The Fault In Our Stars


By Ian Brockway


In what could be a conceptual exercise in how to make a teen romance  by pulling out all the “Awws!” and “Oh, Nos!” and still manage a solid and mostly believable story, here is a star-crossed tale that is compelling with heart, energy and intrigue.


“The Fault in Our Stars”, based on the novel by John Green, highlights the chemistry between Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus (Ansel Elgort) as two lovers.


Hazel (but of course) is direct, secretly spunky and sensitive. Augustus is bold, full of fun, reckless and almost Byronic with his sienna curls and alabaster skin. His muscled body speaks of the athlete, but not the overbearing jock.


There is a wrench in these works, however.


They both have cancer.


The pulse of the film is that despite this obstacle between them, the disease is not a melodramatic curse that stands alone, but instead an incidental happenstance that pulls them together. Nor is cancer a malignance or a poison, but only a mere hindrance, a troublesome and meddling glue that they both share.


Augustus and Hazel meet in a support group known for its larger-than-life Jesus carpet and soon they are both at it, sharing irreverence with a kindred twinkle in the eye.


Augustus is the initiator, driving with abandon and carrying an unlit cigarette between his teeth. With his sweet sugary smirk that would be arrogant, were he not so adorable and forthright in his Hardy Boys era hijinks. (I strip this cigarette of its power to kill me, he says.)  Augustus is kind of a Kiddie Kerouac — he’s a bad boy without really Being Bad.


The aura is all that matters.


Hazel is precocious, pensive and spiritually wild. She knows literature, quantum physics and the surrealist Rene Magritte. One gets the feeling that her oxygen tank is full of quotations and esoteric studies.


Hazel is starstruck by the offhand brawn and devil-may-care sparkle of her paramour. Of course, we know right away that she’ll use up a little more of her tank than usual in no time.


The complementary valentines can do no wrong, seeming to exist in a coloring book suburbia where there is no discontent, no domestic tension or any iconoclastic drawing outside the lines.


Augustus and Hazel experience very little parental tension. Ever.


Despite this eerie weirdness of which Wes Craven has made a horror career, the turmoil never ceases to lose its easy, almost charmed compulsion. 


Of course, there are those last surprises that we can see coming a mile away, as if on cue: The Romantic Dinner, an “edgy” picnic along a skeleton-shaped park, and last but not least, the glib and sarcastic sidekick, Isaac (played well by Nat Wolff known for his troubled and annoying character roles).


But it is the smooth acting that pulls it all together, making the obvious heart strings pulled almost secondary to charisma.


The ubiquitous Willem Dafoe does predictably well as a sour-drunk author Van Houten, who is not all that sour in the end. Even if we can sense the adolescent Albee in him well before he swigs, Dafoe and Woodley have enough emotive juice to make it almost new between them.


The final leap of “The Fault in Our Stars is that it does its story with such deliberation in spirit and character that we cease to count the clichés. These are characters almost without the haunt of Sickness, in keeping with smartphones and a well informed cellular knowledge of the body.


As a 21st century “A Little Romance,” “The Fault in Our Stars” beguiles in spite of itself and its moments of gasping convention make a creative experiment that both catalogs and pays tribute to those cinematic loves of the past.



X-Men: Days of Future Past

The latest installment of “X-Men” is fresh and lively with a tongue in cheek verve. Here again are Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and the hirsute and Broadway-handsome  Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).


Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) is getting a mental-fusing vibe that The Mutants are under attack by a band of silver “Terminator” machines known as sentinels.  The cobalt blue siren Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has set out to assassinate a creepy bureaucrat Trask (Peter Dinklage) who, armed with Mutant DNA, will start an all out war between the different ones and humans for (what else?) world power.


The now elder magicians of time and space: X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) join forces, reasoning that if Mystique’s attempt occurs, a darker fate awaits.


But time travel is very dangerous to the constitution, mutant, angry or otherwise, so they send Wolverine on the cerebral travel table.


After all, the man with the lycanthropic lamb-chops is virtually indestructible.


A nail less-knucked Logan wakes up in 1973 in the company of a seductive  sleeper and the music of Roberta Flack. Paisley and lava lamps abound.


Although a bit reminiscent of the kitschy nostalgia found in Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows”, the fun is in seeing this furry one in culture shock and he hardly ever loses his cool.


Wolverine lopes from neighborhood to neighborhood convincing the somewhat psychedelic clan that he actually is from the future, sent to set things right.


A younger Shelleyan Xavier is hobbled and addicted to drugs. And a grim Erik (the future Magneto) is in solitary confinement charged with the Kennedy Assassination when in reality he was trying to save him.


Both men are at odds with the woman in blue between them, even though this was because they are both green with Envy.


The appeal of this film (as with the entire series) is that these numinous folks stand on their own two feet as real beings with heart and not transient or ephemeral CGI freaks. What binds them together in parallel with the often more mutant mortals is passion, love, equilibrium and a desire to keep cruel chance at bay.


In a daring move, writers Simon Kinberg and Matthew Vaughn have set this during the turbulence of the Civil Rights movement thereby blurring the line between man, bland cyborg and monster in the most genuine sense.


There is a gleeful alternate history to ponder with two blue beasties here (Nicholas Hoult and Jennifer Lawrence) who pull some acrobatic strings in the lavender-smoking palm fronds of a turbulent Vietnam.


There is something comforting in watching a militaristic 1960s come unglued by these iconoclastically striped persons.


In a final madcap dash of social commentary, watch for Raven cloaking herself as President “Tricky Dick” Nixon.


The terrific phantasmagoric element of this story is that the men and women depicted originate from exclusive fauna, each coming into their own to make a heartfelt and hairy string of shape-shifting hippies with a very convincing ability to change the world from beyond the shadows.


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