Will Poulter

Midsommar

First Hit: Early on, I was hopeful and interested, but as the story moved along it failed to deliver intrigue and died an unhappy but amusing unintended death.

While watching the film, the approach of the story reminded me of “Get Out” in that people are brought to a place unsuspecting of the weird darkness that is ready to befall them. But more like "Us,” Jordan Peele’s follow-up film, this story fails by being too overt and complicated in its presentation.

At the beginning of the film, I thought the scenes were exciting and created a hopeful promise of a good story. Many of these scenes, were well depicted, including Dani (Florence Pugh) panicking because her bi-polar sister wasn’t responding to Dani’s emails and that her parents not answering their phone. She did a great job of depicting insecurity and panic.

Looking for support, she calls her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), but gets little relief from her fears, because of the tone tenor of his voice while attempting to support her tells a different story. We understand that he’s disengaged and tired of her insecurities.

When Dani learns her sister has killed herself and her parents, Christian does what he can to support her, but we all know, he’s doing it out of guilt and now barely cares about any future with Dani.

Christian likes hanging out with his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Mark (Will Poulter) who are encouraging him to find another girlfriend because Dani’s too clingy.

These set-up scenes are excellent and made me wonder where this story was headed.

During a group conversation with his buddies, Christian reluctantly tells his friends that he’s invited Dani on their group trip to Sweden to meet Pelle’s family and experience the Midsommar celebration.

The reluctance and inability of Christian to communicate with Dani, and with his friends about Dani, is part of the slow burn that develops in Dani that is key to actions later in the film.

Heading into Pelle’s communal family compound, the audience notices the welcoming nature of this group, but also there’s a hint of darkness in the interactions between the outsiders and the communal group.

Then the story really starts to dive into weirdness. Along with another outside couple, Connie and Simon (Ellora Torchia and Archie Madekwe respectively), we get a sense that these outsiders were brought here for another reason (hence the reference to “Get Out”).

There are overtly graphic deaths that are meant to be honorable in their execution as this commune believes that at age 72 you’ve served and it’s time to leave. When I say overtly graphic, I mean this. They are not easy to watch and not for the faint of heart.

But this is just part of the weirdness of this story, and by the time it is clear what is going on, the story was both comical and poorly conceived.

Pugh was strong. Her ability to be needy, vulnerable, and edgy was very good. Reynor was excellent at being a guilt-ridden boyfriend. Harper was one of the more clearly defined characters and brought a saneness to this story. Poulter is always good at being the goofy, slightly outrageous, obnoxious character. In this film, he carries on this role. Blomgren was outstanding as the commune member who gently supports Dani through her transition. Madekwe was sufficiently outraged bordering on too much at the demonstration of the deaths of two older people. Torchia was good in her minor role as Simon’s finance. Ari Aster wrote the screenplay and directed this film. The story felt overly complicated and seemed to get confused with itself. For instance, there is this scene when Pelle says this event only happens every ninety years, but what part is annual and what part is every ninety years? When do the other old people pass, annually? What parts are every ninety years, and what parts are annual? I didn’t understand the meaning of talking about this ninety-year sacred event. There were moments in which the direction was clearly impactful and engaging, while other sections pushed the story more than required to make the point or that the parts didn’t quite make sense.

Overall: This film was too long and uneven its storytelling.

Detroit

First Hit:  Extremely powerful film about racial injustice in the city of Detroit in 1967.

Kathryn Bigelow has a history of taking on difficult powerful subjects and bringing them to life. She is a master director. Her filmography continues to get stronger and stronger. From her Blue Steel and Point Break days to The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and now, Detroit.

I feel fortunate that, once again, in the matter of a few short weeks I’ve been able to see films where the focus is the story and not particular characters. And what makes this film even better is that although it takes place in 1967 it reflects the targeting of blacks today by law enforcement.

To do this Bigelow seamlessly incorporates actual 1967 film footage and stills into her vision of this story. We follow several black characters who end up being innocently targeted by law enforcement for being at a particular place, at a particular time, and because of the color of their skin.

The script was developed from court transcripts and proceedings, interviews of some survivors and an honest interpretation by the writer. The focus is the murder of three black men and the beatings of seven other black men and two white women by the Detroit Police Department and tacitly condoned by US National Guard. This incident took place at the Algiers Motel, in Detroit during the 12th Street Riots. They victims had gone to the hotel to hide out and stay off the streets because there was a curfew and people couldn’t get home.

One of the guests at the motel shoots a toy pistol, which is mistaken by the police and National Guard as sniper fire. In rushing the motel’s building the police drag these motel guests down to the bottom floor and begin interrogating them to discover where the gun was and who shot the gun. Despite killing the person who shot the never found toy gun, the police used extreme tactics to scare the other guests. They systematically pulled people into rooms threatening to shoot them if they didn't have answers to their questions. They also mercilessly beat each person.

In doing so, they killed another two. For hours they continued to beat each of the suspects to get them to talk. Finally, the police decided they need to leave. To cover their tracks, they threaten each of the remaining suspects, that if they were ever to speak of this event again, they will die.

Eventually, this event and the officers are brought to trial and the all-white jury exonerates the three guilty police officers. Sound familiar?

John Boyega (as Dismukes) is amazing as the black private security officer that attempts to be the peacemaker and mediator between the cops and guests. Boyega is great at hinting, what appears to be, regret that he didn’t do more to help his fellow brothers. Will Poulter (as Officer Krauss) did a wonderful job being everyone’s nightmare. It was not an enviable role but as the racist officer he made the hate real. Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore (as friends and bandmates Larry and Fred respectively) were fantastic as their dreams were taken from them that night. Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever (as Julie and Karen respectively were the beaten white women) were wonderful. They really made their roles standout with honesty. Anthony Mackie as Greene the Vietnam vet who got caught up in the motel was perfect. Mark Boal wrote a fantastic Oscar worthy script. Bigelow, as I previously said, is clearly one of the strongest directors of our time. Her clarity of vision and storytelling is amazing.

Overall:  I recall reading and seeing television news stories about these events when they happened, but only until I saw this film, did I understand the horror.

The Maze Runner

First Hit:  Possibilities existed but were wasted in a poorly written script with a lack of background to give the story context.

I get why the pre-teens and teenagers in the audience clapped at the end of the showing I attended. There was enough there that would appeal to a younger audience.

Young attractive actors, fighting against an unknown master, fear of the unknown, and kids their age being left to fend for themselves. There was a “Lord of the Flies” sense about it, yet where Lord focused on change and how it happens, here we have little substance and even less character development.

However, what I really struggled with was context. Even at the end when you get some context, and there wasn’t enough good information that would make me want to see the sequel (pointedly announced by the storyline). There is little information to make this story intellectually interesting and it doesn’t develop much in the way of curiosity.

There are moments where I could have been attentive but it faded away as lightweight fare with a weak script. From a filming standpoint, it also could have been more interesting by giving more in-depth views of the square area they lived in and I would have enjoyed more maze scenes where the boys were figuring out the maze.

Dylan O’Brien (as Thomas) was a reasonable main character but the script and story wasn’t there for development. Aml Ameen (as Alby) was the leader of this community because he was the first person sent to the area and as such commanded respect. He carried this load fairly well. Ki Hong Lee (as a runner) was OK, but again I think the story line was too weak to support good acting. Blake Cooper (as the youngish Chuck) was one of the better characters in the entire film – there was a realness to him that made it work. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (as Newt) was good, but again more could have been done to create a character. Will Poulter (as Gally) was the most dynamic person in the film but his role was predictable. Lastly, Kaya Scodelario (as Teresa) - the only girl, had a limited role and was OK. She brought some fun to the film at her arrival. Noah Oppenheim and Grant Pierce Myers wrote this poorly conceived and executed script. Wes Ball did a poor job of directing this poorly imagined film.

Overall:  It was bored most of the time although there were moments of interest when the maze was featured.

The Millers

First Hit:  Although not great, I enjoyed this film and many laughs came easily.

I was in the mood for something lighthearted and maybe with some substance. “The Millers” came through really well.

The substance is about learning about selflessness – movement away from selfishness. David (Jason Sudeikis) is a small time dime-bag marijuana dealer. He’s doing the same thing he’s been doing all his life. He only cares about himself and making the required sales. He’s worked for Brad (Ed Helms) for a very long time.

Brad is wealthy (he collects whales not cars) and is a jerk. David gets robbed trying to stop his neighbor Kenny (Will Poulter) from breaking up a street robbery of Casey (Emma Roberts) by some street punks. It’s Kenny’s good heart that put him in danger. When David decides to help and this kindness backfires on him.

Losing a lot of Brad’s money and pot, Brad gives David the option of picking up a bunch of pot in Mexico and bring it across the Mexican/US border OR be can be killed. If he does the smuggling job, he’s promised money, relief from his indebtedness to Brad, and maybe a little more freedom.

To make this happens, David hatches the idea that if he looked like a family man in a RV then the likelihood of being stopped at the boarder would be less. So he recruits Kenny, then Casey - who is homeless, and his neighbor Rose (Jennifer Aniston) to become his family on this adventure. He offers them some money. Rose is a stripper, hates her job and has been stilted both financially and emotionally by her past boyfriend.

With the promise of a payoff, this motley crew becomes “The Millers” and they trek off to Mexico to collect some pot and to make some money. But the situations that happen on the way drive them all to see that being part of a family has meaning for all of them.

What makes the story and funny situations work is excellent acting on all their parts.

Sudeikis is very good as a slacker, just selfishly going on with his life and slowly and sporadically finding that he cares about the family he put together for his profit.  Helms is great as the jerky drug dealer. Aniston is fabulous as a stripper, pretend mother, and as the grounding force of this film. Roberts is a delight and, like Aniston, segues from hardened loaner, to a girl wanting to be heard, seen and loved. Poulter was amazing and a real prize. His innocence and bravery was perfect. Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn as Don and Edie Fitzgerald fellow RV travelers were a great addition to the story. Bob Fisher and Steve Farber wrote a witty screenplay. Rawson Marshall Thurber provided a deft touch directing this ensemble cast of strong actors.

Overall:  This was every entertaining and definitely worth the price of admission.

Son of Rambow

First Hit: The film had potential but failed in most ways.

This was a poorly constructed film which, with some additional thought, might have been fun and interesting.

The story is about two kids, Will (Bill Milner) who is being raised by a mother who is part of a religious group called “The Brethren”, while Lee (Will Poulter) is being raised by his older brother, meet in the school hallway and end up deciding to make a film call “Son of Rambow”.

The kids are very different in that Lee is somewhat of a bully, loner and doesn’t get along with anyone while Will is very creative, thoughtful and wants to break loose from the hold and beliefs of The Brethren.

The scenes of them making scenes of the film are cute but the addition of the exchange students from France and one of their characters doesn’t add a whole lot to the plot.

The boys have an obligatory falling out but the reconciliation and end of the film is very well done and made sitting through the film worthwhile.

Will Poulter gave a strong performance and could be someone we hear from again in the future.

Overall: Might be a reasonable DVD film for grade school children to see some rainy afternoon.