The Boys Are Back


The Boys Are Back

A man's home is his castle; Clive Owen's home is hog heaven.

(2009) Drama (Miramax) Clive Owens, Emma Booth, Laura Fraser, George MacKay, Nicholas McAnulty, Julia Blake, Chris Haywood, Erik Thomson, Natasha Little. Directed by Scott Hicks

Men, as a rule, are not the best parents in a husband-wife relationship. Women, who are nurturers by nature, tend to be more attuned to parenting in a general way; while that doesn’t mean that men can’t be good at it, they have a harder time being single parents than women do – again, a generalization but more or less true.

Joe Warr (Owens) hasn’t exactly been the best husband either. He had sex with Katy (Fraser), a beautiful equestrienne while married to another woman and eventually got her pregnant, leaving his wife and young son in England to be with Katy in Australia. Katy and Joe have a son, Artie (McAnulty), Joe has a job as a sportswriter and becomes one of the best in Australia, and they buy a home in a particularly idyllic meadow near Adelaide, South Australia. Life is good; Joe globe-hops attending tennis matches, swim meets and football games while Katy holds down the home front.

Then Katy gets a stomach ache which turns out to be cancer. Joe stays home to care for her but she doesn’t survive. Joe is left to care for a six-year-old son who has difficulty accepting that his mummy’s gone, and acts out in sometimes particularly venal ways. At first Joe fights Artie’s anger, being too filled with his own grief to sort out his son’s; eventually, he gives in and lets Artie do his own thing. Cannonball into a hotel bathtub? Sure! Ride on the hood of a Range Rover his dad is driving down the beach? Why not?

Then, Joe’s son Harry (MacKay) from his first marriage comes to Australia to spend time with his dad and the dynamic changes. At first, Harry doesn’t approve too much of Joe’s “Just Say Yes” philosophy of child-rearing but eventually comes around, particularly when Joe shows far more trust than his mum (Little) ever did.

However his methods don’t meet with the approval of everyone. Katy’s mom Barbara (Blake) is aghast and eventually takes steps to assume custody of Artie herself. In the meantime, Joe has met a fellow single parent, Laura (Booth) who babysits Artie from time to time and a romance begins to blossom. Still, Joe’s attempts to juggle his kids, his home and his job are beginning to run him ragged; something has to give, doesn’t it?

Yes, it does. The movie got a round critical excoriating when it was released here in the states, which once again leaves me befuddled. Maybe I’m missing something, y’know? Most of the reviews I’ve read have tended to be about Joe’s parenting skills rather than about the movie. Sure, maybe you’re scoring brownie points with the P.T.A. to show your haughty disapproval of such a free-wheeling parenting style, but it’s not my job to review the choices that Joe makes – particularly since they’re based on the actual choices a real person made. I have no idea how I’d cope with a six year old boy if my wife died and left me with one. Fortunately for me, that scenario is never going to come to pass since my own son is essentially grown up. So that makes me quite frankly unqualified to render my opinion about how Joe relates to his children. I haven’t walked even a centimeter in Joe’s shoes, which is what someone who is passing judgment on a person is supposed to do. Maybe in some distant future, that will be a requirement to give an opinion on the subject.

Somehow, I doubt it however. Hicks, who helmed the Oscar-winning Shine, wisely keeps the movie from going too maudlin and keeps the relationship between Joe and his sons evolving, which is the way real relationships work. Owens gives a restrained performance here and it is nice to see him in a movie that doesn’t require him to shoot anybody, or shove a carrot through their eye socket.

The use of the Australian location is glorious and helps create an idyllic picture of the Warr home which may be a bit too idyllic in places; then again, once Joe gives up on housecleaning and the house stacks up with pizza boxes and dirty laundry, hog heaven turns into a pigsty. That has a tendency to burst an idyll or two.

I would have liked to see a different ending, to be truthful; the relationship between Joe and Laura is kind of left dangling and things are resolved in a way that is a bit pat and a bit sugary all at once. That aside, this is a genuinely affecting work that examines a rarely seen dynamic; an all-male household dealing with the loss of the lone woman in the home. That was the part that interested me the most about the movie.

Would I make the same choices Joe made in dealing with his sons? Probably not – my temperament isn’t nearly as easy-going as his. Still, it is a rather novel way of dealing with the situation, and if the movie gets a little testy about those who disagree with Joe’s methods, well judging on the critical reaction the movie got it might be well-earned.

