Screen Savor: Family and foreign affairs

Fri. September 16, 2016 12:00 AM
by Gregg Shapiro

The Hollars (Sony Pictures Classics) isn't the first movie to deal with a dying parent or an adult child who returns to a small town from the big city to the deal with the situation. It is, however, the first to have the magnificent Margo Martindale in the role of the terminally ill parent, and that alone sets it apart from all others.

Director and star John Krasinski had his work cut out for him, turning the sow's ear of Jim Strouse's screenplay into a silk purse, and he does an admirable job. Hollar matriarch Sally (Martindale) lives with her husband Don (the ubiquitous Richard Jenkins) and incompetent son Ron (a miserably miscast Sharlto Copley) in Ohio. Artistic son John (Krasinski) lives in New York with his pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), where he works at a publishing company and struggles with what to do with his graphic novel.

When Sally passes out in the bathroom while using a curling iron on her hair, leading to a burn on her wrist, she is taken to the hospital where it is discovered that she has a sizable brain tumor that has been growing for several years. Both Sally and Don ignored the symptoms (Don sent Sally to Jenny Craig thinking they were weight-related) and now Sally has to undergo a craniotomy.

John returns to Ohio to be with his family, leaving Rebecca behind in New York. Of course that won't do and the independently wealthy Rebecca hails a cab to Ohio to be with John. It's a good thing she's there, too, because John's married ex-girlfriend Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) still has the hots for him.

In the days leading up to Sally's procedure, secrets are revealed, truths are told and arrests are made. Ron, concerned about his young daughters and obsessed with ex-wife Stacy's (Ashley Dyke) relationship with Reverend Dave (Josh Groban) acts even more inappropriately than he is known for doing. Sally confides in John about her relationship with Don and her discarded dreams. John and Rebecca must face the fact that they are soon going to be parents (of twins!).

The Hollars is a cookie-cutter affair redeemed by Martindale's Oscar-worthy performance. There are some scenes that stand out as highly original, including the one in which John shaves Sally's head with clippers in advance of her surgery. But don't be surprised if you find yourself hollering at the screen that you've seen some of this before. [In theaters on Sept. 16]

There are so many things wrong with Oliver Stone's overly long and self-indulgent Edward Snowden flick Snowden (Open Road) that it's necessary to say the nice things first. Joseph Gordon is very good, not great, as Snowden. He undergoes a sort of physical transformation in the role and he's magnetic. Also, the Stone-style controversial conspiracy stuff, which is his métier, is front and center here, and it's where the director is most comfortable.

But here's the thing, you'd be better off watching queer filmmaker Laura Poitras' Oscar-winning Snowden doc Citizenfour. Here's why: almost half of Snowden is a dramatization of the making of Citizenfour, complete with Melissa Leo as Poitras, Zachary Quinto as gay journalist Glenn Greenwald and Tom Wilkinson as Scottish Guardian journalist Ewen MacAskill.

The rest of the movie takes us through super-intelligent Snowden's journey from soldier-in-training (he doesn't pass) to CIA employee and U.S. government contractor (at which he excels) to wanted criminal. We watch his professional and personal evolution, as he travels the globe and makes an effort to maintain his relationship with liberal-minded girlfriend Lindsay (Shailene Woodley, not at her best), knowing full well how the story ends.

The supporting cast runs the gamut from decent (rising young actor Ben Schnetzer from Pride) to downright dreadful (Nicolas Cage and Rhys Ifans who are equally frightful). To be fair, Stone was probably trying to be his well-meaning self. But you know what they say about good intentions. [In theaters on Sept. 16]

It's difficult to watch Goat (Paramount/Killer Films) and not think, "Gee, if this was set in a gay fraternity, there'd probably be a lot less pent up sexual frustration and aggression." And so on. But, alas, that is not the case.

"Based on actual events," Goat begins at a college frat party where Brett (Nick Jonas, the youngest and second hottest of the Jonas Brothers) is a brother and a student. Brett's brother Brad (Ben Schnetzer who played gay in Pride), not currently enrolled in school, is also at the party. More straight-laced than Brett, Brad leaves the Greek orgy of the gathering sober. As he's getting into his car, he's approached by a guy in a hoodie who claims to have been at the party and is in need of a ride. Brad agrees before he knows that the guy has a friend, also in a hoodie, who will be joining them.

As it turns out, they didn't actually need a ride. They just needed Brad to drive them to a field so they could beat the shit out of him, rob him and take his car. Brett makes an effort to be supportive of Brad following the assault and drives around town looking for the bad guys and the car. Unfortunately, the police are of no help in the situation. Meanwhile, Brad uses his iPhone with the cracked screen to take pictures of his battered face.

During his arduous recovery from the attack, Brad joins Brett at another frat shindig, where, in between drinking massive amounts of beer, the other frat bros talk smack about the "white trash redneck townies" in the college town. Around this time, Brad makes the decision to join Brett and return to school in the fall, even agreeing to pledge the fraternity.

If ever there was a good argument for abolishing the Greek system and the horrifying hazing rituals associated with it, this would be the one. The "goat" of the title not only refers to what pledges to the fraternity are called but also to an actual goat whose significance is revealed later in the film. The pledges must endure a barrage of homophobic slurs, physical and psychological abuse, and a host of other horrors dreamed up by the brethren they supposedly want to share living quarters with while in school. The death of one of the pledges ultimately begins a landslide of traumas that will test biological brothers Brad and Brett to their very core.

Kudos are due to Jonas for holding own against Schnetzer who continues to prove himself to be a talented young actor. If you are able to overlook the hideous nature of what occurs in the film, the male scenery isn't half bad. [In theaters on Sept. 23]