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Movie Breakdown: Green Room (Noah)

April 22, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin was one of my favorite films of 2014. This one is my most anticipated film of 2016.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Jeremy Saulnier is not a director who shies away from showcasing the bleakness that exists at the hearts of his characters. Though Green Room is a broad step into a more action-oriented “home invasion” type of film than the quieter, perhaps more personal Blue Ruin, both are films about exacting revenge and the not-so redemptive qualities of doing so. Green Room follows a gritty punk band, The Ain’t Rights, on the last few shows of a particularly grueling tour. These are the punks your mother warned you against – they siphon gas to drive, they rough up their hosts when his show falls through, they spit and spew and in general act like precocious fucks. For a variety of reasons the Ain’t Rights end up in the backwoods of some Washington/Oregon seeming locale playing at a venue for a bunch of skinhead, neo-Nazis. Things go badly. And then they go worse, and then a group of snot-nosed twenty-somethings are fighting for their lives against a brotherhood of racist dickheads. I haven’t listened to punk rock since I was 22, and when I did I was a suburbs kid who got his shit handed to him in the circle, but Saulnier has managed to capture the punk aesthetic without dipping into stereotype. These are kids who quote Minor Threat and play Nazi Punks to a group of skinheads; this a venue that even on screen manages to give off the subtle waft of stale beer and staler piss; this is music that gouges you in the face and drags you down the stairs – it is a rough go. But somehow, Saulnier manages to infuse the film with both beauty (it’s a gorgeously dark little nugget of lighting) and small flashes of humor (Imogen Poots really steals this show as the almost feral Sam, a punk rock girl gone too far). This feels like the dark reflection of a Joss Whedon film. The characters interact like real humans – Anton Yelchin’s Pat cries for literally the entirety of the film – but the interactions are perfectly manicured so they still resonate with the sort of fuck-off camaraderie touring bands end up developing. There are great action beats, but Saulnier doesn’t push them to be polished – this is the sloppy violence of real humans, gory and fleshy and accidental. And this is what the film seems to be saying, this is a violent moment, a “nightmare” in the words of Yelchin’s Pat, a horrible thing that just went too far, but at the end, regardless of our viewpoints or political beliefs we are all humans, and we all do the great and terrible things we do because of that version of humanity. Saulnier just wraps that lovely sentiment in barbed wire and blood. And it fucking rules.

One Last Thought:

I don’t know if anyone has ever used Patrick Stewart as well before. He’s a brutal, skinhead tactician but also a reserved Englishmen. It brings all of Stewart’s gravitas to bear on what is a terribly evil role. He is a role model and a leader to his skinhead gang, but as the film rolls out, a more and more horrible human. It’s a beautiful coin to see slowly turn and Stewart absolutely owns the role.

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Movie Breakdown: A Hologram For The King

April 21, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I love Tom Hanks, and I liked Tom Tykwer’s work on Cloud Atlas, so therefore I should be excited about A Hologram For The King, right?  Eh.  It looks like a really generic drama, and I’ll be surprised if it turns out to be something worth cheering about.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Fish Out Of Water is what A Hologram For The King should have been titled.  Alan (played with muffled enthusiasm by Tom Hanks) is a rundown salesman trying to secure a big deal so that he can get his life back on track, but he’s in the mystical realm of Saudi Arabia, he’s totes exhausted by jet-lag, and the region’s customs are zany and just completely blowing his mind.  So what does he do?  He struggles through a variety of foreigners-sure-are-different discoveries until various metaphors are properly arranged in a row and everything is wrapped up nice and neat.  Once or twice I chuckled or felt a twinge of sympathy for Hanks’ unfortunately burdened character, but mostly I just blankly starred at the screen and wondered who decided that Dave Eggers’ A Hologram For The King needed to be adapted.

A Hologram For The King is not even close to being the worst movie I’ve ever seen, so I won’t tell you to run away from it.  Just know that it’s a generic drama that you’ll largely forget before the credits completely roll through.

One Last Thought:

After giving it some thought, I’d like for Tom Hanks to go full-Liam Neeson and start starring in action films.  It would be so weird and entertaining to see him in something like Taken.  Think about it!

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Movie Breakdown: Elvis & Nixon

April 20, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

While I was initially disappointed that Elvis & Nixon wasn’t some sort of Alan Moore-scripted super hero movie set in a bizarre alternate universe, I do think the film looks just peculiar enough to possibly be good (or at least interesting).  I’m in.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Elvis & Nixon is an odd film for two specific reasons.  The first is that it’s based on what is possibly one of the weirder true stories ever, which is that Elvis in the early 70s decided that the youth of America were in trouble (due to drugs, hippie communes, the Beatles and such), and he wanted to help.  So, he set his sights on acquiring a Federal Agent-At-Large badge so that he could use it to infiltrate and then bust groups involved in spreading drug culture (and also communism, to a lesser degree) throughout the USA.  Again, it’s a strange story, but also one that’s entertaining and deserving of its own film.

Where the movie’s other oddity lies is in its casting, and I don’t mean that in a positive way.  As much as I love Michael Shannon, he doesn’t at all look like Elvis Presley.  I only could see Michael Shannon doing an Elvis Presley impersonation.  Is it bad?  No, but it was distracting.  The same can be said for Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon.  All I could see was Kevin Spacey (who already convincingly plays a President in House of Cards) doing his best to mimic the infamous President.  I understand that a movie like Elvis & Nixon probably doesn’t get made without names like Shannon and Spacey attached as the leads, but they’re such a distraction that it nearly neuters the story that the film is trying to tell.  Even great actors still need appropriate roles, you know?

If you see Elvis & Nixon, make sure to matinee it.

One Last Thought:

You know, I don’t think it would be all that bad if someone actually moved forward with an Elvis & Nixon superhero team-up movie.  Elvis, I imagine, would be kind of like Tony Stark – crafty, suave and funny, and Nixon would be, well … he’d probably just be Nixon.  Either way though, I’d watch the hell out of that film.

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Movie Breakdown: The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Noah)

April 20, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Did you, or anyone you know, see Snow White & The Huntsman? I mean, I know a few of us might have soldiered our way to the cinema to ensure that our viewing of everything that’s every featured K-Stew was seen, but for the rest of the sanity holding world, I’m pretty show this was a no-go. So, no-go, why do you get another show?

Post-Screening Ramble:

I think it’s safe to say that the question you should have looming over your the entire time you’re watching The Huntsmen: Winter’s War is “Why does this movie exist?” Why does a fairly undeveloped character, from a massively underwhelming film, a film that made chump change in today’s billion dollar market, need a sequel? I guess there’s something to say about the vacuum of fantasy franchises clogging the market. And it could be that with Lord of the Rings a distant memory, some bearded exec is hoping another film with dwarves and goblins and hirsute men fighting could be the proverbial “gold mine.” Another question to ask would be: why does a prequel/sequel that no one seems to want have a cast that features Chris Hemsworth (the titular Huntsmen), Jessica Chastain (the titular Huntsman’s boo), Emily Blunt (bad ice lady), Charlize Theron (bad gold lady, returning for another dose of evil), and a bevy of some truly great Brits resigned to peripheral comedic roles? I couldn’t tell you, but they’re here and they somehow manage to elevate this cliche-riddled, romantic fantasy to somewhere just below decent. In the past, bad things happen and because of the bad things Freya (Blunt) is turned into the Ice Queen and she recruits an army of children (ahem, Huntsmen) to kill her enemies (because, if I watched this right, that’s what people do). Love, forbidden as it might be happens between the Huntsman (the famous one) and another huntsman (the Jessica Chastain one) and they’re banished from the kingdom and, well, seven years later, uh, and then, dwarves, and mirrors and fighting and, hell, it all just blurs down into another CGI-heavy attempt to get a little bit of that nostalgic LOTR money. And you know, as a one time purveyor of bottom of the barrel fantasy novels (Dragonlance, I miss you!), the Huntsman’s trek, with his trusty dwarves at his side, to find the Magic Mirror and return it to Sanctuary kind of works. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, or do anything of particular note, but it has an okay time playing around in the old fantasy sandbox and yeah you’re going to walk out and try to remember if you just saw Willow or Lord of the Rings, but hey, a bunch of great actors wearing funny outfits and hitting each other is actually pretty alright.

One Last Thought:

This film is pretty much hamstrung by its sequel/prequel structure. The entire time I sat there wondering if something someone was saying (I write those innocuous words because none of the names of any character really stuck in my craw) was an allusion to the first film and that I was supposed to say, “Oh! That makes sense, that expands this universe to a new level!” If it did though, I couldn’t tell, and this film, which posited as just an original bit of fantasy filmmaker could’ve been at least a mild a surprise, just sloughs down the drain, another sequel no one is going to give a shit about.

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Movie Breakdown: The Jungle Book (Noah)

April 15, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jon Favreau has been sort of fussing around in his own private playground post-Marvel, and his output has been dodgy at best. His upcoming, almost entirely motion captured adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book hasn’t been helped by its saccharine, generic trailers, but, hell, maybe Favreau’s indie sojourn Chef helped stoke his old fires a little bit.

Post-Screening Ramble:

It isn’t that films that are entirely motion captured are the world we live in now, it’s that we are proud of this achievement. As much as we applaud someone like J.J. Abrams for bringing practical effects back to Star Wars, the press tour for The Jungle Book has been an almost non-stop lovefest for the green-screened, mo-capped world Mr. Favreau has created, with actor’s applauding the fact that they didn’t even have to show up on set. It could be frightening, it could be a further stumble down the CGI-whirlpool that will inevitably suck us all down, but in Mr. Favreau’s capable hands, The Jungle Book isn’t only a technical marvel, but a surprisingly straightforward and endearing take on the classic tale. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a small boy living under the purvey of jungle animals, mainly wolves and a panther, in the heart of, well, the jungle. It is an idyllic upbringing until a vengeful tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba), begins hunting him, forcing him out on his own to discover who he really is. This really might be the first truly successful marriage of motion capture with story. This an almost entirely immersive experience. Even though you are fully aware as an audience member that the world you are looking at is just pixels arranged in different patterns, at some point, early on, the brain just lets go, and there you are, an observer of this magical world of talking jungle animals. It’s amazing, but everyone has slogged through a slickly made mo-cap film, searching for the non-existent heart at its digital core. The Jungle Book transcends its genre. Though newcomer Neel Sethi borders just on the edge of winking rapscallion, for the most of the film’s running time he manages to imbue his quirky, well, childness, with layers of believable emotional output. His interactions with non-existent creatures (Bill Murray’s fantastic bear, Baloo, at the top of the pile) are genuine, authentic relationships and though yes, Favreau so painstakingly detailing his world and his animated movements is a big part of it, Sethi’s ability to stand ground with some of the great actors of all time, is at the heart of it. And, well, that’s where Favreau really scores, he doesn’t sacrifice heart for form, and he doesn’t sacrifice technological wow for overabundant emotional outpouring. No, instead he creates a classic coming of age story, but just uses the next wave of technology to make it very much his own.

One More Thought:

This has still not sold me on Warcraft: The Movie. But it has sold me on Favreau making more films.

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Movie Breakdown: City Of Gold

April 15, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jonathan Gold is a Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic, and City of Gold explores him and his hometown of Los Angeles.  The documentary looks as though it might be a real charmer, so I’m at least mildly interested.

Post-Screening Ramble:

For the most part, I enjoyed City of Gold.  Leading man Jonathan Gold is an interesting character, a quirky man who legit loves being a food critic and full-on has the willingness to do it his way and his way only.  So many “critics” these days are really just folks on Yelp who hammer out a paragraph, choose a 1-5 star rating and then move onto the next stop, so it was refreshing to watch Gold as he slinked about, tossed out recommendations and shared some of his processes.  I also liked being able to get a different look at LA (many of Gold’s favorite spots are food trucks and shopping center hole in the walls).  If you’re a foodie or you simply just love LA, City of Gold has plenty to offer you.  Where it lost me though is in its last 30 minutes or so.  The film stops being about food or what it means to be a critic, and it focuses on Jonathan’s upbringing and his thoughts on how LA has changed over the years.  This took the doc’s charm away for me, and once that (and the food) was gone, I started wondering when the credits would hit the screen so that I could run off and get dinner somewhere.

There’s no need to be in a hurry to see City of Gold, but overall it’s a solid documentary that isn’t a waste of your time.

One Last Thought:

I’d be the worst food critic.  All of my reviews would just be “It’s good!” or “It’s not good!” and, while I like trying new things, I’m not sure I’d be down to eat some of the weird items that have been consumed by Jonathan Gold.

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Movie Breakdown: The Jungle Book

April 14, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Disney’s decision to systematically do live action re-tellings of their classics isn’t something that I think is particularly exciting.  With that being said, I do like Jon Favreau as a director, and the trailers have hinted that his take on The Jungle Book may be more than a simple money-grab.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I’m assuming that all of you already know what The Jungle Book is about, so I’m not going to bother with running down plot details.  Also, just a heads up, I haven’t seen the cartoon version in forever, so I won’t be attempting to tell you what the differences are between it and Jon Favreau’s take.  I’m simply here just to let you know whether or not you should see the film, and my answer to that is a resounding YES.  I really enjoyed Favreau’s modernized and sporadically intense The Jungle Book.  Neel Sethi, the boy who plays Mowgli, is an engaging presence on the screen, and the film’s variety of voices (especially Bill Murray as Baloo) all turn in inspired performances.  The Jungle Book also looks fantastic.  Sure, there are couple of blips here and there where something seems oddly animated, but for 99% of the time, the film features some of the best CG work in recent memory.

If you’re in need of a quality film, then look no further than The Jungle Book.  It’s a true spectacle that’s clearly been crafted by folks who care about the story they’re telling.  If only ever re-telling/reboot/re-imagining was this good.

One Last Thought:

The Jungle Book is the first film in forever that’s actually worth the 3D up-charge. Surprisingly (and how sad is that?), it’s done in a way that’s rather immersive, and I’m actually comfortable with saying that it’s how you should view the film (at least on your first go-round with it).  Good work, Favreau!  Rarely does anyone get 3D right.

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Movie Breakdown: Demolition

April 8, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jake Gyllenhaal has reached the point where he’s an actor that I completely trust.  If he’s in something, I’ll watch it.  I mean, I’d even be behind him if he made Prince of Persia 2.  Just kidding.  I legit love Jake, but I’d rather him not ever try to be an action star again.  Ever.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Here’s hoping you really like metaphors, because there are more than you can count in Demolition.  Davis (played admirably by Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his wife in a car accident, and instead of being torn up about it, he actually discovers that he doesn’t seem to care.  Since it’s a movie though and there has to be some form of character growth, he doesn’t just forget about her and then sit around watching cartoons.  Nope, Davis goes about deconstructing his lavish, well-manicured life.  He begins to take things apart (the bathroom stalls at work, his house, his computer and more) in order to see how they work, he randomly shacks up with a phone operator (played charmingly by Naomi Watts) and her son (played adventurously by Judah Lewis), he quits caring about his fancy job, and in general he rides a wave of don’t-give-a-fuck.  Naturally, this upsets everyone in his life that’s actually been struggling with his wife’s death, and so there’s plenty of scenes where bewildered looks and angry tones get thrown at a stone-faced Davis.  Yes, the film is a fairly dramatic affair, but it does steadily hold a good sense of humor, too, and I frequently found myself laughing at the work-in-progress Davis just as often as I wanted to hug him.

If I could, this is where I’d end the review and simply say that Demolition is a total triumph that accurately looks at self-discovery through tragedy, but the reality is that the third act isn’t that great.  The film loses its edge and dives headfirst into a rabbit-hole of sad events, playing out as though there’s a concern as to whether or not you’ve been paying attention, so director Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) attempts to make super sure that you “get it” or whatever.  It’s all pretty unnecessary, and I thought it took away from the film.  Still, regardless of its wobbly third act, I do think that Demolition is worth your time.  See it.

One Last Thought:

Every time I see Naomi Watts these days she looks a little bit more real.  I admire that she seems set on aging however she’s going to age and taking parts that don’t hide anything.  It’s just not the usual Hollywood way, you know?

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Movie Breakdown: The Invitation (Noah)

April 8, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Drafthouse Films’ selection of films isn’t always perfect, but it’s always interesting. The fact that Karyn Kusama, a director who I enjoy in both independent and big-budget versions, is directing what looks to be a very tense little thriller, ups my interest even more.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Small horror films are having a transitory moment right now as big budget films start perfecting their multi-film games, casting out 10-12 film umbrellas artfully composed and well thought. 10 Cloverfield Lane is indicative of the transition – a small film that, for reasons I still don’t understand feels the need to tack on an ending, as enjoyable as it is, that almost feels like a different film. As if, we need to leave loose ends, just in case some big budget franchise might pick them on up. The Invitation, Karyn Kusama’s first independent film in over a decade, is, for the majority of its running time, a taut thriller, the type of film that slowly doles out the plot through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, until the audience can do nothing more than grip the corduroy edge of their Sears sofa cushions. Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) accept an invitation to a friend reunion of sorts put on by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and David (Michiel Huisman), returned after two years. From the start, something is off. Something bad has happened in this house to Will, and Logan Marshall-Green plays him like a PTSD-addled war vet, all long-hair and beard trying to find some semblance of normalcy in what he used to call his friend group. Kusama smartly doles out the information, painting a just barely surreal setting (the film takes place entirely in one Los Angeles mansion) but never letting the audience know if the strangeness is just Will being slightly off-kilter, or if something truly awful lurks in the background. Kusama plays a good game, dropping a hint of information that might prove Will’s perceptions true, only to pull the rug out from under them a scene later. We the audience are as confused and ignorant as poor broken Will, and when the shit finally does hit the fan, we get scoured along the bottom of the riverbed just as bad as everyone else. It is at once a film about the awkwardness of seeing friends for the first time in years, and of dealing with grief, and how the ways that we often do can push us further down a spiral of pain and misery, but even more so, it’s just a very well constructed, absolutely creepy film about the terrible things human beings do in the name of making themselves feel better. But, Kusama constructs the early bits of the film, almost too well, creating a hall of mirrors where everyone is in the dark, and everyone is waiting for resolution (film characters included) and when finally, she feels ready to pull away that curtain, it’s almost a let down. I’m not going to ruin anything, but when the events of the night finally turn their corner towards conclusion, all I could think was, “Oh yeah, I saw that coming.” The brutal end is just as beautifully put together as the rest of the film, but it was almost exactly what I imagined what it was going to be, and because of that, it felt lesser than the original, exciting tension I had experienced before. Even moreso, moments before the credit rolls, Kusama injects a scene that seems aimed at pushing a franchise forward, or if anything, exposing the viewer to a bigger, bolder scale of her tiny, intimate creepfest. It made no sense. This is a small film, a film that literally plays on the claustrophobic fears of a house filled with people trying to figure out just what the fuck is going on, but the last shot of the whole film expands the mythology (as wonderfully vague as it is) into something bigger, and in doing so, it detracts from the overall vision Kusama was trying to hit. Regardless, ninety-nine percent of the film is a twisted mind-fuck that will keep you guessing, it just can’t stick that last yard.

One Last Thought:

John Carroll Lynch is having a moment right now as a character actor and I’m all for it. His Pruitt is an impressively rendered bit of soft menace. A giant who’s done harm and could, if he wasn’t so blandly nice, do it again.

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Movie Breakdown: April And The Twisted World (Noah)

April 8, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of French animation, but from the tiny sample size, I can say that any new French animation coming down the pipe is not only sweatily anticipated but greedily devoured.

Post-Screening Ramble:

April and the Twisted World is one of the most original, daring pieces of animation you’ll see this year, or any. Here, amongst the corn rows and dollar hot-dogs of America, we are wholly impressed with animated films that are made for children, but “play well with adults.” Sure, we have our Pixars and we have our Disney Animations, grinding out big, beautiful, well-intentioned animated films, but these are still, quite honestly, films made for children. In France, and from what it seems, the rest of the world, animation isn’t a sandbox reserved for kiddies, but a sandbox aimed at adults just with far wider, far-reaching opportunities. April and the Twisted World is a film about an alternate history where the Napoleonic Empire never collapsed, science died, and the world never pulled itself out of the Steam Age. Cars are still driven by steam-engines, so are phonebooths, and the Eiffel Tower is a two-pronged monstrosity that features a steam-powered trolly to Berlin that only takes 86 hours. The film revolves around April (Marion Cotillard), the orphaned daughter of a family of scientists who strives to perfect her family’s legacy – The Ultimate Serum, a sort of Captain America super soldier injection that will bring France and the world back from the brink of economic destruction. When April is discovered by the police, a wide-ranging story of adventure and science gone awry is brought to the screen, and it is amazing. Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci have created a modern day Tin Tin, a film that somehow balances itself between a world of slapstick comedy, familial drama and big, bold science. April, and her talking cat Darwin, and their erstwhile companion Julius travel from the head of a statue to a strange underground jungle world of kidnapped scientists, each step of their journey introducing the viewer to some brilliant new aspect of the world they inhabit. When I say this film is aimed at adults, I don’t mean that’s it roughly populated with gore and full-frontal nudity, it just doesn’t pull its punches for a youthful audience. This is a hard world and the people within in it have adapted thusly. You won’t find anamorphic talking volcanoes or anything of the sort, but you will a beautiful tale about the wonder and power of discovery – both scientific and emotional – wrapped up amongst a beautiful world brought to the screen with every sooty detail intact.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Keep your eyes peeled in this film. Every scene is a beautiful landscape of hidden treasures.

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Movie Breakdown: The Boss (Noah)

April 7, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

In my humble opinion Melissa McCarthy is a bad movie or two away from being a female Kevin James. I’m only subjecting myself to her new film, The Boss, because she took a few awkward steps towards legitimacy with last year’s Spy.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Boss starts with Melissa McCarthy, decked out in a turtle-neck and glowing red pant-suit, dancing on a stage with T-Pain in front of a million cheering fans. The film ends with Melissa McCarthy, still wearing that turtleneck, samurai sword fighting with Peter Dinklage. Everything in between is a sort of rushed mish-mash of Troop Beverly Hills, Old School, and a saccharine, and unbelievable take on feminism. It is, quite frankly, an awful film. Written and produced by McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone (he also directed the film, his second directorial collaboration with his wife), The Boss tries to wrap a story around a character – 47th richest woman in the world, Michelle Darnelle – spun out of McCarthy’s days as a member of the Groundling’s improv group. The film follows Darnelle, in typical comedy fashion, as she falls from grace due to inside trading, and has to eat crow and move in with her meek assistant (Kristen Bell) as she tries to work her way back up the corporate chain through a, uh, girl scout-like brownie empire. McCarthy and Falcone try to impress a sort of absurdist critique of corporate America onto a film that features a man dressed like a Phoenix offering to suck Peter Dinklage’s penis. To say the least, it doesn’t work. This is a poorly written, exceptionally cheap looking film, that thrusts McCarthy back into the role of loud-mouthed, mean lady, everyone in America has been rooting for her to step away from. And you can berate this film, with good reason, for a variety of things, but beyond the shoddy filming and the injection of truly awful slapstick and toneless mush it forces down your throat, it’s the film’s attempt to posit some sort of girl-power type stance that goes horribly wrong. At various points in the movie, we’re presented with the idea that women need to stand up, get militant, and stop pussyfooting around so they can rise to the top and be rich, horrible CEOs. But, the only way that Michelle Darnelle can see fit to do that is to stand on the back of a humble woman who’s sole talent seems to be baking brownies. And for every slight attempt by Falcone and McCarthy to inject a moment where a middle school age girl outside the normative spectrum of looks and personality type stands up and kicks ass, there’s another where McCarthy is clotheslining a “yeti” or mocking a girl for being a lesbian. As any good comedy would, the film toes the line of offensive, but it has no teeth behind it’s critique of American business and the role of the average woman in it, so instead it tries to double up on just loud-mouthed shit talk, and fails to do either with any taste or humor. To say that any goodwill McCarthy might’ve won back with Spy has been squandered is an understatement.

One Last Thought:

Are comedians just greedy, money grabbers who’ll latch on to any script if it’ll help them put a down payment down their new Nissan? This film is rife with strong comedians – Chelsea Strong, Kristen Schaal, Timothy Simons, etc. – doing absolutely nothing, and I can’t imagine why on Earth they would see this script written in lipstick on the back of a t-shirt and think there was any reason to get involved.

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Movie Breakdown: Everybody Wants Some

April 1, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The poster says RICHARD LINKLATER, so of course I’m interested.  The guy is one of the best writer/directors on the planet, and I’ve only ever not liked one of his movies (Fast Food Nation – it just didn’t work for me).  Anyhow, Everybody Wants Some is also the “spiritual” successor to Dazed and Confused, so that’s cool, too.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Somewhere around the midpoint of Everybody Wants Some I realized that I just wasn’t into it at all.  In fact, I was sort of exhausted from trying to like the film.  As a big fan of Richard Linklater, I definitely wanted (and expected) to dig it, but the reality is that I just didn’t.  The film, which follows a crew of college baseball players as they tool around before a new semester starts, meanders aimlessly its entire runtime, and where I think I was supposed to feel nostalgic about what was transpiring on the screen in front of me, I instead found myself annoyed with how the film frequently uses a “hey, remember this” tactic in place of a good story.  Yes, I remember that college was a wacky time where it was important to work and play hard, but surely there’s a better way of revisiting that than by showing me a bunch of instantly forgettable goofballs.  I seriously don’t remember any of the characters in the film, and I can’t recall what any of them were wanting or trying to do.

Everybody Wants Some wasn’t for me, but the large amount of nostalgia it slings around could be something that actually connects with you.  See it at your own risk.

One Last Thought:

I feel like Everybody Wants Some would have been better had it just been about college baseball.  Then it would have had some focus.  Plus, I just always enjoy quality films about America’s favorite pastime.

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Movie Breakdown: Midnight Special (Noah)

April 1, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jeff Nichols is one of those directors, like the Coen Brothers, where I don’t really care what their next movie is, just that they continue to make movies. It does help though that Nichols’ new one is about a kid with special abilities getting kidnapped.

Post-Screening Ramble:

It is a long proven point that the very best science fiction, or genre film in general, uses the trappings of aliens and spaceships and laser guns to tell a very human story. Genre allows a writer the ability to take the smallest kernel of an idea or theme and expand it to its most exaggerated, unbelievable place, all the while threading a smaller, more emotional string through the whole of the film. Jeff Nichols is quite frankly, a master of doing this. His films before this have tread the line of exploitation and apocalypse and southern-fried crime, but always turning the larger concept of each genre on their heads, allowing the audience to see the soft, sensitive belly that lies beneath. Midnight Special, the title itself alluding in some way to a late night horror flick you might catch on Cinemax in the 80s, follows this trend, finding human meaning in the story of a boy with special abilities, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), and the trio of forces trying to take him as their own. The film starts in media res, two men (Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton in all their trashy criminal glory) are packing up a hotel room in the middle of the night, while Alton sits underneath a sheet wearing goggles and construction worker ear protectors, reading a comic book by flashlight. A television screen blares with news that the boy has been kidnapped by one of the men in the room. Nichols doesn’t force feed exposition down our throat, instead he slowly unwinds the various forces at play – The Ranch (a cult), the FBI/NSA, and Alton’s family. He lets the audience genuinely connect with Alton and his father (Michael Shannon) and the strange, harried relationship they have as a pair of fugitives. Nichols pushes the slow pace almost to a breaking point where the lack of concrete information and action might distract the audience, but each time he hits the edge, he drops another bread crumb, yanking you back in. It’s essential that he does this though, as the genre trappings (though breathtaking when the film needs breathtaking) are merely his way of exploring the touching relationship between Alton and his father Ray. Because as invested as we are in the trio’s flight, and the bad guys who follow them, the true story lies in a desperate man just trying to find a few more precious moments with his very special son. Each of the other characters are just stale reflections of Ray’s love for Alton. The Ranch wants him because they falsely worship him; Adam Driver and the FBI want him because of heartfelt curiosity; but Alton’s father wants nothing more than to do what he can to protect his son, mainly because he wants to spend a few more hours in his presence. It’s beautiful work by all involved.

One Last Thought:

The pairing of Michael Shannon and Jeff Nichols is one of the great director/actor combos of all times. Their next film, Loving, looks to be just as fascinating as everything else they’ve done.

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Movie Breakdown: Krisha (Noah)

March 24, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I had never heard of this movie before Johnny Boy Laird dropped the screener into my lap, but upon researching found that it was a debut feature from an Austin based director and it had been cleaning up on the indie circuit. Also, A24 picked it up, and I don’t know if it’s possible that they touch anything that isn’t cinematic gold.

Post-Screening Ramble:

You couldn’t find a film story with more “indie cred” smeared on it. Trey Edward Shults directed, wrote, and edited (as well as playing a small part) Krisha using a small cast of, for the most part, his own relatives, in one location in nine days. Beyond that the film plays like a wonderful mix of Vincent Gallo and Terrence Malick, a tightly shot family drama, that unfolds in almost elegiac mini-scenes. The film’s title, Krisha, refers to the main character (played by Krisha Fairchild, the director’s aunt), a familial black sheep who coasts back into her family’s Thanksgiving dinner (on a beautifully tense and chaotic tracking shot) looking to redeem herself for, well, years of being bad. Shults is an impressively talented director, milking the expected tension that exists just under the surface of every family gathering to its breaking point. Though it’s Krisha’s presence that turns the casual holiday event on its head, Stults makes it clear that all the ingredients for disaster are already cooking. Fairchild, an amateur actor, is impressive as a woman trying to prove she’s not who she used to be, a simmering cauldron of anxiety and anger, and when she finally snaps, it’s somehow both cringe-inducing, but also painfully sad. Part of this is Stults ability to place, visually and emotionally, the clearly fragile Krisha in the center of the scene, his camera locked on her, as the movements of the family (all eleven of them plus dogs) spin chaotically around her. The audience can already tell she’s on the edge, but in Stults frame, we can also see how quickly she’s being pushed towards it.

One Last Thought:

It’s actually quite nice to see, especially in the wake of screening Batman v. Superman I had this week, that small, thoughtfully put together pieces of art like this can still exist. I worry sometimes.

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Movie Breakdown: Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (Noah)

March 24, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

DC is scrambling right now to do what has taken Marvel a decade-plus: formulate a coherent, cinematic universe that is both well-done and can be financially milked for eternity. Yet, Marvel has slowly tweaked their formula over multitudes of years and films, and this, a bald-faced attempt to cash in on a similar concept, seems destined to fail.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Zach Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (known forever after as BvS) is the blueprint in terms of how badly the need to build a shared universe of films can fail. Because somewhere, cowering underneath the pile of nods to future films about superheroes yet to grace the silver screen, there might exist a good movie or three, but this convoluted mess of a film never gets around to exploring them. To review this film, you don’t really need to dig into spoilers or plot, because the plot is so buried underneath a cavalcade of glorified post-credit scenes, that it doesn’t matter. Know this: Batman and Superman fight, Lex Luthor is a bad guy, and by the end of the film you’ve been introduced to enough new characters that DC can make a film a year until the world implodes. Even with a two and a half hour running time, this film feels cramped, because DC is trying to jump start an entire new universe without any of the legwork. Instead of trying to explore the reasoning and/or the character motivations for why this Batman is beaten down and embittered or why Superman struggles with his role in society, they just toss it out there and hope that the audience will grab the ball and keep running. Or more so they, toss out major character developments but then drown them in excessive fight scenes. I don’t care about Batman’s position in the film, because Snyder makes no attempt to define this version of Batman. He is simply broken and beaten because that is what he needs to be to drive the film, and the future films in this franchise forward. This Batman deserves a film that explores the notion of his particular take on heroism as good as Snyder’s take on Superman was in Man of Steel. As does the relationship between Lex Luthor (played with tinny psychosis by Jesse Eisenberg) and Superman or Superman and Doomsday or Lex Luthor and his own demons – but instead, Snyder crams them all into a 3 hour fight scene and seemingly hopes that he can drown out the need for a coherent story with explosions and fan-bait. Honestly, Lex Luthor is Superman’s main bad guy – a man who believes he’s a god squaring off against a god who wants nothing more then to be human – and in this film (I can only imagine the last for Mr. Eisenberg) the two characters spend maybe four minutes of one on one screen time together. It’s embarrassing and indicative of the entire film’s sacrifice of strong character development and narrative progression in favor of setting stage for future blockbusters. People can argue that this is just a landing pad for the next wave of DC films, better films you would hope, but if this is the foundation, I want nothing to do with what comes next.

One Last Thought:

Not only is this film bad on the big scale – you know characters and story lines – but if you’re paying any attention through the laser eyes and over-acting, it’s also terrible with small details. Characters just do shit in this movie because seemingly that’s what they need to do to push forward to the next scene. I’m shaking my head just thinking about it.

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