WHY RENT THIS: This is one of Owens’ most genuine performances and Hicks resists the temptation to turn this into an out-and-out tearjerker.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending is a bit pat, while the relationship between Joe and Laura is left essentially unresolved.

FAMILY VALUES: The movie has its share of foul words, many of them sexually related. The theme might be a little too mature for some.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The nine Sigur Ros songs used in the film were originally meant to be placeholders for the score; however, Hicks felt so strongly that the songs worked better than any score that could be written that he travelled to Iceland personally to get permission to use the songs in the final film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Author Simon Carr, whose story this is based on, and his two sons, spent a day on the set. There’s a featurette that follows them around as they try to wrap their heads around the idea that a movie is being made about their life.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.2M on an unreported production budget; the film was likely not profitable.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Fired Up

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New Releases for the Week of October 16, 2009


What could be wilder than to howl at the sunset with your pack?

What could be wilder than to howl at the sunset with your pack?

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

(Warner Brothers) Catherine Keener, Max Records, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forrest Whitaker. Directed by Spike Jonze

One of the most beloved children’s books of all time is brought to life by innovative director Spike Jonze, who has Adaptation and Being John Malkovich on his resume, along with some of the most visually arresting music videos of the past 20 years. This is the story of Max, a young boy who feels neglected and misunderstood at home, and thus runs away to the island where the Wild Things are. The Wild Things long for someone to lead them and Max is more than happy to fulfill that need, until he discovers that leadership – and being a Wild Thing – is a much more complicated endeavor than he thought it would be.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language)

The Boys are Back

(Miramax) Clive Owen, Emma Booth, Laura Fraser, George MacKay. When an Australian sportswriter’s wife dies suddenly, he is left with a young son to raise on his own. His life is further complicated when a teenaged son from a previous marriage joins the family. The father, who had left most of the child-raising to his wives, decides on a unique method that causes some friction with other parents, but allows his boys to heal and thrive.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual language and thematic elements)

Law Abiding Citizen

(Overture) Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney. When an upstanding family man’s wife and daughter are brutally murdered, the pain he goes through is nothing compared to what happens when the ambitious district attorney cuts a deal with one of the suspects to testify against the others in exchange for a lighter sentence. Ten years later, the suspect is found murdered and all the evidence points to the family man, who warns that unless the flawed justice system is fixed, all those connected with the trial will die. As he follows through on his threat, the district attorney races against time to protect his own family and stop this law abiding citizen from exacting his revenge.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language)

More Than a Game

(Lionsgate) LeBron James, Dru Joyce, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton. This is a documentary about a group of five guys from Akron, Ohio – talented basketball players all – who come from a background of great adversity. Through teamwork, friendship and their own remarkable skills, they come together on a journey to a state high school basketball championship. Their loyalty is tested when the spotlight begins to shine on future NBA superstar James, who becomes the most heralded high school player in the land. This uplifting story will be augmented by rare video, home movies and personal interviews that will illustrate the cost of excellence, and that nothing is impossible when the will is there.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for brief mild language and incidental smoking)

Paranormal Activity

(Paramount) Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Friedrichs, Ashley Palmer. Here’s a movie that benefitted from a unique marketing campaign; the trailer consisted of views of an audience watching the movie during a preview screening, and a website was created for moviegoers to vote as to whether the movie should be given a wide release. The vote came in affirmative, so this movie is getting a much wider release. It also helps that the movie is said to be genuinely scary. The premise is simple – a couple who believe their house might be haunted set up cameras to capture what goes on in their house while they are trying to sleep. The general consensus is that this is not for those who are easily disturbed or frightened.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language)

The Stepfather

(Screen Gems) Dylan Walsh, Penn Badgley, Sela Ward, Sherry Stringfield. A remake of the 1987 horror classic of the same name, a young man returns home from military school to find his mother co-habiting with a new boyfriend. Everything seems fine on the surface, but little things begin to crop up to make the young man suspicious of the new man in his mother’s life. As the facts begin to come to light, he realizes that this perfect stepfather may be hiding a darker side that could have deadly consequences for everyone the young man loves.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, mature thematic material and brief sensuality)

World’s Greatest Dad

(Magnolia) Robin Williams, Alexie Gilmore, Daryl Sabara, Michael Thomas Moore. In this movie directed by comic Bobcat Goldthwait, Williams plays a high school poetry teacher whose life hasn’t gone the way he envisioned it. His son is an insufferable prick, the beautiful woman he is dating refuses to publically acknowledge him and his career has stalled. A freak accident gives him the means to the fame and fortune he has always craved, but only if he can live with the circumstances under which he acquired them.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

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