Tag Archives: Lucas Hedges

Months in review: films, Academy Awards, #Metoo and a rough start to 2018 (part 2)

This is a continuation of my previous post. Below my short impressions on the films I watched in February.

MUNE: GUARDIAN OF THE MOON (2014) [ 3/5 ]

There is a lot to love about this charming animated film. It is, after all, capable of building a world that is beautiful, interesting and new. There is, however, a problem in its execution, rushing through its story without giving the characters their due.

Without the kind of promotion that usually backs a feature-length animated film these days, Mune shows both sides of Hollywood: one willing to give opportunities to unconventional ideas, and one that, upon second look, decides to withdraw its support to cut a potential loss at the box office.

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961) [ 3.5/5 ]

Finally caught up with one of many blindspots that had gathered plenty of dust in my must-watch list for many years.

The film owes much of its success and continued relevance to the effortless elegance of Audrey Hepburn, who captured the imagination of the public back in the early 1960s with what I call “casual sexiness”. In the wake of the country’s sexual liberation, it is well documented that Truman Capote, the author of the novel the film is based on, wanted Marilyn Monroe for the lead role, but the studio sought a less racy image, taking on subjects like prostitution with a casual, almost lighthearted tone. In doing so, Breakfast at Tiffanny’s surprisingly succeeded, becoming an American film with an European flavor where subjects that were still taboo in Hollywood were suddenly made appetible due to an approachable script and the lightheartedness of the performances.

45 YEARS (2015) [ 4/5 ]

After watching the austere realism of 45 Years, I felt I needed a comedic and hopelessly romantic cleanse. This is a story about a loving marriage that has survived the years until a letter arrives at the mail to disrupt it, eating away at its foundations day by day, and reminding us of the fragility of love and companionship.

The film is a minimal and naturalistic effort by director Andrew Haigh, whose previous work also includes the touching gay romance Weekend. In 45 Years, the camerawork is intimate yet unobtrusive, acting like a respectful window into a marriage that hints at its ever-increasing troubles.

Though interested in the marriage as a whole, 45 Years is singularly focused on Charlotte Rampling’s beautifully nuanced and naturalistic performance as Kate Mercer.

The remarkable thing about the film is that we see the marriage crumble not through big gestures, or through a series of sudden discoveries, but through Kate’s gradual realization that everything about their long relationship may have been a farce.

Heartbreaking stuff.

DARKEST HOUR (2017) [ 3/5 ]

There used to be a time not long ago when films like Darkest Hour would get my wholehearted approval. It is, after all, a movie that hits most of the right notes, with a superb lead performance by Gary Oldman, a cinematography that gives the film gravitas, and a script that remains interesting throughout.

The problem with Darkest Hour lies in its tendency to overstate and overdo, coming across as typical Oscar bait. Though Oldman’s performance is exactly what the film asked for, his cadence, mannerisms and conversations are all driven by the director’s attempt to give Churchill’s most crucial moments as the UK’s Prime Minister all the weight and importance history has assigned them. Rarely does Darkest Hour take a step back to reveal the man behind the myth, but when it does, the film does manage to be poignant.

THE DOUBLE (2011) [ 1.5/5 ]

On a recent roundtable for the Hollywood Reporter the acclaimed director Ridley Scott suggested that the first indication he looks for when reading scripts is that the names given to the characters work. In The Double, the name “Cassius” is used at least twenty times to refer to a mysterious Soviet assassin who has resurfaced after years of inactivity. Like the unintentionally comedic name it constantly repeats, the rest of the film feels like an immature and unimaginative attempt to make a spy thriller with very little intrigue.

Typically I am not quick to criticize actors, but both Richard Gere and Topher Grace are absolutely terrible here, while the talent of Martin Sheen is utterly wasted in a completely forgettable role.

IRREPLACEABLE YOU (2018) [ 2.5/5 ]

Much like Darkest Hour felt like Oscar bait, this Netflix Original film doubles down on melodrama to stimulate our tear ducts.

One of several problems with the film is that I felt more of a connection to the cross-generational friendship that develops between Abbie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s) and Myron (a charming Christopher Walken), than to the lovers our hearts should break for.

As sweet as Irreplaceable You can be, the film’s central premise is far-fetched and poorly conceived. It does not help that I never bought into the central love story since the leads spend very little time together on screen and have little chemistry when they do.

LADY BIRD (2017) [ 3.5/5 ]

As a piece of writing, Lady Bird has very few equals in the 2017 film class.

Greta Gerwig’s semi-biographical script has the quality that many only wish to have: it feels genuine and true. Every character at the center of the story is a complex array of emotions and contradictions. A very good Saoirse Ronan plays the title role as a young girl that is, like most teens, both egocentric and empathetic, emotional and distant, rebellious and nostalgic. Her eyes filled with youthful energy and hope, but also with plenty of doubt and angst. Her mother, in a career-best performance by Laurie Metcalf, is an antagonist of sorts, except that she displays her love through disapproval and discipline.

Gerwig’s writing avoids the common pitfalls of the genre, avoiding cliche at every turn, but it is often too precise a script to allow enough room for the characters to unshackle themselves from the overarching design.

Let’s just say that I was conscious of the decisions Greta Gerwig was making with her story right as she was making them, only allowing emotion to overpower the screen on a couple of occasions. I wish the story felt a bit more organic.

BLACK PANTHER (2018) [ 3.5/5 ]

Ryan Coogler’s treatment of Marvel’s Black Panther is a confident and promising stamp in the overstuffed genre of the superhero film. Coogler has made a film not just about a black superhero, but about an entire country filled with heroes who could teach a thing or two to the rest of the world. The script, based on the original comic, is rich with details that contribute to world-building and that make its social metaphors all the more effective.

Though much of the film offers plenty to “marvel” at, Coogler’s inexperience handling and staging big action sequences hurt the film, lacking the kind of finesse and kinetic energy than other directors could have accomplished with the material. Still, narratively speaking, Coogler’s adaptation of the Marvel comic is perhaps the best that has been produced for the big screen.

GOOD TIME (2017) [ 4/5 ]

The Safdie brothers, co-directors of the frenetically-paced Good Time have made their name in indie circles with micro-budget passion projects that are described as bold examples of guerrilla filmmaking, often self-funded and shot on location without permits.

The difference between those projects and Good Time is that on this occasion, a young movie star, a surprisingly riveting Robert Pattison, attached itself to the Safdie brothers, giving the project enough clout and exposure to be seen and funded, albeit modestly.

The film reminded me of a young Scorsese or Cassavetes film. It has some of the inelegant and unfiltered 1970s quality that grounds it to reality.

The actors are not the kind that you would typically associate to a feature film with the exception of Pattison, whose dirty and disheveled appearance doesn’t completely hide his natural magnetism. He is both hero and antihero, constantly surprising us, hinting at decency, but ultimately doomed by the impulsiveness of his decisions.

Good Time is also the kind of filmmaking I crave: completely unique and unpretentious, with clear intentions and a distinct point of view. The paranoia and near-brilliant survival instincts of Pattison’s Connie Nikas are entirely palpable and, at times, the film proves to be overwhelming to watch.

I can’t wait to see what is next for the Safdie brothers.

Thanks for reading.

Happy 2018! Monthly recap: November & December films (part 1)

In Chicago we welcomed the new year like most years: wishing we could hibernate to keep our core body heat at a reliable level. It has been absurdly cold for the better part of 3 weeks now, with frigid winds blowing from the northwest through Christmas and New Years Eve.

The marriage of free time, the holidays and freezing weather did allow for some productive film watching though. Thanks to a very productive December, I reached and surpassed a goal I had set for myself at the beginning of 2017: to watch at least 120 films, or the equivalent of 10 per month. At the end, I reached 124, which improves my 2016 tally by 18 films.

Without further ado, I give you my thoughts on all of the new films I have seen since November 1st. To keep it manageable, I will break my monthly recap in two parts in the order in which the films were seen. You’ll find part 2 posted in a couple of days.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY (2017) [ 2.5/5 ]

7 days and 7 sisters named after each day of the week, all identical twins, all played by Noomi Rapace sporting different clothes, hairdos and personalities. They all live secluded in an apartment on an alternate future where overpopulation has forced the hand of those in power to enforce a strict one-child rule that, should it be broken, will see any younger sibling sent to a less than auspicious cryogenic sleep bank.

I have several issues with the film, too many to number them all here. Chief among them is that it never becomes about anything other than escaping death for each of the siblings after being caught living under a seemingly perfect disguise. We don’t end up caring for any of them, since they’re even hard to differentiate, so the film just felt like a series of sequences where things blew up and people got hurt. A disappointment.

