Friday, December 31, 2021

Short Takes: December VII - Films

Reviews: C'mon C'mon, The Lost Daughter, Spider-Man: No Way Home

C'mon, C'mon (c) A24

Film: “C’mon C’mon” 
In Cinemas 

Director Mike Mills has certainly come a long way since his debut with “Thumbsucker” in 2005. While that Ritalin-soaked movie had some intermittent joys, mostly from the cast that included Keanu Reeves as a dentist, it wasn’t until “Beginners,” with its Oscar-winning performance by the late Christopher Plummer, and especially “20th Century Women,” which garnered Mills his first Oscar nomination for screenplay, that I really began to understand his vibe and his themes on the modern American family as seen through the eyes of children. In his latest movie, “C’mon, C’mon,” Mills tries to change perspectives to those of the adults in the family and I am sad to say it’s a noble but flawed attempt. A bachelor uncle named Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) volunteers to look after his 10-year-old nephew Jesse (newcomer Woody Norman) while his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) deals with problems in her marriage. The familiar plot holds no new insights about the balance of work and family because, through no fault of young Norman, Jesse is written as such a bratty, spoiled kid that it sort of diminishes the family side of the argument. The irony is that the movie is filled with honest and sincere kids as Johnny’s latest assignment as a journalist is to interview children about the state of the world. Those moments are so genuine and interesting that I wished Mills had made a whole movie about those kids and not Jesse. Phoenix is very good as Johnny until the plot requires him to be neglectful of his uncle duties, which feels fabricated. However, Gaby Hoffman as Viv shines with warmth and honesty, which in turn makes her relationship with Jesse feel authentic. Towards the end of the film, when a détente between uncle and nephew has been reached, I still felt I was being manipulated by the mechanism of the plot to enjoy the resolution. I wanted to love this movie, but I was sadly disappointed. 

The Lost Daughter (c) Netflix

Film: “The Lost Daughter” 
In Cinemas and on Netflix 

Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut is garnering a lot of awards talk, which is sort of surprising considering this adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel centers around a rather unpleasant woman named Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman), a teacher on holiday in Greece, who is annoyed when a huge family from New York invades her beach, including a mother (Dakota Johnson) and her young daughter. The little girl sparks memories of Leda’s life when her daughters were that age (Leda is played in flashback by Jessie Buckley). This is an assured and mature film, and Gyllenhaal is supported by a trio of actresses who are courageous enough to play some darker elements to their characters. Where it goes feels very much like a novel and less cinematic, so how much you’ll enjoy this movie will depend on your investment in Leda and her psychological scars. Colman’s performance is fearless, occasionally reminding me of a younger version of Judi Dench’s character in “Notes on a Scandal.” However, by the time the film reached its climax, my interest level had waned. I appreciated the effort, and while Gyllenhaal does make some rookie mistakes, including a reliance on obvious symbolism, I look forward to her next film. 

Spider-Man: No Way Home (c) Jay Maidment, Sony Pictures

Film: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” 
In Cinemas 

It would appear the third “Spider-Man” movie is the salvation of in-person cinema with its almost billion dollar worldwide haul in two weeks, the biggest since the pandemic started. I found the first film in the series, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” one of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And with each subsequent movie in the series, the stakes have gotten higher, with the fate of Europe in Spidey’s hands in “Far From Home” and now in “No Way Home,” it’s the universe, or more specifically, the multiverse on the line. A lot of the charm of the first movie has been lost. In “No Way Home,” our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man tries to fix the damage done when his identity is revealed and his friends and family are subjected to social media and police scrutiny, and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t go very well. Even with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange in the movie, everything still falls on Spidey’s young shoulders. The biggest asset these movies have is Tom Holland, who makes Peter Parker so relatable and engaging that even when he gets into increasingly inane situations that are there just to advance the next MCU series, I was never bored. Of course, when we get to the main event, I did geek out, but I found the journey getting there to be both manipulative and unconvincing. Marvel and Disney announced that Holland will star in a second trilogy of new “Spider-Man” films, I hope they will scale back the hurly-burly of Spider-Man and return to the humanity of Peter Parker.

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