Culver City Observer -

MOVIE REVIEW: I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS and SLOW WEST

 


With more than 20 films opening this weekend or expanding wider in release, there’s something for everyone. From George Miller’s post-apocalyptic MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, the next chapter in the “Mad Max” franchise which originally catapulted Mel Gibson into the limelight and now elevates Tom Hardy even higher in the cinematic spectrum, to those fabulous acapella Bellas of Barden in PITCH PERFECT 2 to the Dolph Lundgren produced and written (and starring Lundgren and Tony Jaa) SKIN TRADE with a story focused on sex trafficking to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin in a post-apocalyptic zombie thriller to the French telling of “The French Connection” with THE CONNECTION, cinema runs the gamut of diversity. But there are also some little indie gems out there; gems that celebrate the mature audience and the lovers of westerns. I’m talking about I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS and SLOW WEST.

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS

What a joy to see a film written for mature actors, and particularly with Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott as the leads! As writer/director Brett Haley succinctly and sweetly shows us in I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, there is romance and fun to be had in the later post-AARP years.

Carol is widow. With her husband gone for more than two decades, and her daughter long gone from home, but for the gaggle of girlfriends who live at the local upscale retirement home, Carol’s constant companion has been her dog, also in his senior years (be they people or dog years). Retiring from teaching on the death of her husband, she has never really faced his passing, but rather has been going through the motions of living in a house full of memories and sticking to an almost scripted daily routine (including drinking lots of wine). And now Carol must now face the passing of her dog. Could life be passing her by? What is there for her now?

For Rona, Sally and Georgina, Carol’s answer is simple. Put herself back in the dating game. Egad! Really? Reluctantly, Carol agrees to “give it a try” and accompanies the fun-loving Sally to a speed-dating night at the retirement home. Never again. But her interest is piqued when approached by a man in the drugstore who pays her a compliment. Brushing him off, she wonders if there might be a little more to this man than a mere flirt when he sees her in the parking lot post-speed dating and invites her to lunch. Almost embarrassed, she puts him off. But when he - Bill - remembers her phone number and calls her, Carol has to stop and think.

In the meantime, she has been spending a lot of time with her pool man Lloyd who is almost a knight in shining armor when it comes to afternoon wine and capturing a pesky rat who continually races across the floor, forcing Carol to repeatedly stay on her patio. There is sweet comedy that comes from this odd friendship, but it spurs Carol onward in life, reawakens the life and dreams she once had, and pushes her to say “yes” to Bill.

Blythe Danner is radiant as Carol. One of the strongest performances of her career, be it on stage or screen, if you know anything about Danner’s personal life and her marriage to Bruce Paltrow, then you immediately see the parallels between Danner and her on-screen character Carol. The result is effortless ease and comfortability.

Sam Elliott is still the mustachioed man who makes women swoon just by the sound of his voice, and he does just that here. As Bill, love interest to Danner’s Carol, Elliott loved the character. “I gotta walk around with a cigar in my mouth - that wasn’t my favorite. But I liked this guy. I liked that he was footloose, which I’m not. He was a good guy. I liked that he was a gentleman which spoke to me, and I like to think that I am and have been raised to be one. I really liked the character and I loved the piece.”

The real fun and joy come in the form of Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place and June Squibb. Playing to the comedic sensibilities of Perlman and Place with Squibb serving as straightwoman, the ladies are hilarious!

The younger generation is represented by Martin Starr and Malin Akerman. As pool man Lloyd, Starr is a deadpan delight while Akerman, as Carol’s daughter Katherine, does a respectable job in two brief scenes which in all honesty don’t need to be in the film.

Written and directed by Brett Haley, I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is his sophomore feature following “The New Year” five years ago. And as with “The New Year”, Haley’s strongest suits are his script, casting and cinematography. As all of the actors agree, not only are they appreciative of a script written for mature actors, but that it’s a well written script. As Elliott states, “It’s just a well written, well crafted piece. The phenomenal thing is that a kid of 24/5/6 years old wrote it. And I was, ‘Where does Brett get a story about people of this age?’ He’s so able to put his finger on the truth about really important issues in life. It’s such an every man tale. That’s one of the things that spoke to me. We’re all going there. . .This movie touches everyone. It touches all of us, I think. And it just jumped out at me. Sure, it was that WOW.”

When it comes to Rob Givens’ cinematography, the film is beautiful to look at. Light, crisp, clean and bright, the visual bandwidth serves as a tonal balance to the darker themes of aging, loneliness and death.

