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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Mel Gibson is an asshole, but he can act with the best of them—something he proves yet again in Blood Father.

As Link—an ex-con with a tattoo parlor in his trailer and a missing daughter (Erin Moriarty)—Gibson is a stunning, grizzly marvel, elevating mediocre material into something quite watchable.

When the missing daughter gets herself into major trouble, she returns to the grid by giving Link a call. Having never really known his daughter, Link is determined to be the dad he never was (thanks to a seven-year prison stint)—and he goes into super-protective mode. The two wind up on the run from a drug cartel, and that leads to Gibson, on a motorcycle, blowing people away with a shotgun.

Blood Father is a tour de force for Gibson, whose ranting inside Link’s trailer as it is getting shot up might be the best piece of acting he’s ever put forth. Director Jean-Francois Richet lucked out when he cast Gibson as this character, a man desperately in search of redemption. It suits Gibson very well at this time; I can’t think of an actor who would’ve done a better job with this material.

On paper, this script looks like a million movies that came before it, but the cast makes it rise above the rest. William H. Macy is reliably good as Link’s sponsor, while Moriarty holds her own against the insane Gibson. Meanwhile, Michael Parks kills it as a former friend of Link’s who is a true bastard.

Should choose to watch Blood Father, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Blood Father is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

A young woman (Brie Larson) and her 5-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), are held prisoner in a backyard shed. When Jack manages to escape, resulting in both of them being freed, mother and son must learn to cope with life outside of their prison walls, and reacquaint themselves with their immediate family.

While Larson is excellent in Room, Tremblay is the biggest reason to see this movie. His portrayal of a small boy who has only known one room in his entire life is revelatory; it’s a performance like none other. While Larson has picked up a Golden Globe and a much-deserved Oscar nomination, Tremblay was robbed.

Joan Allen delivers strong work as Jack’s grandma, a woman who is both dealing with the horror that brought him into the world, and loving him from the instant they meet. William H. Macy has a small but memorable part as Jack’s grandpa, a person who can’t get over what happened to his daughter.

Lenny Abrahamson, who made last year’s excellent yet relatively unknown Michael Fassbender comedy Frank, directs. Based on his work with these two films, he’s one of the industry’s most interesting directors.

The movie basically plays out in two parts: the imprisonment, and the aftermath. Larson delivers a performance deserving of the accolades, but it’s Tremblay who makes the biggest mark.

Room is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

Jennifer Aniston personifies emotional and physical pain in Cake. She does such a great job of looking and sounding miserable that it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that crew members were driving nails into her feet out of the camera’s view during takes.

Aniston plays a woman named Claire, and the reasons for Claire’s misery are not made clear until well into the film, a wise choice by director Daniel Barnz and screenwriter Patrick Tobin. Not only does this slow revelation provide the film with some decent mystery; it allows the focus to solely be on Claire in the moment, as she struggles with physical back pain and some sort of loss.

The film opens with Claire in a chronic-pain support group. They address the loss of Nina (played by Anna Kendrick in photos and flashbacks), a member who committed suicide by jumping off a freeway overpass. Claire makes a brutally honest observation about the conditions of her suicide—and gets ejected from the group. It’s clear that Claire is a dangerously unhappy person.

Little is revealed about Claire’s background as the film progresses. We learn she has a husband (Chris Messina) who cares deeply for her, but no longer lives at their house. She appears to be taken care of financially, with a supportive housekeeper, Silvana (Adriana Barraza), who endures her mood swings.

For unexplained reasons, Claire fixates on Nina, sometimes dreaming about her, and even hallucinating about her after indulging in too many painkillers. Her obsession leads her to Nina’s house, where she meets Nina’s widower, Roy (Sam Worthington), and her son. Worthington delivers perhaps his best performance yet as a man who is confused by the loss of his wife, and who deals with Claire in a curious, yet amiable, way.

The relationship between Claire and Roy is unorthodox, yet delicately handled. I’ll dare to say it’s even charming, which is surprising, considering their emotional states. Aniston and Worthington are both very much in command of the raw emotion and pain in play between their characters. They even manage to inject a fair amount of humor.

Aniston manages to make Claire a sympathetic character despite her constant unpleasantness. While we only get glimpses of the Claire that might’ve existed before her back and heart became racked with pain, it’s obvious that Claire was once somebody for whom many people cared—and she pushed them away for solid reasons. The pain of her losses never leaves Aniston’s face, even when she is smiling.

Aniston has played dour people before—and she’s played them well. (For example, check out her performance in The Good Girl.) I’ve always viewed her as very talented, so her effectiveness here doesn’t surprise me.

Even though we do find out some of the reasons behind the tragedies Claire has endured, many of the details remain shrouded. Some critics have found this frustrating, and punished the film for it. I think it’s one of the film’s many virtues. Not knowing exactly why Claire is in pain somehow makes her struggle all the more vivid and compelling.

