The Sinner – Part 3

USA’s The Sinner
Part 3
Directed by Antonio Campos
Written by Derek Simonds

* For a recap & review of Part 2, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 4, click here.
Pic 1Cora (Jessica Biel) lies in bed, in jail, dreaming of home. She later talks with a psychologist, who takes her back through old memories of being 13. She’s asked what she’d tell herself, back then. She replies: “Run.”
Out on a trek, in a stark juxtaposed shot from the inside of Cora’s cell, Dt. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) and his semi-estranged wife Faye (Kathryn Erbe) are hiking, and he is sweating it out fierce. At the station, he’s not entirely thrilled with the psych report, as it doesn’t seem out of whack. He’s wondering about the song that played on the beach, the one which triggered the exact identical response in the interrogation room with her. Psych says it’s possibly linked to PTSD.
Harry: “So, shes somewhere else, and shes stabbing someone else.”
At home, Mason (Christopher Abbott) is continually dealing with the fallout, the media attention. His wife calls, asking to see their boy. She’s in a bad space, though the father doesn’t sound averse to bringing him to see his mom. One ray of light in the life of Cora. Only that doesn’t turn out so well, once Mason doesn’t bring their child to see her, realising this could and likely will be a long, difficult road. After finding out things from the cops about her former life.
Harry goes to see the Laceys, adopted family of Cora – Elizabeth (Enid Graham) and William. They say she ran away five years, about the Fourth of July, a day before. Of course mom calls the girl selfish, so on. Sick little Phoebe died only weeks after Cora ran off. It’s obvious just from being around them something wasn’t right between the two adopted parents and Cora.
Note: We keep getting the wallpaper imagery, and now we’re going deeper inside. A great visual representation of going deeper into the walls of a home, discovering what’s actually inside as opposed to whatever it might look like on the outside.
Pic 1AWe see more of Cora having nightmares. Terrible ones. She loses her mind in the night, having a dream of a woman telling a man to “give her another hit” and then someone steps right down on Cora’s chest, it cracks. As guards come to subdue her, she pleads they don’t put anything in her arm. When they pull up her sleeve they see the dried, cracking wounds of an old injection site, a veritable crater. Same goes for her other one, too.
Before Cora met her husband, after she left home, she got hooked on heroin. But there’s a deeper story. And Dt. Ambrose is going to get digging. He finds out something else, that Cora had a new visitor recently: Margaret Lacey (Rebecca Wisocky), the cool aunt. Seems Cora disappeared a long while, then showed up at a detox centre. Elizabeth refused to have a “whore” and a “degenerate” living with her, so aunt Mags took her. Yet she blames herself for ignoring the “signs” of something larger wrong. Like a large, jagged scar on the top of Cora’s head, one her aunt never discovered the story behind.
Quick flashes to the old Lacey home, Cora as a teenager. Dad isn’t happy sharing a room with his daughter, so long. There’s many nasty things going on beneath the curtains here. So then dad takes sick Phoebe, transplanting her back into the room with Cora, where the two girls eye each other with a strange emotion running like a current between them. Afterwards, they have an awkward discussion. And Phoebe, for the one slowly dying, is surprisingly more free than her sister, knowing about sex, even reading a stashed magazine she took from the hospital.
The further Harry gets into the details, the more he sees a sort of spiralling abyss into which he’s falling. Someone named Caleb Walker brought Cora into the rehab facility several years before. It also didn’t look like she was a regular junkie, she was clean, wearing new clothes. Strange, no? Meanwhile, Harry’s got himself a problem. He might be fixing things up with his wife, but he’s still hooked on his dominatrix lover; she purposely spills oranges in a grocery store, watching him as he dutifully picks it up.
Pic 2More flashes back to the past. Elizabeth finds the magazine from the girls’ room, and so Cora takes the blame, admitting to her apparent sins. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” she and her adopted mom pray together, kneeling painfully on a line of dry white rice (at least that’s what it looks like) in penance. It’s the little sister who later must try getting through to the older, to show her all this religious stuff is bullshit. That’s when the two bond mischievously over makeshift communion, wine and crackers, lying on the floor next to the crucifix together. Interesting to see how the young would choose to worship Jesus over how the older, more foolish deem it necessary to be afraid of God, to be scared of his power. These two merely tell Christ they love him, caressing his wounds.
Phoebe: “Cora, God doesnt listen.”
Sitting around with people at home, Harry has to listen to other people talk about their perceptions of Cora’s case, from what they know in the media. One guy’s pontificating too hard for his liking, so he gets a bit mouthy. That night he and Faye try connecting physically again.
Mason is still looking for J.D. and he’s tracked him to a bar. They wind up in a bit of a fight after the guy’s nonchalant about the whole ordeal. This puts the cops on Mason, luckily Caitlin Sullivan (Abby Miller) helps as much as she can, what little she can.
Back at prison, Harry brings in the tools of the trade, asking Cora to show him how she shot up heroin. Except it seems she doesn’t know much about the process, really. So, what exactly happened to her back then? Was someone force feeding her the drug? Oh, I’d bet on that. She barely remembers the two months she was gone; “fragments,” she tells Dt. Ambrose.
Pic 3Was Cora forced into prostitution? It seems like an almost human trafficking-type scenario, a pimp plying her with heroin to sell her off. I can’t help believe it’ll never be so simple; ugly, but not simple. We get a last flash, of that room with the black wallpaper, a man in a strange mask, kind of like a ski mask, and he asks: “How are you feeling today, Cora?”
Pic 4Whoa, this episode – like the one preceding – blew the lid off my expectations. There’s so much more to this story than I ever thought. Can’t get enough of the mystery, plus the well drawn characters like Harry Ambrose, who make the picture that much more complete. I’m frothing for the next episode! Part 4 is next week.

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The Sinner – Part 2

USA’s The Sinner
Part 2
Directed by Antonio Campos
Written by Derek Simonds

* For a recap & review of Part 1, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 3, click here.
Pic 1After the surprising, devastating first episode, The Sinner continues as Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel) faces the court after committing a brutal and spontaneous murder on the beach. She pleads “guilty” and prepares on facing the consequences of her actions. Detectives Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) and Dan Leroy (Dohn Norwood) watch on, as does the terrified husband Mason (Christopher Abbott). Now, Cora’s ordered to psychological testing, to see if she’s fit to stand trial.
After the court adjourns, Mason comes across a police officer he knows from back in the day in school, Caitlin Sullivan (Abby Miller). He tries getting info out of her, but she’s too professional for that. Inside, his wife gets a visit from Dt. Ambrose, who knows that she knows the man she killed, Frankie Belmont. Although she denies it. However, it’s like she’s resigned herself to being guilty. As if she believes she’s guilty, knowing something more than she lets on.
Flashback to her life as a girl. Her father rants and raves about not being able to sleep in his own bed. Clearly, their love life has suffered because of their sick child. Meanwhile, dad looks to be sleeping in bed with one of the other daughters, young Cora (Jordana Rose), only eight. And there’s something not quite right about it, either. Christ. So much ugliness in her past that’s yet to be uncovered.
Pic 1ADt. Ambrose keeps on trying to suss out the truth. He talks to Frankie’s wife, Leah (Teri Wyble). Apparently the husband once told his friends about a girl with whom he had a relationship, something tragic happened. They had an “intense connection” but the girl was damaged. Later, an accident nearly ruined his whole life. Hmm, all about five years prior. This is interesting, ramps up the mystery to a serious degree. The intrigue’s already high, but now my Spidey senses are TINGLING!
Flashback to Mason first meeting Cora, the latter waiting tables in a nice little place. They talk a bit, he chats her up. After she’s off they go for a stroll together, getting to know one another, the usual first meet/date type of thing. It’s cute. Very sharp juxtaposition against where we are now. What this does is show us their connection, particularly we see why Mason’s so torn up. It isn’t like she wound up a serial killer. This sudden outburst of violence in her life is totally inexplicable to him, so to see their beginnings as a couple is kind of poignant.
We get a look at some of Dt. Ambrose’s rocky relationship with his wife (Kathryn Erbe). They go to therapy, but the separation between them is shocking. Not entirely surprising, still shocking. He’s not exactly the doting husband, having left her in the hospital once to go spray his plants at home. Even when she calls him out on it he’s poised to argue rather than admit he fucked up. Typical man blinded by his own bullshit.
Another flashback to young Cora, her aunt Margaret (Rebecca Wisocky) leaving a treat with her before leaving. They’re all together in vigil for her little sister Phoebe, sick, frail. We see the first semblance of a second life for Cora. Aunt Peg gives her a Delicieux chocolate bar, a little treat she takes to a secret hiding place. Where she’s got other items most likely from her aunt. She stashes them, so nobody will find her special items. Sort of how she’s stashed away all the secrets of her previous live, so deep down and in the dark that even her husband has no idea what’s gone on.
Those closest to her, then and now, they don’t truly know Cora.
Pic 2In the interrogation room, Harry gets Cora to start talking. She met Frankie in a bar five years ago on the “Fourth of July,” though he went by a different name, J.D. They took some pills, drank, dance. The song she heard on the beach that day is the one he used to play endlessly. They had sex, of course. A couple weeks later? Pregnant. She panicked, not even having Frankie’s phone number. So then she finds out he gave her a fake name.
And she stepped in front of a car on the road. No longer pregnant, banged the fuck up in the hospital, she was still clinging – for a while – her religious upbringing. Before realising God’s shit. Cut to five years later, she stabs Frankie to death on the beach. All good, right? Well, Harry doesn’t seem convinced. Not yet.
Flashback to Cora and her mom Elizabeth (Enid Graham). The little girl kneels in the yard in the middle of the night, praying to God for her sister. The recurring theme is religious fanaticism. Mom found the stash, the chocolate bar. She says “one bite” could mean God will decide to let Phoebe die. Holy fuck. It’s like everything wrong with Cora’s sister is blamed on her, in some way. A life of having sin heaped upon her, sin that isn’t her own.
Another flash to Mason and Cora in bed together, what looks like their first time. Or at least the first time Mason is about to go down on her and she almost cracks his neck in half, squeezing her thighs around his throat. When he asks what happened, she replies: “I dont know.” Although we know, at least in part. There’s a terrifying trauma in there somewhere.
Caitlin, talking to Mason, lets slip bits of the story concerning his wife and Frankie, the secret history. Naturally, it rocks him. All the while Dt. Ambrose continues combing through evidence, to find a better answer. He goes to Carl’s Taproom, where Cora met Frankie. The bartender remembers her, though confirms a different man than Frankie being with her, also mentioning she was extremely drunk. Might be possible something non-consensual happened that night. Cora is absolutely not telling the whole truth.
The big news? Harry gets over to Frankie’s parents place. Turns out, their boy wasn’t even on the same coast as Cora that Fourth of July. Oh, shit. Moreover, the cops are coming up with more lies she’s told. They have to dig much, much deeper.
Pic 3Another flashback to young Cora, her mom, sick little Phoebe. “Youre not doing your part,” the hideous mother says. She makes Cora tell her sister she isn’t better because she’s “a sinner” and took the chocolate bar. This poor little girl grew up having to bear the brunt of all the supposed sins her parents blamed on her. That could really fuck a girl up.
Ambrose: “The truth is my job
In the interrogation room Harry presses Cora harder than before. He’s getting pissed off about her lying. He even puts on the song she heard that day. You can see by the look in her eyes it dredges up horrible memories. Finally, she jumps on top of the detective, pounding him and screaming: “Im gonna kill you!” WHOA.
Mason comes to see his wife. He mentions J.D. and knowing him before they met. He’s also getting pissed. The person he pledged to love in sickness and in health won’t tell him the truth. This sends him off looking for J.D. in any place he can think, old buddies from his younger days. Uh oh. I feel something bad coming.
There’s also a tenderness we see in Harry, after he and his wife start their reconciliation. While they eat dinner a bird flies into their patio door. He picks it up, nurturing the bird and helping it fly once more. Not long later he also has an epiphany about Cora. She smashed him on the chest in specific places. Right where she stabbed Frankie. And she hit Harry the same amount of times she stabbed him, too. A pattern. She’s subconsciously repeating that pattern. I assume it’s got something to do with what happened to her as a girl.
But there’s really no telling. Cora is an enigma, wrapped in a mindfuck. Who knows what the key will be to unlock all her mysteries.
Pic 4Pic 4AHonestly, the first episode was good! Enough to get me into the whole concept. This episode blew me out of the water. I never expected the twists that came here, nor the final little revelation Harry has about the wounds. Interested for Part 3. So much dark, dangerous stuff to explore.

James White: Burden, Childishness, Disease, and Love Everlasting

James White. 2015. Directed & Written by Josh Mond.
Starring Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Ron Livingston, Makenzie Leigh, David Call, David Cale, Benjamin Brass, Lori Burch, Scott Cohen, Adriana DeGirolami, Jeanette Dilone, David Harris, Rosemary Howard, & Sue Jean Kim. BorderLine Films/Relic Pictures.
Rated R. 85 minutes.
Drama

★★★★
POSTER
Producer Josh Mond has been behind a few really excellent films such as Martha Marcy May MarleneAfterschool, and others, as well as the upcoming Christine (not a Carpenter remake). His first feature film, James White, is a little flawed, but overall an honest, raw look at the life of a New York City Millenial stuck in a brutal situation between trying to reign in his own childish behaviour and taking care of his very sick mother, all after the death of his father. In a day and age where many young people are starting to deal with the death of parents, just as every generation has before them, this is certainly a film with huge impact.
Often the battle against cancer is portrayed in an almost romanticized way. Many movies will show the devoted individuals caring for their sick loved ones as unabashed caregivers, noble, nearly saint-like. Instead of the cliched, emotionally manipulative picture many mainstream Hollywood movies paint, James White is the portrait of a young man, imperfect and stubborn, whose life is upended. He becomes caretaker to his mother while also trying to discern his own place in the world. Along the way we watch his destructive self unfolding in the emotional massacre of his life. There are portions of this film that are genuinely sweet and beautiful. Still, the ugly side of love in a time of disease is on display to make sure the honest truth never slips from our memory.
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The center of this film, above its gritty real life feel, are the two major performances from Cynthia Nixon and Christopher Abbott. I mean, honestly, this doesn’t have to be your cup of tea. Although, if it doesn’t move you there may be parts of your insides made of concrete. Immediately we’re drawn into the reality of this story because of cinematographer Mátyás Erdély (Son of SaulMiss Bala), his natural feeling lens hooks the eye. We’re able to drop into the perspective of the main character James because the camera follows closely behind him, near him, hovering over his shoulders constantly. So once we’re put in that position, Abbott’s talent further pierces us. He is enigmatic, and at the same time upfront. He’s enigmatic because there are things he’s not saying, leaving below the surface, as the drinking problem and everything else, his bravado, masks what’s truly going on. Simultaneously, the camera lets him be upfront because we see his darkest moments. And under all that machismo, there’s a sensitive part which eventually breaks through those barriers. Abbott is able to give us all the aspects of James that makes him interesting. They’re not always easy to watch, nor are they enjoyable. Sometimes you want to smack him and scream into his entitled face. But always, always he is able to command your attention with a brave, truthful performance.
Added to Abbott is the fantastic(ally underrated) Nixon. Her performance is even more exceptional, simply because of the condition she portrays. Her character, Gail, is often difficult, though loving, and many other opposites. Because the disease is ravaging her. It’s the way she shows us the disease which is powerful. It will stop you, freeze your eyes to the screen. One in particular sees her unable to speak, as she says later her brain couldn’t get the words to her mouth, and that moment between her and James is extraordinarily gripping. You’ll almost want to hold your breath.
Ultimately, the two performances together, the relationship between James and his mother, this is what drives the film. I love the look and feel of it all, but these are what makes the whole thing worth it. The threat of cancer and disease is something we all know, and if not yet then someday soon. It touches everybody. To examine the issues – such as how a child might end up having to totally care for a sick parent in an event like James experiences – can really turn heartbreaking. And no doubt, James White both character and film will break your heart to pieces.
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A major aspect of why this movie is intense lies in the decision to look at how a young man out of the Millenial Generation is forced to cope with a parent dying. There are so many dumb think-pieces in the media these days, so many ridiculous opinions about the younger generations today, that we’re often forced into believing there are no serious issues at stake for Millenials – and so you know, I just barely fall into this category being born in 1985. With an intensely emotional screenplay by director-writer Mond, this movie allows us a window into a microcosm of that generation. Left with one parent, whose time is numbered due to cancer, James is confronted with trying to make dreams into reality. He’s a struggling young man that wants to be a writer, though circumstances in his life throw him into complete chaos. In an already bad economy, being a writer is a tough life decision; one I know all too well personally, being a writer (I don’t only write reviews). With his father gone, his mother on the way out, he’s almost got a limited amount of time to construct his life. And with so much time spent being there for his mother, he’s had no time to concentrate on getting himself better, he has neglected his best interests. While there’s a noble aspect to that, he is left with a gaping abyss ahead of him, and with no one there to help guide him.
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This is a film about cancer, the effects it brings down upon those caring for a sick loved one. It also comes at a time where people in their twenties can relate. Because even as the older generations start to die out (Gail here is not particularly old though) and make way in a sense for the younger ones, there is an element of loss, aside from personal loss, because now we are the ones left to guide the way forward, to steer the future. And like in the case of James, not everyone is ready for the burden.
Absolutely a 4-star experience, from the cinematography and its hyperreal atmosphere, to the directing and the screenplay from Josh Mond. Hopefully Mond will go on to do more directing, apart from his great track record as producer. He is talented, and the personal nature of his writing shines through, even if things are grim, uncertain throughout. James White is difficult but necessary cinema in many ways. Aside from its raw look at something which affects us all, this film really speaks to a passing of the torch, willingly or not, from parents to children. And the torch will pass, no matter if its ugly, or if it passes silently in bed during the night.