Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a couple of films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…
The latest work from eclectic filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH; SHORTBUS) is one of the most beautiful, moving, and emotionally powerful things I've seen all year, and I bet most of you will completely ignore it.
It's okay to be scared. It is. But if I told you that RABBIT HOLE (adapted by David Lindsey-Abaire, based on his Pultitzer Prize-winning play) is one of the finest movies ever made about the grieving process, I'm guessing many of you would recoil in fear. You often hear about actors being brave, but I want to challenge audiences to be brave as well, and actually see a film with some raw, battered emotions that ultimately leave us with a hopeful feeling. Will you leave the film emotionally drained? I sure hope so. Will you be glad you went and saw RABBIT HOLE anyway? Without a doubt.
As the film opens, it becomes clear that Howie and Becca (Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman) have recently lost their son when he was hit by a car in front of their home, and both of them are still emotionally wrecked as a result--not surprisingly. Now, the couple must find a way to relate to each other again and remember what made their relationship strong, in the wake of this tragedy. What they are left with is pain, short-fused tempers, guilt, assigning blame, and barely restrained anger.
They each find unorthodox ways to cope with their grief. Becca becomes uncomfortably obsessed with Jason, a teenage boy (Miles Teller), whom we first think must remind her of her son until we realize how these two know each other. Jason and Becca have a series of the most grueling conversations imaginable, and they are sometimes very tough to watch. Howie attempts grief counseling and meets a woman (Sandra Oh) who had been dealing with these same issue for years and isn't faring much better than he is. Dianne Wiest plays Becca's grating mother Nat, who dares to compare her own son's death by drugs to Becca's loss. What Cameron Mitchell has brilliantly done is show us the stakes if this couple can't pull themselves back together. It is all too clear the direct connections between this accidental death that was no one's fault and the fate of their marriage. It's as suspenseful as any scary movie, especially when Becca brings Jason into her home to meet Howie.
While this is by far Cameron Mitchell's most straightforward narrative, he's also a fan of the surreal and not afraid to find the humor and serenity in the most seemingly inappropriate moments, which of course, make the laughter and moments of clarity wholly appropriate. There's not much more to say other than I loved RABBIT HOLE with every fiber of my being, and it's a prime example of a film about setting the world right between two souls. It will beat your heart up, but it will come back stronger and more full of life than when you went in. I promise.
As far as I'm concerned, Sofia Coppola has a perfect track record as a writer-director, with a series of small, quiet, set pieces that pack an emotional punch. Her ornate MARIE ANTOINETTE was large in scope but essentially focused on the life of an immature young woman who suddenly had the world handed to her. But it's her films like THE VIRGIN SUICIDES and especially LOST IN TRANSLATION that show the emotional depths she's willing to mine to get the heart of her characters. Her latest work has moments of grandeur, but it's still really just a story of two characters: a world-famous actor named Johnny Marco (played by Stephen Dorff) and his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). A world-class womanizer, Johnny seems to have a party in his room at the Chateau every night as he prepares for a press junket for his latest blockbuster. Unannounced, Cleo arrives in his hotel room with her suitcases because her mother (Johnny's ex-wife) has decided she needs time off from being a mom and vanishes, leaving Johnny to be a real dad for a time.
In any other director's hands, this might have been butchered and made into a family film starring The Rock. But Coppola lends the story her gentle sophistication and turns SOMEWHERE into a look about a man who has lived largely responsibility free for most of his adult life. He takes the opportunity to spend time with his daughter as not only a chance to be a good dad, but also as a reason to grow up a little, even if their time together is limited. The film is funny (with "Jackass"'s Chris Pontius playing Johnny's best friend--that seems pretty likely), especially to those of us who have taken part in celebrity interviews in hotel conference rooms or suites. Coppola has clearly paid attention to the inane questions that often crop up during press conferences and the equally empty-headed answers celebrities often give to these questions.
At a crucial moment in Johnny's publicity tour, he decides to take Cleo to Italy with him where he must do European interviews while she gets to live in luxury for a few days. I don't know why, but that sequence truly moved me, because Cleo never comes across as spoiled, even when Johnny is spoiling her, and it's pretty clear she's going to grow up to be a more balanced adult than either of her parents. Putting aside her appearance in the god-awful NUTCRACKER movie last month, I've always liked Elle Fanning (younger sister to Dakota) in films such as RESERVATION ROAD and THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJANMIN BUTTON. But SOMEWHERE places her in the most extensive, demanding dramatic role she's ever taken on, and she soars. While the weirdly effective Dorff has never really been on my radar as an acting force, he's quite convincing here, playing a version of himself that he'll likely never get to be. But that doesn't mean he doesn't understand the attitude. A photo shoot with the female co-star of his new movie is one of the film's funniest moments.
SOMEWHERE won the award at the Venice International Film Festival (Best Picture), and I'm guessing all the footage shot in Italy didn't hurt its chances. But even without the Coppola name, the film is a knowing peek behind the celebrity curtain that isn't a trumped-up glorified version of the real thing. I love the way Johnny hides behind the publicity team of the movie. I'll never be able to have a publicist tell me talent is running late and not think of some of the reasons Johnny is delayed in this movie. I was also kind of in love with the movie's score by Phoenix.
I'm probably not doing a great job convincing you to check out SOMEWHERE, but the truth is, it's a tough film to explain since not a whole lot happens. But you still manage to learn a lot about universal behaviors and how even the seemingly irredeemable can still be saved. Dorff and Fanning are completely convincing as a father and daughter who aren't exactly estranged, but they aren't especially close either. During the course of the film, they both recognize that being better to each other would benefit everyone involved, and its that process that is the heart and soul of the movie. Another worthy effort from the younger Coppola.
ALL GOOD THINGS
One of the more bizarre and less interesting efforts at the end of the year is director Andrew (CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS) Jarecki's feature film ALL GOOD THINGS, based on the events surround the disappearance of Kathie Durst, who went missing in 1982 and was never found. Although husband Robert, the heir to the wealthy Durst real estate family, was always suspected, he was never brought to trial for the crime. Jarecki's film is not a documentary on the subject but a fictionalized account of the events that led to Kathie's vanishing. Kirsten Dunst plays Katie Marks, whose husband David (a truly creepy Ryan Gosling) was an unstable man even before they met. She was not from a rich family, and, as a result, was always looked down upon by David's father Sanford (Frank Langella) and with a great deal of suspicion as to why this beautiful young woman would devote herself to such an odd man.
Although the names are changed, the film's screenplay (by Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling) is based on court records, recently uncovered evidence, and a healthy dose of educated guessing all pertaining to the Durst case. There's really no doubt that the filmmakers want us to believe not only did the husband kill his wife and hide the body but also that his father knew about it and did everything his money and influence could afford to hide the truth of his son's actions. ALL GOOD THINGS is well acted, especially by Dunst, as the the wife literally trapped in a marriage to a possessive, paranoid man who would rather see her dead than with someone else--not that she was ever planning on leaving him before he became a controlling brute.
And while Gosling does a decent job being a freaky son of a bitch, I wouldn't have minded getting a little deeper into his psyche to understand why he would go to such lengths (allegedly) to keep his wife from leaving him. I don't need every motivation spelled out for me, but a little more insight would have gone a long way. Gosling is one of the best actors of his generation (as is more clearly evidenced in the upcoming Blue Valentine), but he's given very little to work with in ALL GOOD THINGS, and even his remarkable talents can't cut through the lacking screenplay. Still, if you're interested in catching the best on-screen performance of Dunst's career thus far, then perhaps you can handle the many shortcomings of All Good Things.
-- Capone email@example.com
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