Tag Archives: family drama

Bloodline (season 1)

Main Cast: Kyle ChandlerBen MendelsohnLinda CardelliniNorbert Leo ButzSissy SpacekEnrique MurcianoSam Shepard;

bloodline

 

“All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and it applies very well to this family drama set in  beautiful Florida Keys. The Rayburns are well-respected and pillars of the community of Islamorada. The patriach  Robert (Shepard) and his wife Sally (Spacek) own and manage a renowned inn. Their grown-up children are quite arrived and leading a nice life: John (Chandler) is a detective for the sheriff department with a lovely wife and two teenager kids, Kevin (Butz) owns a marine services facility and he’s married and Meg (Cardellini) is a gifted lawyer with a charming boyfriend Marco (Murciano), who is also John’s partner.  The exception is the eldest: Danny (Mendelsohn), who seems to always find himself in trouble and he’s the only one who’s left their hometown. Danny’s return for the celebration of the 45th anniversary of the inn is both expected and dreaded by the rest of the family, since there’s clearly something in the past that hangs over all of them. After a little back and forth, Danny decides to stay in town, although his father and his siblings are ambivalent about it (to say the least!). The story is intertwined with flash-forwards that give you hints of what’s to come but not to the detriment of the plot. I liked the juxtaposition of the bright sunny weather for the current tale and the dark rainy one for the future tidbits. This is a slow burning tale, that takes its time flashing out the characters and moving along the plot, and it is more a “whydunit” than a whodunit, since it is clear from the beginning that something has gone terribly awry and who is responsible for it. It should be seen as a very long film so stay away if you are impatient and want episodes that make sense as stand-alone. If you, on the other hand, like getting to know the how and what and why for each main character then this is your cup of tea. The cast is incredibly good (Chandler, Spacek and Shepard in particular) but Mendelsohn is spectacular! Worth watching just for him. Riveting —7.5/10

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Il Capitale Umano

capitale-umano

Director: Paolo Virzì; Main Cast: Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Matilde Gioli, Valeria Bruni TedeschiGuglielmo PinelliFabrizio GifuniValeria GolinoLuigi Lo Cascio;

Stark and unapologetic portrayal of Italian middle and upper class through the story of two families: the Ossola and the Bernaschi, their fortunes collide after a terrible accident on a night before Christmas. The film has a Rashomon’s structure with: a short prologue showing a cyclist being run off the road by a dark SUV late at night, the previous six months leading to the night in question told by the point of view of three characters and an epilogue. Firstly the audience meets Dino Ossola (Bentivoglio), he is a small time real estate agent, his business is in crisis but he wants to make the big bucks no matter what. As it happens his teenager daughter Serena (Gioli) and Massimiliano Bernaschi (Pinelli) both attends a posh private school and are dating, perfect way for Dino to insinuate himself into the life of powerful financial banker Giovanni Bernaschi (Gifuni) and get involved in high risk but highly rewarding investments. He lies and cheats to try and get what he wants, not caring that he’s risking his children’s future. As time goes by and the financial crisis tightens its grip, things start to look grim for Dino and the ones closest to him are none the wiser: his second wife is too involved with her work as psychologist for troubled kids and his daughter has her own problems to deal with. Cue to Carla Bernaschi (Bruni Tedeschi), once an actress, she married up and lives now a cushy life among the well-to-dos, busing herself with shopping. Her life seems rather aimless until she finds a new interest: save the local theatre from being converted into condos. After getting the money from her husband, she organises the renovation and put together an artistic committee that will manage the activities of the theatre. Carla pours herself into the work and makes a tight connection with Donato (Lo Cascio) since Giovanni is too busy and worried about his business and her son too self-absorbed. The last charter is Serena’s point of view, it sheds light on a few tricky details of the story and makes it all clear about what really happens the night of the accident. I don’t want to give away the ending so I’ll just say that she ends up being the strongest character, more determined and selfless than the rest. Although adapted from a an American novel, Paolo Virzi manages to give a scary picture of the opulent and self-serving upper-middle class that lives in the small towns north of Milan, with a sharp eyes for details and social nuances. The film keeps the viewer engaged and interested to the very end, however it does leave a bitter aftertaste and a gloomy outlook of Italy nowadays, perfectly exemplified by Carla’s last line: “You bet on the downfall of this country and you won”. The cast is spectacular: from Fabrizio Bentivoglio’s rendering of Dino, unctuous, mellifluous and down right repellent to Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s pitch perfect interpretation of Carla, so lackadaisical and passive but ready to do what is necessary even if it’s despicable. Special mention to Matilde Gioli, her Serena is impressive and very relatable. Provocative and compelling —9/10

