Boyhood (2014)

2014 September 16
by profwagstaff

boyhood

Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater

It took me so long to finally see this movie after my first chance (sort of) being back in March that I almost feel like I don’t need to review it anymore. But I will because I loved it so much.

First, though, some trailers.

ST VINCENT—No, this is not a documentary about Annie Clark. It’s a film about an old curmudgeon named Vincent (Bill Murray) who befriends a young boy (Jaeden Lieberher) and teaches him about life, fighting and whiskey. The boy’s mom (Melissa McCarthy) is concerned, but seems to like the man. And the priest at the boy’s school (Chris O’Dowd from The IT Crowd!) is maybe about the same. Naomi Watts is a stripper that Vincent befriends. Either way, I’m seeing this movie. I love everyone in it and it looks hilarious and touching without being cloying. I’m there.

20,000 DAYS ON EARTH—This is a documentary (sort of) about Nick Cave’s 20,000th day on Earth. It’s fiction…but it’s also documentary. But it looks like he’s a cab driver sometimes. But he’s on stage performing. I don’t fuckin’ know. I just know that this looks like a great movie. It’s needs my attention.

BIRDMAN—Already reviewed this one, but just wanted to point out that, in the Drafthouse Films Presents trailer, Tim League is standing in front of the Werner Herzog Theatre in Telluride. Love.

Ok, now on to a movie that was 12 years in the making…probably more.

Boyhood is about growing up. Not just kids growing up, but parents growing up, too. Because nothing makes an adult become an adult faster than having a kid…at least you hope. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is growing up right before our eyes. He starts out as a little boy in grade school and slowly transforms into a 17 year old high school graduate. His divorced parents, Emily and Mason, Sr (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) have a strained relationship, but they sort of try to keep it friendly for the kids. Mason’s older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), is your typical older sister: abusive, but protective.

Mason and his family go through 12 years of experiences as everyone gets older right before our eyes. They make friends. They lose friends. They fall in love. They fall out of love. They have major breakthroughs…but there is no BIG MOMENT. Boyhood is a series of small moments. The ones that you remember when your mind drifts back to you childhood. Sitting in your room, listening to your parents fight. Being offered a beer by an older kid. Noticing a girl for the first time. Being told by your teacher that you’re a smart kid if you would just apply yourself. Yes, we all remember the BIG MOMENTS. But those are in every coming of age movie ever made.

Richard Linklater has made a career off of celebrating the small moments. There’s no real plot to his most popular movie, Dazed And Confused. It’s just about the last day of school in 1976. Kids run from school to home to parties to a bar to a car. They talk, the walk, they make out, they drink, they smoke. Nothing really happens. And it’s great.

Boyhood takes that to the extreme and is amazing for it. The characters are real. We all knew or know a kid like Mason. We’ve all known dads like Mason, Sr. By the end of the movie, we’re a part of this fucked up little family. We’ve seen them at their best and their worst. We’ve loved them and we’ve hated them.

Mason is a little bit of a blank slate, the older he gets, but if you’ve ever known a teenager, that’s how they are. Especially around adults. I went to this movie with a teenager and I bet he identified with Mason more than I ever could. I definitely saw a lot of my movie buddy in Mason. You can pull the real kid out sometimes, but a lot of the time there’s a wall up. It takes age to take that wall down.

This movie reminded me a lot of another movie that some people hated, Elephant. Now, THAT is a movie where nothing happens until the very end. You just follow these kids around all day long until two of them start shooting. You don’t get a sense of any personalities except for one kid. I identified with that so much because that’s how high school is. And that’s a lot of what childhood is. YOU know who you are. At least, you think you do. But you just know that no one else really gets you. No one else understands. So why bother getting to know them?

I loved Boyhood. I think it’s quite possibly the best movie I’ve seen all year. Even at 2 1/2 hours, it never wore out its welcome and I kept wondering where Mason and his family would go next. And, most important of all, I saw a little of myself in Mason. Linklater took 12 years to make this film and it was worth every second.

TFF14 – The Price Of Fame/Rosewater

2014 September 5
by profwagstaff

THE PRICE OF FAME (aka, LA RACON DE LA GLOIRE, 2014)

Directed by: Xavier Beauvois
Written by: Etienne Comar

In 1977, an international icon died. Everyone loved Charlie Chaplin. (Well, except possibly a few hundred women and a couple of governments, but that’s beside the point.) His death was big news.

Chaplin was buried in Switzerland for political reasons (See? Governments.) and that brought an idea to a couple of petty thieves. Eddy and Osman (Benoit Poelvoorde and Roschdy Zem) were immigrants to Switzerland and were barely getting by. Eddy was a family man and Osman had just been released from prison when he Chaplin died. A couple of months later, he and Eddy decided to rob Chaplin’s grave and hold the body for ransom.

What they didn’t plan on was their own stupidity and the single-mindedness of Crooker (Peter Coyote), Chaplin’s…bodyguard? Butler? I’m not really sure what Crooker was to the family, but he was a man who could be a right bastard when he needed to be.

For such an outlandish story, The Price Of Fame is a fairly tame film. Instead of making it an outright comedy with two bumbling crooks stealing a body, Beauvois made a slightly funny drama about two men who are willing to do anything to make ends meet. Eddy is desperate to go straight and keep his wife happy while Osman just wants another score. He’s kind of an idiot and definitely the source of most of the comedy in the film.

