Last Flag Flying

This is a Richard Linklater film all the way with the usual existential talk about life, personal relationships and all done in the usual fly-on-the-wall, people in-transit manner; similarly, to his previous films the before/ after/ sunset/sunrise installments. In the case of Last Flag Flying its Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd (Steve Carrell) whose son's body has just died in the Iraq War and its his wish to bury his body next to his deceased mum/ wife grave in Boston, instead of a military honorary burial in Delaware. Doc ropes in his long-lost companions from his own days in the Navy and the Vietnam War: Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) an alcoholic joker type bar owner and the reformed Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne). As the drive progresses, the barriers of years of no communication slowly come down and old friendships are rekindled.

This is a buddy movie, through and through. You can almost imagine how the filming must of went; all four them (the three leads plus Linklater) all having a blast on set, drinking beer, telling jokes, letting the camera role to capture some intimate moment which will sure look ‘real’ on tape. That is precisely the problem with this film. It’s far too obvious, far too contrived and far too regurgitated. The dialogue, the comradery, "the whole let's all get on board and help our buddy, because it means so much to him" but in turn proves too much for us watching. It lacks the freshness of any of his previous work such as Boyhood or the boldness of his last film Every Body Wants Some!!. Cranston does manage to steal the show on occasion with his clownish carefree behaviour which essentially drives this rather disappointingly banal film.

Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds proved to be a brilliant indie gem. It is the debut feature by newbie director Cory Finley and stars upcoming young actresses Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) as rich girl Lily and Olivia Cooke (Ouija, Me and Earl and The Dying Girl) as the loner, sociopathic Amanda. It also co-stars Anton Yelchin, possibly in one of his last roles, as bad boy Tim. The film sees the childhood friends Lily and Amanda reunite after years of silence. Amanda, suffers from a mild form of sociopathy unable to sense or show emotion; she remains completely straight faced throughout. Lily, despite her lavish upbringing, suffers from the presence of a rather cruel stepfather who wishes nothing but to cut her off completely. So as the two rekindle a rather spiky and complex acquiescence, they start to hatch a plan to kill stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks).

The film is very dialogue driven at first, as both Cooke and Joy start to form a connection as young adults; the conversations and the role dynamics are simply captivating to watch. As events unfold and deadly plans are made, there is a Alfred Hitchhock feel about the whole thing – close-up scenes, sunglasses in autumn, long dialogues and the macabre plot. Perhaps there are moments of over dramatization and the separating of the film into four chapters seems slightly redundant, but not out of place. This is a stylish, slick and superbly cool film; that yes maybe a tad too self-aware, but nonetheless for a debut feature, hats off to Finley.

Wonderstruck

I wanted this to be good as I loved Todd Haynes' previous film Carol; although for some Carol was perhaps too slow. Some elements of Carol are still present in this film, the representation of decades past, and their in-depth, to the minutest detail, depiction of them. In this instance, the story is focused on two decades; the late 70s and the late 20s specifically as two stories. The 20s are painted in black and white and given the silent movie treatment and the 70s in full-blown autumnal colours. The stories revolve around two children, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) and Ben (Oakes Fegley) respectively, both suffering from hearing loss, they have fled their homes, stranded in New York City in a quest to find their long-lost parent.

Granted the film is visually impressive, with an easy to follow plot; although the two parallel strands seem rather separate and disjointed at first – it's not until they converge that momentum kicks in. Julianne Moore of course is a welcome presence and we are also treated to a Michelle Williams cameo. Overall I wasn't sure who this film was meant for. For children? If it is for children, I am not sure what child audiences would watch this, as perhaps it is too convoluted for them.

Beach Rats

This is another simply exceptional piece of independent film – exploring themes of sexuality, sexual discovery, as well personal and societal inhibition. Beach Rats reminds of movies by the likes of Larry Clark (Kids, Bully) and Harmony Korine (Gummo, Spring Breakers). The film peeks in at an explorative phase in the film leads, Frankie’s (Harris Dickinson) life. Set in Brooklyn, it follows late teen Frankie as he navigates early adulthood with homosexual feelings, the recent passing of his father, his druggie group of friends, and his beautiful and infatuated, to her own detriment, girlfriend. The internet provides for Frankie endless possibilities of meeting guys and his private quest to explore his feelings; secretly meeting guys in the bushes or being driven to some motel room. Director Eliza Hittman brings it all together in such an appealing way; giving as subtle beautiful montages with muted colours and filtered close ups; she allows the plot to unfold without necessarily having a resolution at the end.