Tag Archives: Early film

iBoy

Every story is allowed one really big lie. I’ve said it before, but it is really necessary to restate for this movie because it has one really big leap you have to make in order for it all to happen. Happily, once it does, it is actually a reasonable tale of teenage heroics and recognition that the world, very often, just sucks.

Director Adam Randall’s sophomore outing of writer, Joe Barton’s (Humans) adaptation is definitely aimed at a younger audience, but is willing to (lightly) tackle some tougher subjects.

Bill Milner (Broken) carries the film well. We watch him come into his own as a young man, though not quite adult. His story, as a physical metaphor for adolescence, is actually pretty good. Silly at times, but good. In the other young lead, Maisie Williams (Doctor Who)  continues to broaden her cv away from Game of Thrones. Her performance here is compelling, but is certainly held back by the material from exploring all aspects and reactions to her situation. But, again, this is for a younger audience, so I gave her a pass on that.

Thrown into this mix of young folks surviving the projects are two main adults: Miranda Richardson and Rory Kinnear (Man Up). Without them, the story would have ended up feeling  like a comic book. They add just enough from the real world to make the story feel almost possible.

For a fun distraction with action, humor, and a some fanciful leaps of faith, it really is a good distraction by some solid talent.

Miranda Richardson in iBOY

Wonder Woman

Ok, yes, this is the best DC has done since The Dark Knight. There a story with shape and a kick-ass XX chromosome in the lead and behind the camera. It definitely exceeded my expectations that were weighed down by years of DC misfires and almost-rights, like Suicide Squad.

That said, it ain’t perfect. The script is still a bit too dour and it treats the audience like idiots at times (seriously obvious stuff they pretend are big reveals). Given Hienberg’s previous credits, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised on that point. But the result is something that only passes the Bechdel test on a technicality, from my point of view (in the beginning there are no men on the island). I bring up the test because the film, frankly, wouldn’t work without Chris Pine (Hell or High Water); his character, sense of humor, and his charisma. Gal Gadot (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is pretty, but honestly she doesn’t have the same level of magnetism nor more than few inches of depth of emotion to share.

There are a host of supporting characters that have great fun: David Thewlis (Anomalisa), Danny Huston (Paranoid), Elena Anaya (The Skin I Live In),  and Saïd Taghmaoui (American Hustle) chief among the cast. There are also some smaller roles worth noting: Lucy Davis (Shaun of the Dead), Robin Wright (Everest), and Ewan Bremner (Poet in New York) who each have some nice moments.

An interesting insight came from my movie partner (a woman) who likened the whole thing to The Fifth Element in basic storyline. I like the idea of that and see what was likely intended, but here I diverge from her in agreement. I don’t think that is what I saw on screen because of the inclusion of a single scene that blurs the personal v. universal love drive. And I have to shut up at this point to avoid spoilers. But I discuss this and other points here.

Here was the most telling aspect for me. When I left Captain America: The First Avenger, a movie I really had little interest in, I was soaring and laughing and sad and ready for more. When I left Wonder Woman, I was entertained, but it wasn’t sticking with me on an artistic or pure popcorn level and honestly didn’t care if I saw another Wonder Woman storyline outside of the Justice League. I could be swayed, but I’m not chomping to see what comes next.

Interestingly, they’ve recast the Wonder Woman story by dropping it back to WWI from WWII, I suspect to give some distance from Captain America, whose echos are hard to shake given the war-time venue. It is a jarring change if you don’t immediately recognize the outfits, however.

I love strong female characters, but what I love more is great scripts and movies and this just wasn’t that. It was the best DC has had to offer in a long time though, and I am glad young girls have an icon to look up to, both in Wonder Woman and director Patty Jenkins (Monster), but as a movie it could have been crisper and so much more.

Wonder Woman

Thale

Aleksander Nordaas’ award winning bit of cinema is one of those rare films that lives in the horror genre but manages to transcend it as a story. This tale lives somewhere between suspense, horror, and fantasy by focusing on the characters, mystery, myth, and story. Most horror forgets that good story is based on characters, not just about setting up mildly interesting characters so they can be killed off in spectacular ways.

This is a very short film (81 minutes). While there is certainly some carnage (and perhaps a bit too much vomiting at the top) most of the film is dialogue and relationship work. You get to know the four main characters and, to some degree, understand and sympathize with all of them. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of Spring in its feel and approach. It is, at time, beautifully filmed, but also quite good at stretching the tension to provide a good ride.

Thale

Lilting

Writer/director Hong Khaou’s first feature gives us a painfully sweet view of grieving and life. Like its title, this movie unfolds in a light rhythm of scenes, some which repeat with new meaning, like the return of a musical theme. But the music of these piece is language. It makes the story as much about language and communication…and lack of communication…as it is about the specific plot itself.

The movie works primarily due to the powerful and subtle talents of Ben Whishaw (The Lobster) and Pei-pei Cheng. The two are deep wells of love and misery learning about each other and themselves as the film unwinds.

Supporting their stories are Andrew Leung (Doctor Who), Naomi Christie (DCI Banks), and Peter Bowles. Each brings important aspects to the tale, Leung in particular, but they are more catalyst than player as the two leads find their way.

This isn’t a depressing film, but neither is it overly joyous. It is quiet and, ultimately, honest about life and memory. It is also an insightful view of the world of mixed culture and generations. It struggles a little with the editing, but as a first film, and with such solid talent and such a touching and beautifully conceived story, it is worth your time.

Lilting

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq

As a documentary, writer/director Nancy Buirski’s (The Loving Story) efforts are mixed in this film. She builds up an interesting story, but often has weak visual support and has some challenge with the through-line of the piece. It is still fascinating, but not as crisp as it could have been. As her second documentary, however, it certainly shows promise.

Faun is filled with interviews, archival footage, and photos that provide intriguing insights into American dance. Tanaquil Le Clercq (Tanny), the focus of the tale, was muse and influence to two of the most impactful choreographers in modern ballet and Broadway: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Her life is a study in perseverance, drive, and not a little luck.

The title is an interesting choice as well, and telling, though not really ever discussed. Afternoon of a Faun is both one of the most recognizable and one of the most notorious pieces in dance. Typically the first performance it elicits in memory is that of Nijinski’s for the tumult it caused when first performed (view a version here). It even came back into culture with a notorious version in Queen’s I Want to Break Free.

But in the case of Tanny, it is a more contemplative reference to the trajectory and pace of her life. It opens and closes with a ground breaking interpretation by Robbins of the title music danced by Tanny. It is charged with all the same aspects of Nijinski, but in a more intriguing venue and approach. But the intent is to consider the moment in time, its perfection and its brevity.

This is far from a brilliant documentary, but as a piece of history, told often from first person accounts, it is interesting. If you have any interest in dance, particularly modern dance, it is a great education. It is also a nice complement to Pina, if you’re looking for some of the impact and overlap of influence that Le Clercq had.

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq

 

Toni Erdmann

Maren Ade (Everyone Else) likes to write and direct tales that are more character study than story. Toni Erdmann is no exception. It is also no exception that this odd, dark comedy was well recognized around the world, including at the Oscars, this year. Ade has a host of nominations and awards for her rather small opus.

Erdmann examines the lives of a father and daughter at a moment of crisis. Not a loud crisis, but a quiet, internal one. The movie takes its time…really takes its time. The film takes 160 min. to expose their relationship and their drives, but somehow maintains your interest. It is punctuated by hilarious moments interspersed with odd and painful ones that slowly build a rhythm and understanding. It earns its last 20 minutes having built the foundation. Its final moments, much like the rest of the film, returns to the more contemplative, which may leave you scratching your head but, at least in my case, not unsatisfied.

There is a large cast of odd, supporting characters, but the tale focuses on Sandra Hüller (Requiem) and Peter Simonischek. These two are adept at dry delivery and quiet communication. There is a history between father and daughter that we never see or hear about, but which we infer through the decisions and actions that occur. They make a great pairing, though barely seem to get along when on screen most of the time.

I admit, this is not the film I thought it was. I had expected a broader comedy based on the chatter and trailers. I do wonder how the American remake will fare and what changes will be imposed, particularly with the pace of the tale. It has more a sense of A Man Called Ove but with even less overt energy from score or action. But it is a movie full of meaning and suggestion. That is also makes us laugh at times is part of its charm.

Toni Erdmann

Boy

I’ve been rolling somewhat backwards through Taika Watiti’s (What We Do in the Shadows) films. This early film of his is only his second feature, but it still displays his incredible ability to balance comedy and truth. More so, it is told deftly in the language of a child, through Boy’s eyes. It is easy to see this and expect something like last year’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople down the road.

Boy is emotionally raw and certainly not a high fidelity movie. It is about growing up and accepting responsibility. It is also about what happens to you when you have responsibility thrust upon you too early (or too late). It is painfully funny at times, with scenes from childhood that transcend continents and moments of unavoidable tragedy due to choices.

It isn’t a brilliant film, but it is effective, well done, and well recognized. If you are getting to know Waititi’s work, you need to see it. You also get a sense of Waititi’s casting ability. In the lead, and his first role, James Rollerston (The Dark Horse) was an incredible find in a young man. And Rachel House (Moana) was already becoming a staple for Waititi’s casts. Be aware, the mealy mouthed New Zealand accent will be a challenge at times unless you’ve got an ear for it.

This early example of his work only whets my appetite for what he can bring to a big budget film with Thor: Ragnarok, coming later this year. His sense of family and comedy could drive a whole new view to that universe. So, yes, do see Boy, but it isn’t going anywhere, so you can queue it up for later.

Boy

Non-Transferable

This is a sweet indie film that has both its flaws and its charms. It is aimed young, so it may not quite connect on some levels for everyone. But the main point of the film, finding love, will resonate regardless of  your age, even if the path may be somewhat unfamiliar.

Driving the story is Ashley Clements (Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and Brendan Bradley. They form an unlikely couple and have minimal chemistry, though they do have good banter. The two are helped along by Clements’ sidekicks Shanna Malcolm and Katie Wee, who bridge various plot and time shifts with amusing, if overly broad, humor. Both women have a long list of small appearances on television and indie movies.

Brendan Bradley, as writer/director/star of this tale, did a surprisingly good job of juggling all the hats he donned to bring this to screen. That said, the movie would probably have been better if he’d stepped back from directing it as well. That role is probably the weakest aspect of what was delivered. The humor is rather raw and unrefined where a bit more of a naturalistic approach and a more confident hand would have helped make it work better.

This isn’t going to be your go-to movie for romance, but it is fine for at least a single watch. And there are a few really good moments in there that work in its favor. It would be interesting to keep an eye on all the main folks to see where they end up down the line. Even if this wasn’t the best reel for them, the entire cast shows talent, however unplumbed for this delivery.

Non-Transferable

20th Century Women

Writer/director Mike Mills brings a love to his characters and their stories that feels both honest and comforting, if not always easy. His previous film, Beginners tackled a family from, distinctly, the male side of things. This latest movie tackles family from the female, even though a young man remains at its core: the very talented Lucas Jade Zumann (Sinister 2).

Zumann’s 15-year-old is a canvass upon which the three women in his life paint and shape his course. It is Zumann’s job to absorb these lessons and accrete them into his performance, which he does admirably. He also gives just as much back with an ability that belies his years, but somehow retains the naivete that speaks to his character’s experience and age.

So let’s talk about these strong and complex women. First and foremost it is Annette Bening (Ginger & Rosa) as his mother who holds together this odd collective of people in 1979 Santa Barbara. Much like her equally great turn in The Kids are All Right, she stands as the matriarch of a self-made family trying to do right by everyone and just as often missing as hitting the mark, but ultimately surviving all of it. Helping Bening are Elle Fanning (Neon Demon) and Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha). Both deliver equally fantastic and complex performances, making this a very powerful triumvirate and an entirely entertaining and moving film.

There is another male of note around the edges of the movie, Billy Crudup (Jackie). His character is important, but not central. But like all of his performances, it is suggests quiet depths and an intensity just below the chiseled surface of his mien.

Mills chose a particularly interesting point in history to set the tale. He created a woman in Bening that survived the depression and WWII, learning much about her capabilities, but still swaddled by cultural expectations. There is a particularly poignant moment of the entire cast sitting around the television watching a political speech that crystallizes the differences in the generations in the house as the country moved into the Regan years; all the more cogent given this shifts this past election. But politics isn’t the key here, it is society and personal experience.

There isn’t a character in this film that doesn’t have a lot going on and whom we both get annoyed with and cheer for. It is a wonderful juggling act, full of humor and not a few reminders of what it is like to grow up… even as an adult.

20th Century Women

Kong: Skull Island

Ok, this is the nth reboot of this tale, so let’s admit there is only so much new they can bring to it, especially as they are consciously rebuilding the monster universe that dominated the latter half of the 20th Century.

And who would have suspected that Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kings of Summer) would be the one to take it all on again, especially as his second feature? I do have to say, though, that despite a rather stellar addition to the writing team  of Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) to Max Borenstein (Godzilla) and Derek Connolly (Jurassic World, Safety Not Guaranteed), the ultimate tale was mostly just set up for whatever is coming next (and if you stay through the credits you’ll know what that is).

Still, they got some things right. The framing of the story is interesting, sweet, and new for the franchise. They also didn’t hold back the monkey till late in the film… he’s right there near the top. Get it out of the way, we all know what Kong looks like anyway. Smart. They also did some nice greatest hits of Kong through the film and avoided the ape meets girl silliness.

The only big ape really going for the girl is Tom Hiddleston (High-Rise) getting to know Brie Larson (Room). Both did fine jobs in limited roles. And John C. Reilly (The Lobster) brought some much needed levity to the survival story without totally devolving into slapstick. However, John Goodman (Ratchet & Clank) and Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan) were just, frankly, bad. It isn’t entirely their fault, their stories were weak and relatively unsupported. They worked hard to get us to believe, but it was all just so cheap. The rest of the cast has some nice standouts, such as Shea Whigham (Radio Free Albemuth), but are generally interchangeable and forgettable. Even folks like Toby Kebbell (A Monster Calls) just fade away in what is demonstrably an action flick where life is cheap and the point is the visuals.

So, is this one worth it? On its own… maybe, sorta. As part of whatever is getting built up, it may become more meaningful and interesting. For now, it’s a good ride and loaded with pretty pictures, but not what I would call ground breaking story or genre busting caliber.

Kong: Skull Island