Tag Archives: Alex Wolff

I See Old People

Old

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

The last 20 some odd years have been somewhat odd for M. Night Shyamalan.

There was the meteoric rise, the faceplant fall, and the unexpected rise again. The writer/director’s highs (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Split) have been clever, crowd-pleasing and well crafted, while the lows (The Last Airbender, After Earth, The Happening) became self-indulgent, condescending misfires.

Old, Shyamalan’s first since the disappointing Glass two years ago, may not rank among his best, but there is enough here to hold your interest while it delivers an earnest message about precious time.

Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are ready to separate, but want to enjoy one last dream vacation with 6 year-old Trent (Nolan River) and 11 year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton) before breaking the news.

Shortly after getting a VIP welcome at their tropical resort, the family is offered access to a private beach paradise, just a short drive away. Once there, they find a few other guests have also gotten the invite to the pristine beach surrounded by majestic and imposing walls of rock.

But of course, there is a price to be paid for this privilege: time. Trent and Maddox are suddenly years older (and now played by Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie), while the rest of the group (including Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee and Aaron Pierre) also begins to feel the effects of a rapidly increased aging process.

Shyamalan’s camerawork – usually a plus – is again nimble and expressive. He’s able to fuel a feeling of confusion and disorientation on the ground, while frequent overhead shots provide the unmistakeable suggestion that this group is being watched.

His pace is also well-played, fast and frantic (with one very effective visual fright) in the early going, then a bit more measured to reflect cooler heads trying to plan an escape.

But while Shyamalan’s script is an adaptation of the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre-Oscar Lévy and Frederick Peeters, dialogue can still trip him up. It’s too frequently both silly and obvious, yet almost always rescued by a talented ensemble that never shrinks from selling every word of it.

This is a Shyamalan film, though, which will lead many to expect a humdinger of a twist. Don’t.

There is something waiting beyond the clearly defined metaphor about appreciating every day. But like the film, the resolution of Old is more tidy than revelatory, as easy to digest and appreciate as it is to forget.

That’ll Do

Pig

by Hope Madden

A quick plot synopsis of co-writer/director Michael Sarnoski’s Pig suggests a very specific image. Nicolas Cage plays a hermetic truffle hunter whose beloved pig is kidnapped. He uses his particular set of skills to find her.

You are almost undoubtedly thinking this is John Wick, swapping Cage for Keanu and a pig for a puppy.

Nope.

This touching film—a tale of love, loss, authenticity and a good meal— is essentially the anti-John Wick. And we are better for it.

Cage’s legacy will rightfully be of an unhinged and singular talent—and also an actor who never turns down a gig. But every decade or so the stars align and Cage gets to stretch, he gets to underact. He hasn’t delivered as nuanced or thoughtful a performance since David Gordon Green’s 2013 film Joe.

Lurking, silent and disheveled, his character hitches a ride with the only soul who contacts him regularly, Amir (Alex Wolff, Hereditary), the slick wholesaler who takes his truffles off his hands each Wednesday.

As the two climb the ladder of potential kidnappers, from other outdoorsy truffle hunters to middlemen to chefs and higher still, Sarnoski mimics the beats of a vengeance thriller like John Wick or Taken, but he does this only to subvert expectations. It turns out, when your only real goal is to retrieve something beloved and lost to you, bloodshed doesn’t rank high in your thoughts.

A uniformly strong supporting cast and their priceless reactions to Cage’s vagabond presence not only illuminate the pretension Sarnoski hopes to call attention to in Portland’s high-end restaurant culture. They give the actor the chance to react.

Cage is almost always the center of attention in every film. It’s tough to look away from him because you’re afraid you’ll miss some insane grimace or wild gesture, but also because filmmakers love him and never pull away. Sarnoski asks you to wait for it. He gives Cage time to pause, breathe, and deliver his most authentic performance in ages.

I guarantee the folks to my left at this screening were here for Cage Uncaged! ™ Hopefully they appreciated the fact that they didn’t get it.

Extra Life

Jumanji: The Next Level

by George Wolf

Recent box office totals have sent a pretty clear message: if you want a butts-in-seats reboot, you gotta come with a strong new hook.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle got it right two years ago, and now most of that gang is back for The Next Level, which is smart enough to add a few new wrinkles (plus some trusty old ones) for freshness.

We catch up with our four young heroes a year removed from high school and trying hard to keep in touch. Over Christmas break from college, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Martha (Morgan Turner), Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) make plans for a meetup, but Spencer doesn’t show.

Hearing those familiar drums, the other three quickly figure out he’s been sucked back into Jumanji, and decide to go after him. I mean, they beat it once, right?

New game, new rules, brand new hook.

Bethany is left behind, but two new players aren’t: Spencer’s grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Eddie’s ex-best friend Milo (Danny Glover). Know what else? Everyone gets a new avatar.

Well, not Martha, she’s still badass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). But this time, it’s Eddie who gets the smoldering heroic intensity of Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), while Fridge is portly Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), Milo is diminutive zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart) and Spencer is newly-added cat burglar Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina).

The next level mission: free Jumanji from the evil clutches of Jurgen the Brutal (GOT‘s Rory McCann), or die trying. Game on!

Watching the four adult stars channel teenagers in the first film was a blast, but the avatar switches here are the smart plays, and the body swaps don’t stop once the game begins. Some of the gags do settle for low hanging fruit (i.e. old people are easily confused) but plenty others are clever and inspired.

The film itself even gets in on the switcheroo spirit, with fewer solid laughs but a markedly better adventure. Welcome to the Jungle’s riffs on The Breakfast Club make way for director Jake Kasdan’s set piece homages to Mission Impossible, Indiana Jones, Kingsman and even Peter Jackson’s King Kong in a thrilling escape from angry mandrills.

Writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers do not return, which I’m guessing is a major reason the life lesson feels don’t land as smoothly this time. But Kasdan and his team hit the big shots. They give us a reason to be interested in a return to Jumanji, and plenty of fun once we get there.