Rabbit Hole


Even comic books won't cheer Miles Teller up.

Even comic books won’t cheer Miles Teller up.

(2010) Drama (Lionsgate) Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Miles Teller, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh, Giancarlo Esposito, Jon Tenney, Stephen Mailer, Mike Doyle, Roberta Wallach, Patricia Kalember, Ali Marsh, Yetta Gottesman, Colin Mitchell, Deidre Goodwin, Julie Lauren, Rob Campbell, Jennifer Roszell, Marylouse Burke. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

In the initial throes of grief there is much screaming and sobbing. It’s what happens eight months after the initial shock of loss that is the concern here of playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and director John Cameron Mitchell. Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Eckhart) are still grieving the loss of their four-year-old son in a tragic traffic accident and the grief is less immediate but no less sharp and painful, so much so that their marriage is beginning to crumble. While Howie turns to a fellow member (Oh) in a grief counseling group for solace, the fragile and shrewish Becca has surprisingly found the teenager driver (Teller) of the car that killer her boy. So painful that it is at times nearly unwatchable, fine performances from the leads (Kidman particularly) overcome an occasionally contrived script.

WHY RENT THIS: Kidman’s performance is extremely strong. The relationship between Howie and Becky is surprisingly authentic.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Occasionally the dialogue and some of the plot points feel contrived.
FAMILY VALUES: The themes are definitely mature; there is some brief drug use and some foul language as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Teller’s film debut.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.1M on a $5M production budget.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Collateral Beauty
FINAL RATING: 7/10

Tallulah


A short walk on a long pier.

A short walk on a long pier.

(2016) Drama (Netflix) Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Evan Jonigkeit, Felix Solis, Uzo Aduba, Fredric Lehne, Liliana/Evangeline Ellis, John Benjamin Hickey, Zachary Quinto, Maddie Corman, Tommar Wilson, J. Oscar Simmons, Charlotte Ubben, Olivia Levine, Jason Tottenham, Todd Alan Crain, Chanel Jenkins, Stacey Thunder, Jasson Finney. Directed by Sian Heder

 

Motherhood is one of the most primal of all human urges. There is no doubt that it changes a woman, not just in a physical sense (which it does) but also in her perspective, in how she sees the world. Some say that every woman becomes a great mother, but that simply isn’t so. Some women were flat-out not made to be mothers.

Lu (Page) has been living on her own, homeless and content to be. She doesn’t want to be tied down to anything or anyone – although she seems pretty smitten with her boyfriend Nico (Jonigkeit). However, he isn’t terribly smitten with the lifestyle of stealing and conning to survive and eventually takes a powder. Knowing that he is headed to New York City to find his estranged mom, she follows him there. Since she’s in a van and he’s on foot, she gets there first.

Margo (Janney) is Nico’s mom and she’s bitter ever since her husband Stephen (Hickey) deserted her – for another man, in this case Andreas (Quinto). Because Margo is living in faculty housing and it’s Stephen who is actually the faculty, she has to pretend like he’s still there, a fiction that has kept her in a place to live even though she hates the artwork on the walls and feels trapped in a place that she doesn’t particularly like.

When Lu turns up at her door, she’s at first dismissive but at she realizes that Lu is the only connection she has to her son so when Margo sees the doorman Manuel (Solis) she instructs him to send the waif back up the next time she drops by. And she drop by she does, only this time in the company of a baby (Ellis).

You see, while Lu was at a posh hotel taking leftover food from room service trays, she was spotted by Carolyn (Blanchard), a Real Housewives type. Mistaking Lu for hotel staff, she has her babysit her baby while she goes out and parties with a man who she is most definitely not married to. When she comes back to the hotel room and passes out dead drunk, Lu realizes Carolyn is not a fit mother. Rather than contact the authorities, she impulsively takes the baby herself for her own.

On the Margo front, Lu passes off the baby as Margo’s granddaughter and suddenly the two women are bonding, not just over the shared genetic material but also over motherhood itself. Margo realizes she wasn’t mother of the year – neither was Lu’s mom, who essentially abandoned her – but she has a chance to redeem herself for the mistakes she made with her son. The police however are closing in and Lu doesn’t sense the tightening net around her.

Heder, one of the writers of Netflix’ hit Orange is the New Black series, has a keen eye for women’s issues and what could be a more important one than motherhood? Well, at least that’s the way society makes it out to be. A woman is more than her ovaries and this is a movie that makes a case that being a great mom is not all there is to life.

In fact, the three main female characters are none of them great moms. The closest one to it is Lu, who stole her baby which is certainly one of the most unforgivable crimes in our culture. That she took it from a woman patently unfit to be a mother, who didn’t want to be a mother, who endangered her child’s welfare and seemingly her life was not necessarily the issue, or at least I didn’t think so.

Margo had devoted her life to Nico, particularly after she and Stephen broken up but her bitterness and betrayal colored that relationship as well. It wasn’t until after she met Lu that she was able to let go and be free of her self-imposed burdens, which is a theme in the movie symbolized by both of the two main female characters imagining they are floating away from earth, no longer tethered by gravity. With Lu it’s a dream at the beginning of the film; with Margo a daydream at the end.

I’ve never been an over-the-top Ellen Page fan, although I recognize that she is an extremely talented actress and I can relate to her on that point. However, the characters she chooses to play are often a bit too strident for my liking and often a bit too offbeat from time to time. Lu lives by her own rules; in some ways, she is as self-centered a character as Page has ever portrayed. There are those who will characterize this as kind of the logical continuation of Juno, the title character that launched her career, a pregnant teen. I don’t really see it that way though; Lu is nothing like Juno.

One of the objections I had to the script was that Lu has been set up to be something of an individualist. She wants relationships to be on her terms, in fact life itself is lived on her own terms. Her action of impulsively stealing the baby just seems to be so out of left field in that sense; someone who is as irresponsible as Lu is suddenly decides to take on the biggest responsibility of them all? It didn’t make sense when I saw it and I imagine that it could be written off as the impetuousness of youth – but that’s some bad writing.

While I enjoyed the performance of Allison Janney immensely, at the end of the day this seems to be a missed opportunity more than anything. We rarely get to see mothers portrayed as anything but saints and sacrificers and that is largely true of most moms, but we don’t always get to see the other side of it – the loss of identity, the absolute panic of not knowing what to do when your baby won’t stop crying, the exhaustion and the mistakes. Any mom will tell you that she made her share of foul-ups and sometimes things that she’s done that she wishes she hadn’t. I don’t think Heder was really certain as to whether she was writing a treatise on motherhood or finding freedom as a woman, and in a sense she tried to do both and ended up doing neither. I didn’t see anything here that really gave me any insight into the characters that I couldn’t have figured out by watching the Lifetime network for an hour or two.

REASONS TO GO: Janney is as solid as she always is.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the plot points don’t seem too organic.
FAMILY VALUES:  Profanity abounds; there are also plenty of adult themes, some drinking and drug use, sexual situations and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Allison Janney and Ellen Page are in the same movie for the third time, after Juno and Touchy Feely.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/22/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Castle in the Sky
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Der Bunker

Into the Woods


Emily Blunt and James Corden are uncertain how critics are going to take their new movie.

Emily Blunt and James Corden are uncertain how critics are going to take their new movie.

(2014) Musical (Disney) Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Daniel Huttlestone, Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, Lilla Crawford, Tracy Ullman, Johnny Depp, Mackenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen, Annette Crosby, Frances de la Tour, Simon Russell Beale, Joanna Riding, Richard Glover, Pamela Betsy Cooper. Directed by Rob Marshall

We all of us grow up with fairy tales. The works of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson are known to us if for no other reason than the Disney animations based on them.

In 1986 legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim took the characters from a number of different fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and turned it into a Broadway musical. The thing got rave reviews, a legion of fans and a boatload of Tony Awards. It is revived regularly to this day. Now Disney is taking it to the big screen and has enlisted Rob Marshall who was successful doing the same for Chicago.

\In a small village on the edge of a dark and deep forest lies a village in which lies a Baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt). They are basically good and decent people who yearn to have a child of their own but they can’t seem to make it work. Little Red Riding Hood (Crawford) stops by their shop and begs for bread to give to her ailing grandmother (Crosby). The good-hearted couple and Red takes a lot more than they bargained for.

They are then accosted by the Witch (Streep) who lives next door who informs them that their line is cursed because the Baker’s father (Beale) stole some magic beans from the Witch’s garden. Dear old dad fled and left the Baker on his own to run the business. However there’s a way out – if the Baker can gather a cow as white as snow, cloth as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold, she can create a spell that will lift the curse and allow them to have children. There is a deadline however for the spell to work.

Elsewhere Cinderella (Kendrick) lives with her Stepmother (Baranski) and that lady’s two daughters – Florinda (Blanchard) and Lucinda (Punch) from a previous marriage – and is being generally ridiculed and abused by the three women. She longs to go to the King’s Ball but that isn’t going to happen; the girl is basically dressed in rags but a gown is required. She is met in the forest by Prince Charming (Pine) who notices the girl’s plucky courage at walking in the woods by herself.

Young Jack (Huttlestone) is somewhat dense and something of a dreamer. His mom (Ullman) is exasperated with the boy; they are very poor and the harvest was bad, their milk cow Milky White wasn’t giving milk and there simply won’t be enough food to last them through the winter. She tells him that he must sell the cow at the market in the village and sadly, he leads his only friend away to market.

Jack and the Baker meet up in the woods and the latter convinces the former to exchange the cow for some beans he had in his pocket which the Baker convinces Jack are magic beans. Jack takes the beans, the Baker takes the cow and when Jack’s mother finds out she furiously chucks the beans away. Turns out that those beans that were the magic beans the Baker’s father stole and had left in his hunting jacket that he’d left behind and which the Baker now wore into the woods. A giant beanstalk grows and you know what happens after that.

