Brian Benben

Clean and Sober (1988, Glenn Gordon Caron)

In hindsight, as the film settles during its final scene, it becomes clear a lot of Clean and Sober is obvious. Director Caron and writer Tod Carroll withhold a few pieces of information until that final scene, which do inform a little more, but the obviousness isn’t actually a problem. Protagonist Michael Keaton’s motivations do not have to be mysterious or singular, because he’s neither.

The film tracks Keaton’s drug addled real estate salesman through rehab and his time immediately following it. Caron and cinematographer Jan Kiesser portray the rehab clinic as drab and weathered, in contrast to Keaton’s home and office, which are sterile. The second half of the film feels either like a lengthy epilogue or the first half is just a lengthy prologue. Probably the former, since Carroll’s script forgets a lot of outstanding plot threads.

Caron’s direction matches the forgetful nature of the script; he never picks one style or another, sometimes using comedic techniques and pacing for dramatic scenes and vice versa. While the incomplete narrative plays towards realism, Caron fails to acknowledge it or embrace it.

But none of Clean and Sober would work if not for Keaton, who gives a singular performance. Every scene has something phenomenal from him.

The supporting cast is excellent. Kathy Bates, M. Emmet Walsh, Morgan Freeman, Luca Bercovici; all great.

Gabriel Yared’s minimalist but sympathetic score is essential.

Clean and Sober has its problems, but it’s a significant success. Keaton is mesmerizing; Caron builds the film around him.



Directed by Glenn Gordon Caron; written by Tod Carroll; director of photography, Jan Kiesser; edited by Richard Chew; music by Gabriel Yared; production designer, Joel Schiller; produced by Deborah Blum and Tony Ganz; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Keaton (Daryl Poynter), Kathy Baker (Charlie Standers), Morgan Freeman (Craig), Luca Bercovici (Lenny), Brian Benben (Martin Laux), Tate Donovan (Donald Towle), Claudia Christian (Iris) and M. Emmet Walsh (Richard Dirks).

Mortal Sins (1990, Yuri Sivo)

Mortal Sins is a couple things one would think were mutually exclusive. On one hand, it’s a standard direct-to-video thriller, even if it shot on location in New York (featuring a bevy of actors who went on to “Law and Order” guest spots). On the other, it’s a serious attempt at an examination of the main character, an unmarried Jewish man unable to commit to his girlfriend, who only has Italian friends. And it’s a comedy (the murder mystery is set around competing televangelists, which I’m almost positive was also the setting for one of the Perry Mason TV movies). Frighteningly, the movie almost pulls it off.

There are two rather significant problems. First, Brian Benben is terrible. Benben’s usually likable or, at least, he’s supposed to be likable, but in Mortal Sins, he’s a complete jerk. Why he’s a jerk is the second significant problem–the script is not funny. The scenes with Benben teasing and mistreating his girlfriend (who sometimes spends the nights at his parents’ house with him) are terrible. Maggie Wheeler plays the girlfriend and she gets through the bad script, which is bad in a peculiar way. It’s not funny and it’s trying to be funny, but it still somehow works in the scenes with Benben and his friends. There’s also the scenes where Benben hassles his mother. Spending a movie hoping his father takes a baseball bat to his head before the end doesn’t make for a rewarding viewing experience.

But there are some good performances in it besides Wheeler. Peter Onorati is good and so’s Anthony LaPaglia. Most of LaPaglia’s scenes are the ones where Mortal Sins appears the most like a good, low budget comedy. There aren’t enough of them. The New York locations set the film a little apart. It’s a veritable tour video of the city (I’m sixty percent sure I know the big rock they shot at in Central Park) and it lends the film an agreeable tone, even if it’s dishonest. Well, it might not be dishonest. Watching the movie, I kept thinking it was a financed by a ten years of laundry profits. There’s something–behind the camera–very amateurish about the production ad and I’ll bet it’s a more interesting story than the film itself.

For such a peculiar film, the direction’s actually quite acceptable. Sivo knows how to shoot the scenes with the friends and family–better even-and he knows how to make the rest of it look like a direct-to-video thriller.

It’s the second time I’ve seen the film and I only kept it around because I remembered it being lame, but in an intriguing way. That diagnosis has not changed.



Directed by Yuri Sivo; written and produced by Allen Blumberg; director of photography, Bobby Bukowski; edited by Dorian Harris; music by Simon Boswell; production designer, Ray Recht; released by Panorama Entertainment Group.

Starring Brian Benben (Nathan), Debrah Farentino (Laura Rollins), Anthony LaPaglia (Vito), James Harper (Malcolm Rollins), Brick Hartney (Billy Beau Backus), Maggie Wheeler (Marie), Peter Onorati (Diduch), Anna Berger (Mother Weinschank), Frank S. Palmer (Paul Martin) and Steven Marcus (Cousin Benjamin).

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