IN THE HEART OF THE SEA. The history of whaling, that 19th century boomlet involving rowdy mariners, inked scrimshaws, tycoon investors and far-off isles, indeed deserves a definitive, epic story onscreen (or at least an eight-hour series from Ken Burns). This is, alas, neither of those, although it does deliver lots of sea mammal action.
Ron Howard's latest opus has some solid whale cred in the presence of Herman Melville (Ben Winshaw), who has sought out the only survivor of the doomed whaling vessel Essex, whose fate three decades earlier was mostly hushed up in an inquest. That the Essex was very real, and that Melville used it as a basis for Moby Dick are of interest, but that's merely a framing device. We get a straight-ahead tale of the Essex, with its captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and more seasoned first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), as they set out to sea and butt heads in the fashion of a West Point-bred lieutenant and grizzled sergeant from several hundred war movies.
But they do agree that they're out on the prowl for cetaceans, which all goes horridly wrong as Pollard elects to head for a whale hiding ground in the South Pacific. The CGI whaling sequences are suitably and at times amazingly spectacular, and the ordeals ahead for the ship's crew spare little in way of grit, but it's little that hasn't been seen before and better. PG-13. 121m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.
ROOM. A big hit earlier this fall at the Telluride Film Festival, Room is a harrowing, remarkable stunner of a film that won't easily be forgotten by those who see it, during which time they will likely have to remind themselves to breathe more than once. (Mind you, that will be on the small screen for many, as the film's last showing in Humboldt is on Thursday, Dec. 17 at the Minor Theatre.) Directed by Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson, with a screenplay from Emma Donoghue adapted from her own novel, Room has at times an almost documentary-like aura to its claustrophobic tale, even as the story develops outward from its first act. And at Room's center is a revelatory turn by Brie Larson (Digging for Fire).
We meet Larson, known simply as "Ma" Newsome, at the start of the film, living with her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who is celebrating his fifth birthday. But the room of the title is where they spend every day without ever stepping outside. Kidnapped at the age of 19, she has spent seven years now in this roughly 10-foot-by-10-foot garden shed with a locked metal door and a tiny skylight, furnished with the barest of kitchen and bathroom necessities, a bed for her and a wardrobe in which Jack sleeps. Supplies are brought periodically by Nick, her kidnapper, who also fathered Jack years before, since his visits always also include sex with her.
Jack's age, as well as fears for their safety upon evidence that Nick seems even more unstable than before, set in motion first her attempts to explain to Jack about the outside world, something he at first cannot fathom. This gives way to her firmly realizing that the time has come for him to grasp life beyond the walls of their squalor and planning an escape. How that comes to pass, around the film's midpoint, is an extended sequence about which I shall reveal nothing, but out of the shack go mother and son, and yet the film never loses its step, because what comes next is just as important as before.
She is reunited with her mother and father (Joan Allen and William H. Macy), and Jack and his mom move into her child suburban home. Jack has never in his life seen a field of grass, heard a telephone ring, walked on a flight of stairs or played with another child. But his mother faces a different set of challenges, ones less obvious to others or even immediately to us: Violently taken out of the world as a young adult, she returns to it as a mother having gone through an experience that no one else can readily understand. Lives of old friends she no longer has seem trivial, and the question of her own abilities as Jack's mother gnaws at her. This is in both grappling with how long she kept him there in the garden shed and what kind of mom she can be back in a strange world to which he must adjust. It's to the film's credit, and the subtle gifts in Larson's performance, that this is never tossed into the open through dialogue, but more in what is not said by Larson's character, as well as the choices she undertakes in readjusting to life.
In Donoghue's novel, the narrator of the book is Jack, and some of that narration appears in the film. Tremblay, who has picked up a Screen Actors Guild supporting actor nomination for his performance, delivers something almost indescribably great in his range over two hours of displaying fear, love, understanding, adaptation and silent, rapturous moments — like the expression on his face when he first gets a glimpse of the open, blue sky overhead. R. 118M.
— David Jervis
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.
ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: ROAD CHIP. The singing rodents you can either stand or you can't are out to thwart the romance of their handler Dave (Jason Lee) and keep the band together. PG. 86m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.
SISTERS. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler regress together as siblings out to throw a final rager before their family home is sold. R. 118m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. The franchise awakens with Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill returning. Maybe you heard about it. PG13. 135m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA, MINOR.
BROOKLYN. An Irish immigrant is pulled between her roots back home and the new life and inter-cultural romance she's started with a swell Italian-American fella. PG13. 111m. MINOR.
CREED. Not just a bum from the neighborhood. The franchise makes a comeback with fine performances from Michael B. Jordan and a touching Sylvester Stallone. R. 101m. BROADWAY.
THE GOOD DINOSAUR. Animated interspecies buddy movie set in an alternate universe in which dinosaurs and humans coexist. With Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand. PG. 100m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2. The last nail in the franchise's coffin is so dull you may have to fight your way to the exits. PG13. 136m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
KRAMPUS. An entertaining holiday horror with the Christmas spirit and a spirited cast. Toni Colette and Adam Scott star. PG13. 98m. BROADWAY.
SPOTLIGHT. Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton in an unassuming, powerful movie about the journalists who uncovered the sexual abuse and systematic cover-ups in the Catholic Church. R. 101m. MINOR.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill