DON’T MAKE ME GO (2022)

July 14, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Sometimes a movie synopsis just screams “Lifetime Channel”. As an example: A road trip movie with a single father and his teenage daughter would be a typical beginning. Oh, and the father has been recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. And then, let’s have them track down the mother that abandoned the girl when she was a baby. Those pieces certainly lay the groundwork for a sappy melodrama meant only to induce tears from those who enjoy a good cry after a hard week of work. Fortunately and surprisingly, crisp writing, proficient filmmaking, and a talented cast work together to make this film something entirely different – a heartfelt saga grounded in real life feelings and moments.

Hannah Marks is an actress now making her mark as an up-and-coming director, while the script was written by Vera Herbert (“This is Us”). A perfect example of their grounded approach to these storylines comes near the film’s beginning when Max Park (John Cho, Star Trek franchise as Sulu, COLUMBUS, 2017) reacts to the doctor’s diagnosis of brain tumor and prognosis of one year to live. His movements strike us as real to the moment, rather than staged for effect. Max immediately rules out an option for a highly-risky surgery, choosing instead to bribe his 15-year-old daughter Wally (newcomer Mia Isaac) to take a road trip with him under the auspices of attending his 20-year college reunion. The bribe? Driving lessons.

Wally is a ‘normal’ teen who makes both good and bad decisions, while often getting frustrated at her ‘boring’ and restrictive parent. Max chooses not to tell Wally of his condition or his ultimate goal of reuniting her with her mother, in hopes that she will have family once he’s gone. The drive takes place in Max’s old wood-paneled Jeep Wagoneer, an example of how he has sacrificed to provide for her all these years. Another deeper sacrifice is revealed on the trip, and there are moments of disagreement and aggravation, but also special moments of bonding that can only happen when a parent and teenager communicate.

Since it was filmed in New Zealand during the pandemic, the staged road trip from California through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and ultimately, Florida, does not offer the familiar landmarks along the way that we’d expect. But this story isn’t about cool pit stops or Bourbon Street (although we do get some killer shooting stars), it’s about a father understanding his daughter and that daughter understanding her father.

Excellent supporting work is provided by Kaya Scodelario (a mutual booty call buddy for Max), Josh Thomson (Max’s oldest friend), Otis Dhanji (Wally’s first crush), Stefania LaVie Owen (Wally’s friend), Jemaine Clement (as Max’s ex’s ex), and Jen Van Epps (as Wally’s mom). But make no mistake, this movie crackles thanks to the chemistry between Mr. Cho and Ms. Isaac. We believe in them, and though the ending is a bit creaky, their relationship is fully-formed in reality. When he counsels, “A good man will take you dancing”, we smile along with Wally, knowing this father wants only the best for her. The opening voiceover warns us, “You’re not going to like the way this story ends. But you’re going to like the story.” That turns out to be true, although it doesn’t stop the appreciation for all involved. This journey on the road turns into a journey in life.

Streaming on Prime Video beginning July 15, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE KING’S DAUGHTER (2022)

January 21, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It happens sometimes where the most memorable part of a movie is its setting. Plenty of non-descript westerns (and also some really good ones) took place in Monument Valley. MAMMA MIA! was fine, but that Greek isle of Skopelos was dreamy. Even those who aren’t big fans of Wes Anderson movies would likely agree that his sets and filming locations are something to behold. Somehow, director Sean McNamara surpasses all of these by filming inside and on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, a truly gorgeous and historical setting.

As for the movie, the 1997 novel “The Moon and the Sun” by Vonda N McIntire has been adapted for the screen by a list of screenwriters including Ronald Bass, Barry Berman, Laura Harrington, and James Schamus. Since it’s told in a storybook format, with narration from the great Julie Andrews, one must fight the urge to label this as ‘heavy-borrowing’ from the 1987 classic, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, and instead view it as a historical-adventure-fantasy attempting to appeal to most everyone, while likely not satisfying any particular demographic … despite some worthy elements.

Pierce Brosnan stars as King Louis XIV (who became the longest ruling monarch between 1638-1715), known as The Sun King. He has just returned from a victorious battle when an assassin’s bullet reminds him of his own mortality, spurring a plan from the weirdo royal doctor, Dr. Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber). The plan involves sacrificing a mermaid during a lunar eclipse in order to capture the “light” from her heart and provide immortality to the King … for the good of France, of course. So the King sends dashing Captain Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE KILLER, 2012) to find the lost City of Atlantis and capture one of the famed mermaids.

At the same time, the King has sent for his illegitimate daughter Marie-Josephe (Kaya Scoderlario, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, 2017). She has lived her life in a nunnery, and now is to use her musical talent to takeover as the royal composer – whilst not knowing who her father is. Adding to the confusion is the King’s ulterior motive. The kingdom is in dire financial straits, and in addition to his own immortality, he also plans to have his daughter marry the son (Ben Lloyd Hughes, DIVERGENT, 2014) of the richest merchant in France. A dandy plan were it not for the independent-minded non-Princess falling hard for the swashbuckling Yves. Another complication arises when Marie-Josephe befriends the captive mermaid (Bingbing Fan), pitting the daughter against the father … a scenario many parents have experienced (only not typically with mermaids).

It’s only fair when discussing this movie to mention its own history. Filmed in 2014, the reasons for a delayed release are many and varied. No need to go into the studio and distributor issues, but you may have heard about Bingbing Fan’s (the mermaid) saga. She’s the biggest star in China, and in 2018 she disappeared for a few months after a tax evasion scandal. Fortunately, she’s back working. Another oddity, is that co-stars Kaya Scoderlario and Benjamin Walker met on this set, married a year later and now have two children. That’s how long ago this was filmed! Oscar winner William Hurt adds a touch of class as Father La Chaise, and the talented Rachel Griffiths makes a brief appearance as the Abbess. The film is plenty watchable, yet nothing really stands out as distinctive or memorable … of course, other than the breathtaking sights of the Palace of Versailles, including the stunning Hall of Mirrors.

Opening nationwide in theaters on January 21, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


WUTHERING HEIGHTS (2011)

October 21, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Since 1920, there have been between 8-15 film versions of the classic Emily Bronte novel, depending how many TV versions you include. The most famous is William Wyler‘s 1939 version featuring Lawrence Olivier and Merle Oberon. This latest adaptation from director Andrea Arnold bears little resemblance to Wyler’s version, and will probably be quite different than any interpretation you have seen or imagined.

Ms. Arnold is an Oscar winner for her 2003 short film Wasp and is also known for her critically acclaimed 2009 film Fish Tank. Clearly, she has set the stage for a somewhat darker view of what, at its core, is a very dark novel from Ms. Bronte. That said, the minimalistic take is even darker, foggier, rainier, slower and quieter than anticipated. If Terrence Malick films move too quickly for you, then you will find this pace acceptable. Also, very little dialogue is used and no musical score. The camera work is artsy, alternating between sweeping nature shots (feathers, bugs, rain and fog) and claustrophobic scenes within the titular Earnshaw home.

Three of the four main characters are played by first time film actors. Heathcliff is played by James Howson and a young Soloman Glave. Catherine is played by young Shannon Beer and Kaya Scodelario (Eve from Moon). While this minimalistic approach may look technically beautiful, it also prevents the viewer from making any real connection to the characters … not usually a good thing, even for a tragic love story.

Film students and those who enjoy experimental filmmaking may find the most enjoyment in this version. Those who love the classic Bronte novel may struggle to connect with the vision of Ms. Arnold.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you never miss a movie version of Bronte’s novel OR you subscribe to the filmmaking theory of less is more.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you like to connect to characters OR traditional filmmaking is just fine for your tastes.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iamo78RDshQ