Greenberg (2010) Review

22 12 2013
Image

Copyright Focus Features 2010

★ ★ ★ 1/2

OK, I know I have neglected this site terribly, but I’m going to try my best to hop back on board with some regularity. Work, hobbies, social activities and just plain boring errands and such have literally eaten up most of my time as of late. However, in an effort to keep some form of consistency with the updates, I’m going to try to do “mini-reviews”. So, the new posts might not be as in depth as some of the old reviews, but at least there won’t be breaks of months on end.

OK, now on to Greenberg. After spending the better part of 30 minutes looking for something I either haven’t seen and/or was in the mood to see on Netflix, I came upon this quirky little flick. A Noah Baumbach film, I kind of knew what to expect going into it — your typical mumblecore, Woody Allen-lite pseudo-intellectual comedy-drama. And, guess what? That’s exactly what it turned out to be!

Ben Stiller plays the lead role of Roger Greenberg, a 40-something more-or-less unemployed ex-musician who just exited a mental hospital and is spending 6 weeks at his brother’s house in LA to focus on doing nothing. His brother, a wealthy hotelier is on vacation with the family in Vietnam, and LA also serves as Roger’s hometown, though he currently lives in New York, and seems to carry a New York-esque attitude about life in general.

His brother’s nanny/assistant, Florence, is played by stereotypical Baumbach-written female, Greta Gerwig — a slightly neurotic mid 20-something with low self esteem and seemingly no direction in life. As Greenberg revisits his old friends and former bandmates during his six week stay, he of course, begins a relationship of sorts with Florence that carries all the insecurities and road bumps of what we have come to expect from Baumbauch’s films.

I know I am weighing heavily on the stereotypical nature of this movie to its director’s style and canon; however, don’t get me wrong, Greenberg is not a bad film. It’s definitely not Baumbauch’s best work, but by no means bad. I enjoyed the film, and think anyone who has an affinity for oddball/neurotic romance films will enjoy. Yes, the main character of Roger Greenberg is fairly morose and pathetic to a degree, but Stiller’s performance helps you build enough empathy to accept him as a protagonist. 





Warm Bodies (2013) Review

15 06 2013
Warm_Bodies_Theatrical_Poster

Copyright 2013 Mandeville FIlms

★ ★ ★ ★

This was a film recommended by my girlfriend Maddie, and it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise! I had never heard of the movie before, or the book for that matter, so I really didn’t even have a frame of reference as to what the film was about before we started watching it.

The movie was written and directed by Jonathan Levine, who directed the 2011 comedy/drama 50/50 with Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The screenplay is based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name. As strange as this sounds, the film is a romantic zombie comedy — pretty crazy, huh? Well, the novel take in this story on the zombie genre is that an actual zombie (Nicholas Hoult), who goes by “R” since he can’t remember his real name, is the protagonist. From my account, I’m not sure that a zombie film has ever taken this bold move; 90% of the time, the zombies are just the catalysts for the exploits of our living heros.

Anyway, R spends his days doing normal zombie stuff like roaming around, grunting and eating the living. However, deep inside of him, there is still a part of him that still feels like a living creature would and longs to be something other than a brain dead zombie. On the hunt for “food” one day, he catches the sight of Julie Grigio (Teresa Palmer), while eating her boyfriend’s brain I might add. Smitten by her, he saves her from the zombies, and brings her back to the airport where many of the zombies reside.

A friendship blossoms between them as she realizes that there is something underneath his undead outer appearance. As the story progresses, it begins to become apparent that he might not be the only zombie who feels something more than a desire for living human brains.

This is a very smart and well-written film. It’s fun to watch and constantly amuses, but is actually much deeper than that as a film, and in its social commentary on a higher level that people aren’t always what they seem. I highly recommend this movie and, so far, have found it one of my favorites of this year to date.





The Great Buck Howard (2008) Review

20 08 2012

Copyright 2008 Playtone Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

So, I was turned on to this movie by a post Roger Ebert made on his Facebook wall recommending it, and giving it a very admirable 3 1/2 star (out of four) review.  Being that it was nearing the end of its run on Netflix (it goes off Instant Watch tomorrow!), and considering that mine and Ebert’s taste in cinema actually coincide quite a bit, I planned on watching the movie last night.  However, before we pressed play, Maddie and I noticed that it was not rated very well on Netflix, and considered a second option for the evening.  Exhausting our choices, we came full circle back to this film and decided that, if we didn’t like it, we could always turn it off.  Now, I give you all this back story, as it will all come around eerily full circle by the end of this post.

