REVIEW: “HOW TO BUILD A GIRL” (2020) IFC Films

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Teenage girl Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) is a talented copywriter and not popular at all in her school. At home, Johanna has a “Wall of Gods” featuring photographs of her literary and historical heroes, including: Sylvia Plath (Lucy Punch), Elizabeth Taylor (Lily Allen), The Bronte sisters, Sigmund Freud (Michael Sheen), and Maria von Trapp (Gemma Arterton). Johanna speaks to these photos, and the fact that they answer her makes for some early fun. Johanna’s family hustles to stay just above poverty. Her dad, Pat Morrigan (Paddy Considine), still has dreams of rock stardom even though they have long passed, and now he breeds black market Border Collies. Her mother Angie (Sarah Solemani) suffers from post-partem depression after giving birth to unexpected and unprepared for twins.

 

After winning a local TV spot as student poet (in a quick turn as a show host is Chris O’Dowd) turns mortifying, Johanna’s brother Krissi (Laurie Kynaston) suggests she audition for a London magazine’s opening as music critic. She unironically writes up a piece on the soundtrack to Broadway’s “Annie”—which nabs her an interview, but only as a joke. Undeterred, she overwhelms the smarmy hipster editor (Frank Dillane) into an assignment and gets the full fledged opportunity to work for a rock magazine.  They however are less than impressed when she writes what is essentially a teenage love crush fluff piece on her first big interview piece about musician John Kite (Alfie Allen) and she gets the hatchet.

With that Johanna decides to sharpen her claws and it’s here where, low and behold, she does a complete reinvention of herself and evolves into persona ‘Dolly Wilde’. It’s no surprise that Dolly’s hatchet jobs become a cause-celebre’ hit. Celebrating the idea of “A nice girl gets nowhere, but a bitch… A bitch can make a comeback,” she gradually rises to become the most hated person in the industry including winning ‘Asshole of the Year’ journalism award.

Performance wise, sometimes it’s left to ponder who Considine’s representation is as he can be fantastic actor, but at times picks roles where he fails to bring any expectation to the character he’s playing. Feldstein, being American, has a somewhat thick British accent here and aside from a few struggles with said accent, commands your attention at all angles. There are times when even though you don’t really believe she is fully pulling the character off – you still root for her – follow her – even if her figure character becomes almost unbearable in between. Nevertheless, Johanna has her heart in the right place and so this comedy is quite a decent affair – and not only for girls. That’ll help you miss some of the weaker elements. Minor characters are allowed little opportunity to develop and the story feels boiled down to the most obvious plot points. There is nothing superficial about Johanna, but the film itself fails to dive far enough beneath the surface to do her justice.

While the film doesn’t work perfectly Director Coky Giedroyc does a perfectly acceptable job of making it a fine watch. I do hope to see Feldstein break out of this typecasting of roles and move towards ones that she can really sink her teeth into. All in all “How to Build a Girl” is more of a cutsey, fun watch than maybe the book by Caitlin Moran was meant to be as Moran’s audacious humor sometimes feels muted. There is also something quite fun as well in a film that decides it is up to every girl to build and/or rebuild herself in any images she so chooses.

Grade: C+
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Media Review link courtesy of IFC Films

“HOW TO BUILD A GIRL” hits select drive-in theaters and VOD on Friday, May 8, 2020

REVIEW: “IN THE HEART OF THE SEA” (2015) Warner Bros.

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“In the Heart of the Sea” is an Action/Adventure/Biopic based on the real disaster that inspired Herman Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick’. The film follows the voyage of the ‘Essex’, a whaling ship that was bought down in 1820 by a Sperm Whale in the South Pacific, and is a true tale of adventure, drama, and survival.

Obviously the main reason to go and see this movie was to see this massive whale go toe to toe with the ‘Essex’ and its crew although actual confrontations with the whale in this film were few and far between, but when they happen, do they make an impact. This whale is inexplicably huge, and yes, he was grand as the story tells. in the heart 2It truly was such a spectacle seeing this huge beautiful whale on screen. The way they emphasize his size through setting him side by side with the boats gives his presence much more weight. Confrontations with the whale were intense and pretty good edge-of-seat stuff. Yes it’s CGI effects, but the whale was done beautifully and it’s incredibly detailed, making this whale look quite realistic and believable.
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The film’s biggest problem was the pacing. Throughout the film there are quite a few uninteresting moments that fail to hold your interest. There are some especially slow moments at the beginning where they are introducing some of the main characters to us including our lead, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) & his wife Peggy Chase (Charlotte Riley). As the introductions continue, we meet Mrs. Nickerson (Michelle Fairley) wife to Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who will be the one recounting the events of the film to Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) as he lived through and endured them as his younger self played very well by Tom Holland. Scenes like this are nothing new and have been done in countless films before this, but here they are a big part of the actual story of the film.
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Acting wise, the film was pretty good. I had heard some possible Oscar buzz about Hemsworth as he was the obvious standout, and he was able to show off a different side of his acting talents here, but still even with his dramatic transformation, it isn’t going to garner any type of Best Actor nom. The supporting cast was mostly pretty strong, Benjamin Walker as George Pollard and Cillian Murphy as Matthew Joy really stand out, again with Tom Holland as the Younger Thomas Nickerson. The crew of the Essex made up of Henry Coffin (Frank Dillane), Caleb Chappel (Paul Anderson), Benjamin Lawrence (Joseph Mawle), William Bond (Gary Beadle), Ramsdell (Sam Keeley) to name a few, were all good strong performances.
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Ron Howard does a pretty good job directing the film and most of the time he nails the tone of the film. The dramatic action scenes were filmed and directed in a very frantic and chaotic manner that upped the stakes during those intense moments. Especially in the latter portions of the film he does represent the sad tones and emotion pretty well and handles some very confronting scenes in a way that isn’t too disturbing but also isn’t sugar-coated.

The latter half of the film, although not free of some slower moments, does pick up significantly from the first half when it introduces some survival elements. As the film doesn’t end on a high note as it could have been a short and sweet ending but it is dragged out a little longer but with that, it makes a strong point.

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In the end, this is an action/adventure that has its intense, dramatic moments, but is not without some slower moments that if excluded could have kept the film to a shorter run time and maybe would have made it more impactful. If you are fascinated of the story of Moby-Dick as I was as a child, then you will definitely get more enjoyment out of the film.

Grade: C
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Review Screening: Monday, December 7, 2015 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Nationwide release: Friday, December 11, 2015