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Review: Wildlife

Wildlife, a film about the destruction and rebuilding of self-esteem and the self, is utterly devoid of ego.

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Wildlife
Photo: IFC Films

“And there are words,” Richard Ford writes in his 1990 novel Wildlife, “significant words, you do not want to say, words that account for busted-up lives, words that try to fix something ruined that shouldn’t be ruined and no one wanted ruined, and that words can’t fix anyway.” And it is words, and the failing of words, and the language of images articulating the things that words can’t, that interest Paul Dano. The actor’s directorial debut, adapted from Ford’s novel by Dano and Zoe Kazan, is a calm yet doleful film whose every frame is carefully composed, every camera movement contemplated and subtle. Its characters are given ample time and space to speak their minds (or to not say what’s on their minds), and they surprise themselves with decisions that are as unforeseen as they are inevitable. Wildlife is at once loquacious and laconic, a film in which simple words hold unspoken and unequivocal power, and the space between banal utterances become chasms.

Set in the 1960s, the film follows the teenage Joe (Ed Oxenbould) and his parents, Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), after they relocate to Montana, where the fissures of their lives widen and threaten to engulf the family. Jerry is a proud and stubborn former golf pro, a caring and involved father who wants very badly for his son to be a star football player, despite the boy’s apparent athletic ineptitude, and at the top of his class, despite Joe needing his mother’s help to complete his homework.

Jerry disdains mediocrity, perhaps even fears it, and when he loses his job as a caretaker at the local golf course, having overstepped his bounds with customers, he decries his bosses for their imbecilic decision. “I’m just personable,” he sighs, crestfallen, to his son. “That’s what people like about me.” When they call back to offer him his job back, the man refuses, saying he won’t work for “people like that.” Jeanette, a former substitute teacher turned homemaker, suggests he take a job at the local grocery store, but he won’t bag groceries because it’s “a teenager’s job.” So he decides to enlist as a fireman, for $1 an hour, eventually leaving his family for an undisclosed amount of time in order to combat an inferno consuming a Montana forest.

After Joe runs off to fight the forest fire, Jeanette becomes increasingly self-pitying and cynical, regaling her son with stories of her misspent youth and unfulfilled ambitions. She spits out poisonous comments about Jerry, and quickly falls in love with a car salesman, Warren Miller (Bill Camp), a man who, while financially successful, has little of Jerry’s fervor, or his penchant for misplaced daydreaming. Warren is the other side of the American dream, what with his decadent home and post-dinner cigars—a vision of middle-aged eloquence. And with this affluence, this promise of a “better life,” Warren woos Jeannette, and one gets the feeling she almost wishes her husband would perish in the fire so she could just move on with her life.

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Little time is spent establishing the marriage between Jerry and Jeanette: glimpses in the periphery of a hug, a brief embrace, the kind of banter only possible after years of accrued and profound familiarity. And their marriage doesn’t dissolute slowly so much as it burns up, as if doused in gasoline. Dano manages to instill, succinctly, a sense of dread and bitterness into the proceedings, imbuing the film, most of which is perceived from Joe’s point of view, with a forlorn and regretful feeling of loss. One still feels the cloying remnants of love, the ghost of a once-healthy relationship.

In Ford’s novel, Jerry has the artistry of a great golfer, the form and technique, but lacks the ferocity needed to compete at the highest level. He’s fired from his job at the golf course when a patron, to whom Jerry has been giving lessons, claims that his wallet has been stolen, which causes Jerry to crumble and throws his family into crisis. Dano excludes much of that backstory, leaving behind the bones of a character, who’s all the more haunting as a result. This is a testament to Dano’s smart visual storytelling, and to the efficiency and genuine pathos of the screenplay, which elides Ford’s surfeit of details and aphorism-steeped pontification in favor of sparse insinuation.

Dano is aided immensely by cinematographer Diego Garcia, who also shot Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s gorgeously soporific Cemetery of Splendour, and who brings a similar composure and patience to Wildlife. Which is to say that this film eschews the gaudy, show-offy grandiosity of most American independent debuts. Consider a shot early on of Joe watching television while Jerry, out of focus, opens his second beer and looms behind his son in imposing fashion. The influence of Gyllenhaal’s wounded father lingers after he’s gone off, and it’s his absence that fractures the family. Gyllenhaal, restrained and indolently painful, hasn’t been this subtle in years, and he seems to thrive here in a supporting role. Mulligan, meanwhile, is trenchant and calloused as the distant mother who is, after years caring for her husband and son, finally starting to think of her own desires, though perhaps too late. The actress brings a combustible tension to Wildlife, as if Jeanette may burst into flames like the fire that lured Jerry away from their home.

