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Posted : 5 months, 3 weeks ago on 27 February 2017 08:36 (A review of Elle)

The thorniest, iciest character study I’ve seen in quite some time, and that isn’t a criticism. Elle is provocative material played with intelligence and chilling lack of emotional pity or yearning for sympathy. Talking about it feels like trying to navigate a minefield.


Isabelle Huppert’s Michèle Leblanc is a woman who refuses to be defined by the men in her life, or the tragedies and traumas that they inflect upon her. It begins with her father committing a mass murder when she was ten-years-old, and how she refuses to even acknowledge his existence or allow his presence, his crimes, or the trauma he thrust upon her as defining characteristics of her life. It follows up with the opening sexual assault, and her eventual twisted relationship and revenge games with her attacker.


Violence and sexuality are deeply intertwined throughout Elle, and only pity can be seen as a hindrance to Michèle’s agency as a character. She refuses to report her assault to the police, a leftover jaundiced reaction to the familial tragedy and insanity of her father’s killing spree, and brushes off her friends shock and horror when she casually drops the bomb in the middle of a dinner. Then she returns to her attacker, agreeing to play his sick sexual fantasies as some form of therapeutic self-healing and blood-soaked revenge.


The fact that any of this works rests entirely on the work of director Paul Verhoeven and star Isabelle Huppert. Verhoeven has tamed his more lurid instincts from his Basic Instinct days, and keeps the material on a lighter, more respectful vibe to Michèle’s particular psyche and responses to a dehumanizing event. Michèle seems nearly unconvinced or unbothered, take your pick, with the typicality of society’s morality. Her self-possession and iron-clad dominance could break even so mythic a grand dame diva as Joan Crawford with her deflating release of “oh,” or arching of an eyebrow, or the pursing of her lips. Verhoeven frames Huppert’s face as a defining example of condescension and luxurious aggression.


Elle knows that it’s playing with dangerous ground, and Huppert is practically gleeful in excavating the terrain. As an actress, Huppert seems drawn to the dark side and in revealing the twisted humanity of her monstrous women. Think of her impressive and terrifying work in The Piano Teacher for reference, and know that Michèle is a queen among vipers that could stare down any sociopath and make them blush. Her origin for a yearning of self-injury is rendered by Huppert as a near throwaway aside with unsettling indifference to just how insane what she’s saying sounds.


Even more disturbing is the casualness of the rapist’s eventual revelation. Prior to this moment, we had been treated to a seemingly never-ending parade of possible candidates, it basically boils down to just about every man she encounters in her everyday life including an ex-husband and several employees at her video game company. Elle treats this initial rape, and Michèle’s reaction, is a mere point-of-fact in navigating misogyny’s ugly commonality and routine occurrence.


If this all sounds like some crazy intellectual exercise, then you’re probably on the right track in navigating Elle. It’s a film about a female protagonist who turns into a morally ambivalent character by engaging her darkest, wildest, most disturbed desires, and then turns them on their head. She transforms the tools of her own dehumanization into a sexual release, regains her own agency, and the entire thing feels like some strange, audacious feminist screed. Risky and dangerous sexual encounters and desires are nothing new, but Elle feels dangerous and bold thanks to Huppert’s difficult, unnerving performance.

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Posted : 5 months, 4 weeks ago on 24 February 2017 08:04 (A review of Fences)

Fences is a triumph of acting and for bringing the great August Wilson onto a larger stage. Wilson’s dialog and poetic sense of drama shake the screen and thunder down on you. It’s an absorbing experience of watching working class black characters struggle and the heft of tragedy you’d normally find the works of someone like Arthur Miller. These are the unseen workers that help keep society flowing, but Wilson gives them a chance to say how and why they matter, to express their angers and dreams, to take center stage in the fabric of American storytelling.


For all of these strengths, Fences is still slightly unsatisfying as a piece of cinema. The reason for this is simple, Denzel Washington is perhaps too in awe of the material and merely points a camera at his fellow actors. Fences is a case of shooting the play exactly as it exists onstage with little-to-no opening of the material. This is a hermetically sealed world consistently primarily of a house and backyard where Washington’s sanitation worker can express his stifled dreams and trap his family in his pent-up poison.


Think of the best examples of films made from famous plays, and think of how they interpreted the material for the screen. Washington thinks that his cast and the book are enough, and in many ways they are. But there’s a tedium that sinks in to the shots and it all starts to feel like an episode of Great Performances. An episode of Great Performances that could also double as a master class in acting.


