Well, here we go, enough stalling, it's time for PART 2 of 3 (hopefully, fingers crossed) of this extended edition of this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS! (Oh and if you were one of the few people who accidentally saw this post before earlier and saw how I ordered the reviews and the very rough outlines and whatnot, yeah, sorry about that. I'll try not to show the sausages like that again, but yeah, that was a look at how I work, sorta. Just forget you saw that.)
INSIDE OUT (2015) Director: Pete Doctor; Co-Director: Ronnie Del Carmen
This is one of those incidents where it's clear to me that I wouldn't prefer this movie had I not previously been overly inundated with previous awareness of the movie, I probably would've liked it more. Don't get me wrong, I still love this movie a lot, and with "When Marnie Was There" it's the second animated film I've seen in a week that's managed to make me cry. I got tears, I wasn't balling like with the other film, but still as jaded as I've gotten... But yeah, I've spent months making "Herman's Head" jokes just at the idea and concept of "Inside Out", (For those too young, last I checked somebody posted a good number episode of "Herman's Head" on Youtube, check it out it wasn't that bad; it's a good show. Definitely 1992 FOX though, boy does that bring back memories rewatching that.) and to be fair, that's really an unfair and superficial comparison. "Inside Out" is quite a brilliant little film. In one respects, the main character is Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), in another aspect, she is also the setting. Riley is a young and precocious eleven-year-old Minnesota girl. She plays hockey, she has lots of friends, a loving mother and father (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) and an overall happy life. Inside her mind, is Joy (Amy Poehler), an.... hmm, I don't know what exactly they call themselves, but she's basically Riley's happy emotion. She runs the control center, or the headquarters inside her mind, and runs the control panel most of the time, while other emotions, Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader) also control the panels when needed but only occasionally as they also make sure the memories, the main ones and especially the core happy ones get preserved and recalled in her mind while the rest get filed elsewhere. Joy also spends most of the time trying to keep the other emotion, Sadness (Phyllis Smith) away from Joy's memories, which she somehow manages to turn from joyful to sad, as well as keep her away from the control panel and making Riley sad and then forcing her to create sad memories, which is suddenly happening more often after her family suddenly moves across country to San Francisco and their moving fan somehow got lost, she's sleeping in a sleeping bag in an unfamiliar new home and a new school. Suddenly those core memories start to become sad upon reflection and Sadness seems insistent on trying to help and take control of the panel, but Joy fights her off, and this leads to both of them accidentally being sucked down into the Memory Bank, leaving the other three emotions in charge as they struggle to get back through the other parts of the mind, as her mostly good core memories begin fading away and even aspects of her cheery personality begin to fall into the memory dump. There's also a character voiced by Richard Kind that I'm not gonna mention but it is a very powerful supporting performance and character. On the one hand, "Inside Out" is just a good adventure movie, even though it seems like it was an adventure story Pixar filtered through Charlie Kaufman's mind, on the other hand, the movie is basically not about anything more than an emotion, or an emotional shift, that dramatic experience about having everything you think you need or ever want, to suddenly not. Gene Siskel once said, and I'm paraphrasing here that, a good movie changes your mood, I think he was talking about "Leaving Las Vegas" at the time, arguing that just because a movie makes you sad doesn't mean that it isn't great. "Inside Out" is almost literally trying to not only prove that but be about the changing of your mood, whether it's through a movie or not. "Inside Out' is quite a special movie with very lofty ambitions and goals. I don't know if got all of them, but I certainly cannot fault the attempt, or for that matter that it does achieve so much.
TRAINWRECK (2015) Director; Judd Apatow
Hmm. This movie is more interesting analytically than it looks like on the surface. Let's talk about Judd Apatow for a second. He, yes is probably the leader and leading influence among modern-day Hollywood comedies in recent years and deservedly so, but he's one of the few Director/Producer people out there who originally came from stand-up comedy. He doesn't do it much anymore, but before he started creating cult television series like "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" his most prominent work, and basically his main work as a performer was as a stand-up comedian. and that's not really that common a career path. I can think of a handful of people, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, eh, Chris Rock, to a certain extent, if you want to count Louis C.K., you can add him too. I mean, there's people like Chaplin and Keaton who started as comic performers but they weren't stand-up comedians the way we know that art form now, and even those names I mentioned, they didn't go straight from stand-up to behind the scenes either, they were behind-the-scenes writers and performers onscreen, they weren't just full-on stand-ups who then moved into directing. (And honestly, I'm not even sure Nichols & May should count as stand-ups, that's almost another genre of comedy altogether their act) Now he's directing this film, but the star is a stand-up comedienne who's made a pretty similar transition, going from stand-up to being a actress/writer/director/producer on her own television series, and now has gone on to write her first feature film. Now, to some people, Amy Schumer's been the it-girl in Hollywood for a couple years, but I've known about her a lot longer, first encountering her on a season of "Last Comic Standing". It was the season where the show was pretty much jumping the shark and losing it, and to be honest, I didn't quite get her at the time. She finished, I think 4th or 5th, but to her credit, she is actually the only comic who's name I did remember from that season. I think she hadn't quite mastered her voice; she had her act figured out, but I don't think she had her character yet. She has that character now and once I got used to it, I recognize her genius as one of the funniest comics working today and her television series, "Inside Amy Schumer" as one of the very best shows on television of any genre. So what we have here, is a former stand-up comic who made the transition into writing and directing feature films, giving us a brand new stand-up comic making her transition into writing and directing feature films. I told you that "Trainwreck" was more interesting than it seemed on the surface; I legitimate can't think of any other films with this kind of dynamic in it's creators. Now, despite all that talk about Apatow, this is clearly Schumer's project, and it's one of the smartest and funniest films of the year. Amy, growing up with her sister Kim (Brie Larson) and were taught by her their father, Gordon (Colin Quinn) about the perils of monogamy and how it wasn't realistic. Amy, took the message to heart. She works as a witty magazine writer, for one of those magazines that seems to consider articles about Holocaust and a Top Ten list about the Ugliest Hollywood Children Under 6 with the same amount of importance and vigor. She gets assigned by her editor Dianna (An unrecognizable Tilda Swinton giving more proof that she's the ultimate acting chameleon) a piece profiling Aaron (Bill Hader) a doctor/surgeon for the star athletes. This leads to some great sports star cameos, Lebron James in particular is surprisingly funny. After breaking up with her latest, well, I wouldn't call him a "boyfriend", just the guy she sleeps with between one-night-stands, Steven (Pro wrestler John Cena, in maybe the strangest piece of casting in this movie and that's saying something, and he's absurdly funny in this btw) she reluctantly ends up sleeping with Aaron, and more shocking to her than sleeping with the subject of your article, he asks her out the next day and basically insists on dating her. At first, she says no, and yet, she starts feeling things she's never felt before and she's clearly unable to fully handle whatever the emotions are, but eventually she forces herself into it. The movie, technically isn't that different an arc than most romantic-comedy films you can think of but it feels different however, and that's because of Schumer. It's a rom-com filtered through her, and to me, that's the key to a great artist particularly in stand-up and more importantly a great writer. It's not reinventing the wheel, it's creating through your own perspective, and the best, most fully-realized and uniques perspective on the material are the ones that stand out. I haven't liked everything Judd Apatow's created or made, I'm one of the few that doesn't think much of "Freaks and Geeks" apparently, but it's clearly a vision that he had and a unique one at that, and that what separates Schumer from all her peers as well in all the mediums she's conquered, stand-up, TV sketch comedy and now feature films. "Trainwreck" is one of the better comedies I've seen in years and Schumer's one of the most interesting artists in the entertaining industry right now, and inserting her perspective into whatever she does next is only gonna make the entertainment world more interesting from here on out. There's reason she's the It-Girl now, and wasn't that a few years ago on "Last Comic Standing" is what I'm saying.
IT FOLLOWS (2015) Director; David Robert Mitchell
SPY (2015) Director: Paul Feig
Oh yeah, I saw "Spy", didn't I? (Awkward pause) Well, that should tell you how much I recalled this film. This is the latest from Paul Feig and his third straight film with Melissa McCarthy, after "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat". This is, probably a good idea in general. Melissa McCarthy's problem is that she's kinda hard to find parts perfectly written for her so she's often shoved into projects that become vehicles for her even though they're probably not written especially with her in mind. "Identity Thief" comes to mind for a recent failure she was in. Whoopi Goldberg had a similar problem after she had her breakthrough role in "The Color Purple", they had an overtalented star with nothing for her to do, so they pulled through the rejected script files and took the things that Eddie Murphy or whomever probably passed on and just gave them to her, hoping she would essentially work it with her sensibility and make it passable. That's kind of what's happening here, Paul Feig apparently likes the idea of taking more dramatic genres like the buddy cop movie and the spy thriller and turn them comedic, and since he's got his muse in McCarthy, there's actually and ability to take these movies and make them, well-um, no, actually, good. "Spy" is a good movie, but you know, it's just the kind of film that's gonna get lost in the shuffle of a bunch of other movies. Here McCarthy plays Susan Cooper a CIA operative, who's job is to be the person inside the actual secret agent spy's ear, and inform him on what's around the corner or where to duck, how to attack, etc. However after her agent, Agent Fine (Jude Law) gets killed and there's a week to find out the guy who has the bomb, and everybody else's identity at the CIA, it's up to her, the invisible forgotten agent to go to Europe and find the bomb and who's behind the selling of it and to whom..., eh, the plot, like in most spy movies isn't that important. It's just a vehicle to go from one scene to the next and devise the better comedy out of it's talent. McCarthy is pretty good here, both as a believable spy who is capable of killing just as much as the more flashier spies, including and especially Rick Ford (Jason Statham) who's playing Jason Statham as though he were a complete idiot. It's pretty damn funny. There's some other great work from Rose Byrne, Allison Janney, Jessica Chaffin, plenty of others. It doesn't stick with you the way that some of the other great recent comedies have, but I enjoyed "Spy" while I'm watching it, and it did a pretty good job at subverting some of the spy movie cliches and coming out at different directions for the comedy than one would expect. I mean, it's shoving Melissa McCarthy into another genre piece hoping she'll save it, but actually it's taking Melissa McCarthy and then finding a genre piece and then, figuring out where she fits in; that's what makes her be funny. I hope she sticks with Paul Feig for more movies, maybe they'll make a really good one soon.
KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK (2015) Director: Brett Morgan
I gotta admit that it actually took me years before I really fully embraced Nirvana. I was pretty young when they came out and my music tastes weren't fully formed yet, proof of which you can find in my, yes totally real, not making this joke up, still have it, Michael Bolton cassette tape that I got from my Aunt I believe, and that is the first album I ever owned technically. (To be fair, I think I listened to it, hmm, once and then went put it aside and didn't buy any more music until there I was much older and cooler, that's when I started buying my Jewel cassettes! Again, not joking, at all and stop laughing; I still listen to them, fuck you all, Jewel's amazing!) Yeah, even after that, I definitely beat to my own drum, but even still, Nirvana was always a bit elusive to me, for awhile. Maybe I just wasn't in the correct frame of mind or maybe, I simply didn't get it. Actually what it probably was was that, my mother is tone deaf, so she's not fond of much music where the lyrics are difficult to hear sometimes so that's probably the main reason I missed a lot of harder rock music until much later, and then I'm still placed in the overrated camp regarding it. (Headbanging is not fun for a whole album, mix it up.) Still though, I eventually warmed to it and recognized his genius, and yes looking back Nirvana is one of the definitive artists to come around in my lifetime and there is an emotional truth to Kurt Cobain in his work that's-, well, I don't quite know what it is, but I know it's real when I hear it. "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck", which had a brief theatrical release before making it's way to HBO, is just that, a montage of footage and interviews and a little bit of everything about Kurt Cobain from his early days with very young home movie footage, his parents, to notebooks entries, painting, song lyrics, there's even some sequences that are animated, it's just this colossal collection of Cobain in some vain effort to try and fully understand the man. The way they all talk about him, he seemed smart, but a bit lonely, and the thing that's to me was most was that he was particularly extra-sensitive, almost to the point of ESP. I have an aunt, so I kinda get that in a way. There's definitely something unique about Cobain's lyrics that seem troubled but, not in a way that we had seen before. There had been punk rock and anger-filled lyrics, but Cobain wasn't angry. He was sardonic, but this wasn't