Looks like Martha and Jonathan Kent are back in action, and this time without their son, Clark! Based on Larry Watson’s 2013 novel, this nail-biting drama-thriller could easily have been spun into a horror movie, as the subject matter leans that way in act two. But, I digress…*
It’s 1965 and the Blackledge family live a quiet ranch life in Montana. But tragedy befalls mother Margaret (Diane Lane) and father George (Kevin Costner) when their son, James (Ryan Bruce), dies unexpectedly, leaving the family with shy daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter) and her baby son, Jimmy. Fast-forward a few years and Lorna hooks up with a questionable new husband, Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). Problems start when Lorna moves out into an apartment, then becomes a victim of spousal abuse.
This does NOT sit well with head-strong Margaret who wants her grandson back in her care. However, overnight Lorna, Donnie, and little Jimmy disappear somewhere in North Dakota and into the Weboy’s redneck clan. Driven by fear and love, both Margaret & George go on a search for Lorna and Jimmy, meeting up with Peter Dragswolf (Booboo Stewart–excellent), a skittish lone teenage Native American, on their travels. Margaret and George manage to find the haunted house-looking residence of the Weboy’s, thanks to creepy Billy Weboy (Jeffrey Donovan), and it’s there they meet “the family”.
Here’s where the icky feeling ratchets up to eleven when we meet Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville), who makes Ma Barker look like Mrs. Brady. With Blanche and her imposing tree-trunk thick sons, they make clear that “Jimmy is a Weboy now”. But Margaret and George won’t take NO as an answer and later make escape plans with Lorna, plans that go horribly wrong in a gruesome nail-biting scene. The climactic act three takes the usual revenge tropes like in Straw Dogs or Death Wish and spins it in a different direction, which I found both refreshing and bittersweet.
Ya gotta hand it to screenwriter/director Thomas Bezucha (Monte Carlo, The Family Stone), as he pulls double-duty here and excels in both. The script, a mélange of drama, thriller, character study, and stomach-churning suspense, with juuust a dash of dark humor thrown in, is damn near perfect. It matches his easy-going style of direction (like Clint Eastwood’s) and he knows how to cut the film to achieve the most in teeth-gnashing, seat-squirming moments. And this coming from a veteran moviegoer of over 50 years!
Then you have the tag-team of Lane & Costner who act so effortlessly and real together, you’d swear they were an IRL couple. Kayli Carter is understated and devastating as the battered woman and Donovan gets the award for Best Would-Be Serial Killer. Man, he creeped me out! But, hands down, the real star here is Lesley Manville as the diabolically twisted Blanche. She could have given Maleficent a few pointers! Ruling the roost of the family Weboy, nobody messes with her. This lady gave me chills!!
**Currently showing only in theaters that are open.
The Island (1980)*
There are, by IMDB’s count, an even dozen movies called The Island, but just one adapted from Peter Benchley’s novel about a man trying to save his son from some (*gulp!*) Pirates of the Caribbean. Yeah, I said pirates and not the Somalian kind, either.
Meet Blair Maynard (Michael Caine), a British journalist who’s investigating the curious disappearances of ships and boats in the Caribbean without a trace. The Bermuda Triangle? Hmmm… perhaps, but we already know, thanks to the movie’s preface of showing some unsavory bad guys killing innocent people on their pleasure cruises and stealing their booty. Anyway, Blair takes his bored teenage son Justin (Jeffrey Frank) on an impromptu plane trip to Navidad in the Bahamas to investigate the story. Oooo! Really bad idea there, Blair! And you took your SON?! What are you, nuts?
Well, faster than you can say, “Captain Jack Sparrow,” Blair and Justin are captured by pirates, but not just ordinary thugs and baddies, but actual 300-year-old descendants of the real buccaneers from ancient times. Kept hidden for several millennia, they have stolen children to keep their small population growing, but the real problem is in-breeding. That’s where Blair comes in (pardon the pun). Because he’s new (and his last name has a pirate ancestry), he’s allowed to “thrust” with one of their women to bear a son. While this is happening, Justin is being brain-washed into becoming a pirate named Two-Barb and offered as a son to the Pirate King, John David Nau (David Warner).
Weeks go by and while Justin… er, I mean Two-Barb is learning the fine arts of pirating, Blair is chained up and getting jiggy with his new roomie, Beth (Angela Punch McGregor). Blair also tries to escape from these dangerous loonies who speak a weird sort of broken English, but he keeps getting recaptured. He finds out from a traitorous local doctor (Dudley Sutton) that he’s too important to kill, that is, until Beth gets pregnant. After being forced to attend a brutal pirate raid on a schooner, Blair finally gets a break. A U.S. Coast Guard ship is near and this might be his only chance to save himself and his mixed-up son.
Novelist Peter Benchley is good; very good at writing novels. But his attempts at screenplays (like this one) didn’t exactly work out well. In fact, many bombed at the box office. Jaws 2, Jaws 3D, Jaws: the Revenge, and this movie, have served as comedians punch lines for decades. It’s long, dull, uninteresting, and only has a few key scenes that are rather good. Benchley, writing for the screen, doesn’t quite grasp timing and pacing for a movie-going audience member. You’ve GOT to keep them invested in the characters or you’ll lose them.
Director Michael Ritchie (Fletch, Fletch Lives) does what he can to move this slog along, but adding a few explosions, some gratuitous nudity here and there, and some beautiful scenery, ain’t gonna cut it when the script isn’t working. David Warner said he did this movie only because his BFF Caine was in it, and Caine did it only because he wanted a nice paycheck. The only people having fun here are the other pirates who are hamming it up, wearing goofy clothing, and speaking ridiculous ‘pirate-speak’.