Tag Archives: Adam Driver

Nuthin’ But a G Thang

House of Gucci

by George Wolf

Just four years ago, director Ridley Scott deconstructed the Getty family’s wealth of dysfunction in the masterful All the Money in the World. House of Gucci shows he’s still got money on his mind, and his mind on the rot that can take root in such mind-altering luxury.

Based on the true events detailed in Sara Gay Forden’s bestseller, the film dissects the complete unraveling of the Gucci family dynasty, a fuse seemingly lit by the unlikely relationship between Muarizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and commoner Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga).

Though the Gucci name gets Patrizia’s attention at their first introduction, Muarizio didn’t seen to have much interest in the empire shared equally by his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and uncle Aldo (Al Pacino). But once he puts a ring on it, the mix of Patrizia’s ambition and Aldo’s invitations finally bring Maurizio into the family business.

Aldo’s own son Paulo (Jared Leto in some nifty makeup) is the Fredo in this clan, and it isn’t long before Paulo is trying to form his own back door alliance with Rodolfo, and Patrizia is Lady Macbeth-ing it everywhere from Italy to New York (complete with bewitching help from Salma Hayek as psychic Pina Auriemma).

You may have noticed that this is a pretty impressive cast. True, and even with their wheel-of-accents there’s little doubt that watching them all try to out-Italian each other in this trashy mash of The Godfather, I, Tonya, Shakespeare and The Real Housewives of Milan is the film’s biggest pleasure. But Scott and screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna can never establish a consistently compelling tone (overly random soundtrack choices don’t help, either), and the two and a half hour run time takes on curious contrasts. Even as the overall narrative has moments that drag, Maurizio’s transformation to the dark side still feels too rushed and convenient.

But Gaga proves worthy of another Oscar nom, and though the film never reaches the level of crackling relevance Scott mined in his look at the Gettys, she proves a fascinating window for the legendary director’s latest foray into an iconic family’s arc of greed, suspicion, betrayal and worse.

And if your Thanksgiving ends up going completely off the rails, House of Gucci is a star-powered and entertaining way to feel a whole lot better about your own family.

Neverending Story

The Last Duel

by George Wolf and Hope Madden

Take a look at the list of screenwriters on The Last Duel, and one name jumps out at you. There beside Oscar-winning writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck is Oscar nominee Nicole Holofcener. All three, along with director Ridley Scott, are also listed as producers, and while this project may seem out of character for Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Please Give, Enough Said, Lovely & Amazing) her insight proves indispensable,

Based on the 2004 book by Eric Jager, the film chronicles events leading to the last officially recognized judicial duel in France, a 1386 trial by combat between knight Jean de Carrouges and squire Jacques Le Gris.

Carrouges (Damon) accused Le Gris (Adam Driver) of raping his wife Marguerite (Jamie Comer). Unsatisfied with the lenient decision handed down by Count Pierre d’Alencon (Affleck), Carrouges appealed directly to King Charles VI (Alex Lawther), where Carrouges threw down the challenge that Le Gris accepted. 

Scott presents the tale with exceptional craftsmanship and spectacle, getting big assists from Dariusz Wolski’s gritty, expansive cinematography and Michael Fentum’s detailed sound design.

This is a brooding, brutal, violent and sexually violent film, one that utilizes a Rashomon-style narrative to frame an often-debated moment in history around a centuries-old struggle that continues today.

Separated into three chapters, the film gives us the truth according to Carrouges, Le Gris, and then Marguerite, when the onscreen text holds a few extra beats on the phrase “the truth.” And while what changes with each new side of the story is vital, there’s equal importance to be found in the elements that don’t change.

One man’s crime is another’s entitlement, one man’s denial gets “the benefit of the clergy,” while one woman’s truth is disregarded among the power of men.

The ensemble cast is outstanding, led by Driver’s convincing cad, Damon’s gruff brute and Affeck’s delightful range as the shallow Count. But as Marguerite’s acerbic mother-in-law (a terrific Harriet Walter) dresses down her accusation with a pointed “You think you’re the only one?” Comer shoulders the courage that becomes the soul of the film. 

Her nuanced performance chapter to chapter tells us everything about the perspectives of the two men involved, and she carries Marguerite’s mindset with a weary bravery that depicts just how tiresome – even 600 years ago – it is to have to defend yourself after you’ve been raped.

