Tuesday, July 2, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #67: "BEFORE MIDNIGHT", "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK", "THE SESSIONS", "CLOUD ATLAS", "21 JUMP STREET", "THE CAMPAIGN", "STAND UP GUYS", "A LATE QUARTET", "ANY DAY NOW", "DRAGON", and MORE!

Well, this is a bit more like it. My last batch of Movie Reviews, left be frustrated, depressed and cranky at the huge amount of bad and mediocre films I had to sit through. No, this time though, lots of better and more interesting film for me to watch and review, and despite a few setbacks, I couldn't really be happier about it. People may have thought I was exaggerating last time, but let me tell ya, watching bad movie after bad movie, continuously, it is depressing. It sounds fun, what movies and write about them for a living, but when it's a bunch of bad and lesser movies, when you know how great and special films can be, it's just so deflating. This is a career that should be move, and when it just feels more and more like work, it just becomes depressing. Thankfully, we're gonna be reading some reviews of a lot of special films this week, most of which were fun to write, even the lesser-rated films become more like speed bumps instead of road block, when you can truly immerse with the greatness of this art, it can inspire and change your mood, change your day, change your outlook on life even. That's why we love we love film, and why it can be so disappointing when it doesn't do that. (Especially when it's 120 fucking degrees outside, here in Vegas! Global Warming doesn't exist, my ass!)

So, with that, here's this week's jam-packed edition of my "RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS", starting with a SPECIAL REVIEW of "BEFORE MIDNIGHT"!


BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013) Director: Richard Linklater

5 STARS




At the airport in Athens, a man has that one final, awkward, emotional conversation with his teenage son, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) before he leaves on the plane to go home to his Mom in America. In a normal movie, this would be sad and emotional, but coming into "Before Midnight" the third film in what's now been deemed the "Before Trilogy", although I'm going to call the set of films what they really are, "The Ballad of Jesse and Celine" (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) this scene has more poignancy and emotional pull than most other similar scenes. That is of course, assuming you've seen "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" previously. If you haven't, well, do it now! And while you're at it, you might stop reading this review.  Yes, you can watch "Before Midnight" without having seen them but, God, why would somebody devoid themselves of not having seen such special films, both of which are now in my Canon of Film series. Hawke, Delpy and Director Richard Linklater, have a started a pattern of creating a new film of these characters, every nine years now. In "...Sunrise", they were two strangers on a train, who spent their one dreamlike day and night on the streets of Vienna, talking, about life and falling in love, and in "...Sunset" they reconnect nine years later in Paris, after Jesse wrote a book about the encounter, continuing where they left off, but older, wiser, and with commitments. Oh, now the troublesome part of my review, just how do I or should I reveal and discuss of "Before Midnight"? The details keep spinning through my head, and all I really tell you is to watch it, and watch it again, and again, and again. I'm not going into the argument of which film is better anymore. A. they're all great, and they're all different, yet, they're not separate films so much as they are different chapters of a single story that we're being told. How have they changed over the years, what are they doing now, what's their situation, and all the small details. How they talk differently on the same subjects as before, or not, or how they're not talking about them at all, and have instead moved onto different topics, and how we discover them slowly. Almost like voyeur's, we're peeking in on them. Delpy and Hawke's naturalistic dialogue continues. Besides that B. Whichever one I feel most towards in the moment is the best one, and that can change often, the way the characters themselves change. They've been together since we last saw them, and now they have two twin daughters, Ella and Nina (Jennifer and Charlotte Prior). It's the last day of their vacation in Greece, where Jesse, was invited to stay from an old-time writer Patrick (Legendary cinematographer Walter Lassally, in his first acting role) at their magnificent villa, along with a bunch of other writers and their mildly-eccentric families. The first half of the movie, we see them interacting with them, sometimes separately, other-times together like at the dinner table. Listening and telling their stories, all with the great rich naturalistic dialogue we've gotten used to, and wish we heard more of in more movies. The next part of the film, is them alone, walking through Greece like they did Vienna and Paris. Patrick has arranged for their final night, to let them have a hotel room and a romantic night alone without the kids, and most of the rest of the film, in the hotel room. What happens there, more talking, and arguing and discussion, and revelations.... It's the first time, we meet them, together as a true couple, and those romantic days in Vienna and Paris, have been replaced by the realities and consequences of their actions and decisions, and their thoughts and emotions, are at play. I really can't go into specifics, but there are a lot of specifics, and we can talk about them all night. For these two characters, the way we've grown up with them, they're all specifics now, and yet, we still can interpret and listen, to these two adults now, talking about their real adult problems. I'll say this about the film, this is toughest of the three films for the actors, by a mile, and the other two weren't easy to begin with. They, along with Richard Linklater received Oscar nominations for writing "Before Sunset", but these are two of the greatest actors of our generation, giving the performances, almost literally, of their lives. The first film ended with the promises of youth. The second, ended with a choice, one that both of them, and many more people have to live with. This one, ends, with a mystery to us, and them. The inconclusiveness and fragileness of adulthood. . As of this exact second, I've seen six films from 2013, so it isn't saying too much so far that "Before Midnight" is right at the top of the best so-far of the year, but it is, and if gets knocked off, you better believe it's a great film that did it.

Oh,... some of you maybe wondering about the title, why midnight? Hmm, yes why indeed? (Sly smirk)


SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012) Director: David O. Russell

4 STARS



Since "Silver Linings Playbook" was based on a novel by Matthew Quick, I couldn't help but wonder if he was inspired by the films of Cameron Crowe while writing the book, or if David O. Russell, felt this was a good opportunity to experiment with Crowe's aesthetics. Now, don't get me wrong here, I liked the movie a lot, and David O. Russell is a director I admire greatly; I've given positive reviews to every film I've seen if his, and consider his film "Three Kings" to be a masterpiece. He's also hard to pin down as a director, far more capable of working with nearly any genre, and still managed to give it a new twist that's entirely his own. That said, maybe Cameron Crowe films are the wrong comparisons, because this is probably Russell's most personal film, since his son suffers from bipolar disorder, a severe one at that. I've known people who've suffered from it as well; some of them didn't exactly make it. Pat (Oscar-Nominee Bradley Cooper), is taken out of rehab by his mother (Oscar-nominee Jacki Weaver), and he returns home. He's still refusing to take the medication, and as much as he says he's doing better, he's not, and he's prone to outbursts. He caught his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) in the shower with his co-worker, and beat the hell out of him right there. He comes home to an OCD-riddened father, Patrizio (Oscar-Nominee Robert De Niro) who's been a bookmaker since he lost his job, and is a devoted Philadelphia Eagles fan. So devoted, he's been officially banned from Lincoln Financial Field for getting into too many fights with Giants fans. (So, six altercations.) [Awkward silence] Yeah, I've been there, and as an Eagles fan, it makes perfect logical sense why somebody has to sit in an exact spot, with the remotes pointing in the right direction, and every other so-called superstition has to be practiced in order for them to win. (That way, when they lose, it's because the NFL, especially the referees are conspiring against the Eagles, in order to make sure that we don't win, even though we are supremely better than all the other teams.) So, there are no casual Eagles fans. Still determine to win back, he's started keeping himself in shape by running and reading the books she teaches at the high school they both used to work at. His friend Ronnie and his wife Veronica (John Ortiz and Julia Stiles) invite Pat to a dinner party, where he shows up in his DeSean Jackson jersey, and he's unaware that he's being setup with Veronica's sister Tiffany (Oscar-Winner Jennifer Lawrence), who's a recent widow, who's just been fired from her job. Tiffany is a hard character to describe. Her actions are just as erratic and unpredictable as Pat's, yet they come partly out of grief, but you get the sense that there's a chemical imbalance in her too, possibly nymphomania. Russell claims that both parts are compulsive truthtellers, impossible for them to keep secrets. That's not completely true, but there are plenty of moments, where clearly, both of them  say a little too much about things they shouldn't be talking about in the first place. The activity that first connects Tiffany and Pat, is running. Pat jogs, wearing a plastic trash bag for some reason, and Tiffany catches up to him on his route, antagonizing each other. Eventually, she gets him to begin working at dancing, which she does as a hobby, although she was invited to a competition later in the year, and she needs a partner, and she does have an in, with Pat's wife Nikki, and might actually pass a letter to her from Pat, which violates a restraining order, but we know she's crazy enough to break the law already after an incident in the diner, and later on the street, when she almost gets Pat arrested. The movie became the first feature to get Oscar nomination in every acting category since "Reds" back in '80, only Lawrence won, and her character is hard to grasp, although that said, I can't think of anybody else who could've pulled it off as well as she did, which is scary considering her age. She's the second-youngest person to ever win a Lead Actress Oscar, and I have to believe it took almost all of her acting skills to pull off this character, 'cause if she wasn't using them all, she's inhuman. The acting is the really great aspect of "Silver Linings Playbook"; it's the best performance I've seen from Bradley Cooper, who I actually wasn't a big fan of until this film. DeNiro of course is great as always, as is Jacki Weaver, who's part somewhat small, but still good. There's always good supporting work from Chris Tucker and Anupam Kher It gets a little too contrived at the end for me, very formulaic, with the big event that everything's building too, and the happy ending that's a little bit forced, big speech by the father character..., it hits all those marks; I'm not sure it's the strongest part of the film. Actually to some extent, that's when I starting making all the Cameron Crowe comparisons, 'cause he's guy who nails those scenes, and here, I don't quite think they hit as hard as they should, 'cause I'm not sure they were built up as well as they could've been. There are a lot of different aspects to "Silver Linings Playbook" that distinguish it from other films though, so maybe I can be more forgiving. There is a lot to like here. It's definitely a recommendation, with some minor quibbles though in the execution, but what's good here is really good, and again, the acting, is really top-notch, especially Cooper and Lawrence.


THE SESSIONS (2012) Director: Ben Lewin

5 STARS



I've spent a couple days trying to fully explain my thoughts on "The Sessions". It's hard. It's a great film, it's emotional, yet memorable, and very well-made. Smartly-made, and greatly acted. It was the film that got me out of last week's depressed feelings about film, and that's good. And I think afterwards, for some reason, that I felt rather dismissive of the movie after watching it, I don't know why. (Sigh.) Actually, I do. Frankly, it's because my own issues with intimacy have gotten in the way of this review. I'll just say it, I'm probably someone, who probably could be helped by a sex surrogate, and there's probably more than a couple psychiatrists who would concur with that opinion. So, yeah, there's something touching and personal to me about the film. The man who searches out the services of a sex surrogate is Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes). He's a poet with numerous degrees that contracted polio when he was young, and now lives his life in an iron lung. He can't get up from a reclined position, and travels around by gurney. He had a motorized one, but it caused too many accidents, so he's got a staff of assistants that help him. He fell in love with one of them, Amanda (Annika Marks), and that most disturbing of rejections, the "I love you, but I'm not 'in love' with you," really hit him hard. He's doing an article on sex and the disabled, and after a few interviews, he finally decides that it's time to finally get laid. He asks his priest, Father Brendan about it (William H. Macy); yes, Mark is religious, although he think God has a sense of humor. Macy's performance is something to smile at; as they so rarely have a believable, smart and thoughtful priest in films. He finally thinks about Mark's plan, and believes that, yeah, despite that no sinning before marriage thing, that God will probably let him off on this one. The sex surrogate is Cheryl (Oscar-nominee Helen Hunt), who's both tender, yet straightforward about their meetings. The meeting take place, first at a friend's place, and then later at a hotel room. Hunt is a surrogate, who's a mother during the day, and considers her work clinically, not sexually. Naturally, spending so much time in the presence of a naked woman, especially for the first time in one's life, it's not surprising that Mark begins to fall in love with  Cheryl. She's a bored housewife outside of this, with a rather plain husband in Josh (Adam Arkin) who also, accepts her profession, until it starts finding it's way into the home. There's six sessions originally, and while there's a lot of nudity, there isn't much sex. It's a lesson in, how to act in the real world and communicate with people. "The Sessions" are about, how to get laid and fall in love, and not about actually getting laid while physically disabled. Both Cheryl and Mark begin to care about each other, but "The Sessions" really are, about the sessions. There's no gigantic added stories to exemplify the tale, just an honest story about a man, trying to get over his troubles, and the caring woman who helped him out of them, or at least, helped him out the best she could. Hunt and Hawkes give really exact and amazing performances, difficult ones at that too, and without them, the movie doesn't work at all. This was Writer/Director Ben Lewin's first feature film in almost two decades, as he's spent the majority of his career directing television shows like "Touched By an Angel" and "Ally McBeal". "The Sessions" is really a good, uplifting story about a person who's touched a lot of people in a lot of different ways. One of the characters I care a great deal about this past year.


CLOUD ATLAS (2012) Directors: Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski

5 STARS



Well, I can throw out the film criticism textbooks and structure guides for this one. Forget describing "Cloud Atlas", or even criticizing it. Hell, I'm pretty damn familiar with most of the stars of this film, but, hell, half the time I couldn't even identify the actors in the scene, as many are hiding behind some controversial, but outstanding makeup that the Academy should be ashamed for ignoring, and frankly, even looking on imdb.com is of little help since Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving Doone Bae, Jim Strugess, Jim Broadbent, James D'Arcy, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whitshaw, Keith David, David Gyasi, and what seems like damn near everybody else, play multiple characters, over multiple time periods and locations, in multiple races, genders, ages, species...- It was fun for about, a little under thirty minutes trying spot who's playing who, but with all six stories being told simultaneously, all of which are a different genre by the way, that frankly, as I start watching this film a second time, now two days late to return to the Redbox across the street, I'm convinced that the only way to watch the movie, is to simply stop trying to consider, analyze, theorize, and all other -izes, and just sit back, and let yourself become engrossed with the film, and after that... still don't bother doing any of that. Some enigmas are meant to stay that way, and that's why enigmas are so intriguing. Oh I'm sure that there's some kind of answer to a the puzzle that is "Cloud Atlas", and they sure leave us plenty of clues along the way, but it is incorrect to try and search for a solution to "Cloud Atlas". However, without any really good  clear-cut explanations of it's existence, and no truly adequate way of describing the plots or the players, and clear cut explanation with any absolute sense of certainty, of what "Cloud Atlas" is, I guess the best thing to do would be to actually, do what I just said not to, and pontificate on what it all means. Or, at least hypothesize about some of the clues they give us and some of the common themes and at least attempt give you, the reader, some sense of...- something. For instance, there's clearly, I guess the word would be, reincarnation, but it's more like, multiple lives and how we are connected, in some manner to all the former lives we've lived. Many characters share birthmarks for instance, and when two characters played by two people, meet at a different time period, there's a sense of familiarity between them, as though once upon a time, they had a connection, and that deep inner connection is an intricate sign of trust, but with no explanation of how or why they feel this way. At times they even see images of their past lives, and feel as though they're living them all over again, or at that very moment. I'll leave the quantum physics theories on "Cloud Atlas" to the theoretical physicists, and I probably should find some experts on the Tibetan Book of the Dead on their thoughts on the multiple lives aspects of the film. That said, the movie is much more than that. The structure of the original book by David Mitchell, isn't this tightly-edited skipping back-and-forth between stories, but it's told sequentially and it's in the familiarity of the stories that certain themes and patterns develop. In that sense, possibly the most intriguing part of "Cloud Atlas," is not just the stories themselves, but the choices the characters choose, and the differences between them, or the similarities. And a curious thing about the stories, in that none of them actually feel naturalistic; they're all heightened like movies in fact. In fact, consider the tales themselves, a sci-fi story of replicant-like creatures rising up against society, a comedic farce about an old publisher who tries to escape the nursing home his brother conned him into turning signing up for, a '70s era investigate journalist having her life threatened as she uncovers a major oil industry scam, the ambitious classical musician who earns his way into his mentor's home, with an attempt of adapting his own talents and stealing the aging idol's works, a friendship formed between a Southern lawyer and a stowaway former slave, on a ship in the South Pacific, and a tribal tale of mystical visitors with secrets, who help save a dying civilization, as rival, cannibalistic rival tribes are bearing down for battle. They aren't just stories with connection threads, they're also classic film and literature archetypes. The stories themselves aren't that new, if that's probably the point, and the fact that despite the differing genres, that they're structured quite similarly, it's easy to presume, that they're either parodying or paying homage to the art of cinema's and literature's past. Not an unusual theme for the Wachowski's who love exploring many of these themes in their best films. The differing worlds, and discussion over which is real, combined with the hidden symbolic references to other works of art. Maybe that's why the music, at the centerpiece of one story is so familiar with other characters, and that the stories themselves are inherently familiar to us, and as Halle Berry's character pontificates in one sections, "Why do we keep making the same mistakes?". We feel like we're watching six different films, and while we may not be able to understand why, we're able to keep track, 'cause we're used to the outlines of how these films' play out, and yet they still managed to keep an air of connectivity to them. The Wachowskis were joined by German Director Tom Tykwer, who did "Run, Lola, Run", among others, and they each wrote and directed three segments, the Wachowskis and Tykwer also worked on the music as well, as he normally does. This makes the editing all the more impressive, as is the directing, and the acting really has to be considered a really fun and interesting challenge for them to play all these multiple characters. I'm surprised how used I've gotten to the Wachowski's aesthetics also, and I'm sure for Lana especially, the playing of multiple roles, and multiple sexes in certain cases for certain actors, must have appealed to her greatly. A lot of the stories seem to also be about what happens when one disturbs the "natural order". I could discuss "Cloud Atlas" all day, to incredible detail, as you can plainly see, there's no shortage of things to discuss, yet, this seems like a shallow and forced exercise to do so. The secret to "Cloud Atlas" maybe that it's a movie disguised as a literary analysis that we all feel the need to make while watching it, and afterwards, but simply put, no matter how we may feel or interpret, "Cloud Atlas" might just simply exist, and because it exists, we should just be happy it does, because with it's existence, that means that we can enjoy it.


