Life (2015)

life-movie-poster

Release: Friday, December 4, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Luke Davies

Directed by: Anton Corbijn

The spotlight shines once more upon Hollywood icon and heartthrob James Dean in the creatively titled 2015 biopic Life. Okay, so there actually is some nuance to the label. You can take it at face value but the film is more concerned with the relationship the actor had with a photographer working to produce a photo essay for Life Magazine.

It isn’t hard to see how this picture has fallen into obscurity. This is far from a flashy biopic. It’s not even purely about James Dean. Life enjoyed an extremely limited theatrical run concurrently with a straight-to-VOD release last December. Now it sits in the recesses of Netflix’s ever-deepening Lost-and-Found bin, gathering cyber dust. My finding was quite arbitrary and perhaps that is why I still feel a little underwhelmed by what it was that I had found. It almost makes me feel like I have a duty to caution those who are willfully seeking it out. Good chance this isn’t the movie you’re thinking, perhaps hoping, it’s going to be.

Anton Corbijn (The American; A Most Wanted Man) has crafted a deliberately understated account of how a genuine bond was formed between two very different individuals — one a farm boy from Indiana and the other a city slicker. Dane DeHaan, a young actor on the rise, portrays the icon while Robert Pattinson becomes Dennis Stock, a photographer for the New York-based Magnum agency who would go on to provide Life Magazine with some of the publication’s most iconic images. The year is 1955. Dean has just portrayed Cal Trask in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden and is set to take on arguably his most noteworthy role as the rebel himself, Jim Stark, later that year. The events of the film are slotted in between these two seminal productions, following the two as they travel together from Los Angeles to New York and finally to Dean’s sleepy hometown of Fairmount, Indiana.

Corbijn’s treatment manifests as a moody, introspective examination of careers in transition, and appropriately it features a pair of performances that are more charmingly awkward than awards-baiting. DeHaan in particular enjoys mumbling his lines, an approach that won’t sit well with those who viewed Dean as a more assertive Bad Boy. Nonetheless, he is good at drawing out the pain that lived inside the young star as he grappled with the irrevocable nature of fame. DeHaan treads a fine line between being someone with an ego perhaps too inflated, suggested by his stand-offish relationship with studio execs like Jack Warner (a gleefully nasty Ben Kingsley), and someone suffering a crisis of conscience. (Interestingly, Corbijn opts not to make any sort of comment on Dean’s supposed “sexual experimentation,” likely in an effort to avoid politicizing his film.)

For much of the film Dean doesn’t come across as a rebel so much as he does a diva, but there’s a brilliant scene set at the Fairmount High School prom where we realize Dean’s discomfort in the spotlight is genuine; even in this unthreatening environment he seems totally different than his on-screen persona. Perhaps because he is directly confronted with that which he misses most: a life of simplicity and innocence. In the good old days he had no Jack Warners to worry about breathing down his neck, watching his every move. He had nothing to really worry about other than tending to the cattle, banging his bongos in solitude and absorbing the work of Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley. Now he must contend with shutterbugs like Stock who can never put down the camera (and thank goodness he didn’t), Red Carpet obligations and gossip columns debating which celebrity he’s bedding on which night.

Life may not dig as deep as it could have and I can almost — almost — empathize with purists who are put off by the casting but there’s no denying that the film’s heart is in the right place. This is a tribute to a Hollywood enigma who died far too young (24 at the time of the car accident). Corbijn’s exploration of an unlikely friendship is both earnest and respectful. Intimate. An air of melancholy pervades without Corbijn ever having to resort to an E! True Hollywood Story kind of ending.

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Recommendation: Meditative film captures the iconic James Dean in his off-screen state. Life can feel a bit underwhelming in spots and there are some moments where the acting doesn’t fully convince but the film is very watchable. Another good one to turn to if you are a fan of either actor. Perhaps if you are a James Dean fan you might look elsewhere for a more definitive account. (What’s really interesting to me is how DeHaan turned the role down five times, feeling intimidated by the prospect. His wife eventually convinced him to take the part.) 

Rated: R

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “Wait a minute, wait a minute! You think you’re giving me something that’s not already comin’ my way? I lose myself in my roles! I don’t wanna lose myself in all this other stuff. And you are this other stuff.”

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

Queen of Katwe

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Release: Friday, September 23, 2016 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: William Wheeler

Directed by: Mira Nair

Despite the illusion of diversity and the notion that films are now being tailor-made for niched audiences, director Mira Nair’s latest feels like a rarity, one that’s not only good for the soul, but good for Disney. Here is a work of substance that is going to satisfy, dare I say move, those seeking a more refreshing point of view. Better yet, themes of poverty and desperation are never overwrought, the drama working comfortably within the PG rating to effect one of the year’s feel-great experiences.

The film was shot entirely on location in Uganda and in Johannesburg, South Africa, and it features a Ugandan director in Nair, who was born in India but presently lives in the country and it is her vision and her choice cast that earns the film a refreshingly authentic African vibe. Though it does visit some dark places, the narrative chooses to forego any sort of political commentary in favor of celebrating what makes African culture so distinct; rich in personality and heart, warm in spirit and color — much of which is reflected in the stunning wardrobe courtesy of Mobolaji Dawodu.

With Disney of course you’re never short of a few doses of cloying sentimentality but in Queen of Katwe the feel-goodness feels really good and it feels earned. It’s also not that simple, as you’ll likely feel on more than one occasion, really, really bad.  It doesn’t hurt that the picture features two of the year’s finest performances and a star-making turn from Ugandan newcomer Madina Nalwanga. Incidentally, Nalwanga has experienced considerable changes of fortune in her own life having afforded an education subsidized by the dance company she performs with. When the film screened at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, it was the second time she had ever seen a film in a theater, and this time she was the star.

The story tells of Phiona Mutesi, a 10-year-old chess prodigy from the slum village of Katwe — a region within Kampala, Uganda’s capital — who manages to transform her life by competing in major chess tournaments. The movie traces her rise to prominence while delineating the tension between the gifted Phiona and her mother, who doesn’t want to see her daughter’s dreams crushed. Phiona comes from an especially impoverished family of five — she has two younger brothers and an older sister. Her widowed mother, Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), is the glue that holds everything together, working tirelessly to keep the family under a roof and to keep her children fed. She often goes hungry and works long hours selling vegetables on the streets. Life’s desperate and Phiona’s sister Night (Taryn “Kay” Kyaze) has already had enough, having become infatuated with the city life after meeting a man of some wealth.

One day she comes across a group of kids playing chess in a tent. They’re being mentored by a man named Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) who also happens to be working for the town ministry. After quickly learning the basics, Phiona shows promise as a player, often beating her fellow competitors, which stirs up quite the fuss as no girl should be allowed to beat a boy. It’s not long before Katende realizes her quick wit and intellect separates her and he finds himself jumping through hoops to encourage her mother to allow Phiona to pursue this. There are cash prizes awarded at these tournaments, he says. But Nakku pushes back, concerned that exposure to an altogether unattainable life will ruin Phiona.

Queen of Katwe falls upon familiar underdog story constructs but Nair employs them such that they’re necessary plot propellants. The most familiar of the obstacles manifest themselves in the competition scenes. When the youngsters travel to their first competition nerves are high, the opponents are well-dressed and contemptuous. Perceptions of inferiority and illegitimacy can be traced back to the moment Katende advocates for Phiona’s inclusion in competitive chess to members of the Katwe school council. Bureaucrats tell him bluntly that those from the slum should not intermix with people of another class. Additionally, the constant degradation on the home front as the family find themselves temporarily evicted isn’t anything we haven’t experienced before but there’s a rawness to these developments that just can’t be ignored.

The resolution is far from unpredictable, even given the oppressive circumstances into which this bright young girl has been born. Phiona is obviously an anomaly. We know she’s going all the way to the top, and we know she’s going to ultimately succeed. It’s the journey getting there, and getting to experience her family’s struggles and their perseverance that ultimately rewards. And when the film is so handsomely mounted and beautifully acted, particularly by Nyong’o and Oyelowo who offer powerful resilience and unwavering support respectively, that makes the culmination of all things positive and predictable that much more acceptable. Queen of Katwe is a Disney film that reminds us of the power of perseverance and the importance of intellect, one that creatively parallels the complexities of chess with the decisions one has to make in life, whether the end game is elevating one’s social standing or finding a way just to make ends meet. This is a born winner.

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Recommendation: Powerful performances allow Queen of Katwe to transcend cliché and they also help the film speak to a larger human experience of rising above circumstance and overcoming serious odds. It’s nice that the film focuses on a part of the world that doesn’t get the big screen treatment very often. And as to the sport that lies at the heart of the film — I concede I don’t find chess altogether exciting but the way the director and the screenplay works it in to the story actually makes it pretty compelling. I personally have no idea what’s going on on a chess board but I had no problem believing that this brilliant girl did. That’s the mark of a good actor.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 124 mins.

Quoted: “Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong. You belong where you believe you belong. Where is that for you?”

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

The Little Prince

'The Little Prince' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 5, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Irena Brignull; Bob Persichetti

Directed by: Mark Osborne

The Little Prince is a gem. It’s a crime it never received a theatrical release. It’s a heartwarming journey rivaling anything Pixar has created on an emotional and intellectual level, and perhaps it’s the complex, multi-layered animation that truly sets the film apart, interweaving crude stop-motion with crisp, computer-generated imagery to produce an aesthetic you’ll struggle to find elsewhere.

Kung Fu Panda director Mark Osborne’s enchanting tale is a reimagining of the 1943 French novella of the same name, penned by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a successful commercial pilot (and novelist, poet, aristocrat and journalist) prior to World War II. The man once traveled to American shores in an attempt to convince the government to bring the fight to Nazi Germany following his disenfranchisement from the French Air Force in the early 1940s. He spent a little over two years in the States writing what would later become three of his most popular works. He later would re-join the Force only to disappear mysteriously soon thereafter à la Amelia Earhart.

Saint-Exupéry’s experiences as an aviator factor into this modern interpretation of The Little Prince in curious ways. (It should be noted, however, that his original story was published before he enlisted.) Fantastical elements are of course front-and-center and the story is entrenched in the stresses of modern living, but under the surface lie untold mysteries and tales of bravery, heroism and self-discovery. Strong emotional hooks are drawn from an impressive, inspired voice cast and Osborne’s touch, though ultimately nothing unique, is just confident enough to steer the story in a direction that, come the end, very well may have you in tears. The good kind, of course.

We’re introduced to The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy, who thus far has Interstellar, The Conjuring and Ernest & Celestine on her résumé, and at the time of writing she’s yet to turn 16) who lives in a very grown-up world driven by rules, schedules and obedience. Her Mother (Rachel McAdams) wants her to attend the prestigious Academy so she can grow up and become an essential, contributing member of society. The initial interview does not go well as the panel, led by Paul Giamatti‘s intimidating and overly harsh instructor, springs an unexpected question upon her that causes her to panic. Mother has a Plan B: make her daughter cram so much studying into each and every day of her summer vacation she’ll be sure not to have any distractions (i.e. friends).

Mother draws up an impossibly elaborate Life Plan and constructs it so that each minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year is accounted for. Soon enough, The Little Girl rebels. She befriends their eccentric, hoarding and elderly neighbor, The Aviator (Jeff Bridges), who is introduced as the scourge of this SimCity-esque neighborhood — one comprised of identical blocky houses and roads filled with cars driving identical speeds and in organized right-angled patterns. Mother looks at the situation like so: “Just think about [his] house being the reason [ours] is available. This is the place where you’ll learn to grow up and become Essential.” (I paraphrase.)

The Aviator is a wonderful creation, and Bridges brings the character to life in ways that are difficult to fathom. Practically speaking, his performance is little more than a voice laid over/synced up with a cartoon character. It’s not the genuine article, and yet, he is mesmeric as he regales The Little Girl about his past experiences with an enigma he calls The Little Prince, whom he met after crashing his plane in the Sahara Desert many years ago. The Little Prince (voiced by the director’s son Riley) shows him a world where everything is possible, a reality that The Aviator has been trying for years to communicate to anyone willing to listen. Finally he has found someone who will, even if her intelligence means she’s skeptical about certain details.

The Little Prince is a space-traveling young lad who once lived on a tiny planetoid, a celestial object so small you could traverse on foot in a matter of minutes and whose existence is constantly being threatened by hungry tree roots eager to take over the entire planet. He left this world and a Rose he fell in love with (voiced by Marion Cotillard for some reason) in search of greater truths amongst the cosmos. In the present day, The Little Girl decides it is her responsibility to track down The Little Prince and prove to The Aviator that he still does exist, and that even though he has grown into a jaded, passive adult, he never abandoned the child within.

The Little Prince astounds on a visual level. It is an exercise in contrasts, the real world from which The Little Girl temporarily escapes suffocating with its seriousness and sterility, while the universe expands into this wondrous, strange space in which individual worlds are populated by simplistic, insulated communities comprised of childless, passionless adult drones. Scale is quirkily reduced to something almost tangible. We’re not talking interstellar travel here, more like a weekend road trip amongst the stars. You’ll find the stop-motion animation reserved for backstories concerning The Aviator’s relationship with The Little Prince while the rest operates in a pristine, colorful world that gives Disney a run for its money.

Much like a Roald Dahl creation, The Little Prince refuses to condescend to its pint-sized viewers. It strikes a delicate balance between entertaining youngsters while providing the more jaded a few different ways to look at the lives they’ve shaped for themselves. Occasionally the chronicle trips into the realm of the pretentious with a few overly-poetic spits of dialogue that attempt to spice up an already fairly advanced narrative. It doesn’t have to try so hard. The exploration of just what it was that caused the kid in us to go away is profound enough on its own.

The Little Prince

Recommendation: The Little Prince offers adventurous viewers something a little different. Generally speaking the story arc isn’t something you’ll be experiencing for the first time, but it’s the incredible nuance and the textures and the layers to the animation that make it one of the most original works this former animated-film-skeptic has seen all year. Stellar performances abound. There’s even a cute fox voiced by James Franco, a Benicio del Toro-sounding snake and Albert Brooks is along for the ride so the cast is reason enough to check it out. Also, stop-motion. Have I mentioned how awesome the technique is? Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. Available on Netflix.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “It is only with heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

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 Do-Over

'The Do Over' movie poster

Release: Friday, May 27, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Kevin Barnett; Chris Pappas

Directed by: Steven Brill

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again.

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. They are terrible and unfunny. It’s only kind of funny if you think about Sandler using that pistol to put whatever’s left of his career out of its misery.

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. There is zero acting in this movie. Cero. Nada.

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. In this one, he (Max) and his friend (Charlie) fake their own deaths so they can escape their depressing current lives, for good. I wish Adam Sandler and David Spade faked their own deaths and they’d go be something different somewhere else.

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. Paula Patton is seriously incredible looking in this movie though. Oh, that was a weird type-o. That was supposed to say something about how badly this film failed the Bechdel Test.

I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. I will never be duped by another Adam Sandler movie again. Can I take the last hour and forty-whatever-minutes, and have a Do-Over? For the love of god man.

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Recommendation: You know what? It’s really painful to watch talent just go completely to Justin Bieber-levels of waste. If Adam Sandler doesn’t want to try, I’m not going to either.

Rated: NR

Running Time: way too long

Quoted: “What was so terrible about your life that you wanted a whole new one?”

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

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

TBT: The Graduate (1967)

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For the second pick of November ’15 we’re going back to what has been referred to me time and again as a classic. A coming-of-ager to end all coming-of-age films. It’s Dustin Hoffman’s second big screen appearance, one that officially opened up the doors to a promising and diverse career, one that I am ashamed to admit I have experienced precious little of. My world has been rocked today as I have learned that 1) Dustin Hoffman, and I mean this in the most complimentary of ways, has been around much longer than I had thought he had been; and 2) I hadn’t planned this at all, but this TBT is in a way commemorative. Today marks one year since the sudden and tragic passing of the much-acclaimed director of 

Today’s food for thought: The Graduate.

'The Graduate' movie poster

Worrying about the future since: December 22, 1967

[Netflix]

An idle mind is the devil’s playground, some Philippians once decreed. Given that, I had an entire sandbox and an assortment of twisty slides to go down thinking about all of the dirty things I could be doing instead of watching this incredibly annoying movie. This character (yes, that’s right, the graduate) doesn’t do anything the entire movie but complain about upper middle-class white male privilege. “Oh no, my life is going in no direction in particular. Guess I’ll go float on a raft in the middle of my pool for the rest of the summer.”

A solid basis for a Kevin Smith movie. Let’s just watch Dustin Hoffman look really good for an hour and 40 minutes in a sun-tinged pool in some swanky house in Burbank. Or wherever the location was. I do find it kind of ironic: I have drifted for much of my post-collegiate life (because I’m no good at making actual, important decisions). I’m middle-class . . . maybe not upper-middle-class but I’ve been fortunate. Where are the cameras? Oh yeah, that’s right, I think out loud, snapping back to reality.

Two things, one probably more important than the other: 1) I’m not an attractive, young movie star and 2) I’m not an attractive, young movie star who gets his bones jumped by Anne Bancroft. See? I’m telling you, this is a movie about privilege.

The Graduate is supposed to be this whole quirky, kinky romantic thing involving Hoffman’s Ben Braddock and a family friend, the lovely but pathetically insecure Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft). The film is hardly romantic and it certainly isn’t charming. Although it does tick the quirky and kinky boxes. It all starts when she asks Ben to drive her home after a welcome home party in Ben’s honor.

Things get a bit awkward as Ben suddenly finds himself alone with her in her room as she undresses. But they won’t do the dirty here — no, they end up getting a room in a hotel where apparently all manners of trysts and assignations occur. This is where we get that iconic shot of Bancroft’s crossed legs in the foreground, with a smitten Ben Braddock lingering in the background, hands in his pockets. Perhaps if Ben weren’t such an incorrigible stiff — I mean that in the least sexual way possible — this movie would be over a heck of a lot sooner, saving me and anyone else who can’t buy into whatever charm Hoffman’s supposedly laying on in his second big screen performance from another 80-some-odd minutes of flaccid comedy.

Complications arise when Ben’s parents set him up on a date with the Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), much to Mrs. Robinson’s disapproval. She hates the thought of Ben going for someone his own age. (Yeah, what a pervert.) When Ben eventually falls in love with Elaine, following a rough first date during which he attempts to distance himself from her at the behest of her mother, all bets are off that Ben’s once quiet life will continue as normal.

Early in the film a family friend encourages the young man to live a little, to enjoy himself just for awhile before he settles down. That was actually Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton) who gave him that advice. Ergo, anything comical about The Graduate stems less from performances and situation as it does from our omniscient vantage point. We know everything and the poor husband knows nothing. I saw more disdain for living than pleasure in embracing life’s unpredictability. Less comedy and more pent-up sexual frustration. The Graduate is all about the latter; I’m not so sure about the former. I suppose one thing that was pretty amusing was how adamant Ben was in ensuring Mrs. Robinson he isn’t a virgin.

More mysterious than how this film has garnered such popularity is Hoffman’s awkward, wooden performance. The goal is to exude that post-graduation malaise but his delivery doesn’t seem very assured. Not to mention, being a womanizer first and a stalker second doesn’t really speak to my experience. And I doubt I’m alone. I’m also not a saint, but if The Graduate is supposed to be a commentary on that awkward ‘next step’ after college — his insufferable parents would like it very much if he attended graduate school; after all, what were those four years of undergrad for anyway? — it’s painting anyone who hasn’t had a life plan in broad strokes and in a pretty ugly color.

Setting aside thematic content, The Graduate just isn’t that creative. It assesses the budding relationship between Ben and Elaine as they continue finding common ground, while an ever envious Mrs. Robinson goes out of her way to make life exceedingly difficult for Ben. It’s another tale of home-wrecking and heartbreaking. The malleability of a young man’s happiness: if he can’t get this, then he’ll settle for that. If not that, then something else. Ben, in the latter half of the film, goes into full-on creeper mode, seeking out Elaine after a major reveal causes her to move out of her parents’ house and back to college, where she apparently is now with some other guy. And while the conclusion ends on a curiously ambiguous note, it’s not wholly unpredictable. The whole damn thing has been about indecision.

All of this ho-ing and hum-ing is set to the tune of a fairly inspired Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, which is one of a few things I’ll take from this movie and cherish. The film is brilliantly scored. So here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson. Seems other people will love you more than you will know. Just . . . not . . . me.

Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in 'The Graduate'

Recommendation: If you like your movies testing your every last nerve, you might try out The Graduate. Yeah, it’s an early Dustin Hoffman performance but I didn’t find it a great one. A coming of age movie with almost no wisdom to impart, I have to say I am massively underwhelmed by this thing. 

Rated: PG 

Running Time: 106 mins.

TBTrivia: In Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft’s first encounter in the hotel room, Bancroft did not know that Hoffman was going to grab her breast. Hoffman decided offscreen to do it, because it reminded him of schoolboys trying to nonchalantly grab girls’ breasts in the hall by pretending to put their jackets on. When Hoffman did it onscreen, director Mike Nichols began laughing loudly offscreen. Hoffman began to laugh as well, so rather than stop the scene, he turned away from the camera and walked to the wall. Hoffman banged his head on the wall, trying to stop laughing, and Nichols thought it was so funny, he left it in.

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

Photo credits: http://www.jakenewton.wordpress.com; http://www.ngpopgun.wordpress.com

Entourage

Release: Wednesday, June 3, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Doug Ellin

Directed by: Doug Ellin

There’s no denying how much the Entourage movie will fail to unite that which its namesake HBO series divided back in 2004. The cinematic revival will be regarded either as one of the more obvious examples of excessive fan service, or the heralding of a new era of one of modern television’s most meta entertainment vehicles.

There’s plenty of fuel for both arguments, though you won’t hear me complaining that there is now a two-hour long episode available in the big screen format.

In truth, the movie is likely to further polarize the two factions — those who have embraced the idea of tracing a young movie star’s personal and professional trajectory and those who haven’t — for Entourage is a properly conceived crowd-pleaser. If you’ve been along for the ride the return of Vincent Chase and his loudmouthed, fairly obnoxious New York brethren is a welcomed retreat back into the male fantasy of living dreams that once felt out of reach. Anyone approaching the material for the first time or with limited enthusiasm isn’t going to be moved to check out much beyond its pilot season. Perhaps not even beyond the pilot episode. The world surrounding Vincent Chase serves as its own self-sustaining economy; series creator Doug Ellin, even Mark Wahlberg, whose experience growing up in Hollywood is catalytic, and the fans thereof need not apologize or explain at length why the exclusivity works so beautifully.

Outside of meticulous, brilliant writing what granted the show its longevity was the camaraderie between four then-unknowns. That Entourage constantly brushed shoulders with much more recognizable names did nothing but confirm the show’s unique accessibility, a creation where movie stars are people and not just brand names. You could almost reach out and touch these individuals through the screen. If it’s not easy to identify with those who earn multi-million dollar paychecks (and it’s not), then the juxtaposition of ‘stars’ like the fictional Chase brothers alongside, say, Scarlett Johansson or in the case of the movie version, someone like Billy Bob Thornton makes for interesting career comparisons. That’s of course if you’re into that sort of thing.

Entourage may be four years “in the making,” though it feels as if no time has passed since we left Vince (Adrian Grenier), E (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) to their own pervy devices. That’s primarily because the film manifests as merely an extension of the same narrative that saw Vince grow from a new kid on the Hollywood block into a true celebrity, maturing through all manners of drug-addled self-aggrandizement and sexual encounters designed to separate the movie star from the individual.

Why there is this indignation that this extended episode doesn’t offer more than . . . well, more of the same, is anyone’s guess. The day-in-the-life experience would never work as a production with a singular narrative focus. The slightest deviation from what has worked so well in the past wouldn’t feel natural. Characters of flesh and blood, despite their materialistic obsession and an apparent preference for misogynistic lifestyles, have endeared themselves to those who understand that Entourage represents and values loyalty, friendship and dedication more than the sheen of its surface suggests. Rather than exaggerating these people in a story more befitting of a feature film, Ellin knows that the only way forward is to continue exploring how these individuals interact with a fictionalized and dramatized Hollywood landscape.

In 2015 Vince and his bros are wealthier than ever. It’s also easier than ever to fail in identifying with the stress and tension shared amongst the crew, as they all have risen to such prominence on the scene. That won’t stop us from having a good time with them, though. Ari the super agent (a never better Jeremy Piven) is trying to reconcile his professional and family life the best way he knows how. He’s left the agenting racket behind and currently runs his own studio. His priority is enabling Vince to rise to the ‘next level.’ Presumably this means becoming even more famous than he currently is — some kind of awards recognition would be nice. Vince wants to update the Jekyl and Hyde fable by not only starring in the project but directing it as well. It’s a decision that concerns Ari as much as Vince’s best friend/manager.