13TH (2016) [ 4/5 ]

As a liberal with some moderate socio-economic views, I found some of what 13th argues somewhat impeachable. Agree or not, 13th is a point of view, a justified and tragic one that deserves sociological and political study and attention.

Leaving politics aside, the cinematic journey Ava DeVurney’s takes us in is a powerfully constructed account of pervasive racism in the United States in the 20th and 21st century.

Beyond Ava’s impeccable construction, there is nothing particularly original about her presentation. To watch 13th, however, is to understand this is not an experimentation in filmmaking, but a crystalline distillation of a long list of African American tragedies and grievances.

COLOSSAL (2016) [ 3/5 ]

Nacho Vigalondo’s film is surprising in that it uses a completely bonkers and silly idea to dramatic effect. I enjoyed Colossal’s underlying message of female reassertion and empowerment, but I found myself questioning a few of the film’s choices along the way. I was also unimpressed at some of the details, like the weak creature design, or the inconsistent rules that governed the fantastical aspects of the film.

BECOMING ZLATAN [ 3.5/5 ]

The film is a series of interviews and recordings, of which there are many, focusing on the early years of one of world football’s best players: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

This documentary takes us back to his humble and simple beginnings as a teenager playing in Sweden for his hometown team, and then moving on to a much bigger stage, as the main attacker in the talent-rich Ajax of Amsterdam. The film is effective in showing a very human side of Zlatan, with all of his swagger and confidence, but also with the kind of humility of purpose that is much less discussed and that is common to find in almost every great athlete.

At the end, what I took away were the struggles that come with being in the spotlight, especially if you are a young adult trying to rise to meet your true potential while the world watches.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017) [ 3/5 ]

A lush and overabundant remake directed without reservations by Sir Kenneth Branagh. The film rehashes the classic Agatha Christie murder mystery with a remarkable cast that is, in many ways, the equivalent in popular appeal to the original cast from the 1970s film. Aside from an improved Hercule Poirot, Branagh’s direction is too neat and too polished, always opting for the grand and unnecessary gesture, making changes to the original film that feel void of value.

SEXO, PUDOR Y LAGRIMAS (1999) [ 3.5/5 ]

As I said in my “recap of 2017” post, this film relishes every opportunity to be irreverent, bold and sexy, all in the service of comedy. At the end, I felt amused, even if not entirely convinced about the artistic merits of the film.

3 BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) [ 4/5 ]

3 Billboards manages the great feat of being both hilarious and emotionally poignant, often jumping between the two with great ease. Tonally, it covers a lot of ground. It is about female empowerment, about Americans’ terse relationship with police and about small town people dealing with issues in a small town way.

Frances McDormand kicks ass. Lucas Hedges makes the most out of his small role. Woody Harrelson is as solid as ever. Peter Dinklage shares some of the best scenes and steals them all; and Sam Rockwell delivers one of the best performances of his chameleonic career.

THE RED TURTLE (2016) [ 4/5 ]

A beautifully poetic animated film from the great minds of Studio Ghibli. It is mostly a silent piece, that relies on music, on a simple yet evocative animation style and on a universal human story to leave a lasting impression.

It is a film about choosing love and family over the mundane. It is also about learning to be one with nature and basking in its glory. A unique work of art.

CARS 2 (2011) [ 3/5 ]

In the back of the humility and simplicity of The Red Turtle, Pixar’s second iteration of Cars felt like the capitalistic and overabundant response for the new millennium. It is, more than any other Pixar film I have seen, the busiest, loudest and least original of all of the studio’s creations. It borrows a great deal from action movies, and while some of it offers great popcorn entertainment, I found it hard to follow the story and root for anyone in particular.

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983) [4/5]

Perhaps the best blindspot I managed to watch in 2017. Terms of Endearment is a film about family and love that centers on the peculiar dynamic between a mother and her daughter, and the men in their lives. Though it starts as a dark comedy that seems to try too hard to be hip and funny, the film slowly finds its footing, eventually arriving at a moving last act that makes everything that came before worthwhile.

Year in Recap: Best of 2017

The year that is about to end was a year of change. On January the 1st, I found myself in a strange town, emotionally hurt and surrounded by people I did not want to be surrounded by. It was the least auspicious beginning to a year that I can remember.

Fortunately, life has a way of sneaking up on you, for good and bad, and less than two months later I welcomed a new person in my life that has made me rediscover love, and regain the hope that happiness is not only attainable, but that it has always been within my reach should I dare to make some changes.

Continue reading Year in Recap: Best of 2017