Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category
Movie Review #720
Blue Lake Media Fund
Bona Fide Productions
Echo Lake Productions
Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish
Directed by Alexander Payne. Produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa. Written by Bob Nelson.
Rated R by the MPAA – infrequent profanity. Runs 1 hour, 55 minutes. Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2013; at Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival and Vancouver International Film Festival on September 26, 2013; at Hamburg Film Festival on September 28, 2013; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 3, 2013; at New York Film Festival on October 10, 2013; at London Film Festival on October 11, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 13, 2013; at Chicago International Film Festival on October 16, 2013; at Austin Film Festival on October 25, 2013; at Thessaloniki International Film Festival and Cork International Film Festival on November 9, 2013; at Stockholm International Film Festival on AFI Fest on November 11, 2013; at Napa Valley Film Festival on November 12, 2013; at Ljubljana International Film Festival on November 13, 2013; and at Camerimage Film Festival on November 18, 2013. Limited release in the USA on November 15, 2013. Wide release in the USA on January 24, 2014.
Starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach. Also starring Mary Louise Wilson, Rance Howard, Tim Driscoll, Devin Ratray, Angela McEwan, Glendora Stitt, Elizabeth Moore, Kevin Kunkel, Dennis McCoig, Ronald Vosta, Missy Doty, and John Reynolds.
“Nebraska” takes some time to get going, as far as its story, but there’s one thing that’s almost impossibly evident from the very beginning. From the opening imagery (a Paramount logo that stands as stock footage from the 1950’s) all the way up to the final shot (a depiction of Bruce Dern and Will Forte driving off into the distance), the movie is thoroughly graced with the most breathtaking landscape shots you’d find of the rural areas the father-son duo travel. It’s all filmed in the Beautiful Black and White, which can be (and, in this case, is) the very definition of the Nostalgic Now. For proof that such a paradox does exist, “Nebraska” is very much worth watching.
And let’s admit, the plot isn’t a story you see everyday. Can we truly say that we’ve seen a comedy-drama, or anything for that matter, about a father and a son who go cross-country for the possibility of a million dollars? (I say “the possibility” because sweepstakes are involved.) I sure don’t think that story’s the most usual one. This isn’t a new idea for director Alexander Payne, though. Remember “Sideways”? Yeah, the one about the guys who went a-ways just for some good wine. That’s kind of what this reminded me of, in its humorous side. Because no one goes all the way from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska for a million-dollar scam. Oh and remember “About Schmidt”? The sentimental side of this movie seemed to put Bruce Dern in Jack Nicholson’s shoes as he searches his past. It’s a good bit of familiar territory.
This is more of a sentimental movie, however, so comparisons to “About Schmidt” seem significantly more welcome. (The acting, as well, is of a very similar caliber, particularly from Bruce Dern and June Squibb.) Rarely does it go overboard with its heart. It’s atmospheric in a way that’s compassionate, with characters that ultimately surprise us with how much they care about each other. No, this isn’t the dysfunctional family we saw in Payne’s “The Descendants”, but June Squibb (the mother) does not seem very approving of her son taking her husband, who likely has Alzheimer’s, to chase his dream. Actually, she doesn’t seem to approve of anybody, and there’s some good comedy that seems to result from this. “I’m going to go pay my respects,” she says, convincing husband Dern and son Forte to come with her to the graveyard. It’s not long before she finds the headstones of everyone of her deceased in-laws, and starts mocking their lives.
Indeed “Nebraska” is a flawed movie. There’s product placement left and right. Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Miller Lite, Coors, Coors Lite, Vizio, Kia, Mountain Dew, Bose, Onkyo, and more. You don’t really expect that of a movie so reminiscent of cinema’s Golden Age. But if there’s any one scene that best exemplifies the movie’s stronghold of beauty through all of this, it’s that graveyard scene. Or the fifteen minutes of finale. Eh, let’s go with both of ‘em.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
NEBRASKA IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.
Movie Review #718
Ponti-Di Laurentiis Cinematografica
Distributor: Trans Lux (subtitled) – The Criterion Collection (subtitles)
Spoken Languages: Italian
Directed by Federico Fellini. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti. Story and screenplay: Federico Fellini & Tulio Pinnelli. Dialogue: Tulio Pinelli. Screenplay collaborator: Ennio Flajano.
Premiered at Venice Film Festival on September 6, 1954. Wide release in Italy on September 22, 1954; and in the USA on July 16, 1956. Runs 1 hour, 48 minutes. Not rated by the MPAA.
Starring Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart, Aldo Silvani, Marcello Rovere, and Livia Venturini. Featuring uncredited cameo appearances by Mario Passante, Goffredo Unger, Nazzareno Zamperla, Gustavo Giorgi, Yami Kamadeva, and Anna Primula.
“A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” – The Book of Proverbs 9:3-5 (King James Version)
“The Fool is hurt.” – Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina)
There’s two different magnitudes at which one can identify a great filmmaker. There’s the Steven Spielberg magnitude, which basically denotes a director who can entertain and bust the blocks. Which is basically what the ideal director sets out for, so if you’re saying, “So and so the next Spielberg,” that’s some high praise.
It’s difficult to say about the director who helped found my love for movies, but that’s actually the lower magnitude in this idiomatic praise. The higher one is Federico Fellini, and no, he isn’t my favorite director, but he’s most certainly one of the three or four absolute greatest filmmakers there are. The man is of some serious talent. He’s an actor’s director, an writer’s director, and an artist’s director. He himself is indeed an artist, and although his movies are primarily in Italian, he has an unexplainable power to speak to the global audience with his curious comedy-dramas.
One of which is “La Strada”, which, for those who are familiar with a later classic of this director, I shall note as “4 1/2”. This is a film that starts off so well, you’d swear it couldn’t get any better. And of course, somewhere around the forty-minute mark, that’s precisely what it does. The crescendo is beautiful. Everything that made the film phenomenal to begin with lavishly aggrandizes. The cinematography is absolutely masterful, and I most greatly salute Otello Martelli for transforming “La Strada” into one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. It’s unnerving to think that the Academy completely overlooked the beauty in this film.
The acting is great all around. Anthony Quinn is as good as any individual in the cast. So is Giulietta Masina as his wife, Gelsomina, and those are some stellar performances I speak of. Brilliance surrounds this Zenlike masterpiece, the grand opus of a marriage that just isn’t working. The plot is so human, which is why it works. It doesn’t try and make a movie out of its story. In fact, the lead male is a circus performer in a one-man show, for those who are tired of seeing burned-out businessmen in lead roles. Or maybe the fact that this man’s a circus performer and a soloist is Fellinian symbolism for extreme self-love. There’s a lot of that symbolism here, and it doesn’t take that much looking-for. A beach scene, for example, where our lead woman walks in the sand dunes–on the higher ground.
The characters in “La Strada”, especially the central woman Gelsomina, are delightfully offbeat. And Gelsomina is a serious naïve. Particularly with such an individual, “La Strada” would be the perfect mystery tale in the hands of Alfred Hitchcock, but who am I to speak of Hitchcock when all is just perfect in the hands of Fellini? “La Strada” has held up for over a half a century, and I don’t doubt that it has a few more centuries left in it before the expiration date cometh.
LA STRADA IS AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM THE CRITERION COLLECTION. OTHER FORMATS INCLUDE VHS AND LASERDISC.
Movie Review #716
Baby Cow Productions
British Film Institute (BFI)
Magnolia Mae Films
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation – The Weinstein Company
Country: UK – USA – France
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Stephen Frears. Produced by Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward, and Gabrielle Tana. Screenplay: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope. Book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”: Martin Sixsmith.
Rated PG-13 on appeal – mature themes; infrequent, strong profanity. Runs 1 hour, 38 minutes. Premiered at Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2013; at Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2013; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 6, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 12, 2013; at Hawaii Film Festival on October 14, 2013; at BFI London Film Festival on October 16, 2013; at Chicago International Film Festival on October 17, 2013; and at Austin Film Festival on October 24, 2013. Limited release in the USA on November 22, 2013. Wide release in the UK on November 1, 2013; in the USA on November 27, 2013; and in France on January 8, 2014.
Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, and Michelle Fairley. Also starring Mare Winningham, Barbara Jefford, Ruth McCabe, Peter Hermann, Sean Mahon, and Anna Maxwell Martin.
In her younger years, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) was separated from her young son by an Irish convent. This was kept a secret only she and the nuns knew for the longest time. Fifty years later, she wishes to find her son. She is assisted by an ex-reporter for channel 10 news (Steve Coogan); he also reported for, as she puts it, “that other job.” But this is only to figure out that her son has been dead for years.
