In many ways, Four Good Days feels like a Rodrigo
Garcia film. The co-writer/director frequently spins tales of women, often
mothers and daughters whose own pain keeps them from clearly seeing and
addressing the pain they inflict.
His films (Nine Lives, Mother and Child, Albert Knobbs) routinely examine relationships built as much on survival as on love, and the strain that puts on people.
Glenn Close, a frequent Garcia collaborator, stars as Deb,
put-upon mother of a drug addict. That addict, Molly, is played by Mila Kunis as
you’ve never seen her. Kunis’s trademark big eyes swim in a gaunt face marked
by the scars of the life of an addict, the actress’s million-dollar smile
replaced with rotten nubs.
Kunis clearly lost a substantial amount of weight to complete
the transformation from Hollywood sweetheart to hopeless addict. Her performance
is not simply skin deep, either.
Characteristic of Garcia’s strongest films, the friction and flaws in these women leave the biggest impression. Kunis lands on the button-pushing most effective in manipulating her mother: chaos and accusation. In her hands, Molly is profoundly unlikable because why would she need anybody to like her? What does that get her? She shoots rapid-fire guilt and shame bullets at her mother and sees what hits.
Molly’s defenses and manipulations blend together so
believably that when she does hit a note of emotional depth and sincerity, it’s
Close’s performance is no less commendable, though her character
is frustrating. The writing here has some trouble creating the natural if infuriating
behaviors of a woman torn between protecting herself and believing in her
daughter. Too often, the situations and behaviors feel like what they are: plot
points meant to increase tension as we rush toward the inevitable climax.
Here is where Four Good Days (co-written with Eli
Saslow) does not feel like a Rodrigo Garcia film.
The movie mainly makes up for these missteps. It’s a difficult film to watch in that it doesn’t tread on your sympathies, doesn’t create tragic and noble characters, doesn’t even ask you to like either lead. Instead, it insinuates itself in the battle between the shrill, ugly survival tactics a mother and daughter wield like daggers as they claw their way toward sobriety.
I can’t say I’m a big Ron Howard fan. I find his films safe
and sentimental. But I’d certainly say they were all competently made.
What the hell is going on with Hillbilly Elegy?
Howard’s adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoir does boast the one-two punch of perennial Oscar contenders Amy Adams and Glenn Close. Adams plays Vance’s unstable mother, Beverly. It’s less a character than a collection of outbursts, so I can’t even say whether she’s good.
Close, as Vance’s beloved Mamaw, gets more opportunity to
carve out an actual character. But like everything else in the film, Mamaw
exists in snippets to illustrate the Middletown, Ohio chains J.D. needs to
The main story is of law student J.D. (Gabriel Basso) trying
to land summer employment at a firm so he can afford Yale next year. His mother
overdoses on heroin just days before his interview. Can he get to Ohio, sort
that out, and still make it back to Connecticut in time? Or will he be forever
waylaid by all the hyperventilating, acid washed jeans, scrunchies and
hysterics that populate his flashbacks?
Howard’s characters don’t show us much, but they do tell us a lot of things. J.D. tells us his mother is the smartest person he’s ever met. We never see even a glimpse of that, so we’ll have to take him at his word. He also tells us twice that he will do whatever it takes to make sure his mother gets the help she needs.
That’s supposed to be the heart of the story. Does there
come a time when you have to put yourself first? Is it ever wrong to sacrifice
yourself for your family?
Too bad Howard, working from a screenplay by Vanessa Taylor,
can’t find that heartbeat.
Flashbacks do little to differentiate J.D. (played in youth by Owen Asztalos) from the others who can look forward to a life of “food stamps or jail.”
Never does the film see J.D. as possessing any privileges
that may make success easier for him than for his grandmother, mother, or
sister (Haley Bennett). Nope. J.D. just worked harder.
The reason Howard’s film seems like it refuses to say anything, which gives it the feel of a poorly pieced together puzzle, is that it says two things simultaneously. 1) Redneck is a term elitists use to make themselves feel superior to perfectly valuable people. 2) If rednecks worked hard enough, they could go to Yale and stop being rednecks.
It’s that time of year! The Academy celebrates the best work in the industry and we celebrate the early, mainly terrible work of those same nominees. It’s Skeletons in the Closet season, people!
