Tagged Abuse

Revenge is The Gift that Keeps on Giving

The Gift. 2015. Directed & Written by Joel Edgerton.
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin, Busy Philipps, Adam Lazarre-White, Beau Knapp, Wendell Pierce, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, David Denman, Katie Aselton, David Joseph Craig, & Susan May Pratt. STX Entertainment/Huayi Brothers Pictures/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 108 minutes.
Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
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Joel Edgerton is a triple threat – he can act, write, and direct. The first thing I’d seen him do as a writer was the exciting film The Square. That same year, he put in a stellar acting performance as Ian Wright in the underrated dark thriller Acolytes. Next, he was spot on Barry ‘Baz’ Brown in David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, and another solid screenplay in 2014 for director Michôd’s The Rover. So to see him in The Gift with all three barrels blasting, starring on top of directing and writing together, it is truly phenomenal.
While this movie wasn’t exactly as great as the hype suggests, Edgerton does craft a very deep, at times highly disturbing thriller with lots of human drama and intrigue, weaving the story of two men together in adulthood concerning a terrible secret from when they were children. Most of all, Edgerton explores how we never really know people. Not fully, not all of them. Some hide things, unnerving and even awful things. And this is a story about when those secrets in the past crawl their way into the lives of people in the present. Often with horrific consequences.
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Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn Callum (Rebecca Hall) are a well put together married couple. They eventually want to have children, but other than that everything is wonderful. Until along comes Gordon ‘Gordo’ Moseley (Joel Edgerton), an old high school acquaintance of Simon. He starts showing up unexpected at their home, usually bearing a gift. Except this continues and continues to an odd length. Soon, Simon feels he has to tell Gordo to back off.
However, the past is tricky. Not everyone, even those married and close to one another, knows the people around them completely. Everybody has a secret. It just so happens some are worse than others. And the secret Simon’s been hiding is certainly worse. As the presence of Gordo in their lives starts to threaten their plain, enjoyable existence, Simon and Robyn are confronted with how the past can taint the present forever.
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Aside from Edgerton, whom I dig, Jason Bateman is part of why I immediately found myself drawn to The Gift. He’s someone how has impeccable comedic timing and delivery, so to see him in something darkly serious is interesting. He does a good job with the character of Simon. What’s fun is that the character begins at one end of the spectrum, commanding our empathy for the situation in which he finds himself, as well as the fact his wife is inadvertently drawn into his past. Then by the end of the movie we’re questioning exactly where the loyalties lie as viewers. He is no longer worthy of our empathy, but at the same time we’re left to question how much punishment he actually deserves. One thing’s for sure, the true colours show and we finally see who Simon was all those years ago.
There’s also Rebecca Hall, she is a treat as usual. Here she gets a better role than most of the other films I’ve seen her in, as the character of Robyn is complex, endearing, and of course once the movie has run its course there is so much more involved. She plays the role well and she definitely has chemistry with Bateman, even Edgerton, too.
And Edgerton, he does a fine bit of work. Gordo is a nerve wracking character who’ll make you nervous almost every last second his face is onscreen. Whereas Edgerton often has a fairly built physique, or a manly build, whatever you want to call it, Gordo is more sheepish. He isn’t lost of confidence, not at all. But physically he isn’t imposing, he is sort of odd, awkward, and that makes him even more menacing in a way.
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The sad and smiley faces are something that warn you right away. Gordo’s stuck as a young boy, one used to writing notes across the class with pretty girls, smiley faces and all. This is an immediate clue, even from the first smiley, that something is amiss. Of course he’s a bit creepy all the time. There’s something about the notes, the smiley and later sad faces drawn on, which bring your attention to something traumatic. People who go through various kinds of trauma at a young age can often find themselves stuck in that age, often times for the rest of their lives. So later, once things are uncovered more and more, we’re clued into the fact that these little droplets of character actually mean something. It’s weird from the start, but gains further eerie significance after more story details fall into our laps. That’s part of why Edgerton’s script is really enjoyable. Despite being a fairly slow burn for most of its run there are so many moments to hook you in, keep you glued to what’s happening.
Spoiler Alert
: if you’ve not seen the film, do not go on. I’m about to discuss & spoil the ending.
Personally, I don’t think Gordo raped Robyn. To me he doesn’t seem like that type, no matter if he’s a creep. And above all, because he didn’t need to do that. All he required was the seed of doubt. Plant that in Simon’s head once and it’ll never go away. Simon would spend the rest of his life wondering, likely afraid to say anything about but all the while allowing it to consume him. That’s the greater revenge, in my opinion. Now there are some people I saw complaining about the rape angle being used here as a plot device, and I identify as a male feminist, so I understand there are films which really do exploit these types of situations and events. The Gift is first and foremost about the specter of abuse, rape, sexual assault. Because going back to the original events which spurred Gordo on, they were fictitious. So why not give Simon a taste of his own medicine? That’s what it all hinges on, in my opinion. Gordo wanted Simon to experience exactly what he did. Right down to a big fake-out.
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Ultimately, this is definitely a 4-star dramatic thriller with a good dose of mystery. Joel Edgerton’s done a fantastic job crafting a tense story. With the stellar main trio of performances this script comes alive. Sure, it is slow and at times moves with a snail’s pace. But that’s never a bad thing if the plot is compelling. And The Gift is absolutely compelling, if anything. It engages you with a highly adult story that stems from childhood, making you question how people change, can they actually change, is it possible to shake off the devastation of the past, among many other questions begging for an answer. The finale might shake many people. Even as a seasoned horror veteran, the end of the film is still shocking in its own right. Regardless, the whole ride is worth taking. Hopefully Edgerton takes on some more films soon as director because he’s got incredible sensibilities for directing in terms of shot composition, pacing, all the necessary elements. Only a few flaws to be found, but otherwise this is a taut, suspenseful piece of cinema.

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The Devastating Motherhood of Room

Room. 2015. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Screenplay by Emma Donoghue, based on her novel of the same name.
Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue, William H. Macy, Randal Edwards, & Justin Mader. A24/Element Pictures/No Trace Camping/TG4 Films.
Rated PG. 118 minutes.
Drama

★★★★★
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I’ve not yet seen director Lenny Abrahamson’s 2014 film Frank, but awhile back I had the chance to see his earlier film What Richard Did and found it incredibly thought provoking, as well as intense and visceral. Abrahamson certainly has a knack for tackling darkness, and from the looks of Frank he also traffics in weirdness, too. Which is great because his latest directorial effort, a screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel Room, is equal parts odd, heartwarming, and boasts a heap of darkness (though not in a horror-ish sense). With a true story serving as the jumping-off point for Donoghue, her story tackles the life affirming relationship between a mother and her son, despite all odds. And yet, as I’ve said, the dark aspects of the plot are constantly worming in and out of the story as it goes. I’ve never read the novel, but I hear great things. If it’s even half as good as the film (luckily the author adapted the screenplay herself; usually a plus), the book is bound to make me run the gamut of my emotions. With a sparse yet engaging style, Abrahamson takes us through this whirlwind story, finding aid in an incredible pairing of Brie Larson and child actor Jacob Tremblay. If you’ve heard lots of hype about the film there is a reason for it. The hype is very real and every last bit is well deserved.
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Loosely inspired by the real life case of Josef Fritzl, Room tells the story of Ma (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who live together in a small ten-by-ten room; a shed, essentially. Inside, they live out life one day at a time. They have the basics: a place to use the bathroom, to cook, to wash dishes, a place to sleep, too. That’s about all, though. Their keeper, a man they simply call Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) – the one who kidnapped Ma and brought her to Room – comes down from time to time to sexually abuse Ma, as Jack hides in the closet. Occasionally, when needed, Nick brings supplies like food and other things to the family of two. It is a bare, horrible existence. Jack doesn’t know anything of the outside world, except what he sees on television.
After he turns five-years-old, Jack begins to learn about the world outside Room. But he doesn’t exactly like what he hears, as it breaks down his preconceived notions of what the world is, being the four walls around him. As Ma tries her best to help Jack understand, she also formulates a plan. She wants her boy to help trick Old Nick.
Thus begins the hopeful escape of Ma and Jack. And it’s only the beginning.
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One impressively tragic moment early on is when Jack tells his mother “next week when Im 6” she’d better get real candles. She has to correct him that he means next year. Right then and there we understand how blatantly obvious the damage done to him is, as in he’s unable to determine between a week, a month, a year. Because in Room, time is nothing, it is a measure of something the child can’t begin to comprehend. Outside, time goes by, but in there they’re stuck living the same day, over and over. Only minor changes happen. I love that within such a short frame of time we’re already able to understand the isolation.
Later, when Ma has to explain to her boy about the outside world it is intense and sad. It hurts to see Jack unable to get “what the world is.” He thinks it’s all a part of an awful process called growing up. He doesn’t get that the world is out there, they’ve simply been shut off from it by the hideous man known only as Old Nick.
My heart officially broke, yet opened wide, as Jack finds himself for the first time in the outside world beyond Room. Laying in the pan of a pickup truck, he looks directly into the sky and watches as the vast blue ocean above him passes by. It is one of the most emotionally intense scenes I’ve watched in awhile. At once, you’ll be so happy and simultaneously you’ll feel everything shatter. Honestly, it’s rare a drama gets to me so thoroughly and deeply. The way Abrahamson shoots this sequence is so powerful; it plays with your emotions, though, not in a way which tricks you. It is a pure and raw scene filled with beauty of the deepest kind.
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The writing is incredible. I’m sure the novel is a powerhouse, because Donoghue adapts it well for the screen. One part I enjoyed so much is the narration by Jack, especially after they make it out of Room and into the world. He talks about being “in the world for 37 hours“, as if he was never actually in the world locked in that shed, which of course he really wasn’t, I suppose. But the way Tremblay talks, his way of expression, the inflection of his voice, it is so crazy to imagine he’s a child. It’s as if a grown man is inside him acting. And Donoghue’s words shine through him. The way she explains things via the Jack character is exposition, but it doesn’t feel that way. We really get life from his perspective, as it would likely be if a kid was hidden away for his entire first six years then suddenly released into the outdoors. Even the way we literally see shots from Jack’s perspective, it holds the excitement and wonder of a little kid, something we all can remember looking back on the early years. So combine Donoghue and her writing with Abrahamson’s directing style, and everything converges into such a perfect mix. The screenplay’s basic and honest storytelling is complimented by the way Abrahamson pushes things forward with an equally honest, compelling view into the life of all these people affected by tragedy. It is not an easy story to tell, in any sense, yet these two artists, along with a great team, make Room into one of the best movies of 2015.
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A flawless 5-star film. Perhaps it isn’t everyone else’s cup of tea. Maybe others may expect more outright darkness, but that’s just not this movie. Room tackles a difficult story, one loosely based in real events. It tackles the difficulty with grace, subtlety. The main actors, Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, knock their characters out of the park; their chemistry is unreal at every moment, in every last scene, and you’d swear they lived together for a year before filming. All cylinders pump from the moment Room begins, to the minute the credits roll. Not often am I visibly affected by a drama, though, every now and then one comes along that captivates me, takes me to another place emotionally, mentally. Room is one of those very films. It won’t be soon that I forget it, either. Neither will you, I suspect.

Tyrannosaur; a.k.a What is Redemption?

Tyrannosaur. 2011. Directed & Written by Paddy Considine.
Starring Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Paul Popplewell, Samuel Bottomley, Sian Breckin, Ned Dennehy, Sally Carman, Julia Mallam and Natalia Carta.
Warp X/Inflammable Films/Film4/UK Film Council/Screen Yorkshire/EM Media/Optimum Releasing.
Not Rated. 92 minutes.
Drama

★★★★★
tyrannosaur-poster01 Paddy Considine is a great artist, in terms of writing and directing. He proves it here, fully. I already enjoyed his talents as an actor. However, the promise he shows in the dual role of writer-director with Tyrannosaur is astounding. Because it’s a grounded, raw and real piece of work. There’s no doubt. Every inch of this film speaks to the core of the lower middle class, hell, anyone who isn’t on the bourgeoisie scale. This movie is about the common man, its heart is in the common people. Considine writes as if he knows each of these characters, from Peter Mullan’s agonisingly truthful/equally painful Joseph to Hannah and her heartbreaking faith in the face of all hardship played perfectly by Olivia Colman. While there is truly a ton to love about Considine’s debut feature (his first work as director was the short film which turned into this: Dog Altogether), the best of everything is the fact that, among an industry almost obsessed with keeping to fads and follow along with trends, this movie touches on real issues and struggles, shockingly true to life situations and all the horrifically honest bits of life people often don’t want to acknowledge exist. At times this is a film you may want to look away from, even if its little speckles of violence aren’t explicit and graphically shown. But trust me, it’s worth the effort to get through because Tyrannosaur has a message beneath it all.
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A career alcoholic and a man with constant burning rage in his heart, Joseph (Peter Mullan) has only acquaintances. His one friend, his dog, gets beaten to death one night. By his own hand. After this event, Joseph goes down the bottle even further. Between fighting people at his favourite hole in the wall bar to arguing with an idiot neighbour, something always seems to be following Joseph, to be eating him alive. After taking refuge in a store, he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman) and they form a nice yet tenuous bond. She has her own problems. At home, Hannah’s husband James (Eddie Marsan), a fairly bad drunk himself , abuses her; he urinates on her after she won’t wake up when he’s home from the pub, he later beats her up. When the lives of Hannah and Joseph intersect more intensely, things begin to change for both of them. Although, for one of the two it may not turn out as perfectly as they had imagined. And soon an act transpires which can’t be changed.
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On top of the raw, gritty realism of Considine’s writing, his directorial style plays just as well to the story and its themes. There is nothing fancy about the way he presents his subject. In fact, that’s what works. I find there’s a tendency for films with tough subject to often lean into trying too hard for an aesthetic which matches it, in terms of it becoming fabricated. Whereas there are films like this one and something like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy which use a very simple look, and it suits the raw feeling of the plot and story. Mostly, Considine puts us directly with both Joseph and Hannah. He finds a way to simply let the viewer watch these characters, as well as sit right in on their situation alongside them. We get great looks at the landscape around these characters, such as the lower class housing where Joseph lives and the little pubs and all that. At the same time, we’re closed in with good tight frames on the faces of Joseph and Hannah respectively. We’re as close to in their heads as possible, sort of floating along in their life. Not to say Considine doesn’t do anything interesting. He does. But it’s the way he does it so simply which makes it work flawless, it is understated film making; less is more, in a wonderfully bleak way.