It’s not just Comer, though. Scott’s camera lingers tellingly on the reactions of different women throughout the story as they silently respond to the charges.

Scott presents the climactic duel with the completely thrilling treatment it requires, but by then it’s clear why Holofcener’s contributions were so vital. As talented as Scott, Affleck and Damon are, making this film without the filmmaking perspective of an equally gifted woman would have amounted to more of the same: men telling us how rape is for women.

The Last Duel aims for more than just a gripping history lesson. It’s ultimately able to use that history to remind us that the way society treats women generally – and women’s sexuality specifically – has changed little since the freaking Middle Ages. 

Shame.

Songbird

Annette

by George Wolf

Annette wraps the beautifully enigmatic visions of director Leos Carax around the idiosyncratic pop musings of Ron and Russell Mael (aka Sparks) for a what-did-I-just-watch spectacle with undeniable will.

Anyone who’s seen Holy Motors knows Carax is a puzzler. And while Edgar Wright’s recent doc The Sparks Brothers may have nudged the Mael boys toward the mainstream, the songs and the story they bring to this film are a mighty slippery mix.

Think A Star Is Born with Sondheim sensibilities, Shakespearean tragedies, and the kitsch of a Springfield Community Theatre production from The Simpsons.

Magic, right? Well, sometimes.

Adam Driver stars as Henry, a standup comic provocateur whose new show “The Ape of God” has him boasting that he only does comedy so he “can tell the truth without getting killed.”

Marion Cotillard is Ann, a famous opera star who “saves” her audience by dying onstage every night.

As detailed by headlines from the Showbizz Network, the two fall passionately in love, get married and have a daughter named Annette, who comes into the world with an unexpected gift.

In fact, you’ll find most everything about Annette to be a surprise. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The actors sing live and frequently break that fourth wall, which brings new intimacy to some very intimate moments and quickly immerses us in the grandness of Carax’s vision. Armed with sumptuous cinematography from Caroline Champetier, Carax rolls out a succession of gorgeously hypnotic set pieces.

Be ready, though, for the dreamlike tone to often run headlong into campy silliness that leaves many metaphorical elements searching for a resonate metaphor.

Just when Annette is clear about its musings on the relationship between artist and audience, or about fame, or self-loathing, or fragile masculinity or creative boundaries, it goes all Cop Rock on us.

But man, it’s transfixing to look at, and the Driver/Cotillard pairing is just as powerful as you’d expect. Just don’t expect anything else from Annette, and what you find won’t soon be forgotten.

The End

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

by George Wolf and Hope Madden

Not that long ago in a galaxy near and dear to us, J.J. Abrams brilliantly re-packaged our Star Wars memories as The Force Awakens. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi took an opposite approach two years later, bringing a challenging and welcome nerve that sent a clear signal it would soon be time to move on.

Abrams is back as director and co-writer to close the saga with The Rise of Skywalker, which ends up feeling less like a course correction (which wasn’t needed) and more like a sly meeting of both minds. The fan service is strong with this one, indeed, though it never quite smacks of panicked fanboy appeasement.

In fact, the echoes of Johnson’s vision only make Abrams’s franchise love letter more emotionally resonant. We were told this goodbye was coming, and now here it is, so grab hold of something.

And that doesn’t mean just tissues (though you may need them), as Abrams delivers action that comes early and more than often. From deep space shootouts to light saber duals amid monstrous ocean waves, the heart-racing set pieces are damn near non stop and seldom less than spectacular.

But let’s be real, this is the Rey and (Kylo) Ren show.

We knew their fates would collide, we wanted that collision, and here we get it, propelled by two actors in Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver who are able to fully embrace the weight of their respective arcs. As all our questions are eventually answered, Driver and Ridley never let us forget what drives their characters: the closure of identity.

And from a new hope to the last hope, it is precisely those bloodlines and destinies that have always driven this entire franchise. Abrams makes sure he honors that legacy with a satisfying sendoff bursting with fandom in nearly every frame.

Yes, you’ll find some awkward dialogue and underused characters, but that’s not a bad scorecard considering all that The Rise of Skywalker throws at us. From welcome hellos (Lando!), to sad goodbyes (Carrie Fisher’s is handled with heroic grace), political relevance (“there’s more of us” in the resistance) to stand up and cheer moments, this is a one helluva farewell party.

