Tag Archives: American independent cinema

Ned Rifle

Ned Rifle
Ned Rifle

Director: Hal Hartley

Writer: Hal Hartley

Cast: Liam Aiken, Aubrey Plaza, Parker Posey

USA 2014

85 mins

** out of *****

How much you respond to Ned Rifle will probably depend upon how much you can stomach the twee neo-noir quirkiness of director Hal Hartley, and most of all, how positively you might have responded to the first two films (Henry Fool and Fay Grim respectively) in this fairly tiresome trilogy.

The funniest and most engaging parts of the new picture occur in its opening 20-or-so minutes wherein we’re introduced to young Ned (played throughout the series by Liam Aiken) who hits his 18th birthday as a foster child in a witness protection program. You might remember from the dreadful Fay Grim that the title character, Ned’s Mom (Parker Posey), was in pursuit of hubby Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan) and became idiotically embroiled in some naughty terrorist activities. She’s now serving life in federal stir and her son’s foster family are batty evangelical Christians led by Rev. Gardner (Martin Donovan). Their kindness and religious fervour have paid off in spades since Ned’s become quite the devout follower of Jesus, but of course, with a twist.

Maintaining his devotion to Christ, but using Old Testament justification of the ‘eye for an eye’ kind, he’s convinced himself to embark upon an odyssey to track down his father and murder him. His reasoning is rooted in some perverse King James Version of restoring his Mom’s honour after it’s been sullied by the evil influence of Henry. Fair enough, I guess. Leaving behind the sun-dappled small-town America and the family who now love him (including a mouth-wateringly gorgeous foster sister), Henry tracks down his nutty ex-poet-laureate uncle Simon (James Urbaniak) to find Dad. Add to the mix a hot babe in the form of sexy academic Susan (Aubrey Plaza) who’s written her thesis on Simon, but who also (not too surprisingly) shares a connection to Henry.

Up to this point, things amble along in a pleasant enough fashion, but all along the way it’s impossible to remove Hartley’s tongue that’s burrowed far too deeply in his cheek. If anything, he manages to jam his tongue even deeper and it explodes through the flesh, allowing the film to careen off the rails into even more offensively twee territory. If you can hack the clipped (to a fault) deadpan deliveries of Hartley’s self-consciously clever dialogue and the constant, machine-tooled twists and turns of the silly plot, then I suppose you’ll be in for a rollickingly jolly ride.

The rest of us, though, can stay home. We’re the plebeian curmudgeons who have come to detest the American Indie genre force-feeding at the hands of Hartley, the poster boy for the predictable sameness of so much independent cinema spewed forth from the jolly maw of Uncle Sam.

This review is part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

Greg Klymkiw

Watch the trailer:

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Format: Cinema

Dates: 3 February 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Director: Sean Durkin

Writer: Sean Durkin

Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy

USA 2011

102 mins

Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) flees from a commune in the Catskills one morning and phones her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), whom she hasn’t seen in two years. Lucy drives her out to the lake house that she and high-achieving husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) are vacationing in. But any hope of reconciliation, or explanation of what the hell Martha was up to in the years she went missing, are frustrated by her clipped, evasive replies to any questions. Worse, something has changed in her, it’s like she has unlearned normal human behaviour somewhere along the way. And while tensions grow in the uptight lake house we see flashbacks to the life Martha has fled, a cultish, coercive, sexualised world of disturbing mind games, which may not be willing to let her go…

Sean Durkin’s debut is a creepy, tense and ambiguous piece of work. Camera sound and editing combine to admirable effect, and Olson is a bit of a revelation as Martha, in a nuanced study of fear and concealment. The slowly emerging details of the Mansonesque commune convince. The acoustic guitars, encounter group smiles and counterintuitive psychobabble (‘death is pure love’) spouted by indie favourite John Hawkes as the charismatic, controlling leader never trip over the line into the lurid clichés they could be in clumsier hands. Durkin makes smart choices about what to leave out of his story; the flashbacks detail the emotional and personal moments of life in the Catskills, but we don’t know what the cult’s religious or political aims (if any) were, and have to fill in the gaps. We wonder whether Lucy and Ted are in real danger, to what extent Martha has ‘drunk the Kool Aid’, and what she is capable of. But whether all this impressively sustained threatening atmosphere pays off to anyone’s satisfaction will, I suspect, be the cause of much argument.

Mark Stafford