Paul G — #11

Paul G logo

Last time we were here, Paul was having to contend with an illusionist in Ed Norton’s brilliant(ly elusive) Eisenheim. Paul has certainly played a variety of interesting characters over his career. He has enjoyed perhaps a most unlikely of career trajectories, going from a relative unknown to a highly sought-after talent for both prominent supporting and notable leads in a span of time many (admittedly much better-looking) actors only wish they could find for themselves. And now, somehow, we find ourselves at the end of 2016 and the end of Paul G. It’s with a note of bittersweetness I get to send him off in style, featuring one last lead performance from the man, the myth, the legend — but mostly just him being the man. Fittingly, this is a role in a four-time Oscar-nominated film, a buddy-comedy adventure that took home the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2005. The two lead actors, Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, appropriately received accolades of their own.

paul-giamatti-as-miles-raymond-in-sideways

Paul Giamatti as Miles Raymond in Alexander Payne’s Sideways

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Comedy/drama/romance

Plot Synopsis: Two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment embark on a week-long road trip through California’s wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle.

Character Profile: Miles Raymond, a depressed English teacher and unsuccessful writer, is shuffling through his forties with not much to show for it. He has been trying for what seems like forever to get his novel published but to no avail and has become slave to his own mental conditioning that life and everything about it kind of just sucks. Except wine. Crushed grapes are his collective savior and vintage vino his second language. As his college roommate Jack Cole is set to be married in a week’s time, the pair set off on a tour of the California wine country, with Miles intent on enjoying a week of golfing, wine-tasting, good food and relaxation. His TV-actor friend and former college roommate has different plans, and wants to get Miles laid. When they visit Miles’ favorite restaurant, they encounter Maya, an intelligent and attractive waitress that Miles has become acquainted with from his routine trips to Santa Ynez Valley but his self-loathing tendencies have always held him back from taking the next step. When he begins to take notice of the genuine bond he and Maya seem to share he starts to realize that there is never a better time to start enjoying the finer things in life.

Why he’s the man: I’m not sure if there is a better actor for the role of Miles Raymond than the man, the myth and the legend. Paul Giamatti utterly owns it in Alexander Payne’s beautiful but often painful exploration of searching for satisfaction in a world full of disappointments. Payne likes to work with troubled, fully fleshed-out characters and he has found a gem in Giamatti’s interpretation of a man nearing a catastrophic meltdown. The writing is excellent, but when it comes to demonstrating the pain a man who has suffered a series of personal setbacks is concerned, his star absolutely sells it. And while I could care less about wine snobs, I was fully buying into Miles’ obsession with the culture. So much so that I could picture the actor himself having an extensive knowledge of vintage Merlots . . . er, excuse me — pinots. Paul Giamatti’s face is riddled with hopelessness in this picture, and it’s his charisma buried deep underneath all the hurt that ultimately makes him a character that’s still worth rooting for. A class performance from a class actor.

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):

5-0


If you have missed any previous posts, be sure to check the sub-menu up top found under ‘Actor Profiles’!!! 


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

Photo credits: http://www.psychologyoffilm.com  

Paul G — #9

Paul G logo

Last time we were here, Paul was brought in as a psychological consultant on a top-secret government project involving an artificially intelligent being named Morgan. All two of us who saw that movie know how that turned out. Now this month we’re going to find out what happens when you take Paul and shove him into a movie about comic books, and no, we’re not going to be talking his contribution to the spectacle of disappointment that was The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This month we’re going to be discussing a role with a little bit more substance and nuance than his admittedly terrible Aleksei Sytsevich.

paul-giamatti-in-american-splendor

Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s American Splendor.

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Biopic/comedy/drama

Plot Synopsis: An original mix of fiction and reality illuminates the life of comic book hero everyman Harvey Pekar.

Character Profile: Harvey Pekar was an underground comic book writer who developed a unique style and voice by creating the ‘American Splendor’ comics, stories that were autobiographical in nature and that seemed to elevate his everyman status to that of a quasi-hero as he set about dealing with his mundane struggles in a harsh, unforgiving world.  But if you asked him, Harvey was just another guy, another depressed fellow living in a depressing city working a depressing job. Naturally his work reflected a rather dim outlook on life. Born of Polish immigrants, Harvey was one of the few white kids to grow up on his block in a Cleveland suburb and as a result, found himself often being beaten up and without friends. An unhappy childhood seemed to bleed into adulthood. He attended college for a year before dropping out, enlisted in the armed forces but was soon discharged — allegedly for personal hygiene-related reasons. After shuffling through a series of miserable jobs he finally became a file clerk at Cleveland’s Veteran’s Administration Hospital. His friends circle was limited to those with whom he worked, and his romantic life was defined by a series of hastily made decisions that ended in two divorces, though in 1984 he met Joyce Brabner, a writer and comic book shop owner from Delaware. She had written a letter to him seeking a way to obtain a single copy of his latest comic since her store had already sold out. The 2003 film American Splendor divulges much of this, as well as the time the two spent collaborating on ‘Our Cancer Year,’ a graphic novel based upon Harvey’s diagnosis and survival of lymphoma, employing a thoroughly unique format — a hybrid of documentary and dramatic/comedic elements — to bring his personal tales to life. And Harvey may have staked a reputation through his ability to convey mundane struggles in comic form but he never quit his job as a file clerk until he retired. He was also a prolific record collector and dabbled in music and literary critiques. He passed away in Cleveland Heights in 2010 at the age of 73 after an accidental overdose on anti-depression medication having been diagnosed a third time with cancer.

Why he’s the man: Paul Giamatti very well could be at a career-best with this fascinating character, one who teeters on the edge of being sympathetic due to his relentless pessimism and iconoclastic tendencies. There’s something that Giamatti does that seems very small but that which very nearly ultimately defines the creator of American Splendor as a person. Apparently Harvey had a tendency to yell whenever he became frustrated or upset, and Giamatti milks it for all its worth, sounding in some early scenes as though he’s just rubbed his vocal chords against sandpaper for an hour. A memorable (read: hilarious) scene in a diner when he receives the good news that a fellow comic would be willing to illustrate his creations finds the actor shouting out with glee, causing a scene. His voice cracks like a high schooler going through The Puberty. His vocal issues come into play a couple of other times, and while they’re certainly not the only thing to take away from this performance, these moments are excellent touches. The tenor of his voice, when not breaking, is mildly saddening,  Giamatti powerfully channeling a sense of hopelessness and fatigue. Rest assured, though, the actor manages to effect a spectrum of emotions on his journey from a nobody to a relatively obscure somebody. In spite of himself, Harvey remains a compelling presence, a certifiable Average Joe with an unusual gift for creating. This is outstanding work from the actor and quite possibly my favorite role of his.

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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

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

Anomalisa

'Anomalisa' movie poster

Release: Wednesday, December 30, 2015 (limited)

[Redbox]

Written by: Charlie Kaufman

Directed by: Charlie Kaufman; Duke Johnson

Someone please give Michael Stone a hug. I’m starting an online petition to see if we can get Michael Stone just one good hug, because he really, really, really, really, really needs one. Either him or writer-director Charlie Kaufman, I’m not sure who needs it more. Anomalisa is perhaps the slowest trek through misery and loneliness he has yet made, and that’s even keeping in mind 2008’s Synecdoche, New York.

Very much like that epic slog, Kaufman’s latest, an experiment in stop-motion that feels very much overdue considering his offbeat and peculiar sensibilities seem tailor made for the style, is almost too cold to handle let alone enjoy. But it is something to admire and admire I did; I just wish I could put my arms around the thing and connect with it on the level Kaufman clearly wanted me to. The misanthropy is one thing; I can handle misanthropic characters. I often eagerly embrace them and go on to love them. It’s the monotony that really killed my enthusiasm over this technical achievement.

Michael (David Thewlis) is a successful customer service agent whose latest book ‘How May I Help You Help Them?’ has just been published. He’s traveling to Cincinnati to deliver a motivational speech to other service agents looking to boost their careers. At the same time he’s promoting the new book and . . . searching for a way out of his current marriage and domestic life, both of which have whittled his zest for life down to the bone. He becomes smitten by a woman he meets that is somehow “different” than everyone else — meaning, she’s the only other supporting character not voiced by Tom Noonan. (He is credited simply with the responsibility of voicing Everyone Else.)

Michael’s staying at the Fregoli Hotel. It’s a swanky joint whose odd name isn’t meant to merely induce giggles (although it is a pretty funny word); ‘fregoli’ is actually a social anxiety/disorder in which the sufferer sees everyone around them as the same person, voice and all. Michael seems to be experiencing that very delusion but it’s not clear at first whether this is just how this guy views Cincinnati — after all he already scoffs at the lesser intelligence of anyone else who happens to be in the room with him — or whether he’s suffering the effects of a psychological condition that’s gone untreated far too long — something he himself ponders often.

Anomalisa confines itself almost entirely within the walls of this hotel. The limited setting is successful in inducing boredom and cabin fever. We watch as Michael shuffles around, utterly disconnected from the world and disinterested in doing much beyond finding some ice cubes to put into a glass and make a drink. That scene takes approximately ten minutes to eventuate. After this he shuffles around some more, grumbling over the introductory remarks in his speech notes. The shuffling takes us on a tour of the Fregoli and its many oddities, including, but not limited to the hotel manager himself. (Again, Tom Noonan. Tom Noonan everywhere.) He also gets obsessed with tracking down old acquaintances that either turn out to be painfully awkward, generally unpleasant episodes or wild goose chases. All this running around while annoyingly doing nothing eventually introduces us and Michael to two adoring fans, a couple of local girls who somehow find the author a very interesting man.

One girl, a chatty blonde who is more outspoken than her considerably stranger and more socially awkward friend Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is saddled with, you guessed right, a man’s voice. Leigh Lisa stands out for her unique voice and face in a sea of sameness. Her demeanor is strange but beguiling, at least it is to Michael. To us she comes across a kind of simpleton with a knack for contributing to the film’s quota of depressing introspective soliloquies. Also, her voice eventually starts breaking into that of Tom Noonan. Nothing good ever seems to last.

Aha! We have struck a nerve. Temporary constructs like one-night stands are radically misconstrued for representing the start of something new, something fresh. Poor Michael can’t figure out how to even start spelling ‘h-a-p-p-i-n-e-s-s’ let alone experience it. Anomalisa is an exercise in wallowing in self-pity despite its billing as a dramatic comedy; Michael’s stuck-in-a-rut attitude feels more suffocating and hopeless than The Lobster‘s persecution of single folk. It’s certainly more uncomfortable. It bears all the hallmarks of a Kaufman think-piece, one that delves far beneath the surface of the kinds of conversations a great many screenwriters offer up. There’s no denying Anomalisa is uniquely his. But the lack of interesting material feels unfamiliar.

Michael, torn between leaving his family behind for a fresh new start and a responsibility to his son . . . oh wait, yeah that’s right. He doesn’t really seem to care about that either as he can barely muster the interest to speak with him on the phone for longer than five minutes. Yeah, forget this guy man. And almost everything about this really tedious, beautiful, boring, complex, ultimately off-putting experience.

David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh in 'Anomalisa'

Recommendation: “The most human film of the year,” maybe. But the most entertaining? Hardly. Charlie Kaufman has built a reputation for being a tough filmmaker to embrace and Anomalisa is just another solid example. It’s a film for the Kaufman purists I think. Unless you are a glutton for punishment and enjoy sitting through true downers, I have to say give this one the old swerve if you’re the least bit skeptical on the filmmaker. Damn. I really wanted to like this, too. So I’m kicking it an extra slice for the technical marvel that it really is. The stop motion is incredible, truly.

Rated: R

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “Sometimes there’s no lesson. That’s a lesson in itself.”

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 

30-for-30: Believeland

'Believeland' movie poster

Release: Saturday, May 14, 2016

[Netflix]

Directed by: Andy Billman

Imagine growing up in a city where you’re taught, almost assuredly from at least the eighth grade onward, that losing is a reality you must accept, simply based on some silly geographic lottery that you were thrust into at birth. Surprise! You’re from Cleveland, and your acclimatization to watching your sports team(s) losing is best done sooner rather than later. You’re not a loser, but you’re going to have to get used to the idea of losing.

Believeland, Andy Billman’s portrait of a city synonymous with bleak winters and even bleaker sports seasons, speaks to the harsh reality of being born and bred a Clevelander, and it doesn’t hide the fact that life is viewed just a little more pessimistically in these parts. Yet the film itself isn’t pessimistic and doesn’t beg for pity. In fact it does quite the opposite, demanding respect for a steely, hard-working community patiently waiting for the black cloud that had descended following the 1964 NFL Championship, the city’s last big W, to finally let the sun shine through.

The Fumble. The Shot. The Drive. Red Right 88. The Block. The Trade. The Move. The Lip. Are breaks in the cloud even possible?

Perhaps the film’s poster, bearing some of Cleveland’s most painful trials for all to see, is also the best way to describe Believeland: a series of vignettes that anyone watching around the Cleveland area would likely find a test of endurance. To everyone else it’s a laundry list of bad things that have happened. And, as is poignantly observed by Scott Raab, a native and novelist serving as a casual narrator as he regales us — and his son — at a local diner about all the ways in which his favorite teams have let him down: only Clevelanders will be able to look back and kind of laugh this all off. “That’s Cleveland.”

The story of the woes and the worries, of the pitfalls of being ever the optimist in a place that doesn’t reward optimism takes an interesting turn with the introduction of respected business man and former New York ad executive Art Modell, who in 1961 assumed operations of the Browns organization. A series of unpopular moves put Modell squarely in the crosshairs of passionate fans, who began viewing him as a villain rather than the savior they hoped he would be. It didn’t help matters that Modell didn’t strike anyone as a sports guy; he had no knowledge of the game though his business acumen was rarely questioned.

The firing of coach Paul Brown (the franchise’s first and namesake head coach) turned heads but didn’t earn him anywhere near the animosity his handling of star fullback Jim Brown did. Brown, who was exploring a career in acting on the side, had missed a week of training prior to the ’66 season from production delays on The Dirty Dozen which greatly upset Modell, who publicly threatened him with fines for each day he would continue to miss. Brown decided instead to retire.

Two Browns down; the rest to go? As fate would have it, in a way yes they would. As Modell had a lot of clout developing in Cleveland, he also had invested in repurposing the city’s old Municipal Stadium, agreeing to let both the football and baseball franchises (the Indians) sublease the space. Unfortunately after several fiscally disappointing years Modell became disillusioned with Cleveland as a prosperous venture, and, in an effort to save face decided he would try to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, Maryland. The news of course was enough to set light to an already crackling fanbase, a fanbase that had been growing restless for some time.

Despite a referendum in 1996 that ultimately allowed Cleveland to retain the franchise name, the Browns still faced deactivation for another three years (’97 – ’99). Meanwhile, Modell was busy introducing the Baltimore Ravens, to a decidedly torn fanbase who were simultaneously glad to again have a pro football team to back, but still aching over the loss of their beloved Colts (who relocated to their current city, Indianapolis). Indeed, one of the most heartrending moments of the documentary finds fans tearfully saying goodbye to their players on the last game of the ’95 campaign, a game they managed to win. There were few celebrations though;  instead violent confrontations and security staff at the game were assaulted by particularly unruly fans. Empty rows of seats were uprooted in the stadium and tossed onto the field. It came to symbolize the very antithesis of what a sporting environment should be.

Thus ‘The Move’ occupies a major spot at the table when it comes to all the perceived wrongs done unto the Cleveland faithful, representing quite possibly one of the darkest periods in their history. It makes the acquisition of recent burnouts like Tim Couch and Johnny Manziel pale in comparison. The latter especially may have been an embarrassment in its own right, but it was no back-stabbing like the one everyone saw Modell’s collective anti-‘land strategies as. But ‘The Move’ isn’t what ultimately defines Believeland, although it is all too easy to construct the argument that this documentary is designed almost as if to pardon self-loathing sports freaks.

The advent of LeBron James, and particularly the results of the 2016 NBA season*, go a long way in suggesting what Cleveland may have to offer the world going forward. A hugely promising, explosive power forward out of Akron, Ohio, James had been all but prophesied for greatness. Yeah, okay, so I guess we need to tack on ‘The Decision’ to that list of grievances, but the narrative has since evolved from one of bitter resentment to renewed enthusiasm and belief once more that Cleveland’s relevance is only a matter of appeasing The King with the hands he needs to rule a forgotten kingdom.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

LeBron Jamesland

* The 2016 NBA Finals featured a re-match of last year’s Finals, between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. After an historic 73-9 regular season record, largely on the back of a virtuoso regular-season performance from shooting guard Stephen Curry, the Warriors shocked the world by failing to clinch their second consecutive title when they ran into the powerhouse that was LeBron James and a healthier Cleveland Cavaliers squad. Because of the results, Billman has stated that he is going to offer an alternative ending to Believeland to reflect the fact that James has finally, finally put an end to that championship drought in the nation’s most cursed sports town. Stay tuned for a quick blurb on my thoughts over this edit. 

Recommendation: Believeland speaks to the loyalty of fanbases and it ties the obsession with sports into the economic health of a city in intriguing and often heartbreaking ways. It might not be enough to sway those who see Clevelanders sports fans as rabid people with too much anger, but it just might be enough to entice those curious about the state of things in a city that doesn’t on the surface seem to have much to offer. I found this to be quite an interesting take on sports history and the way those closest to sports teams choose to interpret that history. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 77 mins.

https://vimeo.com/157732750

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

Photo credits: http://www.espnfrontrow.com; http://www.espn.com 

Room

'Room' movie poster

Release: Friday, October 16, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Emma Donoghue

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

How does one begin to describe a film like Room? Do I write a poem? Do I send Lenny Abrahamson a letter saying ‘thanks?’ Do I wax lyrical about the emotional highs and lows only a film about a mother and son being isolated in a garden shed for years can provide?

Nah, not really. I’m not feeling any of that. What I do feel is that I’ve had the life force sucked out of me after watching this, the big screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel. If this is meant to be uplifting, it’s uplifting in the way One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was uplifting.

What I see in Room is an indictment of humanity; we are an unapologetically ugly species. I see relentless psychological torment, a young woman’s life pointlessly sent off the rails after she helped a man “and his dog” one fateful night. I see suffering not just in the moment but in the aftermath of a highly improbable escape from confinement.

Lenny Abrahamson devotes roughly half the running time inside a shed in the backyard of some nondescript home in suburban USA. This is where we first meet the characters, going about their day, interacting with each other and finding creative ways to pass the time. Jack (Jacob Tremblay) says hello to all of the inanimate objects he’s surrounded by upon awakening. Repressed anger be damned, ‘Ma’ (a never better Brie Larson) is going to make sure her son celebrates his fifth birthday properly.

Life is a certain way for these people. It doesn’t take much time or effort to realize it’s neither healthy nor normal. But after some psychological ingenuity on the part of Ma, life shall prove to be even more difficult on the outside. Indeed, there will be a transition, not just for the characters but for how we are able to invest in the performances. Given the novelist is also the screenwriter here, is it safe to assume the book is just as dull and arduous in the second half?

‘Room,’ as Jack calls it, is compelling in a morbid kind of way. Maybe all I need to say about this is Sean Bridgers. Given so little to do, the man effects a thoroughly despicable human being, an archetypal abuser who probably blames the economy for his being such a shit-bag. However he’s in the frame so infrequently he can’t take all the credit. In fact he’s pretty incidental compared to the weight of Larson and Tremblay’s performances.

If you’ve heard the word already, it is true: these are some breathtaking performances. Were it not for the depth of Larson’s commitment to pretending to be Tremblay’s mother, Room would be unwatchable. It is such a thoroughly depressing film, tracing the trajectory of that commitment as the pair are faced with an entirely new set of challenges. The real world is both exciting and maddening. Jack is the ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark room. At nine years old, the Canadian youngster is a revelation.

He informs the film’s deeply introspective narrative, professing his interpretation of the world around him. His descriptions give the film a jolt of inspiration; it’s better when Tremblay talks to us. When he’s not we’re like the psychologist who finds their first major breakthrough with a patient who’s generally been unwilling to talk about a past trauma. Those breakthroughs happen all too infrequently though, and we’re left with the difficult task of telling the patient that everything is going to be okay. We promise.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 4.36.39 PM

Recommendation: Room proves an acting showcase for its young stars. And honestly, it is a credit to those efforts that I have reacted, perhaps to a great many’s surprise, somewhat unfavorably. That a film inspires an emotional reaction at all is one of the highest praises you can give a film. While recognizing Room‘s brilliance, it’s still ultimately not something I’d ever care to sit through again.

Rated: R

Running Time: 118 mins.

Quoted: “There’s so much of ‘place’ in the world. There’s less time because the time has to be spread extra thin over all the places, like butter. So all the persons say ‘Hurry up! Let’s get going! Pick up the pace! Finish up now!’ Ma was in a hurry to go ‘boing’ up to Heaven, but she forgot me. Dumbo Ma! So the aliens threw her back down. CRASH! And broke her.”

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

IMDb Top 250: The Elephant Man (1980)

imdb top 250 logo

I would like to thank Table9Mutant (a.k.a. Mutant, a.k.a. Mutey) of Cinema Parrot Disco for the opportunity to review a film that is, in my estimation, a downright classic. If you have yet to check out her site yet, please drop what you’re doing now and head over there (or after you’ve read this, that works too. 😉 )

So there was this movie I needed to watch for this IMDb Top 250 movie challenge thing I was participating in. I’m using the past tense because this was something I had committed to about . . . a year and a half ago at this point. (Is that about right Mutey? Year and a half? or has it been longer?) The movie was David Lynch’s The Elephant Man and I finally managed to calm my ADHD down enough to where I could actually watch it. However, as I was cueing it up to watch my mind started being a bit of an ass, provoking me and stuff, telling me to flip to a different On-Demand channel, something that was playing a more recent movie.

“No!” I yelled back at it, out loud. Seated on a couch in the middle of a very quiet living room. All I had done over the last several months was learn to procrastinate better. Err, sorry, excuse me — blog about other movies that to me at the time seemed more urgent. Finally I realized I could always procrastinate — yes, that ‘extremely-nonsensical-combination-of-letters-that-if-repeated-enough-over-a-short-span-of-time-makes-even-less-sense-but-somehow-if-you-only-say-it-once-you-know-exactly-what-it’s-referring-to’ word — later on anyway. I had to hit the play button now.

I was transported back to the late 1800s, and Victorian England, where traveling circuses were still all the rage and attracted (semi-) massive crowds. I think it’s only fair to assume those who did not turn out for these shows had some kind of moral compass that wasn’t shattered into shitty little useless bits. After a brief but trippy dream-like sequence, Lynch pans in on a striking man (Anthony Hopkins) moving through the crowds, trying to access a particular exhibit known only as ‘The Elephant Man.’ However a shift in the public perception of what these most bizarre and unholy of events actually represented — not curiosity, but cruelness — led to more than a few of the more obscure and unattractive exhibits being closed down by authorities. ‘The Elephant Man’ was one such exhibit.

Cut to a dank and depressingly dark alleyway somewhere in the London area, where once again Hopkins’ Dr. Frederick Treves is trying to get a glimpse of this elephant-like man. To do so, he must uncomfortably agree to some terms (mostly monetary . . . natch) set by the manager, a horrible man named Bytes (Freddie Jones). When he’s finally granted access Treves is so moved by what he sees that he asks if he may ‘study him’ back at the London Hospital, where Treves is a renowned practitioner of medicine. Or whatever fancy way 19th Century English people referred to medical-y people.

As Lynch’s often powerfully emotive work seeks to explore the relationship Dr. Treves formed with his patient, Joseph Merrick (a breathtakingly good John Hurt), during the time he stayed in this hospital, the narrative gets cozy in this facility, spending much of the remaining time concerned with the passage of time and how it can quite literally heal wounds. Unfortunately, the London Hospital had been deemed a facility fit only for those who could be cured of their ailment(s). Go figure, Victorian England. As if Joseph needed the added pressure of becoming an inconvenience to the bureaucracy. (Random bit of trivia: Joseph’s so commonly mistakenly referred to as John that he is actually ‘John’ in the movie as well, so for the purposes of this review I’ll stick with his movie name from here on out.)

The fabric of this narrative is weaved from a tough, humanistic cloth. The Elephant Man is an absorbing study of one of the most fundamental aspects of existence, the need and desire to fit in and belong to something. For the heavily disfigured John, it’s heartbreakingly sufficient for him to have his presence actually acknowledged by at least one person. Perhaps this explains why he opens up at all to the doctor who found him in the streets and why he said precious little to his circus manager/owner. John sees Dr. Treves as a paternal figure of sorts. At the very least, a reincarnation of his mother, of whom he carries around a picture in his pocket. Since early childhood, around the age of 10 when she passed away, John was always curious to know if she, too, would have rejected him like his father and his new wife had . . . or would she have accepted him for what and who he was?

The Elephant Man is powered by two tremendous performances from Hurt and Hopkins, the former being one of the strongest in all of cinematic history. (Certainly in my history of watching movies, which is like, so totally not a history at all . . . . . ) I feel pretty comfortable making that claim even when factoring in make-up effects that were ahead of their time, effects so convincing they inspired the Academy to introduce an award category the following year specifically for Make-Up Artistry.* Hurt, behind a mask that graphically depicts the brutality of random chance (a.k.a. the nature of genetics), is mesmerick (see what I did there? I spelled that word as if it were his last name as part of the . . . okay, yeah this is pointless information). But for cereals, you cannot turn away from this performance, not for a second. The man is utterly transfixing throughout, in ways that ingeniously distract from the grotesque physical appearance. Physically embodying the character was one step, but giving the man personality . . . that’s another challenge entirely. And yet, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for Hurt. He’s stoic yet nevertheless heartbroken by his past; grateful for Treves’ kindness yet still aware that not everyone can be like him. There’s an aura surrounding John that is wholly indebted to Hurt’s interpretation.

