ALL I WANT IS LOVING YOU AND MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC: Movie Reviews of Lucky Them and We Are the Best! by Howard CasnerPosted: June 14, 2014 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Caroline Sherman, Coco Moodysson, Emily Wachtel, Huck Botko, Liv LeMoyne, Lucky Them, Lukas Moodysson, Megan Griffiths, Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Oliver Platt, Ryan Eggold, Thomas Haden Church, Toni Collette, We Are the Best! | Leave a comment »
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Lucky Them is a movie about someone who is supposed to find someone, but doesn’t really want to find him. It’s a movie about a writer who never seems to really want to write. It’s a movie about someone making a documentary film who doesn’t really want to make one.
Now, within the context of the story and characters, all of this makes perfect sense.
At the same time, because no one wants to really do anything, then nothing really gets done. The plot never really moves forward. The story never really goes anywhere.
And it takes a very long time for none of this to happen. Read the rest of this entry »
There is a sculpture in Chicago in front of City Hall. It’s by Picasso. It’s okay. I thought it was rather derivative and that there wasn’t anything that special about it. To be honest, what I thought when I first saw it was that Chicago paid a fortune to get the great artist to create a sculpture just for the city and all we got was…a Picasso. And I thought we deserved more.
I have now seen every one of writer/director Nicole Holocener’s movies, and I’ll definitely keep on seeking future ones out. I’ve enjoyed them well enough, and her dialog and characterizations are strong, insightful and full of empathy, something most movies seem to lack these days (though I do wish she would do something about her flat and routine visual style).
At the same time, though, I am finding myself, well, wanting more than enjoying them well enough. I find myself so wanting her to take a leap forward, so wanting her to make her Annie Hall, her Dogma, her Raising Arizona or Fargo, her Pulp Fiction, her Lost in Translation. Instead, what we’re getting here, in her new film, Enough Said, is…a Picasso. And it’s a good film, but it’s also just…a Picasso.
The basic story revolves around Eva (a perky Julia Louis-Dreyfuss), a divorced mother who makes a living as a masseuse, who meets two people at a party: the refined, somewhat snobby poet Marianne (Catherine Keener, and what movie by Holocener would be complete without Keener in it) and the less refined, teddy bear Albert (James Gandolfini in his next to last film performance, which gives the whole thing an unintended, but somewhat, whimsical sadness to it). Marianne hires Eva to massage her and the two become good friends. Albert asks Eva out and they become lovers. What Eva quickly finds out, but the others don’t know, is that Eva and Albert are bitter, bitter, bitter exes who keep telling Eva how awful a mate the other one was.
In other words, the basic set up is a farce and it’s a great idea. Unfortunately, the pacing is anything but. And after while, I found myself antsy because all I was waiting for was the big reveal. And it took what seemed a longer than necessary period of time to get there.
I’m also not sure I fully bought the relationships either. And I don’t mean the present tense ones. The more Marianne and Albert talk about each other behind each others’ backs, Eva never seems to ask the most logical question of the story: why did they ever get married in the first place? They seem to be the last two people who would ever go out on a first date, must less tie the knot.
Eva and Albert’s relationship is a bit more convincing because both Louis-Dreyfuss and Gandolfini work very hard at it and there is a sweet chemistry to the two of them. At the same time, I sometimes got the feeling they started a relationship simply because there wasn’t anyone else around. In the end, the most convincing couple in the room are Sarah and Will (Toni Collette and Ben Falcone), Eva’s best friends and comic relief. They seem so right for each other and Collette and Falcone give razor sharp performances, they’re the kind of couple who get each other even when they get on each other’s nerves.
In the end, maybe Holocener isn’t that interested in making that leap forward. That may not be the direction she wants to go in. And I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe that’s okay. And maybe it’s just a prejudice of mine that artist’s should take leaps forward. But god, I so wish she would. We have enough Picassos.
The Fifth Estate, written by Josh Singer and directed by Bill Condon, is a hi-tech espionage thriller disguised as a bromance, or a bromance disguised as a hi-tech espionage thriller. I’m not sure which. I’m not sure I want to know.
For those of you just returned from the Antarctic, The Fifth Estate is about the Private Lives relationship (you know what I mean, can’t live with, can’t live without type thing) between Julian Assange and Daniel Berg, the creators of the king of all hacker sites Wikileaks. And what a relationship it is, too. Like any good Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie, they meet cute; flirt; get jealous of each others’ lovers; try to sabotage each others’ relationships; cheat on each other; have make-up sex (in the form of releasing a shocking video of the American military shooting and killing unarmed civilians and journalists—it was good for me, was it good for you, too?). The love affair metaphor here is so heavy handed that it is embarrassing and even cringe worthy at times (you almost want to yell at the screen, “get a room, already, why don’t you”). At one moment I expected Assange to say “You complete me” to Berg and Berg to say to Assange, “I wish I could quit you”. The only place it really deviates from formula is that unlike most rom coms, The Fifth Estate has an unhappy ending as Berg, like any good starter wife, gets traded in for a younger model.
If this movie had been made in the 1950’s, I would have expected it to star Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck and Zachary Scott or Fred MacMurray. Instead we have Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange (with shocking white hair as if he were an elf extra in the Lord of the Rings) and Daniel Bruhl as Berg. There’s absolutely no chemistry between the two and their characters just never come to life (though I have to say in Cumberbatch’s defense, he is stuck with imitating someone with one of the dullest speaking voices in some time).
And poor Berg. After giving some solid and satisfying performances in such films as Good Bye Lenin!, The Edukators and Inglorious Basterds, he just can’t seem to find a role that suits him. And it doesn’t help that here he can’t get any more heat going with his co-star than he could with Chris Hemsworth in Rush, another Beatrice/Benedict relationship that also couldn’t get off the ground (or out of the starting gate).
It’s all so unfortunate. Because when the film focuses on the actual Wikileaks story, it’s rather exciting. Condon’s direction just refuses to let the action lag and the whole thing is filled with a bunch of fun visuals to keep the tension, well…extremely tense. But whenever the thriller returns to the love story, the whole thing sinks like the Titanic, taking its two stars with them.
I must say, though, it does have an interesting supporting cast. Some surprising people keep popping up, like the future Dr. Who, Peter Capaldi; Mike Leigh refugee, David Thewlis; Downton Abby ex, Dan Stevens; and the wonderful Moritz Bleibtrau, one of Germany’s best actors (Run, Lola, Run; Munich; and the Baader Meinhoff Complex).
It also has Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci as U.S. state department officers who, for some reason, always feel a tad out of sync with the rest of the movie. Part of this may be because they are too familiar of actors for their roles. But part of it may be because they give the most vibrant line readings and their platonic romance is infinitely more believable than Cumberbatch’s and Bruhl’s.
The movie Fruitvale Station has a horrific finale, a fevered, shaking camera dramatization of a terrible, tragic incident. It’s also the main reason to see the film. It’s a disturbing, chaotic and frustrating set of scenes and makes you very angry. So if nothing else, the movie has certainly achieved something here. At the same time, as a whole, the movie never really connected with me. The rest of the film is a chronicle of the events, a day in the life of type thing, of the central character, Oscar Grant, a young man with a difficult background spending his last day on earth without knowing his time is running out.
How you feel about the film will probably depend upon how you feel about this character. Oscar (played sincerely and solidly by Michael B. Jordan) is a petty drug dealer who has been in and out of prison. He’s also a compulsive liar; a player; has anger management issues; and refuses to take any responsibility for how his life has turned out. He’s the sort of guy who tells his girlfriend and mother of his child that that last affair he recently had, you know the one, well, hey, now, babe, that meant nothing and it’s over and I’m a new guy now; then in the next scene, he’s flirting with a young woman at the store he once worked at. He’s also the kind of guy who threatens his ex-box with bodily harm if he won’t give him his job back, the job he lost from constantly showing up late (at another time, he threatens to urinate on a poor store owner’s entranceway if he won’t let some friends of his use the store bathroom—you see a pattern here).
After all that, he should be fascinating. He’s the sort of character that I go to movies to see. But Oscar isn’t. In fact, he’s sort of familiar and the kind of character we’ve seen many times in movies before. There’s nothing that particularly unique or vibrant about him. He’s even a bit bland, when all is said and done. Hard to believe when one reads the description above, but that was pretty much it for me.
I think because of this, once the emotional effect of the horrific incident at Fruitvale Station wore off, I thought: okay, it was a terrible event, but I’m still not sure why the writer/director Ryan Cooglar made the movie. The tragedy at the end is not presented in a way that is a commentary on Oscar’s life, though one gets the feeling that Cooglar wants it to be in some way. Instead, it’s unclear Cooglar offers any real insight to the situation or has anything to say about it other than, well, than “shit happens”. Which, actually, is a perfectly fine theme; it’s just unclear that this was Cooglar’s intention.
I do highly recommend a film with a similar situation, The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, written and directed by Paul Greenglass, also a true story about a black teenager who was shot and killed by police officers for unclear reasons; this time in England. It’s a tension filled story that grabs you from the beginning and refuses to let go. Fruitvale Station felt a bit too leisurely to me.
Over the past couple of years, two genres of film seem to have dominated the silver screen: the coming of age film (from Moonlight Kingdom to The Perks of Being a Wildflower to The Kings of Summer to The Bling Ring to The To Do List) and the film apocalypse (from It’s a Disaster to This is the End to The World’s End to World War Z to almost any movie based on a super hero). I’m not sure what this means. I can’t say that it’s a particularly optimistic view of the world to say that just when one takes the first steps toward being an adult you’re shit out of luck because the world’s about to bite you in the ass big time.
The latest foray into the coming of age category is The Way, Way Back, a story about a teen, Duncan (played satisfactorily by Liam James), having to spend a couple of weeks at a beach house with his mother Pam and her new boyfriend Trent, who treats Duncan like a cockroach to be stomped on. While The Kings of Summer is a more ambitious film, The Way, Way Back is actually more satisfying if for no other reason that while the kids in the former film are nothing but spoiled brats who don’t know when they are well off, the hero in the latter film is in a near nightmarish situation in which he is more sinned against that sinning.
But like many films in this popular genre, The Way, Way Back is fun and entertaining and even moving at times, while not really bringing anything new to the table and it all feels rather formulaic. What it does have is some very nice acting, especially from Sam Rockwell in the Bill Murray role, as Owen, the manager of a swimming park who takes pity on the depressed Duncan and becomes the true father figure that Trent (Steve Carrell, giving it his all, while at the same time, never seeming comfortable in the roll and always looking miscast) could never be. Giving more than able support is Toni Collette as the scared and desperate Pam; Allison Janney, hysterical as Betty, the alcoholic in the making next door neighbor; and Maya Rudolph as Owen’s long suffering co-worker.
Perhaps the most original and intriguing aspect of the screenplay (by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also directed) is the character of Betty. In many ways, she treats her kids in the same inexcusably awful manner as Trent treats the kids under his roof. But while Trent leaves you with the feeling that he’s one degree off from becoming Ted Bundy, it’s obvious that Betty and her kids all love each other very much. It’s a clever juxtaposition.
But in the end, does it really matter? The way things are going in the movies these days, all the characters are going to die in a couple of years anyway.
Blue Jasmine is a character study of a faded Northern bell. Any resemblance to A Streetcar Named Desire is purely unintentional, I’m sure (and I have the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge in my pocket). But though written and directed by the great Woody Allen, it feels like a screenplay written by someone who had no emotional attachment to anyone in the film or anything that is going on in it as well. And when it’s all over, you go: fair enough, but exactly why was it made?
It stars Cate Blanchette as Jasmine, a woman married to a Bernie Madoff type (Alec Baldwin) who loses all her upper class trappings when her husband is arrested and the IRS and the court take everything she owns. She moves to San Francisco to live with her sister Ginger, someone she feels too superior to to really want to have anything to do with (Sally Hawkins). The story is told in a rather clunky manner with tons of expository dialog and some distracting side trips (mainly dealing with the Ginger’s love life) that just get in the way of Jasmine’s central through line.
The plot is often not that believable; Jasmine takes a computer course for some reason that never made sense—she claims to be computer illiterate, but no one in her social background is this obtuse. She also has a romance with a politician on the rise (Peter Sarsgaard), someone who works for the State Department yet still has enough money to buy a second home only Donald Trump could afford (okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get my drift). This subplot is so questionable that one is expecting Sarsgaard’s character to turn out to be a con man of some sort with the intent of Jasmine getting a taste of her own medicine; but no, he is exactly what he seems. And that’s without mentioning a surprise ending that only poses more questions than it answers.
On the plus side, this is a movie that is cast within an inch of its life. Everyone is excellent and some, like Hawkins and Blanchett, are brilliant. Perhaps most surprising Is Andrew Dice Clay who is spot on as Hawkins’ working class ex-husband (who knew that Clay could actually have had an acting career if he hadn’t been such a jerk). But in many ways, that is almost all Blue Jasmine has. Whether that is enough, is up to you.
Hitchcock the movie is something one might describe as having an identity crisis (which might be appropriate considering the subject matter). It’s a few parts mid-life crisis; a few parts artist at a cross roads; a few parts sexual obsession; a few parts middle aged love story; a few parts homage. In the end I’m not sure whether it holds together or whether everyone is so brilliant at their jobs, that they cover up the fact that it doesn’t really hold together. I strongly suspect the latter, but I didn’t really care. I was too thoroughly entertained to really worry about it. Whatever else it is, Hitchcock is a ton of fun and I’m not talking about Sir Alfred himself.
The basic storyline revolves around the great (in size and stature) director desperate to do something fresh and challenging after the success of the very commercial and lightweight North by Northwest. So, naturally, when his eyes land on a novel that everyone thinks is pure trash, what can he do but read it. And it has all the elements he is looking for: serial murders, grave robbing, incest, Oedipus complex, transvestitism, and most important of all…the chance to be the first director to show a toilet in an American film. And thus Psycho was born.
The title role is played by Anthony Hopkins. Except for the girth, he really doesn’t particularly look like the man himself. This was apparently a conscious decision. When he was put in the makeup, the less like Hitchcock he seemed (that’s one of the odd things about art—the more realistic it is, the less realistic it is). But when Hopkins opens his mouth and that stentorian voice carefully enunciates his lines in lugubrious wave after lugubrious wave, all you can see is Hitch.
Hopkins is supported by Queen Elizabeth II as Alma Reville (or Helen Mirren as she is more commonly known). The rest of the case is basically name that impersonation with the more memorable being James D’Arcy as a slightly more than effeminate Anthony Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson as a perky, hey, look at me, I’m Janet Leigh. Perhaps most surprising is Jessical Biel doing a very credible job as Vera Miles. Meanwhile, Toni Collette wears glasses and Kurtwood Smith reprises his role from That 70’s Show by playing the head of the ratings board.
The extremely witty script is by John J. McLaughlin. The extremely witty direction is by Sacha Gervasi (a bit far from Anvil: The Story of Anvil, perhaps—or perhaps not).