Richard joins CTV NewsChannel and anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at new movies coming to VOD, streaming services and theatres including the Ben Affleck coming-of-age story “The Tender Bar” (Amazon Prime), the Olivia Coleman drama “The Lost Daughter” (on Netflix) and the heartwarming “June Again” (VOD/Digital).
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with host Bill Carroll to talk the new movies coming to theatres, VOD and streaming services including the Ben Affleck coming-of-age story “The Tender Bar” (Amazon Prime), the Olivia Coleman drama “The Lost Daughter” (on Netflix) and the heartwarming “June Again” (VOD/Digital).
There are many life lessons in “The Tender Bar,” a new easygoing drama starring Ben Affleck based on the life of journalist and author J.R. Moehringer, and now streaming on Amazon Prime. Set in and around The Dickens, a bar named after the author of “David Copperfield,” barstool wisdom about the value of books, education, taking care of your mother and “not keeping money like a drunk” in the front pocket of your shirt, abounds.
The story begins in 1973 Long Island. “Radar Love” by Golden Earring out of the car the car radio and the impressionable J.R. (played as a youngster by Daniel Ranieri) lives with his mom Dorothy (Lily Rabe) and cranky grandfather (Christopher Lloyd). His father, a radio DJ nicknamed The Voice (Max Martini), isn’t in the picture.
J.R.’s father figure is Uncle Charlie (Affleck), charming bookworm and owner of the Dickens. He is a font of advice, all of which J.R. soaks up “the male sciences” like a sponge. Charlie’s instructions range from the pragmatic—never order bar scotch neat—to the ideological—he urges J.R. to study philosophy. “You always do well in that class,” he says, “because there’s no right answers.”
Charlie’s guidance and the colorful regulars who populate the bar, like Bobo (Michael Braun) and Joey D (Matthew Delamater), help form J.R.’s young life. “When you’re 11 years old,” he says, “you want an Uncle Charlie.”
Cut to a decade later.
J.R., having inherited his Uncle Charlie’s love of storytelling and words, is a student at Yale, studying law but with aspirations to be a writer. Now played by Tye Sheridan, he falls in love with Sidney (Briana Middleton), a smart, “lower upper middle class” schoolmate who gives J.R. another lesson in heartbreak.
“The Tender Bar” is a low key coming-of-age story that works best when it has a glass in front of it. That is to say, when it concentrates on the Dickens and the life lessons young J.R. absorbs at the bar. Those scenes have a lovely nostalgic feel. Director George Clooney vividly recreates a time when ten-year-olds were sent to the local corner bar to by a pack of cigarettes for grandpa. Clooney sets the stage, but it is the actors who bring it to life.
As Affleck settles in to the character actor phase of his career, he’s doing some of his best work. His Uncle Charlie has an effortless charm, a fierce intellect and is a bit of a scoundrel. It’s a performance that feels perfectly shaped and worn in, like an old baseball glove.
The scenes Affleck shares with Ranieri provide the film’s highlights. The young actor, making his film debut, brings genuine curiosity to J.R., a kid who has been knocked around but who always has his eyes to the future. It’s a delightful performance. Sheridan nicely mirrors the character as a young adult, but it is Ranieri who makes us care about J.R.
“The Tender Bar” is a nicely crafted, circumspect look at J.R.’s life. The stakes feel low and big dramatic moments are few and far between, but this textured look at the importance of community, including the drunks at the bar, in the formative stages of J.R.’s life is an understated winner.
“June Again,” a new dramedy starring Australian acting legend Noni Hazlehurst, is a heartfelt story that reverses the plot of the 1990 drama “Awakenings.” That movie focused on the work of Dr. Malcolm Sayer, played by Robin Williams, a neurologist who discovers a way to awaken catatonic patients who survived the 1917–1928 epidemic of encephalitis lethargica.
“June Again” is a different spin, but highlights some of the same questions. The new film focusses on the patient. June (Hazlehurst), is a sixty-something woman with vascular dementia brought on by a stroke. Like the people in “Awakenings,” she suddenly regains her memory after a years-long lapse, and finds herself in a much different world than the one she left behind.
Her doctor tells her that “dementia isn’t a disease that just goes away. This lucidity you are experiencing will be temporary. A Few hours if we’re lucky.” They want her to stay put in the dementia ward, but she has other ideas. She escapes, flags a cab and returns to her old life, or whatever is left of it. For June, it’s as if the last five years never happened, but life has moved on.
Her high end, handcrafted wallpaper store, is in shambles, her son Devon (Stephen Curry) dropped out of school and got divorced, daughter Ginny (Claudia Karvan) lets her husband and kids walk all over her and grandson Piers (Otis Dhanji) has been badly injured in an accident. “Is there anything that hasn’t fallen apart in this family?” June asks. “I think I came back just in time.” With the clock ticking and an unsure future, June begins a new lease on life.
“June Again” finds the balance between drama and humour in its examination of June’s rebirth. The question of her dementia is treated respectfully, but not with kid gloves. June is a gritty character, who toggles between lucidity and confusion, but Hazlehurst embodies her. She creates a vivid portrait of the person June once was and the woman she is now. It is a feisty but sensitive performance with edge and heart.
There is a lot going on in “June Again.” A mother and daughter subplot dominates the film’s middle, while family dynamics and June’s fragile grip on current events keep the story moving forward. There are moments of emotional manipulation but the strong cast, particularly Hazlehurst and Karvan, defy stereotypes and subvert the movie’s more predictable twists.
“Children are a crushing responsibility,” says Leda (Olivia Colman) in the opening moments of “The Lost Daughter,” a new drama directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal now streaming on Netflix. She is sunny in her delivery of the line, but for Leda, the words have real weight. Based on a novel by Elena Ferrante and adapted for the screen by Gyllenhaal, this is an unsentimental tale of motherhood.
The film begins with 48-year-old literary professor Leda on a working vacation on a picturesque Greek Island. She is a self-described selfish person looking for some peace and quiet but between the attentions of caretaker Lyle (Ed Harris) and the chipper Irish student Will (Paul Mescal), she gets little of either.
Then there is Callie (Dagmara Domińczyk), a pregnant woman who demands Leda leave a spot on the beach so her family can spread out. “They’re bad people,” says a local.
Callie is annoying but Leda becomes transfixed by her sister Nina (Dakota Johnson), a mom struggling to parent her young daughter Elena (Athena Martin).
Leda becomes consumed by memories of her time raising her daughters Bianca and Martha. But they aren’t happy memories plucked from a baby book. Twenty years ago, she was an “unnatural mother” who cared more for her work and an extramarital affair with fellow academic Professor Hardy (Peter Sarsgaard) than her kids.
Flashing to-and-fro from present day to two decades past, where Leda is played by the great Jessie Buckley, the story fleshes out a portrait of a woman harboring deep regret for her past actions. “It’s like I’ve been trying not to explode,” Leda says, “and then I exploded.”
“The Lost Daughter” is a promising debut behind the camera for Gyllenhaal. She ably handles the parallel stories, past and present, bring them together to paint a full portrait of the complex character that is Leda. She is a very different person in the film’s two halves and Gyllenhaal allows us to follow along by keeping it simple. The story is rich and textured, and asks more questions than it answers, but it isn’t cluttered with unnecessary details. The film’s true gift is to trust the viewer with its characters, to treat them as flawed people without tarting up the story with unbelievable twists or turns. It is self-assured storytelling, buoyed by wonderful performances from Colman, Johnson and Buckley, who bring intelligence and, most importantly, humanity to characters who are not always likeable.
Goodbye 2021. Hello 2022. Another weird year in the books.
I got asked two questions over and over this year. Every day someone asks me, “May I see your vaccine passport?” Every other day someone asks, “Do you think movies theatres will ever go back to normal?”
The answer is always an unabashed, “yes.” Theatres are open but audiences haven’t flooded back to fill seats, but I think they will.
It’s not just the lure of the popcorn or the Twizzlers. It’s an age-old ritual.
During the pandemic we’ve gotten used to watching movies at home or on our phones, but no matter what set-up you have in your living room, the thing missing is the ancient practice of sharing entertainment with a large group of strangers.
It’s a primal thing, hard-wired into our DNA, that dates back to when tribes of cave dwellers would sit around fires and tell stories through to the Globe Theatre, vaudeville, the talkies and right up to today’s IMAX and AUX screenings.
People have gathered to be entertained since there were tales to be told because there is no better way to enjoy the storytelling experience than surrounded by strangers who are laughing, crying, gasping— whatever — in response to a shared event.
In our double and tripled vaxxed era, no matter how large your TV or comfortable your sofa, home viewing misses the magical element of community. And these days we need as much of that as we can get. In the theatre you’re getting the sound and the picture the director intended, but more than that, the experience brings people together, inspires conversation, respect and triggers actual physical interaction with others. Try that as you stream a movie on your iPhone.
In the wake of Omicron, the variant with the name of a supervillain, and whatever comes next, we may be hesitant to flock back to theatres but, when it is safe, I believe we will. I like the way English novelist Angela Carter described watching a film in a theatre. She called it “dreaming the same dream in unison” and that, for me, will never go out of style.
So, without further ado, here, in alphabetical order, is my “Nice” list of the films that made going to the movies in 2021, a pleasurable communal experience.
The search for identity is not a new concept in coming-of-age films but the First Nations context here, combined with Kiawentiio’s breakout performance, make Beans important, vital cinema.
Every frame in Belfast radiates with the warmth of the connection Buddy shares with his family, and his family’s relationship to their home and country. But set against a time of upheaval, this is a family drama, but not a political one.
King Richard may be the most inspiration movie of the year. Maybe ever. There is uplift in almost every frame.
Licorice Pizza is kind of flipping through a diary. Some details are vivid, some glossed over, but everything is relevant to the experience being written about. Like diary entries, the movie is episodic. Each passing episode allows us to get to know Gary and Alana a bit better, and just as importantly, remind us what it means to be young and in love.
Like the people it documents, Lift Like a Girl is dynamic and scrappy, but still wears its heart on its pumped-up sleeve.
Mass is raw and real, devastating, nuanced and somber, a beautifully acted study in misery that allows for a flicker of hope
Mogul Mowgli occasionally bites off more than it can chew, but as uncomfortable as it can get, it is never less than compelling.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain provides an emotionally raw portrait of a gifted, charismatic man who travelled the world but never quite figured out where he needed to be.
Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm is an exercise in nostalgia, but it’s an entertaining one. A look back at rock ‘n roll’s first residential studio, it’s a guided tour through several generations of British rock’s guitar.
Despite a rather joyous finale, Spencer has more to do with a psychological horror film than a traditional biopic.
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street is a loving portrait, painted with clips that are sure to trigger happy memories for those who grew up watching the show, or even watching kids as they watched the show.
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) brims with excitement, pain, hope and, of course, dynamic performances and great music.
Tick, Tick… Boom! is a celebration of the creative process and the following of dreams. Director Lin-Manuel Miranda brings Rent composer Jonathan Larson’s story to life with equal parts reverence and joy.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is accessible without ever playing down to the audience. Masterful filmmaking mixes and matches the text with compelling images and wonderful performances to create a new take on the Scottish Play that is both respectful and fearlessly fresh.
The storytelling is linear in The Velvet Underground documentary, but the visuals are an idiosyncratic eyeful that match the ambitious nature of the music.
West Side Story is Spielberg’s most compelling film in years. It reinvents, reimagines and re-contextualizes a classic story with energy, respect and lots of finger snapping.
It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, however. Here’s the “Naughty” list of movies that didn’t quite cut it for me in 2021.
An IMDB search reveals the name Above Suspicion has been used at least twelve times, dating back to 1943. This most recent addition to the ever-growing list of Above Suspicion titled movies is about as generic as the common name would imply.
The Addams Family 2 is goofy, not ooky, with none of the eccentric charm of the 1960s TV show.
The Comeback Trail sings the praises of the power of the movies to inspire and transform lives. Film fans may enjoy the sentiment but they likely won’t be as impressed by the slack pacing and obvious telegraphing of joke after joke.
The most Wes Anderson-y film in the Wes Anderson playbook. If you forced a bot to watch 1000 hours of Anderson’s films and then asked it to write a movie on its own, The French Dispatch would be the result.
The first half of Halloween Kills offers up some fun when Myers is onscreen, lumbering his way toward another victim. Unfortunately, it’s less fun when the vigilante mob endlessly chants ‘evil dies tonight.’
The first movie was an over-the-top mish mash of exotic locations, violence, jokes and romance. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard contains all those elements, but is somehow less than the sum of its parts.
The drama in The Ice Road quickly melts away like ice before a fire, leaving behind a residue of clichés, long, drawn out action & fight scenes and dialogue borrowed from a hundred other, better action movies. A long and winding road to nowhere.
The lo-fi story of Let Us In relies on throwback practical effects, dark contact lenses and loads of alabastrine make-up, but the hair on the back of your neck will never stand up.
Nicolas Cage brings his patented oddball performance style along for the ride but even that isn’t enough to give Primal‘s bland storytelling and lazy action some zip.
The Seventh Day seeks to reinvent the exorcism movie via the buddy cop genre but succeeds only in combing the most hackneyed bits of each.
A strange mix of heartfelt drama and slapstick comedy, The Starling relies on very likeable actors to try and bring a sense of balance to the material but not even Melissa McCarthy, Kevin Kline and Chris O’Dowd can bend this mishmash of tones into a cohesive whole.