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.

REVIEW: Call Me by Your Name.

“The usurper,” Elio calls Oliver from his upstairs window – the openings lines of the film.

We watch this infamous Oliver, an American graduate student, arrive at their summer home to aid Elio’s father in archaeological research. He’s keenly named usurper, as he takes Elio’s room and supplants life as they would know for the next six weeks. And in the languid landscapes of Northern Italy, the days bleeding into each other, six weeks seems like a paradise stretching on forever; as long as summer lives, so does their time together.

But in the end, Call Me by Your Name is about a moment of tangency. It’s about a complex relationship, detached from real life, simplified by the bubble of time it occupies. Luca Guadagnino carves immense detail from this solstice haze, a fervent intensity as the seventeen year old Elio explores a first love and Oliver reciprocates with passionate abandon. Moments of pleasure are impeded by their imminent departure, and in a scene where Oliver teases Elio with the threat of biting into an erogenous peach, the latter begins to cry as their relationship becomes deeper, and the transience of it more corporal.

Summer is the spine of them. Their growth, melded to green scenery, sunbathers, swims in the river – trees ripe with apricots, the sun hitting water – these are beautiful things, but they are not melodramatic things, not otherworldly nor terrific. Call Me by Your Name is not a perfect, cinematic love story, glossy with theatrics. But like the music sheets stuffed into Elio’s backpack, papers tucked away in books, the little notes slipped underneath doors – there’s something messy but sincere to Elio and Oliver.

Love is hard. Loss is pervasive; loneliness is a million miles deep. The summer days turn into snow, to scarves and candlelight, to a phone call, and maybe to the end of something good. But life goes on.

It’s only at the end of the film, when they exchange their names over the phone for the last time, that the revelation of the moment feels unfair. No longer wearing the rose-colored glasses of summer, reality hits like the winter and the viewers can feel the injustice of this unrequited love, the imbalance of Elio’s heartbreak. We remember that Elio is only seventeen when he asks his mother to pick him up from the train station, when he cries in the car, when he makes honest mistakes, a vulnerability that exists delicately.

Timothée Chalamet is a natural here, playing all the complexities of his precocious character: effortlessly talented but lacking awareness, knowledgeable but young, introverted but mischievous. In the last four minutes of the film, guided by Sufjan Stevens’ carefully crafted soundtrack, Timothée Chalamet does the remarkable job of holding an audience all the way through the credits and long after the movie ends.

Despite my only misgiving in that the turnover of their relationship was almost too quick, Call Me by Your Name is a lovely and detailed portrait of a relationship. It’s beautiful to watch even in a pure aesthetic sense, with gorgeous palettes of the Italian countryside, intimately filmed moments, and an incredible soundtrack – the backdrop to something both universally sweet and utterly heartbreaking. As Elio whispers “Elio, Elio, Elio,” waiting for the last time he hears Oliver, the film leaves you to reflect on all the moments, good or bad, in those six weeks – a summer usurped for a lifetime.

Watch Call Me by Your Name at the newly re-opened State Theatre! Tickets are $8.