REVIEW: Boy Erased.

After reviewing Beautiful Boy, Boy Erased seems to follow as another dose of a dysphoric mood. They are films of similar tones, based on memoirs, iterations of the same loneliness growing up and the tremendous struggle of an unfamiliar new world. The films are similarly understated in many ways, often slow and cyclic, but Boy Erased properly gives us significance where it is needed, emotion where it is craved, and a genuineness that is never lost.

An impressionable Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) only wants to reconcile his faith and his sexuality, to live in his realm of familiar things despite a lingering discomfort that’s been tucked away. He’s a basketball player, he has a cheerleader girlfriend, works part-time at a car dealership, on his way to college — and now far away from his old life, he begins to occupy another significant space, another world that becomes more corporeal as time passes.

But nothing is certain, and when Jared is unwillingly outed to his parents, he still has an earnest conviction that he is able to shed this sin. He dutifully agrees when his father (Russell Crowe), along with with other higher ministers of church, suggest that he participates in Love in Action, a gay conversion program.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a film similar in topic, where the titular character Cameron is characterized by her rebelliousness, skepticism, and an overall faith in herself during her time at conversion camp. But here we differ in that Jared is compliant and eager to please, if not to change. He is a good son, one who sits expressionlessly supportive of his father’s ordainment as a Baptist minister and his vows to eliminate homosexuality. After his first day at Love in Action, he tells his mother he’s excited for the things to come — maybe even believing this sentiment himself.

Boy Erased’s importance comes from Jared’s delicate uncertainty and the fragility of his worlds. His parents are conservative and misinformed, but do ultimately care for him. He believes in his faith, but has a doubt that he cannot shake. The film presents itself in a fairly reserved manner, not explicit in the way it condemns the program staff or his parents. But slowly, we grow to see the way Love in Action is sinisterly manipulative, emotionally taxing, built on the basis of a poorly worded handbook — the same time that Jared also begins to realize the flawed chassis of its goals and who he is.

We go back in time to understand the things written on Jared’s “moral inventory” of past behaviour. In flashbacks, we see that sometimes, he was thrown into a violent confrontation with his sexuality, dangerous and non-consensual, with the collateral aftermath of shame. And other times, it was gentle, soft moments of clarity that changes the way Jared connects his two realms of being at his own pace. The way he consolidates his worth is slow, highlighted by painful moments of realization during his time at Love in Action and, in retrospect, outside of it.

The film climaxes after the abuse of one of the kids at Love in Action, when Jared is called upon to perform an exercise of confessing his sins and channeling his anger, the upsurge resulting from Jared’s gradual development into certainty in his own skin. This resolution is foreshadowed when Jared’s mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman), tells him the first time she drops him off to call her if he ever needed to. And above her husband, above rule, above God, his mother rushes to Love in Action, puts program leader, Victor Sykes, in his place, and drives off with her son when Jared tearfully calls her. In a very beautiful moment, his mother gives him her love and support as foremost, above all.

Boy Erased is not without its flaws. The secondary characters lacked development; from the astute Gary to the solemn Sarah, we seldom saw more of their inner world, our cinematic gaze fixated on Jared. Even for Jared himself, things were kept subtle, difficult to decipher his exact thoughts —although it often seemed like he didn’t quite know either, filled with conflicting ideas and doubts, a mess of diverging ideals pooling together that clarifies with his growth. Despite its tonal softness, Boy Erased finishes on high hopes, carried by the relationship between Jared and his family as well as the terrific job done by the cast, giving just enough to avoid falling flat.

REVIEW: Mid90s.

Mid90s plays like a Los Angeles summer haze, slow, dreamy, and reasonless. With a 16mm film aesthetic, and a hip-hop and grunge soundtrack, there’s a great amount of sentimentality of an era lit up on screen like the sunset end of a cigarette. The film has a bit of a whatever attitude – before high-speed internet, before technological anxieties of the current day, before 9/11 and the early 2000s recession. But Jonah Hill keeps the romanticism to a minimum, and despite the visual beauty and subdued colours, Mid90s feels like a skinned knee in so many ways.

The film is intimate, imperfect, with an off-beat humour that’s sometimes puzzling. There’s characters that speak vulgarly, often with homophobic and racist slurs mixed in with the casual banter of group of boys brimming with a kind of need for hyper-masculinity and a hedonistic lifestyle so to survive – as characterized by Ruben who tells our main character Stevie (Sunny Suljic) not to say thank you because it makes him sound gay, and a character literally called Fuckshit who seems to spend all his free time getting boozy and disrespecting women. They skate zig-zags across the moral gray road; from ridiculing police to giving a thirteen-year-old Adderall, there’s nothing to suggest they’re exemplary citizens, real bonafide role models for Stevie to follow. But with Stevie’s erratic home life, punctuated by the aggression of his bitter older brother and a mother who doesn’t seem all together there, his new friends seem like the better alternative.

They bring Stevie into their hazy existence of alcohol, drugs, girls, skating, and a strange sense of a home when he’s christened with his new nickname, Sunburn. He struggles to find his footing in the classic coming-of-age archetype, but near the end of film their leader, Ray (Na-kel Smith), memorably tells Stevie, “You literally take the hardest hits out of anybody I’ve seen in my entire life. You know you don’t have to do that right?”

In spite of the way the bond of their friendship unravels, stretches, and frays with the characters – as power imbalances and conflicting aspirations become uncomfortable when Ray begins to mature out of his friends’ antics, having a pure motivation to do something good with his life – they’re still there, not for the crazy tricks or the number of girls they’ve done, but just each other.

At a runtime of just 84 minutes, Mid90s is slow to develop, with an intentional aimlessness that ends still wandering with quite a distance left to go. The characters all have their individual, private suffering that takes a backseat, highlighted only a few times in the film, and mentioned in exposition by Ray. Maybe this part seems lacking, maybe the film seems to almost go towards nowhere forever, but then ends so abruptly like a mic drop to something still unfinished. But more than anything, Mid90s gives the impression that it’s just meant to be a moment in time, where day-to-day real life is rarely filled with great revelations at every turn of the story. It doesn’t lack voice or intention. It isn’t messy or uncertain. It just keeps skating.

A debut film with a lot of heart, Mid90s is measured, intense, and visually refined. It has a distinct careless attitude, a specific brand of indecision of the era, while still being universal and genuine. Its ending is unexpected and interesting, displaying Jonah Hill’s magnitude of directorial certainty and a very promising career ahead.

PREVIEW: Mid-90s

Most things have an expiration date – with entire eras that slowly shed their temporal skin, morphing underneath time and progress. But Jonah Hill’s directorial debut imbues a golden light into the mid-90s as the title promises. Shot on a 16mm film and a 4:3 aspect ratio with a very subtle palette, Mid90s looks beautiful in a sentimental way, a throwback to the era of VHS and young Leo DiCaprio.

But ultimately focused on a timeless theme, despite its emphasis on a particular subgenre of a decade, Mid90s tells a coming of age story, centered around 13-year-old Stevie when he gets spun in with a group of skateboarders and away from his turbulent home life. With careful visuals and a genuine plotline, Mid90s seems promising, a film to catch on its opening weekend.

Now playing at State Theatre.

REVIEW: Isle of Dogs.

Momotarō is a peach boy in Japanese folk lore – a hero who had been born from fruit. In the story, he travels to Onigashima, the isle of demons, and defeats monsters with his newly acquired animal friends, obtaining treasure for his family. These parallels are seen in Inugashima, or Isle of Dogs, where Wes Anderson crafts his newest endeavor around a Japanese setting. When a dog flu sweeps through Megasaki City, the mayor Kobayashi exiles all dogs to Trash Island, exercising his authoritarian political precision with sinister intent. But Atari, his nephew, is determined on finding his bodyguard dog Spots.

For many reasons, Isle of Dogs is spectacular and clever. It bangs into its self-assured display like a firework – having the same amount of subtlety and persuasion as a firecracker, but similarly lacking as it dissolves too quickly and leaves a measurably less remarkable post-impression. It is undeniably fantastic, but there is something missing from all the razzle-dazzle.

The production is beautiful, one-of-a-kind. And even without the slick graphics of computer CGI, there’s a exactness in the stop-motion animation, detailed in scenes where a sushi chef prepares a lunch, or when Tracy recites the facts on the actors of her conspiracy theory, shining a flashlight on an elaborate tangle of clippings and string. At a technical standpoint, the film is incredible, made with 240 sets and hundreds of models, scenes constructed with a visionary lens to turn plastic sheets and cotton wool into interesting landscapes. From untranslated easter eggs printed on the overhead trolley to numerous references to Kurosawa, the visuals are refined. The colour schemes are beautiful. Not a strand of fur is out of place.

On the other hand, the film sometimes borders on using Japan like a mood board, as purely an aesthetic, swinging back and forth between succeeding and failing its original intention of being a cultural homage. It’s an interesting choice to have no subtitles for any of the dialogue given in Japanese, dialogue that is given by well-known stars such as Ken Watanabe and Yojiro Noda. It gives us the dogs’ perspectives and uses mistranslations as a plot device, but this can be hairy in certain aspects, especially when a character like Tracy emerges from this kind of language choice.

Nevertheless it’s an idiosyncratic plot, emerging from the surfeit of adaptions and remakes to tell us a story centered on man’s best friend with a weird but irresistible kind of charm in the folds of the writing. Isle of Dogs is ambitious in many ways, and in others, it’s all bark but no bite. It’s crafty in its humour, often deadpan and sometimes near ridiculous. The dialogue is well-timed and funny. And for a film about cute dogs, there’s a grittiness to it, never shying away from graphic themes or its political undertones.

But while there’s certainly a lot of good bois in Isle of Dogs, it’s difficult to form a relationship between the viewer and the number of characters the film introduces. We learn a lot about Atari, Spots, and Chief, but it doesn’t leave much room for the growth of all the other characters, including our main band of dogs. With such a hefty, vibrant plot, the screen time of under two hours ends up becoming a limiting reagent, not allowing the story to glow to its full potential.

In the end, Isle of Dogs is fantastic and it is fun to watch, but it lacks a certain depth – a certain howl – to its puppy snap.

Currently playing at State Theatre and elsewhere! Student tickets are $8.

REVIEW: Flower.

Zoey Deutch plays Erica with frantic energy, never missing a step with the off-beat procession of a plot. With this momentum, Flower crashes into the disastrous second act, hurling through any possible wit and subtlety. Teenage angst sits like a white elephant in the theatre.

It’s unfortunate because Flower builds its potential with a great sense of humour and the visuals of suburban complacency. The characters pop in lush colour from the set of a hazy town and the backdrop boredom of teenagers who would kill themselves for something to do.

From this overarching archetype arises classic films like American Beauty, The Virgin Suicides, Heathers – and now newer attempts such as Flower.

Erica is our anti-hero of the story, a sixteen year old who opens the film by giving a blow job to a local cop, her friends perched with a video camera for blackmail. She has the unstable sulk of an adolescent, the kind of slightly-out-of-touch with reality that teenagers can be. She seems reassured, chirpy, and Zoey Deutch plays her with such ease, comfortably digging into the gritty corners of her character. There’s a certain depth to her character that unfortunately doesn’t extend to the rest of the film, a vulnerability that doesn’t lag the plot but drives it with considerable force.

Despite how nonchalant Erica may seem, how much she insinuates she doesn’t particularly care, there’s moments like where she counts her bail money, calls her father in the closet, or dances with Luke where she burns onscreen with casual complexity. Her use of sexuality like a weapon, her indifference, and the way she talks big is underscored by the innocence of her age, the strangeness of her home life.

So whether Flower is an enjoyable film depends on its framing – if the plot is taken straight and serious, or if we give it the benefit of the doubt that the movie has a great deal of self-awareness. It seesaws between attempting to be a coming-of-age story with all the staple honesty and alienation of growing up and a black comedy film – both which fall just short of accomplished.


While the plot becomes increasingly surreal and ridiculous, the film also attempts to become emotionally more serious, reaching for some great insight as the ending nears. Heading into these two completely different directions simultaneously, it pulls the movie thin, ultimately leaving something to be desired. Here, the story is tied up with an oddball ending with no real resolutions or consequences to the actions of the characters, even though it sets us up to feel and sympathize with Erica and watch her grow. As a result, the film falls flat and caricaturizes the main character in a way that doesn’t read intentional.

Flower is commendable for its effort, for Zoey Deutch’s portrayal of Erica. It has a compelling energy, nice comedic timing, a velvet morbidness. But it tries to be too much, and by the rolling of the credits, it seems to have fallen apart from its rocket-booster start.

PREVIEW: Flower.

There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls – a trope that gives us the finest of our idle, black-comedy scream queens, informing the suburban gothic genre and other branching archetypes. There is a certain curiosity to the sexuality of adolescent girls in our media, the romanticism of the chaos of growing up, and the often surreal consequences of the two clashing.

Flower is no different from its precursors in that sense; it’s a film that follows the promiscuous, flighty Erica Vandross (Zoey Deutch) as she meets her new step-brother, Luke (Joey Morgan), and wastes no time in entangling them both in a series of dangerous escapades involving a man Erica and her friends have been ogling at a bowling alley.The script was previously featured on The Black List 2012 for unproduced screenplays.

But with generally mixed reviews and an off-beat sense of humour, Flower seems to be proving itself maybe as an acquired taste.

Opening March 30th at State Theatre, student tickets are $8.