Viggo Mortensen Confronts Abusive Parenting in His Directorial Debut ‘Falling’

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Falling (CREDIT: Brendan Adam-Zwelling/Quiver Distribution)

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lance Henriksen, Sverrir Gudnason, Laura Linney, Terry Chen, Hannah Gross, Gabby Velis

Director: Viggo Mortensen

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: R for Just About Every Ethnic and Gendered Slur You Can Think Of (and Brief Nudity)

Release Date: February 5, 2021 (Theaters and On Demand)

I’m generally not terribly excited to watch movies about emotionally abusive parents, whereas I am generally excited to watch the directorial debuts of actors whose work I consistently enjoy. So I find myself internally conflicted at the prospect of Falling, in which Viggo Mortensen directs himself as John Peterson, a family man attempting to deal with his profoundly irascible father Willis (Lance Henriksen). Surprisingly enough, while watching I didn’t find myself entirely anxiety-ridden by all the familial strife on display. Perhaps my mood just happened to be in enough of a state of equilibrium to handle it, and quite possibly I wouldn’t have reacted as keenly on a more stressful day. Or maybe it had something to do with the variety of ways (frustration, gritted teeth, amusement, insults, etc.) that Willis’ kids and grandkids employ to respond to his provocations and declining mental health.

If there is one major takeaway above all others to Falling, it is the Power of Patience. John appears to be genuinely happy that his dad is spending the weekend at his house with his husband Eric (Terry Chen) and daughter Monica (Gabby Velis), but we know that his feelings can’t possibly be all (or even mostly) positive, as childhood flashbacks present a father-son relationship in which Willis browbeats his son over every single major or minor decision that he makes. And yet for all the decades of turmoil he’s endured, John is still conscientious enough to honor his own internal sense of familial loyalty. I wouldn’t judge him if he were to instead decide that the healthiest choice would be to cut his father off, but I’m glad that he tries to keep the peace with him long enough so that we have a family dinner scene in which John’s sister (Laura Linney) and her kids show up so that everyone can have a chance to declare what they really think about Grandpa.

The final act of Falling is a little more slow going, as it departs from John’s place on the West Coast back to Willis’ farm in Upstate New York. John is helping to put the property on the market, but Willis is deeply connected to his horses and intent on spending more time with them. At least that’s what I think is going on. Frankly, the story becomes significantly less dynamic when John and Willis are away from the rest of the extended Peterson clan, and I must admit that my sense of connection to what I was watching started to drift during the farm scenes. But overall, this is still a fairly compelling piece about how intergenerational trauma has a long tail but also about how it can be digested and rejected for a different approach.

Falling is Recommended If You Like: Angsty family dinner scenes, White horses

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Pathological Insults

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ is a Textbook Example of How Not to Reboot

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CREDIT: Reiner Bajo/Sony Pictures Entertainment

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Sylvia Hoeks, LaKeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps, Claes Bang

Director: Fede Álvarez

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Violence and Sexual Content, But Relatively Mild by This Series’ Standards

Release Date: November 9, 2018

Where do you go if you’re an iconic character whose creator isn’t around anymore? For the supernaturally proficient hacker Lisbeth Salander, that worry applies twofold. Stieg Larsson, the original author of the Millennium book series, passed away in 2004, with all three of his Salander-starring novels published posthumously. With the books proving immensely popular, the series was eventually continued about a decade later by David Lagercrantz with The Girl in the Spider’s Web and The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. I haven’t read Lagercrantz’ entries, so I don’t know how they compare to Larsson’s work, but I do know that they haven’t been the sensations that the originals were.

Similarly, the film edition of Spider’s Web is arriving with much less fanfare than David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptation (or even the Noomi Rapace-starring Swedish-language version). Dragon Tattoo got mostly strong reviews and cracked $100 million at the box office, but it proved to be too expensive and brutal to immediately continue on as a franchise. Still, it does director Fede Álvarez (Don’t Breathe, 2013’s Evil Dead remake) no favors to be working with a version of Salander that is so far removed from Larsson and Fincher’s conceptions. To be fair, in order to truly succeed, it would have to succeed, so the problem is really that Spider’s Web is ultimately too generic. Dragon Tattoo featured brutal, hard-to-watch moments of abuse, but they made for striking, unforgettable characters. Spider’s Web, alas, reduces Salander to a standard-issue avenging angel caught up in inscrutable international intrigue.

