The Sabbatical (2015)
Dir. Brian Stockton
The Sabbatical is about a middle-aged photography professor on sabbatical. He’s under an immense amount of pressure from the university to deliver a second great book of photos. He spends his time in the local park trying to capture photos and be inspired. His artistic edge is is all but gone until he meets a young artist, Lucy (Laura Abramsen).
This film has the window dressings of a heart-warming, funny, unlikely friendship movie but James Whittingham is not a funny actor. The film was largely improvised by the lead actors, and it shows. Scenes lack cohesion, the lead actors lack chemistry and any form of comedic timing. There’s a bit where James expresses jealousy of a renown blind photographer. Surely this blind man couldn’t possibly take great photographs, that’s funny? It doesn’t help that James isn’t convincing as a photographer. He has the look and feel of a man on sabbatical learning how to take photographs for the first time. You’re in big trouble if the framework is hard to believe. Suspending disbelief shouldn’t be such a chore.
James has a wife who is always busy. She’s so busy that she reminds us how busy she is at least a dozen times during the movie. For some odd reason James keeps trying to convince his wife that he’s having an affair. When the nameless wife finally has free time, her character arc isn’t earned. Her intentions feel way off because she’s forcefully injected into the film during the final act. The relationship is clunky, perhaps it would have been better to keep that character out of the story completely.
With no redeeming qualities this film is not worth your while. A “hard to love” lead character is hardly new, but something new should be added to the formula.
Angry Indian Goddesses (2015)
Dir. Pan Nalin
Angry Indian Goddesses attempts to celebrate women and call attention to female problems. Pan Nalin (Director/Co-Writer/Male) fails in this attempt. The prologue introduces the female cast, all of them mavericks in their profession: an aspiring Bollywood actress lectures men on how “sexy women don’t act sexy when they die.” A photographer tears up a paycheck in her employer’s face because she refuses to do the job she was paid to do. A business executive (CEO?) shouts in a conference call and shouts at her board members before storming off. There are a few others, but you get the picture. These women are independent, strong and do not hesitate to stick it to the man.
The women commence in a home for weeks. Wait, how does the CEO escape for weeks? Oh geez, forget it; nobody thought of that. They’re all there to support their friend who is about to get married. She won’t tell her friends which man she’s going to marry. She’s deliberately and annoyingly vague about the lucky man, to a point where she feels like a 14 year old girl vague-booking to get attention. When she finally reveals her choice it’s an eye-rolling affair.
Angry Indian Goddesses tries to cover too many agendas, failing to properly flesh out each one. There’s one issue that takes a dramatic turn during the film and when it happens the film takes on a completely new form. It’s a clumsy approach and would be better used in another movie, or just center the film on said event. Some of the more dramatic events are flat out confusing due to sloppy editing. One character goes completely mad and begins destroying things. The audience doesn’t learn the motivation until much later, and then it’s never discussed again. Why have that moment at all?
The problem with these characters is that they’re one dimensional to a fault. Each one reveals the troubles they’re going through and an intrusive score interrupts the scene to tell the audience how to feel. It doesn’t help that the actresses are over-acting like they’re swinging for awards season. None of the emotional beats feel real, they’re simply going through the script with uninspired direction.
There are four writing credits according to IMDB. Two writing credits are female, two are male. Why do the males have a hand in this? If they truly want to champion women, the entire effort should be placed in the hands of a woman. Here’s the golden child for a female-driven movie, brought to a crashing halt by a male director.
Angry Indian Goddesses is one of the worst movies of the year. Manipulative with far too many themes and undercooked storylines. There has to be a good movie or story buried in there somewhere. On the way out of the theatre a displeased female audience member quipped, “That HAD to be directed by a man. They just don’t get us.” She was correct.
Dir. Jon Cassar
A man returns to his hometown only to discover the town is being overrun by a land tycoon who operates outside the law. Sound familiar? Sure, but have you seen this story with Kiefer and Donald Sutherland? Add Brian Cox, Demi Moore and other notables and you have the workings of a fine ensemble cast in a terrific Western film. John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland) has a tainted past following the Civil War. It’s unclear the exploits that earned him a tarnished reputation; his father Reverend William Clayton (Donald Sutherland) is leery of John Henry’s intentions of returning home.
With Brian Cox in the mix you know there’s going to be trouble. Cox plays James McCurdy, a land tycoon hell-bent on buying up land from poor farmers to make way for an upcoming boom from the railroad. McCurdy runs a gang of outlaws who strong-arm any citizens that resist selling their land. Michael Wincott leads the gang, you may recall him from iconic roles in films like The Crow and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Wincott channels his inner Val Kilmer from Tombstone, while placing his own cool signature as a smooth-talking pistolier. The great thing about Wincott’s character is that he’s more of an antagonist, as opposed to a straight-up villain. His character has a code, moral grounds he won’t cross. When McCurdy needs someone to get his hands dirty he employs Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole). Poole has the look and feel of a nasty cowboy out to cause trouble. Casting Poole in this role is spot-on, he’s the kind of bad guy you love to hate, or is that vice versa?
Director Jon Cassar takes his time telling the story while placing much care and effort in the details. Smaller characters carry an impact and few feel wasted. The ensemble cast is well utilized. Demi Moore has a role as John Henry’s former love interest. Both actors play well off each other, capturing that inner pain during their scenes together. There are times when restraint could have been exercised — Cox is too modern for a Western film. Cox is essentially playing the same character he played in the X-Men movies, but he drops a lot of “F” bombs in this film. His dialogue feels out of place.
The pace of the film moves along nicely, offering a rich story background, characters to root for and characters to hate. Once the pieces are in place, Forsaken ends with a satisfying finale. It’s worth noting that Cassar and Sutherland worked together on the TV show, 24. The mutual trust between them and the cast results in an exceptional movie experience. Western films are few and far between these days, Forsaken will scratch that itch you couldn’t quite reach.