Well, obviously, I was hoping that I wouldn't have to resort to my "Movie Ratings" format, to briefly explain what I think about the films I've been watching, but unfortunately, I do seem to be having to go through this again. My computer is still in the shop, well, metaphorically. (I'll level here, we haven't had the money to put the computer in the shop, and besides that, the local place that fixes computers just closed, we're working on it, but,...-, well, that is the why my work has a lot of "(frustrated sighs)" in it lately, when describing my current situations.) So, until that can be improved, which I hope will be shortly, I really don't have the ability to write proper reviews of the many, many, (Frustrated sigh) many films, that I've watched lately. Most of the time. I still did manage to write a couple reviews this time for the films, "Maps to the Stars" and "Mommy" so they're at the top, the rest however, I wasn't able to write full reviews, so, I'll writeW a sentence or two about each of these films, except for the two mentioned above, but mostly these are my MOVIE RATINGS for most of the recent releases I've seen. Just, my ratings, on the traditional 5 STARS ratings scales that I imply, so.... (flubs lips)
Alright, enough of me, let's get to this week, two, MOVIE REVIEWS!!!!! And, the unfortunate, dozen or two, movie ratings. (You get a lot more time to watch and not enough to write when you're computer/internet is out.)
MAPS TO THE STARS (2014) Director: David Cronenberg
Well, this film was fucking weird. Not the first time I or anybody has said that about a Cronenberg film, but-eh, I'm at a bit of a loss on this one. Again, not the first time someone's said that but-eh, well...- Let's just see if I can kinda decipher this. Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) is back in L.A. after spending years in Jupiter, Florida. Once in Hollywood, she befriends and starts dating her limo driver Jerome (Robert Pattinson) an actor/writer and gets a job as a P.A. for Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) who's an older 2nd generation actress that's trying to get a role playing essentially her mother in a remake of one of her older film, so, she's doing a Carrie Fisher...-? type character-, ah, yeah, she has a cameo, so she's doing Carrie Fisher. Her "therapist" which is really, her talking while getting a massage in her underwear, is Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) who's some kind of Tony Robbins life guru or whatever. His son Benji (Evan Bird) is an actor who's 13, already been through rehab and is a bit of an asshole, even to his fans, one he keeps seeing everywhere after she passes away, Kammy (Klara Glasco) something that turns out to be similar to a problem Havana has, seeing her dead mother Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon). She passed away in a fire which is ironic since she and Benji have the same agent and Agatha is disfigured from a fire in the past. Whew! I'm making this sound like "Magnolia" the way everything a little bit interconnected and skewers Hollywood. It does do that by the way. Yeah, this is in some way a comedy. Very dark comedy. Julianne Moore won Best Actress at Cannes for this film and she definitely has the most interesting performances. I think I could argue it as more of a Supporting Role than a lead as the movie is really about Agatha and her connection with the Weiss family as we wonder why her arrival causes them so much stress, especially the mother played by Olivia Williams, although I have a sneaky suspicion who should've been in that role. (I won't give it away who that is 'cause it would give away a huge plotpoint but her initials are J.C.) Somewhere between David Lynch, Atom Egoyan and Emily Brontes is "Maps to the Stars" and I still don't know what to make of it. I guess I'm gonna recommend it 'cause it's just so out there that it needs for others to interpret. I think my ultimate hangup is that I'm just not sure what it's really skewering. It's making fun of a Hollywood type or two but other than that I'm not completely sure why this film was set in Hollywood. It's also just strange and dark in general, but the story can kinda take place anywhere I can see like, the Coen brothers doing this movie in Texas and having make just as much sense. Compare it to something like "Birdman..." which could only take place in the entertainment world, this feels like it's Hollywood-adjacent and not really Hollywood.
