The Vanishing of Sidney Hall (Sidney Hall)


The Hollywood version of a writer hard at work.

(2017) Drama (A24) Logan Lerman, Elle Fanning, Michelle Monaghan, Kyle Chandler, Janina Gavankar, Margaret Qualley, Nathan Lane, Blake Jenner, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Drayer, Christine Brucato, Alex Karpovsky, Darren Pettie, David Alan Basche, John Trejo, Danny Cullen, Richard Beal, Ryan Willard, Cris Williams, Stephanie Purpuri. Directed by Shawn Christensen

 

From time to time, people who are at the top of their field, wrapped in success and fame, who simply walk away. It’s an irresistible story for the rest of us who wonder why those folks give up what the rest of us dream of. It is a sign of the prurient side of ourselves.

Sidney Hall (Lerman) is a gifted writer. Ask him; he’ll tell you so. We meet him in a high school writing class in which he has been tasked with writing an essay on the meaning of life. What he delivers is a treatise on his willingness to masturbate over a popular cheerleader and his feeling that he’s wasting his efforts on it. Needless to say, this doesn’t impress the tightly wound English teacher much.

Duane (Abdul-Mateen) knows that Sidney is just breaking the balls of the teacher who doesn’t understand him. He acts as kind of a mentor (and later a literary agent) to Sidney, delivering him to a prestigious publishing house and it’s acerbic editor (Lane). Sidney’s first novel, about the suicide of a high school student, becomes not only a bestseller but a cultural phenomenon and makes him wealthy and a bit of a rock star.

But Sidney’s personal life is a shambles. He left home, getting away from his shrill and controlling mother (Monaghan) and with his high school sweetheart Melody (Fanning) who later becomes his wife. But success breeds some not so pleasant side effects and Sidney’s marriage is crumbling as he becomes more and more self-absorbed. After losing the Pulitzer to another writer and devastated at the end of his marriage, Sidney abruptly disappears from public view.

A series of arsons in bookstores and libraries in which Sidney’s books alone are targeted for burning puts a detective (Chandler) on the trail of Sidney, who has at this point become something of a hobo, riding the rails with his dog Homer. But what motivated Sidney to walk away from everything? What is inside the mysterious box he dug up with his jock friend Brett Newport (Jenner)? Who is the mysterious detective chasing him and why is he so keen to find him? There are ghosts haunting Sidney Hall and perhaps that is why he wants to become one himself.

Director Shawn Christensen has enormous talent; it was clearly on display in his last movie Before I Disappear and there are moments where you can see it in this film. Unfortunately, this is much more of a mess than his last movie was. Christensen has three separate timelines interweaving with one another; Sidney’s last weeks in high school as his relationship with Melody begins and his relationship with Brett is explained. There’s also the apex of his career as a successful writer in his 20s in which his nascent ego has reached full flower, alienating him from just about everyone including his wife. Finally we see him as a lonely and just about psychotic wanderer, cloaked in self-loathing and with only a dog for company.

There are a lot of revelations in the film and to be honest some of them work, others are more on the ludicrous side. Lerman is a fine actor but he’s unconvincing here particularly in some crucial scenes which quite frankly undermines the whole she-bang. He also has almost no chemistry with Fanning whose character is so massively cliché that we’re banging our heads against the wall in frustration.

There are a lot of clichés on display here; the writer in his study, a glass of whiskey beside him, cigarette smoke curling up from his keyboard as he ponders the weight of his next few words. There is in fact a great deal of pretentiousness here, from the condescending dialogue to the portrait of the writer as a young snot. Although we find out near the end of the film that Sidney has suffered greatly at the hands of life, by that time it’s really too late to rescue the character from being someone we can’t stand to be around for very long – and we’re forced to hang out with him for nearly two hours.

Yes, the movie is much too long and feels padded out with gratuitous misery. We get it, Sidney’s life sucks and success isn’t all it’s cut out to be yadda yadda yadda. It doesn’t help that the leaping back and forth from timeline to timeline is done with leaden hands, leaving the audience frustrated yet again.

