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

Charlie St. Cloud


Charlie St. Cloud

Zac Efron responds when asked if there are any High School Musical alumni out there.

(Universal) Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Charlie Tahan, Donal Logue, Ray Liotta, Kim Basinger, Dave Franco, Jesse Wheeler, Matt Ward, Augustus Prew, Miles Chalmers, Desiree Zurowski, Adrian Hough, Jill Teed, Valerie Tian, Grace Sherman, Brenna O’Brien. Directed by Burr Steers

One of the most difficult events we can go through in life is to watch a loved one die before their time. This can only be made worse by having that loved one be a child and feeling responsible for that child’s demise.

Charlie St. Cloud (Efron) is a golden boy. He’s wicked good-looking and a fantastic sailor, so much so that Stanford has given him a scholarship to be on their sailing team. His mom (Basinger) pulls double shifts at the hospital so that he can achieve his dreams, although I have not a clue how a working class kid can afford a racing sloop; it’s probably best if you try not to think about such things.

Charlie has a very close relationship with his little brother Sam (Tahan) who is devastated that Charlie is going to leave, in a sense just like their dad did. “I’m not dad,” Charlie says a bit crossly when Sam voices that fear. I can imagine that the comparison occurred to Charlie too.

Sam is a huge Red Sox fan and wants to play baseball; Charlie is only too happy to coach him every day. He’s just graduated (and the principal expects Great Things from this young man; to be sure, Charlie answers somewhat immodestly “So do I, sir”) from high school and has the entire summer in their coastal Washington town to teach Sam how to throw a slider.

Of course, being that it’s graduation time, Charlie wants to spend some time with his friends, particularly Sully (Franco) and Green (Wheeler) who have joined the military and are shipping out to the Middle East in a week. However, mom has landed another shift at the hospital, putting Charlie on Sam duty, which interferes with his plans. Thinking that Sam has fallen asleep, he tries to sneak out but Sam catches him and demands to be taken somewhere where he can watch the Red Sox game – apparently quite a few of them are broadcast in Washington.

Sam gives in and perhaps he shouldn’t have. On the way to wherever it is they are going, Sam is rear-ended by a drunk driver who pushes Charlie into oncoming traffic where they are T-boned by a rather big truck. A paramedic (Liotta) brings Charlie back from the dead, but Sam isn’t as lucky.

Charlie is devastated. At Sam’s funeral, he can’t bring himself to leave Sam’s mitt and ball in the casket, so instead, having glimpsed what he thought was Sam leaning against a tombstone, he runs into the woods, only to come up to Sam’s apparition, petulantly whining that Charlie and he had a deal. They do indeed; and at sunset when the town’s yacht club conveniently fires off a cannon to signal that they are fully capable of warding off pirates, they will meet in the woods and play catch.

Fast forward five years. Charlie has put his life on hold and works as a caretaker where his brother lies buried. He has but one friend, an obnoxious Englishman named Alistair (Prew) and yes, he has fulfilled his promise to his brother each and every day, rain or shine, come hell or high water. Mom has moved on to Portland, but Charlie remains in a stasis of his own grief.

That’s when Tess (Crew), an old high school classmate of Charlie’s returns to town, apparently having become a pretty fair sailor herself. She has entered herself in an around the world yacht race, and her coach Tink Weatherbee (Logue) thinks she’s got a good shot. She’s back in town, apparently to just take her boat on a trial run, but really she’s there to run into Charlie and fall in love with him. She does both admirably.

Charlie’s deepening relationship with Tess is putting a serious crimp in his meetings with his brother Sam. Sam is terrified of being deserted by his brother and that he will fade into nothingness if Charlie moves on; However, Charlie doesn’t want to exist in this half-life anymore. Will Charlie choose Tess over Charlie, or will he remain tied to his dead brother, doomed to remain a slave to his own grief?

This is based on a best-selling novel by Ben Sherwood and was originally set in Massachusetts. Quite frankly, the novel screams New England what with prep schools, Red Sox, yachting, old cemeteries and ghosts. Unfortunately, the production (in order to save money) chose to film in British Columbia instead and perhaps realizing that the Pacific Northwest doesn’t look anything like New England, set the action in a small town in Washington state. Unfortunately, many of the New England trappings remain and their presence makes the movie look a little bit ridiculous. For example, rather than having Sam be a Red Sox fan, couldn’t he be a Mariners fan instead?

