Tuesday, June 30, 2015

20 Best Films of 2015 Thus Far - #20 - #11

Halfway there. Halfway through 2015 already. It's hard to believe.

Typically the second half of the year is when the strongest pieces of cinema are released as so many studios hold off their best efforts until what is deemed "Award Season", as in the time closest to voting so they can make sure the films with the best chance of success are still fresh. 

That doesn't mean January through June should be ignored though. So many really good to totally great films are released early on, and these 20 are, in my humble opinion, the best of what I have seen thus far.

20. Maggie

Maggie is far from perfect cinema, as it at times falls victim to some languid pacing, but it deserves credit for doing something fresh with the rotting zombie sub-genre by essentially telling a story about grief when losing a child to a terminal illness in the form of a slow transition into the flesh eating walking deceased. Awesome acting across the board as well, with Schwarenegger showing off some serious dramatic chops in a performance I expected I would have trouble taking seriously. No issue here, I bought in quickly.

19. Kung Fury

How the hell did a 30 minute long film funded by Kickstarter make it into my top 20 of the first half of the year? By being extremely self aware, totally ridiculous fun, that's how! Kung Fury is absolutely absurd in the best possible ways, and the fact that it is a short film works in its favor. Had this being stretched out into even just a 50 - 70 minute feature the jokes would have gotten real old, but at a half hour it hits all the right notes and had me grinning from ear to ear throughout. If you haven't seen Kung Fury yet, just look it up on Youtube and watch it for free. It won't be for everyone, but if it does work for you, it will work wonders.

18. Kingsman: The Secret Service

Based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a hell of a good time, an ultra-violent, action packed frenzy of fun and absurdity. Much like the film above, this certainly won't click with 100 percent of its audience. If you know what you are getting yourself into going in and you can handle the bloody content, I highly recommend this one.

17. Cinderella

We have all heard the story of Cinderella, we have all seen it play out in film form before, but when it is retold with the level of class and elegance demonstrated by Kenneth Branagh here it is hard not to appreciate the experience. A touching performance from the beautiful Lily James and the supporting cast all do strong work, especially Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother, I was enchanted by the new reboot of the classic tale despite obviously knowing exactly how the events would play out.

16. Girlhood

The comparisons to last years masterpiece Boyhood will obviously be made both for the obvious title similarities and the fact that both are coming-of-age stories, but it isn't fair to either film to have people pitting the two against each other. The pictures are vastly different in terms of style and their methods of storytelling, and while I couldn't make a personal connection to Girlhood I still deeply admired the craft of the movie and the moving progression of the main character, a young impressionable girl named Marieme who falls in with the wrong crowd.

15. Faults

What an unexpected treat Faults turned out to be, a film not even on my radar at the start of the year but after seeing it, I still can't shake the thought that I am actually underrating it here. Perhaps a revisit will boost it farther up the list when I finalize a best of 2015 come Oscar time early next year. 

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Claire, a girl that seems to be brainwashed by a mysterious cult that goes by the name Faults. Her parents want her back, and they are willing to pay anything. They hire a man known for being one of the most renowned experts on mind control, a man named Ansel Roth (Leland Orser)

I will say no more. The experience will be far more rewarding the less you know. Just watch it when it hits Netflix streaming in July.

14. Slow West

Not long ago I was always claiming that I didn't really enjoy the western genre. I have come to realize how ridiculous and untrue that is. The more and more terrific westerns I watch, the more I fall in love and Slow West is a tasty one released in 2015. The movie isn't perfect, it drags in the middle despite its relatively brief running time, but the first and third acts are absolute home runs that deserve to be admired.

Michael Fassbender plays a bounty hunter. Enough said.

13. Avengers: Age of Ultron

I know many are starting to really feel the superhero fatigue, and while I don't blame them, I also don't quite feel it yet. I am not over the moon regarding some upcoming projects from D.C. like Suicide Squad or even Batman V Superman (would love to be wrong on both but I am pessimistic), but Marvel still has a pretty solid hold on me and has me looking forward to what is yet to come in the universe. 

Avengers: Age of Ultron is not the best film from the MCU. It isn't even the second of third best, but it is a rock solid and fantastically fun effort that entertained me from beginning to end. 

12. Jauja

Jauja is an enigmatic and strange little wonder of a film, one that will certainly require a revisit (or 2 or 3 or 15) before I can fully appreciate its complexities, but I don't find this notion daunting. I accept the challenge and I can't wait to sink my teeth in again and discover more of what lies underneath the surface. 

