The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is one of those movies where at one of the climaxes (there are a few here, but the one I’m referring to is a scene where two passenger planes are heading toward each other), the hero has four minutes to resolve the disastrous situation and twenty minutes later there is still thirty seconds left on the clock (the writers must be watching too much football).
Of course, I’m not sure I’m being fair. This is a standard trope for action movies and I’ve enjoyed many a one that, well, let’s say played fast and loose with the space time consortium. And this one cheats no more than the best or worst of them.
Beyond that, as far as I’m concerned, on a scale of one to ten, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is less painful than Superman and The Amazing Spider-Man 1, but far, far, far more painful than Iron Man 2 and The Dark Knight Rises. Read the rest of this entry »
Movie Reviews of BIRTH OF THE LIVING DEAD, KILL YOUR DARLINGS and 15 YEARS AND ONE DAY by Howard CasnerPosted: October 24, 2013 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 15 Years and One Day, Aron Piper, Austin Burn, Belen Lopez, Ben Foster, Birth of the Living Dead, Dane DeHaan, Daniel Radcliff, David Cross, Duane Jones, George A. Romero, Gracia Querejeta, Jack Huston, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John Cullum, John Krokidas, Kill Your Darlings, Maribel Verdu, Michael C. Hall, Santos Mercero, Tito Valverde | 1 Comment »
Birth of the Living Dead is a rather delightful little documentary about a subject that is in many ways not quite so delightful: how the classic horror film Night of the Living Dead came about. It’s tight, to the point, and has at its center the grand old man himself, George A. Romero, who comes across more like a youthful imp pulling a prank rather than the maker of a movie that reached into the core of our beings and found something new and original that scared the hell out of us.
The movie has two major through lines. One is how to make an independent film. The other is how a low budget, second rate horror film that, in a perfect world, would never have found its way out of the bottom half of a double bill at drive-ins and dive movie theaters managed to become one of the most important horror films of all time (let’s face it, from a strictly objective viewpoint, Vincent Canby of the New York Times was right at the time: it’s “a grainy little movie acted by what appear to be nonprofessional actors, who are besieged in a farm house by some other nonprofessional actors who stagger around, stiff-legged, pretending to be flesh-eating ghouls.”).
But both through lines are significant life lessons for up and coming filmmakers. As a DIY project, Romero and his fellow producers were incredibly resourceful: everybody did double duty (producers, make-up artists, even Romero himself doubled as actors and sometimes redoubled as zombies); they asked all their commercial clients to play the living dead; they knew someone who owned a meat packing plant, so they used him in the movie so they could have entrails for ghouls to feast upon; they had a local newscaster play a newscaster in the movie with the result that he wrote his own copy and got them permission to use the station helicopter to do aerial shots; they cast the host of the local, late night scare fest movie program, and he gave them free plugs and the audience weekly updates. It’s amazing and even inspiring just how resourceful Romero and the others were in taking advantage of whatever they could in order to get the film made.
But they were also very lucky. Though Romero does admit that there was always something of the movie that is a reflection of the political unrest of the time (especially the news footage of the Viet Nam War), they cast Duane Jones, a black actor, in the lead, a character that was never specifically stated to be black; they cast him because he was a strong actor. And that accidental stroke of color blind casting suddenly gave the film a much deeper resonance: now it was not just a movie that grew out of attitudes toward the war, but also out of attitudes toward the Civil Rights movement. And the fact that the movie was never rewritten to accommodate Jones’ race just made the racial aspect of it stronger.
And it’s the amateurish, non-professionalism that makes the movie rise above what it is. It’s a bad movie in which the factors that make it bad make it not just a good movie, but a classic. The flat acting, the black and white shaky cinematography, the graininess, everything that makes it something that a studio wouldn’t touch, make it seem so realistic, it really gets under your skin and makes it very difficult to forget.
And all the while, Romero is just sitting there laughing and laughing and laughing about the absurdity of the whole enterprise.
Kill Your Darlings is a movie about a group of people who hate everything pretentious, pompous and conceited, yet whose every action and whose every utterance that pours forth from their mouth is pretentiousness, pomposity and conceitedness incarnate. The problem is that I’m not quite sure that writers Austin Burn and John Krokidas, who also directed, intended this.
The film is based upon the true story of the murder of David Kammerer by one Lucien Carr while Carr and other beat darlings Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac tried to craft a new literary vision in 1944 at Columbia College in New York City. It’s a great subject and the movie is certainly not without interest. But it also never really comes together in a very satisfactory way either. At times it feels like it’s going for the painfully nostalgic feel of the early scenes in the movie and TV mini-series Brideshead Revisited, scenes that reveled in the halcyon days of Cambridge in the 1930’s. But Burn and Krokidas can’t seem to get that tone, or even any tone, quite right. The ingredients all seem to be there (the late nights in Harlem at jazz clubs; the benzydrine and drug induced rebellions; war time New York in the overcast fall and winter; the wonderful costumes and set design; the fear of being found out gay), but Krokidas can’t quite seem to find the right rhythms and style.
Neither can Dane DeHaan in the key role as Carr. DeHaan is just never convincing enough as someone who seems to think he’s the heir to Oscar Wilde (except in the boudoir, which is, in many ways, his fatal flaw). His performance seems forced for too much of the film. And without a strong Carr, there’s little for the movie to hang itself onto.
Everyone else does a credible to excellent job. Harry Potter has put a lot of effort these last few years in making us forget he’s Harry Potter. Daniel Radcliff gives a very solid and often empathetic performance of a budding genius. There are some marvelous supporting turns here (David Cross and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ginsberg’s parents; Broadway legend John Cullum as a curmudgeon professor who recognizes talent even when he doesn’t want to see it; Michael C. Hall as the desperate and doomed Kammerer; and Jack Huston as a Jack Kerouac with eyes that have sparks coming out of them). In the end, though, it’s Ben Foster who wins the acting honors in a witty and spot on performance as the future novelist William Burroughs.
The movie does do one interesting thing. It starts off making one character seem to be the sociopathic predator and then reveals that no, that person is really no more than a sad, pathetic wreck of a human being, while the apparently sad, pathetic wreck turns out to be the true sociopath. It’s a neat little trick and it helps make the last third of the movie the strongest and most riveting section. But in the end, it’s not really enough and the movie falls short of what it might have been.
15 Years and One Day is Spain’s entry in the 2014 Foreign Language Film Oscar category. Ostensibly it’s one of those old warhorses about an older person and a younger person finding their lives intertwined with the result that both are inevitably and forever changed. Ostensibly, I say, because if that is the point, the movie has one of the more unusual structures for such a sub-genre. The grandfather isn’t even introduced until after a third of the movie has gone by and the grandson subsequently ends up in a coma for about a third of the remainder. So just when they were supposed to have interacted in order to change each other is a bit of a mystery. There’s also some subplot about the death of a teenage bully, homophobe and sociopath in the making (an immigrant, the bad guy du jour, natch), which is never quite convincing. In other words, the film, written by Santos Mercero and Gracia Querejeta, who also directed, is what we call a bit all over the place and can’t seem to make up its mind what it wants to be about. With newcomer Aron Piper as the grandson; Maribel (Y Tu Mama Tambien) Verdu as the mother; a strong Tito Valverde as the grandfather. Also with Belen Lopez as a police officer who, for some puzzling reason, keeps shrugging off the grandson’s actions with a boys-will-be-boys attitude when the grandson is so obviously a teenage Dexter. She also seems to suggest that a gay youth who killed someone in self defense while being physically assaulted and gay bashed (and threatened with rape) is in deep do-do; that perhaps is the scariest part of the movie.
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 | 11 Comments »
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.