Film Review: Mid90s (USA 2018) **

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Mid90s Poster
Trailer

1:21 | Trailer
Follows Stevie, a thirteen-year-old in 90s-era LA who spends his summer navigating between his troubled home life and a group of new friends that he meets at a Motor Avenue skate shop.

Director:

Jonah Hill

Writer:

Jonah Hill

Actor Jonah Hill (MONEYBALL) makes his directorial debut in the highly touted Mid90s, a film that centres on rebellious youth.  Like all first time directors, tJonah Hill demonstrates in the film’s strengths what he is familiar with – in this case his acting.  His young actors perform magnificently capturing the spirit of troubled youth.  But there is much lacking in the overall bigger picture.  For one, Mid90’s captures a minuscule portion of the life of its subject, 13-year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic last seen in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER) but omits the larger story of perhaps examining the advancement in his coming-of-age rites.

The film begins with a skateboarding segment where the camera fluidly follows the smooth gluing movement of the sport.  It is a promising start showing expert technical camerawork.  The film then settles on Stevie and his friends who hang around a skateboard park with other misfits, some of whom are acquaintances with others they have altercations with.

One of the film’s troubled scenes involve a party where most of the partygoers are between the ages of 18 to 30 where obviously, drug and sex are going on, besides alcohol consumption.  Stevie meets an older black girl.  They chat before heading upstairs to a room where they make out, Stevie for the first time and her, to satisfy her curiosity.  If the gender of these two were reversed, the elder participant would be considered a pedophile, a dirty old man akin to a Harvey Weinstein type sex offender.  Also, Stevie is of the young age where he should be sheltered from foul language, such that is frequently uttered with the skateboard buddies.  One wonders if his dialogue was dubbed into the film, and if not, that would be trouble for tHill and his filming company.

Credit is to be given to Hill and Suljic however in the creation of this sweet 13-year old character who comes across as vulnerable, goofy and occasionally strong and clever.  The other buddies are more cardboard characters despite given interesting names like Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), perhaps for the reason he behaves and thinks like one and Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) called that for other reasons.

The script, probably with a lot of dialogue improvised is street smart talk, fast and furious and often hilarious and occasionally hits the nail on the head with respect to youth observation.  One must be fast to catch the lines or one will miss out.  Political correctness is thrown out of the window in the film with the N word constantly in use and dialogue like “Don’t say thank you, that’s gay!”  One could argue that this is the way words are used on the streets.

Jonah Hill’s Mid90s may be interesting in parts containing impressive performances from its young cast but the film is too short sighted.  Despite being authentic and entertaining, Mid90s is nowhere remotely close to Truffaut’s 400 BLOWS.  The film has garnered rave reviews and one can see that is a street-smart down-to-earth crowd pleaser, despite its flaws.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9Rx6-GaSIE

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Film Review: DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT (USA 2018) ***1/2

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Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot Poster
Trailer

On the rocky path to sobriety after a life-changing accident, John Callahan discovers the healing power of art, willing his injured hands into drawing hilarious, often controversial cartoons, which bring him a new lease on life.

Director:

Gus Van Sant

Writers:

John Callahan (based on the book by), John Callahan (story by) | 4 more credits »

DON’T WORRY HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT is a comedy-drama biography film based on the memoir of the same name by John Callahan.  Gus Van Sant (DRUGSTORE COWBOY, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, GOOD WILL HUNTING, GERRY, ELEPHANT) wrote the screen adaptation and directed the film.  

When the film opens, John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) is addressing an audience after winning some award for his cartoons.  Callahan is in a wheelchair as a result of a car accident involving drinking.  But Callahan is still drinking though he is attending an AA group led by Donnie Hill (a totally unrecognizable Jonah Hill).

The film unfolds in non-chronological order, centring on Callahan before and after the accident, including his rise to fame with his cartoons.

DON’T WORRY will inevitably be compared to the French film, Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (French: Le Scaphandre et le Papillon), a 2007 biographical drama based on Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir of the same name, on a man’s disability and rehabilitation.  The film depicts Bauby’s life after suffering a massive stroke that left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome. Bauby is played by Mathieu Amalric.  Bauby is totally conscious but unable to move all parts of his body but his left eye that he used to write the memoir.   The Diving Bell and the Butterfly won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, and the César Awards, and received four Academy Award nominations and is considered by critics as one of the best films of the decade.

DON’T WORRY never reaches the high standard hit by Le Scaphandre et le Papillon but goes towards a different direction, stressing more on the emotional than physical comeback.  Whether Callahan can have sex is one of the main conditions examined.  The main difference between the two films lie in the difference in the two main characters.  In the French film, Bauby was strong and fixed on recovery while in this film, Callahan is self destructive and wallows in self pity.  This is not helped by the fact that Callahan is still an alcoholic.

