Anyway, we're trying to get back to the day-to-days of the blog and my own work outside of this blog. I'm also posting a lot of my movie reviews now on Watch This Space Film Magazine's website, so go to watchthisspacefilmmagazine.com to see some of my reviews there as well as other talented reviewers. Alright, not much left to say, so let's get to this week's MOVIE REVIEWS! Starting with a pair of this year's Oscar nominated Animated features!
SONG OF THE SEA (2014) Director: Tomm Moore
THE BOXTROLLS (2014) Directors: Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi
Huh? This got nominated for Best Animated Feature over "The LEGO Movie"? I-I guess I can sorta understand on an animation level, this is a Laika Production and they're stop-motion animation is usually quite special like "Coraline" or "ParaNorman" some of the most interesting and special animated films in recent years, but really? This film? "The Boxtrolls"? I'm sorry, to be so, uh, what's-the-right-word, befuddled by this film, but I'm a little stumped by this one? On the one hand, this film really is just another tale where another group of monsters is misunderstood for evil by the adults in the power and in turn, the whole town and they now have to be convinced that indeed they are not evil, by little kids who they don't listen. Oh, and the adults are obsessed with cheese. Okay, that last part is just weird, especially when you actually see how obsessed with cheese they are, like it's almost currency in this universe, that and white hats, 'cause, as far as I could tell, the white hats get to eat the cheese.
(Rubs top of nose between eyes for several minutes of pause)
Okay, my first question is, "What the hell's with the movie?" The Boxtrolls are, well, they're not that magical or cuddly or interesting a group of characters that you'd really want to save them, but let's presume they are for the time being, they're a shy group of monsters who live in and have a habit of hiding in their boxes, which serve the purpose of a turtle shell essential, a place to live and as clothes. They're builders actually and are constantly hiding. There's one human Boxtroll, a kid named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) who doesn't know about his original human origins. However, the main story thread, I think, it's a bit debatable, but I think it's based around Winnie (Elle Fanning) the daughter of Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) who I think is essentially the town's Mayor, oh the town's name is Cheesebridge btw, and it's somewhere, I guess in a Dickinsian England via Jean-Pierre Jeunet (And not good Jeunet either). He's hired Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to get the Boxtrolls who have constantly been reported to have taken more and more children, most notably the Trubshaw Baby many years earlier and now the stories about them have run rapid. I-eh, ugh, yeah, the more I think about it, the less this feels like a real movie. This is typical, by the numbers stuff primarily and the choices they do make would be too ridiculous in a Wallace & Gromit short. In many ways, this does feel like a rejected Aardman Animation idea in both look and tone. This film just frustrated me. The kids are smart, sorta, the adults are all too dumb to exist, the Boxtrolls aren't that interesting, the plot recycles everything from "The Night of the Hunter" to "The Jetsons Movie", yet none of this really comes together. It does but in this contrived way in front of all the gullible townspeople and even then it ends, strangely with, an unfunny version of the grossest joke from "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life". "The Boxtrolls" is just a mess. I'm told that this is based on a children's story, I don't know how close it was to the original, but it feels like they were struggling to extend it, at least I hope that was a problem. I don't even think kids would like this to be honest. Young kids might be entertained but I can't imagine anybody really being taken in from the world or the magic of "The Boxtrolls".
THE DROP (2014) Director: Michael R. Roskam
I wasn’t particularly asking for a James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) biopic, not that I would be against one, but two things: First, if you’re gonna do a biopic, you gotta have a reason to do it. If you could find the reason for “Get On Up”’s existence, please inform me. I love James Brown and all, but I looked around and didn’t see one, certainly no reason in this film. The other is that-, well,- honestly, the other one is, (Sigh) well, I don’t even know where to begin, but I’ll just say it, you actually have to have a story to tell, and not just, make the character into a caricature really. I hate to be mean here, but I don’t know how else to explain it. The opening scenes of “Get On Up”, and many of the scenes in this movie, feel like rejected sketches from “In Living Color”. Like, if somebody talented had a James Brown impression and they were trying to figure out ways to use it. I’m not gonna blame Chadwick Boseman completely, ‘cause I think the script had dozens of problems to begin with, but if you were trying to learn something new about James Brown going into this film, then you really weren’t gonna get anything by his performance, and I don’t think he was particularly good is part of the problem. It’s worst though than just a wrong approach to this character, Brown’s life could’ve been made into three or four different movies, you could’ve made one just on the Boston Garden concert the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. It’s not even that, there’s a sequence in this movie, with cameos by Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey, two unbelievably amazing actors, Brown and his band are in New Orleans, and they’re hanging out by the hotel pool, and these two are tourists wondering why they paid all this money and traveled all this way to have to share a pool with a bunch of- black people, and of course they used the N-word instead. Now, then the band has a rehearsal session, and the music, peels through the walls and of course, these two old white people are now dancing and funking to the music in the hotel lobby, music from the same people they were complaining were in the hotel. Other than wasting two of the best actors around, I don’t know what that scene accomplished. That’s the only time those characters are seen by the way, so don’t think there’s something else that I’m missing here, there’s not. Some of the more cartoonish stuff, I don’t even know what’s true or not from much of this film, whether James Brown ripping his pants doing the splits was really the precipice of his famous robe bit, there a few of those that just seem weird. There’s moments where he talks to the camera about some of his other ideas like forgoing local promoters to pay off unknown radio deejays to promote his shows to earn more money, those things are interesting, the way the Furious Flames, led by Bobby Byrd (Nelson Ellis) were formed and then relegated by everyone from Little Richard (Brandon Smith) to his manager Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd) to basically his backup band which whether that was the Flames or not, he treated dismissively, that stuff was interesting. The few years in jail and the shooting and high speed chase incident, is just awkwardly put together, and they practically skip completely over his tax evasion problems. They try to shoehorn stuff with his mother and father (Viola Davis and Lennie James) but it doesn’t get us anywhere closer to understanding or giving us a new side to James Brown. The film was directed by Tate Taylor, who last directed “The Help” a movie which was popular but I still contend was awful and he’s got some of the same structuring issues here as he did with that film. This is a better film, but there’s a bunch of James Brown songs playing, how bad can it be? But really there’s this severe lack of insight into his characters that really brings the movie down. Remember in “The Help” how we didn’t see Octavia Spencer’s character’s husband at all, much less the actual realities of her being an abused wife? (Spencer btw, has a role here btw, as you may have noticed, there’s quite a few cameos from “The Help” in the film) Well, the one scene we get showing James hitting his wife DeeDee (Jill Scott) also purposefully shies away from that reality, as he hits her offscreen and we see the effects. Not that we had to watch James Brown beating his wife, I don’t want to see that frankly, but it’s indicative of the problem with the film. It’s one thing to not know which side of a person they want to show and dive into but it’s a bigger problem that it didn't matter, ‘cause whichever way they tried they didn't know how to do it.
MEMPHIS (2014) Director: Tom Sutton
I guess it's difficult for the more casual filmgoer to see a movie that's not particularly the more tradition or classic Hollywood structure and you know, and really just dismiss it as meandering around, while others might argue it as artistic. That kind of movie. Well, "Memphis", is a movie that I would say is mostly a bunch of meandering around. I guess some of it's interesting, it's actually, I guess a semi-documentary, kinda. It's follows around local Memphis poet Willis Earl Beal, who is playing himself and we see him, going about his days, occasionally meandering around Memphis and some of the city's/neighborhood's more interesting personalities. Honestly, that's about all I got out of it. It's the kind of movie where occasionally you'd look up at it and find something interesting or someone saying something that intrigues you, but then they move onto something else so quickly that it's actually worth that they brought it up to begin with. I wish I kept better notes on it, 'cause I'm gonna admit that I'm pretty much scouring other reviews right now, trying to see what scenes and moments other critics focused on, but I think that's the problem. It's such a random mix that, it doesn't really focus enough time on anything for us to really care. We kinda get to know a few people, which it's more, but not really though. It's mostly akin to, a collection of interesting people you've met over the years, perhaps on a bus or some other time between other things you're doing, but then never really see again. The movie was directed by Tom Sutton, who I told is inspired by others from in this southern gothic tradition like Malick or David Gordon Green; this is my first film of his, and I'm not sure I see it here. I guess there's, something interesting about the pseudo-documentary pseudo-live action style, but ultimately I think it underlines the unfocused nature of the film as I think the film itself was more unsure of what it wanted to be. I might look up Beal's poetry, but I don't think I learned much about him or Memphis in this film, maybe a perspective of what his life is like, but I think I'd rather hear the poetry that gets inspired from it than to walk a mile in his shoes.
