White Boy Rick

Release: Friday, September 14, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Andy Weiss; Noah and Logan Miller

Directed by: Yann Demange

In his piece for the New York Observer, the innately likable Rex Reed writes of the White Boy Rick experience: “I can think of no reason any bright, witty or halfway sophisticated movie lover — or otherwise normal person — would want to spend 10 minutes with any of the criminal degenerates in this worthless load of crap.”

Understand that when I say ‘innately likable’ I’m dialing up the sarcasm to 11. I’m not exactly the biggest Rex Reed fan out there; his writing is aggressively obnoxious and true to form here he wants you to know just HOW OFFENDED he is, dealing a number of below-the-belt hits — some aimed at star Matthew McConaughey’s unfortunate “microwaved” appearance, others reserved for the quantity of newcomer Richie Merritt’s acne pimples, and the majority of which seem irresponsibly misdirected. His review is nothing short of a beating that leaves little doubt as to what this critic believes is the worst film of all of 2018. He gave the film a big fat 0 out of 4 on his scale, for whatever that’s worth.

French director Yann Demange (whose 2014 war drama ’71 I left shaken but also moved by) shares the story of Richard Wershe Jr. (Merritt), who in the mid-’80s went from being the youngest drug kingpin-turned-FBI informant in American history to the longest-serving prisoner for a non-violent crime in Michigan state history. That story, such as it is, manifests as a perpetually downward spiral that ends at rock bottom. Its chapters constructed around the spectacularly poor choices he made in the interest of saving his family — father Richard Wershe Sr. (McConaughey), sister Dawn (Bel Powley) and neighboring grandparents (cameos by Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie) — from being swallowed up by Detroit’s filth and squalor at the height of the 80s crack epidemic.

Richard Jr. earns the nickname when he falls in with a black gang headed by Johnny “Little Man” Curry (Jonathan Majors). Initially acting as an intermediary between his gun-hustling father and his seedy clientele, he’s soon persuaded by the FBI (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rory Cochrane, both delivering convincingly cold performances) to start moving weight in an effort to capture the big, rotting fish at the center of the city’s narcotics woes — the coke-snorting mayor himself. For his cooperation, the feds promise to look the other way when it comes to bringing Richard Sr. in on hefty manufacturing/distribution of weapons charges.

White Boy Rick is a well-acted affair but the performances — namely from Team Merritt and McConaughey — aren’t quite enough to overpower the stench of misery that these characters bring to the screen. Richard Jr. is a selfish and reckless individual and as Richard Sr., McConaughey is no more sympathetic. In fact he’s arguably the least redeemable of them all as we see how his business is promoting chaos and violence throughout the city, how his lack of parenting has emboldened his son to crime — or his daughter to make the decision to walk out on the family.

I cringe to do this, but Rex Reed is actually . . . right. Maybe not 0/4 right — that’s pretty harsh, bro. He’s on to something though. White Boy Rick is a movie awkwardly lacking an empathetic hook, and more problematically, entertainment. There is a big difference between, say, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs — a classic case of schadenfreude — and White Boy Rick, a movie that spends two hours enumerating all the things the kid does wrong only to ask us in the end to take pity on him because he is merely a teenage victim of a broken system.

Because this family is no fun to be around, there really is no point to the exercise. White Boy Rick is based on a real life story but what exactly do we gain from all of these losses? Maybe being pointless is its raison d’être — criminal drug-dealing only leads to one place, and that place is directionless, bottomless despair (or a jail cell, take your pick). I suppose my biggest gripe with the movie is that it made me agree with Rex Reed on something for once. The movie brought us closer together and I will never forgive White Boy Rick for that.

Recommendation: White Boy Rick is a true story with little entertainment value. A cautionary tale steeped in cliché and grating characters. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “We’re goin’ for custard!”

