I love the end of the year!
So many wonderful, rich, intelligent dramas all throwing themselves at audiences, and of course Oscar (he of the Academy Awards) like lustful teenagers at a One Direction concert.
I don’t even care that it will mean I never leave the cinema; it will be worth it to watch all these movies, with a few rom-coms and big budget spectaculars thrown in for variety.
So here are four fine dramas that have captured my attention and one possibly cliched rom-com that looks like fun regardless, and the reasons why I am going to add them to my ever-growing movie-viewing schedule.
I think I may need a truck of popcorn to see them all out …
In William H. Macy’s moving directorial debut Rudderless, Billy Crudup plays Sam, a former high-profile advertising executive whose life is torn apart by the sudden death of his son. Living off the grid on a docked sailboat, he wastes away his days while drowning his pain in alcohol. When Sam discovers a box filled with his son’s demo tapes and lyrics, his own child’s musical talent is a revelation for him, a grieving father who felt he’d been absent from his son’s life. Communing with his deceased son’s dashed dreams, Sam learns each song and eventually musters the will to perform one at a local bar. When Quentin, a young musician in the audience, is captivated by the song, the unlikely duo forms a rock band that becomes surprisingly popular and revitalizes both of their lives. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
Grief, as anyone who has lost someone they love dearly, is a messy, unpredictable beast.
Until we are faced with the profound loss of someone, it is well nigh impossible to know how we’ll react and that I think is precisely the point of William H Macy’s directorial debut, Rudderless, which examines how one man handles the death of his precious, loving, talented son in ways that probably would have surprised the man he was before this traumatic event.
Sam’s descent into an alcohol-fuelled abyss is entirely understandable, but it’s made clear it’s not sustainable, something he no doubt suspects when he uncovers his son’s songs and realises that giving voice to them is a better way to reconnect with him in a way, one he never quite managed while he was alive.
Macy commented on this in an article on Entertainment Weekly saying:
“The songs turn out to be the engine of [Sam’s] redemption. The film is not about music, but there’s a ton of music in it.”
And that looks to be the magical part of this film – it is grounded in a deep understanding of what grief is, how it plays out, and that the most unlikely things will provide, if not closure (assuming such a thing exists which is debatable), at least some sense that we have lost that person completely.
You get the impression that Rudderless, which Ty Copper of Hey U Guys called “the greatest film to emerge from Sundance this year”, is one of those movies that will be as enriching as it is profoundly moving, a film so well put together and sensitively written and directed, that you can’t helped but be changed by it, even a little bit.
Rudderless opens 17 October 2014 in USA; no international release dates available as yet.
Uptight New York documentary filmmaker Josh Srebnick (Ben Stiller) has hit a creative dry patch while working on his cerebral new film until him and his wife (Naomi Watts) are approached by a couple of spontaneous young artists (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried) who help to restore Josh’s long-lost youth. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
I think all of us have vague ideas of what our 40s may be like when we’re younger, largely coloured by overblown, almost cartoonish midlife crisis cliches that include but are not limited to fast red cars, trophy husbands or wives and a sudden urge to buy a marmot-breeding farm in Nova Scotia and dress in woollen knits woven on your own loom.
The reality, as those of us who entered this august decade, is quite a bit different.
What actually happens is that one day, seemingly out of nowhere, you involuntarily do a stocktake of your life, and realise that somewhere along the line you didn’t quite accomplish everything you thought you would when you were in your 20s and life seems long, limitless and rife with possibility.
It doesn’t matter how good your life may be, there is this nagging sense that you haven’t quite ticked all the boxes on your grand plan of life.
It’s this sense of everything being a little off or incomplete that Noah Baumbach has distilled in While We’re Young with Kevin Jaggernauth of The Playlist on Indiewire noting in his review:
“It’s too bad Judd Apatow has already taken the title This Is 40 because that’s the perfect description of Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young. The writer/director has previously explored midlife crisis, malaise and discontent in efforts like Margot At The Wedding and Greenberg, but his latest revisits and expands on those themes in what may be his most accessible film since The Squid And The Whale.”
Coupled with much-lauded performances by Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts and Adam Driver (who, pleasingly, seems to be in everything these days), Baumbach’s latest treatise on the complicated business of living looks like it is definitely worth catching.
In which case, it may be a good idea to hold off on purchasing that red sports car just for the moment.
While We’re Young premiered at Toronto International Film Festival on 6 September 2014; no international release dates available as yet.
An Oscar-winning writer (Hugh Grant) in a slump leaves Hollywood to teach screenwriting at a college on the East Coast, where he falls for a single mom (Marisa Tomei) taking classes there. (synopsis via IMDb)
I adore rom-coms.
I really do.
But of late, many of the films being released in this genre, of which truth be told there haven’t been a lot anyway, have left me vaguely or greatly disappointed, a tired stringing together of cliche upon cliche that simply connect the dots with the expected and well-worn tropes and accomplish little else.
