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.

September 7, 2014


Jon Favreau, 2014
Celebrity Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) has become jaded with the stale menu on his restaurant's menu. When restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) refuses to let him change things up, he decides to leave and attempt to pursue his own interests which lead him to starting up a Cuban Food truck.

Favreau writes, directs and stars in this film which is a story of a guy taking a risk in a new business blended with some sentimental family elements. Carl is a very proud Chef who has grown insecure with his abilities, especially after getting ripped apart by online blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt). His vulnerability breaks him, bringing him to his rock bottom after an explosive tirade that inevitably goes viral on social media. But Carl isn't a one-dimensional hot-head; there are many layers to him. He's still licking his wounds from the divorce of his beautiful (and out of his league) Cuban wife Inez (Sophia Vergara). He is having trouble bonding with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony), who is also hurt by the separation. He is basically broke, or close to it, living in a run-down apartment that is probably worth less than the high-end cooking equipment that he uses on a regular basis.

With these elements in play, there are a lot of directions the film could go in where it could fall apart. But it doesn't, and credit is due to Favreau for holding it together. With compelling performances, good direction and snappy editing, he manages to create a heartwarming piece that keeps you rooting for Carl to become a beloved culinary all-star once again. The film examines social media's impact on American culture through the blogosphere, at times using visual elements like pretty tweets flying across the screen (similar to the texting effects used in House of Cards). Not to say there aren't a few faults. When Carl storms out of his restaurant after Riva tells him he needs to cook whats on the menu and nothing else, he returns to his apartment where he goes off on a cooking spree. He puts together a lavish array of seemingly delicious and artful items. He cooks his heart out. You think: okay, he's going to tell that blogger to get his ass down to his apartment and force feed him. But he doesn't, and he appears to only cook the meal for himself. Of course if Ramsey came to the apartment and ate up, he would likely be put Carl in high regard again and movie over... but it was a weird how it played out. Favreau probably wanted the audience to really get on board with Carl's abilities to cook great food, but they were pretty evident already. Like, we knew that after the first scene. Or when he spent all of that time perfecting the grilled cheese sandwich for Percy. Later in the film Martin (played by perfectly-cast John Leguizamo) is pushed into taking a photo of Carl and a South Beach bike-cop. Martin shows you that he is the only person in America that has never used a touch-screen phone before, and is puzzled as to how to snap the picture. Those things are easy to let go, though. The good easily outweighs the bad. Favreau's culinary piece is charming, original, enjoyable. It seems like it was probably a fun film to make. Everyone must have left the set everyday with a full belly.

September 6, 2014

The Dirties

Matt Johnson, 2013
High school outcasts Matt (Matt Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) work together on a film where they exact revenge on the bullies they call "The Dirties", who torment them on a regular basis.

The Dirties is a love letter to popular cinema almost immediately, as Matt and Owen throw around movie references. The young cinephiles continue to reference them as they work on their indie film for a school project, but it's really a movie they are making for themselves. Sort of an indulgent nod to everything they've loved on screen. They certainly don't take a whole lot seriously, as most of their jittery shots are them giggling mid-line and having to put their heads down as they surrender to laughter. This could easily go off the tracks and become a sloppy mess, but it somehow manages to harness that energy and keep you engaged. And while all the movie love is going on, there is an interesting satirical experiment being conducted on high school bullying and violence in the media's impact on American Culture. All of which is being done through the divisive found footage genre. But it's never done in a way where it feels like an after-school special or something made by someone who is out of touch with American youth. Matt and Owen are likable because there's a real authenticity to their characters. We all remember someone from high school that is sort of like them, or perhaps we were those guys. The types of people who didn't necessarily engage in a lot of extracurricular activities but instead spent a lot of time together playing video games or watching movies. This lifestyle decision unfortunately also makes them a target for bullies. But the film really nails that realistic complacency. Like they have ultimately decided to surrender to the abuse, assuming it will never go away. They decide to take their retribution to the screen, where movie-obsessed Matt begins to take it all a bit too seriously.

September 5, 2014


Ben Wheatley, 2013
Couple Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) are excited to go on a holiday with Chris' caravan. But the romantic getaway that they are expecting to enjoy is interrupted by many unexpected elements which threaten their good time.

First off, at the time that this review was written Netflix happened to have this film streaming. But not quite categorized correctly. It was in the comedy section with a very vague description. You may make the same mistake and assume you are putting on a dark English comedy, like a rougher version of Albert Brooks' Lost in America. Not quite. In fact, the only similarity between the two movies is there happens to be two people in an RV together. Sightseers is a hostile piece, quite brutal at times. And sure, there are some comedic moments. But it's certainly a black comedy Brit-horror piece with the coldness of Harold and Maude combined with the unforgiving brutality of Red White & Blue.

Wheatley's road trip from hell with two complete sociopaths at the wheel is intriguing. You have Tina, insecure and passionate woman who early on appears to simply be a loyal girlfriend. You have Chris, who appears to be a burly outdoorsy guy eager to escape suburbia and set out for nature. But the tone is set early when you see Tina eager to escape the grip of her overbearing mother. Her mother, quite wretched and bitter, still blames Tina for the death of their beloved Jack Russell Terrier. There are no warm goodbyes exchanged as they depart for their trip. You soon discover that Chris has a short fuse, where a simple discarding of trash on the ground can set him off fiercely and quickly. You wonder for a moment whether Tina will discover these quirks and go her separate way only to find that no...she has her own issues involving violent impulses and jealousy. One of the most unsettling elements in the film is the horrible events that occur in such an innocent and natural setting. State parks, campgrounds, historic sites. We all find ourselves in places like this, and to think of someone like this crossing your path is unsettling. Of course Tina and Chris are completely fictionalized monsters, but there are people that exist that have a similar disregard for human life. Wheatley puts a nefarious couple on screen that will stick with you. Next time you decide to go camping, you will probably be more inclined to keep to yourself.