Tipping Point: Our picks and pans ('The Power of the Dog,' 'The Tender Bar,' 'Parallel Mothers')
The Power of the Dog
This drama racked up Oscar nominations recently, with nods for best picture, director, the four lead actors, and everything from sound to cinematography. And they are all deserved noms, because this is certainly one of the best movies of the year. “The Power of the Dog” is a simmering but deeply effective drama by director Jane Campion. Benedict Cumberbatch plays bullying cowboy Phil, who runs a ranch in 1920s Montana with his kind, passive brother George (Jesse Plemons). When George becomes engaged, Phil turns his anger on the fiancée, Rose (a career-best Kirsten Dunst); he torments her to the point that she seeks solace in liquor, and lots of it. Phil also picks on the woman’s grown son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), but that becomes a more complicated relationship. Phil’s secret history is slowly revealed. One more thing: If you can see this movie on the big screen, please do; the scenery and cinematography are epic.
— Kristina Dorsey
The Tender Bar
I had zero clue that this film, directed by George Clooney and starring Ben Affleck, is based on a coming of age memoir by journalist JR Moehringer. As such, I had no context or specific expectations. Now that I've seen it, I sort of have no idea what the point is. It's certainly a compelling story about a young man in the 1970s with a fiercely protective mother in blue collar Long Island. They're forced by circumstances to move into her childhood home, presided over by a crotchety, hard-drinking but good-hearted patriarch (played well by Christopher Lloyd). But the maturing young man, JR (a likeable Tye Sheridan), looks to his Uncle Charley, a booze-loving, chain-smoking, self-educated bar owner (the excellent Affleck) for guidance and life lessons. Occasionally, JR's natural father, a drunken, chain-smoking itinerant bully/radio DJ, drops by to shatter any family peace. Late in the film, Charlie fulfills his mother's dream by going to Yale and drinking a lot due to an unrequited infatuation. After he cuts back on the alcohol and drives off towards California, graphics pop up that say THE END, I can't say it wasn't mildly enjoyable, but ... I guess this was a movie about alcoholism?
— Rick Koster
Writer-director Pedro Almodovar and actress Penelope Cruz reunite for another collaboration, but "Parallel Mothers" doesn't quite reach the heights of their best work. Cruz (in a confident, fully realized performance that rightly earned her an Oscar nomination) plays a photographer in her late 30s who becomes pregnant and, while awaiting the birth of her daughter in a Madrid hospital, meets a teen mother. They talk and bond. Later on, they meet again by happenstance and things become more thorny. I won't give away too much, except to say it's all very soapy. There's another strand to the tale: Cruz's character is trying to have a forensic archaeologist (who also happens to be the married father of her baby) excavate what is believed to be a mass grave of men killed during the Spanish Civil War in her town; Cruz's great-grandfather is one of the victims. As you can see, the movie has two distinct parts, and they don't gel. The themes dovetail (identity, history, family), but it's as though Almodovar hadn't figured out how to weave these disparate stories into a seamless whole.
— Kristina Dorsey