Movie review: Dating My Mother

(image courtesy DatingMyMother.com)

 

It would be nice to think that navigating your way through the twists and turns of life, with all its contrary elements, would get easier as you get older.

But as mother and son, widow Joan (Kathryn Erbe) and Danny (Patrick Reilly), discover in Mike Roma’s feature debut, Dating My Mother, that idea is so much wishful thinking, a product of believing that age begets wisdom and insight, banishing the quicksand-like inertia of youth where hopes and dreams are many but a sense of how to successfully execute them proves all too frustratingly elusive.

Granted Joan, still grieving the loss her husband some years earlier and taking the first tentative steps back into serious dating, is handling things better than her son who, recently graduated from college, is trying unsuccessfully to get a job as a writer on a TV show, try his hand at filmmaking and hopefully land the man of his dreams.

But for all her outward success – nice house, career as a hairstylist and the nascent interest of “nice” (the word is bandied around a lot, both pejoratively and positively) man Chester (James Le Gros) – actual happiness and a sense of completion elude her, making her and her often acerbic son two somewhat adrift peas in an existential pod.

Still, for all their sameness in certain respects, it’s Danny, perpetually unhappy with life and not afraid to say so, who is flailing the most, his refusal to actively the situation he finds himself in, meeting with understanding and annoyance at the hands of Joan, depending on how well she is travelling along.

Dating My Mother obviously is aiming to explore the closeness and chasms in mother-son relationships, and Joan and Danny’s one in particular, and while it somewhat succeeds in its endeavour, it is fails badly to prosecute on its premise, a mainstay of gay cinema where gay guys are often joined at the hip with their mums.

 

(image via IndieWire)

 

The problem lies mainly with Mike Roma’s inert script and fairly pedestrian directing.

While there are some cute elements to the film – having the various dysfunctional elements and personalities of online dating play out in real life for Danny to react to is a nice touch – and Reilly and Erbe prosecute their roles well, Dating My Mother never really gains any momentum nor emotional accessability.

A great deal of the film’s failings in the latter respect stem from Danny’s almost total unlikeability as a protagonisy.

Yes, we get that he’s adrift, lost and uncertain, and that can play havoc with anyone’s emotional groundedness and stability, but it manifests itself more often than not as acidic, condescending, too-cool-for-school dismissiveness, an unyielding, unrelenting tide of negativity that achieves its aim of establishing as a lost soul before massively overshooting and turning him into the sort of person you would countries to avoid.

As the film progresses, there are some moments that successfully peer below his abrasive persona – when he meets the lovely Richard (Paul Iacono), a number of sweet heartfelt chats with his mum and vulnerability when he is rejected by vapid would-be suitor after vapid would-be suitor – but these are no enough to elevate his character to the point where we care enough about what happens to him.

Partner this with a script that never really raises the stakes to anything approaching meaningful and an ending that is happily trite and a little bit too late in reaching an epiphany for both of its main characters, and you’re left with a strangely lifeless story that ticks all the boxes in paper but never really does much else with them.

So too Kathy Najimy who as Joan’s sassy best friend Lisa, who is both the wild reckless soul of the trio and its sage insightful voice, is criminally wasted, never really given the chance to let loose and inject some much-needed verve into the flat narrative.

 

(image via IMDb)

 

It’s easy to see where Mike Roma wanted to take the film, all too easy in fact with the storyline a little too beholding to many gay and indie movie tropes, and if it had gone there then Dating My Mother might have been an altogether different undertaking all together.

Acknowledging how difficult life is to get right at all, or at least for a sufficiently pleasing amount of time, isn’t enough although at least in that sense, audiences do have some point of connectivity with these characters.

There needs to be some sense that things aren’t just pottering along to a predictable end, but Dating My Mother never moves beyond this, less a slice-of-life dramedy than an insipid stringing in scenes that often in and of themselves have some impact and meaning but which collectively never end up as some of meaningful collective whole.

It’s a pity really because there are some fine performances begging for meatier realisation, hampered by a script that knows what it wants to say but doesn’t really over-exert itself saying them.

It’s by no means a disaster of a film, the kind of cinematic experience that you rue over and over again with the cold hard certainty you will never get that time back, but it’s never really engaging, leaving you curiously unmoved by the end of what should have been some fairly serious, and are again on paper, life moments.

Joan and Danny are far too close for comfort in many respects, and Danny is just plain unlikeable for much of the running time, and coupled with undeveloped secondary characters such as Danny’s straight crush Khris (Michael Rosen) and his clubbing friend with the voice only dogs can hear Tanya (Sideara St. Claire), and a sense that there’s much to say but no real sense of how to say it, and you have a film that could have been so much more, but which never really realises its potential, much like much of Danny’s post-college life.

 

Disney characters get their Avengers on and my, if it isn’t fun to behold!

(image via YouTube (c) SJPLAY)

 

Sorry superhero fanatics out there but I am not one of you, much as I like much of the storytelling that happens in that space.

I often enjoy many of the movies but I am not, by any stretch, any kind of super fan.

What I do love, and with a passion, are Pixar films which have delighted with their wit, wisdom and superlative visual wonder since Toy Story hit screens back in 1995.

So the fact that YouTube creator SJPLAY have seen fit, and what a stroke of inspiration it was, to combine Pixar and Marvel fills me with great delight, as well investing the Avengers: Infinity War trailer with all kinds of animated goodness.

It’s a beautiful piece of work, the perfect combination of blockbuster and cinematic intimacy, with added Mr and Mrs Potatohead.

For more go to Digital Spy.

 

Firefly takes to the galactic skies again! In book form at least …

(image courtesy 20th Television)

 

Ah Firefly, I still mourn your prematurely-ended run, your brief 13-episode run of intra-galactic adventure and derringdo flickering out and foundering far before any of us were ready for it.

Thankfully while TV may be done, with you, the rest of the pop culture-o-sphere is not, with a movie (Serenity), countless comic books, and an online game with the original cast reprising their roles, ensuring that they won’t take the sky from you, or the sense of this wonderful show being alive and very much with us.

Adding to this list of ghosts of Firefly past and present, there are now plans afoot for series of books, which as Bleeding Cool points out, may underwhelm some fans who want a TV show revival and nothing else …

“Okay, look, yes, a series of books isn’t as good as good as purchasing the TV rights with a crowdfunding campaign, gifting them to Nathan Fillion, and getting the cast back together for a long-awaited second season …”

 

An earlier Firefly book incarnation (image (c) Joey Spiotto)

 

But, and yes Bleeding Cool also threw in a helpful “but” before sentence end, it’s much better than nothing and gives us a chance, particularly those of us for whom books are living, breathing entities unto themselves, to subsume ourselves in imaginative adventures of the mind, full of narrative splendour and possibility.

It’s an especially enticing prospect when Firefly creator, Joss Whedon, is overseeing the books which will all be part of official franchise canon.

And indeed, the book synopses, published on Entertainment Weekly show we’re in for some great adventuring …

Firefly: Big Damn Hero by Nancy Holder (Oct. 2018)
Captain Malcolm Reynolds finds himself in a dangerous situation after being kidnapped by a bunch of embittered veteran Browncoats.

Firefly: The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove (March 2019)
Jayne receives a distress call from his ex Temperance McCloud that leads the Serenity crew to danger on a desert moon.

Firefly: Generations by Tim Lebbon (Oct. 2019)
The discovery of the location of one of the legendary Ark ships that brought humans from Earth to the ’Verse promises staggering salvage potential, but at what cost? River Tam thinks she might know …

Now all we have to do is be patient and wait … hmmm, are they published yet? … *waiting* … now? Sigh …

Movie review: Lady Bird

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Figuring out life is challenging for the best of us, and if we’re really honest with ourselves, we can often find ourselves defeated in the attempt.

But that comes much later (or if you’re lucky not at all), and when you’re young like Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), there is still an expectation that you will be successful in crafting exactly the kind of life you envisage.

It’s certainly how the earnestly optimistic student approaches her life in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird, the title taken from the name Christine has chosen for herself and which she insists everyone use, including her mum and dad, Marion and Larry (Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts respectively) and the staff and students at the Catholic school she attends on a scholarship.

At first glance, this act of defiant self-defining seems like a small gesture and is often dismissed as such by the adults around her; but for Lady Bird, it’s a powerful statement of her individuality and sense of self, part of her aspirational attempts to move beyond the small world, as she sees it, of her life in Sacramento, California.