The movie itself is an independent comedy that stars John Malkovich as washed up mentalist, Buck Howard (a character based on real life Amazing Kreskin).  Troy Grable (Colin Hanks), a recent law school drop out (that hits close to home!), is at a crossroads in life and decides he wants to become a writer.  Being that writing doesn’t produce much in terms of actual cash asset, he takes a job as the road manager for the “Great Buck Howard.”  Howard, once a television personality who was in high demand and appeared on Johnny Carson over 60 times in the 1970s, is now reduced primarily to touring the country with his act, a mixture of song, comedy and mostly mental illusions, in small town theaters across the United States.  As Howard plans his return to glory, Grable scrambles to keep up with the demands of the  still diva-esque celebrity.  Along the way, he strikes a romance with PR rep Valerie Brennan (Emily Blunt) who is trying to help boost media attention for Howard’s new illusion that will bring him back to the limelight.

The direction and writing by Sean McGinly are solid, but what shines the most is the subject matter and the performances by Malkovich and Colin Hanks.  Their chemistry and Malkovich’s perfect display of the Amazing Kreskin’s mannerisms really helps keep this movie interesting and unique.

Having never heard of the Amazing Kreskin before, we of course watched several videos on Youtube of the real man following the movie.  Needless to say, he is an interesting character and his act does have a distinct element of wonder to it.  For the the fun of it, we decided to look up and see Kreskin’s tour schedule.  Oddly enough, the only two dates he is playing in North Carolin are this Friday and Saturday.  With the coincidence so high, that we almost didn’t watch this movie, finally watched it and liked it, happened to look on his tour schedule, and just so happen to see the real Amazing Kreskin is in NC two dates out of the year, and those being this week, we booked tickets.  We’ll be seeing him on Saturday evening in Shelby, N.C.; however, I got to admit, he’s kind of already impressed me if coincidence has any connection.





50/50 (2011) Review

28 03 2012

Copyright 2011 Summit Entertainment

★ ★ ★

So, I’ve got this film and two others on the backlog for reviews.  Apologies, for the delays, had a lot going on over the past few days.  Possibly very good things though!  Anyway, 50/50, seems like the jury is split on this film; some reviewers call it one of the best movies of the year, others are more or less underwhelmed.  What was I, you ask?  Definitely on the side of underwhelmed.  This is by no means a bad film, but also by the same token, nowhere near one of the best films of last year.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a very normal 27 year old working professional, who gets some terrible news at what should be the height of his life.  He has cancer, and only a 50/50 chance of making it through the next year alive.  Seth Rogen plays himself; wait, no his character’s name is Kyle, but in reality it’s just Seth Rogen being himself like he is in every film he appears in.  I think he’s funny, but he has about as much depth as an actor as a jar of peanut butter.  Pretty much the entirety of the film plays out largely how you could imagine being a comedy/drama about a young man getting cancer.  He has his ups, his downs and a lot of emotional tension dealing with the news and the personal troubles it creates, and for the comedy element there are funny and amusing lines exchanged between him and best friend Kyle.

This is just a decent film.  It doesn’t break any huge barriers down; it only works decently as a comedy, and it only works decently as a drama.  I wasn’t impressed with the direction, the story was only average, the acting was OK and as with most of these types of films, there was nothing of note with the production value or cinematography.  I’m glad I saw this film, it was an enjoyable way to spend the evening, but don’t expect a life changing viewing experience with this one.





The Singing Detective (2003)

21 02 2012

Copyright 2003 Icon Productions

★ ★

I really wanted to enjoy this film.  I’m not even sure exactly where I heard about it, but the quasi-surreal premise mixed with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead, who is one of my favorite modern actors, seemed like it could be a brilliantly funny mix.  Though there are some laughs to be had at the bizarre nature of some of the scenes, on the whole, this was a terribly boring flick.

