Tag Archives: C

THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF WOLFBOY

Producers: Kimberly Steward, Josh Godfrey, Lauren Beck, Declan Baldwin and Benjamin Blake   Director: Martin Krejčí   Screenplay: Olivia Dufault   Cast: Jaeden Martell, Chris Messina, Eve Hewson, Michelle Wilson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sophie Giannamore, Chloë Sevigny, John Turturro, Melissa Mandisa, Nick Pulinski and Colin Patrick Farrell    Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Grade: C+

Writer Olivia Dufault and director Martin Krejčí have fashioned an uneasy blend of fantasy and realism in this curious tale of a thirteen-year old boy afflicted by hypertrichosis, the condition that results in an abnormally hirsute appearance.  Juggling scenes that might come out of an after-school special with others that aim for an ethereal lightness, and sometimes trying to combine both elements in a single moment, “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” winds up as an earnest near-miss. 

Jaeden Martell stars as Paul, who wears a ski mask to conceal his abundant hair and heavily-whiskered face from curious onlookers.  As the film opens, he’s sullen and unhappy visiting a cheesy carnival with his dad, sanitation-worker Denny (Chris Messina), on his thirteenth birthday—a visit made worse when he’s bullied by a trio of nasty teens. 

Back home, he’s angered when Denny, desperately trying to make things better for the boy, announces he’s arranged for him to go to a school for “special” kids, and the situation becomes worse when Paul gets an unexpected anonymous gift giving directions about where he might find his mother—who left when he was born but, he’s sure, would be more sympathetic than Denny.  So he runs off to find her, forcing Denny to contact the police for help.

From this point the movie turns into an episodic road-trip.  Paul winds up back at the carnival, where he asks its owner Mr. Silk (John Turturro) for directions.  The sinister fellow sees Paul as a potential money-maker for the show, and agrees to help if the boy will agree to go on display for a time.  He does, but is quickly dismayed at becoming the focus of ridicule, and literally burns down the carnival while escaping with a wad of Silk’s cash.

Fortunately the first person he encounters is Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore), a tough-tongued transgender girl who performs a mermaid song—complete with bubbles—at a joint run by hard-bitten, eye-patched Rose (Eve Hewson).  She offers the duo a ride to Paul’s Pennsylvania destination in her van, but in the process introduces them to the joys of roadside robbery, employing the boy’s ski mask (along with a water pistol painted black) as props.  And Paul gets hooked on the adrenaline rush.

Naturally they are now being pursued by various people—not just distraught Denny and the cops led by straight-arrow Pollok (Michelle Wilson), but the nefarious Silk, who’s thirsting for revenge.  And a confrontation does occur when Paul arrives at the site given him anonymously back home.

But that’s not the end, of course, because inevitably a reunion with his mother Jen (Chloë Sevigny) does occur, as well as a meeting with a character named Nicholas (Stephen McKinley Henderson), whose existence he was unaware of but explains a great deal.  Like so much in the film, the conclusion is bittersweet.

There’s a good deal in “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” that’s touching—not only Martell’s soulful performance, which registers even through heavy makeup, but Giannamore’s equally revealing one—while Hewson offers a dose of sheer energy to the mix.  The adults are less impressive, however.  Messina and Sevigny offer rather hesitant turns, and Turturro, as an obviously devilish figure, is awfully broad. Henderson, however, delivers a pivotal message at the close convincingly.

The craft contributions of the picture, shot in the Buffalo area, are equally inconsistent.  The more “realistic” elements are presented pretty blandly by production designer Aaron Osborne and cinematographer Andrew Draz Palermo, but the two perk up noticeably in the more “magical” moments, such as the carnival sequences.  Joseph Krings’s unhurried editing divides the narrative into chapters that are introduced by colorful title cards (“Wolfboy Meets a Mermaid,” “Wolfboy Deals With the Devil”) that might have been taken from an old boys’ adventure book, while Nick Urata contributes a lush score punctuated by a smattering of pop songs.                  

As a coming-of-age tale with a message about learning to be yourself even if the world is hostile to who you are, “Wolfboy” is certainly well-meaning and laudable, and it showcases excellent performances from its young stars.  In the end, though, it’s a mixed bag of admirable elements and ones that don’t quite come off.    

COME PLAY

Producers: Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman    Director: Jacob Chase   Screenplay: Jacob Chase   Cast: Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr., Azhy Robertson, Winslow Fegley, Jayden Marine, Gavin MacIver-Wright, Eboni Booth, Rachel Wilson and Alana-Ashley Marques   Distributor: Focus Features

Grade: C

You don’t expect a horror movie to be logical in any realistic sense, but what you have a right to expect is internal logic—that the pieces will fall into place within the plot’s own self-established rules.  “Come Play” fails that test; it simply does whatever seems convenient at each moment to the makers whether it’s explicable within the confines of the story or not.  The result is that though an attempt is made late in the fame to explain matters, the movie is infuriating more often than frightening.

“Come Play” is another film, like the recent “Don’t Look Back,” is expanded from a short film by the writer-director, in this case 2017’s “Larry.”  In that eerie five-minute piece, a night-shift attendant in a parking lot booth found a tablet in the lost-and-found box with an e-book installed called “Misunderstood Monsters.”  When activated, the book released a creature called Larry that claimed to be looking for a friend and threatened the man.  Finis. 

In extending that little vignette to feature length, Jacob Chase has taken a page—though in this case one converted into a technologically advanced format—from “The Babadook” and turned the guy in the booth into a secondary character,  Marty (John Gallagher Jr.), whose marriage to Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) is falling apart.  They’re on the verge of separating, and the situation is taking an emotional toll on their little son Oliver (Azhy Robertson), an autistic child unable to speak.  Bullied at school by three boys—Winslow Fegley’s Byron, Jayden Marine’s Mateo and Gavin MacIver-Wright’s Zach—he loses his cell phone, on which the Misunderstood Monsters book has already appeared, beckoning to him—though he hasn’t yet summoned Larry into the “real” world, preferring to watch Spongebob Squarepants.  The device was extraordinarily important to him, as it boasted a text-to-talk app that gave the boy some ability to communicate in class.

As in the short, Marty spies a tablet in his booth’s lost-and-found box and brings it home for Oliver as a replacement before packing up and moving out.  Now, as Sarah tries to get Oliver to socialize—she even obtusely invites Byron, Mateo and Zach over for a sleepover, a night that predictably does not go well—Larry, who seems to travel, at least initially, via electrical impulses (lights flicker and go out as he moves about) emerges in full, and things get spookier and more dangerous.  There’s a car crash—apparently engineered by Larry–in which Marty is seriously injured, and it’s pretty much up to Sarah to save her boy from the creature, which apparently intends to spirit his unwilling new friend away to some other plane of existence.

“Come Play” is intended as a parable about the perils of loneliness—Oliver is an isolated child yearning for human contact and heavily dependent on technology as compensation, while Larry is portrayed as something that at least claims to be searching for a BFF.  (The link between them is cleverly italicized at one point, when non-verbal Larry, having migrated to a television screen, communicates by stringing together words from different broadcasts into sentences.)   But what it seems to imply about autistic children as potential conduits for evil is rather unseemly, and the ending—which apes the conclusion of “The Exorcist,” which was the weakest element of that film—makes little sense in the context of what the script has been telling us all along.  (Larry, it appears, is willing to accept substitutions.) The resolution of the bullying subplot, moreover, is so ridiculously pat that one suspects Chase simply decided it wasn’t worth taking seriously.

Jacobs and Gallagher bring a lot of wild, unfocused intensity to Oliver’s parents, and Robertson, who was impressive as the tyke who was the focus of his dueling, divorcing parents in “Marriage Story,” makes a sympathetic young protagonist.  Larry, too—described in the credits as being a joint effort of four puppeteers, though CGI was also clearly involved—is pretty creepy.  One certainly  can’t fault the work of cinematographer Maxime Alexandre, production designer David J. Bomba or editor Gregory Plotkin overmuch; they do as well as anyone could have with a screenplay that’s really a random mishmash of assorted horror effects trying to be simultaneously an affecting portrait of family dysfunction and a spooky creature feature.  And composer Roque Baños does what he can to inject some tension into the piece. 

But like so many short films turned into features, “Come Play” is an elaboration that takes what was intriguing in brief form and transforms it into something that feels rather derivative and flabby.