In Brief: Dear Mr. Watterson, Geography Club, How I Live Now, Short Term 12 & The Book Thief

Hey, everyone! We’ve been working so much lately (and helping our friends at other outlets) that we’ve simply been running out of time to bring you guys the same great coverage we do every week. Bear with us while we try to power through everything to bring you all some of the best end of the year coverage possible. In the meantime, here are a few brief reviews of the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson and the teen drama Geography Club, both of which open today, and links to find reviews of both How I Live Now and The Book Thief that I did for some of our friends.

Dear Mr Watterson

Dear Mr. Watterson

Since its debut in 1985 and long after creator and noted recluse Bill Waterson wrapped up a phenomenally successful run of 3,160 comic strips, Calvin and Hobbes has remained a shining example and iconic series of work in something often thought of as a low art form. The generally alright documentary look at the strip’s meaning to its legion of fans, Dear Mr. Watterson, eschews an in-depth look at the man behind America’s beloved imaginative youth and his stuffed tiger buddy to instead focus on what made Watterson’s work culturally important.

Director Joel Allen Schroeder blends his own personal recollections of what the strip meant to him, along with those of other fans, and insights from Watterson’s contemporaries and syndicate bosses. Tracking the strip’s lifespan from Watterson’s days as an editorial cartoonist in his former hometown of Chagrin Falls, Ohio to the series iconic final installment, Schroeder certainly has the timeline down, making this an effective and brief history lesson.

Slightly more problematic (and probably due to Schroeder’s inability to contact Watterson for any clarifications) is the film’s tendency to repeat its main talking points over and over again, especially leading into the final twenty minutes. There’s a great case to be made that next to Charles Schultz, Watterson has the most enduring legacy in comic strips, and how it was untainted in the same way Garfield and Peanuts were by mass marketing and rampant licensing of characters thanks to Watterson’s unwavering belief in art coming before commerce. Similarly watching old hats like Bill Amend, Berkeley Breathed, and Stephan Pastis talking about Watterson brings a lot of joy and interesting theories about the mysterious man and changing market trends that have left comic strips on life support. But there’s no shaking that this slight, but enjoyable doc would have worked better as an hour long TV special rather than a feature.

Geography Club

Geography Club

Although at time a bit like a Degrassi-styled soap opera and a bit too truncated for its own good, it’s nice that the teen sexuality drama Geography Club looks and feels like it takes place in a real high school rather than in a vacuum of self-important messages or clichéd plot specifics.

Russell (Cameron Deane Stewart) is trying to find himself sexually, finding himself attracted to equally closeted football star, Kevin (Justin Deeley). They develop a budding relationship on the sly, despite a falsely pious looking girl (Meaghan Martin) spreading rumours that she’s been hooking up with Russell and his being forced to go along with it for the sake of his goofy, lecherous, but loyal best friend (Andrew Caldwell). Russell finds some solace in his stress inducing identity crisis through the titular group, which is actually a cover for gay or like minded students.

While first time feature director Gary Entin’s adaptation of Brent Hartinger’s novel certainly has a lot of great messages about friendship, not giving into peer pressure, bullying, and staying true to oneself, it also introduces a lot of potentially interesting characters and plot threads that seem to have been cut down to only the basics. The cast asserts themselves well as awkward, flawed teens who do sometimes stupid things because they think it’s what’s expected of them.

 Also, while the story itself isn’t cliché and predictable, a lot of Entin’s directorial choices are (including an incredibly hammy “game winning touchdown” sequence that feels really out of place). Still, with films like this, it’s the thought that counts, and it definitely has its heart in the right place. It’s ideal viewing for trying to foster an understanding within the film’s core demographic.

Also out in theatres this week:

The TIFF Bell Lightbox kicks off a retrospective of movies starring Bette Davis, who was essentially Hollywood’s original bad boy/girl. We’ll have a closer look at some of the films and Davis’ iconography early next week.

We also talked about it earlier in the week when it played at the Rendezvous With Madness festival and again when interviewing director Destin Cretton, but SHORT TERM 12 opens in several cities today and is a great movie featuring a leading performance from Brie Larson that’s not to be missed.

Also opening today in various theatres is the British dystopian teen flick HOW I LIVE NOW, which I covered for Now Magazine here in Toronto and I have very little desire to expand upon further here.

In happier news, THE BOOK THIEF also comes to Canada. This WWII drama was something I covered for the website Criticize This and the newspaper t.o. night. The four star review I gave the film should be on Criticize This (which in the paper is actually credited to the wrong guy, but I assure you I wrote it) in the very near future, but if you’re in Toronto you can read it in print now. But while we’re waiting for that to pop up online, here’s a link to an interview I did with director Brian Percival (who works frequently on Downton Abbey), the film’s star Sophie Nelisse (a young Canadian actress who was most recently seen in the Oscar nominated Monsieur Lazhar), and Academy Award Winner Geoffrey Rush, who you all probably know from a whole bunch of things.


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