The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Directed by Stephen Chbosky

“You see things and you understand. You’re a wallflower.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the book, was written by American author Stephen Chbosky. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the film, was written and directed by American author and director Stephen Chbosky. Here we have the wettest  of wet dreams for any literature/film lover, the ultimate prize: an author actually directing their own story. I still can’t believe it, myself. The story is one we think we know quite well. Logan Lerman plays protagonist Charlie, an introverted teenager who begins his freshman year of high school burdened with his ambiguous past, but hopeful for a new start. (Spoilers)

The film begins with Charlie anonymously writing a letter to an unidentified source. While this theme doesn’t continue on as consistently as it should, the viewer gets the feeling that these letters are the framework in which the story is being told. Charlie’s first connection is with his English teacher, Bill, played by Paul Rudd. Here, literature becomes an important theme, and one the continues throughout the film. Bill begins to give Charlie books outside of class assignments, on which Charlie writes essays. Some of these books were classics like, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and finally J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Ryewhich Bill gives to Henry to keep.

The Smiths

As relationships to adults in this film go, this particular one is the brightest and most benevolent, and it is offset by rather morose ones. Paul Rudd is believable, and as usual makes a remarkable and very fluid transition from comedy to drama. There was a very nice intellectual and cultural element to the film. Other than the numerous references to famous literary idols, music was rather significant. The Smiths in particular connected Sam and Charlie. They even get into some culty stuff with Rocky Horror Picture Show. I don’t know about you all, but I wish my friend and I would have put on lip-syncing productions of Rocky Horror in high school. For those of us who love Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Rocky Horror, and The Smiths, you will feel a tinge of satisfaction from all the scenes these things are celebrated in.

Sam: Welcome to the island of misfit toys.

The performances from the younger actors in this film were something of great fascination. After a brief interaction at a football game Charlie gets sucked into a whirlwind of teenage whimsy and happenstance with the flamboyantly gay Patrick (played by Ezra Miller) and the luminescent Sam (played by Emma Watson). The introduction of these characters prompts a boost in the film’s tempo and provokes a rapidly evolving chain of events that

Logan Lerman as “Charlie” and Emma Watson as “Sam”

eventually leads to revelatory events and confessions. The characters of Patrick and Sam, who are step-siblings, are crucial to Charlie’s growth, and, interestingly enough, his eventual unraveling. Ezra Miller, unknown to most audiences, gave a surprisingly emotional performance. Melancholy is something that most actors are trained to relate, but Patrick is a comedic character whose eventually is faced with a dilemma so destructive that even he dissolves into sadness. Miller’s portrayal of the wounded comedian is an expert one. Watson, on the other hand, also delivers a performance that deserves to be remarked upon. While her American accent isn’t all the way there yet, Watson manages an honest performance. Her character is idealized by Charlie, and through his eyes she is a goddess of sorts. There is one particular scene, wherein she is standing in the back of a moving truck, with her arms spread and her chest open. The idea is that she is supposed to seem ethereal, and she does indeed, most likely as a result of Watson’s ability to deliver captivating, yet subtle, emotion through stillness. Similarly to the performances of Miller and Watson, Lerman utterly transforms into Charlie. With every word or movement you felt his tension, his hesitation, his shame and his desperate hopes. His performance is uniquely captivating, because its familiarity prompts an espousing of empathy.

Sam: Why do I and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we’re nothing?
Charlie: We accept the love we think we deserve.

All the stories within Charlie’s story become very important as the film progresses. First he witnesses his sister being hit by her boyfriend. Then he becomes aware of Patrick’s relationship with Craig, a football player whose true sexuality is a secret. Then Sam confides in him about being molested when she was younger, and all of this is told with intermediate ambiguous flashbacks of Charlie’s Aunt Helen whose mysterious presence in the storyline is unexplained and vaguely haunting for most of the film. Following these revelations things begin to unravel. There is a particular scene between Charlie and Patrick, where Patrick’s comedic facade finally disintegrates, and in a moment of

Ezra Miller as “Patrick” and Logan Lerman as “Charlie”

confused vulnerability he kisses Charlie. This scene is perhaps the most gentle and kind scene in the entire film. Afterwards he apologizes and embraces Charlie, who receives his embrace and assures him that it’s ‘okay’. Miller shines most in this scene, when the gravity of teenage blues bite down on young tongues and the triumph and folly of youth are magnified in an emotionally charged moment. These sad affairs all culminate in Charlie’s hospitalization, after his friends leave to college and he’s left alone with his nightmares, which we eventually come to understand as his being molested by his Aunt Helen when he was a child, and her subsequent death. Charlie’s pain, communicated masterfully through Lerman, was realized through his need to rid others of their pain. That it, the downside to being a wallflower: powerlessly observing the pain of others.

