Author Archives

Franz Patrick

Honey Boy


Honey Boy (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Honey Boy” is yet another story about a child who yearns to have a genuine relationship with his father, but what makes the movie special is that it has no qualms about showing reality and relationships as they are. It takes a look at an abusive relationship between parent and child in a way that not many movies are willing to show. The reason is because the screenwriter, Shia LaBeouf, is able to take specific details from his own childhood and harness them, in a way, so that he could come to terms with his troubled past. Coupled with director Alma Har’el’s vision and execution, what could have been a generic “therapy drama” is given cinematic language that rings true. Pick any random scene from the movie and notice it is worthy of examination.

Although a personal story, the picture is able to look at celebrity without the glitz and glamour. What better way to showcase this theme than in the opening scene in which twenty-two-year-old Otis (Lucas Hedges) is seemingly blown away by a special effect explosion. (It looks to be a set for the movie “Transformers.”) For a second, the job appears to be thrilling and exciting. But when the harnesses and ropes are shown, followed by the director yelling, “Cut!” it looks just like another job. This theme is consistent with twelve-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe), a rising star in Hollywood, living in a seedy motel with his father (LaBeouf).

The work is at its best when simply taking a look at the father-son relationship. It is often sad and unblinking, always fascinating. For instance, Otis wishes to hold his father’s hand, but James is afraid to be seen by others as a “chickenhawk.” And so every time the boy reaches for his father’s hand, the father rejects the notion and walks away. Without relying on words, short but impactful scenarios like these tell us a lot about what the father considers to be more important: his tough guy image over the needs of his son. While in rehab due to an alcohol problem, Otis tells his counselor (Laura San Giacomo), “The only thing my father gave me that was of any value is pain. And you want to take that away?”

At the same time, the emotionally and physically abusive father is never painted simply as an evil figure whose actions are worthy of condemnation. LaBeouf writes the father as a man who loves his son deep down despite how he treats the boy. Perhaps James doesn’t know how to show it. Or maybe, coming a long line of alcoholics, showing love in an overt way is not a part of their DNA. James has proven he does not like it when he appears weak or vulnerable. Whatever the case, the writer proves to find it important that James be considered to be a whole person in addition to his flaws. We can hate him but we feel sorry for him, too. LaBeouf plays James with a certain unpredictability; there comes a point when we flinch at the sight of the Otis getting too close to his father when James is clearly experiencing a manic-depressive episode.

“Honey Boy” does not offer easy solutions or typical closures found in dramas of this kind. Instead, it finds a comfortable place in excavating deep empathy and finding that to be enough to warrant telling its story. And for that, I found it to be a refreshing coming-of-age tale of a troubled talent who comes from a background of shame, rejection, and pain.

Lost Girls


Lost Girls (2020)
★★★ / ★★★★

Here is a movie that by the end the police have found four corpses and at least ten to sixteen human remains in Long Island, but it is not about uncovering the identity of the infamous serial killer. Liz Garbus’ melancholic, angry, and focused “Lost Girls,” based on the book by journalist Robert Kolker, tells the story of sex workers whose deaths are treated cheaply by those whose job is to find truth and justice. It is a human story, interested in the flaws of its victims, their families, and the cops themselves. The work demands attention. It offers no easy or convenient solutions.

Amy Ryan portrays the mother of one of the missing girls. Her Mari is a force of nature, a fighter, the kind of person who speaks and demands others to listen to what she has to say. Ryan is not interested in vanity; she provides the audience raw anger—anger toward the authorities for their sheer incompetence (and disinterest) and also anger toward herself as a mother who knows deep down that she had not done all she could so that Shannan could fulfill her potential while growing up. It is fascinating that although Ryan is given strong dialogue by Michael Werwie’s screenplay, her strongest moments are entirely silent, when Mari must restrain herself from screaming, crying, or taking action that she might regret later.

We are provided details of the crime. There is a clear pattern in the victims’ profiles: women in their twenties, short stature, their line of work, their cause of death. And yet despite all the information that has come to light, the police, led by Commissioner Richard Dormer (Gabriel Byrne), has time and again fallen short of solid leads. The material shows us why. For instance, the investigators neglect to look (or simply choose not to look) at footages recorded by a residential camera the night of Shannan’s disappearance. And another: the hysterical Shannan called 911 and begged for help… but help arrived over an hour later. Why?

The movie does a good job in creating a sense of frustration. There is tension because the question of, “What if this crime happened to one of your loved ones?” is always in the back our minds. Wouldn’t you want justice? Wouldn’t you want to call out and root out incompetence? The first group of bodies found is discovered completely by accident. The police are not even trying to look for the missing Shannan. Again, why is that? Is there a cover-up? Throughout the film, we are inspired to ask questions about the players involved and also ourselves. How would we react if we saw the news and our sister, cousin, or friend is only referred to as a prostitute, a sex worker, an escort—as if she were to blame for being murdered?

“Lost Girls” could have been a syrupy melodrama that follows the usual beats and the same old boring dramatic parabola, but the filmmakers are too smart for that. The correct choice is made: To focus on showing the characters as messy, imperfect, and perhaps even unlikable. Because we are able to recognize real people on screen, we empathize even more with the crises they face. The film treats the story from which it is based upon with respect—which is more than what those in charge of the case at the time had given.

The Salesman


The Salesman (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

In the hands of a lesser writer-director, “The Salesman” would likely to have ended up as yet another revenge-thriller with an expected catharsis in the end. An argument can be made that this picture is worth seeing exactly because it provides no release of emotions, but it is nonetheless worth thinking about and discussing long after the movie is over.

Writer-director Asghar Farhadi wishes to say something important about traumatic events. Although each incident may vary, I think he means to communicate that trauma is almost never an isolated event. It bleeds, it causes a flood, it takes over the lives of the people it touches. It is a stink that refuses to leave the room. It haunts us when we are alone, in our beds, when we are at our jobs, when we are sitting in the car and it is utterly silent on the outside but a raging storm in our heads. The material captures the brutality of trauma, how it cripples the body and the mind. And yet not once does the movie shows violence explicitly.

The plot revolves around Emad (Shahab Hosseini), a teacher by day and an actor by night, who is compelled to find the man who attacked his wife (Taraneh Alidoosti) in the apartment they recently moved into. Although Rana is relatively all right physically, Emad feels it is his duty as a husband to find answers. We observe him in their home, at school, and at the play before and after the incident. The differences are subtle but informative. We understand the character through his silence and action, not words. Hosseini communicates paragraphs with only his eyes. Alidoosti, meanwhile, matches him with her extremely telling body language.

The picture has an eye for realism. I admired how it takes its time to let scenes unfold—especially those that may not necessarily advance the plot. Notice the extended scene in which the couple moves into their new apartment. It would have been easier to show them having already moved in and simply putting various knickknacks away like in most mainstream American films. Here, we feel a sense of community because we see friends helping to carry a mattress up the stairs; we get a mental picture of the place as the camera goes in and out of rooms; we notice small things like how used their clothes look; we infer about the weather since all windows and doors are open. It captures the insanity, excitement, and exhaustion of move-in day.

I always say that in order for dramas to be effective, the setting must be believable. Here is a picture with such a trait and it is beautiful how the story is told through action but a whole lot more can be learned by looking at the environment of the characters. Because of their worn belongings and the fading colors of their clothing, I began to wonder whether this is a couple that can withstand a horrifying, unfathomable, and ultimately devastating event. But, as in life, there is no certainty.

Howards End


Howards End (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★

Handsome-looking every step of the way, “Howards End,” based upon the novel by E.M. Forster and adapted to the screen by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a film to be admired from a sensory point of view but, for most, including myself, not one to invest emotionally despite first-class performances. Yet it is worth seeing at least once because there are numerous fresh choices here that modern dramas, particularly of the mainstream variety, that can learn from. More importantly, how these choices are utilized in order to make a rather old-fashioned plot feel new and engaging.

One of these choices is in the use of transition between scenes. The plot revolves around a wealthy family who owns various estates in England whose patriarch, Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins), strict in maintaining his wealth, reputation, and privilege, chooses to ignore his wife’s dying wish (Vanessa Redgrave) of the titular estate being passed on to Margaret (Emma Thompson), a middle-class unmarried woman who lives with her siblings (Helena Bonham Carter, Adrian Ross Magenty). Because the story unfolds in different houses, certainly of varying prestige, it is critical that the transitions do not come across as sudden or jarring. An interesting choice is employing seemingly random images like a group of horses clip-clopping their way down the street, a person reading out loud the words of the novel he is immersed in, or the camera moving away from the focal point of the action and toward a nondescript object that just so happen to be in the same room.

It is such a clever way to denote a movement in location, to highlight a passage of time, to underscore emotions felt but not expressed. A deep level of poetry can be found in these images which is most appropriate because Margaret and her siblings are the type of people who take pleasure in appreciating art, reading and discussing literature, listening to music and form theories about them. Thus, the artistic choice of making each transition special puts us into the mindset or lifestyle of Margaret’s family—which also serves as a contrast against the Wilcox clan: how they tend to value money and what people say about them over everything else. If there were love in the Wilcox’ household, it would be found in their bank accounts.

