REVIEW: 21 Years: Richard Linklater

5 04 2016

21 Years Richard LinklaterWhen the folks assembling the Criterion Collection edition of “Boyhood” go scouting for bonus features (and apparently this is happening), I hope they include Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood’s documentary “21 Years: Richard Linklater.” Such is really the best location for an anecdotal and borderline hagiographic tribute to the perennially underappreciated director.

The directors do not necessarily cast his work in a new light or uncover latent themes running through his filmography. “21 Years” is simply a magnificent feting of Linklater as told by the people who love him the most, both collaborators and contemporaries. Linklater is noticeably absent from the proceedings, talked about but never speaking for himself.

But even without a particularly revelatory angle, Dunaway and Wood still find ways to delight, amuse and enlighten with “21 Years.” Want to know how Linklater gets such natural sounding dialogue while also maintaining a high degree of precision? Let his actors tell you an amusing story about how they got cooly chided for veering off script. Curious about Linklater’s casting instincts? Listen to Anthony Rapp or Zac Efron recount how the director believed in them when they did not necessarily believe in themselves.

The portrait sketched is one of a gentle, unassuming yet visionary artist. So maybe with a little more vision, “21 Years: Richard Linklater” would be the celebratory toast he deserves. But even absent that, it’s a worthy explainer and salute that would be all too perfect directly before or after one of the director’s masterpieces. B2halfstars

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REVIEW: Tusk

25 09 2014

TuskI see so many movies that it’s easy to slip in to the comfortable delusion that I’m an unflappable moviegoer.  Nothing can scare me (save a cheap jump-out), nothing can shock me … you get how the fallacy operates.

Then I went to see “Tusk,” and I got an unfortunate reminder that I can still stare agape at the screen.  This came at the same time as remembering that there are certain sights I cannot unsee.  Here, that sight was Justin Long enveloped in a walrus suit made of human flesh.  (Because his ’70s porno mustache wasn’t frightening enough.)

Not that it was any more disgusting or scary than anything else I’d seen before.  I mainly sat in stunned, stupefied silence that someone had this idea and felt compelled to bring it to life for a paying audience.  I just wish there were some way to withdraw the $7.75 admission charge from financing, and thus implicitly encouraging, Kevin Smith’s bizarre and puerile stoner fantasies.

It was more than just the nasty walrus at its center that ticked me off about “Tusk,” though.  The entire enterprise seems ill-advised for a feature-length film.  Its beginning concept, the unsuspecting person stumbling into a den of horror and depravity, has been done by everything from “Psycho” to “Misery.”  Smith’s crazy of choice is Michael Parks’ Howard Howe, a Canadian backwoods-dweller intent on finding a man who he can transmute into the walrus, Mr. Tusk, with whom he fell in love with decades prior.

Smith’s take finds nothing new in the previously trodden territory, and the odd narrative structure and bloated length compound the imbecility of his specific story.  “Tusk” is the kind of idea that might make for a provocative YouTube video, but it lacks the depth and intrigue to sustain its 100 minute duration.  Even Johnny Depp, who shows up about an hour into the film in a baffling supporting role, cannot enliven the dead organism.

“Tusk” is all superfluous blubber with no meat.  Smith means to startle, but without providing any good cause for doing so, all he can do is elicit groans.  D1star





SAVE YOURSELF from “Red State”

17 01 2013

Red State

Two years ago, one of the hottest properties at Sundance was Kevin Smith’s “Red State.”  The narrative unfolded as usual: high-profile premiere, studios deliberate buying it, bidding war commences.  Afterwards, however, Smith sold the movie to himself … for $20 causing a big hubbub and quite a few eye-rolls and head-shakes.

It was an attempt to make a statement on how backwards the studios’ distribution systems really are and how hard it is for filmmakers to tell the story they want.  But honestly, could there have been a worse movie for anyone to make that claim with?  If the studios keep all movies like “Red State” from getting made or distributed, you might not be too upset about that after actually watching the film itself.

It’s an absolutely dreadful movie that has no class or restraint.  Smith critiques the Westboro Baptist Church, the notorious anti-gay protestors led by Fred Phelps, as a bunch of backwards ignoramuses – as if the rest of the world didn’t already know that.  Perhaps a parody or a spoof would have been the more appropriate vehicle.  Though I’ve never seen “Clerks” or any of Smith’s other films, I’ve heard he’s quite the humorist.

This is the kind of unintentional humor that usually plagues bad movies such as these.  I’m sure some of it might have been planned, in which case Smith proved himself to be a poor imitator of Quentin Tarantino’s darkly comedic talents.  I think he probably wishes “Red State” was something like “Inglourious Basterds” with gratuitous violence aplenty dealt out to the hated villains.

And I suppose it’s a fairly vile turn from Michael Parks as the Fred Phelps surrogate, but it’s not like I got any satisfaction out of seeing all the massive bloodshed done to him and his lunatic disciples.  Mainly, I just wanted to see the conclusion of the horror story at the core of “Red State,” featuring Michael Angarano and his two buds following a sex ad but leading them to the Five Points Trinity Church. But by the time ATF shows up, all narrative and story are thrown out the window to let the bullets fly.  Oh, and there’s also some criticism of the corrupt government at the end that just feels totally out of place given the rest of the film.

When the dust settles, all that’s left are a lot of corpses and a lingering disappointment in the air.  Nothing to cheer about there.  And for the record, I don’t think I’d buy this movie for 20¢.





REVIEW: Cop Out

30 08 2010

The first joke, so to speak, in “Cop Out” involves the mispronunciation of the word homage by Tracy Morgan’s idiotic cop.  He says it as it appears, phonetically sounding like “home-age.”  Any lover of sophisticated art – or really just anybody with common knowledge, like Bruce Willis as Morgan’s brutalized partner – cringes, and perhaps simultaneously laughs.

Although Morgan’s Paul can’t pronounce the word, he is well aware of its meaning.  He loves to pay homage to cinematic tough guys, particularly the “bad cops,” in an attempt to make himself intimidating to the accused criminals.  It works about as well as an iPhone that’s gone through the spin cycle in the washing machine, which is to say not very well.  However, it does provide amusement for the other guys at the station, as well as us, the audience.  It’s like watching a montage of Tracy Morgan’s “SNL” impressions, and it’s hard not to get a kick out of watching him butcher great lines from classic movies.

The joke of paying homage keeps coming up throughout the movie in bits and fragments, always good for a nice chuckle.  But the movie lags and bores when Morgan has to play the hopelessly pathetic character written for him in the script.  One has to wonder how he can choose such hackneyed fare when his day job is working for Tina Fey, one of the brightest bulbs in the comedic universe at the moment, on “30 Rock.”

And then there’s our old friend Bruce Willis, playing the character as bored as we are.  He’s supposed to be the straight man in the routine, but he just looks bored and ready to head back to his trailer.  While such emotions can be a character choice, there has to be some variety to give off the faintest illusion that he’s not on the screen just to cash the paycheck that follows.  I don’t know what he thinks will come first, the AARP check or the offer to reprise John McClane for “Die Hard 5: Just DIE Already!”

In a year where “The Other Guys” cornered the market on making the stale buddy cop genre somewhat bearable, it seems that “Cop Out” is “The Other Cop Movie” of 2010.  This is a title made even more insulting by the fact that it’s directed by Kevin Smith, the mind behind some of the great independent movies of the 1990s.  I haven’t seen any of his earlier movies, but based on this, I’m not very keen to go back and examine his collection.  It seems to me that Smith is like the M. Night Shyamalan of comedy – a meteoric rise followed by a steep fall.  “Cop Out” isn’t bad enough to be called rock bottom, but any worse and Smith gets dangerously close.  C /





What To Look Forward To in … February 2010

7 01 2010

We’re still in some hazy territory in the month of February, but the new decade looks to give this month some much needed energy.  Fueled by two movies originally scheduled for release in 2009, I might actually drop a good amount of change at the movies in February (not just on repeat viewings of Oscar nominees).

February 5

Put “The Notebook” in front of anything and you are guaranteed a flock of screaming girls coming with boyfriends in tow.  Put wildly popular model/actor Channing Tatum in the poster and you can add some more girls aside from the hopeless romantics.  “Dear John” has just that: a super sweet story from author Nicholas Sparks and girl eye candy Tatum.  Thankfully for the guys, the filmmakers cast Amanda Seyfried (“Jennifer’s Body”), who isn’t so bad on the eyes either.

I’m a little weary to endorse “From Paris with Love,” another John Travolta villain movie.  He’s only good at playing subtle ones (“Pulp Fiction”) with the exception of “Face/Off.”  2009’s “The Taking of Pelham 123” was a disaster mainly because of Travolta and his villainy established only by constantly dropping the F-bomb.  Potential redemption here?  I’ll need positive word of mouth before I watch Travolta go evil again.

February 12

“Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” is the name given to the film adaptation of Rick Riordan’s kids novel “The Lightning Thief.” Clearly Fox is setting up a franchise with the title, and they picked the right place to stake the claim. I read the book in seventh grade, and it is the real deal. I even got a chance to have lunch with the author, Riordan, who is one of the neatest people I have ever met. Whether they ruin it or not is yet to be known, but the movie is being helmed by Chris Columbus, the man who got the “Harry Potter” series flying. That has to count for something.

If Pierce Brosnan isn’t a big enough star to draw you to the aforementioned movie, you should find solace in “Valentine’s Day,” which features just about every romantic comedy actor ever. Literally, I can’t even list all of the stars of the movie here. The post would just be too darn big. Garry Marshall, director of “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries,” is in charge here, so I find some comfort in that. But if the movie flops, this will be a high-profile disappointment.

Sorry girls, the werewolf in “The Wolfman” is not played by Taylor Lautner. Academy Award-winning actor Benicio del Toro metamorphasizes in Victorian England into the hairy beast when the moon is ripe.  This werewolf is not based on cheeky teen lit but on the 1941 horror classic.  And this adaptation is rated R for “bloody horror violence and gore.”  Get ready for some intense clawing.

A big winner at Cannes and a contender for the Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards, “A Prophet” is a foreign film that may be worth a look.

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