Tag Archives: Amy Ryan

Love Is the Drug

Beautiful Boy

by George Wolf

Those of a certain age hear the title Beautiful Boy and most likely think of the John Lennon song, a sweetly poignant ode from father to son. It’s used to touching effect in the film that shares that title, an utterly heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful adaption of separate memoirs by David and Nicolas Sheff.

David was the proud father, a successful writer who dreamed of great things for his bright, ambitious son. Instead, Nic became an alcoholic and drug addict who offered his family countless  promises of recovery that always fell empty.

Two masterful performances drive this film to its emotional heights, keeping it steady the few times it teeters on slopes of undue manipulation.

Steve Carell makes David an instantly relatable mix of unconditional love and crestfallen confusion. As Nic’s addiction batters David’s homelife with his wife (Maura Tierney) and two young children, flashbacks to sweet memories with a younger Nic outline the bond between father and son that only grew after David’s split with Nic’s mother (Amy Ryan – also stellar). Carell makes it feel real with a thoughtful, often understated turn full of quiet detail.

And people, if last year didn’t hip you to the immense talent of Timothee Chalamet, he’s back to seal the deal with a performance certain to be hailed come Oscar time.

Just when you’re comfortable with the authenticity of Nic’s slide into addiction, Chalamet digs deeper to find the shattering center of a soul at war with dependence and desperation. Though his baby-faced smile stays miles away from meth addict ugliness, Chalamet finds a raw humanity that makes Nic a walking wound, and makes us feel part of the frayed parental bonds. His scenes with Carrell – where Nic tries taking advantage of his father’s love only to turn on him moments later – find two actors in complete sync, revealing a crushing humanity that hits you hard. Bring tissues.

There are two important stories here, and they only falter when it feels some intimacy from each has been shortchanged to make room for the other. Director Felix Van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown), collaborating on the screenplay with Luke Davies (Lion), merges the dual memoirs for a series of episodes that resonate best when given room to breath, free of any heavy-handed reminders about how quickly children grow up.

Beautiful Boy illustrates a vital, shattering cycle of addiction, rehab and relapse, often beautifully. Through first-hand insight and two towering performances, it finds a thread of hope in the ashes of a family’s nightmare.

 

Class Clowns

Central Intelligence

by Rachel Willis

What harm could come from accepting a Facebook friend request from a person you don’t recognize? For Calvin Joyner, that answer is a lot.

Calvin, portrayed by the talented Kevin Hart, is a forensic accountant who has recently been passed up for a promotion and isn’t eager to attend his twenty year high school reunion with his high school sweetheart, now wife, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet). The reunion is just a reminder for Calvin that his life has not turned out the way he thought it would when he was voted Most Likely to Succeed his senior year of high school.

Into Calvin’s mundane existence comes Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson). Bob is a former classmate of Calvin’s who finds him on Facebook and quickly inserts himself into Calvin’s life. When Calvin meets Bob for a drink to reconnect, he is stunned to see Bob has transformed himself from an overweight, bullied loser into a well-muscled, attractive man who likes guns and unicorns.

Hart and Johnson have a natural chemistry and they play well off each other, with Hart frequently playing the straight man to Johnson’s nerdy, overly eager Bob. Hart plays Calvin as a good-natured guy who recognizes that Bob needs a friend, even if he is frequently confused by Bob’s geeky references to Sixteen Candles and 90’s pop culture.

It’s because of his good nature that Calvin finds out exactly when can happen when you reconnect with an old classmate. Bob asks Calvin for a favor, and that favor leads Calvin into a world of espionage, shootouts with CIA agents, and an adventure he didn’t expect or want.

The supporting cast, particularly Amy Ryan and Danielle Nicolet, are able to play off the odd couple duo of Hart and Johnson with skill. Ryan Hansen provides a number of jokes as Calvin’s inappropriately raunchy co-worker. The only actor who seems slightly out of his league is Aaron Paul. Though Paul is a skilled actor, he can’t quite seem to hold his own against Hart or Johnson.

Even with a runtime of almost two hours, the film never drags and the comedy is strong throughout. Though the ending feels contrived and the film follows a fairly standard formula, on the whole, it works as a mismatched, buddy comedy.

The strength that Johnson and Hart bring to the screen elevates the film to a level above your standard, forgettable comedy fare.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

Not Quite Dynamite

Don Verdean

by Hope Madden

A self-proclaimed biblical archeologist somehow finds holy artifacts that have eluded the scientific and theological community for centuries – millennia, even – and brings them home to the US of A to help one Utah pastor reinvigorate his flock.

A ripe premise, that. The fact that the archeologist is played by Sam Rockwell, and the pastor by Danny McBride, only heightens the possibilities. On top of that, Don Verdean was directed by Jared Hess, co-written with his wife Jerusha, the team responsible for Napoleon Dynamite.

This should definitely work better than it does.

On paper, Don Verdean is a hoot. Add to the capable leads and a satire-rich premise the outstanding supporting cast. Amy Ryan offers an understated tenderness and humor as Don’s faithful assistant Carol, and Leslie Bibb is a stitch in her too-small role as Joylinda Lazarus, former prostitute, current pastor’s wife.

But Jemaine Clement could face criminal charges for the way he steals scenes as Verdean’s man on the ground in the Holy Land, Boaz.

The pieces are there, but the execution is way off. Hess’s film is too sweetly, compassionately cynical for its own good. What humor the film offers is frustratingly laid back, and far too often a tart comedic set up suffers from weak follow through.

The Hesses don’t seem to have the teeth for religious satire. Is Verdean a huckster or a soft but decent man led astray by Satan’s earthly influence, greed? Or is everyone in the film just suffering from idiocy and whimsy in equal measure?

Most disheartening of all is the misuse of Rockwell, who also executive produces. His performance is so low key as to be sleep inducing.

Rockwell and Clement co-starred in the Hesses’ previous effort, Gentlemen Broncos, which was far weirder than it was funny. For their next film they dialed down the weird a bit, but the comedy itself is even more subdued.

That’s unfortunate, because they may have really had something if they’d known what to do with it.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

Old Pros at Work

Bridge of Spies

by George Wolf

It’s October, so if you hear “Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, two hour twenty minute historical drama” and think Oscar bait, you’re not alone.

But Bridge of Spies also walks the walk, emerging as a taut, effective and absorbing film, as finely crafted as you would expect from the talents involved.

It’s also a wonderful slice of history, especially for those not familiar with the story of Jim Donovan.

As the Cold War rages in the late 1950s, Donovan (Hanks) is an insurance lawyer with three kids and a wife (Amy Ryan) in a big house in the New York suburbs. When the CIA nabs Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the head of Donovan’s firm (Alan Alda) volunteers him to help the Feds and give Abel just enough of a defense to make the trial seem legit.

Going through the motions doesn’t sit well with Donovan, even as his commitment brings a cost “to family and firm.”

Complications arise when the Russians capture one of ours, and a prisoner exchange seems in the best interest of both parties. That’s not the sort of thing governments want to officially participate in, so Donovan is sent to Berlin to negotiate the deal.

Standing alone, the true events are undoubtedly compelling, but onscreen they unfold like an intentionally old school genre thriller, crafted by veteran artists wearing their considerable skills like a perfectly broken-in pair of shoes.

Spielberg’s sense of pace and framing is casually impeccable, Hanks perfectly embodies Donovan’s inner journey, and Rylance is sure to get Oscar consideration for his scene-stealing perfection.

But there’s more. Composer Thomas Newman (what, not John Williams?) provides a gently evocative score, and Matt Charman’s script gets an assist from none other than the Coen Brothers.

As the tale moves from courtroom motions to clandestine spy games, it’s punctuated by perfectly realized moments that speak to more universal themes. Schoolchildren frightened by the thought of war, a mad dash to make it over the Berlin Wall, or a pledge to be a justice system that doesn’t “toss people in the trash heap”, all linger just long enough to resonate without manipulation.

By the time Donovan heads to the bridge for the prisoner transfer, the only chance of letdown in the film comes from being lulled into complacency by the skill of people who just know what the hell they are doing.

You knew Bridge of Spies would be good. It is.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

Look! Up in the Air!

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

by Hope Madden

You’ve heard the buzz. It’s loud and merited. The sharp and beguiling Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) sees a brilliant director and a magnificent cast at the height of their creative powers.

Playful and dark, the film follows a washed up Hollywood actor best known for a superhero franchise (an Oscar bound Michael Keaton, who certainly resembles that description). Struggling to regain relevance, he writes, directs and stars in a Broadway play. Meta from the word go, Birdman’s incisive exploration of the entertainment industry and the compulsion to perform couldn’t be more spot-on or more imaginative.

Director/co-writer Alejandro González Inárritu and his fluid, stalking camera ask a great deal from this ensemble as together they dissect fame – its proof and its power – in the digital age. From first to last, they are up to the task and then some.

They clearly relish a script that has such an insider’s perspective, skewering the self-absorption, insecurity and need for attention that fill the business. The performers embody these weaknesses and still create a tenderness for their characters. The comedy isn’t mean, though it is dark and edgy.

Edward Norton is hilarious in a bit of a self-parody as the true talent who pushes boundaries and strives for honesty – on the stage, anyway. He’s hardly alone. The entire ensemble – Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan and Amy Ryan – impresses.

Each has his or her own story, conflict, world, and Inárritu allows that to enrich the world he creates, but it’s all in support of Keaton in the finest turn of his often underappreciated catalog of performances.

He never falls back on the ticks and gimmicks that mark most of his comedic turns – quirks that made efforts like Beetlejuice so enjoyable. This performance is volcanic and restrained, pitiful and triumphant. His desperation is palpable and his madness is glorious. That Keaton can hit these disparate levels sometimes simultaneously inspires awe. Keaton has long been a unique talent, and while this role seems almost awkwardly custom made for the former Batman, the performance still could not have been less expected.

Inárritu, master of beautiful tragedy (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful), may be in impish humor with this effort, but Birdman is as dark and poetic as anything he’s created. Impeccably written, hauntingly filmed and superbly performed, Birdman is the first real contender Boyhood has faced for the best film of 2014.

Verdict-4-5-Stars

Tonight There’s Gonna be a Jailbreak!

 

by George Wolf

 

As nonsensical, potentially offensive and completely ridiculous as it is, Escape Plan does enough things right to render it more entertaining that you might expect.

Think of it as residing in the Face/Off neighborhood, where a film embraces its outlandishness so convincingly you eventually surrender under the weight of the escapist fun to be had.

Of course, that film had two of the all-time greatest hambones, John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, operating at maximus overacti. Escape Plan has Stallone and Schwarzenegger, two aging action stars trying to prove they still have box office juice.

To its credit, the film doesn’t even address the age factor, even though it is very easy to imagine stars such as Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg in the lead roles.

Sly is introduced as Ray Breslin, the leading expert in structural security. He routinely puts his skills to the test by assuming the identities of inmates in various prisons and then going full MacGuyver to expose security weaknesses by busting out with little more than toilet paper and a used carton of chocolate milk.

Breslin’s firm gets an outlandishly lucrative offer to test the limits of a…cough, cough…”off the grid,” black-ops type prison in an undisclosed location. Despite concerns from his co-workers, Breslin goes in, realizing almost immediately he’s been set up, and must enlist the help of a mysterious new friend on the inside (Arnold) to break out for reals.

Director Mikael Hafstrom (The Rite/Derailed) wisely chooses to keep matters focused on action and away from any cheesy attempts at tongue in cheek humor. Less successful are his depictions of Muslim inmates and scenes of enhanced interrogation.

Giving the film a “Blackwater” setting may have been an attempt by screenwriters Miles Chapman and Jason Keller to address a timely topic. Instead, they toss the dark realities of torture around so flippantly the film comes dangerously close to making light of the entire issue. Muslim stereotypes don’t help either.

Still, there’s action aplenty amid some clever twists, an effective supporting cast (Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, Vincent D’Onofrio and a surprisingly emotive Jim Caviezel), and Arnold, at least, seems to be having a blast getting back in the saddle.

Maybe they’re not too old for this shit.

 

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars