Tag Archives: Fantasy

Mortal Engines

[3 stars]

Let’s start with the positive: Mortal Engines is visually stunning and inventive. The production design is wonderful. Even the tech is cleverly thought through to make it just believable enough to go with it. If this sounds like it is leading up to a Valerian-sized “but,” you’re not wrong.

First it is worth noting Robert Sheehan (Mute) has finally been given a role and direction that keeps him contained and normalish, without losing his charm and ability. Of all the actors, he fares the best because it really added to his range of work. Hera Hilmar (Da Vinci’s Demons) is fine in what should have been the more dominating lead, but she doesn’t have much to work with. And the chemistry between the two isn’t quite intense enough to sell their decisions.

And, sure, Hugo Weaving (Hacksaw Ridge), Jihae (Mars), Stephen Lang (The Girl on the Train), Ronan Raftery (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Peter Malahide (The Paradise), Colin Salmon (Limitless), and even newcomer Leila George all do fine, but none get to act. They are all just pawns for the script and the moving of massive set pieces and effects.

Now to focus on that huge “but.” When Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh, the writers and producers of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, get behind a big steam-punk fantasy, you expect something spectacular. Instead, we get an impossibly weak script that is full of logic holes, dropped threads, bad choices, and cheap short-cuts. Worse, there are also no surprises. And I do mean none. Everything is obvious from the beginning. For the Wingnut gang to give something this big and complex to first-time director Christian Rivers, even with his years in their art department, did him no service. His direction isn’t bad, but he didn’t have the experience to see what wasn’t working and correct it. Given the messages in the story and our current times, a more experienced director could have done a lot more, even with the same bare bones to work with. They also did the movie no favor by releasing it during the holidays. It would have done much better in the spring or late summer, when the appetite and expectations would have matched it a bit more.

If you are going to see this because you’re a fan of the books or just looking for some pure popcorn escape, see it on big screen. It does deserve that scope and it won’t translate to anything smaller than a 75 inch screen at home. It is glorious to look at. It just isn’t a particularly glorious movie.

Basically, if you want to see some Jackson & co. magic this season, go see the truly amazing They Shall Not Grow Old. It may not be a genre flick, but it is much better film making.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

[4.5 stars]

Talk about an unexpected treat. This film has so much going for it: action-packed, visually inventive, well acted, clever story. Amusingly, some of these are also to its detriment, especially the visually inventive aspect. But the sum total is that it is a sure-fire hit and a near lock for the Best Animation Oscar this year, with all due respect to Incredibles 2.

The cast is loaded with talent; a list too long to completely discuss. But none really stand out either. The film is a wonderfully balanced ensemble, not a collection of star voices covered by ink. That said, Shameik Moore (Dope), as Miles Morales, in the lead keeps the story pumping along with his naivete and strength. Through him we get to experience Spidey’s origin story again (and again, and again) but without it feeling like a cheap reboot. And that’s saying something for the most rebooted storyline in current cinema (though Batman and/or Superman may exceed Spidey, now that I consider the statement).

It isn’t giving anything away to say there are other Spider people. Jake Johnson (The Mummy) and Hailee Steinfeld (The Edge of Seventeen) stand out in that crowded and entertaining field . And Morales’s extended family is top-lined by Mahershala Ali (Green Book) and Lily Tomlin (Grandma). And that’s just the beginning of the talent list. On the other side of the plot, Kathryn Hahn (Hotel Transylvania 3) and Liev Schreiber (Everything is Illuminated) bring some humor and darkness to the evil side of Spidey’s world. The rest should just be a surprise.

Phil Lord, half the team behind the unexpected hit The Lego Movie, clearly loves the material and the world of comics generally. It is in every aspect of the film. And that, in part, is what I meant by it is both a strength and a weakness. The movie literally looks like a comic, with overlayed shading dots on the surface of everything, word bubbles at times, framed action panels, and even turning pages. While visually engaging, it also kept knocking me out of the movie and the action. It was too self-conscious and never really quite allowed it to just be a movie. It was a movie-comic. That isn’t necessarily bad. Lord has succeeded in doing something directors and writers have been trying to do for decades: He’s manifested the comic book experience on the screen beautifully. Only a true lover of graphic novels could have done that. Lord borrowed and expanded his lessons on The Lego Movie very nicely.

Bottom-line is that this is an amazingly fun and funny movie. Unexpected in almost every way, even while cleaving to the tropes and stories we know, love, and expect. In Dolby Cinema it was glorious and bone-rattling (despite two rather important moments being marred by loss of sound during my showing–shame on you, AMC). Whether or not you think you like animation, this isn’t what you expect or assume. I admit, I didn’t expect this to be more than a cheap cash-grab at more of the Spidey universe, but it really is something new and wonderful for audiences of pretty much all ages above age 9.

Doctor Who (series 11)

[4 stars]

Beyond the series bringing us back to the sciencey end of the spectrum, it sets a new milestone with the first female Doctor in Jodie Whittaker (Venus, St. Trinian’s). Amusingly, and fittingly, that the Doctor is a woman really has no appreciable impact, at least no more than any new Doctor would. Whittaker has a good sense of the character historically and in energy. She is fun to watch, even if the series is slow to reveal her own particularly sensibilities and approach. In fact, a lot of the season is spent dealing instead with the new companions. With their three, overlapping stories, we lost time focused on the Doctor herself till well into the sequence.

Before the series kick-off, I rewatched the bittersweet finale of series 10 and Capaldi. It is a brilliant end to the cycle and Moffat’s vision. I didn’t always like his choices, but he pulled it together for his final go-round before Chibnall (The Great Train Robbery, Broadchurch, Torchwood) stepped in. With his arrival there has been a definite shift in sensibility. The show has returned to the darker and more of a science fiction feel. I, personally, prefer that mode of Doctor Who. It was always science-fantasy, but it was never really just fantasy. Moffat, by his own admission, disagreed with that and always pushed for the pure fantasy end of the spectrum. Forgetting his struggles with building seasonal arcs, it was that aspect of the last several years that tended to drive me bonkers.

As a whole, the series is fast paced and more political than in the past. There is much social commentary, but also lots of high adventure and humor. The individual episodes feel somewhat rushed and breathless, but definitely entertaining. I expect I’ll pick up more on rewatching some of them.  And there is a complete arc holding it all together, which builds on the efforts the new Who has had in play since it rebooted in 2005.  For Chibnall first season, it isn’t a bad indication of things to come and things to build on. My hope is that he’ll learn how to let the show breathe a bit more. The 10 episodes went by extremely quickly. The focus on the companions more than the Doctor herself also needs to shift a little so we understand and root for the Doctor more. She’s a bit mercurial during this introductory series; hard to pin down and sympathize with.

And now, as has been my tradition, an ep by ep set of responses, done as they were aired, to help keep me honest and to see how the series built.

Episode by Episode (with some spoilers)

The Woman Who Fell to Earth
Jodie Whittaker comes in with all the bravado and confidence you could have hoped for. The switch in gender is certainly commented upon, but hardly an issue. Who drives forward business-as-usual, as it should. This opener is an odd episode in that it breaks from tradition for the opening and it feels less like the Doctor finding his new crew than it does just an interesting story with that aspect eventually taking over. It may also be indicative of what’s to come as this opening show’s ending, much like its Christmas tale lead-in, is a cliff-hanger rather than a resolution. Of course, Twice Upon a Time left a lot of threads to clean up, so I’m glad Chibnall didn’t try to resolve them all in a rushed initial episode.

The Ghost Monument
Really, this is part 2 of the series opening. And it is a good one. Whittaker is really coming into her own and her posse is coming together. The delightful addition of Susan Lynch (Killing Eve) and Shaun Dooley (Misfits) to carry the storyline was great fun. Now that stuff is established, I’m ready for things to start happening (though a clear series arc has begun to form) from a Who point of view. Up till now, things are occurring, but are there as backdrop for the Doctor to get her feet under her. That’s fine, but I’m ready now so, allons-y!

Rosa
A powerful and powerfully told story that resonated nicely with today. Though clearly with an agenda, it wasn’t overly preachy and with some solid impact. On a Doctor level, however, I’m ready to start to get to know the Whittaker Doctor better. She’s quick witted, but unlike previous versions, we aren’t really getting a sense of her yet, only a delightful patter and set of wins. I want to see what’s beneath the surface, not just hear about it. Still very much enjoying the season, but it’s time to get real with it since there are only 7 left to go.

Arachnids in the UK
This episode riffs on a number of classic and reboot Who. From the classic side we have the coal mine refuse causing havoc with the bug life (remember those maggots?). And from the new Who we have the turning point for the companions, who have to shift from being pulled into the circle of the Doctor to making a choice to be there. What we don’t have yet is enough of the Doctor herself. She’s active and entertaining, and clearly we’re leading to something, but I’m a bit weary of the “I’m still figuring myself out” thing that is continuing. Jump in and commit already! As a story, this one made my skin crawl nicely and did expose some emotional cores of the characters. It also got to take some very unveiled swipes at the US with Chris Noth as a reflected stand-in for Trump. I still really enjoy the sensibility of this new season, but I want to get to the meat now. I can feel it building, but not with the same sense of tension and fun that Davies managed in his first sequence of the reboot. I may yet revisit that statement when it is all said and done, but this is purposefully a running log, not a recap. I want to track how it works as it unfolds. And, so far, it is working ep to ep, but not quite coming together for me as a series.

The Tsuranga Conundrum
In some ways, this is the weakest of the series so far, despite being another Chibnall episode. It has a lot of action and some nice emotional lines for the side characters, but the monster in play isn’t realistic (and folks seem to know far too little about it despite having more than enough data to have gotten to the solution before the Doctor). Also, again, we’re not seeing a lot about the Doctor herself. It all feels very surfacey so far. Well executed. Entertaining. Just not feeling like a full meal yet. I expect that the main arc will reassert starting with the next episode. This was a hard left for the series as a whole with a new show runner, a new (and newly gendered) Doctor and crew. It needs some time to get its feet. I’m not disappointed, just not quite sated yet.

Demons of the Punjab
What has become clear this series is that the focus is very much on the companions, even more so than the Doctor. However, with this episode we’re starting to get a little more of who she is. We’ve yet to have a story the focuses explicitly on her and we’ve yet to see the main arc come back, after two early hints, but things are coming together. Another aspect that is coming clear is that Chibnall is not afraid to reflect the current world in politics or comment on what is going on. Who has always had social commentary, but Chibnall has stepped it up a notch and made it a little more pointed. Tackling Partition was certainly brave…taking it on in such a personal way was inspired.

Keblam!
A clever and fun respite as the trajectory of the series bends toward finale. It is pretty much a standalone (or appears so), but with the focus, finally, mostly on the Doctor. Ultimately enjoyable, even though I got somewhat ahead of it (in the hope that they were going to go the interesting way). It was surprisingly devoid of strong emotion, however, even with a couple of really painful moments. It tried to make up for that with the show close and the reaction of main bad guy, but still was surprising. Curious to see where the last three eps. take us.

The Witchfinders
This season continues to beat the political drum loudly, and I’m all for it as Chibnall is using history to reflect on current issues. In this case, it is more subtle than Rosa was earlier in the run. The episode itself interesting and fun, if a little forced in the clues and resolution (which is about as hand-wavy as you can get). But we are starting to see more about this Doctor and that is welcome. This had a very stand-alone feel to it, so I’m guessing this is the breath before the wind up to a finale (2 eps left, plus the New Year’s show which replaces the traditional xmas day episode).  At least I’m hoping so. There was clearly an arc being built at the top of the series, but we’ve not seen it built on much.

It Takes You Away
Some nice emotional work in this episode. And some additions to the Who canon as well. This is a fast-paced tale with some nice twists, and a few shortcuts. It isn’t brilliant Who, but it is inventive and full of some great asides by several of the characters. It also has begun to bend the arc back to the beginning of this series, which is necessary given the proximity of the finale. It’s been a good ride getting here, but it isn’t feeling like a cohesive whole yet. There is lots of character work and some big milestones, but the shape is a little amorphous and Whittaker is still a little vague as a character, ceding focus to the companions a bit too much in my opinion. However, I still feel like it is headed somewhere, so willing to have faith. Even if I end up unfulfilled on that point, it has been a fun season and a fairly smooth transition of Doctors and show-runners.

The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
Wow, that was a fast season, but it definitely came full-circle, as expected. I’m not sure I felt as much a sense of completion as I’d have liked. The main arc was hard to hold onto and respond to since it didn’t get echoed quite enough to keep it fresh for me, even with the previous episode refreshing our memory of it, and Grace in particular. Still, a rich and complex story with a nice part for Mark Addy (Oasis, Game of Thrones) and button for the Tardis crew. I’d have liked something that felt like it came to more of a plateau, but it isn’t without a bit of bittersweet joy and an indication of new directions for the extended family in the blue box.

Mandy

[1.5 stars]

Often when I use the tag and term “unique” I mean it as a compliment. This is not one of those times. This is a misguided, lost, often laughable attempt at horror surrealism, with a nod to gaming, anime, and heavy metal cultures. In fact, it does come across as an uncomfortable mashup of Hellraiser, Heavy Metal, and Reefer Madness. It is not a pretty result.

While Nicolas Cage (Snowden) is a love him or hate him kind of actor, he certainly put his all into an impossible role. So did the rest of the cast. Andrea Riseborough (Disconnect) and Linus Roache (Non-Stop) are of the better heeled talents in this outing that try to do what they can with their scripts.

Director and co-writer Panos Cosmato had a vision. He probably got it on shrooms, or some similar hallucinogen. And that’s fine and has worked for plenty of artists in various media. However, if the result isn’t something that a greater audience can follow or connect to, they have failed. Admittedly, this film has a following, it is what got me to watch it and stick with it to the end…I had to see why it had such strong supporters. I still don’t know. It is, quite frankly, juvenile, predictable, absurd, and full of issues in plot and logic. Even the surreal has rules and awareness; this did not.

Honestly, if you are looking for a head-trip horror, see Suspiria (either version) or Hereditary. Or, if you’re looking for a movie about cults or charismatics, try MarthaMarcyMayMarlene. Otherwise, skip this ham-handed effort.

Robin Hood (2018)

[3 stars]

If you want the short version: this is a empty romp with a lot of problems, from production design to script choices. However, it does manage to entertain and have some good action scenes. If you’re looking for a great movie or a solid reimagining of the myth, look elsewhere.

Now for the longer version.

Robin Hood is one of the most remade tales in movies. Part of that is that it’s public domain. But a very real part of it is that it resonates with people, especially in times of great inequity. This is certainly one of those times and, done well, it should have been a break-out hit. With affable talent like Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) and Jamie Foxx (Baby Driver) there was appeal and ability displayed on screen. Support from Ben Mendelsohn (Ready Player One), Eve Hewson (Bridge of Spies), Tim Minchin, Jamie Dornan (The 9th Life of Louis Drax), and the redoubtable F. Murray Abraham (Isle of Dogs) didn’t hurt either, though not all of these actors had substance to work with.

Director Otto Bathurst, in his first big-screen credit, is better known on TV; not easy TV either. Having directed the first Black Mirror episode National Anthem, I would have expected a more astute political mind at the helm. Robin Hood, instead, is all over the place. It isn’t just an action film, though there is plenty. It isn’t a political statement, like V for Vendetta or even Ben Hur, which it makes nods to. I mean, it quotes Hillel the Elder, but can’t seem to follow-through.  Instead we’re left with some weird half attempt at both while committing to neither. In other words, a very unsatisfying movie.

Writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly are both newbies to this level. They needed someone with a bit more experience helping them to pull this story off. The fact is they had an interesting place to start. They ask us, literally, to forget everything we know about Robin Hood and launch into a nice revision of the story that has potential… and then they devolve into the story we know, but with a framework that doesn’t work. We don’t even really connect with the characters or the populace because we’re never given that chance in this, admittedly, fast-paced tale.

Add to these plot questions some of the most embarrassing production choices I’ve seen in a major film, and it gets even more frustrating. I don’t normally focus on costumes, but when you can see machine seaming on clothing and modern leotards on characters, not to mention perfectly forged metals, it tends to throw you out of the Middle Ages. I think there was a thought to pulling something of a Guy Ritchie and saying “screw the era, I want them to see themselves in this film.” Well, it failed on that level too.

So, yes, you can feel justified missing this if you want. It certainly isn’t great. It won’t translate to small screen well, but you can wait for it if you don’t care about that. On the other hand, if you can get a cheap seat or really love these actors, you’ll have a diverting couple hours. Just go in knowing they are trapped in an inferior reboot and are going to do the best they can. Yes, that was the long version.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

[2.5 stars]

What a bloody mess this movie is.

Director David Yates (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) tried to make up for the lack of script by going with lots of pretty effects, which are impressive, but often add little to the story. And even a lot of that eye candy was hard to watch and took very little advantage of the technologies in Atmos or big screen. What story there is from JK Rowling, is practically impossible to follow.

I’ll admit that I didn’t have much hope going in. The first Fantastic Beasts was a visual feast, but not a great movie either; it was really just all set-up. This second of the five planned chapters had to kick it up a gear and get things really rolling. I had hoped for at least a fun distraction and the next chapter in the story, but instead got a half-baked idea full of plot holes and pointless characters. Just a ridiculous waste of time. Even though the cast gave it their all, the story and the final cut did them no service.

Jude Law (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), Johnny Depp (Sherlock Gnomes), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) all bring their talents to bear. Admittedly, none bring anything particularly new to screen, but certainly they do well. However, other returning characters added nothing to their stories. Even Ezra Miller (Suicide Squad) was practically a prop, with no appreciable moments despite being at the center of it all.

