Maudie (2016)

A well-meaning online discussion caught my attention: “Name a thoughtful non-romantic gesture by your significant other.” As if the two are mutually exclusive. Kindness and simplicity are vastly underappreciated. Often, excessive public displays of affection hide shallow, insecure relationships. Now we have social media to facilitate overcompensation. In contrast, those with the least appreciate it […]

Grace is Gone (2007)

When military personnel are assigned to a far-away tour, the loved ones left behind know there’s a chance they might not return. But awareness of the hypothetical doesn’t prepare anyone for reality. How do you tell your daughters their beloved mother is never coming home? How do you accept it yourself?

Nostalgia (2018)

There’s a good chance you’ll be anxious to get to a clearly salient point or bothered by jumps between story lines. Waxing poetic about life and death, love and loss may seem embarrassingly awkward or achingly tedious, at best. But that’s exactly where the tension lies in every conversation following tragedy: you’re either fumbling for […]

Return to Me (2000)

It’s unfair to judge a movie strictly by its genre; if you’re that highbrow, why bother to watch it? I’m not normally a fan of romantic comedies but I liked that this one wasn’t based on stalking or manipulation, neither of which are cute or funny. I also appreciated that it wasn’t about strangers believing their […]

Love Liza (2002)

Loss itself is not enigmatic. What’s most frustrating is the visceral: the how and the why. Even when the cause of death is known it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact way in which someone came into your life and how they managed to touch you as uniquely as they did. Often the bereaved is left […]

The Game (1997)

This movie is difficult to explain without spoilers. It’s the kind you just have to watch and see what unfolds. Answer each of the following questions with its corresponding number. The sum total of your answers will score your suitability.

 

TEST:

How cerebral are you?

Who cares/ wants to know?—4

I’m logical but still easy-going.—3

Currently overthinking my answer…—2

The question is too abstract.—1

 

When is it acceptable for a Psychological Thriller to be far-fetched or even implausible?

Whenever—4

Most of the Time—3

Seldom—2

Never—1

 

Must all improbable elements have an elaborately detailed background explanation?

No—4

Sometimes—3

Preferably—2

Absolutely—1

 

How does the thought of non-stop twists and turns right up to the end make you feel?

Intrigued—4

Optimistic —3

Skeptical—2

Anxious —1

 

Is a script equally dependent upon the actors and the writer(s) for execution of the plot?

Always—4

Generally—3

Rarely—2

Doesn’t Matter—1

 

TOTAL:

16-20 = What are you waiting for? Press play!

12-15 = Your satisfaction will depend on your attitude. Don’t overthink or analyze it; just enjoy.

1-11 = Skip it.

 

 

The Good Neighbor (2016)

Counter to its title, each main character is anything but courteous. High schooler, Ethan enlists the help of his techie classmate, Sean to prank their reclusive, cranky old neighbor by staging a haunting that will be secretly filmed for a school project. Initially, Sean agrees to Ethan’s plan to watch their neighbor’s reactions to occurrences (e.g. slamming screen door), which they control remotely. To both the pranksters’ disappointment, the response is minimal. As the incidences intensify, it becomes clear that Ethan has a deep emotional investment in psychologically torturing the old man. A falling out between the two prompts Sean to demand his equipment back but he’s essentially blackmailed into continuing with the experiment since it was all purchased on his credit card. When Ethan breaks in to adjust a camera toppled by the old man’s cat, he experiences his own unexplainable occurrence.

Black Snake Moan (2006)

The epitome of “difficult to describe” and “impossible to classify,” this story has a lot going on. The initial marketing—especially the incongruous movie poster—was ticket bait for those looking for frenetically salacious and lewd content; anyone with a sense of decency avoided it in disgust.

Quality acting helps ground potentially off-the-rails characters as the story deliberately shows them at their worst to establish the misunderstood subversive behaviors, for which they are publicly ostracized. A solider with recurring panic attacks returns home to discover his girlfriend is missing. Meanwhile, she gets dumped out of a pickup truck, battered and in her underwear, along the side of the road. A hot-headed recluse drags her to his home where she wakes up chained to the radiator. Madness, right? That’s the point. Though everyone seems crazy at the outset, the beauty of this story is the bonds they forge along their journey toward healing despite complex struggles.

Normally, I wouldn’t give nearly so much of the plot away but in this case it’s the only way to justify seeing past such a depraved opening. As it turns out, the young woman was abused as a child; as with most victims, she feels a combination of guilt and confusion over her body’s response. So when she grows up and develops romantic feelings—even for guy who genuinely cares about her—she’s confused about how to give and receive affection, thus trapped in a vicious cycle of promiscuity. The antisocial loner, who initially holds her prisoner for her own safety, turns out to be a religious Blues musician who struggles with alcohol abuse following a contentious divorce. Heartbreak has left him closed off to the world.

As they compare the vices that serve to distract them from haunting memories, the two strike up a friendship that functions more like a father showing his wayward daughter some tough love, which includes having the local preacher over for lunch to hear his two cents:

“Ima tell you something and it’s just gonna be between you and me. I think folks carry on about Heaven too much, like it’s some kind of all-you-eat buffet up in the clouds and folks just do as they told so they can eat what they want behind some pearly gates. There’s sinning in my heart, there’s evil in the world. But when I got no one, I talk to God. I ask for strength, I ask for forgiveness; not peace at the end of my days when I got no more life to live, or no more good to do, but today, right now… what’s your Heaven?”