Joachim Trier (Louder Than Bombs) brought his award-winning ability directing and co-writing (with constant collaborator Eskil Vogt) this intense and suspenseful tale. It isn’t an easily defined story, but Eili Harboe (The Wave) owns the title role with wonderful subtlety and angst.
The result, as close as I can come, is a coming-of-age horror(ish) tale. You know from the opening scene that something isn’t quite right but it is a paced story that builds the situation from Thelma’s point of view. Henrik Rafaelsen and Ellen Dorrit Petersen support Harboe as Thelma’s parents in echos of many other similar stories, but without becoming histrionic.
In fact, that is one of the biggest differences in this riff on a plot you’ll recognize quickly, it is told simply and naturalistically rather than with big moments and effects. It is, above all, a story about Thelma and her becoming an independent adult. It is also doesn’t explain everything or provide simple answers to some of the actions, though it certainly raises questions. The story is as much metaphor as truth.
This isn’t a fast film, but it is gripping and interesting, performed and constructed with real ability. It was nominated for and won many awards deservedly, but it is more on the art-house end of the spectrum than, say, A Quiet Place, that subverts the genre in a different way. When you want something familiar, but that feels new, check this out.
A few short write-ups on some new mystery series coming our way.
Bancroftis one of the darker origin tales to come out of the BBC. A four-part tale following the exposure of a 27 year old cold case, and the damage it can still imbue. Staring Sarah Parish (Atlantis) and Faye Marsay (Game of Thrones), both women climbing in the British police force and playing an increasingly dangerous game of politics. It is a very British series and will not be to the taste of everyone, but it is also a good setup for the next sequence. If you need a touchstone, think Line of Duty meets Prime Suspect.
The Miniaturist is faithful to the book, which is both its strength and weakness. A conundrum to be sure. The story is a compelling historical drama and romance in 17th Century Holland, well-led by Anya Joy-Taylor (Split). But the central conceit of the story and title are incidental to the plot itself. You could rip out the entire aspect of the miniaturist herself and nothing in the story would have to change. The book is the same way. It reads like it was originally a different story, but that the author got caught up with other aspects, but never removed the original concept. Either way, it is worth the time to see and/or read.
Shakespeare & Hathaway is of a very different cloth than the previous two. It is mostly a light comedy detective series in Stratford-upon-Avon. But while it has a great deal of fun with Shakespeare’s plays (which isn’t necessary to understand, but lots of fun if you listen carefully) it ranges into some rather dark mysteries and motives. To give you a sense of their whimsy amid the blood, Amber Aga (Abstentia) plays DI Christine Marlowe. To borrow a phrase from the Bard’s time, it is neither fish nor flesh nor fowl but something a bit wonderfully weird and entertaining. The stories are led by veterans Mark Benton and Jo Joyner along with capable and relative newcomer Patrick Walshe McBride. When you are looking for something that is somewhere between Father Brown and Midsomer Murders or The Coroner this will really fit the bill with some laughs and even some surprises.
This is definitely an unconventional narrative that plays out in intriguing, and unexpected ways. As a first script and directing delivery by Peer Pedersen, it is both what you expect and not what you anticipate. So, basically, a well-executed indie with a solid cast.
Catherine Keener (November Criminals) is the relatively patient matriarch of one heck of a messed up family. She provides a shifting center to the story as all threads come back to pass through her, though she isn’t the primary point of view.
Her four children are all damaged in different ways, and all dealing with their issues in worlds of their own devising. Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12), Riley Keough (Logan Lucky), Annie Starke (Albert Nobbs), and Anton Yelchin (Jack) work well together as sibs without losing their individual aspects. And it is Dever’s point of view that walks us through the story, though the approach is inconsistent and less than edifying, particularly near the end.
Maya Rudolph (Maggie’s Plan) and Cary Elwes (Shadow of the Vampire) bring another set of layers to the tale. Each is nicely compartmentalized and human despite their own particular struggles. It is only Molly Shannon (The Little Hours) in the cast who comes off completely wrong, though there may be reasons for that…just none I felt supported her and her choices.
You can’t watch this movie without considering the loss of Yelchin. Bizarrely, I watched this the same day Yelchin’s family settled the suit for his tragic death. Since his passing, his last films have been trickling out into the wild. With this film dropping direct-to-disc and Thoroughbreds finally out in theaters, we’ve actually (and sadly) reached the end of his recorded efforts. This movie contains a powerful performance, but all the more bittersweet given the plot and knowing it is one of his very last.
