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Posts Tagged ‘Naomi Watts’

Brie Larson

“THE GLASS CASTLE” My rating: C+

127 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

There are a few moments when “The Glass Castle” threatens to come to emotional life.

But they pass.

Heaven knows there’s a compelling story here.  Based on Jeannette Walls’ best-selling memoir of a wildly unconventional upbringing and a troubled maturity, this film describes a girlhood dominated by fiercely nonconformist parents who are always just a step ahead of the cops and the child services people. (This was a theme explored, with more success, in last year’s “Captain Fantastic.”)

But despite offering a hair-raising depiction of how not to raise children, Destin Daniel Cretton’s film plays more like a freak show — with one display of parental insanity following another — than the deeply moving drama it obviously aims to be.

New York City, 1989.  From a taxi window gossip columnist Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson, an Oscar winner for “Room”) spots a distressing and deeply personal vignette: An unkempt woman scrounges through a dumpster while her man rages at the passing traffic.

They are Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) and Rex (Woody Harrelson), Jeannette’s parents, who are squatting in an abandoned building and living hand to mouth.

This triggers a series of flashbacks to Jeannette’s nomadic and impoverished childhood and especially her relationship with Rex, a possibly brilliant man who is all ideas and no follow-through, a mean alcoholic and a charismatic ranconteur.

Rex is the kind of guy who, lacking money for Christmas presents, takes his kids outside to pick a star for their very own. (Awww.)  He’s also borderline abusive, teaching his terrified daughter to swim by throwing her in the deep end of the pool.

Rose Mary is only marginally more centered. She devotes herself to painting (without ever improving, apparently) and has no time for mundane stuff like feeding her offspring.  (more…)

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Jaeden Lieberher

“THE BOOK OF HENRY” My rating: C

105 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

All movies are manipulative, but “The Book of Henry” is an emotional mugging.

Colin Trevorrow’s drama  (with comic moments) is an audacious blend of cute and creepy featuring a precocious child, early death, sexual abuse and attempted murder.

Oh, did I mention it’s supposed to be heart-tugging?

The film stars the terrific Jaeden Lieberher (“St. Vincent,” “Midnight Special”) as Henry Carpenter, an 11-year-old with the mind of a middle-aged man.

Henry is, to put it mildly, a genius. He makes amazing Rube Goldberg-ish kinetic constructions in the spectacular forest treehouse he’s fashioned from found parts. He’s a day trader who has managed to wrack up $1 million in cash and securities (how an 11-year-old can get away with this is never explained).  Wherever he goes Henry is the smartest guy in the room.

Which is good for his single mom Susan (Naomi Watts) and  his tremulous little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay of “Room”). Susan is a bit of  a flake, addicted to violent video games and boozy binges with her bestie (Sarah Silverman). She works as a waitress and drives a beat-up car even though Henry (being the responsible grownup) keeps reminding her that there’s plenty of money.

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Liev Schreiber as boxer Chuck Wepner

“CHUCK” My rating: B

98 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Watching a familiar actor utterly lose him/herself in a role is one of the deep pleasures of moviegoing.

Liev Schreiber makes that transformation in “Chuck.” But then so do Naomi Watts (a.k.a. Mrs. Schreiber), Elizabeth Moss, Ron Perlman and Jim Gaffigan.

The subject of director Philippe Falardeau’s bracing little film (the screenplay is credited to Jeff Feuerzeig, Jerry Stahl, Michael  Cristofer and Schreiber) is Chuck Wepner, the  New Jersey club fighter known affectionately/sardonically as the “Bayonne Bleeder” for his willingness to be beaten to a pulp.  (In fact, “Chuck’s” original title was “The Bleeder.” Wish they’d stuck with it.)

In 1975 the virtually unknown Wepner got a crack at taking away Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight belt in a bout conceived and advertised by promoter Don King as a blatant racial  confrontation.

Werner’s fight strategy was pretty simple: “I could’t hit  him. I figured I’d wear him down with my face.”

Wepner didn’t win, but he lasted for more than 14 bloody rounds against the world’s best, sending the champ to the mat once and losing by a TKO with only 19 seconds left in the fight.

Out in Hollywood a struggling actor named Sylvester Stallone was so inspired by Wepner’s David-and-Goliath story that he wrote a screenplay called “Rocky.”

“Chuck” isn’t really a boxing film. Rather, it is simultaneously a fact-based yarn about the ever-widening fallout from the Ali-Wepner fight and a character study of a Palooka whose a brief brush with fame went straight to his head.

Schreiber’s Chuck, who narrates his story, is by most accounts a pretty average guy. He worked as a nightclub bouncer and as a debt collector for a loan shark, though his heart wasn’t in it. (“I was never good at roughing guys up. Too nice.”)

His wife Phyllis (Moss) is the family breadwinner, thanks to her gig with the U.S. Post Office. Chuck shows his appreciation by writing heartfelt doggerel about her virtues.

Eventually an admirer lands Chuck a liquor distributorship.  It’s an OK living, but it provides way too many opportunities to hang around bars and pick up other women. (It also provides an opportunity for a soundtrack filled with disco hits.)

The Ali fight provides Chuck with bragging rights and celebrity status.  Once “Rocky” becomes an Oscar-winning phenomenon, everyone assumes he must have sold his story to the  movies for big bucks.  In fact, Chuck didn’t earn a cent off the film.

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Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe

Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe

“SEA OF TREES” My rating: C

116 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

At the outset of Gus Van Sant’s “Sea of Trees,” a university lecturer played by Matthew McConaughey buys a one-way ticket to Tokyo and has a taxi deliver him at the entrance of Aokigahara,  a vast forest and park famous — or infamous — for the number of people who go there to commit suicide (100 or so each year…some of the bodies are never found).

Even before we see the signs advising visitors to think of heir families before killing themselves, we know that the American — eventually we learn his name is Arthur — is in bad shape. He’s hollow-eyed and morose and has a vial of little blue pills with which he plans to chug-a-lug himself into the hereafter.

Arthur hikes deep into the dark and eerie forest, but before he can do the deed  he is interrupted by Takumi (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese businessman wandering about lost, his shirt cuffs bloody from a botched attempt to slit his wrists. Apparently the guy’s career has spiraled into the crapper and he can’t stand to lose face.

Altruism trumps suicide, and Arthurs decides to put off offing himself until he can steer Takumi to a trail out of the park. It’s the decent thing to do. Except that Arthur is himself seriously injured in a horrendous fall off a cliff, and now the two men must rely on each other to — ironically enough — survive.

(more…)

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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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Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller

Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller

“WHILE WE’RE YOUNG”  My rating: C+

97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There may have been a time when we aged — if not gracefully — at least appropriately.

But in a society where youth is worshipped and Botox is a household word, how does one come to terms with getting older?

That question is at the heart of “While We’re Young,” writer/director Noah Baumbach’s latest comedy — albeit a dour comedy that could have used a lot more more laughs.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts star as Josh and Cornelia, 40-something New Yorkers out of sync not just with youth but with their own peers. While their friends are now fully invested in parenthood and career paths, Josh and Cornelia have managed to avoid most of the trappings of middle age.

Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried

Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried

He’s a documentary filmmaker who has spent the last decade futzing around with a project about a grizzled philosopher (Peter Yarrow of folk music fame) that he’ll probably never finish and that nobody will want to see. She’s the producer for her father, a legendary grand old man of documentaries.

They’ve no children, no car, no mortgage.

But their biological clocks are accelerating — he’s got arthritis and she’s conflicted over her inability to have a baby. Mortality is rearing its ugly head.

Enter Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried), a young married couple auditing Josh’s documentary film class at a New York City university. Jamie endears himself to the filmmaker by claiming his life was changed by Josh’s early (and only successful) documentary.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR‘s WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article17831633.html

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Michael Keaton and Edward Norton...exploring artistic differences

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton…exploring artistic differences

 

“BIRDMAN”  My rating: B+ 

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Birdman” is a tour de force, a heady mix of dark comedy and psychic meltdown with energy vibrating from every frame.

Writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”), star Michael Keaton (in a bravura performance) and a terrific supporting cast deliver a movie unlike anything we’ve seen before.

If the film, full name: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” isn’t as deep as it thinks it is, there’s no arguing with the jaw-dropping creativity on display — technical, dramatic and thespian.

The setup: One-time movie box office champ Riggan Thomson (Keaton) — who earned worldwide fame portraying a feathered superhero called Birdman — has come to Broadway to write, direct and star in a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Riggan has personally financed the production in hopes of restarting his moribund career (“I’m the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question”) and affirming his artistic credentials.

Turns out his sanity is on the line as well.

(more…)

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