Review – Uncle Frank

FILM REVIEWUNCLE FRANKWith Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Margo Martindale, Stephen Root. Written and directed by Alan Ball. Rated R for language, some sexual references and drug use. 95 minutes. Premieres on Amazon Prime on November 25.

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When we first meet Beth (Sophia Lillis) in UNCLE FRANK, she’s a bright teenager in a small town in South Carolina who finds an affinity for her Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany), who had moved to New York to teach at NYU. Unlike the rest of her family, he actually listens to her, recommends books, and encourages her to choose who she wants to be. A few years later (in the early 1970s), she’s a freshman at NYU herself and ready to take his advice.

When she drops in unannounced at a party Frank is throwing, she discovers that her uncle has a secret. Although he’s introduced the family to his girlfriend, it was all a show for their benefit. In fact he is gay, and living with his Saudi Arabian partner Walid (Peter Macdissi), aka Wally. It’s a difficult time to be a gay man, and while it may be relatively easy in the New York academic world, it’s the reason he left Creeksville. It’s at that moment he gets a call that his father (Stephen Root)–who is Beth’s grandfather–has died. Together, they drive down South for the funeral, with Wally unexpectedly following along.

Writer/director Alan Ball may be best known for his television work (“Six Feet Under,” “True Blood”), but he’s worked in long form before. What are the hallmarks of Ball’s stories are characters who find that they can’t escape who they are and have to come to terms with that if they’re going to be able to live their lives. In this case, both Beth and Frank have to make peace with their roots. For Beth, it’s part of becoming an adult and developing her own identity. For Frank, it’s coming to terms with his father’s rejection, while dealing with the rest of his family.

Lillis nails the journey of so many college freshmen in having to grow up quickly. Her openness to what the wider world has to offer makes her the heart of the film. As Frank, Bettany has the more complex role, witty and wise, and yet carrying hidden pain. His performance both reflects the gay experience of the era (see, e.g., the recent remake of “The Boys In The Band”) and transcends it in that anyone who has to deal a dysfunctional family should be able to relate. Macdissi provides some welcome comic relief as the outsider to their world, not so much clowning as simply being livelier than the more buttoned-down Southerners. Ball also has a delightful ensemble as the rest of the family. They may not get a lot of screen time, but they’re vivid when they show up. Besides Root, there’s the formidable Margo Martindale as the family matriarch, and Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, and Lois Smith as other members of the colorful family.

At a time when we may not be able to get together with our own family members, a visit with “Uncle Frank” proves to be most welcome.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Hillbilly Elegy

FILM REVIEWHILLBILLY ELEGYWith Gabriel Basso, Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Haley Bennett, Bo Hopkins. Written by Vanessa Taylor. Directed by Ron Howard. Rated R for language throughout, drug content and some violence. 116 minutes. Premieres on Netflix November 24.

Deliverance the goods
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The film version of J. D. Vance’s somewhat controversial memoir, HILLBILLY ELEGY, manages to avoid politics. Instead, it focuses on class and culture in telling the story of J. D. Vance (Gabriel Basso), whose family left the Ozarks for Ohio, but brought their backwoods attitudes with them, for good or ill. J.D. embraces his family and their roots but finds himself torn between their dysfunction and trying to succeed at Yale Law School.

Interestingly, it’s the women in his life who give him strength and also threaten to derail him. Mamaw (Glenn Close) is the family matriarch who has had her own travails–including a teenage pregnancy–but is the one who is happy to see her children and grandchildren succeed. Her daughter Bev (Amy Adams)–J.D.’s mother–excelled in school and became a nurse but lost her job because of her drug dependency. Her ups and downs create much of the instability in J.D.’s life.

At law school, he falls in love with another student, Usha (Freida Pinto), who helps him navigate what, to him, is an unfamiliar world. At a fancy dinner party with the law firm that’s recruiting him, he’s at a loss for small talk and utterly baffled by the array of silverware confronting him. He has to slip out and call her so she can walk him through which fork to use.

Screenwriter Vanessa Taylor and director Ron Howard jump around in time so we can see the forces that shaped the characters, but in the film’s “present,” J.D. is risking missing an important interview when his mother is hospitalized after yet another incident. He returns home to try and get her the help he needs, juggling the competing responsibilities of his not yet launched career and helping his family in time of crisis.

It’s Close and Adams who get the star turns here and clearly the film is intended as Oscar bait. If you think they’re both acting up a storm, the film probably won’t work, but if you see them trying to get beyond the easy clichés of their roles, you can begin to appreciate their performances. Close is feisty and earthy, but she’s no Mammy Yokum or Granny Clampett, but a woman who has the scars of years of not letting life beat her down. Adams has the more conventional dramatic role of an addict who’s a burden to those around her, yet is able to show that underneath, Bev knows how much of a disappointment she’s been to everyone, including herself.

As a director, Ron Howard is more a storyteller than stylist, but at his best he can bring out the essential humanity of his characters, letting viewers into their lives with compassion and understanding. That’s what he does with “Hillbilly Elegy,” and why he’s able to hold our attention with characters struggling to do the right thing.•••

Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Girl

FILM REVIEWGIRLWith Bella Thorne, Mickey Rourke, Chad Faust, Elizabeth Saunders, Lanette Ware. Written and directed by Chad Faust. Unrated. 92 minutes. Available on Demand.

Revenge of the birds
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GIRL is a small revenge thriller made watchable by Bella Thorne in the title role as she overcomes the twists and turns of the plot–and the problems with the script–through sheer force of will. She makes it much more engaging than the material has any right to be.

The script, by writer/director Chad Faust, is populated by generic characters. Thorne is “Girl,” Faust himself plays a sleazy character called “Charmer,” Mickey Rourke is the Sheriff, and there’s even a character listed as “Town F*ck Up” (without the coy asterisk). In the film’s backstory, Girl’s father kicked out Mama (Elizabeth Saunders) and six-year-old Girl, leaving them without child support but with Mama having a permanent injury.

Now, years later, Girl has returned to town with one goal in mind: she’s going to kill her father. Imagine her surprise–no spoiler here, it’s part of the film’s set up–that someone else has already done the job. Girl has to figure out who did it, while Sheriff and Charmer want her to explain what happened to her father’s money which, as far as she knows, he didn’t have.

Faust is better as an actor and director than as a writer, with his character suitably oily in first coming onto and later menacing Girl. As Rourke, if you haven’t seen him in a long time or followed his work in recent years you may not even recognize him. He suffered several injuries to his face during his time pursuing a boxing career and has reportedly undergone some botched plastic surgery. His Sheriff also gets to exhibit superficial charm before revealing the corruption and greed beneath.

The film favors Thorne by not only making her a feisty and inventive heroine, but giving her one of the more unusual talents exhibited by a screen character: she can throw a hatchet with deadly accuracy. After demonstrating her skill at a laundromat we know that it’s going to be an important part of her story going forward, and indeed it is.

More than that, though, Thorne’s performance brings to mind Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout role in “Winter’s Bone” (2010). Girl is a graduate of the school of hard knocks and is trying to make her way in a world that seems to have no use for her. While her initial motive of patricide is questionable, one can see that it was more about expressing her anger than actually planning to commit murder. She might well had been dissuaded if the intended confrontation had come off in the first place. Thorne’s intensity powers the film and makes what might have been a simply routine thriller that much more interesting.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Porno

FILM REVIEWPORNOWith Jillian Mueller, Larry Saperstein, Glenn Stott, Robbie Tann, Evan Daves. Written by Matt Black, Laurence Vannicelli. Directed by Keola Racela. Not rated. 98 minutes. Premieres on AMC Shudder November 24.

Blew movie
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PORNO is exactly as cheesy as you would expect a horror movie with that title to be. You can practically see the filmmakers check off the boxes: simulated sex, nudity, gore, and a few moments where you might wish you could unsee what you’ve just been shown. Throw in a no-name cast and you’re in B-movie heaven: a picture made on a tight budget that can’t help but turn a profit regardless of the film’s quality–or lack thereof.

That seems to have freed the filmmakers of “Porno” to have fun at the margins, with all sorts of winks and nods at viewers who are in on the joke. In short, if you’re someone who enjoys movies by such classic shlockmeisters as Herschel Gordon Lewis and Ed Wood, Jr. (the latter of whose “Orgy Of The Dead” is glimpsed on a poster), you just might find yourself getting in the groove with this entry.

The setting is a movie theater in a small town. The year is 1992. We know this because the theater is showing “Encino Man” and “A League Of Their Own.” The year is important because it’s before the internet which means it’s also before online streaming porn. The theater owner (Bill Phillips) has his staff join hands in prayer before opening the doors, setting the stage for what’s to come.