21 JUMP STREET (2012) Director: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

4 1/2 STARS



My mother always tell this story of a kid in her school named Mike Lewis, who transferred to the high school in his Senior year, which is apparently a clear-cut sign that that person is a narc, as nobody transfers to a new school their Senior year. Also, the fact that, Mike Lewis, was the only kid in the school who's last name didn't end in a vowel. (My mother grow up in South Jersey, and literally everyone in the class was of Italian descent, so "Mike Lewis", was a giant red flag.) I remember watching and liking "21 Jump Street" as a kid, a really young kid; so young that all I really remember from the show is the theme song, and how modern and hip the show was. It really was one of the first, smart yet funny new takes on a cop show I had seen, and it was definitely was a creative show. Typical of the work of the late great Stephen J. Cannell, who wrote and created many great shows, including "The Rockford Files", "Wiseguy", and "The Commish". So they did the right thing to begin with by picking a good show, with a funny and smart premise to begin with, so when it got adapted into a full-fledged comedy, it became a smart and funny comedy that wasn't making fun of the TV show, but it did in fact, do a really good job at honoring it. It also took the opportunity to comment on the differences between the ways high school has changed over the years. For instance, back in high school, Jenko (Channing Tatum) was the typical dumb jock. Popular, big player on the football team, and he used to pick on and make fun of the science geek Schmidt (Jonah Hill), but when years later, after they reconnect at the police academy and fail miserably at their first gig, they get transferred to the newly-reopened abandoned church turned undercover narcotics division HQ, on Jump Street, they re-enter high school, to find the jock being obstracized for accidentally gaybashing a kid, and everybody admires Schmidt's intelligence and his flair for drama, especially when high on the new synthetic drug that's being passed around at school. "21 Jump Street" is a good product to analyze and compare these shifting attitudes in high school, or my mom says is, "I don't get your generation, wanting to be in high school?" Anyway, they're objective isn't difficult, Schmidt and Jenko have to pretend to be brothers and begin infiltrating the dealers of this new deadly drug. They're already in trouble, before they step through the school doors, and then they each forget their cover stories, so they're trying to plays each other's rules. There's a lot more depth to this film, than there probably should, and it's funny as hell. Tatum and Hill, and incredibly good paired up. They'd be funny if any film is looking for a pair of villains in the Peter Lorre Sidney Greenstreet variety in the near future. Hill co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Bacall, and it's clear he's got a good sense for comedy, and there's many great supporting performances from the likes of Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, almost all of which are wonderful stereotypes that they're satirizing, and there's an underused Ellie Kemper who's quite good as the teacher who's way too attracted to Jenko. Lots of other surprises in the film as well, especially for fans of the show. I was quite impressed with "21 Jump Street"; this is a comedy I would gladly watch again. I was quite impressed; it pays tribute to the show, and still managed to be it's own thing, and find lots of good humor in it. Highly recommending it, whether you're familiar with the show, or not.


THE CAMPAIGN (2012) Director: Jay Roach

2 1/2 STARS



"The Campaign" isn't really a strong satire, as much as it is, poking fun of the political process, and that's really what makes it fall short. There's always plenty of comedy in politics, but when you're making a comedy film about it, you got to aim higher. Especially disappointing considering Director Jay Roach, who's directed such memorable politics TV movies recently like "Game Change" and "Recount", but he always end up doing these, rather average and dopey comedies when it comes to theatrical features. I guess he does these for the money to make the more interesting HBO films he does, but still, this one could've really been strong, and at many points it was. Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) has been quite popular in his North Carolina district, despite a few occasional scandals; he's great at campaigning and politicking, and using those key buzzwords at all his campaign stops. However, after a recent scandal involving a wrong number and an erotic answering machine message he thought, was going to his mistress, he's suddenly become vulnerable. He was running unopposed, but the Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow), who are clearly inspired by the Koch Brothers, decide to try and build up a candidate to buy the district by first, creating an opponent for Brady, who they find in the effeminate and earnest Marty Huggins (Zach Galifanakis), the youngest and most disappointing son of Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox) a big-time business donor. Marty is one of Galifanakis's best role yet, although it did remind me a little too much of Jack Black's recent performance in "Bernie". After an initial slowing down, Marty gets sent Campaign director, Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) who reinvents Marty into a winning candidate, complete with new dogs, style, and clothing for him and his family, which frustrates his wife Mitzi (Sarah Baker). Cam's Chief of Staff Mitch (Jason Sudeikis) is a calm counterpoint to Cam's excessive tendencies. The movie has some great laughs, I certainly enjoyed it when the political rivals' debates actually turned into fights, where innocent bystanders becoming collateral damage. Eventually though, as funny as some of the campaign ads, and dirty tricks are, eventually, the movies fall into the structure, of somebody does something really ridiculous and crazy, then they get a bump in the polls for doing it, and then the next person does something even more stupid and ridiculous, and gets a bigger bump, and so-on, until election day. It got a little repetitive after awhile, and just became too unrealistic. I also thought, they went a little too far, to the point where I wasn't laughing. Also, while I enjoyed the eccentricity of the greedy billionaire brother characters that control the world and the politicians, (And especially the tail at the end, where they go after the Citizens United ruling) I thought they could've come up with a more, believable scheme for them to come up with, as a reason for wanting their Congressman to be there (At least, I hope it's not believable). The basic plot is, that they want to sell land in the district to China, so that it's not apart of the U.S., they can build sweatshops, in America, to get rid of shipping costs. Well, frankly, that's not exactly legal or possible, (Well, except maybe in Saipan) but also, it's so over-the-top, even for the filthy rich, that I found it distracting. It's got a few thing to say about, elections and campaigns in America, but I don't think it rises up to the sharpest of satires, nor do I think, it's funny enough to make up for it's more kindhearted touch towards politics. It's regrettable, but honestly, it's just not enough for me to recommend it. Considering what it could've been, it's just not enough.


STAND UP GUYS (2012) Director: Fisher Stevens

5 STARS



Essentially, the greatness of "Stand Up Guys" is it's simplicity. Gets the best actors in the world, and put them in front of a camera, and let them act with each other, and that's essentially it. That'd be good with anything, but thankfully, "Stand Up Guys" is very well-written with excellent dialogue. Lots of dialogue. This is the kind of movie, I'm recommend to all actors, not simply because it's a good movie, but also because it is filled with ready-made monologues that they can and should memorize and perform on a moment's notice in front of any and every casting director they come across. That there is a plot, and a ticking clock, is basically there to give the movie some direction for the actors to supposedly go, while they run thrown the great dialogue. Basically, these are old gangsters of some sorts. Val (Al Pacino) has just gotten out of prison after a 28 years, taking the blame for something that went wrong on one of their assignments, he took the fall, and didn't rat anybody out. What happened was the death of Claphands's (Mark Margolis) only son, and now that Val's being released, Claphands has sent Val's buddy Doc (Christopher Walken) to kill him, by 10:00am the next day. That's the looming ticking clock, over the story, as we see Val and Doc, spend the night  matriculating from place-to-place. They visit a brothel a couple times, runby Wendy (Lucy Punch) the daughter of the former owner who's they knew awhile back. They go back to this favorite little diner of Doc's, where Alex (Addison Timlin) seems to be the only waitress and Doc is her favorite customer. They find themselves at the hospital a couple times, where they run into Nina (Julianna Margulies), a nurse who's father used to be their driver Hirsch (Alan Arkin), who they spring from a retirement home, to spend one more night out like old times. Hirsch is still to outrun police, in a stolen gangster's car, which later turns out to have a naked woman in the trunk, Sylvia (Vanessa Ferlito), who they help clothe and eventually have her get even with the sick fucks who put her in there. The events of the movie, as entertaining as they are and as exciting as they sound, actually they are rather trivial. And that's kinda nice actually. This isn't a film like "Red" where all the old-time actors are pulling one-more heist to show that they aren't two old for this shit. They are old for this shit, and time's running out anyway, but there's still time enough to steal a nice suit, and still enough time for another trip to the diner. Even enough time to break into the pharmacy and steal all the prescriptions that they need, but are too expensive on their insurance. (And some Viagra for the brothel) The locations of this film are a city that seems almost abandoned by everybody except occasionally bad guys. Most places are closed, but easy to break into, at least they are for Val. There's a bit of fantasy in this, last night on Earth reflection, and nothing will stop them from doing what they want to. "Stand Up Guys" really caught me off-guard, I wasn't expecting to like this film so much. It's the second directing job for actor Fisher Stevens, after '02's "Just a Kiss", although he won an Oscar as a producer a couple years back for the documentary "The Cove". The script by Noah haidle, the first feature-length attempt from him is quite well-written, despite it's simplicity, it's quality is great enough for these great actors to simply act, and not have to use their skills to life the material. That said, the appeal is the acting. We don't really think of Pacino, Walken and Arkin as Val, Doc and Hirsch, we think of them as Pacino, Walken and Arkin, three great actors, coming together to make a great film, show off just how talented they still are. I could listen them talk all day, in fact that alone would've been a good movie. "Stand Up Guys" is essentially a great version of that, actually. Just great actors acting, sometimes that's all you need, and this film happens to have just enough extra to make it a great one.


A LATE QUARTET (2012) Director: Yaron Zilberman

3 STARS



I made note of the choice to use a colorized old RKO logo in the beginning of the film, although in hindsight, I'm not completely sure why they made such a choice. Not that it's a wrong choice, but I don't know the connection. "A Late Quartet" is the story about a popular classical string quartet, that's been around for 25 years. Famous enough that an episodic documentary is airing in installments at the time that their group, (Whose name I am pissed off as hell that I didn't write down, because I can't seem to find it anywhere online. Apparently every other critic also forgot to do it too.) is in a sudden shift, personnel-wise and emotionally. The oldest of the group, is Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken, the second good movie and performance I've seen him in this week), the oldest of the group, who originally started as the 1st violinist's professor. He was already known in the classical music world, and had given up performing when Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanar) coaxed him back into his group. The other members are a married couple in Robert and Juliette Gelbart (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener). Robert is 2nd violin while Juliette plays viola, and their daughter Alexandra (Imogen Poots) is also a musical prodigy being taught by both Peter and Daniel. Peter, however has been off on his play lately, and sure enough, he's coming down with Parkinson's and has informed the group that he plans on looking for a new member to replace him. He wants a girl who filled in for him a bit last year. (There's a great cameo of Wallace Shawn where they discuss the girl, who's apart of Shawn's character's orchestra)  That said, while he's begun searching for a replacement, this triggers other complications between the group. Robert, begins by asking that on occasion, he plays first violin, and Daniel plays second. I'm the not greatest expert on classical music, but technically 1st violin and 2nd violin doesn't mean that one violinist is better than the other, it's a matter of the different parts of the composition that are played, but that said, there is a stigma, and after 25 years, Robert is a little tired of it. There's also trouble in his marriage. Him and Juliette got married shortly after she got pregnant, and now that she's out of the house, long-held angst between them is building up. He even has an affair with a flamenco dancer who's his occasional jogging partner. If that's not bad enough, Alexandra, begins a secret affair with Daniel, as their lessons go a little too far. Daniel isn't particularly a nice person, but he's been the leader of the group, and now that the group is beginning to shatter in front of him, and changes are seriously being considered, he has a tendency to act out. And Alexandra has lived with absent parents most of her life, as they spent the majority of her youth growing up. An scene with her and her mother at the apartment is quite cathartic. To a certain extent, we've seen these stories before, but it's still well done. There's usually a metaphorical piece of music in film such as these that deal with classical music, probably most famously the Rachmaninoff in "Shine". Here, it's Beethovern's String Quartet #14, Op. #131, a piece that was almost obnoxiously design as a test of endurance for a string quartet, lasting seven movements without a break; Daniel refuses to even play it, without the notes in front of him, and only the best quartet's can even play it. The film is bookend by one of their performances, which we strongly suspect might be their last as a group, from the beginning, of the film, and at the end, we get this confirmed. I enjoyed "A Late Quartet" mostly for the acting and the observant nature the film appears to have not only classical touring musicians, but also trials and tribulations of being in such a group, particularly a famous group for so long. You're generally bound to get on certain peoples' nerves after years of playing the same music, and doing the same things. The plot is melodramatic, although the movie never feels too overdramatic, and I think that was smart. I guess it's a mixed review from me, but I'm certainly interest in Director Yaron Zilberman's next film; he's only had one documentary feature to his credit previously, and a lot of the film is quite well-done. It's also really well-casted, this movie almost had me with Walken, Keener and Hoffman alone. Not a favorite, but it's definitely a recommendation. I wish I knew more about classical music, but it's not necessary to enjoying the film.


ANY DAY NOW (2012) Director: Travis Fine

2 1/2 STARS



Two thoughts came to my mind as I was watching "Any Day Now". One, was that Alan Cumming has become the go-to actor, for any drag queen/cross-dressing part that comes along, and dammit, he should be. The other thing is that, the reason so much of LBGT cinema and art seems to lean towards the melodramatic, is because for most of the past, their lives are often filled with melodrama. Things are given to them, things are taken away. A glimpse of acceptance into the, for-lack-of-a-better-word normalcy of modern life, often forced into the most cliche of professions and behaviors to the point of caricature, just to be accepted by modern society in their own little spot. This also leads unfortunately, to films like "Any Day Now", which is are powerful, yet cliched and hard-to-watch, almost impossibly so, especially for an audience who's seen this story so many times before, that it's easy to dismiss it, just because a gay couple is at the center of it, but the problem is that, for what we think of as soap opera, is often real life to them. Herein lies my quandry, do I simply recommend the movie, because I understand the background and circumstances behind why such films are made, and have to be made, or do I go with my gut instinct as a film critic, and say that this is too glorified-Lifetime-movie-of-the-week, and go on a diatribe on why can't there ever be an LBGT movie that isn't about the bigotry and disenfranchisement of the past, or about the perils of falling in love while being gay, knowing damn well that both those kind of films are gonna be rare for awhile and that to understand gay culture, that I should be more accepting of these kind of film. Well, I do accept and appreciate a film like "Any Day Now", and for what's good about it, people should see it, yet I can't honestly say that I personally can recommend it. Taking place in '79, Rudy Donatello (Cumming) eyes a shy bar patron, Paul Filger (Garrett Dillahunt, you might know him best from "Raising Hope") as he lip-syncs and dances to a song in the club's drag act. There's an instant connection between them. Paul turns out to be a lawyer, which comes in handy really quickly. His neighbor Marianne (Jamie Anne Allman) is a junkie and a prostitute, and one day, she doesn't come home from a night out, leaving her kid, Marco (1st-time actor, Isaac Leyva), who has Down's Syndrome, home alone. Marco is slow, quiet and overweight 14-year-old. He eats donuts mostly, and plays with a barbie doll that Rudy gave him, not because he's gay of effeminate, but because he didn't have any other toys to play with. He takes him into his home, temporarily, until he's picked up by Social Services, after it turns out his mother was taken into custody by vice, I imagine for both possession and probably prostitution. In jail, she signs a release giving Rudy and Paul, who has invited them to move into his place, temporary emergency custody until she's out of jail and petitions to get him back. This is when the movie goes from sweet romance to child custody case, and I'm sure you can figure out every next step from here on out, although I'll add there was a nice touch in making Cumming's character an actual singer, who just lip-syncs and performs in drag, for the money, that was different, and Cumming can sing well. (His work in the Broadway musical "Cabaret" is considered one of the best modern stage performances in recent years.) The fact is, that all of this is well-done and well-acted, and overly-sentimental, for good reason, granted, but that makes it hard to sit through, especially when we've seen this kind of "Based on a true story" film before. I won't reveal Marco's fate, but let's just say that, but that it is the perfect symbol for injustice. I just wish it was in some way a little better film, or probably a slightly different one.


DRAGON (2012) Director: Peter Chan

2 1/2 STARS



There's been a slight influx of Chinese remakes of American movies lately, and while a couple of them have been interesting like Zhang Yimou's "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop", but so far, few of them have ever been truly spectacular, and "Dragon" starts out intriguing, but continually becomes more and more unremarkable as the movie goes on. This film is a loose remake of the great David Cronenberg film "A History of Violence", and begins with Tang Long (Donnie Yen), who works as a small town's local paper maker, and has a wife, Ah Yu (Tang Weit) and two kids, and seems rather ordinary, until he slices the ear off of, and then kills a man, Yang Dongshend (Yu Kang) a notorious outlaw leader of a vicious gang known as the 72 Demons, who's known for escaping police custody, on the few times he is caught. This attracts the attention of a Detective Xu Bai-Jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who begins to believe that this family man papermaker, may be someone else, with a vicious past of his own. The detective character is an interesting difference from the original film, but just to be sure, there's plenty of other mysterious outlaw characters, suddenly scoping out Tang Long as well, also suspicious of what may or may not be his violent past. The addition of this detective is probably the most interesting twist, although the movie is set in 1917 China, and also doubles as a martial arts movie, with some decent-to-good fight scenes. Frankly though, the story just isn't told in a compelling way. The original film, dived more into the personal aspects of the characters, and what it meant that this man they know, might not be the guy they thought, and the fight scenes with violence, weren't randomly thrown in, they were very precise, played key roles in moving the story forward, through revelation, and not action. It became schizophrenic and I was tuning out, unsure of what kind of movie I was watching, nor what kind of movie "Dragon" was trying to be. The film's gotten mostly rave reviews, that might be partly because of the familiarity it has with the modern classic; it's always directed by Peter Chan, considered one of the better modern Chinese filmmakers, but this story doesn't come off as this intriguing mystery, and instead rather, a fairly traditional martial arts film, that occasionally throws in plotpoints from another movie. "Dragon" has some interesting moments, but they became fewer and fewer as the film went on, and if the film doesn't care whether or not he was the bad guy, then why should I? It's the first film I've seen from Peter Chan; I've heard better things about his other films, so I look forward to seeing, but this one, eh, a disappointment.


WHERE THE HEART IS (2000) Director: Matt Williams

3 STARS



It is, quite possible that "Where the Heart Is" just caught me on a good day, and it's possible I'm being generous but that said, despite some obvious flaws and criticisms one can make, I rather enjoyed "Where the Heart Is".  It's a bit of a sprawling epic, kinda like the old George Stevens melodramas like "Giant" for instance, mixed with the Capraesque fantasy, but this one's done with more of a down-home, home-spun southern midwest fantasy. The first thing I looked up after watching the film was Natalie Portman's age at the time she made the film. After Jennifer Lawrence's performance in "Silver Linings Playbook" earlier this week, I was dumbfounded by seeing this great performance by Portman's in this film. She plays Novalee Nation. She's not that intelligent, but she's had a hard life, and currently is 17, literally barefoot and pregnant on her way to California with her no-good boyfriend Willie Jack (Dylan Bruno), who suddenly leaves her at a Wal-Mart in Sequoia, Oklahoma, where she ends of living for the final couple months of her pregnancy, eventually giving birth to the "Wal-Mart Baby", as the press called it. She gets taken in by Sister Husband (Stockard Channing, and her last name is husband, although that doesn't make her family tree any less confusing) a kind-hearted former alcoholic who grows a garden and plants tree when not using the kitchen table for fornicating with her boyfriend, which she always asks forgiveness for when saying grace. She always becomes friends with Lexie Coop (Ashely Judd) a nurse, who's got multiple kids with multiple fathers, all of whem are named after snack foods. This is one of those movies where almost everything is a little quirky at first. Novalee, for instance, knows that fives are a sign of trouble, and sure enough, whenever there's at least a five around, something always seems to happen. That seemed oddly-contrived, reminded me about the old joke about the gambler who had the dream about the number five. Still, Novalee begins thriving in the town, along with her daughter who she's named Americus. She gets help from the local substitute librarian/town genius Forney, who's got the unenviable Rochester role in the town, although thankfully he's only taking care of a sick sister, and not a crazy wife, but still, Novalee's presence seems to inspire him. This is one of those movies, that's more episodic than plot-driven. It takes place over five years, and is constantly going from one event, and often death, to another. The men, in the movie don't seem to come off well either. They all seem to losers and deadbeats who get girls pregnant and leave, or often they're worst, and frankly most of the women are a little wild-eyed and naive, including Novalee at first, but she grows out of it. She takes a job at Wal-Mart, which offered it to her, probably for product placement reasons, but it's somewhat believable in this fantasy, and there she meets, the symbolically-named Moses Whitecotton (Keith David) who gets her into photography. There's flaws, but in this absurdity, but I think the film works because of the performances, especially by Portman. In a better movie, this could've been an Oscar-caliber performance from her. There's great supporting actors all around though. We get quick occasional glimpses of what Willy Jack is up to, as he takes a strange journey from prison for picking up a teenage hitchhiker, who happened to be a thief, to a country music career with his agent Ruth Meyers (Joan Cusack), and then, eventually making his way, inexplicably, back to where he left Novalee, many years earlier. I think sometimes, we do want a nice sprawling epic, and while "Where the Heart Is", is hardly a masterpiece, I think there's enough good here to recommend it. Catch me on another day, I might claim otherwise, but you know what, I enjoyed it; I had fun, I was interested in seeing what was gonna happen next.


