RAYMOND & RAY (2022)

October 15, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Hey, you know that Dad we hated … the one that ruined our lives? Well, he died and I need you to come with me to the funeral. Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia (ALBERT NOBBS, 2011) starts his film in this manner by having Raymond knock on the door of his half-brother Ray’s cabin door in the middle of the night. They haven’t seen each other in five years, but their shared bond is an ill will towards the father who stirred such misery during their childhood that neither have made much of their time since.

Raymond (Ewan McGregor) is a persnickety type; a pent-up bundle of anxiety who has gone through a couple of divorces and is currently separated from his third wife. Ray (4-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke) is his opposite – the former addict (7 years sober) puts off the ultra-cool guy vibe with rumpled clothes, tousled hair, and non-stop flirtations. His talent with music was never encouraged by the father and has since been a source of frustration. In other words, these two grown men are messes due to the resentment they’ve carried for their father and his inexcusably poor parenting.

At first, we assume the two men are going to sit around reminiscing about their horrible memories of dear old dad. Instead, they hop in the car and head out of town to the funeral. It’s here where they begin to piece together the last years of their father’s life. Bedridden at the end, he had a room in a former (and younger) lover’s house. Lucia (an excellent Maribel Verdu, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, 2001) welcomes the men with the surprise disclosure that her young son is their half-brother. At the viewing, they meet dad’s nurse Kiera (the always terrific Sophie Okonedo). No, she doesn’t have another half-brother for them, but she zeroes in on Ray and his approach to the proceedings.

More surprises await Ray and Raymond, not the least of which is that dad’s final wish was for them to dig his grave by hand. At the grave site, they are joined by dad’s flamboyant pastor (Vondie Curtis Hall), as well as others with a bond to the man in the pine box. Most of these people are unknown to Ray and Raymond, and they begin to realize the man they’ve held in contempt went on to live a full life. Veteran actor Tom Bower has limited screen time as the dad, and overall the cast is strong and deserving of a script that could take the topic and these characters much deeper. Hawke is especially good as the brother holding in so many emotions, while McGregor plays off of him quite well. While there is nothing here we haven’t seen before, we do wish the cast had more to work with.

The film will have a limited theatrical release on October 14, 2022 prior to screening on AppleTV+ beginning October 21, 2022

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FOUR GOOD DAYS (2021)

April 29, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Drug addiction provides bountiful harvesting for emotional message movies, though I’ll admit to some difficulty in relating to the subject matter. Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia (ALBERT NOBBS, 2011) has worked with co-writer Eli Saslow to adapt Saslow’s 2016 Washington Post article, “How’s Amanda: A story of truth, lies and American Addiction”. It’s an all-too-common tale of how addiction ruins lives and tears families apart. If not for two strong lead performances, Garcia’s latest movie would be just ‘another log on the fire’.

The filmmaker has re-teamed with his ALBERT NOBBS star, Glenn Close, who plays Deb, mother to Molly (Mila Kunis), a 10 year drug addict who shows up at mom’s house asking for help “getting clean”. Of course, mom has heard this too many times over the years. See, Molly has not only stolen from her mother and lied to her frequently, but she’s also been through detox/rehab 14 times over those 10 years. Deb initially refuses to let Molly in the house, but relents the next morning and drives her straight to the detox center. The doctor tells her she qualifies for a new magic shot that will block the drug cravings and effects if she can stay clean for four days (hence the film’s title). Any drugs in the system will cause complications, and likely prove fatal.

So Deb babysits Molly, who we learn has two kids by her ex-husband, Sean (Joshua Leonard). Turns out, he’s not such a great guy either. I’m certainly no expert, but it appears to me that Ms. Kunis goes all-in as an addict, replete with rotted teeth, damaged skin, and an attitude that warrants a swift kick. Ms. Kunis was excellent in BLACK SWAN (2010), but it seems she spends most of her time in comedies. She proves again that she has some dramatic chops, and hopefully will continue to pursue more serious roles. Ms. Close, who recently set the record for futility by becoming the first actor with 8 Oscar nominations and no wins, dons yet another terrible wig (ala HILLBILLY ELEGY, 2020) and works very hard to create a full-fledged mother from an underwritten character. The film briefly dabbles with the mother-daughter history of abandonment, but never digs deep enough for real meaning.

Stephen Root is given little to do as Deb’s second husband, and Sam Hemmings has one good scene as Molly’s dad who is confronted by Deb. Clichés abound in the story, yet the underlying message of a parent who refuses to give up on their kid, even when every time the result is disappointment, is grounded in reality. It’s certainly no TRAINSPOTTING (1996) as far as depressing drug addiction stories, but the two leads make it watchable.

In theaters April 30, 2021

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ALBERT NOBBS

January 30, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. We are accustomed to movies with men posing as women for comedic effect … Mrs. Doubtfire and Tootsie come to mind. Watching an extremely serious, even bleak, film with a woman (Glenn Close) posing as a man is quite rare, and I will say, downright uncomfortable. When Albert Nobbs is described by his co-workers as a strange little man, they have no idea!

The film is based on a novella by George Moore, and has been a pet project of Glenn Close since she starred in the off-Broadway play in the 1980’s. Her dream has been realized in this film directed by Rodrigo Garcia. The film has an extremely talented cast including Brendan Gleeson as a doctor, Bronagh Gallagher as Mrs Page, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson and Brenda Fricker as hotel staff, Pauline Collins as the hotel proprietor, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a frequent hotel guest.  The song over the closing credits (co-written by Ms. Close) is sung by Sinead O’Connor.

Beyond that fabulous cast, the only thing that really makes the film worth watching is the curious performance of Ms. Close as Albert Nobbs and the much more colorful and lively turn by Janet McTeer as Mr. Page … the only one (we know of) who can understand what Albert is going through. Both are nominated for Oscars. During the film, we get the personal story from each of these characters on why they made their choice, but Albert’s story is a bit muddled. He/she seems to have just fallen into the life and been unable to stop for the past 30 years. Now, Albert has a dream that can only be achieved through the wages earned as the non-descript, efficient waiter in an 1890’s Dublin hotel.

 There are many painful scenes to watch, but none moreso than Albert courting Helen so that he can have a partner for his new business. He has no idea how a real relationship works or why people are attracted to each other. Albert just sees Helen as a means to an end, and is following the blueprint set by Mr. Page.  Some will enjoy this much more than I, as the thought of pretending to be someone you aren’t for 3 decades is just more than I can even comprehend. When Gleeson’s doctor spouts that he has no reason why people choose to lead such miserable lives, I concur whole-heartedly.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see how little joy would be had spending one’s life pretending to be someone else OR you don’t want to miss two Oscar-caliber performances (Close, McTeer)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: misery in 1890’s Dublin holds no more interest for you than misery in any other era or locale

watch the trailer: