Army of the Dead

17 May

‘Army of the Dead’: We’re off to a Las Vegas heist, but technically it’s impossible to make a killing

By Tom MeekThursday, May 13, 2021

Zach Snyder, the man behind the cinematic resurrection of Superman and the launch of the “Justice League” franchise, cut his teeth on zombie fare with the 2004 remake of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” One of the eye-popping twists in that update was that the undead weren’t your typical shamblers – they could move at superhuman speed, and had agility and much greater strength than the sagging bags of carrion in films that came before. In his new “Army of the Dead,” Snyder delves back into that bag of tricks, and in the process turns the Vegas strip into a hive of hidden horrors akin to the hellacious labyrinths plumbed in the “Resident Evil” series.

The film opens with a military convoy taking an asset to a secret location in the Nevada desert. As happenstance and an act of fellatio have it, the package – an alien-zombie incarnation that seems like an escapee from John Carpenter’s 2001 “Ghosts of Mars” – gets loose and turns Sin City into a zombie colony. Though it’s walled off by the U.S. Army, efforts to clean and reclaim the Strip fail and nuking it gets a stamp of approval. In that week before the drop, a wealthy mogul named Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) approaches former military ops hero Ward (Dave Bautista), now slinging burgers, to assemble a team for a mission to fetch $200 million sitting in a vault that only Tanaka has the blueprints for. Ward is doubly invested in the grab and go, as his daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), is working at a camp outside Vegas where people assumed to be infected live in military-monitored migrant camps. 

From there “Army of the Dead” proceeds in a pretty straight-up fashion: Navigate the flesh-chomping hordes, a zombified Siegfried & Roy tiger and the zombie king (that alien) and his queen, get the cash, grab Kate and chopper out before the area becomes a mushroom cloud. Kinda like a video game, and likewise solid if predictable genre fun. 

Of the colorful recruits, the standouts are mostly Omari Hardwick (“Sorry to Bother You”) as the heady Vanderohe and Tig Notaro, bringing a dash of Jane Lynch comedic relief to the mayhem as the capable chopper pilot. The film’s best parts are that opening scene and the elongated credit sequence chronicling the fall of Vegas as a quirky cover version of “Viva Las Vegas” plays. I’m not sure if Snyder was reaching for something deeper with a zombie king and queen and the seeming foundation of a zombie civilization – they do seem to communicate and have lawful order. It adds a dash of intrigue and of course allows for the assemblage of the entity of the title. In it all, you know there’s a few hidden agendas (think “Alien”) and aptly at one point, The Cranberries’ “Zombie” rolls; it feels like a too obvious choice, like “Viva Las Vegas,” but they both fit poetically as flesh is ripped from bone by tenacious cannibalistic maws.

Weed & Wine

17 May

Comparing cultures in her doc ‘Weed & Wine,’ Cambridgeport’s Cohen found the relationship

By Tom MeekThursday, May 13, 2021

Cambridgeport director and producer Rebecca Richman Cohen presents her documentary “Weed & Wine” on Saturday as part of the Independent Film Festival Boston. (Photo: Weed & Wine)

The bridge between law and documentary filmmaking has strong precedent in the Boston area. Cantabrigian Frederick Wiseman, whose filmmaking style is pretty much the embodiment of cinéma vérité, was teaching law at Boston University when he set off to make “Titicut Follies” in 1967; Mary Mazzio was working as an attorney at Boston’s Brown Rudnick when she decided to go to film school and make socially conscious films (“A Most Beautiful Thing,” “Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon”). This week, the virtual run of Independent Film Festival Boston brings focus to Cambridgeport filmmaker Rebecca Richman Cohen, who graduated Harvard Law School and now lectures there. On Saturday, the IFFB will screen her third documentary “Weed & Wine.”

