Tag Archives: father son movies

Kodachrome

Matt is an A&R guy at a music label but he doesn’t have many As in his R, so he’s on his last legs. It’s a particularly bad time for his dad to be dying, but Ben has never been a thoughtful father, so why start now? Ben’s nurse\assistant insists that the liver cancer is determined to kill him, and Ben’s last wish is that his son drive him to Kansas to have some rolls of film developed. So, in the last days of kodachrome, Matt (Jason Sudeikis) and Ben (Ed Harris) hit the open road in an “analog” car – just a desperate man, his estranged father, and the nurse (Elizabeth Olsen) who judges him for it. Fun times!

kodachrome

I have a real problem with movies about shitty fathers seeking redemption when the timing’s convenient, and I bet you can guess why. Good thing the acting’s real solid, or else my barf mechanisms would have been unforgivably activated. Instead they went for my tear ducts, but they did not succeed. And Bell commercials succeed, for chocolate’s sake! It is NOT that hard. But aside from the Harris-Sudeikis team, this movie was so paint by numbers I’m like 98% certain Bob Ross rolled over in his grave. And I’m only 30% certain he’s dead! [I just Googled it – he is]

Anyway, I sort of thought I’d like this film but never got there. Turns out, I’m not sentimental about obsolete photography or deadbeat dads. It’s the movie version of a guy in a fedora: trying too damn hard. Trying too hard to be a ‘festival favourite’. Instead it’s just a Netflix nonevent with good intentions and zero originality. I haven’t quite reached my word count so doobidy boobidy dunk. Kodachrome’s got no junk in its trunk. The end: a review by Jay.

 

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Walking Out

David doesn’t see much of his father, Cal, and he’s not exactly impressed to find out that their forced bonding time will be away from the city, spent in cold and vast Montana, hunting. Cal could use his once-a-year visit to get to know his teenage son, find out what he likes and what he’s good at, but instead he uses the precious time to impose his own interests on the kid. I guess that’s the temptation when you have kids, you want to make them in your own image – and it’s not just fathers, mothers do it too. Sometimes even grandparents. And poor David – he so desperate for his dad’s attention. It can be really hard on a kid to be bent into someone else’s hopes and dreams, but it’s rarely as dangerous as it turns out to be for Cal and David, who set out hunting for big game but end up being hunted themselves.

Basically, when the poop makes physical contact with an oscillating air current distribution device, no one’s surprised, and you might even think Cal (Matt Bomer, not entirely believable) deserves it, a little. Walking Out isn’t exactly the father-son bonding walking-out_fmovie it sets itself up to be, but there’s something to be said for intimacy in adversity. And campfire spooning. And eating bear sushi. There’s no denying that this movie is every single mother’s worst nightmare, and I’m 100% certain that when David’s mom put him on a plane to Montana, this is exactly the worst case scenario she envisioned. This movie may inspire adjustments to custody arrangements like nobody’s business, but it’s quite beautifully filmed, and edited to wring masculine, jerky-scented tears from the macho men who watch it.

And this is why it’s important to have representation in all levels of film making, including criticism. Which is not to say that a woman wouldn’t find this film enjoyable, only that I watched it with very different eyes. Eyes that couldn’t praise a father for having instilled survival tips in his son when that father is the reason they’re in such grave and mortal circumstances in the first place. I couldn’t forgive Cal for foisting on his own son the very thing that drove a wedge between him and his father (Bill Pullman).

Themes as old as time, with cinematography (by Todd McMullen) as fresh as the powder framed within it. This movie does a lot of things right, but I can’t excuse the toxic masculinity on display.

 

SXSW: You Can Choose Your Family

I chose this movie because: Jim Gaffigan. God I love him. He’s a stand-up comic whose act for many years concentrated on his 5-kid, 7-person family living in a cramped 2-bedroom apartment in New York City. He’s a family man and a good Catholic whose only sin is gluttony. I shouldn’t like him or relate to him, but he’s a genuinely funny guy, and I can never get enough (he’s got some comedy specials on Netflix and a couple of books at your local library and commercials for mini vans and KFC). So when I heard he was in a movie screening at SXSW, I was on board, no questions asked.

In You Can Choose Your Family, he plays Frank, a father and husband who is often absent, travelling on business. Once high school sweethearts, his wife (Anna Gunn) feels like she hardly knows him anymore, and his son Philip (Logan Miller) feels like his father MV5BMTU3NzI1NTc2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzQ1MTc3NDM@._V1_has never known him. Philip and his father are always clashing, and Philip can’t wait to get far, far away from his family when he goes to NYU next year. But for now he’s trapped in his father’s house, living by the rules that Frank isn’t even there to enforce. So when Frank flies to Japan on business, Philip thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to go blow off some spring break steam. But what he finds there is not what he bargained for: it’s his dad…and his dad’s second family. Oh, fudge.