And frankly my expectations for The Rewrite are not that it is going to be that great breakout rom-com that restores my faith in this much-maligned genre.
But there is something inherently appealing about the arrogant big noter being forced to downsize his life and expectations, and in the process magically finding his misplaced humanity, and discovering love true love.
It’s even more appealing when its Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei and on that basis alone, I’m willing to give The Rewrite a chance to woo, seduce and just generally charm me.
The Rewrite opens on 8 October 2014 in UK with other countries to follow.
Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) is 17 years old when her perfect homemaker mother, Eve (Eva Green), a beautiful, enigmatic, and haunted woman, disappears – just as Kat is discovering and relishing her newfound sexuality. Having lived for so long in a stifled, emotionally repressed household, she barely registers her mother’s absence and certainly doesn’t blame her doormat of a father, Brock (Christopher Meloni), for the loss. In fact, it’s almost a relief. But as time passes, Kat begins to come to grips with how deeply Eve’s disappearance has affected her. Returning home on a break from college, she finds herself confronted with the truth about her mother’s departure, and her own denial about the events surrounding it. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
I love movies that subvert expectations.
They look like one thing at first glance but emerge in their telling as totally another, defying either impressions gained from the trailer (which are often not accurate barometers of the final movie anyway) or from the hype and publicity that surround them.
According to Andy Greene, writing on Pop Insomniacs, that’s exactly the effect that White Bird in a Blizzard has on you:
“White Bird in a Blizzard is a movie filled with tropes from such varied genres as coming-of-age, romantic comedy, mystery/missing person and the American Beauty school of marital strife. We’ve seen versions of this story several times, but never quite mangled together like this before, which is precisely why I was so captivated, uncomfortable and surprised by this movie. Even its setting, in 1988-1991, filled with hilarious 80’s-isms, were almost a distraction from what was really going on. I went in knowing nothing about the plot of White Bird in a Blizzard, so instead, I relied on my preconceived notions about genre and similarly themed films, which is exactly what Araki and company wanted. The result is a movie that shocked and impressed me, mirroring Kat’s life-shattering and long-awaited realization in White Bird in a Blizzard’s final moments.”
Fancy that! A movie that surprises and shocks and surprises.
That is such a rarity in our information-drenched, hype-saturated digital age that on that basis alone I am going to see this film, quite apart from the fact that it’s based on the beautifully-written book by Laura Kasischke which has been skilfully adapted into a riveting and expertly-directed screenplay by Gregg Araki.
White Bird in a Blizzard opens in USA on 24 October 2014 (via internet download 25 September).
Men, Women & Children follows the story of a group of high school teenagers and their parents as they attempt to navigate the many ways the internet has changed their relationships, their communication, their self-image, and their love lives. The film attempts to stare down social issues such as video game culture, anorexia, infidelity, fame hunting, and the proliferation of illicit material on the internet. As each character and each relationship is tested, we are shown the variety of roads people choose – some tragic, some hopeful – as it becomes clear that no one is immune to this enormous social change that has come through our phones, our tablets, and our computers. Based on the novel by Chad Kultgen. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
There are some who joke that the much-feared and anticipated zombie apocalypse has already arrived.
Not so in form – it’s highly likely we’d notice ambulant rotting re-animated corpses staggering or running at speed towards us – but in spirit, with mobile technology drawing people into their own little worlds to such a degree that any meaningful contact with people around them is reduced to almost nothing.
Warm Bodies had some fun with this in a flashback airport scene that showed largely silent passengers glued to their mobile devices, all passing within centimetres of each other but never connecting; the almost immediate flash forward to zombie apocalyptic version of the same part of the terminal honestly didn’t look all that much different, which was, of course, precisely the point.
Based on the novel by Chad Kultgen, and directed by Jason Reitman (who co-wrote the screenplay with Erin Cressida Wilson), Men Women and Children runs with this theme – not so much the zombies those of you not inclined to horror will be glad to know – examining how technology has fundamentally the way we all live our lives and relate to one another.
While Justin Chang of Variety doesn’t necessarily think it succeeds in its examination of this modern phenomenon, he does note it’s a central part of the movie’s storytelling:
“Troubled Teens & Clueless Parents might have made a more honest title for Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children, a carefully diagrammed thesis movie about The Way We Live Now — specifically, how our attachments to the virtual world are destroying our relationships and turning us into a race of fame-obsessed, porn-addicted e-zombies. Unfolding as a series of loosely connected cautionary tales on the perils of excessive phone, Internet and social-media use, this painfully well-meaning but largely unpersuasive bid for cross-generational understanding feels at once of-the-moment and too obvious by half, like a less overblown version of “Crash” for the information superhighway.”
It’s reputed failings aside, I am still mightily intrigued by the themes it examines, which is why Men Women and Children will be high on my southern hemisphere spring viewing schedule.
Men Women & Children opens in limited release in USA on 1 October 2014 with wider release following on 17 October and UK on 24 October 2014.