Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Tag: Viggo Mortensen

“Captain Fantastic” & “The Infiltrator” Best Movies of the Summer So far

For those of you tired of the seemingly endless supply of children’s animated films and/or Marvel Comic spin-offs, two new movies for serious film buffs offer respite this summer season, and I highly recommend them both.

First (because I saw it first, in Chicago, with the director present) would be “Captain Fantastic,” and, no, it is NOT a Marvel picture. Ross even told the impressed audience who had just sat through the film, that he was unaware that there was a comic book movie of the same name, as well as an Elton John album, but that he likes “powerful titles.”


Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) has removed his children from society, living a seemingly idyllic life in the woods of Oregon. (Note: Director Matt Ross, himself, attended Julliard by way of Ashland, Oregon). The main character opts to educate his children on his own, but, as Matt Ross told “CineArts” magazine: “If we’re analyzing Ben’s faults, it is that he really hasn’t prepared them in terms of socialization to the world outside. He has this idea that, in order to really teach his children his values, he needs to take control of their education and their environment. In a larger case, that is true for everyone. We send our kids to school and hope that it’s the truth that they are being told and taught.”


After the showing of the film at the AMC Theater in Chicago (it opened July 13th), Ross answered questions for the audience, and many of them had to do with the casting process for the children and the lead, played by Viggo Mortensen.

First, let it be noted that this is a film about family and the other great film of the summer (so far), “The Infiltrator” with Bryan Cranston, is also a film about family. Said Ross: “I think all great dramas are about the family. Look at The Godfather. What is it really about? It’s about family. Tonally, it’s a very different movie, but about family.” A great line from “The Infiltrator is this one, articulated by Benjamin Bratt’s character: “Without family or friends, what kind of world would this be? There would be no reason to be alive.”

Ross—who has an impressive array of movie and television roles to his credit, including Alvy Grant in “Big Love,” as well as roles in “American Psycho” (2000), “Face/Off” (1997), and “The Aviator” (2004)—both wrote and directed “Captain Fantastic” and it won him the Best Director award at Cannes for new directors, something he admits pleased him immensely.


The writer/director was also able to draw on his own life experiences as the product of a mother who was active in the eighties in commune-type life in North Carolina and Oregon, explaining that his parents were “artisans who didn’t’ want to live in cities, but in harmony with nature. I also lived in London and some people had electricity and plumbing. Some did not. We celebrate Noam Chomsky Day (Dec. 7th) at my house.” (A recurring film point).

Ross also admits that becoming a father, himself (he has two children) was a factor in the film’s genesis, saying, “For me, personally, the reason I wanted to tell this story is because I have two kids and I was certainly thinking, ‘What are my values? What do I want to teach my children?’”

The conflict in the film comes when Matt Cash’s wife, who is bi-polar, dies. Matt (Viggo Mortensen) and his unorthodox family are not exactly welcome at the funeral being planned by her father and mother (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd). It is obvious that Claire’s father (Langella) may blame Ben for his daughter’s death, and they have no intention of honoring her wishes of having a Buddhist funeral, cremating her remains and scattering her ashes. It is this crusade on the part of her husband and children to honor her wishes in death that becomes a major plot point, as they drive to the funeral destination, cross-country, on their family bus.


One reviewer dissed this plot idea, but it serves the purpose of injecting even more conflict into the plot and making Ben Cash aware of how his own viewpoint about the world might not be the only point-of-view that his young children should be exposed to. In one of the most poignant scenes of the entire movie, Viggo is simply shown driving the bus, thinking that he has sacrificed his entire family to society (i.e., giving them up to his wife’s parents to raise) for their own good.


Mortensen displays why he is such a perfect choice for the role and what a great actor he is during that scene, which consisted of no dialogue at all, but simply his own communing with his thoughts as he drives.

Ross said, during the Q&A, that Viggo Mortensen was his first choice to play the role, and it is quite easy to understand why if you know anything about Mortensen’s somewhat unorthodox lifestyle. Aside from Gary Busey, I’ve not read more stories about a leading man who “lives off the land” and generally has unusual idiosyncrasies in his personal life. Said Ross during the Q&A of the film in Chicago: “Viggo is always very real and very simple. On paper, the main character was more of a playful father. Viggo had a bit more of a center for him. Any actor will make a part their own. With actors, you get to see their work habits. For most people, you are not cognizant of the mechanics. Great film moments are great acting moments. Some directors do not like actors, but I have acted and I don’t feel that way. The answer is that I believe that if you’re reading and playing instruments and you are intelligent, you are right for these parts.

Ross even shared that Viggo showed up early with definite ideas about Ben Cash’s character. Said Ross: “He (Mortensen) helped build the set. He came a couple of weeks early and slept in the tipi before and during the shoot. He built the garden by himself and made sure it was a functional garden that would sustain itself throughout the year. He showed up with a pick-up truck full of props and books. We had an excellent prop department on hand, but he felt very strongly about what kinds of books the characters might read. I wanted to cast someone I believed could really live in this environment an actually understands what he’s talking about.” Said Ross to “CineArts’ Frank Gonzales, “That’s a tall order. You need an actor who can portray someone who is well spoken, well read, and very intelligent. These are challenges you have to navigate with casting, but with Viggo you absolutely believe it!”

Q1: What about the children in the film? How were they cast?

A1: “It was a traditional casting process with Jean Carthy doing the casting. We cast in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States. We had an extensive call-back process. I wanted kids who were fit, who could play musical instruments. All the goods are objectively good actors, but I made judgment calls based on their spirit. For some kids, there was only one choice. I wanted them to look like Viggo’s—that they could be from the same gene pool. We were in Washington state for two weeks. Then we sent the kids to a wilderness camp: rock climbing. Rehearing music. Esperanto. Two girls actually killed a deer. Yoga. Viggo was learning to play the bagpipes. Training changed their eating habits during the time of shooting. Ultimately, we wanted them all to fall in love with Viggo. (*The children were Bo: George McKay; Rellian: Nicholas Hamilton; Kielyr:Samantha Isler; Vespyr: Annalise Basso; Zaja: Shree Crooks; Nai; Charlie Showell).

Q2: Talk a little about your directing style.

A2: I went through the script, line-by-line, and talked them through it. The way I like to work is they have their lives and they could follow them and improvise. I’m not propping up a dead object, but creating a living, breathing thing. Charlie picking his nose around the fire because he forgot he was being filmed is an example of that. Film is a collaborative medium.

In this way, Ross’ words echo the sentiment expressed regarding “The Infiltrator” in Frank Gonzales’ “CineArts” summer film guide this way: “All great moments in sports, in moviemaking, and in life are not done alone and in a vacuum. Just as a pro-golfer or tennis player needs a coach to nurture and push their talents to championship levels, a great movie is usually the result of a team of actors and artists working together to reach unprecedented heights. And the coach that gets them there is the director.”

Q3: What’s the deal with the Noah Chomsky references recurring throughout the film?

A3: (*Noah Chomsky is an intellectual who is far, far left). For me, personally, I think he’s a brilliant human being, a great humanitarian. You’d have to ask him about making his birthday (December 7th) a holiday like Festivus. He’s still alive. He might be appalled.

Q4: Talk about the opening scene of the movie, shot in the wilderness and involving the death of a deer.

A4: There is a tradition of felling a deer with nothing but a knife. I think it is felt that, in that way, they honor the deer. (Masai tribesmen sent their young men out to kill a lion with just a spear.)

Q5: When you conceived the story, did you have the backstory of Viggo’s wife Claire being bi-polar?


"Captain Fantastic" director/writer Matt Ross.

“Captain Fantastic” director/writer Matt Ross.

[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form] The short answer is yes. Because of the temporal nature of films, I outline very carefully. Things change when you’re writing it. And then there’s a long rewriting process.

Ross, when asked about how the family was able to survive in the wild (what about money?) said, “I purposely chose not to answer that. I think there are clues in the movie. She had a lucrative law career. I think they have savings and they are frugal.”

More about “The Infiltrator” momentarily.

What Actors Have Gone Full Frontal on Film?

Viggo Mortensen at the 2008 Chicago Film Festival.

In the 1980 film “American Gigolo,” Richard Gere boldly went where no male actor had dared go before: full monty on film. As Julian Kaye, Richard had a scene standing next to a window in a bedroom (with co-star Lauren Hutton) that started a trend that shows no signs of  abating. It was an important moment in cinema: a break-through,  baring one’s all for one’s art.
Here are 10 examples of Full Frontal since Richard let it all hang out (pun intended).  It does not include those that are closer to porno, like the shower scene in 1980’s “Can’t Stop the Music” with Valerie Perrine (The Village People sang “Y.M.C.A.” in that one, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the film’s quality) and it doesn’t include the edited sequence(s) in “Fast Times at Ridgewood High” or the really obscure Dutch film “The 4th Man” (Paul Verhoeven). The list also excludes “All the Right Moves” (1983) with Tom Cruise and Lea Thompson, where the camera lingered lovingly over the near-naked pair and panned downward.

And, since I’ve mentioned Tom Cruise, it doesn’t include FEMALE full frontal nudity, which has been done  to death for years. If it did, I’d be citing “Risky Business” and the scene with Rebecca DeMornay removing her dress to reveal  she had nothing on underneath, because Tom was not the one showing skin on the silver screen that time. There was also the overly long “At Play in the Fields of the Lord,” with Tom Berenger wearing almost nothing and Darryl Hannah literally wearing nothing, but I’ve left it off the list, too, because that  film about missionaries bringing more than just religion to the poor oppressed natives of South and Central America had  Tom wearing almost nothing, but I think there was a loin cloth or some such involved in the scene where he is nearly starkers.

So, who/what are the few, the bold, the Full Monty Minions?

Here are 10 that you can check out at your leisure. In some cases, don’t blink or you’ll miss it/them. Number Ten represents full frontal male nudity, but not from the likes of  Tom Cruise or a Richard Gere (more’s the pity).

1)      Richard Gere, (1980), “American Gigolo” and  “Breathless” (1983)

2)      Harvey Keitel, “The Piano” and “Bad Lieutenant” (Harvey took it off so often that, for a while, people were saying that it wasn’t truly an indie film unless Harvey was nude in it. More’s the pity that the actor enjoying nudity so much wasn’t someone a lot more attractive; you almost had to shout “Put it on! Put it on!” from your seat in the audience.)

3)      Jason Segel, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”

4)      Ewan McGregor: “The Pillow Book,” “Trainspotting,” “Velvet Goldmine,” “Young Adam” (And you thought Harvey Keitel was addicted to shedding his clothes at the drop of a plot point.)

5)      William H. Macy, “The Cooler.”

6)      Bruce Willis, “The Color of Night” (swimming pool scene)

7)      Kevin Bacon, “Wild Things”

8)      Jaye Davidson, “The Crying Game” (Is he a he or a she?)

9)      Viggo Mortensen, “Eastern Promises” (One of the most horrifying fight sequences ever filmed.)

10)  Also, although hardly “star” turns, (which the list above is mainly involved with),

let’s not forget the fat guy in “Borat” (Ken Davitian), the phallic scene in “Boogie Nights” with Mark Wahlberg (no, it wasn’t all real), and the guy offering a beer in “Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story.”

So, there you have it: men who will bare their souls…and a lot more…for their art. Actors who have actively stripped to wearing nothing but a smile. Enjoy!

Viggo Mortensen Receives Award at Chicago Film Festival Showing of “Good”

charlie-kaufman-010Viggo MortensenThe closing night of the Chicago Film Festival (Wednesday, October 29th) featured Director Vicente Amorima  tribute to Viggo Mortensen, whose film “Good” was screened after highlight clips of movies from Mortensen’s career were shown. The clips were great. I wish they had gone on forever. The love scene from 2005’s “A History of Violence” with Maria Bello on the staircase. (Hot! Hot! Hot!) The scene in “Hidalgo” with Mortensen turning his horse loose to join the herd. A memorable scene acting opposite Al Pacino in “Carlito’s Way.” A scene opposite Patricia Arquette in 1991’s “The Indian Runner” as Frankie. A death scene from “Lord of the Rings:  Return of the King”, where Mortensen played Aragon.

Mention was made of Mortensen’s upcoming role in “The Road,” the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s best-selling novel, and of his role in “Appaloosa” with Ed Harris. I longed for scenes from “Eastern Promises,” (remember the nude shower scene with the Russian Mafia?) which garnered him an Academy Award nomination. That was an extremely strong performance with the characteristic cool swagger that we know Mortensen can deliver so convincingly. His role this night in “Good” was not.

Viggo MortensenMortensen, himself, took the podium (see picture) to accept his Hugo Award and commented, “I’m relieved to hear that this is not a life-time achievement award.  I had some trepidation at first. I didn’t think I’d be put out to pasture just yet. I’m very grateful to still be around and employable.” Mortensen has just turned 50, yet looks and acts 10 years younger.

At the point that the film was to start, Mortensen welcomed co-star Jason Isaacs to the podium. Isaacs called Mortensen “a remarkable star” telling the audience how Mortensen brought him a stone from Auschwitz and visited Isaacs’ family to bond with him before they appeared onscreen as best friends John Halder and Maurice, his Jewish colleague.  The Brazilian director Vicente Amorim also spoke, calling the film “a film very much like the choices we make every day in our everyday lives.” Previously, co-star Isaacs had said, “I felt it to be completely contemporary. Very, very beautifully subtle. (*I‘d say a little  TOO subtle.) What is the right thing to do and how will I explain my actions to my children?”

Kidding around with the crowd before introducing  Isaacs, Mortensen said, “He may sing a song or tell a joke. I’m not sure what he’ll do. He recently received a steroid injection for some undisclosed infection.” This seemed to amuse Viggo as he shared the odd anecdote. The guy’s an original and a little odd, from what I’ve read, and it came through onstage.

charlie-kaufman-009The program for the film festival showing of “Good” summarizes its plot  this way:  “Viggo Mortensen, in an extraordinary change-of-pace role as Professor John Halder. He plays a good, decent individual with family problems, a German literature professor in the 1930s.  Halder explores his personal circumstances in a novel advocating compassionate euthanasia.  When the book is unexpectedly enlisted by powerful political figures in support of government propaganda, Halder finds his career rising in an optimistic current of nationalism and prosperity.  Yet, with Halder’s change in fortune, seemingly inconsequential decisions potentially jeopardize the people in his life with devastating effects.” The program further noted that the movie is based on the acclaimed play by C.P. Taylor.

It’s easy to understand that if the Nazis got hold of a book advocating euthanasia, they’d run with it to the limit and start offing half of those deemed less than perfect Aryan types. In fact, they did exactly this during World War II, as I remember from my trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., sweeping into hospitals and taking babies from their incubators, murdering the mentally defective, etc.

What is not easy to see is how Viggo’s somewhat wishy-washy character is as “good” as advertised in the title. He leaves his wife and two children to have an affair (and ultimately marry) a former student. This is “good?” Since when?

He is wishy-washy again when his best friend, Maurice, begs him for help in fleeing the country as the Nazis become increasingly violent towards those German Jews who have remained.  Ultimately, John Halder does, in fact, attempt to get a ticket for Maurice to flee to Paris, but his new wife ann turns Maurice in to the authorities when he comes to the house to pick it up (at a time when John is off doing Nazi things like burning cars and beating up residents. True, he seems characteristically baffled that he is in the midst of a rioting crowd scene, but that just reinforced my impression of this Viggo role as a Thurber character, a sort of neo-Nazi Walter Mitty, if you will. (And I’d like the Viggo back who was screwing on the staircase, thank you very much.)

charlie-kaufman-006The movie moves slowly and somewhat turgidly through the build-up to Halder’s ultimate realization that he has contributed to a great wrong  being perpetrated upon the Jewish populace.  There are unexplained bits, such as John’s suddenly hearing music at various points, which was both odd and puzzling. We expect the sub-plot involving his mother to have John forced to put her in a home where she will then face potential euthanisation by the Nazi hordes, but that doesn’t happen. What we don’t anticipate happening is for Viggo Mortensen,  the epitome of cool, forceful performances, to give one where he seems to be emulating Mr. Rogers (of “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” fame). If that comparison seems “off”, perhaps one of Jimmy Stewart’s old roles with Viggo oozing befuddlement and seeming somewhat bewildered by everything that is happening to him and around him. Not the Viggo Mortensen audiences have come to know and love. Give me the Viggo of “Eastern Promises,” please. And hold the “Good.”

There are some exchanges that spell out the predicament facing Maurice, his Jewish friend. John (Viggo) tells his new wife Ann, “I never thought it would come to this,” and she (Jodie Whittaker)  responds, “It’s not your fault.  Any Jew with any sense left long ago.”

Personally, I enjoyed the exchange on a park bench between Maurice and John, where John explains that his elderly mother, who is failing mentally and physically, tried to commit suicide by overdosing on pills. Explains John, “Her memory is gone. Her dignity is gone. She can hardly breathe.” Maurice responds, “At least she isn’t Jewish.” [An amusing line in an otherwise dour and overly somber film.] It started with Maurice throwing a pound of cheesecake to the ground in a violent frenzy, so that was peculiar, too.

The John Wrathall screenplay, with location shooting in Budapest, Hungary, just does not gel in this adaptation.  Everything that happens to John seems random. It’s as though he has stumbled into his own life and is bewildered by it, including his rise to prominence in the Reich. The scenes with his family, including a first wife who  obsessively plays the piano at all times like a possessed weasel need more explanation. You want Viggo to say, “For God’s sake, quit pounding on the damned piano and come out here in the kitchen and help with dinner. Or, failing that, go see what my mother wants upstairs.” (Or, better yet, “Hey, honey, come here and join me on the staircase and I’ll savagely screw the living daylights out of you.”)

Halder’s ailing mother is constantly calling for him from the upstairs bedroom as the poor man is also attempting to chop vegetables for dinner, mind the kids and answer the doorbell. It almost comes off as a comic variation of Three Stooges material, as he is seen racing to answer the door, chopping the veggies foru goulash and taking care of his dotty Mom, while the first wife pounds away like some obsessive/compulsive nut job. All-in-all, the domestic scene looked a bit disheveled, true, but, if, as the dialogue has suggested in the movie up to this point, “You’ll do the right thing. You always do,” (his mother speaking), then why does John up and take a mistress and dump his loving family unit so suddenly? Seemed out-of-character and not what someone who “always does the right thing” would do.

Even more puzzling, why is the wife he leaves so compliant when she is dumped?  The emotions the woman expresses are unlike any scorned wife I’ve ever met, and I don’t think it’s a 1930’s thing. Wife Number One and the two kids are abandoned for the younger fraulein and piano-woman is left to fend for herself after doing almost none of the housework or cooking or other domestic chores normally associated with the female of the species. Does she complain? Au contraire, mon frere.

In almost the very next scene, Wife Number One tells her philandering husband as they stroll through what may have been his mother’s funeral scene (it was unclear) how proud she and the abandoned children are of him. Hmmmmmm. Did not wash for me. Real life does not work that way, in my experience. More realistic if Wife Number One was calling Dr. John Halder a “schweinhund” and swearing a blue streak, methinks, but that’s in the world I live in.

John Halder, on the other hand, seems to inhabit his own version of reality, complete with an ostrich-like inability to see what is happening right before his very eyes, a very wishy-washy constitution, and a problem with spinelessness.

The end of the film also comes  rather abruptly, as John attempts to find his now-deported friend Maurice in a concentration camp.  A single tear runs down his cheek as he realizes what his book hath wrought. Then it ends. The screen goes black.

We filed out silently, wishing we could have another replay of those clips from Mortensen’s early films, which were very entertaining, absorbing and true-to-life. Unfortunately, the clumsily-titled “Good” may have had the intention of making a statement about how we all must stand up against injustice wherever we find it, but it did not translate well as directed by the Brazilian director shooting in Hungary, and even an actor as competent as Viggo Mortensen is only as good as his material.

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