Greetings again from the darkness. In 1904, J.M. Barrie finished “Peter Pan, or the Boy who wouldn’t Grow Up”, and since then the story has been re-imagined on stage, on the silver screen, and even with a live TV production. Every generation gets their version (sometimes more than one), and the most famous (or infamous) are the 1953 animated Disney classic, the 1991 Steven Spielberg live action version HOOK, the 2003 live action version that never really captured a wide audience, and the fairly recent 2015 flop PAN from Joe Wright. At the core of the story is that none of us really want to grow up and take on the responsibilities of adulthood, and to avoid such a wretched future, we’d be willing to fly off in the middle of the night to a place called Neverland and fight an evil pirate while chasing great adventures.
If you want to explore the optimistic and playful aspects of the story, then Walt Disney animation and director Steven Spielberg are your best bets. On the flip side, you wouldn’t expect the director of A GHOST STORY (2017) and THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021) to follow suit. Writer-director David Lowery and his co-writer and collaborator Toby Halbrooks (Polyphonic Spree) on those projects wouldn’t be expected to dwell on the cheery aspects of the story, and they certainly don’t. Instead, we get exactly what they expertly deliver in their work – lush photography and a slightly twisted perspective on what makes people (young and old) tick.
We first meet Wendy (the talented Ever Anderson, offspring of Milla Jovovich and director Paul WS Anderson) as she frets over being shipped off to boarding school, while still finding the energy to stage sword fights with her younger brothers in all corners of the upstairs bedroom they share. Yet another piece of broken furniture results in the parents (Alan Tudyk, Molly Parker) lecturing Wendy about how her time for fun has passed and she should set an example for her brothers. This is the same evening (and very early in the film) where Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi) and Peter Pan (newcomer Alexander Molony) show up to whisk the three kids away from drudgery and towards adventure and fun.
What to say about Neverland … the “lost boys” aren’t really living a carefree, desirable life, and fun seems to be a bit hard to come by. Their leader, Peter Pan, is certainly a moody dude. Adventure does strike every time Captain Hook and his band of pirates attack. Jude Law seems to relish the role and his handlebar mustache, gravelly voice, and grumpy demeanor is one of the film’s highlights – along with comedian Jim Gaffigan (underrated as an actor) as first mate Smee.
In this iteration, Peter Pan is a bit of a blah character, as the focus is on Wendy and Captain Hook. We do get the origin story for Peter and Hook, and the visuals (Newfoundland, Faroe Islands) from cinematographer Bojan Bozelli are matched by composer Daniel Hart’s score. Director Lowery has modernized the tale by having the Lost Boys include boys and girls of multiple nationalities, a biracial Tinker Bell, and a heroic Tiger Lily played by Alyssa Wapanatahk. Kids will enjoy the flying scenes, sword fights, and the giant crocodile, however, it’s fair to wonder if the film is too dark and joyless for youngsters … plus the focus on Hook’s disenchantment is more for grown-ups than kiddos. In fairness to Lowery and Halbrooks, they were also behind the excellent and underappreciated PETE’S DRAGON (2016).
We have come to accept that Disney classics are being re-made and re-imagined as live action flicks, and it’s no surprise that some are better than others.
Greetings again from the darkness. If you are at all inclined to see this movie, then I would encourage you to do so … and brace yourself for a surreal and mystical treat unlike any other medieval tale previously adapted for the big screen. Writer-director David Lowery re-teams with A24, the studio that also distributed his critically-acclaimed 2017 film, A GHOST STORY, to deliver a trip for your senses based on the tale of Sir Gawain – a tale that’s been told in various and often contradictory ways over many years.
Dev Patel (LION, 2016) stars as Gawain, the nephew of an ailing King Arthur (Sean Harris, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT, 2018) and Guinevere (Kate Dickie, THE WITCH, 2015). When not imbibing with his friends, shaggy Gawain spends his time in the throes of intimacy with his paramour, Essel (Oscar winner Alicia Vikander sporting a pixie do). Young Gawain feels unworthy when he’s amongst the knights and dreams of becoming an important man, so that he too may regale the King with his tales of adventure.
Gawain’s mother (Sarita Choudhury), in an attempt to facilitate her son’s dreams, uses her witchcraft to conjure up his first opportunity for greatness … and the film’s first visually stunning moment. We are mesmerized as The Green Knight (Ralph Ineson, THE WITCH, 2015) makes his entrance riding a great steed into the room where the Knights are gathered at their Round Table. The Green Knight, best described as a giant Groot (from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY), puts forth a challenge that only Gawain is willing to take up. The scene is stunning and memorable, and allows Gawain one year of celebrity before the second part of the challenge must be faced.
It’s at this point where Gawain sets off on his journey … one that can be likened to Homer’s “The Odyssey”, in that it’s filled with surprises and obstacles that defy logic and explanation. The surprises include: Barry Keoghan (DUNKIRK, 2017) as a garrulous, yet deceitful forest scavenger; the ghost of St Winifred (Erin Kellyman) requesting help locating her skull in the swamp; scantily-clad (CGI) bald-headed giants slowly roaming the forest; and a Lord (Joel Edgerton) and his mistress who offer shelter and advice that may or may not be helpful. Also on his journey to meet back up with The Green Knight, Gawain is accompanied by a red fox that holds his own surprises.
Director Lowery’s film is a surreal, hypnotic medieval becoming-a-man tale that is both epic and intimate. There is much to unwrap here, including the witches who clearly establish women’s control of men, and the idea that some may view themselves as destined for greatness, but blink when the moment of truth arrives. We do get a glimpse of Excalibur, and Lowery’s frequent collaborator Daniel Hart’s excellent score expertly blends with the infusion of metal music. The film requires the heightened use of your senses, and the fascinating work of cinematographer Andrew DrozPalermo keeps us zoned in on each character and every scene.
Greetings again from the darkness. We’ve not previously seen a movie like this latest from writer/director David Lowery. Detractors will likely roll their eyes and ask “and why would we?”, while those who find a connection here will pontificate endlessly on the existential meaning of life, love, loss and legacy. Polarized reactions to the film will lead to some colorful post-viewing discussions … exactly what would be expected from an artsy non-horror movie entitled A Ghost Story.
Yes, there is a ghost. However this ghost is neither friendly Casper nor angry spirit. Instead, for the vast majority of the run time, we see a white sheet covered Casey Affleck (at least we are told it’s him) standing in static melancholic repose. We do initially meet Affleck’s composer character in what appears to be a somewhat normal up-and-down relationship with his wife, played by Rooney Mara. In the midst of a passive-aggressive argument about whether to move from their somewhat dumpy suburban rental, Affleck’s character is killed in an automobile accident mere feet from their driveway. We next see him back in the house, draped in a bedsheet (one way to keep wardrobe costs under control), and watching his grief-stricken wife through blackened eye holes.
We come to understand that the ghost is confined to the home and time seems to bounce from present to future to past. The residents change, but the ghost doesn’t. Periodically the ghost flashes anger or some other act that disrupts the real world, but mostly he just stands and observes longingly.
A word of caution is in order. This is a deep cut, art house indie that features very little dialogue, almost no plot, and numerous extended fixed shots with no payoff for your anticipation. Oh, and it’s shot in the old fashioned almost square aspect ratio. There are no creepy clowns under the bed or in the storm drains, and there is an absence of cheap jump-scares (OK, there is one that is the director’s prank on the audience). This is more abstract experimental filmmaking than traditional horror, so choose your viewing partner accordingly.
Filmmaker Lowery previously collaborated with Affleck and Mara on the critically acclaimed 2013 Ain’t Then Bodies Saints, and this one was filmed in secret just after Lowery completed Pete’s Dragon. It takes a meditative approach to some of the issues we all ponder at times. Lines such as “We do what we can to endure”, and “You do what you can to make sure you’re still around after you’re gone” … these provide the clues when you begin to wonder what the film is trying to tell you. In fact, it isn’t telling you anything. It’s encouraging you to think. The film may lack a traditional narrative structure, but if taken with an open mind, it can generate some introspection that most movies wouldn’t even attempt to inspire.
In addition to Affleck and Mara, the small cast also includes Liz Cardenas Franke (the film’s producer) as the landlord, and singer-songwriter Will Oldham as a hipster philosopher/prognosticator who is given entirely too much screen time. Daniel Hart contributes an excellent use of music – especially considering the minimal dialogue and non-existent special effects. The film doesn’t solve the mysteries of the universe, but it does answer the question of whether Rooney Mara can eat an entire pie in one uninterrupted shot. Expect descriptions as disparate as: inexplicable, pretentious, boring, thought-provoking, and existential … whatever your reaction, you wouldn’t be wrong.
Greetings again from the darkness. Finally catching up with this one after it received such critical raves on the festival circuit last year. It’s one of those films that cause so many “normal” movie goers to question the tastes of critics. It certainly has the look and feel of a terrific independent art-house film, but as they say, looks can be deceiving.
The cast is outstanding and play off each other and the setting exceedingly well. Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster and Keith Carradine are a pleasure to watch … they make it easy to KNOW these characters. Daniel Hart’s score is the perfect balance of haunting and complimentary – understated at its best. The most exceptional thing of all is the cinematography of Bradford Young. The look of the film is right there with the best of Terrence Malick … and that amplifies the film’s biggest problem. The story is highly recollective of Malick’s Badlands, and that’s where the shortcomings jump out. There is just not much substance to this story – it’s really just another in the line of disillusioned criminals dreaming of a clean slate.
Writer/director David Lowery is a definite talent, but his dependency on look and feel prevent this one from reaching greatness. We recognize immediately that this can’t end well. The only question is how badly will it get for each of the main characters. Crime may not pay, but some criminals just seem to keep paying … and drag down others with them. For those that enjoy the indies, this is one to catch up with … and filmmaker David Lowery’s best work is still ahead of him.
**NOTE: This may be one of the worst movie titles of all time