Cohen, like Wiseman and Mazzio, is driven by the human side of her subjects. The continent-spanning film that details two families, the land they work, the challenges they face and the tradition of agriculture across generations began as a late-night conversation about terroir in a Parisian wine bar. Cohen describes the French-originated concept of terroir as “the way the land expresses itself in agricultural produce and the history and tradition of that land.” On the rooting of the project, Cohen says, “I woke up the next morning and still thought it was a great idea.”

One of the challenges in making the film was finding a French vigneron family to partake; many found the juxtaposition of wine grape growing and cannabis agriculture off-putting. “People kept telling me I was comparing apples and oranges,” Cohen said via Zoom, “but in the end, it was about family.” Ultimately Cohen gathered with the Jodreys in Humboldt County, California, and the Thibons of France’s Rhone Valley. The patriarch of that Californian cannabis farm, Kev Jodrey, is a New England transplant (you can hear a trace of it in his accent) and has been growing his product outside legal boundaries for years. The Thibons, on the other hand, have been tending to the same vineyards for hundred of years.

Cohen fell into filmmaking by happenstance while attending Brown University. “I got a job as an assistant editor when I was studying aboard in college, because I couldn’t figure out what else to do. Then I got hooked. After college, I worked for Michael Moore as an assistant editor on ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’” Cohen’s other documentary features include “War Don Don” (2010), which puts the Serra Leone justice system under a microscope, and “The Code of the West” (2012), which looks at medical marijuana growers in Montana as regulations and policies are reevaluated.

French vintner Hélène Thibon in “Weed & Wine.”

Cannabis farmer Kevin Jodrey in “Weed & Wine.”

Before making “War Don Don,” Cohen had been in Serra Leone using her legal knowledge in a humanitarian capacity. “I’m not an attorney,” Cohen points out quickly. “I’ve never taken the bar.” The subjects she lectures on, human rights and humanitarianism as told through the lens of documentary films, and using video and media as evidence and advocacy, seem to meld seamlessly with her social focus behind the camera.

It took nearly five years to make “Weed & Wine” since Cohen imbibed the idea in that wine bar. One of the realizations the filmmaker had along the way was that her thesis about land focus shifted some, becoming more about those using the land and their kinship to it and each other. Cohen said that sense of family and community became increasingly meaningful to her because during the filmmaking process she became pregnant and had a child. “A total pandemic child,” she says of her 15-month-old.

Covid delayed the release of “Weed & Wine” for nearly a year. Cohen had imagined that the Jodreys and Thibons would meet in person at the premiere or a festival screening; instead that happened by Zoom, Cohen says with a tang of sadness. “But the funny thing is,” she says, “is what do you think was the first thing they talked about? The weather. What else do farmers talk about?”

One of Cohen’s key cinematic influences is “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control,” Cambridge filmmaker Errol Morris’ 1997 documentary about a lion tamer, a robotics expert, a topiary gardener and a specialist in naked mole rats. Interestingly too, one could argue that Morris has a link to law; before coming to filmmaking he was a private investigator, a skill that helped mightily when digging into the gunning down of a Texas police office in “The Thin Blue Line” (1988), a film that helped get an innocent man out of jail. What resonated with Cohen about Morris’ film was the juxtaposition of diverse endeavors and the common themes that linked the subjects. “It’s kind of a bit like what we did with ‘Weed & Wine,’” Cohen says.

Cohen wants to next examine mass incarceration in conjunction with such social movements as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. One thing Cohen was adamant about during our interview was that film is a collaborative process, mentioning that the film would not have been possible without her committed team of producers and crew – and the final product is impressive in terms of production values and synergy. Screenings of “Weed & Wine” will be accompanied by a prerecorded Q&A.

Wrath of Man

9 May

‘Wrath of Man’: Ritchie and Statham reunited, heist with their own petard and angry about it

By Tom MeekFriday, May 7, 2021

Guy Ritchie launched a lot of careers back in 1998 when he churned out the quirky crime drama “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” one being his own as an auteur of hyper-stylized violence in 3D slo-mo – something the Wachowskis would seize upon and elevate to an art form the following year with “The Matrix.” Menacing footballer turned actor Vinnie Jones is another; taciturn can-do strongman Jason Statham may have cut the biggest swath. Ritchie and Statham haven’t worked together since 2005’s “Revolver”: In between Statham had his hit “Transporter” series and joined the “Fast & Furious” franchise, while Ritchie made the live-action “Aladdin” (2019) and the tepid Sherlock films with Robert Downey Jr. Last year’s release of “The Gentlemen” signaled something of a return to form for Ritchie, even if the film couldn’t rise above its own self-aggrandizing cheekiness.

The pair’s latest collaboration is more of a straight-ahead Statham revenge flick like “Parker” or “Homefront” (both 2013) than an amped-up Guy Ritchie production – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here in “Wrath of Man,” Statham plays H, a mysterious sort who barely shoots or drives well enough to make it as a guard with an armored car company that’s been targeted by a ring of thieves. What Ritchie and his phalanx of writers have cooked up is something like Steven Soderbergh’s “The Underneath” or Michael Mann’s indelibly furious “Heat,” both made in 1995 and about armored car heists.

To be certain, “Wrath of Man” is not on par with either. It’s not even close. But it does have its merits. The back-and-forth narrative between a heist in the recent past and one about to go down deepens the intrigue, as does a “Rashomon,” multi-angle view of a singular event, and there’s a score by Christopher Benstead that bristles with a sense of foreboding and goes far in defining the atmosphere and driving the action. The main reason to see “Wrath of Man,” however, is to see Statham’s enigmatic antihero with a hidden agenda do what he does best, and that’s pick apart those evading justice with cold, calculating efficiency. If you’re here for anything else, that’s on you. Also in the vast cast we get Holt McCallany, so good in David Fincher’s “Mindhunter” series, as Bullet, H’s higher-up; Josh Hartnett in an odd turn as Boy Sweat Dave, the armored car company’s big mouth who shuts down under fire; Ritchie regular Eddie Marsan as the company bean counter; and Scott Eastwood and Jeffrey Donovan as well-organized jarheads on the opposite side of the bulletproof glass from H.

“Wrath of Man” gets better as it goes on, something that can’t be said for “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,” a similarly straight-up revenge flick released last week. It’s doesn’t have the big production values of that Michael B. Jordan vehicle, but it does have Statham’s no-nonsense avenger, and that’s good enough to make it the better choice to waste two hours of your day on.

Gunda

9 May

‘Gunda’: Intimate portrait of a pig on a farm, lingering images you’ll never want to leave

By Tom MeekFriday, May 7, 2021

Viktor Kosakovskiy might be one of the most engrossing filmmakers you’ve never heard of. Part of that’s likely because he’s a documentary filmmaker – and those documentaries are about unassuming subjects such as water, or a sow on a Norwegian farm. That 2018 work about humans’ dance with water, “Aquarela,” was a stunning achievement in “how did they get those shots” videography, made even more compelling by deft editing and a driving score. His latest, about the pig named in the title “Gunda,” is equally captivating, even if the perilous power of Mother Nature’s wrath doesn’t loom in every scene.

Shot in deeply layered black and white, “Gunda” follows the seasonal cycle of a sow on a farm, birthing a liter of piglets and rearing them from pink (I know it’s black and white, but bear with me) and squirming, endlessly suckling little oinkers. Throughout the film, shot in long, lingering takes that turn the mundane into a riveting, can’t-turn-away event, we never see a farmer – or any human, for that matter. We see the wheels of a tractor, but for the most part it’s just Gunda and her brood, who seem to have free range of the farm and surrounding forest; we occasionally meet some barnyard friends in Mr. Duck, Mrs. Moo, her bestie, and a one-legged chicken, among the many. It’s “Charlotte’s Web” or “Babe” (1995) sans the anthropomorphic cuteness.

How Kosakovskiy gets at the heart of his subject and makes us feel – and we do feel, if not take on Gunda’s maternal instincts as if we were there caring for her cute brood – clearly has much to do with patience and composition. No one would equate the Russian-born auteur to the great Frederick Wiseman, whose hands-off, fly-on-the-wall style is pretty much the definition of cinéma vérité; but the long takes and observation of rhythms and beats of life, drunk in and deeply felt, are poetically similar, even though the filmmakers’ subjects and effect remain vastly different. “Gunda,” like “Aquarela,” is best seen on the big screen for its masterful cinematography’s attention to framing, depth of field and shadows.

How “Gunda” moves in the final act will come as no surprise, but should give you a bit more pause the next time you’re debating soy or pork bacon for your BLT.

Turkeys take over Harvard Square

1 May

Turkeys take over Harvard Square traffic island, prime real estate amid top shopping and dining

By Tom MeekThursday, April 29, 2021

The turkeys that have made themselves at home on a traffic island in Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

There are fewer students hanging out in Harvard Square, but in their stead is a trio known on social media as Larry, Moe and Curley Joe – or as Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, or Tom Sr., Tom Jr. and Tom III: Three turkeys now at home for three weeks on the traffic island at Massachusetts Avenue and Harvard Street, across from the Hong Kong and Grafton Street eateries.

The trio looks to be two toms (mature males) and a perhaps very young jake (immature male) or hen. Toms are easy to tell by their size and majestic splay of tail feathers, as well as the telltale blue-white head coloring, turkey beard – the tuft of a hair jutting from the breast – and big red wattle dangling from the chin, which is both a display piece to attract mates and a sweat gland because turkeys, like dogs, don’t sweat.

The birds seem happy to just hang out on the 30-foot triangle mid-triangle. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The birds seem happy to just hang out on the 30-foot triangle, with the dominant male puffing to make a threatening display as he swaggers over to any gawker who gets too close to his mates. April is the middle of turkey mating season, and males can get aggressive. Last year in Somerville, a turkey known as Mayor Turkatone was euthanized after too many attacks on humans, called the fault of people who kept feeding him. The city and state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife implore residents not to, but also to not let them intimidate you – while staying aware that their claws are sharp and strong.

Besides digging in gardens and gobbling ghoulishly from roosts that are often overhead – they can fly but not very well – turkeys’ biggest impact on city dwellers is blocking traffic with their too-leisurely saunters across streets. Folks snapping pictures just add to the spectacle and delay. (Though one of those might be Brookline photographer Aynsley Floyd, who’s working on a “Turkey Town” documentary about the challenges of living with wild turkeys.)

Turkeys, seen as a symbol of old New England, were largely extinct here 50 years ago, when conservationists decided to capture some of the birds from upstate New York and rewild them here in the 1970s. The demise of small farms and deep eradication of apex predators (catamounts and wolves, coyotes and foxes – now making a comeback as well) helped their resurgence, with between between 30,000 and 35,000 estimated statewide; in recent years they’ve been all but ubiquitous, though neither Animal Control nor state wildlife experts would guess how many turkeys live in Cambridge.

“Anyone who says they know how many turkeys there are in any town in Massachusetts, let alone Cambridge, is selling you a story,” said biologist David Scarpitti, of MassWildlife. “The number is really not important. What is important is how the density and abundance of turkeys affects residents and their position relative to what we call ‘cultural carrying capacity.’ What this means is how many turkeys are people willing to deal with before it becomes a nuisance and undesirable.”

Limbo

1 May

‘Limbo’: Waiting for their new lives to start, immigrants to a land drenched in the droll

By Tom MeekFriday, April 30, 2021

Before he got behind the lens of a camera, Ben Sharrock was a humanitarian aide in an Afghan refugee camp and also in Syria, which gives the writer/director plenty of real-life knowledge to put behind the story of refugees desperately seeking asylum from western counties. That in-between – the not knowing if you’re going back to a war-torn hellhole or about to begin a promising new life – is the situational sweet spot that Sharrock’s film embraces.