The five members of the crew are all teens and twenty-somethings. Chastity (Jillian Mueller) is the assistant manager who affects goth makeup. Todd (Larry Saperstein) and Abe (Evan Daves) have a penchant into peeking into their neighbors’ windows. Ricky (Glenn Stott) has just gotten back from “camp” while concealing why he was sent. Projectionist Jeff (Robbie Tann) has bought into the owner’s born-again religion since it helped him quit smoking.

The premise is that after hours, the crew are allowed to have a private movie party. When they discover a mysterious reel in a basement of the theater they didn’t know existed, it turns out to be a literally demonic sex film that releases a succubus (Katelyn Pearce) who tries to entice them for evil ends. The remainder of the film involves full frontal nudity–male and female–as well as lots of blood and gore, secrets revealed, and a showdown where their very lives are endangered. Do they survive? Do you really care?

“Porno” is a movie meant be mocked while titillating you with its sex and violence. The filmmakers won’t mind. They’re mocking the material themselves. Rather than be insulted, they’re inviting you to join in. It would probably best be enjoyed watching along with a rowdy (and inebriated) audience. Until the real-life horror of the outside world comes to an end, that will have to wait.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Collective

FILM REVIEW – COLLECTIVE. A documentary directed by Alexander Nanau. Featuring Vlad Voiculescu, Catalin Tolontan, Mirela Neag, Tedy Ursuleanu. Unrated, but contains graphic images. 109 minutes.

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There’s an extraordinary moment about midway through Alexander Nanau’s COLLECTIVE when a harried public official is presented with an especially appalling example of institutional corruption. Aghast, he blurts out a helpless, embittered laugh of disbelief before sinking into his chair. I immediately recognized the sound because I’d been making similar noises myself throughout this breathtaking documentary, along with every now and again sitting bolt upright on my couch and muttering something along the lines of “holy shit.” I’d gone into this picture totally cold, with no foreknowledge even of the premise and I don’t say this often, but would recommend that others do the same. “Collective” is an important movie for a lot of reasons but it’s also one hell of a yarn, packing more twists than a paperback thriller, albeit stranger and much scarier than fiction.

On October 30, 2015, a fire at a popular Bucharest nightclub called Collectiv killed 27 people and injured many, many more. (The club was in a basement and we see terrifying cellphone camera footage of flames spreading across the sound-proofing in the ceiling.) Thanks to a corrupt permitting process there were no fire exits, and the ensuing scandal brought mass protests prompting the Romanian prime minister’s resignation, with an interim administration appointed to clean up the mess. Most movies would end there, but it’s where Nanau begins, as a couple of intrepid journalists at the daily Sports Gazette wonder why 38 survivors of the fire went on to die during their hospital stays from seemingly treatable injuries.

The answer, as they say, might surprise you. Or more likely scare the shit out of you, as reporters Catalin Tolontan and Mirela Neag–proceeding with the dour countenances and sullen deadpans familiar to fans of films from the Romanian New Wave–start pulling on strings that unravel an absolutely staggering web of corruption, bribery, and fraud in a kleptocracy rotten to the core. For starters, the disinfectants and sanitizing solutions used in over 300 hospitals were intentionally diluted to the point of ineffectiveness by a crooked pharmaceutical company trying to stretch a buck, leaving countless patients vulnerable to deadly bacterial infections and unclean operating equipment. And that’s just the beginning.

“Collective” hurtles forward on two tracks, the first following the journalists and a second focusing on newly appointed health minister Vlad Voiculescu. He’s a boyish, Vienna-educated, former patients’ rights advocate barely into his 30s, and at first glance young Vlad appears to be in completely over his head. The kid is tougher than he looks, though, and part of what’s so thrilling about the film is watching him rise to the occasion–seeing the administrative savvy which with he sets about trying to fix a broken system from deep inside the belly of the beast. But this is no easy battle, and late in the movie when Voiculescu mentions that he’s only been on the job for six months, he already looks as if he’s aged five years.

After a bit of place-setting in the pre-credit sequence, Nanau doesn’t use any voice-over, interviews or explanatory onscreen text. Acting as his own cameraman, he shoots all these scenes as a fly on the wall, which makes the film feel less like a documentary and more like a thriller unfolding in front of you in real time. A lot of critics are comparing the movie to “Spotlight,” which strikes me as unfair–for starters, it’s way more cinematic–and Nanau has a much wider field of interest. He keeps checking back in with victims from the fire, putting human faces on the tragedy instead of just fellating his journalist superheroes like a certain Best Picture winner. (There’s a reason that the only people who still talk about “Spotlight” work in newsrooms.)