We will let you know up front that, because Sam Rockwell and Bradley Cooper have already been subjects of the program, we will not be discussing Clown House (Rockwell’s feature debut) or Midnight Meat Train (or My Little Eye, for that matter, though Cooper appears in both).
And let us also congratulate nominee Willem Dafoe for managing to make several decent horror films, and garnering his first Oscar nomination for his work in one great one—Shadow of the Vampire.
But enough about good movies. Here are the stinkers.
Dial up the full podcast, co-hosted by Senior Aussie Correspondent (and host of Golden Spiral Media’s Rewatch podcast), Cory Metcalfe.
5. Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III
Viggo Mortensen has been a working actor for more than 30 years, which means bones in that there closet. There was the questionable Psycho remake, and his version of Lucifer in Christopher Walken’s dark angel camp classic Prophesy (featured on the 2018 Skeleton’s episode).
Let’s focus on his place with the inbred cannibal clan the Sawyers in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Directed by Jeff Burr (From a Whisper to a Scream, Stepfather II, Puppet Master 4, 5 and Blitzkrieg Massacre), it’s a competently made if inspirationally dry episode.
Viggo plays Tex, and unquestionably outshines all the rest of the talent in the film. He’s sneaky, snaky, sexy, and he loves his mama.
4. Warlock (1989)
There is something to be said for this oh-so-Eighties adventure. Steve Miner (Friday 13th 2 & 3, H20, Lake Placid) directs from a screenplay by David Twohy (Critters 2, Pitch Black, The Perfect Getaway). The film follows witch Julian Sands 300 years into the future to 1989 USA, where he’s followed by witchhunter Redfern (Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant).
There’s nothing especially interesting about the film, and Lori Singer could not be more annoying in the lead, but both Sands and Grant elevate the material. The two veteran low-budget, crowd-pleasing horror filmmakers know how to give you something.
The flight sequences are too lame—in fact, all the FX promise to make you cringe—and much of the humor dates horrifically. But Grant commits to his character and Sands’s wicked grin makes up for a lot of plot holes.
3. Mary Reilly (1996)
Boy, there were high hopes for this bloated embarrassment when it came out back in ’96. Director Stephen Frears re-teamed with his Dangerous Liaisons screenwriter and stars John Malkovich and Glenn Close for a retelling of the old Jekyll and Hyde tale.
At the center, a plucky young housemaid named Mary (Julia Roberts).
Roberts’s career had begun its slide by this point, and this movie did not help things because she is just God awful. Oh my word, that accent.
Eight-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close plays Mrs. Farraday, proprietress of a brothel. Boasting gold tooth, smeared lipstick and sneer, Close camps it up with an accent a bit more bizarre even than Roberts’s.
There is so much wrong with this movie—its leaden pace, its inconsistent tone, its sense of self-importance, the fact that we’re supposed to believe no one realizes both guys are Malkovich, the idea of Malkovich in a sexy role, Roberts performance in literally every scene—it’s hard to know where to start.
Maybe just don’t.
2. Frogs (1972)
As the eco-terror flick from the Seventies opens, a handsome and manly brunette with no facial hair canoes through a swamp. He’s so manly!
Hey wait, that beardless brunette is Sam Elliott!
The manly Picket Smith (Elliott) ends up stranded on the vacation island of a wealthy family led by Ray Milland. He’s a dick. The frogs know it.
We get it, rich people who believe men are meant to rule the world will be the downfall of the planet. (If we didn’t know it in 1972, we know it now.) But couldn’t these scenes be briefer? Couldn’t there be any action at all?
1. Death Machine (1994)
Holy cow, this movie is bad.
And we had more than a few to choose from, because Rachel Weisz makes a lot of movies. The Mummy was not good. The Mummy Returns was worse. Constantine—yikes. Even Dream House, which had all the earmarks of a decent flick, chose not to be.
But Death Machine, which showcases the young thespian for maybe 45 seconds, sucks right out loud. Written and directed by Stephen Norrington (Blade, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), it follows a young executive (Ely Pouget) as she tries to end the evil inventing of a mad genius (Brad Dourif).
Weisz plays Junior Executive, and her scene is the one that doesn’t blow.
