Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Dealing with death at an early age

    Max, a teenager, has fallen into a coma as a result of terminal brain cancer. His mom brings him to a hospice where he'll receive palliative care. As it turns out, the young man has landed in the same Florida hospice where Terry Schiavo's husband is fighting a bitter right-to-die battle. 
   In Suncoast, director Laura Chinn’s debut film, the din of protest surrounds the hospice, but the movie doesn't boil with issue-driven fervor. 
   Instead, Chinn assays the strain caused by a Max's impending death while also exploring his younger sister's struggle to experience something akin to normal adolescence, assuming there is such a thing.
  Understandably unnerved, Max's single mother (Laura Linney) can't focus on much else. It's difficult for her to see that her son's illness also casts a shadow over her daughter (Nico Parker), a high school senior who has had to care for Max so Mom could work.
  Afraid to leave her son alone, Mom decides to move into the hospice with him. Parker's Doris is left on her own, a potentially enviable position for a teenager. 
   Despite some initial wariness, Doris allows a group of girls to host parties at her modest home. She begins to develop friends. She begins to see what she's been missing.
  Chinn mostly avoids mean-girl cliches, obtaining nicely modulated performances from her youthful cast and from Linney as a preoccupied woman who can't always suppress her rage. 
   The movie has a mild Christian backdrop. Woody Harrelson plays a widower and protest regular. Religious but not dogmatic, he tries to befriend Doris, encouraging her to acknowledge her grief.
   Harrelson's Paul doesn't allow his beliefs to stand in the way of trying to help a kid who doesn't share them, a nice touch, but his character seems a bit of digression.
   Doris attends a Christian school but neither she nor her classmates are particularly religious and one of her teachers (Matt Walsh) conducts an ethics class that's so even-handed, it feels contrived.
  Through it all, Chinn doesn't forget that her story hinges on grief and loss. She brings the drama to its tear-jerking peak during Doris's prom, a celebration she's clearly earned even though it's taking place against a backdrop of illness and death.
   This keen sense of loss elevates the movie even when Chinn rounds off the sharp edges a better movie might have had. She makes the heartbreaking finality of what mother and daughter must face feel achingly real.

He fights a battle for land and order


 A single-minded former military officer wants to develop a farm on soil has been deemed too tough to till. An unscrupulous land baron stands in his way.
  That may sound like a dozen Westerns you've seen, but The Promised Land, a sturdy frontier drama, takes place in mid-18th Century Denmark. 
  Mads Mikkelsen, at his flinty best, anchors a story that pits his character, the bastard child of a nobleman, against a sadistic aristocrat (Simon Bennebjerg) who'll do anything to maintain control of the Jutland heath.
   Director Nikolaj Arcel leans heavily on Mikkelsen's sternly chiseled performance while introducing themes that touch on racism and the cruelties of a hierarchical society.
   The Promised Land has as clearly a drawn villain as you could want. Bennebjerg's Frederik De Schinkel favors horrific measures of control, including scalding a runaway tenant farmer with boiling water. He brutally rapes the women who serve on his estate.
  Recognizable to American audiences for his work in Casino Royale (2006) and more recently, Indiana Jones the Dial of Destiny, Mikkelsen gives his Ludvig von Kahlen, the battle-scarred aura of a man who has seen too much.
   But Kahlen refuses to be defeated. He wants to spread civilization to the heath, and, in the long term, earn the status and recognition of a nobleman.
   No revolutionary, Kahlen doesn't aim to topple the prevailing order. He hopes to join it, and he believes he can curry the king's favor by proving that the land on the heath is arable. 
     Seen only once and briefly, the king wants to settle the  heath but his skeptical advisors work against him. They allow Kahlen to proceed as a way to humor the king. But they believe that even the strong-willed Kahlen won't be able to conquer the heath.
   Initially, Kahlen finds three allies for his work: a paster (Gustav Lindh) who wants to build a church on the heath and a couple (Morten Hee Andersen and Amanda Collin) who've fled Schinkel's tyranny.
   Kahlen also cares for a Roma child (Melina Hagberg) whose dark complexion turns her into an outcast and allows Arcel to expose the racist superstitions of the settlers Kahlen finally attracts.
   At various points, Kahlen also encounters an admiring noblewoman (Kristine Kujath Thorp) who disdains the prospect of marriage to Schinkel. She has her eye on him in a way that he can't quite handle.
   Gradually, Kahlen turns his crew into a family and by the film's end, we realize that Arcel has been staging a stark character study in which Kahlen's commitment to order collides with Schinkel's belief in a chaos, which he uses to justify his abominable behavior.
    I won't give away important plot points but relationships with Collin's character, who serves as a housekeeper, and with Hagberg's character allow Kahlen's humanity to emerge -- albeit in ways that don't break faith with the staunch fiber that compels him.
    The movie's third act feels a bit too compressed, and The Promised Land occasionally flirts with melodrama, but it tells an involving story that embodies the spirit of the bleak, unforgiving landscape on which it unfolds.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Traveling through a mysterious world


     Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell is nearly three hours long, moves at a pace some will find glacial, and doesn't seem interested in sharply defined resolutions. 
     That may not sound inviting but Vietnamese director Pham Thien An has made an exceptional film, one that asks us to live with it, travel with it, and experience life through its eyes. Confidently conceived and deliberate in its execution, Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell absorbs us in its grief, mystery, and beauty.
     Pham wraps his movie around a minimal story. Thien (Le Phong Vu) faces a major change when his sister-in-law is killed in a motorcycle crash. Her five-year-old son Dao (Nguyen Thinh) survives the crash. 
     Taking the boy under wing, Thien travels from Saigon to the rural village where he was raised. He hopes to find his brother -- the boy's father -- and deliver Dao to him.
     Such is the film's spine, but Pham turns Thien's travels into a spiritual quest that introduces us to the simply expressed Catholicism of villagers whose homes are full of iconography. 
     How should we regard the faith that the film finds in some of its characters? Pham never tells us. It's  part of the reality Thien encounters, no different and no less physically apparent than trees along a roadside. Perhaps religion represents the past Thien thought he left behind when he took up residence in Saigon.
    The countryside gives the film a lush, expectant quality. Mysterious fogs embrace landscapes. We feel the dampness. We slosh through mud-clogged roads after a downpour.
   As he searches for his brother, Thien meets three pivotal characters: an older man who fought against the Vietcong, a nun he once hoped would become his girlfriend, and an elderly woman who describes a journey she took to the place where souls live and from which she reluctantly returned to her body and the fetid world it inhabits. 
   Pham's imagery can be spacious. He photographs a scene in which Thien speaks to a war veteran as an almost reluctant form of intrusion. Thien waits a long time before his camera shows us the face of the man with whom Thien is speaking. 
   Speaking is probably the wrong word. Mostly, Thien listens. 
   Pham allows us to imagine backstories that remain unspoken. Why did Thien's brother leaves his wife and child? Why did Thien remain in Saigon when the rest of his immediate family left for the US? What ultimately will become of Dao? Will Thien return to Saigon?
   The film requires patience. Watching Thien slowly push his crippled motor scooter up a hill tests one's endurance. That may be part of the point. If we're in a rush, as Thien may have during his days in the city, it's difficult to look for the profundity around us.
    Pham never edits his images into disruptive chunks; he immerses us in time and space, encouraging us to wonder about the meaning of what we're seeing -- or simply to see  it.
  Neither we nor Thien arrive at a fulfilling destination, at least that's how I felt. Maybe that's the point. Thien's spiritual search -- if that's what it is -- brings meditative observation to a high level, approximating the limbo in which Thien finds himself.
  We think that the meaning of all this should be deep. Perhaps, though, there's no revelation to be had -- just unfolding experience: mundane, strange, and emergent. Life, after all, is under no obligation to explain itself to us.
   Pham achieves something rare: We almost feel each moment attaching to the next. On and on and on again, as the movie seeps into consciousness.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Is it school or another minefield?

