First, a word from our sponsors. Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
The new movie God Help the Girl, writer/director Stuart Murdoch’s maiden voyage of a film, has, at its core, a group of young people who must be the best dressed teens on the face of the planet.
Now, I don’t know whether to call their style hipster, retro, throwback or ironic (or, as one of my college professors once had included on his multiple choice tests, e. all of the above, f. none of the above, or g. some of the above, please specify), but I do know that everyone on screen is dressed within an inch of their lives in outfits that made me think they did nothing all day but stand in front of a mirror, mixing and matching, matching and mixing. Read the rest of this entry »
Movie Review of THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL by Howard CasnerPosted: April 11, 2013 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Alex Epstein, Ben Coccio, Boris Rodriguez, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan, Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance, Eddie: the Sleepwalking Cannibal, Emory Cohen, Jonathan Rannells, Lem Dobbs, Robert Redford, Ryan Gosling, Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, The Company You Keep, The Place Beyond the Pines, Thure Lindhardt | Leave a comment »
The Place Beyond the Pines is a movie that is greater than the sum of its parts. And there are three of them; parts, I mean. And that’s probably the first thing you should know. The writers Derek Cianfrance (who also directed), Ben Coccio and Darius Marder don’t really do that strong a job in preparing you for that so when the first part ends, you don’t really realize it’s just the first of three separate, but strongly connected stories and it can be a bit confusing for awhile until you figure it out (or unless you read reviews of the movie beforehand, which I didn’t).
The first part of the film concerns Ryan Gosling as a carnival motorcycle daredevil. When he finds out he has a kid he never knew about, he does what anyone in his position would naturally do: he quits to become a bank robber. Yes, it has about that much logic. In fact, when the idea of robbing banks is presented to him, all you can think is, what could possibly go wrong with this plan; I mean, it’s genius, man, genius. Actually, it is kind of. The MO Gosling and his partner use is quite clever and they could have gotten away with it for a long time, until something happens that shouldn’t have. But at the same time, this section is a bit too much been there, done that. It’s a fairly typical story of a petty criminal that works out the way stories about petty criminals generally work out in movies like this.
In the second story, Bradley Cooper takes over as an ambitious police officer who brings Gosling down and Gosling is out of the picture (no, I’m not spoiling anything—I think you really, really need to know that Gosling is only in the movie for a short period; and my revealing it isn’t remotely the same thing as telling people that Janet Leigh gets killed off in the first part of Psycho—okay, maybe I shouldn’t have revealed that about Janet Leigh, but you get what I’m trying to say). Anyway, this section is a bit more interesting, especially due to a cameo by Ray Liotto doing his psychotic bit as a dirty cop. At the same time, I also think this section is a little off because it doesn’t focus on Cooper’s relationship with his son, which is basically what the movie as a whole is supposed to be about, fathers and sons.
Then there’s the third story in which the two sons of Gosling and Cooper (doe eyed, pouty Emory Cohen and sharp featured Dane DeHaan) meet and this section is deeply moving and powerful and almost makes the first two parts seem better than they are. When the movie comes together here, it fills you with a sense of wonder and excitement as these two teenagers try to work out their fate without the benefit of knowing any of their true history, without the benefit of knowing they even have a fate. We know so much that they don’t which gives their actions even more meaning than the characters realize they have. And as the story works itself out in unexpected ways, there are times when the emotions are at times nearly overwhelming.
Early on in the movie The Company You Keep, Susan Sarandon, as a former domestic terrorist now in custody, tells ambitious reporter Shia LaBeouf that he is younger than she expected. When he thanks her, she says it wasn’t a compliment. In the same way, The Company You Keep is the Argo of this year. Before Ben Affleck says thank you, it’s not a compliment. There’s nothing that wrong with The Company You Keep except that the best thing you can say about it is that there’s nothing that wrong with it. It’s entertaining enough and rarely boring. But like Argo, it’s a movie that never really rises above what it is.
The story itself never exactly makes a lot of sense. Thirty years before, a bunch of radicals, including Robert Redford, went into hiding after robbing a bank in which one of them shoots and kills a bank guard. It’s all in protest of the Viet Nam War, but thirty years from 2013 is 1983 and the whole thing seems a bit out of whack with the space time continuum. And the logic of the whole story never really gets much better (by the time the movie is over, it’s a bit muddled just why Redford’s character went into hiding since he was never guilty, he wasn’t even at the bank—it’s sort of like the actor in him wanted to have his cake and eat it too—play a bad guy without ever playing a bad guy).
The basic cast is made up of the old guard versus the new. The ex-radicals are played by such luminaries as the aforesaid Sarandon and Redford, as well as Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliot and the ubiquitous Stephen Root. Jesus, it’s like an episode of Murder, She Wrote, but filled with A list actors who are still working rather than B-list actors desperate for a job. Only Susan Sarandon really comes off well, with a mesmerizing scene with LaBeouf where she defends her role in the protests of the, well, I was going to say 1960’s, but with that space time continuum thingy, I’m not sure, but at any rate, she’s hypnotic and really delivers.
