Tag Archives: Rose Byrne

The Dead Girl (2006, Karen Moncrieff)

I had assumed, just because of the large cast, a Nashville approach for this film. However, frighteningly, I think it might have been inspired by Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity (the film, not the short story collection). The stories are all independent, more about their central characters than about the event tying them together, in this case, a dead girl. The stories range in quality from terrible to mediocre. Even if they’re mediocre, they don’t have a decent conclusion. The most interesting part of these stories is what is going to happen next. In fact, in most cases, the only important thing is what is going to happen next and the film makes no assumptions. In some ways, it creates unsolvable cliffhangers for the characters… baiting the viewer with an ominous promise (the possible killer, the suicide attempt) then delivering on nothing.

There are five stories. The first two are traditional romances. The third is an awful, dumb thriller, which creates an impossible situation then cheats its way out with the end of the section. The fourth has the most promise but only in terms of what happens immediately after the story ends and then at some point in the future in those characters’ stories. The last story, which finally gets around to revealing the dead girl, is terrible, but not the worst. The way Karen Moncrieff ends it, syrupy, tragic sweet… is an offense to the good work a lot of her actors put in.

The most amazing performance in the film is easily James Franco, just because he not only doesn’t suck, he’s actually really good. He’s in the second story with Rose Byrne (Byrne being the whole reason I had any interest in the film in the first place). She’s good, but her role’s so simple, it’d be hard for her not to be good. Other good performances include Marcia Gay Harden, Josh Brolin, and Giovanni Ribisi. Terrible, unspeakable ones… well, just Mary Steenburgen, who plays a stereotypical role (just like everyone else in the film except maybe Brolin and Ribisi) and does a really bad job of it. Kerry Washington’s good when she’s not doing her Mexican accent. I guess her eyes emote well. Mary Beth Hurt and Nick Searcy have the dumbest roles in the film and there’s really nothing for them to do with them.

The Dead Girl offers absolutely nothing new to… anything. It’s a useless film, filled with decent and good performances. Moncrieff’s an adequate director in parts, but usually not. There’s nothing distinctive about her composition (something I realized in the first five minutes, never a good sign). I guess her dialogue’s okay, but the film’s a bunch of Oprah episodes strung together, which might be fine if there were some artistry or competence involved.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Karen Moncrieff; director of photography, Michael Grady; edited by Toby Yates; music by Adam Gorgoni; produced by Eric Karten, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Kevin Turen and Henry Winterstern; released by First Look International.

Starring Josh Brolin (Tarlow), Rose Byrne (Leah), Toni Collette (Arden), Bruce Davison (Bill), James Franco (Derek), Marcia Gay Harden (Melora), Mary Beth Hurt (Ruth), Piper Laurie (Arden’s Mother), Brittany Murphy (Krista), Giovanni Ribisi (Rudy), Nick Searcy (Carl), Mary Steenburgen (Beverly) and Kerry Washington (Rosetta).


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I Capture the Castle (2003, Tim Fywell)

Do the British have an unending supply of novels about wise-beyond-their-years young women (unjustly poor or ordinary, of course) who have slightly dim older sisters who can’t see love in front of their eyes while all the time these younger women suffer for their sisters’ happiness? It certainly seems so.

I Capture the Castle, the film, plays like a combination of Cold Comfort Farm and Pride & Prejudice. It’s an incredibly long film, filled with two and three minute scenes set days or weeks apart, and chock-full of bad performances. The lead, Romola Garai, is excellent–though her performance isn’t enough to recommend the film, as it’s saddled with terrible diary-writing narration (filling the diary seems to be the present action of the film, but it’s decided on later and the film never takes advantage of that reasonable structure). Bill Nighy, as Garai’s father, a troubled novelist, is great. Nighy’s often great in outlandish roles, but Castle is the best work from him I’ve seen, he’s fantastic. Also good–surprisingly, as I haven’t seen him in anything for ten years–is Henry Thomas. Well, I suppose I saw him more recently in some of Cloak & Dagger, before I turned it off.

