December 28, 2014

World's Greatest Dad

Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009
High School Teacher Lance (Robin Williams) is surprised at the reaction of the school after his son's suicide.

World's Greatest is a uniquely dark piece of work bordering on ridiculousness at various points. Goldthwait manages to channel some energy that is challenging enough to resemble Todd Solondz while also making it absurd enough to resemble John Waters. But he still manages to mold it into something with some real charm. Goldthwait is comfortable making films about some controversial subject matter, and doesn't seem to care if you can't handle it. The subjects of suicide, hardcore pornography or auto-erotic asphyxiation don't sit well with everybody. Bobcat doesn't hesitate to explore this realm here. The film is filled with great performances, anchored with a really familiar warm performance from Robin Williams. His teacher character is much different from past teacher roles like his legendary performance in Good Will Hunting. While he had a sense of callused confidence there, here is more of a sweet doormat just looking to have a positive accord with the people in his life. Lance sips from his World's Greatest Dad coffee cup that he quietly cherishes because of it's ironic value. Probably the only nice thing that Kyle has ever done for Lance. Most of his exchanges with Kyle (Daryl Sabara) are one-sided - where Kyle says something dismissive to him and he simply walks away with his head down. Williams' Lance character draws the sympathy early when you see how horribly Kyle treats him. After a few exchanges you are begging for Kyle to get his comeuppance. The surprising reaction from everyone mourning Kyle's death is a familiar feeling. Quite often we see despicable people pass on only to draw a surprising amount of grief from many. They forget about the horrible things the person had done over the years. The person becomes a saintly figure. World's Greatest Dad is a look at death through an uninhibited lens. Sudden luck, a dramatic shift in life after a traumatic event. It's a really singular picture by Goldthwait that impressively balances the tragedy and comedy elements. 

December 27, 2014

Beware of Mr. Baker

Jay Bulger, 2012
Basically any fan of Rock is aware of Cream, appreciates them on some level. They certainly made their mark on the world of 60's Psychedelia. Their run was short lived - they were only together for two years before breaking up at the peak of their success. Their body of work is very recognizable, from Strange Brew to White Room to Sunshine of your Love. People constantly talk about Eric Clapton's contributions to the band, but many are unaware of drummer Ginger Baker. Baker was a very present drummer with a background in Jazz. Red headed, bearded and fueled by sort of a manic energy. His eyes stared menacingly as his arms would hammer away. The film is a study on Baker the person, during his time with Cream but also with his many other bands that he performed with. Undoubtedly a complicated figure, his unpredictable behavior combined with the fact that he was constantly under the influence of various drugs made him a liability. Many of the stories about him involve some dialogue about how much of a talent he was, but how the many relationships in his life never really ended well. The story of the troubled genius drummer is told through some amazing stock footage, multi-perspective interviews but also with some beautiful illustrations reminiscent of other good doc Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. Comparisons could also be made to other great music doc The Devil and Daniel Johnston, also about a mentally-ill but proficient musical genius. The film reinforces the concept that someone can have such unique talent and musical abilities, but also be a difficult person to maintain any kind of relationship with. Eric Clapton comes off as pure class in the film, providing many compliments about Baker and only mildly hinting at some of his personal avoidance of Baker and his turbulent personality. But Ginger Baker was a destructive force at times, and while he is in a reflective state for much of the film, he doesn't want to dedicate a lot of energy or attention to many of the mistakes he has made. He is certainly not an easy interview. Reclusive, agitated, vulgar. While Baker is a person with many flaws, he is undoubtedly one of the greatest rock drummers of all time and worthy of a documentary. Beware of the man, but be AWARE of him.

Gone Girl

David Fincher, 2014
Adapted from the popular book written by Gillian Flynn, the film is about husband Nick Dunne (Ben Afflect), suspected of murdering his missing wife Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike).

Fincher sets the tone early in the film with his distinctive style. A starkness, Reznor's ambient score echoing in the background. A low grade tension is present. When we are introduced to Affleck's character, he is already a man of questionable morals. Affleck seems to always be just tolerable enough in front of the camera in terms of his range when it comes to his acting abilities. He's never going to be a energetic force. Fincher seems to get the most out of Affleck with the Nick character, always making you feel suspicious of him. Gone Girl is largely a meditation on America's obsession with killer culture and celebritizing the monsters. We live in a culture where actual wife killers like Scott Peterson get a plethora of media attention. Men like Peterson, or Charles Manson, go on to receive love letters while sitting on death row. We also live in a culture where questionable suspects are tried and convicted by the court of public opinion before actually having set foot in an actual courtroom. These themes are at play, but it's not simply a straight-up satirical piece like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. It's a blood-soaked mind-game that looks at relationships and the roles we play. The head games some are forced to engage in. The way the people around us look at us, judge us. The conclusions we jump to with such conviction. If the film were in other hands, it probably wouldn't have worked out so well. And although by the conclusion it feels like the film had multiple endings already, Fincher manages to keep everything in control.

December 24, 2014


Mikkel Brænne Sandemose, 2014
Archaeologist Sigurd (Pål Sverre Hagen) deciphers an ancient rune that leads him to a remote island on the Russian border. He believes it will guide him to a Viking treasure, but instead leads him to something completely different.

Steven Spielberg is a master craftsman of timing and suspense when it comes to human and beast. He masterfully keeps you on the edge of your seat, with calculated sensory manipulation. Sometimes he's only playing with one of your senses. Sometimes you're just hearing something. Sometimes you're just seeing a shadow, a faint image of something. Sometimes you are just seeing someone else's reaction on their face. Sandemose certainly draws some inspiration from Spielberg's playbook here. Ragnarok provides enough thrills with adequate build up. It combines elements of Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lake Placid (and okay... Sharknado too, kind of) all in the backdrop of lushly wooded & rainy Norway. There is family conflict; Sigurd being the single parent father who lost his wife, now married to his job and trying to kill two birds with one stone by having his kids tag along with him on his trip while hopefully getting credit for a vacation. His daughter would rather go to Spain like the other girls at her school. But she has to settle for the remote woods so her daddy can track down what he thinks is a trove of Viking booty. So many times we see the broken father who lost the wife who spends the movie licking his wounds. Sigurd doesn't do this, presumably because he is so obsessed with his work. When they arrive at their destination, it's really when the best pieces of the film are laid out. Ragnarok is a nicely-packed, adventurous monster movie with enough suspense and CGI production (without ever leaning on it too much) to keep you engaged.

December 21, 2014

Last Passenger

Omid Nooshin, 2014
Lewis Shaler (Dougray Scott) is on traveling with his son Max (Joshua Kaynama) on a commuter train in London when a hijacker takes control and compromises their trip.

Last Passenger has something going for it for during the first half to three quarters of the filmAt the beginning of the story you sit on the train with several strangers. There are the quintessential loud folk, talking and shouting. There is the drunk guy who won't put out his cigarette. There is the silent older guy. Quite typical characters. But things zero in on Lewis, his son Max and pretty woman Sarah (Kara Tointon) early. They strike up conversation with each other, Sarah obviously impressed with the fact that Lewis is a doctor on his way to the hospital. If you are aware of the plot going into the film, as you likely are, you are looking at everyone around them as potential villains. Maybe that silent old guy is going to slip away. Maybe that drunk guy with the cigarette is going to get himself worked up, and make an impulsive decision to take over the train in outrage. Or maybe they are just red herrings. The mystery element is enough to get the story moving and get you engaged. And as Lewis goes on to have the best (if accidental) first date ever with beautiful Sarah, the conflict soon begins.

What transpires is a Speed-like action thriller, but without the charm. To it's credit, the film builds on some characters that you grow to appreciate, but (unable to avoid the obvious pun) it doesn't even go off the tracks at the end. That would involve more action than what you get, and at that point in the film you are hungry for it. Instead, it's an anti-climactic conclusion that leaves you wondering if you missed something. But you didn't.


Richard Donner, 1988
On paper, Scrooged seems like a pretty good idea. Create modern version of the classic Christmas Story and add Bill Murray, and infuse it with some meta elements of making a staged classic Christmas Carol television special during the updated retelling. Sprinkle in some campy zombie makeup, give Murray the obligatory 80's mullet, and of course add Bobcat Goldthwait. And although it carves out its own little niche in the Christmas genre, there isn't a lot of warm fuzziness to Scrooged. You won't really come away with it with a good feeling like you will with some of the other versions of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". Instead there's more of a prolonged icy blackness that mostly just subsides over the latter moments of the film. Perhaps its the gaudy contemporary aesthetic to the corporate atmosphere in much of the film. Murray's character does arch, but it's not a complete moral makeover like you would see in Groundhog Day. But to give him credit, he has only had a few days to gain a different perspective and not hundreds of years. In a sense it's probably because his character is just downright bitter. There's not a lot of nuance to Frank Cross the person. Instead, he's just a nasty man who by the end of the film has you convinced he has had a moment of clarity. But is it really that convincing that it will stick? In a sense it doesn't really matter. Because the journey is still entertaining, witty enough, dark enough when it needs to be, and cheery enough when it needs to be.  (with some good meta elements involved), dark enough when it needs to be, and cheery enough when it needs to be.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorcese, 2013
The true story of Jordan Belfort, a young stock-broker that gets rich from scamming his investors.

Wolf doesnt feel like a movie made to be taken seriously. It doesnt feel like a film intended to drum up so mich controversy. The rags to riches to rags story is Scorcese going out of his out of comfort zone (along with screenwriter Winter), almost doing his version of a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. His Hunter S is Jordan Belfort, eager to indulge in his excesses. It ultimately comes off as a Fear and Loathing / Wall Street / Scarface black comedy hybrid that even has notes of Raging Bull (a broken man that attempts to reestablish himself in the world). And like Gordon Gecko, his luxuries never feel cemented. When you are living such a lifestyle, combined with the fact that you are admittedly dependent on a particular prescription to maintain such mindset- it eventually reaches a tipping point. Add the fact that you are taking advantage of loose financial regulations in a realm of rapidly increasing regulations and of course its momentary. You get a clear sense that you will witness the rise and fall of a rather despicable figure, and the humor creates such levity that you don't need it to be a sophisticated character study of an anti-hero like PT Anderson's There will be Blood. There are brilliant, lewd LUDE moments. Scorcese's comedic experiment pays off and the result is provocative, overindulgent and hilarious. 

December 13, 2014

The One I Love

Charlie McDowell, 2014
At the suggestion of their couple's therapist, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) venture to a secluded retreat in an effort to rekindle their love for each other. But soon after arriving to the beautiful property they realize that the guest house has supernatural powers.

The One I Love is a smart little movie that someone could probably convince you was written by Charlie Kaufman and not Justin Lader (Bottom Floor, Errand Boys). Some of the mind-bending romantic elements are something out of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The layers of confusing exposition are something out of Adaptation. Some of the comedic imagery is something out of Multiplicity. Both Moss and Duplass are good together on screen, with Moss being the sensitive and emotional type and Duplass being the more cynical detached type. Both are struggling to keep the romance alive. They have reached a point of staleness in the relationship. The honeymoon phase is long gone. They are left with fading memories of what once was great, the more recent memories not being so favorable. Regardless, they decide to give it one last shot. The two manage to juggle the heavy mind-load of the movie, while also juggling their own multiple personalities. It fails to tie up some of the loose ends in the end, but it goes far enough into the abstract realm that it gives you quite a bit to come away with.

December 7, 2014

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Chris Columbus, 1992
There is something different about revisiting films from your youth. Many of these revisits come around the holidays, when you can put up with that joke you've heard a hundred times. That comfortable predictability of a familiar premise. The Hughes’-penned Home Alone films certainly provide comfort. I remember being a kid and seeing this film in the theater in New York. I was 9 years old. I remember eagerly anticipating Kevin Mcallister's trap setting. I remember the movie going on and on and me sitting there thinking “when is it going to happen?”.. “Now? Now?”. And then it happened and I sat there in cathartic bliss.

Home Alone 2 builds upon the first film by of course recasting Culkin (which is absolutely critical to the franchise, the sequels after this do not exist). He’s grown a little older, but still has the innocence and charisma that he had in the prior picture. He’s the low kid on the totem pole. If he mouths back to his elder relatives, he gets put in the bed with bed-wetting cousin Fuller. The movie is very anti-authority, or at least pro-kid and pro-independence. It certainly spawned a whole generation of 90’s vicarious youth who were desperate to be put in similar circumstances. It puts a lot of faith into the kids of the world. Oddly enough, one of the antagonists is the hotel concierge played by Tim Curry. The concierge is immediately suspicious when he sees young Kevin walking confidently through the Plaza Hotel. He follows Kevin, explores the room, hoping to expose him as a little con artist or some kind of thief. But realistically, he’s not a bad guy. If it were real life he would probably have been praised for being so investigative. But the world of Home Alone isn’t real life. In real life, antagonists don’t get hit in the head with bricks from four stories and have a square imprint on their head. In real life, they have brain bleeding. But that’s the appealing element to the Home Alone movies. They are non-threatening, cartoonish, fun, nostalgic. They exist in a Hanna Barbara created universe where you can sustain serious injury only to be quite okay in the next scene. This film is good if only viewed as a time capsule. A preserved version of New York. A preserved style of 90's comedies. 

December 6, 2014

Funny Farm

George Roy Hill, 1988
Andy Farmer (Chevy Chase) and his wife Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith) decide to get out of New York City and pursue a more peaceful life north in Vermont. But when they arrive in the town of Redbud, it's not the tranquil paradise that they imagined it would be. 

There was was once a period of time when Chevy Chase was a comedic force in Hollywood. Coming off of the success of such iconic films as Caddyshack, Fletch and a couple of the National Lampoon's Vacation films, he was one a few go-to comedic actors of the period (Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Dan Akroyd, John Candy among others). Chase's style is certainly distinct, and ultimately quite two dimensional. The oblivious but sentimental thirty-something. The guy who has some heart to invest in a situation but doesn't necessarily have the grace to see it follow through properly. Funny Farm is an under-appreciated film, and probably one of the best outlets for Chase's dry humor. Though undeniably flawed, there are certainly some memorable elements to the movie. Paying the town’s residents $50 a piece to emulate a Norman Rockwell painting so that they can turn over their cursed home and get the hell out of dodge. Excitedly going home with the new dog, hoping to further reinforce the country living they are so desperate to do - only to have the dog IMMEDIATELY run away. Realizing that the phone you had installed in the new home is a pay phone. It's forgivingly corny and worth a look around the holidays.

