Two years ago, Florian Zeller reimagined how film could represent perspective, turning his play The Father into a devastating meditation on helplessness, loss and love. Once again Zeller works with Christopher Hampton, this time to adapt the third in his trilogy of stage plays to examine family conflict, The Son.
Hugh Jackman stars as Peter, a dashing and successful lawyer with a lovely young wife (Vanessa Kirby) and a cherubic infant son. He also has a harried ex-wife named Kate (Laura Dern) and a teenage son named Nicholas (Zen McGrath), both of whom feel abandoned by him.
We meet Kate at Peter’s high-high-end doorway. He’s clearly not thrilled to see her – “You can’t just show up here unannounced like this!” – but she’s at her wit’s end. There’s something wrong with Nicholas.
Well, here’s Peter to the rescue. And in the ensuing two hours we learn that, even though appearances suggest that ol’ Pete has it all under control, he does not. No one does.
The dynamic between Kirby and McGrath becomes the most intriguing pairing as neither character is positioned to be fully villain or hero. Both are at odds – with each other, with Peter, with Kate – and yet both make genuine, if thwarted, attempts to bond.
As is her way, Kirby digs to find richness and complexity in a character with limited screen time. Dern is likewise excellent – as is her way. But the film lives and dies with Jackman and McGrath.
Zeller and Hampton’s script does McGrath no favors and he struggles mightily to find a balance between whining entitlement and genuine suffering.
Jackman’s a little bit by the numbers here. Zeller allows the clean, slick surfaces of his home and office and his elegant, never-mussed wardrobe to speak more loudly than they should, stifling a nuanced characterization. Jackman tries, and moments where Peter’s vanity seeps through his “perfect father” demeanor are welcome. But Zeller’s direction is obvious, and the writing wallows more than it enlightens.
Where The Father was a transcendent experience that dared to ask viewers to see as a man with Alzheimer’s sees, The Son takes no such daring leap. Its insights are stale, its twists manipulative. The film delivers a classy melodrama, but nothing more.
Oh, that’s harsh. I may still be mad that the Jurassic franchise ruined J.A. Bayona for me. But no matter the hot garbage that was Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I vowed to keep my hopes high for Jurassic World: Dominion.
I mean, Laura Dern’s back. And Sam Neill. And Jeff Goldblum! What’s not to love?
Too much. There is unquestionably too much not to love.
Colin Trevorrow returns to helm the franchise he rebooted with the surprisingly popular 4th installment, 2015’s Jurassic World. It was fun. It had problems (it really embraced outdated ideas of gender roles and romance, for instance), but it was a decent slice of nostalgia wrapped in excellent FX.
Then came the abomination of Fallen Kingdom. So, now Trevorrow is back to rein in the franchise with the one thing that can save it: the cast we loved from Spielberg’s ’93 original.
Dern, Neill and Goldblum – as Ellie, Grant and Malcolm — are more interested in these giant hybrid locusts than in dinosaurs, though. Whereas Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) want to save their daughter.
Essentially, no one gives a shit about dinosaurs in this one.
See, that’s how zombie franchises derail. Filmmakers think we pay money to see their people on a big screen. People we can see in any movie. Hell, we can see people by turning our heads away from the screen.
They’re here, and they look cool, but they’re filler. Trevorrow, co-writing with Emily Carmichael and Derek Connolly, stuffs the script with so much needless human backstory and drama that the dinosaur danger offers little more than set dressing.
In its place, loads and loads of traditional family values, Spielberg nods and nostalgia. The tone is insincere at best. Rather than feeling inspired by Spielberg, Jurassic World Dominion comes off as a hollow, cynical facsimile. It’s as authentic as a theme park ride.
Do you remember the JT LeRoy hubbub? Maybe you confuse it with the similar hullaballoo surrounding James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, the memoir that turned out to be highly fictional?
Please don’t. LeRoy’s bizarre fake nonfiction and ensuing
scandal is so much more interesting.
Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy is a hoax perpetrated on an almost
grotesquely willing public. Laura Albert, a frustrated writer, master
manipulator and likely sufferer of mental health issues, invented LeRoy.
More than the nom de plume used to pen Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, LeRoy became Albert’s literary persona. Albert herself didn’t exist in this world. She became LeRoy, the writer of lurid “autobiographical” pieces that, together with a mysterious nature, won the hearts of readers, media and celebrities alike.
In fact, Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy became so popular that he
had no choice but to show his nonexistent face.
Enter Albert’s sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop.
The weird true-life tale of LeRoy’s fake-life tale has been documented twice in works of nonfiction (the documentaries The Cult of JT LeRoy and Author: The JT LeRoy Story, both worth viewing). Director Justin Kelly is the first to make fiction of the fiction with his aptly cast film, J.T. LeRoy.