Quite frankly, even though they were filming in BC I think the movie still should have been set in New England. I might have found the movie a bit more believable (as believable as a movie about a guy who sees his dead brother can be anyway) and more palatable.

The movie took was flayed by critics when it was released; quite frankly, I think most critics dislike any movie that makes you cry. After all, in order to weep you must have a heart that can be broken and most movie critics have cast iron hearts. I will admit that the movie is quite manipulative in that regard, but quite frankly it can be awfully cathartic to have a good cry at the movies.

Efron is pretty solid in the lead; he has to be because he’s in nearly every scene. He has improved by leaps and bounds since his High School Musical days and is quite likable; he might have a long career ahead of him if he doesn’t make bad choices. Tahan is actually quite likable in his role; there are few really good male juvenile actors out there (Josh Hutcherson comes to mind) compared to the female ones, so it’s nice to find one that doesn’t ACT like he’s in child actor 101. His relationship with Charlie seems very natural and close in the way that brothers are, and forms the heart of the movie.

This is a good looking movie with plenty of sunsets, sun-dappled forests, and quaint town shots, as well as beautiful boats knifing through the sea. It doesn’t particularly add much insight to life – I think it’s fair to say that most of us are aware that there comes a time that we all must set aside our grief, no matter how intense and overwhelming it may be, to pick ourselves up and move on which is what the movie’s central theme seems to be. There’s a nice little twist I won’t spoil that elevates the movie past the realm of the mediocre. Had they not made the critical tactical error of setting this in the Northwest, I think I might have been even more charmed by the movie than I was. As it is I can give the movie a recommendation – a surprised one to be sure but a recommendation nonetheless.

REASONS TO GO: Efron is making satisfying progress as an actor and Tahan handles his role without reverting to typical kid-actor clichés. There’s some beautiful cinematography here.

REASONS TO STAY: There are quite a few logical lapses that had a lot to do with transplanting the story from New England to the Northwest. It’s also a little too over-the-top manipulative in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some mild language concerns and a fairly intense auto accident depicted; certainly should be okay for most teenagers and mature pre-teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the book was set in Marblehead, Massachusetts, unfortunately it was too cost-prohibitive to film it there so the action was relocated to the Pacific Northwest and filming took place in British Columbia.

HOME OR THEATER: In all honesty I thought this might be best served by seeing it at the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Pride and Glory

Twilight


Twilight

Can it really be young love if one of them is 114 years old?

(Summit) Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Cam Gigandet, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Ashley Greene, Taylor Lautner. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

We are all of us searching for something but none more than teenagers. Teenagers aren’t only looking to find love and acceptance, but also define who they are. When we find those answers, it’s usually the gateway into adulthood but sometimes those answers cost.

Bella Swan (Stewart) has had a difficult time of things. Her parents are divorced, her mom in Arizona having remarried a baseball player. Bella, a sensible sort, goes to live with her father (Burke), the Sheriff in the tiny western Washington town of Forks, Washington (a real place, by the way). As the new kid in a small school, Bella is big news and is fussed over by her new classmates both studly and dorky. She tries to fit in with her new friends but she notices a group of pale kids who hang out amongst themselves. This, she is told, is the Cullen clan, a group of foster kids being cared for by Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Facinelli), the town physician. They live in possibly the coolest home in Western Washington on the edge of town. One, in particular, nabs Bella’s interest; the smoldering, sexy Edward (Pattinson) who stares at her like his eyes have been glued to her.

Bella’s dad is being kept busy by a series of animal attacks in the area that have resulted in the deaths of several people, but he has time to have his friends Billy Black and his handsome son Jacob (Lautner) over. The long-haired native American Jacob hits it off with Bella and the two become friends.

Edward and Bella are assigned to be lab partners and despite Bella’s attraction to Edward, she is disturbed to discover that he feels quite the opposite about her, asking to transfer out of the biology class altogether. However, once they begin talking, a deep attraction begins to blossom. This is heightened when he saves Bella’s life by stopping an out of control truck from squashing her in the school parking lot, despite not being anywhere near her when the truck began its skid.

