Monday Morning Matinee

Review: ‘Words on Bathroom Walls’

By Will Oliver, September 19th 2020

Words on Bathroom Walls | Thor Freudenthal | August 21, 2020

[Before we dive into Will’s thoughts on Words on Bathroom Walls, a quick note from Will: The other night I drove to the Warwick Drive-In Theater in Warwick, New York to catch a screening of Words on Bathroom Walls from the safety of my car. We just want to urge people to please only attend a drive-in screening if you are able to safely do so, as movie theaters are not fully reopened nationwide (nor would we recommend stepping foot in a movie theater of any capacity for several hours in the midst of a global airborne pandemic). No movie is worth risking your health and safety. Be safe and well everyone!]

Words on Bathroom Walls features two things early on that could have been early dealbreakers in the wrong hands: heavy use of voiceover monologue and fourth wall breaks. This is likely put to use by director Thor Freudenthal to bring the words off the page from author Julia Walton’s novel of the same name (working off an adapted screenplay from Nick Naveda). In many ways, these familiar sort of cliches are plenty to be found throughout the narrative, but it still manages to come across every bit as heartfelt and touching as intended.

Adam (Charlie Plummer) is a high school student who isn’t having the best of luck. It started long ago when his father disappeared, leaving him and his mother (Molly Parker) to fend for themselves. That is, until Paul (Walton Goggins) comes along as his new stepfather of sorts. This is made any easier with Adam’s recent diagnoses of schizophrenia, which is obviously not ideal at any age, but especially not as a teenager. He starts to have schizophrenic episodes in the form of hallucinations of three different unique characters (AnnaSophia Robb, Devon Bostick, Lobo Sebastian) acting as invisible friends of sorts, as well as a dark menacing voice that continues to threaten his wellbeing.

An incident at high school gets him expelled and forced him to get one final shot at a Catholic High School. As a part of the deal for him to attend, he has to take medicine as a part of a medical trial. He struggles in school which finds him getting tutored by the school’s valedictorian Maya (Taylor Russell), who he starts to get close to, although he still manages to keep a bit of a distance, fearful of what she would think of him if she were to discover the real reason he changed schools.

It’s a coming of age story from the unfortunate circumstance of a teenager robbed of some of the best years of his life due to a condition that is completely out of his control. Under lesser guidance, this could’ve been an overly sappy saccharine affair, mixing the worst of the sick kid young adult and coming of age genre. But it works thanks to the honest source material and a thoughtful on-screen translation. Although not all of the aspects of the novel work as well here – mainly the cheesy portrayal of the visions that Adam sees when dealing with his episodes. I have a feeling this aspect worked better on the page, but on screen, it feels forced, overused, and a bit childish. Which is a shame considering the mature adult treatment that the rest of the aspects of the condition get.

In a short amount of time, the young actor has proven to be one to keep an eye out, with Lean on Pete and All the Money in the World putting him on the map, and this only adds to his impressive early resume. He shares great chemistry with Taylor Russell, who shows a lot of compassion in her role, equally as convincing. There is also fine work from Molly Parker and Walton Goggins, who gets to play with the expectations that you have from his role based on the roles that he typically gets to play. The film’s secret weapon is Andy García as the caring Father Patrick, one of the only welcoming presences at the school for Adam.

Sure, Words on Bathroom Walls may not provide the most unique cinematic experience out there. But it takes tough topics such as teenage mental illness, casts an insightful light on them, while never being preachy or talking down to its audience. It treats us with the respect that it shows its characters and although it is often a predictable and safe experience, it’s one that I was still moved by nonetheless.

Rating: 7.0/10

Review: ‘I’m Thinking Of Ending Things’

By Will Oliver, September 11th 2020

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things | Charlie Kaufman | September 4, 2020

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is probably a dangerous phrase to be uttered with the current state of things. This phrase could be taken in a few ways, one hinting at a dark way to bow out of life or to end a relationship that you just don’t see going anywhere. This is the case for a young woman (Jessie Buckley) who is thinking off breaking off her relationship with Jake (Jesse Plemons), just as they’re about to embark on a visit to meet his parents (Toni Collette, David Thewlis) for the very first time for dinner – as they have only been dating for just short of two months.

The trip is anything but normal. She keeps thinking to herself “I’m thinking of ending things” and it’s like Jake can hear her or read her mind. Upon arrival at the house, there is something completely off about the experience. Things don’t seem to be as they seem with both his parents and the house, with elements of time and place changing in a disorienting fashion, where you start to question what exactly is going down.

Only, there are a fair share of hints about where things are headed very early on for the attentive viewers. It’s the how and execution that will make Kaufman’s film one of the most polarizing films of the year.

There are long extended sequences of conversations in the car shared between the couple, ranging from a variety of topics of poetry, life, existence, even film criticism reference to Pauline Kael and her criticism of A Woman Under the Influence. It’s all shot in a tightly framed disorienting fashion by two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Łukasz Żal in the square Academy ratio to help enhance the claustrophobic nature of this journey and this woman who wants to be anywhere but where she is and is unable to escape.

Only this being a Kaufman film and script, adapted from Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, things aren’t quite what they same and the answers you’re looking for are buried deep underneath the surface. Kaufman always offers cerebral and often surreal viewing experiences that challenge the viewer, often leaving things up to their own unique personal interpretation. That is somewhat the case here, only the journey of getting there isn’t always the easiest. It’s not so much the what, but the how.

Kaufman is at his best when he taps into his surreal moments when they’re neatly tied into a fine-tuned emotional expression of the human condition. There are some wonderous moments to be found here but they are often isolating and don’t break the surface emotionally, leaving me somewhat cold as I tried to sit through the laborious dialogue and scatterbrained nature.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of material to ruminate and there is no doubt that this is the sort of film that demands and requires at least two viewings, and even then, there will still be many deliberations to be had about its symbolism.

The experience is held together by the commanding performance by Jessie Buckley, who once again proves that she is one of the finest young actors emerging in Hollywood, who should have broken out with last year’s Wild Rose in a fair world. She brings emotion and humanity to a film that can often be disorienting and cold. Equally strong is Jesse Plemons who gets to bring a lot of what has made him a reliable supporting force for the past couple of years, but he also gets to showcase new range as well. Although their screentime is a bit more chopped up, both Toni Collette and David Thewlis are their typically terrific selves.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things succeeds in challenging the viewer in a creative way that has a skillfully crafted screenplay, unique vision from Kaufman, and some stunning cinematography. There was a lot to pull from the film, almost overwhelmingly so. It most certainly won’t be for everyone and it’s going to inspire a ton of debates about its true meaning and what exactly goes down. While I was impressed with its overarching vision and ambition, it ends up being a film I admired and appreciated, while keeping me at arm’s length on an emotional level.

Rating: 7.5/10

[Watch]: ‘Dune’ Trailer

By Will Oliver, September 9th 2020

Ever since it was announced that Denis Villeneuve would be directing the new adaptation of Dune, let alone the incredibly stacked casting announcements, we have been waiting in anticipation for the first official footage.
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Review: ‘Mulan’ (2020)

By Will Oliver, September 6th 2020

Mulan | Niki Caro | September 4, 2020

While most of the new interpretations of the beloved Disney animated classics have played it safe with their live-action versions, Mulan had the potential to do something different. This version, from director Niki Caro, does not include the beloved musical numbers, or her humorous sidekick Mushu. These choices were made in order to keep it more realistic and to avoid the problematic aspects that a character like Mushu caused within the traditional Chinese community. These choices do result in a film that feels more realistic but the trade-off isn’t without some sacrifices that are never fully replaced.
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Review: ‘Unhinged’

By Will Oliver, September 6th 2020

Unhinged | Derrick Borte | August 21, 2020

[Before we dive into Will’s thoughts on Unhinged, a quick note from Will: The other night I drove to the Warwick Drive-In Theater in Warwick, New York to catch a screening of Unhinged from the safety of my car. We just want to urge people to please only attend a drive-in screening if you are able to safely do so, as movie theaters are not fully reopened nationwide (nor would we recommend stepping foot in a movie theater of any capacity for several hours in the midst of a global airborne pandemic). No movie is worth risking your health and safety. Be safe and well everyone!]

If there’s one aspect that Derrick Borte’s Unhinged gets right about today’s society, it’s that we have no tolerance for each other’s bullshit. Everyone’s on edge all the time, to the point where one wrong statement or action can render severe consequences. This is taken to the cinematic extreme in Unhinged, where one spur of the moment reaction causes a trail of events to follow that cause a ton of unnecessary pain and destruction.
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Fantasia Festival 2020 Review: ‘Alone’

By Will Oliver, September 6th 2020

Alone | John Hyams | Fantasia Festival 2020

In Alone, Jessica (Jules Willcox) is most certainly alone in her running from some part of her past when we meet her by seeing her pack up her entire life into a U-Haul attached to her car and embarking on a long trip out of town. She has recently suffered the sort of devastating heartbreak involving her husband that is the sort of thing that is really impossible to truly recover from without a totally fresh start. She doesn’t even disclose her plans to her own parents until she is already on the road.
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For the Sake of Vicious | Gabriel Carrer & Reese Eveneshen | Fantasia Festival 2020

It’s Halloween night when Romina (Lora Burke) comes home exhausted from her hospital nurse shift. She just wants to enjoy the night’s festivities with her son. But she is in for a rude surprise when she finds Chris (Nick Smyth), a strange man waiting at her house. Only he isn’t there to hurt her, and it turns out he’s not really a stranger. Oh, and he’s not alone.
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