Wildlife

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould
Directed by: Paul Dano (debut)
Written by: Zoe Kazan (“Ruby Sparks”) and Paul Dano (debut)

Over his 18-year career, actor Paul Dano has become one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets — a talented performer whose roles in mostly dramas and dark comedies are usually eclipsed by headlining movie stars or flashier characters or, in the case of last year’s “Swiss Army Man,” a farting Harry Potter.

In a sense, some of Dano’s roles are tonally linked by seemingly reclusive characters who gradually break out of their shells to uncover another distinctive part of their personality. He does this with ease in Oscar-winning films like 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine” and 2007’s “There Will Be Blood.”

Dano takes this idea of a smoldering character and uses it to define the atmosphere of his directorial debut “Wildlife” — an intimate, low-key family affair that slowly gives way to a narrative where aggravation, pain and resentment simmer beneath the landscape ready to flare up. All in all, it’s one of the best first independently produced features by an actor-turned-director since Tom McCarthy’s 2003 debut film “The Station Agent.”

Set in the 1960s, the film, much like 2008’s “Revolutionary Road,” depicts the dissolution of a marriage and family. In this instance, it’s the Brinsons — Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), his wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and their teenage son Joe (Ed Oxenbould), who serves as the main spectator of the domestic drama.

Making a life for themselves in a peaceful Montana town, Jerry stays busy working as a caddy at a local golf course. The family dynamic shifts greatly when he is abruptly fired from his job. Stuck in a rut and looking for something meaningful to do, he decides to leave town to become a modestly paid firefighter and battle the blazes destroying the state’s forests. With Jeanette at home upset with Jerry’s choice of employment, she finds solace in the arms of wealthy car dealership owner Warren Miller (Bill Camp).

Subtle in its storytelling, screenwriters Zoe Kazan (“Ruby Sparks”) and Dano offer a delicate approach to the subject matter as Joe attempts to understand what his mother is doing and how his fear of uncertainty is shaping his childhood. His awareness and concern for his family’s survival is palpable as Jeanette embroils herself into a situation she knows is wrong, but one that might bring her some kind of simulated happiness.

The coming-of-age parallels between Joe growing into a man while his father is away and the emotional disarray his mother causes while setting off on her own direction are effective. Mulligan is nothing short of mesmerizing as she struggles internally with life-altering decisions that will ultimately lead to the destruction of something that was once beloved.

The Visit

September 14, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”)
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan (“Lady in the Water”)

Look, I’m not here to tell you that the M. Night Shyamalan from the days of “The Sixth Sense” is back after years of laughably terrible movies or anything, but with “The Visit” we finally get a Shyamalan movie that is both enjoyable and invites you to laugh along with the self-aware ridiculousness on the screen instead of at the tone deaf hack work the director has been turning out for a decade or more. And yeah, this is another in a long line of found footage horror/thriller movies with too-sharp teenagers, but all the dumb stuff is ultimately of little consequence as the movie ramps up the weirdness to near-sublime levels.

Years after leaving home under bad circumstances to start a family with an older man, a single mom (Kathryn Hahn) sends her teenage kids Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) to meet the grandparents they’ve never known. Their mother hasn’t spoken to her parents in years, and after they contact her online and arrange a visit, Becca decides she’s going to give her mother the healing with her parents she will never mentions she needs. Conveniently for the found footage aesthetic, Becca decides to do this by way of a documentary. After a train ride to a snowy small town in Pennsylvania, Becca and Tyler are greeted by Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), who seem like nothing more than quiet old people—until the lights go out and things get creepy, with a naked Nana prowling the halls and a disoriented Pop Pop dressing in a tuxedo for a costume party that’s never happening. Is it just the onset of dementia, or is something more sinister going on?

Sure, the found footage angle is unnecessary at best and kind of dumb at worst (because they never stop filming, even when in mortal danger!), but “The Visit” is kooky enough to keep things from sliding into traps more routine horror movies often find themselves in, and even  throws in a nice creepy twist that manages to keep things grounded. This is a humbled Shyamalan doing his best work since before Mel Gibson lost his mind, and he’s finally in on the joke. I mean what other thriller can you think of that features something as funny a teenage girl being convinced twice to climb into an oven to clean it or a rapping white kid who falls victim to one of the most hilariously gross out gags in horror movie history?

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible…Very Bad Day

October 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“Cedar Rapids”)
Written by: Ron Lieber (debut)

Stretching short books meant for children to feature-length films has always been an exercise in deciding what would make for adequate filler between hitting the beats of the original short story. Few have pulled it off successfully; think 2012’s adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” a movie over-stuffed with meaningless fluff that ends up contradicting the original story’s anti-consumerist message. That film is rendered into some strange monster concocted just to sell cotton candy pancakes and leave everyone confused.

The filmmakers behind the new film version of author Judith Viorst’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” have the same hurdle to overcome—the book is only 32 pages long—but, unlike their peers, they mostly pull it off. Refocusing the story (in the book we’re centered solely on Alexander) to feature the rest of his family (namely parents Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner) makes this kids’ movie more enjoyable for adults in the crowd than most movies featuring a computer-generated kangaroo kicking a man in the face typically do.

On the day before his 12th birthday, Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) experiences the worst day of his life. He wakes up with gum in his hair, spills a bowl of cereal, and opens up his computer to find a more-popular classmate is having his birthday party the same night as his, assuring that no one will be there, including Alexander’s best friend and the girl he has a crush on. When the rest of his family–wrapped up in their own concerns like a job interview, a book release, a part in a school play, and prom with their shallow, bitchy girlfriend—seem to offer Alexander no sympathy, he makes a birthday wish that they all know how it feels to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Needless to say, the wish comes true, and the next day finds the family suffering calamities like pimples, being set on fire, and a misprint in a book that leads to national treasure Dick Van Dyke telling a group of children to take a dump in the swimming pool.

With fun performances from Carell and Garner, “Alexander” manages to avoid the usual pitfalls these movies aimed at 10-year-old boys seem to suffer from: being unwatchable to anyone over 10. Strangely, though, Alexander is basically a supporting character in his own movie, watching as the chaos unfolds around him. While usually films aimed at kids overstay their welcome, this one feels oddly truncated. At barely an hour and 15 minutes long, the movie doesn’t give the story enough room to breathe at times, wrapping up in a party that somehow comes together with little effort from the frazzled family. Yeah, like I said, there’s a damn CGI kangaroo that lays out Carell in the third act, but don’t hold that against “Alexander.”