Suspicious at secrets Edward is apparently hiding, Bella does some research aided by stories told by her friend Jacob. She soon suspects that Edward might be a creature not unlike a vampire, which Edward eventually confesses that he is. However, vampires aren’t anything like how we’ve seen them in the movies; they don’t fear crosses or garlic and they are quite capable of being out in sunlight; however direct sunlight causes their skin to sparkle and annoying bells to ring. The sparkle announces that they aren’t human, but it might be those twinkling bells that make the Cullens unwilling to venture into the light.

Each of the Cullens (who don’t feed on human blood – they feed on animal blood instead, considering themselves kind of like vegetarians) has a different and unique power; Alice (Greene) can foretell the future for example. There are other vampires who prey on humans and their leader James (Gigandet) has his sights set on Bella, so Bella’s in danger but worse yet the prom is coming up and you thought your high school prom had drama…

Of course this is based on the staggeringly popular young adult fiction series by Stephenie Meyer which has sold about a gigillion books, mostly to teenaged and pre-teen girls but also to a surprising number of their mothers. I’ve heard the books described as “Harlequin Romances for teens written by Stephen King” which may be a bit harsh. Nonetheless, there is an element of truth to it.

First and foremost, understand that this isn’t a traditional vampire movie and it isn’t a traditional teen drama movie either. It’s not even a traditional romance. What it actually turns out to be is elements of all three genres wrapped up into a neat little package. While many critics (and film fanboys) openly sneer at the franchise, I actually found myself admiring it a little bit for trying something different than the traditional vampire movie with quivering virgins, buckets of blood and flaming vampires. There is actually very little gore or sex here. I also found myself giving the author marks for at least creating her own vampire mythology.

This movie was always going to live and die on the attractiveness of the leads and Stewart and Pattinson have all that they need. I seriously doubt this movie would have been anything near as popular without Pattinson as Edward; he is absolute catnip to teenaged girls, handsome and brooding and gentle all at once, yet fiercely protective. He is the ultimate boyfriend, and I don’t doubt that every teenaged girl who sees this will be holding up their boyfriends and potential boyfriends up in comparison to this guy, which is going to make for a lot of disappointed teenagers.

Stewart, who was one of the best things about Into the Wild has a very girl-next-door kind of look to her. She is meant to be strong, smart and kind – someone teenaged girls are meant to want to be like. Da Queen found it amusing that with all the romantic drama going on in this girl’s life she never once snapped at her parents but this is a fantasy after all.

This is a nice-looking movie that makes ample use of the Pacific Northwest scenery to create an overall tone. However, the movie had a pretty light budget (given that tiny Summit Entertainment was making it) and some of the special effects seem a little chintzy. I suspect that given its overwhelming box office success, future installments will have better-looking SFX than this.

In some ways, reviews for movies like this are superfluous; their target audience is going to see them over and over again regardless of what any critic says. For the rest of us it’s adequate entertainment and not nearly as bad as some have made it out to be. Keep in mind it is geared towards teens in a big way and that anyone my age – heck, anyone over thirty – aren’t going to relate to it as closely as those under thirty. That’s okay too; in some ways I’m quite glad I’m well past relating to these kinds of movies. Still, if you have a teenaged daughter or want to know more about what teenaged girls are thinking, here is your opportunity to get some insight. Oh, and the soundtrack is surprisingly amazing as well.

WHY RENT THIS: This is an entirely new mythology for vampires. Pattinson and Stewart make an attractive couple. The beauty of the Pacific Northwest plays an integral element in the movie.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The teen soap opera elements may make this a difficult pill to swallow for vampire film fans. The special effects don’t hold up against other modern films.

FAMILY VALUES: A little violence and teen sex make this suitable for teens and tweens; the movie may not be suitable for smaller sorts.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When the release date of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was pushed out to July 2009, Summit moved Twilight into that desirable pre-Thanksgiving weekend spot.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a trio of music videos, as well as footage of the cast’s appearance at Comic-Con. Be prepared to hear a whole lot of teenaged girls screaming.

FINAL RATING: 5/10 (but if you’re a teenaged/pre-teen girl or their mom, 10/10)

TOMORROW: Gran Torino