 you’re looking for a disturbing view of contemporary education, the German film, The Teachers' Lounge, is a good place to start. Director Ilker Catak takes us into a middle school where problems involving trust, perception, identity, racism, and privacy simmer toward an eruptive boil.
  Sounds dire, I suppose, but in 2024, it could be just another day at school.
  Catak focuses on Ms. Nowak (Leonie Benesch), a newbie teacher who wants to be fair to her students,  colleagues, and herself.
  Whatever calm the school knew vanishes when money is stolen from the wallet Ms. Nowak leaves in the teachers’ lounge during a break. The theft occurs in the midst of a wave of thefts that have scourged the school. 
   Ali (Can Rodenbostel), a kid whose parents are Turkish immigrants, becomes a suspect after the administration casts an overly broad net. Students are asked to reveal the contents of their wallets.
   But wait. A video provides strong evidence that the culprit is a member of the administrative staff whose son Oskar (Leonard Stettnisch) attends the school. Oskar, who happens to be a good student, becomes an adamant defender of his mother.
   Before the movie concludes, teachers, the student newspaper, and the entire student body become involved. The students tend to overgeneralize about the issues. Everyone takes sides, and the school’s atmosphere turns toxic.
   Throughout the turmoil, Ms. Nowak continues trying to reach Oskar. She refuses to give up on him or turn him into an enemy. But Catak doesn’t lionize her or any of the other teachers. They’re part of a system that breeds cynicism, mistrust and confusion.
   Catak moves the story to a tense beat, sometimes employing the language of a thriller, an accomplishment considering, after all, that The Teachers' Lounge is about sixth graders.
   Teachers' Lounge isn't trying to be inspirational; it's an unflinching look at how a school can serve as a microcosmic example of a society in which, to borrow from the title of another movie, few do the right thing, perhaps because it’s nearly impossible to discern what that might be.*
*A note: The Teachers' Lounge this week was nominated for an Oscar in the best international feature category.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Trying to understand oppression

 Isabel Wilkerson’s best-selling book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, should be digested, argued with, and discussed. 
   A highly regarded journalist who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Warmth of Other Suns, Wilkerson took on a monumental task. She sought a unifying theory to explain oppression, something that might, in her view, go deeper than racism, which has become a catch-all for all manner of issues -- from social slights to murder.
  Mixing personalized reporting and theoretical thinking, Wilkerson traveled to India and Germany to  examine the role caste played in creating brutally stratified social systems at various historical points. She also assayed the role caste continues to play in today's world.
  To call this a "big" inquiry understates the scope of Wilkerson’s thesis-building ambition. 
   How is any of this the basis for a movie? 
   Director Ava DuVernay answers the question by taking a stylistically eclectic approach while focusing  on Wilkerson's quest for answers.  
   For DuVernay, Wilkerson's book becomes a springboard for a cinematic essay that begins when an editor (Blair Underwood) asks Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) to look into the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin.
  Initially resistant, Wilkerson begins to search for something deeper, something that might recast (you'll pardon the pun) views about what we commonly refer to as "racism." 
   At a social gathering, Wilkerson describes "racism" as a default word that's starting to lose its meaning.
   She eventually concludes that caste better explains oppression. Why else would an all-white society such as Nazi Germany create a hierarchy in which Jews were demonized and murdered?
   Ellis-Taylor ably conveys the ceaseless drive that can push a journalist to dig deeper, the dissatisfaction that comes from suspecting that there's more to a story than meets even the intelligent eye.
  DuVernay rounds out the movie with an often sad personal dimension. While researching, Wilkerson deals with the death of both her husband (John Bernthal) and her mother (Emily Yancy). 
  The film uses Wilkerson’s relationship with a cousin (Niecy Nash) as a bridge to connect the theoretical and the practical, one of Wilkerson's strengths as a writer, to ground ideas in experiences that can be felt.
    That beloved cousin also dies while Wilkerson is working on her book, adding more grief  to a movie that’s overloaded with it. 
    While in Germany, Wilkerson learns that Nazi lawyers looked to Jim Crow to help design their campaign against Jews, presenting the information as we watch re-enactments of a book burning and a meeting of Nazi lawyers.
   In what I took as an important encounter, a German woman questions Wilkerson’s thesis about similarities between US and German history regarding slavery and the Holocaust, condemning both but insisting on their differences.
   The exchange is portrayed as an insult to the author rather than a valid intellectual challenge. I think that may have something to do with how the scene is played, but in a movie that's not afraid of talk, the discussion could have gone further.
    If you’re interested in this topic, you can read James Q. Whitman's Hitler's American Model (2017), a scholarly work that examines the extent to which Nazi lawyers studied Jim Crow laws.
    A digression? Maybe. But Origin also can be viewed as digressive. The pieces of DuVernay's jigsaw don't always fit neatly together, and the movie may be more successful as the story of a search for answers  than as an endorsement of any conclusions.
  At times, the film feels like a documentary, particularly when Wilkerson travels to India to learn about the country's Dalit population. She's looking for the ways caste connects oppressed populations in different countries.
  DuVernay also recounts the story of four anthropologists -- two black and two white -- who produced a landmark 1941 book (Deep South), a study of caste and class during the days of Jim Crow. 
   Origin sometimes threatens to become a CliffNotes version of Wilkerson’s book and Wilkerson can sound a bit didactic when she's expounding on the controlling web woven by caste. Blind acceptance of caste makes it seem as if it's part of the natural order, to paraphrase something she says at a gathering of friends and family.
    However you regard Wilkerson's encompassing idea -- which I think tends to go further than the specifics of her observations allow -- Origin stands as a work of telling detail and admirable intent: to provoke, illuminate, and encourage us to see and feel the world through Wilkerson's eyes -- and DuVernay's, as well.
     Judging by her work, I'd say Wilkerson isn't content to operate in default mode. Judging by  Origin, I'd say DuVernay isn't, either.