For such a serious subject matter, “Limbo” is remarkably droll and witty. The drama unfolds on a fictional Scottish island where young men from Afghanistan, Syria and several African nations attend acclimation classes in a one-room schoolhouse. The adult education leaders (Kenneth Collard as Boris and Sidse Babett Knudsen as Helga) have the devilishly pleasing tang of Benny Hill to them. The main protagonist, Omar (Amir El-Masry), newly arrived from Syria with little but his grandfather’s oud – a zither-like Middle Eastern string instrument – has dreams of making it as a performer. In fact, the whole mini-community is a colony of dreamers; several state  their goal to become star futbol players, as Boris and Helga nod politely and continue on with trainings on how to conduct a phone query for cleaning jobs. 

The island itself plays a pivotal role: There’s no cellphone reception (old school pay phones substitute) and the rock is so remote it’s often sealed off by gales and sleet storms – the framing of which by Nick Cooke gives the island a fairy tale wonderment. It’s a more rapturous capturing of Mother Nature and wide vistas than Joshua James Richards’ impressive work in “Nomadland.”

Overall, “Limbo” bristles with an existential posturing that never quite goes deep enough for it to pay off. Omar’s airy dreams and past situation (the flashbacks to Syria pull you out some) are counterbalanced with absurdist black comedy. It doesn’t always gel, but it does intrigue, and Sharrock and crew are best when pushing tropes. Omar’s flatmate Farhad (Vikash Bhai), an Afghan expat and lover of all things Freddie Mercury, sports the telltale mustache of his musical idol. They even name chicken after the Queen frontman, and for entertainment watch episode of “Friends” off DVDs. They live a mashup of cultural cross threading, with unknown futures. 

Without Remorse

30 Apr

‘Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse’: Action thriller with vengeance straight from the assembly line

By Tom Meek Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Tom Clancy wrote “Without Remorse” back in 1993, when the Iron Curtain still felt like a threat. For a contemporary makeover, accounting for world-changing events might help. We get some of that with cellphones and the like, but mostly the script from Taylor Sheridan (the sharp hand behind “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River”) and Will Staples (who’s mostly written video games like “Call of Duty”) is a lackluster transposition steered inertly by Stefano Sollima (“Sicario: Day of the Soldado”). This “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” is an assembly-line production with little thrill or intrigue – the ingredients that made Clancy’s Jack Ryan series (“The Hunt for Red October,” “Patriot Games”) a must read/see for any spy or jarhead enthusiasts. Even the magnetic Michael B. Jordan, so good as a young black man targeted by police in “Fruitvale Station” (2013), comes off flat as Navy Seal-cum-antihero Jack Kelly (a spinoff character from the Ryan series once played by Willem DaFoe in “Clear and Present Danger”) out for revenge after Russian operatives kill his pregnant wife. Kelly and other SEALS are targeted for assassination after an Aleppo raid to free a CIA operative.

Sounds like a man with a major payback mission, but Kelly’s want for blood feels strangely unearned, as we never really feel his emotional attachment or grief. No, the dead are little more than a plot-moving checkpoint for Kelly to use his special-ops skills – and his resolve is impressive, especially when in prison, where he takes on a phalanx of guards “Old Boy” style. The world-hopping mission that comes when CIA brass let him out and off the leash takes Kelly to Russia and back to D.C., but never does the shell game of who’s pulling the strings ever really raise a brow. The well choreographed shootouts and beatdowns puncture the drudgery enough to keep your lids open, but in between it’s all pink filler.

Also wasted is Jodie-Turner Smith, the promising fresh face from “Queen & Slim” (2019), as Lt. Commander Karen Greer, Kelly’s mission head, as well as the normally infallible Guy Pearce as a CIA honcho who seems to be chewing on Xanax like Tic Tacs. 

