Burnt

Burnt movie poster

Release: Friday, October 30, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Steven Knight; Michael Kalesniko

Directed by: John Wells

Brad Cooper is a dish best served cold in this kitchen drama, starring him as a lunatic chef in what seems to be the pinnacle of culinary kick-assery in downtown London. There’s not much fat on these bones but Cooper and some of the other actors — Daniel Brühl is becoming reliable — aren’t exactly gristle. There’s not a very good story around them but these are some pretty great performances.

To use another cute food metaphor, Cooper’s Adam Jones is far from a savory personality. He’s a former drug addict and possessor of virtually every vice one could be accused of having. He barks orders and berates his fellow chefs when things go wrong; he owes a great amount of money to some strangers; he’s generally an intense and unpleasant person to be around. He’s almost superheroic in his distrust of others.

One day Adam decides to get clean and go take over an old friend’s son (Brühl)’s kitchen and cook, you know, the really good stuff. Because that’s how it happens; you can sometimes cook yourself back to sanity. His goal is to achieve a three-star Michelin rating, by all accounts an arbitrary bestowing of honor to all those who don’t spend most of their lives making food. Jones has been a two-star chef for sometime, but to achieve one more would be to become a Kitchen God. You achieve immortality. You become Gordon Ramsey.

Burnt is co-written by a man named Steven Knight, a name that’s likely unfamiliar to those who have yet to experience his brilliantly minimalist Tom Hardy-driven (literally) drama Locke from yesteryear. Minimalism plays a hand once again here, only it’s not to the benefit of the production. Characters, including Cooper’s prima donna, are uniformly underwritten and after a few brief visits to Emma Thompson’s psychiatrist and a few brief flirtations with Sienna Miller’s Helene it becomes clear Burnt is very much a movie of the present, and could care less about fully investing in Jones’ past or his life away from the kitchen.

It’s odd that Knight couldn’t produce a more palatable dish out of Michael Kalesniko’s story. I ponder this not because these characters feel unbelievable or that the food doesn’t look appealing. Neither case is the issue here; in fact the decision to place actors in an environment where all props are not props at all but are instead the genuine articles, contributes to credibility. And Cooper has shown in times past he’s comfortable playing the not-so-nice guy. Rather my concern is over consistency. Knight was onto something with his 2014 psychological drama but now it seems he’s settled back into more crowd-pleasing confectionaries.

Burnt can only justify itself as a cinematic release on the virtue of its star wattage. In every other way this is a package made for television. It would sit beautifully alongside popular shows like Hell’s KitchenKitchen Nightmares or even Chopped. Not to downplay the power of TV drama. Watching good-looking people slave over even-better-looking cuisine and listening to Daniel Brühl romanticize his relationship with one of Europe’s most overblown egotists wouldn’t be the worst way to spend time around the box in the living room.

Yet with a cast this good — one that includes Omar Sy as an ‘old friend’ of Adam’s from his days in Paris, Alicia Vikander as a former flame, and Uma Thurman as an infamously difficult-to-please food critic — it’s more than a little disappointing this run-of-the-mill tale of redemption is as expendable as the next late night McDonald’s run a night shift worker is all but forced into making for the sake of convenience.

Brad Cooper is pissed off all the time in 'Burnt'

Recommendation: Star power is the name of the game here. Fans of Brad Cooper probably will have a hard time resisting this one and he’s definitely great in the lead. But Burnt seems a cheap cash-in on the recent trend of celebrity chef dramas on TV which I, personally, have great difficulty in finding the appeal. I can’t say this movie is a waste of time but it’s a waste of a lot of great talent.

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t want my resturant to be a place where people sit and eat. I want people to sit at that table and be sick with longing.”

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.rottentomatoes.com

Clinger

Release: Friday, October 23, 2015 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Michael Steves, Gabi Chennisi, Bubba Fish

Directed by: Michael Steves


This review is my third contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. I’d like to thank James for providing me the opportunity to take a look at this film.


