Noah Jupe

Honey Boy

24/11/19

This semi-autobiographical tale, written by Shia LaBeouf and directed by Alma Har’el, is clearly the actor’s attempt to exorcise the demons of a troubled relationship with his father, though he’s wisely changed the names of the protagonists. We first meet ‘Otis’ (Lucas Hedges) in 2017, when he’s pursuing a hectic schedule as a movie actor, and abusing drugs and alcohol on a daily basis. When everything spins out of control and he’s involved in an alcohol-fuelled car crash, he’s faced with a stark choice: go into rehab for the PSTD he’s suffering from, or face a four year stretch in jail.

Naturally, he chooses the former option.

From here the film cuts back in time to find Otis, at the age of twelve (and played by Noah Jupe), already working in television. He’s living in a seedy motel with his father, James (LaBeouf), who is a Vietnam veteran, a former rodeo clown and a convicted felon. It’s James’ job to chaperone Otis: make sure turns up for work every morning; go over his lines with him; and try to ensure that his son stays on the straight and narrow. But it’s evident from the word go that James is a pretty terrible example of fatherhood, and in no position to hand out advice to anyone. Indeed, he’s given to dark rages, which he takes out on the boy. As Otis bitterly observes, James is with him for one reason only, because he’s paid to be there.

Having estabished the two versions of Otis, the screenplay cuts nimbly back and forth between them, the twelve-year-old desperately searching for some kind of affection from his old man, the twenty-two-year-old still trying to deal with the messed-up psyche he’s inevitably been left with. Watching this, it’s little wonder that LaBeouf’s own career has been so incendiary. (The screenplay was actually written while he was in rehab.) If there were ever any doubts about the importance of nurture to a growing child, this film underscores its worth in thick black marker pen.

It’s frankly nobody’s idea of a jolly picture, but it’s brilliantly acted by all three of its leads, and Alma Har’el’s vivid, fragmentary style suits the subject admirably, particularly in the short dream sequences that punctuate events, and in which older Otis is still attempting to cross the void that lies between him and his father. While I’m never quite convinced that the angel-faced Noah Jupe could grow up to look like Lucas Hedges, this is a mere detail.

Honey Boy is a powerful, emotive story, expertly told.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Le Mans ’66

20/11/19

It’s strange the way cinema can reel you in to subjects that would normally leave you as cold as the proverbial stone. To me, the idea of watching a real-life 24-hour sports car endurance race rates only slightly higher than listening to the collected speeches of Nigel Farage. But Le Mans ’66 actually manages to engage me – indeed, in places, it has me perched on the edge of my seat, holding my breath and crossing my fingers.

This based-on-real-events movie, scripted by Jez Butterworth (among others) and directed by James Mangold, focuses on the rivalry between the Ford Motor Company and Ferrari in the mid 1960s. It culminates in the famous racing event of the title. (In America, the film is known as Ford vs Ferrari, which – to my mind – feels much more on the button, but we’ll let that one go.)

Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is a former racing driver, reluctantly forced to seek out a  safer occupation (sports car salesman) because of a dangerous heart condition. He is close friends with another driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a cantankerous, tea-swilling Brummie, who – once behind the wheel of a motor car – transforms into an invincible force. Meanwhile, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) is fed up with his cars being regarded as dull. He starts to think about taking on Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) at the sport the latter dominates, with particular regard to the world’s most gruelling race, Le Mans. Shelby is approached to helm the project, but his choice of Miles as his head driver ruffles a few feathers, not least those belonging to Leo Beebe (Josh Miles), a character so oleaginous, he virtually leaves a trail of slime behind him.

The titular racing event beckons, but there’s a lot of work to be done before Shelby and Miles can even get to the starting line, and most of their problems originate from the interfence of  ‘The Suits’ who run Ford.

There are plenty of things in this film’s favour – not least a dazzling turn from Bale, who offers us one of the few truly sympathetic characters in this story. Damon gets the trickier role as the man who has to bottle up his raging inner demons as he tries to maintain the status quo between Miles and his image-obsessed employers. This is the 1960s and it’s still very much a man’s world, so there’s some major league dick-swinging going on from most of the players. Catriona Balfe is therefore a welcome presence as Miles’ wife, Mollie, and young Noah Jupe offers yet another lovely performance as his hero-worshipping son, Peter. But there are perhaps too many scenes where male characters in business suits stubbornly assert themselves, because… well, because they think they know best.

And… with a running time of two hours and thirty-two minutes, it’s hard to prevent the motor racing sequences from feeling a little bit like an endurance test for the audience. It doesn’t matter how brilliantly they are filmed – and trust me, they are – it’s sobering to emerge from the lengthy onslaught of Daytona ’66 only to realise that the film still hasn’t reached the climactic event after which it’s been named. How much punchier would this be if the running time came in at under two hours?

Still, petrolheads are going to have an absolute field day here – and a quick Google search assures me that the catalogue of awful decisions that are arbitarily thrown at Ken Miles really did happen as depicted here. Little wonder he was so cantankerous!

And, if a committed pedestrian like me can emerge from Le Mans ’66 feeling entertained, I’m pretty sure that plenty of others will too.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Wonder

 

 

04/12/17

In the golden age of Hollywood, some films were often described as ‘four-handkerchief-weepies.’ Wonder may qualify as an ‘economy-sized-kleenex-weepie.’ From about fifteen minutes in to its running time I am in a hopeless state, tears pouring copiously down my face and having to make a conscious effort not to sob out loud – and this is a condition  that stays with me pretty much throughout proceedings. Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s best-selling novel launches an all-out attack on the heart strings with devastating results. It’s not that the film is over-manipulative, either. This is just a genuinely sad story, told with great skill, and one that never allows itself to wander too far into the land of mawkishness.

Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, who made such an impact in Room), was born with severe facial deformities. His parents, Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) have been naturally protective of their son, home-schooling him for years, but as he approaches the age to enter fifth grade, Isabel comes to a momentous decision. Auggie needs to go to a proper middle-school, where he at least has a chance to meet new people. He is naturally anxious about this, but eventually accepts his fate and does his best to fit in, painfully aware of the appalled stares of his classmates whenever he enters a room. His life takes a turn for the better when he makes friends with classmate Jack Will (Noah Jupe), but he soon learns that the path of friendship is not always an easy one to negotiate…

Meanwhile, Auggie’s older sister, Via (Isabela Vidovic) goes through some problems of her own, when she loses touch with her long-time best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). Via’s problems simply don’t get the attention that Auggie’s do, but since the death of her closest ally, her much-beloved Grandmother, she has learned that her best option is just to quietly get on with things. Her parents’ attentions are always focused on her brother and she has nobody else to turn to…

Critics could argue that Wonder is a bit of a misery fest – Auggie’s family seems to lurch from one heartbreaking disaster to the next – but it’s done with such warmth and skill, that it’s easy to forgive its occasional excesses and the film’s conclusion is uplifting enough to make you forget the agony that you’ve just been put through. The performances, meanwhile, are uniformly good. Tremblay manages to emote brilliantly despite having to act under layers of latex and Jupe (who was one of the best things in George Clooney’s Suburbicon), clearly has a bright future ahead of him. Lovely too, to see Mandy Patinkin in a small but memorable role as the schools’ head, Mr Tushman. At the end of the day, if weepies are not your thing, then this may not be the film for you. If on the other hand, you’re partial to shedding the occasional tear in the stalls, fill your pockets with tissues and get along to see this at your earliest convenience.

I leave the cinema feeling absolutely destroyed but as anyone will tell you, I’m a proper softie when it comes to this kind of thing. See it and weep.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Suburbicon

07/11/17

A recent viewing of the trailer for Suburbicon led me to observe that the film looked ‘Coenesque’ – so it comes as no great surprise to learn that is actually based around an abandoned 1980s Coen Brothers screenplay, which has been reworked by director, George Clooney and by screenwriter, Grant Heslov. Fans of the brothers grim, may notice a passing similarity to the plot of one of their finest offerings, Fargo. Having said that, this film steers its own course and certainly has plenty to recommend it.

It’s the 1950s and the titular Los Angeles community styles itself as a kind of dream home for middle America, proudly boasting that in its idyllic realm, there is no crime and everybody is welcome – that is until the Mayers family takes up residence. The Mayers , you see, are African-Americans and it’s soon made abundantly clear to them that the all-compassing welcome doesn’t actually apply to them. (It’s interesting to note that this part of the story is based on a real life family, the Myers, who suffered similar problems when they moved into a residence in Charlotteville Virginia in 1957). What starts as a few silent protesters balefully watching their home steadily builds until things degenerate into an all-out riot.

But while everyone’s focus is on the Meyers’ house, it’s clear that something very unpleasant is happening right next door. Young Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe) is woken one night by his father, Gardner (a beefed up Matt Damon) who tells him that a couple of intruders are in the house and he is to do whatever they tell him. As Nicky watches dumbfounded, Gardner, his crippled wife, Rose and her twin sister, Margaret, (both played by Julianne Moore) are all chloroformed to unconsciousness, shortly before he is given the same terrifying treatment. When he wakes up, he learns that Rose has died – and pretty soon, his Aunt Margaret moves into the house to lend her support. Nicky gradually begins to understand that things are not quite as they seem…

One of Suburbicon’s strengths is that much of the story is seen from Nicky’s point of view and the growing realisation that he is living in a poisonous environment is expertly handled. His burgeoning friendship with young Andy Meyers (Tony Espinosa) is also nicely reined in, just two young boys getting amiably along, the message all the stronger for not being hammered home with a mallet. This being a Coen storyline, there are of course a couple of memorable villains (Alex Hassell and Glenn Fleshler, doing a kind of demented Laurel and Hardy routine) and there’s a nice cameo by Oscar Isaac as a snoopy insurance investigator.

As the story accelerates towards its conclusion, we head into Pardoner’s Tale territory, as everyone homes in on the lure of a huge insurance payout – but Nicky (and the Meyers family) are the only characters here who really deserve our compassion, and the film kept me rooting for them right up to the end.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney