THE ONE I LOVE (2014)

August 20, 2014

one i love Greetings again from the darkness. Starting out with a typical marriage counseling session, director Charlie McDowell and writer Justin Lader lull us into a movie-going comfort zone based on our experience with such Hollywood fluff as Hope Springs and Couples Retreat. All that should be said at this point is … not so fast, my friends!

A crumbling marriage and the subsequent lack of success with communication, leads the therapist (Ted Danson) to recommend a weekend alone at a private country estate. The twists and turns that await Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), take marriage counseling to an entirely new spectrum. Sophie wants to reignite that early relationship spark and Ethan just wants things back to normal.

The setting does justice to the legend of beautiful California real estate, but things aren’t all they seem as Ethan and Sophie bounce back and forth between the main house and guest house. It’s in these moments where the big relationship questions are addressed … and the script is smart, funny, creative and dark. It’s not likely anyone can watch this without having some inner dialogue, and probably even some real discussion afterwards.

Mark Duplass (“The League“, Safety Not Guaranteed) and Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men“) not only carry the film, but also take on significant responsibility with wide-ranging personality traits and subtle physical changes. Duplass is exceptional and easy for most guys to relate to in how he handles the challenges. While I’ve never been a big fan of Ms. Moss, her performance here is quite impressive. Whether “together” or “apart”, they complement each other nicely.

The closest comparison I have for this one is Ruby Sparks (2012), but this one will have you questioning what makes a relationship work and what should we really expect from our partner. The idea of recapturing that initial spark is absurd and immature, but that doesn’t lessen the need for realistic expectations. For the first feature from director Charlie McDowell (son of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen) and writer Justin Lader, the unique and creative approach to such a complex topic make them filmmakers to keep an eye on.

**NOTE: I found the film very well done and quite thought-provoking until the last 15 minutes or so.  One of the twists kind of knocked me off the rails and raised too many questions that this little film just couldn’t address, much less answer. Still, that doesn’t stop me from recommending it to my fellow indie movie lovers. During the Q&A after the screening, director McDowell admitted that they completed filming in 15 days, and that most of the sound and dialogue was recorded live.  The unusual and effective score was, of course, added later.

watch the trailer:

 


THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

August 18, 2014

expendables3 Greetings again from the darkness. Whether you saw the first two in this series will directly correlate to whether you head to the theatre for this third entry. The filmmakers’ attempt at attracting a younger audience by adding a “new” crew and dropping to a PG-13 rating backfires, and will not provide the legs this franchise needed for more installments.

The regular old geezers are back: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Jet Li (briefly), and Arnold Schwarzenneger. In addition, we get new “old” blood in the form of Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammar, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, and the dominating presence of Mel Gibson as the bad guy. The young blood comes in the form of Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, boxer Victor Ortiz, and MMA superstar Ronda Rousey. The blandness of the newbies simply steals valuable screen time for the old folks, and the movie suffers because of it.

The film’s biggest flaw, however, comes courtesy of the all-time champion screen hog: Mr. Stallone. We understand that this  franchise is his baby, but why field an all-star team if you won’t let them play? Stallone gets a ridiculous number of close-ups and probably three times the dialogue of the runner-up. Snipes gets some time early in the film, replete with a reference to his real life prison sentence for tax evasion, and Ford and Arnold get in a few shots, but the only savior here is Mel Gibson. It’s a reminder of just how good he can be on screen … if we could only forget what a horrible person he can be off screen.

There is no need to go into detail on the plot or describe any of the characters. You know what you are getting if you buy a ticket. It’s just a shame the film’s direction and script aren’t at the level deserving of a cast that includes: Rambo, Mad Max, Blade, Conan, Han Solo, Hercules, Zorro, The Transporter, He-Man, and even … Sideshow Bob!

**NOTE: while Bruce Willis demanded too much money and does not appear this time, there is a Die Hard reference with the “other” Special Agent Johnson (Robert Davi)

watch the trailer:

 

 


LAND HO! (2014)

August 17, 2014

land ho Greetings again from the darkness. Extra credit goes to the writer/director team of Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz for their indie spirit and unique character-driven adventure – a rare Iceland based comedy. The former Film School classmates bring color of personality and color of terrain to the forefront.

Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) are former brothers-in-law, once married to sisters. The polar opposites are each battling loneliness and aging, and Mitch (the gregarious one) basically forces Colin (the reserved one) into a spontaneous vacation with him to Iceland. After this, we watch what amounts to a an AARP Road Trip Buddy film.

Mitch’s bravura masks his loss of purpose and fear of mortality, while Colin mostly just shakes his head at each vulgar thought spoken without filter by Mitch. Despite the obvious differences in personality, the two come across as real guys soaking up the adventure. While Colin enjoys his solo hike that ends with a dip in the hot springs, Mitch sips his scotch while pestering a honeymooning couple (one of which is played by well known cinematographer Ben Kasulke) with questions about their private time in the room. He means no harm, he just thrives on fun … whether it’s his or someone else’s.

Mitch and Colin have a definite on screen connection, and what makes this fascinating is that while Paul Eenhoorn is an established Australian actor, Earl Lynn Nelson is a real life retired surgeon who has only recently begun acting. Mr. Nelson’s comfort in front of the camera is obvious whether he is telling his much younger cousin she has a “hot ass”, or toking on weed at the hotel. Many long time actors would have struggled in this role, but Nelson … while not always likable, leaves no doubt about his quest for fun.

Other than the two lead actors, the landscape of Iceland is a key to the look and feel of the film. The panoramas are beautifully filmed, and if somehow a few people actually see the film, it would not be surprising if Iceland tourism spikes. Though the film offers no real life lessons, and offers little in defense of “getting old sucks”, this little senior citizen character study is a worthy entry into the “gray cinema” genre, and a reminder that every morning we wake up … we are “not dead yet”!

watch the trailer:

 

 

 


THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014)

August 13, 2014

hundred foot journey Greetings again from the darkness. Comfort food gets its name from the level of familiarity and satisfaction it brings us. It’s the opposite of “Innovation. Innovation. Innovation” that plays a conflicting role in this story as we follow the culinary advancement of the young chef Hassan. Director Lasse Hallstrom long ago mastered the art of tapping into the emotional heart strings of viewers (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, An Unfinished Life, Chocolat), so his films can easily be viewed as the movie version of comfort food … they deliver what’s promised with no unnecessary surprises.

From the novel by Richard C Morais, the screenplay by Steven Knight (Locke) serves up exactly what we expect and satisfies our taste for slick and sweet entertainment, with characters who are both likable and learn their life lessons quickly. Even the backstory of tragedy that brings Kadan family from India is told in a near painless (and improbable) flashback manner as the family goes through airport customs.

While their travels and heartbreak could have been the story, we instead are front row for the cultural battlefield of a snooty French provencial restaurant vs friendly Indian family home-cooking … 100 feet apart. A snooty French restaurant with a Michelin star requires the ever-present condescending high society Madame Mallory as the movie’s “villain”. Of course, when played by Helen Mirren, we know immediately that bad will soon enough turn to good. The driving force behind her transformation is Papa, played superbly by Om Puri. Stereotypes abound, but at least there is some humor blended so as not to be overcooked.

The real basis for the movie is the extraordinarily talented young chef Hassan (played by Manish Dayal). His skill in the kitchen folded in with his overall niceness make it impossible for Madame Mallory or her sous-chef Margueritte (Charlotte Le Bon) to avoid taking notice in their own ways.

The cultural differences certainly could have been played up and further examined (Indian market vs French market), as could the backstory of all involved – the Indian family and Madame Mallory. An added level of depth and mystery could have been added if, say Catherine Deneuve had been cast in the Helen Mirren role (box office draw was obviously key to her casting). More detail could have been provided for Hassan’s time in Paris as well as what occurs with his Papa while he is away.

This is new Disney following the traditional Disney template.  The movie and the story go exactly where we expect it to go, providing the level of enjoyment and satisfaction that we demand from our comfort food. And there’s nothing wrong with a big serving of that from time to time.

watch the trailer:

 

 

 


AFTER (2014)

August 13, 2014

after Greetings again from the darkness. Family dynamics often make for entertaining movie fodder. The possibilities are endless and source material is in full supply, given that most of us have enough stories to write our own book! This latest from director Pieter Gaspersz drops us right in the middle of the Valentino family, and all the bickering, conflicts and secrets that any one family can generate.

The script is from Gaspersz’ wife, Sabrina Gennarino, who also stars as daughter Maxine, one of the key characters in the film. You will probably recognize her along with many of the other actors who make up the family, though you may not recall all the names. Kathleen Quinlan plays the mother, and it doesn’t take us long to realize everyone is tiptoeing around her – we just aren’t sure why. Her husband is played by John Doman, and he is the most difficult character to connect with because he coddles his wife and basically ignores his (grown) kids … even Christian (an underrated Pablo Schreiber), the son who has taken over the family stone business.  Adam Scarimbolo plays Niky, the family screw-up (well, one of them anyway).  Niky is lost in life, and it’s obvious the conflict with his dad must be resolved before he can really grow up. Aunt Kat (the mom’s sister played by Diane Neal) is apparently around to help out, but she spends most every day chugging booze.

While it may sound like an impossible family to understand, there are moments that strike an emotional chord and make the film quite watchable. There is some choppiness in the presentation, but it’s beautifully filmed by Jonathan Hall, and pretty solidly acted by the entire cast. The themes of loss, grief, deception, and family (mis)communication are sometimes far-fetched, and other times spot on. The father’s concern about “protection” for his daughter comes across as a bit awkward, until the big reveal towards the end. At that point, we all understand what he means by protection and why he had his doubts about her fiance (played by Darrin Dewitt Henson).  Until the reveal, there are times it plays like an extended episode of TV’s “Parenthood“, but in the end, the puzzle is mostly complete and the payoff is satisfactory.

 


ROBIN WILLIAMS remembered

August 12, 2014

O Captain! My Captain! (Walt Whitman)

robin williams There have already been many beautiful tributes written for the immensely talented Robin Williams, so mine will be brief. Additionally, I recommend reading what his peers from the entertainment world have to say. And those fans whose lives he touched.  They speak of a very warm and generous man … even when he was mired in the darkest moments of his life.  Of course he was an inspiration to many stand-up comedians and actors, but he also worked tirelessly for the homeless and underprivileged children. He was also quite forthcoming in discussing his battles with drugs, alcohol and depression.

Williams, along with Andy Kaufman and Steve Martin, transformed stand-up comedy.  Comedy became more insightful, and not always in a positive way.  He flashed attitude at breakneck speed … sometimes he spoke so fast, he offered us little time to laugh – in fear we would miss the next cultural prod. When he took his talent to TV, it seemed only right that his character was from another planet … none of us knew anyone like this!

What really set Robin Williams apart was his ability to thrive in two worlds: the childlike and the profane.  He somehow balanced his “Sesame Street” appearances with a role as a wise-ass military disc jockey who refused to be silenced.  He balanced his effervescent vocals as a giant blue genie with a role as a somewhat rebelious, yet passionate educator of young men. Who else could pull off a cross-dressing dad so desperate to spend time with his kids; and a bitter, insightful psychologist trying to crack the shell of a young genius; and the ultimate childlike Peter Pan?

It seems too simple to say, but the words are quite heavy … Robin Williams will be missed.

Many know his stellar work from such popular movies as Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, Aladdin, and of course the Night at the Museum franchise.  In addition to those, I have three others to recommend if you want to see just how serious he was about the art of acting. One of his early films was Moscow on the Hudson, directed by Paul Mazursky.  It’s from 1984 and his unusual character is certainly worth checking out. The Fisher King was directed by Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) in 1991, and stars Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. It’s an underappreciated gem. Finally, for a glimpse at just how dark and creepy Williams could go, see 2002’s One Hour Photo.  Those three films over an almost 20 year span will show you the depth and range of a man who could be so silly and so outrageous, while also opening our eyes.

Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society (Carpe Diem)

 

Robin Williams on “Sesame Street”

 

 

 

 

 


MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975) revisited

August 5, 2014

monty python Greetings again from the darkness. Consistently landing in the Top 10 whenever a film publication posts an all-time Best Comedy Movie list, this Monty Python classic should be a rite of passage for all teenagers. It is loaded, start to finish, with sight gags, one-liners, outright jokes, satire and overall outlandish behavior. It’s also a reminder that comedy need not be filled with profanity, and that once upon a time, a certain level of grossness was considered tongue-in-cheek.

In 1975, the Monty Python troupe was in between seasons 3 and 4 of their BBC comedy series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus“.  While on break, they came up with the movie’s theme of King Arthur and his quest for the Holy Grail, though mostly it’s just one related sketch after another.  The six members of Monty Python are each cast in numerous roles, and one of the fun games to play while watching is identifying each new character.  As a hint, Michael Palin plays the most characters (12) and four of Terry Gilliam’s characters die on-screen.  You might also note that the witch is played by Connie Booth, the wife (at the time) of John Cleese.

Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam co-directed, while all members received writing credits. The endless stream of classic sketches include: The Black Knight (“it’s just a flesh wound“), Song and Dance at Camelot (it inspired the Spamalot play), the ridiculing French guard, Trojan Rabbit, the on-camera modern day historian, the Knights who say “Ni”, the 3-headed giant, Castle Anthrax, Swamp Castle, Rabbit of Caerbannog, the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (spoofing Sovereign Orb), the Bridge of Death (3 questions), the abrupt ending with organ music. Other classic moments include “bring out your dead“, the recurring “run away” strategy, an (over) abundance of details on swallows, difficulties in counting to 3, and the best film uses ever of shrubbery and coconut shells. LOADED, I tell ya’!

While it would take multiple viewings to catch everything thrown into this one, it clearly jabs (all in good nature) such targets as Royalty, politics and politicians, Religion, and of course, the French. The animated God in the sky is actually a photo of 19th century cricket legend W.G. Grace, and the barbs directed at the French military are downright hilarious.

Graham Chapman (King Arthur, et al) passed away in 1989 due to complications from cancer, but he was one of the first celebrities to publicly come out as gay.  He spent much of his life as a gay activist.  John Cleese has had much success as an actor, appearing in A Fish Called Wanda, as well as two “James Bond” movies, two “Harry Potter” movies, and voicing the king in three Shrek movies. Cleese was also the creative force (with his wife) behind “Fawlty Towers“.  Terry Gilliam has had most of his success as a film director.  His films include Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King, and 12 Monkeys.  He was also the main animator for most of Monty Python’s work. Eric Idle is very familiar to audiences after decades of movie and TV acting.  He was also a member of The Rutles (look it up!) and was the musical director and co-creator of the Tony Award winning play SpamalotTerry Jones was the sole director of Monty Python’s next and final two films, Life of Brian and The Meaning of LifeMichael Palin also appeared in A Fish Called Wanda, but these days is renowned for his work as a Travel writer and Travel documentarian.

The five surviving members recently (July 2014) reunited for a live performance that was simulcast to many theatres around the world. They stated this was to be their final appearance as Monty Python, and that this was the best way to say goodbye.  Making people laugh for almost 40 years is quite a legacy, and few have done it better than this comedy troupe and this classic comedy movie.   And just remember, when life gets tough, rather than “run away”, simply tell yourself “it’s only a flesh wound“.

Here is a re-cut trailer that presents the movie as a dramatic action film, rather than uproarious comedy. If you’ve seen the movie, you will “get” this.  If you haven’t seen the movie … it’s high time!

 


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