The Skin I Live In (2011)

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Pedro Almodovar doesn’t bring his usual romantic blossoming for this story but he replaces that with a dramatically high level of passion, tension and horror without ever actually stepping a toe into the usual horror genre cliches. The way this film looks is just sumptuous and pristine close ups all add to this needed clinical vibe the story is aiming for. Apart from a few slow and not so skin scrawling moments this 2011 Spanish movie does a lot to keep the psychological thrills ticking away.

Without going too much into the actual guts of this plot I can say that the story revolves around the obsessive nature of surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) who has crafted a new skin resistant to burns, bites etc, he uses this material on a female subject who he has created in the image of a loved one but under this facade lies another story and another viewpoint and that can be uncovered six years previous to the present day.

To start with the images given to us are lovingly presented and this credit goes to cinematographer Jose Luis Alacine, every shot is precisely set up with an eye for enough detail but not too much in each frame to let our eyes wander all over the place. The room that Ledgard’s patient stays in is exceptionally shot in certain cases. The panning shot over torn up dresses quickly hoovered up is unnerving yet beautiful at the same time. The decoration of the room in terms of set design does the job of prisoner mentality well. The black scribbles on the wall, the stitched figures and balls laying about. It’s a designer room yet lurking with that fearsome dread that you know something is wrong. This obsession of imagery goes further when you look at the way his female patient is presented. She is shot in close ups on the medical table, on her bed, all the time looking stunning and pretty but there’s that metallic edge of threat and clinical whitewashing hanging over as she’s so often seen as the gaze of Ledgard, a surgical play thing to get right. It’s a bubbling thriller about looks, revenge and passion and it may never fully boil over into some huge stirring crescendo but that’s no big critique.

This film has a suitable score for the slowly unraveling dark mysteries of Ledgard and his patient. Alberto Iglesias utilises on a lot of sharp strings and these high fiddles played over the top of scenes go a long way to start pricking up the hairs on the back of your neck. The building up of music is done a lot also, such as the way the score kicks off slowly and then increases in volume and pace as the evil tiger tries finding Ledgard’s imprisoned patient. It’s a beautiful soundtrack, lush even, in the sounds it creates that stick nicely into the artistic thriller form Almodovar is going for.

The main subject matter of this film is in the creation of identity and reversal of another. The bending of who you are as a person is done so calmly and efficiently by Ledgard that there becomes a point that you switch in sympathies for character and start sort of rooting for his female subject. I’m trying my hardest not to spoil anything for anyone who doesn’t know the secret twist of the film, though as this isn’t my first viewing of the film it now seemed so much more obvious as to what was going to happen. Maybe that’s a downside maybe it’s a treat for the people who do know, I can’t tell, but either way the act committed by Ledgard sinks in and settles in the stomach like some bad greasy meal.

Antonio Banderas does a magnificent job of playing this charismatic, caring father and surgeon who has a knack for the details of the human body. He plays likable and worryingly unstable as if they’re both the same personality trait. It’s as you see him in the dank dingy tunnel that ironically you start seeing him a new light. The patient is played superbly by Elena Anaya and she plays on her large eyes to try and pull you in and eventually it works as you take her side. There’s a vulnerability to her situation but then you can sense her underlying strength and her own obsession to get out and away. Props too for the role of Tony the Tiger (not really), Zeca played by Roberto Alamo who in pretty much one scene crashes the stage, takes hold of the spotlight and almost runs away with it. The entrance itself is creepy in its own stripy way but then it just gets worse and worse as he does his thing.

‘The Skin I Live In’ is creepy and almost there as fully immersing itself under the audience’s skin. It’s thick with tension and seductive imagery, it’s highly bizarre and a dark trail to follow but it’s worth every step.

8.5/10

 

 

 

Observe and Report (2009)

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I really don’t get what this film was hoping to achieve, I mean I kind of do as in I get they wanted to make a dark comedy but I found no laughter in this frankly obscene series of events, Seth Rogen is good as the lead mall cop but apart from that it’s too full of black ideas without enough comedy to rectify those situations.