The film also considers the emotions that Callahan goes through right after the accident in the hospital.  Ironically the drunk driver, Dexter (Jack Black) that caused the accident walked away with only a few scratches.  Callahan met Dexter by chance at a bar and spent the night drinking heavily and driving.  The film fails to mention what happened to Dexter after the accident.  But Callahan asks key questions like: “Why is this happening to me?” – a question that is invariably asked by probably every person undergoing such a tragic accident.  Callahan also confesses to a worker, Annu (Rooney mara) that he promised God that he would do anything and or would make a pact with the devil to become normal again.   These key emotions differentiate DON’T WORRY from the French film.

Callahan’s birth as an artist only begins at the film’s one hour mark.  A few of the cartoons are revealed to the audience and to Callahan’s credit, they are quite funny –  a kind of THE FAR SIDE by a guy in a wheelchair.

Van Sant’s DON’T WORRY encompasses the best of his ‘lonely’ films like ELEPHANT and GERRY and ‘hidden talent’ films like GOOD WILL HUNTING, offering audiences gut wrenching insight in his soulful biography of a troubled human being.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BwxeOzSx8A

 

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Movie Review: HAIL CAESAR! (2016)

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hail_caesar_poster.jpgHAIL, CAESAR! (USA 2016) ****
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenrich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

Review by Gilbert Seah

The Coen Brothers remain in top form.  They etch out a film almost annually, with almost each one a critical hit.  Their films are an annual event many moviegoers now look forward to.  Their best films include TRUE GRIT, FARGO, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and BURN AFTER READING, and all their films share the Brother’s keen sense of humour.  HAIL, CAESAR! like BURN AFTER READING is pure comedy and this one is a worthy tribute to the Hollywood dream-making machine.  It has the feel of a farce yet, it total respects the Hollywood studio system, for all its faults and errors.

The lead character is a Hollywood studio fixer by the name of Mannix, subtly portrayed by Josh Brolin, in the kind of role he has mastered.  He is a dead serious character you do not want to mess around with.  Or you will get slapped around like his main star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) did, before being told to then go out and act like a star.  The film begins with Mannix in a confessional box, pouring his heart out to the priest.  Mannix is shown to be a decent man, one that respects other human beings, despite their faults and one who loves his wife and kids.  He is the backbone of America and the one that make sense in the Coen film.  Which is required – or all else will go to nought and the film degenerates into nonsense.  Of all the sins confessed, the one that affects him the most is his cigarette smoking.  He has promised his wife (Alison Pill) to cut down and is unable to do so.  The plot generally follows Mannix around while things in the Studio fall apart, while being offered a smoke most of the time.  Mannix fixes things, hilariously yet credibly, and that is the basic premise of HAIL, CAESAR!  While all these are going on, he is wooed for a better paying, better hours job at Lockheed Incorporated.

The things that can go wrong provide most of the satire and entertainment.  A famous actress, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant and her image is about to be ruined.  A famous cowboy actor, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is unable to utter his lines to the satisfaction of his director Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes).  Tabloid columnist sisters (both played by Tilda Swinton wearing different hats) want a scoop trying to dig in dirt about star Whitlock.  The most jarring problem is Whitlock being kidnapped by a groups of disgruntled scriptwriters who want their far share of the dough.  Mannix has to sort them all out.

All these problems provide ample opportunity for hilarity – Coen Brothers style.  And they keep the laughs coming with twists in the story as they know best.  The brains behind kidnapping turns out to be communist Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum).

The Brothers play plenty of homage to old classics.  There is a spectacular swimming Busby Berkley swimming number, Esther Williams style as in MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, a one-take musical gay-type musical number with no dames to the tune of “No Dames”with nods to ANCHORS AWEIGH and Rogers and Hammerstein’s song “There is Nothing like a Dame” from SOUTH PACIFIC and scenes that could be taken right out of William Wyler’s BEN-HUR, just to name a few.

The Brothers have also assembled quite the impressive all-star cast, though some on the list only appear for a few minutes in a scene or two.  The Jonah Hill character seems present just to utter the line  “It’s all part of the job, Miss.”  Fiennes and Johansson are only present for two scenes while Frances McDormand has only one as a chain-smoking editor who gets chokes by the film reel in the editing room.  For whatever they do, they leave the audience wanting for more.  Relative newcomer Ehrenreich steals the show as the cute cowboy who eventually helps Mannix instead of the other way around.

Great directors have made films about the passion in the making of movies.  Fellini had 81/2, Truffaut LA NUIT AMERICAINE, Almodovar BAD EDUCATION and the Coen Brothers HAIL, CASEAR!.  Everything comes clear as to what the Coens are up to by the end reel.  There are elements that don’t work that well or are overdone, but or the most part HAIL, CAESAR! is quite the movie, especially for the moviebuff.  HAIL, CAESAR is a minor classic but a major delight!  I would see it again.

 

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