Tag Archives: John Turturro

The Darkest Knight

The Batman

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

The question is plenty familiar.

“Who are you?”

But the answer isn’t the one we’re expecting, and it’s an early declaration that there’s a new cape in town.

“I am…vengeance.”

Talk about your dark knights. Director/co-writer Matt Reeves and star Robert Pattinson make Mr. Nolan feel like Mister Rogers in comparison. Anyone looking for the recent superhero giddiness of No Way Home will find none, while comic purists may finally discover the treatment they’ve been clamoring for all along.

For the rest of us, The Batman delivers a defiant, somewhat overstuffed vision, one that embraces darkness of theme and palette while crafting several truly dazzling visual set pieces.

Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In, Dawn of and War for the Planet of the Apes) wisely skips the backstory intro, giving us Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) some two years into his “Gotham Project.” Alfred (Andy Serkis) worries about the family finances, while Master Wayne is only interested in feeding his vigilante alter ego.

But while Bruce is watching the city, the mysterious Riddler (Paul Dano, taking the legendarily comic villain in a terrifying new direction) is watching The Batman, leaving personalized messages with each new assassination.

His puzzles draw Batman, Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and a resourceful waitress with hidden talents of her own (Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle) deep into the Gotham organized crime scene run by Carmine Falcone (John Tutturo ) and Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Colin Farrell under some astounding makeup). There is no shortage of characters at play, and Reeves struggles to justify all of them in one film.

At stake are long-held secrets about Gotham that the Riddler wants “brought into the light,” some of which will challenge what you think you know about the birth of the Bat. And that seems only appropriate for a film that challenges expectations of its genre with a narrative more reminiscent of Seven than anything we’ve seen from DC or Marvel.

So dark, and so rainy.

Pattinson’s Emo Batman works well within the structure and aesthetic Reeves develops. He carves out a very different crusader, one more introspective and heartbroken than righteous. This Bruce Wayne views the bat signal as both a call and a warning, and Pattinson is able to effectively keep the tortured soul’s head above self-pitying water.

Dano’s exceptional, Farrell’s fun, and Kravitz develops an intriguing antihero of her own. People talk about Joker’s lineage, but Catwoman is another iconic villain. Eartha Kitt, Julie Newmar, Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway have all left their mark, but Kravitz sidesteps broad stroke villainy in favor of something nuanced and human.

But ultimately, what makes this film most interesting is the way Bruce Wayne struggles to justify the consequences that The Batman has had on Gotham, and the surprising side of hero worship. Where is the line separating savior and sinner? And who gets to draw it?

Reeves isn’t the first to pull Batman into these relevant questions, but he raises them with a commitment fierce enough to generate excitement for yet another trilogy. And though there’s no surprise waiting after the credits here, keep an eye out for a villain to be named later.

Teen Wolves

The True Adventures of Wolfboy

by George Wolf (no relation)

Have many Young Adult films carry a theme of self-acceptance? Plenty, but that’s not a problem.

It’s delivering that message via the same tired playbook that gets old, which is just one of the reasons The True Adventures of Wolfboy lands as a charming and completely captivating tale of a truly special teen.

And director Martin Krejci makes sure it feels like a tale in so many magical ways, starting with the beautifully ornate title cards separating each chapter in the journey of a lonely and self-loathing boy on his thirteenth birthday.

Paul (Jaeden Martell) suffers from hypertrichosis – an extremely rare affliction causing abnormal hair growth all over his face and body. He covers his face with a ski mask most of the time, but his father (Chris Messina) gently urges him to put the mask aside and accept the taunts of “dogboy!” with dignity.

Paul’s mother has been gone since he was born, but when a strange birthday gift delivers a map and a promise of explanations, Paul runs away to answer the invitation and get some answers from Mom (Chloe Sevigny).

Krejci crafts Paul’s journey from dog to wolf as an epic odyssey of self-discovery. From Pinnochio-like exploitation in a sideshow run by Mr. Silk (John Turturro, also a producer), to joining the eyepatch-wearing Rose (Eve Hewson) for a string of petty holdups, Paul’s world – and his world view – expands quickly.

But it is the effervescent teen Aristiana (transgender actress Sophie Giannamore) that most triggers Paul’s awakening. She hates the short “boy” haircut her mother insists on, while Paul is ashamed of how much hair he has. Her mother calls her Kevin, his mother doesn’t call at all.

Similarly, Martell delivers true tenderness and longing behind Mark Garbarino’s impressive makeup, while Giannamore is a heartwarming example of defiant positivity. Both actors and their characters bond quickly, and screenwriter Olivia Dufault (also transgender) finds a power that eludes so many YA dramas via the subtle genius of writing Aristiana as a secondary catalyst.

We already feel for Paul, so Aristiana’s effect on his self image is something we feel without being told. The point is made organically, with wit and wisdom, and much more resonance. What Paul finds at the end of his journey is sweet, but just gravy.

Wolfboy is the rare teen drama that speaks without condescension, and entertains without calculation.

That’s welcome, special even.

Dancing Queen

Gloria Bell

by Hope Madden

Six years ago, Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio released a vibrant and unapologetic look at aging and living with his magnificent Gloria. He re-images that gem with Gloria Bell, his second English language film, placing the incomparable Julianne Moore at the center of a different kind of coming of age story.

Moore is Gloria, a single fiftysomething who’s starting to feel her mortality. The film itself is a character study of the type Lelio does best. His films nearly always focus unflinchingly on the struggles of a woman trying to live freely and authentically.

As with his Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman, his underappreciated Disobedience, and the original Gloria, Lelio’s observational and unobtrusive direction trusts the lead to carry the weight of the film. Moore characteristically rises to the occasion.

In Moore’s hands Gloria is perhaps a tad more reserved, a little more tentative than the firebrand depicted by Paulina Garcia in the original, but she’s no less wonderful. As Gloria struggles between the freedom and the loneliness of independence, and as she comes to terms with her own mortality, Moore’s tenderness and vulnerability will melt you and her sudden bursts of ferocity will delight.

John Turturro offers impeccable support as Gloria’s love interest. The performance is slippery and unsettlingly believable. He’s joined by strong ensemble work from Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, Alanna Ubach and Holland Taylor, each of whom delivers the spark of authenticity despite limited screen time.

But make no mistake, Gloria Bell is Moore’s film.

Is this just another in a string of brilliant performances, one more piece of evidence to support Moore’s position among the strongest actors of her generation? No.

Gloria Bell is a beautiful film, one that fearlessly affirms the potency of an individual woman, one that recognizes the merit of her story.

 





Missed Connections

Landline

by Hope Madden

Jenny Slate is the perfect mix of raunchy and sweet to anchor an indie dramedy. Co-writer/director Gillian Robespierre tested that theory in 2014 with the character study and edgy rom/com Obvious Child.

Following on those proven results, Robespierre re-tests her theory with the 1995 family saga Landline.

Slate plays Dana, the older, almost-married sister in an upscale Manhattan family. But she and her ever-since-college beau Ben (Jay Duplass) are maybe not everything Dana hoped they’d be.

Her own entanglements with infidelity happen to exactly coincide with a discovery younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn) makes of their father’s (John Turturro) erotic poetry, written for someone who is definitely not their mother (Edie Falco).

Things begin to fall apart. Ali’s lived-in resentment toward her overbearing mother is tested and turned instead toward her sweet, laid back father. Meanwhile Dana embraces recklessness and begins hanging out with her boundary-pushing teenage sister, drinking during the day and sneaking away for clandestine sexual encounters with Nate (pitch-perfect Finn Wittrock).

So, crumbling family dynamics in a well-to-do Manhattan family. Not exactly as edgy as a romantic comedy written around an abortion.

Still, between its loving nostalgia for the pre-cellphone days of the mid-Nineties and its truly game cast, Landline keeps you interested and entertained.

Falco and Turturro are unfortunately underused. Both are spectacular talents, and their well-worn relationship offers each the opportunity to create moments of sudden, honest, everyday heartbreak.

The characteristically effervescent Slate charms, and her off kilter chemistry with Quinn serves the film well. They’re irritated and protective, bitching and admiring all in the same breath. They often feel unsure of their own feelings toward each other, which reads as very authentic.

Quinn is the real heartbeat of the film. Equally vulnerable and mean, she’s less the cinematic equivalent of a conflicted adolescent than she is a conflicted adolescent, and the film takes on a sharp focus whenever she’s onscreen.

Unfortunately, that’s not all the time, and Robespierre – writing again with Elisabeth Holm – loses focus too easily. Landline, for all its insightful moments and clever lines, feels a bit unwieldy and murky.

Verdict-3-0-Stars