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Films I Neglected To Review: Light Entertainment Division
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Gun And A Hotel Bible," "Pieces Of A Woman" and "Redemption Day."

January typically tends to be a period where there is a lull in terms of major releases from the studios--most of who are focused on Oscar campaigns--and smaller and weirder films get a chance to try to attract some viewers in the reduced marketplace. Of course, things are currently a bit skewed in terms of film releases but "Gun and a Hotel Bible" certainly appears to be trying to hold up that tradition with its combination of oddball premise and the unexpected name on the credits. Based on a stage play by Bradley Gosnell and Daniel Floren, the film is a short comedy-psychodrama hybrid that is almost entirely dedicated to a long theologically-tinged discussion between a young man named Peter (Gosnell), who has checked into a dingy hotel room with a gun and the determination to commit some kind of unknown violent act, and a very old (though youthful-looking) man named Gideon (Floren) who is already in the room because he is, naturally, an embodiment of the Bible found in the room. (Get it?) The gloomy Peter and the chipper Gideon verbally spar for a while but when the latter discovers the gun and gets a good idea of what Peter plans to do with it, things turn serious as Gideon tries to talk him out of it using scripture as his basis while Peter, who turns out to know his way around the Bible as well, counters with examples backing his perspective.

If the premise of the film isn't odd enough for you, consider the fact that the film was co-directed by Alicia Joy LeBlanc, who directed it on stage, and Raja Gosnell, who is both Bradley's father and the director of such godforsaken (no pun intended) kiddie fare as "Home Alone 3," "Big Momma's House" and the various big-screen adventures of Scooby-Doo and the Smurfs. It sounds like a potentially ludicrous combination of elements but the surprising thing about "Gun and a Hotel Bible" is that while it is ultimately not a very good movie in the end, it is nowhere near as bad as it could have been. The two actors give slick and polished performances and deliver their rapid-fire dialogue with a gusto that at times suggest an ecclesiastically-minded "His Girl Friday." Behind the camera, LeBlanc and the elder Gosnell keep the headlong pace going throughout and happily resist the urge to open up the material by going outside the hotel room except for the very beginning and the end. On the other hand, despite their best efforts, it still feels for the most part as if we are watching a filmed play instead of a movie and the stagebound effect gets a bit monotonous after a while. A more serious problem is the fact that the film clocks in at about 57 minutes in length and while that timing certainly works from a pacing perspective, there are a few too many instances in which it feels as if the material is being rushed over and is deliberately skimming over notions that could have been explored in more depth in order to heighten the drama. (Yes, this is the rare movie that could have been improved by being 20 minutes linger.) I cannot really recommend "Gun and a Hotel Bible" because it is a film that offers up any number of provocative notions but doesn’t really follow through with many of them. Nevertheless, it is a film that dares to be a little different and I suppose that I cannot come down entirely too hard on any film that not only presents a Gideo Bible in human form but makes him a Cubs fan as well.

If you are looking for a film to help you relax and take your mind off of the troubles of the day, I have the sneaky feeling that you might want to give "Pieces of a Woman" a pass. This is one of the most painful and wrenching films to come along in a while--even if it were a masterpiece, many might find it unendurable and believe me, it is far from being a masterpiece. It kicks off in bravura fashion with an extended sequence following couple Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sen (Shia LaBeouf) as they prepare for the birth of their first child in their Boston home. When labor kicks in, their midwife cannot get there and a substitute (Molly Parker) arrives and over the course of a single unbroken shot running about a half-hour, the entire event is chronicled in unsparing detail from its optimistic beginning to its unfortunately tragic ending. While both Sean and her domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn) are obsessed with assigning blame for the tragedy--including pursuing a legal case against the hapless midwife (who did not appear to do anything obviously wrong and who at one point recommended going to the hospital when things seemed to be getting dicey)--Martha finds herself growing increasingly stoic and withdrawn as she struggles to figure out not only how to process her unimaginable grief over what happened but how to go on with her life in the wake of it.

As it turns out, the film as a whole more or less faces that very same question of how to move on and while I won’t say how Martha goes about it, I will say that director Kornel Mundruczo is much less successful in going about it than she is. Yes, the opening sequence is undeniably impressive, both as a technical achievement and as powerful emotional storytelling, and the performance from Kirby (who you will recall from her scene-stealing turn in "Mission: Impossible--Fallout" and her work as Princess Margaret on "The Crown") is an undeniable knockout as well. The problem is that after the opening sequence, the rest of the film feels less like an organic narrative and more like a showcase of super-dramatic scenes put on by an acting troupe who has heard that there may be a talent scout in the audience and is determined to demonstrate their collective chops. While some of these sequences are made palatable by the performances from Kirby and Burstyn, the latter tearing into her domineering role with gusto, others just come across as contrived and it all leads up to a finale that seems designed to frustrate even those who are able to forgive its other narrative lapses up to that point. As a showcase for the talents and as nightmare fuel for anyone even considering giving birth anytime in the immediate future, "Pieces of a Woman" is an untenable success but when it comes to telling a convincing story or having something of note to say about how people struggle with grief, it eventually becomes a mere exercise in dramatic and emotional frustration.

There are three radically different movies fighting for space within the confines of "Redemption Day" and while I suppose it should be commended for have such great ambitions, the trouble is that it doesn't really work on any of its various narrative levels. Having been sent home from Syria in the wake of a horrific attack in which he fought heroically, American soldier Brad (Gary Dourdan) is trying to settle into a normal life with his archaeologist wife Kate (Serinda Swan) and their young daughter but is still plainly haunted by his combat experiences, though he refuses to seek out any help for them. Kate signs on for a dig in Morocco that is perilously close to the Algeria. Almost immediately after arriving, she and her crew are kidnapped by El Hadi (Samy Naceri), a terrorist leader hoping to catch the attention of ISIS who demands $10 million dollars ransom or he well behead them live on the Internet. Naturally, Brad flies over determined to rescue her but gets caught up in the complicated situation between the U.S. and the Middle East regarding oil, politics, power and money. Happily, all the red tape is pushed aside towards the ending so that Brad and his backup can kick ass in a daring raid to free Kate and the others from certain death.

In other words, "Redemption Day" suggest what might have resulted if the screenplay for "Syriana" had been produced by Cannon Films during their brief heyday in the mid-80s. The problem is that while the screenplay by Hicham Hajji (who also directed), San Chouia and Lemore Syvan has a lot on its mind that it hopes to accomplish in the space of 90-odd minutes, Watching Brad at home trying to cope with his PTSD, insisting that he is fine when everyone from his wife and daughter to his father (Ernie Hudson) can see otherwise, has the potential for some great human drama but almost as soon as this particular plot thread is introduced, it gets abandoned once he goes overseas to rescue his wife Liam Neeson-style. Likewise, the stuff involving the complex political and economic situation between the US and the Middle East is intriguing but never goes deeper than a PoliSci 101 class bull session and seems stuck in primarily to include brief appearances from Andy Garcia and Martina Donovan (the latter coming across as if he is playing the exact same behind-the-scenes player he portrayed in "Tenet") and to justify the weird final scene involving a cartoonishly evil oil guy that appears to be setting up a possible sequel. The action stuff at the climax is okay, I suppose, but is merely competent at best and probably will not satisfy action junkies who have been waiting for something to happen for more than an hour. "Redemption Day" is clearly trying to be something more than the anonymous potboiler that many may initially dismiss it as being--the problem is that it just doesn’t try hard enough to make it work in any meaningful way.


link directly to this feature at https://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=4283
originally posted: 01/08/21 12:57:31
last updated: 01/08/21 15:00:18
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