Tag Archives: Writer

Time Freak

[4 stars]

Romance, comedy, and time travel, especially when wrapped in honesty and told with some intelligence, is a triumverate always guaranteed to grab my attention. Unlike the recent Palm Springs, the character intent here is deliberate, but they both deliver the story in a similar way that let’s you connect with it immediately and get on board for the ride.

The story, despite its scope, is really driven by just three characters. Asa Butterfield (Slaughterhouse Rulez) and Sophie Turner (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) are the romantic crux of the story. And while that may sound like an odd combo, it’s supposed to be. And yet the two have a believable chemistry between them. More surprisingly, it comes mostly from Turner’s performance, which is the best I’ve seen her do. I actually believed her completely, something all of her previous performances have lacked for me. Butterfield is playing into his strengths in this film, but does so with heartfelt earnestness that wins you over.

While the main couple certainly carries the story forward and keeps it focused, Skyler Gisondo (Santa Clarita Diet) adds the final element that makes it all work: comic relief and, often, common sense. This is especially amusing as he’s a complete screw-up. This isn’t the basis for comedy I usually enjoy, but it works here due to its restraint and evolution. Even Will Peltz’s (In Time) side character, as extreme as he takes it, manages to find ground often enough to add to the depth of the tale rather than distract from it.

Writer/director Andrew Bowler expanded his Oscar nominated short into this truly delightful and funny exploration of life, love, and relationships. The cleverly written script spends the first third in familiar territory. And, honestly, even if it hadn’t expanded on that, I would have enjoyed the movie thanks to his control of the performances and pace. But it is Bowler’s willingness to try to explore the characters and plot more deeply that makes this particular run at the sub-genre something worth seeing.

When you need something enjoyable and not entirely devoid of logic and intelligence, queue this one up. You won’t be sorry.

Freaks: You’re One of Us (Freaks: Du Bist Eine Von Uns)

[3 stars]

I love that we are looking more and more at the dark side of superhero-dom. Mind you, we’re in danger of getting as swamped with those kinds of movies as we are the more earnest versions. But it’s nice to have some balance.

And Freaks is a bit more than just an anti-superhero tale. It’s a bare philosophical metaphor for mental illness and otherness in general. The argument can be made that almost all superhero stories are about otherness, but they often bury it or ignore it entirely in their stories, leaving it to critics to make the case. Freaks makes it front and center.

Though it is played for honesty, particularly by Cornelia Gröschel in the lead as a struggling, young parent, it drifts into a rather arch confrontation and events. Her counterpart, Tim Oliver Schultz, in particular, spirals pretty far afield from the grounded beginning. The result ends up being more like a TV pilot than a movie. That doesn’t make it bad. It’s very entertaining and relatively well thought-through. The approach does, however, make it less than it could have been.

The TV feel to the overall shape is partially due to director Felix Binder, who’s spent most of his career in the smaller venue and pushing shows. He made a lot of choices that were reflections of that experience. On the other hand, some of the success to the result also goes to writer Marc O. Seng, who wrote several of the episodes for Dark.

Basically, Freaks is a fun distraction for an evening. It trods well-known ground, but finds a way to keep it feeling fresh and provides characters to keep us interested.

The Burnt Orange Heresy

[4 stars]

Unreliable narrators can be brilliant or frustrating. Having one is risky enough, but when you’ve four of them driving a movie, you’re really pressing your luck. But Scott B. Smith’s (Siberia) script adaptation is smart, crisp, and a delight in its story-telling.

Claes Bang (Dracula) is the main focus of the story, and from near the top we know there’s something off with him. He’s charismatic, smarmy, and quite full of himself, while being obviously desperate and damaged. Elizabeth Debicki (Widows) provides a wonderful foil and secondary locus as she dives into his orbit. The two are slowly revealed and challenged by Donald Sutherland  (Ad Astra) and Mick Jagger while the story takes shape.

And that is one of the wonderful aspects that sets this film apart: it is more than a third in before you’re even sure what the story is. For his first feature, director Giuseppe Capotondi took on some serious challenges, but he knocked it out of the park.

Burnt Orange Heresy is a deeply engrossing film that has as much to say about art and the artist as it does about human frailty and desire. To get a sense of the delivery of that message, imagine a Mamet play, without the cursing (think House of Games) or even Hitchcock with an elevated sense of philosophy.