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Oldies but goldies: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Director:  Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Main Cast: Elizabeth TaylorKatharine HepburnMontgomery Clift;

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Doctor Cukrowicz (Clift) is a young and capable neurosurgeon, recently arrived at the Lions View Hospital in New Orleans from Chicago. He is developing an experimental treatment for mental illnesses: lobotomy, considered a rather cutting-edge (pun intended) and effective approach in 1937. Having read about him in the newspaper, Mrs Violet Venable (Hepburn), a wealthy and well known widow, summons the good doctor to her house and presses him into using his surgeon’s skills on her disturbed niece, Cathy (Taylor),  who is currently residing at a private facility for the mentally ill. The board is set for this family drama to unfold, the viewer will slowly discover more details about Violet and Cathy along with the Doc and, naturally, there is a deep, dark secret that will be uncovered at the end. In this character-driven film, deftly directed by Mankiewicz, women have the lion’s share: Hepburn and Taylor are both brilliant and give spellbinding interpretations. Violet makes a very striking entrance, coming down in an open elevator, all wrapped in white and talking fondly about her son Sebastian, the poet. The audience learns about gifted, charming Sebastian who died, suddenly, the previous summer in Spain, while travelling with his cousin Cathy. The latter came back rather “unhinged” and with an amnesia about what exactly happened to Sebastian. She is committed to a facility and basically held there because of her unseemly tales about Sebastian, which Violet finds disquieting. We also detect a simmering anger and jealousy in Violet, since she had an unsound, possessive, co-dependent relationship with her son and she resents and holds Cathy responsible for what occurred. The doctor is caught up between these two strong women and seems a bit lost at times, mostly due to Clift’s portrayal, very subdued and lacking the necessary clout and charisma. The story is moved forward through what it would be considered today an excess of dialogue, which is understandable being an adaptation of a play by Williams, but I think it works very well and it helps in shaping all-round characters. The only complaint about the film could be about not using enough the visual medium as a way to tell the story, although Mankiewicz made some interesting choices for the final monologue that I found very effective. Riveting —7.5/10
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This post is part of the Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Margaret Perry, read all the other interesting contributions here:

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August: Osage County

Director:  John Wells, Main Cast: Meryl StreepJulia RobertsChris CooperMargo MartindaleEwan McGregorSam ShepardJulianne NicholsonJuliette LewisBenedict Cumberbatch;

august-osage-county

Tracy Letts adapted his Pulitzer winning play for the screen and it is a very interesting study of characters and family dynamics. With John Wells at the helm, an old and honest hand at the craft, we get, alternatively, dark, stuffy interiors and burning summer light on the plains of Oklahoma, nice juxtaposition that underlines the inner turmoils and difficult relationships of the Weston family. The family members reunites under rather gloomy circumstances: the disappearance and then death of the patriarch, Beverly (Shepard). It appears clear to his eldest daughter Barbara (Roberts) that he committed suicide, having made arrangements such as hiring a help for his cancer-suffering, pill-popping wife, Violet (Streep), two days before vanishing. The audience slowly learns about the past of each character and how they became what they are, in particular we get an deep insight into Violet: the harsh childhood and difficulties of her early life, and her sister Mattie (Martindale), turned them both into strong-willed, unforgiving women and relentless mothers and wives. It is a rather dismal portrait of what people can do to the psychological health of their children. Barbara is the eldest and clearly the favorite but, being an opinionated, strong woman herself, keeps locking horns with her mother, unfortunately, in turns, she is alienating her soon-to-be ex-husband Bill (McGregor) and teenager daughter (Abigail Breslin). Ivy (Nicholson) is the mild-mannered, submissive daughter, who does everything to help her mother (she is the only one who lives nearby) and avoid confrontations (which seems a self-defense technique). Karen (Lewis) is the free-spirit but insecure one, always undervalued and dismissed by Violet, who either runs away from her problems or desperately tries to fix them finding the “right” man. Among this gallery of “terrible” women the men seems both helpless (and hapless) and the only ones who can achieve some redeeming qualities. While longtime alcoholic and poet Beverly finds that the only way through is to walk out of this raw deal, his brother-in-law Charlie (Cooper) attempts to be level-headed, patient and kind, proving to be the most balanced person of the whole family. Little Charlie (Cumberbatch) is the most pitiful of the lot: disliked and verbally abused by his mother Mattie, with zero self-worth and self-esteem, still shows a gentle nature and a kind soul. As always, family reunion will bring up old stories and things that rub the wrong way, including long-kept secrets. It is very far from the Brady bunch and not a edifying picture of familiar relations but, nonetheless, an amazing study of human nature with all its ordinary flaws. The cast as an ensemble is spectacular and makes the film, the lion share is, of course, taken in equal parts by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, both stretching their acting chops very effectively. Special kudos to Cooper and Cumberbatch for their portrayal of decent men. Intriguing —7.5/10

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Out of the Furnace

Director: Scott Cooper, Main Cast: Christian BaleCasey AffleckZoe SaldanaWoody HarrelsonSam ShepardWillem DafoeForest Whitaker;

out-of-the-furnace

A story of brotherly love and loss in a small town of America’s Rust Belt. Russell Baze (Bale) works a dead-end job at the local steel mill, takes care of his very sick father with his uncle’s (Shepard) help and his younger brother Rodney (Affleck) has been stop-lost and will soon go back to Iraq. Being a decent, hardworking man and wanting to built a life with his girlfriend (Saldana) is not something that is usually rewarded in life and Russell’s fate is only about to get worse. He ends up in prison for drinking and driving, after being involved in a car crash in which people lost their lives. When Russell has finally paid his debt to society, a few years have gone by and his world has changed: his father is dead, his girl has moved on and shacked up with Wesley Barnes (Whitaker), the chief of Braddock’s police, and his brother is broken, lost and in deep with the wrong crowd, after coming back from his tour in Iraq.  Since the audience has met early on both the town’s small-time crook Petty (Dafoe) and the ruthless, all-round criminal DeGroat (Harrelson) from up north (Bergen, NJ), it is very clear that things will end bad, at this point it is just a matter of seeing how grim the story will turn out. Rodney is using his fighting skills as bare-knuckled boxer in illegal matches, trying to earn money to pay back a debt he has with Petty and have something left. Once he goes up in the Ramapough Mountains to fight in a match organised by DeGroat, he will never come back. This sends Russell over the edge and on a path of revenge but as Confucius said: “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”, which is quite an apt description of the ending. The slow burning pace of the movie, along with the rural and desolate settings, increase very effectively the foreboding mood of the story and a good characterisation keeps the viewer engaged. Although all the cast is excellent, I’d say that this is a Bale and Harrelson film, the latter in excellent form as the villain of the piece. Relentless 7/10