But you may have noticed that there are no women in that list. This movie, despite the current cultural wave and a female demigod of entertainment at one of the  helms, is driven entirely by men. Worse, the women that were strong in the first movie are made into weak ones in this. Zoë Kravitz (Kin), Katherine Waterston (Alien: Covenant), and in particular Alison Sudol (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) were all made into side characters or dumbed down into thin representations. And the one gift character, Claudia Kim (Avengers: Age of Ultron), despite her power, was just window dressing.

Here’s the thing with successful franchises like Harry Potter: If you want to continue the stories, you have to continue those stories or risk losing your rabid following. Such was the risk with Fantastic Beasts when it left Potter, if not Hogwarts and all the characters, behind. [Need proof? Search for Harry Potter on Netflix and Fantastic Beasts doesn’t even appear, though it does eventually on Amazon Prime]. It can be done, but it takes excellent writing and some patience. And I certainly understand Rowling’s desire to not be hemmed in or defined so narrowly that she can leave her pseudonyms and write something new under her name, even if it is derivative of her best known opus. But she clearly needed more time to craft this new epic. The first movie was tolerable and had promise. This second plays like half an outline that was rushed out. And there was so much potential given where the world is at present. FB2 is neither a kid’s film nor an adult one. But, hey, on the up side, it is also long.

Seriously, this is for die-hards only. It will probably continue on, but hopefully Rowling will realize she needs help and the studio will insist on getting her some going forward. Because, if this is the quality we’re going to get for the rest of the series, they might as well quit now.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody

[4 stars]

I want to be clear before I go any further: I had a great time with this movie. I grew up with Queen. I saw them in concert. I still must stop everything and sing along with a good part of their music. The audience I saw it with even broke into spontaneous applause at the end. Bohemian Rhapsody is a beautiful fantasy, a love-letter to Queen and, more specifically, Freddie Mercury.

And speaking of, Rami Malek’s (Mr Robot) Freddie Mercury is  a wonder to behold. He so captures the movements and look as to make you think you’re seeing the real thing. In fact, the casting generally was astounding in terms of matching people. Gwilym Lee (Isle of Dogs), Ben Hardy (X-Men: Apocalypse), and Joseph Mazzello (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) also did wonderful jobs matching the iconic group.

The casting continued into the supporting cast. Surrounding the band, Lucy Boynton (Sing Street), Aidan Gillen (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), Allen Leech (Bellevue), Aaron McCusker (Fortitude), and Tom Hollander (Tulip Fever) were all wonderful. Only Mike Myers felt out of place, simply because he was there as a nose-thumbing joke even if he did the part well.

But here’s the thing. Sure it was entertaining. Yes, the music is amazing, but it always was. The music was used brilliantly to support the story too. If you loved Queen going in, you are sure to love the movie. But it isn’t a good film, no matter how well it works.

Director Bryan Singer (X-Men: Apocalypse) crammed it with cheap moments and huge assumptions about what you knew.  The narrative is confused and meandering. Writers Anthony McCarten (The Darkest Hour) and Peter Morgan (The Crown) made it difficult to follow the timeline and presented Queen’s rise and their artistic creation look absurdly simple. Like I said initially, a wonderful fantasy but hardly a honest biopic or look at the effort involved.

[If you think I’m being harsh, check out this much blunter and, frankly, not far off the mark commentary.]

There is a journey for Mercury in the final cut. It is sort of him finding and accepting himself (again, this ends up oversimplified and weirdly easy despite the ending). The final result is oddly triumphant amid the tragedy that was the end of Freddie’s life. Who would have thought you’d get a foot-tapping crowd-pleaser of a man dying of AIDS?

So, should you see this? If you love Queen’s music, absolutely. See it on the big screen. Get lost in the fantasy that you are given. Cheer the ending. Just don’t think you got the real or full story. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.

Bleach (2018)

[3 stars]

Live action adaptations of anime and/or manga via anime often fail miserably. (Consider the recent Attack on Titan attempt.) Usually it is due to assumptions the audience will know the story or an insulting approach as to what they’ll accept. I have to admit Bleach surprised me. I wasn’t very familiar with the story, but there was enough in the movie to help me understand and to invest in the characters.