If you enjoy intense, clever, and verbally dexterous tales, make time for this one. It isn’t a talk-fest, but practically all of the dialogue is a sparring match between the characters involved. It’s a dark joy of a movie.

The Burnt Orange Heresy Poster

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

[4.5 stars]

Simple, calm, honest, and heartbreaking. Writer/director Eliza Hittman follows up her breakout Beach Rats by tackling a young woman’s challenge, making it an interesting companion piece even if they aren’t at all related.

Newcomers Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder take us on a journey that suggests more than it explains their lives. It is like the worst and best kind of voyeuristic observation. We never feel we’re intruding, but we also get to follow these young women where we shouldn’t.

This isn’t an easy film to describe. Basically, you should see it. It is a window into a world many will not have experienced, and an exposé of reality that far too many others have. That is done as art only heightens the effect and allows for some moments that will impact you unexpectedly…not because they are horrific in themselves, but because they are honest and imply ever so much more.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always Poster

Loveless (Nelyubov)

[4 stars]

When I finally had a chance to see Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (Leviathan) latest movie, albeit late, I wasn’t disappointed. I was, however, left drained. While Leviathan was harsh, it was also darkly funny. Loveless is completely upfront, from title and opening credits to the the story itself, about the emptiness and harsh, sad reality the characters share.

The script, also by Zvyagintsev and his Leviathan collaborator Oleg Negin, is generally minimalist. A joy for a subtitled movie (I could actually concentrate on the visuals). But the spare dialogue doesn’t reduce the information provided. Zvyagintsev crafts his moments with great care. They are dense with detail, subtext, and implication. But the interesting aspect of the family is that while the story revolves around the parents, Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rozin (Leviathan), it is the outsider, Aleksey Fateev (Proxima), who has the most interesting character. Fateev, without ever having an “emotional” scene manages to impart a world of understanding and response. But to give him his due, Matvey Novikov, as the son, has some wonderful and intense moments as well…and they’ll tear you apart.

Loveless isn’t a fun film. I’m sure that’s not a surprise. But it is honest and directed in such a way as to pull you through. There are parts of every character that you can identify with, even if, in their entirety, you just want to slap them. But, much like Leviathan, while there is a surface story to engage in, Zvyagintsev and Negin are telling you another story of their country as well. It is nested in their choice of era and in the background news that suffuses the film, as well as the metaphor of the plot itself. It isn’t heavy-handed, but it is there ready to fizz to the surface as you think about it all later.

Zvyagintsev continues to impress me. I hope, like Leviathan, Loveless continues to find an audience. It certainly found awards joy when it released, though it somehow lost to The Square in its Oscar bid that year. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to it; it’s a powerful film, and a very well crafted one. Definitely worth your time when you’re feeling resilient.

Caramel (Sukkar banat)

[4 stars]

Writer/director Nadine Labaki loves people, and all their facets; and she puts those truths into her movies. Her pile of nominations and wins speaks to how much that resonates with audiences and critics. Every one of her movies, starting with this first feature of hers (and continuing with Where Do We Go Now? and Capernaum…even Rio, I Love You), builds upon this idea. Each movie expanded her ability and her recognition as a director, writer, and actor. Basically, her films are a joy to watch because they feel true and celebrate people, even when the circumstances are less than wonderful.

Caramel follows the lives of several women in Beirut. Each has a compelling story to share, but in many cases never even speaks to it. Their stories are on display, but we are granted the point of view and freedom to understand them. The movie is also very lo-fi, but Labaki makes you forget that by sucking you into the world of these women.

Adding to the interesting aspects of this film are that it was finished just days before war descended on Beirut. We get to see the city before it was ravaged (again). And, on a personal note, I watched it a day after Beirut was back in the news when a factory blew up, levelling a good part of the city again and killing 150+ people.

What comes through her films is how much she loves her country, in all its contradictions and flaws. But what makes the stories work is how much she loves and celebrates life. She doesn’t pick happy subjects, but the stories always feel hopeful. Her sense of the human condition is one of possibility, a sensibility that goes a long way in today’s world.