Thursday, January 18, 2024

Dolph Lundgren in a played-out thriller


At 66, Dolph Lundgren shows his age in Wanted Man, a predictable thriller that's short on kick. The actor who played the formidable Drago in Rocky IV (1985) and who toted  grenade launchers and other hardware in The Expendables movies portrays a bigoted California detective who's caught on camera beating up a Mexican immigrant. Lundgren's Johansen and his pals, including Kelsey Grammer as a retired cop, aren't shy about expressing their prejudices. The glare of publicity causes his boss to send Johansen to Mexico to help with the extradition of two hookers (Christina Villa and Daniela Soto-Brenner) who witnessed the murder of DIA officers and who might be able to identify the killers. The job is supposed to allow Johansen to fade from the news and help his bosses recover from a PR nightmare. After a brutal attack on the road back to the US, Johansen and Villa's Rosa struggle to survive pursuit by drug cartel thugs and corrupt Mexican police officers. Like the rest of us, Lundgren isn't immune to aging, and, as the movie's director, he allows father time to give his character a shop-worn quality. Fair enough, but not even occasional bursts of violence can save the movie from feeling played out.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Bob's Cinema Diary: Jan. 18, 2024: 'Freud's Last Session' and 'Apolonia Apolonia'

Freud's Last Session 

Based on an off-Broadway play, Freud's Last Session imagines the waning days of Sigmund Freud’s life, building a movie around an invented a conversation between the great psychoanalyst (Anthony Hopkins) and author C. S. Lewis (Matthew Goode) of Narnia fame. Lewis, a believing Christian, and Freud, an atheist, hash out big questions against a backdrop of war. The year: 1939. That should have been enough. But director Matthew Brown opens things up, adding, among other things, scenes depicting Lewis's horrific experiences in World War I. Hopkins's performance emphasizes the pain Freud experiences from cancer of the jaw, his consumption of pain-relieving morphine, and his dismay about having had to leave Vienna because of the rise of Hitler and Nazism. Freud's dependent relationship with his gay daughter (Liv Lisa Fries) also breaks into the solitude of Freud's study, where much of the movie is set. I could go on, but suffice it to say that the interchanges between the two primary characters often lacked urgency. In all, Freud’s Last Session struck me as a missed opportunity for intense conversation sans any distractions. 