Written and directed by Jody Hill this movie focuses on a bi-polar mall cop named Ronnie (Seth Rogen) who has the chance to tackle two cases in the shopping centre he looks over. One concerns a flasher who upsets the make up girl that Ronnie is besotted with; Brandi (Anna Faris) and the other is surrounding the mystery of a nighttime burglar in the mall. Ronnie gets annoyed and upset that his superior brings in the outside help of detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) to solve the crimes so he does all he can to prove himself as better than he actually is.

It just annoys me looking up and seeing the reviewer’s quote of “spectacularly funny” because it isn’t. I know comedy is opinion but this film delivers more on the thick grimy side of humour than making it all good with the lighter side. I can understand the certain points that would gain a chuckle or chortle from audiences and to be fair there are some scenes that made me laugh but on the whole I feel they came out of uncomfortable laughter. It only needed some funnier moments that weren’t reliant on the shock factor and it could have been a wholly different and better movie.

The worrying moments are awkward and yes funny because of that but some things seem to go just that bit too far and question why you’re sticking with watching this movie. There’s streaking, beatings, shooting up and date rape. This last point really is of concern as I think they thought the scene would be funny but it’s not. Full stop. It works briefly with the stupid and up and down nature of Ronnie but there’s no need for it to be honest. The more violent angle for a comedy can be quite amusing as you see Ronnie dispatch crackheads and policemen with an ease and flair that comes out of nowhere making you laugh. See, that’s the surprise factor that elicits laughs not the sheer usage of something through and through out there in terms of wrongness.

Seth Rogen does well as the cop who sees himself as a grander persona than he truly is. You believe he’s deluded, awkward and alone. The scenes back home living with his alcoholic mother help you come further to this conclusion but aside from his convincing role as the unlikable yet sometimes likable his character arc does nothing for the imagination and the end is so predictable. Anna Faris plays the dumb blonde well riffing on the image of the make-up counter chick, her doe eyes and bosomy looks fully peg her as that gossipy unintelligent worker and she plays it greatly really making you dislike her for other things she does, her crying scene is brilliant though, another rare moment of funny. I have to give mention to Michael Pena who plays Ronnie’s best friend Dennis who is one of the better characters throughout and he gets gifted a darker turn too though all the time his choice of voice leans towards the sound of South Park’s Kanye West.

Definitely mean and dark in content but I just can’t grasp the comedy genre it’s apparently in. It’s pushing too far and there’s no good consequence or acceptable reason for this decision from Jody Hill. Seth Rogen does enough to keep you there until the end but there’s no payoff, big laughs or awesome twist by the end to make you happy you sat through a bleak and mostly unfunny movie.

5/10

Hercules (2014)

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The second Hercules movie this year and with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson up front as the demigod himself and ‘Rush Hour’ director Brett Ratner taking the camera, this sword and sandals tale does exactly what you would expect from it. There are some slightly off kilter moments that question the idea of legends, stories and the like but on the whole there’s no huge surprises in the story. It’s glossy, fiery and big on action.

It’s a very seesawing Greek epic featuring the well known myth of Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) and this film’s plot focuses on him after he has completed the twelve labours. He and a loyal group of fighting followers take on the role of assisting Lord Cotys of Thrace (John Hurt) to stop a deranged warlord violating towns and restore order to the land. Though Hercules and his merry band of helpers may soon be facing a wider threat than once assumed. 

I honestly didn’t hate this movie, or even dislike it. I’m just, well sort of meh about it. It does as it says on the tin (or poster to be more accurate) but the main issue this movie has can be found within the constant attempts at humour, more often than not coming from Rufus Sewell’s Autolycus who drops one liners like some shoddy resemblance of a pre Craig Bond. Some hit as true as Atalanta’s arrows but some make the tense environment fall flat. It’s this blending of humour and suspenseful drama/action that more often than not doesn’t work. It tries to do something different in offering the grand stories of Hercules as maybe less than the legends they’re told to be but this crack at being serious in the heart of a quite camp silly adventure flick never reaches the bulls eye it hopes to get to. 

