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Movie Review: BlacKkKlansman

Adam Driver (left) and John David Washington in ‘BlacKkKlansman’

Do you find yourself flooded by Trumpworld only to wish you could zone it all out? That frenzied state of distraction is exactly what the Donald is aiming for. Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, aims to give us clarity and put things in perspective.

Topher Grace in BlacKkKlansman

Anyone familiar with Spike Lee’s work appreciates its integrity. 1989’s Do The Right Thing deftly confronts American race relations. That is a powerful movie. Lee brings that same energy and intelligence to 2018’s BlacKkKlansman. As a cartoonist, I often wonder about how the comics medium, in all its varied forms, can best address the current Trump crisis. I think Jim Carrey’s cartoony paintings, with their raw quality, have a much greater impact than perhaps most professional editorial cartoons. As for anything remotely falling under the “graphic novel” category, I’d have to give a lot of credit to John Oliver’s parody of Mike Pence’s Bunny Book. That said, whatever the art form, it is the measured response that ultimately wins the heart and soul of the viewer.

White nationalists clashing with counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., last year. With an anniversary rally planned in Washington on Sunday (8/12/2018), the authorities have planned for weeks to avoid a repeat of last year’s clashes.CreditJoshua Roberts/Reuters

Spike Lee has certainly given careful consideration. Based upon a true story, Lee’s main character is a young and idealistic African American man conflicted by serving his local police force and serving his community at an activist level. The narrative masterfully weaves in the 400-year-old American racial experience: past, present (1972), and future (2018). There are those moments when everything comes to such fine point, especially after the newly-minted undercover detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) has gotten settled into his job. One fellow officer talks with him about how white supremacists are steadily going mainstream and it will eventually lead to the White House. Ron shakes his head in great disbelief.

BlacKkKlansman

It is Ron’s job, which he carved out for himself, to infiltrate the local chapter of the Colorado Springs Ku Klux Klan. He is obviously in need of help since his phone conversations quickly lead to an invitation to meet in person. That’s where a second Ron Stallworth (Adam Driver), in the flesh and Jewish no less, comes in. And the KKK connection just keeps getting complicated, not to mention dangerous. Soon, the original Ron Stallworth is on the phone establishing quite a friendly relationship with the young KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). Lee continues to thoughtfully and gracefully connect the dots, as painful as they are–without a heavy hand. And it is that cumulative effect that adds up to the most powerful film I’ve seen this year. The final moments bring us to our present with a fiery defiance and a remembrance of Heather Heyer, may she “Rest in Power.”

Spike Lee delivers a good dose of reality that can stir the soul. We don’t do this much anymore (maybe for Star Wars and superhero movies) but this film will have you in the mood to clap at the end. This movie got me good and I was clapping. I even yelled out that folks can applaud. I did it in that communal spirit that many of us in Seattle respond to. Well, not only in Seattle. And, like a chain reaction, people did applaud. It didn’t last very long since, as I say, we really don’t applaud movies anymore. But it did happen all the same, even if momentarily. We Americans need to respond to the current American crisis every chance we get. BlacKkKlansman responds to that very real need. It’s a start and it will, no doubt, inspire others to do much more, like voting.

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Filed under African American, Charlottesville, Donald Trump, Spike Lee, Trump

Movie Review: CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

Winnie-the-Pooh and an all grown up Christopher Robin.

Imagination has its own reality. Imagination is strongest in childhood. It takes a certain sensibility to carry you back into that world once you’re an adult. In the new movie, Christopher Robin, we see the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s vulnerable stuff. It’s made up of dream-like creatures like Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, and Piglet. In this movie, we see A. A. Milne’s celebrated characters from Hundred Acre Wood depicted as the very creatures of childhood we remember them as in our mind’s eye.

Winnie-the-Pooh and an all grown up Christopher Robin. This clever idea is refined into something much more. These two seemed to be like two peas in pod: dreamers in pursuit of nothing, happily stumbling upon something because sometimes something comes from nothing. And then the boy had to leave for boarding school and the greater world beyond and bid farewell to his childhood friends who had to stay behind. It is the grown-up Christopher Robin, played by Ewan McGregor, who must reconcile his youthful dreams with his adult reality.

Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends.

A movie about an adult coming to terms with his childhood may sound a bit heavy but it fits right in with the Disney cornerstone of embracing childhood. Any family understands the delicate balancing act between honoring the needs of adults and children. Conflicts are never too far behind. Christopher Robin, the man, is up to his eyeballs in conflict as he juggles family life with corporate life. It is on the weekend that Christopher must work overtime on budget cuts, and most likely layoff workers, that Winnie-the-Pooh stumbles back into his life.

The beauty of this movie is in its understatement, alternating between a foggy and hectic post-war London to a foggy and mellow Hundred Acre Wood. And, at the heart of this low-key approach, is Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends. These characters do not light up the screen with manic frenzy like in the Toy Story franchise. Even Tigger gives off a more ambiguous vibe. These characters are not supposed to be so much larger-than-life as part of the stuff of life. You have to experience the movie for yourself to truly appreciate it. Essentially, the characters have been brought down to a childhood scale: sort of rumpled up as if left out in the rain once or twice. They look and feel as if lived-in, as if personifying childhood: milk and cookies, warm pajamas, and bedhead. What could be more wonderful?

Whimsy and Quirk Butt Heads with Harsh Reality.

Ah, the conflict between adult reality and childhood dreams. Thankfully, Ewan McGregor is up to the task of playing a Peter Pan in reverse. He is definitely all grown up and now must struggle to rediscover his inner child. McGregor, a naturally athletic and playful actor, is certainly up to the task. Also compelling is Hayley Atwell as Evelyn Robin. And, as the heir to the Pooh childhood, Bronte Carmichael is enchanting as Madeline Robin. All in all, you have just the right level of whimsy and ethereal quirk. I should mention here that The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers, written by Richard and Robert Sherman, gets it due as Tigger is easily triggered into singing it in any scene he’s in.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

For late summer entertainment, Christopher Robin is just right. Think of it as the other side of a coin that includes Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. While the Cruise flick is relentlessly action-packed, the McGregor flick is relentlessly contemplative, even a bit melancholic, but in a very good way. Come to think of it, even the Cruise movie has its share of wistful moments! Both star men who somehow manage to defy age. Both can be Peter Pan if they care to be. And both can certainly entertain.

Visit the official Christopher Robin site right here.

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Filed under Childhood, Disney, Family, Movie Reviews, movies, Winnie-the-Pooh

SIFF Review: EIGHTH GRADE

Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade

An honest portrayal of youth can make for a revelatory and refreshing movie, which is exactly what Eighth Grade is. Written and directed by Bo Burnham, it follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher) during her last five days in middle school. It is easily the highlight to this year’s Seattle International Film Festival.

You have to let kids be kids, and then maybe some magic can happen. That is the approach Burnham takes while still being able to craft a finely-structured script beforehand. At the start, there is this jittery and spontaneous vibe as we see raw and pixelated footage of Kayla talking about herself and kids in general on her YouTube channel. She stammers, she seems to just speak in circles. But it’s all actually in the script, word for word–and wonderfully performed by Elsie Fisher. And then, as it was later revealed to the audience at SIFF, it was Fisher’s idea to add in her own trademark sign-off. She makes an O-kay sign and says, “Gucci.” 27-year-old Burnham claimed to not know the popular meme reference prior to 15-year-old Fischer offering it up.

To tap into vulnerable and awkward youth is one of those mighty artistic quests. As a celebrated multi-talent in his own right, Burnham is certainly up to that ambitious goal. For filmmakers and writers, it is a right of passage to answer the call to addressing the whole issue of coming of age. That has resulted in everything from George Lucas’s American Graffiti to Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Of course, the list goes on. Too often, such a teen flick is cast with older characters. You raise the bar higher when you have actors that are also actual teenagers, like in John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club.

Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton in Eighth Grade

You feel like you want to protect Kayla as she ventures out, looking for love, friends, and a purpose in life. At first, I was sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop and we find that Kayla is going to be setup and hurt along the lines of Stephen King and Brian De Palma’s Carrie. Well, for one thing, this movie definitely does not fall within the horror genre. Still, there’s that fear for Kayla along the lines of Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West, with a wickedly unstable Ingrid played by Aubrey Plaza. What will help Kayla stay safe? Part of the answer is her father, Mark, played by Josh Hamilton. He ends up getting a healthy amount of screen time which is greatly deserved. By providing this warm and sensitive parent as a counterbalance, there are clear signs of hope beyond the rabbit hole of social media.

EIGHTH GRADE

After that first flickering image of young and desperate Kayla attempting to engage with the internet, there are various scenes that drive home the point that Kayla’s life is severely isolated. This begs the question of whether Kayla is closer to being an at-risk misfit or being a typical teen. What we come to find is that Kayla is indeed far more closer to what we are all like than we may care to admit. Kayla struggles to fit in with the “cool kids,” battles her painful shyness, and is mortified time and again on her journey of self-discovery. The coming-of-age theme is not the great Moby Dick prize for ambitious talent to harpoon for nothing. It IS the prize that can blind lesser aspirants. Burnham does well to let his young cast help him keep his clarity while he’s at the helm. In the end, we can all enjoy an authentic experience and give it an O-Kay sign and say, “Gucci.”

Eighth Grade goes into wide release in the U.S. on July 13, 2018.

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Filed under Movie Reviews, movies, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF, Social Media

Movie Review: BLACK PANTHER

BLACK PANTHER

Marvel Comics, and Marvel Studios, has a solid track record for keeping in step with the zeitgeist, sometimes with uncanny relevance. “Black Panther” arrives in theaters not a moment too soon. What gives this movie added significance is clear as day and it wears that role well with wit and grace. You know, the original Black Panther comic book came out at a fractured time such as we experience today. The first appearance of the character was in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) in the Silver Age of comic books. Fast forward to the present, and Black Panther is needed more than ever. Just look at this week’s TIME magazine with Chadwick Boseman gracing the cover. Yes, this is a significant movie now projected to take in about $165 million for the opening weekend.

You certainly don’t have to be a loyal geek follower of all things to do with Wakanda. You don’t need to already know about the origin story involving a magical meteor composed of the miracle element vibranium (more powerful than uranium) that collided thousands of years ago with the remote settlement of Wakanda and energized it into a super civilization. But now you know this. And it gets cooler. The story of Wakanda is a story of isolationism in reverse. As far as the outside world is concerned, Wakanda is one of the poorest countries in the world but, in fact, it is hiding the most sophisticated technology in the world. A monumental struggle plays out as rival forces fight for Wakanda’s destiny: will it guard or share its resources with the rest of humanity?

Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman plays the role of the noble new king, the legendary Black Panther, easing his way beyond the borders of Wakanda. There are outsiders who have made off with chunks of vibranium and that threatens not only Wakanda but the whole planet. Then you add to the mix a ferocious challenger to the Black Panther’s crown and you have all the action you could hope to enjoy in one of these Marvel Comics epics.

Right up there with the action is a whole lot of heart. If you’re looking for an uplifting story, with compelling character-driven twists and turns, this is it. When you stop and think about it, Black Panther is reaching out to audiences on a similar genuine level as last year’s Wonder Woman. Both of these origin stories are wonderful comic book fantasy but also grounded with a hefty helping of food for thought, addressing heartbreaking struggle in the real world. That struggle continues, no doubt, and the burden is lifted just a bit, even if only for the length of a movie, if only for one child. The fact is that this movie will do quite a lot of people some good.

BLACK PANTHER

I will throw in a tiny tad of a spoiler. This isn’t really taking anything away but I just wanted to report back to you that the whole audience I was part of dutifully waited through the credits since we’ve all grown to rely upon some Marvel extras after the main show. And there are two so don’t leave too soon. Let’s just say there is a little more right at the end and then there’s the quick teaser at the very, very end. And I’ll just say here that it involves another nerdy fact: one of the materials used to construct Captain America’s shield is vibranium. It’s important to know that moving forward. Enough said.

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Filed under Black Panther, Comics, Marvel Comics, Movie Reviews, movies

Movie Review: THE POST

Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham

The Washington Post is in an awkward spot as one of the objects of disdain for Donald Trump. However, the Trump White House requested copies of “The Post” and 20th Century Fox has obliged. So, despite the bad blood, apparently, the Donald is curious. And, if he should see it, he’ll discover that The Washington Post knows how to handle itself. Compelling stuff but the heavy-duty serious subject matter may bore Big Don. Besides, it won’t work for him if he’s rooting for Tricky Dick Nixon. For the rest of us, this movie about newspapers and freedom of the press is quite compelling.

We don’t really have spoilers to worry about too much. The Washington Post is inextricably linked in history with the Nixon White House, The Pentagon Papers, the paper’s owner and publisher Katharine Graham, and the paper’s executive editor Ben Bradlee. It’s all the peculiar facts that add up to show the courage involved for Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and especially for Graham (Meryl Streep). The tension resides in the nerve-racking decisions leading up to whether or not to publish material the government deems too sensitive for public, and political, consumption. The key word here is “political,” as the information in The Pentagon Papers was a political bombshell–but never put American lives in danger, as the Nixon White House claimed. In fact, it would save lives as it helped to put a stop to the war in Vietnam.

Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee

“The Post” is a perfect companion piece to Alan J. Pakula’s 1976, “All the President’s Men.” Director Steven Spielberg would certainly be mindful of comparisons. But the screenplay, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, is on a decidedly different track. This is more of a character study and not so much a political thriller. That said, it certainly shares some of the same energy. As much as Hoffman, Redford, and Robards commanded the screen, so too does Streep and Hanks.

June 21, 1971: Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham leave U.S. District Court in Washington.

You can also make a favorable comparison with Adam McKay’s 2015 “The Big Short,” another movie that neatly presents a myriad of facts in an easily digestible form. Both movies are about confronting deception at an outrageous level. In one, the public has been duped into falling victim to Wall Street greed. In the other, the public has been duped into feeding the military industrial complex with the lives of its sons. The Pentagon Papers were, at their core, a study in failure intended for scholars at some future time. To have this study released to the public while the war was raging, was unthinkable. It uncovered deception at a massive scale going from Truman to Nixon. In order to publish, The Washington Post had to be willing to defy the courts’ understanding at the time that this act would amount to treason. To publish was an easy enough task for Bradlee to commit to. But for Graham, it was a gamble that put the very paper at risk of extinction.

Finally, “The Post” is an even closer companion piece to Spielberg’s own 2012 “Lincoln.” This all perfectly dovetails with Spielberg’s films of America at war as well as his biopics of American leaders in crisis. Katharine Graham is the pivotal character going against the status quo and conventional wisdom. Why can’t she just lay down and accept the Nixon White House’s demands, right? Streep gives a memorable performance that tenderly follows Graham’s journey from tentative caretaker of a vulnerable family business to a confident leader at a national, as well as an international level. For Hanks, he takes Bradlee from a man born confident to a man more modest and empathetic. Both must and do rise to the challenge of a White House that perceives the American free press as an enemy of the state. Sound familiar? Do you really think Donald Trump has watched this–as well as processed it?

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Filed under Academy Awards, Movie Reviews, movies, Oscars, Steven Spielberg, Vietnam War

Movie Review: THE CONDO (2015)

THE CONDO (2015)

Sometimes you just need a good hook to get you around to seeing a movie. Take 2015’s “The Condo,” a light comedy from Gravitas Ventures that is now available on Video on Demand. There is a lot of good energy here and it begins with leading actor Baron Jay. In fact, check out the interview link below where Jay provides some insights on making it in the industry. This is our gateway. There is something about Jay, his spirit, his humanity–that makes you want to stay with him and see his work.

And right below this is THE CONDO movie trailer:

The premise: Four married guys find themselves with a condo that they turn into a bachelor pad. This may remind some of you of the Billy Wilder classic, “The Apartment.” Well, that was on the mind of Baron Jay and inspired him to commission Bill Marroni to write the script, who directed Jay’s first feature film, “Safe House.” What this movie does best is to showcase a lot of solid emerging talent. It’s a vehicle that serves well everyone involved: Produced by Baron Jay and Michael Joseph for Baron Jay Film Group; directed by horror genre veteran James Cullen Bressack (Bethany); and written by Bill Marroni and Bill Dumas.

Baron Jay and Jackie Moore in THE CONDO

Something like this, if done right, makes the most of the opportunity to experiment. There are some recurring themes that get a chance to be developed. The cast is led by Trae Ireland (#FromJennifer), Jackie Moore (Pernicious), Baron Jay (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), Michael Joseph (Restoration), Tracy “Stresh” Mcnulty (Emma’s Chance), Chris Sapone, Aria London, and Johanna Rae (Psychos). Baron Jay commands the screen as a hapless realtor and lover. Trae Ireland is a cocky stand-up comedian with dwindling reasons to laugh. And Jackie Moore is a surprise hit as a sexy man-eater suffering from multiple personality disorder.

Jackie Moore in THE CONDO

So, while rough around the edges, “The Condo” is a fun view. If you are a fan of improv comedy, that’s a helpful way of looking at this: lots of talent trying out different things. Overall, I come back to Baron Jay, the ringmaster for this project. As he advises aspiring actors and filmmakers: if you’re tired of knocking on doors, then create something of your own. For those of you out there with those sort of dreams, this is especially of interest. That said, there is an effortless, even masterful, quality from the lead actors. I look forward to seeing where everyone goes with their movie careers.

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Filed under Comedy, Movie Reviews, movies

Movie Review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (2017)

The destiny of Rey, and the Rebel Alliance, hangs in the balance.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has arrived! I saw it last night and I was quite entertained. This was a late night show complete with long line and excitement in the air. I will make a deal with you. I won’t spoil anything that isn’t already in the trailer–this is a movie about finding one’s destiny. You could say that about most movies. And there is the big conflict going on, of course, over what Rey (Daisy Ridley) should do with her life. Should she follow the light or the dark? Well, no one needs to feel obligated to do what they “should” do, right? Therein lies the deeper conflict. By all counts, Rey is, and this is no secret, the last Jedi. Who can help her with this? Ah, that is what this movie is all about and it does a fine job with that premise.

I will tell you that I went into this movie in the spirit of a true Star Wars fan–I was dutifully ready to be amazed. I was not to leave my seat. I was definitely not to check my phone. I was not to smack loudly on any edibles–if I even dared to indulge in cinema snacks. The woman seated next to me did have these plastic-wrapped treats she noisily noshed on and she DID check her phone, which is outrageous. And some people were not riveted to their seats and took bathroom breaks or whatever–more checking of phones? There seemed to be a jittery vibe going on. And that is the biggest challenge the Star Wars franchise has to contend with: can it keep you amazed? The answer is more of a so-so attitude. This Star Wars movie has its share of self-deprecating jokes to lighten the mood–which is fine as that is a staple for these big tent events–but perhaps there was just a tad too much–even if the Disney team is supposed to have perfected the delicately-balanced recipe for mass entertainment.

Star Wars delivers both art and action. Maybe a little more art than action–but that’s okay!

So, how much did Disney spend to buy out George Lucas? Enough to run a space colony on the moon, right? Well, then, we all deserve to be amazed! Again, I come back to the so-so vibe going on. The audience was there because this is an event. The movie was there because this is a huge investment. Writer-director-mastermind Rian Johnson is there to pull off another J.J. Abrams rabbit-out-of-a-hat-trick. This is, in its own way, a noble effort–not be dismissed. Is it possible today to really pull off an old-fashioned trick like this that gets an audience genuinely thrilled? For one thing, the audience has shifted, in its interests and attitude, since the first Star Wars in fundamental ways: less patient, wiser, snarkier–there wasn’t even any snark in 1977! To do the rabbit trick today, you need to scale back and dial down.

Some of the very best moments in this Star Wars movie are when everything goes into radio silence. For a crowd-pleaser, you don’t necessarily want to get too arthouse on the public. This is not “2001: A Space Odyssey,” although, given the wide demographic for Star Wars, you have plenty of wiggle room to enter into artistic mode. Truth to told, everyone hungers for some art with their action. Anyway, there are a number of these moments of radio silence as Rey deals with the profound obstacles on her journey of self-discovery as well as when we get to the nitty gritty conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. And it is beautifully done. I don’t care if some people got it and some chose to munch away on snacks or sneak a look at their phone for the millionth time. The Star Wars franchise, all of these franchises, know that’s part of the game and some will play it well while others will fall short. All in all, the results from this latest Star Wars are well played.

The whole cast delivers the goods, to be sure. For instance, I cannot image this without Adam Driver just as much as I cannot image this without Mark Hamill. Now, these two actors are very different, no doubt. Driver as an actor, we can mostly agree, runs circles around Hamill but Hamill is a special case. He has some acting chops. For this movie, he has all the acting chops he could possibly need. He comes to this role honoring something amounting to a sacred trust. Overall, he is a pleasure to see on the screen as the reluctant and conflicted legend, the great Luke Skywalker. What should he do at this point in his life? What is his greater purpose? He is admirably up to the challenge of this pivotal role. The same can certainly be said of Carrie Fisher. Hamill, ultimately, carries a good bit of this story as he is caught in the destiny triangle between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). By the time we’re getting down to these three revealing their true selves, no one is munching or checking their Facebook.

