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Sunshine on Leith (2013)
I came into this film knowing pretty much next to nothing about it -- I do remember that one Proclaimers song from the 80s, of course. Mostly I wanted to watch Freya Mavor again, having recently seen her in "La Dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil." If there has ever been anyone born to be on the big screen, it's Freya Mavor.
Of course, the super-added bonus was discovering that Antonia Thomas is in the film too. I didn't know any of the other actors -- I'm not Scottish -- and I question some of the casting, mostly because their singing voices (I'm assuming everyone sang their own part) aren't up to par. But Mavor and Thomas are quite capable of carrying the movie on their own. Both are luminous.
Now, if you're looking for a unique and unexpected story, don't bother. You won't get it from this film, which pretty much hits every generic romantic comedy/musical theater cliché.
But this hardly matters, as the cast -- and all the extras -- obviously are enjoying themselves immensely. Their enthusiasm comes through loud and clear and the pleasure and pride of everyone involved becomes part of the storyline, perfectly setting up the final scene.
And that final scene is one of the absolute best rom-com/musical payoffs I've ever seen. Heck, I actually started tearing up over it, it was that well-done. The movie is worth it just to reach that moment. Perfect!
Just Another Superhero Cartoon
This movie exemplifies the entire problem with the glut of Superhero films these days -- they're basically extremely expensive cartoons. Which is fine, if you're five years old and still able to identify with an animated figure, suspend one's belief and go along for the ride. But as an adult, Ant-man, like most of the other Marvel vehicles in the last decade, just falls flat.
When 80 percent of the film -- and 100 percent of the action -- is CGI, there is absolutely no suspense, no sensation that the characters are truly at risk. It's the equivalent of watching a Roadrunner cartoon. Sure, it's funny. But it's no more than that. And a Roadrunner cartoon is only a couple minutes long. Not nearly two hours.
The only thing that can possibly make these CGI films work is the casting - a well-cast actor is still able to overcome the flatness of CGI (Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Robert Downey in the first Iron Man). In the case of Ant-man, however, the cast just feels like a B-team. Paul Rudd's a far better schlubby sad-sack rom-com sidekick than superhero, and the rest of the cast, primarily TV actors, makes this film feel like a made-for-TV movie. (This was especially problematic in the case of Corey Stoll, who is best known for his role as a loser alcoholic - very hard to take him seriously as the villain!)
I found it particularly hilarious when the showed off Rudd's "new buff" body -- I sure hope that was CGI too, because he truly looked ridiculous.
But this is another huge problem with the Marvel films. They take themselves far too seriously. It would be a lot easy to sit back and enjoy the CGI if the films would laugh at themselves a bit more.
Rocky Horror Show Live (2015)
Wonderful Trip Down Memory Lane
I spent an excellent summer going to the midnight showings of Rocky Horror at the Art Cinema in New Brunswick, NJ every Saturday night. This one of the earliest showings of the movie outside of NYC apparently, and the cult was still in its infancy when I started going -- there'd only be a handful of us in the early days, but by the end of the summer, the house would always be packed, and people were shouting more and more things at the screen. We were encouraged to dress up, of course, but it hadn't yet reached the point where people started doing full-scale shadow performances during the screening (which I'd have found annoying anyway).
The point is, it was an excellent summer, and I have great memories of it. I do watch the movie now and again at home, but it'll never be the same... or so I thought...
Well, this live show isn't quite the same. Which is probably what makes it so excellent. The great cast, great performances and -- above all -- the great spirit both by the performers AND the audience really makes this a new experience of its own.
My favorite of the cast was Haley Flaherty, whose Janet Weiss was perfection. I really appreciate the fact that she, and pretty much all the performers, didn't try to reinvent their roles, but stayed true to the original performances. It was great to see Richard O'Brien there too.
Wrong Vehicle for a Great Comedian
I consider Amy Schumer's Comedy Central show one of the best comedy programs in recent times. Love her wit, her sense of humor about herself, and love the way she pushes people to reconsider the position of women in society. She does what comedians are supposed to do: challenge us by holding up a mirror to us -- and the best comedians, like Schumer, use themselves as the mirror.
All that said, it's unfortunate this Trainwreck is the vehicle she chose in her move to the big screen. The movie just feels... listless. There's an overall sadness hanging over it, as if none of the participants are really happy to be there, or even to be with each other. Which is so opposite the feeling one gets from watching Schumer's show, it's surprising.
Perhaps it's the choice of vehicle -- the romantic comedy format just feels off. Sure, they're trying to turn the format on its head a bit, and I appreciate that they're using "normal" looking people instead of the Barbie/Ken configuration most of this type of movie goes for (I actually enjoy rom-coms from time to time) but neither Schumer nor Hader are capable of pulling off the necessary "irresistible attraction" the genre requires. There's simply no real chemistry between the two. Hader especially seems asleep the entire time.
