My Uncle used to play drums. It was a subject that was brought up a lot in the family but I actually never saw him play; that part of his life had passed before I came along and he’s since passed himself. I actually don’t know who he looked up to or who he thought were the best drummers out there. Music did not come second nature to me, but I know the best musician I ever saw play live was a drummer. Kenny Aronoff, look him up if you don’t know him; I saw him play live when he toured with Melissa Etheridge at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas and he is a beast. Muscles pumped out everywhere, in a black leather vest and shades, bald head, he kinda looked like J.K. Simmons’s character in “Whiplash”, not Simmons in real life, his character. This guys, never stopped playing, you can tell he was so fit, he could probably run marathons every day, but instead he played drums, and he must’ve played twelve hours a day everyday for years and years, decades at least; it was incredible. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was ADHD or something and he just channeled it into mastering the drums and he played loud and it dawned on me just how physical playing the drums is, particularly if you actually want to be one of the greats at it. Believe me, you noticed him in the back as the best musician there; I noticed him and I was a teenage boy in a room partying with a bunch of horny drunk lesbians at the time. The title “Whiplash” comes from a song by Hank Levy and the film is really it’s about two people, Andrew (Miles Teller) a student at the Shaffer Music Conservatory who will do anything to be the best drummer in the world (And for him that means jazz drummer, one of the posters in his room has a quote, “If you don’t have the ability, you end up playing in a rock band”.) and a Professor, the head of Shaffer’s Studio Band, Terence Fletcher (Simmons in his Oscar-winning role), who’s willing to push, berate, insult, attack, anything to make sure…- you know, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t know how to finish that sentence, and maybe that’s what makes him so menacing. He talks about wanting to find the next Charlie Parker and how he supposedly became Charlie Parker because Jo Jones threw a cymbal at his head when he screwed up a note, but I find fault with that logic. I think the movie secretly does to. We don’t know if Charlie Parker was determined to become Charlie Parker before or after that cymbal was thrown at him or not, or if it just made him get there quicker or even if it did that. It’s a great legend and you should never let the truth get in the way of that, but the movie begins with Andrew already practicing double-time swing when Fletcher happens to run into him and put him in Studio Band. Was it the pushing or was it the fact that Andrew was willing to be so pushed? Curiously, the movie doesn’t answer this question. If anything it begs the question of does greatness mean one must descend into madness and obsession? One of them is there, the other’s getting there, although in hindsight I’m not quite sure which is which. Simmons is an incredible, menacing presence; it’s easy to see why this beloved character actor earned his Oscar for this performance. I’ll let the debate rage on about whether his teaching methods were beneficial or not. “Whiplash” is Damian Chazelle’s debut feature, and I find it curious that many people have become truly taken with the film as a whole. There’s issues with it, especially the script. A scene at a family dinner table introduces characters with clichéd successes that are more acceptable and commonly-understood within the household of his family only to be shot down by Andrew. There’s another subplot involving a girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist) of Andrew that also begins, just to end. They seem almost tacked on, like he didn’t trust the core internal dramas of the two mains enough that he had to add more to them. There’s an unexpectedly good performance by Paul Reiser of all people as Andrew’s father which reveals him to be more caring and understanding then he seems at first. There’s other issues too, but still, this is a first feature by the young Chazelle and I think these trepidations are indeed just a first-time filmmaker a little unsure that his work is actually as good as it is, which, if anything is truly a sign of greatness, the constant belief that no matter how good some say something is, you’re constantly thinking it could be better.
