F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 25, 2016)

25 08 2016

ThumbsuckerMuch of Mike Mills’ “Thumbsucker” treads fairly standard young adult coming of age territory. Lou Pucci’s Justin Cobb, the protagonist whose titular habit serves an effective metaphor for his juvenility, must undergo familiar trials that provide him confidence and self-worth. He has to learn public speaking skills and romantic graces with a decidedly modern twist – Justin has just added medication for his recently diagnosed ADHD that totally transforms his personality.

But there’s something more to “Thumbsucker” that makes it my “F.I.L.M. of the Week.” Mills, working from a novel by Walter Kirn, does not stop the coming of age with Justin. As it turns out, his emotionally stilted parents have plenty of growing up to do in their own right. The film is just as much about their own slow maturation process as their son’s.

Vincent D’Onofrio’s Mike insists that Justin refer to his parents by their first names since the terms “mom and dad” make him feel old. He serves as the manager of a large sporting goods store while still nursing bitterness and resentment over a knee injury that thwarted his football career. His family serves as a daily reminder of what his life is not.

Meanwhile, his wife, Tilda Swinton’s Audrey, handles all the love and affection for their two kids. She’s genuinely curious and attuned to Justin’s issues. But Audrey cannot shake a girlish fascination with a soap opera actor Matt Schramm. The infatuation reaches levels that embarrass her children; they do not think she would literally cheat on their father, though she is not exactly quick to dismiss the possibility of her fantasy.

“Thumbsucker” shows everyone fumbling through this thing called life together in their own way, and that even includes Justin’s zany, hypnosis obsessed dentist Perry Lyman (played by none other than Keanu Reeves). With over a decade of distance since release, it feels very reflective of a mid-2000s suburban malaise that already feels like a time capsule. Mills is earnest in his explorations of what causes people’s unshakeable, throbbing sensation of vague discontent with their current situation. The sincerity goes a long way in making these unsatisfied characters ones that are worth spending time with to probe their pain.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (April 21, 2016)

21 04 2016

TruckerDo you ever stop and think about what could have happened in an actor’s career if they had caught the right breaks? If people had paid more attention to them when they were younger? (It’s a fascinating thought experiment, if you ever have the opportunity to daydream.)

In such an alternate universe, I wish Michelle Monaghan were a far greater star than she is today. And if not a star, at least she would be recognized for her vast array of acting talents. 2009’s “Trucker” might be for Monaghan what 2013’s “Short Term 12” was for Brie Larson – a showcase of tremendous ability that in turn serves as a valuable stepping stone towards wider renown.

The film, written and directed by James Mottern, does not necessarily bring much new to the table. Its story of an adult reluctantly assuming the duties of parenthood is something we have seen before. But the kind of selfishness and feet-dragging displayed by Monaghan’s character, the titular truck driver Diane Ford, is the kind usually portrayed by deadbeat dads.

Mothers usually must stay strong and unfailing in their love or face vilification. Mottern refuses to do that, letting Diane crave what any person being wants – a space to relax, a moment to breathe, an iota of satisfaction – without passing judgment. That quiet dignity and soft-spoken feminist angle on a traditional domestic drama gives “Trucker” just enough edge to put it in “F.I.L.M. of the Week” territory.

Monaghan matches Mottern’s tenor beat for beat, constantly spitting in the face of conventional moments for either demonization or lionization. Diane is not there as an object for our scorn or admiration. She is just fully human like us – probably a little more selfish than selfless, more stubborn than sociable. Diane does not move towards reconciliation with her son, forgiveness from her ex-husband (Benjamin Bratt) or love with her platonic pal (Nathan Fillion). She just moves from day to day, taking life like it is.

Sometimes, that’s nice. Sometimes, that’s the best way to really understand the experience of someone else.





REVIEW: Despicable Me 2

18 07 2013

No one is mistaking Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment for Pixar.  Heck, on its best day, I don’t even think it stacks up with DreamWorks Animation.  But that’s not to say that “Despicable Me 2” doesn’t have a place in the market.

It’s a film content to be just simple and sophomoric, corny and childish – but who can blame them for making a kids movie that’s tailored towards children?  It’s got goofy laughs aplenty for the munchkins, and it’s not shudder-inducing for everyone else.  While “Despicable Me 2” doesn’t hit straight at the heart like a “Toy Story” movie, it’s lovable enough to bring out the soft side in everyone.

Though it hardly qualifies as TV-14 humor, “Despicable Me 2” boasts a completely successful bottling of Essence d’Kristen Wiig into an animated character.  Her Anti-Villain League agent Lucy has all the lovable awkwardness of Wiig complete with all her zany body contortions.  She makes up the deficit left by Steve Carell’s Gru and the adorable Agnes, who simply doesn’t have the same unbridled innocent charm as the original “Despicable Me.”

Yet while Agnes decreases, the Minions increase.  Those little yellow corn-nuggets of energy are back in full force, no longer relegated to side-show status like they were in the first film.  They are even better realized in “Despicable Me 2,” achieving a kind of humor not unlike that of silent comedians (albeit in a very watered down fashion).

Illumination certainly did a good job of looking at what worked in the 2010 film and made it even bigger and better for their sequel.  In other words, they’ve come to the market in 2013 with a product even better suited for the moviegoers that made “Despicable Me” such a hit 3 years ago.  That may be good for investors, but it’s not all that great for the fans.  “Despicable Me 2,” not unlike its predecessor, is a rather disposable movie that charms during the experience but dissipates the second you leave the theater.  Though it is funny, it is also rather forgettable.  B-2stars