Tag Archives: Jacob Tremblay

Fire in the Sky

My Father’s Dragon

by Hope Madden

Like most animation fans, I eagerly await each new Cartoon Saloon adventure. Their output is simply stunning: Wolfwalkers, The Breadwinner, Song of the Sea, The Secret of the Kells. Even Pixar doesn’t have a stronger batting average.

Nora Twomey directed two of those beauties, The Breadwinner and The Secret of the Kells (which she co-helmed with Tomm Moore). She returns to the screen with the lovely romp about a dragon with a problem and a boy who solves problems, My Father’s Dragon.

Animator Masami Hata first adapted Ruth Stiles Gannett’s beloved 1948 novel for the screen in 1997. Twomey’s update takes advantage of intricate, hand-drawn animation and an impressive voice cast to bring Elmer Elevator’s imaginative journey to life.

Elmer and his mom have left behind their small town and the little store they ran. They’re living on the leaking top floor of an apartment building in a crowded city. Neither is happy about it, even if both pretend well. Then a talking cat points Elmer toward a chance to fix everything. He just needs to save this one dragon.

Charming and endlessly good-natured, My Father’s Dragon succeeds despite its comparatively predictable nature. Go into any of the other Cartoon Saloon films and you’ll find yourself surprised with each narrative turn. My Father’s Dragon, on the other hand, feels more familiar.

If the studio’s defining uniqueness is missing from its latest ‘toon, its heart is not. Voiced by Jacob Tremblay, Elmer’s the kind of kid who’s wound too tight. He tries so hard, he breaks your heart, even when his anxiety shortens his temper. Elmer’s own personality mirrors his mother’s when the chips are down, which feels of bittersweet authenticity thanks in part to Golshifteh Farahani’s tender vocal performance as Mom.

As Boris the dragon, Gaten Matarazzo is silly and sweet with moments of raw emotion. Whoopi Goldberg, Judy Greer, Mary Kay Place, Rita Moreno, Chris O’Dowd, Alan Cumming, Diane Wiest and Ian McShane round out a uniformly excellent vocal ensemble, O’Dowd is especially impressing as McShane’s harsh second-in-command, Kwan.

My Father’s Dragon represents a new direction for the animation studio. While it’s not the unassailable success of their previous films, it’s a joyous, beautiful film.

Sleeps with the Fishes


by Hope Madden

It’s summertime. Who doesn’t want to look out on the bluest water as little boats rock in the breeze and kids cavort in a tiny seaside villa on the Italian Riviera? Awash in the wonder of childhood, the latest adventure from Pixar follows someone from under the sea who’s lured to dry land—against their parents’ wishes—and finds a whole new world.

Wait, that last phrase evokes a different movie, but Luca – a Disney + release that doesn’t require the Premier Access fee – does share a winking resemblance to Disney’s most famous fish out of water story. Young sea monster Luca (Jacob Tremblay) finds the idea of the world above sea level equally forbidding and fascinating. He discovers, with the assistance of another young sea monster named Alberto (It’s Jack Dylan Grazier), that as long as he stays dry, he can pass for human.

Good thing, since the whole villa where they hide from Luca’s parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) is obsessed with finding and killing the elusive sea monsters of lore.

Writers Jesse Andrews (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and Mike Jones (who co-wrote last year’s Oscar winner for Pixar, Soul) essentially turned The Little Mermaid into a buddy comedy. Rather than digging into a lot of angst, self-sacrifice or villainy, director Enrico Casarosa— longtime animator and writer/director of Pixar’s lovely 2011 short La Luna—keeps things light and harmless.

The water here is shallow but bubbling with activity. Luca and Alberto make a friend in the feisty Giulia (Emma Berman), make an enemy of the conniving Ercole (Saverio Visconti), learn a trade, discover a love of pasta, develop a longing to learn, and take part in an Italian triathlon (the middle leg is pasta eating) so they can win enough money to buy a Vespa and see the world.

It’s busy. It looks pretty. The message – embrace who you are – is worthy, but there’s just not much in the delivery for the film to call its own. From any other animation studio, Luca would be a solid summer release, but for Pixar, it’s a middling effort on par with Onward or Finding Dory. It’s a forgettable if lovely time waster.

What’s Up, Doc?

Doctor Sleep

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

The Shining was always going to be a hard act to follow, even for Stephen King.

But as soon as King revisited the horror with Doctor Sleep, the bigger challenge instantly fell to whomever was tasked with bringing it to the screen.

That would be writer/director Mike Flanagan, who’s trying on two pairs of pretty big shoes. His vision will not only be judged next to one of the most iconic horror films of all time, but also by the source author who famously doesn’t like that film.

While Doctor Sleep does often feel as if Flanagan is trying to serve two (or more) masters, it ultimately finds enough common ground to become an effective, if only mildly frightening return trip.

After surviving the attempted redrum, adult Dan Torrence (Ewan McGregor) is struggling to stay clean and sober. He’s quietly earning his chips, and is even enjoying a long distance “shine” relationship with the teenaged Abra (Kyliegh Curran).

But Abra and her unusually advanced gifts have also attracted the attention of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, sweetly menacing) and her cult of undead travelers. Similarly gifted, Rose and her band seek out young shiners, feeding on their powers to remain immortal.

Flanagan breaks the spooky spell to dive into terror in a truly unnerving sequence between Ferguson’s gang and a shiny little baseball player (Jacob Tremblay). Effectively gritty and hard to shake, it is the one moment the film fully embraces its horror lineage.

Reportedly, Flanagan had to convince King that it is Kubrick’s version of The Shining that reigns in popular culture (as it should), and that their new film should reflect that. Smart move, as is the choice to hit you early with lookalike actors in those famous roles from 1980.

Is it jarring seeing new faces as young Danny, Wendy, Dick Halloran and more? Yes it is, but as the film unfolds you see Flanagan had little choice but to go that route, and better to get comfy with it by the time Dan is back among the ghosts of the Overlook hotel.

King has made it clear he needed more emotional connection to his characters than Kubrick’s film provided. McGregor helps bridge that gap, finding a childlike quality beneath the ugly, protective layers that have kept Danny Torrence from dealing with a horrific past.

Flanagan (Oculus, Hush, Before I Wake, Gerald’s Game) stumbles most when he relies on awkward (and in some cases, needless) exposition to clarify and articulate answers. Kubrick was stingy in that regard, which was one of The Shining‘s great strengths. Questions are scary, answers seldom are.

Whatever the film’s setbacks and faults, it is good fun getting back to the Overlook and catching the many Shining callbacks (including a cameo from Danny Lloyd, the original Danny Torrence). Flanagan’s vision does suffer by comparison, but how could it not? Give him credit for ignoring that fact and diving in, leaving no question that he’s as eager to see what’s around each corner as we are.

Doctor Sleep can’t match the claustrophobic nature or the vision of cold, creeping dread Kubrick developed. This film often tries too hard to please—not a phrase you’d associate with the 1980 film. The result is a movie that never seems to truly find its own voice.

It’s no masterpiece, but check in and you’ll find a satisfying, generally spooky time.

Adult Education

Good Boys

by George Wolf

So apparently kids today get names like Brixlee, Soren and Thor. That’s new.

And when puberty hits, they pretend they’re plenty world wise, are tempted by peer pressure and worry that missing the big kissing party would be the end of the world. That’s not so new.

With Superbad‘s Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg on board as producers, Good Boys takes that film’s trusty formula and backs it up a few years, scoring a fair amount of solid laughs but not quite as much of the heartfelt smarts.

Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and yes, Thor (Brady Noon) are new sixth graders and best friends, the Bean Bag Boys for Life! “Because we have bean bags.” Duh.

They drop F-bombs, hope other kids think they’re cool, and will stop at nothing to make Soren’s (Izaac Wang) party where Max hopes to meet up with Brixlee (Millie Davis) and finally get the chance to puck up or shut up.

But the ‘tween universe sends plenty of obstacles to keep the boys from the bash, some of which include drugs, alcohol, anal beads, angry high school girls, cops, a very busy highway, and a frantic paint ball battle at a nasty frat house (which turns out be a pretty inspired bit).

There’s always some inherent humor in kids talking dirty and crossing paths with very adult things while misunderstanding most of them. Good Boys, to its credit, wants to be more, it’s just unsure about how to get there.

Writer Gene Stupnitsky (Bad Teacher, Year One), directing his first feature, is at a disadvantage from the start. Superbad and Booksmart (you should see it!) both benefited from a leaving-for-college premise, which is just more of a life change than leaving for middle school.

But those films also found a tender heart inside their core friendships that Good Boys can’t quite pin down. The boys are all adorable, and plenty of laughs – especially Tremblay’s hilariously deadpan line about a sex doll- do land flush.

By the final bell, though, it’s caught between caring about the boys and laughing at them, and so are we.

Choose Kind


by Hope Madden

On its surface, Wonder is about feeling like an outsider.

Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay, proving that his remarkable turn in Room was no fluke) is about to start middle school. There’s anxiety enough in that, but this will be Auggie’s first “real school,” having spent his formative education being homeschooled by his more than capable mother (Julia Roberts).

But there’s more. Auggie suffers from a congenital malady which, after dozens of surgeries, leaves him with an unusually misshapen and scarred face. This is why he prefers to wear a space helmet whenever he’s in public.

To its enormous credit, Wonder makes Auggie’s plight universal. Doesn’t everyone entering middle school desperately fear some kind of ostracism? Doesn’t every parent fear the same for their tender youngster?

How much worse will it be for Auggie? Few parents will not recognize the sincerity in his mom’s plea as she sends her son off to his first day of real school: “Please, God, let them be nice to him.”

Roberts, whose work in recent years has radically outshone everything from the first couple decades of her career, offers a strong and believable center of gravity for both the Pullman family and the film.

Director Stephen Chbosky also co-wrote this adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s popular juvenile fiction book. Chbosky waded into similarly angst-ridden waters when he directed the screen version of his own novel Perks of Being a Wallflower, but with Wonder he manages to find an emotional truthfulness missing from his previous film.

Wonder is surprisingly—almost amazingly—understated, given the content. The film avoids many a tear-jerking cliché and sidesteps sentimentality more often than you might expect.

It’s also dishonest— well-meaning, but wildly dishonest. Conflicts are easily resolved, lessons quietly learned, comeuppance generally had and loose ends carefully tied.

Wonder is about as wholesome a movie as you will see, lacking even an ounce of cynicism, which certainly makes Auggie’s ordeal easier to bear. But it’s still a cinematic cop out.

No Room for Improvement


by Hope Madden

There is something miraculous about Room.

The film drops you into a world you would be hard-pressed to even imagine and finds a story that is both bright and beautiful despite itself. It’s the story of a young woman, held captive inside a shed, and her 5-year-old son, who’s never been outside of “room.”

Never lurid for even a moment, both restrained and urgently raw, the film benefits most from the potentially catastrophic choice to tell the story from the child’s perspective. And here is the miracle of Room: without ever becoming precious or maudlin or syrupy, with nary a single false note or hint of contrivance, the boy’s point of view fills the story with love and wonder. It gives the proceedings a resilience, and lacking that, a film on this subject so authentically told could become almost too much to bear.

Director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) creates yet another meticulously crafted, lived-in world – a world that should look like nothing we have ever seen or could ever imagine, and yet manages to resonate with beautifully universal touches. He is absolutely blessed with two magnificent leads and one wonderful supporting turn.

The undeniably talented Brie Larson gives a career-defining performance as Ma. On her face she wears the weariness, desperation, and surprising flashes of joy that believably create a character few of us could even imagine. She conjures emotions so tumultuous as to be nearly impossible to create, but does it with rawness that feels almost too real.

Veteran Joan Allen is the normalizing presence, and her characteristically nuanced turn gives the film its needed second act emotional anchor.

Surrounded as he is by exceptional talent, it is young Jacob Tremblay who ensures that the film won’t soon be forgotten. Where did Abrahamson find such a natural performer? Because an awful lot rests on those wee shoulders, and it’s the sincerity in this performance that keeps you utterly, breathlessly riveted every minute, and also bathes an otherwise grim tale in beauty and hope.

There is no other film quite like Room.