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Review: ‘The Son,’ Chronicles of Unhappiness

Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath, and Anthony Hopkins star in an agonizing drama.

By all appearances, it’s a tragedy in the making. 

Unhappy Nicholas (Zen McGrath) lives unhappily with his unhappy mother, Kate (Laura Dern), and wants very much to live with his happy father, Peter (Hugh Jackman), nevermind that Peter entered into an adulterous affair with happy Beth (Vanessa Kirby), thereby ruining his marriage and breaking up the household. Peter now lives happily with Beth and their newborn infant, but upon hearing Nicholas’ plea, he quickly caves, overruling Beth’s natural concerns. 

Very soon, everyone is unhappy. 

Two years ago, Anthony Hopkins starred in The Father, an adaptation of an acclaimed French-language play by novelist Florian Zellner that was then translated into English by Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses). Hampton wrote the screen version, helmed by Zellner in his feature directorial debut, and I was very much impressed by the film, which staged the lead character’s splintering existence “as a horrifying reality.” I could relate to it on a personal level, too. 

The film raised my expectations for The Son, which is adapted from Zellner’s stage play of the same name, which, like The Father, was translated into English by Christopher Hampton and staged in London. (In between the stage versions of The Father and The Son, The Mother premiered, but that’s not yet been adapted.) The script for the screen version is credited to both Zellner and Hampton, with Zellner once again directing. 

Unlike The Father, though, The Son is a forthright melodrama, and suffers from any comparison. Its narrative proceeds, inexorably depicting the slow self-strangulation of a teenager who is not merely unhappy, but is clinically depressed. Unable and unwilling to address Nicholas’ serious mental-health issue, Peter continues on his merry, busy way, leaving Nicholas in the hands of Beth, who is consumed with caring for their newborn child, and is already stressed out herself. 

Acting more out of guilt over his adulterous affair, which clearly destabilized the unsteady Nicholas in the first place, Peter steadfastly pursues his own career goals, while throwing money at Nicholas and pretending that he has any idea how to raise or help him. He thinks he is acting differently than his own father did, but in truth, he is acting just as horribly, though perhaps in a more dignified manner. 

It’s agonizing to watch the slow decline in Nicholas, whose simmering anger and seething resentment gradually becomes manifest, mostly expressed against the long-suffering Beth, who is trapped at home, while Peter skips above the fray. With a self-confidence born of his upbringing and professional success, Peter thinks he knows how to “fix” Nicholas, yet in truth, he hasn’t a clue. 

The actors all bring their anguished characters to life, which only makes watching them all dance toward doom all the more difficult to watch. It’s like watching a slow-motion automobile accident, frame by frame, without being able to do a thing to stop it. 

What made The Father freshly disturbing to watch was that it developed empathy for its characters in an unexpected, cinematic fashion. What makes The Son difficult to watch is that it evinces no sympathy for its beleaguered characters, and does so in a profoundly straightforward fashion. 

The film opens Friday, January 20, in Dallas, Frisco, Fort Worth, Garland, Grapevine, and Plano via Sony Pictures Classics. Get tickets here. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Broker,’ Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, the absorbing drama stars Song Kang Ho.

'Broker' (Neon)

Who would sell a baby? More importantly: why? 

As he demonstrated in Shoplifters (2018), writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda knows that family units are not always bound by blood. Instead, some of the tightest families are those who come together for a single purpose, and then remain united for a variety of reasons, no matter the obstacles they may face.

His latest film, Broker, begins with a young woman (Lee Ji-eun) leaving a newborn child at a church’s so-called “baby box,” where loving care will, presumably, be provided thereafter. Except that two miscreants have been abusing the charitable provision for some time, stealing babies left in the overnight hours and then selling them on the black market. 

Sang-yeon (Song Kang Ho) runs a clothing repair shop and has a gambling problem; he has teamed with the younger Dong-soo (Gang Dong-wan), who works part-time at the church-run orphanage and serves as  his ‘inside man.’ They don’t know it, but they are under surveillance by two police officers, the more-experienced Soo-jin (Doona Bae) and the less-experienced Lee (Lee Joo-young), who have caught wind of their scheme and are determined to bring them to justice. 

On the night in question, Soo-jin and Lee are watching as the young woman, and follow up in the morning when she returns to the scene, where they observe her heading off with Sang-yeon and Dong-soo. Things do not go as planned, as the baby brokers, accompanied by the infant’s mother and, later, a young boy, traipse around South Korea in search of qualified buyers, with the police in slow pursuit. 

