Though best known for playing Danny Tanner on the TV sitcom Full House and hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos (remember that one?), Bob Saget’s creative tendencies on the whole veer into far darker territory. His stand-up comedy is coarse and full of F-bombs, and he famously parodied himself to shocking effect on TV’s Entourage. Saget also has a sideline career as a director, with titles like Dirty Work with fellow comic Norm MacDonald and the full-tilt piss-take Farce Of The Penguins. Benjamin is his most ambitious film yet, and like his very career itself, it walks a fine line between sentiment and outrageous political incorrectness. Driven on by the script from Joshua Turek (making his feature debut after a host of shorts), Saget doesn’t hold back on this comedy about a bizarre case of family fracture.
When the harried, anxious Ed (Saget) discovers drug paraphernalia belonging to his quiet, near somnambulant teenage son Benjamin (Mark Burkholder), he does what any parent would do: he stages an intervention, and invites over seemingly everybody he knows. There’s his cocky brother Rick (Kevin Pollak); his best friend, also Ed (Rob Corddry); his personal assistant come lover Jeanette (Mary Lynn Rajskub); his daughter Amber (Clara Mamet) and her two boy pals; his ex-wife Marley (Peri Gilpin); and two distant relatives (Cheri Oteri, Dave Foley) who proceed to lift all of his removable possessions as soon as they arrive. Once in place, the intervention soon takes second place to the bizarre interactions between this truly strange collection of characters.
With its single location, heavy reliance on dialogue over action, and uninhibited ensemble cast, Benjamin feels curiously like an adaptation of a stage play that never was. Its insularity, however, is exploded by the inherent kookiness of the script and the inventive performances of the cast, all of whom are more than happy to “go there.” Featuring quite possibly the (intentionally) worst man-on-man fight scene ever filmed and an amusingly loose approach to subjects like drugs, cross-dressing, infidelity, and family relationships, the very funny (and often very wrong) Benjamin is another appropriately original entry in the career of Bob Saget.
Evan (Seann William Scott) is a school counsellor, specialising in at risk teens. An upfront montage highlights the frustration and rigid routine of his job. He reaches out to his students, but they, for various reasons, can’t quite accept help. Believing that their parents lie at the heart of their problems, Evan does what any good counsellor would do and – checks notes – kills them in the dead of night.
He may have a different name and career, but Bloodline’s protagonist is essentially Dexter, the role made famous by Michael C Hall in Showtime’s hit series. Evan researches his victim’s crimes, kidnaps them and gets them to figuratively spill their guts before he literally does. At home, Evan’s wife Lauren (Mariela Garriga) is none the wiser and doesn’t question Evan’s night-time disappearances too much; just so long as he helps look after their newborn son.
Writer and director Henry Jacobson shakes things up for our sympathetic killer in the shape of Evan’s mother, Marie (Dale Dickey). Marie appears to have a strong hold over her son and is not against ignoring her daughter in law’s requests. It’s this three way dynamic that gives the film its dramatic conflict. Sort of.
Bloodline is a De Palma-esque thriller that is visually stunning to say the least; all split screens and red and blue lighting. Jacobson and his team have certainly pulled out all the stops to make a confronting and, at times, beautifully violent film. It’s just gorgeous enough to forgive the wheel spinning that comes in the second half of the film.
With Evan’s extracurricular activities looking like they’re about to be exposed, there’s never a suitable amount of tension. Additionally, whilst Marie and Lauren clearly don’t like each other, for the most part it doesn’t really go anywhere. That is until a last minute twist is all but signposted by Marie in the final sprint to the end. It’s a bit like fast food really. The ending satisfies to some extent, but you’ll likely be wanting something more.
That said, aside from its visuals and camera tricks, Bloodline does serve up a great performance by Scott. Channelling his inner Patrick Bateman – albeit a lower middle class version – the actor convincingly looks like he wants to care for you or stab you in the belly with zero remorse. Coupled with a gripping turn by Dickey, his performance suggests that everything could have worked out for Norman Bates if he just talked about his feelings once in a while.
Wearing its influences on its sleeve, Bloodline is an entertaining 90 minutes that doesn’t outstay its welcome and is a strong feature length debut for its director.
Celeste Ng's best-seller is adapted as an 8 part series with Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington co-producing and starring in this complex tale of race, class, privilege, feminism and motherhood, with a compelling mystery thrown in to keep you hooked from the first scenes.
I hesitate to write something about Woody Allen – he’s become so polarising in recent years that the mere mention of his name causes backs to arc and comments sections to clog up. But he has been on my mind lately – what with his new memoir coming out and his latest film topping the global box office – so I felt the urge to put some thoughts down.
Felicity Huffman is an actress that has always deserved better. Though by far the most naturally gifted of the cast of the hit TV series Desperate Housewives, she reaped the least rewards, while her bravura Oscar nominated performance in the superb drama Transamerica failed to turn up any roles of equal import. Most recently, of course, she’s been getting the wrong kind of attention after serving eleven days in prison due to her involvement in the notorious college admissions scandal. Some small measure of uplift comes with the pithy new comedy drama Tammy’s Always Dying, in which Huffman does some of her best on-screen work ever. The second feature from Canadian/American actress (best known as The Pink Ranger from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) turned filmmaker Amy Jo Johnson, it’s custom built for Huffman’s earthy, anti-star stylings, and the actress nails it from start to finish.
Huffman is Tammy MacDonald, a drunken, sloppy mess who regularly winds up teetering on the edge of the same bridge in her small Canadian hometown, apparently contemplating suicide, but largely crying – making that screaming – for help and attention from her long-suffering daughter, Catherine (the magnificent Anastasia Phillips, who would’ve been an indie queen if she’d been coming up in the nineties, like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Lili Taylor). But when Tammy is diagnosed with cancer, Catherine realises that her complicated relationship with her mother is even more complicated than she thought.
Boasting a wintry, bleak aesthetic mainlined straight from the seventies, and a cast of wonderfully real and imaginatively odd characters (one-time Homicide: Life On The Street star Clark Johnson really sings as the friend and owner of the most horrible on-screen watering hole seen since Barfly where Catherine works), Tammy’s Always Dying is a bruising, biting and often very funny take on the oft maligned mother/daughter movie, set in a tough, hardscrabble working class milieu not often depicted on screen. There’s no mawkishness here, with the debut feature script from talent-to-watch Joanne Sarazen happily free of manipulation and grandstanding. Coupled with the straight-from-the-battered-heart performances of Huffman and Phillips, it makes Tammy’s Always Dying a punchy, gritty experience that will poke and grab at your emotions in surprising and meaningful ways.
Tammy’s Always Dying will be available to stream from May 21 – June 3, exclusively through Classic, Lido, Cameo and Ritz Cinemas’ On Demand Streaming Service for $14.99. Click here to watch.
Bloodline is the latest film from Blumhouse, the home of The Conjuring Franchise and The Invisible Man. A tale of family and bloodletting, we chewed the fat with its start, Seann William Scott, to talk all things murderous.