By Lynn Venhaus

“Beau Is Afraid” is an unwatchable exercise in excess.

This absurdist black comedy-drama-horror about an anxiety-riddled man-child going through personal crises makes a mockery of the real psychological issues on display, Why is any of this funny when it should be a tragedy?

Writer-director Ari Aster has created a self-indulgent, meandering narrative that straddles reality and fantasy in a very bizarre way, designed to shock like his other works – “Midsommar” and “Hereditary.” These two polarizing films were disturbing with extreme horrific violence.

The rambling story follows the sudden death of Beau’s mother, which sets off a chain of events, as he embarks on a Kafkaesque odyssey back home that manifests his darkest fears. It appears to be a sequence of nightmares strung together in such an incoherent fever-dream way that the film becomes unbearable during its ridiculous 2 hours, 59 minutes runtime. It is no clearer at the end than it was in the beginning.

Joaquin Phoenix is hardly at his best in this ill-suited role as the arrested development afraid-of -his-own-shadow recluse, Beau, who is in serious mental distress and is either in a catatonic stupor or having major panic attacks and meltdowns in public places.

And neither are the actors playing the peculiar-agenda grown-ups – the normally dandy Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan as affluent strangers who rescue him during an assault, and their chic home is where he recuperates in a captive-like situation. Their Good Samaritan effort seems tinged with menace, but they are no Annie Wilken in “Misery.” However, their Fun House is anything but, particularly with their deranged daughter Toni (Kylie Rogers) and a soldier suffering from PTSD, Jeeves (Denis Pinochet).

Not unlike Lewis Carroll’s whacked-out writing in “Alice in Wonderland,” Aster strings us along with poorly drawn characters attempting to make sense of a script that has no point except to be weird for weirds sake.

However, Armen Nahapetian is fine as the sad and confused teenage Beau, who is schooled about life by a forward girl, Elaine, during a summer vacation – and so is Julia Antonelli as Beau’s first crush. As his young over-sharing histrionic control freak mother, Zoe Lister-Jones is Mona then. Patty LuPone is his monstrous, neurotic mother later in life.

In minor roles are Bill Hader as a UPS guy, Parker Posey as Elaine Bray, who works for his mom, Stephen McKinley Henderson as a therapist, and Richard Kind as a doctor.

The random bursts of violence are upsetting and the shouting, screaming and the maniacal behavior unsettling. Imagined demons roam, Beau is either terrified or trembling, and the paranoia is rampant.

We’ve seen a wide array of movies where people spiral out of control because of their less-then-normal upbringing or society’s pressures, but this scenario is not cohesive in the least and mostly incoherent.

In Aster’s world, rules of form, function and ordinary behavior are thrown out the window in favor of a provocateur making a meal out of what’s in the fridge. This is jump-out-of-the-closet scares and off-the-charts anxiety that can actually trigger viewers.

This is someone’s therapy session that we should not be eavesdropping on, and all the mommy and daddy issues raised won’t be solved any time soon. Why should anyone care about these people?

“Beau Is Afraid” is a 2023 comedy-drama-horror film written and directed by Ari Aster and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Parker Posey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Kylie Rogers, and Patti LuPone. It is rated R for strong violent content, sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language. Its runtime is 2 hours, 59 minutes. It opened in theatres on April 21, is available video on demand and DVD, and began streaming Dec 1 on Showtime/Paramount+. Lynn’s grade: F.

By Lynn Venhaus

A gentle outlook on family dynamics and how adults communicate with children, “C’mon C’mon” takes the road less traveled approach. It has something to say and achieves that with uncommon simplicity and openness.

Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), a radio journalist, is traveling across the country to interview children for an assignment. He stops in Detroit and New Orleans and asks kids about what they think about the future – their fears, expectations, and outlook.

While in L.A., he visits his sister, Viv (Gaby Hoffmann), and spends time with his precocious 9-year-old nephew Jesse (Woody Norman). He and the deeply inquisitive Jesse bond, and they return to his home in NYC together, at a time where the boy’s devoted mother needs to be with his father Phil (Scoot McNairy), who is not well.

Working in stark contrasting black-and-white with cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Oscar nominee for “The Favourite”), writer-director Mike Mills captures distinctive geographic landscapes that allows more focus on intimate interactions in day-to-day living.

This is not an ordinary look at our contemporary world, nor is it typical in its displays of major metropolitan cities. With his keen eye, Mills establishes a rhythm that lets us see things differently, opens the audience to various possibilities – but stays within a narrow framework.

Think of this like chapters in folklore or a fable, sometimes meandering, often illuminating, but the earnest characters are always learning and striving towards understanding.

You get a sense that one day, the relentlessly curious Jesse may write a memoir recalling a most memorable time – a sort of “Travels with My Uncle” from his generational viewpoint. But for now, it’s what appears to be a collection of daily engagements: selecting a toothbrush without audio stimulation, not being able to sleep, mom reading “The Wizard of Oz” to him over the phone and eating a slice of pizza at a neighborhood joint.

The cast excels at its depiction of family ties. In a demonstrative departure, Joaquin Phoenix’s first role since his Oscar-winning turn in the dark and disturbing “Joker” in 2019, finds him softer and squishier, with a scruffy beard and shaggy hair. As Johnny, a bachelor without a significant other or children, Johnny cares about his family and is dedicated to the documentaries he works on but has settled into a mundane routine. Having a child to care for disrupts that — but also provides those teachable moments that propel youth forward. (And also makes a mark on the adult forced to open up).

Phoenix, a new father in real life, and guileless child actor Woody Norman, who has worked in mostly British TV, present an evolving human relationship that unfolds naturally. Norman’s performance is revealing, and Phoenix shows a completely different side of his nature. They are both acting, of course, only it doesn’t look or feel like it.

Gabby Hoffmann, a child actress (“Field of Dreams,” “Sleepless in Seattle”) who grew into a formidable adult artist (Emmy nominated for “Transparent” and “Girls”), plays a responsible adult trying to raise a decent human being, and having all the doubts and anxiety that goes with those choices and decisions. Like the rest of the cast, she gives an engaging lived-in portrayal.

The scenes recording the thoughts of school children provides yet another perspective from diverse voices. Nobody’s life is static, after all, and what they say offers a different slant.

The film’s score is also noteworthy for its interesting mix of synthesizer and classic music pieces. Composers Aaron and Bryce Dessner are known professionally as part of The National, an indie alternative rock band that’s been around for two decades.

Specific in the details he wrote about, Mills has presented an insightful look at life – it may seem slight, and that not much happens, but look closer — you will find pieces of your loved ones and your own journey that will resonate.

Kids are hard work to raise. We don’t match their energy and our senses of wonder and joy are rekindled in their company because they look at life with fresh pairs of eyes. They can be tiring and frustrating – just like we are to them. But they teach us more than we teach them, give us a purpose, and increase our capacity to love ten-fold.

“C’mon C’mon” is not the same-old, same-old. It’s a jagged atmospheric little slice of life that will open your heart and deepen your connection to the people in your world.

“Cmon C’mon” is a 2021 drama written and directed by Mike Mills. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffmann and Scoot McNairy. It is rated R for language and runs 1 hour, 48 minutes. It is in select theaters on Nov. 24 and premiered locally at the St. Louis International Film Festival on Nov. 7. Lynn’s Grade: B+.

By Lynn Venhaus
We still have a race for Best Picture and Director, as we try to gauge the momentum going into Sunday. Will it be “Parasite” or “1917,” or will fading frontrunner “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood regain its luster? After all, Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood.

The 92nd Academy Awards take place Feb. 9, with ABC broadcasting red carpet live coverage at 5:30 p.m. and the ceremony underway at 7 p.m. CST. This year is the second in a row where there is no host, and it seemed to speed up the proceedings last year. We shall see.

The acting Oscars were apparently sown up weeks ago, as awards season began. If there is any movement, it may be in Supporting Actress, where newcomer Florence Pugh is coming on strong.

The shoo-ins this year? You can safely bet on “Parasite” as Best International Feature, Brad Pitt as Best Supporting Actor in “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” his fourth performance nomination (and he’ll likely give the best speech of the night) and Roger Deakins as cinematographer for “1917.”

Will there be surprises and upsets? Or will it be as the pundits predict? Only time will tell. Let’s just hope it’s a fun watch and deserving wins to put the finishing touches on 2019 in film.

And afterwards, we’ll have memes, fashion debates and acceptance speeches to remember.

Here are my picks for the 24 awards:

Best Picture


1917, Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and Parasite

My original frontrunner, “Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood” has faded, and the big momentum is with either “1917” or “Parasite.” I think Oscar voters, with the older voting block, will go with the heart-wrenching World War I epic and be content for “Parasite” to win Best International Feature. While there is always the possibility of an upset, I think the massive endeavor “1917” is deserving.

Best Director

Sam Mendes, (Photo by Richard Goldschmidt)

Sam Mendes, “1917”; Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”; Todd Phillips, “Joker”; Quentin Tarantino “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” and Bong Joon-Ho, “Parasite”

I am in the “Sam Mendes is a genius” camp but Bong Joon-Ho’s work in “Parasite” is worthy too. Both are innovative, visual artists. I’d like a tie, like Critics Choice Association. I’m going with Mendes, as he won Directors Guild of America, the big prognosticator.


Best Actor

Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”; Leonardo DiCaprio “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”; Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”; Joaquin Phoenix “Joker”; Jonathan Pryce “The Two Popes.”

Hands down, Joaquin Phoenix. He gave us pathos as he showed Joker’s pain behind the façade and made his descent into madness frightening. Nobody is more fearless working in film today. Adam Driver would be a close second for his acting showcase in “Marriage Story.”


Best Actress

Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”; Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”: Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”; Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”; Renee Zellweger’s “Judy.”

Not a fan of Renee Zellweger’s “Judy” but she has won all earlier awards, and I see no reason why she wouldn’t. However, my pick would be the radiant Saoirse Ronan for “Little Women.” If there is an upset, Scarlett Johansson – finally nominated – would be a worthy winner for her tour de force in “Marriage Story.”

Best Supporting Actor

Ozark’s own Brad Pitt

 Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”; Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”; Al Pacino “The Irishman”; Joe Pesci “The Irishman”; Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.”

Perhaps the only sure thing Oscar night, Brad Pitt is a lock as stuntman Cliff Booth. He’s not just deserving but overdue. Besides, he’s certain to give the best speech of the night, given his track record this awards season.

Best Supporting Actress

Kathy Bates “Richard Jewell”; Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”; Scarlett Johansson, “JoJo Rabbit”; Florence Pugh, “Little Women”; Margot Robbie “Bombshell.”

While I think the acting Oscars have already been nailed down, this might be the upset category. Laura Dern as the shark lawyer in “Marriage Story,” obsessed with winning at all costs, is my pick, and she was also terrific in “Little Women,” but Margot Robbie’s ambitious Fox News staffer could edge her out or first-time nominee Scarlett Johansson could finally get Oscar love as the mom in “JoJo Rabbit.”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”;  Andrew McLaren, “The Two Popes”; Todd Phillips, “Joker”; Taika Waititi, “JoJo Rabbit”; Steve Zaillian “The Irishman.”

My favorite is Taika Waititi for the sharp social satire “JoJo Rabbit,” but the revered Steve Zaillian’s adaptation of “The Irishman” could be the film’s only win for its masterful storytelling.


Best Original Screenplay

Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, “1917”; Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story”; Rian Johnson, “Knives Out”; Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”; Bong Joon-Ho and Han Jin Wan, “Parasite.”

Best Cinematography

1917, The Irishman, Joker, The Lighthouse, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

What Roger Deakins did with “1917” is remarkable and propels him to his second win in three years. He had been snubbed for decades for his tremendous work in Coen Brothers’ films, then started working with director Denis Villeneuve a few years back – and finally won in 2018 for “Blade Runner 2049.” What he achieved with making “1917” appear to have been shot in two takes is incredible.

Best Editing

Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Parasite.

How can “1917” be omitted here? I think a bone should be thrown to crowd-pleasing “Ford v. Ferrari.” This film was a challenging shot, and the editors captured both the thrill and danger of endurance racing.

Best Production Design

1917, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Parasite.

For its meticulous research and replica of 1969 Hollywood, it must be “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” However, the house in “Parasite” and all the trenches and realistic war landscape in “1917” make the case for those films.

Best Music Score

1917, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Previously, I thought it was a battle between the Newman generations – Randy for “Marriage Story” and Thomas for ‘1917.” But now I’m in support of Hildur Gudnadottir winning for “Joker.’ From Iceland, Gudnadottir won the Emmy and Grammy for HBO’s “Chernobyl” and the Golden Globe and BAFTA for “Joker.” She’d be the first solo woman to win this Oscar, and I can get behind that.

Best Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away Again,” Toy Story 4; “I’m Going to Stand with You,” Breakthrough; “Into the Unknown,” Frozen II; “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” Rocketman; “Stand Up,” Harriet.

After much debate — and enjoying the Panic! At the Disco version of “Into the Unknown” a lot, I’m now resigned to Elton John winning for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” his fourth nominated song but his first with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin.

Best Costume Design

Little Women

The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

“Little Women,” of course.


Best Hair and Makeup

1917, Bombshell, Joker, Judy, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
“Bombshell” for making the actresses look uncannily like the Fox women they portray, and for turning John Lithgow into a convincing Roger Ailes.

Best Sound Mixing

 1917, Ad Astra, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

“1917” is the likely winner but “Ford v Ferrari” would be a justifiable winner.

Best Sound Editing

1917, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.

Ditto as to what I said about sound mixing.

Best Visual Effects

The Avengers Endgame

1917, The Avengers; Endgame,” “The Irishman,” “The Lion King” and “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.”

“The Avengers: Endgame” was so smooth and seamless, and the CGI not overdone, that I can’t imagine another movie winning. But there is that ninth little movie in a galaxy far, far away.

Toy Story 4

Best Animated Feature

The Hidden Link, How to Drain Your Dragon, I Lost My Body, Klaus, Toy Story 4.

The fitting and grand finale to one of my all-time favorite franchises, Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” should win, especially since “Frozen II” was snubbed. But Laika’s “The Missing Link” is adorable and the final chapter of “Dragon” is its most captivating.

Best International Feature

Corpus Christi, Honeyland, Les Miserables, Pain and Glory, Parasite.

The safest bet is South Korean’s “Parasite.” What a genre-bending masterpiece – its mix of comedy, drama, thriller and horror is one that will linger in your head for days.

Best Documentary Feature

American Factory, The Cave, The Edge of Democracy, For Sama, Honeyland,

Without the magnificent “Apollo 11” even nominated, I’ll give “American Factory” the edge, although “Honeyland,” about ancient beekeeping traditions in has a lot of love (which I don’t share).  Netflix’s “American Factory” is about a re-opened plant in Ohio now owned by Chinese businessmen, and the culture clash that develops. It is produced by Michelle and Barack Obama’s company Higher Ground.

Best Documentary Short

In the Absence, , Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone if You’re a Girl, Life Overtakes Me, St. Louis Superman, Walk Run Cha Cha.

As much as we’d love to see “St. Louis Superman” get national attention, it does have a questionable ending – and really, “Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone If You’re a Girl” appears to be headed for the win.

Best Live-Action Short

Brotherhood, Nefta Football Club, The Neighbors’ Window, Saria, A Sister.

This is one of those Oscar pool contest busters –usually the wild card. Although I’ve read “Saria” is gaining traction, I’m going with “The Neighbor’s Window” because, while its less of a gut-punch than the others, it seems the most unconventional. Overall, it’s a really depressing bunch.

Best Animated Short

Dcera, Hair Love, Kitbull, Memorable, Sister.

Often whatever Pixar short is before Disney’s blockbuster is the safe choice, but the studio didn’t put anything before “Toy Story IV” or “Frozen II.” Pixar’s “Kitbull” is hand-drawn and about the friendship of a kitten and an abused pitbull. Adorable, right? But “Hair Love,” about a dad’s effort to braid his daughter’s hair, which was shown before “Angry Birds 2,” is my choice for the gold.