Ben is Back


Julia Roberts shows quiet resolve in a powerful scene from “Ben is Back.”

(2018) Drama (LD Entertainment/Roadside Attractions) Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton, Rachel Bay Jones, David Zaldivar, Alexandra Park, Michael Esper, Tim Guinee, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Kristin Griffith, Jack Davidson, Mia Fowler, Jakari Fraser, Cameron Roberts, Jeff Auer, Henry Stram, Bill Buell, Sandra Caldwell, Nathalie Carvalho. Directed by Peter Hedges

 

A mother’s love is a beautiful thing. It crosses all boundaries, it transcends time. A mother loves her child with a fierce devotion that is unmatched. It doesn’t matter whether her child is a saint or a sinner, a success or a failure – that mother loves that child unconditionally and without measure.

Holly (Roberts) returns home with her three young children on Christmas Eve to their comfortable home in a New England town to find an unexpected surprise – her eldest son Ben (Hedges) from a previous relationship. Ben has been in rehab for heroin addiction but he informs his over-the-moon mom that he’s doing so well that his sponsor has agreed to sign him out for a holiday pass to come home.

The youngest siblings Liam (Fraser) and Lacey (Fowler) are overjoyed to see their big brother but eldest daughter Ivy (Newton) is less enthusiastic. She remembers previous Christmas holidays ruined by Ben and worried sick, she calls stepfather Neal (Vance) to let him know what’s going on. Holly is a little more pragmatic though; while Ben plays outside with Liam and Lacey she hides all her jewelry and prescription medicine. Neal comes home and is absolutely pissed, demanding that Ben return to the treatment facility. Holly reluctantly prepares to drive him back but Neal, seeing Holly’s dejection, relents and gives Ben a day – a day in which Ben will be drug tested and watched like a hawk.

Needless to say things fall apart quickly. Former drug associates of Ben show up and vandalize the house, among other things. Holly is dragged into Ben’s world as he desperately tries to make things right. Over all the specter looms – can Ben stay clean or will he regress and use again and maybe spiral down to an early grave?

The movie is a harrowing and often heartbreaking look at how addiction affects not just the addict but all those around him or her – him in this case. At least, it does for the first part of the film; the second part becomes something more of a thriller as Holly pursues Ben into the underworld of her community, desperately trying to rescue him from himself. It is less effective than the first part of the film.

Despite the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the film, it still works mainly due to phenomenal performances by Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges. For Roberts, this is one of the Oscar-winning actress’ finest performances of her career. It is telling that this has been such a phenomenal year for performances by women in the movies that Roberts won’t likely be part of the conversation for the short list. In most any other year, she would be. She brings a wide emotional range, from desperate to nurturing to angry to terrified, making us feel all of them without a false note in the bunch. At the end of the day this is a performance we can believe without hesitation. I can imagine any mom going through the gamut, wanting so much to find hope that her son will return to her yet knowing deep down that as an addict he will lie and cheat and steal and dash all her hopes more likely than not.

Hedges, himself nominated for an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, gives a terrific performance in the title role. Ben is charming and smart but he is also full of demons. You end  up rooting for him but deep down as the movie progresses you know he can’t be trusted. Hedges doesn’t make Ben too likable to be realistic but neither does he turn Ben into a monster. Ben’s just a kid who went down the wrong path and now doesn’t have an inkling of how to right himself.

This is a flawed film but nonetheless an effective one. It is raw and gritty in the places that it needs to be, underscoring it with the idyllic family life that Holly has without Ben. There are some really magnificent moments, such as when during a visit to a mall Holly confronts the doctor who was responsible for getting Ben hooked on opioids in the first place. There’s also a moment when during church services Ben realizes that the family of a girl he helped hook on heroin but who passed away is in the congregation with him.

Any good doctor will tell you that addiction doesn’t just change the life of the addict but of everyone who cares about them. That is the gist of the message here and it is prevented in a powerful way. The Christmas setting only serves to further make the message more poignant. This may be too much of a downer for some at this time of year but it is a movie that earns the praise it is getting.

REASONS TO GO: Heartrending dramatic moments starkly illustrate the effects of drug abuse on families. Roberts gives one of her finest performances ever. Hedges is nearly as brilliant as Roberts. The message is firmly underscored by the Christmas eve setting.
REASONS TO STAY: The story is a bit fractured, devolving into a standard thriller during the final third. Some may find it too depressing for this time of year.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of profanity, some brief violence and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lucas Hedges is the son of director Peter Hedges
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/21/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beautiful Boy
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Bob Lazar: Flying Saucers and Area 51

New Releases for the Week of December 21, 2018


AQUAMAN

(Warner Brothers) Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temeura Morrison. Directed by James Wan

Arthur Curry, the son of a lighthouse keeper, discovers that he is heir to the throne to Atlantis. There are forces aligned against him, however, that want him to stay on land – and who also wish to wage war against the land-dwellers.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, DTSX, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, ScreenX, XD, XD 3D

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language)

Ben is Back

(Roadside Attractions) Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton. When her drug addicted teen son from a first marriage returns unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, a mother is at first delighted but cautious. As the evening goes on it becomes apparent that things are not as they seem with him and soon she is dragged unwillingly into his world with the rest of her family dragged in behind her. Look for the review on Cinema365 tomorrow.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout and some drug use)

Bumblebee

(Paramount) Hailee Steinfeld, Dylan O’Brien (voice), John Cena, Megyn Price. In 1987 a young girl finds the battle-scarred and broken Transformer Bumblebee in the junkyard of a small California town. She soon finds herself in the middle of an interstellar conflict which threatens the very existence of planet Earth itself.

