“In June I graduate. And then I go to my safety school. And then I get a little older. And then I die.”
Set in the summer of 1994 against the backdrop of a now-unfamiliar incarnation of New York, The Wackness is a disarmingly tender drama that unfolds with the heightened reality of a hazy memory. My own recollection of the trailer had led me to expect a coming of age story as Luke experiences first love in the summer before college; in fact the film belongs equally to Ben Kingsley who revels in the flamboyant role of Dr Squires, with whom Luke trades drugs for therapy sessions and develops a friendship. It is telling that the mumbling, drug-dealing teenager demonstrates greater maturity than most of those around him, even as he navigates virgin emotional territory; the film’s adults appear to illustrate the failure to come of age, or at least the fact that maturity is a continuing process. There is a tonal clash between the off-kilter humour in The Wackness and its more serious intentions, but not enough to derail this beautifully shot musing on embracing life’s painful splendour.
“If you succeed, for the first time in our history we will judge our executioner. And we will warn off any who wishes to follow his example. If you fail, he escapes justice, perhaps forever. I beg you. Do not fail.”
A historical thriller based on the capture of notorious Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann (a major organiser of the Holocaust who escaped to Argentina after the war) to stand trial in Israel, Operation Finale is at its strongest in its quiet moments. Ben Kingsley as Eichmann and Oscar Isaac as Peter Malkin, one of his captors, perform compellingly as their conversations in a Mossad safehouse form a tense game in which they probe one another for weaknesses. Kingsley provides a measured portrayal of Eichmann as dispassionately remorseless rather than a frothing monster (what Hannah Arendt described as “the banality of evil”) and the film avoids melodrama in its restrained Holocaust depictions, though some will doubtless find the result too sympathetic to one who facilitated so much death. Eichmann’s personality is contrasted against the the visceral anger and desire for revenge felt by the Mossad agents forced into proximity with their enemy, as well as the guilt that haunts them for past crimes. Little time is spent on the trial itself, and the impact of worldwide broadcast of holocaust eyewitness testimony is somewhat lost in favour of the hollow sense of personal vindication.
Vampires and videogames may sound on-brand for me but, directed by notorious hack Uwe Boll, BloodRayne isn’t just bad — it’s aggressively awful. Watching distinguished actors slumming it can be fun when they cut loose and enjoy themselves but the universally lifeless performances feel almost like a directorial choice as much as disinterested apathy. Ditching the videogame’s mindlessly enjoyable vampires vs Nazis hook (presumably so that he could still take advantage of the German tax incentives that enable his career), Boll transplants the dhampir Rayne into a wafer-thin medieval fantasy revenge tale with atrocious dialogue that would be embarrassing even in an interactive medium. I admit to finding a brief glimmer of genuine entertainment in a few scenes where the film unintentionally descended into a parody of itself. Incredibly, Boll made two more of these; unsurprisingly, almost none of the cast returned.
“Shift your hunting ground for a few years and everyone forgets how the law works. Well, let me remind you. A man-cub becomes man, and man is forbidden!”
Although commonly labelled live-action, that is not entirely accurate since Neel Sethi is the only actor who appears onscreen, with CGI filling the space around him. A wobbly opening scene concerned me but generally the CGI is excellent, with breathtaking vibrant jungle vistas when the camera pulls back to capture characters in silhouette. The A-list voice talent can be a little distracting, although Bill Murray is an inspired choice for Baloo. Similarly, retaining just a few of the Disney songs is a stranger choice than excising them entirely. Sethi’s Mowgli is believably curious, isolated and angry, Favreau drawing out an impressive performance against empty green screens. It is not a classic, but the original was not Disney at its height either and this stands comfortably alongside it.