Movie reviews: 'Flora & Ulysses' highlights the small, heroic things we do in everyday life
FLORA & ULYSSES: 3 ½ STARS
"Flora & Ulysses," the new Disney+ comedy-adventure based on the Newbery Award-winning book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo, is about what happens when a 10-year-old rescues Ulysses, a squirrel with a lot of personality who also just might have superpowers.
When self-described cynic and comic book fan Flora (Matilda Lawler), a lonely girl who lives with her romance writer mother (Alyson Hannigan), rescues a squirrel from a neighbor’s robotic vacuum, both their lives are transformed.
Flora, who pines for the days when her parents were together, finds a friend in her new pet. The rodent, who announces his powers by typing, “Squirrel. I am Ulysses. Born anew,” on mom’s old-school Smith Corona, chips away at Flora’s hardened exterior. “Maybe the best part of having a superhero around,” she says, “is how you start to feel like one too.” The unlikely duo, along with Flora’s father (Ben Schwartz), a failed-comic-book-writer who makes ends meet working retail, and temporarily blind neighbor William (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) go on adventures despite mom’s disdain for having a squirrel in the house, even one who can write poetry.
“Flora & Ulysses” may be the only kid’s flick to quote intense German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The film’s central message — Flare up like a flame and find your purpose — is paraphrased from Rilke’s abstract “Go to the Limits of Your Longing.” But don’t worry, there’s nothing terribly abstract or heady about the super squirrel story. Director Lena Khan has made a family friendly film that balances comedy, action and even some melancholy.
The superhero in this movie isn’t here to save the world or battle villains from other planets, but the stakes are just as high. Ulysses doesn’t wear spandex or have x-ray eyes, instead he’s a symbol of hope and the power of love in friendship and family. Those are nice messages, well delivered by a game cast, particularly Lawler, who nails her character’s droll humour.
"Flora & Ulysses" is a story about the small, heroic things we can do in day-to-day life. Uplifting and charming, it avoids easy sentiment and there’s even a good “Titanic” joke.
I CARE A LOT: 3 ½ STARS
In an early scene in “I Care a Lot,” the new thriller starring Rosamund Pike as professional legal guardian to the elderly Marla Grayson, says “I care. I care a lot,” referring to her wards, but it soon becomes clear that she really only cares for one thing. Money.
If you were to look up the word irredeemable in the dictionary you may well find a picture of Marla Grayson alongside the definition. She is an elegantly dressed, smiling viper who takes advantage of the old and infirm for profit. She’s a court appointed guardian who swoops in, cuts off family members, as she sequesters her wards in care homes that feel more like prisons -- while she siphons their bank accounts and sells their homes to cover her exorbitant fees.
Grayson and girlfriend Fran (Eiza González) pay off Dr. Karen Amos (Alicia Witt),a crooked doctor who gussies up medical records, so Grayson Guardianship can take control of her patient’s lives.
On the face of it, their latest mark, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), seems like a perfect victim. Wealthy and without family, she’s vulnerable and just waiting to be bilked. Or is she? Turns out Jennifer has some secrets, and worse than that, some very important and dangerous friends. "I'm the worst mistake you'll ever make," Jennifer hisses at Marla.
With stories of elder abuse making front page news far too often, “I Care a Lot” provides a modicum of revenge, turning the tables in a delicious way.
Pike revisits the cold and calculating character that won her raves in “Gone Girl” but ups the ante to plumb the depths of depravity. To describe the predatory Marla as a shark does a disservice to Great Whites. "Playing fair. Being scared, that gets you nowhere,” she says. “That gets you beat." Seemingly born without a heart, she masks her viciousness with a veneer of professionalism and her well-practised mantra of “I care, a lot.” Pike is clearly having fun here playing cold and calculating, but never resorts to the usual villain schtick. Her composure is disarming but, like an Oleander bloom, cut her and she bleeds poison.
Wiest is devilishly engaging as a woman with secrets and Peter Dinklage brings a barely contained rage to his role (NO SPOILERS HERE) but it is Pike who dominates.
“I Care a Lot” is a rarity, a truly mean-spirited movie where the best you can do is find yourself rooting for the least terrible person to persevere. It sags in the last half hour, becoming slightly more conventional but ends with a bang.
SUPERNOVA: 4 STARS
“Supernova,” a new relationship drama starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci and now available on VOD (Video-on-Demand), is a touching look at memory, the memories that make up a life and what happens when those memories start to fade.
Longtime couple Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci), a formerly famous classical pianist and well-known author respectively, are on an RV trip through the bucolic north of England. It is no ordinary vacation, however. Sam has a rare gig near the end of the planned trip and says, “He’s practically frog-marching me to it. Let’s see if I’m still any good.” But really, for the sixty-something partners, it’s a farewell to the life they’ve known as they transition to the gradual, but steady onset of Tusker’s dementia.
Tusker, convinced that the pills he’s taking aren’t helping, leaves his medication behind in solemn acceptance of what is to come. “There will come a time when I will forget who is doing the forgetting,” he writes. Sam, who put his career on hold for Tusker, isn’t ready to let go of the man who shares his life and occupies his happiest memories. “Where do you think we’ll be in six months?“ Tusker asks Sam. “Together,” Sam quickly replies.
“Supernova” is an unhurried love story, beautifully acted, about memory and control over one’s life.
Tusker has plans for a graceful exit while Sam is convinced love will triumph over whatever comes next. “I want to see this through to the end,” he says. “It’s all I have left.”
Sam grapples with their future in the film’s most heart-rending set-piece. Over dinner the two finally stop talking around the subject of the future and discuss their feelings, raw and unfiltered. Sam struggles with the thought of being alone, Tusker with the loss of control he feels as his memory slips away. “I want to be remembered for who I was,” he says, “and not for who I am about to become. That is the only thing I can control.”
What comes before this scene is warm, occasionally funny, always affecting but the true power of the story is revealed when the guards come down and Sam and Tusker get honest with one another about the reality of the situation. Firth and Tucci bring a lived-in realism to the scene that, in quiet, subtle ways, lays bare the feelings of grief both are experiencing.
Firth, whose icy, stiff-upper-lip performances have not always revealed a deep well of emotion, allows for heartfelt melancholy here in a delicate film that positively drips with compassion and respect.