Tag Archives: Richard Jenkins

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 Shape of Water

What did we ever do to deserve Guillermo Del Toro? The man is willing to crack his head open and allow his most beautiful dreams to spill out, onto the big screen, for our viewing pleasure. The Shape of Water, a delicious period piece with fantasy elements, is just about as sumptuous and satisfying as it gets at the movies.

Sally Hawkins, an inspiring casting choice, plays Eliza, a mute woman working as a cleaner at a top secret government facility. She and her cleaning partner Zelda (Octavia Spencer in a role she was born to play, because between Hidden Figures and The Help, MV5BZDU0NmU1NDUtNjMyNi00YTMyLTgwNWUtNTVmMzQ3NzJjNTJmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTk1MzcwNTI@._V1_she already has) stumble upon agent Strickland’s (Michael Shannon) latest capture, a humanoid sea creature reportedly worshiped as a god by the Amazonians. Set against the Cold War era, the Americans hope this scaly curiosity will give them a leg up against the Ruskies are and prepared to torture the secrets out of their prisoner – and worse. But sweet Eliza spots the creature’s humanity and her kind heart urges her to save him. She enlists a scientist at the facility (Michael Stuhlbarg) and her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) in her daring escape plan, but Strickland isn’t going to let this career-defining prize slip through his rotting fingers.

The Shape of Water is poetic and beautifully stylized. I fell in love during the opening shot, an ethereal scene that establishes the fairy-tale quality of the story. The whole film is richly textured; it feels like a story book you’ll want to step inside. Full credit to production design and art direction for creating a living, breathing piece of art that feels grounded in reality but often has this other-wordly, heightened reality feel to it that you just don’t find in your average film. The script, a Guillermo-Vanessa Taylor hybrid, is a phenom. It so smartly sets up all that is to come with careful, quiet nods. This is a movie with many small pleasures, many delights to savour. Because our heroine is non-speaking, the score plays a major role, and composer Alexandre Desplat is more than equal to the task. Del Toro weaves magic into threads of monster movie – love story – musical – spy thriller – comedy. I’m not sure which of these is more surprising, but all are very welcome. You may hear from others that this is Del Toro’s best since Pan’s Labyrinth, but they’re lying. I believe this is his best, full stop.

The Shape of Water wouldn’t be nearly so special without Sally Hawkins’ grace and measured precision. She’s wonderful, full of light, communicating much with little. Eliza is a woman of small parameters. Her life is ordered and banal. She’s suffering in her loneliness when she meets her merman, and her outsider status allows her to view him not as a monster but as a kindred spirit. Richard Jenkins meanwhile is restrained as the starving artist next door. Michael Shannon is anything but as the man who gets the job done at any cost – unless his vanity gets in the way. He’s awfully fond of the trappings of success. You might be starting to get an idea of what makes this script so lush: all the characters are brought fully to life. This is the clown car of movies, a film filled to the gills with interesting ideas and perfect little moments and scene-stealing details.

You don’t just watch a movie like The Shape of Water, you feel it, you experience it. We saw its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival this week but it’s coming to a cinema near you this December, and you won’t want to miss it. Hawkins’s name will be on the Oscar ballot and I’m guessing Del Toro’s will be too – maybe even twice.

TIFF: LBJ

We had an interesting overlap this year at TIFF: we saw both Jackie, which follows First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the moments and days following JFK’s assassination, and we saw LBJ, which follows Lyndon Baines Johnson as he inherits the White House following JFK’s assassination. Both movies have actors portraying Jackie, John, Bobby, Lyndon, and Ladybird, and both movies have value.

Jackie will of course be an awards contender; LBJ was more of a wild card. It’s by director lbjRob Reiner, a venerable talent who hasn’t directed anything of note in a couple of decades. As he introduced this film to the TIFF audience, however, it was clear that this movie really meant something to him. He talked of being a young man during LBJ’s time in office, and hating him because he was the man who could send you to your death in Vietnam. Only with time, age, and political engagement could he look back at Johnson as something more. He was the president who had to shoulder the burden and responsibility of John Kennedy’s legacy. He took over lots of the civil rights work that JFK had begun, and LBJ is the one who pushed it through, though history sometimes forgets to give him credit for this.

You may be surprised to hear that Woody Harrelson plays LBJ, underneath a not inconsiderable amount of makeup and prosthetics. Jennifer Jason Leigh steps in as Ladybird, in a career move that I can only imagine is a little depressing to a 1980s babe. It may not be intuitive casting, but it is inspired – it makes them come alive, not just as historical figures but as real, flesh and blood people, in a way I haven’t seen before. Rob Reiner’s position is also that Lyndon was a very funny man, and the unexpected joy of LBJ is how much you’ll chuckle watching it.

It’s a safe movie though, a conventional one that won’t speak to audiences or to history lbj-2016the way Jackie does. That said, I still found it to be quite enjoyable. The film neglects to give us a complete picture of the man, but does focus interestingly on LBJ’s rivalry with JFK, allowing Harrelson to swing between cockiness and shame and a whole presidential gamut in between – it’s refreshing to watch him flexing so readily after a string of second-banana performances. He’s playful bordering on hammy, showing us wit, vulgarity, searing intelligence, and frustrated ambition.

One of my favourite scenes occurs between Harrelson’s LBJ and a nasty Richard Jenkins as Senator Russell as LBJ haltingly tries to explain the importance of civil rights to a bigoted southern senator while his black maid serves them dinner. So while this is in fact a clichéd biopic of “an important man”, it’s also got little touches and details that make the ride worth it. Rob Reiner is no stranger to political dramas and isn’t afraid to show us that even the most idealistic of political agendas necessitate some manipulative, under the table handling.

LBJ is Reiner’s best work in years, and Harrelson’s too. It doesn’t soar to the great heights of Jackie but it does make an interesting companion piece to it. What the heck – see them both.