We Don’t Belong Here is a quiet film, but Pedersen kept it full of tension and intellectual challenge. He did a great job laying out his plots and editing to the final moments. It isn’t for a wide audience, but if you enjoy a true indie spirit and approach, you’ll find this one worth your time.
Simon delivers in the most wonderful ways and still finds a core truth to make it work. In fact, my theater broke into applause more than once during the movie (once at the penultimate moment we’d been waiting for and once at the end credits). In the last 20 years I can only think of a few films that got genuine, spontaneous applause in a general viewing, so that’s saying something.
Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) does a great job embodying Becky Albertalli’s title character from her book. He gives us a Simon that is easy to like and understand, not to mention who you want to slap silly for his missteps (and then forgive him all the same). There is no nod or wink, he simply is a teenager dealing with life.
Jennifer Garner (Men, Women, Children) and Josh Duhamel (Unsolved: Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.), as Simon’s parents strike just the right tone for this somewhat idealized, gee-I-wish-this-had-been-my-home feel. I dare you to make it through their critical scenes without shedding tears. Even Tony Hale’s (American Ultra) over-the-top Vice Principal manages to strike a tone that works for the story.
Speaking of tone, director Greg Berlanti did a brilliant job with that throughout, no doubt helped by his extensive background as a producer and writer. He took what writing team Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (This is Us, About a Boy) delivered and made it sing. Their script manages to tease out the humor and the emotions without wallowing. As a first feature film script, they also proved they can leap media. And, as a team, Love, Simon brings us the first major, main-stream release of a gay rom-com to screen. That it is aimed at teens should be no surprise since that generation is significantly less judgmental than most of their parents. The irony is that on a personal level, the struggle is still the same in any generation; coming into your own is never easy.
Which means there is both a specific truth and a general truth to this story, which is what makes it so wonderfully universal. The specific truth, the stress of coming out as a teenager, is the written core of this relatively faithful adaptation. But different is different in High School, regardless of what that difference is. And, of course, we all feel “different.” That is the general truth.
Go see this movie. Admit going in that when you see a film like this, you are accepting a contract to be manipulated. You do so not only willingly, but with the desire for the release. But it is wonderful and uplifting and, no matter how manipulated or idealized, it feels true or like you want it to be true. It is well acted and well delivered and will leave you holding someone close to you and grateful for having them in your life.
At its heart, this is a movie about love. That is also a biopic about the creator of Wonder Woman and his bold choices in a repressed era becomes window dressing. Though, I have to admit, I will never look at Wonder Woman the same way again.
Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train), Bella Heathcote (The Neon Demon), and Rebecca Hall (The Dinner) pull off a beautiful triangle. They manage to bring to life the complex emotions, fears, and desires that drove and challenged the relationship they formed without making it puerile or cliche. In our current times, it is also a great lesson in moral fibre and learning to be who you are despite societal pressures or assumptions.
There are some very nice smaller roles that are worth noting as well, JJ Feild (Captain America: The First Avenger) in particular. On the sidelines are Oliver Platt (The Ticket), and Connie Britton (Beatriz at Dinner) that provide some intriguing bridging characters too, though we never really get to know them.
Writer and director Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S.) does something wonderful with this tale. She approaches it without judgement of her characters, but rather flips that to her audience and those around the unusual family. As her second feature, it is beautifully modulated and subtle. I will say that while the romance and personal aspect of the story is very effective and believable, Robinson’s other goal (layering on Marston’s psych theory as a structure for the movie) is less effective. It doesn’t distract or diminish the film, but it doesn’t really add much to it either. You can see the ideas, you can’t avoid them given the transitions, but I didn’t find them to build on or explain much either. Frankly, it is a minor criticism in this story as it is still character appropriate and adds some interesting structure, even if it is less than impactful.
Whether you know the history of of these people, or have an interest in Wonder Woman comics, this is a story that will grab you early and keep you intrigued. Marston was no ordinary man, nor were the brilliant women he had in his life. What is fascinating is just how little things have changed since their story began in the late 1920s.
Josh O’Connor (The Durells In Corfu) and, in his first major role, Alec Secareanu make an unlikely and wonderful pair in the harsh northern England countryside. The growth and challenge of their relationship is almost all internal, but completely obvious. O’Connor, in particular, takes us from not really liking him, to understanding him, to cheering for him all while his navigates a personal path that is barely mentioned.
