Tag: felicity huffman

Rudderless


Rudderless (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

After a school shooting and their college-aged son, Josh (Miles Heizer), ending up dead, Sam (Billy Crudup) and Emily (Felicity Huffman) get a divorce because they are largely unable to move on from the loss and trauma. Josh was quite a singer-songwriter and, two years later, Sam decides to pass his deceased son’s songs as his own. Impressed by Sam’s performance at a bar, Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a musician, approaches the man and suggests that they collaborate to make the songs even better, thus reaching out to even more people. If they are lucky enough, maybe they might make it big.

I wished “Rudderless,” written by Casey Twenter, Jeff Robison and William H. Macy, were a better dramatic film because the songs are so amazing at times, I could not help but think about certain Oasis songs about half a dozen times. Notice that if one were to take the songs away, what results is a deeply unfocused picture with only skeletal-level characterization—if that. It is a disappointment from a storytelling perspective.

Details of the dissolution of Sam and Emily’s marriage is absent which is a problem because there are two would-be moving scenes between the former partners. I felt close to nothing during their interactions because a history between them is not established. I tried to imagine how they must have been like together prior to their son’s death but it is a challenge not only because the screenplay fails to establish the tracks but also because Crudup and Huffman, who are good actors, share little chemistry. It is difficult to believe their characters were married in the first place.

The relationship between Sam and Quentin, who is not coincidentally around Josh’s age, leaves us cold for the most part. Although it is admirable that the material does not go for the expected father-son dynamics, it does not traverse an avenue worth exploring. They are neither friends because of the age difference nor are they sort of a family because Sam is still in deep mourning. So what are they? One gets the impression that by the end they remain strangers. There is no discernible, tangible arc in what they come to share.

When the talking stops, musical instruments are picked up, and singing starts, the movie comes alive. While many of them have an inherent sadness, there is still variation to each of them so not one comes across as repetitive. There are instances when I lost track that I was watching actors performing on stage. Observing them is like being in a real bar and just enjoying the experience of spending time with friends and there happens to be great music being played live.

It must be kept in mind that “Rudderless,” directed by William H. Macy, is a dramatic picture first. The music comes second. Perhaps with a little bit more time drafting the screenplay in order to come up with complex, elegant, and convincing character development, it could have met or even surpassed its potential to entertain and move the audience as a movie, not simply as a soundtrack.

Reversal of Fortune


Reversal of Fortune (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sunny von Bülow (Glenn Close) has fallen into a coma, her second time within the past year. Overwhelming evidence point to the guilt of her husband, Claus von Bülow (Jeremy Irons), and so the jury sentence him thirty years in prison. Although the toxicology report indicates that high levels of insulin is present in Sunny’s blood in which bottles of the drug are found by the maid (Uta Hagen) in Claus’ possessions, the husband insists that he is innocent. Greatly despised by the public for his alleged murder attempt, Claus hires Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver), a Jewish Harvard law professor with a reputation for defending the poor and the oppressed, to prove his innocence on the critical second trial.

Based on a book by Alan M. Dershowitz, the best decision that the filmmakers of “Reversal of Fortune” is its adamancy to remain vague about intentions and motivations. The question of whether or not Claus really did try to insidiously kill his wife with insulin remains in our minds up until the very last unsettling but intriguing scene. Specific events that play out, such as how Sunny ends up in the bathroom face-down with her dress pulled up, are left for speculation. Because the answer is not obvious, the characters, all of them very smart, are challenged to weigh the possibilities–and so are we.

Although Alan is the main character with whom we rely on to ascertain the facts, his team, majority of whom are his students, hold a mirror to reflect some of his ideas and, more importantly, why some of them might be perceived as flawed. Minnie (Felicity Huffman) is especially critical of the types of questions brought up by her colleagues in order for them to successfully defend the case. There is a wonderful scene between Minnie and Alan when the former expresses her disapproval toward the latter defending publicly perceived scum like Claus. While Alan’s argument depends on the ideals of everyone deserving to have someone fight for his or her rights, the exchange is executed in a heated but insightful way. If anything, the argument is not really about rights but to show us Alan’s steely resolve.

Irons’ performance scared me at times, his movements reflects that of a feline encircling his prey. His character is supposed to be the kind of man who is naturally cold even to those he loves most. Whether he is speaking to his wife, children, or mistress, his voice carries a certain level of detachment. Although he has a strong sense of propriety, some might cite elegance, I just had trouble trusting him. Then I began to wonder: Is the picture testing our own prejudices? In other words, just because a person seems consistently emotionally neutral, does that necessarily imply that he or she is capable of murder? How is Claus different from someone who is diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder? Or is he at all different from them?

Based on the screenplay by Nicholas Kazan and directed by Barbet Schroeder, “Reversal of Fortune” treats us as if we are one of the jury members. Facts, interpretations, and point of views are presented and it is up to us to decide whether Claus is culpable.

Phoebe in Wonderland


Phoebe in Wonderland (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

I thought this was going to be a light-hearted children’s movie but it turned out to be something more serious. Elle Fanning stars as Phoebe, a precocious 9-year-old girl who was chosen by her drama teacher (Patricia Clarkson) to play Alice for the school play of “Alice in Wonderland.” Phoebe was more at home on stage than she was in the classroom and with her family. She constantly got into trouble for spitting at other kids whenever she would feel like she was cornered and this alarmed the principal (Campbell Scott), a man who obviously had no idea how to communicate with kids and how to treat them. Felicity Huffman plays Phoebe’s mother, an author who felt trapped because she felt like she was incompetent when it came to raising her two daughters. At first, I thought this film was about a child with an obsessive-compulsive disorder; whenever Phoebe wanted something so badly, she would wash her hands until they bled, walk in circles for hours on end, and go up and down the stairs for a certain number of times. But then somewhere in the middle, I thought that it was about childhood depression–that the reason why Phoebe was so engulfed in the play (and excelling at it) and why she saw the characters from “Alice in Wonderland” was because she wanted to escape the pressures of the classroom and the neglect she felt at home. Ultimately, her disorder was revealed at the end of the film and I was disappointed with myself because I should have seen the signs. Regardless, this movie kept me interested from beginning to end because it had a genuine drama in its core. Clarkson absolutely blew me away. I really felt like she cared for the kids by teaching them how to trust themselves, show initiative, and playing on their strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses. The way she said her lines mesmerized me because her intonations provided real insight on how to live life without caring what other people might think. Her relationship with Phoebe was touching, especially when she consoled Phoebe that being different was perfectly okay, or even great: “At a certain part in your life, probably when too much of it has gone by, you will open your eyes and see yourself for who you are. Especially for everything that made you so different from all the awful normals. And you will say to yourself, “But I am this person.” And in that statement, that correction, there will be a kind of love.” This film undeniably has its flaws, such as its pacing and scenes with the psychiatrist, but the positives far more than outweigh the negatives.