The young guard is made up of LaBeouf, Anna Kendrick and Terence Howard, and all I can say is that Kendrick and Howard need to get a new agent. Both are well respected actors with Oscar nominations, but if the best their managers can do is get them work playing second fiddle to LaBeouf, then drastic measures need to be taken. At the same time, LeBeouf, himself, acquits himself well. I don’t know what it is about him, but lately whenever I review him, I always seem to start with, he acquits himself well. I think it’s because I’m never really convinced he is cast right; but he’s a solid actor, and he carries the movie on his unbroad shoulders rather well here.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that there’s also the inbetween guard with Chris Cooper in a nice quiet performance as Redford’s brother and Stanley Tucci as a rather odd newspaper editor who doesn’t think that the FBI somehow obtaining a warrant to search a reporter’s apartment isn’t remotely a news story. I didn’t know how to react to that.
The screenplay is by Lem Dobbs and is often quite witty with a lot of clever dialog. It’s directed by Redford in his usual bland style.
Eddie: the Sleepwalking Cannibal (no, I’m not making that up, that is the title) is a horror movie about a painter who is blocked but gets inspiration after a ten year dry spell when his housemate, Eddie, a mentally slow man he has taken in, starts sleepwalking at night and eating people. The artist is so inspired by this muse (the violence brings out the creativity in him), that he starts manipulating Eddie to repeat his nocturnal activities. It’s Roger Corman material, but with more style, wit and marginally better production values. It’s a lot of fun and the story works itself out in a very satisfying manner. It’s ridiculous and silly, but that’s the point (at least I hope it is). The clever screenplay is by Boris Rodriguez (who also directed), Jonathan Rannells and Alex Epstein. The painter is played by Danish transplant Thure Lindhardt who, to his credit, manages to take the whole thing quite seriously.
Cloud Atlas the movie stars Frank Griebe and John Toll as the Cinematographers; Huge Bateup and Uli Hanisch as the Production Designers; Rebecca Alleway and Peter Walpole as the Set Designers; Kym Barett and Pierre-Yves Gayraud as the Costume Designers; and a cast of thousands when it comes to Makeup and Art Direction. There are also some actors involved, but they’re all pretty much chopped liver by the time the credits roll.
The movie, for those not on twitter and facebook, contains six story lines set in six different periods of time, including the future as well as the future future. The basic themes seem to be that we’re all connected; everything that happens is cause and effect; and that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Kansas can cause a tsunami in Japan. Except it’s not really.
In fact, as the movie jumps from time period to time period and story to story (as a friend of a friend said, it’s the perfect movie for those with ADD), no one character or event in one time period has any affect on any character or event in another time period. Or if they did, the writers (those V for Vendetta/Matrix welding Wachowski siblings, Lana and Andy, as well as Tom, Run Lola Run, Twyker, all of whom also directed) did a very good job of keeping it to themselves. True, there are overlaps. A book from one period, letters from another, a piece of middle brow music that people go gaga over for some unclear reason, all end up in another era. But that’s not a connection. That’s a coincidence. And of the extremely forced variety. Coincidence and connection are not the same thing, no matter how much new age mumbo jumbo you want to throw at it. Or if it is, the filmmakers have a totally different understanding of butterflies and tsunamis that I do (which is more than quite possible).
In the end, there’s only one reason to have made this movie and that is the opportunity to do a tour de force thingy by creating six difference films in six different styles (Bladerunner, Brideshead Revisited/Merchant-Ivory, a 1970’s crime drama cum social ills action movie, etc.), all using the same set of actors. And if the filmmakers had pulled that off, what an amazing film it would have been.
But alas, the only section that really hits its mark is the Bladerunner type story about replicants in a futuristic New Seoul. This story has the best acting (Jim Sturgess and Doona Bae in the leads); it hits its emotional mark of doomed lovers on the run (a 22nd Century take on They Live By Night); and the visual aspects of this section meld well and don’t overpower the human (well, replicant, but let’s not be petty) element. For the other sections, the filmmakers can’t seem to get the styles or rhythms quite right with the story set further in the future almost impossible to follow.
And then there’s the acting. The biggest names are Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon and Hallie Berry. Sarandon isn’t given much to do. Hallie Berry comes across well enough, especially in the 1970’s action film; all in all, her roles don’t require a great range (and there seem to be little difference in her ambitious investigative reporter and futuristic alien). But (to paraphrase Pauline Kael in talking about Norma Shearer) oh, that Hanks. Perhaps because he is so recognizable no matter what thickness of make up and prosthetics are slathered on, he felt the need to overplay every role to really remind people that he really isn’t who you think he is—but the further he tried to get away from himself, the closer he got.
The best performers come from the younger generation, like Sturgess and Bae as well as Ben Whishaw, the perpetually pouting English actor with the big hair. They seem a bit more comfortable playing their wide range of roles (though the make up for Bae lets her down in the anti-slavery tract section). And Hugo Weaving is a hoot in his Nurse Diesel/Ratchett turn, this time named Nurse Noakes.
In the end, Cloud Atlas is ambitious and often overpowering to look at. But in execution, to be cruel and ruthlessly honest, it comes across more as the perfect choice for bad movie night where everyone can yell out comments as the scenes go by. One suggestion: in the 1970’s film, when Hanks, coiffed in the typical top and sideburns of the day, and Berry go outside and Berry asks if it’s okay to smoke and Hanks says, I’m cool—yell out, not with that hairstyle, you’re not.