All My Friends Hate Me (2021), Bajo La Rosa (2017), Blue Ruin (2013), Fresh (2022), Green Room (2015), Nitram (2021), Under The Rose (2017)
I watch a lot of movies: good, bad, indifferent; all genres; English and non-English speaking; and, occasionally, I write a few comments about those I enjoyed. Here are five mini-reviews, in no particular order. The percentage/numerical ratings in the title fields are from the review-aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes (where I look for 60% or higher), and the internet movie database, IMDb (where I look for 6.0 or higher). Movies for Movie Buffs: Index lists all my reviews so far posted.
Update. The first one hundred Movies for Movie Buffs reviews are now available in paperback form: details here.
111. All My Friends Hate Me, Comedy/Horror, Director Andrew Gaynord, 2021 UK, 92%/5.8
To gaslight (transitive verb): to psychologically manipulate (a person) usually over an extended period of time so that the victim questions the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and experiences confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, and doubts concerning their own emotional or mental stability. (Merriam-Webster)
The roots of the verb to gaslight can be traced back to a stage play, Gas Light, written by Patrick Hamilton in 1938 and turned into a highly-respected British film, Gaslight, in 1940 followed by an American remake with the same title in 1944. In the play/film, a murderer attempts to get his new wife diagnosed as insane in order to gain power of attorney over her so that he can continue looking for jewellery he left behind after the original murder. To achieve this, he plays tricks on her to convince her she has become mentally unstable i.e., he gaslights her.
All My Friends Hate Me is a classic gaslighting film. Pete (Tom Stourton), a volunteer aid worker in a refugee camp, is invited to a weekend celebration of his 31st birthday by his male and female social group from his university days—people who remember him in his life-and-soul-of-the-party wilder days and, possibly, hold a grudge against him or maybe a torch for him. The plan is for Pete to arrive on Friday evening at a rather grand country home owned by the father of one of the group, and for his latest partner, Sonia (Charly Clive), to join on Saturday. When Pete finally connects with the group, he discovers they have invited a ‘random’ local man, Harry (Dustin Demri-Burns), to join them for the weekend, having just met him in the local pub. Apparently, this was something the group used to do at university and the ‘random’ person would add an extra dimension to the dynamics of their social get-togethers. Pete is somewhat suspicious of Harry (what is he writing in his notebook?) but decides to play along for old times’ sake.
It all goes horribly wrong. Is Pete being gaslighted by the group? Or is he seeing his ex-friends in a new light now that he has matured beyond his university days? And what if Sonia discovers one of the female members of the group had been his girlfriend beyond their university relationship? Will Sonia care, or will the ex-girlfriend try to resume her relationship with Pete? All My Friends Hate Me is a superb audio-visual extended definition of gaslighting. The film brilliantly captures the uncertainty of the meaning of a statement; the unexpected answer to a simple question; the glance that might mean nothing or be significant; the action that might be loaded or innocent; the situation that may have been engineered or just happened; the coincidence that might be more than a coincidence—all signs of gaslighting. If you were not quite sure what the verb meant before watching the film, you will surely understand afterwards.
112. Green Room, Horror/Thriller, Director Jeremy Saulnier, 2015 USA, 90%/7.0
Blue Ruin, Horror/Thriller, Director Jeremy Saulnier, 2013 USA, 96%/7.1
Green Room was my introduction to director Jeremy Saulnier’s style of horror/thriller movies. The story is simple enough. The four-member punk band, Ain’t Rights, perform at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar somewhere in the backwaters of Washington state. One of the band members, Pat (Anton Yelchin), returns to the backstage dressing room (the green room, so-called) to collect his cell phone and inadvertently witnesses the murder of a girl by a member of another punk band, Cowcatcher. Pat calls the police but he and the rest of the Ain’t Rights plus a staff member, Amber (Imogen Poots), are rounded up and confined to the green room while the Cowcatcher group and bar staff discuss their future. It turns out that there is more to the venue than just being a bar and the owner of the place, Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart, in a polar-opposite role to his well-known Star-Trek character), is summoned to come and sort it out. And sort it out he does in a gory gritty way, assisted by guns, boxcutters, microphones, red-shoelaced skinheads, and killer fighting dogs.
The action is fast and furious and my enjoyment of the movie led me to look at what else Jeremy Saulnier had made. Blue Ruin, made in 2013, came to the surface and that too is an entertaining horror/thriller movie. (The term ‘blue ruin’ is archaic slang originating from the days of cheap homemade gin and meaning complete and utter ruin.) Dwight Evans (Macon Blair) is a vagrant, living in his car and raiding dumpster bins for leftover food and anything else he needs to sustain life. He appears to be at peace with his blue-ruin mode of existence until a friendly law enforcement officer tells him that Wade Cleland (Sandy Barnett), convicted of murdering Dwight’s parents twenty years ago, is about to be released from prison. With that news, Dwight snaps out of his vagrant style of living, shaves off his unkempt beard, steals smarter clothes than those he has lived in, steals a gun (and immediately demonstrates his unfamiliarity with firearms), and sets off on his mission to exact revenge. But Dwight is no natural killer. His plan is ill-thought-out. His actions are clumsy. His attention to detail is lacking. But, by the nineteenth minute into the film, he has achieved his objective. Now all he needs to do is escape the wrath of Cleland’s vengeful mother, red-neck brothers, murderous sister, and psychopathic cousin without endangering his own sister, Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her daughter. Tough task! I’ll leave you to find out what happens.
