Father Stu

14 Apr

‘Father Stu’: The Passion of the Wahlberg

By Tom Meek Tuesday, April 12, 2022

If you’re going to go into “Father Stu” believing it a didactic, preachy film from a movie star who’s embraced his faith – or not go into it, for the same reason – take a deep breath. It’s a portrait of a man, his struggles and evolution toward faith and a deeply personal film, but it does not outwardly preach the virtues of Christianity nor does it seek to convert. In context it’s akin to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (2004), clearly a faith-based passion project that’s compelling and visceral for those who believe and a fine film for others who believe otherwise. Mark Wahlberg, the movie star we’re talking about here, plays the titular Stu and gives one of the best performances of his career. Gibson is in tow as his wayward father; his Gibson’s significant other, Rosalind Ross, was recruited by Wahlberg to write and direct.

The true-life, Job-like journey of Stu begins with a brief preamble of growing up in a dysfunctional household in small-town Montana. We catch up with Stu as a young man in the midst of a semi-successful boxing career, with a montage of a ripped Wahlberg squaring off against various opponents. After one hotly contested bout, he gets news from a physician that he’s one or two headshots away from the grave. Reluctantly, Stu hangs up the gloves and, for his next act and without much of a second thought, scoots off to Hollywood to become an actor. You have to admire Stu’s blind optimism (or is it naiveté?) as he works a meat counter in a supermarket (à la Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”) trolling the clientele to ask if they’re in the biz. One day he waits on a young woman named Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) and boom, as fast as that move west it’s love at first sight. But Carmen’s Catholic, and there’s no nookie until the knot is tied. Still smitten, Stu converts but experiences a horrendous (wince-worthy) motorcycle accident that leaves him near dead and seeing visions in his semiconscious state. It’s not fully on screen, but during his recovery Stu sees the light and decides to join the priesthood (so much for Carmen), where he’s reluctantly received as a coarse, undeserving outsider. Adding to the uphill battle is the matter of reconnecting with his alcoholic father (Gibson), who’s working a construction gig in L.A. Then comes the onset of a rare, debilitating disease (think ALS).

The film as directed by Ross (it’s her debut) has a gritty internal warmth, though not all the plot points seem to flow together organically – namely any logically felt reasons for Stu’s impulsive transitions other than tragic hardship. Wahlberg, who’s made many a slack film (“Infinite” and “Mile 22,” to name two recent duds) also has turned in some strong work when working with quality filmmakers (“I Heart Huckabees,” “The Departed” and “Boogie Nights”). Here he’s all in, pulling a De Niro by going from ripped pugilist to adding 30 pounds to transform himself for that latter-day ailing Stu. He brings his cocky street persona to the part in meted doses that add value when Stu, from the pulpit, channels that feral something else from his previous life; while different, it resonates with parishioners and grabs the attentions of his theological higher-ups. There are also some emotional, challenging scenes of personal defeat, tragedy and trials of faith that Wahlberg pulls off with aplomb. It helps that the cast around him is strong, which goes not only for Gibson but for the indelible Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook,” “Animal Kingdom”) as his caring mother and Malcolm McDowell as Stu’s compassionate, overseeing monseigneur. “Father Stu” may be about faith, but you don’t need to be of faith to appreciate the trials and tragedies endured by a man who has persevered against all odds. Bradley Jackson

“Everything Everywhere” interview

2 Apr

With ‘Everything Everywhere,’ Daniels escape genre trap to make the multiverse meaningful

By Tom Meek Thursday, March 31, 2022

Daniels – Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, directors of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” – at The Liberty hotel in Boston. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Around the same time as Sunday night’s slap felt round the world – that of Will Smith hitting Chris Rock at the Oscars – something equally thought-provoking but far less violent was taking place at MIT: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the filmmaking team known as Daniels, were showing their latest, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” to a lecture series audience. If their gonzo, Gondry-esque flatulence flick “Swiss Army Man” (2016) was rooted in scatological surreality, “Everything Everywhere” is an absurdist multiverse overload propelled by family values, film references within film references and butt plugs. The plot has something to do with an immigrant laundry operator (Michelle Yeoh, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Crazy Rich Asians”) battling a jacked-up IRS auditor (Jamie Lee Curtis, in a devilishly funny turn) in a wildly generic office suite (think the office wars in “Time Bandits”) with segues into other planes of reality. In one, Yeoh’s imperiled heroine is a famous martial-arts action star (art imitating life); in another, she’s in a relationship with Curtis’ auditor in a universe where everyone’s fingers are floppy hot dogs. If you thought “Swiss Army Man” really went to some far-out places, be ready to go to infinity and beyond, literally. There’s a lot that comes at you, and a bit of cranium calisthenics required of the view, but a multitasking Yeoh holds the universe, her family and the film together.

The multiverse concept became a mainstream staple last year with “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” when Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) tore the fabric of the universe and Spider-Men (Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, alongside Tom Holland as the current Spidey) and their affiliated villains (Goblin, Sandman, Doctor Octopus and more) all pour into the present. Kwan said in our interview that they had started writing “Everything Everywhere” in 2016, “before any of that other stuff came out,” but laments that because of Spider-Ham in the 2018 animated change-up, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “we had to cut the talking pig.”

The Daniels looked at scientific theories around the principles driving a multiverse, Kwan said – namely the cosmological, “which is more about inflation and infinite space, versus quantum physics, which is more about superposition.” Scheinert clarified: “We’re not smart enough to read science papers, but we do pop science.”

It’s easy to tell by their seamless interaction that the filmmakers have a rare dynamic, like with the Safdie and Coen brothers, in which egos and personas aren’t a barrier, but a point of collaborative confluence. The pair met at Emerson, graduating in ’09, and kicked around Cambridge and Somerville too – Kwan in Central Square and Scheinert in Davis – before moving to Los Angeles, where they did varying TV and music video work before “Swiss Army Man.”

“Everything Everywhere” has been universally tagged as a sci-fi action comedy, but that’s reductive compared with what it really digs into. “I’m bummed when science fiction doesn’t explore how these big ideas make me feel but just use it as a plot point,” Scheinert said. “Swiss Army Man” explored loneliness and personal delusion as a means of coping, and “Everything Everywhere,” while on the surface being about saving the universe, is about making a connection in the chaos of the world. “How do you find each other in the noise of modern life?” Kwan says. “How do you find each other and truly see each other, when there’s so many things trying to pull us away from each other?”

At the core of that is Yeoh’s matron trying to rebuild strained relations with her husband (Ke Huy Quan, “Indiana Jones,” “The Goonies”), daughter (Stephanie Hsu, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) and father (James Hong, most famous as the baddie in “Big Trouble in Little China,” but whose credits go back to the 1960s TV show “Dragnet” and as a voice in the 1956 “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”) that manifest themselves in various ways in the varying multiverses. Scheinert calls it a “maximalist family drama.”

What’s next for The Daniels is up in the air; Kwan, who has a young child, has some illustrated children’s books coming out through the publishing arm of A24 Films, which distributed “Swiss Army Man” and “Everything Everywhere.”

When asked about that slap and the Oscars in general, Scheinert and Kwan suggested it was a phenomenon weirder than what a Daniels films deal with: “I watched a little bit of it in the hotel bar. The couple next to me had seen none of the movies and they kept asking me questions that I knew the answers to, but I got tired and went to bed.” Scheinert said it was great to see Curtis there and enjoys the pageantry, but added, “I don’t think art needs prizes.” Perhaps if Daniels had directed the Oscars ceremony, they could have ripped open the multiverse and scripted a different course. For now Hollywood is stained with the ignominy of that moment, while their film opens Friday at the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema.

The Lost City

28 Mar

Romancing the same

By Tom Meek

Swashbuckling rom-coms tend to work (“Romancing the Stone”) or not so much (“Jungle Cruise”) based on the chemistry between the leads, the cheekiness of the supporting cast and some deft plot twists. “The Lost City” has plenty of the above, even if it runs out before the end. The set-up has reclusive romance novelist Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) – don’t call her Danielle Steel – tired of churning out product and even more so of doing publicity tours with hunky cover model Dash (Channing Tatum, whom you can call Fabio; he’s riffed as such, replete with flowing blonde locks). The rub with the latest book comes when Loretta, bored with the process and grieving the death of her husband, gets kidnapped by an eccentric billionaire with the benevolent-sounding name Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe, excellent in the mercurial fop role) to decode ancient hieroglyphics so he can obtain the unobtainable: an ancient crown of jewels in the buried enclave of the film’s title.

The whole shebang’s pretty much a McGuffin so Tatum and Bullock can engage in a rom-com romp on a tropical island. There’s leech removal from personal parts and a sequined unitard that just won’t die. What’s a real blast is Brad Pitt in a cameo as a zen extraction expert (allegedly the idea came on the set of Pitt’s “Bullet Train” – coming this year – in which Bullock had a cameo, and this was the payback) and Patty Harrison as Loretta’s boozy social media publicist, not to mention Da’Vine Joy Randolph as the stressed-out, brash-talking tour manager and Oscar Nuñez as the the quirky cargo plane pilot who often interprets words a bit too literally.

Tatum and Bullock have solid chemistry, but the film runs out of pomp and verve as plot ends need to be tied up and things become a bit too predictable. Don’t get me wrong, the film has plenty of “didn’t see that coming” moments – it’s just they’re front loaded. No matter. “The Lost City” will serve as a nice studio-produced calling card for the brotherly directing team of Adam and Aaron Nee, who until now have mostly toiled together acting, writing and directing indie fare such as “Band of Robbers” (2015) and “The Last Romantic” (2006). Next up for the Nees is more action and adventure with the big-screen take on He-Man, “Masters of the Universe.” Pro tip for “Lost City”: Be sure to sit through the credits.

X

18 Mar

The golden age of porn meets up, violently, with the original era of the slasher flick

By Tom Meek Thursday, March 17, 2022

Filmmaker Ti West (“The Innkeepers”), part of a mumblecore/mumblegore pack with Joe Swanberg (“Drinking Buddies”) and Adam Wingard (“You’re Next”), goes solo with this homage to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” – the 1974 original, not the slack update available now on Netflix. The setup in “X,” which takes place in the 1970s and is shot in grainy era style by West and longtime cinematog collaborator Elliot Rockett, is simple: A bunch of young adult filmmakers see the lucrative advent of the home video market on the horizon and rent a ramshackle lodge on a farm to make their own porn opus, “The Farmer’s Daughters.” The cheeky film-within-a-film pays its own homage, this time to flicks featuring Marilyn Chambers and her golden-age-of-porn contemporaries. Of course the old couple they rent the space from aren’t in on the whats and whys, and like “Deep Water,” that Adrian Lyne project appearing on Hulu this week, sex without full consensual buy-in by all parties has deadly ramifications.

In sync with “Fresh,” another recent Hulu release, “X” is something of a cinematic double clutch, two movies fused into one. In “Fresh” we go from rom-com to horror flick halfway in, which is where the credits roll. Here we amble along with the raucous lo-fi porno filmmaking fun until Pearl (the name of the actress under the mound of latex shall remain unnamed), the elderly woman who owns the property, catches a glimmer of an athletic sex scene from outside a window. Despite the preacher perpetually barking about morality on her TV up in the main house, the peep does not educe anger but instead incites lust. It’s also here that Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), the girlfriend of the film’s camera operator (Owen Campbell) who fills in on sound boom duty,  decides she too wants to get in front of the camera for a rigorous romp with the film’s lead (Kid Cudi, “The Harder They Fall”), much to the chagrin of her beau. “It’s just business,” quips the film’s producer, Wayne (Martin Henderson, a dead ringer for Matthew McConaughey in form, inflection and demeanor), something he knows something about – his girlfriend Maxine (Mia Goth, “High Life” and “Suspiria”) is one of the two daughters (Brittany Snow, sassy and excellent, is the other) who hook up with a strapping passerby (Cudi). Before any division can work its way through the crew, one of them goes missing. There’s some devious, decaying funk down in the basement of the main house and the seniors, well into their age-spotted 80s (it’s 1979, and he served in World War I), aren’t quite as feeble as their creaky, hobbled lopes initially indicate; and you know that big gator down in the pond is going to have something to say at some point.

The concept of creepy elders orchestrating dirty deeds is nothing new – just see M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit” (2015). It’s an effective genre changeup, but it’s still genre and the part of the film where the pitch and degree of awe start to ebb. After first blood is spilled you know it’s a domino chain to the bloody end, and there’s little Q as to who the sole survivor will be. West, clearly enraptured by his characters and the setting, filmed a prequel about Pearl simultaneously and seeds the workings for a sequel as well. The real wonderment of the film, beyond the stellar performances, lie in the framing and editing. Also, interestingly enough, the small town in Texas isn’t even in the Americas, it was shot in New Zealand.

Deep Water

18 Mar

‘Deep Water’: The erotic thriller is back, and the bodies are piling up

By Tom Meek Thursday, March 17, 2022

Hard to believe it’s been 20 years since director Adrian Lyne, the hand behind such provocative, erotic thrillers as “Fatal Attraction” (1987), “9½ Weeks” (1986) and “Indecent Proposal” (1993), has helmed a film. Since that last film, “Unfaithful,” much has happened, namely the #MeToo movement, that might make one wonder if an Adrian Lyne film could be made in this day and age. The answer with “Deep Water” is a clear “yes,” but just how big a “yes” will be measured by viewership and public reaction.

As with all of his projects (a slim eight, believe it or not) Lyne garners an A-list cast with Ben Affleck as Vic Van Allen, a well-to-do entrepreneur semi-retired in his gray-tinted 40s, and Ana de Armas as his vivacious younger wife, Melinda. They live in low-key manse in the bucolic South, where Vic passes much of his time cruising around town on his mountain bike while a well-paid sitter watches their precocious daughter (Grace Jenkins) and Melinda, ever on the go, collects young men. She’s unapologetic about it, with a free-spirited “do as I want” manifesto that we learn about early on when she invites a young Brad Pitt knockoff (Brendon Miller) to the boozy, invite-only birthday bash of a prominent local. From behind a window sash Vic catches a glimmer of Melinda necking with her invitee poolside. His reactions are passively indifferent; others too seem unperturbed – it’s just Melinda being Melinda, or so that’s the vibe. We get to witness her in full force during a wobbly piano-top toast and a rousing rendition of Paolo Conte’s “It’s Wonderful.”

Later at the bar, Vic winds up shoulder to shoulder with the hunk, who thanks him for “letting him spend time with his wife.” What’s going on, you might ask? Do Vic and Melanie have an open marriage? When Vic chases baby Brad, Melinda flies into a rage and demands that Vic invite her paramour in training over for dinner. Cruel games seem to be a thing; there is an apparent uneasy understanding between the two. Even so, there’s a rage in Vic’s eyes that seems to roil under his externally impassive complicity – or perhaps it’s some form of twisted turn-on? Hard to tell by Affleck’s prosaic performance. “If you weren’t married to me, you’d be bored,” Melanie tells Vic in one angry exchange, and you can’t fault her on her logic: Vic looks bored, in need of a kick in the pants, though his odd obsession with snails is almost more curious and profound than the couple’s toxic inner workings. Armas (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Knives Out”) owns the film; her spoiled brat is a hot mess you despise but, at a cocktail party leading a raucous singalong or offering you a glass of bubbly, could easily win you over. Other buff lads who come hither are played by “Euphoria” pretty boy Jacob Elordi and Finn Wittrock. Playwright Tracy Letts patrols the perimeter as a cynical writer new to town who casts a scrutinizing eye on Vic and Melanie. 

Given that the film’s based on a 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith (also made into the 1981 film “Eaux Profondes” starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert), bodies pop up. The first is one of Melanie’s other “friends,” a guy named Malcolm McRae; his name is bantered about early and often, yet we never meet in the flesh – or in the dead, for that matter. To say more about how things go would be to ruin the mystery, but as adapted by Sam Levinson, whose career signature is the erotically raunchy high school drama “Euphoria,” and with Lyne at the helm, it’s really all about the eros. 

It’s steamy to be sure, and Armas carries it off with brazen bravado, but the film works only in wisps. I mean, Vic’s got enough green to buy a lux mountain biking chalet in the hills, and I’d imagine he’d likely do well on dating apps, so why deal with Melanie’s in-your-face sexual shenanigans? That question’s never answered, and because it isn’t the whole exercise feels like a slimy snail trail to nowhere. That “yes” is likely more likely a “yeah, right.”

