Tag Archives: Naomi Watts

“The Glass Castle”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Familial dysfunction hits its peak in “The Glass Castle,” a sprawling tale of growing up poverty-stricken in the rural West Virginia mountains. The film is based on author Jeannette Walls‘s best-selling memoir about her real life struggle with her sometimes appalling parents and her three close-knit siblings. Like the book, the film is told from the point of view of the middle girl, giving viewers a focused perspective of the relationship between an alcoholic father with big dreams (Woody Harrelson) and his daughter.

Ella Anderson tackles the role of Jeannette as a kid while Brie Larson takes over for the teenage and young adult years. These are extremely tough parts to play yet both actresses are absolutely stellar here. Naomi Watts plays her eccentric artist and anti-establishment mother Rose. There are Oscar caliber performances all around, from the child actors (Sadie Sink, Iain Armitage) to the adults (Harrelson and Watts, two actors that I think are sorely underrated, are at the top of their game too). There’s a sense of distinction to everyone’s work and the cast remains dedicated until the closing credits.

It’s no secret that Walls’s childhood was less than rosy, but the uncomfortable material apparently has been even further sanitized from the true story on which its based. The film tries so hard not to be too alienating or distressing and at times isn’t dark enough, barely touching on the fact that these children were never properly schooled, lacked the basic comforts and care like running water or electricity, and often didn’t eat for days. The feeling that something is completely “off” about the storytelling lingers from scene to scene.

What sours all of the things the movie gets right is the oddly uncomfortable ending. Instead of choosing to end the film on a high note by celebrating one impoverished young woman’s determination to make a successful life for herself, screenwriters Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham opt to go with a sappy conclusion that comes across as an insincere celebration of an awful man’s life. It’s quite a shame because the rest of the film is so strong.

“The Book of Henry”

LOUISA: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Whatever your expectations are for the unclassifiable “The Book of Henry,” I guarantee they won’t be fully realized. I’ve watched a lot of strange movies over my lifetime but I’m not really sure what I want to say about this one because it’s so bizarre. It’s without a doubt a huge misfire, but it’s also like a train wreck that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t pry your eyes away.

The talented Colin Trevorrow directs this story of child prodigy Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), his needy and childlike single mother Susan (Naomi Watts), his little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay), and troubled neighbor Christina (Maddie Ziegler). When Henry starts to believe that Christina is being abused by her stepfather (Dean Norris), he comes up with a rescue plan and begins documenting the instructions in a red notebook. To explain much more would be giving away the biggest surprise elements of the outlandish plot.

The movie has a forced sentimentality that lends no favors to its implausible and contrived story. It’s heavy-handed on all levels and is strangely both utterly compelling and completely forgettable. It’s sort of a movie for kids that way to dark for children but filled with too many plot holes for rational adults. I cannot tell you who the audience is for this. It’s a family tragi-drama that morphs into an oddly familiar mystery and suspense thriller, a tale of vigilante justice, terminal illness, child abuse, brotherly love, and murder.

To top if off, Henry isn’t likeable in the least. He’s a smug little jerk and the worst kind of know-it-all. (If you want to see a good movie about a precocious child prodigy, check out the fabulous “Gifted“). Everything in the movie is spelled out (no, it’s literally spelled out in Henry’s notebook) and the emotional manipulation reaches new heights. It’s a story that centers around kids but by the end it becomes quite condescending to the under 12 set — just one of the film’s many frustrating contradictions.

If the abrupt genre shifts aren’t enough to make you scream, then the tepid performances certainly will. The superstar of this movie is Tremblay, riding high off his role in “Room.” Watts and Norris are simply going through the motions, and Lieberher is astonishingly one-note when he needs to be playing a symphony.

I applaud Trevorrow for taking such a risk with this project, but this one tries and spectacularly fails.

“Demolition”

LOUISA:   5 STARS   MATT:   5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Demolition” is an offbeat movie that delves deep in its exploration of grief and human relationships. It’s a decidedly adult drama about self-discovery, at times considerably emotional and slightly subversive. This is complex filmmaking at its finest, and this movie spoke to me. There’s a lot going on here; so much that I can’t wait to watch the movie again. I’m sure it will get even richer with subsequent viewings.

After his wife Julia (Heather Lind) is tragically killed in a car crash where he’s in the passenger seat, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins to fall apart. His father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper) watches as Davis’ life unravels (and weighty secrets are gradually unearthed). A handwritten complaint letter to a vending machine company over a $1.25 refund for a pack of peanut M&Ms leads to Davis’ path crossing with pothead Karen (Naomi Watts) and her sexually confused son (Judah Lewis). Soon after, a strange friendship ensues and Davis literally begins to tear apart his former life. He becomes obsessed with dismantling everything in site, from espresso machines, bathroom doors, clocks, and ultimately his own memories.