I’ll spoil no more than that of “Philomena”. From the very beginning of the movie, I was reminded of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. This is a movie about a journalist teaming up with a disturbed woman to investigate a crime he will report on. Which I’m sure is a common premise, but “Philomena” earns the comparison. As if the true story it narrates isn’t horrifying enough, what director Stephen Frears gives us to chew on is absolutely disturbing.
That is why I’m a bit puzzled as to why on earth this was actually a dramedy. It works, but given the plot, any notion of comedy doesn’t make sense, logically. Flashbacks pervade the movie to illustrate Philomena’s haunted past. So does spirited conversation between the two leads (her and the reporter). The sudden shifts from the dismal into the charming feel uneven for a little while, but to much surprise, the script overall seems to pull it off rather masterfully. Philomena’s past (which she has kept secret for several decades) affects the way she behaves around people. Much to our enjoyment, she’s actually more whimsical and full of life than the average old lady.
“Philomena” is a slow moving but gripping and entirely rewarding movie. Steve Coogan’s performance is powerful; Dench’s, an absolute tour de force. Watch her conquer the whole movie, as the disturbed woman who cannot forget her past, as well as the spirited chatterbox who details the book she’s reading ever so thoroughly to someone who just doesn’t care. It definitely is flawed. But god do I hate to write something so meaningless about “Philomena” as much as you hate to read it. It’s like saying, “I looked for a flaw and, as you might guess, I found one.” There’s only one significant flaw that actually gets in the way of “Philomena”, and I’ve already mentioned that one. With the pathos that glows throughout the movie, it definitely COULD have been a great deal worse.
PHILOMENA IS IN THEATERS.
Movie Review #715
Paramount Pictures presents…
Denver and Delilah Production
Right of Way Films
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Jason Reitman. Produced by Diablo Cody, Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick, Jason Reitman, and Russell Smith. Written by Diablo Cody.
Rated R by the MPAA – profanity; infrequent sexual material. Runs 1 hour, 34 minutes. Limited release in the USA on December 9, 2011. Wide release in the USA on December 16, 2011.
Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, and Hettienne Park. Also starring Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Mary Beth Hurt, Kate Nowlin, Jenny Dare Paulin, Rebecca Hart, Louisa Krause, Elizabeth Ward Land, and Brian McElhaney.
“Psychotic prom queen bitch.” – Kate Nowlin as Mary Ellen Trantowski
It’s a fleeting line from a supporting character, but that description says everything about Mavis Gary, played by the versatile Ms. Charlize Theron in “Young Adult”. Ms. Gary is a freelance writer, and to be more specific, she’s actually a ghostwriter for another unsuccessful author. She lives in the city and suffers from depression. It’s as if the movie was written for her, which isn’t what we’d expect before we press play.
Her ninety-minute persona is written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman. The same crew that struck gold in 2007′s “Juno”. Maybe they’ve struck silver this time. The characters bear the same personalities here, it seems; they’re just different people in different situations. Still, it’s a clever movie with a message. I’ll note once more about Charlize Theron. Her transformation involves mind, body, and spirit. She gets an email that her ex-boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) has just had a baby, and she decides to go back to her hometown. Not for the baby, but to get back with her ex-boyfriend, who she last saw almost two decades before.
“Young Adult” is the perfect title for this movie. It’s not just about an author of young adult novels. It’s also about a 37-year-old who’s still living and behaving like a high schooler. So while it’s a fish-out-of-water comedy, and a black comedy, it’s also a late bloomer’s coming-of-age story. The tale most certainly isn’t run of the mill, but it could have been a bit less typical. I often wondered, have I seen this before? The bottom line is, it’s funny. Bleak enough that we’re led to hate the protagonist by the end, but it’s side-splitting even then.
YOUNG ADULT IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, AND NETFLIX INSTANT STREAMING.
Hello all! Today, I introduce a new feature entitled Short Film Smorgasbord. Each time one of these posts goes up, it’s three short film reviews for three short films.
The entire smorgasbord will count as one (1) review, and this time, they also happen to be (especially important) silents.
Oh and I’ll have a witty title for each smorgasbord (thanks a bunch to Committed to Celluloid for that inspiration).
Sherlock Holmes, Baffled that the Kelly Gang Made It into the Sealed Room
Movie Review #712
“Sherlock Holmes, Baffled”
American Mutoscope & Biograph. Distributor: American Mutoscope & Biograph. Country: USA. Directed by Arthur Marvin. Character by Arthur Conan Doyle. Runs 1 minute. Wide release in the USA in May 1900. Starring Anonymous as Sherlock Holmes.
“Sherlock Holmes Baffled” is a simple but clever little short. The premise: Sherlock walks into a room to find a burglar. There seems to be a fantasy element to this movie—a humorous surprise that I dare not spoil—and as far as special effects, this 1900 motion picture is waaay ahead of its time. An effort that cracked a smile on my face, a reaction many modern comedies can only wish for. For the first movie to actually feature Holmes, this is quite a nice effort.
“The Sealed Room”
Biograph Company. Distributor: Biograph Company – Reel Media International – American Mutoscope & Biograph. Country: USA. Languages: English intertitles. Directed by D.W. Griffith. Writer: Frank E. Woods. Based on the novel “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe and the story “La Grande Breteche” by Honoré de Balzac. Runs 11 minutes. Wide release in the USA on September 2, 1909. Starring Arthur V. Johnson as the Count, Marion Leonard as the Countess, and Henry B. Walthall as the Minstrel. Also starring Linda Arvidson, William J. Butler, Verner Clarges, Owen Moore, George Nichols, Anthony O’Sullivan, Mary Pickford, Gertrude, Mack Sennett, and George Siegmann.
It’s interesting to think that while epics of the last half-century emphasize hope in their respective stories, the epic film actually began with overwhelming tragedy. At eleven minutes, “The Sealed Room” isn’t long enough to stand as a part of this genre, but elongate it and it most certainly is. This isn’t as good as D.W. Griffith can get, but it feels like a considerable (and adequately gripping) precursor to his two best-known epics: “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) and “Intolerance” (1916).
“The Story of the Kelly Gang”
J. & N. Tait. Johnson and Gibson. Country: Australia. Directed by Charles Tait. Produced by W.A. Gibson, Millard Johnson, John Tait, and Nevin Tait. Writer: Charles Tait. Runs 70 minutes (remaining footage runs 21 minutes). Wide release in Australia on December 26, 1906. Starring Elizabeth Tait and John Tait. Also starring Frank Mills, Norman Campbell, Will Coyne, Sam Crewes, Jack Ennis, John Forde, Mr. Marshall, Mr. McKenzie, Bella Cola, Vera Linden, and Ollie Wilson. With uncredited cameo appearances from E.J. Tait and Frank Tait.
Fun fact: 70% of all silent footage that was ever produced, has been lost. Technically, “The Story of the Kelly Gang” was the first feature film. Reports vacillate between time lengths of 60 and 70 minutes; the established minimum for a feature film is 40 minutes. 21 minutes of the movie remain, and not a bit of story can be discerned from it. It’s just violence, violence, and more violence. None of it’s graphic, morbid, or off-putting in anyway other than that it’s pointless. If I had to guess, I’d say this is a “Bonnie and Clyde” precursor, but what good does guessing do? What good is it when the movie forces you to guess? Perhaps there was an actual plot when this film (which ironically has “Story” in its title) was issued at feature length. But if I were to watch any random 21 minutes of a decent movie, I’m sure I would be able to make out at least half the plot.
The English Patient
ALL TITLES AVAILABLE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.
Movie Review #710
Charles Chaplin Productions
Distributor: United Artists (1931 release) – United Artists (1950 re-release)
Languages: English (intertitles)
Directed by Charles Chaplin. Produced by Charles Chaplin (uncredited). Written by Charles Chaplin. Uncredited writers: Harry Clive, Harry Crocker.
Passed by the National Board of Review. Later rated G by the MPAA. Runs 1 hour, 27 minutes. Limited release in Los Angeles, California on January 30, 1931; in New York City, New York on February 6, 1931; and in London on February 27, 1931. Wide release in the USA on March 7, 1931. Re-released in the USA on April 8, 1950.
Starring Virginia Cherrill and Charlie Chaplin. Also starring Florence Lee, Harry Myers, Allan Garcia, and Hank Mann.
Charlie Chaplin made “City Lights” during the blooming Sound Era as if to say, “I’m not yet done with silent movies.” It’s a pretty big leap of faith, but it succeeds, mainly because Chaplin is wholeheartedly dedicated to the movie. He spends the entirety of this pantomime doing what he does best—at his best. Slapstick with pathos, that would be.
The term pièce de résistance describes it perfectly. The literal French translation is “resistance piece,” and if “City Lights” isn’t, then few films actually are. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as “the most important or remarkable feature.” Once upon a time, I swore he couldn’t get any better than “The Kid”. But where that was a standing masterpiece, what we have here is the push over the cliff. Modest, but effective and exciting.