Dourif is so wildly miscast as the long haired, heavy metal misfit that you almost overlook the idiocy of every moment of screen time.
You guys, Glenn Close has never won an Oscar. That’s insane, right?
She’s been nominated 6 times—Albert Nobbs, Dangerous Liaisons, Fatal Attraction, The Natural, The Big Chill, The World According to Garp—but never won. I get the feeling she’s looking to change that.
Björn Runge’s big screen adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s novel The Wife sees Close as Joan Castleman. Joan’s husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The film shadows the Castlemans as they receive the news, celebrate the win and head to Stockholm to receive the award.
Through flashbacks we’re privy to the relationship between young Joe (Harry Lloyd) and Joan (Annie Starke—Close’s daughter) as it develops.
Close is perfect—steely brilliance, her character a wily manipulator of situations whose growing intolerance of her life threatens to crack the polished surface that has adorned this marriage for decades.
The entire film—and every sacrifice, struggle and misery of Joan’s life—plays out on Glenn Close’s face. Close ups reveal not only the resignation and resilience of Joan’s life, but the depths of Close’s talent for communicating her character’s essence. Everything you need to know—about Joe, about marriage, about being a woman, and about Joan’s particular misery—is etched on Close’s countenance. The rest of the film just verifies what you’ve learned.
Nearly equal to Close is Starke, who not only looks the part but whose characterization easily communicates the same studied behaviors Joan will eventually develop into a masterful façade.
Jane Anderson’s screenplay tends to overstate, which is unfortunate. The simple interplay between Close and Price—jubilantly nailing the narcissist whose selfishness cannot be contained—more potently unveils and reveals than any clear-cut narrative scene ever could.
Not that you’ll remember the needless extras: flashbacks illustrating an early pattern of sacrifice; parties and ceremonies depicting Joe as an attention whore incapable of recognizing his wife’s anguish; the slippery biographer (Christian Slater) or mopey son (Max Irons) clamoring for attention.
What you’ll remember is Close, delivering, as is her way, a tour de force performance that may finally land Close her own glittering acknowledgment.
It is the top of the food chain that has the most reason to fear evolution.
Isn’t that the abiding tension in monster and superhero movie alike? The Girl with All the Gifts explores it thoughtfully and elegantly – for a zombie movie.
In 2010, director Colm McCarthy took an unusually restrained and intimate look at lycanthropy in his underseen Outcast – kind of a werewolf Romeo and Juliet among Irish travelers. This time he mines Mike Carey’s screen adaptation of his own novel with the same quietly insightful bent.
Melanie (startlingly strong newcomer Sennia Nanua) lives out her young life in a cell, then restrained head, hands and feet in a wheelchair as part of ongoing research conducted by Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close).
Let’s pause. When 6-time Oscar nominee and all around acting badass Glenn Close deems a zombie film worthy of her talent, we should all pay attention.
So, what’s the deal? A horde of “hungries,” each infected with a plant-based virus, has long since overrun the human population. Dr. Caldwell, her researchers and the military are holed up while trying to derive a cure from the next generation, like Melanie – the offspring of those infected during pregnancy.
It is an unsettling premise handled with restraint and realism, bolstered by uniformly admirable performances.
Melanie aside, the characters could be standard fare zombipocalypse cogs: gung ho military guys, driven researcher, tender-hearted woman here to remind us all of the civilization we’re fighting to save.
But expect something surprising and wonderful out of every actor involved – from Paddy Considine as the Sarge with something to learn to Gemma Arterton as Melanie’s beloved teacher to Close, steely and cagey in a underwritten role.
But much of the weight sits on Nanua’s narrow shoulders, and she owns this film. The role requires a level of emotional nimbleness, naiveté edged with survival instinct, and command. She has that and more.
McCarthy showcases his bounty of talent in a film that knows its roots but embraces the natural evolution of the genre. It’s not easy to make a zombie film that says something different.
Girl brims with ideas and nods to films of the past – in many ways, it is the natural extension of the ideas Romero first brought to the screen when he invented the genre in ’68. It definitely picks up where his Day of the Dead left off in ’85, working in nods to 28 Days Later as well as other seminal flicks in the genre.
But what Girl has to say is both surprising and inevitable.