Actually, you know most of what happens up until about the middle of the story. Then things start going sideways. Happily ever afters are relatively rare in this or any other world and there are consequences for the things that we do and they aren’t always pleasant ones.

Marshall knows how to bring big production values to his stage adaptations and he utilizes them here. While the movie was mostly filmed on sets, the woods actually look like woods (the set was so realistic that Pine and Blunt got lost in the woods and had to be rescued by a production assistant). The singing which was mostly pre-recorded is also quite adequate, particularly by Streep who has an excellent set of pipes as we learned from Mamma Mia. In fact her performance as the witch is one of the standouts here; she gives a character who is ostensibly wicked depth and feeling, making her a more sympathetic creature than perhaps she has any right to be. Blunt, as the Baker’s wife, is flawed and makes mistakes but she has a wonderful heart and really tugs at the heartstrings late in the film. She also has some pretty fine chemistry with Corden.

Pine and Magnussen both provide comedy relief in the form of a song called “Agony” which involves much posing by a waterfall. We are reminded once again that fairy tales – and Disney for that matter – are all about the princess for a reason. In fact, most of the musical numbers are staged well, although the general complaint that I have with Sondheim is that he tends to overwork his musical themes to death and that is certainly the case here.

The juvenile actors are a little bit less satisfactory. While Crawford is adequate, Huttlestone overacts and sings like he’s in a junior high school play. I normally don’t like taking shots at young actors but it really was distracting from the overall film and lessened my enjoyment of it.

If you come into the theater expecting Once Upon a Time or Galavant from ABC (a subsidiary of Disney) you’re going to be shocked. The tone here is dark, very dark – particularly in the second act. There is some violence, people do get killed (sometimes onscreen as we watch) and people deal with grief, cheating spouses and imminent peril from a very pissed-off giant.

Nonetheless this is still more entertaining than I expected it to be, given that Marshall’s track record since Chicago has been pretty uneven. It also doesn’t have the magic I hoped it would have, given the love that the musical has enjoyed for decades. It’s good enough to recommend, but not good enough to rave over.

REASONS TO GO: Decent performances and some unexpected twists and turns. Fairly strong representation of the Broadway show.
REASONS TO STAY: Drags in places.
FAMILY VALUES: A few disturbing images, a suggestive scene involving adultery and some adult thematic material as well as fantasy action and peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ironically, Emily Blunt who plays a woman unable to have a baby was pregnant during the shoot.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/6/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Enchanted
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Two Faces of January

New Releases for the Week of January 14, 2011


January 14, 2011
Laugh at my jokes or my friend will shoot you.

THE GREEN HORNET

(Columbia) Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Tom Wilkinson, Edward James Olmos, David Harbour. Directed by Michel Gondry

Britt Reid, the son of a crusading publisher, has disappointed his father all his life. When his father is murdered, Britt’s aimless life takes focus. He wants to make a difference. As Britt Reid, ne’er do well and party animal, he is powerless. Aided by his father’s confidante Kato, Britt takes on the persona of the Green Hornet, a crime fighter armed with amazing weapons and cruising the town in the Black Beauty, a car that puts the Q Division to shame.

See the trailer, promos, interviews, featurettes, clips and a web-only animation here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D

Genre: Comic Book Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content)

The Dilemma

(Universal) Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly. When a man sees his best friend’s wife cheating on him, he’s stuck with a terrible choice to make. Does he tell him and put him into a place of misery and pain? Or does he keep it to himself. The problem is the more he tries to make things better, the worse the situation gets.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard,

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements involving sexual conduct)

 

The Heart Specialist

(Freestyle) Zoe Saldana, Wood Harris, Brian White, Marla Gibbs. A group of first year residents discover the joys and perils of medicine at a shabby hospital in South Florida, learning not just about being a doctor but being a caretaker as well. All this happens under the aegis of a kindly Chief Resident, who has a skeleton in his closet that threatens to undo all the good he’s done.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Drama/Thriller/Comedy

Rating: R (for some sexual content and language)

Made in Dagenham

(Sony Classics) Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson. At the Ford Plant in Dagenham, England in the mid-60s, a group of spirited women decide that no longer are they going to accept less pay for equal work as the men. A one day walk-out turned into something a lot more important as the women go up against their union, their company, their community and ultimately the British government in their effort to get justice for all women in the workplace. Based on a true story.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama Based on a True Story

Rating: R (for language and brief sexuality)

Rabbit Hole

(Lionsgate) Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard. In the new movie from acclaimed indie director John Cameron Mitchell, a couple is shattered when the worst thing that can happen to a family occurs. Neither one knows how to navigate their way back home from the labyrinth that is the rabbit hole. This won great acclaim at Toronto and was thought to be a leading Oscar contender this year, although the buzz has died down since then.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements, some drug use and language)