The Austrian film Michael is chillingly effective and profoundly disturbing. Only a few will care to view it.
The title character (played by Michael Fuith, who looks a bit like American actor Tony Hale) works at an insurance agency. Every day he drives home from work, goes down to his basement, and unlocks the door to a room where he is hiding a 10-year-old boy (David Rauchenberger).
Perhaps the viewer hopes for some plot twist that will provide an innocuous explanation for the situation.
This is not a twisty movie.
The things that happen are about what you would expect. The film does not wallow in explicit horror. It doesn’t need to. It’s a dispassionate, mostly discreet depiction of a dreadful circumstance. Quite well made.
* * *
I cannot gainsay the praise some critics have heaped on Aurora, but I have to admit: I found the movie pretty dull. We’re in blah Bucharest, and a colorless man (played by Cristi Vuiu, the writer/director) spies on a woman dropping kids off at a bus stop and buys firing pins on the sly. He’s got something violent in mind, and if we’ve got three hours to spare, we can sit through the whole thing, from planning to violence to aftermath. It’s a meticulous show, like a Wiseman documentary of a revenge plot, and hooray for those who dug it. But on the day I streamed the movie, I was not in a mood to stay interested and work out all the motivations myself. This film requires an ambitious audience.
You won’t get cooties from watching That’s What I Am, but … it’s not great. It’s a too-earnest message film, a middle-school melodrama about a kid learning tolerance in 1965. Andy Nichol (Chase Ellison) is that kid, and, if you can believe it, some of his classmates ostracize homely girls and gawky boys. But the true crisis starts when some kids whisper that the English teacher, Mr. Simon (Ed Harris), is a “homo.” Harris is better than fine, but the movie seems intended to teach heavy-handed compassion lessons to middle Americans (particularly, open-minded Christians). As narrator, Greg Kinnear is given the flattest of prose to work with; one longs for the stylings of Jean Shepherd. Over the closing credits, we get where-are-they-now updates on the main characters. Spoilers: The good guys live charitable, prosperous lives, while the worst of the baddies goes to prison for being in a motorcycle gang, or some such. Meh.