Late Bloomers (2011)
★ / ★★★★
When Mary (Isabella Rossellini) experiences a sudden memory loss, it struck her that old age is right around the bend. She sees a doctor, fearing that it might be a symptom of dementia, but tests suggest that she is healthy. She is told to lead to a more physically active life so she joins a gym. Meanwhile, Adam (William Hurt), Mary’s husband, gets more immersed in his work as an architect. He is hired to build a nursing home but he feels the need to construct a museum. In his attempt to accomplish both, he and wife’s relationship begins to crumble in an unfathomable rate.
Though the material is led by very experienced actors who remain interesting to watch from beginning to end, “Late Bloomers,” written by Olivier Dazat and Julie Gavras, feels too flat at its worst and a silly romp at its best. The crux of the story is a marriage that is rotting from the inside and yet it does not spend enough time with its main players to inspire us to really understand them as people. A lot of what is seen is behavior.
To shake up the gloom, some comedy is forced into its bones. They are easy stereotypes. For instance, when Mary gets a tour for a potential job, all the paid workers are young and all the volunteers are of a certain age. It would have been funny if something unexpected had been coupled with the would-be joke. Alas, the punchline, if one is generous and decides to call it that, is Mary’s paranoia that she, someone who is about to turn sixty, has no place in society. A lot of the scenes go on like this. They are interminable.
Mary and Adam’s problems is supposed to suggest a human story, one that ought to be relatable, but it is approached very systematically. The first part focuses on Mary’s fears and then our attention is turned to Adam’s temptations. Afterwards, it is onto their three grown children, cardboard cutouts of real people. James (Aidan McArdle) is uptight, Giulia (Kate Ashfield) is calm and level-headed, and Benjamin (Luke Treadaway) is an artist who is all over the place. Not once did I buy them as a family.
Although they are limited by the screenplay, Rossellini and Hurt try their best to mold their characters into real people. When these two actors share a scene, even their pauses generate electricity in the air. When Rossellini gives a certain look, it is often a mixture: of sadness and anger, of disappointment and shame. When Hurt hesitates to bridge the distance between Adam and Mary, we feel his character forcing it for the sake of not having a confrontation that might turn their relationship worse than before. So then how does it get better?
Directed by Julie Gavras, it is strange that “Late Bloomers” does not aspire to be great even though it is equipped with great actors. Movies about old age mixed with marriages on the rocks have been done better. This one is barely a footnote, it is invisible.
★★ / ★★★★
When David (Tim Robbins) recently moved to New York City, he found its various noises sort of endearing, a reminder that he was a part of something that was alive and thriving. But something changed. Lately, David is being driven nuts by car alarms and he is angry that their owners cannot be bothered to shut them off. Feeling like he must do something to incite change, he creates an alter ego known as The Rectifier, a man who smashes car windows and disables the nuisance that plagues neighborhoods.
“Noise,” written and directed by Henry Bean, should be lauded for being unafraid to assault the audience with all sorts of unwelcome noises: from car alarms, construction drilling, rumbling trucks, to loose manholes. A lot of us have been woken up in the middle of the night by an alarm of some sort and it would feel like years until its owner would turn it off. Afterwards, being a light sleeper, I would find it almost impossible to go back to sleep.
In a lot of ways, it is easy to relate to David. Why aren’t people more responsible and more considerate of others? The picture manages to move forward slightly by raising the stakes and allowing David to get involved with the police. There is humor in the exchanges because there is truth in the script, like the cops tending to arrive when the problem is no longer there.
However, the middle section is unbearably stagnant. It sheds its edgy black comedy in place of elements composed of typical family drama so that the audience are likely to feel sympathy for David. It need not go in that direction. It feels like an easy way, not to mention cheap, to force the character to be more relatable. As his marriage crumbles and is fired from his job, I found it difficult to really feel anything for him because the forced conflicts come across as phony. I was more curious about his relationship with the city that never sleeps as a single man, no longer having the excuse involving his wife and daughter not being able to sleep.
