Tag Archives: C

DANIEL ISN’T REAL






Producers: Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Lisa Whalen and Elijah Wood   Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer   Screenplay: Adam Egypt Mortimer and Brian DeLeeuw   Cast: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Mary Stuart Masterson, Hannah Marks, Chukwudi Iwuji, Peter McRobbie, Michael Cuomo, Andrew Bridges, Griffin Robert Foster and Nathan Reid   Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Grade:  C

While watching “Daniel Isn’t Real,” one’s mind may wander back to Richard Kelly’s remarkable “Donnie Darko” (2001), another tale of a troubled teen’s descent into madness.  That brilliant film went largely unappreciated at the time, though it has since built a cult following, and though its power was diluted by the misguided “director’s cut” of 2004, which made overly explicit what was wonderfully ambiguous in the original version, it remains a remarkable debut feature.  (A pity its promise wasn’t realized.  Kelly’s follow-up, “Southland Tales” of 2006, was an elephantine mess, and “The Box,” his 2009 adaptation of Richard Matheson’s “Button, Button,” a misfire. He’s made no films since.)

But while “Daniel Isn’t Real” might remind you of “Donnie Darko,” it’s not in the same league.

Based on the 2009 novel “In This Way I Was Saved” by co-scripter Brian DeLeeuw, it begins with a prologue in which young Luke (Griffin Robert Faulkner), upset by the infighting between his parents, wanders into the street, where he witnesses the bloody aftermath of a mass shooting.  As he stares at the corpses, he’s joined by another boy who introduces himself as Daniel (Nathan Reid).

Only Luke can see Daniel, and adopts him as his closest—indeed, only—friend.  His psychologically troubled, now single mother Claire (Mary Stuart Masterson) tolerates his imaginative obsession until Daniel’s influence becomes increasingly dangerous, so she insists that Luke lock Daniel up in her mother’s incredibly elaborate dollhouse and do without the emotional crutch he provided.

The approach apparently works for awhile, because when we next see Luke, he’s a college student (Miles Robbins)—a distracted, uncertain one, to be sure, but apparently much better off than his mother, who has descended into deep schizophrenia and has to be institutionalized.  Luke worries that he’s fated to follow her example, and makes a central mistake by effectively releasing Daniel from his imprisonment; he’s aged too, and is now played by Patrick Schwarzenegger—as handsome, unflappable and arrogant as Luke is haggard, nervous and shy, and even more likely to incite trouble than ever.  The question is whether he’s the manifestation of Luke’s split personality, or the embodiment of a malignant force operating independently, with its own agenda?

The film provides answers, of a sort, as it follows Luke and Daniel on their peregrinations.  Daniel is constantly urging Luke to loosen up and act on his urges, and to an extent he does when he meets Cassie (Sasha Lane), an artistically-minded free spirit who paints a portrait of Luke in which the shadow of Daniel—or his evil reality—seems to be looming in the background.  Concerned that Daniel might be a malevolent entity that’s attached itself to him, Luke asks a school counselor (Chukwudi Iwuji) for help, but the overeager fellow conducts a therapy session that discloses the full horror of the connection Luke and Daniel have. 

It’s at this point that the film becomes increasingly given over to special effects—handmade ones rather than expensive CGI—and under Adam Egypt Mortimer’s unsteady hand becomes increasingly odd, with Kent McAnneny’s production design and Lyle Vincent’s cinematography growing more and more lurid.  (A dreamlike visit to that palatial dollhouse looks like a Halloween amusement-park attraction.)  A confrontation between Luke and Daniel is inevitable, of course, and it’s equally obligatory that Cassie should be involved.  The combat hearkens back to the games the boys used to play as kids, but the outcome is hardly so benign. 

Both Robbins and Schwarzenegger work hard , but neither really succeeds in bringing his character to life.  The latter draws what’s basically a caricature of a cool stud with a malicious gleam in his eye; he looks great, but it’s all empty pose.  The former, on the other hand, is so pained and recessive, with a mop of unruly hair constantly falling over his brow, that it’s difficult to believe his final transformation into a fighter.  Lane forces things as Sasha, and Iwuji overdoes the therapist’s naiveté, but Masterson adds a touch of class to the proceedings as poor Claire. 

The central conceit of “Daniel Isn’t Real” is an intriguing one, and for a while the film fascinates; but it loses its way by descending into full horror-movie mode in the last half-hour—and not managing it very well.              

THE AERONAUTS






Producers: Todd Lieberman, David Hoberman and Tom Harper   Director: Tom Harper   Screenplay: Jack Thorne   Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Courtenay, Phoebe Fox, Himesh Patel, Rebecca Front, Robert Glenister, Vincent Perez and Anne Reid   Distributor: Amazon Studios

Grade:  C+

At last—a movie for fans of the Weather Channel!  Though it hardly hews to the historical record, Tom Harper’s “The Aeronauts” is about the beginnings of the science of meteorology, or weather forecasting—done up in the form of a romantic adventure, no less.  It’s engaging enough though a mess historically, but runs out of gas—or hot air—before a strenuously triumphant finale.

Jack Thorne’s screenplay, based on a story constructed by him and director Tom Harper, is loosely based on a record-breaking balloon ascent taken by James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) on September 5, 1862.  He rose to an unprecedented height—estimated between 35,000 and 37,000 feet (exact barometric measurement was made impossible because Glaisher passed out around 30,000 feet).  The flight was a significant step in establishing meteorology—and weather forecasting—as an accepted scientific field. 

In real life Glaisher was a stern-looking fellow in his early fifties in 1862, the Superintendant of the Meteorology Department at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.  He’s played here by the boyish, thirty-seven year old Redmayne as a professional outcast whose ideas are ridiculed by the vast majority of his peers in the scientific societies of nineteenth-century Britain.  Glaisher’s pilot was Henry Tracey Coxwell, a thoroughly professional balloonist.  He’s replaced in the film by a beautiful, spunky, liberated, publicity-generating woman named Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones, who co-starred with Redmayne in Harper’s “The Theory of Everything”).  She’s like a feminine P.T. Barnum, using cartwheels and fireworks, and even a parachuting little pooch, to engage the cheering crowds at takeoff.

The fact that Wren’s character is based loosely on that of real balloonist Sophie Blanchard, who (like Amelia), lost her husband (played in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him flashback by Vincent Perez) in a ballooning accident—she died, moreover, when a spark from a fireworks display ignited her craft, though that was in 1819—doesn’t really justify such a major rewriting of the record, but it does allow for some sprightly bickering between Redmayne and Jones, playing Glaisher and Wren as temperamental opposites, and their gradual warming to one another, that gives a veneer of period rom-com to the movie, Tracy-Hepburn style.

In actuality, that’s the weakest part of the picture.  Especially at the start, Wren is depicted (and played by Jones) in such an aggressively flamboyant fashion that’s she’s more irritating than charming.  Once the balloon is afloat, her manner becomes more professional, but her heroism in bringing the balloon back to earth after the frigidity of the altitude makes it difficult is so overstated that, while it certainly concludes the picture on a visually exciting action-adventure note, it comes off as ludicrous.  (The actual flight did involve desperate measures on Coxwell’s part, but nothing like this.)  The inventions do, however, make “The Aeronauts” more a triumph of female empowerment than scientific innovation.

By contrast Redmayne makes Glaisher the sort of dithering, charmingly serious young Brit who’s a fairly stock character.  As always he’s likable, and he looks good in the period costume, but in this construction his character plays distinctly second fiddle to Jones’s.  Even when the scientific community that had shunned his ideas embraces him at the close, it’s still Wren who comes off as the more commanding figure. 

Of the other actors, veteran Tom Courtenay appears as Glaisher’s father, who introduced him to astronomy but is now sinking into dementia.  He’s a formidable presence, though the part hardly taxes his talent.  Himesh Patel has the only other significant role, as one of Glaisher’s major supporters.

The film is of course a fairly lavish affair, with details of dress and locale painstakingly attended to.  The production and costume design by Christian Huband and David Hindle on the one hand and Alexandra Byrne on the other are certainly eye-catching.  (One might also point to the voluminous beards that most of the men—though not Redmayne—sport.)  The really significant element here, however, is George Steel’s widescreen cinematography, which captures the splendor of the balloon’s ascent—through clouds and storms before entering the upper atmosphere.  The icing over of the craft as it goes higher and higher, and the shots of Amelia literally clambering over the balloon’s surface to get to the top and release the gas, obviously involve a great many process shots and CGI, but they’re well handled, and Steven Price’s score complements the images nicely.  (Animal lovers will be happy that neither that parachuting pooch, nor some pigeons in later scenes, suffered any real harm.) 

So the various parts of “The Aeronauts” fare differently.  As a history lesson, it’s egregious bunk, and as a romance it’s formulaic; but as spectacle it has its moments, and as a proto-modern feminist fantasy it has an obvious attraction.  Overall, though it soars only sporadically, and then only in visual rather than emotional or scientific terms.