THE JUDGE (2014) Director: David Dubkin
“The Judge” is about as good a movie as it could’ve been; hell, if anything, it’s probably better than it really has any real right to be. No, it doesn't all work and sure, the scene near the end that- I won’t completely give away but it involves a cross-examination on the witness stand during a trial that’s contrived and unrealistic in the kind of way that can only happen in a movie. There are other problems with “The Judge” as well, and I can see why some were taken with the film while other weren’t as forthcoming, but for me, I can’t really fault something done this well, even if it has been done many times before. Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a major cocky but good lawyer in New York City. He never loses, is cocky and smarter than everyone. He left his small Indiana hometown years ago, the kind of town where his father, Joseph (Robert Duvall) has been on the bench for decades. Naturally, they’re so similar they’re estranged because of many differences they had when they were growing up. Downey’s originally back in town only because his mother has just passed, but then he’s brought back after his father apparently kills someone after a night of drinking after his wife’s funeral. He’s a former alcoholic whose slip is reasonable but he claims he doesn't remember hitting the guy, who turns out to be a former violent defendant that came before him multiple times before, who just recently got released. Naturally the two are reluctant to work together but inevitably have to. There’s also some typical coming home subplots, like the brother Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) who was a superstar high school athlete who had to give that up after a car accident and has stayed home and started his own family. There’s also his high school girlfriend, Samantha Powell (Vera Farmiga) who now owns the local bar she’s been tending for twenty years, he’s reconnecting, and there’s a strange subplot that I won’t go into with her involving Hank and another character, that kinda, doesn’t quite get resolved if you think about it. I’m not even completely sure what it adds to the film in hindsight.
Robert Duvall received an Oscar-nomination for this role, at age 84 he’s one of the oldest to ever get nominated as he’s as good as ever, maybe it’s stretching a bit for nomination worthy, but from what I’ve seen so far this seems like a week year in the category, but everybody else was really good as well. Downey, Jr. is giving a performance that’s kinda already in his milieu but he’s good, Vincent D’Onorfrio is always strong and here again he’s solid. Vera Farmiga’s good as always, some other good supporting work from Billy Bob Thornton among others; the performances really make this movie. Everything else is fine. It’s stuff we’ve before, it’s mostly done decent enough, but you buy into it ‘cause you buy into the performances, it makes up some of the issues with it. Some were big problems, like, we find out in the beginning that Downey’s character is divorcing his wife, Mary (Catherine Cummings) who he’s found out cheated on him, they have a kid btw, Emma (Lauren Palmer) so this is a custody battle as well, yet, he makes one passing reference to his wife in the beginning, and then there’s a scene where basically he confronts- it’s not even really a confrontation, he yells at her and literally before she gets five words out, just completely demolishes her as a person, and then, she’s never seen or heard from again, his wife. I mean, basically this actress got hired to stand there, look pretty and get yelled at by Robert Downey, Jr. I’m not sure that approach to this was taken, but that something that you’re almost wondering why did even bother with that, and I felt sorry for the poor actress there; her part could’ve been replaced by a voice mail. Another thing that I thought was odd, and I don’t know what happened here but this is one of those weird things that you notice that you probably shouldn’t notice but it sorta bothered me and it involves a scene where Downey’s character is looking through his old high school yearbook, and the pictures they used of a young Downey and a young Farmiga, I don’t what it is, but they looked like the photos were taken the day before. I know this is weird of me, maybe that’s part of the charm or whatever of the film, maybe it was intentional, but a little different might’ve been nice? I mean, remember what RDJ looked like 30 years ago, I have a copy of “Back to School” somewhere, so I don’t know, anyway, that’s a pet peeve of mine, that’s one of the reasons I don’t write photographs into my scripts usually. Anyway, most of the movie works though. It’s a bit frustrating that this is one of those good movies that could’ve been a really great movie, didn’t quite get there, more than worth recommending however, especially for the performances.
Dear Stupid People:
I guess it is asking a bit much that a movie like “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For…” make sense. For some reason, while the look of the movie is still this gorgeous slick black-and-white like the Frank Miller comics with sudden bursts of glowing primarily colors like red and gold, it’s not as pristine a look as the original movie was. Some of the scene come of as downright cartoon-y to be honest, in particular, some of the car chasing sequences. It’s a minor complaint, but the original “Sin City”, which made my Ten Best list the year it came out, the movie was mainly about the look, the style, the tone, that pulp film noir aesthetic world where every man’s killer, every girl’s a dame and danger lurked around in all the darkest shadows of a town of shadows, but with the style points pumped up ‘til 11. The fact that the narrative threads came together was basically an afterthought to me; it was more interesting to experience than to analyze. Now, I find myself analyzing a film that, really I shouldn’t have to, or even want to. This is a sequel to the original and it combines stories involving some of the original film’s character along with some new ones, which is fine although I wanted to see as much of the world of “Sin City” that they possibly could, Marv (Mickey Rourke) would be as appreciate as a cameo in the background to me than as a central story character for instance, but I think this film is missing the beauty of the storytelling method. The first film took it’s time, separated it’s stories just enough to have them almost like little separate episodes, even though they do collide and come together overall, now they feel more disjointed, like they’re being shoved together. I was 45 minutes in for instance and I had already long last track of just how many times we had gone back to Kadie’s Bar, literally. A new character is Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is one lucky and good gambler, too good as it gets him in trouble with Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) after beating him at poker. The titular thread involves Dwight (Josh Brolin replacing Clive Owen a private eye who’s finally getting over a dangerous relationship with Ava Lord (Ava Green), right as she walks back into her life wanting her back and strives to coax him into helping her get away from a sinister rich husband. When this plan backfires, Dwight goes to Old Town for help from Gail (Rosario Dawson) and her group of hookers to help him recover and inevitably get vengeance. We also learn that Nancy (Jessica Biel) the stripper who all the guys pined over in the original film is now haunted by Jack Hartigan (Bruce Willis), the old cop who saved her from the treachery the Yellow Bastard, but his suicide has spiraled her into alcoholism and is now starting to develop a plan for a similar suicidal mission to take out the Bastard’s powerful politician father. There’s numerous other threads and characters getting introduced throughout the film, most of them don’t go anywhere in particular, although they seem ample to be set up for characters in the future, if there is another installment of “Sin City”, and I hope there is. Overall, I’m recommending the film, with reservations. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character’s segment doesn’t really go anywhere when you think about it, it could’ve been more integrated into everything else, it’s almost a throwaway bit when you consider what really could’ve been done with it. On the other hand, while Ava Green is one of the film’s biggest highpoints, her story section, almost seems too big, there’s more sideplots and characters in that story than there probably was in the first film. Rodriguez and Miller kinda got lost a bit when trying to figure out how much of “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” should be a straight sequel to the original, and how much more the world of “Sin City” they could’ve explored, revealing new characters and stories and evoking the overall feeling and tone that made the first film so special. You can tell the balancing act was tricky for them. In a perfect world, I would probably enjoy “Sin City” as an anthology television series, perhaps take a whole 13-episode season, kinda like “True Detective” or something to tell its stories, not necessarily one linear one or thirteen smaller ones, but spend more time creating the atmosphere within the world, have some characters have major stories some times, other times minor ones, sometimes have a single episode story that doesn’t call back ‘til much later, perhaps sometimes spend four or five hours going through one story. The movie must be doing something right, ‘cause I still want to see more of it, if I’m trying to think of ways to do that.
