Beautiful Boy

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Steve Carell, Amy Ryan
Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen (“The Broken Circle Breakdown”)
Written by: Luke Davies (“Lion”) and Felix Van Groeningen (“The Misfortunates”)

The opening lyrics of John Lennon’s moving single “Beautiful Boy” off his 1980 album Double Fantasy are a bit too precise when comparing them to its namesake film: “Close your eyes, have no fear / The monster’s gone, he’s on the run and your daddy’s here.”

“Beautiful Boy,” a drama about drug addiction directed by Belgian filmmaker Felix Van Groeningen (“The Broken Circle Breakdown”), is a neatly packaged picture, for better or worse. It’s reminiscent of an episode of A&E’s “Intervention” — but one of those really dramatic shows where it takes the family forever to convince their loved one who is hooked on heroin to go to rehab only to see them quit the program the following day.

“Beautiful Boy” seems to have all the pieces it needs to tell a heartbreaking true story about a teenager on a downward spiral because of his dependency on crystal meth. The film is adapted from two memoirs — “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction” by David Sheff, and “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines” by David’s son, Nic Sheff. As the co-writers of the screenplay, Van Groeningen and Oscar nominee Luke Davies (“Lion”) consider both sides of the narrative and allow for David’s and Nic’s perspectives to get equal time to flourish and intensify.

It helps immeasurably that behind the characters of David and Nic are Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”) and Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”), a pair of Academy Award-nominated actors who portray a helpless father and dispirited son with such amazing conviction. It’s especially true for Chalamet, whose range in the film expands and leads him into some incredibly vulnerable places as a young man with no way of beating his addiction on his own.

As David, Carell gives his best performance since landing an Oscar nod for 2014’s “Foxcatcher.” Just as the lyrics to Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” reveal, Carell plays a devoted parent (as do Amy Ryan as his mother and Maura Tierney as his stepmom) who would do anything to save his son from his demons (in one scene, he snorts meth in an attempt to understand what Nic is feeling). Carell’s role speaks to the heart of what makes “Beautiful Boy” a powerful, albeit imperfect, account of a family’s fight for survival.

One could argue that to make a more significant impression, Groeningen and Davies should have pulled back the curtain to expose some of the darkest corners of drug addiction instead of simply showing audiences the scenarios that explore the hopes, disappointments and fears of the characters. With Carell and Chalamet at the forefront, however, “Beautiful Boy” is still an insightful and uplifting father-son story where unconditional love is the real star of the film.

Bridge of Spies

October 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“War Horse”)
Written by: Matt Charman (“Suite Francaise”), Ethan Coen (“True Grit”) and Joel Coen (“Inside Llewyn Davis”)

Bringing Oscar winners like director Steven Spielberg, actor Tom Hanks and the screenwriting duo of Joel and Ethan Coen together feels like the producers of the Cold War drama/thriller “Bridge of Spies” are just showing off. While the combination of Spielberg and Hanks hasn’t always been a perfect pairing the last three times out (“The Terminal” is still one of Spielberg’s weakest films), odds will always be in their favor based on talent alone. With “Bridge of Spies,” Spielberg delivers some solid, mature storytelling that rarely wavers. It might be one of those second-tier Spielberg films that really won’t make or break any kind of legacy he has built throughout his career (think “War Horse” and “Amistad”), but even Spielberg on autopilot is pretty damn good.

As a history lesson on espionage during the Cold War, Spielberg and company keep the tension high and the story at a level that won’t go over too many heads (unlike other recent spy thrillers like “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “A Wanted Man,” which might take a couple of viewings to let all the nuances sink in). In “Bridge of Spies,” Hanks plays James Donovan, an American insurance lawyer who is called upon to defend British-born Soviet spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), who has just been captured by the CIA. James takes the case, although he knows there will be a lot of baggage that comes with it. How is he supposed to defend someone when the American judicial system and the court of public opinion have already condemned the man? James’ responsibilities become more complicated when an American pilot and an American student are taken prisoner in the Soviet Union and the CIA asks him to take the lead in a prisoner exchange with the enemy. These backroom dealings are straight to the point and make for some entertaining and thought-provoking scenes.

“Bridge of Spies” asks important, timely questions about how the U.S. has handled war criminals throughout history, but never preaches to the audience with political statements or underlying messages. It plays out like a theatrical production would in the Situation Room. The dialogue is palpable and it’s easy to hang onto every word James and Rudolph speak. It’s this relationship between these two characters that, while spending only a few scenes together, feels like there’s actually something important everyone is fighting for.

Amy Ryan – Bridge of Spies

October 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

Oscar-nominated actress Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”) has worked with some heavy-hitters in the film industry over her 15-year career, including fellow Oscar nominees like directors Bennett Miller (“Capote”), Ben Affleck (“Gone Baby Gone”), and the late Sidney Lumet (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”). In her latest film “Bridge of Spies,” Ryan takes direction for the second time from three-time Oscar-winner Steven Spielberg after her bit part in his 2005 sci-fi remake “War of the Worlds.”

In the true-to-life story, Ryan plays Mary Donovan, the wife of James Donovan, an American lawyer who is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to defend a captured enemy spy in the courtroom and then to oversee the safe return of an American pilot held prisoner in the Soviet Union.

During our interview, Ryan, 47, who has also starred in last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner “Birdman” opposite Michael Keaton, talked about how she learned about the real Mary Donovan when not much information was available online, and what it was like working with Spielberg this time around.

What resonated with you the most about your character Mary Donovan? Was it because she was a devoted mother and wife or did you look at this with more historical context?

I loved how strong she was. This film is set on the background of the Cold War and during a time when this country was living under a blanket of great fear. I love that this college-educated mother of three is able to stand up to her husband. She loves him dearly, but she’s right in protecting her family. She’s right that if James takes on this case, it puts the family in a great line of danger to defend what was considered at the time America’s No. 1 enemy. She has no problem expressing herself. You don’t see that much in film. Women usually just stand by their man.

What kind of research did you have to do on Mary herself? Was there anything out there that you were able to use when creating this character?

There’s wasn’t much you could find on the internet about Mary. There is a lot about James Donovan, of course. Coincidentally, a really dear friend of mine knew [Mary’s] granddaughter, so he put me in touch with her. She shared with me tons of family photographs and stories and details about Mary. I was even able to ask her if she had an accent because she was from Brooklyn. She could talk about her in such detail. All of that helped me portray her. You’re never going to quite see the full person, but you can see a version of them. You want to get that truthful somehow.

It’s amazing you were able to connect with her granddaughter like that. What if you hadn’t been given that opportunity?

I would’ve just guessed! (Laughs) I would’ve just made stuff up. That’s why it was such a gift. I would’ve made it up, but I would’ve also been holding my breath the whole time like, “What am I doing?!” But just having those images of her – all these beautiful photographs with me in my dressing room – helped me fall into the look and expressions on her face. It helped me try to recreate those little details. Any little detail helps when you’re building a story based on true events.

You’ve worked with Steven Spielberg before. How was this experience different from the small role you had in “War of the Worlds?”

When you’re working with Steven Spielberg, you really don’t want it to ever be over. Having a larger part just means having this great gift of being with him longer and seeing how he makes films. When I first met him during “War of the Worlds,” even with a smaller part, he treated me with such great respect. He treated me as if I was a major part of that film. That is such a testament to Steven. Every detail of his film matters to him. He gives everything great attention and makes you feel like you’re an equal.

Tom Hanks and Steven have such a longstanding relationship with each other. This is their fourth film together. Would that be something you’d like to do – build a really strong relationship with a specific director who always thinks about you when he or she is making a new film, or are you more interested in different experiences as an actress?

A little bit of both. It depends on the director. I had the great fortune of working with the great, late Sidney Lumet three times. Each time you’re language gets shorter and you can talk in shorthand. You drop away any nerves because you’re more familiar with the person, especially when you work with great directors. The relationship gets deeper. I’d love to work with dozens of filmmakers again that I’ve already worked with. I’ve been spoiled with working with some of the best in the business. In a heartbeat I would work with all of them again.

Win Win

April 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Alex Shaffer
Directed by: Thomas McCarthy (“The Visitor”)
Written by: Thomas McCarthy (“The Visitor”)

While most sports-themed films focus on the game-winning shot at the buzzer or a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth, none are as emotionally rich as the ones that revel in the post-game celebration. Even then, winning isn’t everything if the narrative is brimming with spirited drama like in “Rocky,” “A League of Their Own,” or “Friday Night Lights.”

Sure, watching Rudy Ruettiger on the sidelines during his team’s final defensive stance in “Rudy” would have been extremely anticlimactic, and Daniel LaRusso probably would’ve found himself in a body bag if he hadn’t crane-kicked Johnny in the face at the end of “The Karate Kid,” but those things happen. The ball doesn’t always find the center of the rim. The coach leaves you sipping Gatorade on the bench. Nerves factor in. Someone always goes home disappointed.

It takes a film like “Win Win” to find a silver lining or thematic balance when a screenplay isn’t dictated by typical Hollywood standards. Directed and written by Thomas McCarthy (“The Visitor,” “The Station Agent”), “Win Win” isn’t so much an inspirational “Pride of the Yankees”-type sports movie as it is an endearing family dramedy set delicately in the competitive world of high school wrestling.

Unlike Gary Cooper in that 1942 Lou Gehrig biopic, Paul Giamatti in “Win Win” is far from announcing to anyone that he’s the “luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” As a small-town New Jersey lawyer with a struggling practice, Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) worries about how he will support his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) and their two daughters. Moonlighting as the local high school wrestling coach doesn’t help ease any anxiety since his team of young grapplers is missing a few things, specifically skill.

But Mike’s problems seem to be solved two-fold when he agrees to take legal guardianship of Leo Poplar (Burt Young), a client suffering from early stages of dementia. Afterwards, Mike’s moral compass spins out of control; he pockets the monthly stipend and checks the old man into a retirement home. His sketchy behavior leads him into the path of Leo’s unusually mature, albeit slightly rebellious, teenage grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer in a breakout role), who happens to know his way around a wrestling mat. Mike and Jackie are adamant about giving Kyle the stable, suburban upbringing he needs after they find out the only adult in his life is his drug-addicted mother (Melanie Lynskey). McCarthy writes Kyle with sensitivity and depth and treats him like a real kid, as opposed to the oversized puppy dog Sandra Bullock boards in “The Blind Side.”

McCarthy could’ve replaced the wrestling scenes with scenes from any other sport and still produced the same heartwarming and darkly hilarious movie (credit actors Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor as assistant wrestling coaches). The crux of this story comes from the complex relationships between all of McCarthy’s meaningful human characters. Giamatti’s role isn’t a stretch from the frustrated failures he’s accustomed to playing, but there is such a decent heart inside Mike that it allows audiences to overlook some of his early underhandedness and will his redemptive qualities to the forefront. Newcomer Shaffer holds his own in the daunting task of sharing the screen with juggernaut Oscar nominees; his non-actor charisma and natural athleticism (he’s really a state high school wrestling champion from Jersey) maintain his believability. “Win Win” may not be a flawless victory, but McCarthy is able to pin us down effortlessly nonetheless, proving there’s more to life than being carried off the field a hero.