Captain Fantastic


Viggo Mortensen points out from which direction the Orc hordes are charging.

Viggo Mortensen points out from which direction the Orc hordes are charging.

(2016) Drama (Bleecker Street) Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Trin Miller, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd, Elijah Stevenson, Teddy Van Ee, Erin Moriarty, Missi Pyle, Gallen Osier, Rex Young, Thomas Brophy, Mike Miller, Hannah Horton. Directed by Matt Ross

 

This is not a world conducive to raising kids. We are forced to work jobs that take ever-increasing amounts of our time, forcing us to leave them at day care, in schools where getting an education is an uphill battle and with diversions and distractions guaranteed to change our kids from thoughtful, caring people into automatons parroting whatever the cool kids are saying and preferring to do things that require no thought at all.

Ben (Mortensen) has decided to chuck all of that aside. Something of a latter day hippie tilting at the same windmills of Noam Chomsky and Norman Mailer did, he has removed his family – his wife and six kids – to the woods of the Pacific Northwest. There, they live off the grid; killing and growing their own food, making whatever it is they need, selling their crafts for the little money they do require and Ben both schooling and training the kids not only how to live off the land but to defend themselves from those who would take them off of it by force.

Ben has been doing this alone since his wife Leslie (Miller) has been hospitalized but when his worst fears come to pass and she dies, the entire family is devastated. Ben, a believer in transparency (when it suits him), tells his children in the bluntest terms possible. This of course precipitates a storm of emotion.

Nothing, however, when compared to what comes out of Jack (Langella), Leslie’s bereaved father who blames Ben and his alternative lifestyle for his daughter’s demise and forbids him and his children from attending her funeral. This, of course, inspires them all to pile into the family school bus and head to the services. Along the road, they’ll visit Ben’s sister Harper (Hahn) and her husband Dave (Zahn) who are far more in the normal meter with two sons of their own and predictably, things don’t go particularly well. When the confrontation comes, it will expose some raw wounds in what appeared to be a tight-knit family and call into question Ben’s methods and dearly-held philosophies.

Much of how you’re going to take in this film is going to depend on your attitudes towards the counterculture, both then and now. Those who look at the movement and find it to be self-righteous and arrogant will see those things in Ben; others who look back at that and see commitment and courage will see that in Ben. Curiously, there’s no drug use going on here, so far as I can tell. However, those who think that white rich people are getting the short end of the stick are likely to find this movie to be somewhat offensive.

Mortensen will probably always be Aragorn in my book; since he exploded in the public perception in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth trilogy, he has stayed away largely from mainstream movies and typical roles. In some ways, Ben is as close to Viggo as we’re ever likely to see. Mortensen is a well-known iconoclast and besides being an incredibly handsome dude, has acting chops guys as good looking as he can only dream about. He is meant to carry the movie and he does.

The kids playing his kids managed not to get on my nerves, quite a feat when you get six child actors together for any reason. Occasionally I’d see a little bit of annoying little brat going on but for the most part the kids are interesting, thoughtful and bright. Ben’s oldest Bo (MacKay) has been accepted at some of the most prestigious universities in the country which isn’t the kind of thing that impresses his father, who disdains anything that has anything to do with the establishment, including education.

The first third of the movie has some beautiful landscapes from Washington State, and the cinematography is correspondingly lush. The middle third is essentially a road movie, largely taking place in deserts and plains and is as different a road movie as you’re likely to see. We get some glimpses of hypocrisy cracking through Ben’s veneer of moral rightness, as well as some of the conflicts going on within the family. In some ways, this is the most interesting part of the picture.

The final third is basically Ben and the kids coming to terms with the fall-out of Ben’s home schooling and attitudes towards mainstream life. There should be catharsis here (and the filmmakers sorely wants there to be) but the ending is such a letdown that any kind of catharsis just gets lost in the backwash. The ending feels arbitrary and inorganic and doesn’t seem consistent with what I thought the movie was trying to get across. Now, I might have misconstrued the filmmakers’ intentions and that’s okay, but quite frankly my wife and I looked at each other after the final credits started rolling and said in almost perfect unison “Really?” You don’t want to leave a movie with that kind of feeling.

Ross is best known as an actor in HBO’s hit comedy Silicon Valley turns out to be a fairly promising director. The timing here for the comedic parts are right on and the drama parts aren’t especially overbearing. While he could have used a better ending, he certainly has plenty to build on for a future career behind the camera if that’s the path he wants to take.

Even given all that, this is still an amazing, thought-provoking movie with one of the most charismatic actors in the business at the top of his form. In a summer full of disappointing blockbusters and run-of-the-mill sequels, this is a literal breath of fresh air.

REASONS TO GO: Mortensen is a powerfully charismatic actor. The film depicts an interesting conflict between alternative ideas and mainstream reality. It’s not your ordinary road movie.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending was a bit of a letdown.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some profanity and a brief scene of graphic nudity (Viggo Mortensen fans, rejoice!).
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The group of children cast in the film came to call Mortensen “Summer Dad” throughout the shoot during the summer of 2015.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/27/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Automatic Hate
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Life, Animated

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New Releases for the Week of July 22, 2016


Star Trek BeyondSTAR TREK BEYOND

(Paramount) Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Shohreh Aghdashloo. Directed by Justin Lin

While exploring a previously uncharted section of the quadrant, the U.S.S. Enterprise meets up with a powerful foe. Stranded on a strange planet without ship or crew, Captain James T. Kirk will need to use all his wiles and bravado to rescue his crew and escape the clutches of their captor, who means to put the values of the Federation to the test.

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

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

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

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

(Fox Searchlight) Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield. One of the more beloved British sitcoms of the 90s makes a leap to the big screen as Edina and Patsy, two ladies who love the posh life, find themselves embroiled in a scandal. Stalked by the paparazzi, they are forced to flee to the French Riviera without a sou to their name. True to their nature, they hatch a scheme that will allow their vacation to be permanent – if they can but pull it off!

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, and some drug use)

Captain Fantastic

(Bleecker Street) Viggo Mortensen, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella. A counterculture sort of fellow tries to raise his kids off the grid in the Pacific Northwest, and instill in them everything they need to become extraordinary adults. However, when tragedy strikes the family, he must bring them into the world the rest of us live in and finds that not only are they shocked by what they discover, but that everything he has taught them has been called into question.

See the trailer, clips, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language and brief graphic nudity)

Equals

(A24) Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver. In the future, humanity will have, like the Vulcans of Star Trek eschewed emotion, preferring to lead logical, orderly lives devoid of conflict – and devoid of love. Two young people discover a means to bypass their conditioning and feel something, soon discovering what they are feeling is love for one another and begin a dangerous secret romance.

See the trailer, clips and view the full movie on Amazon here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, sensuality, partial nudity and disturbing images)

Fight Valley

(Breaking Glass) Susie Celek, Miesha Tate, Erin O’Brien, Kari J. Kramer. A young woman is found dead after entering the dangerous world of underground fighting. Her sister, vowing to find her killer and bring them to justice, begins training under a respected ex-fighter so she can enter the world that led to her sister’s death.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Ice Age: Collision Course

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Ray Romano, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah. In his quest for the elusive acorn, Skrat accidentally sets off a chain of events that may end the ice age forever and wipe out the creatures living in it. In order to escape the coming devastation, Manny, Diego and their friends must journey to exotic new lands and hope they find safety.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for mild rude humor and some action/peril)

Lights Out

(New Line) Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Billy Burke, Maria Bello. A young woman escapes the nightmares of her childhood and her fear of what lurks in the dark. When she discovers her little brother is displaying the same symptoms, she returns home to confront her mother and the mysterious entity that has made her life a living hell, except now that entity wants to end all their lives once and for all.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for terror throughout, violence including disturbing images, some thematic material and brief drug content)

Pick of the Litter – July 2016


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters

(Columbia) Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Chris Hemsworth. Who ya gonna call? One of the 80s most beloved films gets a reboot. There has been some grousing that the team of paranormal exterminators is all women, and that has led to a great deal of grousing on the Internet. I know, who would have thought that people on the Internet grouse? Seriously, director Paul Feig has made some of the funniest comedies of the past few years and generally utilizes a female-centric cast. While I generally would have preferred a sequel (although original Dan Aykroyd reportedly makes a cameo here), I’m really looking forward to this. July 15