See the trailer clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, 4DX, Dolby, RPX, XD, XD 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action violence)

Mary Queen of Scots

(Focus) Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, David Tennant. The story of the half-sister of Queen Elizabeth I the two of whom were once close but turned into bitter rivals and eventually, deadly foes.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for some violence and sexuality)

Mary Poppins Returns

(Disney) Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer. The Banks children, one of the beneficiaries of the legendary Mary Poppins, have all grown up and have children of their own. Now Mary returns to save the Banks family once more with her heartwarming brand of magic.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard, DBOX, Dolby, RPX
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)
Rating: PG (for some mild thematic elements and brief action)

Second Act

(STX) Jennifer Lopez, Leah Remini, Vanessa Hudgens, Treat Williams. An ambitious big box retail clerk reinvents her job history and biography and ends up with a golden opportunity to show the Wall Street boys club what a street smart Puerto Rican woman can do.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some crude sexual references, and language)

Welcome to Marwen

(Universal/DreamWorks) Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Janelle Monáe. A man who was the victim of a brutal beating that cost him his memory, tries to rebuild his shattered life through a make-believe town that he constructs where he can be heroic and strong. This is based on an actual incident.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama/Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language)

Zero

(Yash Raj) Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Karina Kaif, Salman Khan. A young man born to wealth and privilege and was content in his life. Then he meets two women who broaden his outlook and give him a purpose he never knew he needed.

See the trailer, promos and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

American Renegades
Antariksham
Burning
KGF Chapter 1
Padi Padi Leche Manasu

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Antariksham
KGF Chapter 1
Padi Padi Leche Manasu
Shoah: Four Sisters
Swimming with Men

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Antariksham
KGF Chapter 1
Padi Padi Leche Manasu

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

KGF Chapter 1

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Aquaman
Ben is Back
Bumblebee
Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Poppins Returns
Swimming with Men
Welcome to Marwen

Pick of the Litter – December 2018


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Aquaman

(Warner Brothers) Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe. The first post-Justice League DC film will be under a microscope as we explore the origin tale of Arthur Curry, the son of a lighthouse keeper and the Queen of Atlantis who will be enlisted to unite the peoples below the sea and above it. Forces exist however who want to send the two peoples into a cataclysmic war that will determine who rules the world once and for all. December 21

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Ben is Back

(Roadside Attractions) Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton. A mother’s most devout Christmas wish comes true when her estranged son appears unexpectedly on her doorstep Christmas Eve morning. However, the sins of his past including drug abuse and criminal activity are not far behind him and she will fight tooth and nail to keep it from dragging the rest of her family down with it.  December 7

Vox Lux

(NEON) Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Jennifer Ehle. The events that shaped the world from 1999-2017 are viewed through the eyes of a self-centered pop diva. One of the most anticipated films to come out of Toronto this year, there is already talk that this might be Portman’s next Oscar win. December 7

ROMA

(Netflix) Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta. Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron returns to his Mexican home turf to examine the life of a middle class family in a suburb of Mexico City during a single year in the tumultuous ‘70s. A big hit at various film festivals (it received the award for Best Film at Venice), Netflix is giving it the widest theatrical release in the history of the company in November in preparation for a major Oscar push. December 14

Ghostbox Cowboy

(Dark Star) David Zellner, Specialist, Robert Longstreet, Vincent Xie. A Texas entrepreneur who isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier relocates to China where he reinvents himself as something of a maverick in China’s booming tech market. However, unscrupulous and corrupt American businessmen are prepared to take him a lot further than he wants to go in this parable about the trade war mentality. December 14

 They Shall Not Grow Old

(Warner Brothers) Peter Jackson. Legendary producer/director/writer Peter Jackson is a World War I buff. Using modern technology, he has taken archival film from the Great War, restored it and added sound and color to make the scratchy, jumpy and sped up footage look more natural and realistic, allowing viewers to really become immersed in the experience. Theatrically, this is playing only at special screenings on December 17th and 27th via Fathom Events. December 17

Cold War

(Amazon) Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza. Set in the background of the height of the Cold War, two young Poles, completely mismatched but stuck with each other, try to navigate the dangerous currents of Stalinist Poland and perhaps the even more dangerous currents of the human heart. This is Poland’s official submission for the 2019 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and comes to us from the director of a previous winner, Ida. December 21

 Destroyer

(Annapurna) Nicole Kidman, Tatiana Maslany, Toby Kebbell, Sebastian Stan. The leader of a notorious gang emerges from he shadows, prompting an aging L.A. detective who was once undercover in the gang with tragic results to seek out surviving members of the gang to exorcize her own demons and to get to the bottom of what happened so long ago. And yes, that is Kidman in the photo above. December 30

Stan and Ollie

(Sony Classics) John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston. The legendary comic duo of Laurel and Hardy are well past their prime and in desperate need of a hit. Undertaking a grueling theater tour of Britain, the two must deal with the ghosts of their past, Oliver Hardy’s failing health and their own feelings for each other. December 28