The Whale

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Lionsgate;
Drama;
$17.44 million;
$19.98 DVD, $21.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language, some drug use and sexual content.
Stars Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins, Hong Chau, Samantha Morton.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility to make a film of this subject matter that isn’t exploitive. It was laughs at first sight for the two teenage boys seated a few rows back at an opening week presentation of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, in which Darlene Cates played a housebound, morbidly obese mother of three without prosthetics. The drama was mindfully spun by director Lasse Hallström, who asked nothing more of the inexperienced actress than to fearlessly embody the character. When Mrs. Grape was forced to leave the house, she did so to the ugly snickers of neighbor kids. The duo behind me that once found great delight in Mrs. Grape’s floorboard-taxing steps had been swayed to the point of mumbling “A**holes!” back at their on-screen counterparts.

Nothing in The Whale comes close to eliciting that type of audience response. It’s too calculating for that. At its core, The Whale is the stuff TV movies are made of, an ‘R’-rated afterschool special that could just as easily have flown under the title My Fat, Gay Dad.

Director Darren Aronofsky adapted Samuel D. Hunter’s play in a manner more befitting National Theatre Live than cinema. Filming in mid-pandemic necessitated a single location shoot, but damn if I wasn’t jealous anytime a character was allowed to exit Charlie’s (Brendan Fraser) apartment. The only way Charlie would ever leave the house was if the fire department sawed a hole and used a hook-and-ladder to extract him. He teaches college English classes via Skype — imagine “The Brady Bunch” credits with the middle square blacked out and sans title — telling the class the camera on his laptop is broken, thus sparing them what Charlie envisioned to be shock and revulsion over the monster on the other end of the laptop. Charlie’s living a lie while encouraging his students to write something honest.

Unlike Gilbert Grape, The Whale repeatedly places us at the mercy of its shock-inducing structural suspension system. Think Big Momma’s House with less laughs and more shameless goading. (Maybe Martin Lawrence is a genius.) Follow the spoor of the Whale! See the Whale stripped bare! Watch the Whale shower! Behold the Whale devouring two pizzas whole! When first they meet, Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a young missionary for the New Life Church, knocks on Charlie’s door only to enter and find a Falstaffian nude attempting to pleasure himself to gay porn. Given the situation, why did shut-in Charlie acknowledge the knock in the first place? Furthermore, why didn’t Thomas make a hasty retreat after sizing up the situation?

None of the characters that pay Charlie a visit are particularly likable, which is fine. There’s not a sympathetic character in North by Northwest, but that doesn’t stop me from loving the picture. Not only did I find it hard to like Charlie, I found it even harder to like disliking Charlie. That’s nothing compared to the animus stirred up by the abundance of plot contrivances required to spur the story. The pizza delivery boy instructed to leave the pie and take the cash in the mailbox eventually stuck around just long enough to catch an eyeful. Before the curtain comes down, the black square in the Skype grid would eventually house Charlie’s likeness. The eighth grade essay on Moby Dick that haunts Charlie’s every waking move was written by estranged daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink). (They hadn’t seen each other for eight years.) She and Thomas are close in age and the inevitable collision of juvenile romance and “love me daddy” melodrama does nothing to tip the scale in Aronofsky’s favor. Everything you think would happen does so in an unrelentingly unimaginative manner. Maybe not everything. Only a writer painted in a corner could have foreseen that Charlie’s nurse (Hong Chau, lending strong support) was the adopted daughter of the New Life pastor believed to have driven his boyfriend to suicide and the man from whom Thomas is on the lam!

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What we have here is a whale of a pity party designed to make viewers feel better about their own wretched lives. When Charlie moves, it’s the blubber suit doing most of the heavy lifting. Once seated, Fraser had but two things upon which he could rely: prosthetically-enhanced eyes and a vocal motherlode of emotion worthy of radio’s Mercury Theatre. But the cynic in me says his performance was not the main reason behind his Oscar win — it was a matter of vindication for Fraser, who in 2003 alleged the former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group behind the cock-a-hoop Golden Globe awards (aka the Academy’s drunk bastard cousin), sexually assaulted the actor. Fraser was blackballed and nobody loves a comeback more than the Academy. To paraphrase Galaxy Pictures studio head Kenneth Reagan, “This smear that’s being aimed at (Fraser), it’s throwing mud on the Academy Awards as well. The Oscars mean a great deal to me, they’re a symbol, we don’t like to see them tarnished.” So in sympathy, the Academy voted Fraser in. But as sympathetic monster movies go, this has nothing on Bride of Frankenstein.

The film is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Bonus features include a making-of featurette and a visual essay on Rob Simonsen’s score.

‘The Whale’ Headed to Blu-ray and DVD March 14 From A24 and Lionsgate

The drama The Whale, which earned Brendan Fraser an Oscar nom for Best Actor, arrives on Blu-ray (plus digital) and DVD March 14 from A24 and Lionsgate.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, mother!), and based on the play by Samuel D. Hunter, The Whale follows the story of a reclusive English teacher who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter.
 
The film has also earned Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress for Hong Chau, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling for Adrien Morot, Judy Chin and Anne Marie Bradley.

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The Whale also stars Academy Award nominee Samantha Morton (2003, Best Actress, In America), Sadie Sink (TV’s “Stranger Things”) and Ty Simpkins (Jurassic World, Avengers: Endgame, Iron Man 3, TV’s “The Guiding Light”).

Dramas ‘Passion of Darkly Noon’ and Altman’s ‘Kansas City’ Due on Blu-ray From MVD and Arrow in March

Two dramas, The Passion of Darkly Noon and Kansas City, are arriving on Blu-ray in March from Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment Group.

Kansas City (1996), directed by Robert Altman and streeting March 3 from Arrow Academy, is a star-studded gangster flick set in 1930s Kansas City. Blondie O’Hara (Jennifer Jason Leigh) resorts to desperate measures when her low-level hood husband Johnny (Dermot Mulroney) gets caught trying to steal from Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte), a local crime boss operating out of jazz haunt The Hey-Hey Club. Out on a limb, Blondie kidnaps laudanum-addled socialite Carolyn (Miranda Richardson), hoping her influential politician husband can pull the right strings and get Johnny out of Seldom Seen’s clutches. Nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and featuring a soundtrack performed live by some of the best players in contemporary jazz, this Altman classic is making its Blu-ray debut. Special features include audio commentary by Altman; a newly filmed appreciation by critic Geoff Andrew; a 2007 visual essay by French critic Luc Lagier, plus a short introduction to the film narrated by Lagier; two 1996 promotional featurettes including interviews with cast and crew; electronic press kit interviews with Altman, Leigh, Richardson, Belafonte and musician Joshua Redman, plus behind-the-scenes footage; four theatrical trailers; TV spots; an image gallery; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jennifer Dionisio; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing by Dr Nicolas Pillai, original press kit notes and an excerpt from Altman on Altman.

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The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995), due March 24, is a drama set in America from British director Philip Ridley. Darkly Noon (Brendan Fraser) is the sole survivor of a military-style attack on an isolated religious community. Stumbling through a forest, he is rescued by Callie (Ashley Judd). Darkly finds himself feeling strange new desires for Callie as she nurses him back to health only to watch her jump into the arms of her returning mute lover Clay (Viggo Mortensen). Lost in the woods with only his fundamentalist upbringing to make sense of his unrequited passions, Darkly soon descends into an explosive and lethal rage. Special features include new audio commentary by writer/director Ridley; an isolated score track in lossless stereo, including never-before-heard extended and unused cues, and the two songs from the film; “Sharp Cuts,” a newly filmed interview with editor Leslie Healey; “Forest Songs,” a newly filmed interview with composer Nick Bicat; “Dreaming Darkly,” an archive featurette from 2015 featuring interviews with Ridley, Bicat and Mortensen; previously unreleased demos of the music score, written and performed by Bicat before filming started; the theatrical trailer; an image gallery; a reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork; and for the first pressing only, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring a new Ridley career retrospective written by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.

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