The Beaver

The executive tells his wife he’s been back to the psychiatrist and the use of a beaver hand puppet is a form of therapy. When the “therapy” seems unending, there begins the movie’s conflict.

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Article first published as Movie Review: The Beaver on Blogcritics.
The Beaver is directed by Jodie Foster who is well known as an actor and now fairly well-known as a director for Little Man Tate and Home for the Holidays. This is her most gritty production to date, taking on the issue of mental illness. Jodie Foster also plays an important role in the movie, that of Meredith Black, the main character’s wife. The Beaver stars Mel Gibson as the protagonist Walter Black. There are also key roles played by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek’s “Chekov”) as Porter Black, the main character’s son and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone and the upcoming Hunger Games) as Norah, the friend of Porter Black. Seldom does a movie bring such an important yet taboo subject into the light with such clarity. Mental illness now has an illustration to show us our humanity and better understand the mentally ill people around us.

This is a story of a family man and executive well into his 50’s who appears to be depressed. In reaction to his depression, he buys a crate of alcohol seemingly to drink himself into oblivion. In the parking lot dumpster, he notices a haggard old hand puppet in the shape of a beaver. He is drawn to its charm and takes it home with him. Through much of the movie he communicates only through the puppet and puts his wife and those around them through a frustrating series of challenges. The executive tells his wife he’s been back to the psychiatrist and the use of a beaver hand puppet is a form of therapy. When the “therapy” seems unending, there begins the movie’s conflict. Walter is sick, and his wife knows it. Unfortunately, his sickness is generating great ideas at work that earn him a spot on the Today Show with Lauer, among another places. Mentally ill people often make creative contributions to our world, that’s what this movie appears to be telling us.

There is a father/son dynamic going on here as well. Walter and his son Porter are at odds. Walter has been guilty of the same thing most middle aged executives are: being absent in the home. Porter accepts payment to write people’s essays in High School and has a very dysfunctional crush on Norah that winds both of them up in jail for the night for vandalism. One can’t help but wonder if Walter’s condition contributed to his son’s issues. There is a climax and a slowing and at the end a horrific self mutilation leaves Walter “better.”

I really like this movie because it shows that mental illness is not just an embarrassment we should hide in our family trees. I am deeply interested in people which is probably why I like movies so much. The extent to which they portray the human condition is usually the extent to which I like them. If you know someone who has a mental illness or if you yourself struggle with on, this movie is a must see. This is not Braveheart and it’s not Nell. Instead, it is something in the middle and it addresses mental illness quite accurately, in my opinion.  Only through understanding the unknown can we embrace it and make peace with it in our world, Mental illness is largely an unknown in our society. It is good to see Mel Gibson stepping away from the action hero role to shine light on something many families and individuals deal with.

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‘Wildlike’ – A Sleepy Hiking Film of Surprising Suspense

The indie film Wildlike is a hidden gem from 2015 that was recently added to Netflix. The director, Frank Hall Green, uses the Alaskan wilderness as backdrop for a suspenseful story. Starring in Wildlike are Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek) and Ella Purnell (Maleficent) who make this film a unique diamond in the rough.

img_9922Ella Purnell stars as Mackenzie, a 14 year old girl who’s been abandoned by her drug addicted mother. While in the care of her uncle, she is sexually abused, and flees to a nearby Alaskan hiking trail. That’s where she crosses path with Bruce Greenwood’s character, Rene.

Bruce Greenwood is the most recognizable star in the movie and he does a magnificent job trying to understand and help the troubled teen. He’s been in films as big as Star Trek and thankfully for us fans he accepted this role even though it was an independent film. The friendship between Mackenzie and Rene is fascinating and appears it could save her. Watching it develop is one of the best parts of the film though so I won’t describe it more than that.

Mackenzie is an interesting and powerful character as well. Not many of us know what it would be like as a 14 year old girl who was sexually molested. Some will say she should have told the police but others could argue the police might Bruce Greenwoodbelieve the aggressor, making a return to him inevitable. Ella Purnell dons the signature troubled-teen mascara that we see gradually reduced through the film as she begins to trust Rene. She shows us the fear involved for victims. She is a survivor and sticks close to him. Rene has profound reasons for being on the trail as well. The trail could be a metaphor that we all have our own pain to walk off. Both actors do a great job in their hiking dialog.

