Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

Sweet and touching and funny.

Clever and cool and different.

Writer and director and actors.

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl.

Can a movie about a teenage girl with leukemia be fun? Actually, yes.

First credit goes to the story’s source, Jesse Andrews, who wrote the novel and the screenplay. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, with a bit of Wes Anderson quirkiness, gives the film a look that’s full of visual surprises.

And there are the actors. The characters are high school seniors: Greg (Thomas Mann), Earl (RJ Cyler) and Rachel (Olivia Cooke). Greg is just trying to make it through his senior year, keeping peace with all his school’s factions. His mom (Connie Britton) tells him that Rachel is ill and urges him to visit her, even though she is not a close friend. Over time, they become chums. Cooke’s strong performance could net awards at year’s end.

Greg and Earl make film parodies of movie classics. They’re the kind of silly thing teenagers would do. (The fact that they shoot these on film, not video, is interesting.) They don’t freely share the films they make, although Greg’s dad (Nick Offerman) is a fan. As the boys become closer to Rachel, she also gets to see the films.

Among notable supporting performers is Molly Shannon as Rachel’s wine gulping, flirty mom. Jon Bernthal as favorite teacher Mr. McCarthy provides Greg and Earl with a safe place to eat lunch and useful life lessons.

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl could’ve fallen into the “too cute” category of movies whose directors want to show off what they learned in film school. Yes, there are some goofy angles and uncomfortable two-shots that direct attention from what’s on the screen to the guy behind the camera. But those long static shots of Greg and Rachel talking are effective, if slightly tedious.

It has been a few years since I was a high school senior but I recognized many of the characters among the student population. The uncomfortable feeling one has around age 18 is depicted well in MAEATDG.

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl will be embraced by teens and young adults, but is a movie older adults can enjoy, too. Nice story, entertainingly told.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

If the Marx Brothers were still making movies, they might’ve made The Grand Budapest Hotel. “Zany” is not a word I often use, but it’s the best word I know to describe TGBH.

Like the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, The Grand Budapest Hotel is set mainly in the 1930’s in a fictional country with an oddly named lead character. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) ruled Freedonia; Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) works in the imaginary European country Zubrowka.

Director and co-writer Wes Anderson has given us another movie with visual treats galore. This was suggested by the film’s preview trailer, which is better than many actual movies. Seeing TGBH in all its glory proves the product is as good as its tease.

The story is told via a triple flashback. A young girl opens the movie by reading a book about the hotel. Anderson cuts to the author (Tom Wilkinson) who flashes back a few decades to a time where his younger self (Jude Law) gets the lowdown from Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham).  Moustafa recalls his early days as hotel lobby boy (Tony Revolori) and his adventures with hotel concierge Gustave.

When the hotel truly was grand, dowagers (older ladies with money/property) would visit the hotel where Gustave would service them sexually. Madame D (Tilda Swinton) was among his favorites.

Following her passing, Gustave and his lobby boy take a rail journey to the funeral where they manage to steal a valuable work of art (which was supposedly bequeathed to Gustave). This is followed by Gustave’s imprisonment, which leads to a daring breakout. Throw in a wonderful wintertime chase scene on skis and sleds and the ludicrous story becomes even more bizarre.

The film’s cast includes Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Willam DeFoe, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan and Jason Schwartzman. Of course, Bill Murray is there. Murray has become an Anderson “director’s trademark.”

In 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson seemed to have dialed down the quirk factor a notch or two. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s back up there. As he did with the young leads in Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson has cast an unknown in a pivotal role. The rookie Revolori does a more than decent job as the lobby boy.

The Grand Budapest Hotel may be too weird for those who prefer their comedy more direct. But if you are among the growing legion of Wes Anderson fans and/or you have a taste for something goofy, silly and, yes, zany, do not miss this movie! (Rated R.)

My Top Ten Movies for 2012

  1. The Dark Knight Rises—The story, the soundtrack, the villains, the heroes, the emotion. TDKR is satisfyingly stunning on so many levels.
  2. Argo—An amazing true story (with Hollywood embellishment) that fires up our American pride, from a period when our country was humbled. Efficient storytelling at its best.
  3. Silver Linings Playbook—An adult son with a mental illness moves back in with his sixty-something parents, following his court-ordered hospitalization. It’s funny and heartbreaking, often within the same scene.
  4. Moonrise Kingdom—From the wild imagination of Wes Anderson comes a story of very young love. Luckily for him (and for us), the two rookie actors who star in the key roles are fantastic.
  5. Django Unchained—Quentin Tarantino rewrites history again with a visit to the antebellum South where he fearlessly takes on the topic of slavery. Inspired performances from an impressive cast take this over-the-top story to spectacular heights.
  6. The Hobbit—This fantasy has a perfect mix of humor and peril. Martin Freeman brings a proper bemusement to Bilbo. The 48 frames per second technology takes cinema to a new level.
  7. The Hunger Games—The novelist’s compelling story is brought to life by a talented filmmaker and an excellent cast. Much of our modern culture is reflected in the film’s characters and events.
  8. Skyfall—The best and most memorable Bond movie in years, if not decades. To breathe this much new life into a 50-year-old franchise is an impressive feat. A toast (martini, of course) to all involved.
  9. Life of Pi—One of the most gorgeous films ever made. The story is good, but the images will endure. To borrow a cliché, this movie truly is “a feast for the eyes.”
  10. Hope Springs—One of the many good movies for older audiences in 2012.  A couple played by two of our best actors, Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep, visit a counselor who helps them communicate again. After a four-year sex drought, their clumsy efforts to reconnect are funny and poignant.

My Top Ten Movies for 2012 list does not include those that will not be released in St. Louis before year’s end, such as Zero Dark Thirty or Amour. And, while Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln was one of the year’s best acting performances, the movie itself was flawed: too long, too ponderous and too theatrical.

Moonrise Kingdom

Did you have romantic fantasies when you were 12? Some of us did.

On the brink of puberty, we knew we liked the opposite gender, even if we did not know exactly why. That’s sort of the situation with Sam and Suzy. They run away together and set up camp at a spot they call “Moonrise Kingdom.”

This is a quirky movie from Wes Anderson, a director known for quirky films. But “Moonrise Kingdom,” while quirky, is not so weird that it will put viewers off. In “Moonrise Kingdom,” there is quirkiness, but there is also a great story. And the two main characters, Sam and Suzy (played by unknowns Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, making their movie debuts) are immensely likeable.

The story is set in 1965 on a fictional island off the coast of New England. Suzy leaves her home (and quirky parents, played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) while Sam leaves his Khaki Scout troop (and quirky scoutmaster, played by Edward Norton). The parents and the scouts attempt to track them down, along with help from the island’s police chief, played by Bruce Willis.

Along their journey, we learn about the kids and their backgrounds. We see in a flashback how they met at a church on the island the previous summer and continued their relationship via mail correspondence. Suzy reads her favorite books (all creations of Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola) aloud to Sam.

It’s an idyllic time they spend together, despite the constant overcast conditions, which lead to a big storm at the movie’s climax. These are two kids whose lives so far are generally unhappy, who are now greatly enjoying one another’s company. For anyone who had unfulfilled romantic fantasies at age 12, it’s a joy to see these two together.

Among the many quirks in “Moonrise Kingdom,” one of my favorites is the way Suzy’s mom often communicates with family members—with a bullhorn. Another, as with most Wes Anderson films, is the genre spectrum of the soundtrack. In “Moonrise Kingdom,” it ranges from classical music to Hank Williams, Senior.

Is this a movie for everyone? No, not hardly. But if you are up for a sweet story, with interesting (I’ve used quirky too much in this review already) characters presented in Wes Anderson’s special universe, give “Moonrise Kingdom” a shot. I loved it!