Tag Archives: Ed Harris

Mission Accomplished

Top Gun: Maverick

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Sentimental, button-pushing and formulaic, as predictable as it is visceral, Top Gun: Maverick stays laser-focused on its objective.

Attract crowd. Thrill crowd. Please crowd.

Expect bullseyes on all three fronts, as star Tom Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski take a couple cues from the Star Wars franchise in reconnecting with friends and re-packaging feelings.

After all these years in the Navy, Pete Mitchell’s “Maverick” tendencies have kept him from advancing past the rank of Captain. And when Pete blatantly shows up Admiral Cain (Ed Harris), he’s in danger of being grounded until Admiral “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) rescues him with orders to return to Top Gun and whip some new flyboys and girls into shape for a secret mission.

One of those young guns is “Rooster” (Miles Teller), son of “Goose,” who resents Maverick for more than just coming home alive when his father did not.

Against the wishes of Admiral “Cyclone” (Jon Hamm), it is Maverick who will train the 12 Top Gun pilots, and then pick 6 to take out a newly discovered uranium plant that poses a clear and present threat to the U.S.

Who’s doing the threatening? We never know. Does it matter?

Not in Maverick‘s world.

The screenplay-by-commitee doesn’t stretch anybody’s imagination or talent, with early hotshot dialog so phony it feels like a spoof. But nobody came for banter. We came for nostalgia, flight action, and – god help us – Tom Cruise.

He delivers, in his inimitable movie star way. He cries on cue, runs like his hair’s on fire, and burns charisma. What more do you want?

Romance? Here’s old flame Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who now runs that famous San Diego beachfront bar and just happens to be a single mother who might be looking for someone as ridiculously good-looking as she is. As both characters and actors, they click.

Cruise’s chemistry with a mainly underused Teller – who really looks like a chip off the old Goose – finally gets to show itself late in the film, exposing both tenderness and humor in its wake.

And once we’re in the air, get in front of the biggest screen you can and hang on. Kosinski’s airborne action sequences are often downright breathtaking, every moment in the danger zone moving us closer to that Goose/Rooster/Maverick moment that has no business working as well as it does.

It’s emotional manipulation, but not nearly as garish an act as Val Kilmer’s thankless role. Still, Cruise and Kosinski know it’s nostalgia that flies this plane, and Iceman is part of the plan that starts right from that original Kenny Loggins tune heard in the opening minutes.

From manufactured rivalries to shirtless team building to the entrance of a surprise Top Gun instructor from last night at the bar, Maverick sells us back what we first bought back in 1986.

And dammit, it feels even better this time.

A Day at the Beach

The Lost Daughter

by Hope Madden

Unnerving intimacy marks Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut as a feature director, The Lost Daughter.

The veteran actor moves behind the camera to capture a weeklong holiday in Greece. Leda (Olivia Colman) lounges seaside and scribbles notes for another book. Little work gets done, though, thanks to the very large, very wealthy, very rowdy family that crowds the beach each day, but one member of that family sends Leda’s mind reeling back to her own youth.

Jessie Buckley’s young Leda captures the rich and volatile version of the woman Colman delivers on the beaches of Greece. The two performances never mirror or mimic each other. Rather, Buckley’s frustration and passion inform the reflective but still impetuous middle-aged woman taking stock of her life.

An actor whose unerring talent feels effortless, though no doubt it is not, Gyllenhaal draws that same kind of vulnerable, raw performance from her leads. Both versions of Leda surprise with a balance of moments, both ugly and dear. Anger lies behind their eyes, as well as longing and the regrettable loneliness of an outsider.

Colman conveys enormous emotional weight with her physical performance. The way she holds herself, the expressions that linger on her face, the changes in her gait—all of it articulates the particular suffering of this human in a way dialog never could.

Gyllenhaal frames the film as if to point out that the story is there, and is important, but of equal value is the way Leda sees the life unfolding around her. The approach is genius but unforgiving. A lesser cast could peter out with this level of attention. Luckily for all of us, Gyllenhaal’s uniformly subline cast (which includes Dakota Johnson and Ed Harris, both marvels) meets the challenge.

The deliberate camerawork in The Lost Daughter crafts a disquieting spell. Whether so close to an embrace you can almost smell the baby shampoo, or holding a distant glance at a stranger long enough to ensure its discomfort, Hélène Louvart’s cinematography disconcerts — as it did in Eliza Hittman’s 2020 treasure Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

Adapting Elena Ferrante’s novel, Gyllenhaal challenges romantic preconceptions about motherhood (sometimes quite bitingly, thanks to lines delivered with acidic precision by the remarkable Colman). The film acknowledges what is given up, what is lost, when you essentially transfer ownership of yourself—your time, your attention, your future—to someone else, to your children. The theme is deeply and honestly felt, and that, too, is unnerving.

Speak No Evil

Resistance

by George Wolf

In the opening minutes of Resistance, a young Jewish girl asks her parents, “Why do they hate us?”

Then, just before the end credits, stark onscreen text reminds us of the magnitude of Nazi atrocities, and just how much of that was inflicted on children.

And during the nearly two hours in between, writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz tells an incredible story you probably don’t know about an iconic figure you most likely do.

Legendary mime Marcel Marceau was born Marcel Mangel. And while taking a stage name is hardly unusual, Mangel’s motivation was: joining the French Resistance and helping save thousands of children orphaned by the Nazis in WWII.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as Marceau, and it’s a perfect vehicle for his offbeat strengths as an actor. Though Eisenberg’s French accent is shaky (he’s not alone), he nails the layers most important to making Marceau’s astonishing arc an authentic one.

Early on, Marceau is afraid of his father’s reaction to his ambitions on the stage, and seems most interested in entertaining children as a way to impress the lovely Emma (Clemence Poesy).

Eisenberg may never be an action hero, but his delicate, appeasing nature is a valuable tool for Jakubowicz to subtly reinforce how the Nazi threat was (and still is?) underestimated. Marceau’s hardening edges are never overplayed by Eisenberg, just as Jakubowicz wisely steers clear of any overt, Life is Beautiful sentimentality between Marceau and the children he is trying to shield from the horrors of war.

Indeed, the film is at its most gripping when juxtaposing the touching and the profane. Gentle moments appear and are quickly countered, never betraying the ever-present threat often personified by the sadistic Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer). Marceau and Barbie’s face to face meeting – historically accurate or not – is played with fine cinematic tension, demonstrating a passion and assured vision often lacking in Jakubowicz’s 2016 feature debut, Hands of Stone.

Marceau ultimately gave his first major performance in front of thousands of WWII troops. And although framing his story around a speech from General George S. Patton (Ed Harris) seems a bit misplaced, it also feels born of the sincere desire to convey the depth of Marceau’s heroism.

Resistance is a film built with passion and sincerity, employing a story that will be new for most of us to deliver a timely reminder meant for all of us.

Many Mansions

mother!

by Hope Madden

Darren Aronofsky is grappling with some things.

For those of you who know the writer/director primarily for his streamlined, intimate films like The Wrestler, mother! may come as a bit of a surprise.

For the rest of us, mother! may come as a bit of a surprise.

How do you feel about metaphor?

Jennifer Lawrence stars as the very young wife of a middle-aged poet with writer’s block (Javier Bardem). While he stares at a blank piece of paper, she quietly busies herself restoring every room and detail in his remote, fire-damaged home—now their home.

Their peace is disturbed by a man (Ed Harris) knocking at the door, soon followed by a woman (Michelle Pfieffer—look for her name come Oscar time). The poet is only too happy to offer the strangers a place to stay, and this is bad news for the poet’s wife.

Between Aronofsky’s disorienting camera and his cast’s impeccable performances, he ratchets up tension in a way that is beyond uncomfortable. This is all clearly leading somewhere very wrong and the film develops the atmosphere of a nightmare quickly, descending further and further with each scene.

Many a horror film has been built around writer’s block, but Aronofsky has more on his mind than that. The larger concept of creation and all its complications: male versus female, celebrity, consumption, art and commerce. Also maybe the self-destructive nature of humanity as well as its tendency toward regeneration and rot. And being God.

Aronofsky picks up many of the themes that have run through his work, from Requiem for a Dream to The Fountain through Black Swan and Noah.

God as creator, god as creation. Gender politics and the nature of man.

Or is it all just one man’s frustration at not being able to give birth?

Hard to say, really. It’s a big stew, and it’s equal parts self-indulgent and self-pitying. Aronofsky is a daring filmmaker and an artist that feels no compulsion to hide his preoccupations.

Like most of the filmmaker’s work, mother! will not be for everyone. But if you’re up for an allegorical descent into hell, meticulously crafted and deftly told, and if you like your metaphors heavy and your climaxes absurd, this mother! is for you.





Dear Diary

The Adderall Diaries

by Hope Madden

James Franco is nothing if not prolific. The Adderall Diaries was his 8th completed feature slated for release in 2015. He is a frenzy of artistic ambition and he deserves credit for embracing independent filmmaking as well as bigger budget stuff, doling out comedies and dramas in between arty TV bits. But maybe if he slowed down a little, some of the material would be better.

In Adderall Diaries, Franco plays Stephen Elliott, the real-life writer who penned the nonfiction text on which the film is based. As Franco depicts him, Elliott is a self-destructive man-child wallowing in self-pity.

What caused his sour mood? An adolescence of abuse at the hands of a father he pretends is dead (in print and in public, no less). When Dad (Ed Harris) shows up in the flesh at a book reading, Elliott’s cushy world falls to pieces. Combine that with writer’s block and a misdirected interest in a high-profile murder trial, and what can Elliott do but snort, smoke, shoot, and pop every substance he comes into contact with?