Clinger tells a story about an obsessive young man who, after losing his life in embarrassing fashion, comes back to haunt his girlfriend by insisting that the two were destined to be together forever. And ever.

Intended to be a fresh entry into the rapidly expanding subgenre of horror-comedy, the film is decidedly more of a comedy tinged with horror elements, featuring absurd performances, brutally silly killings and psychotic teddy bears. It takes place around a fictional high school for which our heroine, Fern Petersen (Jennifer LaPorte), runs track and is hoping to get into MIT on a scholarship based on a combination of her athletic ability and impressive academics. She’s driven and has a bright future ahead of her . . . at least she did until she met Robert Klingher (Vincent Martella).

The pair’s meet-cute at the track, where Fern is attempting to shave seconds off her lap time and Robert’s playing an acoustic guitar alone in the bleachers (for reasons unknown), stems from Robert’s concern for Fern’s health after she plows headlong into a hurdle having been distracted by his John Mayer impression. It’s an odd encounter, though nothing ostentatious. Nothing compared to where Clinger decides to go a few short minutes later.

The film stumbles through the relationship-building, transforming a friendship into a romance over the course of a couple of scenes, but that’s not entirely the film’s fault. You see, something’s wrong with Robert. He likes rushing into things, obsessing over making every single moment perfect. He’s the kind to celebrate the one month, three-week anniversary. It would be a sort of sweet sentiment if it weren’t a quality that extends to his undead . . . self. After he gets killed in an entirely underwhelming scene that’s intended to be funny but just . . . isn’t . . . he begins stalking Fern from beyond the grave. He visits her often, wanting to remain by her side.

When she makes it clear she’s trying her best to move on with her life, things go from weird to downright bizarre (#undeadsex . . . . . . . . how’s that one, Mutey?), with Robert determined to do whatever’s necessary to make Fern his eternal lover. As well as marking a major tonal shift, this point is, somewhat unfortunately, where the film falls apart, collapsing under the weight of significantly amateurish writing, acting and essentially every major facet of the filmmaking process.

There are some interesting ideas at play — the juxtaposition of the living and the dead create some amusing and at times moving scenarios (what happens when the only person who can ‘see’ Robert insists that the two should stop seeing one another?) — but in terms of execution, this seems closer to a first draft than a finished product. What starts off as a fairly shaky but still inviting teen-centric narrative descends alarmingly quickly into a mess of uncoordinated, juvenile and quite frankly dumb antics, most of which aim to appease the 13-year-old in all of us but instead inspire face-palms. The acting is perhaps the most grating of all, particularly when it comes to Martella’s sweet/creepy serenades to his still-living lover.

Clinger takes a pretty cynical approach in examining young love and its obsessive tendencies, and for that it should be praised. It’s refreshing. By shoving the world of the undead and the world of the living together, Michael Steves and company hope that some elements of this bizarre pseudo-zombie comedy (zombedy?) end up sticking. It’s obviously not an exact science and this slapdash film is unfortunately proof of that.

Recommendation: Sorry to say that this one just doesn’t do enough to merit a recommendation from me. I get where they were going with this, but the execution is pretty poor. The special effects in particular is a low point. I grant the film it’s minimal budget but in this day and age, where some films have accomplished extraordinary things on low budgets, that’s just not a good enough excuse anymore.

Rated: R

Running Time: 81 mins.

Quoted: “We just don’t fit into each other’s life plans . . . or death plans, sorry.”

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

Photo credits: http://www.filmaffinity.com; http://www.filmpulse.net 

Oculus

Oculusposter2

Release: Friday, April 11, 2014

[Theater]

So there I am, in the middle of a crowded movie theater, sweaty with anticipation and feeling particularly crotchety with my ever-increasing skepticism towards what was about to be put before my eyes. Able to stuff those concerns down in the cup-holder, I instead choose to embrace this new opportunity to feel my thoughts getting all provoked and stuff. As the screen turns blue and the forthcoming previews start playing, a last-second thought crosses my mind.

“Wait, what am I about to watch again?”

Last year, entries like The Conjuring and You’re Next stepped up and did some significant remodeling to the house of horror, and while both movies weren’t without their critics, they both managed to sell tickets hand over fist — it all got to a point where the question was prompted as to whether the genre has potential for greater prominence in the mainstream film industry. An Oscar for a horror film? The horror! Both of the above-mentioned were much-talked about events almost on par with recent Marvel blockbusters, even as the calendar moved forward. Something about these releases in particular got people talking. In fact they were so good, they proved that my distrust of horror was really just a distrust in the horror that I had seen. My interest in shitting my pants in public places, apparently, still lied dormant.

There have likely been a number of original horror entries that have trickled their way out to the public since those two releases, but Oculus has emerged as the new buzzword in 2014 as far as creative ideas are concerned. As it turns out, this second film from Mike Flanagan has more in common with last year’s blockbuster horror films (if ever there were such a thing) than mere popularity. The Conjuring‘s emphasis on high-quality scares can’t be denied, while James Wan’s indie counterpart You’re Next has an obvious influence on the way Flanagan’s story refuses to bend to convention.

Two siblings, Kaylie and Tim Russell (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites), suffered a traumatic childhood when their parents were both brutally murdered in their home. Their father’s purchase of a large, decorative mirror seemed to be the cause of the problems and 11 years later, a fully-grown Kaylie is determined to return to the house and destroy the mirror once and for all, simultaneously proving that this object was responsible for the death of her parents, and exonerating her brother, who was wrongfully arrested on the scene on that fateful day. Tim finally is released from a psychiatric ward at the start of the film and Kaylie immediately proposes the idea to her emotional brother, who doesn’t share her enthusiasm in shattering the object at first. He mostly wants to forget about all of that.

Kaylie manages to eventually persuade Tim to not only help her destroy a mirror, but destroy a possessed mirror — the convincing about the second part takes Kaylie a little more effort. In the years since the murder, she has done extensive research and subsequently uncovered a horrifying truth about the mirror — IT’S ALIVE, and it wants to hurt people. Becoming obsessive, Kaylie sets up an elaborate system of cameras in the old office where her dad had fallen under its spell all those years ago, and then sets about trying to catch the mirror in the act of being a bastard. It could be an all-night process trying to capture the event on film for the world to see, so Kaylie’s come prepared with food apples and bottled water.

As the night progresses, the atmosphere devolves into something akin to a nightmare, with a series of unexplained events unfolding one after the other. The longer they stay around the mirror, the more the siblings’ mental state deteriorates, with the mirror looking more and more to be the culprit. Details and memories from a haunted past come spilling forth as the two work together to try and stop history from repeating itself. With Tim recently being in a psychiatric hospital, he is inclined to deny everything that Kaylie is telling him about this mirror, including her back-up plan to destroy the thing. Even though she has a convincing rig already in place — including a ridiculous pendulum-like contraption involving a ship anchor and a pulley system — Tim believes his sister is unhealthy and is trying to rationalize her troubled past. This is something he believes he has learned to do in the hospital. Conversely, Kaylie doesn’t agree with the way Tim now thinks and believes him to be a completely different person since receiving ‘treatment.’

Their ideological conflict is only the beginning, however, as they are both confronted with frightening memories and even more disturbing hallucinations that leave them constantly disoriented both physically and with regards to their sense of time. Kaylie’s system of alarms going off every half hour or on the hour helps to combat some of this, but as the film develops even her tactful methods prove ineffective when reality starts blurring with the fantastical.

Oculus grabs the viewer by the (eye)balls and leads them on a psychological journey, one that is rendered both exciting and challenging to endure as an emphasis is placed once again on characters and exposition, rather than on bombarding the viewer with lots of poorly-lit action and demonic-looking CGI. There’s plenty of the latter to be had here, too, but ‘sci-fi/supernatural thriller’ isn’t where the film plans to stake its claim. It may be horrifying to watch, but it is far more fantastical and shares more qualities of a psychological thriller than that of a true horror entry. But this is all just semantics; no matter what technical label it receives, Oculus is a potent and highly original screenplay co-written by Flanagan and Jeff Howard.

However, Flanagan could also have been setting sights on staking claim in ‘Most Frustrating Movie’ territory, given the by-now infamous conclusion that he chose to write. While it won’t be necessary for me to ruin anything for you by giving away details, I need to make the comment that in order for the conclusion to work, you might want to make a mental note that this could very well be the first film in a franchise. . .or the first film of a two-part, much larger story, before sitting down to watch. Knowing this and being prepared for an abrupt conclusion will off-set much of the shock and surprise that could be experienced come the end of this, and even having such expectations won’t spoil any surprises along the way.

Slapping a big asterisk on Oculus‘ conclusion may not be something every theater attendee is going to be willing to do, but in order to protect one’s viewing experience as much as possible, this isn’t an unreasonable recommendation. And that’s all it is, too — a recommendation. Clever, beautifully-shot and well-acted, Oculus turns out to be a nifty surprise, and something I’m probably going to remember for awhile even though I instantly forgot it’s name before it started. . .

The film features a funhouse of effective scares, but perhaps the most effective horror moment of all is the revelation of a bloated Rory Cochrane in his role as Alan Russell, the father. Dazed & Confused fans, shield your eyes. That part is crazy.

yawn

3-5Recommendation:  Inventive, suspenseful and crafted with an unusual eye for detail, Oculus will work much better for some than it will for others. For those interested in something different than the typical haunted-house story, this is certainly one to consider, especially as this film in particular leaves the door open to future, and in my opinion, quite likely sequels. Also, Rory Cochrane. That is all.

Rated: R

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “Hello again. You must be hungry.”

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 

Tim’s Vermeer

112034_gal

Release: Friday, January 31, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Tim’s Vermeer is the documentary that does not discriminate. It does not care how far-removed a viewer is from their high school art course, nor about how much the stigma attached to a genre like ‘art documentary’ limits the potential total audience. Despite a title that might suggest something complicated, perhaps even pretentious, it doesn’t have extremely lofty ambitions (other than to expose its ambitious subject), nor the intention of seeking the approval of the artistic world at large. It does, however, aim to be as stimulating as possible to those who lay eyes upon it — and by the ear of Van Gogh, it succeeds!

Behold the story of Texas-based inventor and the most recent example of me being tricked by a Santa Clause look-alike, Tim Jenison. (Not sure if it’s more the facial hair or his general jolly attitude that gets me more confused. Or his ability to magically create and fix things. Really, there are many parallels.)

With only a brief introduction to this endearingly eccentric man, it’s not long before we understand that, while this documentary certainly focuses on his life, it features only a small part of it. Tim is the type who enjoys staying constantly busy, overseeing the operations of NewTek, a software company he himself founded some years back, all while discovering all sorts of obscure projects and puzzles to work on in his spare time. Not to mention, he is a father and husband.

Where we come in is at a point in his life where he’s taken particular interest in the work of Johannes Vermeer, a 17th-Century Dutch painter most known for his ability to create photo-realistic images well before the concept of the camera had been introduced. Tim’s main objective is to attempt to explain how Vermeer was able to produce such stunning beauty and accuracy so early. Did he use technology to guide his vision or did he simply define the term savant? Tim’s focus turns first towards devising a system of mirrors that would allow him to simultaneously paint directly onto canvas underneath a reflected image of his subject. Sort of like tracing, only without lines being in place.

The experiment itself is difficult to explain clearly, but suffice it to say the results it produces are remarkable. Luckily for Tim, his painting skills are more than passable for a supposed first-timer. His ability to pick up on any number of trades and skills that his current obsession requires is one of the more entertaining and impressive aspects on display. So he’s not a painter, who cares? He’ll try anyway until success is within reach, and then keep trying once its surpassed. The man’s dedication, though it does border on obsession, is something to admire, truly.

In order to solidify his argument — did the famed Vermeer indeed lean upon some sort of technology to accomplish photorealistic paintings? — Tim makes the ultimate goal of recreating ‘The Music Lesson,’ one of the artist’s more intricate pieces. Featuring a woman playing at the piano in the corner of a very small room and a man (presumably the instructor) watching on, the colorful and exquisitely detailed portrait exhibits many of Vermeer’s signature marks including a sophisticated usage of soft, natural light.

Speaking of sophisticated, as our fearless leader faces up to the task of replicating such an image, he recognizes the unique challenges associated with it. His studio set-up will need to be more complex given what and where he will be painting. In order to ensure accuracy Tim rebuilds the room featured in the painting, converting a small section of a Texas warehouse into the space exactly as originally presented. It’s an extensive process in itself, but one that pales in comparison to the daunting prospect of the physical painting — something that ultimately takes Tim a little over four tedious months to complete. There is a statistic at the end of the film which summarizes the length of the entire Vermeer project. Something just over 1,000 days pass since Tim first conceives of the idea. At one point, Tim takes off of work for a week or two to travel to Holland for research. So much for this being a side project.

Narrated by Penn Jillette of illusionist duo Penn & Teller fame, the documented experiment moves along at a brisk pace, and despite seeming like an odd choice for a narrator, Penn never strays from being pleasantly conversational. Actually, it’s less surprising considering the magician’s healthy skepticism tends to balance out Tim’s almost unhealthy optimism. While not necessarily for everyone, there is an addictive quality to what is being filmed that should win over more than just art aficionados. What he obsesses over, we become obsessed with too, as we want to see the finished result. Instead of ostracizing those unfamiliar with Vermeer and the craft itself, Penn’s narrative, along with Tim’s enthusiastic ramblings, are just general enough so as to clue everyone in on what they need to know. And while it avoids condescension, some patience may be required of those well-versed in the medium as they may find a little bit of retread in the simplistic presentations.

Tim Jenison may be a bit of an oddball, but he may also have experienced his breakthrough. His epiphany with the mirrors appears to be less of an invention and more of a rediscovery of a centuries-old technology. His ability to recreate the elaborate oil-on-canvas piece serves as potentially the most convincing bit of evidence that this could have been the method Vermeer relied on in his day. However, without any documentation on the man no one can know for certain.

tims-verqueer-hahah-that-was-too-easy-man

4-0Recommendation: Though obscure, this documentary is chock-full of fascinating insight and personality. Tim Jenison is one interesting character and it is good to have met him. For anyone with the slightest interest in art, I highly HIGHLY suggest Tim’s Vermeer. Lightweight, informative and humorous to boot, it’s a quirky little gem that deserves international exposure. The discoveries made herein need to be made more public.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 80 mins.

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

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

Blue Jasmine

103398_gal

Release: Friday, July 26, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Blue Jasmine is the film that has officially given me a reason to side with some harsh detractors of the Woody Allen school of film. Provided that I’ve only seen two of his films (To Rome With Love being the other) I can’t say definitively whether I fully embrace his films but I appreciate his style — and moreover, his output. He’s one of those movie-per-year kind of directors, and has harvested a massive crop of films that have yielded above-average, if not phenomenal levels of commercial and critical success over the past couple of decades.

The primary complaints lodged against this director’s repertoire involve the following: a stuffy atmosphere, central characters that are difficult to like and/or defend, and a narrative that tends to meander quite a lot relative to the overall runtime (most Allen movies clock in at barely over 90 minutes). While this most recent love story amply evidences justification for such criticism, no trait makes itself more apparent than the second — the fact that Allen likes to work with ‘unlikable’ characters. In fact, it was so difficult to sit through the trials and tribulations of this cast of down-and-outers that it got to the point where the overall movie became a chore to watch. And that is an incredible disappointment considering all the high hope I was bringing with me into the theater.

But before anyone begins to panic and think this is about to be another rant-review, I have to put this out there: I don’t own any Louis Vuitton handbags. There, I said it. I have outed myself as not the target audience for this one.

Nor do I really care much about Louis Vuitton. Or the fashion world. Or high society. Or Alec Bald….okay, yeah, maybe Alec Baldwin. However, and it must be said that it’s not always imperative that a viewer be impressed by or even care about the movie’s choices in thematic elements, this is a film where it really wouldn’t hurt to have some interest in them. Allen’s signature quirky eye isn’t to blame for the sheer lack of enjoyment, nor is the acting really. In fact, Cate Blanchett is almost too convincing here. She is a full-blown alcoholic and more than a little unstable as Jeanette “Jasmine” French, a woman who’s been sent crashing down to Earth after her recent marriage ended in an FBI investigation and has rendered her with no other option but to move in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who is living a more modest life in San Francisco.

No. Blanchett turns in one hell of a performance as Jasmine. Though she could not have irritated me more with the requisite snootiness of a woman displaced from her lavish lifestyle in New York, I could appreciate the level to which the actress had physically and mentally embraced this emotionally fragile state of just such an individual. One particular highlight is the fact that Jasmine goes off on tangents and talks to herself in public, appearing at times like a complete and total nutcase. Indeed, she’s an interesting character even if she doesn’t do a single thing that’s admirable in the slightest.

However, the narrative is shifty, often confusing and occasionally jarring as it darts back and forth between significant past events and catching us up with Jasmine’s mounting despair as she lives with her sister in the present. In spite of things she forges attempts to “better herself,” and move on with her life. That, and. . . well, the rest of the cast are not exactly a likable bunch, either. Featuring Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, Andrew Dice Clay, and Bobby Cannavale, Blue Jasmine truly plucks the apples who have fallen the farthest from the tree, if truth is to be told here. C.K. plays the potential future love interest for Ginger, during a bout of overconfidence brought forth by Jasmine as she brings her along to a party to meet guys and officially put themselves back on the market. Spoilers come from explaining his character, but let it be said that he provides a great example of how Allen likes to give his characters layers. For as brief of a time C.K. is involved, he makes a big impression.

The Diceman makes his insanely inconspicuous appearance in the extensive flashback scenes, playing the ex-loser boyfriend of Ginger who also happens to be upset with her sister. And then there’s of course Bobby Cannavale as the current boyfriend, Chili, who appears to be nothing more than the next pick out of the abusive boyfriend pile. He’s a volatile, aggressive and moody guy who can’t help but cry in public when things don’t go his way. He demonstrates Ginger’s taste in men quite clearly and is perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects to this film. The one-man island of amiable characters lies within Peter Sarsgaard’s Dwight, a man whom Jasmine bumps into at that same party — an aspiring Californian congressman who Jasmine takes to quickly because of his high aspirations and warm personality. Aside from him though, everyone else is some varying degree of sleazy, miserable or just plain drunk.

But supposing these are the attractive qualities to the latest from Woody Allen. Did I just miss the boat with this cast or something? Maybe I am overlooking something critical in my evaluation here but it seems that in order to enjoy a movie, it’s a good idea to have at least a couple characters to root for. That’s decidedly not the case here. Not to mention, there are more than a few moments throughout the film that are simply stressful and uncomfortable.

All around, this is likely to be one of his least-appealing Woody Allen offerings given the vast amount of time one is likely to spend wondering just how the hell this woman is going to make anything of herself in her frenzied state. The film is somewhat unforgiving in that regard. At times, you just would like to see the poor woman rest and escape all of her problems (that is, without reaching for a bottle of vodka). Blanchett really humbles herself with this unattractive person she’s just turned herself into. Allen here seems content enough to watch his cast squirm under the crushing weight of sobering realities. Unfortunately, he also crushes any hope for enjoyment at the same time.

bj-2-hehe

2-5Recommendation: I didn’t enjoy this at all, but then again, I found myself well outside of the intended audience for Blue Jasmine. As the central character is somewhat obsessed with fashion and interior decorating/design, perhaps those who find themselves engaged in those things in the real world will find great enjoyment in Blanchett’s whimsical attempts to become reintegrated into that lifestyle. Though, for those who don’t particularly care to watch someone suffer for the duration of a film — even if that person has brought it upon themselves — it’s best to stay away.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.”

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

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