The original premise of the story was adapted for BBC TV as a television serial in 1986 to wide acclaim.  Following the British television reception, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood started eyeing the project, though it would be almost 20 years before the film was produced because of falling into what we in the business like to call “development hell.”  Anyway, the story follows three separate but interconnected timelines: First, there is the story line of author Dan Dark (Downey Jr.), a novelist, who is in the hospital for a severe case of psoriasis; second, a reimaging of his first novel, “The Singing Detective”, in his mind while in the hospital with himself now playing the lead role; and finally, flashbacks of his childhood which present a clear picture of some of his original inspiration for the pulp novel itself.  Tinged with surreality throughout, the film becomes a hodge podge of these three story lines mixed with the occasional visit to psychiatrist Dr. Gibbons office, who is played by producer Mel Gibson (almost unrecognizably).

There are scenes in this film that work, but as a whole, this is a very disjointed picture.  The cinematography, to me, looked cheap, more in line with a television movie and even the impressive cast can’t save the mutilation of the story itself.  I really wanted to enjoy this film, but just couldn’t; I kept giving it 10 more minutes throughout, but when I got to the hour and ten minute marker of this hour and forty minute film, I called it and started watching The Ribos Operation, a Tom Baker Doctor Who serial.  I just could’t take it any longer, was not interested and definitely not entertained.  It could have been a great mix with a little cleaning up around the edges, but in the end, it was just a sorry excuse at Hollywoodizing author Dennis Potter’s original material.





Heathers (1988) Review

3 01 2012

Copyright 1988 New World Pictures

★ ★ ★

Knowing of the cult status of this film for some time, I’d long had a certain level of curiosity as to what it was all about.  Not finding anything else interesting on Netflix Instant Watch last night, Maddie and I decided to give this film a go.  The first 20 or so minutes were a bit concerning as to where the film was going, if anywhere, but, eventually, the movie smoothed itself out for an interesting and enjoyable viewing experience.

In a nutshell, this is a surreal and bizarre analysis of the cliques and daily interactions of high school life, and when I say surreal and bizarre, I mean very much so.  Veronica (Winona Ryder in her first leading role) is a newly initiated popular girl with her friends, the three Heathers (Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk and Shannen Doherty, respectively).  They wreak havoc on the unpopular kids and do the usual things that stereotypical “sassy” popular high school girls would, but Veronica is more disenchanted with their behavior than the others.  After meeting the mysterious new kid, J.D. (Christian Slater), they form a relationship and, subsequently, a pact to dissolve the school of the tortures of high school societal pressures by systematically killing the culprits (i.e. jocks, popular girls, etc.).  As time goes by, however, Veronica realizes the wrongs they are committing are worse than the day-to-day life of high school hierarchy, so she cuts things off with J.D.  Yet, this only fuels his need to “show them all,” leading to his magnum opus to blow up the school and commit such a huge disaster that it will set precedence in high schools across the country.  Though a dark comedy at heart, watching this after the atrocities at Columbine and other schools in America over the past 15 years, the scenes play out a lot more eerily than originally intended.

Every scene of this film elicits a dream-like, spooky feeling; the camera movements, lighting, direction and acting all add to this disjointed mood.  I think it helps keep the point of dark comedy in perspective, as too realist a handling of this subject matter would just be macabre.  Structurally, the film suffers from some unevenness and doesn’t fully pull off what it is trying to achieve I don’t think, but it does clean itself up in the last half and, as mentioned earlier, provided an enjoyable, though not completely satisfying, viewing experience.





Crazy Stupid Love (2011) Review

2 12 2011

Copyright 2011 Carousel Productions

★ ★ ★ ★

Maddie rented this movie at the Redbox and I knew very little about what the premise was, but was in the mood for something light (our other choice for the night was Tarkovsky’s Stalker which is nowhere near ‘light’).  In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with this film.

In the first scene of the film, Emily Weaver (Julianne Moore) tell her husband, Cal Weaver (Steve Carell), that she wants a divorce over dinner.  After 25 years of marriage, the news is a complete shock to him and he further finds out in the car that she has been having an affair with a colleague from work, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon).  Defeated, he eventually moves from the house and begins going to bars, where he runs into the suave lothario Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), who because of Cal’s reminiscence of his father, he decides to “show the ropes” of picking up women.  Without ruining the fun of the film, there are other side stories, all dealing with the notion of love, that interweave and eventually culminate at the end.

