REVIEW: Digging for Fire

1 09 2015

Digging for FireAs writer/director Joe Swanberg wanders the corridors of marital discontent in his latest film, “Digging for Fire,” I could not help but wonder if this is what Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” would look like when refracted through the lens of low-budget indie cinema.  Over the course of a weekend spent apart, previously unknown rifts and fault lines appear between Tim (Jake Johnson, also a co-writer on the film) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) while they amble and converse freely.

Each’s journey appears cross-cut with the other’s, and the spouses might as well be occupying entirely different films.  Tim hangs out to drink beers and smoke pot with his buddies – one of whom arrives with a young woman on each arm – but proves unable to put his mind at ease about some suspicious bones he spotted in the yard.  Lee, meanwhile, drifts between scenes and choose mostly to let the words of others trigger her thought process.  He is aggressively verbose in expressing his own frustrations; she reacts to hearing those from others.

At moments, “Digging for Fire” shows real insight into the listlessness of marriage and parenting.  Johnson feels especially at home since he gets to speak (presumptively) dialogue he helped write.  When Tim expresses his frustrations and anxieties, they clearly come from someplace personal and resonate accordingly.  For all those looking to use art to deal with their own life, try to model this to avoid self-indulgence.

Swanberg, though, sometimes gets carried away by his posse of ever-ready actor pals.  Since his movies shoot so quickly and efficiently, it makes sense that these stars want a chance to flex their muscles in between the paycheck gigs.  In this case, the ensemble of comedians and dramatists alike can detract attention from what might have played more effectively as a tighter two-hander.  Between the screen time allotted to Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Sam Rockwell, Mike Birbiglia, and Anna Kendrick, “Digging for Fire” can sometimes feel like a party at the Swanbergs for which he provided a loose plot and great camerawork.  B2halfstars

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REVIEW: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

5 01 2014

It’s a shame that it has not yet become en vogue for a deep voice to announce “previously on…” at the beginning of a film like they do at the start of an episode of “Homeland” or “Lost.”  This would certainly have come in handy for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the middle chapter of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation-cum-trilogy.  I will confess that I found the first entry, “An Unexpected Journey,” so forgettable that I spent 15 minutes reading the plot summary on Wikipedia  – and even longer trying to figure out how to remember or comprehend it.

Call me crazy, but I’ve always been rather immune to the appeal of Jackson’s Middle Earth epics.  While I admire the impeccable make-up work, the gorgeous cinematography, and the sheer amount of attention to detail apparent in the creation, the whole always feels less than the sum of its parts.  The plots never really engage me, and I find myself mentally exhausted by the end simply trying to both follow the chain of events and keep the characters straight.

“The Desolation of Smaug” seems about on par with its predecessor.  Neither have the same sense of urgency that propelled the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, thus making their north-of-160-minute runtimes feel more like a chore than an afternoon of entertainment.

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REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

20 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 first movie reviewed in the series is “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

Something that the new installment of the extremely popular Pirates of the Caribbean series has in common with its predecessor is that it is a thrill ride.  However, they are much different. The Curse of the Black Pearl was smooth and fun, while Dead Man’s Chest is bumpy and leaves you with a headache.  Johnny Depp’s once-energetic character Jack Sparrow is starting to get on my nerves with his stale humor and over exaggerated body movements.  An intriguing and creative story is followed by a corny and horribly planned sequel.  The movie jumps right in to the action by showing Elizabeth Swann’s (Keira Knightley) ruined wedding to Will Turner (Orlando Bloom).  A lord not from the first movie comes out of the blue with a warrant for their arrest, which states that they should die for helping Jack Sparrow avoid his death.  How someone not around at the time of these acts can arrest them for it, not to mention how overdue this was, is just another flaw in the horrendous script.  Meanwhile, Jack Sparrow is being hunted down by Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, who unfortunately is hidden behind a computer animated face of tentacles) and wants his soul.  Jack needs souls to offer up souls to save his own, so he gives away Will Turner’s, who is after a compass of Jack’s in exchange for him and Elizabeth’s freedom.  The rest of the film is a random blur of CG effects as everyone searches and escapes.  Will searches for an escape from Davy Jones’ ship, Elizabeth searches for Jack who can help her to find Will, and Jack selfishly looks for the Dead Man’s Chest which will save his soul.  They all must escape the Kraken, which will drag them down to Davy Jones’ locker.  However, for all the pain of the first 140 minutes, the last five gain it partial redemption and might convince you to return for the third installment.  All I have to say is if it took three years to come out with a sequel this horrific, I am scared to see what At World’s End will be like after only one.  2stars





What to Look Forward to In … October 2009

29 08 2009

We give the movie industry late August and all of September to recover from the busy summer season, but in October, it starts to kick it into gear again.  Unfortunately, my most anticipated movie in October, Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” was pushed back to February.  But the month still puts forth several great movies for all tastes.

October 2

This week, I can promise you that I will be throwing my money not at a new release, but at the re-release of two staples of my childhood.  “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” will hit theaters again for a few weeks.  1 ticket.  2 movies. 3-D.  Need I say more?

The week also gives us “The Invention of Lying,” which could be a sleeper comedy hit. The movie stars Ricky Gervais, who was the lead of the British version of “The Office.” Around this time last year, he starred in “Ghost Town,” a comedy with a heart that you need to go rent now, that was dismissed by audiences. I have high hopes for his latest, in which he plays a man who tells the world’s first lie on an alternate Earth. He continues to wield the power to suit his own selfish needs. The movie also features Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and the always funny Tina Fey.

And not to mention, the week delivers Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It.” The movie stars the irresistible Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Bliss, a teenager weary of the beauty pageants that she is forced into by her parents. One day, she discovers the world of roller derby and she finds the happiness that she has been so desperately seeking. The movie boasts a hilarious supporting cast including Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, and Barrymore herself.

And it just keeps getting better.  The Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men”) are back with their latest feature, “A Serious Man;” they also wrote the original screenplay.  The movie seems to be a big risk.  It features no marquee names other than the Coens themselves. The trailer is cryptic, giving no indication of what to expect from the movie. I don’t mind an aura of mystique, but this is an aura of confusion. The movie is being marketed as a dark comedy, and I pray that it is the polar opposite of the Coens’ last foray into the genre, “Burn After Reading,” which I didn’t find funny at all. The movie starts in limited release and then will slowly expand from New York and Los Angeles.

The other major release of the week is “Zombieland,” a horror-comedy with Woody Harrelson.

October 9

The only exciting movie hitting theaters across the country this weekend is “Couples Retreat.”  A comedy centered around four couples at a luxurious tropical resort that is revealed to be a marriage therapy clinic, it appears to provide something for everyone.  It has pretty women (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis) AND funny guys (Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau).  The movie is the directorial debut of Ralph Billingsley, best known for playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” and the screenplay is written by Vaughn and Favreau.  Hopefully it can provide some good laughs in a season usually replete of hilarious comedies.

Opening in limited release is “An Education,” a movie that has been garnering massive Oscar buzz for months now.  Most of it has centered on the breakout performance of lead actress Carey Mulligan.  In the movie, she stars as Jenny, a 17-year-old in 1960s England who is set on going to Oxford.  However, an older gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) comes along and sweeps her off of her feet, introducing her to a lifestyle that she immediately loves.  But reality bites, and Jenny is left at a crucial crossroads.  The movie has also generated buzz around supporting actors Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike (the red-haired villain of “Die Another Day”).  Raves are also flying in for the screenplay, written by author Nick Hornby, writer of “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch.”  And with the 10 nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, many people say it has a good chance of claiming one of the ten.

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