Tag Archives: B-

THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW

Producer: Tarik Karam and Danielle Renfrew Behrens
Director: Peter Livolsi
Writer: Peter Livolsi
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Alex Wolff, Ellen Burstyn, Nick Offerman, Maude Apatow, Fred Armisen and Michaela Watkins
Studio: Shout! Studios

B-

An adolescent odd couple bond over punk rock in “The House of Tomorrow,” a pleasantly quirky adaptation of Peter Bognanni’s novel by first-time writer-director Peter Livolsi, which employs a fine cast to sidestep most of the afterschool-special pitfalls the material invites.

Asa Butterfield uses his skill at playing awkward and quizzical—which he earlier demonstrated in “A Brilliant Young Mind” (also known as “X+Y”) and “The Space Between Us”—as Sebastian Prendergast, a sheltered sixteen-year old who has lived most of his life in a geodesic dome outside Minneapolis with his grandmother Josephine (Ellen Burstyn), a disciple of Buckminster Fuller who uses their home to introduce visitors to her master’s ideas. Home schooled and as devoted to Fuller’s theories as his grandmother, Sebastian has had little contact with the outside world.

One day a group of youngsters from a Lutheran church, led by Alan Whitcomb (an amusingly laid-back Nick Offerman), tours the place. Alan’s son Jared (Alex Wolff) challenges Josephine about the reasonableness of Fuller’s belief in the possibility of human progress, and she suffers a minor stroke, leading Alan to accompany her and Sebastian to the hospital. Jared goes along, and he and Sebastian strike up a conversation, at one point sharing some punk rock on Jared’s phone. Sebastian is hooked, and Alan invites him to visit their house sometime.

Jared, you see, needs some friendship, because he’s rebelling against the structures imposed by a recent heart transplant—a regimen Alan is insistent on his following. Jared’s only joy is in practicing the guitar up in his room. When Sebastian shows up unannounced, he’s initially annoyed, but is soon won over by the shy kid’s newly-found passion for the music he loves. Before long Sebastian is strumming on the guitar as well, and the two will plan on starting a band, a scheme that involves Sebastian borrowing another instrument from the church without Alan knowing.

Naturally Sebastian’s absences from the dome cause Josephine to wonder about what he’s up to, and lead to a breach between them. Eventually Alan will take him in, but at the same time he’s concerned that allowing the boys—who now refer to themselves as “The Rash,” a decision that’s probably their most significant achievement toward becoming a real band—to perform at the church talent show will exhaust his son, who has already suffered a crisis after ceasing to take his medication. That leads to their decision to take drastic action to find a performance space.

This could easily be the stuff of a Nickelodeon cable movie, and in truth there are moments when it threatens to fall into that trap, most notably in the last reel, where things turn out well in a whole variety of unlikely ways. That it never goes completely off the rails is due largely to the charm exuded by Butterfield and Wolff, and the chemistry they have together. But Offerman’s concerned but somewhat clueless dad is a plus as well, and Maude Apatow adds a solid turn as Jared’s sister, who at first acts like a typically surly sibling but turns out to be much more supportive than she seems. Michaela Watkins contributes a poignant note in a virtual cameo as Alan’s heavy-drinking wife, who is living apart from the rest of the family.

And then there’s Burstyn, who delivers a nicely nuanced performance as a true Fuller believer. A brief black-and-white clip of her with him occurs at one point among the archival footage assembled as an educational tool for Josephine’s lectures (the narration is provided by Fred Armisen, employing a bland professorial voice); it’s no technical trick, since Burstyn actually knew and worked with him in earlier days. The picture, shot in Minnesota at a dome house in Dayton inspired by Fuller’s ideas (and partially funded by the Film Program of the Sloan Foundation, which promotes movies about scientific progress), boasts nice cinematography by Corey Walter. The other technical work is solid as well, and Rob Simonsen provides an agreeable score, complemented by plenty of punk numbers.

“The House of Tomorrow” may not break much new narrative ground, but it treads fairly familiar territory with a nicely light touch, adding some inventive tweaks along the way. And the excellent cast makes it go down easily.

WILDLING

Producer: Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Liv Tyler and Charlotte Ubben
Director: Fritz Bohm
Writer: Fritz Bohm and Florian Eder
Stars: Bel Bowley, Liv Tyler, Brad Dourif, Collin Kelly-Sordelet, James Le Gros, Troy Ruptash, Keenan Jolliff, Mike Faist, Charlotte Ubben, Arlo Mertz and Aviva Winick
Studio: IFC Midnight

B-

In this era of zombie apocalypse mania, werewolves have been shunted off to the side, but Fritz Bohm’s feature debut offers an intriguing spin on the hairy (and, one might add, hoary) old genre, except in this case the creature is called a wildling.

What precisely is a wildling? The term is explained in considerable detail by a character called Daddy (Brad Dourif) in the film’s first act, as he tells horrifying bedtime stories to a young girl named Anna (played first by Arlo Mertz and then by Aviva Winick). The wildling, he says, is a hairy beast with sharp teeth, with which it devours children. That, he explains, is why he keeps Anna in her drab, dark room with the doorknob rigged to deliver an electric shock if she attempts to leave.

But that’s not all Daddy is doing to Anna. No, he’s not a pedophile, but he is treating her with painful injections (delivered to the stomach), which he claims are medicinal but instead seem designed to obstruct the maturation process. So while she grows externally into a young woman (Bel Powley), she remains childlike in other physical respects.

When the drugs prove not to be working, however, Daddy takes an apparently drastic action that sends Anna into the outside world. After a hospital stay, she is taken in by Sheriff Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler), a kindly sort who thinks she requires more personal treatment than a regular foster home would provide. There Anna begins to learn about ordinary life, not only from Ellen but from her younger brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet). Though he’s bullied at school, he tries to protect her against the class thugs, and they grow closer over time.

But Anna is undergoing some profound changes—not just puberty but something quite unusual. You have probably already guessed what that is, but if not her gradual transformation toward wildness and the encounters she has with a man decked out in wolfskins (James Le Gros) during her rambles through the forest should make matters clear. By the time a confrontation with one of the school bullies after a teen party goes completely awry, it has become obvious what Anna is becoming, and why Daddy was so intent on preventing it from happening. The outcome sends Anna and Ray fleeing into the woods to escape a gang of hunters aiming to end the problem before it escalates further; it’s led by a familiar face.

On one level, “Wildling” is a parable of woman’s coming of age, a metaphor of female empowerment. But it’s also a genre piece, a revisionist take on the werewolf legend that strips it of the oft-repeated tropes about silver bullets and the full moon and offers a different mythology to replace it, one based on evolutionary principles that might be no less absurd but at least makes it different.

And Bohm, his co-writer Florian Eder, and their collaborators—cinematographer Toby Oliver, production designer Lauren Fitzsimmons, editors Robb and Matthew Sullivan and composer Paul Haslinger—have put together a package that works surprisingly well for an hour or so, building a feeling of dread that’s made palpable by Powley’s stunning performance and sympathetic support from Kelly-Sordelet. (One might question whether even so lonesome a kid as Ray would be drawn to the increasingly formidable Anna to the extent that he is, but Kelly-Sordelet exudes enough vulnerability to make it plausible.)

By contrast Dourif comes across as creepy, but in a rather familiar fashion, while Tyler’s restraint leaves Ellen seeming a bit dense, and Le Gros can’t do much with the oddball Wolf Man figure.

In the final half-hour, “Wildling” becomes something more conventional—a chase movie pitting the now-feral Anna against a mob that’s out to do her in—and the chase goes on rather too long for comfort.

But if it reaches the finish line a bit winded, Bohm’s movie, powered by Powley’s strong turn, should please genre fans looking for something different—old wine, perhaps, but in a spiffy new bottle.