Though the film is a bit disjointed at times, it does tie itself up and make for a very pleasing end product.  Though I hate to use the words light in a positive manner, this film is a light, fun and interesting romantic comedy.  There are a few things in the presentation that keep this from being a really amazing comedy, but even with its shortcomings the film still holds a nice amount of charm and wit.

 





Bridesmaids (2011) Review

11 10 2011

Copyright 2011 Universal Pictures

★ ★ 1/2

After many pleads from my girlfriend, I finally relented and watched this movie with her.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be from the title and premise, but it definitely wasn’t that entertaining of a film either.

Directed by Paul Feig, the movie focuses on the misadventures of, guess what, a group of bridesmaids at friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding.  Annie, who is portrayed by Kristin Wiig, has been Lillian’s friend since childhood and the two are nearly inseparable.  Having owned a now defunct bakery and her life pretty much in the gutter, it is a bit difficult for her to hear her best friend is going to get married, but she is wildly excited when it is announced that she will be the maid of honor.  However, as the plot begins to unfurl, it shows that Annie’s ability to coordinate all the duties of being the maid of honor are far inferior to Lillian’s new friend and wife of her fiancee’s boss, Helen (Rose Byrne).  The story continues through the feuding of Helen and Annie, as well as the continued downward spiral of Annie’s life, and a romance with a police officer (Chris O’Dowd) is even thrown into the mix as a subplot.

Where and when it has become acceptable to produce comedies over two hours long is beyond me.  It’s just too damn long; comedies are meant to amuse and travel at a pace that holds the comedic element.  When you drag gags and situations out too long, they quit being funny.  Furthermore, unless you have an extremely detailed plot beyond that of the mishaps of a group of bridesmaids, you just don’t have the  structure to entertain for that amount of time.  A large part of this trend, I believe, comes from the recent phenomena of comedies letting 90% of their film be improvisations.  Sure, letting actors improv in a comedy can produce some amusing elements in the film, but when you just roll cameras with an idea and let them carry on during every scene, you get some hits and a lot of misses.  When you look at the better comedies of all-time, you will notice certain elements that seemingly hold true: a tight, well conceived script that generally runs an hour and half or so, incredibly odd or amusing characters and a pacing that continuously moves forward.  This film didn’t have any of those elements.  It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t good.  But, again, better than I thought based on the title and synopsis.





Our Official Entry into the 48 Hour Film Project Greensboro: “Eat Me!”

4 08 2011

About six weeks ago, I put out a post based on my experiences with the 48 Hour Film Project.  Subsequently, a few weeks later, I posted on some administrative changes to the Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project that I felt were pertinent for continued success of this filmmaking collaboration in our region.  As of yesterday, our entry into the 2011 Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project has been posted online at vimeo.com.  I have provided a link below for all those interested in viewing the film in it’s entirety.  Do note that a few extra sound effects were added that were not in the original entry; however, other than those minor changes, all is the same.

I hope you enjoy and can’t thank my collaborators enough for a wonderful 48 experience on set!  If anyone has any questions related to production of this short or how the 48 works, just post them into the comments section and I will do my best to answer.

Our criteria was as follows:

Genre: Comedy

Line: “Where did you go?”

Prop: Crayons

Character: Plumber – Don or Donna Hastert

 





Chaplin in Review – PART XI – A Countess from Hong Kong

12 07 2011

Copyright 1967 Chaplin Film Productions and Universal Pictures

★ ★ ★

And so we come to Chaplin’s final completed feature film and our final part of this series, A Countess in Hong Kong.  Released in 1967, Chaplin was nearly 80 years old while directing this picture.  It was his first and only time that he shot a widescreen presentation and his only feature film outside of 1923’s A Woman in Paris that he was not prominently featured as an actor.  In fact, he played the exact same type of small role as he had in A Woman in Paris in this film, that of a steward.

