Tag: noah jupe

Ford v Ferrari


Ford v Ferrari (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

I don’t care for cars. I can admire one, if I try, for how it looks or how fast it is. But why does a brand, or make, or model matter when the point of the thing is to get you somewhere? I knew nothing about Ford or Ferrari, even less about their rivalry in the 1960s, but director James Mangold has helmed a sports drama involving race cars in a way that is human, entertaining, and accessible. It is not about cars but the people behind them: drivers, designers, businessmen who finance the endeavor of creating the greatest race car the world has ever known.

There is an excitement in Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller’s screenplay. It is quick to establish why Ferrari must be crushed: These Italians are conniving, stuffy, up themselves. Reductive but an effective way establish a bar that must be met and then surpassed. The irony: The more we get to know the American executives working at Ford, we realize many of them are not unlike the Italians they are attempting to defeat. Quicker still is its skill in communicating who the central players are and why we should care for their stories, within and outside of the company they work under.

Christian Bale plays Ken Miles, a World War II veteran who fixes cars for a living. Miles’ other half is not his wife (Caitriona Balfe) but a friend, former race car driver, and current car designer Carroll Shelby portrayed by Matt Damon. Notice the way these characters are introduced. They are more stubborn than two mules. Because of this, Miles and Shelby clash but they remain friends because they have learned to respect one another. So, it is critical that when we see them together on screen for the first time we feel there is already history there.

I certainly did and everything else after that, when it comes to the duo, is convincing. Sure, their partnership is challenged at times, which is expected from a drama, but the trials never feel so big as to be insurmountable. More often than not, their interactions are played for laughs; this approach works because Bale and Damon choose to play their characters with a certain cool. “I am this way, take it or leave it.” One is less stubborn than the other. But only because this person has a better strategy in playing the long game.

Less impressive are fake Hollywood moments designed to stir up emotions. Particularly memorable is when Mollie, Miles’ wife, decides to drive so recklessly, as if she were on a race track, because she knows her husband is not being honest with her about his desire for wanting to race cars again. This, and a few others like it (will the Ford executives allow the unwieldy Miles to race and represent their company in the 24 Hours of Le Mans?—we know the answer to this, so just get on with it), is not a convincing exchange because the attention is on the busy aspect of the action instead of the content of what is being discussed. (Will they hit a fence? A mailbox? A person crossing the street?) It would have been a different scene altogether had these two adults been talking in their living room or kitchen and there is only silence and disappointment between words. I did appreciate, however, that Mollie is written to be an understanding wife who knows her husband inside and out instead of a shrew who serves only to get in the way of her partner’s professional goals or desires.

The centerpiece of the picture is, of course, the showdown between Ford and Ferrari. The 24-hour race at Le Mans could have been so tedious—how many times can two vehicles pass one another over the course of a day without getting… tiring (it’s easy picking)?—but the filmmakers are correct to underscore the drama of what happens outside of the race cars. The title may be “Ford v Ferrari,” but the juice is the in-fighting between company men and the outsiders they hired in order to lift these company men and their image so products can be sold and their bank accounts get fattened even further. That is what this movie is really about.

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.

Suburbicon


Suburbicon (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

George Clooney’s “Suburbicon” is an excellent example of how incredibly difficult it is to pull off a great dark comedy. Get the tone wrong in the slightest and nearly everything becomes displaced in such a way that the entire work trips on its own feet eventually and falls to the ground with a deafening thud. There is potential in this twisty 1950s tale that takes place in an all-white community that is jolted by a black family moving into the neighborhood, but it does not possess the requisite balance of subtlety and obvious—as well as when to shatter such a state of equilibrium and perform truly shocking tonal acrobatics.

The material is written by the Joel and Ethan Coen, along with Clooney and Grant Heslov, and it requires a perspicuous eye and sound judgment considering that it tackles an enchilada of subjects, from the consequences of a home invasion seen through the eyes of a child, a scam gone horribly awry, and the prejudice of a supposedly warm and loving community. The strategy is almost always to hammer the audience with the obvious, afraid that the point will be missed by those who cannot be bothered to pause and think.

What results is an overwhelming feeling that the director can do so much more to tell an enthralling story but choosing the laziest option instead just so the work can be digested much more easily. By doing so, it sacrifices or dilutes what the story is about: the complexity of human motivations and the role of coincidence and irony when we are convinced we are in complete control of a situation. About halfway through the picture, a list of directors made its way on my mind like a marquee: the Coen Brothers, Todd Solondz, Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, Gaspar Noé—all uncompromising filmmakers who would rather assume their viewers are intelligent and so they create specific stories without worry that such tales would come across as inaccessible or obscure. In addition, they have a knack for creating images that seep into the mind and their impact is felt days or weeks later.

I enjoyed some of the performances. Noah Jupe is quite wonderful as Nick who becomes suspicious that his father (Matt Damon) and aunt (Julianne Moore) might be up to something sinister right after his mother (also played by Moore) had died. Observe as he holds is own against veteran performers who are more than capable of changing the tone and mood of conversations at a drop of a hat. His terror, never one-dimensional because he adjusts the dial depending on the rhythm of impressions and disclosures, brings to mind a forgotten gem called “Parents,” a story, also set in the 1950s, about a boy who becomes convinced that mom and dad are serving human meat on the dinner table and so he decides to stop eating. With the excellent comedy-drama “Wonder” under his belt and a solid performance here, Jupe is absolutely one to watch.

Another combustible performance is delivered by Oscar Isaac. To describe his role is to spoil some of the fun, but suffice to say that he brings a level of humor and wit at a point when the story desperately needs rationality. The character is designed to pester and I wished the character had been introduced much earlier on in the film because the mystery is not really a mystery for those that have seen a handful of mid- to late-1940s thrillers. I grew a bit bored because the material takes its time to dance around the obvious.

Despite numerous symbolisms and foreshadowings, somehow we see right through “Suburbicon” as if it were air—the material being so thin of intrigue, it fails to excite us, intellectually or emotionally, despite some incendiary and relevant topics it dares to tackle. Clooney’s playfulness with tone—and at times his lack of control of it—is an incorrect approach when the story demands that what we see, feel, and think about cut like a scalpel across the throat.

A Quiet Place


A Quiet Place (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Director John Krasinski encourages viewers to imagine living in a world where one must learn to exist with making as minimal noise as possible. Because failing to adhere to a certain decibel level relative to the baseline sound of the environment almost certainly results in monstrous creatures running toward the source of detectable noise. What better way to entangle us into this universe than employing silence to give to us room to ponder and consider. It is so engrossing, eventually we are conditioned to look at a room and note every object that might create the slightest noise. It is a high-caliber survival story.

To call a movie “adrenaline-fueled” is a wilted cliché, but it is most appropriate here. During its well-written and consistently well-timed rising action, when a family of four (Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe), initially a family of five, is thrusted into one horrific situation after another, it felt as if I had run several laps around the theater. I could feel my heartbeat pulsating out of my chest in both anticipation and reaction; it is clear that the material understands the critical balance of suspense (anticipation) and thrill (reaction). It knows how to engage the viewer at the most primal level—and it is not just because a family we grow to care about is in mortal danger. We imagine ourselves in their shoes, how we might react given a set of extremely challenging circumstances.

Although a horror film, we are inspired not to look away—a trait that genre greats tend to have in common. The reason is because although we might be terrified of what is unfolding in front of our very eyes, our innate curiosity to learn or discover overpowers our fears. And so we look on. This is a horror project that invites rather than repels—which is so beautiful to come across because this approach is now a rarity in modern, certainly mainstream, horror filmmaking. Nowadays, it is more about parading guts and gore or shaking the camera relentlessly rather than building upon the threat until the inevitable boiling point.