Worth checking out, but not the best film of the festival, by far.
rosewater

ROSEWATER (2014)

Directed by: Jon Stewart
Written by: Jon Stewart
Based on book by: Maziar Bahari/Aimee Molloy

We all know Jon Stewart from The Daily Show, which means that we know what a political beast he is. What we didn’t know is that he has a serious side to him that can really shine.

Rosewater is the story of Mazair Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal), a journalist originally from Iran who has worked in the US for years. When he went back to Iran to write a story for Newsweek, a revolution broke out. He was detained and tortured for 118 days because the government wants to prove that he’s a spy who was trying to overthrow the government.

Part of the reasoning behind the detainment was a bit on The Daily Show where Bahari was interviewed by Jason Jones. Jones was playing the part of a spy.

Satire doesn’t translate particularly well, eh?

For a little over 100 minutes, we are truly with Bahari in that cell. He’s blindfolded, beaten, interrogated and thrown in solitary confinement for no apparent reason.

Rosewater is a rough movie, but it could have been a LOT harder to watch. Stewart shows restraint with the torture (I don’t even remember seeing any blood at all) and a sense of humor throughout. He makes the government agents holding Bahari look like complete idiots…which probably isn’t too terribly difficult, honestly.

Bernal is great as the tortured young man, but I do wonder how many people are going to wonder about a Mexican playing an Iranian. Well, at least he only had to put on an accent and not makeup or fake teeth.

This is a great film that I hope you get to see. Jon Stewart has the potential to be a really good political filmmaker, if that’s the direction he chooses to go. All the while, I’m sure he’ll keep his sense of humor even within the darkest of subjects.

TFF14 – California Split/The Homesman/Birdman

2014 September 5
by profwagstaff

california_split

CALIFORNIA SPLIT (1974)

Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Joseph Walsh

California Split is one of those great movies that got away. Everyone knows about MASH, Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts…most of the classics that Robert Altman directed throughout his career. California Split, though, has fallen out of print and been basically forgotten.

It’s a real shame, too. This movie is amazing.

Charlie Waters and Bill Denny (Elliott Gould and George Segal) meet when they’re both playing poker at the same table and are accused of cheating together by a very large redneck. They get shitfaced and leave the casino together, ending up at Charlie’s place where he lives with Barbara and Susan (Ann Prentiss and Gwen Welles), two prostitutes who both have a thing for the guys.

The two men are absolutely addicted to gambling. They have so much fun doing it, but they get in so much trouble with it. They’re lives look fun and horrifying all at the same time. Bill owes a lot of money, even though he has a very good job. Charlie is apparently unemployed, but he makes enough off of his gambling to get by.

But they’re also addicted to each other. As the film goes on, they get closer and closer. Bill can’t stand to be at work because it means that he’s not gambling with Charlie. Charlie constantly calls Bill and asks him to go out of town to gamble with him. These guys are basically in love with each other. They just can’t admit it. It might just be the best and truest love story that Altman ever told.

I’m really hoping that Criterion decides to pick this up and release it like they have with Short Cuts and Nashville. If they don’t, the only way to see this movie may be at festivals like Telluride. And that would be a shame. Everyone is at the height of their power here.
homesman

THE HOMESMAN (2014)

Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones
Written by: Tommy Lee Jones/Kieran Fitzgerald/Wesley Oliver/Miles Hood Swarthout (uncredited)
Based on book by: Glendon Swarthout

Tommy Lee Jones is pretty much a national treasure at this point. His portrayals of stoic and principled men bring to mind a modern John Wayne, but with more range. (Love The Duke, but his range wasn’t as big as he was.)

The Homesman is his fourth directorial effort and, honestly, I’m still at a loss about it a few days after seeing it.

Jones plays George Briggs, a nearly insane man who is caught claim jumping. Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) is an unmarried woman who is going to escort three actually insane women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter) from Nebraska to Ohio so that they can get some help. Mary and George meet and she decides that she needs help wrangling the women, the horses and the Indians of the area.

Mary has been seen as odd for the last 15 years because she has never married. At 31, she’s an old maid. George has just been odd. The two make for a crazy pair, but not really in a funny way.

Here’s my problem with this film: Inconsistency of character. George is crazy. He dances. He sings. He does crazy things. Except when he suddenly becomes Call from Lonesome Dove. Mary is a strong, independent woman who doesn’t really need a man, except when she falls apart because she doesn’t have a man. Then something happens that is completely out of character for Mary and actually made me rethink the entire movie. And not in a good way.

The other problem was the casual racism. I realize that people were racist against Native Americans back then. (And they still are, sadly.) But did we really need a scene where George sends a horse away to lure the Indians away…and they follow the horse like a dog follows a bone? Then he tells Mary that they’re going to eat the horse. You know, instead of what they would actually do, which is catch it and use it as a horse.

Other than that, I liked the story. The acting was great (especially Jones). It was pretty well written. I just expected more from Jones and Swank.
birdman

BIRDMAN (2014)

Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Written by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu/Nicolas Glacobone/Alexander Dinelaris/Armando Bo

Michael Keaton has been a little AWOL for the last 15 years or so. I mean, he’s been around…a little. Mostly voice work. Since his role in The Other Guys, though, he’s been showing up more and more.

Birdman is his first starring vehicle in years. And, to my mind, it’s long overdue.

Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a washed up actor who is best known for his string of superhero movies in the 90s. He still gets recognized for his Birdman films, but he’s tired of that. He wants to be known as a real actor! His latest endeavor is a stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. Days before the previews, he snags Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) as the other man of the story. Unfortunately, even though Mike is a phenomenal actor, he’s a horrible human being. He brings out the worst in Riggan, who also has his major flaws.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has made some incredibly well-reviewed movies, but I haven’t been able to really catch onto any of his films until now. Amores Perros was one third great, one third good and one third terrible. Babel was a bit overwrought. 21 Grams was great, but I probably never need to see it again. Birdman, however, very well could be infinitely watchable. I can imagine that there will be things that we didn’t notice on first viewing. It helps that Keaton and Norton give amazing performances while their supporting cast (including Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Zach Galifianakis) all shine.

But what makes this so good is the absolute reality of the film. The characters aren’t particularly witty. They speak realistically and get flustered easily. They get frustrated with each other and often can’t articulate why. And, just to add to it all, there are very few cuts in the film. It’s very nearly one long, continuous take. The actors often had to do upwards of 15 pages of dialogue at a time with no edits to hide fuckups.

Birdman may have been my favorite film of the festival. One of the few that I would buy. California Split and Life Itself might be the other two.

TFF14 – The Imitation Game/Escobar: Paradise Lost

2014 September 4
by profwagstaff

THE IMITATION GAME

Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Written by: Graham Moore
Based on book by: Andrew Hodges

I don’t want to make it seem like one man ended World War II…but that is very nearly an accurate statement. It was actually four men and a woman. And one of the men was gay.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch in, quite possibly, his best role) was the man who cracked the Enigma code. He also happened to be a very anti-social gay man in a time when homosexuality was illegal in England.

The thrust of the story, of course, is the invention of Christopher, the machine that would eventually break the code. Alan’s homosexuality isn’t really brought into the story until much later, but it’s an underlying theme throughout the film. “Too many secrets” as they said in Sneakers. Alan had many, none of which could he share with anyone. Ever.

Cumberbatch has made a career on sociopathic geniuses, but this may be his best yet. You can almost see the personal space bubble around Turing grow smaller and smaller as he gets closer and closer to the answer, and to the few people that he begins to trust.

Turing’s back story is told throughout the film through flashbacks where we slowly learn where his seemingly complete lack of empathy comes from. It’s almost like a superhero origin story. You can see young Turing (Alex Lawther) become the adult Turing right before your eyes. It’s harrowing and heartbreaking.

Showing a mainstream audience a WWII hero who doesn’t kill people is great. Showing how his own country betrayed him just because of his sexual preference is painful, but we need to see it. The Imitation Game wasn’t a perfect film, but it is an important one. Alan Turing is an incredibly important figure in world history, but he was nearly forgotten not just because his project was classified for 50 years, but because he happened to be attracted to his own sex. It’s a travesty that needs to be rectified.

ESCOBAR: PARADISE LOST

Directed by: Andrea Di Stefano
Written by: Andrea Di Stefano

Pablo Escobar (Benicio del Toro) was an evil man. He was one of the richest drug lords in the history of drug lords and even got himself involved in politics. His power was nearly unstoppable.

Nearly.

According to Andrea Di Stefano’s film, all it took is one Canadian kid named Nick (Josh Hutcherson) to start the downfall. Well, at least he wasn’t from the US. That’s a start.

While we get a really good look at what Escobar did and how far his reach was (he basically owned the Columbian police force and many of the politicians in the country), we see it all through the eyes of…of course…the white guy. Just like every other Hollywood film based on true stories about other countries. This is White Man In Brown World.

You can compare it a little bit to The Godfather, which I’m sure Di Stefano would love you to. (Francis Ford Coppola was in the audience, so he REALLY wanted comparisons to be drawn.) You could compare Nick to Kay. Maria, Pablo’s niece that Nick falls in love with (Claudia Traisac), is basically Michael. I think she actually says, “That’s my family. It’s not me.”

Ok, maybe not. But what she does do is completely excuse the trafficking of cocaine into other countries by saying, “It’s our main export! It’s just another crop here!” Oh…ok. So, a horribly dangerous and addictive drug is your chief export. Great. Maybe you should find a new hobby!

Escobar is actually a good movie with some great performances (mainly from del Toro…the man’s amazing). It’s well made, well written, well directed and gives us some sort of insight into the 90s drug cartels of Columbia. But I just wish it had been about the Columbian’s and not about the Canadian kid who came to Columbia to surf…and was most likely created for the movie.

TFF2014 – Mommy/Wild/Tales Of The Grim Sleeper

2014 September 2
by profwagstaff

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power
“Power” by Adrienne Rich

mommy

MOMMY (2014)

Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Written by: Xavier Dolan

Mental illness is on everyone’s minds these days. Ever since the death of Robin Williams, people have been talking about depression. That’s great. It’s an amazing thing and, truly, the ONLY good thing to come out of his suicide.

Mommy is about another kind of mental illness. In the film they call it ADHD…but it’s also something much more. Steve Depres (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is HIGHLY disturbed. He lashes out. He screams profanities at his mother, Diane (Anne Dorval), whom he’s abnormally attached to. He does and says awful things, thinking they’re hilarious. And he can be very violent.

When Steve is released from the institute that he’s been incarcerated in, Diane has to take care of him, even though she’s economically and emotionally not ready for him. She loves him completely, but she just doesn’t know how to take care of a near criminally insane 15 year old.

Enter Kyla (Suzanne Clement), a former teacher who has a bundle of emotional issues herself. She stutters and doesn’t like to go outside. Her husband and daughter are pretty much completely detached from her. When she patches up an injury on Steve’s leg, the three people become tentative friends. Very tentative.

This isn’t your normal, everyday “Teacher Helps A Kid And Learns Something About Herself” movie. Not at all. Xavier Dolan is too smart for that. What he’s done instead is push three broken people together, broken them some more, put them back together a little bit and then…well…just see the movie.

Dolan has become somewhat of a enfant terrible at film festivals. At age 21, he won the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes with his first film, I Killed My Mother. He’s made four more films since then and, reportedly, they’re all amazing. (Honestly, I had never heard of him before I saw Mommy.) They’re all also about growing up in Canada. Most of them are about being gay or transgendered.

One of the people I saw the film with came out of the screening jumping up and down, calling the film “electric.” I wasn’t jumping up and down, but I can see where she was coming from. The performances were certainly electric. There’s not a bad one among the three principles who could all end up winning multiple awards this year.

There’s not a false note to be seen through the entire film, including the 1:1 aspect ration that most of the film is shot in. It really does make the viewer claustrophobic, just like the characters must be feeling when they feel stuck with each other. There’s also, at times, a horror aspect to it because you just don’t know what’s right around the corner. Not that there’s any horror in the film, but there’s still that tenseness felt throughout.

Mommy is a fucking amazing film. It’s one that I would not suggest to any of my friends who are struggling with their own illnesses, but maybe to any of their loved ones, if only so they can see that they honestly don’t have it so bad. Steve is far worse than anyone they have to deal with.

wild

WILD (2014)

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee
Written by: Nick Hornby
Based on memoir by: Cheryl Strayed

Last year at Telluride, there was a movie called Tracks about a young woman who decided to search for herself by hiking the Australian Outback. The last year that I came out here before that, there was a movie called Into The Wild about a young man who decided to lose himself in the Alaska tundra. One movie ended well, the other didn’t.

Either way, there seems to be a theme: Young person leaves everything behind to be one with nature in order to figure out who they really are. And the stories are all true.

This year, we get Wild, the story of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon). Cheryl left her home in Minneapolis after she and her husband (Michiel Husman) divorced. The two still love each other very much, but she just couldn’t keep her life together enough to have…well…anyone, really. She was a broken woman.

That’s when she decided to hike the entire 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. From Mexico to Canada. With hardly any training at all.

She was a little bit stupid, yes. She didn’t check any of her equipment before she left and didn’t really know what she was getting herself into. But, unlike Alexander Supertramp, she didn’t do anything that she knew could kill her.

Throughout the movie, we get glimpses into Cheryl’s life and why she felt the need to do this. I won’t say too much, but the reasons do involve her ex-husband and her beloved mother (Laura Dern).

I will admit that it seemed a bit long, but not so bad that it made too much of a difference. The only real complaint I heard from other people was Reese. They said that she was unbelievable in the role. I disagree. I think she was really good. It was perfect to choose such a “girl next door” type for this movie. Cheryl is a normal woman, not some tough chick. The things that she went through are things that anyone can go through. I went through them to a MUCH lesser degree when I took my three month trip around the US. I know other people who are going through similar (but, again, not as bad) things right now. Everyone goes through them to an extent. We all need to find ourselves. It’s good to see someone that we can sort of relate to going through it. (Not to mention that she kind of looks like Cheryl a little bit.)

The film took place in 1995 and it really showed how little has changed as far as how women are treated in the last 10 years. She gets picked up by a few frightening folks who she has every right to be scared of. Yeah, it turns out that most of them are benevolent, but it really shows things from a woman’s point of view. And when one of them may not be so benevolent…things get incredibly scary.

So, yeah. I really liked this movie a lot. More than I really thought I would. I haven’t seen any of director Jean-Marc Vallee’s other films (including Dallas Buyer’s Club), but I can see this one having a similar awards season, as far as acting is concerned. Possibly even writing.

Wild touched me in a way I wasn’t sure that it would. It was definitely worth seeing.

TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER (2014)

Directed by: Nick Broomfield

2010. South Central, LA. A man is arrested for murdering at least ten prostitutes. No one in the area believes that he did it. They all thought he was a stand-up guy. One of the good ones. A best friend of the community and someone who would give you the shirt off his back.

But the more filmmaker Nick Broomfield interviews Lonnie Franklin’s friends, the more he finds out that they think he MIGHT JUST have done it. Maybe he wasn’t such a great guy after all.

And how did he get away with it for over 20 years?

Really, THAT is the story here. The LAPD, according to just about everyone in the film, just doesn’t care. They actually feel like Franklin was doing them a favor by killing (possibly over 100) crack addicted hookers. Some of them even see him as a hero and he probably wouldn’t have been arrested if their hand hadn’t been forced.

How do we know they didn’t care? Broomfield was able to, with the help of one of Franklin’s ex-girlfriends, find some of the “missing” girls pretty easily.

South Central has been one of the hardest parts of LA for decades. You’ve heard of it. Rappers rap about it. Movies are made about it. It’s a rough place. Broomfield found a close-knit community that took care of its own, sometimes to its own detriment. If they had just looked at the behavior of Franklin, maybe they would have seen patterns and called someone. But they only saw a friend and neighbor.

Broomfield really brings out the love that some of these people have for each other, but he also shows the danger of the area. He and some of the folks who are helping him are in some pretty serious danger from someone throughout some of the filming. Enough to make it a frightening experience for him and his crew.

I went into Tales Of The Grim Sleeper thinking that I was going to see a Cropsey-like doc about a creepy serial killer. Instead, I saw a very real story of racism in one of the biggest cities in the US.

TFF14 – Life Itself (2014)

2014 August 30
by profwagstaff

I have been here. I am here. I will be here again.

life_itselfHere I am again. Back in the mountains of Telluride, CO at the Telluride Film Festival to see some of the best films of the year. I can’t wait to tell you all about them.

Directed by: Steve James
Based on memoir by: Roger Ebert

It’s fitting that my first screening at Telluride be Life Itself, the new documentary by Steve James about Roger Ebert. I read Ebert’s memoir not too long ago and it had a deep affect on me. Ebert’s love of life even at the end was profound and life affirming. I’m sure he would hate those words, but they fit a little too well.

Ebert spent a lot of time at the Telluride Film Festival, so I passed on the opportunity to do something else so that I could watch this film among the mountains at the Abel Gance Open Air Theatre in the park.

It was an amazing experience.

Steve James, a director that Ebert championed with his first film, Hoop Dreams, has told the story of Ebert’s life with humor and grace. The film is not just a recreation of the book, but a companion to the book. He interviews people from Ebert’s life while having parts of the book read over pictures and films. There are stories told in the film that weren’t touched on in the book.

One of my favorite things about the film was the depiction of Ebert’s friendship with Gene Siskel. The two men “fought like cats and dogs,” but were brothers to the end. “He’s an asshole, but he’s my asshole,” said Gene about Roger.

But there was such a soft side to Ebert. When he latched on to a director, he latched on for life. He helped Martin Scorsese become the world renowned director that we all love when he reviewed Who’s That Knocking On My Door. The two became friends, but he pulled no punches when he hated The Color Of Money. It wasn’t mean. It was actual disappointment and love.

And when Werner Herzog called Ebert “a wounded soldier of cinema,” I knew that it came from the heart.

Yeah. I loved loved loved this movie. I made the right decision. It made me want to watch more movies, of course. But, more importantly, it made me want to make sure that I never lose touch with anyone important to me.

I’ll see you at the movies.

Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)

2014 August 3
by profwagstaff

I’m going to die surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy.

guardians_of_the_galaxy

Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn/Nicole Perlman
Based on comics by: Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning

So, I’m not seeing nearly as many movies this summer as I’d like. I’m about to make up for that, though, in a few weeks. I’ll keep you posted.

Before I get to the tree kicking ass, let’s take a look at some previews.

THE CONGRESS–Robin Wright plays herself, an older actress who “once had it all” and is now given a chance to live forever in a computer. She basically does it to take care of her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), but the consequences are huge.

This looks a little bit like SimOne…but actually good. I’ll definitely be seeing it at some point.

MOOD INDIGO–Holy shit. I want to see this movie so bad. Anything Michel Gondry appeals to every fiber of my soul. Not sure how my soul will take it right now, so I might have to wait. Looks amazing. And I’ve heard it’s amazing. No more needs to be said.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR–I will always see a Sin City movie. I loved the first one and will probably love this second one. Yeah, I know the first one has all kinds of problems, but I don’t care. The movie pleases me and I can’t wait to see more of my favorite actors join its world. I just hope the second lives up.

Ok, let’s Excelsiorize!

Or something.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) loves to be called Star-Lord. Sadly, no one knows him. At all. He’s been stealing things for a big pirate organization led by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) for years, but his latest trek might just send him right off the reservation and into a new adventure. He won’t be alone, though.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is the adopted daughter (of sorts) of Thanos. She’s trying to get the artifact that Peter stole, but not for the reasons that everyone thinks.

Drax The Destroyer (professional wrestler, Dave Bautista) is a literal minded man whose wife and daughter were killed by Ronan (Lee Pace), Thanos’ right hand man who was sent after the artifact. Drax is on an unending quest to kill Ronan.

Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper sounding more like Jason Alexander) was an experiment that took on a life of his own. He’s angry, course, violent and awesome. He and his sidekick, the sentient tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel in full Iron Giant mode), travel the galaxy hunting bounty.

These people are the Guardians Of The Galaxy. And they hate each other.

Much like The Fantastic Four, this crew is a majorly dysfunctional family. They learn to love each other, but only after beating the shit out of each other and calling each other “the green whore.”

Just about all Marvel movies are fun (Thor not withstanding, which is why I haven’t bothered seeing the second one yet), but Guardians is probably the most fun. The cast all work together incredibly well and Chris Pratt is hilarious and heartbreaking as the affable (and kinda stupid) “leader” of the crew.

The show is stolen, though, by the two CGI characters, Rocket and Groot. Their friendship is the core of the film. They rely on each other so heavily and obviously love each other…even if Rocket makes fun of Groot all the time. Groot’s not particularly smart and Rocket’s not particularly strong. Groot is sweet-natured and loving. Rocket wants to blow up moons. Together, though, they’re a fighting machine that can’t be stopped. It’s their friendship that the rest of the crew needs to achieve in order to get where they want to go.

