COLUMBUS (2017)

August 3, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. The first feature film from Korean writer/director/editor Kogonada provides intimate and revealing slices of life that are somehow simultaneously familiar, thought-provoking, and enlightening. There is so much going in this seemingly quiet little story that we are left thinking that it could easily have been split into 2 or 3 movies.

Haley Lu Richardson stars as Casey, a local girl who works in the library and as a tour guide. She’s clearly smart, and readily admits to sacrificing her future for the responsibility of looking after her mother (Michelle Forbes) – a recovering addict to both meth and “s***heads”. Her exchanges with Gabriel (Rory Culkin) carry the weight of intellects-in-development, as well as strained attraction that is regularly shut down through sneakily awkward and uncomfortable moments. Their back-and-forth on reading, video games and attention spans is one of the best on-screen exchanges we will hear this year.

The film begins with an elderly man having some type of seizure, sending him to the hospital and canceling his scheduled architecture presentation. His son Jin (John Cho) arrives from out of town and the next morning has an initial inelegant crossing of paths with Casey. The lack of connection between the two transforms in a beautifully written and photographed scene the next day. Shot from the other side of the window glass with no audible dialogue, we witness the moment Casey lets down her guard and Jin becomes enamored. It’s a unique and wonderful scene – so quiet, yet it changes everything.

Columbus, Indiana is the other star of the film. Its famous modern architecture is featured prominently throughout as Casey guides Jin to her favorites. Their corresponding conversations, usually while puffing on cigarettes, gradually become more detailed and more revealing. Doorways, bridges, windows, and buildings become part of the conversation, and crucial to the look and feel created by cinematographer Elisha Christian.

Mr. Cho captures the stoic nature of a son inconvenienced by a Korean culture that requires him to be present should his father die. He is miffed by the need to ‘adequately grieve’ for the man who never put his own life on hold for his son. Ms. Richardson is the revelation here. Having seen her in SPLIT, THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, and THE BRONZE, it was obvious she had screen presence, but here she shows the depth and range that portends a long and varied acting career. Her slumped shoulders and panged expression are spot on for a 19 year old who is too smart for her situation, yet too young and unworldly to know how to forge ahead.

Kogonada proves himself a sly storyteller as well as a master of visual setting, utilizing language, architecture and above all, conversation. At one point, Jin asks Casey “Are we losing interest in everyday life?” This filmmaker is doing his part to keep us aware and interested.

watch the trailer:

 


SPLIT (2017)

January 28, 2017

split Greetings again from the darkness. As a filmmaker, the public’s expectations become a burden rather than a blessing once you write and director back-to-back movies like The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000). M Night Shyamalan has never been able to replicate the box office or critical success that he enjoyed with those two films … but, oh how he has tried. It’s this latest that finally makes us believe he is at least having fun again.

James McAvoy plays Dennis and Patricia and Hedwig and … well … he plays a guy with 23 distinct personalities. As you might imagine, some of these personalities are nicer than others, while some are stronger in their fight for the spotlight. As Dennis, a button-upped neat freak, he captures 3 teenage girls and holds them captive. At first, the purpose is a bit murky, but the delay does allow the girls to meet some of the personalities.

The girls are Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, who was so good in The Witch), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson from The Bronze), and Marcia (Jessica Sula). Claire and Marcia are the popular girls who react with typical teenage emotions, while Casey pushes for patience and observation. It’s Casey who may be the film’s most interesting character as childhood flashbacks occur that are first thought to explain her survival skills, but soon enough disclose a darker, more unfortunate past. The younger Casey is coolly played by newcomer Izzie Coffey, and holds her own with Sebastian Arcelus (her dad) and Brad William Henke (her Uncle John).

The always terrific Betty Buckley is outstanding as Dr Fletcher, the psychologist treating McAvoy’s character(s). Ms. Buckley adds class and a connection to the real world that gives us hope for the future of the girls being held. McAvoy really seems to be enjoying the acting challenge and shape-shifting that accompanies this mental disorder, and he will likely creep you out a few times. Cinematographer Mike Gioukakis was a key to the look and mood of It Follows, and his camera work here is superb in mostly confined areas. Sure, the whole thing is preposterous, but it’s fun and wicked … and with this director, you can expect a surprise or twist – even after all these years.

watch the trailer:

 


THE BRONZE (2016)

March 18, 2016

bronze Greetings again from the darkness. Leave it to the Duplass brothers (Executive Producers here) to turn the traditional sports movie genre upside down. Of course, this is about as much of a sports movie as Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, but it does use the backdrop of the Olympics to make a point about fading fame. Mostly though, it’s an excuse to crack wise, spew profanities and spoil anything and anyone remotely innocent.

Melissa Rauch (Bernadette on “The Big Bang Theory”) stars as Hope, a former bronze medalist in Women’s gymnastics, who captured the hearts of Americans when she battled through an Achilles injury to perform her final event. The movie picks up a decade after Hope’s Olympic heroics and we first see her enjoying a clip of her big moment. And by enjoying, I mean … well, never mind. It turns out Hope never was able to compete again, and instead continues to milk her celebrity status around small town Amherst, Ohio. When her dad (Gary Cole) gently nudges her to take a coaching job, she shouts “I’m a star, not a coach!” Hope is a selfish brat whose egoism has her clinging to former glory and preventing her from joining society.

Hope gets tricked into coaching Maggie, the town’s up-and-coming gymnastics prodigy. Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson) idolizes Hope and is her polar opposite in every possible personality trait – a very welcome upbeat and perky addition to the movie. Instead of embracing the opportunity, Hope goes out of her way to sabotage naïve Maggie’s dream. Along the way, she also mistreats the gym owner who somehow fancies her – despite Hope’s hopelessness. Twitchy Ben (Thomas Middleditch) is a sweet guy who sees the good in Hope and does his best to pull her from the dark side.

A twist of fate places Hope at odds with her old flame and former Olympic gold medalist, Lance (Sebastian Stan), who is now a leader in the world of women’s gymnastics. These two banter like siblings who dislike each other, and also execute one of the wackiest ever on-screen comedic sex scenes – for all of you who have fantasized about frolicking with a gymnast.

Director Bryan Buckley is best known for his 50-plus TV commercials that have aired during Super Bowls, but here he lets Melissa Rauch do her thing (she also co-wrote the script with her husband Winston Rauch). There is some commentary on fame and celebrity (and cameos from Olga Korbut, Dominique Dawes, Dominique Moceanu), and some insight into narcissism; but mostly it’s a chance for Ms. Rauch to flaunt her foul motor-mouth with some extremely crass and raunchy lines. It’s kind of cute in an absurdly profane way, and some might agree it beats watching real gymnastics.

Note: Including a Doris Day song on this film’s soundtrack may be the funniest, or at least most ironic moment.

watch the trailer: