NEWS OF THE WORLD (2020)

December 25, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Even in the midst of a pandemic, December is Oscar-qualifying time. And that means we get Tom Hanks’ latest movie. This time out, the two-time Oscar winner reunites with his CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) director Paul Greengrass (three “Bourne” movies, and Oscar nominated for UNITED 93, 2006) for Hanks’ first ride into the western genre. Luke Davies (Oscar nominated for LION, 2016) adapted the screenplay from Paulette Jiles’ 2016 novel.

The beloved Mr. Hanks stars as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. We know his full name because he proudly announces it at each stop of his news-reading route. That’s right, even in 1870, which is before television and radio and internet, a person could earn a living reading the news. OK, so it wasn’t the millions that national anchors make these days, as he was dependent on the audience dropping a coin or two in the tin cup. For this they were treated to Captain Kidd’s robust presentation of news and events (and some gossip) from around the nation … straight from the news clippings he collected during his travels.

On the trail one day, Captain Kidd comes across a horrific scene of violence, and a 10 year old girl with a shock of blonde hair. She only speaks Kiowa, but the found paperwork lists her name as Johanna (the first American film for Helena Zengel). It turns out, tragic events in her family’s home many years earlier left Johanna being raised by the Kiowa Indians. Captain Kidd is now on a mission to return her to her surviving relatives (an aunt and uncle), but there are at least three obstacles to his plan: it’s a rigorous trip of about 400 miles, the girl doesn’t want to go, and there remains much tension in the split among the post-war citizenry. So what we have here is a western road trip (trail ride) that’s a blend of TRUE GRIT (minus the witty banter) and THE SEARCHERS.

It should be noted that Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd has served in three wars, including the recently concluded Civil War. He may make his living wearing bifocals and reading newspapers, but Kidd is no nerd. He handles pressure quite naturally, as we witness in chase scene up a rocky hill. The resulting shootout not only creates the first bond between Kidd and Johanna, but also flashes the Captain’s calming influence. This is a soulful and principled Tom Hanks (as usual), but this time he’s riding a horse and his furrowed brow is working overtime.

The trip to Johanna’s home coincidentally takes Kidd very close to where he once lived – a place that holds his best and worst memories. As viewers we see what Captain Kidd and Johanna don’t. They are both headed back to a past they no longer belong to. Along the way, the two travelers cross paths with characters played by Elizabeth Marvel, Ray McKinnon, Mare Winningham, and the always great Bill Camp. There is nothing rushed about the story or these people. Fans of director Greengrass will be surprised to find an absence of his trademark rapid-cut action sequences, but he has delivered a sweeping epic with superb cinematography (Dariusz Wolski, “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise), expert editing (Oscar winner William Goldenberg, ARGO), and a terrific score (8-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard). Mr. Hanks delivers yet another stellar performance (of course), and young Ms. Zengel’s assured performance likely means we will be treated to her work for years to come. It’s a quasi-western period piece that is plenty interesting to watch, yet lacks the memorable moments to justify multiple watches or a place among the genre’s best.

Opens December 25, 2020

watch the trailer

 


SWALLOW (2020)

March 5, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Have you ever picked up a marble and wanted to ingest it?  How about a push-pin? A battery? Any other items normally considered inedible? If not, you likely don’t suffer from the psychological disorder known as pica – an eating disorder at the center of the feature film debut from Carlo Mirabella-Davis. While pica may be new and confounding to most of us, the real story is what drives someone to swallow items that could be harmful and cause severe pain?

Haley Bennett (THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN) stars as Hunter Conrad, a newly married trophy wife to spoiled and handsome Richie Conrad (Austin Stowell). Richie is so entitled that his even more entitled dad (David Rasche) makes a big deal out of promoting his son to partner by proclaiming at a dinner party that “he earned it.” Oh and this is after the parents bought the newlyweds a stunning home with a view. It’s obvious Hunter ‘married up’ from a socioeconomic perspective, but her GQ husband pays more attention to his cell phone than he does to his wife or the picture perfect dinners she prepares. Hunter’s Mother-in-Law (Elizabeth Marvel) offers up awkward support and passive-aggressive compliments … such as a self-help book entitled “A Talent for Joy.”

The book is a gift to Hunter immediately after Richie tells his parents “We’re pregnant!” A passage in the book mentions to ‘push yourself to experience new things’. It’s at this point where Hunter sees herself become even more of an accessory within the family. One morning she spots a decorative marble and pops it in her mouth. She seems to take pleasure in this, and … um … after it passes, displays it as some type of trophy. Soon other items join the marble on display, until finally, Hunter is in so much pain, she’s rushed to the hospital for surgery.