The line up of characters that stand up and fight for Hercules are cool enough to try and overlook the stiff uninteresting plot. There’s the comic guy as mentioned who dispatches knives like a boss. Autolycus (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) proves a feisty Amazonian warrior with a double bladed bow to top off her ballet like skills at firing arrows. A silent and crazed by night Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) can come at the enemy with two axes and a mad man attitude to kill pretty much everyone. A supposed seer named Amphiaraus (Ian McShane) acts as the push to Hercules to get him to act as the hero he needs to be and then there’s the annoying one who is pretty much just a storyteller and Hercules’ cousin for the entire movie. That title goes to Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), poor fella, not much action for him to get his teeth into. 

Of course a film of this genre utilises on a heck of a load of slow motion which does well to over dramatize the action or sword throwing. At least Ratner knows how to use this unlike Michael Bay who uses slow-mo like a kid who has discovered a new button to play with. The few battle sequences in this film are shot well and the beautiful landscapes of Thracian mountains make for a atmospheric setting for these guys and gal to go at each other. The fighting build up is mostly seen through training led by Hercules to make Cotys’ men better. The following shots of making walls of shields and thrusting with spears etc leads to a Mulan-esque ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ montage as they increase in skill. The brutal nature of Grecian war is toned down slightly for the 12 certification but there is still a necessary amount of blood left to convince us that Hercules lives in a time of danger and darkness. 

Dwayne Johnson is The Rock no more and his fitness regimes to play this part are well seen by the humongous muscles that flex on the big screen. He was born to play Hercules and even if his lines are wooden, his fighting is not. John Hurt comes out with the most dignity left I would say as his character evolves and a scene in particular nearing the end in a dingy damp dungeon gives Hurt a chance to showcase his better dramatic chops, so too with Joseph Fiennes who grapples with some tense and bubbling dialogue to face off against Hercules with. Bolso Berdal is a Norwegian beauty who convinces with her aptitude for archery and looks like a Nicole Kidman, not a comment on her acting I grant you but I couldn’t help thinking she did. 

This movie does become little more than a political mesh of kings uniting and a revenge story to carry our hero along to the end but there are some good scenes that dazzle with action. It’s a fun film if nothing else and at least you can leave the cinema with the knowledge that there’s worse out there, it truly isn’t awful believe me, it’s watchable, entertaining and pacy that the film shuttles along at breakneck speed.

Try and forgive the way it messes with some aspects of Greek mythology, look past the attempts at dramatic storytelling to shed light on legends not being what they seem and just settle into your seat and enjoy the tongue in cheek madness and fun that can be found in this movie. 

6/10

Animal Actors

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The next phase of my moviebrickroad journey comes face to face with the animal world. That brilliantly loyal terrier Toto is such a furry ball of nice isn’t he, well actually played by a female Cairn Terrier named Terry, this dog shows how that old rule of never work with children or animals doesn’t always ring true. A number of films actually include a lot of animal work that helps the film soar ever higher. I shall look over a few differing animal actors in the following.

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FILMS: Lassie Come Home, Courage of Lassie, Lassie’s Great Adventure, Lassie and more

ANIMAL: Collie dog

NAME: Lassie

An iconic heroic female dog that is part of televisual and filmic history as the smart and helpful animal coming into lives of others and saving the day. A dog with a name that will forever stand the test of time.

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FILMS: Babe & Babe: Pig in the City

ANIMAL: Pig

NAME: Babe

A fun animal movie, or at least in the case of the 1995 first offering. Their uses of CGI with the farmyard gang but you can tell when real and cute piggies are being used and Babe is a great central star proving its worth as a sheepdog.

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FILM: Racing Stripes

ANIMAL: Zebra

NAME: Stripes

Obviously not a great movie and trying to emulate the style of ‘Babe’ in having a talking animal succeed at something unexpected but still fun and real zebras were used on set actually being ridden by Hayden Panettiere to tell the film’s racing story.

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FILM: I Am Legend

Animal: German Shepherd dog

Name: Samantha

This dog takes a huge percentage of the emotional welly behind this ok zombie feature. A loyal protective dog looking out for Will Smith’s Robert Neville who comes into some dizzying sad story conflict that packs more punch than the climax of the movie itself.

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FILMS: Free Willy and three unnecessary sequels

ANIMAL: Orca

NAME: Willy

A great yet sad and dark tale is told throughout this 1993 film between a runaway foster lad and a theme park attraction killer whale. Keiko the orca who was Willy in this movie is literally a huge star with people going to his grave honouring the animal as the famous creature he was.

Aside from a plentiful section of animated movies that like to position fun animals as the leads such as ‘Bolt’, ‘Dumbo’, ‘101 Dalmatians’, ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and more, it goes to show that including a real life animal of some description can actually pay off if you utilise their wiles wisely. A dog is always the safe bet as demonstrated nicely in ‘The Artist’ but other animals can be trained to film star status also and leave us with a talented critter to watch perform on the big screen.

Breathe In from Writer Loves Movies

So…the next guest post comes from the awesome writing styles of Natalie over at Writer Loves Movies; also the first blog that I wrote a guest review for. This following write up is great and concerns the 2013 Sundance premiered film ‘Breathe In’. The review is great like I said and is as delicate and well handled as this movie apparently is. She’s made me want to watch it now!

Check out more reviews marked out of five stars at Writer Loves Movies.

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In 2011 director Drake Doremus gave us a beautiful drama about a long distance relationship thwarted by an overstayed visa. Like Crazy’s appeal resulted from the naturalistic style Doremus elicited through improvised performances and lead actress Felicity Jones took home the Sundance Festival’s Special Jury Prize.

In 2013 Doremus followed up Like Crazy with Breathe In, another naturalistic drama with Felicity Jones in the leading female role. This time the drama follows an English exchange student, Sophie (Felicity Jones), who takes up residence with an American family headed by father and music teacher, Keith (Guy Pearce). It’s not long before Sophie and Keith are drawn to each other. Keith’s wife frequently belittles his passion for music and desire to quit teaching for an orchestral seat, while Sophie is damaged by the death of her music-loving uncle. On paper it’s a fairly predictable plot but Breathe In has a mesmeric quality that comes from its naturalistic performances and Doremus’ commitment to atmosphere.

During the film’s early moments, Sophie is seen reading Jane Eyre. It’s a book Breathe In draws on heavily for its potent sexual tension. Doremus allows the relationship between Sophie and Keith to develop gradually, encompassing doubts and self-restraint as well as indulgence and passion. Breathe In eschews sex scenes and nudity in favour of burning looks, a surreptitious hand on the arm and nervous fingers intertwined. This somewhat old-fashioned approach feels refreshing and modern in the hands of Doremus whose palette of washed out blues and greys suffuses his film with despair while its searing tension rips and claws at your heart.

Music takes on a powerful role here too. Sophie’s first piano performance plays out as both a seduction and furious resistance to Keith’s authoritarianism. Later, there’s an almost operatic climax as the film’s various strands pull together in a cataclysmic conclusion.

Doremus and co-writer Ben York Jones craft their characters with depth and complexity. Nothing is clear cut and it’s difficult to take sides. Keith is a conflicted father and husband. Sophie’s youth and love for music offer him a route back in time, an opportunity to start afresh, but it’s hard for us to root for him. We’re also aware that Keith is acting foolishly and represents a dangerous love interest to Sophie who is vulnerable in spite of her intelligence and free spirit. The lines are further blurred by Pearce’s impeccable performance that stings with pain and regret.

His burgeoning chemistry with Sophie feels very natural – it’s an alluring by-product of improvisation – as their conversations develop through varying degrees of awkwardness. But Breathe In is an intimate film where the locked gaze of Jones and Pearce says as much as the delicate, tentative dialogue.

Keith and Sophie’s relationship plays out in contrast to the desperate cries for attention that Keith’s daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), makes of despicable, womanising boyfriend Aaron (Matthew Daddario). Do her reckless actions result from Keith’s emotionally absent parenting style? And how differently should we judge Keith’s own infidelity? Keith’s wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), watches Sophie with suspicion while she feels her husband slipping away. Is Megan aware of her own role in the marital breakdown? Breathe In’s solitary omission is Megan’s under-explored character.

