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Stockholm, Pennsylvania (2015)
Riveting, Deliberate, Uncomfortable Must-See
Leanne/Leia (Saoirse Ronan) is a young woman who has had two crimes committed against her: she was stolen from her family, and she was robbed of a soul. She was kidnapped as a young child and confined to a windowless room by a kind but deranged stranger (Jason Isaacs) who raised her on lies and subtle influences to make her believe he was her only hope in life (hence the title "Stockholm" Pennsylvania). For obvious reasons, he intended to limit her understanding of the outside world and subsequently rendered her incapable of handling life beyond his walls.
Then it happens that Leia is freed and returned to her biological parents. It should be a happy, joyful reunion; unfortunately, it is anything but.
I'm a huge fan of Saoirse Ronan. She thrilled me in Hanna and ripped my guts out in the Lovely Bones. In this movie she has to play it down, as her character is emotionally stunted from captivity and psychically overwhelmed by the real world. She does a wonderful job as the detached escapee, conveying a wide range of emotions just with those big blue eyes and also with her control of subtle facial expressions.
Cynthia Nixon is also outstanding as the mother, who not only has to accept her own daughter's alienation of affection but also the horrible reality that Leia cannot accept her new situation. She and her flummoxed husband (David Warshofsky) struggle to rekindle the warmth and congeniality of a familial bond that has never really had a chance to exist, while battling with issues that no parent would ever want to have.
Strong praise for writer/director Nikole Beckwith for composing a riveting (if at times deliberately slow-paced) depiction of a true tragedy. Her scenes are at times difficult to endure, but the story is excellent.
Losers Take All (2011)
The Fingers Were Hear!!!
As a veteran of the '80's and many failed bands, I was a bit leery of this movie. Nailing the whole post-punk indie band thing is a tall order. But hearing strains of someone covering the Zero Boys during the opening credits gave me hope. I was not disappointed! This was a masterpiece!
The principles made for a believable, enjoyable band. The original songs were genuinely good (I listen to movies on headphones because I'm almost deaf, and the production values were great). The supporting characters supplied plenty of levity and drama. Favorite line: "I've been in rehab longer than I was on drugs!"
If you are familiar with this period in music you will be tickled by the various subtle and not-so-subtle references to the era, which made the movie a fun trivia contest.
I know I'm not being very specific about things, as my ADD is quickly kicking in and I want to get this posted, but congratulations to everyone involved with this movie. You did a great job.
Oh yeah, the Bob Mould thing was meant to be funny, right?
All the best,
Johnny High Test
Rid of Me (2011)
I was touched by this movie, and it left a mark
I have had some bad luck lately with quirky indie movies, so I was only half-heartedly ready to watch this. But, one lonely December afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised to find this little confection and discover that, if you worked with it, it could be delightful and rewarding. At times a morality play, other times a human nature study, it eventually becomes a later-life voyage to self-discovery that delivered the emotional payoff, but not without taking a few odd twists and turns along the way. Much has been said about the major female character, Meris, and her anxiety and depressed states being unnerving and annoying. I have a sister-in-law who is very similar to Meris, and I have to sometimes back pedal in our interactions to bring things down to her contemplative, sheepish level of expression, but I always find the things she says and does worthwhile, so maybe that's why I felt like I could relate to Meris.
Stylistically, and this is what I had to work with the most, the directorial style-at times dizzyingly cartoonish, somber POV, and the subjective static shots added as visual punctuation-was hard to deal with sometimes, as it pulled the action out of the conventional narrative. But if you can stand Gus Van Sant or god forbid Terence Malick, you'll have no problem with this movie and its pacing.
The characters were the true star of this film. Besides Meris, there's her new husband and his socially constipated friends who are obviously too ingrained in their own culture to be a part of the couple's life in a good way. The action picks up as Meris works at the candy store, and really takes off when the lively and luscious Trudy shows up with her rampant sexuality and supermodel/tomboy looks. Be ready for the world's worst sex scene with a hilariously understated real-life '90's rock star, and the appearance of a post-punk stoner dude whose claim to fame and popularity is his ability to "vomit on cue."
Chernobyl Diaries (2012)
Camera work made me woozy
I was really looking forward to seeing this movie. I was intrigued by the premise, the location and the back story of Chernobyl. I guess I'll have to wait until it comes out on DVD because I had to leave the theater after about 25 minutes. The camera work literally made me sick. I'm not talking shaky cam; this was Watutsi cam! And just so you know, I sat in the front row to see Blair Witch Project and only felt slightly uneasy at times. In this film the camera NEVER STOPS MOVING. There were radial pans and swish pans and it was like watching a movie on a small boat on a stormy sea. I was sweating profusely, feeling very dizzy and was afraid soon my quarter-pounder would be making a comeback. I had to leave the theater and just stare at something stationary until I could function again. It's been an hour now and all I want to do is close my eyes and lie down. This has never happened to me ever before. It's too bad, because I was getting into the whole thing. I just couldn't keep watching.
The Other Guys (2010)
Aim For The Bushes... Definitely SPOILERS!!!
There's a scene early in The Other Guys that sets the tone for the rest of the film for me. Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson, playing over-the-top crime-fighting figures in New York City (that's where the title comes from--there are the ones who fight the crime and then there's the "other guys" who type up the reports...yeah, well), have been chasing some bad guys, who eventually escape, leaving the two stranded on a rooftop, still watching the action but seemingly too far away to be of any help. That's when the already-strained sense of plausibility takes a fatal turn; the two share a fateful glance, and then there is something said to the extent of..."know what I'm thinking?" "Yeah, aim for the bushes!" And they jump off the roof, into what seems like and endless drop, and, of course, there ARE NO BUSHES, and they hit the sidewalk with a tremendous plop. There you have it--crazy action premise, long execution, eventual thud.
The humor is at times juvenile, repetitious and tedious, but it comes at you so fast that you have only time to process one line and move on to the next raunchy expression or bizarre reference. Will Ferrell was much more hilarious in Land of the Lost, but that's probably because he was propped up by the comic timing and madcap presence of Danny McBride. Here, Ferrell is paired with Mark Wahlberg, who looks painfully out of place in a zany comedy. The other big name stars handle their roles with as much aplomb as they can muster given the nature of their characters: Michael Keaton as the pedantic boss who moonlights at Bed, Bath & Beyond; Eva Mendes who suffers her husband's constant put-downs with grace and reserve, and Steve Coogan's corrupt billionaire who can never seem to do anything more than pout or smirk.
The inconsistencies are so numerous they became a source of humor in their own right, in particular the state of the Red Prious after the accident with the crime scene and its many migrating bullet holes and cocaine smears.
However, what I found especially tedious was Ferrell's distracting attempts at ad libbing. His many efforts to enhance a scene with random exhortations detracted from the physical humor, and his many nonsensical meanderings in his character's delivery put me off. The final after-credit scene where he seeks to scuttle Wahlberg's attempt to tell a joke ends with the same "thud" as the flight of Johnson and Jackson earlier in the movie.
Final Destination 5 (2011)
Gripping Gorefest with Cringe Factor of 10 out of 10 in stunning 3D!
Anyone familiar with the Final Destination franchise knows what to expect: hot chicks, the ever-present menace of ordinary objects, and gruesome scenes of graphic death. Well, with Final Destination 5 you get all that, and in incredible 3D! I was initially concerned with the 3D during the opening credits, which feature cast and crew names on panes of glass being shattered by objects from past FD movies complete with showers of CGI blood, where the 3D would be the usual "in your face" gimmick that only makes you flinch. But in the opening bridge scene, the 3D effect dramatically enhances the frightfulness of the dizzying heights of the action and the horrifying dimension of the scene. I mean, I'm deathly afraid of heights but I was riveted.
Otherwise the death scenes were so intense and sudden that I shrieked at first but then found myself and the people around me laughing in relief and self-awareness.
FD fans will get a huge kick out of the final scene, as well as the ending montage of past FD death scenes.
Last Days (2005)
Home, home on the range...or what becomes a drug-addicted, suicidal rock icon most?
When I first viewed "Last Days" I was suffering from retroactive insomnia. I woke up way too early one Saturday morning and had no hope of falling back asleep, so I took a long walk, got some coffee and cigarettes, and watched this film on cable at 7 a.m. What an amazing trip. I'm still buzzing from it, and it has been two more viewings and two days later, and I can't get it out of my head.
Gus Van Sant's ode to the imagined demise of someone who resembles Kurt Cobain, played with alarming efficiency by Michael Pitt, is nothing less than a classic tale of the perverted underside of the American Dream.
Blake (Michael Pitt) is a reclusive rock star who has reached a point in his life/career that he must literally hide from anyone and everyone, whether it be in the woods alone or among his own friends who inhabit his delightfully dilapidated mansion that is so rambling and anonymous that it can keep people from meeting each other no matter how often they almost intersect. Thanks to Van Sant's deliberately slow, methodical pacing, we see things happen in real time, even if they seem all-too-unreal to us. As Blake cavorts comically about the weathered confines of his house, under the influence of what we can only guess is heroin, now playing Elmer Fudd in a black dress and hunter's cap (shhh, I'm hunting scwewy wabbits),or stumbling about the endless grounds of his rustic estate mumbling like a stoned Yoda, you wish you could be the person to call out, "Hey, Blake (Kurt), life's not so bad! C'mon, let's just be real and stay alive!"
But no one can reach him.
Not the disembodied voices on the phone that incessantly rings while he's fixing a bowl of cereal or nodding off. (He eventually lifts the receiver but never utters a word to a conference call that mentions an upcoming tour and promotional pressures). Not the Yellow Pages salesperson who happens upon him in a rare and temporarily semi-lucid state. Not the well-meaning friend and private investigator trying to establish his whereabouts. Not even the record executive who arrives unexpectedly to ask him if he has told his daughter he's "sorry he has become a rock 'n' roll cliché."
No one can help poor Blake. Not even himself. In many scenes, he appears to have finally died, only to shake off lifelessness to rise up once more. But eventually his inner demons prevail, and, well, you know the rest...
If this is a cautionary tale, the last person in the world who would heed it would be our friend Kurt Cobain, who would be, gulp, forty years old by now. Could you imagine Kurt Cobain at forty? (Hint: think Steven Tyler) This movie will have you wandering about your 3-room apartment like it is Xanadu, wearing the same dirty T-shirt and worn-out jeans, muttering to yourself in iambic pentameter, writing all your thoughts down in a tiny note book, and then finally succumbing to whatever makes your mind fizzle.
Home on the range? I think not...
And oh yeah, Gus, no more gratuitous homosexual love scenes between apparent straight male characters, okay?
Still got that insomnia, though...
Love you Kurt!
Let's Rock Again! (2004)
A great film until the final scene...
I always said I wasn't so much a Clash fan as I was a Joe Srummer fan. But after watching Let's Rock Again I realize I never really thought much about Joe Strummer the man, only the rock icon. Dick Rude's fateful tribute to Joe gave me an aspect of of an individual who has pretty much run the imaginable gamut of his chosen profession and never lost sight of what made him want to be there in the first place. His amazing mixture of warmth, wit and worldliness is refreshing and reassuring.
There are scenes that will have you laughing and crying at the same time with their poignancy and intimacy: Joe passing out hand-written leaflets promoting his band's show in Atlantic City (my god, there are actually people who don't know who he is!); Joe trying to gain access to a NJ radio station to do an interview; and just those quiet moments where he looks thoughtfully with those hangdog eyes of his and spouts pure wisdom.
If you never thought about Joe you will like him after seeing this movie. If you liked him, you will love him. And if you love him, you will be absolutely mesmerized.
Until the final scene, where it says, "Joe Strummer 1952 - 2002"
The Family Stone (2005)
So Bad It's Good!
I was depressed before I started watching this movie, so I attributed my inability to "bond" with it initially to a bad mood. I turned it off after 20 minutes and figured I'd watch a really bad movie, so I started watching "Last House On The Left."
But then, I thought of something and returned to it...
Sure enough, as I writhed through the next hour and twenty minutes, I came to discover this horrible catastrophe was so bad it was good!
Like looking at the Grand Canyon, my brain had to forge all-new neuron pathways in order to comprehend its immensity and grandeur as a cinematic disaster.
And my brain needed re-forging.
Imagine my delight to bear witness to a major Hollywood "holiday comedy" that was so utterly uncheerful and achingly unfunny that it seemed to scoff at the entertainment experience itself.
I cackled with burgeoning glee as I watched major actors grapple with hopelessly unsympathetic and rudimentary characters trying desperately to stay with a flaming train wreck of a script.
I roared with approval as scenarios careened wildly out of the realm of probability and plunged into the abyss of absurdity.
I felt my heart soar as comic plot points seemed to disappear into the ether, while somber subplots emerged unceremoniously from nowhere to add a leaden sense of gravitas to the mess.
I stared in slack-jawed awe as I watched Sarah Jessica Parker struggle to act like a drunk, Dermut Mulroney try desperately to show emotion, and Craig T. Nelson try to do the subtle quirky thing, all the while wondering what form of emotional turmoil the writer was suffering from when he wrote Rachael McAdams character.
All in all, the only thing missing was the running commentary from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys.