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Rule Number Three (2011)
Spell Check, Mate
Short films are a brilliant form of story telling unto themselves and Rule Number Three tells its story with minimal words. Set in a pub, British hotties Nicholas Hout and Imogen Poots spell it out for everyone to see as they engage in a coy Scrabble session that reveals more than they bargained for. From an amorous start, the game is a communication tool of revelations that Hoult least expected as Poots shrinks around the truth. Most impressive is the effective skill of the actor's facial expressions and eyes to replace any excessive verbal dialogue. The eyes have it in the most engaging sense as the director frames the attractiveness of both actors whose exposed relationship is made uncomfortably obvious to a family friend who happened on their literal conversational spelling bee. Witty, abbreviated, and well acted, Poots and Hoult are young adults with little to say aloud, yet manage to state their predicament loudly following the Scrabble premise: No Proper Nouns.
It confounds that a contemporary society of film makers and actors should find the topic of dystopian love in all-white uniforms so fascinating yet are unable to create an original and creative manner to convey the story. Drake Doremus' Equals features Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kirsten Stewart) as the Romeo and Juliet of a post-Big War survivor social community of dullards whose existence is reduced to monosyllabic verbiage, right-angle utilitarian architecture, and conformist socialism. Breeding out sex as emotional savagery, any expression of normative human emotions has been turned into a social disease (SOS) that all are warned to be on alert to symptoms, take medical precautions and medications, and avoid contaminated persons as suspicious. That a society which found the cure for the common cold and cancer should be so adverse to color, racial diversity, and human sexuality becomes an inane setting for this story of repressive love in the bleach rinse.
Doremus vision is monochromatic and seems to drag on long past the obvious markers of inevitable storytelling. It was suggested that this film should have been a short, and an edit would have moved the action to its resolution with satisfaction. There is no mystery or even suspension of disbelief that can be sustained for the hour and half of this film's tale. Actors Hoult and Stewart find love on the public rest room floor of their work place, yet, the sterile nature of the sets make it seem less egregious than a romp in the sheets or shower. Hoult manages to convey the agitation of a lover whose partner conceals their shared love, and when she is discovered, conveys the anxiety of her forced incarceration for rehabilitation and ultimate fatal cure. It is more his film than Stewart, a relief as the format suits her non-emotive face. Silas is the emotional one not Nia, who is a hider of her contaminated SOS state.
Oddly, the society in which the characters inhabit is without personal communication devices forcing them to speak face to face rather than text, email, or use old fashion land-line phones. If society's goal is to render emotionless the interaction between persons, it missed the boat. Everyone speaks to one another, gathers together, and works in teams, the social interaction is pervasive. Minimally entertaining and satisfying, Equals misses with the exception of encouraging a desire to run naked through the woods leaping and shouting with joyful noise.
Kill Your Friends (2015)
Love British black humour or find something else to watch. This is black, sly, and so very not pc that it is wonderful. Nicholas Hoult is no longer that cute little boy from the movie with HG. He's grown a hunky sex body and is picking films to get away from the boy next door roles (Skins), and into the male leading man category. Kill Your Friends moves him up that ladder and then some but the film has its flaws.
As Steven Stellfox, Hoult is shallow and ambitious as A & R manager for a troubled British recording company, and he's not about to be penalized for his mistakes in music taste or judgements. Breaking the fourth wall, audiences are given his motivation and maliciousness in a gleeful narration that bares industry attitudes toward the production of milquetoast musical arrangements geared toward the mindless messes. Stylish and greedy, Stellfox's moves to advancement are not for the squeamish, but in Hoult's presentation, they are delightful to watch. Like a lot. Hysterical and entertaining for the bent in us all.
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
Sexy for all genders and persuasions, but a lite, silly entertainment
Not one of the greatest moments in film dance history or even soft porn fantasy, but a summer comedy high on male buffness and little in elegant dialogue. Bros on the road flick thanks to a roach coach transport, these "male entertainers" aka strippers decide to give it one last go before hanging up their thongs. Given that premise, there are girls to pleasure, rich WASPs to snog, and the latent young woman who is defiant and self-possessed who must be charmed by dance-man Channing Tatum. Although a better than average street dancer, Mr. Tatum is not the sole dance eye-candy. Trying to demonstrate that he is seeking a better and more normal life than that of gypsy strip king, Tatum's character runs a furniture design shop but hits the road with his buddies because of friendship.
Joe Mangienello is more vocal and takes second lead to make audiences drool with his parody of the Cindy Crawford Pepsi commercial of yore. Other men such as Matt Bommer add to the storyline but minimally as the story basically follows a Jada Pinkett-Smith/Tatum reunite, nevertheless, their chemistry lacking, the age difference remained too obvious to hold any interest. In fact, there are more ladies of a certain age (Andie MacDowell) throughout with the exception of Mrs. Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, who gets the dream role of a gymnastic lap dance from Tatum.
In the end, the guys get to strut, local ladies get a chance to toss dollar bills at some of the hunkiest actors in Hollywood, and the film ends with a happy group hug. The subtle homo-erotic interplay with the males keeps the film from becoming too estrogen-centric, and the ladies of size are also well represented in front and center stage antics. The representation of every and all makes this film PC, but at my screening, the theater was almost empty, and Anglo women 20- 50 the principal audience. It was hormonal fun, but not a lasting summer romance.
21 Jump Street (2012)
Offensive Pandering and Prejudice to Idiot Audiences
Probably the worst movie targeted to lowly teen fart and homophobic humor, 21 Jump Street has no element that is not offensive. Loosely based on the 80s television drama series that launched Johnny Depp on the world, it is not related to that production beyond a title. The premise of adult cops serving undercover in high schools to discover drugs and crime features the bumbling partners as brothers played by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who are less than competent officers facing expulsion from the force. Sent to Jump Street as a last resort before unemployment, their supervisor is a foul language director played by Ice Cube, whose acting ability is as limited as his profanity laced vocabulary.
The film relies on racial and sexual prejudices that would because of the youthful cast seem innocuous, but are not. Other offensive actions include violence against a gay, black student who is decked by thick-headed Tatum, the first day at school, and later an unfunny and sexually inappropriate female teacher who is ready to jump his studly bones. Nebbish Hill in a slimmed down version, is the geekier and now popular brother, tenuous around the same kind of juvenile populations that he hated as a teen and finding himself living with his overly gushing parents whose kitschy southwestern theme home is a shrine to their beloved idealized son. Even a school production of Peter Pan include the reference to the "squaws" with Tiger Lily. Once in school, the men seek to make connections to the drug suppliers who are the clean cut, UC Berkeley bound rich kid (Dave Franco, James' less than talented younger brother), and the overtly pumped football coach. Why these characters would be thought humorous reveals the worst attitudes of prejudice, racism, and sexual predation that for some writers passes as appropriate for youth-oriented audiences.
Only when the undercover agents are faced with the biker gang of drug dealers and the distributor turns out to be the foot ball coach does the action become interesting with the revelation of undercover DEA agents Johnny Depp and Peter Delouise, (the original Jump Street crew in a brief cameo) but even their appearance can't elevate this film from the worst offensive violence in a Robert Rodriguez shoot 'em up scene. Until the end credits, 21 Jump Street manages to offend every notion of high school experience and once the bad guys are captured, the two officers are further thrust upward to college in hopes that a sequel will be in the works. In all fairness, that would add insult to a gross injury.
Dark Shadows (2012)
Darkly Off The Mark
When Dark Shadows was an afternoon staple on TV in the 60s, the character of Barnabas Collins exuded a sense of pathos and doom. Jump ahead to the Tim Burton film and pathos is replaced by slap stick and special effects, which in a remake of a three stooges film might not be so bad, but not here. With the exceptional Johnny Depp teaming yet again with Burton, and joined by a significant cast of Michelle Pffifer, Burton's wife Helena Bonham-Carter, and Eva Green among other very excellent character actors, the story of a vampire and a witch failed to have merit worthy of some significant earlier Burton/Depp encounters. What is wrong is this was never a funny story to begin with, and translated into the sexualized humor of today, Dark Shadows comes forth as sleazy innuendo instead of witty and droll. The kinds of monster creatures from werewolf to witch to vampire to ghostly spectra permit the makeup department and costumer full opportunity to flex, but with a 70s sound track that included Alice Cooper's sync performance, the story, music, and dressing are never one to draw the audience's attention and hold it.
People like Tim Burton's whimsy and fantastical gadgets which are delights in all his films, and Dark Shadows is not the exception, but it is not enough. Depp's Barnabas is cartoonish and aptly formal as an 18th c. gentleman, but perhaps the fangs genre is tired of yet another film in this vein, (yes, pun intended). The moral of the story - family is everything and love endures is warm and fuzzy, but this is not the film in which to preach. Not one of Burton's better film efforts, sadly, nor, is it even in the vampire Gothic class of camp.
We'll Take Manhattan (2012)
Styled but Not Delivered
Lordy, what can one say that is positive about this farcical retro-homage to the rise of the 60's first supermodel Jean Shrimpton and bad boy photographer, David Bailey. Swinging 60s London was yet to happen when the stuffy, privileged world of British Vogue was invaded by the street-wise Bailey whose black and white grainy high contrast fashion sense was yet the norm. Shrimpton as depicted by Doctor Who's Karen Gillian is a moon-face, country virgin who falls for the brash photog and is promptly toss to the curb by her screaming, conservative middle class father who sees his daughter as a fallen woman. It was after all the era of the new pill and good girls were still pure until marriage!! Given the assignment to photograph a new spread for Vogue in New York City, Bailey and Shrimp head out with the uptight, Lady Clare Rendlesham (Helen McCrory) to recreate the tired, status quo look which British Vogue had presented since WWII. With lots of head butting between Bailey and Rendlesham over tasteful lady-like poses, camera focal range, and the NYC skyline, Shrimpton sees her budding career going down in flames. Slightly idiotic dialogue is meant to convey the class differences between the blue collar Bailey and Shrimpton and Rendlesham, the "posh" women he finds unwilling to give him the opportunity as the innovative artist with the camera. But the work speaks for itself as contact sheets arrive in London and the situation comes to a head with the expected happy ending. Bailey forever alters British Vogue, Jean becomes the exquisite iconic face of the 60s, and London swings despite the conservative government.
Barnard as confrontational Bailey is heavy fisted but charming, and the venerable Helen McCrory as the staid Lady Tasteful Clare Rendlesham offers a strident performance that is almost laughable. However, it is the woeful Ms. Gillian as The Shrimp who makes the production painful to view. Jean Shrimpton had not evolved into the staggering beauty in the New York photographs that Bailey took of her, but in Ms. Gillian is absent the kind of potential Shrimpton already possessed as a leggy young model. The teased bouffant hair, pudgy eyes, and the askew legs did characterize the early Jean, but Gillian misses on every point thanks to woeful styling. To observe Karen Gillian is to see the Dr. Who companion in 60s "clobber" and the wrong eye shadow applications -- sadly, even the teddy bear photographed better. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the show is they used David Bailey's actual photographs from the New York shoot of Jean Shrimpton in the closing credits. That was worth sitting though the program.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Typical Woody Allen Setup
If nebbish nerdy males and female partners who are shallow, self-absorbed, and clueless strike your fancy, you obviously enjoy films by Woody Allen. This is so much in the recycled Allen genre that it does not warrant anything other than a nod to great Paris locations and period costumes. Always a fan of period jazz, this film does not disappoint either, but Cole Porter was done a few years ago with Kevin Klein, so "Let's Fall In Love" doesn't have the unexpected flashback. Even the introduction of La Belle Epoque, Maxim's and the Moulin Rouge with Lautrec, Gaugin and Degas, to Piccaso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dali, Man Ray, and Gertrude Stein is nostalgia light. Allen's retro-vision of the past is still too convenient, too clean, too "golden" to hold attention, or even want to invest a second viewing.
Performances of Kathy Bates as third-eye Gertrude Stein and Marion Cotillard are marvelous, but this is more a walking man's tour of the Paris cityscape than a story which hold the interest to the end, and is ultimately formulaic and predictable. Equitable in irritation are the performances of Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams as the mismatched couple whose relationship is brought asunder by the city of romance and lights. Sorry Woody lovers but other films are more intriguing at this time.
A Room with a View (1985)
I will gush over this film because it is worthy of praise and a standing ovation. A Room With A View is likely one of the most perfect films to grace screens in decades. The E.M. Forrester story produced and directed by the team of Ivory and Merchant brings the tale of Miss Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham-Carter) to life in perfect Edwardian splendor.
Wonderful locations of the Florence cathedral, Palazzo Vecchio, sculpture by Donatello, and an assortment of rolling landscapes are stunning visual fodder for this comic tale of Apolonian vs. Dionesian parlor manners. Exquisite young Bonham-Carter's casting as the virginal heiress is thwarted by her traveling companion, the venerable Dame Maggie Smith as her meddling biddy chaperon, Aunt Charlotte, with Dame Judy Dench as a proto-Jackie Collins author, Elenore Lavish, Daniel Day-Lewis as the prissy snobbish Cecil Vyse, and, a gorgeous, naked Julian Sands as socialist George Emerson comprises a most outstanding casting achievement.
The excellent soundtrack offering of Dame Kiri Te Kaniwa's rendition of "O Mio Caro" takes your breath away as are the bits of wonderful piano solos that Lucy produces throughout the film. The cinematography is most wonderful with scenic panoramas of the far off Florence or Lucy sauntering through a field of poppies and wildflowers to receive the kiss to curl your toes from George Emerson, well, can romantic love get any better? This video is required for collectors of films of Julian Sands and Daniel Day-Lewis, however, its real value is as one of the finest of the Merchant Ivory magic touch in film making.
Perfect Sense (2011)
Smell No Evil, Taste No Evil, Hear No Evil, and then...
Admittedly, I love Ewan McGregor films and this is one that I rate higher because of the actor, but also because of the solid and mature performance he presents. Perfect Sense is a desolate tale in the vein of catastrophic world epidemics, social collapse, and "death and misery" as one character describes. Nevertheless, there are elements of humankind rising to face demise from all that is suspected - bio-terrorism, environmental collapse, capitalism, fundamentalism, religion. Although the symptoms of the epidemic robs the human body of the senses in a domino sequence, it is a raging yet fleeting loss that seems to be compensated by the positive attempts to return to normality. What is more complicated however, is the capacity of human relationships to be sustained as one by one smell, taste, hearing, sight, and ultimately, touch will vanish. The question remains what will define us as humans to one another, or will we even know or care about such matters when the moment is upon us.
Although the film is only ninety two minutes, it seems longer as the world loss engulfs the main characters of Michael (Ewan McGregor) and Susan (Eva Green), two self-described flawed personalities. Their struggle to remain connected as all around them crumbles is heroic as loss seems to overwhelm in virulent ruthlessness. Like the human stump in Dalton Trumbo's "Johnny Got His Gun," the ability for communication and desire to survive can only be interpreted through the awareness and senses of another. However, in Perfect Sense, the declining numbers of humans who can be witness and receptive for others diminishes daily, so that in the end, the last sense to be lost is so obvious the realization becomes overpowering and devastating. End film just in time.
McGregor and Green are beautiful together as their ying and yang is a struggle to overcome everything thrown at them. McGregor's real life uncle Denis Lawson plays a small role as the supportive owner of the restaurant across from Susan's apartment, and Trainspotting buddy, Ewan Bremner appears as well to support his friend in the kitchen. Other superior performances include Susan's sister (Saffron Burrows) and colleague, Samuel (Stephen Dillane) round out the cast in small supporting roles that combine in a welcome adult theme film. A beautiful and poetic film which is filled with a sense of overall doom, Perfect Sense is another of the British somber themes that have been put forth in the last few years. It looks and sounds wonderful, at the same time, leaves the audience with something to ponder.