Thursday, November 30, 2017

Movie Review: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro.
Written by: Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor.
Starring: Sally Hawkins (Eliza Esposito), Michael Shannon (Strickland), Richard Jenkins (Giles), Octavia Spencer (Zelda), Doug Jones (The Asset), Michael Stuhlbarg (Hoffstetler).
Since his debut film Cronos – was back in 1993, it has been very clear that Guillermo del Toro loves monsters. There is not a feature film of his that doesn’t include some monster or another – often ones with large teeth that bite into you and don’t let go. Del Toro was inspired by the monster movies he saw in his youth, but has spent most of his career creating new kinds of monsters – even when he’s making a sequel about vampires (the wonderful Blade II) – they aren’t the type of vampires you’ve seen before – they are somehow worse, grosser and strangely sexual. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before del Toro made a film like The Shape of Water – where the lead character is a woman who literally loves a monsters, in every way that means. This is one of del Toro’s best films – and inarguably his most whimsical – more fantasy than horror this time out, but with his same eye for detail.
Set in the 1950s, the film stars the wonderful Sally Hawkins as Eliza – a mute, cleaning lady who works at a secret government facility, and because of her condition, is pretty much able to blend into the background. She does everything on a set schedule (including, um, her bath tube masturbation ritual with an egg timer) – and only has two friends – her gay artist neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her cleaning partner at the facility, Zelda (Octavia Spencer) – she gets along with both so well probably, because neither of them will shut up. One day, into her facility arrives a man from the army – Strickland (Michael Shannon) with a large tube, full of water – and something else – that is place behind a locked door in a larger pool. Eliza is drawn to whatever it is that in that tub (which the trailer reveals far too much of – it was better to see it like I did at TIFF, without that knowledge).
As with all of his films, del Toro’s cinephilia is on full display during The Shape of Water – from his love of old musicals he shares with Giles (and Eliza, who has a couple of charming, solitary dance sequences) – to the old school, large movie houses that they live above –even if they are largely empty (the film was shot at the Elgin theater in Toronto – and I saw it in the same theater, a surreal experience to be sure). The creature – or The Asset as it’s called in the film – is like something out of those old movies, and as is often the case, is misunderstood by all except the woman who loves him. This movie takes that love to its logical conclusion – albeit in a scene that wisely doesn’t get graphic at all.
The real monster in the movie is of course man – in this case, Strickland himself. Shannon is perfectly cast as the violent, stubborn, sexist Strickland – a man who treats his own wife with contempt, so you can tell what he thinks of a pair like Eliza and Zelda. The role doesn’t give much nuance for Shannon to play, but he’s great anyway- even if in this film, his performance still trails behind the delightfully droll and comic one delivered by Richard Jenkins and of course Hawkins, who says so much without speaking.
This is one of del Toro’s best films. As much as I always like his work, for the most part, I think the style trumps the substance of his films – which at times, can ring hollow. His most recent film before this for example – Crimson Peak – was an absolute masterpiece of production design, costumes, cinematography and music, but wasn’t nearly as good on a storytelling or character level. He seems to work best with a little bit less money, and a little bit more freedom (his two other best films are probably The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth – films he made in his native Spanish, with Mexican money – here, he says he was essentially making a Canadian film – so you can guess he had less funds that on something like Pacific Rim). The Shape of Water represents a perfect marriage between his influences, and his own point-of-view – and while the craftsmanship remains high, it’s not at the sacrifices of the story or its characters (there are so many legitimately great, small character beats, that I normally do not see in del Toro’s work). The film takes a strange premise, and ends up making one of the best romantic fantasies in recent memory. It’s easier to make Beauty and the Beast when the best is furry and cuddly – much hard to do what del Toro pulls off here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Movie Review: Coco

Coco **** / *****
Directed by: Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina.
Written by: Adrian Molina & Matthew Aldrich and Lee Unkrich & Jason Katz.
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez (Miguel), Gael García Bernal (Héctor), Benjamin Bratt (Ernesto de la Cruz), Alanna Ubach (Mamá Imelda), Renee Victor (Abuelita), Jaime Camil (Papá), Alfonso Arau (Papá Julio), Herbert Siguenza (Tío Oscar / Tío Felipe), Gabriel Iglesias (Clerk), Lombardo Boyar (Plaza Mariachi / Gustavo), Ana Ofelia Murguía (Mamá Coco), Natalia Cordova-Buckley (Frida Kahlo), Selene Luna (Tía Rosita), Edward James Olmos (Chicharrón).
There’s no real secret that Pixar has been going through a transition period of sorts in the last decade or so. The studio was once the most consistent force in mainstream Hollywood – churning out one great film after another starting with 1995’s Toy Story and finishing with Toy Story 3 fifteen years later. That run of 11 films isn’t perfect (it includes the so-so A Bug’s Life and Cars, both of which to be honest would be among the best films of any other animation studio working at that time).The 8 films since then though have been more of a mixed bag. Like every other studio in Hollywood, Pixar seemingly has gotten more risk averse – planning more sequels and prequels, and less original content (the only 2 sequels in the original 11 films were Toy Story 2 & 3 – the last 8 films have included Cars 2 and 3, Finding Dory and Monsters University – with Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4 next on tap). But that run also included Inside Out – which was my favorite film of 2015, and one of the best films Pixar has ever made. And even their “minor” films have mostly been good – well animated, intelligent and funny – putting most other animation studios to shame – even while, undeniably, they rarely live up to the best Pixar has given us over their run.
Their new film Coco, then, is a welcome return to form for Pixar. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of their best work, but its close enough to still be considered a triumph. The film is smart, funny animated adventure – and one of the most visually stunning films Pixar has ever created. The film also packs an emotional wallop – and a surprising one this time, because about 2/3 of the way through the movie I thought to myself for once Pixar hasn’t made me cry – only to have the last third have me in tears more than once (yes, I’m a sap).
The film is about a smart, talented young boy of 11 named Miguel – living in Mexico and part of the “only Mexican family who hates music”. This is because his great, great grandfather was a musician – and selfishly abandoned his family to pursue his musical dream, never to be heard from again. So now, they make shoes. But Miguel doesn’t want to make shoes – he wants to play music, and has trained himself in private to be very good. He wants to be just like his idol – the late Ernesto de la Cruz – and is determined to enter a contest on the Day of the Dead to prove his skills. Through a complicated series of events though, he ends up cursed, and crossing over to the Land of the Dead. He has until sunrise to get his family’s blessing to return to the land of the living – something they will happily grant him, as long as he promises not to play music ever again. So, Miguel instead decides to track down his great-great grandfather – who he has deduced is Ernesto de las Cruz himself – to give his blessing instead.
Yes, the plot of Coco is perhaps a little too busy, and there are quite a few characters (I haven’t even mentioned Hector yet – and he’s basically a second lead, a lonely man who says he will help Miguel, as long as he’ll bring his portrait back with him – that will allow him to cross over to the land of the living once again). There are also spirit animals, and chase sequences, and any number of lively musical numbers.
The film looks amazing. The Land of the Dead is at once a dark, and somewhat scary place (my six year old was a little scared for a while when they first crossed over – although, to be fair, it didn’t faze my three year old at all), and also in other moments, a colorful and lively one. The film is steeped in Mexican folklore – and respectful of it – so even if this is a film about death, it’s still light hearted enough for children (it shows a world in which the dead are not gone, as long as they are remembered). Yes, everyone in the land of the dead are skeletons – but for the most part, they are amusing skeletons – and even when they bones fall apart, they are easily reassembled.
The film was directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina – Unkrich was responsible for Toy Story 3, and this Molina’s first time directing, although he’s been with Pixar for years. Over the years, I’ve started to believe more and more than who directs the Pixar films matters more than I first thought – and while Unkrich isn’t quite at the level of Brad Bird, Pete Docter – he’s getting there.
This has not been a good year for animation – especially from American studios making movies for children. There has been a whole lot of average films, and only a couple that are really good (The Lego Batman Movie, Cars 3 and Captain Underpants have been the highlights of a fairly meh block). Coco is so much fun, so colorful, so different, that it immediately becomes a highlight for this year. Yes, Pixar still needs to firmly re-establish itself as the powerhouse it was a decade ago (which, may be harder with John Lasseter taking a leave of absence because “mistakes were made”) – but Coco is a step in the right direction.

Movie Review: Last Flag Flying

Last Flag Flying *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Richard Linklater.
Written by: Richard Linklater & Darryl Ponicsan based on the novel by Ponicsan.
Starring: Bryan Cranston (Sal Nealon), Laurence Fishburne (Reverend Richard Mueller), Steve Carell (Larry 'Doc' Shepherd), J. Quinton Johnson (Washington), Deanna Reed-Foster (Ruth), Yul Vazquez (Colonel Wilits), Graham Wolfe (John Redman), Cicely Tyson (Mrs. Hightower).
In retrospect, it’s a little odd that it took so long for Richard Linklater to make a road movie, right? After all, Linklater is a director best known for his hangout movies – movies where the characters don’t really do very much, except sit around and talk. That concept is sometimes hard to make into a movie – but put those characters on a road trip, and what else are they going to do? His Last Flag Flying is not a great road trip movie – not like, say, Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, to which this is a quasi-sequel – as it hits a few too many clichés a little hard, and veers off into some easy, lame comedy a little too often. But, when it allows the characters to settle down, and simply be with each other, it is another fine example of what Linklater does better than just about any other director working today.
The film is set in 2003. That is when Doc (Steve Carell) tracks down two of his old army buddies from Vietnam with a request. His wife died in January, and now (near the end of the year) he has just received word that his Marine son was killed in Iraq. Despite the fact that he hasn’t seen Sal (Bryan Cranston) or Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) in 30 years (and they haven’t seen each other) – after an unfortunate “incident” that left Doc in the brig for 2 years – he wants his two old friends to travel with him to pick up his son, and have him buried. At first, it seems simple enough – just travel to the cemetery in Arlington, and attend the funeral – but it gets more complicated when Doc decides he wants to take his son home – and bury him next to his wife. Essentially, the trio has to recreate the trip three similar characters took in The Last Detail – the same stops along the way (New York, Boston, etc) – the same worries about missing trains and their per diems, etc.
The movie really isn’t a sequel to The Last Detail. In Ashby’s film, the three main characters didn’t know each other before two of them – played by Jack Nicholson and Otis Young – were assigned to bring “the kid” – played by Randy Quaid to the Brig in Portsmith for the crime of stealing from a charity collection box. Here, the three were buddies, who served in Vietnam together, and the incident that lands “the kid” in jail, was something that happened over there. It would be tough to see why the Kid in The Last Detail would want to reconnect with his two old buddies – after all, The Last Detail is nothing if not cynical – they know the kid is getting a bum deal, and don’t much care, despite how they bond. The ending of that film is far from sentimental – it’s downright harsh and cruel. There is very little of that you could use to describe Last Flag Flying.
This film, like all of Linklater’s work, is deeply humanist. He loves these characters, just like he loves all of his characters – and he gets great performances out of them. Bryan Cranston, stepping into the “Nicholson” role is a tad too theatrical at times throughout the film – he really does lean into the role a little too much – but he still makes Sal lovable, if overbearing. This is the type of role that Fishburne has always done well – and does even better now that he’s older. He’s a man with a past – one that he’s not proud of, but doesn’t deny either – but who has now found God – and speaks with the authority of someone confident in his beliefs. But the film really does belong to Carell – who is quiet and heartbreaking throughout, as a man who has lost everything, and is just barely holding on. There are some supporting turns as well – including the great Cicely Tyson, in a one scene wonder of a performance, and J. Quinton Johnson (who was also quite good in Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! from last year), as Doc’s son’s best friend – assigned to escort the body to its final resting place.
Last Flag Flying is probably a little too long at just over two hours, and some of what I’m sure was meant to be charming and funny banter, comes off as forced at best (I’m sorry, these guys aren’t idiots – they would have known what cell phones were in 2003). Yet, the film does get at some hard truths throughout its runtime, and has a number of great moments and scenes. As a whole, it isn’t up to Linklater’s best work – perhaps it’s focusing on older characters that he is used to, or having source material to try and cater to – but when the film relaxes, and becomes a recognizable Linklater film, it really is quite good.

Movie Review: The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner **** / *****
Directed by: Nora Twomey.
Written by: Anita Doron & Deborah Ellis.
Starring: Saara Chaudry (Parvana), Laara Sadiq (Fattema), Shaista Latif (Soraya), Ali Badshah (Nurullah), Noorin Gulamgaus (Idrees / Sulayman), Kawa Ada (Razaq), Soma Chhaya (Shauzia).
The Breadwinner is the third feature from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon – following the delightful The Secret of Kells and even better Song of the Sea. Refreshingly, this is a studio that has its own visual look – using traditional animation, rather than the computer generated look that American studios (even good ones) have seemed to fully embrace. While this studio is building slowly, they are craving out a name for themselves in making beautiful, intelligent animated films for adult audiences, and older children. I’m not quite sure that The Breadwinner is as good as The Secret of Kells or Song of the Sea – the story is clunky at times – but it is every bit as gorgeous.
The story takes place in Kabul, under Taliban rule. Young Parvana is an 11 year old girl, the daughter of a former teacher, who lost in leg in one of Afghanistan’s many wars. Women – and girls – are forbidden from leaving their house without being accompanied by a male family member – something that becomes impossible once an angry former student – and now Taliban member – has Parvana’s beloved father arrested and thrown in jail. In order to provide for her mother, older sister and infant brother, Parvana eventually decides she must sheer off her hair, disguise herself as a boy – and head out into the streets of Kabul – to earn money, and bring home good. Another war is coming – of course – and eventually, she and her family has to make one difficult or nearly impossible decision after another – to survive, and maybe, rescue their father.
First things first – the film looks utterly beautiful. The look is very similar to the previous two cartoon saloon films – especially in terms of character design, with the characters having large eyes, and open faces. There is a story within the story, that has a different style as well – almost cut and paste like – that works. This is one of the most beautiful animated films of the year.
The film does suffer a little bit in terms of its plotting. The story within a story goes on too long – and because they intersperse it throughout the film, it often interrupts the regular plot of the film at annoying moments – and doesn’t redeem itself in at the payoff of the story (which undercuts what should be a powerful moment). The film seemingly forgets about the father in jail for a good hour in the middle of the movie – before they need to resolve the story, and up the emotional stakes.
Still, the plot mainly works in the larger sense – and even when it falters, moment by moment, the film is beautiful to behold. Director Nora Twomey – making her solo directing debut (she was a co-director on The Secret of Kells), establishes herself as a director on par with her Cartoon Saloon cohort Tomm Moore. The film isn’t for small children – who will likely – and understandably – before scared by it. But mature kids will get a lot out of it. It is a film that needs to be seen – by a studio that is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

Movie Review: Beach Rats

Beach Rats *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Eliza Hittman.
Written by: Eliza Hittman.
Starring: Harris Dickinson (Frankie), Madeline Weinstein (Simone), Kate Hodge (Donna), Neal Huff (Joe), Nicole Flyus (Carla), Frank Hakaj (Nick), David Ivanov (Alexei), Anton Selyaninov (Jesse), Harrison Sheehan (Jeremy), Douglas Everett Davis (Harry), Gabriel Gans (Eddie), Erik Potempa (Michael), Kris Eivers (Edgar), J. Stephen Brantley (Jersey).
Beach Rats has a lot in common with director Eliza Hittman’s debut film – It Felt Like Love – from a few years ago. Both films center on a teenage protagonist and spend a long, hot, sweaty summer with them, as they put themselves in dangerous situations, in order to fulfill some sort of sexual desire that they themselves can never really explain – or even admit to themselves. It Felt Like Love was about a 15 year old girl, who wants to be as sexually experienced as her best friend – and does stupid things to get there. Beach Rats is about Frankie (Harris Dickinson), who is about 19 – and gay, but cannot admit that to anyone – even himself. Yes, he goes onto a website called Brooklyn Boys, to chat with other men – most of them older – and often meets with them in real life for quick, rough sex. Yet, Frankie can barely utter the word gay when he’s with them – and he certainly can’t when he’s around his Neanderthal friends. They spend their days in their wife beater shirts, doing drugs, hanging at the local vape bar, and attending the same Coney Island fireworks every Friday.
As a writer/director Hittman prefers not a lot of dialogue and off-kilter, yet beautiful framing. Her camera captures these young bodies in all their muscle bound glory – admiring them in the same way the older men who meet up with Frankie do. Early in the film, Frankie meets Simone (Madeline Weinstein) – who picks him up, and the two start dating. Frankie has excuses when it comes time to perform though – and Simone isn’t really interesting in hearing about them. Their “relationship” isn’t built on communication – cannot be, as Frankie barely speaks – so it’s unsurprising when it doesn’t go anywhere. She calls him a fixer-upper, and says she needs newly renovated.
Frankie is like those fireworks that open and close the film. He says in the first scene – when Simone asks him what he thinks of them – that they were the same the week before, and the week before that, and the week before that, etc. They are stuck in a routine, and are not going to change. Frankie is stuck as well. He could unstick himself – of course. He is, after all, in New York City – so help for LGBTQ youth is available if he wants it. But in order to do that, he has to be willing to leave everything he knows behind. His friends certainly wouldn’t be accepting. Perhaps his mother (Kate Hodge) would be – but she’s sick of his lounging around, getting high, and not doing anything.
This is a great performance by Dickinson as Frankie – who has to do a lot, while saying practically nothing. He isn’t the outgoing asshole that his friends are – but he can do a not bad imitation of them when he needs to. I felt like It Felt Like Love perhaps let its lead character off the hook a little too easily in that film. Beach Rats doesn’t quite do that – but it also doesn’t hit as hard as I would have liked. Frankie isn’t too far gone to come – yet. But he’s on his way there.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Classic Movie Review: The Warriors (1979)

The Warriors
Directed by: Walter Hill.   
Written by: David Shaber and Walter Hill based on the novel by Sol Yurick. 
Starring: Michael Beck (Swan), James Remar (Ajax), Dorsey Wright (Cleon), Brian Tyler (Snow), David Harris (Cochise), Tom McKitterick (Cowboy), Marcelino Sánchez (Rembrandt), Terry Michos (Vermin), Deborah Van Valkenburgh (Mercy), Roger Hill (Cyrus), David Patrick Kelly (Luther), Lynne Thigpen (D.J.).
If nobody told you that The Warriors was controversial in 1979, you would never be able to tell it was, watching in in 2017. This vision of gang life in the “near future” in essentially an escapist fantasy, with simple characters that director co-writer/director Walter Hill gives a romantic view – comparing these street gangs with the fighters in Ancient Greece (I watched the directors cut, which highlights this comparison in the beginning – and adds unnecessary comic book panels at various points). Apparently in 1979, this film riled up real street gangs – and inspired violence at screenings, although the extent of which seems to have been exaggerated. Hill says the reason that young people responded to the film so strongly, was because it was a film that didn’t judge or condemn its street gang members – which is true. But the film doesn’t really show us the gang doing anything that we could judge them for. This is a street gang whose whole existence seems to be about being a street gang – with none of the crime that goes along with it. They don’t rob anyone, steal anything or beat up anyone who isn’t a rival gang member – or a cop trying to keep them down. They aren’t racist – all the gangs seem to be fully integrated. What precisely their purpose in being a gang is unclear – they just are.
The plot of The Warriors is simple. The title gang is from Coney Island, who come to Manhattan (I think, they’ll end up more than one of the boroughs however) for a huge gang summit. The leader of the biggest gang is killed during his inspirational gang speech, and The Warriors are framed for his murder – their leader essentially beaten to death in the melee. The rest of the gang somehow escape though – and head out on the run. They need to make it make to their own turf, and quick, because word has gotten out (via a DJ, who I assume is the official DJ of gangland, I guess) that they are dead meat. Through the streets and subways, this gang has to fight their way home. There is some infighting – Swan (Michael Beck) and Ajax (James Remar) don’t agree on which one of them should be the leader – but mainly, the eight of them stick together. They even pick up a girl along the way (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) – mainly it appears so that Swan can say misogynistic things to her until she falls in love with him.
It’s hard to see the controversy this movie inspired today – everything about its themes, characters and dialogue is so simplistic, straight forward and frankly, dull, that it’s tough to take it seriously as a film about, well, pretty much anything. Yet, the film has become a cult item – something many people still gravitate to. And, to be honest, there is still value to the film. Most of that comes from Hill’s direction – this is a fluid action movies, with a great pace, and a camera that follows, often at length, as these characters go to the dark places in New York. Hill, who has always been a fine director of action (and, for me anyway, not much else), knows precisely what he’s doing in the staging of the action sequences – most of which have an extended buildup, and then are over quickly. As a purely visual experience, I enjoyed The Warriors.
As anything approaching social commentary, the film fails though. It presents a New York gang scene that never was, and is never going to be – sanitizing it to the point of making it dull. No, the film didn’t judge its characters – and maybe the gangs of the time liked seeing themselves as heroes. But they’re hardly even that in The Warriors – more than anything, they are bland, boring, one-dimensional characters in a film that works as a visual experience, and not much else.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Movie Review: The Work

The Work **** / *****
Once a week, inmates at Folsom Prison attend group therapy. Most of these men have been in jail for years, and have years more to go until they get released – and some know they will never get released at all. The group therapy gives them an opportunity to break down what went wrong in their lives, and get to something more real and painful inside them and let it out. Twice a year, the prison opens its door and allows civilians to attend a four day group therapy session right alongside the inmates. The Work documents one of these four day sessions – and does so with surprising restraint. Yes, there is material here that could be fashioned into some sort of inspirational doc – but director Jairus McLeary (and co-director Gethin Aldous) don’t do that so much, as simply sit back and observe. In doing so, you really do get to see how therapy of this sort works – it forces the audience to sit there in what are sometimes awkward, long silences, or other routines of this sort of therapy – it doesn’t give you a choice. If that works well to give you a peak in this 90 minute documentary – imagine if you had to do this hour after hour, day after day. You kind of don’t have a choice but to embrace it – the alternative is even worse.
The film follows three of the civilians inside the prison for this four days of therapy – a middle aged black man named Charles, whose father was in prison when he was born, and he never got to meet, Brian, a judgmental hothead, who cannot help but find fault in everyone he comes in contact with, and Chris, a middle twenties kind of hipster, who tries to stay detached from the whole process but that can only last for so long. You can tell early in the movie that all of them have moments when they question what they signed up for – it doesn’t take long for one of the inmates – named Kiki – to go through a powerful process that allows him to open up and feel the grief about his dead sister he has always denied. This involves awkwardly long eye contact, screaming, and eventually the rest of the inmates holding him down, as he lets out all of that rage, and gets to something underneath.
Eventually, though, all three of them will have breakthroughs of a sort during the process (one of the unfortunate things about the film, is that Chris waits the longest to have his breakthrough – and frankly, it pales in comparison to much of the rest of the movie, even if it comes last). Throughout, the prisoners are thoughtful – open and honest. They’ve done this work already, and are smart enough to know that it’s only a beginning, not an end. It’s one thing to open up and left that rage out – it’s another thing to replace it with something else. Most of them haven’t quite gotten there yet – and certainly the three civilians aren’t fully there either. But the process has started – progress has been made.
The Work is a wonderful documentary because it doesn’t push too hard – it simply sits back and allows things to play out. The film has no voiceover narration, no music, etc. – instead it lets things play out however they are going to. I think the film shows both the positives, and potential negatives (it only works if you want it to – if you fight it too hard, you’re not getting anyway). The film is a quiet, sly critique of toxic masculinity and violence, without ever really mentioning either. It doesn’t need to – we can see it throughout the film, and we watch as men – for some, it’s too late, for other not – to try and overcome it, so it doesn’t ruin their lives. It’s a quiet documentary – and all the better for it.

Movie Review: Cries from Syria

Cries from Syria *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Evgeny Afineevsky.   
Cries from Syria is the third documentary this year that I have seen about the current situation in that country – following Last Men in Aleppo and City of Ghosts. I really do wish I had watched this film before those two – I think it’s a slightly better film than either of those, but that’s not the reason – the reason is that it does the best job of giving an overview of what exactly has happened in Syria since 2011. Last Men in Aleppo is focused on the White Helmets – who rush when bombs fall to try and save people, and City of Ghosts focuses on the civilian journalists – many in exile – who worked to document what happened. Their strength is in their focus on one aspect of the tragedy that is Syria – Cries from Syria’s strength lies in the opposite direction – by giving a wider scope. Cries from Syria lacks the depth of those films to be sure – and I wish the film had expanded its lens even wider, to show the International response (or lack thereof) – but I understand that’s not its goal. It’s amazing that for all the talk about Syria, there has not been as much talk as how they got there. This film helps explain it.
In the wake of the Arab Spring – where numerous countries rose up against their brutal dictators to overthrow them, civilians in Syria decided to do the same thing. A group of kids wrote “It’s your turn, doctor” on the side of a school – referencing Assad, their brutal leader, to step down. Assad does what brutal dictators do by capturing, torturing and killing the young men (and they were teenagers) responsible. Of course, that didn’t quell the rebellion – it just fed it. As it grew, so did Assad’s response –all the way until Assad is using chemical weapons on his own people. Hundreds of thousands have been murdered, and so far, the International response has been woefully inept.
Cries from Syria has images that will haunt you for the rest of your life. Some of them are already famous – the body of drowned toddler on the beach, the image of another toddler soaked in blood and dust, stunned as he sits in a chair – and some that you have not seen before. Much of the footage in the film comes from on the ground reporting – videos shot with cellphones, etc, which – like those other films – gives you a glimpse of what it’s like on the ground and Syria (and really, is the only way we would get any footage – Assad isn’t going to allow a free press after all.
I find films like Cries from Syria both very powerful, and very frustrating. Frustrating because I cannot help but wonder if those who can actually change anything are going to see them. There is an element of preaching to the choir here – those who are going to watch a documentary about Syria, are those who already want to help Syria – and the mass of refugees who are trying to escape certain death (and who people like Donald Trump and his supporters paint as potential terrorists, so they simply let them die). Cries from Syria is a film that everyone should see. I do wish it was a film that took more time, and dug deeper into many of its subjects – or did show the lack of response from the rest of the world. But as an overview of the situation, the film is invaluable.

Movie Review: Megan Leavey

Megan Leavey *** / *****
Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite.
Written by: Pamela Gray and Annie Mumolo & Tim Lovestedt.
Starring: Kate Mara (Megan Leavey), Tom Felton (Andrew Dean), Edie Falco (Jackie Leavey), Bradley Whitford (Bob), Common (Gunny Martin), Geraldine James (Dr. Turbeville), Will Patton (Jim), Damson Idris (Michael Forman), Ramon Rodriguez (Matt Morales), Jonathan Howard (Pete Walters), Miguel Gomez (Gomez), Varco (Rex).
We all know – the easiest way to get people to cry watching a movie is to have a dog in it. There are no happy dog movies – not really – even the ones that are happy for most of their runtime, will always end with that dog dying. That’s the way these things work. I will fully admit that I have watched many of these movies, and most of the time they do what they set out to do – make me cry. But I don’t often feel good about myself the next day when a film like Marley and Me makes me cry. They are so baldy manipulative, and you cry, and that can be cathartic, but when you look back at it, you feel silly.
Megan Leavey is the latest dog film – it’s about the title character, played by Kate Mara, who is going nowhere in her life – just hanging out, depressed, and arguing with her mom (Edie Falco). Seemingly out of the blue, she decides to enlist in the Marines. Once a Marine, she sets her sites on working with the K-9 unit – with a bomb sniffing dog, although I doubt even she could explain why. If you’ve read this far, you probably already know how this is going to play out – and you would mostly be correct. She eventually gets a dog – the meanest one in training – named Rex, and the pair will eventually bond – and head off to Iraq together – to prove themselves, which they do. Then, injured, Megan decides to leave the Marines – and wants to adopt Rex – and will not take no for an answer. (Full disclosure, even writing this summary is making me mist up a little bit).
There are a few things that make Megan Leavey a better than normal dog movie – one that still made me cry, but not one that makes me feel silly for crying. For one things, it’s more than a dog movie – it’s also a war movie. And while war movie clichés are even more ingrained than dog movie clichés, you don’t often see the two of them together – and it works quite well. The war scenes are different, even when they feel the same – because of that dog, and the different perspective it gives to those scenes. But the main difference is in the way director Gabriela Cowperthwaite makes the film. She doesn’t push too hard, doesn’t try to underline every moment with emotion – she allows the actors and their actions to do that naturally. The war scenes are not kinetic energy in the form of rapid fire editing to convey chaos – but more clearly, fluidly directed. Upon her return to America – and leaving the Marines, Megan falls back into depression – but Cowperthwaite doesn’t overdo these scenes either – not even when Mara (who is quite good as Leavey) has a monologue about Rex at a group therapy session. Cowperthwaite, moving to features after her documentary Blackfish about poor Tilikum the Killer Whale became one of the most talked about docs of recent years (seriously, it’s pretty much the only doc in the last decade people who don’t normally talk to me about docs mentions), and she proves herself more than able her. For her part, Mara – who is an actress I’ve always liked, even though she isn’t often given the best roles – proves herself more than capable to carry a movie on her back.
It’s undeniable that the movie is built on clichés – that’s kind of the deal here, and you know that going in. But it delivers on those clichés in ways that are satisfying – both as you watch, and when you look back at it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Movie Review: Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Joe Wright.
Written by: Anthony McCarten.
Starring: Gary Oldman (Winston Churchill), Lily James (Elizabeth Layton), Ben Mendelsohn (King George VI), Kristin Scott Thomas (Clementine Churchill), Stephen Dillane (Viscount Halifax), Samuel West (Sir Anthony Eden), Ronald Pickup (Neville Chamberlain), Richard Lumsden (General Ismay).
Gary Oldman has been one of the best actors in the world for decades now – and an actor who is never afraid of going wildly over-the-top in any role from Sid & Nancy to The Professional to Hannibal to The Contender to Dracula and on and on. Sure, Oldman can do subtle if he wants to – he finally received his first Oscar nomination for his intricate work in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and he was the quietest member of the ensemble in Nolan’s Batman films as Commissioner Gordon – but it’s always a pleasure to see Oldman in full bluster. In Darkest Hour, Oldman starts his performance in a bathrobe, shouting, and only gets bigger from there. He’s cranked up to 11 from the hop – and the amazing thing is, it works. He is playing Winston Churchill after all – a man in love with his own voice, and absolutely never shut up. The film is tightly focused on the early days as Prime Minister – the first month or so – when he takes over for Neville Chamberlain, and is immediately a war time Prime Minister. Europe is on the brink of collapse, and his own troops are likely to trapped at Dunkirk (yes, the film works very well as a companion to Nolan’s film – telling you everything it didn’t) and being pressured at all times to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler – something he adamantly does not want to do. The movie hinges on Churchill’s big speeches – speeches where he will do anything to inspire the British public – including tell bald faced lies if need be. The film is about the power of that language.
The film was directed by Joe Wright – perhaps picking a safer choice after his Pan bombed in 2015 – and he knows what to do with this film. Written by Anthony McCarten, the movie in many ways feels like it was adapted from a play (it wasn’t) – as the whole thing takes place in smoky chamber rooms or underground bunkers – a few scenes in Parliament, or the palace. The cinematography by the great Bruno Delbonnel is wonderful – full of desaturated colors, and darkness – and wonderful tracking shots through those bunkers. The score, by Dario Marianelli is even better – and keeps the movie moving along, even during moments where the film sags. None of this is as ambitious as Wright’s last costume drama – Anna Karenina – or as perfect as Wright’s Atonement (which also featured Dunkirk) – but its prestige, British costume drama done correctly.
The movie goes along at a remarkable clip up until its final act. It’s here – when Churchill for a time actually does consider negotiating with Hitler – when the movie sags more than a bit. With Churchill cowed for a few scenes, and quiet and sputtering, the movie loses its way for a while. This reaches its nadir in a sequence that plays as pure fantasy, as Churchill gets onto the “tube” and talks with regular Londoners about the war (for all of one stop – but hey, it’s a long one). The scene is supposed to be the inspirational heart of the film – but it plays as completely phony. The movie recovers with the finale – in which Churchill delivers his infamous speech to the House of Commons (also heard in Dunkirk, in less bombastic fashion).
The supporting cast for the film is mostly excellent. Sensing that Oldman is going to do more than enough acting for all of them, they for the most part play their roles quietly. In some cases – like the normally charming Lily James, who plays a typist supposed to be an audience surrogate, she threatens to recede entirely into the background and be forgotten. In others, like Ben Mendolsohn as King George, he is able to nicely underplay the role of the stuttering King, with more nuance that Colin Firth (for the record, I still quite like Firth’s work in The King’s Speech). Kristen Scott Thomas is a delight in a few scenes as Churchill’s wife. Most of Churchill’s “enemies” in the house kind of blend together – we remember Chamberlain because of his mustache, and Stephen Dillane’s Halifax because he’s the biggest stick in the mud in recent memory.
Overall, Darkest Hour does precisely the job it wants to do. Yes, it is straight down the middle – a middlebrow, prestige drama, the kind favored by the Masterpiece Theater crowd (and Oscar voters). But that doesn’t mean the film is bad. Wright knows how to do this type of drama well – and he uses Oldman’s blustery performance to perfection. Sometimes, Oldman has looked silly going so wildly over-the-top in films that don’t know how to use him properly. This one does – and surrounds a great performance with a good movie.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Movie Review: Justice League

Justice League ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Zack Snyder.
Written by: Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder based on characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger and William Moulton Marston and Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.
Starring: Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Henry Cavill (Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Gal Gadot (Diana Prince / Wonder Woman), Ezra Miller (Barry Allen / The Flash), Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry / Aquaman), Ray Fisher (Victor Stone / Cyborg), Jeremy Irons (Alfred Pennyworth), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Connie Nielsen (Hippolyta), J. K. Simmons (James Gordon), Ciarán Hinds (Steppenwolf), Joe Morton (Silas Stone), Amber Heard (Mera), Billy Crudup (Henry Allen).
Justice League is a big, entertaining mess of a film from beginning to end. It would be easy to find fault with much – perhaps even most of it – and rip it to shreds in a review. The movie has a lot of problems – the two biggest ones are probably that it forgets to tell a coherent story for most of its runtime and the second is that the villain is awful in almost every conceivable way imaginable – and yet, oddly enough, I kind of liked the movie. It is a step up from last year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad – the second and third film in the DCU, but a massive step down from this year’s Wonder Woman – one of the best comic movies in years. The movie doesn’t really work in any conventional sense, and yet it’s all kind of fun – and actually, for the first time, has me thinking that perhaps DC can pull all this crap together someday into a decent series. It ain’t there yet – but it’s getting better.
The film takes place in the aftermath of Batman v. Superman – with Superman still dead, Wonder Woman still hiding, and Batman wondering what he needs to do to protect humanity. What he wants is to assemble a team – a justice league if you will – of people with special powers. That includes Wonder Woman of course – but he’s also got his eye on teenager Barry Allen aka the Flash who can run really fast, Arthur Curry aka Aquaman, who swims a lot, and can speak to fish, and Victor Stone aka Cyborg who is, well, a cyborg. Batman needs this team together – and pronto – because an ancient villain has return to earth. This is Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hings) – who invaded earth thousands of years ago with the help of three boxes (please don’t ask) – and is back again. Last time, he only lost because everyone on earth banded together to fight him. Now, with Superman dead, everyone on earth is demoralized. All Steppenwolf has to do is assemble the boxes, and he’s won.
I said earlier, it would be easy to rip Justice League to shreds in a review – and it would be. A lot about this film doesn’t really work. Out of the three new additions to the team – only Ezra Miller’s Flash is an unabashed success – I’d watch a movie of just him right now, as Miller brings something that has been missing from the previous Zack Snyder superhero films – unabashed joy. He’s a riot. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is, um, interesting, I guess. He isn’t the Aquaman I grew up – but everyone mocks the Aquaman I grew up with, so maybe that’s why they’ve turned him into an Entourage extra in this film (seriously, I kept expecting him to ask Flash “Do you even lift, bro?”). I may be persuaded to like Ray Fisher’s Cyborg at some point – but they really need to decide what the hell this guy can do – because in this film, he’s seems to be able to do anything the screenplay needs him to do at even given time, even if it’s never been mentioned that he can do that before. Also, if there’s something this series of movies did NOT need it was more damn brooding – and Cyborg (who I mainly know from Teen Titans, where’s he a lovable goofball hanging out with Beast Boy) is nothing if not brooding. This is Affleck’s second time as Batman (okay, third – he did have a scene in Suicide Squad) – and I still cannot tell if he’s bored, or just has the most flat, one note reading of Batman imaginable. Gal Gadot kills it again as Wonder Woman – making me want a sequel to that film as soon as possible.
We know the film was cobbled together now by two different directors – that Zack Snyder shot the film, and delivered a rough cut, before having to step away because of a family tragedy – and being replaced by Joss Whedon, who came in, reshot a bunch of stuff, and took over post-production. The film certainly does have a cobbled together feel to it – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This series needed to the lighten the hell up, and Whedon’s trademark banter fits the mold for this film just fine. The film still has too much slow motion – a Snyder trademark – but at least there it makes sense to a certain extent here.
I could go on pointing out flaws here – seriously, Steppenwolf is awful – but I have to admit one thing about Justice League: it’s kind of fun. Yeah, it’s goofy fun – and the fun is fleeting (this is a parking lot movie, in that you’ll forget it as soon as you leave the theater and hit the parking lot) – but it’s still fun. Batman v. Superman was a long, dull, slog of a film – no fun at all. Suicide Squad wasn’t much fun, unless it featured Margot Robbie bouncing off the walls as Harley Quinn. This movie is lighter and a hell of a lot more fun than it really should be. Is it a good movie? Not really. But it’s a step in the right direction for this huge, lumbering franchise.

Movie Review: Novitiate

Novitiate **** / *****
Directed by: Margaret Betts.
Written by: Margaret Betts   
Starring: Margaret Qualley (Sister Cathleen), Melissa Leo (Reverend Mother), Dianna Agron (Sister Mary Grace), Morgan Saylor (Sister Evelyn), Julianne Nicholson (Nora Harris), Liana Liberato (Sister Emily), Denis O'Hare (Archbishop McCarthy), Maddie Hasson (Sister Sissy), Ashley Bell (Sister Margaret), Marco St. John (Father Luca), Sasha Mason (Cathleen, age 12), Eliza Mason (Cathleen, age 7).
There’s some much going on in Margaret Betts’ debut film Novitiate, it’s a minor miracle that she keeps it all on track. The film is set in the 1960s, during the Vatican II meetings, and takes place at a convent run with an iron fist by the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo) – who has not left its grounds in 40 years. Vatican II will bring sweeping changes to the Catholic Church – and to the role of nuns within the Church, and the Reverend Mother is not happy about it. For many movies, that would likely be more than enough to base a movie around – and yet here, it’s the secondary subplot.
The movie is really about the group of young women – all in their late teens – who arrive at the convent, determined to become nuns. The process will take them two years – and they all start off eager – but not all of them will last. The movie’s main character is Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) – who discovers Catholicism when her mother (Julianne Nicholson – continuing to make her case as one of the best character actresses working today) sends her to an all-girls Catholic school – because she can do so for free. Her husband has just left, and she’s now a single mother – and far from perfect, even if she loves her daughter. When Cathleen announces her intention to become a nun, her mother is dumbfounded (she is an atheist after all) and thinks she’s throwing her life away. But Cathleen is in love she says – in love with God.
The movie is really about that deeply confusing love that Cathleen – and the other young women – feel for God. Do they love God, or are they in love with God – and if they are going to “marry” him – does it matter which one it is? The young women are all devote – but none of them are certain either. And what happens when their sexuality starts to emerge – and feelings of lust overtake them – either for men or boys they used to know (or know in their minds) or for each other. The movie explores this – but not in an exploitive way. This isn’t a nuns gone wild exploitation film – but one that asks the questions in ways that I think open minded religious people can relate to.
As a director Betts is remarkably restrained for the most part. She perfectly case Qualley in the lead role – because Qualley has one of those wide, open, deeply expressive faces, in which so much can be read into while she does so little. Qualley, who didn’t do so well in Death Note earlier this year, deserves for this to be a breakout role for her. On the other end of the scale is Melissa Leo – who goes at times wildly (and wildly entertainly) over-the-top as the Reverend Mother. She can be cruel and vicious when she senses weakness, she pounces, and can destroy the young nuns in minutes. Yet, even she becomes more than just a caricature as the film moves along – you cannot blame her for being put out by Vatican II – which, after all, completely undermines what she has dedicated her life to. When she complains to the local Arch Bishop that the sisters “weren’t even given a voice” in the Vatican II meetings, he coldly explains “That’s not how this works”. The Reverend Mother is on one hand a monster – and another, a victim.
That Betts keeps both of these plots going through the film is deserving of high praise – especially since this is her debut film. It’s as an assured debut as you will see this year – and a complex film, that asks difficult questions, and comes to difficult conclusions.

Movie Review: Mudbound

Mudbound **** / *****
Directed by: Dee Rees.
Written by: Virgil Williams and Dee Rees based on the novel by Hillary Jordan.
Starring: Carey Mulligan (Laura McAllan), Garrett Hedlund (Jamie McAllan), Jason Clarke (Henry McAllan), Jonathan Banks (Pappy McAllan), Jason Mitchell (Ronsel Jackson), Mary J. Blige (Florence Jackson), Rob Morgan (Hap Jackson), Kerry Cahill (Rose Tricklebank), Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Weeks), Lucy Faust (Vera Atwood), Henry Frost (Teddy), Dylan Arnold (Carl Atwood).
There have been a lot of films about racism in America over the years, but few and far between are the ones that treat it as Dee Rees Mudbound does. Set during and just after WWII, in the rural South, the film tells the story of two different families, sharing the same land. The land is owned by Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke), who has moved his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), their daughters, and his overtly racist father, Pappy (Jonathan Banks) to this muddy patch of land, thinking he would become a big shot land owner, only to discover the opposite is true. He thinks of himself as something of a big shot – but knows, deep down, he isn’t – and if he ever thinks otherwise, Pappy is there to inform him otherwise. The other family is the Jackson’s – led by patriarch Hap (Rob Morgan), and his wife Florence (Mary J. Blige). They’ve been on this land for years – sharecropping – and Hap has pride in the land, and his job – and also his large family. Hap knows the “rules” for being a black man in the South – and while he doesn’t like them – he knows how to get along without getting in too much trouble.
Both families are affected by WWII – as they both send a man over to the war. For the McAllans, it is Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) – who when we meet him before the war, is dashing and handsome and charming – the opposite of his quieter brother. For the Jacksons, it is their son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), who joins and fights his war in a tank in Germany – even falls in love with a German girl. They both return from the war changed men – to a place that has not changed. Ronsel is barely back, before Pappy and Henry remind him of his “place” at the local general store – the irony is not lost on us – or Ronsel – that an enemy country treated him with more respect than he gets at home. Jamie struggles with PTSD, which he treats with alcohol. Jamie and Ronsel eventually bond with each other over their war experiences (in this small town, it’s almost like no one else went to the war) – but even in their more peaceful meetups, there is an air of danger hanging over them. In this time and place, a white man and a black man cannot be friends.
If Henry and Hap are one matched pair – one benefitting from the racial system, one quietly accepting it, and Ronsel and Jamie are another matched pair – returning from war to a world that hasn’t changed, even if they have, then Laura and Florence are a third matched pair. Their relationship begins when Laura’s kids come down with whooping cough, and Henry cannot get into town for the doctor – so he brings back Florence – who is a midwife – to help. Florence knows what to do to help the kids, and soon she will be hired to help out the McAllans more and more. While both Laura and Florence outwardly respect their husbands, and accept their roles as their wives, they both subtly undermine them as well. They relate to each other as mothers and wives – and are more than willing to go against their husbands if they feel it is the right thing to do.
The structure of Mudbound is mainly episodic – and to be honest, at times, the transition between episodes is choppy at best. This is especially true in the scenes when Jamie and Ronsel are at war, and we go from quiet, rural South, right into the middle of a war. The transition can be jarring – and not always in a good way. But as it moves it, the film finds it rhythm better and better. The film – adapted from a novel by Hillary Jordan, who used shifting narrators – at times provides each of the major characters a chance for voiceovers, which lets us into their point-of-view of what is happening. This helps, because Mudbound is mostly a film of small moments that slowly gather a cumulative power. The technical aspects of the film are expertly handled – the period details of the costume and production design, Rachel Morrison’s great cinematography.
The ending of the film is inevitable, and has been telegraphed before it arrives. My only complaint about it really, is that I wish Pappy was treated as a complex character as everyone else. Jonathan Banks is a great actor – see him on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul – but Pappy is an old school, one note racist, and I wish he was something more. Jason Clarke’s Henry is a racist too – but he’s given some sort of complexity – and he has a way of delivering his dialogue to Hap with a smile that makes it sound like he’s saying it with contempt anyway. With Pappy, it’s just out and out hate.
The film ends on a up note, and even though it’s a different ending than the book (and will apparently make a sequel, that novelist Jordan is working on, harder to do as a direct sequel to this) – I think it is the right choice for the film. With all the heaviness, and brutality, we see before this – it’s good to see an ending that isn’t completely devoid of hope – one that doesn’t suggest everything is completely broken. Perhaps that ending is realistic – but it’s the one we want anyway.

Movie Review: Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton **** / *****
Directed by: Chris Smith.
Jim Carrey was one of the biggest stars in the world when he made Man on the Moon – Milos Forman’s 1999 biopic about the late comedian t Andy Kaufman. Carrey had a string of huge hits starting in 1994 with Ace Ventura – and going on to include films like The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Liar, Liar – etc. The year before he made Man on the Moon, he made his first drama – Peter Weir’s The Truman Show – which showed his chops outside of comedy – which, of course, never delivers the kind of prestige many want. Man on the Moon seemed to be the culmination of Carrey’s career up until that point – and remains a high water mark for Carey’s career. There have been rumors and stories for years about just how committed Carey was to the role – did he really go to set and insist on everyone calling him Andy – or Tony, on those days he had to play Kaufman’s own alter ego. There is a strange blurring of the lines between Jim and Andy – something Kaufman likely would have loved, since no one could ever tell just how serious he was about anything, what was an act, and what was real.
The new documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is made up of footage shot by Kaufman’s Lynne Margulies and his partner Bob Zmuda on the set of Man on the Moon – Carrey wanted them instead of a typical “making of, press kit crew”, and a very candid modern day interview with Carrey himself. Tellingly, the movie doesn’t interview anyone else involved – no Forman, or any of Carrey’s co-stars and crew – so in effect, this is still a performance piece for Carrey himself. How much of what we see is an act – how much is real? Did Carrey play it up when he knew the cameras were rolling, or was he really that demanding all the time? Carrey says that Universal didn’t want the footage to come out because they didn’t want people thinking that he was an asshole. They were right to be worried.
I don’t think Carrey is an asshole – and I don’t think the footage on the set shows him being one. I do think it shows the extremes of method acting – something that is at times admired, and at others times mocked (to be fair, if Daniel Day-Lewis needs to go wholly method to deliver performances like Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood and Lincoln – go for it – but is Jared Leto needs to send used condoms to his co-stars to become The Joker is freaking Suicide Squad, it’s not worth it). How much of this all is an act, is something that Carrey is still toying with us in the modern day interview. Perhaps he needed to keep everyone on edge, because that is what Kaufman did as well. He knew what was an act, and what wasn’t – no one else did.
The modern day interview with Carrey is interesting and revealing. Carrey has stepped back from the spotlight in recent years – only occasionally doing lead roles anymore, and even more infrequently in the type of comedies that made him famous in the first place. He is fairly candid in his interview about his process – and his own mental state, which he has struggled with at times. He talks about going up on stage and a Mr. Hyde coming out of him – that’s not Jim up there, that’s someone else entirely. Watching the film, you get to see the connections between Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman even more than you did before. Part of the issue with Man on the Moon – which is a really good film, but not quite a great one – is that Kaufman remains an enigma throughout that film – it never really gets under his skin, because he worked so hard to keep you on the outside, questioning what is an act and what isn’t. That is precisely what Carrey and Man on the Moon captured so brilliantly – and yet feels somewhat incomplete (to be fair, I haven’t seen Man on the Moon in years – but now I want to). Carrey lets that barrier between performer and person (and audience) down a little bit during the course of this film. He’s still toying with us – sure – but we see at least a part of him. This film is about two comic geniuses, yes, but only one do we really get to know. The other will be a permanent enigma – which is how he always wanted it.