Thursday, November 19, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #113: "WHILE WE'RE YOUNG", "KELLY & CAL", "WHAT IF" "GOD LOVES UGANDA", and MORE!

Okay, (Annoyed sigh), look, I've had a few issues going on, not the least of which is that my computer issues are back and in a big way. Not as bad as before, although, yeah, it's pretty damn bad to be honest. I'm typing this in Safe Mode at my home and if the computer was on normally, well it wouldn't be on for long, 'cause whatever-the-hell virus is on here, probably caused by third parties in my home trying to improve or update this thing, 'cause God forbid we don't have the latest Windows or something, it barely goes on and it shuts itself off after, at best, maybe five minutes or so, now, if I'm lucky. Also on top of that ever-deteriorating thing, I had a family emergency that I won't get into other than to say that, it required that I devote all my time to it, so I had to ignore my blog, my other projects, writing and otherwise, everything, so I had to devote time to that. Now, I know what you're thinking, that must mean, I've been watching a lot of movies, in the meantime, and I'm ready to bust out a few dozen or so reviews, right? Um.... (Depressed sigh)

Honestly, look I've been frustrated with movies this year, and it's not like it's any easier to watch stuff at the moment with a shitty computer to stream on. (Not to mention, an internet provider change, since Clear was bought by Sprint, and we've now got a more expensive internet, that very inconveniently, gets slower the more you use it, thanks for that?! [Seriously any recommendations, anybody?]) And, well, ugh, look I know I'm incredibly late with a Best of 2014 List, I'm one movie short that I have to see before I make that list, I'm hoping to get to it soon, but this, has been a rough year movie watching wise, and this week, one movie in particular, almost got the best of me. And frankly, after last time where I had to quit writing reviews for an elongated period of time this year, I just don't my heart into this like I wish it were. Thankfully there were some good movies I watched this week, including a documentary I'm not reviewing called "The Real Dirt on Farmer John", but yeah, I haven't been as inspired lately to watch or review movies. I apologize for that, but this has been a gray-hair week and to be honest, movies haven't been making me feel younger like I wish they had been. I wish I could say it's just me, but I honestly think it's as much, if not moreso, the movies themselves lately.

But I review whatever comes my way, or at least most of comes my way now, so despite being a bit anemic towards films lately, here we go. Let's get to an unusually brief edition of this week's MOVIE REVIEWS! And, hopefully I'll be more, energetic next time.


WHILE WE'RE YOUNG (2015) Director: Noah Baumbach

✰✰✰✰1/2


On the surface of "While We're Young" Noah Baumbach's latest meditation on... I don't know, something to do with life and being dissatisfied or unsuccessful at it, whatever all his movies are about, it looks like a simple comedy, one that I didn't laugh at once. It's story of the older couple trying to come to terms with the fact that they're not as young as they think they are, and they push themselves against the way they're closest friends seem so grown up now, getting married, having kids, making life-changing decisions about work, etc., and instead begin befriending and hanging out with people who are far younger ideals of them. I reviewed a movie with that premise that I liked recently from Lynn Shelton called "Laggies". I suspect however that that's only the foreground of the movie and that something else is going on. I was one of the ones who didn't outright adore "Frances Ha", his previous film, partly because it really was basically just a character study of an annoying and frustrating character who also resisted growing up and accepting that she was an adult, maybe it just hit too close to home for me, but something else happens in this movie, and it's oddly about filmmaking itself. Ben Stiller is such a stand-in for Woody Allen at this point, that his character here, a documentarian who's been working on the same film for over a decade could practically just be Allen's character from "Crimes & Misdemeanors" and was just inserted into this movie by mistake and nobody actually notice. Yet, strangely, I came out of this movie, not intrigued by the supposedly tragicomic presence of conflicts between generations of characters trying to be friends in a modern world, but instead, caught up in a surprising philosophical discussion about modern day filmmaking and what it actually means to make a movie, or what it means to make a documentary, or can a movie, or film, the recorder of truth, actually be the truth, or be apart of a lie.  Can you find truth in film, or is it all just movie magic? And is that okay?-, Wait, is this film Noah Baumbach's version of "F for Fake"? Hidden as an otherwise random movie about the struggles of marriage? That's the last film I can remember going on a thought diatribe such as this, and that movie, Orson Welles's last completed film was a documentary about an art forger that was neither one of those things for all I know. How the hell did I get here? Well, that's kinda where the movie takes us. Josh (Stiller) and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are in their early forties, and are starting to see their lives and friends pass them by. They start forgetting how long it was things like out-of-town trips occurred, they're friends are having kids and acting like those cliches of inner-city New York parents we've seen in other movies, even Josh finds out that he has arthritis in his knees at one point. While guest lecturing at a film class one day, Josh befriends Jamie (Adam Driver) one of the film students who's interested in being a documentary filmmaker himself, and him and his young wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried) are one of those bohemian couples that seem to be into everything and you just want to emulate. Vinyl record collections, hip hop aerobics classes, bicycling around town like it's no big deal. Darby's profession is a small business where she makes artisanal ice cream, this couldn't be more of a perfect young couple if they went on yoga orgy retreats, which they sorta do at one point now that I think about it. Yet, the comedy of these two couples becoming the best of friends in actually, sorta incidental. You see, Josh's father-in-law, Leslie Brietbart (Charles Grodin) is a legendary documentary filmmaker as well, and there's history between them, as Josh used to be a protege of Leslie, but somewhere around marrying his daughter, their professional relationship went separate ways. While Josh is continually uninspired by his work on his own film, which is now clocking in at well over the six or eight hour mark, Jamie finds that his little project, a strange idea about going to visit the first person who friends him on Facebook and filming the encounter, starts to surprisingly evolve into this story of Iraq war veterans, he begins to get excited about his project, even working as a cameraman on it, and recommending his editor to him. I won't go too further here, I don't reveal too many secrets but the diatribe I went on earlier should be a clue as to how this plays out, and a look at how documentaries are made and whether or not,- well, I won't get into the specifics, but it's the same debate that's been going on since "Nanook of the North", but it's done well here. I think it's the acting and the writing mostly. Stiller's very understated here, and Baumbach's really observant in knowing when, not to let him explode. There's a lot of moments in the movie, where you know exactly what the characters are thinking, but they are not saying it, at all, and they're usually the moments when you're expecting all hell to break loose, but these characters are a little too smart for that. It's actually quite refreshing, reminds me a bit of Diablo Cody's "Juno" in that regard where even when you know what's going to happen, it won't happen in quite you think it will. It's not that good, but it's definitely better than most films like this I've seen. Baumbach's movies have always been a bit one-note for me, even at their best, they're usually just observant as oppose to conceptual, and yet, strangely, this is the film which looks at the surface as the most cliche or even sitcom-ish in plot, and yet this movie tries to find something else, other than that to focus and it succeeds strangely.


