F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 10, 2017)

10 08 2017

Adaptation” it most certainly is not, but Martin McDonagh’s “Seven Psychopaths” makes for a most entertaining meta-movie. This specific genre derives its pleasures by baking the creation of the movie into the very fabric of the story itself; the fact that everything was narrativized is not merely a fact slapped on at the conclusion. Some artists smuggle these meta-movies into existence under the guise of something like a heist flick (Christopher Nolan’s “Inception“) or a con artist caper (Rian Johnson’s “The Brothers Bloom“), though many in their purest form simply revolve around filmmakers struggling to create.

That’s the case for McDonagh’s meta-movie, my choice for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.” In many ways, “Seven Psychopaths” feels like a self-interrogation (perhaps after surveying his prior film “In Bruges”). His leading man, Colin Farrell’s Marty, is a screenwriter struggling to pen his latest script conveniently titled – you guessed it – “Seven Psychopaths.” As he drolly puts it, “I’ve got the title, just not the psychopaths.”

Marty wants to write a film about violent people without succumbing the soul-sucking carnage that plagues many films about such subjects. He wants it all to mean something, not just become a violent shoot-’em-up. Ultimately, Marty gets more than he bargained for when a friend draws him into a Los Angeles gang dispute over … a Shih Tzu. The anodyne object of conflict points out the inherent absurdity of the criminal underworld without fully discounting the grotesqueness of their deeds.

I first watched “Seven Psychopaths” on video in 2013 and found myself rather unenthused by it. (The original grade I bestowed upon it was a C.) With McDonagh’s next directorial outing “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” about to make landfall on the film festival circuit, something compelled me to give it a second chance – and judging by its inclusion in this column, you can assume I’m glad I did. McDonagh grants us a dryly humorous window into the writing process, which also means clueing us into his knowledge of audience expectations for what’s to come. This feat is a tricky one to pull off without drowning in self-awareness, and he does it with a good amount of dexterity.

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REVIEW: The Jungle Book

17 04 2016

I do not have a strong attachment to the 1967 original Disney animated film “The Jungle Book.” I do not have strong feelings one way or the other about Jon Favreau’s 2016 live action Mowgli/CGI animal version of “The Jungle Book.” I remain, for the most part, fairly ambivalent, unable to summon strong words to praise or condemn any aspect of the film. And that makes for the hardest kind of review to write.

Might as well start with the good: Bill Murray as Baloo. The actor has become a cult figure over the past few years for his erratic and endearing off-screen behavior (as well as for his partnership with hipster darling Wes Anderson). When not acting inside one of Anderson’s dollhouses, Murray’s iconography can often overcome the project in which he participates. That film becomes “The Bill Murray Show,” for better or for worse. Favreau finds a happy balance of letting Murray entertain while also ensuring that he never distracts too much.

The CGI is quite good, I suppose, yet should we not be asking for photorealism from all movies these days? Call me a child of the digital age, but I only tend to notice computer animation when it goes horribly wrong. The graphics impress, though not to the extent that they truly wow.

“The Jungle Book” glides along on lots of charm and slickness, which gets it decently far. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) makes for a rather bland protagonist, one we mostly follow for the talking animals he encounters along his reluctant and perilous journey to rejoin his human companions. The episodic nature of the plot makes it hard for momentum to build, which is something that does not bother me in particular though seems an odd choice for a film pitched at youngsters. The message of cross-species cooperation to raise and protect someone who might be a predator is – timely, I guess? (“Zootopia” did it better.)

There is a lot going on, although there is simultaneously not enough going on. I could try to resolve or reconcile my feelings, but I would rather just leave them be. Other films just seem more worthy of that time. B2halfstars





REVIEW: Jersey Boys

24 06 2014

Clint Eastwood ends his film adaptation of “Jersey Boys” with a Broadway-style curtain call so unabashedly corny and theatrical that it might make the creative team behind the “Mamma Mia!” movie blush.  It is, however, just about the only concession Eastwood makes to the stage.  (Unless you want to count casting mostly stage actors.)

Eastwood’s desaturated color palette and starkly observed realism always felt like a strange pairing with a crowd-pleasing hit from the Great White Way.  Although among those shows, “Jersey Boys” seems like it could mesh decently well with his style. It’s a jukebox musical, where characters break out in song not just as a form of heightened expression (as in “Les Misérables“) but simply to fulfill the act of singing.

Yet even with this natural method of presenting tunes, Eastwood’s film still opts to minimize the music.  It feels as if Eastwood ran out of quarters to feed the jukebox since we get nearly all the music from the prologue (8 minutes on the soundtrack dragged out to a 35 minute expository sequence) and then the first three show-stopping hits from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man.”

What little we get to hear sounds good, a product of both Eastwood’s decision to sing live (thanks, Tom Hooper!) and picking voices that have the requisite pipes to do the numbers justice.  The joy of hearing a great, natural harmony recalls the authenticity of a pre-AutoTune era nicely and without drowning in nostalgia.

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REVIEW: Sound of My Voice

3 10 2012

It’s curious that of the three films Fox Searchlight acquired at 2011’s Sundance Film Festival, two happened to star Brit Marling and two happened to be about the religious occult … and of those three, “Sound of My Voice” saw domestic release last.  It feels like a rather unfortunate afterthought after “Martha Marcy May Marlene” tantalized with its brilliant ambiguity and “Another Earth” provided a much more showy showcase for Marling.

“It’s a lonely road if a momma don’t think their child is pretty,” remarked Abileen in “The Help,” and “Sound of My Voice” sure feels like a forgotten stepchild for Fox Searchlight.  It’s evident right away from what’s on the screen.  As the leader of a strange religious movement, Brit Marling seems to be walking eggshells as she treads familiar ground as Maggie, the bizarre and disturbed leader of the cult.  She claims to be from the future – 2054, to be exact – and is allergic to everything in the current time.

Opportunistic documentary filmmakers Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) get word of Maggie’s magnetism and plan an infiltration … and a subsequent movie.  But – SHOCKER – they start to lose track of their objectivity as they grow closer to Maggie and get deeper inside the world of the cult, leading to a rift between the filmmaking (and romantic) couple.

Debut director Zal Batmanglij, who also co-wrote the film with star Brit Marling, does a half-decent job of keeping taut suspense throughout the film.  That’s largely due to the structure of their script; the content, however, is what makes the film second fiddle to “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”  The peculiarities of Maggie and the basement cult, ranging from a bizarre handshake to growing her own fruit, add nothing to the story.  Rather than drawing you in, they pull you out of the film, forcing you to wonder who the heck even thought of that.  The film leaves us to solve a puzzle without all the pieces, but it also leaves you so apathetic that it’s a puzzle you are all too happy not to extend the mental effort to solve.

That essentially concludes my “review” of the film, but before I end, I do have one more thing to say.  While I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but giggle at the uninentional comedy of the film.  That’s nothing new for me as I often use humor as a tool to break a monotonous viewing experience, yet this was different.  The more I giggled, the more I realized that “Sound of My Voice” has some serious potential as the first major comedy to explore occult religion.

Thus, I propose a remake of “Sound of My Voice,” only this time as a comedy.  It’s the kind of movie we SHOULD be remaking: one that is perfectible, not already perfect.  So to Fox Searchlight (or whoever is looking at providing finance for the film), I will even do you the favor of casting the remake.  You’re welcome.

Amy Poehler as Maggie:

Charlie Day as Peter:

Aubrey Plaza as Lorna:

Christopher Walken as Klaus, Maggie’s old and creepy keeper:

Thank me later.  B- 





REVIEW: Click

22 10 2009

PREFACE: I mentioned back in Random Factoid #42 that I had gone through a stint of reviewing movies when I was 13. After rummaging through my old home computer, I managed to find some of these reviews. In a special five day mini-series, I will reveal these reviews in their unadulterated form. I leave it up to you to comment, see how my style has changed (or maybe hasn’t). The third part in the series concerns Adam Sandler’s “Click.”

All great comedians have a style of humor.  Adam Sandler’s involves having every character curse at one time or another (kids included), overly long gags, and half-hearted attempts at having a heart.  Although Click still fits the Adam Sandler stereotype, you walk out of the theater feeling something…a first for the marvelous comedian.  Sandler plays architect Michael Newman who is torn between being with his family and working hard to give his family everything. Kate Beckinsale plays his wife, who looks gorgeous but does not show enough emotion to be convincing.  One day, he is fed up with his frustrating and seemingly mediocre life.  To make matters worse, he can’t find the remote for the TV.  He goes to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to look for a universal remote, where Morty (hint: there’s something in the name) gives him the top of the line.  Soon, Michael figures out how to control his universe using the remote.  He can turn down the volume on his dog, mute his sister-in-law, and do picture in picture.  Life is all good for Michael.  He can finally give his scumbucket boss (marvelously played by David Hasselhoff) a piece of his fist.  However, the remote has a mind of its own.  It begins to program itself by things that Michael has been doing a lot.  While he fast-forwards, Michael is on auto-pilot where he is there but doesn’t talk.  As he fast-forwards to his next promotion, he discovers a year has passed by and that his marriage is on the rocks.  The remote fast-forwards ten years to which he is CEO of the company.  His wife ran off with the swimming instructor who sports a Speedo at all times, he is incredibly obese from bad eating habits, and things are out of control.  Click is hysterical, but isn’t afraid to be melancholy to get across the message.  This is the best Adam Sandler movie yet, and without a doubt the only one with a relevant theme.  There is incredibly mindless humor at times, but it made the audience think…something new for this genre.  3halfstars