Another interesting approach is minimizing the drama—which may sound odd because the material is dramatic by nature. For instance, revelations about certain characters, especially their pasts, are almost treated as afterthoughts. We suspect that certain secrets will be a big deal when revealed, but more often there are no screaming matches, no yelling, no tears. There is, however, compartmentalization. Although it did not always work for me because I found that certain characters a not fully fleshed out, particularly in establishing thoroughly convincing relationships, especially the romantic variety, there is great drama in not expressing. Consummate performers like Thompson and Hopkins thrive in being quiet and letting us know how knowledge of certain things affect their characters. And that is enough to make us feel for them. After all, we have all been situations where we find ourselves at a loss for words, sometimes on purpose in order to maintain a level of control, even though coming across such information bothers us to the core.

To elaborate further, I felt that the relationship between Margaret and Henry is curious but lacking detail—that certain crucial elements are lost between novel and film. For example, I found no compelling reason for someone like Margaret to want to have anything to do with Henry. Did she enjoy the man’s attention because she herself is getting older yet she remains unmarried? Was she interested in his money? Being the central character, her motivation must be clear. Instead, the possible romantic connection felt rushed. Another example is the change in Margaret and Helen’s relationship. Again, it is hastily handled which felt contrived and unconvincing about half the time.

So, you see, I admired the film for its craft but not necessarily the human connections. Another example: The cinematography, the rural outdoors being juxtaposed against the metropolitan London, offers great beauty in different ways. Perhaps the intention then is to create contrasting impressions. It does, after all, tackle the subject of contrasting worlds.

Watching the work is like looking at a seemingly ordinary painting of a house sitting in a field but as you look more closely, its world opens up and speaks to you. It was a strange feeling and I urge others to see if they would have that experience, too.

Outbreak


Outbreak (1995)
★★ / ★★★★

Wolfgang Petersen’s medical thriller “Outbreak” is composed of two movies that do not mesh well. The first one, established during the former half, is a drama that tracks the origin of a new virus and how it comes to make its way to a small California town. The second, which dominates the latter half, is an action picture composed of helicopter chases, men in uniform yelling at each other over radio, and a bomb about to be dropped on the infected. The differences between the two halves are day and night and I wished screenwriters Laurence Dworet and Robert Roy Pool had chosen one path—the former which is vastly superior than its counterpart—and explored it without fear or shame that the material may not appeal enough to the mainstream audience.

Petersen commands a solid sense of pacing—very necessary because his all-star cast deserve to shine on their own, from Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo as divorced virologists who work for the United States government, Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland as generals involved in a cover-up which cost innocent lives decades ago, to Cuba Gooding Jr. and Kevin Spacey as a new recruit and veteran field scientist, respectively. Patrick Dempsey even makes an appearance as a young man directly responsible, albeit inadvertently, for allowing the host animal to infect even more people. The powerhouse cast is juggled with seeming ease and there is genuine chemistry among them, particularly Hoffman and Russo even though I did not care much about the whole subplot regarding the former couple finding that special connection again.

Notice the dialogue. These are strong and forceful, almost always to the point—appropriate given the urgency of the plot. For instance, when the Hoffman and Freeman characters are at odds, there is a convincing push and pull between the two figures. We believe that these men have experienced major medical emergencies prior to this one, an Ebola-like virus from Zaire called Motaba, and so they are willing to fight what they believe is the right thing to do given a set of specific circumstances. At the same time, Drs. Daniels and Ford share a friendship just underneath their professional rapport. It is a joy to watch Hoffman and Freeman clash.

However, as the picture unfolds, the looming threat of politics and power play getting in the way of correctly (and morally) dealing with a public health emergency begins to take over. And as it does, the story, while somewhat sizable in scope, also starts to feel less personal or intimate and more like a standard action-thriller. Uncontrollable virus infection movies are scary precisely because we tend to relate to the confused and terrorized characters on screen who fear for their lives. The fear lies in something unknown but natural, not because of a missile or bomb threat.

And so it is ironic that by introducing two things that could kill—a virus and a bomb—the film is rendered less effective. It is far more unsettling to fear the unknown, something we cannot see or imagine. Bombs, on the other hand, are found in every other action flick. Still, even then the more action-packed chases are not all that impressive because they neither offer nothing new in terms of visuals nor is the action being told from a different or fresh perspective. Thus, the generic action comes across like an awkward appendage in otherwise watchable disaster film.

The Hunt


The Hunt (2020)
★★ / ★★★★

Make no mistake that “The Hunt” is provocative only on the surface: liberal elites kidnap supporters of the right-wing to be hunted and killed for sport. Twenty minutes into its cheeky violence and mayhem, I found myself still looking for good reasons for its existence. Trigger words like “deplorables” and “snowflakes” are thrown about like candy, but its ideas are not explored in meaningful ways. Here is a picture with energy but little substance, daring to take on a political stance but only willing to slap the wrists of both liberals and conservatives instead of hammering a rusty nail into their skulls. Satire-lite almost always never works in the movies.

It is a shame because Betty Gilpin as highly watchable as a hunted southerner whose mission is to kill every single person running the sick game. Her interpretation of Crystal is athletic and efficient in action; she may not be a talker but she is smart and quick-witted; and she is able to offer a few surprises when others attempt to get to know her. Although a formidable heroine, the screenplay by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof surrounds Crystal with boring characters—enemies and allies alike—who are meant to be murdered just as swiftly as they’re introduced. (Familiar faces include Emma Roberts, Justin Hartley, Glenn Howerton, and Ike Barinholtz.)

The point, I guess, is that we are supposed to be shocked or horrified by the rather quick deaths, but when every single one is meant to have the same fate, it is inevitable that the approach suffers from diminishing returns. Despite the film’s ninety-minute running time, the middle section lags and drags. The joke surrounding the idiom, “Never judge a book by its cover” is highly repetitive to the point where we can figure out how a scene will work out exactly based on a new face’s overall appearance. How’s that for irony?

The mixture of satire and cartoonish violence does not work in this instance. I think it is due to the fact that nearly every aspect is given a tongue-in-cheek approach. And so we never take the material seriously. The thing is, the most effective satires tend to take the viewer on a wild rollercoaster ride. Slower moments, for example, allow us to stop and consider messages behind the obvious. The best ones inspire us to look within, to recognize and admit our own hypocrisies.

During its anti-climatic climax, when not feeling sorry for someone of Hilary Swank’s caliber simply chewing scenery in this mediocrity, I stopped to consider that perhaps director Craig Zobel shaped the movie with non-stop action precisely because he recognizes that there is nothing much to bite into. We are inundated, distracted by movement and loud noises. Discerning viewers will see through the charade. This is not to suggest, however, that “The Hunt” is without potential. The screenplay is still undercooked and reluctant. With a bit of daring, it could have turned into an entirely different beast worthy of buzz, controversy, and perhaps even censure from all sides of the political spectrum. I would rather have seen that movie.

Friday the 13th


Friday the 13th (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

By around the twenty-minute mark, the final girl (Amanda Righetti) is in the hands of Jason Voorhees (Derek Meers), the deformed son of woman who went on a killing spree at Camp Crystal Lake almost thirty years prior, and the title card finally makes an appearance. By doing so, this remake of “Friday the 13th,” directed by Marcus Nispel, makes a promise that the film will strive to be more efficient, more violent, and more intelligent than the sequels, perhaps including the original, that came before. After all, slasher films have evolved, been dissected, and spoofed over the years. In the end, however, it is just another disappointment.

It is a mistake to relegate the final girl’s brother, Clay (Jared Padalecki), who remains actively looking for her around the camp after her sudden disappearance six weeks ago, as just another one-dimensional character. But unlike the fresh batch of friends (Danielle Panabaker, Travis Van Winkle, Julianna Guill, Aaron Yoo, Ryan Hansen, Arlen Escarpeta) designed to be gutted like cattle during the second half, he is meant to be the obvious good guy with whom we are supposed to root for to make it to the very end. But good guys in horror films, especially when they are not written well, get boring real quickly—as is the case here.

For instance, there is not one convincing scenario in which Clay is confronted with the possibility that his desperate search may be for nothing. And so we never get a chance to see or measure how he might cope in a situation that challenges his expectations. What is a villain like Jason, after all, but a metaphor for a seemingly unstoppable monster living in all of us? Instead, we are given a few confrontational scenes between Clay and the leader of the sheep to be slaughtered because the latter cannot help but to feel threatened when there’s a low-key alpha dog within a one-mile radius. Not only is it preposterous, it’s empty. It does not tell us anything of value about the protagonist or the figures we don’t want to see murdered in brutal fashion.

Or perhaps we do. An argument can be made that one of the points of slasher films is to provide catharsis in the form of violence. While the movie does provide blood and violence by the bucketloads, these are not particularly inspired. I enjoyed the scenes where characters find themselves getting dragged underground or being stuck there and must then find a way out, but a lot more deaths take place out in the open where a rigid formula must be followed prior to the killing blow. It gets old even before the title card is shown.

During my occasional boredom and consistent disappointment, I thought of ways how the screenwriters—Damian Shannon and Mark Swift—might have played upon the formula with minimal effort. Perhaps the most effective way is to tease with suspense. The closest it gets is a scene where a man can be heard begging for help outdoors as his remaining friends cower in fear indoors. This scene could have had a much stronger emotional punch had the material dragged out the man’s misery for one or two minutes. It is human to want to help… but it is also human to choose self-preservation. In other words, the writers have chosen to limit themselves when it comes to changing up the type of horror being tackled at a given time.

Due to the lack of daring and imagination, this remake of “Friday the 13th” is just another forgettable entry. It has the budget for gore, cosmetics, and neat special effects, but it lacks the aforementioned elements that matter most. Forget the bad or non-existent acting. This is a film that has learned next to nothing from previous entries—why one or two of them work and, more importantly, why most of them do not.