You know, this has happened to me a few times lately, particularly people who knew me from high school, even with close friends of mine, they see me now, this frustrated screenwriter/blogger guy I’ve become and they wonder about why I never went into IT or computer of some kind. I was the smartest kid in the class, many times considered smarter than the teacher was. (There were times where I would in fact agree with that actually.) Whether that or not and many times it wasn’t, that said, I was never computer-savvy. I mean, hell, look at my website, does this look like somebody who’s got a background in computers? I took me half a year to figure out how to put a Youtube clip on here in a way that doesn’t make me look like a complete moron. At fourteen years old, Aaron Swartz created RSS. I don’t think I knew what a blog was when I was 14 and now I run one with an RSS attachment and after seeing “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz”, I only still don’t have any idea what the hell RSS means or what it does or why I need it or why it helps…- actually, I don’t fully understand most of the things Aaron Swartz was able to accomplish and do in his brief amount of time on this Earth. I’ve been told multiple times that I should be on Reddit, which Swartz co-created, but it looks like chaos to me, (Which is how it’s described in the film as well) and frankly I’m amazed that people can find anything on there, much less my little dog-and-pony show of a blog. I have friends who are
I’ve seen films and plays like “Some Velvet Morning” before, none that have been dedicated to August Strindberg, but still…, and you know, it almost always works. I know to feel safe in the hands of Neil Labute. He’s been a director-for-hire lately on such films as “The Wicker Man” or the remake of Frank Oz’s comedy “Death at a Funeral”, but I’m a fan of his writing; he’s one of the pre-eminent playwrights of our time. The last time he wrote and directed a feature was when he adapted his hit show “The Shape of Things” to the screen, complete with the original cast of the production in both London and on Broadway. That film made my Ten Best List the year it came out and amazingly this film feels even more like a play of his. Insular, trapped in a room, or in this case a house with characters who are all in varying degrees, some fairly despicable human beings. “Some Velvet Morning” has only two character, Fred (Stanley Tucci) a middle-age man who’s leaving his wife and Velvet (Alice Eve) a prostitute he hasn’t seen in a couple years who not only he used to see socially but she also used to see his son. In fact, she’s still seeing him, as a client and is supposed to see him later that day, but Fred has shown up on her doorstep packed bags and all. What follows is essentially a dance. A verbal dance, a physical dance, an emotional one, even a violent one. Two people, both trying to get what they want out of the other, whatever that is, whatever that may entail. Velvet knows Fred has made a grand gesture he can’t go back from, but is she ready to let him back into her life, and more than that, will she be willing to leave her own. She seems to have a pretty nice place, and work is steady. As secret after secret and revelation after revelation get revealed we wonder how exactly this will play out, and how can it and how should it. Which is more cliché, the hooker with the heart of gold who doesn’t want to be saved or the knight in shining armor coming to save her in the name of love? I will not discuss the ending, or whether or not it works other than to say that I hardly think of it as surprising, but still, I wasn’t completely sure that I saw it coming. It doesn’t matter anyway, the film is about these two great performances by Tucci and Eve playing two great characters and doing them well, well enough that we buy into the reality of the situation. It’s probably a letdown for me considering how I think LaBute can do more, this felt like a throwaway piece of writing essentially, not really an in-depth script or play, but more like a writing exercise than a complete thought, but his writing exercises are better than most people scripts and they’re a joy to see perform especially by great actors. Definitely recommending “Some Velvet Morning” and while I’m at it, I wouldn’t mind it if Neil Labute would direct more of his work in the future than he does.
SOMETHING FROM NOTHING: THE ART OF RAP (2012) Directors: Ice-T and Andy Baybutt
I think most interesting people growing up go through a phase where they think can be a musician, or preferably a music superstar, and I’m gonna tell you about my experience with that ‘cause after watching “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap”, I realize now that, if I were to go down that route that I probably should’ve been a rapper. I can hear the jokes coming but bare with a second, yes I’m white and generally talentless musically and my CD collection looks like what I am, some classic rock standards heavy on Springsteen and Dylan, and then all the emotional white girl Lilith Fair era music that people like me would listen to while reading Sylvia Plathe in their bedroom on prom night. (Yeah, I’m a Sylvia Plathe guy too) Here’s the thing, while I was not inspired by rap for most of my life, the fact is that rap, unlike most other forms of music, in general, most of rap especially in the early started with the lyrics. I actually have written-down, like 200+ sets of lyrics, most of which I wrote in high school, and maybe three of those are still relatively good, and then I tried to learn to play guitar and that was just a disaster. I still occasionally contribute a lyric or two to musician friends of mine, if they might be having trouble with it, but I always listened to music lyrics first, strangely. My mother’s tone deaf so the nuances of the notes are lost to her so that’s how I was brought up. It’s a hard habit to break actually; I’m learning how to dissect the music first but it’s something that didn’t fully click for a long time. That said, rap, which is honestly, not music I particularly gravitate towards, but in the beginning days of rap, they didn’t have musical instruments for whatever reasons, most blame the cutting of music programs in many big cities, but actually it would begin with the lyrics and that would be the front and center of rap. It probably is for the best that I went into film instead of staying into music, although if I was more inspired by Dr. Dre and Eminem instead of Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette but then who knows. (Shrugs)
THE ASTRONAUT'S WIFE (1999) Director: Rand Ravich
Holy hell, this was bad. Wow! I have might have to suggest The Nostalgia Critic do a review of this movie if he hasn’t, oh my God. Where do I begin with this piece of shit? Seriously, I don’t know where. Let me first say that, the reason I did call these Random Weekly Movie Reviews is that, basically it’s pretty random what movies I end up watching from week-to-week. This week is a bit different but, generally the rule it, if I see it I write about it. Well, I saw “The Astronaut’s Wife”. I don’t know how many others have or how many of them even remember seeing it, but this movie, is kinda like trying to combine a sci-fi thriller with the tone and sensibilities of one those horrid Lifetime movies where suddenly the wife doesn’t trust her beloved husband and suddenly you add in strange angles and menacing tones suddenly make everyday things seem much more threatening than they actually are. Spencer (Johnny Depp) is an astronaut who’s latest mission involved a near-fatal incident in which he and his co-pilot (ACTOR AND CHARACTER NAME) seem to have died for about two minutes when NASA lost contact with them and there was some kind of explosion. When he comes home, his co-pilot drops dead, his wife who we learn is pregnant kills herself and he suddenly leaves NASA as a hero in order to work for a big firm in New York, to start designing the latest in privately-owned space shuttles. The move is somewhat out of character, but considering he nearly died during his last mission, it’s understandable. In fact, most everything is understandable. Even Joe Morton’s character, the NASA engineer who’s fired because he truly believes that the suspicious behavior is, well, suspicious doesn’t have that much of a case. The handwriting changed, well people handwriting does change from time to time actually. Frankly, for most of the film I don’t see much difference between Johnny Depp’s character before and after the accident. Sure, that might be suspicious, and except for the scene of ducking behind a wall at a New York party where the company’s other wives are stupidified that Jillian (Charlize Theron) is a 2nd grade teacher, dear god! (What the hell was that about btw? Alright my second grade teacher was a bit of ditz, [Sorry Miss Simms, but you were like 20 at the time and my mother constantly tells the PTC story about how you told her how you had learned so much from me already. That secretly terrified her.] but that’s-, there’s no shame in that career, in fact that’s a pretty tough and good job teaching 2nd grade. That’s not a humiliating or worst thing anybody can be, by far.) and then he takes her behind a wall and has sex with her right there, which, frankly even doesn’t seem that, odd. I mean, it is his wife, they are in love, it’s a boring party, not like they’re the first couple to ever sneak in a fuck behind a wall. And of course, the pilot seat that Depp’s character is designing, has two seats, and now Jillian is pregnant with twins?! (Fake gasp!) Which was also what the other pilot’s wife was pregnant with when she killed herself so,…- Um, people do know, it’s not that unusual to be pregnant with twins, right? Like, sure, strange, ironic, coincidental, not that impossible. Had they both had, quintuplets, maybe, okay, maybe that could be suspicious, but…- like, what the hell, that’s the big giveaway, she pregnant with twins, she’s trying to take over from within, two-by-two, twin-by-twin? Eh, no. I mean, up until he kills Jillian’s sister, (Clea Duvall) there really isn’t anything suspicious here about the Depp character. I won’t even discuss the stupidity of the ending, but it’s fucking stupid. (Frustrated sigh) It’s days like this where I hate my job. I don’t know this has been waiting on my library queue list, or whatever or why I got to it now, but all those movie waiting for me to watch and I end up with this piece of garbage. Makes me so horribly, horribly sad.