Perhaps a more apt comparison would be to one of David Simon’s sprawling civic sagas like “The Wire” or “Show Me A Hero,” albeit boiled down into under two hours. It’s impossible to watch “Collective” in the middle of our own national health disaster without hearing some eerie echoes, especially when a loudmouth political party starts advocating for dangerous decisions in the name of nationalist pride. Voiculescu’s own father tells him he should give up and go back to Vienna because their homeland is broken beyond repair. But what’s beautiful about the film is that we can see what inspires them all to stay and keep fighting; the doctors and the muckrackers and the whistleblowers who brought receipts. The doomed nightclub was called Collectiv but the title is also an announcement of the film’s philosophy, articulated by one of the movie’s only music cues before a shattering cut to black: “We are how we treat each other and nothing more.”•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4.5 out of 5.Over the past two decades, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Belushi

FILM REVIEWBELUSHIWith Carrie Fisher, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Lorne Michaels. Written by and directed by R.J. Cutler. Unrated. 108 minutes. Premieres on Showtime November 22.

I’m the shit, get it?
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James Dean. Janis Joplin. Heath Ledger. There’s something tragic about someone whose talent is so powerful that they command attention when they’re young, making us eager to see what they will do next, and whose lives are then cut short. In the world of comedy, John Belushi was such a person. His energy and inventiveness made him a star on stage, on television, in the movies, and even in the world of music, and who then died in 1982 at the age of 33. R.J. Cutler conducted a number of interviews at the time with many of the people who knew him–some, like Carrie Fisher and Harold Ramis, are no longer with us–and makes them available for the first time in his documentary BELUSHI.

Belushi grew up in a working class immigrant family outside Chicago, with mixed feelings about his Albanian heritage. He was a performer even as a child but his father, who ran a diner, was hoping his son would join him in the business. Instead, after taking a date (his future wife Judy Jacklin) to see a performance of the Second City improv group, Belushi knew what he wanted to do.

His rise was meteoric. From his own improv group to the main stage at Second City (where he bypassed the club’s entry-level stage and went right to the main stage) to the off-Broadway show “National Lampoon’s Lemmings” (where he perfected a dead-on impersonation of musician Joe Cocker) to the Lampoon’s radio show, Belushi’s talent was recognized by colleagues and audience alike. His big break came in 1975 when he was part of the original cast of a new late night comedy show: “Saturday Night Live.”

At first, he was overshadowed by Chevy Chase,  but when Chase left the show after only one year, Belushi got the chance to shine, and shine he did. This led to his being cast in the 1978 movie “Animal House,” the most successful comedy up to that time. Then with his SNL co-star (and close friend) Dan Aykroyd, he would conquer both Hollywood and the music world with their SNL-act-turned-movie “The Blues Brothers” (1980), which offered him a chance to show his love for the blues. Backed by a stellar collection of musicians, the act was a hit on the concert stage as well.

With success came temptations and demands, and Belushi did not always handle them well, becoming a serious abuser of serious drugs. He would try to clean up his act and show his devotion to his wife, but eventually it came to a bad end: an overdose at a Hollywood’s notorious hotel, Chateau Marmont. We get hints of the mature career that was cut short, including the underrated romantic comedy “Continental Divide” (1981) and the misfire of that same year, “Neighbors” (opposite Aykroyd).

With a mixture of film and TV clips, audio interviews, and animation (from award-winning producer Ellen Collins) bringing to life incidents that went unfilmed, “Belushi” takes us through the arc of his short life. For those who were fans, the movie provides moments of nostalgia tinged with sadness. For those who are only now being introduced to his work, it’s a chance to get an overview of his career, where so much has been preserved and is ripe for rediscovery.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Leap Of Faith

FILM REVIEWLEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON THE EXORCISTWith William Friedkin. Written and directed by Alexandre O. Philippe. Not rated. 104 minutes. Premieres on November 19 on Shudder.