This isn’t a great movie, as movies go, but it was entertaining if you like the genre; I do. Director Shinsuke Sato gave me characters with motivations. He also provided fun fight scenes, a bit of humor, and probably a bit too much high school romance forced in (it simply goes no where in this short-ish film). It didn’t hurt that there was some very competent actors driving the piece like Hana Sugisaki and Sôta Fukushi, both from Blade of the Immortal. Even the side characters have some cred, such as Miyavi (Kong: Skull Island).

It succeeded enough that I’m now curious to explore the anime series and its various movies to see what else goes on…there are several sequences to Bleach and this covered just one of them. And while I’m sure it was in a highly compressed way, the movie didn’t feel overly cheated.

The House with the Clock in the Walls

[3 stars]

The first two-thirds of this film are really spot-on and fun. A beautiful crossing of Stranger Things and Supernatural, but for kids. No huge surprise given the writer is Eric Kripke (Supernatural). Unfortunately, the final act of the film got away from him, and the movie devolves into the worst of the 70s and 80s Disney-style “horror” endings (Think Hocus Pocus or Escape to Witch Mountain). Given Eli Roth (Death Wish) directed, that was a surprise given his darker and tougher nature. It still works, but it ends up much more of a film for kids than a four-quadrant deal…but it was so close.

Even with those concerns, watching Jack Black (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and Cate Blanchett (Ocean’s 8) play together is worth the time in the seat. Black is every kids wish for a weird uncle and Blanchett is, well, Blanchett. Owen Vaccaro (Mother’s Day) as the young lead actually holds his own with them, which is as much a credit to their ability to share screen as it is to his presence. And, though I looked forward to seeing Kyle MacLachlan (Inside Out), he never really gets to spread his wings on this one though he does fine with what he has.

This movie is still a fun romp and certainly aims at its 6-15 yr old audience, with just enough for older viewers to keep them happy. The issues are really more the plot than execution. Sunny Suljic (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as the friendly nemesis for Vaccaro has no supporting story for his actions. Not everything that is introduced gets used (which is the writer’s fault). And, even more importantly, the ending is rushed, though it has some clever bits to it (and some logic holes).

The production design is lush and really deserves a big screen, so if you go, see it on the largest format you can afford. I felt somewhat cheated on the smaller screen on which I caught it. And I do suggest seeing this, especially if you have kids. It is a step up from the brainless fare that is often served and it is entertaining.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

[3.5 stars]

Take a story by Neil Gaiman and give John Cameron Mitchell (Rabbit HoleHedvig and the Angry Inch) the opportunity to turn it into a movie and you get a sort of punk rock coming-of-age fantasy that starts odd, gets odder, and manages to steal your heart.

Alex Sharp in his first movie (though a Tony winner for The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night Time) nails it. He and his friends, Ethan Lawrence and Abraham Lewis, give us a group of young punks in 1977 Croydon looking for…something in all the wrong places. As most adolescents do. The story is best experienced without any preamble, so I’ll stop there.

The boys are supported by a great cast. Elle Fanning (Leap!), ever her ethereal self, headlines it all and seems to expand on her Neon Demon character. And in support, Nicole Kidman (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), Ruth Wilson (Anna Karenina, Luther), and Matt Lucas (Sherlock Gnomes) each bring their own special brand of uniqueness to the characters.

But it isn’t just about the story and people directly. It is also about the music and movement that was just gaining steam in ’77. Real-life musician Martin Tomlinson leads the fictional Dyschords in a brilliant and believable set of performances to set the mood. As Gaiman put it when he saw it, they feel like a real band from that era you just somehow missed at the time. I’d add, if you ever cared about that era, you’d be sorry you did. And the rest of Nico Muhly and Jamie Stewart’s music is equally effective and engaging.

Entertainment and cleverness aside, Mitchell and co-writer Philippa Goslett took the smallest of seeds from Gaiman’s story of the same name (published as part of his Fragile Things collection) and grew it into a wondrous and unexpected adventure. It is as if Sing Street tripped into Wonderland, or Across the Universe collided with Velvet Goldmine. And yet none of that is really accurate other than to imply the unexpectedness of it all. Despite all the expansions, it still retains the sense and point of the original piece. Truly a great example of adaptation. However, if you haven’t read the story first I’d read it after. The story will suffer for that, but the movie will probably be improved by protecting some of its uniqueness.

Check this out without finding out more and just let the story take you. Mitchell is wonderful at laying out secret and twisty paths and imbuing his creations with heart, even amid heartbreak. And in this case, with Gaiman’s sensibility to help inform it all, it comes together in delightful ways. This is a universal story, even if the trappings don’t appear so.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties