CALLERI: ‘The Nest’ and ‘Hillbilly Legacy’ follow families torn asunder

IFC FilmsA married couple (center) played by Carrie Coon and Jude Law face unsettling revelations in “The Nest.”

It isn’t often that we know a director’s 10 favorite movies.

Sean Durkin has produced a number of movies and wrote and directed “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” This psychological thriller from 2011 is worth your time.

Durkin’s favorite movies are: “The Birds,” “3 Women,” “The Conformist,” “The Goonies,” “Jaws,” “Persona,” “The Panic In Needle Park,” “The Piano Teacher,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “The Shining.” It’s a terrific list.

Durkin has now written and directed his second feature, “The Nest,” which is set in the 1980s. It stars Jude Law and Carrie Coon as a married couple whose reverie is shattered by the husband’s duplicity. As with all of Durkin’s favorite films, “The Nest” offers family problems, discovered secrets, interpersonal fragmentation, and obsession.

Law and Coon are outstanding as Rory and Allison O’Hara, who have two young school-age children and live quite comfortably. He’s a commodities trader, originally from England. She an American who teaches horseback riding. Their marriage and home life seem to be filled with love. “The Nest” is available On Demand through cable, and from a number of streaming services.

Something off-kilter is going on in Rory's world, and he decides the entire family should uproot and move to England, where he will return to his former financial services firm – the scene of greater glory. A convincing fellow, Rory gets what he wants and delivers an epic-sized manor outside London with plenty of land for Allison to build some stables and continue to have horses. Rosy promises lead to a less rosy reality.

Rory, you see, is one of those men who can’t stop wheeling and dealing. You’ve met the kind of chap he is. They know a guy or they have a deal. There’s a crack in his armor at work, and the house of cards begins to fall apart.

What Durkin has done brilliantly is to frame the structure of the marriage with Rory’s half-truths and outright lies. Tension, fear, and anger tumble about like a deck of cards being scattered helter-skelter. Allison’s reaction drags the troubled marriage into a corrosive future. It’s all quite breathtaking to witness.

HILLBILLY LEGACY: This year’s cinematic punching bag is “Hillbilly Elegy,” which is based on the life of J. D. Vance, who broke the chains of prejudice against hillbillies. There are a lot of naysayers, and I understand their concern. However, they should be wary. The populist-leaning film, which is on Netflix, could be this year’s Oscar-winning “Green Card.”

“Hillbilly Elegy” is directed by Ron Howard and written by Vanessa Taylor as if they read only every other page of Vance’s bestselling book.

In a nutshell, the Vance family are Ohio residents by way of Kentucky’s hillbilly traditions. The guiding maternal presence is mule-headed, cigarette-smoking, take-no-prisoners Mamaw. As played by Glenn Close (perhaps Academy Award nomination number eight awaits), she’s like a comic strip character come to crackling life.

In fact, put a pipe in Close’s mouth and she’d be Mammy Yokum from cartoonist Al Capp’s celebrated “Li’l Abner,” which also aired on radio, became a 1940 comedy film, and was a hit Broadway musical that was made into a popular movie.

The story of “Hillbilly Legacy” has been simplified because Howard and Taylor have scrubbed away all of the book’s important sociology about hillbilly culture in America, their abuse at the hands of mining executives and various governments, and how they attempted to resist being comic fodder.

What we’re left with is a fast-paced addiction movie, with the drugs of choice being pain pills and heroin. Is it a good addiction movie? Yes, it is, but it’s not the hillbilly movie the book merited.

Amy Adams (Oscar nomination number seven is possible) is Beverly, Mamaw’s daughter, a nurse wallowing in a spiral of bad relationships and drug abuse. A sub-story follows her son J.D.’s desire to get into Yale Law School, truly a grand stepping-stone for a culture long held in low regard in the annals of American history. Gabriel Basso is superb as the college-age J. D., who dreams of a different life but is saddled with his mother’s dependency. Haley Bennett, as his sister, and Frieda Pinto, as his love interest, are both excellent.

From a production standpoint, “Hillbilly Legacy” is very well-made. Its existence is controversial, but frankly, that’s a good thing.

TWO DOCUMENTARIES: The Virtual Cinema Program has studios and movie theaters splitting the proceeds when movie lovers watch new features on a theater’s website. “Zappa,” directed by Alex Winter, and “Collective,” directed by Alexander Nanau, are documentaries that are superior to most.

“Zappa” is an epic extravaganza about the life and rock and roll music of the iconoclastic Frank Zappa. There are home movies to enjoy, and the exploration of Zappa’s personal collection of everything he ever did is thrilling. If Winter’s name seems familiar to you, it’s because he plays Bill in the “Bill And Ted” movies. A very accomplished director, Winter honors Zappa with every frame.

In “Collective,” a fire at a music club leads to an intense investigation by Romanian journalists into a health-care fraud that enriched politicians and businessmen and caused the deaths of scores of innocent people. The truth shocked Romania. The gripping movie may well shock you.

Both films are available to rent at: dipsontheatres.com

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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