MOMMY (2014) Director: Xavier Dolan
I've given one negative review after another to Xavier Dolan's films, but it was always with the understanding that I was grading him on a curve, 'cause I knew eventually, this insanely young talented kid, was at some point gonna come up with something that was really special. Sure, he's still obviously sorting out his mommy issues, quite literally in this film, but dammit, it's a near emotional masterpiece. The "Mommy" is Diane (Anne Dorval) a single mother, in, for some reason a fictitious Canada, and no, I'm not saying that, that's the warning in the film's beginning, and she's not quite capable of being a mother, in general, and she's definitely not capable of controlling her ADHD son Steve (Antione Olivier-Pilon), who's in and out of Juvenile Hall, and this time, he has set fire to the cafeteria and now Juvenile Hall won't take him so he's back with Diane. They're both tumultuous creatures, both uneducated, both not really sure how to relate to each other and the outside world and while Steve says he's a good boy, it's easy to see why such a declaration could be seen as disingenuous. They soon befriend a shy neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clement) a former teacher who's on sabbatical because of a sudden stutter she can't get rid of. She begins to help out and soon things get a little better. Not much, but a little. Dolan does something interesting with the frame, by putting enclosing bars on the widescreen, almost to a square screen size that's often smaller than a traditional television screen, and it represents a closing in, claustrophobic quality to Diane and Steve's lives. Sometimes, the screen is widened when things starts to seem good, something Steve even pushes the screen wide, a sense of freedom, happiness? It's an interesting device to use the widescreen this way, but it forces you to watch what are sometimes very troubling characters and behaviors. Both Steve and Diane are calmed, if not energize by the presence of Kyla, giving both of them reason and inspiration to get ahead, the inspiration, but not necessarily the capability, even with the tools. "Mommy" is a tough film to watch, but an engrossing film. There's one scene that could've been better, a scene involving a lawyer that Diane's trying to hire for Steve and this involves a disastrous idea on all counts of the three of them going to a karaoke bar. It's a bad choice for all three characters, each of whom having countering motives and emotions that neither of them can fight through. It's a minor complaint though and I guess I'm supposed to overlook most of the logical anyway since this is a fictitious world and I guess ergo, a fictitious story. I guess it's not the greatest reasoning behind letting Dolan off his hook, I still think he's got better films in him, but he's maturing fast. "Mommy" won the Jury Prize at Cannes, making him the youngest filmmaker to ever win the award, ironically, he tied with the oldest to ever win, Jean-Luc Godard for his "Goodbye to Language 3D". Dorval, Olivier-Pilon and Clement each give some amazing performances and the movie itself, shows an assured young filmmaker, finally maturing into his talents, while still keeping his most distinctive voice. He's finally placing himself, not just as one of the best young filmmakers around, but one of the best filmmakers around, period.
WILD (2014) Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Boy, I wish I had time to write a complete review of "Wild". This really was a special film. I wasn't a big fan of Vallee's previous film, "Dallas Buyers Club", 'cause I mostly felt that film seemed to mainly be a by-the-book biopic to me, structurally at least, but "Wild", was a more interesting personal journey. Reese Witherspoon is Cheryl Strayed, who's determined to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She's never done anything that exhausting before, and the majority of her adult life involved being a drug and sex addict. Even her name, she gave to herself after her divorce, symbolizing she did to their marriage. There is the personal journal into oneself, as you'd expect with this kind of film, but it's done unbelievably well here, the Nick Hornby script helped this movie a lot, as well as Witherspoon's performance, leading a stand-out all-star cast, plus the amazing directing. This movie's first scene alone is quite unbelievable alone. Great film, and I got to learn what a zipless fuck is.
THE DUFF (2015) Director: Ari Sandel
3 1/2 STARS
I'm sure I must've missed a lot of the high school abbreviations over the years...- Actually, no I didn't, this is a new phenomenon, either that or my high school, just didn't have this shit, but apparently a D.U.F.F., is a "Designated Ugly Fat Friend", the friend that the really hot girls have in order to make them look good. Well, I guess if the G.B.F.'s can get their own movie, the why not a "The DUFF"? And, while the DUFF, in the movie, an artistic girl, Bianca (Mae Whitman) is not that fat or ugly, but she fits that Molly Ringwald average high school girl mold as she tries to escape her friends and spot in the high school chain and become something, other than a DUFF. I know there's reasons to hate this movie, but it's effective and worked for me. It's definitely better than most of the other high school movies lately.
WELCOME TO ME (2015) Director: Shira Piven
This strange role and film must've been written for Kristen Wiig. Nobody would dare walk a tightrope from uncomfortably disturbing and absurdist humor than her and this strange fantasy fulfillment movie about a bipolar, disconnected young girl, Alice (Wiig) who wins the lottery and decides to spend the money to buy her own local talk show, called "Welcome to Me", where she talks about, herself. Basically, she's buying an hour of TV, for, ... well, you have to see it to believe it to be completely frank. This is a girl who's videotaped every episode of Oprah, and now she thinks she can do what she does. It's a vanity project, put into the hands of somebody, who, for all intensive purposes, shouldn't have that kind of money and power. It's a unique and strange comedy, and frankly just a good idea. I'm recommending "Welcome to Me", just on sheer originally and what-the-fuckness.
THE VOICES (2015) Director: Marjane Satrapi
This is the first film I've seen from Marjane Satrapi since her amazing, "Persepolis", and I don't know what I expected, but this wasn't it, necessarily. This is a dark, dark comedy, about a schizophrenic serial killer, who struggles to, well, not kill anyone. He's caught the eye of a couple of co-workers, Fiona and Lisa (Gemma Arteron and Anna Kendrick), and he tries to go out with both of them at certain points, but with him continuing to not take his pills, the voices of the animals and everything else keep getting to him. Something I didn't realize until reading the credits is that Reynolds does all the voices in "The Voices" that he hears, all incredibly well I might add, as he's constantly arguing with his dog, cat, moose and the two women about whether he take the happier path of living without the pills, even if a circumstance is an occasional murder, or continue a doldrum solitary existence without them. It's a weird movie and it does end with a musical number. There's some risky comedies so far in 2015, this might be the riskiest, but it's definitely good. Strange, but good and Reynolds deserves a lot of credit, this is practically a one-man show to some extent.
BLACK SEA (2015) Director: Kevin MacDonald
This is a bit of a classic treasure hunt film, a la, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" kind of movie, mixed with a classic submarine tale. It's an interesting combination, of two classic kinds of films, and it's done well enough to recommend. Not much more than that, but good director, good acting, good filmmaking, solid film. Solid, not special.
BALLET 422 (2015) Director: Jody Lee Lipes
Ugh, this movie annoyed me the more I thought about it. I really wanted to like "Ballet 422", I've enjoyed movies about ballet over the year, and especially these behind the scenes movies, like "Black Swan", or the underrated Robert Altman film "The Company". This movie documents Justin Peck's, a dancer/choreographer of the New York ballet, and the first current dancer to be allowed to choreograph an original ballet for the production. What does that entail? Well, not much to be honest. We see, a little of the technical, sometimes the real technical, like how they dye the costumes using the washer, that's actually one of the most interesting parts of the movie unfortunately. At barely 75 minutes or so, we basically get a behind-the-scenes, and not much of the actual ballet. That could be interesting in of itself, but this wasn't captivating, or really taught me much about how to put on a ballet production. I feel more cheated out of this film than any film I've seen in a while.
THE IMMIGRANT (2014) Director: James Gray
"The Immigrant", first of all, looks amazing. It's got some of the best cinematography, production design, costumes, all the great technical stuff that you'd think the Academy Awards would've soaked up, and they easily could've. Getting a limited U.S. theatrical run before getting wide-exposure on Netflix, the movie tells of a Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) who is rejected by her family after news of her dubious activities on the boat over are found out, and has to take a job as a performer/prostitute in an underground burlesque show. She then gets caught up in a love triangle, with two brothers, her manager/pimp, Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) and his magician brother, Emil (Jeremy Renner). I wasn't overly fond of James Gray previous feature, "Two Lovers", more famous now for being the movie that Phoenix partially sabotaged when he did his "rap career" gimmick, but there's something more over-arching and luscious about "The Immigrant". Great performances help too, this movie feels like one of those truly sad amazing immigrant tales that feels both real and novelistic. It's heartbreaking sad, but I mostly enjoyed it.
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (2014) Directors: Iain Forsythe & Jane Pollard
3 1/2 STARS
I usually don't buy into the theory that the quality of a documentary is determined mainly by your interest in the subject, in fact, that's usually the last thing I find that matters, but lately, I gotta admit, it does seem that way sometimes. Honestly, while I've heard of Nick Cave, I really don't know much about him or his work, including his music, although from what I heard in "20,000 Days on Earth", I liked. Other than that though, I don't really know much more than the fact that I enjoyed watching the film enough to recommend it. It's mainly Cave and a few of his friends and contemporaries talking, but it was interesting to me. Whether that's interesting to you, I don't know, but it was good enough for me;
PADDINGTON (2014) Director: Paul King
3 1/2 STARS
I've always had a bit of a soft spot for "Paddington". He was more of a cult figure in America than in England where the talking bear from Darkest Peru, named after the railway station that the Browns found him at, where he's still remembered as a iconic, beloved childhood character. I've never thought that a film version would ever really work, I mean, no matter how you cut it, it's a bear, and only a bear talking and living with humans and he's never been a particularly exciting story at that. That said, I enjoyed "Paddington". Maybe it's mostly nostalgia, but it's a nice little story once you accept that this is a world where there are talking bears from Darkest Peru making their way through London. It got "Paddington", about as right as any film could've.
TAMMY (2014) Director: Ben Falcone
2 1/2 STARS
I think some were a little too critical of "Tammy" to be honest. I heard a lot of bashing of this Melissa McCarthy vehicle written by her and her husband Ben Falcone, who directed the film. She's not bad in it. I'm not recommending although I might have if the tone could've been a little more set. It's a bit schizophrenic on whether it wants to treat it's story seriously or for comedy. It's not bad, to that extent, it's a nice story about a daughter and grandmother on the road, but it just sorta fizzles out. I think I would've liked it if it didn't go for such obvious laughs and instead played itself more realistically. Can't quite recommend it, but can't hate it either, it was a first attempt at writing by some talented people, didn't work, the next one could be better.
LISTEN UP PHILIP (2014) Director: Alex Ross Perry
"Listen Up Philip" I most remember hearing about because they were a favorite of the Muriel Awards, and I am much more on the fence on it. Shot with a handheld style that's part Cassavettes and part Mumblecore, the film's narrated by Eric Bogosian and details the story of Philip (Jason Schwartzman) an egotistical successful novelist, who befriend Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) another egotistical novelist, but one with much more acclaim. There's also the subplot, and yeah, it kinda is a subplot really, of Philip's girlfriend, Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) a successful photographer, who for some reason is still beholden to Philip, or maybe it's the other way around, even after they've broken up multiple times over. Moss gives an amazing performance, partly because the camera, is right up to her face, more proof about what Bergman said about the close-up is right. I'm not the sure the movie completely works, it's certainly about unlikeable characters and they don't become likeable at all, so don't think that's happening, but I think I'm recommending it for the performances more than anything else. They do make us buy into these characters, however much I'd rather not be bought into them.
LIFE OF CRIME (2014) Director: Daniel Schechter
3 1/2 STARS
This film is actually based on Elmore Leonard's novel "The Switch", but the title was changed because Jennifer Aniston, was in a previous film called "The Switch", this movie is infinitely times better than that one btw. Directed by Daniel Schechter, who did the very good indy comedy "Supporting Characters", this is a nice little tale of a kidnapping and ransom gone wrong. Frank's (Tim Robbins) wife, Mickey (Aniston) is kidnapped, while he's on a business trip with his mistress, Melanie (Isla Fisher),and things go, comically wrong, as it becomes apparent that he is preparing to divorce Mickey and mary Melanie, so the kidnapping is little more than an inconvenience to him. If this sorta sounds familiar, they tried making this movie once back in the '80s, but the idea was scrapped after it was deemed too similar to another film, the Zucker, Abrams, Zucker team's "Ruthless People". I can see the similarities, ("Ruthless People" is actually one of my personal favorite films) but this is done differently. It's a good all-around cast, funny, smart, well-acted, well-made, and it's a good story from one of the best modern storytellers, especially when it comes to such classic pulp ideas. Not a great movie but I can't imagine this film not being an enjoyable watch. Might be a better film to come across than seek out, but still, definitely a fun movie.
WINTER'S TALE (2014) Director: Akiva Goldsman
Apparently this was adapted from a famous novel eh, (unknowing scoff), I don't know quite what to make of that, all I really remember about this through this boring, non-sensical, time-traveling, mess of a, whatever the fuck it was, was that I was glad when it was finally over. Nothing much to mention with this one, it was garbage.
TO BE TAKEI (2014) Jennifer M. Kroot
I think I was a bit spoiled by "To Be Takei", because I actually already knew, just how awesome a guy George Takei is to begin with. That iconic voice, a leading symbol of the LBGT community, a man who basically planned out and got built the L.A. Subway system (Yeah, seriously, he's awesome), and of course, just him as the iconic Mr. Sulu on "Star Trek". George Takei is a great guy who's lived a great life, from the Japanese Interment Camps to today. I knew most of this already, so not much was truly new to me, but I enjoyed the film.
ART AND CRAFT (2014) Directors: Sam Cullen & Jennifer Grausman; Co-Director: Mark Becker
2 1/2 STARS
It's definitely an interesting story. Mark Landis is one of the most successful of art forgers and his story, a man who posed as a philanthropist that donated his forgeries instead of selling them is pretty unique, but I don't think it was enough to make a successful documentary. There's been a bit of a trend lately towards the respectability of art forgers, and I can kinda understand that. I'm a bit, hmm, skeptical of it personally, although better films have made a good argument, like Orson Welles's "F for Fake" most famously. That said, it's really difficult to try and hang around Landis for any length of time. This might've been better as a short film, while I respect the talent, and deride his actions and behaviors, I mostly just found him to be a boring subject for a documentary, especially one that we, essentially just follow around.
I AM DIVINE (2014) Director: Jeffrey Schwartz
I guess in certain circles Divine was a giant movie star. I haven't seen all of John Waters's filmography, but I'm certainly familiar with his work and how he his muse, the drag queen Divine, born Harris Milstead, turned into a star through such films as the infamous "Pink Flamingos" and "Hairspray". I remember vaguely Divine, working on "Married... with Children" before her passing. She had actually started getting cast in many male roles late in life, despite only playing females in Waters's films and becoming a stage icon on the coasts. She had a big life and I think we probably aren't aware of just how talented she was or how big she could've been. It's nice to be reminded about her I guess and this is a pretty good film to do that.
PELICAN DREAMS (2014) Director: Judy Irving
I enjoyed Judy Irving's last documentary "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill", and "Pelican Dreams" is on a similar plane. It follows the days of a pelican, after it was arrested for stopping traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge, and see it as it recovers and eventually is released back into the wild. It also looks at the plight of the pelicans in general. It's not as engrossing as I think it was trying to, emotionally at least, but it's still a compelling documentary.
INSTRUCTIONS NOT INCLUDED (2013) Director: Eugenio Derbez
Holy hell, this film was awful. Manipulative, contrite tale of unexpected fatherhood. Director Eugenio Derbez, who I'm presuming is a bit of a star in Mexico, wrote and directed this film and stars at Valentine, a local playboy who gets a baby dropped off on his doorstep one day. Determined to find the mother in California, he crosses the border with the kid, and becomes a stuntman to make money while searching for the mother and taking care of Maggie (Loreto Peralta when she's 7) I won't give away how this ends, but there's a court case, there's a mysterious doctor's appointments, there's... there's a lot going on that frankly, it's just frustrating and disgusting the choices in the film. I wish I could get into this film, but just, skip it, you really don't want to bother.
VIOLA (2013) Director: Matias Pineiro
"Viola" is an Argentinean film that takes place behind the scenes of an all-female production of "Twelfth Night". I probably need to rewatch it to remember much else to be honest, but there wasn't much else. There's some characters, they talk, sometimes rehearsing, sometimes discussing their personal lives, there's revelations, all of it is interesting. It's not much, more of a tease this 65 movie is; I've seen some compare it to the work of Eric Rohmer, who also liked to tease, show characters talking about sex than them having it, and that is quite erotic in itself. There's not much here, but what there is, is interesting.