Films

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

me-earl-dying-girl-1

I was apprehensive about seeing this 2015 festival favourite from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon based on Jesse Andrews’ novel. It was another film about teenagers and cancer, like that Fault In Our Stars thing that I actively avoided a while back. Call me cold-hearted but I have no interest in two kids falling in love before dying melodramatically under a pop soundtrack. But this one was free, so I thought it couldn’t hurt.

And boy, am I glad I gave it a chance! The movie follows high school senior Greg (Thomas Mann) as he blends perfectly into the background managing to avoid the attention of every group in the school. His parents are a couple of odd-balls and his friend (or “co-worker” as Greg prefers) Earl, played by RJ Cyler, seems to have nothing in common with him, other than a love for movies. They make their own awful, pun-laden remakes just like I did when I was their age.

When classmate and vague acquaintance Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with leukaemia Greg’s mother all but forces him to hang out with her, for company. Reluctantly, Greg gets past Rachel’s amorous, tiddly, suffering mum to the awkward safety of Rachel’s room where friendship blossoms. This isn’t a romance, as Greg keeps telling us. This is a film about friends and selfishness and unappreciated creativity. Filled with hilarious moments of gentleness, cloaked in warmth and melancholy sadness, something this “cancer film” isn’t is mawkish, morbid or exploitative.

The film isn’t about much, other than three thrown-together friends doing their best to fill the boring, dwindling days before a tragedy they all expect but never mention. Stand-out scenes – when described in summary – read like substandard American Pie sequel set-pieces, but don’t let that put you off: You won’t see funnier then Greg and Earl accidentally on drugs, or sweeter than the terrible movies they make (“Eyes Wide Butt” anyone?). The film is a joy.

The performances from the Main Three are superbly understated. Cooke’s “dying girl” is heartbreaking without ever being manipulative. The changes she instils in Mann’s self-hating teen nobody “Me” happen almost without you noticing. Cyler’s “Earl” is the perfect third wheel; the director of Greg and Rachel’s own little real-life film. I was thrilled with each and every performance in the movie. You couldn’t get better.

If you’re looking for a story that’s happy to let expansive, exploratory dialogue and hard-hitting, meaningful setting slide to the wayside in favour of a more realistic mundanity and awkwardness then this is the film for you. There’s no need for snappy back-and-forth it-means-something-to-us secret greetings when you’ve got the ability to devolve into a subhuman state when things get too much. Sometimes pretending to die is all you need to do to take the edge off the real thing.

I adored “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl”. There’s nothing over the top about it. There’s nothing manipulative or mawkish. Every beat of the story takes you closer to an inevitable end and yet you still trust what you’re told! That’s the power of the characters in this beautiful, ugly gem. Outstanding. Please see it when you can.

★★★★★

Advertisements

The Lego Advert… I mean Movie.

IIIFz

So last night I finally watched The Lego Movie and, to be honest, it was exactly as I expected it to be. Sure, it’s occasionally funny (though not LOL-worthy), it’s really well made and there’s a sort of message there too. But what message there is – Be Creative! seems to sum it up, really – is overshadowed by the hypocrisy of the whole thing.

So, it’s a sort of anti-big-business, champion of free-thinking metaphor stretched to almost-breaking point, I don’t think anyone can disagree with that. But it’s also a catalyst for exactly that which it seems to denounce. The plot sees an ordinary, generic-faced Lego man team up with all manner of “Master Builders” to defeat evil Lord Business (honest) who plans to use the “Kragle” (a tube of super glue – Kra–gl-e = KrazyGlue with some of the letters rubbed off…) to freeze the Lego world in permanent, ordinary tableau. Emmett the Lego man has to break his conditioning – a rigid adherence to the instructions for every aspect of Lego Life instilled by an homogeneous media controlled by Lord Business – to Be Creative and save the day by, well, putting the lid on the glue bottle.

So far so meh-with-a-few-good-bits. But the people helping him are special – Batman, a wizard, Dumbledore, Superman, a Pirate, Gandalf, Green Lantern, Wonderwoman etc. Basically, loads of characters from Lego’s recent glut of video games. Okay, maybe the point is that they’ve escaped the prison of their own Lego sets to join forces and Be Creative but I saw it as “and we sell Lego Batman and we sell Lego Pirates and we sell Lego DC Characters and we sell Lego Lord of the Rings and we sell Lego Harry Potter…” and so on. That’s an advert. There’s even a bit where, when the team is introduced, they show stills of OTHER Lego sets available to buy but not deemed popular enough for the film (they even make a gag about it) which, for me, is one advertising-opportunity-grabbed too far.

This and, among the fluff and bluster of the “plot” where Business is the Bad Guy, continued mentions of, well, businesses and their products – KrazyGlue and Apple iPhone among others – I was left feeling a bit like the reader of one of those “How To Stay Safe Online” booklets produced by a particular ISP which say “the best thing you can do is buy all our anti-virus stuff and sign up to expensive monthly contracts with us – yep, then no harm will come of you online!”. I felt like I was being spoon-fed an antidote to a poison made by the fella feeding me, even an antidote laced with the poison it is meant to protect against!

I haven’t looked, but it can’t be long before we get an Official Lego Movie Lego Set, with instructions telling you how to build those wonderful, creative, free-built wonders from the film. Or a Lego Movie video game where you aren’t able to free-build and the only locations are those already shown on-screen. Or a Lego set with a little generic-faced Lego man in a construction uniform – like the millions already available – but this one has a quirky smile on his face and “Emmett” on the box so is £15 more expensive – because it’s a collector’s item!

The best bit of the film was the live action sequences that show a young boy playing with the wonderfully-elaborate “Lego Model City” his uptight Dad has built in the basement; cue parallels and revelations too obvious to put into words here. Those bits were nice! We saw kids playing with Lego! Well, A kid. And his dad. A boy kid and his dad. Two males playing with Lego and having fun. And that’s an advert for Lego, isn’t it? Which you’ve paid the best part of a tenner to sit in the cinema and watch…

…and when, at the end of the film, the dad suggests bringing the boy’s little sister down to play it seems that her horrific creations are “The New Villains”… Is that okay? Is that fair? Isn’t it all about Being Creative? I was confused. And a little appalled.

All in all, if you aren’t looking for a message, don’t care about the manipulative powers of advertising and don’t mind the fact that you’ve paid to see a two-hour advert for Lego – and it is that, it absolutely is – then The Lego Movie should entertain, as it did me for the most part. But if, like me, your enjoyment is likely to be tainted by the whiff of manipulation and hypocrisy as Lego tries to convince you that it’s different to all the other companies, like a shiny, plastic abusive spouse, then you’re likely to have enjoyed my review. Thanks for reading.

Selma

selma-bridge

Selma tells the story of Martin Luther King and the struggle for a black vote, centred around the marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. As with any historical film based on fact, there’s always a little wiggle-room for drama.

Although this story has all the drama required. The black population of Selma was continuously trodden on by everyone from racist local officials to the president himself. And this movie captures the cruel, violent injustice of the whole thing very well.

Leading the cast as King is British actor David Oleyowo who is outstanding. In fact, the whole cast shone. It would be further injustice (not on the same scale, I concede) if this movie doesn’t clean up at every awards ceremony it gets a nomination at.

I got to see this movie one week before release thanks for my fiancée’s wily internet know-how and I was swept along by this tale of hardship, struggle and persistence. A violent, disturbing film for a 12A certificate, but an important one. You should see this movie. Out now.