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The Beaver

The core idea of having Mel Gibson play a middle-aged man who attempts to self manage his depression by communicating through a beaver hand puppet sounds absurd but it’s the element of this odd film that works best. From Max Mad to Lethal Weapon even to Hamlet, Gibson has had a long career of playing ‘crazy’, but his performance as Walter Black in The Beaver is one of restraint, suggesting a genuine understanding of how depression makes people completely shut down.
Directed by Jodie Foster, who also plays Walter’s wife Meredith, The Beaver is most successful when focused on the smaller details concerning the nature of depression, the effect Walter’s depression has on his family and its hereditary nature. In this regard, it’s a sensitive and non-judgmental film that neither romanticizes Walter’s condition nor indulges it. Walter is going through hell for reasons beyond his control, but the film recognizes that his suffering also affects those around him and that his family’s anger and pain is understandable. By assigning himself a ‘prescription puppet’ rather than seeking legitimate professional help, Walter finds a short-term solution that is certainly portrayed in the film as something amusing and fun, but not without ever fully removing the suggestion that something about this is not quite right.
The irony here, however, is that it’s because of Gibson’s personal woes that his starring role in The Beaver is so desperate, poignant and strangely comical. Gibson embodies Walter Black, a man on the verge of losing himself completely to the abyss of depression. Interestingly, Walter’s vegetative existence is not a result of his life lacking anything – he is, or was, a well-to-do toy executive with a healthy family — but rather an inexplicable, seemingly inescapable numbness that one day drew the curtains and refused to reopen them. His broken-hearted wife Meridith (Foster) wants nothing more than to see her once-loving husband return, but in a bid to prevent his self-implosion from scarring their two sons, teenager Porter (Anton Yelchin) and youngster Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), she holds back her tears long enough to kick Walter out of the house.
The Beaver is a return to form for Mel Gibson and wonderful example of Jodie Foster’s great eye for directing, The Beaver makes for a creative portrayal of mental illness, and of family life around those who live in the dark, reaching a fine balance of drama and comedy.

Currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon.

Win Win

Win Win Movie Writer/director Thomas McCarthy has established himself as filmmaker (The Visitor, The Station Agent) able to mine huge amounts of emotional truth from contrived-sounding set-ups. His latest film, Win Win is no different. The crux of the story revolves around a 40-something family man and part-time wrestling coach, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who is struggling to save his failing legal practice. Under duress, Flaherty hatches a plan to make a quick buck by offering to assume responsibility for one of his elderly clients. His intentions are less than altruistic and game changes dramatically when the teenage grandson of the elderly man shows up on his doorstep.
Although Win Win may be the sort of film that relies on desperate people being thrown together to teach each other life lessons, it’s beautifully crafted which works in its favor. The heart of the film is the relationship between the struggling New Jersey lawyer and the teenage grandson, Kyle played by newcomer Alex Shaffer. The son of a druggie mom (Melanie Lynskey) again in rehab a few states away. Kyle decides to crash at his grandfather’s place, then finds out the old man is in a nursing home. The kid is about ready to move on when Mike finds out he can wrestle, really wrestle. Soon the wandering Kyle has found new home on Mike Flahery’s team and all appears to be perfect with one exception … the dark secrets Mike is keeping.
McCarthy deliberately keeps the scope of redemption small. He knows people aren’t easy to fix — some people do lousy things, some are just plain lousy — and that humbling oneself is often the only way out of a bind. His writing reflects a wariness of human nature but he’s not cynical; the story wraps up with a tenderness that feels true but completely without mush or the need to slap a big happy face on the screen. Win Win  is a winner all the way!

Currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon.

Thor

Thor MovieOutstanding, another superhero movie to add to the recent deluge. The primary problem is once you’ve exhausted the A-list heroes (Superman, Spider-Man, Batman), you begin reaching for the second string players who may be every bit as worthy, but do not have the same popular street cred. Thor is one such superhero (Green Lantern is another).
Thor takes place on Earth and the mystical Norse-god realm of Asgard, a dazzling planet surrounded by vast, swirling nebulae. The Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth), son of king Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is banished to Earth to live as a mortal for inciting a war between his people and their most ancient enemies. On Earth, without his powers or his mighty war hammer, Thor must discover that being a hero is not just about strength and courage, but also humility and compassion.
One of the more appealing aspects of Thor is that he is not, at first, a likeable character. Unlike many do good superheroes who stroll onto the screen eager to save the world. Thor is different. He is arrogant, brazen and vain. He is reckless and immature which makes his classic hero’s journey far more interesting than most. Chris Hemsworth, known to most American audiences for his small role as James T. Kirk’s father in Star Trek, plays his part with the appropriate amount of zeal. But the credit truly belongs to Thor’s writers (Ashley Edward Miller, Zach Stentz and Don Payne) and Oscar-nominated director Kenneth Branagh, best known for Chariots of Fire and his incredible Shakespearean adaptations. Branagh brings a literary gravity to the film and examines themes like honor and the tempestuous relationship between fathers and sons.
Thor is, by no means, a bad film, but it is not a great one either. Thor is an enjoyable popcorn epic that skates by on humor and the performances of Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Dennings. Hiddleston is especially noteworthy in the role of Thor’s creepy brother Loki. Overall Thor is entertaining, fun and definitely worth watching! Be sure to play the movie through the closing credits to watch a surprise scene. Hint: It’s Hammer Time. Nothing against the buff, blond God of Thunder but at the end of the day Thor is amusing but instantly forgettable.

Currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon.