Tag: sterling k. brown

Waves


Waves (2019)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Here is a film for teenagers that does not make the mistake of condescending to its target audience. Put this right alongside commercialized coming-of-age films meant to capture how it is like to be a high school student in modern America and it shines—so brightly in fact that most of its contemporaries would fade into the background. The reason is because writer-director Trey Edward Shults is not afraid to show real consequences. In this movie, conflict is never solved by delivering rousing speeches or grand gestures in front or a crowd with an upbeat soundtrack playing in the background. It requires its subjects to stop, to be silent, to go deep into contemplation, and to really push themselves to make a change. It’s not easy.

The story takes a magnifying glass on Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a senior wrestler with an excellent chance of earning a full college scholarship. He has one more season before graduation. In the opening minutes, we observe his daily routine, how he pushes his mind and body to their absolute limit. His father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown), ensures that he does. And should Tyler ever strays from that path, even for a second, Ronald is there to correct the mistake of his son taking his eyes off the prize.

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that the father domineering, but the beauty of the screenplay is that it plays fair with all of its main characters—even the stepmother (Renée Elise Goldsberry) who is less in control when it comes to discipline and the sister (Taylor Russell) who is present but has more of an observant role. There is no one-dimensional character here and all of the actors deliver layered and textured performances.

What I loved most about the picture is its willingness to show its subjects in real pain. I am not referring to characters simply responding to superficial conflicts required by the plot. The writer-director allows his characters to express how they feel on their own time with little regard to pacing. Most of the time, words are utilized to communicate. Notice how the dialogue flows, how words employed sound natural. But when an emotion is so painful, so frustrating, so unimaginable, still, Shults is there to capture his subjects’ misery. At times one finds himself or herself so helpless, there is little left to do other than to let out a wail or a whimper.

I think people whose families have undergone great crises will relate to this film—not because of the plot but because of its emotional and psychological landmarks, specifically traumas that stem from staring at crises in the face and enduring. One of the themes involves an action having a significant ripple effect, how one action is able to excavate issues laying just underneath the topsoil. Clearly, the story is not just about an African-American high school student who feels extreme pressure to perform and achieve success. It is about family dynamics and how each member influences one another. The work is not interested in blame, simply observation.

The structure of storytelling when it comes to coming-of-age movies rarely surprise me because most tend to follow a similar formula. “Waves” surprised me, but I will not detail why. I will leave it to you to experience and I hope it will also take your breath away, just as it did mine.

Hotel Artemis


Hotel Artemis (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Take the cool concept of hotel-exclusively-for-criminals from “John Wick”—but turn the posh setting the opposite way: as grubby as possible without losing the foreboding mood—and set it amidst a political backdrop that involves rioters’ violent uprising against the privatization of clean water in Los Angeles 2028. The result is “Hotel Artemis,” written and directed by Drew Pearce, an action-thriller that offers a few neat ideas but quite underwhelming as a whole. In the middle of it, I wondered if it might have been better off as television show.

Part of its lack of cinematic appeal is the standard disparate characters having to converge at one place. Given that the titular hotel is meant to heal criminals, many of them killers, we already expect for them to drop like flies. It is all a matter of when and in what order. Since it takes on this level of predictability, dramatic gravity must be enhanced to such an extent that we overlook the final destination. Its attempt goes as far as to provide flashbacks of the nurse (Jodie Foster) who runs the hotel, how she found her son dead at the beach due to a drug overdose. Since then she has been in a state of grief—it has gotten so bad that she has developed agoraphobia over the years. She blames herself so much that she has made Hotel Artemis her personal prison, to exist to serve till the day she dies.

Meanwhile, we get snippets of snappy banter among a slate of criminals, from bank robbers (Sterling K. Brown), arms dealers (Charlie Day), to hired assassins (Sofia Boutella). All of them are convincing in their respective roles with the exception of Zachary Quinto as the hotel owner’s volatile son. Every time he utters a line, I felt as though the performer was taken from a completely different picture. It is distracting at best, laughable at worst—especially when the character is supposed to be taken seriously as a major threat against everyone in the hotel. The angry son is given no character development.

The picture is shot against a curious political backdrop but the anger swelling outside of the hotel is used merely as a device. News coverage is shown on televisions inside the Artemis, we hear bombs going off in the distance, and rooftop scenes show aircrafts crashing on nearby buildings. These images are meant to amplify the tension from the outside in, perhaps even aiming to paint a picture of a hellish near-future, but the social commentary, while present, is completely lost. Like its underdeveloped characters, its ideas, too, are undercooked. I felt no excitement or enjoyment from these images.

A cursory approach almost always does not work with high-concept action-thrillers. The point of having ambitious ideas is to explore them in a way that is thoroughly entertaining—that if one were to strip away the action altogether, the viewers would still want to know what would happen because the drama is rooted in something real. “Hotel Artemis” fails to invest emotionally and so only a shallow experience is offered. While not necessarily bad or unbearable, nearly everything about it is forgettable. If there were to be a sequel, which the material nudges by mentioning other hotels with a similar purpose, ideas must be explored first and foremost. Otherwise, what would be the point?