“City Lights” is clever to the point at which smiles are rarely without guarantee. “The Tramp” returns to star in this feature, as simpleminded and kindhearted as he ever has been. The movie beautifully envisions the romance between him and a blind woman. The Tramp is desperate to make money for this young woman, so that she can pay her rent and consult a doctor in Vienna who can perhaps cure her blindness. Fortunately, there’s a millionaire who’s willing to help. Unfortunately, this is a suicidal, drunken millionaire, so he’s often less than willing to help.
Any movie with the Tramp is a fish out of water comedy, but “City Lights” might as well be the standard by which that genre should be judged. It’s purely entertaining. I feel as if the title was meant as a joke Chaplin was knocking on the audience. The leading lady in this movie is blind. She can’t see city lights, and she has never seen city lights. Ergo, he who hasn’t seen “City Lights” is (cinematically) blind. Maybe I’m reading too far into the title, but at the very least, it works.
The Bourne Identity
CITY LIGHTS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD FROM THE CRITERION COLLECTION. OTHER FORMATS INCLUDE VHS AND LASERDISC.
Movie Review #708
Of interest – This is my longest review yet. Word count: 1,168.
A Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe Production…
…an Orion Pictures Release…
Orion Pictures Corporation
Distributor: Orion Pictures Corporation
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Woody Allen. Produced by Robert Greenhut. Written by Woody Allen.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – sexual material, infrequent profanity. Approved by the Production Code Administration (certificate #30686). Runs 1 hour, 42 minutes. Limited release in Chicago, Illinois, Los Angeles, California, and New York City, New York on December 25, 1990.
Starring Mia Farrow and Joe Mantegna. Also starring William Hurt, June Squibb, Marceline Hugot, Dylan O’Sullivan Farrow, Matt Williamson, Julie Kavner, Billy Taylor, Holland Taylor, Michael-Vaughn Sullivan, Robin Bartlett, Linda Wallem, Gina Gallagher, Patience Moore, Kim Chan, Diane Cheng, Keye Luke, Lynda Bridges, Anthony Cortino, Judy Davis, Cybill Shepherd, Alec Baldwin, Katja Schumann, Vanessa Thomas, Blythe Danner, Gwen Verdon, Patrick O’Neal, Kristy Graves, Laurie Nayber, Rachel Miner, Amy Louise Barret, Caroline Aaron, Alexi Henry, James Tobac, Bernadette Peters, Elle Macpherson, Ira Wheeler, Lisa Marie, Diane Salinger, Alfred Cherry, David Spielberg, and Bob Balaban. Featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Mary Stein.
Not counting any television movies or short films, Woody Allen has directed forty-four movies, of which I’ve seen twenty-two. This is what I’ve come to. Let me delineate the four basic “eras,” if you will, that Allen’s filmography can be broken down into. Everything from “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” (1966) to “Sleeper” (1973) is an entry into the Slapstick Era. That period of time is followed closely by the First Soap Era, which runs from “Love and Death” (1975) all the way into “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989). That’s where the next age comes in: the New & Inventive Era, which tracks from “Alice” (1990) into “Hollywood Ending” (2002). Then the old traditions pick right back up again with the Second Soap Era, which spans from “Anything Else” (2003) up to “Blue Jasmine” (2013) and more than likely through Woody’s upcoming release, this year’s “Magic in the Moonlight”.
Just writing this on a legal pad, I can feel a mess of both nodding and blank stares. No, I haven’t lost my mind, and yes, for those who get sort of what I’m pinpointing here, I do know it doesn’t match up film for film. If it did, then “Zelig” (1983) and “Midnight in Paris” (2011) would have both been released during the New & Inventive Era, and “Husbands and Wives” (1992) and, perhaps, “Everyone Says I Love You” (1996) would belong in one of the two Soap Eras. Just bear with me, anyway; it’s a rough sketch.
Moving on now, I think the one I need to clear up a little bit is the New & Inventive. What exactly do I mean by “new and inventive”? Well, it’s simple, actually. From 1990 to 2002, Woody Allen was trying to restart his career with homemade jumper cables. That’s to say that he was putting every love story he’d made, every wild farce with his name on it, all that behind him and start from scratch. As far as what was released during these twelve years, you don’t need to look at anything more than the IMDb plot descriptions to figure out that the man was departing from “same old, same old” romances and trying to plunge himself into new stories.
Sometimes he was met with praise. Other times, his newness only made for a cheesy movie with regretful aftertaste.
Frankly, I can’t put my finger on why Allen continued after “Alice” (1990), his first movie during the New & Inventive Era. I can’t put my finger on why he even thought it was a good idea after that first attempt. I just can’t put my finger on it, and when I try and use the identical digit on my opposing hand, no dice. I’ll give Woody credit for being new. Hell, I’ll give him an upwards thumbnail for being inventive. I’ll keep that thumb up for the outfit worn by the title character, the music, and the homage to Federico Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirits” that apparently permeates every crack and crevasse of this flick. But the fantasy twist evokes such eye rolling! Even if I loved anything and everything Woody Allen did make “Alice” an unexpectedly kooky film, there’s still room for shame. Yes, the visual movie magic contributes, but is there any getting by the fact that this is a most banal excuse to showcase those special effects?
As much as I love Mia Farrow, there’s nothing better than Mia Farrow in a Woody Allen movie. There’s one exception, of course, and that’s right here, folks. She just overacts and pops so much cornball into her performance that she could easily outpop the average popcorn machine. This has worked for her multiple times in Woody’s movies, though. If only the script were more clever, her caricature might’ve been a home run.
It’s a dangerous question, to ask how Alice changes the script itself by being its leading heroine. This women does two things–just two–and you can tell me whether that’s a work of sexism or poor character development.
One. She talks. And talks, and talks, talks, chats, flaps her gums, her lips, whatever. Talks, speaks, lets words, sentences, phrases fly out sa bouche. And then, after she’s had a moment’s break, she gets goin’ again. Talk, talk, talk some more. I think Meredith Willson wrote a song specifically about this woman in The Music Man. The lyrics, of course, denote the act of talking in a rather thorough fashion.
Two. Alice complains. She’s neurotic, but so are at least half of Woody Allen’s protagonists. He loves his neurotics, but Alice’s complaints are just too dry and unfunny for us to love. I was ripping hairs from my head when she was just complaining and complaining about that damn backache of hers. She repeats herself when she complains. Oh and guess what, Alice, I have two stainless steel rods holding my back together and straightening it to prevent scoliosis from turning me into Quasimodo. How do ya like them apples? You think that’s any fun? Do you hear me complaining about some silly backache?
Oh and by the way, she repeats herself when she complains. I feel like I’ve said that already, but I kid you not. She really does repeat herself when she complains. (Should I say it again?)
I often would characterize Woody Allen as a screenwriter of situation, in which case the events and happenstances are fleshed out for the screen more than anything else. Some of his best, however comes when he writes character to a higher degree than situation. “Annie Hall”, “Zelig”, “Match Point”, and “Blue Jasmine” all succeed thanks to the personalities that feature. Whereas “Alice” is in desperate need of character development. Once we have a reason to be interested in the main character, which we certainly do, we need a reason not to lose interest. (Oops!)
The lead role is not a followup to the same-titled TV series, or the originating movie in which Ellen Burstyn played a woman named Alice, for those who have gotten this far into my review and are still wondering. Instead, the protagonist is more of a free-spirited naïf living out Alice in Wonderland. Make no mistake, Alice’s sister’s name is Dorothy, and she probably lives inside her daydreams of the Merry Old Land of Oz. It’s basically “Amélie”, except “Amélie” is a newer movie, its fantasy elements are far less exaggerated, and it’s a much better slice of entertainment. “Alice” is funny, hither and thither. At the very least, it does try. When it’s too lazy to do just that, it recycles old jokes. My all-time favorite one-liner from any Woody Allen comedy has always been from “Manhattan”: “I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics.” Yep, that one’s butchered in this movie. “Alice” is a semi-complete disappointment. Clearly, there was potential for a good movie here. It just didn’t happen. Woody Allen has spent every cinematic effort since 1966 playing different variations around the same minor key. “Alice” has a flavorful array of notes, but it lacks the chords that would have made that melody appealing.
À bout de souffle
ALICE IS AVAILABLE ON DVD AND VHS.
Movie Review #700
New Line Cinema presents…
Slap Happy Productions
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Produced by Chris Bender, Vincent Newman, Tucker Tooley, and Happy Walters. Screenplay by Bob Fisher & Steve Faber and Sean Anders & John Morris. Story by Bob Fisher & Steve Faber.
Rated R by the MPAA — frequent profanity, sexual content, drug material, brief/graphic nudity (extended cut also rated R). Runs 1 hour, 50 minutes (extended cut runs 8 minutes longer). Premiered at Traverse City Film Festival on August 3, 2013. Wide release in the USA on August 7, 2013.
Starring Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, and Will Poulter. Also starring Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Molly Quinn, Tomer Sisley, Matthew Willig, Luis Guzmán, and Brendan Hunt. Featuring uncredited cameo appearances by Andrea Alcorn, James Alcorn, Laura Avery, Rachel Brewer, Christian Daniels, Amanda Fresquez, Rebecca Harran, Cathy Mattson, Monica Molina, Joe Montanti, Robb Moon, Kathy Walton Pulley, Ed Ricker, Ellie Rodriguez, Nick Thies, and Steven Ray Byrd.
“We’re the Millers” is a horrible, horrible movie, yet I feel neither shame nor hesitance in excusing it as entertaining. The humor was so consistent that I didn’t have to worry about pitying any failed attempts at comedy; I was guffawing instead.
I do pity the film, though: I’ve slapped it with two “horrible”s and its aim is the exact opposite. Clearly, the intent was to make the numero uno of dysfunctional family movies. It’s the establishment of character and story that ventures further than needed. Really, a ridiculous story doesn’t guarantee as many laughs as some filmmakers tend to believe. Spanning from the American Southwest into Mexico, the tale covers a grab bag of four neighboring people who have to act as a cheery, happy-go-lucky family.
This is the plan concocted by the “father” (Jason Sudeikis), so that he can smuggle drugs out of Mexico and keep his business running. But it’s not just him. All four of the “family” members have a screw loose. He’s a drug dealer in desperation. His “wife” (Jennifer Aniston) is a stripper who takes her job way too seriously. Their “daughter,” rescued from the projects, has no respect for authority, as if the drama queen in her isn’t too unnerving for them. And they can be sure that their “son” was dropped on his head as a young’n without checking with a doctor.
That. That story is a joke in and of itself. As the premise for “We’re the Millers”, it happens to fuel countless jokes. But still, given that ludicrous story, how in pluperfect hell are we supposed to believe the inevitable ending: that these people will get used to posing as a family, and they’ll eventually start to naturally interact like a family? Should I reiterate who these four are?
Not much in the screenplay gives the remotest face of reality. I mean, this basic setup technically could happen, once in seven or eight blue moons. All four familial asses are saved time and again by something that could probably happen when pigs fly. Character development and situational approach are often as realistic as some of the short films I would produce and direct in the fifth grade. Even the dialogue is unrealistic. I found the profanity excessive, more than likely because it was there just because. “The Wolf of Wall Street” was the record-breaker at over 500 F-bombs, and I didn’t mind. I minded the reported 97 in “We’re the Millers”.
(I might as well mention that pacing is horrendous, too.)
But there’s a saving grace to all of that. Not one of the four writers of “We’re the Millers” know how to write a convincing film. They do have jokes, and that’s what makes this entertaining at all costs. “We’re the Millers” unravels with side-splitting hilarity. The production is anemic in anything but its humor. The performances do save it in part, which is a given for the humor’s own success. Emma Roberts, especially, is an enthusiastic standout as the homeless “daughter.” It’s worth the warning that the humor does falter once, near the end. An extended scene that is the grossest thing in a hard-R comedy since that one scene in “Borat”. Remember how much you laughed in that movie? Every rose does indeed have its thorn.
WE’RE THE MILLERS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.
Movie Review #699
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Woody Allen. Produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, and Edward Walson. Written by Woody Allen.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA — mature themes, profanity, sexual content. Runs 1 hour, 38 minutes. Premiered at Traverse City Film Festival on July 30, 2013. Limited release in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on July 26, 2013. Wide release in the USA on August 23, 2013.
Starring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., and Peter Sarsgaard. Featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Steven Wiig as a Midwestern tourist.
“I wanna go back to school! I wanna get my degree and become…you know…something substantial!” – Cate Blanchett, in the role of Jasmine
When I say that each and every Woody Allen is the same, yet completely different, I mean exactly that. I’m referring to the ever recurring/ever changing substance, not just the smooth jazz or the exquisite cityscapes, though those apply, too. “Blue Jasmine” is remarkably anomalous to any Woody Allen movie I myself have seen. And it’s oddly something we could swear we’ve seen a billion times from the filmmaker. It’s possible that this is because Woody Allen hasn’t really set his sights on the ugly duckling story before, but more than likely, the freshness we’d find in “Blue Jasmine” is thanks to focus on character more than situation.
This character couldn’t have been accomplished without its actress, Cate Blanchett. I fear that we actually know someone like her, someone just like her. It’s as if Mia Farrow gave Ms. Blanchett a soul transplant and made her an actress we want more of in Woody Allen movies. This newfound actress for Allen, she’s absolutely terrific. Never would I have expected Ms. Blanchett to play the female counterpart to the lovable neurotic that Woody Allen played from the nascence of his career all the way through the eighties. That Woody is merely focused on writing in that ego, as opposed to typecasting himself, is where the film allows for a more natural establishment of the neurotic female, a New York socialite named Jasmine who is visiting her sister in San Francisco. I’d conclude that the movie as a whole feels a bit deeper than Woody’s usual ninety minutes of wry.
This is a huge step up from Woody’s previous comedy, “To Rome with Love”, and enough to prove that “To Rome” was just a blemish on his winning streak. It got great at 2011′s “Midnight in Paris”, and now it’s only gotten better. I’ll admit that “Blue Jasmine” fails to meet comic potential during its opening, but past the first ten minutes, this is a very funny movie. It seems I was laughing harder and harder with each passing scene. By the time Ms. Blanchett was opening up to her nephews, likely not even ten years old, about her medical history (“You do know of Prozac, don’t you?”), I was dying. Best of all was the finale. The ten finishing minutes were so well played, and of course, it all ends on the Woody Allen definition of “sweet.” That’s not a complaint, because even at its most cliché, “Blue Jasmine” is still a beautiful comedy.
We’re the Millers
BLUE JASMINE IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.
Movie Review #697
This review is dedicated to Fernando Quintero, who considers this to be one of Pedro Almodóvar’s weaker efforts. Though as he’s seen everything from the director that I can only hope to have the time for, he has a better say than myself.
El Deseo S.A.
Distributor: Miramax Films
Spoken Languages: Spanish
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Produced by Enrique Posner. Screenplay by Pedro Almodóvar. Story by Pedro Almodóvar.
Rated NC-17 by the MPAA — infrequent and strong sexual content, infrequent nudity (originally rated X). 1 hour, 51 minutes. Premiered at Berlin International Film Festival in February 1990. Limited release in Madrid on January 22, 1990; in Barcelona on February 9, 1990; and in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on May 4, 1990.
Starring Victoria Abril and Antonio Banderas. Also starring Loles León, Julieta Serrano, and Francisco Rabal. Featuring a credited cameo appearance by Agustín Almodóvar as un farmacéutico (a pharmacist).
If it was anyone but Pedro Almodóvar acting as the driving force behind “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”, the movie simply wouldn’t work. With anyone less able to combine the elements of drama, comedy, and thriller–something that Almodóvar does so adeptly–we wouldn’t have a remotely watchable movie. At best, the results would be sick and twisted.
This is an unusual but likeable story. Ricki (Antonio Banderas) is released from a mental institution, and his one reason to live thereon is to pursue a pornographic actress with whom he’s desperately in love: Marina Orsorio (Victoria Abril). She doesn’t recognize him, but he knows he’s met her before, and the exact circumstances. She resists him, but he ties her to the bed in an effort to convince her that they love each other and he can’t let her escape while he’s out buying her painkillers off the street. Mind you, he’s just re-entering society for the first time in a long time, and that’s part of what makes this movie such a peculiar, but hysterical one.
It’s rather difficult to describe the movie in the light Almodóvar approaches it. To reiterate, it’s his film. No one else could get away with a movie this offbeat. It’s not a movie about a sick and twisted rapist who viciously kidnaps an innocent woman, though for the sake of humor, Almodóvar pokes fun at that by showing parts of the story that way, as Miss Marina sees it all. We’re led to believe this tale through the eyes and the depthy heart of Ricki, who really isn’t a bad guy at all. He’s actually a sweet guy, trying to help out the woman who, he fears, could be emotionless.
You’d be surprised how little you have to read into the story to figure all that out, and chances are, there’s no requirement of reading into it in order to dig that up. What’s best about Almodóvar as a director is his cinematic logic and the stories’ deeper meanings are always there without a doubt; he just doesn’t focus on these facets of filmmaking. He’s just focused on making the movie, and that’s where all these knots are cleanly tied in “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”. The movie gets as graphic as it ever wishes to be, but it does have heart. And soul. A lot of both those things.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN! IS AVAILABLE ON DVD AND FREE TO STREAM ON NETFLIX.