Tag: elijah wood

Come to Daddy

Come to Daddy (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Comedy-thriller “Come to Daddy,” written by Toby Harvard and directed by Art Timpson, is not without the ability to entertain. Looking at the work as a whole, there are darkly comic scenes dispersed throughout the morbid reunion story between father and son, but it leaves the audience longing for more substance both as a piercing character study and as a lavish genre exercise. Because it does not offer much in the way of both, the attempt comes across undercooked—almost good enough to recommend but not quite. When the end credits began to roll, a part of me wished it had chosen an extreme and let it rip.

Elijah Wood is Norval, a thirty-five-year-old self-proclaimed artist from Beverly Hills, California who accepts an invitation from his father to visit his seaside home. They have not seen one another in three decades, so the man Norval meets at the doorstep (Stephen McHattie) feels like a complete stranger. Still, Norval so wishes to establish a genuine connection with his father that he tries to overlook the insults and cold shoulder. Wood is highly watchable as a man-child whose default is to try building himself up when facing criticism because Norval knows that deep down he is a loser. So when he admits that he has had issues with alcohol dependency and had been involved in a suicide attempt, we are ready to recognize and believe the sadness inside him.

If only the screenplay were as sharp as the lead actor’s ability to sell a story without relying on words. We have a potentially complex character established during the first thirty minutes, but when the action revs up about halfway through, putting a magnifying glass on Norval is no longer of utmost importance. Instead of maintaining our curiosity, it chooses to make us wince, cringe, and gag from the torture, violence, and murder. Although possessing a keen eye when it comes to creating natural lighting so we can easily buy into the realism of a moment, I found the overt use of violence to be less effective than its more restrained moments, its quiet (or disquiet).

There is a recurring theme involving traditional masculinity here. Right from the film’s opening seconds, we note how Norval dresses, how he moves, how he acts, how he speaks. Look at his posture, his frame. He is a not a typical alpha male; he isn’t alpha at all. Norval fails to recognize himself in the man that greets him at the door. And so our subject is thrown into a world of survive-or-perish. I will not reveal the twist that occurs halfway through because I feel it would do a disservice to the picture, but there is a way to comment on the toxicity of having rigid qualifications for masculinity without solely relying on showing brutality or violence. This aspect of the work is underwritten and one-dimensional.

At least for a while, “Come to Daddy” offers some creativity; it is difficult to guess where it is heading. At one point, we begin to wonder if it is heading toward the territory of supernatural horror given the inexplicable noises in the house at night, a figure blending in the leaves, a corpse seemingly moving on its own. And so it is most disappointing that the work fails to offer a strong and memorable punchline. It’s quirky and clever on occasion but not much else.

The Trust

The Trust (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

The heist black comedy-thriller “The Trust,” written by Adam Hirsch and Benjamin Brewer (who co-directs with Alex Brewer), offers a few morsels of savagely funny situations and enthusiastic performances, but the work fails to deliver a satisfying ending that is equally colorful and inspired as rest of the picture. It is undercooked. And so by the time the end credits rolls, the viewer is inspired to ask what compelled the filmmakers to tell this particular story when they aren’t willing to go all way with its… Las Vegas morality. Here is a black comedy that isn’t willing to get dark enough—doing so would have taken it to a new level.

LVPD cops Stone (Nicolas Cage) and Waters (Elijah Wood) are so bored and unhappy with their jobs, they would do anything to spice it up a little. Punctilious Lieutenant Stone comes across paperwork involving $200,000 worth of bail—paid in a cashier’s check. Suspicious. So he decides to pursue the matter further by following a particular individual who is likely to be a drug dealer. Soon Sergeant Waters is recruited by his superior—who is, at first, reluctant to use his vacation days for surveillance that may not even amount to anything. Still, it beats another night in with his cat. Waters’ attitude changes when they discover a vault in an industrial freezer. It appears that whatever is taken there does not come out. What is inside?

Cage and Wood share wonderful chemistry as police officers who have had it with their careers. They portray their characters as people who went into law enforcement thinking that it would be exciting, like the cop stories on TV and movies, when in fact it is nearly the total opposite. There is slow death in their eyes, and much of their disillusionment is played for laughs. While on the clock, they are sarcastic, they roll their eyes, and make it blatantly obvious to their co-workers that they don’t really want to be there. Here is a story of two people who could’ve used some perspective—a reminder that there is something worse than boredom—prior to deciding to take it upon themselves to take matters into their own hands.

The Brewers direct the film in a workman-like fashion. It is patient and, like Cage’s juicy character, concerned with details. It matters where Stone orders a drill to be used for the heist. It matters to show how humiliated Waters feels when an obnoxious co-worker pulls a prank. It matters that we are presented a mental picture of the building the duo will break into to try to get into the vault. And for this reason, some might consider the picture to be slow. But I think it is one of the film’s best traits because without the details, without the patience, some of the jokes that require excellent timing would not have landed.

But the deeper we get into the story, it becomes all the more apparent that the writers are reluctant to make it as grim as possible—a curiosity because the subjects are bad cops. This timidity does not stem from a love of its characters but rather a feeling that the movie might not be as marketable considering the stars at the helm. But that is a mistake: Cage and Wood have proven themselves willing to take on material that are peculiar and bizarre. They want to be challenged. So, why not go all the way and tell the story without all the unnecessary vacillation? This is a missed opportunity.

Grand Piano

Grand Piano (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Despite the fact that five years has passed since he botched “La cinquette,” a piece that is deemed unplayable because it requires not only great agility of the hands but also length of the fingers, Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) remains to have stage fright. Considered to be one of the great piano players in existence, Tom is persuaded by his wife (Kerry Bishé), a renowned movie star, to hold a comeback concert. Although things are going rather smoothly in the first few minutes, Tom eventually comes across a threatening message on his music sheet. The message claims that if Tom played even one wrong note, a sniper would shoot him dead.

“Grand Piano,” written by Damien Chazelle and directed by Eugenio Mira, is a thriller with an unbelievable premise but it does have potential to impress. However, it is ultimately unable to capitalize on that potential because the characters are not drawn like real people. Like too many ineffective thrillers, when there is a lack of substance in its core, the strategy is to cover it up by quirky behaviors or superficial personalities.

Tom is a nervous wreck. His wife, Emma, is superfluously supportive. Emma’s friend (Tamsin Egerton) who neither knows anything about nor appreciates classical music is portrayed like an uncultured blonde bimbo who gets upset at just about every little thing. It is not too much to ask to make the main players more relatable in a genuine way so that when, inevitably, their lives are on the line, we care about what will happen to them.

Although Tom is often threatened by a red dot—on his hands, his forehead, his chest—I found myself not caring whether he lives or dies. It is not that Wood is not the best fit for the role. On the contrary, he tries very hard to communicate the paranoia and panic of being on stage once again and maintaining professionalism. The weakness is in the script: The lines, no matter how one plays with them, often come off forced.

This is most obvious during the best scene in the picture: Tom hauling himself backstage to look up and review an important piece because he thought he would not need a physical copy of it. No words are needed to communicate the fear, the anxiety, and the frustration of having to prepare last-minute. Wood puts all of these emotions in his eyes and hands and we feel like we really are in that moment with his character. When no word is uttered, it is top-notch material. Unfortunately, the other scenes are not able to match this scene’s quality.

There is a problem with balancing tone and mood. At times the material comes across amusing when it is supposed to be deadly serious. The protagonist’s manic movements to and from the piano made me wonder why the audience do not ask more questions as to why he keeps getting up or exhibiting strange behavior during the performances. Granted, I have never been to a piano concerto so maybe pianists can leave his or her seat while the orchestra takes over.

The film will be tolerable to some but will likely bore many. I enjoyed the small moments when we are allowed to look what happens inside the grand piano while certain notes are played. I felt I had to find something to relish if I was to make it through the end.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★

With the help of a friend, Joel (Jim Carrey) discovers that Clementine (Kate Winslet), his ex-girlfriend, has decided to delete him from her memory after they broke up the night before. Thunderstruck that such a procedure is even possible, he nonetheless decides to pay Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) a visit and ask if he can undergo the same treatment. Although Joel sleeps during the memory-destruction process, he is able to revisit the times he spent with Clementine and experience exactly which events are being plucked from his brain. Eventually, Joel comes to the conclusion that forgetting what they had is not worth it and wishes to stop the process. Although he screams as loudly as he can in his mind, Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood) continue to erase.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” succeeds because the myriad risks it takes are deeply-rooted in two factors: our curiosity in discovering the precise point in which Joel and Clementine’s relationship had gone sour and, after having seen and felt the dynamics of their relationship, our yearning for them to reconnect again, obtain proper closure that both of them deserve, and hopefully move on.

The ambitious screenplay by Charlie Kaufman is supported by Michel Gondry’s calculated and astute direction. The filmmakers do a great job masking the formula during the memory-destruction process: Joel and Clementine jump into a seemingly ordinary scene and the more they speak to each other, colors and images slowly begin to erode until the environment ceases to exist. Even though it repeats, it does not feel like a painfully hackneyed cycle because we consistently learn something in terms of how Joel evaluates himself and his partner and how the two of them, as a couple, measure against what society expect a boyfriend-girlfriend should be. Through the procedure, despite Joel’s increasingly rapid rate of forgetting, it becomes clearer to us why he and Clementine have broken up… and why it might be worth giving it another shot.

Although the most visually stimulating scenes involve the audience being thrusted into Joel’s mind as he desperately tries to hide Clementine from deletion, I also enjoyed the conflict outside Joel’s body. That is, the moral and ethical responsibility Dr. Mierzwiak and his colleagues have—or should have—toward their patients especially considering that the procedure is still at an experimental stage. The material also suggests that even though the nature of the service they perform is strange, the space they inhabit remains to be a place of work. The fantastic elements are rooted in something real.

First, we learn that Patrick manages to worm his way into Clementine’s life, only a day after her procedure, and uses Joel’s words to lure the woman into falling for him. Secondly, Mary (Kirsten Dunst), the practice’s receptionist, feels the need to express her romantic feelings toward Dr. Mierzwiak even though she knows that he has a wife and children. The subplots are handled with elegance and each leads up to an emotional punch that comments on good and bad relationships alike.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” supports that romantic films of all sorts—yes, even romantic comedies—can inspire given that the writing manages to capture a creative spark and actually does something with it. Many movies are not worth repeated viewings. This is an exception.

The Oxford Murders

The Oxford Murders (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

Martin (Elijah Wood), an American, moves to England with the hope of working with Arthur Seldom (John Hurt), a renowned professor in mathematics. Martin is so obsessed with the idea of Seldom being his advisor that the house he chooses to live in is owned by none other than Seldom’s longtime friend. But when the landlady (Anna Massey) ends up dead, Inspector Petersen (Jim Carter) suspects that the killer is someone the deceased knew.

Based on a novel by Guillermo Martinez and directed by Álex de la Iglesia, “The Oxford Murders” embraces an in-depth dialogue about math, symbols, and logic to the point where it becomes stifling. Couple it with characters of paper-thin motivations but are treated by the screenplay as fully functioning individuals, its universe is repellent and unconvincing.

Martin is brilliant but he does not hide behind an intellectual facade in order to be respected. It is easy to root for him because, unlike personalities he meets along the way, he is likable. But the screenplay makes one glaring mistake: in its attempt to complicate for the sake of complication, it makes Martin a suspect. This is most unnecessary because everyone else is already a suspect.

There is Beth (Julie Cox), the landlady’s daughter, who falls for Martin minutes upon their first meeting, Lorna (Leonor Watling), a nurse who knows more than she lets on, and Yuri (Burn Gorman), a fellow mathematician who shares an office with Martin. Take a labyrinthine mystery and a bunch of untrustworthy characters, you get a confused audience. Since I did not know who to trust in terms of my own hypotheses regarding the identity (or identities) of the killer, ultimately, I found myself not caring.

Furthermore, there is a handful of scenes that beg to be reshot. Sometimes it feels like we are watching an audition tape rather than a final cut because of the way some lines are delivered. For instance, when Beth allows her feelings to be out in the open, only to be shut down by Martin, she storms out of the room while Martin yells, “Don’t go!” The way the scene is set up and the insincerity of the supposedly dramatic line are so laughably bad that the scene holds neither tension nor an air of seriousness. It feels like a waste of film and time.

In addition, Cox is either miscast or not given enough direction to prevent her character from appearing obvious and fake. Cox is good at delivering extremes, like coming off as very insecure to the point of craziness, but Wood is more about playing what simmers just below the surface. Since the actors are rarely on the same wavelength, they share no chemistry.

Still, there is a reward at the end of the tunnel. The way everything is explained is appropriately logical and clear. But the journey there is like pulling teeth because I could not help but feel like I was being tricked with all the red herrings in the atmosphere. Based on the screenplay by Álex de la Iglesia and Jorge Guerricaechevarría, “The Oxford Murders” is ambitious but it collapses on itself because not only is it uncompromisingly pedantic, its lack of focus on technical details push us out of the experience. Watching it is like listening to someone so smart but that person radiates no charm: in one ear, out the other.


9 (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Clocking in under 80 minutes, “9” tells the story of ragdoll-like creatures in a postapocalyptic world who struggle to survive against the machines. When one of the creatures named 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) woke up, he started to ask questions like what had happened in the world, why they had to live in fear, and what they could do so that they would have a better existence. 1 (Christopher Plummer), the leader of the creatures, did not like 9’s questions and they often clashed on how to approach various situations. Other voices included Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly and Fred Tatasciore. Written and directed by Shane Acker, I did like the imagination and the high level of animation in “9” but I felt like the story could have used a lot of work. Only toward the end did it somewhat come together which was not a good thing because I was confused for more than half the picture. It brought up more questions than answers. For instance, it tried to tackle the war between humans and machines, the concept of having a soul, and immortality. Such complex and controversial subjects were merely glossed over when it should really have been discussed and explored. For a movie that was only 80 minutes long, that certainly did not help when it came to having more depth in the story. I admired the action sequences. They were undeniably exciting because I did care for the creatures. Even though they did not look remotely human, I quickly cared about them due to their ability to think like we do and feel like we do, especially 9 because he was capable of moral evaluation. With that said, I don’t think this film was made for children because it was violent, dark and sometimes the characters met a brutal death. I hate to say this because I know this film took a lot of effort to make but I believe that if the filmmakers spent more time adding scenes that could enhance the issues it tried to deal with, “9” would have been a superior animated feature. I do give it credit, however, for not trying to be another cute Pixar movie designed for children. I could easily tell that it was trying to be something more but unfortunately the missing pieces were just too jarring for me to ignore.

Happy Feet

Happy Feet (2006)
★★ / ★★★★

An emperor penguin named Mumble (Elijah Wood) was born without a knack for singing, but his talent lies in tapdancing. His colony, aside from his childhood friend (Brittany Murphy) and mother (Nicole Kidman), doesn’t like the fact that he’s different and one of the oldest penguins believe that Mumble was a curse because ever since he was born, food became more scarce. (Talk about correlation does not mean causation.) Determined to prove that his tapdancing has nothing to do with the famine, Mumble, his short penguin friends and Noah the Elder (Hugo Weaving) went on a journey to search for the “aliens” (they were actually humans but they didn’t have the term for it) and kindly ask them through whatever means to stop taking their food. I like children’s movies but I hated the singing and dancing in this movie. I believe those elements took away some of the power (and time) to produce a well-developed story. The message about the humans’ destruction and disruption of the food chain was apparent but there were far too many extended singing and dancing sequences. (And it didn’t help that they weren’t that great to watch or listen to.) My favorite parts in the picture were the scenes that involved real danger for the penguins, such as being chased by a hungry seal, killer whales and birds. Yes, the animation was nothing short of spectacular but it doesn’t make up for its too light a tone about death and destruction. There were definitely some darker moments, especially in the second half when Mumble reached “heaven,” but I felt like George Miller, the director, could have pushed the envelope a little further by showing the audiences certain realities. After all, the point of the picture was the show that animals in the South Pole were struggling for survival. In fact, I think this film would have been far superior if it had ended in a bittersweet tone instead of a typical living-happily-ever-after note. Having said all that, I would have been harsher with this film if it was not intended for children. Given its flaws, it was still pretty entertaining because it had other messages such as tolerance, self-esteem and true friendships.