This film is completely self-aware yet not cliched. (Believe me, I was ready to start rolling my eyes when Davis drives past an uprooted tree, but then we hear his voice-over blurt out that “everything has become a metaphor”). This is just one of the many perceptive aspects of the movie that thoroughly worked for me. I found it easy to relate to the story and there was something in each of the characters that rang true in my own personal experiences. Nothing feels forced — even the overt symbolism — because it’s presented in a way that elicits empathy and is wholly engaging. The authenticity keeps the story from sinking into a commonplace melodrama.

The main reason I loved this film is due to the brilliant screenplay. It’s wordy, insightful, intelligent and hands-down gets my vote for my favorite (and best written) screenplay so far this year. (I can’t believe it was written by Bryan Sipe, the same writer who adapted the Nicholas Sparks novel “The Choice” for the screen).

There are so many things that worked in this film: the killer soundtrack, the all-around solid performances from the cast (Gyllenhaal continues his streak as the new master of the edgy performance), the style of the poignant vignettes of pleasant memories of the lead character’s former life, and especially the story exposition through letter writing. When Davis begins unloading his grief and life story in his letters, the truth begins to emerge. When he writes “I don’t think I really knew who she was” about his dead wife, you get a real glimpse of honesty about his marriage and his character. I loved, loved, LOVED the storytelling device of letter writing.

Hat’s off to director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “Wild”); he’s created a fantastic work of art. Memorable scenes are everywhere, from a cathartic solo dancing bit on a bustling New York City street to the actual bulldozing of a window-heavy house to a very moving (and funny) scene about gender identity in a hardware store. One of my favorite scenes is when Davis, numb with grief, volunteers to do some work with a demolition crew. While working he steps on a nail. At first Davis howls in pain but his screams quickly turn to gleeful laughter as he realizes that yes, he still can feel pain. There are so many affecting scenes just like this, many filled with gratifying emotional surprises. It’s painfully beautiful.

“Demolition” excels in telling its narrative of loneliness, self-destruction, shock, grief and emptiness in a tender and realistic way (and even adds a bit of dark humor to the mix). The movie feels raw, gut-wrenching, believable and authentic.

As I finished writing this review, I actually just said aloud: “damn, I really loved this movie.”

MATT SAYS:

“Repairing the human heart is like repairing an automobile. You have to take everything apart, just examine everything, and then you can put it all back together.”

This advice – given to Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhall) by his father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper) – is the engine that drives “Demolition,” the newest film from director Jean-Marc Vallée (“Wild” and “Dallas Buyers Club“). Davis is a successful investment banker working for Phil’s company who seemingly has it all: the Porsche, the flashy modern house in the suburbs, the beautiful wife, the designer clothes, and an impressive office perched high up in a gleaming skyscraper. In an instant, a car accident takes the life of his wife, Julia (Heather Lind), and suddenly, Davis doesn’t know how to act. As a human being, Davis knows that he should be grieving for his loss, but in truth he can’t feel anything. His co-workers, parents, and in-laws all expect him to be overcome with sadness, but he isn’t. He’s numb, and he admits to himself and to his doctor that he’s felt that way for a long time. Davis wants to feel something about Julia’s death, and he feels like he’s broken because he doesn’t.

Part of Davis’s problem is that he realizes that he never really knew Julia. He married her because – in his mind – that’s what society expected of him and it was the easiest thing to do. Now that she’s gone, he doesn’t miss her but he’s trying to. So he takes Phil’s advice quite literally and begins “taking apart his marriage” by disassembling or destroying the shiny things he and Julia accumulated during their marriage. Along the way, he strikes up a unique friendship with Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) who is drawn to Davis and his soul-searching honesty. It is through his new relationship with Karen and her teenage son Chris (Judah Lewis) that we see Davis begin to find again what he feels that he lost.

“Demolition” is an expertly-crafted reflection on the nature of marriage and the value we give to our lives and our loved ones. Who is this person we’ve chosen to live our life with? Are we appreciating our spouse for who she or he is, or do we see that person as another thing we’ve collected; a status symbol, a way to signify to ourselves and others that we’ve made it and that we matter? And even if we married for the “right” reasons – for love – what will happen to us if we don’t take care of that love? It is these very human questions that “Demolition” explores and attempts to answer, and I adored every minute of it.

Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t just cast well as Davis. He OWNS this role. I’m not sure anyone else could have pulled it off as well as he did: Davis’s mien may be inscrutable, but he’s not; he may appear cold-hearted, but he’s not; he may seem unaffected by his wife’s death, but he’s not. He’s struggling with his humanity in a world where he’s learned to place far too much value on facades and the trappings of success without learning what it means to live richly. Gyllenhaal’s nuanced performance perfectly captures the dichotomy between how the world views him and how he views the world. This is expressed not only through what’s been left on the screen for us to see, but also through his inner monologue, which we hear expressed as a series of letters written by Davis to a customer service department for a vending machine company. This technique for expressing voice-over narration may sound gimmicky on paper, but in execution it works beautifully.

As Karen and Phil, Watts and Cooper are also excellent as usual. But apart from Gyllenhaal, the other standout in this movie is Judah Lewis. As Chris – a young adult confused about his own life, sexuality, and place in the world — Lewis serves as Davis’s mentee and partner-in-crime. Take it from me: this young man is an actor to watch.

In its contemplation of big ideas about marriage, society, love, and the ways in which we seek to define ourselves to others, “Demolition” acquits itself admirably. It’s interesting, it’s thought-provoking, and it’s very, very human.

 

“Divergent: Allegiant”

LOUISA:    1.5 STARS      MATT:    1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I mildly enjoyed the other two movies in the “Divergent” series (“Divergent” and “Insurgent“), but this addition to the filmed literary trilogy has all the joy completely sucked out of it. It feels like all involved would have rather been anywhere but working on this movie. It is obvious they are just showing up for the paycheck, and it’s sad.

Shailene Woodley, one of the most talented young actors working today, gives a performance so bad that I could tell she was simply phoning it in. She actually looks like she’s uncomfortable playing an action heroine, to the point where for the first time I didn’t find her believable as tough girl Tris. Theo James is capable as brawny hero Four, but let’s face it: the actor doesn’t have that much else going for him. The hugely talented Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort and Naomi Watts all give lazy performances that reek of desperation (the brief appearance from Octavia Spencer adds the only touch of class to the movie). But it’s Jeff Daniels who gets the worst actor award for this one; his delivery is borderline campy but he plays it with a very pitiful sincerity. I laughed out loud at some of his scenes — and they weren’t intended to be funny.

“Allegiant” is burdened with a convoluted plot that makes no sense and rambles on and on and on for two hours. The primary focus on animated gadgets and bloodless action sequences means there’s limited storytelling going on here. The cleverless action scenes are tediously dull, the dialogue is shallow, the acting is amateurish and the special effects are some of the worst I’ve seen in years. (No, really: a preteen kid with a laptop could’ve animated better CGI; the movie looks terrible)! Another big problem that these films have never been able to overcome is the fact that their characters are across the board unlikable. I’ve never rooted for nor cared for any of them, and their flaws are amplified even further since this latest installment is so tiresome.

If Hollywood doesn’t soon step in with better film adaptations (like “The Fifth Wave“), I fear for the future of the young adult genre.

MATT SAYS:

Easily the most forgettable entry in the “Divergent” series, “Allegiant” picks up where “Insurgent” left off. Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is dead, the power structure in Chicago has crumbled and the new rebel group led by Evelyn (Naomi Watts) has taken power. The new regime appears to be just as brutal and ruthless as the old one, and Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), and their small group leave the city walls to explore what’s beyond.

Although I had seen both of the previous movies in this series, I found myself more than a little confused by “Allegiant.” The silly faction idea, with its on-the-nose message about the importance of individuality, was at least something to grab hold of and was an effective device for telling a story set in a dystopian future. Here, though, with the factions gone and Jeanine dead, the denizens of the “Divergent” world have divided themselves into multiple groups with divergent (see what I did there?) interests and it has become much more difficult to care about any of them. While both “Divergent” and “Insurgent” left me at least partially interested in seeing what happens next, I find myself not caring at all about where things go from here.

Worse yet, the movie pretty much wastes its cast. The strength of these movies has been its use of talented actors which were able to elevate the source material. In “Allegiant,” the star of the show has become the cheesy and unrealistic computer-generated effects. Maybe I was spoiled by the 2015 practical effects-laden feasts “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Mad Max Fury Road,” but this movie in particular should be exhibit A in any discussion about why too much CG is a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good effects-driven sci-fi movie as much as anyone. But this isn’t good sci-fi, and these aren’t good effects. The capable young stars are almost forced to sit on the sideline while we watch a giant floating silver thing fly, attach, or crash into other giant floating silver things or barren landscapes, over and over again. The actors are reduced to lots of green screen running, shouting, and shooting, and it’s all kind of dull. I like these actors, and I wanted to see more of them actually getting to act and interact with one another. If not for the cast and the little opportunity they are given to actually act, I would have rated this movie even lower.

If you’re looking for good science fiction, go see “Star Wars” again. It’s still in theaters. Skip this one.