The film steadily becomes more absorbing as it moves forward, as the characters are gently fleshed out through casual conversations and memories that turn poignant, haunting, and wistful, sometimes all at the same time. Song Kang Ho, who led the family unit in the brilliant Parasite, here plays a man who isn’t much of a father, even of the criminal sort; mostly, he’s just someone who wants to do the right thing, but doesn’t know how to do it.  

The other actors are similarly fine, with Doona Bae showing a believably desperate side to match her steely determination. Cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo (Parasite, The Wailing, Burning) captures the grungy beauties of everyday life and gorgeous landscapes that appear also at random, as finely edited by the director himself. 

From the premise, it’s easy to expect something routine or tawdry. Hirokazu Kore-eda is not an ordinary filmmaker, however, as the simple yet profound Broker demonstrates yet again.

The film opens at Angelika Film Center in Dallas on Friday, January 13, via Neon. For more information about the film, visit Angelika’s official site. 

Review: ‘M3GAN,’ I Will Always Love You

Allison Williams and Violet McGraw star in a thriller, directed by Gerard Johnstone. 

Cleverly scripted and superbly directed, the newest killer doll on the block exceeds expectations. 

With a screenplay by Akela Cooper, based on a story by Cooper and James Wan, it’s tempting to credit Wan entirely, which wouldn’t be fair to Cooper, who has some mighty fine IMDb credits. But it is hard to ignore Wan’s ventriloquist dummy movie, Dead Silence (2007), and his involvement as producer with demonic doll movie Annabelle (2014) and its sequels. 

All the ‘killer doll’ movies from the past, including Wan’s, are implicitly acknowledged in  

M3GAN, which assumes that audiences have come to the movie with certain expectations in mind and then leads everyone on a merry ride that eventually gets quite violent, mitigated by the decision to keep to a PG-13 rating, which limits explicit depictions, but not all the flowing blood. Before that happens, though, the film has developed convincing motivations for the three main characters. 

Allison Williams, who played a character who wasn’t who she appeared to be in Jordan Peele’s horror smash Get Out (2017) here essays a brilliant robotics engineer, named Gemma, who is thrust into the unexpected role of caretaker for her niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), whose parents have just died in an automobile accident. As it happens, Gemma is at a crisis point in her career, and is already carrying a heavy load of stress and responsibility. 

From all appearances, being a mother is something that Gemma has never considered or wanted up to this point in her life, but she feels tremendous guilt, more than sorrow, over her sister’s death, and feels obligated to accept the role of temporary caretaker for Cady, who obviously is far more weighed down by grief, to the point that the shy and quiet girl has practically become catatonic. 

Gemma unexpectedly provides a solution for Cady, as well as a new companion who only appears to be lifelike, until, darn it, she follows the path of many, many robots in the past who have broken Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Getting there is much of the fun, of course, and so spoiling any more of the plot would be unkind. 

Instead, I’ll point to director Gerard Johnstone, who first came on my radar with his feature directorial debut, Housebound (2014), which quite successfully balanced horror and comedy. He also helmed the terrific, family-friendly adventure The New Legends of Monkey series on Netflix, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Mix those two together, enhanced with Allison Williams’ excellent performance, the excellent effects work, top-notch production values, and a sense of humor about the whole thing, and you might have M3GAN, who will always love you, as long as you play along.

The film opens today in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities, via Universal Pictures. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘A Man Called Otto,’ Lovable Grouch

Tom Hanks stars as a grumpy old man in a remake of the Swedish original, directed by Marc Forster.

A funny thing happened on the way to committing suicide. 

The film opens in Dallas movie theaters Friday, January 6, via Sony Pictures.

Tom Hanks has a Tom Hanks problem, darn it. 

By this point in his long and distinguished career, in which he has played (almost) entirely heroic roles, it’s difficult to take him seriously as a grumpy old man. Indeed, he must do his level best not to be entirely charming; it feels disingenuous for him to play a disagreeable so-and-so who, even before he attends his retirement party, is already making arrangements for his own suicide. 

Truthfully, though, that’s one of truly tragic things about suicide: people who are clinically depressed, to the point that what they want most is to end the pain, whether it be physical or emotional in nature, do not always present as soneone you could point out in a crowd as suicidal. Often, the pain comes from deep inside, and the individual is either unwilling or, more frequently, unable to deal with the pain on their own and, especially, seek someone else’s help. 