Shocks in Hell
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The release of “The Exorcist” in 1973, with director William Friedkin bringing William Peter Blatty’s novel of a young girl possessed by a demon to the screen, was a phenomenon. Audiences were shocked… and lined up to see it. It was one of those movies that became a cultural touchstone, sparking debates not only in film circles but in religious communities. Horrific as it was, it played as a straight drama, not a “horror film,” and is still considered one of the greatest examples of the genre.

Alexandre O. Phillipe has made a nice career with his documentaries on films and filmmakers, including takes on “Psycho,” “Aliens,” and George Lucas. (Full disclosure: this critic was interviewed for and appears briefly in “The People Vs. George Lucas.”) With LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON THE EXORCIST, he takes Friedkin, who recently turned 85, through the whole process of the making of the film. It offers fascinating insights into the filmmaking process and is something no fan of “The Exorcist” will want to miss.

We learn how Mercedes McCambridge came to be the voice of the demon, dubbing over the shocking profanity original spoken by Linda Blair, who played the 12-year-old possessed girl Regan. Indeed, some of the casting stories are among the most interesting, including how playwright/actor Jason Miller begged Friedkin for a screen test to play Father Karras, after the part had already gone to Stacy Keach. To his complete surprise, Friedkin was blown away by Miller and had to convince Warner Bros. to pay off Keach so the part could be recast.

Friedkin also discusses how he worked with his cast. For experienced actors like Ellen Burstyn and Lee J. Cobb, he let them do their jobs, only occasionally feeling the need to suggest minor adjustments. William O’Malley, a real-life priest who played Karras’s friend and had to give the character last rites, was unable to create the pained emotional reaction the scene needed. Friedkin took him aside, asked if O’Malley trusted him, and then punched him in the face. The shocked priest was immediately put before the camera for the scene, and afterwards was able to embrace Friedkin.

Others were not so forgiving. Friedkin went to Bernard Herrmann, whom Friedkin acknowledges as one of the great film composers, but was appalled at the suggestion his proposed score would be for a church organ. He then turned to Lalo Schifrin, a friend and noted film composer, who put together a score that Friedkin felt overwhelmed the movie. He rejected it and, according to Friedkin, they never spoke again. As for Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” which became the theme most associated with the movie, Friedkin came across it by accident.

There’s much more, including why Friedkin is still troubled by the film’s ending and what it means. “Leap Of Faith” may not be the final word on “The Exorcist,” but it will most certainly have to be considered in any future discussion of the movie.•••

DNorth Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.aniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Run.

FILM REVIEWRUN. With Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen, Onalee Ames, Pat Healy, Erik Athavale. Written by Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian. Directed by Aneesh Chaganty. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, some violence/terror and language. 89 minutes. Available on Hulu.

Wombsday
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Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson) is a model single mom. Her daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen) is being homeschooled because she suffers from numerous ailments. She’s confined to a wheelchair and has diabetes and asthma. She’s bright and ambitious and is eagerly awaiting to hear about her college application. And she comes to suspect that the life she has been living is a lie.

To say any more about the plot would be an unforgiveable spoiler. Suffice to say this is a psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat–or sofa–not anticipating the next twist of the story. RUN. (the period is part of the title) is the sort of horror film that doesn’t require gore or the supernatural, just a slow and unrelenting ratcheting up of the tension.

Although there are other people on screen, this is essentially a two-character story as mother and daughter engage in a battle of wills. As Diane, Paulson is all “mother knows best.” She doles out chocolate treats sparingly, carefully monitors Chloe’s schoolwork, and makes sure she takes her medications. As the secrets of the past emerge, she becomes increasingly intense, turning her into one of the great images of dark maternal love.

As Chloe, Allen is absolutely stunning in her feature film debut (IMDb lists only a 2014 short as her prior work). Limited in both the ability to use body language and long stretches with little or no dialogue, she allows her face to express her growing suspicions and fears. In the film’s climactic sequence, she manages to do this almost entirely with her eyes. This is a sharply etched performance, and we should be expecting to see far more of her in the future.

The taut script by director Aneesh Chaganty and collaborator Sev Ohanian, creators of the 2018 film “Searching,” doesn’t have a wasted moment. It gives viewers a chance to catch their collective breath after some harrowing sequences, but not for long. A sequence of Chloe trying to escape from her bedroom after her mother has locked her in is deceptively simple, and yet is as nervewracking as the most elaborate car chase in an action film.