KELLY & CAL (2014) Director: Jen McGowan

ZERO STARS



Okay, I will admit that, overall this has been a frustrating film-watching year for me, in particular 2014 films, very frustrating, but folks, it has been longer than I've had this blog since the last time I came this close to purposefully not finishing a movie. Walking out, in the middle, pulling a DVD out, etc. The last time was "Jesus Christ Superstar", (I don't care, that movie sucks, the music sucks, it's boring and terrible even by my low, low standards for Andrew Lloyd Webber), but folks, this movie, oh boy, this movie.... And I was looking forward to this one. I try, try not to do that, in fact, I purposely dissuade people from looking forward to films, ever, but I'd catch the trailer for the film once in a while on other DVDs and I saw it on my Netflix queue, and it looked like an interesting indy film, with one of my favorites actresses, in a good character, and a decent story.... (Deep breath) Folks, I almost quit today. Quit, doing this, doing a blog, my career in the film industry, everything 'cause of this movie. Every scene seems to have something more stupid and outdated and frustrating than the next. I almost decided to stop watching this film, and just, never review movies again, fearing I had become too jaded or that movies have just left me, or vice-versa, or whatever. I did eventually, force my way through this, but dear god, this was so much shit. It won't sound like it's this bad when I describe this film, but just trust me on this one, it absolutely is. It's every horrible cliche packed into a film. Every horrible obvious choice of dialogue, every shitty piece of fake conflict and contention that's so outdated...-. Okay, Kelly (Juliette Lewis) is a new mother, who's gone off to live in the suburbs with her husband Josh (Josh Hopkins), who's rather disinterested in her, since before she gave birth and may be having an affair, after all the late nights as an advertising executive. If that sounds like the writer just watched "Mad Men", before coming up with that as the husband's profession.... Anyway, she's not particularly fitting into this new community of hers, with or without the baby, until she meets Cal (Jonny Weston) a teenage paraplegic who compliments her tits one day, and soon enough they begin a friendship that sorta unfortunately coasts into a slight romance. Naturally, before she grew up to become an adult and got married, she was a lot cooler, which is believable considering she's played by Juliette Lewis and she's just awesome in general even despite this film, although in this version of cool, she used to be a rocker chick, including playing bass guitar in a Riotgrrl band at one point back in the mid-nineties presumably. (Okay, this is the first issue I have, I know for a fact that the Riotgrrl movement never really ended, and knowing some people in and around that movement, that it's still going on. Those ski-masks for instance, that Pussy Riot wears, is in homage to a ski-mask that Bikini Kill's frontwoman Kathleen Hanna wore at one point protesting the media, so putting that in a past context is already iffy.) However, what really send alarm bells up to Josh's mother (Cybill Shepherd) and sister (Lucy Owen) is, inspired by Cal, Kelly dies her hair blue, feeling young and inspired and this causes them to try to get her to go see a therapist and even gets her an ambush makeover! WHAT THE FUCK?!?! Look, I know that there are some conservative people out there, but what year is this?! A grown woman dies her hair a strange color, and then, "Oh, she needs therapy, she's losing it after the kid and all, she dyed her hair blue!"! (Mouth wide open)  I-eh,- are you fucking kidding me?! Not that anything else in this movie is any smarter, but oh dear God, I know she's trying to portray these characters as overbearing and obsessive, but I don't know what the hell they were thinking with this one. Eventually the friendship between Kelly & Cal does sorta grows and even with a touching moment here or there, but then it keeps getting undercut with terrible on the nose dialogue, the kind that's basically yelling at the audience the fortune cookie wisdoms they want you to speak, and if it's not that, it's blatantly stealing scenes from better movies and doing them poorly, particularly the "American Beauty" window flashing scene, Oh, and she gets away with this private friendship by saying that she's deciding to mentor the handicapped this is played up by Cal in ways so stupid, I'm not even gonna explain them, and since everybody other than Kelly or Cal is a complete and utter idiot, they get away with this most of the time, and it's until Cal's mother (Margaret Colin) gets into it, revealing of course, some of Cal's issues that he conveniently hasn't discussed, does the revelations come out. The DVD box says this movie is a "'Harold and Maude' for a new generation", which should've been a clue 'cause "Harold and Maude" is a piece of garbage as well, (Yeah, yeah, I know I'm pissing people off left and right here, but I might give "Jesus Christ Superstar" a second chance one day, I'm standing by this one though, "Harold and Maude" sucked!) but what really pissed me off is just how much potential was in this film and how much of it was completely squandered. It's like, they couldn't actually make a movie about a mother befriending a paralyzed teenage boy, even having a relationship with him, without creating every possible excuse for why these two people would be friends. Why can't a movie just be about that, that would've been fine, but she has to be, overbeared and depressed and her husband has to be this removed presence, and the paraplegic kid of course has to have other issues, a la, Drew Barrymore in "Mad Love" to some extent, and (SPOILERS) at the end of the movie btw, she ends up apologizing to her husband, which you'd think would make sense considering what she did, but actually is just goddamn moronic and subservient. It makes the character so much weaker, as though she didn't know what she had being home, alone with a baby, with crazed in-laws obsessing over her, and an absent husband who hasn't fucked her in months to sit up and wait for him to come home to, I almost can't believe that this film was written and directed, by women, particularly ones that dare bring up Riotgrrl movement. And btw, it's not like she slept with the kid, it was at most casual flirting that got a bit out of hand, if you took out the possible illegality of the ages, (And I think he is 18, so I'm not even sure that's relevant.) it's still nothing. I am in shock at how bad this movie is. This movie offends me as a filmmaker, a screenwriter, a human being, if I had a vagina it'd piss me off as a woman, it certainly offends me as a feminist, and if I was a paraplegic it'd probably piss me off as that too! If this is not the worst film from last year, than please, for the love of God, don't tell me or show me what that film is, 'cause I don't want to see it or even know about it. I might not be able to take if it turns out that this isn't the bottom of the 2014 barrel!


WHAT IF (2014) Director: Thomas Dowse

✰✰✰1/2



"What If", is a romantic-comedy that asks the question of whether or not a guy and a girl can be friends without sex getting in the way. Wait..., why does that sound familiar?

(Insert your own clip of "When Harry Met Sally..., or whichever movie that steals from "When Harry met Sally..." that you want to use.)

Yeah, this isn't exactly ground-breaking and per usual with rom-coms they come up with the same answer as that other film. That said, let's be real here, romantic-comedies are really not about anything greater or philosophical even by the meta nature of rom-coms, they're about watching as two people struggle to inevitably find themselves together, 'cause for all-intensive purposes, they should be together, at least by the rules of movie logic. The guy and the girl in this film are Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) and they're likable enough. Wallace is getting over a horrible breakup that's still effecting here, even a year later, it actually caused him to drop out of med school it was so bad, when he finally gets convinced to go out to a party by his friend Allan (Adam Driver, who seems to be in everything. Oh, wait, that's right, the trailer for the new "Girls" is out. Go to HBOGo on Roku..., excuse me a minute.... [3 minutes later] ah, that looks awesome! I don't want to wait three months, dammit!) where he meets Chantry. He doesn't save her number because she does casually mention her boyfriend, casually enough in that way that you're not really able to tell if she's mentioning it as a code for, "You can't fuck me" or if it's just such a part of her universe that it literally just means "boyfriend", but that's all he hears at first. Still, they reconnect later, and there's definitely a chemistry that clicks and they start hanging out. Exchanging photos and images online, meeting for lunches and whatnot. Her boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall) is very busy at work for the UN, often as a translator, although he's not stupid and he definitely recognizes that even as Wallace is legitimately trying to just make Chantry a friend, that he's a threat. It's a common Woody Allen puzzle, I'm in love with this woman, but I can't possibly be with her, she's with that other guy and happy, and I don't want to be that guy..." stop me if you've heard this before. The counter is interestingly Allan's girlfriend and inevitable wife, Dalia (Megan Park) who he met when they both were in relationships and never turned back. They're, disgusting together, but they're definitely in love and that flat out tell Wallace that love is messy, something he definitely want to hear. Dalia however, is in a quandry herself. She's an animator who's turned down major projects in the past 'cause they would take her away from her home, but after Ben takes a six-month job overseas, she begins to have second thoughts, both about Ben, about work, and about Wallace. Wallace, entail is also going through this similar quarterlife crisis. "What If", if a bit of weird title for this film; it indicates multiple scenarios almost, but actually, this is really just a straight up rom-com, but it happens to be a good one. Radcliffe and Kazan are both strong actors and both are convincing here and both are interesting characters. I'd hardly call this a revolutionary rom-com, but for what it is, it's solid and definitely holds up. I enjoyed it, I'd watch it again; it's fairly intelligent and says some interesting things about love and romance, granted it's not new, but it's still discussed and analyzed well.


GOD LOVES UGANDA (2013) Director: David Ross Williams

✰✰✰✰



This movie was frustrating to watch. Not for the same reasons that "Kelly & Cal" was frustrating to watch, but frustrating nonetheless. For those who don't what's been happening in Uganda, and yes, I was more than aware of this before going into the film, this movie will hopefully enlighten you, although if I have a true complaint it's that it's too unbiased, oddly enough, in that I think the wrong people could hypothetically misread the movie. Let's be clear, Uganda has had an uncomfortable history, especially recently, most famously the run of Dictator Idi Amin. They're pretty desolate and are essentially looking for help and guidance. This is where some American religious conservative groups and people have been stepping and influencing the country's citizens and politicians to the point where last year, Uganda made it law that homosexuality is punishable by life imprisonment. Okay, history lesson, religions think they're governments, because for most of written history, they were to one degree or another. They're a way of controlling the masses into thinking, whatever they want to think and they figureheads, could be a King, or a Dictator or whoever, in this evangelicals to go out and convince people who don't know any better (Which alone is a crime in this modern world with the internet at your disposal, especially in America) that they're way is the correct way, and that if anybody says anything else, it's because of, what was it that George Carlin, "Cause there's a man in the sky", who says so, or his son or whoever. These days, especially in light of, such modern advancements as electricity and science and, I don't know, a printing press and a humanity, these evangelicals realize they're losing the war, there word, in the United States so they decide, like all crazed leaders of fictitious government to try and conquer and different people and instill their influence onto them, and eventually through the power of brainwashing, and out-of-site out-of-mind, since there's little-to-none other influences in the country to say anything else, they eventually take over the country. Look, it's clear that I don't have much nice to say about some of these people, or religion in general, but these particular assholes really offend me, sending missionaries out into the third world to spread hate. Yeah, sure they're building schools and whatnot, but in AIDS-ravaged Africa, they also convinced a country, that had been the biggest condom-promoting country in Africa, to the point where AIDS had started to seriously decline in the country, into an abstinence-only promotion country, a lot of this happened during the Bush administration where this was promoted on the floor of Congress, not as much anymore the latter, but the missionaries are still heading there. The ones we follow are mainly from a Kansas City based Pentecostal church called the International House of Prayer, and yes, they do indeed call themselves, (Annoyed sigh) IHOP. I wish that was a joke. That would've been so funny in a SNL sketch of on "Inside Amy Schumer" on something, but no, this is real. They send out their missionaries and have a global reach spreading the word of the lord, which their preacher Mike Bickle, who teaches and promotes a strictly Biblical dogmatic worldview, believing that the Bible should be the law of world because it is God's Law. (Let's forget that the Bible is a collection of stories dating back 10,000 years, through numerous variations, versions, interpretations, among hundreds of other stories that weren't canonized until a couple after Jesus Christ's passing, etc. etc. This guy also runs a Bible College in Grandview, Missouri called IHOPU, which teaches basically the Bible...- (Frustrated sigh) This guy is basically, the American Taliban. I'm deadly serious here. I mean, yeah, schools for future missionaries to go off and memorized the Bible and nothing else and spread the word, and...- switch it with the Ko'ran, and replace homosexuals with Jews or Americans or Women or whatever, this guy isn't any different. Look, religious or not, if you go help save the world, that's fine, go build in a school in place like Uganda, it seems like they can use one, especially since they've been infiltrated by moronic American Evangelicals, which are leading to moronic Ugandan evangelicals who preach the same shit and are basically going back to the same laws that promoted slavery and burned people for planting different crops side-by-side, you know, people should do that. I'm not going to say too many nice things about the LDS Church, but I honestly always liked the idea of sending people out into the world for two years, even if the preaching part doesn't work out necessarily, at least they're seeing a different part of the world and have to survive on their, and see a new culture to experience and learn about and understand and let's face it, even though this movie is the real-life nightmare version of basically everything that "The Book of Mormon" musical was parodying, the LDS Church is actually a bit more iffy about how far-reaching they should be with their ever-growing influence; they're uncomfortable with mainstream religious accepting and to be honest, that's a good thing. They're content with their own little pocket corner of the religious universe, and having gone through over a century of being ostracized and forced out of their worlds and homes themselves, before finding their own state to worship freely, they're not exactly into taking control over other peoples and cultures and lands. These crazies however, they're truly despicable. The extreme realized that nobody listened to them here, so now they're going where they're the only game in town. I sure hope that if there is a God, he/she truly loves Uganda and hates as much as I do what's happening their right now.


EL BULLI: COOKING IN PROGRESS (2010) Director: Gereon Wetzel

✰✰1/2



Okay, I'm a bit of a foodie. It happens, I live in Vegas, and nearly every major superstar chef has a restaurant on the Strip somewhere and frankly even if that wasn't the case, I'm definitely interested in food, so I was looking forward to "El Bulli: Cooking in Progress" but being a foodie, I also knew a lot about it already. El Bulli is, or was, the legendary restaurant in Spain that was considered the world's best before it was closed by it's legendary chef/owner Ferran Adria who has turned it into a culinary institute now. It basically was the premiere location for inventive nuevo cuisine, what we might probably think of as the epitome of molecular gastronomical cooking. I wish I could've eaten there at some point, but.... Anyway, the documentary takes place during the six months of the year when the restaurant was closed and him and his team of chefs work on designing some of the best and most elegant and delectable new dishes that will become the next season's menu. It's okay, but as a documenatary-, well, I'll just say it, I had seen Anthony Bordain's episode of "... No Reservations" on "El Bulli", and it's a better documentary about "El Bulli" than this is. I mean, I get cinema verite and using that approach for certain things, even cooking but it doesn't work that well honestly, just watching people cook; you need more than that. Bourdain's a better documentarian than Wetzel is, and I hate to make that the reason I have to pan this film, but I have to consider which one of these  made me more understand and appreciate the brilliance of "El Bulli", and it was the TV documentary from the smartass chef-turned-novelist. (Shrugs) So, that's unfortunate, maybe if I had seen it before I saw the Bourdain episode, I'd think a little differently, but honestly I doubt it. At best it's a decent documentary on food that I can't taste; if I'm comparing these like I had to compare two restaurants, the other had the better experience and leaves a more memorable taste in my mouth.




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