The suspense starts in the form of a bear on the trail and then culminates with the abusive uncle stalking Mackenzie. When Rene and the uncle finally meet, some may hope the uncle gets beaten to a pulp. They don’t show that. Instead, as with other themes in the movie, they infer it and the viewer is left to decide for her/himself.

wildlike_stillThis film has done quite well for its first time director, Frank Hall Green. It has been invited to over 75 film festivals and has won 16 Best Film awards. It’s nice to see such an understated film that allows the viewer to come to her/his own conclusions has done so well. It’s also understated and tasteful in the way that ordinarily graphic scenes like the sexual abuse is not shown but rather inferred. This is a stylistic choice of Green. By way of trivia, the IMDB page for the movie states that Frank Hall Green hiked in the exact park where the wilderness scenes were filmed and the path in the film was based on paths he and his family hiked.
I found this film a pleasant surprise. I expected a sleepy hiking film and instead got amazing outdoor cinematography with a suspenseful/thriller. I love movies that juxtapose a good story with stellar visuals. I’m reminded of Fargo as an example. Frank Hall Green is already at work on other projects but I hope a lot of people get a chance to enjoy Wildlike.

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Intruders (2015)

“He WAS your friend, NOW he’s a doorstop.”

Fans of “Panic Room” may really like this one. A group of under thirtysomething males break into the protagonist’s home on a tip there is cash there. She surprises them and delivers some top-shelf girl kickass.

Intruders (2015)
Cast
Beth Riesgraf

as Anna Rook

Rory Culkin

as Dan Cooper

Jack Kesy

as J.P. Henson

Directed by
Adam Schindler

 

Written by
T.J. Cimfel
David White

 

Other Info

Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rated R
1h 30min

This is a girl kicks ass movie but there’s is another element. Madness keeps her in the house where she has remained ever “since daddy died” which we are given no exact time on. She nursed her cancer stricken adult brother in the house for years until he died and then even at his funeral she still will not leave the house. So, her madness is an extra element not always seen in “girl kickass” movies.

Beth Riesgraf plays Anna Rook, the heroine/protagonist. She is well known for her role on “Leverage” which I must admit, I now want to see more of. She’s very talent with a ton of potential. This is an excellent revenge type role but it wasn’t received well by the critics. I hope Beth Riesgraf gets roles that get her more exposure, she’s very talented. By the way, if you remember Rory Culkin from “Signs” as a child actor, he reappears in this film as the delivery guy. Buy, his look has changed.

I’d say this film is mostly a thriller and less horror that the posters promote it as. We do find out some horror elements exist like the frozen hand in the freezer and the makeshift dungeon in the basement. Still, this is a thriller with a fairly decent script that holds the viewer’s attention. It has a strong concluding scene that I fond very creative.

Final Thoughts
Overall, I highly recommend it. As is my common theme lately in my reviews, you can’t always trust Rotten Tomatoes. This is a creative and fun thriller with an added mental illness factor. It spent a little too much time developing the relationship with her dying brother and I found that cumbersome. Still, I enjoyed it and highly recommend it.

8/10

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Chariots of Fire (1981)

This is a repost of my review from 2012. I plan to write an encore review this week.

Chariots of Fire was directed in 1981 by Hugh Hudson, known also for Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. It stars Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell, a devout Christian runner, and Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams, a dedicated Jewish runner. Watching the movie now, over 30 years later, one can identify an A-list class from both major and minor characters.

Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Fire

“Two British track athletes, one a determined Jew and the other a devout Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics.” -IMDB

Cast

Ben Cross Harold Abrahams
Ian Charleson Eric Liddell
Nicholas Farrell Aubrey Montague
Nigel Havers Lord Andrew Lindsay

Directed by

Hugh Hudson

Written by

Colin Welland

Other Info

Biography, Drama, Sport
PG
Fri 09 Apr 1982 UTC
125min
IMDB Rating: 7.2

This movie is based on a true story. It is called a drama, history, and sport movie by imdb.com. It’s one of those movies I liked so much I bought. It’s a story of running, endurance, and conviction. The signature music of Vangelis inspired many in my generation to run and to appreciate running. I’m a proud runner probably because I saw this film at age 11.

Chariots of Fire is about two rising Olympic champions: Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams who are driven by very different impulses. Liddell is an ardent missionary who cares more about “feeling God’s pleasure” when he runs that he does about winning trophies or medals. Abrahams on the other hand is overly ambitious about winning. He is in fact primal in his drive to win at any cost. There is a lot of development toward the climax but the most important point is when the Olympics are to be held on a Sunday. Liddell refuses to run due to his beliefs. This is where we see the conviction of a truly inspiring man displayed in real time. Because this is a true story, we feel the temptation we might have to run but Liddell refuses. It is an excellent conversation piece. What drives us? How do we define success? and What will we not do in our quest for that success?

This movie is a gem and a pride among movies. While I don’t share Liddell’s polarized worldview, I still admire his conviction and resolve. This movie tells me I should define success and answer the questions above for myself. I am always defining and redefining myself. Chariots of Fire reminds me that true success has to be self-defined. You don’t have to be a runner to enjoy this film, it’s for everyone. When I first saw it I was 11 years old. When the credits rolled, I got up to walk out of the row. My mother stopped me and motioned me back into my seat. I saw the eyes of my parents and siblings watching the credits in awe as they listened to the angelic music. I would later learn the theme song and play it in the house hundreds of time. This is truly a remarkable film in my collection.

10/10


My review Chariots of Fire (1981) appeared first on Riley on Film.

Swiss Army Man

The debut feature film from “Daniels,” aka directing duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, has a lot of people talking: mostly good, a tiny percentage bad, all expressive because this is an atypical movie that emanates expression. These guys are known for their quirky short films that reveal a human side struggling in a dark society. Swiss Army Man falls right into that category only in a feature length.

swissarmyman-poster

Swiss Army Man
Cast

Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Directed by

Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Duo Credited as “Daniels”)

Written by

Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Other Info

Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Rated R
1hr 37min

Swiss Army Man is a story about Hank who is stranded on a desert island. He is trying to hang himself when he sees a man wash up on show, Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). He rushes over to him to find him dead but the dead man keeps farting. He discovers it isn’t a loss that the man is dead, he has farting powers that make him function like a jet ski for Hank. Hank is able to use the dead man to get to the other side of the island. As Hank continues his quest to “get back” to civilization, he discovers Manny has all sorts of special functions that help him survive. This is where the title comes from: “Swiss Army Man.”

I want to address the film’s use of farting, since it has become a point of criticism online and it print. Apparently, a small percentage people walked out of the theater at Sundance during one of the farting scenes. I find that laughable that critics would walk out on any movie, much less one screening at film festival. The Daniels addressed this as an exxageration. They say of the 1500 people in the theater, maybe 12 walked out which was 1% of the occupancy. I had a completey different reaction to the fart scenes. I saw them as representative of life. Fart sin this film are the things that bind Hank (Paul Dano) and Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) together. This film doesn’t concern itself with the cool things that usually make up a popular movie. Instead, it points out that things like farts separate us from dead bodies. If a dead man can fart that much, it’s like he is alive. The use of farting to make a point is minimal in my opinion and shouldn’t be criticized.

swissarmy-2Though we’re not sure if Manny ever really comes back to life, though I’d assume he doesn’t, Hank has lots of conversations with him. It brought to mind the way we objectify friendshsips. We assign meaning to our friends and imagine them as they play out our fantasies. Hank teaches Manny all about life as he knows it, and that is pretty grim. He has no courage to approach a girl who he knows has a husband and who he has seen on the bus and taken a photo of on his phone’s wallpaper. This is disturbingly odd when her identity is brought out. if he has a stranger’s photo on his wallpaper, can he even have any relationships on his own? We are given a lot of information but left to interpret it for ourselves. One interpretation might be that Hank is clinically depressed and a sociopath, unable to have relationships with others. As a result, he has taken to the woods with a dead body to serve as his companion. While that may sound extreme, he could be a murderer and a stalker living in the woods as well. There are many shades you can see Hank as.

One hugely effective aspect of this film is the music. It is performed by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell from the indie rock band Manchester Orchestra. There is even some singing, though not a lot. Music is used artfully and weaves throughout this film making it half orchestral and half rock sound.

There is so much life in Hank and yet he is cloistered away from others, except Manny of course. As Hank “teaches” Manny about love and girls, he makes dozens of props to replay his day on the bus and many other times he can in contact with love. There are some heavy statements made about religion and sex. It gives us a chance to look at these things, even look at our own lives in a safe environment with no one there except a dead guy.

There is a lot of unraveling that goes on at the end. It happens so fast, it’s hard to formulate exact answers to some questions. Was the island real? Where were Manny and Hank REALLY? How long was Hank out there? I certainly have my suspicions about what the answers could be but this film is put together loosely so it many me impossible to prove one conclusion over another. For what it’s worth, here’s my spoilers of the plot and ending:

swissarmymanI think the beach was a figment of Hank’s mind. I think he was not lost but “camped out” in the wooded area right outside Sarah’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) house like a stalker. Sarah was the girl on the bus that he took a picture of for his wallpaper . I think Hank was already psychotic but he was still a warm, compassionate person while in the woods. Again, the Daniels’ recurrent theme of the oddball, the outcast being as normal as anyone but unable to break through society’s walls. I haven’t figured out where the dead guy Manny came from but with him there, Hank was able to examine his life for the first time in a long time, maybe ever. In the end, my guess is Hank was shot by a policeman and then he dreamed the final scene as he died.

I say this knowing full well there are other rational and valid ways to inerpret the film. Please share your thoughts in the comments. This film was awesome and I am so glad I drove 60 miles to an independent theater to see it. It lost nothing with me. I’ll be watching for more spectacular, cerebral stuff from the Daniels. This is one of those movies I call perfect.

10/10

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