Life hurts. Facile films use this truth to extract drama. The worst of them exploit the characters, and in turn, the audience, for effect. One comes out of the theater feeling used and with a bitter taste in your mouth.
Writer/Director Andrew Haigh’s coming of age drama, Lean on Pete, is not one of those films.
Though flawed at times by pacing and supporting character issues, it is held together, even elevated, by a inspired and understated performance by Charlie Plummer. The success and the humanity of the film rests on his thin shoulders and he carries it like a young DiCaprio.
The film’s structural and character strengths are built on contrasts. Charley Thompson (Plummer) is a 16 year old kid, new to a working class neighborhood of Portland, having to make a new start because of his father’s unsteady employment record, immaturity, and risky lifestyle choices.
The first thing we see is Charley unpacking his few things, placing his football trophies on the windowsill. A wide receiver, he has a rangy and wiry build, suited more for long distance running, which is his other activity, than for the pounding violence of the gridiron. He says he’s waiting until he stops growing to muscle up. And there you have a powerful metaphor for this film: Charley is a vulnerable kid, waiting to be grown up, waiting to toughen up. Life and the filmmakers, however, have more immediate plans. There will be no waiting. Charley’s strength building will not happen in a gym but on the road.
And like all good road movies and novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being a major model of this film, Charley needs a partner. That partner is Lean on Pete, a quarter horse on his last legs. Charley lives down the road from a third or fourth tier racetrack. This is not Churchill Downs. These are not thoroughbreds. Leave behind the glamour of Derby Day, the dapper trainers in suits, all the hats, even the long lap around the track, with all the jockey’s calibrations of speed and tactics. Quarter horses sprint. They run as fast as they can, and if they don’t run fast enough, unscrupulous trainers and jockeys will find ways to goad them on.
But to Charley, this is a glamours and intriguing world. He begins working for a trainer, Del (Steve Busemi putting in another nuanced and rock solid performance) and falls for his second string horse, Lean On Pete. Charley doesn’t know anything about horses or racing, but Del, despite his hard-boiled exterior, takes to the kid and appreciates his work ethic. He hires him as a stable boy, but warns him, as does Del’s jockey, Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny), “Don’t fall in love with the horses.” One can imagine Del and Bonnie, in their younger and sunnier days, falling in love with a horse or two, but those salad days are long gone. These are two characters at the declining ends of their careers. Beaten up and wounded by life, but still in game, though much compromised and wearing thin.
Is that Charley’s fate, too? Is it the responsibility of the adults in a child’s life to toughen them up, shatter their infantile illusions and prepare them for the pain, some of it to arise from bad luck but most of it self-inflicted?
Does a 16 year old see his life on such terms or is hope in the open road before him? A third of way into the film, Charley makes up his mind and takes to the road with Pete.
It’s in this section, that the sweetness of his character, the tenderness and vulnerability of Charley, is most clearly revealed. And it contains the best moments in the movie, and the best moments for Plummer. His monologues with Pete, as they move across the eastern Oregon and Wyoming plains anchor and sustain the film, give the film a reason for being.
But there are adventures ahead, new strangers, threatening and deadly situations, learning experiences, toughening up.
It’s in this parade of encounters that the film’s focus weakens. In committing to be life-like, the film must choose between developing supporting characters or letting them be tools in Charley’s progression. Sometimes they pay off, Charley’s aunt for instance, and sometimes, like with the two partying vets, the berated girl, and Steve Zahn’s street person, they are more symbols that souls, dark possible paths that Charley may find himself traveling if he’s not careful and lucky.
For like horse racing, to the bystander and gambler, it seems to be about luck and fortune; while for the trainer, the jockey, and the horse, it’s about hard work, grit, and, if fortunate, grace. Lean on Pete has plenty of all those, mostly in Charlie Plummer and the character he brings to aching and hopeful life.
