Film Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon

Writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz’s feature debut The Peanut Butter Falcon is an offbeat and very endearing tale.

When Zak escapes from his care home, he encounters Tyler, a small time crook. The pair set out on a less than straightforward journey south…

Written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a road movie with an odd couple as its central protagonists. The juxtaposition of these two characters functions well. Tyler’s predominant drive seems to be self-interest, whilst Zak’s ambition is to get to the wrestling school. As so with road movies, it is the metaphorical journey that is pivotal.

As the narrative progresses, the friendship between Zak and Tyler develops in a charming manner. Dialogue between the pair is often amusing, and sometimes heartfelt. Nilson and Schwartz have crafted characters that viewers will really care about. The film relays background detail distinctly, leaving room for characters to grow whilst showing how they got to this point. 

The film is overt in its reference to Mark Twain; the author’s influence on the filmmakers is abundantly clear. The travelling along the river, and the friendship between an unlikely pair make the film feel like a homage to Twain. 

The narrative is littered with humorous incidences along the way as the pair make their way to their destination. The addition of Eleanor just before final third does change the dynamic. However, her presence enhances the camaraderie, rather than distracting from it. 

The soundtrack feels in keeping with the setting, whilst photography captures the beauty and wildness of the landscape. The Peanut Butter Falcon delivers good performances from Shia Labeouf, Zack Gottsagen, and Dakota Johnson. John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, and Thomas Haden Church are cast in some wonderful minor roles. The appearance of former wrestlers is a nice touch. 

The Peanut Butter Falcon is both heartwarming and humorous. A charming debut from Nilson and Schwartz. 

The Peanut Butter Falcon is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019. 

London Film Festival 2014 – Preview of Coming Attractions

Second Coming

The full programme for the BFI London Film Festival 2014 was announced today, and it is brimming with fascinating artifacts. A total of 245 fiction and documentary features, including 16 World Premieres, are being screening during the twelve day festival, as well as 148 shorts. Opening the London Film Festival 2014 is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. The festival closes with David Ayer’s Fury, starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf. The BFI London Film Festival 2014 runs from 8th-19th October. Here are my picks from the programme…

Men, Women & Children

Following the success of Young Adult and Labor Day, Jason Reitman’s latest film is an adaptation Chad Kultgen’s novel. Focusing on emotional isolation in the digital age, Men, Women & Children features an ensemble cast that includes Jennofer Garner, Adam Sandler and Judy Greer. 

Second Coming

Second Coming is Debbie Tucker Green’s directorial debut. The British drama stars Nadine Marshall and Idris Elba as a London-based couple living with their teenage son. Second Coming is one of the film’s shortlisted for the London Film Festival 2014’s First Feature Competition.

Whiplash

Whiplash

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is about the relationship between a musical prodigy and his teacher. Starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, the film won the Grend Jury and Audience awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Dear White People

Writer-director Justin Simien’s Dear White People is a satire which tackles the issue of race in contemporary America. Set at an Ivy League college, the film concerns a sole-black fraternity which is to be diversified.

White God

A film about a dog. When young Lili goes to stay with her dad, he is not interested in looking after her pet dog Hagen. Deciding to leave the dog at the side of the road, this sets off a eye-opening series of events in director Kornél Mundruczó’s White Dog.

Tickets for the BFI London Film Festival 2014 go on sale to the public on Thursday 18th September 2014. For the full schedule, and details of events, see here.

Film Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is pretty much the quintessential Michael Bay movie. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on your predilection for the director’s work.

Since the last war with the Decepticons, the Autobots have been living on Earth peacefully and helping the humans with their conflict problems. When the Autobots hear about a Cybertronian spacecraft that was found on the moon by humans, they race to get hold of it. The Autobots and humans must ensure its cargo does not get into the hands of the Decepticons…

Transformers: Dark of the Moon suffers from the same ailments as its predecessor, Revenge of the Fallen. It may look and sound great, but there is very little substance to the film beyond this. The narrative leaves a lot to be desired. Although the initial premise sounds quite adequate for a second sequel, its execution lets the movie down.

Lessons were not learnt from the last film. The pacing in Dark of the Moon is off; too much time is spent building up to the ending action. As a result, the ending is anticlimactic. It feels protracted; there are too many lulls before the big fight. Any momentum that had been building is offset but a lack of strong direction. The film goes on for far too long. There are plenty of scenes that could have been trimmed significantly, or even omitted altogether.

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger’s dialogue is terrible at times, especially from the machines. There is humour to be found in the film, particularly around the central character of Sam. However, the film relies on crude national stereotypes in its depictions of the Autobots and Decepticons. The cartoon series has much greater character development than this film. Elsewhere, the lack of attention to detail is just as palpable. New characters are introduced, yet some of them just disappear before the final third of the film.

The effects are superb, and the entire film has a glossy sheen. Dark of the Moon is also one of the rare cases where it is worth seeing a live-action movie in 3D. The sound is bombastic, pulsating through the action sequences. However, Steve Jablonsky’s score is sometimes reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s The Dark Knight soundtrack. This is compounded by a set piece where the action and location are strikingly similar to one in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film.

Performances vary throughout the film. Shia LaBeouf is amusing as ever as Sam. John Malkovich is good, but underused in his role. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, however, is atrocious. Although the role of Carly requires her to do little but look attractive and be rescued, she is incredibly inauthentic.

So much energy was expended in the special effects for Dark of the Moon, and it really shows in the end product. It is a pity not even a small percentage of this effort was put into the screenplay.

Film Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Admirers of Oliver Stone’s 1987 classic Wall Street were surely intrigued when news of a sequel first broke. Although the film begins well, it loses its way; Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps does not come close to matching the overall quality of its predecessor.

A number of years after he is released from prison, Gordon Gekko is on the book promotion circuit. Jake Moore is going out with Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie, and attends one of Gekko’s lectures to introduce himself. Jake needs help with his career, so Gekko uses this to enlist the young trader’s help in reuniting him with his daughter…

A sequel to Wall Street seems particularly timely given the economic turmoil of recent years. Given that the film is set in 2008, it would appear that writers Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff aimed to capitalise on the distrust felt towards the finance sector. The film is successful in one regard; with a backdrop of the economic crisis with a company modelled on Lehman Brothers, it easy to follow the parallels. Nevertheless, despite the possibilities offered by this setting, the filmmakers chose to refrain from more hard-hitting commentary to focus on the personal story. In another film this may not have been an issue, but it all feels like it has done before in this sequel.

Jake is much like Bud Fox in the original film. A young up-and-comer, just like Bud, Gekko takes Jake under his wing. Again, Jake is warned against this, but decides to trust in Gekko’s wealth of experience instead. Jake is hotheaded and quite an interesting character to watch, but is just too similar to Bud.

Gordon Gekko is one of the most memorable characters in cinema of the last thirty years. In Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, however, is character flip-flops so many times it really is a betrayal of the persona built by the first film. At certain times his actions become predictable, while at other times they appear irrational in the context.

Michael Douglas is on good form as Gekko; it is just a pity the script does not live up to expectation. Shia LaBeouf gives a decent performance in a role that doesn’t really stretch his capabilities. Carey Mulligan doesn’t shine as Winnie, but in her defense the character is pretty doltish. Josh Brolin meanwhile brings some much needed gravitas as Bretton James.

The visual aesthetic is almost faultless, with some really intriguing cinematography. Likewise, the sound is great, combining the score with a splendid use of well-known tunes. The product placement is a sticking point, however, as the presumably intentional concentration on certain brands is distracting. Stone seemingly wished to make a comment about capitalism, but in this big-budget production there is an air of hypocrisy about it.

An opportunity to bring back a memorable character with hardly a more appropriate backdrop, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps fails to live up to its initial promise. With a better script and a more coherent narrative, the film could have struck gold.