Quick Movie Reviews (Climate of the Hunter, Fourteen & I’m Your Woman)

Climate of the Hunter

Vampires are a tried-and-true aspect throughout horror cinema; they’ve, frankly, been done to death. So, when someone attempts something unconventional with the Transylvania native(s), it can be worth perking up and taking notes. Unconventionality does come into play with Climate of the Hunter, a surreal little curiosity from DIY filmmaker Mickey Reece.

Image via Dark Star Pictures

Inspired by ’70s cheapo cinema, Climate of the Hunter is stylish to the extreme, crafted as a blend of eras past and present without mockery, but straight and sort of serious. The film is, essentially, a three-hander, revolving around two sisters (Mary Buss and Ginger Gilmartin) holed up in a remote cabin who fall under the spell of a gentleman vampire (Ben Hall). But the plot is secondary: Everything from casting to the pacing to the dialogue and cinematography contributes to the film’s strange, sluggish tone, which is rather deflated from the community theater-esque performances. With its talky mood, the film teeters around its inevitable plot points, yet takes little from its influences and stutters in its own monotone buzz. For all its intriguing psychosexual fumes, the movie still ultimately finds itself rather airless.

Grade: C+

Climate of the Hunter is available in Virtual Cinemas

Fourteen

Maintaining a friendship can be a hefty long-term task, with plenty of diverging paths and possibly seething conflicts buried within the journey. It’s a hard-won concept that Fourteen tackles deceptively calmly, centering on Mara (Tallie Medel), an aspiring writer and teacher who’s working on a master’s degree while negotiating a fragile relationship with Adam (C. Mason Wells) who’s often on the road working. Yet that’s not the central relationship, Mara’s tightest bond is with Jo (Norma Kuhling), a social worker whose unreliable ways — and substance-abuse issues — impede Jo’s career and make friendship an increasingly rough road. Mara and Jo see each other through a series of romantic troubles, with the burden of care landing on the more settled Mara’s shoulders; with the resulting frustrations reverberating through their relationship and the film’s daring leaps in time.

Within its opening few minutes, writer-director Dan Sallitt quickly trains his audience in regards to those aforementioned unannounced transitions, while still finding ways to incorporate information that might normally come from flashbacks without ever actually flashing back. His overall aesthetics are delivered with a quiet calm, with long static shots and a tendency to isolate characters in the frame whenever they’re having even a mildly contentious conversation. But stylistic flexes to do get admirable fussier: Sallitt takes a full minute to observe a train station from a distant, fixed vantage, before finally finding and following Mara as she leaves the platform and makes her way across the parking lot.

Image via Grasshopper Films

Extended, direct studies of Mara arriving or leaving a particular location occur twice more in the film. These shots are compelling on their own; taken together, they sometimes feel like a poor substitute for the fullness of time that the movie struggles to convey, despite its forward momentum. Good as the leads are, they’re required to play a decade-plus of aging through a variety of major life events — an emotional challenge that the film sometimes treats as a formal one. Medel in particular is hampered by a scene of catharsis that Sallitt ends so abruptly (in an already stretched ending) that it’s hard to tell whether the performance didn’t hit the required mark or if he’s simply more concerned with the characters’ framework than the characters themselves. If Fourteen assumes a dutiful inevitability as it approaches its end, it doesn’t undermine its best moments, like the fluid bit of staging when Jo ducks into a bakery during a walk-and-talk with Mara, buying a brownie before her friend even realizes she’s gone. Sallitt’s refusal to fully explain his characters is the movie’s salvation: There’s no thing that happened,” Jo says at one point as she despairs for her mental state. Life is a series of accumulations, and Fourteen is intelligent about how friendships can, in a strange way, deepen even as they dissolve. A modest but gradually accumulating portrait of a lifelong friendship, Fourteen takes its wisdom and graceful specificity and incisively studies time’s trudge against bond.

Grade: B

Fourteen is available on VOD

I’m Your Woman

In mob dramas, the wife character is rather continually superfluous, no matter if she’s a symbol of redemption, a martini-loving drunk, or a full-fledged nag. It’s usually hit home when the antihero husband rushes into the house and grabs an empty duffel bag, throwing in clothes and cash in a hurry throwing the bag into her hands in the process and telling her not to ask questions. And noticing his seriousness she immediately complies, wrapping up her already skimpy character arc. Julia Hart’s new film, I’m Your Woman, has that scene happen in its opening few minutes, actually; as Hart is embarking on a stimulating exercise with her ’70s set drama: telling the story of what happens to the criminal’s spouse once she’s sent away for her own safety. This isn’t exactly as novel an idea as it would have been a decade ago, as we’ve had some some good films (Widows) and some not good ones (The Kitchen) that have reframed the tough-guy crime movie from a woman’s perspective. I’m Your Woman takes the concept and rides it down the middle of quality.

Rachel Brosnahan stars as Jean, the wife to professional thief Eddie (Bill Heck). Jean is aware that Eddie’s a career criminal, but never asks questions, so she sincerely has no clue where he’s run off to when one of his associates, Cal (Arinzé Kene), barges into their well-appointed suburban home and insists that it’s time to leave immediately. And it’s through Jean’s trips from safe house to safe house, from daring escapes and confrontations, where her willful ignorance is chipped away. And she does all this also with the help of Cal’s family, particularly his wife Teri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), who understands Jean’s plight better than anyone. Solidarity among women is a major theme in I’m Your Woman, in which a weeping Jean is comforted by an elderly stranger at a bus stop and soothed by a motherly neighbor who brings her food, and that goes along with Teri’s diligent work to open Jean’s eyes about who Eddie really is. (Or possibly was, we’re not really sure.) Of course, getting close to Jean is dangerous, given that she’s being hunted by some violent people. And the body count here is relatively high, but while the plot continues to simmer with new locations and revelations, the action never quite reaches a full boil, with the thrilling exception of a chaotic nightclub massacre.

Image via Amazon Studios

Like that latter sequence, most of I’m Your Woman is told from the deliberately limited viewpoint of Jean’s. By that design, the film’s most compelling moments are the quiet, domestic ones; much of Jean’s strength is derived from her fierce devotion to her infant son, making this a more slow-burn addition to the mama-lion films, à la Kill Bill. And, thankfully, Brosnahan’s bond with her son Harry (and the three baby actors that play him) is tender and believable — more believable, in fact, than her dynamic with with most of the adults in the film. Overall, Brosnahan’s performance is of a piece with the rest of the movie, steady but not especially dynamic. And given that the story is so intently focused on her character she may be a big reason why it feels that way. Rather than performances or action set pieces, what stands out most with the film is its diligent period detail. All lovers of wood paneling, clunky rotary phones, wool wrap coats, among other things will have a feast with the movie’s costume and production design (by Natalie O’Brien and Gae S. Buckley), which are quite loud where the movie outside of that is pretty muted. (It’s quite often where it feels like the aesthetics are wearing the movie, rather than the movie is wearing the aesthetics.) I’m Your Woman also calls back to the neo-noirs that inspired it in one essential, more brief way: It takes familiar tropes and refreshes them for a new generation. In the ’70s that meant cynical male antiheros. Now, it’s the women’s turn, and that’s fine. Befitting a refreshing perspective in a tried-and-true genre, I’m Your Woman may struggle with its vagueness but it shines more as a narrative of a woman taking ahold of her life.

Grade: B-

I’m Your Woman is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video

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