Breathe In is not a formula romance. It’s an intricate, poignant exploration of adultery, love and regret. With Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones both at their best, Breathe In cements Drake Doremus as the rising star of naturalistic drama.

Verdict: 4.5 stars

Boyhood (2014)

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A sheer beauty in filmmaking with grand scope of vision and planning complimented greatly by an engaging and believably dramatic tale of growing up, family and life in general. I was highly anticipating this movie, if even just for the idea of filming parts of a movie over 12 years and I can safely say it does not disappoint. The look through the timelapsing microscope of human behaviour of this boy and the people close around him is amazing to watch and satisfies me that there are still sparkling gems to give cinema a good name every now and then.

Filmed from 2002 to 2013 this lovely change to the coming of age drama sees six year old Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) about to move away from home with his mum Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Each subsequent chapter of the story gives them time to breathe and explore childhood, impending puberty and adolescence with the recurring appearance of divorced husband and father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). The film sweeps through tenderness, upset, turmoil, humour and family drama that feels compelling, real and refreshing.

Director Richard Linklater has crafted a feat of artistic brilliance and the earthy conversations that fill this family’s life feel true, you can sense the joint effort of Linklater and his cast working to make a scene the believable thing it becomes. The moments where dialogue sounds improvised is never a bad thing and only goes to make the film that much better. It’s just an astonishing project and Linklater makes the movie travel forward in time with a gentle touch letting the story do the talking. That and the fact that the movie also looks really good is just another string to Linklater’s bow that he can create a quality movie that pulls at heartstrings and makes you laugh too.

The stories are investable and gritty at times with some heavier topics coming into play that really seize unexpectant quiet patches and make you relate yourself even more into the plot. At my age I think I found the whole unwinding narrative so interesting because I can relate to what happens with Mason Jr. The past and obsessions with video games and the sulky philosophical musings of teenage life were very me and hit the nail on the head of what most people at those ages are like. The surrounding stories on the whole are just as good as the main one concerning Mason Jr. Olivia’s maturing from single mother to college classes and beyond is a powerful thing to see especially concerning the men that come into her life and try to ruin the balance she has with her kids and education. Samantha’s story is ok at best, it’s a character that is better at the beginning that slowly peters out as Mason Jr. becomes more fleshed out and Coltrane takes the reins of the character with more confidence. Mason Sr. is a great addition who becomes more likeable and is that absent father figure written all over, another aspect of growing up I can relate to. There’s profound talks scattered in the later stages of Mason’s story that hit home about the way we as people work within society and the world and in the front seat of his car as he chats about obsessions with screens and how we’re programmed to Facebook and the like it’s right on the money about how most of us go about our daily business. That and the scarily current chat about the likelihood of another Star Wars movie!

The changes in time are perfectly captured through imagery of evolving technology, the soundtrack of background songs firing you into a new year. All in all the way this growing piece of film takes you on a huge scaled journey is impressive and mightily enjoyable. Seeing the two children grow before your very eyes is something so weird yet so magical, in contrast to most films hiring a new actor to play the older character, here you get the same person ageing on screen. It’s incredible. Two word’s but I don’t how to say it as it just is incredible watching all the main players involved grow up in front of you. You somehow feel attached to them and feel for them in their situations and especially near the end where the main four get a photo together that really feels special.

It was much funnier than I expected too and that’s a welcome surprise. The humour is very on point with puberty and family. Also with the start and the younger Samantha you get a lot of comedy as she’s just fantastic near the beginning, a true little star that takes a lot of the scenes out from under the noses of her costars. There’s humour to be found just in seeing the clunky objects of days gone by, a nostalgic trip can’t help but set off a warm buzz inside you. It’s not so funny that you forget how touching this story of growing pains can be though and this mix of styles in the story is nicely handled.

All the actors involved throughout this sprawling treasure are great, really great. They become the people and sometimes it becomes honestly hard to wonder if what happens in the film may actually just be a part of their actual lives! I know it likely isn’t but they all seem like family, they just click together. The supporting cast all do a lot in their smaller roles to add something necessary to the family core and all are exceptional in making this film come to dazzling life and keep that level of interest up.

This film has to be seen to be believed as it just grips you, a brief slow middle does nothing to spoil the movie and it’s cast and story bury into your being and fill you with affirming memories and warmth. Now possibly my favourite film of the year, just thanks to being a cinematic experience and a unique idea that keeps you engrossed from start to finish.

9/10

 

Starlet (2012)

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Perhaps not a fully engrossing story and one that offers up at least two wholly annoying toon like disthpicable (despicable) characters but moving away from this there are two first time movie actresses that bring sweetness, tenderness and enough grounded realistic performances that make the whole film a hit.

This independent film by Sean S. Baker revolves around the unlikely blossoming friendship between an at first supposedly unemployed young lass and a widowed 85 year old. They cross paths one day as the 21 year old Jane (Dree Hemingway) goes to buy yard sale items to make her room more her style. After buying a thermos/vase from the elderly woman named Sadie (Besedka Johnson) she discovers rolled up cash inside and in her guilt of spending decides to help and befriend Sadie leading them to become the most unlikely of allies after Copper and Tod.

It’s a simple enough story of this cheap independent kind of film making to focus on an earthy relationship like dynamic rather than what Hollywood loves to do and centre on explosions and CGI. It takes a while to get into this odd friendship pairing though but once you get there, it is properly worth it and there is a real sweet touch to this bond. There are times when you really wonder what Sadie is doing but she wants the companionship even if she never admits it and with the annoying start in Jane’s character and her guilt overriding the reason to be nice you get to an end road where she realises Sadie is a better truer friend than anyone she knows. That’s about it with the friendship though, it’s plain Jane kind of sailing from Jane and Sadie even with a few story turns thrown in.

I do like the finding out of character backgrounds as the plot progresses, a good welcome change to having exposition spoil all secrets and pasts before the half an hour mark. The secret of Jane concerns her and her brattish roommates work and there’s drop feeding to hint at things but it’s subtle and when you come to uncover what their jobs are it’s a good payoff that makes you understand why Jane is the way she is. There’s a character payoff too with Sadie that comes right at the end of the movie which is sort of obvious by the time they both reach the grassy destination but it’s an eye opening moment for us and Jane that could completely change their friendship for the better.

The non-diegetic music on the most part is like a lullaby summery tone drifting in before sharply cutting to a stop as dialogue is spoken or diegetic sounds hit the speaker. It’s an interesting choice that reflects the warmth of the location that fills the entirety of this movie and also works with the up and down friendship nature of Sadie and Jane gaining momentum and then suddenly stopping every now and then.

Jane’s living housemates are a living nightmare and yes they’re meant to be unlikeable but they’re drawn way too hideously to deem them as real people and they’re like walking caricatures that you hope to die, harsh maybe but watch the film and you’ll most likely agree. Melissa and Mikey are mad, mopey and moronic. Alliteration is the only way I can go about describing their ghastly personalities. It’s just a good thing that Jane shows a sign of stepping out of that world and into a more interesting, nice and cultured one…well maybe, even though the threat of her career and new quarters still lead you to worry how she’ll carry on.

Dree Hemingway is childish, mature, kind, angry and helpful but most of all she’s believable as this growing young woman. It’s a confident rooted performance that somehow amongst the times you see her like a Paris Hilton tragedy you still like her. There’s a smile she gives that radiates beauty and warmth, for example at the bingo scene when she shows it off knowing Sadie will agree to the plan she has paid for. Besedka Johnson is sadly no longer with us and that makes the film even more sad to a degree and for a first time ever acting in anything she is incredible. She acts the detailed opposite world of Jane’s with ease and a calm aurora. The image of her shaking and beginning to cry as she tries finding Jane’s dog is enough to rend the heart into many little pieces. It’s these two female performers that make the film what it is and even if the story is basic they sell it fantastically.

A very indie feeling film that explores how two people from separate lives can blend in the image obsessed environment of LA. The story and Jane may have their flaws and the washed out palette of the movie may feel tiresome but stick with the story and you’ll end up seeing a good honest and bittersweet story about human connections.

7.5/10