Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Two indies, a hit and a miss

White Reindeer ultimately gets around to being a Christmas movie, but not without a whole lot of struggle. Director Zach Clark's seasonally placed story focuses on Suzanne (Anna Margaret Hollyman), a Virginia real estate agent whose husband is killed during a home break-in. Clark, who also wrote the screenplay, deals with the period of grief, dislocation and revelation following the death of Suzanne's husband. After her stunned entry into widowhood, an appropriately dazed Suzanne begins to learn things about her late husband that she didn't know, a journey of discovery that brings her into contact with a stripper (Laura Lemar-Goldsborough) who's raising a young daughter. As Christmas approaches, Suzanne also finds herself at swingers' party in her suburban neighborhood. Credit Clark with mining the humor and absurdity in Suzanne's situation. He takes the road-less-traveled for a Christmas movie, but manages to find his way to a redemptive finale.


Director Neil LaBute's Some Velvet Morning can feel like more like an exercise that a full-blown movie. Those familiar with LaBute's work -- his short films almost usually end with a twist that throws everything else into disarray -- may think the writer/director is playing familiar notes with a confined drama that centers on a male character's acid sarcasm and raging need. Alice Eve plays Velvet, a high priced hooker who answers the door of her Brooklyn brownstone to discover that a former lover (Stanley Tucci) has arrived for a surprise visit. Tucci's Fred is holding a couple of suitcases, and claims to have left his wife: He's apparently ready for a relationship with Velvet, even though he hasn't seen her for four years. LaBute fans won't be surprised to learn that Velvet and Fred spend much of the movie locked in battle. Cinematographer Rogier Stoffers gives LaBute's two-hander (set almost entirely in Velvet's brownstone) real visual tension, and Eve and Tucci know how to have at it. But if you're schooled in LaBute's work, you may be able to anticipate the movie's ending long before it arrives. If not, you may find yourself wondering exactly why you've been invited to this caustic and insular party.

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