This past long weekend I didn’t really watch anything too interesting but for re-watching Dan Brown’s Inferno. I have already talked about it before as another installment of the Robert Langdon series. It’s okay.
I also watched before the weekend the Julia Roberts’ film Ben is Back. It also star the young and up and coming male star Lucas Hedges. He has done some memorable roles already including Boy Erased with Russell Crowe and the family trying to use conversion therapy on their son to remove his inclination towards other boys (see Nov 26 2018 review). This film is a lot closer to the other TIFF released from last year Beautiful Boy with Timothee Chalamet (also a very popular and in demand young actor) where Steve Carrell as father tries to understand and help his addicted son. This was reviewed by me on October 29th in the Halloween edition. There is a similar arc to both stories with Roberts and Carrell playing the loving (maybe too enabling parent) who wants to help a son who has lost his way. Or at least he has found a path that the parents disagree with and they view it as self-destructive. As addicts the boys are both convincing. They have done terrible things and disappear for stretches of time. Hedges’ character Ben is coming back early from a stint in Rehab it seems. Only he seems to think that his returning to his home (with Mom, Step-Dad, younger sister and step-siblings) is a good idea. He sponsor does not. The plot is simple with his surprise visit and then as he wanders this small town which may be Vermont (but the mall seems a great deal like Woodbine Centre in Toronto) he gets noticed and recognized by others in the town. There are some interesting moments, like Mom Julia in the mall which is unexpected. There are others where Ben seems to have a dark cloud around him and bad things just seem to happen. His step-father is not impressed. His Mom tries to smooth things over and make them right. I thought I knew where this was going and then it changed direction, mildly anyway. Is it more satisfying than Beautiful Boy? Not sure. It’s different but keeps a theme going. Is the Hedges performance better than Chalamet? I can’t say that. He has a couple moments where he needs to show some depth and he addresses them admirably. What I can say about seeing both of these is that I am glad, so far, that my children haven’t been caught up in this world. It’s a scary prospect that one who you have cared so closely for takes a U-turn and heads in a direction you can’t understand or relate to in any way. I guess life is a lottery in many ways and children have to make their own choices. Julia Roberts has some palpable moments of frustration and I think she attacks the problem for her directly with a moving seen with her son, just the two of them. You’ll know it when you see it, and it was a moment where I sat and watched and just said “wow”.
This week I had the pleasure to attend a movie in person with my daughter and her best friend. We decided to see Boy Erased. The story is pretty straightforward with a Baptist preacher and car dealership owner (Russell Crowe) and his Wife (Nicole Kidman) who have one son, Garrod (Lucas Hedges). The parents decide to send their son to conversion therapy to cure him of his homosexual thoughts and actions, which was sprung on them by surprise by another troubled young man at College. This is set in Arkansas back in 2004, so NOT ancient history. The son was at the time 19yo and was given the choice to be disowned by his parents and family or go to get “cured”. He decided for the latter with his shame and uncertainty surrounding his own feelings. He attends Love In Action which locks the subjects away for an assessment and then later makes decisions on what should happen to them longer term. The viewer sees in detail the teachings and methods used to break down the subjects and get them to re-learn themselves and identify the source of their problem (usually past family members or others). There is plenty of finger pointing and justifications. The circumstances surrounding Garrod’s outing were dramatic. Later scenes with other subjects at the therapy sessions are emotional and powerful. In the end we learn that 700,000 people have gone through this therapy in the US. It’s sad to think of all these souls struggling and being subjected to this type of manipulation. For the family, we have an emotional couple of scenes where Nicole Kidman shows her acting chops (and I confess I am NOT a Kidman fan – but here she was very good at delivering an important moment in the film). We also see a much heavier Russell Crowe being pressed to think through his own values and beliefs, as a father, a husband and a preacher. Hedges plays this role very well and is articulate in expressing his feelings. We (daughter and friend) had a debate amongst ourselves about whether homosexuality is born or bred (nature vs nurture) from the science of is there a gene for this (there isn’t) or whether it is learned behaviour? In the end it doesn’t matter, but the impact will be on the viewer’s attitude of whether this type of therapy (by people who may not even be doctors or psychiatrists/psychologists) makes any real difference at all. Worth a viewing, and likely gets Kidman another nomination and could be too for Hedges.
Last night, the MLB network was playing The Natural, with Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger, Glenn Close and others. This film from 1984 is a fictionalized, fable for baseball with the NY Knights, and the legend of Roy Hobbs. Hobbs is a talent and gifted smalltown boy with dreams of baseball in the early days of the game. His journey gets sidetracked by a troubled woman, and he disappears for 16 years. He shows up in a last place team looking for a spark with a manager fighting to keep the team (battling a co-owner) and also looking wins and spectators. Along comes the new rookie and he eventually is able to play, and make his mark on the game. The rest flows as you would expect. The score is iconic, written by Randy Newman, and adds to the overall joy in the film. I can watch and re-watch this film many times over. Along with Bull Durham, and Field of Dreams and Eight Men Out, these are some of the best baseball movies that there are. It was nominated for 4 Oscars including music and for Glenn Close. I note that there are these films that I haven’t reviewed in the water cooler conversations, nor over the years, but they are friends who I am happy to invite back into my home and make me re-experience the joy of watching them unfold. These are what films are all about.