There’s this odd duality that percolates throughout Tim Burton’s latest filmic venture Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. At almost any given time, it is either extremely lively or extremely dull. Look no further than its charisma-hole of a lead, Asa Butterfield (Hugo) for the dullness. He slums through scenes; a wet blanket personified. Flat as a rock, he delivers each goopy line with monotonous apathy, casting a sleeping spell on the enchantment Burton tries (and is sometimes able) to conjure. Moving as if yanked by an invisible chain, he is a blight on an otherwise solidly entertaining feature courtesy of a director who himself has recently unchained himself from his greatest liability (*cough, Johnny Depp, cough*.) Read More
I could watch Bill Murray read a phone book. Or hose down a patch of dirt. Correction: I did watch Bill Murray hose down a patch of dirt. For about five minutes. This is what makes up the end credits of St. Vincent, a somewhat sentimentally told tale of a sun-ripened curmudgeon softened by the articulate innocence of the new runt neighbor kid. The kicker is a brilliant ploy to get people to stay through the bitter end: frame Bill Murray chewing a cigarette, rambling along to Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm”, playing with a watering hose. I’d watch Murray butcher Dylan all day.
Eleven years after Lost in Translation, nine years out from Broken Flowers, Murray’s career has been more an internet sensation than anything resembling that of a hard worker’s. He picks his project like I shop for pomegranates. Very carefully, except sometimes when, fuck it. And good on him. But don’t get me wrong: Bill Murray is the best thing that has ever happened to the internet and, quite possibly, humankind. He lends his face to each and every Wes Anderson project, to the undying thanks of this critic (though he hasn’t had anything particularly juicy since what I just might consider his best ever role as Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic). He mic dropped perhaps the ultimate all time cameo in Zombieland (the man really needs to be knighted the king of meta). He even tried his best for gold with the critically dumped upon Hyde Park on Hudson, the FDR handjob in a field story. With St. Vincent, Murray’s not only returned to comedy but to the spotlight. Where he belongs.
Throughout the years, the one thing that has made Murray so infinitely watchable is his 8-mile thick slab of sarcasm, a trait that writer/director Theodore Melfi exploits to the fullest. With a (not totally consistent) Brooklyn accent, Murray’s drab sense of banter makes him the perfect jackass. Here’s a guy who’ll crash into his own fence, blame it on the neighbor and insist she pay for it. And yet, we’re still able to like him through it all. He gets cut off at the bar (with child in tow), smashes a glass and is kindly escorted out. Who other than Murray could pull off such a feat?
After a night of particularly committed drinking, Murray smashes up his face like he owes himself money. Bleedy, grumpy and hungover, he emerges from his dinky man-cave the next morning to a moving truck smashing its way through his yard. Without holding back a full blown hissy fit, he meets new neighbor Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her shrimpy son Oliver, played by notably not annoying newcomer Jaeden Lieberher. Maggie’s a single mom and an MRI tech so her hours are numbered. When Oliver gets a beat down at his new Catholic school – Chris O’Dowd plays his irreverent but nonetheless clerically collared teacher – he’s sans keys and can no longer get into his house. With a politely timed “Excuse me, sir?”, he asks to take shelter in the very, very humble abode of the crotchety “but interesting” neighbor, Vincent.
At first, Vincent treats Oliver as one would a louse with halitosis. He makes him a plate of sardines and saltines (a dish my inner-child would very much not be opposed to) and calls it sushi. He takes him to the bar to get some drinking done. “Shut up” is the word of the day most days. He’s the babysitter equivalent of Taz, after a bottle of bourbon and a bong rip. Along the way, the two become accidentally close (as they always do in movies of this sort.) A trip to the horse races is laced with a real mix of uplifting dramatics and laugh out loud humor. There’s a montage to follow that will get you grinning like a loon. But it always comes undone. Vincent won’t ever leave good enough alone and Melfi won’t let his lovable asshole off that easily.
There’s tension were it needed be – bookie tough guy Terrence Howard adds nothing to the bigger picture – and that distracts from the emotional honesty at St. Vincent‘s core but as it crescendos towards its heart-rending finale, you’ll find yourself uncommonly willing to forgive it its sins. Scenes Vincent shares with his hospitalized wife are few – almost leaving me (shockingly) wanting more – and handled with delicacy and care, the touch of a director with real sensitivity. The more layers of the onion we peel back on old man Vincent, the more pavement is laid for the barrage of third act lumps in your throat.
By most accounts, St. Vincent shouldn’t work. It’s too tender in some parts, too chewy in others, like a microwaved steak. The conveniences are many, the happy resolution unnaturally tidy. Cruddy, pervy old men, though cruddy and pervy, can be made of gold. We’ve seen it before. It’s basically the Weinsteins’ retelling of Bad Grandpa. And did I mention Naomi Watts is a pregnant Russian prostitute? That casting alone is unthinkable strange, but it somehow works. And like the choppy cadence of Watts’ prego lady of the night, it moves indelicately, but ultimately wins us over. It just goes to show that maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but when you’re old dog is Bill Murray, you don’t need any new tricks at all. Then, the old ones do just fine.
Directed by John Michael McDonagh
Starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Marie-Josée Croze
A preist struggling with his faith and desperate for purpose in the murk of fog-blanketed, 21st century Ireland receives a death threat from an abused alter boy from his past. He has one week and then will be gunned down at the beach, he is told, so he’s got just enough time to get his affairs in order. Although Brendan Gleeson‘s Father James Lavelle may have never touched a fly, much less an alter boy, that’s exactly why this abusee wants to strike out at him, “I want to hurt someone good. Someone who has never hurt anyone.” With exact knowledge of who this man is, Father James chooses not to turn him in, instead he’ll try to change the man. While this selfless choice might inevitably lead to his demise, it’s the only righteous path that his Catholic worldview and personal pathos allow for.
Decidedly more serious and bleak than his debut effort, the well-received The Guard, John Michael McDonagh treads in a whole new direction, though remaining in the lavish playground of his native Ireland. While The Guard allowed Gleeson a chance to flex his comedic muscles playing a racist, half-witted police officer with a semi-solid set of morals, Calvary gives him ample room to breathe as a dramatist.
Knowing he only has seven days to live, we see Father James amble through the five stages of grief and Gleeson is rapturous through it all. At first, he goes about his daily life as if nothing has changed, humming from the threat but keeping it wrangled to the back of his mind. Soon, he’ll begin to strike out at those close to him, embodying the anger of a man watching his life tick away. Onto bargaining – he cuts deals with local elite alongside God – depression – his ancient history with the bottle begins to resurface – and finally the cool serenity of acceptance.
Offering Gleeson a chance to shift masks like a Jungian headcase, Calvary is a showcase of acting prowess but also has a rich beating heart in the rich texture of landscape and the girth of questionable characters that surround Father James’ final days. He may know the identity of his to-be killer but that’s never a fact we’re privy to. As we’re watching, each character, big and small, seems to carry an ulterior motive and McDonagh cranks the suspicion so high that we wouldn’t blink if the perp was Father’s James own daughter (Kelly Reilly).
Though sundry moments of muted comic relief courtesy of the increasingly reliable Chris O’Dowd seek to remind us that even in tragedy, life carries on, Calvary is an intrepid and deeply somber drama, soaring from Gleeson’s dynamic performance. With the capacity to leave us hanging our heads in despair, McDonagh looks past the low hanging fruit and aims for something infinitely more powerful and soulfully infectious, a modern stance on what it truly means to sacrifice.
Set to play Lance Armstrong in Stephen Frears‘ upcoming biopic of Lance Armstrong, Ben Foster has jumped on the saddle as the Tour de France champion turned discredited athlete. From his sinewy limbs to the bumblebee yellow Postal Service jersey, Foster fits the bill nicely in this first look as the film just began shooting. Tracking Armstrong’s rise to seven-time world champion, his battle with cancer, and last year’s stripping of his championship titles, the film doesn’t look to flatter the once respected founder of Livestrong. Hopefully, the story won’t involve too much of dragging through the mud, as it risks making the same mistakes of The Fifth Estate – mostly, penning the story before the ink has dried.
Pulled from the pages of David Walsh‘s exposé “Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit Of Lance Armstrong,” the film, scripted by Trainspotting‘s John Hodge, follows Walsh’s eventually successful attempts to expose Armstrong for using performance enhancing drugs. Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires) co-stars as Walsh and is joined by Guillaume Canet (The Beach) and Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad).
The Untitled Lance Armstrong Biopic is directed by Stephen Frear and stars Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Guillaume Canet, Jesse Plemons. There is no official release date yet.