Can You Ever Forgive Me?

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtain
Directed by: Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”)
Written by: Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”) and Jeff Whitty (debut)

When she’s not trying to act like the female version of Kevin James by using physical comedy as a crutch, actress Melissa McCarthy has made some satisfying inroads as a comedian in flicks like 2015’s “Spy” and her Academy Award-nominated turn in 2011’s “Bridesmaids.” This year, unfortunately, she struck out big with “The Happytime Murders” and “Life of the Party,” so it’s a welcomed career move to see McCarthy change things up a bit in the film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” her most dramatic role to date — and her most remarkable.

The character is well-matched to McCarthy’s self-deprecating wit and ability to make the flaws and vulnerabilities she brings to the role seem sympathetic, spirited and funny. In “Forgive Me?,” McCarthy plays late New York Times-bestselling author Lee Israel, known early in her career in the 1960s and ’70s as a magazine writer and celebrity biographer. Years later, Lee finds herself on the skids — living a lonely, drunken life with her cat, struggling to pay bills and getting the cold shoulder from her literary agent Marjorie (Jane Curtin), who thinks she’s past her prime.

Lee’s opportunity to resolve her problems, however, comes to her unintentionally when she discovers her talent for forgery. Utilizing her writing ability, she begins to pen fake, personal letters by deceased writers and actors (including their counterfeit signatures) and sells the correspondences to collectors and book stores around the New York City area. Later, she recruits a drinking buddy, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), to help her operate the small, illegal enterprise inside her apartment.

Directed by Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) and adapted from Lee’s own 2008 memoir by screenwriters Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”) and playwright Jeff Whitty, “Forgive Me?” uses a cynical and clever combination of dark comedy and drama that builds on the narrative’s stranger-than-fiction premise with a pitch-perfect tone.

As misanthropic partners in crime, Lee and Jack are incredible together as they create a peculiar platonic relationship with one another (both are gay) on a foundation of cheap Scotch, criminal activity and a sarcastic sense of humor. If there is a cinematic god, both McCarthy and Grant should earn Oscar nominations for their memorable performances, as should Holofcener and Whitty for their smart script.

Whether that occurs, “Forgive Me?” — as entertaining as she was in “Bridesmaids” or playing former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on “Saturday Night Live” — is the type of work McCarthy will hopefully search out as she expands her range. In “Forgive Me?,” she proves that it’s easy to shed the goofball brand if you have the talent — and the desire.

Beautiful Boy

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Steve Carell, Amy Ryan
Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen (“The Broken Circle Breakdown”)
Written by: Luke Davies (“Lion”) and Felix Van Groeningen (“The Misfortunates”)

The opening lyrics of John Lennon’s moving single “Beautiful Boy” off his 1980 album Double Fantasy are a bit too precise when comparing them to its namesake film: “Close your eyes, have no fear / The monster’s gone, he’s on the run and your daddy’s here.”

“Beautiful Boy,” a drama about drug addiction directed by Belgian filmmaker Felix Van Groeningen (“The Broken Circle Breakdown”), is a neatly packaged picture, for better or worse. It’s reminiscent of an episode of A&E’s “Intervention” — but one of those really dramatic shows where it takes the family forever to convince their loved one who is hooked on heroin to go to rehab only to see them quit the program the following day.

“Beautiful Boy” seems to have all the pieces it needs to tell a heartbreaking true story about a teenager on a downward spiral because of his dependency on crystal meth. The film is adapted from two memoirs — “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction” by David Sheff, and “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines” by David’s son, Nic Sheff. As the co-writers of the screenplay, Van Groeningen and Oscar nominee Luke Davies (“Lion”) consider both sides of the narrative and allow for David’s and Nic’s perspectives to get equal time to flourish and intensify.

It helps immeasurably that behind the characters of David and Nic are Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”) and Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”), a pair of Academy Award-nominated actors who portray a helpless father and dispirited son with such amazing conviction. It’s especially true for Chalamet, whose range in the film expands and leads him into some incredibly vulnerable places as a young man with no way of beating his addiction on his own.

