Love On The Shattered Lens: The Souvenir (dir by Joanna Hogg)


Well, here we are.  It’s the end of February and tomorrow, March begins.  That also means that it’s time to end Love on the Shattered Lens, our series of reviews of films about the wonders of love.  Tomorrow, it’ll be time to start reviewing films about Spring Break and paranoia, two topics that go together like Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson.  Perhaps Love on the Shattered Lens will return next February.  It’s always hard to say what the future will hold but, by this time, our regular readers should know how much I love tradition.

With all that in mind, our final entry in Love on the Shattered Lens is a film that I personally considered to be the best film to be released last year, The Souvenir.

Taking place in the early 1980s, this independent British film tells the story of Julie (Honor Swinton Byne, the daughter of Tilda Swinton) and Anthony (Tom Burke).  Julie is a film student who hopes to make a documentary about a family living in a slum.  She’s very idealistic and very much concerned about the state of the world.  Though it’s not obvious at first, she’s also extremely naive and rather innocent about the world that she wants to document.  For all of her desire to capture reality on film, there’s much that she had yet to experience.

Anthony is older than Julie, though not too much older.  He’s a handsome, charming man who is always well-dressed and who has what would appear to be an exciting and interesting job with the Foreign Office.  It’s not long after first meeting that Julie and Anthony become lovers.  After her roommates abandon her, Anthony even moves into Julie’s flat.  He seems like he’s perfect, even though observant viewers will automatically have some questions about him.  For instance, if he’s so successful, why is he so quick to move into Julie’s flat?  Why is he always so vague about the details of his job?  He disappears, for one week, to Paris and when he returns, he brings the gift of lingerie.  He claims to have purchased it for her in Paris but was that really where he was?  Later, when Julie notices some strange marks on his arms, Anthony is intentionally vague about what they are.  (Of course, most people people watching the movie will immediately realize that they’re a sign that Anthony is a heroin addict.)  When the flat is broken into and Julie’s jewelry is stolen, we know what’s actually happened even if Julie doesn’t.

Just reading the paragraph above, you’re probably imagining that it’s very easy to hate Anthony but that’s not the case.  Every sign tells Julie that she should get him out her life and yet, it’s not as easy as it seems.  Even after Julie learns the truth about him, she still finds it difficult to just push him aside.  For all of Anthony’s flaws, he’s got the addict’s gift for manipulation and, at times, his love for her does seem to be real, even if it will always be second to his addiction and his need to get a fix.  Much like Julie, the viewer find themselves occasionally falling into the trap of thinking, “If only Anthony wasn’t a drug addict, he would be the perfect for her.”  Of course, the point of the matter is that Anthony is a drug addict and no amount of wishful thinking or fantasizing is going to change that.

The Souvenir is a rather low-key film.  Whenever you expect the film to go for easy drama or a showy shouting match, The Souvenir surprises you by going the opposite direction.  Instead of being a traditional “drugs-are-bad” type of film, it’s a character study of two people dealing with their addictions.  Anthony is addicted to heroin and lying while Julie finds herself addicted not so much to Anthony but instead to the fantasy that Anthony sans drugs represents.  By the end of the film, Julie is sadder but she’s wiser and, if nothing else, she’s a better artist than she was at the start of things.  If nothing else, she’s been forced to start dealing with reality.  The film’s title comes from a painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.  Julie thinks that the girl in the painting looks sad while Anthony says that she looks determined.  By the end of the film, Julie is both sad and determined, just like the subject of The Souvenir.

Director Joanna Hogg has described The Souvenir as being semi-autobiographical.  That said, you don’t have to be an aspiring filmmaker to relate to Julie.  Everyone has had the equivalent of an Anthony in their life, that one thing that you seemingly can’t give up even though you know that you should.  Tom Burke is both charming and heart-breaking as Anthony while Honor Swinton Byrne (in only her second film and her first starring role) gives a fearless performance as Julie.  At times, it seems like it’s impossible not to want Julie and Anthony to find some sort of happiness.  At other times, it seems like it’s just as impossible to forgive them for their flaws.  You get angry at Anthony when he falls back into his addictions and you also get angry at Julie for her inability to accept who Anthony truly is.  But, at the same time, you always feel empathy for them.  You always hope the best for them.  You always wish that they could have met under different circumstances, that things could have been different.

Though the film may be too low-key for some, the quietly powerful The Souvenir is my favorite film of 2019.

Film Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (dir by Mike Mitchell)


Sometimes, it’s hard not to feel that the Lego movies are their own worst enemy.

I mean, they’re just so cute and fun and likable and cheerfully dorky that it’s easy to overlook just clever they often are.  Everything is Awesome may have been a cute song but it was also a pitch perfect parody of mindless conformity.  And yes, The Lego Batman Movie got a lot of laughs out of Will Arnett’s guttural growl but it was also the best Batman film since The Dark Knight and it also had a lot to say about how lonely it can be when you’re an extremely paranoid super hero.  As for The Lego Ninjago Movie …. well, give me a minute and I’ll think of something.  Uhmmmm …. it had that cute kitty!  Woo hoo!

Beyond all that, all of the Lego movies — from the best to the less-than-the-best — celebrate imagination.  They celebrate being an individual and the joy of creating your own world as opposed to just conforming to someone else’s rules.  As much as I loved Chris Pratt as Emmett and Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle, the heart of the first Lego Movie is to be found in the scene where Will Ferrell essentially realizes that he’s being a jerk when he won’t let his son build what he wants to build.

That said, the main appeal of the Lego movies is that they’re incredibly cute.  Just take The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part for instance.  Especially when compared to the first Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, this sequel has its flaws.  Admittedly, some of those flaws are unavoidable.  Just the fact that we start the movie knowing that everyone is in Will Ferrell’s house means that the sequel can’t take us as much by surprise as the first Lego Movie did.  Though the film’s original directors, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, wrote the script and contribute some genuinely witty dialogue, the sequel’s pacing occasionally seems a little bit off.  There’s a few slow spots, the majority of which are really only noticeable when you compare the sequel to the flawlessly paced first film.  And yet, in the end, it’s such a cute movie that it’s easy to overlook those flaws.

The sequel begins immediately where the first ended, with Will Ferrell decreeing that both his son and his daughter are now allowed to play with his Lego collection.  Jump forward five years and this has basically led to chaos.  The Lego Universe is now a Mad Max-style wasteland.  Not surprisingly, both Wylstyle and Batman have really gotten into their new dystopian lifestyle.  Meanwhile, Emmett remains just as blindly cheerful and optimistic as ever.  He still feels that everything is awesome.

Or, at least Emmet feels that way until all of his friends are kidnapped to the Systar System, where Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) wants to marry Batman.  Determined to rescue his friends, Emmett decides to travel to the Systar System himself.  Helping him out is Rex Dangervest, who seems like the type of adventurer that Emmett has always dreamed of becoming.  Chris Pratt voices both Rex and Emmett and the film has a lot of fun playing with Pratt’s post-Guardians of the Galaxy stardom.  Rex is not just an intergalactic explorer.  No, he’s also a cowboy, a dinosaur trainer, an archaeologist, a first baseman, and — we’re told — a script doctor.  (Those, of course, are references to Pratt’s roles in The Magnificent Seven, Jurassic World, and Moneyball.  Interestingly enough, his work in Passengers goes unmentioned.)  Rex pressures Emmett to become more cynical and ruthless in his efforts to save his friends and destroy the Systar System and Chris Pratt does a great job voicing both roles.  Indeed, if nothing else, this film will always stand as a tribute to the incredible and unending charm of Chris Pratt.

If Lego Movie 2 never reaches the glorious heights of the first film, that’s because the element of surprise has been lost.  There’s no moment  in the sequel that’s as memorable as when a live action Will Ferrell suddenly showed up in the first movie.  (In the second movie, Ferrell appears in a flashback and has a brief voice cameo as President Business.  Maya Rudolph does show up as his wife but the sequel’s live action scenes just don’t have the emotional impact of the first film’s.)  But, with all that in mind, it’s still an undeniably cute and entertaining movie.  All of your old favorites back — everyone from Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as Superman and Green Lantern to Alison Brie as Unikitty to Charlie Day as the astronaut. (Sadly, Liam Neeson did not return as the Good Cop/Bad Cop and his absence is felt.)  The film is full of clever parodies, my favorite being the references to Mad Max: Fury Road.  There’s more than enough witty lines, visual gags, and sweet moments that Lego Movie 2 will hold your interest and bring a smile to your face.

At the box office, Lego Movie 2 fell victim to the same Lego fatigue that took down the Lego Ninjago film and it did not become quite the phenomenon that the first movie did.  Regardless, it’s still a worthy sequel.  I wouldn’t quite say it’s awesome but it’s definitely a lot of fun.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Watch (dir. by Akiva Schaffer)


Earlier today, Jeff and I went down to the AMC Valley View and saw the new sci-fi comedy The WatchThe Watch has been getting universally negative reviews and it’s proving to be a bit of a bust at the box office (including Jeff and me, there were about 10 people at the showing we saw) but it was still a film that I was looking forward to seeing.  This is largely because the film stars three actors — Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, and Vince Vaughn — who are rarely popular with film critics but who almost always seem to find a way to make me laugh.

In The Watch, Ben Stiller plays a suburbanite who deals with his frustrating existence by forming clubs and obsessing over his job as the manager of the local Costco.  (Costco, by the way, is actually a major plot point in the overall film and I would say that close to 60% of the actual film either takes place in Costco or involves characters talking about how much they love Costco.  Unlike a lot of critics, I’m not morally offended by blatant product placement but, even for me, The Watch went a little bit overboard with all the Costco hype.)  Wen the security guard at the Costco is brutally murdered, Stiller decides to form a neighborhood watch so that he can track down the killer.  After giving an impassioned speech at a high school football team, Stiller is able to recruit three more members of the neighborhood watch.  Vince Vaughn is a goofy guy who is overprotective of his daughter.  Jonah Hill is a psycho with a knife and a frustrated desire to be a policeman.  And Richard Ayoade is … well, he’s kinda strange but that’s explained away by the fact that he’s apparently English.

And together, they solve crimes!

The solution in this case is that the suburbs have been invaded by aliens.  Those aliens have a diabolical plan of their own and it’s up the Neighborhood Watch to stop them.  And did I mention that all of this somehow involves Costco? 

Because it totally does.

I think The Watch can best be summed up in one word: Forgettable.   It’s not a great film but it has a few funny moments.  Director Akiva Schaffer got his start directing comedic short films for Saturday Night Live and that’s pretty much the same approach that he brings to The Watch.  Every scene feels like a self-contained short film and the end result is a wildly uneven movie that never finds a consistent tone or really seems to be sure just what type of story it’s trying to tell.  The mix of raunchy comedy, sci-fi drama, and sentimental bromance never quite gels and, as a result, watching the film almost feels like being forced to try to concentrate on three different movies at once, never being allowed to truly focus on a single one of them.  

However, taking all of that into account, I still have to say that I laughed out loud several times during The Watch.  I may not have laughed quite as much as the 300 lbs. gentleman, sitting two rows behind us, who sounded as if he might choke to death every time Vince Vaughn delivered the line, “It feels like cum,” but I still laughed.  The Watch is a funny movie.  Quite frankly, with a cast like this, there’s no way that the movie couldn’t have been funny.  The main thing that I love about watching Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill is the way that both of them bring an almost earnest sincerity to even the most ludicrous of roles.  As a result, Hill and Vaughn are actors who can get laughs out of even the weakest of jokes and they certainly get a oppurtunity to prove it in The Watch.  Meanwhile, Ayoade gives a wonderfully bizarre performance, scoring a lot of laughs just from being so consistently odd.  Ben Stiller does his usual uptight suburbanite routine and makes a good straight man for his 3 co-stars.  The Watch is at its best when it just lets its four stars hang out and play off of each other.

For such a forgettable film, The Watch has been the subject of some controversy.  The film was originally titled Neighborhood Watch until, earlier this year, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a member of a real life neighborhood watch.  The title was changed to avoid being “insensitive.”  Regardless of the film’s title, I have to admit that I did cringe a little at a rather lengthy joke that involved the film’s heroes — all wearing their “neighborhood watch” jackets — firing several bullets into the body of an apparently dead alien.  That said, The Watch is ultimately neither pro nor anti-neighborhood watch.  In the end, the only thing that the film seems to truly believe in is the universal importance of Costco.