ATTA GIRL! - My Review of TRAINWRECK (4 Stars)
Much like Judd… MoreATTA GIRL! - My Review of TRAINWRECK (4 Stars)
Much like Judd Apatow's collaboration with Lena Dunham for GIRLS, his work with comic and bonafide "it girl", Amy Schumer, has produced a thoroughly satisfying look at women one can actually recognize as human beings. While both are feminists, Dunham and Schumer seem to dismiss such a broad characterization in favor of one that says women can match men inch-for-inch in their ability to be assholes. Directing for the first time from a script he didn't write (the honors go to Schumer), Apatow has made what is clearly his best film so far.
Schumer plays Amy, a hard-partying journalist with commitment issues, who is assigned to write a profile on Aaron (Bill Hader) a sports medicine physician, and sparks unexpectedly fly. From an early age, Amy and her sister (Brie Larson) were taught by their philandering father (Colin Quinn) that "monogamy isn't realistic". It's a hilariously written and lovingly shot opening scene that sets the stage for Amy's eventual crash and burn 23 years later. What follows is a funny sequence in which Amy dismisses conquest after conquest, sometimes unsure where she is most mornings when she does her inevitable walk of shame.
What's delightful is that Schumer, unlike many stand-ups who become lead actors, fully commits to her character, never breaking or winking at the audience. Sure she gets the laughs, no great surprise, but what startles is her ability to make you cry without it feeling forced or cheesy. Her ability to appropriate that working class sensibility mixed with real smarts reminds me of Roseanne Barr in her prime. A Golden Globe nomination for writing and acting seems inevitable. Thank goodness they have the Musical/Comedy category!
Joining Schumer is a stellar cast, with Brie Larson lending believable familial chemistry to her scenes with Schumer. Same goes for Quinn, whose monster dad is given so many lovable qualities that you can't help but side with many of his renegade opinions. At Amy's magazine, called S'NUFF of all things, her haughty and horrible editor is played by a completely unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, sporting enough bronzer and flowing ginger locks to keep Hollywood well-stocked in tanned versions of Emma Stone. Swinton's comic timing is impeccable, nailing her narcissistic character's breezy indifference to anything that doesn't involve her. Vanessa Bayer, one of many SNL actors in the film, seems to have cornered the market on mousy/happy roles, and every painful, toothy pause, especially when Swinton tries to get her to stop smiling, is gold. Ezra Miller uses his gawky male model androgyny to great effect in one ridiculously odd scene. Bill Hader, so wonderful in last year's THE SKELETON TWINS, embodies a fantastic male romantic lead, overcoming his character's perceived dullness to win you over with the loving, patient way he has with Amy.
The biggest surprises, however, and the actors many people will be discussing are the athletes John Cena, Amar'e Stoudemire, and LeBron James. Cena plays one of Amy's boyfriends and his outbursts over his closeted homosexuality brings many laughs to the first act. Stoudemire has a woozy charm as one of Hader's patients, but it's James who wins the MVP award in this movie. He fully rounds out his cheapskate, busybody, heavily fictionalized version of himself, complete with surprising TV tastes and neediness. This is one superstar basketball player who knows how to deliver off the court too.
TRAINWRECK is about a woman who learns how to grow up and love herself. It's somehow conservative that way, adhering to romcom tropes, yet it skewers all of the conventions simultaneously. This is a smart, rich entertainment, humanist in temper, reminding me at times of James L. Brooks' early films TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and BROADCAST NEWS, both of which also featured strong, flawed women at their centers.
Also like those predecessors, Apatow likes to leave scenes loose. It's become something of a trademark of his, and TRAINWRECK suffers from uneven pacing and a few repetitive argument scenes between Schumer and Hader. There's even one misfire of an intervention scene loaded with odd celebrity cameos that took me right out of the movie. Ultimately it doesn't matter too much, since so much bite co-exists with so much kindness in this film. Lovingly shot by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (GIRLS, TINY FURNITURE, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE) with what at times feels like an Instagram 70s filter, TRAINWRECK is a big budget movie with the soul of an indie. If you aren't reduced to a puddle by Schumer's big dramatic speech, or if your heart doesn't melt by Hader's reaction to the final act event, then maybe YOU'RE the one who needs to belly up to a bar and drink your feelings instead.
PRATT FALL - My Review of JURASSIC WORLD (3 Stars)
Looking back at… MorePRATT FALL - My Review of JURASSIC WORLD (3 Stars)
Looking back at 1993's JURASSIC PARK, it's a thrilling but inconsistent movie with a big letdown of a climax. The same can be said for JURASSIC WORLD, a consistently edge-of-your-seat thrill ride with some muddled points to make about consumer culture and greed. Directed and co-written by Colin Trevorrow, who previously helmed the wonderful SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, this instant blockbuster suffers from putting too much in the blender, but still adds up to an old-fashioned, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK meets THE BIRDS meets WALL-E meets [insert product placement ad here].
We return to Isla Nublar through the eyes of Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), two brothers foisted upon Aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a workaholic, uptight Park Manager, while their parents (Judy Greer and Andy Buckley) go through troubles of their own. The park has lost its innocence in the intervening time and now resembles a high tech Sea World in which the management feels the pressure to produce bigger and better dinosaurs. It's a not-so-subtle analogy to what we audiences demand of studio films anymore.
For a minute there, I thought the film would play out as a satire along the lines of WALL-E, biting the hand that feeds them while keeping us chomping on our popcorn at the exciting bits and in-your-face product placement. To its credit, it follows through on this promise here and there, stuffed into its many solid chase sequences and high body counts. It's got to be the easiest-to-watch big dumb movie I've seen in a long time.
Speaking of which, Chris Pratt, who's cornered the market on big and dumb in recent years, enters the movie as Owen, a dinosaur trainer who sees the creatures as living beings as opposed to weapons or revenue streams like the villains do in this story. Pratt plays Owen pretty straight, tamping down his fun, goofy side for the most part, thus cementing his status as THE new leading man. I wish he had been given more to play here, as he was given in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, but he looks great and is definitely falling into that Harrison Ford zone quite nicely. Of course, he also exists to serve as a love interest and Great Thawer for poor Aunt Claire.
Poor Aunt Claire. Howard, who tends to overact or only display one layer at a time, is sacked with the film's worst role (and worst wig bangs ever). There's a great big helping of misogyny here as we watch this Ice Queen trudge through the jungle in her nude pumps and power suit. If only she would chill out and accept the loving of a good man, the film seems to be saying. Ugh! Her performance and the writing of her character nearly sink the film.
Luckily, dinosaurs! Lots and lots of dinosaurs! We get Raptors galore, along with a prehistoric Shamu, enough Pterodactyls to bring Tippi Hedren to her knees (the homage to THE BIRDS is a highlight), and a mysterious hybrid to satisfy the More! More! More! crowd. Trevor does a fine job building suspense, and like Spielberg, understands the art of withholding. There's a deft visual joke at the beginning involving baby dinosaurs and a more common species that harkens back to the best of those Spielberg offered in his prime. A subplot involving two Control Room workers (NEW GIRL'S Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus) delivers more humor and surprise than anything between Pratt and Howard. I'd say they lacked chemistry, but I've given up on Howard even knowing how to generate it. When used effectively, such as in THE HELP, she excels at her brand of coldness, but as a romantic lead, all I keep thinking is that her father has a LOT of pull in this town. And while I'm griping, can we please stop letting young children sport those horrible 70s shaggy haircuts? They were awful back then and they are awful now. Ok, I'm old. Get off my lawn!
Still, JURASSIC WORLD is a fun ride, with 80s-style action laced throughout the script. It has an ALIENS-level bad guy (Vincent Donofrio) who embodies corporate greed, and thus looks more and more like lunch as the movie progresses. The special effects and sound editing are world class, with danger lurking around every corner. Sadly, the climax is a poor retread of the original, although it at least has the smarts to provide a satisfying callback. Next time, let Chris Pratt get a little freakier, jettison Aunt Claire, cut the boy's hair, and bring back Laura Dern and all is forgiven.
KNOB AND CAROL AND TED AND ALICE - My Review of THE OVERNIGHT (2 1/2… MoreKNOB AND CAROL AND TED AND ALICE - My Review of THE OVERNIGHT (2 1/2 Stars)
Sex comedies have long been a Hollywood staple, from the juvenile PORKY'S to the edgy SECRETARY. Sex will always sell, but sadly this genre has virtually disappeared in recent years, partly due to the endless glut of...I'm not gonna get on my anti-superhero soapbox again...so just look at what's jamming up your multiplexes week after miserable week. More and more, we have to rely on independent films to deliver anything remotely adult, or complex, or dare I say, original. My fingers and heart hurt just typing this.
Enter THE OVERNIGHT, an on-the-surface sexual comedy which actually is more of an exploration of those awkward, instantaneous friendships we find ourselves in throughout our lives. Written and directed by Patrick Brice and Executive Produced by Mark Duplass, one of the reigning kings of Mumblecore filmmaking, this small, micro-budget film almost makes up for what it lacks in technique by bringing provocative ideas to the table with considerable charm. Oh, and you'll be talking about penises a lot afterward!
Adam Scott (PARKS AND RECREATION) and Taylor Schilling (ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) are Alex and Emily, a couple with a young son who have just moved to LA with a desire to make new friends. A stay-at-home dad, Alex suffers insecurities from seeing his wife thrive in her career while he wallows in his small existence. One day at the park, the couple meet Kurt (RUSHMORE's Jason Schartzman), and he's that specific east side hipster who wears a wide-brimmed hat without a trace of irony. Loaded with uncomfortable hyperbole about their chance meeting, Kurt invites the couple over for dinner with his wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche, RIDICULE) and toddler. The rhythms of this scene are just right, nailing one couple's desire to go with the flow while Schwartzman moves too fast.
That's the setup for a film which largely takes place at an event that goes from innocent pizza party to an epic, drug and alcohol-fueled night of exploration. Godrèche possesses that breezy charm the best hosts have, yet there's something slightly ominous in her tight smile. Schwartzman gives Scott a tour of his man cave, which is filled with a slew of "butthole" paintings (notice the clever poster graphic), and things get even more overly familiar from this point forward.
You could have easily called this film TMI had it truly gone as far as I had hoped, but THE OVERNIGHT pulls its punches a little. Sure, everyone lets loose (an underwater shot of our stoned foursome swimming is hilarious), but the promise of a GAME OF THRONES-style orgy never really materializes. A ladies detour to a lascivious location pops and sizzles with sexual menace, and then there's that penis set piece involving giant and tiny prosthetics that's sure to have everyone talking around the water cooler and sizing each other up down there, but, to be honest, things never really get too out of hand.
In a broader, studio comedy, there would be partner swapping and probably a big gross-out scene or two, followed by an epiphany that would change the course of our main characters.
THE OVERNIGHT has a little bit of vomit (actually one of my favorite moments in the film) and just the slightest hint of character development. Since it mostly takes place in one night, it's not realistic to expect huge changes, but it's also a convenient excuse to not dive too deep. WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, this is not. Despite this, the four main performances are all solid, with Schilling beautifully underplaying her part and Scott perfectly playing the addled everyman. The movie, however, belongs to Schwartzman, who brings surprise, warmth, and radical energy to every moment.
Except for the aforementioned strange interlude, the filmmaking itself is merely serviceable. Patrick Brice's strengths, however, are in discovering those believable rhythms between new acquaintances. Have you ever just met someone, liked them, and then they do something weird like making you try their completely awful Swan Butter Pate, and you have to pretend to like it? This is the world of THE OVERNIGHT. It may not ultimately amount to much, and the characters have a very unsatisfying final scene, but I'm glad it exists at all in this soul-deadening studio marketplace.
THE WOMAN WITH THE GOLDEN CHARM - My Review of SPY (3 1/2 Stars)
Paul… MoreTHE WOMAN WITH THE GOLDEN CHARM - My Review of SPY (3 1/2 Stars)
Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy are kind of having a moment right now. Perfectly matched as director/writer and actor respectively, this Dream Team delivered big laughs in both BRIDESMAIDS and THE HEAT. With SPY, the don't disappoint, in fact, they've added some terrific filmmaking to their repertoire. SPY plays like a Bond film, but with McCarthy's brand of outrageous, fearless and funny underdog added to the recipe. What I love about all three films are those extended diversions from the main story, where characters get stuck on a minor detail, effectively stopping the plot for a few delicious moments. It's something Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder excelled at in the 70s and it's in almost every scene in SPY.
The opening sequence is a killer, with McCarthy's Agent Susan Cooper talking into Bond substitute Bradley Fine's ear. He's played by a very game Jude Law, who clearly enjoys towing the line between suave and douchey, sometimes within a single line of dialogue. I could have watched McCarthy be his office bound eyes and ears for the entire film, but there's that pesky thing called a story to tell. After a crazy inciting incident, the plot mechanics dictate that poor, put-upon Susan needs to get out into the field to help solve a crime. With her assistant Nancy in place, played by the extremely entertaining Miranda Hart, Susan receives a dumpy undercover assignment from her tough-as-nails boss, the always reliable Allison Janney. After a very funny gadget scene in which Susan and Nancy geek out hilariously over the oddly disappointing tools at their disposal, off we jet to Paris. It's the dark, seedy underbelly of Paris, so don't expect glamour. Besides, McCarthy settling into her "crime scene" hotel room is better than a tour of the Louvre.