Caramel Poster

Read a Story, Save a Koala

OK, that was certainly trying to leverage cheap sentiment, but it’s not untrue.
My latest story, “By the Grace of God,” a comedy for a change, is part of Oz is Burning. This latest antho is a collection of primarily Australian authors who contributed tales to raise funds for WIRES, NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc.
What am I doing in there? Fair question. I worked in Melbourne on and off for three years in one of my previous positions. I fell in love with the city and still have many friends there. This was a way to be involved to help.
This collection is, again, Kindle Unlimited. Just read a story or two and the royalties/donations will be made. So, y’know, at least read mine if you have access! But there are several great writers in there worth your time. Don’t have Kindle Unlimited? You can purchase the book instead, I’ll not judge.
You can also choose to donate (or donate more) directly to WIRES at: https://www.wires.org.au/donate/emergency-fund.

Oz is Burning cover

Also still available:
“Skin in the Game” in Alternate Truths: Endgame (supporting the ACLU)
“Short-Handed” in April 2020 HybridFiction.net available from Issuu or Amazon

State of the Union

[4 stars]

When Nick Hornby (Juliet, Naked, High Fidelity) and Stephen Frears (Victoria & Abdul) decided to tackle the meaning and humor of marriage in ten 10-minute segments, you can be sure it will be both insightful and biting. Now make it, generally, a two-person show with Rosamund Pike (Radioactive) and Chris O’Dowd (Juliet, Naked) and the delivery is guaranteed to entertain.

To be fair, O’Dowd was a bit of an easy choice here. He’s playing into all his strengths, and is somewhat reprising his role in Juliet, Naked. Pike, however, has created a woman taut with guilt, doubt, and bound by her own upbringing.

Each segment is a week apart, covering a 10-week course of therapy for the couple. And each segment manages to provide mountains of information about their relationship and each other. It is a credit to all four that so many levels can be exposed with subtext, looks, and smart dialogue.

Admittedly, the longer you’ve been married, the more there is to get from the 100 or so minutes of the whole series. It hits on truths and fears that only 10+ years of living with a spouse can manifest. Absent that, it’s a simply a fun tale that is easy to digest and satisfying to laugh with and at. And probably a show worth coming back to at different points in your life.

State of the Union Poster

Palm Springs

[4 stars]

Such wonderful, sweet, evil fun.

Neither Andy Samberg (Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance) nor Cristin Milioti (Modern Love) are strangers to comedy or satire. The two navigate the absurd landscape of life in Palm Springs in hysterically believable ways. And, with the help of a smaller role by J.K. Simmons (21 Bridges), you can easily commit to cheering, jeering, or sympathizing with their various predicaments.

First time feature director Max Barbakow did a wonderful job dancing along the edge of absurdity to deliver a romantic tale of finding yourself and finding another. Certainly, a lot of credit has to go to Andy Siara’s script as well, which expands on the themes of his other efforts in Lodge 49, though in much more satisfying way. And his opening scenes are a beautiful study in introducing a well-known trope in a new way.

Palm Springs had been heading to be a big splash indie release…in the before times. And I’ve no doubt it would have found its audience and done reasonably well. But the pandemic had it go straight to stream where, frankly, it lives comfortably and doesn’t feel diminished. This isn’t a big effects film, it is, for all its far reaching commentary, a small and intimate romance that will have you smiling and laughing through to the end, and into the credits.

Palm Springs Poster

Perfect Blue (Pâfekuto burû)

[3 stars]

OK, I know this is considered a classic, and I’m ashamed for not having seen it sooner. I’m even more disappointed because it is also so dated now that it diminished the experience. While it captured the early-mid 90s relatively well, particularly riffing on police procedurals of the time, other aspects now clash. For instance, the long explanations of how the internet works were probably necessary at the time fora portion of the audience, but ring hollow and annoying in 2020. That isn’t the fault of the movie, but certainly had impact.

What sets Perfect Blue apart from much of anime is the story. I think there are better reality-based anime out there, most by this same director, Satoshi Kon, who wrote and directed some of them: Millenium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika. But this was his first attempt. And none of what followed quite dives into the darkness of the human psyche quite like this first movie does. Of course, sometime Kon collaborator Sadayuki Murai (Knights of Sidonia) adapted this story, not Kon himself. But it clearly opened a path for movies that followed.

That sets it in context, but is it really a good movie? Yes and no. It’s a challenge to watch at times, particularly for the first third. But as it comes together and it reveals itself, it becomes intriguing and then fascinating. The freedom of animation allowed Kon and Murai to explore the mental disconnection of a person in distress and make it as real for us as it is for them. It isn’t a perfect end result, but it is impressive as it whips through the final third of the story. As part of your anime education, this does have to be seen, but know it is fraying a bit around the edges thanks to time.

Perfect Blue Poster