June 28, 2015

While We're Young

Noah Baumbach, 2015
Noah Baumbach can easily be called a young Woody Allen. He often focuses on relationships between couples, set against the backdrop of New York. His films are very dialogue heavy, with a lot of cultural examination and introspective mania. The story mainly focuses on three couples at different phases in their lives. Marina and Fletcher, an early forties couple with a newborn (Maria Dizzia and Adam Horovitz). Cornelia and Josh, early forties couple with no children (Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller). Mid twenties hipster couple Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). Cornelia and Josh are feeling pressure from their peers upon seeing all of them procreating and living amidst the chaos of child-rearing. They feel refreshed when they meet Jamie and Darby, a young confident couple that seems to be so cool and sure of themselves. They are creative, optimistic, interested. Cornelia and Josh feel jaded and exhausted, and the young couple re-energizes them.

While We're Young starts off as more of a young vs old story, or at least a young AND old story. Growing older, becoming uncool. Being young, being inherently cool. Looking back, wondering where all of the years went. Being bold enough to wear that hat that all the young kids are wearing. There are some identifiable and really comedic moments early in the film when Josh is talking about all of the "cool" things that Jamie is doing, and you soon see a montage of Josh attempting to dress differently and step outside of his comfort zone. At one point Josh says of Jamie and Darby: "It's like their apartment is full of everything we once threw out, but it looks so good the way they have it."

Some of these moments probably transcend comedically to whatever perspective you are sharing with the characters. If you are married without a kid, you are probably identifying with Cornelia and Josh. If you are stuck in baby prison you are identifying with Marina and Fletcher. If you are a young hipster, you're probably not identifying with Jamie and Darby because that wouldn't be unitary and instead are probably identifying with the older generations attempting to pick up some on some of the trends of the millennial generation in terms of fashion or throwback technology. Baumbach decides to really double down on the hipster here, and double up on Adam Driver's Frances Ha hipster character Lev.

The problem with While We're Young is Baumbach's age breakdown is so energetic in the first half of the film, and the story really loses a lot of that energy in the second half of the film when the story primarily focuses on Jamie's documentary. Baumbach tries to go down another avenue to a statement on intellectual property theft and the sense of entitlement of the millennial generation and in the process sacrifices the excitement that fueled the beginning of the story. In the end While We're Young has a lot to say but doesn't feel as complete as some of Baumbach's other work such as Greenberg or The Squid and the Whale

Jurassic World

Colin Trevorrow, 2015
Basically any boy who grew up in the early nineties saw Jurassic Park. It can easily be considered the millennial generation's Jaws. It's now been 22 years since the original film hit theaters. So Jurassic World is trying to do two things. It's trying to satisfy original generation who grew up with the original, because they are certainly going to the be the ones accompanying the easier-to-please younger generation of kids who already have dinosaur posters on their walls. And who knows, maybe some of these kids have caught the original on cable or figured out how to operate daddy's VHS player. Long shot. I know. Okay, well to be fair it's also on DVD.

One of the immediately pleasant things that you notice with Jurassic World is that it's very self-aware of it's own cultural existence. There are satirical elements at work; displayed by the corporate forces trying to get increased park attendance, clearly poking fun at the whole trying to get movie audiences back in seats to the franchise. It blankets the franchise with a very modern touch. Just like in our own real-life world, the corporate entities are everywhere you turn. There is now a Starbucks in the park. Guys in suits are looking for any possible surface to plaster a logo to create a new revenue stream. Also gone is any of the old school corporate etiquette. We notice quite quickly that the modern day Jurassic Park is a corporate environment where low-totem guys like Lowery (Jake Johnson) can mouth back to their superiors with no real punishment.

Jurassic World ultimately succeeds in what it sets out to accomplish. It revitalizes an old franchise and gets people in seats hoping for some new terrors in questionably secure confinement. There are some eyebrow-raising moments, like when two kids are able to quickly fix a 20 year old Jeep covered in vegetation and get it running in what seems like a few minutes. There are some worn-out themes, like Bryce Dallas Howard's character as the cold corporate woman that we have seen so often in cinema. Because of the attempts to sort of one-up itself in the story and in real-life by creating something new for audiences to see, it actually morphs into more of a monster movie and less of a dinosaur movie. That's okay, because the characters are developed enough that you have some moderate investment in them and you still get some of the classic Jurassic Park touches. If you go into Jurassic World with the right expectations, you will probably walk away from it satisfied enough. It doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, it goes down easy. Especially for someone who was raised on the originals and wants a dose of dino-nostalgia. 

June 21, 2015


Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009
How refreshing it is to see a film made by a filmmaker who clearly has a unusual vision, seems to execute it the way that he wants without censoring himself or showing any restraint. Dogtooth is a film that appears to not be under any scrutiny by focus groups. It's completely bizarre, troubling at times, but completely intriguing. It even manages to inject some black comedy here and there. That particular technique seems to be more common with European cinema, where there is less of an emphasis on how a film is marketed.

Playing with themes of control and isolation, Lanthimos is able to construct this white-backed setting that to any casual observer would look like a rather pleasant place to grow up. But that would be to someone who grew up in regular society, with friends, normal parents who knew that there would be some questionable elements that your children would face. You wonder at times, why is the father so dead-set on keeping his children separated from the rest of the world. Obviously he doesn't want to expose them to the negative elements that are out there. Paranoid projections, past trauma causing unrealistic assumptions. Dogtooth is a philosophical film in a sense. Clearly what the mother and father are doing is completely wrong, certainly deserving of legal punishment. But what about when the children are well-fed, well taken care of? It brings up a lot of moral issues. But the lack of socialization, free-will, freedom of choice is undoubtedly damaging. That's probably the bottom line. That it's not up to your parents to create your world. You reach an age where it's your mortal right to flee the coop, to see whats out there. In a biological sense. And the children don't get any of these freedoms. Instead, they think that fish can appear in swimming pools and that cats are evil blood-thirsty creatures. Because of this, the parents are not much different than the real-life figures that we see on the news from time to time after a dungeon is uncovered after the imprisoned escape or someone discovers the whole thing. The mother and father are creating people who have inner cores of benevolence but are completely unprepared for the outside world. Lanthimos is able to skillfully create this little world that has you completely entranced, as disturbing as it is at times you can't look away. There's so much invention and artistic originality with Dogtooth. There's no other films like it. Even though you don't spend a lot of time in this fortified property, it's going to be in your brain forever after 90 minutes of being there.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

Peter Jackson, 2014
Five Armies is the final chapter in Jackson's revisit to Middle Earth with his Hobbit trilogy. The film itself is similar to the last film The Return of the King in the Lord of the Rings in the sense that it's the previous two films set you up for an epic conclusion which includes a battle and the hopeful restoration of order. But while Return of the King is arguably the best in the trilogy, Five Armies immediately feels like the worst of the Hobbit trilogy. What is supposed to be a significant end to the story comes off as a jolting and depthless special effects showcase.

Armies starts off where the last film left off, where Smaug has now exited the Lonely Mountain with plans to attack Lake-town. The whole cliffhanger device is a weird one to use when Smaug is ultimately dealt with quite quickly and without much spectacle. After this Armies continues to be problematic for a variety of reasons. Very much like the Lord of the Rings, the stakes are high for all of the characters involved. They all have something significant to gain or lose, and there is a collective need to work together to obtain victory over the dark elements. In Rings Frodo Baggins is desperate to destroy the Ring that has caused so much turmoil in Middle Earth. In the Armies film, his father Bilbo is not the central character but more of a secondary support character. They have all pulled together to get to this point in the story. But instead of a Hobbit in the spotlight, this part of the story is heavily focused on Dwarf king Thorinn Oakenshield. There are many eyes on the mountain that he wants to reclaim for his people. But he has grown intoxicated by the newfound treasure that had been held captive by dragon Smaug. As the various races of Middle Earth zero in on the mountain, there should be a sense of tension brewing. There should be a certain pacing at work. The Elves, the humans, the Orcs. There should be some ebb and flow to their saga. But no, instead the story just throws itself into a battle quite coldly. And where is Thorinn? Oh, he's not fighting. Because he has become so obsessed with the treasure inside the mountain that he has become the coke-head who won't leave the bathroom. So instead of the Lonely Mountain becoming this backdrop for a mesmerizing battle scene, it becomes a canvas for a lot of copy and paste CGI. It is all action with no emotion. Something happened with this final chapter where all of the human elements are nowhere to be found. It's difficult to get invested in any of the characters. Jackson spent too much time in the editing room and not enough time in the writing room.

June 13, 2015

Maps To The Stars

David Cronenberg, 2015
Cronenberg is a man not afraid to go to dark places. With Maps he also shows he's a man not afraid to go to dark places and also not afraid to ruffle some feathers. Maps is an indictment on Hollywood and the celebrity culture that surrounds it. He does this all through a cast of rather dreadful characters. Sociopathic past-her-prime actress Havana Segrand (perfectly cast Julianne Moore in her boldest role since Boogie Nights). Mentally-ill assistant with a shady past Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska). Charlatan health guru Dr. Weiss (John Cusack). Justin Bieber-esque spoiled rich actor kid Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird). Self medicating ghost in the house Christina Weiss (Olivia Williams). Nobody is really spared in the film. They are all figures that have their own ulterior motives, own selfish needs. There is nobody present that has much purity. And yet, with all of the darkness that is emanating through the story, its a completely seductive film. Maybe it's for the pure theater of it all. Maybe it's that you want to see certain people get what's coming to them. Maybe it's because you really want to see how far they will take it. What their personal limits really are. You want to see how low people really can go. How much of their own soul they are willing to sell for a piece of temporary success. Maps makes Los Angeles look like it's a city that belongs on another planet. Because the people in this story aren't really human. They are cold effigies. They are the hollow remnants of creatures that used to be human, but over time lost their souls. Can the L.A. culture really do this to you? Cronenberg would certainly have you believing so.

Stand by Me

Rob Reiner, 1986
Stand by Me is not just a movie about a group of boys searching for a rumored dead body. That's all secondary. It doesn't really even matter if there even is a body at the end of their journey. Stand by Me is just an honest coming-of-age piece that will force any man watching to revisit their youth. The rapport between the four boys is identifiable to any grown man. Their world was a world that existed long before bullying was considered a punishable crime. They were living in a world where spankings were expected, getting picked on was the norm. When cold cuts cost $1 and the older men were slicking back their hair and driving fast cars.

Very much like Gordie recalls his youth after seeing a newspaper article, this film conjures up memories of your own youth. That group of friends that you would spend the summers running through the neighborhood with. Back then, they seemed like they would be life-long companions. Little did you know they were just those people who were there at that particular point in time. Those friends come and go. But for that little blip in time, they are your guides... your mentors, your support.

The film goes down as another one of Stephen King's masterpieces that made the successful transition to the big screen. King has a way of capturing the essence of relationships between people. He has also displayed the ability to see things through the eyes of children as he did in his 1986 novel It. There is a lot more to this movie than a fat Jerry O'Connell "sincerely" drinking game. It's a portal to your own past, when you had your whole life in front of you and the companionship.