Pica is a disorder that’s difficult to understand. Haley seems to be complacent, having no real persona other than her pretty face and pristine wardrobe. Swallowing the items evidently delivers the feeling lacking in her life – a life where her job seems to be becoming the perfect wife, mother, and daughter-in-law. Worried about the safety of the unborn baby, the family hires Luay (Laith Nakli), a Syrian live-in nurse, to keep an eye on Hunter. Oddly enough, the war-toughened Luay shows more compassion to Hunter than anyone in the family.

The film shifts gears a bit when we start learning more of Hunter’s backstory during her trips to the psychiatrist (Zabryna Guevara). This backstory is of course tragic and explains a great deal about Hunter’s strange compulsion. It also leads to a sequence with Denis O’Hare, who is a welcome presence in most any movie. The two share a scene that allows Hunter to fill in the gaps of her life.

Director Mirabella-Davis doesn’t treat the rich as caricatures, but rather symbolic of the self-centeredness that seems to go with wealth. We see good in places we don’t expect it. We lack the trust in places we should be able to depend on. Additionally, we question whether finding one’s true self through genetics makes any real sense when compared with just making up one’s mind about the kind of person they want to be. This is a disturbing, trippy, darker-than-expected film with an interesting score from composer Nathan Halpern. When it veers from the skirts of horror and suspense towards political and social topics, the film loses steam and tries to cram in a bit too much. Still, it’s an unusual and creative film with a terrific performance from Ms. Bennett, and leaves us looking forward to the next Mirabella-Davis project.

watch the trailer:


HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (2012)

December 16, 2012

hyde Greetings again from the darkness. It’s a bit of a curiosity why the only four-times-elected US President has been portrayed so few times on screen. Without putting much thought into it, the most memorable non-documentary occurrence may have been by Jon Voight during Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. Bring on Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the 1939 first ever US visit by British monarchs … King George VI(“Bertie” played by Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) … and the stage is set for a behind-the-scenes political tale of the “social” meeting that led to the US and England joining forces in WWII. Unfortunately, that’s not really what we get.

Director Roger Michell (Morning Glory, Venus) and noted playwright and screenwriter Richard Nelson (Ethan Frome) just can’t seem to make up their mind which story they want to tell. Is it the historical meeting between FDR and the King? Is it the hyde3fling between FDR and his 6th cousin Daisy (Laura Linney), whose relationship was uncovered through the diaries and letters left behind when she passed in 1991? Is it the ongoing manipulations by Mrs Roosevelt (FDR’s mother, played by Elizabeth Wilson) and the cagey Eleanor (Olivia Williams)? Is it a political statement that all powerful men have insecurities and needs? The film is narrated and mostly told through the viewpoint of Daisy, a local 47 year old spinster, who gets dragged wide-eyed into the FDR mayhem. Mrs Roosevelt, Eleanor and FDR’s assistant Missy (Elizabeth Marvel, The Bourne Legacy) all understand the President’s reason for allowing Daisy into their inner sanctum. Daisy, a bit slow on the take, learns why once FDR stops the car in a meadow during one of their private, scenic drives. The running story of Daisy is probably the least interesting within the film, and it often deflates whatever momentum might get started.

hyde2 The best and most interesting portion involves the private meeting between FDR and the King that takes place in the study after hours. The two bond as men who are in positions of power, share the same insecurities, and who both curse their afflictions … the King and his stuttering, and the President with his polio. The best line of the film occurs during this meeting when the President asks “Can you imagine the disappointment when they find out what we really are?” It’s a reminder that all great men are just that … men.

This barely qualifies as a historical drama, and the far more interesting personal topic (rather than Daisy) would be the ongoing power struggle between Eleanor and Mrs Roosevelt. FDR does have to remind them that HE is the President! There is acknowledgment of Eleanor’s sexual preference, as well as her acceptance of FDR’s extra-marital desires and needs.

hyde4 Much is made of the famous American picnic where the King and Queen are served hot dogs, and this story highlights the Queen’s paranoia that this is yet another slap in the face meant to dishonor their presence. In fact, it is presented as a shrewd move by FDR to introduce the British royalty as people to be embraced by the American public.

It must be noted that though the film plays much like a made for TV movie, Bill Murray does a solid job portraying FDR as a man filled with humor, mischief and in full command of the burden he carries. His need for “me” time is understandable and his agreement with the press photographers explains why so few pictures exist of his wheelchair or other challenges in living with the polio. Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t keep up with Murray’s performance or with the powerful subject he portrays. Sound familiar Mr. Voight?

**Note: stay for the credits and see footage of the infamous “hot dog picnic”

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy Hallmark-style movies dwelling on interpersonal relationships OR you still need proof that Bill Murray is a legit actor.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for a historical drama centered around Franklin Delano Roosevelt

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQaScjiWDyY