Friday, December 25, 2015


Merry Christmas! Quickies on several Christmas Day openings: 

ConcussionPeter Landesman directed this straightforward drama starring Will Smith, who plays Dr. Bennet Omalu. This Nigerian pathologist came to the U.S. starry-eyed about the American Dream, and then learned what happens when you get between Americans and football.

While doing autopsies for the Allegheny County Coroner’s office in Pittsburgh, including one for down-and-out Steelers center Mike Webster, Omalu came to the conclusion that it might not be healthy for men to spend their careers bashing their heads into each other—he referred to the results of this as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. The NFL found his theory shocking and controversial.

After a while, it struck me that the film’s somber, brooding tone was less about the horror that befalls CTE victims and their families, and more about American angst over anything that challenges, complicates or interferes with the love of football. The best line, delivered by Albert Brooks, refers to the place the NFL has taken in America: “They own a day of the week,” he says. “The same one The Church used to own.”

CarolThe latest from Todd Haynes is this impeccable adaptation of the 1952 Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt. As in Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett is a rich lady in trouble. Carol is an affluent, elegant New Jersey housewife and mother, in the process of divorcing her husband. She’s out shopping when she meets Therese (Rooney Mara), an aspiring Manhattan photographer, working in a department store. The two are immediately riveted by each other, and as they get acquainted, eventually taking a road trip together, their relationship grows from yearning infatuation to a genuine bond. It need hardly be said that all does not go smoothly for them.

This is sort of a companion piece to Haynes’ Far From Heaven, his lush, Douglas Sirk-ish ‘50s soap opera in which Dennis Quaid struggled against his sexuality as if he’d been diagnosed with low blood sugar or anemia. But because the lead characters in Carol aren’t trying to overcome their identities, it’s probably a more enjoyable movie. It’s also probably better made—the period detail is rich but not fussy, and the acting bristles, both erotically and emotionally.

Blanchett is daringly mannered, both in her look and her delivery—at first she seems lacquered and campy, almost a little gothic. But as the movie progresses her grand style starts to blend perfectly with Mara’s touchingly unaffected, natural directness. Very simply, the two of them seem lucky to have found each other.

Daddy’s HomeWill Farrell is the square, trying-too-hard stepdad, and Mark Wahlberg is the cool absentee Dad with the motorcycle and the treehouse-building skills. They stupidly one-up each other for the love of Linda Cardellini and her rather unlikable kids, and the result is self-consciously “transgressive” slapstick of the kids-in-wheelchairs-getting-knocked-over style in vogue since The Hangover.

It’s fairly terrible, though I suppose it gets a smidge better in the homestretch when Farrell and Wahlberg aren’t competing anymore. My only other comment is: I can no longer see Mark Wahlberg without being reminded of Andy Samberg’s Saturday Night Live impression of him.

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