I'll try not to be this late again folks. I apologize, and I'm sorry, but let's just get right to the reviews, which includes reviews of 4 Oscar-Nominated films, starting with Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine"! Onto the REVIEWS!
BLUE JASMINE (2013) Director: Woody Allen
Despite his infamous aversion to California, Woody Allen's been wanting to do a movie in San Francisco for some time now. (That was originally where "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" was supposed to take place.) I guess I figured he'd do it eventually but I didn't figure he'd do it, this way. Although, no city is probably more appropriate to do a modern-day "A Streetcar Named Desire", since so few cities still use streetcars like San Francisico. Jasmine's (Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett) whose real name is Jeanette, which she changed at some point prior to becoming the wife of a rich stock-trader/socialite who turned out to be running a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme. After Hal (Alec Baldwin) was caught, and then hung himself in prison, most everything was taken away from Jasmine and has reportedly had a nervous breakdown, something of which she probably discussed on the plane ride west with no one in particular. Jasmine French is certainly one of Allen's most fascinating character creations in recent years, another would be Jasmine's sister Ginger (Oscar-nominee Sally Hawkins). Actually, she's an adoptive sister, and both were actually adopted and went on different, strikingly different paths. Ginger's divorced with kids, has a job bagging groceries and a new boyfriend named Chili (Bobby Cannavale), who's overly-emotional and drinks too much. Jasmine doesn't like him, which she isn't necessarily incorrect about but she's not in a position to talk, not that that stops her. Chili doesn't like Jasmine either because of how she only needs Ginger now that she's in a spot. In flashbacks we also see how Jasmine influenced Ginger's first husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, surprisingly good and well-cast) to invest with Hal instead of opening his own construction business. The movie shows a lot in flashback, almost like one of those plays, where we see scenes out of order and the characters switch roles at an instant, or time periods anyway. We see the sudden changes in Jasmine's relationship with her adopted son Danny (Alden Enrenreich). It almost seem to be happening as the real life her tries to reinvent herself as an interior designer, which first requires learning computers so she takes computer classes in order to get an ID license online, an act which she fails at. She medicates Xanax and vodka all day, and her looks and beauty get in the way of her dental receptionist job, as she has to deal with an insistent boss in Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg). There's also a strong performance by Louis C.K. as well late in the film as a studio technician who Ginger eventually becomes smitten with. There's a lot of interesting parallels to "Streetcar", although the contrasting universes distinguishes it just as much, with Jasmine's old world magical memories of Manhattan and the lower working class reality of San Francisco are juxtaposed brilliantly. The ideas of love and fidelity are challenged for everyone, as well as the concept of happiness, and what those are willing to do to achieve it, and what exactly it is to begin with, and what people will do when they realize it being taken away from them. There's some great acting that tackles this material that, probably is the wrong medium; I wonder if Woody should've tried making this a play first, then adapt it to film. That's about the one thing he hasn't done, unless you count "Play It Again, Sam", and he hasn't done one since then, but it's still a really strong film from him. Blanchett's great, although I preferred Hawkins and Cannavale's performances slightly more in hindsight. It is interesting though, usually Woody's protagonists are too bogged down in reality for their own ego sometimes to the point where they can barely function as people, here's a character that's the opposite, who's too bogged down in her delusions to barely function in the real world. That's something new.
THE LONE RANGER (2013) Director: Gore Verbinski
I thought for a little bit about writing this review in the form of song parody lyrics to the William Tell Overture, but seemed a little too complicated. It would've gone something like this though...
Bi-dum,, ba-di-bum, ba-di-ba-di bum bum ba-di-bum-bum, bum-bi-bum-bi-bum-bi-ba....
"The Lone Ranger," it really sucks
Really really really sucks
I just kept thinking "What the fuck"!
The Lone Rain-ger, it really sucks..."
I got a little farther than that, but the rest of the verses were pretty similar. (It get hard rhyming the word "suck" after a while) This really was, just a mess, that might only be view-able sarcastically. I thought the problem was gonna be that doing "The Lone Ranger" was a bad idea since, nobody's I know has even seen the program in reruns since the mid-'70s at the latest, and before then it was starting to get pretty outdated to begin with, as with Westerns in general. So, they're doing a major production tent-pole movie for a character who fanbase is in the Senior Citizen range, at the youngest...- Well, that concept of this movie was bad enough, but whatever the hell we ended up with was even worst. Told in flashback by Tonto (Johnny Depp) as an old man at some kind of Wild West Carnival attraction tells a kid, about the origin story of "The Lone Ranger" (Armie Hammer), who started as the Eastern-educated lawyer brother of a famed Texas Ranger, Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), who were all part of an ambush set up by Butch Cavendish (Willian Fichtner), who's also indirectly working for a shrewd transportation mogul Lathan Cole (Tom Wilkinson) who's connecting two major railroads in order transport silver across country. Tonto, through the help of some kind of mythical white horse that always manages to find itself in places that no horse should really be, he brings back to life the Lone Ranger, and he starts wearing a mask, which is funny, for some reason apparently, and Tonto begins leading him towards his destiny and towards revenge for his brother's death. And towards a blown-up bridge that looks mysteriously liked they might've photoshopped images from "The Bridge on the River Kwai", and Helena Bonham Carter shows up, as a madam with an ivory leg with a gun inside it, which is kinda cool. Not as cool as Rose McGowan's machine gun leg but.... Anyway, the movie was confusing, illogical, over-the-top, ridiculous, and until the end when they actually started playing the William Tell Overture and finally, we got to see a glimpse of what really "The Lone Ranger" was actually about, did it even remotely become entertaining legitimately. Other than that, though, there's no real desire to appeal to the true "The Lone Ranger" fan, and no real reason for those who aren't, to go and look them up for later. Depp is doing, his acting weird thing to play at angles no one else is supposedly looking at, but frankly, unlike his Jack Sparrow, that doesn't really work here; it just seems pointless. The visual effects and stunts were cool, albeit completely illogical most of the time, but- Yeah, this is a 2 1/2 hour time waster, and frankly it fails at that 'cause good movies can do that too.
PRISONERS (2013) Director: Denis Villeneuve
"Prisoners" is so well-acted and well-made, that it's hard to simply ignore it, even though, personally I know that that's probably what I should be doing. This movie seems to falter at the screenplay level, and yet there are moments there too, but the real key is the great acting. I always say that you cast great actors in the toughest roles to play, even if they're just exposition then you should be okay. There's not much exposition, but the roles on the page are sparse. Hugh Jackman's a religious father gone mad with rage after his daughter's suddenly gone missing. He's a survivalist with enough stuff in his basement to survive a zombie attack and a nuclear implosion for a day or two, yet at Thanksgiving with his neighbors, Nancy and Franklin Birch (Viola Davis and Terrence Howard) both his and the Birch's 8-year-old kids went out to walk down the street, and suddenly never returned. There was a strange RV playing music, that the older kids Dylan and Eliza (Dylan Minnette and Zoe Soul) noticed before that's now gone. The RV belonged to a strange kid named Alex (Paul Dano) who's clearly not mentally capable of certain things, as he ran right into a tree trying to escape. He's clearly incapable of kidnapping, but it's clear to Keller (Jackman) that he knows something at least. He then proceeds to kidnap Alex and lock him up and beat him mercilessly in an abandoned house, until he reveals where the kids are. Meanwhile, a more conscientious and thoughtful cop, interestingly-named Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is on the case, and investigates with a quiet and knowledgeable assuredness masking his own tortured anger, and his struggles with religion. Religion's a key theme in the movie. There's prayers before a great opening shot of Keller and Dylan killing a buck in the woods. There seems to be the normal clues that are scattered and unsolvable about a serial killer lurking in town. Seems weird to see Gyllenhaal, like in "Zodiac" trying to solve a maze-puzzle again to find a serial killer, or trying to anyway. There's not really a solving of a crime, the crime kinda gets solved organically, maybe more realistically than most mysteries are solved in films. The film was directed by Denis Villeneuve, a great Canadian director who made the wonderful "Incendies" recently, which was also a mystery thriller, that was about the deconstruction of the mystery and how it eventually led to it getting solved. This movie, is more about the rage and actions of the characters, the way certain events can suddenly pull people into more primal emotions. Jackman's the obvious one. His wife, Grace (Maria Bello, criminally underused) basically falls into a medicated depression for most of the film for instance. I guess humanity and our more primal urges are what's at the core of the film's conflict. The movie is entertaining and well-made enough to recommend in spite of itself. "Prisoners" is really just, this side of being impossible to watch, but on the other hand, it's so well-done that it's good despite of itself. I get what it was doing, it's more-than-worth watching but, eh, just be prepared. This is a tough watch, and I'm not sure it is for a reason.
JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA (2013) Director: Jeff Tremaine
Somewhere along the road of my life, I did end up watching the first "Jackass" movie at some point. It wasn't really worth bringing up, but I did, and for what it was I didn't exactly hate it. You can kinda appreciate what it was they were doing on their own terms, and it was, eh, kinda funny. I don't think it was as funny as it was fascinating to watch for the fact that they'd do things, or think of doing the things they were doing though. It's more interesting from a sociological or anthropological perspective, than anything else. Now, after they did that experiment three times, not counting the MTV series, which I personally haven't seen, comes an attempt from the "Jackass" people to make a movie, with a plot, sorta. That's probably where they went wrong the most with "...Bad Grandpa", especially with the device of this Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) character being the instigator of the stunts/pranks 'cause we don't have the documentary-style of "Jackass" anymore, we have essentially a hidden camera show now, so the stunts are as much about the regular people's reactions to what's happening, instead of just the events themselves. It's not really a challenge to get someone to spurt out shit onto a diner wall, instead it's seeing others react to the diuretic compost splatting onto the wall. It's not exactly the same dynamic. You can't simply fuck a vending a machine, that in of itself, isn't even dangerous or interesting enough to make an episode of the show, neither is getting your penis stuck in it. This movie needs the audience to be there, so it's pointing it's camera at them, whereas we use to watch and say "Oh my fucking God! I can't believe they did that!" Now, with "Bad Grandpa" we're basically just looking into a mirror. I did laugh a bit at some of the gags but the story is paper thin. Irving's wife has passed, and his daughter Kimmie (Georgina Cates) is going back to jail, so he must travel across country to get little Billy (Jackson Nicoll) to South Carolina and drop him off at his deadbeat pothead of a dad, Chuck (Greg Harris), who isn't interested until he hears about the government money he can get for keeping him. Some pranks I liked better than others, some are more impressive, but then they're slowed down by occasional touches of story. The kid Jackson does a lot more in the movie than just be the kid, but still.... By the end of the movie, I knew this experiment had failed when they end up at a child's beauty pageant, and literally, used the same ending joke from "Little Miss Sunshine". It was funny then, 'cause you didn't expect it, here you saw it a mile away, and also, this and a lot of other jokes, seem to come off as though they were making fun of the unknown participants, too. That works with something like "Borat..." or "Bruno" when you're trying to make a bigger point, but here it just seem unnecessary and really tasteless at times. I always thought the real key to "Jackass" was that they're a bunch of stupid people doing really stupid shit, while having fun. There wasn't much fun in "Bad Grandpa", and that's really what let's it down more than anything.
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (2013) Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
It seems sometimes that there's hardly a scene that goes by in Abdellatif Kechiche's "Blue is the Warmest Color", especially in the first half of the film, where is seems like he's able to get the camera off Adele's (Adele Exarchopoulos) face. Her face, her mouth, other body parts occasionally, sometimes the whole body when needed, her hair which she's constantly debating about whether to tie up or let flow, but much of the time, it really is just the face. I'm more familiar now with the two little indentations under Adele Exarchopoulos's nose, than I am mine. Based, believe it or not on a graphic novel, "Blue..." is an epic tale of a love story, that, strangely feels incomplete despite it's three-hour length. That's not a criticism, it just means that I wanted more, or at least felt that there was more to the story to tell. I call it an epic, because it not only spans time, but it also because the scope of the story is long and arcing, an everchanging character piece that can skip years as much as it can focus itself on the literal day-by-day. It's also one of the sexiest movie I've seen in years. Yes, there's graphic sex, lots of it, and I'm sure I'll get some complaints and arguments from some lesbian friends of mine about how the sex scenes seem to have been from a male fantasy perspective. That's interesting considering the only other film of his I've seen, an incredible movie called "Black Venus" is about an African-born woman who performed in a circus as a cage African woman at a special attraction freak show; one who when studied by scientists once was confused for being a missing link in the evolutionary chain because of her robust figure and unusual features like the size of her vagina. (That film was based on an actual woman btw, who actually had that life) I don't necessarily disagree, but I think the more crucial point he was making with these scenes was that sex, when you're in love with someone has a more fantastical emotional feel than sex without love. The movie begins in high school, Adele is in a young teenager, all of 15. She's quiet and inconspicuous although she has a clique of girlfriends she hangs with and talks to guys occasionally. She's starting to date a Senior hard rocker, Thomas (Jeremie LaHuerte) who's nice and charming. But before that, she sees a striking young girl with blue hair crossing the street, under the arm side-by-side with her girlfriend Sabine (Aurelie Lemanceau). That night, after her dates goes well, she masturbates to and imagines sex with that girl who she just got a fleeting image of. When she arrives at school the next day, her friends think she smells of actual sex. (There's a few good one-liners here, you might as well pick your own joke and move on, but none of them seem appropriate to the film.) Eventually she meets the blue-haired girl that rocked her world, a college of Fine Arts student named Emma (Lea Seydoux) She's in a relationship, and on some level, she knows that Adele is way too young for her. I don't know the legal age of consent in France, but 15 has to be pushing it, especially when you're in college, and especially since you're with another girl, but sometimes there's a connection that can't be ignored. That rare kind that's not just physical. This causes a reaction from classmates, when she fails miserably at hiding the relationship. The relationship is hidden from many. Adele's parents aren't fully aware at first. Emma's are probably more accepting. Adele becomes a pariah to many of her classmates, especially when they get a look at Emma. There's lots of gatherings of large people actually. Parties, a couple protests, collections of kids at school, both with Adele as a student and then later when she starts teaching, a job that makes Emma worry about her happiness. Yet, we constantly focus on Adele's face. Following her with incredible attention and intimacy. She see her smile briefly. Cry, tremors, have with tremor and with pleasure. She eats a burrito, lots of homemade spaghetti, candy bars, Emma's- just Emma really. (This is NC-17 for a reason folks) Smoking. It's a performance that fails the second she hits a wrong note, 'cause we'll see it firsthand, which she never does. Bergman would always talk about how a closeup was greatest shot in cinema, and this is a great movie to show why. It's also just a great movie about love, sex, life. Falling in love, falling out of love. Desiring love, wanting to be happy, wanting your lover to be happy. It's naturalistic, realistic, and few movies say as much about love. Discovering who you are, and then discovering you're a different person. There's too much to the film, to go into all the little details, it's just a simply a love story. More importantly, it's Adele's love story. The kind of love that will forever change and effect the rest of your life. At the end of the movie, as she leaves a gallery opening of Emma's art, smoking and walking down the street, much the same way we first saw her almost missing that bus to school, I couldn't help but think of her friend Samir's (Salim Kechiouche young, Samir Bella old) that, why doesn't she take his advice and go travel for awhile, see the states, perhaps New York? What's left for her there. The original title of the film was "La Vie d'Adele", "The Life of Adele's" but it was subtitled: "Parts 1 and 2". The movie was one part, the romance in the beginning, and then the second part, the end. That said, I don't see why a Part 3 and/or 4, or 5, couldn't be possible.
