Family drama in ‘Let Him Go’

By Tom Von Malder | Feb 06, 2021
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Diane Lane and Kevin Costner reunite to star in "Let Him Go."

Owls Head — Let Him Go (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 114 min.). While on the surface “Let Him Go” is a film about a legal “kidnapping,” it spends much more time on the dynamics of the marriage between retired sheriff George Blackledge and his wife Margaret. As played by executive producer Kevin Costner (TV’s “Yellowstone,” “The Man of Steel”) and Diane Lane (“Trumbo,” “The Man of Steel”), it is a very nuanced relationship. We see their different reactions to grief when their son James dies when thrown from his horse on their Montana ranch.

At the time, James and his wife (Kayli Carter of “Bad Education” as Lorna) had an infant son, Jimmy. The film then jumps forward nearly three years as, instead of George dressing for a funeral, he is dressing for Lorna’s wedding to Donald Weboy (William Brittain). One day while shopping, Margaret sees Lorna, her husband and son walking on the street. After Jimmy drops his ice cream, both he and Lorna are hit by Donald. When Margaret goes to visit them the next day, she learns they have suddenly left town, with no forwarding address.

Using his old sheriff’s connections, George tracks them down to the Weboy clan just inside of North Dakota. The clan, led by Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville of “Phantom Thread”), lives outside of town and appears to be a law unto themselves. Before reaching the Weboys, the Blackledges encounter a lone American Indian (Booboo Stewart of “The Twilight Saga” as Peter Dragswolf), who is squatting on the outskirts of town with a lost horse that has found him. Peter and Margaret bond a bit over horse riding.

The Blackledges’ means into meeting Blanche and her boys is Donald’s Uncle Billy (Jeffrey Donovan of TV’s “Fargo,” “Burn Notice”), who turns out to be as nasty as the rest of the clan. No way is Blanche going to let Jimmy be taken away and she uses dire means to enforce that, after only allowing Margaret a minute or two to hold the boy.

The film has a very downbeat start, only lightened by the outdoor mountain and field scenery. George is a reluctant participant in the road trip to find Lorna and Jimmy. It takes 46 minutes before they have contact with the Weboys. A half-hour later, the film turns very violent as Blanche at her boys show up at the Blackledges’ motel room. After that bit of a shocker, things are very predictable, although I was wrong as Peter did not end up returning to the Blackledge ranch.

The film does a somewhat good job of capturing the American West in 1963, and there are lots of vintage cars. Director Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone,” “Big Eden”), who also wrote the screenplay by adapting Larry Watson’s novel, almost presents two different movies in one. Extras include a making-of featurette that discusses the book and the film’s production design (6:23); a look at Costner and Lane’s work (4:14); and a look at Bezucha (3:15). Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 1.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Southland Tales (2006, Arrow, 2 Blu-rays, R, 145/160 min.). Presented in a new 2K restoration by Arrow Films, approved by director Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko”) and director of photography Steven Poster, the set includes both the 145-minute theatrical cut of the film and the earlier 160-minute “Cannes cut.” In the extras, Kelly says the theatrical version is still unfinished, especially with regards to digital enhancements, and the Cannes version was a “disaster.”

The movie itself veers all over the place. The core story takes place in 2008 Los Angeles, part of what is now called the Southland after the chaos and instability that resulted from a nuclear bomb terrorist attack on Abilene, Texas. World War 3 began shortly thereafter against Iran, Syria, North Korea and Afghanistan. Dwayne Johnson (the “Jumanji” films, “Moana,” “Baywatch”) plays actor Boxer Santaros, who disappeared from Texas, only to show up in Nevada with his memory erased. Santaros, who is married to the daughter of a vice presidential candidate, now is hanging out in Los Angeles with former porn star Krysta Now, aka Krysta Kapowski, who is developing her own reality TV show and ancillary sales items, including a drink named after her. Santaros has written a screenplay, “The Power,” that seems to tell the future; in it, he plays agent Jericho Kane.

