J.D. “Juvenile Delinquent” Salinger gets thrown out of schools just to piss his father off. It’s his mother who encourages him to enroll in a writing class, while his dad doubts there’ll be a single paycheque in his future. In his writing program he meets professor Whit Burnett, a hard-ass he grows to love. “Jerry” writes because he’s angry and he needs to express it somehow. Burnett shows him how to do this without alienating his reader. He’s also the one who encourages him to turn Holden Caulfield into a novel, and the one who worries him when he goes off to war.
Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) returns from war a better writer perhaps, but messed up in other ways, unsurprisingly. Catcher In The Rye is an enormous hit. That messes him up too. I wondered how I’d come to miss this movie, with notable subjects and stars, but I didn’t have to wait long to figure out the why if not the how: Kevin Spacey. He co-stars as the beleaguered, bloated professor, which means the accusations against him would have left the producers scrambling, and they buried it in a shallow Hollywood grave.
But to be fair, Spacey’s involvement isn’t the film’s only problem. It’s too neat, too well-packaged, perhaps even too kind to the author, who no doubt was an interesting, tortured recluse. Hoult is fine as Salinger, and he plays well against the likes of Sarah Paulson, Zoey Deutch, and even Spacey. But this is a pretty ordinary, banal biopic that’s a little starry-eyed about its subject, which dilutes its power and keeps us at arm’s length from the real artist, a man who loved writing but gave it up to live privately, to meditate for his mental health, and to avoid press at all costs.
It’s also, if we’re being honest, hard to reconcile a beloved and important work with so much pain. This movie is both too much (too broad) and not enough (no depth). Rebel in the Rye is more like Mediocre at the Movies.
Two horny millennials, Gabi and Martin, listed as DTF in their social dating aps, meet up one night for some NSA fun. The sex is so hot, they accidentally fall in love. They’re both as pretty as they are restless so it’s a surprise to both of them that their one-night stand turns into a live-in relationship. This is unfamiliar territory amid their hookup culture and they have to invent games and rules to keep things interesting, but connecting is actually refreshing, and they’re intoxicated with that first blush of love. But as the newness fades, the lengths they’ll go to to keep things spicy become extreme.
Open relationships are not for everyone. I’m pretty okay about anything consensual that makes people happy and fulfilled, but let’s be honest: open relationships are hard to
Um, no shit.
maintain. Also true: monogamous relationships are hard to maintain. Half of those end in divorce. Some people think they can solve the challenges of monogamy with polyamory and perhaps some are right. But if it’s difficult to make one person happy, it’s much harder juggling two or more.
Gabi and Martin are of a generation needing constant stimulus and feedback. They’ve gone from a phone full of potential lovers to one, single lover, night after night. At first it’s exhilarating to fall head over heels, but eventually monogamy starts to feel constrictive. Relying solely on each other to have their needs met becomes “boring.” So they open things up. Soon they’re swiping left and right harder than they ever did before. Does this save their relationship, or does a certain ugly green monster pay them a visit?
Laia Costa and Nicholas Hoult slide into their roles effortlessly. The camera is penetrating, the script languid. We get sucked down the rabbit hole of their relationship along with them. And you know what? Down there, it looks exactly the same as all relationships from the beginning of time. And it’s kind of dull. Director Drake Doremus doesn’t really have anything new to say. You don’t so much root for the characters as you root for their mistakes to catch up with them. Which is probably quite a bad sign, in retrospect.
There was nothing very honourable about the war in Iraq, and this movie knows it. It’s written by war vet Chris Roessner and he’s not afraid to paint the screen with his shame.
Private Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult) signed up to the reserves in the summer of 2001, thinking it would help him pay his way through college. And it might have worked had some idiots not flown planes into the Twin Towers. So off he goes to a war that’s immediately disillusioning. He doesn’t know why he’s there or what he’s doing.
Roessner watched Platoon for the first time in Saddam Hussein’s commandeered palace in Tikrit and it made him want to really pay attention to what was happening around him – it was film school he was hoping to attend, after all. Now he’s among the first of his generation to write a script about his own war.
If Ocre is a reluctant soldier, he’s also an empathetic one. Younger than most others in his platoon, he isn’t yet jaded; his naivety both a blessing and a curse in his work. He gets sent to a village where they need to repair a water main but work is slow, the days scorching, the villagers too afraid to lend a hand. It’s a clusterfuck. The movie is basically the whole war in a nutshell: it doesn’t go very well. They fight apathy every day. The two sides struggle to understand each other.
Sand Castle diverges from other recent war movies in that it shows fresh-faced new recruits being sent overseas, maybe for the first time in their lives, instead of the grizzled, cynical Bradley Cooper types we’re used to seeing. The movie is authentic but it’s no classic – a forgettable, minor war movie. But it does give Henry Cavill the chance to shout my favourite line: “Listen here you piece of shit. I hope you get shot and fucking die…Don’t translate that.”
Is cynicism a sub-genre yet? Because it kind of should be. American Psycho. The Wolf of Wall Street. Network. Fight Club. I assume that Kill Your Friends was hoping to rub shoulders with these Kinds of Nihilism, except it isn’t quite clever enough to be admitted to the club.
It’s about the music business in London, circa 1997. Certainly a heady time to be an A&R man, which is exactly what Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult) is. It’s the height of Britpop, and business is booming. If you find the next Oasis, or hell, the next Spice Girls, you’re made. But one misstep can also mean career suicide. It’s a super competitive industry, and both the screenwriter (John Niven) and the director (Owen Harris) have decided to bonk you over the head with this fact. And when, after the first 10 minutes or so, you’ve been completely bludgeoned with this theme, they yank open your jaw and force-feed it to you for 90 minutes more until you’re veritably choking on it.
Hoult is fun to watch. He’s doing the heavy lifting in this movie, out-acting the material he’s given. But his character is one-note, and it’s the exact same note as the movie in its entirety, so nothing sticks out. The bitterness is unending. Kill Your Friends aims to be the blackest of comedies, but when everyone is horrible all the time it really dulls your senses. It’s a grueling film to slog through without a single redeeming character so you can’t emotionally invest. Stelfox is pushed to further and further extremes but you won’t care an iota because nobody deserves to get out of this with their dignity intact.
To their credit, they spared zero expense on the soundtrack: Blur, Prodigy, Radiohead, The Chemical Brothers, Oasis. It reminds you what a good time it was to be alive in the late 90s. It also makes you angry that they’ve failed to live up to these bands. Almost certainly there’s an interesting tale here to tell. Kill Your Friends has no idea what it is though, and hopes you’ll be impressed with blood and cursing instead, which is almost the same as story, right?
In this version of the future, your feelings are genetically “turned off” in the womb. People are no longer subject to their moods, their intuitions, their base emotions. Everything is pleasantly flat. Nothing bothers them. But some are subject to a disorder in which those feelings are somehow switched back on. This disease is fatal – if you aren’t driven to suicide, you’ll be euthanatized, because being the only sensitive person in a void of flat affect is simply too much to bear.
Silas (Nicholas Hoult) contracts the disease. He’s given medication to try to suppress his feelings and is told to hope for a cure, but he knows that by stage 4, he’ll be given a painless death and that’s it. This world without emotion feels rather cold and lonely to us, the viewers, but the people living it don’t seem to notice until they come down with the disease, which sets them even further apart from their peers. But the one good thing is that Silas can see that his work mate Nia (Kristen Stewart) must also be infected. She hides her disease from others but cannot escape his awakened intuition. The two inevitably fall in love, though “coupling” is distinctly prohibited. The only way they can be together is to leave society and head for the outside world, where primitive humans still exist.
The film is well-realized and quite stylish. The best part is the acting. I hate to admit it, but this is Kristen Stewart’s least lip-biting role yet. She and Hoult have tangible chemistry, and for a couple of kids who are experiencing sexual urges for the first time, the film is surprisingly sexy. Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver lend a lot of credibility in their supporting roles, their performances add urgency and intensity to the proceedings.
The problem, however, is with the story. The truth is, it just feels recycled. It feels like you’ve seen this before. It’s like every second Margaret Atwood novel and does little to distinguish itself from other movies in the genre. What it doesn’t borrow from Atwood it steals from Shakespeare and it never really does its own thing. Equals is a highly-polished piece from a second-hand store. It’s not trash but it could never compete with the real thing. If you’re the kind of person who’s comfortable buying a couch off Kijiji, then maybe this one’s for you.