THE WORLD'S END (2013) Director: Edgar Wright
You know, I grew up in a bar to some extent. My mother and my uncle were bookkeepers for a major Vegas nightclubs back in the early nineties, and maybe that's why I'm not really much of a drinker, 'cause I've just never associated the practice of going out to a pub or a bar, with anything more than insipidness I guess. That said, I don't mind it once in a while, but I still don't particularly like drinking, and I don't particularly care for drunks either, especially certain kinds of drunks. Gary King (Simon Pegg) is a particular kind of drunk I don't like hanging around with, and that's also the opinions of his old schoolmates, but he's still stuck in their lives anyway, unable to completely free themselves from him, as he manages to pop up out from whatever failed rehab that he snuck out of that week, and ask for money and to go out and party like before. These are the kind of drunks and partiers that I really can't stand personally, and that's really a lot of the reason why "The World's End" just didn't fully work on me. He's an insensitive drunk who's still trying to relive the great moment in his life, which was a failed pub crawl he and his friends had in college. I have a friend that actually runs a pub crawl, but this is another thing I never fully understood. Going from one pub to another and having a beer at each one, that's the goal. Not particularly lofty or meaningful to me, but he gets his old buddies to somehow join him on a 20th anniversary attempt to actually do the whole pub crawl at their old school stopping grounds. His friend Andy (Nick Frost) the most reluctant to join him on this quixotic journey, after he caused an accident years earlier, and Andy's also quit drinking, which cues the Edgar Wright, quick-cut close-up of the beer taps followed by the water tapping. Gary's distracted and in his own world, and furious over how everybody always seems to be against him. All this stuff alone, the reuniting of old friends, and recalling those old memories, even with the obnoxious friend who connect them and made there lives hell could've made a good movie alone without the sudden moment where Gary decapitates someone in the bathroom of a pub, only to realize that the guy is some kind of robots with blue liquid spewing out like blood. Turns out, that since they left town, most of the population's been infiltrated with aliens, all of whom have taken over the bodies or match their DNA to recreate them, or something, and insist upon how pleasant their lives are now. This is foreshadowed by the jokes about how the first few bars all looks the same now that big companies bought them up. A few people remain who play along with the aliens, some are unaware, but pretty soon, we're back into "Shaun of the Dead" territory where Armageddon is upon us, and the goal is to find a way to get to the pub. Again and again, as in a L'Avventura-type way, Gary insists on keeping up with the pub crawl, even if those one quick drinks really do become those one quick drinks and then move on, and skip the bathroom sex and cocaine and munchies along the way in order to kill a bunch of blue-blooded robots, hoping that the other group member don't turn into the robots themselves. Some people have really started idolizing Edgar Wright, and I do admire him. "Hot Fuzz" is one of the funniest movies made this century, but he's much more hit-and-miss though. Here, it almost feels like, they were writing this script about old college chums on a pub crawl, then ran out of material, 'cause there's no way this older, wiser, group of friends was gonna hang out with Gary through the whole thing in this day and age, so they then added some sci-fi parodying to make up for it. Not entirely the worst idea, and they do play it through, but it felt a long way from the beginning premise, and frankly, I really just didn't laugh much. I was typically just more annoyed than anything else. I've spent days hanging out at bars with characters like Gary King, and frankly I spend most of my life trying not to do that as much as possible. I know, it's unrealistic; it's just a movie character, granted, but do I really want to spend my time drinking with him? Or killing robots? I don't think so.
PLANES (2013) Director: Klay Hall
Something I've noticed about movies like "Cars" or, even more relevant really, things like the Herbie movies or the "Fast & Furious" films, is that, people really just watch these things, to see the actual automobiles. Truly, most of these films aren't any good, I didn't particularly like either "Cars" film, myself, for different reasons, but what those two movies really had was a true love of cars. They weren't about the stories so much, as they were about the cars being animated. That's why John Lasseter made those film, 'cause he liked cars. He doesn't have to direct anything again, he just liked cars and in the same sense, "Planes" is made with that same kind of perspective. They found out Klay Hall, liked "Planes", let's show off our knowledge of planes, and make a movie. The plot, simple underdog story about a determined cropduster named Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) who wants to participate in a race around the world, against the greatest racing jets around. If anybody remembers the award-winning animated cartoon, "Little Johnny Jet", the plot's kinda derivative of that. He gets help from an aging WWII plane, called Skipper (Stacy Keach) and a couple friends on the ground, Chug and Dottie (Brad Garrett and Teri Hatcher) and eventually a few friends in the air like El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui) and he takes on the heavy favorite Ripslinger (Roger Smith Craig) to win the daunting race which require the lowly cropduster to make push his limits and make/take numerous challenges to win, including flying through a train tunnel in the Himalayas to try to win, despite his fear of flying at great heights. There's nothing really surprising here, and at times, the movie really falls flat. Some of the dialogue in particular, is just some of this dreadful afterschool special, retelling the moral of the story type stuff, at the end especially. I can't really recommend "Planes", unless you really like and have a fascination with planes. There's plenty of them here, so if you care about them, you'll be happy enough. That's what the movie's really about anyway.
THE WAY WAY BACK (2013) Directors: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
There's something crucial in the way it takes a very long time for Duncan (Liam James) to finally even start getting to that transcendent moment, where he realizes that this could be the best summer of his life. Well, it probably isn't that, and it might not even be the one that change his life forever. In fact, in hindsight, at the end, we hope it's another character that had that revelation. I was about to compare "The Way Way Back" to one of my favorite recent summer movies, "Adventureland", because of how Duncan gets a trans-formative job at a local seasonal distraction, in this case the Water Wizz Waterpark, which is a good bike ride away from the Ocean where his family is staying at the beach house for the summer, but that actually happens, really late in the movie when you think about it, and is really such a small part of a bigger whole, that maybe trying to formulate the plot around it is just to make it palatable to our traditional thinking on films like this, isn't the right approach. These are the two writers and actors Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, former Groundlings-turned-Oscar-winners who helped Alexander Payne punch-up "The Descendants" working here, and they don't let things go that easily. Their directorial debut is much more observant than that. For one thing, they aren't even going to their beach house, they're going to his mom's boyfriend's Trent's (Steve Carell) summer house. Trent is one of those people who's easier to quote than to describe. Of course, there's the opening scene in the car of his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and Trent's annoying daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) are sleeping in the car, and he tells Duncan that he thinks he's a 3 on a 1-10 scale, but it's the tone of condescension in lines like "Buddy, did you happen to be on the roof of my car?" or "Hey Buddy, take the plate with you, we clean up after ourselves in this house," that's just completely irky and condescending and passive-aggressive towards Duncan, even as he tries to talk to Duncan about "trust" and "making it work". He only seems to talk that way to Duncan, but it actually injects most of his way of life, even if that's occasionally interrupted from his more interesting fun friends Kip and Joan (Rob Corddrey and Amanda Peet [God, if there's anybody who should be the biggest star in Hollywood and isn't, it's Amanda Peet]) and his wonderfully boozy divorcee neighbor Betty (Allison Janney) both of whom spot Duncan and immediate tease him by dancing seductively around him as they were already doing when he walked into the room. Poor Duncan, if he isn't being berated by Trent, he's being embarrassed by every other adult. That's why when he does find a recluse at the local water park, that he doesn't recognize the generous behavior of Owen (Sam Rockwell) a local whip-smart flake that Matt Zoller Seitz compared to Bill Murray's character in "Meatballs", when he begins taking him under his wing and letting him hang and eventually work at the second-rate waterpark. (I quote that, because for some reason I only saw "Meatballs III" of all the films, and that reference is a bit over my head.) The performances are what most realize stand out about this, but the long-delayed pacing of the movie is what's crucial. Duncan doesn't change a lot, he doesn't change much at all actually in the movie, unless he's around Owen and some of the people at the waterpark, like the roles played by Naxon & Rash, as well as Maya Rudolph as the Park's GM, who gets frustrated by Owen's behavior despite their on-again/off-again romance. Even when the quiet Duncan finally explodes, it's not at Trent, initially, it's at his mother, and it's because he's desperate to stop her from repeating a mistake. He even lets Betty's teenage daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) do all the talking during their quiet and reluctant summer flirtation, based mostly in empathy at their parents. There's a few issues with the script, like how it seems to rush through it's third act a bit, but none of it hit a really bad note, and acting is incredible in this movie. Amanda Peet and Allison Janney in particular reminded me of why they're two of the best actresses working today, transforming their parts to become more memorable, especially Janney, who in the few scenes she's stealing, you could've defended her as a Supporting Actress Oscar contender. I'd actually like to see a movie based on her and her family now that I think about it. That's the kind of details involved in "The Way Way Back" that make it a lot more special than most other films of this nature. A very pleasant surprise.
NOW YOU SEE ME (2013) Director: Louis Leterrier
(CONFLICT OF INTEREST WARNING: As with most films shot at least partially in the Las Vegas Valley, there's a chance that I may know one or two people first-hand, second-hand, etc. involved with the production.)
I know a good deal about magic, not as much as a magician, but living in Las Vegas, and having seen most of the acts if not as their shows, occasionally around town, you learn one or two things; I discussed this once recently in my review of "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone", but in "Now You See Me", I could talk about the magic, but most of that is as unrealistic as the rest of the film. Unrealistic, inaccurate, impossible, filled with ridiculous plots and subplots and action scenes, and cliched-ridden characters and caricatures and is nothing more than a bunch of action scenes hiding the fact that the movie knows almost nothing about magic, and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Okay, it knows a little about magic, but that's simply just the world the movie decides to set itself in, a theme, a new atypical look and angle for the same old beats and cues. Magicians are in fact con artists, so it's not that unusual that they'd also be criminals. (Magicians used to be brought into the CIA in order to teach spies slight-of-hand) The movie begins with four very different kinds of magicians, played by 4 of the most perfectly-cast unpredictable and entertaining actors in the business. A, a more typical show magician, J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) who's an expert at misdirection. His former assistant Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), who likes to take tricks to the most violent and disturbing directions, a cross between a Criss Angel looking like Melinda kinda thing. A mentalist who can hypnotize and read your thoughts using some surprisingly rudimentary facial recognitions and other such tricks, Merritt McKinney, (Woody Harrelson) and a young street magician who's young enough to still idolize the rest, Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) but is a little inexperienced. One day, a tarot card invites them to an apartment, where suddenly the combustible forces find some kind of secret scheme which they begin playing out the next year, after the Four Horseman, their new group designate, work their new show at a major hotel-casino, the Aria, and they then proceed to do a trick where they rob millions of dollars from a bankvault in Paris, and then give the money away to the audience. This triggers an Interpol/FBI investigation. The FBI guy, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is a bit of a skeptic towards magic, although his more studious rookie partner from Interpol, Alma (Melanie Laurent) believes that they're up to something much bigger. The conceit is that, they use magic to getaway and escape and hide their crimes, and even the most amateur detectives should know to never trust a magician to stay in his handcuffs. (Really, trusting a magician at anything is a bit of a bad proposition to begin with.) There's also a Batman reunion with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine playing crucial roles, Freeman is one of those former magicians who makes money now by revealing the tricks of most magicians, he ends up trying to help the FBI, but not too much, because he wants to figure out the Horseman's scheme and tricks before they do, so he can sell it on youtube. Then there's their billionaire casino owner bankroller, that's Michael Caine, who seems excited about his new headline act, as he should be. From here, it's the kind of movie where the criminal keep outsmarting the police, every step of the way. The police are bumbling morons missing everything, and the magicians/bad guys keep surprising, keeping them offguard, and revealing their newest tricks as they go. Don't try figuring out the tricks, that's not the point of magic anyway, (especially movie magic, since they can really do anything) plus it doesn't help this movie. This is pure, kinetic fun escapism. It's over-the-top, ridiculousness, filled with plotholes and impossible scenarios and more than a few cheats, but the execution is fun, the casting is great; they half-way had me on Eisenberg and Harrelson, reuniting the "Zombieland" team, of two of the best and most interesting actors alive, as magicians of all things. Some movies are serious, some have fun, this is a have-fun movie that you know it isn't gonna make any sense, but you can't wait to see the next thing that makes no sense, happen. It's the first feature I've seen from action director Louis Leterrier, and now I'm kinda interested in seeing "Transporter 2" and "The Incredible Hulk" after this. If he makes this kind of deconstructionist fun, than I'm interested, especially if there is magic.
THE KINGS OF SUMMER (2013) Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
A creative little gem, "The Kings of Summer" is one of those movies about that great Summer that changes people's lives. I don't know when in real life a Summer like that's ever happened myself, but anyway.... the film begins following three boys, two of whom have troubles at home with their respective parents. Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) has a sardonically overbearing stepfather, appropriately named Frank (Nick Offerman) who's beginning to date again despite the emotional detachment with which he seems to react to the rest of the world. His friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) who's currently nursing an injured ankle and walks with a bandage on his foot while the incessant teasing and chattering of his parents (Marc-Evan Jackson and Megan Mullally) drive him crazy. Soon, Joe has a strange idea to not just run away, but to go into the woods and build a house in the woods for himself, to get in touch with nature and manliness. So, Joe, Patrick and a strange kid name Biaggio (Moises Arias) steal some tools and food and such, and begin building a makeshift house, mailbox and all. It even has a stove and fridge. No electricity, but they want to go out hunting for their food, at least until they find the Boston Market along the highway. The kids are reported missing soon, from the parents' standpoint, but after they get settled in, they start bringing girls from the high school over. One in particular, Kelly (Erin Moriarty) eventually gets in the way, and things start to break down, including but not limited to the house. I liked "The Kings of Summer", it's light, fresh idea, not the most memorable or important film in the subgenre, but it's funny, smart, is well-acted and has a whimsical little conceit and screenplay. Good film, not great, but I can't imagine anybody saying it's bad either. There's some really good acting from the kids, they all have really observant and natural dialogue that can tricky in the wrong hands, and they did a really good job of that. It's the first film I've seen from Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the first major film he's done, with three previous indies beforehand, although the uniqueness of the script is the big key from a former "The Late Show with David Letterman" staff writer Chris Galletta; it's his first script, and I'm interested in seeing another. Hopefully this will be a breakthrough early film for them and some of the young stars.
AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS (2013) Director: David Lowery
David Lowery is another one of these groups of Indy filmmakers like Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz who seem inspired by the likes of Terrence Malick of the world, who also have Steven Soderbergh's ability, or insistence on doing everything, especially behind the camera. Lowery's is probably most noted for his editing, but his breakout third feature "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is quite a good throwback to earlier films. Even in the simplistic nature of it's plot, he allows for his filmmaking and style to basically overbear the story, but really that's a good thing 'cause there isn't much to the story to begin with. Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) in the middle of serving a 25-year prison sentence for murder, escapes from prison one day. Everybody knows he's escaped, and a Deputy Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster, unrecognizable from his previous roles) has gotten close to Bob's fiance Ruth (Rooney Mara). Ruth hasn't seen her husband since they were both arrested for the robbery that turned into a murder. Ruth was pregnant at the time, and Bob made her take a deal and eventually had her kid in prison before testifying against him and being released. (Something that isn't as exemplified is that Bob's was serving the sentence despite the fact that it was Ruth that committed the murder.) Skerrit (Keith Carradine) plays a good part as the overseer of Ruth, his neighbor, who swore to protect Ruth until Bob can find his way to get to her. A foolhardy mission considering that's the obvious place he's going, but while they were both criminals, neither seems particularly cold-hearted, and that's why both of them get help from surprising sources, even when it's not in their best interests for them to be helped. The style and look that's a throughback to the '70s, and the location of the Texas Panhandle area indicate the Malick influences, but actually I was actually thinking about Sam Shepherd and some of his tales about that long journey out to find a relative that usually fill up his plays and films. Usually in those movies, it's the journey themselves that's critical to the work a little more than here though. This is something that confuses me about these group of filmmakers. They love style over substance obviously, but sometimes they seem to be just borrowing from other sources for the stories, just to borrow from as an excuse for the style, without really using these storytelling devices to do anything profound with them. Like the letters from jail, which seem a little Jane Austen for love letters from jail to me. Is there a real reason to focus so intently on them, or is it just that it's worked so many times before, and we need something to push the story forward slightly? I don't think I learned anything from them that his actions didn't indicate previously. Still, there's enough to recommend "A'int Them Bodies Saints" as a curiosity, and the talented work involved in making it. I especially like Mara's performance, it's one of her very best. The rest is more whether or not the mood works on you, I'll say it kinda did, but not entirely.
THE CRASH REEL (2013) Director: Lucy Walker
I try not to watch movies in terms of timing. Watch something because of this and whatnot; I try to just stick to the Netflix and Library queue rules that I've set for myself, to keep my on track. That said though, occasionally a coincidence of timing does occur, and ironically, I got around to watching "The Crash Reel" on the very day at the Sochi Olympics when the Freestyle Skiing Halfpipe Olympic competition started. It's one of the newest Olympics event, making it's debut this year at the Olympics, and before the competition a moment of silence and a small ceremony began honoring Sarah Burke for her contributions to the sport, including being the one who pushed for it's inclusion in the Olympics most. She died nine days after a training run on the halfpipe in Park City, Utah the year before. That same halfpipe was the same one where Kevin Pearce, the champion snowboarder, suffering a serious injury as well, which we see in video footage near the beginning of the film. Pearce was expected to compete at the Vancouver games in '10 before his TBI, traumatic brain injury. He had been winning competitions in the years previously, over his once-time best friend/roommate and Gold Medalist Shaun White. I remembered those Vancouver Olympics like it was yesterday, and Shaun White in particular; it was insane how much more advanced he was then the rest of the field that day. (White's such a natural and amazing athlete, he had to turn pro at 13, because there was no competition at amateur level. This is a young sport, and it's for the young.) Pearce thought that he could return from his injuries soon and even compete in Vancouver and for years still tried to recover and head back onto the board. "The Crash Reel" documents this journey and outlines the dangers of this sport that seems to get more extreme each year. (The halfpipes used to be 8 ft high, now some are three times that.) There's limited insurance in this sport for injuries, but worst than his career being over, his sense of self would slowly erode. Kevin Pearce has trouble with his memory, his personality has shifted completely, and his skills on the snowboards have to be re-learn. Commentating one event, we hear him mention how much the sport has grown in his absence, and we suspect naturally that the sport has passed him by, yet we realize that he doesn't see that yet. "The Crash Reel" really effected me. I cried as I was watching it, as it really showed the aftereffects of this, truly, the worst kind of injury to me. Rene Descartes says "I think therefore I am", so losing that is always troubling to me in some way, but losing who you are or were, especially when he was somebody who was so beyond talented at what he did, and in a heartbeat, and doing that thing he was so good at. People in those sports get those more often than most others, and that show how they drive to keep performing is the only singular thing that remains sometimes. (One ATV rider had six TBIs before he was forced to retire.) It's a dangerous sport that can be beautiful, but one bad crash can just end it.
A BAND CALLED DEATH (2013) Directors: Mark Covino and Jeff Howlett
Ironically "A Band Called Death" is a better title of the band than the actual name of "Death", which was one of the main reasons why the legendary pre-Punk band didn't make it big. Not the only one, but David Hackney insisted with the name, even when an Arista Records contract was thrown in his face if he promised to change the name, he kept it, even over his brothers' insistence. (They never liked the name anyway.) The Hackney Brothers, David, Dennis and Robbie form Death in the early '70s, and are now considered to be the very first African-American punk rock band, and arguably, the first punk band ever. There stuff predates The Ramones by two years, and quickly garnered a reputation for being the loudest band in Detroit, at the time, not necessarily a profitable endeavor in the city of Motown. They had a couple locally made and released records, and some master tapes that encompassed about an album or two of material. After a couple recordings, they gave up on Death and eventually found success, first doing Gospel Rock, but then with a reggae group, and eventually they each started having kids and teaching them music, but not bringing up Death. Right before David Hanley's passing, he handed the masters to his brother, informing him to keep them safe, for one day, the world will come looking for them. He was one of those true artists who was so ahead of his time, that he must have known that only after his passing would people go back and realize how great he was, and indeed he was, and indeed he was right. Underground Death LPs, as rare as they were found there ways onto a few collection records, and soon, people began investigating the band, including the band's own kids, who heard the music one day and the distinctive voice of his father asking half in shock. Hanely's music, similar to Rodriguez's from "Searching for Sugar Man", was ahead of it's time. Political and sharp. It was punk, but punk done from people who were musically much more adept than simply the three-note band that symbolizes the movement. Death began touring again recently, and some of the Hackney members now have their own band "Rough Francis" named after one of David Hackney's songwriting aliases, and rereleases of their work, has propelled them into the legendary pioneers role of Punk that they should've been all along. The documentary, is pretty straight-forward, telling the Hanleys' story through interviews, home footage, new footage of Detroit where they recorded and were formed, and of course through music. It is strange to hear music that's 40+ years old that's only been discovered, essentially yesterday, and it's pretty damn good too. There's been some good music documentaries this year already, "A Band Called Death," is another one, and like the rest, they seem to be important to make sure this moment and this art is captured. Not that I'm looking for music documentaries about unimportant crappy music, I'm not, just an observation that we're still learning our on art history today about the past, and who knows what other great gems are in mastertapes in the back of some garage or attic somewhere, just waiting to be discovered.
THE HOST (2013) Director: Andrew Niccol
Yeah, I've been a bit of an Andrew Niccol apologist to some; I was the one who recommend "In Time" despite some of the hokey dialogue at times and the obvious metaphoric symbolism, but yeah, this one was a just a little too much. I still kinda enjoyed perversely to see where it went, but "The Host" just isn't one of his strong ones. It's the future and an alien species that preaches togetherness has started colonizing Earth as it's next project by insert themselves into humans, but for the time being that doesn't stop the pub crawl even after Simon Pegg accidentally decapitates one in the bathro-, oh, wait a minute, sorry, that's "The World's End" Sorry about that; it's been a long week, these gets confusing after a while. Eh, which one was this? Oh, right. This species takes over what few resistant humans there are, including Melanie (Saorise Ronan) who survived jumping out of a window before a member of the species known as Wanderer got implanted into the body, and is expected to retrieve the Melanie's memories. However, Melanie is still alive, inside of Wanderer, and while it's rare, she's begun fighting with Wanderer over their thoughts, actions and control of their body. Yeah, it's alive colonialization meets "All of Me", folks, which frustrates an alien named Seeker (Diane Kruger) and after Melanie, and I guess Wanderer, escape, and heads out towards her group of resistant humans, they lose Seeker in the desert, but her family, starting with her Uncle Jeb (William Hurt) who recognizes that this alien isn't like the others they've had to kill over the years, and fights to keep Wanderer alive, suspecting that Melanie is still somewhere in there, which her brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) also suspects, but her boyfriend Jared (Max Irons) has to be convinced. Inside the walls of a cave, the human species has survived by using solar reflected energy to grow wheat inside in the mountain. They're sly enough to hide from Seeker who's frustration level grows. Meanwhile, as Wanda, through Melanie, continues to explore and learn about the human race, the more sympathy and other unusual human emotions she has, like love. There's a few decent ideas here, but it's not entirely original and it doesn't really have the symbolic power of Niccol's better scripts like "Gattaca", or most famously "The Truman Show". I think he does make the situations in his futuristic settings interesting enough to keep watching, but even still "The Host" was just, too comical to take seriously. Ronan is quite good however in this, one of her first really grown up parts, especially this strange of one, it's amazing it came off as compelling as it did, but this is one of those cases, where you're compelled 'cause you want to see the train wreck. Well, it could've been a much worse trainwreck than it was; but it did slide off the rails a bit. This is one of those bad movies that you could enjoy for being too bad; I kinda did for awhile, but yeah, considering the talent at hand and knowing what else Andrew Niccol is capable of, "The Host" just sorta falls comes off as too much of a B-movie from an A-caliber talent.
BIG SUR (2013) Director: Michael Polish
As disappointing as last year's "On the Road" was, "Big Sur" is even more proof that Jack Kerouac really shouldn't be adapted to film. At least with "On the Road," there was actually a road, and places people were going to keep us interested. "Big Sur" was the book Kerouac (Jean-Marc Barr) wrote after spending a few months trying to get away from the fame and all it's unfortunate excess and spend a little private time at his author friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti's (Anthony Edwards) cabin in Big Sur to get away. He occasionally get out and try to party, but his celebrity keeps getting in the way. It's the first time where Michael Polish made a film without his brother Mark; they've been making films for awhile, since "Twin Falls, Idaho", and they've always been a little strange even for the indy scene, most of you might know their first big-budget project, "The Astronaut Farmer", I always think of "Northfork" as their best work. As he descends into sex, drugs, hallucinogens, breakdown, and everything else it seems during his three-weeks at "Big Sur", Polish does something that's quite smart actually. Instead of telling what little story there is to "Big Sur", he let's voice over from Barr take up, what has to be 80% of the movie, of just Kerouac and his great ramblings, which is Kerouac the way Kerouac is meant to be, the written word, if not actually read, then spoken to us, as we get his thoughts and details on the events at hand. On the one hand, that's what I liked most about "Big Sur", that it felt pretty close most of the time, to actually reading Kerouac's work. On the other however, it reveals the biggest flaws of adapting his work to film, in that, if you tell the story straight-out, then you miss the part of what makes it interesting to begin with, and now that they're just conceding that by telling us the book, essentially, and well- if it would be better to just read the book, then, I might as well just read the book, then. I mean, even Kerouac being read to you can only hold your interest for so long before you drift, hell I used to get in trouble for trying to entertertain myself during my kindergarten readings of "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue", and that's just as compelling as "Big Sur"....
CAESAR MUST DIE (2013) Directors: Paolo & Vittorio Taviani
I'm usually a sucker for Shakespeare no matter when or where or how it's performed, but I usually don't think of Shakespeare being performed in prison though. "Caesar Must Die" is a rather curious documentary that follows from rehearsal to performance prisoners in Italy's Ribbiba Prison of "Julius Caesar". The actors are mafiosos, hitman, rapists, murderers, those who have been imprisoned or going to be in prison for years if not decades. Shot mostly in black and white, the movie so quietly watches back and records their rehearsals that after a few early hiccups, that you soon become startled when an offscreen director gets a note, or an actor asks a question, and strangely, it becomes hard to even tell at times, whether they're acting out the play or just having a typical conversation among the prison walls. It's a startling thing to watch Shakespeare under normal circumstances, but somehow these well-received and reviewed performances, (And yes, the prisoners to perform regularly for the outside world.) seem bare, getting to the real root of the play. Perhaps they recognize the similarities to their own lives and world outside of the prison yard. Or inside perhaps. The camerawork and style of "Caesar Must Die" is some of the most intriguing I've seen in a documentary in recent years. It's not always successful, and I wonder just how attracted to the film I'd be if they weren't also doing one of Shakespeare great works, but then, we wouldn't have the movie. It's barely a movie at that too, just clocking in at the 76 minute point, the movie just barely crosses the bar from interesting curiosity of a short, to worth the feature film experience. We don't learn too much about the actors, other than some mentions of their previous work, and occasional between rehearsal discussions as the stage and chairs are set up and cleaned. Maybe that's okay, and maybe they, like we, realize that sometimes it's not the performer itself, but the parts that they're playing that fascinate us.
PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES (2013) Director: Wayne Kramer
One of Paul Walker's final films is the unremarkable "Pawn Shop Chronicles", which sounds more interesting that it is. It isn't so much chronicles or tales among a pawn shop as it is, a couple stories that have a small portion of them take place in an out-of-the-way pawn shop known as "General Lee's Pawn Shop" in a redneck Southern town. I would've like to have seen more happening in the pawn shop actually, run by Alton (Vincent D'Onofrio) and hangs with another old curmudgeon Johnson (Chi McBride), and lord knows, some of the most interesting things to watch in entertainment right now are the day-to-day goings on in a pawn shop, so, there's missed opportunity number one. Anyway the three stories, separated by graphic novel images, all take place around the same time, and it begins with two funny white supremacists meth heads, Raw Dog and Stanley (Walker and Norman Reedus) and a third who gets run over accidentally JJ (DJ Qualls), as they try to get rob a tweaked out gun nut meth cook Vernon (Lukas Hass) without accidentally blowing themselves up. They have one weirdly insightful conversation about their reasoning for being in the KKK, as they both admit that they don't know why they're supposed to hate the Jews, or anybody really, but that they have such good food at the meetings that they don't want to give that up. The second story involves a newlywed, Richard (Matt Dillon) who was searching for a wedding ring for his new bride, only to find his old bride's ring, the one who went missing under suspicious circumstances, and now must follow the path of the ring until he finds her, taken by Johnny Shaw (Elijah Wood) along with numerous other girls who are looked in cages like silos, supposedly as sex slaves for their twisted master, which he decides to torture to death. That was probably the most interesting story from a deconstructionist view, and is probably the only one of the three that might've actually held up as a short story. The third one involves a lackluster Elvis impersonator, Ricky (Brendan Fraser, in a surprisingly good performance from him) who's supposed to play at the local fair, has to pawn his one actual Elvis memento to afford the trip after his girlfriend leaves him. He then has get his sideburns trimmed, but goes to the wrong barber twice, causing a riot. That's the first of many things gone wrong for him, and when the devil, Virgil (Sam Hennings) makes him an offer, he considers it. "Pawn Shop Chronicles" is obviously borrowing from the "Pulp Fiction" formula here, but eh, this isn't a particularly special or noteworthy film, other than that it's director Wayne Kramer, who once made "The Cooler" a great debut film and one of my personal favorites, but has since, seemed to have dissipated into these clichéd and overused ideas, as though he's lost the ability to come up with original material anymore. That's a shame.
INEQUALITY FOR ALL (2013) Director: Jacob Kornbluth
Lately, with documentaries like "Inequality for All", I often use as a reason to slam a movie like it is to say that "I didn't learn anything new from it." And no, I didn't, but I've also studied intently the economic history and changes in the U.S. for much of my life, and more than that, and one of the people whose economic theories I most subscribe to is Robert Reich, the subject of "Inequality for All". Reich is currently a professor at Berkeley, but he's worked for three presidential administrations and is considered one of the greatest economic minds alive, and as Secretary of Labor under Clinton presided over the greatest expansion of the middle class in my lifetime, and yet, he notes correctly, that they didn't do enough under Clinton, and it wasn't that they didn't want to, but the political pull starved him of that chance. Occasionally the film strays from Reich, and talks with a good mix of people. I particularly liked the interviews with one guy who for all-intensive purposes should be an ultra-capitalist, a CEO of a pillow company. He does create a few jobs, but most of the middle class doesn't buy pillows on a regular basis, so while he makes $20 million a year and pays less taxes than Mitt Romney's 13.9% Capital Gains, but he's more frustrated at the lack of a strong middle class that we used to invest in to buy his products, and has become misguided by the notion of trickle-down economics entirely. The evidence shows it doesn't work, but that's not particularly new, anybody can look at that suspension bridge-shaped graph and see that, (Well, I hope they can anyway), but the best parts of the film is seeing Reich the instructor as he teaches class, or just discusses with us about his life even. He's short, very short due to a syndrome that wouldn't let him grow above five feet, and had his life changed when one of the kids who protected him from bullies in school, was one of the three NAACP volunteers who were killed in Mississippi for trying to help register voters. (The one "Mississippi Burning" was made about) "Inequality for All" is probably more about the message than the messenger, but both parts are really good to know, but I enjoyed learning more about the messenger myself. Not 100% sure why Jacob Kornbluth who directed the quirky indy "Haiku Tunnel" twelve+ years ago, made this his third feature and first in almost a decade, especially for someone who's not a documentarian, but it's a good one, so whatever made him pursue it....
+1 (2013) Director: Dennis Iliadis
Man, do I really not want to write about this movie. Boy I don't. This waste of space in my brain, that I've been trying to prick out since I first watched "+1".... Right now, if it would help, I would gladly pay to be the guy on the board game "Operation", if by some miracle it could mean that some kid might take "+1" out for my head for me. "+1" circles about a party, where some strange paranormal stuff starts to happen, and tries to desperately be profound about what it means, in the same movie where one of the partiers gets in trouble for biting a human sushi plate. By the way, this is the kind of party where a stupid rich college kid's parents are out of town, and he has a stupid large house with enough room to afford a stage with lighting for strippers, strippers, tons of food and drink, music, special lighting effects, even water spilling from the roof, loads of extra rooms to sneak off in, and also apparently, a human sushi plate. (Not to mention the fact that nobody with that job would ever work at a party like this, no matter how much she'd be paid to do so. [I know a few people who do that job, I know]) The movie is based around our moron protagonist David, (Rhys Wakefield) this dumb-ass, drove all the way to the college to surprise his girlfriend Jill (Ashley Hinshaw) and soon after, he mistakes her for someone else, and gets caught by that girlfriend kissing this other woman. Now, I know you're wondering, how can somebody truly be that fucking stupid, well it's okay that he didn't recognize his girlfriend, because they were both in their fencing attire and he snuck up from behind, and the other girl, turned around, he said "Sorry..." for the mistake, and this woman, her fencing teammate by the way, just went ahead and kissed David, and it caught him offguard for a five or ten seconds. David then meets up at this huge blowout with his friend Teddy (Logan Miller) and his supposedly unsexy female friend Allison (Colleen Dengel, who is the girl he and everyone else should be pining over for being the most interesting one around.) who gets made fun of and called names for not being particularly outgoing or with the trends of the rest of the group. Teddy gets lucky with a sexy blonde named Melanie (Natalie Hall) who looks amazing naked and likes to dominate in rough sex by beating the funny but not particularly great looking Teddy, and he's okay with it. Meanwhile, as Dumbass David, keeps seeming to lose Jill nine or ten times at the party as he seems incapable of following her from one room to another to catch her, some strange things start happening, and soon, mysterious dobblegangers of all the party guests start appearing. They then find themselves, usually mimicking the events that just took place, like some kind of alternate quantum physics universe that's repeating itself, or colliding with each other. One of the dobblegangers gets killed by the twisted drugged-up human outside the house, something that you'd think, even if it wasn't a dobbleganger getting his head blown off, would've stopped the party, at least until the next set of dobblegangers come in and begin partying again just like the dobblegangers of before, or the humans of before? Allison actually starts befriending one of her other selves and this leads to the most confusing lesbian kiss scene, ever. Because at this point, everybody's either unconvinced, or trying to kill the dobblegangers, or arguing about killing the dobblegangers, or preparing to kill the next set of dobblegangers, and she's fallen in love, with, herself, as though that's the best the only character with half a brain can do? And meanwhile, David's still trying to find Jill, and make up with her, or one of the Jill's anyway and when he can't convince one of them, he waits a bit and tries to convince the other, in a scene that would make Harold Ramis roll in his grave, for having invented it for "Groundhog Day". She tells him that it's not just the cheating it's that he made her feel replaceable, a line that's supposed to be ironic, only moron David doesn't recognize the irony. A word of advice to Jill, David is replaceable too, with a good vibrator. It'll costs you a few extra bucks, maybe some batteries, but it'll always treat you like the woman you deserved to be treated like, and good ones will help you cum harder and more often as well, and almost all of them are smarter and more caring boyfriends than David, and nearly everybody else in this film too; you should buy one, and hope the dobbleganger thing works on it too. If you're wondering why I'm giving this half a star, cause I liked the Allison character, and because Melanie knew that if she was gonna degrade herself with best of bad options like Teddy that she should at least be allowed to smack him around just for the hell of it. Good for you girl. That 1/2 STAR should be enough charity on my end to get me into heaven.
THE GUILT TRIP (2012) Director: Anne Fletcher
(CONFLICT OF INTEREST WARNING: As with most films shot at least partially in the Las Vegas Valley, there's a chance that I may know one or two people first-hand, second-hand, etc. involved with the production.)
"The Guilt Trip" already looked a little awkward on paper, and sure enough, it is. A mother and sun, traveling across country, the mother's Barbra Streisand and the sun in Seth Rogen.... At least this might the first road trip movie that actually uses a car that isn't at least 20 years old. Rogen is Andrew, an organic chemist who create a new FDA-approved natural cleaning product, an he's taking a road trip across country to pitch his product to major distributors like HSN, Kmart, CostCo, at all their major headquarters and distributors and conventions and whatnot to sell it. He's not a natural salesman, and his first meeting already didn't go over too well, and he's staying with his mother, Joyce for the night. He isn't planning on having her mother drag along, but then, she mentions a story about an old love she had before with a guy named Andrew Margolis. Andy manages to track him down, and decides to surprise his mother at the end of the trip by going to meet him again. This isn't the wacky adventures and supposed hilarity road trip that say, "Identity Thief" was, but it's not exactly an entertaining movie either. There's quirks and moments of the mother getting in the way and others where they're the best and closest of friends. Fights as well, particularly after Andy screws up a major meeting because his mother got a little too much in the way. Other than the fact that this is a very rare role taken by Streisand, and while she's good here, I'm not gonna lie and say that I was in a particular hurry to see her acting either. You know, this-, this, is fairly, fairly, uh-, fair. Innocuous, boring, bland. It's not, particularly unfunny, but I didn't laugh. It's not particularly without emotion moments, and heartfelt emotions, but- I don't know. It's in between; it doesn't go far enough in any particular direction to make it memorable one way or the other. It's exactly what it shouldn't have been. Anice touching little story about a mother and son. Anything but that, and it probably would've been good.
HELLO, I MUST BE GOING (2012) Director: Todd Louiso
Titled after a Groucho Marx song in "Animal Crackers", "Hello, I Must Be Going", first caught my attention after it's star Melanie Lynskey got a Gotham Awards nomination for their Breakthrough Award. Particularly strange since I listed her breakthorough performance as her debut feature opposite Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures" in '94, not to mention memorable work in "Ever After", "Rose Red", "Coyote Ugly", "But, I'm a Cheerleader", "Shattered Glass", "Park", which I was at the debut screening of, "Away We Go," "The Informant!",.... Oh, and she's been the best part of "Two and a Half Men" for about a decade as well as Charlie's crazy and eventually murderous stalker, so calling this a breakthrough performance for her.... Well, I think the appreciation of her performance is worthy but yeah, the rumors of her breakthrough are about 15 years too late, at a minimum. She's great here as she is in everything, as a divorced thirty-something Amy, who's been sulking around aimlessly in her parents house since her husband left her months ago. She was blindsided by the divorce, she didn't even take her clothes from her apartment, much less get alimony. Now, she's berated around by her mother Ruth (Blythe Danner) all day, as she tries to get her up and at least presentable as she has to hold/attend a series of gatherings for her husband, Stan (John Rubenstein) who's trying to land a big client, Larry (Damian Young) big enough for him to finally retire, which is what Ruth has been waiting for all her life. At these get-togethers, nobody seems to be able to help but to say the wrong things at, and it's an exercise in uncomfortableness, until the son of the clients, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott) surprises Amy by kissing her as she hides in a closet. He's way too young for him, a Broadway actor who ironically doesn't like acting too much, and to add an extra farce complication to this, his psychiatrist mother Gwen (Julie White) thinks he's gay, something that will require lots of backpedaling and explaining when she walks in on a naked Amy, howling at the moon, after climbing out of their swimming pool with Jeremy. (BTW, why no nudity shown in this film; Lynskey's done nudity before? Oh well, might've been a body double but, disappointing) The story isn't too much more complicated than that, and some of the dialogue at the end, really is iffy, but the performances sell it, and you gotta like a girl who watched the Marx Brothers when she's trying to get out of a rut. This is the first film I've seen from Todd Louiso, who made "Lova Liza" years ago, which was noted for being Phillip Seymour Hoffman's first leading role, that's on my Netflix somewhere. "Hello, I Must Be Going", isn't much new from other indy films, but it's good enough to recommend, and Lynskey should get more roles like this.
MARTY (1955) Director: Delbert Mann
Film and all art at it's core, it really about empathy. The ability to care about things on screen or elsewhere, characters that we wouldn't normally care about. Plato said that poets were the greatest threat to democracy, because they could make us do that, care and feel empathy for things that we, from our own personal experience, shouldn't naturally. Ironically, critics, tend to try to fight off that urge as much as possible. This helps us judge the quality of work at times, because if art can affect us, then it would ergo then mean that it can and/or will effect others. Well, sometimes even critics can't let those standards hold. Sometimes we're gonna be effected because something is so relatable to us. "Marty" won the Best Picture Oscar in '55, as well as three others, and it's one of the smallest films to ever win. And one of the strangest at the time. It was written by legendary TV writer Paddy Chayefsky, and it's leading man was Ernest Borgnine, now a typical leading man in any era. A classic character actor known as much for film as he would in television, and can play anything. He's short, fat, a little dumpy, lives with his mother still, is unlucky with women, so unlucky he hates trying 'cause he knows the end result will never be good for him, despite his friend Angie's (Oscar-nominee Joe Mantell) insistence. His mother's (Esther Minciotti) trying to encourage him to go to whatever supper club she hears about that he should go to, to meet girls and whatnot. All the rest of his siblings are married, but he wants less to go out than anyone. Always being asked to tag along on double dates, and to take the dog of the pile from his so-called "friends". I relate to a lot of this story. Personally, professionally. Hell, both my grandfathers were old Italian butchers. (Which pisses off people when I go buy lunchmeat let me tell ya, when I say, I expect thin.) At one of those parties though, he gets asked to pay to help somebody take a blind date off his hands. He's offended, and when he sees the poor girl, a schoolteacher named Clara (Oscar-nominee Betsy Blair) who's also, like him, not generally considered the best looking, and is often the dog of her bunch of girlfriends too. They unexpectedly stay out all night, he even takes her home, and his mother meets her, and surprisingly disapproves, as does everyone else. Why? Because she's not pretty. Borgnine won the Oscar for his role as the conflicted Marty, who's ultimate moment is frankly, the ability to like himself. Choose himself, over the objections of his others, which allows him to choose Clara, and make that late night phone call after that one splendid night together. It also won Director Delbert Mann the Oscar, the first time a director won for his debut film. It would be both their only nomination, and yet, it remains in the heart of viewers. It's not the glamurous world of Hollywood. It's lower working class, it's stars look like lower class stars and the heroes aren't really heroic or men or women of valor, but it's an inner victory, the small personal victories that we empathize with that makes "Marty" so magnificent. Yes, empathize, empathy. It's not the bad word this time, and even the most jaded critic can admit that.
IRIS (2001) Director: Richard Eyre
Jim Broadbent won one of the more surprising Best Supporting Actor Oscars of all-time, for the Richard Eyre "Iris", partly because, most people, especially at home, had no particular idea who he was, nor did they know the movie "Iris", despite it getting three acting Oscar nominations. (That was the last time a film only got three Oscar nominations and all of them in acting categories until "The Master" in 2012.) The movie is about Iris Murdoch, the great writer/philosopher/political activist, who stirred a lot of heads with her work. We see a little of that in the beginning as the free-spirited, sexual young Iris (Oscar-nominee Kate Winslet) grabs the attention of the shy and not-so-great-looking John Bayley (Hugh Bonneville). He's overweight, and head always seems a little reddish without the greatest of teeth, and closely reserved. In flashbacks, we see how he fell in love first, and it was Iris who broke him out of his comfort zone. Opposites attract, and of course, they remained together despite it being difficult to keep the aggressive free-spirit down. There's talk of her affairs, and how truly second banana he might've been to her at times, but now at old age, Iris (Oscar-nominee Judi Dench) has started suffering the effects of Alzheimer's and quickly. Now, despite the pent up anger, it's John (Broadbent) who has to try and help her recall and remember who she used to be, something that's tough on him, and now that the sharp mind isn't as there as she used to, it's harder now than ever. I can see why Broadbent won the Oscar. It being a bad year didn't hurt much, but he really the main star of the film, and he has to handle a lot of the brunt of action. The movie was based on a novel by John Bayley, so it seems to miss much of what you would think would be the interesting life of Iris Murdoch to go through. We get some glimpses and memories, but they're usually from his idealized perspective, while hers was probably much more interesting. The movie main images are of Iris skinny-dipping, first in the credits, then as she drags John into the water, and then when they're older and John has to coax the aging Murdoch into the drink, hoping it will joggle memories of who she is/once was. "Iris" remains a bit hard to fully grasp. I learn from reading Roger Ebert's famously conflicted negative review of the film that John Bayley was actually a far more established man himself, a noted literary critic and professor. When I read that, I remembered part of that being mentioned, the same way that they briefly mentioned Murdoch's literary prowess as the author of 20+ books and all. As a biopic of Iris Murdoch, I'd say it fails; and it sorta works as a story about the sufferings of Alzheimer's which is really the crux of the film. Strangely, I think I'd have rather seen an Alzheimer's film of a more regular person and character, if they were just gonna do that. Or at least, let us find out more about Iris's life than we do to really care about her more. But, I guess this is okay for what it is.
THE LOVING STORY (2011) Director: Nancy Buirski
Okay, before I even begin talking about this movie, here's what happened: as per my rigid rules regarding my Netflix queue and library waitlist and other factors, I had started watching "The Loving Story" on HBOGO on my Roku, as that was up next, and it was readily available to me there. I watched, about fifty minutes of the film, but then switched to an old Boston Blackie radio broadcast on another roku channel and went to bed, which is what I've made a habit of doing most nights. Anyway, I went to go finish watching the movie the next day, only to find that for some reason, it wasn't on HBOGO anymore. Anyway it took a week or two, but I eventually got ahold of the movie and now go about rewatching it, including the last 20 or so minutes. Not that I was going to be surprised by the ending of "The Loving Story", in fact a lot of this movie, I was partially on autopilot on, because I was already quite familiar with the story of the coincidentally-named Richard and Mildred Loving. In 1958, the white Richard and the black Mildred were married in Washington D.C. before heading back to Virginia, where they were arrested. This case gets a lot of attention nowadays as it shows up in most debates over same-sex marriage cases. The case would become a landmark Civil Rights case, that would declare all anti-miscengenation laws unconstitutional. I had read about them in history books, socialism classes, and even saw the TV movie "Mr. & Mrs. Loving" about them made back in '96. This documentary shows us old news footage and home-made movies of the Lovings themselves, who were strangely not particularly vocal in Civil Rights, and really spend all this time and trial, just wanting to be home and be a family. They had their three kids by the time the court case finally got to the Supreme Court. There's also interviews with the lawyers and others discussing the case and the Lovings themselves, and most intriguingly, actual recordings of the Supreme Court arguments of the case. "The Loving Story" is only 77 minutes long, and that's enough to tell their story. They weren't public figures, before or even after, so unlike some of their Civil Rights contemporaries, they tend to forgotten in most versions of Civil Rights history, but considering that most of these laws were written with the intention of protecting the purity of the races, the irony in that it's a case about two people in love, that eventually eradicated them. And yeah, there name was actually Loving. It's a good documentary that showed briefly in theaters before being aired on HBO, and for those who didn't know the story, it's worth seeking out.
ST. NICK (2009) Director: David Lowery
Barely theatrically released, "St. Nick" was "Ain't Them Bodies Saints"'s director David Lowery's second feature, and a copy of it, came with the DVD I had of "...Saints", as an add-on. The story is sparse of dialogue and is about two runaway kids only known as the Girl and the Boy (Susanna Sears and Tucker Sears; I presume real-life brother and sister) as they find their way to live day-to-day at an abandoned country house, after scraping by in the woods before, which is convenient for the cold Texas winter they have to sit through. It made it's way around the festival circuit for a couple years; it's got it's moments, but frankly it doesn't work too well. It's mostly a lot of this finding truth in the banalities of life stuff that someone like a David Gordon Green is far more effective act, and despite it being well-made enough, and kind of an interesting premise, it's also abundantly clear, why the entire feature film is now resorted to a special features disk of a better movie. It's an interesting oddity, like watching "Piranha II" because it was James Cameron's first feature film, or an early movie that Harvey Corman probably produced of a future great director, but Lowery hasn't earned that quite yet, so it's greatest appeal is already fairly limiting as that right now. Maybe if he pans out, the film will be more interesting from an analytic perspective, but we're not there yet.