WHERE THE HEART IS (1990) Director: John Boorman

1 1/2 STARS



I Facebook'd my friend Lillian after watching "Where the Heart Is", 'cause she's always had a fascination with Crispin Glover, and I thought she'd like to know about this obscure film where he plays a secretly heterosexual fashion designer who pretends he gay to get more work and accepted, and I thought that was the kind of performance that I thought she'd like to know about. Oh, in case you're wondering why I'm reviewing two different movies called "Where the Heart Is" this week, funny story, I had "Where the Heart Is" on the waitlist at the library for awhile, and when it finally came in, they sent me the wrong one. I won't say which one I was hoping they'd send,- Alright, I will, it was the other one, but since they had both available, I put the second on my wait-list right after, and sure enough it came quickly. I was gonna simply return this movie, without watching it, and raid the available DVD stacks for something more interesting, but with John Boorman listed as a director, with him being a name of some esteem having directed films like "Deliverance", "Hope and Glory" and "The Tailor of Panama" among others,  I figured since I had it, I might as well watch it. It started with an interesting comic presence, but it really isn't that good a film; I kinda wish I returned it now. Stewart McBain (Dabney Coleman) is a demolition expert, known for blowing up buildings, and he's the best at it. That said, there's often many attempts to undermine his work by protesters and in the case of his latest project, the Dutch House, they won, and the decrepit in the middle of Brooklyn is saved, helped in some small part by his daughter Daphne (Uma Thurman) who's a free-spirit, hippy, save the world type, although all three of his kids have become spoiled and ungrateful in his eyes. The artistic daughter Chloe (Suzy Amis), slightly embarassed him at her art show, where she often used herself as a muse, in which she was naked and painted to blend into the backgrounds of other known paints and images, and his son Jimmy (David Hewlett) is a computers expert who has no interest in going into the family business, which on top of building destruction, also involves trading on the stock market nowadays. Anyway, because of this, he gives each of the kids $750 and drops them off at the Dutch House, and informs them that they've been kicked out of their house. They now have to live on their own, in a building that, for all-intensive purposes, should've been knocked down. They're a little confused at first what to do, although eventually they start finding some ways of expressing themselves, if not actual jobs, and soon begin renting some of the rooms out. This is where the Crispin Glover character comes in, who's also the disappointing son, of one of  Stewart's co-workers, and he and many other eccentric find their way to the Dutch House. There's too many to name, and they're not really that interesting. There not even really that eccentric actually. I learned from Roger Ebert's review of the movie, that the film, scripted by Boorman and his daughter Telsche, was originally supposed to be set in London, and someone during pre-production the location was changed to New York City, and because of that, the British humor sensibilities that still remain, are out-of-place in this film. Boorman is a British-born director, so there's probably something to that, although I tended to think of the movie in the same vein of, what I consider Frank Capra's absolute worse picture, "You Can't Take It With You", which is also about a bunch of eccentric living in a home that's being threatened. I know, some have acclaim for that one, but to me it represents all the unrealistic and over-the-top natures of Capra, and this film is certainly Capraesque. We pretty much know that somehow, Dabney Coleman's character is gonna go from having the ear of the U.S. President to being on skid row with no house, his wife Jean (Joanna Cassidy) leaving him, and him becoming the kind of person who has to go and live at Dutch House. The movie is really kinda schizophrenic and unrealistic, and it just doesn't have the magic to really come alive that this kind of story needs. All the characters are relatively believable, and maybe that's part of the problem, as they don't together seem like a group of eccentrics that would mix well together. For instance, if there is one thing truly great about the film, it is the artwork that Chloe does, which was created for the film by Timna Woollard, they are spectacular. Maybe a little too spectacular for this Chloe character, who's supposedly just a young, up-and-coming artist, and while it might be believable that she's talented (Although if you're talented at that and showing an exhibition somewhere...) it's hard to believe that she with no job or other income, and just an offer from an insurance company to make a calendar, that she can afford the paint, film and costumes that it takes to create her work. Or for that matter, how can Lionel (Glover) afford all the fabric to make the collection of clothes which he is constantly dragging around on a long, wheeled clothes-hanger (Or whatever that is), I guess to show that he's a fashion designer. Come to think of it, I don't remember him even having a sewing machine? Well, that's the thing, it's not that important, it's not that believable, and you don't really care much about any of the characters since you're fairly certain any setbacks they have are just temporary. Oh, by the way, while it works slightly better as a title in the other film, "Where The Heart Is", is a fairly dumb title. I don't know why this movie is called "Where the Heart Is" at all, I guess it sounded good. There's also a third movie with the same title, made in '97, I don't think the library has it, and I don't have any intention of searching around for it either, just thought I'd mention that it exists.



Post a Comment