The sad thing is that there really is a good film somewhere in here. The cast is strong top to bottom and the performances are for the most part compelling; Nathan Lane brings some well-needed levity to the movie and Blake Jenner is surprisingly strong in his role as well. This just feels like a director trying to spread his wings but for whatever reason he plummets from his perch to make a great big ker-splat on the ground. I’m hoping this is just a misstep for Christensen and that we can still expect better things from him in the future. This isn’t going to be one of the highlights on his resume though.

The film is just hitting theaters after a month-long run on DirecTV. It is also still available there for subscribers to that satellite service. Expect it on a larger array of streaming services in the near future if you’re of a mind to see it.

REASONS TO GO: Nathan Lane is always a hoot. There are some really nice cinematic moments. The cast does pretty well in general.
REASONS TO STAY: The storytelling is disjointed and frustrating. The movie goes on way too long. The dialogue and plot are way too pretentious.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity including some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lerman plays Sidney as a high school student, in his 20s and lastly in his 30s; Lerman is actually 25 years old.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/3/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 10% positive reviews. Metacritic: 18/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Listen Up, Philip
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Submission

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New Releases for the Week of March 2, 2018


RED SPARROW

(20th Century Fox) Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciarán Hinds, Joely Richardson. Directed by Francis Lawrence

A ballerina is recruited for the Soviet-era “Sparrow School” in which beautiful young women are trained to be ruthless assassins, using their sexuality as a weapon. She is given the target of a CIA agent with whom she develops feelings for. She is playing a dangerous game and there is no way to know who to trust. Her own agency is after her and her beloved mother; the only way out may be to betray all that she was.

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

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby Atmos, IMAX
Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity)

A Fantastic Woman

(Sony Classics) Daniela Vidal, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Kupperheim. Marina is a transsexual woman who works as a waitress and moonlights as a nightclub singer. It is hard enough to survive as a transsexual in Latin America but when her boyfriend abruptly dies she is left floundering and wondering if she can go on.

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

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

Rating: R (for language, sexual content, nudity and a disturbing assault)

Death Wish

(Annapurna/MGM) Bruce Willis, Elisabeth Shue, Vincent D’Onofrio, Camilla Morrone. A family man whose wife and daughter are brutally attacked becomes a vigilante when he finds that the police can’t help him find justice – so he goes after the perpetrators himself. This is Eli Roth’s version of the classic Charles Bronson revenge thriller.

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

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

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and language throughout)

Nostalgia

(Bleecker Street) Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn. This is an anthology of tales about loss and love, and the artifacts, memories and emotions that shape our lives.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for some language)

The Vanishing of Sidney White

(A24) Michelle Monaghan, Elle Fanning, Logan Lerman, Kyle Chandler. A young writer pens a bestseller about the death of a high school classmate. As the controversy surrounding his hit novel grows, his relationship with his girlfriend disintegrates and at last he disappears without a trace. A decade later a dogged detective searches for the legendary author when his cult classic book is linked to a string of arsons. Florida Film Festival alumnus Shawn Christensen co-wrote and directed this.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Mystery
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: R (for language and some sexual references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Dance Academy: The Comeback

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Dance Academy: The Comeback
In Between
Let Yourself Go
The Lullaby
The Party

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Dance Academy: The Comeback
Pari

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

None

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Death Wish
Red Sparrow
The Vanishing of Sidney White

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

WineFest: Wine’s World, Tampa

The Beguiled (2017)


Melancholia through sepia gauze.

(2017) Thriller (Focus) Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, Emma Howard, Wayne Pére, Matt Story, Joel Albin, Eric Ian. Directed by Sofia Coppola

 

It is in some ways a triumph of atmosphere over substance. This remake of a 1971 Clint Eastwood film – one of two he made with Don Siegel that year (the other was Dirty Harry) which was in turn based on a novel by a fella named Thomas Cullinan comes at the story from a female perspective, something Hollywood sorely needs these days.

