Clementine: Recently dumped and ready to stalk, Otmara Marreo keeps her eye on the headrest in Lara Gallagher’s romantic drama.
We open on a note of anticipatory anxiety: an offscreen voice awakens Karen (Otmara Marrero). Soft tones profess, “You’re beautiful,” followed by, “You’re gonna break my heart.” Other than an eager exchange with a pooch or a listened-to voicemail, this is the only substantive dialogue spoken for the first twelve minutes of the picture. Is the ominous coo spoken by a mother figure? Given the proximity of the lens, it could be a lover. Perhaps an older sibling or a close friend? In the case of Lara Gallagher's Clementine, try all of the above.
Flash forward however many months to find Karen, alone in the same bed, gazing upwards. The crack in the ceiling expresses all we need to know about the uneasy voice that greeted us, the one belonging to Karen’s recent ex, a celebrated artist known simply as D. (Sonya Walger). D.’s prognostic apprehension regarding her relationship with the much younger Karen proved correct, but Karen’s not the type to take getting dumped quietly. Gallagher, making her directorial debut, covers a great deal of ground with the concisely cut together montage that follows, beginning with Karen stalking D.’s residence.
For whatever reason — in Karen’s mind, the selection is limitless — she decides to drive from SoCal to D.’s lakehouse in Florence, Oregon. Having missed the ingenious imitation igneous rock key hider on her first pass, Karen decides she has no choice but to break a window. A stroll around the grounds finds Lana (played with complexity by Sydney Sweeney), a young blonde, sunning on the dock behind the house. Karen thinks nothing of it and keeps walking. Later that evening, Lana shows up on her doorstep and cajoles Karen into giving her a lift in search of a lost dog. Big city Karen no sooner begins to question small town girl Lana’s sanity — who asks a stranger to play dog catcher? — than the likelihood of the pup’s name comes up. Who would name their dog Bingo? Only a celluloid canine answers to that handle, right? Even better than a screenplay that answers a question the moment it enters the viewer’s mind is one that has the dog show up to reveal that B-I-N-G-O really is his name-o.
The struggling actress in Lana is instantly smitten with her older, cosmopolitan new friend from Los Angeles, but Karen keeps her distance. (The closest they get to a kiss in the first hour of the picture comes when supercharging a joint.) In this May-December narrative, arbiters of morality and taste arise in the form of age restrictions and artistic callowness. It’s a safe bet that at least a couple of birthdays can be shaved from the 19 Lana claims to have celebrated. And when one look at a triptych of D.’s framed Rorschach paintings causes Lana to blurt, “I could have made them,” Karen leaps to the defense of her ex with, “But you didn’t.” She then takes it one step further, calling the artwork more about the “emotion of the process than the result.”
This brings us to the story that gives the film the title. An early childhood memory of Lana’s: sitting lakeside, a tangerine extending from her middle finger. From out of the sky swoops a sparrow, eager to abscond with the freshly-peeled fruit. Worse than the blood drawn from the encounter is the absence of witnesses to corroborate her story. The scene ends with the first of two clementines to be tossed overboard. When the second mandarin hits the water, it acts to punctuate a chlorophyllin reevaluation from one of our leads.
The film’s one big disadvantage is a score that sounds like watered down Bernard Herrmann being dropped on burning rocks. Still, here is a mystery, characterized by many of the contrivances associated with the genre, which one can nevertheless abide. Karen’s search is not a matter of whodunit — we can all identify with the irrational thoughts (and even actions) surrounding a break-up. It’s why these characters behave the way they do that gives the drama its force. When the gun Karen finds hidden in D.’s drawer upon her arrival at the vacation home does indeed come back into play, its return is powered by the logic of misdirected compassion, not contrivance. It appears that the younger woman Karen chose to rebound with is herself no stranger to breaking hearts. ★★★
Video On Demand New Release Roundup
Arkansas — Kyle (Liam Hemsworth), a proud bottom-rung drug dealer, slithers a few steps up the crime ladder after being placed under the tutelage of Park Ranger Bright (John Malkovich) and then partnered with blithesome jerk Swin (Clark Duke) to drive deliveries across state lines. (The opening passage had me hooked — or maybe I’m just a sucker for Malkovich.) Kyle’s preoccupation with uncovering the identity of their boss, a pawn shop owner known only as Frog (Vince Vaughn), leads to a series of flashbacks that prove repetition is the key to learning. (The plot wasn’t so convoluted that we needed a third act recap to bring a character — and by extention, the audience — up to date.) Relatively speaking, Duke had a meteoric spurt in movies (Superbad, Kick Ass, Hot Tub Time Machine) before settling into life on the small screen. For his directorial debut, the co-scripter and Arkansas native saw to it that Swin would be a change of pace from the pasty-faced nerds to whom we’ve grown accustomed. He should have spent more time on a co-star who supplies more of a deadpan table-reading than straight-out performance. Eden Brolin, Vivica A. Fox, Barry Primus, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Brad William Henke round out the first-rate supporting cast. 2020 —S.M. ★★
Dangerous Lies — New to Netflix: a television-tempered thriller in which the winds of mystery act as a vacuum to reasoning. Katie (Camila Mendes), a caregiver four months on the job, arrives at work to find her 88-year-old charge (Elliott Gould) dead in the attic. Before the meat wagon arrives, Katie and her always-around husband Adam (Jessie T. Usher) rummage through the old man’s belongings and find a trunk filled with $100,000 in scattered green. Adam returns to relieve the chest of its contents, only to be met by a blow to the head from a fellow home invader. Why didn’t the clobberer abscond with the loot? Furthermore, upon regaining consciousness, why didn’t Adam make off with the cash just as he intended? Try as director Michael Scott might to pin the blame for Gould’s death on Adam, the sleight of hand is obvious here, to the point where it makes the real villain in the piece stand out all the more. With: Jamie Chung as the sketchy lawyer and Cam Gigandet as a slimy, uni-functional “real estate agent.” 2020. S.M. ●
Nuestras Madres (Our Mothers) — More than twenty years after the bloody Civil War in Guatemala ended, military offences are at last being tried before a criminal court. It is the job of Ernesto (Armando Espitia), a young forensic anthropologist, to exhume and arrange the skeletal remains of the soldiers, and to gather testimony from their widows and children. His mother Cristina (Emma Dib) discourages her son from wasting time trying to unearth the bones of the father he never knew, but Ernesto’s gut indicates otherwise. The hunch pays off when a witness shows up holding a group photo that includes a man respectfully called “the Boss” by his underlings — a man who bears a striking resemblance to Ernesto’s father. Does the snapshot indicate a soldier different from the hero who has been living inside his son’s head all these years? In 78 minutes, first-time director Cesar Diaz’s flashback-free narrative sets out a present-day story of quiet desperation and family entanglements with dignity and restraint. A silent montage of the worn-down faces of real-life survivors goes far to underscore the tales of horror and degradation that women were forced to endure. Strong stuff for Mother’s Day, but worth it. Now playing on the Digital Gym’s Virtual Cinema. 2019. S.M. ★★★
Sword of God (aka The Mute) — In the Middle Ages, an unnamed stranger (Karol Bernacki) tends to the wounds of a recently shipwrecked bishop (Krzysztof Pieczynski). Sent on a mission from the King, the latter’s task is basically to beat Christianity into the heads of the heathen islanders, with the alternative being certain death. The natives take target practice on the large wooden crucifix the bishop clutches in his hand, yet the newly-arrived pair are allowed to live. To suppress the race of medieval clay people and prove their resident diety a sham, the pious potentate emerges unsinged from a stroll through the flames of hell. Surprise: what sounds like Ming the Merciless’ demise in a Flash Gordon serial is actually a mesmeric, wildly accomplished historical drama from Polish filmmaker Bartosz Konopka (Fear of Falling). The double-edged title alludes to one of our two leads having his lips sewn together, as well as the film’s muting a chunk of audience comprehension by subtitling “human speech” and not the pagan chatter. The Film Movement Plus release held its Virtual Cinema Premier just last week, and is currently awaiting your digital download. 2018. S.M. ★★★