This time of year I basically schedule the rest of my life around movie showtimes, and this week that has made me really happy. But first a catch up review:
Much like my review of Spy last year, I saw this near when it came out and didn’t take any notes, because it didn’t occur to me that it would be considered one of the best movies of the year. Also, I went to this after a grad school happy hour and under the influence of an Alamo Drafthouse alcoholic milkshake. Which I think is probably the best way to see this. Ryan Reynolds is very funny. The film in general is incredibly crude. And that’s really all I remember.
What a strange, beautiful little movie. When I heard the premise, a man (Viggo Mortensen) raises his kids (there are 6 of them) out in the wilderness of Oregon, homeschooling them and training them to survive (complete with gifts of boning knives and cliff face climbing.) I was sure I going to have a Beasts of the Southern Wild reaction, where the rest of the film gets obscured by my obsessive worry over the well-being of the children. But 1. I truly believe these kids could take care of themselves 2. I actually really understood appeal of the life this father (and his recently deceased wife) had created for their family. I wouldn’t personally choose to forego Christmas in honor of Noam Chomsky’s birthday, but reading by a campfire only stopping to all play music together totally worked on me.
These are characters completely committed to the counter culture, and rather than treating them like a joke* like it would have been easy to, writer-director Matt Ross, lovingly portrays the pitfalls and joys of that choice. The kids can all quote the entire Western cannon, but have real trouble talking to people their own age, which is wonderfully dramatized through the oldest son Bo (George MacKay)’s story. He wants to honor his father and the life he clearly loves, but is heartbreakingly uncomfortable around girls and knows his discomfort is because of the choices his parents made.
I think this is one I’ll be thinking about for a long time, particularly when my periodic, fleeting urge to go be a hermit in the mountains hits me.
*Hello, Critics’ Choice – this is not a comedy. Thankfully the HFPA got that right for the Globes.
I went into this movie pretty blind. In all of the movies that I’ve been going to recently I never saw one trailer for this and only remember a few tweets from Jessica Chastain the week before it opened. But she got nominated for a Golden Globe, so I went.
And I honestly can’t figure out why no one is talking about this movie. It follows a high powered lobbyist (Chastain) who switches sides to work on behalf of passing common sense gun legislation. But this is less Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and more Ides of March. Miss Sloane is ruthless, unethical, and cold. She never sleeps and has no life. For the first half of the film I kept waiting for her weeping moment of missing out on family life. Or the story to punish her in some way for being too masculine, because that is what usually happens to female characters with too much power.
But then this movie completely surprised me and turned out to be a story about a ruthless, powerful woman who is in control of her own narrative. She isn’t likeable, but she’s not a robot. She has a backstory, but the writer Jonathan Perera and director John Madden don’t feel the need to “soften” her by giving us all the details of how she “got so cold.”
At the end I was reminded of the conversation around Sandra Bullock’s character in Our Brand Is Crisis (which I haven’t seen) and how it was originally written for a man. Miss Sloane felt like the writer created a compelling story and then thought Chastain was the best actor to fill the part (and she is) rather than setting out to create “a strong female character.”
Sadly, probably due to terrible marketing, this movie didn’t do very well at the box office, which has led a lot of right wing press and idiots on Twitter, to declare that “feminist, gun control propaganda” doesn’t sell. So, if you live somewhere that this is in theaters, I urge you to go see it, one because it’s good and two to show the studio that we will pay for stories about complex women and “liberal causes.
(Side note: This movie is a somewhat depressing picture of what it will take for liberals to win in Washington. we’re gonna need to fight like the other guys do…even when we don’t like it.)
The fact that Dev Patel is being submitted as a supporting actor for this film is insane. Just wanted to get that on record right away. Although he doesn’t show up until half way through, he and his performance are the soul of this movie. Also, I have a new appreciation for his face. I’ve always thought of him as a quirky and charming presence, but damn he has a two hour face. (Side note: He and Rooney Mara have great chemistry. Their love story is really just a side narrative in this, as it should be, but I would love to see them do something else together.)
This tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, a man who, as a young boy, got separated from his family in rural India by horrible misadventure (he accidentally got on a decommissioned train) and survived the slums of Calcutta until he is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman – who gives great performance despite terrible hair, is that a wig? A horrible perm? and David Wenham). He grows up to the a successful hotel manager but becomes consumed by the search for his birth family, using the earliest versions of Google Earth.
The story is emotional and the imagery beautiful. And the only things keeping it from being in my list of best of the year are totally personal preferences:
- In this post Boyhood and Moonlight world could really do without the titles on the screen telling me how much time has past and where we are. Just tell the story, the audience will figure it out.
- The sequences with young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) are so heart wrenching to watch. Pawar is so young and so small and I just wanted to gather him up in my arms and protect him. I know this is based on the real man’s recollections, but I really don’t understand how no one tried to help him. I guess this is actually a point in favor of the film – that it got to me so emotionally, but it makes it a little harder to recommend.
My first foreign language nominee this year!
Based on this and Jackie I now want to see everything Pablo Larraín has made or will make in the future. Both of these films take on subjects that could have been straightforward awards season fare (JFK’s assassination, Pablo Neruda’s flight to exile from fascist persecution in Chile) and instead present idiosyncratic portraits of these larger than life figures ass humans.
Neruda is a weird film. Walking out of the IFC last night I overheard at least three people admit that they “didn’t get it.” And I’m not sure that I entirely did either, but I’m not sure we’re meant to “get it” completely. Larraín and screenwriter Guillermo Calderón have crafted a movie that feels like a Latin American novel filled with rich characterization, beautiful imagery, and a heavy dose of magical realism.
In the end, I don’t think it really matters if Gael García Bernal‘s film noir policeman literally stamped through the Andes after Neruda (played by the perfectly cast Luis Gnecco) because the story isn’t about literal truth. It’s about poetry, and how it can create real feeling without making any literal sense, especially given the right circumstances.
This film makes the argument that art matters, and that fascist regimes know this, its why they persecute artists. This movie manages to convey that without too much preaching, and while holding onto a sense of the absurd in the face of real darkness.
Also, Sing Street got nominated for Best Musical/Comedy! You can read my thoughts here.