The excellent supporting cast also includes Felicity Huffman as Claire’s therapy-group leader. Huffman has a couple of great scenes, including an odd one involving vodka. (Her real husband, William H. Macy, makes an important cameo.) Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep’s daughter) is also very good as a physical therapist who has had enough of Claire’s shit.

You’ll probably want to watch a couple of Friends episodes after taking this one in, if only to see Aniston happy and pain free again. Cake is a good movie—but it’s a rough one to watch at times. Just like it should be.

Cake is now playing at the UltraStar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100), the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342) and the Century Theatres at The River (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Walter was a big hit at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 4. The quirky comedy/drama with a solid cast and a unique storyline was screened in three theaters at once at the Palm Springs Regal 9, with the director and various members of the cast present.

Walter begins with an introduction to the title character (Andrew J. West), shown as a child at his father’s funeral. The self-narration explains that Walter is the son of God and judges whether or not a person goes to heaven or hell. He’s then shown waking up in the morning to three separate alarm clocks in a room that is an obsessive-compulsive’s paradise. Walter lives with his mother (Virginia Madsen), who is always cooking him scrambled eggs, and he begins his day by getting dressed for his job as a movie-theater usher.

At the theater, he works with a verbally abusive and crass co-worker named Vince (Milo Ventimiglia); his boss, Corey (Jim Gaffigan); and a beautiful concession-stand worker, Kendall (Leven Rambin). Walter’s OCD comes into play as he vacuums the lobby and uses a magnifying glass to inspect his usher stand for spots. As he takes tickets, walks down the street or otherwise encounters people, he usually utters “heaven” or “hell” with every person he sees.

One day, after the movie theater closes and he begins his trek home, he encounters a mysterious ghost. Greg (Justin Kirk) explains that he is dead, but hasn’t been sent to heaven or hell, and harasses Walter to send him to either one. Walter responds that he cannot do that, given he can’t make a judgment about him. Greg annoys Walter so much that he winds up going to therapy with Dr. Corman (William H. Macy).

Walter and his back-story are revealed in a series of flashbacks involving his father (Peter Facinelli). It isn’t long before Walter begins to understand himself better.

Walter mixes comedy and drama in a way that isn’t often done. Most of the comedic scenes involve his time spent at the theater with Vince, Corey and Kendall, while his relationship with his mother—and his relationship with himself—are certainly troubled. After an intense story climax, you’ll walk away agreeing: Walter is outstanding,

During a Q&A (see the photo below), producer Brenden Patrick Hill explained the film was based on a short done in 2010 that was written by Paul Shoulberg, who also wrote the full-length film.

“Paul (Shoulberg), Andy (West) and I all went to Indiana University together, and Paul sent me some stuff he was working on. I said Walter would be a great short film, but he said it would never work,” Hill said. “We turned it into a short film that Andy was the lead of, and then because we had a short, we knew we wanted to make a feature, and to show people like (director) Anna (Mastro) how great Andy was as Walter, and sort of build off on that short film.”

Mastro said she was immediately drawn to the project.

“I fell in love with the script, the character and the themes of it,” she said. “This is a quirky movie that falls into no genre and is hard to be made into a film, but luckily, we had a couple of actors who believed in it enough to help us on this journey.”

In response to a question, West said he’d never have another role like Walter.

“(Walter) is probably the most unique character I will ever play,” he said. “Paul (Shoulberg) has a knack for creating the most vivid characters on the page, and you have to fill in the blanks. That wasn’t the case with this. For me, the trick to this guy is that he’s profoundly uncomfortable.”

Published in Reviews

Sometimes, all a movie really needs is Sam Rockwell.

Rockwell stars in A Single Shot as John Moon, a reclusive poacher living in a trailer deep in the woods. One morning while out hunting a deer, he accidentally shoots a woman. Then, he finds a whole lot of money (echoes of A Simple Plan) and decides to keep it in an effort to make things better with his estranged wife (Kelly Reilly).

Of course, the money actually belongs to bad people—and those bad people will be coming after John Moon. They most certainly will.

A Single Shot doesn’t feel original; in fact, it feels a bit hackneyed at times. But the performances are often riveting, and Rockwell keeps it watchable. There’s also an unrecognizable Jason Isaacs as an unsavory sort, with the underrated Joe Anderson also playing a bad guy. William H. Macy brings a slight taste of comedy to his shifty lawyer character, and Jeffrey Wright is devastatingly good as the town drunk.

Director David M. Rosenthal, directing the script by Matthew F. Jones (who also wrote the novel on which the film is based), gives the film a nice, gloomy atmosphere. His work has consisted mostly of comedies in the past, making his achievements here impressive, all things considered. You never get the sense that this is a director working outside of his comfort zone.

All in all, this is Rockwell’s movie, and it’s a departure for him after a recent string of comedies and lighthearted fare. (He’s currently in cinemas with the coming-of-age comedy The Way Way Back.) This is a passable movie that is perhaps a little beneath his talent—but, hey, it’s Sam Rockwell.

The film is available to watch via sources including Amazon.com and iTunes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing