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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.
Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
How to Destroy a Children's Classic
I suppose one of the pitfalls of being of an older generation is that one risks being exposed to the nostalgia of one's peers. The very idea of turning a children's classic into a film already risks perverting the book to one's own narrow vision of things. But attempting to make a feature-length film from a book of this brevity should be made a criminal act, on the order of masturbating in public.
I should point out that my review of this film is colored by my own childhood experience with Where the Wild Things Are, which to me has always been one of the greatest of all children's books and became one of my stalwarts in the far-distant days of my own early childhood. So there was probably never any chance that Jonze would succeed in convincing me that this film should have been made.
Particularly since he misses the most important point of the book: Max could be anyone of us, because all of us dressed up in costumes and got a little out of control and got sent up to our rooms because of it.
But Jonze insists on providing Max with a back-story --and the most clichéd of them all, a lonely fatherless, friendless boy-- padded out with an entirely unnecessary older sister and too much information about a single mother (who could never look anything like our own anyway). And because of this, Where the Wild Things Are can never be about us --which was the entire point of the book.
With so few pages to work from, it seems essential that the film at least capture each and every one of them --and especially the landing on the island, which loses the flow of the book (forcing Max to climb a cliff, instead of the book's genius of having the wild things already there, as if waiting for him).
The film goes on to cheapen the Wild Things themselves -- giving them corny, old-fashioned and even nerdy names. Allowing them to speak in cartoonish voices and buffoonish dialog.
The list goes on.
All of this would have been slightly acceptable if Jonze had at least attempted to find inspiration from the breezy inevitability of the book's narrative -- as brief as that is-- and develop something that resembled an interesting plot. But he does not, and can not. The minor intrigues -- what happened between KW and Carol, who are KW's other friends-- seem lifted from a television series. And the larger scenes are too drawn out, lack focus and quickly become boring (I'm thinking particularly of the fort-building sequence).
Soon enough, I found myself looking as often at the time as at the film. And finally gave up at 48:58. Sit through another 40 or 50 minutes in the hope that the film might pick up the pace and become relevant? No.
Instead, I could read the book. Several times. And each time discover something new, each time re-exploring the world of the Wild Things--my own imagination-- just like the first time the book was read to me all those many years ago.
If you haven't seen the movie, don't bother. (And no, it's not at all for kids either). If you haven't the read the book, then you haven't been young yet. Go read it now. Right now. Go.
Sharp as Marbles (2008)
For Lovers of Bad Acting, Bad Editing and a Really Bad Script
Capsule review: Worse than a youtube short.
A family film? Taking your kids to this one? I have a feeling that the positive reviews for this film were written either for another movie altogether or by a robot spam app.
Sharp as Marbles pretends to be a quirky, indy film but really is only a low-budget mess with horrible acting, terrible directing, clunky amateurish editing and a truly uninspired script. Clerks at a video store? Nope, never been done before.
I felt like I was back in grade school watching the annual play. These 'actors' really make you appreciate the real thing and how hard the profession truly is. The wooden delivery and stiff screen presence might have been acceptable if any of them displayed any sense at all of comedic timing. Sadly, they do not. I can only assume they're the director's buddies from college.
A decent director might have been able to save the film from its terrible acting by playing up on that a la John Waters, or at least through the editing, blotting out the dead spaces, awkward pauses, uncertain delivery and hesitant timing that kill each and every single 'joke' in this film.
Even a decent editing job, however, would not have been enough to save this movie from its script, which, really, displays so little originality that at least two dozen screenwriters could probably successfully sue the Marbles' crew for plagiarism. Why bother? Who green-lighted this movie? I'm going to assume here that the directors' uncle financed this garbage.
As much as I've always enjoyed independent movies and cult films, Sharp as Marbles cannot and should not be categorized among either. Instead, it's an amateurish effort that rivals many a youtube video.
It disturbs me that people claim to have taken their kids to see this film. There's nothing graphic about it sexually, of course, and the lead character's sleazy attempts at picking up girls are meant to be creepy, but really, I don't see any part of this movie that should be interesting for young kids.
Note: this review is for the first 35 minutes only. I could not get beyond that, sorry.
I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009)
A Nice Twist on the Coming of Age Genre
One of the main characters spends the ENTIRE movie quoting lines from other movies -- why then should it come as a surprise that the movie itself operates as a pastiche of the coming-of-age/teen rite-of-passage film? And yet, I Love You Beth Cooper provides a neatly drawn, dark commentary on its predecessors, while maintaining its own quirky lightheartedness.
I was particularly pleasantly surprised by Hayden Panettiere's performance (I am not a fan of Heros) and felt she conveyed the ultimate sadness of her character beautifully, with just the right touch of cynicism and self-awareness to make the character work. I felt she easily transcended the actress and became the title character, providing what might have been a fluff piece with dramatic substance.
Paul Rust as the nerdy hero was fun to watch and even believable - I gradually came to accept the possibility that this geek and his self-deprecating manner could indeed win the beauty. The supporting players were also quite excellent, lending interesting subtexts and character depth to the film. The director made the good choice to allow the supporting cast to step up and take over the action at times, providing a living backdrop for the looming choices and growing awareness of Rust's and Panettiere's performances. Both allowed me to care about what happened to their characters.
A special mention goes to Shawn Roberts for his superb job as the villain. While the villain's ultimate comeuppance was a bit of letdown (because the film too abruptly dropped that storyline), Roberts provided a convincing performance for what is, after all, the stereotypical villain role.
A lot of what this movie, and this type of movie, is about is wish-fulfillment. The 'transformation' of the bully rang especially true -- who among us has not wished the same for their own childhood bullies? And in that sense, I Love You Beth Cooper delivers strongly on this promise, allowing us to join the characters in the universe of the film and cheer them on.
I tend to judge a film like this one in terms of whether or not I enjoy being in its universe for the duration. It's not often that during a film that I regret the passage of time-- that is, that I know the film will end soon and wish it wouldn't. And that I begin to wonder how the story might continue. I would have happily remained in the world of I Love You Beth Cooper for a little while longer. And yes, I'd like to know what happens at the characters' reunion.
A few of the director's choices confused me -especially the rather protracted memory sequences, when the characters relive parts of their childhood. The film's rather brisk pacing abruptly shifts into slow motion during these scenes, some of which are just a wee bit long. But I gradually became used to this--and came to see them as a sort of counterpoint to the otherwise frenetic plot.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. However, my rating - 9/10 - reflects ONLY how I feel the movie holds up within its category and genre, and NOT its place in the history of film. It's just a teen comedy--but a really good one.
A caveat: I watched this at home, not in a theater. Whether or not the movie translates well to the big screen (and the price of admission) is a subject I cannot comment on.
Post Grad (2009)
Sweet Coming of Age Comedy Romance
Coming into this one, I knew nothing of the movie and nothing of the lead actors (I've never watched Gossip Girl), although I've always liked Michael Keaton and, of course, Carol Burnett. It's a pleasant, effective coming of age-type story.
It helps that I didn't know Alexis Bledel before seeing this film. With no 'baggage' about other characters she might have played, I felt she was excellent in the role, giving a nicely understated performance, with a delicate beauty that gives her a definite presence on the screen. She brought a nice mix of perky gawkiness to the character, making the role quite believable.
Keaton was fun to watch, and Burnett has always been one of my favorites, and provided most of the laugh out loud moments (there were at least a couple of those). Zach Gilford (I've never watched Friday Night Lights either) mumbles a bit too much, and tends to get lost next to Bledel. But then, that's part of the character too.
While I cringed at some of the plot twists (including the ending), which seemed a bit too willful, the pacing of the editing made the film flow quite nicely, allowing the sweetness of the coming-of-age story to come through, without attempting to become slapstick about it. The supporting cast go a long way in helping to build the film's "universe." And that is the question I ask about this type of movie: Will I enjoy entering the film's universe for the duration? The answer for Post Grad: Yes, I did.