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Sunday, 14 January 2018

Fallen by the Wayside

Sky Cinema does screen a lot of rubbish in its mission to provide a "new" premiere every day (that's redundant since 'premiere' means showing for the first time anyhow), but occasionally -- apart from their showcase movies on a Friday -- they unearth some well-made and interesting films that never made it 'big'. Some of these never received a UK release or just disappeared from the cinemas after a so-so weekend -- and sometimes they are more interesting than their blockbuster cousins.

I watched two such films in the last week. First up was "The Book of Henry" (2017) which I've learned was a major flop in the U.S. and which probably never made it to this country. It was an involving and ultimately very moving gem. Single mum Naomi Watts has two sons. The elder, pre-teen Henry, is an out-and-out genius who quietly provides for his mother by brilliantly dabbling in the stock market and who regularly offers her sage advice; the younger is just an ordinary little boy, who deeply loves his mother and his brother. Unfortunately Henry soon succumbs to a brain  tumour. He is played by Jaeden Lieberher, who subsequently played Stuttering Bill in the recent horror hit of Stephen King's "It". The youngster is Jacob Tremblay, previously Brie Larsen's locked-up son Jack in "The Room" (2015) and now playing Julia Roberts' facially-deformed son in "The Wonder". Both are consummate little actors.

But the real stand-out is Watts -- an excellent actress who is so often overlooked when the kudos are handed out. Ironically she is a close friend of Nicole Kidman and originally came to the States as a nanny to Kidman's adopted children, prior to breaking out in "Mulholland Drive" (2001). The further irony is that I think she's a better actress than Kidman, who while certainly adept too often comes across as full of herself and self-promoting. This possibly explains Kidman's all-star persona and her award-grabbing status, leaving the talented Watts in her shadow. Watts is supported in this film by a bravely trashed-down Sarah Silverman as her best friend and villain du jour Dean Norris as her next-door neighbour, who Henry suspects of abusing his daughter and for whose murder he has left his mother detailed instructions after his own untimely death. It's all quite a ride!

The second movie of note was "Rules Don't Apply" ostensibly a biopic of Howard Hughes and obviously a pet project for Warren Beatty, who wrote and directed the movie and took the leading role as well. However this film is far from a vanity project, since it is well-researched, well-acted by its large and relatively starry cast, and Beatty does an excellent job of getting into the persona of the eccentric billionaire. By coincidence I recently watched another Hughes biopic the 1977 TVM "The Amazing Howard Hughes" with a young Tommy Lee Jones in the lead. Now Jones was probably too young for filling the shoes of the older Hughes and Beatty was probably too old to believably play the younger Hughes, but both actors made a good fist of their roles.

The focus of the 2016 bio is however slanted to a subplot, the on-off relationship between Lily Collins as one of Hughes' 'kept' starlets, all on the payroll and promised movie stardom in never-to-be made flicks, and Alden Ehrenreich (first noticed in the Coens' "Hail Caesar!" and soon to be thrust into mega-stardom as the new Han Solo) as her chauffeur and later Hughes' confidant. The film suffers a little from its length and inclusiveness but with a supporting cast of Annette Benning, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick, Oliver Platt and Martin Sheen, it remains more than a good watch. It also serves to remind us that erstwhile A-list movie stars age just like the rest of us. I doubt that this movie made any dents in the US Box Office, but it's really rather well done.
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