Movie reviews: 'Gold' looks pretty but doesn't truly glitter
Published Friday, January 27, 2017 6:30AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 27, 2017 11:10AM EST
GOLD: 2 ½ STARS
Matthew McConaughey must have a thing for bullion. “Gold,” a new film directed by Stephen Gaghan, is his third movie after “Sahara” and “Fool's Gold” to use the search for the elusive ore as a story device. Who can blame him? The bright metal is the stuff of dreams, but remember, all that glitters is not gold.
McConaughey, with a receding hairline and carrying fifty extra pounds, is Kenny Wells a third generation prospector. His grandfather scratched the company out of the side of a Nevada mountain before his father (Craig T. Nelson) turned it into a multimillion-dollar concern. Kenny hasn’t been as lucky. Unable to strike gold—literally and figuratively—he is reduced to setting up office in a bar where the liquor and bad ideas flow freely.
Down to his last dollar, he pawns his wife’s last piece of decent jewellery to buy a plane ticket to Indonesia to meet gold miner Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez). Acosta has a lead on a mine located in the jungle but doesn’t have the capital to set up the operation. Kenny jumps in, raises the money and after a slow start they hit a vein. “It’s amazing how gold dust can change everything,” he says, “and for better and for worse the ride had begun.”
The “ride” isn’t just the riches to rags to riches story, but also a wild tale of avarice, hubris and dreams.
McConaughey is digging for gold and chewing the scenery in his latest movie. Wells is a larger-than-life character who leaves behind a larger-than-life mess and McConaughey wastes no opportunity to go big. He grins and grimaces throughout, filling the screen with Wellsian personality.
It’s a good thing too, because the by-the-book script doesn’t offer up much in the way of anything that feels real. It’s “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” without the exploration of human weakness or the conscience. It’s a potboiler on low simmer. It’s the kind of movie where people say things like, “You gotta plan?” while someone else (usually McConaughey) nods knowingly.
“Gold” looks pretty—the scenes in the Indonesian jungle are gorgeous—and does have a nice a nice subtext about the power of belief—What is a prospector? “Someone who believes it s out there.”—but has too much of a boiler plate plot to truly glitter.
TRESPASS AGAINST US: 2 STARS
For the second time in a year Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender play father and son on screen. Recently Fassbender’s daddy issues with Gleason in “Assassin’s Creed” came to an abrupt Oedipus-esque end. “Trespass Against Us” once again pits them against one another, this time with Irish accents and an anti-establishment attitude.
Gleeson is Colby Cutler, the patriarch of a band of Irish outlaws, including son Chad (Fassbender). They live on the fringes of society, sequestered away in a fleet of trailers in the country. Colby’s influence over the clan is complete. His children are home schooled, taught flat earth nonsense and the ways of thievery.
Chad and Colby butt heads as the son tries make a better life for his wife (Lyndsey Marshal) and children by putting crime and his father’s domineering influence in the rear view mirror.
Before walking the straight and narrow Chad attracts the unwanted attention of the police when he agrees to the proverbial one last job, the robbery of a well-known local judge.
Other than deep seeded daddy issues and a seemingly unattainable desire to do better Chad, as played by Fassbender, doesn't bring much to the story except for the actor’s charisma. He, and everyone else, are archetypes, done before and done better in other family crime films.
Despite being based on a real life crew of sibling lawbreakers, there's nothing distinctive enough, or the sympathetic enough about the lot of them to maintain interest
A couple of quirky, pulse racing the action sequences—Fassbender hides under a cow!—inject some spunk into what otherwise is a lifeless affair.
THE RED TURTLE: 4 STARS
“The Red Turtle” shares the basic plot points of “Castaway” and “Robinson Crusoe” but there’s not a volleyball or man Friday in sight just a giant turtle and allegories galore.
Director Michael Dudok de Wit has made what amounts to a silent film—there’s no dialogue, only hypnotic visuals coupled with the sounds of nature, a beautiful score from Laurent Perez del Mar and the occasional grunt from it’s main character—about a man shipwrecked on a deserted island with only a giant red turtle for company.
“The Red Turtle” is a very simple film, but achieving beautifully pure simplicity like this is harder than it looks. In its humble story are broad, primal issues of man’s relationship to nature are silently explored, adding subtext to this tale of isolation. It’s elegant and poetic; its “The Old Man and the Sea” with a turtle, a movie that embraces it metaphysical leanings as well as raw emotion. It’s not a movie for children or for people looking for easily answers to life’s existential questions. It’s art house animation, a treat for the eyes as well as the brain.
TONI ERDMANN: 4 STARS
“Toni Erdmann,” a new German language film from director Maren Ade and nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, is being billed as a comedy but that’s not exactly accurate. It is absurd and often quite funny, but those laughs come from a deep mine of pain and desperation.
Peter Simonischek is Winfried, an elderly music teacher and next level practical joker. When he isn’t teaching he’s wearing funny teeth and punking the mail delivery people, pretending to be a dangerous criminal just out of jail for sending bombs through the post. His daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), a corporate bigwig working for an oil company in Bucharest, did not inherit the clown gene.
The two are polar opposites, so when he shows up unannounced to spend time with her, she’s not entirely pleased. After a falling out he leaves, presumably to catch a plane back to Germany, only to reappear in her life as “life coach” Toni Erdmann. Dressed in an ill-fitting suit, plastic teeth and a fright wig he tries to endear himself to her friends and co-workers in a strange attempt to forge a relationship with a daughter he bares knows.
Despite Winfried’s off-the-wall antics “Toni Erdmann’s” main feel isn’t one of humour but of desperation. The father is desperate to understand his daughter’s life and career choices. Ines’s desperation manifests itself in quick blasts of temper and a kill-or-be-killed attitude on the job. Both behave strangely, expressing their dysfunction in very different ways, but they share a feeling that something is missing from their lives.
It’s heady stuff for a film that features funny teeth and clownish wigs but it works because of Ade’s unblinking camera and naturalistic and emotional performances from the leads.
Ade allows the camera to linger on uncomfortable, bittersweet moments that at first feel unnecessary but soon become intimate glimpses that reveal the inner thoughts of father and daughter. More than just padding and making an already long movie even longer, they are windows into the personalities of the characters. Like watching someone when they don’t know they’re being observed, they provide a raw look at Ines and Winfried.
The movie’s greatest moment, a public display of catharsis from Ines comes with the singing of a song. At a party father prods his daughter to sings while he plays a small electric piano. She let’s loose, finally dropping her carefully constructed public persona and belts out a version of Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” that would bring the house down at any respectable karaoke joint. It’s a show-stopper, an exuberant letting loose that showcases much more than Ines’s way with a song. It is a great purge, a letting go of her inhibitions after getting her buttons pushed and it is glorious.
Simonischek and Hüller are wonderfully cast. Simonischek‘s sad sack father has found an outlet through humour and, sometimes infuriatingly, passes along his wisdom to his daughter. He’s all heart and often stands in stark contrast to his all-business daughter.
Hüller has the wider character arc and makes us care about someone who is being consumed by her own sense of emptiness. Did I mention this is being marketed as a comedy? That archetype of a successful person who swaps any sort of meaningful human connection for success is ripe for parody and Hüller mines it for funny moments as Ines slowly wakes up and comes to life.
“Toni Erdmann” has no real payoff other than spending time with two fascinating characters. For me that was enough.