Joy Ride Is An Extremely Raunchy And Hilarious Comedy
Joy Ride is an extremely raunchy and hilarious comedy that takes the mantle of ensemble risky
comedies that at times, leave your mouth on the floor. Joy Ride focuses on two best friends
Audrey and Lolo (Ashley Sullivan and Sherry Cola) end up getting roped up into a trip to Asia,
they end up on gals pal cross-continent trek to find Audrey’s long lost birth mother so she
doesn’t lose a huge business deal.
The chemistry in this movie is superb. Every character has their moment to shine and there’s
rarely a scene where you don’t get a belly laugh. I was shocked at how crazy and bold this
movie got, continually pushing the line to get a laugh. The movie does a good job of getting to
the point and getting to the scenes that really make you chuckle. There are some editing choices where the story flies by some stuff, and it feels a little incomplete, but never at the expense of really enjoying being around for the journey.
I thought that this was a sleeper for this year and certainly a movie worth watching with your
friends some weekend. It’s great to throw on if you want a laugh and really just enjoy some
great actors riffing off each other. The focus on culture was a nice touch and really elevated the movie to another level. While I would say if you’re easily offended, this movie is not for you – if you’re looking for a no holds barred comedy, Joy Ride is a trip worth taking.
Who Doesn’t Want To Wear The Ninja Suit Of Snake-Eyes Or Dress Like The Mandalorian?
Hasbro has had their pulse app out for a while now. It allows for access to items to buy, preorder, and a look into future projects and releases. It also allows for a very cool thing most nerds (a group of which I am a proud card-carrying member) have always wanted, the ability to make yourself into an action figure. I’ve contemplated making one for a time but, I finally got my chance to get my hands on one at Comic-Con this year. Now, of course, I had to wait in line as it was a pretty sought-after item. Who doesn’t want to have themselves wear the ninja suit of Snake-Eyes or dressed like a Mandalorian? I was approached by one of the booth staff as I was showing my nephew all the cool ways we could get him his own MIles Morales action figure with his face (as he’s a massive fan) and invited to take a seat and scan our faces into the Hasbro Pulse app with the help of their awesome team and make this dream a reality. My wife was with us, so of course she got in on the fun too. We scanned our faces in and it was very simple and quick. Then we all selected our figures to add our heads to. We all chose Power Rangers(Me as the Black Ranger, my wife chose the pink ranger and the nephew got the red ranger). Then we were told that we needed to wait about 4-6 weeks and we’d have our custom action figure team in our hands. This was a major part of our Comic-Con adventure and definitely, a memory my wife and nephew won’t forget (as it was both of their first Con ever). Thank you to Hasbro for being so generous(also getting me brownie points that home) and I highly suggest checking out Hasbro Pulse and all the cool stuff it has to offer.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter: Double-knock on wood!
Adapted and written largely from the Captain’s Log chapter of Bram Stoker’s magnum opus Dracula, The Last Voyage of the Demeter tells the story of Dracula’s journey by ship from Carpathia to London, and what happened to her crew in the interim.
So here we are in Bulgaria, middle of 1897, and Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham) of the Russian schooner Demeter is here to take on some strange cargo from some unknown client and transport it to Carfax Abbey in London. In need of some extra hands, the Captain sends out his capable Second Wojchek (David Dastmalchian) to scout for some, and initially the roving black doctor and aspiring philosopher Clemens (Corey Hawkins) is passed over in favor of more work-roughened men. The adorable cabin boy of the Demeter, Toby (Woody Norman), narrowly misses being crushed by the mysterious dragon-marked crates being loaded onto the ship, saved by Clemens himself and switched out with the superstitious sailors running from the Demeter like they had been poisoned by the sign of Dracul. And now, armed with some nine or so crewmen, Doc Clemens, and Captain Eliot himself, the twenty-four strange what looks like coffins adorned with dragon signs brought mostly safely aboard, the Demeter can make for open water and the Hell that awaits them there.
The duty of showing Clemens around the ship falls to a cheerful Toby, who proudly shows him the living areas, the Captain’s quarters, the very-large cargo hold, the galley and kitchen where the overly-devout Joseph (Jon Jon Briones) cooks the crews meals, the various above decks, even the sails, and the rigging are all at least touched on, and the livestock pens that Toby himself is in charge of, including the handsome good-boy doggy Huckleberry, or just Huck. We the audience get a very clear feeling of what it’s like to actually be aboard the Demeter, just how large she really is, and what living on a ship for months at sea is really like, the reality and practicality and the dangers of it.
