Tag: tye sheridan

The Mountain


The Mountain (2018)
★ / ★★★★

The defiantly obtuse “The Mountain” could have been a humanistic story centering a young man (Tye Sheridan) who is recently hired by a doctor (Jeff Goldblum) to take pictures of lobotomy procedures and patients as they travel across the country. Instead, this simple plot is shoved into an experimental route: a minefield of characters staring into space as the irksome score wriggles like a worm in the eardrums; clichéd illusions, daydreams, fantasies; and blinding chalk-white interiors that look and feel like a movie set. Not one element is convincing—the acting, how people actually spoke in the 1950s, the clinically sanitized atmosphere—and especially the ill-paced and ill-placed histrionics of a French-speaking drunkard (Denis Lavant) who wishes for his daughter to be lobotomized. When he is front and center, one could feel the remaining curiosity of the picture shriveling into itself. Who is the movie for? Just as it is reluctant to look deeply into what makes its characters interesting and thus worth following, it, too, is afraid to stare at lobotomy in the face, particularly the long-term side effects that patients experience: incontinence, seizures, apathy. The work fails to take on a specific perspective and so a potentially worthy subject is reduced to an opaque exercise designed to test the patience. Directed by Rick Alverson—giving the impression he was half-asleep while helming the film.

Ready Player One


Ready Player One (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Underneath the superficial layer of impressive visual effects lies a movie with great potential to hone in on our relationship with escapism, sometimes in the form nostalgia, in “Ready Player One,” a busy and noisy picture that functions both as a love letter and a criticism of video game culture. While its main goal is to entertain by parading pop culture references from the 1970s to the 2010s, it is actually most effective when these elements are brushed to the side as the film gets a chance to explore its specific universe where virtual reality has taken over nearly everyone’s lives to the point where an imaginary world of avatars is chosen over actual life with flawed but real people.

Director Steven Spielberg is no stranger as a storyteller when it comes to underlining our connection with technology. As he did in “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” and “Minority Report,” superior works compared to this film, he touches upon our responsibility in ensuring that the tech we create does not overshadow our humanity. However, this theme is not ironed out through the scope of our protagonist’s journey in attempting to win complete ownership of the OASIS, an extremely profitable virtual reality world where people, many of them low-income, go to become and do anything they wish. Their only limit is their imagination.

Tye Sherdian plays our hero named Wade Watts and he lives in a place called “the stacks” in Columbus, Ohio 2045, a slum-like location where trailers are literally stacked on top of one another. While Sheridan is competent in portraying a character who is suddenly thrown in an epic battle against corporate greed (Ben Mendelsohn), he is ineffective during dramatic moments where, for example, he must connect in a romantic way with another character (Olivia Cooke). His facial expressions do not change much throughout the course of the film.

But the picture looks beautiful. I argue that the scenes that take place in the real world are more eye-catching than those set in virtual reality. To me, there is a tactile griminess in the overpopulation of this world; people look dejected, angry, without hope. Look at the crowd’s postures, whether walking about or sitting down, how nearly lifeless, wan, and hungry they look. They rarely smile; no laughter is heard in the various outside communities we visit, not even inside the corporate building where management rule with an iron hand. The potent images of its real world draw us in because they show a possible eventuality for us.

Sure, the CGI in the virtual world looks amazing. Who doesn’t wish to see the DeLorean smash against other generic cars in a high-stakes race, to marvel at the sheer size of the lovable Iron Giant, to be terrified by the seemingly indestructible Mechagodzilla, and wish that there was a Gundam standalone movie in the works? But they are not critical to the enrichment of the picture compared to the aforementioned elements of convincing world-building. In other words, they are stunning decorations. And I think these throwbacks spent so much time being front and center that the film’s running time had ballooned unnecessarily.

Still, there are moments when references are utilized to progress the plot. I will refrain from specifics, but the best example, I think, takes place inside a classic horror movie. My mouth was agape when Wade and his friends (Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki) set foot inside this incredibly memorable place filled with nightmares. The first shot of this place is exactly the way it should be. Spielberg is smart enough to take a few seconds of pause so that those of us familiar with the work have time to be thoroughly impressed. And I was.

Based on Ernest Cline’s novel, “Ready Player One” is not about winning trials in order to acquire keys that will lead to a participant claiming ownership of the OASIS. It is about the importance of human connection. Its overall message is apparent way before the halfway point. It left me scratching my head then as to why Spielberg felt the need to return consistently to the less interesting virtual world. And because it attempts to juggle both worlds where stakes in each one were treated with equal importance, there is a disconnect between central character relationships like the budding affection between Wade and Samantha. There should be romance there, just like there should be romance between the picture and the audience. Alas, there is only impersonation.

Detour


Detour (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Writer-director Christopher Smith takes elements of classic noir pictures and modernizes it in his clever, sometimes exciting, thriller “Detour,” about a law student named Harper (Tye Sheridan) who finds himself embroiled in a murder after becoming convinced that his stepfather (Stephen Moyer) has planned his mother’s car accident which resulted to her ending up in a coma. Although the film might have improved by undergoing more polishing, it remains consistently entertaining as it gives way for us to reevaluate its characters just when we are convinced we completely understand the archetypes they embody.

One of its more intelligent choices involves the story being split into two. While out drowning his sorrows in booze, Harper meets Johnny Ray (Emory Cohen), a thug who does certain… favors—for a fee. Our protagonist shares his thoughts of wanting to teach his stepfather a lesson. Notice how the camera inches closer to the characters’ faces as the decision on whether or not to kill the husband under suspicion grows ever closer between the two young men. The next morning, Johnny Ray shows up on Harper’s front door. We then follow two strands: 1) Harper joining Johnny Ray as they head to Vegas to carry out their plans and 2) Harper turning down Johnny Ray’s offer and deciding to stay home.

The dialogue almost always commands a sharpness to it. It can be described as Tarantino-lite in that attitude slowly bubbles to a boil from underneath the surface. Even when a character shifts on his seat while saying nothing actually says something. An observation I have about movies aimed toward modern audiences is that its characters tend to lack ways of communicating other than through words. Here, silence and body language are utilized to get the audience to consider that perhaps a character, or characters, is planning a course of action outside of what has been decided already.

Although its look is nothing special, there are instances where bright colors are employed to make certain objects stand out. For instance, Harper’s yellow-cream jacket, the flowery red designs on Cherry’s shorts (Bel Powley), the sudden patch of yellow hair after Paul (Jared Abrahamson), Harper’s best friend, spends the weekend dropping acid. It would have added a layer of detail if each character sported a certain color, a way for us to cull information about these characters or what role they may end up playing in the story. Providing deep substance is not the screenplay’s strong suit.

Neo-noir “Detour” is stylish, energetic, and it moves like lightning. Although the writing could have done a better job in smoothing out details once certain story aspects are unveiled, nearly every performance is highly watchable and the control from behind the camera creates a level of engaging tension despite the picture’s sunny desert look.

Dark Places


Dark Places (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Written for the screen and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, “Dark Places” is a mystery-thriller that offers many secrets but it does not come together as tightly as it should have. A major reason is the screenplay’s attempt to cover too much ground too quickly. As a result, the cursory characterizations fail to build up to anything substantial. We never get to know them in meaningful ways. So when a secret is revealed eventually, it is usually met with a shrug rather than with genuine surprise, horror, or something that resonates.

It has been twenty-eight years since the murder of Libby’s mother (Christina Hendricks) and two sisters, which means that her brother, Ben (Tye Sheridan, Corey Stoll), has been in prison for almost three decades. Ben was the primary suspect although evidence against him were inconsistent at best. Libby (Charlize Theron), still haunted by the trauma of the past, is approached by a young man named Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult) who claims to be a part of The Kill Club, a group of people who dedicate themselves to solve murder mysteries and other crimes. They believe Ben is innocent, but they need Libby’s help in order to exonerate the man.

The story’s structure requires careful attention because it jumps between the past and the present. Although the look between the two periods is distinct enough, there is often a lack of flow from one scene to the next. This is inappropriate because critical pieces end up being overlooked as we acclimate between eras. There are many names, faces, and motivations to remember so it is critical that the audience is never lost in the process. The material ought to have been approached as a procedural.

Furthermore, Libby’s narration enters and exits seemingly without control. I felt the narration should have been more consistent with its presence because Libby, although solidly performed by Theron, does not get enough personal scenes that allow us to understand that depths of her thoughts and therefore her actions. This is a woman who is supposed to be so plagued by guilt that she is unaware she is living in her own prison but we never realize this until another character provides an expository dialogue. It lacks the elegance of well-written mystery.

There is a lack of balance between past and present. It is strange that we learn more about the characters in the past rather than the present where the actual investigation is occurring. Thus, when the picture jumps to the present, it gives the impression that the answers are merely given as opposed to excavated. There is a glaring lack of tension in the present which is most disappointing because the present offers great performers like Theron, Stoll, and, to some extent, Hoult. Take note of the final time Theron and Stoll meet in prison. It is the best scene in the movie. The film lacks scenes that command emotional weight and catharsis.

And what about The Kill Club? We are given very limited knowledge about the group which is unexpected, in a negative way, because the script makes a big deal about it in the beginning. The writer-director’s screenplay has a nasty habit of introducing characters and potential avenues worth exploring and dispensing them just as quickly.

Perhaps “Dark Places,” based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, might have turned out to be a more effective piece of work if it had a writer who appreciates the most minute details as well as a director who has a patience of a sphinx. A slow-burn approach is perhaps most appropriate and so when revelations are thrown in our laps, we are jolted eyes wide open.

X-Men: Apocalypse


X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

It takes a delicate touch to helm an excellent action film. Such a claim might be counterintuitive at first but if one were to consider what makes an outstanding action picture, one might come to the conclusion that it can usually be reduced to three basic ingredients: a thorough development or exploration of the protagonist(s), an interesting villain with an endgame that makes sense with respect to the story’s universe, and well-executed—as well as well-photographed—action sequences. An eye for detail ties these elements together. It is clear that “X-Men: Apocalypse,” based on the screen by Simon Kinberg and directed by Bryan Singer, does not fulfill these requirements completely.

The film introduces about half a dozen new characters but it fails to show to us that every one of them is a compelling figure. Although some detail is given about Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), who develops an ability to shoot powerful lasers through his eyes, and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), who has psychic abilities so powerful that even her mutant peers fear her, there is a lack of detail when it comes to the human side of the other new faces, namely the three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Storm (Alexandra Shipp). The material actually comes alive when we learn about Scott and Jean as humans who struggle with specific abilities—what it means for them to have such powers, which prove to be both a gift and a curse, how they relate to it and to one another.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is a rather dull antagonist considering he is supposed to be the all-powerful, very first mutant. His goal is to cleanse humanity because he considers them weak for having resulted to embracing false gods and idolizing powers such as nuclear weapons. Because his motivation is so ordinary, despite all of the powers the character displays, he, over time, becomes unremarkable. Also, we learn nothing about Apocalypse’s plans if he were to succeed. Does he simply wish to sit on a throne and be worshiped for the rest of time? Does he wish to transform the world completely? If so, in what direction and how? The supervillain is underwritten.

Action sequences are enjoyable but nothing special—with the exception of one: Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) well-timed slow motion rescue at the X-Mansion with Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” serving as a soundtrack. The one and only extended battle in Egypt offers a few moments of creativity and humor, particularly with Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), but there are, for instance, no brilliant maneuverings designed to surprise both the audience and the very characters who are meant to be outsmarted so that the balance of power is tilted. Excitement reaches a comfortable level but there is a lack of surges when such a state is reached. No suspense is established.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” clearly has ambition and it entertains on the most superficial level, but not enough relevant details are provided in order to enhance the plot, story, and characterization. Details tend to pave the way for establishing complexity.

In this day and age where superhero pictures are drenched in questions about societal roles, identity, and morality, it is not enough to rely mostly on good-looking apocalyptic images via CGI. Superhero movies these days, especially sequels, must, at the very least, strive to be an original. Within this series thus far, “X2: X-Men United” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” have succeed and made a statement. By comparison, this outing is mere silent existence.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse


Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

“Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” written by Carrie Lee Wilson, Emi Mochizuki and Christopher Landon, is a horror-comedy that so desperately wants to share the same royal bloodline as Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” but ends up becoming a weak knock-off, its bastard. Although it offers a few chuckle-worthy moments, not one attempt to make us laugh is particularly clever or memorable whether in terms of its dialogue or its images. The picture will not be remembered twenty years from now.

Part of the problem is it wants to have the cake and eat it, too. It tries real hard to appeal to the masses with its elementary-level comprehension of the undead and in between moments of sickeningly ordinary splatter-fest are naughty jokes that we’ve all seen and heard of during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Thus, the writing here is not only superficial but also dated.

The plot revolves around three high school students (Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan), rejected by their peers because they are scouts, who wish to have chance at being cool. Their skills just might separate them from the pack, however, when an infection begins in a research facility and quickly spreads around their hometown. Although the premise sounds promising, it is clear that the writers have no idea about—or have since lost track of—how it is like being an outcast, especially in high school.

The three protagonists are cardboard cutouts with nothing interesting to say or do. The emotions they express are false, only reaching highs and lows when the plot requires them to become less static. We are given no understanding as to why the three are friends in the first place other than they shared a childhood interesting in scouting. We never shake off the feeling that we are watching three actors reciting lines.

The zombies look convincing and it is a good decision to make them move fast because it injects some adrenaline in a film that has otherwise flatlined. Some amusement can be taken out of the extras clearly having fun with all the crazy makeup and simply being a part of a movie. I felt more freshness from looking at the background than I did looking at the foreground—an observation that occurred to me once I was convinced that the picture would offer no redeeming value.

Directed by Christopher Landon, “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” will charm some due to its spirited nature and willingness to impress. But more observant and experienced viewers will notice its over reliance on CGI—which takes away the requisite edge a movie of this type ought to have—and its negative view of women, with the exception of a character named Denise (Sarah Dumont). Watching her put a smile on my face because I felt as though she is a close cousin of one of the tough, trash-talking women from Quentin Tarantino’s highly underrated but supremely entertaining “Death Proof.”

Joe


Joe (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Every once in a while a movie comes along and manages to hit all the right notes without ever hitting a wrong one. One waits for the film to stumble somehow—whether it be a performer stepping outside of his character for less than a second or a shot that lingers for a beat too long—but it never does. David Gordon Green’s “Joe” is that kind of film.

Based on the novel by Larry Brown, the premise sounds like a cliché: a teenager who is abused at home finds a role model in an ex-con. But the keen screenplay by Gary Hawkins eradicates the expected trappings by focusing on the specificities of the characters. Because we are emotionally invested in who they are, what they have to say, and what they will do next, we are left unguarded when it comes to just about every turn of event. It is a rural drama with a powerful gravitational force and once one is caught up in it, the claws of suspense is deeply embedded in our spines.

It is unflinching in its violence. We see a grown man punching a kid in the face, a skull being struck repeatedly using a rusty tool until the head is concave, people being shot from afar and point-blank. Violence becomes another character in the picture. It makes the case that everyone is capable of thinking it and thereby executing it. At one point, the title character says, “I know what keeps me alive is restraint. It keeps me out of jail. Keeps me from hurting people.”

Nicolas Cage plays Joe with an intensity of a grenade moments from going off. Beneath that hardworking, seemingly calm exterior is a man capable of so much rage. Most interesting is that he is aware he is not a good person when he sees red. The picture spends a good amount of time during the first act showing how people work with their hands. It is like attempting to distract a shark from attacking. It is only a matter of time until the distraction is unable to mask the scent of blood. It has been years since I have seen Cage being so effective in a role. I respected his character’s restraint and yet I feared his inevitable meltdown.

Although not as dynamic as Cage, Tye Sheridan is more than capable of holding his own against the veteran performer. He is required to summon not just anger for Gary being abused by his father (Gary Poulter—a real-life homeless man who passed away shortly after the film has wrapped—delivering a performance, though I am not sure if that is right word, that I will remember for a long time) but also a sense of possibly being permanently wounded, emotionally and psychologically, for living in such a destructive household for so long. Sheridan and Poulter’s scenes are difficult to watch because of the abuse and yet they are also the highlights of the picture because we convince ourselves we will not flinch once the violence occurs. It is a challenge not to be caught off-guard every time.

The picture is beautifully and astutely shot, very raw in its depiction of destitution. For instance, in scenes that take place in Gary’s home, especially at night, notice that there is no electricity. The shelves are empty. There are junk on the floor. Each member of the family’s clothes appear unwashed. Look at their unkempt hair. Feel the fear in their eyes as the father enters the room. I was amazed that I was able to absorb these things despite near darkness. Lesser films would have had dim lights or something of that sort just so we would notice how dirty everything was. I was impressed by its courage to show things as they would look like in real life.

“Joe” is moving but never sentimental, tough but never gratuitous. There is a vulnerability here that many pictures of its type attempt to reach but never do. Though the subject matter is dark and uncompromising, I relished every single beautiful, scary, heartbreaking, hopeful moment in it.

Mud


Mud (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Two boys make their way downriver to check out a motorboat in a tree and claim it as their own. Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) believe it is abandoned but their excitement comes to halt when they find a stack of Penthouse magazines, a loaf of bread, and some canned goods. When they get to shore, a man is there, fishing. A deal is made: if the boys bring him some food, they can have the boat. No-nonsense Neckbone asks why he does not get food himself. The stranger’s name is Mud (Matthew McConaughey) and he says he cannot leave the island because he has arranged to meet with someone. What the boys are not aware of is that the man before them is on the run from the law for murder.

“Mud” is appropriately titled for three reasons and each one is communicated beautifully. First, from the moment Mud enters Ellis’ life, something awakens inside the fourteen-year-old. Though Ellis does not know much about Mud, he is naturally drawn to the stranger and eventually looks up to him. Every time Mud talks about the love of his life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), we feel Ellis taking mental notes. He has a lot of love to give but does not quite know how to communicate it all the time–not to his parents (Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon) who are on the verge of divorce, not to the high school girl (Bonnie Sturdivant) he crushes on, and not even to Neckbone, always by his side even when a course of action seems foolish. Through this mysterious man, Mud, Ellis gets a chance to think as a mature adult from time to time. And that is exciting to him.

Second, it embraces the idea that loving someone is very much like going through a field while leg-deep in mud. It is hard work, confusing, sometimes frustrating, and a couple may be unaware of what the other needs because he or she is too busy trying not to fall headfirst into the hurdles of circumstances. This is best shown through the marital struggles in Ellis’ home. We are not given all the facts of the crumbling marriage so it is wise to refrain from judging. His mother and father love Ellis very much, but they are no longer in love with each other. What matters is the fallout and their only child is caught in the middle, afraid of losing either of his parents, being uprooted from where he lives, and veering away from a lifestyle he has grown to love. The very core of his identity is at stake.

Lastly, stepping in mud or rolling around in it tends to get a person dirty. Ellis always being so willing to involve himself in Mud’s personal affairs takes a toll eventually. Writer-director Jeff Nichols helms a classic coming-of-age film in the sense that it is about the main character’s loss of innocence. Before meeting and getting to know Mud, Ellis has a very clear idea of what love is: staying together no matter what. Observe very closely how he handles the news of his parents’ highly likely separation. Compare that to a scene late in the picture which involves a conversation between a father and his son. Sometimes love is letting go.

The adults surrounding Ellis have interior lives. It is critical that we are aware of this because they serve as the young man’s guideposts when he himself is lost. Like him, they have thoughts and motivations. They are capable of change. I found “Mud” to be a respectful and honest film, driven by strong performances, especially by Sheridan, McConaughey, and Lofland, and guided by a smart writing and sensitive direction.

Best of all, it consistently gives more instead of resting on what already works. For instance, instead of relying on picturesque images of trees leaning on one side and the island’s cracked soil to establish authenticity to its Arkansan delta setting, there are subtle but relevant decisions like showing a hole on one’s clothing and the sorts of business establishments resting on the background of a frame. We appreciate the environment while getting a sense of the characters’ lifestyles.

The Tree of Life


The Tree of Life (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) and Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) received a phone call informing them that one of their three sons, Jack (Hunter McCracken), R.L. (Laramie Eppler), and Steve (Tye Sheridan), had died. We knew it wasn’t Jack because we came to meet him as an adult (Sean Penn), still struggling with the death of his brothers, the other passed away at the age of nineteen. The writer-director, Terrence Malick, spent the rest of the film painting us a picture of the boys’ childhood, torn between nature and grace which their father and mother embodied, respectively. To criticize this movie as having a weak plot is tantamount to saying that an abstract painting is bad because one does not approve of the artist’s use of color since it makes the painting look unrealistic. In a few instances, such as the case here, plot is negligible. Personally, it was about the images and how they were utilized to remind myself of my childhood. It was set in 1950s American suburbia; I was raised in the 1990s Philippine urban-suburban neighborhood. The two are separated by place and time but I saw myself in these kids. It reminded me of times when I ran around with my cousins playing kickball, egos bruised for every lost point; the joy of collecting caterpillars, grasshoppers, spiders, lizards, stray cats at a nearby ice plant, which children of the neighborhood likened to believe was abandoned so we could call it our own turf; the way mother would yell for me and brother, beckoning us to come in for dinner, chastising us when we were too grimy as we approached the table, and making us clean up a bit before experiencing the comfort of a warm home-cooked meal. It also reminded me of the things I didn’t have. Father was in America making a living for his family, so no one taught me how to put up my fist properly and fight. First fight at school gets bloody awful quick when you don’t know how to defend yourself. But sooner or later you learn to get tougher. You find ways as Jack did with his brother, not because he was bully or meaning to be unkind, but because he needed to find a sparring partner, someone who he believed was his equal. The most moving scene for me was when Jack, after shooting a rubber bullet at R.L.’s index finger, summoned the courage within himself to apologize to his brother without anyone telling him to do so. It was such a tender moment because apologizing and, more importantly, actually meaning it can be very difficult to do. I admired Malick’s use of contrast. He featured an extended sequence starting from The Big Bang up until the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction. In one of the scenes, a carnivorous dinosaur spotted a fatally wounded dinosaur resting on the rocks. The healthy one approached the dying carefully, making sure that there was no immediate threat in the vicinity. Just when I thought it was going to go for the kill, I saw a human aspect in something so beastly: the healthy one covered the wounded’s face with its foot, hesitated against its nature, and walked away. The scene was loyal to the film’s theme: nature versus grace. “The Tree of Life” is a torrent of epic memories, bound to move those in touch with their wonderful, tragic, magical childhood. It’s one of those movies I won’t forget because, in a way, I’ve lived it.