Home Movies: Hellion, Lucky Them, Chef, and Cold in July

October 2, 2014

By Karen Martin for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and blood, dirt & angels


directed by Kat Candler

(not rated, 94 minutes)

Aaron Paul can handle a conflicted character. His hair-trigger emotional shifts transformed a shifty, sleazy little drug dealer into an essential player in Breaking Bad. That Emmy Award-winning talent works to bring devastating honesty to Hellion, where Paul portrays Hollis Wilson, an oil refinery worker in southeast Texas who, for all practical purposes, abandons his children in favor of drinking himself into numb oblivion while mourning his dead wife.

Hollis’ nearly feral sons, 13-year-old Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and 10-year-old Wes (Deke Garner) fend for themselves. Since interaction with their dad is intermittent and often confrontational, they scrounge around their sad little town with a gang of similarly neglected kids while living in a beer-can-strewn mess of a house; their seldom-seen dad spends time and what little money he has trying to renovate his late wife’s dream home in Galveston, seemingly unaware that it’s in foreclosure.

The only positives in Jacob’s life are his passion for dirt bike racing, which affords him a measure of discipline, and his sympathetic Aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis) who tries to maintain a sense of family the boys had when their mother was around.

When Jacob’s criminal antics force Child Protective Services to conclude that Wes will be better off with his aunt than under Hollis’ roof, both he and Jacob react with predictable outrage. And Pam doesn’t do herself any favors by setting herself above and apart from them, setting up what can only be a disastrous outcome.

The film, which recalls 2012’s made-in-Arkansas Mud (directed by Jeff Nichols, who is among the executive producers of Hellion), shows its greatest strength in its astonishingly realistic performances. Like young Jacob Lofland, who plays Neckbone in Mud, Wiggins is quietly captivating as a kid struggling to understand the parameters of his limited world while trying to fit in with the delinquents he calls friends and looking out for his little brother, who seems resigned to accepting everything going on around him. Their interactions cause the film’s tension to intensify without a false moment.

Lucky Them (R, 97 minutes) So here we are in the ultra-hip Seattle office of Stax magazine, where editor Giles (Oliver Platt) is lecturing music journalist Ellie Klug (Toni Collette) about the necessity of meeting next week’s deadline — or else. “What are you going to do, fire me?” sneers Ellie, who is used to being treated like a big deal in town. “Yes,” says Giles. Sternly.

If he only had. But no, several weeks go by. Giles is still whining, the big story is nowhere near completion, and Ellie is still employed.

This is not the way magazines operate, and it’s one of many indications that the writers of Lucky Them didn’t have much interest in realism when crafting this sort-of alternative romantic comedy. Although it doesn’t insult its audience, and there’s a heckuva cast doing the best it can with an uneven and spacey script, the result isn’t clever enough or quirky enough to be compelling.

The magazine story that exasperates Giles concerns the whereabouts of Matthew Smith, a musical object of local worship who mysteriously disappeared a decade earlier.

Ellie, a smarty-pants brassy blonde who has evidently seen better days, has little interest in tracking down Smith, who abandoned her as well as his fans. Many think he’s dead. Ellie doesn’t, but so what? She’s too busy drinking Belle Meade bourbon and having sex with young musicians who fall all over themselves to get close to her, figuring their efforts will pay off with at least a few paragraphs praising their musical prowess in the venerable magazine.

Eventually, nagging from Giles encourages her to get to work. So Ellie recruits help and financing from amateur documentary filmmaker/incredibly rich guy/former failed date Charlie (Thomas Haden Church) and hits the road in search of long-lost Mr. Smith.

The character of Charlie, played with oddball charm by Church, is totally optional; he appears to have been added when the existing story didn’t have enough oomph. Same with Charlie’s ditsy gold-digger girlfriend Charlotte (Ahna O’Reilly) and Ellie’s wisecracking bartender pal Dana (Nina Arianda), who exists only to zing snappy comebacks at Ellie’s justifications for her messed-up behavior.

They’re like the guests who show up uninvited at a party, but nobody wants to throw them out because they’re the only ones who are any fun.

Chef (R, 115 minutes) In this enthusiastic, joyful and redemptive food-celebrating comedy, director Jon Fabreau Favreau plays chef Carl Casper, who leaves his position at a hoity-toity Los Angeles restaurant run by domineering Riva (Dustin Hoffman) and heads to Miami, where he rolls out a food truck with his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara), his friend Martin (John Leguizamo) and his son Percy (Emjay Anthony). With Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale.

Cold in July (R, 109 minutes) Gritty and violent with a wandering, unpredictable plot, black comedy Cold in July follows the affairs of Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), celebrated as a hero after shooting burglar Freddy Russell (Wyatt Russell) found in his east Texas house in 1989. But Richard’s life takes a fearful turn when Freddy’s ex-convict father Ben (Sam Shepard) shows up with revenge on his mind. With Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw; directed by Jim Mickle.

We get letters. Below is the full text of an e-mail received in response to a recent Home Movies column that included a review of the documentary The Last of the Unjust. In the review, “Polish” is intended as a geographical descriptor and, in context, is used correctly. However, the Polish government never surrendered to the Nazis, and operated in exile during World War II:

Again, you have transgressed factual history/decency and made an offensive error in a review.

Penultimate para, next to last sentence:
“Honest, unsentimental, and often funny,
The Last of the Unjust is a series of interviews with Benjamin Murmelstein, the last president of the Theresienstadt Jewish Council in Czechoslovakia, a “model” Nazi transit camp that was in reality the last stop for Jews before they were shipped to Polish gas chambers.”

As you should know, there were and never have been any “Polish gas chambers”. It is harmful and offensive to describe these places as Polish. The concentration/death camps were created by Nazi Germany during the brutal Nazi German occupation of Poland. It is inaccurate and misleading to describe the “gas chambers” as Polish as a means of describing a geographical location since there will be some people who will, sadly, conflate the terms and/or be confused about the actual perpetrators. The Germans were responsible for the gas chambers and the persecution of Jews. There was no Polish collaboration or complicity. Any Pole found guilty of collaboration was liable to execution (following trial) by the Polish underground resistance.

Your reviewer also avoids the use of the word “German” despite the irrefutable fact that the Nazis were German. “Nazi” apparently now being the politically correct term for the heinous regime and genocidal activities. The important distinction is that “Nazi” was a party and ideology but it was Germany, as a state, that invaded, brutalised and committed massive atrocities, including mass murders, in many other territories. Poland was not occupied by Nazis; it was occupied by Germany. Occupation was an act of State, not of the Nazi party. So there was no Nazi-occupation, no Nazi army, no Nazi laws, no Nazi camps. There was German occupation, a German Army – the Wehrmacht – German laws and German camps plus gas chambers. These were instruments of the German State.

Making such an error (albeit probably unintentional) is internationally (IHRA) recognised as an act of Holocaust Denial: “Attempts to blur the responsibility for the establishment of concentration and death camps devised and operated by Nazi Germany by putting blame on other nations or ethnic groups.”

Please amend the sentence. I suggest:
“… the last stop for Jews before they were shipped to Nazi German gas chambers”
“… the last stop for Jews before they were shipped to Nazi German gas chambers in German occupied Poland”

Yours sincerely,
Chris Jezewski

1 Comment

  • Comment by alexandrahollander — Oct 14,2014 at 11:46 am

    Chris, great comment. “Polish gas chambers” is one of the most offensive phrases a Pole or a person of Polish ancestry can read. This is literally en par with emotional abuse of those who lived through hell during German Nazi and Soviet invasion and 5 years of occupation, and their descendants who are still struggling to find closure. Poland, even after almost 70 years is still not fully recovered from the catastrophe of WWII and the subsequent communist rule that was an extension of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and Soviet invasion on September 17, 1939 (arm in arm with the German Nazis invading from the West). I cannot comprehend the nonchalant attitude while referring to death camps created by Germans in which millions of Poles were tortured, and murdered in the most unfathomable ways. Chris, thank you for bringing this to the attention of the public. There is no such thing as “geographic descriptor” in this case. Whether Polish government surrendered or not, there is no need to play political guessing game, and excuses. Poland was occupied, did not exist. could not make its own decisions, and the government-in-exile residing in the UK was at war with Germany and Soviet Union. There cannot possibly be any excuse to call camps “Polish”.

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