The rest of the cast is not good. Oh, except the precocious little brother. I queued the film for Rose Byrne, who plays the dull older sister. Given the rest of the cast, she’s not so bad, but she’s not any good in Castle. Tara Fitzgerald is bad. Sinéad Cusack is bad. Marc Blucas–as Thomas’ brother–is so bad he’s laughable. Even if these actors–Byrne aside–weren’t so bad, Castle probably wouldn’t be any better. It’s so shallowly written. Ah, forgot another one–almost Superman Henry Cavill is bad too. Anyway, the writing (I assume from the source novel) gives the characters no depth and gives the audience little to identify with except the occasional humor and the dreadfulness of being a wise-beyond-her-years English young woman who’s sacrificing her happiness for her older sister’s. Her dim older sister’s.

The director lensed the film in 2.35:1, which tends to require a lot of talent when the subject matter is people. He hasn’t got the talent (from his filmography, it looks like he’s done mostly TV movies and Castle was his only chance for glorious Panavision), but the English country-side scenery is pretty. At best, Castle (along with Dirty Dancing 2) will be an odd citation in Garai’s someday excellent filmography. At worst, it’ll be Bill Nighy’s best performance.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Fywell; written by Heidi Thomas, based on the novel by Dodie Smith; director of photography, Richard Greatrex; edited by Roy Sharman; music by Dario Marianelli; production designer, John-Paul Kelly; produced by David Parfitt; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Henry Thomas (Simon), Marc Blucas (Neil), Rose Byrne (Rose), Romola Garai (Cassandra), Bill Nighy (Mortmain), Tara Fitzgerald (Topaz), Henry Cavill (Stephen), Sinéad Cusack (Mrs. Cotton) and Joe Sowerbutts (Thomas).


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The Rage in Placid Lake (2003, Tony McNamara)

Placid Lake is a guy, not a town. I’d never seen a trailer and I didn’t spend any time reading about it, just queueing it since Blockbuster has so very little, and I always assumed it was a town. Had I read about it, I would have watched it sooner, since Rose Byrne is in it and she isn’t in enough. Ben Lee (who I guess is a punk rock guy of some fame) plays Placid Lake. Lake has just graduated from high school. He’s been raised by his parents to be the uber-geek–in elementary school, his mother puts him in a dress to show his classmates (who pummel him) how close-minded they are. It gets little better for Lake as he gets older, and for the first half hour, the film layers the story in multiple flashbacks, which isn’t at all as tedious as it sounds. That first hour is light and fast, amusing the viewer into genuinely caring about the characters (Byrne plays the best friend/love interest-to-be), even if Lee isn’t as good an actor as his co-stars. His personality does some of the work and it’s not even his fault Placid Lake isn’t better.

Since it was dedicated to amusing me, I couldn’t discern the film’s quality in that first half hour, but once I could, I eased into the viewing experience. Placid Lake is a good film, it’s just not particularly heavy. Director McNamara knows both how to use a wide frame and how to keep the viewer entertained. Maybe since the main character survives a fall off a roof–making a full recovery–it becomes obvious the film’s stakes aren’t particularly high, it’s just going to be an enjoyable experience. Oddly, instead of concentrating on the love story, the film moves away, concentrating on the character’s self-image. Lake goes to work in an insurance company, welcoming the soul-sucking experience. All the self-awareness of office culture feels a little bit too much like Office Space and, well, “The Office.” It’s a wink-wink joke–Placid Lake likes work in the office–nudge, nudge. But it’s always agreeable.

This shallowness–and it’s not too shallow, the pat message about being one’s self gets shot down in a few ways–hurts a lot of the performances in the film. Since it’s called The Rage in Placid Lake, there’s never enough between Byrne and her father (played by “Spider-Man” Nicholas Hammond), but there’s also not enough in Placid’s office. He has an office manager, played by Christopher Stollery, who gives a deep portrayal as a seeming alpha male who has sold himself out… and is all too aware of it.

Whatever the film’s problems, it’s still quite good and I only wish it were more readily available, particularly since Byrne is so damn good in it.

Oh… and having a theme based on (without credit) Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” doesn’t hurt either…

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Tony McNamara; director of photography, Ellery Ryan; edited by Lee Smith; music by Cezary Skubiszewski; production designer, Roger Ford; produced by Marian Macgowan; released by Palace Films.

Starring Ben Lee (Placid Lake), Rose Byrne (Gemma Taylor), Miranda Richardson (Sylvia Lake), Garry McDonald (Doug Lake), Jesse Spence (Jenny), Simone Cullinan (Sharon), Socratis Otto (Bozo), Toby Schmitz (Bull), Nathaniel Dean (Lachie), Stephen James King (Angus) and Nicholas Hammond (Bill Taylor).


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