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Posts Tagged ‘paul dano’

Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, JakeGyllenhaal

“WILDLIFE”  My rating: B+

114 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

In “Wildlife,” the  mesmerizing directorial debut of actor Paul Dano, people — adults, anyway — are perplexing creatures.

A father loses his job at a country club and instead of launching a job search abandons his family for immensely dangerous and low-paying work fighting forest fires. The bitter mother flips almost overnight from June Cleaver domesticity to provocative sexuality.

These near-radical personality changes are hard to fathom — until you realize that Dano’s film (co-written with actress Zoe Kazan from Richard Ford’s novel) centers on the perceptions of the couple’s 14-year-old son. Seen through the kid’s bewildered and traumatized eyes, even the slightest change in familial surroundings registers like an earthquake.

Set in the early 1950s, the film begins with Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) losing his job as the golf pro in a small Montana town.  His wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), who never wanted to move there in the first place, does her best to beef up Jerry’s battered ego and even rejoins the workforce, teaching adult swim classes at the local Y.

All this is tremendously worrying for their 14-year-old son, Joe (a spectacularly good Ed Oxenbould). It’s hard seeing your once-upbeat dad sinking into depression and ennui. And while Mom seems to be enjoying her new economic independence, even that has a downside. She’s not at home all that much.

But Joe’s a good kid and, to help prop up the family’s failing fortunes, signs on as an assistant at the local photographic portrait studio.

Jerry’s decision to join a firefighting crew battling the stubborn blaze — which has burned for weeks in a nearby mountain range, threatening the town not only with flames but lung-congesting smoke — comes as a shock to Jeanette and Joe.  People are getting burned up fighting the conflagration.

“What kind of man leaves his wife and child in such a lonely place?” Jeanette seethes. The poetic theatricality of that line of dialogue (would your average wife phrase it in just that way?) suggests it has been refliltered through Joe’s tormented imagination and memory.

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Okra,An Seo Hyun

“OKJA” My rating: C (Now on Netflix)

118 minutes | No MPAA rating

Following up his multi-layered sci-fi extravaganza “Snowpiercer,” Korean auteur Joon-ho Bong delivers the Netflix original movie “Okja.”

Like its predecessor it blends dystopian imagery, social criticism and first-rate special effects, this time to tell the tale of a girl and her best friend, an elephant-sized pig-creature.

Unlike “Snowpiercer,” though, the pieces don’t fit together. Satire, childlike innocence and violence collide in an adventure nearly derailed by jarring tonal shifts.

The film begins with Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), the head of the massive agribusiness that bears her family name (it sounds like Monsanto for a reason), announcing to the world that her firm has developed a super pig that will solve all our food needs.  To kick off the project she is sending baby pigs to farmers in 26 countries; over 10 years these porkers will be monitored as they are reared under local animal husbandry conditions.

The piglet Okja is blessed to be sent to the mountains of Korea where she is seen to by young Mija (An Seo Hyun) and her grandfather.  Mirja and the massive Okja lead a life of bucolic bliss.  They are best friends — though Bong is careful not to ascribe to Okja human intellect.

Of course, Mija doesn’t know that her big bud is destined to become superbacon.

“Okra” treads a familiar path when it becomes the tale of a fugitive child and her pet outrunning the evil forces of grown-up life.  But Bong isn’t really all that interested in that plot line, preferring to devote much screen time to a ham-handed (sorry about that) satire of corporate greed, human vanity and nitwit idealism.

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Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson

Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson

“LOVE & MERCY” My rating: B+

120 ninutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Several pages in The Book of Great American Lives should be reserved for the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, whose 72 years have been packed with genius, celebrity, madness and redemption.

There’s more to the Wilson saga than could ever be wedged into just one movie, but Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy” spectacularly chronicles one man’s rise-fall-rise in riveting human (and musical) terms.

Pohlad, a first-time feature director with an impressive list of producing credits (“12 Years a Slave,” “Into the Wild,” “Brokeback Mountain”) and screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner have come up with a brilliant way of presenting Wilson’s story.

They’ve made two movies: one set in the 1960s starring Paul Dano as the young Brian, the other in the mid-’80s with John Cusack taking on the role. They so cannily entwine the two that just as the first, earlier story is spiraling into tragedy, the second tale, of the middle-aged Brian, is struggling toward recovery.

Let’s acknowledge up front that neither Dano nor Cusack looks much like the real Brian Wilson. Nor do they really resemble each other.

Doesn’t matter. Through some sort of cinematic alchemy, each actor nails the essence of Wilson at different stages of life. And far from triggering a disconnect, the casting of two performers in the same role enhances the story’s richness.

“Love & Mercy” opens with a montage of newsreel-like re-creations of the early Beach Boys in action — on the concert stage, posing for publicity photos on the beach (most of them were not actually surfers), playing for a “Shindig”-like TV show (go-go girls as a backdrop).

These are the heady days of innocence, fame and hit singles. We sense almost immediately, though, that the songwriter and arranger, Brian, stands apart from the group. He’s an odd duck, unnerved by live performances, crippled by panic attacks and driven to create music that he can hear in his head but must struggle to capture on tape.

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Michael Fassbender
Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Chiwetel Ejiofor

“12 YEARS A SLAVE”  My rating: A  (Opens wide on Nov. 1)

133 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“12 Years a Slave” is gruelling.

Exhausting.

Horrifying.

It is, one can say without fear of contradiction, the best, most complex and fully-realized fictional film ever about American slavery.

Here the full panoply of institutional evil is on display, not just the physical abuse (whippings, chains, drudgery) but the emotional toll.

There have been other movies on the subject, but most have either been a whitewash (“Gone with the Wind,” which feels unwatchable in the wake of the gut-punch that is “12 Years…”) or the stuff of lurid exploitation (“Mandigo” and, yes, Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”).

Steve McQueen’s film – based on the 1853 memoir of a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery – manages to reference slavery’s many evils without feeling exploitative.

Moreover, it does something I’ve never before seen.  In addition to telling its story from a slave’s point of view, it is a devastating study of the corrosive influence of the “peculiar institution” on the lives of slaveholders themselves.

In 1841 Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) lived in upstate New York with his wife and family.  A free Negro, he enjoyed the rights and privileges of any citizen. He was well liked and admired and made a good living as a musician.

Lured away with the promise of work on the road, he was drugged and awoke to find himself in chains in a dank cellar somewhere in Washington D.C.  (The still-unfinished Capitol building towers over the town, providing a silent but eloquently ironic commentary on Solomon’s situation.)

Like any free man, he indignantly protests his treatment — and is beaten for it. He learns to keep quiet.

Soon, with other kidnapped blacks, he finds himself with a new name – Platt – and on a steamboat headed south to Louisiana, where he will pass through the hands of two masters.

Ford (Benedict Cumberbach) is what you might call a Jeffersonian slaveholder. An essentially decent man, he knows slavery is wrong but is too invested economically in his plantation to repudiate the practice.

Still, the slave and the master develop something approaching mutual respect – it’s pretty clear that Solomon/Platt is the only person for miles around with whom Ford can hold an intelligent dialogue.

But in a world where a black man can be hanged for reading and writing, Solomon knows to keep his light well hidden. (more…)

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MEEK’S CUTOFF”  My rating: B-

1:44 | Rated PG     

In her minimalist features “Old Joy” and “Wendy and Lucy,” filmmaker Kelly Reichardt quietly explored relationships among unremarkable individuals in contemporary America.

In “Meek’s Cutoff” she takes the same lightly-plotted approach with the members of a small wagon train slogging along the Oregon Trail in the 1840s.

“Meek’s,” which might be described as a proto-Western, is a daring change of pace, one that has a big payoff intellectually but less of one emotionally and narratively.

The three married couples that make up the tiny caravan are being led by Meek (more…)

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