anger. It might've been depression but he seems so nice and genuine. He was a junkie, him and Courtney were barely able to keep custody of their kid, after she was born addicted to crack and heroin. (Francis Bean Cobain is in fact a producer on this film) although their home movies seem nice enough, and probably most annoying for some, Kurt and Courtney do seem like they're a couple who's madly in love. (No I never any of the myths regarding Cobain's death being a murder) There is this the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He was the reluctant superstar who wasn't trying to get famous and was mostly using his music as a way to cope with his demons, it's actually kinda startling to see him when he's simply being himself. He's witty, funny, seems to just be a nice guy to be around and have as a friend. It's almost surreal to see him, on the set of Nirvana's "Unplugged" stage before the taping just talking jokes about "Davey and Goliath" like people would do. Actually calling him a "genius" is probably the wrong word, especially since it seems like he wouldn't like it, but he's just a guy, or a guy who was trying his best to be the best guy he could, but for whatever reason, whatever demons that haunted him, he couldn't. That extra-sensitivity though, that's what haunted him and I think haunts me. Courtney talking about the one time she actually thought about cheating on him, he swallowed so many pills he ended up in a coma, just thinking about it made him do it, she said, she didn't even go through with it. Jesus, that's the kind of sensory mindset that, would seriously make me reconsider whether I not I continually live with thoughts such as that, even if I wasn't a junkie. We don't get a complete picture of Kurt Cobain, but of course we couldn't that would make his life too simple. This "Montage of Heck", that we can grasp onto and place together is the closest we can come to fully understanding him, I suspect even to those who knew him best. "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck", knows this and gives us all it can, and just lets us consider it, and that's probably for the best. This is the latest documentary from Brett Morgan who's previous works included "The Kid Stays in the Picture" about Robert Evans, and "Chicago 10" which also combined live-action talking heads with animated recreations of events, "...Montage of Heck", might not be his best, but it's probably his most powerful film to date, as it leaves us slightly more knowledgeable yet slightly more wondering about it's enigmatic subject.
RESULTS (2015) Director: Andrew Bujalski
Huh? Andrew Bujalski made a commercial movie. Okay that statement alone is not really gonna seem that unusual on the surface, and to be fair, when I say "commercial", I mean, "commercial for an independent movie,"; he didn't just make the next "Iron Man" or something along those lines but still, this is kinda startling. Bujalski if you're not familiar with him is known as the reluctant leader of the American indy film movement called "Mumblecore". not the name he gave it, but he is considered their main spokesman. Defining Mumblecore is a bit touchy, but generally, short budget, similar people, sound that's not necessarily great, not necessarily non-actors but definitely actors who were friends with the filmmakers, and usually slice of life comedies. I've actually never cared much for Bujalski's work, his debut "Funny Ha Ha" is pretty accurately titled, but he's always been a bit more cerebral than some of his fellow Mumblecore directors like the Duplass Brothers, Katie Aselton, or Joe Swanberg, I guess you can throw in Lena Dunham if you want, those are the directors in Mumblecore I tend to gravitate towards. (Well Swanberg's hit-and-miss with me too but still). For instance, Bujalski's best film before was his previous film "Computer Chess", which is also one of the strangest among the mumblecore filmmakers, for one thing it's a period piece, taking place in the early eighties, in black and white, had amazing production design because the entire film was based around a computer chess tournament, back when the act of teaching a computer to play chess was actually a challenge, and it was sci-fi; I won't go into that aspect of the film but yeah, if you were to ask me what indy director made "Results" a rom-com about gym trainers that's pretty straight-forwards nothing more than a rom-com about gym trainers, Andrew Bujalski would've probably been last on that list. That said, there's a lot to recommend about this movie; it's probably my favorite of his films. The movie stars Guy Pearce as Trevor a man who owns one gym and is hoping to brand himself as a motivational guru and franchise style of fitness through multiple gyms and products. I guess this is a thing, the Tony Little's and Billy Banks of the world, I don't know the difference between P-90X and whatever regular calisthenics is, not since Bravo's "Workout" got canceled anyway (Good reality show for two seasons, third one, ehhhhh Jackie Warner lost it a bit and the show got a little too scripted for my tastes. It's probably streaming somewhere in the ether; it's worth checking out; it's right before Bravo went full "Real Housewives",- okay, I'm getting way the hell off-track). One of his best trainers is Kat (Cobie Smolders) who's pretty intense at her job, but definitely a good, hardworking trainer, but a bit of a workaholic, which at any job is bad, at physical training, that job becomes much more worrisome. They used to date, or were at least good fuck buddies but that's passed and she's seeing a new guy at least supposedly she is but they dance around the sexual tension all they can. Then the Picaro characters comes into the movie, Danny (Kevin Corrigan) who's a multi-millionaire that stumbled into his millions but has no idea what to do with it. He's out-of-shape eats a lot of pizza, smokes a lot of pot, goes on Craigslist and offers $200 for anybody to come and figure out what's wrong with the television. Honestly, this is one of the most interesting characters I've seen in years and Kevin Corrigan, who I've always liked as an actor; he's one of those guys who seems to play stoners in everything, I remember him from the show "Grounded for Life" mostly, but look up his filmography and you'll recognize him, but this is an amazing performance; it's one of the best supporting actor performances of the year, I'm dead serious. He goes into the gym one day and pays for a year's membership and Kat gets hired to put him into shape. He's ends up falling for her and tries to seduce her, even gets James Beard winner Paul Qui to come and make a romantic dinner for him, in his home. (The movie takes place in Austin, Texas btw, so if you know your "Top Chef" season nine, he's right there. Man, I'm making a lot of Bravo references this review) She regrets him, but this does upset Trevor, but he also ends up making a deal with him to open up a larger, second gym since he can invest and this leads to a love triangle that is genuinely unpredictable for most of the movie. It's certainly unpredictable when we end up at the home of a Russian idol of Trevor a fitness guru named Grigory (Anthony Michael Hall doing his best Dolph Lundgrun, and yes this is amazingly as fascinating and funny as it sounds) and their not-on-again/not-off-again romance begins to get entangled on their front lawn. "Results" is a surprisingly funny and smart little romantic-comedy, it's very well made and well-acted, everybody's good here, I haven't even mentioned some good supporting work from Constance Zimmer, Giovanni Ribisi and even Brooklyn Decker to name a few, Guy Pearce is as good as he's been in years, this reminds us again why he should be one of the biggest actors in the world right now, Cobie Smolders isn't doing too much different from her "How I Met Your Mother" character but it's good casting. Kevin Corrigan though, is a revelation as the outside character who comes in and mixes things up for everyone else. The movie is worth watching for him alone. Welcome to the mainstream Andrew Bujalski I hope you enjoy it, or at least make good movies like this one now that you're here.
IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER (2015) Director; Andre Techine
Techine, along with Jean-Luc Godard is one of the last surviving and working directors of the French New Wave and even then, Techine kinda came in at the tale end of that movement. Honestly, I've never really been a fan of his. On top of that, "In the Name of My Daughter" already as a story comes in behind the eight ball for me. This is actually based on a major headline story that occurred in France involving, a missing person, a casino heiress, a hostile takeover and the Mafia, but this story did not make headlines here, at least none that I remember and to be honest, it's not told well. I wish I could be a little more specific considering the movie, but A. I watched this film months ago and am only now getting around to reviewing it, but also, even after I watched it, this was all so jumbled and just-, I mean, it's half-told in flashback there's double-triple crossing, there's business dealings and-, this was so complicated, and this could've been told well, Scorsese given this material could've done something with this, but Andre Techine is way not the right guy for this. This movie comes off like a mixed up TV movie that didn't know what perspective to take with. Actually, you know what this reminds me of, there's a book called "Citizen Hughes", by Michael Drosnin and it's about the Howard Hughes empire and how the IRS inevitably were able to take him down. Don't bother looking for it, it's probably around somewhere but it's a pretty obscure book, the only reason I have a copy and actually know about it, is because my Grandfather's brother, Andy Baruffi, was the head of the Las Vegas Branch of the IRS and he was the one who actually arrested Howard Hughes, (At least he is in family folklore) and he's mentioned in the book a couple times because of this, and he did head off the investigation so he was more than involved in this, but anyway-, if you actually read the book, it's-, I mean, it's not bad but it is dense. It's not a non-fiction novel like say "In Cold Blood", it's really more of a investigatory piece, sorta like, the novel "Game Change" is detailing the behind-the-scenes of the 2008 election, but it's dense and unless you're devoted to learning about it, I don't recommend reading it, but "In the Name of My Daughter", it feels like, reading this book again. It just overlayered and dense and full of details and references and relationships that-, honestly I just don't know enough about, and this movie didn't make me want to learn. (It also doesn't really help that this didn't really end, this story yet, the courtroom case, still leaves a lot in the air, so it's already a story with an unfinished, lingering ending.) There's a decent performance by Catherine Deneuve and a few others, but this is being really generous right now. The movie is just a colossal, confusing mess that, even if I knew about the story and hypothetically could follow it, I don't think I would still like this film. This is a quintessential example of the wrong material with the wrong director.
THE OVERNIGHT (2015) Director: Patrick Brice
I'm probably gonna regret this, but...- I look over others reviews often when I'm writing, sometimes just to refresh me own memories of what happened in the movie or what the movie was about, other times just to get a sense of what other people are saying. I'll looking over Christy Lemire's review of "The Overnight" right now, and I think I'll share exactly what she wrote in the beginning:
There's many strange things that happens when you become a parent. Clearly, many strange things happen. But one of the primary ones is that you get a whole new set of friends. These are parent friends: people you probably never would have met otherwise, but with whom you now have this fundamental and cosmic thing in common....
She goes on from there, but-um, she's not wrong, in fact from most of my experience being a single friend to a lot of couples now, and by "single friend", I mean people I used to hang out and/or talk with a lot and now barely only see them on Facebook occasionally showing a picture of their kid, I think I can say something about this dynamic, so here it goes: (Clears throat) this doesn't apply if you're Italian. If you're wondering how I can say such a thing, well first of all, that weird last name of mine in the title of this blog, is pronounced, "Ba-roof-ie", and if you weren't 100% sure it was Italian, (Which, it ended in a vowel, you should at least suspected it), it's actually the Italian word for buffoon or clown, I believe. (Make your quiet jokes now before I continue.) Anyway, yeah, this isn't something that happened with my family, growing up. I was raised by my entire Italian family, so there were no parent friends that my mother had. No play-date so adults could talk while kids were hanging out, definitely no swinger get-togethers and even when, say something like Little League, my single mother, didn't particularly closely befriend any of my coaches or teammates' parents. (And I was pretty much a loner anyway, so I generally didn't have reason for my mother to become friends with anybody....) Yeah, what I'm saying is, I realize this exists, but truth-be-told this is a foreign concept to me, and it kinda startles me every time I see it happen in real life. Now, true, I'm not a parent yet, but still, I'm pretty safe in declaring Italians an exception to this societal norm. That's probably why I'm a little lukewarm to "The Overnight", but that's not really a reason to bash this mumblecore-esque quirky comedy. It's the first film I've seen from Director Patrick Brice, it certainly feels reminiscent of better Duplass Brothers films, but it's enjoyable and funny in it's own way. The movie begins with Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) a couple in their thirties who struggle to finish each others orgasms before their kids bangs through the door in the morning. They just moved from Seattle to Los Angeles and are still alone in the town. They soon make friends with a couple parents at a birthday party, Kurt and Charlotte (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche) after their kids hit it off with each other. Kurt and Charlotte seem fun and knowledgeable and they organize a couples play date with them at their house, which is more like a mansion. He's an artist, she's a model of some kind, they seem worldly and cool, etc. etc., this is basically heading for a low-key modern-day "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" territory, partner swapping possibilities and all, and more, possibly. I won't go into too many more details as, the twists and turns are what the movie's about, but I mostly enjoyed, basically as this quirky little, light movie on this sorta dynamic, of two couples trying to feel each other out, pun not intended, while also struggling to deal with their very real personal issues as couples. I don't think "The Overnight" is breaking any new ground here, and some of the comedy felt a little forced, but I enjoyed it overall and am recommending it. It was a little to me, I felt like I was just waiting for the film to catch up with the beats I knew were coming, but again, this is a bit of a foreign societal concept to me, so take of that what you will.
HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT (2015) Directors: Ben Safdie & Joshua Safdie
"Heaven Knows What" is a difficult film to talk about. Difficult to talk about, difficult to watch, and tricky to analyze. It's definitely powerful and memorable. The movie is the latest from the Safdie brothers who first made their name a couple years ago with "Daddy Longlegs", or "Go Get Some Rosemary", which was itself a brutally realistic portrayal of their father and his well-meaning, usually but utterly incompetent ability to be a father. "Heaven Knows What" also has an autobiographical slant to it, but not their own this time. They were making a different movie in New York when they stumbled across Arielle Holmes, a 19-year-old homeless heroin addict living who had stumbled into a job in New York's diamond district as an intern. They then commissioned her to write about her story, and that's become an unpublished novel, which they in turn adapted to this film, and then got her to play herself. It's one of the most daring and brave performances of the year. There's no particular plot, but it's basically slice of life for Arielle, or as she's known in this film, Harley. She's madly in love with Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones), even though, he treats her, pretty badly, and that's the understatement of the year. I'm honestly, not even comfortable describing the way he treats her, it's beyond diabolical and yet she's delusionally in love with him. This makes her suicidal and while she seems to fine to bleed to death on the New York City streets, she ends up in Bellevue and soon begins recovering. Her friends Scully (Ron "Necro" Braunstein) is there when she gets out, and her friend Mike (Buddy Duress) is around to help her, and they seem to actually care about her, but still basically are just following her around as she seeks out another fix and goes on looking for Ilya, hoping for some kind of reaction other than being bullied and abused by him. We see Harley and we cheer for her. She's had a rough life and is suffering and we're hoping that eventually she'll get herself out of it, that she'll eventually realize there's another life and another way, overcome her addictions to both heroin and Ilya, but right now, she's not interested in that. Maybe it's comforting to know that's where she ends up, but this movie's not about who she is now, it's about who this woman is and what she was like and going through at the moment. I think that's ultimately what makes "Heaven Knows What" so emotional and powerful. The only thing about the movie that's hopeful is the fact that it exists and it's protagonist is around to tell her story and not, shy away from anything or make herself seem remotely glamorous. We cheer for her, 'cause we know she's so much better than what she is and could be so much better, but we see her also rather fall into the same despair. At this moment her addictions are more powerful than her will to better herself, and "Heaven Knows What" documents that struggle better than most.
TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (2015) Director: James Kent
I think one of the reasons I had such a difficult time, despite all the award indicators saying otherwise that I couldn't completely predict Alicia Vikander's Oscar win for Supporting Actress for "The Danish Girl" was that, well, first I didn't know much of her work at the time, but the one thing that I did know was "Testament of Youth", I wasn't impressed with. This film was the directorial debut of TV director James Kent, and it felt like a bad mini-series, overly-long, over-romantic, the kind of movie that you can describe the story by saying, "...Meanwhile, a world war happens." Yeah, it's that kind of movie. Well, not really, it's probably more "Mildred Pierce" than that story actually but still. The movie is a biopic of Vera Brittain, a name that I had to look up, but her autobiography, the memoir that the movie is based on, is considered the definitive work that views World War I from a female's perspective. That's fair enough, and the movie does make great pains to show that Vera is definitely the determined young writer, one of the first to fight her way into Oxford, already rejecting the conformity of the time by doing that, then rejecting the conformity that Oxford set up for her. She ends up taking a break from her education working as a nurse on the battlefield and later she would become one of the leading female pacifists icons in the world. She's a good person to know about and a good story I guess, but I don't know if it's a movie. This is one of those movies I saw awhile ago, but am only now reviewing, but this movie went in one ear and out the other, even at the time, this was just a slog to get through. I'm told this was originally into a miniseries in the late '70s on British television, maybe that would work better, 'cause the movie, does kinda have an unfinished feel to it, but more than that, I just felt the overall sweep of the movie was just cliche, everything expected out of a bad period piece from fifty years ago, only done, by television people and not film people, so it doesn't even have large feel or grand pretentious importance that maybe a bad David Lean film would have. It's trying to be too many things and in the end, despite moments that are pretty good, it doesn't end up being any of them and that's the most disappointing thing about "Testament of Youth", it just isn't anything. Having now seen "Ex Machina" and looking up some of Alicia Vikander's other filmography, I realized that I've seen here more often then I realized, she was in "Anna Karenina", which was okay, but she was also in "A Royal Affair" the Oscar-nominated feature from Denmark that I thought was a similarly unimpressive and in that film's case, overrated period piece, and she was also "The Fifth Estate" one of those movies about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and while I didn't hate that film as much as others did, yeah, I think we'd all like to forget that that movie exists. Yeah, I guess my thoughts on her have improved but consider me still on the fence for Vikander at the moment, but am definitely getting more impressed at the moment, but still, with "Testament of Youth", I was underwhelmed with her and with the film in general.
I AM BIG BIRD: THE CAROLL SPINNEY STORY (2015) Director: Dave LaMitta and Chad Walker
GLASS CHIN (2015) Director: Noah Buschel