Richard speaks to “CTV News at Six” anchor Andria Case about television and movies to watch this weekend, including the screen adaptation of “Hamilton,” the semi-biographical “Shirley,” starring Elisabeth Moss and “American Woman,” a new take on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.
Richard and CP24 anchor Leena Latafat have a look at the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the much anticipated small screen version of the big Broadway hit “Hamilton,” the semi-fictional psychological drama of “Shirley” and “American Woman,” loosely based on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.
Richard sits in on the CTV NewsChannel with host Todd Van Der Heyden to have a look at the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the small screen version of the big Broadway hit “Hamilton,” the semi-fictional psychological drama of “Shirley” and “American Woman,” loosely based on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with host Bill Carroll to talk the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the Disney+ presentation of “Hamilton,” the most popular musicals of recent years, the psychological drama of “Shirley” and the crime thrillers “American Woman” and “Strange But True.”
When reclusive author Shirley Jackson died in 1965 she left behind a body of work, including “The Haunting of Hill House,” a supernatural horror novel sometimes called one of the best ghost stories ever written. An influence on two generations of speculative fiction writers like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Sarah Waters and Richard Matheson, she is brought to vivid life in a new fictionalized drama, now on VOD, starring Elisabeth Moss.
Set just after the publication of “The Lottery,” a controversial short story about the ritual sacrifice of a town citizen to ensure good crops, published in a 1948 issue of The New Yorker, the film sees Shirley (Moss) paralyzed by the expectations that hang heavy over “Hangsaman,” a novel she is struggling to complete. Prickly and quick with a line, she is less than pleased when Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg), her college professor husband, arranges for his new assistant Fred Nemser (Logan Lerman) and his pregnant wife Rose (Odessa Young) to live in their house while the young couple searches for a place of their own.
As the days and weeks stretch into months the relationship between the two couples becomes a blend of art and reality, a claustrophobic rabbit hole where Rose becomes the model for Shirley’s new main character, a college student who went walking on Vermont’s Long Trail hiking route and never returned.
“Shirley” uses elements of Jackson’s life but places them in context of one of her novels. The result is a psychological drama; a haunting look at a person driven to agoraphobia by the weight of her success and a domineering, philandering husband.
Moss is fascinating as the title character. Her take on Shirley is that of a woman who has lived under years of oppression by her bullying husband, a man whose misogyny has left her embittered, desperate and anxious. “To our suffering,” Stanley says as a toast to his wife. “There’s not enough Scotch in the world for that,” Shirley snorts, in a line that could have been borrowed from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” She’s vulnerable and filled with rage, compassionate and spiteful, often in the same scene.
Shirley and Stanley, as compelling as they are as characters, do not comprise the film’s defining relationship. Director Josephine Decker feeds on the psychological aspects of Jackson’s work to tease out a story of Shirley and Rose, two women drawn together by frustration, talent and obsession over the missing woman at the heart of the new novel. “Let’s pray for a boy,” Shirley says to the pregnant Rose, “The world is too cruel for girls.” Their time on screen together is complicated, occasionally unsettling as reality and imagination meld. It’s fascinating work in a film that is a slow burn.
“Shirley” takes its time to get where it is going, building an atmosphere of oppression slowly and carefully. Decker’s distorted dream-like visual approach is often beautiful, as though we’re watching the film through a psychological prism. It creates atmosphere but doesn’t provide the thrills that Jackson herself might have been able to infuse into the telling of this tale.
James Schamus, a producer best known for his Oscar winning work with Ang Lee, makes his directorial debut with “Indgination.” The story of a young man’s coming-of-age isn’t a case of style over substance—it has both in spades—but of character over plot.
Based on Philip Roth’s novel of the same name, “Indignation” is the story of Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a young working class Jewish man who earns a scholarship to the WASPy Winesburg College in Ohio. It’s 1951 and his enrolment in school keeps him from being drafted to fight in Korea and out from under the thumb of his over protective father.
A studious young man—his roommate says, “He’s a scholar who doesn’t have time for frivolities like the theatre.”—he immerses himself in his classes to the exclusion of almost everything else. The only break in his concentration comes in the form of Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gaddon), a beautiful classmate whose charms, both physically and intellectually, distract him from his work.
On their first and only date something happens (NO SPOILERS HERE) that plunge Marcus into previously uncharted personal territory. Eventually his intensity toward his schooling and Olivia draws the attention of Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts), which threatens his place within the school and provides the film with its best scene.
Like other adaptations of Roth’s work “Indignation” is filled with richly drawn characters. Where it falls down is in the storytelling. Roth’s novel is a personal piece of work loosely based on his own 1950s college experience. It’s a look at life’s decisions and their consequences, intellectual purity and sexual discovery, all themes touched on in the film but without the benefit of Roth’s investigative, haunting prose.
What does shine through are the characters. In a break-out role Lerman holds the center of the movie, doing formidable work in scenes opposite Gaddon and Letts. His scenes with Gaddon brim with sexual attraction touched with longing and sadness but it is with Letts that Lerman does his best work. A mid-movie tour-de-force sees the two showdown in the moralistic Dean’s office, arguing everything from baseball to Bertrand Russell. The verbally jousting is the film’s high point; a lovely bit of acting that could stand on its own as a short film.
“Indignation” is about truth and consequences, unspoken love and inexperience, but mostly its about great acting from a fine cast.
“Noah” is not your father’s biblical movie. It’s an art house epic that filters the story through director Darren “Black Swan” Aronofsky’s impressionistic style.
