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…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

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…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

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.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

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.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …