The Semi-Autobiographical ‘Honey Boy’ Puts Shia LaBeouf’s Decades-in-Coming Therapy on the Big Screen

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CREDIT: Amazon Studios

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges, FKA Twigs, Maika Monroe, Martin Starr, Natasha Lyonne (but only on the phone)

Director: Alma Har’el

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for A Dad and a Young Son Using Way Too Much Profanity with Each Other

Release Date: November 8, 2019 (Limited)

Honey Boy is an almost-biopic, based on Shia LaBeouf’s preteen days as a child actor with a pushy, erratic father. I had not read any synopsis ahead of time, so I was unaware of this fact until the credits started to roll, so for me it was a nice little bonus that put everything into clearer focus. And we needed that perspective, because it’s exhausting to spend so much time in a motel with Shia stand-in Otis Lort (Noah Jupe) being emotionally abused the same way over and over by his balding, pot-bellied father James (LaBeouf doing a riff on his own dad). At least the rehab scenes with an older Otis (Lucas Hedges) offer some opportunities for a breakthrough. A particular highlight is his tête-à-tête with an as-stone-faced-as-usual Martin Starr about the nature of acting and sincerity (Otis, and presumably the real Shia, believes that day-to-day-living is just another form of acting).

While I found much of Honey Boy too unpleasant to fully embrace, its nakedly autobiographical nature is fascinating. It reminded me in particular of the Community Season 1 episode “Introduction to Film,” wherein aspiring filmmaker Abed makes a short documentary-fiction hybrid in which he covertly casts his friends as his divorced parents. Its experimental nature flat-out confounds his study buddies, but it leaves his usually cold father in a puddle of tears. So similarly, while I found Honey Boy off-putting, I can imagine that for LaBeouf and those close to him, this is exactly the sort of therapy they need. When he shows it to his dad, maybe it will prove to be the spark that leads to their relationship being healthier than it’s ever been.

Honey Boy is Recommended If You Like: Artists working through their familial demons in their art, That time when Shia LaBeouf watched his own movies

Grade: 3 out of 5 Cheap Motels

‘Villains’ Flips the Home Invasion Thriller Script Over and Over Again

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CREDIT: Anna Kooris

Starring: Maika Monroe, Bill Skarsgård, Jeffrey Donovan, Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Baumgartner

Directors: Dan Berk and Robert Olsen

Running Time: 88 Minutes

Rating: R for Gunfire, Bloody Whacks on the Head, and Resourceful Cocaine Use

Release Date: September 20, 2019 (Limited)

Don’t you just hate it when you’re a criminal on the run and you break into a house and then it turns out that the homeowners are much more devious than you are? This seems to happen relatively often in the movies, but perhaps less so in real life. I certainly would not want to participate myself, both because breaking and entering is illegal and because it can be quite creepy to walk around an unfamiliar house. But I am perfectly happy to watch others do it, and the latest example why is Villains.

This bloody little black comedy thriller stars Maika Monroe and Bill Skarsgård as Mickey and Jules, a couple whose love is strong and tender enough to overcome the stress of covering up their crimes. It’s a neat trick that they pull off with their performances, wherein they get us to root for them by consistently reminding us of their humanity without ever asking us to excuse their convenience store robbery in the opening scene. It certainly doesn’t hurt how much they stand in contrast to Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick’s George and Gloria, a couple whose efforts to craft the perfect genteel dollhouse-style home has led them to kidnap a little girl (Blake Baumgartner, who played a young Nicole Fosse in Fosse/Verdon) and chain her up in their basement. Mickey and Jules’ efforts to escape this predicament while negotiating an uneasy truce with George and Gloria makes for an economical little battle of wits (as well as an occasionally physical battle) that will have you constantly puzzling out (along with the character)s what the best course of action is.

Villains is Recommended If You Like: Don’t Breathe, Ready or Not, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Grade: 3 out of 5 Negotiations

Movie Review: ‘Greta’ is Kind of Dumb But Also Very Fun, Just Like All Good Trashy Thrillers!

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CREDIT: Jonathan Hession/Focus Features

Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea

Director: Neil Jordan

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: R for Psychological and Physical Torture From a Spry Sixtysomething Woman

Release Date: March 1, 2019

Is it better to know going in to a nonsensical movie that it doesn’t make sense, or to put it all together afterwards? Or perhaps thinking in terms of a binary between “sense” and “nonsense” is not really the best way to approach a juicy horror flick about obsession. That is certainly the case with Greta, in which director Neil Jordan sets Isabelle Huppert loose on Chloë Grace Moretz, turning a budding intergenerational friendship into a deranged domestic fantasy. There are moments when I wonder how a character can get away with so much bad behavior, or when I am taken back at how big a role coincidence plays in all the machinations. But there are so many twisted pleasures along the way that I cannot be too mad.

CREDIT: Shane Mahood/Focus Features

Frances McCullen (Moretz) has recently moved to New York City, and she is somehow still trusting enough to return a handbag she finds on the subway to the home of the person who lost it. That person is Greta (Huppert), a French piano teacher who lives alone and who it turns out has been leaving behind a whole series of bags to lure unsuspecting kind young women into her clutches. But before we peel back all the layers on Greta, we get to spend some quality time with Frances and her roommate Erica (Maika Monroe). Erica is the much more cautious yin to Frances’ yang, immediately pegging Greta for the creep that she is. But that does not mean she isn’t also an advocate for alternative gut health treatments, which means that we get a surprising amount of dialogue about the wonders of colonics. Seriously, I would have been happy if this movie were just an hour and a half of Monroe discussing the joy of fluids getting shot up her butthole.

As for why Greta enjoys torturing Frances and others like her, her motivations remain vague, to the film’s advantages although perhaps to some viewers’ frustrations. Through reveals about Greta’s strained relationship with her daughter, Jordan hints at some clear explanation that never really comes. But if you calibrate your expectations to accepting that that explanation is unnecessary, then you should be good to go. There are also some implications that Frances is drawn to Greta because she sees her as a replacement for her own recently deceased mother. But all this mother business is just a framework to build the shenanigans around. Don’t worry about all that – just sit back and enjoy Huppert dancing psychotically and ignore any concerns about “logic” and “motivation.”

Greta is Recommended If You Like: Audition, Misery, The Visit

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Colonics

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House’ is a Minor Addition to the Watergate Canon

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CREDIT: Bob Mahoney/Sony Pictures Classics

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Marton Csokas, Tony Goldwyn, Josh Lucas, Michael C. Hall, Ike Barinholtz, Tom Sizemore, Julian Morris, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kate Walsh, Maika Monroe, Bruce Greenwood, Brian d’Arcy James, Noah Wyle

Director: Peter Landesman

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for FBI Agents Yelling When Suspected of Leaking

Release Date: September 29, 2017 (Limited)

Former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt has been portrayed or parodied in plenty of movies and TV shows, his presence an easy source of tension, frequently cloaked in the shadows of intrigue and mystery. When Hal Holbrook set the template for all Felt performances in All the President’s Men, he literally remained in the shadows. Of course, for decades, the role was not “Mark Felt” but “Deep Throat,” the pseudonym for the informant who provided The Washington Post with key details about the Watergate scandal that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation. Now that Felt (here played by Liam Neeson) has been revealed as Deep Throat, a fascinating film about the man behind the informant is ready to be made, but The Man Who Brought Down the White House is too erratic and overstuffed to be that film.

The story of the Watergate break-in and its fallout is familiar to basically every American who has lived during the last 45 years. It is an ur-scandal, providing a lens through which all governmental scandals – really all public scandals – are interpreted. We don’t need Mark Felt to re-tell that story, and yet it does. To be fair, seeing everything through Felt’s perspective – the channel through which all information in this affair goes through – is fascinating, but not so fascinating to make the familiar exciting again.

As far as I can tell, Mark Felt’s main purpose is to draw back the curtain on all the hoopla that springs up around any person who exists anonymously for so long. There is plenty of material to mine for a rich domestic drama. Felt’s wife Audrey (Diane Lane) is alcoholic and shares much of the stress he’s under, but her story seems like it could be that of any FBI agent’s wife and not Deep Throat’s specifically. The film’s other major point is that for all the good Felt did as an informant, he was not exactly a hero through and through. He was as guilty as (perhaps more so) anyone else in the FBI who violated American citizens’ civil rights. But save for one compelling scene snuck in at the end, that aspect is merely glossed over.

The major shortcoming of Mark Felt is all it attempts to stuff into just a little more than an hour and a half. Every name in the impressively sprawling cast list brings their bona fides, but nobody has the space to carve out a memorable character. Mark and Audrey reunite with their daughter (Maika Monroe) at a hippie commune in a third act twist that plays like it is so supposed to put everything that came before in perspective but mostly feels like it comes out of nowhere. If Mark Felt makes any cogent point, it’s that you always need folks like Woodward and Bernstein to compile everything together cogently and lucidly.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is Recommended If You Like: Watergate completism

Grade: 2 out of 5 (Nonexistent) Secret Files