Tag Archives: Drama

The Discovery & 13 Reasons Why

Both The Discovery and 13 Reasons Why ask the same two questions: What is life? Why stick around for it? They come to roughly the same answers, though by very different routes.

The Discovery does this through the lens of science fiction. It asks: What if we knew there was something after death? And then it goes on to explore the impact, but tries to remained focused on the smaller stories. It is a rumination on “what if,” bordering on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in feel.

13 Reasons Why does this from the 7th circle of Hell, otherwise known to most people as: High School. 13 Reasons tries to expose the realities of teenage perspective by offering up multiple stories and, potentially, the different variations of truth to them as we learn more. Ultimately, this is more a tale in the vein of Veronica Mars than it is a deep psychological expose, more structured as entertainment than open discourse, but it manages to make its points.

Their overlapping discussions of suicide make them a natural and topical pairing.

In The Discovery, suicide becomes a real, and less scary option for many people. Frankly, I think probably on a much bigger scale than the show posits. The script doesn’t try to simplify the risks or answer questions unequivocally, but it does nicely, if narrowly, follow enough characters to explore the idea.

Robert Redford (Pete’s Dragon), Jason Segel (The Muppets), and Rooney Mara (Lion) topline this intellectual thought experiment. With such a great cast, and a neat premise, it could have been so much more. But it is still engaging and thought provoking. And the ending is anything but passive for the viewer.

13 Reasons Why has a number of strong performances, but the primary standouts are Kate Walsh, Katherine Langford, and Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps). Walsh delivers a solidly heart-breaking performance of a mother dealing with loss and guilt. Langford lays out a progression of decisions and emotional fractures that help you follow her path, if not totally agree with the results–all the more impressive as it is her lead acting debut. And Minnette is a perfect “every kid” lost in the political tides of adolescence and inside his own head.

It is the confluence of these presentations that makes them so interesting to me. Either alone would have been something to notice. But two major releases, and even other shows like Transparent jumping onto the suicide depiction train (and there are many, many more, like Collateral Beauty), speaks to a subject in the air that needs dealing with in some way. Perhaps the documented rise of clinical depression over the last six months, particularly in women, is part of the explanation.

Regardless of the deeper zeitgeist, both of these streams deserve your time for their performances and their ideas. As to the bigger picture…time will tell.

The Discovery 13 Reasons Why

3 Generations

This is best thought of as a film about family rather than a story about a young trans man played by Elle Fanning (20th Century Women). It is primarily a tale about how this unique family inter-relates. And, in the end, this movie is really more Naomi Watts (Sea of Trees) story than it is Fanning’s.

But, truth be told, it is Susan Sarandon (The Meddler) and Linda Emond (The Family Fang) who steal this movie. Their characters and interactions are beautifully understated and comfortable. They throw away their lines like the old, partnered couple they are supposed to be but also manage to stay in the background. They take focus because of their quality, not because they are scene stealing.

There was so much controversy over this film as it came to screens. The MPAA tried to saddle it with an R rating due to its subject matter (learn more about the MPAA) and because Fanning was playing the role rather than a trans actor. Fanning (20th Century Women) does try to do her best, but I honestly never really bought her in the role both because the on-screen and script choices didn’t really fully jibe with my own experiences with people in transition.

The movie is simply, fundamentally flawed. Director and co-writer Gaby Dellal worked with Nikole Beckwith, but didn’t quite nail the story either in balance or action. Added to that, there is a forced layer of auteur visuals in the videos created by Fanning’s character that don’t feel at all on point or by him. And there is also a more metaphorical aspect of resampling and recreating music into something by that character. In neither case does the film pursue the threads, leaving them dangling, unfulfilled, and even distracting in some ways. And the men in this film, Tate Donovan (Argo) and Sam Trammell (The Fault in Our Stars), are somewhat pointless, but that is by design, though an odd message given the core focus.

Ultimately, there is entertainment and warm fuzzies to be had here, and a couple of the performances really are worth seeing. But as a movie it is middling in its success.

3 Generations

Girlboss

Silly, crude, empowering, oddly romantic, and not a little embarrassing, this is a fun series. And, yes, here we go again with Brit Robertson (A Dog’s Purpose). Seriously unintentional… just a matter of timing.

With this series, Robertson hard turns from young, sure teen to the kind of trainwreck most suitors can’t resist and yet should probably run away from. She cuts loose as the driven, and not a little scary, Sophia, who is trying to figure out her life while simultaneously blowing it up (including dating a drummer).

Her anchors, Jonathan James Simmons (The To Do List) and relative new-comer Ellie Reed, provide both encouragement and guidance, though not always the right kind. But all work well together and balance nicely. And, as her father, Dean Norris (Men, Women, Children) adds a solid sense of familial love and strife.  To add to the fun, there area host of recurring guest appearances by folks such as Melanie Lynskey (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Jim Rash, Louise Fletcher and the infamous and fabulous RuPaul.

The show is full of humor and reality… and quite a bit of reality stretching, but that is admitted to right up front. Created and written by Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect 2), she brings the same kind of humor and heightened reality she loves playing in. The series is a fun distraction, with some reasonable life lessons, and a moment to mark for Robertson, as she has definitely left her child-actor years behind her.

Girlboss

Road, Movie

The trailer for this film made it look like Cinema Paradiso on wheels… a rather irresistible idea. Instead, it is more like Field of Dreams made by Fellini in India. Not so irresistible (and I like Fellini).

In fact, this movie was ultimately rather unsatisfying, particularly since the main character is such a dick. He starts off a petulant boy in a man-suit and ends up, metaphorically at least, becoming a real, full man. But it wasn’t really sold well enough and we never care about the guy as he is, as I said, such a dick.

The supporting characters don’t add much either, though they aren’t unlikable or unentertaining. But they only exist as guides and bumpers for the main character whose motivations and goals are obtuse, at best, and non-existent at worse.

I will fully admit that perhaps I missed the point or was the wrong audience on this one, so I’m not saying run away unequivocally. There are aspects to this that show ability and intriguing possibility, but for me this never came together and I’d like my time back.

Road, Movie

Taste of Cherry (Ta’m e guilass)

You may recall that  I recently got to see another Iranian film, A Dragon Arrives!, and had mixed reactions. During the introduction to that film, this Palme d’Or co-winner was mentioned, so I decided to continue my understanding and education.

Up front, after watching it, I did look up the critical response to this movie. To say it was divisive is kind. Taste of Cherry is definitely a love it or hate it film. There is a particularly wonderful response by Roger Ebert. I also watched an interview with the director, Kiarostami, who is credited with altering the path and possibility of Iranian cinema with this offering (particularly its subject matter).

So, here’s the thing. Where this film falls apart for me is at the very end. Much like Dragon, it takes a wild left turn to either provide distance or make a point that was utterly lost on me. While I never expected an explicit ending, Kiarostami’s choice was frustrating at best. The lead up to the resolution is either a physical metaphor for the struggle of the main character or a long, drawn out and boring road trip movie on a circular track. Neither is a ringing endorsement, though the first option has a bit more resonance as a manifestation of the rumination involved in the man’s decision (which may be an unintended apologist’s remark).

After listening to the director and seeing the film, I can honestly say I don’t need to see another Kiarostami bit of cinema. From a purely cultural voyeuristic viewpoint, it certainly provides a window on a particular lawn to consider.

Taste of Cherry

The Swimsuit Issue (Allt flyter)

With the English title I was expecting something more along the lines of Calendar Girls or The Full Monty. The original title of this film is actually a bit more on target for the story. Loosely translated it means “everything is flowing well” or “going in the right direction.” That’s a very loose interpretation, but you get the idea.  Really, it is more a family drama with comedy than a comedy with family drama.

Of course, while this is a comedy, it is a Swedish comedy, so I didn’t expect a lot of belly laughs. It is more subtle than A Man Called Ove, and even a bit darker, in its way, about the characters. Though both are character driven, Swimsuit is more wry. The script is also more forced, but it still manages to entertain with some fun moments as well as an overall story.

The Swimsuit Issue

Ikiru (To Live)

What is a life worth living? What is a life well-lived?  Akira Kurosawa tackles these questions through the life of a mid-level bureaucrat in 1950s Japan with his trademark patience and dark humor. From the start, Kuraosawa makes sure that while the subject may be deep, you aren’t taking it too seriously. His intent is to nudge rather than hit you upside the head.

Takashi Shimura drives this film in the main role. It is one of the most unpresupposing performances I’ve seen. We watch him literally open up and flower as the film goes on. There are few “big” moments, but several small, intense events that awaken in Shimura’s character a need to live. But is isn’t just the character journey that has impact. The overall structure of the narrative is just as intriguing as the story itself, unfolding in unexpected but necessary ways. If it weren’t for Kurosawa’s inventiveness, the 2.5 hours would have suffocated under its own weight. Instead, he manages to keep us intrigued through fearless storytelling, probably informed a little by his previous foray into narrative structure in Rashomon just two years previous.

