Tag: nick robinson

Love, Simon

Love, Simon (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

The first major studio-supported teen coming out story “Love, Simon,” based on the novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, starts off on the wrong foot and stumbles. Considering the quality cast, I couldn’t help but wonder why nearly every attempt at humor comes across forced and cringe-worthy. A silly attempt at flirting before driving off for school. The overly enthusiastic vice-principal (Tony Hale) collecting cell phones in the hall. An uneasy interaction with the class clown (Logan Miller) by the lockers. These are elements that belong in a television show. Easy to execute, low rewards. But something interesting happens about a third of the way through. The film stops playing everything so safe. I was jolted into paying attention as the title character goes through desperate lengths to keep his “huge-ass secret” hidden. Simon is likable, but some of his decisions are not.

Simon is played by Nick Robinson and it is smart casting not only because the actor has an effortless sad look about him (which served him well in the drama “Being Charlie,” about a drug-addicted teen who decides to terminate his treatment prematurely), required during the more dramatic turns of the plot. It is critical, especially for a commercial coming out story, that the protagonist be convincing as an American boy next door who goes to school in the suburbs in either coast—including the Midwest, perhaps even the South. Because the look of the subject is accessible, relatable, and approachable, gay teenagers still in the closet might look at him and immediately recognize a part of themselves. And for those who may not look or act like him, the screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger is already a step ahead.

It is true that the main character dreads to reveal his sexual identity. He recognizes that his liberal parents will likely accept him (Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel). And he is almost certain his best friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) will have no problem with it. Looking closely, it isn’t really the coming out that terrifies him most; the core of his fear is those he loves seeing him differently after the fact. And that’s what this picture gets exactly right that so many LGBTQ pictures, many of them comedies, that tackle the same subject get exactly wrong. I admired that the material has the sense to explore what it means to come out of the closet, not just the act of it. Because of this insight and willingness to dive deeper an extra level, despite its shortcomings, it is already a tier above its contemporaries.

About three quarters of the way through, the picture has reached full power. There is a wonderful exchange—moving, delicate, and powerful all rolled into one—between mother and son that highlights what it means to come to terms with one’s sexuality, to decide to live that private sphere more publicly; its effects on one’s state of mind and overall sense of being further down the line even though every day is a long, painful struggle at the moment. Garner reminds us how underutilized she is as a dramatic performer. It reminded me of the disarming exchange between father and son at end of Luca Guadagnino’s sublime “Call Me by Your Name.” Both interactions underscore optimism and hope for the future. It is something that every LGBTQ person, especially youths, ought to hear and take with them.

“Love, Simon,” directed by Greg Berlanti, is not without genuinely amusing moments. Particularly creative are instances when we get a peek inside Simon’s imagination. Cue the striking changes in lighting and pop songs playing in the background. Following an anonymous post at the school website, Simon begins a correspondence with “Blue,” a student who claims he is gay. Part of the fun is following Simon’s journey in trying to guess or deduce the identity of Blue. We are provided a few candidates. Some lead to inevitable heartbreak even though it appears that certain candidates fit the puzzle based on the contents of the e-mails. Admittedly, I had my money on the incorrect candidate, but I appreciated that the material went ahead with the braver choice.

Being Charlie

Being Charlie (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Written by Matt Elisofon and Nick Reiner, “Being Charlie” is supposed to be about an eighteen-year-old being forced to get help from drug addiction, but most frustrating is that every so often the screenplay turns away from what drug addiction and rehabilitation truly is. Instead, once in a while we are handed easy laughs and supposedly moving human connections even though these elements appear at wrong times or not yet earned. As a result, the picture, although it offers some effective moments, is, a whole, an unconvincing walk in the shoes of a young person who needs help but neither knows it nor wants it.

The opening scene is one of the film’s shining moments because it is dipped in irony. It gets the viewers excited because the first image of dramatic pictures tends to set the tone for what they hope to convey or accomplish. We see Charlie (Nick Robinson) sitting in front of a birthday cake and surrounded by people. But it might as well have been a scene from a funeral. There is no joy on our protagonist’s face; there is no sadness or annoyance—his expression is simply blank. He is not surrounded by friends or family but of fellow men and women getting treatment. Everyone in the frame is dressed so formally and the light in the room is so dim, it were as if the birthday is a day of mourning.

We consider: Perhaps Charlie’s birthday wish was to be dead.

But herein lies the problem. Throughout the course of the picture, the screenplay consistently fails to provide enough depth when it comes to the people in Charlie’s lives: those important to him because they are biologically connected (Cary Elwes, Susan Misner), those with whom he chooses to form friendships with (Devon Bostick), and those who end up surprising him because, as it turns out, they genuinely care about his well-being (Common). Details matter most in movies about addiction. Otherwise, as is the case here, the work ends up looking and feeling like a cheap imitation.

The movie, middling in quality for the most part, is elevated by two performers. Robinson is convincing as a troubled teen not because he looks rough or tough. On the contrary, he looks handsome and gentle and so it works when Charlie’s resentment and anger—toward his parents, toward the system, toward himself—surfaces and threaten to flood the room. The other performer is Common, playing one of the leaders of the halfway house who is quite tough but fair. Common commands an almost tactile presence that all the other actors here do not have. Most unfortunate is the filmmakers’ failure to recognize that the relationship between Charlie and Travis is the true heart of their material.

Instead, the majority of its running time is dedicated to Charlie and a potential romance with a girl named Eva (Morgan Saylor). Their relationship offers no excitement or tension because we get the impression within the minute they meet that they are not a good fit for one another. In addition, the conflict between Charlie and his father (Elwes) is contrived, heavy-handed, and so ludicrous at times that such a subplot would fit so perfectly in a bad Lifetime movie.

“Being Charlie,” directed by Rob Reiner, would have been a better film if the writers had dared to look drug addiction and recovery straight in the eye and given us unfamiliar notes, rhythms, and observations about the struggles that come with it. It would have been tougher material to swallow but at least it would have been inspired.

The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave (2016)
★ / ★★★★

“Love’s not a trick. It’s real. I know because of you.”

Groan-inducing down to its marrow, “The 5th Wave,” directed by J Blakeson and based upon the novel by Rick Yancey, is the worst kind of dystopian film: The script is not only superficial, bland, and predictable, but at the centerpiece is a forced romance in which the performers suffer a shortage of chemistry. Although the first twenty minutes promises material that might hint at a universe that is worth exploring, it begins to fall apart the moment our heroine, Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz), meets a handsome stranger (Alex Roe).

The first four Waves are engaging because they are increasingly terrifying. I enjoyed that they, shown within the first third of the picture, vary in terms of execution. A few of them are driven by visual and special effects—like massive earthquakes, floods, and tidal waves—while others rely on something as common as a viral infection. It is most disappointing then that the Fifth Wave is as dull as tap water. The writing fails to spin it in an interesting way.

Equally boring are the would-be exciting action sequences that might as well been ripped off from another monotonous shoot-‘em-up flick in order to have saved some of the budget. There is an outstanding lack of imagination when only guns are used as weapons especially during moments of desperation to survive. For instance, there is an extended scene where a group of children, trained by the military (Liev Schreiber), are assigned to execute aliens that appear to look like humans in a decrepit compound.

The approach is so glossy, so militarized, so standard that no tension is built. Notice how everything looks so dark and yet the camera moves so quickly. We can hardly see a thing. There is no joy put into the craft. In addition, never mind the fact that we know close to nothing about the young people, aside from Cassie’s high school crush named Ben (Nick Robinson), that have been forced to risk their lives. Why should we care about any of them when do not know who they are and what they are fighting for?

Many of the emotions come across as disingenuous. The romance between Cassie and Evan is very reminiscent of the “Twilight” series because whenever the two are in the same frame, are conversing with one another, or are looking into each other’s eyes, it comes across as though they had lost twenty I.Q. points only to become marginally intelligent when they are reminded of the big picture. I could not help but guffaw during some of the exchanges because the lines are so cheesy and elementary. Erotic novels contain more convincing lines compared to the so-called romantic interest here.

Written by Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman, and Jeff Pinkner, “The 5th Wave” commits the egregious error of not establishing a complex but convincing character development so that the viewers feel invested into those undergoing a specific plight and thus getting us excited for the next installments. Just about everything here is mere decoration.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World” seems to forget what made Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” so successful: The sense of awe the viewers experience when a dinosaur—whether it be a T-Rex, a velociraptor, or a triceratops—is placed front and center of the camera. I was not impressed with the way the dinosaurs look here. With the exception of one scene involving a creature taking its last breaths, they look too fake, non-tactile, very likely to be surpassed by CGI technology five to ten years from now. What makes the original special is that many of the dinosaurs to this day still look real. I declare that this sequel will not stand the test of time.

Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is in charge of making sure that operations in Jurassic World are running smoothly, but she is also tasked by her sister (Judy Greer) to show her nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), a good time. As the two boys sneak off to explore the theme park on their own, a dinosaur called Indominus rex (untamable king), simply called the I-Rex, ingeniously escapes from its enclosure and heads straight for twenty thousand visitors. This dinosaur is special because it is a hybrid of a T-Rex and… something else. We learn quickly that it is highly adaptable, extremely savage, and very intelligent.

The story is replete with unlikable or downright boring characters, from the controlling Claire, one of the main protagonists, to the villain (Vincent D’Onofrio) who wishes to use velociraptors as weapons in warfare. The brothers at the center of the story neither do nor say anything special about the park or the kinds of creatures they come across within the park. Although the screenplay forges a sort of bond between them toward the latter half, it comes across as forced because we learn next to nothing about who they are as people who just so happen to come face-to-face with extraordinary levels of danger.

The only memorable scene with the brothers involves being trapped in a cool-looking but ultimately claustrophobic gyrosphere and the I-Rex desperately wanting to eat them. I almost rooted for the dinosaur because then perhaps the movie would focus itself more on Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a raptor trainer who acknowledges and respects the inherent viciousness of these genetically modified animals. Despite this, I still thought Owen is not a very compelling character. His personality pales next to Drs. Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm from the previous pictures. Pratt can do more and should have been allowed to do so.

The product placement in this film is especially distracting to the point where I actually felt insulted. I am not the kind of viewer who is on the lookout for product placement but when a shot feels like it is only present for sake of showcasing a type of soda or a make of car, that is worthy criticism. The point of a movie is to experience a story as fully as possible. Leave the advertising to commercials. I felt so disgusted at times that I found myself wondering what the filmmakers were thinking when they decided to be so obvious about the products rather than what the characters are going through.

“Jurassic World” is not a terrible picture but it is tolerable because it does have some entertaining scenes beyond chase sequences. For example, we get a chance to see the ruins of a special location in Jurassic Park. Clearly, this film is not above utilizing nostalgia—including the insertion of the original “Jurassic Park” score from time to time. Ultimately, however, it is disappointing because one gets the impression that not enough effort is put into the material—whether it be from the writing, acting, or visual department—to give us an experience that makes its own undeniable footprint.

Watching “Jurassic World” is like going to California’s Great America but a lot of the rides happen to be broken at the time, and where I really want to go is Disney World with full-on VIP passes, VIP tours, an extended one week stay in a VIP room in a first-class hotel with free buffet accommodations. No, these are not too much to ask for when a movie costs hundreds of millions of dollars to make thereby having hundreds of millions of reasons to get it exactly right.

The Kings of Summer

The Kings of Summer (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Ever since the death of his mother, there has been a mounting tension between Joe (Nick Robinson) and his father (Nick Offerman). The tipping point is when Frank brings home another woman and forces Joe to stay for game night–a special ritual that is supposed to be reserved for family. Joe, only fifteen, decides that he is moving out and going to be living in the woods. Further, he plans on living off the land. Patrick (Gabriel Basso), Joe’s best friend, and Biaggio (Moises Arias), an acquaintance, move in with him.

It is too bad that “The Kings of Summer,” written by Chris Galletta and directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is too often bogged down by lame attempts at comedy because the dramatic material has the potential to make an honest statement about alienated youth. As a result, the lack of a consistent and appropriate tone prevents us from fully connecting with it. The boys’ experience is treated more like a silly excursion rather than a meditation with an appropriate balance of gravity and subtle humor.

Arguably most frustrating is the parents walking around like cartoon characters. Like Joe, Patrick has his own reasons for wanting to run away: he is constantly under the watchful eye of his parents (Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson). First, I found it interesting that they monitor him as if he had done something seriously wrong in the past. I wondered if Patrick had an attempted suicide or something of that sort. However, as the screenplay moves forward, the parents are not written beyond being caricatures in a bad sitcom. We never learn why they behave the way they do. It is critical that we discover something about them because they are a direct cause of their child’s unhappiness.

The same can be applied to Joe’s father. I enjoyed that once Joe has moved out, the material comes back to the father and we learn, in small and significant ways, why Joe cannot stand to be around him. During the final quarter of the picture, there is an attempt to make him more agreeable but I was not fooled. Frank is given no believable arc when it comes to his relationship with his son. There are two are three scenes showing him sitting all alone in the house but that is neither interesting nor insightful.

As for the boys playing house, there are a few amusing scenes scattered about but they, when taken together, are quite amorphous. It only gains a bit focus well past the halfway point when Joe invites Kelly (Erin Moriarty), a girl from school with whom he has a crush on, to his hideaway but, to his surprise, she ends up being more interested in Patrick. There is a nice balance of elegance and simplicity with regards to the triangle. I found myself feeling concerned about Joe and Patrick’s friendship. Is this something that will corrode the foundations of what they have?

“The Kings of Summer” offers a few glimpses of an honest coming-of-age picture. But in order for the material to have risen above mediocrity, the filmmakers needed to have spliced out elements that just do not fit tonally while making room for the requisite character development to make us understand all sides. While the awkward attempts to make us laugh might be mistaken for taking risks, they distract more than entertain.