Being Alive

Marriage Story

by George Wolf

If plot is what happens and story is how it happens, there’s no better title for Noah Baumbach’s latest than Marriage Story.

For years, Baumbach’s films have probed characters struggling to live up to an image of themselves. It’s what he does, and now Baumbach has written and directed his masterpiece, a bravely personal and beautifully heartbreaking deconstruction of a marriage falling apart.

Adam Driver is Charlie, a New York stage director. Scarlett Johansson is Nicole, an L.A. film actress who made the switch to NYC live theater when she married Charlie and they welcomed son Henry (Azhy Robertson).

We meet Charlie and Nicole in counseling, taking part in an exercise that reminds them why they married and reminds us how skilled Baumbach is at not only writing wonderfully organic dialog, but in bringing it to the screen with layer upon layer of authenticity.

Tremendous performances from Johansson and Driver cement our immersion into the lives of two people valiantly trying to retain some control over the process of splitting up.

Nicole hurts deeply but wears a brave face, unsure of how to approach a future without Charlie, but unable to deny that life with him has meant she “got smaller.” Johannson has never been better, successfully mining Nicole’s mix of pain and defiance with silent tears and impassioned outbursts alike.

Here’s something I’ve said a lot this year: Driver is one the most consistently impressive actors around. His skill at finding the human center of his characters is subtle but unmistakable, and here Driver never lets you abandon Charlie, most importantly when his refusals to face reality seem like cathartic soul-baring from Baumbach himself.

We see the details that make up the work of a marriage, and the subtle cracks that weaken the relationship and begin to pull two people apart. And with the break comes the battle for child custody and the business of divorce.

But even as their two opposing lawyers (Ray Liotta and Laura Dern, Oscar-worthy herself) bleed the couple’s finances and turn the fight dirty, Baumbach never gets petty. When you think the film is taking sides it makes a subtle change in direction, slowly building toward the brilliantly executed emotional tsunami you know is coming.

Will you need tissues? Oh yes. The story of Nicole and Charlie’s marriage will put you through the wringer. And every frame is absolutely worth it.

Late in the film, Charlie’s out with a group of theater friends and ends up joining a pianist to sing Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive.” So we have a theater guy going through a tumultuous divorce taking time to sing a Broadway classic about the risk of commitment. It’s a sequence that could have easily devolved into self-indulgent excess, but instead only confirms the depth of Baumbach’s reach.

He lets another writer’s words brilliantly refocus what Charlie and Nicole will always mean to other, and like everything else in Marriage Story, it feels real, true and necessary.

It feels alive.

Redacted

The Report

by Hope Madden

Admit it. Own up to it. Hold yourself accountable. Then our country can move on.

Oh right, also, I saw The Report this week.

For his clear-eyed reminder of what post 9/11 America was like, writer/director Scott Z. Burns takes a page from Adam McKay’s book of outrage, leaving both tongue and cheek behind.

Daniel Jones (Adam Driver, who is having one hell of a year) is a Senate staffer working for Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening, eerily good). He’s been tasked with investigating the CIA’s post 9/11 “enhanced interrogation” tactics.

Among the heads of the CIA are Thomas Eastman (Michael C. Hall) and John Brennan (Ted Levine).

That Burns cast two actors known best for playing serial killers as CIA leaders is slyly hilarious and indicative of the contempt the filmmaker has for those responsible for this shameful page in US history.

The Report brims with rage, justifiably so, but Burns never stoops to melodrama, rarely even preaches. Much of his ire is delivered via Driver’s sullen stare. Driver is characteristically amazing. Though his performance is largely internal, it spills over with the ache and anger of a citizen who loves his country and cannot believe what he sees happening.

The entire cast—and it’s a big one—impresses, from bewildered CIA staff to opportunists looking to cash in, from battered inmates to White House Chief of Staff. With limited screen time, each performer establishes a character, not a cardboard villain or hero, and the contribution elevates the entire film.

Burns’s script stumbles periodically over exposition, but given the sheer volume of information he covers, it’s a fault that’s easy to forgive. Somehow he manages to contain in just under two hours what Daniels himself couldn’t fit inside 7000 pages.

Importantly, though the film does look to enlighten us on the corruption, greed and fearmongering that led the US to such sadistic measures, Burns wisely leans more heavily on a larger theme of admission and oversight as the only steps toward regaining self-respect and the respect of the world.

Timely.

Ghouls

The Dead Don’t Die

by Hope Madden

Indie god and native Ohioan Jim Jarmusch made a zombie movie.

If you don’t know the filmmaker (Down by Law, Ghost Dog, Only Lovers Left Alive, Paterson and so many more jewels), you might only have noticed this cast and wondered what would have drawn Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, RZA, Caleb Landry Jones, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop and Selena Gomez to a zombie movie.

It’s because Jim Jarmusch made it.

Jarmusch is an auteur of peculiar vision, and his latest, The Dead Don’t Die, with its insanely magnificent cast and its remarkably marketable concept, is the first ever in his nearly 30 years behind the camera to receive a national release.

Not everybody is going to love it, but it will attain cult status faster than any other Jarmusch film, and that’s saying something.

He sets his zombie epidemic in Centerville, Pennsylvania (Romero territory). It’s a small town with just a trio of local police, a gas station/comic book store, one motel (run by Larry Fassenden, first-time Jarmusch actor, longtime horror staple), one diner, and one funeral home, the Ever After.

Newscaster Posie Juarez (Rosie Perez – nice!) informs of the unusual animal behavior, discusses the “polar fracking” issue that’s sent the earth off its rotation, and notes that the recent deaths appear to be caused by a wild animal. Maybe multiple wild animals.

The film never loses its deadpan humor or its sleepy, small town pace, which is one of its greatest charms. Another is the string of in-jokes that horror fans will revisit with countless re-viewings.

But let’s be honest, the cast is the thing. Murray and Driver’s onscreen chemistry is a joy. In fact, Murray’s onscreen chemistry with everyone—Sevigny, Swinton, Glover, even Carol Kane, who’s dead the entire film—delivers the tender heart of the movie.

Driver out-deadpans everyone in the film with comedic delivery I honestly did not know he could muster. Landry Jones also shines, as does The Tilda. (Why can’t she be in every movie?)

And as the film moseys toward its finale, which Driver’s Officer Ronnie Paterson believes won’t end well, you realize this is probably not the hardest Jim Jarmusch and crew have ever worked. Not that the revelation diminishes the fun one iota.

Though it’s tempting to see this narrative as some kind of metaphor for our current global political dystopia, in fairness, it’s more of a mildly cynical love letter to horror and populist entertainment.

Mainly, it’s a low-key laugh riot, an in-joke that feels inclusive and the most quotable movie of the year.

Ball of Confusion

BlacKkKlansman

by Hope Madden

Welcome back, Spike Lee!

It’s not like he’s really been gone. He’s made a dozen or more TV episodes, documentaries, short films and basement-budget indies since his unfortunate 2013 compromised vision Old Boy. But BlacKkKlansman is a return to form—to the envelope-pushing enjoyment that showcases his skills as storyteller, entertainer and activist.

Earmarks of his most indelible marks on cinema—Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X—these three elements have rarely joined forces since 1992. You might get one (Get on the Bus) or two (Inside Man, Chi-Raq), but not all three.

Why now? Lee isn’t the first filmmaker to realize how painfully relevant historical tales of systemic racism are at the moment. But it wasn’t until 2014 that Ron Stallworth published the book detailing how he, a black cop in Colorado Springs in 1979, infiltrated the KKK.

You see how it all comes together?

If you don’t, you really should. Lee balances unexpected shifts between humor and drama, camaraderie and horror, entertainment and history lesson, popcorn-muncher and experimental indie with a fluidity few other directors could muster.

The story itself is beyond insane—a zany, hair-raising misadventure destined for the big screen. Stallworth (John David Washington), a rookie in Colorado Springs’s intelligence office, stumbles upon an ad in the newspaper, makes a call, and joins the Klan.

Of course, he’ll need a second officer to actually show up. Enter Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver—perfect), who sounds about as much like Stallworth as he looks, plus he’s Jewish, which could further complicate his face-to-face relationship with the hate group.

Much sit-com-esque absurdity and dramatic police procedural thrills follow, but it’s the way Lee subverts these standard formats that hits home. The insidious nature of the racism depicted in 1979 echoes in both directions—in the history that brought our country to this moment in time, and in the future Ron Stallworth undoubtedly hoped he could prevent.

