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"Girl Most Likely" is Imogene (Kristen Wiig); a girl once likely to
become the next big playwright in New York City, now she's desperately
hanging on to the upper-class lifestyle convinced that it's all about
who you know, where you live, and who you are with. A failed attempt of
a fake suicide attempt sends Imogene back where she came from. All the
way to New Jersey.
It's an indie film with a fairly minimal distribution, which generally means the film is going to try to survive on quirky comedy. Luckily, Wiig has had a decade's worth of experience doing quirky comedy on "Saturday Night Live". Also, luckily the film is more than just a quirky indie comedy. It's very much a character study, and a bit of a quarter- life crisis dramedy thrown in for good measure. Imogene doesn't know herself very well. She once knew she was a good writer, now she just thinks she's a good writer. She once knew she was better than the family she came from, now she just thinks she's better. She also thinks her life will be better if she gets to know her great and successful father whom she doesn't know.
Her home life features comedy from her weird and bizarre mother, Zelda, her weirder and more bizarre new-step-father-like figure, George, and her weird but well-intentioned younger brother, Ralph. There's also a strange man sleeping in her bed.
This strange man is Lee (Darren Criss), who is actually not strange at all. He is a young man mired in a quarter-life crisis who has rented out her room as a place to stay. He represents the romantic angle of Imogene's attempt to get her life back on track, and was actually a very welcome addition to the movie. Lee was much more sane, understanding, and more aware of his place in life than any of the characters. He was exactly the type of guy who could keep Imogene more grounded with her distorted life views.
The comedy is sweet, although at times it can become to quirky to be all that funny. The writing is good, even though at times it can be a little too self-aware to be all the great. But "Girl Most Likely" is a fairly enjoyable journey of a girl who has completely lost her way in life. It focuses on family, ambition and ties it all up with quirky comedy.
Younger brother, Rusty (Nat Wolff), is an aspiring writer; older
sister, Samantha (Lily Collins), is an up-and-coming writer; and
father, Bill Borgens (Greg Kinnear), is an accomplished writer. And, as
you can guess from the title, they are all "Stuck in Love". Rusty's in
love with a girl from his class who doesn't know him, Sam refuses to
fall in love, and dad Bill is still waiting for his ex-wife to come
back to him.
The hook for the film is that these are all writers talking about love from a writer's point-of-view, as if they have something new to say. It seems a bit hokey at first, especially since they're trying to be more profound or poignant than being funny. But eventually these characters, and what they have to say, grow on you. Their point-of-view is straight forward, and the characters are constructed well enough that you have no problem understanding how they have arrived at their current point in life.
Rusty is the typical poetic high school student in love with a girl he could never get; perhaps a typical role for Nat Wolff, but at least he has evolved into leading roles and Rusty is arguably the one character who holds the whole film together. Sam is the typical cynical college student who hops from guy to guy without caring about the consequences. Her parents didn't provide her with much to look forward to, and she's 19 the last year of your life before you have accrued all the experiences you need to be a good writer (or, so the film tells us).
I liked Lily Collins as Sam, but I loved Logan Lerman as Lou, Sam's potential love interest. He likes her, she doesn't care, but obviously he's going to teach her about love eventually. This is yet another character type for Lerman; Lou has just enough charisma to attract the audience to him, but not so much that we get annoyed with Sam for dissing him.
There are a few story lines that I could have done without; in particular, Kristen Bell as Kinnear's inappropriately-married sex interest, and Rusty's girlfriend's overly dramatic lifestyle. But the one thing these supporting characters do is bring out the empathy in the main characters, and that's what makes "Stuck in Love" a pretty good film.
"The Monuments Men" is a group of men (in real life around 350, and in
this film 7) who are tasked with saving the historically and culturally
significant monuments, fine arts and archives during World War II. They
have to find and return that which the French hid and the Germans were
finding and stealing and then hiding. And the film decided to tell this
The film took a really long time to get going as they wanted it to be about the men that took on this task. But they changed their names and I also couldn't tell you a single characteristic of any of them. The men were paired off so they each had their own region to investigate, but none of that was interesting. The worst part was giving James Granger (Matt Damon) and Claire Simon (Cate Blanchett, representing the real- life heroine Rose Valland) a love story. They did have a reason for such nonsense, or how about just sticking with how it actually happened.
George Clooney has said the film is about 80% accurate, and that seems fair enough. But the problem isn't the historical inaccuracy; the problem is that the cheap humour diminishes the very people and story they're trying to empower. The humour was just a handful of lines wanting to kill Hitler and standing on a landmine. It just didn't make the film entertaining. The story could have done that but it didn't become interesting until they started discovering where the Germans hid the art. Coincidentally, the same point when the film started following the real story.
"The Monuments Men" very clearly wanted to help remember an important part of history and spark a debate about the cost of war on soldiers, civilians, and history and society. The debate is raging on, but the film missed the level of entertainment by not trusting its audience to be interested in exactly what happened.
"Nebraska" is a simple journey, told with beautiful black and white
photography, of a father who thinks he has won a million dollars and a
son who doesn't know what to do with his father except go along with
him. Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) suffers from dementia but he'll argue
that point with you straight to the pub. David Grant (Will Forte) lives
a fairly empty life so decides to head to Nebraska with his father.
Kate (June Squibb), Woody's wife and David's mother, steals the show as an aging woman who is going to have her opinion heard no matter what. Examples include, "I never knew the son of a bitch wanted to be a millionaire. He should have thought of that years ago and worked for it." And to David, "You're just like your father stubborn as a mule."
The movie is just littered with one-liners, all of which are pretty damn funny. But as you may have guessed, you'll need to be okay with explicit and sexually-laced language.
On route to Lincoln, Nebraska, Woody and David stop in Woody and Kate's hometown filled with family members who want his money, past acquaintances who have done him wrong (or more likely that he has done wrong), and a cemetery filled with family members who have passed on. But Kate manages to tell their story from beyond the grave with biting hilarity.
"Nebraska" is a simple film done pretty much to perfection. Simple story, simple characters, simple photography and simple comedy (or deadpan humour).
"Philomena" starts with Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) in the doctor's
office; he's quite pleased with news of his outstanding stool sample
until he realizes it just means that it hasn't been received yet. The
humour is kind of a long those lines. You don't realize that the movie
is funny until a joke has just been said and you've been given a moment
to digest the punch line. The movie really is very funny.
Martin Sixsmith has just been fired due to poor communications within the Labour Party. He's been asked to do a human interest story, and he proceeds to tell this poor woman, in no uncertain terms, exactly how he feels about human interest stories. As I don't want to do the dialogue injustice by improperly paraphrasing, let's just say that he feels about human interest stories the same way I do their only value is to make the audience cry for 15 minutes and then is completely forgotten in a sea of worthlessness.
Since "Philomena" is a human interest story, I couldn't wait to see how they juxtaposed that they were telling the very type of story that they hate. This works on a few levels. For starters, the story that they set out to tell is solved half-way through the movie. Sure, it's a sad story but it is told so humorously due to the differences between Martin, the writer, and Philomena (Judi Dench), the heroine.
Philomena was raised by Catholic nuns and when she got pregnant as a teenager, her son was taken away from her. She wants to find her son and get some closure. Martin, who refers to the Catholic nuns as the evil nuns, has no problem telling this story because he wants to expose an ugly history to the Catholic Church.
"Philomena" is elevated to that of a brilliant film because it makes an otherwise sad story funny, it juxtaposes the Atheist Martin with the Catholic Philomena and tells a story that they're both happy with the evil nuns are evil but their beliefs are still allowed to be their beliefs. It's a masterfully written, beautifully portrayed story that is better than just a human interest story.
"Kill Your Darlings" is the story of Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe)
as he arrives at college and is ushered into a new generation of
writers. Ginsberg is young, naïve and innocent. He was raised by his
father a writer (in the very traditional sense), and his mentally
unstable mother. Columbia University presents a whole new world, a
bright future for this talented man.
But Columbia University also presents ideas previously unknown to the sheltered Ginsberg. A fellow student stands on a desk reading from a banned book and when someone with authority claims that it is a restricted book, he responds, "That's why I committed it to memory." Ginsberg watches with admiration. When he's looking at a New York subway map, he's warned not to take a particular place. "It's the land of the ferries; you'll never get back."
Ginsberg never will be the person he was before any of these moments. The film is about the formative years of Allen Ginsberg. The college years that formed him into the writer he became. Which leads me to the screenplay. These writers clearly know their Beat writers providing these visionary characters with dialogue that they probably would have said. But also providing the audience with a structure that we would prefer.
The arrogance and notoriety of the Beat Generation are perfectly captured. It was there in full view, but we met Allen Ginsberg early enough in his life that we still liked him. We really just feel sorry for him when he falls in with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). Their attempts to get high and live were wholly unhealthy, but of course they would argue that it leads to producing some of the most creative and widely- read literary works in the world. And that that's more important than doing anything "normal." Well, that's your call.
This film is about the characters, how they interact with one another, how they influence one another, and how Allen Ginsberg became the revolutionary poet that the world knows him as. "Kill Your Darlings" is a story of sex, drugs and murder. The former elements are of course present in every story of the Beat Generation, but the latter is what provides a new element for this film, to give the story a fresh take and something interesting to say.
Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) has been diagnosed with AIDS in
1985. But surely that's a mistake because he "ain't no homo". "Dallas
Buyers Club" does a good job of establishing the character of Ron
Woodroof with that of what he needs to do to survive. He lives in
Dallas, lives a very disgusting lifestyle and should be close to dead.
But he also likes making money and disregarding authority.
McConaughey, as he is able to do, imbibes Mr. Woodroof with enough charm and likability that we care to follow him, but the faster we get past his less charming moments the better. The film hits its stride when we meet Rayon (Jared Leto), a transsexual also suffering from AIDS/HIV, and when we travel to Mexico to secure drugs otherwise unavailable in the United States.
Dallas Buyers Club is a bordering-on-illegal club that Woodroof sets up to sell drugs to fellow sufferers. It serves a dual purpose of providing needed to care to a disenfranchised community of society and making Mr. Woodroof more money. He's this AIDs patient / cowboy / business man that really is pretty amusing. Along with the Texas accent and swagger, it's the type of mix that only McConaughey can pull off.
Rayon and Woodroof have an interesting relationship in the beginning. The homophobic Woodroof can't stand the transsexual Rayon but Rayon can put him in touch with the homosexual community which has the money and need to buy life-saving drugs. Woodroof has to face the conundrum of money versus homophobia. He chooses money.
That early comedy moves into drama as we learn more of Rayon's life, which is not a happy one. But Woodroof continues with this Texan swagger as he attempts to win over Eve (Jennifer Garner), a doctor in charge of the HIV drug trials and who prefers to do things according to protocol. Woodroof, of course, does not like doing things according to protocol.
"Dallas Buyers Club" does mostly follow protocol but it was the many light and humorous moments of the movie that are most memorable.
"Brightest Star" is an indie romantic drama about the journey of
winning back the love of your life versus finding yourself. The Boy
(Chris Lowell) loved Charlotte (Rose McIver) and lost Charlotte, and
now he's lost himself and will do whatever it takes to get her back.
That's right, our lead character doesn't have a name but every other
main character does. If you haven't figured it out yet, he doesn't know
himself very well.
Some of the early sequences are out of chronological order, but it's not difficult to figure out where we're at. He was with Charlotte and now he's not. The film seems to revel in its independence with many close-up shots of the characters deep in thought with nondescript music playing in the background. It's a meandering tale of losing your first love and then finding yourself.
The over-arching element of the story is of the universe. The boy is a liberal arts grad but is really interested in astronomy and he wants the universe to guide him in making the right decisions. As he explains in the opening narration, you could say it does, but I really hoped he eventually figured out how stupid he was being. The whole physics/universe angle is starting to become greatly over-used in recent indie romantic dramas and comedies, so it just doesn't feel all that fresh anymore.
The writing was decent and the acting was good, but there's nothing to elevate the film to a higher level. The boy goes from meaningless job to meaningless job because he just doesn't know what to do and it takes him a while to figure out how to win back Charlotte. I never understood why he wanted Charlotte back in the first place. We never got to know her and only saw her treat him terribly. But the point isn't to get to know the characters. The point is that The Boy could be any boy, and every boy has a Charlotte. And every Charlotte is different except that they don't love the boy anymore.
I needed "Brightest Star" to tell a more specific story. Preferably one where the boy wasn't so clueless and didn't need the universe to tell him what to do.
"C.O.G." is the journey of one man based on the real life journey of
writer David Sedaris. David (Jonathan Groff) is an academically-minded
man in his twenties who has destroyed every relationship with his own
arrogance. He's not entirely aware of it, as he thinks he's on a
journey with his girlfriend after they read The Grapes of Wrath and
decided to get back to nature. But really his ex-girlfriend had no such
journey in mind.
Now on his own, he's determined to be true to himself. This involves sharing his nihilistic, anti-religious views with anyone who dares to have a conversation with him, but not being totally open with his homosexuality.
He finds himself working in an orchard which, as you can guess, involves people who have a relationship with God, people on the conservative side who don't get the gay culture, and people who don't like pedantic intellectuals teaching them about real literature. David doesn't fit in very well.
I loved the first half of the film. The more he mocked religion, the more I loved it. But as David finds himself in trouble (due to not fitting in very well and due to his ability to destroy any relationship he has with his arrogance), the film starts taking on a different tune. One which seems to be the exact opposite of what drew people in in the first place.
While it could just be that I didn't get whatever they were trying to say, the second half of the film seems to go against what people would have liked in the first half. Those that would like the messages in the ending probably would have been turned off by David's first anti- religious rant (which comes in the opening scene). And, to me, that would lead to a film with no audience remaining.
"C.O.G." stands for Child of God and you are going to have to have an extremely open mind to all points of view, both pro and anti organized religion and to sexual orientation, to enjoy this film. I appreciate Jonathan Groff taking on a character like this, but I have a feeling I wasn't supposed to have enjoyed his character as much as I did at the beginning as he moves too far away from that in the remainder of the film.
The realism of a foster care center for teenagers is up-close and
personal but provides so much humour that the drama is never over-
whelming. It's also quite touching that the adults in charge are just
as messed up as the kids but try even harder in covering it up. "Short
Term 12" stars Brie Larson as Grace a twenty-something counselor who is
in charge of fellow staff and a few emotionally-damaged kids.
Grace is in a relationship with fellow counselor, and former foster child, Mason (John Gallagher Jr). Grace's emotionally-damaging childhood has left her ill-equipped to be in a relationship but Mason is such a loving, caring individual that she's going to need to mature up eventually.
The highlight of the teenagers is Marcus (Keith Stanfield) who is turning 18 and has to leave the care center. He hides his insecurities behind masculine bravado, but as it doesn't fool our heroes and heroine, Mason eventually gets him to read his poetry. It's a rap song with many words and phrases that he's not allowed to say, but anybody watching will be laughing so hard that he probably can't be held responsible for every inappropriate thing in the song.
There's a significant bit of drama unfolding in the foster care center, all of which can be very upsetting, but the beauty of "Short Term 12" is that the drama is folded into the comedy so realistically that it really is easy to like. The characters, particularly the supporting adults, are beautifully portrayed and allow the complexities, the flaws and graces, of our heroine Grace to evolve in their own time.
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