Friday, June 10, 2016


(Germany/Canada/France/Sweden/Norway - 2015)

One of the major voices of the 1970s New German Cinema who reached his pinnacle in the next decade with the classics PARIS, TEXAS (1984) and WINGS OF DESIRE (1987), Wim Wenders has enjoyed his biggest success in the latter half of his career with documentaries like THE BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (1999), PINA (2011), and his contributions to the PBS series THE BLUES. His first narrative feature since 2008's surreal PALERMO SHOOTING (one of Dennis Hopper's last films, and still unreleased in the US), EVERY THING WILL BE FINE plays more like an homage to SWEET HEREAFTER-era Atom Egoyan, from the crux of its story being a tragedy uniting several people, to its cold, wintry Canadian setting. Judging from the end result, Wenders can't do vintage Egoyan any better than Egoyan can these days. Making superfluous use of 3-D, which is limited mostly to some falling snowflakes for the six people who managed to see this in a theater, EVERY THING WILL BE FINE offers the most somnambulant cast this side of Werner Herzog's HEART OF GLASS, headed by James Franco as Tomas Eldan, a struggling Quebecois novelist whose marriage to Sara (Rachel McAdams, with a distracting and stilted Swedish--I think--accent) is in a rough patch. It gets worse when Tomas is involved in a freak accident on a snowy rural road where he thinks he narrowly averted hitting a young boy in a sled but realizes too late that there were two boys on the sled and the other died, pinned under his SUV. This scene, where Tomas thinks he and the surviving kid had a close call but slowly realizes, when the boys' shell-shocked single mother Kate (Charlotte Gainsbourg) asks where the other boy is, that he's accidentally killed the unseen second child, is by far the best in the film and it's all downhill from there.

Of course, even though it was a tragic accident, Tomas is plagued by guilt and half-heartedly attempts suicide, demonstrated in a trite montage where Wenders shows him crashing in a cheap motel, empty booze and pill bottles and torn up papers strewn about the room. The film repeatedly jumps through a few years at a time. Tomas and Sara have split up and he feels compelled to help the devoutly-religious Kate in some way. She's forgiven him and doesn't blame him and though they seem drawn to one another through their mutual grieving, Wenders and screenwriter Bjorn Olaf Johannessen don't indulge anything further, since that would mean something happening. The film takes place over an 11-year period, and every time Wenders seems to be building to something, he calls a time-out and jumps ahead four years. It's especially frustrating in the last section, when Tomas gets a letter from troubled, 16-year-old Christopher (Robert Naylor), who was five when he survived the accident that killed his little brother. Tomas has become a bestselling author, channeling his pain into prose and becoming rich and famous, and while Christopher is a fan of his work, he feels his brother's death has somehow worked in Tomas' favor while his mother has never really recovered. While Tomas and his second wife Ann (Marie-Josee Croze) are away on a brief book tour, someone--obviously Christopher--breaks into their house and urinates all over their bed. Just as EVERY THING WILL BE FINE seems poised to turn into a thriller of some kind, the film abruptly ends in the most enraging way possible, with Franco--who's about as believable a Quebecois novelist named Tomas as you'd expect--turning to the camera and smiling. Did Wenders just feel "Hey, it's been a while, I should probably make a drama again"? There's some beautiful cinematography by the venerable Benoit Debie, but EVERY THING WILL BE FINE is a film that keeps stopping itself dead in its tracks. Scenes crescendo into nothing and collapse, actors appear and disappear (Peter Stomare has one scene as Tomas' publisher; frequent Wenders actor Patrick Bauchau plays Tomas' dementia-addled father). It seems to be actively avoiding being about anything. The actors seem to be partially sedated, even more so as the film goes on. When a remarried Sara has a chance meeting with Tomas at a Patrick Watson concert (yes, time-killing concert footage) and slaps him, it seems less out of anger than to simply revive Franco. A comatose Wenders misfire like 2001's THE MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL moved at the pace of plate tectonics but at least had an insane performance by a neck-braced Mel Gibson to occasionally liven things up--there's nothing of the sort in EVERY THING WILL BE FINE. Life is filled with disappointments, regrets, and unresolved issues--which can make for compelling cinema but not when it's done the way Wenders does it here. It seems like a sincere enough film, but what's the point? (Unrated, 119 mins)

(UK/US/Canada - 2016)

The kind of slight, low-key character piece that goes over like gangbusters at film festivals but plays to crickets and tumbleweed in general release, THE CONFIRMATION is the directing debut of Oscar-nominated NEBRASKA screenwriter Bob Nelson. As in that film, we have a story set in a blue collar town where most of the residents have seen better days. Anthony (MIDNIGHT SPECIAL's Jaeden Lieberher) has it pretty good other than his ambivalence about being prodded into confession and confirmation by his church-going mom Bonnie (Maria Bello) and stepdad Kyle (Matthew Modine). Bonnie and Kyle are going away to a church-sponsored couples retreat for the weekend, leaving Anthony in the care of his alcoholic, sporadically-employed carpenter dad Walt (Clive Owen). Slumped-shouldered Walt has been dealt some shitty hands and is beaten down by life, but he's trying to make things work. He's on his latest attempt to quit drinking and isn't sure what to do with Anthony over the weekend, but that soon becomes a moot point as the pair encounter one obstacle after another. Walt gets a lucrative job lined up for Monday morning, but his expensive and sentimental (they were his dad's) specialty tools get stolen from his truck, his truck breaks down, a trip to drop a huge jar of change into a Coinstar machine at the grocery store to get some quick cash is all for naught when Anthony accidentally hits the "Donate" button, and they get locked out of the house when Walt gets an eviction notice. Borrowing Bonnie's SUV--Anthony neglects to tell Walt the brakes need replaced--the pair spend the weekend tracking down Walt's tools BICYCLE THIEF-style, getting help from a variety of odd folks both helpful and dubious, ranging from Walt's fatherly friend Otto (Robert Forster), drunken gun nut Vaughn (Tim Blake Nelson), and eccentric drywaller Drake (Patton Oswalt) whose claim to have the inside info on Walt's tools is negated by the fact that everyone knows he's back on meth.

THE CONFIRMATION is basically a standard redemption saga, with Walt and Anthony bonding and everyone realizing Walt's not such a loser after all. Nelson gives the story time to breathe and find its way, even with the trite symbolism of carpenter Walt "building" a relationship with his son. Walt tries to keep his temper in check as the deck is constantly stacked against him and and does everything he can to not cave to temptation and disappoint his son (after a bad withdrawal episode the first night, the first thing out of Walt's mouth in the morning is "Are you OK? Did I hurt you?"). Though he's hardly a textbook role model, Walt tries to dispense life lessons to the boy, and of course, he learns just as much from the wise-beyond-his-years Anthony. There's some legitimate surprises in the development of some of the characters: Anthony forms a friendship with Vaughn's sensitive son Allen (Spencer Drever); when Walt finds out who stole his tools, he feels sympathy rather than anger; and after constantly hearing from Walt what a useless tool he is, we're surprised to find that Kyle is actually a genuinely nice and sincere guy once we meet him. There's no big scenes or huge plot reveals in THE CONFIRMATION. It's a quiet, working-class indie film where the actors probably wore there own clothes and packed their own lunches for Nelson's heartfelt labor of love. It's not much to get excited about, but Owen and Lieberher make a good team, and fans of the actors will definitely want to check it out. (PG-13, 101 mins)

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