I loved this movie. Not only is it a great portrayal of budding friendship in the worst of conditions, but it’s nice to see a Marvel movie that takes place in its own world. There’s only one scene at the very beginning that takes place on Earth. I kinda like that.

Watch for small roles for John C Riley, Glen Close, Djimon Hounsou and Benicio del Toro. Also, in addition to the inevitable Stan Lee cameo, there are quick cameos by Gunn’s mentor Lloyd Kaufman and his go-to star Nathan Fillion. Also, Nathan’s fellow Whedon-verse citizen, Alexis Denison, plays The Other. But you won’t recognize him. Or Nathan, for that matter.

Also, for all you Whovians out there: AMY POND IS IN THIS MOVIE!!!

Snowpiercer (2013)

2014 June 22
by profwagstaff

Be a shoe!

snowpiercer

Directed by: Joon-ho Bong
Written by: Joon-ho Bong/Kelly Masterson/
Based on graphic novel by: Jacques Lob/Benjamin Legrand/Jean-Marc Rochette
Limited Theatrical Release Date: June 27, 2014

Joon-ho Bong is one of the most creative folks working today. The Host and Mother, while not original concepts (a monster attacking a city and another protecting her son), they were executed in ways that most of us didn’t see coming. And that’s how you make a damn movie.

Snowpiercer is no different. Here, he’s taken a graphic novel about a train full of the last inhabitants of Earth with the rich in front and the poor in back and turned it into a “Fuck the elite” parable about capitalism, sacrifice and love.

All without a love interest for anyone!

Curtis (Chris Evans) knows what it was like before the ice hit. He remembers warm days and running free. He chooses to forget because he can’t bear the memory. He was 17 when the countries of Earth sent a chemical into the air thinking that it would stop global warming. It did, alright. It went the opposite way and froze everything, killing every life on Earth. That’s when they gathered up the survivors and put them on a perpetual engine train created by a man named Wilford. The train is basically an ark, carrying everything that they could possibly carry, including prejudice against the poor.

Curtis is in the back of the train along with the other poor people of the “world.” The rich folks are on all of the front cars having the time of their lives. For 17 years, it’s been like this.

It’s time for a change.

Curtis leads the poor folk up, one car at a time, to try to get to the engine and Wilford. When they get there, they’ll control the world, right?

In just about anyone else’s hands, this movie would have been boring. It all takes place on the train. No exit. No escape. Luckily, Bong and his crew are creative enough to make this consistently interesting, exciting and even beautiful to look at. It reminded me a little of a Jean-Pierre Juenet film, there was so much attention to background detail and so many different worlds to enter in each car.

Of course, it all would have fallen apart if there hadn’t been a game cast. Led by Evans, who has never been better (that final monologue will kill you) the cast is perfect. Jamie Bell as Curtis’ right hand man who worships him. John Hurt as Curtis’ mentor. Bong’s mainstay, Kong-ho Song, as a drug addicted engineer who designed some of the mechanisms on the train. Octavia Spencer as the protective mother. Ewan Bremner as a protective father. And, of course, Tilda Swinton as Mason.

Oh, Tilda Swinton. She’s fucking amazing. She owns this role. She’s kind of batshit insane in her devotion to Wilford and the train. She’s created a character that almost seems straight out of something like The Hunger Games, but belongs in this world.

My one issue with the movie is the fact that there really didn’t seem to be much reason to keep the poor people poor. Every once in a while they were pulled out to do jobs, but rich people had jobs, too. And often they had jobs that were just like the poor peoples’ jobs. They would also pull children out of the rear car for a mystery reason, but even that doesn’t really make sense as a reason once we get an explanation. So…why, exactly, are the poor folks kept in the rear of the train? If everyone has their place…what IS their place? And why?

You could say that, in real life, there is no explanation, either. But I feel like there is. Not a good one, but an explanation still. It’s a form of slavery. Keep them poor and they will always have to work for you. But these people are, for the most part, not working. It’s more like a concentration camp. They’re kind of in the rear car just because.

But that’s kind of a small quibble, honestly. It didn’t bother me enough to not like the movie at all. It was just a minor annoyance. I kind of loved the movie overall.

I want to make sure that people see this movie. It was made by a mostly Korean crew and is completely the baby of Joon-Ho Bong. I want the studios to know that we care about movies like this. That they don’t have to water down foreign directors’ art to make money. And that we like complex stories with real characters…that also happen to have a lot of kick-ass action in them.

Many thanks to the Alamo Drafthouse for putting together a pretty awesome event. We all met in Cedar Park to take the Hill Country Flyer out to Burnet, TX. I’ve never really been on a train like that and it was a lot of fun. Director Bong was in attendance and did a fun Q&A before and after the film.

SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THIS FILM!
snowpiercer-Tilda

X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)

2014 June 7
by profwagstaff

Just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn’t mean they can’t be saved.

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Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Simon Kinberg/Jane Goldman/Matthew Vaughn
Based on comics by: Chris Claremont/John Byrne/Stan Lee/Jack Kirby

So, we go back in time and tell the makers of some of these films to NEVER make them.

THINK LIKE A MAN, TOO–Movies like this are why people hate movies. So many things wrong with this. I can’t even start.

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION–”This isn’t a war. This is human extinction.” Might as well say it with Prime. So cliched. I hate you, Michael Bay.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES–It’s got one too many prepositions in the title, but I want this movie. Rise was great and I can’t wait to see where the story goes. Hopefully, it goes the way of a good movie and not a quick cash grab. Director Matt Reeves also made Cloverfield and Let Me In, two movies that I liked. AND there’s Gary Oldman! Yep. Can’t wait.

LET’S BE COPS–Again…so much wrong. Two idiots decide to dress up as cops for a costume party. They realize that they are now invincible…and they can get ladies to trust them and let them in their houses! Ugh. Fuck this movie.

Ok. Let’s get BACK!…….TO THE FUTURE…PAST…SOMETHING…WHAT?!?!

I fucking love the X-Men movies. Really, only Last Stand has been anywhere near bad and it was really just a mediocre mess. Not terrible, but it didn’t live up to the first two, so everyone hated it. First Class was very nearly just that: first fucking class.

When I heard that they were continuing that story and getting Bryan Singer back to direct, I was shocked and excited. Singer started it all and then immediately made the best of the series. What could he do with everyone’s favorite storyline from the comics?

Turns out…make a pretty decent movie, but not an amazing one.

At the beginning of the movie, the Mutants are in trouble. Hell, the Earth is in trouble. Giant robots called Sentinels are attacking basically every living thing on Earth. There’s no way to escape them except to wait for an attack, send someone a few minutes back in time to warn everyone of the attack and then get the hell out of there before the attack ever happens. In other words, they’re always on the run and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) is constantly sending Bishop (Omar Sy) back. But she doesn’t send his whole body. She just sends his mind back to his slightly younger self to warn everyone.

That gives Professor X (Patrick Stewart) the idea of sending someone back in time to 1973 to stop the war from ever starting. In other words, stop Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the scientist who invented the Sentinels (Peter Dinklage).

Of course, they send Logan (Hugh Jackman). Of course, he has to find Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) before they become Professor X and Magneto (Ian McKellen) and when they’re the low point in their friendship, make them work together and then save the world.

Luckily, Logan never ages, so they don’t have to CGI his face to make him look 50 years younger…or find a five year old to play him.

It’s a bit of a complex story, but it’s not impossible and I’m sure it’s incredibly dumbed down from the comic. (Sadly, I haven’t read it yet. I really want to now, though.) It’s certainly a good story and worthy of a good movie.

And this is a good movie. By now, everyone has settled into their roles and most of them could play them in their sleep…especially Jackman since he’s played Wolverine more times than Sean Connery played Bond at this point. (That’s including a couple of video games.) There’s no one that I would trade out for anyone else. And anyone who’s a little weak (Halle Berry, I’m looking at you) isn’t in it enough to really matter. The newcomers are just about as good as the X-veterans. Evan Peters is especially good as Quicksilver. I also quite liked Bingbing Fan as Portal Girl…I mean, Blink. But she didn’t have much to do but look worried and throw CGI.

The main issue I had was the script. It started off really fucking dumb, but got a bit better as the movie went on. There was too much exposition at times that bogged things down a lot and…seriously? Erik quoting James Brown? Nope. Don’t buy it.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I just wish it had been better.  Hopefully, X-Men Apocalypse will be the movie that we all wanted this one to be. I can’t wait to see it.

Godzilla (2014)

2014 May 25
by profwagstaff

The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight.

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Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Written by: Max Borenstein/Dave Callaham
Based on monster created by: Shigeru Kayama/Ishiro Honda/Takeo Murata

Man, I was excited by the fact that the director of Monsters was going to be making a Godzilla movie! How did it turn out? We’ll see after these behemoths.

MALEFICENT–It’s always nice when a good witch gets her due. Here, we get to see the back story of Sleeping Beauty’s arch nemesis. Even better, the evil sorceress is played by Angelina Jolie for what is her first meaty role in years. (By the way, those are actually her real cheek bones. They tone them down in other movies.) Looks like a lot of fun and a good dark flick for Disney. We’ll see.

EDGE OF TOMORROW–You know what makes me want to see this? I kinda like Doug Liman. Emily Blunt is pretty awesome. And Tom Cruise dies. A lot. Like, a lot a lot. This is Groundhog Day remade as a sci-fi action thriller. Every time Tom dies, he comes back closer to winning some war…and probably getting the girl. Might see it in theatres. Might just wait for video. Depends on what I hear about it.

22 JUMP STREET–It’s still hard for me to believe how good the first movie was. Can this one be that good? I kind of doubt it, but I’m willing to try it out. The preview looks good enough with a few good laughs. I’m a little worried, but not enough to completely blow it off. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are awesome together.

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION–Mark Wahlberg lost me when he said that he trusts Michael Bay and is just along for the ride. Fuck that. This looks just as bad as all the rest of these movies. A decent actor in the lead role can’t help it. Especially when said good actor doesn’t care that his director is bullshit.

THE EXPENDABLES III–When did Kelsey Grammar become a tough guy?

THE MAZE RUNNER–I know nothing about this book, but the movie looks pretty cool. It’s Lord Of The Flies meets Labyrinth. A bunch of boys are for some reason stuck on one side of a maze. It opens every once in a while to let a couple of them in. They always die. A new kid appears and he’s…different. Then a girl shows up. Can they beat the maze? I dunno, but I’m interested.

Ok. Let’s check out these here kaiju.

So, as I said earlier, a few years back there was a movie called Monsters. It was about two people who were trying to make it through an “infected zone,” which happened to be the entire northern half of Mexico. There were aliens in that area and a giant wall was being built along the US border to keep them out.

Get it?!

The movie was really about the two people, though. They went through this area trying their best to get home, but getting to know each other and the people who lived in Mexico. They also learned a thing or two about those aliens.

It’s a pretty powerful movie with hardly any action in it at all. It’s a character study that just happened to have a few special effects in it.

I won’t say that I was hoping for the same thing with a Godzilla movie, but I was hoping for something more than what I got.

In this latest version of the story (which actually IS a continuation of the very first movie from 1954), we meet Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), the head of a nuclear power plant outside of Tokyo. In 1999, that plant went tits up. Seriously. It fell over and sank into the ground.

Instead of building another one on top if it, though, they sealed off the entire area and told people that it was too dangerous to live there anymore. Joe took his son, Ford, and went a little crazy. Of course it didn’t help that the accident forced him to seal his wife (Juliette Binoche) in a part of the plant that was exploding. That would drive me a little bit over the edge, too.

For the next 15 years, Joe studied the seismic activity that happened just before the accident. He finds a connection between it and the same activity that happened in 1954 when a giant monster attacked Japan. Dr Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) knows there’s a connection, but doesn’t fully understand it. Or does he?

Meanwhile, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has just come home from the military to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son (Carson Bolde). Just as he’s about to get comfortable, he gets a call that his dad is in a Japanese prison and he has to go get him out.

Soon enough, Ford is put back to work in Japan fighting a giant monster that no one remembered existed, along with two other monsters that might be the real problem.

In 1954, Godzilla/Gojira was a pretty crazy concept. Giant monsters? How could that be good? Well, first off, don’t make it too obvious that it’s a guy in a rubber suit. Second, make it ABOUT something. Just nine years after the bombs were dropped at the end of WWII, Godzilla was a cautionary tale about nuclear power. Godzilla was created by the testing of nuclear weapons mixing with prehistoric fossils or something like that.

What people tend to forget is that first movie was pretty fucking bleak. It was a serious film that spawned hundreds of silly sequels that just got sillier until the 1998 Roland Emmerich fiasco. That pretty much killed Godzilla in ways that Mothra never could. (By the way, Mothra almost makes a cameo in this film.) It’s bloody awful and should be killed with fire.

Edwards and his crew are doing their best to bring the series back to its roots, although they do use the sequels’ “anti-hero” stance on Godzilla. In the first film, he was the villain. No question. He just came in and terrorized Tokyo. It was the later films that had him coming back to destroy other kaiju, saving humanity…while killing probably thousands of humans in the process.

Oh well. There are far too many of us anyway.

None of this do I have a problem with. I love Godzilla. I love the MUTOs. I love their design and the way they fight (although I could have done with MORE fighting instead of a lot of it taking place off screen.) I’m even ok with the fact that they change Godzilla’s origin story. (Now he actually IS a prehistoric creature that wasn’t created by nuclear power, but he’s POWERED by it.) What I’m not ok with is the fact that we don’t give a shit about ANY of the characters.

Let me start with this: There is a big complaint against this movie about the treatment of the one major Japanese character, Dr Serizawa. Basically, that complaint says that Godzilla is a Japanese monster. Why is the one Japanese character not given any character at all? Why are we only really concerned with the white people in the movie?

To that, some people will say, “If they movie had been made in India, it would have been mainly peopled with Indians. If it had been made in England, it would have been mainly peopled with British people. What’s the big deal?”

To this I say, “The movie takes place mostly in Japan. Why is there only one Japanese character? And why is that character completely characterless?”

Seriously. I know nothing about Dr. Serizawa except his name and his job. That and he’s fairly pragmatic about the fact that Godzilla is nature coming back to bite us in the ass. Does he have a family? Is he a workaholic? Does he really give a shit about anything at all that’s going on around him? What’s his stake in any of this?

There are exactly two characters in this movie that the audience is made to care about and they are dispatched within the first half hour of the film. I don’t care about Ford because, as much as I like Aaron Taylor-Johnson (mostly on the basis of the first Kick Ass movie and an REM video directed by his wife), he’s pretty boring here. As talented as I think Elizabeth Olsen is, she’s not given shit to do but run around, scream and look worried about her missing husband. Ken Watanabe is a great actor. He does nothing here. Absolutely nothing.

Another issue? There’s no logic to how these monsters work. The MUTOs send out EMP pulses that take out all power for a fairly large radius. Big Godzilla fans will know that this would come in VERY handy when dealing with the Big Guy. Nope. Just kind of forgotten about.

Oh well. I guess we can’t win ‘em all, can we? I should have known we were in trouble as far as logic and editing were concerned when, at the beginning, there’s a scene with Mrs. Brody running down a hallway with two men. Depending on the shot, she was either in front of or behind these men. She was wherever it was convenient for the audience to see her.

Sigh…

Gareth Edwards is already signed on to make a sequel, according to IMDb. He’s also apparently making one of the new Star Wars films. Hopefully he’ll bring his Monsters game to those and not his Godzilla game. Really, anyone could have made this movie. And that’s disappointing.

Ok. Michael Bay couldn’t have made this movie. He would have fucked it up FAR worse. We wouldn’t have even cared about the monsters in his version.