Yes, there are laugh out loud moments in this film, but there are far more rallying cries.





Day for Knight

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Did The Force Awakens simply recycle our Star Wars memories and sell them back to us? It did, but not simply, damn near brilliantly.

Then we got the sneak attack from the surprisingly deep Rogue One, a highly effective prequel that only strengthened our bond with the original Star Wars trilogy, and our confidence in the filmmakers now at the helm of this historic franchise.

The Last Jedi makes any letdowns seem light years away. With a deft mix of character-driven emotion, high stakes action and mischievous fun, it waves a proud flag for the legacy of this cinematic universe while confidently taking big strides toward crafting a new one.

Visionary talent Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) now has the con as both director and sole screenwriter. His affection for the franchise, coupled with an innovative sense of character arc and storyline, combine for a freshness that respects nostalgia even while priming you to move beyond it.

Like J.J. Abrams, Johnson revisits iconic images and bits from the predecessors, but even with much more screen time for Mark Hamill’s Luke, Last Jedi feels less indebted to the original trilogy than did Force Awakens. You’ll find more humor (an opening “on hold” bit is a riot), more action and more Kylo Ren.

As Rey, Leia (Carrie Fisher in a bittersweet appearance), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Bodega) gather their scrappy troops to resist the First Order’s plan for pasty-faced, black-clad tyranny, the yin and yang of the film pits Adam Driver’s dark Ren against the spunky light of Daisy Ridley’s Rey.

Force Awakens gave Ridley plenty of opportunity to claim her spot at the center of the franchise, but Last Jedi allows Driver the chance to fully expand into the role of series villain. A true talent, Driver delivers a Ren who is emotionally manipulative and yet sincere (so emo!), needy and conflicted as he struggles to prove himself more than the “child in a mask” derided by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis – aided by improved CGI).

Last Jedi also completes the transition of Poe into the courageous, never-tell-me-the-odds “flyboy” we knew was his destiny since the fist moments of Force Awakens. Isaac never disappoints, and it’s a joy to see him buckle this swash so Han-dily (sorry).

While we meet some great new characters, too, there is little exposition and a near constant barrage of action which renders the extended running time meaningless. It might get a little too cute once or twice, but there’s enough social commentary here to be relevant, enough visual glory to look wondrous, and more than enough spirit to be confident in its vision.

Things happen to characters we care about and to others we just met, and nearly all of those things carry the emotional heft of torches being passed.

And The Last Jedi makes it feel not only right but necessary, and all the more satisfying.





Hillbilly Heist

Logan Lucky

by George Wolf

You’re not long into director Steven Soderbergh’s latest before you expect to see Brad Pitt standing around eating something.

Why?

Because Logan Lucky is essentially Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 with hillbillies, which had to intrigue Soderbergh when he first read the script from Rebecca Blunt. If that is her real name.

No, seriously, Blunt is rumored to be a pseudonym for the actual writer, who should just ‘fess up and take credit for this hoot of a heist homage.

Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) gets laid off from his job fixing sinkholes underneath Charlotte Motor Speedway, so he puts together a 10-point plan for his next career move. Two of those points are labeled “shit happens.”

The rest is simple.

Jimmy, his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and their sister Mellie (Riley Keough), will bust redneck robber Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of jail to help them rob the speedway during the biggest NASCAR race of the year, and then have Joe back in the slam before anyone is the wiser.

Soderbergh structures everything to parallel his Ocean‘s films so closely that when he finally addresses that elephant outright, the only surprise is how often the rubes draw a better hand than the Vegas pretty boys.

Logan serves up indelible characters, fun suspense, finely tuned plotting and solid humor, including a hilarious bit with a prison warden (Dwight Yoakam) explaining to some rioting inmates why the next Games of Thrones novel isn’t available yet.

As Bang, Craig is a flat out riot, doing fine justice to the best character name since Chest Rockwell, and standing out in an ensemble (also including Katie Holmes, Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank and Sebastian Stan) that shines from top to toe.

Assembled as precisely as a letter-perfect grift, Logan Lucky has smarts, charm and some downright weirdness. It’s a late August blast with more than enough fun to beat our summertime blues.

Verdict-4-0-Stars