Violet and Finch meet atop a bridge. He is running across it, she is teetering on its ledge. He offers her a hand, and she takes it.
It’s a powerful and awful way to start a relationship, saving someone’s life. Violet (Elle Fanning) goes to Finch’s school. She is struggling with her sister’s death, a car accident Violet was in the passenger seat for. Finch (Justice Smith) sort of takes her under his wing, coaxing her out of her comfort zone under the guise of a school assignment. They travel to the wondrous places of Indiana, which will kill any thoughts of tourism you may have been harbouring because the wonders are underwhelming at best but Finch presents them with whimsy and charm, and how can Violet resist? But for all his saviour posturing with Violet, Finch has some pretty deep emotional scars of his own.
Despite its title, All The Bright Places can go to some very dark places. The leads are meant to be 17 but the story gives their characters some pretty heavy burdens and some serious sophistication. Fanning and Smith have great chemistry and give grounded performances, saving the film for what might have been maudlin or overwrought. Still, with Violet and Finch confronting grief, abandonment, and struggles with mental health, All The Bright Places is quite weighty for a teenage romance. I’m not sure the film quite handles itself correctly all the time; at times it feels a little superficial and easy. But on the whole I found it quite enjoyable. It’s based on a YA novel by Jennifer Niven and it feels like it. Which is not a criticism, actually, and it does deviate quite a bit from the book, it’s just that it wants to impart some wisdom, it wants to make some profound discoveries, and it doesn’t mind being rather obvious about it, like a parent or a guidance counselor might. Like, if you wanted to extrapolate that you should become your own bright place, the film will nod at you encouragingly while quietly nudging a box of tissues in your direction. Take the box.
Ten years later, the gang’s still together, living in the White House like one big semi-content family, and even more improbably, still alive. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have been together long enough that their zombie battles are like a well-choreographed ballet. They know each other intimately. Columbus and Wichita have somehow remained romantically involved, even if it’s stale (the lack of options might be keeping them together), and Tallahassee has appointed himself Little Rock’s substitute father, whether she wants or needs one or not.
You don’t even have to read between the lines to know that one day, the boys will wake up and find the girls gone. Sometimes you’d rather risk your brain being slurped out of your face holes than spend another night watching Netflix with your smarmy, curly-haired, concave-chested boyfriend.
The only hitch is that while these 4 bozos have gone stagnant this past decade, their zombie counterparts have not. The zombies are evolving, becoming harder to kill and better at killing. Which is depressing. Anyway, against their will, circumstances will see them all hitting the road with some new comrades in arms, hitting up Graceland and a hippie commune and literally an ice cream truck in between. Rosario Dawson joins the crew as Nevada, a badass innkeeper, and they pick up Zoey Deutch as Madison, a woman who has thus far managed to survive the zombie apocalypse because she’s absolutely brainless. It’s a role that you will make you hate her AND admire her for performing it just a little too well.
I’m naturally skeptical about sequels and I bet you are too. And yet this one reunites the whole gang and manages to recapture the magic. It leans on some of the things that made the first film unique, but doesn’t shy away from trying new things out. It finds the laugh more often than not.
I was particularly mesmerized by the clever set design; the White House is full of funny sight gags and Easter eggs that the movie doesn’t even pause to appreciate. The commune, while wholly different, is also very generously designed and outfitted. Everything in the movie is amped up – especially the violence. A head caving made even stoic Sean flinch. Or maybe he was suppressing a sneeze. The point is, my head was so firmly turned away from the screen in self-protection that I was watching him rather than the movie. Which only sounds like a complaint. In fact I quite enjoyed myself. There was really no need for a Zombieland sequel and it’s not overly concerned with justifying itself. But director Ruben Fleischer and company manage to make blood and guts endearing – go ahead and get splattered with good times.
I mean, who’s NOT excited to see a film adapted from a 784 page, Pulitzer-prize winning novel about a missing piece of art? Sean Taylor, that’s who. He did, however, make use of the film’s 147 minute run time to have a hearty nap. Hands lightly clasped, mouth totally agape, he slept, and he slept hard, for 60 of the film’s first 65 minutes. So when he did wake up, I wondered what the point was in staying. Surely he was lost. Surely there would be no rejoining the movie at this point.
But the truth is, wide awake as I was and always had been, I wasn’t any more into it. And yes, I had read Donna Tartt’s novel, which has been bowing my bookcase ever since.
The Goldfinch is about a little boy who visits a museum with his mother, who then perishes when the museum is bombed in a terrorist attack. Having survived the bombing, young Theo (Oakes Fegley) wanders around the ruins, searching for his mother, until an old man stops him, and with his dying breath, implores him to take a painting, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.
Basically orphaned, Theo is sent to live with classmate’s family (Nicole Kidman plays the mother). He befriends the old man’s business partner, Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) and another young survivor, a cute redhead named Pippa, who sustained brain damage in the attack. But just as he’s maybe settling into this new, motherless life, his deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) shows up, with a surprise girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) in tow, and whisks him off to live in a deserted Vegas suburb of foreclosed homes. His only friend is a boy named Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who’s got some questionable habits, though not nearly as objectionable as his dad’s, as it turns out.
Cut to: adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) is an antiques dealer, working with Hobie in New York City, trying his best just to cope with the lingering effects of the attack, trying hard not to be held hostage by the trauma. He’s held onto this painting, a very historied and valuable painting, all these years, secretly of course, allowing the rest of the world to believe this priceless artifact was destroyed in the bombing along with so much else. But that is not the case.
Can you imagine what this painting might represent to a young orphaned boy, having saved it from the very same rubble in which his mother’s body lay? Director John Crowley cannot. In 2.5 hours, the painting is not a symbol of hope, or a replacement parent, or the receptacle of grief and loss. It’s just a dead thing underneath a kid’s bed, as if it means nothing. In fact, the movie itself means nothing, but it takes an agonizingly long time establishing this nothingness. On and on, with lots of things happening yet none of it finding meaning. And worse yet, it finds no emotional connection, nor does it appear to even look for it. And when you’re talking about childhood trauma and absentee parents and feelings of dread and loneliness – well, you’ve got to be pretty bad at your job not to even accidentally stumble upon some kind of feeling.
The painting The Goldfinch is about how we preserve meaningful bits of our lives and our culture, but the movie The Goldfinch is about how some things are destined to be forgotten.
Before I say anything else, understand that my mind is busily chewing over a fact that makes me very uncomfortable, namely, the near-uniform whiteness of Wes Anderson’s movies. I love Wes Anderson. I love his movies. But I do not love monochromatic casting. But in thinking on this quite a bit in the past few months, I’ve come to realize that it’s not that he doesn’t hire people of colour, it’s that he doesn’t hire African Americans, rather specifically. In fact, The Royal Tenenbaums may be the only time he’s every hired a black actor for a role of substance (Courtney B. Vance got to narrate Isle of Dogs), and it’s really only to service a racist character, ie, Danny Glover’s only there so that Gene Hackman can call him a long list of slurs. And though Wes Anderson’s worlds are so often populated by the same faces, Glover’s has never reappeared. Hiring someone just to be a target seems particularly cruel. However, Kumar Pallana, an Indian actor, had appeared in 4 of Anderson’s films (he died in 2013 – and was originally a barista in Anderson’s favourite Dallas coffee shop). Waris Ahluwalia, an Indian-born, American Sikh, has been in three. Tony Revolori, the terrific breakout bellboy from The Grand Budapest Hotel, is of Guatemalan descent, though so far he’s appeared in more Spider-man movies than he has in the Wes Anderson universe. There was a smattering of Japanese voice actors in Isle of Dogs, though surprisingly and relatively few considering the whole film takes place in Japan. This isn’t exactly an exhaustive list, but it’s as close as it is short, and between you and I, the minute you start putting together a list of non-white actors, you’ve already lost. That’s 9 terrific, talky, thinky, inventive pieces of cinema with incredible ensemble casts and insane attention to detail and just 1 solitary black man, necessary to the script to be the recipient of a grumpy old man’s careless racist remarks. It’s a terrible tally.
And it’s too bad that Anderson’s movies have this problem because otherwise they’d be 100% my jam.
The Tenenbaums are a fascinatingly dysfuntional family. Matriarch Etheline (Anjelica Huston) raised her 3 children to be exceptional after her lousy husband Royal (Gene Hackman) left. Chas Tenenbaum was a prodigy investor, successfully running businesses out of his childhood bedroom. Now he’s a recent widower and fresh trauma has him raising his own sons in a constant state of terror. Margot Tenenbaum was a prodigy playwright, earning prizes and praise as a child for her mature writing. Today she’s literally soaking in depression as her husband Raleigh (Bill Murray) knocks helplessly on the bathroom door. Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) was a tennis prodigy hopelessly in love with his sister, Margot. He had a career-ending meltdown when Margot married Raleigh, and he’s spent the time since sailing the world, keeping oceans between himself and his family. Eli (Owen Wilson) is the boy next door who grew up gazing upon the relative privilege of the Tenenbaum family, wishing to belong to them. And of course Henry Sherman (Glover) is Etheline’s new suitor and the family’s disruptor.
Broke, homeless, with hackles raised about the new man prowling about, Royal Tenenbaum decides to home after decades away. They won’t have him of course. He spent years disappointing his family before being completely estranged from them. So his only move is to fake cancer as a ploy to gain sympathy – and even that’s a tough sell. But it gets him back in the family home, and one by one the grown children all return to orbit around him. They’re all fucked up in their own ways, but they’ve also got an extremely fucked up dynamic together. They’re a bunch of fire starters just waiting for a match, and Royal is a goddamned flame thrower. Whoosh.
It’s a movie full of quirks that still manages to be cohesive and sell a cogent story about a family full of tragedies. Betrayal lurks in every closet, disaster through every doorway. And even though it contains perhaps Anderson’s bleakest scene ever (set to Elliott Smith’s Needle in the Hay), it’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of laughs, but also some actual heartfelt moments. The movie is an act of forgiveness, a representation of forgiveness being a gift you give yourself, to set yourself free from the past and the pain it causes you. Royal may be irredeemable but his family is not. They’re deeply flawed and chronically eccentric, but the script searches authenticity and finds it in abundance.
Though the role of Royal was written with Hackman in mind, it was offered to Gene Wilder, who turned it down.
Danny Glover’s look in the film was modeled after U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, which is possibly my favourite sentence in the world.
There is no such thing as Dalmatian mice; the spots were drawn on with Sharpies.
Anjelica Huston wears Wes Anderson’s mother’s glasses in the film.
The hand that is seen with the BB lodged between its knuckles is not Ben Stiller’s, it’s Andrew Wilson’s (yes, brother to Luke and Owen). It’s no trick, he really has a BB stuck in there and has since childhood. Can you guess which one of his brothers shot him?
I turned to Sean at one point to say that there were a lot of Beatles songs in the film. In fact, Ruby Tuesday was playing at the moment, which is by the Stones, as I’m sure you’re aware, and as I myself am normally aware, though my brain was clearly existing in some alternate reality at the time. There is a Beatles song, and a John Lennon one, and four from the Stones. Brain fart.
I’ve been on a bit of a kick lately to see what Chris Evans does when he’s not Captain America – particularly since he’s super not Captain America anymore. I think I only really know him from Snowpiercer, which is one of the best movies ever made, so it’s a solid credit, I’ll give him that. But it seems our most civic-minded super hero is super selective when it comes to the roles he takes, which doesn’t necessarily shake out to him choosing only the best. Since Snowpiercer (2013), he’s only been in three non-Marvel films. So yeah, it makes sense that you might want to retreat from that universe, for your own sanity and such (although caveat: his buddy Falcon is along for the ride). 2014 saw the release of both this film, and Before We Go and then there was 2017’s Gifted, which I never saw because Matt called Evans’ performance ‘bland’ and the film “sentimental.’ So when he’s not chasing down bad guys, he’s either drawn to the syrupy stuff, or he’s stuck with it. I know in recent months, as he did the Endgame press tour, he mentioned wanting/needing time off. As the only bachelor Avenger, he was feeling lonely, and wanting to devote time to finding love and starting a family. Which doesn’t mean he’ll be absent from the big screen. At least not for a while. He’s slated to appear in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out later this year, The Red Sea Diving Resort, also intended for release later this year, a limited TV series opposite Michelle Dockery called Defending Jacob, a starring role in Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite next year, and eventually appearing in a film as the only living descendant of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And then: love and babies!
For now: Playing It Cool.
We only know him as “Me,” a screenwriter recently commissioned to write a rom-com. Only problem: he’s never been in love, doesn’t really believe in it. So he and his best friend, also a writer, Scott (Topher Grace) hit the town for “research” which is when it hits him: love. Or, you know, infatuation. With a woman who seems entirely to good to be true, and she is, because she’s already engaged. To someone else, obviously.
But the memory of having met The Perfect Woman haunts him, and blocks him creatively, so instead of writing, he investigates, telling himself he only wants to know her name. ‘Her’ as we know her (Michelle Monaghan), remains elusive, but along the way his inner writer lets loose and he tells a lot of stories, testing himself out as the leading man to see if any of them feel plausible. When he finally finds Her, they try being “just friends,” which means he spends an uncomfortable amount of time begging for sex, despite her still being attached. But he cares about Her, y’all! Does that make it better or worse?
This rom-com swears off all the rom-com tropes. But can it really resist? Actually, some of the language is already quite dated, and those things tend to niggle at me. Like, overt and dirty sexism for no reason. Not that there IS a reason. You know what I mean. But aside from that, what we need from rom-coms is a small dose of sweetness, a big dose of laughs, and just enough wink-wink, we’re-in-on-the-joke to make it all go down smoothly, like a milkshake. You know it’s bad for you, it’s entirely too sweet, but sometimes, you just can’t resist. Playing It Cool wants to be a milkshake but it’s not even a rootbeer float. It’s more like that flat gingerale your mother used to make you for a sore tummy. Evans and Monaghan are effortless together, but the script is totally devoid of character. It’s cool to reject the usual cliches, it’s even welcome, but you have to replace them with something. That’s where the writing part of writing a script comes in. Playing It Cool plays it a little too cool.
Save yourself $12 and some heart burn. Brad’s Status is midlife crisis. Anyone who calls a Millennial whiny, entitled, or self-indulgent has cleary never met Brad (Ben Stiller) or his ilk. He seemingly has everything a Millennial may never get: a great house, a job he’s passionate about, a family who adores him. And yet.
And yet his son’s success has led him to do some deep introspection. His son Troy (Austin Abrams) is applying to college and his good grades and musicianship mean he’s a shoo-in wherever he might apply – including Harvard, which is the school they’re going to check out over the weekend. Brad is surprised his son is so high-achieving, proud of course – but maybe also a little jealous. And he’s reminded of his own youth, when life was still before him and anything was possible. His best mates in college have all gone on to stunning success – Craig (Michael Sheen) is a best-selling politico, Billy (Jemaine Clement) is enjoying early retirement in paradise after selling his company, Jason (Luke Wilson) is a hedge fund guy with his own private jet, and Nick (Mike White) is a Hollywood director with a palatial home. Brad gets unforgivably mopey about the fact that his sweet wife (Jenna Fisher) didn’t encourage him to sell out, and his job helping people connect with charitable giving is peanuts compared to just being a rich guy with money to give.
We get treated to so much of Brad’s whiny inner monologue that you’ll want to punch him, repeatedly. Various Millennials have to literally hold his hand and explain to him that he’s being gross: that everything he’s complaining about is white privilege, male privilege garbage. And he still doesn’t get it.
Brad’s life only seems pale when he compares it to the 1%. He burns with first world problems. He seems like a not fantastic guy who doesn’t get an ounce of my sympathy. Of course, Ben Stiller is well-suited to this kind of neurotic self-pity. With anxiety written all over his face, we know 5 minutes into this movie that we hate him and regret having to spend the next 100 minutes listening to him be ungrateful for his charmed life. Thank goodness for his son who sees things a little more clearly. Mike White may have some interesting things to say on the subject, and I pray that he’s just as contemptuous of Brad as we are, but for me, he was just too unlikeable a character to really inspire much empathy from me, and I mostly just wanted to turn him off.
Watch Helen Hunt show her versatility by playing both The Mom and The Bitch in a single role! I’ve never been a big fan of Helen Hunt and this is not the movie to win me over. Her character is so shrill and cliched I feel a strong itch to break into a rant about the very narrow width of roles for women of a certain age in Hollywood, except here’s the awkward catch: Helen Hunt wrote it herself. She directs too. But this is not something I’d be very proud to put my name on.
Jackie (Hunt) is a New York book editor with an unhealthily codependent relationship with her son Angelo (Brenton Thwaites), an aspiring writer just out of high school. He’s not too keen on post-secondary education, and when he fucks off to California for the summer (where his dad lives, and the waves beckon), she irrationally follows. Is young Angelo happy to have his Mommy along on his big independent adventure? No he is not. So to prove how cool she is, Jackie takes up surfing. When stubbornness alone isn’t quite enough, she reluctantly takes lessons from Ian (Luke Wilson).
Ian is a chill dude, but can he help her remove the stick from her ass? And do we really need another movie about a woman who needs to be taught to unwind from a barely employed but somehow revered younger man? Fuck no. Like Hunt or dislike her as an actor, she clearly isn’t very mature as a writer. Her script is obvious and creaky. And she’s pretty uninspired as a director, taking too long to develop any sympathy for the lead character (ie, herself). And don’t get me started on the missing irony of a book editor and a writer griping and agonizing over endings, when the film in fact has none.
Ride is a crummy movie, but it might have limited use as an instructional video for middle-aged surf noobs.