Tag Archives: Viggo Mortensen

Flag Day

20 Aug

Flag Day’: Penn raises ‘Flim-Flam’ flags aplenty, acting with family in another daughter’s memoir

By Tom Meek Thursday, August 19, 2021

About every five years, Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn takes the director’s chair for a tight focus on those struggling mightily in small arenas. Many of these lo-fi, big-themed efforts come with some heavy-duty thespian firepower. For his directorial debut, “The Indian Runner” (1991), Penn was blessed with a cast that included Viggo Mortensen, David Morse, Charles Bronson, Sandy Dennis and Benicio Del Toro, as well as Dennis Hopper; afterward he teamed up with Jack Nicholson for “The Crossing Guard” (1995) and “The Pledge” (2001). Here the film’s more of a family affair in which Penn’s real-life children, Dylan and Hopper, play his onscreen progeny. The cast has some A-list names too with Regina King, Josh Brolin and Eddie Marsan in the mix, but in parts so small that if you close your eyes for a few seconds you might miss them. 

Adapted from Jennifer Vogel’s 2005 memoir “Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit Life” (script by Jez Butterworth, a co-writer on “Black Mass” and “Ford v Ferrari”), “Flag Day” depicts the tumult of a father-daughter relationship across decades. Penn plays the titular con man, with his daughter portraying the young Jennifer Vogel. The film’s an earnest but rambling mess that draws you in with its shaggy-dog charms and wisps of mystery but pushes you out with jerky POV shifts and scenes of characters just screaming and shouting at each other without saying anything or furthering the narrative – my guess would be improv gone wrong. Told mostly through Jennifer’s gaze, the film occasionally (and jarringly) jumps to Penn’s John off on his own doing some pseudo-sociopathic activity. He has an abode with windows papered up as if he were a vampire, an empty briefcase he takes to his nonexistent job each day and is always looking over his shoulder. Over the years Jennifer often finds John in a “business meetings” with Hell’s Angels-like ruffians from which he often comes out bloodied. John’s a talker, always spinning and not quite dad-of-the-year material, but by comparison with his ex-wife Patty (Katheryn Winnick, “Vikings” and “Big Sky”), a lethargic alcoholic who could not get out of bed in the early years, he seems like a better choice at least to Jennifer. She seeks him out after mom’s creepy new beau tries to crawl into bed with her and mom, in the aftermath, sides with her man.

Just what John is up to is never made clear. It should be a major distraction, but when the late-teens Jennifer comes back to roost with him, the film becomes more about the two of them trying to get a leg up on life together and less about the dubious schemes John sets up while Jennifer is at work (as an intern and then journalist at Minnesota’s City Pages, where I also wrote). The film becomes a bittersweet waltz of hope, heartbreak and delusion, and a deeply intimate one. Penn, embracing the ’70s and ’80s setting, shoots for that lived-in indie look and at times evokes the gritty realism of John Cassavetes; at other, more lyrical turns he projects the dreamy idealism of Terrence Malick. It’s an arty endeavor, but not one that endears.

As far as Penn’s directorial efforts go, “Flag Day” is a step up from his 2016 misfire “The Last Face,” starring then-girlfriend Charlize Theron, his son Hopper and Javier Bardem, but still a lesser effort and a long way away from his 2007 high, “Into the Wild.”

Green Book

22 Nov

‘Green Book’: Tour through segregated South drives a buddy movie that follows a true tale

 

Image result for green book

Peter Farrelly, best known as half of the brother tandem who made “Dumb and Dumber” (1994) and the chaotically uproarious “There’s Something About Mary” (1998), pulls something of an unexpected about face with “Green Book,” real-life saga about a white man chauffeuring a black man through the Deep South during the early 1960s.

The boss is Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali, a deserving Oscar winner for his work in “Moonlight”), a renowned jazz pianist tired of playing the Upper East Side who decides to take his talents south – in part to see the world, and also to make the world see him. His driver, a Bronx-bred Italian-American name Frank Anthony Vallelonga, aka Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen). Tony is something akin to Robert De Niro’s fat Jake LaMotta – boy can he eat, he’s not one to take too much shit and he’s got a mouth. It’s “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989) in reverse in so many ways, with its racist backdrop still far too similar to what pervades our country now. Once difference is that the current “green book” is an app with historical insights; from 1936 to 1966, it was a vital guide to safe spots in the segregated South.

For the most part, the film’s a buddy bonding road movie, as the aloof intellectual and motor-mouthed lout with a heart of gold break down cultural and personal barriers. At its best, Tony doesn’t judge Don Shirley after bailing him out of several compromising and potentially explosive situations where the jazz pianist dips into the bottle too much and wanders outside the lines. At its worst, Tony lectures Shirley about “his people,” Motown stars the classical musician hasn’t heard (Little Richard and Aretha) and the virtues of fried chicken – a cringeworthy scene, if just for the risky proximity of grease to a neatly pressed white shirt. 

Farrelly lays it on a bit at times where films such as “Hidden Figures” (2016) “Miss Daisy” and “The Butler” (2013) respectfully observe and allow character and history to make points on their own terms. His actors, though, do a great job selling it, and forge a genuine chemistry, despite such overwrought handling – Ali welling with dignified resolve and Mortensen adding a ton of weight and tackling new emotional territory with a screwball sense of humor. Shirley has to stay in seedier hotels and can’t use the same restroom as white people, even though he’s the allegedly well-respected main attraction. Ultimately there’s the big end-of-tour performance in Birmingham at a white-glove country club (where Nat King Cole was once assaulted). The maitre’d, trying to appeal to Tony, explains that when the world champion Boston Celtics came to town, “even the big one didn’t get to eat in the club” after polite use of such phrases as “it’s a tradition” and “that’s how we do things down here.” Sign of the times, and one not to be forgotten.