I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Macon Blair

Written by: Macon Blair

Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye, Christine Woods, Robert Longstreet & Gary Anthony Williams

Macon Blair is a name that might sound familiar to fans of indie cinema. He was the main star of 2014’s BLUE RUIN and played a neo-Nazi in last year’s GREEN ROOM. In 2017, Blair has taken a break from being on the screen and instead has released his directorial debut I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE. This darkly comedic crime-thriller successfully mixes laughter, well-crafted suspense, and a down-to-earth emotional core. It’s one of the best independent films I’ve seen in quite some time and I’d go as far as saying this is easily Netflix’s best original film to date.

Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) can’t get a break in life. She works as a medical assistant in a nursing home, constantly finds herself beset by rude jerks around her, and can’t even drink in peace without someone revealing major spoilers for the book series she’s currently reading. One particularly bad day becomes even worse when Ruth finds her home has been broken into and stuff (priceless silverware, her laptop, medication) has been stolen. Sick of taking shit from other people, Ruth decides enough is enough. Assisted by her newfound oddball friend Tony (Elijah Wood), the vigilante pair go about tracking down the scumbag thieves…only to find themselves in way over their heads.

I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE is strongly directed from its first shot to its last. It’s hard to believe that Macon Blair is a first-time filmmaker because he’s made one hell of a debut. He likely picked up skills from Jeremy Saulnier’s sets and I’d argue that he raises his comedy-thriller above any of Saulnier’s good-but-not-great thrillers. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE resembles an early Coen brothers movie, yet has more than enough originality and quirkiness to not feel like a rip-off/homage. This is its own creative beast, making for a thoroughly entertaining and intense viewing experience.

At the forefront of the cast are Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood. The former does a stellar job of bringing life to this anxiety-prone protagonist who’s finally taking a stand against assholes. Lynskey’s Ruth will likely connect with any viewer who’s ever had a really shitty day and found themselves fed up with the world. Though Ruth takes her quest to rid the world of assholes further than any rational person would, she remains a cathartically relatable and slightly naïve heroine. Meanwhile, Elijah Wood is hilarious and just plain weird as Tony. He steals a handful of scenes and gets laughs from the sense that this anger-prone character can/will fly off the handle at any second.

The supporting cast also bring strong performances. The villains are appropriately trashy-looking and intimidating, while Jane Levy is a definite highlight of the bunch. Her character gets a few laughs, but also unleashes a fierce side during a show-stopping sequence. Gary Anthony Williams steals a few memorable moments as a stressed-out cop who’s even more stressed-out by Ruth’s presence…as he’s trying to devote his attention to much bigger cases. Though they’re only in the film for a couple of scenes, Christine Woods and Robert Longstreet are well-cast as a snobby rich couple.

As the plot moves along, I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE gets progressively darker. While the first two acts feel like a quirky darky-comedy had a baby with a gritty crime-thriller, the final third gets very violent and shocking. There are a few bits that elicited vocal reactions out of me and things neatly tie themselves together in an immensely satisfying conclusion. On top of all that, the cinematography looks stellar and the music perfectly accompanies the action (both the score and the soundtrack’s song choices).

I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE is filled with grim laughs, crazy dialogue (a villain rambles about devouring cats), shocking spurts of violence (mainly during the final third), and a never-ending sense of entertainment. The characters are relatable and fun to watch. There are moments that are sure to make viewers burst into laughter during one minute and then put their hand over their mouth in shock during the next. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE is easily one of the best films I’ve sat through in 2017 so far! If you enjoy dark comedy, crime thrillers, or crazy combinations of those two genres (e.g. FARGO), then you’re guaranteed to have a great time with I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE!