In his first feature, acting as both writer and director, Francis Lee has created a painfully wonderful tale of first love. In fact, though mostly missed by audiences, it covers a lot of the same ground as Call Me By Your Name, but better highlighting a lot of the emotions I felt were missing in the Oscar contender.
Driving the story from the background are two well-known faces: Gemma Jones and Ian Hart as O’Connor’s parents. The interplay here is also subtle and almost entirely unspoken. Some of this is the culture of the north, but some is Lee’s respect for his audience; not forcing explanations and confrontations and trusting the viewer to understand. Both deliver solid performances.
Do be warned of one aspect. This film is not for the feint of heart when it comes to what it is to really be a farmer with livestock. There are a few moments that remind you why some people become vegans. It is all done with a purpose and, frankly, all fair and true to life, but not everyone will want to see it. The moments are short and you can avert your eyes and continue on if it bothers you, but the warning is necessary.
As a whole, this is a slow, intense film, but very well done, especially if you handicap it for the number of new roles its creators were taking on. It is touching and sad all at once, but ultimately uplifting as each character finds their place in the world, even if it isn’t quite how they expect to.
Medieval satire isn’t for everyone. The language, and even the spelling if you’re reading it, are a huge barrier to appreciating the humor. However, when updated, like this take on the Decameron by writer/director Jeff Baena (Life After Beth, I Heart Huckabees), it can open up. Why even bother? Well, because it reminds us that people were always just…people, regardless of how they spoke or lived. Life is about desire and survival. And we do still get a sense of the ribald satire, but in a Monty Python sort of approach. Mind you, writer/director Baena keeps it all a little more realistic than Python, putting it in a different category, but there is a similar senses of humor if not the same level of ability.
Aubrey Plaza (The Driftless Area), Kate Micucci (Don’t Think Twice), and Alison Brie (The Disaster Artist), as a trio of waywardish nuns, are entertaining. They each have a different sense of comedy and delivery, which often keeps the jokes from solidly landing, but they still manage to pull out a few belly laughs. Dave Franco (The Disaster Artist), as their unwitting center of attention, embraced his role as straight man and and gave them all a great sounding board.
My favorite dark comedy about convents remains Dark Habits, but this evil little concoction certainly gives it a go. It is a particular kind of humor that won’t fly for everyone, but the story, such as it is, is amusing. I can’t say this is a must seek out and find entertainment, but it is certainly something different for when you might be in the mood.
Another timely biopic, handled with honesty and consummate ability by the main actors, Emma Stone (La La Land) and Steve Carell (Cafe Society, Despicable Me). Though neither actor looks quite like their real-life counterpart, both make you forget they aren’t the real Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs through subtle facial moves, posture, and vocal control. At times it is eerie.
Additional characters help provide story vector or commentary. Jessica McNamee (Sirens) as Margaret Court is an uncomfortable bridge from the past into the film’s present while Bill Pullman (The Equalizer) is a nasty depiction of the thoughts of the times. As a fun side-note, and probably most out of place in this movie, is Alan Cumming (queers.). But it’s Alan Cumming, so I really didn’t care that it felt just a bit shimmed in; he’s too much fun.
Two of the most thankless roles in this recounting are the spouses of King and Riggs. Austin Stowell (Colossal) and Elisabeth Shue (Hope Springs), respectively, are quiet pillars in the storm of their relationships, understanding who they were married to and finding ways to deal with that. And then there is Andrea Riseborough’s (Birdman) character, who wants to be part of the support, but who struggles to understand what is really going on. This collective of people is part of what sets this story apart. None are quite what you expect either in word or action. Writer Simon Beaufoy (Everest) did his most subtle work around these characters and helped make it feel even more real.
Interestingly, this was co-directed by wife/husband power team Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Ruby Sparks, Little Miss Sunshine) which probably helped keep the sensibilities all in line, though their particular leaning is clear. The result is both humorous and enlightening. The film is certainly a cure for thinking we’ve made no progress in the last 40 years, as well as a reminder of how much more there still is to do, even after all this time and all that effort.
Aside: Just this morning (18 January 2018) Novak Djokovic put forward the idea of paying men more because they currently have higher TV ratings, and Martina Navratilova speaks out against it…just in case you thought this was purely historical: http://www.bbc.com/sport/tennis/42729296.