Seann William Scott (the “American Pie” films, TV’s “Lethal Weapon”) plays twin brothers, with his Roland Tavener identity pretending to be his police officer twin so he can have Santaros along for a research ride along in his twin’s police car. Wallace Shawn (“The Princess Bride,” “The Incredibles”) plays Baron von Westphalen who has turned ocean waves into a perpetual motion machine that he calls Fluid Karma, although it turns out he has even greater designs, including construction of a Megazeppelin that plays a big role in the film’s ending.

The film satirizes the Patriot Act in an unfunny way as Republicans have set up USIDent to keep surveillance on all U.S. citizens. For example, one USIDent employee’s assignment is to watch the cameras that monitor the bathroom stalls at the Los Angeles airport. Opposing the authoritative Republicans is a neo-Marxist underground cell, operating out of Venice Beach.

Portions of the story are narrated by Pilot Abilene, who is played by Justin Timberlake. In one memorable scene, Pilot Abilene starts lip-synching to The Killers’ “I’ve Got Soul,” as the film briefly turns into a music video that has a bunch of female dancers. In fact, the film uses popular music, including “Wave of Mutilation” by the Pixies, very well throughout. Adding to the outrageousness is a TV ad that features two cars having sex, and this is the second film in this column to feature a hand or part of a hand being chopped off.

The beginning of the film is very heavy with information, some presented as multiple screens, as if in a video game. This is a lot to wade through, but the information stream settles down after a while. The film does have many funny bits, even some of the gross ones.

Bonus features, in addition to the longer “Cannes cut,” include audio commentary on the theatrical version by writer-director Kelly and a three-part making-of “an unfinished film.” In part one, “Through the Looking Glass” (18:46), Kelly explains that his first draft was a madcap caper film – at the time he did not know if “Donnie Darko” would ever be seen by anyone. He says he then added a Philip K. Dick-style science fiction element, involving a temporal rift that can create two versions of a person with the same soul, after the events of 9/11 and the government’s responses. Part two, “This Is the Way the World Ends” (21:31), points out the cast’s ability to improv as eight actors were regulars on “Saturday Night Live” and another three or four had hosted the show. This segment covers Alec Hammond’s set designs and the locations, and has Kelly stating the CGI he wanted still is not done (hinting at perhaps another version of the film in the future). Part three, “Have a Nice Apocalypse” (10:37), talks about the late Ron Cobb’s design work for the Megazeppelin and how they found locations to serve as its interior as they had no money to construct the large airship.

There also is an archival making-of featurette (33:48) in which it is pointed out that the film quotes a lot from Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”; an animated short, “The Way the World Ends” (9:12), in which sea creatures describe how mankind self-destructed; and an image gallery. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 3.5 stars

The Court Jester (1956, Paramount, Blu-ray, NR, 101 min.). I doubt one would fine a movie more entertaining as this one, a perfect comedy of knights, good forest bandits and a usurper to the throne, starring Danny Kaye in a role that earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor – Comedy or Musical. The film was added to the National Film Registry in 2004 and is included on the AFI’s list of the 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time. Here, it is presented in a new restoration, with the original negative scanned at 6K and one of the “separation masters” also scanned and recombined with the negative scans to overcome fading in the negative.

In the film, which features a half-dozen wonderfully literate songs by Sylvia Fine and Sammy Cahn, Kaye plays Hubert Hawkins, a former circus performer who now is a member of the Black Fox’s Robin Hood-like crew. Hawkins’ main duty has been taking care of the infant heir to the English throne; the baby has the royalty’s hereditary purple pimpernel on its behind. The throne has been seized by a King Roderick the Tyrant (Cecil Parker of “The Lady Vanishes,” “The Ladykillers”), who is trying to marry his daughter Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury of “The Bride of Frankenstein,” TV’s “Murder She Wrote”) to Griswold (Robert Middleton of “The Desperate Hours”), a potential threat to his throne. Gwendolyn absolutely refuses to marry Griswold, as the witch Griselda (Mildred Natwick of “The Quiet Man,” “Barefoot in the Park”) has prophesized she will marry a hero who will sweep into her life.

In order to take down Roderick, the Black Fox (Edward Ashley of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Bitter Sweet”) needs a key to a secret underground passage into the castle that is kept in Roderick’s quarters. When newly-appointed court jester Giacomo (John Carradine of “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Stagecoach,” “The Ten Commandments”) from Italy wanders into the Black Fox’s camp, it is decided that Hawkins will impersonate him and thereby gain access to the castle, so he can steal the key. Hawkins sets off with Capt. Jean (Glynis Johns of “Mary Poppins”), for whom he has romantic feelings. She is to deliver the baby to a nunnery, while he continues on to the castle. After they separate though, Jean is rounded up by the king’s men, who were sent out to find the fairest maidens in the land for the tournament he is throwing in Griswold’s honor. Thus, the still-hidden baby also is brought to the castle.

When Hawkins arrives, he does not know he has been hired by the king’s evil advisor Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone of “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Son of Frankenstein,” at least 15 Sherlock Holmes films) and part of his hire is to assassinate three other army-leading knights. Things are further comically complicated when Griselda, seeing her chance to make her prophesy come true, hypnotizes Hawkins as Giacomo into believing he is in love with Gwendolyn and she later hypnotizes him into believing he is a great swordsman. The only trouble is each spell can be turned off and on by a snap of the fingers, and there sure is a lot of finger-snapping in the film.

The film also uses a large batch of little people, who turn out to have a unique means of eliminating the enemy during the wild closing fight scene inside the castle walls. Kaye gets to sing several lyrically terrific songs. During the opening credits, he sings “The Court Jester,” which references some of the credit lines, while other credit lines he playfully whisks away. Dressed as the Black Fox, he sings the rousing “Outfox the Fox” in the forest and later the fast-paced, tongue-twisting “The Maladjusted Jester” with its playful lyrics. The music score is by Vic Schoen and Walter Scharf (“The Nutty Professor,” Kaye’s “Hans Christian Andersen”).

The only extra is a new “Filmmaker Focus” with film historian Leonard Maltin, who points out that director-writers Norman Panama and Melvin Frank worked with Bob Hope for 20 years (7:03). The collectible packaging includes a foldout image of the film’s theatrical poster and an interior spread with key movie moments. Grade: film 4.5 stars; extra 2 stars

The Pajama Game (1957, Warner Archive, Blu-ray, NR, 100 min.). Warner Archive Collection continues to debut Doris Day films on Blu-ray. In “The Pajama Game,” an adaptation of the Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, Day plays Babe Williams, a single gal who is head of the Grievance Committee at the Sleeptite pajama-making factory. The employees are getting restless because they want the 7-and-1/2-cent raise other factory workers having recently received.

The tightwad running the factory is Myron Hasler (Ralph Dunn, who played police detective Pete Rafferty in three films in the 1940s and whose career includes dozens of uncredited film appearances). Into the situation comes a new factory supervisor, Sid Sorokin, played by John Raitt, who next made the TV movie, “Annie Get Your Gun.” Raitt had starred in Chicago in “Oklahoma!” and on Broadway in “Carousel.”

The attraction between Babe and Sid, despite them being on different sides in the labor negotiations, is almost immediate, despite her singing “I’m Not at All in Love.” By the 25-minute mark, Sid has asked her out on a date and they are kissing 10 minutes later during the company picnic, which is very similar to a picnic scene in “Carousel,” but here features some very athletic dancing, including on a hillside, choreographed by the great Bob Fosse (“All That Jazz,” “Cabaret,” “Sweet Charity,” 3 of my favorite films).

Other characters in the genial musical comedy are Eddie Foy Jr. (“Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Murder in the Air”) as Vernon Hines, the jealous suitor of Gladys Hotchkiss (Carol Haney of “Invitation to the Dance,” “On the Town,” “Kiss Me Kate,” the latter two more favorites of mine). Hasler’s secretary is Mabel, played by Reta Shaw of “Marry Poppins,” “Picnic” and TV’s “The Ghost & Mrs. Muir,” who was born in South Paris, Maine.

Other classic songs in the score include “Hey There,” “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway,” with the “There Once Was a Man” duet pretty good as well. The orchestrators were Nelson Riddle (Frank Sinatra) and Buddy Bregman, with Ray Heindorf the uncredited musical director. The film was directed by George Abbott, who wrote the musical with original novelist Richard Bissell, and Stanley Donen (“Charade,” “Singing in the Rain” – another of my favorites – and “Funny Face”). The original 1954 production and the 2006 revival both won Tony Awards as Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical, respectively.

The only extra is Day performing the deleted song, “The Man Who Invented Love” (3 min.). Grade: film 4 stars; extra 1.5 stars

Breach (Paramount, DVD, R, 92 min.). Bruce Willis (the “Die Hard” films) may have reached a new low in this retread of a film – an alien is loose aboard the spaceship and he replicates inside human hosts – whose limited budget has resulted in a dull look and some sets that look like they were remade utility closets. Willis plays – barely, he puts more effort into his drinking than acting here – do-nothing mechanic Clay on the spaceship Herc, which is headed for New Earth with 300,000 settlers in cryosleep for the six-month journey. The exodus from Earth is leaving 19 billion to die due to a plague.

Thomas Jane (“Deep Blue Sea,” “Boogie Nights”) plays Admiral Kiernan Adams, who also goes into cryosleep, turning over control of the ship to Stanley (Timothy V. Murphy of “Appaloosa,” TV’s “Snowpiercer”), who does not really like Clay. The other two main characters are a couple: Kassandra Clementi (TV’s “Home and Away”) plays Haley, the admiral’s daughter who goes into cryosleep; and Cody Kearsley (TV’s “Riverdale”) plays her boyfriend Noah, who has gotten her pregnant. Noah does maintenance on the spaceship, but actually is a stowaway.

Halfway through their journey, we start getting blurred scenes, which I guess is supposed to portray alien vision. While how the first victim is infected is shown, the film never really explains how one alien can infect and control dozens on the spaceship in such a short amount of time. Nonetheless, it makes for a lot of fighting scenes in the last half hour. Of course, there is a “Twilight Zone”-like ending. The director is John Suits (“Pandemic”).

Interesting to note is that crewman Blue is played by Johnny Messner, who also has been in “Tears of the Sun,” “The Whole Ten Yards” and “Hostage” with Willis. They both also will be in the upcoming “Cosmic Sin” and “American Siege.” There are no bonus features. Grade: film 1.5 stars

Doom Patrol: The Complete Second Season (DC/Warner Bros., 2 Blu-rays or 3 DVDs, NR, 461 min.). This set contains nine more episodes of DC Comics’ weirdest superheroes: Cliff Steele/Robotman (Brendan Fraser of “George of the Jungle,” 2 “The Mummy” films); Larry Trainor/Negative Man (Matt Bomer of “Magic Mike,” TV’s “Will & Grace,” “The Sinner,” “White Collar”); Rita Farr/Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby); Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero of TV’s “Orange is the New Black”); and Vic Stone/Cyborg (Joivan Wade of “Doctor Who”).

The season picks up after the defeat of Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk, who is a hoot is Syfy’s new “Resident Alien”), leaving the group smaller than usual – literally – and stranded on Cliff’s toy race-car track. They also feel betrayed by Niles Caulder/The Chief (Timothy Dalton of “Flash Gordon,” James Bond in both “The Living Daylights,” “Licence to Kill”). The team members are forced to confront their pasts and then come together to protect the newest family member, Niles’ daughter, Dorothy Spinner (Abigail Shapiro), whose mysterious powers threaten the world’s very existence.

There are two behind-the-scenes featurettes: “Doom Patrol: The Magic of Makeup” with FX designer Bill Johnson and special FX makeup artists Derek and Eric Garcia (9:09); and a “Come Visit Georgia” public service announcement with production designer Carey Meyer (2:18). Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 1.5 stars

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