Trey Edward Shults’s Waves

Trey Edward Shults’s Waves is one of those films that is so good I don’t even feel qualified enough as a writer to review it, for fear that my cumbersome prose and tangential asides won’t properly impart the essence of the film and just how important this story is both to the ‘idea’ of the cinematic narrative and to our perception of life as a narrative in itself, encompassing our own individual trajectories, that of those around us and how they all interact, glide, and crash together in beautifully chaotic, poetically imperfect fashion as we move through the world. I’ll call this a ‘narrative flow’ instead of a story, and I don’t mean to sound pretentious but this really feels like an organic current as opposed to a scripted story, one can feel the super-sensible beats beneath what is onscreen in an unalloyed fashion that few films are able to achieve. This is basically a window of time into the life of an upper middle class African American family from Florida who fall victim to the same learning curves, tragedies, hard times and personal trials that every human being must weather and endure. The domineering, overbearing yet loving father (Sterling K. Brown), the quietly soulful and intuitive daughter (Taylor Russell), the athletic, emotionally overwhelmed son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and the supportive, compassionate stepmother (Renee Elise Goldsberry). The son is a rising star in a stable relationship with a girl he loves (Alexa Demie) and everything seems to be going just as it should.. until the unthinkable happens, and the narrative flow tears our hearts out before pivoting 180 degrees to focus on the daughter more, and her blossoming relationship with a boy she meets at school (Lucas Hedges). I won’t say more about these events beyond that because its so important to go into this one with open heart, mind and expectations. Every single actor in this film goes above and beyond to bring this piece to life, delving deep into their craft toolbox and emotional intelligence and providing painstakingly realistic cultivations that come across as actual complex, imperfect, intricate human beings free of character convention or any kind of cliche. My favourite performance has to be Taylor Russell as the daughter, who is an unbelievable find and shares a heartbreaking, soul-decimating scene with Brown as her father that anchors both their arcs and sees the two artists reach notes of performance I didn’t think possible in the medium. The title of this film is important n understanding what director Shults (who is now on my genius list, by the way) is trying to show us about human beings and the world: Waves crash along the shoreline, recede into the sea only to crash once more in apparent arbitration. As this process occurs, little ripples dapple the sandy coasts and billow out to form more ripples, currents and other shapes all across the canvas of the ocean, and this too seems to have no discernible order or symmetry. In the same fashion, human beings collide with one another in horrific acts of violence, deeply connected loving relationships and choices both constructive and destructive, only to do it all over again the next time round. These acts and choices ripple out across our collective consciousness and affect others in their choices, deeds and relationships and you just never know how one wave might affect someone else’s life, and that may seem terrifyingly random and alien to us, human beings who so badly crave order and reason, but is there not a beautiful disarray to the unpredictability of it all? This film is a brief aperture into the complexities of our world, and the characters that Shults presents to us couldn’t be more affecting or relatable in their struggles, choices and relationships. This film is nothing short of a masterpiece, from the dedicated vulnerability of the actors to the hazy, celestial coastal cinematography to the rapturous equilibrium employed in editing to the otherworldly electronic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and the wonderful, heartbreaking but ultimately life affirming narrative flow beneath it all. I couldn’t count high enough in my lifetime to give this an out of ten rating, which should give you an indication of how much I loved this film.

-Nate Hill

Marc Forster’s Stay

Marc Forster’s Stay is billed as a psychological thriller and it’s… sort of that, but really it’s something far deeper and more metaphysical, a core concept that I can’t say much about without spoiling the whole deal and trust me this isn’t one you want ruined ahead of time, it’s that affecting. It’s easy to see why this didn’t make waves at the box office and how it left a lot of critics cold (Ebert got it, and loved it) as it’s a slow, stylish, disorientating experience that slowly reveals secrets it holds close to its chest for much of the duration.

Ewan McGregor is an NYC psychiatrist who is filling in for his colleague at a university when a distraught young art major (Ryan Gosling) wanders into his office and announces plans to kill himself a few days from then. What to do? The guy seems eerily resolute as if his fate is somehow already decided, and seems like he’s already halfway gone to the other side. McGregor’s wife (Naomi Watts) tried to end her own life once so the doctor is no stranger to these things, but something about Gosling unnerves him to his soul, especially when he tells him about voices he’s hearing, phenomena that soon leak into the doctor’s own waking perception and blur the lines between reality and… something else. Bob Hoskins is low key great as a blind colleague that he plays chess with, and watch for nice work from Mark Margolis, Kate Burton, Elizabeth Reaser, Sterling K. Brown, Amy Sedaris, Michael Gaston, Isaach De Bankolé and Janeane Garofalo too.

It’s very important that you give unwavering attention to this film if you wish to get the most out of it. Best viewed in the wee hours, all lights off and on your own, it’s a visual and auditory mood board of sounds, faces, snippets of seemingly arbitrary yet crucial dialogue and scene-to-scene transitions that are orchestrated to confuse and confound yet make sense on a cosmic level when looked back upon later. McGregor and Watts are terrific but Gosling owns the film in what is probably his great under-sung performance. We get the sense that although this guy seems lost, devastated and out of place and time that he still somehow knows exactly where and when he is, but isn’t telling anyone else a thing as it’s not their place to know… yet. The artwork for this film suggests something sketchy, scary and horror oriented but the reality, although jarring and unsettling, is something gentler, more close to the soul and spirit. Director Forster (Monster’s Ball, Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland) is no stranger to deep, challenging projects and here he strives to go beyond what we’d usually see in a film like this, and make it stick. He’s helped by everyone involved including an otherworldly score composed by offbeat musical duo Asche & Spencer to make this something unique, something to Stay with you long after the credits have rolled and the sun peeks over the horizon. Haunting, dreamlike, ethereal, altogether brilliant piece of filmmaking.

-Nate Hill

Shane Black’s The Predator

So.. Shane Black’s The Predator. Haters gonna hate I suppose, but I really don’t get the negativity thrown this one’s way, it’s a shit ton of fun. Admittedly a stark departure from any other film in the franchise, Black’s signature is to brand things with an irreverent comedic stamp, and they should have realized that when they handed over the torch to him. This is Predator in American suburbia, a much smaller film than those before, but no less gory, imaginative or propulsive, and certainly nowhere close to as disappointing as I’ve read in some of these hilarious reviews. After a jungle set opening that mirrors John McTiernan’s original classic both visually and musically, a device worn by one of the Predators gets accidentally mailed to the young son (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) of the military sniper (Boyd Holbrook, channeling 80’s Michael Biehn nicely) who managed to kill one of them, all hell breaks loose when the rest of the creatures come looking for it, and intergalactic war hits the home front. Holbrook is placed on a prison bus populated by the Loonies, disgraced ex soldiers with PTSD who serve as the perfect rogue unit to abscond with the bus and take on the aliens using guns, bad jokes, a constant stream of profanity and eccentric personalities. Elsewhere, Olivia Munn’s super scientist makes educated guesses about both the intentions and biology of the Predators, eventually joining forces with the Loonies. It’s madcap and almost has an adult Amblin vibe which actually works quite well. Scene stealer Sterling K. Brown makes an oddball villain as a snarky Fed with his own agenda, while Jake Busey slyly plays the son of his dad’s Uber Predator hunter from the 1990 sequel. Now, the Loonies are as off colour a bunch as you’d expect to see in a Shane Black flick, but for me their weird chemistry and crudeness worked. Keegan Michael Key is the coked up comic relief, a guy who punctuates every awkward silence with a severely raunchy joke, Alfie Allen is underwritten but present, Trevente Rhodes scores big as Nebraska Williams, a chain smoking ex CO who is the brains of the bunch. My favourite performance of the film is Thomas Jane cast way against type as Baxley, who suffers from Tourette’s except when the plot requires him to steadily hold a firearm. I’ve read a lot of people call his character insensitive and I’m not sure what they’re drawing from, I have a family member who has Tourette’s and Jane’s work here is one of the most realistic depictions I’ve seen on film, it’s probably just all the other comedic commotion around him that accents it. Alongside Jane, I really like Munn, who obviously doesn’t look the part of a brainy scientist but fully gets the vibe here and has a lot of fun with her role. The Predators themselves seem bigger, louder and more vicious than before, often seen in broad daylight, with nastier attitudes and, at one point, speaking in plain English albeit via translator. Their part of the story is definitely far fetched but has imagination and thought put into it. They’re less the hunters here (except for that eleven foot tall motherfucker) and more like space spies with their own private feud going on. This has obviously been a divisive film so far.. I’ve heard a buddy say that it’s ‘one of the worst movies he’s ever seen.’ I can’t imagine that’s anything but overzealous overkill, it’s not an instant classic or anything but it was bloody fun, entertaining stuff. Honestly, my only complaint? It wasn’t long enough. There are areas that feel patchy and I imagine that’s where this studio interference I keep hearing about took place, and although it doesn’t come close to ruining the movie, I’d really love to see a director’s cut from Black at some point. But what we got was a solid blast of a film from where I’m sat. I mean, you get a guy like Shane Black to make a Predator film, it’s not like this is some gun for hire, he’s his own specific artist and is going to make the thing his way. Studio cuts aside, he’s done a slam bang job here, an action horror comedy sci-fi hybrid that feels as retro as it should while injecting new life and flavour into the mythos. Call me crazy, I guess.

-Nate Hill