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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Cooper’

Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys

“IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Nov. 22)

108 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Movie trailers are a hugely effective way of lying. One should always approach them with the same caution brought to political postings on Facebook.

So my tearful response to the trailer for “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” with Tom Hanks as the iconic PBS kiddie show star Fred Rogers, left me wary.  Could the actual movie really be that moving, or would it fall apart in a morass of manipulation and sentimentality?

Good news, Mr. Rogers fans.  “Beautiful Day” sidesteps virtually all the landmines in its path and delivers a funny, touching and uplifting story about a man who was too good to be true.

Fred Rogers was the subject last year of an exhaustive documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”; happily director Marielle Heller (“Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harvester (working from Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire profile of Rogers) don’t turn “Beautiful Day” into another retelling of the famous man’s life. In fact, one could argue that Fred Rogers is a supporting character here.

The film centers on Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a (fictional) investigative journalist whose specialty is digging up dirt on his subjects. He’s tough and analytical and cynical…and appalled when his editor assigns him to write a 500-word piece — essentially a long caption –on Mr. Rogers. (“Play nice,” she urges him.)

He doesn’t want the assignment. His wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson of TV’s “This Is Us”) sees disaster looming: “Please don’t ruin my childhood.”

Lloyd has more than a little baggage from his own childhood.  Early on we see his encounter at a wedding with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), whom he hasn’t seen for years; it almost immediately devolves into a father-son brawl.

Fifteen years earlier, when Lloyd’s mother became fatally ill, the philandering Jerry abandoned her and his two children. Now Lloyd carries a manhole cover-sized grudge. When Lloyd first interviews Fred Rogers (Hanks) at the Pittsburgh TV station where the show is taped, the evidence of his Oedipal issues is all over his bruised face.

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Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal…tearing stuff down

“DEMOLITION”  My rating: B- (Opening April 8 at the Glenwood Arts)

101 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Mental health professionals tell us there’s no “correct” way to grieve. How you mourn depends on who you are.

Even so, it’s hard to sympathize with Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal), the young widower at the heart of Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Demolition,” a film that for much of its running time dares you to care before enventually finding its emotional center.

After losing his wife in an auto accident, it quickly dawns on Davis that he doesn’t feel grief. Or much of anything.

Before the funeral he practices crying in front of a mirror, just so he’ll be able to pass himself off as the bereaved spouse people expect.

But it’s all for show. While Phil (Kansas City’s Chris Cooper), Davis’ father-in-law and boss at a Wall Street investment firm, is obviously shattered by loss, the dead-eyed Davis is simply numb.

He does get worked up by one thing. While waiting in the emergency room, Davis was ripped off by a hospital vending machine that took his money and failed to deliver the M&Ms. Now he sends bizarre rambling letters to the vending machine company’s complaints department.

He’ll tell you it’s not about the money. It’s about the principle. But what it’s really about is having something to obsess over so he doesn’t have to face himself, his loss and his growing sense that he really didn’t know his wife at all.

Vallee, whose “The Dallas Buyers Club” and “Wild” melded art film sensibilities with great acting and strong storytelling, goes out on a limb with “Demolition.” For big swatches of the film he and screenwriter Bryan Sipe give us a protagonist  we can’t figure out or necessarily like.

They create an emotional palette that veers from overt displays of gut-tearing sorrow (from Cooper’s character) to black humor and atavistic outbursts.

The film’s title refers to Davis’ growing mania for destruction. He devotes a night to dismantling his home refrigerator. At the office he takes apart the partitions in the men’s room. Eventually he stops showing up for work and instead pitches in — without pay — to help tear down a house. Still wearing his business suit he takes a sledgehammer to walls and beams. (more…)

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Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

“AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY”  My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Jan. 10)

121 minutes | MPAA rating R

Some stories were meant to be performed on a stage.

For instance, the plays of Sam Shepard, which deliver moments of violence and affrontery you almost never see in live theater. A Shepard character might be required to beat a typewriter to death with a golf club, smash dozens of glass bottles just feet from the folks in the front row, or urinate on his little sister’s science project in full view of the paying customers.

If those things happened in a movie, you’d shrug. No big deal.  In a movie you can do anything.

But seeing those moments play out live, in the flesh, while you brace yourself to dodge flying glass shards or broken typewriter keys…well, that has a way of focusing your mind most wonderfully.

I thought of Shepard’s plays while watching John Wells’ screen version of “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-winning black comedy about an Oklahoma clan assembled to bury its patriarch (played, ironically enough, by  Sam Shepard).  In the same way that Shepard’s  plays almost never make satisfying movies, “August: Osage County” makes an uncomfortable transition to the screen.

First, don’t buy into the TV ads that make it look like a rollicking comedy.  There are laughs here, yeah, but they’re the sort of laughs you can choke on. Dourness is the order of the day.

In adapting his play Letts has boiled a 3 1/2 hour production down to 2 hours. Stuff’s been left out — character development, carefully calibrated pauses — and while the essence of the play remains, it feels curiously underwhelming.

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