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Wyatt Cenac: Comedy Person (2011)
It's what he says, and how he says it.
Discovered Wyatt through Marc Maron's WTF podcast, which I found very soulful and compelling, so I checked out some of his stuff on youtube the next day. Hilarious material - totally original and brilliantly executed, just sensational. Bought Comedy Person for my iPod, which I pretty much know by heart by now and which led me to purchase the DVD.
This guy is the real deal - a true comic genius with a fantastic way of delivering his phenomenally original material. It's not just what he says, it's how he says it, his amazing sense of timing, his inflections, everything, including how he moves. He commands the stage so effortlessly, with such a seemingly innate understanding of how a rapport with an audience is created and sustained. It's genuinely thrilling to watch.
The DVD also has a cool little Bonus feature - an hilarious animated version of his Medieval Times bit, really priceless. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on it ASAP (which, in a nod to Cenac's fondness for acronyms, does not stand for As Soon As Possible, but rather And Succumb Already, Punk).
Big Eyes (2014)
Superficial Beyond Belief
Tim Burton, quite simply, should have left this material alone. It doesn't work as anything more than a mind-bogglingly superficial look at a deeply serious subject - the exploitation of a woman at the hands of an opportunistic, sadistic, immoral prick.
Amy Adams does a good job at portraying Margaret Keane, who is cajoled by said opportunistic sleazebag into letting him take credit for her now-legendary big-eyed waif paintings, telling her 'we're a team, let's work together', blah blah blah.
She goes into this disgusting relationship after having left her previous husband (taking her daughter with her), but she hasn't really gone anywhere; she's still brain-washed by society to believe that 'nobody buys lady art', so she's basically broken already when she hooks up with Walter Keane, or rather when he slimes his way into her life.
Serious stuff, the subjugation of women, made even worse when the woman is question is a major part of the problem. But Burton handles the whole thing so lightly, so completely vapidly, that the underlying story comes across as sadly predictable and devoid of any true payoff at the end.
I'm not saying he should have gone the opposite route, into some dreadfully horrific dark mode, with Walter Keane coming across like Doctor Doom, or even worse, the slivering slimy succubus known as Venom, but the tone he does take, as I've already said - don't want to run it into the ground - hardly does this non-amusing cautionary true-life story justice.
The screenplay, of course, doesn't help - it always starts with the script, naturally - bad writing is a nail in the coffin for a director, even one of Burton's stature. The best thing the film has going for it is Amy Adams, as Margaret. who brings a genuine poignancy to the role, a poignancy that is certainly not contained in the screenplay. She manages to make us feel SOMETHING at least, no easy task considering what she was given (or not given) to work with. (I gave the film 4 out of 10, my IMDb equivalent to 2 stars, only because of her brave performance.)
Walter's character, on the other hand, comes across as a complete cartoon caricature, with no human qualities whatsoever. Is this bad acting on the part of Waltz, who can surely shred scenery in his sleep? Probably. Everyone has to take responsibility for this fiasco, which I don't believe should have been green-lighted in the first place. Talk about exploitation.
Thumbs Not Up-ish, But Way Up!
Caught this last night and was pleasantly surprised - hadn't read about it beforehand, didn't realize Coogan and John Cameron Mitchell were involved, so I was doubly pleased.
Coogan's character sets the tone perfectly from the get-go, with his 'f-you' voice-over regarding Mount Rushmore: we know we're in for a no-holds-barred look at these peoples' lives, and that is indeed what we get in the half-hour pilot, which could have gone on longer, as far as I'm concerned.
This subject - trying to find the balance between what you get in Life and what you think you wanted - perfectly illustrated by the show's title - has been covered before, many times. But Happyish surprisingly manages to conjure a fresh take on it, because of the individuality of the characters. Good writing, excellent acting, huge watchability factor, with plenty of room to grow, and I am most definitely in.
Olive Kitteridge (2014)
Brutal four hours
I sat through all four episodes last night, drawn in by the two leads - McDormand and Jenkins are of course worth watching in anything. All the performances in the piece are excellent,in fact, beautiful casting across the board. I haven't read the book (nor do I plan to), but the biggest hurdle for me to come to terms with in the story is why such an exquisitely compassionate man like Henry would fall for and marry Olive in the first place.
He's not actually portrayed as a masochist, so that couldn't have been his underlying and perhaps subconscious reason for teaming up with this repugnant and relentlessly horrific sociopath; maybe when they were younger he saw something in her that appealed to his compassionate nature, who knows. I just had a problem accepting it. And it wasn't like she was mean and unappreciative just to him (as some spouses are, or come to be - they treat everyone outside the relationship relatively decent and save their ugly side for the one closest to them, because that's the only person who would put up with it). Nope, she was an equal-opportunity abuser who caused serious pain - or at the very least, horrendously negative vibes - to everyone in her path, including her son Chris, who finally told her to take a hike after relaying how miserable and utterly worthless she had made him feel his entire life.
I had very little sympathy for this worm of a woman, even though I understood that she was apparently 'clinically depressed' and she was shown with glimpses of humanity, cracks in the stoic facade. On some level she did care about others, like when she helped save someone from drowning. And toward the end, her interactions with Bill Murray's nearly-equally-bitter character were at least bordering on something human, so perhaps there was hope for her - again, who knows.
It was sort of superficial, the teleplay, in that it never delved into why she was like that and of course why Henry chose to marry her. They just laid it out for us with a take-it-or-leave it attitude, and at the end, I was relieved that it was over. There was one really good black-humored line: ~-~ SPOILER ALERT ~-~ It came toward the end, when Olive grunts to Bill Murray's character, 'I'm just waiting for the dog to die so I can shoot myself.'
These are NOT chefs
The thing that really bugs me about this show is how Rachael and Guy keep calling the kids 'chef' - 'what have you prepared, chef?' - 'Nice job, chef', 'Oooh, I can't wait to taste it, chef,' blah blah blah. Let's be clear: these are children, very young children, who just happen to all have a large interest in cooking. That does not make them chefs, it makes them children who cook.
It serves no one when the two hosts blow smoke up their you-know-whats with such indulgent talk. In fact, the contrast between calling them 'chefs' and then to see these 'chefs' giggle and cringe and make icky faces over culinary items they know nothing about or have decided at their young ages that they don't like - it's pathetic. Not watching any more, I've had enough.
Extraordinary and chilling
I dvr'd this when I saw that Ellen Page was in it, not even realizing Cillian Murphy was actually the star, or rather the STARS, since he plays two characters, his male side and his female side. He portrays both absolutely flawlessly.
From the very beginning when the character is introduced as Emma, I knew from the synopsis that 'she' was physically 'John', but I bought it completely, thanks to Murphy's subtle, masterful and thoroughly engrossing performance. When he changes back into John, to ride his bicycle to the Peacock city bank where he works, I bought that completely as well.
The story evolves slowly, deliberately, with details (about John's tormented upbringing at the hands of a clearly deranged mother)cleverly brought to light without ever saying too much; this is an example of how less can most definitely be more: the viewer finds himself/herself involved emotionally and gradually feeling true heartbreak for this soul, and it's all done with not even a shred of heavy-handedness or contrivance.
A lot of people have carped about how the townspeople never catch on that John and Emma are the same person, but I didn't have a problem with this, as I said earlier, because to me, they were NOT the same person.
Again, as I already mentioned, Murphy's characterizations of both are stunningly, seemingly effortlessly portrayed. I was reminded a bit of Jeremy Irons' dual/dueling characters in Dead Ringers, where of course the difference was that the Mantle twins, Beverly and Elliot, were indeed two separate people, lost in a sick, destructive symbiotic relationship. Thanks to great subtlety by Irons, you could tell when he was Beverly and when he was Elliot, both when they were on the screen at the same time and separately.
In Peacock, John and Emma are not actually seen separately in physical form, but there are scenes where the two of them are fighting internally for identity control. This is brilliantly portrayed by Murphy, who, as a Gemini, fully comprehends the male/female duality in each of us.
A lot of people have also carped about the seemingly 'confusing' ending, which 'ruined' the movie for them. I felt the opposite. The ending was perfect. Emma is there, at the window, once again, but so is John. This is displayed purely by Murphy's body language. The ending gave me the chills.
Mutual Masturbation in the Electronic Age (so to speak)
A lot of people have philosophized about Her, both in reviews and on various message boards at various sites, in an attempt to make the film into more than it is, to try to give it some profound meaning. This is a waste of energy because there is none.
Phoenix is an amazing actor, an intense and riveting screen presence, but here, in the role of Theodore Twomby, a sweetly sensitive soul who writes poignant letters for other people for a living, he's given hardly anything to work with. He's either grinning retardedly with dewy eyes or moping.
First there's moping. His wife is divorcing him and he's reluctant to sign the papers. But then, when he hooks up (so to speak) with his new OS, we get scene after scene of him 'falling in love' with it/her. She decides to call 'herself' Samantha because it sounds nice. She also decides that she's an actual person, with feelings and emotions and libido, just without a body. Her 'needs' sometimes conflict with his. Here's one example, not as ridiculous as the others but silly just the same: at one point she wakes him up while he's asleep 'just to hear' his voice. (If windows 8 did that, I would not be flattered, to say the least.)
I still genuinely wanted to buy into the plot; I liked the idea of the OS having a reciprocal relationship with its owner (which of course has been depicted in other movies, not an original concept in itself). And I understand fully well that the age we're living in, with the over-abundance of tech devices, cell phones, all that, has ironically not brought people closer together but rather farther apart. So many people feel empty, lonely, disconnected, longing for intimacy and meaning in their relationships. This is recognized in the film, and that's completely valid.
The problem for me was how oddly one-dimensional and superficial the plot turned out to be. Nothing clever, no insights really, just a series of silly scenarios, the silliest being the 'sex' scenes.
-=- SPOILER ALERT -=- There's one where the screen goes black so Samantha and our hapless hero can indulge in seemingly mutual masturbation; this choice was made apparently in the interest of subtlety. Rather than keeping the camera on Theodore's face, we get the black screen so we can hear what's going down (so to speak) and use our imaginations for the rest. This scene came off (so to speak) as really silly, not intimate or erotic.
Then, there's another 'sex' scene, where Samantha takes the liberty of hiring a surrogate partner for Theodore, so she (Samantha) can provide him with an actual body while she uses her own voice to make love to him (so to speak). Of course it doesn't work at all for Theodore, which was probably for the best - it spared the viewers another possible silly black-screen event.
The silliest part about this scene: the surrogate is so sorry that she couldn't fulfill Samantha's desire (so to speak) and she cries that she wanted to be part of their great 'love'. Wow.
The silliest part of all, though, is saved for the end. All the OS's manage to band together to 'leave' their owners to venture into the unknown, in order to create a new consciousness, going farther than any species has ever gone before, blah blah blah. Cue more moping. -=-END OF SPOILER -=-
The reason I'm giving it a 5 (the equivalent of 2-1/2 stars) instead of a lower rating is because the movie wasn't boring, it kept my attention the entire time, even when I was rolling my eyes in disbelief at the screen, plus the performances were competent enough. Scarlett J's vocal contribution (as Samantha) was decent considering what she was given to work with, and Amy Adams as the friend was sufficiently morose throughout, but in a good, hopeful way. Also, the film was not mean-spirited in its depiction of sad, empty souls yearning for connection, as we all are. So the message was there - not profoundly stated, but visible nonetheless.
All Is Bright (2013)
They should've stayed in Canada for the winter
Caught this last night on cable, expecting at the very least a decent film, considering the two Pauls. Giamatti is one of my favorite actors, I even created a yahoo group called talkpaul after he was overlooked for an Oscar nod for Sideways a few years back. Paul Rudd ain't no schlub either; he's always good no matter what he plays as well. The problem here, as it usually is, begins with the script.
A lot of critics have mentioned how implausible most of the goings-on are in this mess, which they are. I was willing to overlook a lot because I found myself invested in Giamatti's character. But by the time -=- SPOILER ALERT -=- the money box from the Christmas tree sales gets lifted in the most unbelievably contrived manner and the two Pauls resort to their old thievery habits, stealing, of all things, a grand piano, out of an apartment window, so that Giamatti's young daughter (who's been told by her mother who's now engaged to Rudd's character that her daddy died of some unnameable cancer) can have a piano for Christmas (he promised one to her in his head, see) I was shaking my head in disappointed disbelief. -=- END OF SPOILER -=-
Something else that bugged me: If you are aware of karma, you will know that what you do to others will be done to you in one form or another eventually. Here we have the two Pauls resorting back to thievery after they've just been stolen from, with no awareness whatsoever, of course, of the karma law. This is understandable considering these two ain't the most enlightened characters on the planet, but it bugged me because they hadn't learned anything, especially Giamatti's sad sack, who'd spent four years in the slammer for a theft crime. Just sayin'.
The movie ended up this way -=- SPOILER ALERT -=- (the stealing of the piano, with his daughter running outside her house to play it in the snow, still never knowing about her father, who skulks off into the sad, lonely night) -=-END OF SPOILER -=- to keep the heavy-handed contrivedness going. This is a shame, because with more care given to the details of the story - letting it unfold in a far more organic, believable fashion - this could have been very decent, poignant, even moving. Everything was heavy-handed, including the title: All Is Bright, which of course is supposed to be ironic considering the anything-but-bright situation these guys are in, and the tagline is even more heavy-handed. The original title, Almost Christmas, is almost better, but obviously it doesn't matter since the film was so disappointing in so many ways.
Now You See Me (2013)
You won't be seeing me again
This tells you how unsatisfying an experience watching this film last night turned out to be: About halfway through I'd figured out who the 'mastermind' might be. But at the end, when it was confirmed, I felt no sense of elation at all. Compared to, say, with The Usual Suspects, when I figured out who Kaiser Soze had to be and it was revealed, I was absolutely euphoric in the theatre. I excitedly nudged the person I was with and said, "I knew it!!!" It didn't work with Now You See Me because it had no weight; it was totally unearned.
Movies about magicians have to have some semblance of believability at the core; I'm thinking of The Illusionist and The Prestige, for example - both brilliantly realized films that manage to walk the tightrope between wonderment and plausibility. This piece of garbage takes the opposite route: it insults its audience in so many ways that I couldn't even begin to mention them in a decent-sized review.
Can't believe they're actually doing a sequel, which I will NOT be seeing. And I can't believe Boaz Yakin(of FRESH fame) had anything to do with this train wreck of a monstrosity of a lame two-hour long plothole.
The Oscars (2014)
Minimum amount of wrap-it-up music!
For a change, the show last night used the minimum amount of get-off-the-stage music, allowing most of the winners to make decent acceptance speeches. I've been writing for years about this issue, how the play-music-over-the-winners'-speeches ruins the proceedings for me because the whole purpose of award shows is to honor the winners, let them bask in their moment of glory, and apparently others have been vocal about this issue as well. There were still constraints, off-screen cues of how much time was left, and most everyone heeded them so the music wasn't necessary in most cases. Thumbs up.
The show itself was very good. Ellen DeGeneres was a fine host, funny without being mean-spirited or corny, just sharp enough in her comments throughout. Loved the pizza thing, that really humanized the affair in a clever way. This was a classy show for the most part, and I didn't nod off once. Kudos across the board - for a change.