So of course Philip blackmails him for all he’s worth. But now that there’s a crack in the secret…well, cracks always get bigger, don’t they? Director Miranda Bailey bills this as a comedy, and the Jim Gaffigan casting would seem to back that up, but this is a pretty unfunny situation that I suppose we’d better laugh at, because the other option is unthinkable. Bailey admits that she’s got some daddy issues to work through, and really, who doesn’t, but laughing at them kept me squirming, and huffing, and burying my head in my hands. If you really stop and think about how you’d feel – as either the child or the spouse – having your relationship and in fact your entire life be usurped by replacements – well, that’s a horrible feeling. And horrible feelings can only exist for so long on film before we’re obligated to break them up with some laughs. Is this a comedy? I wouldn’t go that far. But it was an interesting, sometimes funny, film that will make you appreciate the family you do have, whatever that is.

 

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

The Meyerowitz family is fractured. Danny (Adam Sandler) is a self-described ‘extremely good parker’ with little else on the horizon. A loving dad and devoted house husband, his life is in transition now that he and his wife are separating and his only daughter is off to college. Moving in with his estranged father Harold (Dustin Hoffman) seems like an opportunity to get to know him, except it turns out that feeling’s not mutual.

Harold abandoned Danny and daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) in favour of a new family when they were quite young. He’s never acted as a real father to them and even now he’s mostly only interested in what they can do for him. Not to mention the complicating factor of his alcoholic wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) who MV5BN2M5YzA2ODAtOTNmMi00MGYyLWIxYWYtY2M2NmE4ZGE1ODQ1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjAwODA4Mw@@._V1_inserts herself into cramped dynamics like she’s determined to put the Wicked back into Step Mother. Both throw out the red carpet when favoured son Matthew (Ben Stiller) makes a reluctant appearance. Harold has fostered a competitive streak between his children by different mothers but they otherwise aren’t close. So when their father’s life and career necessitate them pulling together, it’s a little awkward. Actually, it’s extremely awkward and kind of heart breaking. Because they aren’t bad people, they’ve just been starved of their father’s love and have no idea how to act like a family now that there’s no real chance that things will ever be different.

This being a Noah Baumbach work, the comedy isn’t broad, but it is damn funny. When I finished it (a Netflix original) I immediately wanted to restart it, just to catch all the amazing little asides and offhand jokes that are so casually but expertly tossed out.

Although Harold is a self-absorbed contrarian, he’s not quite despicable in the hands of Dustin Hoffman and his grizzled white beard. Adam Sandler gives a nuanced performance that’ll make you believe in him as an actor once again – and it’s been a good long while since that’s been true. Actually, there are loads of big names, some in pretty small roles, but everyone is kind of spectacular in this. Having recently had no patience for Golden Exits at the New Hampshire Film Festival, I wondered if the our film lexicon was finally full to bursting with movies about privileged white people whining about their lives. But the family dysfunction in The Meyerowitz Stories feels relatable and authentic and the characters are trying too hard to be decent people in the face of it all: I kind of loved it. It’s amazing how many years later childhood resentments and jealousies can bubble to the surface, but this is the kind of movie that makes us all feel “Same” in one way or another, and it just feels good and cathartic that we aren’t alone.

 

 

West of Sunshine

A deadbeat dad picks up his son to spend the day. Scratch that: the deadbeat dad forgets to pick up the son, gets an irate phone call from his ex, and son reluctantly goes with him with dad finally shows up.

Of course, this day which must now be spent with his young son is also the day on which Jim has promised to pay back a loan shark. Jim has problems with dogs and casinos and gambling all his family’s money away. He’s not a great guy. And now he’s got to watch 35654-west_of_sunshine_1____photo_credit_thom_neal-h_2017Alex while also evading violent criminals. Instead of getting his son to safety, he drags him into all kinds of terrible scenarios which they often escape by the skin of their teeth. The thing about crazy loan sharks is that they don’t really allow for excuses. They don’t make special allowances for a child. It’s pretty clear that Jim doesn’t really rearrange his life for his son either. So that’s awesome.

