Get Hard

get-hard-poster

Release: Friday, March 27, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Etan Cohen; Jay Martel; Ian Roberts

Directed by: Etan Cohen

It speaks to the talents of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart that Get Hard gets funny at all. This is easily one of the most racist and homophobic movies I’ve ever had the displeasure of reviewing.

I’d like to clear the air right away: I have a fairly high tolerance for low-brow humor and I’ve been a loyal fan of Ferrell’s for sometime, and despite the motor-mouth on Hart he occasionally has my sides splitting open from laughter. But this is a difficult one to enjoy, especially because while it begs for the mind to be shut off completely, it ironically opens the mind up to all kinds of disturbing thoughts — such as: how insecure is this Etan Cohen guy? And where did the ‘h’ in Etan go, anyway? If he enjoys poking fun at this many different subsects of society I feel it is well within my rights to go out of my way to be petty about the spelling of his name.

I doubt very much Mr. Cohen is reading this review but if he is, I invite him to enjoy the rest of this rant. I’d like your job. I’ve never directed so much as a short film before but your ineptitude at guiding what might have been — and this is being probably too generous here — a clever concept through to the end is some kind of fail I’d be comfortable with putting a hashtag in front of. #failhard.

So, before I blow a gasket, let’s talk plot, shall we? This film has potential in Will Ferrell playing James King, a wealthy and privileged white dude who’s made it big pocketing money from various American investors as a hedge fund manager at Wealthrop Fund Corporation — a legitimate businessman in several senses of the word. What he is not, however, is prepared to get raped in the San Quentin penitentiary after being arrested on embezzlement charges that come out of nowhere. First of all, let’s just assume that the act of forcible penetration by a man unto another man is the worst case scenario when one goes to the slammer. There may, in fact, be things to fear more but I don’t want to go there. The film establishes that where King is going is nothing less than a hell hole, so we accept that, yeah he’s going to need some prepping. He enlists at random the help of his car washer, humble little Darnell (Hart), whom King presumes has done time and has some wisdom to impart.

Get Hard, when not endeavoring to be as offensive as possible, sets up some pretty amusing sequences — one of the better ones being a running visual gag as Darnell converts King’s mansion into a makeshift prison wherein he’ll toughen King’s candy-ass up by overhauling his social, physical and psychological prowess. His wine room is made into a jail cell, his live-in staff (all of which are Mexican) become his prison inmates and there’s even a prison riot simulation. There are moments away from the mansion where Ferrell and Hart manage to serve up some laughs before the script (penned by no fewer than three writers) slaps the smile right off your face thanks to the temptation to push crudeness three steps too far.

Hart and Ferrell with little effort form a dynamic that’s simultaneously mildly entertaining and painful to endure. Get Hard relies on the oh-so-clever countdown clock (30 days before prison, 25 days, etc.) as a lazy excuse to establish time frames, a way to express the bond that forms between what were once strangers distanced by socioeconomic status. Oh, and skin color. As the first day of prison rapidly approaches the duo goes from James and Darnell to ‘Mayo and Chocolate.’

If you think my greatest annoyance with all of this is Cohen’s fascination with segregating people rather than unifying them — I won’t deny films have been doing this for as long as the industry has been around but few actually make use of racism/homophobia as a plot device — then let’s turn the spotlight on the quality of the acting. Ferrell and Hart aren’t worth mentioning as both are playing versions of themselves. Ferrell may need to find a new gig soon, though as it’s clear he is reaching for characters with a kind of maturity to them that just feels awkward. But to find Craig T. Nelson trying to make his character work, King’s father-in-law-to-be and higher-up in the firm is disheartening. He’s terrible. So is Alison Brie, the whiny, gold-digging prissy fiancée of James King. Paul Ben-Victor miscalculates his role as the one who does the trigger-pulling and actual threat-making as something that will help his career last.

While there are moments that are genuinely funny Get Hard is offensive on so many levels it’s difficult to comprehend. I didn’t even tap into the brutality of the gay jokes but that’s a segment that really doesn’t need addressing. Come to think of it, I’ve already spent too much time talking about this one as it is.

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1-0Recommendation: For the most part unfunny and downright offensive for the sake of seeing where the boundaries may be pushed in 2015, Get Hard may not be the lowest point in either Will Ferrell or Kevin Hart’s careers, but it’d be a crime to call the movie worth your time.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “One, two, three, December, Christmas, baked potato. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

It Follows

it-follows-poster

Release: Friday, March 13, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: David Robert Mitchell

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell

Subtly unsettling and certainly spooky the unseen, inexplicable threat at the heart of It Follows is not likely to strike you right away, but if you let it that paranoid feeling will eventually find you.

David Robert Mitchell has come up with a new way to move unsuspecting audiences. By allowing us to conjure in our own minds the worst things possible before exposing us to that which we haven’t quite thought of yet, his sophomore — not sophomoric — effort becomes one of the more inventive horror films in recent years. It may not top the list of films that purport to “scare” — a goal that seems to be becoming increasingly unrealistic — this heady mixture of atmosphere and suspense is far more concerned with making filmgoers uncomfortable. Perhaps the scariest thing about this film is how effective it is in doing just that.

The term ‘safe sex’ may never be thought of the same way again. Maika Monroe makes a more aggressive effort to be recognized by a wider (eyed) audience as 19-year-old Jay Height, a role that follows on the heels of her eminently watchable Anna Peterson from last year’s The Guest. After she and her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) share an intimate moment in the back of her car what has heretofore been a pleasant date night spirals into a harrowing and surreal nightmare that defies explanation. She is drugged by Hugh and later wakes up bound to a chair in a decrepit facility where he proceeds to try and offer some clarification as to what is going on.

Something is after Hugh and he tells her that now she’s had intercourse with him, whatever that something is — I’m not being intentionally vague, the film never allows us to know precisely what this terror actually is — will now be after her. She must sleep with someone else in order to rid herself of this apparent plague, a passing of a most disturbing baton.

It Follows manages to plumb anxiety and fear from deep within over the course of a slow burning, eerie 100 minutes. It helps that the source of this . . . yeah, we’ll just go with ‘plague’ for now, stems from a very personal yet universal experience. Coupled with the fact that every character featured is likable on some level, the indescribable nature of the events — the victim can see the pursuer but no one else can — starts to manifest as something truly horrific. We want Jay et al to overcome this, to escape her slow slide into psychosis and yet the way Mitchell constructs his story we have little choice but to accept that perhaps things just aren’t that simple.

Similarly to Adam Wingard’s adrenaline-spiking throwback to the 80’s, It Follows builds tension and carries momentum on the back of a mesmerizing soundtrack. If it’s not some of the more striking visual imagery that pops out arguably too infrequently throughout, then it’ll be the haunting presence of Disasterpeace’s slinking, sauntering electronica. There are a number of destined-to-be-classic tracks featured here. Fortunately the performances from a relatively unknown cast don’t let the music to do all the talking. And the carefully chosen settings, while nothing that screams big budget, set the tone early for creating a sense of inescapability and hopelessness. We get quaint suburbs, grotesque beach scenes, and an unforgettable stake-out in an aquatic center to name a few.

It Follows doesn’t need in-depth analysis. What it really needs is a wide audience, which it does seem to be receiving now. It needs to be seen, it needs to be felt. Is it too early to call this a future cult classic? Perhaps, but it won’t be a stretch to imagine that happening. Creativity runs amok in this highly effective slice of modern horror, a film where the term ‘thriller’ might be too liberally applied. I’d much prefer to label this one a chiller.

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4-0Recommendation: David Robert Mitchell cranks up the tension from the opening shot. Patience might be tested for some as there isn’t a great deal of fast, frenetic action, and there’s certainly an absence of those “classic” jump scare tactics. That’s chiefly why It Follows has this ability to follow you out of the theater. It’s disturbing in a realistic way. For anyone wanting a refreshing change-up within the genre, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

McFarland USA

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Release: Friday, February 20, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Christopher Cleveland; Bettina Gilois; Grant Thompson

Directed by: Niki Caro

Is this the part where I openly admit to becoming teary-eyed watching a Disney film? Or is that just way too honest?

. . . . . hello . . . ? Guys . . . . . . ?

Ah well, whatever. Good chance I’m just talking to myself now, but nonetheless it’s nice being reminded of how many ways movies can offer surprises. Family-friendly McFarland USA is the most recent example, transcending mediocrity while still relying on shopworn techniques to construct its story, one that is as wholesome as it is sensational given its drawing upon real life events.

Kevin Costner is a disgraced high school football coach named Jim White who finds himself having to relocate his family to Nowheresville — er, excuse me, that’s McFarland, a tiny Californian town few maps have ever bothered mentioning — as he seeks another coaching job at a high school that’s predominantly Hispanic. Although hired because of his football résumé Jim suggests to the school’s principal, much to the chagrin of Assistant Coach Jenks (Chris Ellis), that McFarland High start up a cross country running team. He sees in several members of the squad some serious talent, but talent that’s more useful off the gridiron. Having no experience coaching track or cross country before Jim’s chances of finding success are pretty apparent from the get-go, but it’s not until he manages to corral seven young boys, including the unstoppable Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) that a real opportunity begins to present itself.

McFarland USA begs comparisons to the inferiorly budgeted and marketed Spare Parts, a production featuring George Lopez that shines a light upon four young Latino high school students possessing brilliant minds but lacking the financial and societal support needed for their potential to be fully realized. Trade intellect for athleticism, Arizona for California and a talk-show host for a seasoned action star and you get the latest effort from director Niki Caro. The drama at times mirrors that of the kids of Carl Hayden High, in particular a scene in which Jim White drives his rapidly rising young star athletes to the beach so they can have their first glimpse of the ocean. It should be said that this sequence is handled with much more grace and passion but it’s difficult shaking that feeling of déjà vu if you’ve sat through both films.

But where Spare Parts had the difficult task of selling audiences on the magnitude of the motivation required for these immigrant youths to compete in something as obscure as an underwater robotics competition, McFarland USA embraces its broader audience appeal by crafting a sense of warm community and fictionalizing a rallying cry behind an upstart sports team. Cross country running makes for an interesting twist on an all-too-eager-to-inspire genre. At the risk of scribbling out yet another cliché, we’ve been beaten over the head more than enough times with the pressures, heartbreaks and pitfalls of football stardom. As an avid sports fan, I say this not because my goal is to mislead anyone but because it’s simply true: football dramas are far too easy to find.

It’s also no secret Disney prefers creating cinema that values community-building rather than the destruction thereof, and McFarland USA continues in that tradition. As the Whites transition from minority status in a town where no one’s a stranger to another, to becoming the reason McFarland begins receiving recognition amongst the more affluent surrounding suburbs there is a surprising amount of satisfaction gained in experiencing the growth, both personal and communal. Jim goes from being jokingly nick-named ‘Blanco’ to being revered as Coach as a series of growing pains galvanizes the group over the fall of 1987.

Added to this, Caro’s ability to homogenize these two cultures cohabiting within the Californian border. We see Jim’s eldest daughter Julie (Morgan Saylor) entering into young womanhood upon her 15th birthday during an extended vignette that serves as a highlight of the film when her father throws her a “quinceañera,” and her burgeoning romance with Thomas (arguably the best runner) furthers the notion that this family is not likely to abandon McFarland, even if Jim may have better job prospects on the horizon given his remarkable achievements. The respect between both groups is something that helps to balance out the film’s fixation on competition during the race day events.

