MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest Forrest@moviecitynews.com

Frenzy on the Wall: All Good Things Is Almost a Great Thing

Capturing the Friedmans was a monumental movie experience for me, because the documentary focused on a fascinating case that just so happened to have occurred in my hometown. I can’t tell you what an oddly transporting experience it was to see streets and houses that I passed by every day, given new meaning because of the tale director Andrew Jarecki unfolded so beautifully. Arnold Friedman taught at the elementary school I went to and I kept thinking that I had unknowingly dodged a bullet, perhaps.

What I had to do to see the film was odd itself; despite the fact that it took place in my hometown, it wasn’t playing there. It was only playing at a few theaters in New York City and I was a year away from moving to Manhattan, so I took the thirty minute train ride to the city to see a film that took place in my hometown.

I thought of that trek, going from Great Neck to the city then back again, a lot while I was watching Jarecki’s latest film All Good Things. Much of the first two-thirds of the film contain trips back and forth from New York City to the outlying areas, as well as the blossoming and destruction of a relationship between an ultra wealthy Manhattanite and a middle-class Long Islander.

Opening with home video clips of the family and massive suburban home of the aforementioned Manhattanite, David Marks, the film immediately evokes memories of Jarecki’s first film – all of which was shot by the Friedmans on a 16mm camera. It sets the stage for the rest of the movie, showing us a type of wealth that is hard to fathom, that immediately sets these people apart from the rest. It’s in these opening moments that we first get a glimpse of how someone from this family might feel alienated from the rest of society.

The timeline of the story begins in 1971. David (Ryan Gosling) is the eldest son of a wealthy real estate magnate named Sanford Marks (Frank Langella) and is expected to take control of the company one day. But David is kind of an odd duck; he smokes a lot of pot, talks to himself and doesn’t have much of an interest in joining the family business. In a sort of meet-cute, he encounters Katie (Kirsten Dunst), a beautiful and joyful young woman he connects with. They’re both charming and young and they enter into a relationship, much to the dismay of Sanford who warns his son that “She’ll never be one of us.”

David ignores his father and soon enough, he and Katie are married and move to Vermont to start a health food store, his dream. But his father pressures him to move back to New York, telling him that running a health food store in Vermont is not what Katie wants, and so he gives up his dream in an instant. Things start to fall apart for David and Katie soon after, especially when he makes her get an abortion – making her give up her dream of being a mother.

I don’t want to give too much more of a plot overview, but the film is based on the real-life story but the film is based on the real-life story of Robert Durst, whose wife went missing; he was later implicated in two other deaths. It’s a fascinating story that is almost too unbelievable and Jarecki does a good job of setting the right tone so that we buy it. It’s a worry sometimes that when a story is based on fact, it can be too strange to believe once it’s on screen, but Jarecki adeptly side-steps that.

All Good Things is a near-great film. For the first two-thirds of its running time, it’s almost a perfect examination of a romance that slowly starts to turn into something grotesque. There are signs all along that something is not right with David; he even indicates as much, telling Katie at one point, “There’s something wrong with me.” At a family holiday dinner at Katie’s house, David walks outside to smoke a joint because he’s too uncomfortable in a house that’s inclusive. He tells her how odd it is that her family talks to one another.

But Katie is in love with the guy and Gosling gives us a lot of good reason to believe he loves her, making good use of his charm. Dunst does an excellent job of making us believe Katie would stay with this guy, why she clings so desperately in the hope that maybe things will go back to the way they were when they first met. She’s fearful, but frightened to let go. I haven’t historically been a big fan of Dunst, but she is really outstanding here, giving her best performance since The Virgin Suicides. She’d be on my short-list for Best Supporting Actress nominees.

The film falls short of greatness, however, once Dunst exits the picture and we flash forward almost twenty years. It’s here, in the last half hour of the film, that it flies off the rails a little bit as we follow David as he moves to Galveston and becomes friends with a neighbor (Phillip Baker Hall). At this point in David’s life, he’s trying to escape his past and has taken to dressing as a woman, which would be an odd development to throw in there but because Jarecki’s set David up so well, slowly allowing him to drift into crazyville, this doesn’t seem out of character.

But, the truth of the matter is that we didn’t need to hear the whole story of this character just because it’s the whole story of the real man on whom the main character is based. The meat of the movie is in the relationship between David and Katie, it’s what we’re emotionally invested in. Sure, the plot strands are tangentially connected to Katie’s disappearance, but it doesn’t deepen our understanding of what happened. I would have preferred if the first hour of the film was expanded, if we got to see more of the dissolution of David and Katie’s relationship, rather than see what happened to this character twenty years later.

I commend Jarecki for doing something different, in trying to blend fiction and non-fiction in a narrative way and trying to take documentary tactics into the feature film world, but I don’t know that it works entirely. This is the kind of film that, as a documentary, could potentially open up cases and lead to a public change of perception, but as a fictionalized account of a real-life crime it doesn’t have the same weight.

That’s why, again, I think the film would have been better off focusing on the relationships since that’s something that feature films usually do better than documentaries – showing us the idiosyncratic nature of romance and coupling. A documentary couldn’t show us David grabbing Katie by the hair and tearing her out of her parents’ house, but the feature film can (and does).

However, that first hour of the film is really well-done and bodes well for Jarecki’s future as a filmmaker. One scene in particular strikes me as particularly well-crafted and it’s a scene where David comes home to find that Katie has been accepted to medical school. When Katie returns, David has shed his clothes and gone swimming in the lake to retrieve a canoe. When she asks him why he does this, he says, “It was drifting away. I didn’t want anyone to steal it.” What’s great about this scene – and the fact that Jarecki had the guts to include it – is that it can be read in a number of different ways. The most obvious reading is that the boat represents Katie and he doesn’t want her to be “stolen” by the medical school and taken away from him. But I think the boat is David’s mind and he feels that it’s slowly drifting away from him and Katie is the tether that keeps it in check.

But one of the biggest themes in the film is one that Jarecki is familiar with from his first film and that’s that the sins of the father are passed down to the son. David fears being like his father so much that he winds up becoming eerily like him – losing his wife, alienating himself, becoming all-around despicable as a person. Despite the fact that David is a potential murderer and isn’t portrayed in the most positive light, we still align with him, which is a testament to both Gosling’s performance and the fact that Langella is so awful as the villainous father. Sanford is supposed to be multi-millionaire and yet when he and Katie and Katie’s mother go to lunch, he tells Katie’s mother how much her portion was – unable to extend the simple kindness of giving what you have to give.

This is a dense film and it’s no wonder it sat on the shelf for a while – it’s nearly impossible to market. But it’s worthwhile movie, one of the better ones I’ve seen this year, and I urge all fans of adult dramas and great acting to check it out. It peters out towards the end, but I was pulled along the whole way through. I can’t wait to see what Jarecki does next, whether it’s set in the city or the suburbs.

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Frenzy On Column

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin