January 30, 2014

Before Midnight

Richard Linklater, 2013
WARNING: If you haven't seen the previous two Before films, you'd be doing yourself a favor if you didn't read on. Please watch Before Sunrise and Before Sunset first, and then please come back!

January 28, 2014

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Jerry Seinfeld, 2012-
Jerry Seinfeld's personal creation is a fine display of what is possible in the world of independently-produced internet-based content. He doesn't need to bow to advertisers (though he has sponsors like Acura but their presence isn't overbearing). He can choose how long each episode is. He decides what direction he wants to take it. Literally. He decides where they're going to eat. He decides what they are going to talk about. But although he has a certain formula to it all, it all feels very organic. He gets in a different car each episode (with each car outfitted with multiple dash-mounted Go-Pro-like cameras) to pick up his buddies, whether they be long-time collaborator Larry David, fellow comedian Brian Regan, or even longtime friend Michael Richards hoping to strike some comedic vein and see what flows out. All in between close-up shots of steaming coffee and mouth-watering diner-porn. There's a certain deconstructionist approach to his lunch dates. He likes to hear what his friends think is funny. But he also wants to know what they do when they get up in the morning. What they eat for lunch, and why they eat it and why have they been eating it for so long. There's comedy in all of it. After all, he's made a career with observational humor and why stop now? And what's great about it is it's not over-edited. The fat hasn't been completely trimmed to the point where there are no awkward pauses or jokes that didn't land. That sense of purity is the charm to the series. You could argue its a new incarnation of a show about nothing. And Jerry presumably has enough cars in his garage and enough comedian friends that he can do this for a long time. Or at least as long as he wants to.

January 27, 2014

Before Sunset

Richard Linklater, 2004
The sequel to Before Sunrise and the second in Linklater's Before Trilogy, the film is a continuation of the romance between American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French Celine (Julie Delpy). This film follows the pair in Paris as Jesse is on a tour promoting his book about their life changing night together in Vienna.

Warning: You may not want to read on if you haven't already seen Before Sunrise. It's difficult to examine this picture without revealing some important details, which going into it blindly certainly enriches the whole experience.

January 25, 2014

The 1st Annual Coopies! The 5 Best Films of 2013

2013 was the first year for this blog, and it was also an amazing year in film. Many films that should have found their place in your brain by now. My hope with creating the Coopies was to recognize not only GOOD films, but films that also tend to be overlooked when it comes Academy Awards or Golden Globes time. There was an interesting LA Times article posted some time ago about the surprising demographics of the Oscar voters. At the end of the day, you could argue the Academy Awards have become one big glitzy popularity contest. A packed house of blowhards. And if you don't play along, you may find yourself blacklisted. If you rely on the Oscars to show you the best films of the year, you are relying on an old white guy. If you rely on the Globes, you are relying on a foreign journalist. There's bias everywhere. Including here. There are certain types films that you won't find on this blog in much volume. You won't find a lot of big Hollywood blockbusters. You won't find a lot of big-budget action films. You probably won't find any film that features Vin Diesel. Those films clog up the cinematic pipeline and leave little room for some of the smaller movies to get some attention. And it's a shame, because there are so many amazing independent films released that go unnoticed year after year. At least here, they will all get a better chance.

The Poopie Coopie (Most Disappointing of 2013)Pacific Rim
The colossal summer blockbuster was just a colossal disappointment. Basically a dopey baby of Transformers & Godzilla with giant robots that shake ground without breaking any.

5. Mud
Nichols' unlikely-friendship story, much unlike the murky southern waters of the film, runs deep. McConaughey delivers quite possibly the best performance of his career as the boat-dwelling hermit wanted for murder.

4. The Place Beyond the Pines
Pines is not flawless, but its a weighty epic packing calories with many surprises.

3. Upstream Color
Shane Carruth's mind-bender may take a couple of viewings, and when it hits you you'll slip into hypnotic reverie.

2. 12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen's adaptation of Northrup's memoir is gripping, difficult and agonizing for all of the right reasons.

1. Her
Jonze's satirical high-tech rom-dram is so well put-together, so well executed. One of it's best qualities is it's subtlety. Instead of being hit in the face with the futuristic elements (like Back to the Future Part II), you become immediately accepting of them. We are not-so-distant from this not-so-distant future. And those reds. Or were they pink?

January 19, 2014

Drinking Buddies

Joe Swanberg, 2013
It's quite obvious that Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) have a crush on each other. They both spend a good portion of their days working at the Revolution Brewery in Chicago goofing around. The only problem that they face is that they are both already involved with someone else.

When you're pitched a film that's going to be 100% improvised, that probably sounds quite appealing and fun, especially when it involves actual drinking. But this is essentially a film packing empty calories much like the stouts and pale ales they are constantly consuming on the job. The Brewery seems like the best place in the world to work. You can drink during your shift, smoke in your office. It appears that the only real work you must do is hose off some kegs and make some phone calls to distributors. The only real boss you must answer to is Gene (Jason Sudeikis) who is hard to respect when he is sitting next to you at the bar every night drinking. Everything that transpires is quite predictable, and you can get a clear feeling for the direction it's going to take at the 20 minute mark. And while Luke and Kate are pulling pigtails, they aren't providing a whole lot of funny. The sexual tension drags on. And on. And on. It's disappointing because Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick have proven that they are capable of pulling off good performances but they aren't given much to work with here. And perhaps it's not fair to judge them so harshly, they are clearly just not great with improv. It's an hour of power of pleasure delaying, loosey-goosey to a fault, and simply lacking. Swanberg deserves some credit for taking a risk, but Drinking Buddies is better on paper. It provides you with a lot to look at, but not enough substance behind it.

January 16, 2014

Sunset Strip

Hans Fjellestad, 2012
Sunset Strip can be credited with being a rather full story. It has a beginning, middle and an end. And there are a plethora of faces to attempt to recount their experiences (Johnny Depp, Sharon Osbourne, Keanu Reeves, Sharon Stone, Mickey Rourke to name a few). The beginning is clearly the strip in its incarnation. Originally poinsettia farmland owned by a single landowner, it slowly became urbanized and ultimately became an entertainment destination due mostly to it's proximity to Hollywood. The Vegas Strip before there really was Las Vegas. An exclusive hot spot that everyone wanted to get in on. Sammy Davis Jr. Elizabeth Taylor. James Dean. And the popularity grew. The culture evolved, for better or for worse. The middle is the Strip in its gritty heyday. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Very little interference by the law. A lot of pivotal moments. Jim Morrison at the Whiskey a Go Go. Sam Kinison screaming into the microphone at the Comedy Store. Richard Pryor performing his legendary set. And just like any party, it must come to an end at some point. The end is basically closer to the present-day. The Sunset Strip of Los Angeles has turned into a homogenized, corporate version of its former self. The lines of cocaine have morphed into heavily-caffeinated energy drinks, with their very advertisements plastered all over the walls in an effort to cross-promote. The busy streets have turned into promenades to increase the volume of foot traffic. Instead of a historical site it's basically become a novelty display.

The problem with the film is while it treats you to beautiful historical footage early on in the film, it becomes rather aimless and self-indulgent at the end. The camera sits down with a group of mob types and it feels wearisome. It shows some confusing footage of Paris Hilton in a police cruiser. Kelly Osbourne performing with the Pussycat Dolls. Instead of continuing on in some kind of rich historical context, it ends up just playing some live footage of Jane's Addiction and some other bands performing at the Roxy. And perhaps that's whats sad about the Sunset Strip. The inevitability of it all. The old die out and the young are born. Led Zeppelin is no longer renting the entire floor of the Chateau Marmot, because they haven't even performed together in years. You won't find Ozzy at any of the bars. In fact, his own children have undergone their own rites of passage on the Strip and look back on it with nostalgia. What's left are the ghosts of the past. It's turned into a rather unforgiving shell of it's former self. New thrills are now packaged. There are no surprise acts. Just contracted residencies. It's just too bad that Fjellestad wasn't able to maintain the momentum in the final third of the film. This film could learn a thing or two from more entertaining Sunset-Strip based documentary The Mayor of the Sunset Strip

January 15, 2014

About Time

Richard Curtis, 2013
Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is informed by his father (Bill Nighy) on his 21st birthday that he has inherited the ability to go back in time. He can go back to any moment that he has lived as long as he goes into a dark place, and clinches his fists and thinks about where he wants to go. Constantly feeling disappointed with himself over his inability to find a good girl, he decides to use his special power to find that special someone.

Richard Curtis puts together a heartwarming story that combines time travel with the unlikely romance theme, sort of like if Groundhog Day and Say Anything had a baby. The English backdrop adds a distinct charm to the film, fueled by rich & witty dialogue. It takes the sentimental tone of Curtis' popular Love Actually and makes it much more personal. You are introduced to Tim's fun-loving family very early on in the picture, and when Tim is pulled into the den to be told of his ability by his father, you get a clear sense that they are always having fun with each other. Tim initially assumes he's joking about the multi-generational family secret. He soon finds he is not, and wants to immediately travel back to clear up some social missteps that he had made that have been haunting him ever since. Tim possesses a certain charisma to him, which draws sympathy early on. His early social mishaps are painful to watch (like awkwardly avoiding the kiss at his family's New Years party), especially because he's a genuinely nice guy who simply lacks the moxie. His father asks him what he wants to use his ability for. There's an endless amount of morally questionable things he could do, but he simply wants the girl. He meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), who is insecure yet delightful. McAdams continues to prove that she's one of Hollywood's sweethearts, and really lights up this picture. And so the film plays out like a highlight reel of happiness with instant replay. The ability to correct life's worst moments, and possibly turn them into the greatest. And of course it's flawed; isn't EVERY time travel film flawed in one way or another? You have to let the imperfections go, and that's easy to do with this picture.

January 14, 2014

Enlightened (Season 1)

Laura Dern & Mike White, 2011
Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) has a mental breakdown at her workplace. She admits herself into a retreat in Hawaii and comes back as what she feels is a changed woman and she is eager to get her life back on track.

Witty writing and solid acting just emanates from this television dramedy that's produced by Laura Dern and Mike White. It feels like a role perfectly crafted for Dern to play. She's unpredictable, slightly vengeful, a bit narcissistic, but ultimately a sympathetic character. There's a certain warmth in her core, and a magnetism to Amy. In a sense she feels that the people around her have wronged her, and she is trying her best to move forward while also trying to maintain a certain level of forgiveness. Little does she know that her absence from her work at Abaddonn Industries comes celebrated by many. And when she returns from her retreat, she has a smile pasted on her face and she is full of talk of energy and crystals. But she obviously hasn't gotten to the root of it all. She sort of becomes this pseudo-hippie who under the guise of spirituality and nature imagery is able to put her anger behind her. But it's not behind her. It's still inside of her, just contained. For the moment. You get a sense at times that she's hanging on by a thread. She's focused on herself for a short period, but she still hasn't done the real work. And like a self-destructive addict, she starts to venture onto old paths with old people in her life. She reconnects with her druggy ex-husband, she moves back in with her mother who obviously did a number on her, and she goes knocking on the door of her former workplace where she had the meltdown in the first place. But there's something to it all. In a way you are rooting for Amy to succeed. And that success can come in different flavors. You want her boss and vindictive co-workers to get their come-comeuppance. But what if they don't? You want her to reconcile the differences she has with her reclusive mother. But what if she doesn't? There's a certain curiosity there, and that is what fuels this great series. 

January 12, 2014

Before Sunrise

Richard Linklater, 1995
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is aboard a train on it's way to Vienna, Austria. When an argument erupts between a couple on the other end of the cart, Celine (Julie Delpy) decides to relocate. She happens to sit across from Jesse, who strikes up conversation. They feel the immediate connection together, and Celine decides to get off in Vienna so that they can spend the night together.

Linklater's first installment in what would eventually become the first of other "Before" films is a beautiful dialogue-filled picture focusing on the origin of love between two strangers. Two people from opposite sides of the world who encounter each other by chance on a train. The discomfort of hearing another couple fighting places them right next to each other almost like magnetic force. And so it plays out, like you're witness to the best first date ever. Charming American Jesse, who is a curious traveler with abstract ideas about things like life and death and the universe meets the naturally beautiful and warm Parisian Celine. There is a bit of a complimentary dynamic between the two. They walk the cobblestone streets of Vienna, sharing stories of their past and ideas about the future. They are truly living in the moment, both unsure of the future but knowing that there is something organic happening - even if it's for that one solitary night in Austria. And Austria is a kind city to them, letting them indulge as they glide through the night like its their personal playground. Poetry, music, mysticism fills the night air. As the night lingers on, they can feel the impending separation and it only feels more and more difficult. But what can they do about it, with the distance between them? He lives in America, and she lives in France. And while the clock ticks, the attraction emanates. Linklater's romantic drama really works, because it feels really authentic between Jesse and Celine. 

January 10, 2014


Spike Jonze, 2013
Set in the near future in downtown Los Angeles, Theodore (Jaoquin Phoenix) is a lonely man still struggling with his fairly recent divorce to his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). He discovers a newly released operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) that once installed quickly familiarizes itself with his life. He forms a connection with the OS that grows quite quickly into a more romantic direction, filling the void that was in his life prior to installing her.

A high concept film that put in the wrong hands, could fall into pieces. And it doesn't with Jonze at the helm, and why would it? He has already proven that he is right guy for making such a picture, directing other outrageous high concept pictures like an obsession with Malkovichian mind-control in Being John Malkovich, or directing the complicated Adaptation which follows screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's struggles with writer's block while trying to adapt Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. This time he goes it alone without the help of Kaufman, and still manages to maintain a similar quality with his previous films.

The futuristic L.A. is quite beautiful. Urban curvature, a certain reddish glow, holographic imagery, green spaces. People shuffle about, rather closed off from each other with their ear-buds in. Actually a not-so-evolved version of our current iPhone culture, yet generations ahead. You settle into this world quite quickly, and when Theodore encounters the new Operating System it feels fit for the times. This is a society in which technology has been long interwoven, as humorously shown when Theodore is on a blind-date with a woman (played by Olivia Wilde) when he discusses some her interests that he had already seen on her online profile, and rather than be creeped out she considers it rather sweet.

The stigma's have been washed out of society. The personality is created, very much on it's own, and evolves quickly. The OS is basically a drastically evolved version of Siri. Rather than a computerized voice speaking to him, it's a sultry female voice. A voice with warmth, vulnerability, desire. Theodore finds his lonely nights are no longer so lonely, and his daytime hours are enhanced. The film examines some real philosophical questions. Is it considered real love when it's with a non-physical entity? Can it really love you back? While Her doesn't hide it's satire of our current digitally obsessed culture, it doesn't beat us over the head with it while maintaining the adequate amount of comedy blended with drama. Some of the ideas are actually quite frightening in a sense. How comfortable can you feel talking to a digital entity that absorbs knowledge so rapidly? How can you just turn off your own skepticism that the voice on the other side isn't just preying on your very easy-to-identify human vulnerabilities? And while Theodore is conflicted, he is still engaged with Samantha. He loves her. And she loves him? And in a sense, how can he not love her? He has a beautiful voice in his ear that is watching with him through every moment, big or small. She sees what he sees. She hears what he hears. She remembers it all. She can play the perfect song at a moments notice, or even create a new one for him. She can optimize the moment. She can use her various algorithms to sense his sensitivity. Samantha's informational capabilities are quite endless, but of course there's the ongoing struggle given the lack of pure consciousness. It's a love story of man and machine, and Jonze provides so much depth to the dynamic that he makes it very intriguing.

January 9, 2014

Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen, 2013
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a struggling woman, trying to put the pieces together after her husband is imprisoned for insider trading. She moves to San francisco to stay with her adopted sister. When she arrives she is hit with a bit of culture shock and struggles to adapt to a less affluent life. 

Woody Allen's nod to Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire is also Woody channeling that very familiar, welcomed neurotic stream of consciousness. Much of the neuroses is placed upon Jasmine's character in the film, who almost makes you think that Blanchett must of been institutionalized after completion. Blanchett does what she does, and just perfectly hits the mark as the unfiltered and unstable Jasmine. Jasmine's turbulent saga is craft-fully displayed through flashbacks of her old life when her husband was still reaping the benefits of his white collar crimes while she went along for the ride, and jumps back to present day when she is forced to come back to earth. And Earth is a scary place for Jasmine. Hardly anybody lives up to her incredibly high standards, her old friends have left her, and she is out of money but rich with embarrassment and humiliation. And she is ready to spiral out of control at a moment's notice, really hanging on by a thread. Self medicates by throwing back a Xanax, chasing it down with some Stoli. All-while somehow maintaining that nasal, condescending tone with that stubbornly pompous persona. She figures if can just land quickly into a West Coast version of her old life, she will stabilize without doing any of the real work on herself. And that work is long overdue. While Blanchett's performance clearly stands out, there is certainly a lot of help. Andrew Dice Clay, Louis C.K. step out of the stand-up comedy realm and impress. Sally Hawkins, who looks like she could be a sister of Marisa Tomei, is impressive as Jasmine's less fortunate sister Ginger who lives a much more modest life but doesn't hesitate to provide shelter for Jasmine. It's a story of riches to rags. Fish out of water. Humbling new beginnings. The haves and have nots but the haves dont have for long. The deterioration of one's facade. The film is littered with a cast that borders on caricatures, which works here. And while the story itself may feel forced at times, Allen constructs it well with a skillful delivery.

January 5, 2014



Martin Scorcese, 1995
This mob drama follows a pair of friends Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro) and Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) as they attempt to build their wealth through different avenues on the 1970's Vegas Strip. Sam works on a more calculated career backed by the mob managing the Tangiers casino while Nicky recklessly uses his mafia ties to strong-arm his way to the top.

Scorcese packs his bags and heads out west to the old Vegas. A Vegas more focused on loyalty and class than pure corporate commercialism. And while much of the film has a lot of Scorcese's familiar elements (dolly shots, Rolling Stones, violence, male dominance, domestic violence, drug use) it's a behemoth of a film as vast as a Casino floor that never makes you feel like you are watching Goodfellas Part II. The camera pans through the elegantly-lit Tangiers with its hypnotic carpeting and lingering cigarette-smoke. At times you're flying over the barren Nevada desert as Pesci chillingly hints at how many problems are solved out there. Pesci's Nicky Santoro is as heedless and unpredictable as Tommy Devito (Goodfellas). But he somehow makes it different. De Niro's Sam Rothstein shows the clear rise and fall of a man very much like Jake La Motta (Raging Bull). Sam puffs his cigarettes as his hair grays and he burns another five minutes off his life. A guy who stays in the game too long. But once again, he somehow makes it different. Sharon Stone giving it her all as the hot-mess-alpha female-in which she was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe. All playing with the backdrop of the cocaine-fueled, golden-framed 1970's, with so many layers. The deception between two life long friends. The ignored warning signs of a toxic relationship and it's inevitable demise. The naivety of love. Greed. Uncertainty. Political leverage. In the end, it's just another story reminding us of the very finite nature to it all. With everyone having a hand in the money-grab, it can only last for so long before it all falls apart.

There's certainly a poetic quality to the picture. De Niro's narration romanticizes about a better Vegas, back when people knew what kind of drink you wanted when you walked into the casino. Very much like the old Times Square in mid-town Manhattan before it was Disney-fied. Romanticizing about how the good-old-days almost has an ironic comedic quality to it with the mental image of a giant tank of a casino like the Tangiers with a lot of holes on the outside, with gangsters waiting outside trying to fill up their buckets. Scorcese avoids any subtlety as you see the classic Casinos being demolished as next-gen obese tourists ascend on the homogenized MGM Grand, stylistically similar to that great final shot of Gangs of New York as the Brooklyn graveyard gives way to a skyline shot of the Twin Towers.

January 2, 2014

The Coopies Rescheduled!

So 2013 was a pretty great year for movies. So great that I am still working on getting through them. When I set the date for the first weekend of January, I didn't really realize that it would involve trying to fit in a LOT of films while also juggling the stress of the holidays combined with the fact that I have a baby on the way. SO, I made the decision to push it up to the end of January. This way, I can see everything that remains on my Watchlist. I didn't want to have an incomplete list of films, only to see that one or two movies that probably would have recieved a Coopie if I were to see it before the date passed. This is all a learning experience. We will soon be hitting the one year mark for this blog and I am really proud of how things are coming along. BUT its a work in progress. It's an ever-evolving thing and I screwed up. Sorry. Shit happens. You have to wait until March(ish) for the Oscars. You only have to wait a couple of more weeks for the Coopies.

John Lennon: Love is All You Need

Alan Byron & Ashley Hall, 2010
Alan Byron and Ashley Hall direct this documentary that profiles late Beatle John Lennon. Using archival footage, interviews with close friends and family, the film creates a multi-perspective look at a beloved American icon.

When you are about to watch a documentary on a Beatle, especially Lennon, you are about to click play and you begin to think a few things. Is this going to be a completely biased look at my Johnny Boy? How much Yoko are we going to see? Is it going to be one of those documentaries that didn't get any licensing, so we are going to hear third party accounts at how much the Beatles meant to this complete stranger? Well, good news. This one offers more than that. This one is actually put together quite well, actually. Oh wait! One last question! Am I going to learn anything from this Lennon film that I don't already know? Actually, probably.

It begins with humble beginnings. It details the Fab Four's coming up in the working class Liverpool. You can't blame them for wanting to venture out, break out, see what's out there in the world. That sense of blue-collar British grit certainly gave them some fuel to run off of. It soon jumps to the Beatles arrival in America. Shea Stadium. Beatle Mania. Then comes the controversy of the "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" statement. It's too bad one quick casual statement had such an impact. Once again it makes you think about the world we're living in today. John Lennon didn't have an iPhone where he could tweet any little thing that happened to cross his mind at a moment's notice. Unfortunately, there was one microphone... and it was front of him. And they took him seriously. Way too seriously. The interviews with the southern American youth reinforce the Puritanical roots that are in this country. Thou shalt not ironically use Baby Jesus' name in public or thou Shalt have thy records burnt! Jump to the death of Brian Epstein, which one could argue changed things quite a bit. He certainly could have been the stitching that kept the Beatles brand held together nicely. Soon after comes the introduction of the divisive Yoko Ono. The filmmakers do not hesitate to play some footage of Camille Paglia expressing her disdain for Mrs. Ono which may please the many Yoko haters of the world watching. You see Lennon's sudden "art phase", in which he clearly gushes over Ono's minimalist, borderline finger paintings on display. Of course with the love blossoming between the two it unfortunately causes the end of the marriage to Cynthia, who on camera could not be more humble and evolved. She comes off as very healthy minded, not harboring any resentment and acknowledging that sometimes couples move on to different things. Soon after the divorce, the Yoko-mania begins. The press stunts. The seemingly inevitable Beatles breakup. The film covers a bit of the 1966 Psychedelia, but soon jumps from that to the very much publicized Yoko/John political statements. The very Nixonian attempt to deport the pair. And of course, the murder. The impact of the murder. It hits the beats you want it to, and gives them fair time.

The film effectively displays Lennon as a very HUMAN figure. And that may be the best quality of this piece. You do actually get a sense of Lennon the person, and not just Lennon the figure. The U.S. vs. John Lennon had more of an emphasis of the political direction that Lennon was taking in his career. But this film covers much more. The film is titled John Lennnon: Love is all you need. But perhaps it was all he needed. While he may be accused of being cynical, cold, unapologetic... Lennon certainly didn't mind speaking his mind. His message, while perhaps naive and idealistic, was still consistent. And look, it lives on. You are constantly reminded of his impact. Lennon could easily be compared to President Kennedy in so many ways. A beloved American figure that certainly didn't mind being in front of the camera. A figure who had some publicized infedility. A figure who was suddenly taken from us, with much effect. A figure who lives on, with the legend having more of an impact. The film leaves you wondering what the world would be like if Lennon were alive today. Would he be a caricature of himself? Would he be dragging himself on tours with various backing bands like Bob Dylan? Would he be in American Idol? Would he be doing interviews on MSNBC protesting the war in Afghanistan? We can only sit and wonder.