I very much wanted to like this movie more. It is from the directorial hands of Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash), who has a wonderful sense of humanity and a love of Italy, food, and all things sensual. It has some great actors, including two who have the incredible fortune to each be in more than one of the top talked-about films of the year. Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water) and Timothée Chalamet (Lady Bird) must be thanking whatever gods they pray too for their luck. Chalamet even has one more to go this awards season: Hostiles.
Most of the acting in this movie is very solid. Stuhlbarg is a quiet force on screen. He hangs mostly in the background orchestrating and bridging the action. And Armie Hammer (Free Fire), though subtle in a very different way, was particularly effective. His is a role that takes some acceptance, but it is both provocative and painful to watch.
Unfortunately, in the lead role, I found Chalamet less compelling. He is alternately believable and not, at least for me. I think where it failed me was in Ivory’s (Maurice) script. There is a surety and a bravado to both men that feels right for Hammer, but wrong for the younger Chalamet. I never understood who Chalamet was before Hammer showed up. I don’t get the sense of a young man coming to terms with himself or even feeling the depths of emotion that he claims…at least not till the end. The entire success of the film really all comes down to the last two scenes, but to get there you have to navigate close to two hours of rather uneven story.
Ultimately, this just isn’t the solid journey of Guadagnino’s other work. As beautifully filmed and subtly directed as it is, Guadagnino struggled with the shape of the tale. The pieces and steps getting from point A to point B are full of gaps. His choices and use of music were also jarring and, frankly, artistically confusing given the opening credits and setup.
And, oddly, the story is also massively untouched by the AIDS crisis, which was sweeping world culture by 1983 (yes, yet another story from the 80s, but that’s a different conversation). Even if Chalamet’s family was slow to hear about the crisis (doubtful in an academic family), Hammer was coming from America where things were becoming truly horrific. Admittedly the story isn’t about that; it is an internal tale of first love and growing up, but it did strike me as a missing eddy in the choices being made. Given that the source book was written far enough after the years of the setting for there to be perspective, it is disappointing.
And now I’m sounding like I disliked the film, which I did not. I was rather taken with it on a moment-by-moment basis. It was the whole that didn’t quite gel for me. I can see why it resonates for many people. The story transcends any particular sexuality. It is about the emotions and realities of modern life in a global world. It is, most importantly, about feeling and embracing life, regardless of where it takes you.
So, yes, see Call Me By Your Name. You will be hearing a lot more about the movie through awards season, so you might as well educate yourself in it so you can make up your own mind. You may well disagree with me on the character journeys. I can only bring my own perspective to the experience, you will have yours. You won’t be sorry you invested the time, but you’ll likely have to consider the hype and final result on your own.
From the outset, you know this is going to be a brutal spy film that doesn’t take it easy on any of its characters. The fights are harsh and the consequences mostly real…OK, kinda real. Charlize Theron (The Fate of the Furious) doesn’t just walk away from fights unscathed, she spends most of the film bruised and battered. It is reminiscent of Casino Royale, but the pain lasts a lot longer for her than it ever did for Bond and she wears those marks proudly. Theron will also make you believe that 4″ heels can be sensible footwear as a pugilist.
Opposite her, James McAvoy (Split) is entertaining, though we don’t get to see much new from him in this role. But he makes a nice counterpoint to Theron and fits well into the late 80s Berlin vibe. Having the fall of the wall as background for the story is interesting, and the soundtrack for this film is a huge nostalgia rush of tunes across the spectrum, used to varying degrees of effect.
There are also a number of important and interesting smaller roles. Primarily Eddie Marsan (Their Finest), Toby Jones (Sherlock), and John Goodman (Matinee) fill in integral aspects of the mystery and interplay. Marsan stood out best in this grouping, managing to be utterly unpresupposing and yet completely necessary.
It should be no surprise that this movie was directed by a stunt man. David Leitch has had his hands in John Wick and the upcoming Deadpool sequel. The creativity of the fights are part of what makes this movie sing; and there are a lot of them. That action augments a very spare, but intriguing, script by Kurt Johnstad (300 and its sequel). The result gives solid nods to its graphic novel roots, but manages to forge its own sensibility as well.
Given the setting for this initial film, and the resolution, it is hard to see where they might go with it as a franchise. It came a little late in a crowded field, and it is a lot more violent than a broad audience will tend to support. At the same time, it was clever and felt fresh. Perhaps that was just because it was Theron kicking butt and taking names, but in the year of Wonder Woman, it worked. So strap in for this one, when you make time for it.
Art, writing, life explained… or at least commented upon…