Light of My Life

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

In the post-apocalyptic drama Light of My Life, Oscar winner Casey Affleck (as an actor in Manchester by the Sea) steps behind the camera for the first time since teaming up with Joaquin Phoenix a decade ago to make the music mockumentary I’m Still Here. His second film is a minimalist take that hangs firmly on the natural connection of its two main characters and its effectively bleak atmosphere.

Reminiscent of director John Hillcoat’s depressing 2009 drama The Road — although it’s doubtful any scene can be as grim as watching a father teach his son how to commit suicide — and last year’s powerful and emotionally complex drama Leave No Trace, Light of My Life is a slow-burning film that packs a similar punch.

Affleck stars as Caleb, a father surviving in the solitude of the wilderness with his young daughter Rag (Anna Pniowsky), whom he disguises as a boy. His actions come after a global plague has decimated the majority of the female population, including his wife (Elizabeth Moss), who dies when Rag is an infant. He refers to Rag as his son whenever they stumble across someone amid their directionless journey.

Hoping to stay invisible on the fringes of the dystopic society, Caleb is conscious of the danger Rag is in if anyone discovers her true identity, although Affleck, who also wrote the screenplay, steers clear of spelling it out. While he navigates some familiar territory, that takes nothing away from the father-daughter rapport he and Pniowsky share — a bond viewers will likely feel invested in as the narrative moves forward and the risk that they will be discovered increases.

Light of My Life feels the most alive during the seemingly calm scenes where we understand the intense reality that Caleb and Rag face. He’s willing to do whatever he must to prevent anything bad from happening to his daughter. The sense of dread that permeates the film never lets up, much as in Hillcoat’s The Road. Affleck’s ability to keep the nervous, albeit silent, energy consistent is an impressive feat.

Along with Affleck’s compassionate performance, what Pniowsky delivers as a curious 11-year-old is just as incredible. Like actors Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace, Caleb and Rag’s loving relationship is one of the most convincing pairings to hit theaters this year. Affleck has created an intimate film — one that speak on parental responsibility and the great lengths to which a father would go to protect his child.

Chuck

May 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Elizabeth Moss
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau (“The Good Lie”)
Written by: Jeff Feuerzeig (debut) and Jerry Stahl (“Bad Boys II”)

Even though its prominence and national interest has waned in favor of MMA in recent years, there seems to be an everlasting connection to the cinematic world and boxing. Perhaps it is because boxing has seen so many of its prominent figures rise and fall, which makes for a good narrative. Or, more likely, perhaps it is that “Rocky” set the bar for sports films so high that boxing films will always be timeless comparisons. It is fitting, perhaps, that the latest entry into the genre is a biopic of Chuck Wepner, the man who, allegedly, inspired Sylvester Stallone to write “Rocky.”

In 1975, boxer Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber) gets the opportunity of a life time: to fight the heavyweight champion of the World, Muhammed Ali. As a huge underdog, Wepner goes 15 rounds with Ali and is seconds away from going the distance. This performance turns Wepner into a local folk hero, and Wepner must do all he can to keep his family intact while turning down a path of drugs and women.

Without question, “Chuck” serves as a showcase for Schreiber who gives a fantastic performance. Wepner is a character who absorbs and loves the fame, as small scale as it is, but also has an acute awareness of the façade and showmanship that goes into it. Schreiber captures this quite well, especially in scenes where he must work his way through shame and guilt over his behavior. While the supporting cast is mostly good, nobody is on screen long enough to make much of a difference one way or another. Elizabeth Moss is probably the best of the bunch, and far-underutilized.

One of the more interesting aspects of “Chuck” is that the most formative event of Wepner’s life is a stepping stone to more story, rather than a climax. Wepner’s famous fight with Ali takes place relatively early on in the film with very little build up. It’s an admirable decision from screenwriters Jeff Feuerzeig and Jerry Stahl to not center the movie around that one big fight, as it may have come off as a biopic version of “Rocky.” Instead, it shows what happened in the wake, and the darker, self-destructive patterns of a man with very little self-control and the need to be admired.

That said, the movie still has some pretty generic moments. Once the debauchery starts, it’s no different than any other film where a person of prominence spirals into drugs, lets the fame get the best of them and alienates family. There’s some pretty good writing sprinkled throughout the film and the early parts of the film feature some true greatness. But “Chuck” punches itself out and staggers to the finish. Despite that, “Chuck” is still worth the price of admission for Schreiber’s excellent performance.

Darling Companion

June 1, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest
Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan (“The Big Chill”)
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan (“Dreamcatcher”) and Meg Kasdan (“Grand Canyon”)

There’s nothing darling about “Darling Companion.” Come to think of it, there’s nothing endearing or satisfying or charming either. No life-affirming lessons to be learned. No significant morals about long-term relationships or unconditional love or the hardships of growing old. Not one single scene for moviegoers to feel even remotely close to any of the two or four-legged characters involved in the story. Unfortunately, real human emotion wasn’t meant to play a part in four-time Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan’s futile foray back onto the big screen after almost a decade. With his latest, he does everything possible to make the search for a family’s beloved pet about as interesting as someone looking for a set of missing car keys.

Beth (Diane Keaton), an empty-nester, adopts a collie mix she rescues on the side of the road much to the chagrin of her self-involved surgeon husband Joseph (Kevin Kline). Nevertheless, the dog becomes part of the family although the script offers no concrete evidence in how close the animal bonds with them over the course of a year. All of a sudden, we’re swept away to the family’s vacation home in the Rockies for a wedding. The set-up is all very trivial in reaching the main purpose of the film: finding the dog after he gets lost during a walk in the woods.

The search itself is excruciatingly dull. The script, written by Kasdan and his wife Meg, fails to effectively confront any deep-seated issues between family members. The missing pup is supposed to be an opportunity for everyone to hash out their individual problems, but the Kasdans’ clueless storytelling wastes the impressive cast they have complied, which includes Dianne Weist and Richard Jenkins. It also focuses too much time on a gypsy (Ayelet Zurer) using her mediocre psychic abilities to help find the lost Lassie look-alike. She’s always wrong, so the idea the family would actually continue to follow her guidance is an absurd plot device.

Despite his success in the 80s with films like “The Big Chill” and “The Accidental Tourist,” Kasdan, who is also lauded for writing the scripts for “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, hasn’t done anything of much importance in the last 20 years. “Companion” is definitely not the film that is going to put him in comeback mode. Maybe he’d have more luck writing a film about a director gone missing.