‘Five Feet Apart’ Film Review: Terminal-Teen Tale Brings No New Ideas to Heartbreak Hospital

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The latest entry in the terminal-illness teen romance canon — shockingly, not based on a YA novel — “Five Feet Apart” is like a new strand of the same formulaic disease, only this time featuring a set of specific symptoms that make physical contact between the sick lovers literally fatal. (Call it “The Fault in Our Lungs.”)

Within this sub-genre of doomed adolescent relationships, “Five Feet Apart” is more John Green-generic than “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”-clever. What “Five Feet Apart” — the directorial debut of “Jane the Virgin” actor Justin Baldoni, from a screenplay by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis — has going for it is how it uses the mechanics of the condition at its center as the basis for the plot, which saves it from being a copy-paste refurbishing of other, similar entries.

Hospital-bound Stella (Haley Lu Richardson), a spirited high-schooler born with cystic fibrosis (CF), devises her every step in relation to her low-life-expectancy respiratory affliction that causes her body to produce massive quantities of mucus in her lungs. Rearranging her pills on her medical cart daily is self-imposed standard protocol, as is sharing hopeful reassurance on her YouTube channel, à la Elsie Fisher’s character in “Eighth Grade.” Disruption soon comes in the form of handsomely cynical, artistically minded, flawlessly haired, CF-affected stud Will (Cole Sprouse, “Riverdale”).

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Interest is mutual, and what begins as a begrudging friendship for Stella to ensure Will follows the rules to keep himself alive (he’s a patient on clinical trials for a new treatment) evolves into a mawkish love affair with grand and uncalled-for displays of affection. The cruel caveat here is that CF patients can come into contact with anyone else but must remain six feet apart from each other to prevent catching lethal bacteria. Exchanging saliva would mean a non-metaphorical kiss of death. To be clear, the title is not a factual error but a reference to Stella’s subtle defiance in the last act of this unpleasantly lengthy tearjerker.

Cutting through the thick curtain of recycled lovey-dovey remarks and the proficiently dull craftsmanship of the production, Richardson’s radiant charisma acts as a lifeline. One would be hard-pressed to find a moment where she is not earnestly committed to the role’s convincingly bittersweet shtick.

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The young actress, whose best work to date is in Kogonada’s sublime indie drama “Columbus” and as an unwaveringly enthusiastic waitress in last year’s “Support the Girls,” gets her mainstream shot here and is as winsome as “Five Feet Apart” allows. Even when deep in the dark valley of tired platitudes and underdeveloped side plots about deceased relatives, Richardson is a star. Casting her in anything — even this — earns that project instant points for her likability and understated fragility.

Thanks to the sheer volume of movies where young people are condemned to untimely deaths, morbid humor is no longer a rarity that offsets their tone, but a commonplace ingredient eroded with every use. “Five Feet Apart” laughs at mortality just as much as its cinematic forebears, but that does little to elevate the unremarkable material that punches every beat with boldface sentimentality, demanding the viewers’ tears without doing much to earn them aside from sad-music montages. In Baldoni’s trope-heavy two-hour drama, humor doesn’t come from the “how funny we might die soon” gags, but via Colombian-American character actor Moisés Arias (recently seen in the Sundance-winner “Monos”), the one irreproachable delight in this ordeal.

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Arias’ character Poe, Stella’s Latino gay bestie also battling CF, is not only a scene-stealer (dashing off stereotypically sassy lines with genuine matter-of-factness) but also the only person who verbalizes the very real concern of how anyone can afford to pay for the prolonged hospital stays and copious amounts of medication needed from birth. His story is tremendously more in tune with the world as it is than the white lovebirds in the foreground. Stella is likely only his friend because they share a life-threatening ailment, not because they belong to the same socio-economic circles.

That brings to mind the evident truth that people of color tend to exist only in the periphery of romantic offerings. In this case, the only other non-white cast member with any discernible personality is Kimberly Hebert Gregory (“Vice Principals”) as Nurse Barb, who surely cares about the teens but is also probably afraid of losing her job if they have a killer make-out session. At least the film’s thematic cousin “Everything, Everything” had interracial sweethearts as tragic protagonists. If you are already following most other preconceived elements, why not infuse your take with diversity beyond the supporting roles?

Tactile-prohibitions between CF sufferers are exploited in “Five Feet Apart” for all their yearning potential, which is actually enhanced here with the availability of technology that enables communication from a distance. The concept of two lovers who can’t caress each other, experience sexual intimacy, or express affection physically is ripe for heartbreaking fiction, so a picture like this was bound to happen. Fortunately, the screenwriters don’t dilute the severity of the genetic disorder despite the high gloss of some moments. If nothing else, one hopes that real-life CF patients at least feel authentically represented on screen.

