Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View
presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors
for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for
About halfway through Small
Soldiersit struck me: just
who is this film’s audience? On the surface it’s an adolescent boy’s fantasy
turned nightmare, a “War Toy Story” with a pair of spunky teenage
heroes in the line of fire. But there’s another film here too, a consumer
satire crammed with pop culture references and movie quotes aimed at much
bigger kids – well, adults actually.
In Captain Fantastic, the winner of this year’s SIFF Golden Space Needle award, Viggo Mortensen has found a role that fits his own reluctant image as a movie star. His character, Ben, withdrew from society years ago to enjoy a communal hippie-hang in the Washington woods. He and wife Leslie (Trin Miller) went off the grid for political and philosophical reasons, and the couple has raised a brood of children whose survivalist expertise outstrips their knowledge of everyday life in the outside world. Ben is skeptical of the System, the Man, and other capitalized sources of authority; he wants to stay out of view and raise the kids as “philosopher-kings.” The favored life skills he has instilled in his family include killing deer with bow and arrow, rigging a water cistern, and playing musical instruments at night instead of gazing at TVs or laptops.
Not every actor could pull off this combination of Thoreau and MacGyver, but Mortensen is utterly credible—in part because the actor himself has so frequently seemed to withdraw from the camera’s gaze, even when he’s at the center of a movie.
Don’t be misled by the title of this bittersweet gem. Robot & Frank may be set in the near future, but it’s no silly sci-fi fairy tale. Whimsical and poignant by turns, the film never goes gooey at its emotional center or bogs down in heavy dramatic weather. How could it, when this spare story of aging and fading memory stars Frank Langella, the old lion of stage and screen who dominates every role he undertakes in the winter of his acting career? Robot & Frank is very nearly a one-man show, a master interacting with a machine.
First-time director Jake Schreier, graduating from commercials and music videos, shows surprising smarts and maturity by not getting in Langella’s way — and by celebrating, sans irony or excess of sentiment, the fundamental human need for connection and purpose.
Rusticating in a pleasant old country house, onetime ace second-story man Frank has grown so discombobulated he wakes up in the dark, burgling his own digs. Langella’s still-powerful physicality is thwarted by aimlessness: His handsome features are going a little soft, infected by terminal boredom. About all that anchors this increasingly forgetful gentleman in the here-and-now are the friendly town librarian (Susan Sarandon) and occasional forays into small-beans shoplifting. And now all his beloved books, tattered relics of the print information age, are being digitalized, while the nice lady who tracked down tasty tomes for him is being replaced by Mr. Darcy, an ambulatory talking box. (Somewhere Jane Austen giggles.)