I do really enjoy the Lebron James character (I'm not a sports fan, but I appreciate the joke).
Long story short: I got bored halfway through the movie and turned it off. I tried it again the next day, made another 20 minutes, but turned it off again. I almost tried watching some more yesterday, but the thought of it was so dreary, I didn't bother.
The ONLY reason I'm giving the movie 5 stars is because of the goodwill I feel toward Amy Schumer.
Two Night Stand (2014)
Analeigh Tipton... finally!
It's rare enough for anyone to come from reality television and succeed at even being remotely considered as a serious actor, but I've always had a special hope for Analeigh Tipton. For me, she has always had the sort of quirky luminosity that I find captivating. I compare her on-screen presence to actresses like Scarlett Johannson, Chloe Grace Moretz, and even Jennifer Lawrence. Yes, of course, they're beautiful, but not in an easy "perfect" way. Which is precisely what makes their on-screen presence so interesting.
Yet, I've generally found Ms. Tipton to be disappointingly less than convincing as an actress. Or more generously, I've always felt that she was still getting her bearings, searching for the proper vehicle.
Until now. I believe with Two Night Stand, Analeigh Tipton has come into her own as an actress -- I found her highly believable, enchanting to watch, and adorable (which is, of course, exactly what the character calls for).
It helps, of course, that she's paired here with Miles Teller, who's really coming on strong (Whiplash!). Together, they pull off the rather difficult feat of carrying this film's situation : Two relative strangers, stuck together in an apartment. Yes, the film cuts occasionally to the roommate character for a bit of relief, but for the most part, the action is all about the interaction between these two characters -- and these two actors.
I won't comment much on the film itself -- it's a rom-com after all, and this one won't break any new ground. I found the dialog interesting, engaging for what it is: A lot of youth-speak, loaded with millennial preoccupations (interesting to me as an older viewer). I believe Ms. Tipton (and Mr. Teller) deserves a lot of credit for keeping things light, and Ms. Tipton did a masterful job of reading, and translating her character, adding just the right touches of flippancy and youthful awkwardness to achieve the goal of every rom-com: Make us want the protagonists to have their inevitable happy ending.
Great film about an important moment in music history
As someone who was "there" but as an outsider (14-year-old kid from NJ who idolized Punk magazine and especially the Ramones), I loved this film. Yes, I recognize a number of liberties were taken with the truth, but this film allowed me to relive the thrill I used to experience going to CBGB's (as we called it) back in the day (I started going around 1976 or so). Even more than that, it's great to get a glimpse of how CBGB's came to be.
More than that, the film works great as a film in and of itself -- the directing, pacing, acting and cinematography are all first rate, with nary a dull or dead spot throughout (until the end, but I'll get to that). I'm not generally one for tricks like the use of Holmstrom's art to frame the story, but since it's Punk magazine we're talking about, it makes perfect sense for this film.
The film just sails along -- I suppose partly because it's so much fun to see the various bands, and how much fun the actors had portraying the band members' quirks (the Joey Ramone character is spot on... ). In fact, I would have liked it if the film had been extended to include more of the early groups (they left out Suicide, who were everywhere back then) and more of the live performances. I'm a little torn by the decision to have them lip sync to album material -- on the one hand, it's the music we remember, on the other hand, most of the bands have live material available, even recorded at CBGB's, why not use some of that?
However, by the end... the film runs out of steam a bit. I think that comes partly from the decision to focus a bit too much on the Dead Boys storyline, knowing how doomed that band was, and how entirely outclassed they were by most of the other bands featured (Television, Talking Heads, Ramones, Blondie). Fortunately, the film only sags in the last 15 minutes or so, and it's still not enough to spoil a fine film dealing with a very important part of American -- and world -- music history.
For me, personally, this period shaped my entire life, certainly from an aesthetic point of view.
And great news! There's now a Best of Punk Magazine book available! (I still have my original copies around somewhere, but I can't wait to show this book to my kids!)
Humans vs Zombies (2011)
It's a Dud -- Those "Positive" Reviewers are Shills
There really isn't much of redeeming value in the movie, other than the pleasure of watching Madison Burge (as long as she isn't trying to act...to be fair, her horrible performance may be the fault of the director and/or writer).
The rest of the movie is just a poorly scripted, poorly directed, poorly acted attempt to cash in on the zombie movie craze. The makeup is awful, the special effects are high-school level.
And there's absolutely no sense of urgency. Which is death for a zombie film.
There's no use blaming the lack of budget -- Night of the Living Dead probably cost much less than this to make, and yet it remains one of the best of them.
I too was conned into watching this film because of the first few positive reviews -- where were obviously written by people involved in the production. No objective viewer could give this more than 3 out of 10 (and again, the movie gets extra points from me only because Madison Burge is easy on the eyes. If she wasn't in this movie, I'd be generous if I gave it 1 out of 10.).
The Family Tree (2011)
Slapdash and unfocused but pleasant nonetheless
First off, Christina Hendricks fans: don't waste your time. She's in the film for all of three minutes (long enough for the camera to linger longingly on her chest, of course) and otherwise doesn't have much to do with the plot.
While pleasant enough, this movie comes off as slap-dash and unfocused. It just doesn't know where it wants to go, which story/character it really wants to follow. This is partly the fault of being based on the "dysfunctional family" trope, which works best when we still manage to care/sympathize/identify with at least one of the family members. The problem here is that we can't: the mother's a bitch, the father's an impotent robot, the son's a gun-obsessed Jesus freak (the gun obsession serving only to telegraph the ending), and the awful mother-in-law doesn't actually appear until the very end of the film. Only the fake-slut daughter comes off as somewhat sympathetic, but the film refuses to focus on her character, and she remains somewhat of a stick-figure (figuratively and literally).
The lack of focus comes through from the very beginning: the film starts with a voice-over, of the gun-freak son, but abruptly drops the voice-over, only to revive it again at the very end -- in order to give a film-standard wearily wise "look at how much we've learned" speech that doesn't really work. The voice-over might have worked better if the son had been the central character and the film had been meant to examine his growth -- but he isn't and the film doesn't.
All in all, it appears the director/writer didn't have a clear idea about what movie they were making. The result is a slapdash, unfocused effort.
Still, for all that, the movie was pleasant enough to sit through, with a few funny bits and good performances from the actors. Not something I'd recommend paying for -- wait for it to hit cable.
The Smurfs (2011)
One Long Advertisement for Sony Products
Some films ought to come with a warning, as in: WARNING: THIS FILM EXISTS FOR NO REASON OTHER THAN TO SELL (X COMPANY)'s PRODUCT.
It's already bad enough that product placement has become ubiquitous in films and television. It's hard to remember a film or television show that hasn't, in one form or another, served as an advertising platform for one product or another.
And of course much of children's television programming has long centered around selling one toy or another.
In this case, however, the Evil Corporation behind this film took it to a new level : the entire film is itself product placement for pretty much the entire panoply of the company's products. Even worse, a number of essential plot points hinge upon the company's products. At another point, the film takes a 'time out' as it were to incorporate a longish sequence whose only purpose is to push the company's products. (Although there were a number of other corporations' products in the film as well -- no doubt these companies have cross-marketing agreements in place).
To top it off? I was forced to pay in order for my family to watch this company's hour-and-a-half advertisement. And an entirely mediocre film for all that (see the other reviews for why this film is so bad).
Well, that's the last time I'll take my kids to a film from this company, that's certain.
If corporations insist on flooding their films with advertisements, how can they insist we pay for them? This film is an excellent argument for film piracy.
Don't let the critics fool you. This movie has zero redeeming value. It's meant to be some sort of teen movie pastiche, but just clunks along. Maybe it's the bad acting, the lousy script, the awful jokes, the poor delivery, the bad direction, the low budget, the ridiculous setup. There's even a bad voice-over (which drops out midway through the film) and an even worse television news reporter.
The premise: a group of teenagers --half are jocks, half are nerds/misfits -- from the same high school take a cruise off the coast of Mexico and end up shipwrecked on an uncharted island. Why they are in Mexico is never explained, although presumably they're on some sort of Spring Break. Do high schoolers have Spring Break? Also, why would jocks and nerds party together on the same cruise ship?
Along the way the boat explodes -- although miraculously all of the high school kids make it to shore. On an uncharted island off the coast of Mexico. Uncharted island. Right.
What follows is an exercise in such utter unbelievability, with such low concern for any sort of reality that it sucks the life right out of the premise. Impossible to buy into the story --and therefore the attempts at humor -- when the premise is so far-fetched.
And anyone who dares to compare this film to Lord of the Flies should be banned forever from writing film reviews.
Oh yes, one of the teachers, played by Chris Kattan, ends up shipwrecked with the kids. There's seems to have been no purpose adding this character to the film, as he's featured for all of five minutes -- and succeeds in further sucking any scrap of life left from the film in the process. Call him this film's Boris Karloff.
Kattan's not the worst of the actors, hard enough as it is to believe this. That honor goes to Robert Adamson, who plays the over-the-top jock leader. Lindsey Shaw spends much of the movie being sullen and petulant, and in no way is believable as a head cheerleader.
Perhaps the real goal of the filmmakers was to win a Worst Movie of the Year award? Well, they're certainly on their way. Good luck to them.