Skip to main content

That’s terrific. Everything is terrific.

The Skeleton Twins
(2014)

(SPOILERS) Another entry in the burgeoning field of comedy actors receiving kudos for testing their serious thesping chops in indie dramedies. Craig Johnson’s second feature, aboutg twins reuniting in the midst of deep personal disarray, is well observed but deeply unremarkable. What lifts it are the performances of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, evidencing, if any was needed, that they can bring the genuine and sensitive with the same accomplishment as their more familiar larking about.


Johnson and Mark Heyman (Black Swan) set up a tantalising “unbeknownst” opener that never really follows through with the gumption it might; synchronicitously, Magggie (Wiig) is about to take a load of pills just as she gets a call that Milo (Hader), whom she hasn’t seen in a decade, has been hospitalised following a suicide attempt.


The picture’s ensuing touchstones are a mixture of the recognisably drama-feeding (lives that never explored their potential; a home broken when their father committed suicide; a sister stuck in boring but reliable marriage to Lance (Luke Wilson), conducting impulsive affairs; a flamboyantly gay brother failing at his acting career) but occasionally surprises.


The subplot involving Milo’s illicit relationship with a former teacher (Ty Burrell) doesn’t play out quite as expected; while Maggie points to the fact that Milo was fifteen at the time and he constitutes a child molester, the most condemnatory behaviour we see is that he only really lets Milo back into his life in order to get his script passed on to Milo’s agent (a succinct means of illustrating that he was and is using Milo).


Lance is the very definition of dependable, but in Wilson’s capable hands he gradually becomes something more (his improvised conversation with Maggie about his shoes, “a hybrid of shoes and a foot”). There’s a scene with their mother (Joanna Gleeson) that probably overdoes the flaky New Ager who has zero interest in her former life (she has a new family), but is effective nevertheless (“I’m sending you the light”). It goes to the heart of the picture, that no one lives their dream life, but neither burying nor wallowing in troubles represents a path through the minefield.


As ever with movies off this ilk, resorting to shorthand clichés renders it less effective. You know the type of thing; childhood flashbacks, music montages, set piece bonding scenes. Milo working for Lance and picking up twigs delicately, rather than armfuls of branches, does indeed identify him as (in his own words) “another classic gay cliché”. The Halloween dress-up as a recreation of their childhood, only to be interrupted by Maggie realising Milo has resumed a relationship with her Rich (his teacher) runs the well-oiled route of comedy to drama and suffers from such calculation; the symbolism with the dead goldfish, saving Maggie in the pool, or the reversal of who’s driving who (coming to who’s rescue) at the end is also less than subtle. Still, the Sundance jury must have thought it was doing something very right as they gave it Best Screenplay.


As such, it’s the improvised moments that shine, as the naturalness of the stars is allowed to break out (the Marley and Me conversation, nitrous oxide in the dental office) The glorious highlight is Milo and (an initially reluctant) Maggie miming to Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.


Hader probably has the more difficult job, required to walk a line in not falling back on the merely campy. Wiig might be more impressive though, as she is required to rein it in for much of the time. To Johnson’s credit, he’s unafraid of depicting less than likeable protagonists following their own self-centred paths, others around them be damned.


While the picture is guilty at times of over statement, it allows itself the subtlety of action rather than illustration in arriving at a point where these two can only be whole by being together. Less venerable is the general trend to formula indie fare, whereby pictures follow the same equivalent beats of the big Hollywood comedies; for all its presumed edginess a picture like The Skeleton Twins is ultimately playing things just as safe.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…

You stole my car, and you killed my dog!

John Wick (2014)
(SPOILERS) For their directorial debut, ex-stunt guys Chad Stahelski and David Leitch plump for the old reliable “hit man comes out of retirement” plotline, courtesy of screenwriter Derek Kolstad, and throw caution to the wind. The result, John Wick, is one of last year’s geek and critical favourites, a fired up actioner that revels in its genre tropes and captures that elusive lightning in a bottle; a Keanu Reeves movie in which he is perfectly cast.

That said, some of the raves have probably gone slightly overboard. This is effective, silly, and enormous fun in its own hyper-violent way, but Stahelski and Leitch haven’t announced themselves stylistically so much as plastered the screen with ultra-violence and precision choreography. They have a bit of a way to go before they’re masters of their domain, and they most definitely need to stint on their seemingly insatiable appetite for a metalhead soundtrack. This kind of bludgeoning choice serves to undercut the action a…