THE NAKED KISS (1964) Director: Samuel Fuller
LEON MORIN, PRIEST (1961) Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
BREAKING AWAY (1979) Director: Peter Yates
I think the most interesting thing about "Breaking Away" is the choices the movie made. The film won the Oscar for Original Screenplay for Steve Tesich, who's other well-remembered screenplay, "The World According to Garp", which I actually enjoyed a little more than this movie, perhaps I'm more intrigued by the source material but he has that same quirky sense of the world that's just this side of zany. If you really break down the material, it's basically an underdog sports story about a team of eclectic underdogs who compete against the local big shot jocks, but there's something strangely enjoyable about the way the movie ends up there. There's four cutters, which is the sland term used by the college kids for locals, are Dave (Dennis Christopher) a smart young kid who didn't go to college much to his father's (Paul Dooley) dismay in order to train to be a professional cyclist and that includes becoming obsessed with the Italian National Team, to the point where he's now sings and plays Opera, talks with a fake accent and begins doing things like shaving his legs while singing "Figaro". Mike (Dennis Quaid) a former star high school quarterback who's annoyed that the college kids in the town, the town by the way is Bloomington, Indiana and much of the movie was shot in the town. There's Cyril (Daniel Stern) who's mostly comic relief. The shortest and youngest of the group, Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) who's in love with his girlfriend Suzy (P.J. Soles) to the point where they seriously consider marriage while they're still in high school. There's a few strange attempts at either of them having a job, or choosing not to, and Dave also get into trouble with the Jocks after hitting on Nancy (Amy Wright) convincing her that he was an Italian exchange student at the college, the main one, being Rod (Hart Bochner), Nancy's boyfriend. Everything will come around when the local town is allowed is submit a team to the town's annual bike race and with Dave on the team, they know that, even with teams with major college athletes, that they have a shot, especially if they train. The four have a habit of hanging out over where the old rock quarry was which is now one of many cliff over what I believe is now a local reservoir where they get upset when some of the college kids go cliff diving and hang out there as well. I guess it's kind of a local Inspiration Point type place, but it's believable for these character. "Breaking Away" takes a rather traditional narrative but really finds a new way of telling it. I have a hard time calling it great myself, I think the newness of the approach caught people offguard honestly, but it still holds up. I wish this didn't exactly end up so formulaic, but I guess that's not the worst thing.
FRAILTY (2002) Director; Bill Paxton
A chillingly intense horror, I, for some reason, missed "Frailty" when it originally came out although I had heard many of the film's glowing reviews and the movie has slowly grown with a cult following. I can understand, I finally saw it a week ago and it's still chilling and more than that, many of the implications of the film, depending on interpretation really make you think. The movie begins with Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) walking into a FBI headquarters in a large Texas city, I'm presuming Dallas but I'm not positive on that, and he asks to talk to the lead investigator in the God's Hand Killer case. Agent Doyle (Powers Boothe) is there and at the end of the day, decides to listen as he suspects that his brother might be the serial killer that has been haunting and alluding Texas officials for awhile. In flashbacks, we see Fenton and his younger brother Adam (Matt O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter) living fairly traditional, happy and otherwise benign lives. Their father (Bill Paxton) is a mechanic who lives in a former gardener's residence in a rose garden. Everything seems normal at first until their Father wakes them up and tells them about having seen a message from God. A disturbing message that indicates that it's his job to kill demons in the name of God. Their Dad, doesn't seem particularly god-fearing or in other ways crazy, in fact, he's actually a fairly sensible and loving father, but he's seen this message and soon, God sends him names of people to kill, and he wants his kids to help him out as he believes that they're all rangers for God. Fenton is skeptical and doesn't believe this, but his younger brother Adam is a little more trustworthy. After he's kidnapped his victims he touches their head before the gruesome murders, and he claims that he can see then that they are indeed demons, Fenton however, because more combative and threatens to turn them in, believing that his father is indeed a murderer. This was Bill Paxton's feature directorial debut; he's only directed one other feature since, although it's clear he's talented behind the camera. It's a classical but intense style, that seems claustrophobic at times as it feels like the walls cave in on Young Fenton. The acting is also quite impressive here, from Paxton, the kids and McConaughey and Boothe as well, who's back-and-forth of this story is really key here. McConaughey bringing an appropriate sense of that kind of dread that's layed heavily on him as he now tells this horrific tale as history repeats itself. "Frailty" is a really different, smart and in many ways frightening take on the horror genre. Definitely worth recommending, this is a movie where, the outcome itself is secondary to the effects that having to go through such an experience, no matter from what perspective you look at these experiences you see them through, will change those involved. It gets more powerful the more you think about it afterwards.
THE RED HOUSE (1947) Director: Delmer Daves
You know, I usually don't answer any favorite questions about myself, and if I do, it's usually in an underhanded smartass way, but I think if I actually have to pick a favorite actor, it might be Edward G. Robinson. "The Red House" is hardly the greatest film in his filmography, but it's a good little horror. For some reason, it came with the same DVD that I got "The Naked Kiss" in and called both of them film noirs, and frankly this is not a film noir. Not by my standards. Pete and his sister Ellen Morgan (Robinson and Judith Anderson) have lived in the woods for years and there's been some mysterious rumor and innuendo regarding them for years. This is brought up to them when his daughter Meg (Allene Roberts) brings home Nath (Lon McAllister) to do some work for them. Pete has one leg and is getting up in age for some of his tasks. However, there's a mysterious red house in the woods and anybody who heads towards it, it becomes haunted and something starts to cause damage to whoever goes towards it. Without giving anything away, this house will eventually explain a lot, and the rest of the movie is trying to figure out what happened. There's some high school sideplot romances as well, but mostly, it's just a good 3:00am creepy little old-time horror film and because it's got Edward G. Robinson completely convincing, you buy into it enough. That's basically all I really need to say about "The Red House".
DEAR LEMON LIMA (2011) Director: Suzi Yoonessi
I guess "Dear Lemon Lima", eh, it's not that bad, but it's not that great either. It was extended from a short film and it does kinda have that feeling of a movie that didn't quite know how to extend a story. I haven't seen Suzi Yoonessi's original short so I'm not exactly sure which parts of the movie transferred over, but I imagine it probably focused more on the competition aspects at the end than on the beginning with Megan (Meaghan Martin), our middle school heroine getting dumbed by Philip (Shayne Topp) her true love who abandoned her after deciding to be with more cooler kids, I guess. She's transfers to his school, strangely because of an Eskimo scholarship, apparently she qualifies being enough parts Eskimo, and there's jokes about it, but I don't really get those other then another way of outcasting her. There's a few girls and boys in her clique of FUBARs they're called, which stands for "Fucked Up Beyond All Repair", they usually are the ones who only partially 'cause of their own inability to perform, constantly get sent to the weight room at Gym while everybody else hangs out. Actually, now that I'm on this part, I would've loved to have been sent to the weight room more often in Gym, I'm not sure why that was never a more common option, we went there occasionally so I know my schools had one, but also, since there's not much to do but exercise there, isn't that making them stronger by going to the weight room? I don't think that punishment was thought out too well. Anyway, Megan for some reason gets her team of FUBARs to compete at these annual games against teams of the much cooler kids and they do well with their own special. I actually enjoyed the fantasy aspects of this. I think it's too little too late. Oh, Melissa Leo is in this film as well, the mother of one of the kids. Not much else to say there. "Dear Lemon Lima", is pretty slow, and I kinda enjoyed certain aspects of it, it's quirkiness it's perspective, once I got used to it, but overall, I can't quite recommend it. Not enough there, really. Like I said, as a short this might've been better, as a feature, it's kinda lags and there's not much there. What's there is sorta interesting though. .
BATTLE FOR BROOKLYN (2011) Directors: Michael Galinsky & Suki Hawley
I guess it's worth noting that, while it probably is a downfall economically for Brooklyn in the short term that, at least it seems like they're getting a lot of use out of the Barclay Arena, and not just the Nets returning to New York either. (I'll get to that in a bit, actually no, I'll get to it now actually.) You see, while this was a major battle over eminent domain, the movie "Battle for Brooklyn" from an outsider perspective, keeping an eye on this, my main thoughts regarding were about the Nets franchise and it's own curious history. You see, they originally were already from New York when the franchise originally started in the ABA, and they were terrible as a franchise and also, not particularly popular in New York. The Knicks were the popular New York team and they bounced around, almost every Borough, at one time they had to forfeit a game 'cause it flooded indoors, another time, they had to play in a high school gym, an actual game and they bounced around different venues in the city, until they left Long Island and inevitably moved to Piscataway, New Jersey until the Meadowlands was built, and they were never popular or good there either for most of the franchise's history either. In fact, it was actually dumb ended up surviving the ABA going into the NBA, because they stumbled upon getting Rick Barry for a year and then getting Julius Irving under contract (And they lost Barry due to a contract dispute with the NBA's Golden State Warriors, and they traded Dr. J to my Philadelphia 76ers, so they screwed up the two good that happened to them.) and had a couple great ABA seasons at the end of the league's run and became one of the four teams to jump to the NBA. The point I'm making is that, when Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn Borough talks about the void and devastation of when the Dodgers left New York and how bringing back a professional sports franchise to Brooklyn will reignite the city...., and they're, bringing back, the Nets, a team with a history of not being successful in New York, to do that? Let's just say that, that always sound weird. It didn't help that Jay-Z was a co-owner of the franchise by the way. Now the original design by Frank Gehry, does look impressive as it didn't just include the stadium but also several skyscrapers over the years that looks like it would help regenerate a neighborhood. The problem is to build the stadium, they would have to take down much of the local neighborhood, were a lot of people live. One of them is Daniel Goldstein, who we follow as he fights this project for over eight years trying to protect his home. He breaks up with his girlfriend and marries and has a kid with someone else within that time. I know a little bit about eminent domain, it's probably likely that somewhere in the government documents files stored away, it'll probably show that I've signed a petition or two fighting it for, frankly similar things in my hometown of Las Vegas where, we've been constantly struggling to try and build a new sporting arena to hold a major professional sports team for decades now, actually. The latest rumors are revolving around the NHL starting an expansion franchise here, despite numerous failed attempts to keep minor league hockey franchises around. The sports fan dynamics of Las Vegas are another rant for another time, but it's clear in this movie that, the way they circumnavigate Brooklyn representative officials, who are all against the project and use the process of Eminent Domain illegally (It's only supposed to be used for government projects, not privately-funded projects) not to mention the rather unimpressive stadium design they ended up using and not building up more housing and businesses as well as disenfranchising the entire neighborhood, well, this will probably end up a failure in the end. I suspect that it will ultimately anyway, over-promising, under-developing and corruption leading to, well, a sports arena in Brooklyn and not much else. Hmm. Maybe it could've brought up the economy a bit, but well, I guess this movie is a documentation of a white collar crime on a blue collar neighborhood. I wish it was more than that, that's why I'm ultimately having trouble recommending it. I've seen documentaries that seem almost entirely of news footage and whatnot before, there was a great one last year called "Let the Fire Burn", but ultimately I didn't find the actual film all that compelling. Not now anyway, might be more intriguing years from now, when the complete ramifications of the events are truly understood and calculated.