Later, David met an attractive woman named Ekaterina (Margarita Levieva), a potentially interesting romantic interest that shifts the film’s focus away from David’s war with noise. While they try to pass a car alarm initiative that the mayor (William Hurt) is likely to ignore, much of their interactions are of sexual or intimate nature. I wondered if the material means to suggest that the root of David’s annoyance is really of a sexual nature. After all, the issue of impotence is mentioned earlier and David seems more calm after he and Ekaterina are able to satisfy their physical needs.
However, outside the bedroom, the two characters are not as interesting. The screenplay is not successful in showing us that she is a good enough reason for him to abstain from his past criminal behavior.
“Noise” is ambitious with its humor. It forces us to sit through all sorts of commotions but its subplots are unfocused at times to the point of boredom. David is an interesting specimen because he views himself as a savior, so I think the character deserves more than looking and acting irrational.
Doctor, The (1991)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Dr. Jack MacKee (William Hurt), a surgeon specializing in the heart and lungs, has had a tickle in his throat for months. Clearing it became a habit and Jack does not think anything of it until his coughs produce droplets of blood. He goes to see Dr. Abbott (Wendy Crewson) for a check-up but it is not good news. The diagnosis is laryngeal tumor and further tests are required to determine if it is benign or malignant. The table is turned: Jack, a brilliant doctor but has a poor bedside manner, is forced to experience how it is like to be treated like a specimen rather than a patient who might be feeling afraid, has questions, or in need of comfort.
Based on a memoir by Dr. Edward Rosenbaum and adapted to the screen by Robert Caswell, “The Doctor” is a touching and amusing portrayal of a man who learns the hard way how to really see and feel for the people he encounters on an every day basis. The picture could have been consisted of one cliché after another, but the partnership of Hurt’s performance and an intelligent screenplay create a sort of miracle: the focus is on a person with a specific personality and perspective so his eventual change of heart feels fresh.
Jack’s inability to relate with his patients is not similar to that of Dr. Gregory House where the latter is a mile-a-minute sarcastic motormouth. Here, the character is portrayed as such an expert in balancing professionalism, good jokes, offensive jokes, and sarcasm that he is unaware that he is coming off inappropriate at times. It is often difficult to place a finger on which pulse is front and center. Hurt makes a convincing doctor who has been in healthcare for so long that the character is blinded or numbed by the many things wrong in the establishment. So when reality strikes, Jack is stuck hard.
The manner in which the screenplay allows Jack to relate to two women is interesting. I enjoyed how I always questioned whether Jack and Anne (Christine Lahti), his wife, are a happy couple. In the beginning, I assumed they are on the verge of separation because it is suggested that he spends too much time with his job and not enough with his family. Later, I realized I was wrong—or so I thought. In some scenes, I felt my original instinct was right. I enjoyed how the level of connection—or disconnection—between the pair is not always clear. It feels honest: not every couple is happy—or angry—with one another or all the time. Some days are good and others can be better.
The second relationship takes in a form of friendship between Jack and June (Elizabeth Perkins), a woman who has a stage four brain tumor. We suspect that June is likely to teach Jack how to accept his condition and “start truly living” because she appears very together for a person who is dying. As it turns out, she also has a lot of anger but not toward an obvious thing. There are layers to her and we understand why Jack is drawn to her personality and energy.
There are a few corny scenes but most of them can easily be overlooked. However, one that strikes the wrong chord with me is a spontaneous trip to the desert. Later, we watch Jack and June’s silhouettes dancing as the sun sets. I suppose it is designed to be sweet, but I found the whole sequence as trying too hard to make us think that there might be something else beyond friendship between them.
I wonder if “The Doctor,” directed by Randa Haines, was at one point shown to medical students to remind them that being a good doctor requires more than knowing facts and applying them. A good doctor is one who can also relate with his or her patients. The first half is especially good at showing the other side of the desk, the side where people—often uncomfortable or in pain—sit on chairs to fill out pages of forms and wait for their names to be called. Even when they do finally get one-on-one time, there is no guarantee they will be treated the way they ought to be treated.
Accidental Tourist, The (1988)
★★★ / ★★★★
Macon (William Hurt) and Sarah (Kathleen Turner) lost their young son just a year ago, and both are still very much grieving and unable to move on. Sarah wants a divorce because Macon, a writer of travel guides, is not always home to provide the emotional support she needs. So they can move on together, Macon suggests that they should attempt to have another child. Sarah is appalled by the idea. For her, the only choice is separation.
The most impressive aspect of “The Accidental Tourist,” based on the screenplay by Frank Galati and Lawrence Kasdan, is its ability to hone in on the universal emotion that is grief, mainly from a father’s perspective, and supporting two ideas: there is no right or wrong way to deal with death and grief does not come with an expiration date.
Because the material deals with the subjectivity of emotions, it is wise that, for the most part, we are left to our own devices. We are encouraged to ask why characters think or act the way they do. For instance, I think there is feeling of hopelessness in the marriage because Macon and Sarah believe that they should have already moved on even though it has been only after a year since their child’s death. Although they try very hard to tell themselves that they are or should be past it, they just aren’t. Something is missing.
The film is special because it is brave enough to touch upon the western idea that grief should have a time limit. I may get over a death after two months. You may get over it after five years. It does not make me insensitive; it does not make you hypersensitive. Each of us just tend to process emotions in different ways.
Unlike Sarah, Macon deals with his sadness by shutting down emotionally, being more reticent and inexpressive. As he jumps from one plane to another, he sits on his chair with a book wide open but we can almost feel him not really reading or processing what his eyes have seen, just staring blankly at the pages, wondering what has gone wrong. We take note that he is an organized man who has grown to fix anything that appears inconvenient. But death is anything but convenient. He feels powerless because he cannot undo or fix a life that has been lost. Hurt plays Macon with searing emotional pain, but a lot of it is hidden underneath by his character’s need to complete his work and responsibilities. It is very sad because he does not seem to be aware that he owes it to himself to feel the magnitude of the situation before he gets a real shot toward acceptance.
Meeting a dog trainer, Muriel (Geena Davis), is critical to his journey. He finds her to be rather odd. She is not afraid to express what she thinks and what she wants. Although she is a stranger, being with her summons feelings of interacting with a great friend who extends a helping hand without ever being asked. There is a warmth to her and Macon is initially–and understandably–repelled by it. After all, when something very hot and something very cold mix, a reaction is usually observed.
There is a great subplot involving Macon, his two brothers (David Ogden Stiers, Ed Begley Jr.) and sister (Amy Wright) living in one roof. All are over forty years of age and still–or recently–single. Perhaps the reason why is because they have grown accustomed to their comfortable routines. Having to break from the usual is inconvenient–there is that word again–and almost unthinkable. When Macon’s publisher, Julian (Bill Pullman), begins to have feelings for Rose, Macon’s sister, the brothers are threatened. They hope that the relationship will not get to the next level simply because they will have to adapt and that requires effort. Macon’s grief and dysfunctional siblings mirror each other in surprising ways.
Based on the novel by Anne Tyler, “The Accidental Tourist,” directed by Lawrence Kasdan, is purposely slow and somber but it has moments of genuine comedy even if the characters do not crack a smile or laugh. We are on the outside looking in. If we can feel their unhappiness so strongly, imagine being in their shoes.
Dark City (1998)
★★★★ / ★★★★
John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) woke up in a bathtub with barely any memory of where or who he was. The phone rang and a psychiatrist named Dr. Schreber (Keifer Sutherland) told him that a group of men called The Strangers were on their way to John’s hotel room to kill him. Another group that was after John was the police led by Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) because they believed John was a serial killer. Bumstead’s first lead was John’s wife (Jennifer Connelly). The picture’s greatest asset was its ideas that continued to challenge the audiences. The fantastic visual and special effects became secondary but they enhanced the experience of watching the city’s many mysteries unfold. We couldn’t help but question why every time it was midnight, time seemed to stop except for The Strangers and some select individuals. What were The Strangers up to? Specifically, what did they want from humans? Why were they living underground? How come we and the characters never see the light of day? I had my hypotheses because of one scene involving Dr. Schreber and a mouse attempting to find its way out of a maze. Crossing out my guesses one by one was half the fun. Like Bumstead, we were forced to pay attention to the small details and the implications in the dialogue. I loved that the film chose not to spoon-feed its viewers critical information. Its magic then comes from us as active participants. We become detectives and try to make sense of whatever was happening. “Dark City” had major negatives that I believe prevented the film from becoming a masterpiece as most people consider it to be. I had problems with the first half’s pacing. I think the picture spent too much time putting John in situations where he was confused and disoriented. I didn’t think it needed to hammer the fact that he had amnesia because the first scene did an excellent job setting up John’s psychological state. Furthermore, when the movie tried to be philosophical, it did not always work for me. For example, John told one of The Strangers that what they wanted could be found in the heart and not in the brain. Technically, everything we are and everything we can be is embedded in our brain. While the two undoubtedly need each other, the brain governs the heart. This can be observed when we tell ourselves to calm down when we’re angry and we find that our heart rates tend to decrease. In a way, when the film tried to be philosophical, I found it borderline cheesiness. Nevertheless, “Dark City,” directed by Alex Proyas, is a strong science fiction film. It was appropriately titled because it was literally dark, it had many mysteries worth exploring, and it had just about the right amount of menace to keep those with short attention spans engaged. I admired its ambition and film noir undertones.
Village, The (2004)
★★ / ★★★★
The first time I saw M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” back in 2005, I didn’t like it because I thought it was too strange for its own good and the pacing was too slow. I’m happy to have given it more than one chance because I thought it got better upon multiple viewings. The story involved a small village terrorized by creatures in the woods. For some odd reason, skinned animals started appearing in greater numbers but the leaders of the village (William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson) had no idea what they have done to anger the creatures. As the younger residents (Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Judy Greer, Michael Pitt) lived a life of relative bliss thanks to the secrets they have not yet discovered, chaos started destroy the village from within until a blind girl, played by Howard, went on an important quest through the feared woods. I thought the second half of the movie was stronger than the first half. While the first half had the bulk of the story, I constantly waited for small rewards that would keep me glued to the screen until its climax. Unfortunately, those small rewards did not deliver so I felt like the story could have gone in any direction. I questioned whether it wanted to say something about the specific group of people in relation to the environment they built for themselves or if it wanted to be a psychological-supernatural thriller. The lack of focus lost me. Fortunately, the second half was when everything started to come together. I’ll try not to give anything away but I enjoyed the way Shyamalan incorporated the reality and the supernatural. Specifically, when Howard went into the woods and encountered something she did not at all expect. There were twists on top of another and it made me think without feeling any sort of frustration which I think is difficult to accomplish. The scenes in the woods were beautifully shot but at the same time the beauty was sometimes masked in an ominous feeling of dread and anticipation. I can understand why a lot of people would consider “The Village” one of Shyamalan’s worst projects especially if they’ve only seen the movie once. The pacing was indeed quite slow and there were a plethora of questions with open-ended answers concerning the characters’ histories and the multilayer mystery surrounding the village. However, the second half piqued my interest (even though I’ve seen it before) and I thought it was very well done without overdoing the twists. At its best, “The Village” is imaginative and unafraid to take risks; at its worst, “The Village” is a bit insular and may drown in its own vanity.
Beautiful Ohio (2006)
★ / ★★★★
Chad Lowe’s directoral debut is rather difficult to get through because it doesn’t rise above the stereotypes regarding depressing suburban drama. William Hurt and Rita Wilson have two sons: David Call, a certified genius in mathematics, and Brett Davern, who is rather ordinary. Michelle Trachtenberg complicates the storyline by filling in the role as the not-so-girl-next-door who the two brothers happen to be attracted to. The first part of the film is rather interesting because it explores the jealously between the two brothers–mainly Davern struggling to live in his big brother’s shadow versus stepping out of it. I could relate to the two brothers because they pretty much have nothing in common except for their unconventional parents. Things quickly went downhill from there because the dialogue mostly consisted of the characters discussing theories, influential musicians and citing quotes from renowned individuals. Their pretentiousness created this wall between me and the characters. Therefore, when something dramatic happens to a particular character or a revelation occurs, I found myself not caring. I didn’t find anything particularly profound that drove the story forward either. Lowe really needed something above the whole parents-not-really-caring-about-their-children idea because it’s all been done before by better films. Davern reminded me of Emile Hirsch in “Imaginary Heroes,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but without the nuances of pain and complexity. If Lowe had explored the common theme of characters not understanding each other (literally through language or emotionally) in a more meaningful and not a heavy-handed manner, this picture would’ve worked. The revelation about a certain character in the end felt out of place. Don’t waste your time with this one.