Friday, January 3, 2014

2013, the bread and butter: Part II of II

TOP TEN OF THE YEAR PRESENTED BY MY MOUTH, ON WE GO.



10.  WOULD YOU RATHER



I firmly believe that had this been a big studio horror film, this film would take the reigns from SAW and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY as the next great horror franchise. Jeffrey Combs plays an eccentric millionare that collects a group of sad sack charity cases once a year for dinner where he offers them the monetary solution to all their problems. But they must play along with his games and there can only be one winner. What follows is a series of Would You Rather implements of torture and pain that very often gives you the opportunity to pass it on to your neighbor or let you go through with it yourself. In a world where CABIN IN THE WOODS has effectively retired horror, a film that doesn’t give in to cliché and attempts to unfold events on it’s own merit is sadly a rare commodity.

9. KOCH



The politics of the man are not what this movie is ultimately about, but the main success of this documentary is in the way it tells the story about one of the most crucial times of modern day New York City. It’s edited to set the tone and sounds and feel of a city steeped in crime and poverty and over the course of 40 years became a slick and clean tourist Mecca. The burden of being responsible for the city in such a turbulent time is highlighted rather intensely, and the city’s new chapter is heralded in as the city’s former shepards fade into the background. Koch died the day this movie came out, giving the final scene, a bridge being named after him and it being his seemingly proudest moment as The Only Living Boy In New York played put such a pretty cap on what seemed to be a very solitary life.

8. THE SPECTACULAR NOW
Another Best Actress contender, Shailene Woodley comes to fucking play in this. Miles Teller plays an alcoholic high schooler that accidentally gets involved with the sweet and shy Woodley and a relationship blossoms. Her first. Teller seems to open up from the inside out as she becomes a bigger part of his life and as he is willing to let that be so. Teller’s future starts to unravel in front of him as he is unable to handle his roots and his current place in life and while he keeps expecting to add a break up her dumping him on the list, she is only there for him more and more as he spirals down. Even in one intense moment where you realize this isn’t a crush, and this isn’t a clingy girl playing house, that she is in love with him completely and he doesn’t even know how to process such a thing when everything else in his life seems doomed to fail. Woodley pierces your heart with sincerity with just a glance, leaving behind her teenage melodrama roots in the process. It’s a shame she’s been snagged to be another heroine for some limp dick teen fiction book series franchise because she should actually continue to play real human beings.

7.  THE CROODS


Emma Stone is a young cave girl in the last line of cave people dwelling in a particular prehistoric valley. Her family stayed that way by holing up in the dark, scrunched in a rock, never letting danger find them. But she is too curious about the outside world, and when an earthquake destroys their home, the head of the tribe, Nicolas Cage must find them new shelter. Such a perfect cast with Catherine Keener as the mom and Clark Duke as the son and Cloris Leachman as the grandma. Mixed with amazing action sequences, clever production design and a 3D presentation actually worth the surcharge, THE CROODS thrives on imagination and discovery with colorful bursts of life and hilarity. The director of LILO & STITCH and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON shouldn’t be expected of anything less.

6.  THE WORLD’S END



Edgar Wright is one of the best filmmakers of our time. Nothing is accomplished without a thick, rich layer of thought and care to every frame of his movies. Every movement or line has a meaning and every scene and character has a place and a purpose. This tale of trying to recreate youthful anarchy and ending up a descent into alcoholism is all over the map, but carefully strung more tightly together with every passing moment. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost deliver the performances of their careers. It’s a real feat how different their trilogy characters are and the relationships they have together work, almost going full circle in this. The music and action and top notch cast make this movie not only a must see, but a must see several times. A movie that is actually several movies, a different one each time you see it.

5.  THE KINGS OF SUMMER



This movie nails it. A young boy, unimpressed by the way his snide father is raising him, decides to convince his friends to help him build a house in the woods to live in permanently. They survive off the land (with a Boston Market nearby) and answer to no one but themselves, but the freedom doesn’t change you. And sooner or later their fates become self fulfilling prophecies and the future that they were trying to avoid comes back to finally be faced. First time filmmaker Jordan Vogt-Roberts creates his own style that is painfully funny, refreshing and introduces us to a great cast of young men that will hopefully have legit careers after this. Keeps the young rebellious heart in us strong.

4. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR



Another 3 hour epic, this time subtitled and the most comprehensive love story I’ve ever seen on screen. With the long runtime, it uses the time it has with us wisely as it shows you the meeting of these two girls and how their relationship grows at a realistic yet still intriguing space. You’re there for everything. And I mean everything. There is a 15 minute hardcore sex scene that follows an intensely steady courtship that just erupts all over their sheets. It earns the scene. It gets your blood charged for their honeymoon phase and the subsequent sex scenes are just as appropriately proportionate to where they are in the relationship. There is a moment in this movie they do the meet the parents thing over dinner and any movie would have this be an opportunity for comedy or awkwardness but it taught me something so substantial about letting your partner into your life completely and without apology that was even more intense for me to handle than the sex scenes. My robot insides started to discharge a salty substance and I saw things that I didn’t bother to see in my own life. Of course, after all of the happily ever after comes routine. And sometimes hurt. And sometimes you make mistakes in the fleeting moments of doubt that you spend a lifetime wishing you could take back. For as long as we sit there and are with them, there is a moment in this movie that marks for the first time, exactly how much time has passed as all of this has been going on and it was so utterly heartbreaking and bleak to me that I couldn’t help but cry. At a passing line. The intensity of that lmost final scene then double downs and by the time the credits roll I felt like I had been in serious relationship and needed some serious me time. Fantastic performances by the female leads and not just one of the best movie of the year, but one of the best movies I’ve probably ever experienced. Keyword experience.

