11:14 (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexuality and Pervasive Language

1114 poster

Directed by: Greg Marcks

Written by: Greg Marcks

Starring: Henry Thomas, Barbara Hershey, Clark Gregg, Shawn Hatosy, Hilary Swank, Patrick Swayze, Rachael Leigh Cook, Stark Sands, Colin Hanks, Ben Foster & Jason Segel

11:14 is a work of pure creativity and genius storytelling! To describe the film as a mere anthology would be doing a disservice to just how well-constructed the whole thing is. Playing out sort of like a rural PULP FICTION, this is a cinematic puzzle about a group of shady individuals connected by a single moment. Featuring lots of big names and stylish flare as well as a wickedly sick sense of humor, I can imagine 11:14 pleasing fans of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers. Yes, it’s that good!

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11:14 pm on a rural road. An intoxicated man is driving to pick up a friend when he has the misfortune of slamming his car into a random somebody. Trying to cover up evidence of his crime (e.g. a corpse), the man comes face-to-face with a frustrated police officer. In the same town, a group of teenage jackasses are driving around in a van doing misdeeds when tragedy strikes in the form of a sliding window. A couple of blocks away, a father is trying to cover up the grisly consequences of the sins of his daughter. Just down the street from him, two convenience store clerks are botching a would-be robbery. These events interweave through each other and every plotline is connected in some way. The story of 11:14 is about a car accident and everything leading up to that. Everything just happens to be executed in brilliant form!

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The script of 11:14 is littered with accidents, cover-ups, insane characters and random acts of violence. The film as a whole is a collage of different stories and people. With what little screen time each performer is given, they all manage to get across exactly what kind of scumbag their individual character is. A young Colin Hanks and Ben Foster are appropriate as idiot teenagers, one of which makes an unfortunate decision involving a foreboding sliding car window. Hilary Swank is totally off her usual role as a brace-faced clerk who doesn’t exactly have the highest IQ. Henry Thomas is convincing as the drunk driver caught up in the middle of the deadly hijinks surrounding him, but is probably the least used character. Rachael Leigh Cook shows up as a beautiful femme fatale living in this podunk town. It’s also worth noting that a young Jason Segal makes an appearance as an ambulance driver. With all these big names, Patrick Swayze really steals the show as a father doing bad deeds with good intentions.

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The weaving plotlines and ridiculous (but believable) characters really sell 11:14. The style in which it’s told is also remarkably assured. This was director/writer Greg Marcks feature debut and to date, he only has one other movie to his name. That’s a pity because I would love to see many more stories told in this vein from him. Though the tone of 11:14 is pretty bleak and grim all the way through (seeing as death and violence are both present), there’s also a hilarious dark sense of humor layered over everything. This really did remind me of an early Tarantino flick and that’s probably the highest compliment you can receive on a film of this type. If there are any complaints to be had with this movie, I would say that two subplots didn’t necessarily have a conclusion (the drunk driver segment and the teenager one), while another lingered longer than was necessary (the botched robbery). However, those are totally satisfying in spite of their minor flaws. The film fits together as a nearly perfect creation.

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11:14 might be one of the coolest movies that you’ve probably never heard of. This flick is all-around great, blending together multiple storylines in an entertaining way and throwing pitch-black comedy into the mix as well. The big name cast add even more fun to the proceedings, especially seeing these actors and actresses playing parts that are so out of their usual type-cast roles. 11:14 is awesome, plain and simple. This is a must-see!

Grade: A

THE HOMESMAN (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexual Content, some Disturbing Behavior and Nudity

Homesman poster

Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

Written by: Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald & Wesley Oliver

(based on the novel THE HOMESMAN by Glendon Swarthout)

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter, Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, James Spader, Hailee Steinfield, Tim Blake Nelson & William Fichtner

On paper, THE HOMESMAN sounds like a cinematic recipe for success. This is a dark Western with a cast full of A-list talent and an interesting premise behind it. I was quite excited to watching this promising film and that makes the lackluster end result so much more underwhelming. There are good qualities in HOMESMAN, but the film betrays its characters and wastes a solid period setting. By the time the credits roll, the whole experience feels pointless and dreary.

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In pioneer populated Nebraska, three women have gone insane. Mary Bee Cuddy is a spinster (woman past the typical age of marriage) with an independent attitude. She bravely volunteers to take the three crazy women to Iowa, in spite of scorn from those around her. Before Mary can begin her journey, she comes across George Briggs, a claim jumper about to be hanged. Mary frees George in exchange for his services in aiding her journey. The territory is filled with bandits, harsh elements, and Indians. George and Mary must face overwhelming odds to get these three mentally damaged women to safety…as well as themselves.

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Tommy Lee Jones directs, co-writes, and acts in this Western. He pulls off the role of George with a passable performance. Jones doesn’t necessarily make this character his own though. This “bad man with a good heart” type of character is a familiar stereotype. Hilary Swank is another story. She seems to be trying way too hard as Mary. When she says certain comic relief lines, they feel stiff and lifeless. However, when she tries to be deadly serious (including an over-the-top bit of sobbing), she becomes unintentionally laughable and not convincing in the slightest. James Spader is a welcomed presence, but barely has any screen time. Tim Blake Nelson also seems suited to his one-scene scumbag, but comes off as wildly cartoonish…again, eliciting unintentional laughs from a scene that should be intense. Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, and William Fichtner are forgettable as brief side characters. Meanwhile, the crazy women themselves aren’t given enough personality to resemble actual people as opposed to human cargo.

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In spite of all the flaws, THE HOMESMAN gets a couple of things right. The music is good, as in it feels like it belongs to a far better film. There is also attention to details of the time period that can be cool, though the overall production values resemble a made-for-TV movie. Aside from mixed acting and so-so technical work, THE HOMESMAN really drops the ball in the screenplay department. The script is based on a 1988 novel that I haven’t read, but this plot feels very disjointed and muddled. There is a character decision about halfway through that betrayed everything that was shown up until that point. There’s also a nasty streak of the story being dark merely for the sake of being dark. We already understand that the Old West was a dangerous and rough time, but this film feels the need to do things just for unnecessary shock value. This is especially notable in James Spader’s sleazy character. He’s one of the best things about this movie, but his scenes feel like they were only added for edginess and pointless violence.

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Westerns are a tough sell, especially in this day and age. I appreciate certain aspects about THE HOMESMAN, including a few well-executed scenes, a solid soundtrack, and two good performances. However, I can’t help but be let down by the forced bleakness (which didn’t add much to the story), an overall unfocused narrative, and poor performances that seemed as if everyone is trying too hard to sell themselves in a role as opposed to bringing an actual character to life. THE HOMESMAN is disappointing to say the least.

Grade: C-

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