Feig's script does a wonderful job setting up Susan's character, with McCarthy bringing just the right amount of pathos and confidence to the material. It's so easy to fall in love with her, because she clearly has great detective skills and refuses to let anybody box her into a corner. At some point, a spy thriller needs its super-villain, and Rose Byrne fills those 6-inch stilettos perfectly as Rayna Boyanov, a condescending, rude, big-haired monster. Byrne has become a bit of a comedy secret weapon after years of honing her dramatic skills, and here she steals every scene she's in, sometimes with just a sneer. Watch for her response to a toast, and you'll feel you've gotten your money's worth from that moment alone. With BRIDESMAIDS, THE NEIGHBORS and now this film, Byrne has proven she can take a stock role and turn it into gold. Also along for the ride is a surprisingly funny Jason Statham as a shadow agent who continuously insinuates himself into McCarthy's investigation. His lines aren't the funniest, and truth be told, it becomes a little one note, but I enjoyed how much he threw himself into it, especially the end credits tag.
Sure, SPY brings the laughs, although I could have done without 50 Cent's awkward, unfunny extended cameo, but the surprise here is the thrill of the action sequences. Feig directs these with such muscle and gusto, I wanted to applaud. Whether it's a chase scene through the streets or an epic kitchen fight using knives and pots and pans, Feig understands kinetics and momentum, which is rare in a comedy director. It's exciting to see a writer/director with one type of talent stretch and excel at another.
Underneath this 007 splendor is a message of female empowerment and bonding, something usually lacking in Bond's universe. SPY takes back the night and makes you root for women in a way that feels exhilarating. That's no small feat for a dopey comedy.
THE MISERIES OF PITTSBURGH - My Review of ME AND EARL AND THE DYING… MoreTHE MISERIES OF PITTSBURGH - My Review of ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (3 Stars)
Adapting his own novel, Jesse Andrews turns over the directing reins to television veteran Alfonso Gomez-Rejon for the Sundance Jury and Audience Award Winner, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL. Playing like a more self-aware version of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, EARL straddles similar young adult territory but with a little more edge and no kissing in Anne Frank's house, thank God! Of all the teen films set in Pittsburgh, nothing can compare to THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, but EARL features a witty, funny script and some truly engaging performances.
Our hero is Greg (Thomas Mann) who is deftly introduced as the sort of guy who's liked by everyone in his High School because he never has anything but surface level interactions. To throw a wrench in his plans, his mother (Connie Britton) demands that he spend time with Rachel (Olivia Cooke from BATES MOTEL), a girl he barely knows but who is dying. It's easy to see that Greg's journey is one of connecting. He refers to his lifelong friend Earl (a hilarious RJ Cyler, who surprises with every single line reading) as his co-worker, lest he get too close.
The "work" they do comprises of producing a wall full of short movie spoofs with such great titles as SENIOR CITIZEN KANE, A SOCKWORK ORANGE, and BREATHE LESS. The guys set their sights and filmmaking prowess on Rachel, and a lovely three-way friendship develops. Sure, the way-before-their-time film references lend EARL a hipster sheen I could have done without, but it's also what distinguishes it from other teen fare. In the grand scheme of things, if it gets young kids to Google Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski, is it really so bad?
The film is also memorable for its visual aesthetic, one highly reminiscent of Wes Anderson's with its constant horizontal dolly shots, chapter headings, and characters looking down the barrel of the lens. Imagine RUSHMORE were Anderson to strive for a deeper emotional connection. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, who along with his work on STROKER, favors a too-often overly schematic approach to his shots, but there's a drollness at play here that makes it all palatable.
Adding considerable charm are Molly Shannon, as Rachel's too-loving Mom, and Nick Offerman as Greg's off-kilter Dad. THE WALKING DEAD's Jon Bernthal also shows us something new, a heavily tattooed teacher with swagger, as opposed to the usual dishrags or autocrats seen in teenage comedies. The scene in which our heroes ingest his Pho and claim it as the reason they're so stoned is a highlight, especially its great pay-off. Andrews' smart script is filled with terrific moments while delivering us an unreliable narrator, and a lesson on the meaning of friendship. Thomas Mann ably carries the film with his singular, shaggy dog qualities. I only wish I felt more than just great admiration for its wit. Perhaps it's because Rachel is little more than a cipher, despite Cooke's charms, that I found myself laughing a lot but never getting that lump in my throat that all great tearjerkers achieve. Sure, EARL isn't going for that level of sentimentality, but I would have preferred a good cry in place of 20 or 30 of its any movie references. Isn't that what film school is for?
