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.

Love & Mercy

March 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by: Bill Pohlad (“Old Explorers”)
Written by: Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”) and Michael A. Lerner (“August Eighth”)

It may not be the most in-depth biopic on the life and legend of Beach Boys singer/songwriter Brian Wilson, but there’s something to be said for the success the film has in condensing two decades of musical passion and personal trials into two hours of poignant drama all anchored by a pair of performances that interchange with remarkable fluidity and appreciation for the story being told.

For those moviegoers who are not familiar with the American rock ‘n’ roll band The Beach Boys, who started off in the 1960s making surfing-themed music before Wilson changed their course by expanding on their sound and writing songs with more meaning, “Love & Mercy” starts in their early years and switches back and forth between Wilson leading the band to its pinnacle to his continuous battle with mental illness in the 1980s.

As a young Wilson, Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood”) gives an inspiring performance as we watch him express himself though his experimental methods in the studio despite others questioning his choices. Those studios scenes, especially the ones where Wilson is working on the hit song “God Only Knows,” are telling of the kind of musician Wilson was known to be – impressive, ambitious, and progressive. Dano commands the screen when he has to and purposefully shrinks when the script asks him to allow his personal demons to control him.

This ties in well to the latter part of Wilson’s life when John Cusack (“Grace is Gone”) comes in as the well-worn musician who has found some kind of comfort in letting others dictate what he does and how he does it. Paul Giamatti (“Cinderella Man”) plays Dr. Eugene Landy, Wilson’s hotheaded psychotherapist who manipulates Wilson into believing he has his mental health in his best interest. There to save Wilson is Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who would later become his second wife, a car saleswoman who helps him stand up for himself and make his own decisions. Cusack is touching as an older, broken Wilson and Giamatti and Banks bring out the best and worst in the character on an emotional level.

“Love & Mercy” isn’t a movie about the music Wilson makes, but instead about the man behind the musical talent. It might have been interesting to allow the script to develop in a way that illustrated where in the industry the Beach Boys stood (the Beatles are mentioned as a band they wanted to top), but nothing in the way of music history is explained much. While some might argue the jumping between decades is a debatable storytelling device, it felt necessary to understand how much Wilson changed (and in some cases stayed the same) over the years. Credit screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner for letting the story breathe between all the time changes. “Love & Mercy” captures a compassionate narrative you don’t have to dig too deep to find.

Love and Mercy was seen at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival.

Prisoners

September 26, 2013 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Incendies”)
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski (“Contraband”)

While it’s script might transform from intriguing police procedural into something that could be described as controlled chaos, director Denis Villeneuve 153-minute long drama is effectively tense. Anchored by a raw and powerful performance from Hugh Jackman and a solid contribution from Jake Gyllenhaal, this film about two young girls who are kidnapped confronts some extremely hard-hitting themes and scenarios that would make any parent shudder. Things get messy as the film spirals to a conclusion, but there’s no way you’re going to move unless you know how it all ends (even though you technically don’t).

Ruby Sparks

August 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton (“Little Miss Sunshine”) and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”)
Written by: Zoe Kazan (debut)

Vanity Fair had the right idea late last year when it started recapping episodes of the comedy series “New Girl” by categorizing each of Zooey Deschanel’s idiosyncrasies as either “adorkable” (a personality trait described as dorky and adorable) or “tweepulsive” (the same trait, but at a more cloying level). It’s not a standard gauge for most critics, but with a surge of overly-quirky scripts like “Ruby Sparks” finding their way to the big and small screen in the last few years, it’s one that definitely needs to be adopted faster than Greta Gerwig can ride her vintage Schwinn to a nerdcore concert. Aren’t stereotypes fun?

Add the name Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of legendary director Elia Kazan) into the ever-growing list of annoyingly-charming actresses who will find it difficult to inject the right amount of cuteness into a role before someone decides they want to put a pillow over said actress’s face. The possibility for asphyxiation is two-fold for Kazan who not only stars in Sparks, but is also credited as the lone screenwriter. The story follows Calvin (Paul Dano), a novelist with writer’s block who writes a female character (with his typewriter, of course) for his new book and is stunned when she appears in the real world.

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”), “Sparks” is a clever little idea reminiscent of 2006’s underappreciated Will Ferrell comedy “Stranger Than Fiction.” Its problem, however, lies in Kazan’s calculated screenplay, which never materializes into anything as interesting as its initial concept. Kazan shows signs of potential, but she fluffs up Sparks instead of examining its darker elements. Until she learns naming a writer’s dog F. Scott Fitzgerald is beyond pretentious (and even more so if she is being ironic), she’ll settle somewhere in the middle of the pack where writers suffering from writer’s block isn’t necessarily a bad thing.