The picture’s excellence lies in its willingness to take its time. Observe the key scene where the father decides to take his son by the river. While there, they must wade through water, open traps, and acquire fish. But the son, clearly traumatized by what tends to happen when they make noise, would not even get in the water. The father recognizes that forcing the boy isn’t the right way to go. And so they share a conversation, a quiet moment in a not-so-quiet place, in which it is implied that the timid youngest must learn to push through his apprehension in order to learn and survive. I argue that this sensitive moment is the heart of the picture. Although there is no action, and it is important there isn’t one so we get a chance to focus on both the images and what is being communicated, it wonderfully captures what the story is about. No, it is not about monsters killing people.

Time will tell whether “A Quiet Place” is a modern classic. In my eyes, it already is. Its premise is creative, its execution most entertaining, and it is highly efficient in communicating what it hopes to accomplish. In addition, it dares viewers to observe every scene as if it were a visual novel; it assumes that we are intelligent by avoiding to spell out every beat, pause, and implication. And it reminds us that sound need not be used so much in film given that every other element is elevated.

Wonder


Wonder (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Once in a while a family film like “Wonder” comes along to remind everybody that the sub-genre is plagued by awful and generic movies, often so loud, obnoxious, and busy that they end up saying absolutely nothing, forgotten about even before the end credits roll. Here is a film imbued with expected lessons regarding kindness and empathy, but what makes it special is director Stephen Chbosky putting his finger on the pulse of what makes this particular story worth telling, about a fifth grader with a facial deformity attending school with other children for the first time. It is willing to show kids as living, breathing, complex young people rather than wooden caricatures surrounded by slapstick humor and crude jokes involving bodily functions. The film has plenty of heart and a brain, too.

The structure of the film is fascinating, especially for a sub-genre notorious for playing it safe. Although Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is in the center of it, the story is not just about him. It shows how one person’s struggle affects nearly everyone in his orbit, especially those who love and care about him. We get small glimpses of how, for example, Auggie’s elder sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), must, in a way, shove her personal struggles in the backseat when at home so her parents (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson) can instead turn their complete attention to her brother who is having a very difficult time adjusting to his new routine.

And yet Via is not shown merely as a saintly sister. She has yearnings and needs as a daughter and as a teenager. We even root for her to be selfish once in a while because she is a part of the household, too. Each character who receives a title card before we see the story through his or her eyes is intriguing in some way. I wished the film were three hours or longer because I wanted to get to know every one of them thoroughly.

It takes great talent and discipline to be able to communicate the necessary subtleties of thought and emotion while wearing a mask or prosthetic. Even adult actors usually have trouble with such a task. Tremblay is an A-level performer in the making and I hope that throughout his young and promising career, he would choose to take on a range of characters who may not necessarily be likable so long as they are interesting.

Here, he makes it look so easy to perform through heavy makeup and prosthetics. I applaud him for not relying on being cute but one aspiring to deliver a believable boy who just so happens to have a genetic mutation. Another performer worth looking out for is Noah Jupe, playing Auggie’s friend Jack Will. He takes a typical “nice boy” character and gives it a bit of edge through minute, sometimes subtle, facial expressions. It is the correct approach because the movie, is seen through various perspectives. We wonder whether there might be something else to this character that is worth looking into. We await his title card.

Based on the novel by R.J. Palacio and helmed for the screen by Chbosky, Steve Conrad, and Jack Thorne, I admired that the material loves and respects children. As someone who has worked with kids, I found its honesty to be refreshing in terms of how intelligent and perceptive children can be. Even those who are mean are shown to be aware of their cruelty. It makes the audience look beyond behavior and consider why certain characters choose to take action that might hurt others. It is rare when films for families touch upon potentially confronting realities. So many are too safe and forgettable. It is because they fail to inspire discussion.

Time will tell whether “Wonder” will become a modern classic. This might come across as a ridiculous claim, but I choose to stand by it because it possesses numerous elements that just might boost it to such a status. For instance, it is a feel-good film but it is unafraid to put the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions on top of strong performances all around. Many of us relate to the underdog story. Some of us may still remember how it is like to feel ugly in school, to be stared at, to be laughed at, to be bullied. And if does stand the test of time, well, that’s a wonderful thing.