The film stars internationally known Oscar winners Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren.  Brando plays Saudi Arabian-designate Ogden Mears, who is on his way home from a world tour aboard a luxury liner.  A married man, yet one who is more or less estranged from his spouse, Mears is sailing back alone with his older valet Hudson (Patrick Cargill) and lawyer friend Harvey (Chaplin’s son with Lita Grey, Sydney Chaplin).  Loren plays a Russian Countess named Natascha, who sneaks aboard the luxury liner to escape being forced into prostitution.  Because she has no passport, she is forced to stay in the same cabin as Mears and hideout from the authorities on board.  A flurry of comedic situations between uptight Mears and exotic, outgoing Natascha ensue and an overarching plot of finding a way to get Natascha safely off the ship is followed throughout.

Essentially, the film plays out like a 1930s romantic comedy programmer, which didn’t fit very well into the 1960s.  In fact, Chaplin originally had the idea for this film in the 1930s after he sailed on his three month tour around the world.  Had the film been completed at this time, Paulette Goddard would have starred in the role of Natascha, and I’m sure Chaplin would have reserved the role of Mears for himself.

Though the potential of the film seems like it would be huge, I mean Chaplin, Brando and Loren on a matinee is enough to make anyone foam at the mouth, in the end, the film just falls flat.  Brando and Chaplin apparently despised each other on set.  Chaplin was notorious for directing actors exactly the way he wanted them to play a part, many times going to the length of acting the bit out himself and then saying, “Now, do it more like that.”  Brando, who was known for his intense dedication to performance through method acting, had a hard time being handled as an actor in this manner and didn’t see eye-to-eye with Chaplin methods at all.  The final result on screen is visibly a stilted performance; rather than coming off as funny and light hearted, Brando feels wooden and forcibly tongue-in-cheek.  Likewise, Loren’s performance leaves something to be desired, but not to the same degree as Brando’s portrayal of Mears.  Honestly, to me, the show stealer was Patrick Cargill as Mear’s aging valet Hudson.  I thought he was brilliant as a supporting character.

Like A King in New York, this film was also made in England with rented studios and didn’t afford Chaplin an ideal working environment that he had been accustomed to in California with his own studio.  Rather tragically during production actually, Chaplin broke his ankle which delayed production for a couple weeks.

Upon release, A Countess from Hong Kong received generally lackluster reviews and was not a success at the box office.  During one of the premieres, the projectionist didn’t set the anamorphic adapter on the projector properly and the film was screened in an improper aspect ratio.  The disaster of this film was very difficult for Chaplin, though there were some reviewers who gave high praise to the picture.  In my opinion, I feel it was a rather low note to go out on and can see why many people prefer to think of Limelight as Chaplin’s swan song, but once an artist, always an artist and to take away an artist’s ability to create is essentially that of killing him.

Following this film, Chaplin wrote a screenplay for a film that would have been called The Freak.  The screenplay, which was about a South American girl who sprouts wings and is passed off by captors as an angel before being arrested because of her appearance, would have starred his daughter Victoria from his marriage with Oona. In fact, test footage was made with Victoria in costume, though Chaplin never got to complete the film.

In the 1970s, Chaplin spent a good deal of time scoring his early silent films and re-releasing them with the completed scores.  In 1972, he returned to the United States to accept an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to Motion Pictures; this was his first time back on US soil in 20 years.  While in United States, he met with some old friends and even drove by his former studio and other places of interest.  Here is the video of his acceptance speech for his Honorary Oscar.  The standing ovation has been edited down as it was originally 5 minutes long, the longest any performer has ever received to this date:

Chaplin would go on to be knighted in 1975.  He passed away on Christmas Day 1977 at his home in Vevey, Switzerland at the age of 88.

Well, that brings us to the end of our journey through the eleven feature films that Charlie Chaplin made in his lifetime.  I hope you have enjoyed my reviews and some of the background information I have provided on each of the films.  I have to say that Chaplin is probably my favorite filmmaker of all-time.  Though his films were not always the most technically proficient, his ability to tell a story that could make you laugh or cry, or a little of both, was a true gift.  I am by no means the foremost scholar on the work of Chaplin, but I do feel like I am better than the average as I have read most of his biographies including the seminal work by David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life and Art (highly reccomended!) and Chaplin’s own autobiography, My Autobiography.  In addition, I did extensive research into his affair with Joan Barry for an article that was published on alternativereel.com and also available as a header link here in this blog as Joan Barry Article.  Anyway, thanks for reading this series and if you have any questions on Chaplin’s life or films, I will do my best to answer in the comments section.








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