Don’t blame Claire Foy, who is certainly willing to be as unapologetic and deeply committed as is necessary to embody Salander. And don’t blame Sylvia Hoeks as Lisbeth’s long-lost sister or LaKeith Stanfield as an enterprising agent. (Sverrir Gudnason, however, is not a particularly inspiring Mikael Blomkvist.) But do blame the not-particularly-deep story they are caught up in. Ghosts from the past and not-so-legitimate government authorities have caused problems for Salander in the past, but this time, they do not offer much unique to say about the human condition.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is Recommended If You Like: Cookie-cutter sprawling mystery thrillers

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hacks

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Borg vs McEnroe’ Serves Up an Electrifyingly Tense Two-Biopics-in-One

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CREDIT: Julie Vrabelova/Neon

This review was originally posted on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: Sverrir Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, Stella Skarsgård, Tuva Novotny

Director: Janus Metz Pederson

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for the F-Bombs of Athletic Frustration and Incidental Nudity

Release Date: April 13, 2018

A study in contrasts often makes for both thrilling athletics and fascinating cinema. Thus it makes sense that we now have a film chronicling the 1980 Wimbledon men’s final between the Swedish Björn Borg and the American John McEnroe, considered by many to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, tennis matches of all time. It is surprising, perhaps, that it has taken decades for Borg vs McEnroe to happen, though that is perhaps attributable to tennis not being as marquee as other sports. But it is also good that we have had to wait, as it has given us time to digest the moment. The end result is appropriately internationally flavored, with a Danish director, production support from multiple countries, and only about two cast members well-known in America.

As a major tennis fan, I can’t help but think about how dramatically different Borg vs McEnroe would have gone if today’s officiating technology were available. The Hawk-Eye system used at many tournaments is an exceptionally efficient method for confirming whether or not balls have landed in or out of bounds. Had it been around 40 years ago, it could have prevented McEnroe from developing his hothead reputation, much of which came from his disputes with the umpires about supposedly blown calls. He could have been vindicated, though perhaps he would have found something else to complain about. But because it all went down as it did, B v M sets up its titular rivalry in terms that could be an alternate title: “Ice-Borg vs. Superbrat.”

Instead of a traditional dramatization of a rivalry, Borg vs McEnore is really more a concurrent double biopic. The buildup over the course of the tournament to the championship match is interspersed with flashbacks that paint both competitors as outsiders fighting their way into a game that has historically been elitist and dismissive of outsiders. Borg (who displays a temper on par with McEnroe’s in his teenage years) is treated with insults by the sport’s upper crust; though he is embraced by fans after winning the four prior Wimbledons in a row, he still maintains a resolve of doing things his own way. McEnroe is the upstart attempting to break through, showing little concern for decorum at the tournament where it is valued more than anywhere else, and he is met with the boos to match his impishness. As Borg, Sverrir Gudnason is not asked to do much besides remain still and calm outside of the tennis scenes, but there is a world of action taking place within his eyes. Shia LaBeouf does not try to mimic McEnroe’s voice, but he does deploy his similar propensity for asshole outbursts.

B v M’s filmmaking techniques are unique among most sports biopics, and are practically avant-garde when compared to typical live televised athletics. Rarely does the camera focus merely on the ball landing on the court, one of the most essential aspects of the game, instead criss-crossing between the reactions of the two players as well as key figures in the stands. The editing is often frenetic, suggesting the whirlwind of emotions and pressure Borg and McEnroe are digesting throughout. The journey ends on a note of profound respect, their twinned stories appropriately subsumed within each other, leading into the expected epilogue that hits harder and deeper than most.

Borg vs McEnroe is Recommended If You Like: The filmmaking of Triumph of the Will, Rivalry Friendships

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Epic Tiebreaks