THE STARS IN OUR FAULT - My Review of SAN ANDREAS (2 Stars)
Disaster… MoreTHE STARS IN OUR FAULT - My Review of SAN ANDREAS (2 Stars)
Disaster movies have long been my guilty pleasure. Give me Faye Dunaway being unceremoniously dangled from a firehose whilst strapped to a desk chair in THE TOWERING INFERNO any day over MOMMIE DEAREST, although that qualifies as a disaster movie too, no? The heady mix of special effects and a large cast of former A-listers trying to make us care about their disparate and soapy storylines always gave me a perverse thrill. In EARTHQUAKE, we only felt for the characters because it would be that much more fun to watch them die. When the Big One struck, all the bad acting was forgiven when the Sensurround kicked in and blew us to the back of the theatre like that famous Memorex ad. Sure, the effects could have been better. Between the obvious miniatures and that crazy shot of the building in Universal City literally bending, the Special Effects Gurus could only work with the technology they had at their disposal. Even the grandaddy of them all, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, despite some still killer effects work, had its flaws, like that 70s style of acting in which every dramatic moment MUST be peppered with shouting and wailing. I wanted Gene Hackman to die just so he would stop all his damned yelling!
Cut to 40 years later and CGI effects have made it possible to achieve anything you want, but a bad script will only get you so far, as we're reminded almost every single weekend nowadays. For sheer spectacle alone, however, SAN ANDREAS delivers. Things shake and crumble on such an epic scale, that even without the sound gimmick of yesteryear, you just might find yourself awestruck by it. Unfortunately, its qualities pretty much end there, despite Dwayne Johnson being such a perfect, dynamic, and delightfully ridiculous leading man for such a film. Unlike its predecessors, SAN ANDREAS features its "A story" of Johnson trying to bring his family back together, its "B story" of Paul Giamatti as a Seismologist who exists merely to explain everything to us with dramatic, dolly-in gusto, and....and...wait! That's it? No other storylines? What about the Big-Breasted Looter held at gunpoint by the Vaguely Gay, Psychopathic National Guardsman? No? What about the former television star whose daughter is played by a cinematic icon just seven years his junior? No? What about the Motorcycle Daredevil who...oh never mind. The point is, SAN ANDREAS has expansive effects at the service of a teeny tiny storyline. It's like the C-Grade version of THE IMPOSSIBLE.
It's difficult to care too much about a man wanting to win his ex-wife back when it appears that the rest of the human race is being annihilated in the background. And yet, in the foreground, the death count is dismally small. I think we got one on-screen demise of a supporting player and one off-screen ending to a very familiar face in a very thankless role. Along with Johnson, the actors do their best, with Carla Gugino showing some surprising action chops in the high-rise set piece. Watching her get thrown up and down against the ground with pummeling speed almost made me forget about Shelley Winters' epic underwater swim. Almost. Alexandra Daddario, as the Johnson/Gugino offspring has Siberian Husky blue eyes so mesmerizing, she most likely hypnotized me into staying until the end.
Director Brad Peyton and screenwriter Carlton Cuse (LOST) seem to understand they're making something silly, with Johnson literally taking any mode of transportation possible to save his tribe, but they seem to have forgotten that epic effects need an epic story in order to stick the landing. I felt like I spent an afternoon with parents who were one subway token away from using everything to get from Point A to Point B, while the world ended spectacularly behind them.
ALMOST NAUSEOUS - My Review of ALOHA (2 Stars)
As a long-time Cameron… MoreALMOST NAUSEOUS - My Review of ALOHA (2 Stars)
As a long-time Cameron Crowe fan, it pains me to report that his latest film, ALOHA, is more of a goodbye than a hello. Getting his start by adapting his novel to a hilarious screenplay for the 1982 classic, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, Crowe continued to impress with the indelible SAY ANYTHING, the terrific grunge-era SINGLES, the memorable JERRY MAGUIRE, and one of my favorite films of all time, ALMOST FAMOUS. Sure, he's stumbled, in my opinion, with VANILLA SKY and the truly terrible ELIZABETHTOWN, but his last film, WE BOUGHT A ZOO has its charms.
Now we have ALOHA, and I have to admit I spent more time trying to come up with a review title than I did remembering this painful, tone deaf, flat moviegoing experience. Some of the runner-ups included SAY NOTHING, SHOW ME THE UNFUNNY, and WE LEI'D AN EGG. I'm telling you, this is painful to write. The world needs Cameron Crowe now more than ever. He's part of the brigade that includes James L. Brooks and Alexander Payne, who strive to make humanist films in an endless sea of 3D Superheroes and interchangeable animated characters who somehow manage to merit their own individual bus stop ads. When dramas flop, it makes it that much harder for anymore to get made.