Washington is, of course, one of our great charismatic movie stars. He turns that natural charisma and likability into a man that pops with ingenuity for oratory self-mythologizing. He charms us like he charms his friends and family members before slowly revealing the poison and resentment lurking underneath. This man is not a winking or likable devil by the time the film ends, but a complicated, nasty bastard who can turn on the charm when he finds it expedient. If he wins his third Oscar for his work here, it’ll be a well-earned victory for the ways he sears into Wilson’s juicy monologues while releasing complicated emotional detours in-between his words.


Viola Davis not only holds her own against Washington, no small feat, but emerge as the soul and heart of the piece. She goes about the business of keeping everything in her household operating and moving smoothly, displaying a lived-in grace and bone-deep tiredness that preps you for the bigger moments. Everyone will know the big moment, where she chastises Washington, her face covered in snot and tears, but it’s the quieter moments that linger with you. It’s nearly jarring how exhaustive and honest her portrayal is. Davis is one of our greatest working actresses, and the first black actress to reach Oscar nominations. Fences may just end up being the peak of her career.


While I firmly believe another director, like Barry Jenkins, Steve McQueen, Spike Lee, or Ava DuVernay would have taken a less hagiographic treatment of the material, Washington’s Fences cannot be thrown out. The acting is too great, the torrents of words too poetic and beautiful, too coiled and angry to completely say that Fences is not worth the trip. Maybe Fences will be the vessel to bring August Wilson’s work to the largest audience possible. All of this makes it impossible to outright dismiss, no matter how frustratingly banal or flawed it can be in spots.

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Posted : 6 months ago on 23 February 2017 04:29 (A review of Moana)

Disney’s Neo-Renaissance just keeps rolling one with their second outing of 2016, Moana. While still a very strong effort, it takes much longer to warm-up when compared to the immediately off-and-running gags and heart of Zootopia. Moana’s introductory scenes feel like retreads of practically any of the dozens of princess properties put out by the studio over the decades, and then it finally takes a clearer, better shape once she’s out in the sea and adventuring. That’s when Moana, both the character and film, exhibit tons of personality and verve.


The sluggish beginning finds us getting a background mythology info-dump then a montage of our heroine’s innate desires being suppressed. These sequences are gorgeously animated, one can rarely if ever fault Disney on this front, but they feel like a film working on pure formula. How many rebellious princess suppressed by well-meaning if overbearing parents has Disney thrown our way by this point? Then something funny happens once Moana hits the water, the film shakes off the confines of the formula and decides to go full-tilt bonkers with the Polynesian culture, including demigods, strange monsters, and more down-to-earth aspects like tattoos and seafaring.


This is the power of and primary reason that we return to animation. It can quite simply do things that live action films cannot. A demigod with a gigantic fishhook battling a humongous coconut crab during a musical? Yeah, you try to get that done in a traditional summer blockbuster and see what happens. This moments of culturally specific monsters and beautiful earth goddesses are another reason that we return to animation, it gives life to the mythology of the world. Disney’s cultural diversity pushes, going back to the 90s Renaissance era, have produced some of the best films in the studio’s output, look no further than the Shakespeare-meets-Africa tragedy of The Lion King or lovable United Colors of Benetton science geeks in Big Hero 6. Moana happily joins these ranks.


While the animation is top-notch, the specificity of Moana’s body movements and Maui’s semi-sentient tattoos are simply wonderful, Moana’s face does suffer from Disney’s typical heroine face. You know what I’m talking about, like how Tangled and Frozen have female characters that look nearly like clones of each other. Well, Moana just has a slightly wider nose, but she’s got the same basic face shape. Look Disney, if you can make all of the other characters look like individual characters and you can provide Moana with her own agency and personality, why couldn’t something more original be done with her face?


I pick on this because of how breathtaking and unique so many of the other creations of the film are. Like the strange little coconut pirate monsters that provide a humorous interlude, a mystical stingray covered in tribal tattoos, or the epic showdown between Maui, Moana, and Te Kā, a living lava monster guarding an island. These moments soar to dazzlingly heights of technical skill and personality-heavy animation. Maui seriously steals the movie outright with his endearing condescension and fourth-wall breaking humor. I personally loved Maui calling Moana a princess because she wears a dress and has an animal sidekick, essentially providing a moment for Disney to riff on its own tropes with gently acerbic self-reflection.


Then there’s the strong score, much of it courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, which bests the dominating one from Frozen. At first, I found Moana’s “I want” song, “How Far I’ll Go,” a tradition of Disney characters, a bit underwhelming, but I’ve found myself humming the massive chorus since then, so there’s that. Even better though are the character songs, like Maui’s “You’re Welcome,” which feels tailored made for Dwayne Johnson’s natural charisma and charm, and Tamatoa’s “Shiny,” which finds Jemaine Clement doing a solid David Bowie impression while riffing on the wonders of his golden trinket covered shell.


What Moana lacks in narrative originality, you can guess every nuance of the relationship between her and Maui from frame one and her animal sidekick is a new low for dumb animal friends, it makes up for in visual depth and beauty. There’s a specificity to character, personality, place, and culture that is most welcome and quite refreshing. Here is a warm, inviting movie, and more of this from Disney and less live-action retreads of their animated classics is what I would like to see.

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Hell or High Water

Posted : 6 months ago on 23 February 2017 03:32 (A review of Hell or High Water)

Strongly made genre films are worth praising for the simple fact that they’re harder to make than they would initially appear. A dusty neo-western about a pair of brothers who rob banks in the mid-Texas area while being cashed by a gruff lawman? I’m sure you’ve seen it before, and I’m sure we’ll see it again. Doesn’t change the fact that Hell or High Water is one of the stronger recent entries, a solidly entertaining and engaging crime saga that proves the western isn’t down on the mat just yet.


The strongest thing about Hell or High Water is a penchant for evading the obvious scenes of gun fights and carnage in favor of quiet, contemplative moments of character study. Not that there’s no gun fights, it just saves those for the very end when the characters are finally painted into a corner with no other recourse. Prior to the brutal climax, Hell or High Water shows us the forces and desperation causing these brothers to rob a particular banking branch, and where exactly all of that money will eventually be laundered.


Hounding the brothers throughout this ordeal is a US Marshall a few weeks away from retirement. Jeff Bridges has played gruff before, but here he sounds like talking dip that makes several casually racist jokes at an astonishing per-minute clip. Bridges is a veteran performer with a litany of strong, entertaining performances, and his work here is no different. Yet it’s the sense of begrudging respect he feels towards these robbers and the complicated sense of comradery with his partner that give his work more life, texture, and grit than they would otherwise.


Yet his strong showing throughout awards season and the absence of Chris Pine lends credence towards sloppy favoritism in lieu of letting in new blood. Pine plays his role with a bone deep wariness that shockingly brand new for the actor. Bridges and Ben Foster as his twitchy, aggressive brother get the flashier roles, but Pine is the strong center of Hell or High Water. Without his tortured, somber work, seriously, he brings waves and waves of pathos in a scene where he sits alone at a bar, Hell or High Water wouldn’t work. If recent years could find room for Eddie Redmayne to flutter and twitch (The Danish Girl), Andrew Garfield to do a religious Huckleberry Hound caricature (Hacksaw Ridge), and Benedict Cumberbatch to essentially play the same role he always does (The Imitation Game), then why couldn’t we find any room for Pine’s weary, desperate work here?


The focus on characters keeps the violence at bay for much of Hell or High Water, until it must rupture and disturb the ramshackle order keeping everything in place. A robbery goes violent, and so in the true manner of a western, further blood must be spilled to retain a stasis or semblance of peace and order. When the bullets stop ringing out, we see a climatic meeting between Bridges and Pine where they stare each other down and promise that there will be no peace for either of them, they will be forever haunted by what has transpired. Does this ending promise more violence to come off-screen in another reunion, or is it simply an elliptical ending that refuses to a traditional payoff for the audience? There’s no clear answer, but the delicate balancing act of civilized society has been stripped away to leak out some of the chaos and ugliness circling underneath.

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Posted : 6 months ago on 22 February 2017 09:03 (A review of Arrival)

Some of the best films in more typically obtuse and loud genres are the ones that strive for something a little bit deeper. Look no further than the recent spate of films like Interstellar or Gravity, messy or imperfect as they may be, that have been immensely satisfying and immersive as personal stories wrapped up in science-fiction dressing. Joining them, and my personal favorite of the three, is Arrival, a fantastic story about alien life interacting with humanity that really boils down to a mother retelling her life story to her dying daughter.