During the Civil War, an isolated girl’s school in Virginia (which is unconvincingly played by Louisiana here) tries to maintain gentility and grace in a rapidly deteriorating situation. The slaves have “run off” and so the girls are given chores to do. Food is becoming harder to come by and one of the younger residents, Miss Amy (Laurence) stumbles upon a wounded Union soldier, Corporal McBurney (Farrell). Although headmistress Miss Martha (Kidman) considers turning him in to the Confederate Army, she chooses to hide his presence while he’s recuperating as it is the “Christian thing to do.” The opportunistic McBurney recognizes a sweet deal and sets about exerting control over the girls using his own charm and sexuality to pit them against each other, particularly the lonely schoolmarm Miss Edwina (Dunst) and the sexually charged Miss Alicia (Fanning). As you can guess from the trailers, it doesn’t end well for the male of the species.

Coppola is known for her slow pacing in her films and in this case the pace matches the setting; dripping in Spanish moss, you can feel the heat rising from the ground right through to the dresses of the ladies, all of whom sweat profusely – excuse me, glow. It is clearly a Deep South environment; I wonder why Coppola didn’t just bite the bullet and call it Louisiana as that would have made more sense but I digress.

In some ways the tone works but in others it works against the film. At times the story moves so slowly that one can be forgiven for checking their watch. It’s not that the film is boring precisely but it could have used some energy; Da Queen characterized the movie as “a bit flat” and she’s not wrong. Still, you can’t help but be brought into the organic lull that Coppola creates.

Farrell is one of the best scoundrels in Hollywood and he takes it to a new level here. Kidman is still as ethereal a beauty as has ever appeared onscreen but she is also a much more talented actress than she is often given credit for; she is solid here and her sponge bathing scene with an unconscious Farrell is one of the most erotic scenes you’re likely to see in a mainstream movie this year. Dunst, playing a repressed and lonely spinster elevates her game as well.

The movie was a box office failure although critics praised the movie generally, which is not an unusual thing. I thought the film was a fascinating study of sexual politics and of feminine strength, a near polar-opposite of the 1971 version and, I understand, the novel although I confess I haven’t read it. This is one of Coppola’s best works and it bears looking into especially if you are a fan of thought-provoking films.

REASONS TO GO: The movie does a fine job of creating the feel of the Civil War-era South. The film serves as an interesting examination on sexual politics.
REASONS TO STAY: At points the sedate pace makes the film feel flat.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and adult situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Farrell and Kidman can also be seen together in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which along with this film won awards at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/15/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Keeping Room
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Baby Driver

New Releases for the Week of August 18, 2017


THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD

(Summit) Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung, Richard E. Grant, Joaquim de Almeida, Sam Hazeldine. Directed by Patrick Hughes

A vicious dictator is going on trial in front of the international court and only one man can put him away – one of the world’s most successful assassins. However, the ex-fearless leader has put out a hit on the hitman and things don’t look good for him to make it to the trial. A bodyguard is assigned to the killer and it has to be said the two don’t exactly hit it off but if they are going to survive they’ll have to put aside their differences or die in a really spectacular fashion.

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

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

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)

Brigsby Bear

(Sony Classics) Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Jane Adams, Greg Kinnear. The children’s television show Brigsby Bear Adventures has been playing for an audience of one – James. When the show abruptly ends, James is motivated to finish the story himself taking him into a land of imagination he never knew he had within him.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

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

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, brief sexuality, drug material and teen partying)

Dawson City: Frozen Time

(Kino Lorber) Bill Morrison, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Kathy Jones-Gates, Michael Gates. In 1978, a bulldozer working its way through a parking lot in Dawson City, a former gold rush town in the Yukon and discovered a cache of over 500 films that had been buried there since the silent film era. Many of the films had been thought to be lost forever. After an extensive restoration process, the newsreels and films are ready to be shown to the public, depicting an era in history and in Dawson City itself that is long gone. This film has been described as being like stepping into a time capsule.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Leap!

(Weinstein) Starring the voices of Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Carly Rae Jepsen, Maddie Ziegler. An orphan girl who dreams of being a prima ballerina travels from Brittany to Paris to follow her dream. A case of mistaken identity leads her to become a pupil at the Grand Opera House in a Paris that is full of enchantment, music and magic.

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

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

Rating: PG (for some impolite humor and action)

Logan Lucky

(Bleecker Street) Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes. Two brothers, cursed by bad luck all their lives, attempt to steal a windfall of cash from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Enlisting the aid of Joe Bang, one of the great demolition experts of all time, they merely have to break him out of prison where he is in-car-cer-rated and then get him back inside without anyone noticing. Piece of cake. Incidentally, this is Steven Soderburgh’s return to the big screen in like four years. Think of this as the unholy love child of The Dukes of Hazzard, <em and Oceans 11.

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

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

Rating: PG-13 (for language and some crude comments)

Lost in Paris

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Emmanuelle Riva, Pierre Richard. Fiona visits Paris for the first time in her life to assist her Aunt Martha. Fiona has always repressed her feelings but when she meets Dom, a homeless man who is absolutely unafraid of expressing his feelings or his thoughts. The City of Lights will never be the same.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

Step

(Fox Searchlight) Paula Dofat, Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon. This documentary follows a step dancing team from inner city Baltimore as they embark on competitions throughout the city and navigate their senior year in high school.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some language)

Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk

(Abramorama) Billy Joe Armstrong, Iggy Pop, Jello Biafra, Laurence Livermore. San Francisco has always been the center of the Bay Area music scene. For a brief shining moment, a group of committed men and women ran a punk co-op out of a former warehouse in Berkeley that became a creative cauldron that changed the face of punk music – and pop culture – forever and put the East Bay in the forefront of the Bay Area musical firmament.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Wind River

(Weinstein) Jeremy Renner, Graham Greene, Tantoo Cardinal, Elizabeth Olsen. A grisly murder scene is discovered on a Native American tribal reservation. An FBI agent is called in to investigate and he ends up teaming with a veteran game tracker to run the killer to ground.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: R (for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Bareilly Ki Barfi
Fairy Tale: Dragon Cry
From the Land of the Moon
Imperfections
Shot Caller

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Anando Brahma
Fairy Tale: Dragon Cry
Menashe
Once Upon a Time 3D
The Only Living Boy in New York
The Untamed
Whose Streets?

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

6 Days
Anando Brahma
The Ancient Magus Bride
Bareilly Ki Barfi
Fairy Tale: Dragon City
The Midwife
Shot Caller

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

68 Kill
Anando Brahma
The Ancient Magus Bride

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

68 Kill
Brigsby Bear
Dawson City: Frozen in Time
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
Logan Lucky
Menashe
The Only Living Boy in New York
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk
Whose Streets?
Wind River

New Releases for the Week of June 30, 2017


DESPICABLE ME 3

(Universal/Illumination) Starring the voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slate. Directed by Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin and Eric Guillon

Supervillain Gru is on the straight and narrow now that he has a family to take care of. He’s even working on the other side – law enforcement – but when tasked with taking down up and coming supervillain Balthazar Bratt he fails and loses his job. Adrift, he is reunited with the twin brother he never knew he had and who has been continuing the family legacy of villainy. It doesn’t take much cajoling to get Gru on board for a twin brother villain team but how will his girlfriend Lucy react to his return to criminal behavior?

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

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for action and rude humor)

Baby Driver

(Tri-Star) Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx. Fan favorite director Edgar Wright has come up with another winner in this much-anticipated crime epic. Baby is a gifted getaway driver with a few quirks, not the least of which is putting on his own personal playlist to drown out the white noise when he’s working. After he falls hard for a waitress, he realizes he wants a different life but getting out of the life he’s in is not easy at all.

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

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

Rating: R (for violence and language throughout)

The Beguiled

(Focus) Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning. Who would have ever thought that “Sofia Coppola remakes Clint Eastwood” would ever become a sentence? In the waning days of the Civil War a wounded Union soldier is taken in by the headmistress of a girl’s school in the rural South. As he is nursed back to health, some of the girls in the school begin to fall for his charm. The headmistress realizes that he is far more dangerous to the school than she first thought and takes steps to protect her charges.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some sexuality)

The Hero

(The Orchard) Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter. An aging actor who was once a respected Western actor spends most of his time smoking dope and hanging out with a fellow actor. When he meets a much younger woman who falls head over heels for him, he begins to turn things around, even reaching out to bridge the rift between himself and his estranged daughter. Can he resurrect his career and heal old wounds? The Hero was not only a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, it was also the opening night film at the Florida Film Festival as well.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC New Smyrna, Enzian Theater, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Rialto Spanish Springs Town Square

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

The House

(New Line) Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll. When a doting pair of parents loses their daughter’s college fund, they start scrambling to find a way to make sure she can afford the high-end college she has not only gotten into but has always dreamed of attending. They come up with the somewhat desperate plan of turning their home into a Las Vegas-style casino. As you might expect, things go crazily out of control quickly.

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

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

Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual references, drug use, some violence and brief nudity)

Past Life

(Goldwyn) Nelly Tagar, Joy Rieger, Dovon Tavory, Evgenia Dodina. While touring West Germany in the late 70s, a soloist is accosted by an elderly German woman who claims she’s the daughter of a murderer. Understandably shaken, she and her sister – a caustic woman who has a chilly relationship with her father – begin to investigate what he did during the war and discover some family secrets are best left buried.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA

None

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

David Lynch: The Art Life
Inconceivable
Manifesto
Queen of Thursdays
Sex Doll
The Student
The Wedding Plan

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

A Stork’s Journey

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

The Wedding Plan

Live By Night


Ben  Affleck is all business.

Ben Affleck is all business.

(2016) Crime Drama (Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, Elle Fanning, Robert Glenister, Matthew Maher, Remo Girone, Sienna Miller, Miguel J. Pimentel, Titus Welliver, Max Casella, JD Evermore, Clark Gregg, Anthony Michael Hall, Derek Mears, Christian Clemenson, Chris Sullivan, Veronica Alcino. Directed by Ben Affleck

 

What makes a good man do bad things? Sometimes it’s circumstance, sometimes desperation, sometimes it’s because they believe that they are doing it for a greater good. Once they a good man goes down that path however, how long before it changes him from a good man to a bad one?

Joe Coughlin (Affleck) went to the First World War as a good man. The son of a police captain (Gleeson), he returns home to Boston disillusioned and bitter, vowing not to follow orders ever again. He becomes a petty thief with a small gang but Coughlin is bold and smart and soon comes to the attention of Irish mob boss Albert White (Glenister). Coughlin wants no part of a gang but it’s one of those situations where he doesn’t have any attractive alternatives.

Unfortunately, soon White’s mistress Emma Gould (Miller) comes to Joe’s attention and the two start carrying on a rather dangerous clandestine relationship. Of course, it inevitably leads to tragedy and Joe goes to jail. When he gets out, Boston is essentially closed to him and he goes south to Tampa along with his right hand man Dion Bartolo (Messina) where they will oversee the rum running operation of Italian mob boss Maso Pescatore (Girone). There he meets two pivotal people – police chief Figgis (Cooper) and Graciela (Saldana); the former he forges a business relationship with and the latter a romantic one.

Joe’s interracial romance soon garners the attention of the Ku Klux Klan who makes life a mess for Joe. Joe appeals to Chief Figgis for help but the Klan’s most visible guy (Maher) happens to be the Chief’s brother-in-law. Although he admires and respects the Chief a great deal Joe uses blackmail photos of the Chief’s daughter Loretta (Fanning) to force the Chief to betray his brother-in-law.

Some time after that, Joe hits upon the idea of building casinos in Florida and begins construction on a magnificent one. Pescatore is happy because Joe is making him cartfuls of money and plenty of important people want to see the casino built. However, Joe is opposed by an evangelist – Loretta Figgis – who helps turn public and political opinion against him. Now Joe is in a great deal of hot water and finds himself once again between the two Boston mob bosses except that this time they are BOTH against him. Surviving this battle may not be possible.

Let’s cut to the chase; this is the weakest entry in Affleck’s otherwise stellar directing filmography. That doesn’t mean this is a terrible film, it’s just the most convoluted and least interesting of Affleck’s films to date. Don’t get me wrong; he’s a truly talented director and some of the scenes he has shot here are simply magic, but there aren’t enough of them to make a cohesive whole. Some of the blame lies at the feet of Dennis Lehane whose book this is based upon; the book itself was somewhat plot-heavy and it doesn’t translate to the silver screen as well as other books that the author wrote like Mystic River for example.

There are a ton of characters in here and a pretty high-end cast; that leads to a logjam of performances, some of which get short shrift and others seem to simply disappear in the bedlam. Standing out are Cooper as the bereaved and aggrieved chief of police, Saldana as the patient girlfriend and Messina as the loyal right hand man. All three get substantial screen time; not so much for fine actors like Miller, Gleeson and Greenwood among others.

And with all this, sometimes it feels like you’re riding a lazy Southern river that seems to be all bend and no destination. There are at least three false endings and when the final credits role there is a feeling of relief. The movie could have very easily ended at a much earlier point (I won’t say where but if Ben Affleck wants to e-mail me, I’d be glad to discuss it with him) and have been much more satisfying than the place it finally did end.

I’m hoping this was just a fluke and that on his next film Affleck returns to form. He has shown in his career that he’s a bit streaky, both to the positive and to the negative. He is capable of greatness and he is also capable of movies that are utterly forgettable. This falls in the latter category – it’s not horrible, not really cringe-worthy; just inconsequential. That’s not an adjective you want used in connection with your film and I’m sure Affleck doesn’t want to make films that even potentially could have that adjective used to describe them. I sure don’t like feeling that the adjective is apt.

This is a nice looking movie that captures the era convincingly to my mind. Affleck looks pretty chic in the tailored suits of the era and the ladies have that elegance that the 30s were known for. There is a fair amount of violence – some of it bloody – but you would expect that in a film about gangsters. There is also a moral ambiguity that might be troubling for some. When watching the Corleone family, you got a sense that they knew what they were doing was wrong but this was what they knew how to do. Coughlin seems to have more options and a moral compass but he still chooses to do things that are expedient rather than right. I suppose that’s true for a lot of us.

REASONS TO GO: Affleck remains a gifted director even on his less successful films.
REASONS TO STAY: A meandering plot sabotages the film.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some fairly graphic violence, lots of profanity and a little sexuality
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second movie based on a Dennis Lehane novel that Affleck has directed (the first was Gone Baby Gone back in 2007).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 34% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Untouchables
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing

20th Century Women


Annette Bening examines Lucas Jade Zumann.

Annette Bening examines Lucas Jade Zumann.

(2016) Drama (A24) Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann, Alia Shawkat, Alison Elliott, Thea Gill, Vitaly A. Lebeau, Olivia Hone, Waleed Zuaiter, Curran Walters, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Nathalie Love, Cameron Protzman, Victoria Bruno, John Billingsley, Finnegan Bell, Zoe Nanos, Laura Foley, Finn Roberts, Laura Wiggins. Directed by Mike Mills

 

Sometimes we take for granted the women in our lives; our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our wives, our friends. We are shaped inexorably by them, our development as people strengthened by them, sometimes in ways we don’t even know. That’s doubly true to those of us who have had single moms.

Dorothea (Bening) is a daughter of the Depression who got a late start on motherhood; she was 40 when she had her son Jamie (Zumann). She’s 55 now, and living in Santa Barbara (and now is 1979). Jamie’s dad is out of the picture and Dorothea helps make ends meet by hosting boarders in her fixer upper of a house – William (Crudup) who is doing most of the fixer upping and Abbie (Gerwig), a Bohemian photographer with maroon hair who is recovering from cervical cancer. Into this mix add Julie (Fanning), a childhood friend of Jamie’s whose home life has become so tense that she regularly spends the night in Jamie’s bed although she refuses to allow anything sexual to happen, much to Jamie’s chagrin. In fact, Julie is fairly promiscuous and has no compunction telling Jamie about her sexual experiences which makes Jamie feel even worse.

Jamie is at an age where he is growing more distant from his mother whose every action seems to piss Jamie off (if he realized how much freedom she gave him compared to what the rest of us were getting in 1979 he might not have been quite so prickly) and he’s beginning to push back in an effort to leave the nest at least spiritually, leaving without permission to join friends at punk rock concerts in L.A. or to go skateboarding with friends.

Realizing that she’s no longer able to get through to Jamie, Dorothea enlists the help of Abbie and Julie to help instruct her son in how to be a man. Abbie engages Jamie in discussions about female orgasms and gives him hardcore feminist manifestos to read. Julie’s assistance is a little more subtle but she seems to be warming up to the idea of a more romantic stand with Jamie.

But as most things do, things fall apart as Jamie, incensed that his mother seems to be giving up on him, grows more and more irritable – getting into fights with friends and with his mom. Something’s got to give.

Director Mike Mills based Dorothea on his own mother albeit with Bening’s own stamp put on the character. Much of what transpires in the film also transpired in Mills’ own life. Dorothea is a bit eccentric to be sure but no more than most moms of the day, or any other day for that matter. Mills realizes that quirky doesn’t have to be done in the indie film sense where people do outrageous things just for the sake of being outrageous; here the quirkiness is part of their DNA, an expression of who they are and they make sense; Dorothea chain smokes and invites people she barely knows to her home for dinner. William talks about energies and karma and is a 70s hippie with a mechanical bent. Julie  reads Judy Bloom and has lots of sex and wants to keep Jamie at arms length so they can remain friends seemingly without seeing what it is doing to him. Abbie dances like a fiend to the Talking Heads, takes pictures of everything (presaging the millennial obsession with taking pictures of even the most mundane elements of their lives) and generally being the 21st century avatar in this little family.

Jamie appears to be the most normal of the lot but ostensibly he’s the stand-in for Mills himself so it’s understandable if Mills gives Jamie a bit less of an edge, although he isn’t lacking in teen angst. Zumann actually does a pretty great job here; he’s never annoyingly precocious but seems pretty much like most teens I know – wears their hearts on their sleeves but much smarter and much worldlier than we adults tend to give them credit for. Zumann is a name to remember.

Bening delivers a performance that is strong without being flashy. Her character smokes incessantly and frets as mothers do but she’s generally calm even when there’s chaos around her. She can be a little quirky but at the core of the character are the things most of us have in common; love for our children and an overwhelming desire for them to be happy and safe. Bening portrays the character’s inherent dignity ably and allows her individuality to shine through. She missed out on a Best Actress nomination this year but she certainly was in the running for it.

This is the Southern California from the late 70s that I remember. Mills does a great job of recreating it, not just in fashion, cars and set design but in atmosphere as well. There are times when it feels like the characters are pontificating a bit much more than normal humans do, but other than that there’s not really a lot to quibble about here. It’s a good, solid slice of life movie that illustrates the difficulty of growing up into manhood and what a treacherous path it can be. It also shows that the gulf between men and women doesn’t have to be as necessarily wide as we think it is so long as we’re willing to listen to each other. It’s a lesson that was valid in 1979 and it’s a lesson that’s valid now.

REASONS TO GO: Annette Bening just kills it. The era is captured beautifully.
REASONS TO STAY: It gets a little pretentious at times.
FAMILY VALUES:  There’s quite a bit of sexual material and some nudity, a fair amount of profanity some mild violence and brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Crudup and Gerwig also appeared in the film Jackie.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 83/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Captain Fantastic
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House