Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)


Some kisses are more magical than others.

(2020) Fantasy/LGBTQ Coming of Age Dramedy(Gravitas) Sophie Hawkshaw, Zoe Terakes, Marta Dusseldorp, Rachel House, Julia Billington, Bridie Connell, Madeleine Withington, Randall Hua, Melanie Bowers, Ed Wightman, Chiara Gizzi, Olga Markovic, Patrick James, Orya Golgowsky, Lauren Johnson. Directed by Monica Zanetti

 

In our high school years, it is somewhat expected that we don’t really have a clear picture of who we are quite yet. High school is in many ways an exercise in masochism, because we try as hard as we can to fit in, yet we have not even half a clue why, or whether or not if that is truly who we are. Figuring it out gives us the battle scars that come in useful later on.

Ellie (Hawkshaw) is one of those girls who never gets into trouble, who hits the books, makes her mum and teachers proud (her dad isn’t in the picture) and is a bit on the nerdy side. She’s still a pretty girl, but she’s noticed something about herself – she really isn’t interested in boys. At all. In fact, to the upcoming Formal (which is what we Americans, it is pointed out somewhat gently, call the Senior Prom). One of her classmates makes a big show of asking out his girlfriend on social media, delivering a huge bouquet of flowers. Very charming, and makes my inner 17-year-old a little bit jealous; however Ellie has her heart set on going to the formal with Abbie (Terakes)…a girl.

She presents it exactly this way to her mum (Dusseldorp) whih is her way of coming out – and not the best way in the history of coming out. Her mother’s frozen smile turns into a belated “That’s brilliant,” to which Ellie responds in typical teen fashion “You’re such a bigot mom!” before stomping out. Mama, y’see, didn’t signal her acceptance quickly enough for Ellie. But Ellie’s got larger problems.

You see, her Aunt Tara (Billington) – her mum’s sister – starts popping up. Tara is a free-spirit who identifies herself as a “FAIRY Godmother, get it?” which is the Dad Joke way of signaling that Tara is a lesbian. Tara also happens to be dead, having passed on right around the time Ellie was born. You see, the way it works is that when gay people come out and they have no living gay family members to help guide them through, it falls upon the dead gay family members to do it instead – to take up the burden. Ellie was only aware that her aunt had died in a car accident, and that her dying had really torn up her family, including Tara’s girlfriend Patti (House). Tara herself doesn’t remember the circumstances of her own death.

Tara’s advice to feel out Abbie to make sure she’s receptive to having a lesbian relationship is about 40 years out of date, as are most of her cultural touchstones. Ellie eventually musters up the courage to talk to Abbie – who is one of those cool kids that Ellie has never really been able to talk to – by pretending tp be in detention for littering, which disturbs Abbie because she’s really passionate about environmentalism and Ellie had led the school assembly in following proper recycling techniques earlier that year. Whoops.

In any case, Ellie soon gets fed up with Tara’s well-intentioned advice and essentially tells her to get lost. Then during a school report on women whom they admire, Abbie inadvertently does one on Tara – who had been a leading activist for LGBTQ rights back in the ‘80s before she was deliberately run over by a car during a protest. Nobody had ever bothered to tell Ellie the circumstances of her aunt’s demise, which sorely wounds Ellie and brings back very painful memories for her mum. Eventually Ellie learns what an incredible person her aunt was…and she begins to accept that she is who she is, and Abbie is who she is, and that the only thing that matters is that they make each other happy…but will that be enough to make up for all the mistakes she’s made?

I have to admit that the first part of the movie left me a little flat. The humor is awfully broad and sitcom inspired, and there is a little bit too much overwrought drama and not enough insight. But that changes about halfway through and the movie finds its heart, and suddenly you go from wanting to find another cat video to watch to becoming truly invested in the characters and their issues.

Hawkshaw does a very fine job with her character, making Ellie far from perfect – she wears her heart on her sleeve and sometimes jumps before thinking things through, which is not uncommon among people her character’s age. The chemistry between her and Terakes is sweet and awkward and completely believable. Like most teens, they’re just figuring things out as they go along. That’s pretty much how we all do it.

The character of Tara is the one that caught my attention. She’s introduced as a little bit of a goof and someone not too terribly serious, but then we see her on the last day of her life as an activist, a leader of her community and someone passionate and serious and suddenly you want to know more about her. It isn’t often that you really wish that a character in a movie wasn’t dead, but that’s the case here.

Having grown up straight, I won’t pretend to understand what LGBTQ teens go through. I grew up in a different era where gay slurs were used regularly by all and kids who had different sexual preferences kept those preferences to themselves; coming out of the closet was not the norm then, and although I have since discovered that there are members of my high school class that have since come out, I can only imagine what they went through. I wish there had been movies like this one for them. In all honesty I wish there were movies like this for people like ME too – I might have been a little bit more sensitive and a little less of a jerk back then. And for modern kids it might help those struggling with coming out to see that it IS okay and there IS support out there for them. Even if it is from gay ghosts – you knew that it had to happen sooner or later.

REASONS TO SEE: Really picks up in the last third. An awesome watch for LGBTQ youth.
REASONS TO AVOID: The humor can be a bit lame (proof positive that lesbians can crack dad jokes too).
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes, a bit of profanity and some drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Zanetti’s first feature film as a director.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/24/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic:No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan

Point Break (2015)


Attack of the flying squirrels.

Attack of the flying squirrels.

(2015) Action (Warner Brothers) Edgar Ramirez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone, Teresa Palmer, Matias Varela, Clemens Schick, Tobias Santelmann, Max Thieriot, Delroy Lindo, Nikolai Kinski, Judah Lewis, Glynis Barber, Steve Toussaint, James Le Gros, Bojesse Christopher, Ronak Patani, Eddie Santiago Jordan, Patrick Dewayne, Seumas F. Sargent, Senta Dorothea Kirschner. Directed by Ericson Core

In 1991, Keanu Reeves and the late Patrick Swayze toplined one of the most iconic action films of that decade – Point Break – and now, two decades later, a remake is in theaters. I suppose that was inevitable. In the spirit of “bigger better more,” the Ex-Presidents are now not merely surfers but extreme athletes and world class ones at that.

Johnny Utah (Bracey) is an FBI agent. He wasn’t always one. Seven years ago, he was a YouTube warrior who wanted nothing more than to film extreme motocross stunts that would get him hits on the venerable Internet video channel, but something goes wrong and a friend winds up paying the ultimate price for Johnny’s hubris. Now, he is looking at a daring diamond robbery in which the thieves escape via parachute. Later, they grab some currency from a plane, drop the bills into an impoverished Mexican village and escape via a daring sky dive into a gigantic cave. Utah, being from that world, deduces that the criminals are trying to complete the Ozaki 8, a list of extremely demanding tasks meant to test the limits of the human spirit while at the same time honoring the forces of nature.

When Johnny finds out that there are ginormous waves occurring in the Atlantic, he is certain that the thieves will be there. He is dispatched to the scene under the wing of Agent Pappas (Winstone) from the UK office. He sees a whole flotilla of ships in the region with thrillseekers attempting to surf the waves that are the size of five story buildings. Johnny was never quite as skilled a surfer as others and when he attempts to surf one of the waves, he ends up going to the bottom, only to be rescued by Bodhi (Ramirez), who takes him to a huge yacht owned by Pascal al Fariq (Kinski), one of those insanely wealthy people who have more money than they know what to do with – so they get other people to tell them what to do with it.

As Johnny gets to know Bodhi and his crew, including Grommet (Varela), Roach (Schick), Chowder (Santelmann) and the lovely Samsara (Palmer), he knows he’s found his thieves but he has to prove it. Going against orders, he infiltrates the group and goes with them to ski down insane mountain ranges and put on flysuits to jump off of mountains. Eventually he earns their trust – well, at least the trust of Bodhi and Samsara, the latter of whom he ends up in bed with – but by this time he has begun to change his mind about their motivations and perhaps sympathize with them. So when push comes to shove, which side will Johnny end up on?

This is very much a Keanu Reeves movie without the benefit of Keanu Reeves in it. As Johnny Utah, Bracey resembles Heath Ledger facially but resembles a young Reeves in line delivery and not in a good way. He’s a bit wooden and stiff in his performance. I’m not sure whether that has to do with the writing or Bracey’s ability as an actor. Hopefully it’s not the latter.

The writing is a definite problem. This is the most bro-tastic movie you’ll see, unless the threatened Bill and Ted sequel comes together. You will never hear the word “brother” used so much in a single movie that doesn’t have two males with the same mother in it. It’s definitely a film loaded with testosterone and bro-bonding and bro-mancing is the order of the day here.

I can handle that but dumb is not as easy to dismiss. The plot grows more and more preposterous as the movie goes on and one begins to see through the Bodhi character as a selfish jerk spouting off New Age aphorisms; why would anyone in their right mind follow a guy like him? He talks about giving back to the poor while murdering middle class police officers and endangering innocents all to attain his personal goal. Of course, this is a different time now and people do worship at the altar of the almighty mirror but I didn’t get that feeling from the original film.

Let’s face it; the 1991 film had something in spades that this movie has little of – fun. The original was an entertaining ride. While the stunts here are impressive – and they are impressive – there’s no soul to them. There’s nothing here that makes me feel like I’m having a good time and why on earth would you go to a movie where you weren’t having one?

REASONS TO GO: Nice stunt sequences.
REASONS TO STAY: Dumb and dumber. Too much bro-ism. Ham-fisted acting. Wastes great locations.
FAMILY VALUES: Violence and language, some stupid ideas that nobody should remotely try to imitate, a little bit of sex and a little bit of drugs.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first film Teresa Palmer acted in after giving birth to her son, coincidentally named Bohdi.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/12/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 8% positive reviews. Metacritic: 34/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chasing Mavericks
FINAL RATING: 3/10
NEXT: Joy

Nightcrawler


Louis Bloom sneakin' around.

Louis Bloom sneakin’ around.

(2014) Thriller (Open Road) Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed, Rick Chambers, Holly Hannula, Michael Papajohn, Marco Rodriguez, Ann Cusack, Kent Shockneck, Pat Harvey, Sharon Tay, James Huang, Bill Seward, Leah Fredkin, Jonny Coyne, Nick Chacon, Kevin Dunigan, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Carolyn Gilroy, Kevin Rahm, Christina de Leon. Directed by Dan Gilroy

The local news has its back to the wall these days. Even though it continues to be a main source of news for most people, it has become, like the newspaper before it, largely expendable in the face of the internet. With people wanting the news in a more immediate manner these days, news directors have their hands full trying to get footage that will draw viewers in. It has become more economically feasible for them to rely increasingly on third party news gathering agencies, who follow police scanner radio calls to the more lurid types of stories to satisfy the hunger for misery, bloodshed and death.

Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a man who’s been hit hard by the economic downturn. Scrounging around for scrap metal to sell to a construction site, he isn’t above stealing – and if need be, taking down a night watchman (Papajohn). He even hits up the construction site manager (Rodriguez) for a job, but who would want to hire a thief? Disappointed, Louis heads on home but on the way there comes upon an accident. He also runs into one of those third party news gathering agencies, led by Joe Loder (Paxton) who explains that he doesn’t work for a specific television station but instead sells to the highest bidder. He doesn’t make a ton per story but it’s a lot more than Louis is used to. Intrigued, Louis gets himself a camcorder and a police scanner.

His baptism by fire comes at a shooting; he manages to get the site shut down by the cops when he crosses the line, incurring Loder’s disgust. Still, he has a good eye and that catches the eye of Nina Romina (Russo), the news director at KWLA, the last place station in local news in the City of Angels. He makes a sale and gets some good advice. Encouraged, he hires a navigator (Ahmed) and soon is making regular sales.

Louis however doesn’t exactly have a moral compass and he continues to increasingly take chances – pulling bodies away from where they had been so he can get better light. However, when he arrives at a home invasion ahead of the police, he leaves the line far in the dust, putting himself and his partner at risk and perhaps other innocent people as well. Louis is doing what he loves and doing it well, but who will pay the price?

Gyllenhaal is the focal point of the film and he takes it as far as I think it is possible to. He lost 20-30 pounds for the role (depending on which source you believe) and his gaunt, hollow eyed look and dead-eyed stare is unsettling. Louis can be charming with a quick smile and communicating in aphorisms that might have come off of those encouraging business posters – “Success comes to those who work their ass off,” “In order to win the lottery you have to afford to buy the ticket” and so on in that vein. But those aphorisms betray that there is nothing of substance within him. He’s a hard worker sure, but he’s completely amoral and the ends definitely justify the means and heaven help you if you get in his way. In short, he’s a sociopath. This is definitely one of Gyllenhaal’s best performances to date and there is plenty of Oscar buzz surrounding him right now.

Juxtaposed with the reptilian Louis is Rene Russo’s Nina. She’s smart, hard-nosed and has been around the block in the L.A. news wars. She’s been ground down and made cynical and even though she has a soft spot for Louis, whom she sees talent in, she also soon comes to realize that he’s a monster of her own making, who isn’t above using any means necessary to get what he wants. Russo, who was one of Hollywood’s busiest actresses back in the day, hasn’t had a role this juicy in years, even though she got to kick ass in Thor: The Dark World last year.

Using cinematographer Robert Elswit, first-time director Gilroy paints a lurid Los Angeles by night that is seductive, dangerous and seedy all at once. The urban sprawl is a city of lights by night that while not as charming as Paris has a beauty all its own. Elswit clearly has an affection for the city because it looks so amazing in his eye. I lived there for more than a decade and always had a soft spot for L.A. by night.

Other than Rick, Louis’ long-suffering assistant slash partner slash navigator, there aren’t very many nice people in this movie. As detailed before, Louis is not a nice person at all and he gets less nice as the movie goes on. It is a tribute to Gyllenhaal that we still root for him anyway. Days after seeing the movie, I felt a genuine moment of revulsion when I realized that I had been rooting for the character to get out of the house where a multiple murder had taken place before the cops got there; how sick is that, I wondered to myself. If it had been just a guy and not Jake Gyllenhaal, I would have been hoping the bastard got arrested.

That’s not the way the world works here, and such cynicism might not fly right with everybody. There is a dark world view here, where the masses are ravening for blood and don’t care how they get it, whereas parasitical videographers flit from tragedy to tragedy trying to get enough footage to sate the bloodlust of the masses. Nobody seems to care much about the truth or informing people about what they need to know. It is at the very least a sad commentary on how far our respect for news gatherers has fallen.

REASONS TO GO: One of Gyllenhaal’s most intense performances ever. Gritty and gut-churning.
REASONS TO STAY: Exaggerates the “if it bleeds it leads” concept.
FAMILY VALUES: Expect plenty of violence, some bloody images and foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gyllenhaal blinks only three times during the entire film. He also memorized the script as if it were a stage play.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/9/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: L.A. Confidential
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Stake Land