CVIndependent

Mon09232019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Fine performances bolster Wildlife, Paul Dano’s excellent directorial debut. The movie, about a family falling apart in the early 1960s, is sometimes uncomfortable—just as it’s supposed to be, considering the subject matter.

Young Joe (Ed Oxenbould) is living a typical life in Montana. Mom, Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), stays at home while dad, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), works a low-paying job at the local country club. Jerry urges Joe to try out for football, while Mom helps him with his studies. It’s not an ideal life; money clearly could be an issue if life takes a wrong turn.

Then comes that wrong turn.

When Jerry loses his job, a family meltdown takes place. Jerry becomes despondent, while Jeanette takes a job teaching swimming. Joe gets a part-time gig at a photography shop taking pictures, while Dad spirals further into depression.

When Jerry announces that he will be joining a firefighting team—despite almost no firefighting experience—Jeanette doesn’t take the news well. Jerry takes off into the mountains of Montana for low pay at high risk, while Jeanette and Joe fend for themselves back home. Jeanette accuses Jerry of running away from their problems and basically abandoning them, while Jerry sees his move as a more reputable and manly way to make money than shining a golfer’s shoes at a country club.

The stage is set for the best performance of Mulligan’s career, as Jeanette shows signs of insecurities and mental-health issues. Jerry shows the very same signs; Gyllenhaal is also amazing. As Jeanette’s behavior becomes erratic, with Jerry digging fire trenches in the mountains, Joe seems to be the only one in his family acting like an adult.

Dano (who co-wrote the script with his extremely talented partner, Zoe Kazan) does a beautiful and sometimes scary job of framing all of this through the eyes of Joe. We see the love both Jerry and Jeanette have for their son, even as their behavior ranges from pathetic to despicable. It’s the little things—like Jerry throwing a football to his boy, and mom solving a math problem with her son—that establish the undeniable family love. The couple is very likable, even as they are going off the rails.

Bill Camp also gives a fantastic performance as local businessman Warren Miller (no relation to the ski-film dude), whom Jeanette turns to while Jerry is away. He seems to be a decent-enough guy, discussing poetry with Jeanette in her living room and talking up Joe—even suggesting he’ll give Jerry a job when he comes back from the mountains. But it isn’t too long before Joe is spying Warren’s naked ass through the crack of his door as he approaches his mother.

One of the more impactful scenes in the film involves Jeanette driving Joe to the area where Jerry is fighting fires. Jeanette tells Joe to step out of the car to take a look. We just see Joe’s face as he uncomfortably stares at the fire, as if he’s observing his family’s oncoming disaster. The shot is followed by an actual view of the mountainside as it is rapidly consumed by flames. It’s a beautifully filmed moment.

All of these performers have great faces. Gyllenhaal says so much with a glare. There’s so much fear and uncertainty behind Mulligan’s smile, and Camp’s gentle expressions somehow denote a level of villainy. Oxenbould’s eyes just scream: “Adolescence is truly kicking my ass.”

Mulligan is most definitely in the hunt for Best Actress honors, while Gyllenhaal is having a fine year in supporting roles such as this and The Sisters Brothers. Oxenbould is somebody to keep watching, as is Dano as a director. Wildlife is loaded with talent—talent that is put to good use.

Wildlife is coming soon to local theaters.

Published in Reviews

Director and co-screenwriter Dee Rees paints a bleak picture of post-World War II Mississippi in Mudbound, a performance powerhouse that showcases the talents of Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke and, most notably, Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton).

After the war, a traumatized Jamie McAllan (Hedlund) returns home to stay on a farm with his brother, Henry (Clarke), and Henry’s wife, Laura (Mulligan). Ronsel Jackson (Mitchell) also returns to the farm, but while both men were regarded as heroes overseas, their return is fraught with alcohol abuse for Jamie—and rampant racism toward African-American Ronsel.

Henry and Laura have problems of their own as they deal with the troubled Jamie and Henry’s hateful father, Pappy (a sinister Jonathan Banks). This is one of those movies you know won’t end well, and while Rees allows for occasional moments of relief, it is a mostly somber affair with a devastating finish.

Mitchell continues to emerge as one of his generation’s best actors, while Hedlund does perhaps his best work to date. Both actors put full body and soul into their roles and create characters that leave a mark. The always-reliable Mulligan is great as the wife forced to live out her life on a muddy, flooded farm in order to appease her dopey husband. Clarke paints Henry as a man of few commitments and quiet reserve—the kind of guy you can’t depend upon in a fight.

The movie is packed with stellar acting, and Rees does a solid job with the technical elements.

Mudbound is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

It was a little worrisome when Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel had its release postponed last year. As it turns out, turning the film into a summer blockbuster rather than an awards-season contender was a great move, because this one felt right at home during the summer movie season.

Shot in glorious 3-D, this is a rollicking Roaring ’20s movie that shouldn’t be missed. Leonardo DiCaprio is a marvel in the title role, giving us a vulnerable and sometimes slightly crazy Gatsby who relentlessly pursues his love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). His visual intro in this film is one for the ages.