Voyagers

13 Apr

‘Voyagers’: It’s Lord-of-the-Flies-into-space, with kids off their meds and onto adult trouble

By Tom MeekFriday, April 9, 2021

Playing with YA future tropes (think “Hunger Games” and “Chaos Walking”), director Neil Burger (“Limitless” and “Divergent,” another YA sci-fi flyby) fills a spaceship with the genetically engineered offspring of MIT scientists and Nobel laureates and sends them off into the universe to find the next place for humans to expand, because, well, we’ve screwed Earth so royally – no surprise there. The journey, as we’re told by Richard (Colin Farrell), the one adult/chaperone aboard, will take 86 years, and it will be the grandchildren of the mensch progeny that will reseed mankind on a far distant planet, where one can foresee a wash, rinse, trash orb and repeat cycle.

Like “Passengers” (2016) and Clare Denis’ alluring jump into space, “High Life” (2019), “Voyagers” is more about the sexual and personality play among those onboard as opposed to the quest at hand. Of the myriad high-cheekboned Calvin Klein models, the main trio consists of the blandly heroic Christopher (Tye Sheridan, “Ready Player One”), a manically glossy-eyed Zac (Fionn Whitehead, “Dunkirk”) and the dour Sela (Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, who channels dad’s “Cry-Baby” sullenness here). Everyday the sexually budding teens drink a shot of mouthwash-blue liquid that, as Christopher discovers, contains a toxin. Richard quickly explains it away, but the persistent Christopher learns it’s a drug to control, numb and pacify them like saltpeter was rumored to be used on soldiers in days of old. Once the kids go off their meds, merriment, Greco-Roman wrestling and libidos take center stage. It’s here that Richard, through dark happenstance, exits and Christopher and Zac vie to be the alpha male, with Sela’s chastity as the prize hanging in the balance. Other little horny teen fires flare up too, and there’s the threat of an alien aboard whom no one has seen, but can be heard roaming and clanking in the passages above and below. 

What the film comes to is “Lord of the Flies” in deep space with sensual desires being acted upon – forget the conch, it’s all about the satiation of urges. The problem is that everything feels staged and unfelt, even those urges. More problematic perhaps is the sexual aggression some of the young lads unleash upon their female co-explorers. One vicious breast grope is a real eye catcher, but then you realize that the inflight film selection probably didn’t include “Promising Young Woman” (2020) or any proper sexual code of conduct lessoning, given that they’ve been chemically sedated (what was Richard’s master plan, considering the kids would outlive him?). Since this is 2063, #MeToo is clearly a distant memory, or because these kids were deposited on the space vessel so as to not be acculturated to our fat and obsolete ways, how would they know? The provocatively fun thing about Denis’ “High Life” was the way checked and regulated sexuality bent and shaped character and pushed the rules of conduct aboard the ship, as well as our own sense of sexual turpitude. Here it’s like boys discover erections and go berserk with the future of humanity the last thing on their hormone-guided minds.

Godzilla vs. Kong

2 Apr

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’: The humans wisely step aside for a battle of titans, with more kaiju ready to join

By Tom MeekWednesday, March 31, 2021

Pretty much a toe-to-toe slugfest between two alpha males. Think of any of the three Frazier vs. Ali fights or Ali vs. Foreman in the “rumble in the jungle” classic, but at under two hours, the CGI-propelled monster smackdown of “Godzilla vs. Kong” is more like Hagler vs. Hearns, light, fast and furious. The thing about that epic 1985 middleweight bout was its resonance: People were so awed by the raw brutality, the nuclear salvo of haymakers thrown, so violent and yet balletic, three frenetic rounds that would be watched and rewatched, etching Hagler into Boston sporting lore alongside names such as Orr, Bird, Williams and Russell. (Hagler, who sadly just passed, was one of the most dominant boxers of his era; he hailed from Brockton and became an adopted son of Boston).