Obviously Hopkins is no slouch either. A complicated individual, Treves is first at odds with the hospital and its ‘curable patients’ policy. Over the months and years of John remaining under his care Treves makes more enemies than just Bytes, who reemerges infrequently throughout, eager to reclaim his prized possession any day. John’s life in the London Hospital begins in isolation, but as the doc makes leaps and bounds in progress with the patient, and the tenuous bond of trust they establish eventuates in John’s transfer to a more social area of the hospital, Treves must face up to the ethical consequences of using John as a pseudo-medical experiment. Hopkins is immensely likable as Dr. Treves, yet he’s perfectly imperfect. He doesn’t immediately question his approach with John, like how one of the first things he did with him was show him off to an auditorium packed with, yes, other medical-y people and laying claim to how this would be his most interesting patient yet. Instead, that question comes much later, after circumstances have changed dramatically. Yet, if we’re meant to feel ambivalent towards Treves, Hopkins does a damn fine job of convincing us of his better qualities.

This is of course not easy material to get through. If you have the patience to sit through some many trying scenes (I’m talking the kind that make you angry), then the upshot will be powerful, a potent reminder that people have an immense capacity for kindness in spite of all that has been shown here. Yet the treacherous scenes that come before are often punishment on the conscience; their bluntness at times visceral and greatly upsetting. Some parts are sickening, while others can be downright unwatchable. How can ignorance beget such monstrous behavior? The kind of freakishness that occurs naturally only in tents that capitalize on monsters. Lynch crafts a beautiful symmetry between John’s unfortunate looks and society’s collective hideousness.

The Elephant Man has been described as one of Lynch’s most accessible films. Structurally speaking it’s as straightforward as a . . . I don’t know, something that’s straightforward — a ruler, perhaps? No, a documentary. As straightforward as a documentary. I hesitate to make that comparison because it makes the film sound uninspired and possibly even lazy. Given the way The Elephant Man flows from one stage of life to the next, ducking and diving in and out of the various rooms that constituted John’s life the film does take on some of the evaluative properties of an in-depth documentary. Lynch didn’t have to concoct a timeline-distorting, reality-bending head trip to leave an impression here. He just needed to let the subject matter speak for itself.

slight correction: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created the new category for the following year’s ceremony, but only after they were pressured publicly to do so. When The Elephant Man failed to garner attention for its make-up effects, it was petitioned to have an honorary award bestowed upon it, even though the AMPAS refused. An American Werewolf in London was the first film that won the prize in the following year

Recommendation: Emotionally devastating and difficult to watch on more than one occasion, The Elephant Man is an essential experience for fans of deeply human stories. In this case I think the subject matter far outweighs the talents involved in creating it (with perhaps the exception of John Hurt who makes the product worth the while on his own). This may be a David Lynch film but I will probably remember it more as just a generally classic film with astounding performances. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 124 mins.

Quoted: “I am not an animal! I am a human being! I . . . am . .  . a man!”

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

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

JCR Factor #6

Greetings one and all. Thanks for joining Mr. Reilly and I for another edition of the John C. Reilly Factor — Thomas J’s latest character study. We move into September and back into drama with a look at a character I’ve only very recently been introduced to.

This month, I have to be honest, is a rather random selection. I’ve been patiently waiting for an opportunity to get to some of his bigger roles, like the glaring omission I still have in the form of his part in Gangs of New York. Perhaps there are other roles he has that I haven’t seen that are a bit more substantive than the last couple I’ve focused on. If anyone has suggestions, I’d glad to hear them and see where I can go next month. To find more related material, visit the Features menu up top and search the sub-menu Actor Profiles.

John C. Reilly as Dan Brown in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama

Character Profile: Dan Brown fits the profile of a typical 1950s husband. The sole breadwinner of the household, he goes off to work each morning at 8 to come home to a wife and child around 5. Soft-spoken, polite and generally easygoing, he seems a perfect gentleman. But beneath the surface there’s an emotional coldness about him, as Dan has been maintaining a distance between himself and his wife for some time. It has gotten to the point where he’s oblivious to his wife Laura’s increasing dissatisfaction with her lot in life as a housewife. On the occasion of his birthday, all Dan can say is how thankful he is of having a loving, caring wife. Whether he’s aware of quite how disturbed Laura has become being left alone at home all day every day, isn’t very clear. But if Dan says he’s happy then that’s all that matters, right?

If you lose JCR, the film loses: . . . not much. I don’t want to say Reilly is miscast here but he could certainly be replaced by just about anyone in this role. Dan is so peripheral he almost doesn’t matter. I watched this movie with the impression he had a much bigger role to play but this particular character simply does not bear much weight on the overall narrative. And it is certainly not a knock against Stephen Daldry’s drama. His film relies far more on the strengths of its female leads than those of the males, hence Reilly’s skill set isn’t really ever put on full display.

That’s what he said: “The thought of this life, that’s what kept me going. I had an idea of our happiness.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Breathe In

breath-in-movie-poster-1

Release: Friday, March 28, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Watching a film like the claustrophobically personal yet largely insignificant Breathe In is the same experience I get going into art museums and being told a painting of a horse is worth $3 million. I can appreciate the view, but what is there to understand? It’s a picture of a horse. This movie is a situational farce that should have been avoided. Pretty plain and simple. And though that sounds critical of the film’s quality, it’s more a comment on the underwhelming simplicity of the story. It’s not necessarily bad that it exists, but it’s a picture of a damn horse and I want my entrance fee into the museum refunded because I’m feeling kind of ripped off.

For what it’s worth, the film’s stars are not only well-matched, they bring much light (and life) to what would be considered an anorexic drama piece without them. Guy Pearce is Keith Reynolds, a man who, as he settles into middle age in a small community in upstate-New York, is unhappy with the way his life has turned out. He doesn’t find much satisfaction in his job and his home life feels less rewarding than it should with the familiarity of his wife (the ever-reliable Amy Ryan) and an inability to connect with his only daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), who is athletic and chooses to swim, rather than learn any musical instrument as he prefers she would.

Everything is as cool as a cucumber in the Reynolds’ household up until they go to pick up 18-year-old Sophie (Felicity Jones), a British foreign exchange student whom they’ve agreed to host for the semester. Lauren shares her room with her, and despite the open hospitality from her and particularly Mrs. Reynolds its clear that Sophie doesn’t seem excited to be where she is. Her original vision of traveling to the States had her staying in a high-rise apartment in the city, or at the very least being a little bit closer to the outskirts. One can cut the tension with a knife the moment Sophie steps foot inside their home.

It’s a tension that continues to grow stronger as her reluctance to engage many of the people around her paints her as stand-offish and antisocial. Refusing to show up to the class Keith teaches at school, Sophie claims she doesn’t have interest in concert piano. Keith would like her very much to at least attend class the next day, despite Sophie’s insistence that the principal will have her name off the roster by that very evening and that she should have no such obligation to attend a class she isn’t enrolled in. She also turns down invitations to hang out with Lauren initially. One is left questioning what exactly she is doing in America at all, given how she is introduced.

However, she slowly begins to come out of her shell when she takes an interest in this quiet and mysterious Mr. Reynolds, who never seems to her to be truly at peace with his position in life. Though an exact time frame is never really clear, one thing that is clear after awhile is that Sophie and Keith are beginning to feel the tug of a mutual attraction, one that poses a significant threat to the harmony in the house. . .and within Keith’s family. Even though the turn of events make us uncomfortable, nothing happens that isn’t slightly predictable. Foreshadowing, particularly with the film’s intrusive score, is a technique the director perhaps relies on too much here.

Meanwhile, character development’s an asset that Drake Doremus can pride his newest film for really valuing. Boosted by solid performances from both Pearce and Jones, this suggestive little indie film features characters that are complex and so very human, even though they are ultimately hard to comprehend, much less empathize with. But whether or not the cast is playing a likable bunch of characters isn’t the issue that causes Breathe In to choke. It’s the actions thereof that do. Actions that are hardly defensible; in fact, they almost defy logic given the context of the story. If there is in fact a take-away from this most emotionally underwhelming of cinematic experiences, it’s that one should lose faith in the foreign exchange program. It seems to be a pretty good free-for-all in terms of who you might get if you choose to host someone in your home for a few months. You could get a partier, you could get a book-worm. You could even get a home-wrecker. But don’t tell that to the Reynolds, wherever you may find them now.

While not completely offensive to watch, Breathe In is a pretty pointless film.

how-awkward

2-0Recommendation: Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones fans, here’s one where they are both in a film together. For anyone else, there are other movies. Avoid this one if you can help it, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing you accidentally rented either.

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “One day you’ll be free.”

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 Act of Killing

17711-series-header

Release: Friday, July 19, 2013 (limited)

[Netflix]

Abundant are the films that, post-viewing, make you grateful for the experience, even though they took you far outside your comfort zone. There are even those that you really wish you could un-see; those that haunt your mind like a recurring nightmare. And then there’s Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, a torturous two hours you should receive an award for enduring.

Before I take my ceremonial bow, the first person to receive a big pat on the back (or hug, I’m not sure which is more appropriate at this point) should be the Danish-based director who skillfully pieces together one of the most horrifying and revealing documentaries that will perhaps ever be crafted. It’s a little difficult, in this present moment at least, to fathom a film going to the places and lengths that this monstrosity does.

A camera crew takes to the dirty streets of Medan, Indonesia where they locate a number of death squad leaders responsible for the mass slaughter of millions of fellow countrymen between 1965 and 1966. The objective? To prompt these men to talk extensively and candidly about the events that took place during the military overthrow of the Indonesian government, while also allowing them to perform re-enactments of precisely what, who and how they killed.

The staged killings would become part of a film Anwar Congo and his ‘gangster’ friends (notables include Herman Koto and Adi Zulkadry) are making in an effort to publicly boast about how they were able to eliminate so-called communists, intellectuals, ethnic Chinese and any other individuals they deemed ‘undesirable’ and threats to the stability of their nation. (The concept of stability is somewhat ironic, considering a military coup d’état became necessary in restoring the perceived balance of power in this perpetually troubled nation.) A paramilitary organization known as Pemuda Pancasila evolved out of the death squads led by Congo and Zulkadry, and has been in place ever since. In the documentary, we are forced to confront this most intimidating of groups as they continue to harass Indonesians mere feet away from the camera crew. Frightening as this organization is, its really not the focus of Oppenheimer’s/Congo’s project.

Really this film has dual purposes. On the one hand, this is an opportunity for these truly vile men to express their nostalgia for the good ole days, when they raped, tortured and murdered those who they thought deserved it. On the other, Oppenheimer is giving these individuals all the tools they need to show their true colors. One might argue that they already have done that by performing the acts that they did in the ’60s, but one would only be 50% accurate in that assumption. What is said and revealed in this documentary surpass the murders themselves.

Watch the scenes in which the fat, disgusting blob of a human being named Herman Koto. . . you know what? There’s almost no point talking about this anymore. It is just crushing my heart. I literally have no words to describe the vast majority of the content, and at the risk of me sounding like I’m writing this film off, this review in itself was next-to-impossible to write, and is causing depression of the highest degree, so I no longer have desire to analyze this as a piece of creative expression. Mainly, because it’s not. This may very well be looked at as terrifyingly effective propaganda for the opposition. I have spent days trying to pin down my feelings on it. Such a task seems now fruitless, and I don’t feel comfortable diverting any more attention to this abomination. There is genius in the construction but the subject matter is too off-putting. It’s almost offensive considering the power that The Act of Killing may add to the anti-communist sentiment found in southeastern Asia.

fucked-up-shit-kids

0-5Recommendation: Don’t do this to yourselves. This is the cruelest thing you’ll ever watch; not to mention, it’s paced like a snail and the subject matter makes it feel even longer. The fact that a documentary was made on these people has scary implications — Oppenheimer just took a can of gasoline to a raging fire. Who knows what’s going to happen next in Indonesia. What a fool. And what a fool this reviewer is for thinking this was going to be anything other than ugly. Where’s my damn prize?

Rated: NR

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “‘War crimes’ are defined by the winners. I’m a winner.”

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

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

Short Term 12

short_term_twelve_ver3

Release: Friday, August 23, 2013 (limited)  

[Theater]

If you’re anywhere near the local indie theater in town, then your first priority suddenly just became to see this little independent production called Short Term 12, the follow-up film of director Destin Cretton’s I Am Not a Hipster, which was released in January of this year. Now, granted, this recommendation and appraisal might mean a good deal more had I actually seen his first release, but given how profound this picture was I somehow doubt I’ve received an improper introduction. I plan to go back and see Hipster, though this will more than suffice for the time being.

Cretton has cobbled together somehow a beautiful reflection of lives less propitious than many others; an inspirational story which focuses on a facility that looks after at-risk youths for brief periods of time — anywhere from a few weeks up to a year; a few stay longer. Short Term 12 is the name of the place, and its staffed by some rather incredible people. At 96 minutes in length, this theatrical release is actually an expanded version of Cretton’s original, a thirty-minute short titled the same.

The film opens with an engrossing little conversation amongst the staff out front of the building. A girl joins a few minutes later on a bike. This is Grace (Brie Larson), and the other three are Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) — who also happens to be Grace’s longtime boyfriend — the newest addition to the staff, Nate (Rami Malek), and finally Jessica (Stephanie Beatriz). We know zero about these folks at the time of this particular conversation. . . . . . .something about Mason shitting his pants while trying to help a kid. Come the end of the film, we will have felt like we have walked miles in their shoes.

One of the miracles of this little-known gem is how it manages to immerse the viewer in the rawness and intimacy of its world. . . .and in the personal affairs of all who inhabit it. A tightly weaving, at times humorous narrative strings together scenes that alternate between campus and the outside world, though its really more concerned with the goings-on in the halls and rooms that comprise Short Term 12. Within these small, unassuming buildings resides some of the most amiable staff you’re likely to ever see portrayed in movies. Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. are wonderful here and their characters are instantly lovable — the kind to completely restore one’s faith in humanity. Their easygoing nature and willingness to express honest feelings indicates how much they care about their kids and their jobs and the positivity radiates powerfully from the screen.

Fortunately the script, also penned by Cretton, is just as unselfish as the lead characters, as it provides ample time for a few of the residents to develop into memorable characters, some of which are as significant as those strong leads.

A few who stand out include Marcus, played by the mesmerizing newcomer Keith Stanfield — he’s one of the older residents who’s being forced to ‘graduate’ since he’s turning 18, and finds it daunting to leave the comforts of campus behind. Then there’s the newest resident who possesses a history of violent behavior, a girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), who’s perpetually stand-offish and hard to communicate with; and lastly, the film is bookended with scenes showing a very strange boy who tries multiple times to flee  from the scene but is never quite successful. There are a couple of other strong roles as well, but this trio of characters truly punctuates this film with an exclamation mark.

Given the unsettling subject matter, it’s quite a wonder how uplifting Short Term 12 winds up becoming. And especially after a summer of blockbusters, destruction, mayhem and decidedly darker/bleaker atmospheres in general, it’s nice to experience a film that’s this concerned with the preservation of humanity. . . and not the loss of it.

st12-1

5-0Recommendation: Do you enjoy leaving a movie feeling just a little more hopeful about whatever situation you currently face in your own life? Are you an optimist? A fan of man? If the answer to any of those is ‘Yes,’ then I absolutely recommend it. This movie is remarkable.     

Rated: R 

Running Time: 96 mins.  

Quoted: “You are the weirdest, most beautiful person I’ve ever met.”

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