3. ABOUT TIME



Richard Curtis, co-creator of Mr. Bean and writer/director of LOVE ACTUALLY owns beach front property in my heart and has a summer home on my funny bone. He has crafted a story here that I fear was improperly marketed as a run of the mill geek gets girl through magic premise but it’s far from actually being that. It’s not even the story of using super natural powers for gain. It’s used to get perspective. And it’s a romantic relationship at the center, it’s an entire lifetime. Rachel McAdams does deserve all the praise and paychecks though. There is something so undeniably genuine about her. Every smile and every stumble is TOO legit and Bill Nighy gets the chance to do some meaty stuff here. But Brendan Gleeson’s son Domhnall gets his feature debut here and does excellent. I was so taken by this movie’s sense of responsibility to the story when it came to time travel. It’s used in a rather conservative way that one might think would hold you back but it really amplifies the heart of what’s going on. LOVE ACTUALLY can seem a bit shallow at times, because it needs to serve so many stories at once. It works but Curtis focusing on just one story really blew me away. Also, there is a blonde bombshell in this that the movie trips in front of and apologizes as being “dreadfully sorry” as it accidentally drops it’s monocle in her cleavage. But the same blonde is in Wolf of Wall Street and really throws her against the wall for a good knackering. I just found it funny how British and American directors treated such beauty.

2. WHAT MAISIE KNEW



Having gone through my own parents divorce as a child (twice, it’s a good story), I know what it feels like to be in the middle of a dissolving relationship. I also know what it’s like to have my best interests completely ignored and what it was like to be shuffled off to two buildings you were supposed to call “home”, knowing full well you were pissing off the other parent by being there for any length of time. I think we might underestimate what a child can process in times like these. This movie is seen completely through the eyes of a little 7 year old girl and how she interprets her parent’s relationship ending. The parents hatred for each other becomes intense enough for to be used as a pawn and often too much a reminder of the other to be taken at all seriously. Maise’s parents find other people and they become part of Maisie’s life too. At first forcefully and out of necessity, but ultimately for her own good. And when the two people that care about her most, aren’t her parents and can be ripped from her life at any moment, the suspense builds and liquifys your insides unlike any movie you’ll see this year. It’s weird that we hemmed and hawed about that little girl in BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD for shouting some motivational slang or whatever the fuck and absolutely NO ONE is talking about Onata Aprile. Never have I seen a child actor deal with such loss and heartbreak as vividly as she did, and again, subtle. You know, like real life. I was at the edge of my seat all the way up to the credits rolling and I’m not sure I could take another emotional whallop like that of Maisie’s journey, but if it could open up your perspective and empathy to the lives of other people, it’s worth it.

1. FRANCES HA



There’s a lot I’ve already said about this movie. A whole 7 months worth of praise and recommendation. The story of a woman’s solitary journey to find the happiness within herself hit me harder than any movie I’ve seen since I was a teenager. Far from being their first film, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s script has the lean high impact bare bones whimsy that seems like the indulgence of a first time filmmaker. It’s got the youthful optimism running in it’s veins. There are many films like this, but this one is it’s own thing. An up and coming dancer in New York city is thrown into a spiral of self doubt when her best friend moves out of her apartment to be with her boyfriend. A relationship that’s becoming very serious very fast and Frances incomplete is not something that’s ready to function on her own. Needless to say, Greta Gerwig gives the performance of the year. One that never asks for sympathy. One that is always looking toward a positive outcome. I saw this movie 10 times in a theater and it didn’t even occur to me the first couple of times just how long Frances mills about. There is a feeling of loneliness and solitude while being surrounded by life that really strikes a chord with me. Her independence is unflattering and embarrassing at times, even though there is really no one around to judge it but herself. Others seem to succeed around her but she eventually realizes she has to define her own terms of success. It means a lot of letting go. Some dreams. Some parts of your life. Some regression and some hurt. And when she finally starts becoming comfortable with reality, the mania of her twenties calms down a bit. She sees the sky isn’t falling and as the clouds part a bit, she sees that the people she loves have always been there. Her person is still there for her. Maybe a little bit farther away, but she can still find her eyes across a crowded room.

- D

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013, you're the mayonaise for me: Part I




Time to fill your January with all the hits you may have missed as I inform you of my very favorite movies of 2013 out of the 137 I sat through. On we go.

Honorable Mentions!

AFTERNOON DELIGHT

 
Kathryn Hahn plays a Silverlake stay at home mom and wife to an overworked and immature app designer and is of course unfulfilled with her life. This movie goes Nicole Holofcener by way of Judd Apatow in a very fluid way when on an ironic trip to a downtown LA strip joint on a couples date, she becomes infatuated with a stripper played by Juno Temple (probably the #1 underrated actress working today, seen in about five thousand of these indies). She herself takes on the time honored cinematic position of Captain Saveaho and offers this poor troubled young girl opportunity and compassion in exchange for shaking things up in her lives a bit. But it slowly becomes apparent who really has their head on straight when the third act goes into Turbo nuts mode and the aftermath is just as suspenseful and explosive. Quite an original story with fantastic performances by Temple and Hahn. This year has been fueled by amazing performances by female leads and it bugs me when the same 5 get nominated for everything because as this list will show you, there was some doozies that are going to be overlooked. Hahn unfortunately, being a big one.

TIGER EYES




An adaptation of one of the many beloved Judy Blume novels featuring lost and confused youth and surprisingly, the first one to make it to the big screen. Willa Holland plays a girl who’s young father recently passed away and she moves to New Mexico with her mom, the Pink Power ranger and little brother to be with relatives that will take over the parenting role from an emotional devastated mom. Directed by Lawrence Blume, Judy’s son, and co-written by the both of them, the mid-seventies angst and tone are clear as crystal as they nail the feeling of being young, having your guiding forces taken away from you, not knowing what’s coming next and the painful realization that the way you handle it now will effect your for a long time to come. Common teen novel plot elements come to the surface but the real winner is Willa Holland and the way the barren lands of New Mexico compliment what she’s going through as she fondly remembers the sunny beach lifestyle of not that long ago. A real gem that unfortunately wasn’t that well received, but hopefully more Blume adaptations can make their way to the screen soon.