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

Annihilation

Release: Friday, February 23, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Alex Garland

Directed by: Alex Garland

Annihilation is the reason for many things. It is the reason why science fiction is my cinematic genre of choice — there is something thrilling about breaking the rules and getting away with it, and here is a world in which the laws of nature really don’t apply. It is the reason why in British director Alex Garland I trust, blindly, from here on out.* But Annihilation is as much a disturbing spectacle as it is a confounding one, and so it is also the reason why I’ve been having such strange dreams lately.

Nightmares. They’re called nightmares.

Annihilation‘s poor box office performance is the reason why it won’t hang out in theaters for long, and why it will be making its international debut on Netflix after America is through with it. It wasn’t as though 2016 was anything to shout about for Paramount, but apparently this past year found the American distributor for Garland’s latest cerebral test piece, an adaptation of the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, enduring one of its worst financial years on record. In attempting to avoid yet another financial face-palmer, Paramount decided to restrict Annihilation‘s theatrical run, electing for the old ‘(in)direct-to-streaming’ method to help soften the blow in international markets.

The financial realities facing movies often have no place in my reviews — I find it boring if not depressing to bring up numbers and statistics, and I’m sure I’ve already lost people here — but I feel an obligation to come to the defense of producer Scott Rudin, who said damn the torpedoes and pushed through Garland’s original vision for the film, despite fears from Paramount over Annihilation posing too much of an intellectual challenge for the general moviegoing public. Rudin did this in the face of Paramount’s competitors making money hand-over-fist with Star Wars and Star Wars spinoffs.

Predictably, the studio’s gamble has been rewarded with a net loss worth tens of millions. As much as we I like to be bombastic in my chastising of those same people for trotting out nine hundred Michael Bay movies a summer, they are inevitably not going to receive anywhere near the credit they deserve for taking a financial risk on something a little out of the ordinary. And Annihilation is way, way, way out in left field. You won’t see anything else like it this year.

The story, as it were, focuses on an all-female expedition into the depths of the unknown — it’s The Descent, but instead of spelunking into hell we’re just going to walk there, armed only with assault rifles and PhDs in various applicable fields of study. Natalie Portman‘s Lena, a professor of cellular biology at Johns Hopkins University who has also served seven years in the Army, is recruited into a team led by Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a psychologist, and comprised of paramedics (Gina Rodriguez), physicists (Tessa Thompson) and geologists (Tuva Novotny). Their mission, like all the ones before that have failed, is to find the source of ‘The Shimmer,’ an iridescent bubble that has been slowly encroaching over the marshlands near the American coast after a strange atmospheric phenomenon. They must breach the bubble and prevent it from spreading further, ideally before Wonderland subsumes Manhattan.

Unlike with Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole, however, almost everything inside The Shimmer has the potential to mutilate and eviscerate and — he’s going to say it, isn’t he? — annihilate. The Shimmer is a place where all living things have taken on the DNA of other living things. Genetic mutation has rendered the flora as beautiful as the fauna is terrifying. But the bizarreness doesn’t stop there. Humans trespassing into the unknown themselves begin suffering horrifying transformations, and we know that the last expedition that came here — which involved someone near and dear to Lena’s heart — certifiably went insane. (Anyone else unable to get that footage from the camcorder out of their head?)

The Briton, first a novelist, then a screenwriter and now a director, is one of those storytellers that recognizes that the brain is a muscle and that, like all muscles, it needs to be flexed. This has already been proven true in his directorial debut, a secret-lab-experiment-gone-awry in Ex Machina — a film that took a very scientific approach to proving differences between man and machine. Though far from being the first to broach the subject, Garland fleshed out his drama through nuanced explorations of the human psyche, relying upon established scientific techniques like the Turing Test — a method for measuring a computer’s intelligence and awareness. In the process he created a journey that was both profoundly relatable and distressing.

The best of Annihilation, the spectacular ascension (or descent, if you prefer) into the abstract in the third movement — aptly titled “The Lighthouse” — similarly plays upon the deepest recesses of the mind, opening the floodgates for extrapolation and interpretation. What has created The Shimmer also seems to have exposed the fragility and vulnerability of man — refreshingly represented here by a group of steely-nerved women — in the face of something much bigger, more intelligent, and, unlike in Ex Machina, something entirely unfamiliar. Those climactic moments — wherein Jennifer Jason Leigh vomits a bunch of light in a cave and Natalie Portman dances with a weird duplicate of herself as produced by that same Vomit Light — collectively represent the epitome of why science fiction cinema has such a hold on me.

Annihilation is the reason why I love not only going to the movies, but writing about my experiences with them as well. I felt transformed by this.

* Maybe . . .

Recommendation: A cerebral puzzle left to be deciphered by lovers of smart science fiction/fantasy, Annihilation is what happens when The Thing is cross-bred with the DNA of Predator and The Descent. If you were hooked by Alex Garland’s first directorial outing, get a ticket to this one. In my opinion he has avoided the sophomore slump by producing one of the most exciting and surprising movies of the year. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Can you describe its form?”

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

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

Because Oscar Said So: Best Supporting Actress Nominees

BOSS - supporting actress nominees

Because Oscar Said So (B.O.S.S. for short) is yet another first for this blog. In years past I haven’t spent much time going into detail about the major categories recognized at the Oscars ceremony, particularly the official selections as quite often I find myself at odds with the Academy’s choices. Longtime readers of the site know that I like to take matters into my own hands by putting together a mock awards ceremony, a post in which I break down overwhelm my poor readers with my ramblings on several different aspects of the year in film. If you’ve yet to come across The Digibread Awards, you can click here to find out what’s up with all of that.

I talked at some length (maybe rambled is the better term) about the Oscar nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role last time, so naturally the conversation  turns now to the Supporting Actress nominees. If you’re wondering why I’m focusing on the supporting roles instead of the leads, I refer you back to that post here.

The year 2015 marked some improvement in the availability of strong female characters, and thankfully these ran the gamut from mega-popular leads (Daisy Ridley, is she a lead or a supporter? Whatever she is, unfortunately one thing she is not is an Oscar contender anymore) to more subtle, less commercial-friendly bit parts (Alicia Vikander has been ridiculously busy this year but only one of her roles has garnered the Academy’s attention). Still, 2015 does have strength in numbers.

We already know Gal Gadot is about to become the year’s most fervently discussed heroine, stepping into the role of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in the upcoming mega-blockbuster Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice. (Have fun dealing with those press junkets!) Amy Adams will be right there with her, albeit probably not quite as prominently in the conversation, and likely will be still fielding questions as to whether she was the right fit for Lois Lane.

Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener in 'The Danish Girl'

Looking ahead at the 2016 slate, opportunities once again abound for female leads and supporting performances. The Natalie Portman-starring western Jane Got a Gun (a by-now infamously troubled production), finally set to premier at the end of January, features Portman as one of two or three women in the entire film; contrast that with indie drama About Ray and the hotly contested remake of the Ivan Reitman classic Ghost Busters, a production attempting to further distinguish itself by pushing the words together to form Ghostbusters — how crafty.

Like them or not, these are some of the year’s most notable productions. The headstrong rebel fighting for survival in a dystopian world remains alive and well this year, with the final installment in the Divergent series set for a mid-March release. Meanwhile, Melissa McCarthy continues to try to impress with her ability to carry an entire movie on her back in the form of The Boss. Kristen Bell, for some reason, found something to like about the story and she’ll offer support.

That’s of course just a small sample of what the year has on offer, but suffice it to say that’s already a pretty eclectic mix of things to look forward to. One could make the argument that last year still has the upper hand in terms of offering more prominent roles for female talent, and that’s a difficult argument to defend against. But 2016 won’t go down without a fight. Felicity Jones takes on perhaps a career-defining role in the upcoming Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, which is looking to be unleashed upon rabid audiences this coming  December. I think the only obvious question that should be asked is how will Jones compete against Daisy Ridley’s break-out performance as the orphan Rey, within whom the force apparently has awoken?

But enough about the lead performances. B.O.S.S. isn’t interested in those insanely high-profile characters (even though I know I am) — this is all about shining a light on the top-grade supporting performances we were treated to last year. With one major exception, I find myself once again nodding in agreement far more this time around than I have in years past. Maybe it’s just that I was able to see more award-contenders this year than I have before; or maybe I just got lucky. Whatever the case, the five actresses on display here are more than deserving of any and all accolades that have been coming their way.

Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet in 'Carol'

Picking a truly dominant performance from this batch is nigh on impossible. Kate Winslet perhaps comes the closest to being a lock, what with her typically effortless grace and charm lending her Joanna Hoffman, marketing executive under the thumb of one Steve Jobs, a power that rivaled that of Michael Fassbender’s eminently watchable and simultaneously loathsome Apple co-founder. Joanna Hoffman is imbued with the kind of humanity that leaves viewers with little choice other than to empathize with her as Jobs’ petulant behavior reaches critical mass. Time after time she’s the one left picking up the pieces of a slowly crumbling man who would rather deny his responsibility to family than sacrifice a single opportunity to show off his new shiny toys.

The biggest surprise nomination has to be Jennifer Jason Leigh’s contribution to The Hateful Eight, the brand new chapter in Quentin Tarantino’s apparently very finite filmography. As Daisy Domergue, two-thirds of Leigh’s presence is rendered silent, and that’s by design. For most of the runtime, any time she speaks she is rewarded with violence at the hands of Kurt Russell’s hostile John “The Hangman” Ruth, who, as it turns out, makes for a rather lousy bounty hunter. (Perhaps he shouldn’t have kept his captives alive after all.)

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander has exploded onto the scene this year with a trio of compelling performances — and, okay, a fourth that has been too easily forgotten (let’s just blame Burnt for being a disappointingly undercooked dish). Her work as an exceptionally intelligent machine in Alex Garland’s scintillating Ex Machina introduced her to a massive audience, blurring the line between human and robotic intelligence. She then moved into a slightly less demanding capacity playing a pseudo damsel-in-distress in Guy Ritchie’s throwback action-comedy The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Admittedly this role hewed much too close to stereotype, though Vikander still made it work).

Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman in 'Steve Jobs'

But it would ultimately be her emotionally hefty supporting part in The Danish Girl — the story of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, one of the world’s first recipients of gender reassignment surgery, in which she played Gerda Wegener, wife of Einar/Lili — that would earn her serious attention from the Academy. Will her own emotional transformation — from quiet outrage to eventual acceptance — be enough to actually win her the coveted trophy though?

The most subtle of all the selections this year are almost certainly Rooney Mara’s interpretation of Therese Belivet, a young lesbian who falls for an older, more sophisticated and upper-class woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett, herself in the running for Best Leading Actress); and Rachel McAdams’ resilient and emotionally restrained Sacha Pfeiffer, a Boston Globe reporter who helped expose the decades-long cover up of the Catholic church’s involvement in child molestation at the hands of Boston area priests. Neither of these performances are the flashiest you’ll see this year but they’re certainly deserving of recognition, if for no other reason than they’re marks of exceptional maturity for both actresses.

All five of these nominees have epitomized why Hollywood should be populating the cinematic calendar with more female-driven productions. Each one of these unforgettable characters lend significant weight to their respective projects and I for one am delighted to see their hard work pay off. As easy as it is to criticize Hollywood sometimes, it is, slowly but surely, moving in the right direction.

Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer in 'Spotlight'

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Photo credits: http://www.popsugar.com; http://www.comingsoon.net; http://www.time.com; http://www.aroundmovies.com; http://www.servingcinema.com; http://www.variety.com; http://www.hypable.com; http://www.historyvshollywood.com 

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight movie poster

Release: Wednesday, December 30, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino isn’t softening in his old(er) age. The Hateful Eight might be one of his most vicious pieces yet, an ode to the frankness of life on the frontier as filtered through the perspectives of some of the meanest, nastiest sumbitches this side of the Continental Divide.

It’s a testament to the power of Tarantino’s snappy, whip-smart dialogue that a film that takes place essentially in two rooms — a traveling stagecoach and a remote Wyoming outpost known as Minnie’s Haberdashery — passes by almost in the blink of an eye. Or in this case, with the speed of a bullet to the groin. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. After all this movie runs the length of a basketball game — commercial breaks included — and it’s even longer if you experience it in the fancy-pants 70mm Ultra Panavision format, which comes complete with a little intermission.

First things first. There are quite a few things that The Hateful Eight is not. It’s not Tarantino’s most sprawlingly ambitious, nor is it his most poignant social commentary. It’s not family or date-friendly (but you knew that already), and it makes no concessions for those who were put off by the writer-director’s liberal usage of a certain racial slur in Django Unchained. As the time passes by in awkwardly disproportionate chapters it becomes a less sophisticated thing to watch. It’s not action-packed, and the writing isn’t quite as disciplined as it’s been in the past.

What it is, besides being a brilliant spin on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None — a classic whodunit wherein a group of strangers are invited to a remote estate and become suspicious of one another when they start getting picked off one by one — is the eighth reminder that filmmakers like Tarantino are all too rare. It’s a chatty chamber piece, and although it takes place almost exclusively in between the walls of a would-be cozy log cabin there’s no shortage of excitement . . . or bloodletting. Similar to Christie’s imaginative mystery thriller, viewers are complicit in the discovery process. Patiently we wait for the yarn of half-truths and three-quarter lies to fully unravel, to find out who these people really are and what their intentions are.

We’re introduced to Samuel L. Jackson’s Union soldier-turned-bounty hunter Marquis Warren, who flags down a passing stagecoach and asks for a ride to a shelter as a blizzard moves in. The horse-drawn carriage is transporting John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), himself a bounty hunter, who is handcuffed to the fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They’re headed for a town called Red Rock. Don’t let the mustache fool you: dude’s a roughneck — surly and prone to violence. After some banter back and forth he allows Warren to come aboard. Soon enough they’re stopped once more by another man caught out in the cold. This is Walton Goggins’ Chris Mannix, who advertises himself as the new sheriff of Red Rock. He’s also trying to make his way back there.

The wagon pulls up to the Haberdashery and instead of being greeted by its proprietor, they’re met by Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) who tells them Minnie has taken off for a few days. Inside awaits another three men John wasn’t expecting. There’s the polite Englishman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth, channeling perhaps a little too much Christoph Waltz‘s Dr. King Schultz). It turns out he’s the hangman of Red Rock . . . by all accounts Domergue’s grim reaper. But at least he seems nice. By the fireplace sits the cranky General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), responsible for murdering many a black Union soldier in the war. You could say he doesn’t take too kindly to Warren’s presence. And in the back corner sits lone cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), who is apparently waiting for the weather to clear so he can visit his mother on the outskirts of Red Rock.

The destination of Red Rock isn’t the common denominator these people share, per se, though I’m loathe to reveal specifics about what that really is. Let’s just say it’s something a little more personal.

Tarantino keeps mostly to this space in order to draw out the best (or is that the worst?) of these eight nefarious characters creatures. It’s determined they’ll be sharing the space for a few days since the weather is so bad. Soon enough the room becomes a bubbling cauldron of tension and distrust, John Ruth instigating much of it. His severe skepticism of everyone around him leads him to take precautionary measures. Domergue remains chained to his wrist. “Sheriff” Mannix constantly shifts loyalties. Warren is hostile and a notorious liar. Bob remains suspiciously quiet, and so too does the hangman. Ditto that for Joe Gage, while Domergue continues to suffer from her captor’s physical and verbal abuse.

For a film exceeding two-and-a-half hours and rarely taking advantage of its gorgeous natural environs outside, pacing isn’t much of an issue. Instead, more technical things stand out, and rather obviously. For a ragtag group of frontiersmen, these are some very eloquently spoken people. Call it a nitpick, but I prefer to call it an inevitability after paying such intense attention to what people are saying while also trying to figure out why such a wider, higher-resolution film was utilized here. Call it cabin fever. Something about the occasional verbal tirades, the overexploited art of romanticizing language, feels affected this time, almost as though Aaron Sorkin had gotten his hands on the script. (Shucks, now I sound like I don’t like Aaron Sorkin.)

But, I digress. It’s a new Tarantino offering and it’s more fun than it probably should be.

It’s also a film that almost never was. We’ve all heard the story: Tarantino vowed to scrap the project after a draft of the script was leaked late in 2014. He then considered turning it into a novel. Thankfully a live table read of the script convinced him to stick to his guns (e-hem) and commit to turning it into his next movie. Overly familiar creative flares notwithstanding, he’s once again acquitted himself the way any fan would want. The Hateful Eight is delightfully cynical, downright ugly at times and predictable in the best way possible.

Recommendation: Fans have another three hours of QT to pour over. The Hateful Eight doesn’t stack up to his weightier social commentaries and these characters are very, very difficult to like. They’re actually not likable at all but that’s one compelling angle to consider as you navigate your way through a labyrinthian web of relationships that grows ever more volatile as time ticks away. This is no pleasant winter retreat to the cabin in the woods. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 167 mins. (+20 min intermission if you see the 70 mm version)

Quoted: “When you get to hell, John, tell them Daisy sent you . . .”

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 

TBT: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

new-tbt-logo

The dog days of summer are upon us. It’s August, and that means back to school for some and the vacations are mostly over for the families who have been basking in the glorious summer sun (though I look forward personally to some more reasonable temperatures. . . we pasty-skinned Brits burn just embarrassingly easily). Yes, August is the one month pretty much everyone aged 10 – 22 sort of thinks is a major buzzkill. But it’s not all bad news, when you think of some of the good old back-to-school (or even just school-related) flicks that have graced our screens over the years. Though they all pretty much boil down to the typical coming-of-age tale, who’s to say that’s not perfectly acceptable escapism from what really lies around the corner. . . . ?

Today’s food for thought: Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Fast-Times-Ridgemont-High-80s

Hanging with Mr. Hand after hours since: August 13, 1982

[DVD]

Oh, to be young and Spicoli again.

I wonder if that’s what Sean Penn thinks every time he glances back on this role (I don’t know what says he does, but humor me for a second, would ya?). . . .if he thinks this role in particular was his true blue Oscar. Truth be told, it is actually difficult picturing a stoner role landing the big whale in February but if there ever were a person. . .a character who came close, I’d say it’d be Penn’s righteously blown-out pot-smoking slacker.

No doubt he’s a highlight, but fortunately Penn’s representative of only one portion of the total population. Granted, his clique might be one of the more amusing and entertaining to hang with, but it’s a credit to the considerations of writer Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling (Clueless) that the story is filled with so much more, so many more different avenues that collectively create the high school experience. Sure, the decades have changed, but we all know the biggest thing that has affected is the hairstyles.

There’s something deeply true and honest about this immersive experience, something that goes beyond the dynamite chemistry between the vacuous Spicoli and the dreaded English teacher, Mr. Hand. In fact, I’ve got you covered. Here are (the) five reasons this classic is already in your collection (and if it isn’t, well then you’ve got your next project to work on. Rent it, and pronto Tonto!) . . . because, well, let’s face it. Not only are these five images amazing moments from the film, they do quite a thorough job pinning the high school population down to its core groups:

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Spicoli vs Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) These two have a very special relationship. Spicoli is not only one of Ridgemont’s most notorious pot-heads, he’s always late to class, a fact that never sits well with the disciplinarian Mr. Hand. Love ’em, hate ’em, but you just can’t get rid of ’em — the lazy student who always provides the rest of the class entertainment with his combative form of self-expression, and the teacher who is seemingly out to get everyone and make the semester hell. They make an entertaining combo for the film as well as prove to be a compelling example of teacher doing his job, while World’s Worst student learns the same about him. There’s beauty in the mutual respect they end up stumbling upon.

Quoted: “You dick!”

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Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) vs Unplanned Pregnancy Everyone knows a Damone — a lone wolf, the tough guy in the crowd. . .and, okay, so the one you know may not scalp movie tickets but this guy you know has similar schemes. He’s mostly a decent guy who has been endowed with the gift of gab and as such, fancies himself a ladies’ man. A bit misled, sure, but his constant confidence makes you feel good about not only yourself but the times you spend with him. However, is this the kind of dude who sticks around for the harder times? Is there more underneath, or is this just what you get — just a good-looking façade?

Quoted: “I mean, don’t just walk in. You move across the room. And you don’t talk to her. You use your face. You use your body. You use everything. That’s what I do. I mean I just send out this vibe and I have personally found that women do respond. I mean, something happens.”

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Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker) vs the Lincoln High football squad After Spicoli wrecks the crap out of Ridgemont’s star athlete’s beautiful Camaro during a joy ride, it’s all Spicoli can do to hide the fact it was him responsible, so in a panic he disguises the accident as an intentional act on the part of a rivaling high school football team. This causes Charles to fly into a rage, injuring several players in their next game in the process. True, there may be some sort of personality lurking deep inside, but you best not come across this jock after his most valuable possession has just been destroyed. We all have that special thing we can’t afford to lose. For most of us, though, that ain’t a Z-28.

Quoted: [forget the quote. Watch this clip.]

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Brad vs. Linda in Stacy’s bathroom Poor Brad’s had a heck of a senior year. Lost his job because of an obnoxious customer. Lost his second job because they made him wear a pirate costume (and also deal with obnoxious customers). Lost his girlfriend Lisa in the crossfire, and when he gets caught, shall we say. . . sorting something out in the bathroom at Stacy’s, he essentially loses his pride. But Brad’s not a bad guy, he’s just going through a rough phase and wants out of it, now. Who can’t identify with this feeling?

Quoted: “Mister, if you don’t shut up, I’m going to kick one hundred percent of your ass!”

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Mark (Brian Backer) /Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) vs Sexual Tension Without a doubt, here’s the pair that come the closest to anchoring the romantic component of those four angst-y, awkward years. Neither Mark nor Stacy have much of a clue when it comes to dating and romance, so when their respective friends Damone and Linda give them a few pointers, all bets are off when it comes down to taking friendly advice or doing what they both feel is the natural thing to do. They’re both sweet and charming and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can’t find something of their self in these two lovebirds.

Quoted: “You know Damone I always stick up for you. They say oh, Damone that loud mouth — and they say that a lot. I say ‘Oh, no you just don’t know Damone.’ I mean when they call you an idiot, I say Damone’s not an idiot. Well, you know something maybe they know you pretty good. Maybe I’m just starting to find out.”


4-5Recommendation: Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a staple of the early ’80s. While it hardly breaks free of its fair share of era clichés (well, I guess they’re more like stereotypes at this point), this fast-paced ride sheds light on all corners of the high school experience, carrying an optimistic and truly fantastic energy from start to finish, much in the same vein as The Breakfast Club, Dazed and Confused along with a handful of other lesser-known silver screen signets now owned on home video by millions of children of the ’70s and ’80s. I’m going to sound like a very broken record, but they just don’t seem to make comedies (or movies in general) like this anymore. And at the very bare minimum, see this one for one of Sean Penn’s greatest performances ever in his break-out role as Spicoli. You (probably) won’t be sorry.

Rated: R

Running Time: 90 mins.

TBTrivia: Phoebe Cates’ reaction face in the above image is very, very real and natural. Fortunately, the thing she is reacting to is not. . .so much. . . .

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 

Kill Your Darlings

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Release: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Harry drops out of Hogwarts to start attending Columbia University — good idea?

Probably one of the easier observations anyone is going to make when referring to Kill Your Darlings, a film that tips its hat to the romantics who inspired a literary revolution both stylistically and philosophically, is the fact that it does indeed feature Daniel Radcliffe in one of the lead roles. The next largest elephant in the room has to be Dane DeHaan, whose impressive performance earlier in the year in The Place Beyond the Pines, an epic story spanning several generations of family, garnered him a great deal of praise very quickly. As it turns out, the attention was well-deserved. DeHaan is equally brilliant — if not more so — as he bolsters his career further in this film involving hipsters. . . .before hipsters were actually hipsters*.

Kill Your Darlings‘ tightly-knit plot sorts through the intricate relationships amongst the young poets Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe), Lucien Carr (DeHaan), Jack Keruoac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster), and how these relationships grew and evolved over the disquieting years in the wake of World War II. A singular event casts a shadow over the futures of these writers when the murder of an outsider, the older David Kammerer (Dexter’s Michael C. Hall), implicates Ginsberg, Carr and Burroughs during the ensuing police investigation in 1944.

The mention of hipsters that surfaced a little while ago is not really accurate. The writers who inspired what came to be known later as the Beat Generation — Ginsberg’s most famous piece, ‘Howl,’ Burrough’s ‘Naked Lunch’ and Karuoac’s ‘On the Road’ being the most notable examples of these times — intentionally went against the grain in an effort to expose the claustrophobic amour-propre of the time. No longer was poetry to suffer the restrictions of rhyme and meter, or anything else that was declared as traditional, societally-accepted forms of expressionism. ‘Hipster’ is a bit of a misnomer because the Beat Generation may be more naturely associated with the peace/hippie movements of the 60s and 70s.

However, it was the attitudinal divergence that makes such a comparison to contemporary hipsters easy to make. Ginsberg, Burroughs and, in particular Carr, discounted traditional methods of storytelling and instead pushed for less restrictions in the constructions thereof, leaning more towards open, honest and potentially graphic interpretations of the human experience.

With hindsight, Radcliffe and DeHaan seem to be ideal actors to personify such ambitious types. While Ginsberg was certainly more of the quieter, more easily intimidated of the two, Carr had no issues whatsoever in flaunting publicly his disdain for the institutions that were. DeHaan plays this up terrifically, and we have a great deal of fun reveling in his casting-out of mainstream society. Radcliffe settles into his post-Potter role with grace as well, at once demonstrating the intense love he had for Lucien while at the same time revealing his own personal fragilities. Ginsberg went to college, leaving behind a mother (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who was mentally ill and a father with wandering eyes. He also found his new home at Columbia University extremely intimidating, a reality that Radcliffe acknowledges behind glasses exceptionally well.

In many ways, John Krokidas’ debut film recalls the passion of dare-to-live films like Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, and October Sky. Its cast is possessed with those same feverish desires to escape and expand beyond the oppressive powers and circumstances that are already in place; the settings and locations are just as romantic and timeless. Desperate actions occur at the most inopportune of moments. But the thing that sets Krokidas’ work apart is a clever blend of the artistic and the lawful. The events that take place in these semi-turbulent times play out much like a murder-mystery, yet they bear all the trademarks of a romance piece. It’s an effective, lively blend of genres that makes for a quick hour and forty-five minutes of viewing.

While the film ultimately doesn’t draw the most grandiose of conclusions from what transpires, it doesn’t necessarily have to. History has already been made and here, Krokidas is trying to recreate it using film as the medium. Clearly there are liberties to be taken along the way, and it’s unlikely that each and every aspect to Darlings is completely untainted by a director wanting to dramatize certain elements for entertainment’s sake, but the combination works deliciously well.

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3-5Recommendation: Some are going to view this is as a stuffy film (if they’ve even heard of it), but I urge those people to give it a chance. It involves some delightful characters, simultaneously making great use of its young actors in Radcliffe and DeHaan, while respectfully paying tribute to some of America’s most transformative writers. This forthcoming comment is going to sound limiting, but if you enjoyed Robin Williams and his secretive Dead Poets Society, you will be guaranteed to fall in love with this as well. There’s a palpable joy and love in both narratives that is difficult to shake after watching.

Rated: R

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “Another lover hits the universe, the circle is broken.”

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