Little Pink House

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Unrated but suitable for all audiences.

Theater: Lagoon.

 

A wonderfully acted story of regular guys battling political and corporate giants, “Little Pink House” is the sort of must-see movie that is rarely made in Hollywood’s current blockbuster-or-bust environment. And it’s all the more important not to miss by offering outstanding creative skill while speaking truth to power. It’s a crime thriller of sorts for grown-ups, and it’s all true.

Catherine Keener, a reliably excellent double Oscar nominee, is at the top of her game playing Susette Kelo, an emergency medical technician in the coastal town of New London, Conn., who bought a small house with a pretty view of the water. At least she thought she owned it.

Twenty years ago, the blue-collar city was facing economic hard times, meaning it offered affordable housing to people like Susette but not much in tax revenue to the state. Working through the private New London Development Corp., the governor decided that the best way to make the community “vital and hip” would be to replace Susette and many other homeowners with a large research facility for the Pfizer Pharmaceutical Corp.

She had no interest in selling her house to NLDC at any price. She was even more peeved when the state moved to take her property anyway under its oily interpretation of eminent domain power. With help from the mayor, some of her retired and working-class neighbors and a nonprofit legal advocacy group called the Institute for Justice, she set out to fight Goliath. All the way to the Supreme Court.

The film tells the history-making conflict in terms that are personal, down to earth and utterly relatable. Writer/director Courtney Balaker draws the ideal amount of individual conflict to balance the ongoing court battles.

Keener brings a visceral immediacy to Susette’s plain-spoken insistence that displacing residents — demolishing their memories — to advance the interests of a big private company is just wrong. Playing a fictionalized version of the accomplished, ambitious college president who led the NLDC redevelopment effort, Jeanne Tripplehorn brings a lovely tone of chicanery to Susette’s nemesis, piously proclaiming “social justice and economic development go hand in hand.” While some have called her smiling cobra performance melodramatic, I can only say they must not have met anybody like that.

There’s good work right down the ranks of supporting players. Callum Keith Rennie brings believable warmth to the role of Susette’s boyfriend. Aaron Douglas is all unscrupulous artifice as the land-grabbing governor (unnamed in the movie but based on the corrupt John G. Rowland, later known as federal inmate No. 15623-014.)

But Balaker goes beyond the talented performers to score memorable points. The final shot of the real Susette Kelo’s home speaks volumes without uttering a word.

Colin Covert

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Unrated but suitable for all audiences.

Theater: Uptown.

 

Statuesque, androgynous, flamboyant and gifted with a seductive growl of a singing voice, Grace Jones was a minor but brilliant performer who streaked like a comet from 1970s disco pop star to prestigious recording partnerships and movie roles in the ’80s. Mostly absent from public view over the past 20 years, she remains a fascinating oddity, well worth the degree of attention she receives from this biographical documentary directed by Sophie Fiennes (sister of actors Ralph and Joseph).

Jones plays many roles here as Fiennes’ camera observes like a fly on the wall. We visit intimate meetings with her family in her native Jamaica, learning details of her challenging upbringing and how it prompted her to develop her gender-bending stage persona. We follow her across a recent tour where she hypnotizes crowds with such signature hits as “Slave to the Rhythm” and “Pull Up to the Bumper.” Even as a grandmother in her 60s, she can equal late-era Tina Turner as a performing powerhouse. The film, which opens with Jones tearing up the house as she sings behind gaudy funeral masks, gradually strips away the artifice and lets her identity emerge fully formed.

C.C.

 

Love After Love

⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Unrated by the MPAA. Contains coarse and sexual language, sex, nudity, drugs, drunkenness and mature thematic material.

Theater: Edina.

 

This drama offers an unflinching portrait of how grief can unravel a tightknit family in ways both banal and heart-wrenching.

In the opening moments, Suzanne (Andie MacDowell) and her adult son Nicholas (Chris O’Dowd) have a deep, probing conversation about happiness. In the next scene, Suzanne’s husband is giving an elegant toast in a strained voice (delivered with gravitas and warmth by Gareth Williams as the family’s ailing patriarch). Soon afterward, he is on his deathbed, and then carted out in a body bag as his family stands by, paralyzed.

First-time director Russell Harbaugh and co-writer Eric Mendelsohn convey with startling clarity the impermanence of life, telling their story with a messy and unpredictable pacing that underscores the film’s theme. The film meanders through richly observed and sometimes startlingly funny scenes, never attempting to force the drama. The deeply drawn characters stumble toward healing in ways that are refreshingly honest.

As Suzanne struggles to move forward with her life, MacDowell masterfully explores the cracks that run through her character’s poised veneer, delivering her meatiest performance in 20 years. Nicholas self-destructively undermines a pair of relationships with infidelities, while his brother (James Adomian) cycles through fits of drunken rage. O’Dowd and Adomian have a volatile chemistry and enough charm to guide their characters through these unsavory choices, ultimately finding their way back to each other.

Christopher Kompanek, Washington Post