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Fast Color (2019)

7 Oct

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a star on the rise. I just know in my heart that a Hollywood director or producer is going to discover her excellent leading performance in Julia Hart’s “Fast Color” and  hire her in a mainstream studio film, whether it be a comedy or a sci-fi epic or the next Marvel movie, that will give her more exposure. She deserves the attention, as does “Fast Color.”

In the film, Mbatha-Raw plays Ruth, a young woman on the run because she has superhuman abilities—because, where there’s someone who has superpowers, there’s always some secret government agency that wants to hunt them down, capture them, and lock them up. (If these people would watch “Stranger Things,” in which the government agents get their brains smushed by telekinesis, they’d at least consider the option of offering them positions to help make the world a better place…as long as they don’t hound them for it.) She has violent seizures that cause earthquakes, even in places where there shouldn’t be earthquakes. And she has trouble controlling them. When she was a teenager, one of her seizures nearly caused the death of a family member and she left her mother’s house and never looked back.

Years later, she travels from place to place, always on the run, in fear that she’ll hurt somebody with another seizure and that someone in power will find her and take her away. Early in the film, she finds that her fear is justified, as she gets a ride from who she thinks is a kind stranger but is really a government agent who, of course, wants to take her with him. She fights back as soon as he holds up a syringe, and she finds there’s nowhere else to go but back home.

This is also set in a dying world where it hasn’t rained in years (and water is a precious commodity)—in a refreshing change of pace, these government slimeballs aren’t seeking mutants just because they’re afraid of their powers or because they think they’re interesting; instead, it’s to see if they can use their mysterious powers to bring the world back to life. How they go about it, however, could be worked on—will these people ever learn?

Anyway, Ruth returns to her childhood home, a farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere. She’s reunited with her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint, fantastic here), who is stern and overprotective, especially of her adolescent granddaughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney). Ruth is Lila’s mother and hasn’t seen Lila since she was a baby, and now, this is an opportunity to mother, daughter, and granddaughter to connect as a family.

Oh, and Bo and Lila have their own abilities as well. It also seems Lila has mastered her abilities way better than Ruth could ever attempt, which leads to interesting conversations between the two, which leads to a few sweet dramatic moments together. We also understand Bo’s reasoning to protect Lila as she tried to protect Ruth long ago—sometimes, she even has to protect Lila from Ruth, whether Ruth intends harm or not. And Ruth learns to see the bright side in her own abilities, which she never wanted in the first place.

All three are compelling, well-defined characters that keep the film at a grounded level. And the direction from Julia Hart (whose previous film was the comedy-drama “Miss Stevens”) helps make the film more than it could have been. It feels like a superhero origin story with real people.

Where this intriguing dynamic of three different generations of supernatural abilities leads, I’ll leave for you to discover. All I can say is I thought I was going to be disappointed. Instead, I was left with much to discuss with someone else who has seen it. (And I’ll be showing this film to my fiancee Kelly, for sure. Can’t wait to discuss it with her.)

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is at the center of “Fast Color,” and her performance, which has a great blend of vulnerability, confusion, and anger, is the kind that should gain a lot of awards attention (but probably won’t, sadly). But I get the feeling something bigger is in store for her. And she deserves it. She’s great in this film, she’s been great in other films (“Beyond the Lights,” “The Cloverfield Paradox”), and she’ll be great in many others to come.

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Shazam! (2019)

16 Aug

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

What could happen if a 14-year-old boy was given superhuman abilities? That’s the premise that “Shazam!,” based on the DC Comics superhero, wants to play with, as our teenage main character, Billy Batson (Asher Angel), becomes a superhero after taking the power of the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou). Actually, it’s six powers: the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Put the names of all six Greek gods together and you get the acronym “SHAZAM!” Oh, and he also transforms into the buff adult body of Zachary Levi and dons a red superhero wardrobe with a lightning symbol on the front, so therefore, we get kind of the “Superman” version of “Big.” (There’s even a reference to “Big” midway through the film—you’ll know it when you see it, if you’re a fan of “Big.”)

A little background—Billy has been searching for his mother (who lost him years ago) for the longest time and has hopped from one foster home to another because of his search which involves him getting into trouble one time too many. He’s taken in to another foster home, with a couple who seem like loving parents. But that’s not enough for Billy and neither are his foster siblings, including his roommate, the physically disabled geeky foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), and the adorable, energetic little foster sister, Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman). But he still feels the need to help them out any way he can, such as protecting Freddy from some bullies. While running from said-bullies, he happens upon the Wizard Shazam, who has searched for the right soul to hand his powers to—now that he’s dying, he has no choice but to give them to Billy.

Now in the form of Shazam, Billy lets Freddy in on the secret as they test his new abilities (and record before uploading it to YouTube to gain popularity), and of course, they have the time of their lives. (And luckily, Billy doesn’t stay in superhero form all the time—he can transform from boy to hero to boy again to hero again by simply saying the name “Shazam!”) But before long, Billy learns the obvious—with great power comes great responsibility. After rescuing passengers of a runaway city bus from certain death, Billy learns of an even bigger problem: a supervillain, spawned from Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who spent his life searching to obtain the Shazam abilities after they were denied to him as a child. (Wizard Shazam kept testing different people around the world and turned them down as soon as they proved unworthy.) Now, he’s obtained the controlling powers of the Seven Deadly Sins, who come to life and wreak havoc on humanity. Billy has to stop doing dumb teenager things with his superpowers and go up against Sivana and the demonic beings to save the day.

The villain is the weakest part of the movie for me, but at least the clever screenplay (written by Henry Gayden) has as much fun with him to make it better—for example, he has his typical villain monologue far away from where Shazam can hear it and he’s completely unaware. (I always wanted to see that in a superhero film.)

Speaking of which, what makes “Shazam!” most enjoyable is its lightheartedness and its ability to score laughs by playing with superhero-movie conventions, especially when Billy and Freddy continue to test the superpowers to see what Shazam can and can’t do. But I was surprised by a lot of the dramatic portions of the film as well. “Shazam!” can be heartfelt with emotional weight and depth, especially in the scenes in which Billy looks for his mother and bonds with is foster siblings (who are all distinct and very likable), and it doesn’t feel like it belongs in a different movie. The broad comedy and heavy drama in this superhero flick work surprisingly well together. Credit for that not only goes to the actors, who put their all into their work, but also the guidance of director David F. Sandberg (best known for horror films “Lights Out” and “Annabelle: Creation”).

Oh, and it can also get pretty intense, especially when it comes to the Seven Deadly Sins…they perform a massive slaughter at an office meeting before terrorizing little children! (Parents, the PG-13 rating has warned you.) Inconsistent? Perhaps. But it reminded me of an ‘80s family-adventure that didn’t care who it was made for.

Being a film set in the DC extended universe, you’d think it’d be more about setting up the next DC film, which is something many of its installments fell victim to. But all that’s cared about with “Shazam!” was telling its own story (with only a few brief mentions of Superman and Batman). With effective writing, a fun spirit to it, and a wonderful, engaging performance from Zachary Levi as well as all the young actors, “Shazam!” is an extremely fun and well-made lighthearted superhero fable.

Creed II (2018)

16 Aug

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Remember “Rocky IV?” Of course you do—how could you forget that epic silliness that stuck out like a sore thumb in a franchise that was so riveting in its grounded reality? (It’s the film that’s too goofy for me to hate.) Well, as much as we like to mock it (in good fun), we have no choice but to accept it as canon in the “Rocky” timeline. After all, it is what ultimately killed off the character of former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed…at the hands of a Russian super-boxer (whose “I must break you” became a popular phrase). And then, “Creed” came along in 2015 and introduced us to Apollo’s son from a secret affair, Adonis “Donnie,” who was born after Apollo’s death and has grown up to be trained by Rocky Balboa to make it as a fighter in his own right. Thus, we had no choice but to accept Apollo’s cause of death as part of the continuing “Rocky” story.

And now comes its sequel, “Creed II.” Who should return for this one? That same Russian super-boxer himself, Ivan Drago (again played by Dolph Lundgren), and his son who challenges Donnie to a fight. Well, this should be interesting—how can you take Drago seriously in a movie?

“Creed II” found a way.

Yes, as silly as the setup sounds (the son of Apollo Creed goes up against the son of the man who killed his father in the ring), it’s remarkable the amount of development and care is given to Drago after all this time. He still has minimal dialogue (though it’s still more than his mostly-silent performance in “Rocky IV”), but he gets across what’s happened to him after Rocky took him on in the ring in his home country. He lost his belt and his cred in Russia, his family has gone through shame, his wife (Brigitte Nielsen) has left him, and he has raised his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), on two things—boxing and vengeance. With clever writing (and fine understated acting from Lundgren, on top of that), this boxing equivalent of a supervillain has now become (gasp!) a character. Who would have thought?

“Creed” seemed like the perfect sendoff to the “Rocky” franchise—a great way to say goodbye to the wonderful character of Rocky Balboa (who Sylvester Stallone has portrayed wonderfully all this time, despite the franchise going back and forth with hits and misses). But while Rocky is still alive, there is still more to explore with him in “Creed II,” such as wishing he would connect with his estranged son and training Donnie (Michael B. Jordan) just as Mickey taught him in the past. Plus, as the title suggests, this isn’t Rocky’s story anymore—it’s Donnie’s. And Donnie still has some growing up to do.

Now that Donnie is regarded as the new heavyweight champion of the world, this is where Ivan and Viktor Drago come in. They arrive in Philadelphia to challenge Donnie to a fight with Viktor, and there’s nothing Donnie would like better than to give a Drago a piece of his mind to avenge his father. But as Rocky points out, Viktor was raised entirely on hatred, which will make him an even more intimidating force to brawl with in the ring. But Donnie isn’t backing down.

In the meantime, Donnie has proposed to his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and wants to start a family with her. The love story between Donnie and Bianca has that sweet touch that made the love story between Rocky and Adrian in the first couple of “Rocky” movies so special. That’s because while Donnie has a large amount of confidence in many things, it’s Bianca that makes him the most nervous because he’s afraid of letting her down.

Both of these opponents—Donnie and Viktor—have something to lose. Donnie could suffer the same fate as Apollo; Viktor could lose everything just as his father did. Even when “Creed II” follows the same formula that leads to a climactic fight, what’s more important and interesting is that I actually care about who wins in the end, just as I did with the best of the “Rocky” movies.

It’s always nice to see Stallone in his most comfortable role of his career (the role that gave his career a major boost to begin with), but it’s even better to know that he had a hand in screenwriting again, writing the script with Juel Taylor after Ryan Coogler took over both writing and directing for “Creed.” If we get a “Creed III,” which seems likely, I’ll be interested in seeing what else he can come up with for the beloved character of Rocky Balboa.

Speaking of directing, Steven Caple Jr. (who previously made a Sundance hit, The Land, unseen by me—though, I’m sure I’ll check it out soon enough) does a more than capable job keeping the story as grounded as possible, which helps us accept a universe that now has to allow Ivan Drago as a “real person,” more or less.

Even if the fighting scenes aren’t very original (especially after the groundbreaking one-shot fight in “Creed”), a lot of “Creed II” works because of what’s happening outside the ring. For a sports movie, especially one that involves boxing, that’s a definite plus. The heart is still in this franchise, and I’ll happily see “Creed III” if and when we get it.

First They Killed My Father (2017)

27 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’ve always found it interesting when a historical tragedy is seen from the perspective of a child. How do they react to the horrible things we read about in history books today? What do they do when trying to survive these events? Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” was effective at showing the coming-of-age of a young privileged boy becoming wiser and more resilient after time in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. And here, we have Angelina Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father,” in which a 5-year-old girl endures labor camps and child-soldier training during the brutal Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia—a time when about 2 million were either killed by execution or died from starvation in the 1970s.

Based on the memoir of the same name by Loung Ung and adapted by Ung and Jolie, “First They Killed My Father” begins with a look at the middle-class family life of 5-year-old Loung (Sreymoch Sareum) and her loving family in Phnom Penh. She plays with her many siblings, she dances to a pop song on the radio, she lives a life of relative peace that you know is going to be ruined somehow. And then, the Communist Khmer Rouge soldiers take over and force people to leave their homes and evacuate the city, giving the impression that the Americans will bomb it.

Now poor and powerless, Loung and her family are now joining refugees and doing whatever it takes to survive this ordeal. It’s especially sad when we realize beforehand that they will inevitably be separated and brutally beaten and/or killed. Other families are separated, people are executed by the soldiers, and eventually, Loung ends up in a labor camp, where she’s trained as a soldier herself.

Loung witnesses so much destruction and brutality at the age of 5, and much of the film is seen through her perspective. It rides on her facial expressions as she reacts accordingly to these terrible incidents surrounding her. We know she’s too young to fully comprehend the mayhem, but we also know that this is the new normal for her. She does all the things she’s forced to do because that’s what she feels she has to do, because there’s no other choice. It’s actually more powerful than if someone just said of a certain attack, “Oh, how horrifying.” It’s instead reflected on a young child’s face.

Jolie proves to be a strong, capable director here (I’ve yet to see any of her other directorial efforts, including “Unbroken”), and I admire her ability to tell the real Loung Ung’s tragic coming-of-age story without getting preachy (and even creating it with Ung herself; Ung and Jolie wrote the screenplay together). Also great is the cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle, who helps make the film feel bigger than it could’ve been.

My only criticism is the running time of 2 hours and 16 minutes. While Jolie knows for the most part not to let shots or scenes linger for too long, I still think the film could have benefitted from removing a couple scenes here or there, mostly because we already get the point. But then again, I guess since we need this film, it can be as long as it deserves to be. Maybe it’s more of a nitpick than a criticism, but it is what’s keeping me from rating it four stars. (But three-and-a-half is still high enough for me.)

Why do we “need” this film? Because it’s what Ung remembers from a brutal time in history and we shouldn’t forget it. That’s why we need films like this and “Empire of the Sun,” and to be made with talented filmmakers is a bonus. “First They Killed My Father” is a small but important treasure.

Poor Mama’s Boy

30 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

As “Poor Mama’s Boy” opens, we see a 17-year-old boy, Wesley (Joe Hiatt), fights back against his mother’s abusive boyfriend. Rather than appreciate the brave gesture, his mother (Jennifer Pierce Mathus) snaps back at her son before leaving him to be with the jerk. Wesley hitchhikes to a rural-Arkansas small town (after caring for himself alone for a long period of time) where his kind aunt and uncle (Mary Faulkner and Dustin Prince) take him in. He gets a job at a local grocery store, where he meets Adelia (Madi Yates) with whom he makes friends. Things seem fine, until Adelia turns missing and townspeople have their suspicious eyes on Wesley…

That’s the premise for a tense, effective, even tender indie film written, directed, co-produced, shot, and edited by Dalton Coffey, who clearly had a vision and followed through in such a way that everything else he needed to make it happen was a small but reliable crew and a talented assortment of actors to bring it to life.

Joe Hiatt’s role of Wesley is understated but still solid. He’s a kid who doesn’t want trouble but simply a place to call “home” with people to call “family.” (Shades of Charlie Plummer in “Lean on Pete” to be found here.) I’d say he’s better when he’s silent and absorbing emotions emitted around him, but when he speaks, it’s as if he’s being careful about his words because he’s in a place he doesn’t want to feel he doesn’t belong.

Lynnsee Provence, who appeared in some Arkansas-made features (“Shotgun Stories,” “War Eagle, Arkansas”) and several shorts reviewed by me (“Cotton County Boys,” “Still Life,” “The Man in the Moon”), turns in his best performance as Grady, Wesley’s older brother who left as soon as he found the chance. Now, Wesley wants to reconnect and start a real family bond, but Grady isn’t particularly interested. It’s when things start to go from bad to worse (such as Wesley getting SHOT IN THE ARM by an unknown local) that Grady expresses concern for his younger brother and decides to do what he can to help. This leads to a conflict in the final act in which the deeper meaning of “family” is surfaced, for better or worse.

Also good in the film are Dustin Prince as Wesley’s uncle who sticks up for his nephew when everyone else suspects him of murdering Adelia (if she’s dead), Tom Kagy as Adelia’s surly father who even admits he looks for someone to blame during all of this (I kinda wish we had more of this character), and Kristy Barrington, hilarious as Grady’s drug-addled wife.

The small-town setting is beautifully realized here—you not only feel like you’re there dealing with the situation Wesley found himself into, but you see both the peaceful relaxation/natural beauty of the location and the disturbing layers underneath that make it scary to go through sometime…especially when many of the locals don’t particularly trust you and even want to harm you. If I go to the stream or the bridge that the characters frequent, I’d love it until someone else happened upon it too. (Take it from someone who lived in rural Northeast Arkansas—sometimes, these places can be beautiful; other times, scary.)

By the end of the film, I wanted this “poor mama’s boy” to find happiness in a good place with good people. And when it’s over, there’s an ambiguity that leans more towards hope. Because, he deserves it.

“Poor Mama’s Boy” is available on-demand on Amazon Prime and iTunes, and I recommend you check it out.

The One I Love (2014)

23 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!!!…When Charlie McDowell’s “The One I Love” was released in 2014, reviewers were afraid to go beyond the first scene of the film, lest they risk talking about…the story.

Doesn’t really make sense to me, but I’ll be kind and issue a “SPOILER” alert.

(To be fair, even the film’s trailer is surprisingly very vague about what happens after the 10-minute mark.)

Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) are in a marriage rut, for which they take counseling. Why? You name it—they have trouble communicating with each other, he cheated on her, they don’t share that same spark anymore, etc. It’s a variety of reasons. Even when they try to recapture the spontaneity of the past, it doesn’t work. (Sneaking into a neighbor’s pool surprisingly isn’t very risk-taking anymore.) Their marriage counselor (Ted Danson, stepfather of director Charlie McDowell) recommends a weekend retreat where he sends most of his couples who just need to get away together for a little while. He assures them that each of them comes back refreshed and renewed. Ethan and Sophie agree to it, because why not? So, they’re set up alone at a big remote property, a big house with a pool and a guest house…what they find inside that guest house is where things get particularly interesting…

OK, here goes—each time either Ethan or Sophie sets foot into the guest house, one encounters a different version of the other. Sophie goes into the house, Ethan’s hair is slightly messy, he’s more charming and charismatic, and he doesn’t even have his glasses. And with Ethan, Sophie is more of a Stepford wife—eager to please, even preparing bacon for breakfast (something the real Sophie hates). When they (their real selves) become aware of what’s happening, their initial reaction is to flee. But then when they sit and talk about it, they decide they want to try it out a little longer. In spending time with different versions of their significant other, they also lay down some ground rules for each other…which I’M SURE WILL BE FOLLOWED.

Remember “Ruby Sparks,” the brilliant romantic comedy-drama that stated the difference between falling in love with a person and falling in love with an idea of that person? “The One I Love” sort of takes that concept a step further, by having Sophie literally fall in love with the man she thought she loved before, while Ethan is actually willing to work things out with himself and the woman he knows he loves…or does he actually love her…or does he just love the idea of her…? The Sophie that generates around him inside the guest house is more like a trophy wife than a real person, so what does that say about his romantic desires? Whatever this situation is, it’s apparently based on how people in couples see each other and uses that to appeal to their wants/needs in a relationship. Where it goes from there is left to question, especially for Ethan, who grows more concerned about how far Sophie’s willing to take her little “fling.”

I mentioned “Ruby Sparks,” which took an out-of-nowhere, eye-opening dark turn to teach the protagonist a lesson about the woman he wanted to be someone different from herself. “The One I Love” has a consistent dark tone all throughout—much of that has to do with cinematographer Doug Emmett’s shadowy shots, the overall layout of this property, and the director’s ability to make the couple’s problems and their attempts to solve them seem odd and eerie, almost like a Hitchcock setup. And the disturbing situation gets more and more uncomfortable, the more they experiment with it, as it seems there is one potential outcome for this couple—one version of either Ethan or Sophie has to stay while the other goes…but who stays with the other and who goes with the other?

The screenwriter, Justin Lader, makes the bold, smart choice of explaining very little. No one, not even the marriage counselor, comes along to give an expository speech about why this is or why that is. In the end, so much is left open to interpretation, which is the best move—any explanation wouldn’t have satisfied me. It’s just a fun, strange concept that’s played around with as numerous possibilities are taken advantage of, and I was intrigued all the way through “The One I Love.” And the ending, I think, is brilliant and provokes questions as to what the right choice is/was, how does one live with what’s happened, how do you deal with what’s happening around you, and…who IS the one you love?

Ordinary People (1980)

19 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I don’t want to talk about the “controversy” (and by “controversy,” I mean cinephiles complaining too damn much) of Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People” taking home the Best Picture AND Best Director Oscar awards over Martin Scorsese and his masterpiece “Raging Bull.” I just want to talk about “Ordinary People” and its own merits. If you’re looking for the elephant in the room, I’m sure you can find another review post-Oscars-1981. There’s a lot of them.

Truth is, “Ordinary People” is a fine film; a solid, effective, powerfully-acted family drama about three well-defined characters: an upper-middle-class young man coping with survivor’s guilt after the accidental death of his older brother, his conceited mother who can’t think of anything but how her son’s lack of interest in anything affects how people see the family, and his father who just wants peace between the two and within himself.

The son is teenage Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton). His life is a wreck ever since a tragic sailing accident resulting in the drowning of his older brother Bucky, the prince of the family. He survived with utmost guilt and tried to kill himself. Now that he’s out of psychiatric care, he’s back to live with his parents, returns to school, sees a therapist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch), and tries to put his life back on track. That’s easier said than done. He has no interest in former activities, such as swimming for the school team, and his friends aren’t on the same level as him. He wanders through life in a constant state of confusion, anger, and self-hatred. But surely, his parents would be able to help…

Well, his father, Calvin (Donald Sutherland), is a sad case. He wants to be there for his son, and he wants to help him, and at least he tries to make an effort to get through to him…which is more than I can say for Conrad’s mother, Beth (Mary Tyler Moore). How can I put this delicately? She’s very cold, one of the most realistic WASP characters I’ve ever seen in a movie, and utterly detestable. She’s withdrawn and wants to maintain the illusion that she’s the matriarch of a typical all-American suburban household with no issues at all, least of all a son who quits any and all activities and about whom her husband feels fine talking about in regards to his seeing a therapist. One of the most telling scenes is when she snaps at her son, saying how patients may act in psychiatric hospital won’t be tolerated in her household—Conrad snaps back, reminding her that she never visited him in the hospital and she might have visited Buck if he were in psychiatric care: she responds, “Buck never would’ve been in the hospital!” I hate this woman, but it’s interesting to try and understand why she feels this way. It’s like she desperately wants everything to remain status quo, so much so that she either can’t tell when something is more wrong than it seems or she just won’t acknowledge it.

“Ordinary People” is the directing debut from actor Robert Redford, and it’s adapted from by Alvin Sargent from the novel by Judith Guest. Both the novel and the film capture effectively what it’s like for a family in conflict, with compelling characters with different issues to follow—guilt, sorrow, confusion, etc. Communication between director and actor helps, of course. Redford not only captures the feel of what it’s like underneath the image of upper-middle-class suburbia, but he gets outstanding performances from each of his actors.

Speaking of whom, the film belongs to Timothy Hutton, since it’s his character’s story that’s being told. He has the right amount of intensity for a role like this, which earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (even though it was hardly a supporting performance—but I won’t get into that either). Mary Tyler Moore, also nominated, helps us to see humanity buried deep within a superficial character—something about the way she tries to maintain control throughout all of this is just fascinating. Donald Sutherland (for some reason, not nominated) plays the kind of guy you just want to reach out and comfort and say everything’s going to be OK sooner or later. And Judd Hirsch, whom Hutton beat for the Oscar in the same category, has a few terrific scenes as the therapist, comedic before taking effective, darker turns. The acting practically makes the film, which otherwise is just a well-made, well-written social drama about a family trying (or not trying) to reconnect.

OK fine, I’ll go into a little bit about why I think “Ordinary People” took home high honors at the Oscars instead of Scorsese’s “Raging Bull”—it came out at just the right time. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, mainstream films were coming around to showing the truer sides of the Dysfunctional American Family and addressing issues that are faced every day. The previous Best Picture winner, “Kramer vs. Kramer,” focused on family coping with divorce, so it made sense that the sentimental Academy decided to give the trophy to a family drama about coping with tragedy. That’s the best explanation I can think of. Yes, obviously, “Raging Bull” is a masterwork from one of our greatest directors, and it didn’t win the Oscar—does that really mean we’re not going to love it any more than we do? “Ordinary People” is a fine film, and I’ll recognize it as a fine film—it’s well-directed, very well-written, and powerfully-acted…but I won’t consider it the best film of 1980.