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: Beautiful Boy.

Beautiful Boy is like an idea of a great film, a summation of perfect things – virtuous moral, talented cast, a story with a capacity for emotion as deep as the ocean. It’s posed as an indie centrepiece in the film industry, especially anticipated with leads Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell. But Beautiful Boy, as a sum, is not as magnificent as its separate parts, playing everything a little too safely to hurt, a little too cleanly to feel. The gorgeous visuals and honest dialogue is lost to a sterile mood, a story that’s been overly delineated into clean lines.

As far as addiction memoirs go, this film is on the tamer side, almost feeling inhibited. Some of Beautiful Boy’s appeal is, however, its muted tones, the cyclic styles that the film runs in during its one hundred and thirty-nine-minute duration. It’s almost tiresome, the anticipation of everything falling apart, the highs and lows amid a sunny L.A. backdrop or the dark corner of a bathroom stall. The feeling of an emotional disconnect, the weight of a cyclonic helplessness seeps onto the screen as we follow Nic’s father, David, and his attempts to understand the rise and falls in his son’s addiction and recovery. Just like how David had told a young Nic in the airport in one scene – “Do you know how much I love you? If you could take all the words in the language, it still wouldn’t describe how much I love you. I love you more than everything” – Nic is his sun, as if he were heliotropic, moving in the same motions day and night.

The film isn’t dramatized in the sort of voyeuristic pull that watching a disaster unfold has like in some other drug films. There is a layer of abstraction that comes from Beautiful Boy being primarily focused on David and his otherwise idle life, with shots of rolling green lawns and kids’ swim meets. It’s the kind of complacency that drove Nic to crystal meth, an all-American boy with a suburban emptiness, a lethal boredom, a hole to fill. This mood is perfect in Beautiful Boy.

But for the moments where Beautiful Boy is supposed to emerge from its staid nature with the capability for heartache it has, it feels like a tick box on pain. Timothée Chalamet plays Nic with sensitivity that’s powerful, simultaneously a crude driving force and an acute fragility in each scene, with Steve Carell alongside, growing into his role the longer the film plays on, becoming more and more certain as David with each iteration of Nic’s relapse and recovery. Yet as a whole, Beautiful Boy feels not quite there. Despite a few significant scenes, there isn’t enough for it to rise from the consistent white noise of gloom that drowns the film.

Maybe this is its intention. The film has some rough edges carefully stripped away from the original written memoir, turning it into something more refined and clean and easy to digest. If it wanted to be more accessible, more focused on the particular struggle of loving someone already long gone, more soft-spoken and hopeful, then Beautiful Boy has accomplished that. Otherwise, it feels as if there is a loss of depth, a film that only treads in the shallows, waterlogged, when it was given an ocean.

Check out Beautiful Boy at Michigan Theater.

REVIEW: A R I Z O N A with Electric Guest and Mikky Ekko.

Mikky Ekko seems to be the opener for musical acts just on the peripheral of mainstream, having been the opening performance for Alt-J, BØRNS, and now A R I Z O N A – dissimilar groups each with their own distinct brand of indie. But Mikky Ekko has a voice that chameleons into genres, his set list being a little bit of electronic rock, a little bit of retro vibes, some hip-hop and R&B. It’s a lot, but it’s still self-assured. Not perfect, but that’s almost the point, as he re-iterates throughout the concert that his newest album, Fame, will be an exploration of who he really is.

From PledgeMusic

Most of his songs roll like thunder with an electric touch, deep reverberations, no shyness with the use of instrumentation, amplifiers, percussion, and synth. Despite the strong tempo and speed, and a slight chaotic undertone in the layers of sound – it’s sort of relaxing, almost meditative. It’s a kind of specific headspace, a soothing power in the near-overwhelming magnitude that some of his songs climax towards. Listening to songs like “What’s it Like Now” and “Light the Way” are notably different experiences live. There’s a harder edge sharpened to it, a lot purer and more primitive, exhibiting a raw strength. If accidentally singing so hard that an expensive bracelet gets smashed off his wrist isn’t a testament to the intensity of his performance, then really what is.

Closing with a solo rendition of “Stay,” the power in his voice also sweetens well, having the ability to cool into more delicate tones, to become tender and rich with great melancholy. With an impressive flexibility and stunning vocals, Mikky Ekko’s new album, dropping November 2nd, is worth giving a listen to.

Electric Guest followed, with the very charismatic Asa Taccone rolling up with a dreamy electro-pop vibe. It’s stuff you skateboard down the streets of suburban L.A. in the summer to – a bit nostalgic, it feels effortless, light and airy despite strong instrumentation and the disses they’re throwing out to their critics in “Zero” or whatever sinful hell “Oh Devil” serenades us about. It’s multi-faceted; Electric Guest has playfully clever song writing and an almost sunny feel – fitting since their album Plural is an emergence from hibernation from the much earlier, more tepidly received Mondo.

Electric Guest © Nick Walker, from Atwood Magazine

They performed well live, energetic yet laid back, with a natural stage confidence and no shakiness. Some of the particular atmospheres, the slight nuances of their songs were a bit lost to the size of the auditorium, lacking in the exactness of the feel of the studio version. Still, Electric Guest is a good time, tremendously easy to listen to with an instinctive grab of attention and measured, evenly handled talent. More than a year after the release of their sophomore album, they continue to impress and prove their longevity.

In the final hour, A R I Z O N A came on stage, with the auditorium properly filling in to come see the New Jersey electropop band. While they were certainly the headliner, I think I preferred Mikky Ekko and Electric Guest, despite having listened to probably more of A R I Z O N A’s discography previously. Not to say that A R I Z O N A wasn’t good, just that they have a less distinct musical style, less surprising and more properly pop-y. The kind of ambiance that some of their recorded songs have didn’t always translate live.

Nevertheless, the rendition of “Oceans Away” was memorably beautiful, well-paced and gorgeous – a really nice slower song that I found to be more pleasant than their upbeat hits. Zachary Charles has a beautiful voice, and it’s undeniable that A R I Z O N A has a compelling stage presence. Especially on a Halloween weekend night in a college town and with added sound issues, A R I Z O N A has proven to have the kind of energy and appeal that’s magnetic anyways, a definite force that overcomes any hurdle.

From Forbes

The three acts had a lot to offer, diverse but cohesively put together as one show. Be sure to check them out individually below:

Mikky Ekko
Electric Guest

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: Searching.

So much of our lives takes place in the realm of screens and the digital abundance, and these days, the web is vast and alive, leading to a kind of fascination with an almost Kantian sublime. Thus, technology has this great potential for horror – as seen in television shows like Black Mirror and in movies like Unfriended, laying out a perfect foundation for a thriller set in this medium.But what separates Searching from other films using the same laptop cinema format is the intrinsic understanding of the internet and technology. The director of the film, Aneesh Chaganty – who has worked at Google and was born to computer engineering parents – has a clear sense of the behaviours of online individuals and the way the web works, and the presence of technology is elevated beyond a singular screen.

The film is detailed and realistic; each application, like Reddit, like Tumblr or Instagram is used in a way that is subtle in its familiarity, perfect in the part it plays in leaving clues and unfolding this story. Details like the timeline montage in the beginning add to the pull and immersion into the online world, and the indications of what is to come, scattered throughout places like Pam’s text document, a school homepage, or a video call, invite us for a second, third, and fourth viewing.

The use of media is carefully considered. Everything is elegant in that any use of the screens feels natural, doesn’t feel clunky, or have the need to be explained away. So the technology is comfortable in the script of the movie, only enhancing the central plot points and themes. It is not the whole movie; it does not constitute the entirety of the plot. Instead, it helps frame a well-paced thriller and the continuing theme of family.

The plot itself is well thought out with all ends neatly tied. With a brutal precision, the film reveals revelations that change the course of the story, a single, exact moment that often uproots the entirety of the direction John Cho’s character, David Kim, had been gunning towards. These twists are framed with things as simple as just a shot of an interior of a car or a mouse hover over an image. It’s this rhythm and pacing of the film that builds the tremendous momentum towards the ending.

We feel for these characters from the very beginning; pictures and clips that David looks at from time to time remind us of the depth of the characters and their motivations, and what makes them act the way they do. As David discovers more about his daughter through her digital footprints, the words she had no place to express but on camera – so do we. The relationships established between the characters through the medium and the universality of these sentiments make it easy to care.

While like the way Crazy Rich Asians is lauded for showcasing an east Asian cast in vivid colour, Searching is much subtler in the way it introduces us to our Asian leads, and perhaps is even more important in the place it has in an industry that struggles with diversity. filmmakers often had to find a “reason” for including diverse characters, relegating them to certain roles and archetypes, and Searching does away with any such requirement or “explanation” as to why the family is Korean. It simply is, giving us common experiences we can share and relate to. Ground-breaking yet understated, the film poses itself to be the classic prototype for many more movies to come.