The film’s story expanse is global, but its soul and precision-like focus is on a deeply felt personal one. Amy Adams, one of our greatest working and most versatile actresses currently working, leads Arrival with an empathetic, confident performance that gives the film its grace and brains. She digs deep into Louise, a linguistics professor that gets called into service by the US government when 12 UFOs land on Earth. She’s not the first person brought in to try and establish communication, but she’s able to develop a strange symbiosis with them and eventually cracks their language’s complicated code.


Much of the success and lingering power of Arrival rests on Adams’ performance, particularly the numerous close-ups of her face. Director Denis Villeneuve diverts attention away from the CGI aliens, they look like gigantic cephalopods made of fine leather, and onto the more grounded, human work of his actress. The amount of trust he places in Adams’ prowess reminds me of the golden age film-makers who simply lit an actress of great power and let her rip. As the multiple timelines converge and shift around there is Adams’ face holding the center.


Even better is how the film places an equally strong emphasis less on reactionary politicking and explosions and far more on the power of science and building bridges between cultures. Much like Spotlight could make investigative journalism feel like high-tension superspy thrills, Arrival can transform linguistics into the heady stuff of action-film spectacle. Who knew trying to decipher strange inky circular blobs could be so enthralling?


If there’s any true negative to level against Arrival it’s a pervading sense that the film tends towards the antiseptic, even at points when the emotions are supposed to pull the rug out from under us. I find this forgivable, and even that it made a certain bit of logical sense once we figure out what these strange flash-forwards and diversions to an idyllic home life are in service towards. I’d happily sacrifice Meryl Streep’s record-breaking nomination or Emma Stone’s serviceable (and soon-to-be anointed) work in favor of nominating Amy Adams’ work here. I’d happily split up the tech categories in this film’s favor. I’d happily throw more love at Arrival then it’ll probably walk away with come Oscar night. I just really loved this film.

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Manchester by the Sea

Posted : 6 months ago on 22 February 2017 05:55 (A review of Manchester by the Sea)

This is a weird one for me to talk about. Manchester by the Sea strikes all the right poses, hits all of the story beats, but there’s a strange sense of detachment. The characters are submerged by grief, and any development they exhibit is so minor as to wonder if the seeds have been harvested.


It’s not boring or tedious, and I don’t mind the quaintness of the film, but Manchester by the Sea kept me at a remove at all points. Maybe it’s that it takes a very long time to go nowhere in particular. Not paying off as the audience demands is fine and all, but we end with a few of these characters left in the same or highly similar positions that we found them in. And there’s a few too many situations where the symbolism is too neat and tidy, or the dialog is too poetic, and several scenes of Casey Affleck staring off into the middle distance in a bar before picking a fight.


The slowly thawing winter is a solid metaphor for grief and the ways we can deal with it in, say, a novel, but it’s harder to balance it out in a film. Especially one that insists on running for two-and-a-half hours, without enough story to really fill out that demanding running time. Manchester by the Sea is best when it zeroes in on mournful, hard moments of everyday life in the wake of tragedy. Think of an awkward reunion between Lucas Hedges’ Patrick and his alcoholic mother (Gretchen Mol), or the quietly devastating reunion between Affleck’s Lee and his ex-wife (Michelle Williams). These moments hammer home with emotional complexity and brutal truths delivered without a bit of sugar to make the bitter go down.


Much of the film rests on Affleck’s Lee becoming the guardian of Hedges’ Patrick after the death of Patrick’s father (Kyle Chandler), Lee’s brother. But Lee’s grief from an accident years earlier that caused him to flee Manchester-by-the-Sea, and dissolved his marriage, keeps him prison and incapable of taking care of anyone, even himself, or making deeper connections with anyone. Patrick, for his part, seems incapable of understanding just how much his life has changed, and will continue to do so. He’s a teen looking for guidance from a man with as much warmth and emotional availability as a glacier.


Lee and Patrick do have several scenes of comedy to alleviate some of the encroaching despair. Most of it just involves them screaming “fuck you” at each other in harsh New Englander tones, but it’s often a nice change of pace. I see why both of them (and Williams) were nominated this year, and, frankly, they deserve it. Hell, if all three of the players manage to sneak out wins they will be richly deserved. Affleck, Hedges, and Williams create fully realized people that are deeply damaged and trying to do their best to keep their heads above water. Manchester by the Sea finds them drowning more often than not, but the film reminds us that healing is not always a zero-sum game.

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The Lobster

Posted : 6 months ago on 17 February 2017 05:37 (A review of The Lobster)

Don’t take this as a sign that I disliked The Lobster, but what the fuck was this movie?


Not only is there a ludicrous high concept, but the entire thing is a sick joke about the societal pressures of coupling up and romantic entanglements. The whole thing alternates between deadpan, blacker-than-midnight humor and an uncomfortably twisted sense of danger. I’m not sure if the entire thing works, or if it eventually collapses under the strain of its own artistic reach, but The Lobster had me enraptured with its strangeness and perversity for the entire duration.


The Lobster’s wild concept comes roaring out the gate as a woman angrily shoots a goat, who I guess was an ex or something at one point? Anyway, we then meet David (Colin Farrell) as he checks into a hotel, where he will be turned into an animal after 45 days if he doesn’t’ make a love connection. The Lobster gets its title from David’s choice of what animal he would like to become, and I hesitate to reveal more of the plot. It’s original and wild, and trying to summarize it won’t make it any clearer or less hallucinatory.


In-between the oddities and stiff acting choices, The Lobster is something of a forbidden love story when it’s all said and done. David eventually meets an unnamed woman (Rachel Weisz), this unnamed woman is also the narrator of the piece. We overhear her thoughts as she writes in her diary, and one presumes that these two will eventually have a happy ending given some of the language used and the open-ended shot of the film. Maybe I’m just a bit of a romantic at heart, once you get past the layers and layers of snark and defensive humor.


At times The Lobster can feel like it is eating its own tail, repeatedly. As the story delves into its own hermetically sealed strangeness, so does the film becomes something a closed eco-system. It won’t engender widespread audience participation and sympathy, and The Lobster will prove divisive, but there’s just something provocative and wild about it that I enjoyed.

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Posted : 6 months ago on 17 February 2017 04:30 (A review of Loving)

Sure, there are moments in Loving where the prestige format threatens to put the more quiet, lo-fi charms in a strangle hold, but they’re easily forgiven. Loving keeps everything at a simmer, preferring to place the focus on these two very private people instead of the cultural pyrotechnics going off all around them. It’s a wonderful little movie about love trumping hate.


Telling the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving and their Supreme Court case which struck down all anti-miscegenation laws, Loving does fold too easily into a three act structure at times. There’s the opening section in Virginia where they are arrested in the middle of the night for cohabitation, a forced 25 year banishment where the relocate to Washington, D.C., and, of course, their eventual return to Virginia with three young children to contest the courts unjust and deeply racist rulings on their marriage. You already know the outcomes of each of these story beats, and there’s an occasionally overly glossy image that undercuts the dignities and strengths of the film.


Yet these moments are easily ignored, forgiven, or skipped over when Loving is taken as a whole. The two lead performances radiate with deeply excavated humanity and nobility as they go about the day-to-day business of living, marriage, and raising kids. Or the ways that Loving finds humanity in its mundane interactions between these two people. Here are two people who are deeply committed to each other, and slightly nervous about the amount of attention and scrutiny that they are getting by daring to love one another, and go to increasingly higher courts with their lawsuit.


Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are positively exquisite here. Edgerton brings a lot of depth and nervous energy to Richard. This is a man of few words who expresses his fidelity and love for his family through his actions not his words, and desperately wants to protect them from the outside world. Negga has the more talkative of the pair, but not by much. She brings a huge amount of resilience to the part, and Negga makes Mildred positively blossom as the story progresses. In a more just cinematic world Edgerton would be joining Negga as an Oscar nominee, but he got edged out by the flashier Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic and Ryan Gosling being carried in on La La Land’s giant wave.


Loving is an ever-timely story told well, with strong performances and a pleasingly subtle aura. I don’t need the flashy bells and whistles, and I frankly don’t miss them in the typical prestige picture. I love how quiet this film is, but its quietness is also probably the thing that knocked it out of most major Oscar categories. Maybe one day they’ll learn that quietness is a virtue and we can stop rewarding the more manipulative melodramas. There’s honesty and truth in Loving, and it’s one of the finest films of 2016.

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Posted : 6 months, 1 week ago on 13 February 2017 05:13 (A review of Lion)

With the exception of the ending, by which time the film has earned it and we demand the catharsis, Lion keeps it sentimentality and emotions at a low simmer. It’s a bit refreshing for a film that finds itself as a power player in the Oscar race. I doubt Lion will win much, but it’s quietness, it’s emotionally naked and honest performances are most welcome breathers between the louder entries in this year’s race.


At its best moments, Lion is a film about a man trapped between two worlds, lost between his past and present, and uncomfortable with looking too far into his future. The story is undeniably moving and uplifting in its truth, but something funny happens between the two halves that make up its structure. The first moves along at a breezy, consistently engaging clip, then the second slogs down, takes too long to get where it’s going, but there’s still plenty to enjoy along the way.


The first half is a better movie, with a wonderfully plucky performance from Sunny Pawar as young Saroo, as it places us squarely in the eyes of this child. We experience his fears, marvel at his pluck and ingenuity, and rejoice in the brief moments of kindness and connection he encounters with strangers. A moment where he catches Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother crying touched me very deeply for the delicate way he wipes away her tears. I just wish that Lion had kept up this pace and emotional investment during the second half.


The second half’s problem isn’t in the continued performance of Kidman, who is absolutely stunning in her muted role here, especially in a scene where she tells Saroo why she chose to adopt him and want he’s meant to her life. Hell, Kidman’s delivery of a message of support and hope for her adopted son’s choice to travel back to India to find his birth mother is an emotional knockout of what maternal love and devotion looks like.


Nor is the problem in Dev Patel’s textured, soulful performance as the adult Saroo. Patel’s work here is nuanced and completely absorbing, even when the film is operating at the emotional and visual equivalent of the color beige. His large eyes are deeply expressive, and his haunted look as repressed memories come flooding back is an astounding bit of minute acting for the screen. He carries the next hour entirely on his slender shoulders with grace and ease, even as Lion quickly loses momentum and sputters towards its rousing finish.


For a film that roared out of the gate (sorry!), Lion quickly yawns as it goes more formulaic and guarded. The tension of the first hour evaporates like steam, and it takes us nearly 50 minutes to get from Australia back to India for Saroo’s reunion with his birth mother. Lion is frustrating in how imperfect it is, but it is also a deeply felt and pleasing film. Give me ten more films like this before I have to suffer through another Hacksaw Ridge.

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Captain Fantastic

Posted : 6 months, 1 week ago on 13 February 2017 01:48 (A review of Captain Fantastic)

If I had to summarize my reaction to Captain Fantastic in one word, it would be ugh.


Here is a film that wants to be both an examination of a deeply involved father, some kind of satire about going off the grid, an emotional family drama, and just an all-around uncomfortable mixture of quirk and emotional honesty. There’s a few things I liked about Captain Fantastic, but not enough of them to recommend it.


It seems like every year another one of these quirk-fest family dramedies makes its way into the Oscar race, but this has to be the nadir of that recent trend. At least it only made it into the Best Actor race for Viggo Mortensen’s wonderfully complex and quiet work. I’m not sure how I feel about this being his second nomination in favor of better work in films like A History of Violence or A Dangerous Method, but here we are in the wild world of Oscar politicking.


The main problem with Captain Fantastic is that it sets up its basic premise, then proceeds to do nothing major with it. Why exactly did he and his wife decide to leave it all behind and go live off of the land? What’s the endgame for this family? Did they not think about how important learning to adept, move in, and work within the larger society is a necessary survival skill to have? Was this family just going to eventually inbreed and turn into the long-distant cousins of Deliverance? Well, don’t expect anything resembling coherent interaction with the plot to be found. But there’s a scene where the characters all burn the corpse of their mother on the beach while turning “Sweet Child O’ Mine” into a twee campfire sing-along, so there’s that going for it, I guess?


The other major problem with Captain Fantastic is that it introduces the concept of these kids being forced back into modern society and civilization, and how ill equipped they are to deal with it. The kids rage against their dad and his questionable choices, understandably from my vantage point, but then they turn around and exhibit undying loyalty to him. This film wants to both ways, and doesn’t want either of them at the same time. But hey, Viggo Mortensen goes full-frontal for no reason, and his performance is layered, complex, and better than this shallow, overly long movie deserves. Has broad cartoonish whimsy ever felt so oppressive?

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