As David, Carell gives his best performance since landing an Oscar nod for 2014’s “Foxcatcher.” Just as the lyrics to Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” reveal, Carell plays a devoted parent (as do Amy Ryan as his mother and Maura Tierney as his stepmom) who would do anything to save his son from his demons (in one scene, he snorts meth in an attempt to understand what Nic is feeling). Carell’s role speaks to the heart of what makes “Beautiful Boy” a powerful, albeit imperfect, account of a family’s fight for survival.

One could argue that to make a more significant impression, Groeningen and Davies should have pulled back the curtain to expose some of the darkest corners of drug addiction instead of simply showing audiences the scenarios that explore the hopes, disappointments and fears of the characters. With Carell and Chalamet at the forefront, however, “Beautiful Boy” is still an insightful and uplifting father-son story where unconditional love is the real star of the film.

Silencio

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: John Noble, Rupert Graves, Melina Matthews
Directed by: Lorena Villarreal (“Las Lloronas”)
Written by: Lorena Villarreal (“Las Lloronas”)

Shhh. Hear that sound? That’s “Silencio,” an overambitious sci-fi melodrama written, produced and directed by Lorena Villarreal, landing with a gigantic thud. Using the vague “inspired by true events” proclamation at the beginning of the film is ironic since “Silencio”’s script is so uninspiring.

Set on the backdrop of a real event that happened over 40 years ago, “Silencio” opens with the explosion of a U.S. Air Force missile launched from the Green River Complex in Utah in July 1977. While the intended target of the rocket was the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, it veered off course and hit a region in the Mexican desert known as the Zone of Silence.

Legend has it that the area, also referred to as the Bermuda Triangle of Mexico, contains a magnetic vortex that causes bizarre things to take place like blocked radio transmissions, mutated plants and animals, and alien sightings. Because the missile included a radioactive chemical element, a team of scientists were sent to clean up the debris.

This is the point of “Silencio” where the true narrative ends, and Villarreal takes the reins for an absurd journey that mixes elements of ghost stories, crime thrillers and time-travel nonsense to create an awkward bilingual hybrid lacking a real identity. It might’ve been a better idea if Villarreal had done what director Brad Parker did when he unleashed hordes of mutants in the awful 2012 horror flick “Chernobyl Diaries” set more than two decades after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. At least “Diaries” knows what kind of movie it is.

Instead, Villarreal, whose only other film credit is for writing and directing the 2004 Spanish-language thriller “Las Lloronas” — based on the Mexican folklore myth of La Llorona — slaps together a bunch of sci-fi gibberish and hopes for the best. Luckily, actor John Noble (TV’s “Fringe”) is able to keep his head above water long enough to deliver a sufficient performance.

Nobel stars as Dr. James White, one of the scientists who goes to the site where the radioactive missile crashes. During the cleanup, he unearths a contaminated rock that possesses time-traveling powers. Years later, James — now an uncommunicative old man — is determined to find the magic rock he buried long ago with the help of his granddaughter Ana (Melinda Matthews) and a medium who reawakens his spirit.

Convoluted and aimless, it’s impossible to fully explain what “Silencio” actually is without getting a migraine. If your threshold for pain (or bad movies) is high, wait for it on DVD so you can watch it on mute. It just might make for a more enjoyable experience.

Mid90s

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterson
Directed by: Jonah Hill (debut)
Written by: Jonah Hill (debut)

It looks like two-time Academy Award-nominated actor and first-time writer/director Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”) has picked up a few tricks during his 14-year career from some of the top-tier filmmakers he’s worked with, including Bennett Miller, Martin Scorsese and Joel and Ethan Coen. In his admirable directorial debut “Mid90s,” Hill proves he’s operating from a place of purity, compassion and meaningful emotion.

In a way, “Mid90s” is the spiritual successor to Larry Clark’s controversial 1995 indie film “Kids,” although not nearly as provocative (at least by today’s standards). Hill has crafted a lived-in world where his young characters — most of them teenage boys — feel like they are the kings of their own destiny. From the perspective of a child, it’s not as captivating or unique as films like “The Florida Project,” “Where the Wild Things Are” or “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” but Hill has tapped into a specific time and location worthy of thoughtful exploration.

