Tag Archives: Benedict Wong

Choosing Wisely

Nine Days

by George Wolf

Will (Winston Duke) is a selector. Inside a modest home situated in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by nothing but flatland, he monitors the progress of his past selections while he carefully prepares to fill a new vacancy.

At the end of nine days, Will must choose wisely. His one selection among a new group of unborn souls will move on the “real world” and experience human life. The rest will not.

In his feature debut, writer/director Edson Oda presents an impressively assured vision of transfixing beauty and gentle poignancy. While the current run on “appreciate every day” films is hardly surprising in today’s climate, Oda brings an organic originality to the mantra of seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.

Will does exactly that, via the television monitors (and VHS tapes) that allow him to view the world as his past selections are living it. The monitors also play a role in the selection process, as Will gives his candidates (including Zazie Beetz, Tony Hale and Bill Skarsgård) daily assignments to write down their reactions to the world views they see.

Duke (Us, Black Panther) is phenomenal as a “cog in the wheel” who becomes caught between the clinical completion of his duties and the emotional weight of his responsibilities.

Unlike many in this otherworld – including his assistant Kyo (Benedict Wong) – Will actually spent time living in the real one. And while he won’t discuss details of his life experience, his charming reliance on VCRs and Polaroid cameras gives us a clue about the timeframe. Duke brings touching authenticity to the barrier Will has put up around his past, while also letting us glimpse how Will is haunted by the fate of a past selection, and by the chance he may have chosen poorly.

Oda’s writing and direction exhibit solid craftsmanship. His framing and use of light often work wonders together, conjuring an existential outpost full of strangely comfortable trappings.

The screenplay is finely tuned for each distinct applicant in the process, allowing a standout Beetz and the terrific ensemble to find intimate resonance in the alternately joyous and heartbreaking moments of a life.

Yes, Nine Days often has a lilting air of pretension, but with such a philosophical anchor, it would be more surprising if it did not. Give Oda credit for being unafraid of the moment. He’s taking some big swings at mighty heavy concepts here, with an originality of voice and attention to craft that is welcome any day.

What’s In a Name?

The Personal History of David Copperfield

by Hope Madden

Will he turn out to be the hero in his own life?

The Personal History of David Copperfield reunites the writing/directing team of Simon Blackwell and Armando Iannucci, whose Death of Stalin, In the Loop and the series Veep represent high water marks in political satire.

How are they with whimsy?

Not too bad. While the material is a far different style of cynical minefield for the filmmakers, Dickens offers a couple of opportunities Iannucci and Blackwell can appreciate: a big cast and wordplay.

Dev Patel is a perfectly amiable, easy to root for David Trottwood Daisy Dodi Murdstone Davidson Copperfield. (Ranveer Jaiswal is the even easier to root for, ludicrously adorable youngster version.) As we see their tale spun and re-spun, it is, of course, the characters that come and go that make the biggest impression.

Who? Tilda Swinton (with the year’s best onscreen entrance), Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, Gwendoline Christie, Benedict Wong and Peter Capaldi, among many others. The multiracial cast emphasizes the fanciful fiction, the desire of a writer to create a story better than their own reality. Here, each actor takes character to caricature, but the brashness suits Iannucci’s busy, bursting, briskly paced narrative.

Iannucci hopscotches about the story and timeline in an episodic manner that fits the source material. What results is a charmingly animated rumination on those characters in life who shape our stories, experiences and maybe our character.

We can all get behind an underdog story, although like most of Dickens’s work, David Copperfield isn’t one. It’s the would-be tragedy of a person of good breeding who falls into a life that’s beneath him only to have his proper station returned to him via a happy ending.

Not to poo-poo Dickens, but it’s in the cheery resolution that the material seems a misfit for the raging if delightful cynicism of the filmmakers. When Uriah Heap accuses, “You and yours have always hated me and mine,” the boisterous nature of Iannucci’s film feels ill at ease because of the line’s pointed honesty. Let’s just right these cosmic wrongs and give the money back to the people who had it in the first place, shall we?

Still, this David Copperfield has its own lunatic charm to burn. Gone are the laugh out loud moments as well as the bitter aftertaste of Iannucci’s best work, but in their place is a lovely time.