Dano also channels Kelly Reichardt with his patient and placid pacing and heedful, scrupulous, but never airless framing and compositions, cutting infrequently so the uncomfortable gaps in conversations feel treacherous. Throughout Wildlife, Jeanette says things she shouldn’t to her son, uncouth and unfettered things, but it’s what she doesn’t say, or won’t say, that lends the film its muted, aching poignancy. If Dano’s cinematic vocabulary and style feel familiar, his dexterity and generosity with actors is incomparable, and his self-restraint is admirable. Wildlife, a film about the destruction and rebuilding of self-esteem and the self, is utterly devoid of ego.

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Cast: Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp, Jake Gyllenhaal Director: Paul Dano Screenwriter: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan Distributor: IFC Films Running Time: 104 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2018 Buy: Book

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Awards

2019 Oscar Nominations: The Favourite and Roma Lead Field, Bradley Cooper Snubbed for Director, & Cold War Surprises

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced today and The Favourite and Roma led the way.

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The Favourite
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning. Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma led the nomination count with 10, followed by Adam McKay’s Vice and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born with eight, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther with seven, and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman with six.

Cold War made a strong showing, with Pawel Pawlikowski claiming his first nomination for best director. Notably snubbed in the category was Bradley Cooper and Peter Farrelly, whose Green Book is considered the favorite to win best picture after its victory at the Producers Guild Awards. Elsewhere, Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) had to make way for Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) in best supporting actor, while Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) snagged a spot in the best actor race thought to be reserved for John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman).

See below for a full list of the nominations.

Best Picture
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

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Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Adam McKay (Vice)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

Best Actress
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Actor
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

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Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Best Costume Design
Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther
Sandy Powell, The Favourite
Sandy Powell, Mary Poppins Returns
Alexandra Byrne, Mary Queen of Scots

Best Sound Editing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

Best Sound Mixing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

Best Animated Short
Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

Best Live-Action Short
Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

Best Film Editing
Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman
John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite
Patrick J. Don Vito, Green Book
Hank Corwin, Vice

Best Original Score
Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman
Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns

Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

Best Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.

Best Foreign-Language Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Production Design
Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Black Panther
Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton, The Favourite
Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas, First Man
John Myhre and Gordon Sim, Mary Poppins Returns
Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez, Roma

Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography
Robbie Ryan, The Favourite
Caleb Deschanel, Never Look Away
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Matty Libatique, A Star Is Born
Lukasz Zal, Cold War

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice

Best Animated Feature
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Adapted Screenplay
Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth, A Star Is Born
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott, BlacKkKlansman
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Original Screenplay
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Original Song
“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight, RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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Review: Never Fear Is Driven by Its Maker’s Personal Demons

If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Ida Lupino’s own.

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Never Fear
Photo: Eagle-Lion Films/Photofest

In a 1985 interview with DeeDee Halleck conducted at the Chelsea Hotel, filmmaker Shirley Clarke stated that she made films about African-Americans as a way of working through her own ambivalence about being a woman in a male-dominated culture: “I identified with black people because I couldn’t deal with the woman question and I transposed it. I could understand very easily the black problems, and I somehow equated them to how I felt….I always felt alone, and on the outside of the culture that I was in.” One can detect a similar tendency in the work of Ida Lupino, whose independently produced dramas of the 1940s and ‘50s tackled hot-button issues such as rape, bigamy, and unwanted pregnancy. These films are no mere homilies on contemporary social problems, but complex and deeply personal explorations of what it means to be an independent woman in a world ruled by men.

Lupino’s pioneering work is suffused with a profound sense of alienation and self-doubt. Her films are about people whose conventional middle-class existence is suddenly, sometimes violently, upturned, causing them to feel completely unmoored. No longer sure of where they’re going in life or what they truly want, these people find respite away from their old life, in an unfamiliar place with a new potential lover. And Lupino tells these stories with an empathy that’s striking for its directness and lack of condescension.

Such is the case with the first film Lupino directed completely on her own, Never Fear, an emotionally complex drama about a young dancer, Carol (Sally Forrest), who seems to have it all, as she’s just gotten engaged to her partner, Guy (Keefe Brasselle), and their careers are on the verge of taking off. But then, all of sudden she’s stricken with polio, and everything changes. Carol, depressed and bitter, enters a rehab facility where she eventually makes strides toward walking again, thanks in part to the inspiration of a hunky fellow patient named Len (Hugh O’Brian). As Carol struggles with her own will to get better, she grows increasingly distant from Guy, urging him to keep pursuing his dancing career rather than settling down into a conventional job selling pre-fab “Happy Homes” as he waits around for her to recover.

Free of the noir-ish inflections Lupino brought to her other films—most notably The Hitch-Hiker, and the rape sequence in OutrageNever Fear is directed in a simple, straightforward style that bears comparison to the stripped-down neorealism of Roberto Rossellini. Lupino is captivated by the process of physical rehabilitation, offering detailed observations of Carol’s stretching routine, swim therapy, art classes, and, in one show-stopping sequence, a square dance featuring lines of wheelchair-bound patients twirling each other around in consummately choreographed synchrony. Carol is clumsy and awkward as she struggles to operate her wheelchair, a marked contrast to the film’s opening scenes, in which Carol and Guy move together with lithe sophistication as they perform a romantic swashbuckling tango.

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Never Fear’s subject matter was personal for Lupino, who survived polio after an attack in 1934. But the filmmaker isn’t merely interested in the physical ailment itself, but also in the complicated pressure that recovery places on Carol. There’s a tension in the film, which was released at the height of the U.S. polio outbreak, between what Carol wants and what the men in her life want for her. When Carol begins to reject her own treatment, it’s in part because she’s rebelling against the expectations that her doctor, her fellow patients, and especially Guy have placed on her. “Be a woman for me,” Guy asks of her, but the demand is counter-productive, as Carol can only truly recuperate when she decides to do it for herself.

In Carol’s dilemma, one can sense Lupino wrestling with her own artistic ambitions, coming to grips with the reality that as the only woman director working within the Hollywood studio system in the ‘50s, she too would have to accept the guidance of the men around her, and in so doing she would be forced to bear the weight of their expectations for her—their demands, hopes, dreams, and pity. Unfortunately, Never Fear closes with a cop-out, a last-minute reconciliation that cheapens Carol’s hard-fought struggle to learn to live on her own terms by suggesting she’s fundamentally lost without a man. Almost as if the film is embarrassed by its own denouement, the final screen assures us, “This is not THE END. It is just the beginning for all those of faith and courage.” If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Lupino’s own. Never Fear wasn’t the end for her either, but merely the start of one of the most unique and pathbreaking directorial careers in Hollywood history.

Cast: Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle, Hugh O’Brian, Eve Miller, Lawrence Dobkin, Rita Lupino, Herbert Butterfield, Kevin O’Morrison, Stanley Waxman, Jerry Hausner, John Franco Director: Ida Lupino Screenwriter: Ida Lupino, Collier Young Running Time: 82 min Rating: NR Year: 1950

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WATCH: Stylish Queer Short Film Stay Makes Its Online Premiere

Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay debuts for free online.

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Stay
Brandon Zuck

Writer-director Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay made its premiere on the film festival circuit back in 2013, but the L.A.-based filmmaker is finally debuting it for free online. The short film, which Zuck claims is loosely based on events from his past, follows Ash (Brandon Harris) and his ex-boyfriend, Jacks (Julian Brand), on a road trip to the Florida Keys where the pair get mixed up in a fatal drug deal.

“I think maybe I was holding onto the film because it’s such a part of me,” Zuck says about his decision to release Stay on YouTube, which has been criticized by queer creators and organizations like GLAAD for ever-changing content guidelines that appear to target content made by and for LGBT people.

“YouTube started age-restricting my other LGBT films and—to be totally honest—I got furious. YouTube is this faceless behemoth and there’s nothing someone like me can do to fight any of it directly. Really the only thing I could think of was just putting more queer content out there. And Stay was sitting right there on my desktop where it’s always been. So I just hit upload. And it got age-restricted. C’est la vie. Next.”

Watch Stay below:

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