113. Bajo La Rosa (Under the Rose), Drama/Mystery/Suspense, Director Josué Ramos, 2017 Spain, -/6.3
Bajo La Rosa is intense. A middle-class Spanish family consisting of the father (a dentist), mother (a law firm executive), teenage college-student son and pre-teen 10-year-old daughter lead a normal family life in suburbia. One day, the father, Oliver (Pedro Casablanc), forgets to collect his daughter, Sara (Patricia Olmedo), from school but then discovers that, in fact, she had not attended her school that day even though the mother, Julia (Elisabet Gelabert), had dropped her off close to the school. Has she been abducted or has she just bunked off for a day because of an argument at the breakfast table that morning? After three days, it becomes clear that Sara has not just bunked off and so begins the nightmare every parent dreads. The police have no leads however and the situation is becoming more than desperate when a note is thrust under the front door, reading: ‘I have Sara. I want to come to your house this night and speak to the three of you. If you agree, leave the lights from the porch on and I’ll be there at midnight. If, by any chance, I suspect that you’ve called the police, you’ll never gonna see the girl alive again.’
With no other choice available, Oliver accepts the terms and, come midnight, a knock on the door allows entry of hombre de negro (the man in black; we never learn his name) played by actor Ramiro Blas. He gathers the three members of the family, seats them around a table on which he also places a card containing a picture of a rose, and announces that someone in the room has a big secret, something very bad, something that he or she has never told anyone. ‘If the person involved confesses to the rest of the family before 6 o’clock in the morning, I will return your daughter unharmed,’ he says. ‘If not, she will die.’ He also explains the significance of the rose. Stemming from early Egyptian times and used by the Romans, if a group of people are gathered in a room ‘under the rose’, what is said in the room stays in the room—the ancient form of ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.’
From here on, secrets are revealed, consequences are exacted, and the tension keeps rising until the emotional and explosive finale casts doubt on whether the under-the-rose agreement can be honoured.
114. Fresh, Horror/Thriller, Director Mimi Cave, 2022 USA, 81%/6.7
Beware online dating. At that first meeting in a public place, you know nothing about the person sitting opposite you making polite witty conversation, obviously on their best flirtatious behaviour, and who you are assessing as someone you might want to start a relationship with.
Beware also casual encounters in supermarkets. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones, fresh from her acclaimed performance in the miniseries, Normal People) is keen to get a man in her life but is disenchanted by the men she has met through online dating. One day, while shopping in the fresh fruit and veg aisle in a supermarket, a fellow shopper, Steve (Sebastian Stan), strikes up a conversation about cotton candy grapes. The attraction is instant and mutual, the banter light but funny, the eye contacts loaded with hearts and Cupid’s arrows, and the meeting concludes with an exchange of names and phone numbers. Subsequent meetings quickly become sexual and Noa is beginning to think she might, at last, have found her soul mate.
But Steve has a dark secret that is revealed to Noa when she wakes up from a drugged cocktail to find herself lying fully clothed on a mattress with a clasp around one wrist attached to a chain secured to a mooring on the floor. From this point on, the mood of the film darkens and the horror/thriller tones take dominance over the earlier comedic tones.
Fresh dives into the darker parts of the human psyche and will not disappoint in terms of entertainment value.
115. Nitram, Drama/Thriller, Director Justin Kurzel, 2021 Australia, 90%/7.2
On the 28th of April 1996, 28-year-old Martin Bryant entered the Broad Arrow Café in the Port Arthur Historic Site in Tasmania, ordered and ate a light meal, opened a large sports bag, withdrew a video camera and set it up on a table at the back of the café, went back to the bag and withdrew a semi-automatic carbine and started firing indiscriminately at staff and patrons. From the café, he proceeded back to his Volvo 244 in the car park, shooting as he went, drove a short distance, stopped and highjacked a BMW killing all the occupants, drove to a service station and highjacked a Toyota killing one of the two occupants and taking the other as a hostage, drove back to a guest house which he had visited earlier in the day, and over the course of that night and the following morning, held the police at bay until it became clear he had killed the hostage whereupon the police were able to close in and arrest him. Altogether, over a period of 18 hours, Bryant killed 35 people, including children, and wounded a further 23. He is now incarcerated in Risdon Prison near Hobart with 35 life sentences and no chance ever of parole.
Nitram (Martin spelt backwards) tells the story of why Bryant carried out this massacre but, thankfully, the film stops short of showing scenes of the slaughter.
Martin, referred to as Nitram in the movie, is portrayed by the actor Caleb Landry Jones in what, for me, is a superlative portrayal of a man with serious unpredictable and often violent actions and reactions. As a boy, Martin exhibited anti-social behaviour such as excessive teasing and bullying, torturing animals, displaying a distance from reality, unemotional, unexpected and violent behaviour, and other signs of mental instability. The movie shows some of this but concentrates on his bizarre relationship with Helen Harvey (Essie Davis), a reclusive retired heiress in her 50s who ‘adopted’ Martin, allowed him to stay at her house, bought him cars, and, when she died in a car accident which he may have caused, left him all her wealth.
The main reason to watch the movie is to see how Caleb Landry Jones succeeds in portraying Martin Bryant. It’s like watching a predatory animal who may or may not be hungry circling its unsuspecting but nervous prey who may or may not survive much longer. Several times in the movie I found myself holding my breath wondering if Martin was about to explode into some form of violent action, or not. Caleb Landry Jones’ ability to convey that uncertainty is incredible. But don’t take it from me; take it from the 2021 Cannes Film Festival jury who awarded him the festival’s Best Actor Award for his performance in Nitram.
Nitram is a movie based on an actual massacre but is not about the massacre. It is more a character study about why Martin Bryant finally snapped and conducted the massacre. Caleb Landry Jones’ performance is nothing short of incredible. Watch the movie to see an actor perform at the pinnacle of thespian artistry.