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Adding to the realism of the way in which Considine writes and presents his subject/themes, the two big central performances of Tyrannosaur are towering as the beast from which it takes its name.
Peter Mullan is an actor I’ve always loved. The first time I actually took notice of him personally was Trainspotting and then Session 9, but after that I went back and found all sorts of amazing performances. Here, he spreads his wings and flies. It’s utterly amazing. And crazy enough, from the first moments we see the character Joseph when he kicks his beloved dog to death, there’s somehow part of us wanting to connect. Even after seeing such a devastating and senseless, heartless act, there was something in Joseph I couldn’t shake. It’s a repulsive act to begin a film, but that’s part of the redemptive process. Mullan takes us through all the motions with Joseph, working from a despicable moment in time to the finale where surprisingly he makes it through, somehow. Part of why Joseph is able to hold onto us, or me anyways as a viewer, is because of the way Mullan plays him. There are sensitive scenes where Joseph actually appears naked and raw to us with his inner self, a man who wants to be someone else other than what he’s become. Those scenes are juxtaposed with the raging animal inside him, clawing to get out; and sometimes, it does. Mullan was and is the only man to play Joseph. Can’t see him as anyone else. The intensity of this character comes off perfect with Mullan in the role, as does the inner struggle without Considine having to write in a ton of expository back story.
No way can Olivia Colman be left out of the acting conversation. The role of Hannah is not an easy one, nor is it an uncommon life; sadly too many women suffer in disgusting relationships such as the one she and her husband have together. Colman brings a humanity to the role. Many female characters who are abuse/rape victims, such as Hannah, seem to get written wildly one-dimensional. With Hannah, Considine gives us a woman who is religious and at the same time is confronting all these things – alcoholism, physical and mental abuse, rape, et cetera – which directly contradict the heart of true religion. Colman shows us the core of a woman whose faith is holding on so hard to her heart and her mind, yet at the same time she is a woman who can only take so much. At times, I teared up, all due to Colman and her performance. It’s an excellent pairing with the powerhouse abilities of Mullan on display.
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Tyrannosaur is a 5-star film. All the way. I love every last second of it, even if it is a grim watch at most points. Paddy Considine proves his worth as a writer-director. He knows how to present the grittiness of real life in a welcomed perspective. While there is an over abundance of the mental and physical violence inherent in many lives around the world, Considine also brings us into a space where redemption is possible. On one hand, the character of Joseph begins driving towards oblivion head-on and even Hannah gets caught up in this whirlwind of rage. On the other hand, both of these characters show us that, no matter what, in the end redemption can be possible. Even someone like Joseph, whose first scenes would have most people believing it would never happen. Maybe it never does, fully. But the faith in humanity, not that of religion, is what triumphs. Underneath the rough exterior, Tyrannosaur has a clear and true heart filled with the dreams of possibility.