Turtle and Drama are similarly surprised by the ambition, especially given the position it would put all of them in should the film fail critically or commercially. Of course, since Turtle sold his tequila company to Mark Cuban it’s really Drama who is most concerned about that whole living by the freeway situation. After all, he’s still the one trying to break through in the industry. Vince’s Hyde represents the first investment Ari would be making as studio head, so what’s at stake is painfully obvious. The stakes are no different than before, and not really much higher, despite insistence from both Entourage‘s writers and performers that they are. Thornton is in as Texan billionaire financier Larsen McCredle, and along with his entitled son Travis (Haley Joel Osment), he represents the big money; the underbelly of the business of entertainment. While the pair are a welcomed addition to the ever-expanding list of extended cameos, Thornton and Osment do little to escape the mold of Entourage‘s conflict creation and resolution.

Turtle finds a new potential love interest in MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, while Drama is once again humiliated thanks to a viral video he unwittingly creates with all of his pent-up anger and aggression. E finds himself in an uncharacteristically awkward position when his bedding of two different women in the space of 24 hours yields some rather unsavory consequences, while Vince carries on getting most of the attention from male and female fans alike.

Yes indeed, very little has changed. Yet at the same time Entourage represents another leap forward in the maturation process of each of its players. The pursuit of women, prestige and boatloads more money may not be the most profound representation of human nature but it is consistent. And it all still rings true to the lifestyle these people have embraced since leaving Queens. It’d be ridiculous to say the wait has been killing anyone since Entourage went off the air in 2011 (though I’m sure a few diehards are claiming this to be so), but it’s certainly fun having another opportunity to dive back into this outrageously excessive culture. I’m sorry that I’m not sorry about my fascination with it.

Recommendation: Entourage is unabashedly a continuation of the series that became one of HBO’s most popular, and as such fans have a lot to look forward to. The film’s greatest weakness, I suppose, is its inability to offer anything to those unfamiliar with it or who couldn’t quite get into even the most popular episodes. This is very much an exclusive film and I understand completely the antipathy that will rise in the wake of its release.

Rated: R

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “I’m telling you. Because it is your job, along with going over budget and being short, to tell him these things.”

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

Boyhood

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Release: Friday, July 18, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

I know my refusal to get up out of my seat even after almost three consecutive hours of sitting — in considerably cramped quarters, I might add — is pretty weak testament to the fact that Boyhood just may be one of the coolest films this reviewer has had the privilege of watching. Saying I didn’t move after the film ended is not a very flashy statement and it probably won’t help sell a lot of tickets, I’ll admit. Instead it’s one that might even lead readers to think I just got stuck in the chair or something. Maybe I had even fallen asleep. I have seen that before, actually; people just lying there comatose while the credits rolled — sigh. What are they paying for?

If I had fallen asleep here, I would have just paid to sleep through a rare kind of cinematic event. Foolishly, I would have muted a voice I, as something of a nit-picky consumer of media, have been needing to hear for awhile. A voice that’s already too hard to hear when the Michael Bays and Brett Ratners and M. Night Shamalyans of the world won’t hush. Indeed I would have, in effect, slept through another chance to grow up once more, to do it all over again.

Wait, I didn’t mean I slept through my childhood the first time, just that I would have been. . . . . oh, never mind. You know what I mean. And you know what else, even if that opening line isn’t all that attention-grabbing, hey at least I’m being honest! I remain unable to leave this film behind, physically or psychologically. Yes, I might still be in denial. Yes, I’m still in the theater a week later. Yes, okay, that’s a lie.

But here’s something I can’t lie about: Richard Linklater’s much-anticipated project no longer exists in mythology. It’s now out there, ready for public consumption, even if its distribution will only allow the public to ingest it in nibbles.

Should I be surprised, though? Maybe it is fate that Transformers: Age of Exstinky debuted to some 3,000 theaters all crammed to the brim like cans of sardines while this astounding feat of cinematic beauty has slowly earned the right to open in front of less than 1,000 indie crowds over the past month and a half. Seems to me the public always picks its battles quickly, and in this example it’s one between films with short skirts versus those with long-winded explanations. And it’s so totally a one-sided affair, too. An overwhelming number of times the former emerges victorious. Visual stimulation is easier to accomplish — not necessarily cheaper to produce — than ones of a conceptual or emotive nature. After all, even despite dismal reviews that caucophany was the fourth installment in a series that has seriously lost its way but is still earning money. Lots of it.

Boyhood is a rare film for many reasons, but chief among those has to be how faithfully it adheres to the typical viewer’s own experiences. (Unless, of course, you’re an alien.) Never before has the line between fiction and reality been so flirtatious, so challenging to define. Character names and relationships are afforded the protection of fictionalization, and thank goodness too because that’s one of perhaps two things distinguishing proceedings from home-video footage (the second element being a distinctly more expensive piece of equipment used in filming). Production values exist on a level liable to boggle the mind if one is not careful. And hopefully, if one is not passed out in their seats.

We first meet Mason as his diminutive frame sprawls out upon a patch of brilliant green grass — eyes wide and full, ingesting every ounce of the sky above. Already he is engaged in a process we, the mere spectators, have been practicing for some time: being aware of his surroundings. (Later, finding a way to blend in.) While it’s a bit disconcerting never being able to pinpoint the precise moment we become aware of our own presence, there certainly becomes a point where its clear cynical men have abandoned the nescience of true boyhood. Such abstraction may not occur to every viewer, but it’s one of the more breathtaking developments over the course of these fleeting minutes.

In that iconic opening shot, Mason’s already sponge-like, absorbing and observing things about his environment, about the kinds of things kids his age do. He’s learning his family is also not the most traditional one, but he won’t understand why for another little while. Neither will we.These are the kinds of things real people grow up having to cope with, rather than worrying about when the token girl will pop up “on screen” and “become central to the plot via some contrivance.” That sugarcoating just won’t ring true here. And yet, Mason’s going to be a hero all the same for walking through this. Although enigmatic from the get-go his charm is not instantly earned. Particularly in the early years, Mason doesn’t feel as though he’s made of the stuff of even the most transparent of cinematic creations.

There’s something more organic about Coltrane’s presence. Whether this comes down to a particularly subtle acting style on his behalf or a sensationally perceptive script could be debated until the cows come home. Or at least, you know. . . until the absentee father does. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, two somewhat illustrious names in the industry, help ensure some of the film’s emotional gravity is not lost on slightly inexperienced actors. But this casting is about as extravagant as Boyhood becomes and it is not to suggest Coltrane doesn’t have to sweat the big stuff. Oh, how he does. But rather than sweating, Coltrane remains graceful, poised. He simply becomes what is asked of him.

Meanwhile, more identifiable ‘performances’ can be found with Hawke, as he embraces the opportunity to portray Mason Sr., the biological father whom Mason and Samantha only see on the odd occasion. A very fun Ethan Hawke provides charisma and energy where these kids really require strong parental support (every hard-working mother in the room should be able to empathize to great depths with Arquette’s brilliant performance); gifts where they need valuable lessons.

Ah, but he comes prepared with a few of those, too.

Mason Sr. is a great guy, but perhaps not so much a competent father figure. All of his wisdom is imparted on-the-go. A scene in which he’s delivering the birds-and-the-bees speech takes place in a public setting and he’s even considerate enough to include both kids in the discussion. That kind of awkwardness only manifests itself in reality. There’s no way this scene is actually scripted. . .is there? Could it be? That’s just one example, albeit a particularly strong one. If I were to name some others we could be here all night and day.

As per the lyrics: “let me go. I don’t want to be your hero. I don’t want to be a big man. I just want to fight with everyone else.” Indeed. Ever the idealist, I didn’t want to get out of my seat because I wanted those pangs of nostalgia to never subside. Best part of all, my refusal to move is merely unique to one particularly reactive moviegoer. Linklater easily could have groped for sentimentality but where he avoids forcing saccharinity, he’s unable to escape effecting profundity.

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5-0Recommendation: Boyhood is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Immense in both scope and ambition, Richard Linklater’s project is also intensely personal. His name ought to be crowned among the greatest directors of all time. With a single movie — although it would be a bit dismissive to label this just another title to add to the stack — I feel he has earned that right. A labor of love it may be, but this is also one of the most important and significant films ever released. I urge you with something akin to desperation, to treat yourself to this marvel.

Rated: R

Running Time: 165 mins.

Quoted: “Why are you crying?”

“Because I don’t have all the answers.”

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