Charlie: Because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. And there are people who forget what it’s like to be 16 when they turn 17. I know these will all be stories someday. And our pictures will become old photographs. We’ll all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening, I am here…

Possibly the best thing about this movie is that it does not belittle the troubles of young people. High school, adolescence, is arguably one of the most impactful times in any person’s life. In this way, Perks has a way of communicating a message so fundamental that the viewer cannot help but connect to it. Your story may not be the same, but the essence is the very same. Chbosky brings to life in this film what he brought to life with the book. He made something that taps into collective human trauma, and in doing so helped undo some of the knots that we sometimes have in our hearts. Some of our greatest quandaries are not from what we do not know, but from what we’ve known and never come to understand. Perks is pain and it is clarity.

Charlie: You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.

Rating: 8.9/10


Candy (2006)

“When you can stop, you don’t want to. When you want to stop, you can’t.”

Stopping and starting and changing and losing and gaining and finding and being lost. All things that director Neil Armfield attempts to translate onto film with Candy, a film adaptation of author Luke Davies Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction. The film stars late actor, and man of legend, Heath Ledger.

Directed by Neil Armfield

Alongside Ledger is another couple of beloved Aussies, Abbie Cornish and our favorite old queen, Geoffrey Rush. Spoilers are drawing nigh.

Candy is the story of a young drug addicted poet named Dan (Heath Ledger) who falls in love with a young artist named Candy (Abbie Cornish). His drunk, vagrant charm draws her into a vortex of romance and heroine addiction. They’re relationship goes the way of destruction from then on.

Seeing as this film is based on a novel, I want to make it clear that I have not read said novel and can only judge the quality of the film alone. That being said, I thought that there was a cog missing. It may have been the dialouge, overwrought in places. Or maybe the pacing of the film, which seemed a bit rocky (which perhaps could have been a way to illustrate the nature of the main characters’ relationship). I enjoyed the story. I think it could have benefited from some added ingredients, such as a prelude (however brief) to the madness that was Dan and Candy’s relationship. An explanation, or even an ambiguous reference to Dan’s parentage and childhood. For a movie driven by characters there seemed to be too many missed opportunities to develop them. That, however, did not stop the cast from knocking it the fuck out of the park. So let’s begin with those brilliant bastards.

DanThere’s no going back. If you’re given a reprieve, I think it’s good to remember just how thin it is. 

This film has a certain allure, for me at least, because it features a prematurely deceased, brilliant, actor whose skillfully crafted performances have been made more haunting since his departure. This particular film is resonant because Ledger died of a drug overdose, a fate that both Dan and Candy constantly face. Ledger’s performance was another great addition to the impressive, albeit incomplete, resume he left behind. Ledger has the skill of completely embedding himself into a character. He is the smallest doll in a matryoshka doll set, and his containers are all character. He makes the viewer feel as though they are witnessing a string of private moments. With posture like an old scarecrow and a smile faithfully crooked, Ledger was a clean white bed sheet strung up on a wall with the character of Dan swirling on a film reel nearby, projected plainly onto it.

Abbie Cornish and Heath Ledger

Elaine Wyatt: What happened to that beautiful little girl? 
Candy: What happened? What happened? Can’t you see? Don’t you understand? I have been clenching my fucking fists since I was six years old!

Having not seen Abbie Cornish in any other leading role I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe my complete lack of expectations contributed to this, but she was brilliant. In terms of the script she was responsible for delivering some of the heavier dialogue, and she did so magnificently. She can do much more with a down-turned eye and cotton white panties than most actresses can do with full a make-up crew and a million dollar style budget.

Dan: Casper was like the dad you always wanted – the one who lets you have lollies and fizzy drink, who lets you stay up and watch the late night movies. 

Geoffrey Rush (Casper) as a homosexual heroine cook. It was brilliant, I must say. There’s something in all of us that needs to see Geoffrey Rush be a homosexual on screen, and the satisfaction from having finally seen it is my own personal “yellow jesus.” His character hints at something not entirely approached in the story, but the mystery adds to the impact of his fate, and to its affect on Dan.

Academy Award Winner Heath Ledger as Dan

There were shining scenes. The scenes when they were most intimate, which were enhanced by the fantastic connection between Ledger and Cornish. The withdrawal scenes. The scene when Dan is reading Candy’s story on the wall was a particularly powerful moment in the story. The film had some very precious moments.

But the film suffered at the hands of a director who did not properly judge which plot points to emphasize and which to let creep in slowly. Maybe even experimentation with chronology would have improved it; Armfield had all the pieces, he just didn’t know where to put them. Where Armfield did succeed was in terms of atmosphere. The film felt clenched, which is often a bi-product of first person narration, but Armfield made it as though the life Dan and Candy lead was the only life, save brief encounters with Candy’s parents when the couple looked sick and rattled by comparison. This spoke to the nature of addiction. The thrill and the hunt. The high and the low.

This film was best in it’s quietest scenes. Unfortunately Armfield didn’t always know when to be quiet.

Rating: 4/10

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

“If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal… you become something else entirely. A legend, Mr. Wayne, a legend!”

Directed by Christopher Nolan

This piece of dialogue encapsulates the very nature of the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan’s ability to compose a plot, a simple sequence of events, outclasses that of any other action movie of TDKR’s kind. This film was the culmination of everything great about Nolan as a director, and everything great about the Batman movies thus far. All things considered, it could not be any better.  Spoilers ahead. And don’t even think about reading this before you see it, because I will haunt your dreams if you do. Good then. I should also mention that Nolan is one of my favorite directors, so.

For me, going to see a Marvel/DC Comics movies is always an event. Actually watching the movie is only one part of the process. It begins when I prepare myself to see the movie, and in this case that included adjusting my expectations. What was I expecting to see? What did I want to see? This proved essential. As I shake my head gratifyingly at the flurry of Facebook posts by my friends, whose reviews betray every bit of their disappointment in the film, I think to myself ‘they’ve gone and ruined it for themselves’. This is important to state before I truly review this movie, if you go see The Dark Knight Rises with the hope that it will top The Dark Knight you will be disappointed. Now, if you go in looking for the end of a trilogy (what the movie is actually supposed to be, instead of a desperate Nolan trying to convince everyone that he can top his masterpiece) you will be pleased, and pleasantly surprised. You’ll see the light and you’ll make the leap, but we’ll get to that.

The Dark Knight Rises sports one hot and spicy cast. It’s like the cast of Inception but Leo and Ellen are on sick leave. Christian Bale returns, crippled, but in better shape acting-wise than ever (and his body). The gentleman’s club that is comprised of Michael Cane, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman (with brief hints of Liam Neeson) is back, and more distinguished and intense than ever. Then we’ve got newcomers to the story, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, and Tom Hardy. Sometimes when there are too many famous and beloved actors in one film it becomes sort of a dying star. But Nolan allocates time and focus to these characters so well that their talents are completely optimized, making for a stupendously acted film.

Tom Hardy was fantastic as Bane. I mean The Joker is not to be followed. He has to be at least in the top 3 most beloved comic book villains of all time; that along with the fact

Tom Hardy as Bane

that Heath Ledger gave one of the best performances of all time. So in a way Tom Hardy had the toughest job of all: being the villain to follow The Joker. His swollen muscles and menacingly croaky voice instilled a bit of fear in me, I must say. I was impressed. Anne Hathaway was also quite delicious as Catwoman. Some, who no doubt remember her doe eyed roles in movies like The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada, thought she couldn’t pull off the role of a sexy sleuth. I daresay she proved them wrong.

Catwoman (Selina Kyle): There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne.

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman

Nolan was faced with one of the greatest struggles a film maker can come up against. Supplying a follow-up to a smash hit. It was enough to stress me out for years, so I can’t imagine his ordeal. The thing is, if he’d tried to create another Dark Knight, in other words give us the same things but amplify them, this movie would have been a failure. But clever as he is, instead of trying to one up himself he actually told the damn story. On a larger scale, with bigger stakes and a greater, more pertinent integration of character development in our protagonist: Batman.

The crisis of Bruce Wayne has been a common theme in this character from its inception (pun intended). In this film Bruce is presented to us as a recluse, having been stunted by the loss of Rachael, his childhood friend, great love, and his key to escaping the trap that is his life as Batman. He only ‘rises’ from his seclusion when it becomes clear that Bane is a serious threat to Gotham, at which point Nolan introduces the first step in his dismantling of Wayne’s world (geddit?): the departure of Alfred Pennyworth. In Alfred’s departure we lose, along with

Christian Bale and Michael Caine

Wayne, a constant comfort. Along with Alfred goes the bit of happiness Wayne was holding on to: the plan of another life with Rachael. Quickly following was Nolan’s second step in developing the Wayne crisis: the shooting and hospitalization of Tinker Tailor Soldier Commissioner Gordon. These losses are followed by the loss of Wayne’s fortune, at the hands of Bane. So at this particular juncture in the story, Batman has lost his one unyieldingly dedicated servant, lost the bit of Rachael he was holding on to, faces the loss of his trusted ally in the police force, and lost an essential part of what even makes him a superhero: his money. The theme of loss continues from the previous film, into this one. What Nolan is doing is genius. When it starts to look like Wayne has nothing, when her enters the action film’s sweet sweet ‘protagonist with nothing to lose’ spot, whose lack of fear of death and consequences will win him victory, just when Nolan gets Wayne into that spot he takes a sharp left and revisits the glory that was Batman Begins.

Bane: I am Gotham’s reckoning.

I’ve always felt that with all the hype around The Dark Knight (well deserved hype), Batman Begins has become terribly underrated. I’m an avid book reader before a film watcher, and I’ve noticed in my travels that people tend to favor the middle of a story. The beginning is slow and deliberate. It supplies a lot of information, but not a lot of excitement. The middle is pure excitement, rising action, and mystique. But the middle can only be that if the beginning is just right, and if the end ties everything together. The Dark Knight is the quarterback of the trilogy. People will always love it the most and even if they understand the importance of the other two, they won’t car because ‘Hey! Look! The Joker!’. I personally have a great fondness for Batman Begins. For that reason, I appreciate Nolan revisiting the beginning in order to tell the end. I appreciate seeing Wayne get stripped down to the bare bones of his past, til’ it literally comes back and stabs him between the ribs. TDKR was an allusion to the intrigue of Batman Begins. Any good story must grapple with its beginning in order to come to an end.

As usual, the movie offered plenty to follow. Nolan knows how to keep the minds of his audience busy. You’ve got Catwoman (played by a saucy Anne Hathaway) in one corner trying to settle the score with the ‘wrong people’. You’ve got Commissioner Gordon Jr., John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who becomes Batman’s partner in crime (wink wink wink wink…..nudge). You’ve got Bane running around inciting angry mobs, and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) trying to pick up the pieces. You’ve got Bruce struggling to escape exile and eventual execution. There’s the usual power grabby nonsense and general discord in the police force (even on a national scale this time). All the while here I am picturing poor Alfred hopelessly tilling a garden in Florence, hoping Bruce will come by wearing a tweed jacket, carrying a basket of fresh fruits and sporting a smile as wide as the lawn of Wayne Manor.

Batman: A hero can be anyone.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Detective John Blake

The heart of this movie lies in its classic moments of realization, character development and atonement.When Catwoman saves the kid with the apple. When Deputy Commissioner Foley races to the streets in his dress blues. When a story of love and heroism is unraveled through the story’s villains, Bane and Miranda Al Ghul. When Bruce realizes his lack of fear of death is an obstacle rather than a weapon; when he finally escaped his exile by making the leap across that chasm. The jarring moment when Commissioner Gordon finally realizes that Batman is Bruce Wayne. These are all what the story is all about. The confused nature of good and evil. The dilemma of allegiance to ideals. The realization that comes with total loss. The products of desperation. All human stories told within a superhero action movie.

The story seemed as if it was going to end on a very low note. Then this one cool thing happened* (*a series of cool things). The set-up nearly made me piss myself. Suddenly the inclusion of Joseph Gordon-Levitt made sense. That part I won’t spoil. But just know, it is pretty exciting.

The Dark Knight Rises is the end of, possibly, the best superhero story yet. Not even a Superman preview before the film could distract from the last of the greatest action film trilogy ever.

Rating: 10/10

I’d like to close this review by taking a moment to address the shooting that happened at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. When I awoke this morning and turned on CNN the first thing I saw was the news of the murder of what at that time was believe to be 14 people. The coverage on this story is through the roof, so I imagine most people have heard what happened. For those who haven’t, feel free to read a version of the story here.

My heart aches for the victims and all pe0ple present for this sickening, nonsensical, violent act. There isn’t much to say that seems worth saying in response to so grizzly an attack, but I hope those people feel the love all around this country for them. I hope the gunman faces repercussions and ultimately finds balance within himself.


“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” (Charles Dickens)

July 20th, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Directed by Wes Anderson

“I hope the roof flies off and sucks me into space.”

Said Walt Bishop, played by a classic from the Wes Anderson arsenal, Bill Murray. Wes Anderson’s latest work of divine theatre, Moonrise Kingdom does something that his previous films have come quite close to, but have never fully succeeded at. That thing can only be fully described through the rat maze of ramblings that are about ensue. Proceed at your own peril. [SPOILER ALERT]

MK had a cast that anyone with eyes and a brain would die for. Bill Murray is a fucking champ. Tilda Swinton is her own magnificent species of bird. Jason Schwartzman, like Murray, is an Anderson trademark. Sprinkle our visitors from the A-List, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Harvey Keitel on top of that and we have some sort of strange moth ball filled sundae. With nutmeg.

Walt Bishop: What am I looking at here?

Laura Bishop: He does watercolors. Mostly landscapes. Some nudes.

In addition to from the wondrous cast, the film features Anderson’s famous panoramic landscapes and wide shots brought to life with blindingly colorful impact, the likes of which Dr. Suess himself would have tipped his hat to. The fantastic thing about this is that somehow there is another story happening that can only be communicated through color, and contrast, and framing. As if the film could be watched without sound and become another thing entirely.

Wes Anderson has a way of confronting the viewer with demanding, yet accessible framing/imagery. Every scene looks like a picture. Character stare into the lens. They look into you, and you look back. It’s strange actually. Almost interactive. And utterly engaging. When Suzy (Kara Hayward) looks through her binoculars, she is looking at you. Or you are looking with her.

Sam: I love you but you have no idea what you are talking about.

Kara Hayman and Jared Gilman

The love story of Suzy and Sam is one that will become classic. It’s timeless, in that it documents the experience of falling in love. It is the story of two people in love, two people that happen to be children, that misunderstand themselves, are misunderstood by their peers and guardians, and that misunderstand each other. All that, and you somehow watch and get the feeling that you’ve misunderstood your own life. Misunderstood what it means to be happy, and close to another person.

The role the adults in the film play is very interesting. Wes Anderson has successfully found a way to validate the children, through telling their story from their point of view, and by mobilizing the story around them. But he has done that without reducing the adults to bickering nitwits. The dynamics in the film happening higher than 4ft. off of the ground are just as interesting as the love story between Sam and Suzy. The infidelity between Laura and Captain Sharp. The abandonment felt by Walt. The confused commitment and dedication of Scout Master Ward. All very captivating.

Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis was stunning to watch as Captain Sharp. I always remember him from Pulp Fiction. Muscular and handsome. Strong and commanding. Anderson’s Captain Sharp is a smaller man. One who has accepted love from a married woman into his life; someone who would rather have half of someone than be alone. His journey from that man to the man that implants himself into Sam’s fate is one that could have survived center stage in any theatre.

This entire film, from the very beginning with the gnome-ish Bob Balaban narrating, gave me the feeling that there was a world around me that I hadn’t seen or touched. One whose name never lived up to its glory. A kingdom. In a world of brilliant color and arresting candor you feel as though you have been sung a song. You’ve been taught how to see again. Moonrise Kingdom is a film, but it is also a gift. To those who see, to those who love, and to those who wish to continue on in that way but haven’t the slightest idea how to.

Rating: 10/10