You will recognize the face of Viggo Mortensen in the starring role, but don't expect an epic blockbuster or a traditional narrative here like you might associate with his presence since he is most well known for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jauja is a different beast all together. 

11. It Follows

Does It Follows have flaws? It certainly does, and when many voice them I find it impossible to refute their complaints. Despite this, I completely love the film and will revisit it often when the weather outside and the mood inside is just right. I was freaked out by the camera work and the music and the concept. What a blast it was to watch this in the cinema, a picture reminiscent of the type of work that would have been released in the 80's and been essential sleepover with friends material growing up.

Next up will be the top 10 films released thus far in 2015 in the United States. The image above is from a movie that just might make the cut...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Spy Review

Size humor. It feels like the lowest hanging fruit in cinema today, and I am so damn sick of it. 

I think it's awesome that people like Melissa McCarthy and Kevin James and whoever else are able to make fun of themselves and their struggles with weight, I honestly do. What I take issue with is the screenplay including such lazy writing in the first place. It doesn't even take seeing the actual film to see it in action either, every damn trailer with these actors includes a scene of McCarthy struggling to climb over a counter or falling off of something because she is big, and I cringe every single time. 

Years ago I watched literally every single episode of the show Gilmore Girls with my wife, a series featuring McCarthy and over the course of seven seasons I don't recall the writing ever stooping to such a disappointing level and she showed she had charisma on camera, excellent comic delivery and the ability to demonstrate authentic range as a performer...so why now has it been boiled down to the ha ha you are funny because you are fat niche? Isn't she capable of more than audiences giggling over her struggles to do things thin people are capable of?

This isn't a direct correlation to the her new film Spy, a movie that utilizes such humor but at least sparingly rather than making it the focal point of the entire screenplay. I just needed to vent before I moved on to my problem with this film: it just isn't funny enough. It's not terrible, I had a halfway decent time screening it and I laughed during a handful of occasions, but overall I found it to be a very underwhelming experience. 

The funny just isn't funny enough. The action isn't action-y enough. The drama isn't drama-y enough. The entire picture sort of felt like I was eating a lukewarm TV dinner when I was really, really hungry. Sure, it's fine and it does it's job and I am full-ish at the end, but I also could have used a lot better and a lot more. 

In my recent review of What We Do in the Shadows, a pretty fantastic comedy, I mentioned my struggle with finding new comedic efforts I enjoy, and Spy reflects this issue perfectly. It seems like most people are really digging it, and that's great, but I am left so cold and I feel like I am missing out on the fun. Scenes clearly meant to elicit laughter leave me staring straight ahead. Even what did work for me won't really stick in the long run, I can guarantee it. Just another run of the mill mediocre movie that I will watch a moment of briefly years from now when it is on cable before flipping to something else.


Friday, June 26, 2015

What We Do in the Shadows Review

Goodness. I needed this. 

The one genre that is sorely lacking in my film life in regards to how often I enjoy one is comedy. I don't know what it is, perhaps I am just more picky when it comes to what makes me laugh but I often find myself unsatisfied by recent comedic releases. What We Do in the Shadows is refreshing, incredibly clever fun.

The film is a mockumentary following the lives of flatmates Viago, Vlatislav and Deacon as they deal with typical issues like paying bills and arguing over who isn't pulling their weight when it comes to cleaning up the house. Oh, and one other important factor: they are vampires.

The whole vampire film craze has gotten beyond tired and stale at this point, so I had my doubts here but What We Do in the Shadows is inspired and wonderfully written. I can't remember the last time I laughed this hard while watching a movie, and it felt fantastic. The pacing is pretty much perfect because thankfully the directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (who also star as Vladislav and Viago, respectively) clearly have a top notch handle on both what is funny and the concept that even a good joke can go on too long. Checking in at under 90 minutes, this one hits all the right notes and exits before you have a chance to grow weary of the material.

I finished watching What We Do in the Shadows roughly 48 hours ago, and I actually love it more than I did when it first ended. It's one of those films where so many lines are quotable and the laughter resonates deeper because of it. I keep thinking about various parts and I can't wipe the damn smile from my face. 


Thursday, June 25, 2015

10 Worst Films of the First Half of 2015

I am a very open minded person and I am proud of my philosophy that every film deserves a chance. Well, not every. I wouldn't watch a moment of The Human Centipede trilogy if you paid me to do so. I will watch almost everything though and regardless of what others say, I will form my own opinion.

One problem with this philosophy though: I see a lot of bad films.

Here are the ten worst efforts of 2015 thus far:

10. Adult Beginners

A talented comedic cast gave me hope. The painfully unfunny writing killed it. Adult Beginners just didn't elicit any laughs. Well, actually I think I literally did chuckle twice, but that's it, and the dramatic angle wasn't nearly dramatic enough either. Predictable and familiar and a film I certainly will never revisit.

9. The Boy Next Door

Anyone who has seen The Boy Next Door could and probably will make a pretty compelling case that it is the worst film of the year, and I have trouble arguing against such a thought. It's completely terrible. Despite this, the reason I ranked 8 films as being worse is because I found this one to be "fun bad". It's one of those movies in the vein of something produced by the Lifetime Network which are always atrocious yet I can't turn them off because their poor quality is actually what makes them entertaining. I would watch this again tomorrow with someone else who has not seen it and laugh early and often at how ridiculous it is.

8. The Lazarus Effect

I would have loved for The Lazarus Effect to have been "fun bad" like The Boy Next Door. Unfortunately, this was simply bad bad. Horror that wasn't scary. Likable actors doing nothing to exhibit their talent or charms. Just a stupid plot going through the lazy, predictable motions of a forgettable genre film. 

7. Poltergeist

I am typically not an anti-remake guy, but when you approach something like Poltergeist with such lazy intentions, what's the point? This did absolutely nothing to separate itself from the iconic original film. I can't imagine anyone seeing this movie and feeling the desire to buy it and keep it along side the original, something you might do if it were a different, unique vision of the material. This Poltergeist is just uninspired and boring. 

6. Hot Girls Wanted

I love a good documentary. Hot Girls Wanted is not a good documentary. It seemed like it had potential based on the premise, a film about the changing landscape of the porn industry shifting away from highly paid female porn "stars" and instead churning through 18-20 year old girls who are expecting a glamorous lifestyle from entering the industry. 

Unfortunately the end result is essentially a mediocre and forgettable episode of the MTV series "True Life". Such a run of the mill, bland experience.

5. Unfriended

Hey, want to watch teenage girls and boys Skype with each other for 5 minutes? No? Okay, how about for 75 minutes? Does that sound any better?

Just because a concept is original doesn't make it good. "Modern Family" did an episode this past season where the entire thing plays out through Claire's computer screen and it was immensely better in every possible way than this turd of a film. Unfriended is hard to watch almost instantly, and not once did I care about the fate of these characters.

If it were a five minute short about dopey teens sticking their hands in blenders, I'm buying what that is selling. Just thinking about Unfriended gives me a headache. 

4. Chappie

Oh Neill Blomkamp. What happened to you? Was District 9 a fluke?

Elysium was a sub-par sophomore effort. Chappie is so, so much worse. 

Honestly, I have little else to say. This film is an unexciting mess.

3. The Wedding Ringer

Oh boy. This was the first 2015 release I saw back in January, and I knew it was a pretty safe bet it would pop up on any worst of lists I created going forward. The Wedding Ringer is a comedy that isn't funny. It is poorly acted, especially by Kaley "What does that cue card say?" Cuoco. It is dreadfully familiar and predictable and uninspired, all the usual words to describe such a total failure. 

2. The Cobbler

I should just reserve a spot on these lists every 6 months for an Adam Sandler effort. The Cobbler is made by Thomas McCarthy, who actually made really good films prior to this. It's like anything that touches Sandler turns to shit, because this is just awful. It's offensively unfunny, the premise is ridiculous and the ending? Oh my goodness the ending. I laughed when the twist is revealed, but for all the wrong reasons.

1. Mortdecai

Oh....oh no. I have to think about Mortdecai again. That's unfortunate.

Of all the unfunny in the cinema landscape so far this year, nothing is more unfunny than this. I have no idea what the goal was here, but it didn't just fail, it crashed and burned and then somehow crashed and burned again. 

At this point Johnny Depp is nothing more than a cartoon character spoof of himself. Just a dreadfully misguided picture from start to finish.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Heartbeats Review

Xavier Dolan certainly wore his influences on his sleeve early in his career and I find that admirable, because it is clear he was tipping his cap to the filmmakers who inspired him rather than stealing their ideas. That being said, it may be a little too on the nose here in Heartbeats as instead of focusing on what was in front of me, I continued to think about sequences throughout the Wong Kar-wai masterpiece In the Mood for Love. It's a terrific work to draw inspiration from, but if you are going to make your own film very comparable in terms of style and somewhat in concept, you need to do it extremely well. Otherwise all the audience can think in the end is, I have already seen a movie just like this and it was better.

Heartbeats is a ton of style and features across the board admirable performances but the narrative is paper thin. The story revolves around a love triangle after a cute, confident guy named Nicolas (Niels Schneider) enters the lives of Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri), and they both compete for his heart while also trying to figure out his sexual orientation in the process. The film has endearing moments and its fair share of humor, but the back and forth becomes tedious quickly and I kept waiting for something different, something more. Different and more never really came.

That being said, the talent of Dolan behind the camera is absolutely remarkable, and the passion and tenderness he feels for the material comes oozing out of the frame. It is impossible to hate a film like this but it is also hard to love because it never pulls you in like I would have hoped.

I have seen all Dolan work except for Tom at the Farm, which is now finally getting a U.S. release date soon, and I have good news and bad news regarding Heartbeats. The bad news first: it's the worst Dolan work I have encountered thus far. The good news? His worst is still really, really good.


Unfriended Review

Did you hear that noise?

It's the sound of me slamming down the final nail in the found footage sub-genre coffin. I can't do it. I can't take it anymore. I lost the will to keep an open mind and hope for the best with this nonsense at some point while watching Unfriended. I can't quite put my finger on when it happened, but I felt the part of me that wants to see everything and judge cinema fairly die inside. 

Perhaps it was at some point during the first 35 minutes in which NOTHING HAPPENED. It's literally watching teenagers Skype with each other for over a half hour. These piece of shit, awful teenagers sitting at their computers talking to each other. I can barely Skype with a beloved family member for five minutes before getting bored and wanting to do something else. If I wanted to watch a young girl type on her computer and yell at her friends...I can't even come up with a way to finish that thought. I wouldn't ever want to watch that. Why would anyone want to watch that?

At least we eventually get some comic relief when the one kid jams his own hand in a blender. I needed that laugh.

Here's a thought/question: the fact that these children are sitting at their computers talking rather than being together at one of their homes or drinking in a park or smoking weed in a car would imply that they had to be home rather than be out. Hell, the one girl says at some point that she has a test the next day. So that would allow me to form an educated guess that perhaps at least one of these scruffy looking nerfherders had their parents in the general vicinity, correct? Like, I know one of them could have been home alone, maybe even two or three, but all of them? The odds of that seem troubling.

Okay, so that leads me to the overall point: where are these parents? A bunch of teenagers crying, screaming, waving guns around, making flesh milkshakes, crying more, screaming more, waving the gun around again, yelling at each other in anger, sitting in darkness as the spooky ghost of bullied past messes with the circuit breaker, screaming again, crying again and so on...and not once does a parent come upstairs and say, I don't know, knock it the fuck off? When I was growing up, if I farted too loud my dad would tell me to keep it down and get to sleep. 

The characters are awful. The horror is laughable. Also, I have read people refer to Unfriended as an "interesting statement against bullying". This is an interesting statement against bullying? Listen, if someone is a bully, watching this shit storm isn't going to change that. What, you think Chad the football star who steals lunch money is going to walk out of the cinema after 75 minutes of gun waiving, hand blending fun and suddenly see the light? They are going to wake up the next morning and look themselves in the mirror and declare, I shouldn't be a bully anymore? I might get haunted by Skype demons?

Ridiculous. You know what a good statement against bullying is? Teaching your damn kids not to be a piece of shit. Showing them the way to treat people. Instilling positive values and being a good role model to them when their minds are flourishing and they are absorbing every lesson they can from the people around them. My kid won't be a bully and you know why? Because if she even tries to treat a peer as if they are somehow lesser I will smack her in the back of the damn head and say, what the hell is wrong with you? Didn't I teach you better?

Or, she can watch a terrible found footage horror film and fear the dreaded right hand fruit smoothie. That'll learn her.

I want to personally thank director Leo Gabriadze for making Unfriended. Some have said they admire the attempt to reinvent and pump some new life into the found footage craze. Sure, I guess I can say that I do give a small amount of credit for trying something different, that is totally fair, but that's not the reason I am expressing my gratitude.

Thank you Leo for finally putting found footage out of its misery. Good riddance.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Inside Out Review

When my daughter was oh so young, her great-grandmother gave her a teddy bear as a gift. Aesthetically there is nothing special about the stuffed little creature. It's as generic as it comes. Over the years I have lost count of how many cuddly plush dolls we have purchased for her, as we literally have bins full of them in our home. The bear never goes in the bin because the bear never leaves her side. The bear goes everywhere with us. The bear sees movies in her arms. The bear gets to tour the zoo. The bear goes to the library to check out books. The bear literally went to every single day of Kindergarten, staying in her backpack throughout her time in the classroom. He was there when the bell rang though, waiting to go home in her arms once again.

After my beautiful little girl saw Toy Story 3 for the first time, she named the bear Lotso. Her great-grandmother has since passed away. Lotso remains.

It's adorable to see the bond she has created with a simple toy and when I see them together I can't help but smile, but with it I sometimes take a trip into the future. I picture the days, months and years going by and my daughter changing and growing with each passing minute. She will see movies. She will go to the zoo. The she will go to the library to check out books. She will go to school.

Lotso won't be there.

We will do our best to never throw him away, as he means too much and carries with him too many memories. He has absorbed so many of her smiles. He has been the recipient of so many tears. He has been there to keep her safe when the room gets dark and the shadows seem scary. Realistically though, he will sit somewhere in this home untouched. He will collect dust. What memories she has of his companionship will either become vague and unfamiliar or completely fade away.

As we were seeing Inside Out on Saturday, I looked over and saw her eyes glued to the screen. She was lost in a world of cinema, a feeling I know all too well. Her arms were wrapped around Lotso. He was lost in the film too.

A few tears fell from my eyes. It wouldn't be the last time.

Inside Out is an absolute masterpiece. It isn't merely a return to form for Pixar Animation, it's a work of genius. The concept is brilliant and perfectly realized. The casting and subsequent vocal performances are equally sublime. The screenplay is Oscar worthy, balancing a delicious blend of comedy, profound emotional complexity and a handle of human psychology that few films have ever demonstrated before.

What I found most impressive of all is that despite this being seemingly a movie designed for children, it not only demonstrates extreme intelligence but it does so in a way that never spoon feeds the meaning to the audience. Pete Docter could have easily tried to lower the bar with some of the content to make it comprehensible to children, but why do so? He is smart enough to know that whether the kids understand all the thematic depth and richness of the experience is irrelevant. The seats will be filled with the young regardless, as they will beg their parents to take them based on the advertising campaign and the vibrant colors and the funny voices. The key is those parents that may have felt like they were being dragged to the cinema for some typical low brow fart joke kiddie fair and instead they are actually forced to pay close attention just to keep up.

Much like my daughter, every kid who sees Inside Out will say how much they loved it at the end. That part isn't a surprise, it is to be expected. What will shock people is just how deeply moving and fascinating the experience is regardless of your age. Whether 5 or 75 I would advise everyone to go see Inside Out. You don't need a child by your side to justify buying a ticket at the box office. It would be a disservice to any lovers of the medium to avoid the film for such a silly reason.

Move over Fury Road. It's the best film of 2015 thus far and one of the finest animated efforts I have ever laid eyes on. It just might be the crown jewel from Pixar, which is saying a whole hell of a lot. The story of Riley and the little emotions living inside her is one to cherish, one to behold.

I'm going to take my little girl to see it again, without a doubt. I'm already looking forward to it.

I will make sure she brings Lotso and she holds him tight throughout. Someday he will collect dust, but not today. Today he will revel in the smiles. He will soak up the tears. He will make her feel safe.

"She's so big now. She won't fit in my rocket. How're we gonna get to the moon?"

Inside Out is a stunning, glorious film. I can't stop thinking about it. I can't stop smiling.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Donnie Darko Review

Wake up.

I have loved movies for as long as I can remember, but things changed in 2001. I turned 17 that year and a vast majority of my time was spent hanging out with friends, finding ways to acquire and consume cheap alcohol and smoking an incomprehensible amount of reefer. At a time when my hormones were raging, I made no attempt to meet girls. At a time when everyone around me was applying for college, I didn't even pretend to study. At a time when I should have been trying to understand the fascinating complexities of the world around me, I shut down and settled into a routine of apathy and sadness.

I didn't like myself. I wasn't moving forward or upwards or even side to side. I wasn't even moving backwards. I wasn't moving at all. Days, weeks, months went by and I felt nothing. I did nothing. I wasted precious opportunities to live, to love, to remember shit that matters.

The other day I heard someone mention their first kiss and I realized, I can barely recall mine. Why would I? It wasn't shared with someone special. It wasn't a memory meant to last. It was just another drop in a massive sea of moments that aren't worthy of forever.

I don't remember algebra or Prom or the pain of being rejected by the prettiest girl in school. I remember shit that matters. I remember the first time I read The Catcher in the Rye and I remember the trip to the Art Institute of Chicago when a colorful canvas moved me by meaning so much more than just some strokes with a brush. I remember the last moments of the life of my dog, petting her head as she closed her eyes for the final time. I remember trips to our cottage in Rhinelander, Wisconsin in the fall when the leaves were changing color, a setting that the word beautiful doesn't even remotely do justice.

I remember when I realized that film could be so enigmatic and fascinating, that the best kind of art doesn't answer questions, it leaves you asking more. At a time in my life when I had played the game of cinema safe, I managed to watch David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko within a few months of each other and I was left puzzled and yet profoundly moved by both. Not so much moved by the content or the characters of the films but by the way their mysterious narratives were delivered. I watched these films sober and yet I was intoxicated by the way they lingered in my mind at night when I tried to fall asleep. Who needs to be drunk when the magic and mysticism of ambitious, creative storytelling can leave you feeling loopy and wanting more?

28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. That is when the world will end.

Donnie Darko was a game changer for me because I discovered the potential to be moved to an actual emotional release while simultaneously not having a fucking clue what I just witnessed. When the cover of "Mad World" performed by Gary Jules is playing at the end of the film, I felt tears welling up in my eyes but I wouldn't have been able to tell you why. Does feeling something need to be explained or defined? Sometimes you watch images in motion and you just get it, even if you don't in a literal sense. Sometimes I find meaning in the experience.

Since then I have come to form my opinion on the film and I believe the answers lie in the conversations between Donnie and his science professor Kenneth Monnitoff (Noah Wyle) about time travel and also the sessions he has with Dr. Lilian Thurman (Katharine Ross) regarding Donnie's worst fear. What I love is that after roughly literally 15 viewings, I still only have theories and an opinion on what happens, not facts and true defined answers. I love when a film released nearly half my life ago still makes me work and question and ponder and adapt if I am lucky enough to pick up on something new.

When you think about the amount of days you have lived, the hours in each of those days and the minutes that comprise them and the seconds that have ticked away, a vast majority of life is forgotten. Even the stuff you thought for sure in the moment would be everlasting simply isn't because you recognize years later what really matters, what is really important. Watching beloved cinema has a way of taking me back to the vivid memories of the first time I saw it and the impact it had on me, and also what was going on in my life then.

Donnie Darko reminds me of all the shit that really mattered, good and bad, and I soak in the pain and nostalgia that comes bubbling to the surface. I remember the wasted days and the phony "friends" and the emptiness inside that I tried to keep hidden from the world. I remember the forever closing eyes of man's best friend and the rebellious spirit of Holden Caulfield. I remember the tears I shed behind closed doors and the way I turned shit around, when I learned to embrace beauty and overcome pain and move forward.

Wake up.

Who gives a shit about a first kiss? I remember Donnie Darko.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Cobbler Review

Watching Adam Sandler "act" these days has sort of a time machine effect. When I was a kid, I loved his stupid films. Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore? I ate that shit up. Perhaps my age range was the target audience for his wacky voice and ridiculous antics, but man...watching him on screen now just makes me not only hate him now but hate him always. I can feel the child inside that enjoyed his movies dying.

The thing about Sandler in The Cobbler is, he isn't terrible for the typical recent reasons. He isn't over-the-top or acting like a clown or doing silly shit. No, he just seems to be phoning it in from the first frame to the last. Initially I thought the weird, dour character he portrayed was just that, part of the character and he would eventually snap out of it. He doesn't though. Even when things are happy, he seems to be a weird, dour guy pretending to be happy. I felt like I could actually see him just after the director yells cut looking over at his manager and asking when he gets his check.

Speaking of the director, prior to this film Thomas McCarthy had been a filmmaker who had received almost entirely critical acclaim. Win Win, The Station Agent and The Visitor. Surely he could get the most out of a semi-serious turn from Sandler, especially because Sandler has a history of doing pretty solid work under such circumstances. He was believable and heartbreaking as a man with nothing left in his life in Reign Over Me. He was timid and lonely and convincing in Punch Drunk Love

In The Cobbler, he is just bad and sad and lifeless, which actually pretty much describes the entire film. The Cobbler is bad and sad and lifeless. It attempts to tell a magical tale of a shoe cobbler with a magic sewing machine yet I felt no magic. It clearly strives to earn our laughs, but I couldn't even crack a smile. The moments where McCarthy wants us to reach for the tissues to wipe away our tears feel pandering and manipulative and so desperate, like there should be a flashing "BE MOVED NOW" sign on the bottom of the screen. Not only did I never give a shit about these characters, I rolled my eyes whenever the film tried to make me care.

I would have been even more offended by the terrible twist ending, but at that point I was already on the floor bleeding and twitching with sweat dripping off my forehead from the night terrors I knew I would have the second I close my eyes. In these vivid and disturbing dreams I would be forced to sit in a chair and watch Adam Sandler go to the bank and cash his 20 million dollar checks for not even giving a shit about what he is doing, and then I would be held at gun point during a Sandler marathon with no choice but to sit through all the horrendous nonsense he has been doing for, I don't know, a really long time now.

The more I think about The Cobbler, the more I hate it. I didn't even cover the sequences where Sandler is an Asian man excited that he has an Asian accent or the moment he realizes he needs to rob someone so he transforms into Method Man, because of course it has to be the black guy, right?

I need to stop writing now. Don't waste a moment on The Cobbler.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Polytechnique Review

He wakes up in the morning and prepares for the day. He shaves. He gets dressed. He makes his bed.

She wakes up in the morning and prepares for her day. She shaves. She gets dressed. Her friend makes her change.

She's ready. She is headed to an interview for an internship. An exciting opportunity.

He's ready. He is loading his rifle. A terrifying agenda.

Based on the unfortunately true story of the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre, Polytechnique is the type of film that leaves you queasy and uneasy and horrified. What word do you used to describe a positive reaction to a film like this? It feels wrong and uncomfortable to say I "enjoyed" it because while portrayed by actors on screen, those bodies were real. 26 years ago, that blood was spilled and the stains can never be completely washed away. They say time heals all wounds, but I can't imagine the loved ones of those victims can ever fully recover from such devastation.

Denis Villeneuve is one of my favorite filmmakers working today and that notion was enhanced by Polytechnique. I was wondering if the experience would feel different seeing him work with material based on fact rather than fiction, as Incendies, Prisoners and Enemy are very different beasts from the true story of a school shooting, and it did feel strange but only because I couldn't shake the knowledge that what I was watching actually happened. The craft of the film is remarkable as expected, showing us the carnage from the perspective of multiple people involved. The performances are on point and the black and white photography adds a haunting raw and real effect to the events. It's a troubling subject matter but the talent involved in portraying the events is undeniable.

What I do take from films like this is just how much we need to appreciate life. It's not morbid, it's a fact. We wake up each day and things feel normal. We shower, we brush our teeth, and we shave. We get dressed. We say goodbye to our loved ones and we assume we will see them again soon, but nothing is guaranteed.

Perhaps something is bothering you right now that seems like a big deal but when put in perspective it is actually quite small. Push it aside and cherish the right now, the beauty of existence. Take a second to think about how special it is to go home and see the people that make your world whole.

Because you just never know. Valerie woke up one day excited and nervous about an opportunity. She never thought she would come face to face with evil. A terrifying agenda.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jurassic World Review

"That was kinda scary!"

That smile. It lights up the darkest room.

"I know, it was! Did you like it though?"

When I was a kid, cinema lit my imagination on fire. In reality existence can be pretty routine and mundane. On celluloid, anything is possible. When I sat down in front of a screen, big or small, I could travel to distant worlds. I could meet new, fascinating people, and after literally minutes of knowing them I would feel the warmth of their charms. I would be rattled by their misfortunes. I would shed tears because of their pain.

"Yeah, I loved it!"

I see that same kid when I look at her.

It's fucking magical.

Jurassic World isn't a perfect film. Many would argue that it isn't even a good one, and I can completely understand such a claim. The screenplay is lazy, like a copy and paste job from other by-the-numbers generic blockbusters. The concept, while interesting on paper, suffers from being rushed along, like I didn't have a chance to ever bask in the wonder they tried to portray because scenes either felt recycled or simply didn't have a chance to breathe. Some of the characters, Vincent D'Onofrio as "Hoskins" for example, technically played important roles to the progression of the narrative and yet they really added nothing at all to the mix. The product placement in the movie is laughable and tedious because it honestly does take away from the experience. When I am focused on Mercedes logos popping up in every frame or the strange placement of stores that would only be there because the real life entity wrote a fat check to put their name in it rather than get lost in the story, it's kind of a bummer.

Despite these issues, and there are even more I could rattle off if I wanted to I'm sure, I had a whole lot of fun watching Jurassic World. Why? I don't know. Perhaps the kid in me goes into a film like this and craves the possibility of pushing the critical eye to the background for a couple of hours so I can just shut it down and enjoy watching dinosaurs eat people. Perhaps I was aided by the fact that I walked in with lowered expectations because I had already heard all of the complaints and had a gut feeling they would prove to be valid (and they did). Perhaps, and this is a big one...perhaps I just feel good about a trip to the theater with my beautiful seven year old daughter. One where I can look over at her at any point during the picture and see her locked in focus on only the images in front of her when so much of the world is reading tweets. One where I get to see her cower behind her hands in fear as a monster approaches her favorite character, begging the gods of cinema for his safety much the way I did when I saw Aliens or Predator for the first time. 

One where I get to see her smile. I will never complain when I get to see her smile.

"That was kinda scary!"

Those were the first words out of her mouth as the credits began to roll, and while I asked her if she loved it, I really didn't have to. I could see it in her eyes that she had a blast. 

It's hard to give a shit about a bad screenplay or a perfectly placed Coca-Cola bottle when you sit down in the theater with the same mindset as a seven year old. I just wanted to have fun.

I did. Jurassic World is a bunch of fun.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mommy Review

I remember when I was a kid and I would watch professional sports or television or movies and I would see people in their 20's and think they were old. Not old in a geriatric sense or anything, I was a kid but I wasn't that much of a turd. I just thought they seemed so big in both a literal and figurative sense. I would watch the Oscars and admire the sea of beautiful people all wearing beautiful things, and everything felt so glamorous and mature and complete. I would go to a Cubs game and realize all those tiny people on a television screen were actually enormous, and as a ball would sail out onto Waveland it seemed like it was hit by a god rather than a mortal man. 

I imagined what it would be like to be in my 20's and it seemed surreal that I ever would be. Now I'm 31 and I see the world through such a different set of eyes. Now I see those beautiful people wearing beautiful things and they seem so young, like they are only just getting started. I go to a Cubs game and I refer to the players as "kids" because a majority of them were born when I was already doing multiplication tables and pretending I didn't have a crush on the girl next to me at school. 

Now I'm old, but Xavier Dolan? He's young. He's so damn young and it's hard to comprehend his brilliance. It isn't just that he directed a terrific film at the age of 25, it's that he is now 26 and he already has five under his belt with a sixth in production and these aren't sloppy, flawed works pumped out by an immature mind. These are stories that are oozing with intelligence and grace and passion, the type of material I would expect from a man 30 years my senior rather than one that was born when I was in Kindergarten. 

I have seen three Dolan films thus far and to say I have been impressed is an understatement. His debut titled I Killed My Mother, which was released when he was only 20 years old, is such a passionate and raw autobiographical piece of cinema that I was floored a teen had crafted it with such a precise and confident hand. Three years later Dolan unveiled Laurence Anyways, a film that dealt with a man becoming a woman while trying to still maintain a relationship with her female lover and the transgender topic is handled with class and dignity and honesty. Now we have Mommy, his most recent work and it is also his strongest to date.

You need not do a single bit of research to determine that the story of Mommy about a troubled teenage son being raised by a widowed single mother is profoundly personal and important to Dolan. I know this because you can feel it in every frame. You can feel that this isn't just a film or a fictional story to him because the screenplay and the performances and the stylistic choices from Dolan as a filmmaker exhibit so much soul and emotion. I cannot relate even remotely to the plight of these characters as I have never gone through anything similar myself, yet the depth of their feelings and the pain they suffer through resonated with me, and that can be attributed to the absurd level of talent of the writer and director as he makes the pieces of a picture fit so perfectly together.

Mommy is so good and so ambitious, and while the 1:1 aspect ratio can be jarring to look at initially, the fact that it actually serves a narrative purpose fascinated me. When the frame feels so narrow and constrictive, it is more than just visual trickery. It actually manipulated the tone and mood of the entire picture, making everything feel claustrophobic and troubling. When Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) and his mother Diane (Anne Dorval) are fighting in such a tiny frame you can feel the emotional weight and struggle of the situation, but then suddenly Steve will feel the joy of freedom and actual happiness and the frame widens before our eyes and we feel free with him. We as viewers can practically feel the burden of their circumstances lift off our shoulders, even if the relief is temporary.

Perhaps I unfairly hold Dolan now to a higher standard because it is obvious he has the gift one needs to craft profoundly brilliant cinema, but despite the greatness of his work I still think he is falling just a hair short of his masterpiece. It's coming though. It's going to happen, and when it does we won't know what hit us. Mommy comes really, really close. It's a wonderful movie.