Grade: A+

SHATTERED GLASS (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Language, Sexual References and brief Drug Use

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Directed by: Billy Ray

Written by: Billy Ray

(based on an article by Buzz Bissinger)

Starring: Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Zahn, Melanie Lynskey, Hank Azaria & Rosario Dawson

How much trust do you place in the news? A lot of Americans have found themselves evaluating that question after the recent incidents with Brian Williams (surprising) and Bill O’Reilly (not surprising in the slightest). Stephen Glass outdid those two reporters during the late 90’s. Glass worked for The New Republic (a much respected and honored magazine) and became a sensation during his three-year stint there. Unfortunately for the New Republic, Glass had completely fabricated more than half of his stories that were being printed as fact. SHATTERED GLASS is the directorial debut from Billy Ray (director of BREACH and writer of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS) and retells the Stephen Glass incident.

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The film is structured in a somewhat non-linear fashion as Glass lectures a high school journalism class about the pressures of reporting and keys to being a successful writer. Between these pieces of narration we see Stephen’s popularity among staff at New Republic and the chaos of an article that tore his falsely built career apart, titled “Hack Heaven.” When a writer at Forbes online branch discovers that Glass’s article seems to be a complete work of fiction and throws allegations at New Republic, editor Charles “Chuck” Lane becomes highly suspicious of Stephen. As the investigation furthers, tensions rise between Chuck, Stephen and the rest of the staff that may destroy The New Republic in the process.

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SHATTERED GLASS is based on an interesting true story. Therefore, the script doesn’t need to try too hard to be entertaining. This is a compelling story to begin with and director/writer Billy Ray seems to realize that he didn’t need to tweak too many details or plot points to win the viewer over. There’s a clear sense of frustration that rises to a fever-pitch as Stephen Glass grasps at straws to maintain his lies and finds himself digging a deeper hole for himself as he goes along, much to the dismay of Chuck Lane. There are a handful of recognizable faces throughout (including Steve Zahn, Rosario Dawson, and Hank Azaria), but Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard are the real stars of the show. Sarsgaard is completely believable as an editor who’s being placed in a comprising “damned he does, damned if he doesn’t” position. Meanwhile, Hayden Christensen is usually a so-so actor at best, but delivers a stellar performance as Stephen Glass that’s probably going to wind up as the best role of his career. You can’t believe a word that Stephen says and that’s the whole point.

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This film isn’t perfect thanks to a couple of script decisions that detract from what could have been a perfect film. Sections of Glass narrating the events to a class of high school students become downright distracting and unneeded at points. Not to mention that the way in which this narrative concludes is clichéd and disappointing. The Forbes reporters investigating the validity of “Hack Heaven” is just as interesting as everything else in this true story, but is completely neglected about halfway through the film. It seemed as if these scenes, with Steve Zahn as reporter Adam Penenberg, were building up to their own conclusion that never came to satisfying fruition. It’s not as if the script decisions derail a good movie, but they do keep it from perfection.

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SHATTERED GLASS is probably one of the most important movies about journalism and writing that I’ve seen. It will make you question how much faith you put in supposedly fact-based articles or news stories that you read/hear on a daily basis. Peter Sarsgaard and Hayden Christensen deliver phenomenal performances and the story is gripping the whole way through. Billy Ray seems to have a knack for turning real-life stories into good movies and I wish he’d make more of them. Over a decade later, SHATTERED GLASS is still relevant and highly recommended.

Grade: B

THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Terror/Violence

Frightener poster

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Written by: Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Dee Wallace Stone, Jeffrey Combs, Jake Busey, R. Lee Ermey, Chi McBride & Jim Fyfe

THE FRIGHTENERS is not only one of the best horror-comedies to come out of the 90’s, but also a significant stepping stone for Peter Jackson’s career. Between low-budget New Zealand cult films (DEAD-ALIVE, MEET THE FEEBLES) and big budget epics (THE MIDDLE EARTH saga, KING KONG), Jackson carved his way into the mainstream with this humorous ghost story. The effects (a blend of practical and CGI) might seem very over-the-top by today’s standards, but the film holds up as a hugely entertaining flick that’s ripe for the Halloween season!

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Frank Banister is a former architect turned paranormal investigator. Blessed with phenomenal psychic powers, Frank uses a few ghost friends to haunt potential customers and makes bank in “cleansing” of the hauntings. When his small town is besieged by a plague of mysterious deaths, Frank begins seeing a ghostly figure resembling the Grim Reaper and fiery numbers appearing on soon-to-be dead people’s heads. It turns out that a great evil is on a rampage and Frank is the only one who can put a stop to it. Aided by Lucy, a customer/love interest, Frank must solve the mystery of the supernatural force on the loose and also contend with a rogue FBI agent convinced that Frank is behind the deaths.

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The biggest element that truly sells THE FRIGHTENERS as a superior horror comedy is the script. This story is clever, creative, and interesting. The mystery aspect might seem fairly obvious to some viewers, but the film plays out in a fairly suspenseful way. It also manages to incorporate spectacle into the story in a fashion that doesn’t feel forced or unnecessary. Some movies rely on extravagant effects as glue to hold a messy excuse for a story together. FRIGHTENERS uses (at the time) fairly impressive CGI to bring the semi-transparent spirits to life, but also has its share of touching scenes that don’t have any deceased characters present either. When certain protagonists/antagonists require additions to appear on-screen, it offers a legitimate reason to use some (at the time) cutting edge effects often. Even when though a few moments of CGI haven’t aged very well, their cheesy nature lends well to the humor of the film.

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The plot may be awesome on its own, but its made all the more enjoyable by stellar performances. Michael J. Fox is great as Frank. Besides sporting a smartass attitude, Fox adds a layer of humanity to a character who may have been seen as a pure scumbag in any other movie. Here, he’s the unlikely hero and the viewer has every reason to root for him. Trini Alvarado is solid as Lucy. She’s far more than just a bland love interest to be used for a damsel in distress plot device. There’s an independence to her and Frank needs her as much as she needs him to beat the supernatural menace terrorizing the town. Dee Wallace Stone, R. Lee Ermey, and Jake Busey are good in colorful side roles as well. As Frank’s undead friends, John Astin (Gomez from the original ADDAMS FAMILY TV series), Chi McBride and Jim Fyfe are funny as comic relief. The best performance comes from a show-stealing Jeffrey Combs. As the mentally unstable FBI agent Milton Dammers, Combs brings the biggest laughs and makes for (personally) one of the funniest villains to ever grace the silver screen.

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Though it might not be nearly to the excessive level of gore and offensive humor that Jackson’s earlier films were, THE FRIGHTENERS is awesome in the sheer spooky atmosphere maintained by it. The laughs are always prevalent, but there are genuinely creepy moments. The climax (which plays out in a rip-roaring 20 minutes of cat-and-mouse between our protagonists and more than a few threats coming from different angles) is wildly exciting. The execution of this showdown is nothing short of absolutely perfect for a film of this kind. It’s satisfying beyond belief. The only real complaint I can level at this movie comes from that maybe too many things were packed into a mere two-hour running time. Even in the director’s cut, it feels like a few scenes could be missing (you can never have enough Dammers in my opinion). It’s a minor complaint given how well everything plays out and that this film delivers in being a near masterpiece of horror comedy. Think a more intense story told in the BEETLEJUICE universe and you’ve pretty much nailed the vibe of FRIGHTENERS!

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Filled with ghoulish laughs, an ingenious plot, and genuinely spooky atmosphere, THE FRIGHTENERS is an almost perfect blend of horror and comedy. If at all possible, the Director’s Cut is the best way to watch this film. However, the theatrical version doesn’t differ too much. FRIGHTENERS is not only a great flick that holds up nearly two decades later and is perfect for the Halloween season. It also has one of my favorite cinematic baddies: Milton Dammers (in a standout performance by Jeffrey Combs). This is a must-see if you’re at least remotely interested in the film.

Grade: A

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