Thursday, January 22, 2015
I rented, I watched, I review: "Short" reviews of SKELETON TWINS, CALVARY, LOCKE
The thought of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader starring in a movie together just feels right for some reason, doesn't it? They built up such a great rapport with each other through SNL so it's not much of a stretch seeing them play brother and sister. It's too bad "The Skeleton Twins" is a little too generic and goes through tropes that are a little too familiar to make this film really stand out despite the presence of such talented performers.
Yes, Wiig and Hader, two fantastic comedians, have found themselves trapped in an overly-gloomy, and dour indie drama which tries to wedge in fun, "spontaneous" moments between the two leads that just feel unearned. As if to remind the audience that, indeed, these actors also happen to be comedians. I am always curious to see how comedians handle doing more serious material. In "The Skeleton Twins," Wiig and Hader definitely show flashes of brilliance, but too often their performances are bogged down by a bland script. This is supposed to be a dramedy, but the drama isn't as hard-hitting as it should be (considering the two lead characters are contemplating suicide), meanwhile the film's more comedic scenes just don't land.
The movie opens with Maggie and Milo (Wiig, Hader) who live on opposite sides of the country and are both attempting suicide. The only reason Maggie puts away the pills is because she gets a phone call, notifying her of Milo's attempted suicide.
These characters have issues, no doubt about it. Maggie's married to a loving husband, but for some reason, she can't love him back. She's been cheating on him, in fact. Milo's depressed as he thinks his best days are when he was in high school and he recently got dumped by his boyfriend. These twins haven't talked to each other for over 10 years by the time Maggie sees Milo in the hospital. They've each lead pretty miserable lives for the last decade and what they begin to realize is that the thing they needed the most... was each other.
Sounds sweet, right? It kind of is. The sweetness comes from the natural charisma between Wiig and Hader, but their characters get so hung up in their own misery, rarely giving a chance to let the audience in and feel their pain. I don't know. This isn't a bad film, but it constantly threatens to enter Zach Braff territory when it comes to its sappiness. Not fun enough to be enjoyable, not emotional enough to feel cathartic... in the end, "Skeleton Twins" just felt flat. And I found its overall ho-hum treatment of suicide to be fairly problematic.
John Michael McDonagh's young career as a filmmaker is pretty interesting. He's the older brother of fellow filmmaker Martin McDonagh and, two movies in, it's safe to say he's the darker one of the duo. John Michael was previously responsible for "The Guard," a film which also stars Brendan Gleeson. His older brother wrote and directed "In Bruges" and "Seven Psychopaths." Watching their careers unfold, it makes me wonder just how many movies we'd get if the Coen Brothers worked separately.... ok, that's a terrible thought.
Interestingly enough, of the two brothers, it's John Michael McDonagh who takes the bigger creative and artistic leap with his follow-up film "Calvary" and what we wind up getting is a deeply ponderous film that delves into religion, hypocrisy, and the way all the residents of this small Irish town deal with the various disappointments in their lives.
The film centers on Father James (Brendan Gleeson). In the opening shot, Father James is listening to a man's heartbreaking confession about the horrific sexual abuse that he dealt with when he was a child growing up in the Catholic church. He ends his confession on a chilling note, telling the Father that he has decided, in seven days, that he will murder him. It doesn't matter that Father James is innocent. Father James has been given a death sentence that hardly seems fair, but as the confessor argues, having to live with memories of being sexually abused as a child is pretty unfair as well.
I consider "Calvary" to be the Anti-Philomena. That's probably why it wasn't nominated for any Oscars this year, despite Gleeson's masterful performance. Calvary has several moments of lightness and levity, but for a McDonagh film, it's quite dark. I call this the anti-Philomena because while Sister Philomena had to deal with the hardship of never meeting her son before he died, she still manages to find it in her heart to forgive the nunnery who took her baby away. The confessor in "Calvary," on the other hand, is past the point of forgiving anyone. "Calvary" leaves us with difficult questions about the nature of forgiveness, morality, and faith. This makes for quite the powerful viewing experience.
Despite John Michael McDonagh's more dramatic approach to his second film, he still manages to fill the film with a great amount of wit. The film occasionally threatens to get too dark at certain points, but McDonagh's able to give the film enough humor and sharp dialogue to keep you going.
Oddly enough, despite not being religious, I actually quite like films like this. Some of my favorite filmmakers have made interesting films centering around a priest. Hitchcock's "I Confess" comes to mind, as well as Jean-Pierre Melville's "Leon Morin, Priest" and Ingmar Bergman's "Winter Light." Sometimes a film can be powerful and resonant just by asking questions the audience was previously too afraid to ask. Did the confessor deserve to have all those terrible things happen to him? Absolutely not, but Father James doesn't deserve to die either. But "Calvary" deals with these issues head-on and never pulls any punches, and the results are quite stunning.
For 84 minutes, Tom Hardy's character Ivan Locke is driving his car to London. The only characters he talks to are via his car phone. Let me repeat this. Tom Hardy is the only actor that physically appears in this film. The only one. And it's just him sitting in his car for 80 minutes! Yet, in that brief timespan, we watch Ivan Locke's world slowly crumble down before him and it's thrilling as hell to watch.
How the hell did they pull this off? It's simply the right combination of a script that unravels at a perfect pace with an actor that's absolutely at the top of his game right now. There's really not much more to say about this film, or if there is, I'll save it when it inevitably ends up on my year-end list, but I honestly could not be more impressed with this film. It was absolutely a thrill ride and because the film is made in a way that I never experience before, it made the experience even more thrilling.
Writer/director Steven Knight does a superb job here and while I've already given Hardy deserved props, the secret star of this movie is the cinematographer, who manages to capture the England highways in a way that feels poetic and colorful. This is a richly layered film, like a nice little cake. Everyone, I demand you, take a bite out of this cake. It's fucking delicious.