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‘The Chaperone’ Trailer: Flapper-Era Tale Of Rebellious Future Star & A Stuffy Matron From ‘Downton Abbey’ Team

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“I know you’re pretty and the boys like you, but I’m here to protect you.” So says Norma Carlisle (Downton Abbey‘s Elizabeth McGovern), a local society matron in Kansas who never broke a rule in her life and impulsively vo…

‘The Chaperone’ Film Review: Jazz Era Coming-of-Age Story Could Use More Flap

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Written by “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes, “The Chaperone” appears to be targeting men and women above the age of 60. And while that’s a demographic as worthy of attention as any, those same viewers deserve a theatrical experience that doesn’t feel created for small-screen tidiness and flatness.

Adapted from Laura Moriarty’s best-selling novel, “The Chaperone” follows the rise of silent-film star Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson). But before acting, it was dancing, first in Kansas, where Louise was born and raised, and then in New York City. The film spends most of its time on Louise’s summer adventure in the big city, where she is accompanied by Norma (Elizabeth McGovern), the titular caretaker.

Their dynamic is probably what you expect from a coming-of-age period drama: Louise is young and free-spirited, eager to be away from her cookie-cutter small town. She’s a skilled dancer and knows it. Each day New York makes more and more sense to her. The hustle and bustle is comforting. She believes prohibition is nonsense and enjoys the attention men (of all ages) give her.

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Conversely, Norma, who’s also eager to leave Kansas for the summer, is there to restrict Louise, to be a disciplinarian. It’s the typical teenager vs. authority figure clash, but it hits the same beat over and over again. Louise antagonizes Norma to no end, and Norma insists Louise remain a prim and proper lady — virginal, elegant, well-mannered. “No one man wants an unwrapped woman,” Norma explains. Louise fires back. Autonomy is her goal. She refuses to be repressed. Mainly, she’s 15.

The dynamic rarely leads to arguing. “You’re not very confrontational,” Louise says one night to Norma. “I don’t see what good yelling does,” she responds. This is the problem with “The Chaperone” in a nutshell. It lacks fire and fervor. It doesn’t need screaming matches, but it could use a dark coffee. It’s somnambulant and sluggish, a situation exacerbated by the peculiar editing from Sofía Subercaseaux (“Dina”).

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In the case of Norma, the film attempts to give backstory through flashbacks. We see a woman in a challenging marriage, a former orphan left by her mother as an infant, trying to find her footing in the world. The film toggles back and forth between Louise, who continues to impress her dance instructors, and Norma, who decides to go searching for her mother. Her journey takes the film down an interesting path. An unexpected romance emerges in Joseph (Géza Röhrig, “Son of Saul”), a janitor who works at the home where the nuns have denied Norma’s request for more information about the adoption. Consequently, Joseph helps her.

Röhrig and McGovern have curious chemistry. It’s an unlikely pairing, and director Michael Engler seems to know it. There’s room to explore this unorthodox affair — the racial implications, the age gap — but once again, the film resists anything provocative. That PBS has picked up the movie is no surprise. Much of “The Chaperone” unfurls like a standard TV movie, a space with which Engler is familiar. His entire career has existed within the confines of television until “The Chaperone”; this marks his first theatrical debut.

The disconnect is apparent: The movie relies on its score (by Marcelo Zarvos, “Wonder”) for emotional cues, a tactic better suited for viewers passively watching on their couch than for theatergoers. Unfortunately the presentation is so often cloying and obvious that the performances and story suffer. There’s no space in this kind of film for subtlety; all the beats are spelled out by around the 30-minute mark.

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The only true surprise is Richardson, who sporadically injects life into “The Chaperone.” In contrast to her taciturn character in “Columbus,” Louise is loquacious and arrogant. She’s determined to make it and doesn’t give a damn who knows it. Her flirtation is tactical and often used to exploit men’s objectification of her. When characters in the film predict Louise’s future stardom, it’s impossible to not think of Richardson’s own trajectory.

Ultimately though, “The Chaperone” is case of a not-so-good movie made by people who are unquestionably talented. Engler and Fellowes’ respective body of work speaks for itself. It’s exceedingly difficult to make an authentic period piece without a sizable budget, which it appears they did not have. The characters looked like actors playing dress-up more than people living in a time and place. When it finally makes its way to the small screen, many home viewers might not feel the difference.

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‘Support the Girls’ Film Review: Regina Hall Uplifts Observant Workplace Comedy

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Smile, be attentive and flirty — but not too flirty — and call a manager if things get out of hand. These are the basic rules for being a waitress at Double Whammies, the “sports bar with curves” at the center of “Support the Girls,” and this chicken-wing emporium becomes a handy metaphor for women making their way through the patriarchy in writer-director Andrew Bujalski’s observant and trenchantly funny new film.