I WANTED this film to be great and yet what we got was either a Social Issue movie disguised as a Rom-Com or a Rom-Com disguised as a Social Issue movie. Either way, it plops right from the get-go. Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, an injured war veteran who returns to Honolulu to negotiate for a privatized satellite company. His pre-existing relationship with a native Hawaiian leader, is the type of trust his billionaire boss, Carson Welch (Bill Murray) relies on in order to sneakily weaponize the sky. So Gilcrest is a liar and an all-around bad dude, whose redeeming quality is that he has the hots for Allison Ng (Emma Stone), a sharply saluting military lifer who has standards, morals, and an inexplicable lack of ethnicity. She represents the side of preserving the natural beauty and mysteries of the island. In a typical triangle, you would have another woman who leads Gilcrest in another direction on the issue. Instead, we get the totally unrelated storyline of his ex, Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), who is now married to the strong, silent John (John Krasinski).
They exist to...to....I don't know...show us what a lump Brian has become? Ms. Ng already helps us out there. Perhaps they exist to show Brian what he REALLY wants out of life. Again, Ng to the rescue. So, this triad feels tacked on and not at all organic to the environmental/anti-war issues at hand.
As such, the movie is all over the place, lurching from one insubstantial scene to the next, back and forth between the romance and the bombs, allowing an endless array of music cues and dull montages to tell us how to feel. I did, however, love the use of Fleetwood Mac's TUSK-era "I Know I'm Not Wrong". Cameron Crowe has always had great taste in music, although using "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" as Alec Baldwin's Top Brass Theme Song is way too on-the-nose to work. Still, there's some good judgment here, but it doesn't make up for his total disconnect from his own material.
Quirky characters are introduced, such as the Woodside's camera-toting young son, but are given no real through-line. Worse yet, scenes are staged so poorly, with a handheld camera clumsily circling around our stars, suggesting a "let's just do everything in one quick take so we can go home early" quality. I can't fault cinematographer Eric Gautier, who has done wonderful work before with THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES and INTO THE WILD, so I'm going to guess that Crowe just didn't quite know how to pull together all of these disparate elements into a cohesive story.
It's sad, because there are some things that actually work. All of the actors deliver vivid, lived-in performances, adding that special Crowe-ian Spin to their line readings. Krasinski in particular is asked to do a LOT without dialogue, and despite it coming out of nowhere, one of those scenes is subtitled and is a source of temporary amusement. Every now and then, a character just blurts out how he/she feels, such as when Brian sees Allison in a new light and simply states, "Uh oh, I'm a goner" (or something to that effect). It's charming when done right, and Crowe has had more hits than misses with this technique.
When all is said and done, I just didn't care. I didn't care who ended up with whom, and I didn't care what happened to Bill Murray and his machinations. He may have wanted to put a bomb in space, but the only thing I'll remember from this fiasco is that Cameron Crowe put a bomb in movie theaters.
POLTERHEIST - My Review of POLTERGEIST (2 1/2 Stars)
For me, one… MorePOLTERHEIST - My Review of POLTERGEIST (2 1/2 Stars)
For me, one wouldn't be trampling on sacred ground to remake 1982's POLTERGEIST. Yes, it was thrillingly entertaining and memorable, but as a horror film, it just never scared me, so at least there's room for improvement in that department. Gil Kenan (MONSTER HOUSE) directing from a screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire , the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of RABBIT HOLE, gets things off to a very good start.
A jobless couple, Eric and Amy Bowen (Sam Rockwell and Rosmarie DeWitt), move with their three children to a somewhat dilapidated Illinois suburb. Unlike the well-off Freelings of the original and more in keeping with today's tough economic times, this couple is struggling. It's never clear how buying a house during a challenge is a better idea than, say, living with the in-laws, but the house is appropriately distressed to merit a pass. Besides, most great horror resonates with something real in our lives, and going broke and becoming homeless is right up there on my list of things to fear.