Set in Los Angeles in the, well, mid-’90s, Hill introduces us to his crew led by actor Sunny Suljic (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) in what will undoubtedly be considered his breakout role in years to come. Suljic stars as Stevie, an undersized 13-year-old kid in search of his own identity and reputation.

Stevie’s home life is bearable, although he’d probably like it more if his aggressive older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) would stop beating the hell out of him. Their single mother (Katherine Waterson) is loving, but gives them the freedom to do as they please. That independence leads Stevie to a local skate shop where he finds solace hanging around with the teens who frequent (or work at) the store.

The young men — aspiring skateboard pro Ray (Na-kel Smith), jealous Ruben (Gio Galicia), aspiring filmmaker “Fourth Grade” (Ryder McLaughlin) and scene-stealing slacker “Fuckshit” (Olan Prenatt) — take a liking to Stevie, who starts skateboarding with them. “Mid90s” is a plotless film, so we spend most of the time observing the guys as they skate, smoke weed, drink beer, insult each other and talk about what they want to do with their lives and why they like skating. It’s a shifting dynamic that is authentic and, occasionally, deeply moving.

As far as coming-of-age films go, “Mid90s” isn’t groundbreaking, but the impression that Hill is connected to the material in an intimate way is strong. He knows these kids’ lives and doesn’t settle for the easy route by diluting the narrative with nostalgia-heavy scenes or an overshadowing soundtrack. In “Mid90s,” Hill wants us to empathize with these boys. We’re all the better for him allowing us to do just that.

The Oath

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, John Cho
Directed by: Ike Barinholtz (debut)
Written by: Ike Barinholtz (“Central Intelligence”)

No matter how tender the turkey or fluffy the mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving dinner is probably not going very well if there is a government official unconscious in the living room with spinal fluid draining from his ears. Nevertheless, grab a fork (or other sharp utensil) and pull up a chair for “The Oath,” a savagely funny dark comedy where participating in the political rancor is the only way to survive through dessert.

Making his directorial debut — and also penning the script and starring in the lead role — is Ike Barinholtz (TV’s “The Mindy Project”), who was seen earlier this year in Blockers helping John Cena chug beer through his butt (known to Brett Kavanaugh as “boofing”). In “The Oath,” Barinholtz plays Chris, an aggravated liberal husband and father who, along with his wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish), decide to host Thanksgiving at their home.

It’s not the best idea for the family to get together, however, since tension is at a boiling point because of the endorsement of “The Patriot Oath,” a state-sponsored loyalty pledge the government is asking every American to voluntarily sign by the deadline on Black Friday. Offended by the dystopian concept, Chris is committed to fighting the system and not sign. His conservative brother Patrick (Jon Barinholtz, Ike’s real-life younger sibling) and his smug girlfriend Abbie (Maredith Hagner) are more than happy to tell Chris they took the Oath months ago.

The heated exchanges between family members about their political beliefs on every divisive subject they can think of blazes into a dumpster fire when two employees of the Citizens Protection Unit, a new division of Homeland Security, pay Chris and Kai’s household a visit to ask Chris some questions about the Oath. Before anyone knows what’s happening, Chris and his family are forced to subdue the two men (John Cho and Billy Magnussen), when one of them becomes aggressive.

At this point in “The Oath,” the sardonic and witty tone — reminiscent of the 1995 political satire “The Last Supper” — takes a sudden turn and abandons the even-handed approach it started with. It becomes a more mean-spirited narrative that favors predictable violence over explaining why people on opposite sides of the aisle want to wring each other’s necks sometimes.

Barinholtz might lose focus during the second half of the movie, but the film lands a good amount of solid gut punches before flying off the rails. By then, however, “The Oath” has reminded audiences that regardless of where their political allegiances lie, it’s probably a good idea to stuff their face with green bean casserole this holiday season, so nothing too stupid comes out of their mouth.

The Hate U Give

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith, Regina Hall
Directed by: George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious”)
Written by: Audrey Wells (“Shall We Dance”)

The names of the countless unarmed black men and boys whose lives have ended at the hands of white police officers in the name of law enforcement have reverberated across the nation in recent years. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Freddie Grey, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott and many others — the list is a frightening reminder of the epidemic in this country that, in many cases, points back to a systematic breakdown in race relations.

Today, it is an issue that has demanded more headlines since a number of these heartbreaking incidents have been captured on video and disseminated through social media, and because people like Colin Kaepernick are taking a knee (and making a stand) against social injustice. Stories like these are finding new platforms with the help of social media and Hollywood.

Although not based on any of the aforementioned black men who were killed by police, “The Hate U Give” is one of the very few films in the last five years that have confronted the subject directly and with the kind of intense emotion that will leave a lasting impression. In 2013, “Fruitvale Station” — with a compassionate script and direction by Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”) — told the true story of 22-year-old unarmed black man Oscar Grant, who was shot dead by an Oakland police officer four years prior. Another film on the topic, “Monsters and Men,” will hopefully do the same later this year.

Adapted from author Angie Thomas’ novel of the same name, “The Hate U Give” is a gut-wrenching cinematic wake-up call to an American society pleading with its citizens to stop the cycle of violence that has spread across generations. Taking the lead as the narrative’s reluctant social-justice warrior is Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg in a dramatic breakout role), a black teenager who witnesses the death of her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) by a police officer during a routine traffic stop.

Starr’s character arc and what Stenberg is able to do with it is noteworthy as we watch her evolve from a terrified high school student trying to understand who she is (her private school personality isn’t the same one she conveys at home) to a willing participant who slowly finds her voice through the pain, fear and indignation she has experienced her entire life.

While it would have been more constructive for the script to have given the cop characters a nuanced purpose (they’re reduced to one-dimensional villains), “The Hate U Give” isn’t apologizing for any of its choices. Thomas’ frustration radiates off the page and screen, and Starr is the ideal storyteller for that outrage. “The Hate U Give” is a primal scream.

The Old Man & the Gun

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck
Directed by: David Lowery (“A Ghost Story”)
Written by: David Lowery (“A Ghost Story”)

If legendary actor/director Robert Redford is really hanging it up after 60 years in Hollywood – he announced his retirement in August – his final film, “The Old Man & the Gun,” is just about as perfect of a swan song as any thespian could hope for. With “Old Man,” Redford has come full circle in his career and found his way back to playing the charismatic scoundrel he was known for in classic films like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting.”

At age 82, Redford hasn’t lost any of that appeal. In “Old Man,” writer/director David Lowery (“Pete’s Dragon”) has crafted a story that underscores Redford’s talents as someone who can command a screen even when portraying restrained characters. Redford has never been a showy actor, but he’s always been a showstopper.

He does the same in “Old Man” as Forrest Tucker, a notorious career criminal who spent his entire life in and out of jail for robbing banks until his death behind bars in 2004. The year before he passed, The New Yorker ran a profile on Tucker – which Lowery used as the basis for his screenplay – in which he said that during his bank-robbing escapades, he was able to successfully escape from prison a whopping 18 times.

“Old Man” introduces audiences to Forrest in the early 1980s doing what he does best – looting a bank and wearing a fashionable blue suit, brown fedora and wry smile. As most bank tellers and managers can attest while being held up, Forrest was polite and gentlemanly – the ideal target for Austin police officer John Hunt (Casey Affleck) to admire, but also track down.

While on the run, Forrest charms his way into the life of Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a widow who is quickly enamored by his nonchalant demeanor and mysterious air. Redford and Spacek, who surprisingly had never starred in a film together before, are wonderful in the few scenes they share. With the film’s old-school cinematic look and feel, Lowery takes moviegoers back in time to witness the noteworthy pairing as if it happened 40 years ago. It’s romantic, nostalgic and awfully adorable.

In Lowery’s hands, “Old Man” becomes more than just a biopic about an aging outlaw. It’s a tribute to Redford and the lasting effect he has left behind on the film industry. In one of the most poignant scenes of the year, Lowery packages all 18 prison escapes Forrest allegedly pulled off. During one of those escapes, viewers get a glimpse of a young Redford’s face, a scene borrowed from 1966’s “The Chase,” and edited flawlessly into the montage. It’s a bittersweet farewell to Redford and one that Lowery, as he does with the whole film, treats with the highest regard.

First Man

November 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke
Directed by: Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”)
Written by: Josh Singer (“Spotlight”)

To reach the pinnacle of outer space realism on the big screen these days, a lot rests on the film’s technical capabilities. From the stunning cinematography in 2013’s “Gravity,” the jaw-dropping special effects of 2014’s “Interstellar” or the impressive production design in 2015’s “The Martian,” moviegoers want to be transported from their theater seats to the farthest corners of the galaxy as effortlessly as possible.

Luckily, “First Man,” the biopic on NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), who became the first man to ever step foot on the surface of the moon in 1969, is a commendable technical achievement. In the film, the anxiousness felt in the interiors of the aircraft or spaceflight simulator is pushed to the brink of chaos with handheld camerawork. It creates a dizzying sense of dread in the most intense and confined scenes.

Leading up to the successful Apollo 11 launch, “First Man” follows Armstrong as he prepares for whatever space mission he is assigned to next. Not only is it a journey of determination and strength, it’s also an exploration by Oscar-winning screenwriter Josh Singer (“Spotlight”) of the immeasurable losses that Armstrong experienced. This includes the passing of his two-year-old daughter in 1962 and the deaths of fellow space travelers (the three-man crew of Apollo 1 were killed in a fire during a spacecraft test in 1967).

Directed by Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”), the first project of his young career that he didn’t actually write himself, the Oscar-winning filmmaker is at the top of his game as he takes viewers deep into the inner-workings of the space program, which at the time was beaten at every turn by the Soviets. Along with the radiant photography by Oscar-winning cinematographer Linus Sandgren (“La La Land”) and the vintage visual style of Oscar-nominated production designer Nathan Crowley (“Dunkirk”), it is Chazelle’s work behind the camera that will make the narrative resonate with audiences.

Like recent space films “Gravity” and “Moon,” “First Man” relies on intimate and uncomplicated storytelling. On occasion, Singer’s story feels as if it is taking place inside a silo and only breaks from those confines when we get an idea of how people outside of NASA are observing the historic events (Apollo 13 was more effective in this respect). Gosling, maybe in an attempt to balance actress Claire Foy as outspoken first wife Janet, portrays Armstrong with understated confidence. The dynamic works for the most part, although Gosling isn’t given much external range.

Still, like the best cinematic space odysseys that have come before, “First Man” brings with it a message of humanism and mortality that puts life into perspective. What better backdrop to experience an existential awakening than soaring across the cosmos?

Venom

October 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Ruben Fleisher (“Zombieland,” “Gangster Squad”)
Written by: Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner (“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”) and Kelly Marcel (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) and Will Beall (“Gangster Squad”)

Do you remember the old days, post-Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” and pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe, when comic book movies were these weird standalone things, and studios were pulling out all the stops to try and get them to stick? We got mediocre to terrible movies like “Hulk,” “Daredevil,” and “Ghost Rider” out of the deal that each had to build a world where the main character was humanity’s first superhero. It sucked.

Apparently Sony, with their Tom Holland Spider-Man on loan to the MCU, looked back fondly on this era and realized they had the rights to Spider-Man’s arch nemesis Venom and thought “fuck it, let’s just make a ‘Venom’ movie with no Spider-Man whatsoever – that should be fine.”

It isn’t. “Venom” is the opposite of fine.

Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, a hotshot investigative journalist in San Francisco with a hit TV show who dresses like I imagine Tom Hardy dresses all the time. When he’s given the chance to interview rocket-obsessed tech billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) after his latest spacecraft crashes on re-entry, Brock instead sneaks into the email of his girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams, paying for a new vacation house, I guess) and notices people are dying in some human trials Drake is conducting (because, you see, Anne is one of his lawyers).

Anyway, instead of asking Drake about the spaceship (that, oops, brought back violent alien “symbiotes” that take over people’s bodies), Brock grills him about the human testing and promptly gets thrown out on his ass from the interview, his job and his relationship. Six months later, a down-and-out Brock is approached by Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate), a whistleblower in the company who wants to put an end to Drake’s experiments. She sneaks him into the company headquarters (on property overlooking Horseshoe Bay that will apparently once become Starfleet HQ) where, in an effort to save a woman he knows from being experimented on, Brock becomes infected with a wise-cracking, head-eating symbiote known as Venom.

While “Venom” nakedly wants to be like “Deadpool,” the way it’s been clearly hacked into a PG-13 rating and the weird desire to turn the inky black monster into a do-gooder almost immediately blunts the whole thing from the start. Still, Hardy gives a wonderfully batshit if dimwitted performance at times, but alas that’s nowhere near enough to overcome the utter stupidity of Drake’s motivation or the unintentional comedy peppered throughout the film, be it an odd push in on a background scientist’s troubled reaction or making four-time Academy Award-nominee tenderly deliver the line “I’m sorry about Venom.”

No, Michelle, Sony is the one who should be sorry about Venom.

Colette

October 4, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough
Directed by: Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”)
Written by: Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”) and Richard Glatzer (“Still Alice”)

While mainstream audiences might associate two-time Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game”) with her role in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, just as many moviegoers probably consider her more recognizable from the handful of costume dramas she’s starred in during her career.

From the emotionally resonant 2005 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” to the under-appreciated uniqueness of 2012’s “Anna Karenina,” Knightley is synonymous with characters who don modest muslin gowns and colorful Victorian-era silk dresses. It’s unfortunate, then, that her latest foray into the late 19th century isn’t as effective as her prior period pieces.

In “Colette,” Knightley stars as Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, one of the most important voices in women’s literature ever to come out of France (notable works include Chéri and Gigi). The film introduces audiences to Colette as a young country girl who is whisked away to Paris by Willy (Dominic West), a charming and well-liked writer and struggling publishing house owner.

Living above their means in Paris, Willy, who manages a team of ghostwriters who churn out literature to sell to Belle Époque socialites, persuades Colette to write a coming-of-age novel about her teenage years and allow him to publish it under his name. When the book, Claudine at School, becomes a hit, Willy demands she continue writing (there are four novels in the Claudine series). This all occurs while her relationship with Willy deteriorates because of his refusal to credit her as the real author and the problems caused by their open marriage — which Colette uses as inspiration for her writing.

Directed and co-written by Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”), “Colette” is hitting theaters during a moment in our cultural history when many women, much like the film’s title character, are standing up for themselves against the oppression of toxic men. It’s a timely biopic on female empowerment — one that rests solely on the shoulders of Knightley and her insightful depiction of strength and desire for independence.

Where the film falters, however, is in Westmoreland’s script, which should have offered more narrative support from its secondary characters. Instead, “Colette” remains a loner as she confronts the unsustainable life she’s built with Willy and the romance she later establishes with Missy (Denise Gough), an androgynous partner who understands the frustration Colette feels from having to stay silent and unseen for so long — like a ghost floating around in literary limbo.

Although it’s a central message, Westmoreland gets a bit heavy-handed with his metaphors. In one scene, Colette is transfixed on a male mime singing soprano before the camera pulls back to reveal that he is lip-syncing a song actually being sung by a woman standing behind him. If we didn’t know any better, we might think “Colette” was trying to say something.

The Children Act

October 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Emma Thompson, Fionn Whitehead, Stanley Tucci
Directed by: Richard Eyre (“Notes on a Scandal”)
Written by: Ian McEwan (“On Chesil Beach”)

Films where characters are presented with a moral dilemma usually give rise to thought-provoking conversations. In the 2015 war thriller “Eye in the Sky,” the decency of the U.S. military is examined when they must decide if they should bomb a group of terrorists if it also means killing a young girl near the targeted site. In 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone,” the question posed at the end of the film is whether the wellbeing of a child should be risked in favor of a neglectful mother’s rights.