There is something interesting buried here about how we use our own memories to justify our behavior, or about how writers are inherently liars, or a bit of both – hard to say because it’s never fleshed out or clearly articulated. But boy, the old ‘downward spiral of the artistic genius’ thing – that is hard to miss.

Though Harris turns in a characteristically strong performances, all other supporting turns are perfunctory at best, which leaves us with little but Franco’s whining protagonist to cling to.

Writer/director Pamela Romanowsky flails about with indie director clichés, creating an overly-filtered world of seediness and confused flashbacks, while her prose cannot deliver the introspection required to make an audience invest in what happens to Elliott.

Subplots go nowhere – the murder trial, in particular, feels as if it should mean something imperative but seems needless and tacked on. Relationships, the writer’s craft, self-examination and anything else the film attempts to tackle are too muddled to stand out. Even Franco’s damaged writer seeking redemption bit is so tired, and the character so unlikeable, that it’s just hard to care about the film’s outcome.

Verdict-2-0-Stars





An Irishman in New York

Run All Night

by Hope Madden

Who wants to spend St. Pat’s with a badass Irishman? Run All Night is just your latest chance to see Liam Neeson show off his particular set of skills.

An aging thug and unrepentant lush, Neeson’s Jimmy Conlon relies heavily on the good will of his best friend from the neighborhood, Shawn (Ed Harris). Shawn runs a business that used to be shady – maybe still is – but Shawn’s legitimate. Shawn’s son is strictly shady, and when Jimmy’s estranged son sees something he shouldn’t, the dads have to sort things out. With bullets.

After Non-Stop and Unknown, this marks the third time director Jaume Collet-Serra has filmed Neeson as the damaged, aging loner with regrets and a bunch of people to shoot – but at this point, who hasn’t? While this film certainly doesn’t feel fresh, it’s a more accomplished movie than their last two collaborations, offering emotional pull and fine performances.

Neeson’s haunted tough guy Jimmy is one of his more memorable action movie roles, even if the father/son angle telegraphs the redemption theme from up the block. Full of regret and just barely daring to hope, Jimmy’s last attempt at fatherhood is a complicated, bloody affair.

Ed Harris is characteristically excellent as well, and the two veterans invest in their characters and the history they share. Because the relationship feels honest, the payoff maintains some emotional punch.

The supporting cast is solid from top to bottom. From Vincent D’Onofrio’s good cop down to an uncredited Nick Nolte, they’re not flashy, but they are committed enough to their characters to keep the drama tight.

Collet-Serra’s film begins as a Seventies’ style gritty NYC street drama, but as the night wears on, little glints of modern action flick start to tear through that fabric. It’s too bad, even if it is inevitable. Contrivances pile up, and wildly obviously plot twists appear only to resolve in exactly the way you expect them to.

Much of Run All Night – too much, really – is familiar and predictable. It’s a credit to Collet-Serra’s pacing that the film can keep your attention, and a nod to the talent of his cast that you can feel caught up in their dysfunctional family drama regardless of the threadbare script.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





Who Wants a Cocktail?

The Face of Love

by Hope Madden

We owe a lot to alcohol. Just one example of the gifts booze gives graces our multiplexes and independent cinemas weekly, because nearly every movie theater now contains a bar. This means that audiences who would not spend money on traditional concessions – that is, an older crowd – are more apt to spend their leisure time at the movies. This, in turn, creates more demand for grown up fare onscreen. Not just more character driven or dramatic storytelling, either. Older crowds want to see stories that relate to them, performed by grown-ups, and the financial success of films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel only guarantees the trend will continue.

This isn’t always a good thing. For every Amour there’s a Grudge Match, but at least we get to see an extension on the careers of really talented actors, like Annette Bening and Ed Harris, portraying star-crossed lovers in The Face of Love.

Bening plays Nikki, five years widowed from her beloved husband Garrett (Harris). Her needy, also-widowed neighbor Roger (Robin Williams) hopes to woo her, but she only has eyes for Garrett. Luckily enough, she runs into his doppelganger at an art gallery.

Yes, Garrett’s exact duplicate also lives in LA, visits the same museum, is single and lonely, and falls for Nikki.

The love of your life dies and you meet an exact replica. What do you do?

Is it a universal question or a ridiculous contrivance?

The latter, it turns out, but thanks to the sheer force of talent both Harris and Bening bring to the project, it is hard to turn away.

Harris breaks your heart as the good guy who falls for this mysterious new lady in his life. He’s lucky, though, because his character – a nice guy in for a heartache – is a little easier to play.

Bening’s drawn the shorter straw, but she handles the entire task quite well regardless of the lacking character development on the page. Her uneasy joy, repressed emotion, and fragile calm all help to make the character and her actions feel almost real.

What’s utterly and irredeemably unreal is the plot, co-written by director Arie Posin, along with Matthew McDuffie. But if you drink enough while you’re at the theater, you’ll hardly notice.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars