Tag Archives: Jaeden Martell

Teen Wolves

The True Adventures of Wolfboy

by George Wolf (no relation)

Have many Young Adult films carry a theme of self-acceptance? Plenty, but that’s not a problem.

It’s delivering that message via the same tired playbook that gets old, which is just one of the reasons The True Adventures of Wolfboy lands as a charming and completely captivating tale of a truly special teen.

And director Martin Krejci makes sure it feels like a tale in so many magical ways, starting with the beautifully ornate title cards separating each chapter in the journey of a lonely and self-loathing boy on his thirteenth birthday.

Paul (Jaeden Martell) suffers from hypertrichosis – an extremely rare affliction causing abnormal hair growth all over his face and body. He covers his face with a ski mask most of the time, but his father (Chris Messina) gently urges him to put the mask aside and accept the taunts of “dogboy!” with dignity.

Paul’s mother has been gone since he was born, but when a strange birthday gift delivers a map and a promise of explanations, Paul runs away to answer the invitation and get some answers from Mom (Chloe Sevigny).

Krejci crafts Paul’s journey from dog to wolf as an epic odyssey of self-discovery. From Pinnochio-like exploitation in a sideshow run by Mr. Silk (John Turturro, also a producer), to joining the eyepatch-wearing Rose (Eve Hewson) for a string of petty holdups, Paul’s world – and his world view – expands quickly.

But it is the effervescent teen Aristiana (transgender actress Sophie Giannamore) that most triggers Paul’s awakening. She hates the short “boy” haircut her mother insists on, while Paul is ashamed of how much hair he has. Her mother calls her Kevin, his mother doesn’t call at all.

Similarly, Martell delivers true tenderness and longing behind Mark Garbarino’s impressive makeup, while Giannamore is a heartwarming example of defiant positivity. Both actors and their characters bond quickly, and screenwriter Olivia Dufault (also transgender) finds a power that eludes so many YA dramas via the subtle genius of writing Aristiana as a secondary catalyst.

We already feel for Paul, so Aristiana’s effect on his self image is something we feel without being told. The point is made organically, with wit and wisdom, and much more resonance. What Paul finds at the end of his journey is sweet, but just gravy.

Wolfboy is the rare teen drama that speaks without condescension, and entertains without calculation.

That’s welcome, special even.

Winter Wonderland

The Lodge

by Hope Madden

It’s Christmas, and regardless of a profound, almost insurmountable family tragedy, one irredeemably oblivious father (Richard Armitage) decides his kids (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) should get to know the woman (Riley Keough) he left their mother for. A week in an isolated mountain cabin during a blizzard should do it.

Dad stays just long enough to make things really uncomfortable, then heads back to town for a few days to work. Surely everybody will be caroling and toasting marshmallows by the time he returns.

Though everything about The Lodge brings to mind A24 horror—for a number of reasons, Hereditary in particular—the film is actually a Hammer effort. No longer the corset-and-bloodletting studio, Hammer’s millennial output has been sparse but often quite good.

Choosing to back filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz making their follow up to the supremely creepy Goodnight Mommy should be a solid risk to take. Here the pair does not shy away from the body of “white death” horror that came before The Lodge, with eerie and sometimes humorous nods to The Thing and The Shining, among others, haunting the piece.

The film also brings to mind A24’s It Comes at Night, another quiet film that saw Riley Keough trapped in an isolated abode with unsettling family dynamics. Keough is riding an impressive run of performances and her work here is slippery and wonderful. As the unwanted new member in the family, she’s sympathetic but also brittle.

Jaeden Martell, a kid who has yet to deliver a less than impressive turn, is the human heartbeat at the center of the mystery in the cabin. His tenderness gives the film a quiet, pleading tragedy. Whether he’s comforting his grieving little sister or begging Grace (Keough) to come in from the snow, his performance aches and you ache with him.

A healthy ability to suspend disbelief will aid in the experience The Lodge has to offer, but there’s no denying the mounting dread the filmmakers create, and the three central performances are uniquely effective. Thanks to the actors’ commitment and the filmmakers’ skill in atmospheric horror, the movie grips you, makes you cold and uncomfortable, and ends with a memorable slap.

Parasites

Knives Out

by Hope Madden

It’s interesting that three of the most deliciously watchable films of 2019 exist to question the societal value of the rich. Earlier this year, the action-comedy bloodbath Ready or Not pitted one regular schmo in a bridal gown against a mansionful of one-percenters looking to end her life.

Too bloody for you? How about Joon-ho Bong’s masterpiece of social commentary, Parasite? Who, exactly, is it living off the blood of others?

Rian Johnson follows this path with the hoot and a half that is Knives Out.

If you only know Johnson for his brilliant fanboy agitator The Last Jedi, you should give yourself the gift of every other movie he’s ever made, Looper and Brick, in particular. This guy is an idiosyncratic storyteller, one who balances style and substance to create memorable worlds you aren’t ready to leave when the credits roll.

Knives Out is his own Agatha Christie-style take on the general uselessness of the 1%. And it is a riot.

Christopher Plummer is Harlan Thromby, the recently and mysteriously deceased mystery novelist whose family is in a pickle. Though they believe their gregarious patriarch offed himself, the notion seems unlikely however clear the death scene seems to make it.

Renowned gentleman detective Benoit Blanc (that’s a name!), played by a priceless Daniel Craig, joins two police detectives (LaKeith Stanfield and Johnson go-to goof Noah Segan) to dig into the affair.

As little as possible should be said about the plot, as it is a whodunnit, but at the very least it’s appropriate to acknowledge this cast.

The spoiled and entitled are played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Jaeden Martell (from It), Toni Collette as well as Michael Shannon and Chris Evans and their sweaters. Each finds a memorable character and each clearly has an excellent time doing so.

Credit also Ana de Armas as Marta, the homecare nurse and anchor for the story. De Armas has previously been cast primarily for her looks (Blade Runner 2049, War Dogs, Knock Knock), but proves here that she can lead a film, even a film with this strong an ensemble. Her Marta is wholesome but funny, gullible but smart. Her chemistry with Craig is enough to generate some interest in their next collaboration. (Well, that and the writing.)

Johnson proves that you can poke fun without abandoning compassion. More than that, he reminds us that, as a writer, he’s shooting on all cylinders: wry, clever, meticulously crafted, socially aware and tons of fun.

Snitches Get Stitches

Low Tide

by George Wolf

If you’ve been waiting for the perfect time to pitch your idea of re-making The Town as a coming of age drama, too late.

Writer/director Kevin McMullin beat ya to it with his first feature Low Tide, a nifty debut that leans on plenty of heist tropes cleverly downsized for teenage conspirators.

Alan (Keean Johnson) and Peter (IT‘s Jaeden Martell) are New Jersey brothers with roots in the fishing district. Mom has passed on so while Dad’s away working a boat, Alan breaks into houses with his goofy friend Smitty (Daniel Zolghadri from Eighth Grade) and scary pal Red (Alex Neustaedter).

The gang ropes young Peter in for his first job as lookout, but somebody snitched. Sergeant Kent (the always reliable Shea Wigham) gives chase just as they’re leaving the latest B&E, and not everyone gets away.

Not everyone knows about the very valuable score some of the boys found in that house, either, which leads to plenty of suspicion among thieves.

Plus, one honest to goodness buried treasure.

McMullin blends his genres well, creating an ambiguous time stamp that can resonate with various demographics, and indulging in some noir fun without collapsing into full Bugsy Malone territory.

We’ve been watching the talented Martell grow up since his St.Vincent breakout five years ago, and his thoughtful turn as the smart, cautious Peter shows his transition into adult roles should be a smooth one. The kid’s just a natural.

And it’s not just Martell. There’s not a weak link in this ensemble, giving McMullin plenty of room to pursue his vision with inspired confidence.

If you’ve seen even a few heist dramas, the only things that may surprise you are the age of these bandits and how little you fault the film for its familiarity.

Attempting to define the moment when a young life chooses the path it will follow is not exactly a new idea. By wrapping his teen characters in recognizably adult archetypes, McMullin keeps the drama just a hair off-kilter, rewarding our continued investment.

As Sergeant Kent tells one of the boys, “This is your origin story. You gonna be the good guy, or the bad guy?”

Low Tide makes it fun finding out.