However, as with his first feature, Haley proves too precious with his concept when it comes to editing. Also wearing the editor’s hat, Haley fails to develop and maintain a rhythm or even flow. There is a lack of cadence. Some scenes hang there like a fish out of water, as well as being too long. The whole mother-daughter segment falls flat and could have been eliminated completely. Also adding a disjointed aspect to the film is the absence of sufficient scoring which could have aided in smoothing the rough edges of some of the over-extended scenes and awkward silences.

But despite Haley’s shortcomings, I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is still a showcase for superb actors who deliver engaging substantive performances, a well written script filled with heart and humor, and some beautifully engaging visuals filled with hope and promise of the beauty the world has to offer, no matter your age.

SLOW WEST

Michael Fassbender. In a Western. And a scene in which we see the “Fabulous Fassy” in wet, clinging, white union suit. Do I have your attention ladies? Well, that’s just one image you can expect in John Maclean’s SLOW WEST. Other images include breathtaking cinematography from Robbie Ryan showcasing the beauty and depth of 1870's Colorado (for which New Zealand serves as a perfect doppleganging substitute), lensed with the early widescreen format - 1.66:1- which audiences first saw with Paramount’s “Shane” in 1953, not to mention a meticulously crafted story with indelible performances from the likes of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn and Caren Pistorius. One look at SLOW WEST and one is transported back in time, immersed in cinematic beauty and scope, and loving every second of it.

As the puppy dog eyed young Scotsman, Jay Cavendish, Kodi Smit-McPhee seamlessly makes the transition into more adult roles and goes toe-to-toe with Michael Fassbender. Cavendish is in love with the lovely Scottish lass, Rose Ross, who together with her father, is on the run and heads to the American West to start a new life. Determined to spend his life with Rose, unbeknownst to her, the wide-eyed innocent Jay also heads across the Atlantic and across the territory to Colorado.

Ill-equipped emotionally, physically and intellectually for the quest, Jay runs afoul of Union officers and Native Americans alike, until rescued by Silas Selleck. A frontiersman and bounty hunter who runs with no one but himself, Silas offers to serve as Jay’s guide; for a price. Realizing he needs the help, Jay agrees to Silas’ offer. But what Jay doesn’t know is that Silas is looking to collect the bounty on the heads of Rose and her father and sees Jay as his ticket to the promised land.

As the two men journey ever westward, a bond develops between them, but always with some give and take and trepidation and mistrust involved. Along the way, the story of the Old West unfolds with its beauty, its hardships, its immigrant and Native American displacement, its moral codes and rules of engagement, all told through the people and events Jay and Silas encounter; among them, a meet up with band of Congolese musicians, and then a Swedish man robbing a local store to feed his family. As shocking as a bloody-shoot proves to be, even more disturbing are the now orphaned children Jay and Silas see standing outside the store waiting for their parents who will never return. The images are so powerful as to be deafening. And then there’s Payne, a man who clearly has had previous run-ins with Silas, but maintains a mutual respect as he now heads up his own gang of outlaws, also seeking that bounty on Rose Ross and her father.

With minimal dialogue, Fassbender’s depth comes from tacit conviction and a deepening on-screen, almost paternal, bond with Smit-McPhee’s Jay. The truth within the characters and the story and the performances from Fassbender and Smit-McPhee immerse us in time and place.

Equally tough and tender are nights around campfires or Silas teaching Jay how to shave like a man. At every turn, we see hardship and challenges turn into strength and joy.

Written and directed by John Maclean, the story is tight, well crafted and constructed with a core essence that is more about a search for self-discovery and love than the Old West itself. Having said that, however, there is no time more perfect as a setting to explore those themes than 1890's western United States. Characters resonate with rich texture. Using a voice-over technique with Fassbender’s Silas to provide some continuity, the result is cohesive and unintrusive.

Calling on Maclean’s own musical background, SLOW WEST has a lyricism to it that is comfortable and embracing like the ebb and flow of a rippling creek or the slow ride of a horse on the trail. And speaking of musical, Jed Kurzel’s score blends elements of numerous immigrant tones to create a rich eclectic complement to the world we see unfolding.

But beyond the story, beyond the performances, there are Robbie Ryan’s visuals. One look and we feel like we’re in John Ford’s beloved Monument Valley. A climactic shoot-out in a golden field of wheat set against a small homestead is so viscerally lensed and crisply choreographed that one can almost feel the spray of buckshot and bullets. The widescreen lensing gives SLOW WEST an epic feel while a saturated color palette creates a sense of heightened realism, a surreal sense that captures the uncertainty and wonder of this new world.

 

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