Cottage Country: written by Jeremy Boxen; directed by Peter Wellington; starring Malin Akerman (Cammie Ryan), Tyler Labine (Todd Chipowski), Lucy Punch (Masha), Dan Petronijevic (Salinger Chipowski), Benjamin Ayres (Dov Rosenberg), and Kenneth Welsh (Earl Chipowski) (2013): Ontario’s cottage country mostly plays itself in an amiable, occasionally blackly comic bit of horror-satire. Cast against type as a buttoned-down office drone, Tyler Labine is appealing. Malin Akerman, while about 1000 times too attractive for her role as Labine’s obsessive girlfriend, also does solid work as an increasingly demented Bridezilla wannabe.
More gore and more laughs would be nice, but I’ve certainly spent 90 minutes with far worse movies with far bigger budgets. And there’s a bit involving the extrication of an ax from someone killed with said ax that’s both funny and weirdly authentic. Lightly recommended.
King Solomon’s Mines: adapted by Helen Deutsch from the novel by H. Rider Haggard; directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton; starring Stewart Granger (Allan Quatermain), Deborah Kerr (Elizabeth Curtis), Richard Carlson (John Goode), Kimursi (Khiva), and Siriaque (Umbopa) (1950): A surprisingly nuanced approach to both race and nature makes this 1950 adventure hold up better than most similar films of the time. Set in 1897, even though the novel was published in 1885, the film involves that prototype of Indiana Jones, Allan Quatermain, a British hunter and guide in Africa, played here by the stolid, likeable Stewart Granger in his first Hollywood role.
The studio added Deborah Kerr’s character to the film as a love interest while also taking significant liberties with the plot, though mostly to fit events into a 100-minute film. Location filming at times gives the movie the feel of a National Geographic special, as we’re treated to lengthy shots of natives dancing, various animals up to shenanigans, and an assortment of beautiful landscapes. Our heroes trek towards a possibly mythic diamond mine somewhere in south-central Africa in search of Kerr’s lost husband, picking up mysterious warrior Umbopa along the way.
Aside from one of the world’s most ridiculous-looking fake spiders, the menaces the group faces are drawn from life. A stampede on the grasslands impresses (and, obviously, hasn’t been conjured up by CGI). And some of Quatermain’s interactions with the natives must have shocked racists in 1950. I wonder if some scenes were edited in the American South. Recommended.
Lone Star: written and directed by John Sayles; starring Chris Cooper (Sam Deeds), Elizabeth Pena (Pilar), Kris Kristofferson (Charlie Wade), Matthew McConaughey (Buddy Deeds), Ron Canada (Otis), Joe Morton (Del), and Miriam Colon (Mercedes Cruz) (1995): Perhaps the most satisfying of all the films of writer-director John Sayles. While the backbone of its plot is a fairly traditional mystery, that mystery allows Sayles to move back and forth across a gulf of 40 years as Chris Cooper’s Sheriff of a small Texas border town investigates a murder linked to his late father, the much beloved former sheriff of the town.
Sayles assembles a fine cast and gives them lots to work with. As in most of Sayles’s films, there are very few villains — in this case, exactly one, Kris Kristofferson’s odious sheriff, seen in flashbacks to the late 1950’s, when Chris Cooper’s father was a young deputy played by Matthew McConaughey.
Several plots intertwine over the course of the movie, all of them tied into the murder plot because in this small town, everything is connected. And while Cooper tries to figure out this particular bit of the past, the larger history of Texas, particularly Texas in regards to race relations, also gets argued over in local politics and in a meeting of parents with the school over its “controversial” attempt to offer something other than a valedictory to white people during history classes. In all, it’s a fine piece of writing, directing, and acting, true to its genre antecedents but also grasping at something larger than just the solution to a mystery. Highly recommended.