It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, especially since being joined at Eagles on Pogo Sticks by my assiduous co-blogger, but due to an attack of what the Germans call ‘spring tiredness’ (in the German-speaking world spring makes us tired, not horny) I don’t have entire full-length posts on each of these in me right now. So, without much further ado, here are some thoughts on Japanese child-swapping, Cumberbatch cryptography and teens with superpowers.
Like Father Like Son
I’ve written about Koreeda before; Like Father Like Son is another worthy addition to his filmography. The film’s premise – two families find out that their six-year-old sons were swapped at birth – has been criticised for being too movie-of-the-week, but then, other than his inventive version of what happens after death in After Life, Koreeda’s films are rarely driven by premises as much as by characters. His strengths lie in his talent for quiet observation and his empathy for his protagonists. Ryota, one of the two fathers in Like Father Like Son, a young, ambitious salaryman who finds it easier to push his son to excel than to relate to him emotionally, could easily have been the villain of the piece, and Ryota is often arrogant and disapproving, but in Koreeda’s subtle direction and writing he never loses his humanity or becomes a stereotype. Similarly, while the film admittedly is more interested in fatherhood, the scenes that concentrate on the two mothers give them the necessary space to stand out as complex, interesting individuals. As is often the case in Koreeda’s films, though, it’s especially the child actors that amaze: they are thoroughly believable and real, with none of the preciousness or precocious quality that even good child actors display all too often.
The Imitation Game
I haven’t seen all the recent Academy Award favourites, but of the ones I’ve seen this is the one that brought to mind a word that I find nearly as dismissive and annoying as “pretentious”: Oscar bait. (I haven’t seen The Theory of Everything, which by all accounts is a worse offender in this respect.) There’s a lot to like about The Imitation Game, but it tries so damn hard to be worthy and meaningful. In spite of capable and even strong performances, the film is failed especially by its direction and writing. The former is pedestrian and predictable, exactly what one would expect of a respectable British historical drama; the latter is painfully hamfisted. Its central idea could be straight from a motivational poster and is repeated until it becomes a mantra, becoming more cringe-inducing with each repetition: “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” There’s interesting material there, both in terms of the historical background and the character of Alan Turing, but the film never rises above the quality of its writing, which feels like the work of a B- student in Scriptwriting 101. Also, it is difficult to like a film that has a low esteem of its audience’s intelligence, as this one seems to have: The Imitation Game tends to make the same points repeatedly, as if to make sure that everyone watching it gets it.
One additional note on The Imitation Game: the film has been criticised both for overplaying Turing’s homosexuality and for giving it short shrift. I honestly don’t think that either applies; Turing’s orientation is one aspect of his personality, and it is an important one, yet it is not singled out as his most defining feature. The film doesn’t contain any sex scenes, gay or otherwise, but this fits in with its general polite bloodlessness, rather than speaking to anything more problematic, to my mind. The Imitation Game‘s crime isn’t homophobia so much as its banality and an almost complete lack of subtlety.
On paper, Josh Trank’s film about three teenagers who, after a close encounter with a McGuffinesque glowing rock, find themselves able to move things with their minds reads like a high concept too far: superpowers, teenage pranks, found footage. The movie could easily have ended up straight-to-DVD (or VOD? Not sure what the most fitting term is these days) garbage, but it works due to believable characters, a plot that is simple but effective and strong leads. Michael B. Jordan is no longer the meek Wallace from the first season of The Wire; while he gets less screen time than the other leads, it is clear he is a performer of immense charisma. Meanwhile, Dane DeHaan find the right balance between sympathetic underdog and simmering rage, making him a gender-swapped Carrie for this millennium. Unfortunately, the found-footage-but-not-quite cinematography is both a boon and a bane; it gives Chronicle an immediacy that is very effective, especially when coupled with the characters’ initial uses of their powers that are far from the special effects excesses of most superhero movies, but some of the time it simply doesn’t make much sense that we’d be seeing this footage, so what’s the reasoning behind the format? Nevertheless, Trank’s movie is a smart, interesting genre piece that, together with some of the casting, makes me more interested in his Fantastic Four reboot than that premise – a Fantastic Four reboot, of all things! – ought to be.