Seeing a film that does not work can be as instructive as seeing one that does. Granted, a lot of people see movies because they don't want instruction; they just want entertainment. There's nothing wrong with that. That The Hollars does not meet expectations is worth a moment's exploration.
Can't be the cast. Gathered into fewer than 90 minutes are actors of sterling reputations, as comedians and tragedians. First of all are two women with screen cred: Mary Kay Place as a sister and Margo Martindale as the matriarch. Place is kept to a cameo, unfortunately, and Martindale is kept in bed, where she's plucking the coverlet. Still, she manages to exude humor and warmth. Anna Kendrick plays the pregnant unwife, but she connects rarely in the role.
Next, bring on the men: Sharlto Copley is brother Ron, the great Richard Jenkins is the blubbering dad, Don; Randall Park is the stoic doc, Charlie Day is the nurse, Josh Groban is very good as the new husband, and John Krasinski is the other brother, the bewildered John. Krasinski also directed the film from a script by James Strouse, who wrote The Winning Season.
That film had some unpredictables, but The Hollars has only the most predictable of plots. Mother has a tumor, Father is losing his business, Brother spies on his ex-wife, Other Brother won't commit. Occasionally, Strouse's dialogue forms peaks, especially in the fight scenes between Ron and Don and Ron and John. Mother's list of symptoms is oddly funny too. But largely there are not just valleys but whole calderas of incipient eruption.
At least, Strouse resists making sport of the family's name -- like the family Fokkers in that franchise. The Hollars fails but not miserably. It has its moments and its good intentions. So why doesn't it work? Talk amongst yourselves.
For comparative purposes, Snowden should show on a double bill with Citizen4. That way, audiences could discuss the differences between a documentary take and a feature film version of the same story. Audiences could concentrate on that instead of worrying about politics. But the story of Edward Snowden is a political story.
Writer/Director, Oliver Stone's take embraces Citizen4 from the very beginning with filmmaker/ journalists, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, nervously waiting for the sight of the man who made public the truths about the National Security Administration's recordings of Americans' lives. When Edward Snowden walks through the hotel lobby, he is fiddling with a Rubik's Cube, the kind of toy that engages the genius' mind. Watch that cube: it comes around again and again, both as symbol and as storage secret.
Director Stone wrote the script for Snowden. He based it, in part, on the biography by Snowden's Russian lawyer. He shot it largely with digital cameras, which, heretofore, he has used for documentaries. Stone shows the interviews among Snowden, Poitras, Greenwald, and a reporter from The Guardian, well played by Tom Wilkinson. He alternates those with scenes from Snowden's life in the military, with the CIA, and with his geeky girlfriend, a pole dancer/photographer, played well by Shailene Woodley. Stone follows Snowden as his conservative politics shift from negative to positive, while staying true to patriotism as he defines it.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stays true to the Snowden character as revealed in Citizen4. The supporting cast -- Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, and Zachary Quinto -- is led brilliantly by Melissa Leo, ever maternal as Poitras. "Snowden" is definitely an Oliver Stone movie, for it asks the audience to question and seek.
Writer and director Jeff Feuerzeig's film Author: The JT LeRoy Story chronicles one of the more elaborate and bizarre literary deceptions of the twenty-first century. The facts are well known, if convoluted. Laura Albert invented West Virginian JT (Jeremiah Terminator) LeRoy and published Sarah, a popular novel about his dysfunctional life, under this pseudonym.
When pressured to produce JT, Laura imposed on her partner Geoff's half-sister Savannah to impersonate JT and, further, concocted a persona for herself as Speedie, JT's British manager. Many more layers of lying and duplicity attend to Laura's and JT's ingratiating "himself" with publishers and prominent film and television directors. And then, beginning in 2005, The New York Times discovered and revealed the truth.
The anchor throughout the chronologically organized narration is Laura Albert, alone on camera as she relates details of her deceit and encounters. Enlivening the fast edited presentation are animated sequences, numerous shots of audiotape interviews with captions on screen to clarify, home movie and archival footage of celebrities, and a few interviews. But as happens too often when the director is also the writer, Author: The JT LeRoy Story runs too long, at least by 15 to 25 minutes. The middle section, in particular, becomes repetitive, focused on a who's who of rock stars and other celebrities who befriended Laura and fell for the hoax. Because we don't hear their newly informed perspective, only those blinded by fame will care much about the litany of those duped, including Bono, Courtney Love, Madonna, David Milch, Asia Argento and Gus Van Sant.
What would most have benefited the documentary is an analytical voice -- beyond that briefly provided in the last segment -- addressing Laura's psychological and physical tragedies, those events early in her life that prompted her inventions and behavior. Coming very late in the film, it feels almost tangential to the story rather than, as it is, the critical key to Laura. Relying primarily on Laura's description of numerous intricate details often made me feel I'd entered a maze of imaginative but torturous design. Moreover, I repeatedly wondered how much of what Laura related today was fabricated. Without a critical, objective voice guiding the exploration, this is left as an open question. Author: The JT LeRoy Story offers a fascinating but perplexing experience. At Landmark's Tivoli Theatre.
The title of French director Christian Carion's film Come What May suggests a rather untroubled, relaxed receptivity to life's events. This misrepresents the dire circumstances dramatized as the Germans invade northern France, May 1940, driving almost eight million people from their homes, as opening titles report, "one of the largest displacements of people of the twentieth century."
Dedicated to his mother and based largely on her memoirs, Carion begins and ends the film with powerful, black and white photographs of townspeople fleeing their villages and farms in horse-drawn wagons, barely serviceable trucks, and on foot. The weather at the time was glorious, and many rural scenes look ironically idyllic, graced with streaming sunshine and hard-working citizens, until word of the approaching German army reaches them. With WWI experiences fresh in their minds and with the mayor's insistence, villagers accompanied by a German boy named Max flee in a convoy. The boy's father Hans opposed and fled the Nazis, lied about being German and currently sits in prison. Come What May follows the slow exodus of these adults, children and a Scottish soldier trying to get back to his unit.
As a co-writer as well as director Carion integrates events, derived from various true accounts, and shot in the original Pas-de-Calais region with extras from affected families. This element of WWII has received less attention in war films. The trauma comes through as refugees trudge along calmly with unexpected, horrid attacks suddenly unleashed or accidental encounters destroying any security. These terrifying shifts, presented primarily without added music, are often effective. But other scenes don't flow well with mood changes that veer from melodramatic to romantic, harrowing to emotionally flat. This is despite the fact that composer Ennio Morricone, twelve in Rome during this wartime period, provides a score that too heavily telegraphs the emotions, swelling too insistently.
The acting is very professional by all involved, and Come What May offers an important chapter in French WWII history. The film did need a steadier hand on the helm. In French and German with English subtitles and with a bit of English. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Theater.
Max Rose was made three years ago. It was distributed this year to honor the 90th birthday of its star, Jerry Lewis. Lewis is known, of course, for being half of Martin and Lewis and for being the power behind a series of comedies in the Sixties. He has made his share of serious films, the admirable Funny Bones among them.
He is serious in Max Rose. Dead serious. He plays a pianist who has just buried his wife of 65 years, his Evie, played in flashback by Claire Bloom. Max is loved by his granddaughter, Annie, who sacrifices her life to care for him in his widowed dotage. The two have been exchanging one-liners for her lifetime and their love is mutual and deep. Kerry Bishé plays Annie with compassion cooler than befitting. Max is loved by, if a bit estranged from his son, played believably by Kevin Pollak. Just before his Evie died, Max found a compact, black enamel with a rose painted atop the white part. Inside, under the crescent powder puff, is an inscription from another man. Max makes it his business to find this man to confront him. But Max is 87, so hunting and confronting are hard indeed.
The story was written by Daniel Noah, who has Max saying "I'm fine" in a series of inflections befitting a man asked too often how he is or how he'll be. Noah also directed, taking full advantage of a series of long halls, intersected by many doors, the ready to be a farce or a corridor of death with a light at the end.
Jerry Lewis pulls off Max Rose well, very well. His mobile face has softened to the point of erasing his chin dimple, and he sighs like an ill wind, a widower's wind. He is supported by comic Mort Sahl and actor Dean Stockwell. Illeana Douglas succeeds in cameo.
Max Rose adds little to the end-of-life theme, but it offers old-timers in a realistic look at old age, old love, and family affairs. It is not funny -- certainly not traditional Jerry Lewis funny -- except in tiny bits.