Friday, April 07, 2017

Raw


RAW (GRAVE) (Julia Ducournau, 2016)

Justine (Garance Marillier) grew up in a vegetarian household, and she fully intends to maintain her principles when she begins veterinary school in RAW. Animals are for assisting, not eating. Her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) has been going to the school, but rather than provide full cover for her inexperienced sibling, she insists that Justine learn to deal with the hazing that the older students dole out. Justine is willing to put up with most of the demands, like how to dress or address her senior peers. She draws a line, though, when asked to consume raw rabbit liver.

Assuming Alexia refused to take part in the ritual, she calls upon her for support. Instead Alexia eats some and then forces one of the organs into her mouth. Justine has a bad reaction, breaking out all over in a rash. This first taste of meat will not be her last, as she finds herself craving it in spite of how she was raised. Having erased one taboo, Justine finds herself wanting the truly forbidden, human flesh.

Writer-director Julia Ducournau applies the art horror treatment to an otherwise familiar coming of age story. RAW is about a young adult on her own for the first time and who experiments with the freedom that comes when there are no watchful eyes. Justine’s turn from herbivore to cannibalistic carnivore is just an exaggerated version of the sheltered kid who goes to college and engages in all manner of reckless acts because mom and dad aren’t nearby. RAW’s provocations aren’t reactionary means for a moralizing end but disturbing and, at times, darkly funny observations of the wildness that can come with independence.

Ducournau depicts the gore like an anthropologist might nonjudgmentally write about a custom that is revolting to her native culture or as a naturalist might consider a predator . The matter-of-fact quality to the violence lends more potency to it and queasily charges scenes of Justine wolfing down shawarma and gnawing on a raw salmon fillet. The ferocity of her appetite and how she tries to mitigate it make up the internal struggle she needs to resolve.

Marillier presents Justine as a meek and disciplined person who hasn’t questioned the world. She knows the rules and abides by them, so facing a fundamental conflict between her guideline and the group’s norm casts everything in a new light. Marillier doesn’t cut an intimidating presence, yet in discovering her taste for people, she builds uninhibited danger into the mere way she looks at someone. Not knowing what you are capable of until you try can be a good thing. In RAW it’s also the scariest thing to learn about oneself.

Grade: B

Thursday, April 06, 2017

T2 Trainspotting


T2 TRAINSPOTTING (Danny Boyle, 2017)

Twenty years after stealing money from his friends in TRAINSPOTTING and absconding to Amsterdam, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh, Scotland. The death of his mother in T2 TRAINSPOTTING brings Mark home after such a long time gone, but he decides to revisit his old pals while he’s back in town. The intervening years have not treated them well. Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremner) continues to struggle regularly with a heroin addiction. Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) has switched up the drug that has him hooked these days, and he indulges in it in the time between running a failing pub and blackmailing the men he entraps with the help of Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), a Bulgarian woman who sees herself as more business partner than girlfriend. Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is serving a long-term prison sentence, which is to Mark’s benefit until the volatile Scot escapes. Despite what he says, Mark’s life isn’t substantially better than theirs.

Although Mark provides restitution to Simon for what he took two decades ago, Simon still smarts at the betrayal. He intends to gain his revenge by rekindling his friendship with Mark, teaming up on a business venture, and then ruin him. Mark’s reunion with Spud resulted in saving him from killing himself. Now Mark hopes to supplant his friend’s harmful addiction with a healthier one. Meanwhile, Begbie returns to his old ways and looks forward to having his son join him in his illegal pursuits.

In TRAINSPOTTING twentysomething junkies Mark and Simon talked about the brief window in life when you have “it” and then “it” is gone. They’re speaking in regard to musicians, actors, and athletes, but they could just as well be referring to their future selves. Their lives were certainly nothing spectacular then, but through the gloom of their unsatisfactory present in T2 TRAINSPOTTING and the fog of nostalgia, that period looks like their heyday. As a young adult Simon believes that everyone accumulates years and can’t hack it anymore. He’s correct in the sense that if you choose to live by such a philosophy, what a drag it is getting old.

So the characters wallow in their self-pity and self-destructiveness, striving to regain what mostly wasn’t so great the first time around. They return to bad habits, make many of the same mistakes, and, incidentally, have their share of good times. In both films director Danny Boyle shows what could attract them to such wasting-away lifestyles and sets their zonked-out bliss to pulsing soundtracks. It doesn’t look like my idea of fun, but Boyle succeeds at showing the attraction even as he offsets it with ample scenes illustrating the high costs.

T2 TRAINSPOTTING isn’t as joyful as its predecessor and appropriately so. However misguided, there’s more romance in youth being careless than middle-aged men behaving the same way. While this lot has often decided poorly, Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge place these choices within the context of the economic limitations in their surroundings. It’s not an excuse, but it is a symptom. As Boyle does frequently in T2 TRAINSPOTTING, the thrilling final sequence juxtaposes the past and the present. It also bookends the films with Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”. While a lot hasn’t changed for the character as the remixed track roars, there are some differences to give hope that maybe the past won’t always be repeated.

Grade: B+

A Monster Calls


A MONSTER CALLS (J.A. Bayona, 2016)

In A MONSTER CALLS Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is old enough to understand that his mother (Felicity Jones) is seriously ill but doesn’t have sufficient years to deal properly with the emotions her sickness brings. He struggles to sleep at night and is bullied at school during the day, all the time worrying about the welfare of this dearly beloved mom. Conor has no one else he can safely confide in. He is at odds with his grandma (Sigourney Weaver) and is upset with his dad (Toby Kebbell), who has remarried and lives a continent away in Los Angeles.

From his bedroom window the British boy can see in the distance a mighty yew tree in an old church graveyard. One night at 12:07 the tree transforms into a monster that confronts Conor. The Monster (Liam Neeson) tells him that he will visit him at the same time to tell three stories. When the last tale has been told, it will be time for Conor to share his nightmare.

The Monster’s stories of royal deception, medicine versus faith, and an invisible man are sumptuously rendered in watercolor animation but not exactly suited for bedtime. Each challenges Conor with contradictions and unfairness than clear-cut examples of good triumphing over evil. For a boy seeking restored order, these complicated parables do not provide immediate relief. If anything, they reinforce the inequity handed to him and the person he loves most. Yet the Monster is helping Conor through the grieving process and giving him the tools for owning up to the truth that pains him most of all. There’s just no easy solution for guiding him to that point.

Director J.A. Bayona treats this weighty material with Spielbergian flourishes. The fantastical elements in A MONSTER CALLS lift the film above the mostly barren country terrain, not for the purposes of escape but to gain greater perspective. Bayona makes impressive use of scale to convey the emotional difference between something obsessed over in close-up and taken in with a wide view. The film’s interiors can be as dim and suffocating as the mental experience of fixating on a problem.

Like Steven Spielberg, Bayona displays a deft understanding of a child’s point of view in extraordinary circumstances. A MONSTER CALLS doesn’t feel as though an adult’s sensibility is imposed on it. Conor is given the leeway to be vulnerable and lash out, which MacDougall does without sentimentalizing his character. He plays the part with the protective toughness that a kid might naturally develop in the absence of greater support from grown ups. A MONSTER CALLS approaches the ordeal with imagination and empathy to allow the young to manage the worst.

Grade: B+