Tag Archives: Melissa Leo

Furlough

It’s a bad time for corrections officer Nicole Stevens (Tessa Thompson) to get away. It’s always a bad time. She lives with her mother (Whoopi Goldberg) and cares for her round the clock when she’s not at work. But go away she must. A prisoner’s mother is dying and Joan (Melissa Leo) has a 36 hour death bed visitation furlough coming – supervised by poor, beleaguered Officer Stevens.

C.O. Stevens is distracted, and Joan is a master manipulator, determined to squeeze every MV5BZmJhOGNiZWMtNmVhYi00YmJhLTkzMzEtZDEwNjRjMDg4NjcwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_last drop out of this respite. The trains and buses upon which they rely are predictably unpredictable, and Stevens is just a little too trusting, a little too good-hearted. Joan does not have this problem.

You watch this movie with dread, knowing something is going to happen, something bad, and you almost don’t want it to. Despite Joan’s self-centered assholeness, you kind of buy into this ultimate odd-couple road trip. It will be sad to see it end.

Tessa Thompson is all kinds of wonderful. She’s overwhelmed by the assignment but too dutiful to refuse. She’s a caretaker who wants to see the best in everyone. Joan has lived a hard life, the details of which are only hinted at. We don’t know how long she’s been locked up, but she sucks in fresh air like it’s in limited supply, so I believe it has been a while. She’s shifty and nervy and she pushes Stevens’ buttons. She pushes MY buttons. And yet Leo gives her just enough charm that we can’t quite write her off. Whoopi has a smallish role but it’s kind of great to see her on screen.

Director Laurie Collyer knows she’s got us hooked based on the cast alone, and the movie doesn’t quite live up to its promise. It feels slight. It does a gender flip and a race flip but still winds up feeling less than 48 Hrs. Leo isn’t really up for the over-the-top comedy, and the movie fails to shift gears to accommodate dramatic moments. It’s a good try that doesn’t quite pan out. For me, it’s totally worth it to bask in Thompson’s radiance for an hour and a half, and since it’s on Netflix, there’s not much to lose.

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SXSW: Unlovable

Joy is on the brink of total disaster. After a failed suicide attempt, she finally admits that the disease she doesn’t 100% believe she has maybe needs to be treated: she’s a sex and love addict. So she joins a group and gets a sponsor. But restarting her life isn’t easy. She’s just lost her boyfriend and her job and her apartment. These are the kinds of circumstances that often lead her straight back into the arms of her addiction.

Luckily her new sponsor Maddie offers her her grandma’s guest house. “Just don’t bother the caretaker” she warns – so of course Joy’s first stop is to bother the grandmother’s caretaker, who is Maddie’s weird, reclusive brother, Jim.

Maddie (Melissa Leo) is of course a recovering sex and love addict herself and Jim (John Hawkes) has his own issues. [My issue is: with these actors both in their very late 50’s, how on earth do they have a living grandparent?] Throwing Joy, who is a bowl of mixed nuts what with her quirky, cheerful, suicidal, hopeless personality into the blender – well, it makes for a smoothie with a kick, that’s for sure.

Joy (Charlene deGuzman) suffers her share of ups and downs – lots of perogies and orgies – but for all the “love” and all the sex, she doesn’t really begin to understand true intimacy until she and Jim bond over music and start a friendship, and a band, not necessarily in that order.

Addiction is not a disease that is “cured” but one that is managed, very carefully, and with lots of effort. It’s sort of a relief to see a “nice girl” felled by addictions – truly, they don’t discriminate – and it’s good to see representation both good and bad on the big screen. Joy perhaps doesn’t look like she fits the common mold, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find the pain that she’s been hiding behind cat tshirts and loud prints for years. And support systems are key in maintaining a healthy life, but they don’t always come for where we’d expect. Each character in Unlovable has something to give, but also a reason for wanting to hold back.

At one point Maddie says “We get what we think we deserve” and I’ve said the same often myself. We let people treat us terribly when we think we’re worthless. Unlovable is about finding yourself lovable and worthy of love, and learning a way to give that love to yourself.