Though the film doesn’t offer a great deal of insight beyond what you can glean from the two documentaries, it takes Knoop’s point of view for a refreshing change of pace. But its real strength is the film’s cast.
Kristen Stewart makes the ideal choice to play Savanna/JT. Effortlessly androgynous, moody, sensual and conflicted, Stewart gives the character a vulnerable center, balancing Knoop’s motivation between a sense of duty to Albert and a personal longing for artistic expression.
Naturally, Laura Dern shines, stealing scenes and
oscillating between free spirit and opportunist. She does a fine job of
illustrating Abbot’s view of creating this other personality who can take on
her own pain, can amplify that pain and turn it into both an escape and art. At
the same time, Dern’s the schemer, the survivor manipulating those around her. It’s
interesting the way the veteran character actor weaves between artist and manipulator
in a context that questions the difference between fiction and fraud.
The two leads become a great point/counter point and the
film is strongest in their shared scenes. When JT wanders off alone, burdened by
puppy love or struggling to keep up a persona of another’s creation, a certain
spark goes out.
That’s not to say that the balance of the cast falters. Diane Kruger is particularly slippery as Eva, a thinly veiled version of Asia Argento. But as intriguing as her interplay is with JT, you miss the constant push and pull of wills when Stewart and Dern work off each other.
If we’d ever wondered what fueled Neeson’s on-screen obsession with a character who can turn from perfectly ordinary, even good guy to blindly bloodthirsty avenging devil, now we know. His movies were more fun before, weren’t they?
In Cold Pursuit, Neeson’s ninth riff on the theme since his 2008 career-changer Taken, he takes on mainly white guys (whew!).
Kehoe, Colorado’s most beloved snow plow driver Nels Coxman (Neeson) learns of his son’s heroin overdose death. Not believing his son to have been a junkie, he does some digging, and some retaliatory murdering.
One thing leads to another, the holy bonds between father and son are honored without being explored, Laura Dern (as Mrs. Coxman) vanishes from the film by the end of Act 1, and a rival drug gang complicates the revenge fantasy.
This is director Hans Petter Moland’s reboot of his own 2014 Norwegian thriller, In Order of Disappearance. Both films employ a dark and absurd humor that keep the well-worn material from feeling stale. The weird tone and Moland’s flair for fantastic visuals—not to mention his joy of carnage—keep the film intriguing from start to finish.
A game supporting cast doesn’t hurt. Tom Bateman (listen close and you can hear him say, “holy shit” in The Interview) chews enough scenery to balance Neeson’s quiet brood.
Plenty of peculiar turns and quirky moments between odd characters elevate this one above your garden variety Neeson thriller. It offers a mildly entertaining time—assuming you can get past the actor’s own disturbing relationship with revenge.
Writer/director Kelly Reichardt sees something extraordinary in the simple daily struggle of ordinary people. Her latest film, Certain Women, again observes with genuine interest the (mostly) routine choices and sacrifices that quietly shape lives.
Weaving together three separate tales, each with just a whisper of a connection to the next, she tells of the isolation and disappointments coloring the lives of certain small town women.
Laura Dern stands out, exasperated but compassionate, as a rural Montana lawyer contending with a confused and obstinate client (Jared Harris, wonderful). Their story crescendos with uncharacteristic (for Reichardt) drama, but even here, the intimacy and understatement highlight something far more human than the tale itself predicts.
Reichardt regular Michelle Williams leads the second story, one full of understated moments echoing with regret and longing. The third, starring Kristen Stewart as a new lawyer teaching a class and Lily Gladstone as the desperately lonely ranch hand she befriends, is the most hushed and heartbreaking.
Stewart, who’s been so strong in recent roles (Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice, Equals), falls back a bit on her trademark angst, but Gladstone’s aching loneliness balances it out.
It isn’t simply the characters, beautifully wrought as they are, that carry these loosely braided tales. Reichardt’s eloquently captured Montana landscape, lovely but hard, both informs and reflects each of the leads.
She’s working again with regular collaborator, cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, and together they let the rugged landscape speak as loudly, or as quietly, as the cast.
Few filmmakers – if any – can create such texture in a film. Reichardt rushes nothing, letting every scene breathe, every performance matter. There’s no shorthand here, and viewers thirsting for clear-cut drama and momentum may be uncomfortable with her choices. But those familiar with her work – Meek’s Cutoff (2010) and Wendy and Lucy (2008), in particular – will embrace the quiet intimacy of the portraits.
There’s nothing more fun come Oscar season than to dig around celebrity closets to find the long lost horror output of the year’s nominees. Of course we all remember Michael Keaton’s unfortunate late-career genre work in White Noise, while Reese Witherspoon starred years ago in the glorious American Psycho. You may not know that the always magnificent Eddie Redmayne starred as a conflicted friar in the low budget effort Black Death. But we don’t mean to pick recent scabs, and our point is not to applaud excellent early careers in horror. So instead, we thought it would be more fun to look at four gems of a different color. Oscar nominees Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Patricia Arquette and Bradley Cooper star in this month’s Skeletons in the Closet: Oscar Edition.
The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Photographer Leon (Bradley Cooper) comes to believe he is snapping evidence of a serial killer – a meticulously groomed butcher who emerges from the subway in the wee hours every morning carrying a suspicious bag. Written by Clive Barker (Hellraiser), the film is meant to implicate the viewer. It opens on all out slaughter, followed quickly by an image of Cooper, the lens of his camera pointed directly at you, the viewer. Why are we watching? Why is he watching? What does he find so fascinating about the festering underbelly of the city that he chooses to watch no matter how ugly. Why do we keep watching this film, even after Ted Raimi’s eyeball bursts out at us? It’s a bloody, foul mess, this one, but somehow not terribly tense and rarely if ever scary. Cooper overacts, and while the premise shows promise, the conclusion doesn’t satisfy.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Patricia Arquette – a working actress with her first Oscar nomination, which only means that the Academy turned a blind eye to her awesome turn as Alabama Worley – got her start in 1987’s third Nightmare on Elm Street installment: Dream Warriors. Of course, Johnny Depp got his start in Wes Craven’s original nightmare, but by the franchise’s third episode both budget and inspiration were running short. Arquette plays a patient in a sleep clinic. Screechy Nancy (the epically untalented Heather Langenkamp – sole survivor of the original) is now an adult and a psychiatrist working with patients to take control in their dreams and kill Freddy. Arquette plays Kristin, lead dream warrior. Aside from being known as Arquette’s feature film debut, this is also the episode where we learn that Freddy is the bastard son of hundred maniacs. Sets are pretty ludicrous, we don’t get nearly enough Freddy, but Langenkamp’s wondrously wooden performance makes everyone else look talented by comparison.
The Dentist (1996)
Oh, we’ve celebrated the ridiculous glory of The Dentist previously, but given Mark Ruffalo’s Oscar nom, it deserves just another quick mention. The film follows a psychotic dentist (Corbin Bernsen) who goes off the deep end after his wife gets dirty with the pool boy. Director Brian Yuzna’s film misses every opportunity to capitalize on the discomfort of the dentist’s chair, and the film’s puffy hair and pastel sweaters suggests that it’s ten years older than it is. The sole reason to sit through this is the small, supporting turn from Ruffalo as the boyfriend/agent of one of the not-so-good doctor’s patients. God bless him, even in a film this bad, Ruffalo can act.
Grizzly II: The Concert (1987)
Here’s the crowning jewel for nearly any Skeletons in the Closet feature. It features not just a current nominee, but one past winner and ever-the-winner Charlie Sheen. It’s hard to come by and even harder to watch. The sequel to William Girdler’s 1796 forest-astrophe Grizzly was filmed in 1983 and never completed, but sort of, kind of released anyway in 1987. Every death scene ends just before the death itself, because the bear side of the struggle was never shot. So, we get a lot of bear’s eye view of the victim, but never a look at the bear side of the sequence. It’s surreal, almost.
Sandwiched somewhere between the non-death sequences is a never ending faux-eighties synth pop concert. The concert footage is interminably long, nonsensical enough to cause an aneurism, and awful enough to make you grateful for the aneurism. You will lose your will to live. So, why bother? Because this invisible grizzly puppet kills Charlie Sheen, Oscar nominee Laura Dern, and George Clooney. (Dern and Clooney are making out at the time, which actually probably happened).
Check out our Fright Club podcast on the subject of Skeletons in the Closet and join us the 4th Saturday of every months for Fright Club live at the Drexel Theater in Bexley, OH.
Out this week is the uncomfortable, hilarious gem that promises to go unnoticed this awards season, and that is a shame, especially for breakout lead Jenny Slate. Obvious Child could be narrowly labeled an abortion themed romantic comedy, which is not a crowded subgenre. In fact, it’s a refreshingly candid, surprisingly funny film that succeeds on its authentic direction, generous acting, hilarious writing, and one of the very strongest performances of 2014.
In case you, for reasons we won’t ask about, find yourself in the mood for a second frank comedy with the same central theme, you must naturally check out Alexander Payne’s brilliant 1996 effort Citizen Ruth. Plot points aside, both films’ most striking similarity is the absolutely stunning lead performance, this time with Laura Dern’s bold and amazing work as pregnant transient Ruth.