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Filed under Movie Reviews, movies, Star Wars

Movie Review: HANGMAN

HANGMAN

A good crime story is about seeing all the elements in a set of circumstances falling into place one by one. “Hangman” fits the bill as it proves to be a competent thriller. This has Al Pacino, a personal favorite. The lead, however, edges a bit closer to Karl Urban, who commands the screen with a measured presence. There are enough chills and thrills to this for me to recommend it. I would not put it up there with anything iconic like, say, “Silence of the Lambs,” but it is well-crafted. I don’t especially seek out serial killer thrillers. I do understand their popularity so I remain open-minded to the genre. In this case, like the title suggests, this is a crowd-pleaser. And, for at least one particular scene, it did keep me on the edge of my seat.

Again, keep in mind that the great Al Pacino plays Ray Archer, a homicide detective here. Pacino brings some very compelling moments to this movie. His authority gives everything on the screen legitimacy. He makes the gritty that much more gritty. And he’s definitely a thoughtful and generous actor who brings out the best in his co-stars, Karl Urban and Brittany Snow. Urban plays Will Ruiney, the detective still grieving over the mysterious murder of his wife. Snow plays Christi Davies, the embedded reporter in what rapidly becomes the greatest case ever confronted by Archer and Ruiney. Pacino also inspires other key players: Sarah Shahi as Capt. Watson; Joe Anderson as Hangman; and Sloane Warren as Dr. Abby Westlin.

If you’re a fan of police procedurals, especially of the CSI variety, there is plenty to like here. I thought the scenes in the morgue were well above average. Sloane Warren steals the show as the coroner, Dr. Abby Westlin. She turns out to be an old pal of Archer who, by the way, has come out of retirement for this big case. It seems as if every bit of her background is put to use. There is another scene, as things are heating up, where Westlin’s skills of deduction lead everyone closer to finding the killer. And that is essential since this killer is killing people as casually as a game of hangman.

As an ensemble cast, Pacino, Urban, and Snow work quite well together. Their characters make sense and naturally grow as the plot develops. This is directed by Johnny Martin, with a script from Michael Caissie and Charles Huttinger. It is currently available for viewing through Google. While this is not exactly going to put you in the holiday mood, it may hit the spot when seeking a change of pace in your movie viewing this month. Who knew “Krampus” would do so well, right? Think of this as sort of a “Krampus” crime thriller.

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Filed under Crime Fiction, Movie Reviews, movies

Netflix Movie Review: ‘To The Bone’

Lily Collins in “To The Bone”

If you subscribe to Netflix, you have seen or may plan to see “To The Bone.” As a major movie with a prominent star performer, the pressure is on to strike an authentic chord on the theme of eating disorders. One key factor in all this is that, if someone with an eating disorder is viewing this, they will know better than anyone else if only lip service is being paid or if something real is being said. Anyone in crisis wants to experience something real. Those who are loved ones, are certainly eager to understand and to help, but, in the end, it is always going to be up to that person who is struggling to find his or her own way out. What a movie like “To The Bone” does well is not to pretend to have all the answers. The movie is not there to magically solve anything. At best, the movie is there to open a window into a world, offer some perspective, offer up a look but make no claim to providing the ultimate solution. In all this, “To the Bone” succeeds.

Ellen (Lily Collins) is a 20-year-old anorexic girl who believes she has her eating disorder under control. She does not seem to want to listen to anyone’s advice on what and how to eat and yet she does not seem to completely close the door either. In a word, Lilly Collins gives a performance that is powerful. No doubt, she commands the screen with her gentle presence. Make no mistake, “To The Bone” is the sort of movie that matters. If one could only see every individual viewer reaction, it would light up the night sky. Collins is authentic. And writer/director Marti Noxon gives us an authentic screenplay and movie. It’s done by evoking that spontaneous feeling of sink or swim: giving the character room to fail so that she can summon the strength to turn the corner of her own free will.

This is a story all about free will. Eating disorders are a form of addiction, a way to control. Recovery is about finding a way out but it ultimately won’t work if the person in crisis is not in the driver’s seat. This movie works with all of this in mind. What we see is a series of stops, starts, falls, and attempts to get back up. The pace is slow because there is no magical cure to instantly bring one back from the brink. That said, we end up coming right back to the main character of Ellen in an intriguing cyclical fashion. Family tries to help. A charismatic therapist (Keanu Reeves) steps in with a tough love approach. There’s even a blossoming romance with a new boyfriend (Alex Sharp). But, in the end, we keep coming back to Ellen, alone–and yet not alone, processing things bit by bit.

Part of Ellen’s backstory involves her posting drawings about her anorexia on Tumblr that end up going viral. Not only that, one anorexic female fan of Ellen’s art kills herself. Her parents send Ellen the suicide note. It is a perfect example of how there are no easy answers, no one simple explanation to why this or that happens. It is in that spirit that this movie shines.

However, if there is a problem attached to this movie, it is simply that eating disorders are not simple matters nor is anything involving them. The obvious difficulty in making a movie about this subject is inherent in the process: Lily Collins had to undergo a severe, and life-threatening, weight loss. Sure, one can say it was a highly monitored process and the actor and the director took every precaution. Ultimately, there is no easy explanation to the ethics involved. On the one hand, the movie succeeds in opening a window. On the other hand, it opens up other issues about what such a movie owes its audience. Well, the movie is on Netflix for all to see so that train has left the station. Viewers will need to make their own call. The good news is that the movie itself does have something real to say.

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Filed under Anorexia, Eating Disorders, Movie Reviews, movies, Netflix

Movie Review: ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a very big deal–and deservedly so! It exceeds the expectations of the most diehard fan with a heady mix of style and substance. I am so happy to have seen it and I would gladly go see it again and again. I was hoping for something special. I went in with thoughts that this could be a like a French Star Wars, perhaps divided by Star Trek, and then multiplied by Doctor Who. Something really special–and that it is!

My concern was that there might be some culture clash for some viewers: American tastes at odds with this Euro-movie based upon a Euro-comic book series. But, I conclude, that really is such a non-issue. There is a decidedly offbeat sensibility going on with this movie but isn’t that what we all love about the Star Wars franchise, along with other loopy and irreverent entertainment?

Another worry was that I had heard that this movie was too dependent upon CGI. Well, ahem, there’s nothing wrong with CGI when it works. Just think of “Avatar.” Much like “Avatar,” the CGI in “Valerian” is simply an integral part of the experience. There are so many iconic moments in this movie that are all about the CGI. For instance, the wonderfully elaborate sequence with Valerian (Dane DeHaan) running through a multitude of dimensions. Or Laureline (Cara Delevingne) arguing with some very dim servant creatures. Or, one of my favorite moments, Bubble (Rihanna) and her beautiful dance sequences.

Dane DeHaan, Luc Besson. and Cara Delevingne

There’s a very intriguing thing going on with the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline. The two are lovers but they have a lot of work ahead of them. They are intentionally distant in how they interact with each other, in an other-worldly comic book way. This disconnection between the two lovers leaves the viewer wondering about them. When Valerian repeatedly tells Laureline that he wants to marry her, it comes across as highly ironic. It would be wrong to dismiss the acting as wooden. It is part of what director Luc Besson intentionally wants. It is part of what the script aims for. I think some critics have unfairly expected more natural performances and gleefully found fault where there is none.

Given the surreal and whimsical elements in this movie, it remains a well-built and grounded piece of work. The opening sequence brings to mind the opening scenes to “Wonder Woman” set in the idyllic Themyscira. In this case, it is an ideal world of peaceful beings. The civilization depends upon little creatures who happily produce pearls that power their world. These beings, like the young lovers, Valerian and Laureline, are quite otherly. It is this otherliness that informs this rather sophisticated narrative that gently balances irreverence and idealism. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from the very best comics.

Of course, you can’t please everyone. Americans, in particular, have become quite reliant upon extra bells and whistles, even after they’ve just been presented with a formidable visual feast. No, it doesn’t seem to matter if they’ve just viewed a masterpiece–Where’s the gag reel?! they demand. And, with that in mind, you may love the video below that includes just that sort of bonus content:

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is undoubtedly a joyride of a movie. You will love it. Visit the official Valerian movie website right here.

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