A look at ‘Greta,’ ‘Family’ and ‘The Upside’

After two weeks, the dust has finally settled from Oscar.

 I’ve been asked to review the films currently in the theaters.

This usually isn’t a time for any great finds, but hopefully, I can find some good entertainment.

This week, we took a look at “Greta,” “Fighting With My Family” and “The Upside.”

“Greta: (General Release)

“Don’t touch anything on the subway.” That should be a warning posted in all New York City tourist brochures. Recent NYC transplant Frances didn’t get the memo. She not only picks up a “lost” handbag, but also wants to personally return it to the rightful owner – despite the counseling of her streetwise roommate.  Oscar winning director Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game” 1992) co-wrote the screenplay and blends in many elements… not the least of which is making friends with someone you shouldn’t.

Chloe Grace Moretz plays Frances, as the good-hearted Boston-raised girl who is almost too innocent to believe, given the day and age we are in. When Frances returns the purse, she is greeted warmly and appreciatively by a kindly Greta (Isabelle Huppert). The two bond over their individual loneliness: Greta says her daughter lives abroad, and Frances’ mother passed away about a year ago. It’s easy to see how a friendship forms through a substitute mother-daughter gap-filling.

There are stylistic and story elements reminiscent of movies like “Fatal Attraction” (1987) and “Single White Female” (1992), and Jordan’s camera angles and lighting combine with Javier Navarrete’s score to dish up some B-movie type comically dark moments. Maika Monroe is terrific as Frances’ roommate. She’s the direct type who tells Frances that “this city will eat you alive,” but is also extremely supportive and protective (and good at yoga).

This film is not for everyone, but the fun you have here is directly related to how you buy into the Greta vs. Frances web. It’s rare to see an onscreen female predator, but neither Jordan nor Huppert round off any edges. We are reminded that being nice doesn’t always pay off, but having friends certainly does. There is some creepy evil fun to be had, as well as a key life lesson: Never trust a woman with too many purses.

“Fighting with my Family” (General Release)

This movie is a true story based upon the Wright family in Norwich, England, which found redemption in wrestling (almost a religion).

After a period on the wrong side of the law, Mr. Wright just knew where his downward spiral would lead and to save his life, his marriage and his family he turned to wrestling. Mr. Wright believes profoundly in the power of wrestling, its discipline, its camaraderie, its training, its teamwork to keep his family on the straight and narrow and if it could work for him, it could work for the community to transform lives.

The impossible dream for these amateur wrestlers is to make it “big” and be signed up for the American wrestling circuit. But to have a distant dream and then that dream present itself, and then see it through is quite a different thing. This is a carefully crafted movie with a tight script brilliantly acted by the entire ensemble. The two main leads, Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden, demonstrate an emotional intensity well beyond their years.

“The Upside” (General Release)

“Some people are walking around with full use of their bodies and they’re more paralyzed than I am.” -Christopher Reeve

This remake of the highly successful French film “The Intouchables” (2011) is a potentially very sappy setup. Dell (Kevin Hart) is an ex-con in need of work. Phillip (Bryan Cranston) is a wealthy author and investor who becomes quadriplegic from a foolish paragliding incident who needs help.  In the film’s unavoidable cliché, black man becomes white man’s assistant, the two bond through their differences. While sharing with each other Figaro and Aretha, they become happy buds who easily bridge the considerable racial and economic gulfs.

What makes this comedy work is the obvious respect between the leads and a sincerity about the need to appropriate other cultures for the bounty they offer in different perspectives and temperaments. Hart has never been better playing a smart street guy from The Bronx; Cranston is magnetic with the simple use of his face, a great one that deserves all the close-ups director Neil Burger can offer.

The setups are acceptable because the film sees the humanity rolling on the screen in the form of a wheelchair and into our hearts with endearing characters. Be prepared to have a few pleasant tears.

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Kathy Bates made quite an impact, so to speak, on the movie-going public with her bravura performance in another Stephen King adaptation, “Misery” (1990).  But showy (and fun) as that role was, it wasn’t really much of an acting part–the real heavy lifting in that film was done by James Caan in his quieter, subtler role as the object of Bates’s affection.

In this film, Bates finally gets a King role fully worthy of her range and subtlety. She pulls off the age transformations beautifully–I actually wondered at times whether young Dolores or old Dolores was closer to her real age. She still gets to have fun with King’s trademark Maine dialect (“Now you listen to me, Mr. Grand High Poobah of Uppah Buttcrack!” is a line that gets me every time), but she never goes too far, and her every gesture tells of her great loves for her daughter and her friend, without ever exaggerating or sentimentalizing them. It’s a remarkable performance, and the actress is probably right to remember it as her best role.

The film is an artistic success, done in a classic American style, and using the simple but effective device of changing the color scheme to ease us from the present to the past. The supporting cast more than stands up to Bates, too. Judy Parfitt is all too believable as Vera Donovan, especially in her younger incarnation.  But the part isn’t a simple caricature–those tears of anger and pride that Vera cries for Dolores and her daughter feel very real indeed. Christopher Plummer, with his mushy red nose and schoolteacher’s diction, overdoes it a bit, perhaps, but it basically goes with the character he’s been given. And David Strathairn’s Joe St. George surely deserves a high place in the canon of Stephen King movie villains. Strathairn makes him as bad as can be, and yet there’s occasionally a playful touch that *almost* makes us see why Dolores married him in the first place.  A very good film that most haven’t seen.

I hope you enjoy these films on a rainy afternoon.  I’d love to hear some suggestions of your favorite unknown gems from the past.  Also I love foreign films so if you might want to have some great recommendations please drop me an email at hopedwc@gmail.com.  Until next week, dianne  

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