Film Review: White Boy Rick (dir by Yann Demange)


Last night, as a part of my attempt to get caught up with the films of 2018, I watched White Boy Rick.

As you might guess from the title, this film is about a white boy named Rick.  It’s based on the true story of Richard Wershe, Jr., who grew up on the streets of Detroit.  His father sold guns out of the trunk of his car and, by the time he turned 14, Rick was running with drug dealers and street gangs.  (The fact that he was white while all of his friends were black is what led to him getting his nickname.)  Rick became an informant for the FBI and, according to Wershe, the government helped him build up his reputation by supplying him with the drugs that he would then sell on the streets.  When the FBI eventually decided that Wershe was no longer a useful asset, he was arrested for dealing and sentenced to life in prison.

The story seems like one that has the potential to say a lot that needs to be said about not only the economic realities of life in a dying city but also about the role that race plays in America’s often misdirected “war on drugs.”  Unfortunately, the film falls flat because, with the exception of a few scenes, it never really convinces us that Rick was really worthy of being the subject of a film.  While the film surrounds him with interesting supporting characters, Rick himself remains something of a cipher.  Rick is played by a young actor named Richie Merritt.  Merritt’s has the right look for the character but you never get the feeling that there’s anything going on underneath the surface.  Rick comes across as just being a moron who got lucky and then, eventually, not so lucky.

The supporting cast fares a bit better.  For instance, Matthew McConaughey plays Rick’s father with just the right amount of manic energy and Bel Powley has a few harrowing scenes as Rick’s drug addicted sister.  Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie don’t get to do much as Rick’s grandparents but it doesn’t matter because they’re Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie.  (All Bruce Dern has to do to make a character interesting is look at the camera.)  Jennifer Jason Leigh plays one of Rick’s FBI handlers with the perfect hint of subversiveness.  You’re never quite sure whether she’s messing with Rick’s life because she’s incompetent or because she’s enjoying it.  Unfortunately, the supporting characters are often so interesting that Rick often gets overshadowed.  He’s a bystander in his own story, which may have been the film’s point but, from a storytelling point of view, it hardly makes for compelling viewing.

Admittedly, there are a few memorable scenes to be found in White Boy Rick.  At one point, Rick goes to a wedding at the mayor’s mansion and he’s a sight to behold in his blue tuxedo.  In another scene, it’s explained to Rick why, when it comes to being arrested, charged, and incarcerated, the stakes are very different when you’re black than when you’re white.  In scenes like that, you kind of get a hint of White Boy Rick could have been if it had been centered around a more compelling character.

As it is, though, White Boy Rick is well-made but kind of dull.  It’s definitely a missed opportunity.

 

Back to School Part II #47: The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir by Marielle Heller)


thediaryofateenagegirl_newtheatricalposter

Sometimes, the best way to defend a controversial film is to take a look at some of the people who have criticized it.  That’s certainly the case with 2015’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

First off, you have so-called critic and professional troll Jeff Wells, who landed in some hot water when he complained that the star of the film, Bel Powley, wasn’t attractive enough for him.  Never mind that he thought the rest of the film was intriguing, he simply could not get over the fact that Powley was not conventionally attractive.  Never mind, of course, that Powley (who was 23 at the time) was supposed to be playing a 15 year-old and that she gave one of the best and most honest performances of the year or that the film itself was about much more than just sex.  Jeff Wells wasn’t turned on and therefore, by his logic, the film failed.

And then you have Sasha Stone, the editor of Awards Daily.  Sasha claims to be a feminist and uses her site to regularly scold any actress who she thinks isn’t living up to Sasha’s idea of what a feminist should be.  Sasha is the same blogger who announced that her life mission was to “educate” Shailene Woodley and who threatened to never again report on any of Susan Sarandon’s movies because Sarandon was critical of Hillary Clinton.  Oddly enough, Sasha is also the online film community’s number one enabler of Jeff Wells, regularly providing cover for him whenever he makes one of his patented misogynistic remarks.

Anyway, Sasha absolutely hated The Diary of a Teenage Girl.  In fact, she hated it to such an extent that she’s probably still cursing about it on twitter.  Oddly enough, Sasha has never really stated why she hates Diary with such a passion.  I mean, here we have an honest film about coming-of-age, one that ends on a note of empowerment.  It’s a film that was both written and directed by a woman and it’s based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner.  This is an important film.  As far as I can tell, it appears that Sasha’s hatred was linked to the fact that apparently, she saw the film in a theater that was full of men and she felt that this film was specifically designed to appeal to “dirty old men.”

Which is bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure there are dirty old men who went to see The Diary of a Teenage Girl.  That’s just a fact of life.  When you have a film about a sexually active 15 year-old, it is going to attract certain people.  That, however, is not the film’s fault.  In fact, the film’s straight-forward approach to sexuality was probably the exact opposite of what most of those pervs were looking for.

The film’s protagonist is Minnie Goetze (played, as previously stated, by Bel Powley).  In 1976, she is 15 years old and living in San Francisco with her irresponsible (and, as becomes apparent as the film plays out, rather unstable) mother (Kristin Wiig).  Minnie is an aspiring cartoonist, an independent and intelligent teenager who often feels as if she’s separated from the rest of the world.  (The film makes good use of animation to visualize Minnie’s isolation.)  After losing her virginity to him, Minnie ends up having an affair with her mother’s handsome loser of a boyfriend (played by Alexander Skarsgard)….

When The Diary of a Teenage Girl was first released, so much attention was paid to the fact that 15 year-old Minnie was sexually active and frequently seen using drugs that many reviewers missed the fact that the film ultimately celebrates Minnie’s intelligence, independence, and her imagination.  Speaking for myself, after sitting through a countless number of teen films which either idealized virginity or insisted on punishing any sexually active teen with either pregnancy or an STD, The Diary of a Teenage Girl was actually a welcome change of pace.

Unfortunately, many critics have made the mistake of assuming that just because The Diary of a Teenage Girl does not judge, it therefore supports all of Minnie’s decisions.  Despite what some critics claim, Diary of a Teenage Girl does not glamorize anything that Minnie does.  (Many of the film’s sex scenes are deliberately filmed to be as unerotic as possible.)  At the same time, the film doesn’t feel the need to dispense out any sort of karmic punishment, either.  Instead, it’s a film that suggests that Minnie, like everyone else, is exploring and trying to discover what’s right for her.  In the end, the message of this film is that the most important thing is to love yourself and to find your own happiness.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an engrossing and well-made coming-of-age story.  I can’t wait to see what director Marielle Heller does next.

 

Here Are The Just-Announced Florida Film Critics Circle Nominations!


BEST PICTURE
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
Spotlight
The Big Short
The Martian

BEST ACTOR
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Paul Dano – Love and Mercy
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Brie Larson – Room
Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon – 99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone – Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Elizabeth Banks – Love and Mercy
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara – Carol
Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
BEST DIRECTOR

Todd Haynes – Carol
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
Ridley Scott – The Martian

BEST ENSEMBLE
The Big Short
Mistress America
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton
Tangerine

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Ex Machina
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
Mistress America
Spotlight

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Big Short
Brooklyn
Carol
Room
Steve Jobs

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario
Youth

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Walk

BEST ART DIRECTION/ PRODUCTION DESIGN
Brooklyn
Carol
Crimson Peak
Love & Mercy
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SCORE
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Love & Mercy
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Amy
Best of Enemies
Cartel Land
Heart of a Dog
The Look of Silence

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Assassin
Mommy
Mustang
Phoenix
Son of Saul
BEST ANIMATED FILM

Anomalisa
Inside Out
The Good Dinosaur
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

FFCC BREAKOUT AWARD
Bel Powley – Diary of a Teenage Girl
Daisy Ridley – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez – Tangerine
Jacob Tremblay – Room
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina and The Danish Girl

Here Are Nominations of the Kansas City Critics!


Sicario_poster

Hi!  We briefly interrupt our nonstop Star Wars coverage to bring you the latest developments in awards season!  First off, the Kansas City Film Critics Circle — the 2nd oldest critical group in America (the National Board of Review is the oldest) — announced their nominations for the best of 2015 and guess what?  They liked one of my favorite movies of the year, Sicario!

BEST PICTURE:
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Room
Sicario
Spotlight

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR:
Alex Garland, Ex Machina
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
Denis Villeneuve, Sicario
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

BEST ACTOR:
Steve Carell, The Big Short
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

BEST ACTRESS:
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Emily Blunt, Sicario
Bel Powley, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Benicio Del Toro, Sicario

Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Ex Machina
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
Sicario
Spotlight
Trainwreck

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
The Big Short
Carol
The Martian
Room
Steve Jobs

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
Anomalisa
Inside Out
Minions
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
The Assassin
Goodnight Mommy
Phoenix
Son of Saul
The Tribe
White God

BEST DOCUMENTARY:
Amy
Best of Enemies
The Look of Silence
Where to Invade Next
The Wrecking Crew

VINCE KOEHLER AWARD FOR BEST SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY or HORROR FILM:
Ex Machina
Goodnight Mommy
It Follows
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian

The Chicago Film Critics Society Rounds Up The Usual Suspects!


 The Chicago Film Critics Society announced their nominations for the best of 2015 yesterday and it’s pretty much the usual suspects, with a few unexpected names tossed in as well!  Check them out below and try not to get on the Mayor’s bad side because I hear he’s one scary guy.

BEST PICTURE
Carol
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Spotlight

BEST DIRECTOR
Todd Haynes–Carol
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu–The Revenant
Tom McCarthy–Spotlight
Adam McKay–The Big Short
George Miller–Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ACTOR
Christopher Abbott–James White
Leonardo DiCaprio–The Revenant
Michael Fassbender–Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne–The Danish Girl
Jason Segel–The End of the Tour

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett–Carol
Brie Larson–Room
Charlotte Rampling–45 Years
Saoirse Ronan–Brooklyn
Charlize Theron–Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Benicio Del Toro–Sicario
Sam Elliott–Grandma
Mark Rylance–Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon–99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone–Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Jason Leigh–Anomalisa
Jennifer Jason Leigh–The Hateful Eight
Cynthia Nixon–James White
Kristen Stewart–Clouds of Sils Maria
Alicia Vikander–Ex Machina

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Bridge of Spies–Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen
Ex Machina–Alex Garland
The Hateful Eight–Quentin Tarantino
Inside Out–Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley
Spotlight–Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Anomalisa–Charlie Kaufman
The Big Short–Adam McKay & Charles Randolph
Brooklyn–Nick Hornby
Room–Emma Donoghue
Steve Jobs–Aaron Sorkin

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Carol–Edward Lachman
The Hateful Eight–Robert RIchardson
Mad Max: Fury Road–John Seale
The Revenant–Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario–Roger Deakins

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Carol–Carter Burwell
The Hateful Eight–Ennio Morricone
Inside Out–Michael Giacchino
It Follows–Disasterpeace
Mad Max: Fury Road–Junkie XL

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Assassin
Brooklyn
Carol
Crimson Peak
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST EDITING
The Big Short–Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road–Jason Ballantine & Margaret Sixel
The Martian–Pietro Scalia
The Revenant–Stephen Mirrione
Spotlight–Tom McArdle

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
The Assassin
The Look of Silence
Phoenix
Son of Saul
White God

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Amy
Cartel Land
The Hunting Ground
The Look of Silence
Where to Invade Next

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Anomalisa
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
The Shaun the Sheep Movie

MOST PROMISING PERFORMER
Christopher Abbott–James White
Bel Powley–The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Geza Rohrig–Son of Saul
Amy Schumer–Trainwreck
Jacob Tremblay–Room

MOST PROMISING FILMMAKER
Alex Garland–Ex Machina
Marielle Heller–The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Josh Mond–James White
Laszlo Nemes–Son of Saul
Bill Pohlad–Love & Mercy

The Detroit Film Critics Announce Their Nominations! Congratulations, Liev Schrieber!


Awards seasons continues as, earlier today, the Detroit Film Critics announced their nominations for the best of 2015!  Like almost all the other film critics groups, Detroit showed a lot of love to Spotlight.  However, unlike previous groups, Detroit did not nominate Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, or Rachel McAdams.  Instead, they nominated Liev Schrieber who, up until this point, had not really figured into the awards race.

If nothing else, the current confusion over who, if anyone, should be nominated for Spotlight might inspire someone to ask why the Academy doesn’t give an award for Best Ensemble.

Another question raised by Detroit: why does the Academy only allow actors to be nominated for one performance per category.  Detroit nominated Alicia Vikander twice for best supporting actress, for both The Danish Girl and Ex Machina.  And why not?  As we saw with Jessica Chastain in 2011, sometimes one performer delivers several great performances in one year.

Here are the Detroit nominations!

BEST FILM

BEST DIRECTOR

BEST ACTOR

  • Christopher Abbott, James White
  • Michael Caine, Youth
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
  • Tom Hardy, Legend

BEST ACTRESS

  • Cate Blanchett, Carol
  • Brie Larson, Room
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
  • Bel Powley, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
  • Saorise Ronan, Brooklyn

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

BEST ENSEMBLE

BREAKTHROUGH

  • Sean Baker, Tangerine (director)
  • Emory Cohen, Brooklyn (actor)
  • Bel Powley, The Diary of a Teenage Girl (actress)
  • Jacob Tremblay, Room (actor)
  • Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl (actress)

BEST SCREENPLAY

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Spotlight and Paul Dano Win At the Gothams


Spotlight

The Gotham Awards were held last night!  Spotlight was the big winner though Paul Dano picked up the supporting actor award for his performance in Love & Mercy.

Best Screenplay
“Carol,” Phyllis Nagy
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” Marielle Heller
“Love & Mercy,” Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner
“Spotlight,” Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer – WINNER
“While We’re Young,” Noah Baumbach

Breakthrough Actor
Rory Culkin in “Gabriel”
Arielle Holmes in “Heaven Knows What”
Lola Kirke in “Mistress America”
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in “Tangerine”
Mya Taylor in “Tangerine” – WINNER

Breakthrough Series – Long Form
“Jane the Virgin,” Jennie Snyder Urman, Creator (The CW)
“Mr. Robot,” Sam Esmail, Creator (USA Network) – WINNER
“Transparent,” Jill Soloway, Creator (Amazon)
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, Creators (Netflix)
“UnREAL,” Marti Noxon, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, Creators (Lifetime)

Best Feature
“Carol”
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
“Heaven Knows What”
“Spotlight” – WINNER
“Tangerine”

Best Documentary
“Approaching the Elephant”
“Cartel Land”
“Heart of a Dog”
“Listen to Me Marlon”
“The Look of Silence” – WINNER

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director
Desiree Akhavan for “Appropriate Behavior”
Jonas Carpigano for “Mediterranea” – WINNER
Marielle Heller for “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
John Magary for “The Mend”
Josh Mond for “James White”

Best Actor
Christopher Abbott in “James White”
Kevin Corrigan in “Results”
Paul Dano in “Love & Mercy” – WINNER
Peter Sarsgaard in “Experimenter”
Michael Shannon in “99 Homes”

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett in “Carol”
Blythe Danner in “I’ll See You in My Dreams”
Brie Larson in “Room”
Bel Powley in “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” – WINNER
Lily Tomlin in “Grandma”
Kristen Wiig in “Welcome to Me”

Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast
Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Brian D’Arcy James for their ensemble work in “Spotlight”

Breakthrough Series – Short Form
“Bee and PuppyCat,” Natasha Alllegri, Creator (Cartoon Hangover)
“The Impossibilities,” Anna Kerrigan, Creator (seriesofimpossibilities.com)
“Qraftish, Christal,” Creator (Blackgirldangerous.com)
“Shugs and Fats,” Nadia Manzoor and Radhka Vaz, Creator (ShugsandFats.TV)
“You’re So Talented,” Sam Bailey, Creator (Open TV)

Paul Dano