These aspirations are hampered to a considerable degree by the parlous financial state of Lady Bird’s family who have failed, despite endless hard work and tenacity, to seize their small slice of the American Dream.

Lady Bird’s brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) are living at home and working in a supermarket, despite degrees from UC Berkeley, her father stands to lose his job at any time, and and her mother is working double shifts as a nurse.

They’re not even close to living the dream, and to some extent, Lady Bird internally blames that on lack of effort, believing that you can do what you like, such as get into East Coast Ivy Colleges, if you simply try hard enough.

It’s not that simple of course, as her mum makes it clear in one particularly fractious scene where she pointedly outlines to her daughter just how far she is where she thought she’d be in life.

 

 

But despite the darker, rain-less side of the American Dream being lived out around her all day every day, save for when she is at school in a tonier part of town which is talked about in hushed tones of envy and longing by Lady Bird and best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein, who is absolutely superb in the role), she holds fast to the idea that anything is possible.

Her expression of her optimistic tenacity often comes across as hard-nosed arrogance and rudeness, especially in the midst of her love/hate/love relationship with her equally-determined mother – they clash, notes her father, precisely because they are so similar – but Gerwig, who wrote the script and set it in her hometown, and Ronan’s sparkling performance, invest the titular character with thoroughly relatable every-personness that makes the film inherently affecting and deeply accessible.

Lady Bird is as bullish and pushy as she is because she knows how much opposes her dreams of getting to somewhere “more cultured” like the East Coast and yet she is also gloriously naive about how hard it is to realise your “best self” – yes she uses this term at one point, during one of the many passive-aggressive mother-daughter scenes in the film – and in fact, the best version of her life.

Watching her grapple with this as she joins a theatre group at school with Julie, meets Danny (Lucas Hedges), with whom she falls in love ’til some uncomfortable secrets emerge, and then moves onto precocious rich kid Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) and befriends popular girl Jenna (Odeya Rush), is illuminating because you see in Lady Bird the same journey we all go on.

That trip from thinking everything is ours to grab when we want it on our terms to realising there are multiple variables at work that will make that hard, though not impossible to achieve, is laid in quiet, nuanced glory, with Lady Bird learning that people are not always who you assume them to be.

 

 

Lady Bird is replete with a great many life lessons but refreshingly, despite the film taking place in her last year in high school, they do not take place through the usual high school movie narrative prism.

Nor are they great melodramatic road to Damascus moments that reek of manipulative grandstanding that telegraphs great epiphanies and messages from a great height or distance.

Lady Bird, which is not as quirky as the trailer suggests but is very real and grounded and contemplatively thoughtful, not to mention witty with delicious comic timing punctuating the tenser, darker moments, is content to quietly tell its story, to let its protagonist stumble, rise and fall back again and have her moments of life-defining realisations occur in small, out of the way scenes that nevertheless carry great import.

Take the scene towards the end of the film when Lady Bird realises her new cool friends, all affected ennui and faux philosophical earnestness, are everything she is not, rather than everything she think she wants, and she goes back to Julie, begs for her forgiveness and off to the prom where the two best friends reestablish a bond that is never really broken.

The scene, which is funny, sad and just a little defiant, is emblematic of the film as a whole which does an expansively rich and insightfully-touching job of communicating how knowing what you want and getting it, especially at the start of your life where you’re still appropriating the social awareness building blocks needed to make it happen, can feel like they’re separated by an unbridgeable chasm.

It is, of course, navigable as Lady Bird begins to discover post-high school, a little chastened but still hopeful, but comes with all kinds of compromises good and bad, and a growing sense that things can be a very good thing indeed, just not what you expect them to be when you first set out on this grand adventure called life.

 

 

Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’ is a Smart, Sensitive Coming-Of-Age Story

Whimsical, charming and deliciously strange: The unique world of Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

(poster image courtesy Flickering Myth)

 

SNAPSHOT
An out of commission satellite picks up a lovelorn ballad on her radio antenna and descends to Earth to find the source of such sincere emotions. But on the way she is caught in the crossfire of a raging magical battle and is transformed into Satellite Girl, complete with Astro Boy-like rocket shoes and weapon-firing limbs. Meanwhile, the balladeer in question – a loser 20 something at a café open mic – meets the fate that befalls all broken-hearted lovers: he is turned into a farm animal. But love knows no bounds, and aided by the wise and powerful Merlin – a wizard who has been turned into a roll of toilet paper – our duo must evade the all-consuming incinerator monster, the wily pig witch, and other nefarious adversaries in an attempt to be together. From the brilliant and slightly twisted mind of writer/director Chang Hyung-yun, Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is a heartfelt and wildly entertaining commentary on the possibility for human connection in the crazy, mixed-up, post-modern world we live in. (synopsis via Flickering Myth)

In my own peculiarly offbeat world, there is nothing finer than a wholly original, off-the-charts quirky premise that looks like its been realised with just the right amount of poignancy and heart to give it the requisite amount of emotionally-resonant substance.

Hyeong-yoon Jang’s Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, quite possibly one the most sweetly absurdly love stories to ever come our way, is as fine as it gets in gorgeously bizarro land with a satellite-turned-girl and boy-turned-cow falling in love, and aided, as you would fully expect and support by a sentient roll of toilet paper.

If this all sounds too Beavis and Butthead wacky for your tastes, do yourself a favour and watch the trailer which confirms the oddity of the concept but also strongly suggest that this is one sweetly charming, heart-tugging film that you will in love with just as quickly and completely as the characters do with each other.

And we aren’t the only ones besotted with this beautiful tale.

 

 

Take David Jesteadt, the president of GKIDS’ who has won the right to distribute the film in North America (no word of an Aussie release at this time):

“It is safe to say that you are unlikely to have ever seen anything like this movie before-a truly original, fantasy anime sci-fi rom-com, just bursting with humor and heart. I’m hoping as many people as possible get the opportunity to see this remarkable film.”

Quite how much we fall head over heels remains to be seen but if this delightful trailer is any guide, it will be hard.

Satellite Girl and Milk Cow bring their idiosyncratically adorable love story will be finding its way to cinemas and home DVD release this northern Summer.

Weekend pop art: Trapped inside Tweety Bird and other clever pop culture icons

(image (c) Super A)

 

While peeking behind the curtain to see what lies beyond doesn’t always the hoped-for dividends – exhibit A being The Wizard of Oz who turned out to be not so wizard-y after all – we can help wondering what we might see if we go beyond initial appearances an dig a little deeper.

Artist Super A is very much in that camp, taking a brilliantly-revealing look behind pop culture icons like Snow White, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to find the person or animal within.

The big reveal is most definitely worth the wait, and the large amounts of cat-like curiosity that we all harbour, with his series of paintings and sculptures known as Trapped an enormously clever, enchanting take on what may lie beneath.

Now let’s hope he does the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man next – that would be the ultimate (very squishy) look within!

You can see the full collection at Super A’s Instagram page.

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

(image (c) Super A)

 

(image (c) Super A)

 

(image (c) Super A)

 

(image (c) Super A)

 

(image (c) Super A)

 

  • If you’d like to watch one of Super A’s other creations on this theme come alive, check out this animated video of the Ronald McDonald without … and within.

 

Who is Ethan Hunt? Mission: Impossible – Fallout may have the answer (trailer + poster)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
The best intentions often come back to haunt you. Mission: Impossible – Fallout finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan) in a race against time after a mission gone wrong. Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, and Vanessa Kirby also join the dynamic cast. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

If you have perused this blog more than once, it will become palpably obvious that I have a predilection for films that verge on the quirky, the odd, the delightfully left-of-centre.

But given my omnivorous pop culture consumption habits, that is by no means the full story and I have an immense soft spot for blockbusters done well such as Wonder Woman and Kong: Skull Island.

And yes pretty much any entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise which occupies the same expansive, world-straddling genre as the James Bond and the Bourne franchises.

The next Mission: Impossible film, Fallout, released its trailer during the recent Super Bowl festivities, and it has everything we’ve come to expect from the films – epic action sequences (including another death-defying stunt from star Tom Cruise), sombre character introspection, a cavalcade of exotic locations and deftly-placed humour (mostly courtesy of Simon Pegg).

 

 

What it also possesses, according to director Christopher McQuarrie, is way more insight into Ethan Hunt, the leader of the group and a man who most definitely doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve:

“I’ve seen five of these movies and I don’t know who Ethan Hunt is. One movie sort of dealt with his personal life; the other movies are about people speculating what’s really going on in Ethan’s head. I want to know who Ethan is in this movie, I want an emotional journey for this character, and Tom really embraced it.” (Gamespot)

I highly doubt we’ll see Hunt spilling his emotional guts (actual guts yes possibly) on a therapist’s couch but expect some fairly intense emotional moments in amongst the explosions, the quips and the espionage double-crossing and dirty dealing.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout opens 27 July USA/UK and 2 August Australia.

Movie review: Black Panther

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Hollywood is the most well-oiled of well-oiled machines.

Films come cascading off its production line with often ruthless efficiency, keeping the cinemas of the world stocked with films that are bright, blockbuster-y and made to a finely-honed formula.

The only downside to this approach, and its one that Marvel employs with usually successful, thought not always creatively-out-of-the-box, results, is a sameness of product that’s not always alleviated by fine performances or intelligent scripts.

Black Panther, though made securely in the bosom of the Marvel factory is one film, that has smashed its way out of this well-secured production matrix to deliver up what is arguably one of the finest superhero movies to ever grace our screens.

Certainly, the Ryan Coogler-directed (he co-wrote the script with Joe Robert Cole) film is Marvel’s most diverse entry into its ever-growing pantheon of films, delivering up a story refreshingly dense with substantial key roles for women and people of colour, with white roles kept to a minimum as reflecting a story that takes as it focal point the perspective of the “conquered”, as the villain of the piece refers to his black compatriots around the world, rather than the “conquerors”.

This narrative position informs everything about a film that is heavy on social conscience, making a strong case throughout, and with blessed little in the way of obviously-placed polemic rantings – Black Panther is, if nothing else, a master class in show-don’t-tell – that gross injustice is not remedied with further injustice.

The bad guy in question, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) is obviously of the opposite mindset, determined to use the technologically-advanced resources of the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, the result of a Vibranium metal-rich meteor striking the country millions of years earlier, to equip the oppressed peoples of the world with the means to right centuries of wrongs committed against them.

You can well understand his ire and manifest desire for vengeance, and the script is careful to allow his perspective to be fully aired in all its anger-fuelled complexity before it consigned wholly to the heap of history by the heroes of the story.

 

 

The heroes of the film are legion, and not confined to the titular character, who when he is not avenging wrong in his Black Panther guise, is T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the newly-ascended ruler of Wakanda who has taken the throne in the wake of his father T’Chaka’s (John Kani) death. (Documented with great passion and care in Avengers: Age of Ultron).

He is, of course, the centrepiece of this story which is not so much an origin story, though it does fulfill that role, as a big, expansive filling in of the blanks on a scale that is welcomingly intimate, despite its grand narrative ambitions, confining itself geographically to Wakanda and one scene in Busan, South Korea.

But he is not the full story and it’s this willingness to share the spotlight, to highlight the effective ensemble that holds Wakanda, shielded by a rainforest-generated hologram from the rest of the world who see it through the prism of the poor, farming country its inhabitants project, that gives Black Panther so much of its richness and power.

T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is the woman behind the throne, wise, strong and a support to her son without being manipulative in any way; there is certainly no Machiavellian maneuvering behind the throne at work here.

His sister Shuri (impressive newcomer Letitia Wright) is also crucial to the success of both T’Challa and the kingdom overall, operating as its chief technology officer, the brilliant, eminently capable mind who comes up with a raft of inventions that not only prosper and keep the kingdom safe, but also play a pivotal role in the eventual battle between revenge-hungry Killmonger and T’Challa for control of Wakanda, and its never-used-to-date power to make considerable change in the world.

Family aside, and it’s a joy to watch how effortlessly and well T’Challa relates to his wife and sister, not trace of dysfunction to be seen but not mawkishly overplayed either, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa’s former lover and an operative for the Dora Milaje, the all-female bodyguards force that protects the holder of the throne and thus effectively Wakanda itself, which is headed by a mighty, fiercely-ethical general, Okoye (Danai Gurira).

Each of these women are absolutely and critical integral to the wellbeing of Wakanda, the holder of the throne, and to Blakc Panther’s storyline, which makes effective use of every single one of them in stirringly meaningful ways that are a far cry from the tokenistic efforts of most Hollywood films which fail the Bechdel Test with depressing regularity.

 

 

It is the willingness of Black Panther to place this emphasis on issues of great social importance – it never once shies away from addressing issues of powerlessness, poverty, loss of freedom and economic parity – and to elevate women and people of colour to places of prominence that make it such a refreshing change from many other super hero films.

Black Panther not only has some worthwhile and important things to say but more importantly is allowed to say them in a way that is wholly faithful to the source material, with not a hint of the “whitewashing” Hollywood has been guilty of in the past.

Visually the film is jaw-droppingly impressive too, with everything from sweeping African vistas – this includes the capital city of Wakanda itself which is captivating melange of Afro-steampunk retro-futuristic styles that melds African and Western influences to create a thoroughly unique aesthetic (all credit to Hannah Beachler) – to its costuming, courtesy of the immensely-talented Ruth E. Carter creating the impression of a vibrant, self-possessed country and people in charge of their destiny and beholding to no one.

It is perhaps an idealised view of society, any society, but so exacting and profoundly well-detailed is the world building that it feels authentic every step of the way, and you can’t help feeling somewhat melancholy as you watch people of principle and morality fighting for a world that shouldn’t be the stuff of idealists and dreamers but which all too often is, especially in today’s often heightened fascistic landscape.

There is are schisms certainly as the battle between T’Challa and Killmonger, and to a lesser extent M’Baku (Winston Duke) of the mountain tribe that proves integral to Wakanda’s fortunes later on, but there is hope, a sense of justice and a willingness to uphold it not just as it’s convenient but as a matter of course, and far more often that you might expect, some crackingly funny oneliners (thank you hilarious MVPs Shuri and M’Baku).

Black Panther is a gem – it’s big, brash and epic with the requisite larger-than-life fight scenes that are the backbone of every Marvel effort, but it is also thoughtful, introspective, nuanced and insightful, a cerebral blockbuster that is entertainingly accessible throughout, a highwater mark in current efforts to make movies far more representative of everyone, that doesn’t simply say the right things but lives them out in every single immersively engaging scene.

 

 

Even the maggots are adorable! New Isle of Dogs trailer

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Isle of Dogs tells the story of Atari Kobayashi, 12-year-old ward to corrupt Mayor Kobayashi. When, by Executive Decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump called Trash Island, Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies across the river in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture. (synopsis via Laughing Squid)

As a devoteed watcher of films that are both quirky and substantial, I am utterly, completely and irrevocably enamoured of the films by gifted auteur Wes Anderson.

The man responsible for such richly-told, visually-memorable cinematic delights as The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson has a demonstrable gift for creating films that dance with idiosyncratic fabulousness while still being rooted in tremendously meaningful ideas and observations.

It’s a rare combination, one that is full glorious display in the latest trailer for Isle of Dogs, an emotionally-resonant stop-motion animated tale of loss, love and belonging, and yes, dogs, that looks like being one of the viewing highlights of the year.

The trailer also demonstrates that Anderson’s gift for offbeat humour and winning, fully-formed charactrisation has not dimmed one bit, and once you stop laughing, it becomes immediately apparent what a banquet of riches awaits us when the film opens.

Just holds the maggots (cute though they are in stop-motion land) will ya?

Isle of Dogs opens in USA 23 March and Australia 12 April.

 

Movie review: The Incredible Jessica James #ValentinesDay

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

It was those learned pop philosophers ABBA who once remarked that “Love Isn’t Easy (But It Sure is Hard Enough)”.

It’s a fair bet that Jessica James (Jessica Williams, The Daily Show), an aspiring Brooklyn playwright who is sans boyfriend after dumping boyfriend Damon (Lakeith Stanfield), after they drifted apart, and not yet on the fast track to theatrical stardom, would likely agree with them.

While her life is not completely down in the dumps thanks to her involvement with the Childrens’ Theater Project which works with promising public school children to introduce them to the rich rewards of the theatre – something Jessica, a theatre devotee from way back passionately believes in – it’s not exactly where she wants it to be either.

The inspiring thing about Jessica, who is forthright, honest and direct to an almost objectionable degree at times, is that she refuses to let this get her down.

Sticking the rejection letters from multiple theatre companies on the wall of her small apartment in Bushwick, a working-class neighbourhood in Brooklyn, she nevertheless opens each letter she receives with the hope that this will be the moment her life changes and her dreams come true.

It’s admirable piece of tenacity given the fact that the rejections are many, and the acceptances next to nothing, but Jessica plows on, filling a folder with her plays, believing she can make it all happen in time.

She brings this optimism and passion to her teaching efforts to such a full-on degree that she occasionally runs the risk of going too far, such as when she oversteps multiple marks in her quest to get star student Shandra (Taliyah Whitaker) to come to a writing weekend where star playwright Sarah Jones (she plays herself) is helping them all to write their first short plays.

It’s an admirable approach, for all the clumsy but ultimately successful missteps, emblematic of an ambitious, talented, and for all her brashness, quite likable woman who isn’t going to take no for an answer from the universe.

 

(image courtesy Netflix)

 

Things, as you might imagine aren’t quite so straightforward when it comes to her lovelife.

In a series of hilarious Tinder dates, where Jessica calls a spade a spade, to the astonishment and bafflement of her dates who clearly aren’t used to someone calling them on their tired and empty dating techniques, we witness her exasperation with the way people play games with love.

You don’t have to wonder if she’s thinking it; she amusingly just comes out and says, in a way that some might see as combative but which is actually deliciously, wonderfully honest.

A calling out of the Emperor’s new romantic clothes, if you like.

She finds her match however in Boone (Chris O’Dowd), a man she is set up with by her best friend and aspiring actress Tasha (Noël Wells), and who turns out to be every bit her match when it comes to saying it like it is.

He meets her acerbic comment for withering observation, even going so far at the end of their first date to call out the weirdness and awkwardness, pretty much all of it generated by Jessica, of their meeting.

That they go on to actually become a thing is pretty much a given but refreshingly not without some major road bumps and rom-com trope-worthy obstacles, and with the kind of funnily brutal honesty that you find in very few romantic comedies.

While The Incredible Jessica James is in many senses a classic romantic comedy, it refuses to stay in the shallow end of the narrative pool, pointing out the many absurdities of modern dating and relationships to devastatingly good effect (the Instagram references, including one visually-inventive scene where they check out their each other’s exs’ feeds, is brilliantly rich in appealing irony and humour).

It helps immensely that both Jessica Williams, who is formidably good in this role, managing to make her character both brusque and quite lovable at once, and O’Dowd have the acting chops to not just be winningly funny, but also real and substantial when it’s called for.

 

(image courtesy Netflix)

 

A flaky, insipid, fair floss romantic confection this is most certainly not.

In fact, you could go so far as saying The Incredible Jessica James is a worthy addition to the great pantheon of romantic comedies since it is very much of its genre and yet not at the same time.

Writer and director James C. Strouse deftly manages to embrace the deliciously rich rhythm of new love, and its multiplicity of possibilities, false starts and rich rewards while not making it the sole focus of the film.

The Incredible Jessica James is primarily focused on who the protagonist is and wants to be with Boone, and to a lesser extent Damon when he was with Jessica), welcome additions to her life landscape.

This is not a story about a woman defined by love or men, and in the more than able hands of Williams who is an acting force to be reckoned with on any number of levels, becomes instead an empowering tale of what can happen when you refuse to give up on your dreams.

Sure, love is part of the package, and James and Boone’s romance, with all its goofy humour and searing honesty, is a joy to watch primarily because it feels so refreshingly real while also feeling transportively magical, but it’s not the whole story, with the script far too savvy and clever to remain bound to the obvious tropes of the genre.

The Incredible Jessica James is the kind of film that brings a smile to the face for all the right reasons – the story is uplifting, escapist in parts, very real in others, the characters are simply fun to be with, and frankly you’re sad to say goodbye to them, and it percolates along with a gentle but in -your-face vibrancy that never flags or loses potency or vibrancy.

The chief joy though is watching Jessica Williams do her thing, bring the titular character alive with warmth, tenacity, humour and truth, in such a way that you know she’s going to be just fine, man or no man.