Tag Archives: Elisabeth Moss

Darling Companion

Beth is feeling a bit like a neglected wife; her husband Joseph is a workaholic surgeon and her kids are grown. So it’s kind of perfect timing when she finds an injured dog by the side of the road. Nursed back to health, the aptly named ‘Freeway’ becomes her loyal and constant companion. When Freeway’s vet marries Beth’s daughter, the whole family comes together for the happy occasion – until Joseph manages to lose the dog and suddenly the family is down one very important member.

Beth (Diane Keaton) refuses to leave until she’s searched every corner of the back woods where Freeway was last seen. Her sister-in-law (Dianne Wiest) chooses to stay by her side, as does her new beau (Richard Jenkins), and her son (Mark Duplass). Finally feeling the guilt of his inadequacy, Joseph (Kevin Kline) stays back too, and the search party is more like search couples therapy.

It’s co-written and directed by the fabulous Lawrence Kasdan so I wonder how on earth that name paired with this cast could have sailed past me. What was I doing in 2012 that I couldn’t make room for a little Diane Keaton in my life? And the thing is, who better to relate to her character than myself, a woman who would most assuredly go full Billy Madison should any of my dogs ever go missing.

Alas, this is the least successful of Kasdan’s films and it’s not just for the lack of light sabers. I get what he’s trying to do: there’s a fraying marriage, a freshly minted marriage, and new romances for both the young and not so young. It all revolves around this missing dog, but it’s a lot to handle for a film with such a sweet and simple premise and the tone is sometimes a little too “family movie” for my taste or perhaps anyone’s. But dogs have such an uncomplicated relationship with us, in comparison. They like to cuddle and to be fed. They are never not 110% bowled over to see you come, whether you’ve been away 5 minutes or 5 days. Kasdan was inspired to write the script after he adopted a dog himself, and promptly lost him.

This is Kasdan’s first indie film and the cast, featuring three Oscar winners and two more nominees, were so moved by the story they agreed to work for scale. Even if it wasn’t his most successful, Kasdan lists it as his most gratifying, and I suppose in a long and lustrous career, that’s worth something too.

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The Square

The-Square-movie-posterSometimes, I walk out of a movie and wonder why a director decided to insert a scene that didn’t seem to add anything to the film.  With The Square, I walked out wondering why the majority of the scenes had been included.  Even the film’s poster gets in on the act, blatantly photoshopping Elisabeth Moss into a scene in which she doesn’t appear.  That is a fitting allegory for her role in the film as well as for a lot of the movie’s scenes.  Moss didn’t need to be there in the poster picture but someone went to the effort of adding her anyway, for no obvious reason.  The same thing seems to have happened with many scenes in this film, the latest from Ruben Ostlund, who previously directed Force Majeure.

The Square centres around an obnoxious, entitled museum curator (Christian, played by Claes Bang) who makes more than a few mistakes in promoting his museum’s new exhibition and, on the side, searching for his stolen phone, wallet, and cufflinks.  The fact he sees himself as a pretty good guy only makes things worse for him and everyone he comes into contact with.  In between his missteps, we are treated to some truly bizarre scenes involving a human pretending to be an ape at a dinner party, a real ape acting as a third wheel at Moss’ character’s apartment, and a cheerleading performance by one of Christian’s kids, none of which advance the plot in any way, despite a lot of effort being put into staging and filming these scenes.  But to what end?  The Square repeatedly left me feeling like I had missed the point, but it happened so many times I had to conclude there was no point.

That is The Square: an overlong mess of ideas patched together into a two and a half hour long feature.  The movie starts well enough but doesn’t know where to go once it gets started, and certainly doesn’t know how to wrap up what it’s laid out.

The frustrating part is that many of the ideas in the film have the potential to make for good satire, but the movie can’t figure out how to unlock their potential or say anything meaningful, aside from pointing out how much idiocy and chaos can be created by a self-entitled boor, which we are all way too familiar with in our real lives right now.

All in all, The Square never amounts to much.  Just like its protagonist, it is aimless, clueless, and we’d be better off if it went away quietly.

The Free World

Mo (Boyd Holbrook) is recently released from prison where he served hard time for a crime he didn’t commit. Reintegration to the outside world is hard on him, and the local cops are even harder. His only friend is his boss at the animal shelter (Octavia Spencer), but she is at a loss to explain to him how this outside world has so few rules that a man can beat his dog to death without consequences.

thumbnail_24895One night he finds a woman (Elisabeth Moss) in the shelter, covered in blood. It turns out the two have a lot in common; an abusive marriage can feel an awful lot lot like jail. To keep her safe, he risks his own freedom to hide her, but his crappy apartment makes for a terrible hideout, and the two have to go on the run to stay ahead of the law. And you know what? It’s a pretty sucky world out there.

There’s a lot of comparisons to be drawn from the movie – the shelter’s cages like prison cells for bad dogs; Moss a puppy frightened of her owner. And it’s painful to admit that the ‘free world’ isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, that prisoners may be more predictable than random citizens.

Jason Lew’s screenplay is interesting because it leaves much unsaid and really forces the viewer to question what’s important. But leaving us in the dark is a bit alienating, and we don’t always engage with the characters as we should. The acting’s not the problem here, but the direction might be. The Free World sometimes feels like two different movies – strongest in the quiet parts, and tonally uneven in the more actiony sequences. I really liked how the movie started out, I liked this portrait of a man not knowing his place outside of a prison cell, not knowing who he is outside of the system, and not really being allowed the room to breathe and discover. The Free World is cynical. More cynical than a wrongly convicted born-again-Muslim who sleeps best in the confines of a closet. It’s a toughie.

Listen Up, Philip

I recently watched Listen Up, Philip because for some odd reason I find Jason Schwartzman irresistible. Not that I like him. Upon reflection, I often find him quite intolerable, but still irresistible. It’s probably some positive reinforcement from his nearly ubiquitous presence in Wes Anderson movies, which I tend to love, as a rule. But outside of the Anderson oeuvre, I find Schwartzman to be a lot less easy to swallow. Anderson allows us to laugh at the pompous ass. In everything else, he’s just a pompous ass. And if an actor plays a pompous ass in 37 film and television credits to date (roughly), then maybe he’s not playing one, maybe he just is one.

And yet, I hardly ever miss a Jason Schwartzman film. Just in case, I guess. In case it’s secretly a Wes Anderson film? In case Bill Murray will suddenly pop out of his breast pocket, waving a polka-dotted pocket square? In case he loses his hipster facial hair and there’s no one else there to notice it? I really don’t know why, but I’ve observed this weird tendency in myself, so there it is.

Hence, Listen Up, Philip, which I managed to like despite itself. Because it feels like the kind of movie that defies you to not like it. It wants you to turn your nose up at it. It’s too cool for approval. There’s a great review of it over at Epileptic Moondancer if you care to check it out. As for myself, I’m going to discuss some particular traits that I found to be of note from director Alex Ross Perry

  1. Unlikable characters. Holy unlikable in this case. It’s a huge risk to present a story with a protagonist the audience won’t like, because that’s how we’re supposed to connect with the jason-schwartzman-quote-620story. We’re supposed to identify a bit of ourselves in the hero and experience the film through his or her eyes. If it becomes personal for us, then we care about the outcome, and we are engaged. But a main character who is thoroughly unlikable is a bit of a problem. Philip is neurotic and selfish and ungenerous and conceited: not the kind of guy you’d want to be stuck next to at a dinner party, so why willingly listen to him whine throughout a two hour movie? There’d better be a compelling reason. I’m thinking of movies like A Clockwork Orange, and Wolf of Wallstreet, and Mommy, where I loathed the main characters but still felt the stories were worth telling. But some people are totally turned off by characters they despise. Despicable as he is, Philip does teach us a thing or two about ‘success’ and ‘achievement’ and ‘asshats wallowing in their own shite’.
  2. Heavy handed narration. I didn’t enjoy the narration in this movie. I tried to give it a chance because Philip is a writer and I felt that perhaps this was clever and meta if only I could get over myself. I never did. And it reminded me of other times I felt the narration got in the way. The Age of Adaline is probably freshest in my mind. And The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, if you can think that far back (2007 – ew). Both times I’d say that the narration lent nothing to our understanding and only took us out of magic of the movie. And we’re supposed to get lost in the story, aren’t we? With such abrupt narration we can be jerked right out of our reverie, and that’s a harsh reminder. But now that I’m thinking of it, there are times when I do like me some narration. Without mentioning Wes Anderson again, I’ll go with Ron Howard’s brilliant narration of Arrested Development. His little asides feel like fun thought bubbles or hilarious foot notes, and I always enjoy them. They feel organic, and enhance my enjoyment. And if you remember the opening sequence of Amelie – also some brilliant narration that sets a breathy tone for the movie. So that’s the difference. If a movie is relying on narration because the director needs to tell me what he has failed to show me, then narration bad. If the narration is like an elbow in the ribs to say, if you liked that, then get a load of this, then count me in.
  3. Rotating protagonists. Philip is the main character in the first portion of the movie, but then we shift, abruptly, to the girlfriend he’s left behind, Ashley, played rather discreetly by Elisabeth Moss. Up until the switch, Ashley feels like a pretty negligible piece of the story. AtListen-Up-Philip the end of the film, she still feels this way. Her portion of the story is not very revealing, and almost completely severs us from the narrative that Philip’s been following. Perhaps it was just to give us a little space to breathe between all of Philip’s self-loathing and caterwauling, but I found it jarring. Lots of movies move deftly between characters, sometimes even between settings or between eras, but still manage to make you feel like it’s all part of a whole. This one just felt a bit broken to me. Philip must not be a very good writer if he can’t even maintain the point of view in his own story. But it does recast him as a pitiable character, so maybe this shift in focus serves to connect with him in some small way. The other interesting thing is that the narration is done by the same guy in both sequences. So who’s narration is this? The narrator does seem to side with Philip at one point, even though Philip is clearly the arse, and that can’t be coincidence. But what kind of device is this narration being filtered through? We never know, but are left to decide for ourselves.

So there you have it. I can’t tell you if this movie is good or bad, because it’s interesting and complex and probably that most awful of things – post-modern. You can decide for yourselves if this movies make you want to tear your hair out, or grab a bottle of pinot to discuss, or is to be avoided altogether. I must say that I do like a movie that takes chances, and that makes me think and evaluate why I’m having the feelings that I’m having. Is not liking a character, or a narrative tone, or a story arc, the same as not liking the movie? And is not liking the movie the same as it being bad?

Holy fuck.

The Avengers are playing somewhere, right?

 

 

 

 

 

The One I Love

loveOn the brink of separation, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are referred by their therapist to an idyllic vacation house for a weekend getaway in an attempt to reconnect and save their marriage. What begins as playful and romantic soon becomes surreal. 

And at first this weird, creepy little twist is interesting. What does it mean? What are the rules? How does this affect the relationship? But since the movie lacks the balls to actually answer or even address any of these questions, you might just find yourself losing steam because the encounter is monotonous by its very nature.

I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into with this movie. I saw Mark Duplass and hit play (LOVE him in the The League!). Elisabeth Moss? Bonus. Ted Danson? Weird, but okay. I’ll buy it. Duplass and Moss give great performances, luckily, and the little relationship microcosm can be explored almost without limit – but to what end? I love the questions the movies seems to ask of us – Can happiness be sustained long-term? Do we marry a perfect but ultimately false partner and then feel let down when reality is revealed over due course? – but though this movie has potential and great bones, those bones lack meat. I wanted something I could sink my teeth into and ended up unsatisfied.