The best way I can describe “Noah” is emotionally ambitious. It takes a familiar tale and shines a new light on it by highlighting Noah’s spiritual quandary. In the film—which takes liberties with the biblical story—he’s a vegan prophet who grapples with doing God’s will while balancing the needs of all of humanity, particularly his family. The meaning of faith and the consequences of adhering to that faith are the film’s main thrust, but as interesting as that is, the movie feels like one thing when it is addressing the spiritual and quite another—possibly a “Lord of the Rings” flick—when it is in action movie mode.
The movie starts at the beginning. Literally.
After a quick recap of Old Testament highlights—the Creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and Cain vs Abel—we meet Noah, the last descendent of Adam and Eve’s good hearted son Seth. The world he lives in is a dangerous place, ruled by Cain’s bloodthirsty bloodline but Noah (Russell Crowe) and family (Jennifer Connelly, Douglas Booth, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Leo McHugh Carroll) live peacefully as nature loving, proto hippies. That is, until Noah has a disturbing apocalyptic dream. Consulting with his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) he determines The Creator wants him to build an ark and laden it with two of every creature on earth in advance of a great flood that will destroy mankind and the violence they perpetrate. It’s ultimate Mulligan—a do over for the planet—but Noah will have to make some troubling decisions to fulfill God’s will.
Some may criticize the movie for not being reverent enough, but Aronofsky treats the story as a living breathing thing and not an artifact from another time. The addition of a spectacular creation of the world sequence, as narrated by Noah, may annoy Creationists, but is a moving and beautiful retelling of the biblical story.
Aronofsky may play fast and loose with Noah’s story, but underlines the spirituality that is at the very heart of the tale as evidenced by the Seven Days of Creation scene.
He’s also aided by a terrific performance from Crowe.
Crowe’s been in a bit of a slump in recent years. The dangerous, complex actor of movies like “Gladiator” and “A Beautiful Mind” seemed to have taken a backseat to the performer who thought making “The Man with the Iron Fists” was a good idea. “Noah” is a nice reminder of Crowe’s delicate mix of fearsome masculinity and subtle sensitivity and his tortured performance hits Noah’s zealotry square on the head.
But having said that, Aronofsky moves in mysterious ways. He shot the epic almost entirely in close up and the flood scene could have used a bit more Cecil B. DeMille. Aronofsky means this to be a personal story of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, but it is still an end of the world movie. Despite the occasional Peter Jackson flourish—like the stone giants The Watchers and sweeping crane shots—“Noah” doesn’t feel as big as it should. It has big ideas, but the expected sweeping visuals aren’t there.
“Noah” is a thought-provoking take on a familiar story that will keep you guessing until the end credits roll.
Synopsis: After a quick recap of Old Testament highlights we meet Noah, the last descendant of Adam and Eve’s son Seth. The world he lives in is a dangerous place, ruled by Cain’s bloodthirsty bloodline, but Noah (Russell Crowe) and family (Jennifer Connelly, Douglas Booth, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Leo McHugh Carroll) live as nature-loving, proto-hippies. That is, until Noah has an— apocalyptic dream. Consulting with his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), he determines The Creator wants him to build an ark and laden it with two of every creature in advance of a great flood that will destroy mankind and the violence they perpetrate. But Noah will have to make some troubling decisions to fulfill God’s will.
• Richard: 3/5
• Mark: 4/5
Richard: Mark, the best way I can describe Noah is emotionally ambitious. It takes a familiar story and shines a new light on it by highlighting Noah’s spiritual quandary. In the film — which takes liberties with the biblical story — he’s a vegan prophet who grapples with doing God’s will while balancing the needs of all of humanity, particularly his family. The meaning of faith and the consequences of adhering to that faith are the film’s main thrust, but as interesting as that is, the movie feels like one thing when it is addressing the spiritual and quite another — possibly a Lord of the Rings movie — when it is in action movie mode.
Mark: Richard, I queasily bought the transition from religious allegory to action pic because I admired the tone and quality of the movie. I shuddered when I first heard about the picture, but then got interested when I found out Aronofsky was directing. Unlike most biblical epics, the dialogue isn’t embarrassing and the lead actor isn’t over the top.
RC: It’s not your father’s biblical epic, that’s for sure. This is an art-house epic that filters the story through Aronofsky’s impressionistic style. Some may criticize the movie for not being reverent enough, but I thought he treated the story as a living, breathing thing and not an artifact from another time. But having said that, Aronofsky moves in mysterious ways. He shot the epic almost entirely in close-up, and the flood scene could have used a bit more Cecil B. DeMille.
MB: He also indulged in some sci-fi flourishes I don’t remember from the Bible! But I accepted them as part of the world of wonder when the Earth was a pre-prehistoric place. The movie has a strong environmental message and also feels critical of doctrinaire religious fundamentalism. Noah, at the end, almost makes a choice that only a deranged religious kook would make. Speaking of which, what did you think of Russell Crowe?
RC: Crowe’s been in a bit of a slump in recent years. The dangerous, complex actor of movies like Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind seemed to have taken a backseat to the performer who thought making The Man with the Iron Fists was a good idea. Noah is a nice reminder of Crowe’s delicate mix of fearsome masculinity and subtle sensitivity.
MB: I thought he was wonderfully restrained in the part even when he was deranged with fervour. My only complaint is that the movie peaks too soon. I guess there’s a bit of a problem with the story… arc.