In only the first few minutes, Boys State sets itself out as covering a prestigious event that churned out the likes of Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton and prides itself on being a torchbearer for the modern politics of America. It presents such an ideal as a positive reinforcement of the history of this organisation, and one that is doing a little bit of good for the world. Regardless of where you fall in the debate, Boys State certainly has interest lingering at its core. Following the lives of a select few members of the Boys State Class of 2018, a large group of traditionalist Republicans vying for the top spot against a quietly progressive Democrat.
If the immediate pangs of heavy bass on the soundtrack weren’t enough to wake you up on this crisp, cold, August morning, then nothing else will. Project Power yanks the action playbook away from The Old Guard and attempts to ingest every page in record time. The result, a Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jamie Foxx starring action flick that revels in its lack of charm or talent. A drug that can change the state of its user, it’s a shame that it can’t change the state of this awful Netflix original into something more palatable.
Pairing the wonderful Kyle MacLachlan with the ever-satisfying Ethan Hawke should be a dream come true. But under the eyes of director Michael Almereyda, it becomes a cacophony of nightmarish visuals and vivid displays of passion from its cast and crew. Unfortunately, no amount of passion from this cast, no level of competence from a somewhat solid director, could ever save Tesla from being a damnable, incoherent film that has nothing to offer outside of flashy visuals, cheap reliance on fourth wall breaks, and the occasional realisation that they’re meant to be discussing the work and feud of both Nikolai Tesla and Thomas Edison.
Almereyda’s approach to telling Tesla’s story is a strange one. It never fully commits to its weirdness, cutting short the more enjoyable moments, like MacLachlan and Hawke having an ice-cream fight. We’re often stuck with narration, the easy way out of delegating information, and these breaks are never applied coherently or engagingly here. Eve Hewson, portraying Anne Morgan, details and fleshes out our story, a MacBook in one hand, Victorian garbs donning her, it’s a contrast that Almereyda wants to make for no other reason than having the ability to do so. Hewson ascertains that Googling both Tesla and Edison will lead to more results for Edison, than that of Tesla. The purpose of this is rather obvious, but it strikes me as rather dumb, and just a tad pretentious given the nature of its approach.
This pompous style can be found rather frequently, in inarticulate dialogue, seemingly thrown together without much care for the actual story of Tesla’s life. I can appreciate the need to set yourself apart from the other contemporaries that tried to tell the tale of Tesla, but Tesla comes across as ineffectual. It reminds me of Capone, name-dropping characters and movements of the period, but the actual events that happen to our characters feel completely happenstance. You could swap out Hawke’s rendition of Tesla for just about anyone, and it’d make no major difference.
Although I can appreciate the low budget, there are certainly easier, far more feasible ways of working around that than what Tesla attempts. Backdrops that make it clear they’re indoors, fabrications of the outside, with very little time spent trying to correct these blemishes or outshine them in any way. They stick out like a sore thumb, often brief but completely underwhelming, detracting from what little build-up this cast can manage.
I wonder how many more Tesla and Edison pictures we’re going to have to filter our way through over the coming years. We’ve had David Bowie flutter around the screen as Nikolai Tesla in The Prestige, and Nicholas Hoult did the same in The Current War a few years prior to Tesla. Benedict Cumberbatch has taken up the reigns as Edison also, the only aspect MacLachlan and Cumberbatch having in common being how totally underwhelming their performances are. I had expected a lot more from the man who directed Marjorie Prime, and it seems that he was more engaged with applying the stylish nature of his sci-fi drama than he was of piecing together a competent narrative. His aim of creating a visually slick piece works to some degree, but there’s not enough straight-shooting for biopic fans, and the slew of visual calamity is a wasted opportunity, never taken as far as it should go.
Wrapping up his Helsinki sound series with We Are All Cowards Now, Elvis Costello lays to rest a rather mixed, but evidently rewarding trilogy. Whilst the charms of Hetty O’Hara were lost entirely on me, its mixing not the best and its lyrics awash with a loosely contrite message, I did find solace in the first release, No Flag. An unabashed criticism of faith to the flag, and the dangers of blind allegiance. Now comes We Are All Cowards, a song built up by Costello as being similar to the anger and critical nature of Oliver’s Army or Tramp Down the Dirt. A high bar indeed for We Are All Cowards to meet, and it’s no surprise that it falls rather short of its target.
Whilst I may not be a scientist, I do understand that soaking in pickle juice for a century may not preserve you as well as it does for Seth Rogen in his latest feature-length comedy. An American Pickle collides two wholly different worlds with one another, the modern technology and hipster attitudes of old being the new meet with a simple immigrant worker, preserved by pickle juice for years before finally making his return to civilised society. It’s the typical fish-out-of-water style, or in this case, man-out-of-pickle-juice caper, filled with shots at contemporary culture from the mind of a man whose last living memory was bashing rats with a large hammer.
Remember the Crocodile Dundee films? I don’t, but that’s because I’ve not yet seen them. Diving into The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee feels like a bit of a mistake then, especially since I’ve not seen the leading man’s most prominent role. A victory lap for what was, quite frankly, a rather small win, The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee pools together the washed-up Paul Hogan, as he plays a fictionalised version of himself, mingling with celebrities and causing all sorts of issues when he causes controversy over the casting of Dundee Jr in the latest studio reboot. Misguided, ill-timed and toiling in its own obscurity, the film and its leading man share quite a lot in common.
If you’ve seen Disney’s animated Aladdin, then chances are you’ll enjoy The Thief of Bagdad, an adventure film made on the cusp of the 1940s which looks to adapt the very familiar story that had been set out in the silent, 1924 original of the same name. While its merits, story and message are similar, the Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger and Tim Whelan directed piece looks to take the story to richer areas of disbelief, magical storytelling and incredible cinematography. I can’t imagine how great this would have looked upon initial release, but it’s a testament to the abilities of this directing trio that The Thief of Bagdad is still a surprisingly brilliant film to this day.
Another entry into the very talented work found within the filmography of director Jacques Tati, Mon Oncle is arguably the peak of his critical and commercial efforts. The two come hand in hand here, following the adventures of the bumbling Monsieur Hulot once more, this time set in the colliding worlds of suburban and city life, the contrasts between the two feeling more and more obvious to our seemingly tired Hulot, who traverses back and forth between the two. The abetting from his sister and her well to do family for him to grasp the nettle and integrate with the forthcoming modernity crafts a nice ballast for Hulot, who spends much of Mon Oncle bumbling his way through the new experiences to be found in his sister and nephew’s lifestyle.
An older generation, tasked with preparing for a warfare like no other, and not understanding the complexities of the inevitably bleak nuclear holocaust that they’re ill-prepared to handle, doesn’t sound like a film that could be at all comfortable or cute. But When the Wind Blows utilises its lovely animated style, mixing it in with lingering background clues, subtle messages on ageism and preparation, to craft a formidable piece dedicated to pulling what little light it can out of its surroundings. Directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, the film lines itself up for dual-led character study, an elderly couple looking to survive the fallout of mutually assured destruction.
I’m still amazed that The Rolling Stones, over fifty years after their initial conception, are going relatively strong. With Mick Jagger hinting at the release of another Stones album every now and then, Living in a Ghost Town is perhaps a sign of what’s to come for the inevitable next release from these legends of rock and roll. But now that we’re very much in the early stages of recovering from a global pandemic (or trying to, anyway), it’s nice to see that plans are slowly coming together. Kindling the fire ever so slightly with the release of this single, The Rolling Stones look to reel fans, old and new, back into the unique consistency and charm their music can display.