinematically and psychologically.