There’s nothing truly original about McFarland USA, and yet the film excels in delivering entertainment and packaging an inspirational true story unlike many mainstream sports dramas have in recent memory. Anchored by wonderful performances from Costner and Bello in tandem and visually enhanced by a vibrant Disney color palette — this is a beautifully shot film, with particular emphasis on the landscapes during the races as well as the costume design — you might find yourself every now and then counting cliches but at the end you shouldn’t be too surprised to find yourself secretly cheering.

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3-0Recommendation: McFarland USA relies on some old-hat filmmaking techniques but that doesn’t distract from the pure enjoyment of watching this town come together. There is so much to like about this one that anything less than a solid recommendation just wouldn’t be fair. Any fan of Kevin Costner shouldn’t pass this one up, either.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “That’s not Danny Diaz. . !”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The DSB Blogroll — Roll Call!

It’s been too long since I’ve switched out of writing mode and just put up a post here that actually addresses the community of which this blog (and by extension, I) have become a part over the last several years. The goal of this quick little post is simple — to say thank-you.

I want to draw your attention to one of the pages above the banner, the DSB Blogroll. It’s a section of the page I have been doing a pretty terrible job updating up until recently and I just wanted to make you all aware that your hard work on your blogs have not gone unnoticed here. I also want to doubly make sure that I have not left anyone’s work/pages/blogs/sites off that ever-expanding list. So, if you wouldn’t mind scrolling through that 160-some-odd list of blogs — a lot of which sadly have closed up shop and are no longer around, but a great many that still are and with which I am in frequent contact — and let me know if I have actually done such an egregious thing — be sure to let me know in the comments down below. If I have overlooked you, I am very sorry. 😦

Just for fun I thought it’d be cool to share a few stats here:

  • The first two blogs on the list are blogs I have been keeping up with still on a regular basis (impressive for me since I often think I have OCD and my attention span frequently wanders like a drugged-out Burning Man attendee) — thank you Mark Hobin (Fast Film Reviews) and Dan O’Neil (Dan the Man’s Movie Reviews) for the reciprocation of that blog love!!!
  • I have been blogging for almost four years now and I still haven’t hit the 400 follower mark! Hahaha. I’m not really in a hurry on that, but I find it kind of funny.
  • I once made a Twitter account in an effort to promote this blog but that turned out to be more of a cameo appearance. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get back to that.
  • I have gotten into horror films chiefly because of the following blogs:
    • Head in a Vice (sadly defunct — does anyone know how to track down a certain Tyson Carter, by the way??)
    • Hard Ticket to Home Video (Brad and Brian do SO much more than horror, but still I’ve found some good stuff on there that has piqued the horror fan in me. . .or maybe it’s their horrifyingly awesome sense of humor that gets me most. . .)
    • The Cinema Monster (Joseph is a writer whom I greatly admire, and if you haven’t found him yet, please give him a few moments of your time if you don’t mind.)
    • Thy Critic Man (Louie‘s unique approach to film reviewing has often had me in stitches and is an opinion I very much trust — I love this page)
    • Rhino’s Horror (Ryan, your knowledge and coverage of the genre overwhelms me and it’s great to have you as a recent friend/follower of DSB)
    • Parlor of Horror (here is an example of a blog that really works on expanding my knowledge of what older, perhaps more classic films can and have been doing for audiences for years. I enjoy this site very much and it’s worth a look for the model kits and collectible items Mike talks about. He’s also a published horror author.)
    • Damian Thomas Films Etc (a BRAND new blog to this reviewer, but a solid one for those looking for reviews of things that are likely to turn your stomach — I will build up a tolerance for hardcore filmmaking here!)
  • Time and again I’ll visit the following pages for their sense of community and diverse ways of posting and sharing/spreading the movie love:
    • Cinema Parrot Disco (Table 9 Mutant, or Mutey, as I like to call her. . . has a wonderful set-up here and I would encourage any who haven’t heard of this page yet to open their eyes already and go scope it out)
    • Fog’s Movie Reviews (I have to bring it up, even though this site tragically went down due to Daniel Fogarty‘s increasing work responsibilities — this was a CLASSIC site. I think it’s still available to browse)
    • Film Hipster (for the very same reasons I honor the great FMR, this might be the first blog I ever stumbled upon in 2011 . . . too bad it isn’t up and running anymore, I miss it dearly)
    • Tim’s Film Reviews (Tim, please keep up your great work! If you don’t know what I’m referring to here, then go ahead and look up that blog. You won’t be sorry.)
    • Screenkicker! (Holy crap, Mikey Boyd has a wonderful little site dedicated to some of the funniest opinions I’ll read in a day. He talks all things movie-related and it’s terrific.)
    • The Focused Filmographer (Terrence Faulkner has a great site that isn’t quite as active now but with any luck his interactive and diverse site will capture those who haven’t found out about it yet via the DSB Blogroll)
    • Isaacs Picture Conclusions (Eric Isaacs has become a great friend of DSB and I’m not sure if I need to explain this blog to anyone. I will say this, though: it’s up there with some of my favorites ever.)
    • The Verbal Spew Review (V has had a triumphant return to the blogosphere and I couldn’t be more happy — this is a quality site)
    • Flixchatter (Ruth Maramis is a consummate professional blogger and a community builder to boot. Not to mention, her guest review posts are just as good as the reviews she writes herself.)
    • Guys Film Quest (No shortage of great movie reviews and community-engaging posts here on Rob Belote‘s page. Unfortunately I am nowhere NEAR as active a participant in this site as I ought to be. I smell a new goal-setting agenda. . .)
    • Silver Screen Serenade (Cara, do I need to write about your site? Me and you be homies! But for whatever reason if one finds one’s self out of the loop, this is a great place for witty, informational and very diverse approaches to film reviewing. One of my favorites for sure.)
    • MovieRob (Rob has a tremendous amount of self-penned reviews that are short and sweet but in that way, incredibly digestible, and he has a wide variety of options for bloggers to get in on the action — great page!)
    • Drew’s Movie Reviews (a neat site that has a variety of very interesting features and a style of writing I find easy to get into and become excited about. Keep up the great work Drew!)
    • What About the Twinkie? (this is an example of me not doing my blogging homework. I have read a very select few of the posts featured here, but I love what Kieron is doing here. Can’t wait to get into it more.)
    • The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger (I’m not sure if you can find a cooler movie reviewer than Zoe from South Africa. Her site is a perfect mixture of film, book and other entertainment reviews. Her writing style is fluid and conversational; her knowledge of film and books goes unquestioned. I. Dig. This. Site. And she’s another long-time friend of yours truly!)
  • Writing/blogging styles I truly envy/secretly copy in my own reviews (but they would never have known that until I admit it here):
    • Marked Movies (Informative, educational, eclectic, and open to many viewpoints, I love Mr. Walker‘s approach to film. And his Scottish accent.)
    • Rorschach Reviews (It hasn’t been in service for sometime now but I always respected Andy’s calm approach to film reviewing, it was nice to read and I miss it)
    • Cinematic (A site I regret for neglecting for weeks at a time, this is the product of a knowledgeable writer whose style and capacity for movie insight I wish I had, and hopefully will have some day.)
    • Committed to Celluloid (Few people write with the skill, precision and passion as Fernando does on his wonderfully visual and intellectually stimulating C2C. Please give this a go if you haven’t tried it out yet.)
    • Three Rows Back (Mark Fletcher is the go-to-reviewer for a diverse collection of movie reviews and is a DSB favorite, no doubt about it. Love this page and its extremely approachable, respectful tone.)
    • Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop (Chris is just one of those writers I want to be when I grow up. Oh wait, too late. I’m already grown up. He’s still one of those writers I want to be.)
    • Beer Movie (originally known throughout the blogosphere as Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie — a classic blog title I will say — Tim’s site is set up for the avid film critique reader and it’s a calculated effort that I respect very much. Plus he’s an Aussie film blogger. I know far too few of those.)
    • Epileptic Moondancer (Speaking of the Aussie representation, Jordan has an incredibly awesome blog title that puts DSB to shame and his style of writing is not only one to trust but is in competition with this site in terms of emotional highs and lows and is always an enjoyable time.)
    • Keith and the Movies (This DSB favorite has one of the most incredible talents I’ve seen — being fair and balanced, time and again, across a wide expanse of genre reviews. I adore this page and hope more of you can access it through this blogroll.)
    • 3 Guys 1 Movie (I wish this site was still going — and hey, Adam if you’re reading this maybe it will be??? — as it features one of the coolest approaches to film blogging I’ve come across)
    • Jordan and Eddie (another Australian film blog, a duo whose collective opinion is both funny and informative at the same time — a combination that is hard to come by. Check them out.)
    • Baked Movie Reviews (God, this site is great. I haven’t seen a post here in awhile but I’m hoping that’s only temporary.)
    • My Kind of Movie (Lauren has a wonderful site that has an extremely approachable and conversation-oriented style of reviewing that is as straightforward as it is creative. A longtime friend of DSB to be sure.)
    • Fast Film Reviews (San Francisco-based Mark Hobin is one writer I really trust and is one of the first blogs I turn to whenever I get out of a movie to see if we agree/disagree on something. It’s an astoundingly well-written site and one of the first followers of this page.)
    • Films and Coke (Elina is an absolutely hilarious writer whose style I want to secretly steal and never credit her for it. . . just kidding. If you’re reading this. But seriously, keep on keeping on. Love your site.)
    • Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings (James Walpole, not only responsible for one of film blogging’s coolest features ever — the ‘Who’s That?’ feature — is also behind one of the more matured writing styles I’ve stumbled upon and is a go-to site for me.)
    • JJames Reviews (I keep hoping in my heart that this site some day makes a return because I truly loved Josh James‘ style of writing/blogging. He’s talented and intelligent. A rare mix. Plus his blog format was really cool.)
    • Sidekick Reviews (Eddie just has that laid-back approach I envy in blogging. It’s difficult for me to reach that and I often look to his reviews and features for tips on how to get better at it.)
    • Cinema or Cine-meh? (I totally dig Logan’s site because it’s persuasive and well-written. He has a rigorous rating scale that I would like to have nailed down by now, but I can’t help but think I’m too soft in my ratings. A good site to check out if you haven’t already.)
    • Consumed by Film (Adam‘s spectacularly written rhetoric is a form of writing I must have in my daily/weekly readings. For a fair and balanced review, you can always rely on this site.)
    • Popcorn Nights (Run by Stu out of England this is a relatively recent discovery for me and is a wonderfully written site with in-depth film analysis that covers a very diverse range of titles. Give it a look-see, if you are a fan of this page I’m sure you’ll like what you find there too.)
    • All Eyes on Screen (Kristen has stepped away for a moment from her amazing site but it’s one that has a great selection of features and a very friendly and approachable style of writing that’s right up my alley. Plus her rating system is really damn cool too.)
    • CC Pop Culture (Okay so maybe I know a few Australian film bloggers because here’s another high quality one out of the land Down Under. Dave’s site features a highly engaging writing style that makes room for both mainstream and obscure indie releases alike. Cheers to him.)
    • The Cinematic Katzenjammer (This is one hell of a film-centric website, and Nick Powell is the man in charge. Visit this site for your one-stop film news, trailer releases and an assortment of other exciting tidbits of information. A site I very much respect.)
  • And lastly but never least. . . ly. . . . here are ten of my most recent blogging friends. I’d like to issue them a warm welcome to theDSB Blogroll!
    • The Aspiring Film Critic!
    • emmakwall (explains it all)
    • Literary Vittles
    • Lights Camera It’s Alex
    • Life of this City Girl
    • Benefits of a Classical Education
    • Cinema Enthusiast
    • The Popcorn Bandit
    • Thoughtful Tomes
    • Em Everywhere

Hateship Loveship

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Release: Friday, April 11, 2014 (limited)

[Redbox]

Written by:  Mark Jude Poirier

Directed by: Liza Johnson

At a certain point, restrained filmmaking can put a strain on its relationship with its audience. Liza Johnson’s thoughtful but underwhelming Hateship Loveship is a film that dares to be subtle, so much so that it has trouble balancing its thematic and entertainment responsibilities.

Despite the oddball title Johnson manages to skirt around pretentiousness but the end result might be something worse: Hateship Loveship is a boring outing. This despite arguably its star, the versatile Kristen Wiig’s finest performance to date. This despite a grab-bag of reliable performers playing second fiddle to Wiig’s painfully awkward Johanna Parry. Indeed there are many things to like about the picture and the characters are up there with the most memorable of all the elements, but they are stranded in a story that focuses too heavily on the mundanities of existence.

Live-in-maid Johanna has known no other life than cleaning houses and taking care of her clients, the most recent of which has just passed away in their own bed, causing Johanna to move out. She lands a job tidying up Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte)’s lavish home and taking care of his granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld), daughter of alcoholic and absentee father Ken (Guy Pearce). Sabitha has a very bitchy friend whose uncanny resemblance to Justin Bieber may not be intentional but the convincingly spiteful performance by young actress Sami Gayle is. Moving on . . . Sabitha and Edith take an instant dislike to the quiet and uncomfortable new maid and when they learn of her receiving of a letter from Ken welcoming her to the job and giving her confidence they both use it as an opportunity to trick her into thinking he is romantically interested.

Through a series of well-written emails the pair of teens in effect cause Johanna to drop everything at the McCauley residence and make a hasty trip to Chicago, in search of Ken and a possible new start. When he is taken aback by her sudden appearance in his cluttered room within a ramshackle motel he owns (interestingly enough, this is the same motel/location used in Dallas Buyers Club) Johanna is — well, it’s pretty obvious what emotions she experiences. Er, no. Actually it isn’t. It ought to be, but the direction is understated to the point of being nonexistent. Wiig’s in a perpetual state of detachment so when this big moment happens the emotional fall-out barely registers as disappointment when it should be an all-out, visceral collapse into permanent introversion. The circumstances are ripe for heartbreak, but the moment passes rather quickly.

Of course, the film isn’t over. Hateship Loveship presents a relationship born out of uncertainty and despair. Okay, so it’s not exactly original storytelling but we needn’t ask for much here. We can get by on the rough charm of Pearce’s broken Ken and the profundity of Johanna’s social anxiety. They are quite obviously meant for one another the moment she begins scrubbing his hardwood floor with the determination to overcome her most recent betrayal while Ken stares blankly at her, a cigarette glued to his lips. Sadly there are no developments thereafter that spin the genre or can pick the audience up from what has become a collective, steady slump into their seats. The pacing is languid, the conversations rendered uninteresting by predictable human behavior; the drama is not to be found in a film described as part drama-part comedy.

And where, pray, is the comedic element? Barring a moment where Wiig slinks her way out of a door and mutters a “thank you” when Sabitha compliments her on her shoes, there is little of Wiig’s comedic self to be found. But that’s less important as she’s running a clinic on how to transform one’s self into a dramatic role. If there are meant to be bits of humor elsewhere they are overwhelmed (or underserved, depending on how you want to look at it) by the sobriety of this woman’s slow journey through time. Frankly her situation is anything but funny if you were to ask me . . . but I don’t think anyone is so let’s, again, move on.

Johnson’s movie is an adaptation of Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, the title story in a collection of short stories. Though rich in characterization, the slow pace and ultimate inconsequence of virtually every plot strand leaves very much to be desired. Hateship Loveship frustrates and defies expectations in the worst ways in its plainness. Perhaps it does have a higher purpose elsewhere, and that is left on paper.

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2-5Recommendation: So frustratingly, Kristen Wiig is a marvel as a detached and lonely woman who comes into her own when she meets a kind but equally emotionally fragile man. Guy Pearce and Nick Nolte turn in warm performances as well but they too are done a disservice with predictable character arcs. Characters are what make this somewhat watchable but the story is something of a slog and that is almost enough for me to recommend you save yourself from this one. . .

Rated: R

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “You’re, like, with her now, aren’t you . . .?”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

30-for-30: Guru of Go

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Release: Saturday, April 3, 2010

[Netflix]

Directed by: Bill Couterié

When Loyola Marymount University’s Hank Gathers dropped to the hardwood without warning, his teammates and close friends thought he was fooling around. It was a fair assumption to make given the charismatic player’s inability to take anything seriously off the court. But an irregular heart rhythm wasn’t anything to joke about. After the frightening event he was put on medication in an attempt to control the condition, but as the combined pressures of being in the West Coast Championship Tournament along with his greatly reduced efficiency on the floor due to the prescribed drugs began to mount Gathers’ overwhelming confidence in his ability to overcome anything foreshadowed tragedy.

On Sunday, March 4, 1990 in the WCC semifinal against the Portland Pilots Hank collapsed again after a blistering drive to the basket for a slam dunk. This time he wouldn’t be getting up.

Documentarian Bill Couterié presents an emotional but restrained film that pays tribute to the obscenely short lifespan of a talented college player whose prospects of going pro were more than decent. However, Guru of Go centers around the controversial fast-break playing style (known nationwide as ‘The System,’ where the team would run virtually non-stop the entire game) enacted by LMU head coach Paul Westhead and how this may have played a role in the premature death of the school’s star player.

One of the more common criticisms leveled at the game by non-fans is that too many points are amassed for the individual shots to really mean anything. However you feel about the scoring system in basketball, there’s a caveat to bear in mind: no one scored more than Westhead’s squad during the 1990 season, who averaged 122 points per game. Though it’s an outdated style of play for LMU, particularly in the wake of that tragic game, some aspects of ‘The System’ have survived generations of play. After all, modern basketball has adapted to a much faster pace, played with superstar athletes who exist in many fans’ minds as gods and goddesses. In Westhead’s mind ‘The System’ is a thing of beauty, an application that has defined who he is as a coach and the teams he’s implemented it with over a 40-plus-year span. Most recently that would be the WNBA team the Phoenix Mercury. He currently is the only head coach to claim both an NBA (with the Los Angeles Lakers) and a WNBA title (with the Mercury).

Guru of Go, in such a brief running time, makes time for interviews with Gathers’ former LMU teammates, his brother Derrick, and Coach Westhead, while setting up enough context at the beginning for viewers to get a feel for the time and place in which this particularly talented athlete — undoubtedly the pride and joy of the Californian college of the late ’80s — ran into one of the most brutal game strategies ever implemented. ‘The System’ was designed to condition LMU to be able to strengthen as the game clock ran on, whereas typical teams unaccustomed to running so much would by and large be weakening. It really was a beautiful concept, but was it too much for players, even ones as talented and seemingly built to last like Hank Gathers?

Couterié briefly delves into the ugly reality following LMU’s strong run in the college championship tournament when the Gathers family sued both the school and Hank’s doctor for negligence. While this side of the story may have deserved further examination, Guru of Go is clearly aimed at lifting spirits rather than drowning viewers in sorrow and finger-pointing. In some way, the questions left unanswered in this documentary serve to add to the legacy of Gathers. How could such a triumphant player go down so suddenly? Of course life is not fair, but this is one example of how sobering that sentiment really can be.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

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3-5Recommendation: If you find yourself a fan of college basketball I doubt I need to recommend this important bit of film to you. You either have it lined up to watch at some point or have already seen it, possibly many times. Guru of Go comes highly recommended to anyone wanting to know a bit more about the landscape of college basketball in general. (I knew zilch about Loyola Marymount, personally, so that was cool.) The story of Hank Gathers and Coach Westhead’s approach to the game is not one to miss. 

Rated: N/R

Running Time: 60 mins.

[No trailer available, sorry everyone.]

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com;  www.marsreel.co 

The John C. Reilly Factor — a new feature coming soon!

Better late than never to make good on my promise to supplement last year’s Franco Files, right? Well, several months into this new year and I finally have settled on the idea. This new feature is literally sprung from my recent watch of another Paul Thomas Anderson “masterpiece,” a little film some might know as Magnolia. In it blossoms one of the greatest performances I’ve seen from someone I’ve really come to admire over the years as one of the more versatile and all-around likable actors working today. It inspired me to take the magnifying glass to this actor and take note of how films are impacted by his presence.

The goal is to hopefully unify each entry within this extended thread by examining several major elements, such as the actor’s style, his range within the character, how the writing elevates his work (or at times lets it down), and how the film might have played out differently should another actor have been cast in the role. I might take some different avenues every now and then depending on the film/role but this essentially will play out much like the format of The Franco Files (and if you have missed what those posts were all about, feel free to browse the menu titled ‘The Franco Files’ located above the blog’s banner), we have a feature revolving around this single actor in what will hopefully become a diverse list of films he’s had a part in.

I’m hoping to kick this off sometime this month. Life is a bit hectic at the moment and I haven’t been able to give even my own site the attention I want. This also hopefully explains my awful procrastination in making the rounds on all the other great blogs out there. I do apologize for my lack of input, but hopefully the times will once again change.

And if anyone’s curious as to how I came up with the name of this new feature, I’ve kind of taken the liberty to parody the pundit everyone loves to hate the most, good old Bill O’Reilly (his show is known as The O’Reilly Factor). The major difference will hopefully be our political views, as both of us are, probably to a great many, overbearingly opinionated ogres. 😉 At any rate, I do hope this new feature is met with the same great response TFF did — I had a lot of fun putting that together and with a bit of luck maybe this will be a success too. Stay tuned.

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Run All Night

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Release: Friday, March 13, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Brad Ingelsby

Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

Emotionally resonant, impressively acted and frenetically paced to a fault, the latest demonstration of Neeson’s physical and intellectual stamina may suffer from a case of ‘been there, done that’ but that’s more in reference to the general direction this new release takes and less to its personality. There’s no shame in repeating a formula . . . if it works. What’s that adage — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Well Liam isn’t broken yet as this film proves; he’s got plenty left in the tank.

The 62-year-old Irishman crawls under the skin of what may be his most apparent antihero yet, Jimmy Conlon, a former hit-man with more ties to the mob than to his own family. When a thug, the son of one of Jimmy’s only remaining friends Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) makes a sloppy attempt at disposing of unwanted evidence in the wake of a botched murder by tracking down an escaped ‘victim’ to Jimmy’s son’s home and attempts to clean house, Jimmy is awoken from a particularly brutal drunken stupor in an effort to save his son’s life. Michael (Joel Kinnaman, finally coming to life) hasn’t seen his father in five years since the death of his mother and finds the timing a little odd to say the least. Knowing full well what the consequences of his latest kill are going to be, Jimmy makes a strong case for Michael to trust his trigger-finger and gut instinct for just one night.

It’s clear we won’t be dropping the baggage of old age manifesting in bottomless drinks and endless cigarettes this time around: Neeson’s character once more gets to tout his miserable existence on this mortal coil as experience no one around him ought to share in, but within this fragile father-son dynamic the pain caused by his rejection from society — or those who haven’t committed murder for a living anyway — not only registers with the audience but it’s a burden that feels earned. If it’s not a better life Jimmy wants for his son and his family, which includes a regrettably disposable Genesis Rodriguez as his gorgeous wife, then it’s certainly anything but what the next 24 hours are going to offer.

As for those aforementioned consequences, Harris’ ruthless Shawn, whose previous claims of running a legit operation these days belie the monster dormant behind cold, blue eyes, stabs a man in the back no less than ten times with a large blade during a shocking sequence of mafia-related retribution. It’s not quite like Matthew 5:38 (“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”), but the allegory, even if as subtle as a backstabbing, works to heighten the tension. Every move Jimmy makes to protect his son Shawn mimics out of desperation — desperation with which we can actually empathize. Credit Harris’ gift for powerful acting. Credit screenwriter Brad Ingelsby for setting up the stakes sufficiently, as the fall-out between the two men culminates in a surprisingly emotional showdown.

Run All Night is of course not without its own missteps. Its many action-packed (read: very violent) scenes are spliced together with an energy that takes some effort keeping up with, even for director Jaume Collet-Serra. A dizzying blend of awkward camera zooms that whisk us from one section of the metropolitan maze that is Manhattan to the other and close-ups of characters at rest nearly results in nausea and does result in frequent detachment from the movie. Not to mention this story, though much more attentive to character development and emotional gravitas than the latter Taken installments, merely adds padding to Neeson’s post-Ra’s Al Ghul résumé. Run All Night is neither as poorly titled as Non-Stop nor as ill-advised as extending the legacy of Bryan Mills, yet it won’t survive the year in most moviegoer’s memory.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t a film worth checking out though. It packs a punch and has strong performances peppered throughout, unsurprisingly from its head honchos and even Joel Kinnaman. Yes, I do realize how much that sounds like hyperbole . . . but for once on this blog I feel like I’m underselling something.

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3-0Recommendation: Run All Night could have gone either way, but Neeson once again delivers, with dramatic heft and some interesting relationship developments backing him up. At his age this could easily have been Walk All Night, or Hobble All Night. Or Talk on the Phone Menacingly All Night. But this character feels a little more three-dimensional as does the narrative. May I suggest this one to the more devoted fans of the rugged and imposing Liam Neeson and some other big-named actors who offer solid work.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “Tell everyone to get ready. Jimmy’s coming . . . “

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

What We Do in the Shadows

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Release: Friday, February 13, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Jemaine Clement; Taika Waititi

Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

It’s once again cool to bust out your vampire get-up for the next Halloween party because these guys have just made being an ugly, putrefying member of the undead so totally hip. Even I, one of Dracula‘s biggest naysayers, wants a sweet cape.

If you’ve been entranced by musicomedy duo Flight of the Conchords, a televised show/live performance featuring the inseparable Kiwis Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie this film has your name written (in blood) all over it. Their brand of humor runs amok in this mockumentary about several vampires struggling to just get by in the 21st Century, all while anticipating and preparing to attend the annual Unholy Masquerade hosted in their fair town of Wellington, New Zealand. This film is such an amusing spin on the vampire legend that being a dedicated fan isn’t a matter of eternal life and death.

What We Do in the Shadows sucks-eeds on a number of levels. Aside from that being possibly this blog’s worst pun yet, it’s also paramount to understanding why you’ll walk away from this fangtastic comedy feeling completely refreshed and satisfied with how you’ve spent your money. Consistency is difficult to find in comedies, much less those of the contemporary variety, but there is no better word to describe Shadows, apart from echoing critics’ chosen adjective: hilarious. From the performances to the frightful wardrobe; the subversion of vampiric lore to the commitment to being ridiculous, this is a product that delivers on its promises from the opening frame of being a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The film invites you in with a frank discussion between two roommates attempting a diplomatic approach with a third, much lazier roommate, the 183-year-old Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), who hasn’t done the dishes in at least five years. Clement’s Vladislav and Taika Waititi’s Viago, both several centuries Deacon’s senior, are understandably upset. Tensions have literally risen to the ceiling and added to this the fact that their fourth roommate, 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham) doesn’t exactly try to voice his concerns. Quickly the tone of the film is set, although direction is a little harder to nail down.

Shadows, while thoroughly ridiculous, knows not to forsake tradition, however. Some of its funniest moments come from demonstrating the “mild inconveniences” of having to suck blood to stay alive. Because they cannot expose themselves to sunlight the gang has to prowl the streets at night looking for new “friends,” and also because of other technicalities, they often find themselves denied the chance to enter night clubs since they’re never invited in. A friend of Deacon (a human female, as it so happens) tricks her ex-boyfriend Nick into coming over to their house to eat what he thinks is a hearty bowl of spaghetti. Uh, it’s not. It’s actually pasghetti, thank you very much, and it looks remarkably similar to a bowl of live worms. A chase ensues when the guest refuses to eat and Nick, despite his best efforts, may never be the same again.

Several other humorous vignettes transpire before we get to the main event: the Unholy Masquerade, and I refuse to reveal anything more about those sequences. While tensions among the roommates are being documented in each scene, this is where things really start to unravel for Vladislav in particular. As he’s expecting to become the featured guest of this year’s Unholy Masquerade, it’s no surprise he is crushed when he hears that not only is he not the guest of honor but instead it’s none other than his ex, whom he describes — in a scene that had me crying from laughter — as “that damn Beast.” All hell breaks loose at the dance when Pauline (a.ka. “The Beast”) quickly sniffs out the human members among Vladislav’s crew — Nick’s computer engineer/dorky friend Stu is one such individual, as are the people filming the documentary — but luckily enough our gang escapes the angry mob of undead.

Shadows may be loosely strung together in terms of plot, but when the gags come in such rapid succession and the characters are this entertaining, basic structure fades into the background. It’s easy to sit back and eagerly anticipate the next twist in the adventure. The addition of human Stu is a brilliant reflection of our own wide-eyed reactions to these bloodthirsty drama queens. He’s also someone the vampires actually take kindly to, as he introduces them to the conveniences of Skype and smart phones, assimilating these creatures slowly into the modern age.

It’s a pretty difficult world to get by in if you’re a mere mortal, but if you’re a vampire good luck trying not to go insane figuring out what the point is of things like Twitter and Instagram.

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4-5Recommendation: What We Do in the Shadows pulls off an impressive feat of remaining funny, engaging and clever from beginning to end while creating several interesting riffs on the vampire genre. For fans of anything Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have done this inspired documentary is an absolute must. It basically is for anyone in search of one of the year’s better comedies. The sun hasn’t come up yet, but this has a good chance of staying alive for a long, long time. Fantastic bit of creative energy out of New Zealand. Check it out.

Rated: N/R

Running Time: 86 mins.

Quoted: “What are we?” / “Werewolves, not swear-wolves . . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Chappie

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Release: Friday, March 6, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Neill Blomkamp; Terri Tatchell

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

The nonsense that is Chappie makes one sorely nostalgic for the days of Elysium and awkward Jodie Foster performances. At least in that semi-disappointing spectacle we were teased with the notion of leaving behind a civilization that Neill Blomkamp clearly despises. Here, no such escape is possible.

Six years ago there spiked an irregularity in the heartbeat of the contemporary science fiction flick. District 9 represented a revolutionary leap forward, in its case coming damn close to confirming the notion that we are not alone in the universe. While the framing device wasn’t exactly revolutionary — documentary-style footage of the conflict between mankind and alien life — the Johannesburgian director’s blend of visual panache with hard-hitting themes such as apartheid and political corruption reestablished a healthy pulse for the genre. Sharlto Copley’s descent into madness as he found his body evolving into that of a ‘Prawn’ following his contact with the aliens’ biotechnology remains unquestionably Blomkamp’s most emotionally engaging story to date. It is unfortunate that within the span of three admittedly unique films Blomkamp’s ability to inspire and provoke meaningful conversation is trending in a similarly ugly way.

If you don’t consider yourself much of a student of pessimistic filmmaking then it’s perhaps best you don’t attend the school that Blomkamp has established. I certainly wouldn’t advise the more optimistic to check out his latest lecture, Chappie, a punishing and unenjoyable lesson in how human beings are really terrible creations and that artificial intelligence should be regarded as an improvement. Granted, this is a director who has grown up in a part of the world that hasn’t exactly given him reason to champion our species, but the cynicism on display in his latest is tough to justify. At the very least, the marketing campaign touting it as a relatively uplifting experience is an exercise in false advertising.

Chappie pivots around the notion that a robot can reflect the best and worst of mankind if exposed long enough to the elements. Not exactly the most novel concept if we want to consider things like RoboCop and Terminator, but the titular character here is nevertheless compelling. What surrounds him, then, manifests as a metaphor for how variations in one’s upbringing ultimately impact the individual as an adult.

A discarded police droid is “brought to life” by tech genius Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) who sees an opportunity to instill consciousness in a machine. He brings his newly-created Artificial Intelligence software to his boss, Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, in a role/performance reminiscent of Foster’s Delacourte) who of course shoots down the idea to install it in the defunct machine. With a middle finger aimed at his superiors, Deon goes behind her back and creates what will soon be dubbed ‘Chappie’ by a pair of thugs (South African rap duo Yo-Landi and Ninja, collectively known in our reality as Die Antwoord). The former is quick to establish quasi-maternal instincts while the nasty Ninja’s loathe to treat the thing as an intelligent form of life, putting it in harm’s way every chance he gets.

After all the mocking and physical suffering Chappie endures — he gets lit on fire and his arm sawed off in a scene that impressively makes us cringe — which parental style is going to have the most profound impact upon him? What’ll happen when Chappie’s metaphorical balls drop? When he is able to fully tap into his own consciousness? The narrative hits its fair share of high notes as a notable change within the droid redirects it away from its heretofore abusive upbringing, sending Chappie out as a black sheep amongst a field of hungry wolves in a quest to find out why he is what he is. But the characterizations of everyone, including Chappie’s well-intentioned creator, lack inspiration. In fact the most interesting way to describe the majority is having a cold metal block where a heart ought to be. It’s not that the performers fail to live up to the characters; it’s vice versa.

And Hugh Jackman’s sadistic Vincent Moore couldn’t get out of the picture fast enough. Hell-bent on controlling the robotic police force that is in turn responsible for controlling citizens, he is one brute force who has no real motives and a terrible haircut to boot. He’s most representative of Blomkamp’s disregard for coloring people in shades of grey. There are no shades of grey in Chappie; people are vile and that’s just the way it is. Jackman’s is twice the caricature Copley’s outrageous but much more enjoyable rogue agent Kruger was in Elysium. He’s the type of villain who hints at a climactic gunfight from miles away. His prized possession is a gigantic remote-controlled robot goofily named ‘Moose’ that makes its sole appearance in the film by blowing everyone away with ease.

Regarding the kind of performance art he and his counterpart have been creating over the years, Ninja believes “people are unconscious, and you have to use your art as a shock machine to wake them up. Some people are too far gone. They’ll just keep asking, ‘Is it real? Is it real?’ You have to be futuristic and carry on. You gotta be a good guide to help people get away from dull experience.”

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1-5Recommendation: 2015 represents a low point in Neill Blomkamp’s career, but even with Chappie‘s ability to repel through unlikable characters and a consistently oppressive tone, one can do a lot worse when it comes to contemporary science fiction. There exists a level of intelligence in his films that shines through in Chappie but it shines the weakest in this one, there is no doubt. If you are a fan of his previous work you probably should see this but give the theater a skip. Rent it at home where you have the power to pause and return to it later.

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “I’m consciousness. I’m alive. I’m Chappie.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com