Tag Archives: Kate Lyn Sheil

CAPSULE: MOUNTAIN REST (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Alex O Eaton

FEATURING: Natalia Dyer, , , Shawn Hatosy

PLOT: Frankie takes her teenage daughter Clara to meet her ailing grandmother, a retired Hollywood actress, for the first time at her cabin in the mountains, where old resentments resurface.

Still from Mountain Rest (2018)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite being pitched as a “surreal drama,” the only weird elements here are a single dream sequence and an incongruously ominous tone.

COMMENTS: A chamber drama shot almost entirely in the director’s family’s cabin, Mountain Rest‘s greatest strength lies in its trio of female leads, followed closely by the postcard-perfect shots of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Natalia Dyer (the main commercial draw, thanks to “Stranger Things”) plays granddaughter Clara. Dyer, incredibly, is already 21 years old; I would have pegged her character at 15 at the oldest. She takes advantage of her waifish look to portray a teen more convincingly than an actual teenager would; when her character nervously samples a glass of wine or tries for some ambiguous flirtation, the actress has the underlying awareness of someone who understands both the insecurity of late adolescence and the lurking perils of adulthood. TV vet Frances Conroy (“Six Feet Under,” “American Horror Story”) gets the chance to give her take on a flamboyant Norma Desmond type past-her-prime starlet, and clearly relishes the opportunity. As the mother caught between these two women, Kate Lyn Sheil—who for a decade now has seemed like the hot young indie actress just about to break into the mainstream—has an almost thankless role, mainly reacting to the younger woman with concern and the older with simmering resentment, yet holds her own. It’s no surprise that the only male actor is upstaged by these three. His character is a bit ambiguous (is he a scheming gigolo, or just a faithful caretaker?), but his Carolina accent is a softspoken fail.

The scenario puts these four in a cabin for a couple of days; sparks threaten to fly, but nothing really ignites. A secret is revealed, but it has dull teeth. And, most frustratingly, Mountain Rest keeps threatening to venture into scary psychological thriller territory, then pulls back. The film suggests a sense of danger around Clara that never materializes. She meets the local teens and drinks beer/smokes pot, and soon thereafter is mysteriously hypnotized by a rushing mountain stream. Later, in the film’s only weird sequence, she will visit that location again, in a dream. One-shots show her apprehensive knitted brow and a string quartet broods ominously as she eavesdrops on conversations between her mother and the caretaker, or her grandmother and her dead husband. A minimal level of taboo sexual tension develops between her and Bascolm. Wrapped in a towel, she discovers a knothole in the bathroom door. She’s so tightly wound that she bites off the rim of a wine glass. But nothing ever develops from these hints; the noose stays slack.

Alex O Eaton (no “.” after the middle initial) assembles and directs a fantastic cast. The three actresses create a realistic, distrustful-yet-fond generational dynamic among each other, one that often plays out as more gripping than the dialogue directs. The cinematography is pro, the music well-chosen.  And Eaton has a gift for creating miniature moments of subtle unease. But the story here stays too restrained; every time it threatens to move in a dangerous direction, it pulls back and goes for the obvious angle. The young director shows talent to craft individual scenes and shots that hint at deeper meaning and menace; I’d like to see what she could do if she lets herself go for broke.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a tense, imagistic drama with an almost somnambulant rhythm…”–Steve Haruch, Nashville Scene (festival screening)

CAPSULE: SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Bob Byington

FEATURING: Keith Poulson, Nick Offerman, , Stephanie Hunt,

PLOT: Thirty-five years in the life of a waiter who goes through three lovers and one friend while not visibly aging, possibly thanks to a magical suitcase.

Still from Somebody Up There Likes Me (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Somebody Up There Likes Me is an experiment that dares to ask the question: just how deadpan can you make your comedy before the funny completely evaporates? It comes perilously close to finding the answer.

COMMENTS: Struggling valiantly to fashion the listless happenings that occur during the running time of Somebody Up There Likes Me into some kind of plot synopsis, the distributor’s copywriter came up with a notion that the movie involves two men named Sal and Max and “a love triangle with Lyla, the woman they both adore.” This is blatantly incorrect. The characters in Somebody simply don’t “adore”; that’s far too strong an emotion for the universe in which this movie takes place. This is a world where a woman cries out “OK!” rather than “yes!” during sex, while another confesses to “kind of liking” intercourse. This extreme understatement and emotional flatness is the movie’s joke; I suspect it may all be an arch, meta-ironic comment on fashionable hipster detachment. For long stretches, the movie won’t even attempt a real gag, skating by on its incongruously nonchalant tone: everyone is bored and inexpressive during sex, weddings, and funerals, except for Nick Offerman’s Sal, who is mildly irritated by everything, and therefore is the script’s most alive character. Although the two pals do sleep with the same woman, there is no adoration and, consequently, no love triangle (because there is no love). It’s hard not to sympathize with the poor synopsizer trying to explain what happens in the shambolic Somebody. Besides the inaccurate suggestion that the film is some sort of romantic comedy, the other potential hook the writer seizes upon is the notion that the movie contains “a magic suitcase [that] prevents Max from getting older.” This is a reasonable supposition, although there are significant problems with this description as well. Max only peers into the suitcase, whose origin or function is never explained, a couple of times. And although it’s true, and notable, that he doesn’t visibly age as the movie covers three and a half decades, what’s even odder is that some of the supporting cast age normally (a child grows to an adult), others sort of age, but don’t really look much older (Offerman develops a slight touch of grey in his beard and Jess Weixler acquires thick-rimmed glasses), while at least one other character remains as eternally youthful as Max. It’s reasonable to conclude the baggage keeps Max from visibly aging, but it’s hard to make any definitive statements about anything in this movie. The magical realist conceit enclosed in the suitcase is a surreal joke a would have taken and run with, but here, it’s sidelined and almost forgotten. Somebody‘s poker-faced twee aesthetic is strange and distinctive, but not particularly endearing. It’s like something Wes Anderson might direct while under heavy sedation.

Utilizing some of the cast from his hit TV show “Parks and Recreation” Nick Offerman co-directed a very strange (and not-safe-for-work) “virile video” for Somebody Up There Likes Me, in a style that’s nothing at all like the movie (it’s much funnier).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…nihilistic, misanthropic, and weirdly relaxing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”–Leah Churner, Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

FILM FESTIVAL DOUBLE FEATURE: SUN DON’T SHINE (2012)/TCHOUPITPOULAS (2012)

Taking a trip to your local film festival is a good way to recalibrate your sense of weirdness. The sparsely attended showings will remind you that to the average movie patron, any film that doesn’t feature either 1. a car chase, 2, a robot chase, or 3. Adam Sandler probably qualifies as “weird.” So, although the two films commented on below may not qualify as weird by our bizarre standards, it’s good to remember that they are as extraordinary a pair of oddities as the average moviegoer might be accidentally exposed to.

Still from Shine (2012)Writer/director Amy Seimetz reveals that Sun Don’t Shine was based on a recurring nightmare, combined with her fever dream recollections of the subtle insanity engendered by south Florida humidity. The scenario sees fragile Crystal () and macho beau Leo (Kentucker Audley) on the lam heading for the Everglades in a clunker with a bad radiator, fleeing troubles which aren’t immediately disclosed but which you will easily guess. There are a few moments, when the story shifts to see things from anti-heroine Crystal’s distorted perspective (which seems equally informed by insecurity and sunstroke) that Sun seems about to take off into nightmare territory. But we always quickly return to reality and to the movie’s core, the uncomfortable co-dependent relationship between sullen Leo and wispy Crystal. The movie seems afraid to push itself past the merely uncomfortable and into the full depths of insanity, at least until a final “too little too late” moment of madness. In that, perhaps the script is only playing to its strengths. Seimetz is excellent at creating a believable dynamic between the troubled lovebirds; there’s a barroom scene where Crystal is boring her man with a story about pilfered lipstick to the point where he has to get up and walk away as if to say “I love you, but if you yap on for one more second we’ll be talking about your fat lip instead of your lipstick.” She follows him into the men’s room and wins him back with persistent affection. It’s a very real scene, but the problem is almost the entire film is made up of such supplemental moments. A movie can have so much character Continue reading FILM FESTIVAL DOUBLE FEATURE: SUN DON’T SHINE (2012)/TCHOUPITPOULAS (2012)