Things don’t go well, and Jim gets increasingly desperate. Of course, I believed that things still went better than he had any right for them to. I wanted to see this guy crushed. The script seems to believe Jim is undergoing some sort of growth but I was just so steaming mad at the risk he took with his kid, the constant harm he dangled him in front of, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t forgive the guy.

Little Alex seems to lean toward forgiveness, and that made me mad too. Mad on behalf of all the single mothers who work so hard to provide a loving and stable life for their kids only to have their deadbeat exes waltz in when it’s convenient for them and fuck shit up. Not all dads are crap, but far too many are. They act like they can also divorce their kids. And the kids will still want to adore their fathers, because he’s dad, and isn’t he awesome? Meanwhile mom gets all the flack. Because life isn’t fair. This movie doesn’t bother to really point any of this out, but it’s my honest reaction to it and I never warmed to the film, or to the dad who never redeemed himself in my eyes. I am slightly endeared by the fact that Jim is played by Damian Hill and Alex is played by his real-life stepson, Ty Perham, a really cute kid with apparently no prior acting experience. I hope they had more fun making the film than I did watching it.

Born To Dance

The ImagineNative Film Festival celebrates Canadian and international Indigenous filmmakers and artistic expressions. Tammy Davis is the film maker in question today. Of Maori descent, he identifies with Ngati Rangi and Atihaunui a Paparangi. The Maoris are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. They have a rich mythology, a knack for horticulture, a strong sense of warrior culture, and yes, a generous history with the performing arts.

Fitting then that Davis makes his feature-length directorial debut with Born 12620_00_wide_key_jpgTo Dance. The premise of Born To Dance is an overfamiliar coming of age tale. Tu is a young man born to dance. His disapproving father forbids it. Tu is perhaps a couple of years older than we’re used to in this role because instead of being threatened with military school, he’s threatened with the military, full stop. If Tu doesn’t get his act together during the summer post-high school graduation, the army awaits him. It occurs to me as I write this that Born To Dance might be Queen of Katwe in disguise, only replace the chess with hip hop, and the slums of Uganda for low-income housing in Auckland.

Where Born To Dance distinguishes itself, much like Queen of Katwe, is with its culture and setting. Tu is notably from the “wrong side of the tracks”, whether or not there are actual tracks in southern Auckland. Tu is played by first-time actor\championship dancer Tia-Taharoa Maipi, himself a young Maori man who danced his way out of a small town not unlike the character arc we see in the film. He helps give the film a flavour of authenticity. Compared to a well-off rival dance crew from the North Shore, Tu explains that “Dance is what they do; dance is who we are.”

In the expected dance-off at the end, where the two rival crews inevitably face 1233100_born-to-danceoff, director Davis gives the performers time and space to really show off their talent. This is a dance movie after all, and the moves are there to prove it. Choreographed by the legendary Parris Goebel, Born To Dance is the real deal. The movie’s smaller budget means there aren’t a lot of wires or camera tricks at play, just real dancers doing their thing. P-Money provides a stellar soundtrack with tracks that embody kiwi culture.

Like most of you, I’m familiar with New Zealand film because of Taika Waititi’s insane comedies, and the fringey-funny horrors the country is known for. Born to Dance presents another side of what New Zealand has to offer, and I’d like to see more like it, only next time without the insufferably clichéd bits. Just sayin.

 

 

This post first appeared at Cinema Axis.

Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic, the movie and the man, asks big questions, gives brutal answers, and leaves you with deep thoughts for analysis.

Captain Fantastic, played with vigour by Viggo Mortensen, is a man raising 6 kids in the woods like a pack of wild coyotes. They’re off the grid. They hunt web1_160715_edh_captfantastic_m-1024x682and grow food, read meaty novels by campfire light, and train their bodies strenuously, sometimes dangerously. Each kid has a unique, made-up name so they’ll be the “one and only” in the world. It sounds heavenly or lonely, depending on your perspective. Not all the kids are happy. Not all the parents are happy either, although so far I’ve only mentioned Captain Dad. Mom, as it turns out, is off in a mental health facility, and has been away from the family for several months before they learn she’s committed suicide.

Her death is the catalyst for the family returning to civilization to attend her funeral.

Viggo Mortensen is fantastic, although not always likeable. I’ve seen enough documentaries to know that raising a family off-grid, though idealistic, is not always so great for the kids. In Surf Wise, a doctor raises his kids on the beach, establishing a surf school. He turns out some great athletes, but the kids are otherwise totally unprepared for real life. Without education or even identification, it’s tough for them to rejoin the ‘real world.’ In The Wolfpack, a bunch of kids are kept pent up in a New York apartment. They develop rich inner lives and lots of art, but are totally unaware of what real life entails. In Captain Fantastic, the kids are book-smart but lacking in experience. They don’t know how to interact with the modern world, so unless all of them are prepared to continue subsistence living, and form an incestuous colony, it’s not really a sustainable lifestyle. And the kids are growing resentful.

Captain Fantastic raises a lot of interesting questions about parenting. Should a parent’s decisions always be respected? Are anti-capitalist, anti-movies_captainfantasticestablishment values best addressed by dropping out of society? How much freedom is too much freedom for children? And what kind of risk is acceptable? And do children need to sometimes be shielded from difficult or painful concepts, or is complete honesty always the best policy?

This film is quite funny in parts, and quite serious in others. And by serious I mean I cried a small ocean’s worth of salty tears. The kid actors are mercifully good, and Mortensen is generous with them in their shared scenes. Writer-director Matt Ross delivers some pretty satisfying emotional release, and a captivating twinning of joy and sorrow. Unfortunately the script dips a bit in its final acts, letting Captain Fantastic off a little easily, but it’s already a philosophical triumph by that point, a good movie that’s actually about something.

 

Jonathan

This German film by writer-director Piotr Lewandowski is beautifully shot with lush cinematography; you won’t believe it’s his first feature.

The theme is surprisingly mature as well. Jonathan (Jannis Niewöhner) is stuck at home working on the farm and caring for his dying father (Andre Hennicke). The relationship is jonathan-filmstrained. There are whiffs of resentment. Luckily Jonathan has his father’s beautiful young nurse (Julia Koschitz) to distract him, but as the film lurches shakily through its middle third, Jonathan realizes that time is running out for his father and if the family secrets are to be unlocked, it’s now or never.

This movie is slow, sometimes maddeningly so. And the men in question are fairly reticent, so there’s a lot of sun-dappled quiet reflection, and a few close-up shots of bugs for good measure. The visual richness can contrast nicely against the jagged and raw emotions. These are the best of times and worst of times for young Jonathan. He’s discovering himself while losing his father. His sexual energy burns up his grief. The camera lingers on his angular body. This is the sexiest movie about terminal cancer you’re ever likely to see.

Secrets are poisonous, and they leave a large wake of destruction. Cancer is perhaps not the most devastating thing to happen to Jonathan’s family. And despite him being the titular character, this story is not Jonathan’s alone. He and his father both have truths to tell – if only they can find the words, and the courage.

 

 

Tribeca: Dean

Demetri Martin is one of my all-time favourite comedians so when I saw his directorial debut, Dean, was premiering at Tribeca, of course I snatched up a couple of tickets, and it was only when that initial adrenaline rush had dissipated a bit that I started to wonder how the hell his comedy would possibly translate into film.

Demetri Martin is a comedic genius, but his stand-up is mostly one-liners, funny drawings, and some jokes set to an acoustic guitar, and sometimes his harmonica for good measure. Not remotely narrative. And this movie didn’t look much like a comedy anyway – the blurb mentioned death, grief, and existential angst.dean-original-1

Dean (Demetri Martin, of course) has recently lost his mother. He and his father (Kevin Kline) are grieving very differently, and growing slightly apart because of it. His dad is ready to sell the family home but Dean can’t imagine the loss of the place where his mother was last alive, and happy; it’s full of good memories for Dean, but sad memories for his dad. Naturally, instead of sticking around to help with the transition, Dean flees to L.A. ostensibly for business, but we know differently. And he finds lots of distractions in California but starts to learn that he’s not the only walking wounded.

Does Demetri Martin pull it off? Yes, he does. Surprisingly well, as both actor and director. Dean is an illustrator, so not only do Martin’s drawings fit in, they illuminate his inner thoughts. His trademark one-liners are there too but they never feel slotted in. They either feel organic or they’ve been left on the cutting room floor – if you know his stand-up at all, you can’t help but feel that Martin has wisely shown restraint here. And there are visual gags, very subtle, but they add a layer that knock down the seriousness just a tad (like you never doubt how genuinely bereft Kevin Kline is, but you keep a half-smile for his terrible dad jeans). For a movie primarily about loss, you’ll laugh out loud an awful lot.