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Buddymoon

Buddymoon

(Orion) David Giuntoli, Flula Borg, Claire Coffee, Brian T. Finney. Left at the altar on his wedding day, a former child actor is convinced by his German friend, DJ Flula, to take his honeymoon anyway – a hike in the Pacific Northwest’s Cascades Range. Reluctant at first, the two good friends prove to be anything but compatible hiking partners as neither one is used to the great outdoors. But gradually, they find their stride and maybe, discover what it means to be buddies. This played the Florida Film Festival this past April. July 1

Life, Animated

Life, Animated

(The Orchard) Jonathan Freeman, Gilbert Gottfried, Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind. An autistic child presents challenges for his or her family, but Jonathan Freeman’s family faced some enormous ones with him. Their love and devotion to him moved them to create an entire language using Disney animated films so that they could communicate with Jonathan. This documentary, showing their triumphs over adversity, has been wowing the festival circuit since it first made an appearance at Sundance earlier this year. July 1

Microbe and Gasoline

Microbe and Gasoline

(Screen Media) Ange Dargent, Théophile Baquet, Audrey Tautou, Diane Besnier. Michel Gondry is one of the most imaginative directors in the world and his latest is in many ways his most accessible film yet. It is a coming of age tale about two misfit young boys, certain that they will never fit in, who decide to leave town and take a road trip across France to find a place they do fit in. Not being old enough to drive, much less afford a car, they build one of their own – a kind of an RV if you use a little imagination and you can bet Gondry uses a lot more than a little. July 1

Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic

(Bleecker Street) Viggo Mortensen, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella. Ben has raised his family in what can only be termed as a counterculture method. Away from civilization and technology, he has crafted a simple life for he and his family. When his wife gets sick, he relents and takes her to the hospital but it’s not enough. Her death sets Ben up against his wife’s heartbroken father, who determines to take the children and raise them in civilization before Ben kills another of them. This film is an allegory of the left vs. the right in a year where politics are everything. July 8

Fathers and Daughters

 Fathers and Daughters

(Vertical) Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe, Aaron Paul, Jane Fonda. Following the death of his wife, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author suffers a mental breakdown and is forced to give up his daughter while he recovers. 27 years later, his now-grown daughter struggles to forge connections of her own while trying to help a young girl who has lost everything. From director Gabriele Muccino, Oscar-nominated director of The Pursuit of Happyness. July 8

Our Little Sister

Our Little Sister

(Sony Classics) Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose. Three beautiful young women, sisters all, attend the funeral of their father, from whom they’ve been estranged for his philandering ways. When they arrive at the funeral, they discover that he left behind a fourth sister with the woman who they had blamed for wrecking the marriage of their parents. When they discover she has no place to go, they invite her to stay with them. This Japanese film looks beautiful from both a cinematography standpoint but also an emotional one and is based on a popular graphic novel. July 8

Tulip Fever

Tulip Fever

(Weinstein) Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Dane DeHaan, Judi Dench. In 17th century Amsterdam at the height of tulip mania in the Netherlands, a young artist is hired to paint the portrait of the wife of a well-to-do merchant. The artist and his subject fall in love, beginning a game of cat and mouse with the husband that might have deadly consequences. With a script by Tom Stoppard and a cast with some of the best actors from Hollywood and Europe, this is undoubtedly a must-see. July 15

Don't Think Twice

Don’t Think Twice

(The Film Arcade) Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci. A tight-knit New York City improv group has been laboring in relative obscurity in the city. When one of their number gets called upon to join the cast of an SNL-like TV show, the rest of his troupe begin to realize that they may not be destined for stardom after all. A bittersweet look at life in the comedy lane. July 22

Can We Take a Joke

Can We Take a Joke?

(Goldwyn) Gilbert Gottfried, Penn Jillette, Lisa Lampinelli, Jim Norton. In this age of social media and instant gratification, comedy has come under fire for offending people. Anything that even smacks at poking fun at, say, racial stereotypes, gender stereotypes, religious stereotypes – all of these can end up getting the comedian in hot water, and sometimes in physical danger. This documentary asks if we’ve gotten too thin-skinned for our own good (SPOILER ALERT: yes we have). July 29

Viral

Viral

(Dimension/Radius) Analeigh Tipton, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Michael Kelly, Travis Tope. It isn’t often that I include a horror movie among my Picks of the Litter, but this one looks special. For one, it’s got Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman in the director’s chair, two of the brightest and promising directors in Hollywood. For another, it’s got a look that reminds me a little bit of the excellent FX series The Strain. And finally, it looks scary as hell. July 29