Of Lanes and Games

7 Mar

City will miss cycling safety law’s May 1 deadline on changes to traffic through Porter Square area

By Tom Meek and Marc Levy Saturday, March 5, 2022

A bicyclist rides south through Porter Square on Jan. 25. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The city will miss its May 1 deadline to install quick-build separated bicycle lanes on Massachusetts Avenue through Porter Square, the city manager will tell the City Council on Monday.

Community engagement requirements, the need for more time to develop and install infrastructure to make up for the loss of current parking spaces and complications in scheduling contractors combine to make it impossible to meet the demands set by the city’s Cycling Safety Ordinance, City Manager Louis A. DePasquale said. The letter was included Thursday in the agenda packet for the next council meeting.

The bike lanes between Beech Street and Roseland Street are to be done in quick-build fashion using road paint and plastic flex-posts, with parking meters and loading zones moved to side streets to make up for some loss of spaces on Massachusetts Avenue. But a quick-build bus-and-bike project in November that cost parking spaces, angering businesses west of Porter Square, forced a reconsideration of how the Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department moved ahead with community engagement and mitigation efforts.

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The Batman

4 Mar

‘The Batman’: The Dark Knight gets darker

By Tom Meek Wednesday, March 2, 2022

“The Batman” is a dark, deeply emotional affair that’s got a lot going for it and a lot going on – perhaps too much. (It’s almost three hours long.) We could also call it version 3.5 of the cinematic dark knight, with the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher films in the 1990s and Christopher Nolan trilogy being 1.0 and 2.0 and Ben Affleck’s donning of the cowl in the “Justice League” films the 0.5 splitter. It may be 4.5 if we take into account the spoofy, goofy BAM! POW! fun of the Adam West television series.

What drives this reboot is a succession of grim murders of municipal higher-ups, beginning with the mayor and working its way over to the heads of the police and district attorney’s offices. Personally, if I was orchestrating such sinister deeds I would have saved the top cat (the mayor) for last – it just feels more operatic. The thing that links the macabre deaths are the signatures left at each crime scene: a riddle punctuated with a giant question mark, an encrypted cipher, a card addressed to “The Batman” and some spray painted (or blood painted) messaging about a web of lies or some such thing.

Given that Paul Dano plays The Riddler, you can probably guess who’s behind the acts that play out in sadistic fashion like a sin-atoned-for in David Fincher’s “Se7en” (1995) or a Jigsaw trap from one of the “Saw” films. The Riddler here just may be darker and more demonic than the spins on Joker performed by Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix: One clue leads to a thumb drive with a severed thumb attached to it, so those recovering it can unlock it via thumbprint, and it clearly takes a lot of work to be that twisted. But wait, this film’s about the bat, right? Well yes, and you get plenty of Robert Pattinson in the beefy Kevlar suit, which turns out to be a bit of a double-edged sword. We get to embed with him more, but the tease of enigma that has been the traditional draw dissipates. Director-writer Matt Reeves (“Let Me In,” “Cloverfield”), co-writer Peter Craig and Pattinson paint their Batman/Bruce Wayne as a deeply tortured soul, a monomaniacal tool of vengeance with no trace of mirth or joy and no bifurcation of personalities; what we drink in is all dour, sullen anger, underscored by the incarnation’s theme song, Nirvana’s broodingly depressive “Something in the Way.”

What carries the film are the sly intricacies of The Riddler’s misdeeds, the mysterious intent behind them and the stunning set designs that range from the crowded, rain-slicked streets of Gotham to the gaping Batcave and an Edward Hopper-styled diner lit in green neon. The cumulative effect is a strange, wonderful fusion of Walter Hill’s “Streets of Fire” (1984) and Ridley Scott’s future noir, “Blade Runner” (1982). The other aspect of “The Batman” that largely works is that our bat here is something of a master sleuth, a tech-age Sherlock Holmes, if you will. It’s a little off-putting to see him sniffing around a live crime scene CSI style, but part of the joy comes in looking beyond the obvious, going one level deeper and admiring the acumen of our hero. Caught up in the mix too is the updated version of Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), though she simply goes by her birth name of Selina and works in a nightclub owned by Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, played beguilingly by Colin Farrell under gobs of makeup. He’s something of a brotherly incarnation of Robert De Niro’s portly Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull” (1980).

The rest of the impressive supporting cast includes a perfectly coiffed Andy Serkis as a dutiful Alfred who’s killer at decoding ciphers, John Turturro as the local crime boss all trails seem to lead to, Peter Sarsgaard as the sleazy DA and Jeffrey Wright, channeling his cagey investigative reporter from “The French Dispatch” (2021) as Lt. Gordon, the guy who fires up the bat signal and may be the only clean cop on the force. The new take on the Batmobile is something of a throwback to the muscle cars of the 1970s; it’s like someone bat-tatted a classic Dodge Charger and strapped on a jet engine turbo boost like one of those nitro-infused junkers in “The Road Warrior” (1981).

Pattinson and Kravitz look fetching together, and given their raw charisma you’d think the two would click together like Legos (there is that “Lego Batman Movie”), but the romantic undercurrent between them feels postured and unearned. Then again, this is a brooding, relentless lad who takes his mission as a higher cause – “I am vengeance” gets tossed around a lot. Batman’s most genuine connections are those with Gordon, who for reasons not on screen trusts him emphatically, and his lifelong loyal butler and caregiver Alfred, though that ultimately gets challenged as “the veil is pulled back and the lie’s exposed.” I grew up near Connecticut cities where corruption scandals were an annual “wait for it” event that didn’t disappoint, and of course we had infamous mayor Buddy Cianci just down the way in Providence. Gotham’s not much different: dirty cops with drug money washing political hands. What it does have is that dashing millionaire orphan who likes to dress up, break out the bat toys and take out the trash.

Proposals for taking down trolley wire system then ‘partial-build’ bike lanes nudge forward

23 Feb

Bike Lane Games

By Tom Meek Friday, February 18, 2022

A sign taped to a municipal meeting notice warns that the city plans to “give away” Porter Square with quick-build bike lanes. Unlike with many websites, the URL on the flyer works only when https:// precedes it. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Transportation officials are moving toward removing overhead trolley wires that will allow an approach to building bike lanes that keeps more parking along Massachusetts Avenue in the northern parts of the city, representatives for the city and state said in two community meetings this week.

The MBTA held an information session virtually Tuesday on bus electrification and the North Cambridge depot redesign, drawing more than 150 attendees. Scott Hamwey, the MBTA’s director of bus modernization, said the state planned to de-electrify overhead catenary wires and switch to battery electric buses beginning in mid-March, removing the wires sometime in late 2023 or 2024. The North Cambridge depot would shut down for two years as it was turned into a bus-charging station; construction would start within the next year, Hamwey said. While just 3 percent of the fleet is electric now, the agency plans to make it fully electric by 2040.

Many in the audience argued that the current, wired buses were cleaner than the BEBs, which would be equipped with a small diesel engine cycling on and off to add warmth for riders on days cold enough that the buses’ electric heat is inadequate. The rebuilt depot would include a 5,000-gallon diesel tank on the north side of the site.

Only a small amount of the bus fleet use the overhead wires, which are deployed in only a small part of MBTA territory, and the system and buses that use it are aging and will require significant cost to upgrade and maintain, said Hamwey and senior director of vehicle engineering Bill Wolfgang.

Planning for Porter

The city showed “partial” bike-lane constructions options as part of a Wednesday presentation.

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The Worst Person in the World

11 Feb

Is it so terrible to decide what you want and act on it? (It can be.)

Norwegian director Joachim Trier rounds out his Oslo Trilogy with this engrossing tale about a young woman struggling to define herself in the world. Like the other two entries in the series, “Reprise” (2006) and “Oslo, August 31st” (2011), “The Worst Person in the World” unfolds in the same urbanscape and is an inward-focused, emotional journey. Trier’s bookend is meted into 12 neat chapters with titles such as “Cheating,” “Bobcat Wrecks Xmas” and “Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo.” We settle in with Julie (Renate Reinsve, who pretty much is everything to the film’s success) as a med school student who switches to psychology, then decides she wants to be a photographer. She ends up working in a bookstore and, because of her passion for art and photography, meets Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie, who starred in the other trilogy chapters), a renowned graphic novelist (think “Fritz the Cat”) with a cult following. He’s a decade or so her senior, but they become lovers and move in together. It’s a cozy, coddled existence initially, but living in Aksel’s shadow tugs on Julie’s sense of self. When she meets a young barista named Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who’s also in a relationship, there’s an undeniable, immediate spark between the two.

How the dynamics play out within and between two couples is nothing too dramatic – certainly nothing worthy of the harsh title. One gets diagnosed with terminal cancer, another becomes an Internet for blogged pontifications about blow jobs and a third, learning that she’s a scant 3 percent indigenous (Sámi) becomes a climate change zealot. Other than that, mostly what fills the screen is the pain of longing and the uncertainty of tomorrow. There is one jarring bit in which Julie consumes hallucinogens as daddy issues manifest themselves in a unique and shocking fashion: a hurled bloody tampon. The best scene, however, and a neat trick by Trier, has Julie jogging through the streets of Oslo en route to meet Eivind, and every person, car and bird is held motionless; cyclists in mid-crank are frozen as she weaves around them, seemingly unaware or uncaring of their paused state, and it’s here that we get to measure the moral fortitude of our heroine; if Julie truly was the “Worst Person in the World,” clearly she would have stopped and pilfered cash from the wallets of some of the more well-off Oslovians.

Trier and his trilogy writing partner, Eskil Vogt, navigate time and emotional transitions seamlessly, and how the film ends is a smart, subtle twist that brings Julie’s odyssey full circle. There’s no grand drama to it, but it does feel hauntingly apt. “The Worst Person in the World” was named this week to the Academy’s list of Best International Film nominees, a loaded lot that packs more punch than the Best Picture slate.

Moonfall

8 Feb

Moonfall’: When you wish upon these stars, they’re B-listers you can rely on for a good ride

By Tom Meek

Friday, February 4, 2022

The title may sound like a Bond flick, but “Moonfall” is the latest disaster pic from Roland Emmerich (“2012,” “Godzilla,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Independence Day”) about, well, the moon crashing into the Earth. True to any disaster film formula, we embed with several diverse parties as the end of days approaches. First up, we have washed-up astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson, “Little Children”) and his former flight mate, Jocinda Fowl (Halle Berry, “Catwoman”), now head of NASA, who have to figure out why the moon is losing its orbit and heading toward Mother Earth. They’re both divorced and with kids, so the survival of humankind is extra imperative. With them as they launch off on an “Armageddon” (1998)/“Don’t Look Up” (2021)-like mission is a nerdy extrovert with IBS (a very Rickey Gervais-esque John Bradley of “Game of Thrones,” bringing the much-needed comic relief). Down on Earth, Harper’s ex-wife (Carolina Bartczak), new hubby (Michael Peña) and the divorced couple’s 18-year-old son, Sonny (Charlie Plummer), catch up with Fowl’s son (Zayn Maloney) and her nanny (Kelly Yu, who attended the Berklee College of Music).

That pretty much sets the table. The whole why the moon is falling is best left unsaid, though it does have something to do with other life forms and past moon missions – there’s a Deep Throat in the mix that conspiracy theorists should have a ball with. The fun (or not so) stuff are the tidal waves that pitch deep inland, and the intermittent disruption in the gravity field bringing chaos-inducing lifts that at least allow trapped parties to leap across a chasm. There are also some poorly behaved rednecks in a pickup truck looking out only for themselves. Much of “Moonfall” is pure cockamamie, but it moves and clicks with reason and purpose, and Wilson and Berry are hard to resist.

The funny thing about “Moonfall” is that it’s pretty much the antithesis to Adam McKay’s smug “Don’t Look Up,” in which the world has been alerted to our imminent demise and no one cares – or cares only for financial or status reasons. In Emmerich’s B-tier tear, there’s just instant mass hysteria and a stampede for the hills. It’s not as smart or daffy, nor does it have the star power of “Don’t Look Up,” yet feels more honest and real despite the steep grade of plausibility. Like Harper and Fowl pulling an old space shuttle from a museum for the mission, Emmerich’s taken what’s old and worn and made it fly again.