Roadside Attractions
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Pearce
Screenwriter:  Michael Pearce
Cast:  Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James, Trystan Gravelle, Oliver Maltman, Charley Palmer Rothwell
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 5/1/18
Opens: May 11, 2018
Jersey Affair Movie Poster
If you managed to catch the 28-minute short film “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” you might have guessed what’s in store for Michael Pearce’s first full length feature film, which he both wrote and directs.  The short, which played at numerous festivals, reveals a man’s true colors when his wife is kidnapped by business associates.  Now with “Beast,” a well-developed thriller with some horror undertones, Pearce emerges as a fellow to watch, since he keeps the audience with an uneasy feeling throughout while trying to guess the identity of a serial killer and wondering whether the woman on whom he focuses so much attention is in danger of being murdered.

“Beast,” however, is not a typical, superficial treatment of the subject of serial killers but a story with enough depth that even European history becomes a player.But blink, and you’ll miss a key point, when Pascal (Johnny Flynn) informs snobbish family members at a family dinner on the British island of Jersey that they, despite their wealth and haute manners, are sitting on land that belonged to his ancestors.  (Jersey is not part of the UK but the United Kingdom is responsible for its defense.)  Pascal is the kind of young man, which, according to some sociologists, is the type who are favored by women for a good time, but not a good prospect as a potential father and husband.  He is strikingly handsome with Nordic features but is suspected of killing a number of a teenage women.  He works with his hands, carpentry and the like, and his magnetism head-on and immediately draws the lust of Moll (Jessie Buckley), a 27-year-old woman who still lives with her parents under the repressive rule of her mother, Hilary (Geraldine James).  Hilary has been home-schooling Moll since the young woman was expelled from school for having stabbed a classmate who had bullied her.  Between the bullying then and the harsh treatment she must accept from her mother, she could understandably be treated by the audience as a suspect in the serial murders.  Just watch the way she shoots a rabbit under the guidance of her new boyfriend.  When the animal is wounded and suffering and she is told that it’s cruel to leave it that way, she does not simply put a bullet in the bunny’s head but smashes it several times with her rifle.

Writer-director Pearce, who situates the story in Jersey where it is filmed, has lucked out by getting two incredibly attractive performers together as the young couple in love.  He builds the tale in graduated steps, digging deeply into the emotional handicap that guides and appears slowly to destroy Moll’s stability.  She is courted by a detective who is a friend of the family, a man who believes that Moll is covering up for her boyfriend, giving him the alibi that she was dancing with him all night at the time that a fourth body is discovered.  Moll, who feels almost repelled by a guy who is staid when the love of her own life is so adventurous, once tells him that what she remembers most about him is his smell.  The police are convinced that Pascal is the man they seek and are frustrated when Moll continues to defend him, though Moll, despite her fear that Pascal is indeed the serial killer, remains turned on by a guy who is so natural when her mother is a witch and understanding when Moll expresses her anger.

As a redhead, Moll is even physically different from the neighbors who share some terrific Irish dancing on a typical Saturday night on an island that appears to offer little for young people.  As interpreted by Jessie Buckley, who once played Miranda in Jeremy Herrin’s 2014 film “The Tempest,” she brings fire and fury into her role as a woman determined to break the chain of her snobbish and repressive mother, willing to take her bond with Pascal wherever it leads and damn the possibility that she could be one of his victims.  A terrific performer, Buckley creates a woman who should have been able to move away from her family years earlier and who is now making up for her vulnerable years with fever that’s conveyed to her movie audience.  You may not guess the surprise ending, but having seen it, you’ll say, “Of course: why didn’t I think of that?”

Unrated.  107 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-

MY FRIEND DAHMER – movie review


    Film Rise
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B+
    Director:  Marc Meyers
    Written by: Marc Meyers, adapted from John Backderf’s graphic novel
    Cast:  Ross Lynch, Anne Heche, Dallas Roberts, Alex Wolff, Tommy Nelson, Vincent Kartheiser, Miles Robbins
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/15/17
    Opens: November 3, 2017
    My Friend Dahmer Movie Poster
    Next time you hear an adolescent say that he intends to major in biology, should you be frightened?  Probably not.  After all not all prospective bio majors spend the best years of their lives killing people.  Prospective bio major Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed seventeen young men, strangling them, drilling holes in their brains and pouring acid into them, having sex with some of the cadavers, beheading some and putting their heads in the freezer, was clearly psychotic. At his trial the prosecution argued that he was legally sane, i.e. he planned the crimes and was aware that killing was punishable.

    “My Friend Dahmer” doesn’t take us to the 1991 trial, and in fact focuses on just one year of his youth when he was a senior in high school, telling his friends and even Vice President Mondale whom he met on a school trip to Washington, that he was intent on majoring, ironically, in the life science.

    Marc Meyers, who wrote and directs the movie adapting from a graphic novel by John Backderf, has also contributed “Approaching Union Square,” about thirty-something people looking for love in the big city.  To a great extent, “My Friend Dahmer” is about a teenager looking for love in his small-town Ohio high school and finding what passes loosely for acceptance  can be gained by acting as the class clown.  His shtick is to spazz out, first in the school hallway, twitching compulsively and lying on the ground shaking, gaining the attention of the young people changing classes.  He is intelligent enough to know that a trio of friends, particularly Derf (Alex Wolff), hang out with him not because they really like him as an equal but rather to bully him by exhorting the young man behind the big aviator glasses to perform his clown act.

    The title character is played by Ross Lynch, a star of Disney movies like the TV series Austin and Ally, about a songwriter and performer, with Lynch in the role of the non-conforming Austin.  He is not only handsome but looks remarkably like the real Dahmer (see the extensive Wikipedia article with his picture), but since he rarely smiles, his face frozen, he cannot attract the fair sex.  He is so self-conscious and down on himself that when he asks a freshman girl to the prom, his pitch is that she would be seen by upperclassmen, who might take an interest in her during the next few years.

    His relationship with his parents could be taken as a sign that his schizoid personality was caused by genetics or environment, you pick ‘em.  His mother, Joyce Dahmer (Anne Heche) was in and out of mental hospitals, and his father, Lionel Dahmer (Ross Lynch), a chemist, was taken back by his son’s use of a spare outside room to dissect roadkill and to pour acid on them not necessarily to see what’s inside but out of pure sadism.  In a father-son conference, Lionel tells the boy that he should be outside making friends instead, noting that he himself had few friends when he was Jeffrey’s age and hates that side of the boy that reminds the dad of himself.

    We see a few examples of his dealing with roadkill, and in one tense scene, he takes a large dog into the woods and, holding the dog by the collar, produces a knife aimed at the animals’ neck. We don’t know whether he went through with the plan, nor do we see him actually killing anyone else.  This is strictly a movie about high-school days, or daze, about how his lack of acceptance, his treatment at the hands of his flibbertigibbet mother and his milquetoast father may have contribute to what could at the same time an inherited propensity to violence.  In this regard and in its description of the idiocy that poses as student seriousness, we get a fascinating picture of how if you want to understand a killer, look to how he acted while in high school.

    If you would like to see more about Dahmer, you can rent David Jacobson’s 2002 movie “Dahmer,” a low key look at the serial killer’s later years.

    Rated R.  107 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?