The idea of reimagining Hitchcock's classic 1951 thriller Strangers on a Train is a good one. It worked as a black comedy for Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal in 1987's Throw Momma from the Train. And as long as out director Jamie Babbit's new movie Breaking the Girls follows the template of the Hitchcock adaptationwhich, in turn, was based on Patricia Highsmith's exquisite crime novelit works, too (really well) as an erotic thriller. How delicious to take the homoerotic subtext in the material and make it blatant via a hot lesbian affair that turns murderous?
Sara (underplayed nicely by Agnes Bruckner), a comely blonde working her way through law school, finds her world falling apart after fellow student Brooke, jealous of her boyfriend Eric's (Shawn Ashmore) attentions, rats Sara out for stealing tips from her bartending job. Within days she loses her scholarship and finds herself kicked out of her dorm room. The only light on the horizon seems to be the helping hand extended by the spoiled rich girl Alex, a milk-skinned brunette (played by the fetching Madeline Zima) who has a major crush on Saramagnified after the two spent a passionate night together following a drunken revelry.
Although Sara is straight-identified, Alex is awfully persuasive and soon the two are besties, sharing a bed and their inner secrets. Sara, to no one's surprise, is more than a little pissed at Brooke (the rival who is the cause of all her woes) while Alex hates her stepmom, Nin,a and jokingly suggests that the two should switch murders. Naturally, Sara thinks she's kidding but Alex isn't and after killing Brooke, she demands that Sara do in Ninaand Alex is ready to blackmail her to get her to agree.
At that point, the script by lesbian audience fave Guinevere Turner and Mark Distefano becomes as twisted as a drive through the Laurel Canyon locations (which add to the California-noir feel of the movie). Logic goes out the window as the coincidences pile up (think Wild Things and its many sequels rolled into one plot) and even with all the twists, the dimmest of armchair Nancy Drews will be two steps ahead. Babbitwho helmed the overlooked thriller The Quiet, the lesbian raunchfest Itty Bitty Titty Committee, the very funny LGBT comedy But I'm a Cheerleader! and lots of episodic TVhas always worked very well with her actors. However, ironically, the pulp/noir material and settings could have benefitted by pushing the acting melodramatic envelope, perhaps elevating Breaking the Girls in the process.
Of related interest: Out writer-director Todd Haynes is adapting Patricia Highsmith's second novel, the lesbian-themed love story Carol (published under a pseudonym in 1952 with the title The Price of Salt) for his next picture. Cate Blanchett, who played Bob Dylan in Haynes' I'm Not There and Mia Wasikowska from The Kids Are All Right, will co-star. Filming begins in October in London and New York with a 2014 release expected.
James Cromwell hasn't had a lead role in movies since his breakthrough in the gentle, miraculous Babe in 1995. Cromwell followed his part as the soft-spoken Farmer Hoggett with a spectacular supporting role as the murderous, icy police chief in the masterful L.A. Confidential. Now the statuesque actor enacts another indelible character in Still Mine, a delicately shaded drama that is based on a true story. Cromwell plays Craig Morrison, a farmer in rural New Brunswick whose wife Irene (the ever-luminous, wondrous Genevieve Bujold) is slipping into dementia and can no longer be safely trusted alone in their two-story home.
Craig's solution is to build a smaller home, a one-story cottage, on a bluff with a spectacular view of the couple's 2,000 acres. But almost immediately he runs into legal trouble with the local building association. The difficult, no-nonsense Craig isn't used to taking orders from anyoneand the idea of having to get the construction approved by the local bureaucrat really pisses him off. Bucking advice from his kids, his cautious lawyer (Campbell Scott) and longtime friends, Craig proceeds with the house. At the same time, Irene's health challenges continue to escalate, increasing pressure on Craig to finish the home before time runs out.
Writer-director Michael McGowan's film is essentially a love story between Craig and Irene, and the sense of intimacy that the couple share as their golden years wane is palpable. We are invited into the private world of a duo who have privately shown their love for decades. Still Mine is a bittersweet winnerdriven by the strong performances and sharply observed nuances in both McGowan's script and direction. The film is playing in the Chicago area at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema (2828 N. Clark St.) and the recently reopened Landmark Renaissance Place Cinema (1850 Second St., Highland Park). www.landmarktheaters.com
Of related interest: Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker portray another longtime senior couple in out writer-director Thom Fitzgerald's Cloudburst, the winning road movie, based on his play. The two fiery actresses play a long-term lesbian duo who head to Canada to get married to legitimize their 37-year lesbian relationship. The film is now out on DVD from Wolfe Video.
Hugh Jackman is back for his umpteenth outing as Logan aka The Wolverine, the X-Men mutant with the retractable adamantium claws and the Elvis sideburns.
The plot finds Logan in Japan, paying his last respects to a fabulously successful technology businessman whose life Logan saved from obliteration during the atomic-bomb drop at the conclusion of WWII decades earlier. But trouble's afoot and soon Logan is battling an arsenal of modern-day ninja warriors in an attempt to protect the businessman's lovely daughter.
The standard action sequences pile up (with the notable exception of a fight aboard a speeding bullet train), interspersed with Wolverine's mooning about in a funk because he's lost the will to live. Noticeably missing is much mutant action. (This is really nothing more than a big budget chop-socky flick.) Nor is Logan rarely dressed in his signature wifebeater T-shirt. Ratherand gay audiences will particularly appreciate thisthe T-shirt is absent altogether and the spectacularly buff Jackman is shirtless in pretty much all the scenes. As producers have figured out, that's one special effect that never wears out its welcome.
Kudos to Ky: Fish out of Water documentary director Ky Dickens has seen CNN Films pick up her latest movie, Soul Survivor. The film, which focuses on George Lamson Jr., one of the very few individual plane crash survivors (there have only been 14 sole survivors to date), premiered to sold-out screenings July 27 at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival. Moore introduced the film, which will have a theatrical run before debuting on CNN in early 2014. www.solesurvivorfilm.com .