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

Power Rangers


Welcome to your childhood, revisited.

(2017) Science Fiction (Saban/Lionsgate) Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G, Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader (voice), Matt Shively, Cody Kearsley, David Denman, Robert Moloney, Anjali Jay, Sarah Grey, Morgan Taylor Campbell, Caroline Cave, Kayden Magnuson, Lisa Berry, Wesley MacInnes, John Stewart, Fiona Fu. Directed by Dean Israelite

 

Never underestimate the value of nostalgia in selling a franchise movie. The toys and games of our youth become the $100 million franchise film of our present. Michael Bay turned a TV show meant to sell toys into a billion dollar film franchise which shows no sign of abating.

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were arguably a bigger kid’s show in their day. Certainly it paved the way for all sorts of shows that were arguably toy ads and included such shows as Pokémon and Animorphs.  There were a couple of movies made with the Rangers (the first one I was forced to endure since my son was a MMPR junkie at the time) but while the show has continued in a variety of forms over the years, it hasn’t quite had the same cache as it did back in the day. Now Saban, the American distributor of the original, has started a film arm and is pulling out what is arguably their most valuable property to help get it going.

Five misfit teenagers in the sleepy California town of Angel Grove have been drawn together. Jock Jason (Montgomery) has a bright athletic future ahead of him but throws it all away for the sake of an unfunny prank that ends up getting him arrested. Kimberly (Scott) is a cheerleader whose clique has turned against her. Billy (Cyler) is a brilliant but bullied young man who is on the autism spectrum. Jason, who hates bullies, stands up for Billy but not because he is bullied – Billy is able to disarm the ankle bracelet he’s forced to wear.

Billy takes his two new friends to an old mine his late father used to take him to. There they meet Zack (Lin), an outgoing Asian kid and Trini (G), a Latina loner. The five of them discover that they picked a mine that happened to be above a buried alien spacecraft where they discover five coins. The coins give them a variety of super powers but nothing like what they would have if they could manifest the Power Ranger suits.

At least, that’s what giant head Zordon (Cranston) tells them. With his snarky robot sidekick Alpha 5 (Hader), the five are meant to be the new Power Rangers who have to battle interstellar baddie Rita Repulsa (Banks) who has plans to nab the Zeo Crystal and destroy the planet – unless the bickering teens can get their act together and team up to beat her and her giant robot Goldar. We’re doomed.

It’s hard in some ways for someone like me to review this; I really didn’t follow the show and while my son was way into it for a certain part of his youth, it was his show, not mine. We didn’t watch it together but that was okay – it was something that could be his and his alone, which is important for a young boy. The connection I have to the show is tenuous and the Easter eggs and cameos that litter the film go straight over my head. Younger people who grew up with the show in the 90s will find more resonance here than I ever could so keep that in mind.

The special effects are fairly spectacular for the most part – the climactic battle is a little bit overwrought and difficult to follow. It takes a long time to get there however; the Rangers don’t appear in uniform until the movie is nearly done and the dinosaur-like vehicles they operate, the Zords don’t appear until even later.

The movie is chock full of terms and expressions that will only make sense to those who grew up with the show.  That’s okay, mind you, but just be warned that those of us who weren’t into the show will have less of an experience. The same thing can be said about the Marvel movies, Star Trek movies and so on and so forth. That’s kind of the point of going to see a movie like this.

The movie is a bit schizophrenic in that part of it seems to want to be a slam-bang action movie and the other more of a Freeform teen angst movie. Israelite is more successful at the latter than the former and quite frankly the integration of the two could have been better and I think that’s where the movie has its biggest issue. When the action sequences come, they are a bit on the cheesy side and don’t look terribly convincing. They’re also quite jarring when you put them together with teens who are sexting, experiencing sensuality for the first times in their lives, dealing with autism and bullying and alienation from not only the adults in their lives but from people in general. All the special effects in the world can’t help you with those.

If you loved the original series, chances are that you’ll enjoy this depending on how much a stickler you are for keeping things the way they were in the 90s. Chances are you’ll have seen this already as well. For those wondering if they should catch this at the local dollar theater, do. It should definitely be experienced on a big screen with big sound. However, keep in mind that this is essentially a mediocre movie that could have used less of an eye on the bottom line and more of an eye on writing a great story involving these characters instead of one drowning helplessly in liquid cheese.

REASONS TO GO: There is a nostalgia factor for those who grew up with the original TV show.
REASONS TO STAY: Tries to be both an action movie and a young adult drama and doesn’t really integrate the two disparate sides together very well.
FAMILY VALUES: You’ll find plenty of sci-fi violence, a smattering of mild profanity and a little bit of crude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third Power Ranger movie to make the big screen (although as a reboot it isn’t connected to the other two) and the first in 20 years to be released.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/27/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 46% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chronicle
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Pandora

Terri


Terri

John C. Reilly is getting fed up wth these early morning breakfast read-throughs with Jacob Wysocki.

(2011) Coming of Age (ATO) Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly, Creed Bratton, Olivia Crocicchia, Bridger Zadina, Tim Heidecker, Justin Prentice, Mary Anne McGarry, Curtiss Frisle, Tara Karsian, Diane Louise Salinger, Lisa Hoover, Jenna Gavigan, Jessica D. Stone, Jamie Lee Redmon. Directed by Azazel Jacobs

Fitting in is pretty much all we aspire to, particularly in high school where it reaches a place of importance somewhat higher than breathing. There are always non-conformists who kind of find their own way but it is nearly always at the expense of pride and self-esteem, as they undergo a gauntlet of vicious teasing that skips over the line right into cruelty, thank you very much.

Terri (Wysocki) is one such non-conformist. He lives with his Uncle James (Bratton, best known for his work on “The Office”) who is elderly, sick and maybe afflicted with dementia. Terri does the best he can, for if Terri’s parents are around we never see them. He is forced to miss a few days of school, which attracts the attention of Mr. Fitzgerald (Reilly), the vice-principal who has problems of his own and recognizes Terri’s good heart and strong potential.

They develop an unlikely friendship, even a Terri is picked on mercilessly. He wears pajamas to school for one thing (Roger Ebert applauded this as an indication of character but it is really a one-way ticket to non-stop ridicule) and he is a little smarter than most of his peers. He has no real friends. At his uncle’s insistence he puts some rat traps in the attic and on his way to school, dutifully lays the corpses on a log in the wooded area between his house and school. One day, he watched a carrion eating bird consume the corpse. After this, he makes a habit of baiting the log.

This might sound weird, morbid and even cruel but it really isn’t. Terri is actually a good-hearted soul. He’s made some other friends – a misfit named Chad (Bratton) who has a tendency to act out, and Heather (Crocicchia) who was almost expelled for performing a sex act in a home economics class until Terri took the rap for her. They make an odd trio but an endearing one.

They learn valuable social skills through trial and error because high school is a time to make mistakes. The problem with high school is that it is a time to make mistakes and they begin to make some doozies. Can their fragile friendships survive?

This is one of those movies that doesn’t come at you with some grand revelation or mindbending twist. While these are all unique individuals, they aren’t quirky indie film caricatures. They are real people – flawed yes, damaged goods yes. In short, just like the rest of us. They’ve had their share of bumps and bruises over the road of their journey but they manage to keep on trucking down that road.

Wysocki is largely unknown but he delivers a self-assured performance. It’s genuine and honest and while there’s a unvarnished sense to it, i wouldn’t call it raw. This is more the performance of a young actor who has a good grasp on his character and some excellent abilities. Sadly, Wysocki’s girth make it unlikely that the weight-conscious Hollywood casting agents will ever give him a part this memorable again unless it’s in a comedic context. Hollywood long ago made the decision that overweight actors would only be accepted in comedies. Because, apparently, fat people don’t have stories to tell – none that anybody wants to hear, anyway.

Reilly is always Re-Reilly-able (har har har) and he is no less so here. He is a high school administrator who is not a bureaucrat but an individual who legitimately wants to make a difference in the lives of his kids. He is not without damage either, and sometimes he expresses himself awkwardly in the way of adults trying to relate to kids on their own level and with their own language (generally  good six months to a year behind the current idioms). While there are some inherent creepiness to Mr. Fitzgerald’s relationship with Terri (I always get suspicious of adults wanting to be too friendly with high school kids which is kind of sad but that’s the time we live in) the movie is sweet enough and has enough humanity to make the relationship work.

This is not an exhilarating movie to say the least; it moves a little too ponderously for that. It doesn’t necessarily engage a great deal of contemplation, although the more cerebral viewer might opt for it. No, this is a movie simply to be experienced, to be allowed to envelop you and soak into you, like bathing in a cool pond on a warm summer’s day at twilight. It’s imperfect but life’s a lot like that. And Terri is a lot like life.

WHY RENT THIS: Well acted and never loses sight of the film’s inner humanity. Flawed characters seem much more real and less archetypal.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes seems willfully quirky. Mr. Fitzgerald’s relationship with Terri is a bit creepy.

FAMILY VALUES: The movie has a good deal of bad language, some teen drug and alcohol use and a fair bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: For the weekend it was released, only Transformers: Dark of the Moon had a higher per-screen box office average.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $655,802 on an unreported production budget; I think it probably made a slight profit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fat Girl

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Words