Originally intended for theatrical release–surprisingly, for Mother’s Day–it was acquired by the streaming service Hulu. While we hope to return to movie theaters in 2021, for the moment we need to hunker down as much as possible as we get through the worst of the pandemic. “Run.” is a movie that would have left you wowed in the theater when the houselights came up. Instead, make it a movie night at home. And don’t forget to call your mother.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – A Rainy Day In New York

FILM REVIEWA RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK. With Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez, Jude Law, Cherry Jones. Written and directed by Woody Allen. Rated PG-13 for mature suggestive content, some drug use, smoking, language and partial nudity. 92 minutes.

Feckless abandon
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Surely the most innocuous movie ever to become a scandal, Woody Allen’s A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK is one of the filmmaker’s most frivolous confections, such a lightweight affair it feels in danger of floating away while you watch it. Shot in the summer of 2017 as part of a four-picture deal with Amazon Studios, the movie wrapped right around the same time the streaming service cancelled their red carpet premiere of Allen’s “Wonder Wheel,” citing new attention to decades-old allegations against the director in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Amazon ended up shelving “Rainy Day” indefinitely in the U.S., prompting a $68 million lawsuit by Allen for breach of contract that was settled out of court last November with the picture ultimately returned to the filmmaker.

In the interim, several cast members made a big show of denouncing their director, GQ Magazine going so far as to claim star Timothée Chalamet had “just ended Woody Allen’s career” after the actor expressed regrets on Instagram and donated his salary to charity. Similar renunciations followed from co-stars Rebecca Hall and Selena Gomez, with Allen’s former leading ladies Ellen Page and Greta Gerwig getting into the act as well. Kate Winslet recently threw her “Wonder Wheel” director under the bus while nosing around for a nomination for her upcoming “Ammonite,” signaling that “Woody Regrets” will now be a mandatory stop on the Oscar campaign publicity rounds. As a sanguine Allen notes in his delightful new memoir “Apropos Of Nothing,” not working with him has “become the thing to do–like everyone suddenly being into kale.”

“There are those who are comfortable in their certainty. I am not. I don’t know the truth,” actress Cherry Jones (who plays Chalamet’s mother in “Rainy Day”) told The New York Times. What fascinates me about all this is how little it took for the town to turn on Allen, considering how these accusations were fully investigated and found baseless by both The Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of the Yale/New Haven Hospital and the New York State Department of Social Services more than 25 years ago. No new information has come to light, the facts being exactly the same as they were in 1992, or even in the early 2010s when films like “Midnight In Paris” and “Blue Jasmine” were winning Academy Awards and scoring the biggest box office grosses of Allen’s career.

I have learned the hard way that it’s probably not worth picking fights with folks who have decided that they know more than the child psychologists and law enforcement officials who investigated the allegations, or those who wish to dismiss the words of Moses Farrow and never asked what an electric train set was doing in an attic crawlspace, anyway. Let them eat kale. Besides, we’re supposed to be talking about “A Rainy Day In New York” here, which for a while was only available to U.S. audiences as an in-flight option on American Airlines, and then briefly, bizarrely became the #1 movie in the world back in May when South Korean movie theaters reopened. The film’s strange journey has at last come to an end with a North American release from upstart distributor MPI Media Group, and after these past three years of posturing, nonsense, and high moral dudgeon, I find it hilariously ironic that I was able to rent it from Amazon.

Your tolerance level for Allen’s 48th feature will presumably be determined by your reaction to its lead character being named Gatsby Welles, an absurd affectation so wonderfully Woody-ish I believe it belongs in Allen’s awkward moniker hall of fame alongside such handles as Fielding Mellish and Ellis Moonsong. (To be fair, it makes more sense later in the film, given what we learn about his mother.) Frenetically played by an unmodulated young Chalamet, this supposedly contemporary college student is a wiseacre cardsharp who wears tweed sport-jackets and smokes cigarettes out of a plastic holder like John Barrymore. Gatsby goes to underground crap games and hangs out at hotel piano bars, crooning Chet Baker ballads. The character, like his creator, remains adamantly oblivious to any cultural happening post-1956.

His ditsy debutante girlfriend Ashleigh Enright (Elle Fanning) gets a chance to interview her favorite brooding, Bergman-esque film director (Liev Schreiber) in the big city, prompting a road trip from their rural, upstate college and a day-long comedy of errors and misadventures that could be easily have been avoided if only anybody knew how to text. Ashleigh soon finds herself bouncing all over town, in and out of uncomfortable situations with a cuckolded screenwriter (Jude Law) and a hunky matinee idol (Diego Luna), while Gatsby keeps getting stood up and kills time with his ex-girlfriend’s sardonic kid sister, played by an unexpectedly excellent Selena Gomez.

For fun I jotted down a list of topics discussed by these ostensible 21-year-olds, including but not limited to Yasser Arafat, Grace Kelly, “Gigi,” Sky Masterson, John Singer Sargent, aftershave, “White Heat,” Charlie Parker, Jane Greer, and Irving Berlin. Of course this has always been the case with Woody’s characters: his references get older and they stay the same age. But whereas in the past younger-ish actors like Scarlett Johansson and (especially) Jesse Eisenberg have been able to make his dialogue tics sound natural, Chalamet and Fanning appear to be reciting an alien language they learned phonetically, waving their arms and overselling the lines. It’s only Gomez who hangs back and underplays, putting a tart, frisky spin on the zingers. She even got a laugh out of me with the admittedly lame, “Your girlfriend’s from Arizona? What do you two talk about, cactus?”

As is the case with most late-period Allen pictures, “A Rainy Day In New York” is much better directed than written, showcasing some staggeringly beautiful work by the legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro that captures the warmth of spring sun-shower in all its erratic incandescence. There are cozy comforts to be found in the film’s classical merits, its attention to blocking and composition as much of a throwback as the dated references and old timey gags. (There’s even a character named Larry Lipschitz!) Watch the patience with which Woody waits to pay off a throwaway gag about Gatsby’s sister-in-law having a bad laugh, holding a beat or two extra for the kind of sublime timing that can’t be taught. The film’s flaws are all right there on the surface but its virtues run somewhere deeper. Like a lot of Allen’s recent movies, it’s infused with a melancholy longing for a lost era that we know never existed in the first place, yet yearn for all the same. I like it more than I probably should.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Over the past two decades, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – The Nest

FILM REVIEWTHE NESTWith Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell, Michael Culkin. Written and directed by Sean Durkin. Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality, nudity and teen partying. 107 minutes. Available on Demand.

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There’s a moment early on in THE NEST in which a party is being held for Rory O’Hara (Jude Law), a Brit who has been living in America but has returned to London in the 1980s to work for his old investment firm. His boss (Michael Culkin) swoops in on Rory’s wife Allison (Carrie Coon) to rescue her from being introduced to an incredibly boring couple. Watching this film, you’ll wish there was someone like that to rescue you.

The premise of the movie is that Rory has been working in New York but has arranged to go back to England, bringing along his reluctant wife and two children (Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell). He has rented a huge mansion for them to live in, and it seems like they’re living the life in the “greed is good” decade. However, it’s all a lie. Rory is a hustler who has succeeded on his charm and energy, but is so overextended he has to plead with his wife for pocket money.

What writer/director Sean Durkin – whose previous feature was the overrated critic’s darling “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (2011)–wants to show us is a failing marriage and its impact on the people around them. What he fails to do is give us any reason to care. Rory’s charm is all on the surface, and the lies come easily if he thinks he can snow the people around him. When he proposes moving back to London, his American wife doesn’t want to go, noting they have moved repeatedly over the last several years. He tells her that his old company wants him back. At that party welcoming him back, his boss reveals that Rory had called him, which comes as a complete surprise to Allison.

While she seems to be the victim, she hasn’t seemed to question things as long as times were good, and she was able to work with her beloved horses. It’s not until workers stop building stables on their grounds because they haven’t been paid that she gets really upset. Both of them go through the motions of parenting, but it’s clear that their teenage daughter and pre-teen son are hurting and directionless.

So why tell us this story? Durkin never really makes that clear. There are many dramas about failing marriages but they get that we need the characters to reveal something they’ve been suppressing (as in “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?”) or show us how they get through the pain and move on (as in last year’s “Marriage Story”). While there’s lots of pain and embarrassment here, there’s no real resolution, and it’s clear that the characters have learned nothing about why things have gone so wrong in their lives.

“The Nest” will no doubt appeal to some viewers who are not interested in plot or logic, but respond to a certain artsiness that flatters them as being savvy enough to “get” it. For the rest of us, though, this is “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” There isn’t any point, just nearly two hours of unpleasant people in unpleasant situations doing unpleasant things.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.