Noir Reborn in “The Square”

The Square
Starring: David Roberts, Claire van der Boom, Anthony Hayes, Joel Edgerton
Director: Nash Edgerton
Sony Pictures Classics
Rated R for violence and language

Stunt coordinator-turned-director Nash Edgerton’s feature directorial debut The Square is a taut and complex crime thriller that would make Hitchcock proud. Co-written by his brother Joel Edgerton, the movies unfolds at a steady pace that serves to build the suspense as each scene progresses. Never forced, the story begins with a small simmer that gradually builds to a scalding boil.

The Square is a lesson in tension that many Hollywood filmmakers should look to as example. There are no big name stars, there are no special effects, there is no multimillion dollar budget—there is only brilliant acting, gritty and dark cinematography, and a story that progresses naturally without the need to blow something up every few minutes. When the action does happen, it is a result of the characters and their actions, and not because the film is pandering to the audience.

Ray Yale is a construction foreman having a secret adulterous affair with his neighbor across the river, Clara, the wife of a small time criminal. They plan to run away together, but Ray insists on having plenty of money to fund their escape. He takes kickbacks on the job, but the money isn’t coming fast enough. Clara discovers her husband’s stash from a recent theft, and proposes to Ray they steal it for themselves to start their new life. Ray agrees, but only if they burn down her house so that it appears an accident. However, the perfect plan they set in motion soon begins a downward spiral that results in murder, betrayal, blackmail, and more murder. Ray and Clara’s lives soon fall apart, as do the lives of those around them.

While scenes can take a while to move the film along, the slow pace serves to establish the mood and intrigue that plagues Ray and Clara. The Square, thus, is a prime example of noir. The seeds of deception, anxiety, and paranoia are planted early on, building and building until the shattering conclusion. The movie contains the conventions of a classic noir: a man in trouble, a femme fatale, and chilling underscore, and a dark color palette. Everyone is a suspect, and no one can be trusted. But while it contains all these conventions, it also turns them on their head. The beautiful and haunting score of Francois Tetaz is never overplayed. In fact, music takes a backseat to the narrative and only plays sparsely during the tensest moments. The lack of music draws us into the world, and when it does appear, it sends a chill down our spine.

It is rare in cinema to have such characters as fully fleshed out as they are here. Even the minor characters are multilayered and multifaceted. No one is reduced to being a one-dimensional stereotype to conveniently move things along. This film is a study in character development. It is a shame that its limited American theatrical run went almost completely unnoticed. Thankfully, the good people at Sony Pictures Classics have seen fit to make sure American audiences can enjoy what Australians enjoyed over two years ago.

VUDU customers can now experience the thrills and chills of The Square for under $10.

DID YOU KNOW?

Co-screenwriter and story writer Joel Edgerton also portrays Billy the arsonist in The Square.

Reaching New “Heights”

Heights
Starring: Glenn Close, Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden, Jesse Bradford, Jonathan Light
Director: Chris Terrio
Sony Pictures Classics
Rated R for language, brief sexuality, and nudity

Writer-director Chris Terrio’s first (and thus far only) feature film, Heights, is a bold examination of the lives of five interconnected New Yorkers set over the course of 24 hours. Adapated from Amy Fox’s one-act play of the same name, the movie is a poignant, often gut-wrenching, journey into these people’s souls, tearing away at the facades they present to the world, forcing them examine who they really are.

This little-known movie might have easily been overlooked had it not been for the recommendation of a co-worker’s parents. It is passionately acted, anchored by a strong cast lead by Glenn Close. Close is Diana Lee, a famous stage and film actress struggling to accept that her husband is having an affair. Her daughter, Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), is discovering that her engagement to Jonathan (James Marsden) might be a mistake. Isabel tries to make things work, but a secret from Jonathan’s past pushes him away. Peter (Jonathan Light) is a journalist whose latest subject also happens to be a former lover. Alec (Jesse Bradford) is an aspiring actor who realizes his world just might start crashing all around him. As the day unfolds, their stories continue to cross paths, ultimately forcing them to reconsider the lives they chose to live.

Ensemble dramas with interwoven stories require a delicate balance of story, acting, and editing. One story cannot overpower another, and all stories must build until they collide with each other. Heights masterfully unfolds their stories with a beautiful and natural flow that pulls the audience into the characters’ world.

Terrio brings an elegance to the characters rarely found in directorial debuts. His choice of long takes and fluid cinematography keeps the audience front and center to the disharmony and anguish that unravels. He never lingers too long, yet always keeps us wanting more.

Heights is the kind of honest and simple film that is rarely seen anymore. It is refreshing to see the humanistic side of complex characters who don’t succumb to stereotypes and one-dimensionality. Heights makes a perfect addition to your digital collection, and can now be owned on VUDU for under $5.

DID YOU KNOW?

Heights was the penultimate film in legendary producer Ismail Merchant’s nearly 50 year career. He died one month before the film had its US theatrical premiere.

“Me and Orson Welles” – Digitally Exclusive in HD!