SPRING BREAKERS




The opening sequence of SPRING BREAKERS is one of the best of the year because while trying to establish this enticing sexualized tone of mischief and fun, it really becomes quite terrifying and off putting as it overextends it’s welcome into your senses with an intensity you can’t wait to end. And it’s the perfect set up for what’s to come as a group of girls with varying senses of good judgment decide to go to Mexico for SPRING BREAK, but they soon realize that it’s a paradise they don’t ever want to leave. But paradise and the anything can happen nature of vacation in exotic locations soon deliver much more sinister roles for them to play and one by one, the ones with the most sense leave the group, offering only complete and utter chaos left to deal with. James Franco cements his career to me in this as this kind of thing being what he does best with the role of his life that should definitely be recognized. He isn’t Robert DeNiro’s son or Spider-Man’s enemy or a handsome WWI flying ace. He is a dreaded out psychopath tweaker with a hint of class. Putting Disney/ABC Family stars as the leads doesn’t exactly hit home the shocking nature it’s supposed to, because it’s not about corruption of the innocent. It’s about how fucked up inside you always were.

LOVELACE



The biography of the pornstar turned mainstream sensation for popularizing a sexual act that apparently was uncharted territory before she came along. This movie succeeds in several ways. It really highlights a time I had never realized happened. A time where porn became mainstream. A time where it was playing in REAL movie theaters and being talked about by Johnny Carson and Walter Cronkite. A time where the moral majority of America was like “Oh, hell no” and stopped an entertainment industry into becoming a Biff’s Pleasure Palace kingdom unto ourselves. Another is this is Amanda Seyfreid at her best. Not playing second fiddle to anyone, or chasing after Justin Timberlake or Channning Tatum. This is her movie. And from a structural standpoint it’s pretty brilliant because it tells you the story twice. Once with glamour of fame and stardom and once with a healthy dose of reality. One where Linda Lovelace isn’t an entertainer anymore, where she doesn’t exist just in the moment but comes with a past and a future it’s bone chilling and heartbreaking. As much as 12 YEARS A SLAVE activated your White Guilt mode, this one should be a five alarm fire to you because this kind of thing definitely still happens to people and they probably will never have the voice to save themselves. A movie that completely changes my perspective is rare and worthy of note. Also, holy fuck is Peter Skarsgaard scary. He should have played himself in GREEN LANTERN.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS



We are lucky to have the Coen Brothers but even moreso lucky to have their career. Where they can make this kind of movie in their signature style and not have sense or sentiment get in their way. Llewyn Davis is a struggling folk singer in the 1960’s east coast folk scene. He’s a dime a dozen kind of guy and all of his mistakes are still dragging him down. The only thing he seems interested in is his music and surviving off of it. Success eludes him and people around him seem to have a much better attitude about it than he does, successful or not. Only two movies this year nailed the solitary journey that some accidentally condemn themselves with and this movie is one of them. And gives the lead a certain dignity to it. We don’t see the things that made Llewyn such a bad guy, but we hear and see how it effects him. It’s almost like they don’t even really exist, which provides us with a pretty great perspective from his side. But as they say in the film, it’s a story that was never new but never gets old and echoes even throughout the events we unfold for ourselves.

20. PARADISE



The terrible irony of Diablo Cody’s career is that she’ll forever be known for her first two horrible scripts and her next two after that will go largely unnoticed. YOUNG ADULT was a near masterpiece, carefully honed and perfected by the people that did JUNO to us. But here, Cody for the first time directs her own script and admittedly regrets it. And I kind of regret it too. She’s not that strong of a director and even her own vision is cloudy here, but the script is great. Julianne Hough has been hitting a lot of singles and doubles in supporting roles over the last few years, but Cody expertly cast her as a small town wannabe starlet who’s debilitating and defacing accident left her scarred physically and emotionally but with a huge settlement check decides to ditch her town and head to Vegas. Even though Cody writes herself into a lot of holes, Hough’s performance is one of heartbreaking confusion and anger that doesn’t always land correctly because Cody tends to give snarky dialogue in too many places even if it’s out of character, but the good shines through. I think I’ve really come to appreciate the kind of movie that doesn’t accomplish what it was trying to do but is still charming anyway. It actually fits for this kind of movie any the intent is so clear that it manages to ghost it’s way towards a win.

19. ZIPPER: CONEY ISLAND’S LAST WILD RIDE




Movies are supposed to show us people and lives and places that we may have never had the chance to experience. Unfortunately, this one captures a time and a place that is almost dead. This movie details the history of not Coney Island but it’s struggle to exist. An ancient relic of yesteryear, made obsolete and irrelevant but the Walt Disneys and Sam SixFlags of our age, Coney Island’s will to run solely on charm is becoming less and less likely as development companies have bought up the land, are influencing the right people and rezoning the area to build an epic monstrosity of Taco Bells, Pizza Huts, Hot Topics and Dave & Buster’s. Told through the story of rider owners and operators of the Zipper, one of the more commonly seen amusements around the world, we see the common man get phased out for the new and improved common. A faceless common that didn’t earn it’s past and doesn’t have a future. A true underdog tale that may have you thinking differently at what you decide to dismiss.

18. IN A WORLD…



I didn’t know that Lake Bell should be Wonder Woman. I know this now, of course, and I also didn’t know what she was capable of opening our eyes to. Writing and directing this her self, the unfortunately titled IN A WORLD… dumbs down the theatrical voice over industry to tell us a story about taking down the patriarchy. Literally and figuratively as she plays a fresh new voice over artist with a big buzz that is giving competition to the heavyweights of the medium; one of which is her father. IN A WORLD... might be cheesy and simple in some areas, but the ones it chooses to swing for the fences for, it hits big. Also, she wrote a subplot in this that she should have just kept and made into a whole second feature for her to do about the marriage of Rob Cordry and Michela Watkins that is shockingly effective when it chooses to be dramatic. A wonderful original surprise, now let’s fire Gal Gadot, please.

17. AS COOL AS I AM



Another example of the great female performances of the year, little Sarah Bolger who made us weep with her irish accented rendition of Desperado in IN AMERICA is back in pog form playing the daughter of James Marsden and Claire Danes in a Laissez-Faire type parenting situation. He is out lumberjacking hundreds of miles away while she finds companionship elsewhere. Her life makes sense to her because that’s all she knows, but as life starts to drop a ton of bricks on her one brick at a time, she finds the structure of her upbringing to be very unstable when it comes to dealing with her issues in her own head. I related very much to her, not realizing my own parents crumbling marriage and relationship’s effect on me until much later unlike her who is realizing it as it starts to unravel. There is a lot to be said about a performance that finds the balance between subtlety and vulnerability without a lot of tears and yelling. Bolger deserves some props for miming the weight of this on her shoulders so well. But hold on, Judi Dench threw some shade at some rude chimney sweep, bombard her with SAG awards.

16. WHITE HOUSE DOWN



Last year, Channing Tatum’s MAGIC MIKE made the list and I said that it will go down in history as one of the most misunderstood successes of all time. Unfortunately, most of you were all bad at this one too. Irony and goofery is tough to navigate through these days. When you see such a premise as this (The second to be released this year) you might start salivating at how funny everyone’s gonna think you are when you dismiss this, but in reality the movie is gonna be funny enough for all of us, so just sit the fuck back down, Arsenio. You can say what you want about the action genre of the 80’s and 90’s but one thing you can’t say is that this movie didn’t nail it. Or bow down to it’s alter, basically. This movie does what most who attempt this kind of thing nowadays doesn’t, and that’s be genuinely fun. We have to give poor Roland Emmerich a pass every once and awhile for the GODZILLAS and the 10,000 BCS, because when he cooks, he cooks. And he managed to be the only director this year to actually make the rest of his movie work around the amazing Joey King. It’s almost an honor to her to finally give her a movie she doesn’t have to carry all by herself. And of course, Tatum hits all the right notes as well. James Woods villain. Flag drill team callback. I give you an Incomplete on this, America. Go back and do it right this time.

15.  THE WOLF OF WALL STREET



It’s not that directors don’t try to unhinge and go for broke, but so rarely are they enough of a lunatic to run the asylum and Martin Scorsese basically just bowed down and tipped his hat to us, but it wasn’t his hate, it was the top of his skull and when he bowed down we saw his brains. It's like an episode of Mad Men on a speedball. He’s getting a lot of heat for glorifying this behavior that fueled the greed that took down the American economy but there are a few things one must realize before scraping the shame of your finger at the man. First, if you actually get genuine enjoyment at the things portrayed in this picture, than you are an A-1 psychopath. Two, there is nothing glorious about it, in fact, I had to look away multiple times to keep my stomach from turning, and three, they are completely ignoring the result of all this madness. I will say though, there is a drug scene in this movie that went from nauseating to compelling to flat out cheer worthy. At three hours, it complements the excess and exhaustive nature of the film’s subjects and so rarely does something fire on this many cylinders from a director you think you’ve seen it all from.


14. NEBRASKA



As common as a classic Coke bottle, and just as cumbersome and too much trouble for what it’s worth, Bruce Dern plays an old buzzard who’s starting to lose his mind and what’s to claim his sweepstakes million dollar prize by walking across the state to get it. His son, Will Forte decides to humor the old man as his last hurrah and drives him to where he needs to be. But not without a weekend stop in his old home town, where his new found fortune makes him a hero and a pariah. But what becomes apparent is that his legacy is worth more to him than anything the sweepstakes could give him and in his old age, he’s become a little more desperate to preserve it. Director Alexander Payne basically fade away hooks this one for the three by doing what he does best, cast a wonderful ensemble and make you take a second look about a place and people you already made up your mind about.

13.  THE DIRTIES



Another found footage movie that transcends it’s gimmick, this movie succeeds at telling a well rounded story about tragedy and the players within. Easily compared to Columbine, and somewhat influenced by Dave Cullen’s Columbine book, (it’s even in the movie) the movie cleverly shapes together a young man who’s relationship with his best friend is starting to divert into very different paths. Very often funny and engaging, it provides a non-melodramatic portrait of how a situation can go horribly wrong and leaves you grasping at a lost grip that you think will somehow transport you 3 seconds into the past where you can do something about it, but it’s done. The desperation here becomes so palpable and uncomfortable because it’s coated in a very familiar world. With people you would know and things you would tell them. It becomes more horrifying than any monster movie can dish out.

12. BEFORE MIDNIGHT


Precisely and exquisitely built up by the film’s first two chapters, BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET, this part of the story highlights falling out of love with as much intensity as new love, or lost love. Julie Delpy has her work cut out for her in this movie, dealing with a relationship after all the fireworks have ended and the park is all cleaned up and has become just an ordinary occurrence day after day. It’s not as clear to Ethan Hawke as it is to her, who feels it with every heart beat. Knowing what he was willing to do to be with her. How capable he was of doing it to her if another Celine came along and swept him off his feat. Dealing with the reality of loving another person was done very well in the cinematic year of 2013 and it like this movie was not afraid of showing you the consequences because it had so much truth behind it. As hard as the first two movies mourned the loss of youth, this one hammers home just how long life is and the sobering reality of waking up is just as much apart of the dream as falling asleep.

11. FURIOUS SIX



Universal banked on nostalgia and accidentally created a franchise. And this movie I feel is the end all be all of what it could be. Honed to perfection, FURIOUS SIX revs out of the gate with the most exciting action set pieces and characters in any movie this year. It has the Summer sun running in it’s veins and just when you think you know where it’s going it hits the Nos button and jacks you the fuck up. I would find it hard to believe anyone could have a problem enjoying this movie. I hear a lot of “Do I need to see the others?” when asking about this and I always think to myself “You made your bed, now lie in it”. You can drink from the cup without penance, fine. But then you won’t know the joy of seeing Tyrese fill the screen and your heart up with the exuberance of seeing an old friend again. You won’t feel the sharp turns or the clink of the glass to congratulate a job well done as the ones that rode every quarter mile with these dudes, together. AND DON’T YOU DARE TRY TO DO IT NOW.

To Be Concluded!!!!

- D

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ugh of 2013


It’s time once again to let you know just how low I go when it comes to the pictures. In 2013, these are the depths I went to bring you an entertaining viewpoint from some pure and utter crap.

10. AFTER EARTH



M. Night Shymalan must have found a monkey’s paw with about a dozen fingers on it, because despite 7 years and 4 films worth of failure, studios keep giving the old boy a chance at delivering another chin scratching blockbuster. This time, he had some Big Willie Style in his corner with now one but TWO hit making Smiths. Will Smith after a long hiatus made a decent return to popcorn fun with last summer’s MEN IN BLACK 3 and his little boy whom he named after his wife, Jaden somehow made a hit out of a remake of THE KARATE KID, so they were both in good standing with audiences before Night got to them and now who knows what will happen to them. Let me see what I can remember from last May. So there is a future world where animals smell fear and Jaden is a huge pussy just because he watched his sister get killed by a cgi tiger while he was kept safe in a glass no smell bubble. WHAT A WIMP. His father is an emotionless war hero and takes his son back to the polluted garbage Earth to find a something or maybe they crash land because Will Smith ends up stuck in the ship for the whole movie while Jaden squeaks through the adventure of the After Earth, learning not to give off fear smell so he can kill the fight beasts. Even with everything I just said, the movie still manages to be miraculously boring. Leaving so much goof potential on the table. Night has also forgotten to write dialogue that human beings can say. It’s kind of funny that this whole thing was designed to be a franchise with movies, tv and a book series to lull children around the world to sleep so their parents could have a moment to think a single thought for once in their now miserable lives. Oh, well parents. Gonna have to lean on Ritalin for just a little bit longer.

9.  ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW



A film that was secretly filmed in not just Disneyland but also Walt Disney World theme parks, filmed so well that it looked like they got full permission to do so with the shots they managed to get but in the hurry to seem like little sneaky petes, they forgot to write a story so they very likely just made everything up as the cameras rolled because the result was an incomprehensible embarrassment that wasn’t much more entertaining than some 8th grader’s first cam corder snuff film. Made much more frustrating by the missed opportunity of making a movie in the most famous amusement parks in the world with any sort of interesting thing about it, and the realization that probably nobody will ever get this chance again.

8. A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD



I guess it’s a lot to ask for five movies in a row to be good, but I’m not entirely sure it’s the fault of franchise fatigue. Having watched the first Christmas classic recently, it’s so disheartening to see Bruce Willis at his prime and see the one that stars in seven movies a year now. I think a lot of it has to do with Bruno’s complete lack of interest in being the wise cracking everyman anymore. The John McClane in this movie is visiting his son in Russia (cinematically, and scientifically, the most boring country in the world) and he gets caught in yet another terrorist scheme but this time, the McClane boys get to battle it out together, and sometimes THEY BATTLE THEMSELVES, TOO. But really, even the fish out of water element they could have done here wouldn’t have been able to save it. McClane stayed in America and whoever Willis was playing in this movie wasn’t even a cool grandpa.

7. PLANES



Not even as entertaining as Jay Jay The Jetplane, the preschool targeted cartoon that used to air on TLC that kept the lonely hour of 4am not so lonely for this dude. Set in the world of Cars, but something Pixar had no interest in making, we FINALLY get to see what all the planes were up to while Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater were hogging the spotlight. The main plane is voiced by Dane (!) Cook and is a crop duster but in his heart, just wants to race. Stacey Keach plays the old veteran racer that got his friends killed or something and vowed never to race again so they didn’t even bother changing the CARS storyline too dramatically. The rest of the voice cast includes Teri Hatcher, a cameo from the Top Gun cast members that aren’t Tom Cruise and Sinbad himself. So I can appreciate how this is a bizarro version of CARS from a nether universe where all Pixar movies were direct to video but I live in this dimension where it’s a piece of crap.

6. ENDER’S GAME



No more adapting teen fiction please. It’s getting much to painful to care about the allegory of fighting aliens with lasers and how it relates to getting hair on your parts. This one suffers from STUDIO 60itus though in that it hypes itself and the characters so much that the result can’t not be a hilarious joke. Also, seeing a bunch of doughy pre-pubescent faces in IMAX is not ideal.

5.  WARM BODIES



I’m not even sure this is even an interesting idea, this girl falling in love with a zombie thing. Sure she can fall in love with a vampire, by stretch a mummy and maybe even a frankenstien. But zombies are pushing it. And I still don’t see why zombies are that interesting anyway. But to America, they are, and that’s why we get WARMS BODIES. Once in awhile, a comedy comes along and you’ve sat there for at least 15 to 20 minutes and you realized that you haven’t laughed once. Not because you’re being a snob, but because the movie literally hasn’t attempted to make a joke or introduce a funny situation once. I call it DARK SHADOWS syndrome because funny trailers mixed with this 15 to 20 minute lag can lead to some very dangerous follow through that will include naps, checking of watches and wondering if you just leave now, maybe you can catch some SEINFELD reruns before bed.

4.  TURBO



Having just rewatched RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, THE CROODS and recollecting how shocking it was that future FRANCES HA writer, Noah Baumbach made the third MADAGASCAR movie decent, it’s a real shame what TURBO does to us. A fucking snail that just wants to race and gets drowned in some Fast and Furious juice and gets a magic shell that makes him go fast. Fine, I can’t wait for the dramatic arc to make me weep. Ryan Reynolds snail, ok, I guess. And then they let the snail compete in the Indy 500, okay I’m pretty sure this is against some sort of rule. You at least need a car to race in the car race, right? Do we really blame the villain race car driver for not wanting to lose to a FUCKING SNAIL? Dreamworks partnership with China probably lead to a lot of smooth transition when making KUNG FU PANDA, but the handling of Mexicans and their fascination with the big metal vroom vrooms was pretty surprising for a cartoon. Also, they ape CARS even harder than PLANES for the final act. I guess we can spot Dreamworks a mulligan every once in awhile.

3. THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY



Ben Stiller desperately wants to be taken seriously and he kind of ruined this movie in order to further this agenda. Original take is an ordinary guy who gets lost in his daydreams and that has the potential for many cool action set pieces with an array of comedic talent. But in this, he changed it to a guy that day dreams for a bit and then goes on an actual adventure in search of a picture from a dick photographer that can’t follow layout protocol. I get that Mitty finally got to live the adventures he always had in his head, but playing soccer with a bunch of brown people and skateboarding down a mountain is pretentious insurance commercial bullshit. Kristen Wiig gets to play the girl he pines for, and even though Walter does all that stuff for her, her feelings for him stay pretty much the same. What a waste of a lady. And every song that has shown up in an inspiring cellphone ad shows up in this because Stiller hasn’t heard a song since creating the REALITY BITES soundtrack. Long and unfunny and I never want us to speak of this again.

2.  FREE BIRDS 



We’ve been having quite a few years with animation lately. It’s often been surpassing the live action movies for action, humor and story. Doing what can’t be done in the real world but still being seen as a kiddie venue. FREE BIRDS does animation no favors and highlights just how much crap has the opportunity to be made after a few successes in the medium. The story is of a turkey that gets pardoned by the President and then recruited by these turkey renegades to go back in time and stop Thanksgiving from ever including turkey. First of all, I am not behind this endeavor at all, and b, why are you trying to ruin Thanksgiving, FREE BIRDS? Why are you taking advantage of the lack of Thanksgiving themed movies and fooling me into seeing you? Why are you wasting Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson’s time when they could be voicing Dreamworks non-mexican characters? Why did the marketing make such a big deal out of this being the first movie Chuck E. Cheese deemed acceptable enough to feature their pizza in? Hey, guess what food replaced turkey in the new Thanksgiving timeline? Fuck you, FREE BIRDS.

1. A HAUNTED HOUSE


Luckily for me, the first movie I saw of 2013 was the worst, getting that over with right quick. Marlon Wayans, wanting to keep his family’s once powerful strangle hold on parodying scary movies, set off on his own to create this mostly parody of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Along the way, he also gave it to most of Screen Gems January releases of the last few years (Actually, JANUARY MOVIE would be a pretty good parody if you’re me and two other people). It wasn’t long into this movie that I realized I was in for a doozy and to it’s credit, it did make me laugh exactly once, but when I witnessed a full 3 minutes of Marlon Wayans fucking a stuffed animal I knew in my heart that this movie, first out of the gate, was the worst thing I will see this year.

Coming next: The top 25 in all of its glory. Stay Tuned

- D

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bitches & Money: A recommendation in favor of seeing THE GREAT GATSBY


 
Hot summer nights, mid July
When you and I were forever wild
The crazy days, city lights
The way you’d play with me like a child

Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me when I am nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will, I know you will

This is the chorus to Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful. One of many great songs on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrman’s THE GREAT GATSBY. Co-written by Luhrman and Del Rey, it goes on to suggest the nostalgia and sadness brought forth by the rekindled romance of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Some might say that this song comes from the melancholy and waif like perspective of Daisy but I think the song more reflects Gatsby’s point of view. 


So, THE GREAT GATSBY is required reading in most 11th grade curriculums. Few enjoyed required reading. South Pasadena High School, my alma mater was actually a school heavy with readers from all social standings. There were your Orson Scott Card nerds, there were your young pretty blondes reading those terrible Stephanie Plumb novels. And there was me, trying to convince Mr. Asher that QUANTUM LEAP spin-off novels were perfectly reputable reading materials to write a report about. We had very little room to digest CATCHER IN THE RYE and THE SCARLETT LETTER and god forbid the adventures of a bunch of well to do flappers from a decade that a bunch of 16 year olds were far from comprehending. Let’s get the facts straight. THE GREAT GATSBY is hella boring. The late great Andy Kaufman would actually punish rude audiences by taking out the novel and reading it in it’s entirety until either the end of the show or everybody had left, whichever came first. Not only is this the funniest thing that I’ve ever heard but I also believe it is rather apt. We were also subjected to viewings of several different film adaptations (which is probably the last effort at grabbing our attention from a public school’s viewpoint) and each was more boring than the last. 



But over the years I’ve adopted the philosophy that there is something to every story. A different interpretation to deliver the same themes and story to a more modern audience is not a bad thing. Most hoity toits would consider that as dumbing down or broading the material but I like to think of myself as someone who can detect a genuine effort. I certainly give enough time and thought into such things. Look, I’ve seen LOVE DON’T CO$T A THING. I know when I’m being talked down to. If an amazing 1920's style version of Crazy In Love is what I need to swallow down my medicine then SO BE IT.


And the gimmick of this version is rather simple and appropriate. Baz Luhrman got together with Jay Z to produce this wonderful soundtrack that takes the latest in popular music from several different genres and infuses some of them with a 1920’s moxie. Drinking and partying is a very universal theme. Using the soundtrack to highlight the excess and glamorous lifestyle of the characters was a very fun aside that doesn’t do much to hurt the core narrative, which is as follows. Nick Carraway is in a sanitarium, dictating to a doctor the events and the people that got him there. A simple bondsman who moves into the glitzy Long Island flapper neighborhoods of yore at the bud of an economic boom, and he gets sucked into the scene with little protest. It seems his super rich and super revered neighbor, ubermensh blonde haired and blue eyed white man Jay Gatsby has taken a liking to him. Leonardo DiCaprio probably gets one of the best introductions in film history as Rhapsody In Blue (a track that Gershwin created specifically for one of the climactic sequences in GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH) swells and fireworks go off behind the smiling mug of one of the most handsome men of our age. 



There is a lot of pomp and circumstance in the first act of GATSBY, and that’s because there is a lot of boring exposition that Luhrman smartly jazzes up with sweeping shots of 1925 era New York. The parties are also pretty lavish. Full of glitter and charlestons as far as the stereoscopic camera eye can see. This is the only problem with the glorious soundtrack. There’s too much awesomeness and not enough actual screen partying to fit them all into, so sometimes Florence plus the Machine get burned off elsewhere. Luhrman also knows when to slow it down for the more intimate moments. I didn’t see this film in 3D but the first half of the movie kind of made it very clear that I should have. I wonder if it would have been distracting in the way the Star Wars prequels were when they had people acting in a completely computer generated setting. Anyway, it turns out Nick’s cousin is an old flame of Gatsby’s from before he went off and became a hero of WWI. WW ONE for crying out loud. So he gets Nick to get them to meet again and Del Rey’s song plays about five or six more times in the movie. I’m not complaining, it’s a great song. They even have a more jazzy up tempo version that they play during one of the party scenes. It seems this Gatsby fellow never got over Daisy and thinks that they can continue where they left off. Even though Daisy is in a marriage with Owen Lars. But it’s a loveless marriage so it’s okay. And he’s already cheating on Daisy, which is double okay. It becomes apparent that getting Daisy back has taken far more of Gatsby’s time and efforts than initially thought and he thinks that if Daisy just broke it off with Lars that everything can go back to the way it was.


The movie is 2hrs and 22mins. This is too long. And I think the movie delivered enough for me at the two hour mark that my body felt it was okay to go sleep for the duration. This led to some very comical points to wake up during if you know the story and it’s ending, which I will not spoil here. Suffice it to say, I wikipedia’d the rest of the movie and sleep was fine. It kind of ends in a melodramatic soap operaish way. The movie before all these dramatics did a really good job at setting an entertaining tone and vibe. They didn't get to all of the themes of the novel, that a lot of people think is about the death of the American dream or some such nonsense. But it’s an engaging love story filled with many good performances. DiCaprio is very charming. As the most successful cast member of GROWING PAINS, I think he's done us proud. And Carey Mulligan who plays Daisy is scary good. Adeline Clemens from that Keanu Reeves indie I saw last week is in it, so that was very exciting. Isla Fisher is great and Tobey Maguire continues to sound like my Aunt Helen. This is the first official team up of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire who are industry best friends and founding members of The Pussy Posse. A 1990’s group of actors that laid more pipe around Los Angeles than the 1994 Northridge Earthquake rehab. Actually this isn’t the first movie they’ve done together. That same group of actors made a movie in 1999 called DON’S PLUM. This movie was meant to be more of a test or experiment or whatever because Leo and Tobey sued the director who tried to release it and it’s officially banned from the US and Canada. Yes, you can buy it in Mexico. Yes, this was Jenny Lewis from Rilo Kiley’s last acting role. Based on this footage you would probably be safe in assuming or pretending that this is a documentary. 


So GATSBY is a fun time and turned something boring into something watchable and still managed to get some of the original points in there too. It’s also a nice little change of pace in terms of where summer blockbusters are concerned. Big budget effects laden dramas are cool too, dudes. Baz Luhrman had something to bring to the material and that’s more than a lot of adaptations have behind them. I just want Steven Soderbergh to do a Michael Crichton novel now so I can die happy. I give the adequate Gatsby

*** out of *****

- D

Friday, May 3, 2013

IRON MAN THREE: A review filled with spoils



IRON MAN THREE is a super weird film. When Shane Black was first announced as the writer/director, he said he wanted to do a story that was more of a spy thriller and he more or less accomplishes this. The most important thing about the Iron Man franchise is how Tony Stark deals with his problems outside the armor and that is the most successful thing about this movie.



The movie starts out with a flashback to New Year’s Even 1999 that is off-putting for several reasons. The first being it called back Eiffel 65’s Blue and no one needed that. Second, because it brought back Yensin from the first movie for no reason, and it got me all sorts of excited for what sort of mysterious origins would be revealed for The Mandarin, finally getting put on the big screen. More on that later. The most interesting of moments in this flashback, is that it sets up Guy Pierce’s character, Alderaan Gillyweed, Tony’s main rival for the movie. He shows up looking exactly like Edward Nygma from BATMAN FOREVER, and saying the exact same things Edward Nygma said to Bruce Wayne at the beginning of that movie. This was kind of shocking as there is no way this wasn’t on purpose. He wants Tony to partner up with him on this new technology that will manipulate the brain. This is the plight of someone who manages to watch BATMAN FOREVER once a year. Things like this drove him to near insanity. 



Also, in this flashback, we set up that Not Jessica Chastain has done experiments on plants that make them re-grow their plant limbs. Problem is, they keep exploding. At no point does she think of how much money she could make in the novelty item business. Okay, now onto the present! Tony Stark has severe anxiety problems following the events of THE AVENGERS, that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is known as The Battle For New York. Tony had enough problems that now he has to worry about gods and aliens showing up at anytime and threatening the things he loves the most. Mainly Pepper Potts, his one true. Tony is not sure how he can keep her safe in the way he wants to. This is all fine character development for Tony at this point and probably was something Marvel wanted to tap into. The thing is, Shane Black had other ideas.



There are a lot of points in this movie that show a passive aggressive disregard to Marvel’s mandated plot points. One of them being the handling of Happy Hogan. He is played by Jon Faverau, the director of the first two Iron Man movies. In this, Happy is rendered mostly useless and given a figurehead position within Stark Industries to keep him busy. I can’t help but think this is a comment on how Faverau is now seen by Marvel. They put his name on THE AVENGERS and this movie because he had a lot to do with how they were set up but they don’t really need him anymore. They even send him to the Chinese theater to get blowed up and dispatched for the rest of the movie. 



In the first two Iron Man movies, The Ten Rings was set up as this terrorist organization that was using Stark Industries weapons to take over small Middle Eastern territories and gain a strong foothold of power. This was an allusion to The Mandarin, who wears ten magic rings on his fingers of alien origin that each give him a special deadly power. He was set up to be the leader of this organization. A perfect juxtaposition to Tony Stark as two men who’s obsession with technology can make or break the world. Well, The Mandarin finally reveals himself in this movie and he is bombing the hell out of everything with these special bombs that leave no forensic evidence of its physical nature. This is where Happy gets caught up in his paranoid security concerns and almost ends up dying. This is the catalyst that puts Tony on the case. He declares a public challenge to The Mandarin and tells him his address and that if he wants a fight they can have it there. Well, The Mandarin accepts and bombs the shit out of the Stark Mansion and Tony is presumed dead.



Well JARVIS sends Tony, unconscious in armor to Tennessee because that was the last known flight plan Tony had made in an effort to investigate a potential Mandarin attack. It’s this huge chunk of the movie that can at least be described as not ripping off a single thing from any movie ever. Maybe Shane Black’s discarded drafts of LAST ACTION HERO. I don’t know. So Tony’s armor no es working and he befriends a local boy who’s got his own penchant for building things and hides out in the boy’s workshop. Actually, this is also MONSTER SQUAD now that I think about it. This is the ultimate Shane Black movie. Tony starts investigating the Tennessee bombing and the supposed soldier that was supposedly involved but never found. Here’s where Shane Black tries to make Tony a detective but unfortunately the mystery is completely transparent. At this point, the audience is way ahead of Tony in knowing that Guy Peirce’s fireman technology was taken from Not Jessica Chastain and given to The Mandarin to blow things up with. Any further sleuthing at this point is kind of boring, but two fire bad guys show up and shake up things in the small town. This is still cool because I love when Tony has to figure out how to fight super powered beings without his suit. He also gets away with the best line in the movie before he blows a lady up. It’s a shame, because in the comics she is actually Man-Thing’s wife. Poor Man-Thing. 



So with the help of the little boy, Tony manages to track down The Mandarin’s hideout, which is right here in the good ol’ USA in Miami, Florida. The government has also made War Machine into a new guy called Iron Patriot. No mention is given as to why they dressed him up like Captain America and Cap is also never mentioned. Bad form, Marvel Phase Two. Iron Patriot is also looking for The Mandarin but the US government keeps getting fooled by the wild goose chase he’s being sent on and he eventually gets captured. Anyway, in a very BOGUS JOURNEY like fashion, Tony buys a bunch of materials at a hardware store and fashions all these weapons to infiltrate The Mandarin’s hideout. Again, very cool. In fact, it also reminded me of Axel Foley. Now the next thing is probably the movie’s biggest flaw. It doesn’t necessarily ruin the movie for me but is a huge disappointment in terms of the build up the last two movies had and the way Marvel decides to handle one of the biggest villains in the Marvel Universe that they had no idea how to adapt into a movie character.



They reveal that The Mandarin is an actor hired by Peirce to provide the illusion of antagonist to the government so that he can play them against each other when he got Iron Patriot and the President in his pocket. The war on terror would never end and he would make millions with his fire tech that makes people evil and explodey. This I could not jive with. I know that The Mandarin has been portrayed as more of a symbol than an actual character in a bunch of Marvel Comics stuff but they had their own Bane/Joker and they completely played it off as a joke. A joke that wasn’t even funny.  Marvel has still yet to provide actual threatening and interesting arch-rivals beyond Loki and they could have given Tony Stark a pretty cool antagonist. Guess not. And I also find it really hard to believe that Guy Peirce was behind all that mess in the Middle East in the first movie. Again, I know what Shane Black was trying to do but the twist didn’t yield a good enough result to try it. Why was Yensin at that party? I kept thinking that they were gonna have some explanation but it never came. I just don’t think Shane Black wanted to deal with him.



So Pierce kidnaps Pepper (ugh) and is gonna use her as a bargaining chip to make Tony fix the fire virus and make it less unstable. This is really the only point where they could have connected him to being the Mandarin, as this tactic was used in the first movie, but if he knew what happened in the first movie and how Tony used it against them, he probably wouldn’t be making the same mistake again. Guy injects Pepper with Chimera and then sends the newly in his control Iron Patriot to go kidnap the president and blow up Air Force One. This is where the movie kicks into gear though, because Shane Black turns it into Lethal Weapon with Tony and Rhodey. But at this point, I realized that a lot of the cool asides and tricks that Shane Black wanted to do were ruined by Marvel’s marketing department by putting every cool thing that happens into the trailer. They full on break into Guy’s oil rig base with guns blazing like it is freakin’ DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE up in here. This is a good thing. When I first heard of Shane Black’s involvement in this I thought that we were finally gonna get the big budget fantasy story that he’s been working on for ten years at Warner Brothers but could never get made. It’s actually the reverse, he’s telling this story the only way he knows how. Through 90’s action beats that he has perfected over the years. It was kind of a cool surprise. Tony fights the fire army with his armor army and some great action caps the movie.



Tony’s anxieties about Pepper are never really solved. In fact, they kind of would be solved if they left her a fire being that could defend herself but in the end they have her fixed back into a regular person. Tony also goes ahead and decides to take the shrapnel out of his heart that his power chest has been protecting him from. Was this only an option now? Would have come in handy when his blood was being poisoned by the arc reactor in IRON MAN 2. In fact, that movie actually has a resolution to Tony’s eroding sense of self that this movie doesn’t. JUST DO ‘DEMON IN A BOTTLE’ and stop tippy toeing around Tony’s problems, Marvel. It would be great for the characterization of this guy and the new equilibrium would yield plenty of other places to take him. This movie more than any other Marvel movie convinced me that Marvel is not as ‘stick to a plan’ as their press would have you believe. And that’s not a bad thing, but they blew some great opportunities here. At the end of this movie, Tony takes his power heart and tosses it into the ocean because he has decided that the Iron Man was inside of him all along. He destroys all of his armor at the end as a way of saying that he’s going to spend more time with Pepper and less with saving the world, which is driving him nuts. I guess in a world that has already proved there were plenty of alternatives to him in the hero department, Tony has decided to take it easy for awhile. But that isn’t exactly the Tony Stark we have come to know in three other movies. Still, I very much enjoyed it. The Shane Black style was fun and entertaining and made for a great end credits sequence. It was very much it’s own film and since it was filmed pre-AVENGERS success, don’t look for this any time soon. I think the rest of Phase Two is gonna be very referencey and part of a much bigger picture.



Which brings me to the post-credits sequence. There has been a lot of speculation at this point about what it would be. Would it hint towards some particular GUARDIANS of our GALAXY or give us some much needed ANT-MAN like antics? No. But it was still great because during the movie I thought to myself how much their needed to be some sort of result to Tony Stark’s weird fascination with Bruce Banner and having him tell the story of the events of this movie to a completely uninterested Banner was not only great, but hints at great things to come. I give this movie:

***1/2 out of *****

- D