SXSW: The Most Hated Woman In America

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was an activist. For atheism. Perhaps you remember her? She was reviled by some and praised by others, I suppose depending on which side of god’s fence you sit on, if you believe there’s a fence, and whether you believe other people have the right to picket that fence. She took pride in being a nonconformist; it suited her already abrasive personality. When she was unable to defect to the state atheist USSR (they wouldn’t have her), she moved in instead with her mother in, and took on the Baltimore public school system. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and led to prayer being banned in schools. Hate mail sometimes contained actual shit but praise mail sometimes contained cheques. Her penchant for nonconformism led to “creative accounting” with her so-called non-profit.

large_MHWA-posterAnyway. This movie is NOT the story of Madalyn’s gleeful adoption of a derisive nickname given to her by Life magazine on its front page (“The Most Hated Woman in America”). No, this film instead focuses on that time in 1995 when Madalyn (Melissa Leo) was kidnapped from her own home, along with her son (Michael Chernus) and granddaughter (Juno Temple) by the likes of Josh Lucas and Rory Cochrane. A friend of the family has trouble convincing anyone that a crime has occurred, and only a reluctant journalist (Adam Scott) pursues their disappearance.

O’Hair was clearly a complicated individual but this film is not the best gauge. Narratively it’s full of jumping beans, skipping around like it can’t find an interesting thread even though actually any thread would have been fascinating if only the film had the courage to stick with it. Melissa Leo and cast are able enough; Leo serves this prickly character rather perfectly but the rest are more or less wasted. This film only manages to scrape the tip of an ice berg, story-wise, but if you’re surfing Netflix looking for some true (ish) crime and an Oscar-winning barbed tongue, you could do worse.

TIFF: Snowden

I feel much better now. If you read my Amanda Knox review, you may remember that I was close to TIFF burnout last night. Well,  I did what I hate doing: I made the tough choice of skipping my Midnight Madness movie last night and finally got some good sleep. Nothing like watching four more movies to make an unsettling documentary but a distant memory. I’m excited about TIFF again.

Seeing Oliver Stone take the stage to introduce Snowden (which I’ve been dying to see) didn’t hurt. Stone hasn’t made a particularly good movie in awhile and, come to think of it, has never really made a film that I love, but seeing him at TIFF still feels like a big deal. And, thankfully, my concerns about whether or not he could handle this tricky material were unnecessary.

I mean, it’s not perfect. It tries to do way too much and is about 20 minutes longer than it really should be. But it tells and/or speculates about the story that I felt 2014’s Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour missed out on. It tells us about Snowden the man. Wonderfully played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Snowden is easy to root for and easy to relate to. I’d even argue that Stone’s film does a better job of  making the case that all of us should care about illegal NSA surveillance. Even if we feel we have nothing to hide.

Of course, this isn’t a documentary and it’s easier to inspire outrage in a dramatization of events. Snowden isn’t a substitution for Citizenfour, which is an important documentary that everyone should see. It is, however, an interesting and worthy companion piece that will likely make you appreciate Snowden’s sacrifice even more and think twice about getting changed in front of your laptop.

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

Henry (Robin Williams) is angry. Crazy angry. Sitting in his car he can think of no better way to pass the time than ranting. Henry hates a lot of things. Henry rants away his commute until something he can REALLY get angry about happens – he hits a cab. Then he really unleashes.

hero_AngriestManinBrooklyn-2014-1A precautionary trip to the hospital reveals a problem that his doctor hadn’t told him about yet: brain aneurysm. Yikes. But his usual doctor’s out on vacation so Dr. Sharon (Mila Kunis) fills in, but she’s not exactly having a great day either. How bad is this brain aneurysm? It’s pretty bad. Like, 90 minutes to live bad.

What would you do if you had 90 minutes left to live? For most of us, it would be squeezing the last drops out of joy out of life, phoning loved ones, making sure people know how we feel. For Henry, who has destroyed his marriage and is estranged from his son, this is about to be a difficult 90 minutes.

It’s an interesting concept that fails in execution. I never believed Henry. Henry’s anger was out of control and over the top. Robin Williams does a untitledterrific stand-up rant so I know he’s capable of playing a deeply disturbed individual. However, ever time Henry got going, I was always expecting it to end up somewhere funny. It was just too much to be taken straight. The writing is really weak – Henry’s anger just doesn’t seem genuine. Tonally, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn flops around like a fish out of water, gasping for a last breath.

It turns out that Henry has some good reasons for being angry, and these 90 minutes would have been better spent redemptively.  The closest he comes is in remarking that his tombstone will read 1951-2014, and that the dash is where it’s at: a true but oft-repeated sentiment. Sadly, this would be Robin Williams’ last movie. I hate to see his brilliant career end on this note. I’m also sad to report that his own tombstone reads 1951-2014. I hope he lived his dash to its fullest. As for this movie which lacks the language to efficiently say “don’t waste the time you have”, I can only caution you to include this movie in the waste of time column. Life is too precious for bad movies.