Monday, February 05, 2018

Sunday, November 26, 2017

movie review: Lucky

Lucky
(USA, 2017)
directed by John Carroll Lynch
starring Harry Dean Stanton



Lucky was Harry Dean Stanton's last movie, and it is John Carroll Lynch's directorial debut. It is a worthy film in both regards. Not much happens, but somehow we as audience members want to keep watching.

In the movie, Harry Dean Stanton is a 91 year old man (the actor's actual age) living alone in a small town. He is surprisingly fit and has a morning routine that involves a lot of yoga, a lot of walking, and coffee and a crossword at the local diner. It is a town where everyone knows everyone and people look out for the vulnerable. The staff at the diner where he's a regular keep an eye on him. In the evenings he frequents a bar where his friend, played by David Lynch, joins him to sing the praises of his runaway tortoise, President Roosevelt.

Not much happens, but one minor event sends him to his doctor (brilliantly played by Ed Begley, Jr.) and causes him to really, seriously ponder his rapidly approaching mortality. He spends most of the film grappling with his newfound realization of the fact that like everyone else, he too will eventually shuffle off this mortal coil.

It may sound unappealingly heavy, but Lucky actually manages to stay light and wryly funny while doing justice to a serious topic. The cast is stellar--in addition to Stanton, Ed Begley Jr., and David Lynch, there are other familiar faces that deliver perfect performances.

Highly recommended for longtime and new fans of Harry Dean Stanton.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Film review: The Commune (Kollektivet)

The Commune (Kollektivet)
Denmark, 2015
dir. Thomas Vinterberg

Thomas Vinterberg is good at making movies that hit you over the head like an oncoming train and often subvert your expectations. His film The Celebration was utterly stunning in this regard. I remember thinking I had a reasonably good idea of what it was about before I watched it and being absolutely blindsided by it. Similarly, The Hunt is a powerful piece of cinema that doesn't go as you might think it will.

The Commune is not quite up to the calibre of those films but it is still interesting and worth watching. And like with The Celebration, Vinterberg manages to make it not what you think it will be. The story centres around a married couple, Anna (Trine Dyrholm) and Erik (Ulrich Thomsen), who inherit a huge house. Instead of selling it, at the wife's urging, the couple and their 14 year old daughter Freja (Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen) move in to the house and invite some friends and acquaintances to move in with them and form a sort of commune. The first invitee, Ole, is obviously someone Anna has been attracted to in the past, so the red flags go up immediately. How will this all go terribly wrong?

Now at this point all I could think was, oh god, living in this sort of set up would be sheer hell. No other drama necessary, just the thought of sharing space with that many people makes me shudder. But Vinterberg does not take us where we think he will.

Against my expectations, I liked most of the characters. Unfortunately, one criticism I have of the movie is that it doesn't flesh out the secondary characters enough, which is a bit of a waste since all the actors are so good. The only character I disliked entirely was Erik. He's completely insufferable, a totally unselfaware jerk who feels put upon but doesn't realize his actions have gotten him where he is. There are a few things in the movie that made me wonder if Erik is supposed to be a stand in for the director, and for Vinterberg's sake, I sure hope not.

Although I thought Trine Dyrholm did a magnificent job as Anna, my very favourite characters were Ditte (Anne Gry Henningsen) and Steffen (Magnus Millang) and their son, Vilads (Sebastian Gronnegaard Milbrat). At first I feared they would be unbearably twee and annoying, but they quickly grew on me. Vilads is only six but has a heart condition, so he frequently announces that he will not live past nine. Instead of sealing him in a bubble, his parents let him live the life of a normal little boy and experience to the fullest the life he's been given.

I suppose that is what Vinterberg might be trying to get at. Life does not always go how you think it will. You can struggle and rail against it or you can try to live as fully as possible, awkward and painful as that may end up being. Life is messy and humans are imperfect, but generally capable of meaningful connection even in the face of conflict. It's not an original premise, but it's interesting to see what Vinterberg has done with it.