Tobey Maguire is excellent as narrator and Gatsby admirer Nick Carraway, while Joel Edgerton steals scenes as Tom Buchanan. Those who like Luhrmann’s opulent, sometimes-frantic style will find plenty to like. He also manages to effectively use music by Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey—in a movie set nearly a century ago.

Despite the big, headline-grabbing production delay, the film wound up being one of the summer’s better offerings, and it’s a sure contender for technical Oscars. (DiCaprio is solid enough for a nom here as well … but we’ll see.) Visually, this is one of the film year’s greater achievements. Dramatically, the stars give it substance beyond the style.

Special Features: A boatload of behind-the-scenes looks and some deleted scenes, including an alternate ending. This is being released today, Tuesday, Aug. 27.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The moment when we first see Leonardo DiCaprio’s face as the title character in Baz Luhrmann’s lavish adaptation of The Great Gatsby is perhaps the biggest “movie star” moment of DiCaprio’s career to date. As fireworks pop off in the night sky behind him, he turns and raises his glass to the camera in a way that exudes high-octane star charisma.

If you are a Luhrmann fan, and you appreciated his over-stylized vision in works like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! (Let’s just forget Australia ever happened, shall we?), you are bound to find much to like in his Gatsby. It’s full of eye-popping visuals, lush costumes and terrific soundtrack stunts. (I loved hearing Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey while watching a picture set in the roaring ’20s.)

More important than any of the visual and audio treats is the fact that DiCaprio gives us cinema’s first “great” Gatsby. (Robert Redford played Gatsby once, and I am falling asleep just thinking about it.) Luhrmann slows the pace and lowers the volume for dramatic moments, and DiCaprio seizes these moments with substantial authority.

His Gatsby is an obsessed heartbreaker, relentlessly pursuing the love of the married Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), a woman he met five years previous before going off to war. A lesser actor could make Gatsby come off as a true nutball/psycho, but DiCaprio gives us somebody who garners sympathy and makes complete sense in his own deranged, sad way. His Gatsby is the sweetest stalker you will see onscreen this year.

It’s great to see DiCaprio sharing the screen with longtime friend Tobey Maguire; he is equally good as Nick Carraway, who narrates the film as he writes a novel within the confines of a sanitarium. Their camaraderie feels quite natural.

Maguire commands the most screen time in the movie, and that’s a good thing. Before he became Spider-Man, he was one of Hollywood’s more-reliable dramatic actors in films like The Cider House Rules and Wonder Boys. He’s the perfect choice for Carraway, a man who is at once intelligent, artistic and socially naïve. Maguire always does a fine job when required to look cute and confused.

One of the film’s greatest surprises is the amount of depth Joel Edgerton brings to the role of Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s lug of a husband. Edgerton commands one of the film’s greatest scenes: a confrontation with Gatsby regarding Daisy in a New York City hotel, over a block of ice and some whiskey. Edgerton makes this more than just a standard showdown between two men over a woman: He turns it into a bona fide romantic apocalypse.

As the object of multiple affections, Daisy, as played by Mulligan, offers bountiful charms to go with fatal vacuous tendencies. There are times when Gatsby’s pursuit is quite understandable based on how luminescent Mulligan looks in the role. Yet Mulligan, an actress of considerable talent, gives Daisy something far more complex below the surface. As anybody who has read the novel knows, Daisy is doomed to a dim emotional life, yet Mulligan has you always rooting for her to wise up.

Luhrmann made the daring choice to shoot the movie in 3-D, and this stands as one of the best usages of the medium. I wouldn’t think that a film simply set in 1920s New York would benefit from 3-D, but Luhrmann proves me wrong. Indeed, streaming confetti, orchids, popping champagne and DiCaprio’s face all get wonderful enhancement in 3-D. It adds a major element of fun to the film.

Some might decry Luhrmann’s crazy music choices, as he mixes modern music with old Cole Porter standards, yet he does it well. When Lana Del Rey’s voice comes up over a moving romantic moment, it doesn’t feel like a stunt. (I kind of hate her music, but it works really well in the film.) Music is indeed timeless when it comes to Luhrmann movies.

The film was delayed from December of last year (aka awards season). I thought it was strange to put an adaptation of a literary classic in the middle of summer-movie season, but after seeing it, the move makes perfect sense. It’s a heady movie, but it’s also the sort of feast for the eyes we want to see this time of year. And let’s face it: If the movie is good, and it has DiCaprio in it, that usually means big box office.

I imagine this will be another great DiCaprio performance that won’t get noticed come Oscar time. How this guy doesn’t have an Oscar yet is beyond me. He does have Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street coming later this year, so maybe that will put him in awards play.

As for that green dock light that Gatsby gazes upon through the night fog—where Daisy lives, across the lake—it’s a haunting image that will stick with you. Green traffic lights were making me weepy as I drove home after The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews