Ford v Ferrari = Friendship!

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

I’m not sure what the message of Ford v Ferrari is, and I’m not sure if that’s a mostly good or mostly bad thing. (We could be doing a lot worse in this world!) Is it about how you can’t ever stop American individualism from being as individual as possible? Or is it about how the United States won’t ever stay an underdog for long, even in pursuits usually dominated by the Europeans? If it’s either of those, then why is the main character an Englishman? Maybe it’s about how teammates stick with each other no matter what, and the whole American-ness of it all just be how it be. Certainly what stuck with me the most is the friendship between Christian Bale’s vroom-vroom-goer Ken Miles and Matt Damon’s vroom-vroom-guider Carroll Shelby. It’s an oft-contentious relationship, which only makes sense when you’re gearing up for a race that lasts a full day. Such competition, such support, such politics behind the whole affair – I saw it all!

I give Ford v Ferrari 240 out of 360 Laps.

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

This Is a Movie Review: A Quiet Place

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CREDIT: Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures

This post was originally published on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe

Director: John Krasinski

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Nightmare-Inducing Creature Design and Quickly Edited Disemboweling

Release Date: April 6, 2018

Effective horror movies are often built around a simple hook, and A Quiet Place has a doozy: a family must remain ever silent because they are being terrorized by something that strikes whenever it hears the merest peep. It is such a doozy, in fact, that a very similar setup was employed just a couple of years ago in Don’t Breathe (wherein a crew of burglars had to escape the detection of a blind man). Do we have a boomlet of the “silence is golden” horror subgenre on our hands? The results thus far are encouraging. There is plenty of variation possible in turning away from modern cinema’s default reliance on dialogue, with A Quiet Place exploring the effect it has on nuclear family dynamics.

It has been about a year since these sound-seekers have begun their attacks, and life on Earth has adjusted accordingly. It is unclear how much of the world’s population has been decimated, but even if it is a relatively small percentage, it might as well be just about everybody, as survival requires solitude. This particular family has lucked out in a way, as they have a deaf daughter (played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and are accordingly all fluent in sign language. It is another simple but effective flip: turning a disability into a strategic advantage.

John Krasinski, directing and playing the father, trains us to become fully absorbed in every frame, thus allowing A Quiet Place to pull off killer set piece after killer set piece. From 30 minutes in all the way to the conclusion, this is a non-stop nailbiter. Father and son (Noah Jupe) head off to gather up some food, while daughter revisits a scene of tragedy, leaving pregnant mom (Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s real life wife) home alone to deliver the most silent natural birth ever. There is a lot of resourcefulness on display in keeping the attackers at bay. It is almost a sort of Home Alone-style boobytrapping ingenuity, but the kind that minimizes pratfalls and nut shots.

While A Quiet Place consistently pulls off the visceral thrills, it is not quite as satisfying when it attempts to examine the why and the how. That is not because the answers it offers are unsatisfying per se, but rather because they end up working out a little too perfectly. These creatures are the type that are mostly indestructible but have that one little weakness. In many ways, A Quiet Place resembles Signs, particularly the method for defeating the creatures. It is not quite as ridiculous Shyamalan’s “you gotta have faith” randomness. A Quiet Place’s resolution that is fairly set up and is actually reasonably clever. But it leaves me weirdly disappointed that the terror has been deflated seemingly so thoroughly. I am left in a paradoxical state, as it gives me the rousing resolution I wanted while depriving me of a continued pounding heartbeat as I walk out the theater. Perhaps if the ending had swerved into a Mars Attacks!-style comedic turnaround (with which it shares some DNA), I would have forgiven the excess perfectness. But I can settle for the steady relentlessness that the majority of A Quiet Place delivers.

A Quiet Place is Recommended If You Like: Don’t Breathe, Alien, Signs

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Shushes

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Wonder’s’ Lessons in Kindness Are Obvious, But Timelessly Valuable

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CREDIT: Lionsgate Entertainment

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs, Noah Jupe, Ali Liebert, Danielle Rose Russell, Bryce Gheisar, Millie Davis, Elle McKinnon

Director: Stephen Chbosky

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: PG for Middle School Bullying

Release Date: November 17, 2017

If you plan on seeing Wonder, please do yourself a favor and bring tissues. That is not a mark of quality in either direction, just a fair warning of what you’re in for. Of course, if you know the premise of the film, chances are you could have guessed as much. The story of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a boy with a congenital facial deformity struggling to fit in at middle school, could not be anything but emotional. But the explanation for Wonder’s knack for keeping the waterworks running for two hours straight goes beyond the obvious. This is the type of movie in which rhetorically gifted actors make grand pronouncements about the importance of kindness and loyalty. Their insights are far from groundbreaking, sure, but their eloquence is a gift and the realization that people have had the courage to live up to these ideals is profoundly affecting.

Director Stephen Chbosky already demonstrated his emotional bona fides with the adaptation of his novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and with Wonder he has now confirmed himself as one of the best in the business for prompting a good cathartic cry. He pulls it off this time by taking full advantage of the academic setting. School is not just a place for learning how the world works, but also how to be a good person. It helps in that regard when you have dedicated educators, and Auggie has a couple of excellent teachers played by Daveed Diggs and Ali Liebert, and a fantastic principal played by Mandy Patinkin. They are not defined by their quirks but by their love of teaching. Diggs’ Mr. Browne is the type to write inspirational sayings like “our deeds are our monuments” on his chalkboard. It helps to be in an environment that reminds you of such simple, but necessary truths. Patinkin’s bow tie-sporting Mr. Tushman (yes, he’s fine with you laughing at his name) fulfills the bulk of the speechifying. With his words, he is marvelously generous, maintaining and spreading a positive attitude.

Wonder begins with Auggie’s perspective and narration, naturally enough. But it extends that generosity to multiple characters, making this less a story about overcoming physical defects and more one about how there are so many ways we can be cruel to anybody, but it is so much better if we instead reach out with kind gestures. The gift of subjectivity and their own narrated segments is granted to Auggie’s teenage sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie’s best friend Jack (Noah Jupe), and Via’s best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). The lesson here is clear and effective: you never know someone else’s full story if you haven’t lived through it, so it is always wise to allow them to share it with you.

Chbosky can be a little haphazard with this subjectivity. It is no big loss that Auggie’s parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) are not afforded their own segments, as we still get satisfying peeks into their interiority. But it would have been nice, for example, if we had gotten a closer look at Julian (Bryce Gheisar), Auggie’s most frequent bully. We do meet his very unreasonable parents, but for a movie that is so kind in all capacities, it stings a little that he does not have more of a chance for redemption.

When you get right down to it, Wonder is simply a force for good in this world, demonstrating as it does that kindness, courage, second chances, and cameos from Chewbacca never go out of style.

Wonder is Recommended If You Like: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Dead Poets Society, Room

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Astronaut Helmets

This Is a Movie Review: Suburbicon

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures/Black Bear Pictures

I give Suburbicon 2.5 out of 5 Explosions: http://newscult.com/movie-review-suburbicon-pokes-myth-utopian-america-exposing-latent-criminality-racism-chaotic-intermittently-thrilling-results/