King Jack, review

It’s truly a rare thing when you watch a relatively unknown film and find yourself wanting to tell as many people as possible about what you’ve just seen. Not because you had a blockbuster cinematic experience while viewing, but because it was tender and real, heart-warming and relatable, and you wanted to see more come the final moments.

This is what is really remarkable about independent filmmaking; it has a quality unto its own, something so pure and un-fussy, yet so spectacularly memorable. KING JACK is just that. You might not see a simpler movie this year, but that simplicity is not to be underestimated or belittled, for coming-of-age is seen so perfectly on film here, without the angst of many teen dramas of now.

KING JACK follows 15 year-old Jack over the course of a long hot summer weekend when his younger cousin Ben comes to stay, and he finds himself transforming with age. Jack is in it that phase of adolescence where girls are of interest and anger is prominent – he won’t allow his bullies to interrogate him much longer as he finds his bravery. Jack is played by Charlie Plummer and Ben by Cory Nichols, both are exceptional young actors.

Plummer is remarkable from start to finish, beguiling in his role as a confused teen, finding his feet in this crazy world and discovering who he wants to surround himself with. Nichols is a somewhat silent co-star, but he seems so wise beyond his years just through physicality and mannerisms and he aids Jack in his journey towards finding real friendship for the first time. The pair share such a touching bond as they protect each other against the bad guys of the small town Jack inhabits and Ben reluctantly visits. Surprisingly, it’s the younger boy who teaches the other how to be a better person and this tiny detail in the narrative makes for such a refreshing adage. KING JACK is really something special.

charlie plummer in king jack

charlie plummer in king jack

The entire ensemble comes together to make for a truly realistic depiction of suburban life, from Christian Madsen as the older brother, to Daniel Flaherty as the school bully – on paper it sounds clichéd but in reality it’s entirely complex in its exploration of just one character and those around him. Aside from the central narrative of Jack and Ben, there are an array of sub-plots that are briefly touched-upon, but never fully explored and while, in many cases, this would be a strike against a feature, somehow here it propels the narrative forward – motivating its audience to stay present, watching and wanting more.

Director and writer Felix Thompson focuses on locale to create a hazy summer setting which creates an atmosphere of longing – in Jack’s case, longing for a friend. While Thompson asks a lot of his young cast he doesn’t push to no avail; supported by a script that is nearly faultless, Plummer and Nichols’ age is understood by their helmer who works to showcase the highs and lows of growing up in a short 80 minutes. The whimsical ending is true to indie form, closing the feature in a way that is judged perfectly by Thompson.

This is wonderful filmmaking that should be seen by as many people as possible. Tender and thoughtful, KING JACK is as real a portrayal of everyday life as living it yourself.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, review

Eccentric mainstream cinema is a rarity, for kooky film making generally attracts a smaller audience. Every now and again we are presented with a movie that successfully executes quirky performances and a somewhat out-there narrative, that somehow doesn’t alienate the general viewing public. Think Juno and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is definitely more Juno kooky then that of Birdman, or any Wes Anderson feature, but it’s unique enough, and compelling enough, to stand on firm ground as its own success story. Brimming with stand-out performances, and with an enjoyable combination of comedy and heart-felt emotion, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has created something spectacularly special with this adaptation of the 2012 novel by Jesse Andrews.

Rejon’s film follows Greg (Thomas Mann), Rachel (Olivia Cooke), and Earl (Ronald Cyler) as they embark on a new-found friendship following Rachel‘s cancer diagnosis. Don’t be put off by the heavy subject-matter, and it’s easy to imagine what you must be thinking; “Not another The Fault in Our Stars?”– and, no, this is not another weepy teen drama about terminal illness and epic romance. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of romance in sight, and while at times that can edge towards disappointing, it’s actually rather refreshing. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is genuinely a story of friendship, and how something as terrifying and unfair as cancer can bring about new and unexpected relationships. Supporting the three leads are a host of well-respected actors, all of whom have proved their acting abilities time and again. These include the wonderful Connie Britton, Kings of Summer actor Nick Offerman, and The Walking Dead and Fury actor Jon Bernthal. The three mature faces within the cast are perhaps not given enough screen-time, but when present, they add an extra layer of acting prowess, and successfully support the young talent who drive the narrative forward.

mann and cyler in me and earl and the dying girl

mann and cyler in me and earl and the dying girl

While Mann, Cooke, and Cyler are currently in the midst of making a name for themselves within the Hollywood scene, together, they come across as young thespians who are entirely aware of their individual abilities, and how best to execute these in Rejon’s feature. Cyler is the stand-out, despite not being afforded enough dialogue – as Earl, Cyler embodies confidence and wit, and he becomes a firm favourite as the story of these high-school seniors unfolds. Cooke as the ‘Dying Girl’ of the title never overacts in her role as a 17 year old who is facing terminal illness, and the understated performance we see from her should invigorate actresses who will take on similar characters to take the same road. Too many times audiences have seen hammed-up, over-the-top facades of people on the brink of death, while here Cooke and Rejon allow the subtleties of Rachel‘s change in mood and personality to create an effect on their viewers – something which deserves to be applauded.

What is truly fantastic about this film adaptation – which was penned by original novelist Andrews – is the love of bizarre cinema that hovers amongst the story at all times. From visits to zany art-house video stores, to the recreation of well-known movies into titles such as ‘A Sockwork Orange’, Andrews and Rejon are two collaborators who happily pass on their love of cinema within this film. In a way, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a feature that encompasses lots of different short films – if the audience are only able to see fragments of each of these. This isn’t just a tale of death and the sadness that inevitably comes along with that, but the strange and memorable moments of life, as well as the pressures of contemporary society on adolescent teens. It’s all done so well, so originally, and the imagery and visuals of the feature are some of the best we’ve seen this year. From cardboard cut outs of the Pittsburgh setting, and montages of iPhone stop-motion animation, to the final unveiling of Greg and Earl‘s film for Rachel, each scene has been so thoughtfully attended to, and that in itself creates such a delicate feature.

It’s not a word that can be used often when describing contemporary cinema – particularly of late – but Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a beautiful movie, that is a genuine pleasure to witness unfold. Quietly moving, intelligently scripted, laugh-out-loud funny, full of bohemian performances, and winner of the coveted Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, this isn’t to be missed.