Me and Orson Welles
Starring: Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Christian McKay
Director: Richard Linklater
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for sexual references and smoking

Me and Orson WellesMe and Orson Welles is the culmination of acclaimed director Richard Linklater’s career. Having started with independent comedy-dramas, he’s segued seamlessly into the Hollywood scene with blockbuster comedies starring big name talent while still taking the time to experiment with other genres, such as sci-fi and animation. By proving he can make films that cross genres, it comes as no surprise that Me and Orson Welles is perfectly suited for Linklater. The film is a rare combination of dramatic period piece, comedy, romance, and coming-of-age all rolled into one. Linklater never lets one element overpower the other and brings yet another masterpiece to his repertoire of critical successes.

The film stars Zac Efron as Richard, an ambitious actor who catches the eye of Orson Welles (Christian McKay) who’s prepping his first performance of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caeser” at his newly opened Mercury Theatre. Richard soon falls for Sonja (Claire Danes), Welles’s production assistant, and quickly discovers the attraction is mutual. He gets swept up in the world of Broadway and theatre, becoming Welle’s protégé, and learns the reality of what it takes to make it in that world.

Zac Efron finally steps out of the shadow cast upon him as a teenage heartthrob to show that he has what it takes to be a serious actor. He certainly holds his own against a much more seasoned cast, and proves himself to be a worthwhile movie lead.

The real star of the movie is Christian McKay’s titular Orson Welles. He brings such command and bravado to every scene he’s in that he steals the show. He isn’t playing Orson Welles—he is the living embodiment of a Hollywood legend. He plays Welles perfectly, and even channels the wild mood swings that Welles’s was famous for. It is a shame that his performance was overlooked during last year’s award season. This film, though, should serve as his audition should anyone ever wish to do a full biopic on Welles.

The movie is quite simply the best movie about theatre (sorry “Waiting for Guffman”, sorry “Cradle Will Rock”) ever made. It delves into all the nuances and intricacies that happen behind-the-scenes, in the box office, and on the stage of a Broadway production. It features an impressive array of acting from the entire cast that brings 1930s Broadway to life. It is a film that is not to be missed.

Me and Orson Welles is now available digitally exclusive in HD!

DID YOU KNOW?

Christian McKay’s career began in the theatre, where he portrayed none other than Orson Welles in a one-man show.

All About the Triple Lindy

Back to School
Starring: Rodney Dangerfield, Sally Kellerman, Burt Young, Keith Gordon, Robert Downey, Jr.
Director: Alan Metter
MGM
Rated PG-13

Since it’s generally a good rule of thumb that a movie with more than three writers isn’t worth your time or money, it may surprise you that one of the great classic comedies of the 1980s had seven writers. While a movie with this many writers is usually fraught with problems, Back to School, starring Rodney Dangerfield, succeeds with sidesplitting laughs that shouldn’t be missed. Maybe seven really is a lucky number.

The great 1980s college-set comedy Back to School features Rodney Dangerfield in one of his few starring roles. Dangerfield also served as one of the seven writers, but with his comedy style, he had to be! Dangerfield plays Thornton Melon, a self-made millionaire who never finished high school. When he divorces his second wife, Melon heads to his son’s college to spend more time with him. While there, Melon learns that his son wants to drop out because he doesn’t fit in, has no girlfriend, and can’t make the diving team. He figures since dropping out worked for his dad, it’ll work for him, too. But Melon convinces his son to stay in school by promising to do it with him. Melon soon finds out that studying and homework aren’t for him, and that the partying lifestyle is the right one to live.

Dangerfield’s wit and sarcasm are in peak performance throughout the film. His trademark style of insult and off-handed humor keep the laughs coming at a mile a minute. Dangerfield’s Thorton Melon is the type of student we all wish we could be, or could have been. He’s carefree and popular, and always the topic of conversation. Of course, having an endless supply of cash means he can do just about anything to win someone over.

Most of the comedy comes from Dangerfield, and the amazing supporting cast is mostly there to keep the story moving forward. The supporting cast features Sally Kellerman (the English teacher he falls for), Burt Young (his surly and gruff limo driver), Ned Beatty (the college dean, comically named Dean Martin), M. Emmet Walsh (the aging dive team coach), Keith Gordon (his no-nonsense, by-the-book son), and in one of his first major acting roles, Robert Downey, Jr. (Thorton’s son’s only friend and roommate). But even with the supporting cast playing it straight, there’s never a dull moment as Dangerfield’s comedic presence is enough to carry the movie alone.

The film is a riot from start to finish, and now it’s available on Vudu for under $5 as part of our End of Summer Sale. Add Back to School to your digital collection today. And just what exactly is the Triple Lindy? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out.

DID YOU KNOW?

Rodney Dangerfield didn’t become a movie star until he was almost 60! His first starring role was in 1980’s Caddyshack – also available on VUDU for under $5.

Own movies on VUDU for under $5

VUDU’s End of Summer Savings Event – we’re making hundreds of movies available to own starting at just $4.99. Add hit movies like “Ghostbusters”, “Trading Places”, “The Descent”, and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” to your digital collection – selected titles are available for less than $5. You can also own recent new releases starting at just $9.99; titles like “Shutter Island”, “Daybreakers”, “Legion”, and “The Bounty Hunter”.

Check out our “Bargains Under $10” and “Steals For Under $5” collections for a sampling of the movies available at these prices. Get them while they last – this offer is only available for a limited time. Check back often as the movies will change. We hope you enjoy VUDU’s end of summer savings!