While the movie is simultaneously a day-in-the-life farce, a cri de couer for working-class women and a testament to the strengths (and the limitations) of created families, it is more than anything an opportunity for the great Regina Hall to shine in an all-too-rare leading role. She makes Lisa, the manager at Double Whammies, hilarious and heartbreaking and irksome; we admire this character’s strength and her loyalty to “her girls,” but we also understand that her problems aren’t entirely the fault of other people.

Those other people give her plenty to contend with, though: She’s got a crew of 20-something waitresses dealing with dramas of their own, a piggish boss (James LeGros) making her life difficult, a would-be burglar stuck in the air vents (and knocking out the cable that supplies endless ESPN to the bar’s dozens of big-screen TVs), and a recalcitrant husband, not to mention an abused employee who needs legal fees and the impending arrival of ManCave, a national chain restaurant poised to put Double Whammies out of business.

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Lisa and her employees are doing their best to get through the world, and you see how they’ve resigned themselves to flirting their way past obstacles. When Lisa needs a sound system for a car wash, for example, she sends Danyelle (hilarious newcomer Shayna McHayle, aka rapper Junglepussy) to sit through a home-theater demo with Jay (John Elvis), the married A/V salesman who dotes on her. Danyelle is explicit up front that this is going nowhere, and he is not to touch her, but her attention is enough to make Jay putty in her hands.

But “Support the Girls” isn’t a movie about female manipulation; it’s about women being stuck in low-paying jobs where their dignity faces routine assault. (It’s telling that the one customer quick to defend the waitresses from insults is a butch lesbian played by comedy vet Lea DeLaria.) The Double Whammies staff could be waitresses or staff sergeants or flight attendants or stock brokers; all the world’s a Hooters, and even the Commander in Chief feels entitled to grab them.

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King gets to run a full emotional gamut as Lisa; she’s the kind of boss you want in your corner, but also the kind that you have to occasionally remind to mind her own business. She lets us see the thousand daily paper cuts this woman has to endure on her soul, and we see the fragile interior behind her sparkling Southern charm. (The film is set in a featureless Houston strip mall.)

It’s a dynamite ensemble overall: Haley Lu Richardson (“Columbus,” “The Edge of Seventeen”) walks away with much of the movie; waitress Maci has the kind of infectious energy that would have made her an ideal sorority rush chair, yet it never comes off as fake or forced. She’s so in charge of her own vivacity that it becomes her shield against a harsh world. Brooklyn Decker pops in for one devastating scene as a ManCave recruiter, packing every line with hard-won cynicism.

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Cinematographer Matthias Grunsky, a longtime collaborator of Bujalski’s, exploits the Texas flatness and the endless span of roadside retail. (The sound design never lets us forget that the highway is never far away, with cars and trucks endlessly whizzing by.) Grunsky knows when to go hand-held — a confrontation with a car-wash customer in the parking lot, for instance — but he and Bujalski aren’t afraid to lock down for long takes, which these performers know exactly how to fill.

It would be easy to underestimate “Support the Girls” in the same way that people might roll their eyes at the hard-working women who toil in these “family-friendly,” décolletage-centric eateries, but there’s a desperation behind these smiles, and a moving story being told in a brightly-lit, music-blasting atmosphere. Sit at the table, and let these women tell you about their lives.

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‘Operation Finale’ Film Review: Strong Ensemble Infuses Passion Into Conventional Retelling of Adolf Eichmann’s Capture

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Ben Kingsley has embodied Jewish heroes as iconic as Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal (“Murderers Among Us”), Anne Frank’s father Otto (“Anne Frank: The Whole Story”), and businessman Itzhak Stern (“Schindler’s List”). In “Operation Finale,” he adopts another perspective altogether, portraying the ultimate villain in Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

The innately intense Kingsley isn’t an ideal match for the mild-mannered murderer who inspired philosopher Hannah Arendt to coin the phrase “the banality of evil.” But like the rest of the cast, he holds our attention even when the movie buckles under the burden of earnest intentions.

Once you get past the jarring collection of mismatched accents, it’s a pleasure to be in the company of pros like Oscar Isaac, Mélanie Laurent (“Beginners”), Nick Kroll, and Michael Aronov (“The Americans”). But as Mossad agents, their characters find little pleasure in the task designed by their intimidating boss (Lior Raz) and approved by no less than Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (Simon Russell Beale, “The Death of Stalin”): to secretly travel from Tel Aviv to Buenos Aires, risking their own lives in order to capture the elusive Eichmann.

Watch Video: Oscar Isaac Is a Mossad Spy in First Trailer for ‘Operation Finale’

The script’s blunt approach is indicated early on, when Argentine teen Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson, “Support the Girls”) meets her new boyfriend at a showing of the 1959 racial drama “Imitation of Life.” Sure, it’s a nice way for director Chris Weitz (“A Better Life”) to give a shout-out to his mother, Susan Kohner, one of the film’s stars. But it’s an awfully obvious metaphor for the secretly-Jewish-passing-as-Catholic Sylvia, who proudly brings home the handsome, ultra-Aryan Klaus Eichmann (Joe Alwyn, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”).

Sylvia’s father (Peter Strauss) is stunned to realize he’s got a Nazi heir casually eating dinner at his house and immediately alerts Israeli authorities. While Klaus courts Sylvia by bringing her to terrifying Nazi rallies, the Mossad team begins devising a proposal to bring the elder Eichmann to justice.

The plan is a supremely dangerous one: Peter (Isaac), Rafi (Kroll), Isser (Raz), and Hanna (Laurent) are among the undercover agents who fly to Buenos Aires in hopes of airlifting Eichmann out. But first they have to kidnap him without the notice of his loyal wife (an underused Greta Scacchi) or Fascist henchman (a chilling Pêpê Rapazote, “Narcos”). Then they need to hold him at a hidden safe house that could be discovered at any moment by anti-Semitic local leaders. Worse still, the plane on which they hope to smuggle him out can’t take off unless Eichmann signs a document in which he freely agrees to be tried in Israel.

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That unlikely requirement should be enough to create tension on its own, and Weitz does build a sense of palpable panic around these impossibly high stakes. Moreover, because the movie primarily takes place in 1960, everyone on the Israeli team has been directly impacted by the Holocaust. Eichmann was a chief organizer of the Final Solution, responsible for sending millions of Jews — including Peter’s sister and her children — to their deaths.

That being the case, it strains credulity when we’re asked to believe that a personally haunted, professionally brilliant spy like Peter could be so easily drawn in by his crafty prisoner. First-time screenwriter Matthew Orton often seems to be going more for broad-stroke dramatics than gripping authenticity, given that he’s crafted a fairly generic biopic out of what was truly one of the most remarkable missions in modern history.

But it’s evident that he and Weitz believe passionately in their project, as does this wide range of first-rate actors. Every one of the supporting players makes an impact in his or her brief scenes, with standouts including the luminous Laurent and an effectively subdued Kroll, although both could have used more to do.

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Indeed, the movie really belongs to the central pair, to such a degree that it often feels like a two-hander. Kingsley and Isaac are unusually charismatic actors, which elevates each of their cat-and-mouse scenes. Though it’s off-putting to watch Kingsley humanize a man who dedicated himself to monstrous acts, it was Eichmann’s apparent ordinariness that became his second legacy: the banality that Arendt so famously described after watching him defend himself as a cog in larger machinery.

Both Weitz and Orton are keenly aware of the parallels between Eichmann’s era and our own, and though they don’t hit them too hard, their intent is powerfully clear. This urgency (aptly accentuated by Alexandre Desplat’s score), and the sincere commitment of all involved, gives the movie a greater weight than its labored pacing and bland visuals otherwise might.

It’s a shame the filmmakers felt constrained by the import of their subject matter, rather than inspired to take some artistic risks. But even when the storytelling falters, the story itself — not merely extraordinary, but eternally relevant — remains paramount.

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Oscar Isaac Is a Mossad Spy in First Trailer for ‘Operation Finale’ (Video)

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

MGM has released the first trailer for “Operation Finale,” a film about the true story about the 1960 mission to capture Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann.

In the trailer, we see Ben Kingsley as Eichmann, the man who came up with the transportation logistics that brought millions of Jews to the concentration camps.

“My job was simple,” says Eichmann. “Save the country I loved from being destroyed.”

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Oscar Isaac stars as a Mossad spy Peter Malkin, while Melanie Laurent, Haley Lu Richardson, Joe Alwyn, Nick Kroll and Lior Raz also star in the historical drama that was directed by Chris Weitz and written by Matthew Orton.

Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Fred Berger produce under their Automatik banner alongside Isaac and Inspire Entertainment’s Jason Spire. Matt Charman and Ron Schmidt executive produced.

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“If you fail,” Malkin is told, “he escapes justice, perhaps forever. I beg you –do not fail.”

“Operation Finale” hits theaters on September 14.

Watch the trailer above.

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Haley Lu Richardson To Star With Cole Sprouse In ‘Five Feet Apart’

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EXCLUSIVE: Haley Lu Richardson has been set to star opposite Cole Sprouse in Five Feet Apart, CBS Films’ romantic drama that is being directed by Jane the Virgin‘s Justin Baldoni. The pic is now set to begin production in May.
The screenplay from Mikki Daughty and Tobias Iaconis centers on Stella and Will, two young people who refuse to be defined by the obstacles that separate them, asking the question what would love look like if you were forbidden to touch? Moises…

‘Support The Girls’ Helmer & Cast On Wrapping The Raunchy “In So Much Comfort” – SXSW

Read on: Deadline.

“I wandered into one of these places maybe ten years ago and something about it stuck with me,” said writer/director Andrew Bujalski when he stopped by Deadline’s Studio at SXSW to talk about the origins of his sports bar comedy, Support The Girls. “It was so peculiar and so uniquely American to take something that’s a little bit raunchy but wrap it in so much comfort.”
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Regina Hall’s ‘Support the Girls’ Acquired by Magnolia Pictures Ahead of SXSW

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Magnolia Pictures has acquired the North American rights to “Support the Girls” ahead of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, the company announced Wednesday.

Regina Hall stars as a restaurant manager who loves her employees like family. Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, Brooklyn Decker, Jana Kramer and AJ Michalka costar.

“Support the Girls” is written and directed by Andrew Bujalski. The film is set to have its world premiere on Friday in the Narrative Spotlight section at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, and Magnolia plans a theatrical release for the film this year.

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“We’ve been big fans of Andrew Bujalski for a long time and we’re excited to work with him again on ‘Support the Girls,’” said Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles in a statement. “His unique blend of humanism and humor elevates everything he films.”

“It’s a happy surprise to discover that any distributor we’ve worked with in the past is still in business,” said Bujalski. “I’m honored and thrilled that Magnolia has allowed us to hop aboard again with ‘Support the Girls.’”

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Houston King and Sam Slater produced the film. Executive producers are Jonathan Fryd, Scott Carmel, David Bernon, Susan Kirr and Paul Bernon.

The deal was negotiated by Magnolia SVP of Acquisitions John Von Thaden, with ICM Partners on behalf of the filmmakers.

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‘Columbus’ Review: Low-Key Character Study Skimps on the Details

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Surges of emotion roil under placid surfaces in the new drama “Columbus” — at least in theory. Seoul-based translator Jin (John Cho) finds himself stranded in the Indiana town where his estranged father, a renowned architecture scholar on a lecture tour, lapses into a coma. Jin briefly reunites with his teenage sweetheart (Parker Posey, whose sexy, antsy energy is desperately missed for most of this sedate, cerebral picture).

He also befriends 19-year-old Casey (Haley Lu Richardson, “The Edge of Seventeen”), an architecture buff afraid to leave her hometown and thus “abandon” her fragile mother (Michelle Forbes). Brought together by filial obligation, Jin and Casey aren’t quite sure how to grapple with their dysfunctional relationships with their parents.

If “Before Sunrise” were set in a mournful Midwest, it might look something like “Columbus.” Avoidance and delay fuel most of the (in)action, and so Jin and Casey mostly walk around and talk about the stocky modernist landmarks that dot the Indiana architectural mecca. (Columbus is also the birthplace of Mike Pence, but let’s not hold that against it.)

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Can architecture heal? Can modernism have a soul? Are those questions worth asking? In the Richard Linklater film, such Philosophy 101 conversations doubled as foreplay between possible lovers — a seductive game of “if you tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine.” In “Columbus,” earnest discussions about various buildings give way to confessions of grief, fear, and anger. “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” said someone who apparently didn’t have much faith in the worthiness of articulating what art is and how it works.

First-time writer-director Kogonada doesn’t just want his characters to expound on architects Eero Saarinen and Deborah Berke. Staring at her high school from the outside, Casey dances out the frustrations that the building has stockpiled inside her.

A minimalist film like “Columbus” depends almost entirely on the shading of the characters and the depths of the performances. By that metric, it’s a too-delicate creature, tickling and piquing instead of fully thrusting us into the realm of feelings. For instance, Jin explains to Casey in a wonderfully complicated monologue his relief that his father fell ill here instead of in Korea, where social expectations demand that he showily perform his lamentations by his not-exactly-beloved father’s deathbed.


See John Cho’s latest POWER MOVE.



That scene is also the most culturally specific moment in this work by a Korean-American filmmaker (and video essayist) starring a Korean-American actor. But all I wanted from that moment was more: How did cultural or generational clashes (if any) contribute to the years-long distance between father and son? What was it like not just to grow up as the child of a famous academic, but also as part of a relatively unusual immigrant experience that actually allows for aesthetic appreciation as a profession? What were the contours of Jin’s relationship with Posey’s character, especially since Cho enjoys a lived-in chemistry with the veteran actress that he lacks around the still-green Richardson? (And under what circumstances would Jin’s father and his married ex-girlfriend from 20 years ago travel together?)

It’s possible that I’m being unfair to “Columbus,” that my frustrations stem from a personal desire to see a more conventional Asian-American narrative than the one Kogonada intends. If Asian American cinema is to grow, the genre has to take its lead from artists who pursue their own visions and styles. In the case of “Columbus,” that means plenty of shots of Cho doing the thousand-yard stare under an awning while rain pours down on both sides of him.

And yet, it’s also true that scenes like Jin’s meditation on cultural differences in mourning might well have been more poignant and impactful had we known even a little more about the father-son relationship. That’s particularly the case since Jin’s aloof dad will resonate with many Korean-American viewers.

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That near-miss sensation of what might have been, had we just a few more details, haunts Casey’s character, too. Her reluctance to open up to Jin about the trauma that keeps her in Columbus rings true but also prevents her from being fleshed out. The script also saddles her with a couple of pretentious quirks, like refusing to use a smartphone, that might elicit an eye roll from the audience (if the architecture nerdiness hadn’t already accomplished that).

Rory Culkin co-stars her flirty colleague at the library where she might work forever. But libraries don’t hire anyone without a master’s degree anymore, and so she’d have to leave her hometown in order to secure a future there.

If it refuses to explore the past, “Columbus” at least knows how to stay in the present. Its best moments find Jin and Casey feeling each other out, offering an outsider’s perspective on the other’s sorrows and responsibilities and occasionally being told that they’ve overstepped their bounds. With grace and curiosity, the two strangers discover what they can be to one another. If it’s less satisfying than a straightforward romance, it’s more generous and unpredictable too.

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Regina Hall & Haley Lu Richardson Topline Andrew Bujalski’s Indie ‘Support The Girls’

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Regina Hall and Split co-star Haley Lu Richardson will star along with James Le Gros, AJ Michalka, Dylan Gelula, Shayna McHayle, Lea DeLaria, Jana Kramer and Brooklyn Decker in Support The Girls, a new indie comedy from writer-director Andrew Bujalski. Shooting is underway in Austin.
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‘Split’ Review: M Night Shyamalan’s Mojo Is Back — What a Twist

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“Split” is many things, which — considering it’s about a multiple-personality kidnapper played by James McAvoy — sounds obvious.

But since it comes from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan, popcorn cinema’s most sophisticated and confident peekaboo addict, it really means it’s enjoyably-stacked entertainment, equally crunchy and silky in its desire to be as appetizing a two hours as you could spend in suspended disbelief. And that’s saying something, considering the hole Shyamalan’s had to climb out of lately to win back fans.

It was easy to believe after “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable” that Shyamalan would become a perennially favorite multiplex conjurer, routinely keeping us all spellbound with moody, otherworldly stories — intricately woven rugs he then pulled with impish delight. But when his termite art strained to matter (“The Lady in the Water,” “After Earth”), wised-up moviegoers escaped the self-importance in droves.

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It took last year’s back-to-basics “The Visit,” a fairy tale-inspired chiller made under the less-is-more ethos of the horror-driven Blumhouse banner, to suggest a re-energized Shyamalan. “Split,” also a Blumhouse co-production, may be about a guy with many people inside him, but at least it was made by only one Shyamalan: the dude who knows how to creep you out and keep you guessing. It’s a welcome homecoming.

Not that “Split” doesn’t have plenty of arty touches, and a conclusion sure to divide audiences. But it’s made with campfire-spooky care rather than an abiding need to impress you with his gifts.

Shyamalan jumps into the peril immediately, with the daylight abduction of three teenage girls after a birthday party: sullen, flannel-wearing misfit Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), and popular besties Claire (Haley Lu Richardson, “The Edge of Seventeen”) and Marcia (Jessica Sula, “Recovery Road”). Thrown into a rock-and-wood-walled basement room — no windows, but there’s a gleaming white bathroom — the frightened trio are torn between fight-back mode, which Claire and Marcia subscribe to, and pessimistic Casey’s wait-and-see attitude.

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Quickly they realize their captor (McAvoy) isn’t the easily pegged type: the sternly authoritative, cleanliness-obsessed man who imprisoned them later shows up in a skirt and talking like a prim Englishwoman, and after that, he appears in the guise and manner of a lisping nine-year-old boy. On the outside, as a fashion-obsessed man named Barry, he sees his psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), from whom we learn that Kevin — his base identity — suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which has resulted in 23 distinct personalities.

The kindly doctor subscribes to an empathy-driven theory of DID that patients like Kevin are not just trauma cases to manage closely, but instead keys to the untapped potential of the human brain to physically alter the body at will. But her suspicions are raised that Barry’s steady stream of emergency-request sessions sound to her like cries for help.

She’s concerned that two of Kevin’s more nefarious “alters” — Dennis and Patricia — have taken over the primary consciousness (they call it “the light”) for an undisclosed reason. The girls’ fate, meanwhile, takes on a forbidding tone when Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig (the boy alter) start referring to an as-yet-unexposed personality they call The Beast.

But who needs a menace-in-waiting when you’ve got a committed actor like McAvoy tearing it up already with a revolving door of characters? “Split” may get much of its narrative momentum from the keenly wrought suspense and dread-inducing visuals Shyamalan is so good at, from the uncomfortably crisp, off-kilter close-ups to the pipe-and-wire-strewn passageways and cramped rooms in Kevin’s underground lair that suggest our troubled criminal’s clogged, compartmentalized brain. (The arrestingly jaundiced cinematography is from “It Follows” DP Michael Gioulakis.) But it’s McAvoy who makes his face, movement and voice into the real star here, no less disturbing a performance for how much sympathy is baked inside its pummeling showmanship.

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A lesser filmmaker might have felt satisfied with just the tour de force turn, but Shyamalan knows that there’s a rich counterpoint in Dr. Fletcher and Casey separately, unbeknownst to each other, trying to suss out the loose cannon in their midst. As a result, Buckley’s and Taylor-Joy’s portrayals are also deeply satisfying beyond their value to the plot, with the latter further cementing the promise she whipped up last year after “The Witch” and “Barry.”

It goes without saying that, because this is Shyamalan, there’s more up the sleeve than just an arm. The conclusion, perhaps overly drawn out but still suitably nightmarish, is when certain story clues and percolating themes about emotional scars — tied in part to flashbacks from Casey’s childhood — allow Shyamalan the confidence to see if “Split” can punch above its weight as a rock-em-sock-em B-movie. It’s not wholly successful, but at least the effort doesn’t grate.

And on top of that, there’s a twist — what, you thought he was cured? — and if I may be teasingly vague, it’s as cheeky as a Hitchcock cameo. (And no, I’m not referring to Shyamalan’s own one-scene appearance halfway through.) Let’s just say that “Psycho,” “Dressed to Kill” and “The Silence of the Lambs” aren’t the only cinematic alters inside “Split.”

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Haley Lu Richardson, Michelle Morgan Top Verge List of Rising Sundance Stars (Exclusive Videos)

Haley Lu Richardson, Michelle Morgan Top Verge List of Rising Sundance Stars (Exclusive Videos)

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Jeff Vespa, the official photographer of the Sundance Film Festival since 2003, on Wednesday unveiled his Verge List of emerging talent with movies at this month’s festival in Park City, Utah.

Haley Lu Richardson, Josh O’Connor and Trevor Jackson are among this year’s selections, featured in the new issue of Vespa’s digital magazine, Verge. O’Connor and Harris Dickinson are two actors hailing from the U.K., which Vespa says gives the list a broader range.

“This actually was one of the easiest years for choices,” he told TheWrap. “Every year, this is my favorite story to do. Meeting every actor and knowing this is just the beginning for them. It is fun to be a part of all of that. That is why I like doing this before the festival. Most of them have never been, and I can kind of give them some guidance on what to expect. They are in for a wild ride.”

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Vespa has shot stars like John Boyega and Nick Robinson, who went on starring roles in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Jurassic World,” respectively.

He also shot Rebecca Ferguson long before she landed the lead opposite Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.” Boyega used one of Vespa’s shots on his various social media accounts for years.

“I started this magazine to support emerging talent, and wanted to do something that wasn’t being done.” Vespa told TheWrap last year. “The idea is to really find these people before the festival starts, and to be a resource to people in the industry to say, ‘Here are the people you should be paying attention to at the festival.”

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See Vespa’s 2017 list of up-and-coming talent below.

Danielle MacDonald, “Patti Cake$”

“I play a girl called Patti in the film, ‘Patti CakeS’ and she’s a girl from New Jersey and she dreams of being a famous rapper,” MacDonald said. “There is a lot of music in it — all kinds — there’s blues, there’s rapping, there’s a bit of pop, a bit of ’80s classic.”

Haley Lu Richardson, “Columbus”

“I literally don’t know how to describe this film,” Richardson said with a shrug. “My character’s name is Casey.”

“Columbus” will feature Richardson alongside “Star Trek” actor John Cho in a drama that marks the feature directorial debut of visual artist :: kogonada (not a typo), whom Richardson calls a “cinematic genius.”

Harris Dickinson, “Beach Rats”

“My character from the movie ‘Beach Rats’ by Eliza Hittman is a troubled and tortured conflicted teenager lived in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn,” Dickinson said. “It was a shot on 35 mm film. A lot of it was street-cast, there’s a lot of non-actors which is exciting and brings more energy to it.”

