Tag: alfie allen

How to Build a Girl


How to Build a Girl (2019)
★ / ★★★★

Here is yet another comedy with a terrific premise—a sixteen-year-old girl aspiring to become a writer is hired as a rock critic—but just about every time the film appears ready to take off, the screenplay falters, crashes, and gets mired in repetitive exposition. What results is a death march to the finish line: the main character is flavorless; her journey, while eventful, is without soul, and the lessons she learns about herself and adults around her are common sense for smart, well-grounded teenagers—someone she is already supposed to be. I didn’t believe a single second of this movie; I found it no better than a trip to the dentist.

The film is based upon the novel of the same name by Caitlin Moran. It is a shock that she penned the screenplay because we are not given strong reasons why Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein, sporting an awful British accent) is a protagonist worth following. The intention, I think, is to tell a story of a person who feels ready to take on the world but is limited because of her age, lack of experience, and that she comes from a humble background. In order to compensate for the elements she lacks, she feels the need constantly underscore her talent for words. That’s a workable template, but it isn’t compelling when details and realism are lacking.

In the final scene, Johanna turns to the target audience—young women—and essentially reminds them that her journey is meant to provide female empowerment. Because she is able to claim a happy ending, so can those who are watching. While I support the idea of stories imbuing power to young girls, I couldn’t but help feel confused because Johanna’s struggles are not specifically tethered to her gender. In fact, her endeavors relate to nearly everything about her except her sex. There’s a glaring disconnect.

Perhaps we are meant to notice the fact that Johanna is the only female writer hired at D&ME (say that three times as quickly as you can), a London-based paper specializing in covering the latest music bands and trends. But no drama is excavated upon her hiring. The men look at her not because she’s a woman but because she is young and naive. Johanna is a music writer who can quote “Ulysses” from memory and yet she hasn’t even listened to The Rolling Stones. Of course she’s going to be considered as a joke. Who can take you seriously in a specific field when you do not possess the most basic knowledge required of that field? It’s not about gender.

Instead of focusing on the drama between Johanna and her colleagues, plenty of attention is placed on how much money she has begun to make. Apparently, it’s a lot, despite working for the magazine for only a few weeks, because she is able to dissolve her family’s debt. She even buys them a new van at some point. Obviously, this is a fantasy. And so the screenplay is required to make a story realistic through other means. Otherwise, we as viewers do not connect with the material in ways that we can or should.

“How to Build a Girl,” directed by Cody Giedroyc, is a frustration nearly every step of the way. Johanna is surrounded by personalities more interesting than her. Examples: her father (Paddy Considine) who still clings onto his dream of becoming a big rockstar someday, her gay brother (Laurie Kynaston) who just so happens to be her best friend, and musician John Kite (Alfie Allen) whose songs possess a sadness and yearning to them. These three make Johanna more interesting because despite her superficial quirks and occasional obnoxious personality, she is flavorless, flat as tap water. Why see this when Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” is in existence? The filmmakers fail to provide a compelling answer.

John Wick


John Wick (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Contrary to glowing reviews, “John Wick” is a sub-standard action-thriller with a few elements that could have elevated it if the screenplay by Derek Kolstad had elaborated upon them. Instead, the picture is largely composed of shoot-‘em-up razzle-dazzle—perfect, I suppose, for audiences who crave nothing more than empty calories. However, for those of us hoping to be entertained and engrossed, there is nothing to see here.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is an assassin who left his occupation five years ago to get married and live a life that will not require him to look over his shoulder constantly. But upon the death of Helen (Bridget Moynahan) due to an illness, John is thrown back into the business of killing after the dog that his spouse left him is killed by Iosef (Alfie Allen), son of the head of a Russian syndicate (Michael Nyqvist).

For a story involving a group of assassins who know each other, some can even be considered to be friends, the picture commands neither heft nor substance. There is a hint of a relationship between John and a sniper named Marcus (Willem Dafoe), the latter a sort of father figure for the former. At one point, we are supposed to question Marcus’ loyalty to John but the material abandons this potential route of intrigue so quickly that we wonder why such an avenue is introduced at all. Dafoe is a consummate performer and it is a missed opportunity that the script does not allow him to do much.

The action is one-note in that it is about twenty-percent hand-to-hand combat and the rest involves shootouts. Such an approach might have worked if there had been a little more diversity in its execution. However, the majority of the action happens at night, in the dark, and indoors. Although the locale changes, it is always dark. Thus, we do not get to truly appreciate the fight scenes in terms of who is being hit, how hard, or if there is any strategy involved into the attack or kills.

In addition, the action scenes are almost always submerged in a hard rock soundtrack, one has to wonder if the filmmakers had no confidence at all in the purity of the images. Eventually, I caught myself feeling passive when there is commotion on screen—which is most problematic because action movies are supposed to be thrilling or cathartic, not sedative.

We learn very little about the lead character. Reeves is not exactly the most versatile actor but he does possess effortless charm. Instead of using that charm, it appears as though the film wishes to make him as cold or closed down as possible. Reeves is either quiet or muttering his lines, occasionally growling when John is supposed to be enraged. As a result, what we see and feel on screen is nothing more than average and expected. The material does not inspire us to want to know more about the grieving man.

Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, “John Wick” is yet another forgettable and brainless action movie that fails to capitalize on its more creative elements. For instance, the assassins have a code they agree to honor in a hotel called The Continental. By following this code, the assassins create a semblance of professionalism and being civilized. By failing to lure us into its world completely, the film begins to run out of steam by the first act. By the end of its short running time, we feel not exhilaration but relief that the depressing experience is finally over.