MID 90S

“At a time in life in which young minds are readily exposed to and influenced by any number of new and exciting external stimuli, the director’s examination of the effect that this has to a group dynamic is fascinating…” – Wayward Wolf.

If Mid 90s is to be considered nothing more than a nostalgic, rose-tinted coming-of-age tale, then it’s a bloody good one.

The fact that Jonah Hills’ directorial debut in fact offers so much more than this is something of an added bonus, frankly.

From the way in which this thoroughly engaging film plays out, one can only suspect that the life of an adolescent skater is probably something that was and remains close to the director’s heart.

Stevie (a genuinely impressive turn from Sunny Suljic), is an impressionable youngster whose head is turned by a gang of skateboarding kids one day in his local neighbourhood. Despite Stevie’s tender years, the boys in the gang accept him in and quickly take him under their collective wing.

Among new friends, Stevie (or Sunburn as he comes to be known), feels a sense of worth and belonging, something that’s lacking in his own insecure home life. His mother, though well-meaning, seems somewhat distracted from motherhood whereas his brother, Ian (portrayed by the rising talent that is Lucas Hedges), cuts a most bitter and angry character. He thinks nothing of taking his manifold frustrations out, physically, on Stevie, using him as a human punch bag in the process.

It’s no wonder therefore that Stevie prefers to spend increasing amounts of time with his new found band of brothers, far away from his toxic home environment.

And unsurprisingly the same would appear to be true for the other gang members, each of whom have their own often harrowing reasons for turning their backs on the family unit.

Hill’s film, predictable in some ways, focuses chiefly upon Stevie and his transformation from blue-eyed boy next door into an irascible street urchin. Rapid is his descent into increasingly anti-social behaviour as he first dips his toe into and then ultimately fully immerses himself in the candy box of multiple adolescent temptations. From alcohol and drug use to under age sexual dalliances, in but a short time, Stevie serves as a classic example of innocence lost, further increasing the emotional distance and connection between himself and his real family.

At a time in life in which young minds are readily exposed to and influenced by any number of new and exciting external stimuli, the director’s examination of the effect that this has to a group dynamic is fascinating; and an aspect of Hill’s film that is brought to life by some admittedly raw yet thoroughly believable performances from its young cast.

This is a refreshingly honest and vibrant piece given substantial momentum by a rap-heavy soundtrack of the era, interspersed with the effective use of some vintage tracks, from Herbie Hancock to The Mamas & Papas.

On balance Jonah Hill gets everything just about spot-on, incorporating some of his devilishly dark comic sensibilities into this gritty and big-hearted piece in the process.

Mid 90s is a film that paints an honest yet wonderfully nostalgic warts-and-all picture of youthful exuberance and unshakeable camaraderie under the California sun.

Brilliant.

OUT OF BLUE

“…Mike? Really? Another example of needless gender blurring if ever there was one.” – Wayward Wolf.

As harsh as it may sound, it’s hard to justify the existence of Carol Morley’s Out of Blue.

On the one hand Morley’s vision is to be applauded offering as it does a subtle re-imagining of the whodunnit genre. On the other hand genre conventions would point at the urgent need for a big ole’ shot of adrenaline to make this particularly limp detective drama much less of a drippy, whimsical affair.

As fine an actress as Patricia Clarkson is, her performance here portraying Detective Mike Hoolihan is unconvincing to say the least.

And while we’re on the subject… Mike? Really? Another example of needless gender blurring if ever there was one.

Anyway, ‘Mike’ is called upon to look into the apparent murder of an eminent astrophysicist. But far from bringing a tough uncompromising approach to her investigations, she comes across as scatty, distracted and somewhat intimidated by the task in hand; in fact anything but the long-in-the-tooth, hugely experienced member of the police force that she allegedly is.

Morley’s film seems more concerned with exploring flaky female emotional concerns than creating the sort of tension and convincing narrative that would really drive a cop drama forward, and her film suffers as a consequence.

But this shouldn’t come as much of a shock when we consider the nature of her previous big screen outing, the irritatingly odd, The Falling.

On the positive side of things, there are good turns from both Toby Jones and James Caan, and Clint Mansell’s fine contemporary Noir-esque soundtrack is effective in lifting the film’s flimsy content up a notch or two. But don’t be fooled by any sort of critical acclaim coming from the usual suspects, Out of Blue is a very disappointing piece.

Another thoroughly underwhelming experience from the Carol Morley stable.