The first and maybe only misstep I felt was when he arrives in L.A. and meets his love interest, played by Gillian Jacobs. Gillian Jacobs is not really a problem, except that I know her through the Judd Apatow-produced Netflix series, Love (in which she co-stars with Paul Rust, the dude who cowrote the new Pee-wee Herman movie). Sean and I watched the whole sea8244bc3f1c65436son even though we detested both leads. Not the actors, per se, but the characters are just awful human beings and it’s hard to forgive the actors for that. So I’m carrying around this chip on my shoulder for Gillian Jacobs and was not super happy to bump into her in this movie. But clever Demetri Martin won me over by writing a love interest for Dean who did not exist solely for his pursuit. She had back story. She had depth. She was a person. This sounds weird, I’ll grant you that, but so often in movies the love interest exists solely to be adored and consumed and nothing else. She has no job or apartment or opinions. Gillian Jacobs had scenes without Demetri Martin. She was independent of his lust. It was refreshing even if it did make me confront my hostility toward the bitch from Love.

Eventually Dean returns to New York, to his widowed (widowered?) father and the ghost of his mother. Demetri Martin lost his own father 20 years ago, so he knows grief, but he didn’t quite know how to approach the father-son relationship between two grown men. If he struggled with the relationship on paper, it doesn’t show on screen. The moments of  quiet reflection between them are some of the film’s most satisfying.

I enjoyed this film very much and it turns out I wasn’t the only one – it won Best Narrative Feature at Tribeca from a jury including Tangerine’s Mya Taylor and funny lady Jennifer Westfeldt, who commented: “We have had the great privilege of seeing ten accomplished and ambitious films over the last seven days here at Tribeca. But we all fell in love with this film. It manages the near impossible task of breathing new life into a well-worn genre, balancing humor and pathos with an incredibly deft touch, and offering a unique perspective on the way we process loss.” Even more excitingly, it was bought! CBS films picked it up, which means this little indie will soon be making its way to a theatre near you.

 

 

 

Over the Top

Strange things are happening lately.  Sylvester Stallone won a Golden Globe and is nominated for an Oscar.  I’ve made Jay return to George Lucas’ glory days and watch the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time, which is something she swore would never happen.  And since these sorts of things come in threes, I like my chances of convincing Jay to watch Over the Top, whiover the topch I just found out is on Netflix.  Especially because Jay is still on oxycontin recovering from her back surgery.

Over the Top is a hidden gem in the same way as a lump of coal.  It was a very 80s attempt to reboot Rocky: take Stallone, put him in another salt-of-the-earth role where his muscles do the talking, give him a wholesome never-quit attitude, and add in Robert Loggia as the villain for good measure.  The ingredients are all here but this movie is absolutely awful.  So awful I can’t help but love it.

First, Robert Loggia.  This is exactly how I feel when I see him in anything.

He was the best (RIP, Mr. Loggia) and he really chews the scenery here.  Which is fortunate because in Over the Top, Stallone shows absolutely no charisma, the arm-wrestling bad guy is the most boring villain you could think of, and the kid Stallone is fighting for is so annoying, spoiled and entitled that you think all the way through that Stallone would gladly take $500,000 to never have to see him again.

over-the-top-poster

Second, trying to get us to cheer for Stallone’s down-on-his-luck arm wrestler is so misguided it hurts.  Is there even such a thing as an up-on-his-luck arm wrestler?  Are any of these guys in good financial standing?  I don’t know how legitimate the World Armwrestling League is, but the champion only gets $20,000.  So that was probably like $10,000 in 1987 dollars.  If you’re driving a semi across the country like Stallone does in Over the Top, I guess you can save money by sleeping in the cab, but how much are you left with at the end of the day even if you are good/lucky enough to win?  Just one more reason you wonder why Stallone wouldn’t take the $500,000 [SPOILER ALERT] rather than selling his truck (HIS ONLY SOURCE OF INCOME) so he can pull a Pete Rose and bet on himself to win the contest [END SPOILERS].  See how much you are going to love this movie?

Third, the music is the worst thing imaginable.  Any song that was cheesy to make the cut for Rocky IV can probably be found on Over the Top’s soundtrack.  No Easy Way Out is literally too good a song to be in this movie.  I didn’t think that was even possible but it’s true.  The featured ballad is a Kenny Loggins wuss rock gem, and the soundtrack also features songs from Sammy Hagar, Eddie Money and Asia.  It is probably the perfect music to arm wrestle to, if you have the urge.  And after watching Stallone [SPOILER ALERT] rock his way to victory [END SPOILERS], I predict that you are going to have that urge.

I give Over the Top a score of one man against the world out of the world.  But since the one man is 2016 Golden Globe winner and 2016 Academy Award nominee Sylvester Stallone, that’s actually a very good score.