Luckily, the thrills and chills come thick and fast here, and Kenan, along with expert cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (THE OTHERS, BLUE JASMINE), uses enough sweeping camera movements and tense point of view shots to earn a large number of jolts. Credit must also go to the editors and sound editors who know when to build suspense at times by simply using silence. The trio of young actors making up the rest of the Bowen family are also used well, with special attention going to Kyle Catlett (THE FOLLOWING) as Griffin (a sly tribute to the Dunne family?). This middle child role gets more to do than in the original, and it's on Kyle's little shoulders that requires carrying the mounting dread of this film. One terrific sequence has the parents out for a dinner in which Eric begs for a job, while the three kids individually face some nefarious paranormal horrors. Sure, the tree, the creepy clown dolls, and the infamous television are still in this film, but advancements in effects, and again, sound, worked their scary magic on me.
Sadly, once little Carole Ann, oops, I mean Madison (Kennidi Clements), disappears, the film pretty much plays out like the original. The Bowens bring on the "Ghostbusters", here played by Jane Adams and Jared Harris, and as skilled as they are, they're no Beatrice Straight and Zelda Rubenstein. Adams is a gifted actor, and she has a delicious moment where we learn her backstory without her having to utter a word, but I miss Straight's hammy gravitas. Harris brings a lot of scars and an up-to-date celebrity as one of those Reality stars who chase apparitions, but he gets nowhere close to Rubenstein's indelible, oddball approach. Nobody, and I mean, nobody should ever be asked to utter "This house is clean", despite the attempt at a new context. Plus, the less said about that inexplicable extra scene during the end credits, the better.
Rockwell and DeWitt are fine, but come nowhere near the chemistry and humor so memorably delivered by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams. Does Rockwell have a contract somewhere in which he MUST be brought on board a mediocre thriller in order to give it more cred than it deserves? Those who saw JOSHUA (2007) might agree with me. DeWitt is even robbed of those scenes Williams had where the emotional devastation of losing a child made the original feel more grounded.
Yes, we get an awesomely sadistic scene involving an electric drill and a scared techie, and the world Madison enters gets the current CGI treatment, something left to the imagination in the 1982 version. But what's it all in service of? Not much, except for a louder, scarier retread. Like Chekhov's gun, if you're going to introduce economic struggles in the first act, you need to pay it off in the third. All of that careful, early bricklaying is unfortunately abandoned. The Bowens seem to simply accept the occurrences in their house and get help in casting those ghosts out. I wish the script had used their financial circumstances more to influence their decisions and actions, thus justifying the remake as more than just a chance to amp up the chills and thrills. We live in cynical times, where the filmmakers and the studio's only ambition is to use technology to ramp things up a bit, instead of truly exploring the potential it introduces in a promising first act of an ultimately big shrug of a remake.
IT'S A DULL WORLD AFTER ALL - My Review of TOMORROWLAND (1 1/2 Stars)… MoreIT'S A DULL WORLD AFTER ALL - My Review of TOMORROWLAND (1 1/2 Stars)
It's a sad state of affairs when studios consider TOMORROWLAND to be an "original" film because it's neither based on a comic book nor is it a sequel to anything. Let's not pat ourselves on the back when basing a film on a section of Disneyland, ok? In this case, a film called MONORAIL: THE MOVIE would have been an improvement over this uninvolving, vacant nonsense, and I wouldn't be surprised if Disney hasn't already hired some hotshot writer to adapt the elevated train ride into some ridiculous ticking clock thriller.
But back to the catastrophe at hand. TOMORROWLAND, directed by the usually talented Brad Bird (THE INCREDIBLES, IRON GIANT) and written by Bird along with LOST's Damon Lindelof, seems doomed right from the very start. Bouncing too quickly between POV's of George Clooney's contemporary and younger self (Thomas Robinson) as well as Britt Robertson's Casey, it takes a while to even figure out whose story we're watching. When we finally do, we're met with a strange Spielbergian tone yet missing a true emotional connection. Sure, there's sweep and grandeur to its telling, including stunning transitions from the real world to the title "city", but I didn't care very much for the vacant-eyed Robinson or the constantly petulant Robertson. What we're left with is so much flying around that I kept hoping the movie would reset itself and simply become BACK TO THE FUTURE 2 and simply give us some swooping hoverboard thrills. At least THAT film was made in the 80s, whereas TOMORROWLAND just feels that way.
I suppose some may enjoy the quickfire journey, but without a great script, it feels like an empty exercise in thrill ride approximation with a preachy, thudding third act chaser. I can't help but compare the non-stop action of this film to that of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. The latter builds its characters with such economy and sure-handedly guides you through such a powerful and current story. TOMORROWLAND, by comparison, just feels like a well-intentioned corporate cash grab, complete with shouting at us that the earth is dying. With this adult messaging and use of words like "self-fulfilling prophecy" I also kelp wondering about the intended audience, because it's likely to go over childrens' heads as much as its endless jetpack nonsense.
I'm assuming that Clooney, strangely miscast, signed onto this because of its socially conscious message, and that's ok. I don't want the world to end either and imploring people to act now is certainly commendable. Giving Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key a fun scene doesn't hurt either. Raffey Cassidy as the mysterious Athena is oddly charming, but her character innately cannot connect with others, so it's a bit of a lost cause. Its final moments almost earn its hint of emotional connectedness, with its Benetton meets Big Bang Theory posturing, but the two hours that precede it, despite its kinetic energy, are a jumbled mess. It's a fluffy piece of entertainment, and certainly will entertain those with a need to see futuristic landscapes and flying hoo-dads, but for the rest of us, I'm afraid you'll hate TOMORROWLAND so much, you'll wish it was yesterday.
HAPPY FLEET - My Review of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (5 Stars)
Bleak, grim,… MoreHAPPY FLEET - My Review of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (5 Stars)
Bleak, grim, pummeling, infuriating, exhausting, and too loud, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, despite those negatives, is an undeniable visceral, thrilling, relentlessly inventive and exciting masterpiece within the action genre. George Miller's 1981 film, THE ROAD WARRIOR, the second part of his Max Rockatansky story, has been, and still remains, my favorite action film of all time, but FURY ROAD feels like the film in which technology has finally caught up with what has been in Miller's head all these years in between.
Replacing Mel Gibson in the title role, Tom Hardy barely utters a word yet brings a crazed but soulful tone to the table. Like its predecessor, the film is set in a post apocalyptic desert where the sword is definitely mightier than the pen. With gasoline and water precious commodities, Max is captured by goons who bring him back to their tyrannical leader, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Joe's vertical kingdom enslaves the masses and doles out water here and there to provide a glimmer of hope.
Joe keeps a bevy of beautiful women at his disposal for breeding, but everything goes wrong when Imperator Furiosa (Charleze Theron) veers off from a gas run with the women stashed away in her rig. A chase ensues pretty much for the rest of the film's running time, where Max, who is being used as a human hood ornament and blood bag, joins forces with Furiosa to escape to Furiosa's childhood home, "the Green Place" and/or destroy Joe and his gang.
Despite Max being heavily involved with most of the action, this feels more like Theron's film, and she carries it magnificently. Completely understanding Miller's brand of existential dread, Theron glowers with conviction, and with her mechanical arm and crazy fighting skills, she joins ALIEN's Ripley in the pantheon of great female action heroes. Joining Max and Furiosa on their journey is Nux (an unrecognizable Nicholas Hoult), one of Joe's warriors who may or may not prove to be a useful ally to our heroes. It's a manic, out-there, exciting performance and fits perfectly into Miller's universe.
And what a vision it is. Cinematographer John Seale, no stranger to desert landscapes with his stunning Oscar-winning work on THE ENGLISH PATIENT, surpasses himself here with mastery in every single shot. Messing with frame rates and color saturation, this is a jaw-dropping spectacle. The camera seems to be in the right and most dynamic place at all times, maximizing the overall impact of the film. Margaret Sixel's sharp editing, Jenny Beavan's wild and glorious costume design, and the death-defying stunt work all contribute to Miller's singular vision. Green screens and cables or not, the sight of those War Boys flying around on those bendable poles is indelible.
The MAD MAX world is all about kinetics and the desperation of survival. It's a tough, unforgiving existence, one that may not appeal to moviegoers expecting a retread of Miller's HAPPY FEET or BABE. Long before those hits, Miller staked his claim as a singular auteur of action films. You felt every grunt, every effort, every troubled soul trying to stay alive as they seek out a happier place while careening out of control in their souped-up vehicles.
FURY ROAD at times feels like a Monster Truck Rally, complete with a crazy guitarist strapped to the hood of a rig providing a noisy soundtrack above the already ear-splitting din. If you're not a fan of this type of assault, this isn't for you. For everyone else, and I suspect that's a large cross-section of the world, FURY ROAD is an electric jolt. It's prologue alone garnered huge applause from the typically unimpressed Writers Guild audience. One can easily relate to the feel of this movie, what with ISIS brutally carving a medieval swath across the Middle East or with Kim Jong Un and his thugs torturing and starving his own people in a mercilessly enforced Cult of Personality regime. All of these themes were present in the original films, but current events make FURY ROAD resonate that much more. I left this film exhausted yet thrilled by its ability to sustain such an awe-inspiring pace from start to finish.