Wednesday, March 30, 2016

MOVIE REVIEWS #115-PART 2 OF 3: "INSIDE OUT", "TRAINWRECK", "IT FOLLOWS", "SPY", "KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK", "RESULTS", "IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER", "THE OVERNIGHT", "HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT", "TESTAMENT OF YOUTH", "I AM BIG BIRD: THE CAROLL SPINNEY STORY", and "GLASS CHIN"!

(Deep breath) We're getting there, almost caught up. Still catching up on movie reviews, which sucks 'cause there's a few things I'd rather just talk about, but this does need to get done. I'm too far behind, but I'm almost there. Plus, I'm still watching other films so, yeah, just getting this done and then I'll bitch about CBS's coverage of the NCAA tournament and why the networks failure to not let the cable channels take over or for cable to adapt to digital, and, oh whatever. Go Villanova! Of look over the new FCC doctrines and rules regarding cable boxes and what that mean. Or talk about the "Batman vs. Superman" film. Eh, I'm just kidding, I'm not talking about that, haven't seen the movie, reviews seem to suck so I'm not gonna get to it for awhile. (Don't worry, I'll get to it on DVD eventually).

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

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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


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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

1/2



Well, "It Follows" could pretty much be the title of nearly every horror movie pretty much, but it's definitely an intriguing title. Like any horror movie that gets any kind of acclaim, this has become a pretty divisive movie. I've seen it make a lot of Best of Lists as well as a lot of Worst of Lists. The movie's directed by David Robert Mitchell who previously did a really good movie called "The Myth of the American Sleepover" which, like "It Follows" is about kids, in that film they were in high school, this time they're in college and it does feel realistic at least in terms of the characters, most of the time. That said, I'm definitely in the not-that-impressed camp with "It Follows". It's got an idea or two, but more than anything I was bored to death by the movie. The movie follows Jay (Maika Monroe) a Reese Witherspoon lookalike who's in college and has a group of friends who all seem to for some reason have little parental supervision or interest in them. I'm not sure why that's a plotline, I guess to keep the focus on the kids and make us not ask, "Why don't they tell their parents" or "Go to the Police" or whatever, but anyway, Jay goes on a date with Hugh (Jake Weary). It's a good date and they have sex in a car, despite a weird incident at a movie theater, which they left early for some reason. Then Hugh chloroforms her and ties her up to a chair. He says, he won't do anything to her, and he doesn't. Instead, he tells her that something called "It", which despite taking many different forms unfortunately never looks like a giant kid-murdering clown, will follow you. Whatever It, is, is slow but not stupid so it will continue to follow until it kills you, but you can go have sex with someone else and then it'll follow that person, at least until it catches him/her and then it'll come after you again. Okay, (Frustrated sigh) yeah, this is pretty stupid. Look, there's a lot of sexual anguish metaphors in horror movie going back decades, this is sort of a new twist on it, but not really. Like, "Gee, what kind of thing that transfer sexually between people and continues following you everywhere you go, but you can transfer sexually to another person.... yeah, I got the metaphor, this wasn't a hard one to crack. "It Follows" has a few interesting tricks and ideas, but I'd hardly call anything in the movie really smart or good or even that observant. It's almost like he'd rather just shoot a movie about these characters talking, which would've been more interesting (And he already kinda did with "The Myth of the American Sleepover") but he had to insert this B-grade zombie movie into it. There is an idea here, but no, this isn't that special for horror or even for movies. I wouldn't necessarily call it the worst film, but I wouldn't be shocked if it did show up on my Worst List either, not because it's bad, but it's boring. I mean, it's a lots of long meandering between attacks and just, running away from a slow-moving walker. I fell asleep multiple times trying to force my way through this movie. It's not too scary but worst than that, "It Follows" is not that entertaining.


SPY (2015) Director: Paul Feig

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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

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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

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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

1/2



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

✰✰✰1/2



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

✰✰✰✰1/2



"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
✰✰1/2



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

✰✰✰✰1/2


Ah, who doesn't love Big Bird! I've known the name Caroll Spinney, pretty much all my life. I was never really 100% sure if he was a guy or a girl underneath the giant Big Bird puppet. I remember watching "Sesame Street" wondering if Big Bird was actually on roller skates and I was assured by my mother that it must be an illusion or special effect of some kind, but no, inside those giant orange-legged pants and under all those feathers, was, and amazingly, still is, a man with a video camera strapped to his chest and his hand in the air moving Big Bird mouth, and a microphone. Spinney also ironically is the voice of Oscar the Grouch as well. Well, the first major pink elephant in the room we gotta mention is that this is the second documentary in recent years about a "Sesame Street" performer, the first being "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey", based on the life of Kevin Clash, who shortly after that film came out, was inundated with claims of improper sexual conduct, both of which I should point out, he has been completely cleared of, but he still resigned from the Sesame Workshop. I wouldn't go so far as to say that, this movie is, in some ways a redo of that, but the whole incident is only really glimpsed over in the movie, mentioned how in recent years, the shift of the direction of the series has switched back to focusing on Big Bird, but they don't quite go into the reasons why. That's, okay with me actually, what they really go into is a look at Caroll Spinney, and mostly it's a happy story. There's some mention of him being bullied as a kid and how he was made fun of for playing with puppets as a kid, but eventually, Jim Henson saw him perform and began offering him work, and him really taking over as Big Bird, and a look through the years at Spinney performing as Big Bird. It's no surprise that Spinney is such a natural as Big Bird, his personality, and his demeanor, his devotion, and seeing the evolution of him and the character over the years is really surprising and shocking. He's been playing this role over fifty years; he does share the giant puppet with others now but, he's still quintessential performing the character most of the time; he even made his famous appearance on "SNL" responding to Mitt Romney's claim during the 2012 campaign that he would cut PBS funding. (Slightly ironic knowing now that first-run "Sesame Street" is now on HBO, but still....) There's one shocking revelation about NASA's original idea to have Big Bird go up in space for a mission to be broadcasted for space, and it would've happened until NASA realized that there just wasn't enough space for Spinney, and the Big Bird outfit and all that. Eventually, the spot went to schoolteacher Crystal McCullough, which, if that name doesn't ring a bell to you, well, you're probably seven or something, but yeah, if the Challenger wasn't horrible enough, imagining if Big Bird was on it.... "I Am Big Bird..." isn't deep but it is a wonderful film. It's pretty much everything you'd expect from a bio-documentary about the guy behind Big Bird, and that's perfectly okay and thoroughly enjoyable.


GLASS CHIN (2015) Director: Noah Buschel

✰✰1/2


Corey Stoll has very quickly become one of the interesting actors working today. He's got that magnifying quality you're just drawn to him, whatever he's doing onscreen. He is by far the best thing about "Glass Chin", an interesting little independent film, but one that ultimate fails as a feature. It took me a little bit to figure out why, but after a while, I kinda realized that the plot just was kiinda, way too easy. It's not that the developments were contrived, although they were but not any more contrived than any other plot developments but, they just so neatly kinda inevitably happened, almost arbitrarily, like it wasn't really important. I don't think it was actually, and that's kinda why I'm ultimately leaning towards a negative review of the movie, but I won't stop anybody from watching it either. Stoll plays a former boxer named Bud "The Saint" Gordon, the title comes from his unfortunate ability to get knocked out easily, I think. It's actually kinda implied he was still pretty good, but yeah, either way, a glass chin is a boxing term for somebody who can't take a punch to the jaw. He's currently training a young boxer named Kid Sunshine (Malcolm Xavier) along with his old trainer Lou (John Douglas Thompson). He's currently living in a small Jersey apartment with his girlfriend Ellen (Marin Ireland), and his restaurant has just closed. He then decides to work as an enforcer for J.J. (Billy Crudup). He goes out on a run with Roberto (Yul Vasquez) who ends up killing one of the debtors and then framing it on Bud so he has the ability to get him to pressure the boxer to..., well, he's a boxer in a mobster movie, take a guess what you think he'll be asked to do and you'll be right. That's the thing, it's almost incidental or obligatory that there's a plot, which is probably why it's the simplest mobster story plot you can find pretty much. That's kinda the problem, the characters are interesting, if broadly drawn and the dialogue is "Glass Chin" is in some cases spectacular. It's almost like a collection of scenes that were written without somebody really any reason and then at the last minute somebody said, "Oh shit, we need a plot!" and they sorta threw one together. "Glass Chin" is interesting to listen to and for the most they're well-acted, I think Billy Crudup is kinda just a little too over-the-top, but...- I mean, this is a boxing movie that looks and feels more like a Jim Jarmusch film, complete with the static long takes that are homages to Ozu. Corey Stoll I believe can take any part and make him interesting and probably needs more parts like this, especially in lead roles. He alone almost made this movie recommendable, almost.







Friday, March 25, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "CITY LIGHTS"

CITY LIGHTS (1931)

Director/Screenplay: Charles Chaplin




After much consideration, Charlie Chaplin decided that despite the emergence of the talkies film, in 1927, he went to work on a silent picture, probably realizing it might be his last, but to be sure he didn’t take sound for granted, he composed the entire score for the film and orchestrated all of the films sound effects. As a result, “City Lights,” may be the most treasured work in the Chaplin library. The movie story-wise is as simple as it gets. Charlie as the Tramp, befriends a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) who sells flowers on a street corner. But then, the woman mistakes Charlie for a rich millionaire, when she hears an expensive car door slam, and she assumes he has left. Later, Charlie saves a drunkard millionaire (Harry Myers) from killing himself, and the man is eternally grateful for him, but only when he’s drunk. When he’s sober, he has absolutely no recollection of Charlie. Charlie than learns that a doctor is Europe has a cure for blindness, but the woman is short on rent money, much less enough to go to Europe for an operation, but Charlie promises to get her the money anyway. The rest of the film is pretty much his attempts at getting her the money. He gets a job as a street cleaner, where he evades a pack of horses, only to be chased down by a herd of elephants. Arguably the most famous bit from the film, and the part I consider the funniest is the boxing scene where Charlie tries to earn money by winning a boxing match. As soon as the bell rings, he carefully continually positions himself between the referee and the other fighter, until finally both the fighter and referee are confused. Then he gets caught on the ring bell, and every time he gets knocked out, the bell rings. This goes on for a while. The opening sequence makes more sense back in ’31, as apparently a few politicians are giving speeches for a new statue unveiling, and as they begin to talk, they start sounding in gibberish. A light Chaplin dig on the talkie films that he was suddenly competing against. Chaplin still masterfully utilized sound though. During a formal dinner party at the millionaire’s, Chaplin accidentally shallows a tiny whistle, which suddenly gives him the hiccups, and the whistle becomes the first sound to ever come out of Chaplin’s/The Tramp mouth on screen. He tries to let it go, before eventually excusing himself and going outside, where he accidentally hails a cab, and then walks back into the house with all the neighborhood dogs around thinking he was calling him. The final scene in the movie, is the most famous. Chaplin has just come out of jail after getting the money for the girl, and is now even worse off than he originally was, and the flower girl, now able to see, now runs her own flower shop. The moment when she realizes her gentlemen millionaire suitor is none other than this Tramp is precious, and always makes me cry. Sometimes we think of Chaplin simply in terms of comedy and slapstick, but Chaplin was at his best when he was at his saddest. Inflicting pathos upon the screen like no one ever did up until that time. In these “City Lights,” there are disabilities, poverty, alcohol, corruption, and prison, not to mention total desperation. How Chaplin can inflict humor and ethos upon us is he gift to the world. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

MOVIE REVIEWS #115-PART 1 OF ?: "EX MACHINA", "THE LOOK OF SILENCE", "WHEN MARNIE WAS HERE", "AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON", "ANT-MAN", "JURASSIC WORLD", "WOMAN IN GOLD", "TOMORROWLAND", "BEST OF ENEMIES", "RICKI AND THE FLASH", "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-ROGUE NATION", "ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL", "SOUTHPAW", and "THE END OF THE TOUR"! (MORE COMING SOON)

Okay, I only recently have gotten a regular working computer back into my possession, which is good. I'm glad, hopefully it'll last a while, so I'm slowly edging into my regular posting schedule, while also balancing other work outside of it. That said, it's been months since I posted a new set of movie reviews, and I am sorry about that, but I couldn't avoid it. I've had some pain-in-the-ass times in the past trying to review movies while not having a regular computer with me, and I just don't recommend it. Anybody who's ever seen my actual handwriting will know that my natural pen is a keyboard and that me trying to write down long eloquent thoughts that take up a page or two of paper front and back for, one or two film reviews, is just literal and figurative pain. My mind often writes faster than I type as it is and I often have to double-back and add-in the words I missed normally, so writing in slow chicken scratch on a clipboard, not to mention, without the referential help of the internet, is just not something that I could've done well, much less in a timely manner. I'm not even thrilled about the quality of my writing for some of these reviews, especially since some of the movies I watched literally months ago and even though I do have a pretty good recall memory,- yeah, I don't normally like to write reviews in these circumstances. It's just not my best work. It's not bad, but no, it's not my best.

And I'm not even close to done, this is only part one, of-, well, I hope two, but it's probably gonna be three and I'm only reviewing in this case films that were theatrically released in 2015 or later; there's a lot I'm skipping over for the purposes of time and sanity. I'll get to them eventually; I have a plan for those, but for now, I think it's time to show that yes, I haven't stopped watching movie and no, I don't plan on just posting Canon of Film reviews until the end of time, and that I haven't stopped watching films and/or completely abandoned the visual medium altogether and just started listening to the radio. Also, I do continue to have plans for other articles and commentaries that I'll get to later, on some of the other news and events in the entertainment world that I'm missing, and will get to soon as well, but yeah, first things first, I'm not only a commentator, I'm a critic, it's time to criticize here. So, let's get to the latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS-PART ONE of them anyway, finally! Starting with the Oscar-winning film "Ex Machina" and the Oscar-nominated features "The Look of Silence" and "When Marnie Was There".


EX MACHINA (2015) Director: Alex Garland

✰✰✰✰1/2



I gotta be honest, I think I appreciate the craft involved in telling this story than the story itself. In fact, the more I thought about the film, the more amazed I find myself trying to understand the widespread appeal of "Ex Machina" the first film from novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland. It's not that it's bad, but a bit of me, watches this film and finds it, just, I hate to say this but, blase. Yeah, I think my complaint about "Ex Machina" is that, it's not that original. It's not even that original on it's twist to the story it's telling, but it does tell it well. Damn well. And yet, by the end,... what? What was I supposed to actually make of that ending? Does it mean anything? Okay, at it's core, "Ex Machina" is basically a three-person play, the first character is Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) a young but talented coder who gets selected to go to the mysterious and secluded home of the owner of his company, a former child prodigy named Nathan (Oscar Isaac) who's started, basically something along the lines of Google or Facebook or whatever when he was 13 and now has more money than any idea what to do with it. His house is only available by helicopter and hike, and when he Caleb gets there, he finds out that he's actually there to participate in a secret experiment where he interacts with Nathan's newest creation, a for-lack-of-a-better-word, robot that he's named Ava (Alicia Vikander). This is the Turing Test, which I'm a little rusty on, named after Charles Turing, the inventor of the modern computer, he was the Benedict Cumberbatch character in "The Imitation Game" but most people probably know this test from "Blade Runner", basically, it's up to Caleb to determine whether or not the A.I. of Ava, is in fact is human, or at least, that she and ergo Caleb and the world believes is human, or at least, the A.I. possesses realistic human traits and thinking patterns and whatnot. Basically, this is another Frankenstein kind of story about a scientist and his creation which in of itself, is okay, in fact it's damn good. I'm leaving a lot out here, 'cause the movie is very dependent on the revealing twists and turns of the story. It's pretty deconstructionist, and that's good, 'cause there isn't much else. "Ex Machina" in case you guys don't know "Ex machina" is just "The Machine in Latin, although the most common usage of the term is "Deus ex machina", which translates to "God is the machine" a literary term for when someone or something comes into a story particularly at the end and suddenly solves the situation, and of course, a story about a man creating a machine that acts as human, and that possibly is,... yeah, I think my issue with the film is that, is opens and introduces all these great philosophical and moral questions and theories, but it doesn't really answer or adds anything to them, it just brings them up more or less. It's not so much the theme as it is the tool for which that moves plots itself through. "Ex Machina" is a definitely a film worth watching and recommending; I'm still a little surprise as pretty much everyone was by the surprise Oscar the film won for it's Visual Effects, which are impressive if not huge, personally I probably was more amazed by the film's Production Design than anything else, but the effects are special and great. It's definitely the rare movie that uses these effects for emotional payoffs instead of just effects, that's probably the film's greatest accomplishment.



THE LOOK OF SILENCE (2015) Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

✰✰✰✰✰



One of the more surprising films I've been criticized for having a somewhat negative opinion on is "The Act of Killing" the great documentary from 2013 where Oppenheimer interviews many of the perpetrators of the Indonesia genocide of 1965-'66, many of whom are still in power today, as the discussed and often reenacted the slaughtering of millions of innocent Communists, or purportedly Communists after the military coup of the country. I did recommend, quite highly, but I was criticized for not considering it an absolute masterpiece, or the best documentary of that year. When I gave out my OYL Awards, I gave the award, like the Oscars did to "20 Feet from Stardom", which is something I regret now, because after that I got around to watching "At Berkeley", the 4 1/2 hour Frederick Weisman documentary, which is the movie I would now give that award to, but yeah, "The Act of Killing", as great and important a film as it was, was just a really difficult watch, and if it's a close call, that does matter to me no how risky, audacious or even important the subject matter is. "The Look of Silence" is also an incredibly difficult watch; it's not really a sequel although you could call it that, it's actually more of a companion piece in my mind, and I think the better film. The first film, was frightening and astonishing, seeing these people, who don't seem as monstrous on the surface and realize much they actually are, and in many ways are quite proud of their genocidal ways. It's almost like an equivalent to, a documentary fifty years later about the Nazis, only they actually won and now run Germany, (In an alternate universe of course)  In this film, instead of Oppenheimer, just being behind the camera, we get more focus on Adi Rukan, who was the brother of one of the men who was killed, a man brought up often in the first film, Ramli is often shown watching the footage from the first movie, just, mostly is stunned silence, thought. We see his parents, who, I don't know exactly how old they are but both of them and many others in this country look like they're well into hundreds, we see her mother's ID card as 1909 her birthday, and the son says he's only in his forties, even though he looks fifteen years younger, must be-, well, I was about to say something in the water, but I actually hope to God it isn't that, 'cause I know what was in that water fifty years ago. We then see Joshua going back to some of the murderers to re-interview them and sometimes their families and we see them asked why they did certain things, not even killing them, but the manners in which they did, or why they don't teach the truth to the schools, and they don't; we see that in an opening scene, schoolkids learning about how horrible the Communists were, but not how they were massacred. It's curious how so many of them suddenly go into how they don't want to talk about politics. You hear a lot of the same refrains, they were godless so it was okay to hack off their penises or drag them down the street, dump them into the river. (Told you I knew what was in the water) They don't seem to have real justification for their actions. Adi suspects that they're regretful about their behavior and that by reenacting and confessing to it now, it's their way of apologizing for it. It's not justification, they already feel justified, but it's the way true remorse, if they have any for their actions could be attained. I suspect that's probably correct. We see the family of one of the interviewees from the first film who's since passed on, he had written a book detailing all the atrocities he committing which included his own personal illustrations. The family hadn't seen the footage of him with the book before, and hadn't known about the people he killed and you can see their struggles to accept it. I think the best answer they can come up with is that, it was just the time period, and they got swept into it, but now, they're not as frightened or caring about what happens and would rather just want it to be in the past and live their lives like anybody else, especially the family members, but easier said then done; it wasn't exactly a secret even before the first movie who the killers were to everyone, but still, some of them are trying. "The Look of Silence" is tough and devastating to watch, but it's probably an important watch just like "The Act of Killing" was, and like that film, many of the crew working on the movie are not named, going just by "Anonymous" fearing their life if it's known about their involvement, 'cause yeah, considering what they already have done, who knows what else they would do, even when they're senile and don't seem that frightening anymore.


WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE (2015) Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

✰✰✰✰✰




(Minutes after staring at the screen, sniffles through nose)

I haven't cried at a movie this much in years. (Sniffles) I'm still crying a little as I type this if I'm being completely honest.

You see, I do give off this vibe, in real life and in my writing that I'm trying to hide all emotions, especially when it comes to films; I make a big point that I am, "Not A Fan", and do not have a fan perspective when I analyze film with this, unemotional, analytical bent, even having unemotional analytical analysis of my emotions during a movie, and they think I'm trying to be, this, I don't know, above-it-all know-it-all aloof in the clouds and up-his-own-ass pretentious critic-like caricature of a critic, but in all honestly, that couldn't be further from the truth. The reason I actually do put up all my emotional guards and keep my analytical brain on overdrive all the time, is because I want to be emotionally torn by a film, and I don't want that to be easy. I want movies to be so good that after I wrap myself in every academic straight-jacket I can put on, that it can, break me through all my barriers and force me to react. The game is "Make Me Laugh", it's not me that's required to laugh, it's the movie that has a couple hours to get me to laugh, or in this case, the game is apparently called "Make Me Cry". (Which is certainly a much meaner title, but "Make Me Have An Emotion" doesn't sound like a very good name for a game) When "When Marnie Was Here" ended however (Actually, it started before it ended), I-, I don't know what to tell, I was already long emotionally involved in the movie, and even though I can't say I didn't completely see the reveal coming, it got me. I don't know what to tell or how to explain it, there's definitely things I connected to in this movie, but, yeah it just sorta blasted. It's the latest Studio Ghibli release, and was based on a British young novel that I'm not particularly familiar with but apparently Hayao Miyzaki has been enamored with it for years, but passed off the directing of the project to Hiromasa Yonebayashi, one of his key animators who's only feature-length credit before was "The Secret World of Arrietty". which was also based on a young novel. Now, I loved that movie but this is in another league and it's not even the animation or the story, although to be fair, there's a lot to this story; I can legitimately believe arguments for dozens of different symbolic or metaphorical interpretations of the text, and yet this is a basically a ghost story, and it's not even an entirely unique one. There's a lot of previous Studio Ghibli ideas and themes that are basically things they've done before to one extent or another. A little girl who's struggling with her own identity and her parents, exploring a new and strange world filled with the spiritual and the surreal, this could be "Spirited Away", but no, this isn't that kind of movie. The main little girl is Anna, she's an overly-emotional 12-year-old who suffers from asthma and is already a shy outcast at school and while she used to be happier and precocious, her mother and father decide to send her towards the sea for the summer, to get better with her mom's sister and her husband. At first she's reluctant but enjoying the tranquility, particularly the view of a mansion that lies along a marsh that's unusually peaceful to her, almost as though she's been there before at some point. She's still her shy reluctant, emotional wreak of herself but she's not as sickly and seems to have made friends, like the mute canoe rider who occasionally gives her a lift to and from the mansion when it's high tide and night and she can't just walk across the Ocean. When she's forced to try to make friends at a festival, she reacts badly though, but then, she meets Marnie, a mysterious figure who only Anna seems to see. She'a about her age and lives in the marsh house, although it's clear that nobody lives there at the beginning of the summer, and when somebody finally begins moving in, they've started building onto the place. "When Marnie Was There" is about a lot of things. It's about coming to grips with teenager-dom, and overcoming that moody Darlene Tanner phase we all go through, it's about excepting your loved ones for who they are, even if your preconceived notions about them may be shattered, it's about finding about oneself not just personally but historically as well, it's about finding that spiritual self not just as your growing from childhood to adulthood, but so that you can grow out of one phase into another. It's also about gaining the ability to someone else as well as yourself for who you are. It also, btw, on top of all his, just happens to be one of the observant and honestly accurate portrayals of an emotional middle-school age person I've ever seen, even if it's placed in this haunted house tale. This film probably has more in common with movies from Japanese filmmakers like Hiroshi Teshigahara who's ghost stories were much journeys into the soul than tales of fright. I can't quite tell if others would have this visceral a reaction to the film as I did, but it's certainly effective me in ways I haven't reacted to a movie in years. This isn't just one of the best animated films of the year, this is one of the very best films of the year, maybe not on a technically aspect, but emotionally....


AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015) Director: Joss Whedon

✰✰1/2



Up until the very end of "Avengers: Age of Ultron", I was actually gonna give it 4 STARS, and finally concede that Joss Whedon had made a good movie, or anything, that wasn't previously written by William Shakespeare. Then the ending happened, it pissed me off to no end, confirmed my faith that the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe is just goddamn stupid and needs to die. At least on the film. And the TV side. And actually this should probably stop in comic books as well and everything else too. (Frustrated sigh) Okay it might actually work in the television world, but seriously, what the fuck comic book people, with these damn multiverses, fuck you all. Okay, first of all, I really enjoyed how the movie, just starts with all the Avengers together, and battling. some supervillain or whoever, and that makes sense, 'cause I never did understand why in the hell they ever had to be rounded up to begin with, or why we let them go on separate adventures or anything, so, at least this starts right off with all of them or most of them together, and we go right into the story, The Avengers are always together and always on the same path to achieving their goal, in this case, they're going up against an artificial intelligence named Ultron (James Spader) that was accidentally designed by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and who's out for world destruction under the guise that that's the only way to achieve world peace, by destroying humanity. It takes a lot, but most of it is successful, and the Avengers have to retreat and regroup at Hawkeye's (Jeremy Renner) house, where we're introduced to his wife, Laura (Linda Cardellini, who we don't see nearly enough of in film, in general) and, kid, huh. Oh-kay, I guess that, sexual chemistry between him and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) was just...- oh yeah, Black Widow is, apparently with The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) now. Um.... okay. I-eh, I-, I don't quite get all of that, but okay. They also multiple other character come in they have to look over, genetically enhanced Eastern European twins, sorry I forget which country they're from now, Pietro and Wanda (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen), one's superfast and the other is psychic. And this is my issue with the series and SPOILERS by the end of the movie, the dynamic of the lineup of the Avengers has changed, and that's just, ridiculous. I'm not Whedon for this entirety, even though he is the mastermind of the universe and did write and direct this film as well as the previous "The Avengers" which this movie is slightly better then, but,- okay, when a television show, let's use a soap opera as an example, when the have to add-in or take out characters, they've had hours and hours and hours, often years and years of watching and learning about these characters and oftentimes literally growing up with them, and then they leave or they bring in a new character, they have a long time to develop an emotional bond and whatnot. With movies coming out, every couple years and usually focusing on different characters every time, you don't have that ability to care as much. This is way this is such the incorrect medium to have a multiverse that's constant and ongoing. in films. There's a reason why multiple character play James Bond, and you don't see spinoff movies for whatever Bond Girl the film was in, the characters are interesting, not the concept. With movies, the actors aren't devoted to long full-time storyarchs and whatnot, so when an actor or character is leaving or being heavily demoted in a franchise, it doesn't have the impact, it just comes off as confusing. Like, wait, that's it? That's all we're getting of these guys? Yeah, that's why I'm panning this film, 'cause whatever failures of the franchise and there's tons of them, this is the biggest. Introducing new characters is one thing, sorta dismissing others and not in a way that's well done or makes any real sense, just rushed because they kinda had to do it. For that, despite a pretty entertainment action film up until then, I gotta pan this Avengers film as well.


ANT-MAN (2015) Director: Peyton Reed

✰✰✰1/2

(Annoyed sigh)



So, apparently, "Ant-Man" is a superhero somebody thought should have it's own movie. You know, I never really did find Spider-Man believable, 'cause I never thought it seemed like a real superhero, it always sounded like something a four-year-old would make up as his superhero identity while jumping off the bed. "Ant-Man" doesn't quite sound that stupid, mostly 'cause I can't believe a four-year-old would ever find the appeal of wanting to be an ant, so maybe it's even more dumber. So, I guess this is supposed to be a, sorta dumb-but-funny strange superhero movie, and that's, what we get, so I guess I'm recommending it. The movie begins with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who's idea is to miniature people for the purposes of weaponry, the idea being that if you're as small as an ant you're more difficult to kill and can attack at more easily while fighting. I think that's a strange idea, I seem to remember that in "Gulliver's Travels" that it was on Lilliput where giant Gulliver helped win the war, but on Brodingnag, he wasn't as useful in the land of the giants at battle, but fine, whatever, it makes sense in this universe I guess. Pym is, I guess Stark's rival, btw, there's history there. Anyway, his old protege however, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is trying to replicate the technology, with mostly unsuccessful results, but he's coming closer to being the mad man who creates the monster, so Hank decides to find somebody to take over the Ant-Man suit. (Oh, yes, Hank is the original Ant-Man, but since he's old now) so he recruits a convicted thief, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to take over. Scott is a bit of a Robin Hood type character who's now down on his luck, divorced from his wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and not allowed to see his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) but despite being an electrical engineer, he can't even keep a job at Baskin-Robbins so he's taking over as Ant-Man, partly out of necessity, partly 'cause they need a knowledgeable cat-burglar to steal Cross's formula and stop him from taking over his new shrinking suit, Yellowjacket. Get it, ant, yellowjacket. It's dopey and silly, but it's done well. I can't complain about too much with it, I don't think it's as hilariously funny as it seemed to be promoted as, but it's a well-done action film from Marvel; even the section where they give nods to how it's in the universe worked and made sense. As a standalone film, "Ant-Man", is exactly as weird and ridiculous and goofy as you'd expect it to be, so I guess I'm recommending it for that.


JURASSIC WORLD (2015) Director: Colin Trevorrow

✰✰✰



I wrote a Canon of Film post recently on "Jurassic Park", 'cause knowing that I was going to have to watch "Jurassic World" I decided to rewatch that film as well as finally get around to the sequels. Well, "finally" is not the right word. I was more-than-happy to never think about "Jurassic Park" ever again, much less think about the fact that there were sequels that apparently people went to see and were really excited about; I wasn't excited; I didn't see them. They got most bad reviews at the time, and no, just because Spielberg's name was on it, or the fact that I liked the first movie a lot, didn't automatically mean I was interested in watching a second, much less a third and very much less, a fourth. Yeah, honestly, it wasn't, "Oh yeah, I'm getting to the sequels," it was more like, "You're kidding me, oh crap, now I actually have to fucking watch these things now!?" that's my reaction to that. And, no, I'm not writing full reviews on them, so real quick, "The Lost World" has an interesting premise at it's core and a decent reason to sorta exist, but it's just a boring mess of a movie, and "Jurassic Park III", it sucked but it wasn't trying to be great or anything; it's basically a glorified B-movie, I half expected it be on a double feature with "One Million Years, B.C." or something like that. Now, "Jurassic World" is better than those two films, although I would hardly call it great. So, in current day...? Future...? Eh, um, is-, hey now that I'm thinking about it, is the "Jurassic Park" franchise apart of our modern universe, a parallel universe, a different one, entirely? I literally just realized I can't tell. Oh well. In the world of the franchise it's twenty-however many years later and somebody has redesigned and taken over  John Hammond's work, and fully created an international theme park where about 20,000 visitors each day come and see the dinosaurs. This still sounds to me like it's the worst idea ever conceived for a theme park, but to their credit, it's more well-thoughtout and executed this time around. How and why they did this, I don't know, but this time the multi-billionaire in charge is called Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and he does have a more cerebral approach to the idea of a theme park with hundreds of killer dinosaurs as the main attraction. And for the most part, the dinosaurs, if not tamed, they're at least apart of a well-controlled and guarded environment. (Gee I wonder what's gonna happen?) Anyway, onto stupid idea in this series number #146D, in an effort to boost tourism to the park, or World, I should say, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is overseeing the scientists', led by Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) latest creation, and yes creation, they have created a totally new breed of dinosaur from the DNA strain splicing of other dinosaurs as well as other animals. This is a bad idea. Bad, bad, bad, bad idea. But, it's too late now, this giant white, chameleon eat everything part-Raptor/part-Jellyfish, whatever the hell it is, is on the loose and possibly heading towards the people. Oh, Claire's ex-boyfriend Owen (Chris Pratt) who, is a Navy man-turned-dinosaur trainer, is out to stop him, and oh, btw, Claire's nephews Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) are visiting and are somewhere lost in the park, around where the dinosaur will inevitably attacked, as they travel through a giant glass ball with nothing on TV except a Jimmy Fallon educational promo. I am dead serious. Look, there's nothing too serious to take here, you're either gonna like it for it's ridiculousness or you're not. I enjoyed it enough to recommend it. It's enough of a predictable albeit interesting story thread, it advanced and built up the stakes well enough, it's very well-directed. The special effects were hit-and-miss, but I could see this story being told way worst than it was, and I give credit to that to Director Colin Trevorrow, people might remember his very underrated indie film, "Safety Not Guaranteed" a couple years ago, which has some sci-fi elements, but is absolutely the perfect choice for this project 'cause he's good at getting the best out of his characters and actors, and he succeeds pretty well at that.


WOMAN IN GOLD (2015) Director: Simon Curtis

1/2



There's a way to make this movie and tell this story right, I swear there is, but "Woman in Gold", oh man, did they not do that right. And that's really disappointing considering the subject matter, 'cause this is a big problem, us trying to locate many of the possessions that the Nazis stole from the Jews and then bring the items back to the descendants, particularly the valuable ones. Jewels, heirlooms, and in particular paintings. You know, eh, I know there's a few morons who still try to claim that the Holocaust didn't happen, eh, the Nazis documented the Holocaust, not only through film and pictures, but to the most trivial of details, people. They did that. It's- ugh. Anyway, this is the tale of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) who escaped to America from Vienna when she was young, and on top of losing most of her family, and the possessions she lost, she lost multiple paintings, including a painting of her aunt done in gold leaf by Gustav Klimt. That painting, "Woman in Gold" was hanging in Vienna for decades and is often noted and considered to be the most famous and important example of Austrian art, but it's not Austria's to have. It's apart of the constant argument about art and ownership, whether it's owned by those who actually created the work (or commissioned it), which is often the case, or in this case, whether a piece of art as a piece of cultural importance trumps it's actual ownership ,and whether or not, the law, both in Austria, or the U.S. (Or for that matter, in terms of international law) can adequately determine how to settle such a situation. The story is about Maria and her lawyer, Randy Schoenberg's (Ryan Reynolds) struggle to regain possession of the Klimt painting, even after it had become the Mona List of Austria. In between the road blocks of the trials and hearings, we have flashbacks of Maria as a child through the Holocaust, and her aunt, and the painting, etc. Honestly, this isn't a bad movie, but it's so boring. I'm not sure they were able to stretch the story of the trial to a full film, so they tried intercutting the film with the flashbacks, but I seriously don't think this worked either. Take the context out, it's a by-the-book based-on-a-true-story tale of overcoming tremendous obstacles and the little guy winning over the.... ugh, it's just not that good. Director Simon Curtis has done some good films in the past, I admired his "My Week with Marilyn" immensely, but this was not the correct approach to the material. I'm not sure what would've been but trying these two narratives approach definitely wasn't the right one. "Woman in Gold" looks like an amazing painting that I hope to see one day, it's currently at the Neue Gallery in New York City, and they make a point of bringing that up, and that the owner of that museum is the son of Estee Lauder, Ronald (Ben Miles from the UK version of "Coupling"), so that's quite possible, (Although there was absolutely no reason for that character to even be in the movie) but other than that, there's no reason to see the movie about how it ended up here. It's a short film stretch to an hour and 45 minutes and starring Helen Mirren in a half-ass attempt to get her another Oscar nomination. I hate being that blunt, but...., yeah, that's what it is.


TOMORROWLAND
(2015) Director: Brad Bird

✰✰✰



Ugh! You know, I should probably take more notes when watching movies. I don't normally remember every detail of movies I'm reviewing when I'm watching them, even a week after I watch them, which, yeah, it's annoying and frustrating, but my thought process is, usually if it's a good enough then I'll remember it no matter what. (Sigh) Well, after taking months off of writing movie reviews and having to go back and recall some of these titles, it's even more difficult, but "Tomorrowland" is a particularly strange case. It's not that it's bad, it's not really, in fact I'm recommending it, but if you ask me to explain what happened in the movie.... It could have been an hour after the movie was over, it could've been five years after the movie was over, I couldn't explain to you what happened in it. I doubt anybody could actually. I remember that whatever the movie was, there was a lot of it and for the most part, while I barely understood any of what was happening, I enjoyed that there was a lot of it going on. I certainly enjoy a great attempt that fails much more than no attempt that succeeds. "Tomorrowland" is a glorious overblown monstrosity of a disaster, and that's why I'm recommending it, tentatively. Okay, "Tomorrowland" is based on the, ride? Area? Sec-tion of Disney-lannnnd-Worlllld? Okay, look, I know this a trend and people seem to like the idea, but, similar to video games, I don't really understand the notion that theme park attractions actually have or even need a plot or a story or whatever; it never would've dawned on me that they even had one really, and since my only trip to Disneyland is kind of a blur to me, (Long story, apparently you're supposed to sit down on rollercoasters after they repel you up; I'm not a rides guy) I don't really know what the hell they're making this movie from. From what I can gather, whatever it is, it looks like an exhibit from the 1958 World's Fair. Anyway the story.... oh god, from what I can gather, the story involves a young inventor, Frank (Thomas Robinson) who's jet pack isn't quite for the-, well I stand corrected, it was the 1964 World's Fair. Okay, whatever, but he does attract the attention of Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who shows him this future-world known as "Tomorrowland". Whatever else you can say about the movie, "Tomorrowland" is pretty spectacular. It's indulgent as hell, but it's a lot of great CGI. Then, the story moves into the future where a young girl named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) who finds a rare Tomorrowland pin, which, somehow leads her into "Tomorrowland", and this pin is now out MaGuffin and she's trying to escape alive and figure out what the hell this all means. She seeks out the help of the grown-up Frank (George Clooney) and meanwhile.... oh hell, there's dozens of meanwhiles in this movie. I shouldn't be too surprised that this movie is world upon world and nonsense upon nonsense, it was co-written by Damon Lindelof who created the atrocious television show, "Lost", which was also a bunch of this terrible time-jumping and flash forwarding and sideways and worlds upon worlds, it was such crap. It's at least done well here cause Brad Bird, god bless him is trying. He throwing everything up-to and including the kitchen sink into this movie and you know what, it's a kaleidoscope of what-the-fuckery but, you know, I can't really say that I wasn't entertained. I'm probably gonna regret this positive review in a few years, but I definitely couldn't tell where it was going, or where it had been before, and I won't go into the twist with Athena's character although it's an interesting twist and Raffey Cassidy is actually especially good in this role. If it's true what Truffaut said about the joy of filmmaking or the agony of filmmaking being the only things he ever wants to see, I can definitely consider this film as a piece of filmmaking struggling and agony? I'd at least say it's worth a watch, considering that there's so much here, that as an assault to your eyes and mind, it's at least worth experiencing, so for that reason, it's a recommendation.


BEST OF ENEMIES (2015) Director: Robert Gordon & Morgan Neville

✰✰✰✰1/2



The 1968 televised "debates" between William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal for all-intensive purposes, invented television news punditry, for better and worse, and for the most part it's worse. I've known about those infamous debates for awhile although I never really got the jist of their significance, like at the time, what was important about it? "Best of Enemies" profiles both Buckley and Vidal and contextualizes these debates. The 1968 debates first of all, occurred during ABC's network coverage of the Republican and Democratic Conventions, and-, yes, I know this sounds like surrealism now, but traditionally NBC, CBS and ABC covered the political conventions, on primetime television, every day, gavel-to-gavel every four years. No, this wasn't something that was abridged on, this was covered the same way the Super Bowl is now, except NBC and CBS were kicking ABC's ass at it. Knowing ABC's history in general helps with this btw, but they have rarely, if ever been the number one network on television even during the times when there were only three channels, and that crossed over all of the network's programming, and it's actually kinda shocking at times how close ABC was to actually not existing right now. You can legitimately argue that the most important programs in that network's short history was "Monday Night Football" and "The Newlywed Game", especially the latter believe it or not 'cause it was the game shows that often kept that channel afloat and would lead into their primetime programming. (I know this, 'cause Michael Eisner once told this to Bob Eubanks after taking over as Disney CEO and looked over the network's financial history, and said that he's practically responsible for saving the entire network) The news department, especially however. NBC had David Brinkley, CBS had Walter Cronkite, and the ABC desk literally collapsed at the GOP convention when the lights fell and collapsed the stage right before air. So, without the budget or apparently the ability to do it anyway, ABC decided to cut their coverage to a couple hours a night and took a gamble by getting two members on both sides of the political spectrum, both on the elite side in fact Vidal and Buckley's backgrounds are shocking similar, despite be as different as Bill Maher and Bill O'Reilly. Buckley was among the chief Political pundits of his day, editor of the National Review, host of the PBS interview show "Firing Line", and influential in the rises of both Nixon and Reagan to the White House, while Gore Vidal, was a Hollywood screenwriter/playwright and the author of "Myra Breckenridge" among other books that would be considered most blasphemous to a Religious Ideologue like Buckley and he was a spokesman of the hippie revolution even though he looked and sounded like George Plimpton. Actually I can honestly listen to both Buckley and Vidal all day, even though Buckley is, the epitome of all evil, which is nicer than anything Gore Vidal has ever said about. They were live, they were must-see-TV. And during one of the final debates, Buckley lost it and came as close as you'll ever see to two pundits actually going into fisticuffs. I'm not a fan of the "Crossfire"'s or any of the cable channels punditry series, the Nancy Grace, or any of the other shows that are basically just a bunch of guests screaming and shouting disguised as debate and discussion and it's not because they're bias or exploitative or not actually debating or whatever, it's mainly because most of them are absolutely terrible at it. I despise the anti-intellectual movement in America, and the fact is, no matter what you think of either of them, Buckley and Vidal is debate and discussion at the highest order, and while point/counterpoint arguments tread much more into "Jane, you ignorant slut" territory than the more poetic, "crypto-nazi" and "queer" kind of name-calling, that Buckley and Vidal were able to articulate. They may have changed television news for the worst overall, but this is showing how this future change could've been towards changing it for the best. They legitimately despised and hated each other, and we love them for it.


RICKI AND THE FLASH (2015) Director: Jonathan Demme

✰✰✰✰



Theory: While there's a lot taken from Diablo Cody's real life here, including the fact that here ex-mother-in-law used to be a rock singer, I have a sneaky suspicion that much of this movie is in fact, her nightmare scenario of how her life could turn up. Now, that doesn't mean it's bad, even though, I do think she pussy-ed out with the heartfelt ending, and yes, she does do that, but still, there's something to be said here about this. While it's definitely an extension, for Director Jonathan Demme off of his film "Rachel Getting Married", the underrated family wedding film that Anne Hathaway should've won her Oscar, I get the sense that this is probably Diablo Cody's version of "About Schmidt". A character who's got to travel back to a family who doesn't want her and isn't needed in their lives, and struggles to find a way in, despite experiencing all the unfamiliar backlash of a life she hasn't lived. I guess in this scenario, her guitarist Greg (Rick Springfield, reminding us that yes, he's actually an actor as well and a damn good one as he is here) that she's sorta dating in between gigs is the little kid in Africa who Schmidt writes letters and sends money to but....- Okay, it's not a perfect comparison, but you see where I'm going with this right? Diablo Cody is one of the best screenwriters around, she gets a lot of crap sometimes but I don't see it. This isn't her best work by any means, she's not as witty and sharp as she is in "Juno" or "Young Adult", but she is as observant here as ever before. The movie is about the awkward unwanted situation from everybody involved about the rock'n'roll mother coming back home. She's not even a really successful rock'n'roller, playing classic songs at dive bars where the patrons wait for them to play Lady Gaga, in-between her day job working at some Walgreens/Wal-Mart type store. She only ever got to release one rarely-heard or seen solo album, and basically, like most musicians just do it because they have to, as though she's just as successful as all the artists she covers. Anyway, the reason she's coming back to her family is that her daughter Julie's (Mamie Gummer) husband just left her, and now she's started to lose it, including a suicide attempt. She's still not necessarily needed or wanted, but she's trying to catch up to a family that's left her years ago. She also has one son that's about to get married, Josh (Sebastian Stan) who doesn't really want her at the wedding, and her son Adam (Nick Westrate) is gay, and while she's trying, she's not exactly accepting of it. (Despite dressing like Stevie Nicks, and being a rocker, she's strangely a political conservative.) There's also her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline in an inspired piece of casting, for those who've seen "Sophie's Choice" anyway) and his current wife Maureen (Audra MacDonald) who's absent for much of the film, and she starts flirting with the idea of rekindling their relationship, personally if not sexually, until she shows up and the dynamic changes back again slightly. It's definitely not the newest take on this story or even the strangest one, but it's a strong film nonetheless. Like I said, in the hands of Jonathan Demme this movie, comes off as a retread of stuff he's already done and done better, but from a perspective of Diablo Cody's work, this feels like another smart new take for her on a new genre for her, and a distinct look into Diablo Cody's life and work. That's more than worth recommending, alone and on top of it being well-made and well acted, well-cast as well. (Yes, I know Gummer is Streep's daughter, but this is one of her best performances too.)


MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE--ROGUE NATION (2015) Director: Christopher McQuarrie

✰✰✰



(Lawyer's Note, all celebrity voices and appearances appearing in this review are completely imaginary)

ME
Okay, so far we've had, Brian DePalma took a shot at "Mission: Impossible" he, sort went a more visually-interesting but mumbled story route, then John Woo took over, went, not so for much for story as he went for action. J.J. Abrams, really kinda, I think, found a great balance for the franchise, really elevated it, made it a more thoughtful franchise, Brad Bird came in, he had his fun with it, like to reinvent the franchise, take Ethan Hunt out of his element as much as possible, and now, Mr. Oscar-winning screenwriter, Christopher McQuarrie, how are you doing sir?

CHRISTOPHER
Glad to be here, David.

ME
That's great. For those who don't know, this is "Fantasy Filmmaking", the-eh, filmmaking equivalent to fantasy booking, for those pro wrestling fans who know what that means, where we give a filmmaker a filmmaking scenario, and this has been the popular scenario on this show, "Mission: Impossible"! Now, there's not too many guidelines, presume you actually do have, a, budget, even if we're not quite sure what it is,

CHRISTOPHER
Sure enough

ME
And, other that than, pretty much anything goes. You pick the story, you cast the actors, you pick the style of the movie, the tone of the movie, you basically have free reign. It still does have to be "Mission: Impossible" to some degree recognizable as "Mission: Impossible", and Tom Cruise, must be your star, and he must play Ethan Hunt. Other than that, you can be as accurate to the TV series, you can call back to the other movies, you can pretty much do anything, and this is a good franchise to do this with, because pretty much, with all these movies 'cause they're pretty much a franchise that's really just a vision of whoever their directors are, for better or worst, and you've mostly a writer, "The Usual Suspects" "Valkyrie", "The Tourist", "Edge of Tomorrow" most recently, but you've directed some, most notably "Jack Reacher" recently. that was successful. So first of all, what are your thoughts on the previous "Mission: Impossible"'s?

CHRISTOPHER
Well, looking at this, the fifth one, and wondering where exactly to take the series, I like a lot of what Brad Bird did with the last one, by taking Hunt, out of his element, adding a little more absurdist comedy into the franchise, etc., and looking at the franchise, I think that's the correct approach, 'cause no matter who's behind the films before or what kind of movie they made, it was always, primarily a drama movie, and I think it's time, this next one, the fifth be much more comedic.

ME
Much more comedic?

CHRISTOPHER
Yes, not a straight comedy, but it's definitely gonna be more, winking and nodding, a bit more, circular in the spy material, more-eh,

ME
Is this gonna be more "Get Smart" than "Mission: Impossible"?

CHRISTOPHER
A little, it won't-, I'm not Mel Brooks or Buck Henry, but it'll definitely be a turned more towards the comedic. Stunts that'll make you laugh, a lot of, "Just as I knew you would do," kind of  movie spyware absurdism. For instance, like, in the last movie how, IMF had to, not recognize Hunt and his actions for awhile, this time, IMF, is going to be completely eliminated.

ME
Wait, completely eliminated?

CHRISTOPHER
It's gonna get swallowed up, by the CIA, 'cause, they'll look at, blowing up the Kremlin and all the other craziness, and go, "We don't need all this anymore," so they'll overtake it, but Hunt is rogue on his own mission, and now CIA and everyone else is looking for him.

ME
Yeah, so, the CIA has incorporated IMF.