Speaking of Boston, the last time we got a look at Godzilla in “King of the Monsters” (2018) he was giving Ghidorah a beatdown at Fenway Park. Here, mumblegore stalwart Adam Wingard (“You’re Next,” “V/H/S”) makes an odd but effective choice of director, and with a phalanx of screenwriters forms a crew that knows that the green screen titans getting it on is the jam; they dispatch the what’s-what with a brief undercard of mumbo-jumbo about there only be one ruling kaiju, and then we get into it. Kong is taken from his tiny island; Godzilla comes for him; and aboard the deck of an aircraft carrier we get round one. Cities in the aftermath get obliterated as the lads wander off into their respective corners. There’s something clearly up with Godzilla, we’re told by myriad humans with thespian mettle (and more Boston connections) including Kyle Chandler (“Manchester by the Sea”), Rebecca Hall (“The Town”) Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown from “Stranger Things” and Brian Tyree Henry. What’s eating the big green lizard is Florida. It’s not Mar-a-Lago, the maskless hordes or hanging chads, but a firm called Apex Corp. that makes giant robots – think “Pacific Rim” (2013). Meanwhile, the humans get to fly around in cheesy, neon-lit space pods as they trail Kong, venturing to the earth’s core to retrieve an artifact that will allow him to level the field with the brash lizard. The journey’s a bit of brief psychedelic wonderment, but the buzz is interrupted by some human-hungry fledglings and a radioactive projectile vomit from Godzilla. 

To tell you how the final round goes would be to do a disservice. I can say it’s a worthy climax and, as always with these things, you can be sure the avarice of man has a play in it. And smartly (from a business sense) in this mini-running “MonsterVerse” (two Godzillas, Kong’s “Skull Island” and this) the door’s left open for more.

The Father

14 Mar

‘The Father’: Unforgettable visit with a patriarch who increasingly can’t remember his own family

By Tom Meek Friday, March 12, 2021

In “I Care a Lot,” the recently released Netflix film, Rosamund Pike plays an opportunistic caregiver who imprisons the elderly afflicted with dementia (getting their power of attorney and dumping them in prison-like convalescent homes) and bilks them of their life savings. It’s a slickly made film with a repugnant underbelly – I mean, how can heroes legitimately prey on the weak and infirm? “The Father” stars Anthony Hopkins in a masterclass performance as a memory-challenged senior who may have made a perfect mark for Pike, except for the fact Pike’s deceit took place in our fair Hub and “The Father” unfurls across the pond in England.

What “The Father” also has going for it is Olivia Colman as Anne, the daughter of Hopkins’ aging elder – named Anthony, of all things. Later we see Anne played by Olivia Williams, and Anne’s husband, Paul, is played by Mark Gatiss and then Rufus Sewell. So may Annes, Olivias, Pauls and Anthonys. Is this a Charlie Kaufman film, you might ask. Sure, it’s a bit of a head spin on paper, but it’s masterfully orchestrated by first-time filmmaker Florian Zeller, adapting his stage play. The rooted point of view is that of Anthony’s, so when we first glimmer Paul (Gatiss) in a room in Anthony’s flat it’s as if he’s stumbled upon a burglar – “Who are you?” he barks like a once-feared alpha dog grown long in the tooth. The whole movie proceeds this way, through the eyes of an unreliable narrator; Hopkins’ immersive portrayal helps show what it’s like to see your mental faculties dim in real time. Coleman, so fiery a Queen Anne (that name again) in “The Favourite” (2018), is somber, soulful and deeply compassionate here. It’s a perfectly subdued performance, as Anne’s life with her own growing family has been put on hold, in a sense. Her frustration is clear despite being tucked way down as she remains dutiful and supportive, first and always. Sewell’s Paul is not so restrained, allowing frustration and pain to erupt into anger.

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