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By Eric Hillis, TheMovieWaffler.com
originally published: 09/25/2017
I’m beginning to think Rooney Mara has cloned herself. This year alone we’ve already seen her in Lion, The Secret Scripture, The Discovery, Song to Song and A Ghost Story, and her brief career has seen her work on four continents. Maybe her workaholic nature explains her somnambulistic acting style - she’s simply worn out. I can’t figure out if Mara is actually a good actor or not, but she’s certainly cornered the market in playing ‘damaged young women’, as is once again the case in Una, director Benedict Andrews’ adaptation of David Harrower’s controversial play Blackbird.
Mara plays the eponymous Una, a 28 year old who at the tender age of 13, entered into a sexual relationship with an adult neighbor, Ray (Ben Mendelsohn), the latter subsequently serving four years behind bars when his actions were discovered. Fifteen years later, Una tracks down Ray, now going under the name ‘Peter’, and confronts him at his current workplace.
Initially, Ray assumes Una has come looking for revenge, pulling her handbag out of her hands in fear it contains a pistol or some other weapon. It soon becomes apparent however that Una’s anger at Ray stems not from his physical abuse, but at the fact that he walked away from her. As outrageous as it may seem, Ray is still the love of Una’s life, and she hopes to pick up where they left off.
I can’t speak for Harrower’s play, but the film he has fashioned as a scriptwriter suggests he has scant interest in anything other than exploiting a shocking subject. Una offers little in the way of insight into either a pedophile or his victim, and the strained and theatrical dialogue dilutes the sense of realism necessary for a narrative of this nature. There are more than a few character actions that strain credulity. An impromptu sex scene between the adult Una and Ray in the locker room of the latter’s workplace is unintentionally laughable, a point at which the film can never recover. More baffling is a decision on the part of Ray that sets him up for exposure by placing Una in the care of co-worker Scott (a wasted Riz Ahmed).
Struggling with an unconvincing British accent, Mara delivers what might be the weakest performance of her short but prolific career. It doesn’t help that her character is one-note and under developed, another in cinema’s long line of ‘crazy’ women. More convincing is Ruby Stokes, who plays the 13-year-old Una in flashbacks that prompt uncomfortable questions regarding how much of the film’s themes the child actress was exposed to. Mendelsohn is once again typecast as a creep, but his character is far more multi-dimensional than Mara’s, which suggests the film may have benefitted from a female co-writer.
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The best screen adaptations of stage plays are often those that readily accept that they’re adaptations of stage plays and settle on making the most of a limited cast in a limited location (Sidney Lumet’s similarly themed The Offence a prime example). In a vain attempt to add cinematic value, Andrews’ film adds a pointless and distracting subplot concerning Ray burning bridges with his employers, an action that leads to himself and Una scurrying around his labyrinthine workplace to evade capture. The final act, in which Una arrives unannounced at a party thrown at the house Ray shares with his wife and his young stepdaughter is initially fraught with tension, but Andrews and Harrower fail to exploit its potential, and we’re left wondering how much more gripping the movie may have been had it adopted that setting for its entirety.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Live in Concert At NJPAC
(NEWARK, NJ) -- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) presents Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Live in Concert. Don’t miss the fourth installment of Harry Potter in Concert when NJPAC hosts the full-length film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, projected in high-definition on a giant screen, with Oscar-nominated composer Patrick Doyle’s masterful score performed live by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, October 27, 2018 at 2:00pm & 7:30pm. Hopewell Theater To Celebrate Halloween With Fright Fest Week of Horror Films (HOPEWELL, NJ) -- For an entire week, Hopewell Theater will celebrate Halloween with, Fright Fest, a mini fest of classic Halloween horror films from October 25 - 31, 2018. The slate of films are icons of horror cinema, and will be displayed in all their gory glory on the big screen. "Mother Of All Secrets" To Screen At Golden Door International Film Festival (JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- The Golden Door Film Festival is hosting a red carpet screening of the female-led thriller, Mother of All Secrets, on Friday, September 21 at Landmark Loew’s Theatre with several stars in attendance. The movie, which was entirely shot in Bermuda, stars Emmy award-winner Kate Mansi, Top Gun star Kelly McGillis, Real Housewives of New York LuAnn de Lesseps, Brooke Burfitt and local Jersey actor Sean Stolzen. Golden Door International Film Festival To Present A Screening of "The Pretender" (JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- One of the most popular sports films in history is Rocky - a film that mirrors the real life experience of professional boxer Chuck Wepner from Bayonne. A new independent film called The Pretender takes viewers inside the life of Mike Kunda, a “Rocky” fanatic since the movie’s release nearly 40 years ago. The film explores Mike’s fascination with the Rocky Balboa character and how it continues to impact his life, and the lives of others, in interesting and unimaginable ways. The film screens as part of the Golden Door International Film Festival on Sunday, September 23rd at 12:00pm at the Landmark Lowe’s Jersey Theatre (54 Journal Square Plaza) in Jersey City, NJ.Hopewell Theater Offers Crybaby and Family Matinees (HOPEWELL, NJ) -- Hopewell Theater is presenting a special monthly movie matinee, “Crybaby Matinee” just for parents and little ones. Toddlers as well as babes-in-arms, infants in strollers and carriers are all welcome to attend. These special Thursday morning screenings offer a sensory-friendly environment – lights are turned up, sound is turned down, and talking and noise is allowed. Latecomers are admitted and guests can move around. The matinees are a fun and affordable option for families, tickets are $6.00 and babes-in-arms, infants in strollers and carriers are admitted free. Hopewell Theater is also offering Saturday “Family Matinees” one Saturday a month, featuring screenings of new and classic films that families with older children can enjoy. Tickets are $6.00 per person.
Michael Gallagher’s terrific comedy Funny Story Premiere’s at the Fall 2018 New Jersey Film Festival this Friday, September 14! Michael Gallagher’s terrific feature Funny Story Premiere’s at the Fall 2018 New Jersey Film Festival this Friday, September 14!The Luring: Fear & Neurosis In Vermont “As a kid, I was always drawn to the darkness,” said filmmaker Christopher Wells. “I’d think, ‘Why can’t monsters protect me? If I’m friends with the monsters then I don’t have anything to fear.’”REVIEW: "Searching" A few weeks ago the body of a 14-year-old schoolgirl was discovered around the corner from where I’m sitting writing this review. Within hours of the tragic discovery, two 13-year-old boys had been arrested. The police had their work simplified by a series of damning posts across social media which pointed to the guilt of the boys in question. Increasingly, when young people go missing or have their lives taken from them, police investigations are now focused more on trawling through the victim’s internet history in search of clues rather than the pavement pounding of old.REVIEW: "The Children Act" Earlier this year saw the release of On Chesil Beach, an adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel centered around a wealthy musician who can’t bring herself to have sex with her husband. Now we get The Children Act, an adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel centred around a wealthy musician who can’t bring herself to have sex with her husband. Both are scripted by the novelist himself, and both suggest McEwan should stick to the literary world.New Jersey Film Festival Fall 2018 Preview (NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- The New Jersey Film Festival Fall 2018 runs from September 14 to October 26 on the Rutgers University Campus in New Brunswick, NJ. Showcasing new international films, American independent features, animation, experimental and short subjects, and cutting-edge documentaries, the New Jersey Film Festival Fall 2018 will feature over 30 film screenings. The Festival runs on select Thursday, Friday and Sunday evenings. For the complete schedule visit www.NJFilmFest.com. Here is a look at the screenings for September.