Ikiru also marked Kurosawa’s moment before Seven Samurai and some of his most lasting cinema. Kurosawa, as a writer and director, has created and influenced some of the top films and directors of all time (including Star Wars via The Hidden Fortress). There is a beauty to his stories and craft, but never a moment when he insults his audience. His films are about his characters and their troubles and challenges… they just happen to also provide inspiration and commiseration for the viewer. Ikiru is a beautifully funny and heart-warming part of that opus that can still inspire 65 years after its release.

Ikiru

Matinee

When director Joe Dante (The Hole) got together with, among others, the writer of the original TRON, the result is this perfect recreation\satire of a 50s B-movie with a 1990s perspective and a heavy flavoring of The Brady Bunch thrown in (well, a Halloween episode anyway). The film subtly skewers the era as well as brings out the magic of the movies, particularly the monster movies upon whose shoulders it is standing.

Matinee is a quiet film of growing up during a political crisis, making it rather applicable today. Unfortunately, its pacing and sensibility remain in the late 50s, so it likely will not resonate with most current audiences. It didn’t when was released over 20 years ago for similar reasons. Just because art is done well, doesn’t mean it will find an audience.

Everyone in the cast embraced the approach, from the young actors portraying a real sense of naivete and guileless charm to John Goodman (Kong: Skull Island) and Cathy Moriarty (The Double) as jaded Hollywood purveyors of schlock. Moriarty, in particular, gets to do this on multiple levels. There are a slew of recognizable faces from horror films of the era as well, which was a nice nod.

There are some surprising moments in the movie, and it avoids a slew of traps that you think are laid out for it as well. Check it out for a look back at what movie going was sort of like (and where it almost went). If you think this is hyperbole, check out The Tingler as a reference.  It certainly isn’t a great movie, but you have to respect the result given the intent.

Matinee

Arianna

Over-examining this film is probably a mistake. It is, at heart, simply an impressive and effective coming of age film. Arianna’s story has resonance for anyone, regardless of their biological or gender identity. It is even more laid back than the similar XXY and much more focused on the core issue as well.

The success of this movie is very much on the lead’s, Ondina Quadri, shoulders. It isn’t just about her look or costuming, but also her subtle movements and quiet emotion throughout. She keeps you focused on the challenges and the internal turmoil of Arianna rather than the potential theatrics. Both Quadri and director Carlo Lavagna gathered up a number of awards for the results.

The film lays out its intent at the very beginning, but it does still come to a bit of an abrupt halt at the end. I didn’t find it a problem, but you may or may feel incomplete by the choice. I would argue that it fits the purpose and the promise well. However you feel about the end, it is still worth the journey and the performance.

Arianna

Anne (Anne with an E)

When I was probably the right age to be reading Anne of Green Gables, my nose was, instead, buried in books like Stranger in a Strange Land. Which is to say, I missed this literary series growing up. And, in truth, given its sensibility, it wasn’t high on my radar, which is why this CBC production surprised me so much. I had no intention of watching the 8-part broadcast. But the lead, Amybeth McNulty (Morgan), was so engaging and the writing so clever at times, that I found myself sucked in. In fact, there was only one episode I cringed through (the 4th, as I recall).

There is quite the ensemble that support McNulty and pull together this series. They are primarily led by her adopted parents, Geraldine James (45 Years), and R.H. Thomson (Jesus Henry Christ). In addition, Lucas Jade Zumann (20th Century Women) fills an important smaller role. Like McNulty, his character feels out of time on the Island and in that period. He was a bit more jarring in his portrayal, but his character was very accessible. 

As I said, I haven’t read the books so I had no expectations around the tale. From those that do know the books, I’ve heard there are some big changes. Not all of those changes are being happily embraced, though some are. Like any classic series, there is risk when adapting it. I can say that as an outsider, I didn’t find any of the choices objectionable given the genre of the story.

Though it was aired originally on Canadian TV, it turns out this will soon stream on Netflix under the new moniker, “Anne with an E”. Give it a shot, you may may be as surprised as I was. Do bear in mind that it is set up for a second series (whether that matches the books, I have no idea, but I doubt there is a correlation). It isn’t overly cliff-hangery, but there are definitely some purposefully loose threads. I will admit, however, that the set up for going forward is less intriguing to me than I’d like it to be given this inaugural season.

Anne