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There are any number of reasons that one might want to heap praise on Pixar. The studio has been producing exceptional work for almost three decades now, redefining the possibilities of American animated filmmaking along the way. Many of the films they’ve made over the years have become legitimate modern classics, iconic movies beloved by audiences and critics alike. Pixar films are fun and funny, packed with jokes and references aimed at every level of the audience.

Now, this success can be a double-edged sword. Because the studio has proven itself capable of crafting these wonderful works – arguable masterpieces, in fact – they can also find their efforts being viewed as somehow disappointing if they offer up a film that is merely very good. It’s not really fair (save in the case of the two “Cars” sequels, which, by all means, be disappointed).

Some people will argue that the latest Pixar offering – “Luca,” directed by Enrico Casarosa currently available for streaming on Disney+ - is minor Pixar. And those people won’t be wrong. However, what we need to remember is that even a lower-tier Pixar film is almost certainly a legitimately good film (again, leaving aside the aforementioned “Cars” movies).

That’s definitely the case with “Luca,” which is a charming and touching coming-of-age tale about fitting in and making friends and learning to accept yourself for who you are. It doesn’t have the full depth of emotional complexity that we often see from the studio – though you’ll still have plenty of feels – and it certainly seems more directly kid-oriented than some of the more layered Pixar offerings, but so what? It’s still a delightful movie experience, one that might even prove to resonate a little more fully with younger audiences than some of the more celebrated adult-conscious fare.

Published in Movies

Stories about finding one’s way are always going to be appealing because they’re nigh-universal in their relatability. Who among us hasn’t gone through a period where they felt stuck and didn’t know what to do going forward? We’ve all been there.

Now, that doesn’t mean that these stories are always GOOD. If they get too navel-gazey, they can often disappear up their own … behinds … in an insufferable ouroboros of fart-sniffing pretension. If they stay on the surface, they lack insight and ultimately feel pointless.

But when they strike the right balance, engage with honesty and humor and (perhaps most importantly) don’t take themselves too seriously, you wind up with some real gems.

“Drunk Bus” is one such gem.

Directed by John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke from a script by Chris Molinaro, it’s the story of a young man stuck in neutral, driving the nightly bus loop surrounding the college campus from which he graduated a few years earlier. It’s the tale of a late bloomer, one struggling to escape the ties that bind him to the past even as he hesitates to engage with the future.

It’s also a story of unexpected friendship, wherein a bold and bright free spirit enters the picture and pushes our hero to find forward motion, though that push is not without its own issues. But really, deep down, it’s about those times in our lives when we don’t necessarily know what we want, yet feel confident that what we have isn’t it.

Published in Movies
Monday, 08 March 2021 16:52

You should read ‘Later’ sooner

Ghost stories are universal. One could argue that in some way, all stories are ghost stories. It’s all in the telling – and no one does that telling better than Stephen King.

His latest novel is “Later” (Hard Case Crime, $14.95), the author’s third release with the Hard Case imprint. It’s the story of a young man whose childhood is marked by an eerie ability to see the dead, an ability that leads him to help others in ways both honorable and ethically questionable.

What King has given us is a book that is part coming-of-age tale, part hard-boiled crime thriller and part paranormal ghost story. It’s an ambitious blend, to be sure, but one that King has long since shown capable of pulling off beautifully. His clear love of noir fiction joins forces with his horror bona fides and his still-strong ability to capture the fundamental truths about being a child, resulting in a lean and propulsive read.

Published in Style

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I love unreliable narrators.

When handled well, an unreliable narrator can be one of the most potent storytelling devices there is. The understanding that there may be a degree of deception undertaken by the person telling the tale allows for such a wonderfully wide array of narrative explorations.

We get one such unreliable narrator in “The White Tiger,” directed by Ramin Bahrani from his own adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize-winning 2008 novel of the same name. The film – currently streaming on Netflix – is one man’s story of striving to overcome the circumstances of his birth and the rigidly upheld mores of his culture and achieve the success he believes he deserves.

However, he is the one telling the story, leaving plenty of room on the margins for murkiness regarding the way in which things play out. That’s not to indicate untruth, but rather a flexibility of truth – we get his version of what happened, a version driven by anger at the unfairness of it all and a willingness to be ruthless in pursuit of perceived justice.

It’s a film that features a handful of very strong performances, an engaging aesthetic and some truly gripping writing. While there are a few bumps along the way, this is ultimately a movie that is thoughtful, thrilling and really quite good.

Published in Movies

My affinity for coming of age stories is well-documented at this point. And if you can endow those stories with elements of the fantastic, well – so much the better.

“The True Adventures of Wolfboy,” directed by Martin Krejci from a script by Olivia Dufault, is one such story, a modern-day fairy tale of sorts that takes a look at the many ways we can be different … and how coming to terms with those differences is a big part of growing up. It’s whimsical and sweet while also offering up a few sinister moments – just like the best from the Brothers Grimm.

Being a kid is hard. It has always been hard. Yes, the ways in which it is hard have changed over the years, but the basic difficulty never has. Being different on top of that is a challenge – one addressed with charm and affection here. While it never delves as deep as it might, choosing instead to stay close to the surface, it still manages to feel engaging and enlightened.

Published in Movies

We’re all searching for something. The problem is that we don’t always know what that something is.

Our quests for understanding – internal, external or both – aren’t always defined solely by ourselves. Oftentimes, particularly when we’re young, our personal journeys toward knowledge are unduly influenced by the people and places with which our lives are entangled. What we seek becomes conflated and even replaced by the pursuits of those close to us – sometimes without our even knowing that it is happening.

This confusing, convoluted search is central to “The Lightness” (William Morrow, $26.99), the debut novel from Literary Hub editor Emily Temple. It’s a fractured, fascinating look at a teenage girl’s pursuit of understanding – understanding of her circumstances and understanding of herself. Structurally daring and prosaically deft, the narrative moves back and forth across time (though all is past from the perspective of our frank and forthright narrator), capturing the fluidity and futility of memory.

It’s also a story of the complex sociological minefield that is friendship between teenaged girls, delving into the eggshell-stepping delicacy that can come from the deep and not always fully conscious desire to connect with those who may or may not have your best interest at heart … and are perfectly willing to co-opt your journey in order to advance along their own.

Published in Style

I’m on record as being a big proponent of coming of age stories. For whatever reason, I find tales of young people crossing the various Rubicons that come with growing up to be endlessly fascinating. There’s a universality to them; while the details may change, the fundamental underpinnings are simple and constant.

That said, while I personally enjoy them all, there’s no denying that, as with any genre, there are good ones and bad ones.

My guess was that “Big Time Adolescence,” the new film streaming on Hulu, would trend more toward the latter category. Instead, the feature debut from writer/directory Jason Foley surprised me. It’s a thoughtful and heartfelt meditation on the connections we make when we’re young and the people with whom we choose to make them … not to mention the relative wisdom (or lack thereof) inherent to those choices. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it also manages to avoid the saccharine pitfalls that often undermine these kinds of stories.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 31 October 2018 12:08

Skate or die – ‘Mid90s’

There are a lot of pitfalls that come when an actor makes the transition to behind the camera. While there’s an undeniable understanding of film mechanics that comes from being on sets, there are no guarantees when making the leap from one role to the other.

And while you might not think it upon first glance, someone like Jonah Hill is actually well-suited for making that transition. Sure, a lot of people will never not see the foul-mouthed fat kid from “Superbad,” but the truth is that Hill has worked across genres in some great movies with some great filmmakers. He’s been in the room with a LOT of talents.

And he’s got a story he wants to tell.

Published in Movies
Friday, 01 December 2017 11:33

Learning to fly – ‘Lady Bird’

We’re going to go ahead and dispense with the formalities on this one. No need to bury the lede – “Lady Bird” is an absolutely exceptional film, one of the funniest, most honest, most genuine coming of age stories we’ve seen on the big screen in years.

Published in Movies

Every journey from childhood to adulthood has its own ups and downs. The voyage through adolescence is fraught no matter who, where or when you are. That uniqueness is a source of fascination that has led to the proliferation of the coming-of-age story. Innumerable literary luminaries have offered up their own tales about growing up.

Published in Style
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