December 1, 2014

Print the Legend

Luis Lopez & J. Clay Tweel, 2014
Anyone familiar with the emerging technology known as  "3D printing" has a sense of its impending impact on the world. What will we actually be able to print of use in our own homes? Footwear? Vinyl LP's? Home manufacturing material? The possibilities are quite endless, really. But right now it's in its infancy. At this point if you are an early adopter of a 3D printer, you are limited to something more along the lines of action figures or trinkets.

Print the Legend is kind of two films, really. In one sense it's an exploration into the world of 3D printing in it's early days. It focuses on the big guys with the bigger market share and the little guys desperate to get their piece of the pie in the sector. The big guys are companies Stratasys and 3D Systems. The little guys are MakerBot and FormLabs. The former have the operating capital to build cutting edge machines with a high price tag. The latter are cut from more of a hacker/engineering cloth, looking to disrupt the sector by making more reasonably-priced consumer-available machines. But the doc is also a study on the sharp minds of the tech startup world, as much of the film focuses on MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis, FormLabs creator Max Lobovsky and anarchist/controversial media figure Cody Wilson. The film effectively covers the evolution of Pettis, from ambitious genius to guy who sells his soul to the devil CEO. And everything about the film is geeky, interesting, crafty. It really provides some real excitement for what's yet to come in the world of technology.

November 30, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy

James DeMonaco, 2014
This sequel to the 2013 film, which was also directed by DeMonaco, focuses on a group of people caught outside in Los Angeles at night in the middle of the annual Purge. The man attempting to lead the group to safety (Frank Grillo) is eager to break away from the group to seek revenge on a man who walked free from a prosecution error.

How does a filmmaker expect you to get behind a group of characters that provide virtually no likability? It's surely the biggest pitfall of the film. Because you don't care about them. The annoying couple. The barely developed pair of women with the ambiguously ailing father. Instead of any maturation, the film becomes an elaborate torture-porn piece displaying a highlight reel of violence. It attempts to build upon the premise of the original Purge film by providing more bullets, a bigger backdrop, but it provides less structure. Maybe DeMonaco needs those four walls. It's like a crippled version of Escape from New York, without Snake Plissken or the surprisingly awesome Carpenter score. The annoyances don't cease with the characters themselves. There's that annoying situation where no bullets seem to hit their target, even though it's high capacity assault rifles firing in a specific direction. The film attempts to explore some class warface issues, but from the second you see the traffic cams in the tractor trailer you get a clear sense of what's going on. The original Purge film was running on a plot that was contained and interesting enough to keep you engaged. And oddly enough it felt like it could have been bigger. Anarchy attempts to go bigger but it's clear that DeMonaco is not the man for the job.

Happy Christmas

Joe Swanberg, 2014
Young and not-so-responsible Jenny (Anna Kendrick) moves in with her older brother (played by Swanberg), his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) and their two year old son in their small home in Chicago and disrupts their quite peaceful life.

Happy Christmas is a bold effort by mumblecore director Swanberg who once again employs Kendrick in entirely improvised story. Much of the film is set in the Chicago home, ironically decorated in 1950's nostalgia from the kitchen cabinetry to the basement wooden wall paneling. Shot on 16mm, there is a deliberate grittiness to the picture and saturation to the lighting. The constant view of Christmas lights pops, glowing warmly. The film has some very authentic-feeling moments. When Jenny and her friend Carson (Lena Dunham) start pressing Kelly on some of the personal sacrifices she has made as a stay-at-home mom, everything about it feels pure. Blossoming feelings with Kendrick and her new friend in his apartment. The exchanges between her and her brother in the basement, listening to music and smoking pot. The one-too-many drinking nights and the lack of judgement associated with them. Swanberg puts some real faith in Kendrick, and it really pays off. She brings more to her Jenny character than she was able to deliver in her previous collaboration with Swanberg in 2012's Drinking Buddies. Ironically, here she is actually acting out of type. She's usually the goodie-two-shoes innocent type. But here she is an capricious self-serving twenty-something, lacking direction and discipline in her life. She either has found some more comfort with working with Swanberg, or the change in character dynamics gave her more to play off of, or both. Either way, the final result of Swanberg's holiday experiment is small but rich in realness and honesty. It decides to invest much of it's time into real scenarios rather than provide back-story and character development.

November 28, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

James Gunn, 2014
A group of space criminals team up to defeat Ronan the Accusor (Lee Pace) from destroying the galaxy with a small orb that he is in pursuit of.

Guardians provides some star-gazey visuals on a scale not really seen since Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. In fact, the movie itself has some of the workings of a modern day Star Wars (mostly due to the brisk battle scenes and diabolical antagonist), but because of the elementary dialogue - it ultimately becomes a not-as-funny version of Spaceballs starring the Blue Man Group. Much of the jokes fall flat, almost as if the closest punch-up writer was literally in another galaxy. To be fair it's a movie clearly written for 12 year old boys. Chris Pratt continues his 2014 campaign of being the Seth Rogen of 2010, or the Zach Galifianakis of 2012. His success is understandable, he has the sort of every-man charm that puts an audience behind it's hero. But on-screen charisma is not given the right amount of fuel to really take it far, like he did in 2014's great/much-more-compelling The Lego Movie. Instead, Guardians becomes mostly masturbation fodder for boys that have grown sick of seeing Zoe Saldana in Avatar blue and now warmly welcoming the idea to see her in green. But while the dialogue weighs the movie down, the cosmic scenery and incredible visuals are probably enough to justify a single viewing. There is a scene in which the ship is cruising through the remains of an old giant which has turned into a mining capital. David Bowie plays in the background as they glide through the glittering metropolis, and the scene is quite spectacular. The movie explores the tired trope of a bunch of characters in pursuit or defending a single item. We've seen it many times: in Men in Black, The Fifth Element, The Lord of the Rings. Guardians will probably expose a new generation of kids to songs that would be better heard while watching Reservoir Dogs, but they will discover that later on in life. But for the adults of the world who endured the two hour watch, it's disappointing that the massive $170M budget was spent on CGI and music licensing and not on better writing.

November 20, 2014


Alex Winter, 2013
This documentary focuses on the creation, rise and ultimate of music service Napster - which rose to rapid popularity in the days of the dot-com boom in the late 1990's.

Anyone in their early 30's is very familiar with the effect that Napster had on the music world. It came out of nowhere and then spread like wildfire. It disrupted the entire music industry, certainly kept the record executives awake at night. One of the first, surprising elements of Downloaded is you realize how small Napster actually was. At first it was really just a couple of guys, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, who had an idea. It wasn't that they were out to screw over the RIAA. They weren't out to make millions and millions of dollars overnight. They were just a couple of smart kids who had some foresight as to how things were eventually going to go in terms of technology and music. The origin of Napster wasn't in a dark conference room with a group of shifty figures. Instead, Shawn Fanning was an amateur coder/hacker who was in a small office space spending nights on the floor of his work-space in a sleeping bag.

The hero and the villain of the story are not so well-defined. There are a lot of gray areas with Napster in terms of ethics. But you could easily make the argument that Parker and Fanning are the heroes of the story, and that the RIAA is the villain. The RIAA wanted it to be business as usual. They went into panic mode when their revenue streams were threatened. Instead of looking into ways to evolve and work with the disruptors, they ended up going after the very customers who had been supporting them for so many years. They sued the young people who were spending all of their allowance money on $20 CD's so that they could have another addition on their house, or another gold watch on their wrist. The RIAA, Lars Ullrich, Dr. Dre... they all come off as the dinosaurs. Dr. Dre is particularly critical of Napster and in pure hypocritical fashion, years later we see the creation of The Beats streaming service headed by him. Downloaded certainly zeroes in on an interesting but rather short-lived period in American Culture. It's nostalgic, and also surprising to look back after not so many years and really see how radically different things are now in terms of how we get our music delivered to us. Napster was without a doubt the harbinger of such convenience and accessibility.

November 18, 2014


Joon-ho Bong, 2014
The world is has been forced into a modern-day Ice Age after a global warming solution failed. The remaining inhabitants of Earth now live on a transcontinental train that circles the globe once a year. The lower class inhabitants live in the rear carts of the train while the upper class resides in the front, more lavish end of the train.

Korean director Joon-ho Bong's (The Host, dystopian sci-fi piece runs on an inventive concept that mirrors some of the class warfare of the Hunger Games with some of the offbeat humor on a futuristic backdrop of The Fifth Element. The fast moving train is unforgiving. The back end carts are fed gelatin-like bricks of processed protein that resembles out of the can cranberry sauce (except a really disgusting version of it), while the front end dines on lavish meals consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables and meats. The never-ending tension reaches a boiling point early on the film and the lower class passengers decide to rebel under the leadership of Curtis (Chris Evans) and guidance of Gilliam (John Hurt). As they attempt to push forward to the upper section of the train, you see a brilliant progression of the luxuries (probably the best feature of the film, such a pleasant surprise) awarded to the upper end of the Snowpiercer hierarchy. There are moments when the cart doors open to a barrage of defenders and you witness sequences not seen since Tarantino's Kill Bill.

Because it's Bong's English debut, there is likely some things that got a bit mixed in translation. Some of the humor feels misplaced, a bit awkward at times. But it's completely forgivable. There is enough meat on the bones to the rest of the picture. Snowpiercer is visually appealing and built on an innovatory premise with some good performances, and that's enough to make a good sci-fi film.

November 17, 2014


Lenny Abrahamson, 2014
Struggling musician Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson) is having difficulty finding inspiration in his songwriting. He suddenly finds himself sitting in on a gig with Soronprfbs, an avant garde band with a lead singer who wears a paper-mache mask on his head named Frank (Michael Fassbender).

Abrahamson's Frank character is based on Frank Sidebottom, a persona of late English comic Chris Sievey. Sievey would channel an eccentric energy through his Sidebottom character on English stages from the 1980's to modern day until Sievey's death from cancer in 2010. Frank certainly draws similarities to some of Andy Kaufman's quirky stage work. 

Fassbender's Frank character is mysterious and complicated. He comes off as somebody more than a band leader, actually someone that is more of a cult leader. He never takes the mask off. He sleeps with it on, he showers with it on. He eats and drinks with it on, as manager Don (Scoot Mcnairy) humorously describes the straw and liquid supplementation process to Jon. While the film is a respective nod to Frank Sidebottom, it ventures too far into the world of weirdness. Very much like the music that they perform, it never manages to materialize into anything memorable. The film comes off as Wes Anderson eating mushrooms and having a bad trip. A contemporary British invasion piece with a bad version of Animal Collective leading the way. While it certainly deserves praise for not traveling down the typical Hollywood story path. But that's disappointing, because the group should have become more than a novelty act emitting Hipster frequencies. The final moments of the film are too little, too late. It becomes nothing more than a meditation on the internet's viral video culture and collective hype. It should have been more of a study on mental illness rather than lightly gliding over it like they did. The scenes in the cabin during the album recording were exhausting attempts to make something stick, and then it became claustrophobic. Some of the most humorous moments of the film were rooted in dark humor (mishandling of human remains, surprise suicide), but they were overshadowed by things like Maggie Gyllenhaal's angry character with her persistent rage toward everyone other than Frank. Frank basks in it's own peculiarity, which ultimately might please a Pitchfork reviewer but isn't enough for the audience. 

November 14, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson, 2014
Wes Anderson has some of the most recognizable features to his body of work: quirky sensibility, recurring actors (Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray are the recurring ones here), well-defined color patterns and arrangements, prominent score. In Budapest he revisits some familiar themes. Love separated by an age gap like in Rushmore. Ed Norton playing a person of authority, here as a police officer, tracking down a target as he did in Moonrise Kingdom as Scout Master Ward. There's the mentor / protege dynamic just like we saw in Rushmore between Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman's Max and Herman characters. And there's the dysfunctional family theme, as seen in The Royal Tenenbaums.

The multiple story threads are all built around a murder-mystery plot. When Madame D. is murdered, Gustave is framed for the murder by certain family members of Madame D who are angry that Gustave was included in her last will and testament. Most of the film is Gustave attempting to clear his name while also guarding the valuable "Boy with Apple" painting that was bequeathed to him. There isn't one bad shot in the film. Everything is perfectly framed. Everything is neatly packed in the distinctive Wes Anderson universe. The set design is most similar to his past work in The Life Aquatic with some obvious stage pieces but also some remarkable use of stop motion (the slalom pursuit down the snowy hill is one of the most memorable sequences in the film). It's some of Anderson's most gory & violent work (you don't expect dismemberment, and also manages to make the tired gunfight sequence artful), but it's also some of his most exciting. Anderson gets great use of Fiennes. It's easily some of Anderson's best work, and the somewhat-complicated story never becomes disorienting. 

November 11, 2014


Richard Linklater, 2014
Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Boyhood focuses mostly on Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age 5 to age 18 as he endures some of the most formative years of his young life in Texas.

Linklater has a really interesting voice when it comes to looking at the world. It's evident in virtually all of his films; a sort of rebellious, looking at the clouds, lost in the music abstractism. When it's channeled through the eyes of a young boy, it continues to be engaging and visceral. Boyhood is his boldest work.  The dedication and ambition to create a movie that spans 12 years is astonishing. The production has to run on the cast's good faith due to the fact that they can't secure contracts for that length of time. All during such a critical and sensitive time in young Ellar Coltrane and Lorelai Linklater's (his real life daughter) life. Time when they are distracted by so many other things. People their age are playing football one moment and in the school band the next. Constantly running on impulses. The 12 year production even involved having a backup plan in the event that Linklater suddenly died; Ethan Hawke would step in and complete the film.

Boyhood is a beautiful, heartfelt masterpiece. It's a complete coming of age tale combined with a turbulent family drama, and the scale of it is much bigger than some of the spotty acting that may be present at times. It plays out like a rock record with some goofs that were baked in to the final pressing. After all, Led Zeppelin's "Since I've Been Loving You" wouldn't be the same without John Bonham's squeaky bass pedal. Not only are you seeing young Coltrane actually age through the story but you are actually seeing the wrinkles on the faces of Hawke and Arquette appear over time, and with them the memories of their comprehensive characters develop. The chapters of their life unfold and you are there on the journey. The ebbs and flows, ups and downs. The more bountiful days, the more desperate ones. It's captivating, exhaustive, and just real. 

November 10, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves, 2014
Dawn picks up some time after the last film ended. A pandemic has wiped out the majority of the human population, the remaining survivors left to start over again. Without power and still heartbroken from losing close family and friends, a group of survivors colonize in the ruins of San Fransisco. When they venture into the forest in an attempt to restore power from a broken hydro-plant, they encounter the apes they blame for the collapse of civilization.

This Matt Reeves (Let me in, Cloverfield) directed sequel to the first and also good Apes film (directed by Rupert Wyatt), is rooted in some compelling story threads between both ape and man. You have leader ape Caesar, now a father and husband. Many years have passed since his days living with the Rodman family, although some of the memories still linger. They have started their own civilization in the Northern California forest. They have assumed all humans have died off, as they have seen no signs of them. But they are surprised to encounter group of humans led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), a compassionate man who they ultimately form an alliance with. Malcolm is accompanied by his young son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and girlfriend Ellie (Keri Russell). Colony leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) pushes them to get the power plant up and running in three days before he launches a military strike against the apes.

The tension between the apes and humans is glaring. The humans blame the apes for the world's destruction. The apes consider the humans to be cruel and not trust-worthy, after years of keeping them captive. The film explores family dynamics, diplomacy, perseverance, and the realization that the genetic divide may not be so wide between the two when it comes to behavior (which we all know isn't so vast, but for some reason nobody in the film realizes). Perhaps the greatest feat of this picture is the fact that you become invested in the CGI creations, as invested as their human counterparts. There is some acceptable confusion in terms of rooting for a particular protagonist, but you are able to get behind multiple figures for multiple reasons. Films like this, films like the Life of Pi show a promising future for film. The CGI builds that we are able to create now are so lifelike. They are not only just resolute in image quality, they can be complicated characters. As the technology improves it will become cheaper to produce. It will be interesting in the coming years so see what other filmmakers can do on smaller budgets with computer generated characters. Until then, some of these big budget movies are not bad when they are put into the right hands.

November 7, 2014

Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead

Tommy Wirkola, 2014
Picking up at the end of the first Dead Snow film, Martin (Vegar Hoel) manages to escape the small army of Nazi Zombies. But he soon finds himself in a hospital and subdued. He discovers that obtaining their gold wasn't the only thing that the Nazi's wanted. They also want to fulfill some missed opportunities from World War II.

You always hope that a sequel can take the original premise of it’s predecessor and build upon it. Dead Snow 2 certainly does this. While the simple story-line of the first film worked well, the sequel manages to elaborate on the premise. At times it's completely ridiculous. On paper, the plot is preposterous. But because it's put in the right hands, it works. It works because it never takes itself seriously. It ventures into the Shaun of the Dead zomedy realm, while also riffing on 1999's Idle Hands (possibly the first film to do so). It pokes fun at the American obsession with the zombie genre, and the sci-fi genre for that matter. Not afraid to employ such tropes as the bored cop looking for some action. The protagonist assembling a group of amateurs to take on the big big boss, the David vs. Goliath device. It doesn't hold back on the gore, being completely unforgiving to humans old and young. Wirkola gets quite creative with the carnage: zombie pets, organ extraction, siphoning gasoline through human intestines. It probably won't work on everyone, either. Some people likely expect more of a serious Walking Dead-like approach to the zombie genre. But films like this are great because they aren't afraid to venture out a bit, attempting to shift to something other than cold Dystopian horror. When the zombie movies stretch into the comedy realm its refreshing, serving as a palette cleanser of sorts. In fact, most of them are pretty good (Zombieland, the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead, Fido, My Boyfriend's Back, Warm Bodies to name a few). The general zombie genre is an over-saturated category of film with more bad than good. Dead Snow 2 manages to evolve from the ordinary, taking some risks that could have just as easily placed it in the campy realm but instead puts it right up there almost on the same level with Edgar Wright's 2004 zom-com.

November 4, 2014

Obvious Child

Gillian Robespierre, 2014
Broken hearted from a recent break-up, stand-up Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) finds herself in a vulnerable state when she meets smart grad-student Max (Jake Lacy) after one of her shows. Their drunken night ends with her being pregnant, confused, and trying to figure out how to handle the situation after already having trouble managing her current life.

Some people might remember Jenny Slate from her short-lived Saturday Night Live days in 2009 and 2010. You will probably remember that they weren’t actually all that memorable. She failed to ever really make an impression there. It’s quite apparent now that Saturday Night Live wasn't the appropriate comedic vessel for Slate. She has appeared on various television series since, but has really resurfaced in the quite-good comedy FX series Married. In that particular series she plays Jess, best friend to main character Russ. She is married to an older man, played by Paul Reiser. And she’s really great there. Unrestrained and honest, unfiltered. In Obvious Child, she brings a similar energy to her Donna character but elevates it and ultimately appears to be more comfortable. Perhaps the self-deprecating Jewish 30-something living in New York City is a more accurate version of the real Jenny Slate? Very loose on stage in the small club, quick to make fun of herself. Funny, edgy, interesting. Constantly drinking too much, not really taking much of anything in her life seriously while many people her age are probably taking things too seriously. She’s not even remotely prepared to handle something as extreme as pregnancy, let alone motherhood. She takes her issues to the stage, regardless of how personal they may be. At times it comes off as pure comedy, other times it’s pure performance art. Obvious Child rattles the foundation of the conventional Hollywood rom-com with great writing and performances, challenges some cultural taboos and creates something more realistic and fresh, almost like an Anti-Knocked Up.

October 28, 2014

The Heart Machine

Zachary Wigon, 2014
Cody (John Gallagher Jr.) finds himself in an online romance with Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil), consisting of nightly Skype calls and communicating via other social networking sites. But Cody soon becomes skeptical of Virginia's actual location, doubting that she's in Berlin like she says she is. He begins to discover that she may in fact be a lot closer to him than she tells him.

Wigon's unique romantic mystery piece is his first full-feature film, employing some talent behind the camera and also some talent in front of the camera with leading roles by Gallagher Jr. (Short Term 12) and Sheil (You're Next, House of Cards, Listen up Philip). It zeroes in on a pair of twenty-somethings that are in a digital relationship in the busy bee-hive that is New York City. Wigon's New York is friendly and passive by day, and promiscuous and forward at night. In a sense it's a cautionary tale about not knowing who the person is on the other side of the screen, projecting your ideal self through the filter of the internet. Gallagher is not the purely innocent sap that he played in the great 2012 film Short Term 12. Instead here, he is much more relentless and apprehensive. Some of his moments on screen are very uncomfortable in his few moments of great persistence. He certainly isn't a clear protagonist, and there also isn't really a clear antagonistic force at work either. It's certainly not certain that it would be Virginia. She's duplicitous, but not completely malicious. She's filling a void, protecting herself, but you also get a sense that she's protecting Cody. She values the relationship, and when there are hints of it's demise she grows defensive. You wonder why she uses her real name in her online persona, you would think that she would be able to hide more effectively if she hadn't. After all, it's seems quite easy to do some amateur detective work when you have access to the person's Facebook profile. It's probably the point for Virginia, who wants to hide in some shadow secrecy but perhaps not completely shrouded. Cody is a morally compromised character, like a stalker detective who digs his heels in even deeper when it would be way more appropriate to pull out and move on. Wigon plays with tension quite well, it builds to the point of being unbearable. The Cody and Virginia characters are complex and flawed, very much like any real life dynamic. There is irony in the sense that the online relationship is giving Virginia stability while making Cody grow more instable. Wigon's micro story feels much bigger with it's impressive balance of suspicion and deception. 

October 25, 2014

Top 5 Creepiest Scenes

5. The Road - House (2009)

Viggo Mortensen's "man" character discovers a house with his son (character "boy") that is inhabited by a group of ruthless bandits. What they discover in the house is the most memorable scene from one of the best apocalyptic films ever made.

4. The Blair Witch Project - Basement (1999) 

Heather and Mike have finally made it to a house in the middle of the terrifying woods where they suddenly hear their missing friend Josh's voice calling for help from inside.

3. Insidious - Dream & Table (2011)

Lorraine describes a vivid dream she had that involved Josh and Renai's son. But in moments in the dream comes to life.

2. Se7en - Sloth (1995)

The detectives discover another victim of serial killer John Doe's. But this discovery is arguably the most gruesome of them all.

1. [REC] - Penthouse (2007)

Angela makes her way to the penthouse of the infected apartment building. They find the source of the infection, but probably wish they hadn't. 

October 23, 2014

The Purge

James DeMonaco, 2013
Once a year America participates in The Purge, a 12 hour window in which all crime (including murder) is legal. Home Security salesman James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) believes his home will be the safest, most fortified home on the block - until it becomes a target for a group of Purgers looking for a homeless man that his son Charlie (Max Burkholder) welcomed inside to safety.

The Purge is a film constructed off a very provocative high-concept story-line that was probably not put into the right Director's hands. DeMonaco is responsible for the pretty good 1998 thriller The Negotiator, so he has demonstrated some skills of juggling some complicated story. But instead of taking a more satirical approach to this film, DeMonaco goes in more of a horror-thriller direction, probably because the studios figured that would put a lot of teenagers in movie seats. The film attempts to explore concepts of morality, of civil disobedience, but ultimately on a middle-school level.

With that being said, the concept is still interesting enough to maintain your attention. It will probably have you vicariously living through the characters to a certain extent, playing out what you would do if The Purge were actually a real-life thing. But it's certainly a conflicting film. It probably could have been a much bigger film, with more of a macro feel. Instead they put all of the weight onto the Sandin home. If they spent some time outside of the McMansion, it could have painted a more elaborate picture really displaying the grand scale of the nationwide event. There also should have been a clock ticking throughout the film. It would have contributed to the tension, and would also let you keep your bearings. By the time the home is infiltrated, hysteria ensues and you never really have a sense of whether its late night or early hours of the morning. But nothing is more obnoxious about the film than the end credits with the medicre narrative playing out. "They are calling this the best Purge ever! There are bodies everywhere". Ugh. At least hire a better writer there. Or just have no spoken words. That would have been less irritating. The Purge somehow manages to cushion it's imperfections with it's alluring storyline. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Anthony & Joe Russo, 2014
The Russo brothers (who are more known for a variety of comedic television work) add to the installment of Marvel comic book-adapted action films, making this one the 37th - counting all of them going back to a 1944 version of Captain America when Marvel Comics was called Timely Comics. Fortunately for modern-moviegoers, you are treated to seamless big-budget special effects that blend in so well to the scene that you never really raise an eyebrow. Just like the Iron Man films, the technology shown in the films now clearly exceeds that of the real world with things like hologram technology or advanced weaponry and it's just sort of become something that is now embedded in the Marvel franchise and you just accept it because it's all become a part of the franchise. When the elevator descends to the annals of the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and you see hundreds of advanced machines, you once again accept it because in this universe we have a guy like Tony Stark who can invent lots of amazing things for the military or even a chest repulsor transmitter for his own body. And while a lot of the other Marvel films involve some cross-pollination of the many characters, this one for the most part focuses on Steve Rogers and his Captain America character.

The film examines Captain America's struggles to adapt to the modern society after being frozen for decades. It also explores the patriotic elements associated with the whole Captain America image. Regret, lost love, loyalty, trust, dedication. It's an elaborate film, employing multiple antagonists such as covert-assassin The Winter Soldier, HYDRA front-man Alexander Pierce, as well as the other loyal HYDRA members helping to initiate a genocidal Helicarrier that will wipe out millions of people. The two hour plus running time allows enough time to balance the multiple story threads with the chaotic urban destruction. The Avengers franchise should be quite good for some time as long as the same cast stays committed to their respective roles.

October 19, 2014


Richard Linklater, 1991
Most of the great modern filmmakers have that one particular film early in their career. Typically a more primitive representation of their abilities, it showcases some of their ideas and thoughts but not in such an organized or refined fashion. Of course you need experience to evolve. Kevin Smith has Clerks. Steven Soderburgh has Sex, Lies, and Videotape. David Lynch has Eraserhead. While all of the aforementioned films have varying levels of quality associated with them, they all display a certain root quality to each director. Linklater’s Slacker is probably more messy than all of those, but it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Linklater is a man who has a lot to say, and before he made the Before films where he had an Ethan Hawke-led Jesse vessel to deliver it, it came off as a lot of disorganized stoner talk and philosophical ranting. All in the setting of a pre-Hipster Austin Texas. When you get a good look at this 1990’s Austin, you understand the inevitable influx of hipsterdom to the city that would come in the later years. The amateurish quality to the film is certainly revealed when you even see a finger at the top of the frame in one of the scenes. But there is something there, some qualities that you will see in Dazed and Confused and even in School of Rock. What separates these characters from Linklater's future characters is certainly a sense of purpose, or at least principle.

In a way it’s a film that questions a lot of things. Authority in it’s many forms. Uncle Sam, parents, the police, the boss. An examination of the aimless Gen X population. Drifters, couch surfers. People with a lack of conviction to virtually everything in their lives. Habitual moochers in the same vein as the Freegan movement. All laid out with Linklater’s signature tracking shots, only this time focused on people with fanny packs and acid washed jeans.

October 18, 2014


Gareth Edwards, 2014
Edwards decides to take on the ambitious task of rebooting the 60 year old Godzilla franchise, 16 years after the previous (and awful) Roland Emmerich version. Edwards can seemingly only go up from there, and was coming off the more subtle (and pretty good) 2010 aptly-named monster-film Monsters. He certainly demonstrated some abilities in pacing and build up of tension in that film, which he certainly put to use here. He makes a few good decisions right off the bat, first off with not casting Matthew Broderick (whoever the casting agent that thought it would be a good idea to put him in big budget action film should've probably changed careers, and probably did). He instead takes a chance on lesser-known actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson to play hero Ford Brody, who comes off as sort of a Logan Lerman-type without the charm. The studios continue to force Elizabeth Olsen upon audiences, who is quite unremarkable as Ford’s wife Elle. There is some veteran actingat work, with Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn in supporting roles. None of them really get the opportunity to shine, at least not as much as Bryan Cranston. Cranston is the stand-out performance of the film, and unfortunately when he departs a lot of the momentum goes with him. Cranston is responsible for a good portion of the films build-up, and by the time that the film reaches the destructive climax it feels it drags on until the very end. There must have been a CGI-quota for high rise toppling. Maybe the special effects team was under contract for 28 destroyed skyscrapers, and they weren’t going to stop until every one of them have been toppled by either Godzilla himself or the insipid grasshopper beasts. Maybe beasts like Godzilla or King Kong are better left preserved in history. They certainly had their place in time. There is a certain unwillingness to preserve certain films, and instead of going in a more inventive direction we continue to reboot everything to the point of exhaustion. Maybe there is a certain magic to those gritty black and white versions. Maybe they don’t need multi-million dollar CGI makeovers. After all, by the time our great-grandchildren are in their thirties... is there going to be 25 Godzilla films that were made?

October 11, 2014

Blue Ruin

Jeremy Saulnier, 2014
When homeless and broken Dwight (Macon Blair) receives news of a convicted killer's release, a killer who had killed people very close to him years before, he decides to take matters into his own hands.

Blue Ruin is a product of the world of crowd-funding, with the production costs funded by a Kickstarter campaign. A very nice looking film, albeit being a dark revenge piece about vigilante justice. Served by a man with nothing to lose. Blair plays that man, soliciting sympathy within minutes of being introduced to his Dwight character. He spends the first few minutes of the film simply gathering things to eat, picking garbage at a neighborhood carnival in coastal Delaware. As soon as he hears the news of Wade Cleland's release, he begins acting out a game-plan that was likely a worse case scenario for Dwight. It almost seems like if Wade was never released, Dwight would continue stumbling through the days like a lifeless zombie. He soon finds a sense of mild purpose, justice for his parents' cold-blooded slaying. What follows is a chain of events that is similar in tone to Jeff Nichol's Shotgun Stories in the sense that it explores family feuding, familial loyalty and unforgiving retribution.

One moderate criticism about the film is the source of anger for protagonist Dwight. His parents were murdered years back. Of course that would be enough to make anyone deeply angry, looking for some form of justice outside of the conventional prison system, which clearly went easy on Wade. But Dwight has basically shut himself off to the world, almost as if when his parents died he gave up on everything without ever attempting to move on with his life (like his sister). Would someone choose this path after their parents were killed? Not that anyone would take their parents' murder mildly, but at some point they would lick their wounds and move on with their life, right? Dwight turns out to be the anti-Bruce Wayne. He doesn’t use the tragedy as a motivator to rid the streets of crime. Instead once the killer is imprisoned he goes into complete isolation, taking a vow of silence. Living out of his car, dumpster diving. He doesn’t actually attempt to execute any reparation until the killer is released from prison early. Perhaps his story would have been more realistic if it were his wife and child that had been killed. The film could have flashed back to the happy moments in his life in his suburban home with the white picket fence, only to be stripped from him after a home invasion gone awry. That being said, the story isn't COMPLETELY unbelievable. It's actually quite the opposite. Just a well-made/complete revenge thriller.

October 8, 2014


Michael Mann, 1995
A group of elusive professional robbers have met their match when there is a unexpected slip-up on a job and they find themselves suddenly in the sights of hot-headed homicide detective Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino).

Michael Mann's action thriller pits DeNiro vs. Pacino (one of three films that the two co-starred in together) to satisfy any movie-lovers dream. Set in the backdrop of the concrete jungle of 1990's Los Angeles, much of the film consists of night shots littered with thousands of squared lit windows as one of the many police helicopters present in the city drift through the sky. When present in the day hours, you are probably looking at a contemporary structure that seems to be holding on to the side of a southern California cliff. If you aren't there, you're in a bank or close to money which at that point you are probably muffling your ears from the sounds of automatic rifle fire. Much of the film is the robbing crew on the move, with Vincent's men hot on their tail. The best of the best. Not many bank robbers are pulling architectural plans before a job, and not many detectives are meeting criminals at a club at 2AM for a ambiguous tip that may or may not even pay off. Dedication on all fronts. It's that cat and mouse concept that keeps the film compelling, although there are so many layers to this great picture to follow. Heat is home to one of the great bank robbery scenes of all time, and if you haven't seen this film you've probably heard about it. It's a lengthly action drama that's not without some over-dramatization, some over-acting by the wavering Pacino (although he provides some of the most memorable quotes on film that are forever in your brain), and some questionable plot-holes here and there. But you're willing to let the imperfections go. Even if you've seen this film a few times and you revisit it years later, you are bound to find something new.

The Trip

Michael Winterbottom, 2011
Steve Coogan (playing himself) reaches out to friend Rob Brydon to see if he is interested in going on a foodie road trip with him after his girlfriend backs out. Soon the two find themselves sitting across from each other at various restaurants across the English countryside eating lavish meals while engaging in dueling impressions with each other.

Steve Coogan is a rather confusing actor. He seems to get a lot of acting work, seems to pop up quite often in the comedy genre, but it’s a bit perplexing as to why. He doesn’t necessarily have a large personality, not a lot of on screen charisma. He is very typically British, possessing a rather dry sense of humor. People seem to either be into Coogan, or just not. Before you see The Trip, you must evaluate your current opinion of Coogan. If you are lukewarm on him, are you ready to sit at a table with him for 90 minutes? Are you ready to be stuck in a car with him, in a hotel room with him? Because he isn’t going to put a whole lot out there. His overall demeanor is very much like the gloomy skies they find themselves traveling in. Perhaps that is what’s a bit challenging with him. In this film, which is a sort of meta & reflective look at his own acting career, his cell phone is constantly ringing (when he has decent reception) offering him roles that he doesn't feel so enthusiastic about. His career challenges are coupled with a broken heart caused by a breakup with girlfriend Mischa. But it’s hard to get on board with Coogan. He just doesn’t really seem like very enjoyable person to be around. It’s even a bit surprising that more charismatic/outgoing/extroverted friend Rob is on board for a road trip with old buddy Steve. Rob is away from his family, children. It’s nice to have a break, but it’s not like it’s all that exciting for him. Perhaps it just comes down to long-standing loyalty. One of the more inconceivable elements of the film is the constant gravitational pull that Coogan seems to have with women. How are they attracted to a man that is constantly sulking? Is it the name recognition? Or is it just a English thing? Overall the film is basically tolerable, with some nice food porn and a great Michael Caine impression by Rob Brydon.

October 7, 2014


John Michael McDonagh, 2014
Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is taking confessions at his small-town church when a voice tells him that he plans on killing him in a week, revenge for the sexual abuse that the mysterious man was subjected to as a child.

The small-town Irish setting is gloomy, lonely. The visual aesthetic spills over to the overall tone of the film. The town consists of quiet encounters of it’s inhabitants during the day, and the consumption of spirits at the local bar come nighttime. Father James lost his wife years before he entered the priesthood, and you get a sense that it’s a grief that he carries with him through his daily life. He’s surrounded by many morally compromised people in his small Irish community. Adulterers, abusers, drunks, sex addicts, the greedy. They all float around him as if he’s some kind of central force that they can descend upon every Sunday to clear their conscience. When his daughter comes to visit him, it’s a reminder of his past life and his inability to completely escape the memories. After all Father is an enduring figure. Willing to drink a beer with his congregation members, but reluctant to consume whiskey (for an unspoken reason, presumably justified). When he hears the familiar voice through the grated window of the confession booth, he struggles to understand why he would be chosen to be the human sacrifice for some unknown priest’s sins. He has put in good time becoming a good man. But he is forced to spend the following week reflecting on his life, on humanity in general. He ultimately realizes that he is no different than the people of his community. They all breathe the same air, have the same blood in their veins. It’s all taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to show up on that beach the following week.

September 30, 2014

Robot & Frank

Jake Schreier, 2012
Retired thief Frank (Frank Langella) has become a strain on his adult children Hunter (James Marsden) and Madison (Liv Tyler). When Hunter suddenly delivers a robot to the home in an effort to assist him with household duties, his father is at first quite resistant to the idea. But Frank soon forms a bond with the machine and finds companionship from an unlikely source.

Written by Christopher Ford, the unlikely friendship piece is based in the not-so-distant future. Sophisticated robots are completely attainable, albeit a bit expensive, but people still drive Audi's that are of similar design of today's models. Libraries exist, although on their way out as shown in the small town of Cold Spring (which was actually shot in the more populated Westchester town of Rye, NY). This whole Library on it's way out theme is part of the film, and actually kind of ambiguous. Librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) informs Frank the facility is about to change form into some kind of experimental avant-garde locale that will still be a hub for reading, although it's not quite clear how. Not so important as the story really focuses on Frank and his struggles with himself. He is forgetful but also morally questionable. He is sympathetic while also at the same time quite stubborn and moderately manipulative. Frank is without a doubt a complicated character. His dementia is questionable throughout the film. His son Hunter, long skeptical especially after enduring his father's years in prison, assumes the robot will take a bit of the load off of his back. He is after all making long trips to his father's rural home and away from his own family. He is a straight-laced man, presumably eager to not repeat the same mistakes his father made.

The film is rooted in good performances, without the need for any real special effects or camera trickery. The dynamic between the man and the machine is believable, quite compelling actually. Certainly an study on our culture's dependence on technology, and the inevitable growing dependence. When the final credits roll and you see the stock footage with actual robots in the media and that addicting electronic song plays out, you will likely continue to sit there taking the last bits in.

September 26, 2014

School of Rock

Richard Linklater, 2003
After getting kicked out of his band, Dewey Finn (Jack Black) is desparate for some form of income especially with his roommate's girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman) putting pressure on him to contribute rent money. When he intercepts a call from the local school trying to reach his roommate Ned (Mike White) for a substitution position, he decides to dupe the school into thinking he is Ned and takes the position himself.

If you are not a fan of Jack Black's, School of Rock is probably a no go for you. It's Jack Black at his very Jack Black-est, demanding attention from everyone in close range. Lot's of sudden jerking movements, and loudness. But it's hard to picture anyone other than Jack Black playing the part of Dewey Finn. While his ADHD behavior can grow tiring, there is an endearing quality that fits well -especially in the role of a school teacher. Instructed to follow a standard curriculum, he abandons this quite quickly for his own brand of anti-authoritarian expression. Using Rock and Roll as a platform for his own satisfaction but also playing to his strengths, he inadvertently shows the kids how to open up and express themselves in an environment that they've grown imprisoned with. Living up to the high expectations of their parents, they assume that their parents will push their own wishes on them and they will simply follow. But Dewey comes in and shakes it all up. The film could also be considered Linklater's love letter to music, very much like Almost Famous was to Cameron Crowe. The two films are similar in a way. Both push the idea of young innocents wrapped up in their love of music, to the point where it becomes an all-consuming thing inside of a traditionally strict environment. But bearing the warning that the film may not hit the mark with Black haters, perhaps there are some aspects of it that may be able to make their way into your heart if you were one before. Maybe you can come away liking Black at least a little bit more. If this film doesn't do that, nothing will.

September 20, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Doug Liman, 2014
Typically reluctant to get involved in the physical elements of war, Cage (Tom Cruise) finds himself on the battleground fighting against an invading alien force that has already destroyed much of the world. When he falls victim to one of the creatures during a firefight, he realizes that when he dies he awakens at the beginning of the day where everything starts over again.

Liman's Sci-Fi thriller is a mix between Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers (who would have though that would have ever been possible?). Cruise once again finds himself in the Sci-fi genre, where at this point he should feel quite comfortable having already starred in films like Minority Report, Oblivion, War of the Worlds -the latter two dealing with similar plots of aliens invading Earth. But where last year's Oblivion fell victim to dragging predictability, Edge really keeps you engaged and maintains it's rapid pace to the end. Unfortunately Edge fell victim to poor marketing, and didn't really perform well at the box office in early June 2014 when it was released. It should have done much better, seeing as it wasn't up against any big-budget action films but instead found itself up against tween-adaptation/tearjerker The Fault in our Stars. But it was probably too smart for the typical action-seeking-moviegoers who are still mourning the loss of Paul Walker from cinema, forever depressed about the unfillable hole in their precious Fast and the Furious franchise. But who cares about the numbers, really. The only unfortunate part of it is that Liman wasn't immediately praised for his work here, and he really should have been. Instead, the film will likely go on to maintain more of a cult status which is fine too. History should be kind to you Doug Liman.

The film is certainly not absent of lots of CGI and big-budget effects, but they really provide a complimentary dynamic to the brilliant screenwriting. It never feels gimmicky or ever makes you feel like there's any kind of imbalance. It doesn't just try to wear you down with stimulation. It's a heady piece that puts your brain to work. And along with the great writing, Liman puts some his familiar Bourne Identity film-making techniques to work again, with a lot of the erratic jumps and cuts. During the opening moments of the film you realize that the earth has been invaded by aliens as they land on earth on asteroids. You don't see them right away, and when you are finally introduced to them on the battlefield you realize how much of an unstoppable force they are. They sort of come off as a hybrid of Predator & James Cameron's Alien on amphetamines. By the time you actually have one in your sights, it's probably too late to take it down unless you have an impeccable shot. And Cruise's early work on the battlefield is anything but impeccable. Playing against type, he attempts to blackmail his commanding officer in an attempt to cowardly escape actual battle. It's a clever trick, because you really get a sense of his character's evolution as he has to repeat each day correcting his mistakes, hoping to eventually figure out how to defeat the mighty force. In a genre where is quite the disparity of quality, Edge manages to stand out while performing its own take on the alien invasion theme.

September 13, 2014

The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson, 2007
Three brothers unite on a train in India a year after they lost their father in an attempt to reconnect and have a bonding experience together.

Like all of Wes Anderson's work, the film is easy on the eyes. But despite it's visual perks, it doesn't have a lot going for it. Ironically even though the colorful train is bound to the steel rails, the picture feels quite aimless and all over the place. Their mission together feels quite detached, as if they are mostly on a train killing time by smoking cigarettes and drinking native concoctions that are delivered to their personal sleeper cart. The attempt at multiple story threads (on-board romance, break up grief, family animosity) doesn't really stick. It feels like Anderson really wanted to make a movie in picturesque India. He was so excited that he quickly boarded the plane with Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray and forgot half of the script at home. It's understandable, because the best attributes about the film are probably some of the many amazing shots he managed to get. Heads sticking out of the train window as it passes through the night. The group passing through a bustling marketplace. Various angles of the interior cabin with the aging colorful decor sticking to the walls. It's an Anderson piece that requires more gazing than thinking. Even though it feels like a confused film it does seem to make sense that Anderson would want a picture like this in his library. It fits in well in that respect. You can take in the set pieces with the (very underrated classic rock band) Kinks playing in the background, which at the end of the day really isn't the worst thing to endure.