Remaking Hannes Holm’s “shamelessly sentimental” — quoting myself — 2016 Swedish-language adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s popular novel En man som heter Ove, script writer David Magee (Finding Neverland, 2004) carries over the original’s kind-hearted character construction, moving the action to a mid-sized town in Ohio or Pennsylvania (where it was filmed) and changing the new neighbors from Middle Eastern to Mexican. The film spends less time in the past, reducing Otto’s memories to fond and/or bittersweet nostalgic highlights that inform his present, and allowing Tom Hanks to carry the primary emotional baggage to dramatize how Otto moves beyond his decision to end it all. 

Director Marc Forster keeps the shamelessly sentimental tone, however, and how could he not? Tom Hanks is a treasure, and even though the first half of the film requires a minimal investment in The Exceedingly Obvious, the latter half allows the elder Hanks to show, by the merest dampness in his eyes, a stiffening resolve in his face, or an adjustment in his body language, that he is, indeed, a very fine dramatic actor who also wrings every last laugh possible out of his familiar comic persona. 

Truman Hanks does his best to play Otto as a younger man who meets and marries Sonja, who is played by the wonderful Rachel Keller. As she has shown in her other roles, especially on the small screen in recent years (Legion, Fargo, Tokyo Vice), Keller is a vibrant performer who is capable of extreme fire and fury. Here, the role doesn’t call for that; consequently, it’s a much quieter performance that she modulates, probably to match more easily with Truman Hanks’ limited experience as an actor. It’s the relatively rare case in which an actor is called upon to play his real-life father as a younger man, and yes, the resemblance is uncanny. (His mother, Rita Wilson, also serves as one of the producers.)

Mariana Trevino has the rather thankless role of Marisol, pregnant mother of two darling girls and a mother of sorts to her own husband, Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), who’s a bit of a lovable fool, but a loving father and a support to Marisol, to the extent that he can be. Marisol carries all the emotional burdens of her family, as well as Otto, which is a big load, but she has a big heart, so it’s all good. 

By reducing the dramatic load on Truman Hanks, the film loses out on creating an Otto who is entirely believable; lost in translation is his brilliance as an engineer and how that impacted his life and his relationship with Sonja. In its place, we have Tom Hanks, which is not a terrible thing to have, even if the film in which he stars ends up being a little bit less than it could have been, and lesser than the original adaptation.  

Review: ‘Corsage,’ A Woman Out of Time

Directed by Marie Kreutzer, the drama stars Vicky Krieps in a magnetic  performance as an Empress who suffers an epic mid-life crisis when she turns 40. 

Tighter! Make it tighter

Born at the wrong time in history for independent women, Elisabeth (Vicky Krieps) finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to a very busy man who has no time for her. Granted, she lives in a luxurious palace, and her husband is Fritz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister), the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary

It’s Christmas, 1877 in a fictional account of the Empress’ life, written and directed by Marie Kreutzer (The Ground Beneath My Feet, 2019). History informs us that Elisabeth married FJ, as she refers to him privately to her royal court, when she was just 16. She grew up into a woman who yearned to be free of all the restrictions placed upon her by her station in life, reaching what we would call today a mid-life crisis as she turns 40. 

As her physician reminds her, the life expectancy for her female subjects is just 40, suggesting without saying so that maybe she should just shut up and enjoy the pheasant. Elisabeth cannot do that. She recognizes her duties, and performs them to the best of her abilities, without ever enjoying what she is expected to do. 

Lacking intimacy with her husband, she likewise realizes sadly that her children, teenage Crown Prince Rudolf (Aaron Friesz) and young Princess Marie (Eva Spreitzhofer), are more inclined to follow their father in his obedience to the grand order of things among the royal family, leaving Elisabeth to seek occasional comfort from various friends and relatives as she kicks against the goads of her unhappy existence. 

Stately, rather than lively, Corsage depicts Elisabeth’s growing discomfort as she continually insists that her corsets be tied tighter and tighter — a real-life historical tidbit — reflecting how she felt increasingly suffocated from the rigid requirements of her royal role. Writer/director Marie Kreutzer is less interested in the facts of Elisabeth’s life and/or the year that is dramatized in the film, and much more concerned with the emotional truths that speak to what Elisabeth was likely dealing with at the time. 