CHRISTOPHER
Yes, and representing the CIA btw, and this is where the big casting move comes, 'cause for the most part, he's got the regulars for his crew back. Ving Rhames is back, Simon Pegg is definitely back, Jeremy Renner's back, but the big casting addition, is gonna be the CIA antagonist who's after Hunt and wants to eradicate IMF, thinks it's useless in modern-day counter-intelligence, Alec Baldwin.

ME
Alec Baldwin, really?!

CHRISTOPHER
Yeah, well, first of all, it's a bit of stunt casting, with him playing Jack Ryan that time.

ME
Right, so he's done the spy films before, now, I love Baldwin, but he has had, a bit of a hard time not playing Jack Donaghy recently.

CHRISTOPHER
Yeah, but that's why he's good here, not as the main villain, but somebody who we don't trust, who's possibly over-the-top, possibly on their side, etc.

ME
Okay, it's-, that's an interesting idea; I don't think I would've done that.

CHRISTOPHER
Well, you're not me.

ME
True, so, the rest of the cast, other than returns, not real big names.

CHRISTOPHER
Eh, well good actors, not big names, there's gonna be a girl who comes in that Hunt is after, and we're not quite sure which side she's on, 'cause she'll be a bit of a double agent who may or may not be helping Hunt, and whatever, and she's gonna be a good young British actress, 'cause I also want to bring MI-6 into this, since we got the CIA, there's the MI-6, and then some Syndicate group of Terrorists who infiltrated both of these entities and they're all trying to figure out what each other's doing, and because I want to go to Casablanca at one point during this, her character's gonna be called Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson)

ME
Ilsa, really.

CHRISTOPHER
I know it's obvious, but I can't help myself. And also, the main, impossible heist thing, they've been doing these things on top of buildings for the last few movies, so this one, he has to crack open a safe that's underwater.

ME
An underwater safe?

CHRISTOPHER
Well, one that floods when people are in the thing, so, basically, yeah.

ME
Okay, that seems like a bit much, I bet I can let that go if it's done well.

CHRISTOPHER
Like I said, it'll all still be intense, but it's a lighter approach to "Mission: Impossible", so everything's a little bit heightened on the ridiculous meter, not too much, but enough for a laugh, but it's not a, over-the-top laugh, it's more of a eh-a, "Hahaha, look what happened to him!" laugh, so it's-

ME
Okay, I gotcha.

CHRISTOPHER
Yeah, that kind of laugh.

ME
And who's the ultimate bad guy?

CHRISTOPHER
Uh, again, British, Bond uber-suave Bond villain type, he's the bad guy, and he seems to have, you everything planned ahead, even what seems unlikely and impossible to have foreseen type, somebody that can do that. Seems wise in his mannerisms but may just be full of himself, we'll call him Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and yeah, an up-and-coming good British character actor. "Get Smart"'s probably not the right comparison, it's probably more Emma Peel, "Secret Agent" type shows meet "Mission: Impossible", type.

ME
Okay, well, those were definitely the same era, and they were all the genre that "Get Smart" was parodying but....-

CHRISTOPHER
I understand the confusion, but yeah, a modern day, that mixed with a "Mission: Impossible", and that way, because it's a little more light, with this fifth film, we have options for the next one. We can start at the beginning with a tradition "Mission: Impossible" film, we can go darker with the next one, we can go sillier with the next one, I think this is the best approach for this film, in order for the next film to be able to go whatever it wants to and continue on, so there's a reasoning to this....

ME
Passing it on to the next guy with a blank slate....

CHRISTOPHER
Exactly!

ME
And who is doing the next one?

CHRISTOPHER
I have no idea, I have to look that up.

ME
Could it be you?

CHRISTOPHER
Possibly, and if is I could do something completely different next time.

ME
Okay, so, um, it's a bit of a change, and not necessarily what I would think of with a "Mission: Impossible" movie, but I-eh, I get it, I can see "Mission: Impossible" in this, both continuing with the films and homaging back to the series, I don't know if it's my favorite, but I get it.

CHRISTOPHER
Good, that's what I'm going for.

ME
It's adds another flavor to the series, more ideas more layers, yeah, overall, feels like "Mission: Impossible" to me, so well done, Christopher, thanks for doing this for us.

CHRISTOPHER
Thanks for having me, this was fun.

ME
You're very welcome, glad you could do it. Very much appreciated.

CHRISTOPHER
You're welcome.

ME
This has been Fantasy Filmmaking, Christopher McQuarrie doing "Mission: Impossible", number five.


ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015) Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

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(Scratching head) I don't know think I know quite what to make of "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl", other than the fact that I liked it, or at least, didn't hate it. I think my ambivalence is linked towards something that Richard Roeper mentioned in his review, I'm paraphrasing here, but he brought up some of the more at-the-fringe characters of the movie, and talked about how the camera could've suddenly started following them and the film would've still been interesting, he compared it to Richard Linklater's film "Slacker". Um, I'm not sure I buy that but that's probably part of the problem for me. I didn't really find the characters all that interesting, I mean, I get what he's saying, this does seem to be a world of it's own, it should be anyway, the author of the novel the movie's based on is also the screenwriter, but it's also the kind of movie that's a little too self-aware that this is a movie we're watching, and a particular kind of movie at that. For instance, the main character, Greg (Thomas Mann) he's peculiar. He's sort of an outsider in high school, but mainly only because he isn't exactly trying to fit in. He has a friend, sorta, named Earl (RJ Cyler) although the only thing they have in common is that they like to make movies, particular going through the school library's Criterion Collection and then taking those movies and making slight parodies of them, like "The 400 Bros" for instance, just shot on shitio in their backyard movies and whatnot with just the two of them. Um-eh-, no, forget it. So,-, um-

Actually no, I need to bring this up. I know that film is a bit of an elitist art form, it's expensive to have a camera and film and editing equipment and then you need actors and costumes, editing software, yada, yada, yada, but I gotta be honest, it really kinda irks me how many times I see people in high school and whatnot who work with video equipment on a regular basis, in front of, and behind the camera in real life. I'm not that rich, and certainly did not have the video equipment to make movies, or the passion or capabilities/opportunities to, until way into college. There isn't, still probably a film class or a channel of programming that my high school has, hell it's still sorta being fleshed out at my college and I do realize that this is the complete opposite for some people, a lot of people, probably, but so rings false to me that it just kinda irks me overall. This so rings false to me to my own experiences in finding an artistic voice, finding myself realizing that I needed to find an artistic voice and then an outlet; even if I supposedly had those kinds of opportunities at that age and whatnot, I can almost guarantee you that I certainly wouldn't have even thought of participating in those things, on my own and of my own fruition until I was well into college and maybe that's apart of how and why I approach film and films as I do, but yeah you can have a movie with three-year-old debating in Sorkinese fluency about the works of Marcel Proust, and I'd probably go by without it being question, but realizing you're artistic nature through film to me, just baffles me. This is probably a minority, I certainly knew people who did theater or did, painting or whatnot, growing up, hell, long before I got into film I dabbled in poetry and as a lyricist in high school before realizing that I had absolutely no ear or talent in music, but doing it with film, just always seems too foreign to be believable to me. It bares so little resemblance to anything I think of when I think of my high school mindset that it never feels right to me. Worst than that, it makes me, a thirty-something year-old with a film degree who's done writing, directing, acting, holding a light, etc. whatever, it makes me feel like I'm not apart of this little group of filmmakers and I think I just want to point out that feeling for other futures films that some filmmakers might make about high school artists people in the future, 'cause even if this is their Mary Sue self-insert truth, and that's what happened with them, and I'm not necessarily against that, but, be aware that this doesn't always connect even with people who do work in this industry as believable or truthful; there's more than just this kind of experience, and it's not always shared, and possibly it's good to look for people who don't have experience also, it might lead to different kinds of people getting work and whatnot, who might have different things to say.

Okay, with that out of the way, and that's kinda my problem with this film as a whole, it is a different way of telling this same old story, hell there was a version of this the year before called "The Fault in Our Stars", this version is much better than that film btw. So, how does Greg meet this Dying Girl, who name is Rachel btw, (Olivia Cooke), well he doesn't want to, but she lives nearby and his mother (Connie Britton) forces him to go over and say hi and be friends with her. To her credit, she doesn't really want the pity friendship, and they're actually kind of a strange pair. This isn't a romance, but most of the film is essentially Greg and Rachel, and sometimes Earl, just hanging out and talking in her room. She is dying and there is some romantic possible entanglement but it isn't played for sentimentality. In fact, this is where I recommend the movie, outside of the making movies thing, these sorta conversations and relationship between the students, does feel believable enough to me, despite the eccentric and quirky adult characters that seem to pepper the rest of the film. "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" is a little erratic to me, and there's actually a lot going on; it's definitely an episodic feature, so there's a lot of little subplots and characters and quirks that I didn't bring up but this is a weird movie that knows the kind of movie it is, and is simultaneously trying it's damnedest not, to be, that kind of movie, and, I don't know, I think I'd rather it actually just be the kind of movie it was. I mean, it's like if somebody but on some pads and a jockstrap and pants and a jersey and a helmet and chinstrap and whatnot and then decided to play golf, it's-, if you're going dressed to play football, play football, you know?


SOUTHPAW (2015) Director: Antoine Fuqua

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I keep expecting Antoine Fuqua's films to be better than they actually are. I mean, he's one of the few African-American filmmakers out there who gets consistent and continued work in Hollywood, and not through the independent route either; he's pretty clearly a Hollywood director. And yet, I can never get a grasp on him. His breakthrough movie was his third feature, "Training Day" and it's still by far his best, despite being about 20-30 minutes too long, and the reason for that is both the performances of Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, but also the fact that they actually are characters. Well, Alonzo Harris is a character, Hawke is basically a blank slate reacting to him, and Washington deserved to get his second Oscar for that, but really, think about that movie, other than that, what's in that film? You can literally say that movie just exists for the two hours that the film is, and almost nothing changes, it's a film about a bad guy and the bad guy gets killed at the literal end of the day and, that's it.  That's the thing, he's style over substance, and occasionally he accidentally bumps into an interesting characters to make it memorable, but usually he doesn't even do that. Name one thing memorable about "Brooklyn's Finest"? One thing, I dare you?! Even the title sucks, "Brooklyn's Finest", you might as well just call it "Cop Movie", that's what it was. You had one movie called "Shooter" which was just a guy with a shotgun who shot people, why not call it "Cop Movie", or why not call "Southpaw", "Boxing Movie". Okay, to be fair, not everything he's done has been so forgettable, but I can't really think of any of his other films as good, of his major ones at least. And, I haven't seen that "King Arthur" of his, although yeah, that's look particularly odd on his filmography, at the same time though, while half his films seem basically the same, I can't grasp on him as a director either. What are his motifs? What interests him? Cops, bad guys, action, I guess, but you know, those are things in his movies but they're not things he ever seems to have a point of view on. That's probably what most confuses me about "Southpaw", the boxing movie that, until "Creed" hit theaters last year, was the movie everybody was talking about for Oscars at least for Jake Gyllenhaal's performance, mostly from the photos showing his transformation into, Billy Hope, yeah, that's his name, Billy Hope, I guess 'cause Joey Hart was too obvious. Look, this isn't a bad movie, or even a bad performance, but the movie is literally every boxing movie cliche you can think of shoved into one movie. In fact, this movie feels particularly rushed, like this was supposed to be a "Rocky" sequel that never happened so they changed the names and put in a bunch of exposition really quickly to give us reasons why we should care about all these characters right before horrible things start happening to them. Like, one minute, he's the champion, the next, his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) gets killed, yeah, the Rachel McAdams characters exists just to get killed really quickly 'cause of his rival boxer, Miguel "Magic" Escobar (Miguel Gomez) who's acting all Killer Kane looking for a shot, then he loses the title, then he loses his daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) then his agent quits him, then he's suspended for a year, then he has to get a job picking up buckets of spit at some old trainer's place, Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) who he has to convince to train him after he swore he'd never train a professional again, ugh. Yeah, it's entertaining, it is well-acted by good actors, too good for the material, especially McAdams, (Keep in mind she got an Oscar nomination this year for the Best Picture film "Spotlight" and here she is, earlier in the year, as a disposable female character, and the most interesting character in the film btw, and she's dead in the first thirty minutes. Yeah, don't waste your damn females characters Hollywood screenwriters!) but what am I supposed to take out of it? I mean, yeah, they go into Billy and Maureen's backstory, both of them being orphans and having to grow up on the streets and was lucky to find boxing as his way out, but, yeah, he doesn't really make us care about these characters though. We don't see it. I think that's why I suspect that might've been an abandoned Rocky sequel, this feels like the third or fourth film in a franchise, not a stand-alone, like we were supposed to have experienced what these characters already went through before we meet them here and nobody told the movie that, we barely know who the hell these characters are!? I don't know, I am recommending it, I guess, but there's missed opportunity written all over it. If you're watching it, you'll be entertained, just don't expect to ever remember it afterwards.


THE END OF THE TOUR (2015) Director: James Ponsoldt

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To some extent, I gotta admit that I'm getting a little tired of this trope in biopics where we get introduced to an everyman character who we then get to introduce us to the main character, who's this big well-known famous person who he's fascinated by. That gets tiresome to me, but that said, it does still work a lot. I guess when it kinda doesn't work as often, is when we're expected to take out, an overall about the person from this outsider perspective, and thankfully with "The End of the Tour", we're not getting that. We're getting only, about all that we could probably reasonably expect out of this kind of movie, a brief look into the lives of a specific person at a specific time in his life. That person is David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal), the author of "Infinite Jest" among other novels and is considered one of the great works in all of literature. I've never read it, or any David Foster Wallace work as far as I recall, although I've certainly heard the name many times before as he was critically applauded during his life, and I did one movie adaptation of his work, John Krasinski's "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men", which was okay although hardly memorable. He committed suicide back in 2008, but the movie takes place during the last few days of his initial book tour for "Infinite Jest" back in '96, Rolling Stone reporter and accomplished novelist himself David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) had read the reviews and then the book and convinced his editor to do a piece on him, proclaiming him to be a modern rock star in the literary world. (citation needed, but I think he's the first novelist to be on the cover of the magazine, as in, that's what he was famous for, on the cover of Rolling Stone.) The movie goes out of it's way to have that distinctive '96 feel too. There's only a few references to e-mail being the new way of communicating, at one point, in the Mall of America, the two go see "Broken Arrow", there's lots of talk about Alanis Morissette, complete with poster of her on Wallace's wall, (Which actually isn't different from my room now, but oh well.) We see Wallace teaching a class at some obscure community college, all the while both Lipsky and Wallace are constantly self-aware of the entire ordeal. Lipsky likes Wallace, but must get material for an interview from him, including lingering questions about addiction and his mental health and Wallace, likes Lipsky, but knows that he needs to answer those questions but will do his damnedest not to. Wallace has a pretty allergic reaction to fame and infamy; hell he dresses like Kurt Cobain with Axl Rose's bandana two people who both handled fame pretty poorly and his particular fascination is with the constant barrage of artificiality of media culture. He claims that catching a "Magnum, P.I." marathon on cable in a hotel room is him getting a fix, (He didn't keep a television in his house) Yeah, I know your thinking, that poor prophetic bastard, no wonder he killed himself. The movie does begin with news and reports of his suicide, but that said, there's really no indication of that. Wallace is portrayed for the most part, very positively. He's upbeat, he's cheerful, almost blissfully so. He's genuinely happy and fun-loving, there's little indication of his eventual suicide, and perhaps that's the point of the movie, that he wasn't this doom-and-gloom person his art and his death may lead some to believe, or at least he wasn't for the few days Lipsky spent with him. Casting Jason Segal in the role was pretty genius actually, he wouldn't have been the first person I would've thought of, but he's perfectly cast here and this is one of his best roles to date. In another and Eisenberg could've been a great buddy cop action comedy, but here as two intellectual playing metaphorical games of chess disguised as metaphorical games of checkers, they work pretty well together as they navigate the end of the stressful terrain of a road and overlook upon the upcoming media onslaught that both kinda foresee but neither can fully realize until much later. "The End of the Tour" is a nice tribute to a great complicated modern-day genius that aims to only give us one small glimpse into his life, and succeeds without at doing just that without trying to pile on more.