Apolonia Apolonia

Director Lea Glob filmed painter Apolonia Sokol for 13 years, charting the painter's life as she gradually gained recognition for her portraiture. As a kid, Sokol lived a bohemian life with her father in a theater in Paris. She eventually attended the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris, an institution that can serve as a launching pad for major art careers. Apolonia's graduation didn't immediately vault her into the art world's upper tiers. In the U.S., Apolonia met Stefan Simchowitz, a collector, promoter, and patron who cultivates relationships with young artists. Glob follows her own growth and confusions, as well as Apolonia's in Apolonia Apolonia, a movie that captures the chaotic life of a young artist. Apolonia Apolonia stands as an imperfect documentary about an artist's struggle. But its imperfections and narrative leaps sometimes seem well-matched to a life in which both director and her subject are trying to find their footing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

It's light, breezy and artfully silly


Director Francois Ozon wisely stocks The Crime Is Mine with veteran French actors. The list includes Fabrice Luchini (as a judge), Regis Laspales (as a detective), Olivier Broche (as a clerk to a judge), and Dany Boon (as an architect). I begin here because in revamping a 1934 play, Ozon needed actors with a deep understanding of the ripe exaggerations needed for screwball comedy. Add Isabelle Huppert as a fading silent film star, and Andre Dussollier as the head of a tire-manufacturing company and you've got the makings of an old-fashioned comedy served with a feminist twist. Rebecca Marder and Nadia Terezkiewicz give the movie its center as down-and-out roommates -- one a lawyer, the other an actress. This youthful duo finds itself caught up in a murder. Ozon includes a trial that perhaps anticipates the age of tabloid sensation because the defendant views the courtroom as a launching pad for an acting career. It's difficult to resist the performances of a cast intent on making the most of every opportunity to display finely honed character chops. The Crime Is Mine stands as a fine example of how smartly to execute farcical material that easily could evaporated in the mists of nostalgia. Better yet, Ozon plays with old-fashioned forms without needing to declare his superiority to them. There’s also icing on the cake: Production designer Jean Rabasse, cinematographer Manuel Dacosse, and costume designer Pascaline Chavanne give this pleasure of a movie a rich retro look.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

'Oppenheimer' tops Critics Choice awards


The Critics Choice Association Sunday announced its 2024 awards with Oppenheimer winning best picture.
  The best actor category provided one of the biggest surprises of the organizations 29th edition. Paul Giamatti won for his performance in the Holdovers. Giamatti bested Cillian Murphy; the Oppenheimer star had been considered the favorite by many. 
   A win for the popular Giamatti could shake up this year's Oscar race.
   The best actress category also included a surprise that could impact Oscar voters. Emma Stone won best actress for her work in Poor Things. Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon) won a Golden Globe in this category and remains a strong Oscar contender.
  Otherwise, the evening went as expected with Barbie (six awards) trailing Oppenheimer (eight awards). 
  I'm a voting member to the Critic Choice Association. If you're interested, you can find the complete list of this year's nominees in an earlier post. (Use the search box in the top left hand corner of this page.)l
   So, yes, we're inching our way toward Oscar. 
   Nominations for the 2024 Oscars will be announced on Jan. 23.
   Here are the 2024 Critics Choice winners:

Best Picture: Oppenheimer
Best Actor: Paul Giamatti, The Holdovers
Best Actress: Emma Stone, Poor Things
Best Supporting Actor: Robert Downey Jr., Oppenheimer
Best Supporting Actress: Da'Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers
Best Director: Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer
Best Young Actor/Actress: Dominic Sessa, The Holdovers
Best Acting Ensemble: Oppenheimer
Best Original Screenplay: Barbie, Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach
Best Adapted Screenplay: American Fiction, Cord Jefferson
Best Cinematography: Oppenheimer, Hoyte van Hoytema
Best Production Design: Barbie, Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
Best Editing: Oppenheimer, Jennifer Lame
Best Costume Design: Barbie, Jacqueline Durran
Best Hair and Makeup: Barbie
Best Visual Effects: Oppenheimer
Best Comedy: Barbie
Best Animated Feature: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Best Foreign Language Film: Anatomy of a Fall
Best Original Song: I'm Just Ken, Barbie
Best Score: Ludwig Goransson, Oppenheimer

And while we're at it: The Denver Film Critics awards for 2024 are as follows:
Best Film: Oppenheimer
Best Director, Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer
Best Lead Performance by an Actor, Female: Emma Stone, Poor Things
Best Lead Performance by an Actor, Male: Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer
Best Supporting Performance by an Actor, Female: Da'Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers
Best Supporting Performance by an Actor, Male: Ryan Gosling, Barbie
Best Sci-Fi/Horror: Godzilla Minus One
Best Comedy: Barbie & Poor Things
Best Visual Effects: The Creator & Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3
Best Adapted Screenplay: Tony McNamara, Poor Things
Best Documentary Feature: Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Best Original Song: What Was I Made For, Barbie
Best Original Score: Ludwig Goransson, Oppenheimer
Best Non-English Language Feature (Godzilla Minus One & The Zone of Interest)

Friday, January 12, 2024

'The Beekeeper' has some sting

 The Beekeeper is one of those movies that hardly needs reviewing. If you don't know who Jason Statham is, you probably aren't interested in his latest hunk of kick-ass entertainment. If you do know Statham (Expend4bles, Fast X) you probably have a good idea about The Beekeeper before you see it. 
   This time, Statham portrays Adam Clay, a lover of bees. But Adam's role as an apiarist proves secondary to his commitment to dispensing justice. 
   The Beekeepers, you see, are a no-holds-barred group of agents that's so secret even the head of the CIA may not  know about them. When all else fails, The Beekeepers -- well-trained killing machines -- are called in to clean up the mess. 
   Director David Ayer (Suicide Squad, Fury) works around a slender plot in which Adam, a retired Beekeeper, sets out to avenge a wrong committed by a heartless creep (Josh Hutcherson) who owns call centers dedicated to scamming  the elderly out of their savings. 
  Hutcherson's Derek Danforth makes the mistake of stealing from Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad), Adam's kindly landlord. Distraught about her loss, she commits suicide. Adam's onslaught begins.
   An unashamedly ridiculous plot finds Eloise's daughter (Emmy Raver-Lampman), an FBI agent, searching for  Adam as a variety of others join her in pursuit.
   Jeremy Irons plays a former head of the CIA who has been hired to protect the callous Derek from himself and others. 
  None of this much matters; Statham's unrelieved determination and the creativity Ayer brings to the movie's violent encounters count far more than common sense. 
  For about three-quarters of its one hour and 45 minute running time, The Beekeeper serves up the right amount of sting but the trouble with such movies is that they tend to wear out their welcome. They make their points early and often.
  Oh well, it's January. The Beekeeper may lack the aplomb of a John Wick movie, but it's a well-stuffed filler for fans who like their movie violence served with over-the-top relish.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

'Mean Girls': No bite, not much fun


     Mean Girls originated as a movie in 2004, transitioned to a Broadway as a musical in 2018, and again reaches the screen in 2024, this time as an aggressively upbeat take on the musical version. 
     If a movie could survive on energy alone, the latest edition of Mean Girls might be a triumph. Co-directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. and an eager cast bounce their way through a string of forgettable tunes while hitting many of the plot points that distinguished the original.
     You know the drill: High school girls can be mean as wasps but eventually learn something about tolerance and acceptance. Feathers will be ruffled before being smoothed.
     Arriving 20 years after the original, this Mean Girls seems to be relying more on fan familiarity than on any breakthroughs. 
     Renee Rapp, a veteran of the Broadway production, plays Regina, the teen queen who heads The Plastics, a trio of in-crowd trendsetters that dominates the social life of North Shore High School.
    Angourie Rice portrays Cady Heron, the ostensible lead. Newbie Cady is drawn into the elite inner sanctum, so much so that she abandons the outsider friends (Auli'i Cravalho and Jaquel Spiveywho readily accepted her and couldn't care less about the school's rigid social dynamics.
   Christopher Briney portrays Aaron, the high school's main hunk, Regina's ex and the heartthrob Cody hopes to land. He's less a character than an excuse to push the plot here and there.
   Busy Phillips, as Regina's mom, and Tim Meadows, as the school's principal, hardly pierce the teen tumult. Jon Hamm gives an eye-blink of a performance as a health teacher.
   Tina Fey reprises her role as a teacher of AP calculus. Fey, who co-wrote the original and who wrote this edition, doesn't exactly sparkle, either. 
   A game cast works hard but the much of the sting of the original has evaporated and as each new tune emerged, I found myself vainly hoping for a showstopper.
   The closet we get is Cravalho's rendition of I'd Rather Be Me, an obligatory ode to individuality.
   No ordinary high school, North Shore, as it turns out, has a high tolerance for displays of cleavage, and Rapp and some of the other cast members look a bit long in the tooth to be playing teenagers. 
    An overly carbonated spritzer of a movie, Mean Girls* isn't likely to earn an honored place in the big-screen musical canon. I'd say more about the music if I could remember it. But like much of the movie, it was gone soon after I left the parking lot.

In an earlier version of this review, I wrote Mean Streets instead of Mean Girls in the final paragraph. A reader alerted me to this embarrassing slip. What was I thinking?  Perhaps my brain insisted that I type the name of a movie that I often rewatch and which has become a touchstone for me. Sometimes, the fingers betray the mind. In any event, pardon me while I go in search of a sword on which to fall.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Maybe you can go home again

    We don’t talk about it much but, at some point, most of us fall prey to the loneliest of sorrows — not the kind of loneliness that comes from not being around people but the kind that stems from feeling the past evaporate and with it, everything and everyone we once knew. 
   Now a grown screenwriter, Adam (Andrew Scott) was 11 when his father (Jamie Bell) and mother (Claire Foy) died in a car crash, the unseen event that allows the quietly haunting All of Us Strangers to find its emotional bearings.
   Adam, a screenwriter who’s struggling with a screenplay about his upbringing, travels from London to his family’s suburban home, a normal enough activity for a writer. 
   But when he arrives, he discovers that his mother and father still seem to be living in the home where he grew up. They haven't aged, but look exactly as they did on the day they perished.
   Strange as it seems, Adam has a chance to connect with his departed parents, to update them on the part of his life they never knew, to give them a chance to see him as a gay man. He wants them to love and accept him as he is.
   Director Andrew Haig plays Adam’s relationship with his parents against a relationship he begins with Harry (Paul Mescal), an equally lonely but more convivial neighbor.
   Deep feelings of isolation pervade nearly every scene, particularly in the early going. The two men live in a London high rise where they seem to be the only tenants, a clue that we’ve entered a moment of unsettling indeterminacy. 
   The relationship begins when Mescal’s Harry knocks on Adam’s door. He’s holding a bottle of liquor and wants to come in for a drink. Adam demurs. But the two eventually begin an affair.
   At first, Mom isn’t happy to hear the news about her son's sexual identity; her view of gay life never left the 1980s, a time when the AIDS crisis raged.
   Dad, a heavy smoker, has a different attitude, he's not harshly judgmental, although at one point, he admits that he could have been one of the guys who bullied Adam at school. 
   Loosely based on a 1987 novel by Taichi Yamada, All of Us Strangers sounds some of the same mournful notes you might expect find in a movie by the late Terrence Davies -- The Long Day Closes, for example.
   Haig treats Adam’s encounters with his parents as if they were real and leaves it for us to decide what they mean for Adam. Perhaps All of Us Strangers is mostly about Adam’s imaginative life — and the purposes it serves for him. 
   The relationship between Adam and Harry also involves elements that stretch realism. Clearly, though, Adam can’t move on until he buries his grief.
   All of Us Strangers draws us into Adam’s interior life, which means distinctions between the real and the illusory fade in and out, like chalk slowly being wiped from a blackboard and then suddenly reappearing again.
   What’s unquestionably real, though, is Adam’s pain, grief, and need for solace. In the end, Haig, whom I judge to be a director of generous spirit, doesn't deny him his comfort.