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Consuming Spirits

Director:  Chris Sullivan, Main Cast (voices): Nancy AndrewsChris SullivanJudith RafaelRobert Levy;

consuming-spirits

Forget Pixar, Dreamworks or Japanese anime, this is something very different. Chris Sullivan spent 15 years making this feature animation, using various techniques and obtaining a rather unique and surprising result. It tells the story of Gentian (Jenny) Violet, Victor Blue and Earl Gray, who live and work in Magguson, a small town of the Rust Belt. Jenny and Victor appear to be in their late thirties, they are friends and co-workers at the local newspaper, The Daily Suggester, while Earl is an older man, hosting a program about gardening at the local radio. Their lives seems rather ordinary and a tad lonely but an accident on a fateful night (due to alcohol inebriation) set off a chain of events that will lead us to discover secrets about the past of the characters and their deep connection. This is not a family movie, it is a rather dark tale about ghosts from days gone by and how they haunt us, a story of love and jealousy, of chasing after things that are lost without never really catching them. I’ve interpreted the title as referring to both the imbibing of alcohol and the spirits of the id, and I find it very appropriate. The view of this film requires not only a staunch heart but also patience, since the chronicles of Jenny, Victor and Earl move with a slow pace, still, you should stick with it to know all the details and understand them better. Unusual and disconcerting —7/10

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Nebraska

Director: Alexander Payne, Main Cast: Bruce DernWill ForteJune Squibb;

nebraska

How much do we truly know our parents? Alexander Payne might have been wondering the same while he was filming this story. The idea behind it is simple: a father and son road trip, which seems the premise for a sugary, heartwarming tale of rediscovery and bonding. Well, if you have seen Sideways or The Descendant, you won’t be surprised at what Payne comes up with instead. Although it is mainly Woody Grant’s story (Bruce Dern), an alcoholic and slightly senile retiree, we live it through his son David (Will Forte), an unassuming and sensitive stereo salesman. After Woody makes a few (failed) attempts to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska, from Billings, Montana, to claim his million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize (in reality a mail scam to get people to subscribe to magazines), David decides to drive him, ignoring his mother Kate (June Squibb) and his older brother’s protests and dismay. What follows are a series of adventurous mishaps (including hospitalization, loss of dentures, theft of a compressor) with a two days pit-stop in Woody’s hometown (Hawthorne, Nebraska) for a family reunion. We meet the Grant’s clan, Woody’s numerous brothers and their family, and stroll down memory lane. News of Woody’s riches spread through Hawthorne like wildfire, despite David’s efforts of setting the record straight, and several interested parties come knocking asking for a share. In the meantime, we learn also a few things about Woody’s past, as David talks with relatives, old family friends and neighbours. In the end David gives to his father what he really wanted since the beginning of the trip: a new pick-up truck and a new compressor. Beautifully shot in black and white, to better highlight its character-driven nature (it reminds me of old daguerreotypes) and the desolation of small-town America, this film gives a honest take on the elusiveness of familial bonds and the difficulties of really understanding the ones closest to us. A quote from Norman Maclean comes to mind: “it is those we live with and love and should know who elude us”.  On the other hand, Payne shows us the greedy, ignorant side of people, balancing the positive vibes with a healthy dose of cynicism. Dern is astonishingly good as booze-addled, semi-catatonic Woody and Forte works as perfect foil with his dutiful and remarkably patient David. June Squibb as Kate adds hilarious and venomous wit to this mix of eccentricity, kindness and world-weariness that portraits an ordinary, dysfunctional family life in a remote corner of America. Inspiring —7.5/10

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Like Father Like Son

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda, Main Cast: Masaharu FukuyamaMachiko OnoYôko MakiRirî Furankî

Family drama in modern Japan: Ryota and Midori, a well-to-do couple, discovers after six years that their son has been swapped at birth with someone else’s. We follow the slowly unfolding of events from the first meeting with the other couple, who owns a small hardware store, to spending time with the other child and getting to know him and his family. It is interesting to see the very different interaction of the fathers with their sons and between the families, the viewer can appreciate cultural nuances and rich subtext due to the dissimilar social background. The film focuses in particular on Ryota, who is rather distant and strict as a father, more worried about making his sweet, mellow son stronger and independent, to prepare him for the future, than to actually spend time with him. When he finds out that his child is not biologically related to him, he starts to question everything about his son and to yearn for one more like him. It is a journey of introspection for Ryota, he struggles with his own daddy issues and tries to decide what is the best way to resolve the situation. The good performances of all the cast and the sure hand at the helm make the film absorbing and touching. —8/10

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