Friday, January 3, 2014

2013, the bread and butter: Part II of II



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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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