The complicated, life-altering situations continue in “The Children Act,” a polarizing and ultimately erratic drama starring two-time Academy Award-winning actress Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”) as an English judge assessing a controversial case. Although Thompson is a gem, “The Children Act” minimizes its most interesting courtroom narrative with insignificant storylines during the first half before transforming into an entirely different — and less absorbing — picture in the second.

Thompson stars as Fiona Maye, a High Court justice living in London with her American professor husband Jack (Stanley Tucci), who confesses to her that he has become dissatisfied with their passionless marriage. Besides placing added stress on Fiona, who is obviously a workaholic, the revelation doesn’t add much to the screenplay adapted by Ian McEwan (“On Chesil Beach”) from his own 2014 novel of the same name. Still, McEwan and director Richard Eyre (“Notes on a Scandal”) milk the relationship problems for all they’re worth, which hurts the impact of the film’s main moral issue.

The case that comes across Fiona’s desk is of Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), a devout 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness and leukemia patient who sites his religious beliefs and refuses a life-saving blood transfusion. Despite having little time to weigh the circumstances fully (Adam will die soon without the procedure), Fiona makes an unprecedented move and chooses to meet Adam at the hospital before she makes a final ruling.

Until the encounter takes place, “The Children Act,” named after a law in the United Kingdom that requires the protection of a child’s welfare, is a well-developed and smart story in spite of the overplayed and hollow marital spat. Where the film comes apart is when we step out of the courtroom and into an awkward scenario where Fiona’s personal life collides with her work life in a way she’s never experienced before.

As the pragmatic Fiona, Thompson gives a brilliantly direct performance — one that will probably be overshadowed by showier characters once awards season starts getting serious — and stands out as one of her best since 2013’s “Saving Mr. Banks.” A major opportunity is missed, however, when the script chooses to take a clumsy route rather than a compelling one when it hits the homestretch.

Pick of the Litter

October 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Directed by: Don Hardy Jr. (“Theory of Obscurity”) and Dana Nachman (“Batkid Begins”)
Written by: Dana Nachman (“Batkid Begins”)

If Animal Planet was as smart as a Border Collie, it would figure out a way to adapt the crowd-pleasing and educational documentary “Pick of the Litter” into a reality show. Sure, the cable network already has plenty of programs that fill the category like “Pit Bulls and Parolees” and “My Cat from Hell,” but none currently feature the pets going fluffy head to fluffy head in a thrilling competition (the hit TV show “Puppy Bowl” doesn’t count because puppies, contrary to popular belief, can’t really play football).

In “Pick of the Litter,” five newborn Labradors — Patriot, Potomac, Primrose, Poppet and Phil — are placed in a training program with the California-based nonprofit Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) to become guide dogs for the visually impaired. While the training program isn’t a competition, directors Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman have a little fun in the doc by arranging the 20-month-long process into a tail-wagging battle royale where the five pups put their skills to the test in order to make it to graduation day and be placed with a new owner.

The idea works surprisingly well since becoming a guide dog for GDB is incredibly difficult. According to the organization, only 300 of the 800 dogs bred annually will complete the training program as guide dogs. And demand is high. Each year, GDB receives 1,100 applications from potential dog owners. By setting up the film as a friendly contest, “Pick of the Litter” is more enjoyable for moviegoers who are interested in rooting for their favorite pooch — from Phil and his easygoing lease on life to Patriot who is a bit of a biter.

Like any gripping reality show competition, “Pick of the Litter” also comes with other heartwarming stories about the men and women who are working together to get each dog to meet its goals. This includes the volunteer “puppy raisers” who care for the pups for a few months before they transition to more experienced trainers called “puppy club leaders.” Most of the trainers have uplifting stories to tell about why they enjoy raising and training dogs. The narrative gets emotional during the more touching scenes when some of the pups are cut from the program (GDB labels these dogs “career changed”).

As cheerful and affectionate as the humans are in the story, the dogs, of course, are the true stars of “Pick of the Litter.” Watching the five showcased here — from their entry into the world as yappy little fuzzballs to these incredibly intelligent animals — is a wonderful testament to the services provided by GDB, which have changed thousands of lives since its inception in 1942. For that, “Pick of the Litter” certainly deserves its fair share of tummy rubs.

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