Beyond Pearlygate

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

by George Wolf

Some facial prosthetics and a crap ton of makeup give Jessica Chastain the physical features of Tammy Faye Bakker, but it’s the way Chastain embodies Bakker’s sympathetic garishness that ultimately keeps your eyes on The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

Tammy Faye LaValley met Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) at Minnesota’s North Central Bible College in the early 1960s, but both had to drop out when they got married. Taking their endlessly upbeat sermonizing on the road, they developed a mix of song, scripture and puppet shows that was a perfect fit for television.

After launching The 700 Club for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, Jim and Tammy set out to build their own empire in 1974 with the PTL (Praise the Lord) Club. The show’s massive success led to an entire PTL TV network and then to Heritage USA, a Christian-themed theme park and retreat in South Carolina.

And then, of course, it all crashed in the late 1980s, under a wave of sex scandal, bankruptcy, and Jim’s conviction on fraud and conspiracy charges.

Taking inspiration from the 2000 documentary also titled The Eyes of Tammy Faye, director Michael Showalter (The Big Sick, Hello My Name Is Doris) and writer Abe Sylvia (TV’s Nurse Jackie and The Affair) make this an unabashedly sympathetic portrait. And while capitalizing on Chastain’s excellence is entirely understandable, it comes at the expense of developing some other major players (Garfield’s Bakker, Vincent D’Onofrio as Jerry Falwell) that could have deepened the overall context.

Only the great Cherry Jones, as Tammy Faye’s mother Rachel, is given the space for nuance, and it is this mother-daughter dynamic that gives the film its heart.

Though the Tammy Faye persona is outwardly cartoonish, Chastain shows us a woman driven to make others feel the love that she did not; a wife unafraid to fight for her seat at the table; and a Christian committed to loving, helping and forgiving. An advocate for the Gay community in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, Tammy Faye also championed social programs for the poor and even brought the subject of penile implants to Christian TV.

And all of those revelations make the moments when Showalter’s tone flirts with patronization all the more curious. Late in the film, Tammy Faye admits to “loving the camera” and a producer simply asks, “Why?” Though it lands as the moment Showalter and Sylvia have been building toward, they ultimately move past it as a frustrating afterthought.

If the goal here was to spotlight an award-worthy lead performance in an entertaining hat tip to Tammy Faye, well then mission accomplished.

But the frequent use of real news broadcasts and headlines – paired with an early look at the strategy behind Republican Jesus – make us eager for a broader context, one that The Eyes of Tammy Faye misses by a false eyelash.

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





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