Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction isn’t your typical vampire film, which fits his groove because I’ve always considered his work to be full of genre films that secretly dream of arthouse ambition and can’t really be caged into a one sentence log-line or classification. This has the look and feel of something akin to Jim Jarmusch’s work, a laidback, atmospheric New York City story shot in beautiful black and white tones by cinematographer Ken Kelsch, visual poetry that looks magnificent on the Arrow Blu Ray transfer which can be viewed streaming on Shudder. The film stars Lili Taylor as a philosophy major learning all about the monstrosities that humans are capable of, when she runs into a monster herself in the form of deadly vampire Casanova (the great Annabella Sciorra), who drags her into a dark alleyway one night and bites her in the neck. From there she must come to terms with the changes happening in her body and soul, the need to feed on other humans and what it means to transition from one being into a different creature of the night. The film shirks usual vampire lore and motifs for something denser, more philosophical and intellectually prickly in terms of theme, which sometimes went a bit above my head but it’s obvious that Ferrara is fascinated by the ideas of guilt, penance and absolution rooted in catholic faith, and it’s fascinating to see him explore these things through the stark prism of a vampire story. He always surrounds himself with fascinating and wonderful actors too, like Taylor has spent her career doing curious work that’s hard to pin her down by in any one arena, much like Abel himself, and she’s terrific here, with an arc of existential curiosity that is slowly metamorphosing into deep fear of the inner machinations of nature and the soul. The cast here is terrific, with Sciorra doing a dark, vicious turn and other excellent work from Paul Calderon, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Kathryn Erbe and a spectral Christopher Walken as another vampire she runs into by chance, who briefly and cryptically mentors her on the ways of the night. It won’t be for everyone because it contains none of the sweeping grandeur and baroque romanticism that many are used to and expect from their vampire films, but the thick, cerebrally frictional themes, moody visual palette full of shadows, smoke and concrete and the offbeat, dangerous style were very impressive to me. Streaming now on Shudder.
Freedomland is a dark, strange drama about events spiraling out of control following the disappearance of a young boy, the distraught nature of his mother (Julianne Moore) and the subsequent search that takes two detectives (Samuel L. Jackson and William Forsythe) into a heated black community and the surrounding wilderness nearby. Moore’s character is a notoriously unstable woman and not the most reliable mother, her story just doesn’t seem to add up, especially when she claims she saw a black man take off with her car with her kid in it. Jackson’s charismatic cop knows the community well and does his best to ease mounting racial tension, while Moore is a basket case who can barely function, and the whole thing feels sort of meandering and purgatorial until a third act revelation that puts an entirely new spin on the film but also kind of thematically negates everything that came before. Is is a slightly political interpersonal drama? Somewhat. Is it a twisty abduction thriller? Not really me, but I feel like it wants to be. Is it a character study of a broken woman? Could have been with more development. It’s an odd mix that doesn’t really gel with much that it tries except when it focuses on Moore, who is fascinating damaged goods, but again more time should have been spent cultivating that angle. Jackson is fine in his authoritarian mediator role, normally boisterous Forsythe is pretty laid back as the trusty sidekick, Edie Falco plays a concerned activist looking to help out and Ron Eldard is terrific as Moore’s brother, an emotional firebrand who calls her right out on her ongoing bullshit. This film tries to be more than it ultimately ends up being, if that at all makes sense. Elements are in place for it to be great and some of them do in fact work, but the script needed some tweaks, especially in how the bulk of the film and the conflict there relate to and clash with that twist ending, which needed to be revealed way sooner to set up a moving, provocative final act. Not terrible for the effort that was made.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Megan Leavey shows us that with a little discipline, a lot of love and no shortage of persistence, wayward souls can be shaped into something with purpose and make something of themselves, as well as find kindred spirits via intense struggle. Based on one hell of a true story, Kate Mara lives, breathes and emotes Leavey wonderfully, a small town girl with a warrior’s heart who fights tooth and nail to adopt Rex, the canine bomb sniffing champion she has served with through thick and thin during a tour in the Iraqi war. Fresh off the heels of personal tragedy and burdened with an uncaring mother (Edie Falco) and a goof of a stepdad (Will Patton), Megan undergoes the notoriously gruelling marine corps training, and eventually makes her way to combat with her furry friend, an antisocial, violent mutt who she tames through compassion and patience. Coached by a stern, kindly drill sergeant (Common, who is actually a terrific actor), Megan finds romance with a fellow canine unit (Ramon Rodriguez) and mentorship from a veteran of the program (Draco Malfoy), but the strongest bond she makes is with Rex, the intuition of explosive hunting forming a link between them that goes deeper than anything you can see with your eyes alone. Megan seems to be a girl who hasn’t had all that much success in connecting with anyone in her life, but it’s Rex who ultimately reaches out to her, and when the time comes for her to desperately fight a callous bureaucracy for adoption, the film has honestly earned our emotions and not manipulated is a bit, which is a great quality for dramas like this to aspire to. Bradley Whitford has a brief but memorable bit as her birth father as well, giving her advice that cuts deep and goes a long way. Mara is an interesting actress, particularly in her choices of work. She often chooses scrappy misfires that don’t quite deserve her talent, but she never goes the conventional route, always trying new things and, at least in my opinion, outshining her sister every step of the way. The only issues I have with this is the title, which could have been given a bit more thought than just slapping her name above the poster, as well as a certain limitation on raw, organic emoting due to the classic pg-13 gloss one often finds in true story drama. Other than that, she’s a winner.