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Posts Tagged ‘Robert DeNiro’
Despite the title of the new Robert DeNiro family dramedy, “Everybody’s Fine,” everybody is most certainly not fine. In fact, the kids in the Goode family have a variety of problems—some big, some small. The only thing that binds them is a desire not to worry their father with the details of their family woes.
DeNiro plays Frank Goode, a recent widower planning a family reunion—complete with “fancy wine and filet mignons” cooked on an expensive new BBQ—with his four adult kids. His plans are scuttled when, one by one, his kids cancel. It’s like a Harry Chapin song come to life. His late wife had kept the family in touch, but with her gone he’s missing the connection to his kids so he decides, instead of “spending more time in the garden” as his doctor suggests, to make a cross country trip to see his kids in person.
“Everybody’s Fine” is De Niro’s “About Schmidt.” He’s the man who spent his life trying to give his kids the best life he could but despite his best intentions (and high expectations) they turned out to be less than perfect. In other words, they’re human. This is a movie about expectations and the pressure of having to live up to them.
The road trip format offers up lots of opportunities to introduce new characters and give each of the kids their own unique space and situation. Director and screenwriter Kirk Jones makes full use of the medium, introducing Frank to people along the way—random people on a train, a dangerous homeless man in a bus station, Melissa Leo as a plain talking truck driver—and for the most part the movie makes the most of these opportunities. A visual metaphor involving telephone wires—Frank was a factory worker who coated “a million feet of wire” with PVC coating to get his kids “where they are today”—gets a little old and at one point storm clouds literally come rolling in when the going gets tough, but its heart is in the right place.
Unfortunately too much heart puts a damper on the ending of the story, wrapping things up in the kind of tidy bow that never exists in real life. It’s too bad Jones takes the easy path to wrapping the story up because up until the feel good ending (which follows a not-so-feel-good climax) the movie has been true to the emotional journey that many families take. Jones does a good job at showing the kind of little tensions that arise when families get together while exposing the white lies that people tell to spare the feelings of those close to them. It’s good work that is blunted by a corn-ball ending, but good work nonetheless.
At the heart of it all is De Niro. I don’t know how many people I’ve seen get shot, punched, stabbed or generally abused by him over the years—it’s a considerable number when you think back to all the bad guys he’s played—so it is amazing how quickly the image of Bad Bobby is replaced by Frank, a caring, if somewhat bumbling father. De Niro makes Frank an everyman, a totally relatable character that keeps the movie interesting even when it takes a turn for cheesy sentiment.
“Everybody’s Fine” isn’t as good a film as “About Schmidt” but it does get much right about the family dynamic.
“Red Lights,” a new paranormal thriller starring Signorney Weaver, Robert DeNiro and Cillian Murphy, is review proof. I saw this because I can’t tell you the plot twist that pushes this movie from the realm of the ridiculous into the land of the ludicrous without spoiling the whole premise.
Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver, who knows a thing or two about ghostbusting) and Dr. Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are college professors who specialize in debunking psychic phenomenon. Faith healers are sent to prison and séances are demystified but their orderly, science based world is turned upside down when celebrity psychic Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro) comes out of retirement. Imagine Uri Gellar with dark side and you get the picture. Silver was a huge star in the 70s but retired when it was suggested his powers caused a massive heart that killed one of his harshest critics. Matheson wants nothing to do with Silver but Buckley becomes obsessed with getting to the truth of the matter and discovering, once and for all, if Silver has extraordinary powers or is simply a talented magician who takes advantage of the gullible.
“Red Lights” doesn’t make much sense. Writer/director Rodrigo Cortés tries to play both sides of the psychic debate, simultaneously debunking and supporting the idea of extrasensory ability to an extent where the film loses any point of view it might have had. Straddling the fence on the subject at the heart of the story only serves to impale the tale on a mushy middle fence post, nullifying the story’s power.
You’ll only notice the wishy-washy statement of purpose, however, if you can get past the uneven performances. Murphy, a talented actor who delivered a powerhouse performance in “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” flounders here. His off-balance performance simmers one second and boils the next. It’s strange, (and largely ineffective), work, which I suppose, was meant to add to the otherworldly feel of the film but instead only seems as nonsensical as the story.
Weaver and Elzabeth Olsen emerge largely unscathed because their roles are underwritten and underplayed, but DeNiro has the opposite problem. Theatrical and pretentious, the only uncanny thing about his portrayal of psychic Silver is that he took the role at all.
With its reliance on old-school narrative tricks—explaining the story through news broadcasts—and a muddy point-of-view “Red Lights” is a movie that is as confounding as the subject it portrays.
A new film, “Casting By,” clearly and eloquently tells the story of legendary casting director Marion Dougherty, a seminal figure in the careers of a generation of actors. She gave Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Glenn Close, Danny Glover and Jon Voight, among others, their first big breaks, redirected Robert Redford’s career from light comedian to star of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and paired Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton on “All in the Family.”
“Casting is a high art when you run into a Marion Dougherty,” said television producer Norman Lear.
Still, after 50 years of influential work she was never recognized by the Academy and in the film director Taylor “Ray” Hackford disputes whether casting directors have even earned the right to be called “directors.”
The documentary attempts to right these slights with a detailed and engaging walk down memory lane, combining newly shot material with people who worked with Dougherty and archival footage from set visits and contemporary interviews.
Director Tom Donahue tries to explain the alchemy behind the instinctual art of casting. Woody Allen benefitted from Dougherty’s prowess to steer him toward talent when he was too shy to meet the talent himself. “I never had to shake any hands or tell any lies,” he says. “Never mind the Purell bills.” He even says, “If left up to me, I’d settle for anything.”
“Casting By” is a treat for film fans, particularly if you have a bent for 1970s New York centric cinema. It’s not particularly cinematic in of itself—this could easily be watched on the small screen as a television doc—but the story cuts to the heart of what makes films great and finally offers Dougherty the respect that the Academy and Hackford denied her during her lifetime.