Absolutely emphathetic as she continues to struggle against the slow strangulation of her life, Vicky Krieps shows the full emotional weight carried by Empress Elisabeth, all without resorting to outward shows of fire or fury or frustration. It’s all quietly done, and patently obvious, to anyone observing who cares to sympathize with her situation. 

In that, Elisabeth is not completely alone; the problem is, the few who truly care for her and about her have even less power than she does to change and/or improve things that really mattered.  That leaves Elisbeth alone in a deeply mournful atmosphere that feels like a tragic film noir, only without a crime committed. 

Except for the crime of being born at the wrong time. Poor Elisabeth. 

The film opens at AMC Parks @ Arlington 18, Angelika Film Center and Cafe, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, on Friday, January 6, via IFC Films. For more information, visit the official site.

5 Best Film Experiences of 2022

Have you seen any good films lately?

That’s been my driving force in writing, long before I founded this site in 2010. My interest has always been to share my enthusiasm about good films and explain why other films simply did not connect with me. Over the past year, I’ve published 77 reviews of feature films, including 58 reviews that I wrote for two other sites (ScreenAnarchy and EverythingButHorror).

Here at Dallas Film Now, my esteemed colleague, Joe Baker, has written a flock of excellent reviews that are definitely worth your attention. As for me, I’ve published just 18 reviews here, which is as many as I could fit into an ever-tightening schedule.

Of those 18, eight were experienced in local movie theaters, which remains my preferred venue. Here, then, the five best film experiences I enjoyed in 2022, in reverse date order.

  1. Avatar: The Way of Water. Yes, it’s “more like a theme-park amusement park ride than a movie. But what I ride!” Mine came in an auditorium at AMC Northpark, surrounded by gloriously empty seats at the advance screening. (I believe attendance was limited to 10 people!) The sound was thunderous, the seat was comfortable, and the 3D glasses … well, since I am bespectacled, 3D glasses have always a bane of my existence, so I have to take a half-point off for that. Also, I didn’t realize, or didn’t remember in advance, that the film was shot at a High Frame Rate, which means the action sequences all bore an unmistakable similarity to live television or live sports. Undoubtedly a memorable experience. [My review.]
  2. The Fabelmans. My first theatrical experience with Steven Spielberg came in 1975, when my big brother and one of his friends brought me to a screening of Jaws at a jam-packed Panorama City multiplex theater. Close Encounters of the Third Screen, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial followed, all leaving deep imprints on my brain, though I believe Jurassic Park was the last to truly take advantage of the big screen. I’ve seen the majority of Spielberg’s films in movie theaters, but his latest brought true delight, rewarding the effort to see it in theater — in this case, a press screening at AMC Northpark — before the inevitable move to the small screen. [My review.]
  3. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. My favorite film of the year hit me hard with its emotional impact, which may be a strange thing to say about a movie. As it happens, I attended an advance press screening at Alamo Drafthouse, Lake Highlands, though I didn’t see any other critics, which ties it with the movie’s themes: “A lovely mixture of live-action faux documentary techniques and stop-motion animation that is utterly beguiling and, somehow, completely transfixing and entertaining. I laughed, I cried, I was glad to be alive to see Marcel the Shell With Shoes On with an audience as we shared the experience. It’s good to be alive.” Sometimes I struggle, but sometimes, I get the words just right to express my feelings. [My review.]
  4. Top Gun: Maverick. If memory serves, I never saw the original Top Gun in a theater, only on videocassette (?!). (Hey, it was the 80s.) The military advocacy never appealed to me; also, it felt very much like an MTV movie, a collection of music videos. Still, Tom Cruise’s mad desire to create incredible, truly cinematic sequences to make his movies stand out has become well-known over the past 20 years, especially, and so I wanted to see his latest in a movie theater. Thus, when an invitation to an advance press screening in IMAX at AMC Northpark arrived, it was easy to lower my expectations and attend. The sound and vision exceeded the story, but that kind of sound and vision justifies the time and expense to attend in person. [My review.]
  5. The Batman. Director Matt Reeves has consistently impressed with his moviemaking talents, wrestling franchise “properties” into compelling cinematic experiences. It was a no-brainer for me to accept the invitation to an advance screening at AMC Northpark, where the sound and vision definitely impressed. An added bonus for seeing it in a movie theater: it’s so dark! In the extreme dark of a movie theater, it still looked very, very dark on a big, big screen, which means I could never hope to come close to replicating that particular experience at home on my 32-inch television, even with all the curtains pulled tight around my windows. [My review.]