Josh O’Connor, “God’s Own Country”

O’Connor described his character, Johnny Saxby, as “a miserable young boy with troubles in his life, and then he meets the love of his life and it changes him.” He described “God’s Own Country” as a film with a “European” and “naturalistic” style.

Lakeith Stanfield, “Crown Heights”

Stanfield said that his character in “Crown Heights” goes “from Point A to Point B” in a movie “about people who love each other.”

Margaret Qualley, “Novitiate” and “Sidney Hall”

Qualley was also very to the point when describing her “holy” film, “Novitiate,” simply describing her character as “a young nun in love.”

Michelle Morgan, “L.A. Times”

Morgan described her character, Annette, as “a very well-intentioned, opinionated, sometimes irritating, adorable person who is often misunderstood.” She hopes that “L.A. Times,” which she also wrote and directed, is seen as “a fun, fresh take on Los Angeles” that highlights the “people and things you don’t normally see in a movie about Los Angeles.”

Trevor Jackson, “Burning Sands”

“Heartfelt, hardworking, and selfless I feel are [my character’s] key attributes,” said Jackson. “I feel that there have been a lot of fraternity films throughout the years, but none of them have been this raw and show the hardships of being in a fraternity.”

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Photographer and magazine founder Jeff Vespa unveils eight artists to watch at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Actress Margaret Qualley, “Novitiate” and “Sidney Hall”

Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap.

Trevor Jackson, “Burning Sands”

Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap.

Harris Dickinson, “Beach Rats”

Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap.

Actress Danielle Macdonald, “Patti Cake$”

Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap.

Lakeith Stanfield, “Crown Heights”

Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap.

Haley Lu Richardson,”Columbus”

Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap.

Actor Josh O’Connor, “God’s Own Country”

Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap.

Michelle Morgan, “L.A. Times”

Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap.


‘Edge of Seventeen’ Review: Woody Harrelson Steals Angsty High School Comedy

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

The movie is about a teenage girl, but it’s the 55-year-old guy who steals “The Edge of Seventeen,” tucks it under his arm and walks away with it.

And all without breaking a sweat.

Woody Harrelson isn’t the only reason to see Kelly Fremon Craig’s coming-of-age film, which closed the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday night with back-to-back screenings at the Princess of Wales Theatre and Roy Thomson Hall. But he’s probably the best reason — and he’s badly needed to keep the film on track until its lead character turns into the kind of person we can stand to be around.

“The Edge of Seventeen” stars Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine, a whip-smart, cynical and entirely self-absorbed high school junior who sees every setback as a cataclysm and every peer as an inferior.

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Naturally, she’s socially inept, which in high school means she’s perpetually on the verge of humiliation. Nadine is sharp and funny enough to be an amusing tour guide through the perils of adolescence for a while, and it’s good that writer-director Craig doesn’t let her off the hook. We can’t help but see the world through Nadine’s eyes, but after a while we know that vision is pretty clouded.

It feels fresh because Nadine is so finely drawn and so distinctive. But as we watch our heroine grow more and more melodramatic and insufferable, what started out as funny becomes annoying. You may find yourself responding to each new crisis in Nadine’s life by desperately wishing that she could just get over herself.

(By the way, Nadine is far from the only TIFF character you might think about that way: Bryan Cranston‘s AWOL husband in Robin Swicord’s “Wakefield” is a leading man whose self-absorption is so off-putting that only an actor of Cranston’s considerable charm can make him tolerable.)

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But whenever our patience with Nadine wears thin, Woody comes to the rescue. Harrelson plays Mr. Bruner, a high school teacher and the only person Nadine turns to for advice, though she rarely listens to him because he also tells her to get over herself. Hovering somewhere between laconic and comatose, Harrelson seems to be delivering a delicious comic performance in his sleep; he’s a voice of wisdom marooned in a crummy high school classroom, a Yoda for teens way too wrapped up in their own melodramas to figure out he knows what he’s talking about.

While Blake Jenner (“Everybody Wants Some!!”) is terrific as Nadine’s all-too-perfect brother, who betrays her horribly by dating her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson), the scenes between Steinfeld and Harrelson are the heart of the movie. They are crackling comic gems delivered with such low energy (on Harrelson’s part, at least) that they become even funnier.

By the end, a bit of self-awareness begins to creep into Nadine’s world, and the film turns genuinely touching — first in a revelatory scene with Harrelson, later in encounters with her brother and friend. “The Edge of Seventeen” is not on the level of the last great teen-angst epic, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” but you can see why James L. Brooks was attracted to Craig’s comic voice, and her take on growing up.

It’s just a good thing that while the teenager struggles to come of age, the guy who got there a long time ago is hanging around, too.

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