Everyone more or less settles in for a hopefully uneventful voyage, taking mess around the common table and exchanging ideas or aspirations for when they arrive in London early thanks to the fair winds, and receive a handsome bonus for their troubles. But that involves being alive and making it to London to spend said bonus and pay, and the coffin crates spilling dark soil from the motherland and disgorging all sorts of other nasty secrets, have some serious plans to the contrary.
First, it’s the livestock, innocent and shrieking in their locked pens as a monster takes great furious bites out of their necks, and of course, the creature just straight up ruins poor doggy Huck. Then there’s the fully grown girl that gets dislodged from an open coffin-crate, covered in bite scars and as pale as death, she eventually starts interacting and talking after several blood transfusions from Doc Clemens, Toby learns her name is Anna (Aisling Franciosi). And then, as the weather turns foul and the winds begin to be a serious problem, the attacks turn toward the remaining humans onboard the Demeter.
Most people these days are familiar with Dracula, that gorgeous cunning vampire Elder who can supposedly transform into a bat or a wolf, seducing women to voluntarily offer up their veins like an unholy sacrament, a being at once beautiful and powerful, but also horrific and murderous if given half a heartbeat to smell your blood. This is not Dracula.
Instead, the creature that hunts the humans occupying the Demeter is an absolute monster, not a single human feature left to it, barely even recognizable as humanoid-shaped, instead boasting not just full-length bat wings but an entire exo-skin of bat membranes that can be used for feeding, a mouth full of needle-like teeth akin to a predator of the deepest darkest parts of the ocean, those yellowed Nosferatu eyes that will not tolerate light in any way, and of course giant pointy bat-ears. This is a thing, a grotesque straight from the depths of Hell, and no amount of glamor magic can make this Dracula (Javier Botet) seem like anything other than what he, is – a parasitic demon who only wants your blood. There is no reasoning with it, no trapping it, not even really any talking to it (kinda hard to talk when your throat has been ripped out), and, like the much more frightening Dracula stories of old, no amount of pure faith behind a symbol does anything other than give false hope.
Coming face to face with an actual abomination does different things to different people. The formerly delightfully foul-mouthed Abrams (Chris Walley) dissolves into a blubbering mess; poor Larsen (Martin Furulund) didn’t even get to see his own death coming; and it turns out Olgaren (Stefan Kapicic) wants to live so badly, he’ll suffer becoming a blank-eyed Renfield if that’s what it takes. All of Cook Joseph’s purported pure faith didn’t stop him from trying to take the coward’s way out and didn’t save him anyway when the sound of unnatural bat wings descended on him. I find that kind of irony delicious. Dear Anna, resigned to her fate to be eternal food for the horror that terrorized her village, nevertheless wants to try and save whoever is left of the Demeter with her own sacrifice, and there aren’t many. Wojchek of course wants to kill Dracula, but for all his logic and solid practical nature, has no experience whatsoever with this sort of thing, and sure doesn’t want to sacrifice the Demeter, the beloved ship he called home that was promised to him by Captain Eliot himself, in order to destroy that demon. Even poor sweet Toby isn’t safe from the creature’s clutches, and what happens to the cabin boy of the Demeter is what finally sends Captain Eliot over the blooming edge. And who could blame him? For this sort of thing to happen during the last voyage of such a proud, solid ship as the Demeter, is some serious bullsh*t.
To leave such a film open for a potential sequel, especially when called the last voyage of something, was a pretty hefty ask, and somehow the filmmakers managed it. I personally think a different version of Van Helsing, the infamous vampire hunter, teaming up with a certain black doctor who nurses a serious grudge against Dracula, could be a kickass sequel. Until then, experience the doomed final journey of the Demeter and her poor crew in all it’s bloodstained glory, in theaters now!