Tag Archives: Fathers and Sons

Movie Review: Breaking Away (1979)

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Rating: B/ A film about bicycling might seem like a odd choice for someone who’s never gotten past peddling up and down the road on their bike as a small child, but I’ve always said that for me a sports movie is only as good as it’s characters and bigger themes. I have literally zero interest in sports or anything physical (as you’d be able to tell from my decidedly lumpy physique,) but luckily, Breaking Away is made up out of all the things in life; coming of age, romance, family, relationships… sure, it’s a little bit corny watching it now, but there’s so much more to this movie than the protagonist’s obsession with biking, a fixation that, like his fascination with everything Italian, only seems to grow over time. Continue reading Movie Review: Breaking Away (1979)

Movie Review: Home (2013)

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Rating: B-/ Sometimes you just need a place of your own. But functioning independently is not always the easiest thing to do, especially if you’re someone like Jack. Jack Hall (Gbenga Akinnagbe, in a nice, understated performance) is a mentally ill  adult man living in a halfway house in Brooklyn, where life can be hectic, to say the least. He longs to reconnect his adolescent son John (Judah Bellamy) but his ex, Laura (Tawny Cypress,) is afraid Jack is going to lose his mind again and drag his son down with him. Continue reading Movie Review: Home (2013)

The Film Club by David Gilmour

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David Gilmour’s occasionally on-point, more often ever-so-slightly smug memoir is best when it focuses on the films he so clearly has a passion for. Gilmour’s rationale is dodgy (he lauds his own decision to let his fifteen-year-old son drop out of high school- but only if the boy watches three films with him a week) and he often comes off as a bit of a self-satisfied chode. The kid, a white boy rapping underachiever who doesn’t seem, in this reader’s opinion, to be the brightest light, emphatically needs all the education, public or not, he can get.

But most disturbing of all is the ugly chauvinism- the male entitlement and thinly veiled contempt for women, especially pretty women- that Gilmour seems to exhibit and passes down to his son. Early on, Gilmour desscribes his son, Jesse, leaving with a Vietnamese beauty with a barbed, and troubling metaphor- he compares the girl to a nice car that he hopes his son won’t scuff or scratch up.

However, when the memoir is all about movies, it’s magical. David Gilmour skillfully incorporates movie facts and anecdotes in his searing prose. I love movies, and never fail to be fascinated by the mechanics, the minutae, the curious hows and whys of them. But I simply didn’t care about Jesse’s teen drama, his adolescent angst, his drug and alcohol habit, his dating and relationship woes.

It was also puzzling and disturbing to me how the father constantly and unreservedly took his son’s side in these issues involving women- doesn’t he understand that relationships involve a constant give and take, that Jesse’s girlfriend Chloe might not of left him because she is a ‘bitch’ (he never directly uses this word to the best of my recollection, but, as they say, it’s right on the tip of his tongue,) but because she is unhappy in the relationship?

Did it ever occur to him that it’s none of Jesse’s business if she sleeps with another guy after she’s already told him, under no uncertain terms, that it is over? That she might not be a two-timing whore, but just human? Gilmour doesn’t says these things, mind you; it’s more what he doesn’t say that floors me. And although I’m sure Jesse’s old flame Rebecca Ng, a bona-fide drama queen, was a royal pain in the ass, do I believe she was the sly manipulative nymphet Gilmour describes her as? No, I don’t. Considering Gilmour’s impotent bitterness concerning the fairer sex, I think he’s the very incarnation of an unreliable narrator.

‘The Film Club’ is a book where the author isn’t a very nice person, which would be fine (writers don’t have to be,) but he’s also the subject, the focus of his self-involved one-man orchestration. And don’t tell me it’s about his son, because I don’t buy it. David Gilmour wants to be seen as the all-time cool dad, a kind of miracle worker for gangly underachieving kids. When the book is about David Gilmour watching movies, it’s sublime. But when it’s about David Gilmour and his self-satisfaction bordering on self-obsession concerning his peer-like relationship with his son, I found myself thoroughly unmoved, and moreover, unimpressed.

American Heart (1992)

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Cinematic lessons on how NOT to parent don’t come much wiser or more dire than the portrayal of Jeff Bridges’ boozy, wildly irresponsible father in “American Heart,” director Martin Bell’s bleak narrative film debut. The deadbeat dad in question is Jack (Jeff Bridges,) ex-convict on parole and absentee father of troubled 14-year-old Nick (Edward Furlong.)

Jack really doesn’t want much to do with his jaded yet impressionable teen son, but Nick butts into Jack’s life after Jack is released from prison, where he has been incarcerated for bank robbing. Jack aspires to make an honest living, but raising Nick  isn’t part of the plan- and Nick soon falls in with a group of disaffected punk kids, including child prostitute Molly (Tracey Kapisky.)

Jack is helpless, hopeless, incompetent at truly being a father but capable of the persistent wish for his son to do better… to not screw his life up as badly as his old man. As Nick sinks deeply into questionable company and petty crime, Jack makes one last effort to be a father not worth being ashamed of.

There’s an admirable amount of development of Jack and Nick’s characters throughout the film. Initially, Jack came of as a pathetic loser (the first thing that occurred to me while watching him- uncharitably- was ‘you can take the trash out of the trailer, but you can’t take the trailer out of the trash’) but you get a sense by a certain point in the movie that he’s still a mess but he’s… well, trying, maybe not always succeeding, but making an actual effort all the same.

In many ways “American Heart” is a doomed (platonic) love story between father and son. Theirs is a complicated, fraught, relationship, but touched by love nonetheless. The romantic relationship between Jack and a woman who wrote to him in prison who he fancies (Lucinda Jenney) is a featured plotline but it seems insignificant compared to the meat and bones of the story- Nick and Jack’s relationship as Jack struggles to make ends meet washing windows in Urban Seattle.

I think this is now my favorite Jeff Bridges role (yes, it even beats out his part in “The Big Lebowski,” an overrated movie if there ever was one.) He is understated and effective in this movie, and Edward Furlong backs him up nicely as his frustrated teenage son. Although “American Heart” is grimy and tragic, it also feels very real to a large extent. It sheds light on a side of life many people experience, and which the comfortably middle class and reasonably functional shudder to think of or even vicariously find fascination in.

If there’s any fault to be found in this movie, it’s in the relentlessly grim depiction of just about everything. But that’s okay, because it works, but moviegoers should know this isn’t a saccharine drama where a father and son bond to a sappy orchestral soundtrack. It’s rough. It’s raw and it stings like a fresh wound. But on the upside, when Nick makes it to adulthood, if he makes it at all, I see a best-selling tell-all memoir in his imminent future. All that childhood pain has to make it to some use, I figure.

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Hellion (2014)

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The lukewarm critical response to “Hellion” is utter bollocks. This is how indie dramas are meant to be done, rough and real and full of heartbreak. I’m not acting as a shyster voucher for “Hellion” because Jesse Freaking Pinkman‘s in it (although he is, and he’s great, guys,) but because it’s a legitimately good movie with fantastic performances all around (including from stand-out child actors Josh Wiggins and Deke Garner, who give two of the best juvenile portrayals I’ve seen in a long time.)

Despite its sensationalistic title (which puts you in mind of a “Rosemary’s Baby”-type chiller about malignant demon-spawn,) “Hellion” just feels very real. It’s an outstanding Southern-fried drama in the same league as “Winter’s Bone,” “Sling Blade,” and “Mud.” BMX-obsessed delinquent Jacob (Wiggins) is a damaged, resentful 13-year-old boy who’s leading his little brother Wes (Garner) into the same trouble that’s he’s perpetually been in since his mom died.

The boy’s exasperated father, Hollis (Paul,) is a well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual hard drinker, who hasn’t handled the death of his wife so well himself. When Wes gets taken by CPS and placed in the home of his aunt (Juliette Lewis,) Hollis realizes he has to clean his act up in order to get his child back, but his oldest is going up a rocky road that there won’t be any easy return from.

All the scenes, especially the ones involving Jacob and his group of Bravado-filled friends (who talk like real pre-teens and don’t look about thirty, as per most movie adolescents) and Jacob and his impressionable, sweet little brother seem very true to life. The Child Protective Services people and the cops are portrayed realistically and effectively (the police, particularly and due in no small part to the ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ hooplah, are often depicted as the Antichrist in less fair-minded films and TV shows.

“Hellion” is very much an improvement upon the eponymous short on which it was based, which I truthfully only watched a few minutes of.) One drastic change made was that in the short the father was a stereotypical “I’ll make a man out of you yet boy- get me the belt!” uber-hick character (coincidently, he is not played by Aaron Paul in that version.) Hollis in the feature film is much less clichéd in that he seems like a gentle person and not a mean drunk despite being an alcoholic.

When he butts heads with Jacob he is just trying to reinforce discipline, not being abusive. And he refrains from physical discipline at many times when I might’ve hauled off and smacked the kid some. However, he is not a very effective parent in the long run. The filmmaker also does a good job portraying Aunt Pam (Lewis) as meddling without making it a black-and-white situation.

“Hellion”‘s script is both tough and compassionate, the way I want to write when I ‘grow up.’ Aaron Paul proves he can do more than being Heisenberg’s sidekick (which he’s good at, admittedly) and it’ll be an f’ing crime if the kid actors don’t get a lot more work in the years to come. Sod the critics on this one, watch this movie!

Aaron Paul