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Non-Review Review: Boy Erased

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Boy Erased is the amount of faith that writer and director (and supporting actor) Joel Edgerton puts in the material at hand.

Boy Erased is based on a memoir written by Garrard Conley, offering a fictionalised account of the writer’s time in gay conversion therapy in rural conservative America. The film is fiction to the extent that the names have been changed; Garrard Conley becomes Jared Eamons. However, Boy Erased never tries to disguise its influences or to assert ownership of the story. The end of the film includes pictures of the real-life inspirations for various characters, often illustrating how uncanny the film’s casting had been.

Bedfellows.

More than that, perhaps as a nod to the increased self-awareness within these sorts of stories, the film hints at its own fictionalisation. The article and book that Jared decides to write towards the end of Boy Erased is very plainly the basis of the film that audience is watching. There is something intriguing in that, in the way that Boy Erased folds itself into its own narrative. The ending of Boy Erased is rooted in the characters responding to the story that Jared has written of his experiences, a clever and reflexive narrative choice that is consciously (and shrewdly) underplayed.

However, the fact that this is the closest that Boy Erased comes to a subversive or deconstructive moment only underscores the matter-of-factness with which Edgerton’s handled the material. Outside of using the origins of the film to provide the basis for a third-act catharsis within the film, Edgerton takes a very straightforward approach to this story. He never seems particularly interested in bending the narrative out of shape or of heightening particular elements for dramatic tension.

Syke out.

In its own weird way, Boy Erased feels decidedly conservative for a contemporary awards film. It is much less energised or dynamic than other similar works, such as the addiction drama Beautiful Boy starring Lucas Hedges’ Lady Bird co-star Timothée Chalamet. This creative restraint is not a criticism in any way; quite the opposite. Edgerton trusts the story that he has been given, and trusts his cast to deliver. Boy Erased is not a showy or ostentatious piece of work, instead a film constructed to specification with care and craft.

Boy Erased is a film that exists primarily as a vehicle for its subject and for its cast, and that is a credit to Edgerton’s approach to the material.

They said that he needed this, but it couldn’t be father from the truth.

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Non-Review Review: Aquaman

Aquaman is not a disaster on the scale of Justice League. It is perhaps closer to Green Lantern.

This comparison makes a certain amount of sense. Both Aquaman and Green Lantern are defined by the influence of writer Geoff Johns. Johns is an interesting figure, having broken into the entertainment world through film. He famously worked as a personal assistant to Richard Donner. However, Johns is best known for his work in comic books, particularly at DC when he enjoyed long character-defining runs on properties like Justice Society of America, The Flash and Green Lantern. A controversial figure, Johns is a strong writer with a great sense of a property’s core appeal.

Sink or swim time.

However, Johns’ skill with comic books does not translate to cinema. Green Lantern was largely influenced by Johns’ own work on the title, which remains a highlight of DC’s twenty-first century output. The feature film employed Johns’ characterisation of Hal Jordan, ported over a lot of his revamped mythology for the character, and even employed one of his own creations as the primary villain. However, a good comic book run did not translate to a good film. Green Lantern was more focused on being a faithful adaptation of the comic than a satisfying film in its own right.

Aquaman suffers from the same fundamental issue. The movie is packed to the gill with continuity references, particularly to Johns’ reworking and reimagining of the character, which has been repackaged as an omnibus collection to mark the release of the film. Aquaman features an incredibly dense mythology that is often delivered via awkward exposition dump, with characters bouncing between long tiring world-building dialogue scenes and epic computer-generated spectacle. Ironically, there is no room for any of this to breathe.

A Mera mistep-a.

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Non-Review Review: Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy is a cocktail essentially comprised of three contrasting main ingredients, none of which particularly gel.

Most obviously, it is a traditional performance-driven piece of awards fare designed to showcase the talents of Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell; there is a lot of shouting, a lot of confrontation, a lot of listless staring. On top of that, it is also a more modern piece of awards fare, one younger and hipper than stodgy old dramas about addiction; Beautiful Boy might be a good seventy-percent intercut montage set to music of beloved artists like David Bowie and John Lennon. The remaining third is a fifties moral panic anti-drugs film for the twenty-first century.

This movie is Timothée Chala-meh.

These three styles of film are constantly battling within Beautiful Boy. There must be a way to synthesise these three competing approaches into a holistic and satisfying piece of work, but instead Beautiful Boy bounces frantically from one mode to another, never settling on a single cohesive tone or approach. This is disappointing, as Beautiful Boy is a very earnest and sincere piece of work. There’s a strong sense that the film is trying to articulate something that is both important and profound. However, it just cannot clearly translate that sentiment into speech.

Beautiful Boy is a mess of a film, but a fascinating mess in a number of places.

Yes. Most of the screenshots of this film will be of Timothée Chalamet. Why?

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Non-Review Review: Bumblebee

In some respects, Bumblebee feels like the Transformers movie that the franchise has been trying and failing to produce for over a decade.

Bumblebee has its share of problems. Some of those are inherited from a franchise working from a template established by Michael Bay, which means that the style of action direction carries over in certain cases. Some of those are inherited from the fact that the film is “based upon the toys produced by Hasbro Entertainment”, which means that the film occasionally feels obliged to cram in various characters and elements for reasons more toyetic than narrative.

“You really don’t get this ‘robots in disguise’ thing, do you?”

That said, Bumblebee largely works due to a combination of factors. Hailee Steinfeld is the most likable protagonist in the series to date, if not the most likable character in general. The direction from Travis Knight largely steers clear of the cluttered excesses that define the other films in the franchise. The script from Christina Hodson cleverly pushes the film down both in scale and spectacle, meaning that Bumblebee is the first Transformers film not to loose sight of its humanity (let alone its human characters) in its storytelling.

Bumblebee is perhaps not the best film that it could be, but is very easily the best Transformers film to date.

A girl and her robot.

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Non-Review Review: Bird Box

Bird Box is a fascinating contemporary horror movie.

The stock comparison will be to something like A Quiet Place, another contemporary horror movie that plays a fairly standard set-up with a high-concept twist. In A Quiet Place, the characters were stalked by monsters that could not hear them, and so they had to move without generating any sound. In Bird Box, the characters find themselves confronted by supernatural monsters that drive any person who looks at them completely insane, often to the point of self-destructive suicide.

Carry on regardless.

However, Bird Box feels decidedly more abstract than A Quiet Place, more lyrical and more metaphorical in its construction. It was often difficult to read a strong central allegory into A Quiet Place, to see it as anything more than a very effective old-fashioned horror film that very effectively literalised one of the central tensions for horror movie audiences; the desire to scream with the need to keep quiet. Bird Box does something similar, effectively creating a horror movie where even the characters themselves must close their eyes when the scary parts happen.

However, there is much more going on in Bird Box, perhaps even too much. The central premise of the horror movie lends itself to any number of varied (and possibly contradictory) readings about the insanity of the modern world and the need to protect the family from chaos that might at any moment encompass them. Bird Box is an ambitious and effective horror, one that applies a variety of tried-and-tested horror formulas to bracing social commentary.

Life is anything but a dream.

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Non-Review Review: The Favourite

If the stock comparison to The Killing of a Sacred Deer is The Shining, then the obvious comparison to The Favourite is Barry Lyndon.

It is a stock comparison, bordering on facile. After all, there is a world of difference between Yorgos Lanthimos’ story of two women competing for the attention of Queen Anne and Stanley Kubrick’s story of the rise and fall of a roguish Irish gentleman. However, the similarities are striking. Both are eighteenth century period pieces that boldly eschew the conventions of period dramas. Both The Favourite and Barry Lyndon rely heavily on natural light and repeatedly draw the audience’s attention to the nature of the narrative of constructed.

You Only Live Weisz.

However, the most striking point of comparison might be thematic and philosophical rather than simply literal or textual. Just as The Killing of a Sacred Deer explored the collapse of a family unit through the prism of decaying masculinity in a manner that recalled The Shining, the world of The Favourite is defined by its study of power, pettiness and pomposity. As in Barry Lyndon, the fickleness of comfort and the arbitrary nature of security are a recurring fascination for The Favourite, which meditates repeatedly on how precarious such positions can be.

The Favourite is a story of cruelty, both human and natural.

A Stone-Cold Schemer.

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Non-Review Review: White Boy Rick

White Boy Rick struggles to articulate what it is actually saying.

The basic premise of White Boy Rick is quite clear from the outset. The film is set in Detroit. Barring a coda, the bulk of the action unfolds in the four years following on from 1984, during Ronald Reagan’s second term. Although the President himself is not directly discussed in the context of the narrative, there is an early conversation in which two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and one member of the Detroit Police Department ruminate upon Nancy Reagan’s famous “just say no” appeal.

Ricked off.

White Boy Rick is an earnest and well-intentioned movie exploring the consequences of the so-called “War on Drugs” in eighties America, and the manner in which that campaign was both fruitless in terms of its nominal objectives and actively harmful to the communities in which it unfolded. White Boy Rick attempts to position itself as a tragedy about a young man – the eponymous character’s age is something of a recurring battle cry – who happens to get wrapped up in something much bigger than his own circumstances.

Unfortunately, White Boy Rick struggles to construct a strong and engaging narrative around this central thesis statement, repeatedly stumbling in trying to graft the character’s arc and decisions to the broader social commentary that it wants to make. The result is a deeply frustrating film that squanders potentially interesting subject matter.

Daddy’s home.

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